Thursday, March 19, 2015

And now for a more refined version (of another poem)

Since my last post showed a "first draft" very brand-new infant poem, this next one will be something a bit further along. The following is a 2nd/3rd draft of an exercise we did last fall in Pauletta Hansel's "Poetry Matters" class at Women Writing for a Change. The exercise itself is called "writing between the lines" (as described in JD McClatchey's The Practice of Poetry). You use the format of an existing poem to follow very closely, mirroring or responding to each line to create a new poem of your own. My model was Maxine Kumin's  "After Love."

Here's mine:

After Birth

Afterwards, the cold.
My body, shivering without you.

The cord all that remains
of what once tethered us.

Warmth expelled, you are
no longer mine.

The blankets furrow, a cap
thrust clumsily atop

your head; and nearby the beep
and click of monitors.

Everything is changed, except
this abrupt end

is a beginning, too full
of life and its mess

refusing to count the cost.

First draft:


The tongue is a ghost disturbing my wake
It is a lie
to call it Mother. 

Would you have me pull it out by the roots
beneath muscle and sinew
before memory of pain?
Or spool it up, silent, in contortions of 
bitter, trembling, burnt. 

It is secret and secretive
tasting only itself
till that too disappears. 
An invisible coating that curdles every flavor. 

Everything it tastes is second-hand
half thrown out in disgust, 
and retrieved always a moment 
too late, the bitterness 
of un-remembrance. 

Sunday, May 22, 2011

I'm trying a new thing.

Maybe this is a bad idea.  

My brain is too full of messy, slippery tangents. The problem is, they won't just stay small and concise and expressible; they must wander and linger  and morph suddenly into much riskier territory. But these are the things that keep me (us?) up nights, that give vital but intangible flavor to the days.  I HAVE to write about this stuff.  I can't escape being a writer, even though much of what I think is confused and will never see the day. And the silly part (the idiosyncrasy for word-smiths?) is that these are not "meanderings." They are always reasonably well-formed mental essays, with thesis, sub-points and supporting detail/examples ready for prime time. They're always something I could spiel about for hours and eventually make a point even earthlings can appreciate.

But there is never time.  I used to imagine "the Blog in my Head," or that somewhere floating around is the sum total of humanity's unexpressed musing, the things we hadn't time to commit to hard-copy, and that someday somewhere we'll all have access to that great anonymous cosmic  record.  And we'll have the lovely realization that our crazy midnights rants were understood, shared, and validated. 

But I don't really have patience for all that. So, while constrained by this annoying temporal cage, this busyness of surface life and servantly minutiae, I'm just going to post headings.  Hopefully I'll  get back to some of these threads some day . . .

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Paging Jonathan Edwards*

Okay, Uncle.

I can't sleep, so here I am with warm milk, hoping to blog myself into happy nighty night time by dawn. Tossing and turning upstairs, my mental jag was about how disconcertingly easy it is for humans, Christian or otherwise, to justify a status quo. Just read a column by Nicholas Kristof that sort of made me squirm after the fact. Take a glance here:

What got me was how few of us really can "grow in Christlikeness" in the sense of revolutionary transformation of how we impact our big world, in a way that makes God's grace (and our differentness from the unbeliever) readily apparent. Kristof's column mentioned several unsung Catholics who are making a tremendous impact by how they live and reach out to those in need around the world. Now, I know there is plenty of hurt to go around and plenty of good to be done right in our back yards, but that's not my point here. What I struggle with is now much, in the developed world especially, we are institutionally bound into a lifestyle that by default causes direct harm to people, the planet, and future generations.

Please be assured that I'm no miltiant environmentalist, not even a wannabe. In fact, I'm painfully aware of how not-environmental my lifestyle is, and how difficult-to-impossible is to be a typical American (especially a suburban mom-of-4) and not walk around every single day spewing poison into the world and causing who knows how much damage to the weakest among us.

Before I get accused of any Leftish leanings here, I also should mention the parallel "La, la, la, I can't hear you" self-justification by ignorance that many "progressives" live by - the refusal to admit the evil of taking a pre-born human life. I'm not even gonna get into arguing why/if it's wrong; we know it is, or why else would we be so reluctant/squeamish/irate about being shown pictures of a procedure if we really believe it's value neutral? (Now don't be judgin,' you're thinking. Okay, whatever. This is Anjoo. You all know me. I'm usually a pretty nice person, but telling me not to be opinionated is like telling the water not to be wet. This is my blog, I get to rant!) So let's just agree that this isn't about political leanings or "issues," but about human nature and selfishness and sin.

So, Kristof was talking about some ordinary Catholics and their incredible witness. "Ordinary" only in the sense (from here out is my take, not Kristof's) that their beliefs and theology are basic Christianity 101: do unto others . . .what you do unto the least of these you do unto me . . . all Creation groans, waiting for its savior . . .no greater love has any man than this . . . etc. And still perfectly NOT ordinary by their rarity. How many of us privileged Westerners could dare to give up all our creature comforts and live like that? We may sponsor kids with World Vision or some other group, we may send checks and earnestly pray for foreign or inner-city missionaries, but how many of us would really live like that?

And it's not because we don't know that grinding poverty exists, and that our actions and lifestyle choices have a direct impact on how the poorest in the world live, or even if they live. So why is it so easy to to make only token gestures? We give 10% or 20% of our income, and feel it's "okay" when the majority of the world lives on a 1/10th of that (Try this little link: Or we switch from plastic to paper, or SUV to hybrid, conventional to organic, omnivore to veggie, and think that's enough. I'm not slamming the environmental decisions either here, because some of them are more than I'm doing, and it's a great start.

But it's just a start, and we'll never make up the difference. There's no way we're going to cleanse our eviromental impact in our lifetimes. Or, to look at the other half of the PC spectrum, even if we completely eradicate abortion in our lifetimes there's no way we can say we've adequately cared for the sick, the old, the forgotten, the abused, all those children AFTER they were born. We'll always find a way to deflect the problem, make it somebody else's, pretend we're doing all we can. Or more accurately, to compare ourselves to all "those people" who aren't doing anything, and be temporarily pacified.

Uh-oh, Anjoo must be off her meds . Shhhhhhhhh . . !

Now, let's come around to the theology. Be reassured I do NOT believe in salvation by works, that is EXACTLY the point. I don't believe that if we use cloth grocery bags, live in a hut, and save a million babies that we would thereby be pure and free and not need forgiveness. What I'm looking at, what's so glaringly absurdly apparent if you look at the typical 21st century US lifestyle, is that we can't stand to look at the harm we're causing for more than 3 seconds before we distract ourselves (TV anyone? Internet?) and find an excuse.

We pretend that it's okay because everyone else around us does it. Or, everyone does that much plus 10% worse, so we must actually be doing better than most. We justify what is patently sociopathic or sinful behavior (how is it anything else when we use up so much stuff that God told us to share? when we destroy so much that God told us to take care of? When we kill and abuse so many that God told us to honor?) just because the culture around us doesn't think it's wrong.

How is that following Christ?

All that stuff about taking up our cross, counting the cost, being a new creation, set apart. . ? Now, I reassert that I do not believe we "have to" live by a certain mile-long list of Do's and Don'ts in order to be a "real" Christian. So what is my point? Am I just trying to be a downer, demoralize everyone? Or, even worse, just give voice to the accuser and make us all feel unforgivable? Nooooooooooooo way!

It's GRACE that saves us! Yaaaaayyyyyy, because we all need it so desperately. And it scares me how quickly and almost universally we forget that. How we "do" some little token act of selflessness and think that now, since we're "saved by Grace," that we don't have to look at all the uncomfortable stuff. But I suspect it's just the opposite: because we know we're already saved and loved by Grace when we've accepted Jesus as savior, we should be unafraid to face the remaining yuck within ourselves, and freely acknowledge that there's still a whole lotta yuck left.

A WHOLE lotta yuck. Enough for a lifetime of repentance. So my initial impetus was the hypocrisy of not acknowledging a few particular grievous sins in our culture, but there could be so many more. I do actually love the USA, I hasten to add. I firmly believe it's the least bad country in the world. In this world. But let's not pretend even for a minute people, especially my sisters and brothers in Christ, that this is anything near like the Kingdom we're praying for. Let's roll up our sleeves, fall on our knees, and get to work.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Fighting the good fight

I am getting demoralized by trying to open the minds of right-wing friends on health care reform.  Just got off a several days long, polite but passionate exchange with a a friendly acquaintance who's diametrically opposed to me on the issue.  Been trying so hard to be rational, humane, reasonable, open-minded, and yet not pull punches or back down on why I think a national plan, is the better option.

But dang it I'm getting tired of this deadlock!  Today I just found out this person gets her talking points from Glen Beck.


There goes the chance for reasonable discourse.  How do you get people to even see their filter, the presuppositions that color every "fact" they see? 

It's been giving me that awful, ugly gut feeling I used to get during implacable stalemates with loved ones, the kind you absolutely can't walk away from but you know they will never ever see what you see and will label you the "enemy."  But just like those heart-rending spousal or parent-child battles, I know I'm supposed to stay and engage, not walk away.

Because if we Christians can't stay, be civil, be honest and assertive about what we believe, how can there ever be reconciliation?  The Bible has so much to say about unity among believers, and how that is the most powerful witness to a watching world.  I don't mean that all Christians should have the same political opinions (heaven forbid!), but it makes me so sad when other Christ-followers use their religion to justify why their political opinion is right.  Don't they realize I could just as easily play that game and "prove" Jesus is a left-leaning radical social reformer?  But I won't sink to that level.  It's pathetic, it tears apart the body of Christ and makes the enemy laugh.  

Not that that's exactly what this person was doing.  I know she wasn't questioning my faith, but something about all this is making me kind of queasy.  Of course, my faith has to support my political beliefs.  Duh.  If they ever conflicted, it would be the politics that has to change, in a heartbeat.  Maybe part of what's making me queasy is recognizing that temptation so strongly in myself - to say Jesus is a pro-life Green and everyone else is just wrong - and know how long and hard I've tried to see the Right's point of view about this and I just don't get it.

I want to find common ground but it's fading fast.  All I see in the anti-reform sentiment is misinformation, ungrounded fears, and a failure of compassion.  There, I said it as nicely as I could.  My original adjectives were a heck of a lot more incendiary.  But like I said, I really want to find common ground.  

Somebody on the Right please, please, PLEASE prove me wrong.

Show me that you really get what it's like to have a pre-existing condition and be denied coverage time and again.  To live with the daily fear that any time anything happens to you or your kids' health it could mean you lose everything, savings, job, home, all of it.  To be literally unable to go to the doctor when your child is sick because you know it'll just be one more black mark that makes it even more impossible to get the insurance you so desperately need.  Explain to me how in this amazingly blessed and bountiful country of ours it can possibly be "okay" that some people get state-of-the-art healthcare and others die for lack of a simple drug or diagnostic procedure.  How is that okay?  How is that "Christian?"  And then, after you've told me what a horrible socialist takeover we're heading for, please show me your better option.  Because that's what I haven't seen yet.  Show me how these profit-driven, insane CEO-bonus giving, coverage-denying, shareholder-courting, free-enterprise-pleading private enterprises are suddenly going to do an about face, out of the goodness of their own hearts (without any legal lash) to make it all better.

And they say Obama's naive.  

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Square one, redux

The Zoloft gave me massive brain fuzz.  The SAM-e worked really well for the depression, but made me sick to my stomach (as in, doubled over in constant pain and unable to sleep) at the recommended dose.  So, I took a couple days off and restarted at 1/4 dose, to see what I can tolerate.

Other than that, vacation was good.  Summer's ending.  Good riddance kinda, I think.  Except there's another couple of summery things left to do.

We saw a wonderful free local Shakespeare production with 3 of the kids.  R&J done as manic, hormone-drenched all-nighter.  There were several "interesting" adaptations that nevertheless worked really well.  It's so rare to find theater productions that use novel ideas without turning them into gimmicks, or snarky self-referential distractions that submerge the wonder of the Bard.  But this really worked.  The urgent pacing, cross-gender casting ("Nurse" played by a stocky middle-aged man whom you very quickly "believed" in the role), and loose-cannon physicality of even the more traditionally passive roles (Juliet!) added a freshness I haven't seen in R&J in a while.  It's so FUN to find great arts freebies!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Some heavy duty theology

19If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.

 20But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.

 21For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.

 22For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.

 23But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming.

 24Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.

 25For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.

 26The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.

- 1 Corinthians 15:19-26 (KJV)

It begins (v.19) with what's very obvious, in looking around the world we live in.  Of course we're fools if judging by the world's standards.  Each person for themself, follow your bliss, the pursuit of happiness, whatever. . . maybe that system works really well for some people, in some places and fortuitous time.  For others, it's a rabbit trail.

Then a pretty straight-forward, on the surface, description of the order of resurrection (v. 20-23), but that's pretty weird too.  I mean, who can really imagine what that is like? That world, redeemed, those eternal bodies, who can really inhabit that belief?  We've had some talk at church lately about the inadequacy of English to express the fullest translation of what we often call "belief."  The word we translate, in other languages, could more accurately be called "trust."  So, it doesn't matter nearly enough that I say I "believe" in resurrection, if I don't trust it as well.  As an aging, broken, this side of 40-years-old person, it's easy enough to recognize that the bodies we live in now are painfully inadequate.  But how on Earth does one imagine resurrection of ourselves? It seems almost sacreligious even to try.  .  . I can imagine Jesus resurrected easily enough, but He was/is already perfect.  It feels comical, almost pathetic, to try to imagine that for little old me, with this ridiculous flesh housing an even more limited and obsolete consciousness.  Where to even begin?

So let's just move along in our reading, but now it gets even stranger.  In v. 24-25, I like that Paul mostly side-steps the trippy eschatological imagery, fire and brimstone, dragons and cosmic ladies, and deals instead with the earthly powers of men.  Except, he isn't really.  We know there are also the "powers and principalities" as the real enemies, not just theological abstractions but manifested in bones and stones.  Here I get really  irritated, because my conscious imagery has been influenced by too many Hollywood epic battle scenes (I blame Peter Jackson for making LOTR so dang "evocative").  I really don't want to focus on the gore. the rallying cries, but to understand in whatever paltry level what it would feel like to welcome that king, to be part of that following, to step into eternity.

Then again, maybe I don't want to tax my little brain that much.  It's late, and things are bizarre enough.  We see through the glass sooooooo very darkly, or not at all.  And when our eyes are too tired to see, when we can't even bear the over-stimulation of what clutters our retina for this second, we may be allowed to smell it.  Maybe a wordless, subconscious hum we almost heard.  We can't quite understand, we can't entirely say we "believe" because we're so smart and modern and have to explain, define, compartmentalize it before we can trust.

I don't understand.  Except when I do.  Sometimes when it's way too late and I can see the full moon, taste the insomnia, it's almost within reach.  I miss those midnights with my feral nurslings. the raw physicality juxtaposed with acute clarity. Often times now it's so much more mundane; I act like I 'trust" in a resurrected life far too often for it to have been just some good idea I invented.  This journey has far outlasted any good idea I ever had; it started with someone else.  Lately I'm walking more in shadows and clouds (not doubts, clouds) than I have in decades.  Frustrated and irritated all the time, and yet I know it's the only path open.  I"m not aligning with the enemy.  I'm not strong enough to challenge the creator of the Universe, or young enough to play the nihilist/existentialist pose any longer.

So where were we? Oh yeah, we come to the last baffling line (v.26), which is either supposed to be reassuring or just make you scratch your head, I'm not sure.  I'd like to just accept it and go on, except it changes the entire physical/temporal nature of the universe and existence as we know it.  How can consciousness go on after death is defeated, if by "go on" we mean "to go forward in time," when time no longer exists?  And anyway, thank goodness it isn't "us" that goes on anyway, us petty, silly (I'm being charitable) half-blind ghosts (okay maybe I'm being a bit misanthropic . . . ).  I'd want it to be someone far more perfect than us, someone that bears only the faintest whiff of resemblance, and that only as a merciful nod to recognition.  I'd want it to be someone awake enough, clear enough, alive enough to really belong there.  See how even the usual adjectives don't work here?  "Good" and "wise" are so earth-bound and arrogant.  We just can't pretend, right now in this world, to understand or even describe, let alone be those creatures that would inhabit Eternity with Him (a far better writer than me might attempt it, but even C.S. Lewis only dared to be specific in his allegories, not as a literal projection of heaven).

Of course, the other option is to take it at face value, accept that we can't understand it yet at any deeper level, and return to the work of this temporary world we live in.  Serve somebody, knowing it's not nearly enough to make this hurting, F'ed up place as good as it was meant to be.  But it's what we do, it's the only thing we can do, while we wait for the one who will defeat the last enemy.  And when we're really honest, we tremble at the bit of enemy still inside us, that must die.

Have a great week, kids!      : )