Monday, January 31, 2005

From the Creative Archives

Long ago I wrote a series of warped little short stories, jotting them down on napkins or margins of my school notes or the backs of register receipts whenever life was dishing out more than I could handle within the fragile boundaries of sanity. Tonight I ran across the file. Below is a sampling.

Once upon a time there was a little bunny rabbit who ran out in the road and got squashed. The End.

Once upon a time there lived a tiny flea, and when time fell back because of Daylight Savings time the flea fell into the void. The End.

Once upon a time there lived a very tiny shrew who wanted to grow up to be an elephant. This shrew was so small that even the other shrews called him names and often stepped on him because they did not notice him. One day while our shrew was out practicing snorting water up his nose and getting migraines, a giant mosquito flew by and drained his entire body of every last drop of tiny shrew blood that it contained. The amount of blood was so insignificant that the mosquito didn't even burp. Now the tiny shrew was a shrew ghost, and as we all know, ghosts can't be defined by physical mass or volume, so now the shrew-ghost expanded its spiritual molecule equivalents, shaped itself like a shrew-ghost-elephant, and suddenly materialized around the mosquito, who, upon finding itself in the center of a materialized mass of shrew-ghost-elephant, promptly had what passes among mosquitos for a heart-attack and spiralled through the air to the earth below, quite dead. The End. Moral: Sometimes it's ok to burp.

Once upon a time there were three little pigs and the first one built his house out of straw and the second one built his house from sticks and they went to play in the woods after stopping by to see their brother who couldn't play, 'cause he was building his house out of bricks so they made fun of him and went to play and the big bad wolf huffed and puffed their houses down, but they weren't there, so he went to the third little pig's house and climbed down the chimney and since the second little pig had used all the sticks, the third little pig couldn't build a fire so the wolf ate him raw and barfed afterward. The End. Moral: Use all the sticks so the wolf will eat your brother.

Looking back on these literary gems, one begins to understand why my mother insisted my father either buy me a cat or pay for a therapist.

I loved that cat.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Today We Celebrate!!

Eleven years ago our older daughter was born. She is exactly twenty-six years, two hours and six minutes younger than I am and is the most difficult birthday present I've ever had to unwrap. I quit thinking of January 29th as "my day" eleven years ago and ever since have spent it draping pink crepe paper across the curtain rods and hanging pink balloons from the ceiling for our very girly girl.

She's growing up, as I'm reminded everytime she rests her chin on my shoulder instead of tucking her head under my arm, and this year she wanted us to plan the day together. So in a few minutes we are all taking off to see A Series of Unfortunate Events (her pick), then return home for a lasagne dinner (my pick) followed by blueberry and cherry cobbler (unanimous pick). And we're hanging purple crepe paper and balloons with the pink.

Later tonight after the house is quiet, I'll sit up, ponder the past year and consider the next one. But for now--we celebrate!!!!

Friday, January 28, 2005

Personal Libraries: The Untold Stories

You can tell a great deal about a person by the company he or she keeps and the books he or she reads. I love perusing other people's libraries. There is great pleasure in discovering new authors and books, and in discovering shared tastes for old favorites on the shelves of both long-standing friends and new acquaintances. Cyberspace relationships complicate matters somewhat, limiting one's ability to sneak over to the bookcase when one's host excuses him or herself for a moment. Sure, you can ask what people are reading, but the likelihood that they'll admit to their literary vices as well as their literary virtues is slim.

So here’s a challenge. Tell me (or post on your own blog and let me know, so I can check it out) about your guilty and/or relatively mindless reading material. Not the stuff you added to the book list thingamabobs—Shakespeare, Augustine, Homer, Thomas Aquinas. Not the stuff you put out on the coffeetable. No. I want to know the stuff under your bed, the books with the chocolate stains on the pages. For this we’re talkin’ Calvin and Hobbes, the Messies books, Tarzan, Louis L’amour, or maybe even those awful Harlequin romances.

Or, if you do read the heavy-duty stuff on a regular basis (and I realize a lot of you do), come clean and ‘fess up the non-intellectual advantages you enjoy from doing so.

Just in case you're curious, I’ll even play fair. My own literary confessions are still online at The Missouri Review’s website from a couple of years back, and they still hold true.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

"Unplug" It or I Am Not a Kitchen Appliance!

So many blogs I've read address the issue of church membership that I wouldn't know where to begin linking. It's ubiquitous. I hesitate to say much about it myself, both because my feelings on the matter are so extremely intense and because there is a caution in me concerning doing so.

I will say, however, that if I hear another sermon on the subject of, or invitation to "Come place your membership and get plugged in," I may find myself in the position of making the difficult choice between being carried out in a paroxysm of hysterical laughter or beating someone senseless with a toaster oven.

Who says church isn't exciting?


A couple of weeks ago our family was discussing the upcoming birthday which our older daughter and I share. (She'll be eleven; I'll be another year closer to forty on the far side of thirty-five.)

"Are you dreading turning another year older?" I was asked.

"The older I am, the less people can say about whatever crazy things I may do, " I replied. "Aging is an advantage!"

Yesterday I decided I might as well put that advantage to use. I spent the day wading in the creek (Ozarks creeks are spring-fed, but so what if you can't feel your toes after the first two steps?), and picnicing on the bank, watching the water dance on the ripples and listening to the birds fluttering and calling in the false-spring temperatures. Then I waded back across the creek and walked 1/2 the distance home barefoot down the old logging road through the woods and into the fields, glorious mud and all. Granted, after a quarter of a mile, having been stabbed in the toe by a multi-floral rose thorn and by another in the heel from a thorn tree, I did at last capitulate and lace my hiking boots back on, but by then I was giddy with freedom, laughing aloud in sheer delight at the day, doing little dance steps through the field and scandalizing the cows.

Why do we ever stop doing the things we love as children? Why do we abandon the sheer sensual pleasures of squishing mud between our toes or plunking rocks into water just to hear the sound and watch the ripples? G. K. Chesterton once wrote about the Creator's childlike, eternal delight in his creation, saying, ". . .for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we." Indeed, I believe 'tis quite so.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Double Edges

A few years ago I started praying to see both the physical and the spiritual worlds at once. Before anyone gets worked up about this, let me make it very clear that I'm not talking Frank Peretti: demons lurking behind trashcans and public toilets with angels waiting just outside swinging the heavenly handcuffs. No. I'm talking Gerard Manley Hopkins:

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs--
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Increasingly my prayer is being answered; I see more brokenness in the world than I ever did before, and I see more glory, usually in the same places. Both stun. Both can break your heart, even in the everyday. They're as commonplace as the shock of your knee taking the brunt of a fall onto concrete, as ordinary as the flash of light glancing off a sheet of ice or sparkling in a grain of quartz in the sidewalk beneath you. Just as painful. Just as dazzling.

(A note: Because I'm coding impared, I don't know how to indent lines 2,3,6,7,10, 12 and 14, of Hopkins' poem, as they should properly be. I apologise.)

Adventures in "the real world"

If you want trials and tribulation, pray for patience. That's what I've heard, at least. Here's another one to add: if you want to fall on the ice or to have further and increasingly severe computer complications or a car that breaks badly enough to need towing or walks through mud or a sandwich whose meat inclusion was neglected at the local sub shop--if these are your heart's desires, then make a silly statement like, "I'm going to live in the 'real world' this week."

It wasn't that bad, actually. The bruises from the fall on the ice are fading; the computer is mostly functional, even if I still haven't cured it for good; the car got us home thirty seconds before the last of the antifreeze poured out onto the ground, and now that I'm having it fixed, the heater will probably work again; the mud smelled like spring; and I didn't need meat anyway. Some good things have come from the week's experiment-- things I need to ponder before I write them out, but good. (Not the least of which was getting caught up on laundry and learning how to caulk the bathtub and shower.)

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Living it Out

I have come to the conclusion that living in the "real world" is not all it's cracked up to be. Much easier to write about than to do. Kind of like trying to breathe air with gills.

I shall endeavor to persevere.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Accepting Incarnation

Three nights ago, after several days of increasing restlessness, general dissatisfaction and compulsive computer use in an attempt to fend them off, I expressed befuddlement as to why, although spending the day on the computer was an indulgence, I was grouchy, but the simple physical act of doing the dishes seemed to help me feel better, bane of my life though they are.

"Hon," said my husband gently but pointedly, "you're an incarnational being."

Quite frankly, I don't think much of incarnation. Mine, that is. Since I was very young, I have resented being forced to be contained in a physical structure that (like everyone else's) limits and distracts the mind. "After all," I've often growled heavenward, "with all the eternal truths and possibilities the human spirit is capable of comprehending and conceiving, why does it have to be chained to a body that has such needs to be constantly coddled--a distraction at best, and a roadblock all too often!?! One would think that with Your potential You could've at least designed a good practical stainless steel exterior! Would have been much more efficient!"

But Kathleen Norris, in her book Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and "Women's Work", reminds us that meaning in life, as in poetry, is contained most often not in grand epiphanies and explications, but in corporal objects and activities--the stuff of the commonplace:

We want life to have meaning, we want fulfillment, healing and even ecstasy, but the human paradox is that we find these things by starting where we are, not where we wish we were. We must look (in)...unlikely everyday places...Although artists and poets have not been notoriously reverent in the twentieth century...the aesthetic sensibility is attuned to the sacramental possibility in all things. The best poetic images, while they resonate with possibilities for transformation, are resolutely concrete, specific, incarnational.

She's right. The best poetry consists of specific, concrete images that embody forth meaning rather than explaining it. You leave the poem conscious that something has changed within you, some new window opened into understanding, even if you're not yet able to put it into words. The best lives do the same thing.

I hesitate to use the word "we", but given that the majority of people who frequent cyberspace are iNtuitives (naturally preferring to view life through the lens of possibility) and that the majority of those iNtuitives are Introvered (preferring to focus on the reality of the inner world rather than the outer), I bet I'm not alone in my frustration at not being able to achieve in the outer world everything of which I can conceive, at not even being able to achieve that to which I'm obligated, for that matter! We grumble. We snarl. We kick the baseboards. We reach for Twinkies to gnash our teeth upon.

Yesterday I gave up. Mentally and emotionally drained by self-imposed obligations to make something of life, to measure up to my own grand desires in that regard, I managed only the most basic of household necessities, the humblest of chores. Dishes. Laundry. A Meal. Sweep the Floor. A Brief Time Outside. Another Meal. Brush My Daughter's Hair. Bed.

And today is better for it. A window slowly opens.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

An Apology. . .of Sorts

Things are not going quite so well at the moment.

For those of you who pray, you're quite welcome to do so, as long as it isn't one of those dreadful Oh-Lord-have-mercy-on-the-poor-thing-and-ease-her-suffering prayers. Oh-Lord-whack-her-upside-the-head prayers will be tolerated if spoken with at least token good-will. God-please-give-her-the-key-to-understand-what-she-needs-to-so-we-don't-have-to-suffer-through-more-posts-like-this prayers would be the best of all and greatly appreciated.

For those of you who don't pray, you can start now. Yes, I'm volunteering to be your personal spiritual guinea pig. I'll even wiggle my nose, although if you expect whiskers, you're out of luck.

Monday, January 10, 2005

In the Depths of Despair ( Dot Com)

**Disclaimer: The author does not recommend clicking on links in this post if you have no appreciation of black humor or if you are not inclined to exercise or develop one.**

Not long after we hooked up with an internet service provider for the first time, I hit a bad patch of depression. In a fit of self-destructive cyber urges, I found myself at the computer typing things into Google like "purpose of life," and "meaningless." The results were, needless to say, less than inspiring. Finally, with great angst and dramatic flair, I typed something like "" into the address bar of my web browser, and to my surprise an appropriate page popped right up. I laughed until it hurt.

Now tell me God doesn't have a sense of humor.

Since then, has become one of my favorite commercial sites on the web. I've not actually purchased anything, but Valentine's Day is coming up, and there are a few people I know who are warped enough to enjoy Despair Inc.'s Bittersweets, although I'm not sure I'm quite evil enough to actually send them.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Laughter or the Looney Bin

Some days it's a choice.

This morning the car made it in to school. I was so glad, so relieved. I'd had to pour tepid water on the driver's door and the girls' exit-to-school door to thaw them in order for us to get in, but the tires weren't one with the Earth any longer, and we actually made it all the way to school, taking our place in the elementary student-delivery line, cueing up as though there had never been any doubt. Things were finally turning around.

"Mom," said our older daughter, tugging at the door handle, after I'd kissed both girls over the seats, "the door's stuck."

"Kick it," I replied promptly. Inantimate objects must be taught their proper places or they'll run your life.

"It's still stuck," she complained.

I sighed and pushed my own door open, leaving the motor running. With the car in park, it wasn't going anywhere. We've had problems in the past with our very "girly" girls being a bit wimpy, and I'll admit my thoughts were turned toward the probability of a few lessons in firmly applying the bottom of the foot to the inside of a car door after we got home that afternoon. Now wasn't the time, however. I rounded the car, reached their door, grabbed the handle and yanked. Nothing. I whacked the frame a time or two and bared my teeth in a fake smile for the people waiting in the car behind us. Still nothing. I sighed and walked back around to my door, fully intending to have the girls climb over the seat and make their exits from there.

My door stuck, too.

I pondered my trapped children from outside frosted windows (the defroster only works a little and only on the windshield, the heater not at all) and considered our plight. Then I tapped the glass to get their attention. "Climb in the front seat," I hollered, "and turn the key toward you. Then wait for me." As if they were going anywhere. After first turning the key the wrong way (to the amusement of the parents behind us whose children were diligently and energetically opening and closing car doors with shocking success), our older daughter "managed," as she likes to say, to turn off the motor. She and her sister peeked worriedly out from behind the icy glass. They reminded me of small animals in a zoo nursery. "I'll be back," I assured them, and turned to see if I could find someone in the school willing to give me a pitcher of water.

Ultimately I did get the door unfrozen. My children did get out of the car and into the school building. It involved my twice walking the length of the elementary building carrying a very large watering can--the kind with a large sprinkler head on the end of the spout--borrowed from the school secretary (I bless her for a second day: Lord, may she and her kind flourish upon the face of the Earth!) and other small and sundry humiliations, but child delivery was at last completed. I nearly cried with relief.

There was no humor in me as I drove home, frost beginning to encroach on the edges of the windshield. I was alternating between the silent snarling of embarrassment and self-pity for my compromised image, when for no reason I can now discern, I suddenly remembered an activity that used to bring me great pleasure. As a child, when the opportunity presented itself, I would drop whatever I was doing, lie flat upon my back and stare upward in great anticipation waiting, waiting, waiting until at last I would be seized by the convulsion of a great SNEEZE. The resultant mist falling gently on my face had felt like soft rain: gentle, cool, and soothing. For a moment, a mere fraction of a second, I found myself looking back wistfully upon this abandoned comfort. Then I realized what I was doing. How in the world could someone who used to throw herself on the ground to lie beneath sneezes possibly be concerned with her self-image now?! "How ridiculous, Lucinda," asked some remote pocket of sanity from the back of my brain, "could you possibly be?" Pretty ridiculous, apparently.

I giggled the rest of the way home. Maybe not with the stability of the totally sane, but I didn't care any more. Why pretend? I'm not the calm, cool, collected, competent parent I'd like to appear to be. But being able to laugh at oneself can make up for a lot. And that's nothing to sneeze at.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

The Cold, Computers, and Conniption Fits

I've been hiding out the past couple days, I'll admit. Everytime I sat down to compose another post, I'd find out something I didn't want to know. This is why I've not been writing creative stuff lately, too, I'm sure. Truth has a way of seeping through like winter cold, even when we're busy running around stuffing rags in the cracks just as fast as we can. When you write, it seeps in faster. There are too many potentially frightening and painful things in my psyche for me to be entirely comfy with this, so all too often I find myself stuffing the cracks with near-compulsively frantic activities: nibbling, playing mindless computer games, blog surfing, napping, doing housework quickly rather than deliberately, taking too-fast walks, or pacing the floor restlessly. Anything to not think, to not feel what I'm afraid might be waiting for me just outside, digging little claws into any available crevice and prying for all it's worth.

On top of reality dodging, my computer decided to have its own vacation. . .again. I have refrained from emotional and perhaps physical cyber-violence by refraining from the computer, in part. One thing at a time, I keep telling myself. One breath at a time. One reboot at a time. So far it's working. The computer and I are both still in one piece, and if it's not eaten any of my files yet, well, I've eaten enough Captain Crunch for both of us.

This morning I'm sitting in the study upstairs, at Great Scott's computer, looking out the window where my car is sitting under a slowly accumulating veil of snow. When time came to take the girls to school, I couldn't get said car out of the driveway, despite dumping the cats' litterbox behind the back tires for added traction. (Hey, when you're desperate, you have to get innovative.) As a result, the girls are home today and thrilled. When I called to let the school know where they were, the secretary said she wished she'd been as lucky. That softened a little of my guilt, and I'm grateful.

Little things, Lucy. Little things. The flakes flying by the window, the bright pink cyclamen and red begonias blooming on the sill, the silk of the cat's fur beneath your fingertips, the white light of the cloud curtained skies, the grace that will pull you through.