Good pace

Today was the first legitimate day of spring. No tights, no boots, no coat.

I’m back in Boston, as I am every week now. Trudging toward finals, and grumbling at the undergrads who I haven’t seen all year who are basking their (overwhelming majority) translucent legs on the quad. Topsiders, coral shorts and all.

Two years ago I was staring out my window at melting snow, vacillating between driving immediately to Copley or encouraging my friends to get up north. As the days, the lockdowns, the uncertainty drug on, I felt like a piece of me was getting torn apart.

From where we sit now, we still don’t have answers. We may have a conviction, but we don’t have understanding.

I want you to know that tonight my voice is still sore from shouting for four hours at mile 23:

“you got this” and “you can do it” and

“we believe in you” and “bring it home” and “keep going,”

and I want you to know that that is exactly what I plan to keep saying, over and over again, to this weary, hurting city. [more]

We’re struggling to find out who we are – an admittedly unique question so often robbed from victims in this age of secretive terrorism prosecution, relocation of trials, and, in fact, a choice taken away from almost every victim/survivor. The right to decide what to do with such harm. With actions that defy our very orientation in the world.

Just before the bombing I left my job in victim rights to move to the woods. To explore and understand myself, my vocation, my love, my future.

The violence that ripped through the city made me question everything. Now, I find myself in a unique, somewhat double life – half rural, half urban; half academic, half professional; half Boston, half Maine.

Yet each time I crest over 93, get that view of the city, I remember I wouldn’t have it any other way, and I hear my wise friend’s words:

My friends and I cheered for thousands yesterday at Mile 23. Then some really horrifying shit happened. It doesn’t change what we said yesterday—

“Go!”

“Don’t Give Up!”

“We believe in you!”

“Good pace!”

Je Suis Viola

As a teenager I thought I was born in the wrong time. Reading Howard Zinn I became obsessed with the activism I saw reverberating through history, especially in 1960s America. Yet from my perch in suburban Oregon I wasn’t sure there was any way I would ever be a part of something so important.

Throughout college I struggled to put my feet behind my emerging beliefs – beliefs I at times could not articulate but knew were the same type of earth-shattering, world-moving efforts. I wanted justice. I wanted peace. But, as we all know, the early to mid 2000s did not make the change I sought.

I marched with thousands against Iraq, joined with hundreds of laborers on May Day, eventually even found myself living in Louisiana marching with Jesse Jackson and meeting with Ambassador Andrew Young.

I even had a t-shirt that (no joke) stated: “This is what an activist looks like.”

But in the past few years, somewhere, I lost that activist spirit.

Throughout the mucky, difficult waters of accompaniment, solidarity became a warped concept. Ego-driven leadership, questionable methods, and haphazard organization were rampant.

Blame it on grad school, getting older, burn out, living in the woods, discouragement – whatever it is, or a combination of everything, my feet are now largely off the front lines.

Yes, I still write, think, value, and promote the central tenets of what drove my activism in the first place. But I’m not out there. I’m not singing in city halls or making witty march placards.

In the wake of Ferguson, Trayvon, Cleveland, New York, Boston, the Paris massacres, and ISIS beheadings, I am anxious.

I cry. I lament. But this is not action. It is groping in the dark for some small shard of hope.

Yesterday, I saw Selma and learned of Viola Liuzzo. Although a small part of this film, I saw a woman I could be – a courage that a large part of me still desires.

When asked, she showed up. And was killed for taking part.

Although not perfect, the film depicts ordinary citizens, who fought long before Martin showed up, and had the fortitude to stand behind him when he called. Viola is shown doing small things, handing out sandwiches, offering greetings, a simple smile.

She displays the type of quiet, humble action I find most important – service that relinquishes undeserved societal power and provides what is most needed: support, resources, and any advantage her fate of birth may be able to provide to those so long denied their rights.

Last week’s Charlie Hebdo killings inspired a saying that has layered meanings. Rather than simply “I am” or a sense of standing with, the phrase can be interpreted as: “Follow until you become.

While I do not want to wade into the waters of debate around Charlie‘s choices of publication material, this concept resonates deeply.

Show up. Pass out sandwiches. Smile.

I’m going to try.

Je suis Viola.

Home/Away

Squirrels are performing acts of high-wire gluttony outside my window.

Rushing across power lines toward the gigantic oak; knocking down the nuts it has worked so long to grow, rushing across the grass with cheeks blown out.

A thicket pushes against my desk view to the world and trembles with sparrows.

Their smudged bodies cock heads this way and that, tuning in for better reception. They settle on my sill, chattering. When they catch my eye they fly away as if I am about to breach the glass between us.

Cooky greats me at the train, counting the hour, minute and second it arrives; scratching the record on a wad of wrinkled paper as I wonder where he files his data of ten years of trains.

And then I’m on another couch.

At another bar.

Welcomed with love, with grace, with obligation, into homes, businesses, libraries.

Finding my place of settling in a space not my own.

Stretching these new morning kinks, carrying the ‘important’ things on my back.

Tumbleweeds of dried hydrangea heads, browned from the cold, bounce across the frost-hardened ground. The sparrows greet me on the path to my door.

They burst from the hedge, flying as a group – in fear, in search, in everything.

Brunswick, ME

Brunswick, ME

Other People’s Couches

I was inspired today by Grace. That is her entire presence of being, this good soul. And in that spirit I am asking myself to follow through.  To just do, instead of question. That was how I found myself here in the first place. So forgive this jilting re-entry, but here we go:

2014 was rocky. Full of missteps, new adventures, questions, and not too little confusion.

But there is one thing that shines through the slog: the generosity and great heartedness of my community. And their couches. Literally.

Beginning my PhD was tough, not in the least because my home is in Maine, and my school in Boston. So each week I asked for hospitality. For people to take this jumbled mess of books and stress into their homes. And they said yes.

Yes to my banter about Aquinas or Derrida or the twists and turns of the academy. Yes to a disruption in their week, their evening, their routine. Yes to random calls, texts, meet ups, beers and conversations.

What I love about new years is the excuse to give myself a new slate, a new start. The marker may be arbitrary but the outcome can be glorious. So here, amidst a new beginning I want to begin with gratitude, and offer a litany of my saints over the past year:

Bonnie, Smashley, Allison, Pegasi, Eric, Lindsey, KMHC, Kee, Aly, Courtney, Al and Pat, Donna, Megan, Rooster, Lauren, Tony and Sarah, Dave, Blake, Shawn, Em and Kati, Matthew, Remy, Hans, Sarah and Chuck, Tuesday, Jedi, Tim and Annie, John, “Other” Megan, Pete, Newman House, Eden, Craig, the Broadwillies, Mom and Dad, DJ, Melody, Kim, Dan, Banker Jim, Meredith, The Carter Clan, Sara and David, Kay, Sophito, Cooky, Wyatt, Catherine, Spud, and everyone else I have forgotten.

Thank you for everything. For the hugs, the dinners, the music, the laughter, the honesty, the joy, the pho, the drinks, and, of course, the couches.

Alright, 2015. Let’s go.

Starting a PhD Program: Or, Why I Can’t Stop Crying

Life is oh so big, awe-full and awful, but remains so, so small.

The angled, late morning sunlight hits one small square on the wooden floor. It slowly extends its reach with dappled warmth.

A miniature naval ship sits above a working fireplace; evidence strewn in ashes on the otherwise immaculate wood floor. There are paintings of ships everywhere.

You would’ve been 30.

And I’m on another new adventure. One that right now makes me feel small, inconsequential, struggling. One where I would love to hear you say: it’s not everything. Let’s get a drink.

I feel so much pressure, and I hope, I know, you are exquisitely free.

The crutch of self-doubt is one I know you would kick out from under my shoulder, and tell me to be big – but also remember that I am small.

That small is precious and good and kind and beautiful. That big is laughter and love and amazing and mystery.

That somehow, somewhere, sometime I might find myself.

Through the sea of words, and jargon, and ego, and fight.

But the not knowing is scary.

The risk feels perilous, the task daunting.

The tug, the pull, the questions remain.

A portly, formally attired man gazes out of his oil portrait, immense gilded frame and all, looking somewhat compassionate.

Perhaps he loves these boat paintings, or perhaps I just need the things in my world today to speak to me of love.

IMG_4639

Flagstaff Lake, ME

I held this piece for a while. A piece of my new home, a piece of Kristin, a piece of Marie Howe. Love more, y’all.

Not Doing What You Love

I am not doing what I love.

I don’t really know what that means. I have many loves.

The most, the ultimate, the WHAT I AM MEANT TO DO (kanyecaps for epicness) still evades me.

Or at least, the feeling of fulfillment does. Reading an NYT op-ed today really got me thinking – not that just not knowing is acceptable, but that doing things we do not love is really important.

Now I’m not talking self-flagellation for flagellation’s sake, but rather work that emanates from necessity, from duty, from responsibility.

Slinging lattes and raising money for syringa vulgaris is certainly not anything I ever pictured myself doing at 29. However,

“Our desires should not be the ultimate arbiters of vocation. Sometimes we should do what we hate, or what most needs doing, and do it as best we can.” (not that an espresso is what most needs doing…)

Even as I move toward beginning my PhD this fall, I am dogged by a sense of questioning – of academic self indulgence, of vocational self indulgence (read: privilege), of public service, of duty.

A re-run of TAL this week also piqued this part of my soul. In Act III, a woman who has adopted Paris as her home speaks about the completely refreshing way of life in France. That even as a corporate lawyer her work hours are expected to form a part of life, not its entirety.

That seeking pleasure through life – food, wine, loved ones – slows the pace to one where one can appreciate it, and find fulfillment through those outlets. (that’s just so, so French).

And perhaps that’s the ultimate question: how does one balance society’s needs with our talents, our duties and our desires?

lilacs and compost

***

May 19, 2014: Hiatus Break. I’m still grappling around what I’m doing here on the blog, but I will say this month has been bonkers. I think I’m going to start posting more when something hits me (hopefully not literally) and I have the time. Who knows – best laid plans right? 

Golden

The peepers are chorusing, my love made made me a surprise meal of my favorites (cheese plate, scallops, israeli couscous salad, roasted brussel sprouts, coffee heath bar ice cream, a bottle of extra dry champagne), a luxurious bath, watching candles flicker, and reading a great book – 13 is a lucky number in my family. 29 on the 29th is looking pretty damn good.

Chapter 13 [1]

Sometimes a kind of glory lights up the mind of a man. It happens to nearly everyone. You can feel it growing or preparing like a fuse burning toward dynamite. It is a feeling in the stomach, a delight of the nerves, of the forearms. The skin tastes the air, and every deep-drawn breath is sweet. Its beginning has the pleasure of a great stretching yawn; it flashes in the brain and the whole world glows outside your eyes. A man may have lived all of his life in the gray, and the land and trees of him dark and somber. The events, even the important ones, may have trooped by faceless and pale. And then-the glory-so that a cricket song sweetens his ears, the smell of the earth rises chanting to his nose, and dappling light under a tree blesses his eyes. Then a man pours outward, a torrent of him, and yet he is not diminished. And I guess a man’s importance in the world can be measured by the quality and number of his glories. It is a lonely thing but it relates us to the world. It is the mother of all creativeness, and it sets each man separate from all other men.

I don’t know how it will be in the years to come. There are monstrous changes taking place in the world, forces shaping a future whose face we do not know. Some of these forces seem evil to us, perhaps not in themselves but because their tendency is to eliminate other things we hold good. It is true that two men can lift a bigger stone than one man. A group can build automobiles quicker and better than one man, and bread from a huge factory is cheaper and more uniform. When our food and clothing and housing all are born in the complication of mass production, mass method is bound to get into our thinking and to eliminate all other thinking. In our time mass or collective production has entered our economics, our politics, and even our religion, so that some nations have substituted the idea collective for the idea God. This in my time is the danger. There is great tension in the world, tension toward a breaking point, and men are unhappy and confused.

At such a time it seems natural and good to me to ask myself these questions. What do I believe in? What must I fight for and what must I fight against?

 

Our species is the only creative species , and it has only one creative instrument, the individual mind and spirt of a man. Nothing was every created by two men. There are no good collaborations, whether in music, in art, in poetry, in mathematics, in philosophy. Once the miracle of creation has taken place, the group can build and extend it, but the group never invents anything. The preciousness lies in the lonely mind of a man.

And now the forces marshaled around the concept of the group have declared war of extermination on that preciousness, the mind of man. By disparagement, by starvation, by represssions, forced direction, and the stunning hammerblows of conditioning, the free, roving mind is being pursued, roped, blunted, drugged. It is a sad suicidal course our species seems to have taken.

And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual. This is what I am and what I am about. I can understand why a system built on a pattern must try to destroy the free mind, for that is one things which can by inspection destroy such a system. Surely I can understand this, and I hate it and I will fight against it to preserve the one thing that separates us from the uncreative beasts. If the glory can be killed, we are lost.

IMG_3508

***

Golden Birthday: Words from Steinbeck, East of Eden. Last year of my twenties, here I come. (Oh, and we went to Austin for 5 days, picture source!)

A Future Not Our Own

Often, we work in good faith.

Not in some grand deity or splashy cosmic reward, but in the abstract hope that what we are doing will make this world better. Better for ourselves, better for the next generation, just…better.

Even if we don’t happen to work on the origins of the universe, the effort we put in helps us find meaning and at least a bit of understanding about our purpose.

There was some great science-nerd-payoff last week that reminded me of this great lesson.

The unexpected, magnificent flabbergasted joy of Andrei Dmitriyevich Linde doesn’t need to be explained – just shared. Shared to see one of the rare moments when things we believe in so deeply are made real.

Shared so we can more deeply share in Archbishop Oscar Romero’s words:

“It helps now and then to step back and take a long view. The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a small fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection. No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the Church’s mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about: We plant the seeds that will one day grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing  that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces effects  far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense  of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it well. It may be incomplete but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.”

—Attributed to Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero of El Salvador (1917-1980), possibly original to Bishop Ken Untener

***

The Art of the Everyday – March 19-24: Clean Slate. I’m taking a mulligan on last week. It was rough.

Impossible

– That this little family is going to make it.

– That we can heal.

– That I still hope.

– That unexpected, unpredictable, grand acts of kindness happen (sometimes, to me).

– That love is real and can keep growing. Always.

– That I am here.

IMG_0714And that spring WILL happen. From last year, McLaughlin Garden & Homestead

***

The Art of the Everyday – March 16: Impossible – “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” – the White Queen, Alice in Wonderland. What are the six impossible things you believe in? (If you can only manage one or two, that’s also okay.)


Letters to a Young Poet

rilke sassThis is a book I should’ve read earlier. Yet somehow didn’t.

From college spirituality retreats to Lady Gaga, this guy is everywhere. I mean, look at that sass.

In all reality, however, I have used Rilke’s words about life’s questions since I was first given them at around age 20 – and have been trying to follow his advice:

“Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart.
…live in the question.”

Just as the seeming simplicity of that excerpt, Rilke’s writings in Letters to a Young Poet, can at times hide the true struggle and complexity of the ideas he conveys so beautifully.

Rilke wrote these letters in response to a young man who attended the military school Rilke had once studied at. Although there is an age difference, Rilke writes his reflections from the ripe old age of 28 – my age now.

His wisdoms feel hard-won, and based on his sickly constitution and near-torturous childhood, that appears to be the case.

“And your doubt can become a good quality if you train it. It must becomeknowing, it must become criticism. Ask it, whenever it wants to spoil something for you, why something is ugly, demand proofs from it, test it, and you will find it perhaps bewildered and embarrassed, perhaps also protesting. But don’t give in, insist on arguments, and act in this way, attentive and persistent, every single time, and the day will come when, instead of being a destroyer, it will become one of your best workers–perhaps the most intelligent of all the ones that are building your life.”

letters-to-a-young-poetRilke is preoccupied with the pursuit of living itself. Of finding one’s moorings within the practicalities of life, and directing always one’s life beyond them.

He does not encourage this young poet toward writing, but only to write if he ‘must.’

It is the encouragement to find that motivation that is in and of itself satisfying. That sustains the soul beyond any outside attachments.

In this way, the majority of the letters are directed at a type of self-discovery that is inherently spiritual. A spirituality that encourages no buy-in with the world’s attitudes, but only is culminated within the ‘solitude of the self.’ (and a somewhat nebulous God).

After waiting so long to read, Rilke did not disappoint and I came away with a new reading of these near-poetic letters that I don’t think I would have understood ten years ago. The right book finds you at the right time, or at least that’s what I’ve heard.

rilke love

***

The Art of the Everyday – March 15: Weekly Book Review! Wherein I attempt to reach my goal of 63 books this year:

The Books Around: 2014

1. Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
2. Home by Toni Morrison
3. Grandville by Bryan Talbot
4. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
5. Help Thanks Wow by Anne Lamott
6. Viktor Frankl Recollections by Viktor Frankl
7. How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran
8. Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Prachett
9. Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
10. A House for Mr. Biswas by VS Naipaul
11. Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller
12. On the Mystery by Catherine Keller
13. In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz by Michela Wrong
14. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
14. King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild
15. Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins
16. The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa
17. The Journey Home by Radhanath Swami
18. Quantum by Manjit Kumar
19. We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
20. Dispatches by Michael Herr
21. Living Thoughts of Kierkegaard Edited by WH Auden
22. The Lost Continent by Bill Bryson
23. Wool by Hugh Howey
24. Black Boy by Richard Wright
25. Embracing Defeat by John W. Dower
26. Cane River by Lalita Tademy
27. The Paradise of Bombs by Scott Russell Sanders
28. kira-kira by Cynthia Kadohata
29. Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson
30. The Permanent Revolution by Leon Trotsky
31. Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke
32. Trinity by Leon Uris
33. Omaha Blues by Joseph Lelyveld
34. Airships by Barry Hannah
35. Big Sur by Jack Kerouac
36. Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser
37. Passionate Nomad by Jane Fletcher Geniesse
38. Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut
39. Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaurder
40. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
41. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
42. Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
43. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
44. The Brothers K by David James Duncan
45. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
46. Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
47. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
48. Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris
49. American Gods by Neil Gaiman
50. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
51. Full Dark House by Christopher Fowler
52. Bright Shiny Morning by James Frey
53. The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Potzsch
54. World War Z by Max Brooks
55. Blindness by Jose Saramago
56. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John Le Carre
57. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barberry
58. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
59. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
60. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
61. Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
62. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
63. Dune by Frank Herbert