Friday, August 31, 2012

more bubbles than sass

Current mood:

I met real-live Snow White last night.

My friends like to joke that my alter-ego is Snow White. But this girl was Snow White. And, like any Disney Princes, she was absolutely charming, adorable, poised, and had just the right balance between sugar and spice.

I met her at the auditions for my show. Correction: the auditions were for my one-act, another one-act, and another full-length production. 2-8 actors auditioned in twenty-minute blocks of time for three shows. Please imagine how that works.
(hint: it doesn't.)

But despite the hectic and crazy, there were moments of absolute beauty. 
As a theatre artist, you live for those lovely moments that surprise you, and remind you: this is why I'm here. I think that moment for every single one of us in the room was watching Snow-White give a brilliant performance in three different scenes from three very different plays, with an equally brilliant (and equally quirky), naturally comedic freshman boy. Their natural chemistry was palpable and their willingness to follow the scene wherever it took them was utterly charming. These two actors perfectly illustrated why it's called a play. Because the best actors know how to play, just let what happens happen, and above all, do not get in their own way. 

As they charmed their way into our hearts, I was leaning forward in my seat, hanging on their every word. As I was laughing my heart out, I looked to my right and saw that everyone else was doing the same. All of us were completely enchanted. Utterly seduced. Human beings will do that to you.
I turned to my director, and whispered that they read for us as well. 
She stifled a burst of laughter, nodded an enthusiastic YES, and proceeded to choose a scene for them.
(Sidenote: And that's why I love her.)
Another sidenote: my show has three characters. All girls.
But we were so in love with these two, we just wanted to see them give a scene a shot. 
It ended up being absolutely marvelous and hilarious, and I began to wish I had written a guy part.

For most of the audition process, I limited myself to smiling and introducing myself, and saying: "Thank you, have a good night, thanks for coming in, etc." to actors as they left. For my naturally verbose, bossy self, it was a challenge. 
But I couldn't contain myself as these two delightful actors finished reading: 
"You guys are magic!" I cried, barely able to breathe due to the laughter.

As soon as they left the room, we all relished in the experience together. In contrast to the rest of the night, we weren't vying over actors, or negotiating time, or discussing callbacks or schedules or critiquing actions. 
Rather, we all just sat and shared the "that's why we're here" moment we'd just experienced. That wasn't just an audition, we had just witnessed some real theatre. 
And that's kind of magic.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

living in the Shadowlands

 “Reality is harsh to the feet of shadows. But will you come?”
 --The Great Divorce 

So, here's the thing about being at school: I never dream.
I never dream.  

Sometimes, I can remember hints of one or two dreams, but with the first sip of morning coffee, they evaporate along with the cloud of drowsiness wreathing my head. 

At school, I get away with very little sleep. I can't stay asleep long if the sun's up, especially if my window faces East.

One of the first things I notice when I go home are my dreams. Sleeping is a completely different activity at school and at home. At home, I spend hours sleeping each night, and get lost in beautiful, crazy, bizarre dreams. I luxuriate in dreaming. But you can't wake up quite as refreshed if you've spent the whole night having adventures in your mind. When I realized that I never dreamed at school, I missed it. It seemed glamorously tragic: giving up dreaming. The Anne Shirley in me was in awe, for "Giving up Your Dreams" seemed awfully, tragically Romantic.

One of those cheesy love quotes tossed around teh interwebz quotes Dr. Seuss as saying: “You know you’re in love when you don’t want to fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.”

I don't know what sorts of dreams Dr. Seuss had, (probably wonderful and fanciful visions filled with Sneetches and beaches and green eggs and ham) but I, like him, would sacrifice dreams for the real thing any day. 

"Heaven is not a state of mind. Heaven is reality itself. All that is fully real is Heavenly."
--The Great Divorce

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

dip their pens in our hearts

A man who deals in harmonies, who only matches stars with angels or lambs with spring flowers, he indeed may be frivolous; for he is taking one mood at a time, and perhaps forgetting each mood as it passes. But a man who ventures to combine an angel and an octopus must have some serious view of the universe.
--G.K. Chesterton

"How do you chart the movement of grace through a narrative?"

If you run through a field of mist in the morning, once you enter into the field you can no longer see the mist. If you hadn't seen the mist hanging over the field as you approached, there would be no undeniably obvious sign you are running through a cloud. But if you're alert to your surroundings, it's easy to spot the physical signals that indicate a cloud is present. You feel the water saturating the grass below your feet; and if you're paying attention, you sense the dew droplets clinging to your skin. That could just be sweat, though.

Grace is everywhere. 

(George Bernanos, Diary of a Country Priest)

I remember the first time I was sad but couldn't cry. Frodo had just left Sam on the shores of Middle-Earth and departed for a realm more blessed and more real. My heart was breaking, but there were no tears. In fact, I couldn't really tell if the pain making my heart ache was a sadness or a joy. It was something stern and solemn, but not despairing. There was no tragedy in Frodo's joyful voyage across the sea, nor was there any great affliction in Sam's peaceful return to Hobbiton. The tragedy was not in their individual actions, but in something deeper. The tragedy was that there had to be a Sundering Sea in the first place. The tragedy was the ancient dissonance and discord that had severed the White Shores from the Grey Havens. That tragedy was not the matter of this particular story, but it affected the story, and they had to encounter it. 
And that is the sadness: when we are forced to encounter that ancient tragedy: that there must be separation, and that division and disharmony are woven into our world. 

And that is the beauty: that despite the tragedy, human beings make a comedy of our lives. A comedy, classically defined, ends with a wedding: a joyful union between two lovers. All of us, spiritual virgins, await the day we enter the wedding feast. As we, like Frodo, embark on our last journey we cannot help but taste the bittersweetness of the joy. As we should. No wedding is complete without some tears. How can our immortal hearts reach an ending--such a jarring and inelegant creation--and not feel the unnatural pain that accompanies endings and last things? But, overwhelmed by joy, the bitterness dissipates like dew melted by the sweet warmth of the sun. 
And as we sail into the west, we finally reach the joyful union and the home for which our hearts were restless. 

-Love has its own order, its own laws. 
-God is love's master.
-No, not its master. God is love itself.
(George Bernanos, Diary of a Country Priest)

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

if you need me, i'll be hiding under this coffee table

Today was a spicy one, let me tell you, my friends.

No really. 
Let me tell you about it:

So, apparently my skin got real nostalgic for highschool and was like: Remember when you had acne everyday!? Let's do that again! That was so FUN. So that happened. Hormones. I guess they're a thing?

[I think my morning visage seriously scarred two freshmen girls who were trying to find the dumpster (oh the irony). But they were super nice and awesome and talkative, given that it was 8am in the morning. And they wanted to hear about all the things I love to talk about: namely Vision, choir, and theatre. 
So that was a nice little bit of Lewis Hall networking.]

So. Solid start to the morning, I'd say.

Curiously enough, no one else on campus got the "dress like you just rolled out of bed" memo today. Unfortunate for them. Because I was rocking that look like there was no tomorrow.

And then it just got better.

So: I'm sitting at lunch at one of my favorite cafés. 
(And now this part was actually quite beautiful.) I think most of the professors and grad students around me were annoyed by the very noisy baby right behind me that was gurgling and chirping and mewing out the tune of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. I thought it was the most precious thing ever, and it melted my heart. (Can you say: Hi, I'm a single female twenty-something. It's fine. What was that about hormones again?)

So I'm listening to Very Noisy Baby be adorable, and polishing a paper that should have been finished two hours ago (if you're reading this: sorry, professor), when suddenly I look down at My Schedule (It's spelled with capital letters because it's Very Important. But really. I don't think I would survive without it. The first thing I buy every time School Shopping Supply Season rolls around is a schedule. Then I can start to think about the rest of my life. My personal hierarchy of order looks something like this: Edith Stein, Nutella, My Schedule, Jane Austen and then Coffee).
So I look down at My Schedule.
There, sandwiched on the blank line between my morning and afternoon classes, written in clear ink, are the words:

1PM: Meeting.

What meeting? 
With whom?
I had absolutely zero recollection of this meeting. No idea. Not one. Kaput.
I searched through all my files and cross-files; sticky notes, computer folders, Gmail storage, my notebooks, etc., etc.,etc.
No dice.
I hope it wasn't important or life-changing or vital to anyone, because I, in fact, did not attend that 1PM Meeting. Instead, I scratched my head and thought: curiouser and curiouser. 

The only words more I find more haunting than: "And they never saw him again" are:

1PM: Meeting.

I guess I'll never know.

Monday, August 27, 2012

the marvelous overflows of our existence

I make poetry the way I make desserts.

I like desserts that are impossibly luxurious and richly decadent. The most recent experiment in baking were the Nutella-frosted-cookie-dough-sea-salt brownies. I gave some to my friend for his birthday, and his first words after he bit into one were: "I hate you."
(Which, in our language, means it was really good. Obvi.)
I like creating food which has flavors so overwhelming, the senses don't know how to process what's happening.

There are a thousand and one beautiful words in the English language. So why not use them all? I like to be bombarded by words so beautiful, my mind struggles to wrap itself around the meaning. My theory on desserts and poetry: A thing of beauty may be a joy forever. Life is short. Smush the most amount of beauty into everything possible. Cram your life full of beauty at each possible moment.

At the moment, however, there's a concept that's rearing it's ugly head in multiple places in my life. It's called elegance.

elegant |ˈeləgənt|
1) pleasingly graceful and stylish in appearance or manner;
2) pleasingly ingenious and simple

Simplicity. The essence of elegance is getting to the heart of the matter concisely. And elegance is eloquence. In the words of François de La Rochefoucauld (French writer of maxims. The dude knows wassup.) "True eloquence consists in saying all that is necessary, and nothing but what is necessary."

Design professor and poetry professor have both been harping on elegance, and then our Theo professor just brought it up today. (Casual coincidences. Hint, hint, Renée.)

So this is what blew my mind:
We're all savvy with the Greek word logos, jah?
Logos: word or meaning.
Cool beans. 
Whenever someone’s like: translate logos, yo. I’ll go: word. Boom. Done. But this is what M. Heintz showed us:
John, Chapter 1, Verse 1: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Then he applies the other translation of logos: In the beginning was Meaning. And Meaning was with God and the Meaning was God.
In God, the height of elegance, where complexity and simplicity meet, there is a Word whose meaning is Itself. In our human imperfection, there is always a slight disconnect between words and meanings, ambiguities and misusages abound. We often say words that are not what we mean, which is sloppy and not at all simple and graceful. In the Word that is with God, the word and meaning are indivisible.

How elegant.  

Sunday, August 26, 2012

the fireflies are dead and gone

The whirling circle of the sacred year//returns me to the place that we began.

I am obsessed--but obsessed-- with years. Years are elegant and graceful units of time.
The rhythm of the year, the morphing seasons--the harmony between them is so alluring and beautiful to me.
Each turn of the year brings with it rituals and holidays. Some of the holidays are holy days, such as Christmas and Easter--days that bless time, that make our observance of the passage of time something sacred. But each season brings with it less holy rituals, that are part of a liturgy of nature. Yesterday, I found the first scarlet leaves of fall, flecked with gold. I ran passed them, but then turned back around and picked them up again. Autumn. Autumn is my favorite of all the seasons. Autumn is the most nostalgic season, it's the season of change. It's the season of letting go and starting again, more so than spring. Spring is about merging from the pain and sorrow of winter. Winter is always painful and sorrowful and difficult. It just is. It's a fact of life. I don't know if the season of winter begets the feeling of winter, or vice versa, but there's going to be at least one dreary day in November where you sluggishly drag yourself through a grey, sleety day, and your mood matches the oh-so-Novemberish weather all the time. Although I may not see the beauty in that on a rainy day in November, I think it's absolutely beautiful how intricately tied up our emotions and souls are by the world around us. There's a simple, pure delight in being a physical creature.

Summer is always a bizarre season. I never know quite what to make of it. I've never been particularly fond of summer. Summer means heat and heat means sweating. I hate sweating--it's one of the most unpleasant experiences of the human condition. Some people talk romantically of the joy of a good sweat, produced by hard work or a long run. Fun fact about cold weather: if you go on a long run on a crisp, snowy December day, you will still feel your heart pounding in that delicious way that says: "You are physically exerting yourself. Here are some endorphins." But, and here's the best part: you won't feel any sweat (you'll have frostbite instead but oh well, no one said life was a rose garden).

And there's this awful thing about the American school system is that it has designated summer as a time of breaks. A time where you just sort of take a break from everything, because, well, it's summer.
But this summer wasn't a break. It was a barreling forward into a brave new world of a brave new autumn.

As I picked up the first leaves of autumn, I thought back to the first leaves of autumn last year. And even though the leaves seem the same, and the season seems the same, but I am so different. Sometimes I look back and don't even recognize the rootless young woman that stood on the verge of a new year. That's why we have seasons--to show us in the exterior world the change that transforms our interior world. That rhythm: the harmony and unity of constancy and change. The rhythm of the seasons highlights the constancy and change occurring in our own hearts.

My house says to me, "Do not leave me, for here dwells your past."//And the road says to me, "Come and follow me, for I am your future."

Saturday, August 25, 2012

frequent the temples of our hearts

In a spurt of procrastination, I've been perusing XKCD once again.
This is beautiful. I'm just in love with it.

Frodo was surprised to see letters written in the common tongue while journeying through Mordor.

Yes. Week One of school, and already procrastination has set in.

Syllabus week is usually hailed with great joy and gladness by my peers. 
But syllabus week is where I encounter the fact that my classes are going to be difficult and I spend the whole time thinking: how little will I be able to get away with in this class?
Which is never my mentality throughout the rest of the year, but during syllabus week, I'm measuring up my schedule, sitting in each class thinking: oh gosh can I do this? And interiorly dying. Hard work, as I know I've mentioned before (and I'll mention again) is not my cup of tea. Hard work is--well--hard. I like easy work. 
Easy work is much better than hard work. And you look a lot better while doing it.

 But I guess it's not as satisfying [she admits begrudgingly], and you don't learn quite as much doing easy work than hard work. And you discover a lot more beauty doing hard work.

For example: our choir director told me at the beginning of last rehearsal: "Oh, Renée, sorry I forgot to  tell you sooner, but you'll be singing alto this semester."


When learning a psalm last semester, Dr. Choir Director discovered that my lower range is actually my vocal strong suit. He murmured something about being an alto in disguise, but the subject was dropped.

And the next time it was picked up was when he dropped that little vital tidbit of information in rehearsal the other day. 
So, goodbye to sitting back and live-texting Denise the entire first choir rehearsal of the year, and hello to the alto section and learning how to harmonize. 
Remember that one time I was really good at sight reading harmonies? Yeah, me neither. Remember that part when I was talking about hard work? Right. So remember that saying about putting your money where your big mouth is? Okay here we go.
In fact, it was one of the most beautiful choir rehearsals of my life. I was on the same page as all the newbies--they were learning entirely new music on the fly, and I was making like a struggle-bus through the alto parts. It's bizarre singing a harmony when you're used to singing the melody.

But the alto lines of songs are beautiful. They're this warm, rich heart of a song. The alto line exists to make the harmonies that only make sense all together. Altos exist for the choir as a whole. But it was only when I was singing alto that I discovered the strange and yet mournfully beautiful melody they sing on their own. It was like unlocking a secret world in the midst of a favorite familiar song.

Friday, August 24, 2012

i am haunted by waters

Morning, peeps! 
So, here's the Thing about art--about good art:
(I know you wake up every Friday morning wondering: what is good art? I know I do.)
Good art isn't supposed to hammer a message into your head, or necessarily change your entire perspective on life, the universe, and everything. 
Good art makes you care about a story. It makes you care about something--or someone-- you never cared about before.

Exhibit A: Tulips. 
I never cared about tulips until I performed in a play that wasn't even about tulips; but tulips meant the world to the protagonist, and were a motif throughout the play, highlighting her longing for beauty. 
And now I love tulips and I want to go to Holland and see the carpets of tulips in the spring.

Not your grandmother's tulip garden
Look at that. That's a world of beauty I never would have known about or cared about if a piece of art hadn't revealed how beautiful it was.

Along the same vein, I really didn't care about surfing. 
I mean, seriously. Surfing? 
Surfing draws up images of beach bums who are only capable of forming sentences heavily punctuated by "gnarly" and "dude", and shark attacks. If there was one thing I really had no feelings about it, it was surfing.

And then last summer my little sister (Sassy Free Spirit), made me take her to this movie.

Watch the clip. Ignore cheesy storyline, mediocre acting, everything. Ignore everything except the beautiful tunnel shots of an unimaginably powerful wall of ocean curling over a small girl on a small piece of fiberglass.

I was rendered speechless. I could have sat there for hours watching human beings skim through waves. Those are people gliding through waves. 
Through waves

Sassy Free Spirit wants me to move to Hawaii so she can come live with me and we can surf all the time. If I ever was able to glide through a tunnel of water like that, I would die of joy.

And if there's one thing I really actively incredibly apathetic about, it was:
I mean, really.
The art of fly-fishing? The art of what? The art of catching pneumonia by prolonged exposure to freezing river water, in a hopeless endeavor of waiting for the fish to bite.

Then I read A River Runs Through It, (recommended by Fr. Drew) which is one of those movies/stories everyone knows about, even if you don't know it. But the passages that tugged the most at my heart were the passages about fly-fishing. Maclean describes the beauty and grace, the precision of motion, the elegance and the complexity of a fisherman's thought, and rhythm: "Only by picking up God's rhythms were we able to regain power and beauty." The most powerful passages were those that described the rhythm of nature and humanity that meet in fly-fishing. Fly-fishing: the art of a human being attempting to think like a fish, to see the world around him like a fish, and then outsmart the fish. Fly-fishing: the art of laying bare "the anatomy of a river." Fly-fishing: the art of the motion and skill of man encountering the power of nature. A very beautiful art indeed.

"We can love completely what we cannot completely understand."--Norman Maclean
Good art. Amiright?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

we can only wonder

There she is.

As we sang Hail, Holy Queen, I looked up at that Coronation of Mary painting, and thought back to when I sang that hymn at an early morning mass two and half years ago. During which, I started grinning like the Cheshire Cat when I finally made my college decision as we sang.

I remember looking up at that beautiful mural as week three of Vision rolled around. I was nervous, tense, and unsure. I wasn't ready at all for that week. I had no idea what was ahead of me, and whatever was ahead of me I was 94.2% sure I couldn't handle it.
And then I looked up, and I thought:
How foolish. How foolish am I to doubt that absolutely all I need will be provided. 
Here is a simple little Jewish woman being crowned the queen of heaven and earth right in front of me. 
Good grief.
Now that's just stupid miraculous.

When someone says: "God will provide," automatically I envision some sort of deity who serves as a universal rations distributor. Each person gets just as much as they need, and it's probably going to be just enough to sneak by on, and it's radically uncomfortable, but hey, life is pain, highness, so just tighten your belt and carry on.

But that's just absolutely not how it works at all. As C.S. Lewis says: "Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are far too easily pleased." We are too easily satisfied with replacements, substitutes for God. We are too easily satisfied with just a little--just a little bit of a miracle, just enough grace, just a decent amount of love. How ridiculous. How utterly absurd. We are being offered a place in the life and love of the Trinity and we are content with remaining underwhelmingly decent and comfortably mediocre.

There's an oft-told story of St. Thérèse which, to be candid, I never understood. It's taken me some time, but I was recently impressed by its beauty. Thérèse gets it. This girl knows wassup.

As a small child she and her sister, Celine, were offered a basket of toys and attractive things and were asked to choose whatever they wanted. After Celine had chosen a ball of wool, Thérèse was given the opportunity to choose. After a moment’s reflection, she writes: 
“I stretched out mine saying: ‘I choose all.’”

I choose all.
No one could accuse Thérèse of having a desire too weak.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

transposed to a key more sweet

Mist, suspended
like a gasp of breath,
air caught between inhale and exhale,
lightly poised,
hovers above blades of grass and thistle spines;
whispers and wavers,
as rosy warmth renders the crisp chill
an antique remnant of the night.

The sun, disbanding residues of dark
arrives heralded by specks of gold.
Quotidian dust, translated into beauty--
lowly loam laid bare by light--
reflects his radiance.

Azure flushed with hues of rose--
the fires of sublimed atmospheres burning with His rising--
stretches of pasture shot up with gold of Ophir;
Monochromatic realm of mists slowly bows,
genuflects before gilded pigments saturating the fresh new world--
earth, through her revolution, has been re-baptized,
           this is something the eye of man has not yet seen.

No sound touches the golden field,
No lonely instrument accompanies the drama
of shadow giving way to the sun's
New world, birthed without a fanfare.
            Instead of Eucharist bells:
                       a baby's cry.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

love looks not with the eyes

Last night, I watched the Notre Dame Summer Shakespeare's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream outside in front of the Golden Dome as the Golden Hour hit. It was absolutely magical, as any production of Midsummer should be. It brought back so many memories, made my heart ache, and made me miss this:

A Midsummer Night's Dream, circa Summer 2010

So. much.

The reality of creating art in an imperfect world with imperfect humans is that the finished product will never live up to your perfect vision. I think artists grasp the insufficiency and fallibility of human nature easily because they encounter it in themselves, and reflected in their art. 

But sometimes, sometimes, you have the joy and honor to create a piece of art that comes so very very close to fulfilling your vision. It's miles from perfect; the execution is far from flawless; but it rings with the glorious feeling that you accomplished what you set out to do. Our Midsummer, the director told me recently (over lavender iced teas in fact. Not an important detail. But it was very good iced tea.)was one of those rare artistic moments when she felt that her perfect vision for this piece of art had been almost nearly achieved. Norman Maclean writes: "One of life's quiet excitements is to stand apart from yourself and watch yourself softly becoming the author of something beautiful, even if it is only a floating ash." Pieces of art like that hold you to a higher standard, because they show you just how beautiful a work you are capable of authoring. And they worm their way into your heart and refuse to budge.

Refusing to budge.
As I watched the play unfold on the quad, there were several themes and moments that, in light of recent conversations, shone with particular brightness.

The beauty of loving another person is the lover saying to the beloved: you are irreplaceable. Midsummer cuts right to the heart of the matter; the theme of the irreplaceable beauty of the beloved permeates the story.
The entire action of the play revolves around the tragedy of loves gone awry; of a lover saying to the beloved: I have replaced you with another

And the comedy of the play also springs from these daft lovers who are constantly replacing their beloveds. The humor arises from the ridiculous and fumbling swaps in affection throughout the play, reaching the glorious comedic climax of Titania's magically-induced passion for Bottom the Weaver. 
Lord, what fools these mortals be, Puck gleefully crows.

And their willy-nilly passions have indeed made fools of them all. The lovers fly into the woods, where the sharp Athenian law cannot reach them, and the only rule is that of Oberon and Titania, spouses locked in a marital spat to end all marital spats. These are two immortals so powerful that their discord has effect on the seasons.
Not beings with whom to be trifled.

The lovers have set themselves loose in a world filled with magic potions, mischievous, meddlesome fairies, and two powerful, passionate beings going head to head. In the woods, jealousy, discord, and distrust reign. Oberon attempts to aide the lovers, but the strife that is creating havoc in his world simply ratchets up the chaos in the lovers' world. Only until Oberon seeks reconciliation with his beloved, until he acknowledges her irreplaceableness to himself, and she accepts him as such, can the four Athenian lovers then find harmony amongst themselves.


In Act IV, Helena's story reaches a pivotal moment. The man who only a couple scenes before has literally "spurned her with his foot" declares his undying love for her.
Okay. Right. I'm gonna call red flag on this one. 
Personally, my reaction would run along the lines of a little something like this:

Suuuureeee, Demetrius. You've only spent the entire play running away from this woman. Okay. Cool. I totally buy that. 
But Helena does believe him. 
I can still hear the melancholic strains of the cello that underscored Demetrius' monologue. And hear the words: And all the faith, the virtue of my heart, the object and pleasure of mine eye, Is only Helena. And in that moment, decide. Decide whether she was going to take this opportunity to spurn the spurner or dive into the danger of believing his words, of returning his love and forgiving his wrongs. 

And risk being hurt yet again.

One of Helena's most beautiful qualities, and one that makes her such an exciting character to play, is her fearless persistence. She never shies away from love. 
I will never forget that feeling--that moment on the precipice of decision. 
To believe or not to believe.
To forgive or not to forgive.
And then deciding.
And running to reconciliation. 

That's one of those moments that makes you realize just how powerful art can be. And it also makes you realize just what a wickedly genius writer Shakespeare is. He created beautiful, complex characters that completely rock. That (in the words of Ms. Frizzle) take chances, make mistakes, and get messy. But you know what they say: The course of true love never did run smooth.

And in the end, the Bard's very human and imperfect characters find their way down the bumpy road of true love to happiness. As Oberon says: And all things shall be peace.

And if that's not heart-warming ending worth of a Jane Austen novel, I don't know what is.

Monday, August 20, 2012

windows of the Milky Way.

It was but yesterday I thought myself a fragment quivering without rhythm in the sphere of life.

Last night, I sat on the stairs watching the stars cut little pin holes of light in the velvet night sky.

Two girls sat across from me on a bench and I watched them talk. They were obviously sisters. Not because they looked alike. They didn't. They looked quite different. Life had carved heavy lines into the face of the younger. Her eyes were sadder; but her soul was gladder. The elder carried herself with the assurance of a woman. The lines between girl and woman were still blurred and undefined in the younger. But the elder had discovered the unplumbable secret of womanhood and carried it in her breast. Her face: innocent and open, formed but not molded. If an artist chiseled a statue of seafoam he would understand the radiant purity of her face.
They looked quite different.

You are blind and I am deaf and dumb, so let us touch hands and understand.

They were obviously sisters.
Because when one spoke, the other listened.
And that's rather rare.
Usually listening means understanding. We listen to someone talk about themselves, or explain themselves, and we listen to understand. We seek to understand. To know. To discover. Their words are signposts on the path into their soul.
The sisters didn't need to listen to understand. 
They already understood.
And so they just listened. Just let each other's words reach their ears and travel directly to their hearts. Their souls so clearly knew each other.

The first word of God became a man

And so I thought of those other souls that my soul knows. There aren't many. Souls are harder to know than people. People do things, and it's easy to know someone from what they do.
Scientific method.
Hypothesis. Observable actions. Theory. Test theory. Observe more actions. Actions support Theory. And thus, knowledge.

But souls don't use action verbs. Souls elude tests. And prove theories fools. A soul cannot be truly known and not loved.

He who would understand a woman, or dissect genius, or solve the mystery of silence is the very man who would wake from a beautiful dream to sit at a breakfast table.

But sisters who know each other's souls are sisters indeed.

And I watched the heads of the sisters--golden as sunlight on the lake and dark as the velvet night sky--lean together and whisper words of comfort. Words are dangerous, precious things. Because when they are exchanged, they carry with them the burden of a soul. As they traveled through the crisp night air the words revealed within the girls fear and love and longing and life. Their lips spoke the words of their soul, and she whom their soul loved listened.

In that moment, they were sisters. In that moment, I saw a reflection of my own.

The ecstasy of a poem born but still unwritten.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

one bearing white; the other, red

Surprises are the best. 
Really, they are.
(Especially the ones that you know are coming. Those are the absolute best. The ones that take you by surprise are a little harder to handle. [Being in control. It's a thing.])

I was reminded of the beauty of surprises when I walked into my quad and I found, instead of my three roommates, two guys sitting in our common room (our nascent little common room is beautiful! Lake views and everything). And I was like: Hi. And they're like: Hi. And I'm like: My name's Renée and I live here. How about you? And then we chit-chatted a bit. I was surprised by their presence and caught off guard so I forgot to be a good hostess. But if I'd known they were coming, I would have put on my First Lady Hostess Extraordinaire hat and offered them Nutella. I should learn to always be ready for surprises. 
[Author's Disclaimer for Her Mother: And don't worry, Mom, they were my quadmate's boyfriend's roommates. So, basically family. I don't find strangers in my room on a regular basis. Fear not.]

Responses. Always surprising.
Sometimes you are sure you're going to hear words coming out of your brother's mouth. And then you hear the exact opposite. People, amiright? Just endlessly doing the opposite of what you expect them to be doing. How fascinating.

I thought I was gonna have to carry the fridge out of the storage unit the way it came in--in my arms/being dragged across the cement floor. Things were going to be complicated by my long white skirt. Whoops. Sometimes I forget to think ahead. [Got prudence?] 
But, then a man just walks into the storage unit hallway, and asks me if I need help. I just sort of gape at him and then say: why, thank you, yes I could. And then I continue to mentally gape at him while he helps me carry it out of the creepy storage unit hallway. (it's an all-white, metallic feeling hallway with flourescent lights and clearly visible security cameras. It feels like an insane asylum. As the Phantom of the Opera would say: "In a word: sublime.")
Color me surprised.

And destinations. The most surprising.
Who knew that a Friday evening spent running around the lakes and chapel crawling would end with me crash-landing on the snuggly floor of a Howard dorm room eating Nutella and rolling with laughter? And who knew that encounter plus a series of well-timed texts would lead to a car caravan of Visionites winding their way through the treacherous night streets of South Bend to find our way to the last homely house on the corner, where we then proceeded to eat more Nutella and laugh even harder.

And who knew if you looked up at the night sky, you'd see stars?

now that's just hawkward

As I walked through campus last night, I passed little groups and pockets of freshmen undergoing the college induction ritual known around ND as Frosh-O. Oh dear me. Frosh-O. Probably the most hawkward experience ever known to human kind. (Second only perhaps having an extended conversation with your rector while wearing in bath towel. Not that that ever happens.) But truly, despite it's weirdness and infamous awkwardness, I think Frosh-O is delightful experience. Starting college is just weird, folks. Everything is new and different and no one really knows quite how to process the experience. As I told my mother today, "The first few weeks of college are kind of just miserable." No matter how happy you are at some points, there's this underlying feeling of restlessness and uprootedness. I imagine transplanted seedlings feel the same way.
(At least freshman orientation makes for fantastic awkward bonding time and even better stories. Being in Frosh-O, making it happen, and watching it unfold all over campus in front of you are all fascinating and very illuminating activities.)

So, in honor of Frosh-O happening all around me, I would like to offer the best piece of advice I've ever ever (no really. Ever.) received:

Rock the awk.

Awkward things happen. They just do. We say the wrong thing at the wrong time, or we miss a subtle yet critical social cue, or we discover that two of our acquaintances are basically for all intents and purposes identical twins, and we proceed to call one of them the other's name, and thankfully they don't hear us, but the other five people surrounding us on the bus hear us and laugh at our egregiously painful/awkward mistake.
I'm just talking hypotheticals here.

But it's okay. A modified version of one of my most recent life mottos looks like this:
Laugh it off. Walk it off. Put it in a play.

If you're not into writing plays, go with this:
Laugh it off. Walk it off. Rock the awk.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

bloody sweat

So far, junior year has started with more blood and more sweat than anticipated. 

I cut my leg, and so when one of my quadmates arrived a bit later than I did to move in, I was hopping around my un-airconditioned room with my jeans rolled up and blood streaming down my leg, trying to find a Band-Aid in the hullabaloo of my unpacked belongings. I found a makeshift something to stop the bleeding as I paused my frantic searching to shake hands with her father.

And thus begins junior year.

It's not even officially the first day of the semester, and my stress levels have already reached tear-inducing levels. I thought this wasn't supposed to happen til midterms. Whoops.

No matter.

As we approached Notre Dame, I started bouncing up and down in my seat, and teared up when I saw the Golden Dome. Cue joyful reunions in the lobby of my newly renovated (!!) dorm. (It's palatial! My interior interior decorator did spiritual somersaults of joy down the hallways when I beheld the adorable miniature kitchen ["intimate" my RA has dubbed it]. When I saw the new bathrooms, bright, shining, and free of mold, I nearly wept.) 

Feeling frazzled, I reminded myself to breathe as I ran around campus working up a sweat darting from meeting to meeting place to grocery shopping at the Huddle.

I took a moment. Found some silence in my soul. And smiled.

It was the feast of the Assumption, (Today's the day when an Assumption makes a saint out of you and me, as my friend Thomas said.) and I was back at Notre Dame, walking the sidewalks I loved, passing by familiar haunts. And the golden hour was hitting South Quad. Each time I return, the more I fall in love with this beautiful place.

And one of my classes got cancelled. God taking care of my overloaded schedule like a boss. (Maybe sending a gentle hint, perhaps saying [as my mother often does]: you're doing too much. Gentle hint? Okay more like a loud and clear: STOP. You're doing it wrong.)

I just got back now from a delightful dinner party with a crowd of interesting, eclectic, beautiful people and beautiful conversation and great fun. And one of the first people I met when I walked in the door was a Vision alumna. Our voices rose octaves in excitement as we discussed ValLimar, small groups, master mentors, mutual favorite people, and all of the lovely things that are so particular to Vision.

I left in a sweaty, bloody mess, anxious and scatter-brained. Tonight, I returned feeling much more peaceful. And very blessed.

As my friend said to me: "God's kinder to us than we often deserve in these little ways."

Moments of grace, indeed.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

paint my spirit gold

Home sweet Dome in T-minus somethingish hours. 
It'd be more exciting, except I'm still packing. (And by "still" packing I mean I made a half-hearted attempt last night, then fell asleep in a despairing agony and agonies of despair on the sofa.)
The good news is that I've gathered all my boxes and bags and the unpacked suitcase from the summer (Didn't bother unpacking that dude. Whoops.) into one area. So I know exactly how much I have to do. It's just that it's a lot. And now I have to do it.


This is the part of packing I always hate. So usually I just procrastinate and write a blog post.
My sister's pretty annoyed with me. (I wonder why? Maybe because I keep complaining about packing instead of doing it. Whatevs.) 
So in honor of her, we'll play one of her favorite songs! 
In addition to being one of her favorites, this is one that's been an irreplaceable part of my packing soundtrack. I think it's apropos. Especially when spirits flag, daunted by the mountain of clothes yet to pack. 

So sit back, listen, and enjoy! It's a heart-warming little ditty.

I'm going to get another cup of coffee.

Monday, August 13, 2012

feel this magic in the air

I talk out loud to myself. 
I talk out loud to myself all. the. time.
It leads, as you can imagine, to a lot of potentially embarrassing and/or humiliatingly awkward situations. 
When I'm on a walk or a on a run, I talk incessantly. Especially running. Unlike a lot of my Notre Dame peers, I'm not a social runner. I need that running time to get away, feel the wind on my face, clear my head, and have a nice conversation to check in with myself. 

But prime chatting with myself time is when I'm driving. If there's not another person in the car (or Some Nights isn't on the radio--cause then I'd be singing), then I automatically start vocalizing the interior conversation. I have imaginary debates with hypothetical persons and passionately argue my point of view to spectral versions of friends and family. If I happen to hit a red light in the middle of a conversations, sometimes I make the tragic mistake of looking at the car next to me, while I'm still talking. And then comes awful moment when my neighboring driver looks at me, and we lock eyes. And they clearly see that I'm talking, and it's painstakingly obvious that there's no one else in the car with me. In these moments, I usually just smile cordially; flip my hair in a move strategically designed to A) project confidence B) block their view of my face so the scarlet blush spreading over my face is invisible to their view; mess with the radio dials in a pathetic attempt to save face and just pretend that I was singing along to the music; and pray that the light turns green instantly. What else is a girl to do? After you find yourself in this situation a fifty or so times, you just gotta learn to rock the awk. Just keep on keepin' on, even in the most hawkward* of times.

All this to say: I went on a silent retreat this weekend. 

Yeah. It was kind of a challenge.

As much as I treasure time spent walking and reflecting, time spent praying, and time spent writing or thinking, I realize how very little time I spend actually being silent. I have a lot of things to say, so I spend a great deal of time talking. Even if I'm not-using-my-voice, I'm still not truly being silent. As I spent time in silence this past weekend, I realized how tempted I was to fill it up with my own words.

But once I stop filling it the time with my own chatter, then I can actually listen to what I'm trying to be told. And time slows down, and silence sets in.
I think the scary thing about silence is the love that's waiting for you there. 
The love there can be intimidating, because it means you have to respond.
As our Vision class professor was so fond of saying this summer, "The Eucharist messes you up."
True story, bro.

I think the greatest compliment I ever received was from my younger sisters, who were having a conversation together, and one of them said: 
"Renée doesn't make sense all the time."
The other responded: "That's cause she's a not-make-sense kind of a person."

It's much easier to live in a world that makes sense.
But all of sudden, there's this Love that crashes into that world and nothing makes sense anymore, except that Love.

And that's it. That's what every single songwriter is trying to say in every single love song. They try to explain that moment when time slows down, and silence becomes so strong all you hear is your heart beating, responding to the Love that's become your world.

It's not very sensible. 
But I guess I never liked being sensible anyways.

*Hawkward, adj., English (created by a friend of mine. Can't take credit here): An adjective used to describe a situation so painfully awkward, you wish that a hawk would swoop down and take you away.

grace in your heart and flowers in your hair

Mumford and Sons, sing to my soul a little bit more, would ya?

Peeps, I was on a retreat this weekend, and it was beautiful. The retreat center's grounds were spacious and just chock-full of beautiful lawns and little coves and prayer gardens and grottos and what-not. Walking around the grounds was lovely and meditative. But do you know what immediately snaps you out of a meditative and reflective walks and wrings your heart with guilt and dismay? Stepping on a mole hill. Seriously. There were a ton of mole hills everywhere, and everytime I would inadvertently step on one, the springy, soft earth would collapse beneath me. And then I feel awful because: 
A) I think: what if I just stepped on the mole as well as the mole hill?!?! AHH Did I just kill a mole?!?
 B) I think: wow. I just ruined this intricate construction that this small creature worked so hard to build. When was the last time I made myself a house by digging into the ground? That'd be never, last time I checked. This creature has forged a house for itself out of the earth--what have I done with my life? [Interestingly, I don't feel this remorse while destroying spiderwebs. I also have never made a house for myself with a self-spun silken web. And I don't plan on it. And I also don't plan on ceasing to destroy spiderwebs--especially if they're in my bedroom. Perfect charity may be limitless; but mine ends where spiders begin.]

I should be packing. But the internet is full of beautiful things like this. Thank you, Mara, for that gem. My sister told me I'm good at wasting time. That's what we call a complinsult.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

finna be a daughter of light

This week is just a week full of great feast days of great women, ain't it? And all this is just a drumroll before the Assumption next week. Which is, coincidentally, the day I move back into my cozy little Notre Dame home. Color me psyched.

Meet Philomena: a Greek Girl Story
So today is casually the feast day St. Philomena. Philomena's kind of an obscure-ish saint (a hipster saint, if you will? Check out her life story here.), she's the patroness of impossible/lost causes (read: my life), and her name means daughter of light (wait...daughter of light...light's all clicking). 
I first learned about Philomena from a coloring book I had when I was seven. I remember I colored a robe she was wearing a ghastly combination of mint green and maroon. 
(My dreams of being a clothing-designer were short-lived. Maybe for the best.)

Philomena also happens to be my confirmation saint. 
It's casual. Not a big deal.

Friday, August 10, 2012

crab-pots filled with marmalade

You know what's been on my mind lately? 
Mini-golfing. I've been thinking about mini-golfing a lot recently.  Probably because I went mini-golfing with my family the other week. Mini-golfing is one of those things you expect to be so easy, and then it ends up being surprisingly challenging. You go into the whole evening thinking Seriously. How difficult can it be to hit this ball into a hole that's roughly only a yard and a half away from me? Answer: kind of really difficult. 
Maybe I'm just embarrassing myself by admitting my mini-golfing troubles, and all y'all are mini-golfing pros and have never experienced these particular woes; but this mini-golfing thing is a constantly reoccurring phenomenon in my life. See, I know I'm mediocre at golf, so I don't go into it expecting to be brilliant. My performance on the links usually lives up to my expectations (hint: my expectations aren't high). But COME ON, how hard can mini-golfing be? Why am I so bad at it? This is mini-golfing we're talking about, for crying out loud. There are literally no special skills involved in this "sport"--it's not even a sport, it's a miniaturized version of a sport. This is definitely one of those occasions my own estimation of my skill does not measure up to reality. 
But just wait. 
When mini-golfing becomes an Olympic sport, I'll be there, you can count on it. One day, I'll master mini-golf. 
Or die trying.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

phenomenologically vulnerable

It's St. Edith Stein's feast day, yo!
Look at that woman.
She's so rad.

This lady was my model-of-faith for this past summer 'o Vision. At first I was just excited, because I like her. But she has been a constant reminder to me of one of the themes of the summer: a reminder to be vulnerable. The Edith Stein Project this past year was on vulnerability, and so in preparation we read a lot of Edith Stein's work on authentic personhood, in which vulnerability is touched on a great deal. 

Steeped in this language of vulnerability, my year has been a year of learning a deeper and truer view of vulnerability. Vulnerability means something more than weakness--vulnerability means being strong enough to let go of a false self, and let the true self shine through. Learning this correct attitude towards vulnerability prepared me for the summer in ways I could never have foreseen. In a witness talk I gave (which was actually an expansion and re-working of this post), I touched on the challenge to be vulnerable, and how contrary to human nature it can be. When a chink appears in our armor, we just immediately put up our defenses, thinking if we ignore the crack, it will disappear. But we're not called to have it all together, and to be in complete control of ourselves, our fate, and our lives. We're just called to love. And as a C.S. Lewis quote that's become ingrained in my vocabulary goes: "To love at all, you must be vulnerable."

And having Edith's presence by my side all summer was a constant reminder to embrace my vulnerability with courage and faith. She taught me about true vulnerability, and how necessary it is to live authentically. A life lived authentically is a life lived in love. If we're living a life wrapped up in the numbness and pseudo-security of a false self, we're not truly living. 
Thus, maybe we could create a corollary to Lewis' saying: to live at all, we must be vulnerable.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

add to the beauty

Current favorite song: (besides Some Nights. My obsession with that song has reached a pathetic level. I was actually upset with the radio for not playing it this morning. I need help.)


Lil' Moment of Grace Here:
my brain caught up to what my soul already knew.

Some conversations are just true blessings. I think one of the greatest gifts of the summer was realizing the astounding miracle that is conversation. The genuine sharing of souls that can be made possible through conversation is beautiful and awe-ful. There were several moments this summer when I would embark on a conversation, and I would be hit by the realization that there was this infinite being in front of me and there was so much I wanted to know about them, and so much I wanted to say to them and hear their thoughts and opinions and ideas. Just struck by the magnitude of the person sitting in front of me.

One of these conversations came today with a friend. During which, she told a story of watching a mother call her son into dinner. The mother didn't tell her little boy that it was time to come inside because it was dinnertime. She just called his name and beckoned him inside. The little boy jumped off the swing and just ran to his mother. He didn't ask why or what for--he just ran.

My friend likened that moment to what God had been doing in her heart all summer. Just calling. Not shouting instructions or giving reasons. But just calling. And waiting for her to respond and come running.


On the homefront: Inspired by the Olympics, my little brother has decided to hone his nascent fencing skills. This means waving his plastic sabre in the air (usually in the vicinity of Sassy Free Spirit--much to her chagrin) until he hits something and is then told in highly imperative tones to "take it to the basement" or to "go run around outside" (he dug up an old bow and arrow in the basement, so the outdoors have become perilous territory as well). Today, as he was sent downstairs, he protested that Sassy Free Spirit would have been disqualified anyway, because she crossed her arms over her torso in self-defense, which apparently is a disqualification since she "blocked the scoring zone." Hate to break it you, bud, I said,  but it's not a fencing match when only one person has a sword
He chose to ignore that statement. 
I shudder to think of what our lives would become if he happened to catch something like the javelin throw or the hammer toss on NBC.
Spare us.

even the sun sets in paradise

May not be paradise, but I like to call it home.

Monday, August 6, 2012

nobody tells me anything

The date: Today.
The time: 11:30 AM
The scene: the Kitchen. 

Lights rise on our scene: There's myself, reading (I think) or maybe making another batch of chicken salad. Okay, sidenote about the chicken salad: I've found a formula that works, and it's good.
  Real good. 
So gosh darnnit I'm going to keep making that chicken salad until we've all reached chicken salad saturation point. Whoever said that variety is the spice of life was probably not referring to my chicken salad. My chicken salad is the best. No need to change what's already perfect, amiright? (The secret ingredient in my salad is hubris. [c.f., the Illiad])

Anywhoodle, I was puttering about the kitchen, probably reading the weekend's Wall Street Journal, or eating, or watching paint dry, or other edifying activities of that nature. 


The phone rang.

I thought: oh, it's probably my mom. I was at home with my little sister and brother. My older sister was trying to buy a car (I think) and my mom was at the hospital with my other lil sis who was undergoing some sort of surgery (as far as I knew), and my teenage brother was somewhere that wasn't home. I'm never quite sure where exactly that boy is, even when he's sitting next to me at the kitchen table. 

One of my friend's favorite mantras is "Be a presence, not a disturbance." (The dear boy usually says this when a large group of us is about to descend upon a small, unsuspecting restaurant [we often get told we're rather loud and obnoxious. I, however, prefer the words "vocal" and "exuberant"]. But my brother has somehow transcended being a presence and exists in sort of a wraith-like world that preoccupies most of his being. So even when he's present, he's not actually present. 
Apparently my brother walked by me today, trying to get my attention, so that I would eventually notice his braces were gone and comment on the attractiveness of his teeth (I assume this was his intention. I mean, that's what I would do). He even went so far as to say: "Hello, Renée," in a wild attempt to get me to notice him. (Desperate times, desperate measures, folks...) I, in fact, have no memory of my brother saying anything to me, nor indeed of the two of us being in the same physical space (see the "presence" rant above), but my mother swears that this happened. And in this household, what Mom says, goes. Truth is not a majority vote here, y'all. To the point: I didn't even know that my brother had returned home, except a bit later, I went out on a run, and I saw a car ahead of me, and I thought: that looks like our car. And that driver looks like my broth--oh yep, it's my brother. Huh

So clearly, I've been super-in-touch with my siblings' whereabouts today.

Anyhow. The phone rang. I picked it up, expecting to hear my mom, updating me on my sister's current state. On the other end of the line, I hear my 11-year-old sister's voice. (Let me give you a quick character profile of this gal: sassy free spirit.)
Hello, Renée! Sassy Free Spirit says, chipper as can be.
My mind says: ...
My mouth says: Hello? Is this Sassy Free Spirit?
Sassy Free Spirit giggles: Uhhh YEAH.
Me: What? Where are you?

Sassy Free Spirit was next door at her friend's house. And was calling to see if I minded if she stayed for lunch.

No, I don't mind. Just remember to say thank you.

I hung up and took a moment to reflect on my life and my lack of general knowledge about anything going on in my family. Today has not been a red-letter day in terms of keeping tabs on the kiddos, that's for sure. Herding cats, they say? Au contraire, picture herding hummingbirds, and that might give you a more accurate mental image.
Oh well.

Que sera sera, my friends.

I'm going to make more chicken salad.