Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Life in the Darkness and Thankfulness

I keep saying that I should write some more about our little electric lights fast for advent. It's an idea we copied from the influence of the professors Lipscomb at Houghton college, who fasted all lights but candle light (and string lights for the tree) in their home throughout the season of advent. My friends and I were all pretty impressed, and some of the guys decided to do it in their house their senior year in college. This past advent was the first year that I've lived in a place where candles are allowed, and since I was living with two good friends from Houghton we all decided to go for it, and to use the time to reflect on the coming of Christ, as light in our darkness.

Living that metaphor was a beautiful experience in many ways. Candles are a nice calming light, and many of them smell nice, and sitting in the darkness together singing hymns and carols is really fun. But a lot of this experience was tough. Because we all work full time jobs, we often didn't see any daylight in our apartment, and rising early in the morning to get dressed by candlelight or attempting to cook by candlelight are both pretty frustrating experiences. It was also hard on our minds and hearts. The gloom could get pretty oppressive, hard to wake up, hard to be cheerful, hard to accomplish any small task. As Advent progressed the days got shorter, but we also added more light in our lives. We got more candlesticks, got a tree covered in light (which glowed like no tree in my memory), and the last week of advent, put up a row of string lights in the kitchen. Every time we added light in our lives there was so much delight, and we'd break out in exclamations like, "Christ is coming!" And now that Christmas is past, the light is something we are constantly thankful for. The electricity, the convenience, the brightness of being able to see each other, and find the keys or the wallet or the book we were reading without worrying about dripping wax. Thankful for so much.

Though thankfulness is nothing new in our house. As a graduation present, friends from my church back home gave me Selections from 1000 Gifts by Ann Voskamp. I had liked her blog in the past but I devoured her little book, and it made me want our apartment this year to be defined by thankfulness. So even before we had found an apartment, before we had a wall, we were thinking of having a "wall of thankfulness" to put up things we are thankful for. So we have a wall (or now going on three walls) covered with sticky notes, all things we're thankful for. Some items of thanksgiving are huge things: Creativity. Another chance. Stillness. Some are still broad, but less abstract: Cookbooks. Hymns. Sunshine. Letters. Leftovers. Lots are people we're thankful for: Shane and Clara here in our home! Families we love. wonderful coworkers. Parents. T. S. Eliot. Some sticky notes have stories which make us laugh a lot. We have a trio of notes all of which voice our thankfulness for butter. They read: "Butter." "Butter." and "BUTTER nomnomnomnomnomnomnom." And the story behind those three is as follows. One evening I saw Rebekah wrote the word "butter" on a sticky note, and thought "yes! we are all thankful for butter!" but instead of putting it on the wall she put in on her lunch bag to remind herself not to forget the butter she was going to take to work in the morning. So I wrote a "butter" thankfulness note, and when Rebekah had successfully reminded herself, she added hers on the wall right next to mine. When our friends Clara and Shane came to visit they loved that we had two "butter" post its, and added a third, with the appropriate commentary to go with it.

Here are some other posts from our wall in no particular order, though one should note that since we have the wall of thankfulness in the kitchen there are more food related thanksgivings than might be there otherwise. Yarn shops. Laughing together. The means of grace. Hyperbole and a Half. Using a blowtorch. Humor of the Wardwells. Sleep. Curry. Reading out loud. The money to pay for car repairs. Unexpected food at work! Abigail. Changing gender stereotypes. The internet. Free public bathrooms. Classic Christmas movies. Jenn and Joey. A wonderful grad school experience. Pomegranate. Mumford and Sons. The ability to see. Cassie. The color of the sky after a hurricane. Diner breakfasts. Kind Clara who leaves the parking spot for me. Kind Rebekah who leaves the parking spot for me--on the same night. :) Three tissue soup. Agape love. The purple tool kit. Lights. Hot showers. HUGE PILE OF KALE! Stars. Sanctification. Pandora. The Library. Bagels. Pre-marital counseling. Disinfectant wipes. The month of November. Silhouettes. Owen. Tabletop campfires. The hierarchy of adverbs. Returned wallets. Birthdays and friends who celebrate together. The cookie press. Forgiveness. Bouquets for Rebekah! Christmas bonus. Little brothers. FYHP. Phone lines and the people who make them work. Chloe. Apple crisp. Sundays: a day of rest. Chocolate. Alarm clocks. Letter from Anonymous PEGs. Classes that made us think and changed who we are today. A new toilet. Sharon Creech's novels. Grilled vegetables and pesto. Spiced cider. Love.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Happy New Year!

I used to write “update emails” to all my friends and relations. I wrote them in London, and I’ve written some since Houghton, but I think I am going to morph over to other means of communication, which brings you all to this blog. Here is the Christmas update letter of blogposts, covering a great deal of ground, and hopefully telling some good stories along the way.


photo by Woods Pierce

This past spring I wrote thesis, worked with the beautiful and talented Linden to design and construct the world of our production of All’s Well that End’s Well, including but not limited to making a giant pop-up book as the set for the play. It was pretty intense, and I’ve never been more proud of a production so if you’d like to read a lot more about that I recommend you check out our blog allswellindesign.blogspot.com. I also finished all my coursework for my second masters degree, an MFA in Shakespeare and Performance, and all in one month All’s Well went into performance, I took a very intense acting class (last class of graduate school) my dear friends got married, I finished up my job in the Program for the Exceptionally Gifted and I graduated. All of these were pretty emotional experiences, and all involved tears, except for finishing up PEG. I was an RA, you see, so I needed to hold it together for the girls. But we had some really special times right at the end in the PEG dorm. During finals week in PEG we always plan one activity each day for the “loud hour” study break in the evening. One of the last days of finals week, one of the girls had suggested we should make a blanket fort, and so we made the largest most amazing blanket and furniture fort ever. It spanned the entire common room, used about 15 sheets and blankets, two tables on their sides, a couch, rope, scarves and I brought homemade cookies down for us to eat inside of it, and it turned into a sing along of “I’ll make a man out of you” and various showtunes. That brings me to the end of spring, but lest you think I ended my time in PEG in May continue reading for the adventures in the summer!


photo by Pat Jarrett
I made a visit home after graduation, three weeks or so, but still very short, including a trip to Houghton and some lovely time getting invited over and over for tea or for lunch or for a walk up the hill. I may not know a single student there anymore, but I know the hills and the buildings, and I know the professors and it is such a joy to have professors caring so much about their students long after they’ve graduated. The rest of my time at home was spent visiting with family and friends, and before long I was back to Staunton for the American Shakespeare Center Theater Camp! I have written pages and pages about this camp which you can read here, but for now let it suffice to say, working for that camp is an honor and a privilege. Those young artists are just brimming with potential, potential they realize every day in that camp. I cannot say enough good things about the work they do or the experiences they have, but I am very, very proud of every one of them.

And then.... I got engaged. There’s a few days between the two camps, and in those few days I went to visit Owen in Princeton. It was the evening before my birthday, and after a long tiring day in the car I got to him, we went on a walk, and that was that, and it was lovely. The next day was my birthday, so we had many, many, many people wishing us well. I had known that Owen and I would be really happy, but I hadn’t realized that so many people would be so happy for us both. It was pretty special. And, in case you were wondering, the ring belonged to Owen’s grandmother, and it’s really, really beautiful. Random strangers frequently tell me how much they like it, and it’s nice to say “it’s his grandmother’s ring.”

After the second session of ASCTC, I moved to New Jersey, home of the everlasting strip malls, terrible drivers and many people very dear to my heart. When I moved I did not have a car, a job or a place to live, and thanks to the generosity of Rebekah, her family, and some new friends Jenn and Joey, I was able to have housing and transportation while I found a car, a job and Rebekah, Abigail and I found a place to live.


In the Fall (or late summer, however you like it) I began working at Labyrinth Books in Princeton, NJ. I work walking distance from Owen’s apartment, and although being a bookseller is not my life goal, it is an excellent job for the year, a job that I enjoy, but that I do not need to take home with me, and am able to get involved in my church, spend time with Owen and my housemates and adjust to life as a grown-up, commuting to work, earning a paycheck, paying off school loans. Other highlights of the fall were a trip to Rheinbeck Sheep and Wool festival (which you can read about here) and our experiences with Hurricane Sandy. We were all fine, and didn’t sustain any damage, although we were out of electricity for about 4 days. Our stove runs on gas, so we were able to cook, and it was cold enough outside that our food stayed refrigerated on our balcony. Mostly it was a time with all of us (Owen stayed with us in our apartment) being together, playing Settlers by candlelight, singing hymns and reading Shakespeare out loud together. Not too different from regular life, just a bit more gratitude. Speaking of gratitude! One of the happiest parts of our house is the “Wall of Thankfulness” which is a wall (and now more than one wall) which we are covering with post-it notes, each saying something we are thankful for. It’s been such a joy to have around us as we eat and work together.


Which brings me to winter. Highlights have included housemate Rebekah’s chorus concert in which her students sang beautifully, and the auditorium was packed full of parents, friends, family, all eager to cheer their kids on. As a house we decided to fast electric lights, and go with only candles, and eventually string lights. That was an adventure that deserves its own post, but suffice to say, living out a metaphor of advent, of waiting in the darkness for the light of Christ was really painful and meaningful. I also spent my first Christmas away from my own parents, and with my parents-to-be! I spent all the surrounding days working at the bookstore, so I just had the one full day to be with Owen's family, but it was a wonderful day, and I'm growing to love them all more all the time.

Let me finish out by saying a few more things about Owen, and why I am full to overflowing with the joy of getting to marry him. Perhaps it is the brute strength of his gentleness. Perhaps his delight in the world around him and his eagerness to learn about it - the name of those clouds, the vein structure of this leaf, the tastes of new foods, and the history of places or ideas. Perhaps it is his mind--so quick, so skilled in making connections or seeing patterns, for a math lemma or the stitch sequence for a knit lace, a sharp mind paired with a generous, patient attitude towards sharing his knowledge, sharing the skills to making connections oneself. At his last class teaching this semester at Princeton his students applauded him and all said they were sad his class was ending. Not a class full of math kids. Not people particularly interested in the subject outside of that class, just loving it as Owen teaches it. Maybe part of the joy is the pleasure of doing things together with him, be it chopping vegetables for dinner, going on a trip to the museum in Philly (with crayons!) or just being in the same car. A couple years ago, he and I decided to draw an apple each day for 100 days, inspired by the Sharon Creech book Heartbeat. As we drew those apples the drawings started getting better. Partially because we improved with practice, but only partially. The apples started looking more beautiful in our pictures because we saw them as more beautiful, just by the act of seeing. Every day there was more to admire, the combination of colors, the texture of the speckles, the curve of the sides of the fruit or the little bit of the stem. It’s the same as loving Owen. I don’t just love him better now (now that I know him better, and have figured out better how to love) I love him more, because day by day I know more of him to love.

Happy New Year everyone.