The World Beyond the Room

Room MovieThe most obvious analysis of Emma Donoghue’s Room, one of last year’s most heralded films, is on the basis of what it says about imagination.

In the film version of the novel, five-year-old Jack is provided a means by which to live his life through images, crafts, pictures, and stories. That would not be so extraordinary, nor his exceptional character so marked, if it were not for the fact that he has lived his entire existence closed up inside a small shed.

Jack’s mother, who was abducted seven years before by a sexual predator, is his co-prisoner in a world no larger than twelve feet square. But she has made the most of every inch.

A feat of maternal determination makes all of her efforts for him dual-purposed: she has him do exercises with her to stay physically strong, but also to provide him with some concept of distance and space; she has him read aloud from a book to give him an education, but also so that he can access a type of freedom that is otherwise denied; she has him mark his height upon a wall to gauge his growth, but also to give him something to look forward to—a time in which he will outgrow the room. [Read more…]

The Long Regretful Wait

By Tony Woodlief

PhoneMy mother’s quavering voicemail was right: I hadn’t called in a long time. I justified my neglect with the assurance that I’d called on her birthday, I’d called on Mother’s Day, I’d made my dutiful calls even though I suspected she was mad at me. I made them and she didn’t answer.

I hadn’t called in a long time, but goddammit, neither had she.

My mother’s tears always put a knot in my gut. Once as a boy I fell asleep on her bed, and woke to her weeping. On the television were men, some in brown uniforms, some wearing white sheets. They stood shouting in the parking lot of our local library. The next day Mama put a letter in our mailbox, and the newspaper published it.

A week later, angry people were calling our house. Mama argued with some, hung up quickly on others. I beat her to the phone once, and a woman asked: “Just what is your mama’s problem with the Klan?”

Only God knows what my mother would have done to that woman, had she possessed the power to reach through the phone. [Read more…]

The Confessions of X: An Interview with Suzanne M. Wolfe, Part 2

By Gregory Wolfe and Suzanne M. Wolfe

Continued from yesterday. Read Part 1 here.

Suzanne M. WolfeGW: One of the most interesting aspects of The Confessions of X is the way that X herself responds to Augustine’s intellectual passions, from his Manichean phase to Platonism. She’s not an intellectual but she’s no pushover and she instinctively challenges Augustine…

SMW: The last thing I wanted this novel to be was either a hagiographical account of the Great Man, Augustine, by the little woman or an intellectual debate about theology. And when I reached deeply into who X was and what her life experience was and how that had shaped her, I realized a couple of things:

1) That only a remarkable woman in her own right would fall in love with a man as fiercely intelligent as Augustine, so she would be no dummy;

2) Lacking a formal education, her grasp of intellectual and theological issues would be through her experience and her instinct. At one point in the novel she says, “I think better in pictures.” This is true to her experience with a father who was a mosaic layer. But it also reveals a more sacramental understanding of the world, a type of understanding in which women, I believe, excel. She and Augustine complement one another. More than that, X provides a necessary check to his tendency towards abstraction both as a Manichean and as a Platonist.

GW: In a sense, she’s a natural incarnationalist, even though you depict her as living in a space between her childhood pagan upbringing and Augustine’s Christianity…

SMW: Not only her experience with art through her father but her own experience of motherhood make her an incarnationalist. For her, beauty has a form; love has a form. She says: “Grace, for me, is flesh and blood, bones and sinew, someone whom my mouth can name.” [Read more…]

Going to the Manger as She Is

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By Ann Hedreen

I drape a towel over Nick’s head and strap it in place with a bandana. I squeeze Claire’s arms into her bent-hanger angel wings. It is the morning of the Christmas pageant, and my shepherd and my angel are ready to go.

The question is: Am I? Because on this pageant morning, I don’t get to walk in to church with my scrappy, adorable children. Instead, I’ll be making an entrance at the last minute, with my mom and her ever-unpredictable companion: Alzheimer’s disease.

I wish I didn’t have to. Bring her. I hate myself for having that thought. Because I love my mom. But how I loathe Alzheimer’s and what it is doing to her. And how I hate it for bringing out the worst, not in Mom, but in me.

Nine-thirty on the dot: Time to get in the car and focus on the challenge at hand: precision timing. The Seattle weather is cooperating, December-style: wet but not a downpour, cold but not freezing. The kids and I race up the road to our old brick church. Nick’s towel and Claire’s wings flap as I shoo them out. I remind myself that it’s okay if scuffed-up sneakers and jeans peek out from under their costumes. What matters is that they know the carols. They each know their one line. They’re ready to walk right up to that manger, as they are. Unlike me.

“I’ll be back in half an hour,” I call after them. “Good luck with the rehearsal. Remember: Belt out those lines!” [Read more…]

Maybe Tomorrow I Will be a Mystic Mom

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I am outdoors in the late afternoon and sitting cross-legged on a quilt from which I can view the garden. This spot, under the shade of a large sugar maple—the setting idyllic and agrarian—should be perfect for quiet prayer. But it’s not.

I think I am emerging from the haze of an anxiety that caught hold of me when my baby was three months old: panic attacks and mind-spiraling fears that left me feeling unbalanced and overwhelmed.

As the primary caregiver for my three children, I regard their naptimes as precious hours. During their naps I am alone and try to pull myself out of the storm. Today, however, my baby is rebelling against naptime. Swinging her in the hammock beside me has become the only way I can get her to sleep. [Read more…]


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