Monday, January 30, 2012

Daily Things

I’m staying in a lot more these days. We’ve been keeping to one car, and my days are almost fully on the land and in the yurt, with Petka and Luba and the many things that fill my time. This winter has been mild so far. With little snow and bursts of warm, spring weather in the midst of it all. I’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop for all of January, but now, at the end, I’m feeling that lovely bubbling hope. Perhaps spring will come on schedule, perhaps this summer will be long and bright.

At home I have the radio on almost constantly. Recently it’s been the classical station replacing the uncharged ipod, which has been stuck on Yarrow’s mix - songs she loves from Bruce Springsteen to Beyonce. Yarrow has eclectic tastes.

Thanks to my enforced stability, we are developing quite a little ritual to our days. One that involves an abundance of coffee, nursing, reading, and cleaning. In the spring I will have to re-evaluate. More coffee, less reading, at least during the day, to fit in all the outdoor work. But with snow all around, I’m forced to pursue ideas and dreams instead of planting and hoeing.

One of the trials of yurting, especially in the winter, is the near constant battle against mess. Often I feel as though I’ve just put the house in order when my husband will bring in a load of wood and leave scatterings of dirt and sticks throughout. Or Luba will knock the rugs into a pile and perch herself on top, looking proud. There is always something, and I am continually at war. With no closets to aid me in putting the “we should keep it out of the snow” chainsaw out of sight. Closets are a blessing I long for often.

   In the evening I am working on poems, with a purpose. I haven’t had this much direction in years, it’s unfortunate it doesn’t happen to come with an equal amount of inspiration, but I’m hoping that will come, if I rest my head in my hands enough, doze beside the fire enough, and stare at the writer’s fork on my right hand for long enough. Otherwise, I may have to do something drastic.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

50 Days of Self-Reflection: Day 12

What is your favorite quotation? Why? What do you think this says about you?

Favorite..that’s really hard. I love quotations. I guess my favorite for simplicity and meaning is “Beauty will save the world” by Dostoyevsky. I love it because it is a simple summation of what I believe, because it inspires me, and because it looks fantastic written on my wrist in Polish.

What does it say about me..that I prefer quotations that are easy to attach to my body, and hard to live out. That I like things to be reasonably straightforward, and that I have a deep attachment to Russian writers.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Household Gods

“You often-comers, sleepers in things,
Who arise brightly,…

Once more be it your morning, gods.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

Practically all houses are haunted in one way or another. The very old are haunted by relics of the past, ghosts, impressions, or emotions that can’t fade away, the very new are haunted by the possibilities that come flooding in. Most houses live somewhere in between. They are haunted by past, present, and future; by the good and evil their owners do, by hopes, desires, and memories. “Desires are memories from our future” says Rilke, but too often we forget and let the desires of today take over, let them become the demanding little gods that fill up the corners of our homes until there is no room for the others, the domovoi, the helpful friends who tend the stove at night and clear away the cobwebs.

In our home we have an abundance of both. We have the desires that gather behind the stove, whispering their impatience at night, collecting dust and blowing it upward to coat the rafters. We have the three relics who walk in the birches, guiding the frightened at night, keeping the darkness away. In the early morning, when I’ve lit the altar candle and crawled back into bed, they chant their prayers to the rising dawn, reminding me that each day is a new beginning.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


“This place of which you say ‘It is a waste’…
There shall be heard again the voice
Of mirth and the voice of gladness.”
  ~Jeremiah 33:10-11

 I'm amused that both Jenna & Mr. Pond doubt their charity, which is visible and inspiring to me. Charity aside, last week's discussion highlighted our similarities, with each of us insisting our literary favorites were, as Mr. Pond put it, "more true..than the capricious, flattening, factual world." I loved the differing understanding of the effects of moonlight and the coming dawn. Moonlight is dangerous, but beautiful, essential for artistic dreamings, which is why, this week, in the darkness of the moon, I'm bringing the discussion over to the lack of dreams. What happens when the artist looses sight of the moon and flounders for awhile?

On nights of a heavy moon, I'm always up late. Shadows dance without candles and the coyotes yip and howl all around us. On those nights I can write late, sleep little and not feel tired. But the dark nights are Lenten - a time to die down to the roots, to gather strength for the coming light. The artistic life, like the natural world, and like the Christian life, is one of rhythms: fast, feast, fast again. The feasting times feed us well enough to last through the long, dry times when nothing is brought forth. The fasts are difficult. It’s hard to remember that they don’t last forever. In the artistic life, it’s tempting to use them as a time to lower standards - to make anything for the sake of having words on a page or pots on a shelf. I would agree, if the thought of a shelf of misshapen pots destined for the slop bucket, or pages tossed in the woodstove didn’t so depress me. Deliberately making disappointments is not the a path I can take out of the darkness. 

It seems most writers are divided as to how they cope with the artistic dryness that comes to everyone, at some time or another. Some must "stay drunk on writing so that reality cannot destroy you" (Ray Bradbury), others insist that "One ought only to write when one leaves a piece of one's own flesh in the inkpot" (Lev Tolstoy). I can't say I fall into either camp. Unfortunately, I've too many things to do each day to stay drunk on anything - writing, or vodka, or wine, and I would never get anything written if my flesh had to be included in it all - I haven't anywhere near Tolstoy's intensity (for which my husband is eternally grateful). My dry times are dealt with as Rilke (whose writing continually inspires) recommends:

 "to be an artist meant: not to reckon and count, to ripen like the tree which does not force it's sap and stands confident in the storms of spring without fear least no summer might come after."

In the dark nights, I wait, words ripening within, for the moon to light a new path. Not forcing words or faking inspiration. But I'm a part-time writer at best, with no deadlines to follow, and I have the luxury of time.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

50 Days...(you know)

If you could chose a living person to share a meal and conversation with, who would it be, what would you discuss, and why would you chose him or her?

Benedict XVI would be fantastic, Pink and her husband would be fun..the conversation with one would be one of spiritual direction, I adore Benedict, and would love his direction; the conversation with Pink would probably be about her music, and babies, because I really admire her as an artist, and love her attitude toward motherhood (from what I know of it).

What about you?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

50 days of Self Reflection: Day 10

If you were choosing your last meal - anything you wanted - what would it be and how would it be served? Why?

This would completely depend on my mood at the time, but generally, I think I would pick a huge picnic basket of fresh berries in cream, peaches, crusty bread, this one type of very soft cheese whose name I can never remember, cold kielbasa, hard boiled eggs, honey, and cold white wine. There would be clean napkins in bright red or blue, and white, a big cloth to spread it all out on, outside under beech and birch trees in the fall.

I love picnic food, and eating outdoors. I love the sense of freshness and life it gives to the whole day.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Money Jesus

I have a statue of the Infant of Prague watching over our finances. He belonged to my mother when she was small, and at some point in his history a quater was taped to his back, under the robes - to attract wealth, or at least stability.

We've kept the quarter where it is, and beside his little candle I give baby Jesus my coins to look over, in the hope one of his multiplication miracles will be repeated over them.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Art of Other Worlds

The discussion with Jenna & Mr. Pond

A masterpiece of fiction is an original world and as such is not likely to fit the world of the reader.
  ~Vladimir Nabokov

Last week we discussed darkness, magic, and fairy in fiction. I'm grateful to both Jenna and Mr. Pond for their thoughts, which rested on a sense of love and compassion for the dark ones. A search for the light within. Mr. Pond encourages politeness, and the respect that ought always be shown when strangers meet. Jenna gives respect to the dark, even as she walks quickly through it. I admire them both for seeing things as they are. For refusing the tempting gifts of fairy, for embracing light in a world of shadows, and for judging the darkness kindly.

"A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world."
  ~Oscar Wilde

Part of the reason I began with darkness is that I tend to listen too often to Catholic Radio. There is a lot of good there, but also a trend against mystery that disturbs me. Mystery in fiction is often accused of being darkness, pagan dreams put out to tempt the young. But, as Jenna writes, "most Western fantasists would have to work a lot harder than they do to escape utilizing basic Christian concepts" in part because paganism itself is rich with Christian concepts. Even unintentionally a writer can fill his work with them. Mystery and magic go hand in hand with  the Christian worldview, and running from them we run from Christ. Magic itself doesn't make a work dark, and too many in the Christian world, as well as the writng world, forget this.

"I often think that the night is more alive and more richly colored than the day."
  ~Vincent Van Gogh

Good writing, "a masterpiece of fiction" can take us into the soul of the author, the "original world" created, and peopled by the writer's own dreams - dark or light. And it is a blessed artist who can show the world a dawn only he has seen, darkness fading to light, mystery infusing the everyday. Jenna, Mr. Pond, and I are in agreement on the beauty of mystery in the stories we love, if not always the stories themselves. In part because I probably tend to read with less charity and more criticism. When the worlds painted aren't as alive and richly colored as mine I grow dissatisfied. There are flaws I can't forgive, and generally they are flaws of attitude. I can revel in darkness with only the smallest flicker of light, but if an author gives the indication he doesn't recognize a character's personhood I'm gone. Stock characters are all well and good, so long as I can feel their humanity. I can embrace a world unlike my own, so long as it doesn't offend it.

Jenna, Mr. Pond, your charity impresses me, but do you draw a line where quality is concerned?

(I hope this is as clear as I meant it to be, I'm working quickly, on a new computer, as our old one was lost to the slush-puddles of Portland, and I've only just replaced it!)

50 Days of Self Reflection: Day 9

If you were a saint, what would you be the patron of?Why?

I would be the patron of superstitious folks, to be invoked against superstition, by the burning of an undyed beeswax candle with my medal pressed into it, and a black ribbon wrapped around it's base, on the eve of my feast day, while reciting my special prayer. The medal would then be coated in the wax and worn in a red pouch around the person's neck, to ward off superstitious thoughts..because I can never escape my little superstitions.

Monday, January 16, 2012

50 Days of Self Reflection: Day 8

What are three characteristics you consider ideal, masculine characteristics, and why? (meaning primarily masculine characteristics, not necessarily exclusively masculine).

I discussed this one with my husband before responding, and we came up with a list together:

1. Physical Strength. Not that women can't be strong, but I would say, in the ideal, men are strong, and able to use their strength for the good. 

2. Leadership. We came at this one from the good men in the Old Testament. The ability to inspire others to follow, to look up to him, is especially well represented among the fore-runners of Christ in the Old Testament. 

3. Sacrifice. As someone who watches her husband get up before dawn each day to drive an hour, and work outdoors in the cold or heat so that we can live as we choose, I can't help but idealize the sacrificial aspect in men..especially on the snowy days I love to send with books and tea in bed!

What do you all think? 

Friday, January 13, 2012

50 Days of Self Reflection

Are you a morning person, or a night person? Which would you rather be, and why?

I think I'm usually both, it's the evenings I have trouble with. If i had to choose, I guess morning, because I can, and really like to get up early. But I love late nights as well, as long as the day in between isn't too demanding! I rather be one of those people who only needs about 4 hours of sleep a night - who can stay up past midnight and still be up bfore the sun. Sometimes I think I'm almost there, and then I feel an overwhelming need for sleep..It's a constant struggle.

Sacramental magic: Baptism

My husband and I stood as godparents for the second son of our good friends on the eve of the new year. It was a lovely bright red and blue church, with saints surrounding Christ on the altar and the lingering scent of incense over everything. The little boy slept through the ceremony while we spoke in his name, renouncing Satan, reaching out to heaven. Traditionally, he ought to have cried, just a little at the exorcism. Babies who don’t still have the devil in them, the sacrament didn’t ‘take’. I’m comforted though, to know that in this family, it’s more likely the devil had so light a hold that the child didn’t notice him slipping away, a painless separation - all the easier for Christ to come and dwell.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

50 Days of Self Reflection: Day 6

What song best defined your life at 18? You life today? What song do you hope will define your life ten years from today?

At 18 I was pretty restless, immature, and searching. I think Counting Crows "Hanging Around" was the song I related to most, and it probably fit me. I was bored and trying too hard and determined to get out of town.
Today..really hard. I kind of think January Wedding by the Avett Brothers. I know, I'm already married, and not in January, but I feel like it fits. I'm living a simple, love-filled life, and I know the names of the trees, if not the birds performing in them.
In ten years, I hope to still be living as I do, but better, with all the rich memories of the years that have been. I'm kind of leaning towards Kate Wolf's The Trumpet Vine, because it evokes the sense of a history between two people, and the bright colors of life, but I think I could do her "Early Morning Melody" too, if I'm remembering it right, because guitars and coffeepots are always going to be a happy staple of life in our house.

This one is really hard, I thought, but don't give up!!

Dark Beginnings

shifts again in the discussion with Jenna St. Hilaire and Mr. Pond

"When you go to bed, don't leave bread or milk
on the table: it attracts the dead."
   ~Rainer Maria Rilke

Jenna's generously given me an opportunity to write the opening posts for a while, and we've decided to delve into the thoughts of others for our inspiration, at least for a while. In Advent we discussed silence, solitude, and ritual, three things I find essential for life in general, and for art especially; before Advent, we were discussing mythology, and it seems, enjoying very much the comfort of many shared thoughts and feelings on the subject. Next week, I have longer quotations, specifically on art and writing to begin trotting out, but this week I'll keep it low-key, somewhat.

I love Rilke and his dark, Catholic imagination, I love the thought of the dead surrounding my table, opening their mouths wide to catch the slightest flavor of life-as-it-was. But these are the things I avoid doing in reality, because waking up under a full moon to walk on crunching snow towards a dark outhouse makes thoughts of open-mouthed dead too real for comfort. Especially when I think I see them flittering between the birches. The sacramental imagination is full of these dark hauntings, it is part of what makes life rich and full and real, contrasting so completely with the good which lives under the sun. I've heard again and again on the radio, in conversations over coffee after Liturgy, and at parties the problem with myth and magic in fiction is the darkness, the spirits, and the sense of evil lurking that they feel in the background. I know a few families that avoid fairy-tales altogether, thinking it safer in the straight and narrow world of facts. They make up reading lists for children that studiously avoid the haunting things, they stock their shelves with morality tales. I think we are afraid of the mysteries, afraid to grasp hold of the dark aspects of beauty and study them in the flicker of one small candle.

“Deeply I go down into myself. My god is Dark and like a webbing made of a hundred roots that drink in silence.”

   ~ Rainer Maria Rilke

What do Jenna and Mr. Pond think? We've touched a bit on darkness before, is there a line that shouldn't be crossed? When does myth and magic become occult? When do fairies become demons?

“Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.”

   ~ Rainer Maria Rilke

I don't know that I've ever found a story so dark that I didn't see the flickering light, a well-written book will always give a glimpse of redemption, because it is the nature of man to reach for the light. Even the ugly and terrifying will give way into beauty, given a chance by writer and reader.

“Let everything happen to you
Beauty and terror
Just keep going
No feeling is final”
  ~ Rainer Maria Rilke


Monday, January 9, 2012

50 Days of Self Reflection: Day 5

If you were an alcoholic drink, what would it be?

This question was originally just "an alcohol", but I changed it to includemixed drinks, because I'd probably be a mimosa(orange juice & champagne). I'd like to be a "Death in the afternoon"(Absinthe & champagne) but I'm just not that funky, or high-maintenence. A mimosa is classier than Bud-light, and more fun than champagne alone..maybe I'd have 1/2 a shot absinthe in me, or a shot of lime vodka, just to up my cool factor.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

50 Days of Self Reflection: Day 4

Do you like your name? Does it fit you well? If you could chose your name, what would it be?

 I do like my name, I didn't for a while - just like I didn't really like my hair-color (I used to long for black hair, and a long name with lots of consonants and a few more vowels). But my name has definitely grown on me, it fits me, it fits my life, but if I had to change it, I'd be..hmm, maybe I wouldn't be able to change it, I guess I'd just be me.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

long days, short nights, and bad music

Sometimes I get the feeling a lot of people don’t really like music so much as they like being the sort of person who's into music, just as I often think there are a lot of people who don’t like books so much as being “a reader”. Jenna’s first after-Christmas discussion post reminded me of all those people. I don’t listen to Christian music. After a traumatic week working laundry at Holiday Inn under a woman who refused to listen to anything but, I’ve tried to put my memories of that 30 minute cd - set on repeat and played for 8 hours straight, Monday through Friday - far behind me. Most people I've heard who make Christian music seem to fall into the catagory of “people who don’t really like music” because if they did, they'd care more about the quality of music they're putting out.
Modern church music, says Jenna,  is “some of the worst shlock ever caught posing as music.” I think one of my favorites is a song in one of our hymnals in which we praise God with “swirling test-tubes.” (Test-tube joins chemotherapy, coagulating, and spiritistic in the ever-expanding list of words that don’t fit into good songs). I’m not saying that there aren’t some really good, modern hymns out there, but for some reason, those hymns aren’t being sung. A big part of the problem is advertising. Ours really is an age of advertising and publicity. The songs sung most often are common because they’ve been marketed as comfy, all-purpose, and unoffensive hymns. It’s similar to the attitude that creates popular pop-music, pop-fiction, and many hit movies - they’re marketed as popular, so they become popular, and we just absorb them.

I'm a bit out the loop right now, though. We attend Mass in the extrodinary form, before that, I belonged to a Ukrainian Catholic parish with a cantor who chanted nothing in English, who promoted traditional Ukrainian customs, and wanted to marry me for my pierogies.  When I do attend the novus ordo, I'm generally to wrapped up in keeping my mind on the liturgy, I don't notice the music, until my husband points out that "they sang the test-tube song!" or "wow, they changed the words to Amazing Grace! Why?" But Jenna's right, when you see God as a cozy friend, a shrink, a quick-fix emotional high, your music reflects that, and you stop writing anything deep.

I wonder if part of the problem is that we are too comfortable with popular Christian music, and so we start wanting our church-music to sound the same. We stop trying to pursue beauty, to form ourselves in imitation of beauty, and follow the easy path that leads to badness and banality. But I'm still unrecovered from my vacation. My mind is fuzzy and my nights are always too short. If I sound like more of a hater than Jenna, it's probably because I am. Mr. Pond, what do you think? Do you reject bad music and embrace the good, or is that a leading question?

Blessed new year.

50 days of self reflection: Day 3

What color best represents your outlook on life?

My favorite color to wear is black. But it definitely doesn't "represent my outlook on life," I think I lean towards amber.. and not just because I really love the stone. Amber is a happy color, like yellow, but grounded, not as flakey as yellow, but not as grounded as brown, it has imagination.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

50 days of self reflection: Day 2

What do you notice first about yourself in a mirror? Is this a good or bad feature? What do you usually fail to notice?

I always notice my eyes first, because if my eyes look good, the rest of my face usually follows. My favorite is when I've really done up my eyes the night before and gone to bed with my make-up on. The kind of messy black liner look has always made me feel completely ready to take on the day, and it always reminds me to have an extra cup of coffee!

I usually barely pay attention to my lips, which is why I never really got into lipstick (I should add that to the year's goals: notice my lips, care for them.) Since my husband really likes to see me in lipstick, it would be a nice habit to adopt.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

50 days of self reflection: Day 1

What are three of your goals for the new year, and why?

1. Lose the remaining baby-weight and re-tone...for obvious reasons (who doesn't want to look good?)

2. Finish (and begin) editing the poems I'm hoping to use in the little compilation my husband & I are hoping to put together. I would love to have them ready for him before spring gives us too much to do outside, so that is a goal too!

3. Organize the house so that is actually stays neat for longer than a day after cleaning, and so that I can find the above-mentioned poems after I've worked on them!

So..who else has new year's goals?