Finding the Art in Everything

30 October, 2007

The Weight of Things

“That the sky would lift
That I’d find my place
That I’d see your face in the door
And the sun would glint
On a time well spent
On a time that ain’t no more

Takes the broken hearts
In the vacant lots
To see the fruit that rots on the trees
Had to turn my head
Leave it all for dead
But it’s in my mind always"

LATELY—David Gray

I have been lately feeling the weight of things amiss. Maybe it is because I am tired, and everything feels heavier when you are tired.

My heart aches for the loss of a student who might always be lost. I have another student whose family has been ravaged by an irreparable pain, and I feel the weight of the permanent damage that is still occurring.

The losses that contributed to me being where I am are back to grind at me, and I had forgotten them a little bit--or at least I wasn’t having to bear them every day anymore.
I feel the weight of having lost where I always went for guidance, because it is broken, or at least separating.

I feel the weight of the impossibility of return—what I loved simply isn’t there anymore.

I saw a movie this weekend that reminded me what a human mess we are in, and I feel the weight of having no clear way out.

A friend of mine is getting married, and the last time this happened, we never really spoke again. What should have been beautiful and loving amounted to some of my most significant losses and regrets. A repetition is, of course, not inevitable, but the potential weighs heavy enough.

I feel the weight of aimlessness and of being very far from my favorite people.

This weight drives me into one of my most familiar rituals: a pot of English tea—my special kind that really comes from Britain—and a whole lot of David Gray. I have been having tea with him, especially on days like these, for the better part of five years.

I first started doing this at Manor House (see Picture), when I lived in Birmingham. The English rain had its own effect: it would run down the window, washing in a kind of clarity. I didn’t mind the rain so much because it was such a part of where I was, and I knew it would stop sooner or later.

I still do this because I have found David Gray can make the hurt and heaviness beautiful without trivializing them. Also, it has to do with ritual. A ritual stands as a reminder that both the its routine and its inspiration are repetitive—cyclical. I don’t always have to carry it all, I just do sometimes. Sooner or later it will lift, and when the rain starts again, I know what to do.

24 October, 2007


"What have you read?" The question is not "what have you read?" but "what are you reading?"

I have a friend who always finishes one book before starting another. He even finishes one book before he BUYS another. I could never live like this. For me, this would be akin to going through my whole day only talking to one person; in the case of a long book, a whole month in the company of only one.

I have another friend who says she doesn't feel like she has really ready anything because she has 20 unfinished things. I don't agree with this, either, because it makes reading and books some kind of to-do list: I don't have to finish something for it to mean anything. For me, books are living things that walk with me, drawing me into a deeper reality.

So each day, I actually have this invisible entourage of authors and ideas going along with me. You don't put friends and mentors on a to-do list, and what kind of entourage only has one person?

Of course, the Red Beacon of Crazy flashes when you tell people, "I don't read. I have an entourage."

Nonetheless, here is my entourage for this month:

Orthodoxy--G.K. Chesterton
Real Christianity--William Wilberforce
Velvet Elvis--Rob Bell
Liberty, Equality, and Power-- Murrin, Johnson, et al.
Letters from London--Julian Barnes
A Long Way Down--Nick Hornby
The Metaphysical Poets--Penguin Classics
New Poems on the Underground
Jane Eyre--Charlotte Bronte. (Actually, this one has been walking with me for a decade. It is my favorite book. I am always reading it just a little bit.)

22 October, 2007

Life Lessons #2

This weekend, a few more life lessons came to light:

9. If ever offered the chance to meet "his friend Bobo," always DECLINE--more than once, if you have to.

10. Tatoos are no substitute for clothing.

11. When it comes to 1000 Places to See Before You Die, it is important to remember that BIKETOBERFEST is NOT on the list.

12. Driving is a lot like Mariokart Racing: Only after a collision, you don't just spin around and get dizzy; you wind up in the hospital and have to pay thousands of dollars.

13. If you consistently fail quizzes and you feel newly inspired to cheat, start small. Teachers find perfect scores suspect when a series of "F"s ends in a sudden "A". They will find you out.

19 October, 2007

Our Students

And while we are generating top-five lists:
Here are the top-five most annoying student questions (in no order):

1. Do we have to write this down?
2. Do we have a quiz today?
3. Can I go to the bathroom?
4. Is this going to be on the test?
5. Did we have homework last night?

And in the running...
6. Oh, am I late?

18 October, 2007


I came across this quotation in what I have been reading:

"We have no more questions left to ask. We have looked for questions in the darkest corners and wildest peaks. We have found all the questions that can be found. It is time we gave up looking for questions and began looking for answers."

G.K. Chesterton--"The Suicide of Thought"

I find suspect the integral worth of isolated questions--even questions that connect to other questions. It seems practical to me that questions are only worth as much as they point you to new truth in the answer. This contentedness with "the question" seems a complacency with incompleteness. It is only half the thing: a road with no destination. And don't we question because we crave the completeness an answer can bring? I accept the possibility of the cannot-be-knowns, and that some questions cannot be answered. But that is no reason for surrendering seeking to answer them. What is the worth of questions that are not driven by the search for truth?

17 October, 2007

Life Lessons: Set #1

  1. Always drive in the direction of the arrows.
  2. Never be friends with people who bring cameras to the bar. What kind of friends would document your stupidity?
  3. Always inquire as to its origins before drinking it.
  4. If you are prone to cavities, start no romantic intrigues with the dental hygienist. Both problems end in awkwardness and pain.
  5. Do not aggravate those in possession of the coffee.
  6. Where an ex-boyfriend is involved, so should be a flask.
  7. If approached, reject the over-enthusiastic lab-partner. Eagerness in this case is a warning sign for dangerous incompetence.

And finally, the house favorite:

8. If you are going to become an existential disaster, go all-in head first.

11 October, 2007

top fives

After reading High Fidelity by Nick Hornby and seeing the movie some years ago, I have found myself, like Rob, putting my life in terms of "top-five" everything. eg. top five travel destinations, top-five greatest naps, top-five most embarrassing moments, top-five reasons why I need to spend less time at school, top-five favorite pairs of shoes, top-five worst ways to start an apology, etc. It is handy, because it provides a non-committal twenty-something the ability to emphasize importance without having to actually select anything.

So because I mentioned it the other day, here is my list of top-five-all-time-favorite-albums in no order: (subject to change, but really haven't in a while)

1. Pride and Predjudice--soundtrack
2. Futures-- Jimmy Eat World
3. A New Day at Midnight-- David Gray
4. Transatlanticism-- Death Cab for Cutie
5. 11th Hour -- Jars of Clay

10 October, 2007

Chase this Light

There are few albums toward which I actually count down, but this is one of them--because JEW's last album was one of my top-five-hands-down-all-time favorites. I went to target yesterday to buy this, but it turns out I am a week off--it doesn't come out until NEXT tuesday.

I find two things annoying about this:

1. My countdown was for nothing. My pannicky nature abhors countdowns, but I had one anyway. Now I have to begin again.

2. It leaves me another week to wonder if the new JEW album is just going to cut it. I recall two years ago this time I got the release date for the new David Gray album wrong. And since David Gray's previous album, A New Day at Midnight, is also in my top-five-hands-down-all-time favorites, the one after it was a letdown. This invalidated a similar two weeks of torment. (But I guess it was a temporary let down: I just didn't know it would take me a while to grow into the sadness of Life in Slow Motion.) I now have another week to ponder the possible loss and gain brought by this addition to my collection.

3. And while I am on things that bothered me yesterday: the wrong album-release date has nothing on the disgust and annoyance I have for inflateable lawn decorations--particularly grotesque halloween ones. When I see them, I am overcome by this wild urge to become a scissors-wielding banshee, running through the lawns slicing and snipping my way to reestablishing order and dignity in my parents' suburban neighborhood.

Which begs the question: is a banshee really a useful tool for reestablishing order?

And, how will I make the TRUE album release date if I am in jail for property destruction?

Here's to hoping I have another jail-free week....

05 October, 2007

The Strand

Photo: The Strand, ca. 1929. The Museum of London

I think it’s sad when landmarks are reduced to a postcard existence. Sometimes I visit my favorite places, and I see they are bits of geography extracted from their meaningful historical context by tourist point, shoot, and run tactics. The Strand runs no risk of this. It is largely un-photogenic, though it has flashy endpoints (Temple Bar at one end and Trafalgar Square at the other.) No one really takes pictures while along the Strand, and its not a tourist target because there is little access to its unadorned stone buildings. Yet, it is always a small triumph when the appearance of something is no measurement of its importance.

The Strand is one of the most significant literary and historical thoroughfares in London history. Today, at either end, there are the 2 forces that drive society: the money of the The City and the politics and government at Westminster. The middle passes through the Covent Garden theatre district, past the Adelpi and the art galleries of Somerset House. Geographically it places art at the center between power and money—a familiar idea in the study of art’s history.

While literary London landmarks include Bloomsbury, Westminster, and Shakespeare’s South Bank, it is unlikely any single neighborhood housed more writers for a longer period of time. Since the Strand was the merely home to some of our greatest writers, it’s missing the celebrity culture of Bloomsbury and the journalistic excitement of Fleet Street. The Strand is extraordinary because grounds the works of Boswell, Dickens, and Kipling in the context of daily life.

Boswell drank coffee and picked up prostitutes along the Strand, only to be scolded by Dr. Johnson, who piously prayed at its St. Clement Danes on the same road. Twenty-five years later, Dickens’ parents were married in the church of St. Mary le-Strand, and his father was eventually thrown into debtor’s prison. Young Dickens was forced into a shoe-polish factory, where, upon leaving each night, would scrounge around the Strand for cheap food like Oliver. Many years later, adult Dickens would return to the Strand and its side streets as a parliamentary reporter, as does David Copperfield, and Dickens lives in a flat near the one described as Pip’s residence in Great Expectations. Here, the Strand is proof that, for Dickens, biography, geography, and fiction are inextricable. These are other writers who lived and worked on or near the Strand: Samuel Pepys, Ben Johnson, George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskill, Wilkie Collins, William Rosetti, Rudyard Kipling, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Graham Greene, P.G. Wodehouse, Thomas Hardy, J.M. Barrie—and consistently, where they lived appears in what they wrote.

In college, much of my literary critical training emphasized a very formalist method. The literature I studied was deliberately extracted from its context; the author and his life were irrelevant—even intrusive—and the society surrounding it, even more so. But it seems the height of hubris to elevate art above its society. To do this renders the reader and his experience more important that the collective experience that conceived the work. It diminishes literature’s value to restrict its meaning to immediate contemporary experience. Just as common, the historical discipline renders society more important than its art. But it’s in art, particularly literature, that the demographic statistics, power changes, and economic trends come to MEAN something. What good is an understanding of the past if we don’t understand fully its impact on the human experience by concentrating on its expression? Someone told me that history was the story of “humans being,” but literature is the story of humans living.

The Strand is the Highstreet that connects society and art and history and literature. It deserves a stroll; it deserves some coffee and writing to commune with its saints and tenents--even if there won't be postcard shots to show for it.

classroom aphorisms

I am accidentally in correspondence with an erudite stranger. I sent him queries on the dilemma of content selection for my course, and this was his response:

"The best history, and the best learning, I believe, comes with the negation of the students and the teacher. Only the ideas should exist in the classroom--we leave ourselves outside.

American education has been doomed to mediocrity at best because we think ourselves too important. No. We are nothing. Ideas are everything...

Lazyness and apathy are the real enemy, not interpretive schema. It is against these that the teacher must fight..." --J.R., Kansas City.

04 October, 2007


I turn 26 tomorrow--hardly the most commemorated birthday--but the start of a new year nonetheless. In the name of newness, I have made a new place to put things.

I used to consider moments and things and observations worth archiving because they were all part of some brief and transient phase, e.g I am not in high school forever; I am not in Duluth forever; I am not in England forever; God, please don't keep me in Central Florida forever, etc. And to reconcile the constant change, I work to keep the best parts of each--maybe I can keep some of them here.

New phases are worth noting. At 26, I am beginning the first year in five where I will NOT be trying to move to England.

But which is the phase? Chasing London or staying put? And does 26 make me too old for phases?

At any rate, this begins the blogging phase.