FISH TANK.

The poster for Fish Tank

The poster for Fish Tank

Wow.  I committed to myself that I would stay away from blogging too much about movies.  But…

Me on Fb:

FISH TANK IS ON THE LIST FOR THE PARAMOUNT 2013 SUMMER FILM SERIES OMFG I’M SO EXCITED OMFG HOW MANY PEOPLE WILL WALK OUT OMFG I’M SO EXCITED OMFG.

And:

Seriously. I’m going to watch one showing, then stand at the back of the theater and count people as they walk out during the second showing. OMG I’M GOING TO STAGE AN EXIT POLL IN THE LOBBY. Wow, I’m excited.

For those who don’t know, Fish Tank is my favorite of Michael Fassbender’s films (X-Men: First Class obviously doesn’t count, despite the fact that Carmen and I saw a morning show and a late night show on the same day, and we laughed every time MFass was on screen and I gave myself a headache with pure excitement at the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trailer).  It has deeply inspired my writing by exploring the theme captured here: “If good people do bad things, are they bad people?”  It is a masterpiece, and I love it, and I hope it shocks so many unsuspecting fools (although it is presented by Women in Cinema, so some people will probably be prepared…).

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Please Don’t Stop Reading My Blog Just Because I Love Jesus

Rouen Cathedral, The Portal (In Sun)
One of my favorite Monets, this painting captures beautifully a subject which I’ve always found spiritually inspiring: cathedrals.

There is one topic which I have thus far avoided. I’m not sure why, although I have a guess: I think I wanted people to read and relate to my blog. And I don’t think that posting on this particular topic will make people unable to relate; I only fear that they will stop reading and never know that this aspect of my life does not hinder my ability to communicate with people who feel differently. Unfortunately, I cannot continue to write about my ManifAustin journey without talking about one of the principal driving forces in my life: my faith.

A little background: I grew up in the United Methodist Church, where people are allowed to believe in God from their earliest memory, where a relationship with God can be a tradition in which one is raised, rather than a conversion that occurs with public profession and fireworks. Now, I believe that my faith is no less real for having been instilled in me from youth, but plenty of people have told me that such is the case, that I needed to come to Jesus in a Don-Draper-convinces-the-lipstick-guys sort of way.

I’m going to fast-forward through all of that because it no longer informs my walk. I struggled in an ultra-conservative Christian high school and an ultra-liberal household. The Church became for me a place where bad people perverted the goodness of the faith which they professed. In college, God blessed me with a roommate and best friend who shined with love that came from God, and who still struggled with a humanity that she was willing to expose, and my faith in good Christians was restored. The winter after I graduated, my reality was broken, and I was lost. I was confused as to why the good and loving God in whom I believed wasn’t protecting me. And for another year, my faith was challenged as my life cycled–every time I had, calamity struck. And every time I was empty, there was a near-miraculous provision.

The story that my life is now, however, really starts toward the end of 2011, when I poured out to a new friend and model Christ-follower that I was ready to walk away from God and no longer be a Christian. It was too hard, too painful, too stressful. My faith was a burden. And she said absolutely nothing comforting. I don’t even remember that she said much of anything. She just looked at me without sympathy. And that turned out to be a turning point in my life. For I realized, in the face of that coolness, in the unyielding logic of one of the most rational people I have ever known, that what I was saying was ridiculous. I could no more stop believing in the existence of God than I could reject the existence of the parents who put me on this Earth.

Joan of Arc
This painting is an especial favorite of mine. It is an exemplary work by Bastien-Lepage depicting a religious scene in a detailed natural setting.

2012 was an extremely important year for me, but I’m also going to fast-forward through it. I began to pray during Lent. Through prayer, God gave me the strength to walk away from a friendship that I recognized as destructive. At Easter, I realized that I needed to go to church regularly. In #Fla2012, my decision to live in prayer was bolstered by the affirmation of my best friend’s dad. I began to see the ups and downs of my life more clearly and to trust when I was in the valleys that the peaks would come. I began to see the ways in which I had been given everything when I deserved nothing. My whole outlook changed. I came to see that I was being forged for a life that would be fraught but profound. And I began to see that I had (with all my qualities and flaws) been designed with grace to meet the challenges and to serve a purpose.

Then my best friend moved to Oxford. And I was truly apart from her for the first time in 6 years (pretty much exactly). And I thought I would break. But I didn’t. In fact, I don’t think I’d ever felt so loved. Every email she took the time to write (and she is busy) reaffirmed that she loved me deeply, that she would always love me deeply. She loves me as a co-member of God’s fellowship and as a blessed sister (well, also as a friend in the non-faith-based sense, but that was harder to hold on to with her so far away). She loves me because God loves me. And that love (which I return) is unbreakable. The fights we had had, as friends, as sinners, and as humans, mean nothing in the face of the fact that we are united by the love of Christ; and our friendship will never be broken by any of that earthly nonsense. And in 2012, as I prepared for her departure, we had not one fight. All was love.

This is the present in which I live in Austin. I am apart from friends who are closer than family, for the first time in 6 and a half years. My spiritual guides are all far away. And yet my faith has been the unexpected foundation of my new life. At Servant Church, I have been instantly loved in this same way, as a blessed creation of God. My mentor told me I am “ripe for growth” and encouraged me to begin a journey that involves all this forgives stuff and other self-improvement measures to put me on the road to being a whole daughter of The Lord. And this church has been the cornerstone of my social life, which hasn’t been easy for me to build, given the one I left behind.

And They Still Say That Fish Is Expensive!
By Spanish painter Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida, this painting (with its title) serves to remind me of how much I have and how much I owe. It is a sort of cross above my bed, reminding me more of Christ’s work than his sacrifice.

So that’s the story of my faith.  It’s a large part of my life, but it’s not necessarily a large part of my writing.  So I hope that those of you who do not share my beliefs will both accept this as a context of my postings and keep coming back for writing that makes a conscientious effort to be relatable to people coming from a variety of backgrounds.  And I hope you’ll bear with me for the occasional posting about faith-based issues.  Because these are a part of who I am.  And that’s what ManifAustin is all about.

For Your Consideration: Poolside…

[For the second consecutive week, I have nothing new to write about.  My whole world right now is forgiveness and caregiving, and I ought to space those posts out, so as not to tire you with them.  So here is a reflection on the sun, not necessarily specific to my experience in Austin, but still (I should hope) worth sharing.]

When I was younger, I hated the heat.  I hated it so much.  I hated that pregnant swell of my pores just on the edge of sweat, the phantom crawling of droplets not yet oozed out.  The sun was a malignant force, slipping into my clothes and tapping me into vexation.  I couldn’t wait to get out of Texas, for the heat was simply intolerable.

I started tanning a few weeks before my Senior prom.  All I ever want out of a Summer bronzing is to eliminate the bluish glow my Caucasian legs give off under fluorescent light.  I wear sunscreen and spend a an hour each day by the pool with a book (and, often, an adult smoothie).  For so long I hated exposing myself to the heat, but it was a cosmetic sacrifice I was willing to make.  And every day I had to experience that same crawl that set my teeth to grinding.

It changed when I had my surgery.  They pulled open my neck and shaved the bone at the base of my skull.  And for two months I could not work.  I could play, laugh, write, and do some chores; but I could not drive or lift or wrangle children.  It was a mixed burden; I was forced into indolence, which was equal parts relaxation and boredom.  And hours by the pool.

And that was when I found a new metaphor for the sun.  It is not a vicious, angry force.  It is an overzealous lover who doesn’t realize that he can hurt you with his embrace.  And, oddly, this outlook has kind of made me feel better.  I no longer resent the sun as a menacing inferno that reaches out to sting me with scorching tentacles.  Now its touch is a burning caress, without malice or bale.

So I encourage you all to invite in the sun (with proper protection), which wants to be your friend.  Here’s a poem, a recipe, and a reading list to help you with that.  Happy Summer!

IMG_1553

Me by the Perez pool in #Fla2010. Because I’m not in the habit of taking self-portraits on a routine tanning jaunt.

Poolside Poem

“To My Lover, the Sun”

Soak me in sunlight
Bathe me in heat
Bury me in fire
Burning, wretched and sweet

Perk up! Perk up!
Turn to me; twist around
Reach your face up to me–
As I stretch toward the ground

Plunge me in brilliance
With ashes, refresh
Bring hard, cleansing fire
Brand stars in my flesh

I will devour you–
Make dust of your skin
I’ll scorch you all over–
Spark fever within

Let me not run
From your hot, loving bed
I will come to your altar
I will seek you instead

Lay your body before me
Let me burn it up black
This is how I love you
And how you love back.

Poolside Peach Cocktail

1 part peach Crystal Light, 1 part brandy, 2 parts peach schnapps.  Stir together and add equal amount Sprite.  Enjoy over ice.

Poolside Books

Harry Potter (obvs), The ShiningThe FountainheadA Song of Ice & FireSherlock Holmes (The Complete Collection), The Hunger Games trilogy, Pet Sematary

“Lazy, lazy, lazy, lazy, lazy, lazy Jane”, or “The Little Girl Dying”

The Little Girl Dying

A dark, cobblestoned street. Well-kept brick houses with an air of desertion. The façades are beautiful, but still they project something sinister. A very small girl walks rapidly down the street, stumbling every few feet on uneven paving. She glances frequently over her shoulder and around at the empty windows, keenly aware of being watched—by whom, only she knows. She barely spares a glance to check the numbering of the houses; she cannot be near her destination. A light wind lifts the leaves on the few gray trees, but, like everything else in these environs, it dies quickly. The stillness that follows this breeze is ghastly. The little girl’s entire frame seems to bend backward, as if she wants only to run, and only her feet move on, carrying her with a sort of ticking frenzy. Finally, she arrives at the destination she has sought. It is an empty lot at the very end of the road. There is nothing beyond this address.

It appears at first to be nothing more than a twisted garden. The actual house is set back from the street, accessible by a narrow lane on which the girl’s feet can only fit one in front of the other. Although the overgrowth seems not to have stirred in weeks, the yard is alive with a dread hum of scurrying things. Perhaps they are creatures, but perhaps they are only the minions of Death himself, lurking in the smoky haze. The little girl stops short at the sight of this place, wild and forbidding. Only a small, splintered gate separates her from the interior of the yard. Slowly, unwillingly, she reaches out a hand towards it. She does not want to open it, but something is pushing her, guiding her frail, half-starved arm.

The gate does not so much swing as fall open. It is barely strung on by a hinge, and it dangles, lopsided, carelessly inviting the little girl in. Her tiny, motheaten foot rises stiffly in front of her, and in a moment she has stepped onto the path. She is no longer being pushed. Now she has entered the pull. Every step she takes from here to the door will be orchestrated by a Puppet master. As soon as she has cleared its arc, the gate closes behind her. There is no latch, for it will just as soon open again. The gate is indifferent.

It is a long walk from the fence to the house. It is a long, dark walk. It is a long, tangled walk. It is equal parts torment and peace, for Death is equal parts torment and peace. It is the final wretchedness and also the time when all wretchedness fades away. The little girl struggles to fill her lungs, for there is no air in the garden. There is nothing but unseen monsters and uncreeping brambles and stale, empty blackness. It is through this undefined terror that the little girl moves, through which she walks forward, even though she knows that that house will swallow her whole.

That house casts its shadow over the entire grounds, yet it is not until the little girl is very near that she sees the building itself. It is a large, old-fashioned edifice, elegant and unfaded. Like the other houses, it must be occupied by ghosts, for it is well-kept and untenanted. It rises three rather imposing stories, with several gabled windows and a porch wrapping around the front. The door stands open; perhaps there is no door. The little girl is welcome. All are welcome in this house, for all must eventually stop here. She is here to beg food and rest as much as she is to meet her end. The doorway looms high above her as she reaches the steps to the porch, but here she must stop. It is never easy to ascend those steps, even for those who are ready. She looks into the doorway, trying to see into the blackness. There is nothing to see, no indication of what might be inside.

It is with apprehensive resignation that the little girl puts her foot on the bottom step. It is remarkably solid. The little girl is surprised that she still has mass, weight. Moreover, her whole body sags with reluctance. She heaves the other foot onto the next step. A light gust of cold air greets her from the doorway. It is breathing on her. Third step. She can almost hear the inside of the house panting, wanting her, expecting her.

She reaches the porch. Only a few steps stand between her and the fatal darkness within, more dense and oppressive than the darkness without. Only a few steps during which to relinquish her hold on life. For the first time since beginning her journey, the little girl pauses. She has no idea what is inside. What lies in Death’s darkness? Is there light at the end? Or is it just unfeeling nothingness? This uncertainty stops the little girl. She takes a deep breath, but there is nothing to breathe. She gasps a few times, inhaling emptiness and darkness. Inside, the low panting breaths of the darkness tell her that it senses her imminence. She gasps again and takes a step forward. Then another. She is walking slowly to meet Death. There are no more breaths. There is no more feeling. There is nothing else to sense on this earth. There is…

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: I’m not actually being lazy here; I just have no idea what to write about today.  I do, however, have quite a few compositions lying around with no real outlet or market–“snippets” I call them.  Here is one such snippet that I wrote while listening to a friend play the piano.  It is a writing born in free thought space: he played the piano, and I let the pen go, not contemplating or premeditating the words, letting the tone and pace of the music guide me.  I wish I had cited the piece he played, for the story was very much influenced by the movement of the music (It was probably by Chopin or Ravel…).  For me, this is as nondirected as it gets.  I hope you enjoy.]

[CREDIT: The former quotation above is the first half of a poem by Shel Silverstein.]