April 11, 2014 § 1 Comment
My senior thesis was 11,672 words. These post-thesis days have me pretty emotional, and yet still full of words to share about the whole process. Know this: I write not to applaud myself, but because the thesis I finished yesterday taught me more about being human… so I must share why.
I could start by trying to capture my love for the writer/novelist/farmer Wendell Berry, recalling his first novel I read or telling the story of when I first read some of his poetry, but I won’t.
Because my love for Wendell Berry started when I first read his work, but the life-changing didn’t start until I was sitting in Lit. Theory class sometime in September or October. That was when I made a mental decision to write my senior thesis on his novel A Place on Earth. It was in the same course that I learned about the brilliant theorist/philosopher named Michel Foucault; a theory so remarkably dense that it’s taken me 6 months of studying it to even slightly comprehend a singular aspect. Another day in this class, after a lecture on the postmodern derogation of autonomy, I had a surge of inspiration. I frantically scribbled half a page of thoughts and all but ran to my professor after class and explained my idea: This novel I had chosen (pretty much at random and without reading the whole thing) was a perfect response to Foucault’s theory — the perfect marriage, every scholar’s dream.
20 books later I had a 23 page annotated bibliography, ready to write.
And now, I stand on the other side of a fully-completed 32 page thesis. Completely drained, but completely full at the same time.
Yesterday, one of my friends described this project as an “exhausting privilege,” and I think those words articulate it perfectly. Aside from being completely enamored with Wendell Berry, his vision, lifestyle, and writing, the process of writing and everything I learned about the world we live in was truly life-changing and really, a gift.
I learned about the beauty of conforming our bodies to the naturalness of creation.
I learned about the amnesia that comes when we sever that connection.
I learned about the ways in which postmodern constructs gave us false-expectations.
I learned that when those expectations were not met, the disparity it brought- most unknowingly.
I learned that theorists with completely different views than I can completely humble you when they are right.
I learned that I cannot listen to mainstream music after studying postmodernism all day.
I learned that I also cannot function with adequate social skills after studying postmodern theory all day…
I learned that adhering to a philosophy with no Grand Narrative, in denial of a Transcendent Signified leaves you in a void.
I learned that this void doesn’t have to be your permanent dwelling place, but neither do other voids (of distraction/consumerism/media/technology/etc)
I learned that human beings are not representations, and that power structures may frame you, but they don’t define you.
I learned that to be fully human, or a little more human requires firsthand experiences; touch things, work with your hands, do something outdoors, smell fresh-baked bread, listen listen listen and listen some more.
I learned about ecocriticism and hegemonic discourse and ontology and empirical knowledge and archaeological quests for knowledge.
I learned a lot about meaninglessness as a conclusion.
But I learned a lot about hope, centeredness, a Foundation, a Real, purpose for human existence, peace, and rest.
I learned that everything I’ve been shown adds to the brick-laying, to build upon the foundation that stands.
And I learned that this is a Truth that is a light.
And in the throws of it all, I learned everything that they’ll tell you you’re supposed to learn when you do hard things. Patience, perseverance, permitting yourself to have lots of breakdowns under your desk locked in your research carrel (maybe that was an extra?). I also learned how small acts of kindness can go a very, very long way — like notes and drawings dropped on your head (literally), the comfort of hearing your carrel-neighbor-friend typing away next to you, tutors who give fabulous advice, and tutors who let you go over your allotted time because you’re laughing too hard to be productive during your appointment, friends who spontaneously buy you coffee, professors who make you bags of snacks the day before the due date, professors who pray for you, professors who give you all the pep-talks you could ever need, I could go on and on. I believe stress can bring communities together, and I have been both thrilled and humbled at the burst of community that came around me as I wrote.
I think its best to end with some words that now have more power and depth after walking into the throws of despair, peering into meaningless, and uncovering a hopeful reality in spite of a plauged, dark reality (I of course am referring to the theory I studied and the literary analysis that helped me conjure a hopeful counter-argument). In short, I studied how Michel Foucault thinks we have “decentered selves,” and discussed through his novel how Wendell Berry articulates a foundation to find purpose and a “center.”
and, I learned that I KNOW that I have a strong Foundation amidst it all – stress, theories, meaninglessness. Not only that, I learned and continue to learn that knowledge is a weighty responsibility, but always teaches you more about a story to be shared that can point others to the Foundation, the hope we have. These are the words I have to say about writing so many words, and here are the words that spurred me to remember why I got to do what I did:
When the night comes,
and you don’t know which way to go
Through the shadowlands,
and forgotten paths,
you will find a road
Like an owl you must fly by moonlight with an open eye,
And use your instinct as a guide, to navigate the ways that lays before you,
You were born to, take the greatest flight
Like a serpent and a dove, you will have wisdom born of love
To carry visions from above into the places no man dares to follow
Every hollow in the dark of night
Waiting for the light
Take the flame tonight
Child the time has come for you to go
You will never be alone
Every dream that you have been shown
Will be like living stone
Building you into a home
A shelter from the storm
Like a messenger of peace, the beauty waits be released
Upon the sacred path you keep, leading deeper into the unveiling
As your sailing, across the great divide
Like a wolf at midnight howls, you use your voice in darkest hours
To break the silence and the power, holding back the others from their glory
Every story will be written soon
The blood is on the moon
Morning will come soon
Child the time has come for you to go
You will never be alone
Every dream that you have been shown
Will be like living stone
Building you into a home
A shelter from the storm
–White Owl, Josh Garrels
April 4, 2014 § Leave a comment
April is our Ebenezer.
Each time i reflect on the month behind and look forward to the month ahead I almost always say to myself, “I never thought I’d be here!” And God is gracious and I carry that sense of wonder with me into the initial days of a brand new month. New months are always fresh starts, opportunities to flip the calender and step ahead recollecting the Lord’s faithfulness either from the happenings of the last month or the circumstances where I stood this time a year ago. What is different about this month’s welcome is what I’m not saying to myself… because on April fourth, two thousand and thirteen, THAT’S when I was saying, “I never. ever. ever. ever thought I’d be here.” And at the same time, I was saying “yes” to a boy who would blaze a trail through my heart and soul. I was saying yes to uncharted lands, but I knew they would hold hard days like today. Days when I knew what senior project I would be finishing, and days when I knew I would be overwhelmed with the collision of joy and sadness at graduation’s closeness. Though we never know the plans God imagines for us, this day a year ago I certainly hoped Andrew would somehow be a part of these days. We both knew we would be far away from each other, our roads leading us in different places. Saying “yes” to him meant saying yes to a lot of unknowns and a lot of distance, a lot of short weekend visits and a lot of skype, a lot of days spent wishing he still lived in the green house around the corner from mine. Saying yes to the start of a new beginning at the start of a new month was simply saying “yes” to faith. I’m looking back on this year and I’m glad of this: that we don’t ever have to choose our circumstances. I certainly wouldn’t choose to spend our first year anniversary thousands of miles apart. Though this is the farthest geographic distance we’ve ever faced – him in Colorado while I’m in Ohio – surely this is an Ebenezer we may raise. Because surely, this is God’s best. Andrew is following God’s voice now to Colorado and soon to Guam. Where God’s voice is beckoning me is still unknown, but we are following the Pillar of Fire, and being sure of God’s will is a stronger bond than geographic closeness. More hopeful and joy-filled than celebrating our first year of dating in person, because we have a third chord that bridges the distance and upholds us when the chasm feels wide. There’s not much I can say about the past year other than I can be a really selfish girlfriend, and it has been really hard. But, really good. Because God simply asks every day of this year: Will you keep your eyes on me? Are you willing? And we keep saying yes.
Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person; having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but to pour them all out, just as they are, chaff and grain together, knowing that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then, with a breath, blow the rest away. –George Eliot
Cheers to year number 1! It “ain’t nothing but a thang” as Andrew would say, but this sentimental heart loves celebrating milestones — this one is ALL about God’s faithfulness and grace!
*Thanks to Andrew Peterson’s “World Traveler” song for inspiring our journey, and a few words in this post;)
November 6, 2013 § Leave a comment
sometimes it’s good to turn around from the rigidity of schedules. sometimes it’s good to break from routine.
sometimes it’s necessary.
this weekend was weighty with sorrow and the heaviness of fellow-feeling the burdens of beloved suffering friends. yesterday the week began and I already felt defeated. so tonight, i dropped my pen and shut my notebook and ran outside, my messy mangled hair streaming behind me as i tried to chase the sunset. it’s pink glowing beams were peeking through my kitchen window as i’ve been trying to write the past few hours, not allowing myself to sit and watch the beauty sinking behind the trees. finally, i threw momentary discipline out the window and had to run after it. I didn’t catch any amazing photos, because by the time I grabbed my coat and turned off my kitchen lights (saving energy!) and got to a clearing where the trees open to clear sky, the pink turned red streaks were just sinking from the sky, giving way to night. still, i laughed at the thought of my hammering feet as i ran down the sidewalk and my cup of tea growing cold at my kitchen table. i only missed about 9 minutes of writing time, but I had gained so much: a fresh complexion from the evening chill on my cheeks, laughter at the spectacle I must have just made of myself to the cars and runners passing by me, but peace and refreshing in my mind and heart.
as i chased the sunset, the verse from this famous hymn was running through my mind:
summer and winter and springtime and harvest/
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above,/
Join with all nature in manifold witness/
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.
and when I walked back home, smiling at the sound of crunching golden leaves under my feet, I thought:
Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.
Daily He wins the battle for us, and both during and afterward… we get to sing with all nature in manifold witness!
so friends, every so often, permit yourself to draw blank the schedule, break from the stacks of papers, look away from the tapping cursor on your computer screen. swing wide the door and run towards the Lord Sabaoth, the Lord of the Harvest. allow breaks from rigid routine that allow for your wondering heart to be filled with His goodness. chase the radiant red sunsets, tread the carpets of golden leaves, refresh lungs with the brisk November winds. His gifts are soul-reviving and heart-sustaining.
love, and sing, and wonder.
October 29, 2013 § Leave a comment
You should date an illiterate girl.
Date a girl who doesn’t read. Find her in the weary squalor of a Midwestern bar. Find her in the smoke, drunken sweat, and varicolored light of an upscale nightclub. Wherever you find her, find her smiling. Make sure that it lingers when the people that are talking to her look away. Engage her with unsentimental trivialities. Use pick-up lines and laugh inwardly. Take her outside when the night overstays its welcome. Ignore the palpable weight of fatigue. Kiss her in the rain under the weak glow of a streetlamp because you’ve seen it in a film. Remark at its lack of significance. Take her to your apartment. Dispatch with making love. Fuck her.
Let the anxious contract you’ve unwittingly written evolve slowly and uncomfortably into a relationship. Find shared interests and common ground like sushi and folk music. Build an impenetrable bastion upon that ground. Make it sacred. Retreat into it every time the air gets stale or the evenings too long. Talk about nothing of significance. Do little thinking. Let the months pass unnoticed. Ask her to move in. Let her decorate. Get into fights about inconsequential things like how the fucking shower curtain needs to be closed so that it doesn’t fucking collect mold. Let a year pass unnoticed. Begin to notice.
Figure that you should probably get married because you will have wasted a lot of time otherwise. Take her to dinner on the forty-fifth floor at a restaurant far beyond your means. Make sure there is a beautiful view of the city. Sheepishly ask a waiter to bring her a glass of champagne with a modest ring in it. When she notices, propose to her with all of the enthusiasm and sincerity you can muster. Do not be overly concerned if you feel your heart leap through a pane of sheet glass. For that matter, do not be overly concerned if you cannot feel it at all. If there is applause, let it stagnate. If she cries, smile as if you’ve never been happier. If she doesn’t, smile all the same.
Let the years pass unnoticed. Get a career, not a job. Buy a house. Have two striking children. Try to raise them well. Fail frequently. Lapse into a bored indifference. Lapse into an indifferent sadness. Have a mid-life crisis. Grow old. Wonder at your lack of achievement. Feel sometimes contented, but mostly vacant and ethereal. Feel, during walks, as if you might never return or as if you might blow away on the wind. Contract a terminal illness. Die, but only after you observe that the girl who didn’t read never made your heart oscillate with any significant passion, that no one will write the story of your lives, and that she will die, too, with only a mild and tempered regret that nothing ever came of her capacity to love.
Do those things, god damnit, because nothing sucks worse than a girl who reads. Do it, I say, because a life in purgatory is better than a life in hell. Do it, because a girl who reads possesses a vocabulary that can describe that amorphous discontent of a life unfulfilled—a vocabulary that parses the innate beauty of the world and makes it an accessible necessity instead of an alien wonder. A girl who reads lays claim to a vocabulary that distinguishes between the specious and soulless rhetoric of someone who cannot love her, and the inarticulate desperation of someone who loves her too much. A vocabulary, goddamnit, that makes my vacuous sophistry a cheap trick.
Do it, because a girl who reads understands syntax. Literature has taught her that moments of tenderness come in sporadic but knowable intervals. A girl who reads knows that life is not planar; she knows, and rightly demands, that the ebb comes along with the flow of disappointment. A girl who has read up on her syntax senses the irregular pauses—the hesitation of breath—endemic to a lie. A girl who reads perceives the difference between a parenthetical moment of anger and the entrenched habits of someone whose bitter cynicism will run on, run on well past any point of reason, or purpose, run on far after she has packed a suitcase and said a reluctant goodbye and she has decided that I am an ellipsis and not a period and run on and run on. Syntax that knows the rhythm and cadence of a life well lived.
Date a girl who doesn’t read because the girl who reads knows the importance of plot. She can trace out the demarcations of a prologue and the sharp ridges of a climax. She feels them in her skin. The girl who reads will be patient with an intermission and expedite a denouement. But of all things, the girl who reads knows most the ineluctable significance of an end. She is comfortable with them. She has bid farewell to a thousand heroes with only a twinge of sadness.
Don’t date a girl who reads because girls who read are storytellers. You with the Joyce, you with the Nabokov, you with the Woolf. You there in the library, on the platform of the metro, you in the corner of the café, you in the window of your room. You, who make my life so goddamned difficult. The girl who reads has spun out the account of her life and it is bursting with meaning. She insists that her narratives are rich, her supporting cast colorful, and her typeface bold. You, the girl who reads, make me want to be everything that I am not. But I am weak and I will fail you, because you have dreamed, properly, of someone who is better than I am. You will not accept the life of which I spoke at the beginning of this piece. You will accept nothing less than passion, and perfection, and a life worthy of being told. So out with you, girl who reads. Take the next southbound train and take your Hemingway with you. Or, perhaps, stay and save my life.
(posting this here because I read this last night and always want to stay inspired.)
October 28, 2013 § Leave a comment
As each weekend comes to a close, I begin to prepare for the week ahead. Swept floors, washed dishes, packed lunch, organized book bag. In smaller ways, I also prepare my mind and heart for the academic rigor ahead and all the challenges a new week will bring. Listing gratefulness in my thankful journal, reflecting on the past week and praying through a few Psalms before bed. I also prepare myself in some small ways… Being a lover of words, one of my weekly preparations are to find an inspiring few words and scribble them into my day planner. Throughout the week, then, I have some truths, some beauty, and some goodness that I can glance over and be motivated, inspired or encouraged by. It helps that the words are sitting there, on the shelf alongside all my daily tasks; the papers to write, the books to read. Last week was inspired by some Wendell Berry words: “We live the given life, not the planned” — an attempt to keep my forced and rigid schedule free enough to live in daily acceptance of what I have been given: each day as a gift, each hour precious. Ever living in and following the theme of gratitude, this week is inspired by Charles Spurgeon:
“Before you go out into the world, wash your face in the clear crystal of praise.
Bury each yesterday in the fine linen and spices of thankfulness.”
At this point in the semester, the amount, length and difficulty of each assignment seems to grow ever longer- and yet the hours in the day seem to grow ever shorter. Recalling to mind God’s goodness, counting gifts and cultivating thankfulness – this is the only task I have found that revitalizes my heart and soul so that my brain and body may continue to do what is required of me. Thankfulness is paradoxical: the task of bending my mind towards seeing and acknowledging God’s goodness is that; a task. It is difficult to stop in the middle of a fully-loaded schedule and churn circumstances into gratitude. Yet in counting graces I see there is even more beauty and goodness in life, through Christ. We have so much to gain in Him alone, and He continues to pour His many acts of goodness upon us! Let us look for the ten thousand joys that lie before us, going out into the world with crystal faces, wrapped in the fine linen and spices of thankfulness.
Love and sing and wonder, friends.
snapshots of gratitude, lately:
September 2, 2013 § Leave a comment
Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
The Mad Farmer Liberation Front