Sunday, January 27, 2013

When I Don't Sit Down to Read or Write

It's not so much about standing while reading. It's about not reading at all.

I didn't know my life could look like it does now. I didn't know it could look like not reading.

Maybe an outside observer wouldn't notice. I have four books and two journals sitting on my nightstand. This does not include my Bible and several Nouwen books I've been toting around. This does not include my journal.

What you may not observe is the inward anemic mental and spiritual state that has been forming.

I haven't been reading. I haven't been writing.

I've thought a lot about both this month. It's been cold. I've had more tea than is good for my prematurely yellowing teeth. I've seen people. Worn scarves. Talked about words and talked about essays. I've defended the need for scholarship and staying human through creative words.

But I haven't gotten more than 20 pages through my new copy of this month's IMAGE journal. I haven't made any progress on Crime and Punishment since the summer. Even "Love Does", that pithy collection of vignettes hasn't held my attention.

I opened my journal. I hadn't written anything since the third day of January.

These are strange symptoms, my friends. They are symptoms of a hurry I did not realize had crept in. I had embraced the hurry. Embraced the urgent. We belonged to each other, the hurry and I. It hadn't even felt like hurry, all those shiny urgent things asking for me to tend to them. The emails, the meetings, the late night conversation, the things that kept me up late and sleeping in late, the next thing to the next thing.

I'm a mean person when I don't read and write.

"Mean" can be "small". Petty. Trivial. Or harsh and biting. I am both sides of that slim coin. Situations are much grander than they should be. My emotions are far more valuable than truth. People are nothing to stop for in the harsh, pointed fury of my own self worth.

I suppose there was time in this month. But I missed it. I didn't even journal the hurry. I chose something else. I chose meanness.

"Scholar" is rooted in the word "leisure". "There cannot be philosophy with leisure". There cannot be clear thought and intentionality without space and clarity. We cannot be fully human without the ability to take space and exist outside of hurry, a possibility even within the hurry.

The mind and heart start cramping. Lack of oxygen slows the movement and the process and the life. Simple critical thinking makes me breathe harder than it should.

I'm ending this Saturday attempt ("attempt" is the key word) at rejuvenation with some of IMAGE journal. And putting pen to paper in my own journal in the morning. I've missed this.

So to those to whom I have been small minded, bitingly cruel, impatient, and self important: I'm sorry. Please forgive me. I intend to read more poetry this coming week and that should help.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The CommonPlace, 115 S Fraser Street

I love places. I love buildings and rooms. I love what they do to human interaction. I love how a space is made can affect what happens inside its walls and what kind of relationships are developed there.

I love unexpected cross overs in places. The barn used for weddings. The bar used for salsa dancing. The old house used as art studios.

Or the storefront cover for drug deals turned into a cultural hub.

That's right.

Calvary Church is taking the old Dragon Chaser store space and turning it into something unexpected. It will be a place of apparently contradictory things existing together: town and gown, arts and worship, community and leaders, event space and creative space, an art gallery and a dance floor.

It's called the CommonPlace. 115 S Fraser Street.

CommonPlace will be a gathering space for the community that will provide (among other things) a place for people to meet, work, read, think, and just be – basically for free. 

It is a lot of things. And it's beautiful. An exposed brick wall. Track lighting. Wood floors. Local artists on display.

And it's almost finished being renovated. I'll be announcing the Opening Night very soon (I'm coordinating the gig!) and some of the workshops I'll be organizing. But for now, we need some things to make it happen.

The Ask:
We still need: 

  • Cool interesting, antique, hip, funky furnishings i.e. tables (cafĂ© type), chairs, couches, stuffed chairs, Persian rugs, floor lamps, and “stuff” in good condition that you would be so kind as to donate.
  • Antique style real wooden furniture (chairs and tables, etc) we have some gifted craftsmen who could turn those into projects for CommonPlace.
  • Donate some ca$h to the process.
Email Ken Hull at

The design team making decisions on colors and flooring.

Cosmic Thinkers

This is something you should know if you read this blog. Forewarned is forearmed. 

I am sitting at the Eagleson's kitchen table. This is my favorite place to visit when I am in Hershey. They had saved me soup from dinner, something with spicy ham and beans, and it touches the sub freezing cold that is settling into my bones. We talk about all the things from each other's lives that we've missed in the past year, about their brother getting married, about my work at Penn State. We run through our critiques of The Hobbit with seriousness and detail. The conversations run all over each other; everyone talks at once at the Eagleson's and everyone is somehow heard.

I am coming off of several days of morbid self-reflection that is sadly characteristic of some of my trips to Hershey. I am wrapped up in analyzing of every movement and running myself into a depression from it. The tea and the soup have buoyed me.

Hannah notes something in the midst of this that stops me. She is talking about her brother and his new bride, how the details of the wedding were at times overwhelming because he is a "cosmic thinker". I wasn't sure what this meant.

"Let's say you cut your finger. If you are a non-cosmic thinker, you say, 'Oh. Let me go find a band aid.' If you are a cosmic thinker, you look at the finger and start to contemplate about your traits that led you to that moment and what it says about you and your relationship in the world that you would be negligent enough to cut your finger. Then, if you're anything like Donne, you associate the cut finger to the reality of human nature and mortality and then associate that with the sufferings of Christ. Meanwhile, your finger is still bleeding and someone else has to put you back together. I can say this because I'm a cosmic thinker and its why writing my dissertation was so complicated."

I laughed. Of course. This explained everything. Christmas was not so much difficult as much as I took every moment and read into it. I looked at each detail with a writer's eye and processed it as it would craft itself into a scene and an incisive look at family life. When, on the other hand, my sister was simply making the holiday work, looking at me and asking, "Why can't you just help me make this happen?"

I see and celebrate connections. I love how the everyday moments expand into something else. Sometimes, this gets a little out of control. But then again, a blog can be conducive to the more abstract.

So for readers of this blog, you just need to know what you're getting into:

I'm a cosmic thinker and writer. If it gets a little abstract... I told you it would.

Monday, January 07, 2013

The Hobbit

I said, "I'm leaving Dana the Tolkien Purist at the Door."

I said, "I'm not going to have high expectations."

I said, "Going at midnight will be fun. I'm taking Gretchen!"

I said, "It's Peter Jackson. Could I go too terribly wrong?"

I said.


The late summer before my fifth grade year, my mother read The Hobbit aloud to my sister and I. Several years later, I read the book aloud to another younger sibling (Gretchen). And then Jen. And then (partially) to Isaac. I had the voices down. I knew the plot twists. I knew the map of Bilbo and Dwarves treking across Middle Earth by heart.

I love The Hobbit as a book and story.

But I said. I said I would set that aside to see the film.

I tried. I did. I wanted to like it. I did. I went in pre-disposed to accept changes and tweaks to the plot and character arcs and and and...

I hated it.


Pause for a comment about personal tastes: I'm so tempted to stand up and yell, "Because I love Tolkien more than you do, I have more of a right to hate this movie and you should agree with me! Just look at my Tolkien Loving Credentials! Look! Look!" Except that doesn't work because I know people with even more Points in the Tolkien Loving TriWizard Tournament (ignore the mixed mythologies right there) than me. And they loved it. So I put that membership card away right now. I'll do my best to explain why I felt like throwing tomatos at the screen by the end. And I concede that you don't love Tolkien less than you should if you liked the film.


Some Things I Loved

  • Gandalf and Bilbo exchanging "Good Mornings" and the dwarves appearing and the dinner and the singing of lost gold and Bilbo slowly being won over to this strange adventure. It was straight out of my head. Beautiful.
  • Martin Freeman is Bilbo. His performance was extraordinary. Perfect. He was meant for the part.
  • The scene of Riddles in the Dark was worth the cost of admission. Two of the most interesting Tolkien characters talking in a dark cave, being played by two extraordinary actors who embody the parts. It could not have been better than it was.
Some Things that Make Me Forget the Things I Loved
  • The opening sequence. I was put off by the awkward narration and strange back story. All of this is in The Hobbit. Or at least in the appendixes. But it didn't introduce the world the way the same kind of sequence did at the beginning of The Fellowship. It was an old tool used one too many times. It would have worked better later. I was just ready for the Shire to appear and deal with the dwarves later. I didn't care about them any more after that opening sequence.
  • Visuals. It looked and felt like an animated film. I infinitely prefer the gritty quality to the textures and filming of LOTR. None of the created characters looked real. They looked totally CGI. I don't want CGI. I want real things that have just a bit of CGI to make them work (see Orcs from LOTR). The goblins? Please. Who thought that would work? And if I have to see one more fantasy film where people fall from a great height and don't die... I'm giving up on fantasy films.
  • Script (Issue #1): Character development. The dwarves were the strangest non developed characters. And why did the great counsel appear at Rivendell? And then when they are developed, its through stereotypes. Thorin has father issues expressed in a need for self-sufficiency. And Radagast... poor wizard.
  • Script (Issue #2): Dialogue. (translated Orc talk) "Drink their blood!" Umm... what? To quote one viewer, "This could have been a George Lucas script." (inarticulate groaning from me)
  • Script (Issue #3): The moments we all pause so someone can explain the them of the film. "I just want to give you dwarves a home." And. "I would have died without you! Let's be best friends as the sun sets in this beautiful concluding scene!"
  • It was boring. Oh dear Eru, did I just have to say that? I was bored. I was checking the time about an hour in to see how much longer I'd have to sit there.
But here is the key issue: it acted and behaved like a fantasy films that has been made 10 times in the last few decades. It wasn't Tolkien. It was a genre production that was based on Tolkien.


And I'll still probably go see the next one.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Reflections on Blogging

The New Year is supposed to be a time of reflection.

Supposed? I don't quite know where the supposed-to comes from.

A friend called the night I first got back to SC from Christmas Holidays, the first of the year. I was in the nearby "ghetto grocery" (its a known fact that drug deals take place there) to get a frozen pizza to sustain me until daylight when I had time and energy to get a full cart of food. He mocked me mercilessly for buying a frozen pizza and asked what I did for New Years, noting that he isn't much of a New Years kind of guy. "It's just another day." It is. But it gives me the excuse to spend hours doing what I do to an excessive amount on any given day: think much too deeply and long on my own life, its ups and downs and twists and turns.

One thing I concluded is that I need to be more faithful about blogging. All posting screeched to a halt around mid-November because I didn't want to proceed without some clearer thoughts on the matter. What I realize now is that after eight years of blogging (longer if you count the xanga days of early high school when I did on the sly against parental prohibition), I don't know what a blog is supposed to be. Is it for my adventures? Adventures around a theme like the ever magnificent smittenkitten recipes or DV recounting her med student/phd adventures? Is it a series of semi-final essays? Is it painting a series of scenes and settings for you to experience my thoughts within? What would keep me at it for 3xs a week as I would like to do?

Or a profoundly different question: what do I want it to be?

I think the answer lies in the middle space of several loves: art, faith, the everyday.

I suppose digging through why those things entrance me to the most subconscious level is worth parsing out a little more directly. So, if no one is opposed, I'll be tackling head on some topics surrounding these subjects. Maybe I'll begin with a look at why I love interdiscplinary studies, the apparently contradictory fields of knowledge and study that exist in interdependence. But that can be dealt with later.

For now, I'm looking at the coming year with a solid measure of excitement and fear, anticipation and dread. I'm battling the tail end of a cold (I hope its the tail end) with more tea than my body should really be able to handle. And the album "Bright Morning Stars" by the Wailin' Jennys is making me weep. I just sent an email to Ed, a friend/mentor who lives in Ohio that I met in Bulgaria, saying that I'll be joining him to direct an ESL camp in Elena, Bulgaria this summer. I got my nose pierced. Baked cookies for a friend's upcoming bridal shower. Things change. Though, today, the setting is still and unmoved. I'm still in SC. I'm still working at Calvary Church. My students get back tomorrow.

And we're off. Hello 2013.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

2012 in Review

An old, old tradition of mine. Like... since 2005 old.

What did you do in 2012 that you've never done before? 
Travelled to Bulgaria
Had wine on an airplane
Moved two apartments at once, while ill with a bacterial infection.
Swum in the Harvest Fields pond
Texas Two Stepping (in Dallas with Jessi!)

Did you keep your New Year's resolution and will you make one for this year? 
2012: Just do it. Stop waiting.
2013: Yeah... about that...

Did anyone close to you give birth?
Sarah Bomgardner
Kate Sauder
Melissa Rock
Kendra Tingle
Erica Reitz

Did anyone close to you die?

Did anyone close to you get hitched?
Steve and Rachel
Evan and Maureen

What countries did you visit? 
Texas (Yes, I think this counts)

What date(s) from 2012 will remain etched upon your memory?
Spring Break w/ Maggie
The Road trip in June
An evening in August
An evening in November

What would you like to have in 2013 that you lacked in 2012?
A new setting.

What's your biggest achievement this year? 
Travelling in Bulgaria (semi) on my own for a few days.
Learning the Bulgarian alphabet
Starting to structure a ministry
A Christmas Party

Biggest failure?

Did you suffer illness or injury? 
UTI over spring break away from home. Hurrah for Maggie Cox for taking care of me!
The Great Bacterial Infection of 2012 (Post Bulgaria)

What was the last thing you bought?
Dance pants. Same as last year.

Whose behavior merited celebration?
Melanie Kammerer
Hannah Ray
Kaitlin Sickle

Where did most of your money go?
Rent. Food. Dance. Drink.

What did you really get excited about? 
My job!
Various children being born and couples getting married and Maggie getting engaged!

What song will remind you of 2012?
Kept coming back to "Rock of Ages" as sung by Sandra McCracken
"We Can't Be Friends" by Miranda Lambert

Compared to this time last year, are you happier or sadder? 
Realizing that the relief I felt at this time last year was true... but also partially premature. There were many more miles to travel on that road of recovery and healing. There are many more miles. 

What do you wish you'd done more of?
Writing, damn it.

What do you wish you'd done less of?
Lying. Judging.

What was your favorite TV show?
Dr. Who
Gilmore Girls (still watching them)

What were the best books you read? 
Telling Secrets by Frederick Buechner
Grace for the Good Girl by Emily Somebody
Lit by Mary Karr
From Good to Great
Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller

What was your best musical discovery?
Alright. Breathe everyone... I discovered Country.

What did you want and got? 
An arts road trip
3 weeks in Bulgaria
Some life direction
Another shot at campus ministry
A new computer
A place to live in the fall

What movies did you see in cinema? 
Les Mis
The Hobbit
Hunger Games
Moonrise Kingdom
The Tree of Life
My Week With Marilynne

What did you do on your birthday? How old did you turn?
23! Grilling in a park with a cake and then Cafe and a foxtrot and a west coast and my first ever shots and a walk in the dark looking at the stars.

What one thing would have made this year more satisfying? 
Loving unselfishly.

How would you describe your personal fashion?
Westie. This means: loose sleeved shirts, hair down, scarves, off the shoulder, dangly earrings, leg warmer, I-can-dance-anytime-just-ask kind of look.

What kept you sane?
Tea times
Good books
Late night fun (like the pond)

Who was the best new person you met?
Ed Cox
The Clarks
Alex and Abi
Joshua Felstead

What was a valuable lesson you've learned?
-People watch. People tell stories. Help them tell true ones.
-If you punish those you claim have hurt you by continuing to feed your own pain, then the only person you have punished is yourself. Stop it.
-To be isolated is a choice you make each moment. To be in community is to open your shame to light. Don't hide.
-Do not judge. You cannot possibly understand what you think you see.