Thursday, November 29, 2012

Coffee in the Morning

I love the sound of coffee-making. Not the grunts and crashes of cleaning and refilling — that's what Aristotle was thinking of when he spoke of pity and fear, but he didn't spell it out because he didn't want parents to pull their kids from his school — but the noise happiness makes when it bubbles over.

Thursday, November 22, 2012


Basic things like work and trips to the grocery store are tricky right now ("Dear Immune System, wish you were here. Love, me"). Work closed 2 hours early yesterday, and although I have the most wonderful boss in the world who would've totally allowed me to stay until I'd finished my quota, I didn't want to be the only little kid stuck inside while all the others played, so I worked ahead a little and came in early. At this point in my life, that is enough challenge for one week, but I also needed to get to the big-fancy grocery store to buy gluten-free rolls for an offering to the Thanksgiving table, and a drive into Dallas on the eve of Thanksgiving is a sobering thing.

I decided to take the back roads, and fell right into one of those unexpected idylls of everyday life that are as delightful as they are unforeseen. As I pulled out of the parking lot at work, I noticed 3 or 4 trees which had turned a beautiful red, apparently overnight. The route was mostly residential, and mostly very nice residential, through neighborhoods just old enough to have mature trees.

In Texas, the trees are capricious. Some turn red, others don't turn at all, and some are just a sickly in-between. You don't know what will greet you when you glance up from traffic — the ordinary or the beautiful — and even the beauty rises up out of dead lawns. This framing lends a savor and poignancy to fall that entirely eclipses the boisterously overfilled spring.

The way home led into the remains of the sunset. It took me a long time to learn to look up for beauty, but in Texas the sky holds terrible and wonderful things. Winds unfelt below had pushed and pulled the clouds into sweeps of pink and grey.

The entire drive was an experience of how God's goodness is so great that rather than being good in spite of the limitations, He causes the limitations to work with Him.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Robot Parade

It just took me three (3!) times to prove to blogger than I'm not a robot and should be allowed to comment on a friend's blog. I find these things stressful and difficult. Combined with the correct sign-in credentials requirement, they create a barrier to entry in the commenting market which usually results in a text "LIKE" to the author.

Now the funny thing about this is that I've never gotten the whole robot-cult thing. My strongest reaction to a robot was one featured in a Mr. Rogers episode, and I think the reason I liked that was just that I liked all his field-trip episodes. I've watched a tidy few sci-fi films in my day, but if asked why they featured so many robots I would have said that robots have lots of wires and electronics in them and geeks like that sort of thing.

It turns out there's a deeper human experience theme here, which I first learned about when I told a friend I'd liked the movie AI (Artificial Intelligence — this was forever ago). In fact, I'd liked the little dance the robot did, and liked going to see it with my brother, and felt like I probably should like it especially since one or the other of us had shelled out actual hard cash to see it in the theatre (a compelling reason, also the reason I liked The Blair Witch Project), but in retrospect I'm not sure that really qualifies as liking the movie.

My friend responded with enthusiasm that it was a great movie because it tapped into a universal fear and experience of feeling like a robot. Shock overcame what little tact I'd earned at that point, and I exclaimed, "What?! Why would anyone feel that way??" My friend lapsed into hurt silence which was made worse when it became clear that I honestly wanted to know, so I've never learned what is behind this phenomena: how does it happen? Is medically unnecessary hormone therapy behind it? Is it a result of public schooling? Water from plastic bottles? Being allowed to watch Transformers at a young age despite the resulting nightmares? Watching Transformers at a young age and NOT having nightmares?

I feel like I can navigate the universe of Dostoevsky and Faulkner ("How does it feel to be a deeply impoverished share-cropper who's murdered an old money-lender in St Petersburg? Oh, I've *been* there"), but the popular blogger who admits to feeling like a computer leaves me flummoxed. Maybe this is related to those mysterious phlegmatics, except that phlegmatics are fairly rare and this is apparently a common experience.

Zombies, on the other hand, are hilarious, readily understandable, and should be imitated every day for at least two hours after waking. I'm especially good at the shower scene from Shawn of the Dead.

Restricted Career Choices

In recent years it has become easier to tell people what I can eat than to try and give an exhaustive list of what I can't. Now that lists are such a big part of my life, I find more and more of them. So here is a list of career choices that are off limits until my body is more reconciled to the whole eating project.

Covert Ops: Not only is an umbrella tip full of plutonium not necessary to remove me from circulation, but I have to broadcast the identities of my own personal kryptonites pretty broadly to anyone attempting to prepare food for me. "Whoa, there, Mr. Kindly KGB Officer, that's not SUGAR-YEAST-GLUTEN-FISH you're sprinkling on top of that salad is it? Because that would *seriously* mess me up, my friend."

Politician: There are more and less tactful ways of refusing to share a meal with another, and you can do your best to put everyone at their ease by smiling contentedly at them while they eat ice cream and you pound back yet another tall ice water, but the fact is few things are less conciliating than il dieto restrictivo. On the other hand, some voters might be refreshed by scandals not involving roly-poly little bat faced girls, so it could be worth a shot.

Diplomat: Inquiries about ingredients generally get translated as "My country wants nuclear war with your country."

Actor: There's a story that Tom Hanks refused to chew tobacco for a baseball movie, so the props guys had to come up with a blend of herbs which produced a similar expectorant. Happy ending to that story, but not even the most talented purveyor of things-which-seem-to-be-but-aren't can make spinach, cheese and beef look like a cupcake on camera.

Food Critic: Actually, I changed my mind on this one since the primary purpose of a food critic is to make restauranteurs long for sweet sweet death served up on a platter with a garnish of parsley, and this end is admirably accomplished by the restricted diner.

NB: I could eat the afore-mentioned dish, as long as the platter had been thoroughly washed first.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Can't I Just Have a Little Miracle?

Willa Cather's "Death Comes to the Archbishop" has a scene where the Holy Family miraculously provides food and shelter to a missionary who would have died otherwise. The character says afterwards that perhaps miracles are not an unusual circumstance but rather the lifting of a veil on the spiritual reality undergirding everyday life. As an undergraduate, I was so taken with this that I found an excuse to include it in my senior thesis.

But this conceit is actually exactly wrong. There isn't a miraculous and somehow kinder movement beneath the plain-jane mediocrity of 2012 Texan life. The fact is that the natural order is the rule rather than the exception not because God doesn't want to make it too easy for us, but rather because it in itself is the most perfect expression of His love and kindness. How can this be?

The primary reason is that God is greedy. Greedy to see His beloved sons and daughters exercising the gifts which are peculiarly His own, particularly practical love and the creative work of salvation. Love is not something you feel while sitting alone in your room thinking about Jesus and puppies. Love is an action where you choose the good of another as though it were your own good (enter caveat that this good for the other must be consistent with what is good for you). Of course, humans are finite and imperfect beings, and so the work of their love, even when infused with grace, will be less perfect than what God would have done through direct action. But His direct action would not have built up love between souls, and also would have restricted the work of salvation to Himself.

An example: You and your husband are sitting exhausted at the end of the day. Your toddler has climbed up into her chair at the table to have another go at the dinner that wasn't worth finishing an hour ago. Peace reigns until a key portion of dinner escapes to the floor below, and a keening sound of loss pierces the air. Wouldn't it have been nice if the bread could have been miraculously exempted from gravity so that it moved sideways to the table instead of down to the floor? And not wildly unreasonable, since you're only asking for a temporary reinstatement of Aristotelian movement toward natural place.

After a short discussion over who could best get up to recover the bread without doing a violence to themselves, one of you returns order to your toddler's world. The small act of service builds up your child's love for you, in a "I take it for granted that my parent is a demi-god" sort of way, and also builds up love between you and your spouse, possibly in a "I feel kind of guilty and a little defensive" sort of way: this is just because human actions are always imperfect, and it doesn't negate the real good. The most important thing is what happened in your soul when you were able to comfort the grieving and succor the overwhelmed. Because God just shared with you His own special role of working for the salvation of souls.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Brought to you by the subconscious

The other day I was laughing at the antics of our customers (they do the cutest things, like mailing stuff without envelopes) and wondering if this was contrary to charity when I realized I was also humming "They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love! They will know we are Christians by our love."

Monday, June 01, 2009

A Second Coming

Blog posts have been slouching toward Dallas to be born a bit slower of late. This is at least partially because of my incredible non-existent immune system which only bestirs itself when it realizes that its archenemy—the thyroid—is still loitering around my throat. It takes a pretty laissez-faires attitutude towards sinus infections and such, and I have to admit that it leads a pleasant and undisturbed life. The same cannot be said of me. But a few different people have asked about my blog in the same week, so I decided to resurrect it.

I've been watching my clothes dry in the Texas heat and thinking of the woman who lived across from my church in New Jersey and always line-dried her enormous white cotton bloomers where church-goers (and anyone driving on the very busy road) could not fail to be flagged down by the myriad flutterings. The association was of many white flags of surrender, but since this estimable woman was waging a highly succesful war against the scourge of grandmothers-in-thongs, they seemed in the end to be so many outposts of traditional feminine victory, where the bow of surrender is in fact victorious.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Touching on Dachshunds

So you've heard the one about the irresistible force meeting an immovable object.

Now to a dachshund I am an irresistible force: if I want to pick it up, I will pick it up. The dog may try to make it harder for me to pick it up by hiding under beds, etc., but in the end the human will win and the dog will be bathed. And similarly with being an immovable object. A dachshund could try to make me move myself by sitting in the center of the room and staring fixedly first at me, then at its food dish, but if I were asleep there is nothing it could do to move me: to it I am an immovable object. So for something to be absolutely an irresistible force it must be stronger/larger than anything else and similarly for an immovable object (the first in an active, the second in a passive way). The whole point of an absolutely irresistible force is that if one exists an absolutely immovable object can't (and vice versa) unless they were the same being in which case there would be no conflict. [Pause here to reflect on Dr. Dolittle's Push-Me-Pull-Me.] So really the whole question was silly but in a pretentious annoying silly way not a fun one, so we should just return to the part of the discussion which was enjoyable, which is how nice it is to have dogs around and why I don't have them now and why in the Harry Potter movie I just saw absolutely NONE of the protagonists took advantage of being around a gorgeous Neapolitan Mastiff, not even patting it on the head. I mean really, if they're going to waste riches in that way they really shouldn't be allowed out of Gryffindor dormitory.