Sunday, April 8, 2012


I grew up in the church. 

During my Intermediate Fiction class, I found myself floundering - the fact that I had been writing for years seemed to prepare me very little for the reality of peer review and hard grades. I've always been a writer, so much so that when I finally and reluctantly declared my writing seminars major at JHU my mother was both thrilled and (most likely) a little aggrieved - she had been telling me for far too long that I was, in my mind and heart, a writer, and I had been very busy ignoring her.  Intermediate Fiction was the first step, after the general intro course, into being a writing sems major, and I approached it with not a little fear and not a little bravado. I've got this, and, oh my God, no way am I good enough. 

My first piece, written in one of my fugue states of passion and near automatic dreaming, was about Easter Sunday. A section of it remains on my Facebook page, actually - I was so proud of that story, proud not only of the praise and critique it received but of the truths it unearthed - my deep discomfort and neutrality about the church.     

My writing asserted that the Easter Sunday mass was the after-party, the big shiny bow on the real Easter, which had happened at the singing of the Gloria the night before. Not only that, but the piece described in intricate and shaming detail the way that a martini might taste after the service. It maintained a true, religious, liturgical purity, while contrasting that with vodka and olives. 

A delicate balance, perhaps, but a dynamic inextricably linked in my mind. Somehow, even then, still a churchgoer, I found that God and his worship demanded a very necessary post- service cocktail. 

That short story was highly praised, and I felt terribly good. And I started, somewhere, to question. 

There are many reasons why today was the first day that I didn't go to church on Easter Sunday. I do still maintain that the real rising of Christ happens at midnight at the vigil, and certainly nothing compares to the almost pagan plunging of the paschal candle in the baptismal font, or the sheer exhaustion of the three hour suffering of the Good Friday before, or the feel of tight heels and caffeine induced jitters. But this year, I thought - what is God to me? What is God to my fiancé? And is my God found more easily in a service, that big shine of brass and hyacinth and liturgy - or in the quiet worship of my favorite hymns on iTunes and the indifferent cheer of birdsong on my porch?

There are so many reasons why people leave the church, and so many reasons why people cling to it. Reading online material like the belief articles on CNN gives me a wide array of mentalities to explore; this week I've read about Jews reclaiming Jesus, Obama's Easter luncheon, and young women performing exorcisms. Religion is incredibly diverse, and holds joys and disgusts for all of us. We all have our beliefs and non-beliefs, and are all to some extent incredulous of the practices of others. Religion is, in our culture, a way in which we divide ourselves. 

I freely admit that I'm a comment junkie - I sometimes click on articles just to see what people will say in the comments. Most often, I'm pretty disheartened. If Christianity is our way to salvation, it certainly is also a way to hate. If atheism is our way to rational thought, it is also a way to scoff and deride. I don't see the best of people on the Internet. But I do see something which is hard to ignore, something held in keyboards and bible quotes and vermouth. Something numbing. 

We do all of this stuff in the name of Christ, or any other mythic figure - we dress up, we sow propriety into gold threads, we make lies, we burn things, we enact forbidden paganism, we listen to sermons, we starve ourselves, we eat coconut cake. We limit; we reward. All of this we do in the name of something invented - the anthropomorphic god. I'm not here to argue that God exists, of course, but I do think of the trappings of religion and find that all of this terrible, counterproductive bother might take away from the real message. 

When I think of my God and his life, I think not of his divinity, but of his son's humanity. 

I tie up all of the threads, all of the comments, all of the years of church going and martini swilling, and I think, what a lot of mess for someone who was one of us. I'm not going to go into a sermon about the life of Christ - I would need to be a lot better informed, as would we all - but the details that stick with  me lead me to a basic and almost unspeakable point, that being -

Who we know as Jesus? He was human. 

Who we know as prophets? They were human. 

Who we hope will come? Can be nothing other than a real person, with real fears, and with real hope. 

Jesus's sacrifice was important, not just so we could quote scripture online, or just so we could air out the special vestments, and not just so we could pop open the absolut and reward ourselves in our sanctity. His sacrifice was so important because he truly was one of us. He feared. He entreated. 

He had friends. He loved deeply. He wanted to make his mom happy. 

I didn't go to church today, because I wanted to remember that my faith is rooted not in the hullabaloo of divine worship, but in the appreciation of the life of a man who wanted to ask his dad - please, spare me.  He didn't want to be on the cross any more than you or I would, but the great beauty of his human life is that he made a sacrifice. 

A sacrifice is meaningless without fear. 

A sacrifice is nothing to a God, but everything to a man, and everything to all of us, out here, who shouldn't feel the need for numbness but instead should feel this incredible strength in finding faith in humanity. 

Maybe good fences make good neighbors - but maybe joy and hope make good brothers. 

Maybe we shouldn't see our gods as the limitations on our humanity, but the celebrations, the comforts, the sons and daughters, the husbands and wives, the parents, the children. 

Maybe I don't want to kiss his feet on the cross. Maybe I just want to sit on the porch and find kindness in the fact that Jesus would be there with me, having a cup of coffee, and telling me about his parents. 

I think my faith is a lot more complicated - and a lot more simple - than high heels and martinis. And I hope, oh, how I hope, that we can all be citizens of faith and humanity. 

I'm an Anglican, and I didn't go to church. Jesus was a Jew, and a man, and a friend.  And maybe, maybe, we can meet somewhere, in that land of dreaming and introspection, and talk about what it means to be human. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


I spend a lot of time on this blog talking about serious things. Certainly, the political climate as well as my own personal inclinations tend to lead me down a sometimes dark and often passionate path. I don't feel a need to explain my seriousness, but we all need a break from pensive wanderings, sometimes. 

There are so many joys in life. I think they are easy to forget, because they are commonplace and not particularly provocative. Sure, I could devote this entry to the awakening that is spring using terms of fertility and worship and mysticism - but I think I'll leave that be for now.

Columbia has been engaging in an on again, off again romance with warm weather. A month ago, I went out onto my porch to discover a robin hiding on my bird feeder - the first robin of spring, red and cheery and still puffed up and fat with the cold. This morning, I went out and was greeted by 32 degree weather and a desperate need for hotter coffee and long John pjs.  I've had margaritas and hot chocolate, skirts and sweaters, for quite a while.  We've learned, at school, to expect the unexpected - outdoor recess can be a blessing and a curse - and the days when I want to wear sundresses I find myself shivering and cursing any sort of fashion sense. Windy days and a most unlikely Marilyn Monroe.

But still - spring is waking up, not quite stretching or bursting, but insinuating itself into my soul. I pulled out the Buena Vista. I put away my winter clothes.  I started relaxing into the heat.  

Today, when my apartment feels like a refrigerator, I still refuse to give up the warmth.  Spring is my time, a time of re-emergence, a time which is religious.  It is immensely pleasurable.  And don't we all need a bit of re-birth, every once in a while?

I said I wouldn't go into the serious - but here it is.  There's a lot going on in Columbia right now.  School redistricting is coming, and there's talk of the bridge, and the mall changing, and we're all thinking about the Wegmans with awe (the massive parking structure and the fine cheese selection) and apprehension (oh, the traffic).  

There's a lot going on in our country right now.  Conservatives are throat- slitting, democrats are hoping for hope, and all we hear is this negative, this end of things, the shadow of end-of-life and end-of-woman.  End-of-marriage, end-of-love. 

If only we could hear the beckon of spring, the coming, the wakening. If only we were the robin. 

There's this great Calvin and Hobbes strip, where Calvin comes running to Hobbes to report the first robin of spring.  Of course, Hobbes had already seen a robin, and Calvin's joy is smooshed. I think we can all be that way - eager for happiness and ready for defeat. I see this in myself, when I can't wait for the new grocery and am also already bemoaning the traffic on Snowden. I see it when I think about the bridge, and when I am anticipating the failure of this vital project. 

Republicans talk a lot of personal responsibility. This is a great hope, and a good idea.  And then they deny personal responsibility - they are ready to bestow the decree of failure upon people they don't agree with. 

Democrats talk a lot of change, and hope, and caring.  But they don't go far enough, because they know they will be defeated. We strive, but do we always hope to achieve?

I'm sitting on my porch, listening to Billie Holiday.  It's 54 degrees. My apartment is freezing.  And no, I'm not giving up on spring. 

There are so many pleasures in life - if only we could reach out and claim them! My family inspire me in this - my mother created a career which helps so many; my stepfather is passionate and caring and working, ever, so hard; my stepmother is a writer in her heart and devoted in her soul; my father changed his whole life with the ability to see and the need to be. Sometimes I look into them and see spring. And sometimes I can see in myself that capability - when I laugh with my students, when I scrub my kitchen and cook, when I love G, when I sit on the porch and put my iPhone on shuffle and adore, so completely, the blessing of the sun. 

We can be the robin. 

If you believe in personal responsibility, let others be responsible for themselves.  

If you believe in change, be change, fully and with hope.  

If you believe in Columbia, let it grow, without fearful restraint. Let it flourish. Be awakened. Let it wake.  

There is certainly a lot of fear in relinquishing control.  I hate that I won't really know if recess will be delightfully breezy or unbearably cold.  I hate that I live in Columbia and can't see how it can change. I hate that I believe in democracy and yet might find myself under the regime of those with whom I disagree. I hate that we all hate each other, for any reason, for politics or race or gender or neighborhood or just, simply, the way we were made. Sometimes I think it might be cold forever.  

And yet we can.  We can be.  We can be the robin. 

Billie Holiday calls to me.  Young people call out cheers, joyful exhortations, and defiant obscenities from below me on the humble playground outside my apartment. 

When I hear them I think about a city. And I think about a society of diversity. And I think, and I hope, and I pray for spring.  

I talk a lot in grand terms, and it always sounds nice, but here's where it really is - 

Wake up.  Find joy. Hate no one.  

And be. Be my robin. 



Wednesday, March 7, 2012


Sometimes, when I'm out with first grade recess, or when I'm in the tiled hallways, or when I watch children pick at their worn sneakers during math, I wonder how I could have been a child and not realized the incredible urge I had to run. 

Kids run everywhere. And they don't just run - at least once a day I see children vault themselves toward the ceiling, fingers dancing in door frames, untied shoelaces skittering on the floor. Children have such incredible energy, and when I think about anything I've lost in growing up I think about my sore knees and heavy limbs and how part of me still longs, thoughtlessly, to run. 

When we are children, our bodies are sacred. I don't mean untested, and I don't mean anything so puritanical as pure - I mean that we vibrate with captive energy. We scrape and scrabble, we dance and fizz, we treat ourselves with a divine lack of care. Every part of us is sacred, and every part is natural. 

Is this what people hope to preserve?

We hear so much rhetoric and spite when it comes to the human body. Some would be gatekeepers, guarding all against the nastiness, real or perceived, of the world. Some would wish to tell others what is proper or innocent or godly. Some think that innocence is anything other than that rough carelessness of childhood, the eagerness to explore, the feeling of asphalt and the raking of fingers against the sky. 

Some think that restraining the body of a woman means preserving decency, childhood sweetness, and unknowing. And while I applaud the sentiment of sanctity, and I understand the fear of things unsaid, I find so much sadness in relegating the physical to the impure.  

We have all been reading and watching the news, and it seems clear that there are many who believe that they have a say in the bodies and ethics of others. One need not look farther than one's Facebook feed to see reports of bigotry and hate. So many Americans are convinced that their faith or their morals or their upbringing can dictate the actions of others. What is lost, however, is the basic element of gender and personal politics, which is this -

Some people hate their bodies.  Some people hate the bodies of women.  Some people hate being physically tempted and revel in being religiously confined. 

This is, of course, an over simplification. I don't mean to say that any group of political activists consciously hate the human body. Certainly, people like a certain well-known and overly-hyped radio personality seem to revel in all of the intricacies of their flesh. 

But so many of us are maligned. We are cursed.  We are seen to be sinners.

Just today I was reading over material regarding a first confession. Apparently, I'm supposed to remember the sins I committed from as early as seven years old, and confess them as if I had any regret, as if I were at fault for irately stepping on the toes of a cute boy because I didn't know how to express affection. As if I could possibly confess to something, something black and dirty and wriggling, that neither my soul nor my body could reasonably comprehend. This material made me laugh, and it made me so angry. 

We are so obsessed with this idea of sin - religion and American politics has convinced us that sin is this definable thing, this little piece of nature, the flaw in our bodies. Sin is the byword of America. Sin is what makes tea parties out of narrow-mindedness and fundamentalism. We all know this word, and so it has been appropriated as a burrowing fester, an all-known excuse for hating other people, and for hating ourselves.  

I am a woman, and I am proud.  And I am proud of my sister, who is young and still reaches door frames, and I am proud of my mothers, who fight for wisdom and integrity, and I am proud of my grandmothers, who are made of poetry and passion and love.  And, before I am dismissed as a feminist with a match and a plan, I am so proud of the men in my life who love themselves and love me equally. I am proud of the rights I duly claim, and I am proud of the men who champion my rights. 

When I'm not bogged down by my adulthood, when my body springs to fullness, I jump and I run and I touch the ceiling.  

If we are so bothered by the reclamation of childhood, let us not be trapped by the physical and revel instead in the joyful. Never, in all of my childhood, did I think of myself as a sinner.  Never was I Eve - the wanton of temptation. Rather, I was a good beginning.  

I lived in a garden, unshod. And no part of me was wrong.  

And no part of me is wrong.  

I look at my kids. They are so good.  And it isn't because of their bodies - it is because they are who they are, sacred. It is through their roughness, their anticipation of recess, their need to run, that they define what so many wish to possess. Their innocence is in that there is no part of themselves which is hateful. 

How can we allow anyone to denigrate that kind of holiness? How can we let anyone speak of women or lovers as sinful? How can we call our children and our neighbors the fallen Eve, when we all long for that time, that fruit ripe, that moment before we knew that something in us was supposed to be wrong?

I want to run. And I want to love. And no one, no one, can tell me how. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


I have a particular problem with the word, "moral."  In fact, I would prefer that people didn't use it - not because I think that morality has no place in the 21st century, but because I hate to see one little word so consistently misused and pointed, weapon-like, at people who are different - or even, God forbid, human, and entitled to the basic rights given us by nature and by our government. Having morals, now, is like taking an oath of office in South Carolina. And I want no part of that. 

I've recently been enduring driver's education classes. In our most recent meeting, the curriculum focused on operator errors - most significantly, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. I've heard all of this information before, of course - that the choice to drive while impaired is, in fact, a choice, and that what we may do with our cars after a night of indulgence is, no matter what state of induced unconsciousness, still dangerous, and still a crime. I have no problem accepting this - as terrified of driving as I am, it seems unbelievable to turn on that metal giant of possibilities with even the slightest possibility of error. 

That said, people do make mistakes. In fact, most of my classmates were all too ready to dismiss the results of drunk driving as unintentional.  Of course, no one gets into their car with the purpose of murder and mayhem - most of us, I hope, do not wish to cause injury to others. I don't, and despite the level of sniggering and posturing in my driver's ed class, I need to believe that the typical human response to the idea of injury and death is to turn away and make a better choice. 

But, at eight on a Monday night, when we would all rather be anywhere else, I found myself surrounded by questions of intent - questions, in a way, of what constitutes morality. My classmates spent a solid chunk of time just trying to figure out if unintentional death was murder or manslaughter, if impaired drivers were ever really at fault for the consequences of their actions. 

We are increasingly living in a society that divides itself along lines of morality. And after delving into a pure lack of sympathy, of realization, of responsibility for someone else's death, I wondered if the kind of morality that dictates love, personal health, religion, is something that negates what I would consider the true morality - human decency, compassion, and flat out common sense. To make it simple - if we are all so concerned with restricting sex, restricting women's rights, restricting the good a government can do for its people, aren't we losing track of morality? Aren't we forgetting to teach our kids that morality is about love and empathy and respect? Don't we all suffer if the students at this or any driving school are more concerned with what charge might be brought rather than the reality of killing someone with their car?

And, of course, this - how can we, shapers of a message, voters in a democracy, drivers of our cars, accept that young people are so concerned with partying and denying culpability because that message we shape coins morality as the word which means denying sex, denying femininity, and denying compassion? How can we be such professors of hate and such apologists of, it's okay, murder is okay, if you didn't mean it. But love, if you mean it, is abominable. 

Conservatives, at least the most vocal and accessible, talk a lot about the personal. And it isn't just the sex, it's the idea of bootstraps, and the idea of poverty, and the mad thought that the government couldn't possibly care for people if they should care for themselves. It is the idea that they have no responsibility, not for themselves, their hate speech, and the welfare of the people around them. Well, heck. I've seen the consequences.  I've seen young people who want to get messed up and kill people and not be held responsible. This, this is what you are teaching. 

These are your children, and they see what you do.  And they can be heartless. And they can imagine no sorrow. And they know the word, "slut." And they drink, and they drive, cool and flitting like the blue of a dragonfly. And yes, they have sex, and yes, they are questioning, and yes, they seek a high. And they have no compassion. And their hope is for exculpation. And they are not guilty. 

We need to reclaim morality.  If we need to frame it in words of faith, we need to reclaim awe and reverence. If we should frame it in words of government, we must reclaim hope and equality. And, if we are to be blunt -

Let people love, and make one last end to fear. 

Let us be responsible and revere life. 

Let us be with the ones we love. Let us be safe. Let us be taught compassion. 

Don't drink and drive. And as for whom we hold, it isn't any of your business. 

Saturday, February 18, 2012

A plug

On the day of my high school graduation, my grandfather was sick.

From the minute I was born, I loved my grandfather. When I started to talk, I spontaneously called him "Grandpere," an appellation which, I am sure, delighted him to no end. Before I was born, he told my parents that he was too young to be a grandfather - but oh, how he rose to the occasion. He was the librarian of culinary delights, with trips to French bakeries and evenings spent with elbows tucked decorously below fine linen, spoon at the ready for the cracking of the fine sugar crust of creme brûlée. He knew every rule of grammar and every way to be polite - and he knew every waiter and chef and teacher and organist in Baltimore. He could be angry and passionate and hard, but he could also be playful and joyous and child-happy on Christmas morning.

When he died, people told me that I had been the light of his life. Few people know how much he had been the light of mine.

When I graduated from high school, it seemed that my grandfather would always be there, correcting my grammar and feeding me Otterbein's cookies after midnight mass. But suddenly and insidiously, he was sick, and kept getting sicker, and when the phone call came - pancreatic cancer - I felt a dam inside me break. Some things, we can't fix.

Everyone in my life has been an incredible influence, and speaking of my grandfather doesn't take away from the fact that my parents, my Grandmere, my sister, and my fiancé have been equally important to me. But Grandpere made me who I am - rigid, kind, organized, loving, stubborn, accepting, hungry for life, and most of all, finally, accepting death, however unscrupulous and ugly it may be. The words spoken to me by my Grandpere as he was preparing - how to balance a checkbook, what pictures go in the family album, how much he loved us - stay with me every day.

It wasn't just his life which made me, me. It was what he said when faced with the impossible and unimaginable. It was a diagnosis of a handful of days stretched to two years. It was his dedication to us, and his bull-strong, I have to take care of them.

Cancer doesn't make us prettier after death. I know that there were times when my Grandpere was wrong. But cancer shouldn't make us uglier in life. So many of us have been touched by cancer, from friends to distant family to Grandpere - from our personal lives to the millions who suffer with it every day. I try not to think about it, because sometimes remembering the dignity without dignity, the horror of sickness and the struggle for faith, makes me afraid to face the future. We have all seen cancer. We are all victims.

And we all are survivors.

When I'm so, so scared, so sick with the mere idea of illness, I think about how I can get through it, and if there is some magical right thing to do - if we can all work and come up with a cure. I don't know if we can. All of our miracle medical advances seem medieval when compared to the possibility of cells and chemicals and radiation actually working together and producing something final, something to end the fear. But there is a right thing. There is in all of us some small way to help.

I'm getting married in September. All of my family will be there, and all of George's, and all of our friends. But I miss my Grandpere. I miss the pleasure, pure and young and unmarred, that he would feel upon his first bite of cake, his first sip of champagne, the neatness of a crisp dress shirt and a rose boutonnière. He would have been so happy.

So, please, everyone, let's do the right thing.

A friend of mine from Hopkins is doing it. Support him if you can.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Little Alice

Reading over my old journals makes me feel like I'm in an echoing hallway, or hearing ghosts, or attending my own funeral. 

I went digging through some of my old journals, hoping to find my blank sketchbook so that I could start sketching out centerpiece ideas for the wedding. Instead, I found my deep purple sketchbook, marked only with "2003, spring --". That dash tells me a lot, and flipping to the last filled page, I saw an entry from the first day of my second semester, freshman year. 

I sort of blanked out for a while.  I hadn't been prepared for college, and though I tried I couldn't make everything fit, neat and tidy and capable, until I took time off and came back a different person. The unmarked pages in the back of that old journal are proof that, for a time, my life was too scattered, diffuse and stifling and wild, to even commit to my most sacred therapist, the midnight purple notebook. 

The pages before that, however, were filled with so much teenage longing, dramatic sadness, and acid vitriol, that reading them took me back to a place and time where I was only myself in the private and dark corners of ink and the smell of binding. Some of the things I wrote were beautiful, and fragile now because they had aged and been worn away - Italian lace, love letters, photographs of the dead. And the drawings!  I can't seem to put my pencil to paper in such uncontrolled and passionate dreaming, anymore. I drew objects of desire, churches, men with wings, hardwood floors, feet and fingers, all with a sense of urgency and an almost god-touched unawareness. I drew as if I were sleeping and wrought, twisting, with nightmares. 

Remembering who I was, reading greedily and red-faced, felt as if I were speaking to myself through a pane of mercury glass. 

I think that most of us can look back on times when we were young and hopeful and made mistakes.  I probably can't say too much on that subject, seeing as I'm twenty-five and have a lot to learn and many upcoming opportunities to err.   But still, Alice-that-was and Alice-that-is are two vastly different people, though she still wakes up sometimes, yawns, smiles, and curls her little finger. Come back, remember, don't leave me behind. 

I think about things I see every day - wrinkle cream, adds for plastic surgery, women at the gym, health food and miracle diets. So many people are trying to be young again, or to stay young, or maybe just to stave off growing up. There are a lot of things to be missed about youth (perfect proportions and untold energy among them) and I certainly miss some of those feelings, like having a crush that makes your chest burn, or seeing an old movie and coming to a sudden understanding, or having moments when you think you're getting older but you couldn't be more young. Being wrong about nearly everything but feeling so righteous. It's a glorious feeling to not only have everything laid out before you but to live entirely in the moment. And maybe that's what we're all trying to regain. 

But Alice-that-was, as valuable as her experiences have been, is just as shriveled and foul as a rotten peach, sweet, sticky, and dripping with nectar. Not because she was a bad person, but because I'm not that person anymore. Once picked, the fruit from the tree will spoil. 

Can we long for the coveted aspects of being a teenager? Of course.  

Can we ever be a teenager again?  Of course not.

Would we choose to be?

On days when I'm restless and stir crazy and tight with something I can't name, the voice of the past calls to me. She rolls around and presses against my bones. She laughs at me, rattles her cage, waiting for a moment of escape. And on those days, I am tempted by her bright red hair and insouciance. 

The purple notebook sits next to me. I pick it up. I feel grateful for its reminders of who I was and who I happily am. I tear out the drawings and the poetry. The rest ends up in the trash. I turn away. 

And then I dig it out, put the pieces back together, and hide it back in the drawer.  

I may not be little Alice anymore, but she will always be a part of me. 

Friday, February 3, 2012

In the Shadow

A lot of people talk about the present in the context of post terror. That said, I think a lot of us still live in fear more than we'd like to admit, and a lot of us live with the shadowed finger of what has come before and what will never be the same.  

On September 11 of my first year in high school, I found myself shunted over to my old elementary school after all of the public schools shut down and the crying paused, hovering, before footage and dust became permanently imprinted on our minds. I don't remember the walk - just around the corner - to that crumbling brownstone and impenetrable iron grating which kept in my childhood, my faith, and my last innocence.  I do, however, remember the smell of spaghetti and bread rolls and the sound of unknowing and still-in-youth children. I remember the blossom of crabapple trees and the darkly lit stained glass edging the playground. The asphalt, the wood chips, the everlasting feeling of late summer. 

I stopped there. I stopped in the stairwell on my way up to canned marinara and limp noodles and felt only that the world was about to change and that I couldn't help but find fierce joy in being in this state of nonbelieving. 

Today, again in an elementary school, I stood on the playground and saw two planes cross each other, dizzy and delightful in transfer ware blue sky.  And I thought about terror, and I thought about the smell of taco meat and cafeteria bleach, and I wondered if I would ever be free of what has come to define the recent history of the world. 

The planes passed and arched off into the different paths of their personal future.  I kept my eyes on them as long as I could. I watched and wondered when the crash would come. 

I'm not an alarmist, and I'm not, by any means, terrified - but the memory of that feeling, the oh my god, the beating of feet, the baring of running mascara and unbidden prayer, filled me up and made me spill over into irrational what ifs. 

Another trivial event gave me pause.  I've recently become addicted to the band Mumford and Sons, and I've been listening to their Dharohar project album - a mix of Indian music and British folk rock - pretty much nonstop. Oddly, the blend makes me think about the Irish trad I heard in a small pub in Cork.  I've written about those experiences at length; suffice it to say that my time in Ireland was formative and unpleasantly and luxuriously informative. 

These memories are ones that I would give anything to relive, but I found myself drawing parallels to that time in the stairwell on the precipice of finally understanding that we can never go back. 

We can't, and we shouldn't. 

Happiness is not so easily defined, not held in a glass of cider and not captured by the moments before a storm. My fear of passing airplanes and my adoration of youth and music and liveliness - they're all linked. They are things that can't come again. And they both hold in them a goodbye.

Life now, post 9/11, post Ireland, post diagnoses and the Eucharist, past political despair and improbable political hope, may be informed by what has happened but must not be defined by it. I couldn't sacrifice my happiness on this new playground any more than I could sacrifice my peace at home, not abroad and not indolent, with my family.  If I were to be held immobile, a mosquito in honey amber, I would miss out on all of the awe-filled moments of not only the future but of today. 

I still feel that sweat stink of impossibility.  I still hear the news, oh, how still and nerveless. I still feel my feet move in hard heel clicks and shamelessness as the accordion and guitar rouse me to dance. But I am more than that. We are more than that. 

The children I work with, you see - they don't know. Their moments of shock and unbelieving will come, but here, under airplanes and with sweet music, they feel nothing but the present.  And we, we adults, we must secure that. We must take it into our hearts. 

A little boy told me he'd like to be in first grade for the rest of his life. He can't, of course, any more than we can erase the shadow of two towers. 

But maybe we should try harder. Maybe we should see the past and yet, oh so softly, learn to live with the change. 

Maybe we should stop being, and start becoming.  

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Coming Frontier

Or at least, I hope. 

I think it's pretty clear by now that I am a huge fan of science fiction and an all-around, star trek loving, literary nerd. When I was very young, perhaps three or four, I decided that I would be a doctor, modeling myself after the brilliantly red headed Dr. Crusher who could cure all ills and erase all pain with a hypospray and hot eyes.  My parents then told me that being a doctor meant far too many years of education and internships, at which point I decided that I would wait to enter the medical profession until at least the 23rd century. No poverty, no hunger, no chemotherapy, just a universe so wonderful and magical as to make small the fears of 1990. 

I thought about this dialogue and my childhood fantasies recently, when I found myself discussing space flight in the lunch room at work. I'm afraid I revealed quite a bit of myself in the conversation, seeing that I championed the importance of exploration and wonder in modern times. I was, seemingly, the one man band for NASA, space tourism, and fresh faced optimism. I felt a bit foolish, after, but no more wrong.

Space, a vacuum full of cold anticipation and neutral emptiness, still calls to us despite the fact that its reality is limited by what is politically powerful and financially reasonable. It seems incredibly limited to me, however, that we find ourselves unable to journey out into the only unknown because it isn't popular or cheap. I understand, of course, that there are a great many problems on earth which need to be addressed, and that it seems imprudent to consider millions of dollars into the black when we need millions of dollars to fix what we seem so capable of screwing up - our lives, our government, and our rights. But the dreams live in me; somehow I feel that if we could just face the void with good cheer and determination we could figure out what Gene Roddenberry told us. Humanity is far too valuable.  We can't live without passion. And we can't live without that final frontier, without something to bind us, without cause for sharing and listening and taking care of the needs of the people. The end of war, the death of destitution, with the mechanical magic of engines and a pact to guide us happily into the dark. 

I think what I want is still that spirit of exploration, no limits other than the true values of all people - respect, purpose, and peace. 

I may be incredibly naive, but I make no apologies. Gene raised me, in some ways, and the open hope of the 1990s made me willing to accept things that might be impossible. I still think that space travel is possible, but it has come to mean so much more than warp drive and replicators. Space travel means an earth that can get over petty disputes and self-termination. Space travel means that there is a time when we, like Dr. Crusher, can find a way to heal. 

We must mend the parts of ourselves which are broken. We must look out into the night. If we don't, we will have missed out on so much of who we are. I don't care who you are, what political party, what religion, what level of apathy. I think, in all of us, there might be some little voice that cries out - make something new, and value that thing deep and secret which says, I am not merely the culmination of what has come before. 

 I am hope. 

 I am faith, incarnate.  

And I am the explorer, the lover, the wonderer, and the keeper of all joys. 

I will look out and find myself to be stretching, sanctified, human, and above all things, full of terrible and terrifying desire. 

I will hold the stars in my hands. 

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The sins of

When I was young -almost an adult, not a child, not anything more than a tangled mess of hormones and love and madness - I went to visit my family in Indiana. 

Indiana is a place of impossible breathlessness. Silent expanses of corn and soy are broken by the whir of cars and the distant but immutable cries of birds. In Indiana there is such a passion in waiting, in that sweet breaking moment of what if. I never liked it, I thought the place too bitter to taste, chicken and noodles and repressed, smashed down like risen dough, the things you shouldn't say. Until I was eighteen and thought myself old and suddenly, bone-shockingly loved, I felt that Indiana was a place of the end of things. 

That earlier trip, I sat with my family and wondered if the sins of the mother, and the mother, and the mother, would curse us forever with needing. Childhood means submitting perhaps to the ideas, concepts unsure and preformed, that are passed down like cobwebs, china, overeating and restraint. 

We are so much what we are made. How many of us have been told by our parents, this is what my parents did, and aren't you glad I'm different? They are sifted through that need for love and acceptance just as we, perhaps less rigorously and unjustly raised, feel the desperate search for identity and well, just being okay.

It is, I'm finding, very difficult to be an adult, mostly because no one ever tells you when it will start and you find yourself, unbelieving, living. If I talk about the sins of the parents it is only in terms of the sins that I will in turn commit because I just don't know, not yet, that I'm supposed to be perfect, a grown up, filling all the gaps and satisfying all the needs and never making a mistake.  

Parents make mistakes. So do kids. We all blame each other, because that makes it easier to bear.  We'd like to blame the people who came before us, because that is logical and can't be argued and is so often so painfully clear in our minds, those moments in which we were failed.  But it makes me sad, sometimes, to think of that night which I remember so clearly and so dimly - the fog and dismal helplessness, the glowing television, the sharp inherited angles of the people I love - that there was a moment when I understood, at last, that adults carry on the sins of their parents, and that parents aren't perfect, and that deep in me is the soft thrum of terrible anger, flashing fury, and the gentle but unyielding, we all have to grow up, sometime. 

Friday, January 6, 2012

Dr. What Now?

I have been, am, and always will be a fan of "genre fiction."  Blame it on Star Trek: The Next Generation coming out right after I was born and the many nights watching adventures and philosophy and ethics.  Blame it on my first, water-stained copy of The Golden Compass (water-stained due to far too many bath time readings).  Blame it on a gorgeous and now mostly destroyed copy of The Mists of Avalon.  Blame it on paganism, tarot, and the Renaissance Festival.  Blame it on the kanar, the saurian brandy, and the synthehol.

When I was little, Riker and Troi were like my parents.  And no, Nemesis, I will never forgive you.

All of this is to say - I am a fan of Dr. Who.  But I never was really, really into it until last night, when we watched Vincent and the Doctor.

I hadn't seen Dr. Who, ever, until college.  Of course, it and its mythos were a part of my life as a geek, because my parents and, it seemed, the whole fan world treasured the Doctor like a loved and lost member of the greatest family ever known - the nerds, the writers, the introverts.  Dr. Who was that last remnant of secret and treasured geek television.  Bad special effects, good writing, and terribly skimpy outfits.

I was born to a different world, shiny and oh-so-nineties, and the Doctor seemed as far away to me as Yorkshire on a sunny day with plain biscuits and no tea.  Until last night.  When I saw, new and fresh and painful, the power of genre fiction.  Until I saw the sky turn paint.

When I was very little I did my greatest work of art.  My father, ever the believer, still has it framed - I did Starry Starry Night.  It was spiraling triangles and stars.  It's probably the truest thing I ever made, because I made it, conscious and young, out of love.  I made it because I saw the sky that way, too.

Vincent van Gogh was bipolar, did you know?  Some blame it on the absinthe.  But let me tell you, Vincent van Gogh was bipolar, you know?  And I never knew it, I never thought, until I saw him, breathtaking, red-headed, sobbing and laughing, in a medium which is commonly derided, ridiculed, and made terribly uncool.  Genre fiction.  That thing that tells us who we really are - because far-fetched computers and mechanical friends and time travel can never, will never, take away from the human existence.  Life in genre is life - genre has the capacity to reveal to us the things we are, the things we hope to be, the things we are afraid of in ourselves.  Vincent van Gogh, fighting perhaps the biggest Cockatiel I've ever seen, said more to me about myself than I've ever read in Chekhov.

The sky turned into paint.  The artist met himself.  Genre created that truth which we see in the corner of our eyes but can't face.  He was sick and he loved and he died.  Yellow sunflowers and aliens and alcoholism and time travel and me.

I know this, because the Doctor showed me.

I went to a good school and got a good degree and never wrote one bit of genre fiction.  It wasn't done.  But don't let it fool you - genre fiction is what makes us who we are.  We are constantly more than ourselves.  We look to the future, television and books and comics, and we imagine, what if?  What if we could see that which we are with clarity and hope and a knowledge that Vincent van Gogh turned the sky into paint and was so, so human?  So impossible.  So sad.  So like me.

This post is dedicated to my stepmother.  She knows why.