boston

Well, here I am.  I’ve finished the first week of my internship in Boston.  The place – remember when I accidentally moved into a frat house? – is cleaner than clean (thank you, Mom), and my New Girl-esque living situation is beginning to transition into something more typical.  I can almost find my way to work without the help of Lola, and I’m starting to feel a little less awkward at work.

Work, by the way, is just about perfect.  I get to read and read and watch movies and learn.  I stayed two hours later than I was supposed to on my first day because right then, sitting in that brightly-colored Walden room felt a lot more like home than a house of people I didn’t know.

This doesn’t mean that I’m confident, though.  Anything but – I don’t feel very Savvy.  I second guess and double check and wonder why everyone else seems to know what they’re doing when I’m just trying to figure things out.  I keep feeling like I’ve got my grandfather’s PT Cruiser entered in a drag race and wondering if they’ll come by my desk and have to awkwardly break the news to me that they didn’t really mean to pick me to do this.

Comparing myself to others is one of my biggest struggles.  It’s something that we do in order to help ourselves, and to be honest, it can be useful.  Picking up on others’ cues and using role models to realize when you have an issue is healthy.  But like all things, an overabundance is problematic.  It’s much, much harder when you’re new somewhere, and when I look around and see how others are athletic, and know what they’re doing with their lives, and have real jobs, and seem so together, I start to feel inferior and overwhelmed.  I try to pattern my life onto someone else’s in order to reassure myself that I’m doing things the right way, the way that made them successful, the way that worked.

But here’s the truth that I know even as I try to trim away the unkempt edges of my choices: nobody has it all together.  The façade that I am presented with may look shiny and perfect, but I have no idea what someone is struggling with behind that.  Maybe they’ve got one area of their life under control, but maybe they struggle with something that you don’t.

And there’s never just one way to do things.  God’s guiding me somewhere right now, and I know that He’s working to lead me to Him and to my future, but the faster things start to happen, the more frightened I become.  The more I doubt the validity of my choices.

Being in a new place is weird and confusing, and you embarrass yourself and try not to ruin your new shoes in the rain and get blisters and drive badly and act awkward and get sick and cough all over your fellow, near-stranger intern and try to cook while the pot bubbles over and get lost in Boston and have to call your best friend to pretend that you know where you’re going, pushing down fear and uncertainty and anxiety and maybe crying in your new room a little when your mom comes by to help you move.  But that’s okay.

There’s this idea that being an adult means knowing what to do all the time, but there’s not a certain age when a switch in your skull flips back and turns on a hidden panel that tells you how to Do Grown Up Things.  Like most things, it’s a process.  You learn as you go, and your mistakes often teach you more than anything else.  It’s trial and error, but eventually, on certain issues, as the trials increase the errors decrease until you maybe almost understand what’s going on.

(That said, I think teenagers should be taught more useful life skills before they’re launched from college into the real world, but that’s another post entirely.)

Small steps.  That’s what I’m working with right now in this weird sort of half “real life” situation.  But here’s the thing – someone mentioned recently that we all talk about ‘real’ life as something in the future that we’ll get to eventually when we’re a little wiser, older, more stable, more.  But each stage of life is no more real than the last.  It’s all real life – your childhood, teenage years, college, adulthood.  And I feel like I’m in between things so often and think that I’m standing right on the edge of a huge, unknowable something that I want to label ‘real life’.  But it’s all real, and it’s an adventure.

As I have heard from those wiser than myself, you can’t keep waiting for ‘the future’ or you might miss out on your life.  Although this weird time when I’m just shy of two decades is preparing me for something, it’s not a dress rehearsal.  It’s the real deal, and I’m going to do my best at this and keep trusting God with my future and my present, because what life brings isn’t entirely in my hands.  It never has been.

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Check out Walden Media! http://www.walden.com/  MOVIES.  BOOKS.

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rest

Spring Break is finally here, and I know that it’s going to run through my fingers like water, but before that happens, I’m going to try to be nourished a little bit.  It’s good to be home, especially after the craziness of the first half of the semester.  This was the most needed break I’ve ever encountered.  I was sick for exam week last week (as I always seem to be), and after the staying up too lates and the studying for exams but not maybe enoughs and general exhaustion… I was immensely ready for Spring Break to start.  Coming from the ice to the sun was startling.

Much of the time, I use this as an excuse.  “I’m tired” is my knee-jerk response to anyone’s “Are you okay?”, even if it isn’t entirely true.  And often I justify my own laziness by telling myself that I really need the rest.

And here’s where it gets so confusing for me, because I can never quite draw that line between merited and lazy excuse.  I always have something to do.  Even if I ignore it with outward laziness and the procrastination of watching too much TV, my insides are twisted and fighting with each other.  Even if I don’t have something to do, I’ve got something to do.  School projects are queued in my head in a different line than personal ones, and there’s always a story I should be working on, a goal I shouldn’t have missed, things I should have done.

It’s a hard mental balance for me, but I’m trying to learn, and I’m trying to slide that scale somewhere in between apathetic procrastination and frustrated perfectionism; between extroversion and the life of a hermit.  What often happens is that I end up staying up much later than my body can deal with because procrastinate homework, try to keep up with my own writing (in this and in stories), and eventually do that same work.  I’m trying to limn.

We need rest.

We need to take breaks to refresh ourselves physically, mentally, spiritually.  I should have learned this long ago.  Physically speaking, I am prone to sickness, and I need more actual rest and sleep than many people.  I keep trying to push myself past that, but I need to stop and take care of myself.

Spiritually speaking, I need it even more.  The Holy Spirit will never deny you peace if you ask Him for it, but I must remember to ask.  The most common excuse for not praying or reading my Bible is “I’m too busy”.  But even Jesus went off by himself in order to pray and be renewed (Luke 5:16).

And here’s the thing.  It may take up more of your time than you think you can spare.  But there comes a moment when rest becomes the priority, because you are no good to anyone killing yourself over your work, whatever it is.  The “wasted time” that periodic rest takes up is small in comparison to what will happen if you burn yourself out.

It happens all the time, especially with artists of any sort.  The manic sort of focus on your work can be good, to a degree.  Constant desire to create is comforting and wonderful, but you have to balance it with the rest of your life.  God himself rested! And then put the Sabbath into place – not for us to follow the rules, but for us to have a set time of not working.  Sure, maybe I use my exhaustion as an excuse to be lazy sometimes.  But I think it’s better to give yourself room to breathe.  

So, no.  I probably won’t finish that play I’ve been working on this week.  And that’s okay.

On my way home, I encountered a group of guys on their way to an infinitely more needed break.  My friends and I hung out with a group of young soldiers who were all going home briefly before they headed off to their different assignments.  We talked while we waited for our delayed flights, and they told us that they were the military’s “truck drivers”.  Their group often drives over the IEDs.

And after complaining of my own tiredness for so long, this was a paradigm shift.  Talk about perspective.  I don’t know what will happen to them, and I don’t think I’ll see them again, but I will pray that they enjoy their short rest now and be able to find rest even in the midst of such hard lives.

In conclusion?  Sleep!  Rest!  Take time to step back and renew yourself for whatever you will create in the future.  I’m going to spend some time with God, my family, my friends, and my books.

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P.S.  Help, I’m still listening to Bastille… to use their wording, they’re properly mental.

death

About a month ago, my father gave me a copy of my own will to read over before we left for my great-aunt’s funeral.  Suffice it to say, I did a lot of thinking about death that weekend.

It was a lovely service, but then came the moment that I always dreaded.  I hate looking into the casket and seeing the waxy, lifeless body of the person I had once known.  Their features are fixed in place, caked with a garish sort of makeup, and you can tell that there is no spark there.  “It doesn’t look like her,” I whispered to my father.  “That’s because it isn’t,” he returned.

That’s why I hate looking in there.  I understand why it happens, as a final farewell and to give closure to the grieved.  But you can tell when you look that something has left.  Everything that made up their personality, their tiny quirks, opinions, and Great Loves has gone.  Their soul has left that flimsy, mortal shell and entered into eternity.

A storm was brewing on our way to the funeral, ominous in the distance.  It split the sky into dark and light geometrics on our right, fading from black to white on the left.  We were in Oklahoma, and it looked very honestly as though some of the clouds would touch down.

My family was worried.  My brother hates tornadoes.  I turned to him and asked him what the worst thing that could happen was.  “Uh, we all die a horrible death?” he replied.  I met his eyes.  “Is that all?”

Because for the believer, death does not hold the same dreadful power that it once did.  It’s a crossing over from one dimension to the next – the vehicle that takes us (in a Narnian vocabulary) to Aslan’s Country.  “Death opens a door,” says C.S. Lewis, “out of a little, dark room (that’s all the life we have known before it) into a great, real place where the true sun shines and we shall meet.”

We no longer fear death, because all it can threaten is a better life than the one we have known here.  Eternity with God lies on the other side, and it is magnificent.  As someone once pointed out to me, life on earth is as close to hell as the Christian will ever be.  And if life here is so beautiful even despite the decay and depravity of this world, can you imagine what heaven will be like?  This world is but a dim reflection of the next, and eternity is being in God’s presence forever.

Just as we need not fear the consequence of death, we can also have faith in its timing.  And that’s scary, too, because there’s so much we want to do here, so many people we’re connected to, and so much life we want to live.  But I have realized this: if God takes me, then He will be even more glorified in my death.  If I die tomorrow, it simply means that my time here is finished and that my work here is done.  As long as there is still breath in my lungs and blood running in my veins, I have a mission.  The only reason I am still alive right now is because God has not finished with me here.

This summer I was driving my friend back to her house, moaning as we hit our third red light in a row.  She answered, “Maybe God just wants us to spend more time together.”  I laughed.  “No, seriously,” she said.

I think I forget how much of my life God has planned out.  He is a God of big pictures, but He is also a God of precise details.  There are so many reasons why we could have hit those lights.  What if we would have gotten in an accident if I’d gone through – and died?

I wondered then with shock – how many times has God saved my life without me even knowing?  How many details, breaths, or decisions could have resulted in my death had they been even slightly different?

My mortality stares me in the face at times like these – at funerals, during car rides, at night when I stare up at the shelves above my bed.  But I can stare back, unafraid and unangered.  I do not despair at death because I know that there is life beyond its threshold.  And it hurts, and the grief is almost too much to handle, and we don’t understand why God has Death take our loved ones when He does.  All I can say is that He knows better than we do.

One of the reasons that I love The Book Thief so much is that its narrator, Death, is not depicted as evil, but as tired, sad, and haunted by humans.  Death is only the messenger, and he is an old friend.  He tips his hat in my direction and I nod in his, knowing that he does his job without spite.  He takes each soul and carries it gently at its perfectly ordained time. I watch him pass, and he acknowledges me, and I know that when the day arrives when he comes for me, my work here will be finished, and I will have nothing to fear from him.

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Read this: 

“Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;

For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.”

“Crossing the Bar”, Alfred Lord Tennyson

the poet

The Diviner

Cut from the green hedge a forked hazel stick
That he held tight by the arms of the V:
Circling the terrain, hunting the pluck
Of water, nervous, but professionally

Unfussed. The pluck came sharp as a sting.
The rod jerked with precise convulsions.
Spring water suddenly broadcasting
Through a green hazel its secret stations.

The bystanders would ask to have a try.
He handed them the rod without a word.
It lay dead in their grasp till, nonchalantly,
He gripped expectant wrists. The hazel stirred.

~Seamus Heaney

Excuse me while I try to form my feelings and hazy ideas into something that makes sense.

So the week before Spring Break (two weeks ago, I suppose), we were talking about Seamus Heaney in my Irish class.  I adore Heaney, and his poetry is beautiful and meaningful and very much a living thing.  Among all of the things that he has to say about life and Ireland and all the rest, something that struck me the most was his talk of the role of the poet.

Now by poet, I don’t mean strictly someone who writes poetry.  That sounds funny.  Let me explain.  I mean “the poet” in a broader, more ancient sense, one that encompasses more than rhyming or what you may normally associate with poetry.  I mean the poet as a sort of epic hero, who brings truth to his people, sometimes painfully.  This is the traditional Irish view of the poet, or senchaí: someone with great power that speaks the truth, even to the king, and that some fear.  He has the power of sight, and can use his words in satires against his enemies.

Or like the Oracles of Ancient Greece: someone who is chosen to be a mouthpiece of the divine, someone who is spoken through. Which brings me to the most important parallel to the poet, the true calling of such a person: the prophet, someone who carries the truth from God to the people.  Although this brings to mind the prophets of the Old Testament who spoke with God (how amazing!), you can still be a prophet today.  Anyone that God uses to speak through is a prophet, and God most certainly still speaks to people.

And around this time in my class, as we’re talking about poetry being made up of partly scop, or craft (being a good writer), and partly vates, or prophesy or vision, speaking the truth, I start freaking out.  Really freaking out, and zoning out of some of the discussion or being way too much into other parts of it.  I can feel myself getting excited all over again as I type this.  I’m looking at my paper right now, and I have little notes scrawled all over it, like:

my heartbeat shakes my whole body in trembling rhythm with the hand of God,

Or this overly-excited realization of the poet’s job:

poet as a go-between!
a translator of truth!
a diviner!
a mouthpiece!
a prophet! an oracle!
a tool in the hands
of He who holds all Truth
a liminal, ferried between
two worlds,
granted another sight by the
Everlasting

poet as messenger
of the eternal, birthright
of an oracle
why am I almost twitching?

a mortal body and an
eternal soul,
like all the amphibians of humankind.

and I am suddenly restless,
yearning, churning, swelling
with a feeling I don’t know
and a desire for something past
this mortal coil.
My heart is beating with desperate purpose.

So, I was freaking out.  And still am.  Because I couldn’t, and honestly can’t, imagine a greater purpose than being spoken through.  The lump in my throat tells me that I desperately want that, to have a purpose, to have this purpose, but I don’t know.  I honestly don’t know.

We read another poem that day called “St. Kevin and the Blackbird” (click), where a bird makes a nest in St. Kevin’s hand and he is responsible for their lives and can’t move until they leave.  I talked to my professor about the role of the poet and such things after class on my way to study for my calc exam (that was easy to focus on after all of this).

I wrote down all that I could remember of what he said.  He looked at me and told me that the calling of the poet is not an easy one to accept.  He asked me to remember St. Kevin.  What did he do?  He went out to the wilderness and hid away from everyone else.  But God found him anyway.

You were made with a purpose, and you’re here for a reason.  I watched the movie Hugo a few days ago (which I heartily recommend), and was nearly moved to tears by certain parts of it.  There’s one part in there where Hugo and Isabelle are talking about purpose.  Hugo looks at people like machines and wonders if they too become “broken” when they lose their purpose.  It’s beautiful.  And then he says this:

“I’d imagine the whole world was one big machine. Machines never come with any extra parts, you know. They always come with the exact amount they need. So I figured if the entire world was one big machine, I couldn’t be an extra part. I had to be here for some reason. And that means you have to be here for some reason too.”

You are not an extra part.  I really identify with Isabelle.  I wonder what my purpose is, too.  But I know that I have one, because God has given me one.  We were each made for something.  And I trust that He will help me find that something.

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See this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bcdEXHIuTxw  Seriously, watch this movie.

airport.

Friday, 2/3:

I’m in the airport, and some odd instrumental version of Phantom of the Opera is playing over the loudspeakers.  It’s kind of weird, but whatever.  I don’t think that the Phantom is going to come through the windows behind me and teach me how to sing.

The loudspeaker tells me that someone’s forgotten their iPad, which is quite a shame.  It keeps muttering over the bustle of the terminal in constant reminders, a disembodied Hermes, shuttling messages to forgetful mortals everywhere.  Maria might miss her flight to Las Vegas if she doesn’t hurry.

Airports are always the most marvelous place to people-watch.  I can’t think of a better one.  Nobody stays in an airport.  That’s not what it’s meant for.  It’s inherently a locus of comings and goings, entrances and exits, a stage of life where no one stays for very long.

People become a single one of their features as they quickly pass: a bald head, a funny hat, velcroed shoes, an enormous book, a wedding band, a stroller, a designer handbag.

Final call, flight 1683.

It’s interesting to dream up stories here, watching the ebb and flow of humanity.  Everyone is going somewhere, and each of the lines of each of their lives momentarily converge, mingle together, tangle and untangle, before separating to continue on with their own hopes, dreams, wants, needs, families, friends, jobs, studies.

I’ve tried to employ and improve my powers of deduction (what has Sherlock done to me?), but it hasn’t been hugely successful.  She’s married? Well, considering her husband and two point five children, I probably could have guessed.  Or, he’s left handed!  …Useful.

After a failed attempt at conversation I managed to deduce that my cab driver was a Baptist, was orderly and careful but not anal, not very fond of his job, and a fan of R&B.  All not very useful things.  But I’m starting somewhere.

I should probably stop watching and start interacting sometime soon, but everyone’s pretty wrapped up in their phones, magazines, novels.  I guess I’ve got my laptop, here, as well.

Maybe in a moment.  But I just thought I’d stop and reflect on the interestingness of airports as a singularly liminal place and the sympathy and empathy they give me for the lives of others.

Final call.

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the teen section

“You shall hear then – but prepare yourself for something very dreadful.”

The bookstore is a marvellous, magical, wonderful place.  Really.  The smell of books there is an entirely different book-smell than the one that a library possesses, more glue and new binding than yellowed old pages.  So many books in one place?  It’s wonderful.  Rarely do I actually buy the books there (I confess) because most of the time I just sit and read/write on the floor (there are never chairs).  Or I make sure I go with someone who will buy me things.

And then, lo and behold, we turn the corner in the network of intentionally-placed shelves, and we find…

the Teen section.

I don’t think you understand my feelings about this section of “literature” (can I call it that?).  The subsections consist of: vampires, demons, witches, things-you-think-are-going-to-be-vampires-but-are-actually-not, books about tortured teenagers who have lots of issues, books about whiney teenagers who think they have lots of issues, and I’m-really-normal-I-promise-JUST-KIDDING.

The covers are glossy, with defiant, beautiful, photoshopped people staring out at you to reflect their tortured souls.  Or maybe just pictures of girls’ feet, if it’s a sort of love story.  The plots usually vary as much as the covers do.

Whenever my little brother and I go to the bookstore, we run over and turn all of the awkward/ awful looking books backwards and run away, only to have the grumbling manager turn them all back minutes later.  Where has the creativity of the children’s section fled to?  Or the big issues that the classics explore?  Like the teenager, this section is awkwardly liminal, shedding creativity without donning the mantle of adulthood.

But it sells.  And most people just want to be entertained.

I will concede that there are some gems to be found there.  Shannon Hale’s The Goose Girl is one of my favorite books, which resides – surprisingly – in the Teen section.  But you really have to look for them.  Hard.  And in the process, hilarity may ensue when you read the back covers of any of these novels.

Have you ever stopped to think about the existence of this section at all?  The concept of a teenager wasn’t even existent until the late 1940s, when some writer coined the term.  Back before this subset of life existed, more was expected out of teenagers.  But if adults think that the Teen section is all that we can process, or that hormones make us incompetent of doing or understanding anything of importance, then that’s sad (and a little bit insulting!).  I’m a teenager, and it saddens me to think that all that is expected of my level of understanding is mindless drivel about “Paranormal Romance” and “Edgy Stories for Teens”.  Give me Dostoevsky, Eliot, Shakespeare.  Challenge me.  Don’t say, “Oh, teenagers wouldn’t understand that.”  We aren’t expected to understand or accomplish much of anything at all.

Well, maybe that’s because nobody has pushed us to do so.

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