Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Book Nine: The Darkness Around Us Is Deep

I recently veered off of my Books to Read in 2012 list in order to indulge in a little dystopic narrative, and I don't know whether it was because The Hunger Games doesn't appear on my to-read list, or maybe because it is YA, or maybe because I am worried my more literary friends will simultaneously turn up and look down their noses at me, but anyway I didn't tag it as Book Eight on the reading list, when in fact, it is book eight.

Likewise Book Nine didn't make the to-read list at the beginning of the year, mostly because I didn't know of it then.  A new friend of mine, Dave Harrity, of Antler and my post about building community fame, encouraged me to read William Stafford since, surprise surprise, I hadn't heard of read anything by him yet.  I am poorly versed in poets.

I ordered The Darkness Around Us Is Deep, selected poems of William Stafford and have been taking them in small bites.  I enjoyed the collection for its down to earthiness, its concern with natural and spiritual matters alike, the subtle and honest ways in which he addresses these issues, and how he invites so many characters into his work, especially his parents' voices, which are expressive and unique.

There are many poems in the collection that I've flagged as favorites, but one in particular stuck close, and it is short, so I will quote it here:

"Indian Caves in the Dry Country"

These are some canyons
we might use again

When I read this the first time, I read the first line as "There are some canyons," rather than "these," which brought me in deep with my own personal experience.  But I think the same effect is achieved with the accurate "These."  It is a stark and simple poem. For me it conjures up the "canyons in the dry country" I've been through in life. At the time I couldn't see any use for the canyon or the dry country, maybe didn't even see any shelter like the caves mentioned in the title, but walking again into a similar canyon I can pull up what was in my heart and mind previously, and revisit that cave for shelter and direction.  I know what I need to do or how to cope because I've been in this cave before.

On a much broader level, Stafford's poem is humbling for a nation of proud, prosperous people. Maybe someday we will actually return to those Indian caves.  He doesn't make a statement about whether that is a good thing or a bad thing, just that it is possible we might use them again, once we've burnt out our wealth and our industry.

Enough of me trying to analyze and explain a short little ditty that struck a chord with me.  There are many other fine poems by Stafford I won't go into right now, but perhaps a quick list of favorites from the book would suffice? -- I'll list them here: Allegiances, How to Regain Your Soul, Traveling through the Dark, Ultimate Problems, Serving with Gideon, Saint Matthew and All, Looking Across the Bridge, Earth Dweller, Mr. or Mrs. Nobody, At the Un-National Monument along the Canadian Border, and Meditation.

The fun of good poetry collections is that probably if I return to Stafford again in a few years my list of poems that touched me in some way will be markedly different.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Hunger Games

Why is it that books about vampires, werewolves, and children killing children are so stinkin' popular these days?

Most of the time I am a nonfiction/poetry snob, I admit it, mostly because my job requires it.  Occasionally, I miss reading for fun, though, and I have several friends who eat up fiction, both YA and adult.  I also really like reading what is popular or what is making a splash so that I can give an educated opinion of it.  So, I gobbled up the vampire romance series Twilight.  And I finished The Hunger Games last night around 1 a.m. 

I was thoroughly entertained.  In both instances.  But if you ask me to describe what the books are about, I sound a little nuts. "Well, there are these good vampires who try to fit into society, and then there are these people who turn into werewolves when there are vampires around and they defend people against the bad vampires, but they have a truce with the good vampires.  And there's this girl who finds herself attracted to one of the good vampires, wants to become a vampire, and is friends with one of the werewolves."

Or, "Yeah, I really liked this book!  It's about children killing other children in a contest."

The popularity of these books says a lot about our culture, and I don't mean in a "those books are from the DEVIL" way.  The first-person narrator in Twilight and The Hunger Games is a strong, young, beautiful, courageous female who doesn't seem to know that she is strong, beautiful or courageous.  It's a Sammy Kershaw kind of "she don't know she's beautiful" thing that is exactly how we all want to be viewed - beautiful but not vain, attractive but not slutty, desired and adored. 

At the same time, there's a mysterious, kind, attractive male who is head over heels for the girl but she can't tell, doesn't believe, him, etc. even though he'd do anything to protect her or save her.  I know it is sappy, but I'm pretty sure I really want to be rescued most of the time, even though I might look like I want to be in control and take care of myself.  I buck against the damsel-in-distress idea because I know that I'm strong enough, but even though I am strong enough, sometimes I really just want to be taken care of, adored, and delighted in.  So love unrequited in novels like these speaks deeply into the desires of young girls and, let's face it, grown women who feel taken for granted, who don't feel desireable anymore, who miss being pursued, romanced, or wooed.

In both of these series, there's also the female character's conflict between two guys.  I don't know that this will surge up in the sequel to The Hunger Games, but it looks like it could do so.  The friend and the romantic interest, and oh, they both love her.  If we don't know the tension from being pulled by two desires out of our own personal experiences, we can feel the heartbreak and are moved by that conflict of emotion.

This is why we (women young and old) are drawn to these stories and why they are so insanely popular.  It isn't the vampires or the werewolves or the wizards or the dystopian society's crazy annual contest to kill off 23 children in order to keep the districts in line and obedient to a system (which is all very 1984 and Brave New World-ish); it's because our hearts are aching for this kind of adventure, desire, and passion.  We want to feel this kind of love.  We want to be protected and fought for. 

The authors of these books get that, and whether or not it is the most amazing writing doesn't matter - it's a good story that speaks to the heart desires of women everywhere.  Just like every romantic comedy, Harlequin romance, or Nicholas Sparks novel or movie.  The main character is just like me, a human with character flaws and passion, who finds herself loved, pursued, and desired by another. 

I've oversimplified the story line in both series.  There's actually a lot more going on in both books besides this theme, but my guess is that this theme is the one that the majority of readers are caught up in.  Including me.  Onward to Book Two!

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Saddest Baby Ever

This is the face of a starving child. I cannot cook dinner fast enough.
On the menu tonight, bratwursts, steamed cabbage, cucumbers, and tomatoes.  Almost all homegrown around these parts.

And now I must waddle with a crying fifteen month old attached to my pants back to the stove.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Road Ahead: Fall 2012 Outlook

We had a great weekend with the kids here in Ashland, the last weekend before Brandon goes back on the road for football season.  It feels a little bit like a storm front is on the horizon. There's only a few more hours of daylight to soak up before hunkering down inside for the long night of lightning and thunder. 

It isn't that bad, really, it's just different from what we've been used to for the last three months or so. It's much faster paced, more scheduled, more demanding, more exhausting.  Summer is over.  I am taking deep breaths and long sighs; I am mentally stretching and flexing for the quickened pace.  I'm out of practice, haven't trained for the coming marathon. 

So tonight I went for a run after Elvis's late birthday party, after our parents left and the kids were bathed and ready for bed.  I didn't take my phone, didn't wear headphones, knew that if I ran through King Ridge and back toward campus it'd be about three miles or so, a solid 30 to 45 minutes.  I haven't run since July 9 but I figured if I took it slow enough I could make the distance. 

Sometimes I have to run without music in my head; it invites the kind of plodding out of thoughts and emotions and prayers that require pounding feet and even breaths, and as I rounded corners I welcomed the stream of conscious ponderings. 

I made some commitments to myself about exercise (before work), about date night (probably once every other week, maybe once a week), about how to handle the evenings when BW is out of town (friends and wine and when they aren't available, writing and books), and I made some concessions about time and weeknights.

Let's face it: turning thirty doesn't just mean I get to feel like the adult that I am a little bit more.  It also means I have three children who require, demand, and deserve my time and attention from 5 p.m. until they go to bed at 8 p.m., whether that means carting them off to soccer practice (which will take place four out of five weeknights the first few weeks-- gah!) or just skipping out on the temptation to commit to a dozen non-children oriented evening activities.

With Brandon leaving town Thursdays or Friday mornings and returning late Saturday or Sunday each week, I have to admit to a weight pressing down on my chest right now, a wearing down thinking about just me and the kids those days and nights.  I love the time I get to spend with them on the weekends, love going places and doing things with just the three of them, but I also know what it's like when it's all of us during the summer, when we're a less scheduled and stressed family unit.  And I know Saturday morning soccer standing in the cold wet with a toddler and a preschooler.  And I know packing up the kids for church and standing in the pew alone.  And I know family gatherings with me and the kids, taking pictures and sending them out to Facebook so he can see them.  I don't want him to go.  I miss my husband already and he's sitting eight feet away.

Now that I've finished throwing myself that little pity party, bawling and sobbing and causing Brandon to worry about his crazy little wife and her sudden eruption, let me say too how grateful I am for this work and that it is important for our family, financially and strategically, that he has this work and this schedule so one of us can be at home with the kids any time we're needed.  This is important and good for them, especially good for Henry, and maybe in a few years when he's in school things will be different, but until then, it's so great that Brandon can be here for Elvis and Henry during the day.  It's so great that we can both parent our children, even if it is in shifts.  It's so great to be able to work off some of the debt that we keep piling on and then chiseling away at.  It's so great to be blessed with jobs at all, let alone jobs we enjoy and are proud to do.

Running is a lot like writing, the outcome is unknown (exhausting or satisfying), both require an undistracted block of time, and both take you routes you might not have traveled otherwise.  Both always lead me home.

"Sow your seeds in the morning, and at night let not your hands be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well." Somewhere in Ecclesiastes

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Getting in Love

Our church is in its annual At the Movies summer series right now, and today the pastor spoke using the movie, The Vow.  I haven't seen the movie in its entirety but I'm sure that I'll like it, given the clips I saw this morning.  It's a romance; I might have to watch it with my girlfriends since I have visions of Sleepless in Seattle running through my head right now, the men in the room mocking our gushing.

During the first scene our pastor showed, when the couple first met, Lydia turned to me and whispered, "They are getting in love." 

"How can you tell?" I asked, smiling.

"Because they are spending time together?" she replied, a hint of a question tagged on to the end.

Lydia's love language must be quality time, like mine.  How does she know they are "getting in love"?  It's obvious; their actions show it.  They commit time to one another, they go to their favorite places, eat meals, make an effort to be together and to see one another, to demonstrate adoration no matter what it takes or what needs to be sacrificed.

I like the phrase "getting in love."  It's so much more purposeful than "falling," as if there's effort involved, as if it isn't just this casual slip over the cliff accidentally into love.  Because most of love is "getting into," not falling.  Relying only on the falling is sure to end flat on the pavement.  Falling is being sideswiped, tripped up, rearended, stumbling, a big "oops!" I fell in love.  Getting is taking weighted steps in the direction of love, measured movements in order to acquire love, in order to present it to another person.  I want to get some of that love, not fall for it, like I've been deceived or enticed by an advertisement of happiness.

This slightly relates to the great message given by David Sherwood this Sunday, in which he talked about how God is in the business of wooing and romancing us to love him, not coercing or tricking us into love.  His gifts of mercy, grace, and forgiveness are offers to get in love.  He has made us "free and wild, to be free and wild, so that we might be able to choose to love him."  That beautiful commitment, that vow to pour out unconditional love is an attempt to get our love back, to hear our simple whispered statement back, "I love you," that when spoken to another fills the heart to spilling over.

So stop falling in love.  Go get in love.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

End of the Residency 2012

I put Henry to sleep tonight at 6 p.m.  I have a feeling I will pay for this at 6 a.m. tomorrow, or earlier, but he was just SO tired.  He fell asleep while eating. And Henry loves to eat, so it's something for which he usually tries to stay awake.  I thought he'd get up again so I didn't take him out of his cute little 18 month jeans, but he's been sound asleep now for three hours - I think he's done for the night. 

I'm edging in on Hank and his need for sleep.  It's been a great two weeks (I'm pretty sure I type that same sentence in this blog every year around this time), but man, I'm beat.  Too much work, a sinus infection, too many drinks (cough cough), not enough sleep, lots of fun and laughing, oh, and craft seminars and readings with visiting writers and faculty.  Those too.

I am very excited to get back into normal life.  Today was a little bit like detox, and I expect tomorrow might be, too.  We grocery shopped and watched a movie and cooked dinner.  Baths and bed.  And now, wine and cherries and blogging.  Sounds like just the right kind of remedy to two weeks of being on the clock 24-7.

Here's me getting myself some Hank the Tank lovin' this afternoon--