Category Archives: thoughts

all the noise

ny4

If you walk into the story – if you walk into Christ among us – that releases hope in our midst.

– Sister Simone Campbell

I took a step back from writing longer posts because I got tired of all the opinions flooding the internet. Sure, I’m bound to prefer to tweak a few things here and there with any given argument, but for the most part I’d rather let a few prominent voices with more energy and more resources than me hash it out while the rest of us watch.

We think that because we have platforms for voicing our opinions that we must come up with something to say. But then we’re all mumbling and grumbling and shouting over each other and nothing is resolved. I have opinions, but I tell them to my husband, my sister, a coworker, my mom. I stumble over my thoughts as I let the words pour out. I make a fool of myself, but I do it in relative privacy.

I think it may be better if we use our words for stories rather than opinions about other people’s stories. Think about it. The only truly novel thing we have to offer are our stories.

You can shout with the masses that you loathe [insert societal woe here], but your words will largely go unnoticed. But what if you told a story of overcoming prejudice, or of helping resolve a tense social situation? You have profound object lessons to present and you’re the only one with access to them.

You can jump into the battlefields of the great opinion wars – scrambling for something to add to the cacophony, elbowing and kicking the shins of anyone who dares shout over you – or you can extend your hands and weave a tale that leads the people out of darkness.

Our stories offer clarity. They offer peace. They make sense of nonsense. Your story is a little part of the human story. Tell it and listen to others and you’ll realize that most online arguments are just meaningless blips on the map of human experience, not worth a comment or a blog post or a rant.

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Reading Lolita in Tehran: a brief review

lolita

Reading Lolita in Tehran is the best memoir I’ve ever read. It’s intelligent, creative, intimate, and intricately and artfully narrated. I paused several times throughout my reading so that I could participate in author Azar Nafisi’s classroom just a little bit longer.

Her firm grasp of English Literature and Literary Criticism serve as a surprising, but really quite fitting, foundation to a discussion on revolutionary Iran. The memoir is about politics and fundamentalism, but it’s ultimately about the human condition, about how our proclivity for self narration informs the way we see and form ourselves and our societies. Stories can obstruct as much as they reveal, destroy as much as they create. The book, then, can be understood as a literary critique of the story Iran tells about itself at the start of the Iranian Revolution and of the thousands of personal narratives spilled out to counter it. Perhaps in peeling off these wordy layers – narratives piled on top of narratives – we can begin to arrive at something closer to the truth. But the truth we discover is less tangible, though just as moral in its aim as the black and white ethics imposed upon the Iranian people. It is seeing, really seeing, the multifaceted nature of humanity; we are strong, dishonest, cowardly, loving, kind, hateful, and oblivious all at once. We are all capable of evil. We all lean toward apathy.

I can only assume that those who say they “couldn’t really get into it” were expecting the light stuff of Eat, Pray, Love and its equals. But Reading Lolita in Tehran is the pinnacle of what memoir can be. It’s what memoir should be. You should leave with more than a feeling. As Nafisi explains within the book, literature exists to provide context for the individual, to explore the nuances of human interaction and behavior. Reading Lolita in Tehran bridges the gap between literature and autobiography; you should leave it with a better understanding of the other and yourself, and with a great deal more empathy.

baltimore

weekend in baltimorebt2 bt4 bt5 bt7 bt9 bt11 bt12IMG_0914 IMG_0915We last went sightseeing in Baltimore in December 2012. This time around was much different. Daniel’s mom, a Baltimore native, was our chauffeur and tour guide last year, which made getting around simple and fairly stress free. This time, we relied on the hotel shuttle to drop us off at the Inner Harbor (beautiful, but a bit touristy) and walked where we could.

On Friday night, we went to Fridays after Five at the National Aquarium (only $12.00 after 5 pm until March 28!) then sought out a place to eat. On our way to Cheesecake Factory, we spotted a Pizzeria Uno and a wave of nostalgia washed over us both. We ate at one of the original Pizzeria Uno establishments almost every night when we visited Chicago with friends in college. Chicago was the first big city I visited and it will always hold a special place in my heart.

Since we were technically there to attend a Religious Studies conference, we spent most of Saturday at the convention center reading, attending panels, and catching up with friends when we had the chance. I gave myself a tour of the premises while Daniel attended a session and found that the 4th floor offered lovely city views. We joined some friends for crab cake sandwiches at the Rusty Scupper for lunch.

After checking out of the hotel on Sunday, we went to Savers, a delightful thrift emporium, then met up with Daniel’s cousin, Dustin, for lunch and a glimpse of the Ravens game at a local sports bar. He suggested we visit historic (founded in 1772) and affluent (situated in the 3rd wealthiest county in the US) Ellicott City. The antique stores were mostly rubbish, but the coffee shop we visited had good hot chocolate. We finished off the day with a quick trip into the city to check out the Walters Art Museum and visit with the girl I used to babysit and her mom at their hotel (they were there for the conference, as well).

A trip to Baltimore makes for a unique, enjoyable, occasionally alarming experience.

monthly goals: october

I’ve been manic for the past few days. I have this sudden urge to do, make, complete. But it feels unhealthy, because I’m never satisfied and I’m always on edge. Perhaps starting up a Monthly Goals post series will redirect my activity to something a bit more satisfying.

october must list

October Goals:

  • List items for Platinum & Rust every week.
  • Go to Carter Mountain Orchard.
  • Visit Skyline Drive and take lots of photos.
  • Find a nice candle and burn it often.
  • Finish painting bookshelves and get the library back in order.
  • Watch Hocus Pocus while eating homemade popcorn.
  • Cut my bangs.

What are your goals this month? 

prayer

A smile between strangers.
Watching the robin hunt
for insects,
folding three loads of laundry, dropping
boiling water
into the teapot.

Writing in your journal, listening
to your spouse, sharing:
a meal, a ride,
Your load.

A cool breeze that cuts
through humid air.
The clack of boots
on asphalt. Going,
and leaving.
Habit and impulse.

Pray without ceasing –
Let this journey be
Your Prayer.

little boxes

I’ve been thinking a lot about the hard work it takes to realize personal goals. I’m a quitter, you see.

believe

A lot of my high school graduating class has successfully transitioned to “normal” adult life. They work at banks, in cubicles, or at medical offices. They wear suits or scrubs. They participate in the thrill of rush hour. They go on cruises sometimes. But I, at almost 25, just quit my job on a production floor to work part time at a coffee shop. I’m working jobs that most certainly don’t require a four year degree. And the thing about it is that, ultimately, I chose these paths, these technical jobs. Sure, I’ve interviewed for “real” jobs, but I’ve never gravitated toward them.

What I’m trying to figure out is if I’m afraid or enlightened. We think we know ourselves, but we’ve told so many coping stories, it all gets muddled in our heads. On the one hand, I know I’m terrified of getting stuck. The thought of spending decades in an office chair working toward something I’m not absolutely passionate about makes the veins on the side of my head pop out. But I also like to think I’m (rightly) ideologically opposed to buying into the myth that adult life has to look like that, as if wearing modest black pumps to work and conducting conference calls is the badge of responsibility or the marker of success. 

But refusing that life means it’s up to me to make something happen. If I’m not willing to be propelled into stable adulthood by a corporate infrastructure, it rests on me to provide the push forward. And I’d like to pretend I’m strong enough to take care of myself; I scoff at those who take the easy way out – who settle – but I allow the fear of failure to eat away at me before I’ve really started anything.

I quit my job because it was unfulfilling, but, I swear, it’s not because I’m lazy. I have big plans for my vintage store. I’m excited to make it happen. I’m also terrified that the success or failure of Platinum and Rust is my burden to bear alone. I need to believe I can do it. I need to believe I have the skills, the tact, and the talent to succeed. I’m afraid that my peers (and parents) living in cushy, corporate stability scoff at me. I’m afraid that they don’t think I can do it. I’m afraid that their boxed-in dreams (or contentment, as it may be) masquerading as wisdom will get the best of them, and the best of me.

But it really doesn’t matter, does it? When I succeed, none of the doubt will matter at all.

one year in Charlottesville

One year ago yesterday, Daniel and I (and a small caravan of Daniel’s family members – mine were waiting for us in Virginia) packed up the final fragments of our possessions, got in my trusty old Saturn, and started the drive up to Virginia. I had never been to Virginia and Daniel had never been to Charlottesville. We’d rented a place with the help of a friend, but otherwise had seen nothing of our new home.

I don’t think there was a way I could have fully comprehended what this first move totally away from anything familiar would mean for us, or how it would change us. It has been lonely, exhilarating, difficult, and joyous. Daniel and I cemented our relationship here like never before. I learned to enjoy cooking for myself. I survived a winter that lasted longer than I anticipated, but not without long bouts of depression. I wrote 314 blog posts, visited lots of new places, cried innumerable times, and got caught up in the beauty of my new surroundings. I decorated (and redecorated) the apartment, made some real money selling vintage, and learned random new skills.

house by uva

August – Got a job at a local coffee shop (best job ever) / Bought pet rats / Watched a meteor shower on a farm / Saw Ralph Stanley in concert / Saw Obama on the Downtown Mall

September – Started ballet classes / Decorated the apartment / Celebrated my birthday alone / Visited Waynesboro and Staunton / Joined the Evening Choir at church

October – Attended the Black Voices Gospel Choir concert / Dressed as a flapper to attend a Halloween party / Fell in love with Cafe Au Lait / Survived Frankenstorm

luray caverns

November – Toured Luray Caverns and Woodstock, VA when Daniel’s dad was in town / Discovered the Saunders-Monticello trail / Hosted Thanksgiving for my friends and sister / Visited Carter Mountain Orchard / Attended the Tree Lighting ceremony

December – Saw snow / Went to Baltimore for the first time / Celebrated Christmas with Daniel’s mom and sister / Got a 50mm lens

January – Started Style Wise / Visited llamas at my friend’s farm / Wrote some poems

snow day

February – Questioned everything (the cold darkness of winter seeped into my heart) / Found meaning in practicing Lent / framed Daniel’s great grandparents’ marriage certificate

March – Presented a homily and got Freshly Pressed / Had a snow day / Visited Richmond / Celebrated Easter

April – Started a new job / Went to the Tom Tom Festival / Visited Jacksonville for my sister’s graduation

blue ridge moutains

May – Had an article published for Relevant Magazine / Questioned everything / Went to Richmond for Memorial Day weekend

June – Visited Skyline Drive for the first time

July – Traveled to Baltimore for a family event / Celebrated Independence Day in Harrisonburg / Visited Baine’s in Scottsville / Celebrated Daniel’s and my 3 year wedding anniversary / Wrote a guest post for a friend’s blog / Explored the Virginia countryside

Phew! I know the above summary is more for me than for readers who are interested in actual writing. So where am I one year later?

In some ways, I feel like I’m starting from the beginning. I have a full time job that I’m still adjusting to, a good friend is moving away, and many of the social activities I enjoyed in the fall have been made unavailable to me due to work hours. I like myself better and I love Virginia, but I’m more homesick than I anticipated; it’s starting to hit me how much we’ve missed out on in the development of our friends’ lives due to distance and busy schedules. To be enveloped by the mountains can be a comfort, but it also serves as a visible sign of our isolation. Because, as much as we’ve tried to reach out, to branch out, we still feel alone much of the time. Life never gets easier.

But overall, I’m pleased that we moved to Charlottesville. I could settle down here and stay for a very long time. I hold out hope that things will get better soon.

uva chapel, leahwise.com

bodies

Swimsuit Season: Modesty and Self Image

self portrait of a girl

This post was written as part of To Each Their Own’s guest post series on Modesty & Self Image.

I was steeped good and long in American evangelical culture, though not one that held too tightly to ideals of traditional gender spheres. As a result, I was both encouraged to join the worship team and participate in co-ed theological discussions and discouraged from flaunting my sexuality (along lines of thought very specific to Protestant Christian tradition). I was told that the boys in youth group would lust after me and sin in their hearts if I didn’t wear a shirt over my swimsuit on beach excursions. I was told to be mindful of cleavage and short skirts and too much makeup. Obsessed as a child (and still) with ideals of fairness and personal responsibility, this didn’t sit well with me. In my view, the boys were given a free pass to lust. I asked a youth leader once if boys would cover up, too, so as not to cause women to stumble. I was immediately dismissed with a laugh and the subject was never brought up again.

But the notion of blaming the inactive party for the thoughts and behaviors of the aggressor is simply nonsensical. The person to blame is the person who did the thing, whether that thing is something as seemingly innocent as adolescent lust or as devastating as sexual assault.

So I come to the traditional modesty discussion, as an adult, with a fair amount of cynicism and, I hope, with a helpful dose of moderation and practicality. I believe that men and women must take equal ownership over their bodies and their thoughts. If I walk out in public naked, that’s no excuse for rape. On the other hand, I recognize that I live in a society with specific modesty codes that apply not only to sexual expectations but to daily interactions, and that it’s within my best interest as a member of my social system to, say, wear a suit to an interview and save the swimsuit for the beach.

Modesty is inevitably political, and from that broad perspective I think people should dress as they please (within a reasonable distance from their society’s expectations) and not be harassed for it.

But modesty is also personal. For instance, I never worried much about showing too much cleavage because I’m an almost-A cup. When other girls took comfort in the appearance of fuller figured celebrities and lauded Dove’s Real Beauty campaign, I was busy taking solace in the appearance of thin, pale super models, who more closely resembled my body type and weren’t bullied for it.* At 16, I was 5’5” and 96 pounds; I ate but couldn’t put on weight. People, my doctor included, thought I was anorexic. My body image issues weren’t talked about because I, apparently, fit the socially accepted standard of beauty (no one told the boys that). Teen Vogue was a beacon of confidence for me, and I delved happily into the world of high fashion. Eight years later and I’m still enamored by fashion spreads, new novelty prints, and the season’s best shoes. I even have a fashion blog. I didn’t realize at 16 that this thing I clung to for comfort and body acceptance would have such a hold on me.

When I get dressed in the morning, or when I buy a new garment, I can see how I adapted and combined my experiences to suit my needs. I like to cover my shoulders because people tell me they’re bony. I flaunt my clavicles because I think they’re pretty. I won’t wear a skirt higher than mid-thigh because it just feels inappropriate. There are some things you carry for so long they become a part of you. I’d like to feel so comfortable in my body that I can wear anything and feel confident. But I think it’s ok that I’ve reached these compromises with myself and with the modesty/sexuality obsessed culture that exists both within and outside of the church.

Through fashion, and even through the modesty culture I grew up within, I’ve come to appreciate my body both as flesh and blood and as art. When blogging, I like the distance a self portrait can provide, the harsh objectivity. I can look at myself through the lens of a photographer interested in imperfection, angles, and shadows. It’s easier, too, when I know I contribute more than just my appearance to the world – when I can write, hug, listen, laugh, work – and know that these things are acknowledged, that these things make a considerable difference.

But I’d still like to think that God doesn’t just think I have potential on the inside. I’d like to think He thinks I look pretty awesome, too.

*That’s not to say that I think that forced thinness in runway culture is acceptable. I understand the potential and already realized self image issues associated with the modeling industry.

3 years

marriage anniversaryToday is Daniel’s and my 3 year wedding anniversary. I know our marriage is still young, but 3 years passed quickly. I’m glad our relationship has been (mostly) healthy and that we’ve weathered the storms of graduating, new jobs, grad school, spiritual/quarter life crisis, lost friendships, and moving to another state together. We forgot to plan anything special, but I’m sure we’ll find a way to celebrate in the next few weeks.

Below is the wedding video our photographer surprised us with a few weeks after the wedding. I post it every anniversary because I love it.

 

I’m saddened to have already witnessed so many young marriages disintegrate. I know there are a number of reasons (most quite legitimate) why marriages don’t work out, but I feel really lucky that Daniel and I are still just as compatible as ever. I think a lot of people get mushy gushy on the internet and gloss over the day-to-day nature of marriage. They pretend that everything is perfect and sunshiney and beautiful when it’s really just daily living with someone you chose to commit yourself to. Daniel’s and my marriage is strong, but it isn’t perfect and never will be; that’s part of being human. He’s going to roll his eyes that I wrote this post and I’m going to act sulky and complain that he doesn’t find commemorating our anniversaries as important as I do. That’s part of the ebb and flow of our relationship – it’s part of the daily act – and it’s pretty entertaining.