Monthly Archives: January 2013

eye of beholder: psalm


Something catches my eye.  I notice.  I linger.  I become a question mark.

It’s not really me doing the catching, doing the looking, the lingering and yet: it is me, and yet: it’s more than me, it’s beyond me.  It is in me, around me, high above me.

My beholding eye.  Still.  Moving.  My selfless self wavering like a paper thin kite lifting and suspending in the air. Holding the twine between my fingers, my eye floats.  I follow.  I go where the kite goes.  It goes.  It catches.

A bird, the curlicues of a falling leaf, the wideness of a late afternoon azure sky, a bevel in a pane of glass, a paint chip, the downbeat off a bass lick.  Or as Denise Levertov describes, noticing a dog going, “intently haphazard.”

What strange subtlety, little invisible imperceptible perceptions.  I wonder.  I wander.  I pause and without forethought, my eye dilates and beholds.

It has a life of its own, my eye.  It sees something I don’t see and now I see it.  It knows what it’s looking for.  Yes?  My eye or the object of my beholding?  It is the curious threshold between me and the world.


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Library Card


“A library is not a luxury but one of the necessities of life.”
Henry Ward Beecher

I place my selections on the high formica countertop then fumble for my library card. I pull out a tattered and peeling faded orange card. The edges are frayed. The number is barely readable. The librarian attempts to flatten the card then scan…flatten…smooth…try to scan again…it goes on this way for a few moments. When she finally gives up out of frustration, she types in the long code of numbers which is so linked to my very body and soul. After this somewhat lengthy process, she inquires if she might give me a new library card? No! Absolutely not. Mine has character. And when I pull it out it announces that I, Paris Woodhull, am head-over-heels infatuated with the Lawson McGhee library in Knoxville, Tennessee. Of course I don’t say this, but I politely decline the offer.

I remember quite clearly the day I got my first library card. In order to check books out, I had to be able to write my own name. So I walked into the downtown cement castle of books, asked for a card and signed my name in a wobbly script. With books piled high in my arms, I walked out of the library feeling like I was now a “big girl.”

The library is the epitome of love and community. It’s where sharing begins. The library demonstrates that by sharing, things multiply.

I love the faces that I see when I enter the library, all the librarians I’ve known since the beginning, all the readers, even the homeless who rest from their struggles. I love being surrounded by readers. It gives me a sense of warmth and hope.

Sounds. Words. The smell of books and old carpeting. I love to check out a book and find the cover worn or ripped…perhaps several dog-eared pages or underlined fragments. Someone before me spent time with that same book. Carried it back to their home. Perhaps they made a cup of tea. Maybe Apricot, their cat, came and snuggled on their belly as they cracked open the book that I’m now grasping. Those impressions on the book show thought and make me feel that somewhere in the world there are still people who enjoy the library as much as I do.

I think the library is the most romantic place to be. It’s real. It’s solid. And it will never leave my side.


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Listen Up


Did you hear that?  Listen.  Sit still, quiet your mind.  Count to ten.  Now listen.

The clatter of dishes in the sink. The rumble of a dog’s stomach waiting for breakfast. The sclaffing sound of the ceiling fan. The steady footfall on a sidewalk.  These are the soft presences we miss. These are the communications that matter.

Almost 90% of what people say isn’t coming out of their mouths. It’s the way they touch their collar bones, the way they tap their left foot or the way they clutch their mug of coffee and rub their index finger up and down the circumference.

       “When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.”
       Ernest Hemingway

Sit back. Stop your clammer of thoughts. Watch. Then listen to their movement.

I haven’t always been observant or even a good listener. As a child I would listen in order to reply. As I listened to another person speak big bundles of smart lil’ quips and replies would stack up inside of me until I exploded like a firehose all over the person. As a matter of fact I used to talk so much that once my cousins duct taped my mouth shut…I have a picture to prove it.

Slowly, with a few flush-worthy moments, I learned that what I had to say wasn’t always important. If I didn’t care what the other person was saying, who’s to say they gave a flying flip about what I was saying?

       “Listen to many, speak to a few.”
       William Shakespeare

I’ll admit, sometimes I feel overwhelmed by listening. I’ve learned that some people will take FULL advantage of your silence. I think the key is to listen to people that you respect.

So many useless things are said in this world. I feel sad that exquisite, beautiful words or phases get used over and over and over until what remains is a handful of letters in a specific arrangement.

       “So many words get lost. They leave the mouth and lose their courage, wandering aimlessly until they are swept into the gutter like dead leaves. On rainy days, you can hear their  chorus rushing past”
      Nicole Krauss

I’ve found that when I listen with intention and respect to people I discover useful, and sometimes not so useful, things and yet sometimes listening to the mundane uncovers the impeccable.

Ok now.  Listen.  Count to ten.  What do you hear?


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All Ears


Prayer is a mysterious and murky business. That much is clear. It’s one of those things we do without thinking. A little like breathing. Or pacing. Or riding streets.  Even people who don’t believe in prayer kind of pray.

It’s probably the go-to-church praying that gets some people wound up. All menu, no food. I don’t know.

As the writer Frederick Buechner likes to say regarding church attendance:  “If it doesn’t ruin my day it was a good experience.”

They say AA is where atheists go to pray. It’s true, I’ve been there. Not that everybody who attends AA is an atheist. It just gets real basic in those meetings. Not at all like church. You’re expected to be honest and speak candidly because your life depends upon it. Kind of at the level of what writer Anne Lamott talks about in her new book: Help,Thanks,Wow: TheThree Essential Prayers.

I think God likes atheists reaching out to him. Probably prefers it.  Who wants to meet up with people who already think they know all about you, know you better than you know yourself?  That’s like dating your mother. Pretty obnoxious stuff.  Meet him on your own terms I say, like you-don’t-even-exist terms.

“Hey, I know you don’t exist but what’s happening? How you doing?”

All ears.


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Me and My Dad


My father and I have not always been close. Growing up, he was my father, that was it. He patted me on the head on his way out the door to work and let me sit on his knee when he got home but as far as connecting in a deeper way that didn’t happen till much later in my life. Like almost every American family my father was almost always the one carrying the weight of “bringing home the bacon.” Unfortunately this meant that having time to get to know me was scant. I never knew what I was missing out until life hit me with a ton of bricks; my parents divorced.

Never did I dream that this dreadful event would bring anything good with it. But, I lucked out. My junior year my dad took over the responsibility of carting me to and from work and school.

As we began to talk in the car we also began spending time outside of the car in coffee shops and our favorite place; Just Ripe. We pinterested together, we talked through the divorce, we shared music…basically everything you would do with your best friend but never with your father.

My dad became my friend. My confidant. I remember and still receive little messages throughout my day from my dad that just say simple little things like “I love you” or his favorite “(you)” which he says means that he’s giving me a text hug.

There is not a thing in the world that I cannot tell him. We have formed a unique relationship that I will always hold close to my heart. He is my love. He is my challenger.

Sometimes I wonder if I will ever find a boyfriend because in order for me to have any interest in them I find myself rating them in comparison with my father…Do they like jazz? If so, who?  If they say “John Coltrane” It’s an automatic red flag because its like a politician saying the bible is their favorite book. Really?  Have you not ever heard of Gerald Clayton, Robert Glasper, Esperanza Spalding?  Please!  Jazz is about now, not yesterday.

So there.  I know what you’re thinking.  Daddy’s girl!  Sure, why not.  But just as much daughter’s dad!


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