Dragging Out A Life: Review of “Possession” by A.S. Byatt

There was such a peace in deciding to bring our old blue, unloved blanket to a coffee shop for reading and hot beverages only. Just the giant book that asks for finishing, the teal knitted blanket, and a to-go cup of hot caramel cider. I can’t remember the last time I left notepads or blank printer pages for ideation at home. Nothing swirled in my head but the plot of Les Mis and necessary silence. The blanket felt luxurious and genuine.

The beach in L.A. sent my manic thoughts fleeing, as well. I was able to finish my other book for the year, Possession and compose a review for fun and remembrance. With autumn’s simplicity and paring down in preparation for winter, these words are offered for sharing and comfort. Let me know how the book spoke to you if you read it!

I recall being flattered by a well-read friend, advising that I might enjoy A.S. Byatt’s novel Possession for the poetry. I gleam at the thought of being connected with poetry. So I dove into it, excited by verse opening chapters, library descriptions, and likable Roland Michell. The plot felt snug introducing major characters like Professor Blackadder, Randolph Henry Ash, and Ash’s important work The Garden of Proserpina. Roland’s girlfriend Val offers palpable drama, but not enough to distract from his thieving secret correspondence between Ash and a mystery woman. As a wannabe librarian, I’ve fantasized over discovering scholarship-changing material, then quietly stealing it. Rapt attention.

Roland finds Maud Bailey, a cold and lovely feminist scholar who studies the poet Ash has possibly written to: Christabel LaMotte. Byatt then cleverly manuevers their joint research and developing companionship, seamlessly stitches in “The Glass Coffin” by Ash (a very enjoyable tale of an unattainable princess), and the visit to Sir George Bailey (owner of letters between the two Victorian poets) and his wife at their blissfully secluded estate. Byatt is talented with description:

“They went in behind Sir George, who waved his huge cone of light around the dark, cramped, circular space, illuminating a semi-circular bay window, a roof carved with veined arches and mock-medieval ivy-leaves, felt-textured with dust, a box-bed with curtains still hanging, showing a dull red under their pall of particles, a fantastically carved black wooden desk, covered with beading and scrolls, and bunches of grapes and pomegranates and lilies, something that might have been either a low chair or a prie-dieu [a piece of furniture used for kneeling in prayer], heaps of cloth, an old trunk, two band boxes, a sudden row of staring tiny white faces, one, two, three, propped against a pillow. Roland drew his breath in minor shock; Maud said, ‘Oh, the dolls‘– and Sir George brought his light back from a blank mirror entwined with gilded roses and focused it on the three rigid figures, semi-recumbent under a dusty counterpane, in a substantial if miniature fourposter bed.” (Byatt, 91)

The secrecy Roland and Maud share feels larger in this dark, mysterious mansion and we have the added bonus of a full-on literary detective story. Their exploration of family dolls and more letters is an enchanting scene, peppered by intelligent and flowing dialogue. This couple displays a down-to-earth brilliance, one that’s often hard to achieve in writing.
By now readers have detected the epistolary flirtation in Ash and LaMotte. Byatt then uses this opportunity to introduce Professor Cropper, personality-opposite of Roland. The latter is captivated by Ash’s work and humble in his studies, the former a pompous critic rolling in family money. Yet Cropper’s appreciation of and obsession with objects resonates, particularly for those who love these literature-based scavenger hunts. The “objets de vertu” (historical object, which doesn’t really translate in French and is tamer than intended in English) and “beautiful and strange things collected” lie in his hoped-for autobiographical draft, a humorous sketch. In terms of advancing story the professor asks Beatrice Nest, another researcher, to meet for lunch. Roland visits briefly before to prolong his own mounting interests in Ash and LaMotte, check messages, and endure an encounter with Val. That Byatt can create believable and rich poems beside fast-paced prose is also a feat.

Admittedly, I was a distracted reader from the quietly lustful end of Maud and Roland’s stay at the Bailey estate into the heady letters of our Victorian poets. Excellent language, but I dabbled in other works and lost momentum halfway through. I recommend taking less than a month to begin and finish. I gained more steam when Maud and Roland fled in more secrecy to Brittany, discovering letters from a cousin (Sabine) of Christabel LaMotte’s. The highlight of this passage is Sabine’s description of her village’s Toussaint celebration, a Halloween-type storytellling month when ghosts and memories collide. Okay, Ms. Byatt, I’m back. I’m rewarded by more pages of rapid, well-documented action.
Provoking questions pop up all over this work: When do the living dishonor the dead with their quest for information? What makes poetry desired? What creates desire? Can our origins ever let us escape such desire? There are signs pointing to various answers, usually hidden in lyrical metaphor and it’s fun to infiltrate. For example, the fictional LaMotte pens:

“Men may be martyred
Any where
In desert, cathedral
Or Public Square.
In no Rush of Action
This is our doom
To Drag a Long Life out
In a Dark Room…”

She longs for revelation past death, uses her words to highlight gender differences, is driven by curiosity, and won’t stop producing art even when she’s buried. This happens in spite of her living most of her life as a recluse. That her work shows that is testament to the author’s cunning.

The crowning jewel of everything shines in the following:

“There are readings–of the same text–that are dutiful, readings that map and dissect, readings that hear a rustling of unheard sounds, that count grey little pronouns for pleasure or instruction and for a time do not hear golden or apples. There are personal readings, which snatch for personal meanings, I am full of love, or disgust or fear, I scan for love, or disgust, or fear. There are–believe it–impersonal readings–where the mind’s eye sees the lines move onwards and the mind’s ear hears them sing and sing.
Now and then there are readings that make the hairs on the neck, the non-existent pelt, stand on end and tremble, when every word burns and shines hard and clear and infinite and exact, like stones of fire, like points of stars in the dark–readings when the knowledge that we shall know the writing differently or better or satisfactorily, runs ahead of any capacity to say what we know, or how. In these readings, a sense that the text has appeared to be wholly new, never before seen, is followed, almost immediately, by the sense that it was always there, that we the readers, knew it was always there, and have always known it was as it was, though we have now for the first time recognised, become fully cognisant of, our knowledge.” (Byatt, 511)

Another Russian-nesting-doll scene, a place where Byatt’s writing has finally become my knowledge, strikes to the heart. Continued evolution of characters’, a circled plot, and a beautiful butterfly-effect postscript that reads like a dark fairy-tale ensue. Along with Roland, I’m ready for poems and the Creator of them to fall like rain.

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Machine Ballet: Review of “Eureka Seven”


Fans of Pacific Rim, The Terminator series,  or Transformers may find an interest in mecha anime, if Japanese animation doesn’t frighten, deter, or just not stimulate their artist’s heart. To each his or her own. These movies’ common denominator is the involvement of fighting robots in a futuristic world. I never tried mecha and then discovered Eureka Seven. Giant robots were always less intersting than superheroines with magic wands, cyberpunks, ninjas or jazz-loving space bounty hunters. I knew a little of the Gundam series, Escaflowne, and Ghost in the Shell. But Eureka stands apart, wooing me to rapt viewership via Netflix marathons. Despite frequently crying children, the anime fulfilled four desirable criteria: likable characters, striking animation, humor, and a decent plot. As an introduction to this type of show (good summary here), Eureka provides a sweet and action-packed jumping-off point. Combining an endearing main character with strong story and belly laughs, Kokyo Shihen Eureka Seven (“Seven Psalms of Planets”) should be a staple for fans of any genre.

The black velvet curtains open. We have Renton Thurston, bowing beneath his gravity-fighting hairdo. He is eager, very young, curious, and not as brave as he wants to be. In the wake of Soul (Soul Eater), Usagi (Sailor Moon), and Vash the Stampede (Trigun), his adolescent charm/awkwardness gives way to dangerous, life-changing destiny. Eureka takes the stage next, delicate and pretty, the object of Renton’s enthusiastic schoolyard crush. She’s also shrouded in mystery and what viewers can perceive as alien, drawn uncannily pale, blue-haired and pink-eyed. Behind these two stand the remaining crew of rogue military spaceship, The Gekko State; rivals Anemone (Ah-nim-ah-nay), Dominique and Dewey; Renton’s cranky old grandfather; and the mechas Nirvash and The End. They all deserve a standing ovation, especially in the trio of final episodes “Ballet Mechanique,” “Shout to the Top!” and “Wish Upon A Star.” Renton is out to prove his self-worth and love for Eureka, and Eureka seeks the same.

Now that the players are set up, prepare for a few slow-moving episodes to introduce Renton’s background and his recruitment to Gekko State. This anime is set in a futuristic world away from earth, a place containing spaceships (also robots), “reffing” or riding particle waves like a surfer, and a militant police state much crueler than any government 2015 has seen. The history of Eureka Seven‘s humanity is patiently, skillfully told over the course of the series. Without spoiling much, non-human creatures harbor a secret that may destroy or ameliorate the entire universe.

One minor-turned-major detail was the appearance of Gekko State’s head pilot Talho (yes, Talho) changing to suit her emotional metamorphosis. She goes from desperate, scanty fanboy attire to strong, unique military gear that keeps her femininity. Attentive details such as that give Eureka Seven extra appeal. In addition, supporting characters are interesting enough to care for. Their look tends to match rank and personality. Throw in gorgeous humanoid machines and it helps carry the story well. A favorite visual scene takes place during Ballet Mechanique. Rival machines Nirvash and The End chase each other over rainbowed waves under clear stars and neighboring planets. Soft, haunting music is heard while the battle occurs.

Voice performances were quite good here, barring the predictable scruffiness of jaded commander, Holland Novak (Crispin Freeman). Catherine Fu (Eureka) gives her character subtle, etheral innocence. Johnny Young Bosch (Renton) has an insane amount of acting credits, memorably Artemis in all Sailor Moon dubs and afore-mentioned Vash The Stampede. His work as Renton brings the necessary and chipper, “new-kid-on-the-block” spirit.

While the dialogue is fair writing, it’s the tidy mixture of characteristics that make Eureka Seven a solid, compelling slot in the shelf. Eight out of ten jellyfish.

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Coffee Stains on Charming Words

For some fun this month, Travis has chosen five random books from our sweet, wooded companion of a shelf. What their message has meant and what I hope you might gain from reading them will follow. Ruminating possible metaphors I settled on coffee drinks because they’re universal and in many cases, vital.

“On Beauty” by Zadie Smith: The Cafe Au Lait

Funny and pleasantly tender-hearted that Travis would pick this jewel. It’s an absolute favorite, one that really connected me to contemporary literature in college. Zadie Smith has extremely enjoyable works (this one, White TeethChanging My Mind essays) and weird, non-relatable ones (NW, The Autograph Man). She reminds writers that it shines and also rains in creating art, and makes no apologies for it. The title came from “On Beauty and Being Just,” a small treatise from Elaine Scarry (a Harvard professor) that focuses on the outwardly focused, sacrificial side of beauty. Perhaps superficially, I liked Smith first because of honest portrayal of interracial dynamics. Outside of her own entertaining biography she gives readers a quest to understand numerous cultures at once. The story revolves around an established academic, his wife, their three children, and trouble-making friends and lovers. It’s uncomfortable (extramarital affairs) and her scenes are slightly jumpy, but the final painting they compose is richly satisfying. You are faced with complex men, women, and children; you balk at his nerve and her vulnerability; you feel as if bags are being packed from a month-long stay with the Belsey family. The right mixture of foamy character development and dark, vivid plot: a drink worth taking in on occasion.

Great Passage: “Three Tuesdays after the affair began Howard came into her office to tell her it was over. It was the first time either properly acknowledged it had begun. He explained he’d been caught…That day in her office Howard looked as if a good, comforting piece of verse was just what he needed. Throughout their friendship, Claire had satirized his scrupulous intellectualism, just as he had teased her about her artistic ideals…This was the general feeling in Wellington too: his students found it near impossible to imagine that Howard should have a wife, a family, that he went to the bathroom, that he felt love…They had no idea what the hell they were doing. Howard had no way of dealing with his new reality. He was unequal to the task of squaring his sense of himself with what he had done. It was not rational, and therefore, he could not comprehend it. For Claire, their affair was only confirmation of what she knew of the darkest parts of herself. For Howard, it was clearly revelation.”

“Les Fleurs Du Mal” by Charles Baudelaire, translated by Richard Howard: The Red-Eye

A red-eye, also known as atomic cowboy or shot in the dark, is wild and not for the faint of caffeinated heart. It’s black coffee with a shot of espresso. When I last downed one around eight in the morning, I didn’t fall asleep until five o’clock the next morning. The whole week produced twitches and bodily discomfort. Our red-eye equivalent here is “Les Fleurs du Mal” by French poetic master Charles Baudelaire. He is an impeccably dressed dandy by lyrical usage, but a nasty bottom-dweller by topic. Can anyone use images of lice and prostitutes beautifully? He proves it can be done.

Less frightening poems to embark upon include, “Hymne A La Beaute” (Hymn to Beauty), “L’Invitation Au Voyage” (Invitation to the Voyage) and “Recueillement” (Meditation), stunning verse that delights. More confrontational works begin with “Au Lecteur” (To the Reader), the very first piece and stuffed with ugly, demonic, dirty images. Bear with it, because it’s a fascinating study of human nature. Baudelaire’s arch spans art as a destructive and healing force, obsession, and the elusive creature Boredom. More than mere boredom, he investigates depraved, life-draining, undone boredom. His biographies are incredibly interesting to boot. I read him for a jolt of reality and gratefulness for mercy.

Great Passage:

”        Imagine the magic
of living together
there, with all the time in the world
for loving each other,
for loving and dying
where even the landscape resembles you:
the sun dissolved
in overcast skies
have the same mysterious charm for me
as your wayward eyes
through crystal tears,
my sister, my child!
All is order there, and elegance,
pleasure, peace, and opulence…” (from “Invitation to the Voyage”)

“Generous Justice” by Timothy Keller: The House Blend with Creamer

Mild, cream-laced house blends are what I drink 90% of the time in any cafe. “Generous Justice” by Tim Keller is what I return to over and over, quoting from at every tragedy. Do you like how I call him Tim, because in my head he’s a trusted personal pastor and counselor? This book is extraordinarily simple and perfectly wise. Picture a tapestry woven, connecting threads of people from all walks of life. This fabric is made by God’s own hands, guiding us to sew where we are. Biblical stories and instructions from both the Old and New Testament become newly illuminated, precious and true. If you’re a reset-button kind of person, always craving new beginnings be grounded in this call to serve/pray/give until you must cry out for strength.

Great Passage: “Now we are in a position to see even more clearly what the Bible means when it speaks of justice. In general, to ‘do justice’ means to live in a way that generates a strong community where human beings can flourish. Specifically, however, to ‘do justice’ means to go to places where the fabric of shalom has broken down, where the weaker members of societies are falling through the fabric, and to repair it. This happens when we concentrate on and meet the needs of the poor. How can we do that? The only way to reweave and strengthen the fabric is by weaving yourself into it. Human beings are like those threads thrown together onto a table. If we keep our money, time, and power to ourselves, for ourselves, instead of sending them out into our neighbors’ lives, then we may be literally on top of one another, but we are not interwoven socially, relationally, financially, and emotionally. Reweaving shalom means to sacrificially thread, lace, and press your time, goods, power, and resources into the lives and needs of others.”

“The Canterbury Tales” by Geoffrey Chaucer: The Decaf Vanilla-Almond Soy Latte

Tackling the Prologue of this classic in Tenth Grade is both challenging and invigorating: experiencing one of the pinnacles of characterization in English. Even hip-hop savvy, restless, dreaming teenagers can appreciate the Knight’s sparkling honor or the Summoner’s gaudy liveliness. Though the tales in this collection bring wise loveliness, it’s a rare day that I’ll pick it up and read. When it happens, I’m glad for the decadent, deftly milked moral punch and combination of personality flavors. It’s powerfully fun to see the Host gather everyone for a pre-pilgrimmage meal and request thrilling, entertaining story– a microcosm of what Chaucer does. Favorite tales include The Knight’s, The Nun Priest’s, The Wife of Bath’s, and The Pardoner’s, shimmering in the author’s well-developed narration and dimension. I’m always happy thinking millions of writers across time and space look to this work for artistic inspiration. Sit back calmly, and sip leisurely.

Great Passage:

”  One thing I should have mentioned in my tale,
Dear people, I’ve some relics in my bale
And pardons too, as full and fine, I hope,
As any in England, given me by the Pope.
If there be one among you that is willing
To have any absolution for a shilling
Devoutly given, come! and do not harden
Your hearts but kneel in humbleness for pardon;
Or else, receive my pardon as we go.
You can renew it every town or so
Always provided that you still renew
Each time, and in good money, what is due.
It is an honour to you to have found
A pardoner with his credentials sound
Who can absolve you as you ply the spur
In any accident that may occur.”

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Between Privileges

To expound on the honesty cleanse I’m on lately, let’s discuss race. Publishers tend to like to get through this as smoothly as possible (and if it’s good for them…), so here: I’m black. Our family is tinged with Caucasian, Native American, and possibly Portuguese, but the box I’ll check if I’m not being cagey is Black/Non-Hispanic…although I’ve always wanted to be Hispanic…rabbit trail, sorry. This identification means trillions of smiles, memories, defenses, annoyances, shocks, metaphors, loves and losses. It means confusion for others when they hear my phone voice, see my very light-hued son, find out I watch and enjoy the movie This Is Spinal Tap or navigate my list of facebook friends and preferences. It highlights joy when I listen to an MLK, Jr. speech, teach our son about half of his family, proudly salute my grandfather and other Tuskegee airmen, and cry out at the situation in Baltimore. My primary identification is as a Christian, a daughter of the true God, a disciple made to worship Jesus Christ in spirit and truth. Knowing that heaven will accomodate all races in glorious harmony, my eternal aim is to co-mix and assist in healing racial brokenness. To do this, I must acknowledge my own quirks.

Mom and Dad raised my older sister and I in the fairly well-to-do, politically-charged, mostly-black neighborhood of Marlboro Meadows in Upper Marlboro, MD. I had some of the funniest, kindest bus-stop and biking friends in the city and would have a poorer outlook on life without their love. Until eighth grade I listened exclusively to R & B, hip-hop and secretly thought all white people were scary, undercover racists. My parents always taught us to love everyone well, but I was the most comfortable with brown people. Well, except for Matthew in kindergarten. Blue eyes, blond hair, the handsome little pale guy that all girls wanted to kiss behind the coat closet. Except for him, I focused on my similar skin shades.

Dad decided after some unfortunate problems at our church to look for a new church, and he landed on a Southern Baptist one. Dad. Seriously. I don’t remember if my face was as shocked to the congregation as it was in my mind when we stood and became members. This was middle school. Cue the song, Crossroads, from Bone Thugs N Harmony. (I’m being middle school dramatic, I know what that song was really about.) I thought my social life was over, unless Matthew happened to attend the same youth group.

The beauty in this experience is that God brought me a hoard of hilarious, compassionate, peace-loving friends despite my nervousness and walls and fear. Many of them had white skin. This trend continued into our move to Tennessee, as well as my move to Greensboro.

I married a man outside of my race, but our main bond is faith. Understandably, I was nervous that his family originated in Taylorsville, NC. His parents and their extended family have been wonderful and accepting, and with the exception of a few distant relatives and peering citizens, our visits have been open and cheerful. The various prisms that pour into Ian fulfill one of my wildest dreams: to have a family that is different and loving in spite of that.

In light of recent events and when one of those friend’s sister posted a moving article on white privilege, I have revisited my adventure in color. From feeling disrespected and not valued by both races (hello, human nature), I’ve also been reawakened to the fact that my struggle has not been the struggle of kids abused or too poor to afford lunch or any of those things. Baring the soul, I’m at times more comfortable now with white people or other “white-black” people who share all of these newfound interests. I don’t seek out folks of all kind, I stick with what’s safe.

While it’s not safe to loot or destroy property, it’s not safe to blindly accept that everyone should have access to the same thoughts about the situation. It’s not safe to bypass a magazine because you’re so busy trying not to seem overly committed to one culture, that you ignore what is going on in that culture. It’s not safe to ignore well-meaning, potential friendships because you feel they’re “trying to pass.” It’s never been safe to follow Christ into attempting to bridge these gaps. That’s why the media continues to exploit the black-white rivalry and not reveal more loving stories. It’s why it can be really awkward to be the only “white-black” girl at your family’s function and attempt to change your language tone to fit in better. It’s why explaining to friends why you need an extra four hours to wash and blow dry your hair at the beach can get exhausting.

Christ walked into many awkward situations, and His will was done because of that. I believe His will is for Christians to find common ground within all races, to appreciate and enjoy one another, and to let His loving sacrifice flood the hardship with blood and grace.

Posted in Childhood Remnants | Leave a comment

Try Again, Try Again, Leave Begin For Finish

Excitement happens whenever I grab materials for a new writing project. Luminous neurons fire and the dropped flutter in my stomach means it’s time to begin! Pens, copy paper, some internet access, and a nice warm beverage accommodate the process. In months of baking Ian and before, there were glorious linear hours. Now, glorious scattered minutes  form an hour whenever it comes. Inspired blog posts, poems, and short stories furiously land on my hard drive. In about two weeks, writer’s block and then writer’s leave of absence will take place. It’s a sad cycle that needs termination. But virtual assistance, being intentional with my time, and loyalty have all contributed help.

Accountability is a vital piece of the puzzle even if it’s to a computer system. In 2013, once again motivated by Julia Cameron of The Artist’s Way I started a group of Google Docs. “Writing Plans 2013-14” was just a basic bullet point list of overarching goals for the year. This is where I described things like “have some poetry published” and “complete a story collection,” those adorable and general creatures that need their own help being fleshed out daily. From there “Writing By Month 2013-14” allowed tangible, shaved objectives for each four weeks. I would plan to finish several poems or research timeless short stories in April 2013. Further pared down was “Saturday Solace Planners.” The name arose from a lack of creatively fulfilling nine-to-five work, leaving time only on the weekend to compose. With cleaning and socializing, three or four hours were grafted. This document was the winner in terms of guiding the daily grind. I would record the times of each writing session, the tasks, and any books completed that week. As a spreadsheet, it not only kept me on track but held motivation to keep going. Such useful tools have been a spark in artistic fire.

Being let go from my previous job and not returning to an office has released new passion. One of the best conversations I’ve had regarding At-Home Mommy vs. Working Mommy was at Babies-R’-Us and lasted three minutes. This fabulous lady basically said, “All of us work: hard!” To believe I lounge in pajamas cuddling Ian and doing whatever my heart desires all day or that I’m afraid of or unfit for “real work” is utterly ridiculous. I’ve been given cloth diapers and numerous cleaning projects over LMS management and editing company letters. It’s my path, not the wrong one. I enjoy and need the rich creative time that’s now possible. It’s still a struggle around the confines of a cherished infant, but I realized there’s nothing to steal chunks of writing time anymore. I have to attempt this and silence the Inner Critic.

The uber-commitment of writing is not unlike that of marriage or church attendance. Marriage requires a constant agreement to place the lover ahead of self-interest and uphold the foundation. Church attendance means ignoring blankets and CBS Sunday Morning for thirst-quenching corporate worship and friendly faces. Failing at both reminds me to keep up pursuit, despite setbacks. The reward tips the scale.

The only thing that trumps loss of productivity is vision at work.

Thoughts? Please feel free to comment.

Posted in Everybody's Working For The Weekend | Leave a comment

Play It Forward

When a lesson is learned, collectively across members of several generations at the same moment, something like a metaphysical earthquake ruptures. Unity abounds. Love punctures hate. Time, both kairos and chronos (memory-making and allotted hours in the day) freezes quietly. Art is a catalyst of these actions. Three works of art in poetry, television, and music have caused me to stumble again on the wealthy attention of a perfect and holy God. Psalm 33 is a hymn dedicated to purpose and hope, the series finale of Parenthood paints family with bravura, and the “Forever Young” cover by Rhiannon Giddens and Sam Beam closes out this set in peaceful harmony.

Whatever is thought of Christianity, the contents of Psalm 33 are cheerfully grateful, descriptively gorgeous, and steeped in the tradition of communal sharing and singing and reciting. Visions of worshippers gifting their voice and instrument, love in terms of endurance (“steadfast”), and nature’s Benefactor observing and tending his creations spin around the narrative like woven gold. Here stands the Lord Almighty who commands awe and explosive response to the goodness. The poem works from an opening line that requires God’s praise into particular reasons for that praise (“…the word of the Lord is upright…faithfulness…righteousness…justice…”), then elevating pictures of God’s power just below hope in His future. David may or may not have written this particular Psalm, but the theme needs no certain author: confident anticipation of the Lord’s character. While the words speak for themselves, several ways to read or sing this poem exist. To remain consistent with the theory of unity, a choral reading offers beautiful reference to the generations gathered for the lesson. As John Witvliet says, in The Biblical Psalms in Christian Worship, “…the interplay among readers is useful for capturing the dialogic nature of many Psalm texts.” The lesson uncovered by such lyric, dialogue, and community is that “Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and our shield.” Hearing this in a room filled with others delights and probes. We praise our Benefactor and march on to the tune of happy grace.

The Benefactor in Parenthood is family. To provide specifics, the children and children’s children of a man named Zeek Braverman nest here. The very name Braverman helps compile a mix of relatable, honest, broken characters filling the space of a California-based clan. You have rebels, overachievers, snobs, and drama queens. Likely, they’re all in one person, causing my husband to deem this “the yelling show.” But the yells are so candid, coming from a place of tough love and committed love. The eldest brother Peter is a no-nonsense sales guy who picks on younger dreamer Crosby. Sarah is the Daddy’s Girl and single mom paving the misfit way opposite corporate lawyer Julia. There are many in-laws and grandkids, as well as grandparents Zeek and Camille. What twists the siblings up is Peter’s son Max having Asberger’s Syndrome (a fantastic job of writing in this personage), Crosby marrying his biological son’s mother to become a family man, Sarah falling in love with a man also dealing with Asberger’s (Ray Ramono- exceptional) and Julia’s “perfect” marriage falling to pieces. Everything culminates in the very last episode: unconditional love of family trumps everything. Long harbored resentments are freed by gratitude and kindnesses amidst knowledge of life’s brevity. Community, in this case the show’s viewers, can rally behind it all and there is no yelling in such final moments.

Notes escaping the mouths of singer-songwriters Rhiannon Giddens (a soloist, The Carolina Chocolate Drops) and Sam Beam ( Iron & Wine) have already proven their talent. Giddens has her own unique voice and then impressed Parenthood‘s creator Jason Katmis with the collaborative album Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes (a Bob Dylan tribute). Beam worked with Katmis on this show’s soundtrack already. Together the two covered “Forever Young” by Bob Dylan. Although both performers have experienced sold-out, bells-and-whistles concerts, this song appropriately feels like company in a fire-lit basement. Toned-down piano, guitar, percussion and strings are like wind to the vocals’ swirling leaves. It’s a fitting partner to the last episode of Parenthood. That it was Dylan’s lyrics a generation ago, causing hearts to come together, is precious. Read:

“May God bless and keep you always

May your wishes all come true

May you always do for others

And let others do for you

May you build a ladder to the stars

And climb on every rung

May you stay forever young

Forever young, forever young

May you stay forever young.

May you grow up to be righteous

May you grow up to be true

May you always know the truth

And see the lights surrounding you

May you always be courageous

Stand upright and be strong

May you stay forever young

Forever young, forever young

May you stay forever young.

May your hands always be busy

May your feet always be swift

May you have a strong foundation

When the winds of changes shift

May your heart always be joyful

And may your song always be sung

May you stay forever young

Forever young, forever young

May you stay forever young.”-    Bob Dylan

Society gathers to be thankful for love and the idea of eternity. They are spurred on in 2015, thanks to two brilliant musicians. This Benefactor is the staying power of covers.

Monotonous human suffering can vex us. Political posturing, stories of unchecked greed, and surging deaths wreck the globe. How is this met? The Benefactor, illuminating all art, assumes the position of peace and harmony. Forsaking doubt, giant groups of humanity join hands to point this out and make songs for the next set of the masses.

Posted in Come Read With Me and Share My Love | Leave a comment

Labor’s Pause: Changing Colors and Mindset

Though autumn is traditionally the season bearing quick harvest, a long and sleepy kind of reflection also exists. It’s felt in weekends spent on pumpkin-spice drinks, home improvement projects, family bike rides and slow company among friends. Life trickles down in interesting little snapshots throughout the community: festivals and marathons and events at parks. The lovely turning of trees amasses hours for a journal; my favorite season, before summer.

Mere days before this metamorphosis our son was born.

Like the medical illusion of a due date, my hilarious pre-baby thinking advised me that labor would be quick and smooth. Healthy pregnancy, easier contractions, surely? I even read The Bradley Method and practiced all of the relaxation techniques– let me cash in my chips now, Baby Jesus…

So contractions lasted long enough to warrant breaking my waters and a few drops of Pitocin, but I’ll backtrack.

At about three or four in the afternoon of Friday, August 15th (Ian’s due date), contractions began to ascend into “%&*#! Did my mind really skip from the glowing last trimester to an automatic and happy newborn in my arms?” I advised Travis we would need to go to the hospital now. I was obviously dilated.

I was not, but had effaced 90%. Yahoo! What does that even mean? Travis and I went to IHOP since it was open, I lost it later and we rummaged through more contractions for the rest of Saturday. By early Sunday, the pain was intense enough to risk another non-insurance-covered trip to the maternity ward. This time, four centimeters were won and I had completely effaced. Better than all of that, we could remain in the hospital until he was born.

Mary, our incredible doula, was there as coaching support. Travis was thrilled, and I was feeling brave because I wasn’t having real contractions yet. Nurses everywhere at Women’s Hospital were amazing, and we hit the midwife lottery with Vicki as our attendant. By three in the afternoon on Sunday my contraction pattern was sporadic and non-starting and Vicki was worried I would burn out and not be able to continue without an epidural if I kept this up. They offered to break my waters and if that didn’t rile Little Bear up, give me a little Pitocin. We agreed it was for the best.

“Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers” was on the hospital television, making the night more magical. The birthing tub helped to ease my pain from about ten to one in the morning and then things climaxed. I thoroughly enjoyed the pushing stage, and decided to labor in the bed with stirrups instead of the tub. I was a frizzy, sweaty badass who gained respect for hereself and from the staff for my tough and quiet focus. Always on the stoic side with pain, I initially thought this was a weakness. But in our weakness, He is strong for us. A few loud grunts and rumbles, but no all-out screaming or stressed-out yelling. It was the hardest thirty minutes of my life, but I knew that little bugger was in there and I wanted him with us. Just when I thought it was over for me, Ian came out with legs and arms spread in the air. He was placed on my chest, and tears exploded reflexively. We were all crying, and it was beautiful.

I managed a fifteen-hour labor (about three for the finale) with two drops of Pitocin and membrane rupture. I wouldn’t change a second of it. Now that fall is about to settle, we are learning everything about this strong, sweet, handsome little gift. We’re building our family, and trying to appreciate each small moment. I am totally that parent who picks up her baby anytime he cries, co-sleeps with him almost every night, asks you to wash your hands first, and evades strangers with a blanket over the carrier and death eyes. He was worth every pain a million times over.

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