Finding the Art in Everything

29 November, 2008

Farmer's Market

Today we went to the Winter Park Farmers' Market. We found fresh crepes, kettle corn, herb plants, and scones! Afterward, we spent a gorgeous morning walking up and down Park Avenue.

28 November, 2008

Rampant Materialism

In following the lead of one of my fellow bloggers, I, too, post my 2008 Christmas Wishlist. You may recognize a few of these things from previous lists.

27 November, 2008


Yesterday I was working on my Christmas list, as is some kind of blog protocol, and I remembered I probably have the wrong holiday. I think I am supposed to be listing the things in my life I'm glad to already have.

Often people say "what they're thankful for" before they get to eat, but we missed this around-the-table prelude because there were 25 people around our table.

In all of the fuss of trying to prepare the feast for the crowd, I blew right past the requisite reflection. I got caught up in the aggravation that family often brings, but its a great loss when we forget that all of the family and feasting is a celebration of gratitude.

  • I'm grateful for the way my mom developed and encouraged my artistic ability and sense of aesthetics. She gave me all the tools and supplies to follow my creative impulse as far as I could.

  • I'm grateful for growing up with such funny and smart sisters, and for the great sense of belonging that often brought. There was something quite formidable about the Sisters Ruscello.

  • I'm grateful for all that my mom taught me about entertaining and making people comfortable.

  • I'm grateful for good wine, and for a bar-tending family friend who makes Cosmos when that runs out.

  • I'm grateful for all the times I don't have to be the one who makes the mistakes from which everyone else can learn, which isn't very often as the oldest child.

  • I'm grateful that I have a job, where I can both pay my bills and do something I mostly enjoy.

  • I'm grateful that I live in a time and place where I don't have to live fearing social and political reprisals for personal expression.

  • I'm grateful for my bed and the dog that curls up next to me on chilly nights.

24 November, 2008

The ICE! Exhibit

Today my family went to the Gaylord Palms Resort to see their ICE! Sculptures exhibit. We spent about an hour in weather that was literally nine degrees. And while it was really pretty, an hour was enough.

22 November, 2008

Emerson and Prayer Part I

Those of you who read The Strand might have noticed my attention to the topic of prayer, recently. A colleague of mine pointed out a familiar quotation by Emerson on the subject:

"Prayer that craves a particular commodity,—any thing less than all good,—is vicious. Prayer is the contemplation of the facts of life from the highest point of view. It is the soliloquy of a beholding and jubilant soul. It is the spirit of God pronouncing his works good. But prayer as a means to effect a private end, is meanness and theft. It supposes dualism and not unity in nature and consciousness. As soon as the man is at one with God, he will not beg. He will then see prayer in all action. The prayer of the farmer kneeling in his field to weed it, the prayer of the rower kneeling with the stroke of his oar, are true prayers heard throughout nature, though for cheap ends."

I struggle with parts of this passage (which I'll get to later), but I appreciate his definition of prayer, "the beholding and jubilant soul,...the spirit of God pronouncing [H]is works good."

I think so often we make prayer really small--what we have in the postmodern me-centered Church starts to sound like a conversation between 2 people, which is prone to the viciousness and selfishness of Emerson's concern.

By definition, prayer is the soul's communication with the master and creator of the universe, permissible through the redemptive work of Death and Resurrection. I think we too often get the scale wrong, which leads us to seeking the "private end," resulting in "meanness and theft." Prayer becomes a wish-list, or a script, or a manufactured emotional validation for an ungodly cause. When we approach prayer as a "conversation," there isn't much to keep us from projecting fallen human sentiments on something wholly and holy Other--because a conversation presumes we do the talking.

In this sense, maybe we get the scale of worship wrong, too. In church, we carefully select songs, with particular rhythm and notes, to call out specific emotions and intellectual themes. This is too controlled. We seem to forget we are part of a much larger "conversation".

Prayer and Worship really happen when all of creation lives according to the fullest measure of its purpose. This is how "prayer of the farmer kneeling in his field to weed it, the prayer of the rower kneeling with the stroke of his oar" could be heard "throughout nature".

What was the first worship like? What were the first prayers? What was prayer and worship like before power structures? Before perverted collectivism? Post-modernism? Tithes and small-groups and potlucks and C,G,&E chords and Z88.3? Before we forced it into our tiny practices and contexts? Before we made what connects prayer and worship the "me" of it all?

Dillard and Emerson have both driven me to seek examples in the natural landscape. I find an illustration of the true, simple prayer and worship in the trees of my daily routine.

The trees reach deep into the surface of the earth--depend on it to live and grow--to where they hold up the sky. The enormous trees on our school's campus are so big they seem to fully support the great blue canopy. And if the canopy fell, it could be a great wall of water, a tsunami that wiped out everything, the walls of the Red Sea held in place by the wooden staff of Moses.

We need the trees above our front doors, above the bell tower, above the dorm, the dining hall, the classroom building, or the sky might cave in and we'd be lost. These trees are pillars, sentinels. I walk among them, but they are separate from me. They live according to their great purpose, connecting the earth to blue infinity.

I can imitate the trees: raise my hands like branches in prayer and worship or I can climb a tree like Zaccheus to see Jesus.

20 November, 2008


Dillard writes, "Hasidism has a tradtion that one of man's purposes is to assist God in the work of redemption by hallowing the things of creation."

Today I was walking to the dining hall and I saw of flock of cobalt dragonflies. I was startled by the depth of my delight. They are bugs, after all, and I have made this walk to lunch a couple hundred times.

But in that moment, they didn't look like bugs in an ordinary part of my day. The midday sun hit them so that they sparkled, and their metallic blue was out of place in the tableau of concrete and shrubbery. They were glittering gems suspended in the air.

How can these be anything but sacred?

The hallowing work of God is continued in our wonder and surprise and delight. When I see them, I feel part of that holy moment. It's a work that continues itself; I'm only present for the consecration. In that moment of delight and surprise, I'm sanctified with the dragonflies--by The Presence in the dragonflies-- by the katydids, the moths, and the tree frogs.

I continue the hallowing work of God by being in the present.

15 November, 2008

The Slope

Annie Dillard writes through a moment when she says her "mind is a slope," and then lists a dozen bizarre and disparate moments, "ghosts" she calls them, "that drift across the screen from nowhere." "It's insane," she says. "The engineer has abandoned the control room, and an idiot is splicing the reels. "

I read, astounded. How did she do that? How did she record, with great importance--and it's important because it utterly arrested me even though we're strangers, and because she won a Pulitzer for this book of these moments, and I still believe that these accolades go to things that mean something--how did she record the very slopes in my own mind I dismiss as nonsense (that I'm too embarrassed to share) ?

And then I distrust her record, because in my experience, the very nature of the slope is that I glide too fast. Any image I grasp on my way down is one of a hundred. The only ones I keep would be there in my memory only by flailing, clumsy accident. Am I reading her flailing, clumsy accident? Am I always reading someone else's flailing, clumsy accident?

14 November, 2008

13 November, 2008

Poetry Jam

Today I'm reading for the MVA Poetry Club's Poetry Jam that is part of Fine Arts Week. (I wish I had something of my own to read, but I can't afford to dwell there today.)

I am reading these three poems I found on the Underground in London:

'I saw a man pursuing the horizon'

I saw a man pursuing the horizon
Round and round they sped.
I was disturbed at this;
I accosted the man.
"It is futile," I said,
"You can never--"

"You lie," he cried,
And ran on.

--Stephen Crane (1871-1900)

The London Eye

Through my gold-tinted Gucci glasses,
the sightseers. Big Ben's quarter chime
strikes the convoy of number 12 buses
that bleeds int the city's monochrome.

Through somebody's zoom lens, me shouting
to you, "hello...on...bridge...'minster!"
The aerial view postcard, the man writing
squat words like black cabs in rush hour.

The South Bank buzzes with a rising treble.
You kiss my cheek, formal as a blind date.
We enter Cupid's Capsule, a thought bubble
where I think, "Space age!", you think "She was late."

Big Ben strikes six, my SKIN. Beat blinks, replies
18.02. We're moving anti-clockwise.

Patience Agbabi (b.1965)

from Ode: Intimations of Immortality

THERE was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparell'd in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.
It is not now as it hath been of yore;—
Turn wheresoe'er I may,
By night or day,
The things which I have seen I now can see no more.

The rainbow comes and goes,
And lovely is the rose;
The moon doth with delight
Look round her when the heavens are bare;
Waters on a starry night
Are beautiful and fair;
The sunshine is a glorious birth;
But yet I know, where'er I go,
That there hath pass'd away a glory from the earth.

--William Wordsworth (1770-1850)


One Perfect Rose

A single flow'r he sent me, since we met.
All tenderly his messenger he chose;
Deep-hearted, pure, with scented dew still wet -
One perfect rose.

I knew the language of the floweret;
'My fragile leaves,' it said, 'his heart enclose.'
Love long has taken for his amulet
One perfect rose.

Why is it no one ever sent me yet
One perfect limousine, do you suppose?
Ah no, it's always just my luck to get
One perfect rose.

--Dorothy Parker (1893-1967)

12 November, 2008


I keep meaning to write about my Coldplay show from last weekend, (and I even have some images to post) but I can't seem to get to it. Worse, I'll have another show tomorrow that will also be worth a post. Rats. Two behind now.

I've also been looking at those daily photos, still. It got me seeing, and I took these outside the front door of my apartment. Look! Our own fall colors!

09 November, 2008

A New Model

I've been thinking about three things a lot lately:

  1. Time vs. Eternity
  2. Predestination vs. pre-determination
  3. Garfield Minus Garfield
The time and eternity contemplation comes from reading Dillard.

The predestination vs. pre-determination comes from my entertaining a pentecostal perspective on prayer in a book study group.

And Garfield Minus Garfield is the only comic strip I read with any regularity (which should illuminate everything)

With all of this, I think I have a new model for how divine direction and free will go together.

Picture a comic strip--a series of boxes in which a narrative unfolds, frame by frame, to a humorous end. As the reader of the comic strip, you can follow the narrtive from left to right until you run out of boxes, with maybe resolution to the joke in the last box. You can also view the first box and the last box at the same time--viewing the beginning and the end all at once.

Picture another parallel comic strip underneath the first on the paper. The first box is the same, but the second one isn't--it starts in the same place but follows a different narrative to a different, but equally funny punchline.

Put another one underneath that - with the first two boxes the same, only the third one is different, with a quick turn to a totally different, but equally funny punchline with a different irony found in the same situation.

Say there are ten parallel comic strips made out o f 5 boxes each. And all the strips have one central character but different sets of others. All the strips end in good, funny punchline.

God sees the beginning and the end all at once--in his Eternal nature hovering over linear time--like we can see the whole strip. God can see all ten strips with five boxes on the same page all at once--so we can say He knows or sees all the beginnings and all the ends. Say in fact, He wrote all of the comic strips.

Why does it matter that there are ten parallel strips? Because the characters in them have the power to move between them. They can follow one narrative and then individually, freely decide to follow the narrative of a different strip. They climb from the first box to the second box of the second strip, maybe down the the third box of the third, back up to the fourth box of the second, and so on. And maybe sometimes prayer causes the boxes to move between strips like the characters can choose to move themselves.

So what if there were an infinite number of parallel strips with an infinite number of boxes with 6 billion characters and an infinite number of possible groupings?

And the very fact that the characters can move between the strips means they are "in them but not of them" and that they sense there is something bigger than the narrative to the right of them.

And what if, at the end of their days, the 2-dimensional strip and paper-bound characters find their true form (of which they had just been an outline), stand up, and step out of the strips and off the paper altogether?

07 November, 2008

City Photos

I made a delightful discovery today.

I've added a new student to my google reader, and she shared this photo. I was surprised by the blue cornflower in the bottom corner--a little poetic irony that made me smile. It reminds me of being delightfully startled by yellow daisy-like flowers on the way to school Monday morning. It's like the funny, ironic turn at the end of our recent Collins poems.

Then I found that this photo is part of a series, and that series is part of an interesting blog movement: City Daily Photos. This appears to be an online collective of blogging photographers from all over the world who post photos depicting daily life where they live.

With this collective, I can visit the places I used to live. I found this one, from where I grew up in Minneapolis. I like it because he gives his photo how-to's and also gives the city location of his shots. I also found one from the beautiful city where I went to university. While, it's much easier to appreciate the city when you can see it without fearing frost-bitten epidermal death, the pictures recall my shame from not appreciating the city enough when I lived there. I'm so grateful for these Minnesota blogs because I miss the beauty of the fall leaves, and I have it here.

Of course, the first city whose photos I sought was London. I found three interesting London blogs, and added them to my Reader feed folder labeled "Britain". This guy even puts his photos on the map. The English city where I went to university is known for being the "ugliest city in England," so it's no surprise no one runs around shooting it to post. If I lived there, I'd make it my mission to make it look lovely.

I was struck by the dailyness of it: daily photos make room in the series for more pedestrian subjects and a real sense of life in a place--so we don't have to feel so much like a tourist. And while tourism has its exciting charms, what I ultimately want is to rightfully consider myself as a resident.

I also liked that daily commitment to sharing and taking photos. I think, "If I lived in a better place, I'd participate in this." It's true travel photos are always easier to take because everything is interesting in cities that are famous for being interesting, but this could speak more to my self-destructive, "life-will-begin-once-I-leave-Central-Florida" syndrome. I think maybe a real challenge would be in finding art in the daily-ness of Clermont and Montverde--maintaining artistic diligence regardless of my surroundings.