Worlds

One of the reasons I enjoy reading fantasy novels so much is the world-building.  I am always in awe of writers like Ursula Le Guin or Brandon Sanderson, who can pack such fascination and mystique into their different universes, time and time again.  And that, I think, is (only) one of the reasons why breaking up with Danny has been so difficult.  The loss of all those worlds that could have been, that existed in my daydreams of the future.  It’s good to take one day at a time, but it’s also only human nature to plan ahead, to see a future with someone, especially when you are together for a number of years as we were.  I’ve always been one who wanders off into daydreams, imagining possibilities, conversations, spinning out interesting scenarios from any possible little encounter.  All those thoughts I had about us are gone, all  our future worlds’ potential, all the ideas and hopes and casual wonders.
I realize I might come across as desperately heartbroken and dying inside; I don’t mean to, especially in case Danny himself will read this.  (The thought of which I don’t mind: this blog has brought me incredible joy over the years, and it would not exist if it weren’t for him.)  My heart does hurt badly but I don’t want him to feel guilty.  Danny and I had different ideas for our future and we did what had to be done.  I don’t regret what I did or said- we both certainly tried to make it as simple and amicable as possible- merely the losses that came right along with it.  Those worlds I had spun out in my dreams, worlds with his family and friends, oh especially his wonderful family, worlds of love and laughter and the relationship we’d spent years cultivating.  To strip myself of my current life in less than an evening’s time and carry on into a suddenly bleak and very impenetrable future was the hardest battle I have ever fought.  I use past tense although, trust me, it is still ongoing.
I am a creature of habit, a lover of routine and the comforts of the familiar.  I am Catholic for many reasons, not the least of which is the eternal, unchanging aspect of its world. The seasons of the Church come and go, flowing ever onward in the cycle of faith, mystery being found even in repetition, and I delight in that.  I like to travel, but I don’t need to explore the world, unless it’s a world within a book and I’m exploring it while safely ensconced under my down blanket.  And yet, here I am.  The world I venture into now has only light enough for me to see until the end of today.  And although at times these past few weeks, it has seemed desolate and forsaken, menaced by sorrow, it is not.  This strange new world, birthed in the season of dust and ashes, already holds those dear to me: my family, who cheer me up with food and viewing parties of Charlton Heston’s epic The Ten Commandments, my friends both old and new, who let me cry in the middle of public places or teach me that the gift of friendship can be found in the most unexpected ways, and, of course, inexorably, inevitably, Christ.  He is present in this world as He was in my past, and ever will be.  Though I’ve drawn back and turned around and run away so many times before, His heart calls out to mine yet again, Hound of Heaven that He is.  I come heartsore and soul-silent to this world, alien to me now but real, more real than any universe in any book.  I pray for strength, for hope, for Danny, for joy, for the courage necessary to carry on.

Metaphors

And so, I write.  To give reason and form to the uncoupling links of my life.  To attempt to make sense of the suddenly shifting ice beneath my feet.  To put into sound and motion the interior collapse of me: the chunks of ice inside that are breaking off and breaking up and tipping down and bobbing on their sides until they reach the final arc of their swing and settle back down into place on the water of my life, where hopefully the jagged edges will smooth and reunite.  If I write fast enough, perhaps I can get ahead of those shattering ice floes, eclipse them in a blaze of typing, of thinking not about the emotions but merely the words and how they sound, rolling them around on my tongue, tasting all at once the smooth sweetness and slight acidity of language and expression.  And so, I write:

There are times now I feel like I’ve lost the words , like birds escaping from my mouth when I open it to speak.  The flutter of their wings in my throat, that raw taste of saltwater on my tongue.  I can’t talk for all the birds around me.  Birds with memories shining on their wings fly away from me, disappear into thin air.  Come back, birds.  Don’t leave me.  Don’t leave me without words.

I’ve never been in dread of so many things before in my life.  Silence.  Lent.  Night.  The last page of a book, when I look up from another world.  Summertime.  Facebook.  Memories.

Where am I now?  I’m thinking that the immediacy of the present was a heavy price to pay for the dreams of the future.  To give up on something good and solidly in front of me, because of that unstable and misty future is the hardest struggle of my life.  We none of us know what may happen tomorrow, or the day after, or in ten years time.  I have a dream.  But I also had a life.  I didn’t even get to say goodbye to his parents.  I gave something up to be free to gain something more, but it’s farther than ever from me.

Maybe this wouldn’t be so hard if there were more than total silence in my soul right now.  Where did you go, God?  Where are you?

The Shape of Winter

The shape of winter in a city takes its fluidity and form from a hundred subtle cues.  Slanting lines of snow are abruptly bisected by the appearance of roof and wall.  The maintenance men are motion and darkness in their tough winter coats and beards shivered with frost, their machines flinging out the snow in arching parabolas that pull the eyes and spirit higher, breaking the hypnotizing fall that is the tell of winter.  After the storms have begun to whirl, they will turn the thick black city fences with their spiky posts into tracings of angle and bar, mounded at their tops in mimicry of the gray sky above them.  Thick crystal icicles drip in winter’s direction, downward past the glass fronts of coffee shops and convenient stores, uncoupling the blocks of writing on their windows until one reads unfortunate and vaguely Latin phrases: “SPECI S TO Y CLAM C WDE” and “LOTT Y TI ETS H RE”.  The space and design of the city takes on a meaning of new importance, as the snow piles higher and wider, and forces the inhabitants into unheard-of proximity; a quickstep shuffle past a confluence of unsavory loiterers will suddenly skirt the edge of an embarrassing skid on ice or a fall into ridged and dirty snow. Out past the city limits, where one can find a frozen stream cutting through any copse of trees, the rhythmic slash of blades on ice shines as a deeper counterpart to the skaters’ motion.  The little boys tumble and run, darting in and out and frustrating the little girls, who prefer to add their foundation blocks to winter in the shapes of twirls and shy attempts at womanly grace.  The older boys and girls have often found themselves racing the moon, hand in hand and rosy-cheeked more with love than cold, surfacing at the night’s end as if from underwater, with an especial awareness of the air around them.  If one were able to hover in the sky high above the city and the skaters, their reward for such a reckless and daring maneuver in the heart of winter would be found in the joyful view of civilization and repetition: the city alive, pulsing with warmth and movement, its bulk highlighting the line of the white river that is displayed again in the curve of the children skating along in a row and once again in the flutter of colored scarves streaming out behind them, giving one a sense of nature collapsing slowly into miniature.  Back down upon the sidewalk, the light and shadow that so often play a part in the art of the city disappear beneath a leaden sky as another flurrying storm begins.  When the air is white with falling snow and moving through it is a challenge to something deeper than motion, the architecture of winter is displayed, drawing the heart ever onward, seeking in human nature’s contrary way the ability to rise again.

Crisp and Crispy

I thought I’d share a few things that have been on my mind lately:

It’s pretty ridiculous that I’m a hockey fan who’s never seen The Mighty Ducks.  Maybe my boyfriend should watch those movies with me, instead of forcing me to sit through stab-my-eyes-out-boring ones like Titanic, and Valentine’s Day, and The Fast and the Furious 6.  Just kidding about that last one; I love those movies.  Vin Diesel’s voice rumbles through me like honey poured over thunder.  Rest in peace, Paul Walker.  I said a prayer for his soul when I heard the news.  I really do like those movies, except for Tokyo Drift.  I think we can all agree that was the throwaway of the series.  By the way, the beginning of this conversation was not a joke.  I mentioned Titanic and Valentine’s Day in the same manner of disdain.  I’m a huge fan of Kate Winslet and Leo DiCaprio, but it was a stupid and really obvious movie.  I knew what would happen by 5 minutes in, and I’m not just talking about the ship sinking.  Boring.  Besides, if you’d spent the entirety of sixth grade having your classmates giggle hysterically and blush every time they/me/the teacher said my NAME, you’d be prejudiced against it too.

It was a normal morning for me today.  I showered and then sat in my room, doing my hair and makeup before work, pondering the similarities and differences between the words crisp and crispy.  I was thinking about it and it struck me as interesting.  For instance, we use them interchangeably when it comes to food, as in “the skin on this chicken is nice and crisp/crispy” but you wouldn’t ever use crispy to describe a breeze blowing, or a piece of wrapping paper.  So then I thought maybe it’s food that’s the difference-maker in their meanings.  But that’s not true either, because you could describe a burned body as crispy (gross but true, guys.)  So maybe it’s fire.  I think that’s the difference.  See, that rabbit hole?  That’s what happens to me sometimes when I’m doing things on automatic pilot, like applying my makeup, or driving, or wiping glasses at the Cafe.  I guess I could just look up crisp and crispy in the dictionary but there’s a reason I’m Catholic.

Have you ever noticed that the best Christmas carol verses are always the second or third ones?  It’s like these lyricists wanted you to be all, yeah baby Jesus is born!  Snow and angels and shepherds!  And then boom, they drop the theology on you:
“Christ by highest heav’n adored, Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come: Offspring of a Virgin’s womb
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see! Hail the incarnate Deity!
Pleased as man with man to dwell: Jesus, our Emmanuel!”

Or: “Yea Lord, we greet Thee, born this happy morning!
Jesus, to Thee be all glory giv’n!
Word of the Father now in flesh appearing:
O come, let us adore Him, O come, let us adore Him, O come, let us adore Him: Christ the Lord!”

Or the criminally underplayed “Good King Wenceslaus”:
“In his master’s steps he trod
Where the snow lay dinted
Heat was in the very sod
Which the Saint had printed
Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing!”

Or even “We Three Kings” which I used to think was pretty lame until I actually paid attention.
“Myrrh is mine: Its bitter perfume
Breaths a life of gathering gloom.
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding dying,
Sealed in the stone-cold tomb.

 Glorious now behold Him arise,
King and God and Sacrifice.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
Sounds through the earth and skies.”

I love Christmas music.  

I’ve been thinking about many other things but I’ll spare you the enumeration.  Leo and Lucy Countdown: 6 DAYS!!  Have a very merry Christmas, everyone!!!

 

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Peter “Peanut Butter” Babetski

Peter and LucyIn honor of the birthday of the most popular Babetski on the internet, I thought I would make a list of a few things you might not have known about him.  Everyone looks at Peter Albert Miguel “Peanut Butter” Babetski and sees the boy with a charming grin, the patient altar server, the sports fanatic.  But unless you’ve lived with Pete- and lived to tell the tale- you’ve never known his darker side.  Through a series of tests disguised as “yearly checkups”, a highly skilled team of doctors has diagnosed Peter as an alien.  While his appearance is fully human, his physical attributes and- more importantly- his mind are clearly of a different species.  I know it may be a shock to some (others may have seen this coming, and feel a sense of relief that the niggling doubt in the back of their mind when they looked at Peter has finally been explained) but hear me out.  There are many events that prove Pete is an alien and this post will endeavor to lay them out before you in a sensible and orderly way.  Behold:

1.  It’s not known how the aliens managed to “Dana Scully” my mother, but evidence points to the night she broke her leg falling down our front porch steps.  It was a dark and stormy November night when she went outside to take the trash out.  After a prolonged absence that caused my father to wonder aloud “Where did Mom go?”, someone finally looked outside and beheld her lying at the foot of our steps.  This was about three weeks before she was due with the child we now know as Peter.  We rushed out to rescue her and all she could say about her accident was that there had been a flash of bright light, which caused her to slip and fall, and that her leg had folded beneath her.  The hospital wouldn’t put a cast on it because they said that would interfere with the labor.  Thus, Peter was “born” in a whirling maelstrom of agony and distress, which would chart the course for the rest of his peculiar and otherworldly life.

2.  When Peter was a baby, he had colic for a while.  His screams and fits were legendary, loud enough to reach the clouds and shrill enough to shatter glass.  The doctors scratched their heads at the incredible amount of power his lungs could produce.  This was when he first exhibited signs that his origins might not be of this world.

3.  At the precocious age of one, Peter began to speak gibberish like most babies.  However, his mangled syllables and distorted grunts had a disconcerting sound to them… a sound that some likened to an alien language.

4.  As Peter grew, we tried to ignore the odd way he’d stare longingly up into the sky, as if yearning to be there.  We overlooked his strange conversations, peppered with phrases like “the mother-ship”, “when this exploratory mission is over”, and “take me to your leader”.  We were blind.  And in our blindness, our enemy crept closer.

5.  When he was a toddler, Peter liked to crawl into bed with his big brother Dan.  The two have maintained a close friendship over the years, despite the disparities in age, height, and planetary origin.  It has long been a secret hope in our family that Dan will be the one entrusted with the task of forging an amicable relationship between humans and aliens.

6.  Peter’s ability to consume massive amounts of chicken fingers and french fries in one sitting has led the scientists to believe that his home planet has a climate that’s very suitable for raising livestock and growing tubers.  While this agrarian tendency might cause naive people to relax, thinking that Pete’s race is not planning on eating us when they finally all arrive, others are more cautious in their assumptions of peace.

7.  “I know I’m short.  It doesn’t bother me.  As long as I’m tall enough to ride the roller coasters at Dorney!”  Peter’s calm acceptance of his stature has scientists wondering if this height is “the norm” in his alien culture.  Some speculate that their race has evolved into shortness, perhaps to allow for less bending and stretching when picking tuber crops in the field and sprinkling seed for the poultry.

8.  In taking the name Miguel for his Confirmation, Peter paid homage to Blessed Miguel Pro, a newly beatified priest who was martyred in Mexico in 1927.  Hints of why an alien would choose Miguel as his patron are found when reading that Miguel served as a priest in Mexico during the time when Catholicism was outlawed.  He carried out his secret ministry with courage and strength, and often wore disguises to keep his real identity from being discovered.  A lifestyle Peter is doing his best to emulate, indeed.

9.  A near obsession with war-inspired video games might seem normal enough for a teenage boy, but Peter’s actions should always be scrutinized for hidden meanings.  Is he practicing for the day when his alien brethren arrive to do battle with us for Earth’s fertile soil?  He claims to play with his ‘schoolmates’, but who is he really talking to when he speaks into that Xbox headset?  Have the technologically advanced aliens discovered a way to translate his spoken commentary on the games from English into his native tongue?

10.  Peter will most likely kill me now that I’ve outed him.

Farewell, my friends.  I’m glad that you’re reading this with me, here at the end of all things.

Remembering Madeleine L’Engle

The world lost a brilliant author when Madeleine L’Engle died on this date in 2007. The first time I read A Wrinkle In Time, I was 11 years old and sitting in the curved branch of a tree on the library hill.  By the end of the first chapter, I couldn’t stop smiling.

I fell in love with a genre that day: with fantastic creatures living on alien planets, with cold space and dark times and the wheeling stars, with good and evil and the inherent magic in simple love.  A Wrinkle In Time was the first science fiction/fantasy book I read, and it changed the course of my literary life forever.

“A book, too, can be a star, ‘explosive material, capable of stirring up fresh life endlessly,’ a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe,” Madeleine L’Engle said in her Newbery Medal Acceptance Speech.  A Wrinkle In time did that for me.  Meg did that for me.  Meg, with her frizzy hair and thick glasses, her troubles at school, and her fierce and protective love for her family.  I saw myself in her as I read the book.  That sighting is the secret to being drawn into the world within a book.

My devotion to the universes in science fiction and fantasy has only grown over the decades since I sat in the tree and went whirling through space with Meg, Calvin, and Charles Wallace.  I learned to love swords and potions, princes in disguise, kingdoms toppled into ruin, and dragons.  A well-told dragon is the pinnacle of a story.  I’ve visited many a foreign planet and taken more unexpected journeys than I can count, but the very first step on the road started right here on Planet Earth, in a spooky attic with a grumpy teenage girl on a dark and stormy night.

The Healing Power of Innocence

Thank God for children.  I might have gone and tossed myself off into the Susquehanna today if it weren’t for the perfect timing of Leo and Lucy’s visit.  My little nephew and niece arrived safely here in NEPA last evening and we spent a few wonderful hours playing together in the big, joyful tumble of people at my house.

Turns out I needed those hours of grace this morning, when I had to deal with a client who told me he was the owner of a company and therefore much more important than “a secretary answering phones.”  Oh, I know the old rhyme about sticks and stones and words and bones, but I think it’s fairly evident to anyone who knows me that it doesn’t work like that with me.  Words are powerful.  Our language is beautiful, a gift given to express our hearts and our thoughts.  I don’t sprinkle my conversations with multi-syllabic words for the shallow glory of showing off; I use words because I love the way they sound, or the more precise meaning they invoke.  Some people might think I don’t curse simply because it’s unladylike, or because of my Christian beliefs, but those have nothing to do with the fact that I find profanity ugly to hear and say.  There are words that are just so ugly.  And when someone says something ugly to me, something harsh and demeaning- despite being patently absurd-, it still cuts.  It strikes at the deep-down fear I have that people do think that about me: that I am merely a secretary and a secretary is merely a lower class worker.  His words hurt me, even though I tried not to let them.

So I stewed and I muttered and I angrily blinked back some tears.  I thought to myself that I have brains and ambition aplenty, whether or not people recognize them.  However, it wasn’t until I looked at my phone and saw the pictures and videos I’d taken of Leo and Lucy that I realized the truth.  When someone treats you as if you don’t deserve basic human decency and respect, there is no better antidote than the unconditional love of a child.  Every human being has dignity and deserves respect.  I know that.  But knowing something logically isn’t nearly as comforting as seeing Lucy toddling on her plump legs towards me, alive and alight with new found freedom.  She is a baby, unconcerned with my brains or my position, needing only the simplest things from me and giving back so much more by her sweetness and smiles.  I watched the video of Leo running around in circles with me, giggling uncontrollably at the sheer delight of playing with his “Aun’ Ro”.  He beams up at me when I chase him on the library field, and throws himself wildly around on the ground to get away from my tickles.  He pays no attention to the boundaries of bodies, melting into my lap when he is tired, draping his blanky over his legs and mine, giving me ungrudging smacks on the lips when I ask for a kiss.  He is sincerely, perfectly happy, because he is innocent and filled with joy.

I think that if beauty will save the world, it will be the beauty of children, the beauty of innocence.

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