bigger pond

I’m Here, Feeling Awkward

As April and Bets have already chronicled, we indeed all got our new piercings. Because I’m a nerd and a weanie, I just got another hole in my ear…

…and consequently my tale of The Moment of Piercing itself is rather unremarkable. What no one else has commented on, however, is the general atmosphere of the piercing-and-tattooing establishment we patronized. We went to Iron Age on the Loop, which came highly recommended. We also went on a Monday afternoon. And…the place was packed. On a Monday afternoon.

I arrived first. A man with a frizzy beard divided into two ponytails and assorted metal accessories protruding from his face was ushering a client into the back, curtained-off chairs. The woman at the counter — dressed in skinny black with various facial piercings and a purple bow in her ponytail — was surrounded by several concentric rings of clients. Because it was so busy, I quietly took a seat in the waiting area, decided that trying to read “Skater Times” wasn’t going to help anyone and pulled out a journal article instead. Nothing like reading a little Asian American visual culture theory in a tattoo parlor. April called shortly and I announced, “I’m here. Feeling awkward.”

Given the state of anxiety I’ve just described, you may be wondering: “Well, what did the clientele look like, Elissa?”

And I would tell you — and you may be disbelieving — that they were largely middle aged women.

Bubbly and Lovely

We were walking hand in hand through our neighborhood tonight.

The man in the white t-shirt and jeans stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, twiddling his cigarette between his fingers and eying us intently.

“You’re bubbly.”

He said, pointing to Noel.

“You’re lovely.”

He said, pointing to me.

And then, with the man clearly pleased with this couplet, we parted.

Symbolism for the Body

It’s been a long time coming, but this month Noel and I have finally been offered wine for communion at our own church. It is amazing — even unsettling — how quickly our bodies and minds rewire expectations. After two years of tipping back little cups of Welch’s finest every Sunday, I had grown to associate the solemn words, “Christ’s blood, for you,” with an easy shot of sugary, watery juice-from-concentrate.

When I took wine, I shivered a little. Rather than being a sweet, comforting splash, the wine stung. The initial sharpness and developing complexity jolted me. I can forget the grape juice almost immediately after I drink it. I cannot do that with the wine. The wine lingers. It traces a line of acid down my throat; its tannins linger in the back of my mouth. My body cannot forget it quickly, and so my mind and my spirit are prompted to consider longer and more carefully the gravity of what I have just done.

Isn’t this what Christ sacrifice is? Mingling a sting with layered richness, the wine speaks to the bitterness and the glory, the already and the not yet, that I claim when I take this sacrament.

When we begin to separate the physical reprecussions of the symbol from its spiritual meaning, we begin to veer towards an unhelpful — an incorrect — dualism of spirit and fbody. But God became flesh to save us. He gives us sacraments to call to our flesh, to offer us truth incarnate in touchable, tastable, visible forms. When I take the wine, I relish the symbolism that serves my soul through my body.

Tall Girl

Dear Random Petite Passerby,

Thank you for informing me of my relative height. Before you press for specifics, I’ll pre-emptively announce that I am five foot nine and a bit. No, I’m not a model, nor am I Michelle Wie. Yep, you guessed it: my dad is tall. Isn’t it funny how genetics work?

Oh, I didn’t realize that these shoes were unnecessary. I must have missed the universal ban on tall women  wearing shoes with heels. I do wish you had been around during my angst-filled childhood and adolescence when I felt intensely self-conscious about my height. You probably would have affirmed my desire to be short and encouraged the wearing of flat slippers to mitigate the rather striking height difference between me and all my peers.

Unfortunately for you and our current disagreement over the height of my footwear, I finally managed to embrace my gangly form while in college and started wearing heels. From your perspective, things took a turn for the worse when I fell in love and married my vertically gifted husband; the six inch gap in our height emboldened me to wear shoes of hitherto towering heights. To be perfectly frank, I’m starting to really like being tall, especially now that jeans manufacturers have caught on to my lengthy inseam needs. Isn’t it strange, though, how old insecurities can so easily reemerge when prompted? I’m starting to get all itchy and uncomfortable, now that you’ve pointed out how I’m teetering a good foot above your head.

six footers

But… sorry, down there, Random Petite Passerby. These fabulous wedges — in all their tall, thin cheekiness — are my new favorite summer shoe. Don’t worry too much. There’s plenty going on up in this stratosphere to keep me entertained. We’ll chat next time I’m sitting down or you’re on a ladder, okay?

Love,

Elissa

Superbia

I got my diploma from WashU in the mail a few days ago. I had sort of forgotten that I had actually finished a degree program and now possessed some useless letters that could but probably never will follow my name. It’s a fancier diploma than I expected, all engraving-on-silk-inset-in-leather-folio.

This is all well and good, but the entire diploma is also written in Latin. Every. Last. Bit. Because we are just that special. I am pretty sure that I am a Master of Arts in Art History and Archaeology, but I really can’t be positive, having been marginalized by my own diploma.

I’ve sent it to my youngest brothers — whose classical education Latin may now, at last, prove useful — for translation. But should you, similarly educated reader, choose to translate it for the masses of the internet, that would be cool, too.

Also, I’d prefer not too think too long and hard about the unnerving parellels between my exceptionally non-profit-producing degree and the oft-proclaimed dead language of Latin. Thanks.

Triangle Man

Today, whilst running, I spent about three tenths of a mile running towards a man shaped like an inverted triangle. He was middle aged, tanned orange, and wearing bright blue running shorts. The important fact, though, is that his biceps took up roughly the entire width of the sidewalk. Like this:

This made me acutely aware of my lack of both bicep girth and summer tan. Despite a recent, brief trip to Florida, I indeed remain a pale-to-medium shade of yellow. In shape language, I felt a lot like this:

Like a geometry proof in motion, we pounded towards each other. I chickened out and darted for the shoulder of the road, momentarily abandoning the sidewalk so he could pass. I was worried a bicep might accidentally knock me in the eye.

Intermarriage

Back in our CovCol days, Noel and I lived on halls in the same dorm that had (helpfully, for our purposes) proclaimed themselves to be “brother and sister halls.” This was a nice idea. Under the guise of spirituality-glazed affection, it gave some members of each hall their most regular and sustained contact with folks of the opposite sex. Occasionally, Second South would grow distracted by the bright young things on Third South or Third Central would saucily invite Sutherland to dinner. But, in a rather impressive commitment to hall-to-hall fidelity, Second South and Third Central managed, overall, to maintain this purported “brother-sister” relationship.

Clearly, this racket worked out well for us.

When Noel and I got married, I was ushered into a sub-coterie of Second South: Manville. The Manville boys were a big part of our lives in Chattanooga. We ate Sunday suppers and watched soccer together. Noel and I counseled several of them through relationship beginnings, endings, and false starts.

Noel, meanwhile, became privy to the energetic, and generally loud emotional lives of some of my Roomates in the Lord. On occasion, he was asked to speak in defense of his entire gender. He remained unperturbed when Rachel and I would dissolve into tearful messes on his couch. He didn’t understand the girls, per se, or why the decibel level needed to be so high, but he loved them because of what they meant to me.

This weekend is the third Second South + Third Central marriage in the last four years and the second Manville + Roommates in the Lord wedding. Brien and Kelly’s wedding weekend extravaganza in Ft. Lauderdale is bringing together some of the people who know me best and who are dearest to my heart. It’s a family reunion, of sorts: two unrelated but tightly bound groups of friends who have history, traditions, and plans for the future.

In our card for Kel and Brien, we’ll tell them how precious this group of friends have been and how delightful it is to have them joined together, again.

Because, like your mother-in-law told you, you don’t marry a person.

You marry the family.

Resting, Resting

Things I am not doing this summer include: taking a language class, writing a chapter, and spending inordinate amounts of time in the library.

Things I am doing this summer include: helping plan two weddings and execute four, watering my garden, remembering why I love contemporary art, traveling, assembling friends’ Ikea dresser, getting a piercing, eating as many meals as possible in my backyard, learning about hospitality, learning about twitter, trimming a chapter into an article, researching evidence of ethnic profiling in World War II visual culture, and running 6 miles.

Yay.

Pow. Pau.

A few trees later, my thesis has bee submitted to my committee. I am defending this week Wednesday at 12:30.

triumphant heel

Shortly, I will be nervous about my defense, anxious about talking to three really excellent professors about this half book that I just wrote. But right now, I am triumphant.

An Eva Hesse Kind of Week

It is telling of my weakness that brief, punchy criticism directed towards my abilities in a none-too-important quadrant of my life can swiftly debilitate me. The specifics of the criticism were really immaterial; all I took away was a panicking sense of self-doubt, a questioning of my calling, and the impulse to cry any time someone asked me about my MA thesis.

Sometimes I have days or weeks that remind me of particular artists. I’ve had Fred Tomaselli days where everything seems like a fascinating, jubilant burst of colorful bits. I have had Kiki Smith weeks, where I am acutely aware of the aches and longings of those hurting around me. I have had Lorna Simpson days where the lingering, haunting effects of our culture’s past wrongs ask to be mourned. I’ve even had Marcel Duchamp days where life is just…wackier. (I can’t really say that I’ve ever had a Rubens day, though. I’m not sure what that would entail.)

The last five days — feeling incapable, fearful, and insubstantial — have been part of an Eva Hessa kind of week.

rope piece 1970

Working in New York through the sixties, Hesse worked both within and against the dominant minimalist aesthetic, creating works that toyed with materials and with its relationship to the viewer. Her works often projected out into the viewer’s space, blurring the demarcations between painting and sculpture, object and environment. Many of Hesse’s works, particularly in the late sixties, used new industrial – and dangerous – materials such as latex and fiberglass to create sculptural works which were powerful in their fragility. This work, Rope Piece from 1970, is a drooping, amorphous installation that evokes the body with a minimalist nod. Looped and dangling, the rope somehow still suggests a body.

My own body, while so tense from the stress of the last few days, recognizes itself here. It’s a body aware of weakness, a body on the brink of tears. My fear of others’ opinions — and thus my frequent forgetting of my freedom in Christ — can cripple me. I transpose the criticism of one area onto the substance of my very calling. Should I be in grad school? Should I be writing a thesis? Is my work meaningful? Original? Substantial? Why can’t I write a normal sentence?

With a sister in Darfur and a sister-to-be who is under great expectations, this existential crisis over my academic ability seems rather silly. To some extent, surely it is.

Yet the beautiful thing about Eva Hesse weeks is that I am also reminded of the Incarnation. The Incarnation is the Word becoming a tired, broken body. It is God being born in bloody straw, sweating as he walked, needing naps, crying bitterly. The Incarnation is the God giving dignity to particulars, saying “yes” to the importance of form and flesh and sight. The Incarnation is the reason my unsteady heart and welling fear need not paralyze me. And the Incarnation reminds me why this is my kingdom calling in the first place.