January 30, 2013

This Solitude of Cataracts

This Solitude of Cataracts  by Wallace Stevens

He never felt twice the same about the flecked river,
Which kept flowing and never the same way twice, flowing

Through many places, as if it stood still in one,
Fixed like a lake on which the wild ducks fluttered,

Ruffling its common reflections, thought-like Monadnocks.
There seemed to be an apostrophe that was not spoken.

There was so much that was real that was not real at all.
He wanted to feel the same way over and over.

He wanted the river to go on flowing the same way,
To keep on flowing. He wanted to walk beside it,

Under the buttonwoods, beneath a moon nailed fast.
He wanted his heart to stop beating and his mind to rest

In a permanent realization, without any wild ducks
Or mountains that were not mountains, just to know how it would be,

Just to know how it would feel, released from destruction,
To be a bronze man breathing under archaic lapis,

Without the oscillations of planetary pass-pass,
Breathing his bronzen breath at the azury center of time.

January 29, 2013

By Heart

It was May and it was almost three years ago and I was charged with the task of doing a creative project for a seminar about interpreting art ecocritically. Our assignments were all manner of wonderful, like keeping a nature journal and hiking Rock Canyon together and reading out in the grass and springshine. That class was also my first rendezvous with Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer, who is now a major part of my master's thesis. (For my sanity and yours, I'll refrain from saying "thesis" ever again in this post.) 

I was also a little bit in love at the timewith a boy, with a poem, with the universe, and mostly with two snails that I perchanced to meet. Actually, I take back the part about the universe. I was having a rough go of it that spring, and for more reasons than the fact that I couldn't figure out what to do about my creative project. I'm not a painter or a photographer or film-maker or gardener. My forays into writing poetry have been sporadic and uneven at best, so the last thing I wanted was to share one of my haphazard efforts with that little band of eight bright colleagues and a professor I had come to admire for his brilliance and sincerity.

A little lonely and a little frustrated and a little heartbroken, I found myself sitting out in the JFSB courtyard on grass and pavement one afternoon among some ducks, who promptly scuttled away. Because I wanted the option to never-share-my-poetry-with-anyone, I had opted to memorize a poem instead: Wallace Stevens's "This Solitude of Cataracts" (the internet was lacking in clean, readable versions of this poem, so I uploaded one here). Every couple minutes, I would consult my paperback book of poems and then trace the words in my mind, shaping them with my mouth, until they made grooves and felt natural.

He never felt twice the same about the flecked river,
Which kept flowing and never the same way twice, flowing

Through many places, as if it stood still in one

It had rained the day before, so the air was thick and the snails were out. I saw one of them, inching and creeping along as I let the language swirl around: 

He wanted the river to go on the same way 
To keep on flowing. He wanted to walk beside it...

Something about who I was at the time and/or who I am always allowed me to begin believing that the snail understood me. (Such an experience is not unprecedented for me, as manifest by a similar encounter I had with a fish two years prior.) We were friends, that snail and I, living out that moment. He seemed a little lonely, too, so naturally when I noticed another snail creeping along some inches away (though to them it probably seemed like miles), I tried to introduce them. They seemed unaware of each other's existence, so I nudged my little buddy along with a stick. He retreated and started frothing from under the shell. I decided to just leave them alone and watch.

Somewhere in all of that, I pulled out a trusty little notebook and wrote something like this:

On the Fragility of a Snail’s Shell, Among Other Things

I wanted to write a poem regarding a snail I came across,
            snailing along the pavement (as only snails do).
But I picked up my heavy pen
            and it snailed along the paper (as only pens do),
            rudely neglecting the whistling quality of the birds’ aria (now libretto),
            the drowsy lilac air
            thick with yesterday’s rain,
            whose nonchalant breeze subtly battered at the pages
            (as though they didn’t belong there),
            blew back moments so delicate. 

The poem shares thematic qualities with "This Solitude of Cataracts," namely that the passage of time, the reminders of our own mortality, the impossibility of actually capturing a moment, etc. are all burdens we shoulder every day. It's natural to want something constant in all that wind-blowing and river-flowing.

I was also in a French class at the time. We read a lot of things, one of which was a novel called La salle de bain about a man who traps himself in his bathroom so that he doesn't have to confront change, especially his own aging. He reminded me a lot of the "He" in the Wallace Stevens poem, so I shared the connection with the class. The professor asked me to recite the poem, since I'd memorized it by then. I did, to the wonder and amazement of all my classmates (because how many of us even know our own mother's phone number by heart anymore?), and in that moment I felt as though I'd found a way out of the bathroom, so to speak―out of that fear that I can't bottle up my moments and keep now forever.

Memorizing, it just felt so good.

The Bible has something to say about this in what has come to be one of my favorite passages of scripture: Ye are our epistle, written in our hearts... written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart (2 Corinthians 3:2-3). 

Writing something on your heart―isn't that beautiful? Knowing something by heart.

There is a professor well-loved in my circle of friends who once wrote this in response to a student's e-mail asking how he is able to memorize so many things (including all of his students' names, and usually by the second day of class):

Makes me realize I must have decided early in life that most of our lives are lived in our heads, inside our souls. So I wanted, I think, to furnish it with good stuff, so that if I ever got thrown in jail or into outer darkness, I’d still be in a good place.

Memorization is strictly rote for me, hard work and getting harder as I age. There’s only one trick to the trade I’ve noticed: love. If you really care about something, it’s easier to commit to memory. I know every contour of my wife’s face.

So lovely.

My invitation to you today is inspired by all of this in combination with the Facebook status of a dear friend, miss Kaitlyn, who has introduced me to more beauty than I can tell:

If we do not learn by heart, the heart does not feel the rhythms of poetry as echoes or variations of its own insistent beat. ―Catherine Robson

In sum,

Go memorize something today.

I'm serious. 

Memorize your sister's phone number or your favorite scriptural passage or a song you always want to keep. Memorize a poem (and may I kindly suggest the Stevens one as a place to start?). Write on that fleshy table, your heart, and feel a rhythm, feel at peace. And if you can befriend a snail while you're at it, more power to you. 

January 23, 2013

10 Little Distractions

Among a number of other quirks, including the fact that I don't like overhead lighting and that I pace around the house while brushing my teeth, I am guilty of keeping too many tabs open in my web browser for way too long. Upon seeing how grave the situation really is, my friends will often gently remind me that there is such a thing as bookmarks. I just can't stand to part with the interesting little things that come my way, y'know?, and it's so nice to have them all gathered as a little puzzle for what might be on my mind on a given day or week. That said, maybe someone among you could benefit from a little distraction or ten. (You're welcome.) 

Here is a little show-and-tell of the tabs that are currently open in Google Chrome right now in addition to my Hotmail inbox (another oddity, I get it) and Facebook.

1. Sundance Film Festival's official webpage. I had the opportunity to go up to Park City with some friends on Saturday and catch the spirit of the festival. Maybe this week I can actually score tickets for a film. Any suggestions?

2. The Space Born: Mystical Poetry. If this collection really does contain "spiritual truths concerning the inner mysteries of life," the real mystery is why it's going for only $6.95. 

4. A cool article about Utah's prowess for viral YouTube videos. I'm a sucker for any features about why Utah is a cool place to live because, um, it is.

5. Wikipedia's article on letterboxing, aka my newest favorite hobby. No, seriously, I need to get in on this stat.

6. A Cracked.com feature about eccentric geniuses. Admittedly, I didn't spend time reading about any of them besides #6, the beloved Lord Byron, who turned 225 yesterday. Here is my favorite part: "It began when Byron arrived at Cambridge, where he was ordered to send his dog back home as keeping one was against school rules. Desperate for a pet, Byron scoured college policies for an animal not expressly forbidden. He found no reference to bears.

"The bear stayed with Byron in his dorm room. Being a responsible pet owner, Byron took it on regular leashed walks through the university, terrifying fellow students and lecturers. When asked by administration what purpose the bear served on campus, the poet tried in vain to get his beast a fellowship."

7. An article from BYU Studies that I haven't read yet, but it looks to be an interesting discussion of the difference between art and entertainment, especially as it applies to the Christian (particularly LDS) perception of "wholesome entertainment" and why we might be thinking about it in unhelpful ways. 

8. This pretty song brought to us by Philip, "Every one that Sleeps is Beautiful" (from a larger song cycle called The Sleepers). 

9. Neat! A free UTA Day Pass for those along the Wasatch Front who pledge to travel on a red air quality day.

10. One of my 8tracks mixes comprised of sweet little it's-evening-and-I'm-winding-down songs, a few of which pretty much bring me to tears pretty much every time. So of course I've been listening to it almost every night.

Is anyone else out there a tab hoarder? Anything interesting to share with the class? 

January 22, 2013

you is a mysterious thing

Sometimes, when the moment is just right, I'll write a poem. And it might look something like this. And I might be happy to hear any thoughts you have on the matter, you mysterious things, you.

"you is a mysterious thing"

The notion of you is
a mysterious thing
and so are you

except, of course, when your globe
folds me in and holds
me inside its lines and stitches,
its weight and contour and spinning

I know you then
the way I know
our universe:
faintly, like a distant planet yet
pulsing and fully in that rhythm,
our orbit

at times, I feel everything:

others, I find it nothing short of miracle
that you,
in all your immense and forever you,
would moment with me unceasing

would share space

would wait with me
in my moment that is now


January 14, 2013

The whole of life seems full of sacred presences

The title of this post, it's something I read last semester in an article about jazz music. It's also how I feel about my life of late.

Something very awful and probably wonderful is to take place in exactly one week:

I will be twenty-five.

To say that I'm going through a quarter-life crisis (thanks, John Mayer) might be an understatement. But in the midst of all the questioning about my worth and my purpose and the seeming impossibility of a future that is real and breathing and happy, I am witness to no small miracles.

For example, this healthy seven-pound, six-day-old bundle of sacred I'm proud to call my nephew:

And his name is Parker.

There really aren't poems enough for what it means to me that he has come into the world. Today, I'm crying a little because he's so young and so new and he has a whole life of his own miracles and heartaches before him. But I'm sure God feels the same way about me, so there's not a single reason in this big blue universe to give up (even though it's ever-so-tempting).

Getting older is hard. Things haven't always panned out the way I wanted. But there are moments, sublime and deeply true, when I realize I wouldn't trade it, this life of mine. 

January 12, 2013


If you are a dreamer, come in
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar
A hoper, a pray-er, a magic-bean-buyer
If you're a pretender, come sit by my fire
For we have some flax golden tales to spin
Come in!
Come in!

―Shel Silverstein

Just before Christmas, I decided to search for myself on Amazon Wish List to see if my mother would have an easy enough time finding me and discerning me from all the other Richelle Wilsons out there. 

Okay, you're right, I'm not sure why I was expecting there to be more than one or two of me, but there are a whopping nine of us on Wish List if you count the two girls whose middle names are "Richelle" and the one Richelle who has a hyphenated last name. Being the curious web-wanderer that I am, I decided to take a peek at these other Richelles to see what sort of things top their Christmas lists. And boy was I ever grateful to have done so.

First, there was the disappointment of Richelle from Maryland who hasn't actually made a Wish List. In an almost equally boring discovery, the richelle who didn't see fit to use upper-case letters in registering her name wants a Dell desktop computer and that's it.

Fortunately, this uninteresting start to my search did not deter me from meeting richelle Smith-Wilson, who wants a Wii Fit Plus with Balance Board and the Richelle Wilson just below her on the list who has taken her fitness goals to the next level: seven elliptical trainers on her Wish List! That's almost enough for each of the Richelles Wilson on Amazon to have one. One Ab Bootcamp and a Tae Bo "Get Ripped" DVD set later, we get to Richelle "Elliptical" Wilson's odd to-read list: 

Reading People: How to Understand People and Predict Their Behavior―Anytime, Anyplace

Get Anyone to Do Anything: Never Feel Powerless Again
―With Psychological Secrets to Control and Influence in Any Situation

Never Be Lied to Again: How to Get the Truth in 5 Minutes or Less in Any Conversation or Situation

(Is it just me or does this woman sound a little jaded?)

To wrap up her list, there are a couple books on the art and strategies of war and, of course, The Art of Seduction. Don't mess.

Lauren Richelle offered another sadly empty list, but just below her, we meet pet-lover Vanessa Richelle, whose list begins with a series of how-to books on training puppies and raising toy poodles. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, she next lists several largish Prada handbags (for trips to the mall with the toy poodle?). She also wants a BBC series called To the Manor Born, a funny novel by Jasper Fforde, all the seasons of My So-Called Life, and a strange book about adopting toddlers subtitled The Weaver's Craft.

The next Richelle is likewise fascinating, with only two Wish List items as clues to her life and innermost desires: Basic Dressage by Jean Froissard and Xenophon's The Art of Horsemanship. An equestrian Richelle! Who would have thought it? The strangest thing about her list is that both items were added in May 2001, back when I was cast as the Wicked Stepmother in the Legg Middle School production of Cinderella. Do you think Richelle gave up on horses because she never received these items? Or has she just been too busy competing with the Cadre Noir to even worry about such foolish things as paperback translations of Xenophon?

Last but certainly not least is the Richelle listed a dangerous two notches under my own name whose Wish List is comprised of the following:

Sometimes there are just no words.

In the spirit of my friend Jeff Harris, who did a fascinating Google search on his own name, I have to admit that getting a peek into these other Richelles' lives helped me to appreciate the things that connect us all. I may not want a pet poodle or a throwing blade, but I'm guessing all of these blessed souls in all their humor and desperation probably want a lot of the same things we can't list on Amazon: love, serenity, a good burrito, a sense of purpose, a feeling of belonging. 

And maybe some sweet revenge for good measure.

January 10, 2013

On Uncertainties and Possibilities (or, How My Life Hasn't Changed That Much in Three Years)

Tonight has been a night of introspection. I am always startled a little and usually humbled when I get the chance to read older things I've written: e-mails, journal entries, poems, the embarrassing Livejournal I kept as a high-schooler, etc. As I catch those real glimpses into how I felt and thought and wrote at different stages of my life, I feel much like French-Canadian author Gabrielle Roy did when describing one of the fundamental challenges of writing her autobiography at seventy years old: by that time, the child version of herself was just as much a stranger to her as her old-and-wrinkled self would have been to young Gabrielle had they met on the street. Even at the ripe young age of twenty-four, I think I understand that feeling. Sometimes I look back at myself, even five or six months ago, and I feel like that's a completely different girl in a completely different universe. I'm familiar with herlike we're good friends or somethingbut I don't feel like she and I are the same. It's even stranger as I look at my younger and younger selves, from high school, middle school, elementary school... the farther back I go, the more I feel like I'm stealing someone else's memories.

In the instance of the writing I found tonight, I'm more blown away by how similar I feel to the Richelle who wrote this on January 1, 2010 in an e-mail to a faraway friend. I had just taken the GRE, I was waiting to hear back about my grad school applications, and nothing seemed certain:

I let my mind wander. I thought about the strange weave of happiness and misery, of trust and fear that comprise the fabric of my life. I thought about A, how he begged for my trust. I thought about C, and how maybe something I did along the way broke his. I thought about moving
all my memories, all my "stuff"to a new place for graduate school. I thought about my dad and what it would be like to talk to him about all of this. I thought about what I told my friend Philip: how, even as I was "opening up" to him, I have never really let anyone see me fall apart the way I want to every time I really think of how different life is without Dad. Not my friends. Not my family. Hardly myself.

I thought about how my lives are so different. I come home and feel like this is where I'm meant to be: with my family, playing games and enjoying a good time in this house I grew up in. I go back to school and I forget what it was ever like to just be a room away from my mom rather than a country away. I adjust to my new realities with such great ease that I hardly feel the transition. I'm not sure how much I like that.

I thought about taking the GRE. How smart I really am. What "hard work" really means. What it's really going to take to buckle down and do this grad school thing and end up being a professor, as is my (current) goal. I'm not really sure about my goals, though. I'm not sure if I just decided on something to answer the questions that get fired at me.
I took that four hour test and, exhausted, made the two-hour drive back home. I flipped back to that song. I listened to some other music that reminds me of my freshman year at school. I think back to that year a lot because of everything it represented to me: leaving home for the first time, starting my new life in a new place, meeting a boy who would change everything for me, learning who I was because I could no longer be defined by what was comfortable. 
Tears streamed down my face.
Today, I had a five-hour conversation with my friend at a Mexican restaurant. We just sat there and talked and talked and talked, our lunch getting cold and inedible but our hearts getting filled with that rich soul food of a good conversation with a good friend. I feel like I just sort of chalked up my life and my troubles to a few basic things... Trust. An underlying sense of justice to a fault. A belief in passion. The importance of a strong mind, and how that strong mind sometimes makes life lonelier.
It's funny how the minute you start to "boil things down" and create a synthesis like today's conversation or Monday's long drive, you realize just how complex life is.
But underneath the summary lies all that goes unsaid, and a universe of possibility.

I'm not sure there is much to do beyond letting all of that speak for itself. The uncertainties I face now (three years later) are largely the same as I prepare to move out of my grad school context in Provo and into... something else. I still don't know how much of me is who I am and how much of me is what I feel others expect. I still marvel at how readily I adapt to new realities, and I wonder what to call home. 

This isn't the kind of thing I had planned to share on this blog, but I thought for tonight it might suggest the universality of these little fears and revelations to someone else who is wondering about the grand design of these messy, beautiful things we call our lives.

In the end, I believe it's best to put our trust in that universe of possibility, "for with God all things are possible" (Mark 10:27), even writing a master's thesis or becoming a professor or finding a job or a home (in any sense of it) or someone to reallyreally love. We were made to have and to do and to be all of that, and universes more.

January 3, 2013

New Year's Revolutions

As we settle into these first few days of 2013, everyone is either making their traditional New Year's resolutions (and publicly, thanks to the wonder that is Facebook) or resolving not to make resolutions because I guess that's hipster or Dadaist or just actually not a half bad idea because, let's face it, who keeps their resolutions past January?

Me, I'm a little torn between these two camps. Ever since I was old enough to write, I loved making lists and setting goals down on paper. However, experience has taught me that the excitement of creating a "new me" ("and I mean it this time!") is usually not enough to carry me through the months of patience and dedication most worthy goals require. I'm not trying to be the Scrooge or the Grinch of the New Year here, I'm just wondering how we can translate the inherent enthusiasm for new beginnings into real and lasting changes.

First of all, for me, it has pretty much everything to do with involving God. He is the master planner and organizer, and given that He has orchestrated the salvation of the entire human race and every individual therein, I'm sure He has a pretty good idea of how 2013 should go down and what it will require. Not only that, but He stands willing and ready to help me make positive changes. If I ask, He will even help me catch the vision He has for me and my life. That is nothing short of a miracle.

My other insight about this has to do with a typo I almost made yesterday when typing the phrase "New Year's resolutions." The error? (which turned out to be not-such-a-mistake-after-all?)

New Year's revolutions.

That's right! Let's start a revolution (and hope it ends better than it did for the young folks in Les Mis [too soon?]). If I had to revolutionize this season of goal-setting, it would be in favor of conceptualizing our most authentic selves―not the versions of ourselves favored by the media or the unforgiving demons inside of us (you know the one: she has a "perfect bod," an unrealistic work schedule, Olympian strength and endurance, out-of-this-world success and fame, and she eats nary a brownie). Our authentic selves might sleep in a little, miss a day at the gym, or watch some television in the evening without any shame. Those same selves, though, will want to be healthy and have energy, they will want to do honest work, they will take time for the things they really love (which usually have nothing to do with television and everything to do with writing or creating or singing or running or cooking or serving other people). 

A couple months ago, I was talking with a friend about what happens when you just let yourself do what you feel like, almost like intuitive eating. Sure, your body may think it really wants Oreos for about three days straight (been there), but before long, you'll actually crave salads and apples and blueberries and salmon and so much water. Likewise, if you just do whatever you want for a few days, it will start off with a whole lot of Netflix. Sooner or later, though, you can't help but start tinkering at the piano, cracking open a book you've been meaning to read, or calling a friend who hasn't heard from you in a while. Maybe it really is that simple. 

New Year's resolutions can give us some start-up momentum, but unless we're doing those things because we love them and because we love ourselves, they will never stick. I see so many people (myself included) making these goals in part because we hate ourselves. Start a revolution and overthrow the oppressive part of yourself that lords over your every look in the mirror, your every perceived failure. Learn to love yourself, learn what that means (you might spend a lifetime on that one), and do the things you love along the way. Over the summer, when I had a pretty sterling record of going to the gym regularly, I realized quickly that doing so because I should, because I made a goal, because I wanted "X" results in some future date was never enough. I went because I liked it, because it became part of my day, and because I realized it gave me time for myself and energy to make better use of my days. I had to make it real for myself and I had to do it with love.

In short, do things because you like to do them and because your authentic self is asking you to do them―not to be thinner or cooler or more successful, but to be happy and genuine. Be good to yourself. Love yourself, which always always always starts with loving other people. Be the truest of true to the youest you.

Happy 2013, you revolutionaries.