Forty-Seven: So Much Work Left to Do
The lyrics to a great song go, "There was so much work left to do, but so much you'd already done." There are times in life when I wake up and it seems as if my entire identity has become one long to-do list. The only desire in me is to take a pen to the list, marking off the reminders of what I have yet to tackle. But then when I think about all of the things I've already marked off and all of things that get added every day, it seems like an endless cycle. A constant adding and erasing of tasks.
At this very moment, I am thankful for the Starbucks in Beverly. I'm actually really not a big fan of Starbucks and wouldn't usually feel deep thankfulness for it, but right now I'm marooned while I wait for an eye appointment. The wireless is being wonky and so I'm forced to sit here, with my to-do list in limbo and no other work along with me. I'm being forced to just sit while the precious minutes of the day slip past.
There are a lot of things about modern life that get a bad rap, and deservedly so. The busyness, the commercialism, the consumerism, the anonymity. In a lot of ways, Starbucks epitomizes it all - a massive corporate conglomeration of mediocre coffee.
But for entirely subjective reasons, right now I'm finding everything about this Starbucks wonderful and life-giving. The busyness of it is creating the most soothing sounds as coffee grinds and milk steams. The commercialism of our culture ensures the perfect level of soothing, indie music is playing. And the anonymity is only mine. Most people in here are sitting and chatting with friends. The table behind me is full of people who haven't seen each other for a long time. Their smiles, hugs, and laughter whenever a new member of the group walks through the door is infectious.
So I find it ironic that this symbol of modern America is challenging my stress today. It might represent an attempt to accommodate people like me with our long to-do lists, but somehow at this exact moment, rather than accommodating me, it's helping me kick back and loosen my shoulders.
Forty-Five: Together We Give Thanks
This was my day. Hosting a Thanksgiving meal for 70 Chinese and Americans to come together in fellowship.
And this is why I'm not writing a full-blown post tonight. Instead, I'm spending my evening eating sushi on the couch and zoning out while the candles flicker. Later I'll go see Katniss kick butt in Mockingjay.
To understand why today was so important, though, check out something I wrote on last week for another blog that I edit - A Matter of the Heart: Reflections on How America Celebrates Thanksgiving.
Happy early Thanksgiving!
Sometimes I feel like there is fault line that runs between single and married women. It can often feel like women on both sides of the divide are gazing across at each other, wondering what is going on over there, on the other side, without ever attempting to cross the divide created by one adorned little finger.
When I was single, I remember trying to interact with the married women I knew. I remember feeling like they didn't really listen to what I had to say. It seemed like they were always so quick to give me advice that always summed up as "Just wait and it will all work out." Then they would launch into their own personal experience finding a husband as if it somehow was the golden ticket for finding a man. To be honest, though, I didn't really listen back. I found their advice irritating, if not sometimes silly, and quickly chalked them up as not relatable.
Now that I'm married, I still feel the gulf. My single friends like to do things more spontaneously and later at night. They are always with other singles. They somehow both want and are offended by my relationship advice in the exact same way I was some years ago. I'm on the other side of the divide now.
What I often find myself wanting to tell my single friends is that marriage isn't a piece of cake. I remember so many married women saying this exact thing to me and reacting to it really negatively. Of course, I thought, but at least you have what the rest of us want. Honestly, it felt like a queen complaining about the weight of her crown to a peasant looking for food. To my mind, marriage was hard, yes, but it seemed like winning the game we were all playing and with that win certain doors to life and status opened up.
But now, I do know it's not a piece of cake. Any person in a healthy marriage will tell you marriage is beautiful wreckage. It involves the total collision of two people traveling at high speed in pursuit of their own wills, and nothing but a major accident brings them together. It is an incredibly beautiful thing. But marriage is also an incredibly painful thing.
I believe that the pain of life is what can and ought to bridge the chasm between the single and the married. After all, the honest truth is that this side of heaven, we all live our lives in grief. Grief is the pain that exists in us from knowing things are not as they should be. We all have a myriad of things which cause us grief throughout our lives and being able to enter into another person's grief together with them is one of the most humble and humane expressions of love a person can offer.
Being single was painful. There was a persistent grief to it that I hated. My body was frequently grieved by the denial of sexual desire and I remember shedding tears many times over the frustration it produced. Grief was present when everyone else had someone to love and look at, someone to take pictures with, someone to cherish. It was painful to wonder if my singleness was a sign of my immaturity, my lack of beauty, or my inability to interest a man. Every birthday was another reminder that I had yet to enter into the "inner-circle" of married life and standing on the outside looking in caused me to grieve deeply over my unfathomable loneliness.
Being married is painful. Many of the specific griefs of singleness are gone, but none of them entirely. Instead they have simply morphed into new married versions of themselves. My sexual desires can now be fulfilled, but because sex is not about one-sided individualized fulfillment, it can become a disappointing or twisted thing if not guarded carefully. I do have someone to love and look at, but I have not known any pain worse than when that love is out of joint. Singleness brought the dull pain of absence, but marriage ushers in the sharp stabbing pain of a knife. There is simply no pain like being wounded by your best friend and no remorse like being the one who plunged in the knife.
No one lives a life without brokenness. If we want to foster better relationships between single and married women, if we want to go deeper in each other's lives, if we want to jump over the chasm, this is what we must understand. No one is carefree, no one is satisfied. Married women need to take seriously the pain of their single friends without rushing in to offer advice. Single women need to understand just how difficult it can be for married women to be open and honest about the grief they experience in their marriages and stop idolizing something they don't understand. If we took time in our communities to be truly honest with each other and to listen to each other's stories, we would see that we have more in common with each other than not.
After all, God's daughters know that this side of heaven is a world that is still awaiting its full redemption. But that redemption is coming and it is real. In the meantime, whatever story our lives tell, there will be beauty amidst the grief. Singleness is not just loneliness, but it is also freedom, and whimsey, and exploration, and openness, and community. Marriage is not just a collision, but is also the refiner's fire, and surrender, and passion. All of these things are good. All of these things are to be desired and celebrated in their time. Let us support and encourage each other as sisters, weaving our stories together across the fault line.
Forty: Nellie Bly
Check out this great article on the journalist who went around the world in 72 days in 1889. It's a delightful and inspirational read. And apparently Nellie was from Pittsburgh. Of course.
Thirty-Nine: Doubtful Joy
Tonight my sister was beautiful. I had the opportunity to watch a performance at NYU of her original devised piece Doubtful Joy. It was an incredible exploration into how we handle death. It took the actors' personal stories and experiences with death and turned them into a potent and meaningful tapestry of the variety of ways we process what death is and how it effects us.
I'm proud of the work she did.
I'm proud of her passion for making our personal stories and experiences come alive.
I'm proud of her ability to weave together a disparate group of people.
I'm proud of her perseverance through a challenging semester.
I'm proud of her humility.
I'm proud her insight and ability to handle truly challenging material in way that included many voices, but offered life.
Way to go little 'sis. I love you.
Well, I'm thirty years old and I have finally succumbed to a love for Taylor Swift. I've tried desperately to avoid such an admission for years, but alas, I can dodge it no longer. I'm a Swifty.
The long descent started two years ago. I was visiting Pittsburgh and Ruthie had just purchased Red. She insisted on blasting its best tracks and singing along with my youngest brother Josh. I threw out repeated snide remarks, but my sister was insistent - Taylor Swift was good and if I didn't agree, the problem was with me and my inability to enjoy the simple things in life.
I don't quite remember why or how, but at some point over the next year, I cautiosly opened Red on Spotify. I think one of its tracks had been stuck in my head and as is my common strategy in my life, I tried to confront the despised music head on. I was set on finding all of Taylor's musical flaws. I had been deriding her Hollywood persona for years, so now it was time to really take a listen to how bad her music must be.
I listened to it and while she really can't sing, and it was sappy in many places, and it was definitely much more girly than I considered worthy of my attention, I found myself humming the songs over and over again. Slowly I kept reopening Red for a listen. I never went older than Red. Those glittering ball gowns were just too much. But eventually, more quickly than I liked to admit, Red became a solid fixture in my music stream. It didn't take long for me to choose my favorite tracks and learn them by heart. My husband was shocked to come home and frequently find me singing along while cooking dinner.
For a long time after that, I considered Taylor Swift my secret love Mr. Darcy style. Whenever she came up in conversation I still rolled my eyes and laughed. What a joke. Even though I loved her music, I still couldn't get past her personality in the media. When I was bored, I found myself watching her music videos, clips of performances, and interviews. It was so painful. I just couldn't reconcile the awkward, annoying, studied personality on the screen with the warm and delightful music she created. I kept thinking I would find that one video or clip in which I would think, ah, I do love Taylor, but it never came. I was a schizophrenic fan. Listening to her music, I thought she was the best thing ever, but as soon as anything involving the woman herself appeared, I want to cringe and hide my face.
Around this same time, Jennifer Lawrence bursted into our awareness and everyone commenced on a frenzied obsession with the woman. Everyone wanted Jlaw as their BFF and that included my sister and I. We loved the Hunger Games, we loved Jlaw's falls on the red carpet, we loved her interviews, we loved just about everything this new wonder-woman did. She was just so... fun.
In the midst of all this buzz, I happened across a red carpet interview of Taylor Swift. (Don't ask me how or why I follow all of this stuff so closely. It's terrible.) I say it was a Taylor Swift interview, but really that's what it was supposed to be. What it turned into was a Jennifer Lawrence interview. Basically what happens is that Taylor Swift is being total Miss Tay Tay - big beautiful dress, over the top speeches about the most ridiculous things, super poised, breathtakingly beautiful, in short, everything Taylor Swift ever is. And all of the sudden Jennifer Lawrence sneaks up behind her, surprises her, and then proceeds to take over the interview, outshining and making fun of Taylor in every way possible without Taylor even really knowing what was going on. Typical Jlaw. Typical Tay Tay.
The first time I watched it, I thought it was the funniest thing I'd ever seen. In my mind, Taylor Swift had got her up and comings. It proved that she can't be the center of attention all of the time, that there are better and smarter women in the glitterati. I hadn't been able to find a video in which I actually liked Taylor, so at least I found one that made a total fool of her.
And then somehow, on the third or fourth viewing, I realized something. I realized in the grand scheme of things, I really actually identified with Taylor Swift far more than Jennifer Lawrence. I've never been that cool girl, a la Jlaw style. I've never been the girl who can effortlessly be the center of attention, radiating beauty and confidence while everyone looks on and blesses me with laughter. If anything, I'm a whole lot more like Taylor Swift, needing to study and premeditate how to act and what to do when eyes are upon me. If I were in their shoes, I would totally be the Taylor Swift, having to try very hard to be poised and delightful for all of America. I'd probably even be prone to live in an illusionary daydream the way she does.
And that's when I started to realize that despite all of her true ridiculousness, make-believedness, and glitz, Taylor Swift is one of my favorite women in show business. She is studied. She is awkward. She is fru-fru. And yet who can blame her? She has a phenomenal product to sell - her music - and she is smart enough to do what needs to be done to sell it.
And that gets back to her music, the first true crack in my dam of resistance to all things Swifty. All of this soul searching I've done about Taylor Swift herself is pretty superficial, but the peace I've made with her music is anything but. And this is where things get personal and very subjective. The primary gift Taylor Swift's music has given me is the ability to take myself less seriously. Just as much as Taylor herself has to take herself all too seriously in order to survive show business, her music blesses me with the reverse. It's just so girly. That was the primary thing I hated about it for so long. When music is a badge we wear to signify to others who we are, Taylor Swift didn't really seem like a great choice.
I first realized that my music choices could make people think well of me when I was in high school. I started listening to a lot of stuff, exploring different genres, and cultivating the musical image I wanted. My music somehow represented me and I wanted to people to think highly of my taste. I wanted to believe I listened to the things I chose solely because I liked them, but really the careful cultivation of an idea of my own serious taste was never far behind. None of it was girly. Of course there were quite a lot of female artists in the mix. But they were serious artists, people who communicated my own seriousness.
The older I've grown, the more I've realized just how little I have indulged my girly side. Somewhere along the way, girly things became associated with weak things, with "unserious" things. And since I wanted to be great, those weak and unserious and girly things had to be done away with. The music that replaced them were either serious or sexualized versions of femininity. Taylor Swift realigns those categories altogether. Somehow she is girly, but she is by no means weak. Her music is full of sentimentality and wishful thinking, but I'm no longer convinced those contradict the serious things in life. The older I grow, the more I embrace the girlish bumble gum daydreams of life. As a woman, I find increasing relief in these things compared to the other images presented me. In a world where women are increasingly represented by either pantsuits or Beyonce, I prefer the image of woman who tries just a little too hard to create beautiful things in order to celebrate girliness.
Thirty-Five: Writer's Block
What do you do when you have serious writer's block? You post other people's stuff. Happy thinking!
The Psychological Comforts of Storytelling - The Atlantic looks at humanity's need for story and narrative.
Disney Princesses With Realistic Waistlines Look Utterly Fabulous - It's true. I found it somehow psychologically soothing to look at these pictures. It's like I could feel something let go mentally.
The Passion of Pregnancy - Haven't read this one yet, but it looks absolutely fascinating.
The Midterms Were Only Bad for Women If You Have a Very Narrow View of Women - This one, too. Haven't read it yet, but it looks worth sharing. Wow. This is how bad things have got over here at Carved to Adorn. I'm sharing things I haven't even read yet. WHAT DID I GET MYSELF INTO???
And lastly, this. If You’re From Pittsburgh, This Will Be The Most Jaw-Dropping Thing You See Today. Hands Down. Because it really isn't the most jaw-dropping thing I've seen all day, but I miss my home.
This writer's block needs to pass.
I'm just gonna leave this little gem here. It's simply too good to be true. I mean what in the world was going on in 1989? For realz.
According to the Huffington Post:
"Some force in the universe wanted these two things to sync up with near perfection.YouTuber Thomas Jung found a classic aerobic dance video from 1989 and, in a moment of what we can all assume was epiphanous Eureka, decided to pair it up with Swift's "Shake It Off."
Thirty-One: When My Light Is Low
I used to tell people that autumn was my favorite season, but I've come to realize in the last couple of years that really isn't true. There's a certain romance to the season that I can't escape. But it's also always a dark time for me. As I've come to realize that I'm very much impacted by the season and lower light, I've also learned to cling more strongly to God's promises when my spirits are low.
My brother wrote a song last year and the first time I listened to it, I cried and cried. It perfectly captures my feelings in seasons like this one. The words are Tennyson's and the melody all Daniel. Siblings are a mysterious thing - they are so oddly similar to you. The good thing about it is that when my brother expresses his soul though music, a medium I'm not gifted in, it sometimes feels like he is sharing my heart as well.
So on a dark, autumnal day, I hope you enjoy these words and this music as much as I do. I find a certain refuge in them and I hope they bring you solace, as well.
"Be near me when my light is low,
When the blood creeps, and the nerves prick
And tingle; and the heart is sick,
And all the wheels of Being, slow.
Be near me when the sensuous frame
Is Life, a Fury slinging flame.
But what of that? My darken'd ways
Shall ring with music all the same;
To breathe my loss is more than fame,
To utter love more sweet than praise.
Behold, we know not anything;
I can but trust that good shall fall
At last―far off―at last, to all,
And every winter change to spring.
Forgive what seem'd my sin in me;
What seem'd my worth since I began;
For merit lives from man to man,
And not from man, O Lord, to thee.
Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.
Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be."
Sometimes I am a brat. And sometimes The Lord is kind to me in spite of it.
Today has been crazy in the very best of ways. Trey and I have been in Michigan for a staff training all weekend and were scheduled fly back home out of Detroit this afternoon. When we checked in, the Delta kiosk notified us that the flight was overbooked and asked if we wanted to be put on the volunteer list to take another flight. We chose the voucher amount for which we would be willing to give up our flight if need be and headed to the gate.
Of course, complete chaos greeted us when we arrived. The terminal was packed and every passenger had a sour expression on his or her face. Yuck. When our name was called to talk to the desk about giving up our seat, the only alternative flight for us to take was tomorrow morning, so we declined the offer. The voucher amount we had agreed to really wasn't worth giving up an afternoon flight for a night in an airport hotel and an early morning flight the next day.
So we boarded the plane and settled in. Every livid passenger was loaded and then came the announcement that the flight was still overbooked and that they were still looking for passengers to give up their seats for that morning flight. Trey and I looked at each other and decided to check in with the stewardess and see if they had upped the voucher offer. Of course they had, because no one was budging on that flight, and so we jumped on it. We grabbed our belongings, got off the plane, and soon had vouchers in our hands for twice the amount we had initially bargained for!
Now, this thing happens all of the time. Flights are overbooked and folks deal with inconvenience in order get a free flight out of it. Why was today so incredible for me?
For the past three months, my husband and I have been wrestling over whether we can afford to go to Europe next summer. We don't have tons of money, but we have a lot of frequent flyer miles and both sets of parents will be in the UK. From one perspective, it's not infeasible for us to go visit. From the other perspective, it's not the best use of our money. And this is the heart of the problem. How do you know how to make these decisions? What is wise and what is frivolous? What is practical and what is miserly?
Trey and I have stood on, exchanged, and danced around both sides of the issue for months, and it has not been easy. We have laughed about it and we have cried about it (ok, let's be honest, mostly I've cried about it.) In the end, we have learned so much about each other in the process. It's amazing what something like this teaches you about your spouse. This has been one of the issues that hasn't been serious enough to pour time and energy into, nor has it been small enough to just laugh it off. And sometimes those are the very hardest.
Apart from learning a ton about my husband, his priorities and the way he thinks, I've mainly learned a lot about my brattiness. In particular, I've learned a lot about my brattiness with the Lord. There have been very legitimate things for me to be upset or frustrated about concerning this decision, but those have been really small compared to the great many things I've gotten upset about that were not worth it. And I don't think I really saw that until today, when for no apparent reason, God gave us exactly what we needed to be able to do this special thing we really wanted to do.
God blessed us today and I don't know why. Going to Europe is not a need. Going to Europe is not particularly beneficial to us. I've been a pretty big brat about it a lot. This story is not an example of God taking care of your needs exactly when you most needed him to. This isn't about God fulfilling his promises, because we all know God never promised we would get every frivolous thing we ever wanted.
Rather this story is about God giving one of his daughters something good when she totally didn't deserve it. And that's the incredible God we serve - a God who gives extraordinary gifts and blessings to people who truly are not worthy of them.