29 July 2008

Introducing Pluckie, the Undead Vampire Chicken

This is a conversation I have had with several of my female friends in the last few days:

Me: "So, what are you doing Saturday morning? I don't have to be at the theater until around noon, so I think we should - "

Female Friend: (said with rather wide, ravenous eyes) BREAKING DAWN! BREAKING DAWN!

Me: "Oh, right. I forgot that the book was coming out this weekend. Thank heaven I no longer work at Barns and Noble - I will work for Harry Potter book releases but I would never want to spend several hours catering to a bunch of -"

Female Friend (now entering some kind of trance): BREAKING DAWN! BREAKING DAWN!!! IMHOTEP! BREAKING DAWN. . . (and it goes on while they slowly turn into dazed vampire/werewolf obsessed zombies. Eventually I leave).

I say this in jest, of course, since many of my female friends who will be spending their Friday night paying homage to their fandom are some of my favorite people. I love them. I respect their need to pay homage to fandoms, as I have done it many times over in this blog and elsewhere for the Potter-verse.

That being said, when I came across this parody/accurate prediction (UPDATE: Part II is now online) of what is likely to happen in the next book, I nearly spilled my guts out on the floor from laughing. Absolute brilliance, my friends. I don't know what is better, the descriptions of the "chapters" or the several comments from tweenagers who are confused about whether or not the guy is being serious.

So to my female friends - enjoy your love fest this weekend. I will be having a love fest of a different kind. Bring on a re-read of Sense and Sensibility or North and South - I'd take a Col Brandon, and Edward Ferras (not all Edwards are created equal, you know - this one can't read minds or there would be no plot) and a John Thornton any day. Much more interesting conversationalists, I think.

24 July 2008

Excuse me for a second - I'm going to pass out.

I have been wanting to write an essay on this topic for a while but I haven't quite been able to work my head around it. The old essayist in me wants to create a giant metaphor out of everything but I feel like putting a bow on a box of thoughts isn't quite doing this topic justice. It's more complicated than that.

I'll explain.

But first, a story.

I went to a dermatologist yesterday for a few routine checks and things that aren't any of your business. Nothing big. They're putting me on an oral medication that would do great damage to a baby if I were to get pregnant in the next five months (ha!) so they are required by law to test my blood once every month until the end of the year. No big deal. Needles and blood don't bother me. I don't really like them, but I'm not mortally afraid of them. That being said, my appointment was at about 11:10. By the time I went in for lab work it was around noon. I hadn't eaten since seven that morning and even then it was just a bowl of cereal. Thanks to some genes from my mother, I have a kind of minor case of hypoglycemia that makes me feel somewhat shaky when I haven't eaten for a while. I also have low blood pressure, which makes my circulation somewhat poor and. . . basically it was a recipe for disaster. I walked into the room and thought -"I'm going to faint in here. They're going to take my blood, and I'm going to pass out. Shoot." I told them that I hadn't eaten and they said it wasn't that much blood and I'd be fine and. . . whatever. I knew I was going to faint. And I did. Not a very pleasant sensation on the whole and it left me completely out of it for the rest of the day. It takes me a while to get over these things.

I had a kind of morbid fascination with fainting when I was young (er. . . well, up until about last November) because it seemed like such a romantic thing to do. Anne Shirley had - once again - corrupted me with her use of the word "romance". But it really isn't very fun. Trust me on this.

The first time I fainted was last year the day before Thanksgiving. I had come up with my mom and my brothers to visit my grandmother in a care center that she was staying in while she recovered from extensive back surgery. My grandmother is one of the most giving, hard working people I've ever met - but there she was, looking rather yellow in nothing but one of those awful hospital gowns and a robe eating like a baby with my grandfather spoon feeding her what she could eat because she was too weak to lift the fork for herself. "You have served me for many years, Margie," he said, "It is a pleasure to be able to serve you now."

It was horrible and tragic. It was easily the first moment in my life when I have literally come to terms with mortality. Keep in mind that outside of my uncle (whom I didn't know very well) and my great grandparents (that I also didn't know very well) - no one in my immediate family has ever died. And none of them have - in my memory -ever been seriously ill either. One of my uncles had cancer when I was very young but I hardly remember that and we were living too far away to see what he went through. The idea of people I love being so ill scared me. I watched my grandfather feeding my grandmother and watched her struggle to gnaw on peaches I felt sick. It was about this point when I fainted. It was probably tied also to the lack of food I'd had that day - but if I was being honest I would attribute it more to the horror of seeing my grandmother so sick than my hunger.

I remember waking up rather late on Thanksgiving morning. I had hit my head on a bar of the hallway of the care center when I fainted and my head ached. I felt rather disoriented. I looked in the mirror of the bedroom I was staying in and my skin color looked exactly like my grandmothers.

The next day we went bowling. I heard my aunt laugh and I thought it was Grandma Newman. I saw my aunt's manicured nails and remembered that both my grandmothers make an effort to get their nails done before they go out. My Grandma Newman had gone to get hers done before she went in for surgery, even. Listening to my aunt talk reminded me of my grandmother - in the way she laughed and the way she phrased her words and the inflection she used. . .

I still haven't worked my head around it. If I were going to stamp a metaphor on all this I'd find a way to talk about the resilience of Newman women or something, or maybe my regret at not feeling as connected with my dad's side of the family as I do with my mother's. . . but that feels too forced. Maybe that's why I don't really feel ready to write anything about what happened yet - because the story doesn't really have an "ending". It was a short, fifteen minute period of time with little leading to it, or away from it. I'm still not sure what to make of it all - but I do know that at some point - this streak of mine will end. My family members will die or get sick - it happens to everyone. I'm just glad we have been blessed and protected thus far.

14 July 2008

If there is anything virtuous, lovely. . .

"When she came to the end of one life it must not be to face the next with the shrinking terror of something wholly different - something for which accustomed thought and ideal and aspiration had unfitted her. The little things of life, sweet and excellent in their place, must not be the things lived for; the highest must be south and followed; the life of heaven must be begun here on earth."
~Anne of the Island, Pg 108
I've been thinking quite a bit lately about what it means to be refined. It's such an interesting word. It is a word that implies a continual process. It is an active word. Somehow, for me, the phrase "personal improvement" or even phrases about trying to be better don't quite seem as (for lack of a better term) as refined as the word "refined".

As part of this new quest of mine to be a more refined sort of person, my mom sent me a talk given at at BYU devotional in 2006 by Douglas L. Callister called "Your Refined Heavenly Home". My mother knows me well. The talk is really incredible. Brother Callister did a beautiful job of describing how a refined person would behave. "The nearer we get to God," he says, "the more easily our spirits are touched by refined and beautiful things [...] Refinement is a companion to developed spirituality. Refinement and spirituality are two strings drawn by the same bow."

The portion of the talk that I enjoyed the most was about literature and speech (naturally). I remember having long discussions in some of my education classes about how only literary nuts (like me) will ever appreciate analyzing literature and "what does it really ever do for us" and "should we make our students do it when they're not getting anything out of it?". This hasn't ever exactly sat well with me - not just with literature but with all forms of media or information or whatever that get thrown at us. I get bothered by people who take things at face value or say that they "like" or "don't like" something without any reasoning one way or the other on why.

Take a guy I used to work with, for example. He all out hated the Harry Potter books. The reasoning he gave was that they were popular and he didn't want to read them for that reason. He said they were stupid and he just didn't like them. Now, this is ridiculous. If he didn't want to read them, all he had to say was that he didn't want to read them because they didn't sound interesting. But not wanting to read them on principle and then attacking them is not good enough, any more than saying that you love them "just. . . because they're. . . funny and stuff" is an acceptable answer. Shouldn't we be self aware enough to be able to express why we like what we do?

The ability to express ourselves well is something that is so key to being refined. Language is important. I say that not just as an English major who loves words, but as someone who has seen the difference in a life you can make by using words well or not so well. Brother Callister continues:
We will feel more comfortable in Heavenly Father's presence if we have developed proper habits of speech. We not only wish to see God's face "with pleasure," we want to open our mouths with confidence that our speech harmonizes with the refinement of heaven. We will thrill to hear exalted beings express their sublime thoughts in perfectly chosen words. I suppose that the language of heaven properly spoken, may approach a form of music. Did C.S. Lewis have this in mind when he wrote: 'Isn't it funny the way some combinations of words can give you - almost apart from their meaning - a thrill like music?'
This brings me back to the quote from the top of this entry. It's taken from a chapter in the third "Anne" book when Anne's old school chum Ruby Gillis is dying of consumption. Ruby's chief concern in dying is that heaven will feel so different than what she is used to, even if it is wonderful. Anne has to admit that Ruby is right. It will feel different for her because she has based her life on being frivolous and obsessed with beaux. What if, then, part of our preparation for Celestial life is not just in becoming more Christlike with characteristics of love or charity, etc.? We are meant to be good, well rounded and refined individuals. We are to make our lives and our homes beautiful "as reflected in the language, literature, art, music, and order of heaven." In other words, part of our preparation for meeting God comes in ways that may not be counted as strictly "spiritual". If we are to be like our Father in Heaven, we are to be a people of refinement who seek after things that are "virtuous, lovely, of good report or praiseworthy."

13 July 2008

A well read individual. . .

In case there was any doubt. Ha! This is a list of the top 100 printed books by Big Read (Thanks Marisa!) According to them, most adults have only read 6 on this list. You are supposed to bold the ones you have read and italicize the ones you intend to read. I am going to add commentary as well because . . . otherwise this would be boring for me.

1. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen (Sense and Sensibility is my favorite, though)
2. The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien (Love it. I'm so excited to take my senior capstone course on it.)
3. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte (The new movie that came out with Toby Stevens is FANTASTIC)
4. The Harry Potter Series JK Rowling (I should probably bold this one several more times - I've read them more than I can count. And. . . I'm listening to the sixth book again right now. Keeper Tryouts. Hermione is a sneaky little witch. . . )
5. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee (Didn't actually like this one all that much though. . . )
6. The Bible
7. Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte (This one is half bolded because I started and never finished. I don't know if that counts)
8. Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell (One of the most thought provoking books I've ever read)
9. His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman (Again, only partly bolded because I never finished the series, but I read all of the first book and enjoyed it. Not as good as Harry Potter)
10. Great Expectations - Charles Dickens (No, but I've read others by Dickens)
11. Little Women - Louisa M Alcott (And all the sequels. I went through a Little Women phase, no thanks to Christian Bale for being crush-worthy. Hehe)
12. Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy (Still can't figure out why I like this book as much as I do. It's so dark!)
13. Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14. Complete Works of Shakespeare (Has anyone really read everything by Shakespeare? I've read most of his plays that are worth reading.)
15. Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16. The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17. Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18. Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19. The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20. Middlemarch - George Eliot (Every last freaking word. Holy cow. This book was a chore.)
21. Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22. The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald (I worship at Fitzgerald's feet. The man had such command over language!)
23. Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24. War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams (Ha! Genius. I love British Humor)
26. Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27. Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28. Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29. Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll (One of the first classics I remember buying for myself)
30. The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31. Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32. David Copperfield - Charles Dickens (Not my favorite, but still fairly enjoyable.)
33. Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis (I still knock on the backs of wardrobes)
34. Emma - Jane Austen (Some people really don't like Emma, but I enjoy her even with all of her flaws)
35. Persuasion - Jane Austen (I know! One of the great tragedies of my literary life. But I WILL read it. I own it)
36. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis (Er. . . I'm confused. *looks at number 33*)
37. The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39. Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40. Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne (Another one of the first classics I bought)
41. Animal Farm - George Orwell
42. The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown (Started and never finished. I thought it was a piece of literary trash even if the story was interesting. Horribly written)
43. One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44. A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45. The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46. Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery (My favorite book. EVER.)
47. Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48. The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
49. Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50. Atonement - Ian McEwan (Man, I need to read this one. It looks amazing.)
51. Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52. Dune - Frank Herbert
53. Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54. Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen (Yay! There it is. Oh Col. Brandon, take me away. . . . I'm only a little kidding)
55. A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56. The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57. A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58. Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon (That book blew my mind. Such incredible writing, and the story was killer)
60. Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61. Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62. Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov Nabokov
63. The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64. The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold (I kind of want to read this one and kind of don't. I haven't decided yet.)
65. Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas (I started and never finished when I was in high school but I want to give it another go)
66. On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67. Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68. Bridget Jones’ Diary - Helen Fielding
69. Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70. Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71. Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens (My favorite Dickens book)
72. Dracula - Bram Stoker
73. The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett (One of the books that has changed my life.)
74. Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson (I loved this book, but I'm mad that Bryson wrote it because he stole my thunder after going to England last year. This is the book I would like to have written if he hadn't beaten me to it.)
75. Ulysses - James Joyce
76. The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77. Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78. Germinal - Emile Zola
79. Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray (I hated this movie)
80. Possession - AS Byatt
81. A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82. Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83. The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84. The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85. Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86. A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry .
87. Charlotte’s Web - EB White (This book was a huge part of my childhood. I had a piggy bank named Wilbur that I would sing to.)
88. The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom (I don't really have any desire to read this book at all. It sounds too sentimental and indulgent to me)
89. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (I'm debating on if this is worth reading or not)
90. The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91. Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92. The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93. The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94. Watership Down - Richard Adams
95. A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96. A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute -
97. The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98. Hamlet - William Shakespeare (One too many times.)
99. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl (Yay! But Matilda was better.)
100. Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

Total Read:32. Though, to be fair, "The Harry Potter Series" Is not one book. Nor is The Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Narnia. So, subtracting one for LWW being listed twice, that takes my total from 31 to 48. It also takes this list from 100 to 116. So ha.

Total Planning to Read:24. Note that most of these are American Lit. Figures that most of the books I've read on this lit are British, isn't it? I'm such an Anglophile. I'll probably knock off several on this list when I take my American Lit classes this next year.

Books that aren't on this list that I wish would be:
  1. Enders Game
  2. North and South
  3. The Giver
  4. The House of Mirth
  5. Importance of Being Earnest
  6. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

07 July 2008

"I give unto men weakness. . . "

First off - you may have noticed that lovely new little counter of visitors to my blog! It's pretty. And it has all sorts of cool features like a world map to show me how far my blog is reaching and how long people stay when they visit, etc. Don't let the high numbers fool you, though, I'm pretty sure that most people who stop by stay for less than a second when they realize that it's just a blog and not some super cool analysis. In case you were wondering, the two most searched entries are both movie reviews - one on Harry Potter (and I'm pretty sure those searches aren't intentional) and one on Narnia (which comes from people looking up the quote online). In any case, I will wave to my international non-readers and thank them for stopping by. And I highly recommend the counter. "It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly suggest picking one up."

This post will be slightly more religious than usual. I've been thinking quite a bit recently about the way that people kind of view God as a tyrant who has a bad day at work and needs to be pacified by the Savior so that he doesn't take out that anger on us.

Let me explain.

A few weeks ago in relief society our wonderful president wrote on the board "I am enough, I have always been enough, and I will always be enough." We had an interesting discussion that brought me to a conclusion: God is not mad at me for sinning. Nor is he mad at me for being weak. Because he made me that way. He gave me - and everyone else - weaknesses. He expects us to fail, in a sense. That doesn't necessarily mean he likes it - what parent likes to see their child make mistakes? But I don't think that's the point. We are given weakness that we can be humble.

Yet another one of the great dichotomies in the gospel. Multiply and replenish the earth but don't eat the fruit. Be perfect, but I'm going to give you weakness.

I love it when the gospel makes me think.

01 July 2008

"Three cheers for Miss Shirley, winner of the Avery!"

I grew up on Anne of Green Gables. Literally, it's one of my first memories. I used to act out scenes in my living room. I had almost the entire movie memorized before I reached the second grade. Anne wasn't just my "bosom friend", she was a part of me.

I'm rather defensive of her. I very selfishly believe that no one on earth understands her and relates to her more than I do. We are like one person and no one will ever be able to convince me otherwise. And it isn't even just being alike in personality - our lives have mirrored in very funny and interesting ways.

If you want a full list, I can give it to you but here is the most obvious one:

A few months ago I submitted (without a ton of hope) a piece I've been working on to a creative writing contest for undergraduate students offered by BYU. It was a piece I've been working on for a while but was somewhat frustrated with because it didn't really have a "home". But I thought it had merit so I submitted it thinking that I didn't have anything to lose.

So for those Anne-fans out there - I have just won my Avery. That's right. I am now Miss Newman, winner of the Kagel and Blessing scholarship - $1875 worth of tuition for two semesters. If you could jump through your computer screen and into mine you would see a massive amount of jumping up and down and screaming.

So, for those of you who are interested, posted below are portions of my prize winning essay. The full piece is 9 pages long and too big for a blog, so if you want to read the full thing, send me your email and I'll send it on to you. And I promise my next post will be less of an add for my amazing writing skills and more analysis-oriented. I already have plans. Enjoy!

The Mostly-Imagined Real Wanderings of a Kindred Soul Abroad

In which I become an impressionist.

I was sitting on a bench in a park near our hostel in Keswick with my new drawing pencils out. It was a stupid buy but I had to do it. In my head, I had decided that my England experience wouldn’t be complete until I’d drawn something. Every other girl on the trip was drawing like mad in their journals and it looked so artistic and why wasn’t I doing it? So I spent a half an hour in the store searching for exactly the right kind of pencils even though whatever I drew with them would inevitably be horrible because I am an artistic cripple. And they were all utter rubbish. I was right, which is fairly irritating. In my head, real travelers are the ones who are able to draw the places they’ve been to, not just snap a photo like a tourist and move on. It doesn’t take much time or talent to operate most digital cameras.

After the trip was over that box of very expensive colored pencils joined the rest of my over priced art supplies in a box under my bed. I will probably never use them again. But I have such a weak spot for art supplies! They look so alluring in their tubes and boxes. They are my Achilles heel. Or one of them, at least. I have many heels.

Actually, it isn’t even just art supplies I have a weakness for. Office supply stores are the death of me because new pens and blank notebooks are like Christmas. I love blank sheets of paper waiting to be written on. There’s something really exciting about watching a piece of notebook paper fill with words or a canvas with dabs of paint. If only my canvases would look more like art and less like a prize for the refrigerator of a merciful mother who will pity my attempts at greatness.

I think part of my subconscious associates good art with good tools that come from shiny metal boxes. That if I continue to buy these very cool professional pencils, then my less than mediocre sketching skills will suddenly improve, because I don’t have the patience to wait for them to get better. And what was my excuse that time? I had imagined that maybe being in Europe would suddenly fuel the senses between my mind and my fingertips with extra romance and artistic talent. It seemed appropriate. Europe and art. They go together, right? I had needed some kind of justification for how much they cost.

The idea that purchasing professional drawing pencils will turn me into an artist is as illogical as believing that running at a real vault will transform me into a gymnast (though I have entertained that idea as well). I took several art classes in high school and in all of them I was more than usually horrible at drawing. I hate it because being able to draw seems like such a romantic and appropriate accomplishment. Something Jane Austen’s stock of men would approve of. Except Darcy. Darcy’s the kind of hero who would only approve of a certain kind of art if it was done well and I don’t think our tastes would match. Darcy and I don’t get along. Not that I don’t think he’s amazing in his own broody way, but I’m not about to fall at his fictional feet any time soon. Though, now that I think of it, putting on this display of false accomplishments is rather like something Mary Bennett would do. I never aspired to be Elizabeth, but I didn’t aspire to be Mary either. Well. That’s rather disturbing. I’d rather be Elizabeth and get the broody rich hero with the nice house than be Mary and annoy the heck out of everyone and end up pining for Mr. Collins the rest of my life. That would be a fate worse than having the chorus of “Yellow Submarine” play in my head for eternity.

For the first week after I bought the pencils at the shop in Keswick, I used them almost every day in my journal at the risk of feeling guilty spending so much money on something I won’t use later. During that week, they turned into multi-colored swords slowly massacring the mountains that I decided to draw. They did a pretty clean job of it, too. Every stroke on the pages of my journal made the land bleed in agony. No depth? Check. Horrible blending? Check, check. Not recognizable as a mountain? I fail. F minus minus. The details got progressively worse as I moved from hill to hill through the pages because my patience in sketching exactly what I saw wore thin quickly. No matter how hard I tried I simply could not take those very real mountains and make them seem like anything more than a muddled bunch of colors on my paper. The hill on the farthest right of the page in Keswick, for example, is mostly a blob of scratchy frustrated greenish brown with a dash of yellow for good measure. If anyone ever looks through my journal and sees the drawings I will tell them that I was going for some kind of impressionist interpretation with an allusion to a child-like view of . . . never mind. I’ll just tell them I found some kid on the side of the road and asked them to draw in my pretty book. Then they’ll think it’s cute instead of embarrassing. I’ll call the kid Neville. I will tell them that Neville sat and talked to me for a half an hour and thought I was brilliant and that before he left we were the greatest of friends. I’ll tell them that Neville even broke the rules of British conduct and voluntarily gave me a hug. In public.

Of course, in the middle of my despair at being such a wretched artist, I managed to work up another story for myself. It helped me feel better. Because I was drawing I decided to imagine that I was an art student. Bottom of my class, no doubt, but with the proper amount of visual deliberation over what I was drawing I could pretend that I was Renoir. Only female. And English. Fortunately, I am much better at acting than I am at drawing. I looked up at the mountain. I squinted and deliberated for an appropriate amount of time. I looked down at my box of shiny pencils and select a darkish green one. I tenderly removed it from the box. I looked at the mountain for more squinting deliberation. I carefully picked a spot on the paper and then drew something resembling a line. I looked from the page to the mountain and back several times. All artists do this. Pretending to be an artist is exactly the same as someone taking a notebook to a café to write. You don’t actually have to do anything, just look like you are and the other patrons will appreciate the atmosphere, and you’ll go home feeling as though you’ve accomplished something for society. You have preserved part of that wonderful tradition of making café’s an arty, cultured place to be. I know several people who only go to café’s for this reason. They buy their designer coffee and sit in a corner listening to the jazzy-generic music for hours discussing really important theoretical things like . . . global warming or the state of the economy in relatively loud voices so that everyone else in the room can admire their intelligence and culture.

I know because I’ve done it.

In which I blend into the sky.

I don’t know what I imagined Tennyson Downs looking like before we hiked there. I’d never even heard of them before. I guessed that they would have to be nice because they were associated with Tennyson, but I’d never seen a ‘down’ before, so going to Tennyson Downs that night was a completely new experience. It’s only about a mile from where we were staying that night – not very far at all. Our leader John had said that it was a beautiful place to watch the sunset, and I trusted him and his expertise from leading the program before. Besides - anything that’s good enough for Tennyson is good enough for me. John was right, though. That wide, quiet place is beautiful. The Downs are an open stretch of grass overlooking the water on the top of a hill. Put that way it sounds so simple, but the Downs are simple. You hike up through some trees and then suddenly the trees stop and you just see an open stretch of land like a plateau and a gigantic Celtic cross marking the land in Tennyson’s honor. A blank canvas with Tennyson’s seal of approval on it.

The wind felt like it was blowing right through me. As though I was something slightly more than ghost but less than human and I could feel the air inside me, not just around me. I was part of the air and surrounded by it at the same time.

My hands were freezing. It made my handwriting turn into an even clumsier scrawl because I had to put on my gloves to keep out the cold. I’d moved away from the rest of the group because I wanted to be alone. The wind blocked out the noise of everything but Brooke’s didgeridoo, lambs bleating in the distance, and a few birds soaring above the ocean to the left of where I was sitting. I wanted to dream for a bit. I can’t dream on nights like that one when there is too much going on.

In the distance I could see the lights of the town starting to flicker, breaking through the black ground and coming through the mist like stars. I imagined that I was sitting on a patch of grass in the middle of space, surrounded on all sides by stars. I imagined that the old legend is true, and that the night sky is a blanket with pinprick holes in it so that the light of heaven can shine down on people while they sleep.

I kept getting distracted by reality. The sound of the ocean drew my thoughts like a magnet. The sea was a deep steel-colored grey meeting with the sky. The farther to the left I looked, the harder it was to see the distinction between air and water. It was as though someone had taken their thumb to the canvass and smudged the difference so that the sky and the water blended together into one flesh. It was beautiful. I tried to take a picture of it but it wasn’t any good. Sunsets can’t be captured on film. Moments like that one just have to be experienced. You have to pay attention.

That’s why I moved away from the others. Over my shoulder I could see them starting to huddle in groups to talk or watch the stars come out. With the wind running through my ears the sounds were diminished and I was free to think. My mind has more room to wander without other bodies and other thoughts getting in the way. I put my journal in my bag after it got too cold to write and lay down onto the grass to look up at the stars. It’s a strange feeling, being alone in such a wide space with the stars towering above you. I felt like everything and nothing all at the same time. I thought about falling asleep there. I thought about curling up with my bag as a pillow to watch for the little pin pricks of heaven coming through.

In which I swallow the world.

I have decided that there are different kinds of air in Tintagel. There is the air that is cold and sharp and it bolts down through your throat giving you the same kind of feeling you get after a long run. Then there is the air that is cold, but calm and almost sleepy. It flows through your body like the waves of the tide coming in and out. Maybe the air depends on the time of day. My second night in Tintagel, I ventured outside to watch the sunset. The air was brisk but calm. It lulled me into a feeling of comfort in spite of the chill. I started to imagine that my feet were growing roots into the ground so that I could stay there forever.

Our hostel was located near the edge of a cliff on the southern coast. Wildflowers grew in clumps around the slanted rocks and the water changed from deep blue to white as it beat rhythmically against the land. The sun was starting to set in the west, casting orange light against the cliffs to the left, turning them to what would probably be called red, though that is only part of the way true.

I wish I could write colors as honestly as I see them. I take pictures of the land, but I don’t know that it could ever do justice to what I see. How can I explain what it looks like? Words don’t go far enough. It’s like one of the lines from the song Candlelight Carol by Robert Shaw; “How do you capture the wind on the water?” How do I describe this place when the only words that come to mind are ‘hill’ and ‘cliff’ when where I was sitting wasn’t quite either? How do I write down the colors I saw and the contrasts between the blues and the oranges and the greens and browns and whites and grays? I’ve decided that it was one of those times that just had to be lived deliberately. I finished my entry and put my journal down in the grass. I can’t write in moments like that one. I’m afraid if I spend time writing I will get so caught up in words that I will miss something important, some other lesson that the wind and the flowers want to teach.

Looking at the cliffs and hearing the ocean made me imagine that I was back on Prince Edward Island where the cliffs near the sea also burn a bright red. Next to England, PEI is my favorite place on earth. It is my safe place. It is where my mind dreams of when I want to feel completely uninhibited. Before I’d even seen the beaches and fields and trees it was a haven of comfort to me when I felt like people were being critical of me. I went there with my mother and a family friend with her two daughters. The island is located just off the coast of Nova Scotia and is a popular pilgrimage for fans of the Anne of Green Gables series because the books are set there. Every year the population of the Island triples between the end of June and mid-August. Fortunately, we went at the beginning of June and had Cavendish Beach and the rest of the island all to ourselves for a week. We would walk from our cottage every day (and night) to explore and sit and talk. I would usually migrate away from my mom and the others after a while. I would find a spot to write. Then I would close my eyes and smell the sea and listen to the symphony of natural sound around me in utter contentment. I remember sitting alone one night at my favorite spot on the beach with my journal out and my hair down, thinking about how horrid and ruined the beauty of the spot would seem if it was crowded with women in skimpy bikinis or dogs playing Frisbee with their owners. People who thought they knew and understood Anne or her creator better than I do. People who assumed that they understood real beauty. While I was there, my beach was a temple to the part of me that lives and breathes two separate ways, each running along side each other between a dream and reality. I am both sense and sensibility. I am realistic and romantic.

The sound of the waves pulled me back to England. I looked away from the cliffs and back at the sky and my thoughts shifted to an old myth from India about a young boy god who had to go live with a herd of cows because of a jealous uncle who wanted to kill him. The uncle was afraid that his nephew would try to take over heaven. The boy looked exactly like everyone else on the outside, but if you looked down his throat you would be able to see the whole universe somehow.

I wish I could be like that boy. Not because I want to have my uncle plotting my murder, but because I want to capture places and moments. I want to find a way to take these places with me because pictures and words are so dead and empty compared to all the life embodied in this place. Maybe if I were to purse my lips and suck in my breath the universe would funnel into my mouth and lodge itself in my throat for safekeeping. Then whenever I want to I can pick Tintagel or Tennyson Downs or the moors out of my mouth and fly myself back.

I lay down on the ground, imagining instead that my body would absorb the dirt and the grass and the wildflowers and the air through osmosis until the dirt was imbedded in my skin and the wildflowers in my heart and the air in my blood.