Other Wests

A gladsome Thursday to you all! Or, really, whatever kind of Thursday it may be. Or another day, if you’re reading this another day. Anyway. It’s July when I’m writing this and I hope it finds you well because I’ll be honest, it’s very much taken me by surprise.

I really didn’t expect for things to look like this current July, as I’m sure none of us really did. Unless, of course, we’re talking about our expectations from a couple days ago, in which case I imagine we were decently accurate. Things just keep being things and I’ve had quite enough. In all fairness, nothing bad has really happened to me personally so I’ve plenty to be thankful for.

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve taken up my gratitude journal again and that’s been nice. I’ve been doing (most days, around) 200 push ups each day for the past two months. Getting out for mostly daily walks down to the shore. It’s been excellent, really, as sometimes in my head and lonely as I can be. I’m trying to focus on the good because apparently that’s the stage of pandemic that I’ve reached. At least for the time being. We’ll see how long it’ll keep up.


I would like to discuss a poem (since it’s been a while and you know I love discussing poetry). Though it’s from Emily Dickinson, it’s one that I was unfamiliar with until fairly recently. She did write like a zillion little poems, after all. Not knowing quite what to make of it, I did read a few explications that I found online which offered some good thoughts. Even when I don’t think quite like those writers, they can at least offer a good jumping off point for further investigation and personal musing.

It is a difficult poem to parse, certainly. I love and I hate its ambiguity. I can’t make heads nor tails of the situation. She definitely loves someone, they may or may not love her back, she may or may not tell them she loves them.

But I think even the least poetic among us can we appreciate this incredible way to say simply that the sun has set:

Withdrew the Sun—to Other Wests—

Part of me says that the poem is not merely speaking of the sun setting but that the conversation between the two has become so weighty that even celestial bodies cannot bear to witness it and flee into other worlds, other universes. That a question of love is too deep even for the sun to ponder. And so she is left to contemplate the moon, the sea, and the inexplicable relationship they share in the tide. And whatever answer she finds there, she at last whispers back.

Sometimes, I wish to see Other Wests, whatever they may be. But more, I think, I wish to hear a whispered ‘yes’ when I find one with whom we both could suffice.

Men, ah, men. Queer men, too. Yikes. Anyway. Me being forever alone was not supposed to be the point of this post, I do just really like the poem, okay?

I think it’s amazing to imagine the sun fleeing the power of love, taking its leave of Earth and going to other, extraterrestrial Wests.


I have only a small offering for our weekly dose of trying-to-do-something. It is simply a quotation from Ibram X Kendi’s currently very popular book, How to Be an Anti-Racist. I find it very challenging because I so often want to claim goodness by simply distancing myself from badness, not doing the work to make goodness happen in me and in the world. He says:

The opposite of racist isn’t ‘not racist.’ It is ‘anti-racist.’ What’s the difference? One endorses either the idea of a racial hierarchy as a racist, or racial equality as an anti-racist. One either believes problems are rooted in groups of people, as a racist, or locates the roots of problems in power and policies, as an anti-racist. One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an anti-racist. There is no in-between safe space of ‘not racist.’

Do you, do I, allow or confront? Individual situations might not be quite so clear cut to us but the principle is clear. We are active or we are not. We are pursuing justice or we are not. We are racist or we are anti-racist.

Generously

This week, I restarted my gratitude journal. It had fallen by the wayside this summer while travelling and I just hadn’t cared to resume it this fall or winter. Or spring. Until this week. It’s only been a few days so it’s not like I’ve been transformed by it–I also don’t think I was really transformed by it when I kept it regularly. But I think it’s a positive and healthy thing nonetheless.

To remind you, or tell you for the first time, this is how I structure my gratitude journal entries, pretty much verbatim:

Today, I’m grateful for [something that I’m grateful for]. I’m praying for [something about my own life] and [something outside of myself]. I enjoyed [something that I enjoyed that day].

That’s it. I write in the evenings so I can try to account for the whole day when thinking about something I enjoyed, but other than that, it doesn’t really make much difference. The whole reason this blog happens is because I’m a trash journaller so it has to be short, simple, and routine for me to make it happen. But resuming it this week has me thinking about another thing, which I’ve kind of structured in my mind in a similar way.

I don’t think it’s all that unusual, but I spend a reasonable amount of time thinking about what I would do if I had money to spend. Sometimes, of course, it’s imagining how I’d dispose of lottery winnings (if ever I play, much less win). But often, I just think about normal things to spend money on. Furniture, plants, silverware, fancy spices (cardamom, always cardamom).

Some purchases are necessary and kind of exciting in that they are good things that you need, but mostly are actually not all that interesting. For example, my government virus money went to getting a new car battery (which I desperately needed) and a new phone (which wasn’t absolutely necessary but which was long overdue. Both of those purchases made me happy and improved my life but I don’t really care about them that much, as purchases or possessions. I guess that’s very materialistic of me, that I need possessions that I don’t even care about but I am what I am.

The current question about how to spend all my money is about donating. I feel pretty strongly that I want to be a regular contributor to things and I’m not sure what. At the moment, I do actually donate to Wikipedia monthly which I love (it’s like $1.75 or something so I feel it’s very in my grasp). But I’m wondering what you guys think? What are causes and organizations that you donate to? Do you do it monthly? Annually? Just on occasion?

I think there’s a lot of value to being a consistent contributor and so I’d like to have my basis of donating be something monthly. That also just makes more sense for the way I budget. Not to say that I would refrain from other, once-off things.

Thinking about this a number of times the past few years (during which I’ve never really felt able to put it into action more than sporadically), I have a bit of a system devised. I have a few categories of things I want to support and then trying to think about local and global questions. So here’s what I’ve come up with thus far and I’d love to hear your thoughts. The thing I like (about this in general, not my system here) is that it’s scalable by nature–it’s not like I have too many options because the amount I’ll be able to donate will just be evenly divided. Anyway.

I want to support the arts (something local like a community choir and something not local like the Smithsonian), the environment (something local like Harbor Wild Watch and something not local like Conservation International), justice broadly defined (something like local homeless initiatives and something not local like the Trevor Project), and the church (perhaps to the church I end up attending locally and something not local like the International Justice Mission).

I haven’t done loads of research or anything, some of those examples are just things I’m familiar with. What do you think? Any suggestions? I’d love to hear what you’re committed to yourself, if you wouldn’t mind sharing. You can just message me, I won’t make you post it to the internet, of course!

I hope that during this time, you are still generous as you are able, and willing to receive generosity as you are given it.

Very January

There are many things I love about snow. Some are specific to western Washington, some are not, some are listed below.

  1. Pine and cedar branches, all droopy and elegant, laden with their crystal burden
  2. Knocking snow off such laden branches, which is an almost unparalleled joy
  3. Watching snow fall,  a thousand miracles dancing on each breath of air
  4. Ferns
  5. The unseen dusk last night that cast an opalescent orange-purple hue to the very air when reflected on all the white
  6. Dancing, frolicking, or at least stepping out in the snow (bonus points if you’re barefoot) and watching your steps fill in again
  7. The muffling quiet stillness it lends

When I was in Michigan, the snow was a lot. Sometimes inconvenient, sometimes scary. By the end, it was too much. But throughout that, it was still beautiful. Even if I was ready for the snowdrifts to melt and spring to actually start, I still appreciated the snow for what it was. Is. Whatever.

I love the snow. It is beautiful.

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And so we’re another week deeper into the year. Things for me are really quite the same and it continues to be discouraging but at least there was some snow to give me a little life. It seems kind of like every time I’ve been on the brink of true resignation, something comes along to give me the slightest infusion of hope which then strings me along for a while until the next brink and infusion. I’m very read for that cycle to end, one way or another.

Until then, I’ve been passing the time for better or for worse: reading, playing Civilization, watching Netflix; applying to jobs, getting some exercise, working just a little bit (that’s better and worse, respectively). There are worse ways to while away days. And at least I’m blessed to have the company of a couple very lovely cats. Not to mention the cute ones that my sister is very regular about sending me pictures of.

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It feels altogether too early in the year for a very short post but I don’t know what to tell you. Sometimes that’s just the way it is. I’ve said before that I love winter up until New Year’s and that is so very true. I am very appreciative of the snow and everything but in general this is simply not my scene. Feeling very January this week, I guess.

Before I go, though, I want to say that I am grateful for the beauty of creation.

Kind

This week of vacation has been very pleasant for me. Mostly, I have done nothing, or nothing of note. I did take a quick trip to Cheboygan–or, let me rephrase, I drove three hours to Cheboygan, spent maybe forty-five minutes there, then drove three hours back through a bit of a snowstorm. Not much to see or do in Cheboygan, MI but I did get to look at Lake Huron which was the point.

Yesterday, had a lovely time seeing Ralph Breaks the Internet with friends, going to an Asian buffet (apparently the best in Traverse City, which is a tough time), and then eating the pumpkin pies I made and chatting the evening away. Very well enjoyed.

I don’t expect much in the way of happenings today, other than calling up relatives, as one does on Thanksgiving. I’m sure the video chat will be passed willy-nilly around and I won’t get dizzy at all. It’s cold outside (last night had a low of 14°F) and there’s plenty of snow on the ground so I’ll be tucked away inside all day and I’m perfectly content with that.

Anyway, a few quick thoughts on today that almost led me to title this post The Walk but I did not because while seeing another movie this week, this song was playing on repeat in my head and very nearly bringing me to tears.


The thing about me posting my blog on Thursdays is that I always post on Thanksgiving. Which isn’t a bad thing, it’s just a thing. Trying to have good words for you on a holiday that I very much care about. Trying to think of things that feel as weighty as the premise of a holiday dedicated to giving thanks.

Words, however powerful, are only words. I do believe, strongly, in the strength of words. Actions, though, are the very substance of life. So on this day, and more frequently hereafter, may we not only give lip service to gratitude but may we allow our words of thanks to change us. May we not only say “Peace on earth” but also act as peacemakers. May we not only say “Love your neighbor” but also act in kindness to people different from ourselves. May we live out the things we say, and behave as though we believed in our own ideals.

This kind of sentiment is expressed well in the words of John F. Kennedy in his  Thanksgiving proclamation of 1963. I don’t really hold with the quasi-deification of the founding fathers, but I appreciate that it emphasizes the ideals toward which, in our best moments, we can strive.

Today we give our thanks, most of all, for the ideals of honor and faith we inherit from our forefathers —  for the decency of purpose, steadfastness of resolve and strength of will, for the courage and the humility, which they possessed and which we must seek every day to emulate. As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words but to live by them.

Decency of purpose. Why do we do what we do? Why are we who we are? I’m not sure, but I am thankful that each day is another chance to figure it out.

Reading and contemplating these sentiments, I am mindful of a line from 1 John: “Let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” In other words, may we not talk the talk but walk the walk.


Also this week, I went to see the movie Boy Erased. I have no eloquent words for it. It made me sad. It made me hurt. It was important.

It made me grateful for all I have, for the world that has changed around me, and for a knowledge of self and of God that leaves only room for love.

I am thankful that I am happy and whole. I am thankful that my God is kind. I am thankful that I am myself. In this time, I pray that you feel–beyond any doubt or fear or hurt or guilt–loved.

My Cup with Blessings Overflows

Attitude of gratitude is a very annoying and trite hinkety-pinkety and even so, I have started this post with it. Because it matters, though saying it aloud makes me want to cringe into nothingness.

My last couple posts haven’t been particularly uplifting. And that’s okay, it’s not my job to be uplifting. But it is tiresome to be always serious and sad. This post will be neither serious nor sad. To prove it, I will share this with you:

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Such cuties.

Anyway. Winter is well under way here in chilly Michigan. We received around six inches of snow early Sunday morning which would have had me prancing with glee had I not had to drive to Traverse City–the first one off campus, little Pádraig doing his best to get us through and over and around. He performed admirably, no major mishaps  though the roads, even where I wasn’t the first driver on them, were having a tough time.

Putting the couple touchy moments aside, the snow has been lovely. No falls for me thus far, no spills, no outtakes of any kind. I’ve got my equipment and I’m ready to take it all on.

And I’ve got to tell you that, while Michigan nature isn’t my usual, it can still really do it for me.

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Cozy inside, snowy outside, contented all around. Or at least doing alright.

Tonight is The Feast, which I expect will be nice. Everyone at school wears their fancy dress, we have a meal together, and then there’s an cooperative arts performance. Should be good fun, hopefully.

And then, get this: I have a week off! I just had a week off in October! And I’ll have more in December and January! So much vacation! I don’t want to rub it in anyone’s face but after Korea, it feels so nice to have actual, for real time off!

I think I might take a day trip to Cheboygan because a) it’s very fun to say b) it’s on Lake Huron which I haven’t seen yet and c) variety is the spice of life. If you are a Michigan person, feel free to advise me on other places to visit. At some point, I’ll go up the the Upper Peninsula again so I can see Lake Superior. Not sure where else in Michigan I’ll end up seeing.

All this to say, as appropriate for this time of year: things are nice and I’m feeling very blessed just in my general existence. Not sure exactly what Thanksgiving plans will be but there have been rumors of a few other house parents sticking around and we might do something all together. I’d be all about that. Making friends and stuff, I guess.

Also. I’ve found a super-simple recipe for pumpkin pie (yes, even more simple than usual) and I’m excited to give it a go. Frozen pie crusts because let’s not get carried away (and also I don’t have a counter to roll out dough) but the filling will be all me. There’s maple syrup in it, so that’s fun. Yay baking!

Whether or not it’s Thanksgiving time for you, whether or not you’re feeling happy and blessed, I’m wishing you all sorts of good things because things just seem to be pretty alright for me.

Winter; Discontent

Hi.

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The most precious

She is the most recent unintentional adoptee of my sister’s time in Arizona. I call her Lucy and she is my heart. I mean, look at her.

Monday marked, hopefully forever, the end of the colder-than-cold weather. It was also the start of level up testing so it was simultaneously stressful and relaxing. We had some big classes to get through and we’re only provided with the materials moments before testing starts so it’s a little rough. Sort of like five minutes of furious activity followed by eighty minutes of reading the news, looking at Facebook, and making sure no one’s cheating. We finished off a long day by watching The Incredibles which was, of course, a delight.

It snowed on Tuesday night, lots. And by lots, I mean maybe two inches. It was absolutely gorgeous in a way that made me want to cry a little, which is perhaps more reflective of me than the landscape but what can I say. Small beauties should be felt deeply just as much as obvious ones. Though it was extraordinarily beautiful, particularly that frozen waterfall near the grocery store, I haven’t been 100% rosy in my attitude.

The incredibly cold weather, in combination with a number of other factors, has provided me with ample opportunity to brood in a dark, wintry mood over the last few weeks. Or months, really. Not continuously, but enough. So here are a few things I’ve been turning over in my head a bit.

This blog has often seen me write of the power of stories. Sometimes, I weigh myself against the adventures enumerated therein and I find myself wanting. I judge that I would not live up to the challenges of living the life of–or even in the same story as– a hero. But also that my life, this real life, is a poor substitute for the seemingly flesh-and-blood trueness I find in books.

Then I berate myself for my ingratitude and blindness. By any account, my life has held plenty of adventures. No dragons have been slain, no deep magics harnessed, no destinies foretold and averted, changed, or fulfilled. Yet I have seen far horizons, I have heard a dozen tongues, I have stepped on the soil of many countries.

Have you ever read that poem by William Carlos Williams about the Brueghel painting? Landscape with the Fall of Icarus? It’s kind of terrible in a blunt, realistic way. But what if Icarus lived? What if he crashed into the sea, swam to shore, and lived the rest of his life in ashamed obscurity? I think another poet actually wrote that counterfactual. Several poets, probably.

Sometimes the winter gets to me a little so I’m sorry for being a bit of a downer this week. Of course, the moment the idea came into my head, I spent a good while imagining alternate adult lives for Icarus and that was thoroughly distracting. By the time I came around, the oppressive wintry mood had vanished entirely. Anyway, there are some thoughts from my brain to yours.

There’s a tricky balance between contentment and complacency; maybe a little discontent every once in a while is healthy. Who knows. Whatever. Anyway. It’s February and that’s… a relief? Terrifying? It’s something. I’ll let you know when I figure it out.

Actual, Literal Thumbnails

Cat update from my sister, Béégashii is a jungle hunter and a model.

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In other news, I almost cut my thumb making soup the other day. I was slicing greens. My first reaction was a little gasp, the kind you make when a glass is falling off the table. Seeing that I wasn’t bleeding and instead had a little gash on my thumbnail I said to myself, “I’m so grateful for thumbnails.” That is my story for the week.

As an aside, I get where the term thumbnail in photography comes from, pictures the size of your thumbnail, but like, strange yeah? Interestingly, the figurative sense of the word actually originates like in the 18th or 19th century, referring to any picture that was very small even before photography. So there you have it.

But actually. I’m trying to be more grateful in general. I’ve started a little practice of writing down things every day. It’s not really a journal, three sentences a day, but I’ve kept it up for a bit and I like it. I write 1) something I’m grateful for (from thumbnails to cookies to having a job) 2) something I’m praying for for myself 3) something I’m praying for outside of myself 4) something I enjoyed (this one is usually food). I haven’t noticed a discernible change in my life or anything but it does make me feel like I’m at least trying to be more content and less complaint-focused.

I’ve also spent a good deal of time this week reading. Not as much as I did a few weeks ago, but I finished up a short little trilogy and and almost done with book two of a much thicker and longer series. I haven’t watched any Netflix this week. As much as I am a Netflix-obsessed TV lover, reading is definitely my preferred medium, I think I may have mentioned my appreciation for it before. Also, random grammatical factoid that some may know, media and data are plural.

Also, tomorrow is the last day of term and it’s just a little frustrating that there’s no break, no marker of anything different. I’ll just have to jump into a new classroom Monday afternoon and start all over. Next week I’ll tell you what levels and stuff I’m teaching but I’m too focused on the end of this term to think too far ahead. Suffice to say that I’m generally positive and hopeful but we’ll just have to see how things pan out.

Last little comment for the day: the phrase ‘pan out’ comes from gold panning. Like, you wouldn’t know if a stream had gold in it or not, you’d just have to see how it panned out. I feel like that’s pretty common knowledge but you never know.

Gifts

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Ocean Shores, Washington

When I was in Dublin, my house between Cabra and Stoneybatter was about a ten minute walk from Phoenix Park, the largest park in the city and one of the largest (walled, urban) parks in Europe. My first excursion there, shortly after I moved into our house, was less than ideal; autumn had turned the trees into sticks, the leaves were brown and half crackling, half stewed with rain, and the steely grey light from an unforgiving sky illuminated the park with a half-light that failed to obscure as much as I might have wished. (This is how it was in my memory, this is not how it was.)

I did not return for several months.

When at last I did, however, I saw things differently indeed. I do not recall exactly when I decided to go back, only that it was a lovely day, lovely and warm, earlier than later in the spring. I took a book and decided to do a little more exploring than I had before, knowing that the first impression had, perhaps, been just as bad on my part as it had been on the park’s and wishing us to give each other another chance. First of all, it was green. The grass was lush and lovely, the trees were new and alive, and the flower beds were awaking with the strange combination of hesitance and gusto particular to new life. Secondly, the sun cast a yellow glow across the scene whose radiance lent the park a much cheerier air than previously. Of course, it was still early, and in Dublin the spring comes perhaps later than elsewhere, so the air retained a certain chill and the earth still clung to a cooler winter, yet the atmosphere of the place was warm and inviting. The breeze was a constant irritation, cooling me when I was not in want of cooling, and ruffling that which did not want to be ruffled, but even the wind could not detract from the transformation, and I knew that I would make the journey many more times.

And so I did. Seeing as classes finished the first week of April, I had plenty of time to spend lounging in the park. I continued to explore and read and simply enjoy myself. There is a herd of wild deer that lives within the walls, naming field and grove as equal abodes, and we became if not well acquainted, at least passingly familiar. It did not take me long to find a favored reading place and it did not take long for that place to become mine. There is an old armory and fort on a hill overlooking the Liffey, now decrepit and closed for renovations (whose completion does not keep me in suspense). However, a few steps beyond it, there is a collection of benches facing the water, right across from the War Memorial Garden on the south side.

The spot was not perfect. There is a busy road that follows the river and the scent and sound of passing vehicles did not add particularly to the atmosphere. The view of the river was largely obscured by a straggly stand of trees clustered on the hill coming up from the road and they, too, were not overly cosmetic. And, of course, the wind was a constant companion, rarely fierce but always blowing on one side and then the other, seemingly irresolute on everything other than being as large an annoyance as possible.

All the same, it was a spot of extraordinary beauty. You could catch glimpses of rowers on the river in front of you, deer in the trees behind, the sun glinting off spires and windows across the city, and the old fort sitting quietly to the side, as much a ruin as a construction site. There are few joys like reading in the sun, even reading a bad book, and that joy covers over a multitude of complaints. I read long and well on those benches, not always the same one, but always with the same feeling. I would at times snap at the wind, as if it would heed my rebuke, and at others grumble about the state of the trees or road or city at large. But I always retained  an immeasurable gratitude for the great gift of those mornings and afternoons with hardly a care in the world, or at least none worth dwelling on.

So I return there, sometimes, in my memory, to realize gifts that I perhaps have taken for granted, or disdained, or allowed to become stale. In those long, sunny hours, caught whenever possible, I remind myself of the great skill of recognizing a gift when we have it. In this way, I am teaching myself to be thankful for simple gifts.