Being human

We all do things we are ashamed of, that hurt people and that, in turn, hurt us. We all say things we don’t mean and we turn our backs on those who have assisted us, and continue to asisst us in our times of need–which are, incidentally, often our times of lashing out and meanness. But these actions and behaviours are not the true tests of our character; that comes after the fact, after we have discovered how deeply we have wounded someone, or realized our inability to be thankful and loving. When we knew what we should have done and did not do it: that is the denegration of our character.  The unkind statement or the hurtful acts do harm us because they become habit and they replace the kindness and the soft shape of our life with horrid black lines and jagged, piercing edges, into which we do not wish to run, against which we do not wish to be pushed, but push others. When we are humble, we edge those lines a little closer to kindness, and we round out those sharp-edged blades that cut so mercilessly.  When we succumb to our shame we can again find ourselves forgiven and once more may step back into difficult, but worthy task of being human.

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Encouragement, too, must be learned

Oh, academia.  I have never been your friend.  We have always been those two colleagues on campus who smile or maybe just nod in one another’s direction and maybe travel in somewhat the same circles, sitting perhaps near one another at the Bistro or attending the same on-campus lecture or maybe taking the same European Intellectual History course but never, really, having much to say to one another, really.  This strange and admittedly strained relationship continues only so far, you know, for only so long before you, academia, some night at the Bistro stand up after an invigorating, not to mention stimulating, inordinately so, session of Intellectual European Enlightenment dialogue, discussion, whatever with the Leading Professor of your choice, casually packing up your bookbag and letting forth a tumbling of brilliant thoughts, intellectual words, before returning to the study hall at your sorority house or library pod or whatever for another six hours of freakish pre-PhD research crazyness while I  just… go back to my dorm. Where I am an RA and a timid one at that, hardly admitting that I am afraid of my own shadow, afraid to lock the door behind me, afraid to leave it unlocked, afraid I will not ever find myself out of misery and out of wishing, waiting, desperately hoping that someone will tell me what I am doing here.  Afraid, that is, that I am exactly who I thought I was and nothing more.

So you, and I, academia, are not friends.  We can’t be.  Though we attend the same university and purchase the same supplies, mine go unfettered and overused and yours go into making a perfect professor-in-training and a model dissertation outline.  I can barely write my thesis statement twice–each time it wavers, just a little bit, and I have forgotten what it was I was here for, what I wanted to say.  Who I am.  You intimidate me, scholarship.  You bully me only because I let you.  You wonder why I am so sheepish, so much like Boo Radley but without the soap dolls, the broken watch, the chewing gum and their shiny wrappers. It is because I have not seen beyond the walls of scholarship, but have instead confined myself to a world in which I do not belong.  You fit here, but I do not.  An still you’ve challenged me, and I know we are not enemies, but colleagues truly.  We must each to her own way: You to the Ivory Tower and I to the Mission Fields, to the ways of the Bedoin and the Shepherd, to the classrooms where students just like me are in want of a word of encouragement, which is, undoubtedly, something I can offer.

 

The search for meaning in community

Lately I have been struggling to understand why we are here living in a new house on Whidbey Island.  We moved in such a rush and in a whirlwind of hurryup hurryup!  I’m not even certain how the final blows upon our old life were executed but here we are now, safely, soundly installed in our new life and making a go in our new community.

For us, the community literally begins at home, with the very house we purchased.  It is part of something previously unknown to me (or us), called a co-housing, where people do pretty much just that: co-house.  This is entirely different from ‘co-habit’, so let’s get that settled straightaway.  Co-housing, as far as I can describe it thus far, is a concept as well as an instituion and in our case, that of Maxwelton Creek Co-housing, what that means is we share a lot of stuff and we can’t escape one another, even if we try.

Every Monday is potluck.  At around 6:30 on Monday evenings members of the community gather in our common house for a shared meal.  While this sounds like some kind of freakish Walden Two model, rest assured it’s more along the lines of Whole Foods or PCC with some VW bus thrown in for good measure.  John and I are not so keen on potlucks–or perhaps it is me, I who am not so keen on them, but nevermind–so every Monday, around 4:00, the world stops still for just long enough for a small kitchen panic to occur and then resolve itself, reappearing in the form of pizza crust or applesauce or pie.  I am never the clever one with the four-layer vegetarian fritatta or the lentil-couscous salad slaw.  But again, nevermind.  They cannot kick us out because we are Members, homeowners with a mortgage and a cat who does not kill the songbirds.  We have not only chosen this crazy co-housing place but, somehow, it has also chosen us.

Which brings me to my struggles.  Why we are here.  Why ARE we here?  I’ve a little inkling but it is so small I am afraid to do more than whsiper it in case it hears me and runs away frightened.  Still.  A hush.  Silently.  Shush… I believe we are here to be ministers.

What means that… ministers?  I will tell you.  We are here to follow God.  We are here to learn faith and to encounter doubt, to embrace those who have not been able to hold back the love or the doubt themselves but are wanting affirmation, guidance.  We, too, are those people, and it is with God’s help that we will encounter our own mentors, guides, encouragements.  I sit here tonight and recall the past several weeks’ worth of Thursday Coffees in which Lea and Margaret have wandered over to us and shared their time and their stories and then have shared in addition their homes and spaces with us, pouring wine and playing music.  This is ministry.  Ministers are not always ever wearing black and thumbing passages.  We are ministers in our love, and in our struggles as well as our confidence and faith.

I will continue to write.  But for now, let it be private.  The Peace of the Lord be with You.

Much Later

So much later.  Time passes and here I sit, not writing, not recording the things–banal or significant, either one, both alike in their un-recordedness–that have taken up my days and mind since my Dad’s birthday, the last day I bothered to post to this weblog.

And speaking of weblogs, I am reminded of the late-1980s band Erasure and the first line of “Piano Song” which goes “Never get angry at stupid people”, when I think of many of the webloggers out there.  For as hard as I try not to take bad writing personally, it tends to stick to me, like a stubborn blackberry vine to my long-sleeved shirt, and the many dull metaphors, missing elaboration, self-justified points and whiny arrogance continue to rip my better sense to shreds.  Were I a less critical reader, this trivia would not bother me. Alas, I have not heeded Erasure’s advice.

So I turn to new and better pastures.  Like the gleaners.  Or the geese over our new house.  Land trusts, cows and calves, rose bushes.  Any one of these would make a fantastic subject for a blog entry, but I have chosen instead the topic Speaking Truth in Love, for it is precisely these moments, when I find myself irritated at these writers, judging their (in)ability to write, and pandering to the educated in my critical way that I know I am not doing what I ought to be doing and am, furthermore, encouraging criticism along the way.  This is not Truth in Love, not to a wild degree.

But the question remains: What does one do when one disagrees with someone, or with an idea that is widespread or simply popular?  How does one bring another voice to an either severely monotonous conversation, or to an already multifarious one?  Is our desire simply to be heard greater than our desire to speak the truth?  Are our egos and vain notions getting ahead of our love?  Often, I would say, they are.  Most of the time.

But the fact of the matter is, we embellish, or at least I do–I want to insert my opinion and I want others to validate my mindset, often even before I have bothered to critique it myself.  For instead of running the possible ramifications of my comments through my head and coming to the conclusion that no, I do not need to say something snide or flippant in response to the rude or aggressive comment directed at me, I often let fly.  Oh, far too often.  Instead, how I long to stop my razor tongue, to listen to James (brother of Christ, writer of James which precedes Hebrews) when he advises us to let our yes mean yes and our no mean no.  In essence, to think before we speak.

And that is how I wish I to do it: plainly, and without ego.  To speak the truth in love we are required to set aside our egos, to let the message stand for us instead of the other way around.  If we put the message, and in almost all cases this means God’s word, first, we will not struggle so much to follow it, for it stands on its own authority and leads us by that same authority.  But when we step first, toting what we believe to be the Truth behind us, nay-saying and criticizing, what we are doing is masking that truth, preventing others from seeing it and knowing it in all of its hope and glory while we act as the false figurehead.  In comparison to the Word, we look pretty silly, and also rather hypocritical, for who are we to profess an ability to manage and dole out Truth?  We only fool ourselves, and we are often the last to find ourselves out.

Writing, or even thinking, without ego or self standing there as critic is nigh impossible.  The trick isn’t to get rid of the ego then, but perhaps to admit it is there and write or speak or disagree while holding the knowledge that you, too, are subject to the laws of humanity and are in need of Truth once in a while.  Or always.  We make fun of self-examination in this day and age, tending to favor instead the ‘selfie’ or the ‘image of self’ rather than the reflection, the deeper waters, and this adds to our collective inability to take and even offer critique, improvement, suggestion.  Our world is so quick to be wounded, and our youth particularly so.   Why this is is subject matter for another post, but as I write I realize, latently, that our inability to speak in love comes not from our inabity to speak, but our inabiilty to love.  In truth, the only way we can learn to speak the way of love is to be loved and no one will ever be able to do this as well or as permanently as God.

Copperplate Engraving

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http://gregcookland.com/journal/2011/03/21/printed-in-providence-at-tompkins/picrafteryhermaphroditus/

I was reading the article entitled ‘Illuminated Printing’ by Joseph Viscomi, which is available online here (but which I downloaded and printed from Cambridge Companions for my U Nott course) when I realized I needed a visual.

I have always had a keen respect and a deep interest in printing, such as letterpress, typewriting, even calligraphy, often wondering why I did not pursue more of a degree or education in the classical forms of the letter arts.  I am still drawn to the craft of printing and harbor thoughts of a future in printing presses and a proper education to go with it.

Simply reading about William Blake’s absolute engraving genius was not enough, so I googled and found this video, entitled From Paper to Copper: The Engraver’s Process.  The main reason I post it here is so that I will be able to reference it again myself, without scouring the recesses of my brain to remember where it was and why I liked it.

But will you love the pear trees?

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When we decided to put Pilcrow Cottage, our Snohomish home of two years, up for sale, the first order of worry for my sister was the care of the two-year-old pear trees.  She wanted to know (and was rather insistent about knowing):  What will you do with them?  Will you take them with you? Will you leave them here? Will they, the new owners, love them?

We turned these questions over in our heads (or, at least, I did), asking whether we ought to take money or love: what if the best owner turns out to be someone who can’t offer as much?  What if the higher-offer people had plans to tear down the house and build seventeen more? What-what-what…if?

It turns out these questions were answered to satisfaction in a matter of days, a matter of minutes, really, once we got the offer (many, actually, but that comes later) and once the future owners were free to tour the property in our presence.  It turns out they love gardens, fruit trees, old houses (a must, as Pilcrow was built 1915), and the charm of the original single-pane windows.   But we didn’t know that when we accepted the offer, and we really weren’t prepared to answer my sister’s questions until after we signed the papers and sealed the deal (preliminary deal, but still).  So it was with faith that we chose the highest and best and not the heartfelt or sentimental; we trusted that the trees, the gardens, the greenhouse, the porch and its new rail were going to a couple who really, really wanted to live here and–here’s the most important detail–were willing to pay for it.

For as I mentioned above, we had several offers.  Seven in three days, as a matter of fact, and our agent began telling people after the first evening: highest and best will be accepted.  And so, having been out of town the day we would have legally had to review them, we sat down with the stack on a Wednesday evening and began the elimination process.  In reality, this really proved no difficulty whatsoever, as ‘highest and best’ meant little to four of the seven.  While inventory in Snohomish is low, their offers did not have to be.  As Maureen, our agent, said: “Don’t insult me.”  There you go.  The top three, however, understood that to make inroads and forge paths, one must come prepared.  A pickaxe and a heavy pair of boots, yes.  A jar of lemonade and a rocking chair, no.

So when the future owners of this little blue cottage stepped up and told us they would pay 20K over asking price we knew we had a deal.  We didn’t ask whether the pear trees would make it, but we had a hunch.  Anyone who was willing to make it worth our while financially had to know that the yield of the fields was included in the added Ks.  And they were right.  Since then, we  have tended to our little trees and flowers and gardens as though they were still our own, weeding the beds, watering, pruning, intending to leave Pilcrow in good condition before handing it over to the couple who saw a good thing and refused to insult us over it.

We are closing the deal in the next few days and will miss a great many things about this little historic home, such as the fruit trees and the way the garage doors make the south side of the house look like a barn, or all the workspace in the nice, cool basement.  But despite all this, we know it is our time to move.  We knew this when we put it on the market,  that our days as owners of this cottage were coming to an end.  But what we learned between Listing Day and Now is that we were right to ask for–and accept–highest and best, and equally right to defend the fate of our pear trees.   For it truly was ‘the fruits of our labor’ that led us to receive such an abundant offer: we put sweat and tears and money and blood into our home, and we have come to realize that a developer would never pay top price to rip down a house, nor would a careless or irresponsible person pay more in order to trash it.   Quality costs; it has a price, and if we want it, we must pay for it.  Otherwise we sell ourselves short.  And if we don’t ask others to pay top price for the goods we value, we shouldn’t be selling them at all.

Madonna and Child

I came across this piece on Berlinghiero’s Madonna and Child through the St. John’s Bible, my all-time favorite illuminated manuscript.  It is from the Metropolitan Museum and it is quite short, only 2 minutes 37 seconds but it does well to encapsulate and yes, illuminate what it means to understand a piece of art.

(Copied from the original post on the Pilcrow Cottage blog)

Jesu Crist in Chaucer

I do not rightly know whether this post belongs in Nigelvalentine or Pilcrow, where I have a ‘From the Bookshelf’ category, but it pertains to the balance between hardship and Christ (in literature, at least).

In my reading, throughout my days, I have noticed a distinct presence of the mention of Jesus in literature as recent as the early part of the 20th Century.  This presence is in direct contrast to its absence in contemporary literature and I have noticed it on several levels.  The first, obviously, is from the level of my faith, where I need to acknowledge the Father and the Son in all my interactions and in every place.  The next is from the level of literature, seeing the presence of the reference in context, how it fits into the story or piece of writing, and only afterward questioning why it is there.  That is the third level. But my comment actually runs askew from all of these.

In reading Chaucer’s Retraction, the final lines of The Canterbury Tales, this line appears, “Now preye I to hem alle that herkne this litel tretis or rede, that if ther be any thing in it that lyketh hem, that ther-of they thanken oure lord Jesu Crist, of whom procedeth al with and al goodnesse.”  In other words, ‘If you, the reader, find something of interest in this book or these tales, I thank Jesus Christ.’

Why would he write this?  And why would he even mention Christ?  My guess is that it was not uncommon to him, nor to his contemporaries, readers, family or colleagues, to keep Christ close, and that would include in writing.  My hunch is that in these days, the Middle Ages, that is, people were much more aware of Christianity, of Christ’s sacrifice, of the Bible.  Yes, life was probably more difficult in some ways in the 1300s than it is now, but I believe that those difficulties were countered by a greater stockpile–collective stockpile, that is, a communal one–of faith, hope, and perseverance.  Love certainly played its role, too.

But in contrast, and I don’t mean to play the role of finger-pointing Christian here, our lives in the 21st Century are quite easy, our water comes from pipes, our waste disappears into the ground, and we can google just about anything.  At least, that is the way of First World nations.  But our literature, our art, and all the thought that is collected in them and from them are less beautiful, less stricken with the knowledge of one’s limitations, and perhaps even less appealing to the world in general.  How much of what is cranked out today will be found in coffers, libraries, and on gallery walls?  Christ survives, and when His life is brought into our books and our images and our minds, those things survive, too.

As I say, I do not know what kind of theorizing this really is, but I have noticed it, this absence of Christ’s presence in our daily reading, and I am sorry for the gap it has produced.

Thoughts on Units 4-6: Why I like Iconicity

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Of the first two sets of units in this Module, the second set is by far more interesting and engaging, at least to me.  With the exception of a few key points– runekafli, the multiple re-writes of Ulysses, futhark–units 1, 2, and 3 left me wondering why I enrolled in this program and invoking the name of academics-gods-gone-awry.  Even unit 4 with its 12-page transcript of the recorded conversations of young college women (why wasn’t this more interesting to me?) held my commitment to UNott at bay.  But then, like a bright, pale blue streak in a storm of slate gray came unit 5: Iconicity and all of its fantastic linguistic literary magic.  I am delighted, no, tickled to be a part of a world in which a book called Form Miming Meaning exists.  And further, to know that a downloaded copy is right now loaded onto my Macintosh machine.  Holy wonders; the world is great indeed.

The first thing that struck me about literary iconicity was, undoubtedly, the word iconicity.  For years icon has been one of my favorite words, not to mention concepts.  An icon is more than a symbol, more than an image, in fact, it is rather like a symbol-image that works overtime.  Iconicity is exactly what the title of Fischer and Nanny’s book says it is: A form that mimes a meaning.  It is the best of both worlds: image and message.  Simply writing that sends lovely titillating shivers up my spine.  Images, messages.  Images, messages.  All the world should be so neat.

But after iconicity–the word that is– comes John, who is the second, but no less valuable or important, reason for icon-love.  John, while in his MFA program, discovered the imagists, the band of poets and writers for whom the image was everything.  I don’t mean that they all sat around and made word-pictures or anything like that.  What is meant here by image is the kernel, the root idea from which the poem occurs; the meaning around which the form of the poem takes place.   In this sense, his interest, John’s interest is the same as mine, and that we found them each independently and in separate ways makes it all the more meaningful.  Form miming meaning, once again.