December 1, 2019: all that I can give

The first day of Advent —

and I look down at my hands,

sparkling with pine tree sap

from ornaments bedecked high,

and begin to know what it means

to need darkness to appreciate light.

 

The airport’s hallways are endless,

like purgatory, I think to myself,

circular, as Dante intended —

never-ending and buzzing with the noise

of a thousand mumbled epiphanies.

A man jogs by. I wonder what he is running from, where and who he is running to. We are both liminal and infinite. Liminally infinite. We are sleeplessly awake. The bleary masses, hurrying across the finish line, limping, with the wannest and weariest of smiles.

Dizzying screens flash, staccato. Cameras clash. And we are all publicly private, together.

I think of Christ entering into the chaos too,

born near the dungheap, beneath eons of stars long dead. Dwelling in our midst, in our misery, in our everyday grey, in the twist of a night’s extended flight delay. He is here.

The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

60 books, 365 days: 2019

2019. 60 books. About 12,927 pages read.

The champions? The works of literature that live on in my mind? Here they lie.

  • A Severe Mercy
  • Mary Oliver’s poetry
  • The Bell Jar (again)
  • The Cross and the Lynching Tree
  • Mrs. Dalloway
  • She Who Is
  • T.S. Eliot’s poetry
  • The Glass Menagerie
  • Six of Crows & Crooked Kingdom
  • Franny and Zooey
  • Purple Hibiscus
  • Rilke’s poetry
  • The Wildwood Trilogy
  • The Testaments

For a complete list, check my Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/user/year_in_books/2019/8615040

2020, cheers to you! May you bring even more stories and magic and beauty.

Summer 2019 Goals

As June quickly approaches, I have had these goals in mind for optimizing the rest of my summer. I am posting them for accountability purposes and because it was exceedingly beneficial as a first step to organize them here and articulate them in writing.

  • Write poetry daily.
  • Limit my social media time (collectively, on all apps) to an hour or less each day.
  • Prioritize reading books for fun in spare moments. (More books, less Netflix.)
  • Stay hydrated! Drink more water (and still lots of tea, of course).
  • Spend more intentional time with God.
  • Exercise consistently (gym 2x per week, skating 1x per week, and yoga/stretching/at-home exercises daily).
  • Attend NAET appointments 1-2x per week to (hopefully) knock out food allergies.
  • Maintain an A in all of my summer classes.
  • Research travel details for an exciting August trip.
  • Complete my internship work on the upcoming OSGEMEOS and Turner exhibitions.

Do you have any specific goals for this summer? Any books you’re dying to read or places you’re yearning to travel? Please feel free to comment below. I’d love to see!

Everyday Anthems

a woman sat atop the glossy bench,

and I averted my eyes like a wild thing,

glimpsed myself in a shopwindow

without a spark of recognition

until it all came rushing in,

there and back again

from that widening gyre where

synapses crackle and fly like fireworks

— oh, this is me, now.

ragged and composed, yes.

now, this is me. oh —

shining like some newly-minted anthem,

                                                                 (we fought for this)

                                                    fizzing like the sea of the flapper’s fluted glass

                                                                                                                              (we drink to this).

 

lapwing cacophony, a twiggy nest

in the branches initially beyond my reach.

sandwiches as sacraments; prayers like butterknives.

 

the crooked man with a limp

         rushes ahead to open the door wide,

                                          and i, fumbling, sashay inside.

                 the biography of a kindred spirit

                                                                                               is lonely, on clearance — $2.51.

 

coins jingle then nestle in my palm:

a shoddy imitation of the solar system.

the universe abounds in a teacup

but constrained, maimed.

Holy Week: Curious Communion

The wind skimmed over the lake and tousled our hair, tugging at our billowy clothes and uniting us all in a delicious shiver. There would have been the linger of a characteristic Chicago chill if there had been no sun, but, praise God, the sun made a triumphant appearance for the first time in ages, and we were eager sunbathers, spread out upon the soft picnic blanket like languid tortoises. Everything was adazzle — the concave landscape, the bottle of sparkling cider, the slim, mature glasses we borrowed and tried so very hard not to break, us. We were incandescently alive in the fullest springtime sense: doubled over with laugher and squinting amiably with uplifted hands to block the sun’s rays or wave at passing dogs tethered to their owners as we talked about the future in between fistfuls of ripe blueberries. We had all brought what we could, each person with something unique to offer; it was not much to behold, but it was a merry little feast, steeped in gratitude. It has been ever on my mind since — the preparation, the retrieval, the unfurling, the reveal. I had wrapped the delicate glasses tenderly in white cloth to prevent their clinking and rolling and the blueberries from leaking violet. As I carefully unwrapped these picnic treasures and set aside the unsullied white linens, I couldn’t help but think of Easter and the empty tomb and the risen Christ, of a broken body and broken bread. How fitting that it was a blissful Sunday afternoon when we so unwittingly partook of our curious communion. I recently read (and deeply enjoyed) Andre Dubus’ Meditations from a Movable Chair, in which he writes, “The Communion is with us and it is ordinary. To me, that is the essential beauty: we receive it with wandering minds, and distracted flesh, in the same way we receive the sun and sky… The Communion with God is simple so we will not be dazzled; so we can eat and drink His love and still go about our lives; so our souls will burn slowly rather than blaze.”

March 18: Israel

And so we return as Cyrus decreed,

creeping forth on bended knee,

seeking a once-home robbed of all hospitality

and ground devoid of fertile recompense.

 

We are the lost and aimless ones,

displaced, sent on mission of grace,

chosen, cast away, chosen again,

thrice-whipped and humbled.

 

We speak not

but carry sanctuary stones

on our aching backs.

March 5: Eve

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?’ The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’’ ‘You will not certainly die,’ the serpent said to the woman. ‘For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.”        -Genesis 3:1-6 (NIV)

You were so lithe, so small.

We shared an elegance, you and I —

an acuity I did not find in Adam.

So I viewed us, vowed us, fastened as friends

for nothing ever seemed amiss in the garden —

all was emerald, juniper, moonstone awake,

a shining under the sun that dazzled without blinding.

 

For God was like that

when He walked among us,

so tender-softly you could not hear the

blades of grass bend beneath His feet.

You were just as quiet, but not soft.

You came with your violent geometry,

all diamonds and angles and sin,

and from A to B

 

                                                           we fell.

An Experiment in Midrash

Inspired by the beautiful words of Amy Bornman (https://www.amybornman.com/) of All Well Workshop and Marie Howe, I decided to design a project for myself in the month of March to allow for consistent moments in my days dedicated to rest, renewal, prayer, and quiet meditation. I had the opportunity to participate in an unforgettable poetry seminar last semester that nurtured my ardent love of the art and exposed me to Marie Howe’s Magdalene and her Mary persona poems in The Kingdom of Ordinary Time. As I furthered my search in this genre, I encountered similar captivating poetry by Madeleine L’Engle, and it astonished me that, even with a tale told over and over like the birth of Christ, there was still so much content left to be creatively explored. As members of the Church, we know all about the manger and the angels and the frankincense and myrrh… but what about Mary? What were her excitements and doubts and fears and dreams? We sing together at Christmas, “Mary, did you know?” and I think she knew. I think she knew and felt so much about who her son was destined to be, though we never explicitly discover this. We are simply told that she “treasured up all of these things in her heart.” Midrash allows us to ponder what Mary pondered.

I am now one week into “Midrash March” — a poetic experiment intended to motivate me to delve into passages of Old Testament Scripture, derive new meaning there, and seek to give a voice to the (often minimized) women of the Bible through poetry. My goal is to write one midrash poem per day on a different biblical passage throughout March. In my Old Testament class, I have been struck by the sheer amount of women mentioned in the selections we are assigned. Yet many are present merely as the mothers of sons or as the wives of husbands, and their own thoughts and desires are seldom expressed. Midrash serves as liberation for these women from the constraints of a patriarchal society that often commodified them. Now, you may be wondering what exactly “midrash” is. It is a traditionally Jewish practice focused on attempts to interpret and apply the texts of the Torah/Old Testament to our modern age. These efforts may be literary, musical, or artistic in nature — often reconciling the holy with the mundane. By engaging with a sacred text and wrestling with its implications, we thereby affirm its sanctity and relevance in our lives. Midrash is a task to be undergone with awe for we stand in the presence of a living, active God who has proven to be faithful throughout the ages.

Chatsworth House: A Rendezvous with Mr. Darcy

For those of you who know me well, you know that one of my absolute favorite films is the 2005 version of Pride & Prejudice, starring Keira Knightley. Now, before anyone starts an uproar, I also enjoy the 1995 BBC mini-series. However, considering its total length of nearly 6 hours, I often find myself gravitating to the newer rendition instead with its dazzling cinematography and enchanting score (which I often listen to whilst studying). For those unawares, Chatsworth House was used for filming the scenes at Pemberley, Mr. Darcy’s estate, in the 2005 film.

Everything about the estate is extravagant, even from the start. Lush. Decadent. Gilded. Its simultaneous magnitude and emphasis on minute intricate detail is altogether breathtaking. Chatsworth belongs to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire and has been passed down through 16 generations of the Cavendish family. The history of Chatsworth began with Elizabeth Talbot, known as the Countess of Shrewsbury or Bess of Hardwick. A native of Derbyshire, she married four times and became the second most powerful woman in Elizabethan England (after the Queen, of course). It was in partnership with her second husband, Sir William Cavendish, that she bought Chatsworth in 1549.

Visitors at Chatsworth today can view magnificent works of art that span 4,000 years — ancient Roman and Egyptian sculptures, masterpieces by Rembrandt, and work by modern artists, including Lucian Freud, Edmund de Waal, and David Nash. The statue seen above (which you may remember from the 2005 film) is “A Veiled Vestal Virgin” by Raffaelle Monti — ordered by the sixth Duke of Devonshire after a visit to the artist’s studio in Milan, Italy. Other treasures include an extensive geological collection and the library’s early copy of Audubon’s The Birds of America and a prayer book that once belonged to Henry VII and then Margaret Tudor. (The library also possesses many volumes of poetry, perhaps partially due to the influence of Georgiana, the fifth Duchess of Devonshire, who dabbled as a poet herself. She is portrayed by Keira Knightley in the 2008 film The Duchess, which was also filmed at Chatsworth.)

The gardens and grounds of Chatsworth are no less exceptional than the interior of the manor, featuring a Victorian rock garden, a labyrinthine yew maze (which I proudly navigated in record time), a waterfall, and acres of other wonders. There are over five miles of walking trails and impressive gravity-fed waterworks abound, such as the 300-year-old Cascade seen above on the left. There is a prominent focus on sustainability that can be especially seen in features such as the Kitchen Garden, which supplies fruit, vegetables, and herbs for the manor house and has done so for years. 20 gardeners total are necessary to keep the estate pristine.

The greenhouses at Chatsworth are acclaimed throughout Britain. However, some grander elements have been lost. During and after the World War I (1914-18), there was not enough coal to heat the conservatories and, therefore, many plants, especially of tropical varieties, died. Because of the expense of restoring, maintaining, and heating, the property’s renowned Great Conservatory built by Joseph Paxton, the largest glass building in England of its time, was demolished in 1920. Still, horticulture is very much alive at Chatsworth. When we visited, the RHS Chatsworth Flower Show was in full swing, which is quite the affair. We declined visiting its separate encampment of vast white tents (think The Great British Baking Show multiplied by five), begonias, and ferns as admission is separate and ranges upwards of £34.00 per person. Tickets are now on sale for the next flower show, June 5-9, 2019, if you’re interested.

Visiting Chatsworth House was one of my favorite memories from my trip to the UK! As I strolled around the gardens and it began to softly rain, I couldn’t help but think about the appeal of moving to some little cottage in Bakewell and being able to pop over to Chatsworth for picnics in the summer or their cozy Christmas market in the winter. As you exit the manor through the gift shop (oh, how clever), you come face-to-face with a bust of Matthew Macfayden (the anointed Mr. Darcy of 2005) — a lingering prop from the film. A cheeky sign underneath reads, “Please do not kiss.” Or perhaps it isn’t so cheeky; maybe, in the past, this has been a real issue. Of that I cannot be sure, dear readers. Regardless, when I saw the likeness, I could not help but recall the iconic scene shot in Chatsworth’s sculpture gallery:

“Do you not think him a handsome man, miss?” “Yes. Yes, I dare say he is.”

A Year in Pages: 2018 (II: May-December)

At the beginning of 2018, in celebration, I read eight books! (see this blog post) The spring semester of my freshman year was a busy one, so I was unable to read recreationally until the summer (when I had a copious amount of time to do so in England on trains or the Tube). Listed below are the twenty other books that I read this year! A grand total of 28 books in 2018!

The Story of Art by E. H. Gombrich  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Fascinating. Engaging. Beautiful. Enlightening. Informative.

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn  [✭ ✭ ✭]

Dark. Thrilling. Intense.

Z: A Story of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Sympathetic. Vivid. Dazzling. Tragic.

The Popular Girl  &  Other Short Stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Decadent. Eloquent. Entertaining. Memorable. Brilliant.

The Rich Boy  &  Other Short Stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Dynamic. Unexpected. Satisfying. Concise.

Sidney Chambers  &  The Shadow of Death (Grantchester #1) by James Runcie  [✭ ✭ ✭]

Suspenseful. Metaphysical. Heartwarming.

Emily Brontë: Poems by Emily Brontë  [✭ ✭ ✭]

Melancholic. Vain. Existential.

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Stirring. Revealing. Moving. Candid.

You Are Free: Be Who You Already Are by Rebekah Lyons  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Life-giving. Insightful. Wise. Fruitful. Inspiring.

The Crucible by Arthur Miller  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Horrifying. Sharp. Haunting. Unsettling.

Ada’s Algorithm: Lord Byron’s Daughter Launched the Digital Age by James Essinger  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Mathematical. Intriguing. Unembellished. Illuminating.

The Distaff Side by Elizabeth Palmer  [✭ ✭ ✭]

Dramatic. Predictable. Cliché.

Ophelia by Lisa M. Klein  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Riveting. Sympathetic. Imaginative. Captivating. Fresh.

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry  [✭ ✭ ✭]

Intriguing. Mysterious. Disappointing.

The Art of Losing by Kevin Young  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Relevant. Striking. Thoughtful. Beautiful. Sorrowful.

Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Simple. Refreshing. Encouraging. Lovely.

Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art by Madeleine L’Engle  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Breathtaking. Wise. Creative. Faithful. Candid.

Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in Summer 1953 by Elizabeth Winder  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Revolutionary. Truthful. Fascinating. Insightful. Tragic.

A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Witty. Brilliant. Genuine. Impassioned. Succinct.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Startling. Raw. Political. Realistic.

 

What novels did you most enjoy reading this year, friends?

I’d love to add them to my 2019 to-read list, so please comment below!