For Every One Of Us

The significance of delight. Our right to make things simply because we are alive. The creativity that lurks, no, waits to explode, within us if we will just let it out.

These are a few of my takeaways from Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. I often listen to her podcast by the same name and continue to chew on many of the things she dishes out in both. I’ve copied down several quotes that have inspired or challenged me, and I’ve wanted to share them all. But in order to keep my post from being as long as her book I’ve narrowed it down to three heavy hitters.

So here are some of the best bits, in no particular order…

Actually, I lied. This is kind of the very best bit, and it’s a quote from someone else. I’ve adopted it as a personal belief statement. Of how I view the world and the base from which I intend to jump my whole life long:

“We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,

but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have

the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless

furnace of this world. To make injustice the only

measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.”

                                                                                      -Jack Gilbert

Hallelujah that someone said it and said it so well. To claim gladness as a worthwhile, even essential, point of view. Something to hold on to amidst the mess of the world around us. To find the light in the darkness, the glimmer of a gem within the muck, the cool breeze inside the ruthless furnace. If you’ve read my writing before, you might have noticed this jives with just about everything that comes out of my brain and onto the computer screen. I look for the good in the bad innately, because my DNA and experience says I should, but also because I’ve decided I should. Because, as my kindred spirit Jack says, giving all our attention to the injustice and pain and ick is to praise it. No thank you. (Pay attention, nightly news.) I can’t stress enough how much this is a YES to me.

And then…

“The guardians of high culture will try to convince you that the arts belong only to a chosen few, but they are wrong and they are also annoying. We are all the chosen few. We are all makers by design. Even if you grew up watching cartoons in a sugar stupor from dawn to dusk, creativity still lurks within you. Your creativity is way older than you are, way older than any of us. Your very body and your very being are perfectly designed to live in collaboration with inspiration, and inspiration is still trying to find you – the same way it hunted down your ancestors.”

My great grandma made quilts, painted, wrote stories, made clothes, planted a garden the size of a football field, and her kitchen counter was covered in jars of spices – easy access for cooking and baking edible works of art. She wasn’t paid to do it; creativity was bursting inside her and had to come out.

My grandmother made quilts and crocheted baby hats for my babies, and baby doll hats for their babies. She entertained with joy and flair, creating experiences for others with her gift of hospitality.

My grandfather crafted sermons, wrote and edited for a magazine, and could fix anything with his able hands.

My mother has writing in her bones and she makes homemade cards for everyone (these little works of art are so special my children keep them in their treasure boxes).

My dad – oh my – he draws, he paints, he makes wood-strip canoes and tree-ship tree houses and 3-D pirate ship puzzles. He has written a fantasy novel about squirrels. Inspiration has found it’s ultimate host in my father.

And this is just one side of my lineage.

I can attest to Elizabeth Gilbert’s claim that all people ever have had creativity welling up in them. If you look back at your forebears I suspect you will find this, too. From the mathematician to the bricklayer to the only-on-weekends pianist. We are all makers. There is no boss deciding who’s allowed to make stuff. We’re alive, so we can.

And finally…

“…you have treasures hidden within you – extraordinary treasures – and so do I, and so does everyone around us. And bringing those treasures to light takes work and faith and focus and courage and hours of devotion, and the clock is ticking, and the world is spinning, and we simply do not have time anymore to think so small.”

So get on it! This was my pep talk to get the show on the road of writing for real. Pursuing it as more than a three-hour-a-week endeavor. I’m excited and scared and back to excited about saying with my life that I believe this quote is true. And you should too, in whatever way brings you joy. Pick a curiosity (that’s another main point of Gilbert’s book) and follow it. See what happens. Maybe nothing. Maybe everything. But it won’t be a waste of time. You’ll be using your inborn creative juices for fun, and possibly the benefit of those around you.

And you should probably read Big Magic. It’s for every one of us. If you have a pulse, you can make things. Congratulations and get to work.


Love Over Lust

I feel love in the age of lust.

I feel love in the age of desire.

That snippet of a song was playing as I walked through the kitchen one morning. Just two lines, but my ears perked up. I then googled it and found that the lyrics belong to Sam Weber, a Canadian singer-songwriter whose album I have now listened to in full. Many times. This happens a lot: my husband plays music from a new artist, I notice the words, a voice, or both, and a new obsession is born. But rarely with such a short introduction. These two lines sparked a rocky, complicated trail of thought, the way words do when at their best.

Since then I’ve been thinking and re-thinking about the idea of lust. What, exactly, is wrong with it, what separates it from love, or just wanting something badly. And I have to say, I got stuck. I couldn’t write about it because I wasn’t sure. Until I read a random comment on WoodenBoat Forum.



I know nothing about wooden boats except that my father built one with his bare hands (which is pretty badass). I simply googled the words “want” and “lust” together in a desperate attempt at clarity and the forum popped into view. And Ted Hoppe, whoever that is, made it all clear. He pointed out that once the lusted-after object is obtained, it “lacks the intense attraction it had before.” Whereas a want, once acquired, can be a “step in self-discovery.” Ted, you are a wise man. Thank you for sharing about boat building and the human condition.

Lust is not just about sex; It’s about wanting in general. But with more fervor. With less logic involved. As Ted Hoppe also said, “A want rarely leaves you with a burning sensation, a guilty feeling in the morning or a retainer fee for an attorney.” In high school I wanted things to the point of lust. To date certain boys. To have the right clothes. To feel popular; it all felt urgent. I wasn’t longing for these things for anyone’s true benefit, even my own, but for instant gratification. Immediate over long-term satisfaction, with no consideration of the end result. That is lust. And that can’t last.

A passionate desire for something. 

“a lust for power”

And some of the synonyms it lists:

greed, desire, craving, covetousness, eagerness, cupidity

In contrast, here’s what I know about love:

It is patient and kind, not easily angered, it does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking. It keeps no record of wrongs. Love rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

In high school I didn’t know much about love, as is the curse of the teen brain. I thought short-term. Perseverance played no part in my yearnings. My desires for popularity weren’t motivated by kindness and patience or protection of others. My cravings were all about boasting. Completely self-seeking. Add hormone fluctuations and lust was clearly running the show.

When I had my first child, something I had wanted for a long time, I experienced an explosion of self-discovery. Luke’s birth met a desire which had long been smoldering in my body and heart and satisfied in a way that lust never could. My love for him was patient and kind, not easily angered, and it certainly always protected and hoped and persevered. It’s the closest I’ve come in my life to the love described in an ancient letter to some corinthians, and it pointed me toward something higher. Someone who loved me in the same fierce but gentle way.

It seems that for most (minus a certain political candidate, and those like him), age brings a mellowing of lust. A realization that it will never satisfy. That wanting can be good when it comes from love – love of a person, an idea, a line of work or a hobby – but only then. I want to write, for example, because I love writing. I don’t want to conquer or claim it just for me; I want to experience it, and share it with the world. It continues to satisfy because it is a “step in self-discovery.”

That’s what I’m after. Discovery of myself, the world, those around me. Sam Weber’s song helped me think such thoughts today.

From the last verse…

There’s love in the age of lust.

Like a fool I chase this desire

Like a fire, the constant reminder

Of what will comfort me

I know that I’ve had enough

And I know what’s taking me higher

I feel love in the age of lust

I feel love in the age of desire


Hear Love In The Age Of Lust

And Then


All three of my children are now in full-time school. Under someone else’s watch. Outside of my home and my care for a good portion of the day. I was excited for this moment to come. It’s been 11 and a half years since I started having kids, quit my job and stayed home full-time to be with them. Today, when I dropped off my sweet girl and walked out the school doors, I didn’t feel much. “That was anticlimactic,” I told my husband. Which felt completely wrong. In the span of three minutes I changed from being a stay-at-home, full-time mother to not.  With no fanfare or recognition of the tremendous change. The platform of the last whole chunk of my life was removed and I was walking on nothing. I almost put my arms out to get my balance. I got to the car and sat for a moment, and then the tears came.

Those tears were unexpected. I love her enormously – this is not a case of wishing to be rid of a troublesome child – but she was ready, and I was ready. I thought I was ready, at least.

I had my list. Of all I would accomplish today in light of my new, open schedule. How organized and in-control I would feel after such an opportunity. But I was a blubbering mess and knew the list-tackling wasn’t to be. I had to work out these big feelings. And I do that through writing. I had to take stock of the last decade-plus to know how to turn my mind in a new direction and move forward.

So here’s a summary of those years, to help myself grasp the immensity of the occasion:

  • Hours and hours of wiping bottoms or the messes made by them.
  • Hours and hours of being peppered with machine gun style questions. Rapid fire, not waiting for an answer before the next is delivered.
  • Hours and hours of making food for small people, nearly none of which was appreciated (“Mom! I said I wanted peanut butter and raisins!”, “I don’t even like bananas!”, “Ewwww, this looks sooo gross!”), and then cleaning up the mess of the unappreciators.
  • Picking up toys and sorting toys and organizing toys and getting rid of outdated toys and buying new toys and repeating.
  • Having babies (like actually being pregnant, giving birth to them, nursing them and waking up all night with them – years of this).
  • Playing cars and pirates and vikings and lego, then princesses and babies and “family” and doing one thousand puzzles and playing one million board games (I recommend “I Never Forget a Face,” “Animal Upon Animal” and “Secret Squares”).
  • Mommy-and-me music and gymnastics and swimming and art classes.
  • Grocery shopping with someone (or more than one small person) asking for every third item they see. Including: big carrots instead of little ones, Mango Tango, cookies, ice cream, popsicles, donuts, yogurt, chocolate milk, strawberry milk, M&Ms, gum, sugar cereal, cheese sticks (SO expensive! Come on. It’s still just cheese.), all the toys in Target, DVDs, bikes, iphones, junk from the $1 section, sparkly puppy dog purses, Minecraft t-shirts, and once, randomly but wonderfully, artichokes.

Those are all negatives. Here are some positives, and reasons the transition is a tough one and not just a celebration of freedom:

  • Hours and hours of snuggling with babies and toddlers and preschoolers, and elementary school kids when they let me (this counteracts a bunch of those negatives at once).
  • Getting to watch my children reach new milestones, say their first words, take their first steps, discover the squishy delights of play-doh, build their first lego creations, say their first inadvertent cuss words, complete their first puzzles, eat their first fistfuls of sand, and all the other firsts I was able to experience spending all day with them.
  • Play dates that included other moms so as to maintain sanity and enjoy the company of other grown-ups, which fostered some of my most treasured friendships.
  • Years of not having a boss.
  • Waking up to little voices (even crying or mad ones) instead of alarm clocks.
  • Deciding on a whim to go to the zoo. When will I do that alone?
  • Going to the park. Often.
  • Witnessing the whole deal. How they change and change and change. Watching and seeing and taking in their growth. That’s a big one.

So, it seems it was a good run. It wasn’t all bad. It wasn’t all dreamy. It was just like life: a mix. One part of the entire story of my whole life span. I did my job – well at times, very poorly at others (see: the time I hid in the basement from my toddler son who was making me, literally, crazy). It wasn’t my life’s work, it was a decade’s work. I am not just a stay at home mom. I am a writer and a reader and a bit of a painter. I am a good cook and a bad mathematician and a passionate-if-not-fabulous Zumba dancer. I am an extrovert and an introvert, depending on the moment. I am a mother and I am just another human being. I simply needed to remind myself what the heck just happened. A necessary moment to recalibrate and take a gigantic, deep breath. And cry. I clearly needed to cry.


Now I’m ready for the next phase of the story.

It begins with “And then…”

What Our Souls Absorb

I recently worked on a timeline for our elementary school’s 100th anniversary celebration, sifting through old photos, searching online for newspaper articles, discovering historic treasures at the university’s research library. It was a lot of work, but fascinating and enlightening and worth the effort, if only to learn about one particular man who has enriched my view of the world – the namesake of our school. He died in 1904, but the impact he had on our community and on countless personal lives is inspiring and incredible. His story is worth sharing. His legacy is worth expanding.

Bear with me, here.  A bit of historical background. Just make it through the next paragraph and we’ll get to the good stuff:

Richard Cordley was born in England in 1829 but came to America at the age of four and settled in Michigan. He grew up in a log cabin, went to the school his father started when he was nine, lost an eye at the age of 10 in an accident involving an ox’s horn (pioneers were no wusses). He attended college and seminary and eventually came to Lawrence, Kansas as an abolitionist preacher in 1857, with the distinct purpose of opposing slavery in a territory still undecided on the issue. In fact, he and his wife harbored a fugitive slave escaping to Canada on the underground railroad. In 1863, a man named William Quantrill rode into town with a group of pro-slavery Missourians, killing 20% of the male population and burning the majority of the town. (Hence, Kansas’s deep-seeded grudge against Missouri, particularly in sporting events. No joke.) As an abolitionist, Richard Cordley was marked as a target in Quantrill’s raid but avoided death by escaping across the river. He went on to serve as the school board president, helped found Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas, wrote two books on the history of our state, and served as pastor of Plymouth Congregational Church for nearly 40 years.

Whew. Thanks for sticking with me.

So, Richard Cordley did some stuff while he was alive. He made significant contributions to society. He was a prominent local figure in the community. But in the end, that’s not what struck me; his accomplishments weren’t his greatest feat. Here’s a quote I came across about Cordley’s true impact on the world:

“The greatest thing about Dr. Cordley was himself. The beauty of his character was reflected everywhere…(He)helped all who heard him speak because he spoke from his heart…He believed in men and loved them…”

–  Dr. William L. Burdick, former dean of Kansas University Law School and a member of Plymouth Congregational Church

It’s hard to imagine a more lovely description of a person’s years on earth. His life was the greatest thing about his life. His love of people. The way he helped others. The beauty of his character. In reading through his sermons I found him to be a fabulous writer. He should be famous. But, aside from the blessing people would receive by reading his work, I doubt he would care to be well-known outside of our small town. He was humble, he was kind, he was love-in-action personified. I feel as though I discovered a hidden treasure in learning about Richard Cordley. His helpful hand and the beauty of his character have reached all the way through history to me, over a century after he died. I’m so thankful to know him in some small way. And I’m proud to have my children’s school named after such a man.

Now to pass on the treasure I found. Here’s an excerpt from a sermon he wrote about pondering the end of another year (don’t know which, but the book of sermons was published in 1912) titled The Days of our Years. I used pieces of it to highlight the historical timeline I made for the school celebration – it seemed appropriate. It seems equally appropriate in remembering Dr. Cordley’s life itself, and in considering how I want to spend my own…

The “Days of Our Years” have passed very gently. They made no sound as they went by, but they changed the face of all the things they touched. They fell like snowflakes, silent and soft, but like the snowflakes they change the face of all the earth. Every year gives another touch, and before we note what is going on, the whole scene is changed. Time moves on without a sound, building up the limbs of childhood, strengthening the arms of manhood, and fulfilling the counsels of manhood. So quietly have they borne us along that we were hardly aware of the moving, yet here we are looking back over the long line of our journey. As we note the shifting scene it seems almost like a dream…Few as the days of our years have been, what marvelous transformations they have wrought. They seemed trifles to those who looked on, but they meant everything to those involved. The days of our years have flitted by like shadows on the hillside. Joy and sorrow, light and darkness, have chased each other across our sky. We have had reason ‘To bless the favoring gale’ when we have sailed through unruffled seas; and we have waited for light ‘In the midnight of the soul.’ Yet the days of our years have left something with us as they flitted by. They passed 

‘Like snowflakes on the river,

A moment white, then gone forever.’

But even the snowflakes increase the volume of the stream. They days of our years are gone before we know they are here, but they add to the volume of our life. They leave with us what our souls absorb, and we shall be in the coming days what our past has made us. We may accumulate wisdom and knowledge and character, and be enriched in life or we may let it all flow by us while we remain paupers in our spirits…Everything is the richer for what it has passed through.

Richard Cordley knew his days mattered. That time passed without notice if one didn’t stop and look sometimes. This sermon was a moment of looking back to look ahead. Of plumbing the depths and noticing what the soul had absorbed. I write for the very same reason and feel connected to this man from so long ago. May the days of my years be half the blessing of his.


Bare Bones

As soon as I read the fifth page of All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, I knew I was in for a treat. When I described to my husband my stolen moments of snatching a few pages at a time, I said it was like eating candy. One of those Christopher Elbow chocolates with delicate, golden filigree on top and creamy ganache in the middle. Something sweet that you want to eat slowly – to savor; not the sugar-spike of a Jolly Rancher. It was delicious to consume Doerr’s beautifully crafted words. I even said some aloud, just to enjoy the sound. Let the syllables roll off my tongue and hit the air with a crackle.

“The eggs taste like clouds. Like spun gold… ‘How about peaches, dear?’ murmurs Madame Manec, and Marie-Laure can hear a can opening, juice slopping into a bowl. Seconds later, she’s eating wedges of wet sunlight.”

It left me full-up with the glory of language and it’s ability to convey feeling, but also with an empty longing. I got in the shower one morning, after ingesting a particularly lovely turn of phrase, with a sentence rolling through my head: I want to write something heartbreakingly beautiful. It repeated itself over and over. An ache of creativity hoping to escape. It was a rather selfish desire, I will fully admit, but one with which most writers can relate. When you love words – even the sounds of letters all by themselves – putting them together in new and fascinating ways to describe emotions as old as time, with which every single human can relate, feels like electricity in your veins. Not so much that it kills you, but enough to deliver a jolt and make you feel supremely alive.

When you get down to the bare bones of writing, that’s the joy. Take away the personal therapy it can provide, the (generally tiny amount of) money you can make from it, the blessing it can be to others (where would I be without Anne Lamott and Josh Ritter), and the conveyance of information, and a writer is left with words. The pure pleasure of consonants and vowels, nouns and adjectives, even helping verbs. And the desire from somewhere inside to get them outside. Like a child playing in a sandbox, with the tactile amusement of wet sand and dry – the scooping and pouring and molding of it – is a writer, given ten minutes and a writing prompt.

I never understand writers who say they hate to write. Who say they like the outcome, but not the actual process of writing. I (judmentally) think they aren’t really writers. They might type words onto a screen, make lots of money; their whole lives might revolve around the act of writing. But it’s hard for me to give them that title. It feels wrong.

Sometimes it’s a slog. Sometimes it’s full-on work – not playing in a sandbox at all. But even the work is gratifying. Like piecing together a puzzle. And the frustration of not knowing where the pieces go is part of the beauty of eventually figuring it out. Sometimes my five year old will give an exasperated “Ughhhhhhh” when she’s stuck on her 48 piece butterfly floor puzzle. But she will eventually return to it. Out of love for puzzles. The mixture of challenge and play. The satisfaction of two pieces sliding in next to each other just so. And then she smiles. And says “I did it!” And she did.

So I want to write something heartbreakingly beautiful. I’m sticking to that selfish, word-loving phrase. And when I do, I’ll say “I did it!” And smile. All the words that ever were are my sandbox, and it’s just about time to play.

The Good Bits

I was talking with Anne Lamott this morning.

In the shower. I have lots of conversations there, actually. Often they are arguments – a waking-dream way of working through issues, I suppose. I towel off with a better understanding of myself and even the people with whom I’ve hashed it out, better able to empathize and more in touch with the depth of my true feelings. But today wasn’t an argument – it was an interview. Me, interviewing one of my favorite writers, and a most fascinating human being, asking all the things I would if given the chance. Pondering life with one of the great ponderers.

It wasn’t real. I’m not insane. I simply like to think in the shower, and my thinking sometimes comes in the form of a two-way, fictional exchange. I’m totally willing to own this quirky habit and even recommend it to all of you. It’s free and multi-tasking therapy. What could be better?

To be in Anne Lamott’s presence and truly soak up some empathy and wisdom. That would be better. I would ask about her day, anything fun she’d gotten to do, like a real person talking to another real person. Eventually I would dive deeper. Maybe go down a list of words and have her throw out a description: faith, beauty, sorrow, warmth, justice, a ham and cheese sandwich.  She would astound me with her insights, her ability to draw an image of each one, her surprising turns of phrase. It would be like a game – a nerdy writer’s game of adjectives and nouns and imagination. Then I would dive again – pick her brain about dealing with loss. With loneliness, resentment, anger, failure, disappointment. All the crappy feelings. She would have sage-but-funny discernment about all that stuff. Just what I like. Then I’d begin the ascent back to light-hearted banter. Or maybe I’d let us sit in the muck for a bit. Two souls just feeling all the feels and knowing it’ll be ok. Not needing to rescue the moment with fluff. We would get each other enough to stay right there until my time was up. That’s how it would go. And I would tape it all and play it back for myself at will. Maybe while I took a shower.

We wouldn’t agree on everything, but that’s not the point. Like most of my favorite people (or any people), she would have her own opinions and perspectives – some that clashed with mine. But I wouldn’t worry about all that. As with anyone, I would absorb the good bits, which would be most, and welcome them into the folds of my brain for the long-term. Synthesize Anne Lamott’s perspective with mine and be better off for the experience.

If anyone has actual conversations with Anne Lamott, let her know I’d love to chat. Like in a room, all dry and clothed. And that I would bring chocolate. Until then, the shower will have to do.

Thank goodness for a hot water heater.


Don’t Hold Me Down

We went apple picking last weekend.  Or we tried to go apple picking.  Unbeknownst to us the apples were all gone.  We drove for an hour plus, arrived at the orchard, noticed it was devoid of customers and got out of the car.  We wandered around the grounds, passing pumpkins that didn’t get chosen for Halloween.  Gift shops full of fall merchandise – apple pies, pumpkin butters, holiday jams.  A petting zoo of farm animals.  When we rounded a barn toward the apple trees they were bare.

That morning I talked Marc into visiting the area where my family picked apples when I was a child.  I thought of driving through the hills of Eastern Kansas into Western Missouri – yellows, oranges, and brilliant reds wrapping the winding back roads.  The picnic spot we often visited.  Walking in the orchards under the tempered fall sun.  I wanted to experience it again, but with my own children this time.  Let them see and feel the same things I did.  Recreate my fond memories to pass along to them as gifts.  But, luckily, the folly in my plan was made clear as the day went on.  Luckily, because it taught me something.  Folly, because everything changes.  It does, it must, and it’s good.

The leaves had all fallen by this first day of November, on which I hadn’t planned.  A few specks of pale yellow remained, but mostly the bare trees of winter lined the roads.  Then the orchard was picked through.  We joked about the free rotting apples on the ground – “Would you eat that if you were the guy in Unbroken?” – but there would be no picking today.  We tried another orchard close by, but the result was the same.  Clearly apples in the same area are on the same ripening schedule.  No apples here, no apples there.

I remembered this orchard.  There had been a conveyor belt where you could watch how apples were sorted by color and quality.  But it was turned off for the season. The only apples left to buy were Jonagolds which – yuck.  The kids raced plastic ducks in a contraption made of feeding troughs and halved pvc pipe behind the main gift shop.  I wandered the aisles looking at Christmas jam, trying to make the trip worth something, but it was no use.  Jam wasn’t enough.  We left with a jug of cider.

So it was a bust.  As far as making memories goes.  But for me it was a valuable way to waste a morning.  Marc was kind.  My motives were clear to him from the moment I suggested the trip, but he left me alone.  He let me try, probably knowing we would fail.  Because trying to recreate something that has happened before, especially something that carries the weight of childhood memories, is a dangerous goal.  It’s bound to flop, and that’s good.  My family now is new.  Its own entity, separate from the family in which I was raised.  So it makes sense to create new memories that are our own.  My childhood memories can remain my childhood memories and retain their value.  To me.  And as we create what will be my children’s memories of their growing years, the burden is off to make them equal to mine or the same.  I’m free to let them be what they are.  No pressure.  It feels wonderful to let that go.

What a silly thing to hold me down – fond memories.  I feel a lightness in pushing them off.  They can sit next to me, I can remember them when I want, but they won’t be a weight any longer.  “Hi memories.  I remember you; you were great.  Nice to see you.  Gotta go – new things to do.”

Luke and Lily came with me to Starbucks this morning, books and activities in tow.  On our way from the car Luke told me about a memory he has of coming here with Marc, getting hot cocoa and playing games.  They did that a few times one winter.  And it hit me that I don’t have to try to make memories.  They happen all by themselves.  I just have to think about what I want to do, what we want to do, and do that.  And it will magically, inevitably turn into a memory.  And as long as those things don’t mostly suck, they will be fond.  If we wrap them in love, and laughter, and especially if they involve a treat, they will be remembered as great.  Even if they do suck, they might be fond.  That’s how memories work, thank goodness.

In light of my new perspective of recollection, today I created the memory for my kids of getting chocolate croissants and reading while Mom wrote for her blog.  Sitting at the window seat like a grown up.  So simple.  And so much better than a two hour road trip for apple cider.  I’ll totally take it.

Love Story

I just started a book my mom got me for Mother’s Day.  (The World Split Open: Great Authors on How and Why We Write).  And I mean just.  But I’m already hooked…

As Robert Stone states, with blazing simplicity: “Storytelling is not a luxury to humanity; it’s almost as necessary as bread.  We cannot imagine ourselves without it, because the self is a story.”  Amen.

It’s true — the universe would survive without decent writing, much as it did for a trillion or so years before writing was born.  And it’s true that the vast majority of people on earth will continue to live full, eventful lives without the benefit of Jane Austen or W. S. Merwin.  But by this reasoning, you could also argue that almost nothing matters.  (Or, rather, you could argue that if you knew how to write well.)  People can live without basketball, domestic pets and real butter, too.  If the question is simply one of literal survival in its ultimate sense, eating twigs in the wilderness or Pringles in front of the Xbox, we can survive with almost nothing, we’ve demonstrated that.  For those who want to live in a deeper, funnier, wilder, more troubled, more colorful, more interesting way, a way in which not only writing matters but also beauty, memory, politics, family, and everything else, put on your reading glasses and turn the page.  Your people have something to tell you…

– Jon Raymond

So ends the best introduction in a book I’ve ever read.  It left me both sure this writing thing is where my heart lies and convinced that I should stop trying to write at all, because I will never reach the level of artistry Jon Raymond clearly possesses.  He did his job perfectly: made me eager to read the book immediately, wishing I had the whole day to dig in, while also arguing a larger point with dexterity.  With technical accuracy, humor and logic.  I wish I could quote the entire piece.  But that would be illegal.

How can I add to this?  Not with any better argument in favor of the written word.  But perhaps with my own story to back it up.  A personal tale to defend the artistic genre that I love.  A story to promote the importance of story.  That’s all I can offer.  And so I do:

In my third year of college I enrolled in Fiction Writing I, along with my good friend Marc (who, because he had a harder time getting a story onto paper than onto film was taking it for the second time).  He wasn’t a great writer, but he knew great writing.  I was nervous.  I had been writing since I could remember.  Little poems, songs, stories, a scintillating screenplay for a puppet show when I was in grade school.  Then more poems, songs and a Poe-like short story (that in retrospect was reeeeeally similar to Psycho) for my high school Gothic Lit. class.  Then tons of essays in college.  TONS.  All of which were boring to write and probably also to read.  About other people’s writing, or historical events and their relevance to the present, or why Nietzsche was wrong.

But I hadn’t written fiction that bore my soul since I was little, when I didn’t care who knew what was in there.  I was old enough now to know people might mock.  Might not like what they saw.  And to worry that my writing might actually be terrible.

And Marc was in my class.

My Marc.  My secret future husband.  If my first short story was bad, he wouldn’t know what a hidden jewel I was.  Wouldn’t see me as I longed to be seen: as, duh, this beautiful, intelligent artiste.  Right in front of his eyes all this time.  The pressure was on.

So I went home and did my thing.  Saw a photograph in my American History textbook that sparked my imagination and began.  Hunkered down in my dorm room with pen and paper (yes, actual pen and paper, back in the olden days of 1995 when computers lived in the computer lab).  I got in the zone.  Threw in some historical details.  Scratched out entire paragraphs.  Wrestled with the words until I was happy with my story, or out of time.

Our class workshopped everyone’s stories, a few each class period, so we had to read them in advance in order to give each person feedback.  My day had come, and I was terrified.  I got up, dressed, walked down to the dorm cafeteria.  Knowing I would likely see Marc – his curly ponytail bopping around the cereal dispensers, the sight of which always made my stomach turn with excitement/anxiety.  And there it was.  I watched where he sat.  Got my daily dose of LIFE with milk and headed to the booth, heart pounding.  And when I turned the corner to sit, and he saw me, he stopped talking to his friend and looked at me.  For a long time.  Longer than necessary to acknowledge my presence.  Longer than anyone looks at anyone unless they are seeing them differently than usual.  Maybe for the first time.  I just about peed my pants.  I didn’t know what he was going to say – maybe he didn’t know how to tell me it was awful.  But then he smiled and I burst inside.  I stayed cool, don’t get me wrong.  I didn’t want him knowing how desperately I wanted him to love my story.  But he did.  And it was the beginning.  I had been right in front of him all this time, but now, to him, I was a writer.

And that, my friends, is just one of the love stories I can tell you about my relationship with the written word.  It’s in my bones and has worked its way out my whole life long.  I may not be as good as Jon Raymond, but I will defend this art form until I physically cannot.  By writing.  Plain and simple.  It matters in the world.

Now to read the rest of that book…

And All Will Be Made Well

I’ve been listening to Josh Garrels’ new album, Home, over and over since it was released this month.  That’s how I tend to listen to music that I love – repeatedly.  Until I run it into the ground.  Which can take years.  In that time the songs and the voices that sing them become so familiar I would know them from hearing one bar.  They become a part of my story.

I’m so glad to include Home in my complicated tale.  It’s absolutely welcome here.

The second half of the album is already near and dear to my heart.  As my cousin insightfully reacted to it, “Gah!”  I agree with her exasperation at such creativity and beauty and relevance.  It’s almost too wonderful to bear.  But not quite.  And in that not-quite I find a thankful addition to my life.

I don’t like a lot of “Christian” music.  It’s often trite, poorly written and produced, a copy of other artists’ styles.  In my mind, not worthy of it’s subject matter.  Then there are the few inspired musicians whose art is worth hearing no matter what you believe – because they make good music.  Josh Garrels knows how to speak of God unabashedly, but with insight and grit and authenticity.  There’s no false-modesty; no making it seem that trusting Jesus means you avoid the real, hard stuff of living; no fake-it-til-you-make-it.  It’s just him, and his God, and his contemplations about the two.  He gives his listeners an honest offering.  Sometimes, even for free. (more about that here)  And that makes the world better.

In his book The Crowd, the Critic and the Muse, Michael Gungor (another great musician) talks about pain as a source of great art.

Pain is that blessed and despised universal experience that creates more true art than any other human experience.  Love is racked with pain.  Life’s most joyful experiences – the birth of a newborn baby, the formation of deep friendship, or first consummation of love – all are associated with an experience of pain. A wedding is the joyful union of two lovers, but it begins with “Who gives this bride away?”

Garrels’ song Heaven’s Knife puts this idea to music.  He speaks of a precious experience that began with pain but ended in a beautiful realization.  He hits on a universal reality.  The place of pain is also the impetus of searching, the reaching outside of the self.  Pain is the place where all you can think to say is “Help.”  As Anne Lamott says, it’s one of the three prayers (along with thanks and wow), and to pray it, we have to see our need.  When we’ve reached the end of our rope, we cry out for a bit more – with less fraying and a softer braid to grip.  But we know we can’t make it ourselves.  That point of acknowledging need is the very birthplace of hope.  It makes us look up.

I read that this album was written from a place of trying to find joy, and you can sense his search in the music.  Working it out through writing – I can relate to that.  Some songs are more pensive.  Asking for mercy.  But as the album moves along, the songs feel to me like a rising out of a pit into the light.  He expresses the joy he sought – not shallow happiness which changes with each situation, but a gladness which can exist in the midst of sadness or terrible circumstances.  The less fickle, more reliable relative to happiness.  David and the other psalmists wrote with this in mind; they were working it out through writing, too.  Honestly dealing with the painful aspects of living on this planet.  Reading them lets me know I’m not alone.  And so does Josh Garrels’ music.

He demonstrates what Gungor says…

Pain is not the same thing as suffering.  One can fully experience the pain of life without being the tortured artist who lives in constant agony.  But creation is no easy task.  Good art demands a fight.

Thank goodness Josh Garrels is willing to fight the fight.  To work it out.  To make good art.  His attempts to find joy help mine.  Here’s a sample, in case it helps you, too…


And it may be broken down

All the bridges burned like an old ghost town

But this my son can be made new

It’s gonna be alright

Shake it out and let back in the light

And joy will come

Like a bird in the morning sun

And all will be made well

And all will be made well

And all will be made well

Once again


“Most of us today walk around with all five senses in fine working order, yet we lack the focus that allows us to truly taste and see.  Our primary experience is limited to quick and shallow sensations and perceptions.”

– Michael Gungor

That was me.  I had arrived in Mexico for a weekend away with my husband, to celebrate my 40th birthday (and our last five anniversaries).  I had spent a month aching to escape the bitter cold, away from the craziness of everyday life, with nothing to do but lie in the sun.  And here I was, “relaxing” on the beach, but I couldn’t actually relax.  I was antsy.  I missed my kids.  I had brought the wrong book.  I was bored.

This confused both me and Marc, who silently wondered what the hell was wrong with me.  We went to lunch and he asked as much.  Nicely.  “I don’t know,” I said, thinking I had reached a new low on the scale of fickle idiocy.  I actually wanted to go home.  It was 70 degrees, the palm trees were shimmering in the breeze, I didn’t have to make food for anyone, and I was depressed.  “Do you think you just need to detox?” he sweetly posed.  “No,” I emphatically answered.  I was just a jerk.  That was the only conclusion to be made from my state of mind in the midst of such lovely circumstances.  And this horrified me.  By the end of the day I was tired of trying to enjoy myself, and Marc was tired of trying to enjoy being around me.  Not exactly romantic.

The next morning I hoped for a turn-around.  We ate breakfast and headed to the beach, a new book in hand.

At this particular resort, we were sandwiched between the bass pumping at the beach and the bass pumping at the pool.  We eventually found a lesser-base-pumping location in the middle where we could hear the waves lapping, sort of, and read without Pit Bull interjecting his deep thoughts on booties.  Sort of.  It was the perfect example of what we read about for the next two days.

I had given Marc Michael Gungor’s The Crowd, The Critic and The Muse: A Book For Creators two Christmases before, and he knew this was his chance to finally read it in full.  I, on the other hand, had spent hours figuring out the logistics of childcare and instructions for said childcare (two kids will go to Aunt Pat’s on Thursday while the other goes to Nana’s, Grandma will get there by pre-school pick-up on Friday, the older two will take the bus home, Grandma will drop the kids off at Nana’s on Sunday, school starts at 8:55, Mae can’t have gluten, the spaghetti sauce is in the pantry…) and five minutes thinking about what I should take on the trip.    So I arrived with a dumb magazine that inexplicably comes in the mail each month and two books I grabbed off my nightstand.  So we shared his.  And it ended up saving our trip.

The book talks about how artists have to choose whom they will listen to in terms of what and how to create – the crowd, the critic or the muse that inspires them.  And it examines how the world around them can make that a difficult choice.  A big part of the book discusses noise.  The noise of culture, technology, consumerism that we live amongst.  How appropriate, then, for my weekend away from the noise of the every day.  And how ironic for the place we were.

An all-inclusive resort (at least the one we visited) is, by nature, prone to noise: tons of people, live music, Zumba parties at the pool, loud drunk men.  And to over-indulgence: buffets with enough food for one million people at each meal, drinks all day every day, 50 pools in case 49 of them are not to your liking.  Which could be fun, I suppose, with a group of friends.  Or if someone else was paying.  But we needed something different.  We needed quiet, calm, detoxification from the clatter of our everyday lives.  Something, I’d argue, that everyone needs.

As I said, the book we read is explicitly for creators (it’s in the title), which Gungor argues (as would I) includes everyone.  From the back cover: “…Gungor reflects on that creative, divine spark that exists in everyone.  Creativity is not a gift for the elite or the eccentric; it is a gift inherent to the human soul, but it is a gift that needs some nourishment and tending in order to thrive.”  Yep.  Marc makes films, I write, but we also spend a lot of time creating our family’s culture, I create dinner, Marc creates a mown and raked yard.  Some people create lesson plans, some electrical wiring, some a newly functioning artery in another person’s body.  Etc.  But each person, each creator, needs time to be quiet and consider their muse.  What energizes them and sparks that creative power?  For Marc and me, getting rid of the crazy all around us is part of that figuring.

Here’s why:

The person who creates from the noise simply adds to the noise.  The person who creates from a place of listening, however, can actually make something worthwhile and enjoy his work in the process.  Think of a writer who is still in love with words, or a cellist who is inspired by the sound of bow across string. (pg 63)

When I stop and listen, I remember.  That the sounds of words when put together is the very reason I began writing as a child.  Making meaning out of these symbols is thrilling to my nerdy, logophilic heart.  Marc loves the way he can make an image say something.  The power and beauty of a series of shots, plus words, plus music.  A movie.  It makes his soul sing.  But we have to stop and sit for a bit to remember.  And to get our juices flowing again.  Otherwise, the creating becomes wrote and dull and dead…

When art becomes a mere distraction from our first-world boredom, it will devolve into something less human.  It will become animalistic and trite.  But it will certainly be entertaining. (pg 82)

 Now hear me correctly: I actually like Pit Bull.  Fireball fuels many a kitchen dance party in our house.  He is absolutely entertaining (and luckily, hard for my kids to understand).  That is why every third song on the radio, and played over the giant speakers on the beach in Mexico, is a Pit Bull song.  And in my view there is a place for “purely entertaining.”  We all need a good beat to dance to.  We all need an escapist adventure movie from time to time.  They don’t all have to be deep and meaningful and make us think.  But without the deep and meaningful, we, as a human race, are sunk.  Depth and meaning are what make ART with a capital A.  The stuff that drives and pulls society and keeps it afloat.  The lifeboat for life with a lowercase l.  It points us to greater things.  To bigger realities than what exists directly in front of our faces.  Oh how I need it, and how I need time to listen and remember.  So I can create, myself.

By the end of our trip I reached the other end of the fickle scale and didn’t want to leave.  I found the four things I actually liked from the buffet, had gotten used to sleeping without a preschooler joining me, and really really liked being warm.  But I felt filled up.  The book, the time to disconnect from the usual, and inspiring conversations with my favorite fellow-creator did their work.  The margaritas didn’t hurt either.  Despite the noise of our resort, we were able to stop and listen.  It was enough.  And in contrast to the all-inclusive, enough is all you need.