the long road home

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I graduated. Despite the odds, I graduated. And I promise, I will come back and write a better post about it than that, but for the time being, it is enough to know that I did it. When I first went to California for university, I called that first road trip “the long road to purgatory,” which is, I think, indicative of a general, permeating pessimism I carry with me. Having graduated, I’ve come to believe that life is both the long road to purgatory and the long road through purgatory. But I digress.

I’ve come home. Or rather, I’ve come to the shell of a home I once had. The room I once called mine is like the mausoleum for another person, one I never met. She liked her knick-knacks, and had a fondness for dried-up, dusty flowers. She kept things I have no use for. And so, for the last few weeks, I’ve been exorcising the ghost of who I once was. Sure, she still lingers in the corners and the closet, but she’s no longer hiding under the bed. There is no bed for her to hide under. This cleansing, purging, exorcising has made me ruthless, and yet it seems to be a ruthlessness driven by necessity. I’ve come to the shell of a home I once had, a shell that must be repurposed and recategorized for the time being. For you see, what once was my home must become my home again, and for that transformation to be completed, I must burn with fire.

Before I can venture into the next unknown, I must confront the unknown in my once-room, once-home. The stillness of deep ocean and the flotsam of a tropical storm collide in this space and in my head: the tempest and the tea-kettle both invade and demand space. The old skeletons stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the new bones of a new life, and they all sway in the meaningless dance of things. IMG_2641

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past.

In my beginning is my end. 

notes from tonight’s performance

I am suddenly aware of my physical existence. A fuzziness in my ears from listening intently all day, and a tickle on the arch of my right foot as I stretch it out on the ground in front of me. A mild cough that hasn’t gone away from that particularly bad cold a month ago. The sound outside of campus police patrolling the apartment complex after our drunken neighbors broke the wall last night. My reflection in the mirror to my left, and the taste of strong peppermint tea, cooling my mouth.

My thoughts are scattered tonight, but they’ve been scattered for a long time. My brain is on paper these days. There’s no room in my head to remember little details like, when is that term paper due? and, when is the exam again? I’ve been noticing a mental fog for the last while, when thinking feels like pushing play dough through a very, very small hole.

There’s something pleasant about just sitting here, drinking peppermint tea and doing nothing. There’s no music playing, and the silence is so sweet. You learn to appreciate silence when you’re a music major. I would say that the stillness is like music to my ears, but I don’t have to analysis tone sets and phrase structures when it is silent. At least not this silence. There’s something about concert halls and picture frames that have a way of creating expectations. Silence in a bedroom is bliss: silence in Walt Disney Hall is 4’33” by John Cage. Frames are magic. Frames contextualize happenstance, turning a nothing into a something, and a something into a Some Thing. Suddenly, where there was once something unremarkable, there is something that has been remarked. All because of a frame.

Framing this time of sitting as a Torrey project turns it into Some Thing, and every person who walks by enters into the performance, unknowingly.

Performative Nothing. I like the ring that phrase has to it.

The Personal Challenge

I have not been particularly good about blogging recently. I hesitate to check the actual statistics, but I think I’ve averaged about a post a year for the last two. In large part, this is because life has been happening and I haven’t had the time for introspection and private writing, but also because the speed with which my life has been changing has left me a little out of breath.

The scarcity of posts is going to change, at least for the next two months. This is not because my life has slowed down enough for me to catch up: on the contrary, I am facing an uphill battle just to graduate this semester. Long story. I’ll tell you about it some other time.

No, the reason I’m going to be writing more is because I have set myself something of a personal challenge for the final Torrey project of my career. Over the last four years, I’ve read an awfully large number of books, many of which (I’m looking at you Traherne, Tolstoy, and Dostoevsky) dealing with the ties between enjoyment of and engagement with the world and the health of the soul. Being the most awkward combination of a type-A personality and a hopeless romantic at heart, I have adored these books and the thoughts they have inspired while also realizing that such a connection to the created order is entirely outside of my grasp.

You see, I am bad at doing Nothing well. Incidentally, I just realized that this ties into recent studies I’ve run across that link boredom with increased creativity levels. I just realized my project may have even more ramifications than I initially thought. But back to that statement. I am bad at doing Nothing well. I really hope you read that as it is intended and not as some sort of braggadociousness on my part. As my boyfriend is fond of pointing out, I have a hard time making space in my life during which nothing occurs. Every semester, I think to myself “Self, you have learned your lesson. No more overloading for you!” to which my Self says, “Indeed, but for my own good I must add 35 additional activities beyond the requirements for graduation to my plate.”

It’s a vicious cycle.

So for this semester’s Torrey project, inspired by great writers of the Western tradition, I am attempting to engage in five hours of Nothing per week. There’s obviously some structure involved in this great attempt, but a large amount of it comes from writing reflections on those periods of re-engagement with the world. I have a feeling that some of them may even be fit to publish.

Consider this a warning: there may actually be more than one post published in 2017.

 

The Stillness of Deep Ocean

I’ve reached a point in my life where the only thing I am certain of is that I have doubt. I doubt what I think, I doubt what I feel, I doubt what I say and do. I doubt my faith, I doubt my lack of faith.

 

I think, therefore I doubt. I doubt, therefore I think.

 

The clamor of my surroundings has moved from the external world into my internal one. Focusing is hard: when I start to move my attention to one area, another comes into focus: like seeing through broken glasses, discreet ideas keep fracturing and turning into new ones, brought in and out of focus by the smallest of shifts.

 

I am writing a symphony. Every day, I sit down at my computer and tear my ribcage apart. I then reach inside the gaping opening and dig until I find my heart, and then I pull it out, and squeeze every drop of blood out of my heart onto the digital paper, until my heart is dry and the page is wet. I replace my heart, and let it fill again with more blood as I attempt to arrange what is already spent into a meaningful sacrifice. And when I am done squeezing and arranging, and squeezing some more, I gently push my ribs back together and sew myself up until tomorrow. I am weary; I am poured out; I have become numbers inside a machine.

 

It’s an act of devotion, I think. To whom or what, I couldn’t say. My suspicion is that I am offering some devotion to humanity. Or maybe it’s a requiem, a mass for the dead. Forgive us, for we know what we do.

 

There’s a colorlessness that defies understanding, hidden in the deepest parts of the ocean. A whale that refutes all that we’ve ever known and believed. An apotheosis on open water, awaiting those intrepid enough to forsake the safety of land.

 

It’s calling me.

A November Christian

In my school’s chapel program on Friday, I got to see two of my friends lead worship for a gym full of regular students and visiting guests attending a racial reconciliation conference. It was a beautiful worship service, helped by the fact that these two friends of mine are music majors, gifted with trained voices almost as beautiful as their souls. As I was sitting there, thinking about how lovely these two friends are, I had a thought that I feel like sharing.

My mom has always encouraged me to become friends and emulate a certain type of woman. They tend to be extroverted, bubbly, carefree, with the sort of faith that comes easily and freely. From all external appearances, they have very blessed faith lives, with any crises of faith being minor or hidden away. They don’t swear, they listen to Christian radio, and they display all the other virtues of good, American, evangelical women. To put it simply, they are very much unlike me.

I struggle with my faith. It’s so far beyond messy, my extensive vocabulary fails to find an acceptable substitute. My faith is not the praise and victory of the Summer Christian; it’s much closer to the anguish, doubt, and pain of the Winter Christian, though I have briefly assumed to mien of a Summer Christian when social pressures exceeded my stubbornness  (see  particularly my time in YWAM). Even having experienced those things that Summer Christians emphasize (the activity of God in the world, the providence, divine intervention, and healing), my heart continually leads me to a posture of winter worship.

My faith could be best characterized by a series of upheavals, and I know my family sometimes worries about me because it doesn’t match the example of those role models I have been pointed toward. The truth is that I struggle with reconciling my faith and my life experience because I deeply, deeply care that what I believe to be true accurately and adequately explains my experience of a deeply broken, deeply messed up world. If I did not care about the truth, I would not struggle: instead, I’d end up tossing my faith to the wind as an irrelevant moral system incapable of addressing the problems of the world.

It’s been a major source of mental anguish and emotional turmoil that I could never even begin to approach that standard of the Summer Christian- I have been measured and found wanting. This feeling of inadequacy has prevented me from entering into relationship with those godly women, and while I’m working on leaning into that discomfort, I find that there is some fundamental gap in experience that often interposes itself when I find someone who has not been touched by winter.

So as I was sitting on the wooden bleachers, watching my two lovely, Summer Christian friends (who, as an aside, are engaged and are ridiculously amazing for each other), I was suddenly struck by a thought. It’s okay that my faith may never see Midsummer. If the seasons of my faith go from September to April, it is still as valid as those whose faith lives from May to August.

I don’t have some grand conclusion to the thought, just a little more peace.