Thinking

Love According to Rainer Maria Rilke

Beauty is only the first touch of terror, he quoted during one of our first conversations.

I had recently finished a required course in Romanticism and was stumbling through an inarticulate explanation of my interest in the idea of the sublime. His response left me dizzy with the rare thrill of feeling implicitly understood. I knew his words were borrowed, but it was all mixed up together in the months that followed – a whirlwind of handwritten letters and a borrowed copy of the Duino Elegies and professions of love.  I had never read Rilke before and so I was in awe at the way his beautiful words seemed to expand inside me, making room for new thoughts and carving out places for new feelings.

When the dust settled, I wondered if maybe I hadn’t been so much in love with a boy from my college as with a long dead Austrian poet and his idea of what love should be.  The college romance might be a distant memory, but I still hold to Rilke’s  exquisite vision of love:

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Writing

The Living Room

I avoided the living room when I could, pristine white carpet stretching under straight-back furniture, breakable family heirlooms in every direction – the pocket watch my Great-Grandpa brought over from Switzerland and the faded black-and-white picture taken before my Great-Grandma left Austria – she and her parents and her nine siblings, all in their Sunday best, not a single smile in the bunch.

But for thirty minutes every evening, I was held hostage, shackled to the centerpiece of the living room, the antique upright piano my parents had seen advertised in the newspaper and purchased with the doomed hope that I might turn out to be a protégée concert pianist. I hated that beautiful piano, intricate floral carvings and real ivory keys, piled with the sheet music my fingers refused to learn, and topped with a taskmaster metronome.

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Writing

All Wrong

His mouth was all wrong. 

Everything was wrong . Sallow skin and sunken cheeks.  Over-slicked hair and the box he was lying in. But nothing was more wrong than his mouth, which had always, always greeted me with a grin, now severe and unforgiving, forever set by the mortician in a hard, unnatural line. 

The funeral director was asking if we wanted him buried with his wedding ring – and did we want to donate his glasses?  The slideshow was playing for the third time through and my most treasured childhood memories were on display, bizarrely accompanied by violins and kitchy lyrics. Visitors were telling me that I looked just like my mom and they were sorry for my loss. I would feel better in a month or so and we would see him again in heaven and 90 years is plenty long enough to have lived on earth, anyway.

“The things people say,” hissed my cousin, scowling beside me in the reception line.  “Death makes people stupid.”

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Thinking

On faith, doubt, and growing up in church

I have such happy memories of growing up in church. I remember vanilla wafers and flannelgraphs on Sunday mornings,  all the girls in our tights and ribbons, all the boys in their tiny jackets and miniature ties. I remember memorizing the books of the Bible to the tune of nursery rhymes and reciting verses in exchange for AWANA pins, trading prized “Bible cards” for candy, and earning Pioneer Girl badges for giving my “testimony.” I remember daydreaming about playing the coveted role of Mary in the Christmas pageant while perched in the baptismal as a manger-scene dove and singing a slightly off-tune Handel’s Messiah in the choir every Easter.

I made my first life-long friends in youth group and played out the awkward flirtations of my first crushes in the fellowship hall. There were road trips and lock-ins featuring elaborate games of Capture the Flag followed by contests to see who could stuff their mouth with the most whipped cream.  There was my nerdy junior high stage where I joined the church puppet team and my (obviously much cooler) high school phase where I joined the church drama club. There were service projects that turned into laughter-filled afternoons of paint fights or leaf-jumping, “missions trips” filled with white water rafting, and, of course, Nationals, where thousands of hormonally-charged Evangelical teenagers gathered every other year on a college campus to  rock out with Jeff Deyo, “rededicate their lives to Christ,” and scope out potential future spouses.

But there are less happy memories too.

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Writing

Contact

His fingers graze your knee like a side conversation as he talks about Vonnegut like he’s the first person to ever talk about Vonnegut and asks, with all the disarming sincerity in the world, if you consider yourself a feminist. You wonder when everyone in your life stopped talking like this – not that anyone in your life ever talked exactly like this – like “cheers – eye contact” and “what are you looking for?” and “are you happy?” – with exactly this mix of eager and guileless and curious and warm. It’s the way he offers his arm before the second round of whiskey that gets you. Or maybe it’s the way he grabs your hand after the third, as if, yes, of course, you must be touching, of course, you must share liquor-fueled kisses in shadowy doorways up and down Milwaukee Avenue. MacCallan on your lips as your make your escape like you can take or leave it. But you can’t quite forget the taste. Contact. You want it.  You want his fingers in your hair and his mouth on your neck.  You want skin on skin. But you’d settle for a text.

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Writing

Red

She still dreams in red. Poppy strewn ditches and forests turned scarlet by autumn leaves. Rust covered bridges under a flaming moon.  Red candy apples and red rosa plums stretching beyond the horizon, orchards upon orchards of red. A string of garnets at her neck and nails painted a deep, gleaming cherry. Flashes of lighting like fire and bright vermilion clouds, bursting with liquid crimson. First just a drizzle and then a downpour. She watches transfixed as the red rain floods the ground and drenches her hair and soaks her skin. It all bleeds together; blood everywhere. She still wakes up in the middle of the night with muscles coiled, ready to spring.

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