28 May 2006

Sufjan + The Office

...the consequences of sharing with my brothers...

18 May 2006

You must go by the way of dispossession...

Sometimes what we want the least is what we need the most.

We live beneath a Mercy that stretches further than we can see, supported by a Knowledge that--when revealed--will only unhinge our minds, and by all this we are cradled gently--more gently than we know--above shifting and obscure paths.

All that did and didn't happen this year forced me to realize that love is never simple and our lives are not meant to be hoarded but shared. Grudges aren't worth holding but are hard to let go. Dissapointment comes only when we are too specific in our guessing ahead.

Because of dissapointment, I became a better friend. Because of what I didn't have, I was opened in weakness to people that I will be very sorry to leave.

My understanding of love is new: no matter what, I know nothing. And knowing that is enough, for now.

16 May 2006



Human nature is so faulty that it can resist any amount of grace and most of the time it does. The Church does well to hold her own; you are asking that she show a profit. ... It is easy for any child to pick out the faults in the sermon on his way home from Church every Sunday. It is impossible for him to find out the hidden love that makes a man, in spite of his intellectual limitations, his neuroticism, his own lack of strength, give up his life to the service of God’s people, however bumblingly he may go about it…

It is what is invisible that God sees and that the Christian must look for. Because he knows the consequences of sin, he knows how deep in you have to go to find love. We have our own responsibility for not being “little ones” too long, for not being scandalized. By being scandalized too long, you will scandalize others and the guilt for that will belong to you.

It’s our business to try to change the external faults of the Church—the vulgarity, the lack of scholarship, the lack of intellectual honesty—wherever we find them and however we can. ... In the meantime, the culture of the whole Church is ours and it is our business to see that it is disseminated throughout the Church in America. You don’t serve God by saying: the Church is ineffective; I’ll have none of it. Your pain at its lack of effectiveness is a sign of your nearness to God. We help overcome this lack of effectiveness simply by suffering on account of it.

To expect too much is to have a sentimental view of life and this is a softness that ends in bitterness. Charity is hard and endures; I don’t want to discourage you from reading St. Thomas but don’t read him with the notion that he is going to clear anything up for you. That is done by study and more by prayer.

-Flannery O’Connor

New Histories

I think I started writing this post way back in August on the day I got back to school. Coming back I felt like a sponge, squeezing into a tiny hole. I started writing this then, daydreaming about the day when Eva and I would pull up behind some liquor store to gather the ironic boxes, all colorful with seals and calligraphy, so we could pack.

I'm boxing up books in wine boxes.
And I'm packing my shoes: red suede, stacked wedges, kitten heels.
I'm throwing away the clothes I've hated for four years.
I never have to be that girl again.
This girl again.

I came back last August to a campus full of strangers because I'd been living an interior life. And I was angry and the place felt ugly with audacity, the mockery of bright brick and white columns and ridiculous lawns with perfect flowerbeds. I watched you out my windows and wrote papers in the dark.

Driving back on Rt. 7 a night ago, I leaned over to Eva and told her, "This is the last night we drive back to campus after a weekend in the city." Because everything is shrinking and receding, bending and peeling, skewing with departure, shifting and folding behind me, like a great collapsible pop up book of roads and buildings and green pastures and cardboard clowns with nursery rhymes along the page bottoms.

But as it folds behind me I am suddenly realizing: THERE ARE SO MANY PEOPLE THAT I LOVE right now. You were all parts of my weekend and of this morning. You were in conversation or exploration or laughter or solidarity. You were songs and poems and afternoon mockery. You are my new history, the friends I just got this year, who came in when my world broke apart and became all of the glue and the plaster and the love that made me feel like I do now: confident to go where I want and do what I please and write long letters to leave behind me.

This semester the windows have stayed open, like I said they would, with the wind swinging the burnt orange india curtains and the light striking my eyes in the morning. And the songs I've been singing have meant less and less and less than they used to. Because sometime I stopped bleeding. Bitterness is temporal but love is enduring. And this place is fading.

I have a lot to say right now. On Saturday Josh stopped me mid-sentence as I ploughed through a rant and told me that I just needed to graduate. And it's true.

I don't have my wine boxes yet, but I think the sooner I start packing the better, and the sooner this place folds behind me, the more ready I will be to page back through.

I will never forget any of you.

11 May 2006

Infants, Imbeciles, and Domestic Animals

"If we were dealing with rational people you would have a case. But these people are not rational. They only respond to intimidation and manipulation. They want cowardice. But you aren't going to give them the satisfaction of that, are you?"

You certainly did not.

"Of all tyrannies a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be 'cured' against one's will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals. But to be punished, however severely, because we have deserved it, because we 'ought to have known better,' is to be treated as a human person made in God's image."

-- C.S. Lewis

09 May 2006

Unless I visit...

I never have to come back.

I realized that in chapel today and smiled hard.

But Mitchell classes are a different story. This is my last time in this room with the desks circled and Dr. Mitchell sipping from his tall steel thermos, Matt and Zach and Tim and David snickering knowingly, Samantha's tilted chin and articulate remarks, Nathan squinting over the pages, Katie scowling at her margin notes to understand and the low fluorescent lights, the dull steady hum of the tempermental AC, and the way that the day, cold or sunny or rainy, seems to creep into the windowless classroom, on our coats or in our hair or in the way we hold ourselves in our seats. It's grey and rainy today and we're all in turtlenecks, cords, rain slickers, things we probably piled away in the attic last week when it was hot and had to dig out yesterday morning when it got cold again.

Of all the places on this campus, this is one that I would come back to, take people to. As long as Dr. Mitchell is the professor in it, because it is here, with the desks in this formation, first in Philosophy, then in Modernity, Post-modernity, and Society, now in Conservative Political Thought, that I have gained the most. Time doesn't change in this room. All the books we've ever read are open here--poems by Elliot and stories by Camus and the philosophies of Nietzche and Kierkegaard and Aristotle. I took a few weeks out this semester to finish my fiction class. I didn't come to any Mitchell classes last semester. But I am back now and here it is. Different but not. Grounding me for the greater upheaval. These classes have singularly made this education worthwhile and coupled with Freedom's Foundations, persuaded me that there was some merit in staying at this school at all.

We are reading Wendel Berry today and talking about community and bedtime stories and sex. I'm not even taking this class, but I've done most of the readings, highlighted my books, taken notes far more than for any other class this semester. This is the impressive class that the media doesn't talk about when they profile us.

I remember two years ago when the New York Times article came out and I was furious because the journalist had sat in on our Modernity class, listened to us, and told Dr. Mitchell that our discussion was on the same level as his grad school seminars at Yale. But he didn't say a word about us when he wrote about the school. Instead, he took pictures of the awkward couples and wrote about the most absurd rules that we had, and talked about the fanatics. I was furious when the article came out, read it at midnight when it was first posted on line, went raging around the dorm over it. But I have since come to realize, slowly, that these classes are almost best-kept-secrets around here. In this basement classroom, and the people in it, who have kept me sane all these years—but especially this one—are the exception to most of my school. And whole time our college president stood in front of chapel today all I could think of was this and I didn't want to smile or clap for him. And I realize that pretty soon I won't have to even see him or think about him if I don't want to.

But I wonder how next year will be for the Juniors and the Sophomores and the Freshmen who stay here. And for Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Sillars who are the only remaining sane professors. They will be so alone on the faculty in their back-room offices in separate buildings.

I try to explain this desire for distance to my mom. The desperation for distinction from other products of my background and even from my faith. I am not ashamed of my education or of Christianity, but I am deeply saddened by what people who share my upbringing and my religion have done and stand for. But I'm not ashamed of this classroom, or the people in it. And I am not ashamed of Christ, and who He would have me become.

Even so, it is going to take me a little time, a little space, after graduation before I find much confidence in the context that has formed who I am.

08 May 2006

One more poetry class to go.

In the main-building bathroom putting on makeup this morning (because I rushed up so that I could get breakfast). As I look at my face, elongated in the glass, I suddenly remember the first time I slipped in here, almost four years ago, after an incidental late night, checking my face and marveling that I didn't look half as bad as I felt, or feel half as bad as I should, and consequently concluding that I could stay up as late as I wanted. I thought I was pretty impenetrable until I got pictures back over Christmas.

Freshman Hannah, gazing back. In a red coat, and brand-new chinos, and little black mules, with a messenger bag just-so, and fool-proof fake glasses, and that really really short hair all mussed in a hundred directions. Laughing at herself and the world because she'd just discovered there was no punishment for skimping on sleep. I'm not sure whose looking back at me from the mirror today—but she's not as optimistic about anything.

“One class more,” Ash says.
“It's ending,” I say.
“Slowly,” says Eva , looking across the lawn at the 50 degree day.
And when someone slaughters a recitation of Little Gidding in class, I decide that it's ending slowly as well.

05 May 2006

Salvation through writing

Novels are all populated by people you've actually met. Your own novels by the people you've loved or hated, laughed with our shouted at, cried on or because of, seen on street corners or out of the corner of your eye, at checkouts and stoplights, passing you walking or running, people who have made your heart burst or collapse, who you have judged or have judged you, who have contributed to your birth and your life and your death.

All your life is soil and the seeds from the discarded fruit, the dead plant, the shriveled pod, germinate in the refuse--the dung--and your art--your life--is composed of all that has died in you or around you, yet rises up cleaner and stronger and more fragrant because of the death, out from the death. Every piece of you has a purpose, even if that purpose is simply in the discipline of sacrifice. And in the work of the novelist who captures true life, whose characters you recognize, the recognition comes because they have truly lived and you understand because so have you.

This is the consolation of the existentialist: any experience can be hammered into art.

This is the consolation of the redeemed: every facet of existence can be transformed into praise.

This is your sacred role: reappropriation. Truth is a scalpel and sometimes it cuts away more of you than it gives, but the cycle of loss yields to a new understanding that will release your altered perspective into a new vision. Everything that has happened to you belongs to you, even in its death, as raw material.

01 May 2006

re: i'm gonna drive to the ocean

i had to drive all those miles to look myself in the mirror beneath a blotchy fluorescent light, as i sat on a polyester hotel bed quilt, and saw a face i wanted to forget, a person i've tried to bury who will probably be more present more often in the days to come.

not the person i've built, the person i've held up to you, not the face i've chosen, but the face beneath the face that twists out from beneath my facade.

she is young and her eyes are burning with discontent.
she is insatiable because she thinks only of herself.