Wednesday, June 29, 2011

We Are Not Alone

I think I have always had a special connection with words. I remember when I learned to read in kindergarten, I was immediately taken with books and by the end of the year was devouring novels. I have always liked how the way in which someone arranges words, and which ones they choose to emphasize, can carry an endless number of meanings. I like the process of story. I like it when people can put into words what seems too complex or profound to be anything but felt. I like hearing people's syntax, their phrasing, the nuances hidden behind a sentence or a word. It's one of the greatest gifts God has given humans, I think, the expression of language.

But even though there are roughly three-quarters of a million words in the English language, and even though there are no fewer than 49 synonyms for "home run," sometimes words aren't enough.

Sometimes words just can't contain all the meaning we need them to. When someone says "My grandmother died," we inherently know what that means; a person's life has come to an end. But those three words cannot encompass the complexity of that relationship. It doesn't explain the sadness of losing someone; it doesn't convey the lifetime of experiences and gifts and family functions and anger and hurt and real, true selflessness and regret and love. It can't. Words can never substitute for real, raw emotion.

Jonathan Safran Foer addresses this beautifully, I think, when he talks about the overwhelming complexity of telling someone you love them:
I love you also means I love you more than anyone loves you, or has loved you, or will love you, and also, I love you in a way that no one loves you, or has loved you, or will love you, and also, I love you in a way that I love no one else, and never have loved anyone else, and never will love anyone else.
It is impossible to ever really say what you really feel. It is impossible to ever write what you know in your soul. And yet we keep trying, because that's what words are for: to explain the inexplicable, to make what's happening inside exist outside of ourselves, a desperate attempt to connect with people to know we are not alone.

I love words because they let me know that I am not alone.


Sunday, June 26, 2011

On Friendship

A few posts ago, I wrote a tribute of sorts to my friends. I find it hard sometimes to truly express how much I care about my friends. It's socially acceptable, thanks to the Hollywoodization of romantic relationships, to tell people who you're dating or wish you were dating or about to marry or breaking up with how much you love them or did love them or plan to love them until the end of time. And as important as romantic love is to individuals, couples, and the world at large (and I do not deny its importance), friends generally make up the largest percentage of people in your life, thus they are vital to who you are at your core. And I love my friends. I really, really love them.

I was talking to my friend Valerie the other day, and we started talking about the idea of chemistry between friends, and how there are people with whom you have chemistry and people with whom you don't. The kind of "spark" that exists between romantic couples also happens between friends, which is interesting, if you think about it.

It doesn't happen often, at least not for me. I get along with most people that I meet, and there are a lot of people who I truly adore for their hearts and their humour. But there have been a select few people who I've met with whom I've instantly clicked. Whether it's their humour or their insight or just the way they talk, sometimes people who you just really, really like, just because they exist. These people aren't my closest friends - in fact, I don't even talk to most of them anymore. Circumstances change and people move in and out of your life, but I remember our jokes fondly, often while walking alone and causing passer-bys to stare at the girl giggling to herself, and think about them often.

Friendship is weird like that. It comes in seasons. Some friends are there for life, some only for a month or two. Sometimes friendships end abruptly, and can feel like a break-up. Sometimes friends hang on to a relationship for too long past its expiry date and become an annoyance to each other. Some people disappear from your life for long stretches of time, only to resume where you left of when you see them again. Some friends you fight with, and that's how you function. Some friends are movie buddies; some people you call friend because you enjoy texting them. Some friends have a place in your heart forever because of shared experience. Some friends listen to you talk about your problems; in some friendships, you're the listener. Some friends make you want to be a better person, and some friends make you realize who you do not want to be.

My point, and I do have one, is that relationships are complicated. Our society spends a lot of time focusing on romance and love relationships, but friendships are just as important to nurture and talk about. Friendship is not an obligation, it is a privilege. I really believe that. I believe friendships are sacred, and they require attention and care.

So to all my friends, past and present: I love you, and thank you for making me who I am, and helping me become who I want to be.


Monday, June 20, 2011

Top 10 Novels Everyone Should Read

People often ask me for book titles and author suggestions. I read a lot, and I think I read a fairly wide variety of genres, and so I've decided to list the top 10 books I think everyone should read. These are not necessarily my favourites, although most of them are. I think a lot of authors can write spectacularly or tell an interesting story, but rarely are they good at both. This list is a set of books and authors that I think write well and tell a great story simultaneously.

10. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson: This book is an autobiography of Winterson's life of being adopted into a strict protestant family, her discovery of her sexuality, and reconciling her life with the God her family says exists and the God she believes loves her. The story is heartbreaking and beautiful, and she writes in pure poetry.

9. The Help by Kathryn Stockett: I received this book as a birthday gift from my friend Stephanie, and she is definitely pro at picking out great novels! This is the story of a white woman in the South who decides to interview black maids about their relationships with white women. It's narrated from several points of view, both black and white women, and it's an incredibly different take on the civil rights era. There are so many elements to every story, yet nothing is neglected and everything matters. I couldn't put it down!

8. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie: I read this book for a class last year, and it had such an impact on the way I think about the relationship between Aboriginal and white government in North America. The story is about an Aboriginal American boy who is "too smart" for schools on the reserve, and decides to go to a school in a rich, white neighbourhood, where he is the only "Indian." It's told through the eyes and drawings of the young protagonist, and it's a powerful and moving book that highlights the beauty and struggle of being a Native American.

7. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak: This is the story of a young German orphan who loses her mother and brother just after the outbreak of WWII. She is sent to live with an middle-aged couple, where she builds a special bond with the father and he teachers her how to read. The Book Thief is an incredible story about WWII and how it affected non-Jewish Germans living in a small town, and also how literature connects people across races, religions, and economic status. It's a dense read, but it is so, so worth it.

6. Blue Like Jazz: Non-religious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality by Donald Miller: When someone asks me my favourite book, I always say Blue Like Jazz. I read this book when I was 16 and it changed my life. The whole time I was reading this collection of essays, I kept thinking "He's writing everything I'm thinking but so much more eloquently." This book basically takes everything that makes the idea of Christianity unappealing, throws it out the window, and talks about a God that not only loves us, but likes us, too. It's so beautiful and profound and absolutely everyone on this planet should read it.

5. The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid/In A Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson: I had a hard time picking just one Bill Bryson book, because they are all brilliant. Ultimately, The Life and Times and In A Sunburned Country are my two favourites, because I think they are where his style of historical writing, nostalgia, adventure, and humour combine into the perfect book. The first is his memoir of growing up in America but also a tribute to 1950s American, and it's so funny and quaint; the second is a travel guide and made me want to visit Australia more than I've ever wanted to before. Bryson's books are entertaining, interesting, and informative, and without a doubt he's one of my favourite writers.

4. Atonement by Ian McEwan: I think this book is the perfect example of good story and good writing combining into a perfect book. Atonement is the story of how a young girl's naivety causes a whole family to fall apart, and how, in her older years, she tries desperately to put them back together. McEwan is a brilliant writer but not always a great storyteller, but Atonement is captivating, profound and moving.  I heard a prof once say: "Atonement isn't one of the the great novels of our day; it's one of The Great Novels."

3. A Separate Peace by John Knowles: I've read this book several times, and I am still discovering new things about it. It's the story of Gene and Finny, best friends at an American boarding school in the 1940s. Finny is a star athlete until the day a dare causes him to break his leg badly, and Gene becomes his surrogate, becoming what Finny never can. My favourite quote from any book ever comes from A Separate Peace.
"The winter loves me," he retorted, then, disliking the whimsical sound of that, added, "I mean, as much as you can say that a season can love. What I mean is, I love winter, and when you really love something, then it loves you back, in whatever way it has to love."

2. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins: I've blogged about this book before, and I talk about it all the time, and so many people have read it so it feels sort of redundant to put it here. BUT, if you haven't read The Hunger Games yet, you do not know what you are missing! When I finished reading it, I felt almost depressed, because I legitimately wished I had thought of and written this story first, because it is one of the best novels ever. The story is incredible, the writing is good, and it draws readers in on every level: romance, drama, action, horror, suspense. It is amazing. Read it.

1. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer: This book is number 1 on my list because I am honestly floored every time I read it. Foer knows how to write poetry while writing prose, and still telling a story that is so painful and beautiful that it's probably true, at least for someone. This book is two stories: Oskar, a roughly-10-year-old boy with Asperger's, goes on a quest to finish a "game" his father left him before he died in 9/11; Oskar's grandmother relives her past and slowly unravels the story of her and Oskar's grandfather. It is an incredible book that made me laugh and cry, sometimes simultaneously. I don't know of anyone who has read this book and not loved it.

Happy reading!!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

All Aboard the FailPost

B'yz, time for a blog post, I spose! So much for the updating twice a week, like I said I would...

Luckily, I have been sticking to my fitness regime. I go to the gym at least 4 times a week, and I try to go for a walk if it's nice out, too. But it's almost never nice out, so that hasn't been happening much. I've definitely kicked up my cardio workout, so I do an hour of cardio a day (50 minutes if I'm not in the mood for 10 minutes of the treadmill), and I lift a few weights every now and then, too. I haven't really cut down much on my calorie intake, but it's coming. Soon I will bite the bullet and say goodbye to ice cream and a begrudging hello to carrots.

Other news? Um... nothing? I think if I updated more regularly I might have more to say. The past week and half/two weeks have been pretty much consumed by my online course, which is over on Friday. I had to write two papers a few weeks ago, and this last week I wrote one paper and wrote/edited our group project. I pretty much hate this course because it's taught me absolutely nothing, except that online group projects are the worst idea ever. It's had enough writing a paper in a group when you're all meeting up in the same space, but online timing is just the worst! Especially because half of my group is in Vancouver, some are in New York state, and I'm on the far east coast. It's impossible to coordinate deadlines, because by the time everyone else submits things at 8:00pm, it's 12:30 here and I'm dropping. I'll probably rant more about this course once I've completed it, and give it a full shredding.

My camera has broken, too, so I've got to send it away to get repaired. This means no photos for a while, even though I vowed to post more photo blogs. Soon, friends. Soon.

ALSO: I've changed my blog url BACK to People seemed to have a hard time warming up to the new url, so we've reverted back. Apologies for those who have to change their RRS feeds again. I give you permission to hate me once again.


Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Gospel Truth

I'm re-reading Don Miller's Searching for God Knows What, and I am struck again by how profound and beautiful and true his writing is. Every time I read anything he's written - whether it's a book or an interview or a blog post - I feel like he and I are sitting having a conversation over coffee, being open and honest about things that are confusing and real.

I thought I would share some of my favourite passages from Searching for God Knows What. I love that Don encourages Christians to be vulnerable, to feel small and in awe of God, and to start believing in a God that is bigger than our imaginations.

"The very scary thing about religion, to me, is that people actually believe God is who they think he is. By that I mean they have Him all figured out, mapped out, and as my pastor, Rick, says, 'dissected and put into jars on a shelf.' You've got a bunch of Catholics in Rome who think one way about God, and a bunch of Baptists in Texas who think another, and that isn't even the beginning. It goes on and on and on like this, and it makes me wonder if God created us in His image or if we created Him in ours."
"In my opinion, there are two essential problems with believing God is somebody he isn't. The first is that it wrecks your life, and the second is that it makes God look like an idiot."
"It seems like, if you really knew the God who understands the physics of our existence, you would operate a little more cautiously, a little more compassionately, a little less like you are the centre of the universe." 
"But if [the gospel] is more, if it is a story about humanity falling away from the community that named it, and an attempt to bring humanity back to that community, and if it is more than a series of ideas, but rather speaks directly into this basic human need we are feeling, then the gospel of Jesus is the most relevant message in the history of mankind." 
"But if the gospel of Jesus is relational; that is, if our brokenness will be fixed, not by our own understanding of theology, but by God telling us who we are, then this would require a kind of intimacy of which only heaven knows. Imagine, a Being with a mind as great as God's, with feet like trees and a voice like rushing wind, telling you that you are His cherished creation. It's kind of exciting if you think about it. Earthly love, I mean the stuff I was trying to get by sounding smart, is temporal and slight so that it has to be given again and again in order for us to feel any sense of security; but God's love, God's voice and presence, would instill our souls with such affirmation we would need nothing more and would cause us to love other people so much we would be willing to die for them."