Tuesday, December 29, 2009


My dad writes that the news is "pretty good.  He was alert and sitting up.  He claims to have quit smoking.  And when the oxygen tube came off, he put it back in by himself."

I have very few memories of this uncle.

Probably a lot of complicated things happened before I could understand which contribute to that fact.  There is sorrow there that I can only vaguely sense.  Those very few memories I do possess are likely colored by a fondness which they may not deserve.  Perhaps they do deserve that fondness.  Who can say?

He would appear and disappear unexpectedly throughout my childhood.  With the scent of Camel cigarettes and with intricate, esoteric brush strokes on sheets of heavy paper. Once he brought by a set of dried watercolor cakes in a little plastic case.  I loved mixing, remixing those hues, never quite coming up with the same color twice.  You must treat your brush with respect, he said one time when he saw me mashing it into the green pigment.  Somewhat embarrassed, I protested, saying that it was just a cheap brush.  But it didn't matter whether I thought the brush was cheap or not.  Ugh. 

As a little girl, I would accompany my father to pick him up at Alewife Station sometimes, where he would be waiting on those curved benches made of yellow-stained wood.  Benches where hundreds of thousands of people have sat, waiting to be picked up, but which will be forever linked to my dad's brother in my mind. 

We saw him next as P's birthday party was wrapping up.  We were all in our bathing suits, even my father, playing on the Slip 'n' Slide.  My uncle took off his shirt; removed his keys, wallet, and cigarettes; and slid down the slope in our front yard in his worn blue jeans. 

About a dozen years old, I wrote a little story and outlined illustrations for it in pencil, filling in each shape lovingly with the paint.  He stopped by while I happened to be working on it, and I eagerly showed him my work.  That is nice, he said, after glancing briefly at the pages, but these are watercolors.  I began to feel that same tightness in the back of my throat as when I was admonished for mashing my brush.  Watercolors aren't supposed to stay inside the lines, my uncle explained to his brother's earnest child, with equal earnestness on his part.  You are supposed to let them bleed, let them seep into one another.

The words, their blunt delivery, crushed my twelve-year-old heart.

And then I watched as he painted two colors next to one another on a fresh sheet, watched in horror and delight as they swam and intertwined. 

Last summer, we had a family reunion for all the descendants of our Irish great-grandmother.  We were supposed to pick him up at his apartment.  We waited and waited, rang the bell, waited some more.  He was not there.  Somebody in his building told us he had left a couple hours prior.  We drove out to where the reunion was and had a jolly good time.  Turns out he had gotten up early, taken the bus and then the train and was waiting for us at Alewife, on those curving yellow benches. 

On the evening of the winter solstice, P told me our dad's brother was in the hospital, that he had collapsed at a bus stop. 

Now here I am, with only these these little vignettes.  I was very sick the days leading up to Christmas, but I am young, and able to recover from such things.  Now that I'm well again and no longer at risk of infecting him, I am afraid to see my uncle.  I never became a painter.  I don't think I even finished the silly little story with the pencil-line illustrations.  Every once in awhile, though, I do get out my watercolors.  I mix and remix and lovingly spread the paint in bold strokes across the page, watch it fan out, trickle, wind together in teasing, unpredictable currents...

But I'm afraid of death, of the dying, or even those whose conditions merely hint at death.  I am not brave, and I also suspect that those memories which were seared so strongly into my unfolding consciousness have long been carried away from his.

So now what?  

Monday, December 28, 2009


Time has not been unkind, per se, but it has been honest.  Honest and stern and cold. But then, creeping in with some sort of quiet mercy.

Awash I am, saturated, dripping with emotion, and time comes with a soft absorbent cloth, slowly drawing it forth from me, out from these aching swollen pores.

And it has been sweet, too.  Oh so terribly salty-sweet with honey and with laughter sprinkled with tears.

Yes, time has been honest.  

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Thoughts from the Holiday

Lots of important events transpired before I was born - or afterward but before I was cognizant - which still impact the lives and interactions of people I know and about whom I care. 

Love makes you ache.  Love can be but is not often a happy feeling. 

My father shaved off his mustache to play Santa Claus for my cousins' kids at the family Christmas Eve party.  It was weird. 

My little brother is probably going to serve as a missionary for the LDS church.  I really cannot say, yet, what I think/how I feel about this.  I am obviously conflicted, but if it's something he truly wants to do, then I will support him. 

However, if he goes, this will be our last Christmas with everyone for two years.  The thought of that makes me pretty sad. 

Little blessings:
  • a quiet Christmas night snowfall 
  • intimate conversations with brothers and sisters
  • giving and receiving thoughtful gifts
  • cooking together
  • eating together
  • playing, laughing, living, together
  • December rain falling like a fine mist

I have been wanting to reconnect with people who knew me when I was younger, like high school classmates.  I am a lot different from the girl I was then.  I know that girl is still a part of me, but there is so much more now, too.  I think I have been failing to acknowledge her, though, in the woman I've become. And also I'm obviously interested in seeing the people others have become, as well. 

And finally, though it sounds obvious, some things really are more important than others. 

Peace be with you.  

Friday, December 18, 2009

Man Politicians with Babies/Children

...just because it makes me smile

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Lentil-Bulgur Stuffed Peppers

Okay, so this isn't exactly what I did.  What I did came out a little bland, so this is what I WOULD have done, had I known (really for the recipe I just scaled up the quantities of certain flavors/seasonings).  

This dish is great because it fulfills all of newt's Four Ps  for healthful eating. 
1. Simmer the following for about half an hour or until tender:
  • 3/4 cup lentils (I used French lentils - smaller in size, dark brown with bluish flecks)
  • 3/4 cup bulgur
  • 3 1/2 to 4 cups vegetable broth

2. Meanwhile, sautee in olive oil in a medium skillet:
  • 1 large onion, chopped pretty small
  • 2 cloves crushed garlic

3. When they're mostly cooked, add:
  • 1 can diced tomatoes with juice
  • 2 t brown sugar
  • salt and red pepper, to taste

4.  Let the sauce simmer and cut 4-6 bell peppers in half (any color works great - green is least expensive, but red, yellow, and orange are prettier, tastier, and possibly even more nutrient-rich), removing the stems and seeds. 

5. Combine cooked lentils/bulgur with tomato sauce in a large mixing bowl and add
  • A little less than 8 oz Parmesan cheese - use the rest to sprinkle on the top at the end
  • 1 T onion powder
  • A slosh of Tabasco or other hot sauce
  • Another clove of crushed garlic
  • 2 t Worcestershire sauce (not technically vegetarian, but I know of no veg alternative* - as I added it, I said a prayer, "thank you, little anchovies, for giving your lives for this meal")

6. Taste it and add any of the following if you think it needs it:
  • red pepper flakes
  • salt
  • onion or garlic powder
  • more Worcestershire sauce

7. Finally, add 1 egg to the mixture, spoon into the pepper halves, sprinkle with remaining Parmesan cheese, place in a shallow pan with ~1 cm of water and bake for about an hour at 350 degrees. 

    *Although apparently had I simply googled "vegetarian Worcestershire sauce" and I would have found this, which I'll have to prepare to have on hand next time, though I don't use Worcestershire sauce too too much... I have no idea how long that homemade stuff would last.

    Sunday, December 13, 2009

    Ritualized Retellings

    Ugh.  I have been reading up on the manual for class discussion this Sunday (because what else am I going to do at 12:30 on a Saturday night?) - the topic: Assasination of Joseph Smith

    Not that I am even a super LDS history scholar, but reading those words was FRUSTRATING.  The way the people who opposed Joseph are portrayed as unprovoked mobsters, people who, for virtually no apparent reason, wanted to destroy this benign, wholly uncontroversial man and the benign, wholly uncontroversial religion he founded.  The reality was/is much much more complicated than that.  But over and over again, this almost strikingly biased language is used.  As I read, I became nervous about how I was going to deal with this lesson and the discussion which will follow, the JS love-fest, all that persecution complex stuff.

    I mean, obviously I think JS was an inspired man.  A veritable genius.  He loved those within his community with a fierce loyalty.  At the same time, he was flawed, vulnerable, and really, really self-conscious of criticism.  That's probably why I like him, for the most part, because he had all these jagged edges.  My opinion though is that perhaps that he went a bit too far in certain aspects.  However, when you are creating a whole new religion, there's a little bit of trial and error in an attempt to discern things.  I don't even judge him for that.  But I do have a problem pretending that none of this occurred or that his actions were alwayssssssssss inspired.  The degree of suspicion between the different groups in that area at the time of the murder of Joseph and Hyrum Smith was unfortunate, and speaks to the impressive and wretched capacity of human beings toward fanatical fervor, toward the "othering" of those not in our tribe.  The local non-Mormons and former Mormons were suspicious of Joseph's controversial teachings, like plural marriage, as well as his tightening political reins, as evidenced - to them - by his destruction of the printing press and other actions.  Joseph was suspicious (also justifiably) of those people who opposed him.  The history is messy and unclear and - as FB would say - "complicated."  There was tons of suspicion and tension and ill-will and not much benefit of the doubt or level-headedness or any of that sort of thing going on.  Saying that he died for his "testimony of Jesus Christ" or of the gospel, as the manual would have us believe, is hardly the full picture. 

    That it is deliberately set up that way really troubles me.  Somehow, it is easier for me to believe in someone when I see their flaws, their insecurities.  Somehow I prefer ambiguity and uncertainty.  I prefer to look at lots of different sides of something instead of just one.  And I feel like always, always, at least in the church context, we are looking only at one side.  The side where everything is beautiful (even when it's sad or messy).  The side where there are always answers, simple answers (even when the questions seem so complicated). 

    So I was getting more and more worked up, lamenting the complete disregard of this whole realm of realities. Then I began to have this really interesting dialogue with myself.

    Like, Katie, just think for a minute: why do we tell and tell and retell these stories?  Every story has a purpose and an intended audience.  The purpose of LDS church history narratives doesn't necessarily have anything to do with historical accuracy or acknowledging ambiguities.  No, the purpose is to reaffirm Joseph Smith's inspired role in the establishment of the religion.  This is why the account of his death (and other accounts too) are magnified to these epic, almost mythological proportions.

    Then I thought of the *deer/hunter ritual: beautiful, choreographed, idealized. As SC Taysom writes: 
    Although the details varied, all of the rituals involved a mimesis of the actual hunt, in which an animal is killed according to strict, elaborate and specific criteria that would be nearly impossible to replicate during the hunt itself. Before Smith [a different Smith, Jonathan Z. Smith, not Joseph], scholars viewed such rituals as attempts at magically prefiguring the actual hunt in the hope that like would beget like and that the “real world” hunt would match the perfection of the ritual hunt. [Jonathan Z.] Smith offered a new interpretation based on two factors: first, the notion that the power of the ritual comes from its dissimilarity to what actually happened on the hunt, and second, the idea that although the hunters themselves were intelligent enough to realize that the ritual and the reality never met, they continued to perform the ritual anyway.

    The ritual, according to [Jonathan Z.]Smith, represented “a perfect hunt with all the variables controlled…Such a ceremony performed before taking on an actual hunt demonstrates that the hunter knows full well what ought to transpire if he were in control; the fact that the ceremony is held is eloquent testimony that the hunter knows full well that it will not transpire, that he is not in control.” So what good are such rituals? [Jonathan Z.] Smith suggests that through their ability to present a world in which “contingency, variability, and accidentality have been factored out,” they “display a dimension of the hunt that can be thought about and remembered in the course of things,” and that they further “provide a focusing lens on the ordinary hunt which allows its full significance to be perceived.”
    Likewise, these perfectly ordered stories and retellings, too, have a role in our spiritual consciousness and practices (in addition to the messiness which is so readily apparent). Once again, we return to that tension between chaos and order.  Between control and abandon.  Like those forms that Plato would talk about.  The physical ones which we see and touch, and then the perfected ones that existed beyond our tangible reality, where thoughts and imagination can only begin to take us.  Maybe it's not even exactly like Plato's forms, but I saw a glimmer of a connection there for a moment.

    A focusing lens on the ordinary hunt to allow its full significance to be perceived... 

    *Although in that post, the author is talking about actual ritual itself.  Really so fascinating, and the imagery obviously resonated with me, as I still remember it after having read it like 2 years ago.  Now somehow it seems relevent to apply it to these ritualistic retellings we employ in our doctrinal narrative. 

    Wednesday, December 2, 2009

    Fish Dream

    I had a dream that I woke up with about a half dozen little tiny live fishies in my mouth.  I spit them out - one at a time - into this little aquarium tank which was somehow in our living room.  After having been in such a confined space for so long, they plopped into the tank and swam around eagerly. 

    But one didn't make it.  It was dead before it even hit the water.