Monthly Archives: June 2010

hands held high

look at his hands, she said. you can learn more about the story from his hands.

i looked at the picture of the old man, curled up in my pale turquoise, polyester nightgown and slathered in lotion that smelled like the color pink. my fat toes, bare despite her protestations, lovingly stroked the pink sheets as i lay next to her on the pillow. not on her shoulder; that wasn’t the way we read. i was beside her, not against her, and yet there was a closeness, a cool coziness to the night. she read, stopping to talk about the pictures with me and ask questions, and i listened, interrupting once in a while to peek out the window into the deepening dark, reassured each time by the barking of the dogs in their black and white, tender ferocity. outside, the trees were huge and puddles of blackness huddled in the ditch and behind chained fences, lurking in stables and under the creaking porch steps, but we were safe inside sky blue walls and on top of the world of blankets and pillows.

i held my hands next to hers, my fingers already almost as long as hers even inside the cushioning of baby fat that lingered, and wondered how we could share the same blood, her with her father’s hands and i with my great-grandmother’s. how could hands tell stories? i wondered. i knew stories; we made them up almost every night. stories about the painting on her wall, with a woman who i said had a long funny braid and was coming back from travels and who she said looked a little sad to her. i told stories about the horses i would have, brushing them and building them star-houses. she told me stories about her daughter shouting at duchess-you-stupid-dog when she barked too loudly at night, about her son climbing into trees to fall asleep. i loved stories; made-up stories, real stories, stories of questionable credibility. but hands? they were just that; hands. fingers and knuckles and creases. mine were pale and soft, hers were creased and thick and red, with my sister’s thumbs and a talent for turning pages. loved, yes, but unremarkable.

it’s been years and years, but now i know. hands can most definitely tell stories.

i learned that before he died, while he was sleeping. they had changed. they were softer, larger, pale and still. maybe that was how i knew it was real. they were the last page. i stood next to his wife’s chair (she wasn’t great-grandmother anymore that day, she was only his wife) and let her take my hand, noticing how different hers were, how tiny and frail and beaten they were without any signs of work. i had never noticed before just how weak they were, how weak they could become without any cause besides time.
i have seen enough beautiful hands to fill libraries.

i have seen hurtful hands, too, hands that seemed warm and strong and comforting but were only tools to be used in letting go. i hope those hands learn to become dusty, hiding in the archives. or maybe i hope someone will find them and teach them how to hold on as hard as they can to someone, to clutch at what they need until their nails draw blood from the palms of another, and then develop wrinkles and scars from the effort of holding firm.

i hope those hands find the right fingers to wrap around. i don’t ask that they be mine; only that they find the conviction and the strength to not let go.

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i am.

i avoid kitchens now. they make me feel uncomfortable. exposed. the walls know things they shouldn’t. they hold whispers and eyes and lies, and they speak only to me. mine. they have not forgotten. they did not leave.
i admit for a few weeks, i didn’t want to go to college anymore. i didn’t want to see the beach again if i couldn’t share it. i would never, ever touch my guitar again. i didn’t want to compose playlists for desert adventures, i didn’t want to go back to the fish and chips stand and watch the seagulls scream above the waves. memories and plans were not to be tarnished by the salty taste of aloneness. maybe, i thought, it would be better to lie down and close my eyes and only remember and hope. it would be best to laugh about what happened and dream of the future we could find, instead of thinking about now.
i still don’t want reality. but it’s what i choose.
i will choose to see this ache
as something
lovely.

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after me comes the flood

i have little bruises all over my body; fingerprints on my hips and waist, dents on my wrist. burns kiss my neck and cheeks, forehead and knuckles. this is happening for a reason, i tell myself. this was meant to happen. this is not a mistake, and even if it is, well, it was meant to happen too.

confessions are spoken twice; first to your own heart, then to their faces, spoken into a warm wind while gazing at the moon blazing through piles of black clouds. i nodded, admitted what no one else could believe; that there is an amount of strength reserved for hearts that hold questions with no answers. i listed every what-if: what if those days had never happened? would things have been different, had it not been for a few misspoken, breathless words? it doesn’t matter anymore, though. those days happened, the unforgivable words were spoken and true, and we were left broken.

i listened to your song today, and where it used to make me smile, it made my heart go cold with the fear of the underlying meaning. but maybe the ruin is inevitable now.

these are the things that make my bones crack: smiles that look like scars, kitchen whispers, pounding mallets, paintings made of words, and the thought that maybe all i could do was not enough, and i’m going to get the call one day that it all went too far.

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the escape

the day we ran out of time, we threw every single one of our books from their dusty places to the floor, poured all of our extra rations of tears upon them like gasoline, and set fire to them. we stood in a circle and held hands, reciting the words recorded inside them all over the sounds of burning, watching as the words bounced around our empty walls. we painted over the graphite lines on the doorway marking years of growth and ran, out the door, down the hot black street and away from the driveways where we used to sit about and drink cheap powdered drinks, lukewarm and full of ants, disgusting and thoroughly addicting, gallons and gallons of sticky pink sweetness. looking back, i saw our memories rising up to fill the street until the gutters couldn’t hold it in, and everyone left behind wordlessly drowned as the houses flooded with lemonade and blood.

when we crossed the boundary lines between worlds, we sat in the piles of tumbleweed and rocks laid out along the sides of the winding dirt road, and let our veins cry one last time, blue droplets running down our skin, flowing from final scrapes and gaping wounds. we bled until it struck everyone as hysterical, and laughed the last of the pain away. then we kicked off our shoes and stood up, stomping our feet and clapping as we began to run, each of my feet trying to race the other. as usual, the way out was over the mountain, so we flew over cacti and lizards and the bones of other animals who got caught in between, and went up up up and over the horizon.

did you know that up there, the higher you get, the less you have to breathe and the less your heart has to beat?

that was the best part, the not breathing.

we met her once we got up a ways, and even though i’d never seen her before, i know she’d never looked better. i always thought i would cry at that moment, but once you’re up that high your eyes don’t want to do that anymore. instead we did the next best thing and made up one last crazy story, each of us shouting out a different word at the same time until we ended up with a song we’d all tried to sing before but could never quite get right. at the very top of the mountain, she began to lead us straight outward instead of down, and we looked down one last time on the piles and piles of decay. i slung my guitar over one shoulder with one hand and grabbed on to the nearest lovely stranger with the other, and we both smiled as we started the victory march out.

if you ever went back to the street we left, you would find only sticky puddles swarming with insects and vermin, cockroaches nestled peacefully against doorways. if you opened the fourth door, you would find an empty house filled with the scent of rotting fruit and bones, and a window looking out onto a backyard full of the skeletons of birds perched on the empty feeder.

if you make your way upstairs to the third bedroom and open the door, there is a smell of something else, a smell of paint that was once fresh, and burning pine trees seemingly out of place in a house in a desert. if you listen closely, you can still hear the sound of all the words they fed us echoing in circles.

if you listen closely, you can hear all that is left of the lives we used to live. you can hear an echo of the promises you used to laugh at us for believing. you can hear the only words that came true, words you had nothing to do with. your eyes may fill with tears or anger or pain. but it is too late.

if you ever come back, there will only be ashes and echoes and blood.

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heart music

i can’t listen to anything other than explosions in the sky today. their music can break a heart and heal it all over again in just one song.

this one brought me to tears.

this one especially is almost too much for a person to handle in under ten minutes.

the song I fell in love with first.

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you were better than this

on many of these summer weekends, i ignore the heat and do nothing but sleep, hiding under soft blue caves made of sheets and quilts, letting myself drown in sweat, swaddling myself in a cocoon so tight, if i squeeze my eyes shut, i can feel past the colors to something almost like arms. when i awake, i watch the walls for hours, trying to ignore the constricting strings inside my chest, pulling me towards the truth. when i push myself out the door, i walk around singing and talking, accepting the pain but knowing acceptance won’t push it away, only letting myself miss you hard when i notice the aloneness in laughter.

some days i wonder if you really are gone or if you’re out there somewhere, lost but within my reach if i were to stretch out far enough. on those days i can watch the sun beat down on our heads and smile at the thought of the summer that has begun, quiver with anticipation and excitement over new choices and new people, praying that maybe once the sun backs away from our world and allows a chill to creep back over our skin, you will be there to laugh the cold away with me like we used to. i can look at old pictures and think to myself that they were all true, that the looks on our faces couldn’t have been forced or painted on by illusions of calm that never existed. on these blind days, i let myself hope these endings never happened.

but there are things i can’t pretend. you don’t make me happy anymore. happiness is not the priority here anymore; happiness and love are two separate things now. happiness is everyone who smiled in spite of rising waters and flames and stood their ground. love is fingernails digging into skin and a peace that hurts.

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why I write

“Art is not a process of creating these superficial realities to me. Art is all about being authentic and being honest before God about my own conditions, things that I’m struggling with. And so the process of painting is very much about prayer to me. It is layering of pigments and gold and silver that allows me to focus on both the beauty of God’s reality but also my own brokenness.” ~Makoto Fujimura

When I stumbled upon a video of Fujimura discussing a Christian’s role in the arts, it instantly caught my attention. He uses paint in his art, and I use writing and, at times, my piano as my mediums. I disagree with the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words,” but I do think a picture can say just as much and evoke the same reaction as a poem. It’s just wordless. I think this is because the goal in any art form is (in general) pure expression.

Why do I write? Why do I love music? Why is the world of art so important to me?

My hands are not very good at putting together an image in my mind and putting it into form, making it into a solid, definite object. When I try to paint or draw, the perfectionist inside me starts saying “Change that. That isn’t good enough. No one is going to look at this and understand what you are trying to say.” I’m not wired to give my emotions or convictions precise form. I do, however, love trying to convey images, which is what my goal is when I write. I’m not concise, I am not always clear, my words are generally very abstract, but I’m not aiming for perfection or a picture that’s been colored neatly within the lines. I’m just trying to form a general image, and I want you to be able to fill in the blanks and interpret things and make them your own through my words.

When I can’t find words anymore, I turn to music. I believe everyone’s talents and gifts come from God and belong to Him, and He sure didn’t restrict Himself when He came up with ways for us to look on His face. He’s painted things in nature that even the best artist can’t replicate, He’s put sounds into His world that no singer or pianist of musician of any kind could imitate, and He’s written stories and worked miracles that even the greatest master of the written word couldn’t type out and still manage to do justice to His beauty.

He’s not just an artist, He’s the Creator of art itself. His art is an expression of His nature, which makes it beautiful- because His nature is itself beauty.

I actually think that’s the reason art has become, in so many cases, corrupt. I’ve yet to meet someone who considers themselves an artist who has told me he’s not trying to express himself. When you reach inside yourself and try to look into your soul and produce an image of it or express yourself, it will, in keeping with human nature, generally reveal quite a lot of unpleasant, sinful things that go completely against God and His nature. I’m not saying God can’t work through these things- after all, what man intended for evil God intended for good. But one can’t go around saying “Well, God will find a way to use everything for His purpose, so I think I shall use this as an excuse to go do whatever I want and put whatever images I so desire into my mind whether it causes me to stumble in my walk with Him or not.”

I think often Christians get a little too cautious, though. We start to say that we should completely separate ourselves from anything that could become corrupted. Hello, people? We call it CORRUPTED because it’s a GOOD THING WE MADE BAD. Music is an example.

(Yes, I did just go there. Ooh, and I can feel the controversy rising up already.)

Now, I am not going to start saying names, but I know more than a few Christians who are very opinionated about what is right and wrong in music. Now, I’m fine with you listening to whatever you want. It’s your personal decision and it’s between you and God. If you choose to listen only to traditional hymns, well, say goodbye to variety but I’m sure that’s not displeasing to God. Your choice. But then you begin branding certain kinds of music as “wrong” or “bad.” I’ve never heard anyone use the word “satanic” out loud in anything but a joking manner before to describe a genre of music, but hey people, let’s admit it, for some of you the word has crossed your mind when I mention , say, rap. Not many of you. But I’ve met a few of you. I want you to say it with me: rap is not evil in of itself. The genre of music itself is NOT WRONG. WE are the problem here. We’re sinners, and that transfers into the lyrics we put to music. Am I saying there’s no such thing as rap that’s offensive to God? Heck no. But it’s not because rap is offensive. It’s us. It’s sin. It can be corrupted because WE have corrupted it and WE are corrupted.

In fact, I’m going to use rap as my illustration right now. I can already hear a lot of you Christians out there right now muttering under your breath about how possessed it is and I can hear plenty of you who aren’t believers saying it’s just retards attempting poetry. Yeah, yeah, whatever. Set aside your opinion of what’s music and what’s not for a minute and bear with me. We’ve all heard some disgusting, offensive rap songs before. All you rap lovers, shut up and face it. I said SOME disgusting, offensive rap songs. Not all. Example of awesome rap: Lecrae. Look him up. Only rapper I ever loved. What makes him so awesome? Not only are his songs catchy like nobody’s business, but if you look up his lyrics, the dude’s pretty much rapping the Bible. “You like music from rap to gospel but you prolly never heard nobody rap the gospel.” Mmmhm, I just slipped in a snippet of his lyrics for free ‘cause I’m generous like that. Lecrae is a GREAT example of a Christian showing God’s light in a field of music regarded by many people as being wrong. Did he say rap is bad so it should be completely avoided? No. He said that even though there’s plenty of bad rap music out there, he was going to use it anyway and turn the focus on God through it. He’s glorifying Jesus Christ in an amazing way, whether you like rap or not. And please don’t be one of those people who are the musical equivalent of what racist is to different races of humans and tell me I must think rap is evil because I used it as an example. Get a life and quit avoiding my point.

Sometimes we forget that the world of art can be a field of ministry. When images catch our eye, they tend to stay in our mind for a long time. When we hear an interesting song, we often walk around humming it without even noticing. There are images we see, accidentally or on purpose, that get caught in our mind and are hard to forget. Some of these are bad and can cause real struggles in our lives. I have plenty of experience with music that was a little too catchy and maybe not quite as pure as it ought to be, got stuck in my head, and caused me to struggle. Some of the things we create can tear us down. But some of the things we create we can use to build others up. Art sticks with us, and it should. God made art, and it’s an amazing tool we can use to help other people look on the face of God.

Words are powerful. Words affect people. God has used words to work in my life nearly every day, and His Word changed my life forever. Now, I’m not saying I think by using words I can be a little more like God, using one of the powerful gifts he gave us- the ability to write and speak. Of course my goal is to live like Christ, but I will never be perfect. But when Fujimura said the process of painting is very much about prayer, I instantly connected with that. Much of what I write is either me trying to express the beauty of what He has made, the pain that the absence of Him causes, my own wretchedness before I accepted Him as my savior, the battle I fight between my will and His, or my joy because of what He’s done for me. My writing is, often, a prayer. I may not specifically mention God in my writing all the time, but that’s mostly because I rarely feel the need to spell what I think out for people. Again, I want people to relate to what I am saying, and the more detailed I get, the less likely it is that I will be relatable. I’m painting basic images; not dotting every ‘i’ and crossing every “t”. I usually leave it up to the person to interpret what I’m saying enough that it becomes personal and theirs. Not that there isn’t a time for me to share my own testimony; my beliefs and convictions and worldview should shine through in my words. But there’s a time and place for everything.

I can’t be sure what God wants to do with me in my life, but based on what I have felt called to do so far, I think a big part of it involves my musical and writing abilities. How? I don’t know exactly, though I do have a few ideas. I do know that I’m called to live for Christ in everything I do, and do all to the glory of God. That’s the main reason I write, the main reason I play piano. I want to go out into places where He is not the main focus, and try to put the focus back on Him. In my opinion, that makes the world of literature and art and music as big a mission field as any place in Africa. The world of art needs missionaries just as badly as any country. It can affect just as many people just as strongly.

My goal basically summed up: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31

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