A Jingle of Words 


Don’t you love the common words
In usage all the time;
Words that paint a masterpiece,
Words that beat a rhyme,
Words that sing a melody,
Words that leap and run,
Words that sway a multitude,
Or stir the heart of one?

Don’t you love the lively words—
Flicker, leap and flash,
Tumble, stumble, pitch and toss,
Dive and dart and dash,
Scramble, pirouette and prance,
Hurtle, hurdle, fling,
Waddle, toddle, trot and dance,
Soar and snatch and swing?

Don’t you love the lengthy words—
Subterranean,
Artificial, propagate,
Neopolitan,
Revelation, elevate,
Ambidextrous
Undenominational,
Simultaneous?

Don’t you love the noisy words—
Clatter, pop, and bang,
Scrape and creak and snarl and snort,
Crash and clash and clang,
Crackle, cackle, yowl and yap,
Snicker, snare and sneeze,
Screech and bellow, slash and howl,
Whistle, whine and wheeze?

Don’t you love the colourful—
Amber, rose and gold,
Orchid, orange and cerise,
Crimson, emerald,
Purple, plum and lavender,
Peach and Prussian blue,
Turquoise matrix, jade and jet,
Hazel, honeydew?

Yes, with just the common words
In usage everywhere,
You can capture incidents
Beautiful and rare.
In words you have a weapon
More mighty than a gun;
You can sway the multitude
Or stir the heart of one.

—Betty Scott Stam

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stained glass heart

“The heart itself is but a small vessel, yet dragons are there, and also lions. There are poisonous beasts and all the treasures of evil. But there too is God, the angels, the life and the kingdom, the light and the apostles, the heavenly cities and the treasuries of grace — all things are there.” – Macarius

Some days, I reach into my heart and write. And I see beauty and light reaching out like golden strands weaving something of meaning. Something, I hope, of truth. Something resulting in love or wonder or purpose.

Other days, I reach into my heart and find shadow and darkness. Questions. Confusion. Blame and guilt. Criticism and discontentment. I dare not dip my quill into such blackness and write.

Why such a dichotomy? Such a vast and great division? Light and darkness. Good and evil. Beauty and beastliness. Pure and the profane. How can all these dwell in a single heart?

A great and ancient writer spoke of the heart of man being desperately wicked. Yet that same heart has the ability, the power, the gift, to search for an unsearchable treasure: to know an unknowable God. A God that floods the hearts with beauty and wonder. A God who takes the horror and the tragedy and pieces together in His mystery a tapestry. A story.

The stories I love the most blend chaos with order, hate and horror with love and healing. Brokenness with sacrifice and redemption. Lostness with being found and belonging. Because every heart, at some time, sounds the deep recesses and we know of what we are made. And it scares us how vast and far and dark the darkness goes.

And yet, even there shines a starlike pinprick of light. Of love. Of truth. Like hope and love and sacrifice in even the darkest stories. Like restoration and new life bursting from an acrid, wasted ground. The ground of our life. Our stories, with grime and dust and mistakes clinging to our souls, yet with a Word speaking that His mercies are new every morning. That His Light will shine the distance and pierce the depths even of the darkest heart. That His Love will stretch as far as East is from the West, encompassing all that therein is and redeeming it by His blood.

The darkest stories are the sweetest stories when they resound with the truth of this Word, this Light, this Love.

I’m Teaching!


Teacher in front of blackboardWriting comes naturally to me. Too naturally, sometimes. I’ll be in the middle of a situation or discussion (don’t worry, not with you) and a concept will start forming and I’ll begin to compose in my mind. I’m working on a separate blog post about that issue, but in short, writing is not a challenge for me.

Teaching is another matter.

I’ve been tutoring and involved in home schooling since I was 16. That’s generally a one-on-one experience. Two or three students at most, and they’re usually under the age of 12. In other words, they don’t expect too much. They’re forgiving and though they might remember (and remind me of) something I flubbed, they don’t hold it against me.

At the start of the year, while reading a book on writing, the author suggested trying one’s hand at teaching, perhaps at writer’s conferences or local adult education centers. That’s not for me, was my first response.

But the idea refused to let go of me, so I began to consider it. What do I have to offer? What could I teach? I came up with more than a couple topics:

  • Blogging
  • Working from Home
  • Editing
  • Creative Writing
  • Purpose

“Hey, maybe I can do this!” I hesitantly mentioned it to my husband, not because I thought he would disagree, but because I had a feeling he would encourage me. I needed someone to talk me out of this crazy idea. Standing up in front of … people!

My high school days rushed into my head. Speech class. Trembling, blushing, stumbling over words even when I had my papers right in front of me. Even in college, my heart beating faster when I know I’ll be expected to present something in front of class. At social gatherings, if more than a couple people tune into what I’m saying, an eraser wipes my words out of my brain and I find myself pausing, blinking, and failing at whatever I’m trying to verbalize.

Sure enough, my husband was completely supportive of the idea. So I put together a couple course proposals for community education and sent them off to Clovis Adult Education. And got a reply immediately! Within a week, I was going through the application process to become a course instructor. It took some time getting all that worked out: resume, reference letters, TB test, fingerprinting. That was the easy part.

Yesterday was the other part. The main part. Teaching.

I arrived early. Just in case. For the record, it was a good idea. The projector had been left on and overheated, so I had to get another projector brought into the room and connected to my laptop.

Power point … check.

Course attendees began to arrive. I managed to smile and greeted the first few, and exchange a few words. Then more came. Once more than five or so people were in the room, I began to shuffle through my papers. I needed something to hold on to. Something to center me. Ten people … watching, waiting. I remembered reading that the average person would rather have a tooth pulled than speak in front of people.

You can do this.

And I did. I might have fumbled over my presentation on blogging. I might have said “Uh” more than a couple times. And I did rush through that power point a lot more quickly than I had planned to.

But I did it! I taught a class. And I plan to teach more … a lot more (I’ve signed up to teach four courses this fall). As with everything else, it’s a learning experience. A small step, I know, but a huge one for me, and I’m so glad I took it. I’m grateful for the support of all those who encouraged me along the way and told me I could do it.

The other day, in a small group get-together, a friend prayed for me. Every week, I had been updating them on the progress in my teaching plan. He thanked God for the passion that I had in teaching. Passion? For writing, definitely. But teaching? I began to think about it, and realized that what he said was true. Just because it doesn’t come naturally and I’m nervous about it doesn’t mean that I can’t have a passion for it.

I realized, as I listened to the attendees’ ideas and vision for creating a blog, that I have an awesome opportunity. To walk someone through the process, show them how to do it and how to get the most out of it, so they can fulfill that vision they have. Whether it’s a ministry-related blog, a travel blog, a legal blog, or a photography blog, it’s going to be someone’s hopes and dreams and thoughts and words, out there for the world to see.Who knows how far something like that can go?

Playing this small part of showing someone how to do something and then stepping back and seeing what they can come up with and how far they can go with it … I guess that’s part of what teaching is all about. And yes, I could have a passion for something like this. Now to prepare for the next class!

[Have you taken a step recently towards something you thought you couldn’t do? Or is there something you’re thinking about and not sure that you can or should try it? I would love to hear about it and encourage you that if I can teach a class, you can take that step! You can fulfill your dream.]

Of Authors and Friendship


Reading a book on a hammockReading a book by an author you haven’t read in a while – a favorite author – is something like meeting an old friend. A good friend.

You smile and their face lights up. You shake hands or hug. You chat over your usual order, or sit in the back porch over lemonade and begin to catch up. And before you know it, or without even really realizing it, your conversation has plunged into deeper waters than you dare to go with the average acquaintance. And that’s why they’re such a good friend, because you don’t stay on the surface. (It’s clear to all of us that there is much more beneath the slight ripples, more in the heart and soul that somehow should and could be known if we cared enough or were brave enough to venture in.)

But with a good friend we do just that. It’s not, “Hello, how are you?” or, “Wow, that storm last week was a real gully washer.”

It’s not necessarily even, “My son failed his math class and I’m not sure he still wants to go to college.” Though it might start there, it goes deeper. Why that decision of your son makes you fear your parenting over the years hasn’t been enough, or that you have somehow enabled him, or disabled him through your own set of fears and hang-ups.

Whatever it is, it is not, “Everything is fine.” It’s truth. It’s honesty. It’s revealing questions you have and fears that loom, and situations that still threaten to overwhelm you. Somehow, when shared with a good friend, they seem not as much. Or a light shines so far away as to seem only a pinprick that could very well be an oncoming train for all you know but, for the moment illuminates your conversation just enough.

As a friend bestows a little light perhaps through words. Or perhaps through your own words, when you’re finally honest and brave enough to voice them, you realize what’s at the core of that thing you’re fearing or running away from. You’re finally at home enough to where you can be yourself and in your own skin.

And somehow, in a way, reading a book by a favorite author has a similar effect. (Or is it just me?) You smile at their audacity to put something in print that you never would have confessed in a hundred years. It gives you confidence that maybe it doesn’t really need to stay hidden. You smile at their choice of words or are completely awed by the way they seamlessly weave together a concept or thoughts that you’ve always felt or wondered or held deep inside.

You know, Hey, that’s me in there. In those pages.

And maybe, just maybe, somewhere in their heart. Somehow, in that way that doesn’t really make sense but doesn’t have to. Because truth is stranger than fiction. And the words we speak and the words we write are somehow are part of us that come from a place so deep that we don’t know exactly what’s going on down there.

Perhaps that’s one of the reasons I write. To figure out who else might understand or relate or wonder the same things I do.

And that’s why when I meet an author through the pages of a book new or old, I know I have made a friend. I know I can be myself with that person, when and if I ever meet them. That our conversation would venture beyond the “how are you” and “I hope your health is not affected negatively by all the smog in the air.” Because for so long, through their words, they have been a part of my life, like a friend is – no matter how near or far.

Through them, or because of them, I have the courage to be myself, which is often the very bravest the best and worst of us can be, to let a bit of all that flows beneath the surface slip out for a glimpse from time to time.

Have you “met” an author like that? Please leave a comment if you have a favorite author or two who are like that old friend or kindred spirit.

The Edge of the Wind


The air moves

In ways strange

It doesn’t explain

The winds change

From gentle to gale

From rushing to ripple

And I feel the urge

To clean out my house

Or my heart

Or even to disappear

Into the wind

And let it carry me

Far

A mountaintop perhaps

Or even a star

I can’t track the movement

Of the wind

Its cycles and cold fronts

Colliding with heat

Piling cumulus over nimbus

And stratus beneath cirrus

All I know is the rain

And the magic scent

Of sky before it falls

A smell like the sound of skittering leaves

Whispering the approach of a storm

This wind change

Will it be a storm

A calm

Perhaps a little bit of both

Settling and stirring me

At the same time

I don’t know

And at times

All I can do is close my eyes

To better feel the change

Skirting the edge of the wind

A Fleeting Glimpse of Gold (A Poetry Analysis)


A Comparison of “Nothing Gold Can Stay” by Robert Frost and “Storm Warnings” by Adrienne Rich

In “Storm Warnings” and “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” nature is an overarching theme. In both works, the poets write of nature as a powerful force that mankind cannot control; each writer uses different aspects of nature to bring out their theme in unique and poignant ways. Nature is portrayed as ephemeral, fleeting and unpredictable, yet also showing strains of predictability in its repeated cycles and seasons; the reader can infer the implications of nature bearing similarities to mankind as a whole as well as to the individual. Both Robert Frost and Adrienne Rich seem to respect the power and magnificence of nature at the same time that they recognize in its deeper elements certain parallels with humanity. True to the general personality of poetry, “Storm Warnings” and “Nothing Gold Can Stay” can be taken at face value or delved into more deeply to unearth symbolic truths of a figurative nature.

“Storm Warnings” by Adrienne Rich weaves together a message that nature cannot be controlled by writing of two related concepts – the weather of the heart and weather in nature at large. Neither form of weather is completely predictable, nor are they controllable. Weather in nature, the poem points out, has been charted and can be predicted by the dropping of the “glass” – the barometer – but it still cannot be controlled: “Between foreseeing and averting change / Lies all the mastery of elements” (ll. 15-16). Breaking the barometer cannot destroy the oncoming storm, just as destroying a clock cannot stop time, as Rich points out in the following lines: “Time in the hand is not control of time / Nor shattered fragments of an instrument / A proof against the wind; the wind will rise” (ll. 18-20). The poem seems to speak of the inability to have power over elements of nature, no matter how much humanity might make such attempts.

The narrator of the poem appears well aware of the weather that can sweep the land, and is wise to the knowledge that her only defense against the onslaught of nature is closing the doors and remaining protected or barricaded inside with the lines, “We can only close the shutters / … / This is our sole defense against the season” (ll. 21, 26). Even then, increment elements seep through the keyhole, an ominous portrayal that mankind cannot completely control any part of nature – neither weather nor time. Adrienne Rich writes of man’s learning to cope with the weather as a way to almost “settle” with mankind’s inability to control the elements of nature.

“Nothing Gold Can Stay” by Robert Frost also speaks of the uncontainable authority of nature, yet brings out a different idea than Adrienne Rich’s poem. Frost’s work speaks of the ephemeral elements of life by using parallels in nature – its “gold” that is the blossom of spring and the perfect dawn of a day: “Nature’s first green is gold, / Her hardest hue to hold. / Her early leaf’s a flower; / But only so an hour” (ll. 1-4). The poem rings of the poignant character of all things earthly, which seem to fade almost before their time. The implication is not only those transient elements in nature, but also within the fleeting lives of humanity, which come and go so quickly.

The poem by Frost also brings in religious undertones when referring to the Garden of Eden and its perfection at the dawn of humanity; yet its’ eventual sinking to grief, bespeaking the fate of nature itself, with the lines, “Then leaf subsides to leaf. / So Eden sank to grief” (ll. 5-6). Nothing man can do would have the power to change this; the unspoken message of Frost’s poem seems to be that it would be useless to try to wrest nature to serve one’s own purposes, for “nothing gold can stay” (ll. 8). The poem seems almost sad in its portrayal that nothing gold within nature is lasting or eternal.

Both “Storm Warnings” and “Nothing Gold Can Stay” utilize similar themes of the power of nature and its pervasive influence upon humanity in spite of mankind’s manifold abilities and progressing technologies. The idea or message at first glance almost cheerless, yet an underlying significance can be wrought from both poems. This more hopeful undertone whispers of the ability of both nature and man to be recreated in a way that is also uncontrollable and almost beyond understanding. Nothing gold can stay, yet each new day another dawn rises; each new season welcomes the “gold” of blossoms and spring’s unique beauty. In “Storm Warnings,” although people who live in such “troubled regions” (ll. 28) batten down the hatches and hole up in protection against oncoming storms – of nature or of the heart – the unspoken truth is that the storm will pass. The sun will be seen once again … or hope will rise once more.

Although both poems convey the power of nature to destroy or be destroyed, to fail and fade with the passing of time, both can also be taken with the hope that nature always cycles around to rebirth and renewal. However, when the storms loom low and fierce, and when dawn gives way to a day that scorches the sky, it is difficult for anyone – poet and pessimist alike – to see beyond the harsh and inclement parts of nature. At such times, as Rich writes, one can only “Draw the curtains as the sky goes black / And set a match to candles sheathed in glass” (ll. 22-23). Her words give credence to the idea that – whether someone is facing the storms of nature or of the heart – there is always something to do to welcome a little bit of light, a fleeting glimpse of gold, into one’s life as protection against complete despair.

Literary Analysis of Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible”


In “The Crucible,” Arthur Miller portrays two women whose characters, when juxtaposed, seem to vastly contrast each other. Although the exact words are not used, one woman is basically put forth in the story as “good” and the other woman as “evil.” Such black and white rulings of these characters would be almost ironic, considering that Arthur Miller wrote his play to expose the hazards of judging people with different mindsets or belief systems. Miller portrayed that such illogical reasoning is dangerous or at the very least, counterproductive. Exploring the characters and motives of the two main women, Abigail Williams and Elizabeth Proctor, a rough microcosm comes into view, paralleling the message of the story as a whole. The reader begins to recognize that more is at play than a surface rendering of “good” versus “evil.”

Abigail Williams, the “bad” girl, is introduced in the play as the ringleader who led other girls to a taboo gathering; her primary purpose was so to cast a spell upon Elizabeth Proctor, the wife of John Proctor – with whom she had an affair when she lived with them as a servant. Clearly, what to John was a small detour off the path of righteousness was to Abigail the doorway to a new world. Abigail is confused, and her reasoning illogical, but that is no different from the logically impaired perspective of many in the town of Salem, even the most powerful and well educated. Abigail’s reasoning that if Elizabeth died, she would obtain John fit well among the illogical perspectives of many characters in the play. Her motives were, in a morally secure world, wrong; yet they were so well-hidden that few saw through her guise of persecuted innocence.

If Abigail’s reasoning was illogical and her motives impure, her methods definitely tipped the scale against her character. She was willing to let numerous innocent people be accused and die, and in many cases was the one sitting in the seat of the accuser. Having the story written as a novel would have been helpful at this point, because the only glimpse into Abigail’s point of view is the discussion she had with John Proctor, which was for a time cut from the story by Arthur Miller. In that conversation, the young woman seemed completely convinced of the righteousness of her cause as well as enraptured by her fantasy that she would have John once his wife died: “God gave me strength to call them liars … Oh, John, I will make you such a wife when the world is white again” (150). Perhaps Abigail was truly deluded, or perhaps very good at playing the part, even to John Proctor. It is almost that, by that point in time, she had gone so far that, whether she believed in her lie or was deliberately faking it the whole time, she knew it would be suicide to stop there.

At the end of the story, the “evil” woman escaped, faultless in the eyes of many, into the night, having stolen her uncle’s money to take her far from the volatile situation. Here again the reasoning of the men in power can be brought into question. If the main accuser was gone, having stolen money – which in those days must have been a severe crime, more tangible than sending one’s spirit to hurt another in the night – would it not stand to reason that perhaps her testimony should be brought into question? Yet such an idea never arose and the men who held the lives in the sway of their judgment continued on their oblivious path toward false sentencing and ultimately, murder.

Elizabeth Proctor, by contrast, was the “good” woman. She entered the story fully in the first scene of Act II, a scene almost awkward to read. The unnatural discourse between husband and wife seems an egg-skin cover stretched thinly over a wound. When John Proctor blew up toward the end of their dialogue, his words acted as a rift in that strained cover, yet Elizabeth simply turned the power of judgment over to him, stating, “I do not judge you. The magistrate sits in your heart that judges you. I never thought you but a good man” (55). This heated exchange brings to light the issues that brimmed beneath the surface in their marriage, which don’t come out completely until the very end of the play.

The clearest view into Elizabeth’s mind and heart arises from a conversation that took place in the last meeting between her and John before he died: “I have read my heart this three month, John. I have sins of my own to count. It needs a cold wife to prompt lechery. … I counted myself so plain, so poorly made, no honest love could come to me! Suspicion kissed you when I did; I never knew how I should say my love. It were a cold house I kept” (137). Here, Elizabeth’s heart was exposed in a way that no other character’s was, and the deeper reason is shown as to why they had a strained marriage. Elizabeth always thought herself inferior, unlovable. One can only imagine the world of her younger years, possibly one child of many, forgotten and overlooked, very likely judged harshly for minor infractions. One pictures little joy in such a community and a one-sided approach to Christianity, which was more a form of Old Testament legalism without the promise of love and forgiveness. Never once in the story were concepts such as abiding joy, life abundant, or forgiving love mentioned. It was all judgment and harsh rulings, the very element that Jesus called into question when he exposed the motives of the religious class of his time, the Pharisees.

Elizabeth’s character represented, in a way, all those who grew up under the thumb of distorted belief systems. Her perspective and existence was a product of that upbringing, though she was likely blind to it herself. In this respect, Elizabeth’s character was not much different from Abigail’s. Raised with little love and little true understanding of the world around them, these women’s only survival was in their obedience to rules that in many cases were neither logical nor biblical. Both women were beset by fear: Elizabeth by fear that she was unloved and could never truly be loved for who she was; Abigail, by fear that if she didn’t take matters into her hands, her life would be spent alone and unhappy.

In the end, Elizabeth discovered that she truly was loved. Perhaps it was too little and too late, but her husband loved her. Her husband was willing to give his life, perhaps not exactly or entirely for her, but in a way his act represented that unselfish love. John Proctor’s love for his wife gave him the strength to confess his deeds with Abigail, and although it cast him in a bad light and brought him death, he chose rather to die for the love of his wife than to live without her. One analysis states that, “Elizabeth’s noblest act comes in the end when she helps the tortured John Proctor forgive himself just before his death” (Shmoop).

History reveals that Elizabeth Proctor, although accused, was not condemned. If Arthur Miller was accurate in his portrayal of her character, one can only hope that her life was transformed by the fact that she learned she was loved. Perhaps she felt not so plain and acted not so suspicious, for true love transforms the heart in ways that cannot be explained but only experienced. Abigail, on the other hand, escaped from the situation, running from her fear in the end. One can only assume that it followed her to the end of her days. Her story was not a “happily ever after” as she never faced those things she feared the most.

The “good” woman and the “evil” woman were both products of their upbringing. Still, they had the power to choose whether this would determine their decisions or whether they would rise above and take the more difficult path of truth, acceptance – even of one’s own deepest fears – and of love. One is not surprised – considering the actions of these two women throughout the story – by the decisions they made in the end. There was no character arc for Abigail, but there was for Elizabeth, who came to understand love and forgiveness in a way she never had. Presumably, hopefully, it set her free to truly live.

 

Works Cited

Miller, Arthur. The Crucible: Screenplay. New York: Penguin, 1996. Print.

Shmoop Editorial Team. “Elizabeth Proctor in The Crucible.” Shmoop.com. Shmoop University, Inc., 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 17 Mar. 2014.