Thursday, February 17, 2005

Standing in Grief and Joy

Mansfield Soldier Killed in Iraq

We knew Justin from the tiny country church we attended for six years, where Scott taught the high school Sunday School class in which Justin was one of four teenagers who attended with varying frequency. He joined the Army as soon as he possibly could; it was what he desperately wanted to do. He was charming (perhaps a bit more than was good for him), mischievious, soft-hearted, good natured, fiesty and generous. After basic training and on his leave visits home, I saw a maturing and deepening to his nature that impressed and touched me: the increasing respect and tenderness with which he treated his parents and grandmother, a decreasing quickness of the clever remarks, and perhaps most of all, a new air of thoughtful discretion that suited him well. His smile remained potentially devastating.

This afternoon I found some part of myself wanting to philosophize about death or to write a poem or . . .something. To do so would be wrong, though, at least for me, at least for now. For now I need to simply remember Justin, to rejoice in the bright facts of his life, in who he was, and in the gift that I was given in knowing him and praying for him. I need to be free to grieve, too, without the pretentious pontificating that might sound impressive but would, in fact, be little more than an effort to dull the ache in my heart for the loss of Justin himself and for his family's pain.

So much darkness. So much light.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

The More Things Change

I’ve heard before that more things change, the more they stay the same. It didn’t ring true to me, though, for a long time. Throughout high school, college, the early married years with Scott and then the whiz-bang zippy years of infant and toddler raising, it seemed to me that nothing ever stayed the same. I filled my dorm room and then the bedrooms in rental houses with roommates and eventually Scott’s and my own homes with Victorian laces, flea-market antique furniture, African violets like my grandmother’s and quilts pieced by my great-grandmother and Scott’s grandmother, in an effort to capture, I suppose, some of the hominess and security that seemed to be so rapidly slipping away as my independence increased. Lately, having been settled in this old farmhouse for eight-plus years, our daughters attending school in town and old enough to not require second-by-second monitoring when they’re home, I find myself with the time to consider the things in my life that are irrevocably changed and the things that have, against all likelihood, remained unshaken despite years of neglect and in some cases even outright denial, the things that have, indeed, become more solidly and inexplicably a part of me than ever.

Some of these things are small details whose unchanging high rank in my affections is not much more than, perhaps, coincidence, or they’re things that really aren’t surprising at all. That I would continue to love walks through fields and woods after spending ten years away from the country isn’t particularly shocking.

One discovery that did cause me to sit back on my heels and blink, however, was made when I picked up an old blank book in which, somewhere around the age of fifteen, I began copying down poems I especially liked. I had no intentions whatsoever of writing poetry then. In fact, the one poetry class I took in high school I despised and swore to never make the mistake of voluntarily taking another, let alone ever trying to write the dreadful stuff. Still, here in this blue velvet bound volume with its embossed silver cover, I find carefully copied works by Emily Dickinson, Richard Wilbur, Mary Oliver, Edna St. Vincent Millay and W. S. Merwin, all unfamiliar names to me at the time the poems were copied. Twenty-some years later, having completely forgotten about this little book in the interim, books by most of these poets line my shelves. Obviously, something has not changed at all, has instead grown stronger and steadier for the time passed.

I’ve been trying lately to slow down on the inside, to take needed time to consider what always has been and what has legitimately become truly important to me, and what is simply extra window-dressing I’ve accumulated through various stages of my life thus far. It’s not an easy process, nor always a comfortable one. I’m being forced to make some painful admissions about my own motivations and the despicable practice of people-pleasing, for one thing. For another, I often find myself in the very lonely position of caring especially deeply about things most other people seem to disregard, at best. Whoever would have thought that living an authentic life would be so difficult?

Scott is going in and out of the back door, and through the opening, I can hear the spring peepers calling down by the creek. Sitting on the back step in the dusk and listening seems especially important tonight. A must.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Ask and Ye Shall Receive

It occurs to me that one should be careful what one commands in the name of the Lord. "Come bite me," for instance, doesn't particularly recommend itself.

Monday, February 07, 2005

The Midnight Disease

This weekend I began reading The Midnight Disease by Alice W. Flaherty. Subtitled The Drive to Write, Writer's Block, and the Creative Brain, Flaherty's book explores how changes in the temporal lobes and limbic system of the human brain affect creatvity, focusing on hypergraphia (a clinically excessive drive to write) and writer's block. Flaherty is a neurologist who has experienced hypergraphia twice: the first time after miscarrying twin boys, the second time after giving birth to healthy twin girls. Her experiences led her to deeper research and eventually to the writing of The Midnight Disease.

The similarities between temporal lobe epilepsy (a cause of hypergraphia) and manic depressive illness (in whose manic episodes hypergraphia sometimes manifests) are striking . In fact, one is often misdiagnosed for the other, even today, and anti-seizure medications are commonly prescribed for their effectiveness in bringing a bipolar person down from and preventing further manic episodes. So there's the whole mood disorder tie-in going on here, as well. The human brain is fascinating.

I'm enthralled. I had to get up three times to walk around the room out of excitement before I got out of the book's introduction. Always a good sign.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Musically Challenged

For quite awhile, I've been meaning to say something about Rae's blog: A Likely Story. (If good intentions pave the road to hell, I think I can explain the unseasonably warm weather this winter in my part of the state.) Yesterday (Feb. 2, 2005) she gave me just the excuse I need, though. So Rae, here's everything you ever wanted to know about my musical tastes, and maybe then some.

Random 10 albums pulled from my collection:
1. Toolbox Classics--(You've not lived until you've heard "Ride of the Valkyries" played on power tools.)
2. Soundtrack--Lilo & Stitch
3. Don Henry--Wild in the Backyard
4. Michael Card--Starkindler
5. Rosa Lamoreaux--Chants of Hildegard VonBingen
6. Loreena McKennitt--The Mask and the Mirror
7. Suzanne Vega--Days of Open Hand
8. Rich Mullins--Winds of Heaven, Stuff of Earth
9. Kate Campbell--Visions of Plenty
10. They Might be Giants--No!

Total number of music files on my computer:
My search tells me 341, but I'm intentionally responsible for only 30 of them.

The last CD I bought:
U2's How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, but I bought it for Scott. The last one I bought for myself was Enya's The Celts.

The song I last listened to before this message:
I can't remember, but Loreena McKennitt's "The Stolen Child" has been running through my head all morning.

Five songs I listen to often and/or that mean a lot to me (and why):
1. Suzanne Vega's "Penient"---Struggling with God is what I do, what I was created for, I sometimes think.
2. Yanni's "In the Morning Light"---I can hear and see my sister playing this before she moved 1/2way across the country. I miss her.
3. Michelle Tumes' "Christe Eleison"---Heart cry.
4. Vega's "If Language Were Liquid"--Captures perfectly the inability of words to adequately express all that needs communicating.
5. Bob Dylan's "Brownsville Girl"---Scott sang the whole song to me on our wedding night, in full Dylan imitation. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry (Dylan had not yet become one of my acquired tastes).

Five people to whom I'm passing this questionnaire (and why):
Jadon--Because I never know what he's going to say or who he's going to quote next. Knowing what he listens to might be the next best thing.
Astrid--For the same reasons, but in an entirely different way!
Joyella--Because it will do her good to look through her music and find parts of herself there that motherhood may have crowded to the side for the time being.
Michelle--Because I bet she'll have something interesting to add that I'll want to listen to.
Bruce--Because he's been giving some good book reviews lately, and I want to pick his brain on music, too.
David--Who, having been brave enough to confess his television vices, will no doubt have good things to contribute here, too.
Feeble Knees--We share too many literary tastes for me to not like at least some of whatever she's listening to.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Flippin Public Schools are Closed

One of the great pleasures of living in southwest Missouri is that the towns have such interesting names. It makes watching the school closing list fun on snowy days, even at six in the morning.