Monday, November 29, 2010

When You Can't Make Art... Make Art.

Saturday morning I found myself waking up at the leisurely hour of 10am (not a good sign for a working girl who needs to get up at 6:30am tomorrow morning to go back to work!), and wanting to make a dent in my self-assigned sketches and writing. I brought a Moleskin journal that my friend Jess gave me for Christmas last year, fully determined to fill it with reflections, sketches, poetry... and so far, I have a long list of assignments and lots of blank pages.

For example, I asked myself, to "Write about the food culture in DC." Haven't done that. I asked myself to draw at the National Portrait Gallery (haven't done that either). And my favorite, I asked myself to freewrite for at least 20 minutes about my love for the liberal arts. And I haven't even managed to do that! I have been lazy with the journal and now as I enter my second to last week in this marvelous city, I find myself itching to carry it around everywhere just in case I need to scribble down a moment or write something or both.

And so Saturday, with the cold November sun beaming down on my reddish hair, and my now well worn Peruvian over the shoulder bag slung across my back, I set off for Port City Java, my favorite Eastern Market coffee shop.

I settled down in a corner with a cinnamon scone and a small skim vanilla latte. I pulled out my mechanical pencil and searched for a suitable inanimate thing to draw. The window view was out - too many lines and angles and shading. But the back of the couch in front of me might work nicely! It doesn't move - it has fairly clean lines and I might even look like I'm drawing something semi-realistic.

Alas, no. The sketch lacks vision, clarity and beauty. It is the back of a couch, drawn poorly at that. I get discouraged, and want to throw down my pencil in complete frustration. WHY IN THE WORLD AM I EVEN BOTHERING TO PRETEND I CAN DRAW????

It turns out, the sketching isn't really what the morning is about. To my surprise and delight, across from me and my poor rendition of a back of a couch, sit two boys and their father, munching on bagels and butter and looking very pleased with themselves. I gather from their soggy hair and big grins that they had just been swimming, and smile knowingly at the father as if to say, "Ah, yes, I understand your children and their joy!" The father smiles back, and just as I am turning back to my drawing, the little boy closest to me asks, "What is she doing?"

What indeed. I want to congratulate him on his brilliant question, but his father merely observes, "She's drawing, Malcolm." Well, I think to myself, that's a very kind way of putting it. I would say, she is scribbling furiously in a notebook and attempting to make it look like she is drawing. Malcolm is fascinated by the movement of my pencil and he watches me, his eyes glued to my table. I smile, "Hi there!" I say in my most friendly, I'm good with kids! voice. "Did you just go swimming?" The boys smile shyly, and hide their faces in their fuzzy coats. The dad looks over at me, "Yes, they just finished their swimming lessons at the pool over there." The boys sneak a peek at me from beneath their coat sleeves, their eyes filled with mirth. A few minutes go by, and I go through a frenzy of erasing as my couch starts to look more and more like a couch... potato. I see the boys stand up to leave out of the corner of my eye. But there is a more joyful moment of surprise in store for me at PCJ. 

The youngest, Malcolm, approaches my table and rests his sticky chin on the clean orange surface, inches from my sketchbook. "Well hi there," I say. "What are you drawin?" he asks. There is no guile, no irony, and no mocking in his voice. "I'm drawing that couch right there." I point. His eyes follow my pencil to the green leather and back to my face, alight with curiosity. "Can I see?" I push my sketchbook towards him and suddenly his brother is there as well, his glasses pushed crookedly over his ears as he peers over his younger brother's shoulder to see my drawing. I suddenly have a brilliant idea. "Would you like to draw?" Malcolm nods, looks fleetingly at his father and then nods again. I hand over the pencil and he is off, scribbling furiously and concentrating only on that creamy blank page. His brother wants a turn, and the two of them offer their input into my sketchbook, offer their vision to me, and in one exceptional moment, remind me that when you can't make art... make art. When you can't draw, draw. When you can't sing, belt it out. When you can't play soccer, kick the ball with all your might. 

For what is more joyful, more beautiful, more alive than doing those things you love even if you're bad at them? And what is better than watching the utter joy that your sorry attempts at drawing the back of the couch in front of you brings to another person (or in my case, two very cute little people)? 

Malcolm and his brother are the reason that I will keep drawing. The reason that I will keep singing even if my singing isn't great. The reason I will give my whole heart to the things I love even if I am no longer any good at them... because it is life-giving, it is truest life, and because sticky fingers and laughing eyes are worth more than any special mention in sketching contests. 


Saturday, November 27, 2010

The (First/Second) Coming: Reflections on the First Sunday in Advent

Disclaimer: I am not a theologian. I am not a candidate for a bachelor's degree in Biblical and Theological Studies. I am not, despite my high hopes, an intellectual prodigy in the realm of living faithfully. But this year, on this blog, and perhaps for years to come on this blog, I would like to offer you a few thoughts for each week of Advent, the time of preparation and waiting before the celebration of Christ's birth. 

The first Sunday in Advent is focused on the coming we are all much more familiar with: Christ's second coming. We are familiar with this coming because it is the one Christians have spent much of their time discussing over the past 2,000 years. We have done our fair share of miscalculating (during the Protestant Reformation an entire city burned because of it) the date and time of His arrival, and we've also written tomes and tomes about how Christians should act "in light of the Second Coming." We are a hopeful people - pushing forward to the next horizon and pushing beyond the boundaries of our conventional imaginations. Yes, we say to ourselves and our churchly neighbors while sipping cups of chocolate and admiring one another's tasteful pine cone Christmas wreathes, God is going to come back and we are going to see things put right. 

It takes a great deal of faith in God to make this statement. After all, our belief that Christ is coming again hinges on our belief that Christ can come again - that is, that Christ is not disintegrated into the earth, not dead, but alive, and not merely alive but ascended. We cannot believe that Jesus was born, died, did not rise, and is coming again. The Second Coming is about the Ascension. And the Ascension is about the Descending, the Birth. 

I have often wondered why we talked about the Second Coming during Advent. I was spending most of my childhood mind wondering where Mom hid the plastic baby Jesus so that I couldn't put him in the Nativity scene until Christmas Eve, or wondering if we would EVER get one of those Advent calendars with the chocolates inside them like my friend Ashley down the street always got. And I still don't know, as a 20 year old, what the Second Coming is all about. This year, though, I have found myself marveling at how the Second Coming grounds itself in the events of the First Coming, how the two are connected, how God has designed the story with more elegance and more ingenuity than any human mind can contrive. Marvel with me: God descends to Earth, lives among us, and because He lives among us, He dies for us, and because He dies, He destroys death, and because He destroys death He rises, and in His rising gives us the promise of His return. 

So perhaps we talk about the Second Coming during the First Sunday of Advent because its promise is grounded on what we know has already happened: that First Coming, the Birth, the Incarnation. And perhaps we would do well to remember that grounding when we are tempted to think of the Second Coming as some kind of "do-over" where God finally gives us the things we want, or where God says, "all right, this one's for real!" or even the time when God is going to show us His cards and separate wheat from chaff, play by the rules and get some to Heaven and others to... well, the other place. No. The Second Coming is hidden in the promises and events of the First Coming, and the story is grounded in the reality we experience every day on Earth: the creation of families through the arrival of children, the difficulties of being accepted by groups of people who don't seem to understand us, the temptations of power, lust and influence, poverty, war, hunger, doubt. These realities should not evaporate when we think of the Second Coming, rather, these realities should usher it in, welcome it with open arms. It is the world broken and yet beautiful to which Christ came, and it is the same world broken and yet beautiful that yearns for His return. 

First Coming, Second Coming. Second Coming, First Coming. The order seems less important than it did at the beginning of this blog post. It is my hope for you this week, readers, that you look for the places in your life that are crying out for the Arrival of Christ. Look for the places that would usher Him in, remembering that He is being Incarnate already in your heart, that He is already arriving. And hope, hope wildly and freely and with abandon, in His Second Coming, that this first Sunday of Advent calls us to remember. 


Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the 
works of darkness, and put upon us the armor of light, now 
in the time of this mortal life in which thy Son Jesus Christ 
came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when 
he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the 
quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through 
him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, 
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

(From the Book of Common Prayer of the Anglican Tradition, 1979 edition)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving: Why It's Okay to Bake from the Box

Ah, Turkey Day... the giving of thanks day, the football and overeating day, the Weight Watcher's version of Black Friday... that holiday we do not always understand, but we celebrate nonetheless.

And today, as I wait for my Thanksgiving meal with the other students who stayed behind for our small break, I am baking from the box.

This prompts some shock and horror from the optimistic section of my brain that thinks I am good at cooking, and that I could follow a "from scratch" recipe and present a beautifully arranged, homemade lemon squares to the group. A BOX???? On THANKSGIVING???? Hilary, you ought to be ashamed. You don't even have an apron on! You aren't playing a little concerto on your pots and pans as you add a little rosemary and thyme to this dish and a dash of salt to that pan. You are sitting at your kitchen table, blogging of all things! Isn't the point of Thanksgiving to show off your cooking prowess? 

Alas, I am not a good cook. There have been a few moments when I have cooked well, usually in the presence of my friend's kitchen, where I am given relatively easy tasks such as peeling peaches or mixing cinnamon and sugar (and yes, you can mess that up if you spill it all over the floor). But in general, my cooking skills amount to boiling water, opening cardboard boxes, and mixing ingredients together in a bowl. Not exactly an application to Le Cordon Bleu. And certainly nothing I am proud of. And certainly nothing that I can write home about. 

But sometimes it is okay to bake from the box. Sometimes what we offer to our thanksgiving meal is humbler than we'd like. Sometimes what we offer from our messy hearts and lives is just that... messy, less than perfect, less than what we expect ourselves to be able to offer. And now, returning to this blog post after a wonderful meal and wonderful company, after a brisk 5 mile walk to and from the World War II Memorial (thank you, Hannah, for the wonderful vanilla chai and the company)... I know that it is okay to bake from a box sometimes. It is okay to be less than the perfection we imagine. It is even, in this day, something to be thankful for. 

So give thanks, whoever you are, wherever you are - give thanks as wholeheartedly and messily as you can. Bake from a box. Sing a song off-key. Write a letter and smudge the ink on the envelope. Drink tea and read a good book, call a friend. Give thanks for the mess, for the growing. 

(and if you are ever in this beautiful city, walk down Constitution Ave, by the Capitol building, past the Smithsonian castle with its watchful eyes, up around the Washington Monument and its flickering flags, down the grassy slope and across the street, and into the World War II memorial. The water rushes, the lights beam, and you will never forget that remembering is sacred.)


Monday, November 22, 2010

When What We Find Surprises Us (Smell the Roses)

Sometimes moments surprise us. Sometimes we are sitting in our apartments, our feet up on the chair across from ours, eating our brown sugar and cinnamon pop tarts, and we realize: God is good.

Sometimes a friend takes us out to Starbucks and looks at us with real comprehension, their eyes locked into ours and a look of love on their face, and we see ourselves as they see us: beautiful.

Sometimes it's late at night and you're curled in your scrubs (the ones you bought at the Salvation Army Store on sale because they are so comfortable) writing in your journal and trying to draw your own hand holding a pen, and it hits you that life, in its mess, in its chaos, in its... unpredictability, is just that: life.

We find ourselves in surprising moments much of the time. I am asking every day as my time in DC winds rapidly to a close, "Why am I here? How did I get here? Where am I going next?" I never know quite how to handle the surprise of these closing weeks. It seems just yesterday that I was finally, FINALLY feeling at home on the bus and amid the fruit stalls and the Asian pears of Eastern Market, able to know where to meet someone if they said 12th and T St, NW, able to walk from 16th and L to 14th and V to meet a friend for dinner at Busboys & Poets, able to breathe DC air and feel at home. It feels like yesterday I was planting myself firmly in the ground of city concrete and city smog and city sunrise.

Now, I am surprised in the moment when a countdown of days can feasibly begin. Now I am surprised in the moment of ticket confirmations, cardboard box purchases, gulping second to last week at internship realization. Now, I am surprised in the moment when the prospect of leaving my Starbucks prayer journaling, my ASL bus rides, my hot pink shoes on the DC sidewalks, creeps into my thoughts.

Going home is heartbreaking, not because I do not miss home, but because I put down roots here. I have rooted myself into the ground of this city, into its air and Metro stops and diners and markets and ministries. And I have rooted myself in people, their faces and laughs and smiles and tears, their joy and their confusion. There is nothing more wonderful than the prospect of seeing my people here feel loved, nothing more confusing than thinking about leaving them.

The only thing I can think of to do in these moments is stop. Smell the roses. It sounds like silly advice, but I am looking at the most beautiful bouquet of yellow-white roses in full bloom and smaller white tea roses... and they surprise me with their beauty and their nonchalance and their blooming. Even in the moments when we are overwhelmed by goodbyes, overwhelmed by the leaving, overwhelmed by our wonderful friends - if we smell the roses, if we breathe them in and stop for a few minutes and let their beauty, in its quiet, consistent way, wash over us - we will allow ourselves to reflect that beauty back.

I leave you all with this poem, one of my very favorites (I seem to have so many of them!):

The Sound of Trees (Robert Frost)

I wonder about the trees.
Why do we wish to bear
Forever the noise of these
More than another noise
So close to our dwelling place?
We suffer them by the day
Till we lose all measure of pace,
And fixity in our joys,
And acquire a listening air.
They are that that talks of going
But never gets away;
And that talks no less for knowing,
As it grows wiser and older,
That now it means to stay.
My feet tug at the floor
And my head sways to my shoulder
Sometimes when I watch trees sway,
From the window or the door.
I shall set forth for somewhere,
I shall make the reckless choice
Some day when they are in voice
And tossing so as to scare
The white clouds over them on.
I shall have less to say,
But I shall be gone.

Love, always. 

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Je suis une jeune fille américaine, et j'adore la France avec tout mon coeur.

Bonjour tout le monde! Ça fait longtemps que je parle en français... je crois qu'il fait presque trois ans que je suive un cours de français à l'université. Et bien, dernier soir, avec des filles trop gentilles, nous nous sommes toutes les trois mises dans notre salon et nous avons regardé le film, Les Misérables, en français avec des sous-titres en anglais. Et nous avons mangé des crêpes en parlant en français... Et bien, ce matin je suis en train de penser pourquoi je n'ai pas choisi de continuer à étudier le français. 

Phew. That was hard. Here is my rough translation of what I hope my French actually says:

Hello everyone! It's been a long time since I spoke French... I think it's been almost three years since I took a course in French in college. And well, last night with these very nice girls, we were all three of us in our living room and we watched the movie Les Miserables, in French with English subtitles. And we ate crepes while speaking in French... and now this morning I am in the midst of thinking about why I didn't choose to continue studying French.

It's a weird question to ask - because when you go to college you choose to study one thing and forsake others. Everyone has to give up some of what they loved in high school to be successful in college - even more so when we get to grad school. I think at some point in my college career I've asked this same question of every other subject as well. Why did I give up calculus (a rarer question, but nonetheless present)? Why did I give up environmental science? Why did I give up history, literature, theater, voice - why did I let those things slip through my fingers and into the vague memories of high school and the occasional passionate conversation?

French is a little bit different, probably because language is a little bit different from other subjects. In high school French was offered to us, not only as our required language (everyone in my school learned French) but as a real means of expressing ourselves. French was a language for talking about weekend plans, family life, frustrating homework loads... and French was also the place of a new kind of poetry, theater, philosophy, culture, art...

I can't think of the language outside of how I came to express myself in it. In French I am more exuberant than in English. I gesture more with my hands (if that's possible) and I am more inclined to laugh at myself and at the words that come out of my mouth. It's a vigorous language - and I am more excited in it. I think of all of the stories that I can only really tell in French: the raw egg on my crepe at dinner in Angers, the Musee Rodin in Paris, the day all the cheese came tumbling out of loading boxes and onto my head in a Parisian grocery store, the moment with my French mother when I put the phone away and I should have turned off the light... and the stories from Waring of French movies watched in the Polygon with stolen couch cushions, the crazy Core kids of my Immersion Music Dance class and my Beginner I French class on Monday mornings (if any of you, par chance, read this blog, I am so grateful to you), the times when my friends and I would just say, "Bonjour ma petite."

Being in a new city, making home in a new culture and with new people has gotten me thinking about what French was and I hope still can be in my life. I want French to be a language of joy. I want French to be a place I inhabit, a part of me that emerges when English is insufficient or when French is simply more beautiful. Washington, DC has elements of it that are like this - strutting my stuff down Independence Ave where the House Office Buildings are and walking confidently from the Metro home, or practicing sign language on the street, or eating great BBQ or Mexican or Thai or Indian out with friends in the middle of the week.

I did not choose to continue studying French in college, and I did not choose to go to France for a study abroad program. But I hope that now, as I realize that I am still desperately in love with the French language and French culture, that I can keep it in my life. The title of this blog post is, "I am a young American girl, and I love France with my whole heart." How true that is.

Maybe if I read this every few days, and if enough people remind me, and make me practice, I will find myself slowly en train d'apprendre encore cette belle langue, et d'apprendre encore Hilary qui parle français, qui se trouve plus joyeuse, plus passionante, plus... Hilary.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

My Name, Fingerspelled H-I-L-A-R-Y: Humbling Lessons from ASL

One of the things about rainy Tuesdays that I love is that they give you time to reflect on everything you want to do. On a rainy day your mind fills with possible crafty things to do - knit, make paper airplanes, draw a masterpiece, write a novel, make up a board game. Rain makes me think of every book I've been meaning to read and haven't gotten to yet, and every piece of classical music yet to be listened to (I promise, Handel, I'll get there!), and every TV show I'm secretly addicted to that I haven't yet watched (where oh where have the Walkers landed on Brothers and Sisters?). Today my rainy Tuesday I was thinking about the project I've taken on this semester: learning American Sign Language.

Now I thought I had a pretty good (or at least fairly impressive grasp) of ASL when I arrived in DC. I could say the following things: Hi, my name is finger spelled H-i-l-a-r-y, my house is red, and I love you. Now there is the real meat of any good conversation, right? What else would someone need to know about me other than Hilary, red house, she loves me? And what would I need to understand beyond those things signed back to me?

Galludet University is located about 15 minutes away by bus (90 or 92 lines) near Rhode Island Ave, NE. When you get on the 90 or the 92 you will run into people signing to each other with a pace and an exuberance that makes you dizzy. They nod and smile and the conversation flies between their hands as fluidly as our words fly from our mouths. It became clear that my three phrases were not the same thing as being able to speak ASL. They would get me nowhere.

And I could have probably given up on sign language after a couple of weeks' enthusiasm. Like rainy days, sudden hobbies are regarded with some skepticism, as people wonder whether they will last through the end of the week or break in a few hours to clear skies and normal life. And I in my own mind thought that my excitement about ASL would fade, and I would come back from this semester with a few new phrases and a high and mighty sense of accomplishment.

I have neither. Sign language caught hold of me this semester. It's my bright blue "Signing Illustrated" book that I read on the bus every morning. It's my good friend Virginia who is fluent in ASL and who never fails to say something to me that I don't fully understand (luckily I know the signs for "again" and "don't know"). It's the joy I get from actually communicating with my body.

And I have been humbled by sign language. I thought I was good at learning languages, my still-decent French enabling me to read L'élégance du hérisson over the summer and even comprehend the occasional French speaker and the occasional (perhaps merely accidental) article in Le Monde or Le Figaro. And as many of you know, I love words and love to lavish them on people, in notes or letters or poems or papers or conversations. And I am not good at learning sign language.

I carry the book with me everywhere and I can't seem to retain 80% of the signs I practice. I finger spell at night before I fall asleep and I still can't make my hands flash in the air with ease or expertise. I still can't really understand what the signs are unless Virginia or someone else is also mouthing the words for me. I am diligent in practicing sign language, but I am not good at it.

And this is perhaps why I am so grateful that I am sticking with it. My high and mighty sense of accomplishment has been put through the wood-chopping machine; my few phrases have expanded, but not nearly as much as I thought they would. Learning sign language is a long, hard, and sometimes frustrating process: and I want to "just be good at it already!" so much of the time.

But it requires so much patience with myself. It requires grace for myself when I just can't remember how to sign "where" or "when". It requires a smile as I ask Virginia to repeat for the 10th time the sign for Christmas and THEN have her finger spell it while waiting in the Heritage Foundation lobby. It requires me to extend to myself the same laughing, gentle mercy that I try to extend to others. Sometimes in our efforts to be merciful people, sometimes in our showing of grace to others, and in our patience towards others, we forget to be merciful, gracious and patient with ourselves. My sorry attempts at sign language, and my hopefulness that I will eventually succeed, however long it takes, have taught me these important things.

So, on your rainy Tuesday, if there is a hobby or a language or a novel or a painting you are waiting to take up, learn, read, write, paint... begin! The work is humbling, and slow, and will require grace - for yourself.


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Slamming My Face Into A Glass Wall, aka A Continued Celebration of Singleness

If any of my faithful, kind readers read the post about "Destination Marriage", you know that I am quite talented at tripping, falling flat on my face and causing the people around me to stare in frank surprise that anyone can do something THAT embarrassing, much less do something that embarrassing and still go buy herself a small French Vanilla coffee (cream and one sweet & low).

Well, the other night I had another of these wonderful embarrassing moments that must happen to me so that others can take joy in them. At least, I hope so, because if not then I am going to spend the rest of my sorry days falling, catching myself, falling again, putting my hand through a pane of glass (it happened), getting stung by a bee on my middle finger while apple-picking, falling on my behind on the ice and watching my cup of hot chocolate fly into the air... and onto my head (that is purely hypothetical... just don't fact-check it with my sophomore roommate).

So, Tuesday night. It's 5:45pm and my dad is in town! I must pause and say that my dad is one of the most trustworthy, loving, and gentle people I have ever met. My dad is my hero. Dad, if you are reading this blog post, let me tell you that seeing you this week in DC made everything seem brighter and safer and more joyful. I love you, Dad. I admire you. It was so cool to show you my world here, and be able to give you a taste of what God is doing in my life!

Okay, I seriously digress now... Tuesday night. My dad and I walk to Founding Farmers, one of my favorite restaurants in DC and sit ourselves down at this little table for two in the corner with our backs to Pennsylvania Ave. We munch on grilled cheese and turkey sandwiches, chatting all the while. Dad asks me about what the next chapter of Hilary holds (and you, readers, can probably guess that my answer was long and rambling), I ask him for news about college, our dog and home. We stand up after paying the bill, ready to head to Farragut North.

Founding Farmers, in an effort to be more sustainable or cooler or both, installed a pretty glass revolving door as the entrance to their restaurant. The revolving door is encased by a curved glass wall except for the door-shaped hole where you enter and exit the revolving door. As I am walking around said revolving door, I think my dad is in the same quadrant as I am, and I turn to tell him how much I love having an actual sense of direction in the city. When I look behind me, I realize that Dad is actual in the quadrant behind me. That's fine, I think to myself. I'll just tell him about it when we both get outside. Speaking of outside... I see the sidewalk and think that I have reached the opening of the revolving door.  I swing my body forward and plunge into what I think is cool night air and even cooler colors and noises of city life.

I plunge into the glass wall. My nose plunges into the glass wall. I bounce off the wall and stumble forward, my forehead down to my chin vibrating from the force of my collision. I get out onto the sidewalk just as a group of people are lining up to go into Founding Farmers. Great. Just great. These cool DC people are now going to sip fresh blueberry martinis and relive the hilarious story of the girl who walked headfirst into a glass wall thinking it was the doorway.

Readers, I wish I had a videocamera. But the best way to describe it is: you know those commercials for Windex when the wife (who seems to have nothing to do but clean her windows, tables and already-clean-never-been-used-because-her-life-is-not-real-and-I-bet-her-husband-doesn't-eat-at-home dishes) wipes the window down and then the bird flies into it? I was the bird.

Now you might be laughing really hard right now because you can picture this happening, or you were there (and Dad you better not read this out loud!). Or you might be laughing because you can remember the time you walked into the same glass wall at Founding Farmers! If so, thank you for your empathy. But you are also probably wondering why in the world I call this a celebration of singleness.

For the same reason that I want to sing into a hairbrush in my room! For the same reason that I want to take pictures in Lincoln Park with Mandie! For the same reason that I ate dark chocolate orange gelato last night at 10:45 and laughed about the fantastic movie Morning Glory with Rachel McAdams!

Life is a tragic comedy and a comedic tragedy. Life defies categorization by theater genre, type of sport (life is not a tennis match or a bad hockey game), or food item (it is NOT peaches and cream or a pitcher of lemonade). Life is lived on the edges, on those tattered fringes of sanity and chaos and calm. My life in this city is really a series of embarrassing, hilarious, sad, joyful, pensive, frustrated moments.

This is a celebration of singleness because I am single. But whoever you are, married or single, childless or a mother of six, fan of Taylor Swift or The Killers or T-Pain, butcher, baker or candlestick maker (or teacher, lawyer, social worker)... whoever you are, let today be a song of celebration that you are YOU, embarrassing moments and all.

I will end with a poem I wrote this morning with some girls from the Youth Service Center (the detention center for kids who are awaiting trial for some major crimes).

A Poem for Women

I carry love in my bones,
it bleeds through my veins, rushing blue.
I am woman.

I color my eyes powerful,
leak joy from tear ducts onto clean linoleum.
I see woman.

I speak anger,
lips teeth tongue flame red
for woman.

I climb joy, its thick branches
planted in my soul.
I am woman.

Enjoy the sunshine of the day.


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

I Know One Thing (That I Love You).

If you don't know the wonders of the Michael Franti & Spearhead... well, I can't say I blame you, because I did not know them until July of last year. The song, "Say Hey (I Love You)", has a funky beat and words that makes you want to sing and dance. And today, in the lull of the late afternoon, I found myself in need of such words. 

What a strange picture I must have been! Sitting at my desk, my shoulders hunched over my furiously typing fingers, my high heels discarded at my feet, my toes tapping away on the plush carpet. My head bobbed with the beat in my headphones and this silly, daring, barely-containing-my-zeal-for-this-song grin spread rapidly from my dimples to the tips of my hair. 
Where does such explosive joy come from? Why are some moments engulfed in it, and others simply... indifferent? Why today at 4:57, and not Thursday at 5:18, or every moment between now and then? I wish I knew. 

But whatever the reason, my explosive joy appeared this afternoon, with Michael Franti and Spearhead and a pair of headphones. And I've been thinking about blogging lately, and why I blog, and why I want to keep blogging. I've been reading more from wise, caring women who write blogs about parenting, or faith, or life in the midst of chaos, or all of the above. And I have been wondering, "What place does this little blog have in the big wide blogging world? Why am I sitting at my computer, my iTunes swirling the sounds of violins, acoustic guitars and pianos around the room, speaking into the world? What musings can I contribute?

Explosive joy. 
Frustration and questions. 
Exasperation and laughter. 
Stories - the pictures of life that loop heart to soul to mind, and make everything more colorful
Sometimes-cynical, sometimes-snarky, hopefully-true, pictures of Christian college life

And the one thing that I know. I love you. I love you, readers, for hearing my words and loving them. I love you, words, for making me dance in my office today and for lifting my spirits. I love you, Founding Farmers restaurant where I slammed my face into the revolving door in front of the lingering happy hour crowd. I love you, beautiful and broken DC. I love you, Lincoln Memorial steps at night with Sam. I love you, Kraemer Books with Hannah. I love you, Starbucks by Eastern Market with Cynthia. I love you, sign language book that I take with me everywhere so that eventually I will be able to speak with my hands. I love you, home and away-from-home. 

I know, one thing (that I love you). 


Monday, November 8, 2010

Eat, Pray, Love, Pray, Love: Some Thoughts on the Goodness of Creation and Being Loved.

So I was in church yesterday, thinking about the past week. It was tougher than I had originally anticipated. There was plenty of work to do. I missed home. I missed my Cristinas and Merediths, missed the people who can hear my voice on the other end of the phone and say, "It's been a tiring week, huh?" without ever needing me to say the words, "It's been a tiring week." 

I wanted to be known again. Sometimes the city feels wonderfully intimate - there are never more than a few strands of spider-web between you and the person across from you in the sandwich line or getting in the elevator at work. But this past week the city felt anonymous, cold, and unfamiliar. Who was I, anyway? Who really knew me here? I am just another 20-something riding in and out with the tide of other ambitious 20-somethings, just another girl in a city with big hopes and a big heart. I missed being known. 

And then there were those pesky thoughts about the Person who brought me here. I didn't want to talk to God about being lonely or being unknown. I certainly did not want to talk to Him about the questions I have for Him. I even MORE certainly (if that's possible) did not want to bring up the nagging, lurking, lingering questions about where I am supposed to be going to church and whether I am going to live in limbo forever or if He actually intends to lead me somewhere. 

And questions like that, pesky thoughts like that, they fester. They dig into your skin and carve passageways into your heart. And suddenly the week was hard, you felt anonymous, and you are tired. 

I could say the reason I didn't want to talk to God about those questions and feelings is because I just wanted to look at a person's face and hear a person's voice. I wanted comfort that was palpable and from another human being. But the truer reason is that I did not actually want Him to answer. If He did, and if He gave me the answers I thought He might give me, I would no longer be able to wallow. 

I love wallowing. We all do. We love to linger in our sad moods, our uncertain moods, our difficult moods. They give us the heady sense of our depth, of how much we feel things, and how much more we understand about the trials of the world. Those bad moods shed a certain kind of light in our minds, and we like that light, and we want to keep it there as long as possible. 

And so, on Sunday morning, sitting in my balcony seat, looking at the blurry faces below me (I need glasses when I get home), I was wallowing. I was prepared to feel misunderstood, misguided, and alone. And then a funny thing happened: I met God in church. 

He showed up in my heart almost as if He had noticed the crowd of bad mood feelings clamouring at the door. And so casually that I barely noticed it, He pulled up a chair (I like to think of my soul as a bookstore or a coffee shop sometimes) and settled down to wait for me to sit down across from Him. I didn't want to. I knew that if I sat down, I'd have to put up the "Closed for Private Party" sign and the bad moods would have to shuffle out. But God had a surprise for me yesterday. Not only was He parked comfortably in my heart, but He also put in a phone call to my mind about Creation (I know, it's weird... but there it is). 

Creation, God reminded me on Sunday, is good. That book, Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert has for some reason always reminded me that Creation is good. God made it. God was pleased with it. God named it "very good." God is in the business of restoration, of re-glorifying what was once filled with glory and now only carries vestiges of its original splendor. God is intent upon the redemption of the entire world, from caterpillar to lilac to corrupt governance to the widow, the alien and the orphan... to Hilary. And though the church I go to teaches me much about sin and salvation, I don't hear much from them about Creation. I don't hear much about the original goodness. I don't hear much about God's work in the wider world, outside our individual hearts. And so God reminded me that Creation is very good. 

So, in the week of being alone, in the week of being unknown, and in the week of hiding from God, I stumbled upon the reminder: eat, pray, love. Eat - enjoy the fruit of Creation. Pray - do not hide from the One who lives in your heart. He is there more often than you are. Love - acknowledge that you are so deeply loved that you cannot escape it. Acknowledge that His love expands infinitely, covers your bad moods and your reluctance and your wallowing. And then run forward, your heart newly filled with such vast, joyful, infinite love, towards Him, shedding as much love as you can on the ones you meet along the way. 

Eat, and then pray, and then love, and then pray again, and then love again. 


Friday, November 5, 2010

William Loves Mary... and they have the engagement pictures to prove it!

As my friend and I walked through the beautiful campus of the college of William & Mary a few weekends ago, the falling leaves crunching under our flats and the sun streaming through the rounded archways where we paused to take in the faint glimpse of the pure white church steeple over the tops of the trees, I stumbled into an engagement photo session.

The couple was wearing green (or maybe blue) wool sweaters and dark jeans. The girl had on boots that were tasteful but gave her an extra two inches, and the guy wore an expensive, but still tasteful, watch on his right wrist. They smiled at the camera. They smiled at each other. They looked deeply into each other's eyes, and then they both looked up at the perfectly blue sky, as if to say, "Thank you universe for radiating back our own perfection."

My little 20 year-old heart filled with envy. How could I, the awkward, single, often vocal and rebellious-against-being-in-a-relationship independent woman be filled with envy at the apparent summit of relationship bliss in front of me? I don't know this couple. The Guy and The Girl are just the everyday trendy but sweet, JCrew with REI stylin', blonde and brunette with natural highlights, Mac and PC compatible, drink water from a tin water bottle engraved with his initials, solitaire diamond ring that catches the light and most of his paycheck from about three to five years of saving, couple. I stumble across them all the time in their photo sessions in the spring at school: sitting on benches by the pond, at Tuck's Point, under the Bell, laughing at Patton Park or the field by Brooksby Farm. I run into their trendiness often. She has a tasteful but easily hidden wrist, foot or back of the shoulder blade tattoo, which blends an image with a passage of Scripture or even just a word filled with spiritual meaning. He either has a tattoo on his bicep which shows us his troubled but redeemed past or maybe he just wears funky framed glasses and a fuzzy knit hat pushed pretty far back on his head, and is educating his fiancée about the latest CD from Mumford & Sons or The Civil Wars.

All of that is just to say, why was I envious of this couple at William and Mary? Why did I want to be that girl with that guy on that bench in the middle of that photo shoot?

Other than the slightly boring answer - "I want to be loved, and cherished, and understood" - the funnier and probably truer answer is that envy is present whenever there is comparison, and even if I don't want The Girl's relationship, ring or boyfriend, I can recognize that she is not me and that immediately translates into wanting what she has (and what I do not have).

This couple is well known to those of you who troll Christian college campuses. They sit together in Chapel or in the dining hall, exclusive but welcoming to people who stop by their table. They keep their PDA to a reasonable level but for some strange reason have a tendency to stroke each other's wrists or hands while the other person is talking. And the envy in us (green-eyed and trendspotting) wishes that the next cute guy who pulls open the door would just grab us and sit us down at a table and stroke our wrist while we drink coffee, laugh at our jokes and generally grant us what we see as our "rightful" relationship.

But as I continued to stroll through William & Mary, and as I thought about the engagement pictures that would undoubtedly be carefully examined by the girl's single friends on Facebook that weekend, and the fact that whether or not the engagement ring is large, small, antique, expensive... whether the couple have known each other approximately 5 minutes or 5 years, whether they buy Macs and wear biodegradable sneakers or buy PCs and plan to go to law school at UPenn... whether they know of my existence or not, envying them accomplishes nothing, other than the sour mood and tendency to scroll through too many pages of Style Me Pretty.

It does no one any good to be envious of the choices being made by other individuals to be in relationships. After all - I have plenty of choices to keep me busy. I need to choose whether or not I come back to DC in the near future. I need to choose whether I eat Pop-tarts or waffles for breakfast. I need to choose whether I forego the cute pair of loafers I'm eyeing at or if I splurge on them. And infinitely more importantly, I need to choose to love my neighbors. I need to choose to do my homework. I need to choose to listen to the critique of my supervisors. I need to choose obedience. I need to choose love.

William chose Mary, Mary chose William - and the fact that their choices move them from "single" to "engaged with cute photojournalism photos to prove it" doesn't mean I have permission to envy their choices. As a single person I am often tempted to barter choices - "I'll give you mine if you give me yours", or "I'll see your troubling fights with your boyfriend and give you a lonely Saturday night reading Creation and Fall by Dietrich Bonhoeffer! I'll trade you my insecurity about my dateability for your insecurity about his intellectual maturity.

We don't get to barter our choices; we just get to make them. We don't get to live someone else's engagement photos, and we certainly don't get to have our cake and eat it too. The choices in front of us, single or engaged, second child or tenth child, sister, brother, friend, employee, student and teacher - are just that: in front of us.

So while I love William & Mary, and their Anthropologie meets 21st century Christian college style, I need to be not envious of their choices, but grateful for my own.


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

One Step at a Time (It's Like Learning to Fly)

True Confession: The past three days, I've been listening to Jordin Sparks' "One Step at a Time" on Youtube for at least half an hour. I click on it, listen to it, and then right before the end I move the play button back to the 7th second of the song.

There are a few reasons I've been listening to this song, other than the fact that my Pandora station gets angry if I play more than 34 hours of "free radio" and won't let me listen to it after 40 hours. I think I'd completely forgotten how to go one step at a time before Sunday. I don't know what prompted my sudden moment of panic. I was sitting quietly in church, listening to the guest pastor preach about Luke 18 (the Pharisee and the Tax Collector) and it hit me: this program is ending, I have to figure out classes for next semester, I have to figure out what I need to do about extracurriculars, I have to, I have to... I have to. I have been trying to leap over five steps in a single bound, and that doesn't work for anyone except Superman.

The nervous, queasy feeling crept into my stomach. "Make a to do list, Hilary!" it hissed. "Write down all the lunches, dinners, plans, coffees, classes, etc that you need to accomplish. Get it done already!" And as I began to think about all these things, and get lost in the murky waters of "should have already finished" and "why didn't I do that before I had these other things to do!" - I heard the pastor say "Mercy." It was in a sentence, I'm sure. But I only hear the word. "Mercy."

This week "mercy" has been about "one step at a time." Jordin Sparks and the guest pastor at church probably didn't coordinate their messages to me this week: but nonetheless, I hear mercy in her song. We live and we learn, she sings above the steady, clock-like beat. We find the reasons why one step at a time. I've been plagued by feeling like I'm not on top of my work here, feeling like this semester is slipping away from me like water you cup in your hands only to watch it cascade through your fingers. I have made more to-do lists on more Post-it notes than the inventor of Post-its. I have written schedules, I have crossed out schedules. I have fretted. I have tried NOT to fret which then makes me fret more internally. But there it is: one step. Mercy.

Sunday the things in front of me were lunch with a friend from church at Southside 815 in Old Town Alexandria, and spending time with people in my program. Sunday the things in front of me included some homework but also some rest. And going one step at a time meant forgoing the judgment and the post-its.

Monday was different, Tuesday different from Monday. It's one step at a time. It's time's mercy to us: that it passes, but that there is time enough for the things in our care. There is time enough in the day. I listen to Jordin Sparks sing this song because it reminds me that I can't be powerful enough, smart enough, beautiful enough, successful enough, or organized enough to do more than this day's work well. Part of this day's work can be preparing for the future days, but I am and ought to be chiefly concerned with living well today. It is mercy because as chaotic and frantic as my mind gets, my ears still communicate the message of "one step at a time" to my brain.

So, dear readers. Mercy. One Step at a Time. I don't know if it is like learning to fly (or falling in love), but I do know that life is good, going slow is good, and that all shall indeed be well.


PS. Watch the video! Jordin Sparks' "One Step at a Time". And sing out loud to your computer.

Monday, November 1, 2010

My First Almost-TV Appearance (and Thoughts on Expectations)

I was told at the beginning of this semester that before too long I would be a regular "Washingtonian" - annoyed at the crowds of reporters blocking my way to the Metro, huffing and puffing along K St. to get to Potbelly Sandwich Works to grab lunch, and people watching on the bus. I was particularly excited for the first prospect. I could be on TV! I thought to myself that first night of lecture as one of our professors joked about the annoyance of living in the city's capital and all the backups because of rallies and the horrible traffic. Golly gee! My parents/friends/classmates/random acquaintances could turn on their TV in little ol' Wenham, MA and see ME there, brushing past a reporter as if it was the most natural thing in the world.

Well, after 8 weeks of no reporters, no impromptu TV appearances, one brush of Shia LeBeouf's hand at the filming of Transformers III near the Lincoln Memorial, and one 2 block away sighting of the reporters outside the Supreme Court during the hearing for Snyder v. Phelps, I was pretty mad. Where was my moment of DC fame? Where was my sigh of frustration that ANOTHER reporter was in my way? Where, oh where, was my big break into the world of TV reporting?

Why I was mad, I'm not quite sure. I don't want to be on TV, in particular. I don't want to be a reporter. I don't like big crowds and I thought meeting Shia was pretty anticlimactic. But I think that's how expectations work. We hear that such-and-such is going to happen to us and even if it's not something we want, in particular, we start to expect it. We are easily trapped into thinking that our experience in a certain city, college, job, relationship, or church will guarantee us a laundry list of experiences. Sometimes we don't even need to be told something is going to happen for us to create the expectation in our minds.

I imagined this semester would have TV reporters clogging every intersection between 8th St and the Capitol; I imagined this semester would be the moment I finally realized that politics is where I belong (and the semester where I successfully landed a post-college job at a prestigious but thoughtful, up-and-coming think tank). I expected to confirm certain passions and finally put some things (theater, science, math, etc) off the table for my future. I thought (I admit it!) I would meet a great 20-something Washington DC guy; I expected I would attend a liturgical Anglican church.

But today, at the beginning of my ninth week in this fabulous city, a funny thing happened on the way to the program building. I ran into my first reporter.

The location: Massachusetts Ave. & 3rd St., NE
The time: Approximately 1:03pm, EST
The characters: Reporter, around 30, slightly balding, wearing a worn out tweed jacket and corduroys, holding a small microphone with a blue and yellow station logo on it. Cameraman, slightly younger looking, wearing a blue puffer vest and lace-up rough leather shoes like the ones they sell at J. Crew, holding a video camera. Interviewee, who knows how old, wearing chunky framed glasses, a gray suit with a vest, and the most earnest expression on his face. Me, 20 years old, hurtling from Union Station like a bat out of its cave to hunt via echolocation (I love that word - echolocation), my bright yellow crochet beanie hat on my head looking like a burst of sunshine on this otherwise gray day, my flats with the sole coming off the bottoms tripping me at every crack in the sidewalk, my big bag and book of ASL signs in my hands.

The event: Hilary, with her bright yellow beanie, is barreling down Massachusetts Ave intent upon her grilled cheese & hummus sandwich. She notices that as she walks, people stare up at her bright hat as if they've never seen anything like it before. As she ponders the question of whether DC is the city where fluorescent colors come to die, she approaches the Bagels & Baguettes restaurant, place of the (now infamous) winking guy from last week. Suddenly, looming in front of her, out of NOWHERE, are three men: the Reporter, the Cameraman, and the Interviewee. In her startled recognition that her moment of TV fame has finally arrived, Hilary...

runs around the back of the cameraman to avoid being seen?

How odd. After all my expectations and frustration that I lacked a single TV appearance, when I was confronted with the actual possibility, I skirted it. I didn't jump in front of the camera and screech, YEAH! HI MOM & DAD! (It's doubtful that I would have done that anyway...). I didn't even try to get all annoyed that there was another reporter in the way of my grilled cheese and hummus sandwich. So not only have my expectations of the city of DC been thwarted, but my expectations about my reaction TO those expectations was also thwarted! Wow. That's a lot of expectation to crumble in one incident.

But here is what I learned from this run-in with the camera:

1. I should really think about writing screenplays or plays. I love setting the stage like that.

2. Grilled cheese & hummus is worth running across 3rd St for, even if it means skirting TV fame.

3. This city is bigger than my expectations, and it denies them every day in extraordinary ways. I am not at a liturgical Anglican church (the church I go to is Baptist), I am not dating a DC guy (as you have all read I am loving the single life), and I have no desire to become a policy analyst or politician (I want to teach), and the things I thought I would say goodbye to like theater, science and math are all still loves of my academic life, and I am more reluctant than ever to give them up completely.

4. I need to think a lot more about the expectations I set, not only about meeting reporters in DC, but also about living with roommates, my studies, my jobs after college, my church life, my relationship status. If I have this much of a battle with expectations over the sighting of cameras and microphones, what other parts of my life need expectation upheaval?

5. All of this, from the musing to the yellow hat to the reporter to the guy's glasses to the street to this blog, is joyful. At least, I want it to be joyful. I hope it brings you all some joy in reading about it.



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