and He takes.


i know two people who died from cancer in the past twelve hours.

this is the second time i’ve been too far away from grieving friends.  i wish i could be there.

certain songs come to mind whenever i feel loss or sadness.  usually it’s a specific line that plays over and over in my head.

at the hospital with aimee, it was the line “love is watching someone die” from the song what sarah said by death cab for cutie.

today, it is “and He takes and He takes and He takes” from the song casmir pulaski day by sufjan stevens.

because with my friend c, when i look at her life, i just do not understand how God continues to take and take and take from a woman so beautiful, fun loving, hard working, sassy, determined, compassionate and loving.  first her mom, now her dad.  both taken.

let me help you understand how special c is… she lived with me for about six months. she LOVES big dogs and big dogs LOVE her. this was fantastically convenient because my tillman is a big dog.  c would come home from work and sit on the floor and love on and wrestle with tillman. she fed him lots of delicious treats that i would never eat myself let alone feed my dog.  one such example: amish cheese puffs. yes, amish. she gets them in pennsylvania.  when c moved out to be closer to care for her dad, i was sad. what i did not know was that tillman was sad too…

over the following three weeks, in his grief, tillman inflicted so much trauma on himself that we had two vet visits and four to five completely sleepless nights. tillman took things off pantry shelves and ate them. things like: an entire tub of vegetable shortening, several packages of ramen noodles and a giant chocolate bar from trader joes.  mind you, these  pantry shelves have been the same for 4 years and he never before touched them.

with these first incidents, i could not figure out what was getting into him. every day i opened the door paranoid of what disaster i would find.

the day of the final incident, i came home to see he had busted into c’s room where a few of her things remained.

(background: this was and is the only time tillman has ever busted into a room. he will not push a door open. i can be in my room, with the door cracked 3 inches and he will sit there and look at me.  he doesn’t know his own strength.)

but that day, he went in c’s room and took a bottle of motor oil into the living room and destroyed it.  (yes, she had motor oil in her room. i told you she’s a bad ass.  how many girls know how to use motor oil?).

then i realised: he misses christy.  he is mad at her for leaving.  c is so awesome that even a dog flipped his shit when she moved out of his life.  i miss(ed) her too, of course. she was a great advocate for me in a rollercoaster time of life.  she wouldn’t let me take crap from anyone else. she wouldn’t let me take crap from myself. i think my boyfriend was kind of scared of her…and she liked that.  so did i.

talking to God about her this week makes me slam my fist on my desk or sob into a pillow. i do not understand why He won’t stop taking.

i am so tired of loss in her life. yet He keeps calling her to do things and be someone that so few of us will even dare imagine we might someday need to be.

i want it to stop.  now.  i want the next thirty years of hers to be healing, full of joy and gain and life.  i know i’m not alone in wanting these for her.  but i know God, and this world, will keep taking…from all of us.  yes, i know He is good and He will give too.  the in between is tiring.

even though i am feeling too far west, i take some comfort that i’m together with her

somewhere east of eden.


my previous post was an allusion to a letter written by Native American author Leslie Marmon Silko that touched me very deeply.  we read it in the book Storyteller, which i commend to you.  here is the letter:

The purple asters are growing in wide fields around the red rocks past Mesita clear to the Sedillo Grant.  This year there has been more rain than I have ever seen. Yesterday at Dripping Springs I saw a blue flower I had never seen before, something like an orchid, growing from a succulent leafless bulb. So many of these plants had never bloomed in my lifetime and so I had assumed these plants did not bloom; now I find that through all these years they were only waiting for enough rain.

I remember the stories they used to tell us about places that were meadows full of flowers or about canyons that had wide clear streams. I remember our amazement at these stories of lush grass and running water because the places they spoke of had all changed; the places they spoke of were dry and covered with tumbleweeds and all that was left of the streams were deep arroyos. But I understand now. I will remember this September like the remembered the meadows and streams; I will talk about the yellow beeweed solid on all the hills, and maybe my grandchildren will also be amazed and wonder what has become of the fields of wild asters and all the little toads that sang in the evening. maybe after they listen to me talking about this rainy lush September they will walk over the sandrock at the old house at Dripping Springs trying to imagine the pools of rainwater and the pollywogs of this year.

we just walked back from class.  there are clouds gathering in the north sky. they are dark gray and blue, almost the color of a deep bruise. the wind occasionally gusts.

the clouds gathered last night as well. we all agreed: it smelled like rain. one of four of us thought they felt a rain drop

but no more came.

we hope tonight they will release. they will bring relief.

then i will be able to tell you how the sage scents the air, the hills take on an entirely different hue of green, the dusty ground springs forth life unknown. these things i have been told, but do not yet know.

until then, we look to the sky

in hope.

and such longing brings one tear to fall from my eye.

not enough.

or is it?

new mexico is in a drought. there are fires here. the other night we watched the smoke plume grow and move towards us.

the light of the setting sun was spectacular,

a thomas kinkaide painting gone terribly awry.

or perhaps, aright.

out of such destruction, a strange beauty.

once the sun set, the flames lept. we watched a ridge on fire.

with enough distance, a very real terror was beautiful.

we awoke to a thin white sprinkle of ash on the ground.



home sweet home.


well, i already broke my resolution to post something every day.  so, i’ll let you choose the excuse which resonates with you:

option 1: the amazingly delicious tequila i had in my margarita friday night. it was pure agave. some gals and i ate our weight in chips, salsa and sopapillas. i came home and slept like a baby.  in other words: tequila made my blog fall off.

option 2: my first essay was due this morning. i haven’t found the balance of writing personally/creatively when giving myself to academic writing.

and now, onward and upward!

to get back on track, i rev up the engine with riveting images you are all waiting for… my dorm room.

my bed and windows:

the walls are institutional eggshell, so i brought a few little things to decorate.  the postcards on the wall are from places i’ve been or friends along the way:  the ryman, gustav klimt’s miss adale,  a romanian painting la creation, a francis kearney photo, an antique postcard of praha’s st. charles bridge (that i picked up in cannes, france).  and my favorite scarves.  the books on the floor by my bed are my “fun” books:  mary oliver, gerald may, f. o’connor, to kill a mockingbirdthe gift of good land by wendell berry, and a cycling magazine someone here gave me.

turning to the right, the mecca that is my desk:

postcards of a nikki mcclure, a woodblock artist from oregon.  my snack stash: tj’s ginger snaps, granola, lots of coconut water, herbal tea and pure/kind/lara bars.  one bottle of really spicy ginger ale from the common market. i’m saving this one.  and all my class books.

and the pièce de résistance…my closet:

a bit messy, as usual. i don’t know why i own any other clothes. i have basically all i need (save my sweaters and rain gear) right here.

i must say, i love my little space.

i love the simplicity that accompanies living with the essentials.

the truth is this little room is packed full of luxuries.

i possess so much more than the essentials needed for life.

i am cared for and privileged,

and these i must never forget.

…during my rhetoric class today.

upon opening, we saw Rex Lee Jim, graduate of Princeton and Bread Loaf….oh, and the current Vice President of the Navajo Nation.

he came in and, for the next hour, entered into our discussion on silence and speaking. he offered the perspective of his people, specifically the silence of Navajo students in the classroom and the idea of secret keeping versus silence.

he is speaking tonight on campus. however, this classroom visit was unplanned and just one example of the magic that happens here.


flutter by


on a walk in moses cone park last year, i came to a field with a patch of thistle that was humming with butterflies.  i took these pictures and i love them. when i look at them, they bring me back to feel the swirl of the butterflies and the beauty i took in that afternoon. i so much prefer “capturing” them in an image than one of those display boxes where you stick a needle through the insect.


this morning i went on a hike with a couple of gals here. we had a great time getting a bit lost on the web of unmarked trails. we summited to 8577 ft atop Picacho Peak. at the summit there was one monarch butterfly flitting around, enjoying the mountaintop all to herself.  i reached for my camera, but she was moving so much i couldn’t get a shot.

i thought of the butterflies at moses cone. the abundant thistles kept their attention. here in the desert, the solo picacho butterfly had to work much harder to find something to captivate her.

in my southwest lit and film class, we’re reading an article about how the mechanical age of reproduction (think photography, printing paintings, film) changed art. here’s an excerpt:

“By close-ups of the things around us, by focusing on hidden details of familiar objects, by exploring common place milieus under the ingenious guidance of the camera, the film, on the one hand, extends our comprehension of the necessities which rule our lives; on the other hand, it manages to assure us of an immense and unexpected field of action. Our taverns and our metropolitan streets, our offices and furnished rooms, our railroad stations and our factories appeared to have us locked up hopelessly. Then came the film and burst this prison-world asunder by the dynamite of the tenth of a second, so that now, in the midst of its far-flung ruins and debris, we calmly and adventurously go traveling. With the close-up, space expands; with slow motion, movement is extended. The enlargement of a snapshot does not simply render more precise what in any case was visible, though unclear: it reveals entirely new structural formations of the subject. So, too, slow motion not only presents familiar qualities of movement but reveals in them entirely unknown ones “which, far from looking like retarded rapid movements, give the effect of singularly gliding, floating, supernatural motions.” Evidently a different nature opens itself to the camera than opens to the naked eye–if only because an unconsciously penetrated space is substituted for a space consciously explored by man. Even if one has a general knowledge of the way people walk, one knows nothing of a person’s posture during the fractional second of a stride. The act of reaching for a lighter or a spoon is familiar routine, yet we hardly know what really goes on between hand and metal, not to mention how this fluctuates with our moods. Here the camera intervenes with the resources of its lowerings and liftings, its interruptions and isolations, it extensions and accelerations, its enlargements and reductions. The camera introduces us to unconscious optics as does psychoanalysis to unconscious impulses.”  (Walter Benjamin, Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction)

(if that’s not enough for you to chew on, the rest is here:




“It is not the case that a man who is silent says nothing.”


“Moving from silence into speech is for the oppressed, the colonized, the exploited, and those who stand and struggle side by side, a gesture of defiance that heals, makes new life and new growth possible.”  (bell hooks, Talking Back)

“Regardless of position, profession, or race, silence is the most common response to sexual harassment despite the stress of remaining silent.  Susan Ehrlich Martin tells us that harassment is never totally absent in any position and that it increases for those women whose impressive occupations appear to be direct challenges to patriarchal authority.” (Cheryl Glenn, Unspoken)

“The dominant group in a social hierarchy renders “inarticulate” subordinate or muted groups (any of the traditionally disenfranchised) and excludes them from the formulation, validation and circulation of meaning.” (Glenn, Unspoken)

“I speak but I cannot be heard. Worse, I am heard but am not believed. Worse yet, I speak but I am not deemed believable.” (Royster, “When the First Voice You Hear Is Not Your Own)

“… I had only just then realized how hard it would have been to explain myself. I could not chatter away as I used to do, taking it all for granted. My words must be as slow, as new, as single, as tentative as the steps I took going down the path away from the house, between the dark-branched, tall dancers motionless against the winter shining.” (from ‘She Names Them’ by Ursula K. Le Guin)


this morning greeted me with clouds and cooler temperatures. oh blessed gray sky, how i’ve missed you

and my sweater

and my scarf.

not that i would be wearing those in north carolina right now, but the sun here is relentless. i need my gray. i need covering. i need shade. i need a day without shadows.

a few of us went to a coffee shop to work this morning. my friends here already know of my longing for the gray. last night i told them the first rain shower we get i am going to stand outside. i smiled big as we shuffled out to my car. it felt like an october morning. one said,”well jess, you got your gray day!”  i was smiling and happy.

i studied on the patio. my tan librarian sweater, brown praha scarf and caramel rooibos tea kept me warm between the peek-a-boo sunlight.

by 11am it was fully sunny again though still cool.

we lifted heads out of our books, gathered to leave and our conversation commenced into something like this:

friend: well, jess. sorry about all the sunshine that took your gray day away.

me: oh, yeah. well, at least it’s still cool. you know, sunny with a sweater on. i can enjoy that.

friend 2: that sounds like a band name!

friend:  sure does!  i think you just named your band.

me:  (smiling) i think you’re right!

so. sunny with a sweater on.  you read it here first.  a band? probably stretching it a bit.  i’d be thrilled if i could just get a song out of it.

and it ends in a preposition.

oh well.

my job this summer is being a student. i am here to learn. i am already certain i’m much more suited to immersion versus working full time and going to school part-time. my brain is positively humming. i’m processing ideas, thoughts and emotions (both personal and academic) beyond my expectations…and believe me, i expected.

i get really exciting writing ideas, mostly non-fiction, reflective and story telling. i’m making connections and being struck with insights i had no idea were just under the surface. i feel very alive. which also means i feel a lot. i laugh every day and i cry every day.  it’s good i’m here in community. i can wander in my brain for hours then go to a meal and sit at a table with ten new friends and laugh and share. then i can retreat inward to wander and discover again.

given my only task this summer is studying and i have six days a week to do this, i’m devoting sundays to re-creating. i’m going to do my best to work really hard during the week so i don’t need to study, write or read for class on sundays. i can already tell it will be easy to get sucked into the type-a fray… remember the two smartest (dorkiest) kids in your english class? well i’m here with 80 of them, myself included.  easy to become sucked into the whirlpool of stress, competition and the desire for perfectionary performance. i want to avoid that kill-joy and make time to “be” instead of “do”.  i believe God knows this is best for me and for all of us. i believe laying it all down for a full day will help free me.

here’s what i did today:

630 – wake up, read, pray, piddle around room, listen to music

730 – get dressed, eat bfast in my room, facebook stalk all you friends and family to see what’s going on back home

830 – leave on bike for coffee shop to read

10- wander around bookstore next to coffee shop

1015- leave bookstore for church

1030-1045- miss lots of turns getting to church.

1045- arrive at church late

12- leave church. eat brunch at dining hall.

1- go to our (amazing!) library to check out my sunday funday reading. i chose: mary oliver poems, flannery o’connor short stories and harper lee’s to kill a mockingbird

2- set up hammock in courtyard outside my room. read. nap. read. nap. call home.

4- hike with friends.

530- dinner with friends.  then room time, play mandolin, write this note.

8-10 sunset and wine with friends on the courtyard steps.

normally on sundays i’m not going to write all the preceding, but i just plan to share favorites from my sunday funday readings and music.  so, here are my favorites of today:

1) the avett brothers : head full of doubt / road full of promise

yesterday at lunch a (positively brilliant, eccentric and genius)  professor shared, “i have a dark side. a really dark side. i only have time once a year to let it be. that time is now. i cry and don’t always get out of bed. but i let the darkness come and in a week or so i’ll be back.” his words made me think of this song. i’ve always loved it.

“There’s a darkness upon me that’s flooded in light…

There was a dream
One day I could see it
Like a bird in a cage I broke in and demanded that somebody free it
And there was a kid, with a head full of doubt
So I scream til I die or the last of those bad thoughts are finally out”

2) from “Return” by Mary Oliver

(these are parts 3 and 4 in a series of seven stanzas of one poem.)


Two eggs rolled from the goose nest
down to the water and halfway into the water.
What good is hoping?
I went there softly, and gathered them
and put them back into the nest

of the goose who bit me hard with her
lovely black beak with the pink
tongue-tip quivering,

and beat my arms with her
lovely long wings
and beat my face with her
lovely long wings,
what good is trying?
She hissed horribly, wanting me to be frightened.
I wasn’t frightened.
I just knew it was over,
those cold white eggs would never hatch,

the birds would forget, soon, and go back
to the light-soaked pond,
          what good is remembering?

But I wasn’t frightened.


Sometimes I really believe it, that I am going to
save my life

a little.

3) from To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

“Nobody knew what form of intimidation Mr. Radley employed to keep Boo out of sight, but Jem figured that Mr. Radley kept him chained to the bed most of the time. Atticus said no, it wasn’t that sort of thing, that there were other ways of making people into ghosts.”

4) Laura Gibson, “Funeral Song’

listen (and download for free) here: Daytrotter: Laura Gibson

Well if I could stretch my years
Into a grand procession
And circle round your wisdom
Like a song
I would not wish to be
The fire in your belly
I would not wish for
Holding you too long

With no sorrow
Ask no greater pardon
Than the pattern
Time is carving in your skin

hope you all had a life-giving sunday as well.

there are a lot of west coasters here this summer.  california might be the most represented state. colorado is a close second. here’s a conversation i had yesterday:

cali:  where are you from?

me: north carolina.

cali:  north carolina! why the heck aren’t you at the asheville campus this summer?

me: because it’s in my back yard. i wanted to go somewhere different, far from home, i’ve never lived out west… et al… have you been to asheville campus?

cali: yeah. i didn’t like it. i mean, asheville is a cool town but i felt… claustrophobic there.

me: (smiling) really? because of the landscape?

cali: yeah, every day i had to go out on my bike and ride the parkway.  if i didn’t, i felt panicky and trapped. hill after hill but you could never see beyond them because of all of the trees. you know, out here you can see for miles.

me: (laughing).  oh, i get it. except here i am out west feeling completely overexposed at all times because there aren’t  tall trees to hide under or clouds to shade. if i feel vulnerable and anxious in nature here, it’s because of the vastness. i need rain and forest canopy asap.  there is nowhere to hide here.






east coast/west coast

the debates are alive and well.