Monthly Archives: August 2012

Maths and Musics and Malodorous Masculinities and…Marmots?

This is the only image I have of me and my Hohner.

It’s officially the end of summer, and I’m in a tailspin. Over the summer, I gave up writing fiction, began a course in self-study on mathematics, and promised myself I would become an accordion player. This all sounds lovely, but it isn’t. Whatever I do, whatever fallback I have to keep me sane and complete as a human being, is done at the edges of a life filled with education, house-cleaning, cooking, errand-running, and essential kid events. Next week, I must rediscover how to maintain any sense of autonomy when I begin teaching all four of my children. In my home-school classroom, I will have one kindergartener, a third-grader, and two high school students present on my class roll. They are, admittedly, the best part of my life, but home-education is difficult (hey, even they would agree)!

I don’t know what has happened over the summer. I feel ingrown in the walls of the house–perhaps similar to the woman in The Yellow Wallpaper. Somehow, our family has managed to drop church-going, which, I’m sad to say, started with me. I needed to have three hours to myself one day a week and, although I wouldn’t call the small Lutheran church we attend a sociable church, it is a limited social event. When I say it isn’t sociable, I don’t mean the people are uncaring. I mean they are intellectual. For that, I really love the people at my church. I don’t love rising at the crack of dawn for a social experience, limited as it may be. I should add that my husband has his own reasons for not desiring to rise early for an eight o’clock service. By no means do I wish to sully his intentions with my personal issues.

And this brings me to the last subject in my titled list: Malodorous Masculinity. I don’t find masculinity to be, in general, malodorous. My husband is very masculine, and he smells great. And, besides, I love him. But I find the backlash movement of Masculine Christianity to be more than slightly annoying. Here’s the thing, men–I know this will be difficult for you to understand, but hear me out–you have been in charge of virtually everything in the world for thousands of years. The church gives no exception to your rule of male dominance. Now that we live in an egalitarian culture–egalitarian in name, anyway–suddenly men can’t stand the barest of feminine influence in churches. It’s as if they’ve woken up and discovered that God created women, too, and they’ve collectively shuddered at the implications. Women, no! Arghhh! Now we must be faced with pastel colors, emotions, puppy dogs, babies, and relationships! Gone are the days when we men, alone, braved the great outdoors with heartiness and bravado, intellect, and strength!

Yes, we women are people, too. We contain souls and spirits, if not minds. I’m terribly sorry that the male intellect has woken up to the threat of us slobbering, sobbing women, who slip around in pastel aprons muttering, “The poor, wee wee men. They needs our loveliest love and caring. Shall we put up some floral curtains for them? Aye, that we shall. We don’t understand a word of the heavy words written in those funny little books in the pew shelves. Titter, titter, titter, what could that mean? Won’t you big, strong men read the multisyllabic words for us? I’m afraid they’ll make us cry.”

While you men wake up to the astonishing truth of womankind, I needs to do my maths studies. I don’t know if my poor, wee brain will handle it, though. Meanwhile, I suggest you join league with John Piper and Mark Driscoll, who push for a more masculine Christianity. Mark Driscoll, at least, is a real man who apes up his image for the world to see. Click the link, I dare you: Is that a pastel purple vest Mark’s wearing?! I think I’ll write a song about it and play a polka dedicated to the color purple, when I can find the time at the edges of my calculations…

p.s. It was an accident. I had a tab open with a picture of a marmot, and I control C’d it by mistake. At first, it was so funny to discover a marmot for a man, that I laughed for fifteen minutes solid and decided to leave it up. But when I went looking for the picture of Mark Driscoll in his lavender shirt, I couldn’t find it, and am now wondering if my eyes were deceiving me. Perhaps the vest wasn’t lavender. On the other hand, he seems to like purple shirts: Not that I care. I just happened to have recently wasted an unparalleled portion of my precious time arguing about pastel colors over at Mike Duran’s blog.

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Revisiting My Old Literary Friend Mary Astell By Discussing Friendships

Why am I writing about friendship? I’m considering friendships in light of the internet–in light of the non physical way people relate to each other here in the ether. I admit starting this discussion with Mary Astell was simple because I merely stole the quotes and ideas from research I conducted years ago.

Mary Astell, the 17th C English essayist, believed that reform in family and marriage was necessary in her society. Her essays, including her famous push for female educational monasteries in A Serious Proposal To the Ladies, were not her only means of reforming the family. In her own personal situation, family existed in any “happy Society” of females, or a united “Body, whose Soul is love” (87). Societal reform, according to Astell, comes through friendship as well as study.

As an ardent intellectual, Astell desired true friendship of the mind. Repeatedly in her writings, she stresses the importance of the mind, even in acts of charity. This Platonic ideal conformed well with Astell’s simultaneous love of Cartesian philosophy. Because the mind and body are separate entities, it’s possible to carry on a truly Platonic relationship, in which all bodily desire is refocused into intellectual energy. Intellectual energy becomes the driving passion. No longer are outward appearances important, nor gratifying the stomach with rich foods. Even entertainment is part of intellectual passion and must not “enervate” the mind. Within this context, she writes in her Proposal:

“We will have the opportunity of contracting the purest and noblest Friendship; a Blessing, the purchase of which were richly worth all the World Besides . . . A Blessing, which next to the love of GOD is the choicest Jewel in our Caelestial Diadem . . . For Friendship is a Vertue which comprehends all the rest; none being fit for this, who is not adorn’d with every other Vertue.” (98)

Because Astell, here, is calling friendship the highest virtue, it’s important to point out that, earlier in the same text, she writes, “Since [God] has not denied [women] the faculty of Thinking, why shou’d we not (at least in gratitude to him) employ our Thoughts on himself their noblest Object and not unworthily bestow them on Trifles and Gaities and secular Affairs” (80). In Astell’s understanding, true friendship isn’t a “secular Affair.” It’s second only to the love of God, or “next to the Love of GOD.” It will, indeed, not go unrewarded, but will be “the choicest Jewel” in the heavenly crown. Additionally, in order to interact in this pure kind of relationship, a friend must already possess the other necessary virtues.

How will she learn of these virtues? She learns of them, of course, through proper study. In another quote from her Proposal, she tells women that they must “employ” their thoughts on God. Later, she explains that women must study both God’s word as well as secular texts. Although true friendship isn’t secular, the attainment of virtue comes, in part, through secular study. In her Proposal’s passage on friendship, she explains that the current “degeneration” in society is probably owing to a lack of true friendship (98). This cycle she calls a reciprocal “cause and effect” and uses a chiastic expression to relate the circular argument: “for were the World better, there wou’d be more Friendship, and were there more Friendship we shou’d have a better World” (98). Only after the mind has been prepared to lead a virtuous life does true friendship occur and, finally, after friendship is a possibility, positive change will occur in society.

Furthermore, Astell calls true friendship “Charity contracted,” or brotherly love narrowed and focused until it reaches only a few people (98). In fact, in the same paragraph, she claims that friendship is the “best Instructor” (99). She distinguishes this idea of true friendship from the definition the rest of the world would give to relationships. True friendship goes beyond the outward things and isn’t selfish in any way. Nor does true friendship find any “distinction betwixt its Friend and its self” (99). Her ideal is a relationship of souls.

“[I]t is not advisable,” she writes,” to be too hasty in contracting so important a Relation; before that be done, it were well if we could look into the very Soul of the beloved Person, to discover what resemblance it bears to our own” (100). Here, she’s not advising that a careful judgement of another’s outer appearance should be the guide. Instead, she suggests peering into another person’s soul–as though that were an easy thing to do! A friendship of the souls is divinely gifted, and not only that, but it’s an “exact conformity” of souls (100).

This true friendship hearkens back to Plato and numerous other ancient writers, including Aristotle. In the 16th C, Montaigne followed in the footsteps of Aristotle when he defined friendship as uniting one soul in two bodies. What Astell completely denies by not addressing it at all, and for good reason, is that all of these ancient writers were describing male friendship. If females were brought into the discourse of the ancients, or even contemporary male writers of friendship, they were used only as a comparison–the banal (female love) set against the heavenly (male love). Female love, no matter how sweet, couldn’t compare to the glories of male friendship, according to the great philosophers.

But Astell didn’t need to argue that female friendship was as worthy as male bonding–she’d already established souls as sexless. In this, she followed the likes of the poet Katherine Philips (an earlier 17th C poet and writer), who, in response to the male definition of friendship, wrote a poem called “A Friend.” In it, she claims, “If soules no sexes have, for men t’ exclude / Women from friendship’s vast capacity, / Is a design injurious or rude, / Onely maintain’d by partiall tyranny” (from the poem A Friend).

As a woman, Philips confirms two important concepts that Astell also proclaims–concepts that had originated in the writings of men: souls are sexless, and friendship is, indeed, of the soul. While it would be impossible to claim that English women didn’t discover the joys of same-sex friendship until the 17th C, female authors such as Philips established friendship, through writing, as an institution as valuable as that of male camaraderie. Men had their taverns and, later, their coffee shops to continue their long tradition of bonding and solidarity, yet women still had their parlours and tea tables, and, in the case of Mary Astell’s imagination, an entire house for communal living and sharing. In reality and in the imagination, women have and continue to construct personal spaces that are far more intimate than any public meeting houses.

Where does that leave the internet? In a sense, we are all in each other’s parlours. At the same time, we aren’t any place that could be called physical at all.

The Astell quotes come from this edition:

Astell, Mary. A Serious Proposal to the Ladies parts I and II 1697. Ed. Patricia Springborg. Ontario: Broadview Press Ltd., 2002.

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Memoirs From a Nineties Coffee Girl: The Fluidity of Dreams

Sallie: the Original Coffee Girl

This is the profile of two coffee girls, an original named Sallie–and me. Sallie, according to her own bio, has worked at “nearly every cafe in nearly every town [she’s] ever lived in.” By contrast, I spent a few years of my early adulthood working in espresso shops and have spent the last seventeen on the customer side of the counter. At heart, I was a drop-in, a drive-by, an observer of the culture and a confidante to those involved in it–a Nick Carraway, although, admittedly, coffee brewers haven’t yet gone underground. Those selling it aren’t yet gaining the world through riches and, consequently, falling into deep depravity. My friends from Oregon, however, still call me and feed my soul with shocking stories before asking me what’s happening with my life. The ensuing silence over the waves speaks for itself. Nothing is happening with my life because I block out drama by living a small, hermit-like existence in the desert.

When Sallie calls, the conversation differs from the preceding model because Sallie is different to the rest. She embodies the mirror aspect of my soul. She shakes with vibrancy, creativity, exuberance. She loves deeply and enthusiastically. She dances tango and appreciates fine foodstuffs arranged artfully on plates. By contrast, as an observer, I’m impatient by any part of life that jerks me from my sideline stance and throws me into an actual, living scene. Here’s an example of what I mean: One night, after I had worked the closing shift at the Medford Coffee Company, Sallie and I and a few others jetted to a midnight party at a house belonging to strangers. Sallie was house-sitting, and so we dropped into an atmosphere of hominess that didn’t belong to any of us. We were aliens in a foreign land of refrigerator magnets and all the sights and smells of young children and pets. For Sallie, this meant space to create a feast. For me, at that late hour, this meant intense irritation. I hated the hominess. I was hungry. It was late. I wanted to eat, watch a movie, go home and fall into bed. But to Sallie, food could never be simply food, especially when its creation brought her closer to her friends. We argued about whether we should bother chopping fresh garlic and onions for whatever pasta dish we were making. I didn’t want to bother with gourmet; she refused to compromise on quality. She won. She made the food from fresh, whole ingredients and it took longer to cook and, somehow, I survived by watching her from the sidelines. More important, I lived to tell of it and was, undoubtedly, nurtured by her food.

When Sallie calls, we discuss our late-in-life plunges into academia. Ten years ago, I took the plunge to finish my college degree. I finished what I’d started–an education in English/Creative Writing and Spanish. More recently, Sallie has done the same. She’s currently in a creative writing program at the University of Oregon and, from what I understand, she’s also taking business classes. Her status updates on Facebook also tell me she’s studying Italian. Sallie knows what she wants. She may have subverted it for a number of years while she gave birth to her children, but she’s allowed herself to resurface. Through it all, she works at one cafe or another–and some of these places are tired, soulless delivery centers for caffeine. And others are the real deal, the beating hearts of coffee-land–the kind of place Sallie will own for herself one day.

When Sallie calls, we both speak, heart-to-heart, about the soul aspect of the universe. Words take a cosmic turn when the conversation is between the two of us, no one else around to turn it into banality. Sallie possesses what I lack, and, I suspect, the vice versa is true as well. She emotes outwardly–I shrink inwardly. She captures a full spectrum of emotions, while I know only of the domino effect caused by my inability to cope with frustration–>irritation–>anger. Over the phone, both of us with our coffee, but hundreds of miles distant, we fill each other’s cups. In Sallie’s eyes, I’m the opposite of myself, the impossible ideal–an artist and poet. In my eyes, Sallie is not just an artist, but a business woman who is creative enough to bring all her ideas to fruition.

Despite my forays in the academic world, and despite my too infrequent conversations with Sallie, I have a decided lack of knowing what I want. This is, ultimately, the biggest contrast between me and Sallie. After having children, the essence of who I was remained hidden, buried under fears. I was a fiction writer! That was who I was. I could shout it from the Cascades, hear my own voice delivering the dictate, and I couldn’t make it true. Anybody might have confused my intensity of focus on one object–fiction–as an instance of she doth declare herself with too much force. And anybody might have concluded that I spoke lies from the deepest, most sincere part of my being. But nobody did until recently. And, now, when I think about Sallie, as she struggles forward through the river–nay, ocean–of fiction writing, I envision her success. I consider the turning of my own dreams and how close I am to the age of forty, and I understand this to be part of the portrait of coffee girls. We grow up, we have children, and, yet, we never stop thriving. We have coffee to brace our backbones, to keep us young and fit and full of dreams.

Coffee is the fluid of dreams, just as dreams are as fluid as night. And do you want to know what I dream of these days? I dream of being a science writer, or of not being a writer at all, but a person who researches for a living, or a person who creates tangible things. I don’t know how any of these dreams will come to pass, and still I imagine them, and I imagine taking a break from life at Sallie’s future coffeehouse and reading her published novels that I’ve just bought at the imaginary bookshop next door.

I raise my mug to her: Here’s to life not imagined, but lived!

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A Reassessment in Light of Imminent Life Changes, Sprinkled With Plenty of F Words (see last paragraph)

It’s time again for a reassessment of my blog. Soon, my busyness will increase, and I’ll be scrambling to put together posts in the stress of the afternoons. And this is not to say that my summers are free from scrambling. Being the mother of four children is never easy, nor free from hassles. I’d put up a poll in order to determine what my small but regular reading audience wants from me, but I’m afraid my art and writing and inspiration are anything but democratic. On a daily basis, I give my life to others, and this is one of those places where my decisions are about what I want. The inspiration for my blog comes from that protected core of who I am inside, and it’s one of the only areas of my life that’s unassailable by outside forces. If, by this admission, I lose every last one of my audience, so be it. I don’t care because it’s better to lose readers than to lose myself.

At this point, I can’t imagine giving up my two posts a week. Nor can I imagine giving up the current formula of flash fiction and memoirs. On average, each of my posts are 1000 words. I also can’t imagine shortening this to a more easily digestible 300-500 words. I’m not attempting to appeal to a mass audience that doesn’t have the attention span for 1000 words, and I’m not trying to reach those who blog and hit on other blogs to widen their social platform and, consequently, use social media as an echo chamber: Great post! Come back to my blog, okay? I’ll follow you if you follow me. I can’t comprehend the value in that.

And now comes the biggest admission of all: I’m coming clean about my blog self-centeredness because I’m no longer in the business of marketing my fiction. I’ve decided to pursue another career path, and so I don’t feel I have to keep my cards close any longer–not that I was ever very good at that. But, because I’ll no longer be querying agents, I don’t care if they hit on my blog to do a “check-up” on me and find that I gasp blog for myself rather than for my readers. I’ve always found the idea of blogging for others to be somewhat disingenuous, anyway. At the very least, I have no idea what it means. Does it mean giving the same information, in a 300-word article, that I can find on 3000 other blogs? Does it mean reigniting the fires of the same controversial debates that cycle endlessly through the blogosphere? I have no idea.

As a summary, I’ll reiterate that I enjoy my blog as it is. I’m not changing the format, as of now, and I would never change it simply because somebody has come up with yet another effective tutorial or list on how to write blogs. I will change my format, however, as the fancy strikes me because I want this to be fluid, fun, and fulfilling. How’s that for some fancy “f” words? At the same time, I love the friends I’ve made around here, and the ones who are my friends by e-mail and Facebook, as well. I love your blogs and, even when my life goes crazy, I’ll still try to visit your personal spaces of the internet–those spaces that are about you, rather than about me. And do you know why I visit your spaces? I visit because of you and your personalities, not because of what you can give me–except yourself. Conversely, that’s what I want to give to you–a little bit of me.

p.s. I just applied to go back to school. If things go as planned, I’ll begin my studies in the spring. A new reassessment of my blog will happen at that point. I’ll give more information on that later.

p.p.s I thought I should add that I have no desire to let my years of hard work go with no substance to show for them. So if you are beta-reading my fiction, rest assured I’ll be self-publishing, and I’ll be using your advice in my final edit.

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You Will Quickly Recognize…

…the absurdity of this post. You will recognize that the author is using it as a place holder because her brain is foggy with a strange sort of August sickness brought on by either chem-trails or alien experimentation.

“If you view the world as systems of three and find yourself doodling triangles, it’s likely you’ve been abducted by aliens at some point in your life.”–Anonymous saying found in bus station bathroom

“It is a mistake to think you can solve any major problems just with potatoes.”–Douglas Adams from The Life, the Universe, and Everything

“But if you have three potatoes, couldn’t you halve them, sprout them, till the soil, and plant all six? When the beautiful little shoots push upward toward the glorious light of the sun, wouldn’t you know then that hope still resides in the flesh of tubers? Where is your hope?”–Jack Darling, self-help author and exercise guru

“If I had a hammer, I’d pound it in the morning. I’d pound out love between my brothers and my sisters, all over this land. If I had a bell, I’d ring out a warning–don’t oversleep! I’d ding it in the evening during your sea turtle documentary, and on the hour all through the night. If I had a tater, I’d eat it in the morning, I’d weep for your hunger in the evening, and plant more potatoes for stoutness between my brothers and my sisters, all over this land.”–not written by Pete Seeger

“A land without potatoes is a land without love.”–St. Brigid of Kildare

“What’s taters, Precious? What’s taters, eh?” “…Spoiling nice fish. Give it to us raw and wriggling. You keep nasty chips.”–Gollum

“Poke the eyes from the potatoes–you don’t want a bitter stew–and add a pluck of parsley for personal growth. For abundance, add a pat of the best butter. Simmer with fresh cream to purify the system. Give a healthy dose to the neighbor boy with the snotty nose, and a requisite amount to the homeless man living in your woodshed.”–from the Solving Universal Problems Through Food cookbook.

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