Friday, April 19, 2013

Climbing Mountains

After a week like this, how can one not be left feeling heavy? Heavy with the weight of sorrow and fear, heavy with the knowledge that we can try to solve it by duking it out in the political arena, but evil never hides and people can always find it and use it. Maybe we are never fully safe from each other, a thought that makes me weep. Because we need people. We need each other so desperately.

There are a million reasons to lose our faith in humanity. Look around. Boston might be the biggest indicator right now but every crime committed, every judgmental comment slung about, every voice raised in anger at another, can turn into a cacophony, reverberating through us all, trying to drown out everything else.


Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it. ~Helen Keller

I found this quote tonight on Kelle Hampton's blog and it sunk into my soul, dripping into the sadness and the hurt and filling the holes. Because the truth of that one statement can be stronger than the cacophonous evil. Evil doesn't win. But that truth lies in our perspective, in the way we see the world. We could focus only on the first part, on the real-and-never-changing truth that the suffering will always be a part of our reality. And we could leave it there, losing hope. Losing faith. Never taking a step to rectify it. That's one way to see the world.

But it's not the only way. The perspective can shift, the angle can tilt. We can choose what we see, what we zoom in on, how we respond. Perspective and action. A better world might actually hinge on those two powerful things. This week, I attended an Earth Day conference with Dr. Jane Goodall as keynote speaker. Her message that night (the afternoon of the bombing in Boston, though I was not aware of it at the time) was that even though there are so many problems in our world- people hungry, forests decimated, species endangered- the story isn't over. The die has not been cast. She outlined the reasons why she still has hope, why she has not given up. Three things: human intellect, the resiliency of Nature, and the indomitable human spirit. The indomitable human spirit. Indomitable. As in: cannot be dominated. Too strong to be destroyed.

As humans, we are capable of building mountains of hate and judgment and anger... and sometimes those mountains can seem to blot out the view. But we are also capable of love and forgiveness and empathy. We have the power to seek the beautiful amid the brutal, climbing those mountains, dominating them with our indomitable spirits. Let compassion guide our eyes and our hands and our spirits, and there is nothing we cannot do.

Prayers to Boston tonight. Let's go climb some mountains.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Thoughts on a Journal

Currently Reading: The Journals of Louisa May Alcott and Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed

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It's a privilege, really, to read someone else's private words. A privilege that, quite frankly, gives me a sense of unease and guilt as I read, knowing as I do that she really didn't want her journals to be read after she was gone. Several times these past weeks, I have found myself whispering a quiet apology as I open the covers and slip back in. But I feel I have given her journals the reverence they deserve, and so my guilt does not linger long.

She's witty. She's ironic. She's sharp. Those deep brown eyes don't miss a thing and she records what she observes and feels with a clarity, honesty, and insightfulness, even at a young age, that is truly remarkable. She writes about her world and her life with passion and earnestness, but with a dry wit, and with sarcasm or irony tinging her words. She can make me laugh out loud. She can make me reread a sentence again and again to wring every nuanced meaning from it.

Reading her journals is inspiring and exhilarating. But mostly, I just find myself enjoying her company. Her happy moments, her despondent days, her commitment to her family, her plans and goals, her tireless work ethic- I have gotten to know them all. And I have gotten to know her in a new way, in the raw, real words of her life. I witness the change in her voice as she grows older and her experiences shape her; I hear the world-weariness that never quite goes away, her attempts to resign herself to her duties and her life. I love her younger years the best, because I identify so fully with her there. As she gets older, her journals become descriptions of daily life, her family and her work, less about herself and her feelings. Her opinions are still there, still sharp- but she seems to write her journals less as a means of introspection and more as a narrative of her days.

I understand now the rhythms of her life; I see now that she had to write mostly to provide for her family. I find myself wondering what books she would have written if she had the time and the quiet she desperately wanted, if she could have written for herself, without the pressure of writing for necessity.

There is great beauty in her writing, even though it's a journal and not meant for a reader's eyes, which just shows that she was naturally talented, her writing just an extension of how she thought and spoke.

I haven't finished yet. I don't really want to. 

I was thinking of going on to one of her novels next, but I cannot pull myself away from her world, so I will be moving on to her collection of letters. Through the letters, I expect I will be seeing her life from a new perspective, a different angle, providing me with what I desire most: a multi-faceted understanding of her life. 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

My First Piece

Currently Reading: The Journals of Louisa May Alcott and Through a Window: My Thirty Years with the Chimpanzees of Gombe by Jane Goodall

My piece on Little Women was printed at The Literary Ladies' Guide website several days ago, so I thought I would share the link with anyone who may be interested. I would be honored if you would take a peek:

I know it may seem like a little thing, but it is the first time my writing has been printed outside of this blog for others to read, and I am excited to share my writing with broader audiences. I don't intend to pursue a career as a writer, but it is something that sustains and fulfills me, and I at least want to see where it leads me. This experience has only served to inspire me further and given me confidence in my writing, which I am grateful for.

As for my reading, I am slowly savoring Louisa May's journals, taking a quiet, solitary stroll through them at a leisurely pace, so that I can be fully present in her world, aware of the sights and sounds and emotions of Louisa's life. Yet I have also been spending time in the forests of Tanzania, listening to Dr. Goodall ardently describe the chimpanzees she has studied and grown to love, illustrating their behaviors and social structures and temperaments. In nine days, Jane Goodall will be at an Earth Day conference I am attending, and reading this book is both rekindling the childhood hero-worship I had for Dr. Goodall and also stoking my excitement for the 15th.

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I used to have a poster of this photo hanging on my bedroom wall. It's still one of my favorites.

That's all, friends! Have a great weekend!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Bits and Pieces

Currently Reading: The Journals of Louisa May Alcott

Bits and pieces of the last two weeks:

Spring break came and went, which allowed me to find time to read and finish my third Classics Club book, Early Irish Myths and Sagas by Jeffrey Gantz and my fourth Alice Hoffman, The Third Angel. Myths and Sagas took me almost two months, despite its small size. I have read much of the early Irish literature before, and each time it is hard to get through. Not because it's boring or uninteresting, but because each story is thick with detail and description. It is tempting to skim these tales, letting my eyes flick over the lines of names and places that are mostly unpronounceable. But when I take time to notice and study them, the words and names become so beautiful. I practice sounding them out, checking with the Irish pronunciation guide at the front of the book and smiling with pride when I remember some of the more difficult ones from previous readings. The tales also expand and broaden under my eyes when I savor them slowly. Descriptions of Cu Chulaind's shield or the house Bricriu builds can be tedious, but I try to read them for the history they portray, as much as for the storylines. "The Exile of the Sons of Uisliu" is still my favorite, closely followed by "The Dream of Oengus." (Both tales were the basis of some great Irish Literary Revival works too; long ago, the discovery of Yeats' poem "The Song of Wandering Aengus" began my fascination with all things Irish.) Ever since we returned from Ireland last year, I find that in each Irish book I read, I can picture what I read so much clearer. I know what the Hill of Tara looks like; I can see the deep woods and the crashing ocean foam in my mind as the words take me back to a place I fell in love with, that lives in me still.

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As for The Third Angel? Alice Hoffman continues to amaze me. I don't know how much more needs to be said.
Easter weekend, filled with family and prayers and gratitude to God. Good Friday was everything it should be: solemn, tear-filled, hushed, holy. With each light that is extinguished in the sanctuary, I am shocked anew by the raw and the sacred of the night. I left exhausted, utterly spent by the sheer emotion of marking a sacrifice.
But this is what our church looked like Sunday morning. (Courtesy of Pastor Robert). I would say that a balloon-filled sanctuary is the epitome of Easter celebration and joy.

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I swept through Wanderlust by Elisabeth Eaves in only a few days, satisfying the traveling itch that has engulfed me with the first whispers of spring. At first I worried that, far from putting calamine lotion on the itch, it would only irritate it, making me long to leave and fly to new adventures. But the memoir was brutally honest, portraying the good and the bad of ceaseless travel in equal measures. Through the book, I relived the feelings I experienced in Ireland last May: the exhilarating, terrifying feeling of being a stranger among strangers; the awe of gazing upon beauty I could only have dreamed of; the self-consciousness that accompanies being dropped into a new culture; and the fulfillment of desires for adventure, culture, and knowledge. But Wanderlust did not shy away from the reality that constant movement is not always the answer; downfalls exist for those who can never find happiness in settling, who must always be moving in order to feel alive. And I was truly grateful, after reading it, that I am satisfied with the realities of schedules and routine, and that I don't have to be somewhere else to be fulfilled personally and creatively. The travel itch is still there but that calamine lotion felt good.
Seed planting. With great trepidation, I might add. Spinach and two types of tomatoes. Since I've never started plants from seeds before, I'm nervous that I will inadvertently do something wrong; seeds and seedlings seem so fragile and every gardening website tells you something different to do. I feel so confident in the kitchen (most of the time) but I have no confidence in my gardening ability yet. But I'm glad I've tried- we'll see what becomes of it. Hobbes enjoyed himself that morning, watching over the plants and basking in the sunshine with them.

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Wait until his cat grass starts to grow. He'll be ecstatic.
Finally, some exciting news (for me) that I'm hesitant to share yet but will anyway because when something keeps you up all night with excitement, it's good to share it. I will be contributing a post from this blog on The Ladies' Literary Guide website; they contacted me yesterday about printing it on their site. (By the way, this website, which I was already familiar with, is truly fascinating for anyone interested in classic female writers. Definitely check it out.) Only in the past several months have I thought about spreading my writing beyond the borders of this blog, but it has still only been a thought in the back of my head until now. (Louisa May Alcott may have been an inspiration). I don't know what will come of it, but the excitement is there nevertheless, as well as further inspiration and desire to focus on my writing.

Happy Monday!

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