that’s what i’m Tolkien about: 3 lessons from Lord of the Rings

When it comes to an epic series of novels, you have several choices. If you dig septets, you have two main contenders. You could opt for Narnia [Aslan owns every other talking animal, let’s not kid ourselves]. Or, if you’re like me and possess your own custom-made magic wand [true story, and no, you can’t have it], you may have read Harry Potter once or twice.

But, if you would rather submerge yourself in an entire universe of fantasy races, languages, histories, and subcultures, [complete with its own supplemental volumes, footnotes, and more hours of commentary than you could shake an impressively knotty staff at] you could read Tolkien.

Seriously, J. R. R.?

Way to explode everyone’s minds for generations.

I now have an avid Tolkien fan in my life, so I have committed to reading the series this year. That said, there are a few things I already know about the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit

[Not to brag, but I can sit still during multiple 3-hour movies and remember the most basic plot points].

3 Things I learned from Lord of the Rings:

If you have to get somewhere, you’d better hustle.

It’s blurry because they’re running so fast.

One of the first things I noticed about the film series [which the books may or may not betray as easily] is that Middle Earthlings are fit. They have to be. And I’m not just making that assumption based on all the battle-fighting and armor-bearing that goes on there.

They run everywhere: up and down mountains, through meadows, through the Shire, in and out of valleys. Practically every single scene involves moving along at a pace or two beyond a brisk walk.

What I’m saying is, Peter Jackson could have held open calls for his extras at a city-wide track meet. I know that directors with bajillions of dollars in the operating budget are allowed a few creative liberties now and then. But I’m confident that the whole running thing fits in with Tolkien’s vision.

After all, one does not simply walk into Mordor.

Cool People Have Facial Hair.

Image

This is not news to me. But Tolkien’s literary chops lend credence to this valuable relationship between being cool and keeping your face warm. The dwarves [sample from the Hobbit shown above] all have facial hair in Middle Earth (even the women).

Not only that, but Aragorn– the crazy-awesome, impossible-not-to-be-interpreted-allegorically, redeemed hero-human of Middle Earth–is never one to be spotted with a clean shave.

Based on the relationship in Tolkien’s work between beard and greatness, you never know what awesome thing might be just around the corner for good ole Strider.

But no one in the series proves that Tolkien thought  facial hair was cool more than the Grey/White wizard. Gandalf: bearer of the million-mile beard, automatically makes every scene he is in Your Favorite Scene.

And yes: the staff, the unconditional love of his friends, the firework shows, the smoke rings, and the pointy hat are all amazing. But without the beard? Gandalf the Grey would just be Gandalf the Okay.

Girls Rule.

Tolkien completed and published Lord of the Rings in 1954, but gender stereotypes were apparently “not his thing”. Some of the most powerful characters in the saga, with the most pivotal roles in the action, are women:

Arwen inspires and revives Aragorn, eventually sharing rule of his kingdom with him.

Galadriel protects the hobbits and their  companions throughout their journey to destroy the Ring of Power; she was a light to them in dark places.

And Eowyn? Well, she STABS THE WITCH KING IN THE FACE WITH A GIANT SWORD, and essentially saves everyone.

Thanks to Tolkien’s precedent, you can forget the image of a forlorn, sad-sack, wilting lily of a girl being trapped in a tower, waiting for some horseman to come rescue her. Because women are vital, women are strong, women are indispensable.

According to Tolkien, I can go forth and conquer.

And conquer I shall. Starting with his books, at least.

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curve your enthusiasm

Okay.

I really need to be better about keeping you guys up to date on things.

I know, I know. It’s a blog. I’m a blogger. And you need something to read. I’m sorry. I’ll be better about it. I really will. Especially after I learned that this guy [super-megalo-attractive British astrophysicist Brian Cox] married a blogger. Not a supermodel. Not a movie star. Not the frontwoman to an alt indie pre whatever band. A blogger. Hecks yes. Consider me motivated to blog for the REST OF MY LIFE].

he hosts a show called Wonders of the Universe. probably because he might actually be one.

Okay, okay. Moving on. Just wanted to tell my fellow bloggers out there to keep aiming for the stars: specifically the unbelievably intelligent, dashing, European ones. But I digress.

Here is something else I realized today. This is really important, people. So listen up. It made me feel better. And I have a hunch that it might help you.

We live in a world of “what do you do?”. Everyone is expected to have a well-thought out, socially-acceptable answer to that question. In the face of a job market that looks like the wrong side of a mountain troll, I have really grappled [often unsuccessfully] with that question. I have used such gems as “I’m unemployed”, “I am exploring the job market”, and the one that’s sure to have me up to my neck in suitors once they catch on: “I live with my parents”.

All in all, I was starting to wonder if this was my destiny:

Then it dawned on me. I do important things. And in case you’re wondering, here is what they are [in no particular order]:

I am a writer [with this blog, and a finished manuscript for a children’s story that I am going to start shopping, once I get a query letter written].

I am a freelance consultant for nonprofits and small businesses. [It’s true! It is all of a sudden turning into a bit of a part-time job, and is bringing with it a learning curve the size of a National Landmark. Please pray for my sanity and that of those I am working with.]

I am a volunteer. [I do a lot of things for no money- a lot of which I love doing, and am glad to do!]

I help to promote and manage an independent singer/songwriter, who I also have the privilege of calling one of my best friends. [Here is his site.]

I am an Orthodox Christian. [Ask me any question about it anytime: it is my Home and my Family and the Joy of my heart.]

I am a friend. [No matter what else happens, that is always my full-time job. I have never been perfect at it, but have always worked tirelessly.]

I had to write all this down immediately, because I will probably forget it in about 12 minutes. But, aside from the fact that they could someday put me in the path of a modelesque genius, the things I do are generally important. I do important things. The things I do matter in the scheme of things to others.

And the same goes for you.

Repeat that to yourself whenever you feel like you’re losing your nerve.

“I do important things.”

Because you do. I do. We all do. World at large, take note.

up to 11

While ruminating on my week, I was reminded of a certain Christopher Guest movie. This one, in fact:

The unusual amount of time I spend thinking about Christopher Guest movies aside, I realized something important today. When it comes to who I am and how I express myself-or how I feel about anything or anyone I particularly like or dislike-I appear to live by the rule of Spinal Tap. I seem to stay parked somewhere between 10 or 11.

A good friend summed me up well a few years ago when he said, “You love what you love.” Never one to leave people guessing, other people I know have similar impressions. My friend Paige once commented on the fact that I always speak in superlatives. And, as we all know, my friends are never wrong.

I know I told you a week or so ago that I envy the mysterious types. Part of the reason for that is because they appear so placid and calm. They are able to resist the urge to shout everything from the nearest peak.

I on the other hand, cannot seem to turn down my volume. I don’t mean this in the completely-vacant-of-all-self-control sense of the phrase. But if we’re speaking in terms of an appetite for life, I act starved. I either applaud vociferously or boo with gusto.

And lately I wonder if that is as good a thing as it appears. I worry that I might be like a perfume: pleasant at first, but eventually so strong you kind of want to barf, run away, or sit on the other side of the table from me.  Lately, the topic of silence, or of leaving parts of ourselves to the imagination, are coming up over and over.

It’s like the Universe is trying to tell me something. As loud as It possibly can. . .

year one

For my Valentine’s Day post, I’d like to begin by telling you about my sweethearts.

i want to hold your hand.

Aida and Sophia, before coming home from the hospital, 2007

Those are my nieces Aida Elizabeth and Sophia Jane, shortly after greeting the world. In some ways, they haven’t changed much: they are still beautiful; still sweet; they still love each other instinctively. In some ways, though, the girls have changed quite a bit.

my valentines

Sophie and Aida, a few weeks ago, now age 3

They have gone from making little gurgly noises to chatting up a storm. They are no longer content to lay in a crib and sleep; they like to run and hop, swing and twirl. Each of the girls are starting to make her own choices; each of them has her own likes and dislikes: each one is taking hold of her own personality more and more by the day. And they are both growing fast, shooting skyward like little spring flowers, in what seems like no time at all.

Orthodox Iconography: Jesus Blessing the Children

Along with my mom and stepdad, tomorrow marks the one-year-anniversary of my becoming an Orthodox Christian. I have been giving a lot of thought over the past few days to this post, and discovered that my nieces offer the perfect allegory.

When it comes to my “experience” treading the path of Orthodoxy, I am only a year old. Let’s put that in human terms. How many theologically articulate infants do you know?

In most ways, I still know next-to-nothing about this way of expressing my faith. I cannot begin to explain to you the complexities of our philosophy, the layers of meanings behind each and every tradition and practice, the lessons that are meant to be taught us by the colors in the icons.  To this day, I have no idea how to correctly sing a single tone in the hymnody.

More than a few times over the past year, I have looked an inquisitive friend in the face and politely implied (s)he “will just have to come with me to church sometime” and that (s)he “may want to ask a priest” instead of me, when it comes to questions about the Faith.

But there are two sides to every coin. Unless it’s a trick coin. And the one in this metaphor isn’t.

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Russian “Tenderness” icon [the style where Jesus’ face touches Mary’s, my favorite

While I feel like I have a long way to go, I am profoundly grateful for how far myself and my family has come. Not unlike my nieces, who seem to look more like little girls and less like little babies every time I see them, I am blessed to have seen my faith and my perspective grow and develop into something entirely different than it was  a year ago [by Grace alone]!

 

It is not an easy task to completely redefine your faith. But it has been a labor of love, and I have so much to be thankful for in hindsight.

I am grateful for the sense of community in the Church, both earthly and heavenly. I am grateful that beauty is not only encouraged in our worship, but embraced, and somehow reveled in. I am thankful to learn prayers and hymns that have been celebrated across the centuries. I am grateful for how accessible and how mysterious being a Christian can be, in the same moment.

the Archangel Michael: I love this because he looks like he means business.

Because of how different the perspective can be from one expression of faith to the next,  the past year in some ways feels like a lifetime. When you are thrust into the unknown, you never know where you might end up, and just how far you may go.

The changes brought on by this year have felt intimidating, frightening, exhilarating, humbling, confusing, joyous. . .I can’t keep track. Just in thinking about what to write in this post, and processing the moments in the past few days of my life, I have run the emotional gamut.

But then I remember my nieces and their example. And I remember I do have a long way to go, but I have grown and will continue to do so.

In the meantime, all I can do is approach G*d with an honest and open heart, like the children before me who ran to Him for his blessing.

the best policy

When I am confused, I think about rockin’ people, and how I might best follow their example and rock the world around me to the appropriate degree required by a given situation. I am at a confusing and somewhat troubling stage in life right now. Luckily, there is always someone who rocks considerably that I can look to for inspiration and guidance.

Honesty RocksRegardless of where your political loyalties may have found themselves in the mid-to-late 19th century, everyone can agree that Abraham Lincoln was known for being honest. He was unafraid to call it like it was, lay his cards on the table, even though it ended up costing him his life: his honesty is his legacy.

While with a friend tonight, I confided that “I am often afraid to tell people about things that are going on with me, because I don’t want them to feel compelled to be sorry for me”. That is a loaded statement. But what I realized is that the majority of the people reading this are my friends and my family, and I owe it to you to be honest, to level about where my life is to this point.

For those of you who sincerely would like to know how I’m doing, or how ______ makes me feel, I offer you a candid explanation:

  • I am still unemployed. I have been working with a job placement program, and I have a couple of faint prospects. I have been advised to wait on them while we keep our eyes open for new things. I am wondering if the new things we find will be good things- and I am wondering how long I will have to wait.
  • I am not going back to school. My attempt to retake the GRE resulted in disappointing scores. I am writing in the morning to request that my application be removed from consideration for admission [I was told the score requirement was a necessary one to be considered].
  • I have not adequately pursued getting my writing published. This is part due to my forgetfulness, and part due to renewed focus and emphasis on searching for jobs. I really wish I could be a writer. I do not want to give up my philanthropic hopes, either. But writing is something else that makes me feel alive. I have some contacts in publishing. I really want to get those efforts back in gear.
  • I have also [unintentionally, of course] neglected other efforts, like independent grant writing.] The grant-writing was something I agreed to do for a member of my family. Preliminary searching has proved it will be an immense challenge. Not to mention my own failings, the rapid passage of time, and my other pursuits such as job hunting and managing my emotional well being, are proving more demanding of my time than I originally anticipated. It is very important for me to come through on this and to hold up my end of the bargain.
  • I am constantly wrestling with contentment about being single. Not unlike Jacob’s epic battle with the Lord, it is a seeming never-ending struggle for me to reconcile the realities of my solitude with the gratitude for what I have in my life that makes it what it is. I am nowhere near a point of arrival on this, but I am working hard to learn what life has been trying to teach me about this area over the years. Unfortunately, I am not quite objective enough to tell you how well I’m doing.
  • I have realized [the hard way] the importance of addressing my emotional health. I have chemical and emotional imbalance. Just like any physical illness, psychological challenges can be draining and can affect other areas of your life adversely, if they are not controlled. Until recently, I have not taken care of myself in this area the way I should. Luckily, my family, friends, and the professionals guiding me through things, are tireless in their efforts for me to see my bull-headedness. I am on the way to more clarity in this area, and hoping that will help with the rest.

As of a couple of days ago, barring some temporary and volunteer work, I have been unemployed for 2 full years now. I must confess, for a person whose entire life prior to that point was marked by a series of well-planned personal, intellectual achievements, this can be devastating. I feel afraid that I have lost something along the way; something vital, some spark, some bit of knowledge, that had made me the successful person I once was.

I do not know what the future will bring, and honestly I can be more frightened than hopeful at times. What I do know is this: I am deeply humbled, and nothing short of desperate for more of God’s unfailing grace and mercy with each passing day.

And one more thing. I am I am very thankful- so thankful- for the many supportive, loving, and gracious souls in my life. I know that you all are not afraid to stand next to me, even while night falls. And that means we’ll be together when the sun comes out.

Whenever that may be. . .

1000 things

I’d like to introduce you all to my guest blogger.

I have probably listened to this song almost 20 times in the past day or two. Why? Am I in love? Blissfully happy? Completely attuned to and aware of the blessings that inundate me?

Not really.

Jason shows up here tonight because- just now, in throes of late-night mopery- I found something hidden in this song. Little does he know that, buried deep within his lullaby, there is a tiny, glittering, cocoa-filled Easter Egg of Truthiness.

SPOILER ALERT.

This song isn’t really about a pretty girl, or a kiss, or even about a perfect situation. This song is about a turning point.

“I’ve seen a thousand things, all in one place

But I stopped my counting when I saw your face.”

In this very challenging November, I cannot tell you how many times I have vented to friends, sobbed in front of relatives, and wrote angsty blog entries to try to find a little hope. And it wasn’t until tonight- in the stillness, with no one to talk to, that I was able to find it. How can one feel so much Love in a song by a stranger, in a serenade for someone else?

Although I can’t be certain why He times things this way, I am fairly sure it is a lot easier for me to listen to the consolations of G*d when I am being a bit quieter.

Things may not be better yet, but they will be.

My circumstances may be the same today as yesterday, but they will change.

This message was not delivered to me by a pixie peering through my bedroom window. I was not talking to my mom, or on the phone with a friend. There was no cosmic beam of light that appeared to dissipate my problems once I had this realization.

Divine Mercy and a single song have helped me to remember something very simple, and very important.

Fall is a time for turning.

sunny, with a chance of rain

We are blessed to live in a relatively tolerant, open-minded society. We are surrounded by diversity of opinions, beliefs, and backgrounds. And for my part, I have found most people to be pretty understanding of the things about me that make me different. With one notable exception.

I cannot stand rain. Looking out my window to see grey rather than blue makes me want to make a fort out of mismatched bedding and barricade myself within its unsteady walls. The mere mention of rain makes me squinch up my face  in dismay.

With most differing opinions, I can get by unscathed Not a cat person? Oh, that’s okay, the understanding Cat Person says, looking at me with a sympathetic smile.  Discussing religious differences rarely causes fireworks: Eastern Orthodoxy? How interesting- tell me more! Even telling another Southerner I’ve never been much for scrambled eggs- or mashed potatoes- veritable fighting words- will likely garner nothing more than, “Well, I guess it takes all kinds.”

But, tell people I don’t like rain, and I am met with surprise and condescension. Anytime I express my distaste for being covered in cold water against my will, or  for sliding around like a hockey puck; my new dress clinging, damp and shapeless, against trembling, throbbing joints- bullied into submission by the mood swings of the atmosphere, people look over their glasses and down their noses at me in disbelief.

“Really?” they say, doing little to mask their displeasure, “But we neeeed rain. It makes the flowers grow. It brings new life. Without it, we wouldn’t appreciate the sunshine.”

I beg to differ.

Like a child, I find myself praying when I see clouds. Please hold back, I say, desperately. I’m almost home. There’s just one more park swing for me to try out.

Of course, like death and taxes, rain is bound to come along, no matter how much I pout about it. I smirk when I listen to the forecasters: “50 percent chance of rain today”, they say, pleased with themselves. Has no one told them? There’s a 50% chance of rain every day: it will either rain, or it won’t.

I was thinking about this today. My stepdad said with resignation that it looked like we’d be having a rainy weekend, and I sighed. I thought to myself, It will either rain or it won’t. And then I realized that, in spite of myself, the rain had managed to teach me something. Whatever I’m dealing with will  either work out the way I’m expecting, or it won’t. I will either keep going as usual tomorrow, or life will throw me a curve ball. There might be sunshine and birdsong, or the thunder might roll.

I’m not going to pretend that this sent me, grinning, to the store to buy galoshes. It was just a gentle reminder that it’s not really about loathing the rain, or even loving the sun. It’s just about going outside to face things: rain or shine.