November 30, 2010

a feather on the breath of God

This morning, as I went about my pre-breakfast ritual of swirling green tea leaves in a quart jar full of hot-but-not-quite-boiling water, a line of an ancient lyric seemed to rise out of the steam and into my drowsy thoughts.  I do not know why, nor do I ever hope to understand how my auditory memory goes about selecting its earworms du jour.

The phrase it has chosen for today, apparently, is a potent little scrap of an ethereal song penned by the Benedictine abbess Hildegard of Bingen nine centuries before my time.  It's the part where she calls herself  “a feather on the breath of God.”

A feather on the breath of God... a feather on the breath of God...

I alone hear it in my silent kitchen; I watch the tea leaves fly wildly in the wake of my spoon and reckon with the fact that something in me does not really want to be called a feather.  It just draws attention to aspects of existence that I'd rather conceal, even from myself -- the fact that I am fragile, brittle even, that I am not very useful by myself, that I will someday be discarded and perhaps even trodden underfoot.

What are you and your silly feathers doing here in my kitchen a thousand years past your prime anyway, Hildegard?

And besides that, I think as I stir away the requisite ninety seconds, birdless feathers always make me feel a little embarrassed for the careless fowl.   It's just a rather public inordinance, somehow not unlike seeing the undeniable silliness of a burly neighbor’s underwear flapping on the clothesline. 

But seriously.  Surely it's in our nature to want to presume in our existence some measure of personal gravitas-- something akin to that mysterious austerity of presence which the Hudson River School artists sought to capture in the word sublimity.  We want our lives, our legacies, to have weight.  Wouldn't we all rather be likened unto a foothill in God's mountains, or an anchor in His ocean... even just an arrow in His quiver?  

But Hildegard insists.

I see tiny green feathers in my tea jar now, spinning wildly at my bidding, drawn into the wake of a spoon that flashes briefly, wildly, volting the waters and then rising from the tumult.  There I am in the roiling water, spinning and reeling, imparting myself to a vortex that I do not understand, even though the natural laws to which it submits are reasonable and even somewhat predictable.  But tell that to the leaves.  Tell that to me.

I watch the water alter the leaves, the leaves alter the water.  What emerges is neither and both.  Entirely irreversible, yet entirely impermanent.

I admit it.  I have been rather like a feather of late, only not in a weightless sort of way.   I’ve felt fragile, bent, bedraggled, whipped in this gale, snapping and shrieking from the relentless, unpredictable, sometimes nauseating twists and turns.  I clutch hard my heavy wing of flesh, still foolishly believing that I cannot soar without it.

If we are weightless as feathers, it is because Christ bears our weight.

I filter out the leaves.  What was water is now tea, golden and clear in the morning light.  I see old Hildegard's point, I think.  It's not about feathers at all.  It's about how we apprehend the wind. 


God is breathing.

November 1, 2010

NaNoWriMo and the written doe bounding

It's November 1st, which means for the next thirty-one days, ordinary people all over tarnation will be tapping and scribbling like mad for NaNoWriMo, the annual, wildly popular project for the umpteen thousand people out there whose life dream is to write a whole novel in one month.  

Are you even remotely tempted?  Me?  Umm, maybe next year.

In honor of all those courageous and hopeful souls who have set out today to pen 1,667 words every single day this month, I offer this bit of inspiration from the brilliant pen of Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska (one of my favorite living poets).


The Joy of Writing

Why does this written doe bound through these written woods?
For a drink of written water from a spring
whose surface will xerox her soft muzzle?
Why does she lift her head; does she hear something?
Perched on four slim legs borrowed from the truth,
she pricks up her ears beneath my fingertips.
Silence - this word also rustles across the page
and parts the boughs
that have sprouted from the word "woods."

Lying in wait, set to pounce on the blank page,
are letters up to no good,
clutches of clauses so subordinate
they'll never let her get away.

Each drop of ink contains a fair supply
of hunters, equipped with squinting eyes behind their sights,
prepared to swarm the sloping pen at any moment,
surround the doe, and slowly aim their guns.

They forget that what's here isn't life.
Other laws, black on white, obtain.
The twinkling of an eye will take as long as I say,
and will, if I wish, divide into tiny eternities,
full of bullets stopped in mid-flight.
Not a thing will ever happen unless I say so.
Without my blessing, not a leaf will fall,
not a blade of grass will bend beneath that little hoof's full stop.

Is there then a world
where I rule absolutely on fate?
A time I bind with chains of signs?
An existence become endless at my bidding?

The joy of writing.
The power of preserving.
Revenge of a mortal hand.

from Poems New and Collected, which I have read cover to cover more than twice.
  

October 31, 2010

Texas-sized Respect

I have two things to say about this:

1) Every once in a while, the right thing happens.  And that makes me happy.

2) For as long as the Lord lends me breath, I hope he lets me live among Texans.  That makes me happy, too.



It also makes me really happy that my son and my husband were there to see it!

October 26, 2010

Tuesdays with Charlotte

"If a human being were a machine, education could do no more for him than to set him in action in prescribed ways, and the work of the educator would be simply to adopt a good working system or set of systems. But the educator has to deal with a self-acting, self-developing being, and his business is to guide, and assist in, the production of the latent good in that being, the dissipation of the latent evil, the preparation of the child to take his place in the world at his best, with every capacity for good that is in him developed into a power."
Charlotte Mason, Volume I, page 9 

October 17, 2010

because you tread on my dreams

I love it when I make sense, but the older I get the more exhilarated I feel when other people make sense.  It's reassuring, you know? 

For example, I could get a little giddy over this Sir Ken Robinson fellow insisting to a huge audience of movers and shakers at TED that education "is not linear, it's organic," and,  "a three-year-old is not half a six-year-old," and several other choice commonsensical utterings besides.

Goodness me, if he doesn't watch where he's going with that, he might find himself spouting something really off-the-wall like "education is a life" and "children are born persons."   Because in my experience, once you've let a couple of crazy ideas like that come home to roost, you never know what might hatch next.  Just ask my kids.

I should perhaps disclaim that were Sir Ken and I to settle in over a nice plum crumble and try to agree on where to go next with his revolutionary ideas about modern education, we might not get very far before we came to a parting of the ways.  I really don't know enough about him to speculate.  But I'll walk with him as far as he goes in these few brief comments. 

See what you think.  It's short, so you can easily give it a listen while boiling the eggs and pinching back the mums.  If nothing else, you'll get to hear an Englishman read Yeats.  Which is loveliness.

September 25, 2010

the board of education - september edition

It's fall already.  And just look, there's our kitchen white board over in the corner still wearing the faded quotes of summer.  So once again, before I wickedly erase the treasured collection of wit and wisdom collected thereon, I shall document all of it here.  I will even toss in, for free, a few bonus quotes from the banter presently flying through the air in my kitchen even as I type:


"Feed the eggs that hatch; eat the ones that don't."
(Matt Bell's brilliant attempt to create a proverbial saying.)

"Schooling is a hand-me-down thing."
(Justin, reflecting deeply on the nature of education.)

"Oh, go fly a kite.  And don't try to tie the kite to Aristotle." 
(Claire's benevolent advice for a brainy but chronically uptight acquaintance.  Might be my favorite Claire-ism ever.)

"The arts are not meant to be efficient.  Take dancing, for instance.  Not a very good way to get from point A to point B.  It's rather like... fictional walking."
(Dr. Turner, Caitlin's Rather Important literature professor; quite the erudite Englishman.)

"I once tried to quit Diet Coke by eating... cold turkey."
(Dear, dear Lara, who is sometimes a little confused.  Bless her heart.)

"I'd rather be a zephyr than a dune."
(Justin.  Honestly, I have no idea.  But I'm afraid it means something.)

"I wish I could remember who I jumped in front of that bus for."
(Claire again. Don't worry; it was a dream.)

"Uhh, why did I put the brownie batter in the oven?  It was a bad choice."
(Claire, fighting Hayden for the beaters.)

And here's Justin making up a song while waiting for Claire's brownies to cook:
"I dream of facts coming from a factory.  I dream of deer eating Venice.  I dream of little people having spa treatments in a glass of water.  I dream of rainbows having ants marching on them.  I dream of lions having colds.  I dream of pumas having a hoedown with impalas.  I dream of Pink Panther actually knowing a language..."

And so on.

Now we start again, with a clean slate, as they say.  And a pan of half-baked brownie batter.

September 23, 2010

...and many more!


Singing Happy Birthday today to my very beautiful mother, our Sugar Cookie-- the name Justin gave her as soon as he could speak.  She's the spirit of a giant incongruously contained in a petite package of heart, soul, beauty, brains, backbone, zeal, and spunk.  She sings in my head and my heart and in all my dreams of childhood, and I love her to the moon and back. 

And now, for your birthday, my dear Mother, I give you what I know you'll like best of anything else I might give you: the wonderful, sparkly words my oncologist said after my semi-annual checkup this morning: 

"Three years this month, and everything looks great.  I really do not think you are ever going to have a recurrence."

So blow out those candles, babe, and let's have some cake!  Birthdays Are Good! 

September 21, 2010

wake up and smell the chai latte

My stars, what a long nap that turned out to be.  Would seem the dear hive is in need of a good dusting and airing.

Is anybody still here?

April 11, 2010

oh, right.

Me, to the waitress at IHOP:
"Is the coffee in this carafe decaf?  Because it says decaf."

Waitress (referring to a previous waitress):
"Did she pour it?  Because if she didn't pour it, it isn't decaf."



Now why didn't I think of that?

April 9, 2010

the board of education

I have long since forgotten the lofty academic purposes for which I originally purchased the large whiteboard easel that has commandeered the corner of our kitchen for the past fifteen years, because, for starters, here in my world-- amidst the domestic cacophony of Bach Inventions battling with ballgames for airspace, amidst the clamor of narrations and recitations and pesky Republican phone banks dueling for decibels with the likes of Dr. George and the doorbell and the juicer -- well, lovies, I'm telling you that by now I cannot even remember who I was fifteen years ago much less recall what complex academic schemes I was arming myself for back then.  Ding ding.

But I can tell you with certainty that my initial purpose for that whiteboard, whatever it might have been, was foiled by the local natives, who quickly brandished all the dry erase markers in what was surely a plot to subvert my didactic maneuvers.

Yes, my prized whiteboard became a household graffiti shrine. 

And I was soon made to understand that the Tribal Art and Folklore that becomes archived upon the hallowed board should never be blithely erased for such trifling matters as long division or Latin conjugations.

As if.

However, the moment comes round when someone goes to record some sparkly quote only to find there is no space left.  Then comes time for a Solemn and Ceremonial Erasure.  I usually do the deed under cover of night.  Sometimes I take a snapshot first, which seems to buy me some forbearance from my fuming constituency at breakfast next day.  I am thoughtful that way.  And scared.

Tonight, the board is full, but my camera battery is kaput.  Hence, I will here record the contents of our whiteboard, circa April 8, 2010.  Beehive denizens, please note how very much I care, cruel eraser-wielding wench though I may be.


The Road To Graduation is paved with Good Intentions.  (me)

"He is the freeman whom the truth makes free." (Charlotte Mason)

"I like everything.  Except stupid stuff."  (Kathryn Green)

"Subjection must be worn as a distinction.  The higher the authority, the greater the distinction."  (Mason)

"It may be the devil, or it may be the Lord, but you're gonna have to serve somebody." (Bob Dylan)

"And they that know Thy name will put their trust in Thee: for Thou, O Lord, hast not forsaken them that seek Thee."  (a Psalm texted to me by my friend Andrew on a particularly trying day.)

"That subservience should take the place of docility is the last calamity for nation, family, or school." (Mason)

"The dragon in shallow water becomes the butt of shrimps."  (Probably my favorite Chinese proverb from As They Say in Zanzibar by David Crystal.)

"People carrying elephant's flesh on their heads should not look for crickets underground." (same book)

"Probably the quite delightful pursuit of knowledge affords the only intrinsic liberty for both teacher and taught."  (Charlotte Mason)

"He rode upon a cherub, and did fly.  Yea, He did fly upon the wings of the wind."  (Psalms.  So poetic.)

"Trasheina" -- (the incredible name of a checker at Kroger) 

"The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven."  (Milton, Paradise Lost)

And last but not least, this mighty morsel for contemplation --
Charlotte Mason's observation, toward the end of her life, of some specific attributes the children of England had exhibited in response to her methods:

-power of attention
-avidity for knowledge
-clearness of thought
-discrimination in books
-ability to deal with many subjects

Whew.


And tomorrow, we begin again with a clean slate.

April 4, 2010

practice resurrection


In celebration of the Resurrection,
it seems a fitting day to gently nudge The Beehive awake again 
from its long winter hibernation
(which was also fitting, but that's a different post). 
And since it's now April, glorious April,
which is National Poetry Month,
 it seems fitting to do so with a poem. 

(As if we needed an excuse for that.)

(Poetry, I mean.)

This one is a favorite.  Do read it. 
It has perhaps the best last line of any poem ever.


Manifesto:  The Mad Farmer Liberation Front
by Wendell Berry

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.

And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.

When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.

Listen to carrion-- put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.

Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.

As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn't go.

Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.


Copyright Wendell Berry

From The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry, which is available from the wonderful folks at Cumberland Books.  If you don't know them, you should.  When was the last time you opened a box of books to find a personal check from the bookstore owner, giving you a discount you didn't even know about?  Yes, this actually happened.  I didn't cash that check-- I felt Mr. Saenz deserved the extra couple of bucks just for being such an honest, godly merchant.  And I figure I got at least two bucks' worth of encouragement out of it.

January 3, 2010

Clod-bustin' with Hosea

Sow to yourselves in righteousness,
reap in mercy;

break up your fallow ground:

for it is time to seek the LORD,
till He come and rain righteousness upon you.

Hosea 10:12


Now, there's a January verse if there ever was one.  Sitting here in front of a crackling fire this evening, I worked for a while on narrating this passage back to myself in my own words, phrase by phrase, slowly.  

"Sow to yourselves... in righteousness..." 
Isn't that what all our resolutions are about?  Changing what we sow to ourselves?  Trying to sow... right?

But it's that bit about fallow ground that really smacks me upside the head.   Fallow ground?  Oh, heavens.  The Lord knows I've got acres of that in my life.  Maybe you do, too?  

Break it up, Hosea cries-- bust up those clods, kiddo.  The rain is coming, and you'll want to be ready to soak up every drop.

So this is January Verse #1 for me.  Think I'll fetch my red dry-erase marker and go scrawl it on my bathroom mirror now.


Every resolution kept is another clod busted.        

January 1, 2010

waltzing in the closet of redemption

Oh, how I adore January.   She always dances in passing out double shots of hope and energy on the house, and out in her sparkly silver truck she has a load of blank canvasses and magic paintbrushes for anyone who's interested.  She'll even send you some buns of steel by summer if you sign up now and make timely payments.  I know, because I did it once, way back in 2003.  Oh baby, it was marvellous.  Maybe I should do it again.  Hmmm.

Well, anyway.

The Beehive took a little holiday in December, as you may have already noticed-- unless you were as busy making merry as we were.  Of course, those of you who regularly honor me with your company here know that I have been known to take the occasional blogging sabbatical.  As a rule, I don't spend time online when we have real live guests in our home, which, happily, is usually most of December.  Live first, blog later.

Which reminds me of a fitting quote I've been chewing on for a couple of decades.  I once heard a music critic laud Stewart Copeland as "one of the few drummers who understands that the pause is as important as the beat."  Now, there's a big thought. 

Well-timed silence is what turns cacophony into a symphony.

But learning to pause is no small feat for restless souls like me.  If it were, there would have been no need for God to dedicate a whole commandment to it.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, I must admit there are other less lofty and philosophical reasons for my December blogging break.  First, my six year old laptop, Elvira, got super huffy with me, I suspect over her perpetually delayed retirement.  Then our main household desktop fritzed out (suspiciously, within hours of having the carpets steam-cleaned).  At that point, our household connectivity all came down to Claire's laptop. 

Now, our dear Claire is a lovely and generous girl, but it's about as hard for me to get away with snagging her laptop as it is to sneak out of the house wearing her amazing fire-engine-red stiletto boots.  (Which I regularly dream of doing.)  That is to say, forgetaboutit.

Finally, our internet decided to take a long winter's nap. 

Somewhere in there I decided I might as well spend December attempting to work a few minor but timely wonders.  To wit:

~ We all six travelled to Memphis in a chilly winter downpour to celebrate the college graduations of two of our best beloveds, Andrew and Daniel.  This wound up involving, among other things, Claire conjuring up a small firmament of paper snowflakes; the stuffing of over a hundred mushrooms; the creation of a commemorative sculpture out of (I kid you not) rice krispy treats (which grew progressively more reminiscent of the Leaning Tower of Pisa as the evening wore on); and a four-pound cheese log which I thoughtfully laced with enough garlic to protect my loved ones from vampires for the remainder of the decade.

~ Once back home, I decided to reinvent our walk-in storage closet for the new year, a two-day event to which I probably should have sold tickets because it turned out to be a pretty entertaining spectacle involving multiple avalanches and some unprecedented bodily contortions that would handily win a game of Twister, all culminating in a grand finale boondoggle for Goodwill.  Whereas before one could scarcely crack the closet door without risking early burial, now, lovies, you can actually waltz in there.  Well, maybe only with someone you know really well.  But still.  I waltz in there at least twice a day.  Quite satisfying. 

~ All fired up by that project, I next turned a perpetually rangey corner of our bedroom into a cozy and enticing personal study, where I am presently sitting at my Grandmother's kitchen pastry table-- now my desk-- typing by lamplight (courtesy of my lovely mother) on Twiggy, my new and remarkably skinny laptop (courtesy of my lovely husband, for Christmas) and sipping hot tea from my new birthday teapot which is sitting atop my new birthday teapot warmer (courtesy of my lovely son) in front of the corner fireplace we've been meaning to make functional for almost ten years (and now is, courtesy of both lovely husband and son).  At long last, life is beautiful here in my little corner. 

I tell you, anything can happen.

And now our computer woes are all resolved as well, so our pause is over, I suppose.  It's time to reconnect, to start fresh, to resolve to keep doing all manner of minor but timely wonders over the course of this clean new year, with God's good help. 

January brings us so much invigorating prospect of fresh redemption.  And oh, how I do love redemption. 

Which brings me round to this:  what if... just what if we set about to redeem all the ugly metaphorical corners and all the scary, avalanche-y closets in our lives in the coming year?  What if they all became places to waltz and smile and rest and make and think and breathe?   What if?  Why not give it a shot?

Anything is possible in January.

Happy New Year, everyone!

December 23, 2009

Look, Ma! We're famous! For... uhh, ham?

Well, folks, we Bruce ladies finally made the big time!  Yes, indeed, That Is Us featured in the lead article of the GuideLive section of the Dallas Morning News today.  Yes, yes, that photo of us there on page 6E is, in fact, A Photo Of Us.  In the Dallas Morning News.  And everything.


photo by John F. Rhodes/DMN

Oh my, yes, we are Mighty Impressed with ourselves today.  We must be Important People to be In The News. 

What?  Did you ask me something?  Oh, what magnificent thing did we do to rate a lead feature in a Pulitzer Prize-winning section of a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper? 

Well.  That is a very good question.

::coughs::

We chopped up some store-bought spiral ham.   

We're thinking we might aim for Food & Wine magazine next.  For shredding up some rotisserie chicken, maybe.

(I've written a little bit about Tina Danze, the very talented food writer who managed to tweeze something worthy of print out of our rather off-the-wall interview, over on my foodie blog, 350.)