Finding the Art in Everything

31 October, 2008

Ma Seychelle

I wouldn’t consider myself a “people person.” Lately—and I say lately because there’s a small chance I wasn’t always this way—I tend to prefer island living. This is where I visit the mainland (other people) for supplies or amusement, but I always have the option of sailing back to solitude. Worse (or better) it’s a sovereign island. I am in total control of my territory.

But also lately, I’ve begun to realize this is not a naturally self-sustaining one. Its fresh water is dependent on how much rain I’ve had, and I have to work pretty hard to collect it. I also tire of eating plantains, slaying my own chickens, and drinking the rum alone. I figure I could do worse than being stuck in the Caribbean.

At least I’m not Tom Hanks talking to a volleyball.

But I’m finding for the second or third time, someone has dared to move onto my island. A relationship falls into my life with all the subtlety and inevitability of an ACME airborne anvil. It’s huge, and heavy, and by the time I see it coming, there’s really no point in moving aside. Besides, cartoon anvils chase their targets.

Now I’m annoyed to find my island’s neither self-sustaining NOR sovereign.

It’s as if some Imperial Power has undertaken a very offensive (to me) relocation project, populating my island. When I can, I post these invaders’ heads on a stake and watch them shrink. This way I always have civilized company without having to live in a Barbarian community with cannibal neighbors.

24 October, 2008

The Invisibility Game

I read this today, shared by a friend. It made me think about how often people blog about blogging, or not blogging as the case may be.

I was also talking to another friend about his blog entry, posted after a long RSS silence. When I commented how we let those blogging gaps happen, he said he just wanted to make sure what he posted meant something--that he didn't post "just for the sake of posting."

It occurred to me that blogging can impose such a burden of self-identification. Not only do we decide what to write, identifying ourselves by what we want to say, but we we decide what we want our blog to be. And for those of us who have a blog with no driving theme, (i.e politics, news, or nutrition) our blog becomes an eclectic, electronic extension of ourselves. What do we post, and why? Why do we often feel guilt about not posting to something we're not even sure anyone is reading? How much of ourselves do we expose? Do we only post polished ideas? Or is random drivel from a journal ok?

It's like I'm playing a funny game: I'm only vulnerable because I'm only "writing for me". But if it were only for me, what is it doing online for everyone to see? It can be there because no one will really read it. I'll never forget being startled by the round of comments on my first blog entry. They read that? But I didn't think anyone was paying attention! This governing fallacy--the one where I'm pretty sure no one is paying attention to me--actually brings a lot of embarrassment.

If the self-identification of blogging is really only for me (because "no one" is actually watching), then why all the fuss about appearance and content? Maybe the way Jadepark does it, where she conceals her identity, is the only way it can be done. This way a writer can satisfy that craving for transparency but have the liberties of anonymity--liberties that include freedom from self-consciousness. Maybe pretending I'm invisible is really the only freedom I find from self-consciousness and the criticism it brings me.

Blogging is good because it forces me to overcome the foe of my inner critic and make readable what was hard enough to write.

I wonder if I'll ever be able to beat the critic and win transparency without first playing the invisibility game. Because if I can't, maybe the beat-the-inner-critic battlefield will always be the blog, keeping real, paid publication as far away as it seems.

22 October, 2008

Tree Frog

The Gargantuan Book Sale

I thought I would a list of my terrific finds from the book sale in Gainesville on Saturday, but this seemed a little more efficient:

18 October, 2008


  • I just watched the movie Once, and it was as lovely as everyone said. Its earnestness was captivating. As I watched the Dublin scenery, it made me really excited for the trip to Ireland I'm planning. But then I thought the Dublin in the movie does not exist in the touristy city-centre where I'll likely be. I'd have to live there to find it. I remember seeing that landscape in Belfast--gritty, working-class, hardened. I was drawn to it, but as a foreigner, there was nothing to draw me in. And I just wished something that seemed so real wasn't so off-limits to me.

  • I went to a gargantuan book sale today in Gainesville, and I had to quit buying books when, with a box and a bag, I had more than I could physically carry. And, while I'm excited about my finds, the finding and buying them was a surreal experience. Suffice to say I don't suffer crowds well to begin with, and this place was third-world crowded. The prices were so low and the searching was so aggressive, it felt more like looting than buying. And all at once we were the Yahoos from Swift's Gulliver's Travels. I wondered what the Houyhnhnms would think if they saw us. They'd think the hundreds of book grubbers looked like they were digging useless things from the earth for the sake of greed and competition.

    But these things were books--and classics and textbooks at that! The very things that are supposed to redeem us from the ignorance that begets greed and mindless competition. It was jarring to see this frenetic tableau paired with and created for its opposite, reading and contemplation. While I wanted to flee the debasing of the Books, I thought they're probably just books, and I bought a box full.

  • I've been wondering what to live for. And the weight of "purpose" resembles the weather--English weather. There are days of brilliant sunshine that soak the wild daffodils, where everything is clear and in sharp focus. Then there are some days of continual, relentless rain with the kind of piercing cold that makes you feel bruised from the inside out. But most days are in the middle, dry but overcast--not darkness but greyness.

  • Today I considered whether I could have / would have been friends with Holden Caulfield. And I don't think so. I think people who cite Catcher in the Rye as their favorite book might have missed the point. That child--and I do mean child--lives in a peculiar hell he made for himself.

10 October, 2008

Tree Frog

Tonight when I came home there was a tree frog, curled up the size of a baseball, on my door handle. I have come to this door in the evenings 1000 times, and never before found anything on my door, especially nothing as exquisite as a giant tree frog. My dog George who normally scares away innocent things was too busy peeing on bushes to notice it. I couldn’t enter my apartment without most surely scaring it away. And who can disturb something so extraordinary? I texted two friends the novelty of my frog quandary, but I got my answer when I called a third. My young friend told me to catch it, which can’t be done when my only equipment was a cocker spaniel and an expensive Italian handbag. She said since I couldn’t catch it, I should just name it. . Right when I went closer to see what the frog’s name should be, while on the phone, it hopped to the yellow stucco of my wall, turned yellow and flopped into the bushes.

I failed. I’ve been reading a lot of Dillard lately, and this was one of her kind of nature encounters. She names ephemeral islands, and she can look closely at a moth aflame and see its holiness. Presented with my own holy moment, all I could do was call my friends. When the frog left, I felt like I missed that moment—sullied its holiness. Maybe holy moments have to be solitary. But then, I wouldn’t have remembered to name the frog if I hadn’t called someone.

I opened my door and dragged George in. Turning to drop my bags, I noticed a moth through the window above my front door, by my porch light. This moth was at least 3 inches across with dark gray spots and intricate gray lace on its brown wings. It had a fat body and a fuzzy head. Like the frog, this enormous moth was out of its place. I got a text from one of my friends, “What would Dillard say?” Dillard would say, this moth, too, is holy. This is the moth that, lit and aflame, burns like the seraphim who proclaim God’s holiness. Unlike Dillard’s forest candles, my lamp is enclosed so my moth is in no fiery danger. But if it’s my moth, it too needs a name. With the frog I fell short, but I can name my moth. I wanted the frog back, but I got a moth. I got a moth that connects me to all the Dillard and prayer discourse I’ve been reading—to what passes for my prayers and my intimacy with nature. I name my moth as Dillard names her islands on Puget Sound—the ones that appear and fade in the mist, the ones that she can’t catch but still sees. I name my moth Second Holiness, Mercy; I name my moth To Name and Holy the Firm. .

Prayer is giving things a name. A text from another friend reminds me that assigning names is what identifies the thing as known by us—part of the holy desire to know and be known. The first task assigned Adam by God is name all the creatures of the earth. Naming is holy work, but like Adam, it also wants for a companion.

A name puts “a handle” on the infinite beneath it for holding the infinite above it. Dillard states, “the world is far from God. [It is] from God, and linked to him by Christ, but infinitely other than God,…a vertical line…a great chain of burning… Christ touches only the top, skims off only the top, as it were, the souls of men…” But also “the world is an immanation [sic], where God is in the thing, and eternally present here, if nowhere else,” leaving the world “flattened on a horizontal plane, singular, all here, crammed with heaven, and alone.” We need something to connect the God we find at the base of things—in experience and circumstance—to the Sovereign God of eternity. When we name something, we make it knowable. We have a handle for the will of God that is in us and around us, but also for the will of God that is so great above us we can’t comprehend it. When we pray we socket the base need or conflict, bound by the limits of time, into the sovereign hurling eternity where it belongs.

I socket this moth into place, but I wonder if I would have without first losing the tree frog.

06 October, 2008

01 October, 2008

Teaching and Drinking

Top-five Things I Love About Being a Teacher that Have Nothing To Do with Instructing:

  1. The process of getting coffee on campus: having to wash my mug in the bathroom, going to get the coffee in a colleague's room, then having to go get milk from the workroom fridge becomes less about obtaining the beverage and more about all of the detours on the way.

  2. Summers off.

  3. The excuse to buy school supplies every year, only being able to get more sophisticated ones like fountain pens, ink bottles and paperclips. Don't think I don't still grab that 24-cent box of crayons and a bottle of Elmer's glue, though.

  4. Dressing up on Wednesdays--I'm a sucker for ceremony, and here we have pomp and circumstance and ceremony weekly.

  5. Birthday celebrations. I always felt bad in school for kids who did not get to celebrate their birthday with the class because it fell over a school holiday. Mine is right at the time of the term when we need a celebration, and I get to celebrate birthday week in 5 classes!

Top-five Historical Figures with whom I'd Really Like to Have a Drink: (in no order, and subject to change)
  1. Benjamin Franklin
  2. James Madison
  3. Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  4. William Wilberforce
  5. William Gladstone