Wednesday, January 31, 2007

My mother's rosary

elderly slow-lane ladies smile at her
in their usual saggy suits.
she savors it again-
eau de chlorine
with a quick wave to the lifeguard,
not even flinching,
she breaches the pool’s chilly skin

her toes taste the tile and grout
as she dons cap and goggles,
rinsing first to create a seal
pausing to gather resolve
maybe just 30 laps today
(it is, after all, early
and she didn’t sleep well)

much less ceremoniously
than Moses,
she parts the waters

hands carve liquid
sinuous curves learned ages ago
feet pound an amphibious pulse
elbow up head to the side inhale
awash in repetition

water spills and sprays, displaced,
twisting in smooth torpedoes
dashing over her every freckled facet
except her masked eyes
(wells of wisdom, brim-full)
though it tries
to cruise their creased corners,
etched by years of laughter

head down three strokes kick exhale
that is not what she is doing.
look again-
she is listening.

lap after lap
mile after mile
bead after bead

and even now,
her underwater prayers
are keeping me afloat

happy belated birthday, mom
special thanks to Rachel for the photo (wish I had a swimming one)

I'd appreciate any feedback on this, any words you think I should change or things I should add/remove - I'm thinking of submitting it this week to a poetry collection at school.

Monday, January 29, 2007

The next best thing to living in communes

Do you hate materialism and consumerism? I know I do. If you’re like me, then listen up. There’s this great new website called LendList. A guy from my school designed it. The site lets you make a list of things you own that you wouldn't mind lending to people you already know, within a certain community (eg. Emmanuel Baptist Church or Regent College or your local birdwatching club). The site lets you search other group members' lists for things you might need, and makes it easy to see the shared resources of the group. The result: we share more, we become less attached to our material possessions (which aren’t really OURS to begin with, we’re just stewards of them), our possessions get more use, we save money and the environment, and we start to depend on other people and build more tightly-knit communities. I hereby challenge my friends and family to take this from Vancouver to Saskatoon and light the fire of lending across the country! Somebody needs to start an Emmanuel sharing group on Lendlist. Just go here: .

Thank you for your prayers about the whole needing-to-find-a-job thing. As it stands, I’m officially “on call” for a tutoring agency, awaiting new students. Obviously this is not going to be a reliable regular source of income for a while, so I’m looking for other things. The latest possibility (get this): typing out letters for a string theorist from Jerusalem – a professor at UBC. I have very few details about this position. I called him and said, “I’m calling about your job posting…” and he said “I need you! Can we meet tomorrow?” He knows nothing about me, but it is good to feel needed. It sounds like I don’t have very much competition for the position; nevertheless I plan to wow him with my knowledge of Hebrew and the string theory (ha) to “seal the deal”. Assuming I want to seal the deal when I actually learn about such minor employment details as, say, hours and salary. If it doesn’t work out, there’s always Grounds for Coffee. Keep praying!

I’m working on a poem right now. I’m getting pickier with myself so I’m going to start spending more time on revision and editing. I’ll post it on the blog, so check back in the next couple of days.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Image of God going broke

Hello all.

I finished the paper, although it involved some questionable sleep patterns, and I am still paying the consequences in my newfound difficulty waking up in the morning. But yay! It’s done. And I felt pretty good about it (the “picture on the puzzle box” achieved!), though, as I said in my last blog entry, this may not actually mean much in terms of quality.

Now that that’s over, I must say, I’m loving school. I loved school even today, though it was Monday, and I had an 8:00 AM class. I had Systematic Theology. I wasn’t p
articularly looking forward to this class before the semester started; it conjured up ideas of serious information overload, a dry, boring progression through a series of things we think we understand but probably don’t. I mean, it’s the study of God. We’ve can’t really hope to systematize it. Anyway, as I said, I love it. Mostly because of my prof, John Stackhouse. He’s the wittiest, most hilarious, humblest and most humorously self-deprecating prof I’ve had, yet he’s really wise about everything theological, he explains it all clearly and answers questions brilliantly. He’s committed to making the class very practical, so we can actually discuss these issues with our friends, Christian and non-Christian. This morning we spent three hours on the phrase “Let us make mankind in our own image” from Genesis 1. This could initially sound like a nightmare, but in reality, it set my mind on fire (in a good way), as we debated whether or not there are Trinitarian implications, talked about the annoying generality or plasticity of the “image of God” concept today, and whether it’s more about “being” or “doing”. He made connections with bioethics, end times issues, and environmental issues along the way, each one leaving my mind reeling, trying to follow how these conclusions influenced my understanding of the rest of life (especially the biology part!). I never thought theology would be so thrilling. Maybe I’m just a big geek. Or Stackhouse is just that good. Check his blog out if you have time:

The biggest development in my life in the past week has been the sudden need for money. No, I’m not looking to make any major purchases, other than groceries. What happened was that I had a misunderstanding regarding a scholarship that I thought was renewable every semester, but is not, because I am an MCS student, not an MDiv student… which really makes me frustrated, but I’ll talk about that another time. What’s important now is that I need $1000 to pay for rent and groceries this semester, and a plane ticket home. This is (thank God) the first time I’ve had to trust God this way. And him and I have had some good conversations since the initial disturbing revelation; I’m feeling much better about where he might be leading me in all of this, especially if it involves working, which it most likely will, unless an anonymous donor leaves a $1000 cheque in my mailbox or a money tree grows in my backyard. Work would be ok, though - since I started at Regent, part of me has really regretted not getting to spend more time outside Christian circles, where a lot of what I’m learning can be lived out. And every once in a while I long for the chance to be productive in ways other than reading books and writing papers.

One of the confusing things about this process so far is what it means to really trust God in a situation like this. I don’t want to just take over and “make it work”, just take control and find a job. I want to give God the room to lead me, even to do something surprising if he wants to. It’s hard to know what to start doing and how soon. Last week I let people know about my dilemma, waiting to see if anyone knew of a job opening. This week I’m starting to look, but still trying to let God lead the process. This is trickier than I thought. I keep wanting to grab at anything I see, for security, instead of prayerfully considering where I should be. I need the right balance of patience and action.

Grounds for Coffee, a coffee shop 9 blocks away, better known for its world’s best cinnamon buns (they really are the best!) seems to be desperately seeking help, according to one of the employees. Perhaps God has some interesting irony up his sleeves in assigning Beth - the girl who messes up recipes for such complicated dishes as wieners and beans and fried rice, who doesn’t currently have an oven in her house, and who dislikes coffee - the job of making coffee and baking the world’s best cinnamon buns. I wouldn’t put it past God.

Pray for me – not only that I’ll find the right job, but also for wisdom in organizing life after I have a job, that I’d still be able to find time for schoolwork, relationships, creativity and breathing. I will keep you updated.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

That girl needs therapy

I am eating my words from a post last November, about how school in Saskatoon is never canceled because of snow. On Wednesday, my Saskatoon friends endured the worst blizzard in 60 years. It took my mom the same amount of time to get home from downtown as it usually takes to get to Regina – 2 hours compared to the normal 15 minutes. Some people apparently had to spend the night at Costco. I hear they pulled out all the samples to feed them :)... I’ve been telling people that I left just in time, ha ha, good thing I’m back in Vancouver. But secretly I would have liked to be there. It seems like a relatively major event to have missed out on. And I like being able to brag about surviving things like that. I found myself watching the Weather channel for updates on Saskatoon (the Weather channel!) just to feel more included in it. Anyway, I’m glad everyone made it through. Including me.

Currently in Vancouver we are experiencing what us experts in the Bible school world like to call a “chiasm”, or “inclusio”, or perhaps “envelope structure weather”. First there was the unceasing rain in early November, if you remember, when we had to boil our drinking water. Then was the incredible snowfall. Then, right before I left for Christmas, a windstorm. As soon as I got back, we had another windstorm. Then it snowed again, and the snow is still on the ground. Now I predict… torrential rainfall. (Not a bad prediction in Vancouver even when there’s no chiasm to hint at it). Like any good chiasm, the center is the most important, and the center was Christ. Well, Christmas, anyway.

Man, I keep telling myself I write too much about the weather, but it’s so hard when it keeps increasing its own interestingness. Enough. Let’s talk about what I’m listening to right now, which my new CD of a cappela choral music called “Cloudburst”. If you don’t think you’re interested in a cappela choral music, you are wrong, and you have not listened to Eric Whitacre’s music. At least listen to “Sleep” on his myspace – This guy is from Nevada, he’s 36, and his music is brilliant. It makes me feel things I rarely feel listening to music – it’s almost ecstatic at times, pure, surging …with clashes strikingly made and deliciously resolved, triads piled on top of each other into shimmering clusters, beautifully made voice-leading, the way he lands on words… ok, I admit, I copied that last part from the CD booklet… I wish I could write reviews like that! But it’s all true. Thanks to Alexa for sharing your passion for Whitacre with me.

I’ve been writing this paper… have I ever mentioned that I hate writing papers? This is one reason why I don’t think I’d make a very good pastor. They pretty much write a paper every week. It’s not that I get bad marks on them, it’s more… the process. I think I do papers sort of like I do puzzles. Normally, I like puzzles, but normally I don’t have deadlines for finishing them. Like the box cover of a puzzle, I have this picture in my head of how my paper should look in the end. All of the pieces are floating in my head, and I have to write them and figure out where they fit. First I work on one paragraph, trying to shape that piece, then I get frustrated or bored with it and start working on another one, then another one, in completely separate parts of the paper. It’s like when you start to put the sky together in a puzzle, and get tired of blue, so you work on the edge pieces for a while. I never finish one paragraph before starting another, and I often cut and paste things around, moving bits that seem to fit better elsewhere. I never start at the beginning and write until the end – how can you start at the beginning with a puzzle? There is no beginning. Thank goodness for computers. If I had to write papers 50 years ago, I would need a lot of scissors and tape.

The point is: this is frustrating. It takes way too long. Especially with this particular paper, because there are so many details that the professor wants me to cram into my own self-constructed "picture" of the paper, like extra requirements on top of making the puzzle pieces fit together, and it's hard to reconcile both my requirements and his, while remaining under the strict word limit. I get so tired from thinking about what which word out of so many words to write next that I’m forced to spend half of my energy on keeping myself from frantically finding anything else to do besides writing the paper. But here is the more crucial problem, which I usually try to avoid thinking about… I don't know if my "box cover picture" of the paper is actually right, because I don’t know where it comes from. I'm not sure if it's actually a good paper. For all I know, some evil scientist has programmed my brain with this “wonderful paper” picture that’s actually very awful, but I obediently churn it out, to his mad scientist delight. All I know is that once I reach the magic moment when the paper looks like the picture in my head, I never want to look at it again. I don't want to consider whether other people (like my prof) will like it, I don't want to edit it, and I don’t want to read it once it’s marked, because I’m afraid I will suddenly come to my senses and realize that my mind was tricking me all along.

I'm probably boring you all tremendously. I’m sorry. To sum up, I hate my method of writing papers according to my brain’s mysterious preprogrammed standards, and if anyone knows a paper-writing therapist, I’d love to set up an appointment.

I’ve probably just been a student for too long…

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Another long one, grab some tea.

From the frosty white to the dripping grey-green once again. I bade another tearful airport farewell to my family and Chris (who’s also family), went to my gate, sat down, and was suddenly greeted by Riley Armstrong, who remembered me from camp last summer – he even remembered that I was studying in Vancouver. We chatted for a while, and he showed me pictures of his son. But he wasn’t the only famous person on that flight…I got to sit beside the wonderful Robyn Holmlund, another camp person, on the first leg of her trip to Mexico for a 6-month YWAM program. It was so cool the way God set it up for us to spend that time together as she left. We went our separate ways in Calgary, and I unfortunately parted ways with my luggage there, as well. Upon arriving in Vancouver and waiting a half an hour at the baggage carousel, the Air Canada staff told us there “wasn’t enough room for all of our luggage” from Calgary. Judging from the luggage that DID arrive, they only had room for about 15 bags. There’s something fishy about this. The same thing happened to my sister three weeks ago with Air Canada… I think I need to start favoring WestJet.

I just went back and read my blog from exactly a year ago, and I was surprised at how similar I feel coming back from Christmas holidays this time, too. It’s funny how the homesickness and melancholy feelings hit harder now than they do in September. I felt it a bit last night, and it was fighting to control me this morning, too, until I gave it to God. I’m realizing more and more how prone to self-pity I am. I was thinking poetically about it on the bus this morning… it’s like self-pity is a glass of a really gross alcoholic drink, and I drink it down because there’s this sugary fringe of self-sympathy on the rim that makes me feel good. I always fail to see it’s bringing me more grossness than good. Some of the sadness is legitimate, and it comes from the realization that while I’m here, I can’t be as involved in the lives of the ones I love in Saskatoon. I can’t go to Europe with Rachel, I can’t see Daniel perform his one-act play, I can’t study at the same desk as my mom or enjoy my dad's jokes at dinner, I can’t be part of any groups Chris starts or be active in the lives of the camp girls. And they can’t witness my life as I live it here, either.

More than sadness, though, I feel this strangeness of moving from one slipstream of life to another, the feeling I keep trying to describe in vain, the fish-out-of-water-yet-still-in-something-like-water feeling. Maybe you guys are sick of reading about it because you’re at a point in your life when you (wisely) stay put, but I have this urge to “figure it out”. It’s not so much a feeling of familiarity, like I described last month. It’s more like feeling that things are UNfamiliar, but that you strangely know what to do, what role to fill. Like a thousand moments of deja-vu strung together. I know where to hang my coat and where to find the tea, I slip right back into joking with Danice - the motions are automatic. It also feels a bit like betrayal…fitting back in so automatically in a place very different from the place I fit best, the home where I want to keep fitting in. It’s a confusing thing to say “back home” in two different places. It’s a mind-boggling thing to have a three-hour ride on a plane take you so far away, transforming people you spent time with into pictures on the wall and semi-regular e-mails.

People in Saskatoon often talk about leaving it. It’s almost given that people do not stay put these days. But something tells me we weren’t meant to be so transient, that being constantly uprooted from people we love is not the ideal. I’d love to raise my own children in the city where their grandparents live, so they can know them...but some of this is out of my control, like it was for my mom and dad, from different countries. I’m sad about the relationships I’m missing out on with my family in the USA, who I haven’t seen in five years. Yet here I am, far from the ones I love. And this is ok, I think. God is trying to tell me something in this. Maybe there is significance in the tightness of my family, in the fact that I’ve spent 23 years in the same city, in the same church.

So I’m trying to hang on to Saskatoon. And I’m trying to hang onto real people, real memories, not manufactured nostalgia. I’m growing to understand the distinction. So often I make moments into things they’re not – I photoshop them as I live them, I add a passionate soundtrack and slot them into a nostalgic spot in my head, where I can flip through them, with emotion, later on. I attribute this to my overactive imagination, and to movies. Movies are awful for making a big deal out of select moments in people’s lives, making it easy for us to inject emotion into our own lives likewise. This is ok for those who have trouble finding any emotion or meaning in their lives, but I’ve got plenty already. I read something by Annie Dillard last semester, and it floored me, how well she describes this nostalgia feeling, as she talks about spending a weekend at the cottage with a child:

I knew that the weekend would be, above all, over. At home at my desk I doodled on tablets and imagined myself and the child standing side by side on the riverbank behind the cottage in the woods, standing on the riverbank and watching the blossoms float down, or the dead leaves float down, or just th
e water – whatever it would be – and thinking, each of us: remember this, remember this now, this weekend in the country. And I knew that instead of seeing (let alone remembering) the blossoms, or the leaves, or whatever, the child and I would each see and remember some dim picture of our own selves as figures side by side on the riverbank, as figures in our own future memories, as focal points for some absurd, manufactured nostalgia.

There was no use going. At best, we would miss the whole thing. If any part of the weekend should prove in the least pleasant, and worth trying to remember on that account, or on account of its never-to-be-repeated quality, it would be unbearable. Who would subject a child to such suffering? On the other hand, maybe it would rain.

I decided, in short, not to go. The child is nine, and already morbidly nostalgic and given to wringing meaningful moments out of our least occasions. I am thirty-five; my tolerance for poignancy has diminished to the vanishing point. If I wish, and I do not, I can have never-to-be-repeated moments, however dreadful, anywhere and anytime, simply by calling that category to mind.

Man, I love how well she describes it - imagining ourselves in the future remembering things. Here are some of the real memories from my holiday that I will hang on to, the ones I tried not to imagine myself in the future remembering, the ones I’m fighting hard not to “nostalgize”… sitting in Chris’ living room, hearing her talk passionately about experiencing God; laughing until my stomach hurt with my cousins; watching Rachel fall asleep from her window-seat; the sibling sleepovers; walking around the lake with Olya; the giant Dutc
h Blitz game; hearing Eric Whitacre in Alexa’s car; seeing grandma chase a dog through the snow in my front yard in her stockings; getting the car stuck in the snow in the back alley; having a dance party with Rachel, Lesya and Tanya; hearing Daniel’s voice at his recital; Dad’s gentle but powerful sermon at the Candlelight service; puzzle-making with Mom. I miss all of you, for real, and that’s a very good thing.

We watch the water striders. We are, alas, imagining ourselves in the future remembering standing here now, the morning light on the green valley and on the clear river, the child playing with the woman’s fingers. I had not thought of that before we came, that she would be playing with my fingers, or that we would hear trucks shifting down to climb the hill behind the cottage. We turn to leave.