Tuesday, December 30, 2008

UFO

Ok, I have one measly UFO story that took place in none other than Parker City, Indiana, the capital of my negative, paranormal experiences. This experience was not negative, and it probably wasn't even paranormal. However, the object my mom and I saw is as yet unidentified, and I have yet to hear a similar description in any known aircraft sighting OR any UFO sighting.

We saw it over the tree in our front yard one night. It was silent, not too terribly high up (I can't judge distance specifically), and appeared to be floating somewhat aimlessly. It was a glowing square. To this day, my mom describes it as looking like a paper bag with a candle in it. But the paper bag imagery throws me off because there was nothing thin or papery looking about. It was definitely square, but solid, and had a light source inside it. We got in the car and followed it down the highway until it disappeared. As it grew more distant, all that was visible was its light, so that now it looked like nothing but a glowing ball in the sky.

That was all. I suspect it was something man-made that was unidentifiable to the untrained eye.

Missing Memory

This is kind of an embarrassing story, and probably nothing more than a memory retrieval issue, but it was just so odd I want to include it in my paranormal accounts.

This took place in my early twenties when I was working at a day care. It was right after naptime, and I was sent to retrieve 2 children from the naproom and deliver them to a classroom downstairs. I went to the naproom, helped the kids get their shoes on, then left the naproom with them following.

Suddenly I was in the ladies' bathroom downstairs, washing my hands. I thought to myself, "Wait, where are the kids? What did I do with them while going to the bathroom? Did I have them wait for me in the hall?" In a panic, I rushed into the hallway. There were no children.

I hurried to the classroom where I was originally supposed to have delivered them, and there they were, safe and sound. Their teacher saw me approach, and I asked her, "Did I bring them here?"

"Yes," she said.

I stared her a moment, trying to gather my thoughts. "Did I say anything?" I asked.

She looked concerned. "Well, you just looked kind of spaced out."

There was nothing more to be said. I don't recall now if I admitted to her that I had no recollection of my actions. I tried from that moment on to reconstruct my steps from the upstairs naproom to the downstairs woman's bathroom, but was never able to remember the steps inbetween.

A psychologist friend of mine once told me that he didn't think I had actually disassociated during the time in question, because I had carried out my duties. I had to have been aware of what I was doing to do so. He thinks I had a memory retrieval problem. Whatever it was, it was very odd and I'm glad to say it hasn't been repeated since (that I remember - lol).

Many people over the years have compared this story to the common experience of driving somewhere and having no recollection of the drive upon arrival. I think that is something entirely different. Most of us go on "autopilot" when we drive, and have the luxury of thinking of other things, daydreaming, listening to music, etc. But to have just 2-3 minutes of blank when you are at work carrying out a specific errand -- with children involved, no less -- that, in my opnion, cannot be compared to the all too common driving experience.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Pointless Psychic Moments

I say pointless because when most people have premonitions, they are meaningful in some way or other. They convey important messages or warnings. My friend Jamie, who is a fellow lover of all things unexplained, has twice been the subject of my three very pointless, recent psychic moments.

First story: This was last summer. I was getting ready to go walk with Jamie. I've always thought Jamie is pretty cool and I guess somewhere in the back of my mind, I'm always worried I'll make an ass of myself somehow and she'll think I'm not cool. That's the only explanation I have for this sudden scenario that flashed through my head of my accidentally driving my truck into Jamie's garage door, busting it to smithereens, and forever ruining our friendship. Well, minutes after this heart-stopping scenario rushed through my mind, my phone rang. It was Jamie. She was upset because her garage door had just broken and she couldn't get it closed. She was going to have to cancel our walk because she didn't want to leave the house with the door wide open.

Second Story: Last spring, I had a dream one night that Jamie bought a flux capacitor. That's the device that enabled Marty McFly to travel back in time in Back to the Future. I woke up amused and emailed Jamie about my dream. She emailed me flipping out: the very night before, while at the school play rehearsal, Jamie had joked with some of the students that the rehearsal was going too slow and they needed to buy a flux capacitor. I had no way of knowing about that, as I wasn't at the rehearsal. Furthermore, neither Jamie nor I have ever discussed a flux capacitor nor, to our recollection, even mentioned the device since the movie was in theaters.

Third story: This past fall, I dreamed that Jamie had a whole room in her house of nothing but church pews. In another room, she had so many easy chairs that it looked like a furniture store. There was also some sort of party going on at her house with sand -- a beach theme or something. The next day I (amused, of course) told her of my dream. She kind of rolled her eyes and mentioned all the family she had had to take in the night before due to the hurricane. She had put up more people than her house can hold. I found it interesting that I had dreamed she had had so many seats in her house (when only she, her husband, and her baby live there), unaware that she had actually had to take in about enough people to fill those seats!

So that's the extent of my recent psychic experiences. Pretty benign.

Housesitting Haunting

This happened in Huntington, WV when I was 26. I lived for a brief time by myself in my Uncle Gavin's house, a lovely, contemporary, 2-level home. My uncle's neighbor Michael asked me to housesit for him for one week while he vacationed in Florida. He paid me 200 dollars up front to sleep over there and to keep his 37 plants watered. (I counted.)

Michael's house was larger and old, as are many of the houses in Huntington. I was a little spooked at having to enter through the backway only every night, as it required climbing up the deck stairs first. That's why it greatly disappointed me when the deck light burnt out the first night I stayed there. But I'm a big girl and I just resigned myself to entering in the dark. I was annoyed either that day or the next when the light over the kitchen sink also burnt out, but old house wiring sucks like that sometimes.

The next evening, I came home and had just gotten seated in the living room, which faces the kitchen, when I noticed a kitchen cabinet was wide open. I didn't use the kitchen, at least not that part of it. I only used the kitchen for the same reason I use any kitchen -- to make coffee. And that cabinet was nowhere near the coffee. I knew that cabinet had been shut earlier. I shut the cabinet and tested to see how firmly it stayed shut. Very firmly. It was not the type to swing open for any reason, and if it wasn't latched, it would not appear shut at all. But OK, whatever, there must be some explanation.

The next evening, I came home to find the cabinet at the hutch at the top of the stairs was wide open. Again, this cabinet had been closed previously. I shut it, of course, and was wondering what was going on.

That night, I was pretty spooked, so I decided to sleep in the living room instead of the bedroom. (Not sure why this felt safer, other than the fact that it was closer to the exit.) I turned the overhead living room light on and dimmed it so that I could sleep, but would still have light. I went to sleep and awoke 45 or so minutes later. When I opened my eyes, the light was completely out. The room was dark. I lay there frozen in fear (not paranormally-induced paralysis, but just plain "I'm too freaking scared to move" fear) for maybe 20 minutes. Finally, I forced myself off the couch and over to the dimmer switch. I turned the switch, and the light came back on. It had simply been turned down.

I wasn't such a big girl that night. I went home and slept. I persuaded a friend to stay over for the remainder of my time there, and there were no more strange occurrences. When Michael got home from vacation, I told him of the strange activity and he said that nothing like that had ever happened to him there -- no opening cabinets or lights being turned down. All I can assume is that the ghost or whatever did not like me there.

An accidental invocation

Yet another dark story from the dark little town of Parker City, Indiana. I was about 16. My best friend Lana, at that time 19, had seen a light in her parent's room one night. It was a supernatural light that occasionally appeared when she needed comfort. Her parents room, oddly enough, had no windows, and this light appeared to Lana in the dark. My friend Toby and I showed up for an impromptu visit, and Lana excitedly told us this light had appeared. We decided we would try to get it reappear, and that the best way to do this would be to hold a little sort of worship service and create a holy atmosphere. So we all three gathered in the bedroom, shutting the door and turning off all the lights so that we were in complete and utter blackness. That way, if and when the light appeared, we would know for sure that's what it was.

We began singing hymns and praying, earnestly endeavoring to draw this light back. It never showed up, but at one point I saw the most interesting thing: this black figure (amazingly enough black on black, since the room was already black) with wings right in front of me. I saw the wings slowly dip down and rise again, and I saw a head with sort of a ... maybe a gargoyle type snout turn to the side. I honestly thought it was imagination, and I said nothing. I wasn't even scared because Toby and Lana were right there with me. We were all huddled on the bed. Finally, we all got bored and quit the service. We decided to go somewhere (out to eat or something) and as we exited the doorway, either Toby or Lana suddenly said, "Did anybody see like a black winged creature..?" And the two of us exclaimed yes, we had, and then somebody else (not me) said, "Did it have like a long, beak-like snout?" We all agreed that is what it had looked like. So, apparently, what I had seen was real. And that is how I learned not to try summoning things, because you don't know what will show up.

Dog alerts me to some unseen evil

This took place in Parker City, Indiana, but not in the spooky house. My parents were out of town for a couple nights, and I was sleeping in their room with the family dog, Caity. (There wasn't room for her in my twin bed.) In the middle of the night, Caity woke me up barking and snarling ferociously, as she would always do -- much to our mortification -- when visiters would come. She was going ballistic, as usual, and at first I thought she had heard someone in the house, at the door or something. But then I realized she was standing by the bed, looking up into the air over my parents' chest of drawers. I knew instantly, innately, there was something dark there. I lay there in fear, unable to even pray. To pray would be to acknowledge there was something to pray about, and I refused to acknowledge that there really was something in the room. I ordered Caity to get back in bed and be quiet. She reluctantly complied, but was still furiously growling. She continued this until I finally worked up the nerve to say, "Plead the blood." (Pleading the blood -- calling on the power of the blood of Christ.) The minute I said it, Caity went dead silent. Her whole demeanor became peaceful. She then began looking, calmly, from the foot of the bed to the side of the bed, back and forth, back and forth, and I knew angels had come to my defense. I was, however, still too scared and still somewhat in denial. I wanted nothing in the room, not demons, not angels, nothing but me and Caity. I kept pushing her head down, but she would always lift it back up and continue staring peacefully from the edge to the foot of the bed. I lay uncomfortably for probably 30 minutes before I was able to fall back to sleep. That was the only negative experience I had in that house.

Invisible Hand

This took place in Cincinatti, Ohio at a Waiting upon God, a sort of three day church fest that the church organization I was involved in held about once a year. Again, I was around 14, and I was eating lunch with my best friend, my boyfriend, and my boyfriend's sister. We were sitting at a booth, and I was on the edge with my boyfriend to my left. My best friend and my boyfriend's sister were across from us. As I took a bite of soup, I felt a finger rest heavily on my shoulder. Assuming it was my boyfriend, I simply tried to shrug it off so I could eat in peace. It wouldn't budge and I continued shrugging in annoyance, only to look up and find everyone staring at me. It was then I saw that my boyfriend wasn't touching me. I slowly turned to see what was on my shoulder, and just as I established there was nothing there, an electrical surge shot into my shoulder, jolting me. I lurched forward with the impact. (Of course, by now I was really getting some odd stares.) I never knew what it was. I confided the experience to one of the more deeply spiritual ministers at the gathering, and he prayed for a few minutes, then said that God's hand had been on me and wanted me to do His will.

A similar but less poignant experience took place a year later when I was living in West Virginia with my godmother. I was rearranging my bedroom -- as I did about every two weeks -- and I stepped back into a corner to assess my work. As I did, something draped over the top of my head. It felt like a web or sheet of some sort. In a panic, I reached up to feel for what it was, and there was nothing. I looked for signs of a spider web or anything, but never found anything at all.

Evil, unseen presence

I am long overdue to journal the paranormal experiences I have had, and as few as they are, it's really not a tall order.

I want to start with the most terrifying experience, as it has always stood out among the other memories. I was 14, and we had just rented a house in Parker City, Indiana. (Incidentally, Parker City was darkest feeling place I've ever lived and all my negative paranormal experiences took place there.) There was something wrong with this house; I was always scared. At the time, however, I didn't have the knowledge to pray over or bless the house.

One night I had just gotten in bed, and lay awake waiting for sleep to come. Unlike some people, it has always taken me a good 20 minutes to go to sleep and I have never been able to drop off without realizing it. So I was wide awake and suddenly I became afraid. Although I couldn't see it, I felt there was something at the foot of my bed. As I considered this, my fear grew to an unprecedented level, growing still until it felt like something physical that enveloped me and coursed through me. I became literally paralyzed -- not "too scared to move," but literally physically, paralyzed -- and I felt completely weightless. My memory is that my vision went dark or entered some fuzziness; I could see nothing. All I know for sure is that I was in some other state in which it seemed sheer horror had manifested itself as an entity that physically possessed me. After what was probably a few seconds of this feeling, in which I lay in a state of terror and paralysis, the feeling left. I felt my weight again, I could move again, and I bolted out of my room. I crashed in my parent's room for the rest of night.

In discussing these things with my parents, I learned that they too had felt uneasy in the house. A couple that had visited one week reported something bumping against the bed in the night. We never knew what was wrong with the house, and fortunately, we did not stay there long.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Tarantula

This tarantula paid us a visit one evening on the back porch. He walked right up to Richie, then hid under the umbrella for a short nap, or meditation, or whatever he was doing. I was so excited to see a real tarantula that I took pictures. (Growing up in the east, you only see tarantulas in display cases at fairs and things.)

Japanese Beetle

This pretty little guy was on the porch on his back, and by all appearances dead (curled legs). I touched him and his legs uncurled, but he needed help turning over. I could tell he had been there for a long time and would probably have died soon if I hadn't found him. I turned him over and gave him some water, and he drank and drank, and finally left.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Gone too soon




This beautiful vulture showed up on our back porch last Saturday. It had an injured wing, and I called everyone I knew for help, including the game warden, who turned out to be out of town. Fortunately, my priest, an expert falconer, was willing to come help. He said to feed the bird some raw meat, and try to capture it. We were unable to capture it, but it enjoyed the raw chicken I gave it, and drank more water than I thought its stomach could possibly have held. My priest finally came and easily caught it, even avoiding the vomit the bird spewed in defense -- twice! He took it to Last Chance Forever, an organization in San Antonio that rescues and rehabilitates birds of prey. A few days later, I called to check on the bird's status, and it turns out he had had to be put down. The vet said there was too much dead bone and it had protruded through the skin. Federal law requires that if you cannot return it to the wild, it must be put down. They said it was an old injury, and the bird had been going hungry for awhile as it had insects in its belly. I just felt sick. I wished I hadn't called anyone, but continued to feed and water it for the rest of its life. However, my husband said it might have died from gangrene, and so I'm glad we saved it from a slow death. I was also comforted that it had eaten a lot of rabbit the night before my priest had taken it to LCF. The bitterness of not being able to save the vulture was softened by the knowledge that it knew mercy and a good meal before it went to God.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Digger


While driving to town recently, I saw this delightful sight out my window. I hope the driver wouldn't mind, but it brought a smile to my face and I sneaked a picture at the stoplight. Digger sat up for the occasion, but preferred to lie low when moving at normal speed.

Charleston


I was just looking out at the cement plant across the field from our beautiful view, and noticing how lovely it glows in the darkness. It is white with a light on top and the area around it is illuminated. And it is set so prettily in its green field among the trees it made me think of my month in Charleston -- that cluster of mountains and steel buildings, bridges and lights, all set on the river, co-existing like radically different siblings that somehow all fit in the family. I remember driving the interstate every morning as the early morning fog was still rising from the valleys, and the sun was peeking over the hills. It was so beautiful. I had my coffee and would listen to U2s "Arms Around the World."


I remember visiting the riverside a few times, a beauty I didn't fully appreciate until I moved to Huntington where they had walled off the river. I remember, of course, excursions to Taylor books downtown, one of the many crowded shops set on cobblestone, where Nathan and I would sit over tea or wine amid the books and clustered mismatched couches and chairs.


I remember working at the capitol building with Frances and the other girls in the Vital Statistics office. Brenda is the only other name I remember. But there was the serious, spiritual black lady, and the smoker, who always liked to me to go out with her while she smoked. Frances and I hit it off with everyone so well that when our one month as temps was up, they all threw us a going-away party. Good grief. We photo-copied our faces on the Xerox machine and exchanged addresses. And I, regretfully, lost hers and have never been able to find her since.


It's funny how the best memories, like this one, are often of a time when I wasn't really being productive, I wasn't working on a long-term goal. I was working a mindless, low-paying job and simply trying to stretch the time as thin as possible before I returned to Kentucky. I never suspected that brief month would be one I would look back on so fondly. I just wish I had savored Charleston a little more, because it would be years after I left that I would look back and realize how beautiful it all was.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Click Beetle





This little guy was crawling on my back porch this morning. He is a "click beetle", a beetle that makes a loud clicking noise by snapping its back. I researched click bugs and found that he is unusually large. The post-it note in the second pic is a standard sized post-it. So this bug was just a little shorter than my index finger.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Lit. Reviews from Amazon

pop fiction reviews

My faith

Because I have chosen to tackle some controversial and theological issues, and because I have approached each one from a Biblical perspective, I now want to address the issue of my faith itself. I realize that many people might find it terribly simple-minded to start with a premise of faith and draw my conclusions from that, rather than approaching everything objectively and "intellectually." Well, I will first state that I find a godless perspective no more intellectual than a God-centered perspective. But that's another blog, for a day when I feel like delving into it. Suffice it to say that I have given much thought to deep issues since I was a child. My earliest memory of struggling with unanswerable questions goes back to the dinner table when I asked my dad where the evil within Satan came from if God, being entirely good, had created him. Dad explained that anything contrary to God was evil, and I asked why, etc.

It has been the experience of my heart -- as much or more than my mind -- that has "answered" some of these questions for me. I have felt the love and presence of God -- most strongly, in fact, right after my agnostic phase -- and realized He is utterly, inexplicably loving and perfect, and it makes perfect sense now how anything in opposition to Him is evil. He is not a bully, he is just love and law, and havoc and judgement are a natural result of opposing him, and they are what necessitated Christ. That almost makes God sound helpless against his own power...but again, there is another elusive issue.

It is to my agnostic phase that I wish to point: I have been through, and continue to go through, those tough questions, that ones that have no real answer, the ones which drive people away from faith to atheism or agnosticism. As with other schools of thought I do not adhere to, I completely understand how people do. I completely understand the tendency to swear off faith, to scoff at the seemingly non-intellectual faith-based mentality.

Bottom line: I have chosen faith, but not after weighing the evidence for and against it, and experiencing, for a time, life without it. I have many stories, incredible stories of miracles, spiritual manifestations, all those "signs and wonders" that I could use as evidence of God, but in the end, it's always a choice. We humans have the uncanny ability -- even tendency -- to split our head open on a rock and still deny the rock's existence. So my stories really don't matter. Faith is a choice and that is what I have chosen.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Ghosts

I believe in them. I hesitate to talk to many Christians about them because so many Christians dismiss them as demonic. However, there is no Biblical basis (that I know of) for that theory. Here is a passage from Luke 24: “While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.’ When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet.” Scott Maruna, who wrote the article found on the link below, makes such an excellent argument for ghosts from a Christian perspective that I cannot add much more to it. http://www.occult.be/modules.php?name=News&file=print&sid=30 (Link is now dead -- sorry.) One thing he points out is that Jesus would not "waste words" talking about what a ghost does or does not have if they didn't exist. It would be like telling a kid not to worry because "the boogieman does not have sharp claws."

Ghosts do not have to be incompatible with Heaven and Hell. We know so little of what happens in the afterlife, especially immediately after death. And it is likely different for different people. Regardless even of my spiritual beliefs, the evidence for ghosts cannot all be explained away as hallucinations OR demonic activity. I believe the spirit world is every bit as complex as this world, and to give any one phenomenon a blanket answer is to assert a knowledge that a being of this world cannot possess.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Rumors and Hate

I found out this week that news reporters will report any story told to them, will report it as truth, and the American public will instantly react with entirely unfounded hatred. The school I teach at and my school principal has been attacked this week for an incident inaccurately reported -- that is, with vital information omitted -- and unable to be clarified due to the school's legal obligation to keep silent on student matters. I am astounded at the hatred coming from people who don't even know the first thing about our school and our principal, and who don't even know the real story. The bias of the news report is disheartening, the reaction of the public is staggering, and it is infuriating to know the real story and be unable to say anything while hate pours through our email, phone lines, fax machines, and even Internet blogs and public forums. There have even been threats. It has made me realize how dangerous a thing judgementalism is, especially the kind based purely one one person's word.

I have been guilty of believing rumors, but this situation has shown me the consequences of such gullibility. May God keep me from ever treating people, from ever speaking of people, as the public has of my principal because they choose to believe whatever they hear.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Man and Beast

This morning after praying a long time for my rat Art Bell -- who temporarily went into minor respiratory distress -- I went to sleep focusing on the belief that God would take care of him. One of my biggest challenges is "letting go" and believing that God will answer prayer, which, in this case, was to take care of Art Bell so I could sleep. It's a very good practice in faith and in not being a control freak.

When I awoke, I checked him to find he was better, then I went to have devotions. I have been reading a Psalm a day lately, and as I picked up my BCP, I wondered if the Psalm I was on today might encourage me with the current situation. Well, there was a verse that said "You save both man and beast." I was struck by how out of the blue the verse was, too. Most of the Psalm is about defeating enemies. Anyway, I am thankful for how God spoke to me, how he has been close to me in my struggles. I am thankful FOR the struggles. When I actually do the right thing and pray about them, it always draws me closer to God than I was before. I have been in daily contact with God since my trip to NM, when I thought all week I was losing Art Bell. In the end, it's not so much about losing or not losing Art Bell. It's about sticking close to God -- whatever situation he uses to remind me of that.

Another struggle I'm now thankful for was last week: I had a terrible conference with a parent who would not believe me when I said her son was disrespectful. I don't even want to go into that, but it was the type of conference that I could have really obsessed over for awhile. And I did, the following evening. But I prayed repeatedly that God would give me peace of mind over it, and I tried (repeatedly) to give it to Him. In the past, when I've difficulty with students, I have prayed twice for God to vindicate me (that's rare, but there is a time for it) and in both cases, the results were amazing. This time, though, I didn't feel led to pray that way, but I felt led to pray for my peace of mind. I wanted the parents to see it my way, of course, but that wasn't what I was to emphasize. So, like I said, I prayed for peace of mind. The very next day, I realized halfway through the day that the situation hadn't bothered me once. It felt like it had taken place a month ago instead of the day before. That is SO unusual for me, and I knew it was an answer to prayer. And maybe the best on yet, since it helped me grow in an area I'm so often deficient.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

A mixed bag

I am finally to the point where I can write. It has been one of the worst weeks with some of the best moments. It started two weeks ago when Richie and I cancelled plans for New Orleans and decided to come to New Mexico instead. He was scheduled to be here anyway for a couple days on TDY (temporary duty – military for ‘business trip’) and I had reconnected via the Net with an old high school friend who happens to live here. Also, we felt freer to bring Art Bell here than to New Orleans, and as he is so high maintenance in his old age, I felt better having him with me than leaving him with a friend. Lastly, I had never felt “clear” on the New Orleans trip, and it felt more right to come here. I was, therefore, unpleasantly surprised at the battles we were in for.
The small, annoying stuff started as soon as we reached our first hotel. At first glance, it was awesome: full kitchen, awesome lobby with a fireplace and delicious breakfast and coffee 24, hours a day. Problem 1: our reservation has been cancelled due to a mistake on the part of Richie’s travel agent. Fortunately, we get it back. Problem 2: Our toilet won’t flush. At all. Not even on the first try. They send a guy with a plunger. He gets it to flush. Problem 3: Once the guy with the plunger is out of sight, the toilet quits flushing again. They send another guy with a plunger. He gets it to flush. Problem 4: Toilet won’t flush again. (A cleaning lady I ran into later mentioned that they’d had that problem with our toilet before we arrived, and she was surprised they’d rented out that room. Figures.) They send a guy with a plumbing snake the next day. Ahh..finally, it is fixed. I stand and watch him flush it a couple times. He leaves. Problem 5: Toilet quits flushing again. So we switch rooms. And I have asked none too early because they have only three more available by now. By this time (which was the morning after we’d checked in) it is evident to me that Art Bell is not taking well to this trip. He is unduly stressed, and with his health already fragile, I know this isn’t good. And now I’m stressed, and now I have to stress him even more by switching rooms, thus bombarding him with even more new smells and sounds and whatever his animal radar picks up on.
Our new room is a handicap room, complete with low light switches and a big shower – no tub – with a pull down seat. The bathroom has almost no counter space (unlike the massive counter in our other bathroom) and the kitchen is smaller. But that’s all OK, until I go to open the silverware drawer and can’t GET it open because there is no handle and with the countertop directly on top of the drawer, there is no room to squeeze your finger into. I pull on the side and finally get it open…then when I shut it, my finger gets smashed between the first and second drawer. Thus my first temper flare.
My second came after my first shower, when I stepped out to find the entire bathroom floor flooded. If you’ve ever seen a handicap shower, you know it is a flat entrance from the floor to the shower, but there is supposed to be enough room or enough slope to prevent flooding. When the cleaning lady comes to clean, she mentions that ours is the only room that does that. Again...figures.
We awake the next morning to a notice on our door about our check-out. Problem is, we aren’t scheduled to check out that day, but the next. We take care of this with the front desk. Richie goes to work, and I hang out in the room with a book and coffee and an increasingly declining Art Bell. I’m feeling pretty crappy myself, winded and tired from the high altitude, and of course, stressed. Soon, a man knocks on my door. He is there to clean my room once I have checked out. I tell him we aren’t checking out today, but we still need it clean, and I ask if it is OK if I remain in the room while it is cleaned. “Oh, no check out today.” He says. I ask again, slowly, if I can still have the room cleaned while I am in it. He backs away. “No check out today.” He leaves. I call the front desk to request that our room be cleaned, as we are not checking out today. They assure me that we aren’t scheduled to check out till tomorrow. (ggrrrrr.)
I go once to the lobby for some snacks. When I return, my key won’t work. I go back to the lobby to find out that our key has been deactivated, since this is our check-out day. The guy then acknowledges that we have “extended” our check out day. I half-heartedly try to explain that we weren’t originally suppose to check out until the next day anyway, but I don’t think he hears me, and I trail off at the futility of it all
I think it was on my way back to the room that I began praying. It went something like: “God, I know I have a lot to be thankful for, and these aren’t big things, but… could you maybe let things go a little more smoothly…” Honestly, the little things were only compounding the stress I was feeling over Art Bell, dealing with my altitude sickness, and trying to balance it all with being a good companion to my husband.
Thank God for science fiction and fiction in general, because they make life bearable for me at times like this. Richie and I rented Star Trek: First Contact that night. We made a couple other stops on the way, one being Staples, and I asked to borrow a pen to write in my check ledger. The guy handed me a plastic, push-top ballpoint. I pushed the top, and it wouldn’t budge. I pushed it again. On the 3rd push, which was much harder, the point of the pen suddenly popped out far beyond its standard length, indicating a broken spring. This wasn’t a big deal, as I could still write with it, but I guess it was the culmination of the irritating things that had been plaguing our week. I started laughing, then straightened up, then laughed, then straightened, up, and this cycle continued while Richie stood laughing politely with me – having no clue what was so funny, and the clerk didn’t bother to ask.
I was so exhausted by the time we reached the room that I made a cup of black tea to get through the movie. Very, very bad idea. Not only was the caffeine coursing through my body by the time we went to bed, but I discovered the Art Bell was so much worse he was possibly dying. I lay in bed all night in a state of intense grief and anxiety, sweating and praying. It was probably the worst night I’ve ever had.
The next day we checked out (for real!!) and set course for Santa Fe where I was to meet an old friend from high school and her husband. I cried and worried over Art Bell – obviously on the downslope -- all morning, while at the same time fretting over potentially ruining mine and Richie’s vacation – yet being unable to help how I felt – and on and on my thoughts and emotions whirled. We met up with my friend Jeanette and her husband Torsten (German) and had a really special time. They took us to an gourmet pizza place, then showed us around the plaza. We got to see the chapel with the miraculous staircase, and later visited a chapel purported to have dirt with healing powers. (I had asked Richie if we could go and take Art Bell.) My friend and her husband were immediate kindred spirits: supporting me, my sudden superstition, and my ailing rat, acting as though they’d known and loved me in all my weirdness for years. Jeanette and I soon found out we had even more in common than we had remembered in high school, including the same faith in God as well as the same sense of humor.
Art Bell didn’t seem to respond to the dirt, but I was more than touched when Jeanette placed some on him herself, and Torston later bent down nose to nose to talk to Art Bell. By the time we left the chapel, the combination of friendship, faith, the scent of the beeswax candles and the reverent atmosphere had brought me a peace I hadn’t felt in a long time. I purchase a candle and a rosary just to commemorate the time there.
Richie and I said our goodbyes and drove on to Red River where we had reservations at a Bed and Breakfast. We snuck Art Bell up to our room, and by this time, my turmoil and depression was back in full swing. Somehow, the Victorian d├ęcor of the room we were in intensified my grief. It was all so cold and strange. I burst into tears, wondering how things could have taken such a miserable turn. I lay for a long time stroking Art Bell – who now hadn’t taken a thing to eat or drink all day and appeared to be already dying. Richie stroked him, too. After a long time, I straightened up long enough to have a beer with Richie and look at my new Star Trek encyclopedia. We examined the different Enterprise models and the variation of uniforms over the seasons. He showed me a Borg that would actually become an endearing character on an episode I hadn’t seen yet. It was nice for a few minutes.
But, miserably exhausted, I was ready for bed by 8:00. I slept with Art Bell’s open cage by me all night, and every so often would wake up to find him in a panic of pain or discomfort – not sure which, maybe both – and would pet him to assure him I was there. My experience with rats has taught me that they always want you there. Most of my rats have waited for me to come home to hold them before they die.
The next morning I felt just as exhausted and just as depressed. I knew I couldn’t go skiing, and I was pretty sure Art Bell would be passing today or tomorrow. I did make myself go downstairs to have breakfast and coffee with Richie. During coffee, my brother called me to inquire about Art Bell. Talking to him for a little bit unburdened me in an unexpected way, and his sympathy and concern went a longer way than I’m sure he realized. I actually felt better. During breakfast, Richie and I got to know the innkeeper and his wife, Evie and Chris, a young and incredibly delightful couple. She is from (maybe) Germany – and he is from England. It turns out they are fellow conservatives (a rare thing here where the roadside is full of angry war protestors). The lady is also an animal lover and will not watch the news for the very same reasons I won’t – primarily to avoid the animal abuse stories. Having such a specific thing in common was amazing. The appetite I did NOT have upon waking now allowed me to put down an entire breakfast burrito. The conversation took me away from my grief, as interaction with people usually does.
When I returned to my room, which suddenly seemed warm and inviting, I contemplated the ways in which God had ministered to me this week: through Jeannette and Torston, Evie and Chris, and my brother. My friend Jillian, who had prayed with me yesterday morning over the phone, had prayed that somewhere in my day Jesus would allow me to see him in something. I think that has happened three times now.
I wanted to take this time to record everything. Art Bell is still the same, lying next to me in his cage, but I feel strengthened and supported. I plan to get a shower and go out with Richie for dinner. God knows I only want two things right now: for Art Bell to pass in my arms and not to suffer. So I have to have faith that God will take care of him when I am not with him.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Review of Naomi Shihab Nye's 19 Varieties of Gazelle

19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East
Shortly into my reading of Naomi Shihab Nye's 19 Varieties of Gazelle, I was distracted by a sudden, severe wind outside that came with no warning and sent me scrambling for the basement. Ten minutes and a power outage later, the wind had died, leaving only a gentle fall of rain and several stunned people surveying the neighborhood damage. The only damage to my yard was the toppling of my privacy fence. Later, when I resumed my reading, I kept a wary eye on the window, somehow superstitiously convinced that the poems would usher in another wind. I turned a page, and my eyes froze on the first line of "Prayer in my Boot," which read, "For the wind no one expected."

It took me till the end of the book to realize there was not going to be another wind; the "fence" of suspicion and mistrust had fallen, and that is all Nye is aiming for. She achieves this without a violent wind. Granted, there is a force behind her voice, a zealous desire for peace, as might be expected in someone familiar with Middle East bloodshed. But she does not stand on a soapbox and shout slogans. Her voice is a calm one, both sad and optimistic, disapproving and gentle. She peels away the politics and places on maps, and gives us a Palestine in the form of coffee, almonds, figs, fruit, and tea with mint. These small bites feed us a meal of humanity more filling than protest and political platform. Nameless are many of the people in her poems -- fittingly so, for they become, as in "Olive Jar," our friends and family -- our fathers' "preference for shoes" and our grandmothers' "love for sweaters."

This edition of 19 Varieties of Gazelle was printed after the World Trade Center attacks of September 11, 2001. Nye's concern for the reputation of her people is evident in the glimpses she offers of everyday Palestinian life, an everyday life that involves both tragedy and life-savoring simplicity. It is the combination of the two that burns into our mind haunting images such as the little girl killed by the gun "which did not know [she] wanted to be a doctor."

While such scenes are effective in their disturbance, the hidden strength of these poems lies largely in the minor details. As Nye states in her introduction, "Through the immense grief in the wake of [9-11], we grasped on to the details to stay afloat. For some reason, I kept remembering a gentle Egyptian basket-seller on the streets of Cairo, and an elegant Arab man, an expert on brocade in the Old city of Jerusalem, who gave us twice the amount of cloth we paid for." Through her poems we learn that these details keep us rooted in the seemingly insignificant things that make us human.

These snapshots of humanity appear repeatedly in the cultural code of Arab hospitality. The first stanza of "Red Brocade" sums up this theme:

The Arabs used to say,
When a stranger appears at your door,
feed him for three days
before asking who he is
wher he's come from
where he's headed.
That way, he'll have strength
enough to answer.
Or, by then you'll be
such good friends
you don't care.
One cannot help but feel Nye is speaking for herself when the poem concludes: I refuse to be claimed. / Your plate is waiting. / we will snip fresh mint / into your tea. Nye, as server, wishes the reader to be a sort of blank slate, or better yet, a guest with an empty stomach. She wishes the reader to lay aside all preconceived ideas and let the host serve fresh mint -- new ideas, refreshing truths about the Arab culture. In the poem "19 Varieties of Gazelle," she writes that the gazelle "soared like history above an empty page." Nye, distrusting written history, desires to erase old ideas and begin anew.

Nye's final poem titled "Postscript" gives a cynical commentary on the tendency of the press to pervert spoken words. "Write it down," she concludes, "Always write it down. / Say it slowly. Say it / the way you learned words. Say it / as if the words count." She makes certain that she is heard; she makes certain that the reader will understand her, will leave her table feeling full.

Review of The Monarchs: A Poem Sequence by Alison Hawthorne Deming

The Monarchs: A Poem SequenceAlthough the world of poetry certainly has more than its share of nature-praising verse, Alison Hawthorne Deming has thrown another log on the fire with her poetry sequence The Monarchs. A native of Connecticut who now lives in Arizona, she views the wild nature of the Southwest with the wisdom and appreciation of a former New England city liver.

So what does Deming offer as one more in a sea of nature lovers? Undoubtedly, one thing is what Scott Slovic calls Deming's "abiding fascination with natural science." The colorful imagery and unique metaphors of Deming's semi-scientific verse paint a more stirring picture than any emotional commentary could. In Writing the Sacred into the Real, Deming says, "What science-bashers fail to appreciate is that scientists, in their unflagging attraction to the unknown, love what they don't know. It guides and motivates their work; it keeps them up late at night; and it makes that work poetic."

Deming herself studies the human race in a similar way, approaching with compassion its mistakes and absurdities. While, on the one hand, the activities of people and the creatures of the natural world mirror one another, Deming's Nature sometimes chances by as a separate entity, transcending human struggles; like the Monarchs flying over the fearful townspeople in poem 4, Nature goes diligently about its business, oblivious to both our fear and fascination. A refreshing honesty underlies Deming's poetry: she is unwilling to glorify the elements of humanity that are popularly glorified, such as common perceptions of love, which she boldly declares a result of "misunderstandings" in poem 16.

Deming is not a cynic however. While she periodically equates love with untruth, she acknowledges in poem 23 that "to love is all there is / to separate us from tyrants, from the dark." Moreover, her sporadic references to dreaming make a gracious allowance for human frailty. From the would-be rapist in poem 2 to the child in poem 8 trying to dig to China, the human race engages in moments of absurd dreaming. Our dreams make us as precious or pitiable as the Monarch babies of poem 9 that "awake in a little park / surrounded by ruined cities, / not a doubt in their minuscule / minds that blooming fields await them."

The Monarchs is a contemplative study of the human race and the natural world of which it is both apart and separate. Through thought provoking insights and colorful imagery, readers of this volume will agree that Deming has met her own challenge to "make a thing out of this chaos, a thing / that will last."

Saturday, February 2, 2008

I’m SICK of non-English speaking CSRs!!!

I have traveled many places and have met many people. I am fairly good at understanding accents. I am also OK with the fact that not everyone speaks English, and I believe we in the U.S. should become fluent in a second language, like they do in Europe. (Teach it from the time kids are small.) But I am NOT OK with the insane outsourcing we have done. Whenever I call a major corporation, I CANNOT understand a freaking word the CSRs are SAYING. And it's getting really irritating. I'm going to start refusing to speak to them. I'm going to start asking for an English speaking representative, and if they cannot provide one, then I will complain I could not receive service and cancel my account. I've HAD it with the faltering English. Whether people like it or not, English is still the American language and I want an English speaking rep. when I call an American corporation. It is time we required that anyone in a customer service position learn how to at least passably speak the language of the people they are SERVICING.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Rethinking the "gray" areas

While reading The Power of Healing by Francis MacNutt, I came across this quote by Dr. Paul Tournier: People who have the sort of mind that sees only one side to every question tend toward vigorous action. They succeed in everything they do because they do not stop to split hairs and have abounding confidence in their own abilities. your successful journalist, for instance, is inclined to simplify every problem and condense it into an arresting phrase. On the other hand, those with subtle and cultivated minds tend to get lost in a maze of fine distinction. They always see how complicated things really are, so that their powers of persuasion are nil. That is why the world is led by those who are least suited to raising its cultural and moral standards. It is only a very few who manage to combine both tendencies, and in my view a lively Christian faith is the best precondition for the accomplishment of this miracle, because it gives both profound understanding and simplicity of heart.

Following this quote, MacNutt goes on to discuss the "anti-intellectual bias" of which Pentecostals, in their simplification of healing doctrine, have been the victims. I have often been guilty of "anti-intellectual bias" (bias against anything that seems non-intellectual). However, life's experience has been teaching me that those who sacrifice absolutes on the altar of intellect, those who see ONLY the gray areas and scoff at the simple-minded concept of black and white, are ineffective as leaders and Christians. Quite frankly, their faith is unimpressive. Furthermore, they suffer from the arrogance they claim of their faith-preaching opponents. Is it not as arrogant and presumptuous to proclaim that there ARE no absolutes as it is to proclaim there are? At least the absolutes proclaimed by fundamentalists come from scripture; the gray areas proclaimed by "intellectuals" generally come from their own minds -- as if they are a higher authority. (I'm now speaking of some Christian intellectuals.) Isn't there more of a humility in accepting the blacks and whites given to us in scripture and leaving the complicated gray areas to God? In short, I am finding the intellectual and philosophical crowds to be as foolish looking, if not more so, than the fundamentalists from whom they distance themselves.