Wednesday, June 28, 2006


The pride of Pendle Hill's tree-filled campus is a 300-year-old American Beech behind the main house. Of course the fact that it's well known makes it a target for amorous knife wielders, so its bulging thigh-like limbs are covered as high as a person can climb in declarations of love from decades past. When I look at the carvings - C.F. + M.L., Carrie loves Elaine, Tom + Alice 82 - I'm struck by how different they are from the grafitti on walls and sidewalks and bathroom doors. Nobody carves "CJ wuz here" or "Philly Kings" in a tree. It's no quick scrawl with a sharpie or an aerosol can knowing it'll be gone with the next coat of paint - you have to be determined to carve something in a tree, and it will in all likelihood outlast the relationship you're memorializing. I regret the scars on this leafy giant, but the tree carvings give me a kind of hope for humanity. What people really put effort into, it seems, is love.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Songs in the night it giveth

There are few things funnier than a dozen Quakers sitting around trying to sing "How Can I Keep From Singing" from three different lyric sheets and books and their respective memories. You get about as many versions as Quakers.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Who we are

After a fairly static spring and summer, I feel I've aged a year in the past four days. In a good way (since twenty-two is still pretty green, no?) Lots of talking with people who are a lot farther along than I am and thinking.

One thing that's come up fairly often in my thoughts here is how partnerships and marriages should work. One woman told us about her cousin whose husband realized at age 62 that he was supposed to be a woman. He has now transitioned, but the marriage is still together. Another transwoman gave a talk on her experience, including how at the time she realized she was a woman, her wife decided the marriage was over.

I'm having a hard time with that. I can't imagine revoking a marriage because the person I loved was in a different body or a different gender. All our bodies and minds change anyway - and if he's not the man you married, well, at 62 he wasn't the man you married anyway. It makes me think a lot about the nature of love - how much can a person change before you don't consider yourself bound to them anymore? What is it that you love about a lover that's different from a friend? And what is it that makes you you - how big a part of you is your gender? Your sex? Would you still be you if either of those were different?

Monday, June 19, 2006

Worn smooth

I'm nestled into Pendle Hill: land of homemade yogurt, 6 am yoga, communal chores, and a really good swing big enough for two.

This morning someone helped me put together what it is about old Quakers. There's a quality in many of them that I've marvelled at for years - a kind of stillness, a depth. I used to be afraid of getting old and decrepit and ugly until I met them. Their age seems like a virtue instead of a weakness to be pitied.

Before meeting for worship one of the teachers asked us to imagine ourselves as rocks entering a stream as we went into meeting, to let our jagged edges wear away in its current until we're smooth and shining. She read us the passage from The Velveteen Rabbit where the shabby old Skin Horse explains that he's real because he's been loved by a child. And that's what these people are, what makes them elders instead of merely being old - they're real. Their bodies are shabby and their spirits worn smooth by years of action and trial. It reminded me of Donne -

Batter my heart, three-person'd God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.

I don't think you become smooth and still like they are just by willpower. It's not something I'm going to achieve at 21. But seeing that they've been through it before me makes me less afraid to be battered and smoothed.

"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit. "Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."

Friday, June 09, 2006


In four days, I turn twenty-one. At 6:30 am I'll be in the Greyhound station bound for Wallingford, Pennsylvania for seven weeks as an intern at a Quaker center called Pendle Hill. I think I'm unreasonably excited about the idea of a bell calling us to meals and meeting every morning. Probably it's because I always wanted to live at Redwall Abbey.


I'm finding The Giving Tree's message very weird now that I'm reading it as an adult instead of hearing it read to me. The tree gives body and soul to this boy who gives her absolutely nothing in return - not even a thank you - and we read it to kids why? To teach them unconditional love? To teach them to be doormats? "Cut down my trunk and make a boat," said the tree. "Then you can sail away . . . and be happy."

I think adults like The Giving Tree a lot more than kids do, and it's a classic because we keep reading it to them. Adults get choked up reading it, which kids never do. I picture a mother reading this to her three-year-old when she's trying to get him down for a nap. She's tired, her shirt is all sticky from where he spilled applejuice on her at lunch, and she hasn't washed her hair in days because what's the point? She knows in a few years he'll want to build a house and sail away, and he'll come dropping in occassionally to ask for cash. Of course she cries when she reads it - it feels like the story of her life. But she still loves the boy.

I'm reminded of Margaret Atwood's rewrite of "The Little Red Hen", which ends not with the hen refusing to share her hard-earned loaf, but giving it up to the other animals: "I'm a hen, not a rooster. Here, I said. . . . Have some more. Have mine." The feminist in me wants to say we shouldn't be teaching children this, especially girls - they should be learning to take care of themselves first and others second. The humanist in me is saying the world would be a better place with more nurturers, more selflessness.


Birkenstock-tanned and
perpetually dirty,
I have summer feet.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Do your mitzvah for the day

This week the House will be voting on closing the School of the Americas. The SOA is a US military training school to train Latin American soldiers in counterinsurgency, interrogation tactics, etc. Basically, we've trained a lot of Latin America's worst dictators and human rights violators there. After SOA manuals were revealed to be teaching torture tactics, the school was closed but reopened with relatively few changes under the name of "Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation."

The protest in Georgia every year is mostly for show. This is where it counts. People have been trying to get this bill into Congress for six years, and today and tomorrow are when they're trying to get lots of people to call in and support it. Call your representatives. I don't know what else to say - please do it.

Thursday, June 01, 2006


It seems I'm destined to spend car trips asking boys please not to sign while they're driving. But on the whole I can't complain.

Also, when you make risotto with white wine like you're supposed to, how do you tell when it goes bad? I'm not used to food tasting alcoholic after a single day. Not that there's any danger of this risotto lasting long enough to spoil.