Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Life and Times...

I thought I'd update at least briefly to give an overview of what I've been doing lately, for those that read this blog and are curious.

I went to TN and GA with my family (or most of it), as most of you are aware. It was mostly just stressful, but I spent some much-needed time with God and He showed me a few things I'd been shutting out... I also got to see two awesome friends, which was one of the highlights of the year thus far. The entire trip was worth it for the two and a half hours my sister and I spent with them.

We got home at about 9:40 on the night of the 19th, and the next morning I had to be at my first summer class session by 8:00 a.m. It was difficult, but I got there on time, and found the classroom, cup of coffee in hand. I'm taking British Literature I over the next month, from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. every weekday morning. It's a good class; the work is easy and enjoyable for me, I have a great professor, and I actually know one guy in the class quite well, so despite the early time I can't complain too much. Every morning I wake up and think "I so want to just drop this class..." but by the time I'm actually in class I'm glad I'm making the extra effort.

After class each morning I have two hours free to eat lunch and do whatever else I feel like doing - this typically involves playing piano and graphic design. I've played piano more this past year than ever before, and I think it's paying off to some degree... pieces I never learned because they were too hard I can now sight read with a fair level of competency. There are a few I'm still too lazy or just scared to learn, but hopefully I'll continue to work on that over the summer...

I work at the school's library every week day from noon to 6:00 p.m. (that's where I am as I type this). It's very slow during the summer. We are lucky to get more than 10 people in our door in any given hour; typically it's closer to 7. At first I was wondering what in the world I would do with all the time when I'm just watching the desk (my boss often gives me projects to do, but not always), but then it occurred to me that I could write. My boss encourages us to find useful ways to employ our time watching the desk, and actually told me to always have homework with me when I come in. However, homework for my Lit. class only takes about an hour. So I've been writing again... short stories and poems at this point. I hadn't done much writing in ages. I've been doing some reading as well, which I also hadn't done for pleasure in a long while. I love the atmosphere in the library... how quiet and peaceful it is.

Evenings are partially devoted to keeping up with internet sites and my usual obsessions (TWLOHA, Skillet, the music world in general) as well as to video editing and graphic design.

The next two months will be very much the same. After I finish Brit. Lit., I start a Tolkien class, which will also be in the morning. My days will be even more structured and routine in a way then they were during the semester, but at least I'll be able to fit in things like writing and design, which I have fallen behind on dramatically during the past six months. I will have no time to hang out with friends, but that is usual for me - the only way to spend time with me is typically to walk with me from one place to another. Most of my close friends are scattered all over America right now anyway.

I am living in the future, in a way. My mind is almost totally focused on two months from now. I will be going to California for two weeks to spend time with my uncle and his family, and then I will be going to Colorado for Clean Place's annual "moot." I am looking forward to both immensely. Until then I have a lot of things I want to work out in my head...

So there you have it. Now you know what I've been doing as of late, and what I will be doing until July 18th. I hope to have a bit more time to catch up with people online before long...

- Elraen -

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A Poem: Say Goodnight

Say Goodnight

You brush my lips,
the retreating fragrance
gracing me with a memory
that will stick to my skin,
like the rose petals
that we consumed with our fire.

I watch the brilliance branding our sky
with dreams and hopes
of starlight, your completion
manifest in me.
You grip my hand,
and say goodnight.

The radiance shatters, splinters in my heart
as your hand slips away
and I am bereft in the dark.
Fragrance fades, and
even rose petals grow stale.

But even darkness left
in your absence is beautiful,
for it belongs to you.
Like a sick child I will hold on,
clutching with grimy hands
the things I've already lost.

Though your sun has burned a hole
now empty in this breathing heart,
and the radiance has gifted nothing but the scars
left by burns, I will embrace
what is left.
I will wander through these shadows,
your shadows,
carrying bits of you
to make up for missing pieces
of me.

In the morning's footsteps I will find an end,
whether in darkness or in light.
Until then my frozen lips will whisper
the words:

Thursday, May 14, 2009

My Stuff

I'm in middle of packing up for a family trip to Tennessee as I write this. I have clutter scattered over my desk, laundry in the washing machine and dryer, and a half-full backpack sitting by my bed in my room. I didn't think I would have any reason to be thoughtful today, but I have been proved wrong.

My sister and I both love music. We didn't start listening to music until about three years ago. In that time we have come a long way. I remember when we first started buying CDs. One of the very first I ever bought was Relient K's The Anatomy of the Tongue in Cheek. I remember the way we opened it carefully, slowly, and stared at the glossy lyrics booklet. I remember how mad I was when one of my little brothers cracked the case. I remember how treasured that one CD was.

That was a little more than two years ago. Today I was assembling a CD wallet full for our trip. I slid in four Skillet CDs, eight Relient K CDs, two Anberlin, three Barlow Girl, two Lifehouse, two Disciple, and several other random CDs, and then I couldn't fit any more of my collection in. I think around the time I hit the Anberlin CDs I started thinking.

The last time we really went on a family road trip was two years ago. I remember I had three or four Relient K CDs by then. I was considering buying my first Skillet songs off of iTunes.

Two years ago, I would have looked at my CD wallet of today in absolute awe. I would have thought it was the coolest thing ever. It would have been awesome-overload.

But now I take it all for granted. I work a steady job, I ask for music every Christmas and for every birthday. I have a fairly large CD collection that has been built in a fairly short space of time. And somehow it's not as mind blowing as I would have thought two years ago.

And then I looked at my laptop, sitting here on my desk with its TWLOHA, Relient K, and Skillet stickers on the back... probably the nicest computer in our house. I finally finished paying for it a year ago, when I was recovering from being extremely ill, so I spent hours at a time in bed with it. It was a miracle to me – having my own computer, with internet access, was a dream come true.

A few days ago I couldn't get wireless and I had to share the internet on my siblings' computer for just one day. I was grumpy and put out all day because of it. But that used to be normal.

I looked at my camera, the beautiful little thing that allows me to show others a little of how I see the world – once again, the nicest camera in our house. I bought it at the end of last summer, after working a full time office job. Now it comes everywhere with me. But there was a time when I lived without it.

So what am I getting at? As I was sliding the CDs into the wallet, I realized that they were just stuff. I like music because it encourages me, reminds me that I'm alive, reminds me how to love and how to hope. But I don't need this CD collection; I could listen to the radio or even look songs up on YouTube. I don't need the laptop. I lived without it for years, and I could easily do so again. My camera is pretty amazing, and I love it, but at the end of the day it's not going to do much for me when I'm wrestling with the issues of life and death.

I do not consider myself to be materialistic. I have a tendency to give things and money away a lot because it's meaningless to me. But I definitely had to give myself a somewhat humbling reality check today as I realized how much I take for granted. We hear people say all the time that we shouldn't focus on stuff or take what we have for granted, but how often do we look around our computer desks and realize exactly how much we really have and how selfish we are about it?

I've been reading Jon Foreman's blog posts. He has been fasting for the last three days to raise awareness about the situation in Darfur. It's reminded me as well how stupid I am to feel entitled to stable wireless, to stacks of CDs, even to my little box full of sharpies and the coffee sitting in the kitchen waiting for me.

Tomorrow I will climb into a van without air conditioner and spend 13 hours of my life sweating all the way to eastern Tennessee. But I have transportation. I have access to food and to water along the way. I have my pretty journals and my pens and my CDs. And I am blessed beyond belief.

Just look around your computer desk. What stuff are you taking for granted?

- Elraen -

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A Change of Pace

So I guess I really should blog this. I've had so little energy as of late that even blog posts seem like some kind of huge expenditure, which I guess isn't the case, but it feels that way.

The day after finals ended (and I did decently well on finals, in case you wondered), my mother drove me out to another town to meet up with my friend Joy. I met Joy online in August of 2006, through a Lord of the Rings forum I'm still quite active on, Arwen-Undomiel. We've kept up with each other that whole time. Even when both of us took a prolonged break from that forum, we kept up through YouTube, e-mail, and xanga. In January one of my goals was fulfilled through bringing her onto Clean Place, the other primary forum I'm active on. We had never met in person, though she lives in the same state, just a few hours South. After a long while of discussion, we finally worked it out for me to go to stay with her family for a week.

As I have said elsewhere, I've been surprised by what a few internet friends were like, but Joy was almost exactly like I was expecting. I'd had nearly three years to form an idea, so it would have been odd if she had been any different. I've met over 30 internet friends now, so in a sense it's become normal for me, but this one was different than usual because normally I meet people when I'm still sort of getting to know them rather than after I've already known them for two and a half years. Basically, it normally doesn't take me that long to find a way to meet someone I'm close to.

The first thing we did together was to go to a Chinese Restaurant with her dad, and then wander around a Pawn Shop and a parking lot... and flowering fields behind the dirty parking lot. I have to wonder if I was at all what she had expected. I guess I couldn't have been too far off, as I had my camera out within the first hour and kept stopping to take pictures.

The drive down to where they live was almost bizarre – one thing that was incredibly special was to talk about A-U related things (while drinking coffee, something we did a lot of). For the first time in nearly three years, someone actually knew the people I was talking about, remembered the events I was talking about. She is the only person who is on two of the three forums I'm really active on, so I just couldn't get over how cool it was to have someone who knew those pieces of my life and had seen me in both places (and still talks to me after so long... miracles do happen).

That first evening I spent about 20 minutes feeling completely overwhelmed. This is actually a major improvement for me. At the moot I didn't start enjoying it until the 9th day. Also, even though I felt overwhelmed, I didn't go and shut myself up in a closet (yes, I have been known to do this). Once again, miracles do happen.

The first full day I was there, I had time to get used to being in that setting before getting to meet Joy's 3 older sisters, their husbands, and 12 of Joy's nieces and nephews. It was a case where I could choose to be overwhelmed, or to roll with it and enjoy it. I chose to enjoy it. Her family is incredibly different from mine, but typically after watching people for a few minutes I can figure out enough about how they work to know how to talk to them. That whole evening was a blur of people and kids and coffee. Definitely never a dull or silent moment, and that's part of what made it fun.

On Sunday the big event was driving to another town for Joy's orchestra concert. Joy, one of her teenaged nieces and I were there early, as the orchestra had to practice. So while they did that Joy's niece and I took off to wander the halls of the highschool where the event was being held.

Some of you have heard about this. I have an odd fascination with highschools – almost a morbid fascination, because so much pain begins in those hallways, so much hurt happens that will never fully heal. I like to understand the world's brokenness so I can know how to heal it, and so looking at where it begins is something that interests me. I had only ever been in a public highschool very briefly once, for the SAT. So it was a new experience. I considered taking notes for future stories as well, as I often write about school but feel terrified that I'm getting it wrong. The halls were empty, and mostly dark save for the gray light that filtered through the rain outside the windows. I had my camera with me, and I took a few pictures down one of the hallways, and of one of the combinations on a locker. I'd always imagined what it would be like to have a locker. It was weird to see these rows and rows of lockers.

By this point my brain was partially on overload, partly on stupid. One way or another, I kind of stopped thinking. We walked down the hallway and saw a locker partially ajar, and Joy's niece pulled it all the way open. I didn't stop her. It was a girl's locker, which was obvious by the Hello Kitty mermaid on the door. It was very orderly. I took a picture of it, out of fascination with the whole idea of having a locker (if you were public schooled, feel free to laugh at this homeschooled girl). We went on to another hall of lockers, and there was another locker partially ajar. This was full of trash, which was spilling into the hallways. There was an Algebra book perched amidst the trash. I guessed it was a boy's locker. Joy's niece checked the name on the Algebra book, confirming my guess. I took a picture of that too.

We went on from there to look into a few classrooms. I never know highschools were that big. We wandered on and on, until we found the cafeteria. I stared through the window, and we tested the door to see if it was locked (which it was).

Just then, Joy's niece suggested I look up. I glanced up, straight into a security camera.

Everything we'd done came rushing back over me like a wave of nausea before a test. We'd looked in lockers. Looked in classrooms. Tested locks. All alone, in dark halls. And it was all on security cameras now.

I immediately suggested we leave. As we retraced our steps, I now noticed countless security cameras, watching with blank eyes. My brain was screaming “stupid, stupid, STUPID!” But of course it was too late now.

I spent the rest of the time before the concert terrified of seeing a security guard walk in to haul me away. It's not that we'd done anything wrong – it's that it looked very much like we had. For all anyone watching the security cameras knew, we could have taken things from the locker (as if I really want to relive Algebra...). I was very, very angry with myself. It really didn't help that we went out to watch the rain for a while, and one of the guys waiting at the table to pass out programs was telling someone that the highschool had strengthened their security, and had hired a police officer and so on.

It helped when we got a chance to tell Joy, and she just laughed about it. I was sure she wanted to kick me out then and there for being so immature, but she kept laughing, so I assumed that at the least it was ridiculous enough that she couldn't even be upset about it.

Of course I reasoned after we left that no one would watch those tapes unless something had in fact gone missing, and that even if they did watch the tapes, there's no way they could track me – a random blond girl in black from another town (another state, in fact) who happened down the hallways one rainy Sunday afternoon.

The rest of Sunday was considerably less remarkable. Monday, the primary item on the agenda was to go fishing. I had never been fishing before – I believe I was present when my siblings and friends were fishing about ten years ago, but I don't remember if I actually fished, and considering I don't really remember, that obviously doesn't count. I caught a fish pretty early on. I had to force myself not to feel sorry for it. The rest of the afternoon the fish pretty much ignored me. As I cast again and again with no luck, I realized how ridiculous it is that in so many fantasy stories hunters go out and come back with a lovely, big fish half an hour later. If only! Joy caught a fish as well, while maneuvering over the pond in a little rubber raft. Our attempts to clean the fish were... unsuccessful at best, so in the end we passed off the duty (delegation is often the best option).

That evening we watched The Village, a movie I've wanted to see since it was released some years ago. I very much enjoyed it. The concept was fascinating, and it was such an intensely artistic movie. I was mentally nerding about the cinematography on and off throughout.

Tuesday I tagged along as Joy went to play violin with a friend (who was playing piano) for a senior citizen's gathering at a big Baptist church. I think that was probably the most awkward few hours of the whole week. The best part was the piano itself. After they had played and everyone had eaten lunch, the three of us went back into the sanctuary to play their grand piano. It was incredible. The notes I played seemed to come so easily, and even when I stumbled it sounded good. We joked about casually rolling it out and taking it with us.

On Wednesday Joy had her music lessons, and I tagged along once again. Her friend from the day before was there (they were having lessons at his church, actually) along with his twin brothers. It had been a while since I'd seen so many instruments being played in the same room – a guitar, an accordion, a piano, a mandolin, and two violins. I very much enjoyed listening. Joy and I played violin and piano together, as we had promised we would the day before.

I also ended up going to the local music store with Joy's friend and Joy's younger sister (who is also awesome, by the way). The owner of that music store is creepy. Beyond belief. I had been told before hand that this would be the case, but I thought they were exaggerating. Apparently not. No teenaged girl should ever have to walk away from a 50-year-old guy feeling like they've been hit on. And feeling like taking a shower because he had his hand on your shoulder and patted your arm in the most condescending way possible.

Anyway. Creepy guy aside, it was a fun afternoon.

Thursday was my last day there. We went out for a long photo shoot, with the aid of Joy's sister. Not that many of the pictures turned out due to so much laughing and talking, but it was fun anyway. We left for Lufkin, where we would be meeting my mother and older brother, mid-afternoon so that some shopping could be accomplished. I had fun coming up with Skillet connections for random things I saw.

I'm so accustomed to goodbyes. In a sense I've grown numb to them. I've come to understand that everyone leaves. So in a sense, I'm always struggling to remember that I'm supposed to show some kind of emotion over goodbye, because I definitely don't want the other person to think I'm glad to be saying goodbye.

As I look back over my time there, I try to come up with a reason why I wasn't really stressed while there, or why I could interact with people for hours at a time without being worn out (something I haven't accomplished since December, when I was with the Ferns). And something hit me, I think on the drive home through the dark. I realized that the whole family was very real.

I have not made close friends in college. I have come to believe that one of my biggest blocks is simply that everything there is so fake. I hate it when every conversation that everyone is having is shallow. Everyone is pretending to be something else. Pretending to be a good student. Pretending they feel cool. Pretending they actually have pure intentions regarding their significant other. Pretending to care about the people around them while whining about their teachers. Pretending to listen to God when they're actually taking their own goals and inserting God into it.

I do it too. I pretend I've got it together. I pretend I know what I'm doing. I pretend I can somehow be good enough through grades and work and denying myself rest. I pretend I can keep making it on my own. I pretend I'm not tired of all of this, I pretend I'm not desperate for myself and those around me to wake up to something more.

All that to say, I have come to appreciate it immensely when I find someone who is willing to be real with me. Joy, and her entire family, were like that. I don't mean in the sense that we had deep, soul-baring conversations every few minutes. I'm trying to say, basically, that they didn't make exceptions for me – they didn't pretend to be anything but what they were. And that is something I love.

So many people make these lists of what qualities a friend should have. I refuse to think that way. All I need from anyone around me is that they're willing to strip away enough layers of the mask so I can see who they are. I guess in a sense that's a very demanding thing to ask. For my part, it is my responsibility to be trustworthy, because every face behind every mask is fragile. I would rather die than hurt someone through my words or actions (and yet still, because I'm incurably human, I still do so).

Basically, if someone is willing to be real with me, than I know how to talk to them. I know how to build bridges. I know how to stop looking at myself for long enough to see the beauty in them. But if someone is only going to give me a shallow, distorted reflection of who they really are, then I have no place in their life.

I could write about what it actually is to be “real” for another several thousand words, because that is a complicated question in and of itself – a question I have thought on so often over the past year. I'm very tired right now, so I'm not sure how coherent this whole blog is. I guess I'm just trying to say that my time there was incredibly refreshing... because I saw something beautiful, something I so rarely see.

And I definitely hope I get to see Joy again. Maybe I'll drag her up here and introduce her to my family sometime. Who knows.

Peace to you.

- Elraen -