Thursday, March 31, 2011

Rebel Yell

One of my kids woke me up this morning because 'something in the closet was freaky.' I couldn't go back to sleep, so I thought I'd tune in to 93.9 The River and write a song of the day post. 5:16 a.m.: "Eyes Without A Face" by Billy Idol. 

My childhood nights were haunted. Each shift in light was an apparition, every noise worth pondering. I slept so lightly that a speck in the atmosphere would wake me, or so I thought. In truth, it didn't always wake me completely.

John Henry Fuseli - The Nightmare

My parents first reported somnambulistic activity when I was young. They claimed I came down the stairs shortly after bedtime. I walked past them, ignored their questions, and went into the bathroom. They could hear water running in the tub. They knocked; they pressed; I said I was getting ready for school. They told me it was still night. They waited. I didn't come out, so they opened the door. They found me wearing my mother's shirt inside-out. Somehow, someone convinced me to put on my nightgown and go back to bed. My only memory of this is that my parents told me the story the next morning. I questioned their integrity. Dad's quite a practical joker. Was this just a new way to tease me?

The most infamous sleep-related incident took place after my fifth semester of college. I was broke, and selfish, and Mom and Dad didn't raise any objections that I could hear or remember. I moved back home to live rent- and utility- and grocery-bill free, working at Red Lobster and saving for classes in the fall.

Before college, my sister and I shared a room for 12 years. My departure rang the bell of opportunity for her to have her own space. Her stuff had exploded like a shook soda bottle; thus, I did not have a bed.

My dad worked second shift and stayed awake until 1 or 2 in the morning, so crashing on the couch was out. The solution? A ratty chair-cot contraption thrown onto the floor, in the only spot that made sense: the narrow hallway connecting my parent's room to the stairwell.

One night before falling asleep, my mind began to wander. I thought about when I was an RA in college, how my room sat right next to the elevators, how I was the first line of defense for my floor. Back then, this resposibility kept me awake. Now I was the first line of defense in my parents' home. What would I do, I wondered, if I heard an intruder break into my house? I would wake up, no doubt. I pictured it my mind. My breathing would grow rapid, and I would strain to hear any sound. Was I dreaming, I would wonder? My answer would come in the form of a creak on the wooden stairs. My eyes would open. My pulse racing, turning toward the noise, I would see his hair through the railing, then his forehead. Another step, and the intruder would have that sense that someone was watching him. He would glance toward the hall and our eyes would lock. What would I do? I would want to scream, but could I?

In a moment of clarity I realized that if I saw him, he couldn't let me live. I resolved that instead of opening my eyes willy-nilly, I would choose to be still and quiet, creating an illusion of rest. I practiced; I fell asleep.

The next morning, my dad seemed delighted. He started asking me about my dreams, if I had anything unusual to share from the night.

No, I said, no.

Are you sure? he pressed, grinning.

I paused. He kept grinning.

What? I said. What?

In the middle of the night, he had left his bed to use the bathroom. He turned on the light to avoid tripping over me. This catapulted me from the floor. I yelled, who's there? He called out to me, called me by name, tried to quiet me, but I kept screaming, and not just screams of terror. I was showing off my college vocabulary. Cuss words. We're not talking the small ones; I brought out the big guns. I was cussing out my own father in my sleep.

Allegedly. I, of course, remember nothing.

For more song of the day musings:
unnatural-ism (Stevie Wonder's "A Time for Love/Bridge Over Troubled Water")

You may also enjoy my picks for the most self-centered songs of all time.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


(My friend suggested that I should do a short post a day as a response to a song. This is my first.)

On Monday, I was trying to clean my house, honest I was, but my iPod went all crazy. I popped it into the speakers and put on a favorite playlist, Summer 2010. Everything started normally (Robert Randolph's "Ain't Nothin' Wrong With That") and then, weirdness. Instead of "Airstream Driver", this is what came next: 

Well, so much for cleaning house.

All the words in the world, all the essays I could write, none of that will cut through the noise and pour into the heart of a person like a song. Standing in my kitchen, Stevie Wonder's voice cut through my to-do list. Around the world, people have lost their homes, their towns, their children. What will be my response?

The earthquake in Haiti spurred this live performance, and as I think of that event, less than 15 months ago, I am troubled. Pile on the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, and I am broken. Natural disasters seem unnatural to me.

The opening of Stevie Wonder's performance makes me think of something else that seems unnatural: the -isms that keep us from loving other people. The way the world ought to be involves no more suffering, no more pain, every tear dried. This is the sort of world Jesus wants those who follow Him to represent in our time here.

That's a really awkward sentence. Here's what I'm trying to say: if you are a follower of Jesus, what are you doing today, not as an -ist or an -ism, but as an ambassador for the kingdom of heaven? I want to be better at loving people than I am at arguing. How can I do that?

I'm still working on it. How can I respond in a loving way to the people of Japan, the people of Haiti, the people in my town who've lost their jobs or homes? It's overwhelming, but I have a favorite GK Chesterton quote that applies:

"Anything worth doing is worth doing badly."

The song reminds me that when people are faced with loss, it is a time for love, the kind of love that lays itself down for another. Will I follow through on that?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Class dismissed

Dear diary, it's been two months since my last blog post.

(I believe that sentence is a mixed metaphor. Ahh well.)

During my time away from the blogging life, I took a class in creative nonfiction from Creative Nonfiction. The class, Basics in a Nutshell, covered the personal, profile, immersion, and fact-heavy essays. The course satisfied my desire to learn, to improve as a writer, and to test myself. Here are my big takeaways:

1) I love to write creative nonfiction. Other people's stories stir me. What could be better than to share in a person's life and then write it down, so that others might be a part of it too?

2) Sometimes, it is more humble to include yourself in the story. When you write about another person, you bring your own insight, and biases, to the telling. Traditional journalism strives to be unbiased, and pushes the reporter to be the invisible narrator. This can give the sense that the journalist's version of the story is the only way to see the story, or the people in the story. By including the context, and the perspective of the reporter, the reader is more aware of the limits of the piece.

I think this becomes less important the more time you spend with a subject, but I'll probably never be able follow a subject around the world. Better to just admit it: I'll never be Gay Talese except in my fantasy life.

(My fantasy life is pretty vivid. Let's amend that last admission. I'll PROBABLY never be Gay Talese.)

Over the next few months I'll be polishing my work from this class and then submitting it for publication.  I'm going to try to return to blogging, and will begin writing some sketches with a partner for Script Frenzy in April. But first, I'm going to go breathe. Yay spring!