Wednesday, March 30, 2011

I have to write a paper tonight, so it must be time for another blog post...

Obviously, I am working on my descriptive abilities these days.  I'm also trying to develop my own voice. I don't just want to take on the voice of whatever author I am reading, but perhaps that is somewhat inevitable. The beginning still doesn't seem smooth to me, so if you have suggestions, please let me know.

A memory of winter when it was still beautiful to me...

I set out from the warm building into the winter night. The wind whipped across the asphalt plane in front of me, but because I was mentally prepared, I still felt cozy with the cold all around me.  Yet, the parking lot still seemed bigger than usual as I leaned into the surging current.  At first I trudged along, with the coming protection of my car at the forefront of my mind, but about half way across the second parking lot, I realized that something had changed in me.  My mind had released it's grip on that definite end, and it sank deeply and pleasantly into the present.  With delight, I became conscious of the fact that what I enjoyed now was a precious moment of solitude, full and beautiful.  As I freed my eyes from their determined gaze at the ground a few feet in front of me, it seemed that the world had transformed in the absence of my noticings. It was no longer simply a cold winter night, but a gem of a view, an experience, an indulgence. A dusting of snow twinkled beneath the street lamps.  Above the lamps, heavy black clouds hung low.  It was as if the stars had fled from where they belonged in protest to the clouds and come to rest on the ground, determined to make some dark expanse bright.  I turned to take a path from one lot to the next. The path lead me momentarily between two low snow covered banks. They blocked the wind and all indications of human presence.  Instead, there was stillness.  At least I thought so at first, but I when I stopped to absorb it, my own stillness allowed me to discern the smaller, rustling movements.  Beyond the protective banks I could still hear the wind whistling and the ticking it made as it knocked tree branches together, and around my feet was movement too.  A gentle draft flowed down my path and around my boots. Staying low to the ground it smoothed the banks on either side of me, until they looked like solid ground, shining like polished pearls, distinctive from the granulated glittering of the parking lot.  The next gust of the low draft brought new snow into the little valley in which I stood.  This new snow snaked along the banks and around my boots with a soft sshhhhh, barely noticeable below the distant whistle of the wind. I looked more like a ghost or a shadow than actual substance.  I decided then that this was a moment beyond words, and there are no words that can describe the huge, yet simple yet full effect these small details combined to give me. And before the moment ended, I forced myself to step forward, to leave before the world deflated.  It caused me pain and sorrow to walk on, but no regret.  It may remain a moment uncaptured, but some things are meant to be bigger than our grasp.

Friday, March 18, 2011

But a Breath

I sat at the stop sign for 5 seconds or less. My foot pumped the brake as I approached  the corner, an automatic movement, as automatic as as the breath I drew in. As my foot came to rest solidly on the peddle, my eyes feasted on the landscape in front of me.  It was mesmerizing perhaps only because it didn't deserve to be.  The black country road stretched out before me, dipping in and out of sight with the rolling hills.  Tan grass grew on either side, dead and crispy mostly, but a tint of green showed through.  Asphalt and a bit of dead grass alone are rather less than attractive, but the sky and what poured from it made beauty of everything it touched.  Clear and blue was the expanse above. Light yellowed with the day's old age gushed from the west almost as if a liquid substance. Across the street, it bathed the orange brick of the old, little school house until it fairly glowed. It baptized the dinky church to the very tip of it's steeple, melting it's cool, white paint and grey shingles into friendly richness.  The two quaint buildings framed the rolling road before me. Parenthesizing these stood several naked and beautifully decrepit trees, also drowned in sunlight that illuminated every bump, knot and protrusion.  The sharply defined shadows of their trunks stretched along the gnarled ground.  Twisting and bending away from these thicker, dark shapes, wandered the shadows of the limbs and branches. They carved across the ground and the yellow light pooled in between them.
A movement to my right shook me.  Another car slowed to a stop at the intersection.  I suddenly became aware that my foot still rested on the break, that I held my breath in my lungs, and that the person in the other car probably thought I was an idiot. Reluctantly, I exhaled and raised my foot dropping it again on the gas peddle.  My hands automatically pulled the wheel to turn me towards home.   The breath was gone.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Wander Lust

It's knocking at the door of my conscious thought constantly.  Nagging.  It drags my mind away from the present to other worlds.  New languages, foods, adventures.  Who could concentrate on literary criticism when through the back of your mind flash images of snowcapped mountains bathed in yellow morning sun, a grey fog shimmering, settling over the green valley. Closely following these snapshots, I see plaster walls saturated in turquoise, yellow, and red paints, a sea of orange tile roofs.   My mind wanders even farther away to all the possibilities, the vague images and perceptions I have of the places I have yet to discover for myself.  Staring out the window, it is easy to ignore the Michigan snow grey with dirt and car exhaust.  It melts too slowly, but exposes the first glimpse of yellowed grass, frozen until dead.  For my mind to drift away from this familiar sight is no hard task.  Will I ever really do it?  Will I every really buy the plane ticket and pack my bags? Or will only my mind away?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Not Creative Writing, but Something I've been Pondering

Sometimes we think God could not love us the way we are.  We think we need to make ourselves better before we can see him.  Striving after him, pulling up to him, hoping that what we have to offer is acceptable.  We think we are running to God, gaining ground toward him with each step.  Too often we try to tell ourselves and even God himself that we should not need his grace.  It's great that he offers it, but we should be able to get it right.  The idea is embedded in our culture - the American work ethic implies it, even the attitude of the church can point us this direction (or flat out beat us over the head with the map).  
The other day, it occurred to me to think about it in another way.  Even if we have the best of intentions, the mentality described above separates us from God.  We may think we are saying some thing perfectly kind. "Thanks, God.  You're awesome.  Now you've done enough and I got it from here.  You don't have to give me any more of your grace. I will make myself closer to you."  Yet, this attitude assumes that grace is only a thing, a possession that God hands out. We couldn't be more wrong.  Grace is so much a part of God's character that if if we try to sidestep the flow pouring out of him, we are not moving toward him, but away from him.   When we do not want to need the grace he gives, we do not just refuse a neatly wrapped package with a to from tag.  We refuse God himself.  

Here's a question to end with: Since God is Love, if we say we are worshiping God, but cannot believe that he will love us no matter what, are we even worshiping the right God?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

I Am From...

I wrote this poem for my Teaching Writing class.  We used a mentor text, which means the class reads an example of text and then the teacher invites the students to emulate it.  The original poem is by George Ella Lyon and it's called "Where I'm From". You can read the poem here: .
I suggest giving this a shot.  I would suggest it to anyone, whether you consider yourself a poet or not.  I certainly don't consider myself a poet, but writing this was more than a task for me.  It was an experience and a process of discovery.  It may not be ground breaking to anyone else, but it was magic for me.

Three Worlds

I’m from barefeet and broken driveways,
Soft stray cats and the wonder of climbing trees,
Nearby beaches and vineyards, orchards and cornfields.
Sand in my toes, sun in the sky,
Row after row of rich, juicy crops.
Pink and orange sunsets over grey reflective waters,
Playing taps
Then home for warm beds and stories.

I am from a world away.
A U.S. Plane ride away
and a swerving Mexican bus ride away.
High in the mountains
Beyond the tourist village.
The world of Don Kenuto and Elaine with her magic microscope.
Of Manuel y Tsumina
Making beans and torts
And a dear but foreign language.
From stories of chickens living in the laundry room
Futbol sounding in the streets
Refugees gathering in the garden.
A life of plenty in a tin shack,
A future of freedom from memories of machete scars.

I am from children’s books and teacher’s games,
Sitting in their laps to explore and create
Dinosaurs, the alphabet, drawings on the fridge
Then together to the Flap Jack Shack
I’m from circles on sticky placemats with Grandma’s extra pens.
Half grapefruits and toast for the kids.
From “Danger Wolf” and “Sleeps-with-blankie”
“Take it outside” or “Not in the house”
From Kiddie pools and fresh cut grass,
Crunchy potato chips and cold cut sandwiches
From engineers and school teachers.

I am from the country, the suburbs and another country.
Worlds apart, running together.
Worlds with labels, and yet mixed within me,
One in my family.
Grafted together.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


I read a book called Red Glass (You should too) and it inspired me to write about my experiences in Mexico and the odd sort of connection I feel to it.  This is the first of what I hope will be several stories.

I became aware of sound first.  The constant beep beeeeeep beeeep , the dull roar of the bus engine, the rumble of its tires as it bumped along the uneven road.
Next I felt.  One side of my face stuck against the firm, fuzzy bus seat.  The other side of my face felt the cool, old air that had probably filtered through the bus since we left San Cristobal.
Finally I cracked my eyes open.  A yellow light seeped through the slits so different from what I had fallen asleep to.  A few hours ago, when I could no longer prop my eyes open, harsh white light flashed through my lids and Spanish speaking voices sounded through bus punctured by the music of the soundtrack.  Then, the uneven beeping and red light from the speed device hanging from the ceiling at the front of the bus was barely noticeable beneath the overbearing stimulation of the movie.
I woke up in a totally new world.  Sunrise, I thought as I blinked my eyes open.  Good.  I had slept several hours.  That meant several hours less left ahead of me on a bus.  Slowly my vision cleared and I turned my head toward the window.  I could see the silhouette of my dad’s head, black as his hair against the window.  Around the window’s perimeter I saw his business cards still stuck over old chewed gum – proof that I had drifted into the same world I had drifted out of.  It was newer, but the same. 
I stirred.  My dad turned toward me slowly. “You’re awake.” He smiled. Why was he so happy when we were still so far away from our destination?  I recognized the look in his eyes. It said he too had been drifting, but not through sleep.  The look sparkled in his eyes at home too, though I never felt him really present at our house when the look came.  At home, yes, but not that home.  Instead, memories transported him to another home.  A half smile sneaked onto his face, exposing crooked teeth. His usual down to earth voice dissipated, becoming light enough to float.  And away he would float, dropping names of far off people and places as he went – Manuel, Tsumina, Paxcu, San Juan, San Cristobal.  I hung on to every word of his tales.  They both fascinated and frustrated me.  I desperately hoped that in hearing his light voice and hanging on the words that his memories would transport me too.  Then maybe I could see them as he saw them, but instead I remained on the couch sitting next to him, seeing only him, not his vision.  To him the stories were vivid, moving, surging, living, intertwined with a complete world and timeline.  To me they were black and white snapshots, fragments, scattered splinters of the past.  A wall of my limited experiences separated us. 

“Take a look out the window.” He pointed.  I followed his finger, but I didn’t need to. One landmark stood out against the horizon, rising out of the earth but still a part of it.  A mountain stood bold and golden, illuminated by the yellow sunrise.  Everything around it was flat in comparison.  My dad’s voice spoke beside me, mellow, deep, yet somehow airy with memories.  I did not have to look to know he wore a blissful, crooked smile.  He told me the volcano’s name was Popo.  Popocatepetl was a soldier called away to war. His love thought he was killed and died of grief.  When Popo returned and heard of her death he killed himself.  A lower peak that I had not seen before represented his love Iztacc√≠huatl. Then dad drifted again into memories, sharing his history with the mountain.  He and his parents passed it each year when they drove from Minnesota to San Cristobal. The sight of it meant they were back, almost home.  He reminisced about standing between the front seats, keeping his dad awake, knowing all the restaurants along the way.  I sensed his connection, an ownership of the roads he’d traveled and of the scene before me.  I asked how far away it was.  We never seemed to pass it, I pointed out.  It just stayed, huge, framed by the window.  We speculated it’s distance, it’s size, together.  “Jali,” he spoke my name no differently from anyone else, but I knew he thought of it spelled this way J-a-l-I, the right way, “I’m glad you were awake to share it with me.”  We had finally turned and we had to strain to see the volcano.  I settled back into my seat, my eyes still tired.  I felt uneven as the beeping from the front of the bus.  The beeping sounded each time the driver went too fast, which happened every few seconds.  It had gone too fast, this moment of ours.  Even the week before spent immersed in the memories of others and making memories of my own went too fast. I didn’t know what to make of the memory just formed.  One side of me felt heavy with the fullness of the moment.  The other felt somewhat as empty as I always had when listening to my father’s stories on the couch at home. I looked over at my dad, staring again out the window, remembering.  Between us I imagined a veil falling over the plastic arm rests.  He didn’t know I saw it there.  Maybe a veil always exists between people.  In our case it could be woven of many things - a generational gap, a cultural difference, or still my general lack of experience.  It was only a veil though.  The whole week behind us worked to thin it out from a wall to a veil, sheer enough for a great bit more understanding to pass between us.  

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The High Dive

I used to tell my friends I had an irrational lack of fear of heights.  It's true.  The normal fears - germs, heights, public speaking - don't phase me.  Sharing my writing, on the other hand, terrifies me.  I'm an English major.  I know what good writing looks like, and I know I don't write classics. (Although, I am of the opinion that some of the classics are just called that because they're public domain and cheap to publish.  It's a conspiracy between Boarders, Amazon and Barns and Noble...maybe.) Yet, I can't get better by hoarding my thoughts in my mind.  I need to start somewhere, and blogging sounded like a good jumping off point.  This way if it really stinks, it's ok because so do at least 70 percent of blogs on the internet, right?

Of course right! So if you don't read for any other reason than to give me feedback, that's fine.  If you don't read at all, I'll never know so that's fine too.  If I venture into terrible fantasy and sci-fi, I'm sure you'll forgive me.  Mostly I'm going to try to stick with what I know - memories, moments, ponderings, short stories and the like.