Tuesday, October 23, 2007

back in the saddle again

I've been pretty hit and miss with my blog writing of late.
It has been a busy, busy season in our household -- life, work, children, illness, school, ministry. All these things have piled in layer upon layer -- like old coats of paint.
And, somewhere along the way, I've lost the heart to write. Or read. Or rest. Or relax.
Not a healthy way to live.
So, I'm taking small steps this week to get back to a healthy place -- including back to my habit of writing new posts.

for starters a couple of book reviews. next, catching up on old business.

Night by Elie Wiesel
This book has been on my reading list for a while now. Then my 10th grade son told me he was reading it in school this year. Then I read this blog post and realized I didn't want to wait any longer. (thanks lola for letting me borrow your book...my reading budget is tapped right now!)
As promised, this was a powerful read. I thought I'd been exposed to most of the awful details of the Holocaust (read several memoirs from the era as well as The Diary of Anne Frank and Schindler's List and Band of Brothers, etc.) but I was wrong. There were, in fact, more agonizing details to consider. More horrific stories.
The author states that if he had only one book to write in his lifetime, this would be the one. It is his attempt at making sure the story has been told. It seems he sees his role to be much like the role of the character Moishe the Beadle who survived execution by the S.S. and chose to return to the town to warn the Jews to leave before it was too late.
In his Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech, Wiesel states:
"...if we forget, we are guilty, we are accomplices...how naive we were, that the world did know and remained silent. And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must -- at that moment -- become the center of the universe."

Annie Dillard
Another author on my reading list for three of her titles, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, An American Childhood and The Writing Life. What a fun surprise when my mother handed me a compilation book of all three titles! She had found it at the library and was not ready to read it yet...it felt like Christmas morning!
To call this woman a gifted writer would be akin to labeling Matthew McConaughey attractive. It's a major understatement. In fact, there was a part of my brain that felt like it had never even really read a book before Dillard's work.
I also quickly realized that I am spending way too much time on auto-pilot -- not noticing, not observing, not paying attention. If Dillard could spend entire pages on the sensation of running down the sidewalk as a young girl, what in heaven's name is occupying my thoughts most of the time? Sample the following excerpts as you would a wine-tasting -- sip, swish, swallow (or spit, if you're really serious about it and not trying to just get as much free wine as you can).

from Pilgrim on Tinker Creek
"The woods were as restless as birds. I stood under tulips and ashes, maples, sourwood, sassafras, locusts, catalpas, and oaks. I let my eyes spread and unfix, screening out all that was not vertical motion, and I saw only leaves in the air -- or rather, since my mind was also unfixed, vertical trails of yellow color-patches falling from nowhere to nowhere. Mysterious streamers of color unrolled silently all about me, distant and near. Some color chips made the descent violently; they wrenched from side to side in a series of diminishing swings, as if willfully fighting the fall with all the tricks of keel and glide they could muster. Others spun straight down in tight, suicidal circles.
Tulips had cast their leaves on my path, flat and bright as doubloons. I passed under a sugar maple that stunned me by its elegant unself-consciousness: it was as if a man on fire were to continue calmly sipping tea."

"Thomas Merton wrote, 'There is always a temptation to diddle around in the contemplative life, making itsy-bitsy statues.' There is always an enormous temptation in all of life to diddle around making itsy-bitsy friends and meals and journeys for itsy-bitsy years on end. It is so self-conscious, so apparently moral, simply to step aside from the gaps where the creeks and winds pour down, saying, I never merited this grace, quite rightly, and then to sulk along the rest of your days on the edge of rage. I won't have it. The world is wilder than that in all directions, more dangerous and bitter, more extravagant and bright. We are making hay when we should be making whoopee; we are raising tomatoes when we should be raising Cain, or Lazarus.
(i apologize, but I find myself unable to stop with this excerpt...it's just way too delicious!)
Ezekiel excoriates false prophets as those who have 'not gone up into the gaps.' The gaps are the thing. The gaps are the spirit's one home, the altitudes and the latitudes so dazzlingly spare and clean that the spirit can discover itself for the first time like a once-blind man unbound. The gaps are the clifts in the rock where you cower to see the back parts of God; they are the fissures between mountains and cells the wind lances through, the icy narrowing fiords splitting the cliffs of mystery. Go up into the gaps. If you can find them; they shift and vanish too. Stalk the gaps. Squeak into a gap in the soil, turn, and unlock -- more than a maple -- a universe. This is how you spend this afternoon, and tomorrow morning, and tomorrow afternoon. Spend the afternoon. You can't take it with you."

And from American Childhood
"Ah, the boys. How little I understood them! How little I even glimpsed who they were. How little any of us did, if I may extrapolate. How completely I condescended to them when we were ten and they were in many ways my betters. And when we were fifteen, how little I understood them still, or again. I still thought they were all alike, for all practical purposes, no longer comical beasts now but walking gods who conferred divine power with their least glances. ...

They moved in violent jerks from which we hung back, impressed and appalled, as if from horses slamming the slats of their stalls. This and, as we would have put it, their messy eyelashes. In our heartless, condescending, ignorant way we loved their eyelashes, the fascinating and dreadful way the black hairs curled and tangled. That's the kind of vitality they had, the boys, that's the kind of novelty and attraction: their very eyelashes came out amok, and unthinkably original. That we loved, that and their cloddishness, their broad, vaudevillian reactions. They were always doing slow takes. Their breathtaking lack of subtlety in every particular, we thought -- and then sometimes a gleam of consciousness in their eyes, as surprising as if you'd caught a complicit wink from a brick."

Absolutely brilliant! For a writer to be able to not only remind me in a general sense of something so minute as the look of boys' eyelashes, but to do it in a way that I can literally recall each microscopic hair and also the rowdy faces behind those eyelashes. Truly brilliant.

as for the old business
Remember that discussion on Hallelujah? If it's the last thing I ever write, I will complete my thoughts on this. But not today. I've got to watch U2's Vertigo Tour on DVD with my 16-year-old son. Right now, he is giving me a weird look because I asked him if I could study his eyelashes!

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