Friday, July 23, 2010

"Sometimes we have to change jobs in order to maintain our vocation." -- Eugene Peterson

This statement, from his book Practice Resurrection, is only a small blip in the midst of a larger conversation on growing up in Christ.  A small statement that managed to lodge itself into my mind like a mantra.  Peterson was speaking in hindsight to the metamorphosis of  Walker Percy from physician to novelist.
walker percyImage by famous librarian via Flickr

Percy began his vocational life as a physician, intending to use medicines and surgeries to heal sick and damaged bodies. He had hardly gotten started before he changed jobs. Sometimes we have to change jobs in order to maintain our vocation. Percy did.  He became a writer so he could tend to the healing of souls, using nouns and verbs to cure what ails us. (Peterson, Practice Resurrection, p. 55)
Job. Vocation. Calling.  Not new ideas, certainly, but pressing concerns for the majority of my immediate family. It's become almost humorous, the conversational scurry during each family get-together on the dates of interviews, resume mailings and timelines to hear back from the potential employers.

My husband led the way in a difficult downsizing of staff in our church this summer.  Three staff had to be let go in order to right the sinking budgetary ship.  One job to go was my father's.  Another is my husband's.  Add to that my sister's teaching job cut in school budget compromises.  My brother's quest for fair salary for his labor.  His girlfriend looking for a teaching position to fulfill her newly-earned master's degree.  Another brother fresh from the rigors of graduate work, uncertain where to land.  My  mother wondering how much more income she may need to generate to fill in the gaps of my father's lay off.  I've been asking myself the same question, actually.  My oldest son's entry into college this fall, high with hope for the education system to steer him toward his destiny.  Our three other children, waiting in the wings, watching his experience as they form their own dreams. Job. Vocation. Calling.  God, help us.

Peterson's book unpacks the writings of the Apostle Paul to the church at Ephesus.  His letter diagnoses a condition among God's people that the physician/novelist Percy echoes in his own writing centuries later:
Walker Percy wrote six novels in which he made us insiders to the spiritual disease of alienation that he found pervasive in American culture. His name for the condition is "lost in the cosmos." We don't know who we are or where we are. We don't know where we came from or where we are going. (Peterson, Practice Resurrection, p. 54)
Lost. Disoriented. Untethered.  All words I've babbled to my husband in our daily stream of consciousness sorting out of life right now.  Lost in the cosmos sums it up just about perfectly.

more thoughts coming soon
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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

the girl can write

Four of our six family members are taking creative writing classes this summer from Kevin Lucia, author and fellow church member.  Here's a sample from my 12-year-old's first assignment. I was pretty darn impressed when I realized this was her first draft, a session that lasted all of a half an hour. See what you think!
(The prompt: a man in a tutu is up in tree, how did he get there?)

My Father Took Ballet
by Natalie Murphy

My father is an interesting man; 
he has a hook instead of a hand.
When I said, "Papa, I would like to take ballet."
He said, "For your first lesson, I will come and stay."

When I got to my dance school (named Too-Loo),
my teacher taught me a dance from Peru.
But my father shouted "No way!
I paid for my daughter to learn ballet!"

"Okay," my teacher sneered, "but only
because you came all the way here."
My teacher taught me to twirl and spin,
and then my father decided to join in.

When I saw him twirl and spin,
I decided I shouldn't have let him join in.

When recital day came, my teacher was very stressed.
(It didn't help when daddy's hook tore her purple dress.)
Teacher chased papa out the door and through the theater.
When the audience saw and gasped, mama made sure no one could see her.

Daddy was chased down the street by Mrs. Lee,
when they got to the park, he climbed up a tree.
"Come down from there!" Mrs. Lee shouted.
"No! Not ever!" my daddy pouted.

Mrs. Lee returned and we danced our ballet, and
she made it clear papa could no longer come to rehearsals and stay.

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Monday, July 19, 2010

Monday Mixtape

i made you a mix tape of all my favorites from this week!

We had a silly, relaxing, nap-full week in the Poconos with my extended family -- 19 of us in all.  I'm sure the mamas of the two-year-old and the four-year-old and the six-year-old would have liked it to be more nap-full, but this mama is past that stage and so grateful when it comes to a good, old-fashioned summer afternoon nap.  Really, it's one of my favorite pastimes in the whole world -- snuggling up with a good library book, a cold cup of something -- condensations dripping down the sides of the glass -- and a good, strong fan blowing in fresh breezes.  It makes me want to fall asleep just writing those words!

I managed to consume large quantities of cultural goods and my lists are chock-full this week.  Hope you enjoy!


My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok

For about eight years I've been collecting lists of books recommended by people I admire.  This novel is probably the fiction title I see most often, but for one reason or another it's taken me all this time to actually read the book for myself.  I liked the book, liked the characters, loved the setting and conflict in the mid-twentieth-century Brooklyn, the Hasidic community of Crown Heights, to be exact.

If it's a good characteristic of a novel to leave the reader in more conflict than resolution than this is a great book.  I really don't know how I feel about little Asher Lev and even less of the Asher Lev, come of age.  I am fascinated by the conflict of his religious upbringing and his artistic ambition, obsession, really.  He is a child prodigy and seems to have no say in the matter of his avocation, even drawing in crayon on the wall in his sleep.  Sensually, and all other ways, he lives his life through the grid of a painter.  There is a sympathy for the relational strife this causes with his parents, father especially.  I'm frustrated with the myopic attitudes of his activist-absorbed father -- how can he not see the similarity of his son to his own overreaching ambitions?  At the base of it, I guess, he doesn't see art as worth anything.  That's the problem.

And, I'm guessing why this title lands on so many "suggested reading" lists of artists and Christians.  The fundamentalist approach to utility at all costs overlooks any value in the useless forms of beauty, the invisible made visible.  Perhaps, my favorite character was the Rabbi ("Rebbe") for at least sensing the paternal responsibility to "train up a child in the way he should go".  But, honestly, who gets away with what Asher Lev gets away with?  I struggled feeling sympathy for this totally self-absorbed child.  Who gets to live that way?  Not that I blame him, inverting into himself to survive the emotional upheavals of his mother's nervous breakdown after the death of her brother.  At times, I wished I could insert myself into the story as the family counselor.  Between that and wishing to find my own therapy for never feeling the permission to set the kinds of boundaries that little Asher sets for himself, intrinsically understanding his greatest call in life is to  paint and draw.  To learn art. Study art. Make art.  He does his best to honor his father and mother, to learn Torah, to follow religious practice.  But, at the end of it all, he can not resist the superseding forms of beauty in nakedness and beauty in suffering.  The very aesthetic of cross-shaped suffering has more power over him than any other symbol in all his familiar ritual. It rules him, at the loss of home, family, place.

I have sympathy for this predicament, but I'm also jealous of the stark conflict he allows himself.  He is never conscious of a decision between his art and the rest of his life.  His life is fueled solely in image and palette.  His relationships are formed around those values.   There is no real conflict, the decision is made for him at birth.  The rest is just consequence of something that seems out of his control.  In some ways, that seems like it would be the easier route than all this fussing about calling and ambition and relationship and paychecks.  Those of with lesser natural talent not only have to fight for training and skill, but also fight the knowing -- am I an artist or not?  Where do I place my allegiance?  Hanging out with friends, cleaning my house, working a part-time job to pay a mortgage -- every single one of these choices threatens the uncultivated gift lying within. Maybe I should have read this novel when I was in a more sympathetic mood?  Or, maybe, the point isn't to sympathize with Asher Lev but with the rest of us poor saps trying to make sense of this crazy ambition?

Either way, it's a good book.  I'll read it again.  Maybe I'll even read the sequel -- although how Asher Lev manages to get himself a wife who will  put up with his obsessive-compulsive art making PLUS give him children, I'm not sure I'm going to believe.  We'll see about that.

  • Dark Water: Flood and Redemption in the City of Masterpieces

by Robert Clark

I just finished reading this non-fiction title for July's IAM Reader's Guild selection.  I'll post my thoughts in a couple of weeks, after we meet.  If you're local, we'd love to have you join us for the conversation!

Tuesday, July 27, 6:30 PM - 8:30 PM
The Murphy's house, 106 Jefferson Ave., Endicott
RSVP to me:
Bring your book, discussion guide and a snack or beverage to share!

*I'm not sure if I ever  posted the link to my review of Flannery O'Connor's The Violent Bear It Away.  If not, here it is.

  • How to grow Zinnias:  Not sure if I love the advice or Jared from Stone Soup Farms better?  Either way, I'm a happy student!
  • In Search of Coconut Milk:  We've been seriously deprived of humor around here lately.  This post, by the creator of Dilbert, was just the thing.  (Thanks for the link, Dan!)


    • Driftwood:  We saw this band at a live music event in a Binghamton park last night and were totally impressed!  It's not often that we hear a band from this area with this kind of quality.  Seriously, look up their show schedule and go see them.  The fiddle alone made me cry!  Plus, I hadn't ever heard the term "Shanty-Rock", have you?!?  Shanty-Rock is my favorite and I didn't even know it.


    • Inception:  I saw it today with Brian and my head is still messed up. For a decent write-up of one viewer's thoughts, check out Brett McCracken's post.  My opinion lands somewhere just to the left of Brett's and to the right of Commenter #4!
    One problem with the film was that every single time one of the characters referred to "the dream within a dream" all I could think of was this...

    Have a great week!

    Saturday, July 17, 2010

    And the winner is....

    The CD is finished and it's a beauty.  I'm getting ready to pack it up and send it on its merry way to the giveaway winner -- commenter #5:  Barb, sfo!!  Please email me your mailing address:  livingpalm1ATgmailDOTcom.  Two things make me think that commenter #5 and I might become fast friends:
    1. her suggestion of the site Paperback Swap was fabulous. I've already mailed out five books and found bunches in return!  
    2. We both love A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

    Want to see the mix tape track list?  As you can see, it was way too  hard to narrow down to fifteen songs so the winner gets five bonus tracks.  I chose songs from musicians I've highlighted in Monday Mix Tape posts over the past year or so.  In choosing the order, I stole an idea from my friend Margaret who recently gave away mix tapes to some friends, arranging them thematically from morning songs to evening songs.

    1.   In the Morning by Brian Moss from Prayerbook, No. 1
    2.   All Things New by Andrew Peterson from Resurrection Letters Volume 2
    3.   Fancy Free by Miriam Jones from Being Here
    4.   White Winter Hymnal by Fleet Foxes from Fleet Foxes
    5.   Colors by April Smith and the Great Picture Show from Songs for a Sinking Ship
    6.   Gasoline and Matches by Buddy & Julie Miller from Written in Chalk
    7.   Here Comes Your Man by Meaghan Smith from (500) Days of Summer soundtrack
    8.   Wagon Wheel by Old Crow Medicine Show from O.C.M.S.
    9.   Half a Person by The Welcome Wagon from Welcome to The Welcome Wagon
    10. Trouble by Over the Rhine from The Trumpet Child
    11. Messed Up Everywhere Blues by Jason Harrod from Bright As You
    12. Waiting for My Day by Jason Harrod from Living in Skin
    13. New Redemption Song by Over the Rhine from Snow Angels
    14. American Legion by The Welcome Wagon from Welcome to The Welcome Wagon
    15. Twice As Good by Sara Groves from Fireflies and Songs
    16. The Trumpet Child by Over the Rhine from The Trumpet Child
    17. Moondance (Live) by Over the Rhine from Live from Nowhere, Volume One
    18. Chasing Pirates by Norah Jones from The Fall (Deluxe Version)

    The final two songs on the disc are just two of my all-time favorite forever songs:
    20. Hallelujah by Jeff Buckley from Grace

    And, since you couldn't all win, here's an excerpt from the mix tape -- just because I like you so much!  Happy weekend.  May we all add our broken hallelujahs to the world around us.

    Friday, July 09, 2010

    Monday Mix Tape Giveaway!

     i made you a mix tape of all my favorites from this week!

    My thrifty arts patron post has been linked at Cha-Ching on a Shoestring. To celebrate, I'm giving away a free mix tape! One of you will get 15 tracks of new music that I love sent to your mailbox (sorry, all you retro fans -- it'll actually be a mix CD.  Mix-tape is just way more fun to say!)

    Here’s how to enter:
    You have up to five ways to enter this giveaway:
    1. Leave a comment here with your favorite arts patron idea from the original post.
    2. Subscribe to my feed by e-mail or in a reader and leave a comment letting me know you subscribed.  If you are already a subscriber, simply let me know in a comment.
    3. Follow me! Leave a comment on this post letting me know you are a follower.
    4. Blog about the giveaway.  Leave a comment with a link to your blog post.
    Note: Be sure to scroll down to the bottom of this post to leave your comments.  By leaving a separate comment for each entry you will have a greater chance of winning!  E-mail responses will not be considered as an entry in the giveaway.

    This giveaway ends at 3:00 pm EST on July 16, 2010. I’ll use to select the winning comment. Winner will be notified by email and listed on this site.

    Saturday, July 03, 2010

    Monday Mixtape [the thrifty art patron edition]

    i made you a mix tape of all my favorites from this week!

    Not gonna lie.  It's been pretty nutso-bizarro around here lately.  It's an odd emotional roller coaster we've been on of delirious highs and butt-scraping lows -- sometimes within the same day, occasionally same hour.  Life is happening and we're doing our best to happen with it instead of the alternative -- it happening to us.  I'm quite certain you can relate.

    This edition of the Mix Tape is in honor of my sister and her world-famous blogging ambition, Cha-Ching on a Shoestring.  Several months back she asked me to think about ways to encourage people to patron the arts on holding-on-by-a-shoestring sized budgets.  Until I started thinking about it, I didn't realize that I'd already been figuring this stuff out.

    If beauty saves the world, how are we to afford it?  Here's what I've come up with: (and I hope, hope, hope -- with fingers and toes crossed -- that you'll have some of your own ideas to add to my sweet little list!)  I've started each category with the DUH! list just in case you'd not thought of the obvious.


    You already know --
    • The patron saint of all thrifty creatives and intellectuals:  the LIBRARY!!  We love the library so much we moved to a house within walking distance.  
    What you might not know --
    • BOMC2:  Before I tell you about this club, let me assure you that I am NOT a fan of most mail-order book clubs.  In fact, when my kids were little I gave in one too many times to the crazy marketing ("get 52 books for a penny, plus a free tote bag!") and had been forever banned by my kind husband from these types of set ups.  With the advent, though, of companies like Netflix, mail-order has gotten savvier and more user-friendly.  This is true of Book of the Month Club 2 -- I have a reading queue (ala, Netflix) and as long as I tend to that list every once in awhile, the books I receive are only books I want to read.  We pay a $10 per month flat rate to have a brand new, hard-cover book that we selected shipped to our house.  Since I pay about half that amount just for shipping from Amazon or another online book retailer, this is a good deal, indeed! The only negative critique I have is that the catalog is shallow in the literature department.  I would prefer a wider range of good, classic titles and timeless authors.  So far, though, I've found something I've wanted for every single month.  Since I can cancel at any time, I'll just keep on going until they run out of titles to suit my interest.
    • swaptree:  Because you can have too many books!  This resource is also extremely user-friendly.  Think of it as a cookie swap, but with books instead of cookies and strangers instead of friends.  The swaptree folks have figured out some kind of whiz-bang search engine that pairs me up with people who want the kind of books I'm ditching and have the kind of books I'm desiring.  It's crazy -- this whole interweb business!  After that, it only costs the media mail shipping fee and an envelope to swap books.  (usually $2-$4)  Simple! The site also allows you trade music, video games and movies.  I'm pretty steely-eyed on the books and haven't tried any of the other options.

    You probably already know --
    •  If you follow Cha-Ching  you probably already know about sites like this that give you free money for clicking on links, reading emails and using a list of collaborative online vendors.  This is the site I've used for several years -- from before Kaley was the coupon maven that she has become.  With rewarding vendors like Amazon, B&N, Borders, and iTunes, this is an excellent way to earn free gift cards for books, music and other artsy goods.  Last year, I saved my points and bought this beauty from Pottery Barn...

    What  you might not know --
    • The Graphics Fairy:  A site for free vintage graphics.  If I were a crafter or an artist, this site would be an absolutely invaluable resource for me.  As it is, I just like looking at the new pictures every day and, every once in a while, to print one out and put it in a frame I purchased at the Salvation Army for my wall collection. (While you're at the site, click on her free backgrounds tab to spiff up your blog!)


    What you probably already know - 
    What you might now know - 
    • There's never been a better time to be a music patron.  Many artists make their songs available for donation.  You may even have the opportunity to support a new recording project, like we did recently for our friend Brian Moss.
    • Host a house show!  Many indie artists support themselves through small venue shows.  In March, we did this for the first time with a full weekend of live music from singer/songwriter extraordinaire Jason Harrod.  Our friends paid $10 each and we provide the wine and cheese.  It's one of the best concerts I've ever attended!


    You probably already know --
    • Postcards and prints from museums
    • Silent auctions and starving artist sales
    • Etsy
    You may not know --

    • Give up something for the sake of beauty.  Maybe go without new clothes for a particular season in order to afford a piece of art you'll be able to pass down to your children.  Or pool your birthday or Christmas gifts for the cause.  I chose this winter a piece of artwork that would grow in value and could be passed down for generations rather than new jeans and sweaters that would be worn out in a few  years.  I'm glad I made that choice every time I go up our stairs, past this whimsical and wistful gem from our dear friend Phaedra Taylor.

    • By/For Project and Creative Commons License:  A collaborative encouraging the making of sacred art for the church by the church.  Churches patron the work and then make it available for free through a creative commons license.  Check anywhere for that license to enjoy free music, visual art, and photography.
    "The God who impoverished himself is also the God of abundance, and somehow, perhaps at times nonsensically, Christians are called to live out of an ethic not of scarcity but of abundance—an abundance that extends both to the homeless neighbor and to the artist neighbor. . . "  -- Lauren Winner, from her chapter THE ART PATRON: Someone Who Can't Draw a Straight Line Tries to Defend her Art-Buying Habit  in For the Beauty of the Church
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