Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Lovely. Maybe even real.

Most often my dreams are crazy misfirings of the mind that get strung together into a narrative. But lately, I dream of her. I know she's passed away, but she's there. She's changed somehow. She's young, but she comes looking old, as though slipping on a familiar mask because she knows I'll recognize her better. That's not entirely it. I'd recognize her young. She comes old because she knows I miss her the way I last saw her.
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It is a poor mask. She is entirely new, entirely other. She has seen the face of God. I can see it, feel it.
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I used look forward to dreaming so that I could fly, breathe underwater, go down a waterfall in the jungle. Now I look forward to the night, wondering if I'll see her.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Golden State

Matt thirsts for California like it's Coca Cola. I didn't get that for a while. All I knew of it growing up was what I had awkwardly meshed together from reading about Dawn from the Babysitter's Club and Rodney King. The Mamas and the Papas, too, the record spinning on the Victrola: you know the preacher lights the coals/ he knows I'm gonna stay*... I should be pardoned for sounding like an immigrant from the eastern bloc; it is pretty far away.
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The first time I went and got to know Matthew's family better, I was surprised (perhaps stupidly) to discover that they're a lot like him**. Except that they have an accent. (They do.)
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I think where you're from always kind of sticks in your bones. I like that in Spanish, you say "soy de" and never "estoy de" because it's a permanent term; an essence, not a state. We had some friends over the other day. Knowing we were new in town, they asked if we had a doctor for our kids. I said I couldn't remember his name, but that he was Chinese, and that we go to the clinic over by Goodwill. They said "Oh, Dr. Wang***?" Yeah, I said. That's him. "He's Polish" they said. As in, his parents moved from China to Poland just before he was born. He speaks Polish with his kids.
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Then there's narcocorridos. Mexico has its own version of early nineties gangsta rap; men in giant sombreros with machine guns emblazoned on their jackets singing about beheadings of rival drug lords set to a polka beat, tubas and accordions blasting. A quote in TIME said that the music made the kids in the clubs proud to be Mexican. It made me sick because 1) the people they were talking about in the paragraph are Americans, born in the States, and did not identify with this country at all and 2) that is a terrible thing to be proud of. That kingpin whose face was cut off and sewn onto a soccer ball, sung about in a ballad? You dress up in a tight gold dress and grind to that on a dance floor? Come on.
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Sometimes the ser use of I am dates back to the generations before us, but we don't even understand it so we use a cheapened version. I don't know. I have nothing really to say about it. Except that I like the west coast and am glad that my husband has some gold in his blood.
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That is the worst conclusion ever. Acknowledged.
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*Oh my word! And that awful Saturday morning show that came on in the early '90's (California Dreamin'.) Do you remember? The band, the blond girl on the keyboard? Kind of like Saved by the Bell but not at all.
**I stubbornly held to the notion that all white Californians are blond and tan. They all surf and say dude. Of course I, like every other person between the ages of 13 and 35****, have heard Phantom Planet. And of course Jason Schwartzman looks not at all Californian. And yet.
***Named changed for privacy because people read this, apparently
. Who are you? I seriously want to know. This site is somehow linked to a Russian furniture store's website. I don't understand. But I dig it, I do.
****Am I allowed to give a footnote a footnote? Yikes. I am out of control. But let it be noted that Phantom Planet never should have sold their song to The OC. It's like how people will always think of beef when they hear that Copland song, even if you paid money to watch an orchestra play. A plate of meat. That's it.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Reset Switch

It took me five years to remember that Matthew and I were married. In my sleep, I would reset to somewhere around '97. No clue who he even was*. We actually had to come up with a dialogue to be used in this situation. Me: Who are you?! Him: My name is Matthew J Goodman. I have sideburns. We're married. You love me. (He used to play with it: My naime eez Pierre. Fake French would follow suit. My foggy mind always knew I was confused; knew I didn't need to start hollering for Antoine Dodson** to come running.) Seven years have passed and for the last two I've known who he was. The kiddos, though-- my mind is now stalled out somewhere around 2005. Every single morning, I am surprised they're there. It's not that I forget them, exactly. It's more that I am shocked to find that I'm in the future.
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Last night, Matthew and I stayed up irresponsibly late and watched a movie once the kids were tucked in. It felt like we were in college; down in the basement, thinking about ordering a microwaved sandwich from the front desk. Like Bennett would come down and sit next to us and say something incredibly politically incorrect, or maybe some random drunk guy. Scary Larry would be there, reposing in his black denim shorts. Maybe Josh would play the trumpet for us or we'd have to walk past Tiffany and what's-his-name kissing cheese and crackers out of each other's mouths. Oh my goodness. That was disgusting.
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We were about to turn off the credits when Matt picked up a little blue velcro shoe from the coffee table. What kind of a person wears a shoe like this? he asked. I looked at it. We both started laughing. He's ours! Matt said. You know that? He's ours. The absurdity of it was too much. We were belly laughing. He picked up one small fake-suede purple boot. And what kind of a person wears a boot like this? he asked. They live with us, he said. They think it's normal. They think this is regular. It's not, I said. Oh no, he laughed. This is not at all regular.
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We went around the room picking up little reminders of them before going to bed: Otto's striped cap. Loli's polka-dotted tights. Flaco's cowboy jacket.
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Beautifully wonderfully ridiculous.
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*I once even managed to forget who I was. I'm not writing this like it's cute or something. I'm aware that it's incredibly strange. We were sleeping on the floor in Flaco's room because our house was so cold. I woke up in the night and wasn't sure where I was. I felt the hard wood floor. Am I on a ship? I stood up and realized I had a limp. Is this a permanent condition or temporary? Have I been injured or do I always walk this way? Oh my goodness, what language am I thinking in? Is this Polish? It feels kind of like Polish...
**Wow. And oh wow.

Appendix Removed

This is one of the only pictures of my dad from his years in Ecuador where you can see his face. At least, prior to meeting my mom. Before her, he was the only one there to take the picture, so it was always of his feet. His feet on top of a mountain. His feet crossing a rotting rope bridge. His feet in the sand. His feet were everywhere. A note: I was here.
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I leave footnotes everywhere, I do. I mean to only say something simple and plain but never pull it off. There is always just this one more little thing, a nod to this or that, an explanation of an explanation. This last post I wrote, though, that deserved an appendix.
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I will make this small. You can tell me your thoughts.
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First, it is not meant to condescend to those who end up discounting what they once agreed with. I read an article on health care that said that when the desired action is set as the default, people do it. The same choice presented as "opt out" or "opt in" gets different results depending on the wording; as in, you are unlikely to opt out of something, but it's hard to get you to opt in. We reflexively respond to what we think the norm is. It's not wrong or ugly. It just is what it is.
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White Americans think the norm is to turn away. They think that you convert when you have a "moment" -- the kind that testimonies in front of the church are made of. Crystal meth, a urine-soaked night in jail. A brush with death. We wait for that. We leave it on the back burner until it's a full boil. We leave it there so long we forget that we're even waiting. It may boil, it may not. The pot's long forgotten. Our hearts grow disinterested. We feel too mature for that, like that was childish thinking. It was. The ability to believe is the best thing about children.
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That is one footnote; here's another. Americans value freedom almost above all else. This is why 75% of respondents in a survey would support the building of a mosque in their neighborhood (though only a small fraction would feel comfortable with it.) We value diversity and relativism. We're also logic-driven. This is suspended, though, in the case of religion. Lady Gaga was quoted as saying she's the most nonjudgmental person in the world, which made me wonder: Is she really okay with both homosexuality and with the Sharia law stoning of homosexuals? Does she pass judgment on neither? Sure, she was talking about her meat dress (not against vegans or meat-eaters, something like that), but the thought is the same. How can one be for everything? How can a person be both rational and pluralistic? How can one say all roads lead to God and still count as true Jesus's statement that most roads lead to hell? It is intellectual laziness to claim that God has many names and faces when what they claim is mutually exclusive. Why does logic take the back seat? We are afraid of being seen as bigots. It's an intentional lapse of reason. This whole clumsy dance with religion encapsulates both the best and worst of us; we desire good but are too ignorant of it to realize that relativism does not equal compassion. The cross does.
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And a final one: The hypocrisy in other religions is not best explained in terms of a Muslim girl wishing she were Taylor Swift. It's what caught my eye, but not a point. That Yemen is is a training ground for terrorists who want to destroy the US for its ungodliness, yet 98% of Yemeni men chew khat; that is hypocrisy. That the Taliban drugs up young recruits on heroin so that they'll be more likely to pull the trigger on Americans who allow alcohol; that is hypocrisy. That Coca Cola isn't to be consumed in the middle east because it's reported to have a minuscule drop of pork product, but abortion drinks are sold; that is hypocrisy. That people will so forcefully push one aspect of their religion while turning a blind eye on the rest (let's add Fred Phelps and his friends to the list); that is what boggles my mind. It is one thing to be blithe or apathetic. It's another to claim you follow someone when you don't. To wrap yourself up in the emotions of a religion but not allow the teachings to touch your life; to shout Hallelujah at church but go home to the house you share with your boyfriend - that's sickness of the heart. That's its own kind of callous, but it's as much an influence of culture as any of the rest of this.
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What would it be like if we could step aside and really see what we do? If we could feel our deadened hearts, if we could take stock of our hypocrisies, if we could align our words with our feet?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Dedicate.

I read recently that atheists and agnostics are more likely to understand Christianity than Christians. The article described the typical path of a white American: you grow up understanding, to some extent, the gospel. You say you believe in God. You later come to view it as myth or as too exclusive to tie your name to. You embrace the idea of goodness as God and shun formalized religion, especially the idea that sincere people can be wrong. Those who go on to call themselves atheists or agnostics are the ones, typically, who didn't slide from belief to pluralism as seamlessly; they struggled with the concept of faith and Christ and ultimately rejected it.
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Non-white Americans tend to have an entirely different walk. Protestant blacks and Catholic latinos both tend to hold on to the belief of Jesus as God, but they are, statistically, the most uniformed of their faith, showing little knowledge of the Bible and of the teachings of the man they call God.
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I was frustrated by this. Perplexed. Sad. Then my friend got back from Saudi Arabia and showed me pictures from her trip. Mixed in were images from her sister's hard drive. This girl, a devout Muslim, has pictures of Lil Wayne. Loves Miley Cyrus. Sings along to Taylor Swift. Wears provocative clothing under her burqa.
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And I realized that we are so similar, middle-easterners and Americans, white and dark alike. Our faith is guided by our culture. We do what those around us do. We go to church if they do; we leave it if they leave. We mock it if they mock; we light candles if they light candles, cover our heads if they cover our heads. Each faction is a collective following itself. Who follows their religion in truth? Who thirsts endlessly to actually know God?
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My son was prayed over by Matthew's grandfather, a pastor. His relatives who lived near gathered together for the dedication. (I wish so much that my family could have been there as well.) We sang songs and listened to this sections of scripture read. I was surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses; people who see God like I see him. People whose hearts have been jarred by the knowledge of him. People who read and study and pray because they want to be confronted by truth; they want to bend to it, break because of it, fall on their knees and acknowledge him. It is not culture. It's suddenly learning the world is in color when you thought it was black and white.
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My heart skips wildly when I think of my kids, when I think of how badly I want for them to know God. How can you explain that an apple is red when the other person only sees it as dark gray? You cannot. But you can raise them speaking of color as a fact; you can remember it even when the light is dim and you can hardly see it yourself.
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The metaphor is so incomplete, so lacking. But I praise God -I praise the holy name of Jesus- for giving Matthew and I people in our lives who see it too. Like an echo when you call out that sounds itself back again, we hear our same praises in their lips. Like a paper in a flame that collapses and curls beneath the heat, our hearts respond. Does that even make sense? I feel it. The weight of the knowledge of him; the enormity of what we hold; our incapacity to grasp it, and that itself being enough. For my sons and for my daughter, Jesus, I cry out.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

I looked! And I saw them!

I got this blue box at a garage sale. It's got stickers covering the front of it: Skoal (a pinch is all it takes!) and some tattoo studio I think, some late-nineties depiction of an alien too. I was thinking of peeling up the stickers and painting it, but could not figure out with what. And then, just this morning, I came into the living room and there they were; Flaco and Loli looking out the window at the cold, cold, wet day. They looked like Sally and what's-his-name, the boy who tells the story; like the Cat in the Hat was about to step on the mat. I was marveling at how cute they were when I realized they are actually much more like Thing One and Thing Two (and Fyo, always slightly troubled and disapproving looking, is the poor fish in the pot.)
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I have a Box of Fun, I do. (And now all I need is a net.)

Monday, November 08, 2010

Him.

We were driving in the car and Loli fell asleep. Flaco said, "Let's wake her up by shouting hooray! Everybody, together! Hoo-ray!" Seemed like an interesting request, so we acquiesced. Fifteen minutes of hooraying together at different pitches under the strict direction of our tiny son (craning his neck, trying to see in the mirror if we were sufficiently excited looking), the conversation suddenly turned. I don't remember how. No segue-way seems to make sense. All I know is that we were discussing, at great length, the Trinity. That Jesus is the son of God and also man, sitting at the right hand of God but also God himself; that God is on his throne but also lives within us; that there is only one God but he exists as three beings. Matthew explaining (in Spanish) that we don't have the capacity to understand the divine; it would be like asking an ant to understand how an engine works. I listened to them talk, Matthew saying a sentence and then defining the words he's used; a five-word sentence becoming, were it written, a paragraph mottled with footnotes*. Like this**. Flaco saying he understood that some things aren't understandable.
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Tonight, they sat on the couch in a row. Otto on his lap, Loli and Flaco climbing as close as possible. He was reading a book about animals at the zoo, and each one had a different voice. I have never heard a better British accent in Spanish. He looked a bit surprised himself.
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I love him because he shouts hooray and explains the unexplainable and speaks Spanish to our babies even though he only had a few years in high school (how does he know this many words?); I love him because he gives hippos charming voices and brings out a tray of hot cocoa at night. Which he is doing right now. So I will close this down and watch that werewolf movie with him and hold his hand not just when I get scared.




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*I never realized how hard it is to define the brain. He explained it was under your skin, under your skull; the thing that makes you think and move your hands and be who you are. He hesitated. I could almost feel him about to change that statement, about to explain how in Hebrew, they talked about the heart, soul, and mind; how the heart wasn't referring to the organ that pumps blood but something entirely other. Or maybe he was thinking about neurons? Synapses? He paused and decided against it and continued on. (Do you understand? Yes. But what is capacity? And what is the divine? And why are they almost always invisible? And have you ever seen an angel? I dreamed of an angel. It was wearing a wolf suit with hands and a mask. It was born without a foot. But then later, it got its foot. It was flying around in that wolf suit. It was.)
**I was thinking of Eldridge Cleaver (the founder of the Black Panthers) and that section from Soul on Ice where the preacher visiting their jail explained the Trinity, and then asked the inmates to raise their hands if they understood. Some raised their hands, and the pastor corrected them saying no, you don't, you never could. No one can understand. Cleaver felt shot down and embarrassed. Became a Muslim not long after, I think partially out of spite. I think the statement didn't carry as he intended.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

What we found in that tore-up town

Five years ago, we walked down the hurricane-splintered streets into a blacked-out animal shelter full of dogs howling. A single shaft of light from a window high up on the wall fell on a piece of paper tacked onto the side of a small metal cage. Someone cued the Hallelujah Chorus.
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We took the shaking dog up to the desk and said we'd like to keep him. The girl asked what name we wanted on his papers. We looked at each other and nodded and said Fyodor Dostoevsky. She said you'd better write it down yourselves.
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We started the walk home, stepping over areas where thirty foot palms lay across the street like pick up sticks. His little legs were atrophied; he could only make it a half block. Matthew carried him the rest of the way. We could smell Chinese food cooking; the take-out place near the fence we hopped was lit up by a large kerosene flame. A man was bent over a wok, cooking the meat before it went bad. There was a line already; the peanut butter could wait a few more days.
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We passed the pool. It looked like it was full of mate, like you could just add sugar and suck it through a metal straw. We took him home. He was exactly what we needed.