Tuesday, February 26, 2013

sempers in our saeculas

The moving waters at their priestlike task 
 Of pure ablution round earth's human shores 

The difference between the secular and the sacred might be analogous to the difference between kiddie pools and the ocean. 
Oceans (obviously) are not man-made. They are part of the glory and overwhelming majesty of the natural world. They are something so completely beyond human knowledge, skill, or ability to grasp.
Kiddie pools, however, are one of the most very simple, joyful creations of human ingenuity.

I'm talking a classic drive-way kiddie pool like this:
shark bait ooh ha ha
Classic '90s for you-- even the poor plastic shark is neon.
Joyful product of human ingenuity, right there.

There's nothing wrong with a kiddie pool. Absolutely nothing.
Kiddie pools are literally the most wonderful. We should indeed marvel at and enjoy their existence, and goodness sakes, we ought to splash in them, and splash in them often.
But heaven help us if we ever grew foolish enough to confuse kiddie pools with the ocean.
It is as if all you thought music could be was Bye-Bye Birdie or Camelot, and you never once got to hear a Beethoven symphony.

The small little wading pool bears quite a deep resemblance to the ocean. In fact, it does, in a small way, prepare you for the smooth, glassy surface of a calm ocean.
The way the water rolls around your feet reminds you of the way the water laps up around your feet on the sandy beach.
But the kiddie pool is not the ocean, and as beautiful as it is in and of itself, its real wonder and glory is that it reminds you of the ocean.
Its real wonder is that it contains a hint of ocean.
There's something inside of you that longs for the ocean.
And as beautiful as kiddie pools are, they only satisfy our longing for kiddie pools, not our deep desire for the ocean.

Kiddie pools are shadows and images of the ocean.
And the day that you stand on the rocky shore, breathing in the saltiest of air, so salty you find salt grains on your lips; feeling the foamy waves brush against your skin, and losing all perspective in the endless horizon, you know that this is water at its greatest, at its fullest.
And then, when you turn on the tap water, you can't help but laugh, because that simple stream of water that you're using to wash your dishes is, in its natural state, part of that wild, wet, untamed ocean.

Life becomes a lot grander when lived with the perspective of the sea.

Monday, February 25, 2013

fragile hearts in stony hands

"Just or unjust, alike seem miserable, For oft alike, both come to an evil end." 
--Samson Agonistes

Sometimes, you read passages that take your breath away, your heart grasped by the strange, awful immediacy of the words:

"Do you hate Winnie Mandela?" asks the lawyer.
"No," says Falati.
"Are you saying you love her?"
And the bewildered face is fraught with conflict. "I don't know," she whispers.
--Antjie Krog, Country of My Skull

Country of My Skull is one woman's encounter with her country's search for reconciliation in the wreckage of the post-Apartheid South Africa. It's filled with lines that take your breath away, or make your heart crumble into a thousand tiny pieces.

It's a story filled with people recounting their tragic tales of the day that they were scarred for life, or the day that they lost their manhood, or the day that their families were broken, the days that the life they knew and loved died. The day they encountered a violence that stripped them of their humanity, that treated them worse than dogs, or as one woman cries out, worse than ants.

Parents fail their children; children lose their parents; brothers are transformed into enemies. Stories upon stories of evil upon evil. The avalanche of stories becomes suffocating.
Stories suffocating in lies, evasions, intimidation, and fear.
It's difficult to read. It's difficult to encounter, even in the two-dimensional black and white print of a paper back book an evil that causes so much pain, that is so outside humanity. It's so foreign to humanity, and yet humans can participate in it. We have the awful power to bend ourselves, to make ourselves something so much less than human.


I really do feel this is my country, but I think that no one, no country, no politician, has the right to ask anyone to die for them. They can make claims on my life, I'll make sacrifices in that, but my death is my own.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission  that Antjie is a reporter for, sits, day after day, and listens to the horrendous stories of perpetrators and victims. It gives each person the chance to tell their story. Beautifully woven into this larger story of a country is the story of a single soul. The truth and the reconciliation that Antjie Krog grapples with is not only the stories of torture and sadness, of attacks on the victim's dignity, life, and humanity; she is wrestling with her own reconciliation to her country. Where does she belong--where is her home? How can one belong to or find a home in a country so cruel and so foreign?
She is dealing with that particular brand of heartbreak that arrives when home is no longer home. 


[I look] back to the continent. 
There is a rawness in my chest. It is mine. 
I belong to that continent. 
My gaze, my eyes, are one with the thousands of others that have looked back over the centuries toward Africa. 
Ours. Mine. Yes, I would die for this. 
It slips out, like a smooth holy sound. And I realize that it is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that brought me to these moments of fierce belonging.
--A. Krog

Love and pain go hand-in-hand.
Even in the midst of suffering, only that which we love can ever really cause us pain.
We call that betrayal. And Dante found it so unpleasant, he assigned it to the deepest circle of hell.
When the world, which we expected and trusted to be good--to be a place where we could make our home--becomes a place where we are no longer safe, where strangers attack us in our beds, that is a betrayal that shatters our souls.
When our neighbors, our brothers, who we trusted to let us live, to respect us, love us, take care of us, live in ubuntu with, sick themselves on us like dogs, then we find that the world we thought we knew lies in a thousand little pieces at our feet.


Incredible, then, that a woman can relearn to love a homeland that betrayed her trust, can piece together a new world from the broken bits of the former.
Miraculous, I think, that human beings can forgive those that hurt them. That trust is so instinctive to human nature that it can slowly triumph through fear.
Unbelievable, almost, that life and love seem to swallow up suffering and outlast pain.


I belong to that blinding black African heart. My throat bloats up in tears--my pen falls to the floor, I blubber behind my hand, my glasses fog up--for one brief, shimmering moment, this country, this country is also truly mine.
--A. Krog



Sunday, February 24, 2013

one step enough for me

~


~

Imagine we are in a strange district at night and are crossing fields unmarked by any path, but we have a guide. He asks no advice nor tells us of his plans. It is no use trying to look at maps, or question passers-by. That would not be tolerated by a guide who wants us to rely on him. 
So what can we do except trust him?
--Jean Pierre de Caussade

I used to wonder why Christ only took three Apostles up the mountain into the Transfiguration with Him. In all fairness, He should have really brought all twelve, I thought. Or really, why stop at the twelve? Why didn't all the crowds following him follow him up to the mountain?

A piece of the puzzle I was missing was brought to my attention last night. 
It's the cloud.
After the blinding, beautiful light of the Transfiguration, they are thrown into the shadowy cloud, in which they can see nothing.
And they were frightened.

It is frightening being stripped of sight.
Being blind--interiorly and exteriorly-- is torturous and stifling (hey there, Samson Agonistes).
If you've ever been stricken with being suddenly unsure of yourself, been blinded as to what you should do, who you are becoming, or where you are going, then you know the terror of the cloud.
But how do we find our way out of the cloud?
How do the apostles?
The cloud of course, always arrives for a reason.
Sometimes beautiful music seduces you so completely that you feel like you must close your eyes, to shut off any extraneous contact with the sensory world. So that the only thing filling your mind is the otherworldly sounds of melancholy oboes or delicate cellos. 
You have to close your eyes, lose your sight for a bit, so that you can see the music better. 

I think love is a bit like that sometimes.
That cloud must be an overwhelming experience of love, which is what the psalmist would describe as "love as a searing iron."
Not many hearts can stand up to searing irons. Maybe, that day, only those three small hearts could.
If you lose one sense, colloquial wisdom tells us that your other senses are sharpened. Maybe you have to lose your sight for a bit so that you can listen much better.
If you're enveloped in the cloud of unknowing, just like the Apostles, then you can hear the voice coming from beyond the cloud so much clearer.
And that, naturally, is what obedience is.
(From the Latin: obaudire; ob ="to"; audiere ="listen, hear.")
It is listening.
But listening is not simply hearing, it is hearing and responding.
Obedience, specifically, is the act of hearing and responding: yesyou know that I love you.


Friday, February 22, 2013

cobwebs and stories in the corners

"Then they walked home together in the dusk, crowned king and queen in the bridal realm of love, along winding paths fringed with the sweetest flowers that ever bloomed, and over haunted meadows where winds of hope and memory blew.
― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of the Island

Used bookstores are dangerous places. They are full of twists and turns and little crannies full of books of your childhood, and books long forgotten.
When I walk into an old bookstore, I look, not for shiny new titles that capture my fancy, but the worn-out old classics that shaped my imagination.
I look for Winnie-the-Pooh, and E. Nesbit, and flip through the mysterious grandeur of musty old Jules Verne adventures.
These dusty old words are reminders of who you've been and what you've loved.
They are little whispers of words you've forgotten. Words that peel back the veils of your heart and reveal that they were lodged there all along.

~

Yesterday, my camera, the temperamental old fool, decided to refuse to turn on.
After a few milliseconds of mourning that my camera would not capture the beauty of Alton, Chawton, the countryside, my new friend the horse, and the house where Jane Austen tread, I put my camera in my pocket, took a breath, and breathed in the fresh air.
I read all the words that I would usually have passed by; I looked more closely at the snowdrops I would have glossed over; and I sat longer at a window, soaking in a view I would have snapped a shot of and then moved on.
I fought against the temporary coma my camera insisted on falling into; but then, instead of recording the experience while in the experience, I thought: I'll just live.
Instead of photographing the moment, I'll just savor in the moment.

~

I sat down to write about the day, and as soon as I put down words on the pages, I turned my camera on.
To the tune of a magical little electronic fanfare, the little trickster magically worked once more.
I laughed at the joke that had been played on me (and also with relief).
I don't know what sort of pixie put a spell over my little photo-making machine yesterday afternoon, but I bless that impish sprite.
As we tramped through mud, and explored the quiet country parks, and followed "winding paths fringed with the sweetest flowers that ever bloomed," I found myself refreshingly focused on each step I took.
I could have walked forever through the countryside.
Not only because it was enchanting with its rolling hills, sheep and horses (but no cows) peppering the grassy slopes, and its little wooden wildernesses, but because each moment was filled with the sheer goodness of laughter, friendship, and crisp English air.
No picture could adequately capture or record those moments.
But words, I think, maybe can get somehow closer to the truth of those moments.
Words can capture the essence of those moments quite well.
With skill, simplicity, and dexterity, sometimes words can say things with art and grace that we've always known were true but have only been able to explain, never to just say.
Sometimes, words can paint pictures better than pixels on a computer.
I painted my day with hot drinks and cold air, with tea and milk, and with brown ink on a white page.

Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.
― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh


Thursday, February 21, 2013

to him who knocks

When someone knocks on the door of our flat, we always sing out: Come in! 
Forgetting, of course, that our flat is locked, and whatever poor soul is waiting in the cold hallway outside can't come in.

How funny that our natural response to a knock is to say: 
the door is open, there is barely any effort needed on your end. 
Just simply knock, and you will receive.

We went to Jane Austen's house today, and I walked around the gardens, thrilling in the hedges and the trees, breathing in the same fresh country air that Jane breathed.
I took a turn around the yard, I wandered through the house, I stopped at her writing desk and thought:
this is where she wrote them.
This is where some of the most beautiful sentences in the English language were formed. How mind-boggling is that.
And how much more incredible it is that we care.
It is so marvelous to me that human beings accomplish such great deeds that generations later, seeing a lock of their hair can bring tears to someone's eyes, or that visitors to their house gawk at silver tea pots and small curio boxes.
Think of all the insignificant memorabilia in your life, and then imagine all that bric-a-brac suddenly transforming into significant little relics of your life.
Jane's letters--at least the ones that I have seen--are nothing more but delightful, gossipy epistles, recounting the ins and outs of daily life in a small village.
But, because of the greatness of her spirit, the enduring beauty of her work, those letters become a treasure.
"Such art as hers will never grow old,"
reads the inscription outside the house.
That in itself is quite the miracle.

Tucked away in the little corner of the house, there is a letter from Cassandra Austen to Jane's favorite niece Fanny. It is a poignant account of Jane's death, and a lasting testament to Casandra's ferocious love of her sister:

I have lost a treasure, such a sister, such a friend as never can have been surpassed. She was the sun of my life, the gilder of every pleasure, the soother of every sorrow; I had not a thought concealed from her, and it is as if I had lost a part of myself. I loved her only too well -- not better than she deserved, but I am conscious that my affection for her made me sometimes unjust to and negligent of others; and I can acknowledge, more than as a general principle, the justice of the Hand which has struck this blow.

And, two hundred years later, a steady stream of visitors flow through the small antechamber and their eyes brim with tears for a spinster woman who lived a sheltered and simple life in the English countryside, and died a quiet death two hundred years ago.
The good men do, quoth Shakespeare's Brutus, is oft interred with their bones.
I beg to differ.
Such art as theirs will never grow old.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

shooting down arrows of patience


Fear is something we all know. Perhaps the greatest fear comes when we realize how much is not in our control. 
We equate control with security, with safety, with predictability. 
The few things we have in our control we tend to hold on to very tightly.
--Frank Quinlivan, C.S.C.


Bills on my mindset / I can't deny /That they're gettin high
This is just a journey, Drop your worries
Preach, Mr. Grammar. Preach.



One day, not too long ago, I (almost literally) stumbled into a small little Chinese pastry shop in Chinatown.
That small little Chinese bake shop has become my dragon's hoard, it calls to me with a sweet smell, and the enticing remembrances of red bean buns, and chocolate rolls, and egg and ham buns and puffy coconut pastries.
If I could be a snail, and choose which building I could carry around on my back as a house, I would choose that little shop.

As I walked away, delighting in the culinary goodness that a pocketful of change had bought me, I munched on my red bean bun, and, at the first bite, the discovery burst out of that red bean bun.
The red bean bun tasted like Brompton Oratory.
Not that I've ever tasted Brompton Oratory.
Obviously.
But it tasted like Brompton Oratory infused with my grandmother's kitchen.

Brompton Oratory and my grandmother's kitchen, on the surface, appear to be almost exactly the opposite of one another.
I've never found two things to be more intimately related.

~

There once was a boy named Chris McCandless, who one day just up and left.
Just like that. Up and left.
He started roaming around the country, and he dove deeper and deeper Into the Wild
He left behind everything that we associate with the idea of security: he left behind a home, college scholarship, a stockpile of food, a steady income.
He ditched all these outward accoutrements of security for something a lot bigger and bolder (definitely more Romantic).
I wonder if Christ McCandless considered himself an impoverished, insecure human being, or perhaps he saw himself as the king of security.
Perhaps he found the secret of being secure in happiness.

Which, could be, perhaps:
Instead of being secure in those things that bring you happiness or joy, being secure in Joy.
Instead of being secure in those people who love you, being secure in Love itself.

~

Brompton Oratory and my grandmother's kitchen, on the surface, appear to be almost exactly the opposite of one another.
But in each of them, I am secure.


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

and then i saw a carousel


Your first love has never forgotten you. 

Sometimes, in the course of a fifteen minute walk, you can run the gamut of emotions of human experience.
I burst forth out of the classroom, liberated from the chains of schoolbooks for an hour or so.
A rush of joy from the freedom and a surge of stress from my to-do list inundate my mind, in a surge of emotions.
I realized I'd forgotten to smile.
So I mentally put my imaginary to-do list away, out of sight and out of mind.
And I remember that I should breathe.
I recognized a person I would have otherwise passed by, and so we stopped and talked.
I would have rushed by in a blur of motion.
Movement may be natural to humans, but without those moments of stillness, we'll never be able to see in which direction we're moving.

Pascal says:


 "When everything is moving at once, nothing appears to be moving, as on board ship. 
When everyone is moving towards depravity, no one seems to be moving, 
but if someone stops, 
he shows up the others who are rushing on, by acting as a fixed point."

I think he's onto something.
If we never examine where we're going, we're bound to rush by a friend, or find ourselves at the bottom of the rabbit hole, not realizing how we'd gotten there.

I will love with urgency, but not with haste
~

I watched with horror as the young girl started crying right in front of me.
It's a rare and tremendously awe-ful sorrow to see another human being break right in front of you.
You watch them shatter into a thousand little pieces, crumbling away before your very eyes, and there's so little you can do to help.
In fact, there's really nothing you can do to fix them.
You find yourself feeling much like a paramedic who's been dispatched to the scene of a car crash with nothing but a box of Band-Aids.
The first snare you run into is the snare of yourself: Where do I begin? What do I do? How do I Fix This?
And those questions are our shields, because as terrifying as it is to encounter yourself, it's sometimes (sometimes. only sometimes) much safer to encounter yourself than truly see another human's heart unlocked.
Sometimes, we are our own retreat.

But I have this box of Band-Aids, I think. 
And I barely know where to begin.
But I know I have to use them.
Patience.

I looked into her eyes, and what I saw there that I disliked so much was my reflection in those eyes.
Even though I knew I was a paramedic, I felt more like the one who crashed the car.

No one says anything, because sometimes you wander outside the realm of words.
Its strange to find another human being in a wordless place. Most of the time, we talk with other human beings, Because that just seems the natural thing to do: to communicate, to share the moment, to breathe and think together.
It's unnerving to find another person there in that safe little kingdom-beyond-thought, because you both know that you were somewhere-beyond-words together, but once you arrive back in the world of words, you can't communicate that to one another.
If you make the attempt at communication, you'll end up feeling like a Neanderthal trying to describe a Picasso.
You've encountered something out of your depth, and you simply don't have the words to describe it.
And you both trepidatiously make timid eye contact, both wondering: I wonder if she knew I was there, too?
And of course she does.
And so you simply smile, and hide in that smile all the things a you can say with the 17-26 muscles it takes to smile.

You even spit out some holy word//I have no strength from which to speak

But you still have those Band-Aids, which are about of as much medicinal use as a smile.
So leave the deeper healing to those who actually are in the business of saving.
You, small child, can't mend any broken bones. Leave those for the doctor to set.
But, just like any child, reach for the box of Band-Aids, and offer them to those who are hurting.
All the Band-Aids will do is remind them that whatever wound they carry-- their bruised thumb, scraped knee or sprained ankle-- is noticed, loved, and will one day get better.
Little signs that healing is on its way.

so I ran towards the carousel and I left my fear behind, in the coils of the snake.

Monday, February 18, 2013

the world is charged


"It is far easier to travel than to write about it."
 - Dr. Livingstone, I presume
(aka Dr. David Livingstone, Scotsman, Explorer, Hero.)

In that moment, I swear we were infinite


A good book, to paraphrase C.S. Lewis, is one that you cannot read once. It is one that must be re-read. Some books you re-read by reading them more than once; others you re-read by finding them hidden in every other book you read.
Discovering Truth is a magnificent thing, because then you find it everywhere, you are constantly remembering it and re-reading it.
Travel, as I told my mother yesterday, is all about re-visiting places.
Travel is about finding a new place that was always somehow mysteriously a part of you.
It's about returning to a place over and over again, and finding that somewhere strange you never thought could be a part of you is actually your heartbeat.

As I was reading my book on the bus home, watching the countryside stream by, it all looked very new, and yet familiar. I'd read about the North of England in books and novels, and I knew what to expect--they had prepared me to see something different than the South. I knew to expect brick houses, factory towns, and rugged landscapes. 
In Scotland, I knew to expect an eerie atmosphere. 
I have never been in a city that is so uncanny as Edinburgh. Graveyards, crows, mist, mountains.

I'd never been in a city so Romantic.
The book I was reading told me that Romanticism was just a 19th century precursor to 1960's "Do whatever Feels Right," "Follow your emotions", etc., etc.
But what if Romanticism could be more?
Okay, yes, 19th century Romanticism was a reaction against the kind of 19th century rationalism that my beloved Jane Austen loved, and yes maybe the idea of "the artist's feeling is his law" makes for a lot of emotions in our art and too little beauty. 
But I really am a fan of babies, and I object to them being thrown out along with the bathwater.
What if the Romantics were onto something? Their sense of awe is unparalleled by rationalism's cool, keen "I can figure this out on my own, with my own mind." The world is a magical, mysterious place for the Romantics. 
In a Romantic worldview, the natural world and even our own hearts are part of a larger drama. Forces we cannot control move all about us and within us.

The heartbreak, the author of the book was arguing, in a book like Austen's Persuasion is more palpable, relatable, and real, than the thunderclaps and stormy heaths of Brontë's Wuthering Heights.
Austen is realims. Brontë is not.
In novels like Jane Austen, Jane does what few people do as well as she: she paints with clear, precise strokes the state of a human heart and psyche.
It happens to be the human hearts and psyches of Regency England men and women, but the beautiful thing about her work is that in writing about the particular truths, she has illuminated the Truths Universally Acknowledged. And that is impressive and amazing, and why her books are classics to the highest degree.
Romantics are not painting an accurate picture of the human psyche.
Of course, when your heart breaks, you don't hear the sound of a thunderclap. And the world doesn't burst into a raging, antediluvian maelstrom.
But, the beauty of a thunderstorm is that maybe it captures the awful feeling of raw anger.
Maybe the rain illuminates what hopeless tears of the pits of despair feel like. 
Maybe the sun sparkling in the sky captures the sound of laughter, gives it a physical presence, gives it a shape, a body, an incarnation.
The Romantics, I think, were onto something.
The world is a lot more Sacramental than we imagine, if we dare to entertain the thought.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
  There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
  Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs
--Gerard Manly Hopkins

Sunday, February 17, 2013

only rainbows after rain

But Edinburgh is a mad god’s dream 
 Fitful and dark, 
 Unseizable in Leith 
 And wildered by the Forth, 
 But irresistibly at last 
 Cleaving to sombre heights 
 Of passionate imagining 
 Till stonily, From soaring battlements, 
 Earth eyes Eternity. 
-- Hugh MacDiarmid



Earth eyes eternity, and likes what it sees.

Pascal says that our imagination magnifies the present at the expense of eternity.
But how else are we to find eternity, except in the present?
If eternity is reality--reality in its fullest, unbounded by time--then where can we find reality except in the present? 
The past and future belong to providence and mercy, says Mama T, but the present moment is the realm of love. 
If reality is self-giving love, then where can we find it?
In the present.

"Living in the moment" has become corrupted to mean living as if this moment was your last, so fill it with every single selfish pleasure that your stomach and spleen desire.

Maybe that's why that kind of "living in the moment" sometimes leaves our stomachs growling, and our hands empty and dry.
Human beings delight in beautiful things: the craftsman ship of a Swarovski crystal-studded chandelier sends shivers up and down my spine; walking by a window of perfectly constructed evening gowns makes me skip with delight. 
But filling up all our moments with treasures is not the same as living in the moment, treasuring each breath.

Maybe that's why that kind of "living in the moment" leaves our hearts barren.
Human beings can and do seek pleasure in the moment, and agree to be cheap thrill rides for one another.
But that arrangement, unsurprisingly, ends up having all the glamour of a deep fried Snickers. We are human beings, not tilt-a-whirls at the county fair.

But if the past has slipped out of our fingers, and the future has yet-to-be received, all we have is the present. 
So don't we have to live in it?

Living in the moment, perhaps, means living in eternity.
It means, as a friend of mine suggested, lifting up the veil of time to find eternity flowing underneath.
That time is maybe a clever disguise for eternity, time clothes the reality that is always there.
And if we enter deeply into the present, if we embrace the Earth, we find that eternity runs into our embrace.
We find, maybe, that we are already walking in the heavens.


Saturday, February 16, 2013

I for you was born too late

Je suis desja d'amour tanné, 
Ma tres doulce Valentinée,

Long Live, Wilderness
I spent yesterday chasing the sun.
I spent today frolicking in the hills, bounding through spongy sheaves of grass like they were so many pillows on a feather mattress.
I broke away from the group, and made my way to the top of a shelf of rocks.
Following the sound of the voice on the wind, I walked to the edge, and looked over at the sea of grassy waves below.
I opened my arms.
And I was on top of the world.
The wind whipped around me, my feet planted firmly in the rock, the smell of mud and grass surrounding me, and I knew I was never going to leave.

~

Once upon a time, the medievals believed in something called green sickness
They called it the Disease of Virgins, because the poor maidens' blood was not full of the rudy life of love-making. Green, I realized, was not just the color of envy, but the color of stainless maidenhood. "When I was green in judgment: cold in blood," sighs Cleopatra, remembering with wistfulness her virginal days. 
German physician Johannes Lange (he was a 16th century-Reformation-style bro) recommended that the disease "peculiar to virgins," should be cured by the young ladies taking up with men, which would hood their Juliet-like unmann'd blood, bating in their cheeks.

We now know to medicate anemia with iron pills. 
I suppose you can get a prescription for heartbreak as well.

~

As we walked down the streets of Edinburgh, we laughed.
We laughed until we cried.
I don't think you're supposed to laugh that much in public.

I walked into my flat the other day, laughing, to find my roommate laughing by herself, and both of us fell on the floor laughing together.

We stumbled up a hill, almost back to a warm bed and central heating, so close to reaching our goal, so close to achieving home.
We stopped and laughed some more, our feet tired, our legs like jelly, our backs weak from bearing our loads.
I turned to my friend:
"I'm glad you're here with me, Liz, here at the end of all things."
We burst out laughing some more.

“If we couldn't laugh we would all go insane.”
quoth Robert Frost.

Friday, February 15, 2013

mist and mysticism

“When he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.” 
--Juliet, re: Romeo



The goal for Edinburgh was simple: see the stars.
Because, when I went to Bath, I saw stars. Lots and lots of stars.
And if you have the privilege of living where there are few city lights at night, you can see blankets and blankets of stars. They make the heaven so fine, that you forget you want the day to come.
But then you see light beams cutting through clouds, just like they do in paintings.
And you cannot help but be struck by awe, and pay homage to the master artist and his garish sun.

As I walked through the National Gallery, I am always struck by how incredible even the smallest of paintings is.
It is miraculous solely because of the light.
I saw a small pendant painting of the Holy Family that made me stop dead in my tracks, because it was illuminated with a light that didn't come from the sun-filled skylight above me, it didn't come from the paints or the paintbrush or the canvas.
Where did that light come from? I couldn't discover the mystery.
I fluttered from painting to painting. I started with the Caravaggio (now fully lit in the light of the sun, robbed of some of the gloomy, reverent mystery that it oozes at nighttime, but full of a lucid, mysterious glory during the day. Light emanated from the painting. A direct stream of light, unlike the Holy Family's mystic, golden gleam.
The painting of Niagara falls was full of rainbows, dancing light, light reflecting off thousands of millions of water droplets.
The tantalizing mystery remained out of reach.

I walked into the Greyfriars graveyard twice. 
Once when it was sunny.
Once when it was cloudy.
The weather had changed, but the atmosphere remained.

As I sat eating Haggis out of my coffee cup in the soft, quiet courtyard of the close, singing softly to the white pigeon nearby, drinking in the smell of Edinburgh (it smells like rich meats roasting and potatoes frying and warm bread baking and very dark, smoky whiskey fermenting. If I ever made a perfume, I would bottle up that smell and call it Eau de Edínmbourg, and it would be magical) and soaking in the warmth of the sun and the emerald sheen of the grass, I wondered not how painters captured All This in a painting, but how All This got here in the first place.
I was struck by how beautiful the sunbeams are.
No one has ever explained to me why sunbeams are so beautiful.
There's a why to the way things are; but there's no why for beauty.
Beauty just is, I thought.

Satisfied with that thought for the present, I finished my haggis, tripped on several loose flagstones, and went to go find my friends.

"Small is the worth
Of beauty from the light retired:
Bid her come forth,
Suffer herself to be desired,
And not blush so to be admired."
--Edmund Waller, Go Lovely Rose

Thursday, February 14, 2013

more like a tame-goose chase


There was a lull in the busy rush of pots and pans and plates running in and out of the kitchen. During this lull, Maria took the opportunity to tell us story upon story of how many times during her work at the sister's convent in Spain the sisters had run out of coffee, or they had no rooms left for the stray man who arrived on the doorstep, or they were out of money, and could not afford the sister's doctor's appointment.
But somehow, money was always found in the St. Anthony collection box, or a rich couple arrived with money for breakfast, or the super market down the road had an overload of coffee this shipment.
"God always provides," Maria said with repetition like rosary beads. "God always provides."

Yesterday, Ash Wednesday of all days, I entered into the valley of temptation. In fact, I flirted shamelessly with temptation.
For I walked not into one bookstore, nor two. But four.
I visited four bookstores.
And, in each one, I was tempted by the siren song of books to buy.

Two of them were new bookstores, filled with the silky smooth smell and feel and taste of new books. All the shelves appealingly arranged perfectly in rows of alphabetized volumes, arranged by authors and subjects. The bindings of the book creating an ordered rainbow of colors that delights and seduces, just begging you to pull one off the shelf; to open to a page at random; bury your nose in the crisp black  print on the neat white page; fill your nose with the warm smell of printing press; and find yourself lost in a brave new world.

I ventured into them, because I was on a desperate mission.
My mission: to find the Penguin edition of Blaise Pascal's Pensées (this is what PLS does to you, my friends. This is why friends don't let friends be PLS. It does something to your heart and soul. Where you find yourself seeking the name "A. J. Krailsheimer, translator and editor" on the back of out-dated philosophical texts that no one should care about. And yet we do anyways. And I find that rather beautifully miraculous. The heart has its reasons that reason knows not of, and all that jazz.)

In case you were wondering, the Penguin edition of Blaise Pascal's Pensées is, like the publishing company's namesake itself, a rare bird to find in London.
I found that these two giant emporiums of beauty did not have a single Penguin Pascal edition. Oxford's Classic of the World series reigned supreme.

So, I entered into the dens of pleasure known as Used Book Stores.
Used book stores envelop you with their sweet smell of musty old pages, faded to a drab beige; the feel of old leather covers, the gilding falling off; and the sense of story attached to each book heightened to an overwhelming magnitude.
I walked into the first store, walked down rickety, curved stairs, and found that, again, Pascal was there, but not in all his Penguin-edition glory.

I behooved myself next door, and there I glanced around the one-room shop, sure that I would not find the Holy Grail I sought.
After circling the room several times, like a shark, I found Pascal's Provincial Letters. But no Pensées. I mentally shook my fist at the sky. As I looked up to send my bootless wails to the heavens, I saw a small volume lying horizontally at the top of the shelf, casually perched above his compadres.
Holding my breath, I reached up, and my fingers grazed reverently over the crisp paper-back edition of Pascal's Pensées.
Hardly believing my luck, I looked at the binding.
And there, in all its glorious radiance, was the small outline of a penguin.
It was the Penguin edition.
My heart happy-danced with joy, and uttered prayers of praise to all angels, martyrs, prophets, and used-book-store-owners-yet-to-be-canonized.
As I handed over several small pound coins, I marveled at how small a price could buy such a precious gift. The lady at the register smiled at my enthusiasm. Little did she know what a great treasure her little shop held.
With a victorious anthem of the Chariots of Fire theme, Lord of the Rings soundtrack, and the William Tell Overture all playing together in my heard, I left the shop with triumph in my step, and my little lost sheep in my hands.
And my heart called out to the clouds and said, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my Penguin Edition Pascal.' I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one rogue Penguin Edition who was provided by providence than over ninety-nine other books easily obtained at Blackwells.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

when life becomes frail

I come to you as Bishop of Rome, but also as an old man visiting his peers. 
At times, at a certain age, one may look back nostalgically at the time of our youth when we were fresh and planning for the future. Thus at times our gaze is veiled by sadness, seeing this phase of life as the time of sunset. This morning, addressing all the elderly in spirit, although I am aware of the difficulties that our age entails I would like to tell you with deep conviction: it is beautiful to be old!
(Words: Papa Benny XVI. Emphases: Mine.)

On Monday, I skipped home from lunch and a spontaneous tube ride to my flat.
The Good News: My computer was brought back to life through the powerful intercession of St. Clare.
The Bad News: I was going to be late for class (but I didn't know this yet).
The Surprising News: The Pope Resigned. (also why I was late for class.)

I skipped into my room.
Had a stare-down with my computer.
Turned the computer on.
Danced around the apartment with joy as my previously unresponsive stubborn little computer turned on. I leaped around, leaking joy from every limb.
THIS IS A GREAT DAY I cried out to my two innocent flat mates innocently sitting at the table doing homework.
YEAH! They responded, as I blabbered away at what a beautiful day it was and how great life was and why I really want to be a thirty year old with babies, a husband and a career, but I also want to be four years old and play in the backyard all day, and have my mom tuck me into bed at night, and how BEAUTIFUL it is to be living in what a wise priest once called that "creative tension." 
YEAH, responded my roommate, adding to my list of blessings of the day, AND THE POPE RESIGNED.
I stopped dead in my tracks.
Wait. 
What.
WHAT.
WHAT.

It took me a while to process this news. 
I was flailing/dancing around the flat with surprise and shock for about a half an hour.
And then a roughly 36 hour period of my life commenced in which 98% of my typed words were typed in all caps.
I was living in an extremely overly-excited state of consciousness, and I didn't know how else to experience or engage with the world, except thorough all caps.
I also talked about the Pope with literally anyone who would listen: from my friends an ocean away to my new friend William-the-front-desk-guard (who was also a football [translation: soccer] player in a past life. #casual).

And as everyone reflected on what great humility and courage stepping out of the role of Vicar of Christ must have taken (as no doubt it does!) I was struck by Benedict's patience.
As a perennial impatient, I am in awe of a man who can apparently enter into each stage of life with quiet and grace.
Who can prepare for an ending without rushing towards it.
Who can realize that in order to understand what the sunrise and noontime truly are, it is necessary to experience the sunset of life just as intentionally fully.

They say youth is wasted on the young. I wonder if age is ever squandered by the aged.

Dear elderly brothers and sisters, the days sometimes seem long and empty, with difficulties, few engagements and few meetings; never feel down at heart: you are a wealth for society, even in suffering and sickness. The wisdom of life, of which we are bearers, is a great wealth. 
--Pope Benedict XVI

Monday, February 11, 2013

even the stones cry out


The answer to all the best questions is a story.

Stories capture so perfectly the truth that only particularity can reveal. But, at the same time, they gently persuade their listeners to dig into their narratives to find some sort of deeper, universal truth.

Sometimes, you can't capture the unique irreplaceability of a person, except through their name. I find that when thinking of an adjective to describe my mother, the word that always immediately pops to my mind is her name. Her name isn't an adjective, in fact, my fourth grade grammar book taught me that her name is a Proper Noun. (It also taught me a lot of lessons about superlatives that I promptly ignored. Sorry, fourth grade grammar book, I reject your simplistic, two-dimensional worldview.)
But names capture the particularity of a person's essence with an effortless delicate perfection.
They capture their entire life story neatly into one little word: their name.

Human beings are adept at making stories. 
We're especially skilled at recognizing stories.
We are always on the look-out for the patterns we have learned through our story-books. And when we  find them they resonate with all the brilliant gloriousness of truth. 
When something fits, when something just settles into place, when something makes sense, our natural response is one word: 
YES. 
Just a YES. 
An affirmation, a recognition: YES.
Why, YES.
YES, of course. This is the way the world is supposed to be.
How could the story go any other way?

~

Sometimes, you find those moments of affirmation, where dreams and reality meet. When you hear about a foreign country, and you irreversibly realize in your heart: I'm going to go there.
It's that feeling you get when someone describes someone and you know: I'm going to fall in love with that person.
You wonder how people can say "I knew I was gong to marry her the second I met her" but then you find yourself going to that foreign country. You find the person you've longed to be friends with is so closely entwined with your heart it cannot beat without them.
You realize that human beings aren't really so good at seeing the future, as they are truly gifted at seeing the Present.
You discover the miraculous truth that if we listen to the quiet rhythm of the world, seeing the Truth is not difficult at all.
If you quietly peel back the veil of the temporal in each moment, you find the eternal sparkling underneath, ready to reveal the most amazing beauties hidden beneath even the most terrible of lies.

If we listen and look, we find the Story is right there in front of our eyes, under our feet.
And if we utter our YES, our simple recognition of the way the world is, the way it's supposed to be, we find that our lips can build a castle out of our castles-in-the-air.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

whom have I to complain of but myself?

Yet stay, let me not rashly call in doubt
Divine Prediction; what if all foretold 
Had been fulfilld but through mine own default, 
Whom have I to complain of but my self?
--Samson, Samson Agonistes

Once upon a time, there was a poet named Milton.
Milton wrote about falls from grace.
The most famous of which is Paradise Lost, in which he covers our first parents' fall from grace. 
But then he wrote something called Samson Agonistes, which he tells the tale of one man's fall from light into blindness.
Samson's agony is not so much his external blindness, but the loss of his internal guiding light.


thy Soul
Imprison'd now indeed,
In real darkness of the body dwells,
Shut up from outward light
To incorporate with gloomy night;
For inward light alas
Puts forth no visual beam.
--Chorus, Samson Agonistes

When a human being commits a mistake, when we make a misstep, when we take a fall, we wonder: where did I go wrong? 
Like Samson, we find ourselves trapped in a prison--not an external one, but internally. Our strength, we find has left us. As our hearts weaken, so our strength is sapped. We retreat into an internal darkness, where everything crumbles under the laser-sharp inspection of our own internal introspection.
What part of us, we wonder, committed such an act? How far back does our real mistake lie? Samson wonders where he went wrong. For each step he took, was he following Providence, as he believed, or had he persuaded himself of Divine Influence to comfort and assuage his own overweening desires? How does a human being even begin to sift through the myriad motivations that move us to act? Which ones were of us, which ones were the persuasions of our baser instincts? 
Without the guidance of the inward light, without the illumination of the Truth, how are we supposed to dive into our blindness? 
And so we find ourselves trapped.
The prison in which Samson is chained is the prison of his own crippling self-doubt and despair.
How can he possibly choose to act? 
A single step may take him further out of the realm of grace.
One stray action may take him farther away from completing his mission.
How can he take action when he no longer even knows who he is?

Be of good courage, I begin to feel 
Some rouzing motions in me which dispose 
To something extraordinary my thoughts.
--Samson, Samson Agonistes

But then, Samson finds the courage to act, he finds the courage to leave his prison of blindness.
As courage stirs within his heart, the light returns.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.
The light returns sight to his soul, and with the sight, his strength.


Friday, February 8, 2013

i missed my mom & dad for this?


You look like a mom in all the most wonderful ways.

There's a Mama T novena I have that I actually don't actually physically have
I currently possess a photo-copy of the actual novena booklet.
My mother sent me the photo-copy, and she attached to the twelve stapled pages (that are now worn, dirty, and dog-eared) a bright pink post-it note (now faded and water-stained) that reads:

I want to write you a nice long letter & tell you how wonderful you are & how much I love you, but if I hold this until I get that done, you'll never see this novena--busy as always--
Lots of Love,
Mom

As I look at that note, I never fail to smile.
That is my mom in a nutshell. She is always on the run. Always pouring herself out in six hundred different directions at once for her six children.



I can't even imagine what it's like to have six children small enough to fit inside of you grow into six children who are large enough to carry you in their arms.


I've never been in the business of standing still


 I currently find myself in the crossfires of two longings:
One: wishing I was small enough to fit inside my mother's arms again. Wishing I was snuggled up in my little home in suburban Minnesota, waking up to the aroma of bacon and pancakes floating down from the kitchen, being smothered in attention while I just try to read the Wall Street Journal like the incorrigible grouch that I am. I find myself longing to find the rewind button, and fold my wings up, and squeeze back into my warm little cocoon.
Two: Each time I see a little British baby swaddled in a thousand and one layers in a little stroller, or a little toddler running all over a British park, chasing pigeons, my heart aches for the day I'll hold my own little child in my arms. And I want to speed through all the adventures that will get me to that day. I get itchy feet, wanting to dive out of the present and into the future. I find myself with the irresistible desire to put my life on fast-forward.
~

What's great about being five to six hours ahead of everyone else in your life is that you often wake up to loads of emails. Most of which are full of business that you don't want to attend to at 7am in the morning, or full of reminders for events back on campus that you don't want to be reminded are happening without you.
But some are little notes from family, or electronic letters from friends full of love and happinesses, and reading them is the best way to start the morning.
One of my friends wrote a midnight epistle that reduced me to a grateful, teary mess.
It was one of the most precious letters I have ever received, and as I read it, I was reminded to live again in the present.
I was reminded that I've always felt too young to be on my own, and too old to be anything less than stubbornly independent.
I was reminded that even my little two-month-old self was already squirming out of my mother's arms, ready to embrace the adventure of the world.
And reminded of how my twenty-year-old self was dying to retreat from the big, wide world back into my mother's arms.

I was reminded of how much I love mothers.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

surprised by anastomosis


"We never lose them as companions on our journeys, and if we cross paths again, we have a joyful family reunion that picks up right where we left off."
--Neil F. Wack, C.S.C.

As I walked up to Piccadilly this afternoon, I saw a woman's face light up and she let out a little gasp of excitement. A double decker bus zoomed by, and after it passed, a man dashed across the street and into her arms.
My long lost friend! she cried, with a hint of sheepish irony, and they laughed heartily together at her overdramatic exclamation with all the joy of two friends lovingly overjoyed at each other's presence

There are few joys, I believe, that are as so chock full of ebullient, effervescent joy as the joy of reunion.
Anastomosis is the reconnection of two streams that were joined, branched out their separate ways, and have met together once again.
When my friend explained anastomosis to me in her elegant and simple terms, I had never been more struck by such a delicate beauty.
There's a word for the reconnection of two disparate streams.
Anastomosis.

~

One of my reunions this semester is with the PLS seminar. PLS Seminar, noun. English. Definition 1: Being stuck in a room with eight other students and forced to discuss philsophical works (knowing, knowing clearly and distinctly, that inevitably someone only had time to read half of the reading, and is trying desperately to cover their tracks.) Worst case scenario, a seminar is a sick, twisted intellectual manhunt. But if it magically somehow all comes together, it's enlightening, exhilarating, edifying conversation. An exchange of ideas that you are sent forth from energized and still)
I realized, as I submerged once more into the flow of conversation, that while everything worked much like my last seminar, I approached this seminar with a whole knew mind and a brand-new heart. And the same old opinionated stubbornness, and some brand new courage with which to air all the opinions that I had accrued.

As I walked into the Tate Modern one night, I pulled open the doors, and I felt an almost electric shock shoot through my body as I remembered exactly what I was thinking and feeling four years ago as I walked into the Tate and opened that same door.


As I walked down the Strand, I noticed a sign. A sign that stood out to me because of a conversation I'd had, and I began to recognize the streets, thinking: I've been here before. Excitedly, I picked up the pace, and retraced my steps with glee.

As we walked by the egg theatre in Bath, as I walked up the steep wooden stairs in an old familiar home, as I looked at the strangely familiar countryside speed by, as I wandered slowly through the Abbey, as I walked down a street corner that had the same shop on it as it did four years ago, floods of memories washed the scene in front of me with an air of mystery and magic, unveiling the myriad layers of stories that each place holds. If walls could talk, I don't think they would ever shut up.

~

As I sat waiting for my friend to arrive, I danced impatiently, awaiting with breathless anticipation for our own anastomosis.
I soaked in all the the people rushing by.
I followed the traffic's pattern as it twirled 'round the roundabout.
I egged on the the sun, as it tried to break through the cloudy sky; it succeeded sometimes, and a radiant bit of blue dazzled the world with its hope of light beyond the rain.
As I flew into the arms of my own long-lost friend, I felt an indelible smile spread over my face, and an untouchable warmth wash over my heart.
Those moments of reunion will always be the sweetest joy.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

who the fruit wants to die alone?


Room 9
Venice 1500-1600


Oscar Wilde said it best


There is sunlight streaming through through glass sun roof, bordered by the white and gold ceiling modeling. The walls are covered in bud green silk damask fabric-y stuff. The entire room has been transplanted from the marshy, watery city of Venice into the heart of the massive museum.

Titian's paint is applied in smooth layers to the canvas. Ariadne's robes swirl and sweep across the lower part of the painting. Bacchus leaps out of his cart. The song Some Nights comes on in my head, and as I listen to our tutor talk about the mythical meeting of the god of wine and the abandoned princess, I stare at the painting with laser vision, and hear the words of the song mix in with the lapis-lazuli blue of Titian's sky.

As I walked around the room, all the stories: the militant, suffering, and triumphant swelled with the drumbeat of Some Nights beating in my head. All the stories swirled around me, and were caught up in a symphony of their own unique harmony.

Each painting is a captured moment. But the beautiful aspect of painting is that the best artists put little hints of the past and signs of the future into the present. As you dive into the present moment the painting suggests, you discover that the author of the painting has created little portions that, with careful observation, reveal the story that lead to that moment. If you meditate long enough on the eternally present moment of that painting, you find a clue about the end of the story. The more we follow the paintings into the present, the more we learn of the story.

In Titian's masterpiece, Ariadne looks out over the sea, as she watches the unfaithful Theseus' ship sail off to Athens. That is how she got to this deserted island--that is the past. Bacchus eyes, meeting hers, draw us into the present moment of an amazing love springing out of terrible faithlessness and lies. Twinkling in the corner of the pristine blue sky is a circlet of stars, signaling their wedding and Ariadne's queenship--that is the future.

The present moment is where the story happens. Where we are allowed entry into the story.
And by entering into the present, we find that we have already found the past and the yet-to-be.

Monday, February 4, 2013

i've gone away for to save my soul


I sit inside my classroom, the sounds of Trafalgar Square: the cars, the buses, the bagpipe playing all float up through the wood and glass screenless windows.

I enjoy the comforting white noise of the cars, the people, the honking horns, the wind shaking the rooftops.

I enjoy the warm smell of smog, Indian food, and the busy halls of Charing Cross station.
Every moment I feel as though I might run into a character from an Agatha Christie novel, or meet the ghost of famous writers lurking in pubs and coffe shops.

But the city's loudness can be oppressive.
The magic of England, I find, is in its gardens.
In its countryside.

So we journeyed to this little place
"What is it about the English countryside — why is the beauty so much more than visual? Why does it touch one so?"
I don't think you can even imagine Trafalgar Square on the same planet as this little idyllic paradise, much less within two hours of each other.

We sat on a bench, looking at the silky blue lake, eating cucumber and ham sandwiches.
The air smelt crisp and fresh.
The sandwiches crunched with a juicy freshness, the air sparkled with cleanliness, and the sun hit the green grass with unrelenting cheerful warmth.

This is such stuff that dreams are made of, and that little tamed wilderness is rounded with a sleepy air of calmtentedness.
  
“The ordinary-sized stuff which is our lives, the things people write poetry about—clouds—daffodils—waterfalls—what happens in a cup of coffee when the cream goes in—these things are full of mystery, as mysterious to us as the heavens were to the Greeks.”
 ― Tom Stoppard, Arcadia

Friday, February 1, 2013

Cinderella-ing so hard

Cinderella-ing
/çín•der•əˈllä•ing/

Verb
1. moping, sighing, day-dreaming, existing in the state of "All dressed up with no place to go"
2. Wishing you could go to the "Ball", i.e., a place you are not invited but feel as though you are destined to belong.

Synonyms
pining, grasping, hoping, wishing

Last night, I wanted to go to the ballet.
And with a vengeance.
 I would have given my left arm to go to the ballet. So I flailed on the couch while my roommates rightfully gave my angst the space it needed. They have all definitely earned their Mom cards. Not only do they know how to handle a twenty-year-old's emotional tantrums, they have saved me from certain Death by Double Decker Bus multiple times.
So, as I have learned in my many years of being a Professional Mope, I knew it was time to take a walk. I announced: I'm going outside real quick, and then I took off down the embankment, at a pace that would give the speediest of power-walkers a run for their money (pun SO intended).
I was feeling like the most Cinderella-y of Cinderellas.

The promise of the story of Cinderella is that fairy godmothers always arrive. They may not look just like you expect them to, but they'll be there.
As I walked down the embankment path, I passed through the first tunnel. 
Then I passed through the second, my favorite-est tunnel. Usually there is some musician or other making music in that place, but there wasn't that night. I was disappointed, but I walked on.
Then, as I approached the third tunnel, I heard the sounds of gentle guitar picking playing.
Dammit, I thought. The trump card of all trump cards: beauty. I could feel my angsty-mopiness melting under the warm rays of the persistent, beautiful sound.
The guitar pick plucked music out of the taut strings and plucked a smile around the frozen corners of my mouth.
I stopped to enjoy the music, which was telling me something:
this was my gift. Those bridges, colorful, vibrant, shining in the middle of the night, that wind, the river reflecting the lights of the buildings, the Themes sparkling enchantingly, the current lapping up against the smooth bank of sand, St. Paul's all lit up, shining across the water. 
The music was telling me: look at all of this.
All of it was for me, if I only I would stop my ninny-ish ways and receive it.

~

As I started back home, I stopped at the wharf, and breathed in the cold breeze floating off the river, and the warm air, laden with the smell of frying fish floating out of the pub behind me.
I sighed contentedly
I told my mother I could live off smells; even though I was living on a bowl of rice and vegetables, I was soaking in all the fragrant scents of the city and really, what else does a person need?! 
Protein. You need protein... she suggested.
None of the Starving Artists in all the novels I've read have concerned mothers emailing them about protein.
Protein: the great destroyer of the Romantic lifestyle.

~

As I walked back, passing my guitar-playing fairy godmother, I paused briefly, smiled, and said thank you.
The old man smiled back, sans several teeth.
I didn't think he was aware of the magic he'd worked.
But maybe he was.
All of the fairy godmothers in all the fairy tales I've read usually are.