Friday, August 13, 2010

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Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Prince and the Horse

There once was a prince who was greatly excited to one day rule his country. This ambition was not the sort that would lead to any violent usurpation, for the prince was devoted to his father. In fact, the prince spent much of the day pestering the king with questions. The prince wanted to know everything about ruling. When the king was busy, the prince spent hours perusing the volumes in the library, storing up knowledge in great heaps, hoping that one day the storehouses would be full enough for the prince to finally rule wisely.

And so the prince studied political histories, tactical manuals, works of heroic literature, great famous speeches, scientific journals, books of law. He could tell all about the great deeds of Achilles and the motions of the planets. Yet he could not help to imagine himself in every work he read. He was pleased to imagine those great speeches come from his mouth, the battle formations drawn by his hand, decrees sent out from his throne. All his hope was on the crown that he would one day achieve, that would be set upon the head more prepared for it than any it had known before. The prince was a young man of preparation.

He met a great many people at court, as princes are wont to do. He was kind, for he knew that it was best for a prince to be thought kind. He was most pleased when he found a courtier interested in his studies and quests. The prince was known then to dazzle and confound his counterpart, spilling out all the words his brain could recall, dousing the listener with the finest speech he could gather in a moment. Some found the prince’s speeches charming, while others made a note to avoid being thus captured in the future. The prince would walk away, thinking he had made a friend, but lie in bed that night bothered that he could not recall this new friend’s name. He would then go to his window, where he would look out at the planets and forget about all his knowledge, and feel quite alone. He wondered if his father ever felt this way, or perhaps his new friend.

Most upsetting were the days when he could not find his father to ask his questions, he did not feel home in the library, and no courtier wanted to listen to his speeches. On these days he took his horse out and cantered across the kingdom, until the thudding of the hooves against the pavement dulled the pangs in his heart. One day, after a good while at such a pace, the wind in the prince’s hair cheered him. He felt a whooshing, cold happiness running through him. He did not know what to do with this happiness, other than to make a speech about it. And so he dismounted his horse near the river and began to speak, to himself, or his horse, or no-one.

“O cold day, I didst begin you with a weariness of spirit. But my mind, newly invigorated by such a spirited wind, begs to exercise itself now, and so I begin. Forsooth—“

“Excuse me, your highness,” his horse intruded. “I don’t mean to intrude, but I have a question. Why did the wind make you want to give a speech?”

The prince, not knowing his horse to talk, was startled. Nevertheless, he replied. “Pay you no heed, my steed. You are but an animal and cannot penetrate the meaning of my rhetoric. You are my companion in rides and walks by the river, not in higher learning.”

“Forgive me sir, but I must confess that I hear you make your speeches daily, and for the most part, am able to follow them. They are quite erudite indeed, and full of subjects I am not familiar with. I spoke this time because you came upon a subject I know: the wind. What I want to know is why you would make a speech about it.”

The prince was puzzled. What more was there to do? “I confess that your question puzzles me. I am moved, and now continue in an exposition and exploration of the causes that moved me, the shifiting of the four humours within my soul, the poetical nature of the circumstances. It’s all quite easy.”

“Are these the things you discuss with your friends? Do they feel the same way about such things?” the horse asked.

“Well, I can’t be sure, because they don’t often talk back. And besides, I’m not quite sure I have any.”

“But your highness,” interjected the horse with all reverence. “I should hope that by now I should be one of your close friends.”

“But how?” replied the prince. “I spend a great deal of time with you, but you cannot even understand my simplest arguments of politics or philosophy. All we ever do is canter through the kingdom. What can we share?”

“We share the cold happiness of the wind. We share the thud of my hooves on the pavement. We share the songs that you sing, keeping time to my steps. We share the warmth of our bodies. We share the walk by the river. That is enough to make a friend with any less demanding creature.”

The prince had never thought such things. The horse began again.

“And from time to time, I would not mind listening to one of your speeches. So long as we may share the laughter of the ride, I am willing to call you my master and friend in all your temperaments. But know that you need not make speeches to make a friend.”

The prince considered all these things, and felt something well inside him that was far away from the storehouses, someplace much warmer. Then, he thought of something he could ask his friend. “Do you look at the planets at night, and feel quite alone?”

“Sometimes. But it is a happy loneliness. Perhaps we can talk of it another time.”

The prince and the horse rode back to the kingdom, laughing and singing at the wind and the birds. The prince went to bed that night feeling many things. He still wanted to return to the library tomorrow, but even more, he looked forward to his afternoon ride with his friend. He looked out at the planets, still as deep and mysterious as any other night, but somehow less frightening and far. Then he went to sleep, thinking a little less about becoming king and a little more about tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Une Autre Epoque

Sometimes people say that they feel they were born in the wrong time. You hear this from girls sighing at the end of a Jane Austen movie, just wishing that people still spoke so elegantly or dressed so well or knew how to court a lady. Those were the good old days. People had dignity then. Class.

It’s not so much the courting rituals that I covet. Certainly not. I consider myself fully appreciative of my modern freedoms: of dress, of speech, of study. Whisk me to a world with any kind of caste system, and I would flounder. John Locke runs through my veins. Put me in constrictive clothing and I get jittery and exhausted. I like people to say what they mean. Don’t give me the poetic runaround.

But there is something about a former age that I long for. There is a big part of me that mourns the Industrial Revolution, the Enlightenment. I feel at times that I am drowning in information and argument. Authority used to be in scripture, in hierarchy, in what one was told and what everybody just knew. Truth was looking up at the night sky and seeing pieces of heaven leaking through the blackness of earth’s blanket. God was physically up there, just far enough away, and all one had to do was to complete the work his or her role required and look up at night and know they were doing God’s work, and that they’d be with him someday.

Of course, there were myriad problems with this. When all people know is what they are told, they can be conned, they can be kept down. There is immense value into seeking one’s own solution to something, to equal opportunity. The monopoly on knowledge faded. Now everyone was responsible for figuring out the truth. It was a human responsibility, and the answer was found through experimentation, reason: human faculties.

And then the world exploded into more and more denominations, schools of thought, political parties. Separate groups, all claiming authority. This is what I mourn. The bright, affirmative concepts of “freedom” and “individuality” and “reason” lead to more and more divisions, people barking at each other. This is not the world as it is meant to be. Don’t tell me that it’s a positive, natural thing for me to be separated from my brothers and sisters by a sea of differing authorities and interpretations. My heart longs for unity. Not mindless conformity. But harmony. A sense of peace with one’s place in the world, with the piece of truth that everyone could grasp, a sense of community.

And now I am told we live in a postmodern age, where we can no longer bark at each other. We have been so divided for so long that we have given up. We can’t figure out who is right, so, everyone is. It’s not unity, it’s not harmony. It’s endless dissonance. Is it childish of me to want a resolution? I’m not hoping for utopia. I’m not proposing we join hands and sing “Imagine.” But there is something in me that aches for an authority. I feel that there must be real answers to the questions that everyone is trying to hack answers for. I admit that people are free, and that they should have the right to seek those answers. But I hate the divisions that those freedoms have created. And I don’t buy the dissonance.

Gosh, I must be religious.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Utopia (or, the worship service)

How easy it is to gather a throng and get them to sing. They come from everywhere, some eager, some grudging, but all end up in the same big room like a cathedral and look up at the same north star. Some start in with heart and gusto, and some feel separate and unsure. But the music plies them all, and there is a sway that sneaks in and stays. The music leaks into the lungs of them all, and slowly the air becomes condensed with the hopes and beliefs and good intentions of those hundreds. In the course of an hour, they have laid down their burdens and reservations and taken up with song.

And they believe that this song will change them and carry them through their days with this melody propelling their steps. They believe that their voices will have changed for singing this song, that their mouths will be from now on full of kind words they didn't know existed. They look around and see hands raised, bodies pulsing to this newly known rhythm. They see backs of heads; no faces, but how easy the faces are imagined-- joyous, benevolent, beautiful. In this room, there is a grace that makes everyone believe everyone else is beautiful.

Life makes sense here. One is alone, but surrounded, lifted up by this bright communal breath, full of sharp temporal understanding. The congregation is an ocean, united, crashing, making the same noise. A warm silence descends, and all pray, hoping and believing that their neighbors' prayers have the same voice, the one they sang the songs with.

Everyone walks away. Their walk home is full of lovely thoughts, thought hard. And then one phone call, one errand, one item on the checklist shakes off the pixie dust; bugs crawl back in the brain, the callous on the heart starts itself over again, and where has Utopia gone?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Contra Mundum

The electricity of activism
Shoots through me, shoves out
Thrilling tears;
I think I am here
For such a time as this.
Hot anger hits my limbs
And I feel as if
the strength of ten has filled me up,
So I can rip the hearts
Of those who rip them from my sisters.
Cut me open, and you'll see
Justice-waters gushing;
Turn my body inside out
And I will rescue you.
But all I am is a soul in a sea,
Swept about, dispersing,
Tears melting in swirling mass.
"What villainy is this!"
Here I am, conta mundum,
Not yet knowing my enemy,
But railing all the same,
And mostly waiting for the dawn.

Monday, October 19, 2009


Perhaps the central issue of my life is that I can't see the trees for the forest. I spend time looking down at the forest, contemplating it, drawing pictures of it. And then I spend far more time planning my point of entry, and then the path I will carve out once I get inside. Then comes the fear, the doubts, the frustration that I haven't gotten a handle on the exact shape and nature of the wood before me. I don't want to walk in until I understand.

Sometimes you just have to wander on in and look up at the trees that are right around you. You have to see the beauty in the veins of one leaf; and maybe that's what helps you figure out what you always wanted to understand about this big untamed thing.

Ecclesiastes 11:4, 6
He who observes the wind will not sow,
and he who regards the clouds will not reap...
In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


I haven't written anything since I've gotten here. I've thought a lot of things, but none of them have been focused into anything productive or meaningful.

The truth is that, since I have been in college, I consider it an accomplishment to get out of bed. I'm proud of myself for getting through class. After a late night of work, I reward myself with a weekend full of sleep. If I can hold one conversation with a floormate, I consider myself socially adequate. It's like I've been sent back to square one.

It's such a reversal from high school. There, I was in control of my social world. I knew everyone and had many good friends. I could strike up a conversation with practically anyone and feel at least some comfort of history and understanding. I had been in the same school for 13 years, and I had become accustomed to the academic expectations. I was good at school. I was a leader in theatre and mock trial. I had a huge network of supportive friends and family in my life, available by car at any time. I've been living in a small world of known quantities for the last 18 years.

And in that environment, where pretty much everything was safe, I ventured out on artistic and spiritual adventures on my own time. I had a safety net. I knew which spaces in my life were for creating and branching out. But now, I don't have that. It seems like I expend all my energy on sustaining the fragile sprout of my new life.

Which, practically, means getting out of bed. Taking showers. Doing homework. Slowly, slowly making friends.

Still, ridiculously, I feel some weight of responsibility. I have never been able to shake the feeling that I ought to be doing something great and important. People have given me lots of advice about this through the years, along the lines of either "Yes, do great things! Go for it!" or "Stop thinking the world revolves around you."

So, basically, I've been living in my usual limbo between laziness and high aspirations. But the condition is hugely aggravated when everything around me is so foreign. The world is conspiring to keep me in my room. This is the first big change of my life, and I am definitely feeling stagnant.

But, ultimately, it's not about me. It's not about making something of myself. Maybe it's okay if it takes me months to get my feet on the ground. I'm not the team captain anymore. I'm not the "most likely to succeed." I'm just one lonely girl trying to carve out a place for herself. And I think that's an experience I need to have. I need to know that God sees me as valuable, even if I am just a lonely girl in the cafeteria with no accomplishments to her name.

Still, it hurts an awful lot sometimes. I miss everyone.

Luke 12:24
Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!