Monday, January 30, 2017

A Tangible Reflection

Good morning. I have a couple of announcements to make.

First, Trey is now a senior partner in his law firm. 

That's a gif he won't appreciate because he reads nonfiction instead of gems like Harry Potter, but hey, it's my blog . . . which he doesn't habitually read.

Moving on. Last week was a five-day school week, & the kids & I made it to school all five days - all three of us, all five days. 

I have four new barstools I love. LOVE. I was worried about the color because I bought them online without seeing them in person (which is basically the way I buy everything these days), but they're perfect.

I think a gray hair has sprouted on my head. I'm not sure but I think this is the case. I keep looking at it from various angles & in different lighting scenarios & I'm pretty sure it's a gray hair. I'm still processing. 

If you're curious, the book has been submitted, editing deadlines nailed.

With the help of the geniuses at Cinemark I'll be rewarding myself later this week. Rewarding myself for making it through the editing process . . . for writing a book . . . for plugging away until I found a publisher . . . for getting up at five am five days a week . . . for learning about the life cycle of a louse . . . for cleaning up vomit . . . for not leaving in the middle of the night to drive to Destin by myself. Take your pick. 

She (that's the book, not Baby) will come back to me again for one more read, but the time for revisions is over. I added an epigraph (which is not an epilogue), & this weekend I emailed the publisher with an Acknowledgements blurb. That was a doozie to write. You've got to strike a balance between thanking everyone you know & every teacher you've ever had, & ensuring you don't omit the name of someone without whom the book would've never been written / published / edited, &/or without whom your life would be a barren waste land. 

Naturally over the weekend, after the book was submitted, as I was preparing for the school week ahead I was reminded of something I knew, that Hemingway took his title For Whom the Bell Tolls from a John Donne poem. You know what my characters spend some time doing? Discussing Hemingway. Reading Donne. Oh well. They don't really discuss For Whom the Bell Tolls specifically, so I can live with the omission of what would've been a natural conversation for them to have. Really, I am totally over it. 

My next book's going to be about a high school English teacher who attempts to teach Nineteen Eighty-Four to her Advanced Placement students but makes achingly slow progress because class discussion segues into a lively exchange regarding dress codes, appropriate touching, & Side Hugs: A legit option or ineffective & icy? 

It's truly amazing what flits through my mind late at night &/or early in the morning. Sometimes I suspect my fingers twitch to type as I sleep. After the aforementioned discussion in Friday's AP class, Saturday morning I was awake before seven am, unable to find sleep again & mentally composing notes covering, among other things, the human need for touch & the human tie to that which is tangible as it is explored in Lewis's The Screwtape Letters, Nineteen Eighty-Four, & John Donne's poetry. Sometimes I hate myself. 

Donne is - as I am sure you know - considered chief among the metaphysical poets, a group of poets who use elaborate metaphors to explain high concepts, often the intangible things that so vex humans: love, anguish, death, etc. One of my favorites of his is "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning." Donne & his love are about to experience physical separation, & the poem is a tumble of metaphor after metaphor, each another - a tangible - way of explaining their separation so as to ward off the mourning which the poem's title forbids.

I think my favorite is the compass, which he utilizes in the poem's final three stanzas.

You need this image in your head:

If they are two, they are two so
As stiff twin compasses are two:
Thy soul, the fixed foot, makes no show
To move, but doth, if the other do;

And though it in the center sit,
Yet when the other far doth roam,
It leans, and hearkens after it, 
And grows erect, as that comes home.

Such wilt thou be to me, who must, 
Like the other foot, obliquely run;
Thy firmness makes my circle just,
And makes me end where I begun.

I know. It's awesome. 

Donne knew what C.S. Lewis knew, namely that humans are so incredibly, firmly tied to the tangible. Even those who know & accept, intellectually, that they are a soul temporarily living in a body that is aging daily, a body that will fail them one day & from which they will be, as Lewis states, "ejected at the pleasure of Another," even these people struggle to see beyond the physical at times, to see beyond the wrinkles, the gray hair, the pain - to see beyond that which can be touched, felt, even physically altered. 

And that's okay. While Lewis (& Donne) would certainly encourage thinking beyond the tangible, thinking about spiritual matters & spiritual realms, they too were men, & they too knew well that humans are physical creatures who have physical needs . . . and the beauty of God's design, I think, is that the spiritual needs can sometimes be addressed, be understood, be met, bet satisfied, via physicality. Stay with me. What did Donne do? He grasped at every physical thing he could think of in his attempts to explain the spiritual, the emotional, the intangible. He saw the benefit of melding the two. What did Jesus do? He said, I am the bread of life. I am living water. Oh. Bread. Water. Hunger. Thirst. There's something anyone can understand. 

Last week as we waded through Book One of Nineteen Eighty-Four we chatted about the human need for touch. I mean, I think we did . . . maybe it was all in my head. At any rate, we'll be picking that up this week as we move through Book Two because in Book Two Winston emerges from his sad, lonely life of isolation, experiences, well, humanity, & decides he wants to live mere days after  resigning himself to death. 

I once read a story - maybe a news article or a short story, I wish I could remember - about an elderly lady who lived alone. She had no family & few friends. When she bought her groceries she would sometimes wait in a long line when there were other, shorter lines or even a cashier waiting on no one at the moment. The young man whose line she always sought out asked her one day why she chose to wait, which sometimes meant standing for much longer than was necessary. She told him she always chose his line because he always hugged her.

There's a scene in my book in which Edie is having a discussion with a friend about the loneliness of being in graduate school far from home. She says this: "I'm homesick. I miss my parents' hugs. No one touches me here. Does that sound weird?"

When I wrote that I was thinking about the aforementioned story of the elderly lady, & I was recalling my first year of college. I was not in the greatest of places emotionally my freshman year of college. I was young - seventeen when I began that fall - & I wasn't thrilled about living several hours away from home. Don't get me wrong; I was mature & did what I needed to do & made good grades. I didn't turn to drugs or alcohol or pick up any other harmful habits (unless you consider drinking a lot of Dr. Pepper & watching Dirty Dancing repeatedly with your suitemate to be harmful). 

Looking back on it, as cliche as it sounds, I could've used a hug every now & then. I had friends. I lived with a roommate & two suitemates & was rarely alone, but I was lonely at times. My cousin, Elizabeth, had died suddenly in June prior to my departure for college in August & I spent a lot of time in my head, thinking. In retrospect I bet my roommate & suitemates got incredibly sick of me at times, & rightfully so. I was not always peppy (it's not my nature, but was probably exacerbated during this time in my life). If y'all are reading, I belatedly offer an I'm sorry for being odd & moody & maybe even yelling or crying randomly

At another point in my book, Dr. Foster says this while lecturing about why we're drawn to literature: 

There are many historical accounts of 1920s America, but there is something timeless and endearing about the naivety of young Nick Carraway. There are endless stories about The Great War, but perhaps no tale more tragic and humanizing than Frederic and Catherine’s. We seek that which is a reflection of ourselves; it is an innate desire that manifests itself almost immediately as we coo at our own reflection as infants. We reach for our parents’ faces, stroking their cheeks with chubby fingers because the symmetry, and often the features and coloring, of their faces mimics our own. We grow and gravitate toward those individuals who are similar to us in some significant way – physically, intellectually – we surround ourselves with people who affirm our own humanity. It is no coincidence that we celebrate literature that presents us with characters whose human condition is not unlike our own. 

So what's my point? I know you're wondering. My AP class - by some twisted pathway of discussion I cannot recall in detail or relay to you now - was discussing the side hug on Friday (I promise we also discuss literature). The side-hug, of course, is the answer to the normal (more physical, more involved . . . more heartfelt) hug.

I *think* talk of Big Brother & "rules" & physical isolation & physical repression (which is rampant in Nineteen Eighty-Four) was the catalyst for the side-hug banter. At any rate, I drove home Friday thinking about this . . . & thinking about Donne's poems, & Lewis's understanding of the physicality of humans & how it can be used for good, or for evil. I thought about a student who recently returned to my classroom after a bit of an absence & his assumption, upon seeing me for the first time, that my concern would be the work he missed. I think he was a little surprised when I told him we could talk in the hall where I promptly gave him a full-on - lingering - I am so glad to see you again - hug.

Remember that time I blogged about the Fifty Shades of Grey books? You know what the root of Christian Grey's problem is? He was neglected as a child. He wasn't held. The only touch he knew was abusive, & so he becomes an abuser. It's one of many complaints I have with the novels. If the novels serve no other purpose (& really, it's a struggle to even type that), may they be a warning about the absolute necessity of loving children properly - not neglecting their innate desire to be held & touched . . . obviously in appropriate ways. Maybe next week: Winston Smith & Christian Grey: What's with all the rage?

My Henry's greatest joy in life is snuggling in bed with me. We could win a spooning contest (I may have to delete that when he's older). C.S Lewis does a phenomenal job of explaining how every good thing comes from the Father - every good thing, including the life-affirming, potentially healing power of human touch (& yes!, even sex). Sure, humans can twist & pull & make an ugly, awful mess of what God intended for good, but that doesn't negate God's original intent. Unfortunately we live in a time when people - even, or especially, very young people - spend a lot of time with their hands on electronic devices, & screens in front of their faces. We live in a time when you have to think twice about a hug because there's a whole manual about it & you probably need to have the intended recipient of the hug sign a consent form. Jesus kissed his disciples; today the headline would be: Is the Carpenter Turned Speaking Sensation Dating One of His Groupies? Pictures on Page Ten! 

I like the Keats quote above: "Touch has a memory." I vividly remember the feel of my grandmother's hand the last time I held it, & the roughness of my grandfather's unshaven cheek the last time I pressed my face to his, in July of 2007. I ran across this, which I also love:

It is an absolute human certainty that no one can know his own beauty or perceive a sense of his own worth until it has been reflected back to him in the mirror of another loving, caring human being. 
-John Joseph Powell
You may be the only mirror in someone's life. Show them their own humanity by demonstrating yours. Down with Big Brother; DOWN WITH THE SIDE HUG. My point, obviously, is that I have a gray hair & need a hug . . . but don't think of it as a hug; think of it as us celebrating our humanity together.

To my seniors I want to say this: If, in the next year, or the years that unfold after that, you find yourself lost, or alone, or confused, or just homesick, call me. Text me. Email me. Drive home & come see me. I will be your mirror. It's almost February & I am getting a little bit weepy & anxious. Deep breaths.

I'll leave you all with a (((virtual hug))).

Or this, depending on your preference.

Y'all have the time of your life this week. I certainly plan to.


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