A chorus of voices

As children, we learn a simple, flattened version of American history. The pilgrims and the Native Americans were buddies and ate corn on the cob together! Now put on this funny hat and make a googly-eyed turkey.

As we grow up, we hopefully learn that the story isn’t that straightforward (or cheerful). Instead, it’s a tale fraught with murder and plunder, political recklessness and social injustice. More often than not, history is the story of the strong taking advantage of the weak.

It’s especially troubling to learn that our ancestors could be—simultaneously—heroes AND villains, regardless of how they got here. Certainly, some were more villainous than others, especially when power and money were involved. But the more we study history, the harder it becomes to see everything as a clean struggle between good and evil. It’s more like sometimes-good vs. sometimes-evil, or good-at-this-moment vs. evil-at-this-moment.

This does not sit well with us. We like tidy narratives from a single perspective. They’re easier to listen to, easier to spin into an animated feature film. Stories told from a range of viewpoints, with overlapping motives and complex characters, are uncomfortable and difficult. They make us squirm.

As Thanksgiving approaches, I’m all for a little more squirming.

Let’s collectively take a harder look at our history, especially as we look with hope toward the future. Let’s not rest on one-dimensional narratives. Our history isn’t a Marvel movie. The “good guys” are, at times, hard to identify. Instead, we find ourselves in a shatteringly complex novel, reaching back over centuries, replete with a dazzling array of characters and competing perspectives.

Let’s be grateful, as Americans, for a difficult heritage. May it force us to be more gracious with one another. May we lean in and listen a little more closely to the multiplicity of voices who call this land home.

Excerpt from this week’s Story Matters

Two little American voices I’m thankful for.

Tending a plot

garden-in-june_34963862081_o
Backyard herbs in the summer.

By all accounts, I am a lazy gardener, but I relish the time for scheming that winter provides.

Gardening offers such rich mental pleasures. It opens a private world for planning and discovery. The plot itself becomes a little space for experimentation and redemption, yielding up the freedom to fail and fail grandly. I am already eager for spring, and my mind is filling up with inchoate plans for the front yard. My campaign to kill the lawn continues, if tediously, and I have grand designs for the plants to move and add to continue to colonize the grass.

Gardening has made me more comfortable with failure. We have failed, in many respects, this season. We didn’t clean up the monstrous overreach of our blackberries. We didn’t plant garlic in time, long a staple crop of our backyard. We didn’t support the enormous elderberry bushes very well, and we have no idea what to do with our three sickly apple trees. The yard is also a mess right now. After a busy summer and fall, the backyard looks more shabby than usual. But I feel uncharacteristically calm. Spring brings new life, unfilled time, the chance to start again.

Because this is the comfort of gardening: Gardening is never done. You’re never finished tending. There is no end in sight. And that is a deep, renewing joy.

. . .

Every fall, I forget about the tremendous joy I experience when I switch our bed from a quilt to our down comforter. The warmth and weight of the thing makes me feel a little less rage at the frigidity of the season.

. . .

two petals fall
and the shape of the peony
is wholly changed

– Shikibu

. . .

Thankful for

  • A week full of dinners with friends
  • An aging dog who still greets me with veritable leaps in the air
  • Yorkshire Gold tea
  • Cashmere sweater dresses
  • The linen tea towel of the Proust questionnaire that Guion bought me in Paris, which I’m finally using (life is too short to not use precious things)
  • Sugar maples
  • These Chelsea boots, to replace much-loved synthetic ones
  • Anne Lamott
  • Hair being finally long enough for a bun
  • The public library, always and forever

Thankful for

Today I am thankful for…
Orchid re-blooms. #orchidpride #houseplantfever

  • Orchid no. 2 re-blooming.

So seductive. #ediebaby #germanshepherd

  • This dog, who makes me laugh.

Date night

  • Date nights with Guion.
  • The fact that English is not a gendered (e.g., romance) language. This makes it a lot easier to be simultaneously politically and grammatically correct.
  • Time to revisit Virginia Woolf (currently re-reading A Haunted House, a tiny collection of short stories).
  • Family group texts.
  • All the money my parents put into my teeth, so that I wouldn’t have to have the smile I was born with, which would have resembled that of a medieval kitchen wench from the British Isles.
  • Weekends with weather that resembles late spring.
  • A kitchen that is a joy (instead of a biohazard) to keep clean.
  • Electric kettles.
  • My calligraphy studio. Such peace in my Room of My Own.
  • Wearing a skirt without heavy tights.
  • Friends who still ask me to do things with them, even though I’ve been neglectful of them for months.
  • How sassy Jesus is in the Gospels.
  • A pen pal who got surprise-married in the snow.
  • Men who identify as feminists.
  • This weird organic face serum (mostly water, aloe vera, and coconut oil) that has made my skin look clearer and better than it has in years.
  • America. No, really, I am.
  • Seeing that your dog (in this case, Pyrrha) loves you for more than just being the Giver of Food.
  • Tea.
  • A great university education.
  • Our church.

What are you thankful for today?

Thanksgiving

Dusk in the neighborhood
Dusk in the neighborhood.

Tomorrow morning, Guion, Pyrrha, and I are setting off for Southern Pines for a long weekend with the Pratt family. I am looking forward to seeing everyone, taking long walks with Pyrrha and Windy around the neighborhood, and stuffing my face.

On the eve of this great American holiday, here is a preliminary list of things I am thankful for right now:

  1. Guion, everything that he is now and is becoming. And those blue eyes of his! Like an ice dragon! Have you looked at them lately? His eyes are a seriously unreal color, much like Jack Donaghy’s.
  2. Mom and Dad.
  3. Mike and Windy.
  4. Kelsey and Alex.
  5. Grace.
  6. Sam.
  7. Win (and Tracy, by extension).
  8. Pyrrha, our sweet and neurotic little baby.
  9. Our community in Charlottesville.
  10. Christ Episcopal Church.
  11. The women in my small group.
  12. A fenced-in backyard.
  13. Kind-hearted, attentive landlords.
  14. My job.
  15. My coworkers and bosses and the camaraderie we share.
  16. Louis, my new camera, inherited from Grace.
  17. The poetry of the Bible.
  18. The public library system.
  19. Used book sales.
  20. Ballet.
  21. Skype.
  22. Tea. Always and forever tea.
  23. All the dogs!
  24. Old friends.
  25. New friends.
  26. Maxi skirts and dresses.
  27. Makeup samples.
  28. Marcel Proust.
  29. The American Heritage Dictionary, 5th ed.
  30. The trees in Charlottesville in the fall.
  31. Marilynne Robinson.
  32. Our cars, that they run.
  33. Poetry.
  34. Sufjan Stevens.
  35. Japanese vocabulary that still comes back to me.
  36. Art museums.
  37. The Virginia Museum of Fine Art.
  38. The Atlantic Monthly.
  39. The New Yorker.
  40. Calligraphy.
  41. Pyrrha’s dog friends.
  42. Handwritten letters.
  43. Nettles.
  44. Joanna Newsom.
  45. Friends’ babies.
  46. America.
  47. Pyrrha’s ecstatic jumps in the air when I come home.
  48. Peace.
  49. Eyeglasses.
  50. Long walks around town.
  51. Enormous clouds of starlings.
  52. Virginia Woolf.
  53. Great restaurants.
  54. Brother Beer Works.
  55. Japanese ceramics.
  56. UNC-Chapel Hill.
  57. All of my beloved former English professors and even the journalism professors who scared me into a job.
  58. Boots.
  59. High-quality writing utensils (especially pens from Japan).
  60. Childhood memories.
  61. Horses.
  62. Letters from Aunt Lib.
  63. The Chicago Manual of Style.
  64. Soft leather leashes.
  65. Editing.
  66. Fonts.
  67. Vladimir Nabokov.
  68. The Eucharist.
  69. A community of artists.
  70. Little notebooks.
  71. Relay Foods.
  72. Ample storage space in our tiny hovel.
  73. Pie.
  74. Memories of the Compline service at the Chapel of the Cross.
  75. A new Trader Joe’s in town, even if the parking is apparently atrocious.
  76. Anton Chekhov.
  77. Tights.
  78. My beautiful rings, from Mary Windley.
  79. Cut flowers on the kitchen table.
  80. Homemade oatmeal.
  81. Journals, which I have kept for about 18 years now.
  82. Solitude.
  83. The Book of Common Prayer.
  84. A priest who loves William Faulkner.
  85. The view of the mountains as I drive home from work.
  86. Talking about film with Jonathan.
  87. Rabbits.
  88. American literature.
  89. Alphabetization.
  90. Sex.
  91. Grapefruit.
  92. A warm home in the winter.
  93. Forgiveness.
  94. The Virginian countryside.
  95. The person of Jesus.

On patience

Spring is the hardest season to wait for. Especially here in the low-lying mountains of Virginia. Spring showed its lovely face for a few days back in March and then retreated. The sun has been rare for weeks and the high every day is barely over 40. This is depressing, but I am trying to be patient. (It is the worst.) However, this weekend promises better days! Tomorrow, it might even reach the 50s! And the Charlottesville Farmers’ Market is opening again. Anna and I are going to meet there, make brunch, and then take her German Shepherd for a walk around town. These are all nice things. See, Spring, don’t you want to come visit now? Doesn’t it sound pleasant here? It would be even pleasanter if you would grace us with your presence.

Waiting for spring is hard. Waiting for things in general has always been hard for me. Having freshly turned 23, I have decided that this will be The Year of Patience. The year of waiting for a dog. The year of waiting for life plans to materialize. The year of just waiting, not expecting anything, but waiting with contentment.

Something I’ve been doing that has helped increase my store of patience and contentment: Every night before I fall asleep, I write down something I’m thankful for on an index card. I’m saving them in a fat photo album. I started doing this on January 1, 2011, and plan to continue it until the year is over. It’s hard to be sad or anxious when you realize that you have literally hundreds of things to be thankful for.

Have a patient weekend. I will be trying!

But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience…