Saturday, December 24, 2011

and in his name, all oppression shall cease

For the last day of Advent, Over the Rhine's instrumental "O Come O Come Emmanuel":

From The Chieftains' The Bells of Dublin, "O Holy Night":

My grandmother's favorite, Andrea Bocelli, with "Adeste Fidelis." Yes, in Latin, because it's pretty.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

this year in pictures

The view from my house after a snowstorm.

The Superbowl party wouldn't be complete without a Philadelphia cake. The red dot is our house.

My cousin (once-removed) Zachary's 3rd birthday. He's the 2nd from the right.

Our Sound of Music sing-a-long and costume party.

My friend Erin's going away dinner (she moved back to California).

My friend Anna's wedding, and the first time I'd ever been to Florida.

The bonfire at PAPA Fest...

...and the stage, which was built from the ground up.

The International Writing Centers Association Summer Institute, in middle-of-nowhere Oklahoma.

My baseball team. I'm third from the left in the bottom row.

Kitchen deconstruction with my roommate.

The grand opening of our writing center!

Rye, NH, during Thanksgiving, with my mom.

My brother Kirk making ravioli.

We sorta-kinda adopted a cat. Or, rather, she adopted us.

My grandfather died last week. He was 93. This is him with my mom and Zachary during Thanksgiving.

Friday, December 16, 2011

tolling for the luckless, the abandoned and forsaked

Things I've been reading:

My college roommate started a blog. She's a brilliant writer, so go check her out. She just wrote a post about Advent. She also writes about video games.

I have a bookshelf that's double-stacked and groaning (you can see it here). But this! Oh, goodness. It's like heaven.

This little gem got published in Forbes last week. Besides the fact that the guy has apparently never heard of the subjunctive, it's also pretty classist, racist, and just plain clueless. However, there have been some great responses:
Racialicious has links and sums some of them up: among them, Jeff Yang's piece, Elon James White in The Root,  Ta-Nehisi Coates in The Atlantic.

In "this is scary stuff" news, Salon on the new detention bill. The National Religious Campaign Against Torture has a call-your-congressperson campaign going on in response.

And because we can all use some adorable-ness, no matter how bad the world sucks, here you go (stolen from Facebook from my friend Drew):

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

it's them and they fall.

Raúl Zurita is a Chilean poet who wrote during Pinochet's rule. His poetry is, in part, a response to the cruelty and violence of the time. He won the Chilean National Prize for Literature in 2000, a Guggenheim in 1984, and the National Poetry Prize of Chile.

Here's an interview with him.
 From The Snow
Down below the mountain peak twists slowly
and bends. Hundreds of others further off do
the same: their sharp points, the rounded
mouths of the volcanoes. Behind there’s the sea,
above, the tombstone of the sky. Below, the huge
cemetery of white mountains that twist like
needles bending.

Their bodies fall and twist. They look like
strange snowflakes against the immensity of
space. The white, pure snow will receive those
other bodies. It will receive them also. Below,
the white peaks, further back the line of the sea
and their bodies thrown like a strange snowfall.
Like strange snowflakes against the immense

It’s them and they fall. It’s a strange snowfall
coming down onto the white scar of the moun-
tains. There is also the sound of a strange ten-
derness: snowflakes embraced by other snows,
small pieces of ice embraced by other ice.

It will speak also of a surprising and unexpected

-trans. William Rowe

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

There's a need for anything that frees us

In my family, as with many families, we have many traditions surrounding the holidays. Christmas Eve dinner, for example, is usually an attempt at the Italian 7-fish dinner (although we end up substituting in different fish, because the traditional ones are expensive). All of us have the Advent calendar memorized, because it's the same one we've used since we were kids. There's usually a viewing of Charlie Brown's Christmas at some point. We can harmonize to the "For unto us a child is born" in Handel's Messiah (and yes, I know it's really for Easter). And then there's the usual stuff, like the tree and the presents and everything.

We have slightly unusual traditions as well.

My brother once said that he waits until finals are over (he's in college) and then he starts playing The Chieftains' album "The Bells of Dublin." That's when he knows it's Christmas, he says. "The Bells of Dublin" is also my favorite, and we play it so often that we get sick of it by Epiphany. A lot of the album is Irish music, but my favorite song on the CD is "The Rebel Jesus" by Jackson Browne:

Well, we guard our world with locks and guns
And we guard our fine possessions
And once a year when Christmas comes
We give to our relations
And perhaps we give a little to the poor
If the generosity should seize us
But if any one of us should interfere
In the business of why there are poor
They get the same as the rebel Jesus.

We also usually end up watching "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever." I had the book when I was a kid, and at some point, my parents bought the movie. It's this funny story about the Herdemans, the "bad kids" in town, invading the church Christmas pageant. Here's a clip (don't mind the hair and the clothes; it was made in the '80s):

There are some gems in there: 
Imogene: What's a pageant?
Alice: It's a play.
Imogene: Like on TV? What's it about?
Alice: It's about Jesus.

Imogene: Everything here is.

You could say that "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" is about redemption--for the Herdemans, who find themselves in the midst of church, and for the church members, who are more than skeptical about these kids coming in and taking over their pageant. But there's also some interesting social commentary in the movie and book: the kids have no father; their mother works two jobs; the kids get pushed along without really learning anything in school because no teacher wants to have them twice; no one really lends a hand to this family that is obviously struggling (except, in the movie, for the poor social worker, who seems underpaid and overworked).

I don't know if this commentary was intentional or just a convenient plot device. But I do think that both "The Rebel Jesus" and "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" point to a theme that runs deep in Christianity (even if it often gets lost in the voices that scream and shout): this longing for justice, and this reminder that God became incarnated in a poor carpenter.

I think that matters.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

half-stripped trees and faint deputies of heat

It doesn't feel like winter yet, at least not down here in Philly. It's 60 degrees and rainy, which really cancels out the delight of warm weather.

But, in anticipation of the coming season, here's some winter poetry.

Approach of Winter
William Carlos Williams

The half-stripped trees
struck by a wind together,
bending all,
the leaves flutter drily
and refuse to let go
or driven like hail
stream bitterly out to one side
and fall
where the salvias, hard carmine--
like no leaf that ever was--
edge the bare garden.

Like Brooms of Steel (1252)
Emily Dickinson

Like Brooms of Steel
The Snow and Wind
Had swept the Winter Street --
The House was hooked
The Sun sent out
Faint Deputies of Heat --
Where rode the Bird
The Silence tied
His ample -- plodding Steed
The Apple in the Cellar snug
Was all the one that played.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

'tis the season, or something

When I was in college, I was a part of a group called YACHT, or Youth Against Complacency and Homelessness Today. Our primary purpose was two-fold: one, to educate ourselves about issues of local and glocal poverty; and two, to spend time with people who were homeless. This meant that for four years, every Saturday morning, no matter what, I'd drag myself out of bed, help pack lunches and bring them down to Philadelphia, where we'd hang out with homeless people. 

During the winter months, we often took donations: socks, blankets, coats, sweatshirts. We did a sock drive during Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week in November every year, and we made bedrolls out of old blankets.

After college, I worked at a day center for homeless women for a year before I headed off to Camden and then grad school.

In any case, I know that this time of year is when people start to think about donating stuff. Let me tell you, people do like to donate stuff. In college, we usually ended up with so many donations that we had a full room of them in the basement of one of the dorms. And we used to get bags and bags of clothes at N Street.

Thing is, a lot of the stuff we got wasn't in good shape. A lot of it was just crap: ragged, worn, out of shape, lots of holes. We'd have to sort through the donations and we usually ended up throwing away a lot of things. 

And that made me angry. Homeless people have dignity. Poor people have dignity. And they shouldn't get rich people's too-worn cast-offs just 'cause they can't afford new clothes.

When I was working at N Street, I made a list of things that people should think about when they're donating clothes, and I think that they still stand:
Make sure...
a) the clothes are practical. Homeless women don't need see-through tank tops, for example. They do need clothes that are comfortable, and they need clothes that they could wear potentially to a job interview. N Street had an education and employment program, so they often did drives just for work clothes.
b) the clothes are in season. Not the fashion season, the season season. Most shelters don't have the space to store sweaters in the summer, and your clothes will end up being donated to Goodwill or the Salvation Army Thrift Store.
c) the clothes are nice. Not torn, not stained, not so shapeless that you can't tell what it is.
d) the clothes are a size that fits the population. Many of our women, for example, were larger, and we get lots of small clothes that, again, ended up being re-donated.

Anyway, that's my brief (and grumpy) guide to donating clothes.