A telling moment

People have "tells" when they gamble at cards, and people have tells when they're playing the hand they've been dealt in life. It is quite fascinating to me to watch my developing adults - the ones who were once my children - and to see what it is that's strong enough to make them organize their lives around it.

This morning, the older young giant was out of bed earlier than usual - and last night, he wasn't the last one to turn out his light and go to sleep. The reason for this cataclysmic shift in lifestyle was a chance to go to a regularly scheduled figure drawing session. You just take your sketching stuff, plop down your per session fee, and you have a whole morning to sit and draw the model of the day. His old art teacher told him about this, and this is the second weekend in a row now. Hmmm.... the kid might be right. Art might be the thing that's calling him after all. It's mighty powerful stuff if it gets him up and showered before the rest of us are out of bed! But don't tell him I said so. I don't want him to catch me watching.


Proceed to get it done

This is a great paragraph from the "Rewriting" chapter in Carolyn See's book, Making a Literary Life. Mario Milosevic has recently mentioned this aspect of writing over at his blog (he calls them "crutch words"), and I've noticed the same horror flowing from my own fingers everywhere from this blog to all my journals to anything else I ever lay into via a keyboard of letters making words.

This is Carolyn See:
Every writer has a set of "favorite" words, words that break out in his or her head like a bad case of hives. For years I could never get a character just to "eat a hamburger." He would have to "proceed to eat a hamburger." Then he couldn't just "wash his hands" afterward. He would have to "proceed to wash his hands." It was a tic! It was a disease! It was like one of those carnival games where a wooden gopher pops up and you whack it with a hammer but then another wooden gopher pops up: Proceed! Proceed! Proceed! But at least, once I realized it, I could proceed to control it. Or at least try.

Are you my future?

Do you know this book? It was a favorite of mine as a child, and I think it was a favorite of my children too ... there's a line in it. When the baby bird finds a huge digger machine, and asks his baby bird question, "Are you my mother?" the machine answers by blowing a huge blast of smoke out the smoke stack. It says, "SNORT!" And the baby bird says (rather horrified, if you can go by the look on his baby bird face), "You are not my mother! You are a Snort!"

For about two years now, I've been saying to this and that and the other plan, "Are you my future?" A lot of times I've ended up the exchange with some version of, "You are not my future! You are a Snort!"

Today, though, I think I hear her voice.

Today I got this in my email.
Hi Stephanie:
Welcome back to Marylhurst! You are an admitted student, so your next
step is to contact your academic advisor.

I see that you would like to change your major to Human Studies. How
much coursework you can complete online depends on a number of factors.
How many credits are you transferring to your current degree? Which
courses will you transfer from MT. Hood? Don't worry! Your academic
advisor can help you answer these questions.
There's more to it, of course ... but just the start of this little helpful note is enough to make my head come up and my ears turn toward the sound. I think it's her! My future's calling me! Can you hear that? I think I hear something.

And I heard from the library too. More sub hours coming my way.

Funny phrase ... I'm an "admitted student." I'm admitted writer ... admittedly, I'm a wife and mother ... I admit to being a teacher ... I admit as well to a lack of discipline in matters of housework ... now the charming young woman in the Admissions Office declares another admission. Now I'm an admitted student.

Are you my future?

Another Personality Inventory

Yeee-haw!!! Someone did it! They put that Jungian/Meyers-Briggs personality inventory into a format of scale instead of either/or.

Mine is funny ... I'd say this is my "work personality" for sure. But I still do not think it's my most "real" personality.

Click to view my Personality Profile page

Go and take it for yourself. The "account" you have to get is free, and it's a quick quiz to do. Compare it with your other results, and see what you think.

Note: Yes, it is. After months of thought, I can admit it. This is me. October, 2008.


A very good idea

You know that particular sort of sharp "cherry" taste in cherry Coke? Well they've put it into the M&M's!!!

Gourmet it's not. But my oh my, I've never been so tempted to stock up on an ordinary candy. It's a "limited edition" - I'm thinking of buying a case of these things!


The path in the distance

This is a picture of Laurelhurst Park. I grew up in the Laurelhurst neighborhood in Portland, and I spent a lot of time at this park. It was far enough away that it was a most-of-the-day walking bag-lunch field trip from the local grade school when I was little, and it was a real badge of independence to be allowed to go there by myself when I got older. About ten blocks away, I figure.

It's a good thinking all alone park, and it's a good date park. Although we did used to go to the duck pond with stale bread to throw out to the ducks as a family, and although I did go across the street to the play area when I was little and then again as a young adult for some volleyball or utterly insane swinging on the swings, what I really loved doing in Laurelhurst Park was just wandering around on the paths. (Portland has gorgeous city parks. 37,000 acres of open space in that city.) I grew up in paradise, apparently. At the time, though, it just seemed like home. I could spend hours and hours walking in our neighborhood, in that park, all the way to the Hollywood Library and back, up hills and down them, around the paths in the parks and all the way around the outside of the park just to walk the circumference of it. See all the trees? The sloping ground? There were lots of places to come 'round the corner of - lots of ways to anticipate and not know what was next. I think that's part of its attraction for me. Out on the wide open path, the shelter of the trees makes a comfortable privacy for thoughts and ideas - or for private conversations.

Years later, when I had turned into a wife and a mommy, and we still had just the one baby, we drove between Escondido, California, where we were in school, and Lake Havasu City, Arizona, where there lived an aunt and uncle. In that hot car, on that hot desert road, we came up over a rise one time, and I nearly burst into tears of exhausted panic. (It wasn't even that long a drive!) But I could hardly believe my eyes! There, stretched out in front of us was



For miles and miles and miles and miles, I could see it. I could see where we were going to be hours from where we were then. I could see the future! And it was NOT pretty. There are people who love the desert, but I am not one of them. Nossir. I am strictly a trees and paths and hills in the way sort of girl.

This past week, the federal financial aid forms have been sent that will (God willin' and the creek don't rise) get me back to school. I've also had some conversations with people at the main library regarding some changes coming for the subs in the system, and I've also begun to send out my writing in my hope of being paid for it one of these days. Because of all of these things, a familiar feeling has come back to me again. I got to thinking about what my life might be becoming, and now I remember. I have begun to feel myself to be back in Laurelhurst Park. It seems that I am out of some sort of desert at last.

I can't see where I'm going to be in a few years any more.

Possibilities loom, and all I can see from here is the tops of trees and the edges of bushes and the bends in the paths. I like the park. I like this bit of life. I like not quite knowing what's around the next bend, and taking my time to get there. I love every fallen leaf, and every bit of mud in the grass. I love the strollers and the babies in them and the parents pushing them, and I can even love the joggers if they're in the park. The path is about to present a few more options up ahead a little ways. I really love the park.


It is impossible to travel faster
than the speed of light,
and certainly not desirable,
as one's hat keeps blowing off.

Woody Allen

What holiday are you?

Yeah, this seems about right.

Didn't you ever make a "turkey" by tracing your hand and coloring in the tail feather fingers?

You Are Thanksgiving

You are a bit of a homebody who enjoys being in the company of people you love.

It doesn't take a lot to make you happy. You're enjoying life as it is.

You have many blessings in your life, and you are grateful for each one.

You believe that life is about what you *do* have. You feel like you have enough of the good stuff.

What makes you celebrate: Family, friends, and the changing of the seasons.

At holiday get-togethers, you do best as: The host of the party

On a holiday, you're the one most likely to: Spend so much energy preparing that it's a full time job


Finally FAFSA'd!

Long long ago, in a galaxy far far away, I said, "First you fafsa." Fourteen months ago, I was talking about this. More than a whole year, for cryin out loud.

Well, it's finally happened. Off went the forms. It's possible that by next September, the older bearded young giant will be in Olympia at school, the younger bearded young giant will be at Mt. Hood Community College (he just called and asked about getting in early because he hates not being there yet - hates working because it's not working on music), and I'll be online, or doing testing for credits, or at the community college as well, because I want that degree from Marylhurst. And now - finally! - it looks like I might be on my way. If I were 30 years younger, I'd be packing my suitcases just to see how I could fit things into them. Practice packing.

THIS looks like BLISS to me. It really does.

A minimum of 180 total quarter credits
60 credits required for major
Human Sciences Seminar 3 crs.
History & Philosophy of the Human Sciences
Integrative Foundation Colloquia / Core Courses 23 crs.
Human Studies Perspectives
Relationship with the Self
Relationship with Others
Relationship with the Environment
Relationship with the Transcendent
Humans Being: Developing a Perspective
Required Topics 9 crs.
Choose three of the following:
Topic 1: Learning
Topic 2: Development
Topic 3: Systems
Topic 4: Methods
Internship or Research Project 3 crs.
Related Electives 22 crs.
Choose from an array of subjects to design a program to match your specific needs, interests or past experience.

Here I come, Big Ideas. Get ready, brain. Still don't know how we're going to pay for this ... but first, you FAFSA. So I'm about to find out.

I affirm that affirmation

Finding the things to say to myself - this is a challenge for me. But here's one I can recite over and over and over again.

Whatever I do is done out of sheer joy;
I drop my fruits like a ripe tree.
What the general reader or the critic
makes of them
is not my concern.

Henry Miller

Photographer Doug is a Hero!

THANK YOU, Douglas!!

He took some pictures at the Vigil on Easter morning (it starts at 5 am) and they're absolutely pictures of what it feels like to be there! Douglas, I could just hug you! What do you want? Cookies? Wine? Beah? You name it. WOW, what good pictures! The first picture (above) is the striking of the New Fire. It's the first thing that happens at the service. Wait - no, they're doing something with the thurible. Hm. Oh! He's lighting the coals for the incense so he can cense the candle - it must be lit already. Then the fire is brought into the Nave of the church on the Pascal Candle, and given to us on our little candles, and it spreads through the church. With each few steps, the priest sings out, "the light of Christ," and the people genuflect and respond, "thanks be to God."

Oh, thank you thank you thank you, Douglas. I can hear it! Finally! It feels like Easter for me now. On Sunday afternoon, when our brother/Uncle Mark/Fr. Lillegard got here, I suggested that since I'd missed the whole thing, we'd have to do it over again. I didn't know whether the man was going to burst into tears or wring my neck there for a moment, but the answer was no. We're not having a do-over.And now I've got a picture of the taller, older bearded young giant. That's him there, holding one of the candles so that the Curate, Fr. Scott Herb, can sing the Exultet. The other acolyte in the picture is my other son's best friend, Bryan. (Anybody else see that it looks like the bearded young giant is wearing a clerical collar? Don't tell him.)

The rest are at his site, here: Doug's Blog

Yay, Douglas!!!


Easter Monday

1. Husband arises, eats accustomed breakfast, finds what he can find for a "lunch" of some sort, and exits very near his accustomed time for his accustomed job.

2. Wife still in robe and jammies, albeit clean ones now. Proof of impending better health: more time in the computer chair each time attempted.

3. Uncle/brother up early enough to go to the store for candy and a box of ("fresh") donuts from the store, which donuts made youngest bearded giant finally extract himself from the sleeping bag on the living room floor. This was followed by the sounds of John Mayer and the splashing of the shower from the bathroom. Shower sounds with music sounds is the sure and certain proof that Steve's home.

4. Slightly taller, more bearded young giant now also awake and eating pumpkin pie for breakfast "because otherwise the terrorists win."

Yeah ... life's back to normal.

It's a problem

From chapter six of what is turning out to be an utterly delightful and encouraging book from Carolyn See,

The implication was that there was a serious apprenticeship, even for reading, to say nothing of the one for writing, and that to presume to write something down took an enormous leap of both faith and pride. (Pride, as most of us with a Christian upbringing remember, is the first and foremost deadly sin.) So you had to be pure of heart before you started to write, but also full of pride. Already, before you wrote the first the, you were screwed by your own unworthiness.

Ain't it the truth, Carolyn. Ain't it the truth.


Holy Women

The holy women at the tomb of Christ
Annibale Carracci (1560-1609)

Was it women's work to dress the dead body with the spices? Or did they go to do it because it was the first chance to do anything at all that felt the least bit useful - the day before had been the Sabbath - was it that they simply could not wait a moment longer to tend to their Beloved?

It's not yet 4:30 in the morning, and I am the only one at home. The others have gone to church. Only two people in the car for the Easter Vigil this year. Not six, with the little one sitting on a lap. Not five after the uncle went away. Not four after the daughter went away. Not even three this year, because only one son has gone from home, but the mom is not in the car with the dad and the one son who goes with him. This year there's no one in the back seat for the first time. This year I am not there to greet the risen Lord in the garden. It's a bit surreal.

But I think that if I had been there - back then - all those centuries ago, I mean - I think that I would have been there - in the garden. Before it got light. That would have felt surreal too. I and my friend - we would be grim faced and determnined even if a little afraid. How could he be dead? He could not be dead. But ... we had seen him die. We know what has happened. We saw the blood and water flow from His side. We know what happened. He is dead.

Nothing would have stopped us from ministering to him in the only way left to us. We would have gone. "As it began toward the first day of the week," we would have gone there. I wonder ... would we have been remembering and trying to understand? Would we have been looking at each other and neither of us daring to say it? Do you remember when He said, "three days?" Do you think He might have meant ...?

It's 4:30 in the morning. We're about to find out the Truth.


Sneak up

"Sneak up on your material.
Don't go crashing after it through the forest
with a machete.
Sit down,
be quiet,
let the material catch up with you."

Carolyn See, Making a Literary Life: Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers

See that? It flashes by in my mind every once in awhile. Wait for it ... wait for it ... look! There it is again. Like a falling star - I have to be looking sort of out of the side of my eye - using my peripheral vision. But every once in awhile, I see it. The creative act of writing (or painting or sculpting or making music) is a religious - no ... it's a spiritual experience. The act of creativity always requires the practice of inner silence -- or ... um ... inner readiness. Inner listening. It does not require the kind of readiness that can only take place somewhere, someday, in some idealized setting where nothing will intrude. No, creation needs only the kind of inner readiness that sees and openly welcomes each small particle and every open space - not looking for ways to fill the space, but being willing to inhabit it. The act of creation is love with breath in it.


Good Friday

Today, for the Western Church, is called Good Friday - a day we call "good" because it is the day when the most bad thing that has ever happened brought the whole of the world the most good. Tonight my husband and sons will be at church, and I will not be. I was not at church last night for the Maundy either. (Maundy Thursday is so called because "maundatum" is the "new commandment" Christ gave as he knelt to wash the feet of his disciples - the new commandment is that we "love one another" as he has loved us.)

The reason I have not been at church is because I have been completely laid low by some particularly virulent strain of something related to the common cold or flu. For the first time in 13 years, I'm home during all of Holy Week.

I have been blowing my nose, hoping my forehead doesn't crack and burst. And I have been sneezing and hoping my forehead doesn't crack and burst. And I have been coughing and hoping my forehead doesn't crack and burst. And I have been crying - and finding relief for the pressure in my head as the tears take away some of the pain that is coming from I know not where. Nowhere in particular, maybe. Everywhere at once, is what it feels like.

The painting is Roger van der Weyden's Crucifixion. Tonight, while the congregation sings the hymns of contrition and pain, I will hear them without being there to hear them. As the choir chants one of the most beautiful and sorrowful pieces of music in the world (the Good Friday "Reproaches") and one by one, in quiet and usually tearful procession, the people make their three double-genuflections and then kneel one at a time to kiss the foot of the cross, I will hear them. "O my people, what have I done unto thee? Or wherein have I wearied thee? Testify against me." I will hear them, without being with them. In an oddly equal and opposite form, I will be in the Narthex again.

Perhaps this illness is a gift. Perhaps my inability to participate in a way that brings each small sound and the smell of incense to my body is a new access for me. From here I can see and hear a broader spectrum of the whole. There have been a dozen repetitions of this week already embedded in the deepest part of my soul's ears and eyes and tongue. I know this Week. This year, I see the beauty and pain and joy from a hill outside the town. In my mind's eye I watch what I cannot see, and I have never seen it like this before. It is beautiful.

Day of wrath! O day of mourning!
See fulfilled the prophets' warning,
Heaven and earth in ashes burning!

Oh what fear man's bosom rendeth,
when from heaven the Judge descendeth,
on whose sentence all dependeth.


Profile in courage

"Artists are like creatures who swallow themselves.
We process our lives into what we make."

Frank Schaeffer, Crazy for God


Three! Three! Three sons in one!

Over at photographer Doug's blog, there appeared this picture of this son we're so proud of. He's the baby. The youngest. The most easy-going, it's all good, roll with the punches of the three offspring. The bearded young giant with the funkiest beard.

He's kinda cute, idn he?

Then, there was also this picture of the version of this son who scares me a little bit with the intensity of his talent, his focus, and his drive. It takes my breath away sometimes that sunshiny Steve has turned into such a force of nature.

And then there's THIS guy.
HOW many tattoos are there on this arm???

This test's harder

You don't have to get 100% on this one - and I'll give you extra credit for any spelling rule you know for determining your choice.

Your Spelling is Perfect

You got 10/10 correct.

Your spelling is excellent. You also have a great memory and eye for detail.


Is Happy Stupid?

This is a blog about questions and clarity, and I have a question.

WHY, I'd like to know, do we think it's "smart" or "savvy" or "caring" or "knowing what's really going on" when we're doom-saying? Why is happiness stupid? Is happiness stupid?

I'm sure you've seen the bumper sticker But is this any way to go through life? Blind to the blessings and opportunities and joys and pleasures because the bad stuff is, you've decided, what's "really" going on? Why isn't the good stuff what's really going on? Why isn't it "if you're not GRATEFUL you're not paying attention"?

Especially here, in the pampered, spoiled West! Why do we, of all people, find bad news easier to believe than good news? What is it confirming for us?

And howcome the people with the most blessings are the ones doing the most complaining about the state of the world? Do they think they made things safe and happy before? Do they think it's their job to do that now? Do they think it's even possible to make everything in the circumstances of the world safe and happy?

I fought this battle and had this debate and sorted this whole thing out for myself when I was a teenager. There was just too much doom saying for it all to be true. And I'm sorry, but if you're a high schooler, and "this is the best time of your life," then just shoot yourself after graduation. If it doesn't get better after high school, then we can just all give up now. "Shoulda taken a rock and killed myself years ago." (Cher, in Moonstruck -- "is that all I'm ever gonna have? Bad luck?")

But it's NOT TRUE. Life didn't get worse after high school! For cryin out loud! The whole world of opportunity opened up after graduation. Okay, okay, I tanked my wide world down the hole of an unaccredited fundamentalist college, but even that was a wider world than high school.

Maybe that's what it is. Maybe it's the wideness of the world that bugs people. Old people get like that sometimes. Crochety. Unwilling to take in any more information. Like Bertie Wooster, it seems they "can't do with any more education. I was full up years ago," they say. So instead of finding all the reasons change is good, we doomsay. We whine. We cope with an ever-changing world by noting all the bad stuff we can find, and declaring that we have thereby found "proof" that the world is worse than it used to be, back when we were happy. Back when we didn't have to deal with all "this." (Never mind that all "this" was around back then too -- never mind history -- I didn't see it -- so it wasn't there.) We seem to think that the "wise" part of the three wise monkeys was in their refusal to take in any new information at all.

Well, phooey! I still come to the same conclusions I came to as a teenager.

Yes, there's bad stuff. Yes, there IS a very real and very heart-breaking "anguish of the world" I want God to heal. I ask Him to. I know it's there. When I find it in my path, I take action to alleviate the pain.

But I also know a whole bunch of other stuff.

I know that heroes large and small wage war against this anguish, and that their heroism is a grand and glorious thing. Heroes make my tears flow - in the glorious grandeur of their fight. In the joy of it.

I know that after the dormant, frozen bleakness of bare branches and after the stillness of the wintry mornings, spring comes again. I've seen 47 of these springs now. I've learned my lesson. Yes, there's winter. And then there's spring. That's what I insist on saying as the end of the sentence. There is spring. Today, I can almost hear things growing out there -- I can almost hear the sound of all the budding branches, and the reaching toward the teasing and occasionally visible sun.

I know that a child's baby teeth fall out. Right now, I know a little girl who is currently growing in EIGHT of her front teeth! All at the same time! She's not crying over the loss of those baby teeth. Her mom might've. Her mom might be noting the passage of time and the temporary and quickly passing innocent years of childhood. But the kid knows the truth! Eight missing front teeth means she's getting bigger. And bigger kids can do all kinds of stuff that the babies can't do.

Yes, there is darkness in the world. Of course there is. We can all see it.

But there is Light. And there's no such thing as a darkness so strong that even the smallest light is extinguished by it. And Light is good. Yes, there is darkness. But there is Light. And the darkness is not more real. Love is stronger than Hate. Life is stronger than Death. Light is stronger than the Dark. Today, I can almost hear the budding branches sing the ancient song of praise to the Light.


More Memling

You might need to click on the image to really see its parts. It will also help if your screen is about 4 feet by 6 feet in size! What a breathtaking painting! For the sheer number of images and complication of various narratives, it's a stunner. Now that I've seen several of these Hans Memling paintings, I'm considering getting a few copies or prints or something for my own walls. This is imagery. This is iconography. This is a picture worth a few thousand words, and the contemplation that ensues can be as deep as the human soul and as high as heaven.

Holy Week began yesterday for the western church.

Think of Kenneth Branagh's Much Ado About Nothing. Remember the horror of grief that consumes the character Claudio when he finds that his jumping to uncharitable conclusions has caused the death of his beloved Hero. Remember the funeral procession? The steady, steady drum beat of movement toward the burial place? The certainty and finality of the tomb?

That is how Holy Week feels to the traditionalist. Participating in the rites and ceremonies of the ancient Faith of the Church brings us, one beat at a time, step, step, step, to the foot of the cross "whereon was hung the world's salvation." We feel again the outrage and injustice which now satisfies the great Justice and Love of God. We long to beat back the soldiers with our own fists and we know with the thief on the cross that He has not deserved this agony. He does not hang in agony because of his own doings. We know "mine is the guilt, but thine the righteousness." We know He hangs and bleeds and dies for us. For me.

And we weep.

I weep.

We also know how the story ends, of course. We know that, in the words of Sister Elaine of All Saints, "For the Christian there is always a resurrection." We know that our grief is deserved but also that the God who dies for us will live for us too. We know this.

But this week, we weep.


Among the tones and timbre of human expression

"It is extraordinary the way people, music, and cultures develop. The paths and experiences that guide them are unpredictable. Shaped by our families, neighborhoods, cultures, and countries, each of us ultimately goes through this process of incorporating what we learn with who we are and who we seek to become. As we struggle to find our individual voices, I believe we must look beyond the voice we’ve been assigned and find our place among the tones and timbre of human expression."

Yo-Yo Ma, A Musician of Many Cultures, for This I Believe

Thanks, Frank

I have more admiration than I can express for this man, for his work, and for his point of view. As proof, I've put his new book on hold at Powell's, and I will go and put down my own cold hard cash for it. This is one I will own.

Frank Schaeffer on BookTV
This is a genial, gentle, quiet "book store" appearance. When he reads from the book's introduction he substitutes the words "expletive deleted" for the language that was in the lovely little emails he received from some "Christian" people. His friends and neighbors are in the audience.

His website
Links, books, news, etc. There is a link to the Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School in the 'Crossroads of Religion and Politics' series at the top of the page right now. Don't listen to this talk if there are kids in the room who are still young enough not to understand the art of Contextualizing. The bad language is in this speech. But DO watch the speech. And then thank the God who loves us all that this man has had the courage and the ability to bring to the world a Francis Schaeffer with hard-working feet of clay and an Edith Schaeffer who has danced to the music of the piano bar in her old age.
Addendum: Here is the link to the speech he refers to in this presentation. I wrote and asked him for it.

The riotously funny Calvin Becker trilogy
(Thanks, Douglas. You've introduced me to Calvin Becker, Teresa of Avila, and all the other saints in the Communion thereof. One day I'll take my chance to do something wonderful for you.) There's nothing funnier in the universe than the Gospel Walnut.

His interview with Ink Q&A at Powell's City of Books
The top part of it is the same as his other book tour stops. But this excerpt is from the part unique to Powell's. His answer to "best breakfast" is so beautiful it makes me want to weep.

Describe the best breakfast of your life.
Champagne and caviar shared with my wife Genie while we were in bed (sometime in the 1970s). We were in our early twenties and my art teacher had advised us on the menu, gave us the champagne, the caviar and told me to try it for breakfast. The fact that he had once worked as a cameraman for the Nazis didn't spoil the meal. Genie is beautiful and was naked. The mountains in the background were themselves: the Rhone Valley with its patchwork of fields, orchards, roads and villages miles below, up to the flower-studded hayfields and steep forest-clad hills behind our village topped off by the peaks towering over everything. The champagne was dry, and Genie tasted like caviar when I kissed her.

What is your idea of absolute happiness?
Cooking for my children and grandchildren and seeing them gathered at our table.


Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it.
Andre Gide


Hans Memling's vision of the vision

I'd never seen this piece before today. It's Hans Memling's portrayal of the visions of St. John on the Isle of Patmos while he was writing the Book of the Revelation. I find it stunning - it's so fantastically surreal and yet utterly inviting. If I'm ever in Brugge, I will go and see this one in person. This full version is what I saw first. I have daily doses of Art as one of the things on my iGoogle and this is what came in this morning.

So I did a little searching. In Brugge, there is a "Memling Museum, housed in the former Hospital of Saint John. The hospital functioned from the 13th century onwards, and much of the museum's collection is devoted to illustrating its history." There, I found some detail close-ups. Here's the mystic St. John in the lower part.

See the white and then the orangey red horse? That's the horse at the lower part of this close-up.
In my imagination, when I think of St. John or of the prophets, I see it like Memling did. All the images are piled in there, but they make sense. There are images and scenes and elements of story within and beside and among each other like this. Fascinating.


Free Rice

(click on this side banner to participate)

“What if just knowing what a word meant could help feed hungry people around the world? Well, at FreeRice it does . . . the totals have grown exponentially.”
- The Washington Post

“Web game provides rice for hungry . . . FreeRice went online in early October and has now raised 1 billion grains of rice [by November 9].”
- BBC News

“Addictive, yes. But . . . each correct answer results in the donation of rice to help feed the hungry around the globe. Perhaps that qualifies the game as a good addiction . . . one with redeeming qualities, something that’s, oh, didactic and edifying.”
- Kansas City Star

“People from all walks of life and from around the globe have written in to express their appreciation for the game . . . Secretaries admit to playing it during boring business meetings.”
- Christian Science Monitor

“FreeRice.com is one of the most ingenious websites of 2007. In the best spirit of the Internet, it offers education, entertainment and a way to change the world ― all for free.”
- Los Angeles Times

“Every grain of rice is essential in the fight against hunger . . . FreeRice really hits home how the Web can be harnessed to raise awareness and funds for the world’s number one emergency.”
- UN World Food Program

“A teacher of fourth and fifth graders on the Yurok Indian reservation in Klamath, CA, . . . emailed the WFP. ‘My students absolutely LOVE the free rice site. Almost daily they earn several thousand grains of rice!’ she wrote. ‘You cannot imagine the joy in my heart when I look out and see 25 kids doing vocabulary work and enjoying it.’”
- School Library Journal

“Feeling guilty about wasting time on computer solitaire? Join the growing guilt-free multitude at FreeRice.com, an online game with redeeming social value.”
- USA Today

“The Web site offers a greater gift, the gift of awareness about world hunger.”
- NPR National Public Radio

“Freerice.com is an international, viral sensation. Folks from Thailand to Germany and India are just as enthusiastic . . . improving thousands of lives, all with a simple, collective, click of a mouse.”
- CBS Evening News

People would still buy it, though

If the automobile had followed the same development cycle as the computer,
a Rolls-Royce would today cost $100,
get a million miles per gallon,
and explode once a year, killing everyone inside.

Robert Cringely, InfoWorld magazine


Sometimes it's icky to be loved

When the girl went away from the hearth and home of her parental units, she left behind this delightfully round and rotten animal.
This animal loves us. That's why she brings us these:
And these seem to be especially fat and particularly plentiful this year, and the place of choice for these gifts is right outside the bedrooms, at the top of the stairs. I just know, one of these nights, my husband is going to get up in the middle of the night, in the dark, without his glasses, and tread upon one of these little dainties, and then bring the results back into our bed on his feet.

Do you supposed the US Army would object if I sent that girl her cat?

Reset all statistics

Do you ever play Spider Solitaire on your computer? I would not want to see the total number of games I've played - but the number of hours that many games would represent are almost all Thinking Hours. It's a kind of mental white noise - often I'm not zoned out. Honest.

If I lose too many games, I clear all statistics and start the average over.

Game --- Statistics --- Reset --- "Are you sure you want to reset all game statistics?"


2008 is supposed to be the year of writing and sending out A Submission a Month. I did it in January. But I missed February. Today I reset all statistics. I sent in some of my work to a contest. For the year, the stats are 66.6%. For March, it's a 100% -- now that I reset all statistics.

Addendum: This does not mean blogging once a month -- it means sending things out to publishers and contests and things. Just so we're clear.

Just because


When you're digging and shoveling lime or sand or green manure into your garden, that's a legitimate question. You should know why and it should be specific.

But when you're plowing up the ground in order to be able to plant a garden? Well, that's a silly time to say Why? unless it's the dead of frozen winter and you're trying to plow permafrost. One does not ask, Why garden? -- it's too silly to deserve an answer.


When you're choosing a doctor or a midwife and a birthing place for the impending arrival, then Why? is the question to answer. Why that one? Why not this other one? Makes sense. Conscious choice of particulars in the midst of a given reality - this makes sense.

When you're happily married, asking Why do I want children? is slightly odd. Couples couple, and coupling makes babies. We have to choose to stop the forward momentum, if we want it stopped. It's called being normal and ordinary, and so normal and ordinary that anything else is an exception. Exceptions there may be, but, Why am I normal? isn't a normal question.


It's not, Why do you want to hug and kiss and wrestle and swing that child up into the air? That's a silly question for normal folk.

It's not, Why do you lift that flower to your nose and sniff?

Or, Why do you blink when someone tosses something at your face?

Or, Why does the earth spin in only one direction?

If you're still three years old, you can ask those questions. But after awhile, you figure out that life is what it is. Humans are what they are. Why? Just because. That's why.

I'm a little amused at myself today. I've spent so much time in three-year-old brain (a generally good place to be since so much of the grown up world can't answer the question Why? when they ought to know the answer) that I forgot that sometimes, "Just because" is the answer.

Why do you smile when you're happy? Just because.

Why do you cry when you're happy? Just because.

Why do all the puppies sleep in a pile like that? Just because.

Why is the grass green?

Why is it sunny only in the daytime?

Why is grandma old?

Why must you stomp in the puddles?

Just because just because just because.

The particulars have answers.

But some things are the way they are just because.

And why do I want to go to school? At my age? For a degree that has no obvious practical application? Just because. Grownup brain can tell you all the particulars, but the particulars answer a different question. The answer to, How? is in the particulars. The answer to, Why? is just because.


The boy with the jabbing pencil

That middle aged woman in the classroom in my head? I figured out how to make her drop the class. She'll probably show up again. She'll probably register for nearly every class I ever take. She'll bring her pinched face and telltale style, and she'll bring the questions she uses to accuse me. What are you doing here? Didn't you read the books? Don't you have the reading list? What are you doing here?

But now I can make her go away!

I learned a trick a couple of days ago. (Don't tell most of my memories about this trick. The Teacher's Pet I once was will not be happy about this.) I learned a trick from one of the boys. He sits behind me sometimes, and he fights boredom by poking me in the back with a pencil. Drives me nuts.

A couple of days ago, every time that wretched woman in front of me turned to face me and accuse me with her look of contempt, every time she asked one of her hammering, hammering, yammering questions, that boy jabbed me in the back with his pencil. And every time I turned around to make him quit, he mimicked that nasty woman.

Now, usually, I just turn around enough to make him quit without really paying any attention to him. But I finally couldn't take it any more. I turned full around in my seat - and then I saw his face! The pest was smiling! He thought it was funny to ape the absurdity - he was on my side! (Boys are so dumb! They can't ever seem to find a way to get your attention without doing something like poking you in the back with a pencil.) I looked him full in the face, and he did it again. He did a perfect imitation of the front row bitch, and he said, "What are you doing here?" But coming from him, it was a whole different question. Coming from the boy with the pencil, the question was one that made me laugh!

(I thought I was going to get in trouble - but the teacher didn't hear me - he was keeping the front row scornwitch busy.)

So I turned back to him, and I asked that boy the same drumming question.

What are you doing here? Hmmm? Why are you sitting in this class?

And he said, "I want to."

Well, slap me silly and sound the horns! My word, my gosh, my golly. THAT's the answer! What am I doing here? Why do I want to go to school? At my age? Knowing full well that there are a thousand reasons for its being utterly impractical? Why?

Hey, lady. Turn around. Go ahead. Ask me again.

(She's so nasty - acts like I just interrupted someone far far out of my league.)

Why do you want to be in school? She asks me again. Right on cue.

This time I don't falter.

Because I can. That's why. There are people who can sing, and there are people who can weld, or sew, or garden, or do accounting, or paint. When these people are women who've reached middle age, and found that their world is settled enough to bear the weight of building a broader, deeper, higher life, then those are the people who can do it. They should do it. Because they can. I want to go to school and get that degree from that school because I can.

She dropped the class. Now maybe I can get on with it.


The It's Its There Their They're Quiz

1. Go to this quiz.
2. If you don't get them all right, do it again.
3. Repeat #2 until you get them all correctly answered.
4. Seriously.
5. I mean it.

You Scored an A

You got 10/10 questions correct.

It's pretty obvious that you don't make basic grammatical errors.

If anything, you're annoyed when people make simple mistakes on their blogs.

As far as people with bad grammar go, you know they're only human.

And it's humanity and its current condition that truly disturb you sometimes.


I love Lent ... really ... no, seriously ... I mean it

I love being a parent. I always loved it. Even in the middle of the night when babies wake up. Honest.

And I love Lent. No - I do - really. Even in the middle of the thing, when the one thing I'm looking for is rest, and the thousand things that still need to be done aren't going to wait.

I chose parenthood.

And I choose Lent.

And if someone figures out how to make MORE hours in a day ... no wait. I don't need more hours in each day. I need two or three extra days each week for the next couple of weeks. Well, if you figure out how to make that happen, tell me.

I choose Lent.

And I choose to be who I am in the progression of duties at our parish. This is a choice. (Self, are you listening to you?)

There is now the day when I am as likely to ask my girl soldier and the two young giants for help and support in the clinch as they are to ask me. That day is here. And there will come a day when my activities and duties and participations in parish life will be passed to a new generation. In the meantime, all I need to do is remember to keep in practice. Take rest when I can get it. Find peace and go in when the door is open. One day I'll stay in that place, where there is peace and prayer. But that day's not today. Today I have work to do. Today I have to pray with my hands.


Middle aged student

Does the title of this blog post make you cringe? It kind of does make me cringe. I recoil a bit. I mean ... you know the type, right?

She's that middle-aged housewife near the front of the room who doesn't seem to realize that the professor and all of the students would really really like to move on now. Her "questions" make it sound like she should have gotten a few volunteer jobs over the years - or gone for a walk or something. Maybe she should just invite the prof to lunch if she wants that kind of conversation. That middle-aged housewife student is a pain in the butt, and everyone knows it.

She sits in my head and taunts me every time I think about returning to school. I see her oddly too-young clothes mixed with her oddly too-old shoes (the ones that fasten with velcro), and I see the back of her head and the fact that it's obvious that she does her own color (but the cut's strictly mall-salon). I wonder what she saw when she looked in the mirror or if she ever listens to herself, and I feel solidarity with the students. And then she turns around and she's got my face. I do not like that woman.

And it's bad enough that she's there at all. Or that she's embarrassing herself so thoroughly. But what really gets to me is that when she turns around, and she's me after all, she has the annoying nerve to ask me, "Why are YOU here?"

Because I want a real degree, I bluster. Because my first degree was an exercise in uselessness. It wasn't even accredited. For four years I worked like stink, kept my head down, and tried not to be very noticed in that parallel universe called school. For four years I wore pantyhose in the sweaty gulf heat and made sure I didn't talk to boys in unchaperoned areas. For four years I didn't have the sense to transfer out of that place. I want a real degree now - the one I should've gotten then.

She doesn't even see to hear me. She's turning back to the prof now, and she's about to raise her hand. Oh, lord help us all. She's going to pose another question.

Wait. You don't understand. Listen. It's not just the degree.

She stops and looks at me again. Can the twit even hear me?

I really really want this. I want to go back to school worse than I've wanted anything in a long time. I want the subject matter. I want the grades. I want the challenge. The intellectual challenge.

She passes me a reading list. She's such a bitch! What an annoying woman! This is the recommended reading list for people who take this course! It's the list of stuff you should've read before you even get this far. She thinks she's so smart.

And she starts to turn back to the front again.

Why am I wasting my time talking to her?

I can't stop myself.

I know if I tell her the truth, she'll disappear, and all the students will look like real people, and the reality of what I'm proposing to do will be my context instead of this frustrating ongoing conversation with a woman who pretends to be deaf to my voice.

All right, fine.

Here's the deal, lady. No, no. Don't turn away from me. I'm going to return to school as soon as I can afford to. I'm going to do this because I want to, and I'm going to do this because my old degree isn't worth the paper it's printed on. I said, pay attention. Look me in the eye. Those other reasons are true. But they're not the real reason. The real reason is because the second half of my life is starting, and I want the second half of my life to be deeper and broader and higher and more full. I want to build on the foundation and base I've built. I want to write and to have things to write about. I want to learn and stretch and become something with greater powers of ... of ...


I almost did it. She started to fade there for awhile, but I can't think of the word. At least I shut her up for today. One of these days, though, I'm going to break through, and she's going to vanish. In her place will be online courses, and community college courses, and "prior learning" credits, and classes in the context of other adults who want what I want. Other adults who are at Marylhurst (I think that's where I'll find them, anyway) and in the same department, and discussing the ideas with various degrees of usefulness and uselessness, and that badly dressed chatty cathy in the second row will be permanently erased.


Cross my word, and I'll cross yours

You Are a Crossword Puzzle

You are well read, and you have a good head for remembering facts.

You are a wordsmith. You have a way with words, and you're very literate.

You are a mysterious person who enjoys dropping little clues every now and then.

The lessons of the broken tea set

When our daughter was a little girl, she got a darling china tea set as a gift. She loved it, and cuddled the little cups and saucers and tea pot, and poured water back and forth ... and eventually broke a few of the pieces.

Years later, I asked her if she remembered the tea set (she did, fondly), and if she remembered how it felt to break the pieces (she did, with sadness), and if she thought that I should've kept it for her until she got older.

She didn't.

Instead of agreeing with me, and saying that it was somehow my "fault" that the set had not survived intact, she said something that has stuck with me for the years since I asked her about it. She said she thought it was bad to raise children in a world where nothing can break. She thought that perhaps plastic cups and dishes and a "childproofed" house was a lie. When you drop breakable things, they ought to break. How else, she wondered, are you supposed to know you have any effect on the world?

Good point.

After that conversation I pretty much got over thinking that I should've made a grief-free childhood for her or her brothers. A childhood free of loss is indeed a lie. We don't take things from our children just to teach them a lesson or hurt them on purpose for their own good. We needn't. Life will do that. And then we can teach the children how to love, and lose, and grieve, and finally come to a place of gratitude for the gifts we have had.

That was the first lesson of the broken tea set.

The second lesson has begun to take shape in my head now. This newly forming lesson is something akin to not crying over spilt milk, but it's more than a mere philosophizing about water under the bridge, milk already on the floor, or cups already sporting chips or broken handles. It's more a matter now of discovering that there are parts of life meant to be breakable and losable, and parts meant to be permanent, and I am starting to think that the losable bits are supposed to be the lessons and the teachers, showing us what is Eternal.

All children go through that really frustrating phase where they need, need, need things to be the same. They can't get in the car if the carseat is in a different spot. Or, they can't eat without the happy plate. Or ... as one of ours used to tell us, they can't sleep at night if their "cubbahs no' wight" or their "jammies no' wight." (The covers, we figured out. Just remake the bed and straighten out the sheets and blankets, and the problem is fixed. We thought the jammies thing meant that his pajamas had gotten twisted around or something, but we never did really figure it out. It just caused us trouble every night for a long time.) During this phase, a broken tea set can cause waves and paroxysms and storms of grief - or a bewildered quivering chin.

I used to think this meant that we ought to do what we can to make sure we - as children - as humans - should avoid the whole situation. Shouldn't we give our kids unbreakable plastic and non-stainable fabric and easier jammies and covers on their beds? Shouldn't we all try to make sure that we stay away from situations that could cause a sense of loss? Try to preserve what we value? ... Keep our couches covered in plastic?


That argument can't sustain itself.

Apparently, some stuff is meant to be impermanent. It can't really be used - or loved - if we keep it too safe.

But why? What is it for? That's the question beginning to creep in at the edges of my brain. I'll take it as a given that God is good, that he made everything, and that he loves us. (I realize I've lost readers on that point, but that's my premise.) So ... if that premise is true, what are the losses and the impermanence for?

Well, I'm starting to think that they serve the same purpose as annual seasons - or the seasons of life's youth and aging. The things not permanent really do teach us to love. The little tiny girl did indeed love that tea set. I love every autumn and every winter and every spring and every summer. It is possible to know a kind of fleeting bliss in a perfect cup of coffee or glass of wine or melting dark chocolate. The night out when the beloved is admiring, and the clothes seem magical, and the stars look on with their icy song of approval - that's near perfection. The gift of a perfect moment - the beauty of it can shatter us.

But it never stays.

Is it a lie?

Are the impermanent things we love a lie? A cruel joke? A cosmic taunting?

I don't think so.

I think ... or ... I am starting to think ... that the impermanence of "mere things" is a repeated lesson. It's sung to us in the ever-changing choir of the constellations and it's whispered to us in dandelions. The coming of spring and the broken tea set can teach us - if we will learn - the only lesson there is for us to learn in this life.

Just as the giver of the tea set said, "I love you, little girl," so the thousands upon thousands of little gifts that come to us in every fleeting pleasure and box of roses on Valentine's Day all say the same thing. They all say "I love you."

God does not give us grief by taking things away. He does not say attachments are a lie.

He gives us attachments because Love is the Truth. We are supposed to be learning ... I am beginning to suspect ... we are supposed to be learning to look at the gifts and see tokens of Love.