Posts Tagged ‘the City’

Good-bye, New York City.  It was hard, the entire last semester, to really understand that we were leaving. I was too busy, carrying too many last minute responsibilities, and the last semester at school was really, really hard.  I think only in the past few weeks have I understood that I am really gone– I won’t be back at my church, I won’t see “my kids” again, I won’t see as regularly my dear friends who are still there.

We spent July in Red Bay, Ontario.  Matt’s grandmother’s cottage: Matt’s mother has gone nearly every summer since she was a baby, so has Matt. Hammocks, water, sunsets. Stacks of library books, trying new recipes and cooking together, sleeping in.

We moved to California.  Flying West, as we crossed three time zones, and found ourselves over mountains, and then mountains and palm trees… so strange.  Is this real?  Do I really live here?  Are those _avocados_ growing on that tree?

Cessation of anxiety.  I was really mostly anxiety-free in Red Bay, which is unusual. Usually, when I am on vacation, or away from my home or routine, I feel guilty about leaving my jobs and responsibilities, and the unfamiliar landscape manifests in random anxieties at night.  This year, happily, I had a few days where I was (appropriately because of work responsibilities) stressed, but slept every night.

When I moved to NYC, I was deeply homesick, and horribly panicked. I suffered from panic attacks daily and nightly, couldn’t sleep, and became really brittle and sick.  I’ve been trying to be patient with myself with this move, to listen to my body and allow lots of time for “processing.”  So far, so good.  We are settled into our beautifully painted apartment, I’ve been sleeping through every night, and feeling occasional spurts of (natural, I think) nervousness tied to genuine excitement.

For all of this, I have been immensely grateful. I half-joked to someone in a letter yesterday that I hope God doesn’t get tired of us saying “thank you.” I’m like some kind of gratitude wind-up toy— walking about looking at hot pink trees and grapefruit, through the lovely village, around campus, finding lizards and bookstores, saying, “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” a dozen times a day.

In the Bible, there’s a whole entire book of lamentations. If one has grievances or pains to bring to God, there are myriad models for crying out.  Think about Job!  Think about all the saints, in their times of pain– even Jesus Christ gives us a model for “talking back” to God.  There are praise Psalms, but it feels like when I am happy and grateful, there’s no artful way to keep repeating myself.  I’m just happy and grateful. Luckily for me, I think I don’t have to be artful for God.

I should ask my friends if there are certain songs they play, or videos they watch, when they are feeling all is well with the world.  I need a gratitude/excitement/eagerness mix tape!

Orientation.  This is actually the first orientation to a new school program I’ve done properly. For my first experience as an undergrad, I came too late for orientation, straight from hospital, and missed all of that information. (Didn’t turn out well, either– I lacked a lot of resources that I never did find for myself.)  For my second go-round in undergrad, I started mid-year.  For my first time in grad school, I was sick with anxiety and tears, and sometimes couldn’t leave my room– so I missed some of the offerings.  This time, I went to every single thing.  Finally!  Even though I know a lot, I found it remarkable the things I didn’t know. I marvelat the resources availed to me.

Peace.  So, on the first day of orientation, I was noticing that I was feeling both excited and a little trepidation. I was listening, being patient with myself. And a package arrived for me from my Dominican spiritual mentor. One item in the package: a little terra-cotta heart with the word “peace” hand-stamped into the surface. Also included: the liturgy for the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene, which included a litany of women witnesses, and a celebration of “voices that challenge.”  Also: a litany of peace “as we journey,” including this prayer:

“God of peace, you are the center of our lives, a strong refuge in the whirlwind of living. When our hearts are anxious, worried, or fearful, bring your calm and serenity to us. Remind us often that we can come, resting in the dwelling place of your love, and be at peace.”

I like the idea that I am taking place (and adding to!) a “whirlwind” of living… but that I don’t have to remain there when it becomes too much.

This image, a photograph of a statue, appears on the front page of the liturgy. The Dominicans describe it, “Mary has been bent, huddled, distraught at the disappearance of Jesus’ body. Then she hears her name spoken, and turns, looking upward to Jesus standing behind her.”


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“…I can hear you thru the whine.”

This morning, via long distance telephone, I prayed with high school students at a Catholic high school in the Midwest.

Through my association with the Racine Dominicans, I was able to volunteer for this ministry. At 8:10 AM this morning, I called the school, and the school secretary put me on hold. At 8:15 AM promptly, I heard bells ringing, and she said I could begin.

I began by introducing myself, and mentioned how blessed I felt to be praying with them long distance from NYC.  For reflection, I began by noting that St. John of the Cross had once likened God to the sea, and St. Catherine of Sienna had once understood God as… the surrounding water that flows through and around us, as if we were fish, as if it sustained us, moving through our very gills.

Thinking of God as a powerful sea, into which we could either paddle or be brave and walk directly into, I quoted C. S. Lewis, reading:

“If you want to get warm you must stand near the fire: if you want to be wet you must get into the water. If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them. They are not a sort of prize which God could, if God chose, just hand out to anyone. They are a great fountain of energy and beauty spurting up at the very centre of reality. If you are close to it, the spray will wet you: if you are not, you will remain dry.”  (from Mere Christianity)

I asked them to center themselves, and centered myself, and then prayed that we might all have the courage this day, and the heartfulness, to be willing to walk into the water, to take part in this marvelous drama and dance which God intends, even though our human nature can be fearful and long to remain tethered to the land. I thanked God that God intends such lively shared energy for us, and prayed that we might take part in it whole-heartedly.

Dear God, thank you for giving me an impulse in my heart that calls me to the sea. Forgive my most human cowardice, that keeps me tethered to the shore. Ignite in my heart a craving to come fully into you, to flourish in a sea of your grace, beyond and beyond what frail intentions I might have here on land.

Photo of the Bronx River, taken by Matt

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December 7 – Community Prompt: Community. Where have you discovered community, online or otherwise, in 2010? What community would you like to join, create or more deeply connect with in 2011? (Author: Cali Harris)

Oh, communities: the life of me, the places which water my roots. The first would be my very own Green World, my group of undergraduate friends, the friends who were there with me in my hothouse world, where I became most Stephanie of Stephanie, most myself, and bloomed and took off.  Most of us took Comedy and Satire together, and learned about the idea of the Green World (see, _A Midsummer Night’s Dream_, see also, transformation/metamorphosis).  These friends were a saving grace when I was in a very bad relationship, and when I had learned not to know myself. A therapist at the time, when I was wondering aloud why I loved these friends so much, said, “You are seeing your best self reflected in them. They show that back to you.”

These friends are still with me– most of them were at my wedding, filling my bridal party and surrounding me with love (even though, upon first glance, you might never picture them in a wedding party, let alone one surrounding a 12 foot circumference hoop-skirted bride.)

Another community: my home church in St. Louis.  Again, it was a safe place where I became most myself. The choir, my priest, the worship spaces, the hours I spent in vigil and prayer there. And whenever I go back I am home again.

The Racine Dominicans. I have been associated (a committed relationship made by a lay person–in the world, as opposed to an avowed religious person) to them for several years now. “My nuns” have been with me through so many travels and trials. I have prayed with them and for them as they have prayed for me. My Dominican family has taught me, nourished me, and continues to help me grow into my relationship with God.

The Sex Ho.  After I left my first and worst relationship, I happened to meet Jodut at the school where we both were teaching. Her TFA roommate had flaked out and gone back East, and she was looking for a roommate. She was the best roommate I’ve ever had. We survived so many things that year– a teachers’ union strike, a burglary, the struggle of being first year teachers. And we had so much fun, so much joy.  The next year, we moved in with another pair of roommates, Tom and Eric. We moved into giant, old, wooden-floored and pocket-doored apartment in a once classy section of St. Louis.  The apartment building was labeled, “Essex House.”  While making invitations for one famous dinner party, my jewelry covered some of that phrase on the copier plate, and “sex ho” came out on the invitations.

I can’t believe we only lived together one year. Those friendships are larger than life in my heart and memory. My Dad once remarked to me, “These, these are the friendships you’ll have and cherish your entire life.” We fought passive aggressive battles over the dishes and electricity, had “family meetings” that sometimes ended in tears, sometimes in drunken dancing, sometimes in peals of joyful laughing. We photographed one another, supported one another in our teaching, cooked, gave dinners, decorated, and inspired.  And again– all three were in our wedding party this year. We continue to have “Sex Ho Christmas” every year– a weekend slumber party where we wear matching tee-shirts and re-connect.

The 7th Floor, Hastings Hall.  When I first moved to the city, I was terrified. Panic attacks, every day, every night. I cried daily, stumbling through classes with tears and snot running down my face. I was homesick, I was unsure about my course of study, and I had left my entire life to come here, sight unseen.  Luckily for me, I had a near-ready made family waiting for me. I lived on a co-ed dorm floor; we had individual bedrooms, but shared bathrooms and a common kitchen and living room. Over the next two years, I spent hours laughing, crying, fighting, arguing, writing, studying… watching endless sporting events and Sex and the City and Law & Order marathons… in those common rooms.  I am certain that if I had been in an apartment by myself, I wouldn’t have made it.

When I was little, I sometimes felt out of place, out of time. The books I was reading (think _The Secret Garden_) were so, so different from what was around me (broke down coal mining town.) I longed, longed for a family or group of friends that looked like those in books, in movies. I daydreamed about future friends, future possibilities. I am struck, having written this, that my prayers and wishes came true: I’ve been blessed with more than I could have a known.

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Melancholy cool

In my perambulations around the internet today (does anyone say “internets” anymore?) I found this video.  A director has taken flashing beautiful neon signs from NYC and made a video of sorts to accompany a video. It’s striking, exciting, pretty, and a little sad for some reason. Maybe because there are no people in it? Maybe because neon always has that Hopper-like shine?

Sometimes when I’m awake at night, I think of all of the people who are already awake and beginning their days. Donut makers. Up early.  Factory workers, starting the 2 to 10 shift. I picture the 24-hour Wal-Marts, and take comfort, knowing that if my anxiety gets really, really bad, I could always go to one of those, and push a cart around, and buy popcorn, and look at things. It makes me feel less three-am-alone to picture those other folks, out and about.

All of these neon signs give me the similar early morning comfort. Action and welcome in the dark, for the insomniacs and restless.

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A few weekends ago, we were totally, immersed-ly blessed to participate in S. and A.’s Big Love Party.

They were our neighbors for one year on the third floor, and moved east so S. could serve as an assistant rector. They are wonderful, and true.

I was the designated head decorating fairy (Matt was my helper elf), and they also asked me to participate in a duet-reading of a (very juicy) selection from Song of Songs.

Unbeknownst to them, I was also asked to testify during the sermon.

And, they stayed with us for the few days before the wedding, and I got to co-host the bachelorette party. It was quite a week, and I loved every minute of it.

The big love ceremony was the most moving I have ever been part of– some of that was because it was an Episcopal liturgy, which already moves me. Part of it was because the music and space were incredible. Part was because I recognized so many people there.  The hugest part of it was S. and A. themselves.  I would post my testimony, where I described them as True and truly courageous…but I gave them my notes.

My students helped make paper flowers–which S. and A. gifted back for our use in _Romeo and Juliet_, and we harvested birch branches and greenery from a community garden here in the Bronx.  Matt found the perfect font, and we printed selections from Song of Songs onto translucent paper, with we turned into luminaries.

My local tailor saved the day by making a last minute alteration to S.’s custom made gown.  We stayed up late chatting, and eating papusas with S. and A.  I was inspired all weekend long. I could barely choke back the tears during my testimony, and definitely not during the rest of the sermon and their vows.

Matt and I left feeling more deeply in love and committed than ever, and I came away from the whole thing feeling braver, more lovely, and more in touch with God.

I also got to wear my super hot ball gown.

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“Committed to Truth, Compelled to Justice,” is the Dominican phrase that is the impetus to the Dominican charism: preaching.  That is, if you ever see the signature of a Dominican avowed religious, you will see “OP” after his or her name.  “OP” stands for “Order of Preaching,” and all Dominicans commit to using their voice, writing, actions, lives to preach in the world.  I can preach using my teaching, or my writing, or my commitment to social action.  I have been taught that once you commit yourself to Truth, you are compelled to help bring about justice.

I am on the advisory board for Religious Freedom USA. Today, RFUSA is holding a Liberty Walk, to support religious freedom, and interfaith relationships, here in the city.

My colleague Josh e-mailed me last night, expressing some fear about the walk today– there’s been so much emotion, from people and in the press, around Park 51, and Muslim-Americans, and tensions around multi-religious dialogue (or lack of dialogue) in recent weeks.  I see it on Facebook, among my friends and colleagues, in the press.  Josh asked me to keep the walk in my thoughts today– I’ll be at work when it’s going on, unable to attend.  I wrote back to Josh (who is Jewish),


Don’t be scared.  As a Christian, I use the following language to describe how we are not alone, in any endeavor— the Holy Spirit, or Grace, moves around us, constantly. Our endeavors and pursuit of truth, and justice, are grace-fully wound into and woven together the work of others.. and the work of God.

God moves in ways we rarely perceive. God’s work is out of time, as it were. There’s a Greek word, kairos, that historians and theologians use, to describe moments in human time where…  where human movement, and changes in politics, or changes in the way things are done, and God’s movement… intersect. That’s a poor translation on my part. But– historians talk about the kairos around MLK, Jr, and around other times in history, where human work seemed particularly energized, galvanizing.

I believe– and I’m not the only one– that this is one of those times. That your work in RFUSA, and the Liberty Walk… these are signs of a larger movement, and spirit, and energy.  You are not alone.  You are leading, and modeling, and amplifying… but you are one part, and you are surrounded by the grace and strength and energy of thousands of others, near and far, and of God, in ways seen and unseen.

As you begin your participating work this afternoon, take a moment to “check in” emotionally or spiritually with all of those people, near and far.  Let your mind remember movements and times and places in history, where people such as yourself have _acted_ and meant something.

I personally believe that your own work and spirit will be gilded and linked to all of those around you– in this world and the next. I know you don’t believe that, but I wonder if there isn’t some way for you to pause and take in the _energy_ of those with you this afternoon, and to remember your own ancestors and heroes, and to imagine that they can sustain you.

My prayers and thoughts are with all of you, all day today.  Today, you all are the hands and eyes and hearts and mouths of those in our generation who cry out for Justice. Do not be afraid.

Thinking of you,

It’s funny– I don’t always make such a strong connection inside myself my interfaith work, and my Dominican association.  This morning, for some reason, my Dominican charism really voiced itself, in response to Josh, and I really, really felt a connectivity between the work the activists will be doing downtown this afternoon, and the work I’ve perceived in my Dominican role models.

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How I Nanny

(Photo taken by me, of a little boy I took care of two years ago. He’s let go of a balloon, and is just realizing it’s now unreachable.)

I am nannying for two of my Sunday school charges, every day, for a major portion of the summer, from 9:30 AM to around 5 PM or later, with an odd overnight or extra evening babysit thrown in.

Here are the activities we do: Greek, Mathematics, Spelling, the Big Visit, Scouting the Neighborhood, Music, and “working on the atlas.”  I’m taking fiddling lessons this summer, and the kids study piano, viola, and trombone, so we often work on music lessons together.  “The Big Visit” means a trip somewhere, mostly to museums or places I already know and love.  “Scouting the Neighborhood” is because we’re going to make a to-scale model of the city block they live on, a al a huge model of all five boroughs at the Queens Museum. We have a lot of sketching, photo-taking, and scale work to do.  The Atlas is a giant (biggest artist’s pad of paper we could find) collage/history/atlas of everything we’re doing this summer.  Plus.  The little girl is also adding castles for all of her favorite Greek gods, and the boy is making actual maps of Europe, and then re-envisioning them for the future.  We also watch movies, mostly of film adaptations I will teach next year.  The poor little 8-year-old girl spent the entire last scenes of Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet murmuring, nearly inaudibly, “Wake up, Juliet, wake up Juliet!”  Poor thing.

And, we go to the library frequently. The ride to their house is a little more than an hour on the subway; if I finish my book either on the commute or during the day, and I need a new books, they’re happy to accompany me.  Here is the list of checked-out books from our last visit.  Mine, the girl’s, and the boy’s (ten years old) all together:

Nerve Damage, Peter Abrahams

The Household Guide to Dying, Debra Adelaide

The Privileges, Jonathan Dee

Return of the Crimson Guard: a Novel of the Malazan Empire, Ian C. Esslemont

Her Fearful Symmetry, Audrey Niffenegger

Mia the Bridesmaid Fairy, Daisy Meadows (can this be her real name??)

Bone in the Throat, Anthony Bourdain

All Saints, Liam Callanan

Candlelight for Rebecca, Jacqueline Dembar Greene

Rebecca and Ana, Jacqueline Dembar Greene

Danger! Wizard at Work, Kate McMullan

97 Ways to Train a Dragon, Kate McMullan

Help! It’s Parents Day at DSA, Kate McMullan

Countdown to the Year 1000, Kate McMullan

Ali Baba Bernstein, Lost and Found, Johanna Hurwitz

Kristy’s Great Idea, Ann M. Martin

The Hot and Cold Summer, Johanna Hurwitz

Worlds of Star Trek, Deep Space Nine, v. 4 Warpath

Mere Mortals, David Mack

Gods of Night, David Mack

Over a Torrent Sea, Christopher L. Bennett

Star Trek: The Last Roundup, Christie Golden

The Summer We Read Gatsby, Danielle Ganek

Think of a Number, John Verdon

Model Home, Eric Puchner

The November Criminals, Sam Munson
I think it’s pretty evident which ones are mine. Of this latest batch, I’ve finished The November Criminals, The Household Guide to Dying, The Privileges, Bone in the Throat, and Her Fearful Symmetry.

I started The Summer We Read Gatsby, but didn’t finish it because it wasn’t good at all.  Obviously I got sucked in by the title, and could have survived on the glib Fitzgerald references alone, but that’s how bad the plot and characters were– I had to stop anyway.

I love watching Anthony Bourdain on television, and liked his other book about the restaurant business very much, so got Bone in the Throat— it’s kind of a regular kind of NYC murder, with the mob, and restaurants. It was okay–the highlights are when the sous chef character is cooking or prepping meals, and we get to see that from his perspective. There was enough descriptions of food, cooking, and the restaurant world to keep it good.

I loved Her Fearful Symmetry. It’s apparently the same writer who did that Time Traveler’s Wife book, which I never picked up because I find the idea creepy, and because I would never wait around for some man popping in and out of my world through time.  But Symmetry was a ghost story, and about twins, and Victorian graveyards, and had lots of descriptions of wonderful books and clothes and furniture. It was also genuinely scary.

The November Criminals I think I saw recommended in the special Books section that comes with the Saturday NYTimes. It had great parts– enough to keep me reading, and re-reading the best parts, but the young (trying to channel Holden Caulfield) narrator said “like” and the f-word way too much. I get it, kids say “like” a lot. It’s tiresome to read that much, though.  If you like coming of age stories, but ones that definitely aren’t sweet, this is pretty good.

I read The Privileges very quickly. Young, charmed couple marries, has family, grows old and rich, complications ensue. I liked it. I was surprised by the characters, and the things they did wrong, and the things they did right. I expected it to be one kind of book, but it was nicer and more human than I expected.

The Household Guide to Dying was very sad. I was quite tear-y and a bit melancholy at the end of it. Of course, because the narrator is dying throughout the book. It’s charming, though, and has a bit of a mystery, and the relationship between the narrator and her husband, and her daughters, and her friends is very good, and realistic, and inspiring. I don’t know who I’d recommend the book to, because it is sad, and is about dying, but it’s good.

I just started The Saints this afternoon.

Looking at the checked-out list, I note that I recommended the first in the Babysitter’s Club series to my young charge.  That makes me smile. My best friend Janet had all of them (Janet, did you have all of them?) when we were young, and I used to borrow them. For example, over Christmas break, I would borrow several at once, because I went through them so quickly. Our library, where I went every Saturday, didn’t have those kind of books yet, so most of the books I read were old-fashioned, like The Secret Garden, and Nancy Drew, and lots of biographies and anthologies of “American” short stories and poetry. The Brontes, The Red Badge of Courage, heavy gilt-edged books of Dickens.

Finally, in other reading news, I took one of my teaching certification tests today, for English Language Arts. You know, you read selected passages, and answer questions. Happily, my selected passages included “Song of Myself,” a poem by Anna Akhmatova, a selection from Maud Martha, and a long selection from An Accidental Tourist, which I had recently re-read.  It’s so much fun to see things you love, even in a standardized test, in a room of five hundred test takers.

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