Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Temptation of Daniel Bar-Neshika

There was a sort of tug inside of him.
He felt it, but he couldn't locate it.
The tug continued, pulling at his stomach like a sour hangover. 
He was at a loss, gasping, his mind reeking of the stale desire haunting his heart.
He felt his eyes go limpid, his focus soften. The look of eyes that wander from iris to lips and back to iris, on the cusp of a kiss.
He stared out into the dark tunnel, which had suddenly become more compelling than his book.
There it was: that tug, that ache, that need.
It had stopped being a tug, and became a force: a weight that was securely lodged in his stomach, irremovable. Discomforting most particularly in its seeming permanence.
His mouth went dry, and he found himself, unaccountably, nervous.
Lightning bolts of restlessness and static shock rippled up and down his calf muscles. His legs began to feel weak and limp, as if they had suffered an overdose of an automatically enthusiastic massage chair.
He looked across the bar at his friends, certainly indulging in more fun than he.
But, for the love of all things holy, it was a Monday.
Who could stomach that much fun on a Monday?
He felt all sorts of warning signals flash in front of his eyes. He wished he could ignore them.
There was no obligation to follow their instructions, other than his own integrity.
It would be so easy to forget the many instructions his own mind had dictated to his lesser members. His mind was rebelling, the changeable thing.
So he closed his eyes to steady himself, as the vertigo of dull vertigo rushed over him.
If I don't, he thought, I'll regret this in the morning.
As one who is righteously pleased with himself, he was never anxious for experiences. The experiences he had were interesting, illuminating, and always thought-provoking. So he didn't see the point in regretting the ones that had past. Some of which, he was sure, would be equally as edifying as the experiences he had chosen. But, on the whole, probably mediocre, and really they were probably worth missing.
He bit his lip, chewing at the dry skin. An unfortunate and ungainly habit he couldn't shake, particularly when nervous. Dammit, why was he even nervous?
Was that really what this pit of fear stuck in his gut and throat and feet and mouth was, an internal rash of anxiety?
He wished that he could itch the load inside of him, as one itches a bad outbreak of hives.
Although futile, the action creates an illusion of ameliorating the condition.
I cannot scratch this itch, he thought miserably.
He fidgeted in his chair. The smooth, supposedly ergo-dynamic waves in the wooden seat annoying his tailbone, and frustrating any attempt to make himself comfortable.
He felt adrift, cut off from his friends surrounding him by the discomfort of his seat, the dangerous signals of alarm inside his head, and this persistent, damnable pulse of peril inside his body, sighing into his lungs with each inhale.
His stomach growled with paranoia.

Piercing through his muddy haze of agitation, a vision of a vast and airy vault crashed into his line of vision. His fingers followed the path of the delicate flying marble, as it flew through the air, as elegant and exquisite as a dragonfly's wing.
He rotated slowly under the canopy of the excruciatingly dainty marble, drinking in the melodies of stone written upon the ceiling in graceful and subtle melodies. 
For as long as his sight endured, he basked in glorious cavern, as the vision of an eternal something far more lovely swallowed up his fear.

Monday, November 24, 2014

stalactites in the subway

There are stalactites dripping from the ceiling of the subway lobby in Times Square.
I find this mesmerizing, and somewhat mystical.
Oblivious to the light and noise around them, the stalactites drip, undisturbed.
If they were dripping in a cavern deep underneath the earth, or in a brightly lit tunnel, they would never know.
They do not know the difference.
They just drip, calmly. 
Making up in serenity what they lack in sentience.

~

I am a firm believer in kindness.
In the words of Mother Teresa: "The world is lost for want of sweetness and kindness."
But also, I have been learning that part of living in a city of 8 million people means learning to set your own boundaries, because they hardly exist in the crush of people all around you. When people walk through the New York Subway, usually they do it because they are trying to get from Point A to Point B (surprise, surprise). Usually, people don't really just like loiter in the Subway. Except the Jehovah's Witnesses. I swear the Jehovah's Witnesses have set up a 24-hour post in the New York subways. Thus, inevitably, as I charged through the subway passage, a Jehovah's witness called out to me: "How are you?"
Feeling young, chipper, in good spirits, and full of good will towards all my fellow humans, I smiled and called out brightly: 
"Great!! Thank you!!"
He started to try to keep pace with me and tell me something about joining the chosen few or the rapture or "How Does God Define Real Success" but I could not hear him and I had to go do what they pay me the big bucks for, so I cut him off cheerfully:
"I actually have to go to work," I called out brightly and firmly over the crowd, in the same tone of voice I tell students: "That's not actually a question, that's you complaining about the grade you earned! And if you have a real question, I'll be happy to answer it!"
I actually have to go to work. That's why I'm in this subway, you see.

The man with bloodshot eyes approached me, and got right in front of me, with a confused but eager leer. There is an invisible barrier of space which is kept intact even in the most crowded of situations, even when packed together like sardines on the Six train. Usually you can tell that someone has breached this barrier by their manner: by the way they look at you, the length of their eye contact, by an erection* (*this actually happened. Fact, not ficton). Due to this particular man's sort of stoned demeanor and bloodshot eyes, I assumed that he was after drugs of some sort, and, if I was forced to make a guess, I would rule out Advil or Tylenol. Whatever illegal variety of substances he desired, I didn't want to wait around to find out. Hastily, I said in the firm voice that I use to tell my students to print out their homework and bring it to class on Monday. (And, yes you must print it, no you may not just email it to me): "I'm sorry, I cannot help you, sir. I am not here for that." I honestly had no clue why why he was there, but I figured it was not for the same reason that I was, so, with that, I walked to the other mural.
I hate to make rash judgements about my fellow humans, or diagnose their problems for them willy-nilly, but whatever other issues this man was dealing with in his life, he had one very clear problem: he absolutely could not read context clues. Oh, a girl in a Forever 21 Trench Coat, and a Grande Starbucks Hazelnut Latte? Clearly she must be a person who is vending some white pony.
Hon.
Context clues, friend.
Context.
Clues.

All this while, as I was waiting for my person to meet me, a man across the subway passage from me was playing an ungodly instrument, which was making an unbearable noise halfway between screeching and tinkling. I think it was supposed to be music, but it sure as hell didn't sound like it.
I was tempted to do great violence to the souped-up guitar upon which he was plucking the devilish notes. But, I do not believe in indulging in violence, or even fantasies of violence, as I believe it lessens our humanity. Violence debases all of us, reducing us to our sub-human instincts. Accordingly, as I listened to this man's strange instrument squeak out hellish discordant noises, I let myself fantasize several different scenarios in which I courteously walked up to him and said some variation of:
"Hey! I appreciate the effort! Thanks for trying to share your talent with the world. I know you think you sound good, but you actually don't. So why don't you go take some music lessons, and leave us all with some peace and quiet?"
Or: "Dear human being whom I respect: your instrument is using its outside voice right now instead of its inside voice. So I need it to start using its inside voice, since we are inside."
Or: "Thank you so much for playing! Music time is over now, unfortunately. So pack up your things and we'll see you next week!!!"
In all of these imaginary scenarios, he walked away with new valuable self-knowledge; his instrument remained unscathed; and all of us were left with the blessedly and comparatively peaceful noise of trains rushing by and people bustling by on cellphones.
Win. Win.
Unfortunately, I was too selfish to risk my comfort for the good of the community, so we suffered through the subterranean racket.

~

But the stalactites kept dripping, unaware of the discordant chaos around them. In complete stillness, their little drops of moisture created small mounds of calculus deposits on the ground beneath them. Blissfully ignorant of their surroundings, the stalactites kept growing, unaware that they were intrusions of nature into the habitat of man.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

behind the beautiful forevers

"Often in journalism, stories about the poor began with a reporter going to an NGO and saying, 'Tell me about the good work you're doing, and let me follow you, and maybe if you could just pick out some real success stories, I'll write about them.' I think that those kind of stories do an injustice to the enormous amount of creative and enterprising problem-solving that low-income people do for themselves, that most of the ways that people get out of poverty in the United States, in India and anywhere else I've ever been is through their own imaginations and their own fortitude." 
--Katherine Boo, author of Behind the Beautiful Forevers, as quoted on NPR

 Katherine Boo's gorgeous, terrifying, heart-breaking, and glorious book was one of the more painful things that I have ever read.

I just finished reading Behind the Beautiful Forevers, which is a non-fiction narrative of families in Mumbai's slum city of Annawadi, focusing on tragic events in a close-knit ring of families, and the destruction that falls upon their lives.

When we flew into the Mumbai airport, I will never forget seeing the corrugated metal slum huts hugging the airport fence. It was the first time I had ever experienced a stark contrast between another world and mine. How close those homes were to the bus I was riding on; and yet, how far away they were. The inhabitants of those huts would never cross the fence into this airport; they were never going to fly on a plane from this airport to mine. It was a harsh realization. I wonder if one of those cities I saw was Annawadi.

The panoramic group portrait that Ms. Boo draws of the inhabitants of Annawadi paints her subjects with vivid, inescapable clarity. The reality of their stories, their names, their situations leaps off that page and hits you in the small of your stomach. Their stories are real stories. The deaths that occurred here were real deaths. Tragic suicides, pointless murders. The staggering amount of pain that is compressed into several young lives is nearly incomprehensible. One particularly poignant vignette she recounts is the story of an injured scavenger on the side of the road leading into the slum. Four of our characters pass him without doing anything. One assuming he'll be taken care of by someone else, one too scarred by his last encounter with the corrupt and cruel police officers to take any action, another too busy, trying to catch a bus, and so, the poor scavenger dies of thirst, exposure, and bleeding.
His body is cleaned up by the police a few hours later, and his death is written down as tuberculosis before his body is shipped off to a medical school to fill their cadaver quota.

I felt that that story she chose to tell was rather a damning story: for I do the same thing everyday. Not that I pass by men bleeding on the side of the street. But, everyday, I pass a man or a woman begging, asking for a handout, sleeping in a subway station, and I, too, assume that someone else is going to take care of them. I leave the common task of humanity: to care for our fellow men and women to someone else. This is a sin of omission not easily navigated. But Ms. Boo's portrait of poverty is primarily moral poverty. Poverty creates this moral vacuum in a young man or a woman. One of her young protagonists, Abdul, uses the image of ice: he wants to be ice: better, different, more solid than his surroundings, but he is just dirty water, he says, like the rest of Annawadi.
The forces that keep these families in poverty, that stifle their will to succeed, despite their best efforts, are the same forces of sin that perpetuate injustice in all our lives. If there were a way for human beings to reach beyond their own selfishness, then perhaps these families might be homeowners. If humans could transcend their own selfish desires, then perhaps the corrupt slumlord would funnel money to the elementary school instead of his own pocket. If the success of a neighbor was greeted with joy and not envy, then perhaps families would not have to suffer so many unnecessary evils.

In the uncomfortably real, high-stakes world of Annawadi, Ms. Boo creates a picture of not only Abdul and Sinul, Fatima and Karam, but of you and me. We, too, have probably acted out of malice, or envy, or self-interest, but, thanks to the bubble of comfort separating us from our neighbors, we never see the fruits of the ugly seeds we sow. In Annawadi, there is no illusion of separation: the consequences of virtue and vice are felt sharply by each member of the community. So we come to identify with these characters, whose lives are so saturated in desperation and drama. Yet, when an American businessman or tourist enters the book, we realize we are a part of their world. Our representative in this narrative is the rich, clueless American tourist in the luxury Hyatt, just meters from the homes of our protagonists. Just yards apart, but in a completely different world.
We are sundered from them by the airport wall.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

denizens of the six train

When some people talk about money 
They speak as if it were a mysterious lover 
Who went out to buy milk and never 
Came back, and it makes me nostalgic 
For the years I lived on coffee and bread,
Hungry all the time, walking to work on payday 
Like a woman journeying for water 
From a village without a well, then living 
One or two nights like everyone else 
On roast chicken and red wine. 
--Tracy Smith, The Good Life 


Very rarely do I ever stop and think: Am I living my life well? Am I living as I ought to? Am I living in a way that when I look back on these years, I will think to myself: I lived a good life, as I ought to have, for those strange years when I was a young and clueless child.

The other day, however, I saw this poem--the above poem--on the Six train, and it made me nostalgic for today. I realized that what the poem is describing is the now time in my life.
Now is the time in my life I don't have quite enough money to buy new pieces of my wardrobe whenever I feel like it. Now is the time in my life when I can't buy lunch, I have to pack it. Now is the time of my life I'm living on coffee and bread (well, actually tea and greek yogurt. And vegetables. I promise there are vegetables). Now is the time when I walk instead of using the last $2.50 on the metrocard. Now is the time that I take the Six train, full of jostling, crazy, annoying, bizarre, wonderful human life instead of taking the cab.

The other day on the Six train (which is how too many of my stories start) a man walked on, trying hard to look anonymous, in his leopard-tie-dyed colored everything. As soon as the train got underway, he began to sing and dance. Dance as in throwing himself around the train in a variety of death-defying acrobatics. Dance as in walking on the ceiling. Dance as in crazy antics. It was wonderful. The other day on the Six train, a pregnant woman walked on, and she was so beautiful, that's all I could notice, before I realized she needed a seat. The other day on the Six train, a group of raucous youths sang songs so loudly, we all giggled at their drunken antics, instead of yelling at them. The other day on the Six train I saw two children befriend one another, as they watched the dark tunnel speed by, I saw a mother feeding her children fruit snacks, I heard two boys talking about their seventh grade conquests (ew), and I was squished against a man's dark wool coat that smelled like cigarettes and beef jerky. The Six train is so full of humans, life, annoyances, and stories. There are so many stories on the Six train.
Now is the time in my life when the world doesn't quite make sense: it's just a dizzying, somewhat annoying conglomeration of stories, weaving themselves in and out of the background. And, at the end of the day, it's a glorious crush of people.

Now is the time in my life when my life is still very much in my hands. I am learning how to give it away, bit-by-bit, day-by-day. During the daytime, it is spent in grading papers, smiling at students, and telling them they do actually need to serve their JUG, because the teacher didn't "give" it to them, they "earned" it. It means giving up hours I would rather spend reading in coaching them in improv, or Microsoft Word, or kindness. I no longer exist entirely for myself anymore--but a little bit for them. I can't go out for drinks after the show, because if I don't get sleep, I'll snap at the annoying youngster in the first row instead of smiling. Something has changed, and my life is given a new weight; lightened by the burdened of a new responsibility to others in this new community.

But in the evening, when I come before the Eucharist, in the sweet company of a hundred million angels and saints, I enter into that moment in solitude. Sweet, glorious, perpetual, virgin solitude.
This is now: this time in my life, where one determines what this period of uncertainty will be, what themes will flavor it, what telos will determine it. So that for the rest of my life, I can look back on what is now and say: this was the good life.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

ghosts that we knew

The Mona Lisa smile is so mysterious, mischievous. She seems to mock us for working so many years to unravel her secret. Isn't it funny, I thought, as I wandered past hosts of other priceless works, and found a crowd of selfie-snapping Americans, buzzing around this famous portrait like ants on picnic crumbs, that certain pieces of art become valued above others. Why is this? I wondered. Perhaps, I thought, for their story.With a history as fabulous and fantastical as the story of the Mona Lisa, it is no wonder that this piece of artwork is invaluably precious.
And yet, although the United States' debt could not buy the Mona Lisa, it is nothing compared to the worth of a human life. And perhaps it is the human lives and their stories that are tied up in the Mona Lisa's story that gives it such value. The thefts, the intrigues, the drama of nations, the speculation on the passions and emotions that led to this portrait's creation, have all given this painting its value beyond measure. Beautiful, masterful, the Mona Lisa deserves to be remembered, although its composition is innovative, its style breaking out of older, staider portrait styles, it is not the first revolutionary portrait to do so. The humans of the Mona Lisa give its unassuming, mysterious subject value.

On a smaller, less magnificent scale, it is our stories that give value to the objects that we ourselves prize. For the things I own, I love because of the stories inside of them. I do not love things until they have become old and worn, until the paint has begun to peel with use, or the gilding to fade, the zippers to break. And then, I cannot let them go.

Ten years ago, I valued the gorgeous Bible my parents had given me for Christmas at naught. A Bible. Boring. Unused. Mostly unwanted. It's cover, boasting gilded etchings of Christ and His evangelists, was mostly untouched. The pages were immaculate, pristine, and still, for the most part, unread.
And now, how I wish, as I run my fingers over the cover, whose gold has faded under sweaty hands in Kolkata, worn from much travel, much use, being thrown in backpacks, pored over the night before a test, I wish that I could have that pristine golden cover back. As I squint to see the icons still etched into the cover, how I wish they could have their gold back, undervalued while it was there, irreplaceable now that it is gone.

My perfume, which smells like every date night I've ever been on--from picnics in the Minnesota parks to frozen dinners with fireworks. It smells like every formal dance--from senior prom, to Commencement Ball. It smells like every Easter Sunday, every morning I'm too lazy to shower, every night getting ready to Go Dancing in that sparkly, shiny way that only young college women can.

My computer, which now falls asleep or dies within ten minutes of being unplugged from a power source; that has scratches and dents from falling off of lofted beds, or being trundled all over Europe, from being stuffed into backpacks, from being carried through Rome, from too many writing assignments, and way too many tabs opened, is now one of my most treasured possessions. I love it like Miranda Priestly loves her assistants: without it, my work is futile.

My boots, which, whenever I put on, I feel the ache and tiredness from walking all over Europe. I feel the cobblestones of Rome, digging into the heels. As I slip my foot inside the boot, and zip up the well-worn zipper, I feel my leg encased in a swath of comfort, in a little faux-leather home in a strange land. I remember all the adventures I have been on in those boots, all the dust that has clung to the broken heels. To my surprise, I  have grown fond of these small little vehicles of wanderlust. I am not in the habit of loving things, but these particular things now have a special place in my heart, for the stories they have woven into their tread.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

all in good fun

What if, we thought, we were so in love with our alma mater, that we decided to name our children after it.
Not after the University itself, because calling a child "Notre" or "Dame" just wouldn't really work.
But what about after one of our favorite buildings, we thought?
Having no other mental stimulation than a bottle of wine, and
"I'm just going to name my child Regis Philbin Black Box Theatre Mullins."


---
TBH: the only thing I would enjoy more than receiving a bouquet of flowers would be receiving a giant tub of hummus.. #DEREKlife #priorities.

I love receiving flowers from men. Receiving flowers from men means that they are willing to

--
Gingerbread Houses. My mother started many wonderful Christmas traditions, including, but not limited to the gingerbread-house-building tradition. It lasted for many years, until the fatal year of 2013, when our gingerbread house fell apart. A ginger-bread divided against itself cannot stand, and we became as divided as a broken gingerbread wall or fractured royal icing. We became splintered, fractured into gingerbread pieces.

Our mood was broken from the start. Our morale was about as high as a colony of groundhogs PMS-ing. We were grumpy. Moody. Desolate. Destroyed.
Ho Ho ho? more like Ho ho help.

Disgruntled siblings, upset about design choices, irate over the choices of gingerbread gables, they skulk downstairs, hurling dire and vile imprecations at the few brave siblings who continue to ice gingerbread walls.

--
Shit.
Writing a director's note.
Writer's block.
What will help.
Maybe I should take a walk?
Go be inspired by nature?
Find an art gallery somewhere to explore?
Go talk to an interesting person?
Nope.
Go to Facebook.
Find a Facebook friend.
Stalk them.
Stalk the hell outta 'em.
Stalk them all the way back to grade 9.
Wow. Now you know what they looked like as sophomores in highschool.
You know what their social media personality in 11th grade was.
You know what their Facebook persona was that they tried to cultivate as sophomores.

Anyhow, Facebook stalking high school crushes is more important than responding to emails.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

TGIT

Sometimes, just:

De profundis clamavi ad te, Domine.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

exaggerations of semitic language

“If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple."
We hear this passage and we're always like: Whoa! Hold up there, Luke. Are you sure you heard that one right? Because I didn't think hate was really a part of this whole Jesus-thing. Hate doesn't sound right to me. This has got to be a typo... Jerome! Jerome, what did the original say? before you stomped all over the sweet Greek with your vulgar Latin conjugations.
But I think this is one of the most beautiful and romantic passages in all of the New Testament. For it reveals the central unity of who God must be for us. "A jealous God" we call Him, because the only other demand we can imagine that remotely resembles that of Christ's is the demand of a lover who selfishly wants all of us for himself.

But this is where our human imagination is limited in scope: when we hate all else: when we resolutely turn our backs on and reject everything else in our life, pursuing recklessly and whole-heartedly the Triune God of love, then we will find that we actually have more love to give. Then, truly we can begin the journey of learning to love. Tearing down our golden calves is not the work of one moment, but it is the journey of a disciple's life: to learn to slowly and surely dismantle all that we would put in the place of God.

When this Trinity is at the heart of our world: the lover, the beloved, and the love between them, then we will find ourselves poured out for others, when we least expect it. When, perhaps we would rather keep to ourselves. But by putting God at the center, we have opened our lives up, our hearts up to not only those that we do love and cherish, but to those for whom we might not harbor natural affection. If we hate all others, and dedicate our love to God, then all of our paltry human hates, quarrels; dislikes and disagreements, must evaporate under the heat of the infinite demand of love.

And life is sweet, as one of the hated ones. It is very great gladness to find oneself rejected for the sake of the Gospel. Rejection usually stings so sharply--like acid, like fire, like stepping on a hundred hornets all at once--but to be hated for the sake of Christ is an honor. When we find ourselves cast aside, because there is a God who demands the whole-hearted worship and our entire selves, that is a Joy. It is, perhaps, rare, but when found, altogether precious and perfect.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

crisp cuts of moonlight

But it is Our Lady--and no other saint--whom we can really imitate. 
 All the canonized saints had special vocations, and special gifts for their fulfillment. 

 Each saint has his special work: one person’s work. But Our Lady had to include in her vocation, in her life’s work, the essential thing that was to be hidden in every other vocation, in every life. She is not only human; she is humanity. The one thing that she did and does is the one thing that we all have to do, namely, to bear Christ into the world.
--Caryll Houselander, The Reed of God

Our bearing Christ into the world is usually not very glamorous, and, the troubling thing is that it will not look like anyone else's bearing Christ into the world. We have been called to something unique and glorious, which is unlike anyone else's. But it is absolutely essential that we bear Christ into the little corner of the world that we inhabit.

For Christ wished to enter into every single human experience. Each one of them--none of them would be too small or insignificant for his human presence. To paraphrase Rowan Williams: "human life was thought by God to be worth dying for." Our lives are too precious to not become sacraments of Christ. Christ was physically and temporally limited in his human life to the confines of 1st century Palestine. In His Incarnation, He could not experience the hunger of the small Victorian waif, or the great exhaustion of the woman working in the factories, and the man fighting in the cold, muddy trenches. He could not experience the impatience of waiting for a train or the frustration of a run in your pantyhose. But, in our sufferings, we complete the sufferings of Christ. In our joys, we add to the Joy of the Resurrection.

God demands all of our lives. Not in a scary way, where suddenly we have no more life, because we have given it away. But in an infinitely more terrifying way: our lives matter, because God desires every single bit of them. There is no moment we can waste, saying that they are our own. A moment we can keep all to ourselves, waste, and throw away, because it does not matter. It matters. Every single inch of our lives matters, because it is desired by God. God yearns to reveal Himself to the world through each of us.

What should be the most comforting fact to us is often the most disconcerting and annoying. We are too content, to paraphrase another British theological wit, "too content with mudpies." Our desires are not too strong, but too weak. We wish that we were someone else; we wish that our lives were someone else's. We find that we cannot be content with our self. Surely, God cannot work with our perpetual awkwardness, with our timidity, with our insecurities, and our self-doubt. Surely, if we do not gloss over our faults, they will be too glaringly ugly to be sacraments of love. Surely, if only we had this gift or that talent, or could just manage to be more organized, then we could achieve sainthood.

But, perhaps that we are all that we are intended to be, and the only thing that is lacking is that we exit our shell of self-doubt, and offer what fragments of self we can pull together up as our offering of love. In exchange for the love poured out upon us, we return whatever we have created from that love.
Perhaps this is why Mary is the model for all Christian disciples. Because, we learn that it is not the audacity of Joan of Arc, the wisdom of Thomas Aquinas, or the insanity of Francis that we need to be a saint. These are the particular gifts given to particular persons. All that is necessary for any of us in our vocations is to let all the parts of our selves that we would never deem worthy of being vehicles of grace become so. The great folly of Christianity is that it deems any part of nature, no matter how broken and ugly, as a possible conduit of grace.

And that great folly is our hope.

Monday, November 10, 2014

in hot blood

I am a woman most offended,
wearing hosiery that can't be mended.
You'd think that if you paid
seven fifty-five
for a flimsy skein of silk that
it could possibly survive
for more than oh, maybe-- a day?
But, no, in our modern capitalistic clime,
Our clothes are made to break and fray,
squeezing value out of every dime.
And so I totter into work,
with steely face
and laddered thighs.

Slathering my calves with invisible nail polish,
I attempted to arrest the inevitable demolish-
ment of my poor pantyhose,
for what's a girl to do without a pair of those
delicate and fragile death-traps
whose threads, if ruffled by too harsh a zephyr, snaps
and snags and tears and rips and unravels,
leaving my business casual chic in shambles.

Whenever I would move my toe,
or cross my knees, or wag them to and fro,
the delicate little rivulets and runs
would trickle up my leg,
breaking the weaving open, one by one,
taunting me with their own inevitable action.
I was left without a suitable reaction.

So, I, stuttering with rage, thinking:
What have we come to in our day and age.
When women can not go down to the corner drugstore
and purchase tights that last a week or more?!
betook myself into the powder room to mope
over passing of my ravaged nude control top
Oh Lord, I prayed, inside my bathroom stall,
Why do I bother buying anything at all?
My penny-pinching wallet was protesting
at wasting its efforts for a temporary vesting.
An imprudent spenditure of funds, it tsked.
While I pouted, feeling ill-used and miffed.

And then, I laughed.
For just the night before I wrote,
a scene that needed something more concrete:
a dilemma or an issue must occur,
to demonstrate our heroine's thrift and verve.
And so I laughed.
For this was a feminine problem per excellance,
which I now had for my artistic provenance!
Wracking my brains for inspiration,
I found it in this mundane consternation.
Out, damned run, I chirped at my ripped hose,
All the perfumes of Arabia were ne'er sweeter than those.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Girl Meets Art

I was walking through The Frick Collection today.
The Frick Collection is the magnificent body of art that was (for the most part) collected by multi-millionaire Henry Clay Frick (he was an Edwardian multi-millionaire, so I feel like we ought to call him a tycoon. Tycoon sounds more stately and Edwardians. Multi-millionaires own Andy Warhols. Tycoons own Rembrandts).
Right. So, the great thing about Mr. Frick is that he knew he had a fabulous art collection, so not only did he know that he would bequeath his wealth to create a public art gallery, he even designed his house to be an optimal show room for his work. Essentially, the draw is that you see his gorgeous home, and, obviously, the art not bad as well.
So, his house is on East 70th Street and 5th Avenue. Not only is this a beautiful example of premium Central Park real estate, this is exactly smack-dab between St. Patrick's Cathedral (where I sing Sunday mornings) and my favorite bagel place. What an excellent excuse to walk home and grab a bagel (or two) at the same time!
Plus also, on Sundays the über-posh Frick Collection is pay-what-you-can.
I paid them in the free publicity that is this blog post.

I don't want to make it sound like The Frick Collection is equatable to the British National Gallery. But when I was in the El Greco room, (you know that problem when you have so many El Grecos you have to put them in a separate room? You know, that one?) the floorboards creaked and squeaked just like they did on a cold February in London. So I pretended that I was lost in a back-room of the National Gallery, and that if I just walked outside, I would find a stream of red buses rushing by, a handful of street performers, and a Bollywood musical being filmed on the steps of Trafalgar square.

But, mostly, I was just in awe of the art itself.
A friend once described to me the correct way to attend an art museum (yes, I am only friends with snobs. It's fine. We cope with our snobbery by crying into really nice glasses of cabernet sauvignon. Just kidding. We don't do that. Our salt tears would create an imbalance in the tannins.), which is that you walk into a room and then gravitate towards the painting the captures your eye.
This is dangerous. So, so dangerous.
For this reason:


Act I, Scene I 
LIGHTS RISE ON young woman walking 
through the art gallery, 
taking notes in her journal. 
She steps over the threshold into a new room. 
She scans the room briefly, her eyes 
finally light on a large canvas 
in the middle of the room.

Young Woman
(voiceover, in head)
 This one. Definitely this one. Is it a J.M.W. Turner? I think it's a J.M.W. Turner. 
God, I hope it's a J.M.W. Turner. If it's not, then that will be so embarrassing for me. 
What will it even say about my taste in anything about anything ever if it's not a J.M.W. Turner? If it's not, then I will literally be such a phony. 
I will be a pretentious, snobbish, ass--oh thank God, it is J.M.W. Turner. 
It's good, isn't it? I just love the way he plays with color, with that distinctive golden light. Oh I do love when you can just recognize a J.M.W. Turner from across a gallery. It's just so fun, isn't it? 
What must it say about me that I can recognize a J.M.W. Turner from across the room? It must say a lot. A lot of good things. About me. That I can do that.
I must be such an excellent art critic. I'm so glad a took an art history class. Everyone should take an art history class. Everyone. Everyone should major in art history if they can. If they want to. I mean, if they even care a little bit about culture, then they definitely should. But I guess. Not everyone--well, I mean. That man thinks that's a J.M.W. Turner. Oh babe. It's not. That's embarrassing. That's embarrassing for him. I wonder if he took an art history class. Probably not. Good thing I took one.
I wonder if this museum is curated correctly...
Our Hero smiles condescendingly 
at the couple next to her,
oohing and ahhing over a Hobbema.


End Scene.

As much as I love that idea; pick one painting, gravitate towards it, rinse, repeat, etc. I think it's too dangerous, particularly for someone so tempted towards cabernet sauvignon-soaked snobbery as I am. 
So I run around galleries like I'm a five-year-old, and pass over Titian's self-portraits and Constable landscapes, and then peel back around to discover that I missed them while my jaw was hitting the floor looking at the Rembrandts. I am not used to museums having famous paintings that I've seen my entire life. When I saw Holbein's famous portrait of Sir Thomas More, just sort of you know, sitting in the "family room", I think I cried. And my jaw definitely dropped when I strolled into the "Library" that contained few books, but a good number of Gainsborough portraits of ghostly, filmy women with dark eyebrows and sweetly blushing cheeks, and Constable's "Salisbury Cathedral," which looked like an ethereal cloud of sunlight in that dark and musty room.

I wandered around and wondered at Vermeer's annoyingly, tantalizingly un-descriptive titles:

"Officer and Girl."

"Mistress and Maid."

"Girl Interrupted at Her Music."
(girl's at her music again. You know how it is.)

It's like: we get it Vermeer. We see that those are who these people are. So what is happening in this dramatic moment? What are they talking about? What is the hidden quarrel behind the pearly earrings in Mistress and Maid. Why does Girl look dismayed while interrupted at her music lesson. What's happening in music lesson that we need to know about? Who interrupted the girl? Does she like being at her music?
Don't tease us, Vermeer! How cruel of you, painting all this mystery and not revealing a single word of it.

Also, I walking through a posh little antechamber after being overwhelmed by the creepy French wall-panel pastorales of cherub-like children acting out pedestrian activities of the country-folk. Too much pastel; too many ruddy cheeks.
And I walked through the more staid antechamber, which seemed unremarkable, with only a small panel of Christ carrying the cross, and turning over his shoulder to look at the small figure of a Dominican friar, kneeling in prayer.
Except that, as fate and the brushstrokes would have it, Christ looked rather peeved.
"Dear Lord, I beseech thee--"
"Okay no, could you not right now? Trying to actually literally save the world. Lord, give me strength."
So besides a remarkably grumpy-looking Christ on the Via Dolorosa, the room was rather bare.
Oh, except for the Jan van Eyck chilling right across from it.
Seriously. What sort of level of wealthy is it when you have Jan van Eyck's chilling in your ante chamber? And not even in the special dining-room-place-of-honor, just like: oh, this wall was bare and needed something, so I guess Jan van Eyck's masterful Virgin and Child will do just fine.
For now.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

fan vaults

Wooing me,
I swoon.
Winning me,
I falter.
Wanting me,
my knees fall out from under me,
and I collapse,
my entire being blushing under
the weight and force
and warmth of something new.
I am wooed by the autumn leaves falling at my feet.
By the delicate sprawl of fan vaults over the lily-white dome of the Church sepulchre.
I am awed by the stone arranging itself into a lacy net of beauty.
I am dumbstruck by the glory in the sky--a vibrant, gaudy, unabashed pink.
It is the color of someone trying to sweep you off your feet.
I am secretly delighted by the birdsong in the Park, at the Conservatory Water on a Sunday morning.
I stop in my tracks and stare at the Cityscape, rising above the dark trees circling Jackie O's Resevoir. We don't have stars here in the City, and I miss them like I miss my home, but these brilliant lights of skyscrapers, penthouses, and apartments towers are not a poor substitute. As they loom over the glassy, peaceful water, they waver in the night breeze, like a thousand constellations.
Just like it does when I receive a vase of flowers, the color rises in my face as I waltz through the rain, just me, the rose-scented beads in my pocket, and my little red umbrella.
As I pause outside an embassy apartment, I feel like Cinderella. There, in the warm, bright lights of a Madison Avenue townhouse, with wood floors, high ceilings, and a chandelier hanging in the window, is a brilliant gathering of brilliant, dazzling people.
Dressed in black, stylish, silent, sparkling, they file out of limousines, and are ushered out of the rain into the pristine interior, as smooth and warm as mother-of-pearl.
I paused on the sidewalk and watched the world continue. As I stood outside, the lights of the homes refracting against the raindrops and casting strange light on the treetops, I felt a delicious thrill of being outside the moment, and yet in the heart of it.
Although I wasn't a part of the party that was happening across the street, I felt that I was at the center of some moment, lit up by the street lights and the smell of raindrops on the sidewalk.
A whiff of petrichor smotes my heart.
I am being wooed and wanted, and utterly won.

Friday, November 7, 2014

this night is sparkling, don't you let it go.

On Halloween, I dressed as a flapper.
       This would be highly unremarkable, and even embarrassing, except for the fact that the party I was attending (the one I was, in fact, hosting) took place in a house that originally was built in 1890.
In European terms, 1890 is yesterday, and in human terms, it really isn't that long ago. But it's certainly the oldest house I've ever lived in, and it's the only house I've lived in where you can feel the oldness of the house in the creak of the floorboards, in the narrowness of the hallways, in the mangled mess of the kitchen. The past is very present in our old house.
       I had never dressed up as a person from the past in a house that was such a beacon of the past. I had cobbled my costume together of a dress I'd found in July at a thrift shop (and thought, in a rare burst of thoughtfulness: wait. I can totally use this for Halloween. When I manage to plan ahead, I am always surprised at myself.); shoes I bought for a play senior year of high school; and my grandmother's pearls. Perhaps it was wearing so many little pieces of the past that did it. Perhaps it was too much F. Scott Fitzgerald, or too much Mrs. Dalloway. It certainly wasn't the hot apple cider punch. Many things in life can be blamed on too much hot apple cider punch, but this wasn't one of them. Somehow, I had gotten into a kind of enchanted moment.
     I stood on the stairs, and looked down into the ho-polloi of the mass of people dancing in the living room,  and I thought of how many other hostesses had stood on these stairs, holding onto these railings and watched many crowded parties wrangle about on the main floor. I wondered if any young girls had peered over into the crowd of people they weren't yet allowed to join. I imagined all the other young women who had walked down these stairs, feeling the glow of activity and rush of life wafting up from downstairs. I felt such a kinship with them, these ghosts from the past.
       I sat on the stairs, talking cozily with friends, thought of that quintessential Daisy quote from The Great Gatsby: "I like large parties. They're so intimate." I sat on the stairs, my white dress spread across my lap, and laughed and chatted and chirped and flirted and felt that my eyes were dancing, like the strings of lights in the backyard tree. And I experienced the cozy sort of fun that is Sitting On the Stairs at a Party, When There's a Crowd Downstairs. You feel like you are really Experiencing Something, when there's a party downstairs, and you're upstairs. There's a delicious sort of illicit intimacy, except you have the great joy of knowing that you can do whatever you please, and that, according to the Rules of Party-Going, this is perfectly allowed, just not often taken advantage of. If anyone intrudes on your little coterie on the landing, they will either become members of your little tete-a-tete, or they will naturally retreat, sensing themselves intruders.  Sitting on the Stairs at a Party, When There's a Crowd Downstairs is one of my favorite things in the world.
     As I sat there, I felt a delicious glow of timelessness: we would go on sitting on these stairs, as the party continued on downstairs. And forever, as long as there are crowds, and stairs on which one can escape from them, there will be girls in white dresses and pearls sitting on stairs with friends and laughing, talking, and feeling slightly dazzled, like an animated and vital star among the twinkle-light constellations.
   

Thursday, November 6, 2014

the flattening of the basilica

At nine am the bells begin their task,
summoning the sleepy parish out
of their indolent beds,
into the misty warmth of Sabbath day.
A carillon inaugurates our pasch,
In the incense of the dewy dawn,
the chimes begin to pray.
Startled out of sleep by frisky taylors,
we shake ourselves from sleep as sparrows cry.

At nine am the tenors began their task,
their rings demanding all of us to come,
and listen as your music seeps into
the warm flush of the Sunday morn.
We witness as your sharp words vanish
exhaled into spider-web fan vaults,
which echo with your words evaporated,
vanished with your grandma's choir loft.
Our speech, which once had been so vertical,
hazarding heights of heady poetry
has crumbled into something dry and brittle,
like carpet in the shrouded baptistry.

Where once it entered in the sanctuary,
it lingers in the nave, thwarted.
Where once it boldly fashioned liturgy,
it sits, idling, on snoring lips, parted.
It cannot now unlatch our tabernacles,
Whose gold has molded into more
pedestrian lacquers, for simpler times:
our holy of holies, guarded by a plain oak door

Before, the liturgies we sung were sung
accompanied by infants' grating cries
as if the singers--we--had found ourselves among
angelic hosts, invisible to our eyes,
but sweetly sensible to lisping tongues.
Thus, we cried with them our vagitus,
desperate attempts to sing beyond our ken
we clamored to the heights of language,
to where our angel songs,
with golden stained glass light, ascend.
To kingdoms sealed from us,
we demanded our rightful entrance,
to places where we were but alien,
we staked our turf, built our house on sand.

Into the somber rafters of the nave,
that dark heart of our firmament,
our chants and those of stars were blended,
with the word that we had hoped to save.
But everything that rises soon must fall;
So now I cannot hear your song at all.
Like chapels sterilized of the divine,
Your tongue is dry and brittle now as mine.

Like the carillon that never ceases,
your words echo, barren, in the nave,
disrupting orderly events like consecrations
and luminous rites of transubstantiation
which venture, daily, to transport our sorry words,
mere sacraments of fragile mortality,
into a language of more potent permanence.
But in our wooden chapels where we sought
our comfort we have lost,
nay, have slaughtered, our sweet immanence.
     
Soaring once, the fan vaults now have caved,
crumbling from the capital to the floor,
but the ruins whisper your lonely antiphon--
Our holy of holies guarded by a plain oak door

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

wonderstruck, blushing all the way home

Take pictures in your mind of your childhood room 
Memorize what it sounded like when your dad gets home 
Remember the footsteps, remember the words said 
And all your little brother's favorite songs 
I just realized everything I have is someday gonna be gone
--Taylor Swift, Never Grow Up



 Watch out, East River, Here Come the Irish
God gave us November to dedicate a month to mourning the passing of October, and preparing for the arrival of Advent. Thus, I have grown more and more fond of November over the years, as I spend the month doing basically those two things.
November is the perfect time to make a list of "Favorite Things About October":
Item A) Fall Leaves.
Item B) Autumn Colors.
Item C) The First Week of October that is Jam-Packed with Saints' Feast Days
Item D) Birthdays. Birthdays on Birthdays on Birthdays.

23: grateful. scared. excited. in the best way
Item E) Every other year or so, a new Taylor Swift album.
And, of course, the new Taylor Swift's album has dropped, causing joy among twenty-something girls everywhere, and incurring the wrath of New Yorkers. So obviously I've been listening to tons of Taylor.
Not the new album, though. While wallowing for the past week in all things Taylor, I discovered that, in the midst of the rush of freshman year, I had neglected to listen to 65% of the songs on her album Speak Now. So, I remedied that, and was rewarded with a treasure trove of beautiful lyrics, that, along with Sara Bareilles' Blessed Unrest, has become the soundtrack to a new city.


You can have Manhattan, babe,
'cause I can't have you.
--Sara Bareilles, Manhattan


 It's a really old city 
Stuck between the dead and the living 
--Sara Bareilles, Chasing the Sun


Here in these city lights
Girl could get lost tonight
--Sara Bareilles, City




So fill up your lungs and just run 
But always be chasing the sun.
--Sara Bareilles, Chasing the Sun

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

simple aplomb

I love women who exhibit a sort of je ne sais quoi.

all sorts of je ne sais quoi


Thus, two books I recently read appealed to this part of me that loves the lives of hidden women.
One, Where'd You Go, Bernadette was a fictional account of a misanthropic, brilliant architect, who drags her family through all sorts of adventures: to Antarctica and back. It was a delightful, joyful romp through the adventures of a highly dysfunctional family. (aka your average suburban family)

Secondly, there was The Astronauts Wives Club. This was the sort of book that makes you realize:a) How toxic the strange ideals of Patriotism, domesticity and absolute conformity and perfection that the 1950s imposed on families were. It was fascinating to think of how much money was spent on getting men to the moon, for really no reason, but to prove to the world that our technology and rocket-power had surpassed those of Russia. The entire Cold War was a competition fueled by fear and jostling for the alpha dog position on the world stage. It was a fascinating cultural reflection: to think about how these ideals of conformity were driven by fear of communists hiding in the midst of a peaceful democracy. Of the Other hiding in the midst of our Selves. The ideals of "perfect housekeeping" and the "unflappable housewife" were images driven by an advertising industry looking to sell goods to people who had met all their basic needs. On a grand scale, the book provided was a fascinating cultural reflection.



But more particularly, I was captivated by these women. How can your heart not admire such women: their husbands went to the moon. It may seem like the men did the greater feat, but really, the agonies of those waiting at home, listening to radio broadcasts, and watching launches and missions on fuzzy televisions, are far more acute, I would think. These women have been the ones who have waited at home, watching a loved one venture into danger, but not being able to do anything about it. They have an understanding of pain that others cannot; they have a deeper insight into empathy.
Rene Carpenter during a mission

To hear their stories, to listen to their struggles as the first "Real Housewives" clan to enter into the American consciousness, is a real privilege. Their brilliance, boldness, greatness, and determination is balm to the heart and pleasure to the reading eye and ear.

Monday, November 3, 2014

victims of history

 But glories rested in you, 
and world-shouldering braveries, 
and words fell through you onto paper
as sweetly as soft rain
--Glenn Shea, The World is Nothing, a meditation on John Keats


There is another side to all this, though: Jesus' innermost dignity cannot be taken from him. The hidden God remains present within him. Even the man subjected to violence and vilification remains the image of God. Ever since Jesus submitted to violence, it has been the wounded, the victims of violence, who have been the image of the God who chose to suffer for us. 
So Jesus in the throes of his passion is an image of hope: God is on the side of those who suffer.
--Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, Part II: Holy Week

These are the "failures" who are the face of the Living God.

I was in a coffee shop (okay, so it wasn't a real coffee shop, it was a Starbucks. Sorry I'm destroying NYC's authenticity one chai latte at a time), and a sweet melody floated into the air through the loudspeakers: there is grace in how you choose //Which memories to lose crooned the singer. 
Isn't it funny how selective our memories are, and whatever we choose to remember defines how we remember our histories.
Common wisdom tells us that history is written by the victors, which is partially true.

There is an apocryphal tale of Sir Walter Raleigh, (which I first encountered in an essay of George Orwell's) that tells the story of when imprisoned in the Tower of London. While shut away, he took it upon himself to write down a history of the world. While he was working on it, two workmen outside the tower started a fight, and one of them was killed. Despite his earnest queries, Sir Raleigh could not find out the cause of the altercation. So he abandoned his project, and burned what he had began.
 Although he had been an eyewitness to an event, Sir Raleigh still had no idea what had actually occurred, what events had transpired to make the event occur. Although he could see the outcome of whatever movements had occurred to create the event he witnessed, he had really no grasp on what had happened, because these mysterious forces at work in history eluded his knowledge. 
History, at least the official story that is part of the common knowledge of our culture, is usually a story of the outcomes. It is usually a story of events that happened in chronological order, of key events that are deemed important. For the most part, their importance gets to be determined by who is in the position of power, determined by whose voice has the most credence and authority.

But is the word of the world the only voice that matters? In his mournful paean to Keats, Glenn Shea writes:
By the word of the world it seemed you never won, John, not coming or going. He then proceeds to list the trials of John Keats, which are plentiful and bookmarked by a poor childhood and death by tuberculosis. But glories rested in, you, John! the poet cries: you have found something and have dropped some of that something into your gilded wisteria writing. The world is nothing, the poet concludes. It must be nothing, to pity a man whose very soul is beauty.
Like the life of John Keats, Christianity is the story of a failure. Of a beautiful, fruitful, glorious failure. Of a man who did not win, but lost. Of a God who entered into the world not as the victor of history, but as a victim of history. A God who died a death that so many all over the world experience each day. A God who, to the eyes of the victors of his time lost. If Sir Walter Raleigh had seen the Crucifixion outside his Tower window, what would he have said?
And so, all over the world, throughout the history of the human race, all those whose stories are lost, all those whose stories are stories of failure, all those who, like the workman outside the Tower window, who leave behind no explanation for their end, have entered deeply into the mystery of the Passion. The have shared in a particular and explicit way the vocation that we all share in a mysterious and mystic manner: the call to die to ourselves, to the world, to our own will, and to the history of the world.
The martyrs have joined with Christ, and continue to unite themselves with Him, as their numbers grow each day, in becoming a silent victim of history. They unite themselves to the someones whose stories do not join those of the highlighted heroes of history books. The martyrs are those who suffer silent purgatories without fanfare. They offer their lives so that what is lacking in Christ's sacrifice will be made complete in them.
How audacious, I always think when I read Colossians, of you Paul to describe Christ's, the only begotten Son of the Father's, sacrifice in anyway as lacking

But it is. For His history is now dependent on human history. The God who writes the story has entered into the story. He has put Himself at the mercy of the poor rag-tag band of players that we are. If the Apostles had never heeded Mary Magdalene, they would never had heard the news of the Risen Christ. How easily fear could have stopped their ears and shut her message out, the good news dying on her lips, and decaying in an empty tomb.
On such little moments, little human kindnesses: listening to our frantic neighbor, trusting someone who might be mistaken, sharing news with someone who may not believe you, telling the truth even when the truth is unlikely, impossible, feared or hated.
 It is in moments like these that history rests: the impossible, intimate, private and intimate moments of daily joys and sorrows. Whose scope seems to be narrow: just between one other person and yourself, just an angel and a girl from Nazareth; yet their impact is eternal.
Like Sir Raleigh, I, too, wonder: how could all this ever be recorded?


Today, as we speak, millions are suffering for the name of Jesus. They suffer, believing and enduring, unknown and without fame, atoning also for our guilt of cowardly indifference, weakness of faith, pleasure-seeking mediocrity. They are the victims on whom we live; they go the way which may suddenly become for us too the only roads that leads to life; they experience the vocation which in deepest reality is also ours. --Karl Rahner, On the Theology of Death

Sunday, November 2, 2014

the kids in row 51


This is the secret delight in singing in a choir:
even if, outside of the music, your voices are more often than not discordant, disagreeing, arguing, talking in different keys, to different rhythms, not at all on the same line, much less on the same page,
when you sing next to one another, your voices do what I assume human voices were meant to do--make music.
Music, definition: two voices singing in harmony.

Here is the thing about other people: it is vitally necessary to surround yourself with them.
Because they are always so gloriously unpredictable and indescribable. Because they can be so darn annoying. Because they help you remember that The World According to You does not exist.
When you live with them day in and day out, you find they are perfectly imperfect--there are a thousand little habits that you so easily forget about when they are not smacking food loudly right next to you at table, or clipping their fingernails into a paper bag in the common room.

Being with someone, living alongside them, is such a vastly different experience than simply meeting them for coffee and having a civilized conversation. It is messier than just meeting them for coffee, then going your separate way, certainly. But it is only if we embrace the mess of letting another person into our lives that we will reap the joys that come from living alongside other humans. You will find the joy of simply sit on your couch holding a pillow, and listen to the sound of friends' voices wrap around you in the music of their conversation.
You will find the laughter in rolling around on your floor, listening to Stevie Wonder and giggling with your sisters.
Living alongside is a fundamentally joyful experience, because it teaches you that very important lesson: the world is not about you.

There were days in undergrad I was confronted by the inescapable realization that my college experience was slightly different than the average undergraduate standing next to me in the god-forsaken row 51 of the senior section at the football game.
The debauchery of the Jazz Age has nothing on Row 51.
I call this: "Before Our Snowy Innocence was Scarred by Row 51"
When people ask what's in like being a theatre and theology major, I would often start spouting off some eloquent commentary on the sacred art of story-telling.
Really, what I should have done was describe a typical Saturday night: discussions of practical living out of theology of the body, interrupted by loud, low beltings of: "...I've never seen a diamond in the fleeesh..." and renditions of Lorde's appearance on the Ellen Show.
That is what it means to live a life infused with both theatre enthusiasts and theologists [new year, new word].
For, that was one of the deepest and sweetest gifts of the programs of study that I found: I was surrounded by people too precious to describe.
Thoughtful, kind, intentional, just, good, and passionate: I took for granted, I realized, all those years of how those people had shaped me so completely. Becoming satisfied with who I had evolved into, I forgot that it was only because constant daily interaction with others that I had been sanded down into the shape I currently wore.
But I have found that the friends who have influenced me most are those who have the magic of what Romano Guardini describes as "composure":

Composure is more than freedom from scattered impressions and occupations. It is something positive; it is life in its full depth and power. Left to itself, life will always turn outward toward a multiplicity of things and events, and this natural inclination must be counterbalanced.

If you hear the account of someone who has met a holy woman or man (Think John Paul II or Mother Teresa), usually they are so struck by that person's attentiveness and peace. As they recount their meeting, they usually include a sentence or two to the effect of: I felt as if I had their whole attention. Or: I felt like I was the only person they were thinking about, or something to that effect.
Essentially, these holy men and women have mastered composure: calming their busy hearts and minds, focusing them on one person. They are able to attend with charity to each person who approaches them, with serenity. And the person encountering them basks in the warmth of their serene attention.
Robert Bellarmine, a Jesuit of the 16th century, writes that this composure, this solitary peace settles into a heart because that heart loves not "with a private, individual love, but all in Christ for the sake of Christ." In other words, the souls that have learned to see their neighbor as a sacrament of Christ cannot help but devote their entire attention to that person who, at that moment, is completely and utterly Christ to them.
After these past two feast days that have celebrated the multitude of saints, living and dead, who populate the Body of Christ, I cannot help but feel grateful for all the saints in my life.
Those who do not even know how beautiful they are, yet still model Christ to me.
Those who wear their beauty with poise and grace, and inspire me with their pursuit of beauty and truth.
Those saints who have been in my life for so long they are part of the architecture of my heart, and those saints who cross my path for a brief and beautiful moment, shedding their light in my life with a brief and brilliant flash.
And for those saints who have helped me cultivate composure, by helping me to slow down my busy day, by disrupting my schedule, by pulling me out of my plan for the day, and helping me see Christ in the present, in the here and now. 
In the friend I welcome into my heart, and in the stranger I encounter on the subway.
They are all the saints who assist me on my journey, as I learn to love them all with not a private, individual love, but with a love that is greater than my own.

Community means lots of photo shoots.

Colorfully Composed.

Thespians are the most composed.

Remember, ladies modest is hottest. And so is composure.

Wine. Cheese. Pearls. Curls. And lots of composure, of course.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

surprised by joy

Before I knew what I desired, the desire itself was gone, the whole glimpse... withdrawn, the world turned commonplace again, or only stirred by a longing for the longing that had just ceased... In a sense the central story of my life is about nothing else... The quality common to the three experiences... is that of an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction
I call it Joy.
--C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy

 If I were king of the world, I would enforce this one rule: no one would be allowed to use the term "Surprised by Joy" unless they had actually read C.S. Lewis' heart-breakingly transcendent spiritual autobiography that takes that phrase as its title. Using phrases without understanding what they mean is about as wise as uttering a spell while ignoring the potential consequences your words could have. In other words: it's very foolish. The phrase "surprised by joy" refers to an experience that is rich, deep, transcendent, and full of the deepest desires of the human race that we try to forget everyday. Imagine if the image that everyone had in their heads when they said "surprised by joy" was the moment they longed for another world but they didn't even know that longing was inside of them until they felt it, raw and deep, pure and strong. Overwhelming and sharp, but over in a flash, leaving them panting with the desire to feel that desire again. The words would be richer, filled with more music and meaning.

But I am not the king of the world. I am just a stubborn and overly opinionated young human who likes to pontificate on matters that are really none of my concern.

So now that we've covered that, back to where I was going at the beginning of this post: I often long to escape into nature (currently reading Walden, which is perhaps a trifle imprudent of me, if I'm hoping to discourage these cravings). But, despite my yearning to find solace in the wonders of waterfalls or forests, I have found that is is truly other humans who bring me the most joy.

I can look at pictures of deep rain forests, the Redwoods of British Columbia, wide open prairie skies, or the Big Sky Country of Montana and think, in the words of Liz Lemon:


I think of how beautiful it would be to be surrounded but nothing but God in the silences and still, small voices of nature. How peaceful I would be in whatever tranquil spot I long for, and how gloriously refreshing and renewing I would find it.

And yet, I find, over and over again, that as refreshing as the silence is, I find true joy in the people around me. Even when I am surrounded by a frustrating, annoying crush of people at rush hour on the 6 train, I find this strange marveling well up inside of me, as the realization hits me that I am surrounded by these eternal creatures of beauty. Even that really annoying man who keeps yelling in a strained, passive aggressive voice: "Move further down into the car, please," and the SoHo fashionistas with pierced noses, pierced ears, and goodness knows what else pierced, titter and launch back, without moving an inch: "There's no space!" Or on the street: when another pedestrian and I make eye contact and smile as we both dash across the crosswalk, trying to beat the yellow light, as it swiftly turns red. Or in a choir, as a choir is a veritable hothouse of personalities.

As much as I imagine that I will find endless peace and happiness beside peaceful waters and in still meadows (and assuredly, whenever I have the chance, I do), there is also so much joy to be found here: here in this Park, with mothers arguing with their children. Here in this school, with students rolling their eyes at their dumb teacher. Here in this house, with humans who are so flawed, so unique, and so unsuspecting of their own radiance and beauty. Each one of them is a sacrament of love.

As I was writing an entry in my journal about the one night we smashed pumpkins off our rooftop (such Halloween hooligans), I was struck by the ease and acceptance at which I wrote down strange new names, that one year ago were never part of my journal entries. And yet now, these names were part of the story of my life. They had their undeniable place in it, and I was writing down these new names, because they belonged on that page, in that story, in my life. I often go back and read my old journals; but I am never allowed to move forward in time and read my journals of the future.

I wonder, if I were able to, what new names and figures I would see written on the pages of my life. That thought alone--that there will come into my life an abundance of new humans, who are now unknown to me, but will one day I will write down their names in my journal without a second thought, because they belong there, that my heart will stretch and grow to accommodate them--fills me with wonder, and yes: joy.