Tuesday, May 29, 2007


My cousin Phillip was 20 or 21, I think. He was deeply involved in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. He was getting a degree in civil engineering, and this summer he intended to take a sort of "civil engineering missions trip" to a developing nation. He sent us all an endearing and earnest and confident and hopeful letter about it, requesting prayer and financial support. Then he rode his motorcycle from the East Coast to the Rockies to meet up with the group he'd be working with. After a week of orientation, he and his bike got hit by an SUV. He died instantly.

It's not like he and I were extremely close, really, but we had been getting closer. His family and my grandmothers are currently geographically nearer to me than any of my other family members, so I tend to celebrate holidays with them. One Christmas he taught me a few basic chain-mail weaves. It was fun. He was a good teacher, and very patient. He let me keep the chain I made.

It's not like I'm in doubt about his current location (if "location" is the appropriate word, about which I am more in doubt). There's this part of me that's a little tentatively jealous . . . how great would it be just to be with Jesus right now, without all this "glass darkly" stuff?

I'm not sad for him (although his trip would probably have been fun), but I'm sad for the rest of us, particularly his immediate family. They have already gone through years of baffling, heart-wrenching, completely exhausting struggles. Why this, too? I wouldn't blame my uncle if he started introducing himself as "Job" from now on. I wouldn't blame him if he's feeling some rage.

People say, "Poor Job--not only did he have to go through all that suffering, but he didn't even know why. He didn't even know that God was having a bet with Satan." Huh? That's supposed to make everything okay?

I don't really think he would have felt better if he had known that. Even if you assert and, in some form or other, believe as I think my uncle does, that God has a purpose for everything that happens and that in the end what matters is that He is glorified, there are still all these feelings that get involved. How could they not? And aren't they supposed to? Didn't God give us feelings--because He has them Himself? So it's hard not to feel like a pawn, and unjustly treated, even if you trust that somehow, in the end, God's going to do something good with the thing (or things) that just crushed your soul into the ground.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Yesterday I got an email from Dear Friend Paulina. She told me that Lloyd Alexander has died at age 83, two weeks after his beloved wife, Janine. Paulina's a librarian and can find out about these things. Here is an article about it.

Some other famous people have recently moved on to a new plane of existence, notably Kurt Vonnegut and Jerry Falwell. But I didn't really have much to do with either of those guys. Lloyd, on the other hand . . . I'm having a hard time imagining it. I feel like I should write him and say, "Dear Lloyd, I heard that you died last week. I hope everything's going okay." Too bad they haven't figured out how to get mail to the afterlife. It might just make the postage hike worth it.

I first “met” Lloyd through some characters of his at the public library I frequented as a child, and it’s probably safe to say my imagination was never the same again. Our sixth grade class was having a contest to see who could read the most Newbery Award books within a certain period of time, and Lloyd Alexander's The High King was on the list. All the boys in my class were reading the Prydain Chronicles, and I was pretty sure I would therefore find the book scary or violent or boring, but on the other hand, it looked sort of interesting . . .

You're not really supposed to read the last book of a series first, but in this case it might have been good I did, because I was completely won over. I proceeded to read the books leading up to it, and then started in on the Westmark Trilogy. I wanted to be Mickle. I loved Theo, and Mickle was a little awkward but very cool and I used to go off into the woods behind our house and act out the stories to myself. In junior high I wrote a letter to Lloyd and he sent me his autograph. In high school I got a local Welsh pastor to teach me Welsh because I had become so enamoured with the place and its mythology through Lloyd's books. I no longer remember any Welsh, apart from the first verse of Psalm 23, but I still have a Welsh Bible and dictionary.

After college during my Life as a Nanny, I met Dear Friend Paulina and found out she was also an avid reader of Lloyd's books. Through a little finagling and working a connexion she had with Trina Schart Hyman, she got Lloyd to agree to a phone call with me for my birthday. I don't know that writers are always very good phone-talkers. At least, I have an intense phobia of the phone except as regards talking to my family--and Lloyd's own powers of conversation were a little stilted. (Furthermore, he had been put in the slightly bizarre situation of trying to talk to someone he didn't know, who doesn't really know how to ask good questions, and who had informed her imagination with ideas out of his head.) I don't remember too much of what we talked about, except for saying that I had just re-read the Prydain Chronicles and cried at the end, as usual, and wondering how he could ever re-read them and revisit those characters. He told me he couldn't, and he didn't. I don't believe he ever read those books again after they were printed. And I believe that almost every book afterwards was an attempt to recreate those characters without actually having to revisit them.

In spite of the awkward phone call, he was very gracious, and out of that conversation a patchy correspondence was born. Paulina and I sent him and Janine a box of cookies (which Janine, apparently, devoured). He gave me writing advice. He allowed me to inform him of my move to London . . . and my return to the U.S. He autographed the first edition copy of Taran Wanderer that Paulina discovered and generously bought for me before the trip to London, and autographed the first edition copy of The Iron Ring she bought hot off the press when I was there. Lloyd wrote to me about his and Janine's health and his garden and the weather and his cats and faith and God and relationships and current events. After a while our correspondence dwindled to simple Christmas cards--mine, the homemade ones I send to almost everyone I know; his, cartoon caricatures of famous paintings in which he is playing the violin to an audience of irritated or bemused cats. I went through a regrettable and completely stupid weeding-stuff-out phase at one point, and so I only have his last four Christmas cards and a few arbitrarily-saved letters. I regret not saving everything. I regret that I never wrote and told him my book is finally getting published. And I'm sorry he never got to read it.
But I'm grateful to him (and Paulina) for the chance to know him a little bit. I miss him and his Christmas cards already. And I really do hope everything's going okay.Artwork:
Prydain Characters, watercolour by jennw2ns, 1995. I painted two and sent Lloyd the other one. I think he framed it.
After Gustave Caillebotte: "Paris in the Rain," Christmas card by Lloyd Alexander, 2003.

Friday, May 18, 2007


"Wow!" said Mary Ellen at church on Sunday. "Your eyes exactly match your jacket."

The jacket in question is sort of a sage green corduroy. I don't think Mary Ellen was including the corduroy aspect in her analysis. Then again, you never know, I guess.

"Really?" I said. "That's sort of cool. My eyes change colour, actually. Usually they're blue or grey."

"Ah," said her husband knowingly. "You have chameleon eyes."

Furthermore, although this was not included in our discussion that morning, my hair is of a shade typically described in Western literature as "mousy." It is that sort of unimpressive, nondescript brown which most white women would rather disguise with a tragic hair-dying accident than display in its original hue.

It was surprising to me, therefore, to discover that most of my Middle Eastern and South Asian friends in London experienced tragic hair-dying accidents in an attempt to get their hair just this colour. One day, in my first year living there, three Persian women, after oohing and ahhing over my hair, came to the consensus that its colour was "olive." To them, the term "olive" described the colour of the wood of the tree, and not of its fruit. I liked my hair better after that.

Perhaps the next time I set up a profile on another dating website, I shall announce that I have olive hair and chameleon eyes. Do you think it'll help?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Jennwith2ns and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day Off

I just wasted an entire day trying not to.

"I've decided," I told my parents over the phone this morning, "that I need to do more interesting things on my days off." Like the trip to Noho, for example. More of that. I have found that, if I turn my computer on early in the morning, it is entirely possible that (if it hasn't shut itself off first) I will still be sitting at it by late afternoon. I don't like this propensity.

So today I decided to take a spur-of-the-moment trip to some seaside villages north of here. My brother and sister-in-law used to live in that area, but I haven't been there in a while. I thought I'd wander around some shops again, enjoy the ocean views, and maybe find some indie coffee shop somewhere, where I could drink a hot chocolate or something, and sit and write.

It was about 80 degrees outside, so I put on a tank top and shorts and sunscreen, remembering at the last minute that there was some talk of thunderstorms later in the day, and so throwing in a sweatshirt and a jacket.

By the time I got halfway to my destination, the sky was looking decidedly more overcast, and I considered getting off the highway early and spending the day in a mall. But that's just about as deplorable as spending it in front of a computer when it isn't part of one's job. Plus, as I had already proved in Noho, one doesn't need glorious sunshine to poke around in shops and cafes. Plus, I'm stubborn. I was kind of relishing the fact that I was being totally spontaneous--so spontaneous, in fact, that I didn't even really know where I was going.

Which is how I ended up missing a turn I hadn't known I wanted, getting all turned around, and having to start over on an earlier part of the highway I had already traversed. Which is how I got pulled over by a cop for not yielding to drivers in a roundabout. (Rotary. Traffic circle. Really useless type of road engineering. Whatever.) I got off with a written warning. Still, I was having serious second thoughts about the wisdom of this jaunt.

Particularly because, by the time I got to my destination, the temperature had dropped over thirty degrees. Thank goodness for the sweatshirt and jacket. Not so happy about the shorts. But I had just driven for two hours and gotten a written warning for a traffic violation, so I was not going to turn around and go home now. I was going to wander around in those shops if it was the last thing I did.

Sometime around the third shop, I realised it might be the last thing I did. There was a radio in there, and the voices coming out of it were going on about how there was a tornado watch in this area. Somehow a little seaside village didn't seem like the most sturdy place to be during a potential tornado, even though presumably seaside villages are actually sturdier than most. Still, it was only a watch, and besides, the alternative was to drive for two hours back through more tornado-watch country, and . . . like I said, I was going to wander around in those shops if it killed me. (In case you hadn't guessed, it didn't.)

By the time I had popped into all the shops which were interesting (which was a lot) and open (which seemed, somehow, to be fewer), it looked like the sea and the sky had merged and were about to get messy. I was hungry, and really just wanted to find a cafe to sit in and write, over a nice pastry. But all the cafes seemed to be rather tenuously perched, and I wasn't sure I felt like perching, exactly, anymore. Plus, the time was up in my parking meter, and I didn't want to bother anyone for change. So I left.

The weather turned suddenly raucous and scary. It took me over three hours to get home.

I was pretty cranky when I got there. I couldn't see . . . and still am having trouble seeing . . . the purpose behind a day like this, unless I'm meant to move to someplace like Bangladesh and needed the practice driving in life-threatening torrential rain. I was feeling guilty and thwarted for not having written anything. I was famished--and you don't want to see me when I'm famished. To top it all off, the gas gauge, which had been full when I left this morning, was registering a third of a tank. I had wasted a day and a large amount of really expensive petrol, I had polluted the environment for no good reason, and had nothing to show for it.

When I got home, there was a letter from this lovely lady who used to teach me Sunday school when I was nine. It was a great letter. Also, inside it was $50.

I still don't know what the point of today was. But I guess I feel less guilty and thwarted about it now. I didn't get a not-yielding-to-rotary-drivers ticket. I didn't get personally rained on. I didn't hydroplane off the road or into another vehicle. I got home safely. There was something to eat when I got there. And, apparently, my gas money was reimbursed.

I guess I feel like Someone knew all about it, and was watching me--but not so much with disgust because of my misuse of the day He had granted. More like He was watching out for me, no matter how trivial, and whatever the point.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Pieces of Eight

That's for all of us who are looking forward to Pirates 3 . . .

Someone ("namely," A Musing Mom, though I suspect that's not really her name) tagged me to list eight random things about me. I definitely can come up with more than eight random things about me, but I'm not sure I can come up with that many that you don't already know. Still, I'll try. Here's the rules I am constrained to list, having acquiesced to the meme:

  • Post the rules of the game.
  • Tell us about eight random facts/habits about you.
  • At the end of the post, choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
  • People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things.
  • Leave them a comment telling them they're tagged, and to read your blog.

Here are the eight things:

1. I play the flute with one of the worship teams at my church.

2. I have a false tooth, the original of which I lost at age seven while playing "Kitty and Doggy" with my then three-year-old brother. The tooth doesn't come out or anything, but you can tell it's there if I try to whiten my teeth; it doesn't cooperate with White Strips.

3. I have always taken seriously the oft-mocked warning, "You'll poke an eye out!" This is because, as a young girl, my grandmother actually did get her eye poked out while playing with some friends. (Maybe I mean "friends.") I have some really cool Grandma's-glass-eye stories, but they, I feel, are not germaine to this post. (I inherited the artificial-facial-feature trait from her.)

4. While in college I used, on a fairly regular basis, to climb out of the fifth floor window of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, inch along the ledge up there to the next window, shove it open, hoist myself in, and open up the attic door from the inside so my friends and I could play sardines and have surprise parties up there. During my senior year, Public Safety or someone put a metal grill over the window, and an alarm on the door.

5. Right before my high school graduation, the Edison Electrical Institute surprised me by awarding me $200 for a science fiction short story I had sent in to a contest of theirs and forgotten about.

6. My house in London had a bright yellow door with the number seven next to it. I didn't live in that house until I had been in London a year, but I visited some previous residents there on the first day I arrived in London, and knew upon entering that I loved that house and was going to live in it.

7. I can say "thank you" in eleven languages.

8. I have had fifteen roommates over the course of my life, including Roommate-Sarah, and her sister (who just moved in last month), Roommate-Rachel.

I'm feeling a little stymied as to who to tag, since almost everyone I know by blog has already been hit with this one. But here goes, and if you've already gotten this one--well, consider it retroactive tagging:

Christy, Cubicle Reverend, brother Dave (even though his blog doesn't lend itself to such memes), other Dave, the Item, Christianne, Jasdye, and Peacepipes. (Peacepipes, this, of course, means that you have to get a blog.)

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Straw II

The day after my little jaunt to Noho was, not surprisingly, a Saturday. (Since I went to Noho on a Friday and everything.) You may recall that Lines at my Starbucks are usually a little insane on Saturdays. You may even recall that one time I went a little insane at my Starbucks one Saturday, because of a lot of things which culminated in a guy's getting irate over a straw.

Well, the Saturday after Noho, the Straw-Man came back into the store. I can't imagine why.

The only other time he had been there since The Last Straw day, I had ducked into the back room because I was too afraid of him (and maybe myself) to face him. This time I was legitimately going into the back room to get something when he came in, but while I was back there, I steeled myself to say something if he was still out there when I returned.

He was.

I walked right up to the counter where he was waiting for his drink and said, "Hey. I wanted to apologise for the other week." Clearly neither of us needed extra clarification as to which week I was talking about. I was so braced for another attack on my baristahood that it didn't even occur to me to want to say something like, " . . . even though you were the one being a complete jerk--and who asks for their money back because of a straw, anyway?" Fortunately.

He looked a little startled, and then he almost smiled, and then he said, "Yeah, don't worry about it. Everybody has bad days. I guess I was probably also having a bad day . . . so I'm sorry, too."

It was my turn to look surprised. I think I usually get a pretty good read on people. But I guess sometimes I get complacent about this ability or whatever it is, and then I pigeonhole them. After that, it's always kind of monumental to me when they break out of the box. I definitely had not originally put this guy in the Apologies-and-Forgiveness Pigeonhole. Of course I had put myself in that one. Probably subconsciously I was anticipating that he'd continue to be a jerk, and then my own self-righteousness could be reinstated, since I at least had apologised for my bad behaviour that day.

But then, when he did forgive me, and did apologise, too, it was so fresh and astonishing, that I immediately recognised it for what it was: a much better and purer alternative to the privilege of wallowing in smugness. It is, I noticed, much more wonderful, if one manages a noble moment, to be able to share the nobility than to be able to lord it over someone.

"Well, hopefully," I said, "today will be a good day."

"Yeah," he said. "At least it's not raining."

"That definitely always helps," I agreed, even though it doesn't--always. "Anyway. It's good to have you back." I wasn't sure I was telling the truth about that part either. But I think I was. Still, I did watch to make sure my drink-making colleague handed him the right size straw.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Real-Life Links

So you're blogging, right, and you read some blog you've never read before, and you like what you read, so you comment there a few times. And then that blogger visits your blog and comments back. And then, if things go well, suddenly you have this new friend. Except that you've never actually met each other. Sometimes (even though in a way this is part of my job), I forget that you can develop connexions with people in real-time, in real life.

The other week when I was wandering around the shops of Noho, my wandering took me into a place called C.S.O.R.K. Peru. The front of the store said something about fair-trade clothing. I like clothing. I also like fair trade. I went in.

There were clothes displayed about the room, as one might find in any boutique, but at stage right there was also a fireplace (not, unfortunately, lit) a few couches, and a desk with various pieces of computer equipment and a sewing machine on it. A South Asian woman was sitting on one of the couches, and a West Indian woman and two adolescent girls were looking around, but they were all also loudly engaged in an uproarious conversation about intercultural communication. Mostly they were joking about how American standards of political correctness would never fly in their respective countries of origin.

Some of the examples they were giving of this reminded me of my own encounters with this phenomenon when I worked with refugees in London. The conversation was too loud for me to avoid hearing it, and too funny for me to avoid laughing, and so eventually they pulled me into the conversation.

After a while the customer with the two girls left, but Raya, the woman who had been sitting on the couch, was obviously still interested in talking. It turned out the store was an idea of her daughter's, a college student studying textiles and fashion design. This young woman's late father was Peruvian, and so, in order to get back in touch with her roots, she had spent some time in Peru working in an orphanage. While there, she realised that the woman cooking the food for the children were amazing embroiderers and seamstresses, and she conceived the idea of starting a boutique of clothing designed by her and made by these women, sold at a fair price.

Apparently her mother and stepfather had the means to make this dream happen, because the young woman in question is studying out of state, but there is the store, and there is her mother, running it for her. Raya was very enthusiastic about the whole enterprise, fortunately, and I was, too, although there was no way I could afford anything in there. No matter; Raya wanted me to try everything on, because she was sure I would "look great" in it all. She advised me on colours to bring out my eyes and things, and then oohed and ahhed as I modeled them for her. I would like to say, "Whatever," dismissively and with embarrassment, but it really was kind of fun. And I'm not going to lie. The clothes did look pretty good.

It also turned out that Raya has written a fictionalised autobiography. We swapped stories about being unknown writers. We also swapped email addresses.

It was nice to make a friend in person. I'll go back to Noho one of these days, and visit her again.

Friday, May 04, 2007

It's Official

This just in, from a highly(?) reliable(?) on-line quiz source:

You Belong in the UK

A little proper, a little saucy.You're so witty and charming...No one notices your curry breath.

If you decide to take this quiz yourself, let it be known that actually, I never have wanted to get wasted (and therefore have never done so) and also that some of the language on this quiz is PG-13. (Kind of makes you want to check it out, doesn't it?)

Thursday, May 03, 2007

A Commercial Break

Here's something mildly hilarious to keep you entertained while you wait for me to have time to finish writing about my trip to Northampton.

You know how sometimes you read something and you accidently scramble words or letters or even add stuff in that isn't there? This morning I was reading, among other things, Luke 6.39-49. As I approached verse 41 (in the CJB), I read, in all seriousness, "So why do you see the splinter in your brother's eye, but not notice the blog in your own eye?"

I wonder if someone's trying to tell me something . . .