Fairy Dust

I am a firm believer in dandelion wishes. Now, I don’t mean to say that I think they always come true, but I know the joy that comes of finding the perfect, fuzzy blossom, squeezing my eyes shut tight, and whispering a little prayer as its petals dance away on my breath like pixie parasols.

My friends laugh at me when I veer off a running trail or sidewalk at the sight of a dandelion waiting to be wished upon or go out of my way to step on a crunchy leaf or examine a bright flower. As focused and busy as I may be, however, I must pause to enjoy such things, childish as they might seem.

When was the last time you stopped to listen to a creek babble as I am doing now as I write this? When was the last time you took off running just for the sheer pleasure of movement? When did you last greet a squirrel or whistle along with a bird? Or made up a story to amuse yourself or sculpt shapes in the clouds or imagine music in the wind?

I know I’m beginning to sound like a Disney princess, but I mean it. These little things are not so little; they are life-giving, small remnants of paradise left to us by a gracious Creator. They are the dustings of fairyland and more real than some of our “grown-up” concerns.

I believe in dandelion wishes and, right now, wish that more of you would join me.

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Year in Review: The Arts

This year was crazy and everyone seems to be bidding 2017 good riddance. However, there are so many beautiful things that I discovered and enjoyed this year! Though Facebook tried to make my “year in review” (and somehow managed to gather all of the photos I am least inclined to post), my true year in review consists of my favorite pieces of art that, though not necessarily created in 2017, I was fortunate enough to enjoy this year.

My Artistic Year in Review

(basically a list of my favorite things)

Sculpture: Bernini’s “Apollo and Daphne”

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While I adore all of Bernini’s works, this one struck me and seeing it in person during a trip to Rome was extraordinary. The expressions on the character’s faces are so alive and the stone itself seems to move and breathe with the grace of dancers. Looking at it made me feel more alive, as if Bernini were sculpting my movements as I circled the glorious work. Gazing at it made me more aware of myself as a creation “fearfully and wonderfully made.”

Painting: “The Woman in Red” by Giovanni Boldini

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I stumbled upon this painting on Pinterest and immediately knew I needed use it for my junior piano recital poster and more than a few people asked me how I managed to get a painting of myself… It was humorous having to explain that no, the woman in the painting is not me as I was 1) never a model and 2) was not alive during the Impressionist era. Still, this made the work more personal and I am thankful to now have a reproduction of it hanging above my piano at home.

Architecture: Glasgow Cathedral – Glasgow, Scotland

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I was disappointed to find that the choir was on sabbatical and would not be doing evensong during my stay in Glasgow. However, both the inside and out of this building are stunning. I felt an incredible sense of awe as I entered and spent more than a few minutes just sitting in the pews praying with my eyes open to the splendor of the Beautiful that lends itself to objects of beauty (couldn’t help the Plato reference there). Also, just outside the Cathedral is the Necropolis, a Victorian cemetery that is filled with crumbling old tombstones, wildflowers, and stories waiting to be unearthed. A hike up the hill of this graveyard gives the most spectacular panoramic view of the Cathedral and Glasgow as a whole.

Theatrical Production: Hamlet starring Andrew Scott

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I love the West End and, when I had a free night in London, was so ridiculously excited to find cheap tickets to see Andrew Scott (aka Moriarty from BBC’s Sherlock) star in a version of my favorite Shakespeare play. Not only was Scott terrific, but the production put a Cold War era twist on the story that worked perfectly. (Pro tip: purchase “obstructed view” seats for last minute tickets; they are cheaper and often the view is still quite good.)

Musical: Jane Eyre by Paul Gordon and John Caird 

Of the books written by the Bronte sisters, Wuthering Heights is so far my favorite. However, the Jane Eyre musical redeemed a novel that I formerly considered “too tidy and stiff.” The music is beautiful, the lyrics are brilliant, and the story is made infinitely more human and powerful. Only one other person I know has ever heard this soundtrack, but I highly recommend it to any literature or music lover as it is excellent in every possible way.

Instrument: Bagpipes

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While I regret my expense of 100 pounds on a set of bagpipes I cannot play to save my life, I fell in love with their music. It turns out, the astringent sound of bagpipes has a calming effect on my overactive mind since it drives out all other thoughts than “I am a Scottish warrior princess and I can do anything.” Plus, I fell in love with Scotland and now bagpipes sound like home to me. (Oh, and I use the terrible video of my first attempt at playing them as a conversation starter or ender, depending on who I’m talking to.)

Piano Piece: The Dante Sonata by Franz Liszt

Learning this piece made me cry. A lot. And bleed. And sweat. You think I’m kidding? No. It’s literally a piece about the Inferno. But the wonderful ties between music and literature (my two loves) are what got me through and I am so happy with my final performance of this piece! (Check out the link above!)

Symphonic Work: Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony 

Not only is this great running music (see post “The Eroica 10k”), but it is just incredible for any occasion. Nothing is more empowering than listening to this symphony. Not even bagpipe music. From a more analytical standpoint, it also has the key features of Beethoven’s style: fighting against strict measures, dynamic contrasts of volume and mood, powerful instrumentation, and- best of all- the underlying idea of an anthem to a single great soul.

Album: Notos by the Oh Hellos

http://music.theohhellos.com/album/notos

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I love everything by the Oh Hellos, so I was delighted to find that they recently released a new album! It is marvelous and made a long drive across the desert so much better. (Obviously I listened through it more than once.)

Poetry (large scale): The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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This was mentioned in a lecture I heard at Cambridge by Malcolm Guite. As soon as I returned home, I purchased a copy and read it with awe. It was so beautiful and mysterious and I still have yet to decide my exact thoughts on it, which makes me love it even more. Highly recommend, but especially if read aloud with great expression. It inspired my performance of the Beethoven’s “Tempest” Sonata and Liszt’s “Dante” Sonata with its storms and spirituality.

Poetry (smaller works): The Singing Bowl by Malcolm Guite

https://malcolmguite.wordpress.com/2013/05/10/the-singing-bowl-a-poem-and-a-new-book/

I listened to these read aloud by the poet on a drive from California to Arizona whilst watching a sunrise. It was a lovely hour of poetry, theology, and natural beauty. Although I’d loved his lecture at Cambridge, hearing his original poetry read aloud made it so much more powerful. It is inspiring to know there is a modern poet who sings in the tune of the greats yet maintains his own clear voice.

Novel: Moby Dick by Herman Melville

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I expected this book to be as dry as dust, which- since it is about the ocean- is ironic. However, I came to appreciate the great depths of this narrative (pun intended, as always). There is a great deal of philosophy hidden throughout and, as with Coleridge, I have not yet determined my exact ideas regarding this book. I have many theories, though, and am itching to write a thesis on it… Oh, and there are tons of whale facts, so that’s interesting! Others might argue they distract from the plot, but I naturally have a theory on why they are, in fact, essential to the overarching themes. Do your brain a favor and dive into this book!

YA Novel: The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

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This was the brain candy that I needed after a semester of heavy study. However, it was far from mindless! It was clever, endearing, and exciting all at once. I raced through it in a matter of a couple of hours and am glad to find another YA author that writes passion about mythology, relationships, family, and hardship in a believable way, incorporating wit and suspense with brilliance. (Basically, I was glad to find a YA novel that I could read in public without feeling ashamed. This one was far from an embarrassing teen romance and I was proud to read it at my favorite coffee shop for all to see!)

Short Story: “The Scythe” by Ray Bradbury

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Every story in Bradbury’s The October Country inspired both love and fear in my literary soul. I am admittedly a Bradbury fanatic and accredit him with inspiring me to try my hand at short stories, but I believe my admiration is merited. “The Scythe” is a short story with the emotional depth and character development of a novel. It is mysterious and beautiful and tragic all at once and I will happily force any one of my friends to borrow my copy and read it, as well as all of its sibling stories.

Library: Tynsdale House-  Cambridge, England

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I could have stayed in that creaking, musty library for days. It was colorful with the spines of diverse books and alive with the buzzing thoughts of its scholars busy at work. I found an empty desk that I swear had my  name on it… A brilliant and intimate literary/theological destination that I look forward to visiting again.

Movie: Dunkirk 

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Many have complained about this movie, but I found it to be remarkable. It was simultaneously heart-wrenching and heart-warming and, overall, one of the most powerful cinematic experiences I have ever had. Kenneth Branagh is a magical human being, but the entire cast was terrific. The storytelling, comprised of three different amounts of time and three different locations (land, air, and sea), was captivating and fit together with the intricacy of a well-crafted, multi-narrator novel. The soundtrack, minimalism with effects such as the “shepard tone” to enhance the intensity, effectively kept me on the edge of my seat and my senses as alert as if I were one of the characters in the midst of war. The acting, visuals, story, and music were all phenomenal and, combined, made for a film that, like Dunkirk itself, will not soon be forgotten.

Bonus…

Dessert: Stroopwafel

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Is it a waffle? Is it a cookie? Who knows and who cares! Just put it on top of your cup of cocoa and enjoy its melty, delicious caramel goodness!

Coffee: Cappuccino from Costa Coffee

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To my dismay, the U.S. is not advanced enough to have Costa Coffee shops on every corner…Sorry, Starbucks. However, I enjoyed enough of their cappuccinos during my month in the U.K. to hold me until my next visit. (Yes, coffee is an art. I mean, look at that palm tree!)

Writing: Expectations vs. Reality

  1. Expectation: Showing off your stellar vocabulary. Reality: Spending ten minutes trying to remember how to spell “potpourri” because you’re too proud to look it up.
  2. Expectation: Writing elegant rhymes to express your emotion. Reality: Sounding like an angsty Dr. Seuss.
  3. Expectation: Writing free verse poetry that seems authentic and avant garde. Reality: Sounding like an angsty and, now, drugged Dr. Seuss.
  4. Expectation: Scribbling thoughts on random scraps of paper because inspiration strikes at unexpected moments. Reality: Looking like a conspiracy theorist at best or a serial killer at worst as you frantically try to assemble your notes.
  5. Expectation: Making keen, discrete observations of your surroundings for later use. Reality: Looking like a creep when you make eye contact with a potential character and being mistaken for a critic as you analyze your favorite cafe.
  6. Expectation: Having movies and theme parks made after your bestselling novels. Reality: Writing silly blog posts late at night. (Unless you are J.K. Rowling, in which case the reality is still “having movies and theme parks made after your bestselling novels.”)
  7. Expectation: Carefully crafting characters that perfectly follow the planned plot. Reality: Controlling your characters is like herding winged cats. Not only are they cats, but now they can fly.
  8. Expectation: Planning a time to write and doing so in an orderly fashion. Reality: “THE VOICES IN MY HEAD SAID I MUST WRITE NOW!” (usually “now” is in the middle of another project, late at night, or somewhere without any form of writing material whatsoever)
  9. Expectation: People reading your silly blog posts all the way through and gaining an internet following. Reality: Your fan club continuing to consist mainly of your grandma, your best friend, and the fake cat lady blog your mom made to spam you.
  10. Expectation: Having many writing woes to blog about. Reality: Only being able to come up with nine and realizing that is also a problem you can add to the list.

I had fun jotting this down and think this might turn into another #WriterProblem series! Do you have any writing expectations vs. realities? Share them in the comments!

The Road Part Taken

In reading the poetry of Robert Frost for my honors college curriculum, I found myself hit by a wave of nostalgia. (Not to be confused with a “wave of nausea”- I’m not reading Nausea quite yet…)

Throughout the formative years of my adolescent life, Frost provided guidance and comfort. I did not read his work extensively, but I remember my initial delight in “The Road Not Taken” as my sixth grade teacher made her class memorize it before embarking into junior high school.

And I recall with warmth how “Tree at My Window” provided solace during the tragedy of my favorite tree being chopped down.

And, of course, I remember with delight singing the choral arrangement of “A Girl’s Garden” in my first choir and falling in love with the union of literature and music that has since become my life.

As I revisit the beautiful and intriguing world of Robert Frost’s verse, I am not only reminded of these memories, but convicted: Am I still journeying down the road less travelled but ultimately more worthy? Am I appreciating the beauty of the world around me as I used to love that scrawny tree? Am I pursuing the artistic philosophy that began brewing in my mind years ago?

Oh, Mr. Frost…you know how something as simple as a tree or a path or a garden might inspire a world of contemplation and I am in constant awe of such poetic power.

 

 

 

Running for Perspective

I love to run, but unless I have a really good soundtrack or running buddy, abhor running on treadmills or tracks because I do not run merely for exercise, I run for perspective.

This is why I cannot run on a track only. After a while, I get bored watching the same people play the same sports on the field as I listen to the same playlists and circle the same route. I’m bored just typing this.

But if I run elsewhere… oh the perspective it brings! I might not get the maximum speed I could on a track, but I gain something infinitely greater: reflection, restoration, reminders…pretty much any nice word that starts with “r.”

Tonight I had an especially good run, following my usual route off of my college campus through several tunnels, past a lovely neighborhood, to a park with green hills, a creek, huge trees, and all variety of life.

As soon as I pass through the first tunnel, I feel a weight lift from my shoulders, as if I am shedding the pressures of college life. In leaving campus and feeling the powerful movement of my body in running, I remember there is more to life than the stress of a student.

As I pass the neighborhoods, I am comforted to look at homes. Actual homes with families and tacky Thanksgiving decorations. Homes where parents are returning from work and cooking dinner and children are shouting in play. It’s so peace-giving to see homes instead of dorms. One represents stability and comfort whereas the latter, though nice, is temporary and functional.

And then I reach the park. Its green fields open up before me like the pages of a well-loved book; Celtic music sings in my earbuds and I rejoice as if I am once more running along the Caledonian Canal in Scotland. An autumn breeze makes the boughs of a willow tree dance and the hanging leaves of another catches in my curly hair, ruffling it like a teasing brother. Birds sing in choruses on either side of the creek and dogs pant with the joy of a walk with their humans. The sky, a burnished orange, reminds me of home; Arizona’s sunsets always will be the most beautiful…

My heart is refreshed by nature. Perhaps I am reading too much Wordsworth (kidding- no such thing!), but as I drink in the evening air, I exhale poetry in gasping breaths. A thousand verses all bloom in my mind and I feel the rush of creative power in my muscles as I press onward.

I pass a young family, the son grumpy in his dress clothes and the parents beaming as they take the photos that will announce the coming of their second child. Only a half mile later, I pass a proposal and, when the couple and their loved ones leave, I run on a trail of rose petals. And, between these two golden moments, I see older couples walking hand-in-hand and elementary children racing their scooters. I find here a perspective; life goes on and wondrous things lie ahead with lovely little things in between!

Oh, there is a wealth of love and poetry in the air tonight! More than my small heart and mind can absorb at once! And so my run turns to dance and a smile lifts my face toward the sun, which has flickered into street lamps as dusk falls.

Another mile. No, two more. Hmmm… another. It is a sorrow to leave this glimpse of paradise. I smile at every passerby and they smile back. It’s easy at a park full of families and puppies and sunshine to forget the hardships of life; everything is gold-tinged at sunset here.

I set my face toward school once more, but with a lightness to my step that I lacked when first setting out. The longer I run, it seems, the freer I fly. I barely feel my feet touch the uneven ground as I race myself back.

Then, naturally, the poetic spell was broken as I almost stepped on a hawk. (It could possibly have been a falcon.)

Yes, you read that correctly. As I sprinted the final stretch of nature before reaching the pavement of campus, I had the misfortune (or was it?) of stepping within two inches of the largest bird of prey I have every seen up close. It flew- annoyed, no doubt- up and away, leaving behind its mangled dinner.

Too surprised to stop and take a closer look, I ran on, laughing aloud with sheer wonder and a little fear (after all, Wordsworth would say beauty and fear are often realized in the same experience). I probably should not have been so surprised, as I have met this hawk before, though I had never presumed to interrupt his dinner!

Thrilling with poetry and humor (and endorphins), I sprinted the last few steps back and with a pulsing spirit set to recording my run in words rather than statistics.

Readers, I encourage you with all my heart: when life feels overwhelming, run to a park. The exercise and perspective will do wonders for your spirit and imagination.

But watch where you step. 😉