Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Month in the Country

He uncovered the eyes of God,
peeled back the blankness
to reveal the quick and the dead,
judged, falling.

What do you call Hell? she asked,
that the church bells wake us
to the roses no one ever sees,
the sun dazzling the graves,
the rain miring the battlefield,
the unexpressed want
pressed between pages in a prayer book.

Dead Poets Society

I used to write poetry. I used to do almost nothing but write poetry. I have an MFA from a bloody expensive, prestigious program. My thesis advisor was Daniel Halpern, editor-in-fucking-chief of Ecco Press. And I did jack with this, except repay the student loans (I'm still repaying the student loans). Once I had the degree, I couldn't write a damn thing. Ever. Again.

I might have a theory or two about why, but the main thing is that I never tried to get what I did write published and then I couldn't write at all. I recently dug up all those poems, and the useless thesis reviews (Thanks, Deborah Diggs, for the kudos. Sorry I just filed it away.) and thought, why not just post some of them here?

So, I will.

Friday, May 29, 2009


1. It’s easier to write dark than light. It is my gift to bring the dead to life.

2. I will take possession of all I see, love and grief and hope and art.

3. What you have I want. Your peace, sitting quietly with your heart.

4. The Furies, my pets, they howl and tear and spit you out bone by bone.

5. A slow weight, a heavy eye. Time slips through me and is gone.

6. I am so hungry and yet I barely taste. I have cleared the feast and guzzled the wine.

7. Now come here; let me rip the thoughts from your mind.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Black Psalm

When sorrow falls on your plate
with the clatter of dropped coins,
how do you ask a blessing on that meal?
How do you consume it,
how does it nourish and delight?
What do I taste and see –
sand and entrails.
Your will is like fog,
the shroud of accidents.
God, I do not trust you.
You give with one hand
and take with the other
and call it fallen creation.
You ask for blood
and speak love.
Your justice is ugly and unrighteous,
a knife at the neck of a small child
to test our loyalty.
Then you beam like the sun –
See, it’s all okay now –
it’s all mercy now.
See how I love you?
The enemy armies have been laid waste
and left to rot in the fields.
Now you can build your house on rock.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

HBO recently aired a documentary called Loot. I don’t normally watch documentaries, and if this hadn’t been recommended to me, I probably would never have known it existed. But the subjects of this film are from my dad’s generation, a generation of men who knew war and who knew how to keep secrets. My dad was not in the thick of things in WWII; he was stationed in South America somewhere. Why there, I don’t know. My grasp of history is not good, and I’m not sure what they thought might happen there. Still, for whatever reason, he never talks of his time in the service. Much of his life is hidden, or rewritten to be more presentable. We all do this to some extent, but for men like my dad, there was such a stigma attached to showing weakness, emotion, lack of control or authority. They carry an unacknowledged darkness inside.

Loot follows two WWII vets who are attempting to find treasure they buried at the end of the war, one in Austria and the other in the Philippines. They are assisted by a man named Lance, a used car salesman who seems to have tried his hand at many things, including hunting treasure. I assume he is in this at least partly for a cut in the findings, but he never hectors or shows much frustration at the slow pace of the proceedings.

The first gentleman, Darrel, hid stolen jewels in a house in Austria, in the last days of the war. Lance accompanies Darrel to Austria on what seems like a fruitless search for the house with only the barest guidelines for figuring out the location. To complicate matters, Darrel is nearly blind, so he can’t orient himself with a map, and the Austrians who try to help him are at something of a loss. He seems a sweet man, well loved by a large family, easy to like.

The other man, Andy, is more disconcerting. He acquired and buried a set of samurai swords used in beheading American airmen. He lives in a house crammed full of stuff – Elvis plates, old bottles, stacked plastic cups, pornographic magazines. Nothing is ever thrown out. He says he has a map, but he doesn’t know where it is. He seems to have accumulated all this junk solely for the purpose of obscuring the map’s location. He is ambivalent. He has a safe but can’t remember the combination. When they finally get it open, there are thousands of dollars inside that he seems to have forgotten about entirely, and he seems oddly unconcerned at its rediscovery. The more we learn about his experiences in the Philippines, the more we see of the way he lives, the more uneasy we become.

It’s clear that there’s a lot more than treasure buried, and the hunt becomes secondary to more pressing, less conscious needs. These men are searching for closure, memory, redemption, forgiveness. One finds it; the other, as far as we know, does not.

I wonder what Lance took away from his involvement in the film, or how he feels about spending so much time on a project that for him had very little payoff. He simply keeps going, methodically, until there is nowhere else to go. We learn that his son is coming off drugs, and that both Darrel and Andy themselves lost sons to drug overdoses. In fact, Darrel even spoke with Lance’s son, which Lance mentions may have saved his life. We leave Lance with his son, immersed in a hot spring in an unspecified location, perhaps a baptism of renewal for them both.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Why the weekend isn't sucking much at all right now

Well, I do have some sort of viral infection. I went to the Little Clinic and Publix. I'm running a fever and have a sore throat. But when I got back home, Dear Husband was waiting dressed in suite and tie, and the girls were dressed up, Firecracker holding flowers and DramaQueen a jeweler's box on a pillow. Pacobel's Canon was playing. Dear Husband read me a sweet poem he wrote for me and presented me with the flowers and the prettiest ring with regular and chocolate diamonds.

So, although physically I feel like a piece of old gum stuck on the underside of a desk, my heart is light and breezy.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Why This Weekend Sucks

I never look forward to Memorial Day weekends. I always feel futile and ill at ease. It may be because my birthday always falls around that weekend. Dear Husband comes from a family that goes all out to celebrate birthdays. I remember one party when I was little, and no doubt presents when I was growing up. But, and it's kind of dreadful to admit because it sounds so emo, but I've never felt it was something to celebrate. I spent the better part of my life thinking that anyone glad to be here had to be nuts, and that my entrance was definitely not something I was happy about. It seemed so much like some sort of glitch, that a divine flunky read the charts wrong and I was really supposed to be back in the undifferentiated whatever that souls come from before they enter bodies.

Even now, when I can usually grab on to some perspective, and am medicated beyond belief, I feel more and more dark-minded as my birthday approaches, and I tense every time someone wishes me a happy birthday, as if I were taking something fraudulently. And I'm angry that I can't shake it, that I can't look on life as an amazing gift instead of my personal version of Kafka's Penal Colony. (Which, BTW, if you haven't read it you should really put in on your list. Criminals have their crimes written on their bodies with needles, and the director of the camp finally puts himself in the machine because the criminals all experience a revelation. And then they die. Yep, I love me some Kafka.)

I'm sitting at my desk at work. The office closed early, but I can't bring myself to leave. When I leave the apparatus of the weekend begins, all the cogs and wheels grind away, and I have to deal with sniping children, laundry, empty time, chaos, cooking, groceries, feeling lost, feeling futile. And I will be one year older, but no wiser.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

God has Left the Building

“And I love the idea that the viewer goes through a similar process; because there's something so sexy about treasure, something so alluring and elusive about this fantasy of finding gold. And to some degree, you have to engage in what part of us lives in this fantasy, and what part of us is willing to see the other thing that's occurring; because we all want the fantasy. But there's always something more.” Quote from Darius Marder, directory of the documentary Loot.

The second sentence of this statement really struck me. This documentary is, I gather, about two men who, following war, buried treasures in different parts of the world, and in their old age they meet up with someone who leads them on a journey to recover it. I haven’t seen it yet, and I’m not sure I will like it, but from what I’ve read, the treasure hunt uncovers all sorts of things besides treasure.

What is a fantasy trying to tell us? The things I find alluring are not just about the object themselves. Obviously. I touched on that in my last post, how my fascination with this angel character reflects my own struggles with faith. Dear Husband might say I am rationalizing the fact that I think the actor is super attractive. But why do we latch onto celebrities in the first place? We all know it is more to do with our own desires than the actual person. The actor is beautiful, beautiful in a heart in the throat sort of way. But I’ve seen him all season without giving him a second thought. It wasn’t until Castiel became important that I found him alluring.

I develop short-run obsessions with characters, and in turn with the actors who play them. I obsess because they embody some issue or quality or need. Lie to Me and House: Dr. Lightman and Dr. House see through lies to the truth. They know when you're bullshitting. How desirable and painful at the same time. I wish someone would cut through my lies, and I tell myself plenty, and I tell others plenty. I would never in a million years have thought Tim Roth was attractive if he didn’t play this particular character. It’s all mirrors and glamour, in the old sense of the word glamour.

I’ve had these passionate interludes with fictional characters (and books themselves, too) for as long as I can remember. I’m sure others do, too. At times the experience of reading a really good book, the kind that stays with you through life, is a lot like infatuation. I have read books that made me breathless and tremble with excitement, oblivious to everyone at first, and then mad to tell everyone all about my beloved.

I think first of Brideshead Revisited, which may be indelibly ingrained in my psyche. I was in love with that book. With Sebastian and Oxford and the almost too rich, elegiac prose. There’s a line in the book about being in love with love, which is pretty much what I experienced. But then there is the theme of God drawing us in with an unseen hook and an unseen thread. There was a miniseries, and the actor who played Sebastian embodied the character so perfectly, that I was smitten with him as well.

Other fictional loves:

Sherlock Holmes: The allure of the unavailable.

Nabokov’s Real Life of Sebastian Knight: How much of the pursuit of someone else is a study of ourselves? What kinds of games can you play with reality and with words?

Raskolnikov: What do you do if you do the unforgivable? What is repentance?

Louis in the Ann Rice books: How do you live if you loath your very essence? What do you pin your hopes on?

Sydney Carton: Redemption.

Sometimes I am the character, sometimes the one who loves the character, and sometimes I just roam around among all the words.

So, recently, I’ve wanted to cut away the lies and pretense and admit that I am not ever going to fit where I seem to find myself. And then there is the questioning, the doubt, the sense that God is remote, the CEO of a corporation that churns along with its own rules that have so little to do with His true nature. Or at least I think or hope that is the case. I have never met Him, and I don’t think Castiel has either. In Supernatural, evil is real and present, but God is a cipher. Lucifer shows up, but God does not. Like Castiel, I’ve decided that I am not a good little soldier. If there is a side, I am definitely on the side of the messed up and burned out, the heretics and blasphemers, and the sovereign God, that construct of Calvinists, is in fact no god at all but a bunch of bureaucrats with their own agendas. As the angel Zacherias says in Supernatural, God has left the building.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Because what's life without an obsession

Since I'm channeling a thirteen-year-old, I thought I would just go ahead and run with it. I think as long as I don't put posters on the wall, Dear Husband will humor me.

Of course it isn't just the actor, but the character he plays, that is so appealing. Castiel is an angel who has begun to have doubts and to question the hierarchy that seems to be running the world.

For those who don't know the show, Supernatural is about two brothers, Dean and Sam, who are demon hunters. It's a good ol' good vs. evil show. Castiel only appeared at the beginning of this season, to rescue Dean from hell (too long to go into). In Supernatural, heaven is a sort of corporation with an absentee CEO, and Castiel has been more than happy to be one of heaven's warriors, trusting that his missions were guided by a loving God. But in fact the orders come from mysterious higher levels, without any seeming reason or logic, and sometimes with a complete disregard for human life. It's pretty much heaven as imagined by Franz Kafka.

But in the course of interacting with Dean, Castiel starts to change, veering between towing the party line to outright disobedience. The good guys, the angels, aren't always good, and the demons aren't always bad, and in the heavenly spheres it's hard to know exactly who is calling the shots and where their loyalties lie.

I love this clip. I think Dean's speech about peace versus pain and life is wonderful. And then Castiel breaks ranks entirely, casting his lot with the humans. Also, I think the line "It's better than being a Stepford bitch in heaven" is an excellent line, and I would like the opportunity to use it in conversation.

Monday, May 18, 2009

You Don't Know What You Missed.

DramaQueen’s spring recital is finally over, and I am so damned happy about it. It was the longest recital in world history, and possibly the history of the galaxy.

The school put a lot of effort into the program, and they have the best of intentions and I’m sure their choices are heartfelt. But. There’s always a “but” for me, born of my natural cynicism and aversion to most contemporary expressions of Christian culture. I have this snotty opinion that however fair the intention, bad art is just bad, and we aren’t doing Christianity any favors by training children to deliver pabulum to the masses.

First, the story was as pious and moralistic as something from an old McGuffey Reader: Girl wants doll in the woodcarver’s shop. Girl’s mother lets her earn the money through extra chores. Girl is very diligent, not neglecting her work for pay. Girl saves money and buys doll. But, lo, she spies a poor beggar woman, and returns the doll so that she can give the money to the beggar. Meanwhile, the one griping, mean-spirited person in the story learns an Important Lesson and vows to change her ways. A group of angels watch and rejoice. Meanwhile the beggar uses the money to score some heroin and shoots up. Well, no, but that probably would have improved the story.

Now, imagine that dragged out over three hours, with dance numbers folded into every possible plot crevice.

Keep in mind that this story was set in a sort of fairy-tale ye olde Alpine village. Now, imagine them folding in a hip-hop number as well as jazz.

And then imagine them all done to contemporary Christian music.

Afterwards, Dear Husband said that we are not sending her to another faith-based arts school - something I never expected to hear from him. He does surprise me sometimes. Recently when we were pondering him homeschooling DramaQueen, he said that he refused to use a religious curriculum. That’s the sort of pronouncement I would happily make, but I’m half heretic and he’s straight-line orthodox. Well, close, anyway. At least compared to me.

DramaQueen will be pleased. She told me that she was very tired of doing plays about God. Bless her.

Friday, May 15, 2009

And I thought slash was something you did with a knife...

I used to think I was pretty astute about popular culture. I don’t like being out of the loop. If there’s something going on I want to know about it.

This started out with a simple question. I wanted to know the name of the actor who plays the angel Castiel on Supernatural, who dragged the character Dean out of hell, and who shows up regularly to keep him on the right course. He’s a rather pretty angel. Anyway, I found out it is Misha Collins, but that in turn somehow – I don’t remember how now – led me all over the Internet.

I had never heard of slash fandom. I knew people hung out on fan sites going over every blessed detail of their idol’s life and swooning over this, that and the other. It reminds me of being a teenager and huddling with your best friends giggling and sighing over the latest cute celebrity.

I didn’t know that people were writing and posting speculative fiction about romances between male characters in TV shows. And they’re creating videos and still images as well. Castiel and Dean have inspired multitudes to spin romances about them.

I was truly annoyed that this had not occurred to me first.

I mean, I’ve been well-trained at spotting a homoerotic subtext. That began in high school reading Moby Dick, which, despite being homoerotic (Or homosocial, I think the teacher said, but whatev. A book that describes a whale’s penis in great detail has something going on), was extremely boring. I was fascinated with gay culture in any case. Brideshead Revisited, Another Country, A Month in the Country, Prick Up Your Ears, Maurice, If, Bronski Beat, the Smiths. I think I horrified one of my high school friends when I told her I wished I were a gay man. I meant it, too, even though the AIDS epidemic was at its height. Looking back, I imagine I thought that if I had to have sex with a man, it would be better if I came at it from a position of equality. Men seemed to have all the fun, and they didn’t have to worry about getting pregnant. They had to worry about dying, but I was dealing in fantasy, after all. I was less than eager to lose my virginity, so this must have been a form of sublimation. The possibility of sex with a woman wasn’t even on my radar, then.

Anygay, I’ve wasted a good few hours wandering around in the slash world, a world that would have been limited by locale if it existed at all when I was a kid. And now anyone can circulate their writing and create videos with international access, all about a topic that was just beginning to be broached in my teen years. Heaven knows there’s still a lot of prejudice, but sometimes I’m just floored that there are gay characters on TV. That was unheard of when I was young. And actors had to be very skittish. You didn’t want to play a gay character (and you most certainly didn’t want to have to do anything physical), and you wouldn’t want someone to think you were queer in real life. You would not, for example, have seen a straight actor do the following, and be cheered on for playing a merry prank:

Misha signing Jarod's T-shirt at a Supernatural convention charity auction

(If you feel the need to see a clearer, more polished version - and who could blame you - click here.)

Everyone loved it, and the actor was very obviously playing to the audience. Of course, it sounds as if they are a lot of women, as no doubt there would be. For some reason women also write most of the slash fiction. Why, I don’t know. Perhaps I was not alone in my fascination with gay men.

Not discounting ongoing prejudice, if we have come so far in my lifetime, what next, I wonder?

In any case, I won’t be able to watch Supernatural the same way again.

Friday, May 08, 2009

RevGals Friday Five: A Bug's Life

Sophia writes: As I was walking the beach today, I was surprised and delighted to find it swarming with ladybugs. The sweet little red beetles are one of my favorite insects and also my daughter's blogname--though as of this morning she was thinking of changing it to Butterfly. I'll keep you posted.

This got me thinking about spiritual insect trivia: Did you know that medieval mystics and theologians esteemed the bee for its dedicated work and transformation of ordinary ingredients into sweetness? That Spider Woman is an important creator Goddess to many Native American tribes? Or that Francis of Assisi was reminded of Jesus not only by lambs being led to slaughter, but also by worms (think "I am a worm and no man" from the Psalms)-- so he picked them up and took them out of stomping-vulnerable spots?!
In that spirit, this week's Friday Five is a magical mystery tour through God's garden of creepy crawlies!

1. Ladybugs or ladybirds? Pillbugs or roly-polys? Jesus bugs or water skeeters? Any other interesting regional or familial name variations?
I’ve always known them as ladybugs and roly-polys. I have never heard of Jesus bugs or water skeeters. Not up on the insect lore, as I try to avoid them altogether. But I did grow up saying lightning bugs rather than fireflies.

2. Stomp on spiders, carry them outside, or peacefully co-exist?
Call Dear Husband and let him decide. I’m pretty much opposed to peaceful coexistence in my house, once they make themselves visible. There are two poisonous varieties – black widow and brown recluse – which I worry will make an appearance. I don’t care what ecological role those may be playing; they’re dead if I find them.

3. Favorite insect?
Butterfly, I think. Lovely creatures that don’t sting or crawl into your house looking for food or spread germs.

4. Least favorite?
Water bugs, those big fat cockroach like beasts that seem too large to squash. They win for grossness. But for pure annoyance, it’s hard to beat mosquitoes and fire ants. Right now fire ants are at the top of my list. They are trying to take over the yard, and we found out that Firecracker has a very bad reaction to bites—swelling and nasty blisters that take weeks (sometimes months) to go away.

5. Got any good bug stories to share?
Ah, yes. At one point in Manhattan I shared an apartment with a couple that was almost directly over a bakery. We loved that bakery. Kind of funky, close at hand. Well, it seems one day B. brought back a muffin from said bakery. He didn’t bite into it but instead broke it apart, at which point a roach crawled out. Eeewww. Never ate there again, needless to say.

Bonus question: share a poem, song, quotation, etc. about insects.

Ha – you wouldn’t expect anything upbeat from me, would you?

Fly on the Windscreen
By Depeche Mode

Death is everywhere
There are flies on the windscreen
For a start
Reminding us
We could be torn apart

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Lemon without the Peel

This is just one of those crap days when my mood grows even darker than usual. No matter how many times I tell myself it’s a passing feeling, that part of it’s physical, and so on, I feel like the hounds of doom are nipping at my heels.

You know, it doesn’t much help to think, boy there are people in a lot worse situations, I should be grateful.

It’s weird how being grateful doesn’t translate into being happy.

And happiness may not be everything, but it sure helps one have enough energy to give a damn what happens and to actually get done what needs doing.

The lack of energy, the inability to organize my thoughts or to plan and set goals, it makes me feel like I’m failing my family. Myself, too, of course, but I really hoped to create a better, more stimulating environment for the girls.

Last night I kept thinking that I would end up dying like my mom, of leukemia, the disease of fatigue. She was always tired, and then she finally had a good reason to be tired.

Whatever I was meant to do, I definitely feel like it is too late. Or maybe there wasn’t anything in particular, or maybe it called for more self-discipline than I could or can summon. It may be pathetic, but my hope is for my children. I hope this mental plague skips them, that they will know what they want and find joy in the pursuit. I don’t think I walk around looking mopey and depressed. I do genuinely enjoy things, like reading a book, or listening to my girls, or holding hands with my husband, or hearing the birds. I laugh at jokes. These moments are the stepping stones that get me from one side to the other, from moment to moment and day to day.

Enjoyment doesn’t translate into happiness either.

Maybe I don’t mean happiness, but something more like “zest.” I have no zest.

Just writing that out makes me feel a teensy bit better. The rhythms of writing and reading are so soothing. No zestier, though.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Friday Five: Celebrating the Seasons of Life

Sally at RevGals writes:
“It is the first of May, or as I have been concentrating on dialogue with folk interested in the new spirituality movement this last week, it is Beltane, a time to celebrate the beginning of summer. The BBC web-site tells us that:

Beltane is a Celtic word which means 'fires of Bel' (Bel was a Celtic deity). It is a fire festival that celebrates of the coming of summer and the fertility of the coming year.
Celtic festivals often tied in with the needs of the community. In spring time, at the beginning of the farming calendar, everybody would be hoping for a fruitful year for their families and fields.

Beltane rituals would often include courting: for example, young men and women collecting blossoms in the woods and lighting fires in the evening. These rituals would often lead to matches and marriages, either immediately in the coming summer or autumn.

Another advert for a TV programme that has caught my eye on the UK's Channel 4 this weekend is called Love, Life and leaving; and is a look at the importance of celebrating the seasons of life through ritual and in the public eye, hence marriages, baptisms and funerals.

I believe that we live in a ritually impoverished culture, where we have few reasons for real celebration, and marking the passages of life;


1. Are ritual markings of birth marriage and death important to you?
Okay, I’m going to admit that I have a love/hate relationship with ritual. Part of me loves the ritual of the Catholic and Anglican traditions, for instance, and the other part was raised with Southern Baptist suspicion of all that paraphernalia and repetition. I grew up with very little in the way of ritual. My parents did nothing special to celebrate either my high school or college graduations. Nothing. They did not attend my wedding. Birthdays were nothing special once I was out of childhood. My mother’s funeral was a straightforward Baptist funeral with the usual rituals of a viewing and a service. No graveside parting that I remember.

The brother closest to me in age is a Catholic convert. My nephew’s funeral (last November) was very moving and beautiful. The rituals of genuflection, the funeral liturgy, the songs, the eucharist – I thought these all supported genuine mourning and drew the family and friends together in a community of faith. It was a real goodbye, a solemn remembrance of his gifts to that community. It is unfortunate that the Catholic communion is closed, because it did rather pointedly exclude all his relatives on our side of the family.

2. Share a favourite liturgy/ practice.
Since I have almost no familiarity with liturgy, I’m not sure what to say. When I’ve attended Episcopal services, I’ve always liked the way that they served communion—kneeling at the altar rail. I like that act of reverence as opposed to the walk-by communion at our church.

3. If you could invent (or have invented) a ritual what is it for?
Not a clue. I’m hopeless at trying to conceive these on my own.

4. What do you think of making connections with neo-pagan / ancient festivals? Have you done this and how?
Given that Christmas and Easter are already entwined with pagan festivals, I don’t see the problem with this. I know that mix bothers some and they will go to any lengths to disassociate themselves from the pagan elements. Not me. On the other hand, I would feel like a complete idiot dancing around a maypole. It seems so RenFaire kitschy.

Of course, you don’t have to go neo-pagan to incorporate seasonal festivals. Judaism has plenty. Why Christians can’t look further than the Seder is beyond me. Not that I’m busy setting up Sukkoth tents – you need a group for a festival. And messianic synagogues are a little….sketchy.

5. Celebrating is important, what and where would your ideal celebration be?
I really am very stunted when it comes to celebrations. It’s sad. Not to engage in a pity-party, but a lifetime of depression and anxiety makes it very difficult to see the world in a celebratory way. I tend to think more in terms of endurance than enjoyment. We are supposed to celebrate our 10-year wedding anniversary, and I know that Dear Husband will be the one with the vision, which may include a big party. He enjoys parties. To celebrate this particular event, I think I would just like to be alone with him somewhere pretty—a mountain trail or a lonely beach (if such a thing is possible) and just be. I hope that I get better at this. It’s too bad there is no class in how to celebrate.

I think this is why the Episcopal church interests me – it comes with pre-fabricated rituals! For whatever reason, whether it’s ADD or some other issue, I cannot organize time unless told what to do. I like and need structure, but I cannot create it myself.