Wednesday, January 30, 2013

the old view from here

A couple of days ago I sent off an angsty, stilted, apologetic email to one of my closest friends. I told her something I'd been keeping to myself--something I'd been afraid to admit to myself or anyone else, something that had been brewing for a long time. She laughed at me, gently, because she already knew. 

Tim knew before I told him. Perhaps, what with my idolization of certain musicians, you all saw this coming before I did. 

I'm not, well, straight. 

I wasn't going to write about it here. It seemed like a discussion out of place, smack in the middle of posts about knitting, food, books; more than that, I was afraid of offending you, the readers. I was afraid that bisexuality was the last straw. You were already putting up with my atheism, my non-feminism, my unorthodox marriage. I felt like I should apologize. 

But I think there's been enough apologizing. I'm not thirteen anymore, scared that a crush on a girlfriend would destroy my life and all prospects of future happiness (and send me to hell). I don't have much else to say on the matter, but I'm happy and relieved to be saying this much. I was sick of pretending. The four-years writer of this blog, the (nearly) 22-year old woman, the one still in love with Tim Put, the author of 200-odd poems, the homebody, the English student? She liked girls the whole time. 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Cat booklets

For two or three years now, I've been getting requests for the Cat poems to be collected. Well, I finally collected them. I printed up a plain-Jane, bare-bones, print-fold-staple zine. It is not a beautiful handmade object so much as the thing that books have been: just a conduit of text.

Like the medium, the message is rough and undecorated. I wrote these poems when I was 17; I am printing them up now as a tribute to my younger self and her fear and trembling, but also to put the poems somewhat aside. Unscrubbed as he is, I've been living under Cat's shadow for too long. He'd have me believe that none of my new poems will ever measure up.

I've been thinking a lot about my future as a poet. I want to write and publish in a culture where both information and distraction are more readily available than ever on the internet. It seems doubtful that I or any writer of my generation will be making a living (or a name) selling physical books. However, my rebellious spirit says "Here. Take this last book anyway. Five of the poems are plastered all over the interwebs, but two of them have never seen the light of day."

If you'd like one of these white booklets, comment here, or send me an email with your mailing address. I'm not going to charge for these. I have 20 copies, and I would love to post you one. 

xx Lizzie

Monday, January 14, 2013

Creative Reset

I'll be participating in Allison Sattinger's Creative Reset over the next three weeks. Not sure if I'll blog about it or not, but if you'd like to follow along, this is her post for Day 1.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

thoughts on religion, and on being human

How well you are getting to know this window sill. Right now, it's the only place in the apartment bright enough to take a photo.

During the last, manic week of the Fall semester, I started reading Dakota by Kathleen Norris. It had taken me almost a year to start it; my Dad gave me my copy for Christmas last year (that is, 2011). He wrote,

Dear Lizzie,

While you may not be interested in the Benedictine influence and references, this book is still, in my opinion, essential reading for any aspiring poet!

I was quite affected by this note. My Dad, an Anglican priest interested in liturgical tradition, knows that I have been an atheist since I was 16. But as it turns out, I am interested in the Benedictine influence and references in this book about life and community on the Great Plains. In fact, though Norris is, all-around, insightful and enjoyable, the writing about monasticism and spirituality is what I've been copying into my notebook:

"I began to find that many of the things modern people assume are irrelevant--the liturgical year, the liturgy of the hours, the Incarnation as an everyday reality--are in fact essential to my identity and my survival. I'm not denying the past, or trying to bring it back, but am seeking in my inheritance what theologian Letty Russel terms "a usable past." Perhaps I am also redefining frontier not as a place you exploit and abandon but as a place where you build on the past for the future." (133)

"Both monasteries and the rural communities on the Plains are places where nothing much happens. Paradoxically, they are also places where being open to conversion is most necessary is community is to survive. The inner impulse toward conversion, a change of heart, may be muted in a city, where outward change is fast, noisy, ever-present. But in the small town, in the quiet arena, a refusal to grow (which is one way Gregory of Nyssa defined sin) makes any constructive change impossible. Both monasteries and small towns lose their ability to be truly hospitable to the stranger when people use them as a place to hide out, a place to escape from the demands of life." (146)

Reading Dakota, I've been struck by an idea, just now developing, that religion, as a human-made system for dealing with and describing life, for making meaning, can be--and very likely often is--relevant to me as an atheist. I do not need to believe in a god, or an afterlife, or an absolute standard against one can "sin", in order to recognize the importance of feast-days, or the reality of acedia in the 16 hours per day of darkness we experience here in the middle of Winter, or the absolute necessity of personal reflection, written or voiced, which for many people takes the form of prayer.

(I think this has been my intellectual view for a quite a while, but one is always hedgy about making these things personal. An atheist reading a book subtitled "A Spiritual Geography"? Oh dear.)

I've been thinking of religion (in particular, Christianity, the tradition of my family and--largely--of my country) as a historical inheritance. Less as set of irredeemably misguided beliefs and more as a collection of the ways in which humans much like myself have responded to and tried to understand themselves and their own lives. And it is not all bunk. 

In Norris's reaction to the faith of her grandmothers, I see a great deal of myself, reading my great-Oma's memoirs over the summer: 

"All of my grandparents lived out their faith on the Plains. My paternal grandparents, the Reverend John Luther Norris and his wife, Beatrice, served twelve Methodist churches in South Dakota, and several more in Iowa. Prairie people have long memories, and they still tell stories about my grandfather's kindness. One man recalls that after his wife died, leaving him with several small children, he began drinking heavily. My grandfather came to his house one day to do the family's laundry, and though the man was drinking the whole time, my grandfather never preached about it; he just kept talking to him about his plans for the future, and, as he put it, "helped me straighten up my life." In his youth, my grandfather had been a black sheep in the Methodist fold, and he often exhibited more tolerance and flexibility than his wife, who clung to a rigid and often fierce fundamentalism." (93)

As Norris says, "Religion in in my blood, and in my ghosts" (99). Religion was the primary way in which my grandparents and great-grandparents acted out their desire to do right by themselves and the people around them. It was their primary source of comfort as they hid from Russian soldiers and later struggled to establish themselves in Canada. My mother's whole extended family dynamic is based on a worldview that I no longer subscribe to, but maybe I can still subscribe to its traditions, its often (though not always) keen perception of human nature.

In all this, I worry about being presumptuous. Would I be pleased to learn of someone commandeering the lovely metaphorical value of evolution, while denying its reality? Am I doing something exactly analogous here? Even my way of relating to and admiring them may hurt and irritate people that I respect. How to couch my terms sufficiently?

But I do think that this idea is right. I do think I have things to learn from the Benedictines. I do think religion represents a fascinating picture of human nature in history. I do think that people are entirely material beings who must often behave as if they have a soul.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


Everyone seems resolutely set against resolutions. I am not. I love them; as my friend Deanna said yesterday, "And I am always waiting for natural spaces to start things or change things, so I relish the thought of a fresh new year." I am starting with a long list:

- learn to make my own happiness (because it is not Tim's job, and because circumstances will not always be peachy)
- complete one wearable sewn garment (hello brown paisley dress)
- master fair isle knitting (in order to make things such as this)
- remove makeup every night (this has never, ever been a habit--now that flossing is down, it's time)
- reach goal weight once and for all (140 pounds)
- pay back money owed Tim (so very close)
- pay off student loan (not so close)
- repair book cubes (damaged in the move last spring)
- further improve backyard (especially firepit, but also hope for fruit trees, removal of gravel, chopping of hoary huge evergreen)
- write something (anything) every day (this should be at the top of the list)
- learn more about math and computing (calculus, number theory, Python)
- publish in at least one magazine (which means submitting)
- give excellent presents (better than last year)
- apply for at least one "real" job (something outside the service industry, something challenging, something that utilizes my skills)
- properly repair bathroom ceiling and baseboards (and begin to learn about renovating a house)
- play the violin again (Vivaldi's "Winter")
- learn more about baking bread (to begin: read the lovely book Laura got me for Christmas)
- get a tattoo (at last at last)
- put more of myself into relationships (especially that relationship with one Tim Put)
- use my nice things (and remember that I have many)
- make and repair more, and buy better and less (I need a darning egg)

Because, like all resolutions, they are mostly long-term, requiring sustained effort and the taking of many small steps, I am planning to recap on progress made at the end of every month this year. If 2012 lacked anything, it was pause. This year, I must have appointments to halt, think about what has happened and what should happen next. Who I am. What I want. What is right. Hopefully, you won't mind if I do some of my ruminating in this space. Thanks, ever so much, all of you, for listening and responding to my rambling. Happy New Year!