Friday, April 24, 2009

If Only We Had 42 Cuticles

I have a feeling that the answer to all of life's riddles (I can hear someone spontaneously bursting out with a "42"! but you're wrong so keep reading) is somehow mysteriously imbued in the skin that acts as a picture frame for your fingernails. 

Also known as your cuticles.

How do I know this?  Well, let me enlighten you.

Start a difficult conversation. Get in a fight. Give someone a lecture. Watch a movie or play that asks tough questions. Sit in church and listen to a sermon. Now look around - how many people are studying their hand as if in art class, forming a sign language "a" except looser, or in extreme cases, inching that hand closer and closer to their mouth to surreptitiously gnaw on it?

They have discovered the secret: the answer to all of life's riddles is there, right in your cuticles. 

And somehow this answer can only be internalized only by intense staring, like basilisk eyes except not deadly, or by ingestion. That must be why we chew our cuticles and (in a misplaced and misinformed effort) our fingernails. 

It's sort of like the connection in Phillip Pullman's The Golden Compass between a child and his/her daemon (soul?). Affect one, you affect the other. Get rid of that dangling cuticle, and the guilt triggered by the words your pastor is reading will go away. Smooth that ragged edge of a nail, and your parents will be proud of you. Stare at the half moon shape long enough, and you will have worth. 

When you think about it that way, all the world needs is more manicures and pedicures. Turns out the folks at AIG had it right. It's all so simple, really.

Or is it?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Luckiest People in the World

*anyone catch the song in the title?

I'm coming to the conclusion that people are what make history interesting. 

In On Poetics, Aristotle claimed that a tragedy was made or broken by a great plot, and that characters were secondary and relatively unimportant. 

Don't get me wrong. Aristotle was a great guy. Very smart. Classic. But I'm not sure if I think comedy (where characters are central) should be a higher art form than tragedy, or if Aristotle was wrong, but I disagree with his conclusions on some level.

It's the quirks. The characters. The slightly irrational desire to mess with other people who think politics can be rational. The unpredictable ones. The oddballs. Even the megalomaniacs are fascinating. 

And words. The way people use them. The unintentionally profound. The intendedly profound that is actually mundane and stilted. The words that last. The words that don't. The unforeseen ironies. The ability of our lives to create stories in retrospect, with themes and refrains and foreshadowing and everything that makes great literature. It's genius.

I'm an English (former) major. I love history. It's all connected. 

I'm such a geek. :-P

Favorite quote of the day: "Outisde of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside a dog, it's too dark to read." -Groucho Marx

Friday, April 17, 2009

When Icebergs Sank My Computer

Today was another frustrating example of why cavemen never invented computers. They were close enough to the Ice Age to know they didn't need another one on a 12 x 15 screen. made sense in my head.

My computer was busily updating itself from approximately 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. I was attempting to work during that same approximate span of hours. The two goals did not mesh, and the computer's propensity for a frozen state slightly more solid than the iceberg that sank Titanic quickly became apparent.

In between stifling the angry curses that have little meaning in laptop language, I had a lot of time to think deep thoughts about the freezing in my own life.

When my computer feels overloaded, it first shows an hourglass. Then, if I add another process or ask it to scroll to the bottom of my Gmail Inbox, it moves to the next stage of angst, and the hourglass is replaced by a stubbornly partial screen with half of the page displaying on top of the one beneath it. It then rests - or twitches - in this state for an indefinite amount of time. 

Eventually, an error message appears on the screen with a picture of a very ugly computer wearing a scarf and surrounded by snowflakes. This program is not responding. (Thanks, Google Chrome, for telling me what I knew already.) 

Still, I sometimes yell at my computer, telling it to "show the error message already!" because even if nothing changes, at least it's acknowledging that something's wrong.

And yet, when the message appears, that actually means the computer is nearly unfrozen. You see, before, it was too frozen even to put up the message (which also takes processing speed and virtual memory). 

During one of the long delays before that stage, I realized that guilt and sin in my life are a little bit like the computer error message. 

Hiding guilt, sin, shame, is deeply unsatisfactory. So is pretending it doesn't exist. It's about as obvious as the computer screen that displays half of a Gmail Inbox and half of a MS Word document at the same time, in whiteout. Even if nothing changes at first, I have a deep desire to say the guilt and shame out loud, just to acknowledge that it is real.

And sometimes - not always - that acknowledgement is the foundation of healing. It means that my heart has unfrozen sufficiently to display the error message, and maybe, soon, it will have enough RAM to get past the problem and scroll down to the bottom of the Gmail Inbox. 

Or something like that. 

Monday, April 13, 2009

Because there are already too many to hate

April 15th. It's a big day. The post office will be jammed with last-minute tax filers; tax preparers' hands will be cramping from signing so many papers; Walmart's quarterly income will skyrocket from purchases of TurboTax; and the federal government will get ready to--oh wait, they already did.

If you're applying to college or graduate school, April 15th is the day of reckoning. Decisions. The beginning of the end for those on the waiting list. The beginning of pennilessness for those who were accepted (and there were a lot of 'n's in that sentence, so you'd better believe there will be no pennies left, because each one needs two 'n's, and I think the daily ration is on its way to empty).

There's a lot to hate about April 15th. But I mean really. It's just a day. It's just a little 2x2 square on a calendar, and it can't help that it was chosen. It's as innocent as a textbook, and you know how many of those get burned about this time every year. 

So let's stop hating and start sharing some love. With no further ado, please enjoy:

10 Things to Love About April 15th

10. Six letters: R-E-F-U-N-D. I wish. 

9. It's the only time of year when re-gifting is considered not only appropriate but a cause for celebration. At least when the government does it.

8. It singlehandedly validates all those years public school kids spend learning how to properly fill in the bubbles on a piece of paper. It should be a college major, but people have been ignoring that key skill for years. No longer. Where else can you face so much trouble for filling in the '0' instead of the '9'?

7. New Year's Resolution: I want to stop worrying about money so much. April 15th philosophy: The less of something you have, the less you have to worry about, right?

6. Because you'll be waiting in line for 3 hours if you venture into the post office to mail your return, look at it as a great time to meet all the people in your community whom you've never seen. AND you have a ready-made conversation topic. Then, when you bump into them in the grocery store on a normal day, you'll be amazed how friendly and happy they are.

5. Let's face it: somewhere in the corporate world, someone desperately needs a manicure and a facial on a cruise. As you watch your tax check disappear into the mail slot, you should feel deep in your core the great good that money will be doing. The National Organization of Smooth-skinned Executives (NOSE) might even send you a medal one of these days.

4. Finding loopholes. It's a job. AND it keeps in business the people who sell specially coated pieces of string in rainbow colors for $9.99 plus tax, because children have to practice Cat's Cradle and Jacob's Ladder when they're young or they'll never learn to find the best loopholes on their 1040. 

3. The "I will not attend" card you are sending--with much agony--to a college or graduate school will be recycled into a "just kidding, we want you after all, so drop all those alternate plans you made and give us your money" card for some poor soul on the waiting list.

2. This is your big chance to see what it feels to send a rejection letter. Recognizing that it feels frightening and ominous and devastating-like-giving-away-your-third-child, take satisfaction in knowing that all the schools that rejected you had to suffer the same pain. Maybe? Just a little? Pretty please?

1. This day marks the greatest possible length of time remaining before April 15th will come around again. 

Now that's something to celebrate!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Seven Stanzas at Easter

I love this poem. We read it every year at my church for Easter.

Seven Stanzas at Easter
-John Updike

Make no mistake: if he rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cell’s dissolution did not reverse, the molecule reknit,
the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled eyes of the
eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh; ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes
the same valved heart
that — pierced — died, withered, paused, and then regathered
out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence,
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded
credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow grinding of
time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair, opaque in
the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are embarrassed
by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

From one Vagrant to another

**UPDATE 4/10/09: Full review now available here.**


Sometimes I have a hard time seeing myself as I really am. 

This week, I'm reading a new book (March 09) called The Vagrants by Yiyun Li. It's a beautifully written novel set in China circa the Cultural Revolution, about a motley group of characters whose lives are changed by the execution of one young counterrevolutionary. 

It's a hard book to read in places, because it deals bluntly with ugly humans and some cringe-inducing things. But it's incredibly moving as well. 

I'll probably write a full review of it when I'm finished, so stay tuned, but in the meantime, I was struck by a passage that pointed me again to the way I relate to God--as if I'm perpetually broken, only daydreaming of being loved. 

Nini is a cripple, a burden to her parents, born that way after her mother was savagely beaten while pregnant. The parents of the attacker once showed compassion for Nini and took her into their house, but no more. Now their daughter is dead, and everything has changed.

The wish had become a dream that sometimes lasted for hours or days, in which Nini pictured herself living with the Gus. Misunderstandings would occur [...] But they would never speak a harsh word or cast a look of suspicion at her; they knew she was innocent [...] but the mere thought of disappointing Teacher Gu and Mrs. Gu drove Nini to tears. She would pinch herself or bite herself on the useless part of her body [...] sooner or later they would discover the marks and bruises on her body, and this would hurt their hearts more than it had hurt her body. [...] Nini would push them away and pinch and bite herself harder because she was not worthy of their love. Didn't they know that she was so ugly she would rather die [...] 

I do that so well. Push people away. Push God away. Believe the world's description of me, not His. But the story continues, even in this daydream world: 

The moment would come when, in gentle yet firm words, Mrs. Gu and Teacher Gu would forbid her to hurt herself again. She was not ugly at all, they would tell her, embracing her when she did not resist. They loved her, they would say, and in their eyes she was as precious as a jewel. She would not believe their words, but they would tell her again and again, until she softened and cried.

Isn't it beautiful? 

Unfortunately, this is only about a third of the way into the book, so the daydream ends, and the raw pain of scarred and ugly humans takes over again. But it's a great reminder that on a cosmic scale, the end is already written. 

Read the book. Tell me what you think! More to come when I finish it...

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

T-minus 7 days

God's timing is not my timing. God's timing is not my timing.

God, have you noticed that there is less than a week before I need to send in the freakin' decision??!!!

Sorry. Out of line. 
(snatches hand back that was about to reclaim the decision).

God's timing is not my timing. God's timing is not my timing.

A neon sign would still be okay. Just sayin'.

Monday, April 6, 2009

T minus 9 days

Sometimes I wish God dealt in neon signs...

Saturday, April 4, 2009

And the Countdown Begins...

I'm back from Boston - GREAT visit, but didn't make my decision any easier. 

T minus 12 days. Let the countdown begin...
  • Sat., April 4 - Create a list of things to consider before making decision.
  • Sun., April 5 - Create lengthy pro/con lists. Keep adding points to balance them out. Running out of paper. Guiness book of world records for longest pro/con list, anyone?
  • Mon., April 6 - Try to focus on work and forget decision must be made. Posting a poll on Facebook during lunch break. 
  • Tues., April 7 - Who makes decisions based on Facebook polls? Blogger would be much more reliable.
  • Wed., April 8 - Begin throwing darts at a map of the U.S. Desist after hitting the cat.
  • Thurs., April 9 - Critique the websites of each school. Visualize my face in the pictures.
  • Fri., April 10 - Picture my life 30 years from now and channel Robert Frost's poetry.
  • Sat., April 11 - Drat. So much for deciding before the last minute. Now comparing sports team records from each school over the last 20 years.
  • Sun., April 12 - This is it. Just do it. Hey, I wonder if I could work for Nike instead?
  • Mon., April 13 - Back to the pro/con lists. Realizing hatred of imbalance sort of defeats the purpose.
  • Tues., April 14 - Coin flip time.
  • Wed., April 15 - That coin was weighted?????  WHO'S BEEN TAMPERING WITH MY FUTURE??!!

In all seriousness, my first instinct is to plan and create checklists and pro-con lists and seek advice and take polls and, in a word, act. In another word, control. 

But what I'm learning, with the help of some very wise and honest friends, is that maybe part of this process is learning to let go. To seek God and His will, rather than seeking my rationality and my desires and then doubting both. 

I'll be honest, I don't know what that looks like. It is involved, but not independently active. Waiting is not my strong suit. But I will be trying to figure it out between now and April 15th. So here's to the countdown!