Super Bowl of Names

AKA The Pig Skin

AKA The Pig Skin

With Super Bowl Sunday a mere week away, our nation’s rabid enthusiasm now turns to the illustrious sport of enormous men attacking each other in a manner akin to a medieval battle. I speak of American football. Obviously, I am not referring to the more logically named game involving the kicking of a multicolored sphere around a pitch that is celebrated by 90% of the world, but of the inaccurately-named American pastime of carrying an oblong shaped ovoid in one’s hands.

Regardless of whether or not an American football can truly be called a ball, the day of the venerable Super Bowl is our country’s greatest sporting holiday, rivaling the Olympics in its stature among Americans’ televised pastimes. Even the non-sporting citizen is compelled to watch the game, and any person as unfortunate as to not know the names of the teams playing is ostracized from society during this Festival of Football.

2008 Titans Game

2008 Titans Game

As a person who has never actually sat through an entire football game (even when I had tickets to one in a stadium), and only watches the Super Bowl to see the commercials, I feel it is my duty to understand the rudimentary basics of football, lest I become a social pariah in the eyes of my peers and shame my ancestors with my lack of expertise in the field of contact sports. That is why I am currently reading the Wikipedia page about Super Bowl XLVIII.

As I read about various statistics and people I am utterly ignorant about, I notice the two teams that are to face off this Sunday have ridiculous names. There is nothing at all terrifying about Seahawk (which I have identified as the animal Pomarine skua, a member of the seagull family) besides the fact that they may on occasion steal one’s retainer at the beach (long story, basically when I was eight a Seahawk nicked my teeth retainer, now I must avenge myself by calling them lame in my blog). Then you have the bronco, which refers to feral horses that once roamed the Great Plains before being rounded up and made into glue. Scary!

Neither of these animals are particularly terrifying, so I looked further to see if there were any cooler team names. Of course there are the du jour scary animal mascots such as the Jaguars, the Eagles, and the Bears. Then there’s somewhat perplexing mascots such as Saints and Dolphins, which are usually known for their benevolent nature.

There’s even a team called the Redskins, which I find rather bizarre. Does one really want to be named after a people that were brutally and horrifically oppressed by a technologically superior power? Questions of racism aside, it is strange to name one’s team after a group of people. When I was in middle school, our mascot was the Viking, and we were supposed to exemplify the Viking Spirit of honor, empathy, and integrity. I remember thinking that it was odd that my school encouraged us to emulate a group of people best known for their penchant for wanton murder, mayhem, and pillaging. But whatever, Vikings are tough and they make a better mascot than our rivals, the Heritage Hornets.

That got me thinking, though. What would be an awesome football team name? Something to put fear into the hearts of grown men at the sight of our terrifying emblem? If I was to stick with the convention of naming my team after a group of people, I think I would go with the Fighting Franks.

 

A Fighting Frank!

A Fighting Frank!

Franks, of course, refer to the confederation of Germanic tribes along the Rhine River that went head to head against the Romans in Classical times. They later went on to found the Carolingian Empire under Charlemagne and successfully repelled the Iberian Saracens in the Battle of Tours. Since there is nothing cooler than a people that are daring enough to raid Romans and repel Saracens, my fictional football team would be named in honor of the mighty Franks (who are ten times better than your Fighting Irish, Notre Dame)! You just try not to quake in fear when our players run out, whirling around a battle axe and horned helmet as the swirling of their exquisite mustaches of Doom mesmerize you into hypnotic terror.

Of course, if I wanted to continue with the convention of naming teams after animals, my team would be called the Vandalizing Velociraptors. Not only is my mascot a giant carnivore known for its merciless cunning and vicious claws, but my Velociraptors also enjoy malicious property damage! Just try getting that graffiti off of your stadium! They may be extinct, but that won’t stop my Velociraptors from deliciously relishing in the lamentation of your women as they make touchdown after touchdown while simultaneously breaking ALL the windows in a twenty-mile radius.

Scarier Than Oregon Fighting Ducks!

Scarier Than Oregon Fighting Ducks!

Man, sports could be so much more interesting with a little more creativity. Please comment with your own “Awesome Team Names”! The winner will become an honorary Fighting Frank on my fictional football team! Enjoy your Super Bowl Sunday!

 

 

The Wisdom of Wisdom Teeth

Ready Dr. West

Ready Dr. West

“So Maddie, are you ready to get rid of those old wisdom teeth?” The smiling dentist asked November 14th, as he prodded the back of my mouth with that little metal hook that they scrape on your molars. “Wisdom teeth?” I tried to say, but my mouth was far to full of fingers and instruments so I garbled something more on the lines of, “Whissow eeh?” “Yep!” The dentist said as he glanced back at the x-ray of my teeth that was posted on the computer, “Looks like you got four of them… all impacted too!” “Thoey nee fig eh demoo?” I asked, trying to say “Do I need to get them removed?”

The Culprits!

The Culprits!

The dentist laughed as he stuck a tiny power-drill in my mouth that smoked like a bonfire as it made contact with my molars. “Well, you’re what, 16 now? I’d say it’s the perfect time to get rid of them, now when you’re young and can heal easy. Now spit.” I obliged to the command to expectorate and wiped my drooling mouth with the paper apron pinned round my neck. I glanced at the x-ray of my mouth on the wall, seeing the dentist point with a rubber-gloved finger to the four small pieces of bone lodged deep in the flesh of my gums. “It’ll only take 45 minutes max, and once you get them done you won’t have to worry about getting them out when your older and they start to hurt you.” The dentist said. “Most kids say they’re glad to get it over with.”

That is how my father and I ended up walking into the oral surgeon’s office one icy January 3rd afternoon to get several of my mouth bones ripped out of my tender flesh. They took me into the operating room, which looked like a normal dentist’s room, and I sat down on the reclining chair. My stomach growled angrily, as I wasn’t allowed to eat or drink the day of my surgery. I found myself actually looking forward to getting knocked out because if there was one thing I did well, it was sleeping. “Good luck, Maddie.” My dad said as he kissed my forehead and bolted the room as the nurse came out with a long needle. “Yay! Anesthesia!” I said with a silly grin as the nurse stuck the needle into my arm.

Here We Go!

Here We Go!

The doctor and four nurses gathered around me and the dentist counted back from one hundred. “99, 98, 97…” I heard him say. I blinked. “OK, all done, Maddie!” I heard the dentist say when I opened my eyes. Although it felt like only a second had passed, I noticed the sun in the distant window was in an entirely different place then I remembered it being.

“So this is what time travel feels like.” I tried to say, but my entire mouth was numb and bleeding like a vampire at snack time so the words came out as an unintelligible blurb. My bottom lip seemed to have a heavy weight on it and the corners of my mouth seemed a lot droopier than usual. “A perfect surgery,” Then nurse said to me as she wheeled me out of the operating room and to my father who was waiting in the hall. I tried to smile at my dad but all my face seemed willing to do was a goofy sort of grimace. I felt really, really silly. Man, anesthesia is the bomb!

“She’ll probably experience the worst of the swelling on the third day, make sure you give her the anti-inflammatories every four hours. We’ll give you some special ice packs for her face.” The nurse instructed to my dad as I giddily poked my huge chin with my finger. “U’ll eee like a cheepmuck,” I slurred as my paralyzed bottom lip did little to stop my furious drooling. “As long as she get’s lots of rest and fluids, she’ll be back to normal in less than a week!” The nurse said chipperly as my dad hauled my limp giggling body into the car.

On The Way Home

On The Way Home- Silly

As I hunkered down in bed, I still couldn’t feel the bottom part of my face and had to manually hold my bottom lip up just to drink lest I dribble out everything. My mouth was still bleeding so I stuffed some pieces of gauze into my incredibly sore kisser. My dad brought me some chicken broth, which I managed to drink after some difficulty distinguishing my bottom lip from my chin. There was a Star Trek marathon on BBC, so I just watched Picard baldly give commands until I passed out from the pain meds.

The next day I woke up feeling much better. The numbness was gone, I had stopped bleeding, and managed to regain my fine-motor skills. But as I looked in the mirror I was horrified to see that my lower mouth had swollen to give me a jawline that would make Jay Leno envious. I swallowed hard as I looked at myself in the mirror, and the action sent a terrible wave of pain through my body. I grabbed my unnaturally bulging chin and felt the throbbing of my teeth. I couldn’t so much as move my mouth without feeling my inflamed gums protest with a sensation not unlike getting a swift uppercut to the jaw. The fact that my face was also terribly bruised from the surgery also lent a hand to my beat-up-looking-appearance. I moaned a bit in pain as I cupped my enormous jaw in my hands.

Ahhh Ice Packs!!

Ahhh Ice Packs!!

“Hey, Maddie.” My mom said as she opened the door to my room holding a cup of yogurt. Suddenly she saw my horribly bloated mouth and she nearly dropped the Oikos on the carpet. “Oh baby…You look terrible…” She said as she crept closer and poked my swollen cheeks with a spoon. I moaned a bit more in pain. “You poor thing! Let’s get some ice on those cheeks!” She then ran downstairs and returned with a thing that looked like a headband but had some pockets that held icepacks. “Here, the dentist put this in your goody bag.” She wrapped the contraption around face, with the cold of the icepacks chilling my inflamed cheeks. I looked like a mix between a medieval princess and Sylvester Stallone after being beaten up by an angry Apollo Creed.

The rest of the day went pretty well, the painkillers drifting me in and out of consciousness the whole day and little pain interrupting my hazy little life. But good God, Sunday night was a doozy. For some reason, the anti-inflammatories had done little to stop the ignition of my entire face into horrible, bruised mass and as I lay helplessly on the bathroom floor at 2:30 AM moaning softly in agony, I cursed the monstrosity of preventative dental care and rubbed my bulging face now distended by horrible burning lumps. Ice did little to help at this point, so I just moaned for an hour or two imagining that my face would get stuck like this forever and I would have to join a convent or something, wherever writhing girls with swollen molars go when they begin to despair.

You Should Have Seen The Other Guy!

You Should Have Seen The Other Guy!

“Oh God!” I prayed as I stared at my bathroom ceiling that I now saw had a slight darkening on the corner of the ceiling, “If you could distract me from my engorged jaws for a minute, that would be amazing!”

At that moment, I heard the door of the bathroom creak open just behind my head and I jumped as my vision was obscured by a great furry mass that descended over my face. I suddenly realized it was my cat, Ebony, who per her usual hobby of surreptitiously opening bathroom doors and slinking in, had sat directly on top of my forehead and was peering down at me with her mischievous green eyes. “Hey cat.” I said as I felt her soft warm fuzziness heat my face and possibly aggravate my allergies. “That actually feels pretty good right now.” At that pronouncement, Ebony promptly jumped off my head and onto the bathroom sink where she mewled plaintively for me to turn on the sink, “Fine kitty.” I said as I crawled up from my fetal position on the tile floor to turn the tap.

As I turned the handle, I felt hot water spill over my icy fingers, which I quickly retreated to the relative safety of my neck that was still cold from the rigorous application of ice packs. To my surprise, the heat felt marvelous against my inflamed cheeks and I quickly stuck a hot washcloth into the steaming spigot and held the wonderfully healing heat against my chin for a good minute of delicious relief.

All this time, everyone had said it was cold that was supposed to help you with the pain, but God through my delightfully malevolent cat, revealed a wonderful remedy to the terrible pain of my extracted teeth. For the next hour, I kept a hot washcloth on my cheeks and for one wonderful hour, my pain was gone.

returned to bed around 5:00 AM, and had a wonderful rest. When I woke up around 4 PM, the swelling had decreased significantly and I was feeling ten times better. The next day I was starting school with only occasional twinges of soreness.

I thank God for his wonderful mercies with my recovery. He is, after all, the greatest physician and dentist. When I went back to see the wonderful surgeon the following Wednesday, he said I was healing beautifully and to make sure to always floss. I am grateful, very grateful.

Back To Normal

Back To Normal

Snow Day

Accumulation

Accumulation

It’s a snow day!!! Three exclamation points can hardly express my jubilation at the prospect of an unexpected day off! Oh, there were rumors and there were whisperings among the students of Brentwood High, but no one even imagined such a wonderful winter wonderland would come to fruition (or accumulation)!

I’ll admit that half an inch is a rather meager amount of icy wonderfulness, but I think I’ll speak for my fellow pupils enslaved by the desk and the bell that any amount of frozen ice particles that get our chief communications director Carol Birdsong to call is enough for me! Oh sweet Carol, your mellifluous voice declaring school is not in is like balm for the blistering mind of the weary pre-midterms brain! May the poets sing of the lovely Carol freeing us from the bondage of Algebra and Double Replacement Reactions for eons to come!

Anyway, a snow day is a welcome respite for any student floundering in the vast ocean of review packets, essay questions, and textbook passages that seem to accumulate higher and faster than the snow on the ground during the last lap before winter break. Not that I’ll be spending the day in unrestrained slumber (like I would if it was a preplanned break). No, a day off of school really means a day to get as much homework done as possible in a desperate attempt to claw my way out of the quicksand of deadlines threatening to drown me.

 

But the great thing about snow days is that I can work at my own pace! I can desperately scribble down the last entries in my composition book for English and finish my stoichiometric reaction worksheet for Chemistry. I can finally have time to print out my review questions for US History and start looking up Ancient Sumerian relief sculptures for Art History.

 

In short, I finally have time to be a good student who gets things in before deadline rather than a mediocre one who barely pastes everything together to turn in the second before the clock strikes late. When I don’t have to rush out the door by 6:30, I can read a whole chapter of the bible instead. I can finish my homework by 10 in the morning, and go till noon making cookies for friends and family. I can then spend my afternoon making my Christmas gifts and writing thank you cards and still have time left to watch a documentary on wolves and write a post for my blog, and the amazing thing is I can do it all in my cozy red snowman pajamas.

I have a day of freedom to work and to play, to do learning, a thing I love, in peace, quiet, and independence. I can write freely and with joy undiluted because I can be myself without the mask of uncertainty and insecurity that often creeps across my face when I’m at school. I haven’t written for my blog in an entire month because I had no day of freedom to enjoy such luxuries as time.My entire soul feels as if it has been freed, if just for a day, to live and to be myself. Even though I could have slept in today till noon, I got up at 6:30 when my dad came and told me the wonderful news because I wanted to experience every drop of this wonderful freedom, to savor and enjoy it like a fine meal.

I want relish in these wonderful days of liberation because I know my time for them is very short. I am sixteen now. In only a short year and a half I will be eighteen. My time to revel in the snow and be a child are quickly evaporating before my very eyes and each minute that passes is a minute I cannot get back.

I don’t want to live my life asleep, be it a metaphorical slumber or a physical one. I don’t want to have a single day wasted. Even though I will have to go back to school tomorrow, I want to make that experience one I can be proud of. If I look back on this day, today, I want to know that everything I did was for the Glory of God and the happiness of others.

I want to be the best student, the best daughter, the best friend each and every day I live, snow day or otherwise. I want to love boundlessly and live sacrificially, like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, who Ms. Gwen taught us about last Saturday morning as an example of such virtues.

Time is short and the years melt away like the snow in the Tennessee sun. If today were the last day of my life, then I’d make it wonderful.

Gun Powder

The Gun Range

The Paper Man

Gunpowder reeks in a way you can taste, like you are sucking on an acrid piece of burning chalk. The smell slithers into your brain through the nostrils and the mouth, coursing through veins like venom. I was frozen, silent and completely still, clutching the smoking revolver in my shaking hands as I stared in horror at the dime sized hole I had blown through the skull of the paper man on the wall.

“Great shot!” My father exclaimed with a proud grin, beaming to his friends as I carefully rested the smoldering weapon on the counter stained with dark lines of powder. “You’re a natural!”

I was silent as I looked at my hands, stained with black smudges as the stench crept into my eyes and into my clothes, covering everything in its caustic odor.

“How does it feel, Maddie?” My father’s friend asked as he casually plucked up the Colt Python and pushed six more bullets into the shiny cylinder with a rattle. “It feels good doesn’t it?”

I nodded my head, but my heart was pounding in terror as I felt him replace the heavy weight of the gun in my hands. It was too heavy, really, not at all what I thought it would feel like. That vision of Lara Croft and James Bond twirling their pistols evaporated the moment I held the dense metal in my outstretched arms.

I thumbed the hammer and gazed out at the target, feeling the rapid beating in my chest clatter inside my ribcage. My index finger stroked the trigger but did not squeeze.

“Now breathe out.” My father whispered behind me, and robotically I fired.

Bam! The recoil reverberated through my bones, and I saw a fresh hole in the chest of the paper man on the opposite wall. It was so fast, as fast as the bite of a cobra on an unsuspecting mouse not even able to process the sharp fangs wrapping around its body until it was already stone dead.

I stared out at the paper man like a deer in the headlights, my wide eyes gazing at the smoke wafting off of the barrel. It was surreal and disturbing the way the serpentine tendrils of smoke seemed to wrap around me, twisting around my arms and curling up my neck. It seemed to squeeze my lungs, constricting and suffocating as it coiled around my body.

I put down the gun and tore off the tight headphones that pressed against my brain, desperately trying to breathe despite the pressure of the thick acidic air.

“I need some air,” I muttered before dashing out of the subterranean cave of the gun range. I clawed my way up the stairs towards the sunlight peaking out from underneath the door. I fumbled for the handle of the door but my hands were trembling. I pushed it open and stepped into the blazing light of the pure summer sun. I took a deep breath, inhaling the fresh air unpolluted by the black odor that still clutched to my clothes and hair.

I was not scared exactly, nor was I disgusted either. All I know is that I felt a certain emotion of magnetic repulsion at the smell of gunpowder and the weight of the metal in my small hands. The image of the two dime-sized holes in the body of the paper man was haunting and disturbing as my brain subconsciously visualized the way a bullet would slice through flesh and organs and spill out blood onto the field of littered shell-casings below. The idea of using such a frightening weapon of destruction on another human being sickened me in a way that made me shake all over. While my father and his friends laughed, speaking of shotgun blasts that could tear basketball sized chasms in the chests of men without even aiming, I shuddered in a solemn aversion for the smooth metal of the revolver they had placed in my hands.

I did not fear the weapon in the careful hands of my father or his friends, nor was I scared when I saw police resting their wrists on the holsters of pistols. I did not fear those I knew who chose to wield such great and terrifyingly mortal power.

I feared only the implications, and the icy rush I felt experiencing such dreadful dominion over life and death.

On the drive home from the gun range my father asked me a hypothetical question. If someone was trying to hurt me or my family, could I pull the trigger?

I looked at the case of the revolver in the car. It was sleeping now, curled up in its nest and quietly waiting to strike. I gazed back at him, studying his familiar face.

“Yes.” I whispered. And that is what scared me the most.

 

A Feline Fairy Tail (Tale)

Ebony

Ebony

When I was about five my father bought me two goldfish at the pet store for about ten bucks. We got a round fish bowl, a bunch of blue pebbles, and a little fish castle to put in the pebbles so my goldfish could play knights if they felt like it. He bought a little shaker of fish-flakes to feed the fish and some water drops to make the pH levels in the water habitable for them. They had names, but I never remembered them. They were to me, Fish 1 and Fish 2 and I was only moderately excited by their presence. We had them for about a month before one day I found them floating belly up in their fish bowl. Apparently the water had been too basic for their delicate fishy bodies and it killed them. I walked out in the living room to where my father was sitting out on the couch watching TV and held the bowl of dead fish in my tiny arms.

2003 - No Cat Yet

2003 – No Cat Yet

My father looked at the bowl in horror, his mind going into panic mode as he desperately racked his brain for the words on how to explain mortality to his serious eyed little girl holding her bowl of fish. Would they flush the fish, bury them, hold a big funeral? What was he supposed to do?

I looked up at him and with a straightforward tone of matter-of-factness I said, “Daddy, my fish are dead.” I then carefully placed the bowl of carcasses on the floor and then beamed up at him. “May I have a cat now?”

You see, my dad bought me fish to distract me from what I really wanted, which was a cat. Now like a number of small, bug-eyes little girls of 5, I was absolutely obsessed with cats. I drew pictures of cats, I watched movies on cats, I checked out every book in the library on cats, and I collected stuffed animals that were cats. By the age of five, I could rattle off all 91 International Cat Association certified breeds of felines and their specific breed traits and registered colors like some boys of five can rattle off Pokémon.

I knew every single fact about cats, from the average lifespan to the year that cats were domesticated (7500 BC in Cyprus). I had a singular focus in life to achieve one goal, which was to acquire a cat by any means possible. My mother was adamant about not having one, but as my obsession grew, she began to bargain, especially after I began to dress up as a cat myself.

Happy Cat Owner!

Happy Cat Owner!

“You can have a cat when you are five, Maddie.” She said to her then three-year-old daughter, thinking that by the time two years passed, the fancy of feline ownership would have subsided in her toddler’s mind. “Just take those socks off your hands and stop meowing.”

It was a smart strategy, but she gravely underestimated my fixation.

On the morning of my fifth birthday I crept into my parents room at four in the morning. Standing inches from my mother’s face, I poked her forehead softly with my index finger and smiled with a wide toothless grin. My mother jerked awake as she saw two dark, saucer-like eyes staring at her in the weak light of dawn.

“I’m five now, Mommy.” I whispered, “Can I have a cat now.”

My mother rubbed her tired eyes and shot a look at the clock. “What?” She asked groggily, her mind still coming online.

“Remember, you promised me two years ago that we would get a cat on my fifth birthday. I’m five today.”

“You remember that?” She asked in surprise as her hands fumbled for her glasses.

My mother furrowed her brow and looked down at her daughter’s wide grin. We had owned a cat when I was a baby and it was psychotic. When it bit me, my parents had had to “send it to a farm in the country” and my mother was heartbroken. As my mother looked down at her gleaming eyed child and frowned. This was bad.

 “What greater gift than the love of a cat.”  ― Charles Dickens


“What greater gift than the love of a cat.” – Charles Dickens

I smiled undeterred and flipped the pages in my book to an article describing how to properly assimilate children and animals.

“Look Maddie.” She said softly but firmly, closing the book on her lap and taking me in her arms, “The only way you are going to get a cat is if God drops one in your lap. So if you want a cat, you are just going to have to pray for one.”

I looked up at her and grinned, then picked up my book, gave her a kiss on the cheek, and dropped to the floor and prayed.

Nine months later, Ms. Melissa Cook came to live with us and she brought her cat, a beautiful and black silky shorthaired cat named Ebony. Ebony actually stowed away in Ms. Melissa’s moving van and it was a bit of a surprise that her cat followed her. God put that cat into my lap and I fell in love with Ebony at first sight and when Ms. Melissa was ready to go, she left Ebony with me.

“The smallest feline is a masterpiece.”  ― Leonardo da Vinci

“The smallest feline is a masterpiece.”  – Leonardo da Vinci

I’ve had Ebony for eleven years and she is still my favorite animal in the whole wide world. She was the answer to a little girl’s multi-year prayer.

To this day, I have never had another fish.

 

“A cat has absolute emotional honesty: human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings, but a cat does not.”  ― Ernest Hemingway

“A cat has absolute emotional honesty: human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings, but a cat does not.” – Ernest Hemingway

 

Fear in Love

Somebody told me once that overcoming fear is the heart of love and I did not understand. To my poor perception, that strange little phrase made absolutely no sense. In my experience, love had always been an emotion derived from the happiness it brought me, and to say that love could originate from something so appalling as fear perplexed me. Love was beauty, I reckoned, love can’t come from such an ugly creature as fear. I thought I knew what love was, but then again, I had never really truly been afraid.

When I watched my great-grandmother die everything changed. I experienced a million different emotions ripping through my consciousness. I felt the violent monsters of fear, sadness, confusion, and bitterness seem to clench their thick claws around my throat, crushing my airway, suffocating me until my vision was dark and blurred and there dwelled no sensation but the horrifying weight of my terror that seemed to pin me against the wall. My eyes could not meet the glassy gaze of my dying great-grandmother who flopped as limply as a baby doll in the clutches of the monstrous hospital bed that had invaded her living room. I watched her chest rise and fall slowly and with frightening irregularity, as if with each ragged exhale, death was about to stealthily drag her away while we weren’t looking. My mother and grandmother bravely fought off the vicious predator that was circling the bed, speaking soft words to my great-grandmother as they washed her ashy face, but death still crouched in the room, waiting patiently to take her away. The flickering candle of my resolve was extinguished and I fled from the room, unable to stop running until I was far enough from that living room that my courageous mom and grandmother would not be able to hear me sobbing like the coward I was.

Laying inside the bushes by the shed behind the house, silent tears streamed down my face as I hid from the fear that was crouching inside. A selfish fear owned me as I prayed to be transported back to a home a thousand miles away. Escape seemed to be the only option, I called my father, and begged to be saved. I confessed how terrified and useless I felt, pinned against the walls and being slowly choked to death, a hangman’s noose wrapping around my neck, tighter and tighter with each frantic heartbeat. I begged to have a reprieve, to escape the prospect of watching my great-grandmother slowly succumb to the ice-cold fingers of death. My father was silent for a long time, and even in my hysterical state I knew pardon was impossible and I would have to walk back into that room invaded by death one way or another. He finally took a deep breath and spoke a phrase still etched in my conscience, “The only way to beat your fear is to fight it with love. Just love Maddie.”

I did not want to go back inside to that cavernous living room with the intruding hospital bed and my gaunt great-grandmother with one foot securely in the grave. I did not want to have to breathe in that air, laced with chemicals and the sickly-sweet smell of aged flesh. I did not want to go back but I did and I reluctantly walked in the living room, cheeks still red from my cowardice and self-pity and I strode to my grandmother, exhaustion in her eyes, and asked to take the next shift. My grandmother slowly nodded and handed me a cup of cool water and an eyedropper, the only way to get fluids into my great-grandmother who was lying unconscious on the bed beside us. I was left alone in the room, just me and her.

“Water…” My great grandmother croaked, her parched lips gaping. I quickly dipped the eyedropper into the cup and squeezed the drops into her mouth. I had not seen her this close before, how small and frail she looked in the enormous bed. I reached out my hand and touched her cracked and wrinkled wrist, feeling the erratic pulse beat against my fingers. Gingerly, I took her hand in mine, an action I had done so many times before she got sick, and I placed my other hand on her forehead, mimicking a soft circle with my figures that she had once done to me when I was ill. I held her hand and I gazed at her closed eyes, remembering all the beautiful memories we had shared.

She suddenly opened her eyes and looked at me with a clarity that no one had seen in days and she smiled with an expression that seemed angelic. “Madeleine, will you sing me a song.” She said softly.

I smiled and nodded, and racked my brain for her favorite song. Slowly, I began to sing, “Glory, Glory, Glory” my shaky voice filling the room as my great-grandmother’s lips moved slowly in time. As the last notes faded away, I felt tears rolling down my cheek, but they weren’t tears of fear or terror anymore, they were tears of pure love overflowing in my heart towards my great grandmother. She saw the tears and looked at me with soft eyes. “You’re a good girl.” She said with a smile, “Full of love.”

I will never forget that last moment I shared with her, nor will I ever forget the way the love in my heart made me feel so at peace. Nothing existed in me at that moment except the greatest sense of love and contentment that I have ever felt in my life. I was truly at peace in a way that let me overcome the cold claws of death and let me give a simple goodbye to my great-grandmother. I believe that overcoming the greatest fears in life is what allows the greatest love to grow. I was afraid, and I experienced the fear completely, then I let it pass through me and leave only love in its wake. I believe that is what they meant by “overcoming fear is the heart of love,” when you overcome the most intrinsic emotion of all, fear, you can finally achieve the most beautiful.

Recent M & J

Maddie Hears A Who

"Some books are so familiar that reading them is like being home." -Louisa may Alcott

“Some books are so familiar that reading them is like being home.”
-Louisa May Alcott

It’s been a month into AP Language and Composition and already I am feeling the effects of my teacher, Mr. Baker, on my way of thinking and arguing. This transformation became evident when I was writing a review (which may perhaps be a smidge too scathing for a kid’s movie) on Netflix about the animated adaptation of Doctor Seuss’ The Lorax. When I saw it a couple months ago with a group of little girls I was watching, I couldn’t pinpoint what exactly had irritated me about it. Sure the songs were a bit obnoxious and the slapstick humor wasn’t exactly my style, but it was a kid’s movie and it was meant for consumption by people who did not understand sarcasm or socio-political satire, so I dismissed my annoyance as a mere effect of my growing alienation from children’s animation.

Now I have always been susceptible to fits of ranting on random subjects (as evident in my previous post of Paleolithic Art), but I have rarely transformed my idle blustering to my friends into real arguments on the merits of craft, but after a month of AP Lang, I suddenly find myself putting these strange abstract feelings into words and communicating them in a more effective manner than “That movie was soooo lame.”

"Before you sleep, read something that is exquisite, and worth remembering." -Erasmus

“Before you sleep, read something that is exquisite, and worth remembering.”                                                  – Erasmus

Now I have always been a fan of Doctor Seuss. His books were some of the earliest forms of literature I was exposed to as a young child cuddling in bed surrounded by stuffed animals as my parents read Oh! The Places You’ll Go!, Green Eggs and Ham, and of course The Lorax to me at night before I closed my eyes to sleep. I think Doctor Seuss was a master a capturing not only the whimsy and imagination of children in his lyrical and playful verses, but also at conveying complex and profound subjects into a form that young children could comprehend. The Star-Bellied Sneetches exposed us to and explained to us concepts like prejudice, bullying, and discrimination and how we could surmount it. How the Grinch Stole Christmas imparts a message that true happiness in life is not found in material possessions, but in love between people. Thidwick the Big Hearted Moose communicates to young children about how sometimes people can take advantage of one’s generosity and there may come a time when it is best to let go of parasitic relationships. Seuss had a gift for imparting universal themes in the guise of light-hearted fantasy stories and nonsensical rhymes, that is why I got upset when I saw Hollywood once again losing sight of the beauty and power of Seuss’ works.

"Come, and take choice of all my library, and so beguile thy sorrow." - William Shakespeare

“Come, and take choice of all my library, and so beguile thy sorrow.” – William Shakespeare

The book, The Lorax seems at first to be merely a promotion for environmental responsibility. The bad guy cuts down trees, the ecosystem dies, and it all could have been prevented if he hadn’t been so mean, moral of the story is don’t cut down any trees or bad things will happen, The End. But the true meaning behind The Lorax is something far more profound and insightful. It is all about taking personal responsibility for one’s actions. Seuss does not end his story on the destruction of the Truffella Forests, nor does he show us a shining new world of environmental friendliness. No, The Lorax is a far deeper examination of our human psyche than that. The book ends on the powerful and weighty word “Unless”, asserting Seuss’ argument that true positive change is impossible unless the individual takes personal responsibility for his or her own deeds. He contends that things will only get worse until you, the audience, take the initiative to make the change happen. Only the individual (and by extension the community of individuals) can make things better, and the crux of Seuss’ argument is that it is the children, the audience of the book, who are responsible to implement that change. Seuss is not addressing the corporations who make the pollution, nor does he call for the CEOs of polluting companies to resign or clean up their mess. He does not project the problems of society on its perceived destroyers but calls its denizens to accept their own culpability in the destruction. He calls for us, the children, to take a stand and to change our ways. In the words of Doctor Seuss, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not.”

I guess it comes back down to the movie The Lorax. I guess I did not like it because despite its breathtaking animation and star-studded cast, it missed an integral meaning of Seuss’ words. Instead of portraying an allegory of projection and lack of personal responsibility that leads to cataclysm, it gave us pretty and obvious propaganda. It lost the beauty and subtlety of Seuss’ argument and instead focused on a ham-fisted love story and a transparent vilifying of forced-consumerism (which is ironic when juxtaposed to the way the movie was so heavily marketed and merchandised in everything from pancakes to Mazdas) while losing the theme of personal responsibility. I especially did not like the subject matter of the people of Thneedville being coerced into their sins by the evil capitalists. It destroyed the element of willful participation into destructiveness that the book so artfully encapsulated.

"My best friend is a person who will give me a book I have not read." -Abraham Lincoln

“My best friend is a person who will give me a book I have not read.”- Abraham Lincoln

 

I know this is a kid’s movie, but I think kids are just as good at recognizing the implications of a movie or book’s message and anyone, perhaps even better because they aren’t as intoxicated with the drug of projection as older people are. It makes me think about how we are so ingrained in our society to blame the government or corporations for our troubles when in reality change starts with you. We learn in church that we can only get out of sin through taking personal responsibility for our actions and then giving our whole hearts to God. We can’t blame our parents, society, or our human nature for our immorality but must realize that it is we, not society that must be transformed.

It’s a lot to ponder and I know I can go off into tangents, so I’ll shut down before it gets crazy. Thank you Mr. Baker for helping me find my voice, even when it leads me to attack random children movies, let’s hope you have not created a monster. But more importantly, thank you God, and especially Gwen Shamblin and my church, Remnant Fellowship, for allowing me to see the truth and be able to accept personal responsibility.

"I find television very educational. Every time someone switches it on I go into another room and read a good book." - Groucho Marx

“I find television very educational. Every time someone switches it on I go into another room and read a good book.”                                                                  – Groucho Marx

 

Caveman Art?

Courtesy of faculty.umb.edu

“Hall of the Bulls” Lascaux Cave. Courtesy of faculty.umb.edu

An open letter to the person in the black Maxima that was driving in front of me this afternoon on our way home from the library: I noticed you had a couple of  bumper stickers on the rear of your car. Now as far as bumper stickers go, yours were pretty basic inflammatory-generalizations-that-you-force-random-strangers-to-read-while-they’re-stuck-behind-you-in-rush-hour-traffic. Now among your plethora on political slogans, fiery non sequitur quotes, and declarations about the current socio-political climate, I noticed one of your numerous opinionated buzzwords was the phrase “Advertisements are the new cave art.”

Now I am not one to judge your opinion on the expansive and diverse world of advertising, nor am I to know the reason you decided to broadcast that particular statement to the world, but I was rather disturbed by your proclamation that advertising (which I assume you deem as idiotic based on the context of the other obviously anti-consumerist stickers you placed on the back of the car) is like cave art.

In this statement, you are obviously implying that advertising is lowbrow, ignorant, and uncultured, like prehistoric cavern drawings. Now I will not deny that advertising can be quite bawdy and often downright trashy, but I’d hardly equate it to the prehistoric art of our ancestors. I find that quite slanderous to say that the beauty and sophistication of Paleolithic artwork is stupid or simplistic.

But then again, I realize that many modern-day Americans are quite unaware of how awe-inspiring Paleolithic art is. I know before school started, I believed that all cave art was “primitive” little stick figures scrawled on walls by dumb cavemen, without meaning or style. But in this past month alone I have studied over 30,000 years of Art History with my fantastic art teacher Ms. McHugh and have been enlightened to the wonderful and evocative images that our ancestors created on the walls of caves so many millennia ago.

"Hall of the Bulls" Lascaux Cave. Courtesy of wmich.edu

“Hall of the Bulls” Lascaux Cave. Courtesy of wmich.edu

Take this example of Paleolithic (meaning “Old Stone Age”) art found in the Lascaux Caves in France. This is from the gorgeous “Hall of the Bulls”, a huge cavern that has an entire ceiling covered in absolutely fantastic paintings of horses, bison, bulls, aurochs (a prehistoric cow) and rhinoceroses all captured in breathtaking detail. Looking at pictures of the Lascaux Caves, you can practically hear the thunderous clattering of hooves on stone as the horses leap from wall to wall, their powerful dynamic movement expressed in bold oranges and earthy browns, forms outlined with rich black charcoal. The fur of the shaggy horses is expertly contrasted the smooth hides of bulls, who dance from one rock outcropping to another in a graceful balance of color and texture. These paintings are estimated to be over 17,000 years old! Some of the bulls are over 17 feet long and there are over 2,000 figures that grace the ancient walls. These wonderful images were created with only the light of torches, using the simplest of materials, burned sticks, natural pigments from berries, and minerals found in rocks to express their world.

Horses at Lascaux Cave. Courtesy of popular-archaeology.com

Another exquisite collection of cave art is found in Altamira Cave in Spain. Here, beautiful red bison and spotted horses stand serenely on the expansive cave walls. When Altamira Cave was discovered in 1880, historians were in an uproar because no one had ever imagined that supposedly simple prehistoric man could have produced such breathtaking art. Some historians even accused Altamira’s discoverers of having forged the images. But science in the form of uranium-thorium dating proved that these glorious images had been painted over 30,000 years ago.

So yes, Ms. Black Maxima, you are not to blame for your mindset that prehistoric man was a simpleton. Even the greatest minds of the 19th century thought beautiful art was something our ancestors were incapable of. But it has been over 120 years since Altamira was discovered, and over 50 since Lascaux. Why then, as modern Americans, are we so unfamiliar to the fantastic art of our forefathers?

Do we think it is unimportant? Some silly doodles splatted onto walls of stone tens of thousands of years ago? Do we think that these paintings are not important to the history of mankind? Think about it, these people, simple hunter-gatherers who lived their short lives on the very edge of death in a frantic and never ending race for survival, took precious time out of their all-consuming fight for the right to live to draw these “silly” pictures on the walls. They infused their life, their soul, their very being into what they drew on those dark stone walls. Why did they do it? What is the use of drawing a picture of a bull when you must go out and slaughter one?

Bison from Altamira Cave. Courtesy of archaeological.org

Bison from Altamira Cave. Courtesy of archaeological.org

I believe that these people, these cavemen, who had no written language to pass down their stories, had to make their children’s children remember. They had to write their lives on stone and keep their stories and their way of life from being forgotten. These people, these human beings gave us a slice of their life, a tiny sliver of how they thought and what they valued. Their entire lives centered around the hunt and that is what they showed us, the magical beasts who gave them sustenance in a perilous world.

Why should we care, you might say? Well, all the people who painted those walls, who lived in those caves, and were buried in that ground are dead now and we cannot remember a single one of them. Even if we miraculously find their bones, we can never know who they were, what their personality was like or even their names. These paintings, these “primitive scrawlings”, are all we have left of them. These walls are the last legacy of the people who are our great to the millionth power grandfathers. We would not exist if they hadn’t existed so I think they deserve a little bit of respect.

In conclusion Ms. Maxima, if you equate advertising to cave art, then you are basically saying that Burger King peddling a Whopper Junior is the same as our forefathers’ final testament to the beauty and hardship of their lives.  I guess the moral of the story is, don’t stick a questionable bumper sticker onto your car if it concerns art history because then you’ll get a thousand word rant from Maddie Kurtz.

Handprints from Cueva de las Manos (Cave of Hands), Spain. Courtesy of fineartamerica.com

Handprints from Cueva de las Manos (Cave of Hands), Spain. Courtesy of fineartamerica.com

Watching Paint Dry


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My back ached and my hands shook as I finished slathering White Olive Green No. 4 Paint on the edges and corners of the secondary master bedroom. My father pushed a long paint roller on the walls, each greenish-grey swathe it cut over the dark jade of the previous wall color sending a wet squishing sticky sound out into the fumed air. The steady purr of the large fan in the door harmonized with the rough scratching of my paintbrush on trim as I desperately prayed not to ruin the crown molding as I tried to keep up with my dad.

I stepped off my shaky stool that constantly reminded me with its squeaking wobbles that I was one misjudged reach away from toppling head over heals onto the floor and covering every surface from carpet to ceiling to nose with White Olive Green No. 4.

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I wearily stretched my back, hearing the vertebrae audibly crack as I set down my cup of paint and paintbrush on the top of the stool and sat down cross-legged on the beige carpet. I was wearing some ancient enormous work overalls that had to have the legs rolled up six times before my feet poked out, and I reached out my weary short legs across the floor.

 

“How do people do this for a living?” I wondered out loud. “I have no idea.” My dad said with a laugh as he wiped the roller with a fresh coat of Olive White. “How much do we have left to do?” I asked tentatively as I gazed at the haphazardly colored walls that were patterned randomly with some patches of dark green poking out mischievously where they should have been covered in their rightful neutral grey. “Well…” My dad said as he leaned his roller against the ancient halogen lamp we only used to paint, that occasionally sputtered with smoke when dust got too close to the bright burning light, “We’ll need to give this room at least a second coat, then you’ll need to cut in the ceiling and the closet. We should probably cover up any splotches in the bathroom.”

I groaned with exhaustion and flopped down flat on the ground feeling my tired muscles smart in exhaustion. “You know, in the movies we’d be doing this in a training montage with upbeat music in the background and it would be over in 30 seconds.” My dad laughed and sat down next to me on the carpet. “If we were movie people the house would already be perfectly painted and organized by legions of set design people.” I laughed as we looked up at the ceiling and literally watched paint dry. “Wow.” My dad said as he lay down on his back examined his handiwork, “I really hate painting ceilings!” “Sort of like Michelangelo.” I chucked, “He thought painting was an inferior form of art because he was a sculptor. He despised painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling so much that he tried to run away from Rome when the Pope was away at war.” My dad furrowed his eyebrows and gestured up at our ceiling “I’d hardly compare this to the Sistine Chapel!”  “Yeah…” I laughed, “Though then again, you aren’t going to be taking half a decade to complete this either… I hope.”

John & Maddie

John & Maddie

I looked over at my dad and smiled, “Do you remember when we stayed up to watch the meteor shower… the Persieds I think?” My dad grinned, his head propped up against his arms. “Yeah. You were bundled up so much you looked like you were off to discover the North Pole or something.” I smiled and copied his pose with my head resting on my arms. “Well, I guess in a sort of way this reminds me of that, you know, just hanging out with my daddy.” “I think the meteor shower was a bit more interesting than staring at the ceiling.” My dad said with a smirk. “Nah!” I beamed, “We only saw, like, three shooting stars. Though this,” I said as I gestured at the ceiling, “This is way more awesome.”

“I think there’s an spider walking across the ceiling.” My dad said as he pointed up at the white expanse before us. I didn’t see anything. “You lie!” I teased. Though I nervously scanned the wall for the presence of aforementioned spiders. My dad laughed and sat up. “Man… we’ve got so much work to do.” He said with a sigh as he looked at all the walls that needed fresh coats and the trim that needed whitening and the tile that needed replacing. “We can do it!” I smiled and I hugged him tight and we went back to work.

A Work In Progress!

A Work In Progress!

Why Do I Write?

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There are 192 documents on my laptop computer; each one a rabbit hole of stories and ideas that never really found their ways out of my mind. Scores of characters, as real and human to me in the moment as any real live person are captured there in the raw form in the little digital folder on the screen of a computer, dozens of stories and plots and attempts at philosophy are found there as well. All are incomplete, unhewn blocks of ideas that seep from the overflowing cauldron of my conscious and unconscious mind. The pot gets too full, there are so many thoughts and ideas that simmer in my brain and eat at the back of my skull until I must, out of necessity, imprison them in a cage of paper.

Most plainly said, I write because I must. The cauldron must be poured out a bit before more brain-soup can be added. Because I tend to be a quiet and even anti-social human being, words must thus be written rather then said, a pen scratched on paper or words typed in front of a screen. But in any case, everyone must have a medium to speak their voice, however insignificant or uninspired, so they don’t go insane from all the pressure of ideas in their heads. The pressure can be intense, especially for an adolescent like myself; thousand existential crises plague our every hour. “Who am I?” “What is the nature of human interaction?” “Is our world to forever be flawed or is there hope of perfection?”

I know many great thinkers have pondered over the same questions that all humanity must contemplate at any given point in life.

I too have mused on my purpose in life: Who I am? What I was meant to do? Others have always told me that only I can detangle the knotted ball of my own raveled consciousness. I suppose writing is the way I can do that. My pen is the sword that slices through the knot of my philosophical ideas, if only to unwind the craziness of endless reasoning. Words on paper become real, definite, and concrete, the physical manifestation of the strongest cyclones of logic and theories that whirl through my mind. When the ideas can finally be spewed out of my brain, I can be freer; my mind can function better, like a computer that runs faster with a couple gigabytes of data moved to a backup drive.

In the end, I write because words written are real. Oral tradition comes and goes and evolves and changes, but writing is forever and perpetual. The words of others from centuries ago still read the same as then, and the words I write in documents on my dusty old laptop from almost a decade ago are still there untouched, a lasting testament to a fixed moment in time, a point in the life of a child that is no longer a child anymore. If I can capture an idea in time, like a photograph captures a moment, maybe then I can shed one more pinprick of light into the shadow of time forgotten.