The idea for this piece started out as some sort of a “family tree” type of idea. As a writer, I’ve always held a deep-seeded belief that testimony is powerful, and that belief has only continued to root itself deeper in the almost two years since my faith truly became my own.
Eventually the story map started to look a lot more like a bush… then a bush that hasn’t been pruned in a few years… then a bush that hasn’t been pruned in a few years and has a bunch of vines tangled in there… and then I wouldn’t even know how to explain it from there. I was wondering for some time what to do about it. Would it make sense? Would there be an actual story to it? Would the point be apparent to any reader, regardless of how readers navigate through the piece? Would it all hold together?
I don’t remember how the conversations came up, but I had a series of a few conversations with different people at church, none of which were otherwise related conversations, about laminin. Much like Louie Giglio, I didn’t have a picture in my head of exactly what laminin looks like, or what makes it so special. So in the midst of most of these conversations, I was rather confused. Louie explains the fascination some Christians have regarding this portion that essentially acts as the “rebar of the human body,” and it was in this very short clip from one of his messages that laminin made sense, especially with the context of Colossians 1:17.
To gain further context on the church at Colossae that Paul was writing in this letter, I looked to a few different sources, one of my favorites to go to being the Bible Project.
One of the things that Paul addresses with the church at Colossae and that Louie is addressing in the full message he mentions laminin in is the many pressures we experience in life. For me, some of those pressures included admitting “me too,” pressures to conform myself to what people expect of me, pressures to be the strong one as my friends or students or swimmers are falling apart, pressures from myself and my own goals and hopes and dreams, pressures from the storms of life, pressures of being a Christian in a world that speaks and acts and persecutes so boldly against such a faith… For my friend, who for the sake of this project is named Maacah, some of those pressures included an eating disorder and body image issues, abuse within relationships, loss, family pressures, pressures from the storms of life, pressures of being a Christian in a world that speaks and acts and persecutes so boldly against such a faith… Or for another friend also under a pseudonym, Bithiah, some pressures she’s seen in life are homelessness, fatherlessness, other family pressures, pressures from the storms of life, pressures of being a Christian in a world that speaks and acts and persecutes so boldly against such a faith… And for Abednego (another pseudonym), pressures with chronic health issues, pressures of being a first responder, pressures from family and friends, pressures from inside his own mind and often being too hard on himself, pressures from the storms of life, pressures of being a Christian in a world that speaks and acts and persecutes so boldly against such a faith… The list of things we all go through goes on and on and on. Some parts of these lists might be similar or nearly identical to some that may not hold the same beliefs. Some of the struggles we deal with my be vastly different.
And while it might not seem like it right away with Giglio’s full message, it is a point that hits hard towards the end: that God does hold us together when life gets hard, when pressures seem to be crushing you slowly, when it doesn’t seem like things can or will ever work for good… in Him all things hold together– including us, whether physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually. It may not feel like you’re being held together sometimes, in fact this past week has been one of those weeks for me, but He is holding you together, even if not in the ways you want Him to.
And a great example of that I’ll add in here I just saw this morning. You can watch parts one and two at their respective hyperlinks. Pastor Russell Johnson has been crushed and press like olives… to make oil. He doesn’t even mention the threats that his church is currently under. He doesn’t even mention the bricks being thrown through the windows of the new location of The Pursuit in Seattle. He doesn’t mention the present threats and letters that his family has received for being so bold in faith and yet he and his family remain persistent in faith. Yet he is still held together as a person, his family remains held together, his church community remains held together, all in One name.
That’s what I’m hoping to get across with this piece. People ask so often why bad things happen to good people but I’d argue that there are no “good people.” I’d say that we are made good by the grace poured out to us. I’d say that bad things happen because this world is so diluted and adulterated from the actual Truth that we don’t actually know what “good” is half the time. I admit I even have trouble understanding in certain circumstances what really is best for me, and when I choose for myself rather than trust God, things tend to fall apart even more. So maybe I’ll get to outline that for people reading who aren’t Christian. Maybe I’ll encourage or convict those who are that read this. There’s a greater purpose to this piece than just a project– there’s a kingdom purpose to it.
That all said, I’m pretty far along on this, but I’m honestly not sure I’ll be able to say I’m satisfied with it by the 19th. It’ll be complete enough that it’ll make sense, but I think continuing it will be a winter break / next semester issue.
“What people say will make a difference to what Hana feels, and how she behaves.” From the very beginning of Hana Feels, Inglis tells us that there are three possible outcomes to this piece, though what those outcomes are remains untold. Given the context of the piece given in the author and editorial statements, I think it’s a safe assumption that at least one of these outcomes is truly tragic, to say the least.
I liked how Will’s patience is demonstrated on the first page of the actual story. I’m personally not great at handling that awkward silence between statements, but as time has gone on and I’ve had to leave this space for my Bible study groups to speak or even just sit and think for themselves, I’ve built more and more of a peace about these silences. It’s still not all that comfortable, but they are necessary. We need to give people the space to be heard at the very least.
The first three responses to choose from as the reader are all important questions. Asking someone’s name might say to a person ‘I want to know who you are. I want to be able to hear you as you want to be heard.’ It may not be the most open-ended question (as is usually the most useful to start with when helping someone through a mental crisis), but it is a question that may help an individual re-center. It is a question that helps you to meet that person wherever they’re at. The other two questions are powerful and much more open-ended in different ways. For some, it helps to immediately blow off steam and talk about what’s on his/her mind– hence the question of is there something you’re worried about? It could be a simple no sometimes, or it could be a complex no, or it could be a yes. No matter what worries a person though, to be given the safe space to express anxieties is crucial.
A slight tangent from Hana Feels:
I’m speaking this Sunday at youth in a series on doubt and learning not to demonize it. Christianity has a reputation for not wanting to address doubt, or telling people of faith who do express doubts that they just “don’t have enough faith” or “just need to pray more.” We forget that without expressing doubts, we can’t challenge them– whether that means doubts about God or about ourselves as human beings. The question of is there something you’re worried about? plays a major role in challenging doubts, especially doubts about ourselves, our abilities, and situations we may face.
Doubt is not exactly bad, we just tend to steer in a negative direction when we have doubts, or maybe we end up taking the longer route to where we’re going because there were fewer perceived risks involved.
Now back to your regularly scheduled programming:
Should I talk for a while? is an underrated question in these situations. Some people just need to be given the chance to slow down their own thoughts, and to hear about something else can really help to center someone and calm them down. I’ve done this a lot as a youth leader and as a coach where a student or a swimmer might be beating his/herself up about something and I’ll tell them about how I did the same thing when I was their age and how I can look back at that moment and laugh or smile. For some, it gives them a bit of hope about their situation. For others, it just makes them laugh or at least crack a smile. Sometimes I’ll just tell some other sort of funny story that has nothing to do with anything (as we see Will does when you select this response). Typically this elicits more of a response than we get from Hana, but that doesn’t mean how Hana is reacting is wrong at all– there is no “wrong” way to react when you’re in a state of fight, flight, freeze, or fawn. You just know you’re not in a healthy space for yourself and you’re trying to claw your way out of there… or in severe cases you dig deeper because it’s unfortunately what you’re used to. Speaking from my own experience at both ends of that, it’s hard to even know what to open up about– let alone how to open up– and we all figure it out in our own ways. Is every way healthy or good? No, but it can all be used for good.
In learning about Will, I realize how much I used to worry about saying the wrong thing, and how I’ve largely stopped worrying about saying the wrong thing over the past year since I started volunteering as a youth leader at church. This isn’t to say that I don’t think about what I say– of course I do– but I think it’s more related to the fact that I’ve started to be more attentive of who or what I allow to speak into my life. I might’ve said this before on another blog, and I know I’ve said this loads of times to my girls at youth, but you cannot pour something out from a cup unless it was first poured in. So I started guarding my mind and my heart by being mindful of the content I take in (whether TV, social media, etc…) and who I allow to speak into my life. Since I’ve started doing more of that, I’ve been able to reflect from time to time and see improvements not only within myself, but also in how I’ve treated and spoken to people.
I do still ultimately feel a bit like Will– the new guy that’s afraid to say the wrong thing– but it’s not something that I beat myself up over anymore. It’s still a struggle, but it’s one I’m able to move through, as Will shows us he was able to as well.
When Hana calls back, she has a response that’s very much like one of my friends who over explains everything. “I didn’t want you to think …” and typically that blank for him is something negative that he believes about himself. In Hana’s case, she doesn’t want to be “that guy.” She explains what she’s assuming Will is perceiving her as four times in the span of four sentences, and what she thinks she’s seen as is what she views as negative. Personally, I avoid saying anything that might be taken as verification, so I didn’t select thanks or I’m glad you called back. The open-ended questions tend to be best anyway.
Each page from here has at least one line that sticks with me. When Hana mentions how weird it is that she’s talking to someone she doesn’t know and can’t see, Will’s line stuck with me: “Some people find it easier to talk to someone they don’t know.”
When Hana says she has a small but big problem: “What is it you really want to talk about, Hana?”
When Hana says she feels like she wasted Will’s time: “You didn’t.”
The guy who answered was called Will. He didn’t call me an idiot for phoning or for not getting to the point. So that was encouraging.
This in particular might be an insight into what Hana’s life is like on a day-to-day basis. Whether that means at home, at school, or elsewhere, it’s clear that not only does she not really feel she has a voice, but she’s also being put down for not using the voice she’s not even sure she really has. And the fact that she’s calling and she did speak to Will shows that she’s in the process of discovering that voice.
Just from her bio, there’s enough to say that Christine is under a lot of pressure; Hana works for her, so naturally I thought to myself something along the lines of I hope she isn’t the type of boss to take it out on her workers. But from the options on the next page, I noticed that there were more negative statements than positive, open-ended questions to choose from. So I chose the statement that at least showed the most concern for Hana as a person rather than Hana as an employee.
And still, there does have to come a time to address what landed Hana in that office in the first place.
Everyone messes up an order from time to time. But in the space of last weekend, you served a rare steak to a vegetarian, a double whisky to a recovering alcoholic, and some Thai noodles to one unfortunate allergic lady with enough peanuts in the sauce to kill her.
And sure, her apology is warranted, but I could imagine how she said it should raise some concern. I imagined her retreating into herself, voice disappearing once again just as she had been starting to find it the night before.
Another slight tangent from Hana Feels:
I saw a clip from a Michael Todd sermon that talked about things in the beginning stages of development being the easiest things to destroy. That most likely isn’t Christine’s motive here, but I admit that there are better and more loving ways to phrase things when holding people accountable for their actions. Employees are people too, though I understand even from my own experience that it’s hard to keep that in mind when your bosses don’t keep that in mind about you.
Todd talked about how Herod had ordered every male child under the age of two be slaughtered when news of a new king reached him. Why? Because (from the assumption Herod and many of the Pharisees were going off of) why would Herod wait until this King was fully developed and capable of leading his own army to come after him?
And I see the same thing of Hana’s voice here. John 10:10 puts it best that “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” And that’s exactly what’s happening to Hana here– I know because I’ve been there too. Just as I finally felt like I could speak up, there was something just before the door to scare me off again. Often times it continues to be the case that there is opposition to a lot of what I have to say or express, even if not opposition from other people. More often that opposition comes from my own mind– from anxiety, the occasional bouts of depression, flashbacks, body image issues… you name it. And I’m seeing that process going on in this narrative through Hana.
Now back to your regularly scheduled programming:
The only response that sounds even remotely framed in a positive light is “This isn’t like you.” So that’s what I went with. And from there the response was elongated in an even more positive light where Christine made sure Hana knew her abilities are truly recognized. She still does get to the point that she needs to as Hana’s boss on the following page, but he important thing is that Christine isn’t putting Hana down or making her stress Hana’s stress. She turns Hana toward her goals… or at least what they once were. She continues to remind Hana that she’s more than she recognizes herself to be.
But then came the uniform issue that Hana seemed worried about in her journal. She didn’t explicitly say why, but there have been hints of it throughout the narrative so far that really was summed up in one line from this entry:
I feel more stressed after that telling off. Even though I think she was trying to help, in a strange way. I’ve just got to keep turning up and get through it. And practice my fake smile.
I did it again tonight, just to take the pressure off. I feel totally trapped.
I don’t even think I need to say what “it” is here… If she’s stressed about wearing a new uniform that’s “more like a cocktail dress than a tunic,” then I think we can put together that covering up something is part of the issue running through Hana’s mind.
Jen also kind of reminds me of myself in the beginning of the conversation she has with Hana. I wouldn’t be the one to dye my hair orange, but I would be the one to open up with a light and seemingly pointless conversation like she did. I’m the one that has a lot of people I consider friends, but there’s only a few that I truly value their input into my life.
I also typically find myself asking my friends the questions about the people they meet, but at least in the past few days have had some of those questions directed towards me for the first time in a couple years. And I’m more than happy to talk about it, but sometimes I worry as I’m talking that I should leave more space for my friends to talk too. So I started to wonder what Hana must be thinking or what she might want to say, if anything other than what’s being expressed. So naturally, I had Jen ask what’s going on with Hana to give her that space to talk.
She doesn’t say much, and though I know it would help her to talk about it, it could also do more harm to push her. But what else is there to do when you don’t want to talk too much more about yourself or the guy that you basically just met? So I had Jen ask about work and the reply kind of surprised me, but it also didn’t.
She wasn’t at all told that she might be fired, but because of the way she views herself and talks to and about herself, it does make sense that Hana would assume the worst. Jen’s reaction might not be the worst, but it is enabling these thoughts in Hana’s mind. Rather than “What a bitch!” I would’ve rather said something like “Was that all she said?” or “What about your future?” But that’s just me trying to leave space to acknowledge mistakes but not be negative (or even somewhat hostile) toward anyone regardless of involvement in the conversation.
Asking about her mom also seems like an important question, so I went with that one. Hana and her mom aren’t on the best terms at the moment it seems. Was this always the case? There’s not much to tell from, but Jen saying “I never understand why you two don’t get on” makes it seem like this has been a consistent issue at least since Hana and Jen became friends. Maybe this could be a reason she thinks of herself so negatively?
There’s not much to take from this entry but how Hana feels about Jen: a good friend that cares, but can also be a bit much. But something that stuck out was how Hana is placing an expectation on herself based on what the people around her want from her.
… I should be flattered because she’s got lots of friends. I’m going to try harder. But it’s not fun for me at all.
Should Hana completely isolate herself? No. But she shouldn’t force herself to do it more than she can handle. She shouldn’t feel like she has to force herself out there.
I could imagine all the alarms going off in Will’s head when Hana starts asking about the confidentiality and anonymity of the helpline. All of the potential responses would likely elicit some sort of information on why she’s asking these things, so I figured why not ask if there’s any reason she’s asking instead of cloaking the question in some other statement or something of the sort? She might have issues trusting people, so it’s probably best to just be upfront with her.
What really set the alarms off for me is the defensive “No!” when Will asked her to clarify whether her hypothetical about her being suicidal was actually a hypothetical or not. He handles it well and just answers her question , and the options below could pressure her, or the one I chose (“You said before, you think you have a problem.”) gives Hana the chance to dial back from worrying whether or not she would have the cops called on her or not for suicide risk. And when Hana asks if Will feels under pressure, he’s quick to answer and turn the question to her because, (at least from my experience with these situations,) the things a person asks are indicative of the things they want to express but have trouble doing so. Without being asked the very things we ask, we allow our thoughts about the question with regard to ourselves to sit there and do exactly what Hana expresses to Will:
It builds up and up. Sometimes it’s just stupid things like how somebody looks at me or something they say. I get obsessed with what they’re thinking about me… I know I’m tired, but everything keeps going round in my head.
Another slight tangent from Hana Feels:
I’ve heard a couple of rather “Christian-ese” quotes and ideas having to do with this that have helped me a lot to keep my attention on the One thing that matters.
The first thing is something I have written on a taped index card in front of my desk at home: “Comparison is the enemy of all progress.” God designed each of us with unique talents, abilities, strengths, weaknesses, fears, etc. But the thing with comparison isn’t in the differences between us: it’s in where our focus is. We’re all human, so if we are our main focus, we will find something to beat ourselves up about. When Jesus is the main focus, we can only find the forgiveness and grace that He made available to us through the shedding of His blood on the cross. When Jesus is the main focus, our weaknesses are the greatest thing we can boast about because His power is made perfect in weakness. When we focus on ourselves, all we realize is that all is vanity. When we focus on ourselves, there’s always a part of us that understands there is nothing we can do to earn right standing with God. But when we focus on God, this world may be vanity but there’s a greater world to come free from the brokenness of this one. When we focus on God, we don’t have to do anything but believe and live out our faith in Him to receive (not earn) right standing with God because He paid the price to get us back.
The second is that a relationship with God is like walking up a down escalator when God is at the top. If you stand still, regardless of how trapped you might feel, you still have a choice to continue taking the next step towards Him. Once you stop taking those steps, your body may be still but you are moving away from Him. Feeling anxiety or depression or struggling with any mental health struggle may not be a choice, but how you react to that struggle is your choice. God wants you to keep taking those steps. He is not stopping you. He wants to encourage you in your journey up the escalator if you want to hear His Word.
Now back to your regularly scheduled programming:
Saying everyone has times like that can help to know that you’re not alone, but part of me also finds it slightly demeaning to the thoughts that may be running through your mind. I tend to think questions lead more places and therefore can be the most powerful use of language we have available to us. I mean think about it, God didn’t come into Eden guns blazing when Adam and Eve ate the fruit, He came in asking where they were and how they knew they were naked even though He already knew. So I decided on having Will ask Hana what’s been going through her mind.
And here’s where I found myself relating the most to Hana:
Like, am I wasting my life? I’m not stupid but I screwed up my exams. I have a shit job and I can’t even do that right. I don’t have any savings — because I’m a terrible cook and I just get takeaways all the time. And the idea of a relationship with a guy terrifies me.
I’m nearly twenty. I should have a direction, right? I should be thinking about buying a house and moving in with someone. And confronting bad attitudes with proper feminist arguments. Instead I’m going to get old living in this shitty flat, buying a small carton of milk every day because I can’t get the landlord to fix the fridge. And I’m going to be lonely.
I turn 23 next month. My high school graduating class already graduated college this past spring, and here I am, “a year behind” (though I’m not really giving myself grace for taking on two majors). Even more of them have started their full time careers and seem to really be enjoying it. My jobs aren’t always what one might consider ideal, and sometimes I mess up with them too. I’m not quite where I want to be, even with all the joys I’ve found in what I am doing. But here’s the thing: my worth isn’t in any of that, nor is their worth in any of that either. It’s so so so so easy to compare ourselves. It’s too easy. That’s what we’re used to– the broken state of this world is all we know so of course living by faith in the only One that could make us whole is going to be uncomfortable! What’s hard for us to grasp (especially in a society highly driven on instant gratification) is that the valleys we’re in today prepare us for the mountaintops of tomorrow, often in some of the most outlandish ways.
And not everyone takes the same journey in life, so that’s what I had Will say.
It doesn’t sound like Hana is the one putting the pressure on herself, but she does sound like someone struggling to let go of it. Though there’s so much more to the Gospel than Shia LaBeouf says he got out of it, one of the major points it does make is this point of letting go. Who the Son sets free is free indeed (John 8:36), and the Son, in His own words, is the Way, the Truth, and the life (John 14:6). Asking Hana how she thinks she could fix it might continue to add the pressure. As much as I’d love to ask another question in response, her mind seems to be at a place where she doesn’t need encouragement for it to move any faster, so I had Will acknowledge “That’s a lot to handle at once.”
And I wish that I was given the choice of what to say to Hana before Will asked how Hana deals with pressure. Personally, I’d have taken a bit more time on that conversation to remind Hana that her struggles, her worth, her anything, is not dependent on or comparable to that of anyone else.
But when reading her journal, the point Hana made that “[Will] seems to understand what I’m saying. At least he doesn’t tell me I shouldn’t feel the way I do,” I realized that maybe continuing that point isn’t necessary in every situation. People will eventually find reminders of that regardless.
Why can’t Hana make the double date? I was curious what her reasoning is, though to be honest, dealing with one’s own mental health is enough of a load (and one that should take priority) over dating. She didn’t provide real reasoning though, she tried making an excuse. But in pressing that Hana can be honest with Jen, she finds her reasoning without mentioning too much of the deeper issues going on; she makes a good point too, I wouldn’t want to go on a date with a guy I know literally nothing about except some made up bit that he likes books. But after that, I’m not sure there really is a good response.
“If it helps, you don’t have to wear orange.” Nothing wrong with a bit of lightening the mood, I suppose. But I still don’t like how Jen is trying to drag her out for a date. If it were just her trying to take her best friend for a day out, then sure, I get that. But when you think something is wrong you should be focusing on the individual, not trying to fill some perceived gap in their life. I know Jen is well-intentioned, but I don’t like that she is helping by trying to shove a guy into the mix.
What concerns me most about how Jen is trying to pull Hana of her “rut” is pretty clearly expressed in Hana’s journal entry here:
She thinks she knows me so well. But if she really knew what was going on in my head she’d never pick up that phone. And that’s why I can never tell her…
I can’t cope with this pressure from Jen on top of everything else.
What caught me off guard is that I kind of expected “Hana’s mother” to be more than a subtitle if she came up. It’s pretty easy to understand why though once she says “Never thinks of anybody but herself” about Hana when she gets a call from the hospital.
Hear me out on this last thought, which is heavily based on that last statement from Hana’s mother:
I wouldn’t say “never” thinks of anyone else, but in a way, many of these issues take root and fester in someone’s mind when he/she thinks so much of his/herself. Comparison. Wondering what others think of oneself. Focusing on who or what you are. Trying to become someone else because you don’t like yourself.
When I say these are “self-centered” thoughts I don’t mean they are selfish, I just mean that oneself is at the center of every thought– in cases like this, clearly in a negative light.
Something that my friend has struggled with a lot is pride on both extremes– holding himself too high as well as beating himself up like this in the name of humility. (That’s not what humility is, by the way). Here’s the issue with that: when we put ourselves on our own throne of our own hearts, no matter how hard we try there will be a God-sized hole in there somewhere. That manifests itself differently in everyone’s life. But with God at the center, His power is made perfect in weakness. Does that mean these issues will magically disappear and we won’t have mental health struggles? No! My anxiety is the thorn in my side, as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12. It’s still there and very real, but I trust in a God who’s never failed. I may not be enough, but I have a God who was, is, and always will be. I may not be enough, but I have a God who still loved me enough to come down and take on the death I deserved to make me enough regardless of all I’ve done/do against Him.
So when that’s my first thought, it’s still difficult to push through, but I do. When I am my first thought… when what others think of me is my first thought… when my assumptions of what I seem like are my first thought… when I am somewhere at the center of my thoughts, that’s when I slip. I used to think the same of myself. I used to over apologize. I used to think everyone thought I was trash or some weird kid no one wanted anything to do with. But now, even if that was the case, God wanted so much to do with me that He died for me. I think that’s pretty remarkable, and even more so that He’s extended that love and grace and mercy to every single one of us if we’re open to taking His hand and trusting Him.
Given that I was away over the past weekend, I didn’t get to sit with my mom and translate Bastardo, with her at all, so I had to do things the easier way with translate. I still tried to read what I could in Spanish, like the first page after the title. I think it was really interesting how Núñez pointed out how many chapters there are, the number of combinations to the story, and how much of the world’s population it would take to explore every single possibility at least once if every person had a different adventure through the piece. Maybe it’s to set the vast number of possibilities, but it could also be for the opposite– the limits to the choices we as readers are able to make. There may be no other reason to including these details than to explain how the piece works.
Mi Nombre Fue…
The second page had so many names on it. I know fue is past tense, translating to was, and used in the first or third person (in this case, first), so I didn’t need the translated page for this one. Considering this piece is described by the author in the previous page as hyperliterature, I expected to be able to click different names and start going in different directions, but this wasn’t the case. That said, the sound effect of the typewriter that automatically repeats once you click the play button did almost create an illusion of typing things out myself in a way.
What was also strange is that Henry Morton Stanley and the given name Henry were repeated a lot. A coincidence? Deliberate choice? One way to find out, I guess.
The third page gives the option to print, which would be nice to use if I had a printer at the moment. Unfortunately for me, I do not.
I also noticed that the sections were in different order on the original and the translated page. What was nice is that each section was still the same, so as long as I could find the matching section, I could easily find the translation. That said, why is each section numbered rather than given a title for the characters they are about?
I was quite interested in the page on the piece’s functioning, particularly because of the first sentence:
En Bastardo, la finalidad es combinar fragmentos de forma exponencial para que cada lector decida, en colaboración con las herramientas digitales, cuál es su relato óptimo.
The translation was rough for me before looking at the page, but I could tell it’s about the power the reader has in the story he/she creates from Nuñéz’s creation. That said, my attention then turned to the end of the sentence— cuál es su relato óptimo— because I’ve been in a season of learning to relinquish that control of my own ideal reality or focusing so much on what I want. Like I mentioned briefly in my last post, my grandma recently passed away. Did I want that to happen? No. Did I feel ready to let her go? No, but truthfully I don’t think any amount of time could have prepared me for that. But God. I’ve seen His hand in bringing together people in my family that don’t necessarily get along. He’s brought back prodigals in the family and we were all able to welcome back these people with open arms in celebration of my grandmother’s life. I’ve been able to reflect on the example my grandma set for me as a woman and a child of God, especially with how I observed her running her business, Holland Mountain Farms, which closed about ten years ago before her dementia started to set in. I thought about how her business was her boat, and how Jesus was not only in her boat, but preaching from it through her too. (That analogy will make more sense in scrolling through my recent Instagram post).
My point is, this “relato óptimo” isn’t always the best one. It seems like it on the surface at times, sure, but is it purposeful? Is it challenging? Is it what we want, or is it something we may not have even realized we needed? Where does your plan lead you? Where could it lead you that you might not have considered? There are so many questions when we as human beings try to take more control than we are able– we are limited in knowledge, wisdom, strength, and abilities with undoubtedly imperfect wills that inevitably lead us in the wrong direction at some point in our lives. That’s why I believe what I do, among other reasons. I don’t want that control, as it’s done nothing but feed my anxieties and it’s led me down several dead ends in life. I’ve come to understand that God’s will is always good, even if it doesn’t feel or seem like it to us in the moment. I don’t want my “relato óptimo” anymore, and while it’s still nice to imagine it sometimes, I don’t.
The other part of this page that struck me (though this one I needed the translation for) was the Funcionamiento Literario talking about a “search for identity based on a historical figure.” In a way, that’s kind of how the Bible has been working for thousands of years now (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Our identity and purpose is found not in our imperfections, not in our past, not in the physical makeup of our bodies, but in the redemptive work of Jesus. And I guess that’s where this would differ, as Nuñéz explores the several identities of Henry Morton Stanley who is undoubtedly just a simple human being like the rest of us.
Back to Iteraciones
My first thought was of Jeremiah 17:7-8 with los ríos mentioned. Water is necessary for life, and I think it’s important how this passage mentioned “That time he didn’t listen to the water” and how it ended in wasted or lost time and this going astray from the water source left John feeling orphaned and alone. No longer does John want to be known as John the orphan, even if just to himself (at least that’s how it comes across).
I’m no orphan, but I’ve been and felt so alone that I almost considered myself to be one. I’ve had that supposed need to make a new name or identity for myself and not once did that work. Even if it seemed to, it was slowly eating away at who I actually am– as a survivor, as a human being, as a daughter, as a granddaughter, as a writer, as an artist, and most importantly as a child if the Most High King. He stood at the door and patiently knocked, even when I refused to hear the river of life in His voice that was on the other side of the door. I gave myself so many identities and labels I couldn’t keep up. So I don’t think John needs the new name, the one he has is just really difficult to accept and live with sometimes. I get that. It’s nice to have that control for a moment, but just because you can change something at the surface, doesn’t mean it will change at the core. We all need water. Anything living needs water. That won’t change no matter what control we have on anything.
And now I start to wonder what John did. Did he make himself an orphan? From what it sounds like, maybe it was self defense.
I also wonder how this passage could be part of some relato óptimo. Beatings? Scarce food? Fragments on the ground that (I would assume) are that of a glass bottle of some sort? How does this seem ideal? Nuñéz wants readers to make an ideal reality out of this. It just sounds like the reality of this world– this broken, broken world.
“Is war hard?” What kind of a question is that?
I’d have replied rather tersely too, to say the least. And that applies to all wars: international wars, civil wars, internal wars, verbal wars… any of it can be really, really hard, regardless of whether you’re fighting or witnessing it. And Henry covered some wars– reported on them– and witnessed them before going to Africa, as Nuñéz mentioned Henry had done.
I understand wanting the answers to a question, but sometimes there are things best left unsaid or not discussed. Sometimes there are things that need to sit for a while before they are discussed. Some things need time to process, and it’s sometimes hard to know when to respect that, and when to push that conversation into the light.
Dan Hett’s c ya laterrrr had me considering a number of things I’ve dealt with or been through in my life, or even what I’m going through right now (hence why this post is a bit late). I think in a way it’s served as a reminder for me about the kind of hope I still have through my faith that death is not the end.
And through loss or the fear of it, most people have a family they can turn to. Over the past week, my grandma had a fast decline of health and passed away. I had family I could turn to in ways I never had before over the past week, and some family had turned to me in ways I never thought they would, considering I was literally a child last I saw many of them. I got to know people that knew her before she was a grandmother, and before she was a mother, and even before she started dating my grandpa when they were in high school. In some ways, I was looking back to Retratos Vivos de Mi Mamá, but in looking at c ya laterrrr I also thought about the one page that says this:
This is the first time you’ve physically been with most of your family since this began. It feels really, really weird. You and your sisters were the last to arrive, everyone else has been here for hours – everyone looks so strung out.
Sitting in the middle of this group feels really strange. Everyone’s responding in different ways. Your mother is moving around a lot, talking to everyone. Your stepmum is quiet, wrapped in a blanket. You dad is quiet. Really really quiet. Your brothers friends are in similarly conrasting states. It’s a weird mix of people. You’re not sure what to do.
I don’t have this many siblings, but I do have one and three cousins on my dad’s side of the family. Seeing them after so long was awkward at first, but it didn’t take long for us to realize not only why we were there, but also that we all have different ways of coping with this one big “c ya laterrrr” to Grandma. My brother seemed more willing to open up and ask what everyone’s been up to, but I’m more of the introvert that waits for conversations to come to me. So naturally, of the hyperlinks on the above quoted page, I chose to speak to my parents as the relationship I have with them has really opened up a lot since we all started going to church again and since my dad and I found studies to go to.
Yet for us there was no police, there was no questioning, there weren’t reporters, there were no crowds, there was no mass tragedy, and there was no explosion. But it kept us up all week– knowing that she probably wouldn’t make it out of the hospital but still (perhaps selfishly) hoping she would make it and we’d hear her mumbling or see her smiling again. When I was talking to my parents and my brother about it too, I didn’t say it like Hett wrote of the situation he was facing:
You mention it to your sister, and you agree it felt like a TV show this morning.
It doesn’t now.
It just didn’t feel real. It still doesn’t, to be honest. It doesn’t feel real that I’ll only see one grandparent every time I go to the home and former flower nursery. I never imagined them apart.
And the last thing you’d expect when your brother goes to a concert with his friends is that he won’t come back.
What people don’t realize about high-stress or traumatic experiences such as a terrorist attack or losing someone is that being still can sometimes be the only way you start to fully understand what’s going on. You can’t fully understand how your mind is processing anything if you don’t take a moment to slow down and listen. And more often than not, that’s frustrating and even enraging when all you can think about is someone you love is or could be gone. And though I can say by the evidence of my grandma’s faith (James 2:14-20) that she’s truly home now (Hebrews 13:14-16), I still also found myself asking whether or not I should be crying, even though the shortest and perhaps most profound verse in the Bible is two words: “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).
I think what’s really profound about how Jesus wept for His friend– though already knowing when Lazarus would die and already knowing He would raise Lazarus from the dead and already knowing He would see Lazarus again in Heaven– is the fact that He still loved Lazarus so much that being separated from him was difficult. Do I have the same understanding of the hope found in the work of Jesus that Jesus Himself did? No. I’m not God. But I do have enough of an understanding to know that “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). Does this make it easier to not be able to hug Grandma (or for Hett, his brother) again in this life? Still no. But it gives a hope that only One can provide.
Yet still I can’t imagine what it’s like for my grandpa right now, but I think Hett has a line describing the morning after everything that might just scratch the surface: “A morning like every other, but not at all. No morning will be like the others now.”
And before leaving for the youth retreat I’m writing this from, that’s how mornings were feeling but with dramatically less pressure than Hett describes because this wasn’t super sudden, publicized, or terror-driven event. But still, it seemed like this fit my life too well right now:
The house is weirdly busy. You’re not sure what you expected, but it wasn’t this level of action.
You spend a long time hugging and conversing and catching up, you don’t even recognise some of the people in the house.
More arrive, relatives from fairly far away who jumped on the first flight they could. Everyone wants to be here.
Your mother is unreal. Endless cups of tea, everyone sorted. Like nothing happened. You wonder how long this can last.
I wish I’d learned to speak Spanish when I was younger, and I still wish I had the time to set aside to learn it now. I have a promise to keep to myself– a promise I made almost eleven years ago now after Abuelita passed away– that I’d learn to speak Spanish one day so I’d never have to deal with the language barrier with any of my family again. I guess the barrier isn’t a huge deal considering my mom’s side of the family that I’ve met and that lives in the states are bilingual, but I’ve had this idea for a ministry to serve the people of Puerto Rico one day too (hopefully before gentrification runs the native population from their land) and my mom has warned me before that if I ever go to the island, speaking the language is an important safety an communication skill.
So I guess that’s why I was automatically drawn to Retratos Vivos de Mamá, it’s related to the similar culture of Colombia, and in a language I can half-understand at least. And when I read the statement from the author, Carolina López Jiménez, the last line really hit home and left me in a moment of prayer– of recognizing there is something about that season in my life that the Lord’s been trying to tell me but not quite knowing what it is yet. All I know is that 11 years is coming up fast.
And on top of that, it’s a refreshing experience to have something to sit and read together with my mom since Spanish is her native tongue. Sure, I used to ask for her help on a word or two in high school when I had to take Spanish up to honors Spanish III, but this just felt like it meant more to both of us because as much as I know we’ve both lived past losing Abuelita, I sometimes wonder exactly how much either of us have truly dealt with the grief or how much it lingers and how much we have yet to learn by looking back at her life and example.
Death is not the end.
The finite nature of this life is all that I really knew as a kid, and by the time Abuelita had passed, my family no longer went to church on a regular basis and all I knew were some Bible stories (and not even the real lessons behind them, to be honest). I think that this was also something that my mom struggled to articulate, or even to believe at the time her mom passed.
Though I already had a rough translation of the title in my head– Pictures of Life of my Mom– I asked my mom to translate the title quickly a few hours before we really got to sitting down and reading this piece. Her translation, though similar, had such a greater depth to it that I could even see in every true Christian I know: a depth of knowledge and assurance between the life they had versus the life they have in Jesus. My mom said something like this:
You have to be careful with how you translate it, too. Otherwise you get the right translation but the wrong idea. This means more like Living Pictures of my Mom.
And in a way that’s exactly what the cross is– though pictures are still moments of the past and though the cross is a symbol of the most humiliating and excruciating death someone could have taken on, they both bring life to what was once dead in their own ways.
The tab titles :
Intro : I think the translation here is pretty self-explanatory
Cuarto Oscuro : dark room (probably like those red rooms for developing pictures, given the context)
Diario de Puelo
Carrete de Recuerdos
Soplo : puff (of air)
Revelado : revealed
Ensayo : trial
Hiedra : ivy
Voces : voices
Planto : I plant
El Proyecto : also a kind of self-explanatory translation, but this is “the project”
Conversemos : let’s talk
Apoyanos : support us
The Pencil Icon
Below the menu button in the top right of the home screen was a pencil-shaped button. All it said when I clicked on it was this:
With my own experiences of my mom speaking the little Spanish she does to me (which is mostly just basic commands), I could roughly translate that to this:
If there’s one thing my mom and I talked about, it’s this. There was a time when I think I knew how to shut up a little too well. For her, she at least knew when she needed to speak up… but no one believed her. It’s something I’d only ever heard her address once before: when my parents knew I was upset one day (though I refused to admit it) and insisted on the truth. When I finally told them, she told me how the last thing she would have done is blame me or brush me off because she experienced it herself. She may not have been silent, but she was silenced. So I’ve been learning to not shut up as much because of it but with social anxiety… it’s not easy.
In this dark room queda trazado the walk of my pain:la caída y el ascenso,the days of ruin and of mudez.Alsolas cicatrices, todo lo que mom resounds in me:
all memories. all wounds. all happiness.
Like I said before, I only know so much on my own and my mom and I spent so long talking about the pencil icon page that we didn’t get to much else. The above is what I like to call the “Wargo translation” (meaning the translation that wants to try to do this herself and is too stubborn to use Google translate).
In the rest of the passage that I didn’t type out here, it goes on more about the last days of the author’s mother and the pain within them. The last sentence hit me pretty hard though. It translates to this:
So I’m also reborn through writing.
And not only because of my own experiences does this hit me so hard, but also the fact that there are promises God speaks over our lives that we don’t even notice He fulfills every day. Healing? I’ve seen it in the recovered addict my brother is. Comfort? He put a pen and paper in front of me before anything I could’ve hurt myself with when I was a kid. Provision? One of my best friends grew up in a single-parent home, often on the brink of or actually facing homelessness, yet the Lord provided. Redemption? New life? Forgiveness? Confidence? Assurance? Look to the cross.
It’s just interesting to me that the author brings up this idea of being reborn even in the page titled “dark room.” I guess what it is that struck me was that light can overcome darkness, but where there’s light, all that’s in the darkness is brought to light… brought back to our attention and our sight… and from there we choose whether to continue to hide in the shadows or to be seen and, in a sense, reborn.
Going through this one a few times, I noticed that the passages were in a different order each time. I didn’t go back enough times to see if it was a pattern based on where the moving button was on the page or where you clicked, but I did notice that the same passage wouldn’t ben in exactly the same spot each time. Was there a significance to that? Maybe. Maybe not. But it did have me thinking about how there really isn’t any struggle we deal with that someone won’t relate to, even though the season and circumstances and people involved may not be the same.
The other passage on this page that really struck me was this:
Some of the other passages didn’t quite seem to make sense in just the author talking to or about her mother, it seemed like she had to be experiencing some level of motherhood too. One of the next passages that came up was translated to this:
I spent a lot of time thinking about this because I hadn’t quite expected to think this much about my stance on life (which I don’t consider political at all despite how highly politicized the issue has sadly become) in class. It really made me think about a piece I wrote last semester that I titled Hills Like White Elephants, Part 2. It made me think about Ernest Hemingway’s original short piece Hills Like White Elephants and how the girl clearly had to convince herself to do this “procedure” to “expiate the guilt” or the evidence of the affair between the two characters that she was carrying.
So I could be horribly off with how I put these together in terms of Retratos Vivos de mí Mamá, but it seemed like this was something that the author came to understand about some of the grief her mom carried. Whether it is this matter of life or maybe a matter of one’s innocence, this part of the piece left me thinking a lot about how these things that the world likes to sweep under the rug are still there. I didn’t know until last summer that my mom had gone through some of the same trauma I did around the same age I did… but like I said earlier, she actually did speak up and people had drowned her out. Because I was afraid of how she would see me of all people, I never told her until almost seven years after the fact. Because it’s a topic we only have two extremes on: it’s either shameful and taboo, or it’s normal.
Waber’s statement and bio on his piece, a kiss, was an interesting one. The man grows 320 different kinds of tomatoes? I guess I get how gardening can be relaxing and make a person happier– it’s something that definitely brings me back to the happier days of my childhood when my grandparents were still running their flower nursery– but 320 kinds of tomatoes? I didn’t even realize there were that many, let alone over 10,000 varieties.
But in all seriousness, the other thing that struck me about the author’s statement was in these words:
It’s not all that new to me to think of an entire book as a love letter (in particular I’m thinking of a collection of 66 different books by about 40 different authors that was divinely inspired and written over the span of about 1,500 years that we now call “the Bible.”) Both have in common that it’s written about “a brief moment in time” that is key to the piece, one clearly much less brutal than the other. But the idea that both of these moments are moments born out of love still stands, regardless of circumstance.
I have yet to find the “how shared stories connect us” lexia of this hypertext novel, and I’m hoping I eventually will. The fact that our stories connect us in so many ways has always fascinated me and (aside from writing having been more of a coping mechanism in the past) it’s one of the biggest reasons I’ve continued to write. As I’ve grown as a writer and as a person, I’ve realized that it’s not so much the story that matters but rather the One behind it that ultimately redeems the broken parts of us and our stories.
But much like I didn’t realize there were so many different varieties of tomatoes, I didn’t realize there were so many different kinds of love until I started studying the Bible. In Greek, the primary language of the New Testament, there are seven types of love– this concept of different kinds of love is something a vaguely thought of, but never really knew to be true. Though not all of them are specifically used in the original texts, I figured I would try to distinguish which lexia I came across display which type of love throughout my own venture through Waber’s a kiss.
part of speech : noun
This love is most often referred to as a sensual or passionate love. Eros is meant to be the kind of physical or sexual attraction between husband and wife, but in secular culture has expanded into other seasons of life as well.
observed in the following lexia :
zoom out from the kiss
zoom in to the kiss
what he loves about onions
a conversation between their feet
other ways to describe the hug
words their moths could be forming
part of speech : noun
One might recognize this kind of love from Pennsylvania’s own city of brotherly love, Philadelphia. This is the kind of love held between close friends, and is often confused for agape love in real-life application.
observed in the following lexia :
other water they’ve kissed near
what the curtains looked like
the benefits of breathing
part of speech : noun
This one probably sounds familiar because we use this word as it is in English as well. Kudos is a congratulatory kind of love that might be translated also as “praise,” “fame,” or “renown.”
observed in the following lexia :
a story about the house
part of speech : noun
Though not directly written in the Bible, storgé love is still rather important and all-too-often taken for granted. This love is an affectionate, particularly familial love. A naturally occurring feeling.
observed in the following lexia :
the fourth cat
the recent obsession with LPs
part of speech : noun
We might call this kind of love “self-care” these days. Philautia is often related to feelings of confidence and maybe even a bit of pride for oneself.
observed in the following lexia :
who is the daughter?
other ways to describe the hug
the benefits of breathing
an analogy he uses when she tries to get him to eat right
part of speech : noun
A committed, compassionate kind of love. Built on mutual understanding, interest, or goals such as raising a family. Not to be confused with agape love.
observed in the following lexia :
her favorite mushrooms
why no one answers
the fourth cat
the benefits of breathing
other things you can sync
part of speech : verb
The only kind of love that is not merely a feeling. Not only is this a committed love, but it’s a love that puts commitment to action. The choice to love and remain committed, even when feelings fade as they are bound to sometimes. This type of love is what makes the others last, or at least remain in steady and healthy cycles as this love relies on communication and application of what’s said and the feelings of the other six kinds of love.
observed in the following lexia :
the fourth cat
movies they’ve watched recently
a unused balcony
I went through several other lexia aside from the ones that are listed above, but I found some other ones that really spoke to me including one lexia saying “you can’t buy what’s freely given” that lead me back to the beginning of the piece. I mean, all the hyperlinks on that page lead back to the beginning of the piece but this one in particular is something I’ve heard a lot lately, especially as a Christian that encounters a lot of people from other denominations or that aren’t Christian at all that feel like they can’t earn or deserve salvation.
This is going to sound blunt at first but, these people are right: we aren’t able to earn or be deserving of it by our own power. That said, that’s exactly why we have Jesus. He gave up His spirit, He died and rose again so we could be with Him regardless of how many times we’ve nailed Him to that cross. So yes, we can’t buy what’s freely given.
Though this story is far from based on faith, love, along with the rest of creation, is designed to reflect this perfectly good agape love that is presented to us as a free gift. To be honest, had I taken it from any other perspective I would undoubtedly be happy for the author that he has someone to write about like that, but also pretty depressed or lonely or disappointed in myself. I’d still be viewing pieces like this as a picture of some sort of goal rather than a journey– the kind of journey that real love is– even though this piece did display plenty of the journey surrounding a kiss.
I just had this not-so-peaceful dream the other night– not a nightmare, but definitely something that’s left me thinking a lot about what my priorities really are in my life, practically and spiritually. And I think that’s what first drew me to go through Peaceful Dream first– it’s quite the opposite of what’s been on my mind since Friday morning.
To sum up the dream, I was sobbing in the kitchen at church because I had paid so much attention to other things that I hadn’t prepared for my own wedding (though I am very much single at the moment, but it is also a really big day that I look forward to, God willing). The dream still had a nice ending since everyone that attended from my church brought something to decorate and my best friend, already in his suit and all, was directing everyone where to put the decorations and gifts they’d all brought. It ended up beautifully eclectic, and such an accurate reflection of the community I’ve seen at work there. But I guess what the whole thing reminded me of is this:
So I found myself feeling almost as unprepared as I was in that stressful dream to interpret this Peaceful Dream, written in a language I know next to nothing about. I want to know what these Mandarin words mean, and it stresses me out that I don’t know what is actually being said, so I read the author and editorial statements instead before getting too far into the piece wondering if there was anything I would really miss bout the piece if I didn’t know translations. Turns out, I was only experiencing the opposite of what the piece was intended to make the reader experience.
And now that I’m thinking about it, I probably should have put that together by the lack of interaction but encouragement of movement (particularly of the eyes) in the piece. Yes, as a reader you’re still and kind of just going along for the ride, but I also realized that there still is a subtle movement to the piece. And perhaps because it’s a much calmer place than my own anxiety-ridden dreams, I thought of experiencing this piece and its design much like water.
When water stays too still for too long– when it’s stagnant– it becomes a breeding ground for algae and mosquitos and other larvae of the like. This is something I’ve always learned to live by from my mom, but also as of recently with my faith. I mean think about it, when you’re too still and your mind is blank is usually when the darkest thoughts pop in your head. Proverbs 26:13-16 talks about this exact phenomenon, much like what I had experienced the other night:
The sluggard says, “There is a lion in the road! There is a lion in the streets!” As a door turns on its hinges, so does a sluggard on his bed. The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; it wears him out to bring it back to his mouth. The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who can answer sensibly.
Proverbs 26:13-16, ESV
On the other hand, when water moves too much, too powerfully, or too fast, it can be destructive. We can build the biggest house we want, but the truth is, the bigger they are, the harder they fall, and that’s especially true of a house built on sand rather than rock (think end of Matthew 7). But what this idea of rushing water (thinking of if this piece incorporated more input and interaction from readers), your thoughts might eventually overcome themselves. I think a lot about Ecclesiastes 4 when it comes to that, but Psalm 127:1-2 also puts together a good picture of how relying on your own work too much can be destructive:
Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.
Psalm 127:1-2, ESV
But then there are peacefully moving waters, which I found this piece reflects much of that environment in the sounds and images of Peaceful Dream. Sure, water wasn’t the only image shown, but there was still movement to the leaves in the trees, and I could imagine the feeling of wind gently tossing grains of sand across the desert image used. This is the ideal– where work and rest coincide. It’s a bit paradoxical I know, but some things are simply meant to be known and not necessarily understood. How does work become restful? How do we learn to “be still and know that He is God” (Psalm 46:10) while simultaneously and intentionally “walk[ing] through the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4)?
So maybe I started out experiencing this piece a bit stressed about interpreting it and forgetting that sometimes art isn’t that complicated, even when it’s in languages we know next-to-nothing about. I do look forward to digging into it a bit more in class, but for now I think I’m good just experiencing the piece as it’s meant to be: reminiscent of a peaceful dream– a pleasant but active rest. I mean that’s all a dream really is anyway. In your entire sleep cycle, not only is REM deep sleep the most important part for your mind’s recovery, but it’s also the stage of sleep where your brain waves are most similar to when you’re fully awake and alert.
So again, how do we be still and keep moving at the same time? Sleep would be one answer, but my answer is just to know the balance and to know yourself as you were created– pay attention to when you become dependent on your will over His. I’ve always found (even looking back to before faith became such a big part of my life) that there’s no safer place than where God calls you to be. That’s rest: safety. And as Ormstad carries readers through this piece much like God carried Israel out of Egypt, we are left with only that choice whether or not to trust these creators with these works of art, one with this dream, and One with our life and testimony.
Just by looking at the title, Letters to X made me think of two things: one of my Creative Nonfiction assignments from last semester (letters to a stranger), and algebra. I’ll admit that it mostly made me think of that letters to a stranger assignment, but the addition of the variable just gives off an almost bittersweet vibe– the concrete nature of most math is black-and-white, almost a comfort, and a reflection of what truth really is. But then there’s also the variable. The variables, in this case, are the collaborators and the people in their lives.
What’s most interesting to me isn’t the generative nature of this piece, surprisingly. I really loved that the Blackout Poetry Tool allows readers to create a piece from the piece last week, and loved that about this one as well. What did catch my attention was if you wanted to, you could layer every piece on top of one another, scans with the blacked-out words for blank spaces and pieces you could fill in for yourself alike. It looks like a blob when you do layer everything on top of each other, but I think that’s significant regardless of whether or not this was intentional on the part of the author, Jessica Barness.
From that simple detail, it serves as a reminder to me that the world will throw so many words at you and say so many things– good and bad. It all becomes this big mess of static after a while, especially considering the natural tendency for our minds to remember the bad whether consciously or subconsciously. But here’s the thing about all that: even though it might still hurt to think about or hear those things, it doesn’t matter when there’s a Word that never changes and recognizes you where you’re at but still speaks life over you and encourages you and tells you how to be better. There’s hardly ever been a more valuable lesson that I’ve learned than that.
And based on the project notes tab, it seems that the white-noise-ish nature of language as of late is part of the point– especially as it relates to technology and social media. We put so much out and replicate so many ideas so easily and in so many ways that it’s either sensory overload or it’s mind-numbing.
We are writing more now than we ever have, yet screen correspondence as an everyday social activity may not effectively relay deeper emotions that were once historically expressed on paper.
project notes, Letters to X, Jessica Barness
And because of that, I’d agree with Barness that there is an emotional disconnect with most writing (or really, typing) of things using technology with a screen. With a screen, we don’t get the added emotional texture of words scribbled out instead of backspaced, handwriting versus font, or sometimes ink that looks like watercolor where tears might have fallen in the process of writing rather than the reader never knowing those tears fell on the keyboard. Sure, typing things on a computer may make reading the text itself easier, but I do wonder: does it carry the same weight it was meant to or that it could if it was handwritten?
The handwriting looks a lot like mine when I’m writing something reflective. Considering the title of this piece, I decided to play around with it and found that, aside from adding words into the blanks you could also navigate through the pre-typed words and add or remove from everything else. That didn’t feel right to me, given that these letters to X were personal and profound as they were, but I went with it for the sake of going through the piece my own way.
And putting the handwritten and typed ones side by side (since I realized you can move each piece so both are visible at once) I realized that not all of the blanks on the typed piece were blacked out in the original. I didn’t type in the words I noticed myself, but I admit I was driven by them (and the podcast episode I listened to this morning about the perspective we take in the deepest valleys of our lives).
My handwriting when I’m hurting more than reminiscent is a bit taller and sharper than the one above, and though most similar to this letter, the letters flow together a bit more. While I used to love to draw as well, that was something that used to come out more when I was hurting as well. I don’t do it much anymore. I wish I’d kept it up though, because there is a lot that our words sometimes can’t express.
And I think it’s interesting how this particular one uses flowers. Plants are commonly used throughout the Bible not only as a reminder of our mortality, but also as a means of reminding us how important it is where we choose to plant ourselves (think 1 Peter 1:24-25, Job 14:7-12, Matthew 13, Jeremiah 17:7-8, etc…) That’s been something that I’ve tried to remind my brother of whenever I am fortunate enough to hear from him. Where are you planting yourself, if you’re planting yourself anywhere at all?
I try to encourage myself a lot in any writing, and the things that I might pull-quote in a blog post or highlight somehow in my journal are also written in handwriting much like this letter. So that’s what I did with this letter– I tried to encourage myself, even though I wouldn’t say I need it at the moment. You just never know when you need to go back to stuff like this.
I remember this guy in the young adults bible study I go to on Wednesday nights saying something like this:
As Christians, we too often get stuck in one extreme or the other: either we’re too caught up in how we are made righteous by the blood of Jesus and that somehow, apparently makes us “better” when we aren’t. OR the other (more common) extreme is that we get too caught up in how unworthy, undeserving, and sinful we are that we forget we are made righteous and given grace only through the blood of Jesus. Yes, we need to recognize where we’re at to become better still, but we too often sit in the guilt and shame that Jesus already defeated when He died and rose again.
Nate (kind of, it’s paraphrased)
So being able to edit a piece like this took patience (since you can’t move the cursor to the pre-typed words you want to edit with a click), but it was so worth it. And because of the commentary that Barness intends through the methods of navigation and the layering of the typed text over the handwriting (especially for me, since my handwriting changes based on my own state of mind) just added such a texture to it that I definitely loved and appreciated more than even the Blackout Poetry Tool. More of this piece becomes the reader’s, but there’s a limit to that. There’s still this texture that comes from the handwriting of someone else and their own thoughts and meanings.
Why is the subtitle Playing Chinese? How do you play a language or a culture? I think that was my first thought when I opened to the landing page of High Muck a Muck. The instructions on how to go through this piece suggested to keep the sound on, but I don’t have headphones that work with my laptop at the moment, and I’m not working in a spot where I can play things at a volume I’ll be able to clearly hear and not disturb the other working people around me. So I guess going through with the sound off it is.
Just in the first two pages there are a couple mentions of the lottery.
I was going to start with the Everywhere and Nowhere button, but again, considering that I don’t have my headphones and I’m sitting in [a currently crowded] East Campus Cafe, I passed on the video for now. There was a little card with Mandarin written on it, and I noticed that hovering over the image brought up the menu– not exactly as it was seen after clicking the “enter” button, but with most all of the same links. So I used that to get back to the Intro page and then find my way back to the makeshift map drawn on the back and arms of a person.
Where the dots are:
Book at the left hand : British Colombia
Base of the neck : Everywhere and Nowhere
Left shoulder blade : no description
Left tricep : Pacific Rim
Left hip : no description, Victoria, Richmond, and Vancouver
Middle back : 4 buttons no description
Right hip : no description and Nelson
Right elbow : Canada
When I went back to the map, I started to wonder the significance of why these places were placed at these points on the body, and why the more translucent, smaller dots had no description. Seven dots were like that with no location attached to them, seven were larger, darker, and had locations attached. One was not a dot on the body-map at all– British Colombia has a whole book, which I think didn’t catch my eye until now because it was in the corner.
Poem title : MADE IN CHINA
Why does the speakerneed a son? I know this is something highly significant to Chinese culture, but to be honest I never understood it. You don’t need another person for anything– no person will complete you or satisfy your deepest longings or heal the broken pieces of your soul that you often don’t even realize are broken (that is, no person but Jesus). But the second stanza struck me as I remember the Creative Nonfiction class I took last semester; I have a friend who asked so many questions about my faith because she was so closed off to almost every other religion in her orthodox Jewish community. Of course, I had been patient with the almost overwhelming number of questions she asked and the interesting view she previously held of Jesus because of what she’d been taught (and that’s where this ties into the piece).
Who is he, this uncle
All smiles, suit, and tie
Coming through the front door of the café,
eyeing Foo Let behind the counter,
shaking his hand?
High Muck a Muck by Fred Wah, Nicola Harwood, Jin Zhang, Bessie Wapp, Thomas Loh, Tomoyo Ihaya, Hiromoto Ida, Phillip Djwa, and Patrice Leung
Who is this uncle? My friend had been asking herself the same thing about Jesus, especially since her mother had come from a Catholic upbringing but speaks so little about it.
Christianity to me was like a distant cousin and Jesus to me like a depraved uncle who drinks too much and has eyes that wander.
Chomski’s quote, upon first hearing it read aloud, had me raising my eyebrows because that’s far from who the Lord actually is. After talking to her about it though, I realized that she was talking about how she had previously viewed Him.
But with that little connection from my life aside, the next line that really struck me about this guy was “He is a China.” How can one man be an entire country, and presumably not the only one to be China itself? But then later on, how can this Charley go back to China if he is China? I know it’s not actually this literal but these are the thoughts running through my head as I’m reading. And I’m still trying to put together who needs a son here– is it Charley speaking in the first line of the poem? It does say that Charley is going back to China only once and coming back in a year with a wife and some money. Maybe the speaker is saying that for himself as he’s observing someone else that he knows is going out to do what he needs to do but can’t bring himself to do.
Prose / Poetry title : GATES
Why are there gates to the kitchen? I don’t even think doors are normal in kitchens, let alone gates. From there it just seems like a string of places? people? things? But then:
They swing and they turn, gate of to and gate of from, entrance and exit, the flow, the discharge, the access, the egress, the Mountains of the Blest, the winds of ch’i, mouth of Yin and eye of Yang,
High Muck a Muck by Fred Wah, Nicola Harwood, Jin Zhang, Bessie Wapp, Thomas Loh, Tomoyo Ihaya, Hiromoto Ida, Phillip Djwa, and Patrice Leung
This really reminded me of the last message I gave at youth on being mindful about what you take in because it affects what you put out into the world. (Now the gates are making a bit more sense to me.) One of the analogies I used was that a cup can only pour out what’s first poured in. I mean think about it, about 80% of what we learn is visual, and what we express is based on things that we’ve learned or experienced. To some extent, I think that’s what the above quote from High Muck a Muck is getting at. What goes in comes out… what goes around comes around… yin and yang.
I expanded on the analogy with two pitchers, only one filled with water to begin. Can the empty pitcher fill another cup? No! It’s empty. So I poured half the water from the full pitcher into the other and asked them: how about now? Yes, it can now. So I took a packet of Crystal Light fruit punch mix and poured that into one of the pitchers and mixed it up and asked them: will you get a glass of water if you pour from the pitcher I just poured into? No! The water is now fruit punch because of what’s been added to it. I then poured half the fruit punch into the water pitcher and asked if I could pour out water at all now. Still no. In the end, there’s only one recorded instance where something was poured into a vessel and something else came out without pouring more than one thing in or without some sort of distilling process: the wedding at Cana.
I had plenty more dots to choose from on the forearm and hand that came up. I thought about it: which dot do I click on? But there’s another book in the corner too… do I click on that instead? I did it. I chose the book.
THE LINE (Pak Ah Pu, the Lottery)
The earth is not limitless. That’s the first thing that bugged me about this poem. Also, why’s the moon crying with tears from a hundred years ago? also know that the Father would love the salt– He did call us to be salt and light to the world, after all. The Eye of the whale? Why is The Eye capitalized? Why is it a secret? A “suffix of ginger” is an interesting way of putting things.
“Stand beside yourself / Don’t listen for the echo.” Sounds like some pretty solid advice that the mannequin that drowned herself could’ve used. Also, can a mannequin even drown if it’s not alive. I’m thinking back to how many times this mannequin named Timmy was “drowned” in the deep end of the pool at work.
The first thing I thought of when I saw the title of Lawhead’s Everything is going to be OK is a song of a similar title. Maybe It’s Okby We Are Messengers, while the element of humor from the former may not be present, the acknowledgement of struggle and the deeper discussions to which this leads are prevalent in both of these works of art. The title of the e-lit piece by itself is telling me that there’s about to be a sense of vulnerability to it, as there is in the prayers of the multiple authors of Psalms, including David, and to the songs in the playlist I created that I may or may not add to over time.
Moving on from the songs of similar titles and themes, I clicked on the “work website” button and immediately found myself thinking wow, there’s a lot going on here like. This wasn’t surprising as I’d seen mentions of the ‘zine-like design in both the author and editorial statements, and magazines do tend to have a lot going on– hence one of the many reasons I tend to avoid them. So, I read the text on the page trying my best not to be distracted by the animated images, blue flames, bold color-changing background, flashing hypertexts, moving texts, and overall highlighter-like color scheme.
The first thing I noticed (aside from all that’s listed above) was the way that the speaker puts “game” in quotes.
“It is a very personal “game”, and I view it as something other than a game. Through-ought development I had been struggling with the “game” label, and toxicity that calling something like this “game” brings in… I feel like calling work like this a game might do it more harm than good.”
EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE OK by Nathalie Lawhead
While the “game” is not yet specified as I’m reading through it, one could imagine that this could be a reference to life itself and how people seem to treat it like a game in a myriad of ways– whether that means distorting certain realities, taking on roles that are not yours to begin with, using people and things that are not meant to be used… you get the idea. But because Lawhead sets the expectation so soon as anything but a mindless “game” to play, it has already set the attention of the reader (in this case, me) into an active thinking mode; I already found myself asking what parts of the landing page are significant to the story ahead of me.
I don’t have a whole ton of space left on this laptop (that is currently burning my thigh through my leggings as I take another sip from my iced caramel mochiatto from my favorite little cafe in Franklin, NJ), so while I was tempted to venture through the slowly bouncing “download now” button, I refrained. So instead of the first link on the page, I clicked on the first hyperlink in the text. Here the flames were the typical mix of red, orange, and yellow– I wondered if this was meant more to set a mood (as these colors we tend to associate with anger) or to set a temperature (as these colors are artistically warmer, but in reality signify a cooler flame than blue or white). The tab reads “Unicornycopia is a magical utopia!” and to be honest, I’m not convinced. There isn’t a single unicorn on this page! Nor does this seem like much of a utopia with this repeated image of different bones throughout this page and the several images on the landing page that show characters saying they aren’t sure they will survive, someone was killed, or even the little worm saying it lives inside some other character’s head. The bright colors aren’t fooling me, and neither is the page title.
The goldfish seem a bit random to me here, but I’m just taking a note of them floating from left to right on the page. Maybe there’s some significance I’ll find out later, maybe there isn’t. Maybe there is but I’ll never find out.
A little pop-up comes up on the about button, describing the story as “a collection of life experiences… exploring alternative views of power from a survivor’s standpoint.” A survivor of what? I keep reading and find the purpose of the piece: “to strip the shame out of talking about things like [PTSD].” As soon as I closed the pop-up, neon yellow skulls landed in my lap (or really the middle of the screen on some invisible line) and disappeared almost as soon as they had appeared. There’s a new ad for “electric love potatoes” which confuses me, but I guess it’s hard to go wrong with potatoes of any kind (besides sweet potatoes, those are gross). Every other button on that left side of the page did the skull thing, but it seemed the potato ad only happened with the about button.
The artwork button of course piqued my interest as well. I looked through several of the pieces under this as I figured this would not only be the most interesting to me, but also would be the most honest expressions within this e-lit piece. I kind of thought that maybe this would be the art within the art, kind of like we are all masterpieces (whether we recognize that or struggle to recognize that, or not) within the greater masterpiece of God’s creation. There’s plenty to go over here by itself, so I’ll just go over a couple.
It’s pretty natural for me to initially gravitate towards poetry, and while I clicked on a random poem, the one I chose hit me pretty personally (as I mentioned in my first blog post). I struggled to understand this poem in the first four lines, but the last two hit me in a way that made me think: how did I not pick up on that? I could be wrong, but I think the first few lines address two common symptoms of PTSD as it relates to sexual trauma: hyper-sexuality (implied by “keeping me in check has gotten so out of hand”) and memory (implied by “I’m not too sure where it all really began.”) Again, I could be totally wrong about that, but based on my own experiences and the strikingly similar ways I’ve phrased these ideas in some of my old journals and creative pieces, that’s how I interpreted this poem.
But I guess I’m paying the price for saying “no” to
the best man and getting in the way of the perfect romance.
poem_2.png, EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE OK by Nathalie Lawhead
The bunny cut in half saying “It’s ok!” and “I trust the universe!” says so much. I admit, I did laugh at first– I mean who doesn’t laugh at those self-depreciating jokes these days? But there are two things that really stuck out to me with these two things the bunny was saying.
It’s ok! – Everything is so clearly not ok in this picture. The bunny severed in two. The ominously blood-red background. The black tentacles (?) creeping up on the halves of this poor bunny’s body. The yellowing grass. The one bunny that is in two pieces. The pools of blood… below this chopped bunny.
I trust the universe! – Here’s the thing with trusting the universe that I never understood: I think we can all agree that this world is messed up. Maybe I’m taking this from a very Christian-ese perspective, but why would you want to trust a messed up universe before a perfectly good God? I know it’s hard to understand what that perfect love is when so much of it seems messed up from our imperfect, distorted, limited perspectives, but when we live in a finite world, how do we comprehend the infinite? I think it was Brandon that said something about “submitting to the creator” in class the other day (though I know he was talking about the creator of a story or work of art), and when I saw this page I immediately thought back to that and wondered how many people submit to creationrather than the creator, and how many times I’ve done that myself.
I went through so many of those artworks, and a lot of them made my eyes hurt. There were a lot more I could relate to like the several that seemed like a series about friends that drift away or about people that offer advice and caring words, but don’t back up that supposed compassion with actions. All I could think of was the James 2:14-26 as I went through these, and of how much it hurt every time I felt I had to find another group of friends to hang out with when I was younger. These images that I went through though kind of seemed to miss some of the point. There is one that mentions that we don’t really need love, but I’d like to rephrase it this way: we don’t need love from another person or group of people because they are not the source of or Love itself.
The bottom right corner of the page has been nagging at my attention for a while now, so I’ve finally decided to check that out. The little ghost I met on the next page was cute though, although the ominous sounds were not very comforting. The ghost, Tatghoul, talked about the graveyard and allows the reader to move it around.
When we actually get to the graveyard, we can move the ghost using the arrow keys– there’s a sense of control that the reader is given by choosing which direction to go in and what games to play. I checked out a few of the unfinished works with titles on tombstones, like OMNOMNOM Carnage, Sculptures, and 20. It felt so bizarre that my inner chaotic reader felt so satisfied by what collectively is part of the same story.
Sculptures caught my attention the most though because it gave a real glimpse at the writer– though the rest of the piece may be real or based on the author’s real experiences, this actually shows some of the author’s artwork (and the process, which is especially what caught my attention) outside of the realm of the piece.
Moving Tatghoul to the right brings you to one edge of the graveyard with the “living projects.” I ventured through some of these, and though I didn’t play most of the games, I did look at the goals of each game.
The one that I did go through was TETRAGEDDON, and I thought it was interesting that the password was “sorry” of all things, something I’ve been reminding a couple of my friends that they don’t need to say as often as they do because 90% of what they apologize for is either not their fault, or nothing to be sorry for at all. I used to say that a lot myself to be honest– way more than I needed to– but while childhood trauma conditioned me into it, I think my adolescent trauma trained me out of it. I really didn’t note much else out of that game because I’m starting to get exhausted (there’s a ton to note on every page of this e-lit piece).
The only thing I was left asking myself was why is every “were” throughout the piece “where” instead? It didn’t really matter which game you went into, finished or unfinished, or which hyperlinks you clicked on, the former was always replaced by the latter and I couldn’t quite figure out why. Maybe the reason is on another page I didn’t discover? Maybe it’s just meant to give an element of confusion to the hyper-aware? Whatever the reason, I was left questioning what it was.
I was also left thinking about my own experience in so many of the topics and themes in this piece; specifically, how it all played into the way God gave me what I call a “well-written-slap-in-the-face-and-warm-bear-hug-all-in-one.” The first passage I turned to when I first decided to read the Bible (at a time when I had seemingly insurmountable doubt and disbelief in the Church and in God Himself) was 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8. Basically what this passage broke down to for me is in all the notes I made on the passage in the image below:
The official class site for Dr. Mia Zamora’s Fall 2022 Electronic Literature course.