Sunday, February 27, 2005

Ten Things I've Done That You Probably Haven't

(And if you have, do tell!)

1. Walked on an island in a lake formed in the caldera of an extinct volcano.
2. Scored a perfect 800 on the mathematics half of the SAT.
3. Taken a full-time college courseload while living on campus and working and volunteering part-time--all while receiving regular chemotherapy and radiation treatments for lymphoma.
4. Unsuccessfully went crocodile-hunting at night in Central America; we found fresh tracks on a sand bank, but no live reptiles.
5. Toured the Mayan ruins of Copan in Honduras just behind the President of Honduras and the enormous group of soldiers accompanying him.
6. Hiked to the top of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park.
7. Been mistaken for a movie star.
8. Kissed the Blarney Stone. (No subsequent increase in my charm and eloquence was observed.)
9. Climbed the 530 stairs to the top of St. Paul's Cathedral in London.
10. Attended an "Eleventh Night Bonfire" on Sandy Row in Belfast, at which a group of masked loyalists roused the crowd to a frenzy before firing their weapons into the air.

Thursday, February 24, 2005


If you, idly browsing on a whim, found a ROUND-TRIP ticket to your favorite country eight time zones away across an ocean and a continent; a ticket which would have to be purchased in the next 24 hours and would require you to leave in 13 days to spend four or five days in said country; a ticket for UNDER FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS when the last time you went it cost you over a thousand--would you buy it?

Even if you would have to put it on a credit card and (try to) pay it off next month?

Even if it was winter in that country, and likely to be raining and cold the entire time?

Even if it would mean going by yourself and staying in hostels, because while one ticket would be a steal, buying two tickets would be completely unjustifiable given your current financial situation?

Even if your current financial situation frequently stressed you out already, and you were trying to DECREASE your credit card debt, not INCREASE it?

I am so torn between fiscal prudence and caution-to-the-wind impulsivity. Help!

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Molten Sea

I walked up the hill to watch the sunset last night. It's hard to believe this is February; I hear southern California has had twice as much rain as Seattle this month.

This post isn't about the weather, though. I sat cross-legged on a bench overlooking the molten river of sun poured out across the ocean. I closed my eyes and watched the bright patterns inside my eylids and felt as though I were floating up, borne on the stiff cold wind blowing off the water and the breathless laughter of the kids playing frisbee in the park behind me.

Each Sunday our pastor recites a different "call to worship," which as far as I know are his own writing. He read these lines some weeks ago:

In the midst of the chaos of our world; in the midst of competing forces vying for our loyalty; in the midst of a flood of need and fear from peoples near and far, we gather seeking holy space. And in this space and time we proclaim the claim of the Holy, that love is the center of all being, all meaning, and all truth.
I floated in that awareness for a few minutes last night. I didn't feel it as any emotion--I felt no inclination to weep or dance--I just turned it over and over like a wave-smoothed pebble in my mind, resting in that conviction: "Love is the center of all being, all meaning, and all truth."

And that, as he always ends the message, is good news.

Monday, February 14, 2005


My senior year of college I took an introduction to theology class with my roommate. Neither of us needed the class to fulfil any requirements; we both thought it would be kind of a lark, an easy five credits.

It was a fairly easy class, but it managed to surprise me anyway. By that point I'd pretty much abandoned the strict literalist vision of God I'd grown up with, and half-expected that any theology class at my Christian university would insist on the rigid definitions of the Holy that I had already rejected. I expected to roll my eyes a lot, secretly, in the back of the class.

That's where I was surprised. I couldn't tell you, off the top of my head, a single fact I learned in that class. What I vividly remember is a sense of freedom, of being able to finally, guiltlessly let go of the too-tight dogmas that had been choking me with frustration. I'm sure the class taught no radical or unapproved doctrines, but I will always appreciate the new sense of expansion I gained there, my dawning awareness that any God of all creation must be infinitely larger than I'd been led to believe.

This is my clearest memory of that recognition: Our professor brought in a series of astronomy maps something like this one day. First she showed us a map of our solar system with a dot marking the Earth. Then she showed a map of the Milky Way galaxy with a dot marking our entire solar system. Then she displayed a map of our local "Virgo Supercluster" of galaxies, with a dot marking our galaxy...and so on.

I'd never taken astronomy beyond whatever basics I learned in high school science, so I sat in the back of the class with goosebumps. That awe bowled me over again today when I found this site, showing the scale of just our own solar system (via John Scalzi's By the Way journal). I already knew the universe is, like, big and stuff, and pardon my language of course, but holy. fucking. shit. I'm supposed to believe a Creator who could cradle all this in the crook of her arm is really the kind of God who would set up a strict set of rules on a piddly backwater planet and expect all the possible denizens of the universe to abide by those rules during their microscopic blips of life in that immense universe, or be rejected by God for all the rest of time eternal? I'm supposed to think a God of this enormity would be apathetic about how well the galaxy's residents care for each other and their home, and inflexibly furious if some of those residents possessing the same genitalia have the audacity to fall in love anyway?

That kind of thing doesn't make sense to me anymore. You might as well try to convince me that God will be angry at gay penguins, polygamous lions, or spiders who kill their partners after mating. I can assure you it's not about my rebellion; it just makes no sense to me. If God is big, accept the vastness of God. If God is small, then preach the limitations of God. But don't try to convince me of God's immensity while also claiming that God is grossed out over the very same things that you just happen to be uncomfortable with already.

The Beginning of Wisdom

You have brought me so far.


I know so much. Names, verbs, images. My mind
overflows, a drawer that can't close.


Unscathed among the tortured. Ignorant parchment
uninscribed, light strokes only, where a scribe
tried out a pen.


I am so small, a speck of dust
moving across the huge world. The world
a speck of dust in the universe.


Are you holding
the universe? You hold
onto my smallness. How do you grasp it,
how does it not
slip away?


I know so little.


You have brought me so far.


I was all set to eat well today and carry that habit through the week. I had good leftovers ready for lunch, and some lovely carrots and apple slices for morning and afternoon snacks. I drank 24 ounces of water during my hour at the front desk this morning, and even eschewed a sugar-filled latte from the Firehouse Cafe for the plain old drip coffee from my kitchen.

And then my coworker brought in a bag of Cheetos and asked me to help him eat them.

Cheetos are, in a way no other snack food is, like crack for me. I'm not even hungry, and I know I'll regret it later when I have to add "half bag of Cheetos" to my mental tally of what I consumed today--still, the moment that plastic bag is torn open my attention splinters between the project I'm working on and my awareness of the orange-dusted corn snacks next to me. My focus shaken, I tell myself to be strong, to drink water and concentrate on the keyboard; but I can hear the crunching, crunching, crunching as my coworker enjoys his share of the Cheetos, and soon I think, I'll just have one, the lie we always tell ourselves to justify our first step down. And I do take just one, savoring the way its gnarled shape dissolves slowly into mush in my mouth. Then I eat another. And another.

You know how the story ends: how my shaking fingers scrabble in the bag for more and more Cheetos until my hands are grimed with the telltale orange, my mouth stained with it, the dust smeared across my nose and cheeks; how my eyes stare wildly as I heedlessly tear open the empty bag and lick the last orange crumbs from its crevices; how I survey the disarray around me at last and slump with shame, weeping orange tears through my orange fingers.

How I clean myself up and vow bitterly never again, I'll never touch the stuff again, composing myself and refilling my water glass, shaken and humbled but determined to clamber back on the wagon of healthy eating.

Right up until the office door opens and M pokes her head in to brightly announce, "Hey, don't miss out on the Valentine's Day cupcakes in the staff room!"

Sunday, February 13, 2005

DIY blanket

Last night I dreamt that I was at a friend's house admiring a luxurious, cozy knitted blanket she had draped over her sofa. She told me she had just purchased it at IKEA, so my dream-self soon made a trip to find one for my own living room.

I wandered through the huge IKEA at South Center, searching for the blanket, but couldn't find a similar one anywhere. Finally I found a salesman and asked him about the beautiful green-blue blanket I had seen. "Oh," he said, "we have the kits for those over here." He then led me to a bin full of large knitting needles. Each needle had the blanket's starting row already cast on and came in a package with a huge ball of yarn; all the buyer had to do, in keeping with IKEA's assemble-it-youself philosophy, was knit the blanket.

I suppose they could call it the "Nicherondam" blanket.

(EDIT: I should mention that in the dream this seemed like the coolest idea EVER, and I was so excited to knit my blanket, since apparently in my dreams I already know how to knit.)

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Mixed Emotions

That's what happens when you get called at home on a sick day to be notified that you totally dropped the ball on something at work, meaning that although you were kind of feeling better after sleeping all morning you proceed to worry yourself sick for the rest of the day, hardly sleep that night, and embarrass yourself the next day by bursting into pent-up sobs of relief when your supervisor tells you that he "hadn't even dreamed" of letting you go over this mistake.

Or so I'm told. Nothing like this has ever happened to me. Of course.

The only things keeping me from collapsing right now are the lingering jolts of anxiety and caffeine. The severe trembling caused by both those factors, on top of the preexisting sleep-deprivation shaking, will probably show up on the UW seismographs just across the canal. Don't be alarmed; tomorrow will be a better day.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Thoughts on Religion, part one

Why do I have such a hard time being honest about what I do and don't believe about religion / God / the numinous?

Mostly because I have a serious aversion to the brief expression of disapproval and discomfort that often flickers over the faces of friends with whom I tentatively share my changing views on the subject of religion.

I remember, for example, laughing aloud at the protagonist of Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates being described as so inept with tools that, "had he been assigned to build crosses in Jerusalem, Jesus would have died of old age." When I read that line aloud to the friend who wanted to know what was so funny, she did not laugh. "Oh," she said. "Well, it's a fine line between humor and blasphemy sometimes, isn't it."

To another friend I described, with incautious excitement, my first encounter with religious people openly embracing feminine aspects of the Divine. "I love it that they don't use gendered pronouns to refer to God," I said, "and it's really interesting to think about the holy in metaphors that are female."

She gave me the slight frown and said quickly, "I've never had any problem thinking about God as Father. I know some people have a problem with it, but I don't see what the big deal is."

Yet another friend told me she was very worried about my church being too "open and affirming," as their bulletins proudly state.

Remember how my friend and I joined a gym? The other night we were talking to another mutual acquaintance who raved about how much she loves yoga. "It's so great--you should really try it!" she gushed. "Plus, if you take it at the gym--" and here she leaned in a little and lowered her voice to a stage whisper-- "they won't have all that weird Eastern stuff with it."

(I decided that wouldn't be the best time to mention my interest in attending an hour-long meditation session at that gym.)

More later--in the spirit of Heavy Duty Power, I'd like to rise to these challenges occasionally, instead of always being so dumbfounded that I can't calmly express my disagreement lurking just under the surface.