Monday, February 24, 2014

le poesie de Neri Tanfucio

like il risorgimento,
our task is to find unity in the midst of scatteredness.
to combine together those elements that may have seemed foreign to one another.
to collect the parts of our identity that lie in
Naples and Venice and Sienna
to find a way to make Tuscany and Umbria one thing.

like carbonic acid,
our purpose is to make a discovery.
to introduce something new into an ancient thing like water,
to add a zest to a liquid that's grown stale,
to find like Bacon, a new world inside to match the nascent empire
being birthed before our eyes.

like the angels,
we have a choice.
unlike the angels, we have choice after choice after choice.
because, unlike the angels, we are finite and temporal.
our days are made of shades of light and dark,
of created light and self-chosen night.
the darkness, uncreated, except by our own choice.
like the angels, we find ourselves confronted by an eternity of light.
in that question of participation,
in that great game of: Yes and,
we may choose. we do choose.
the entire shape of our being,
like the angels, caught up into in one moment of intense focus
and formed into a question.

like Rubik's cube,
our puzzle to solve is a puzzle of chaos.
in the midst of the colors, the jumbled-up rainbow,
a few skillful twists and some turns yield a pattern,
a secret recipe, a formula of reason,
a skillfully hidden solution to the mess.
Patiently, we rotate the squares,
hoping to unlock the key,
by performing the movements, to learn the actions.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

ponytail weathervane

We are far too preoccupied with hangnails--
those moments of discomfort that matter so very little,
that distract you from the substance of the moment.
That take you out of the daylight
that block your ears with the noise of your own heartbeat.
Spellbound by the fragmented, broken skin.

To be a writer you need an island all alone.
A moment in time devoid of delusions.
Somewhere where the rawness of reality can strike you.
You need to find a space where you do not have the sweet pleasure of the distraction of other people; a place where you are necessarily confronted with the world itself. Confronted by its grittiness, its silliness, its frustrations, its joys, its sweet pleasures, and its small annoying discomforts.
You have to leave behind your friends in order to notice the small bent old man walking by in his green wool green coat and wool hat, or the small dog sniffing every cobblestone, or the glamorous forty-year-old woman, wearing a deep black fur coat and her cat-eyed glasses.
You need to be away from the sweet pleasure of conversation with intimates to hear the tattooed young men saying "fiego, fiego!" or the old gentlemen talking about the new pope over cappuccinos, or the sound of sirens and cars going by the rickety wickered metal chairs.

I was there in that chapel, because Christ had taken my water bottle, which was kind of rude of him, I felt. In my utter scatter-brainedness, I had left my water bottle in His home, and instead of returning it, like a normal host would, it had disappeared. I guess that’s what happened when you let guests into your home who are unpredictable. Untamed.

Roma had been very rainy that week.

As I looked at my Macbook weather forecast for Roma, I saw that there was a full week of rain predicted. Ahh, I thought. Okay, rain, NBD, because I'm in London, and isn't this the rainiest of cities? People always joke about how there's always rain here. I can defs handle this.

As I left Termini metro station, in the heart of Rome, I began to grow worried in spite of myself, because the clouds above were dark and menacing, promising that rain was soon to follow.
Anxiously, I prayed that I would be able to make it to Piazza Navona to find my friends before the downpour came.
Thankfully, I found them just as the sky broke open, and the wind carried with it torrents of water, piercing through every piece of cloth, waterproof suitcase lining, and raincoat lining. Later, we stood in St. Peter's square, waiting for the smoke to come, the rain was pouring down on our heads.

Anger and jealousy are corrosive emotions.

As I sat in Mass, stewing over hurt on hurt on hurt, ignoring the homily, words finally broke through to me, like a shaft of sunlight through the storm clouds.
What a word.
What the priest mean then was that when you foster that jealousy and nurse that anger, your heart, your core is being corroded.
Done away with, destroyed.
Something is wearing away the meat around your heart, leaving a bony skeleton in its place.
You are self-destructing the very thing that is giving you your humanity. You are dehumanizing yourself, turning your heart into something smaller, weaker, more brittle, less real than what it ought to be. Anger and jealousy destroy you from the inside out.
Wow. I thought. Okay then.
And, not in an instant, but slowly, like snow melting in the cold spring sun, I felt the anger finally melt away. I felt the sun begin to break from behind the clouds.
You have to encourage sun, sometimes.
It likes to play hard-to-get, especially in climates where we constantly clamor for shade.
You have to offer patient, slow words of encouragement.

Salt can only be rubbed in our wounds so many times until we decide to snap, because we can absolutely take no more.
The only thing that hurts more than the initial shock of pain, are all the chafes and gibes we endure, that remind us of the original hurt.
The off-hand comment that causes us to bite our tongue, in order to abort our cry of pain mid-gasp; the poorly-timed joke that make our stomach drop uneasily; the innocent question which we would rather cut off our left hand (gotta keep the right one for writing, you know) than answer.
One can only endure pain and heartbreak for so long until one will snap, explode, or break.
And then it is finished.

And then the cock crows.

Sometimes we do not realize even the story that we are living in until we move beyond.
We learn to love with each step, and until we're several steps ahead of our past selves, we may not be able to read the story we're already writing.

I am was sitting there, under the Italian sun, with my favorite color scheme all around me: green trees, creamy-yellowy-orangey-red-red buildings and roofs with bright blue sky and puffy white clouds.
I bit into my favorite pastry and knew why they call it a capezzoli di Venere.
It tastes so good, it feels quite naughty to eat.

I realized there is more poetry in each day than I will ever be able to find words for--I listened to the old men sing in Italian, I listened to the little child laughing. 
How seldom we listen in silence to those simple sounds.

Friday, February 21, 2014

got a martyr in my bed tonight

 “Shock is so passé”
—Sir Anton Juan 

wait. yes. I fear the day that covers of Let it Go become passé. But that is not this day.

I think this week must be National Soundbite Week, in which college professors throughout the world are commanded to produce beautiful little quotables for their classes. 
This creates an excellent incentive to go to class. Because the rain and the wind and the sheets of slippery ice lying treacherously under the riptide-infested waters would otherwise force us to stay inside like sane people.
But, the professors have been on a roll this week, so we attend their classes, because we cannot stay away.

“We are disappointed idealists most of the time,” Cyril O’Regan challenged us. 
Think, he said. 
Do you really seek happiness? Because most of us simply seek to be the least unhappy that we can be. We do not seek active happiness, but rather we try to avoid unhappiness, avoid discomfort and pain.
We are constantly told to lower our expectations, to make ourselves comfortable, to hedge our bets against unhappiness, instead of casting out into the deep to seek the largest catch of happiness we have ever seen.

We are given so many distractions, so we are never allowed to encounter our lack of happiness.
For there, if we ever found ourselves in the midst of silence we might hear that call.
If we stopped our ears, we would hear the terrifying call in the middle of the night, the one that destroys any possibility of sleep. 
The kind of call that comes when you find that you're at a standstill, at a draw. 
When you finally realize that inside of you is a battle for what you are, a battle for who you are, a struggle to realize your stand for something, then you can't just wake up the next morning and forget those questions.
You can never fully sink back into your distractions.
But the problem with being human is that we can't always be asking those mind-numbing, life-pausing questions, if we were constantly asking ourselves: "who am I?" we would never actually live enough to find out. 
Self-reflection is never to be confused with navel-gazing.
Self-reflection could be better compared to fueling a car.
Because if you never understood yourself, then you would never be able to move forward into becoming more yourself, which is sort of the point of life, I'm told.
Boredom, I've also been told, arises from obsession with self.
Boredom is a manifestation of that most feared phenomenon: stagnation.
Staying lost in our self-reflection, like an idling car stuck in a snow bank and never moving forward.
Maybe we will never find an answer to the questions of who we are and what we are supposed to be, but the answer to difficult questions, as impossible as the answers may seem to be, is never to simply avoid the question.
That's not reason, that's irrationality.
That's not realism, that's a pipe dream.

"We've decided that ignoring the question is a survival technique, and we've dressed that up as an answer to the question. We're masquerading avoidance as an ideology, and the title of that ideology is "realism."
--Cyril O'Regan

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

technicolor warmth

 I didn't know how to pronounce quinoa. I remember thinking quinoa was a kind of fish.
--Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl.

Anger is hurt that thinks itself helpless.
I tip-toed across the icy sidewalk.
afraid of doing an accidental set of splits after hitting a slick patch of frozen slush,
and wary of breaking through the thick layer of sludge, and finding myself ankle-deep in a gross puddle of half-frozen street-snow.
I held my breath, held myself together, kept myself tucked in, choking back the pit in my stomach, and the knot that throbbed in my heart.
I looked up at the morning sky, thinking how bright it was for just a few minutes past sunrise.
There, to my right, on the Eastern edge of the distance, the glorious sun, ruby red like a naked grapefruit, was rising into the perilously blue sky.
The sky was a dazzling, creamy light blue.
Bright, gilded with clouds that were outlined in gold.
I stopped for a full minute, my boots marinating in a sea of half-melted slush, and stared at the brilliant skyline and the gilded rim of clouds.
My mouth hung open in awe,
the type of awe that accompanies organ chords in a sunlit church,
or the awe when you sit so close to the stage, you can hear the soft, satisfying smack of the dancers' pointe shoes hit the stage floor,
when you see their leg muscles tense, as they propel themselves upward into the air, spinning with iron grace,
when you see their arms float like butter above their unshakably strong legs.
The type of awe that accompanies one's first glimpse of a Caravaggio, hiding among the myriad other paintings in the National Gallery.
The type of awe that draws you into Monet's Waterlilies, enchanting you with its sheer, gratuitous revelation of beauty.
It is the awe that forms within us when we encounter an unabashed and completely un-hidden beauty.
The boldness of that sight casts a spell of inspiration inside our own hearts.
As I stared up at that gilded sky, I marveled at how that golden sunlight bathed the snow around me.
I had never seen such a warm light in wintertime before, and I felt as though the entire world had, for a second, been bathed in a sunbeam.
The warmth of the sun ran down my body from head to toe, and everywhere I looked was swathed in a warm, golden haze.

As I marched forward into the darkness of a small snow sprinkling, the sunlight at my back propelled me forward, and I remembered that although I walked down that street by myself, I was not alone.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

call no man good

In the midst of my fury-induced torpor, I found some peace as my head and my heart calmed.
Released from a hot rush of anger, my mind reasoned that the largest mistake we make is to assume a divine role in our lives; to anoint ourselves CEOs of the universe and to fool ourselves into believing we have control over the daily happenings of our lives.
Following on its heels is the second-largest mistake, which is to think that there is another human being who we could possibly ought to look up to as the example of all goodness--to appoint them as our deity on a pedestal.
There is no human who will not disappoint, who will not one day display a crack in their armor, a flaw in their character, a blemish on their skin.
It's called being human and as long as we don't mistake humans for gods, it shouldn't bother us all that much.
Really it shouldn't. 
Then, finally freed from a maelstrom of emotions, my intellect decided two things:

one. you can never demand kindness of someone.
You can only just be more kind.
And if you spend your time griping about their lack of kindness, then you have stopped being kind, and you've just become part of the problem.
As one of the more darling and sassier of my friends recommends: just be kind and love Beyoncé.
And you don't even have to love Beyoncé; you just have to give her mad respect.

two. human beings ought to give advice the way God gives advice.
The best advice-givers that I know are people who don't give their opinion.
Often, too many of us (myself included), are tempted to give our opinion of a situation, and call it advice.
That is not advice.
That is your opinion.
To which, of course, you are 500% entitled.
But, like most opinions we hold, it is probably going to be wrong about 99.76% of the time.

The best-advice givers I know, however, are the ones who give advice to each individual individually.
You listen to the particular case and the particular problem and recognize that the particular people involved in the particular scenario are two human mysteries utterly unknown to me. 
And the better a person is at drawing out the character of human beings the more fully will they understand that the more they understand a person's actions, the less predictable and graspable they become.
Thus, a person whose stance is one of awe and wonder at another human being, and who hesitates to speak their opinion, knowing, as my father once so wisely said: you can never really know the full story

The more you live in this world, the more fully you realize that you are saddled with a finite perspective of the world,
and that even if your best friend pours out their soul to you, and describes each moment of their day in detail, you would never be able to fully understand her day, because you are not living in it with her.
And the great bother with being incarnational beings is that we really can't understand things unless we're there, present, body and soul.
Once we realize that, I think we can begin to realize that our opinions, while beautiful and beloved, are simply that: our opinions. Not Gospel truth, Divine Revelation, or an accurate depiction of reality.

And so the best advice-givers I know are the ones who give advice like God.
They listen.
They ask question after question of you, until you're tired of trying to answer questions you don't want to think about.
They listen more.
They watch you.
They observe.
And they try to draw out of the dark recesses of your heart the deepest desires that you find there, and drag it out into the light, so that you can see what lies inside of you.
Those are the best advice givers I know.
The ones who remind you that falling in love is something to which one ought to be vulnerable,
the ones who remind you not to settle for anything less than the deepest desire of your heart,
the ones who remind you that you are a human being different than all other human beings, and if another human being tries to form you into their image and likeness, into the mold of they way they think the world ought to be, you should run away.
The advice-givers I know are the ones who remind you to always recall you are not in control, to be open to surprises, to live in what they euphemistically call "the creative tension" [read: overwhelming chaos] of the world.
Because the point of being an individual human is that there is an individual story fashioned for each of us that we are constantly seeking to live out.
The best advice-givers I know are the ones who don't try to predict what lies down the road ahead, but simply help you live more joyfully and deeply in the present.
The ones who ultimately look at you and see a human being so delightfully different and majestically glorious, that the only advice they can offer you is to encourage you to be the incandescent human you were made to be.
A daffodil would look foolish if we tried to fashion it into a rose.
So do you, little daffodil. Do you.

Monday, February 17, 2014

compunctio cordis

"I am no longer seen as a 'this' among other 'this's but, through love, the world is revealed in terms of me."

Brittle, dry, distracted,
my tongue approaches,
trying to form words and failing bitterly,
as it flails, bootless, trying to shape the sounds.
Dissolving in my mouth are glorious words that fill the palate's vault--
that miniature pink cathedral of flesh wherein words sink into the hearts of their hearers.

Give me, the pine trees plead, a word to give to my beloved.
Give me, the dove demands, a desert.
Where nothing is there, but you.
Amid the sand is nothing else but you.
Where no other lights shine for me but you.
The sun is dark compared to your radiance.
In that desert, sings the sparrow,
Here in my desert, murmurs the lily,
I will live, thrive, relish the harsh bite of the sand in my teeth.
Because I will be stripped, worn down,
sanded, grinded, thoroughly defeated.
Flattened like the sphinx's nose.
But how sweet, thinks the cobra,
as it sheds its old, worn skin.
To let go of that which is not needful.

The hart and hind drink by the brook,
timid, shy at first,
wary of the microcosmic, babbling rapids-
Then, with a burst of desire,
a surge of zeal, cutting through their tender flesh,
reaching their heart with a sting,
propels them forward into the foamy water,
  splashing their way through the
quenching their thirst on spirited blue ribbon in the sea of dun.

Water descends from the starry night.
Gently, like a sigh from Psyche's lips,
embracing the cupid ground so sweetly,
laying down upon her back a sweet carpet of frozen kisses.
The young man, his breath fragranced with cider,
his beard frosted with liquified breath,
his eyes sparkling with the thrill of the chase
runs after the hart,
heart pounding, knees wobbling, lips opening into a breathless smile
running, as sunrise dawns, back into the desert.
If the desert is all you desire, sing the ants,
then why do you wander so many places?

Sunday, February 16, 2014

a slow build of heartbeats

I recognize you:
the fresh grain of wood
the palpitation in the music
I know you better than I know myself.
I touch my cheek to the rough backing of the luan.
I know this feeling.

Come back to me.
Come back to the song where the notes sing words we never could
Come back to where the specks of sawdust are paralyzed and illuminated in the dusty flood of brilliant spotlight.
I don't recognize the words anymore
They must sound familiar in some corner of my heart, but now they are empty.
Come back.

Come back home to the smell of fresh flowers and vanilla candles burning.
I rolled around on the newly vacuumed carpet and stared up at the stars burning through the ceiling overhead.
 Like an infertile incantation, I repeat the same words over and over, impotent and empty.
One day, I expect, these sounds, strung together in a brash attempt at phonetic meaning, will work their spell, and I'll find the enchantment lifted.

Until then, I sit, my hands holding up my chin, listening to the empty sounds echoing densely in the dark cave.
A sigh escaped from my mouth,
as frozen breath forms a miniature cloud, the sigh floated out, and filled out the atmosphere directly surrounding me.
I felt its insulating cloud, comforting like a thick down comforter
Desire is a harsh mistress.

A man walked to the front of the room and began to speak.
He sounded a lot like you.
But funnier.
There are very few keen people in this world.
They are the ones whose ears perk up when someone is speaking.
Who watch your mouth form words, thinking
[irrationally, perhaps?]
that if they only watch you closely enough they can uncover your secret
that if they only pay enough attention, they can, like a verbal physiognomist, read your soul from the shapes your mouth makes as it moves.
These are the people who do not pay attention, they pay over-attention.

Every sense amped up to maximum attention.
Your mind has shaped each instinct, chiseled it into its own image and likeness,
and so now they are free to play. 
Your task is to let go.
Let them loose under the sawdusty spotlights, and see what sort of catalyst the smell of freshly cut wood can be as your instincts react with another human being's.

There, in that arena where you have forgotten to remember that your heart has lost its heartbeat,
you find a hollowed out space, like the bridge of your favorite song, 
where you don't think
you just act. 
Because you've been here before.

Friday, February 14, 2014

2014 sounds like something else, but not us

resistentialism n. The belief that inanimate objects have a natural antipathy toward human beings, and therefore it is not people who control things, but things which increasingly control people.

I have what my friend likes to call a Fake Job.
Let me assure you, it is very real. As in, my alarm goes off at a very early hour three nights a week, and I cannot comfort myself with the knowledge that the strange croaking sound my phone called "Froggy Night" is an illusion.
According to my friend, who has never ventured to the fifth floor under the golden dome, three times a week I go to work at an office that doesn't exist.
Accordingly, she posits that I must be embarking on an imaginary commute each morning as I walk from my butter-yellow town home to my sky-lit little desk.
Thus, we simply decided to call it my Fake Job.
There, I hole-punch, and tape, and paste, and cut and copy, stock the snack bar, and chat with colleagues, and closely observe and delight in the little daily happenings of that small professional community.

Adults, I am here to tell you, are very funny creatures.
They have truck with the most interesting human beings and they act very sophisticated 97% of the times.
But there's a very strange little 3% that sometimes occurs: when it's raining outside and they have a meeting across campus, when they want to avoid the Annoying Woman Who Plagues the Office, when they're struggling to fix the Keurig machine, you realize adults are just humans decked in the armor of business casual.

One day a bevy of workers in the suite all crowded around the door of the conference room, and tried to determine who was in the meeting behind the door, and for what purpose, and if it would be incredibly gauche to interrupt them, or merely forgivably gauche.
They crowded around the insurmountably inscrutable door, and debated when and how to interrupt them, checking the clock as the minutes calmly ticked away before the next meeting was due to start.

Often, in-between labeling envelopes or sorting the mail, I find myself reading articles on friendship and homosexuality, on caramel apple pies and state abortion laws, reading stories about Robin Thicke's wife and the rapid and rosy rise of Ronan Farrow aka Young Blue Eyes. But in-between these duties, I have found a way to find the heartbeat of this office space. To understand who will be annoyed if the Cliff bars are not in the basket, and who amongst the staff does not want the Cliff bars to be in the snack basket, because everyone else will eat them before she can. I have learned who the compulsive mint eaters are, and I have learned who loves the pumpkin-flavored Keurig cup. I have learned the names of the suit-coat-and-tie deities who descend upon the office. And I have finally memorized whose desk is where and if they are in or out or at a lunch meeting.
These are very small little duties, and very small little responsibilities.
But in these very mundane daily actions there is love. Okay, not really.
There is no love in an Excel spreadsheet. There is nothing enlightened or interesting or ethical about an Excel spreadsheet. But even if I think Excel spreadsheets are the stupidest things in the world (and sometimes I do), there is something very satisfying about making an Excel spreadsheet for someone. For an adult who is, just like you, sometimes scatterbrained, harried, overwhelmed, and entirely susceptible to Valentine's Day drama.
Adults, I'm here to tell you, are very funny creatures.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

keeping up appearances

Nine times out of ten, you probably aren’t having a full-on nervous breakdown—you just need a cup of tea and a biscuit.
— Caitlin Moran

My mother has taught me many things.
One of the most vital lessons she passed on to me was to never over-bake brownies.
If the recipe box said 39 minutes, she'd set the buzzer to 27.
No one wants over-baked, dry, tough brownies, she'd tsk-tsk. Her subtext being: just let go a little and maybe not follow every last little instruction on a cardboard box.
So I learned to that if you maybe don't cook brownies for a half an hour you'll end up with gooey, decadent confections of chocolatey goodness that will send your tastebuds into thrills of delight.

Another thing she taught me, I just learned the word for:
Amerimnesis: which is one of those beautiful Greek words that gets written on the blackboard in your first theology class of the morning.
Amerimnesis means not being troubled about tomorrow.
Amerimnesis means not worrying about those many things that lie so far outside your control.
Because, I cannot count the many times each week I pick up the phone, and call her, trying to sort out five different contingency plans for my life.
And one day she just said to me:
Renée. You are not in control. You try too hard to be in control.
As a very proud non-control freak, I resented that statement for a moment.
Hey now, I thought. I am a Very Chill Person.
I am an absolute paragon at Going With the Flow.
I'm more of a choleric-melancholic, but I do a darn good impression of a sanguine, I thought.
But, I realized my mother (as she always is) was right.
Because what she was really pointing out to me that we are all humans, and since none of us are incredibly holy desert monks who have achieved a perfect state of apatheia, we all possess in our hearts, in our lives, in our desires those core items of which we cannot let go.
We all have those things that we just don't trust are going to be taken care of, that we firmly feel that we have to see to.
If there is going to be a next chapter in our story, aren't we supposed to make it happen?

But I think three of the most beautiful words in the world are:
come and see.
Because there is no guarantee, no promise of what lies beyond those words, there is only a simple invitation to discover what mystery is in store.
And once you finally begin to understand that it is not your job, that it is mercifully blessedly and thankfully not necessary to know what is going to happen to you in a year.
Or a month.
Or tomorrow.
One of the most magnificent aspects of tomorrows is that they are and forever will be a mystery to us.
No matter how far humans fly in space or how deep they dive into the ocean, they will never be able to see tomorrow.
There will always be a something that is just out of our grasp, that lives just outside of our control.
The world continues to be a mystery to us, our lives continue to be a mystery to us.
When a large part of the work we do today is work done for the future, it is easy to forget that the future is a mystery to us.
And no matter how much we prepare, tomorrow will always bring a curveball we could not foresee, and a surprise that we would have never been able to predict.
That mystery, that constant, inevitable mystery is the gift.
It's the invitation: to let go a little, and to see what happens next.

In every truth there is something more than we would have expected, in the love that we receive there is always an element that surprises us.
--Benedict XVI

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

tellement beaux, j'ai douleurs

And I watch the sky turn green over this city half rebuilt/ And half just made of dew

The bar’s sweet dusty musk light fills the air,
Intoxicating like the cactus bite,
Agave stings her as it warms her lungs,
Sweet citrus slipping down her salty throat.
Outside, the snowfall suffocates night’s noise,
And casts upon the world a muted spell.
Clogging the busy roads with drifts of snow,
The winter storm, so meek, so still, so soft
With careless joy heaves snow against the bricks
Of houses, pubs, and miniature chapels.
Snow crystals hug the porous bricks and mortar,
Microscopic flakes of frozen ivy.
The lonely, faded skyline of the town
Glimmers above the streets impassable,
As rosy dawn cuts through the permacloud,
A flicker of the bar light’s cozy haze
 Emerges from the frisky chill of dawn,
Intoxicating warmth, in scarlet rays,
 Crystallized in dawn’s ebullient light.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

insolent heart

 This letting go is so beautiful.
--Phillip Phillips

On my walk to school this morning, I glanced up at the periwinkle sky, only to see a small little network of tree branches above my head.
They were iced with a slick coat of frost.
They caught the first rays of early morning sun, and painted the ground with that sparkling light.
On its journey to the ground, the sunlight danced on the small icy branch, a little bit of tree that was trapped in a cold, clear amber, that was preserved underneath its dazzling, icy armor.
And it was one of those moments that if I never took the time to look up, I would have missed utterly.
It is so easy to get caught up in the glamour of selfishness, in the daily drama of the naughtiness of humans and their escapades.

If I had remained wrapped up in the saga happening in my own head and heat, I wouldn't have taken the time to put my consciousness aside, and notice the fact that there was a small little branch dancing in the periwinkle sky.

As I sat in the foyer of the performing arts building, my stomach growling, I realized that this place here was my cenobia.
Inside of me, I felt that my independence was undergoing an operation, being surgically evacuated from my heart. Instead of finding that I missed the independence, I found that I welcomed what the independence left behind: an emptiness.
Not an emptiness of darkness, but an emptiness of light and life.
There was this nothingness.
The sort of nothingness that your kitchen sink looks like when it is cleaned out of last night's dinner and dishes.
The sort of nothingness that you feel in the empty space in your room, when you've cleaned up all your books and discarded socks off of your floor.
The sort of emptiness that you find when you fish the clump of hair out of the shower drain, and you find that the shower doesn't actually flood when you take a shower of more than five minutes.
That sort of emptiness that comes when you have let go of all the clutter that is filling up your heart, and clogging all its channels of grace, and you find that there is a lot more space than you thought.
There is a lot more space in your heart for the love that you didn't know would fit inside of it.
You find that when you offered up the bit of your self that was taking up a lot of space, when you managed to unclench your hold on you, you were given the sweetest gift:
A pair of turtle doves or a little holocaust of independence is a small price to pray to redeem your heart back.
If we never fled like Mary or Anthony into our deserts, then our loves would never be allowed to grow. They would fester around that small bit of ourself.
If we never found ourself in the foyer of the performing arts building, leaning against the heater, dreaming of the burger waiting for us in the refrigerator at home, then maybe, we would never learn to temper our hearts.
One of the more difficult lessons is that if we never let go of all the humans that we cling to like shipwrecked sailors to rocks, we would never be able to love them as humans.
If we cannot clear them out of our emptiness, our emptiness will never thrive with life, it will never fill them with light.
If we keep trying to make humans our rocks instead of our humans, then we will find, over and over again, that the rocks we are grasping have turned to sand.
The people we want to hold onto the most have to be the ones that we let go of the most, and you find that as soon as you shoo them out of the emptiness, you can then immediately turn around to welcome them freely back into your heart.

Our love would be allowed, like Orual's, to grow into a raging, consuming pile of lust like Ungit. A "love" that consumes all the gifts it receives into itself, that tries to order the world into its own petty, groping little image.
But the gifts that we receive are not supposed to be consumed into ourselves.
Rather, they are supposed to be given back.
They are supposed to be absorbed into the space inside of us, and then returned to the world outside.
We can choose to fill the emptiness with clutter, to weigh our hearts down with a lot of baggage of self.
Or we can, daily sweep out the space, and throw out the miscellanea that we find there into the periwinkle morning sky.
To give back to the day all the gifts we received the days before.
That is, I think, the only action we can control.
But it is the one thing that is needful.

Friday, February 7, 2014

non-enthusiastic zeal

It is the shadow of the cross that makes all other shadows bearable.
--Thomas McNally, CSC

One day, I looked up at this one stained glass window that I had never seen before.
It was filled with bad-ass women who had proved to the world how good they were at loving other people.
To be a human being means to face the question: how and who will I love?
These women had bravely lived their way into the answer for that question:
St. Elizabeth of Hungary, St. Helena, someone who I think was St. Barbara, and a mysterious woman I executively decided was St. Agatha.
Down at the bottom corner, there was an image of a stray male: St. Louis de Monfort, conversing with (who else?) his queen: Maryam, mother of God.
Wow. I thought, feeling very small, and kind of petty, and pretty grubby compared to these majestic queens.
The heroism they were capable of seemed to be so out of my reach, as I struggled to not get another crush on yet another set of pants.

But, tucked into the corner opposite Mary's and Louis' tête-à-tête was another image.
It was a shepherd, whose head was decked with a particularly awful-looking crown of thorns, reaching into this thicket where a lamb was caught.
His strong arms were reaching into this briar patch, to lift this young lamb out of his painful prison.
The lamb hadn't been able to find his way out of the thicket, he looked pretty trapped, utterly entangled in the thorny branches.
But the shepherd was still there.
He was not waiting for the lamb to leave the thicket, to finally escape from the prison of thorns, but he was right there, in the midst of the thorns, crowned with them, in fact.
And, while in the thorns, he reached down to break the vines that were winded around the lamb, and to lift him out of that prickly mire.

One of the more shocking realizations in life is when you manage to look up from the thicket that you're caught in, and you find that there is someone there with you.
The burden you felt you were carrying alone is actually a yoke that you are bearing with another who has crossed the border into your territory, into your life.
The shepherds of this life are nomads, always crossing boarders to pick up stray sheep;
always climbing into brambles to find the little lost and trembling fluff-balls caught in the thorns.
To look up and find that you are not alone is perhaps the sweetest of all human experiences.

Divine love is incessantly restless until it turns all woundedness into health, all deformity into beauty and all embarrassment into laughter. 
--Belden C. Lane

Thursday, February 6, 2014

telos of jeanzzandacutetop

If young love is just a game, then I must have missed the kick-off.
--Blink 182

Professors, friends, are highly exotic creatures.
They stand in front of us and get to say what they think. 
It's a pretty honorable position into which we voluntarily elect so many human beings.
Because there are so many professors whose words have been written down into hundreds of thousands of composition notebooks.

They are able to get you to fall in love with books, with reading the thoughts of people whose voices have been dead for many years, but who somehow still speak to us. They are the catalysts for these authors whose unmoving words move your heart. 

Sometimes professors do bold things.
You can tell they go off-script, and they either tell you what they think friendship is, unprompted by any other intuition than their own thought-process.
Sometimes, they rant about the unparalleled greed of the modern corporate university, or they bemoan the utter lack of self-awareness or critical thinking of most human beings nowadays. 
They implant in their students' minds the idea that maybe there is a different standard of living than the sort of drowsy, aimless pleasure-seeking that our world offers, or the aggressively self-made, self-seeking, self-serving self-actualization that it proposes.
Sometimes, they are humble enough to admit that they were once a young person like you, and when they were like you, they bought into several lies they wish they hadn't and hope with all their being that you won't.
And, in between quoting the Iliad and Blink 182, they seem to remember what it was like to be twenty-two, and to be a human whose opinion was sometimes discounted.
And they enjoin you to seek silence, to discover deeper desires than winning the next level of Candy Crush, to remember that you are not a beast, living under the whims of your instincts, they call you to a higher standard. They tell you that your appetites are not your masters, that you can have mastery over them.
The journey to master your heart is not an easy one, and you will probably be discouraged along the way, but they remind you not to give up. 
Because the great minds and the great hearts who have walked that road, and the jury is definitely still out on whether or not a human being in the post-modern world can reach perfection, or journey beyond the reach of all temptations. 
But the daring, they say, is not in the winning, but in the doing. 

Professors, so often, are exotic, because they, like cenobites, are signs of the eschaton.
They point towards a life that is lived differently.
They show that one who has hope, who has knowledge, and the will to wield it, lives differently.
They see our youthful energy and they remember when they were filled with that unsounded energy, and they remind us that to be young means that a great responsibility is upon us: to point that youthful energy towards the greatest telos we can muster.

What do you desire? They ask us,
and watch as word fail us, 
when we discover, in our dismay,
we  have no desire 
worthy of answering that question.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

the day calliope lost her tongue

There are a few things of which I'm scared .
The things I'm scared of are called: snakes, space travel, being alone in my house after watching Pan's Labyrinth, and writer's block.
There is nothing more terrifying than looking at a blank page and thinking: I have nothing to write on you.
I am not one to hold back an idea, good or bad.
The only thing that worries me is when I don't have an idea.

One of my most vividest memories (most vividest. that's correct grammar. ha.) is the day I stopped being afraid of being wrong.
(Which is good, because I tend to be wrong. And living life constantly afraid is a life half lived, to poorly paraphrase Strictly Ballroom.)

The day I learned to stop being afraid of getting things wrong went like this:
I was playing a game in theatre class.
Our teacher-- a master clown, a sheepishly loving, terrifyingly talented, strangely hilarious and hilariously strange egomaniac--taught us many things: how to do a take to an audience, how to imitate someone's walk, how to make comedy while wearing a sad mask, how to make each other laugh, how to surprise an audience, how to make theatre that was magic and human and unafraid, how to make a joke, but most importantly: how to poke fun at ourselves.

I remember staring up at the juggling ball I threw in the air, almost giving myself an aneurysm, trying to clap as many times as I could before catching the ball.
I remember every single muscle in my arms being tensed to the breaking point, as I tried to clap THE MOST.
And  I remember trying to catch the ball, stressing, sweating, trying to catch the ball.
Desperately trying not to fail.
The bane of the middle-class highschooler's existence.
Our teacher chuckled at me.
Renée, he said to me, it's just a game.
Stop trying to get it right.

It really was just a sentence or two.
That I'd definitely heard before, and were oft-repeated throughout the year.
But I never forgot that moment, that particular instance of being told to stop trying to be perfect.
For some reason, in that moment, those words broke through.
To stop worrying about getting the task right, and to just get on with the business of doing it.

It's amazing how often you hear phrases over and over, that become worn out of meaning, now hollowed out into empty clichés. 
But then, sometimes, those words manage to actually reach your brain, and you finally understand what they mean.

I must have looked absolutely ridiculous that afternoon, desperately attempting to complete the exercise correctly, worried about letting a juggling ball hit the floor of the dance studio.
And I wonder how often I look that ridiculous, trying to catch all the juggling balls, making sure I don't fail.
But, I think what I learned that particular Tuesday is that it's more important to play than it is to get it right.

It's a lesson we all knew as children, as we spent our days wrapped up in our imaginations and building worlds with Barbie dolls and stuffed animals and making pretend soup out of mud and grass and acorns in the backyard.
But then we forgot about playing and started worrying about making sure we won the game, that we didn't fail.
Because failure is embarrassing.
I think that day, I learned that embarrassment wasn't really anything more than fodder for a joke.
Because we are grand, noble creatures, but also ridiculous.
And I think you're missing out on the fun of being a human being if you forget that we are beloved children but also sort of cosmic jokes.

That day, I learned that if I was ever going to make something nearly half as creative as the mud and grass and acorn soup of my childhood, I was going to have to give up my need to control the outcome, and just throw the juggling ball up in the air.
And then see what happens after that.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

drink the cup poured for you

"If you will, you can become all flame."

There is the kind of sun that leads to sunburn.
This is the angry, hot sun of an August morning.
I had hoped that everyone who saw the rough, red patches of skin flaming on my cheeks assumed those splotches of red are from a summer in the tropics, not from being outside too much sans sunscreen in an Indiana August.
In the tropics, I let the sunscreen rot in the tubes, but here in the fresh air of Indiana, 40 degrees north of the equator, I realize I could finally put those giant tubes of sunscreen to good use.

Along with your skin, the sun bakes the air to a warm, dry heat. Compressing the oxygen molecules into a thick cake of atmosphere.
Such an environment is stifling.
You are mired in heat.

But one thing about warm air is that it will always yield a breeze.
It has to.
Because as you sit under the hot sun, you wait, you wait, you wait with bated breath and with unceasing patience
And then it comes--
that sweet little bit of air that is broken off and dashed about on the currents of air that constantly whirl around you--and you taste it:
you open your mouth to drink in that sweet, cool wind.
The breeze tickles the back of your neck, it blows easily through your cotton pants, it lifts the sweat off of the top of your ears.

And then sunlight-
sunlight shines through the banks of clouds that are pelting snow down at the earth.
You are seeing it for the first time and you think: it is a miracle.
The beams shine through the dust in the air, and they dance at your feet.
Shadows evaporate, because they are hit by a radiance that dazzles their fragile intellect.
And there, in that beam of sunlight, in that whisper of breeze, you find peace.

For a tumbleweed, I imagine that finally stopping must seem so strange.
After a constant sensation of movement, the feeling of stillness must seem strange to that little ball of prairie grass.

Peace is like that in a restless heart.
Once my heart bumps into peace, much like a tumbleweed against a wall of rock, it starts, surprised.
Am I really not moving?
Why is the prairie no longer moving past me?
The world looks clear, it is no longer blurry and a hazy swath of many colors.
Is it supposed to look like that?

What is this sensation of being in one place?
I feel that I can stand.
I feel that the ground under my feet is firm.
No longer being moved about by currents of uncertainty.
The tectonic plates of my soul have stilled.
And there is a overwhelming space of peace that opens up, like a morning glory in the dawn light, waiting to be filled.
But, by its very stance of waiting, finding that it is already full to overflowing.

You lift your lips to drink out of the cup, expecting a bitterness like Mexican chocolate, and you find that it is sweeter more dazzling than moscato.
The gift you have been given was always to be found sitting underneath the tree.
You just could never see it before.

One day, sitting under the powerful fans in the Motherhouse kitchen, Sister Michael went on a long tangent regarding the theological and historical significance of the Shroud of Turin. 
How amazing, she said, that we have a picture of what God looks like.
But Sister Michael, I silently thought, We already have a picture of what God looks like. 
The absurdly miraculous truth is that the human being sitting next to me was an image of God. 
That all our days we are surrounded by living portraits, more vivid and precise than burial shrouds.
For what is a human being, but an image of God?

Saturday, February 1, 2014

drunk on forests and salty waves

 I'll take this soul that's inside me now /Like a brand new friend I'll forever know /I've got this light 
And the will to show /I will always be better than before
--Eddie Vedder

Last night, several of my more cenobite-minded friends and I watched the film Into the Wild, which is the true-life tale of a young Emory graduate who set off towards the Pacific Ocean.
The film details his journey of letting go, starting with his burning his social security and credit cards, continuing through his encounters with many hippies, farm hands, and various vagabonds, following him until he reaches his ultimate goal: the wilds of Alaska.

We spent a good solid half hour after the movie ended, discussing our responses to the story, and what we thought Christopher McCandless succeeded at, and where he failed, etc., etc.
But I remember my initial reaction to the story, when I first encountered the tale of Christopher McCandless, which was: how on earth did he make his Sunday Mass obligation?
And maybe there's nothing more to that reaction other than: wow, Renée's Catholic guilt is unbelievably potent.

But, as I discussed this particular reaction this morning with my best friend and her boyfriend, as the smell of breakfast tea and sizzling bacon filled the kitchen air, best friend's boyfriend noted he'd had the same thought.
It was interesting, we realized.
Because obviously Christopher McCandless wasn't interested in making a Sunday Mass Obligation.
But I know that, as much as I yearn to leave behind a world full of credit cards and social security numbers and putrid traffic jams and bills and having to wear clothes, I, personally, would be interested in making my Sunday Mass obligation.

Interesting, and more than interesting,  we thought, that we are required to remember at least once a week that we are not alone.
To remember, through the memorial action of the mass, that we are, even in our moments of solitude, in the company of a host of heavenly witnesses.
Even when we stand by ourselves on an island in the middle of the Alaskan forest, we are enveloped in the arms that lie beneath all of reality.
We remember that even in our dearest communities, there is always going to be a pit of essential loneliness in our hearts.
We are always alone, and our credit-card, cell phone world tries to make us forget that.
It is courageous, bold, and daring to remember that.
To leave behind all the distractions, and to find a place where we are alone; where, in that solitude, we can discover what it means to be human, to be alive.
For if we truly dig into the depths of our heart, we will find two people.
One will be our self.
Our self is not a bad self, but we will find there a better someone, a someone who owns our hearts in a way that we never could.
Because, to be human means to have a depth inside of you, a depth that is fundamentally part of you that you will never be able to comprehend.

Inside of us is a yawning for a freedom that the wideness of the Alaskan sky will never be able to give us; but this small disk of white bread could.  

 I won't be the last 
I won't be the first 
Find a way to where the sky meets the earth 
For me it begins at the end of the road 
--Eddie Vedder