Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Why Goldie Blox are Worse than Barbies

A few months ago, I found out about this new toy.  It's like knex and legos met and made a baby franchise specifically aimed at girls.  I read about it, I got disgruntled, but then I let it drop.  This past week, though, a few different sources have posted an ad by Goldie Blox, and my facebook wall has been overflowing with interest in the product.

The commercial really demonstrates everything I find wrong with the product.  For about a minute and a half, in a parody of The Beastie Boys, three cute girls sing about how they're smart and creative and don't like that all the toys marketed to them are pink and frilly dolls and kitchen sets that imply that they have now future in STEM fields.  They're just as smart as boys and can do anything boys can do.  Great, right?  But then, we actually see the product.  These blocks and building parts are in pastel colors and have smooth, rounded edges.  If you look around the website, the girls all have long, flowing hair, and one is even wearing a tiara for a "parade float" set. 

What the product is saying is that girls might be interested in what boys are doing, but only if they can do it in a hyper-feminized way.  They claim to want women in men's fields, but what this toy is communicating is that the way to do this is to feminize these traditionally masculine fields.

This product is also overlooking something far more feminist that girls have been doing for decades: playing with boy's toys.  Smart girls love playing with hard edged, boldly colored lego blocks.  They love knex.  Basically, if a girl has a a brain to do it, she doesn't need pink and purple blocks to help her do it.  She needs to be told that it doesn't matter if toys are "girls" or "boys" toys--she can play with whatever she wants.

The answer to the poor options for boy and girls toys is not to make a masculine baby doll or feminine nerf gun.  The answer is to address the fact that we think that boys and girls need separate toys at all.

Friday, November 15, 2013

10--no 15!--favorite books

So I've been throwing the phrase "my top 10 books" around a lot lately.  Someone will mention a book, and I'll exclaim, "Oh!  That's one of my top 10 favorite books!"  It made me decide that I should probably sit down and make a list of my 10 favorite books.

Well, I had it down to 10.  But then I looked at the list of excluded books.  And I was sad.

So, I added 5 of the excluded books back.  Now I am not sad.  This is a good representation of the books I love.  I also liked that it happened to be a pretty nice distribution over my just-over-20 years of reading novels.

So, for no reason other than that I have fun thinking about books, I give you my list of 15 favorite books!

BOOK (YEAR READ)
A Little Princess (1993)
Bridge to Terabithia (1997)
Watership Down (1998)
The Three Musketeers (2002)
The Lord of the Rings (2002)
Till We Have Faces (2003)
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (2003)
The Picture of Dorian Gray (2003)
Ender's Shadow (2005)
The Wise Virgins (2009)
The Years (2009)
Mill on the Floss (2011)
Story of an African Farm (2011)
Sons and Lovers (2012)
Brideshead Revisited (2012)

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Puppy Means of Grace

This morning was a rough morning with the puppy.  Long story short, I tried to take something out of his mouth that he really wanted to keep in his mouth, and he let me know it by biting down on the offending hand.  He's nipped before but never bitten, so I was pretty upset.  I also wished I had handled it differently to prevent the situation.  Plus, you know, my hand hurt.

I put him to bed right away (it was time for him to go down anyway) and rushed to take care of my hand.  Then I ran to my meeting, distracted and frustrated.  Mostly with myself.  When I came home, I went to get Samwise out of his crate.  I looked in, and I noticed that in my hurry to take care of my hand, I had left Samwise's leash, 200-dollar-collar-and-remote, and paper bowl (for feeding) way too close to the crate.  Normally, he'd have managed to get all of those items in the crate and would have chewed them to pieces.  I was already impressed.  But, then, as soon as I opened the door of his crate, he ran over to my hand and started licking the bandage, giving it kisses, and nudging it and looking at me.

It was such a sweet moment!  I had spent all morning worrying about the situation and being frustrated with myself for not preventing it, and here was my puppy saying "I'm sorry" in the sweetest way ever.  And it was also him saying "I love you" even though I felt like I had failed him.

I love my little puppy, and I am so grateful for the many ways that he brings grace and happiness into my life.

Monday, October 28, 2013

1 Peter 1:13-16

I've recently started reading through the book of I Peter.  And, because of some things that have been happening in my spiritual life over the past few months, I'm reading it with totally new eyes.  It's been awesome.  It's not like my former beliefs were wrong.  But certain things are coming more alive, and things which confused me are making such clear sense.  I spent hundreds of hours with 1 Peter in a college Greek course, and I've read it dozens of times since, but I'm now getting to experience it in a totally new way.  I love God.  I love that he does that for us.

Formerly, I tended to gloss over the second half of chapter 1.

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

I always interpreted this passage to mean "God saved us, so we should strive to be like him."  And I know I had good reason to because I checked my commentaries.  I'm not alone in that interpretation.  But lately, as I've meditated, I think it also (maybe only) says, "God called you to himself, he will make you holy."  It was the word "sober" that led me to this thought.  It made me think of sobriety from an addiction.  Programs like AA believe that it's only through surrendering oneself to God's care that one will ever become sane, sober, and free from addiction.  Which, really, is the gospel.  We are powerless to save ourselves from sin and can only stop sinning by giving up control of our lives and letting God save us from sinning.

I've always been a little overwhelmed by the statement "You shall be holy, for I am holy."  "I know I shall be God, but how?  I'm trying?  It's not working?"  That's the conversation I'd have some days, but it's not the one I have now.  Now I see this as a promise as much if not more than a command.  "You will be holy because I am fashioning you after myself, and I am holy.  You will, of course, be holy."

That's the best news ever.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

TRAINING!

In Georgia, I had a trainer I adored.  I really connected with her style and the way she related to both the humans and the dogs she was working with.  So, when I came to Minnesota, I asked her for a recommendation.  The trainer she recommended was almost an hour and a half away.  I looked around the cities, but wasn't able to find anyone.

Then, I found out that a friend of a friend had trained her dog for very similar tasks and for a very similar purpose as I was planning to train Samwise.  (And there really aren't many people out there that get what I need Samwise to do.)  She and I got together for coffee, and then I observed a class she was a part of.  I talked to the trainer, and I liked her quite a bit.  So I had an option!  Plus the friend-of-a-friend has also offered to help with some of the very-specific-tasks!  (SUCH a blessing!)

Today, I met with the trainer who is an hour and a half away.  Going down, I was a little hesitant because she was a little more expensive and she was so far away.  When I met her, though, things clicked.  Like, maybe even clicked better than I had ever clicked with my trainer in Georgia!  She uses an remote electronic collar, and that really scared me even though everyone I've talked to says it's fine.  I just didn't want to hurt my dog!  She placed it on my hand and had me feel it--it's no less intense that the STEM treatments I've received dozens of times!  And Samwise really reacts to it.  He actually seems to enjoy training more with it--I think because it's clear and direct communication.  Plus, he still gets cookies.

I also liked the pace at which the trainer worked.  Right now health wise, my brain moves more slowly than it has in the past, but I'm still motivated and intense at heart.  Annalissa moved fast enough to keep me feeling challenged but not so fast that I wanted to cry when I got home.  (I've done that.)  It feels realistic.  Also, with the PTSD being so intense right now, I have trouble in groups and in situations where I'm being observed.  A regular group class has both.  Annalissa obviously watches me work, but it's really laid back and supportive.  I also think our personalities click, so I'm less nervous working with her than I have been with any other trainer.  Which is good, because training is intense as it is.

Finally, she's goal oriented and realistic.  She realizes that I'm driving a long way, and she doesn't want this to drag on forever.  In fact, she thinks we might be able to do most of the work in as little as four sessions!

So far, I've taught Samwise sit, stay, down, heel, off, stand, come, and place, but things aren't always 100% as sharp as they need to be.  So, this week, we're stepping back and reviewing some of the basics with the new collar to help.  Even tonight, I noticed a huge difference.  I'm so excited to see my dog responding so well!  It's so fun to watch puppy Samwise slowly becoming big-boy-adult Samwise :-)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Tornado Post

So first of all, I know my last few post have been really depressing.  Like, the last few months have been depressing.  I promise I'm not miserable all the time.  But I lost my job, and I moved halfway across the country, and I'm really, really sick . . . so I'll be positive soon.  But not tonight.
The tornado's really been weighing on my mind a lot lately.  Because I'm realizing that a lot of my current struggles can be traced back to it, can be traced back to the PTSD.  I actually had a doctor tell me that earlier this year--that some of my problems are magnified because of the untreated PTSD--and it was like a light went off in my brain.

Then, I thought, yay!  All I have to do is deal with the PTSD and my health, my emotions, my life will be SO MUCH BETTER!  But . . . that wasn't the case.

Because PTSD is big.  The tornado was big.  SO.  BIG!  So I can't wave a magic wand and make it all go away.  The tornado has had five and a half years to mess up my life in various ways (and my life has had five and a half years to mess itself up as a result of the tornado), so clean-up duty isn't going to happen overnight.

It's discouraging.  I've been angry.  I've been confused.  How could something that happened five years ago have such a huge affect on my life?  How could one night of trauma slowly undo so much?  Why do so many other people from Union lead normal lives while I live with my parents, working part time, and struggling to hold my health and my sanity together?

But something good has been happening, too.  I've been asking these questions, and God's been listening.  He hasn't always given me clear, concrete answers.  But he's made me very aware of his presence, of his omniscience. 

I know that at the heart of this, the problem is that I felt like I lost control over my life during the tornado, and that scared me to death.  I've known that that control is something I'm not supposed to have--God is.  I've had therapists, even, tell me, "Just give the control over to God!"  I've been trying to do that for five years, I promise you.  But I think at least one new thing has happened.  I now *want* to be in a place where I no longer need that control but am okay surrendering it to God's care.  I gues that's a pretty good first step.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Lessons I'm Learning

Sometimes God needs to take things out of our life in order to make room for the things he's about to put in.

This thought came to me during a conversation I had a few days ago.  I was suddenly struck with how much attention I had spent focusing on what I had lost over the past year, but something someone said made me realize that God's not only taking things out of my life.  He's also putting really good things into my life and, I believe, preparing me for a life far better than the one I had.

God also spoke to me through someone I spoke to at the CS Lewis conference today.  He showed me a replica of a tiny little lamp from King David's time, about the size of my palm.  It would emanate just a small amount of light.  Soldiers would hang them to their calves, and they would give just enough light to show them where to take the next step.  That's the kind of lamp David was referencing when he wrote, "Your word is a lamp to my feet."  God's word, in this psalm, is like that lamp.  It shows you what you need to see take the next step.  Sometimes we don't get to see miles ahead on the route.

I needed that reminder.

Monday, August 19, 2013

First Day of School

Classes started today.  And for the first time in 23 years, I'm not going "back to school."  Not in the teaching and/or taking classes sense, at least.  It's weird and also really sad.  I love the first day of school.  Spending an hour the night before choosing an outfit, getting to use new school supplies, getting and/or giving out syllabi, thinking of all the possibilities.  It's great, and never once in 23 years have I not been excited for the first day of the school year.

I know this isn't forever.  I know that, despite the discouraging things I hear every day about the job market, I very likely will find a teaching position again.  Probably even at a school I'll like.  I also know that I'm still working toward something huge as I write my dissertation.  I know that taking a break from teaching is the only way I'm ever going to get healthy.  I know that I will get healthy again--probably fairly quickly--and that I'll be happier when I go back to teach.

I know that academia isn't all of who I am.  I know that I need to learn to be happy outside of it.  I know I need to remind myself that my value doesn't lie in my ability to think and write and teach.

But, right now, I'm missing out one of my favorite days of the whole year.  And that breaks my heart a little.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Back to the Beginning . . .

"But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus Christ, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God."     --Acts 20:24

A couple of weeks ago, I quit my job because of health concerns.  Soon, I will be moving to Minnesota to live with my parents.  At many moments, it feels like I'm losing a lot.  The job I planned to retire from, my beautiful house, half of my stuff (garage sale time!), my car, relationships, independence, lack of below-zero-temperatures in Georgia . . .  At times, it's really hard.

By the world's standards, it feels like I'm moving backwards.  Less stuff.  Less independence.  Less comfort.  Less health.  But this morning I was praying through a reading a friend shared with me last night.  The first prayer that it mentions is, "Whatever it takes, Lord, give me delight in you as my greatest treasure." Whatever it takes.  The last time I prayed a prayer that began with that phrase, I got very sick and ended up in the hospital for 10 days.  The time before that, a tornado almost killed me and destroyed just about everything I owned.  When I was in the hospital, I spoke with the chaplain about my reticence to pray bold prayers anymore.  It seemed like the more I openly and joyfully asked God to take control, the more bad stuff happened to me.

But then I remembered the verse that I clung to so strongly when I decided to go overseas after I finished my PhD: Acts 20:24.  At the time, I was convinced that dying to myself meant going to live overseas, but now I realize that sometimes God doesn't ask us to die to ourselves in the way that seems wonderful and exciting to us.  We don't get to say, "Hey!  If I have to die to myself, can I do it this way, please?"  Sometimes he asks us to quit our jobs, get rid of our stuff, and move in with our parents.  It seems backwards to us.   But it's moving forward in God's eyes.

As I prayed through several verses, I started to realize that God was putting me in exactly the right position to joyfully sacrifice my desires to him and ask to be his instrument.  I no longer have a concept of what my future will look like, and I no longer have a bunch of stuff I desperately am trying to hold onto.  In this position, God can shape me and direct me in ways that I would have been resistant to when I had a job I loved and a house I loved and a car I loved and a steady income I loved.

I've cried a lot about the move the past 2 weeks, but right now, I'm so excited.  God has an awesome plan for me--he's promised--and this is a step I get to take to figure out what that plan will be.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Flowers are Friends (Not Food)

Good news: a) Samwise is super awesome at following on a loose lead!  This may get harder as he gets older and more adventurous, but I'm happy he's so obedient when I say "come"--at only 3 months! b) Samwise really likes cuddling and getting petted all over.  I love that he's cuddly right now.

Challenges: a) Samwise only wants to be in his crate if I'm in the room with him.  It's super cute and makes me feel awesome and needed and loved, but we need to train him out of it if I ever want to leave the house alone. b) Samwise doesn't want to go potty yet.  He's probably shy and overwhelmed by his new home, so he'd rather smell everything and try to eat stuff in the yard than do his business.

Tomorrow we go to the vet, who will proceed to tell me what an amazingly awesome dog I have :-D

Monday, May 20, 2013

Samwise

I'm getting a dog!

I've been in the process for a very long time.  Well, 2 or 3 months, but it's felt very long.  It started when I discovered that a dog could be trained to do some tasks that would help me out tremendously health-wise.  (And, I mean, who doesn't want a puppy anyway?!)  Then I researched breeds, breeders, trainers, training philosophies, dog food, and all sorts of other things.  I thought I had found a breeder 2 weeks ago, but then that fell through.  (It was one of those "this is too good to be true" situations.)  Around the same time, though, another possibility presented itself.  I went to visit the breeder yesterday, and this little puppy passed the temperament tests impressively.

Going in, I actually had a name list with three names on it--none of which were "Samwise."  I had Pippin, Wesley, and Wash.  As I was driving in through some gorgeous woods, I thought about how much they reminded me of Lord of the Rings.  As I thought, I suddenly remembered Sam.  And how very, very wonderful he is.  I put the name on my list in a bit of a last-minute move, and when I met the puppies, this one just seemed so much like a Samwise.  He still has puppy energy, but he was more focused than his brother, calmed down more quickly, and just wanted to be with you.  He also showed signs of submissiveness--he didn't like the leash and collar, but he still let the breeder lead him with it.  He let me roll him over and left his feet in the air (dominant dogs will fight you on this one--probably on the leash too).  If you want to do specialized task training, you don't want a dog that will fight you for power.  You also don't want too shy and submissive of a dog, so it was good to see that Samwise calmly greeted all the grandkids that came near the end of my visit and was focused on the ball that I gave him to play with.

Samwise gets to come home on Friday, and I am very excited!  My mom is also coming for Memorial Day weekend, so I will have lots of wonderfulness going on!

Friday, April 19, 2013

A Poet for all Seasons

April is 2/3 over.  I haven't done anything for National Poetry Month, and that makes me sad.  I usually force my favorite poetry onto the interwebs this time of year, but this year I've been rather overwhelmed with health issues and Mayo Clinic appointments and hospitals.  It's been hard, and scary, and very, very tiring, but also very, very good and full of getting-better-ness.  In the midst of it all, I've felt like I simply have had no time for poetry.  But this evening, I took some time with my all-time favorite poet.  As usual, I came across a poem which captured what I was feeling and thinking perfectly.  I especially like it because it's a prose-poem, and I tend to be picky about prose-poems, but I like this one . . .

The Runes

1) Know the pinetrees.  Know the orange dryness of sickness
and death in needle and cone.  Know them too in green health,
those among whom your life is laid.

2) Know the ship you sail on.  Know it's timbers.  Deep the
fjord waters where you sail, steep the cliffs, deep the unknown
coast goes the winding fjord.  But what would you
have?  Would you be tied up to a sandwhite quay in perpetual
sunshine, yards and masts sprouting little violet mandolins?

3) In city, in suburb, in forest, no way to stretch out the
arms--so if you would grow, go straight up or deep down.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Lists: What's on my Mind

Celebrities I would currently most like to spend the day with:

Stephen Fry
Idina Menzel
Emma Lee-Moss (Emmy the Great)
Marcus Mumford
 Coco Rocha

Things that especially annoy me of late:

People who assume American writers (TV) can't write and British writers are all awesome

People who refuse to watch Elementary because they like Sherlock so much

(I like both, but Elementary is my favorite, so it just makes me . . . sad.  I was happy when my Sherlock-loving mom and brother agreed to watch an episode of Elementary with me.)

When married people assume you want to get married.

When married people assume your life is easier because you're not married.

Verses I've Found Encouraging Lately:

Jeremiah 32:40-41 "I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them.  And I will put the fear of me into their hearts, that they may not turn from me.  
I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul."

Psalm 16:5-6 "The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance."

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Super easy, super yummy microwave brownies

I was craving chocolate tonight, but the only chocolate in the house was a hot chocolate mix.  I was also not feeling well, so I didn't want to take too much time cooking.  Perfect solution?  Microwave brownies!

Ingredients
  • 6 tablespoons hot chocolate mix
  • 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil or melted butter
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • Handful of chocolate chips

Instructions
  1. Using a fork mix together the hot chocolate mix and flour in a coffee mug or small bowl.
  2. Stir in the oil, water and vanilla until all of the ingredients are wet.
  3. Mix in the chocolate chips.
  4. Microwave on high for 60-90 seconds. The center should still be molten.
  5. Cool for a few minutes, it will be HOT.

(recipe from http://www.alli-n-son.com/2012/02/16/hot-chocolate-microwave-brownie/)

It's super easy--I think I did it in less than 10 minutes--and also super yummy topped with vanilla ice cream!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Let's Change How We Talk to Young Women about Sex

This is a blog post I've been wanting to write for years.  I just recently was inspired to sit down and actually post it.  It will probably be long, but please bear with me.  I've poured a lot of energy into developing these thoughts over the years.

The other day, a facebook friend posted a link to an article called "Dress Codes Don't Teach Girls Self Respect, but Respecting Girls Could."  To take a fairly well developed article and summarize it: the writer argued that in nit-picking the details of dress codes, measuring the length between knees and hemlines, and shaming girls with ugly tshirts, dress codes do exactly what they claim to be against by reducing a woman to her sexuality.

To be clear, I have no problem with broad, general dress codes in high schools.  In our society, certain settings have certain dress expectations for both women and men.  But I think the writer uncovered a useful attitude that underlies dress codes and--although it wasn't mentioned in this article--evangelical Christianity.

Overall, the youth group program I went through at my church was strong.  I learned a lot and had some great experiences.  Looking back, one of the few problematic issues I can find is the way that we talked about sexuality.  I don't think it's much different than how many youth groups deal with sexuality.  The group would split up into guys and gals.  The young men would go off into one part of the building or retreat center or wherever we were gathering.  They'd talk about things like sexual temptation and pornography.  The young women would gather on their own.  And, in all the times I can remember, we talked about two things: modesty and how we were "worth waiting for."

I don't think anyone meant to communicate this, but what I (and I think many young women throughout the country) took away from experiences like these was that guys struggled with sexual temptations and that it was up to the women to keep that from happening as much as possible.  We needed to dress in such a way that kept the guys from feeling a certain way about us.  We needed to act in such a way that kept guys from acting on the feelings they had.

I do not mean to say--and I might get in trouble with strands of mainstream feminism here--that we should tell young women that they can wear next to nothing and still be surprised when guys expect something from them.  (Note--this is far different than the discourse which tells provocatively dressed women that they're more or less asking for it if they get raped--but I can deal with that issue in a different conversation.)  I am saying that the emphasis on modesty rather than sexuality is communicating to thousands of young women that they are, more or less, asexual beings and that something is wrong, abnormal, or even deviant about them if they have sexual thoughts, if they're as curious about pornography as their male counterparts, or if they're the ones who want to act on sexual feelings or even initiate a relationship.

This has nothing to do with whether something is right or wrong; it has everything to do with how we're communicating what we believe to be right or wrong.  We're doing exactly what the dress codes in the article are doing, we're reducing non-church-going friends who wear "slutty" clothing as sexually aggressive at best and as oblivious idiots at worse while reducing good-church-girls to--at some level--a lack of sexuality.  We're (perhaps unconsciously) influencing a generation of young women to judge others on a part and not the whole while simultaneously removing that part of the whole from their sense of self.

How to fix this problem?  Instead of focusing on modesty, focus on sexuality.  First, accept that young women are sexual beings.  Accept that the ones in our youth groups have sexual desires, thoughts, and feelings, and address those.  Let modesty be a subcategory under a much more important issue.  Second, get rid of the phrase "I'm worth waiting for."  It (once again, perhaps unconsciously) communicates to women that men are sexual predators and that they are the prey.  It overlooks that fact that women want men just as much as men want women.  If you have to use the phrase, use it in talking to both men and women.  Which leads me to my final point.  Stop saying things that start with phrases like "For women . . . " or "the way that men are . . .."  I'm not here (today) to argue about gender roles and gender traits.  I'm here to point out that when we use these kind of phrases, we create a type.  And, as I mentioned before, we set people up (both men and women) to feel aberrant, abnormal, if they don't fit the type.  I'm also not here to talk about right and wrong.  But if people think that something's wrong in the first place, but they want to do it, imagine how they'd feel if they were also told that they didn't fit in the group of people for whom it was expected or "acceptable" to want to do it.  Adding insult to injury.

These aren't all the answers, but I think they're a start.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Music Stuff (Read until the End for Music Videos)

So, as those of you who have read my blog forever know, almost three years ago, I discovered my favorite solo artist: Emmy the Great.  I was the only person I knew who liked her, so I did what any obsessed fan would do: I tried to get everyone I rode in a car with to listen to her music, sent music videos to other friends in private facebook messages, and wrote about her--a lot--on this blog.  (My word.  I just realized I've had this blog for three years.)  It was all to no avail.  Despite playing her music multiple time when I picked Shari up for work, she never caught my obsession.  Neither did the few facebook friends who actually watched the movies I posted on my wall.  Or the people who read my blog.  Until now.  Tricia wrote on my wall a week ago saying that she really liked Emmy the Great.  I was so excited!  Also, I hadn't listened to Emmy in awhile, so naturally I re-listened to every song of hers I owned.  And it was awesome.  Three years later, I'm still in love.  The only artist(s) that meet this level of love and have been loved this strongly for almost as long are Mumford and Sons.

I also recently fell in love with Jack White.  I know.  A decade late to the game.  I guess I never paid attention when he was popular because he was popular.  Yeah . . . I know.  I try my best to not be a hipster, but in doing so, I display a shocking amount of hipster snobbery.  But . . . I love White Stripes, The Raconteurs, and Jack White's solo stuff.  He's the perfect blend of cynical, snarky, and awesome.  I've also had fun listening to other recent alternative rock music.  I've got an awesome pandora station that's my current favorite thing to listen to.  (Other than Mumford and Sons--though they're on that station--and Emmy the Great.)

And since I've mentioned them twice in this post, can I take a moment to bask in the artistry of Mumford and Sons?  Though I still think Sigh No More is a stronger album than Babel, I'm loving elements of Babel.  Mumford and Sons write some of the greatest lyrics.  My favorites from Babel are "Holland Road," "Hopeless Wanderer," and "I Will Wait," but I've recently resonated the most with the verse from "Babel":

Press my nose up to the glass around your heart
I should’ve known I was weaker from the start
You’ll build your walls and I will play my bloody part
To tear, tear them down

I love that band.

Also, I figured I'd leave y'all with a few music videos after dangling thoughts about great music in front of you in this post.  Enjoy!

(I feel obliged to say I have complicated feelings about how this deals with disability.  I'm not sure if it's ableist or not.  Also, I'm not always sure if I'm comfortable with all the under-girding assumptions of anti-ableism.  I'm still working it out; let me know if you have thoughts.  Also, totally heard this song live before it was released!)

(This is one of my three favorite Emmy the Great songs.)

 (I like this song, though not as much as "Martyr for my love for You" or the popular "Seven Nation Army."  But "Martyr" doesn't have a music video, and the one for "Seven Nation Army" kinda hurts my brain.)

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Library Confessions of an (almost) Doctor of Philosophy in English

I went to the public library Tuesday afternoon.  I spent all of my time getting books in the YA and children's section.  And, no, I have no problem with that.

I got Katherine Paterson's second most recent novel.  Katherine Paterson remains my favorite children's/YA author.  Not only does she create engaging, complicated characters and not only does she have a beautiful prose style, but her work's also a part of who I've become throughout my life.  I was made fun of, bullied, and teased through most of seventh grade.  I'd come home in tears, and almost every day for a few months, I'd reread Bridge to Terabithia.  Usually from cover to cover.  I don't mean to be too melodramatic, but that book was a major part of what got me through that time.  At one point during the year, I wrote a letter to Paterson for a contest (that I happened to win at the state level! yay!).  I never sent it to Paterson, but looking back, I think I should find a copy of that letter from 12 year old me and send it along with a letter from 27 year old me.

I also got one of Brian Jacques' Redwall books.  I'm so sad Brian Jacques passed away, but I still am pretty excited about having gotten to meet him at The Red Balloon.  He was pretty awesome.  I decided to reread the Harry Potter series, so I got The Sorcerer's Stone (ooh--fun game, btw--read HP looking for inconsistencies in the changes made in the American editions.  they're all over the place.).  And I also got a couple of books I've had recommended to me but haven't gotten the chance to read yet.

 Until two weeks ago, I hadn't finished a single novel "for fun" since starting graduate school.  Four and a half years ago!  I read many novels in that time period, probably averaging 40-45 novels a year, and I loved many of them: The Years, Villette, The Wise Virgins, The Mill on the Floss.  They're some of my all-time favorite books ever.

But it's been fun to return to juvenile and young adult novels, too.  As I walked through the stacks and looked for the books that had been recommended to me, I'd pass other books I had read.  I remembered how much I enjoyed Island of the Blue Dolphin.  I hardly remember anything about the book itself, but I remember the feeling of beauty I felt after I finished it.  I remembered how The Great Gilly Hopkins made me cry for two hours, and I repeated the last sentence of the novel in my mind as I passed it on the shelf, the first "great last sentence" I ever consciously noticed in a book.  I remembered how I read Harriet the Spy so many times in a two week period that I got in trouble with my family for turning as sassy as Harriet.  I remembered how Little Women was the first book to ever make me cry.

I love how I've evolved as a reader.  I love the complex analysis that automatically and almost subconsciously works its way through my brain as I read (or, let's be honest, even listen to music or listen to people talk).  But I also love remembering the unbridled hunger for books that drove me to become an English major and, eventually, an English PhD student.  I miss the inexperienced awe I'd feel when discovering a plot structure, character type, or literary element for the first time.

I still have a passion for reading, but sometimes it's nice to return to the kind of book that kindled that passion in the first place.  I'm looking forward to reading my library books.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

It's Not Okay (Tornado Thoughts from Ps 18)

I've not been looking forward to the 5 year anniversary of The Tornado.  I've not been intentionally thinking about it and dreading it, but "February 5th" is etched in my brain pretty permanently and tornado warnings last week didn't help.

I went back through some old posts.  Last year, for the anniversary, I noted how many of my post-tornado posts went along the lines of, "Things suck, but God is good."  And he is.  He really, really is.  He was, he has been for five years, and he will continue to be.

But this year, something in me dreaded the onslaught of "Five years of God's Awesomeness!" posts.  Mainly because I felt obligated to write one.  Why the dread?  Not because I didn't believe God was and continues to be awesome. Until tonight, I wasn't sure why.  Was I being an immature Christian?

I don't think so.

"God is awesome" is a big part of any story.  In fact, I'd say it's the main point of any story.  But I think that, sometimes, we forget another part of the story.  For me, it's because I'm really eager to immediately fit any difficult situation into the "God ordains/allows all things and works them together for good" part of my theology.

I've been doing it with my current situation.  The last three months have been really hard, but I've done my best to trust God.  I've found refuge in knowing that not only does God work everything together for good; he works it together for best.  It's a sweet thing to know, but something was missing.  I was feeling guilty for being upset about the situation I'm in--after all, isn't God going to work this into part of his wonderful plan?  I knew on a human-therapy-like level that I needed to be upset, I even knew that the Bible says it's okay to be upset, but I struggled with knowing why it was okay.  Psalm 18 told me last night,

First David says, "The cords of death encompassed me/ the torrents of destruction assailed me."  I'd definitely classify that as the life-is-hard part.  But before jumping to the end of the story in which evertyhing works for good, David describes God's response to his situation:

Then the earth reeled and rocked;
The foundation also of the mountains trembled
and quaked because he was angry.

I cried a lot after reading that verse.  Tears of relief.  God was angry about what was happening to me.  Even thinking about it now makes me tear up.  God's not (only) standing back from my life at arm's length, transforming ugly colors and strokes into an integral part of a beautiful picture.  He dwells with me in the details and understand the finite, the hurt of this moment.  And it makes him furious when one of his redeemed suffers.

It's really good for us to remember how awesome God is.  To remember all the good he's done through things like The Tornado.  I will never deny that a few of the best things that happened to me during college happened because of The Tornado.  But I've also finally realized that it's theologically okay for me to be angry about it.  Because God is, too.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

When I Get Sick, I Find Things Disproportionately Funny

So, I caught my second virus in two weeks, which when you're already battling sickness is not fun.  It clearly and unfortunately meant staying home from church today.  Especially since the heat was partially broken in the theatre where we meet.  Except when I got the email from Seven Hills, I definitely read it as . . .

Important: One of the heathens in the DeSoto theater has gone out.  We look forward to seeing you for worship tomorrow morning . . .

Then there was something about dressing in layers, but I was too busy laughing at my mis-read.

Another thing I found probably more funny than I ought to have was this post called "Les Mean Girls" . . .

http://www.buzzfeed.com/erinlarosa/les-mean-girls-is-mean-girls-meets-les-miserabl

(Also, I can't discuss the movie version of the musical with anyone yet because--sadness!--I've been kind of sick since it came out and haven't been up to going to movies.  But I can discuss the musical sans movie just fine, and I definitely can appreciate mash ups of Les Miserables and Mean Girls.)

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

My Favorite Poet. Again.

Anyone who has followed my blog over the past two or three years knows of my love affair with the poetry of Denise Levertov.  She and I had taken a break recently, but tonight, after a few hard days, the passion returned.  I was thinking and praying, and thinking about God, and the lines repeated themselves in my mind, "Though I claw at empty air and feel/ nothing, no embrace/ I have not plummeted."  And I remembered my favorite phrase from any of her poetry--"sunlight's gossamer"--and went back and read "The Love of Morning" right after I had reread "Suspended."  Then I wanted to find something new, so I was looking through Denise Levertov collections online.  As I read through them, I came across a few old favorites--"The Ache of Marriage" and "The Well."  And I discovered some new ones, either ones I hadn't read before or ones I had read and forgotten.  I felt God comfort me through her poetry.  And I felt myself identify with the words of the poems in a way that told me, "You are not alone."

On my last poetry post, someone mentioned that I didn't share the poem I was talking about.  I don't share my own poetry on my blog, but I will happily share a few of Levertov's in the hope that someone else can gain something beautiful out of them.

I love the last line of this one:

In Mind

There's in my mind a woman
of innocence, unadorned but

fair-featured and smelling of
apples or grass. She wears

a utopian smock or shift, her hair
is light brown and smooth, and she

is kind and very clean without
ostentation--

but she has
no imagination

And there's a
turbulent moon-ridden girl

or old woman, or both,
dressed in opals and rags, feathers

and torn taffeta,
who knows strange songs

but she is not kind.


 I've always been uncomfortable with how frequently Levertov writes about the moon, but I liked a lot about this poem:

Adam's complaint

Some people,
no matter what you give them,
still want the moon.
The bread, the salt,
white meat and dark,
still hungry.
The marriage bed
and the cradle,
still empty arms.
You give them land,
their own earth under their feet,
still they take to the roads.
And water: dig them the deepest well,
still it's not deep enough
to drink the moon from.


But, at the end of the day, I found myself comforted the most by old favorites:

The Love of Morning

It is hard sometimes to drag ourselves
back to the love of morning
after we've lain in the dark crying out
O God, save us from the horror . . . .

God has saved the world one more day
even with its leaden burden of human evil;
we wake to birdsong.
And if sunlight's gossamer lifts in its net
the weight of all that is solid,
our hearts, too, are lifted,
swung like laughing infants;

but on gray mornings,
all incident - our own hunger,
the dear tasks of continuance,
the footsteps before us in the earth's
beloved dust, leading the way - all,
is hard to love again
for we resent a summons
that disregards our sloth, and this
calls us, calls us.
 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

A New Favorite Poem

I have come to accept that I need to write and wade through a lot of crummy poetry in order to hit upon the sometimes-only-occasional good poem.  I go through spells.  Sometimes, I like almost everything I write.  Sometimes, I go months without writing anything that doesn't sound like I wrote it in high school.  (To my credit, I like to think I was a decent poet in high school.  But, still.  Not what I want to be writing at 27.)

Every once in awhile--and I mean a long while--I write something that I really, truly love.  The kind of poem I want to give a hug.  Almost always, I love it in its first-draft form, and I only change a few words here and there when editing.  I write a lot of things I like a lot, but this kind of fall-head-over-heals-in-love-with-my-poetry thing only happens once in a rare while.

It happened today.  The poem I had considered my "favorite poem" of mine was written four years ago.  My second favorite poem was written five years ago.  But, today, I think I may have replaced them both.  The great part is, it wasn't a first draft poem.  It was something I had written over a month ago and just returned to today.  I was frustrated with it but spent about an hour editing.  And now I think it's kind of great.

I don't really do New Years resolutions.  I like to resolve to do something when I feel like I should.  A few months ago, I resolved to write more poetry.  I haven't been doing wonderfully, but I've been doing it more than I was a year ago.  It's nice when these resolutions pay off.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Shafts of Light

Sometimes, really hard stuff happens in life.  The kind of stuff you share with a few close friends but don't want to publish to the rest of the world.  Usually, when things like this happen, I back away from my blog.  It's not that I don't want to blog, but the only thing I can think of is the dark dreary battle in my heart, and I don't know how to say something about it without over-sharing or sounding complainy or whiny.  So, I take some time off, and then I return when things are more or less bearable again.

I've been thinking today, though, how many shafts of light God grants me even during the darkest, most difficult times.  I can be going through the most difficult period of my life, and God will still reduce me to tears of gratitude and thankfulness by his unwavering faithfulness and his incomparable goodness. And I thought that although I don't want to discuss the darkness, I also don't want to hide God's shafts of light.

Like how one Sunday, when I was breaking with discouragement and God seemed silent, I suddenly heard him speak to me through the words of the hymn "Spirit of God" (click here for a link to the City Hymn version):

Teach me to feel that thou art always nigh
Teach me the struggle of the soul to bear
To check the rising doubt, the rebel sigh
Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer

(seriously, check out the full hymn linked above.  it quickly made it to my list of "5 favorite hymns.")

Or like how, last night, I shared some things that are happening with my women's discipleship group from church and how our leader said a special prayer for me while another held my hand.  And how one of the ladies sent me an email this morning letting me know that she was praying for me.

Also how my parents are the most amazing people you will ever meet, and how God has blessed me so very, very much through their love, support, and sacrifice.

These are the shafts of sunlight which keep me joyful as I long for the day we will bathe in the glorious warmth of Christ's glory in heaven.