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Today was a beautiful day.

Till this semester I have successfully avoided eight a.m. classes, but then the English department went and scheduled Literary Criticism, required for English Majors, at eight a.m. I know I’ve no right to complain, what with global hunger and natural disasters, but it is one of the hardships of my very plush life to get up at seven every Tuesday and Thursday and drag myself over to Stowe Hall and listen to Dr. Hood talk about the difference between mimetic and pragmatic interpretations of literature. I guess I would fall into the pragmatic school of thought: if I like it, I read it. And if I DON’T like it, (ahem, Sir Philip Sidney) then it is even more difficult to wake on a cold, semi-dark morning and face four hours and fifteen minutes of classes till noon.

But today I got up, and when I walked out the suite door I knew it was fall. Pale gold sun and a crisp breeze scented with that indescribable yet unmistakeable smell of autumn. Autumn at the Abbey is beautiful. Just the five minute walk from my dorm to Stowe Hall reminded me of how I much I love my school despite it’s craziness and tendency toward high school-like drama.

It is a beautiful place, with the spires of the basilica rising above the campus and the clock tolling out the hour. The red brick of old school buildings against the bright blue of the Carolina sky, and every year I find more strange nooks and crannies to claim for my own–the attic of Stowe Hall, the fountain in front of the monastery, the fig tree next to the mail-room, the balcony behind the Haid Theatre. I remember sitting in front of the monastery beneath the magnolias last Spring when our Victorian Literature class talked Dr. Weir into moving our lecture outside. And always monks in their black robes in the coffee shop, in the monastery garden, laughing with students between classes, coaching sports teams, teaching theology, playing frisbee in the quad with the students, and praying, always praying.

I remember last autumn, falling in love with Vincent and seeing the campus through his eyes: the misted street lamps at night, and the flaming color of maples as I walked down Abbey Lane to class. And I remember my first year, the lost freshman feeling of uncertain friendships, and hot tea, laughing with Jordan when we got back to our room at two a.m., stuffing ourselves with Oreos before falling into bed.

It has lost none of its magic. Once, when discussing with a friend where I should go to college and listing off the names of my choices, he stopped me when I mentioned Belmont Abbey. “Oh, you have to go there. That’s such a cool name: Belmont Abbey College. I mean, how many schools are called Abbeys?” Pause. “But it really is an Abbey. It’s a Benedictine Abbey. And a college.” He stared. “Wow. Then you have to go there. How cool is that?!” He was right: I did have to go, and it really is cool. I love the dry bed of Tex’s Creek running through the campus, the old graveyard over-hung by the huge crucifix, the sifting light of sunshine caught in huge old trees, the seminar courses held around the long table in room 301 of St. Leo’s Hall, the deep leather armchairs in Grace Auditorium that are dangerously conducive to sleep rather than study.

And today, walking to class at five till eight, I remembered all of these beautiful things: about my school, about my life, about Hamlet, and Dostoevsky, and even about Sir Philip Sidney, bless his heart, and about how lucky I am to live in a place so extraordinarily lovely.

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It has been a very, very long time. Perhaps even longer in my head than on the calendar. And certainly long enough for me to have forgotten what to say in a blog post. So I shall find my “legs” as I go, and ask your patience as I grope around in my head….

Today, home came alive for the first time since I got back from Nashville last week. Sure, it never rains but it pours and this past week rained down tragedy and stress like nobody’s business, but today home returned to its home-like state with breakfast, mass, grocery shopping, laundry, miscellaneous matters requiring slight attention, and drinks on the back porch followed by Father’s Day dinner.

I have been struggling with summer, with working at home all day by myself, cleaning and organizing things as Mom ordains, missing my collegiate independence where I have free reign to exercise my own tastes, priorities and styles. Life as Cinderella gets lonely, especially with Prince Charming three hundred miles away till August, and I am not half so good-tempered as Cinderella, being prone to fits of pouting and self-pity. But I thought today in Mass of last summer, and everything I learned once I finally got over my grudge against life, and resolved that this summer I must do the same.

So, I am out for an adventure, and I wonder what I shall find. Certainly, returning to Tanglewood Theatre as the Assistant Camp Director in July will be eventful. No two camps of a hundred kids are ever the same. And if I am looking for new experiences, a trip to Saratoga Springs, NY to assist in teaching genius child writers is about as good as anything gets. Heck, just the plane ride is enough of a thrill for someone who has only flown once in her entire life!

No, it’s not about finding new places or people, the adventure I think must come from within. How cliche. But how very true. People make what they want of their circumstances.

Cannon in D

It is Christmas though I hardly notice. It seems odd to hear Christmas carols piping out of shops when all I can think is “Cannon in D” and similarly matrimonial tunes. 

I haven’t realized the enormity of it: my sister is getting married. And hopefully if I haven’t gotten the memo yet it shall hold off till after the ceremony, just so that I don’t break down while holding her bouquet or arranging her train or anything ridiculous like that. 

It is funny how different real life is than childhood imaginings. But the good part is that life is even better than I thought it could be. Kathryn and I used to lie in our twin beds designing our perfect weddings, trying to out-do each other with the sumptuousness of  our gowns and the cut of our base-ball sized engagement rings. Instead, she has a modest sapphire, a slim tulip of a dress, and is crazily in love with a man almost the exact opposite of her ancient Prince Charming. Still, charming he is and ever shall be in her eyes. For as stated in the wedding program “Love is not Love that alters when it alteration finds…” 

I wonder if that is true. If love is really as expansive and mysterious as I once thought at age ten, snuggled into a twin bed with “The Girl of the Limberlost” or “Pride and Prejudice”? It’s not just Disney who promotes unreasonable expectations of romance, but is such Joy truly unreasonable? True, I am a die-hard romantic in every sense of the word, but I choose to believe in love’s endurance when surrounded by Christmas goodwill and the warm glow radiating from an incandescently happy sister.

Yes, I am ashamed of myself. I have spent the last few months floundering through the regular upheavals of college life, but I think it is time to return to the blog. It is Sylvia’s fault, you know. I asked Vincent last night if he ever did get a chance to read her story and the answer was no. But I guess that is unimportant. She runs around both our heads now, and even if she never achieves more than a ephemeral existence on a blog page, I shall be forever indebted to her for introducing me to Vincent. 

Not that they knew each other before that fateful dinner in August. She is terribly precocious and took a liking to him at once, prompting me to sit down and tell him all about her. I wonder what he thought of us: an over-imaginative English major and an over-bearing princess spilling out their stories one-on-top-of-the-other in their excitement at finding an attentive audience. Whatever the case, he must have found us both intriguing, if not charming, for he keeps coming back though I can’t think why… 

Continued December 18, 2008

And thus, between the sophomoric discovery that college actually requires WORK (shocking idea!) and the various wonderful experiences of helping with my sister’s wedding and falling in love myself, there has been little time for contemplation and the arduous process of composing, editing and re-editing blog posts. Perhaps I shall find time for some real work before the wedding consumes my life, but nothing comes for the asking, and certainly not literary inspiration!

Mendacity

Careful, what you say and what you mean. It is easy to confuse the two while blue eyes mock and twinkle in the hot summer sun. Those eyes have no name, for their character is timeless: arrogant, charming, manipulative, elusive. He knows he fascinates, and the fabric of his life depends on this ability. He knows how to stroke egos and shoulders just enough to make one hungry, make one crazy for more. But his goal is obvious: to make everyone fall in love with him. Sure, his motives are transparent, his methods cliche, and his flirtations shockingly indiscriminant, yet CHARM emanates from his ass steadily as steam from a high school prom. 

Every intelligent girl knows this man. He lingers in all circles of life, and the anger one experiences at his approach is often directed less at him for his deplorable selfishness than at oneself for one’s deplorable lack of self-control. Attention is lovely. And though one may know such a man’s motives, his strategy, and his history, no girl can deny charm, or the extent to which she enjoys flattery.

It is this weakness which makes intelligent girls see red: red like menses, lipstick, nail polish, rare steak and cherry pie. Our weakness is their luxury because they know that, at the end of the day, they shall be forgiven every offense solely for their roguish smiles, exaggerated manners and mocking eyes. And they are quite right. Terribly right.

Joy

If you had told me, a year ago, of the nature of joy, I wouldn’t have believed it. Much less that I could hold such beauty in my possession. But then, it isn’t something I possess, it is something I am privileged to experience, and it would mean nothing without those frightened Freshman milling around the quad, or my fellow “Orientation Leaders” cheering me on as I climb thirty-five feet in the air. Whatever Joy is, celebrated to bad techno while ruining one’s shoes in the Carolina clay, or feeling the stress drain from one’s muscles while sitting in a half-empty church, it is something intoxicating. C.S. Lewis speaks of Joy as a longing, and I certainly know of what he means. I have felt it many times. But this is something new, something I felt hints of at my high-school Spring Formals, or while gazing over the mountain peaks with Lauren. This is the reality of myself, and the knowledge that I can participate in the self-discovery of those around me. 

I tell the Freshman that they make this school their own: without students a school is a shell, waiting to be claimed and transformed into a living organism. No two years are the same because there are always people leaving, people coming, but always there are the monks. Solidarity. Our drama of hormone-infested confusion takes on meaning in light of the black-clad figures wandering the campus. We are not the end-all-and-be-all. Our lives are brief, and they point toward something so much greater than the hope of a six-figure income. This is much easier to remember with the tolling of vespers and palsied wisdom of Father Arthur. 

No, this is joy. This is freedom. I defy Sartre and say that life owns an intolerable weight: the weight of cause and effect. And such life gives intolerable joy stemming from participation in a cause which promises Heavenly effect.

Home

Early mornings in the mountains are cold, even in August. So I took Mom’s advice and pulled on my pink fleece, a hand-me-down from Chanelle, and appreciated the crisp bite against my bare legs as we walked out the door.

Mornings are lovely, and as a strictly non-morning-person, I don’t see too many. But I savored this one: the trees in the yard seemed that much more moist, prickly, and dark, spicy like chocolate, and I don’t know how long it will be before I see them again. The gravel crunched appropriately on the driveway, and the the primary school’s loud-speaker familiarly blared out the announcements for the day. That too, will be gone.

Even in the bakery for breakfast after we finished our walk, Mom pointed out where the cream and coffee stirrers resided next to the window. I found it odd that she felt the need to explain these details when I have eaten at Well-Bread for years. 

Weaverville is saying good-bye, finally after a year of living with one foot at the Abbey and one foot here at home. Home. Where I grew up. 

I can’t wait to make my bed tomorrow in O’Connell. I shall unfold my quilt, tape up my “Shit” poster, arrange my mugs on the bookshelf, and probably feel ridiculously homesick. But homesick for where?

There is an owl hooting somewhere through my open window, and he makes me feel lonely. I remember the Great Horned Owl that would come and sit on the pine tree by the barn. But then the barn burned one night, and he never came back. It has been a long time since I heard an owl.

Instead, I take morning walks with my mother, and picnic on the parkway, and wonder when it happened that she feels less like my mother and more like a very close, very old friend. The kind of mentor one hopes to find when joining a new church.

During dinner Mom and Dad talk about work, Mom’s nursing certification, the house, and I realize that their marriage no longer has much to do with me. They have done their job. And while they shall always want me to come visit, always be there to listen, to cheer me on, to give advice, they have their own life. A new honeymoon, as it were, the rediscovery of life beyond children and eighteen years of homeschooling.

The trailer is packed. I have one outfit left to wear tomorrow. My precious books are layered into apple boxes, and my journals are hidden away so securely that I can’t remember where I put them. Sylvia is quiet tonight, and Teddy knows that he shall be left on my bed. Waiting for when I come home.