On Being a Host

The past two months of my life have given me a crash course on hosting. For the first time, my husband and I have over nine hundred square feet that are ours for the upkeep and nesting. A small apartment overlooking trees and a courtyard, with a dining room table and six chairs (four of which are usually open for the taking), several ceiling fans (for days where the temperature ascends ninety) and two nice but not *too* nice cars. I’ve been working two days a week at the Museum for Contemporary Art Chicago, where I research upcoming exhibits, observe visitors in our galleries and talk to guests one-on-one about their experiences, thoughts and abstract feelings about art. Lots and lots of chit-chat. Many guests coming in and out of both home and work. Dinners for two, three, maybe even four or five on our table most nights. A very hot kitchen that friends sometimes stand in to talk with me, beads of sweat on the back of our necks while asparagus roasts in the oven.

Last fall, I took a course called Community Art with a woman named Leah Samuelson. It taught me some things about art and a lot of things about people and vocation and compromise. One of the things we talked about was the concept of guesting and hosting. Everyone needs opportunities to both guest and host. That’s why conversations involve listening and talking. It’s why you get invited to someone’s house for dinner and instantly start feeling like maybe you should buy some place mats and track down the homemade pizza dough recipe. It’s why, after a long day of talking to people and answering questions and listening to concerns, you just want someone else to pour you something to drink and give you a place to sit for a while.

I put together an action-focused experiment halfway through the course and implemented it among my friends – even the ones I hadn’t known very long at the time. I was living off campus, in a basement apartment, but I invited over people every night, usually one or two at a time. Some stayed a reasonable amount of time and others lingered until ungodly hours. I listened, I made food, I baked brownies. I avoided looking at the clock. I hosted for my life. It was exhausting, but taught me something about the relative discomfort of giving and how much I actually loved it.

This evening, I was filling out a brief survey answering some questions about my internship, specifically in regards to the concept of human flourishing within an institution. I began to think again about what the concept of “flourishing” might mean to me. Art is an institution in and of itself. It has rules, artifacts, roles and specific arenas. My home is an institution, with Timothy and I enacting the roles of husband and wife, good friends and hosts. But what makes these institutions unique and worth participating in are their unique abilities to connect people.

Every day that I work at the Museum of Contemporary Art, upwards of a thousand people may walk through our doors. Couples, teenagers, families, groups of fabulous senior citizens… I get to sit down with many of them and ask them personal questions about art and the gallery. Sometimes they give me vulnerable answers. Sometimes they try to act smart. Either way, it’s yet another moment of host and guest. Asker and answerer. Listener and speaker. Five minutes to say what’s on your heart or come up with something witty. A person who helped to prepare a place for you and a chance to reflect upon your time in it. It’s a silly thing, really. But also an intimate one.

Our home is quite the same. A humble one bedroom with space to share. Extra spots at the table if someone needs them. No strict bedtime. Free parking and extra servings. One summer to start with, but hopefully a lifetime to follow.

As I said, it’s been a crash course.

When Registering Leads to Discovering

I’m currently stuck in the airport waiting for my long-overdue (and very delayed) flight back to Virginia for Christmas, and while I was killing time I revisited the wedding registry I made this fall for mine and Tim’s May wedding. Making a registry was SO much fun (it’s like Pinterest come to life!) but one of the things I loved about creating ours was how many previously unheard of artists and small businesses I discovered while making it! It was important to me from the start to include as many pieces from artists and small business owners in our registry as I could. I walked the line between “want” and “need” and recognized that yes, some things do have to come from Target or Bed, Bath and Beyond. But I was excited to see what unique items I could discover for our future home and what creators we could support along the way!

So because I’m bored and because you might find it interesting, I thought I’d share with you some of the amazing creatives and shops I discovered throughout the process of wedding registry making. I didn’t include items from all of these shops on our registry, but I think they all contain pieces that would make amazing Christmas gifts or additions to your own home!

First off, I should disclaim that we made our registry through Blueprint Registry instead of going the traditional route. I loved that with Blueprint I could add items from any website, instead of having to find everything through one retailer. I get an email every time someone purchases something from our registry, and they ship the items right to our door! I can also add things as group gifts and multiple people can split the cost. So far, I haven’t had any problems! No, they’re not sponsoring me or anything. I’m just really happy we made that choice!

Okay, so breaking it down by category, here are some of the sites/artists I discovered and loved:

Home Goods

Leif

Leif has EVERYTHING. I registered for this pitcher (practical, right?) but I also can’t get over this pillow, these tea towels, or just about anything else.

MOMA Store

One of my favorite art museums actually has an online store and I actually love everything, but I especially love this mobile and these coasters (I am an art history student after all).

Blankets/Pillows

Twiggy and Opal

I’m obsessed with contemporary quilts (which you will soon see). I love Twiggy and Opal’s bold designs and color choices. I think my favorites are the Rainbow Lap Quilt and this equally Rainbow Lap Quilt. Oops. I guess my taste consists of one thing.

Weaving Mill

I met these two artists when they visited my school this past fall and had the privilege of seeing some of their pieces in person and writing an article about them for our newspaper. If money was no issue, I would definitely have this spread out over my couch someday.

Pottery

Lee Wolfe Pottery

I put this serving bowl on our registry because–hello–it’s gorgeous. But check out this mug and these poppy bowls. The saturation of that glaze is amazing!

Salt and Stone Pottery

This shop is pretty much exclusively ring dishes, which is pretty impractical for starting a home, so I didn’t save anything from it. But you should check out the beautiful collection of dishes. The color palette is dreamy.

The Clay Bungalow

This pottery has much more colorful, traditional folk flare to it. Most of the pieces feature animals, which I love because it’s so quirky and cute. I love this platter (but honestly, at that price point, I shouldn’t love it) but I also die over this pitcher and this platter (hello, orange!) and pretty much everything.

Art/Prints

Lucile’s Kitchen

I fell in love with these prints a while ago and really want the lemon because ever since I was a little girl I dreamed of yellow in my kitchen. But if you look through the whole shop, you’ll find hundreds of cute options–and the artist can even custom paint your family recipes!

Decor

Loom and Field

Definitely had to put one of these pom pom baskets on the registry (and it looks like it’s coming my way!). But oh my gosh these Moroccan RUGS. UUUUUGH.

Castle and Things

 

 

 

Honestly one of my favorite websites. I could buy everything. The felt prints? Slay me. I mean, just look at this. It’s so post-wedding! All the velvet floor cushions are so cute too. Also these colors. Maybe I’ll just buy the tea towel and frame it.

Taylor Cuts Paper

Why do I love all these paper plants? Honestly, tell me why. Paper plants make no sense. But they are so. darn. cute. I want this collection to scatter around our apartment since I don’t have a green thumb. The cacti are pretty adorbs too.

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And those are some of the cool creatives and websites I’ve discovered lately and had to pass on! Where do you love to online shop?

-Rachel

 

We Do This Well

Some friends of mine created a short theater piece last semester called “Women and Anger”. While putting the work together, they invited groups of female students to meet for short workshops where we explored what it felt like to be an angry woman. They put sheets of paper up on the walls that read “I’M NOT ANGRY I’M ______.” We filled in the blank with all the excuses we’d given in the past to justify our “bursts of emotion”. I’m not angry, I’m just tired. I’m not angry, I’m just PMSing. I’m not angry, I’m just frustrated. I’m not angry, I’m just sad.

I was thinking about that exercise this week in light of everything that’s been happening in the world of politics. I know I’ve been angry. You’ve probably been angry. Your parents, neighbors, friends, are probably all angry about something. Either you’re angry about who got elected or you’re angry about the people who protest it. You’re angry about the choices you were given or the choices other made. Call it frustrating, heartbreaking, painful, or sad, but chances are you, like me, are a little bit angry about something.

Anger is healthy, sometimes. But it’s also sickening. It hurts our souls and bodies. It’s okay to be angry for a moment and to protest the injustice you see in the world. But it’s also not okay to dwell on it.

Because I found myself dwelling on anger this week, I started trying to find ways to combat it. One thing I found helpful was to contemplate what I and the people I love do well. How can we love each other out of anger? I’m not saying we ignore each other’s faults or turn a blind eye to the hurting in the world. I’m just saying we start by recognizing that we are strong, and then build something beautiful out of that strength.

I started a running list and my hope would be that every time I recognize something beautiful in myself or a friend/family member, I can write it down and remember it as a strength. I also hope that other people might start a project like this too, or write the strengths of you and those you love below. It’s kind of like a quilt. With only a few squares, it seems thin. But with patience, over time, it grows and stretches and covers the ones who need it. That’s what I’m hoping this project will help me do with those around me.

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We Do This Well

A girl beside me in class said that I do a good job of listening to the scattered thought of the group and putting them into cohesive sentences. I believe her. I think I’m good at hearing and reiterating what people have to say. | My mother always hated saying no whenever someone asked her to do something. No matter how busy she was, no matter how many things she had to do, she almost always found a way to say yes. She does friendship well. I can’t imagine being as selfless as that. | I have an older male professor who cried in front of me once when talking about how much he cared about the rights and futures of the young women in his classes–how much he wanted them to believe that there were people in this space who would support and root for them, no matter what. He is a picture of steadfast activism. | It took me a long time to believe that clothing matters. That the things you put on your body could mean something and tell some story. I don’t know if I dress well, but I know that I dress happy. It makes me smile and it makes others smile. I think there’s something beautiful in that. | I was sitting on the floor one day and my acting professor walked over to me and put his hands on my shoulders, looking down at me from above. “Tiny Rachel Coker”, he said, and my name meant something good. | My sister Hannah just had surgery on her back after a year of living with an open wound. She called me one day, locked inside her bedroom, and cried. Then she sniffled and her breathing slowed down. I think about what it means to suffer and I picture swimming forever with a trunk strapped to your back. My sister can carry weight. | The Cubs won the World Series, and Grace bought a new hat. She skipped class on Friday and went to the parade with her dad and five million other people. It’s all she talks about. I hug her every time I see her that week. She is a celebrator, I think, and also a crier. There’s a beauty in this ability to feel both things. | I met a girl named Phoebe who is very tall and parts her hair to the left. Her hands are eager to help. She lifts things, arranges things, puts things back. Completes the tasks that need completing. Hugs spontaneously and quite often. The second time I met her, she left with, “Bye! Love you!” and I didn’t want to say it back. I didn’t know her. Didn’t feel ready. The third time, I responded “Love you too”, because I did. | I can type over eighty words per minute. I throw that out when I want to impress people, and it usually works. | One Sunday after church, I watched Timothy hug exactly six people. I was hungry and wanted to go to lunch. He was excited and wanted to say hi. He finds joy in finding and greeting anyone he’s ever met before. It’s an eagerness for community that I have never experienced. | “What do you do well?” someone asked me. I wasn’t used to seeking my own answer. I guess she asked good questions.

What do you do well?

-Rachel

Four Days in NYC

Tim and I got engaged on a Wednesday night in the middle of September, right in the midst of a busy week and semester and season in life. We celebrated, of course, with friends and balloons and chips with salsa. But it was one night of bliss and then immediately back to the bustle and routine of everyday life. We wanted a chance to get away and have some time alone to let it sink in that WOW WE ARE GETTING MARRIED and OH MY GOSH WE ARE GOING TO BE LIFE PARTNERS with maybe a dash of both rest and magic thrown in for good measure. So we decided on a whim to book a flight to New York over our five day fall break and go on our first of many adventures together. With the last homework assignment completed and the majority of midterms taken, we hopped on a flight Saturday evening and headed to the Empire State.

One of my childhood friends Jackie got married this past spring to a wonderful man named Stephen and they settled down in an apartment in Jackie’s hometown of Bloomfield, New Jersey. When we mentioned that we were interested in spending our fall break in New York, they threw open their arms and doors to us and invited us to stay with them for the week. After all, they were just one short 25 minute train ride from the heart of the city! They made up an air mattress in their spare bedroom and threw blankets and pillows on the living room couch. We got our own set of keys and the freedom to come and go as we pleased. It was surreal to be hosted by the girl I was a frizzy haired middle schooler with eight long years ago. Now she was hosting and spare bedroom owning–offering us cups of coffee or a ride to the bagel shop when we woke up in the morning. I never felt so perilously close to adulthood as I did seeing Jackie standing in it firmly.

Our four days in the city were magic. We wandered wherever we wanted to wander. We slept in, stayed up late, ate pounds upon pounds of pizza, macaroni and cheese, ice cream, soft pretzels, and bagels. We held hands. Sang songs–out loud, with skipping and sometimes spinning. We met up with friends, both old and new. Kissed in front of lit up fountains and in empty train cars. Napped under big trees in the park. Watched movies, went shopping, rode up and down too many escalators to count. We did a lot of everything and a lot of nothing and saw a bunch of stars and hearts in front of our eyes.

My friend Cara commented on one of my Instagram posts on the last day of our trip and said, “So cute! It sounds like you went on a honeymoon for getting engaged.” I paused when I read that and realized she was kind of right. Tim and I spent every waking moment for five days together and didn’t get sick of each other for a moment of it. We don’t live together here on campus, and had never spent the night under the same roof. But last week it felt so special to know that I could wake up each morning, throw on a hoodie, and find him sleeping on the couch. We could consult each other before every meal, trip, and decision. Time passed in lengthy discussions or no words at all. And it all felt so comfortable and right and good. I knew I was being taken care of and treasured, and that fact was like something I could tuck into my pocket and carry with me all week long.

All of this to say, we had a magical fall break in the Big Apple. There were too many stories and jokes to record each one, but I did want to share with you all some of our photos and a breakdown of where we went + how we saved money so that any of you planning  a trip to New York yourselves (or just day-dreaming) could have some ideas!

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Day One – Upper West Side

Sunday was our first full day on the East Coast, so we slept in late and then went and had a big meal with Jackie and her whole family (who I have known for forever, it seems). We ate lots of pie and played mafia and laughed until our sides hurt. Then Tim and I hopped on a 5 PM train into the city to catch the last night of the New York Film Festival. We met up with his friends Michael and Rebecca and we all ate giant, cheesy slices of pizza at some no-name pizzeria on the Upper West Side. Then we said goodnight to our friends and walked over to the Lincoln Center, where the lights and the fountains were aglow. We watched an independent French film in a small theater, then wandered out into the cooling night air and walked hand in hand for a while by the fountains, feeling alive and young and joyful. Then we took the long way back to the train, pressing through crowds of people in Times Square (which is always crowded and always bright as day) before getting home for the evening, well past midnight.

 Day Two – Lower Manhattan + Madison Ave + Central Park

Our second day in New York was definitely our fullest. We woke up bright and early for a fitting in Lower Manhattan at Indochino–an atelier I’d scoped out long ago in search of  a custom-made wedding suit for Tim. After the fitting, he walked me to TWO different Kate Spades (one on Broome St and a five-story one on Madison Ave), stopping for brunch in between at the very pink and very European Cafe Henrie . We sat in front of a big open window and people watched. After lunch, we took the subway back up to mid Manhattan and spent a few hours at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)–a spot that quickly became my happy place. We watched a forty minute long video of slides from the 80′s entitled The Ballad of Sexual Dependency that moved us both, waited in line for half an hour to see a special exhibit on the top floor in which no photos were allowed, and wandered through the 20th Century wing, coming face to face with Picassos and Van Goghs we had only ever seen in books.

In the late afternoon, we walked over to Central Park and met up with Tim’s friend Michael again. The leaves were all changing colors and the sun was golden. We sat on benches and watched tourists and New Yorkers walk by, then wandered over to the ponds on the edge of the park where kids ran around with sailboats in their arms. It was magic hour and I trailed behind the guys, my heart in my throat and all the stereotypes I’d always found to be true about New York one hundred percent on display.

As the sun went down, Michael went home and Tim hunted down a Japanese restaurant called Ootoya in Greenwich Village where we stuffed ourselves with rice, salmon, pork, and miso soup. We got home early that night and rested, our tummies full of fish and ice cream and our feet sore from adventuring.

Day Three – The Met + Brooklyn

We started off our third day with a simple and overwhelmingly good decision: to eat macaroni and cheese for lunch. Tim had been to S’MAC on a high school trip to NYC and, knowing that macaroni and cheese is my love language, we decided to go there for lunch and eat a big order of macaroni out of a skillet. It was perfection. Everyone should go.

After lunch, finding out that the Met was “pay what you choose”, we felt only a little bit bad for spending almost an entire day there for only $5 each. But really! It’s worth going! The museum was breathtaking and we wandered around with Michael looking at all the Ancient and Classical art, marveling over first century sculptures and Egyptian hieroglyphics. The light was perfect everywhere, and we even headed up to the rooftop garden for a spell to sit and look out over the city.

In the evening, we decided to take the subway over to Brooklyn, where Michael lives. We hunted for weird treasures in a crazy vintage store in Park Slope, then Tim and I went off and found bleu cheese burgers at a local joint called 67 Burger. After dinner, we walked over to Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM)–a historic theater that features independent film, plays, music, and even opera. We caught a 7:00 independent film by a female director that was so boring we laughed about it for days. But it was fun to sit in the movie theater with a bunch of New Yorkers and just relax for a couple hours. The perfect ending to our last full day.

Day Four – World Trade Center + Financial District

By our last morning in New York, we were tired and slow. We wanted to make the most of our last day, so we headed into the city and down to the tip of Manhattan, so we could see the completed World Trade Center memorials. The last time I was in that part of New York, I was twelve and construction hadn’t finished yet. We were quiet and still as we stood by the memorials, watching people take selfies and buy souvenirs. We did neither.

After spending time reflecting at the memorials, we walked over to Battery Park and rested beneath a big oak tree. Tim laid his head in my lap and took a short nap and I felt full and sunny and content. We walked hand in hand over to the financial district and had lunch at a pub (tuna melts, hamburgers, and lots and lots of tater tots) before headed back to New Jersey and then back to Chicago–sleepy, worn out, but happy, happy, happy.

-Rachel

Kerry James Marshall at the MCA

Walking up the steps of Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art last week, I saw a middle-aged African American couple herding a handful of children through the museum’s revolving doors. Once inside, they greeted a large group of friends, ranging in age from middle schoolers to white-haired ladies. I knew where they were going, because it was where I was headed as well: the MCA’s special exhibit Kerry James Marshall: Mastery, on display from April 23 to Sept 25, 2016.

I had first heard of Marshall’s exhibit at my last visit to the MCA in April, and was struck by the vibrant posters. Because Wheaton College IDs qualified students for the museum’s free admission to Illinois residents on Tuesdays, I made a trip into the city last week to see the exhibit for myself. What I expected was beauty, power and mastery. But what I encountered was a new and unexpected version of a story I thought I had understood.

In a video playing at the beginning of his exhibit, Alabama native Marshall provided an intellectual and courageous explanation of his portraits of African American men and women. It is clear he has an extensive background in Art History, drawing on classic models of the past such as an artist’s self portrait, an allegorical depiction of the Garden of Eden, and most famously, a “Portrait of Nat Turner with the Head of His Master” that serves as a modern recasting of Caravaggio’s “David with the Head of Goliath”. However, Marshall uses these traditional references to project his own ideals into the gallery — ideals that normalize the lives, history and value of men and women of color. Most of these paintings depict ordinary, everyday scenes such as sweet Harlem courtship scenes, inner city gardeners, and portraits of men and women who seem fully aware and content.

Perhaps it is the color black itself that is Marshall’s primary tool to create meaning in his work. The signature blackness of his figures throughout the collection was incredibly rich and stunning. Unlike many painters, Marshall does not combine black with any other colors for dilution. Instead, the black stands alone on the canvas, forcing the viewer to reconsider their pre-existing associations with the color. As I contemplated the dark faces stark against their vibrant backgrounds, I was drawn to the concept of black as a way of life, rather than a political statement. Contemporary media conceives so many connotations with the word “black” that in no way could it measure up to the richness of the men and women Marshall has portrayed in his work. By simply putting color on a canvas, he is inviting the viewer to reconsider what they mean when they talk about “black lives”. We think we know the story, but what are we taking for granted? How are our connotations from concepts like “Black Lives Matter” preventing us from learning about and appreciating the experiences of African Americans throughout history? While the world and media may work to politicize the lives of men and women of color, Marshall is simply trying to depict them.

In Marshall’s own words, “You can’t underestimate the value of a figure in an image that seems self-satisfied.” In fact, self-satisfaction seems to be what this artist does best. In each new space I entered, I was brought face-to-face with the gaze of men and women who carried no shame in their experiences, no apology in their existence. The gallery of people surrounding me was electric with unassuming pride. African-American mothers and fathers with their children, students with notebooks, young couples; all surrounded by large, vibrant portraits that seemed to declare with paint and color that, yes, black lives matter. Yes, the black experience matters, and yes, here is one man working to “normalize” that concept.

Kerry James Marshall places value on the color black. It is his medium — his norm. In an art world of dimpled blondes and pale-faced war heroes, he is telling an unheard story. Throughout history, the works of male and female artists of color have been received with awkward silence or placed in political categories. Stories that we, as Christians of all cultural and ethnic backgrounds, have a responsibility to hold in both hands and continue to deliver to others. The unpoliticized, honest perspectives of African Americans may have been largely excluded from the art world until now, but Marshall’s work brings hope that the normalization of that presence starts today.

-Rachel

(I originally wrote this piece for The Record, my school newspaper, and it was published this past Thursday, September 1! You can find out more about the MCA here)

Feelings

What I Wrote When I Wrote About Love

(a five year collection)

I. I told you one evening that beautiful moments make me sad.

II. And I can’t explain what the look of someone who wants to kiss you is like except with these words: It. Made. Me. Want. To. Kiss. Him. Too.

III. Some days, you wake up to find texts informing you that people you always liked actually prefer someone else. You learn that friends you would do anything for rely on the friendship of others. You realize that even big fish in a small pond are appetizers to whales in the cold ocean.

IV. So I voiced this regret, in the middle of a nice moment, and felt the air chill a bit at the pessimistic thought that something this special might not last forever. And I felt my words hang above us for a moment before you brushed away the invisible webs with a light tapping on my shoulder and the reassurance that “there will be more.”

V. Maybe I don’t really know anything about being in love. I know about the pressure of a heavy arm on your shoulder and the electricity that comes from an almost-kiss and the mixture of two ever-increasing laughs and the frailty in admitting your hurt. But love? What would I know about that?

VI. He cracked my world on a January night when I emerged from my room like a shell and cried into a paper ice cream cup.

VII.  Hand holding. There was a poem about it I read from a long time ago that goes like this:

| I don’t know what the thing is about

Hand holding

That I find so beautiful

Maybe just the simplicity of it

Because

Intertwining fingers can say so much

More than words can, or poems

That try too hard |

VIII. I would expand the memory of first holding his hand. I’d stretch out the feelings in letters and solidify the emotions in syllables but I think that’s just the point. It’s trying too hard. We held hands and. It. Was.

IX. And there was more. More moments where I looked at you with my heart in my throat and thought that if your heart was beating like a drum than mine must be beating like the hard footsteps of sneakers on asphalt. Nights where I stepped off the sky ride with knees made of marmalade, standing under the hanging white lights while you were off on the phone, wrapping my arms around my chest and realizing that in a park full of people and lives and stories, my heart was focused on a singular you.

X. Today, sitting on the couch, my head on your chest, I asked you What Have Been Some of The Greatest Moments of Your Life So Far? and you said I Don’t Know, But They All Involve You.

XI. And so I’m writing about it. So that I won’t forget and so that you won’t forget either. So that one day, whether we’re together or not, we can look back and remember what it felt like to be eighteen and nineteen. My curls on your not-so-bony shoulder. Your thumb pressed on the back of my hand. Kisses that taste like blueberries and peanut butter. Being young and feeling so certain of love and so uncertain of life and absolutely dizzy with the wonder of them both.

XII. But the last line, the final scene, the ending monologue, would be that night. The pulling back of lips and the opening of eyes and the realization that everything was new

and sweet

and would always

happen

again.

 

On Slowing Down and Growing Up

There used to be an infinity of time between June and August. Now the days are short and cramped–even more cramped than last summer, with 40-hr work weeks and only one day off every other week or so. My heart has been equal parts happy, cranky, tired, and content these last few months. I’m thankful for one last summer at home with my family, but I’m tired of the constant working and saving and feeling not-so-slightly lonely. I wonder if, perhaps, I haven’t let myself slow down at all this summer because I don’t want to be reminded of how much my life here in Virginia has changed. My closest high school friends have all either gotten married or moved away. Half of the artwork is gone from my bedroom walls and stored in a garage in Illinois. My sister and cousins also work most days, and we rarely can coordinate days off anymore. My boyfriend fluctuates being between 800 and 1,100 miles away.  In a lot of ways, I expected to come home and find nothing had changed when, in reality, home had changed right along with me this past year.

My dad likes to analogize feeling comfortable in a place with the way he feels in our house late at night. When we first moved into our house twelve years ago, it was difficult to get a cup of water from the kitchen in the dark. Without knowing our way around, we’d bump into things in a klutzy effort to maneuver an un-memorized mental map.

I think our minds have maps like that too. I have a map of my life in my Virginia etched in stone into my memory. And this summer, I’ve felt very disoriented finding my way through it. In the beginning of July, I made a one-week trip back to my school campus and felt the remaining lines of that map shatter. The moment I walked back into the places where I started re-learning who I am, it became almost impossible to re-find who I was. I felt very torn-up. And shreds of the paper me were still in Virginia, glued together to prove that I have a life there. Paths and memories and moments and plans. But other shreds had been left in Illinois and I found them scattered around the theater, lying in the grass, swept under the stairs. They were the pieces of me that had held together through hard things and yet were left unpacked at the end of the school year because there was no room for them back home.

These last two days, I’ve been cranky beyond reason. I think a part of that has to do with a need to NOT reconcile things. The need to convince myself that “This is a Phase” and “Things Will Go Back to Normal Soon” and “Just Wait it Out and See.” I want to keep believing that things haven’t changed and that the photos on my wall of eighteen-year-old me with thick brown glasses and chartreuse pants could have still been taken just yesterday.

But I know I’ll be twenty-one at the end of this summer. That’s a very, very adult age. I’ll be a very, very non-child person. I’ll never be eighteen again, or nineteen, or twenty and I’ll have to keep accumulating the new changes of each of those years as they pile on top of each other.

There are so many beautiful new lines etched into the map of home for me. There’s home in the arms of the truly wonderful man that I’m more in love with than I could have ever imagined. There’s home in the community of creative and raw people who have embraced me in the face of all of my bald spots. And there’s still home in the sometimes-comfy, sometimes-tense interactions within my own family, and the way they will always tell me Good Night and Good Morning and I Love You day in and day out.

Yes, the map still exists, it’s just changed. It’s just so, so changed. And I’m starting to realize that there is no time to re-learn or re-memorize. Because the moment I adjust, it changes again. And it’s awkward and uncomfortable that way, but it’s also wild.

-Rachel

 

On Aesthetic

One thing that’s obviously on my mind a lot, as a community art and theater major, is art. More specifically, why do I like art? What kind of art do I like? Why is that important to me?

I’m a writer, and have been for as long as I can remember. To me, writing is a type of art that uses words to paint stories and pictures in our minds. I believe that words hold the power to create worlds and change worlds. And, in that way, writing is a form of art.

However, if my classes, discussions, solo field trips, and journal entries have taught me anything, it’s this: There are no words I could possibly share that would touch the soul in the exact same way that art does. And that’s not because words don’t also have the power to be beautiful, hopeful, ugly, shocking, or vivid. It’s merely because there is a part of our brain that is stimulated by visual sight, and taking in words can’t tickle that section of the brain in quite the same way a painting, sculpture, or piece of theater does.

But if we accept that there are certain types of art that must remain visual, in order to stimulate that section of our brain and touch us in ways that novels and theses never can, we must also accept that different types of visual art stimulate and affect us in different ways. And therein lies the question: What kind of art is good art?

My experience, especially among Christian circles, has been the view that art must reflect the beauty and glory of God and His created world. Christians are very quick to praise the work of Impressionists, Hudson River School painters, and the always docile Kinkade. We love these painters because they created worlds of unrivaled beauty and wonder. Who doesn’t see the hand of God in the mist of a stunning waterfall, the curve of a ballerina’s foot, or the parasols on the French Riviera? I’ll be the first to admit that I love to stand and look at Impressionist paintings up close. I’ve seen the works of Monet and Degas face to face, and I’ve waited in line for hours to catch a glimpse at the portraits and sunflowers of Van Gogh. There is so much beautiful art to be seen and appreciated, and I really do want to take in all of it.

But even if we did soak in all the “pretty art” of the world–trek to every foreign country and private gallery salon to see it–we still have to stop and ask ourselves if perhaps we have only witnessed half of what art, and human existence, reveals itself to actually be.

The problem is this: We view art as being purely aesthetic. We have our tastes, preferences, and favorites. Who doesn’t? When we are conditioned to view art as something pretty, meant for our enjoyment and culture, why would we not turn a blind eye to the pieces we don’t understand or like?

I don’t think this reality in any way indicates that Christians are blind to the needs of the world or indifferent to the suffering of others. On the contrary, it has been my experience that many Christians are the first to react to the injustice found around them. But why does the Christian’s acceptance that the world is broken and hurting stop short when it comes face to face with art? Why do we insist that art must “be pretty” and “reflect Jesus’ light” and “remind us of pleasant things”, when there is so much ugliness and darkness and unpleasantness around us?

In my opinion, this comes down to a mistaken understanding of what art is. In the Christian world, art has generally been placed into one of two categories: frivolity or history. We can admire art for the way it has changed over time and the different beautiful works artists have created through the years, but it retains its museum status even in the 21st Century, because we are unwilling to accept the fact that imperfect, honest art is creeping up all around us.

The Bible doesn’t have much to say about visual art. Ancient Israelites are warned about the worship of carved images, but the emphasis on visual creatures seems only unacceptable in a worship context. However, if we think back on the conclusions I made in the beginning of this post about how writing can be a form of art, then the Scriptures come alive with poetry, song, and meditations–not even half of which are “pretty”.

In the Book of Psalms, David and other poets pour out their hearts to God with visual images calling to mind drought, famine, war, death, and solitude. They express the full nakedness of their souls’ conditions, and plead for drops of living water. In Psalm 22, David cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?” Sound familiar? That’s because Christ quoted those very words as He died, stretched out on a cross and completely abandoned by His heavenly Father and many of His earthly friends.

Now take a look at this painting by a Jewish painter named Marc Chagall. And let me warn you–it’s not pretty.

Chagall painted this portrait of Christ’s crucifixion in 1938–in spite of the fact that he wasn’t a Christian. But as a Russian-French artist who visited Europe during the pre-World War II killings of Jews in his native country, Chagall was struck to the soul, just like David, and could not understand why God–and Christians–were forsaking him. In this painting, Christ is crucified again as His people are killed, burned, and scattered across Europe during the mid-20th Century.

Another painting that I think should be viewed and talked about by every Christian who cares about art is “Die” by Faith Ringgold, painted in 1967.

Believe it or not, this painting is just one of many in a series Faith (an African-American artist also working in the mid-20th Century) entitled “The American People”.  This painting highlights the violence and brutality of the Civil Rights era, as both black and white Americans battled with each other and our nation was split and hurting. The power of this image is that not only does this reflect one African-American woman’s perspective on what was happening to the people around her, but it also gives 21st Century Americans (and Christians) a slap in the face as we recognize how little has changed in almost fifty years.

I’ve only shown two pieces of art today and believe me, I could show twenty or thirty more. But my goal in writing this is to remind Christians that yes, some art is meant to be beautiful. I hope that we can always find joy and peace in the sunflowers of Van Gogh and the waterlilies of Monet. But there is more art out there that could really change us if we allowed ourselves to experience and think about it. How are we, like the Christians in the 1930′s and 40′s, ignorant to the pain and suffering of minority groups all over our world? How are we, just like the Christians in the 1960′s, blind to the injustices of racism in America today? How can this art be used, not as enjoyment, but as prophecy?

The writers of the Psalms used art as a way of expressing the beauty, pain, suffering, joy, and glory they saw in the world around them. And I don’t think our art is a full reflection of God and His created earth until we use our art in all the same ways.

-Rachel

Eye Candy & Soul Food

Stills from Terrence Malick’s Badlands

e.e. cummings

Matisse’s sketchbook

Dallas Clayton’s perspective on love

Sunshine on a rainy day

Rachel Castle’s life manifesto

This article, perfect for all the people out there who like all types of music, and whose sense of humor is so random

http://www.newyorker.com/humor/daily-shouts/i-like-all-types-of-music-and-my-sense-of-humor-is-so-random?mbid=social_facebook

The perfect dress for cocktail-drinking and red carpet-attending (or maybe just a summer BBQ)

This daily reminder

A treasure of a book you simply must read

This technicolor reminder from one of my very favorite movies that some nights are just wonder-worthy

It’s a Grand Night for Singing – State Fair

A bedtime reminder and goodnight

 

A Love Letter to Chicago

Dear Chicago,

Everyone called you the “Second City”. And, for a while, I believed them. I’d been to New York before. I wasn’t exactly a spring chicken, coming in with country girl eyes and ready to fall in love with every little part of you. Or maybe I was. Either way, I’m completely and utterly an admirer of you now, with all of your quirks and grittiness.

Thank you for being a city of artists. New York is beautiful, with all of its flashing lights and noise. But there’s something about Chicago that grips me. It shakes me by the shoulders and shouts “Look. At. This.” and “This. Is. Important.” Your art isn’t always meant to be beautiful. It’s not always meant to be awed over and breathed through and enjoyed. But I’ve always found it to be moving. I’ve cried in the back rows of theaters, in the corners of small galleries and once, by surprise, on the street. There’s something to catch every time you turn your head and, unlike New York, space is allowed to notice it.

Thank you for being a city of enthusiasm. I remember walking through Millennium Park in mid-October, when the Cubs still had a chance at the World Series, and seeing banners strewn from the upper windows of skyscrapers. Everyone was talking, cheering, laughing, hoping. On the metra, strangers taught me about the history of baseball and shared with me stories about seeing games as a child. I never felt so close to the mobs of faces around me, glints of their excitement bouncing off of them and onto me.

And thank you for being a city of imperfection. You’ve given me biting wind and frozen toes. You’ve opened my eyes to the hurt in the world, to the gangs and homeless shelters and gunshots only a few miles from my home. You’re a city of wonder and art and history, and also of violence and pain and oppression. Thank you for never trying to cover up your scars. I’m glad it pops up on my news feed every time a teenager on the south side dies in a drive by shooting. I’m thankful you don’t leave me sheltered, happy to believe that twenty-first century America means wealth and health and kindness. The aching in your city reminds me of what we’re all slowly moving toward, and the tears I’ve seen shed give me a different kind of longing for the day they’ll all be wiped away.

Living less than an hour away from such a powerful city for the past eight months has been a dizzying, wonderful, tremendous opportunity. I wouldn’t trade my current little spot in the universe for anything in the world, and even as this semester draws to a close I look forward to returning in a few months and spending more time in my favorite smog-filled haven.

*

I know I haven’t been living in Chicago nearly long enough to give advice on where to go and what to do when you’re visiting, but here are a few spots that have become familiar and good to me this year. I know I’ll be back to each of them!

The Chagall “Four Seasons” mosaic on S. Dearborn St.

The historic Lookingglass Theatre

The Museum of Contemporary Art

The Italian Village

The Gene Siskel Film Center

The 20th Century floor of the Art Institute

Lou Mitchell’s

Music Box movie theater

The Lincoln Park Zoo

And that’s all for now!

-Rachel