the summer of Write

I came to
I came to in the library,

where every book stared back at me,
like it was I who had disturbed them.

I did come to the library this afternoon, to work on this blog post which will be the most official thing that I’ve written since we’ve been in Indianapolis for a little over a week, aside from a few embarrassing poems (worse than that one up there for sure). By the way, the downtown library in Indianapolis is kind of amazing. It’s beautiful inside and out, just like books. 😉

I did intend to write about the first two books I’ve read since being here. I brought 16 (17? 20? Who cares?) books with me for the summer, with a tentative plan to read them all, and I’m probably not going to finish them all if I’m really serious about the writing goals I also want to reach, but I have TIME so much time, and that is not SO much better than having no time, but it is better.

The point is, I didn’t bring those two books with me (to this library this afternoon). I brought the one I’m still reading, which is worth writing about, but I haven’t finished it yet. So, I guess I’m just going to write a little bit about the books anyway because what else?

The first is called Tinkers, and it was written by Paul Harding. It caught my eye one day with a white cover and…well, I’ll include pictures at some point. It had a Pulitzer Prize circle on it and a quote from Marilynne Robinson. (Either one of those things by itself would have been enough.) It’s about a dying man (George) – a tinker, someone who mends “utensils”, slang in this case for horologist. (Lots about horology lately what with S-Town.)

It gets a little too real about what it might be like to have your family members awkwardly caring for you as you rest on your hospital bed in the living room and don’t move or have meaningful conversations about anything. It jumps into flashbacks that sometimes are not flashbacks from George’s memory just flashes from the past and sometimes flashes into the first-person perspective of his father as a young man. It’s jarring at first as some books are until you figure out how they’re going to come at you, but then it makes sense.

It’s a bit heartbreaking in offshoots about the cruelty of a mother who isn’t sure whether she loves her husband and children and the bitterness that comes out of fear and a heart that won’t communicate. It doesn’t ask you to fully sympathize with any particular character, and George seems to be more of an anchor to remind you where you stand in time than a real person you’re getting to know (possibly making some sort of statement about time *wink*). I got whiffs of profundity, whiffs of boredom. It’s the understanding of life that makes it profound, but is it the sense of reality that makes it meaningful? I think I found it more profoundly sad, and I don’t want my life to end up anything like it.

After that (though it was really short), I needed something I could digest quickly. I read Someday, Someday Maybe (not sure if there’s a second comma but meh), written by Lauren Graham. The Lauren Graham who wrote Talking as Fast as I Can and played Lorelai in Gilmore Girls and Sarah Braverman in Parenthood. She’s pretty great. This was indeed a novel (I thought you might ask). The book was devoured in two days in the way that those of you familiar with Sarah Dessen might recognize with a closed-mouth smile. It was sweet, insightful in a sense, and the story was predictable in a comforting way, like watching You’ve Got Mail for the 1000000th time.

I find that I don’t have a whole lot more to say, so maybe that’s it for today and we go for it with some harder-hitting real-life writing tomorrow?
I also just discovered a post that I saved a long time ago on here – seriously, it must have been at least three years ago – that reminded me once again that my past self has consistently been more mature than my present self. Does that sound like something to worry about? I feel like I was born a 30 year old, and so maybe now I am 55 and starting to forget things? haha jk but really

 

Recommendations: Well, yes I’d recommend the books…but only if they sound remotely good to you.
Also, Deb Talan’s new album, Lucky Girl (!)
Deb Talan is half of The Weepies, and she is the half whose solo music sounds like The Weepies. And she is wonderful. yes.

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every breath that comes before (with lots of parentheses)

It’s a crazy week. It has been a crazy week. It’s the end and the beginning of another one (so not really crazy just normal) and I don’t know if I’ll be able to pay attention. Life is a lot about paying attention. PAY ATTENTION is what I yell at other drivers. It’s what I mutter to myself as I hear news about the country. It’s what I think when I hear a question that has already been answered. I’m usually paying scrupulous attention to everything. Hyper-observant. Can’t stand it when I have to slow down a conversation for tedious explanations of what I think you should know. This is my presumption and arrogance, I know.

But sometimes I zone out. It’s when I get overwhelmed and I can’t engage anymore. My brain shuts off. It’s all or nothing. If I can’t pay full attention, I can’t even. And I’m at that point right now when I’m in danger of zoning out of life for a day or two, unless I write it out.

So many different waves crossing through my mind, which current to jump into? Are they the same river? Goodness gracious.
At least it isn’t dry anymore.

There’s a song by The Oh Hellos that begins, “No, I am not afraid to die / It’s every breath that comes before,” and that is pretty much my life. That’s my struggle. Fear is maybe my fatal flaw? It clouds everything I do, every interaction with other humans, every thought about the future, every idea about how I should live and what I should do with the living I’m given. I’m not afraid to die (generally), but I am afraid to live.

On Thursday night, my Intercultural City Ministry class visited the president of Latinos en Axion at one of the churches where the group meets. His story was incredible, from living on the U.S./Mexico border to escaping an endangered life there to helping immigrants from Latin American countries make a life here in the U.S. He has so many stories to tell, and many of them just made me feel a sense of hopelessness. But his attitude was one I’m coming to recognize. It shows up in people who have seen some of the darkest parts of life in this world, and it’s the sense of inexplicable hope and enduring joy that sustains their continued work for justice.

After visiting with him for awhile, we walked over to a coffee shop to talk more with our professor. He asked for our thoughts on the idea of being a “chaplain to the powerful,” a concept from one of the books we are reading. I’ve been around enough conversations with people doing work or ministry in different areas of social justice to know that someone will inevitably ask them the question, “What can I do? How can I get involved? What does that mean for me?” These are good questions that reflect a positive response and a desire to contribute. But sometimes they just reveal that we want to be told exactly what to do, rather than letting the ambiguity motivate us toward creative action. Anyway, when someone asked the director of Latinos en Axion a question along these lines, his response began with talk to other people in places of power, and talk to your representatives. This is a common response as well – go back to where you came from, and change people’s minds. Go talk to your family and see what they think, and tell them what you’ve discovered. Once you get woke, stay woke. Spread it around.

I talked later about how this idea of speaking truth to power is usually the last thing I want to hear in these scenarios. I see the people with their boots-on-the-ground and their passion and their relationships, and I think that seems amazing. I want to know how to get from where I am (A) to where they are (B). But what I keep hearing is that I have a responsibility to those people with less power, privilege, and opportunity, who suffer injustice and oppression. Those people I care so much about. If I really care, won’t I advocate for them with people I know hold harmful beliefs? Won’t I try to change some minds? What do I have privilege for?

The phrase the director repeated over and over that night was, “Every head is a different world.” Our minds are tricky and sly. They like to think for themselves and about themselves, and they’re stubborn. Our hearts can be softened, and we can learn to be sensitive toward one another as we come to understand each other. We might know the truth, but “every head is a different world,” and surely some people come to mind.

The following night, my group for the same class (which consists of me and a married couple in the program) went to do part of our project together. We went to the “feeding ministry” of the church we are working to get to know. It’s a meal-serving ministry to the community on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evenings. The church is an African American Baptist church with two locations in St. Louis. We met some lovely people, and afterward met with the director of a nonprofit that runs out of the church. This man (Rev. and probably Dr.) was a wealth of knowledge and stories. We barely got a question in edgewise in this “interview.” And we left after about two hours with a few answers and brains full of unknown names, places, and tendrils of stories trying to hang on to memory. (It was awesome.)

One of the most convicting and true things he said was…well, I’ll have to paraphrase: You’ll have to put yourself in harm’s way to help people. It’s going to happen. You cannot be afraid and help people at the same time.

((( You cannot be afraid and help people at the same time. )))

It just rang in my ears.

This Sunday morning (today), we were planning to visit the church. The service times are 8:00 and 11:00, and I needed to go early, but my partners were planning to go at 11:00, so I went by myself. My church background consists of going pretty much every Sunday of my life to a Presbyterian, Methodist, or Lutheran church with a primarily white congregation and pretty mellow-liturgical-everything. This was a primarily black church (mine was truly the only white face I saw) with a more responsive and active congregation. It was lovely, and everyone there was so kind. (I even have a privileged experience as a minority amongst people who probably know exactly what it feels like to be the only one with their skin in a sea of people and are often treated worse for it.) Digress, Emily.

Suffice it to say I’m a little relationally spent. All of my people energy is gone, and I’m not ready for the week.

My devotional book on the Psalms had me in numbers 42 and 43 this week – two of my absolute favorites, especially 42.

“Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” (42:5 & 11 and 43:5)

This back and forth is the turn that I have to force my heart to make every day. Yes, you get downcast and disturbed. But ask yourself why. You have almighty God, so you have hope, and you have a reason to be thankful every day. I’m not so good at this, which is why I need to hear it. What can I say to my soul in those downcast moments? How can I praise with a sense of true delight – not just out of the duty and imperative: praise him! It’s always a task to stop merely listening to the running monologue of my heart’s discouragement and to start speaking truth. You have to know the truth by heart to speak it on impact.

I breathe in (fear) I breathe out (downcast)
Quickly and my heart keeping time
You can’t help anyone let alone yourself
Hope in God hope in God why can’t you

I breathe in (truth) I breathe out (death)

I breathe in (hope) I breathe out (praise)

[Nod to national poetry month (I heard?), haven’t done that in at least a year, clearly.]
These instances, these conversations, and these thoughts are swirling and making me wonder what’s about to happen. There is a sense of impending decision, like maybe I’m on the cusp of figuring something out. But no epiphanies today.

See past the recommendations to listen to the Oh Hellos song.

Recommendations:
Ok, guys. Since I don’t blog super often, I’m making up for lost time here. 🙂

Podcast: “Missing Richard Simmons” (I’ve heard the whole thing, 6 episodes.) Yeah I know he’s fine and all that jazz, so if you’re cynical and think this podcast is stupid then I don’t want you to listen to it anyway. JK maybe you should give it a chance.
Podcast: “S-town” (I’ve only heard the first one, but I’ll be finishing it.)
(I listen to podcasts whenever I’m in the car now, because I’m in the car for about an hour a day. Makes it easy to burn through episodes.)
Album: Listen to the River, by The Collection (And their first album if you haven’t heard it!)
Book: The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic, by Emily Croy Barker (FIRST IN A SERIES which is very important information that I did not have at time of reading LOL)

exercising the muscles

Poetry is something I don’t even know if I’m good at. I enjoy it, and it generally helps me express creatively what I don’t think I can say in normal words. So here’s a poem for right now – for the moment and season I’m in.

clench rough teeth
worn down by
click jaw
tick jaw

blob tears dry
squeeze shut
flex heart
jelly heart

jerk this up
press it down
stack words
leak words

stuffing bursting
through lips
fingertips
expunge