eats stones and leaves

After Elaine prayed for me, there was a bit of a pause. I wasn’t sure whether she would start up again or if she expected me to pray, or if it was just over. She smiled before opening her eyes and saying, “I just got a picture.” The first of several visions Elaine shared with me that night. “I saw water… just… little fountains of water starting to shoot up—not to full height yet, but… does that mean anything to you?” It meant nothing to me. Thinking that she would be expecting something relatively deep, I made a conscious effort to leave my face unchanged as I started formulating some good old fashioned English Major bullshit about water (one of our most fertile symbols). “If it doesn’t mean anything, that’s alright.” My God, she can read me. “I just thought I’d ask…”

“I see the shoots of water as new things God is opening up for you. They’re just starting, but they’re there.”

I told her I’d look  for the little shoots of water. She laughed quietly and said, “Ok.”

—-

Less than ten years ago my father rented a high pressure water gun, the kind used to blast paint off of outdoor surfaces. We were in the front yard, but he needed to get something inside so he handed me the gun, saying, “Don’t touch the water. It could tear your finger off.” I touched the water, just grazed it with my finger. It hurt, but my finger remained attached. Triumph. I later asked my mother for help with the large blister that developed.

—–

Having finished J. K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy a few hours earlier in Heathrow, I pulled Stoner by John Williams out of my book-crammed backpack. It was a book whose cover caught my attention at Waterstones and Blackwell, two booksellers in Oxford. The cover of the new Vintage Classics edition being sold has three books stacked on top of one another. The blurbs on the back say things like ‘Stoner is a perfect novel,’ ‘A terrific novel of echoing sadness,’ and ‘democratic in how it breaks the heart… It is a triumph of literary endeavor.’ The brief synopsis says it is about William Stoner, who goes to the University of Missouri in 1910 to study agriculture but becomes a teacher instead, marries the wrong woman, leads a quiet life, and is rarely remembered after his death. In the past I read A Separate Peace and, more recently, Brideshead Revisited—both wartime novels involving university students. I loved Brideshead and liked A Separate Peace well enough, so I bought Stoner. By the time my flight touched down in Atlanta I had finished the book’s 288 pages. It was, as a dear professor of mine would say, “dreamy prose.”

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Scotland, For I [Part II]

I may not know much about alcohol, but I do know that morning drinking on the train from Edinburgh to Aberdeen will get you a few odd looks—although probably not as many as you’d expect most other places. The man with the food cart came down the aisle at ten fifteen and asked if I wanted anything. “What beer d’ya have?” I asked him. He looked at his watch with a little concern before hesitantly naming a few labels. I’d never had any of them before, so I employed a tactic that I’ve mastered recently. “Foster’s, please,” I said, nearly cutting him off. I may not know much about alcohol, but other people don’t need to know that, so I play connoisseur as well as the next American twenty-year-old.

“Shake It Out” by Florence & the Machine came onto my iPod and I enjoyed a few moments of victory before the train filled up with Scots. A surly young woman sat next to me. “Don’t judge me,” I told her. “I’ve never drunk on a train before and I wanted my first time to be in Scotland. I swear this isn’t sad.” “No, seems reasonable,” she muttered. I put my earbuds back in.

I wrote in my journal a lot on these train rides. An excerpt written while flying past little Scottish towns:

The steeples on the churches here are dark and bleak. If the Christopher Wrens in London inspire awe and wonder and glory, those here seem to say that there is hard, unglamorous work to do before we can get to where they’re pointing. Protestant work ethic and whatnot.”

The next nine pages of my journal are spent on the metaphor of Christ and his Bride. After that, two pages of quotes from Christian Wiman’s My Bright Abyss, including the following:

Faith cannot save you from the claims of reason, except insofar as it preserves and protects that wonderful, terrible time when reason, if only for a moment, lost its claim on you.” (7)

On falling in love with his wife:

…it was human love that reawakened divine love. Put another way, it was pure contingency that caught fire in our lives, and it was Christ whom we found—together, and his presence dependent upon our being together—burning there.” (22-23)

I didn’t understand the brogue of the taxi driver who took me from the train station in Elgin to Pluscarden Abbey, the home of the Benedictine community I was to stay with for the week. I did, however, understand the posh and articulate to the point of theatrical Oxbridge accent of the man who greeted me upon arrival—a young visiting dom, ranked somewhere between priest and monk. “Oh, you’re an Oxford man. Oh, so sorry. I’m a Cambridge man of course, which, as I’m sure you know, is better than Oxford for most things. What college? Wycliffe Hall? OH, so so sorry.” I was surprised and smugly pleased to learn a few days later that the dom was, in fact, a mere New Yorker born and bred who did his undergrad at Cambridge, changed his voice, converted from Episcopalianism, and joined an order.

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these dated words

I finished reading For the Time Being by Annie Dillard. In the “Author’s Note” preceding the text Dillard lists some questions that the book contemplates. “Does God cause natural calamity? What might be the relationship of the Absolute to a lost schoolgirl in a plaid skirt? Given things as they are, how shall one individual live?” The prose is split under recurring headings: birth, sand, China, clouds, numbers, Israel, encounters, thinker, evil, and now. Each heading carries different narratives that are picked up, dropped off, and later revisited. Further into the book the narratives blur, tiptoeing into each other’s headings.

While all of the themes and characters Dillard writes about are captivating and well worth further study—birth defects, the paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin, quantifying human mortality, interactions with strangers, Baal Shem Tov, etc.—something that stayed with me from its first occurrence in the first chapter was Dillard’s writing on clouds, found on page 20. The “clouds” section of each chapter is typically the shortest. In each section Dillard unearths someone’s observations of clouds, noting that interest in the big white fluffy things in the sky is fairly universal. She draws on the writings and drawings of clouds by John Constable, “one oblique bluish cloud riding high and messy over a wan sun;” John Muir, “‘a solitary white mountain… enriched with sunshine and shade;'” Gerard Manley Hopkins, “‘One great stack in particular over Pendle was knoppled all over in fine snowy tufts and pencilled with bloom-shadow;'” Jorge Borges’ character Ireneo Funes, who “could compare the clouds’ shapes to a pattern in marbled endpapers;” Athenian men and women in January of 1942, when the United States entered Athens, “‘an undercloud, floating like a detached lining;'” biologist Archie Carr, “‘little round wind clouds’ … and ‘towering pearly land clouds;'” the Baltimore News-American, “‘a cloud of sand blown thousands of miles westward from the Sahara;'” and painter Jacqueline Gourevitch, who “drew in graphite seven clouds above Middleton, Connecticut. The largest cloud tumbled out of rank.” We like to look at clouds. Sometimes we like to paint them, find animals in them, or write about them. But why? Continue reading

chrysalis paper

It is wintertime. Although the earth is frozen and seemingly barren, curious little cultivators plant unseen seeds with knit-mittened hands. Snowmen and angels, nurtured by innocent fingers, rise from the ground like annual flowers beneath a sunless sky. After day-long outside labor, the children retire to kitchens and hearths to remember the warmth of their own forming, the wombs in which they were once knit.

There is a house on Porter St. where a child is engulfed by blankets in the warmth of a hearth—the heart that pumps life into the ice-encrusted brick and mortar of the New England home. It is a boy, towheaded and drowsy. The blanket is an old brown and white afghan given to his parents on their wedding day some fifteen years ago. In his hands is a book. It could be the Chronicles of NarniaD’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Mythsthe Hobbit, or a collection of Calvin and Hobbes comics.  He reads and collects memories, as the stories of hobbits, Olympians, a stuffed tiger, and a great lion become indistinguishable from his own.

eating… what exactly?

Anti-Spoiler Alert: This post does not contain any gross stories.  Nor is it trying to prove a point by jabbing fingers.  It’s just a tease, really.  Ready?

Aaaaaaaaaaand… GO.

I am halfway through “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer.

A good friend gave me his first novel, Everything is Illuminated, which I devoured winter quarter of last year.  And I bought and read his second, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, earlier this summer.  I blew through it as if maybe the next page is hiding a twenty.  No?  Surely, this one!  No?  The next?  Of course, there wasn’t any money hiding in the book.  But reading a good book is like slowly accumulating a vast fortune.  Once you have finished reading it, you can give all of the money away and magically retain it at the same time.  Foer’s first two books are breathtaking and unsettling.  Unsettling, as the topics are respectively the Holocaust and September 11.  A good artist finds beauty in tragedy and meaning in the meaningless.  Foer does this while demonstrating an acute eye for detail and the drive to change how readers expect words to appear on paper.

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pages and pages and pages and pages

Last summer I plowed through a good number of books.  Now, I don’t remember what those books were, but believe you me, there were a lot of them.  And that’s what counts, yeah?

…nooooo

This summer I wanted to do the same thing, but remember what they are this time.  I started out with a focus on modern fiction because I’ll be taking some fiction courses at SPU next year.  Also I want to write better, so I’m hoping that something will rub off on me!

The list so far:
Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

Also:
bird by bird by Anne Lamott
Grace (Eventually) by Anne Lamott- audio book
The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis- FINALLY
The Poets Laureate Anthology
assorted poetry by Billy Collins and Tomas Tranströmer
assorted short stories by Flannery O’Connor, Ernest Hemingway, Breece D’J Pancake, &Steven Millhauser
and driving back and forth to work I’m listening to Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Maybe I’ll post some specific thoughts on some of these, if I think I have anything valuable to say.

If you are reading this, who are your favorite poets and authors of short stories?