Tag Archives: expression

Good Things #32: On Seeing Three-Dimensionally

IMG_1301 There aren’t many times when I feel misunderstood.

Let me clarify.

There aren’t many times when I stay feeling misunderstood.

There’s nothing worse than trying to explain how you feel/think/believe and having someone furrow their brow in confusion.

I try very hard to communicate well, and not just because I love words and sharing ideas. A lot of it has to do with sharing myself; what’s the point of communicating if you don’t do it clearly? And how can you convey your actual self if no one understands what the heck you’re saying?

I feel misunderstood, sometimes, when I speak too passionately, too quickly, and find myself overwhelming my listener. My family has mastered the art of discerning when to take me seriously and when to smile, pat my shoulder, and let me cool down a bit.  Come back to me later, Cath, when you’ve simmered down.

[They’re not always quite so kind, but they don’t rise to my bait as much as they used to…]

It’s not that I care less than I seem to when I’m spouting about a wrong-doing, a wrong-thinking, or what I perceive as wrong-whatevers.

It’s that it’s never the full picture.

I probably care as much as I seem to, but deep down there’s a logical side, too. The side that puts things in perspective, that reminds the other part of me that passion is important, but so is rational thinking, decision-making, and action. They don’t amount to much in isolation – they must be combined to mean anything.

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I wrote earlier about reading my old journals, sifting through page after page of angsty emotion, thought, and concern for the future. This made me a little sad about- and a little terrified at – the image I was projecting.

What will my children think if they ever get their little paws on those journals?

They’ll see only a slice of what it meant to be me growing up, wrestling with tough questions, trying to understand what it meant to be a creation of God but also being terribly insecure in that fact.

It’s kind of like first impressions, really, the one-sidedness of them. The way I decide in a moment if I will like someone, and even if that decision is based on entirely decent observations, I am forgetting the depth of that person. I am cheapening them to a cardboard cutout. I am closing the door to giving them the humanity I so very much desire for myself.

There are few things more frustrating than feeling like you’re misunderstood, like you’re only half-seen.

Don’t half-see people. Let’s both try.

The World by Alexandria

When I first watched The Fall it was October of 2011 and I was sitting in an upstairs apartment in the dark. My friends had recommended it highly and they sat next to me, across from me, eyes glued to the television. It was beautiful – the red sharp against the desert sand, the ocean a deep tropical blue-green, the feeling of a huge block of ice melting on your tongue.

My reaction to this movie is visceral. I’d rather not try to paraphrase it here – a string of words that means nothing if you haven’t seen it for yourself – but every time I watch the six-year-old Alexandria discover (yet again) that life is not perfect, that evil happens, and that people make the wrong choices every day, I am thrown into a pair of worn-out mary-janes and shocked by the very same things Alexandria cannot accept. The tears pouring down the rounded contours of her cheeks dampen the navy sweatshirt I’m wearing every time.

I watched The Fall again last week. I should’ve warned my friend how I react because I think it was surprising. What strikes me is that I’m not even sure the director or writer intend for me to view their film the way I do. God wasn’t in the picture for them, most likely, but that is what I see.

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As Roy tells Alexandria the fantastical story of bandits and adventure, he manipulates. He twists the story for his needs. He shakes morphine pills out of a plot line and uses a little girl’s devotion to alleviate his suffering. In the end, as he’s realizing the futility of his own life, he begins to destroy the world he’s built, and as each of the beloved characters dies, Alexandria becomes more and more outraged. Deeply angry, deeply sad, she cries out to him in both the story and real-life,

“This is my story too!”

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She weeps for her friends in this false-reality, but I think she is also weeping for herself. For Roy and his brokenness. For her dead father. For all the things that happened but shouldn’t have, and for all the things that should’ve happened but never did.

All I can think as I am re-immersed in this story is that Alexandria is not alone in her sadness, her anger. When God watches what we’ve chosen, He feels something akin to it, I think.

This is not the way the world is supposed to be. I feel this way when I watch movies like The Fall, when I hear about typhoons in the Philippines, when I read about another gunman.

I feel this when I (yet again) choose comfort and ease over helping another. When I watch students I care about spiral down a path that can only lead to more wrong choices. When I try to love and can’t. When I remember the death of a boy I knew, a boy whose grin is still bright in my mind.

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I know that this might not be what the artists had in mind when they made The Fall. That’s the beauty of art, though, the grappling and insight that comes even when you don’t expect it. I’m grateful for the beauty they created, for the suffering they show, and for the reaction of a little girl who speaks for me in ways I’m not always able.

Good Things Whenever #12

My Good Things Mondays have been tossed about by 1) my lack of planning and attention, 2) my lack of time, and 3) that’s pretty much it.

Not that there has been a shortage of good things lately. One might say that I’ve been discovering more and more good things with these last few weeks. These kids are hilarious (a little anecdote: a thirteen-year-old boy in my class loves sausage, so every time I ask for a noun, he shouts out, “Sausages!” and I die laughing.)

Even though I’ve been teaching and living at school, I’ve still been able to go to the farmers’ market on the weekends. We even tried out a new market Saturday – our name’s getting out there.

Among the new things I’ve discovered:

This is my new favorite musician. It was one of those moments – you know what I’m talking about. You put a cd in your car radio, a cd a friend claimed to love and then lent you, making you a little nervous about both your response to said music and if his taste in music will cause you to avoid the topic all together in the future. But you pop it in, and the first chord – the first sound of his voice in your car – reminds you of the most beautiful reasons we create.

We write because we are confused, and confusion gets worked out through pen and paper and sharing.

We make music because it is the thrum of life. Because it is in so many ways a universal language. Because I truly believe God has a special place for notes strung together and shaped into stories.

And when redemption is longed for, the beginning of redemption has begun.

I have one day of teaching left, and one day with these students I am only beginning to know and understand. I will never see them again. They will be strewn across the globe and I am only one woman in a small town in Massachusetts. But I know that every time they hear “English only!”, every time they listen to Adele’s “Someone Like You” and the Beatles’ “When I’m 64” and Joan Baez’s rendition of “Boots of Spanish Leather,” they will think of Miss Hawkins.

[Lyrics to James Vincent McMorrow’s song]

“We Don’t Eat”

If this is redemption, why do I bother at all?

There’s nothing to mention, and nothing has changed

Still I’d rather be working for something, than praying for the rain

So I wander on, until someone else is saved

 

I moved to the coast, under a mountain

Swam in the ocean, slept on my own

At dawn I would watch the sun cut ribbons through the bay

I’d remember all the things my mother wrote

 

That we don’t eat until your father’s at the table

We don’t drink until the devil’s turned to dust

Never once has any man I’ve met been able to love

So if I were you, I’d have a little trust

 

Two thousand years, I’ve been in that water

Two thousand years, sunk like a stone

Desperately reaching for nets

That the fishermen have thrown

Trying to find, a little bit of hope

 

Me, I was holding all of my secrets soft and hid

Pages were folded, then there was nothing at all

So if in the future I might need myself a savior

I’ll remember what was written on that wall

 

That we don’t eat until your father’s at the table

We don’t drink until the devil’s turned to dust

Never once has any man I’ve met been able to love

So if I were you, I’d have a little trust

 

Am I an honest man and true?

Have I been good to you at all?

Oh I’m so tired of playing these games

We’d just be running down

The same old lines, the same old stories of

Breathless trains and worn down glories

Houses burning, worlds that turn on their own

 

So we don’t eat until your father’s at the table

We don’t drink until the devil’s turned to dust

Never once has any man I’ve met been able to love

So if I were you my friend, I’d learn to have just a little bit of trust

I Write Life

When I was a little girl, I was certain I would love only one man. In fact, I was pretty sure that we would grow up together, that he’d be a boy down the street and that suddenly one glorious summer evening we would both realize we’d loved each other all along. He’d touch my cheek (ala, Gilbert Blythe) and whisper some friendly tease as we began to imagine our future.

I thought this way for years, really, as a young girl reading Little House on the Prairie, Anne of Green Gables, and Betsy, Tacy, and Tib. It’s possible I even wrote an 83-page novella (by hand) about a girl name Willa realizing the same thing about her friend Peter as they splashed each other in the secret pond in the woods. (If that isn’t some not-so-secret sexual tension in my 12-year-old writing, I don’t know what would be.)

And then one day, it occurred to me:

If I say I want to grow up with the boy I marry, that means I have to KNOW HIM NOW.

And I looked around at the boys I knew, and though I loved them dearly, I quickly revised my dream.

Never mind. I think it’s much better to meet later, in college, to be more grown up. Never mind. I’ll wait.

So I grew up, still thinking I would love one man and one man forever.

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The summer after my junior year, I interned at a publishing house in Boston. One of my tasks was to edit the text in their new database. I was responsible for fixing bizarre spaces in the mid dle of w ord s and checking line breaks, and in the process of doing this, I read some strange and awful and thought-provoking books. One was a memoir by a woman whose name I don’t remember. It had a light blue cover and it was mostly filled with a string of lovers, each one daring and handsome, social and introverted, crazy and calm. The image I have most strongly from her book is a story of her and one of her lovers (she was in her late fifties by now, I think) and they are in one of their apartments. It’s been a day of lounging around, eating and love making, and I don’t know what happened exactly, but I remember distinctly feeling a sense of her happiness. That she viewed this doomed relationship with love and tenderness. She still thought of this man fondly, despite their different paths and the pain they both felt.

I was twenty-one years old.

So I sat in my gray cubicle and in my self-righteousness, I thought: I don’t know how this is possible. She writes about these men – these men she didn’t stay with who broke her heart or who had their hearts broken by her – and she is smiling. I can feel it in her words. She is smiling at the memories with them, even as she realizes the relationships are dead.

I couldn’t understand her ability to find joy in something that was broken, and I couldn’t understand that she had loved more than one man.

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It’s three years later, and I can say with full honesty that I have loved more than one man. I might even say I’ve loved a small handful, none of them perfectly, some of them with false-starts of returned love, some of them even unwittingly requested by the receiver. If it’s taught me anything – this loving – it’s that each time is different and each time is imperfect and each time

I didn’t know how to end that sentence. Mostly because I’m not entirely sure what loving has taught me. I’d like to think that each time I get a little better at it, at both feeling it and showing it. At both being myself and enjoying someone else.

I’m glad, at twenty-four, that I can say I’ve loved more than one man. Not because it isn’t beautiful to be given that gift, but because I needed to break out of the idea of myself. I needed to see what it meant to live life instead of write it. I like to think that when I’m sixty-five, I will be telling my stories of love and un-love with a smile on my face. Because even though these men were not meant for me nor I for them, there is a reason one of us was drawn to the other, and that reason is worth telling.

Lenten Growth

We didn’t observe Lent growing up. I guess it’s something most Baptists don’t do… I remember when I was nine or ten, one of my Catholic friends looked at my piece of chocolate sometime in March and said, “I can’t. I gave up chocolate for Lent.”

I’d never heard of Lent (I was well-educated, I swear!), so I asked her what she was talking about. She said you choose something bad for you to give up until Easter, “but I hardly ever eat chocolate, so it isn’t that hard.”

And that was that, because we were nine and had better things to do than discuss Church history or the spiritual significance of sacrifice.

IMG_1242[I guess I’m taking a pretty big risk, hanging a horseshoe upside down…]

In college, I was surrounded by so many different expressions of Christianity that it sometimes felt like a free-for-all. I could pick and choose my favorite parts of each (I still don’t know what’s wrong with this approach, as long as the tenets are there). I watched friends give up coffee, chocolate, and Facebook in pursuit of a closer walk with the Lord. In my cynical mind, I failed to understand the beauty of this tradition. It felt more like a cheapening of Christ’s sacrifice than a spiritual discipline: so giving up ice cream is your personal equivalent to Christ giving up his life? That doesn’t fly.

Last year, my Lenten season was a peculiar one. I was working three part-time jobs, so my hours were all over the place. I found long stretches of time when I could read my Bible, surf the web for interesting reading, and try to reconcile the fact that I believed in God’s power and Truth, but that I had serious fear of dying. For the first time, I felt compelled to observe Lent, and by “observe” I mean mostly “be aware.” Instead of giving something up, I would add.

Every night, I prayed to the Lord. I do this most nights, but usually in the comfort of my warm bed. For Lent, I decided to pray on my knees.

It wasn’t revolutionary; kneeling happens in every liturgical service. But for me, it was rare. As I feared a potential (huge) surgery, I needed to be reminded of my perfect posture in life: kneeling before the Creator, so that I could stand with his strength.

I had a hard time remembering at first. There were a few nights when I’d roll out of bed, groaning, to get on my knees and offer a few sentences to God. I don’t remember a word of what I prayed, but it’s the feeling of my knees on the rough rug that’s stayed in my mind.

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This Lenten season, I have a lot of ideas brimming. I want to check my email and Facebook less (although work makes this a little difficult). I want to read a daily prayer or meditation, and not forget it throughout the day, like I normally do. I want to learn how to offer up every relationship – friends, parents, siblings, everyone – to be shaped by Someone other than myself.

I don’t see Lent as a time of deprivation. Instead, I see it as a time for intentional and careful reflection. And by giving up something material or adding on something meaningful, I’m hoping that the external will allow the internal to more fully connect with what it means to share in Christ’s suffering and resurrection.

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[We found this cross off the beaten path as we climbed Mount Untersberg in Austria.]

What to do with joy

This morning I woke up to a little snow on the ground and birds everywhere.

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I also woke up to roughly the fifth engagement announcement on facebook. Two good friends from college got engaged right before Christmas (not to each other!), and the rest of us had secretly been wondering: Okay, what’s the hold-up, guys?

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I didn’t realize Christmas was the time to get engaged. I also didn’t realize how horribly some people deal with their own disappointment.

A status popped up recently, and it went something like this: “Stop posting your engagements on facebook. It just reminds me of how alone I am. Thanks.”

I blinked.

What? Was this person seriously asking others to contain their joy because they themselves didn’t share it?

What about the part in the Bible that says: “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn,” (Romans 12:15)?

I admit wholeheartedly that I have no problem mourning with those who mourn; this comes naturally, sadness, sympathy, and confusion being things I can understand and empathize with.

But rejoicing with those who rejoice? Isn’t that just as important?

The past two years, I’ve realized what it means to allow yourself to experience life fully. And that means allowing both deep pain and deep joy to be expressed.

I would never say to a friend, “Please, don’t cry anymore. I love you, but I don’t want to hear it.” (This despite my previous post about learning how to deal with other people’s pain.)

So how can we think that asking others to stifle joy is an appropriate response? Does the fact that others have found love and are looking forward to a life of marriage make you any more alone? Lonely? Sad?

Would them being single make you happier?

We are called to love one another. And one way that love is shown is through the sharing of joy.

I know that I won’t be able to keep myself from singing it from the rooftops, when I find someone to walk through life with. I don’t expect anyone else to, either.

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The Art of Letter-Writing

There are few things that bring light to my day like a good letter. When I was little, I had two pen pals – my cousin who lived in northern Maine and my neighbor’s granddaughter who lived down in Virginia. We were very dedicated little writers; I remember getting envelopes stuffed to the brim with things like stickers, little plastic toys, homemade bookmarks.

I keep all of them in my great-grandfather’s old briefcase, the one with the gold clasps.

The one on the bottom has all my old manuscripts – all the horrible plays and short stories I wrote before I became self-conscious. The middle one is my great-grandfather’s, the leather handle almost broken off.

Almost every letter I’ve ever received (along with birthday cards, letters from my sponsor child in India, little notes I used to pass in class) is stuffed in.

The top one holds my letter-writing things: stationery, cards, my old wax and stamp kit, my address book (yes, I have an address book).

I probably never would’ve stopped writing to them, but middle school does different things to people.

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Letter-writing is very personal. It’s like a journal, only in some ways, it’s far more vulnerable. You’re opening your thoughts, your life, to someone else, trusting him or her to guard it, to read a part of you without judgment.

It’s personal, and yet there are so many beautiful, meaningful letters to read. My uncle told me about this website (“Catherine, you’d love this.”), Letters of Note, and I’ve poured over it.Steinbeck’s letter to his son about love is one of my favorites – honest, straight-forward, understanding, loving.

And while my letters will most likely never be read by anyone other than the intended recipient, I still like the idea that I join a long line of people before me. Thinkers, lovers, readers, writers, artists, theologians. People who stopped, saw the beauty around them, and then made that beauty palpable for those they loved.

~     ~     ~

This week I got a letter from my world-traveling friend. I read it once, twice, disbelieving of the beauty of my friend’s artistry, both in word and paint.

Switzerland is far away, and even though I miss my friend dearly, letters like this help make up for it.

Dancing to Freedom

Dancing as worship. Dancing as expression. Dancing as movement. Dancing as communion.

Self-awareness.

To dance without being seen. To dance alone in the dark. To dance in a room full of people. To feel isolated and in community.

The beauty of motion.

Dancing is something I take pretty seriously.

When I say dancing, I don’t mean structured dance class or ballet. I mean hardcore on-the-dance-floor-looking-kind-of-crazy dancing. The kind that a lot of people are scared of. I take it seriously because I love it, but I don’t take it seriously at all because I am not in the least concerned with how well I dance. Or at least, that’s what I tell myself.

It’s hard for me to pass up an invitation to dance, but don’t get the idea that I’m any good. I’m pretty terrible, more of a flailer than a dancer – all elbows and knees and sweaty forehead – and yet I can’t seem to get enough of it. The melding of a good beat with the muscles and bones and tendons God has given me, all moving together and freeing that tightness we all feel but not all of us are aware of. The tightness of holding too much. The tightness of long weeks of doing what we should, and yet still feeling a hole.

I went to a dance party just the other night filled with boys and girls and hipsters and intellectuals and agnostics and Christians and people who drank and people who didn’t drink. Some made only a brief appearance in the dark basement with flashing lights and sound mixing, standing a good head and shoulders above everyone just long enough to decide “dancing wasn’t for them.” These people promptly turned around and headed back up the wooden stairs to resume investigating the link between “What is life?” and “What is art?”, all while consuming (perhaps) a little too much alcohol. Then there were the boys who would’ve done anything to dance with a girl, sneaking up to them, touching their hands, their arms, hoping that at least one of the feminine among them would comply. This crowd, though, would have none of it, and alas, I found that the genders do better mixing at senior centers than they do at a vastly Christian dance party.

Darkness, lights flashing, faces distorted by the sharpness. Bodies I recognized and bodies I didn’t, shaking and moving in a freeness some only dream of.

I danced and thought, this is when I feel free. I’ve been searching for those moments more often lately, trying to understand why I feel trapped and how to stop feeling that way. One of the boys at the party hadn’t danced in forever and he looked so nervous (and quite stupid, frankly), with his arms close to his side and his feet shuffling awkwardly on the cement floor. I leaned in to him and said above the music, “Just pretend no one can see you. That’s the best way to dance.”

He looked at me, and excitement mixed with the fear in his dark eyes.

I don’t know if he tried it or if it worked, because I moved away from him to another group of friends across the room.

That, though, is seriously some of the best advice I can think of. Pretend no one’s watching. Just dance. Just do what you want. 

There’s so much freedom in it.