Monday, December 29, 2014

Crazy Girl: How Falling in Love with Don Miller Didn't Kill Me

Several weeks ago, I had this in mind to write but I was sick, overworked, injured, and otherwise making excuses. But it's been rumbling around the brain, and finally worked its way to my fingers. I'm tempted to preface this further, to cut off and counter arguments, but I'll leave it as is. Here.

I fell in love with him reading a book that had waited on my shelf for two years with the kind of patience possessed only by books and God. It had not cracked or whined as I'd opened its pages; there was no gruff introduction, no distance it kept as I turned one page and then another. I swallowed his words whole, or contentedly chewed them, like gummy worms, feeling the way they slid over my teeth. I smiled, and laughed out loud, and quoted him, and wrote notes in the margins--sometimes to myself, but more to him: replies, agreements, abbreviated mentions of memories and cross-references. Things to talk about one day. And he agreed with me, yes, but furthered and countered me, too. I would feel, at times, my brow furrow into hard curves--it's not like we never argued. Graceful question marks would occasionally bloom in the margins, causing me to return and reread and roll my brain around in the dark as we drifted to sleep, one under covers, one on the nightstand. 
But I didn't quite know it was love until I saw him. Does it count as love at first sight when his words had long since broken down walls stone by stone, spoke grace and commiseration and healing into me, saturated my brain like pancakes in syrup? The words he spoke from the podium were new but the same, and when my moment arrived and I stood at the table, I waited for him to recognize my connection, my attachment. His laugh was easy and disarming, and the photo we took was joyous--a meet-cute if ever there was one. I left that day, two more books in hand, taking care to remember my clothes (the corduroy jacket that smoothed my waist), the weather (clear, cold, breezy), the way I felt like the girl in the middle of the fairy tale, catching sight of the dream and reveling in it long before the hiccups were hurdled.
It's important to say that I knew I was crazy. I knew how ludicrous it was, how impossible, how unreal. But someone would end up marrying him, wouldn't she? And of all the millions of someones, why was it impossible for me and possible for her? Every time I called myself crazy, I was reminded of every crazy thing that fit together at impossible angles to make a life.
But you know how this story ends, I suppose.
Years passed, and like most unreturned love, mine banked and embered, flaring less and less frequently, glowing dimmer and dimmer. And one day a friend texted me to tell me he was married--to a normal, everyday looking girl. She even wrote a blog post about how impossibly weird it was that she married him. How crazy that was.
It would be easy, now, to insist it was just fascination, just obsession or "a weird time for me." My friends allowed all sorts of wiggle-room to let me say it was all a running joke. But that wouldn't be true. No, it wasn't "real" love, not in the sense of a real-life, hands-in-the-dirt, working-out-the-rough-stuff relationship, but I loved him as much as it was possible for a girl in Portland to love a man she didn't know in the other Portland.
I sat staring at the text and waited, with no small degree of trepidation, for the break. The tears. The heartache, the frustration. But instead of a hard wave, it was an easy tide, creeping up and over and then sloping back down and into the sea. The hurt brought something else with it: a sense of things being as they should, a gratitude for what love and imagination can give, and the open space left behind when the pipe dreams drip dry.
I write all that to say this: Falling in love with a writer on the other side of the country didn't kill me. It didn't send me to a psych ward, it didn't distance every normal friend I had, it didn't ruin me for all men. And I learned things--about me, about how love spills and plows through the brain, because of him. There are still vestiges of what we had--the inevitable fossils of any love that has dried and calcified into a shadow of itself. But though the stony edges aren't smooth, neither do they cut and hurt.
I wish him--and her, this crazy blogger--nothing but good. I wish them all the hard-but-worrth-it, the real-life, the dirty-hands rewards of love in this broken world. I wish her a constant remembrance of how crazy life is, and how realized love is a gift. I wish him the same--and that he would not wonder or step down other crazy roads, but blend his life and words to hers. I have nothing left but thankfulness to him, for sharing himself in words to me and ten thousand like me.
I remember those days like the remnants of a good story, snuggled in layers and pillows and turning page after patient page. His remains the only book I read in one sitting, never even getting up to refill my mug. His words still speak hard truth and gentle healing into me when I return to them. But he is hers now, and I am okay. Unbroken. Alive. Waiting for someone else's words, heart, life.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

This Christmas: A Real Story

Much-churched or not, the basics of the story are hard not to know: virgin woman, shepherds, wise men, star. No room at the inn, fear not, good tidings of great joy, lying in a manger, patridge in a pear tree. (Hang on, sorry... that's something else...) We know the plot points, to a greater or lesser degree, and the story isn't really an involved one. (Does it involve centuries-old prophecies, did it change the world, yes, yes, yes, but from a narrative point, it's pretty standard.) And like any basic story you hear over and over, the surprises aren't surprises anymore. You know what's coming at the page turn. The suspense, the mystery evaporates.

This isn't a bad thing, really--familiarity allows you to ponder on the details, to know it in your bones, to remember year to year. It lets you tell the story to comeone else, with your own language and emphasis.

This is what got me thinking about this post, actually. My awesome cousin wrote, several days ago, about my awesome goddaughter telling the Christmas story to a small audience, and giving plenty of screentime to parts we might otherwise ignore or glaze over.
(Jenny's full post, "The Gospel Is Socially Awkward," is pretty awesome, too--read it here.)
We hope the little girl would focus on the cute barnyard animals (freshly washing, lowing far quieter than in reality, smelling like a Disney movie), on the young girl (beautiful, peaceful, divinely separated from fear, pain, or stress), on the adorable baby (also freshly washed, also being far quieter than most, smelling like Johnson & Johnson's). Ruby, I'm sure, mentioned these elements, but she also hit plot points most of us adults forget: namely, how the legal king of that area was driven to unabashed violence by jealousy, ordering the murder of thousands, maybe tens of thousands of two-year-old boys. But, as Jenny points out, this is a part of the story that connects itself to Ruby right now: she has two brothers under three.

I've probably skirted around on this before, but I hope to be hit, to be surprised by the Christmas story every year. This is too shiny of a wish, too naïve, but I hope it's true. Even this morning, it struck me as a parade of school-age children filed to the microphone in my mother's church, each reading a line of the story as others acted it out.

Shepherds--loner, poverty-stricken men and boys--were out in a field, doing their thing. The sky splits open with light and noise and something outside of what their senses can perceive. And because that isn't enough, they explain that "the Savior--yes, the Messiah, the Lord [of everything, forever, no seconds]" will be found, not at the front of a long line of onlookers, not in shining gold plate, sword in hand... But "a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger" (Luke 2:11, 12). Not only a baby--that's hit on a lot, and I guess we've learned to feign surprise at that now, but wrapped not in new baby clothes, not even a nice blanket, but strips of cloth. In a cave, in a trough from which animals (smelling like a lot of things but Disney wasn't one of them) were only just eating.

Celebrated, austere, well-known men of wisdom and education came into Jerusalem and were seen by the aforementioned king. No appointment necessary, we deduce--or at least not much time spent in the waiting room. They come from hundreds, maybe thousands of miles away bearing gifts of astounding worth. "No, no," one of them must have to say, "we're not here for you. We're on our way to a suburb outside of town." The king, the only one on the turf, gets to listen to these know-it-alls request directions to "the newborn king of the Jews... [because] we have come to worship him" (Matthew 2:2). The only thing that keeeps their heads attached is his lack of information. In a voice that is nothing if not the Grinch, Herod asks them to report back "so that I can go and worship him, too!" (2:8). Given the choice, I'd "take the seasick crocodiiiiiiiiiiile..."

Mary was probably exhausted, and while the sight of her new baby brought peace, don't tell me it didn't bring with it all the unknowns. Joseph, my favorite of the pieces in this story, went without sleep more than a little in those first months. (As Ruby would tell you, Joseph was a good daddy and protected his son, taking him and Mary across foreign borders to keep them from Herod.) The animals did not neaten up before they arrived. The ladies of Bethlehem did not put together a diaper shower.

I don't say any of this to take away the wonder, the miracle, the magic of the Christmas story. I don't think remembering the details and realities makes it any less miraculous--in fact, after the year that 2014 has been I think I need that extra reminder that God speaks the astounding and the miraculous right into our normal lives, and even in the midst of it there are still elements we might have changed (anything from barnyard smells to murderous rulers). But this is the story--all of it.

And it's a really good one.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

This Christmas: Getting in the Mood

[Drafter's Note: I started the This Christmas series back in 2012--but, apparently, forgot about it last year. The idea was to get me thinking and writing more about this holiday I love so much, whether I'm feeling the love or not. So here we are again...]

Greetings, fair bloggy visitor! Thought I forgot about you, didn't ya? I'll be honest, it was kind of nice taking a few days' break--though, to be fair, I have done a little writing and a little revisioning in the interim, so I haven't totally fallen off the radar... Just the radar you can see... Which is pretty much the radar.

But I digress.

This post has been rolling around my head, and I finally decided to get off my duff (or, really, sit down upon my duff, but with purpose) and write it. It's December, which means holidaytime. For me, Christmastime. And for whatever reason, things have just aligned this year where I was ready and eager for some yuletide goodness. I was playing Christmas music before Thanksgiving (don't tell my grandma), I had my office and home decorated by the second of the month, and I cannot wait for payday to drop a good chunk of change on specialty groceries for baking goodness.

But, listen, I get it. There have been Decembers that have come and gone and never seen me really get to that place of contented, shiny holiday happiness. And I hear the voice--I have the voice--that says that we should grow out of this, that we should be mature and embrace what the holidays are really about: spending too much money, having parties with people we don't like, standing in line with hopes of hearing "store credit," collapsing back at home with the one or two loved ones we can still stand by New Year's.

And so, for you who are feeling a little too old for Christmas this year, I present to you

Chandra's Go-To Get-in-the-Mood Playlist:
Dean Martin, "A Marshmallow World"
A Muppet Christmas Carol, "It Feels Like Christmas"

Jason Gray, "Children Again"
[links to YouTube for your listening enjoyment]

Traditional, choral Christmas music is gorgeous, I won't argue with that. But my only beef with it is that most of it comes off as somber, funereal--boring, for lack of a better word. Beautiful, yes, but hardly anything to get jazzed about. I like little better than being snuggled up with snow falling, reading a book to the harmonic tones of "Sweet Little Jesus Boy" and "Ave Maria." But if you're looking to feel the thing, you need something with a little more of a pulse.

I love Dino. He had to make the list. If the holidays aren't the holidays without a drink in your hand, Dino's your man. Tell me he's not three or four in for this track.
I love Jon's song because it's realistic, true-to-life, but with that glimpse of special, even in the everyday. Sure, it's just weather and lights and music, but it's more than that--"Children wait for Santa to come / While the older ones bite their tongues-- / They can feel the magic in the air."
I love the Muppets... because they're the Muppets, for pete's sake, but also because they are allowed to cheese it up, and Christmas--any joyful celebration, really--requires cheesiness. Fact: to truly enjoy yourself, you need to be willing to look like a fool. Another fact: if you're truly enjoying yourself, you'll scarcely notice.
And Jason (mayhap I've mentioned my love for Jason's Christmas album before?) hits on what it boils down to, for me, anyway: that the wonder of Christmas is, indeed, something we grow out of, but every Christmas is another opportunity to take off our grown-up cynicism and put down the to-do lists and embrace the joy, the innocence, and the dependence on God that makes us children again in the best possible way.

Still not feeling it? A couple thoughts:
  - Sometimes it's just that kind of season. A few years ago, I was just plain annoyed about it, but I just could not jump-start my Christmas spirit. I don't know why, exactly, though some theories surfaced as the month went on. What I found myself doing, though, was taking the little bits of joy as they came, and embracing the magic of Fake It Till You Make It. No, I was never overwhelmed and besotted with Christmassy glow, but in the going through the motions--making gingerbread or singing to carols or whatnot--I found some glimpse of it that I wouldn't have otherwise. Children play pretend.
  - Resistance isn't futile. You can stay distant. You can elect to remain a grown-up. It's not a bad thing--grown-ups are good for a lot of things, and every once in a while I'm even happy I am one. And you can make it through this season--"surviving the holidays," as I saw on a poster this morning--without a hint of child-like wonder. It's absolutely possible. Not recommended, but doable. Children are terrible at a lot of things, and maybe it's more important to be good at those things. I'll pretend to understand.

I challenge you to embrace a little wonder, though. I challenge you to be a kid, just for a minute. How often are we allowed to anymore, really? Take advantage. Wear that Santa hat to work. Play that music. Bake those cookies (or just eat someone else's). Sing along.

'Tis the season, after all.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

NaBloPoMo 30: Each Single Day

Back on Day 15, I said I was looking forward to writing this post but, in honesty, I didn't actually think I'd get here. After my 50% success rate last month, I was sure I would crash and burn. But each day, I would feel all those posts already written, looking expectantly from my face to the keyboard until I got the hint. Admittedly, some days have been cheap shots, but I can't help it--I'm damn proud of myself. Thirty days, thirty posts, done and done.

I'd like to write a nice, blankety post about what this exercise has taught me, but I feel like this is one of those times I haven't been taught new things so much as rediscovered old. When struggling to write (or wishing I was struggling to write when instead I'm avoiding writing altogether), I frequently find myself thinking of the high-school- and college-era me, who had a constant, nearly physical need to write. Assignments, sleep, maternal ordinances, potential social engagements--all would be delayed in the name of writing. Sometimes the subject was only my mug of coffee, but inevitably I'd be writing about something, and that little something was really a bigger something I could only scrape at. (The coffee cup, I remember--it was something about hands curling around the warmth, and looking for a different kind of curling warmth, and knowing it but not having it... Or something...)

And I remember, too, a night senior year of college, working late at my job in the library and setting aside entry books to scrawl out words about laboring over a poem, birthing it, with effort and hurt and a  sense of loss. And while this was nowhere near the last thing I wrote in college, when I come across it in my journal now I wonder if I was marking a shift, when writing would become less involuntary, when I would need to work at it, scratch out time and room and headspace for it.

I hope that's what I've experienced a bit this month--learning that while I don't always have "something to write about," the writing can still be there like it used to be. But like any practice--like gratitude--it will take work, still, always, and that doesn't lessen its value or importance. After an injury, breathing is difficult, too, but no less necessary.

So here is where the NaBloPoMo train ends, for this year, anyway. I laughed aloud last night to see that BlogHer is extending the challenge to December--even I know my limits! But I hope and plan to practice this practice still, even (especially) when I don't have a plan, when I don't know what the thing is that I'm scraping for below the little things. I'll keep writing, keep scrawling until I find it--and then curl around it, like a hand around a hot coffee cup.

In the name of unearthing the old to pair with the new, I dug up aforementioned poem. It's nothing great, but there's something about it I still love. Written circa 2004, likely a couple pages behind the notes I should have been taking for British Writers...

Contemplating Cavalier’s Tuesday Morning Coffee

I hold my hand to a hot coffee cup,
touch my face
and feel the warmth
of someone else’s love,
hiding somewhere.
Their as-yet unheard
craving for me
heats the dark of my caffeine
and the resulting feeling almost
makes getting up so damn early

Saturday, November 29, 2014

NaBLoPoMo 29: Gratitudes

I've spent most of this month perfect the art of being busy: two work conferences (one of which I was sick for), a mini-vacation with friends, a holiday, moving work spaces, blogging daily (for real though) and now nursing an injury that looks like it'll be with me for a while.

What I have not spent much of this month doing, this month marked by a day of giving thanks, is being thankful. Taking a minute. Reflecting. Practicing gratitude.

I like that last one: practicing gratitude. Because isn't it just--a practice. And like anything, you might never get perfect but you can always get better, do more. So in lieu of using my Facebook to post a daily gratitude all month, I'm taking a moment here. I've hit pause on my Big Dumb Action Movie I got from Redbox, I've shooed the cat off my lap, and I'll actually take some of my downtime tonight and do something with it, even if it's just for me.

In the order in which they come...

1) I'm grateful for being swept into stories. The friends I spent Thanksgiving with were commenting on how I raced through a 300-page book in a couple days; the truth is, I'm not really a fast reader, but if I get hooked into a story, I'll plow through just about anything.
2) I'm grateful for a mom who's my friend. Some experiences lately have had me reflecting on the rough times she and I went through in high school (as about any single mom & her teenage daughter will have), and I'm grateful she held tight with me, didn't kick me out of the house, didn't kill me... And that fifteen years later, I call just to chat on the walk home from the grocery store.
3) I'm grateful for the grocery store! A simple thing, but something so many are deprived of--either by geography/society or simply by finances. I'm grateful for the ridiculous piles of options and choices, for the bags full of food (be it healthy vegetables or a tub of pudding), and for a debit card that clears.
4) I'm grateful that food tastes good. I mean, really, it's just fuel. We could just be eating basic gruel, and instead we get candied bacon and salted caramel truffles and 78 colors of peppers.
5) I'm grateful for my love of cooking, which I've commented on before. But sometimes, like tonight, I'm grateful that I was just cooking for me. The fish came out a little soggy, the broccoli didn't carmelize like I was hoping... at least the Texas Toast crisped like it should have...?
6) I'm grateful for my cat. Crazy cat lady here, but after all this busy-ness I've been in need of downtime and she has helped, snuggling up and purring and being nice quiet happy company.
7) I'm grateful for my health & wholeness. After my, really, relatively minor fall on Wednesday and the impaired use of my arm since, I've been hit with the reality of how I take my health for granted. Even something as, again, minor, as a broken arm would have put my life into a level of crazytown. Grateful.
8) I'm grateful for heat in my house. Baby, it's cold outside.
9) I'm grateful for this blogging challenge. I'll write more on this tomorrow, but I'm grateful for the challenge set, and the energy and willpower to complete it.
10) I'm grateful for quilts from my mother. On a chillout day of lazing around the house, they are absolutely the best--one on the bed, one on the couch... happiness.
11) I'm grateful for the restoration of sleep. Coming home from this last show just shaking the end of a cold, I arrived home and got two nights of 10+ hours of sleep, and could have used more. But even that was demonstrative of how necessary that stuff is. (To all those who can't get such respites due to young children, insomnia, etc... I honestly don't know how you do it.)
12) I'm grateful for these sweatpants. They are the most comfortable things ever.
13) I'm grateful for the promise of vacation. I'm sad to be missing Christmas with my local family here, but getting increasingly ready to head out and enjoy some vacation and seeing various relatives out in Iowa.
14) I'm grateful for my odd batch of friends, who wouldn't mind my calling them odd because they'd take it as a compliment. I'm grateful that, no matter the mood or situation, I have a passel of people I can call, text, or otherwise contact--whether it's just to share a joke or get together for coffee or have an emotional breakdown with.
15) I'm grateful for snow. I blogged about this yesterday, and I nearly fell three times on the way to the grocery store, but still grateful.
16) I'm grateful for my location. It's hard not to be when your walk home from groceries involves a harbor, a city skyline, and a sunset.
17) I'm grateful for people who are smarter than me. Coming from an intellectual snob, this might surprise you, but it's true. I'm glad someone else is figuring out the big things I can't wrap my brain around, figuring out the equations that make my head hurt, answering the questions I wouldn't have thought to ask.
18) I'm grateful for, on the flip side, not really caring about the stuff I don't know. I'm not sure how else to put it, but I'm just not the sort who lies awake wondering about exactly how the world was put together, or whether China is going to own all our kidneys by next week, or what a quadratic equation is. I trust those other people who care about these things... And I'm grateful that I get to sleep instead.
19) I'm grateful for pudding. I don't know why I love it so much, but I do, and it's just the best.
20) I'm grateful for my job. I blogged about this somewhat the other day, but it still holds true.
21) I'm grateful for my nice, quiet apartment. For quiet neighbors on a quiet street. For peace.
22) I'm grateful for closed doors. Again, some recent thought trails have taken me down a couple "might have been" paths. There are always a few I wonder/growl at, but on the whole, I'm absurdly grateful for what God protected me from, even when I was trying any which way to get to it.
23) I'm grateful for my obsession with fairy tales. Into the Woods and Cinderella are both on the movie theater horizon, and I can barely stand it.
24) I'm grateful for my godchildren. They are the smartest, most adorable, most lovable kiddos on the planet. #unbiased
25) I'm grateful for second chances and restarts and do-overs--the real kind. This movie plays with a Groundhog-Day-esque scenario, which I'm not looking for, but I'm grateful when the opportunities come to try and try again.
26) I'm grateful for YOU, faithful reader! (Hi.)
27) I'm grateful for... seriously, I'm dragging the bottom of the barrel at 27? LAME, Chandra. You are the worst. I'm grateful for people who hear me talk to myself and don't call 1-800-LOONY-BIN. 
28) I'm grateful for a legacy of strong women and powerful stories. For "I can aim lower boys," and stubborn Bohemies.
29) I'm grateful for the magic of a shower--how I can feel like a completely different person after some hot water and shampoo. What is that about?
30) I'm grateful for the Advent season. Not just a single day of Christmas, but a season of weeks, an attitude and a method of looking forward, of expecting, of experiencing and holding onto a miracle, a gift that could never be responded to other than meekly, with praise and silence and awe and celebration and candlelight and music and joy.

Friday, November 28, 2014

NaBloPoMo 28: Snow on Snow

Well as promised, the snow fell, and what could have passed for September now could pass for March. It is, in fact, still November. But within hours, a little precipitation changed the entire landscape.

I've likely mentioned how much I need my seasons--how I would get bored with the same thing for too long. I don't love one season more than the others so much as I love any shift from one to the other. Much as I crave the crisp, colorful shift in September, I am equally grateful for the first flowers poking through the snow in May, and for this first snow.

(Note: Maine actually had their first snow, in the "few inches" range, a few weeks ago, but I wasn't here for it, which means this real snow counts as my first, per the official rules of such things.)

I sit here in my local family's house, the only sound the light snores from my friend's afternoon nap in the next room, and puzzle through the window glass: Where does my love for snow come from? Stories and books, childhood memories of fort-building and snow days, the way the weather wraps seamlessly in my brain, braiding together with firesides, hot cocoa, Christmas?

But past that, I have some poetic, romantical attachment to it. Watching it--it's falling again, ridiculously delicately--I grasp on to that sense of silence, of quieting the world. A couple of my favorite carols, from a musical standpoint, anyway--"Still, Still, Still" and "In the Bleak Midwinter"--center on snowfall, not in a let's-have-another-drink-and-snuggle way, but in this: sitting and watching the world change.

Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone. 
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow
In the bleak midwinter, long, long ago. 

What is it that sees this as good, as comforting, as desirable, to see the muddied late-fall world of grays and browns covered and rounded and washed white and quieted?

In reality, it's dangerous: my city will have seen people die in these last two days--overconfident motorists, homeless people with nowhere to go, maybe an elderly woman who took a bad fall. It means trickier walking and driving, higher heating and electricity costs, the manual labor of scraping and shoveling... But somehow I see it as good. I'm not sure why.

Maybe it's just that thing inside me that longs to see things remade. What was dark, damp woods two days ago is now a work of art, each tree's geometry traced and highlighted in white and shadow. What was dead and dying grass is now mounds of cloud punctuated with snow angels and snowmen. Even the longer winter nights are made lighter--my eyes were convinced that 2:30 this morning was pre-dawn.

I don't know my whys on this one--don't even know why I dig for them. But whether it's rooted in Snow White and Julie of the Wolves, in my own personal Alaskan nativity or somewhere else in my history or genetics or culture, I love this moment. Before we've become accustomed--and, shortly after, exhausted--by it, before it is another season I'm eager to see the shift away from, I make this concerted effort to enjoy it. Even with my upped heating bills, with my bruised elbow from the other night, with the promise of snow shovels and extra layers and boots, I will love and work to love this snow.

NaBloPoMo 27: Black This

Still a little laid up, and now nursing a food baby. I promise, a real post tomorrow, but for now:

I'm convincing Julie not to go Black Friday shopping right now. Success.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

NaBloPoMo 26: Ow.

Best laid plans!

So I was looking forward to actually WRITING tonight... And then I fell on this gorgeous snow of ours, and my elbow is refusing to cooperate with the rest of my body. Even this texting motion (yes, yes I AM blogging on my phone) isn't terrifically comfortable.

So I will simply say: blog done, and happy Thanksgiving Eve!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

NaBloPoMo 25: The Day Before Winter

Like every other seasonal shift in Maine, the calendar has nothing to do with this. And without a glimpse into the next thirty-six hours (thanks, meteorology!), I don't know that I would recognize it, but it's here regardless: the last puff of autumn, the day before winter begins.

Today stretched into the mid-fifties, and though it was cloudy the streets of Portland were more populated than usual, downtown works out for a last easy lunch or cup of coffee. We recognize it for what it is now. Like the breath gulped down before plunging into water, we take our last embrace of weather that doesn't involve "wintry," of walking bootless, of ducking across the street in shirtsleeves.

Not counting the occasional mid-forties day in February or March, which will see locals out in shorts and t-shirts, this is the last of it for six months. The days will only darken for another month, but the snow and cold that threatens tomorrow will be unlikely to break for long, if at all, until May shows its face. Eight years in Maine and I still need to press myself into believing this. Even today, strolling up Congress to grab some Thai with coworkers, you can feel it, winter breathing down your neck like the villain in a B-grade movie, overacted and not as scary as it should be.

The tree is erected in the square, and its lights are up if not yet lit. The familiar metalworks of light sculptures are being erected on a few of the landmark buildings. The Buoy Local signs are everywhere, reminding you to stay independent of the chains and their riots come Friday. Tomorrow's Farmer's Market will see turkeys and cranberries and pies and wreaths rushed into cars as the first major snowstorm gathers in cloud and pressure and wind.

I stayed a little longer outside, as I dug for my keys. I listened to the last gold leaves rattling in the trees, and took a minute to remember the green grass, felt the breeze shift my unhatted hair. These are sensations that will leave like geese in vees across the sky, and I will forget them before they come back. I do every year--by March, a world that is not monochromatic will seem like something from a storybook, and I will hang my hopes on that work trip to Houston to remind myself that somewhere things grow, somewhere--like Oz--color flourishes and bleeds into you like fire warmth, like wine.

And until then, I prepare, and I look forward: to snuggling in as the white piles up outside; to the Christmas music and the need to bake everything, all the time; to the world being a little softer, a little quieter; to soaring over clouds to family; to children squealing and tearing through wrapping paper; to an unknown baby in an unheard-of town in an unclean trough, ever-looking-forward, ever-preparing.

Monday, November 24, 2014

NaBloPoMo 24: Home

Sickness--combined with compounded exhaustion and fitful sleeping--conspires against me again, and I'm fairly sure the little energy I have will be little and less soon. So for today, I'll just say that there is magic in the act of crossing one's own threshold, snuggling into comfy clothes, putting on a comfortable movie and falling into one's own couch. The purring heating pad of a cat. The warmth of a favorite quilt. And the momentary arrival of magical, cheesy food on your doorstep.

The end.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

NaBloPoMo 23: Little Things

"Itsthelittlethings," she hashtags,
and I'm left stewing on that for days.

Tonight, the waiter from Thursday
meets us at the door, sincere, prolonged hugs for each
person, even the newcomer, like welcoming us home.
Somehow this tiggered that night,
my walking across the dark campus
to a waiting, fractured family,
cap in hand, my hand finding my phone
in an attempted act of adulthood.
Your voice, some thousands of miles different,
spooling over the globe like comets,
coming to me. Speaking over me in words of
Father, Lover, Mentor, Friend.
How completely I loved you in that moment.
How much you remade it into something perfect,
complete, though watermarked with tears.

I don't mean to equate you to Justin the waiter.
Maybe it was just the way love--
any love--
from casual to thorough to life-eclipsing--
can eat up a moment, swallow it whole
so that you know nothing but the muscle movement.

It's in these little things that I re-find you, re-know you,
re-figure out and re-define what all the little things became
before they were lost,
before they were just the little things.

NaBloPoMo 22: 9 Minutes 'til Midnight

I am, again (always), running short of minutes in which to post on this, the twenty-second day of November. It was a good day, professionally speaking, but that has left me several shades of brain dead on that score. But it was a good day: a day of booth busyness and tired feet, peanut butter cups for lunch and a hoarse voice, putting makeup on and putting more on, sliding in to a favorite dress and stripping out of uncomfortable tights. It was my brother's birthday and the most important day of my professional calendar. A day of stress and of uncontrollable laughter, of tea instead of coffee, and pitchers of sangria over our late dinner. A day of churros and chuckles and book sales and waffles and coworkers asking for "Material Girl" to be turned up in the cab. Lost parking tickets and retold stories and finally the coming into the room, the peeling off the dress, the scrubbing away at waterproof mascara, the laying down and wondering what to write to make this day mean something. The realizing that, in the weird math of regular life, a thousand little things make geometries and kaleidoscope into meaning and worth and weight. And all that was missing was you.

Friday, November 21, 2014

NaBloPoMo 21: TGIFMF (Notice)

I am schlobberknockered from sickness and the conference, so thank God it's Five-Minute Friday, because that is about 4 minutes' more energy than it feels like I have. Set this timer and MOTOR...


So much of what I've been trying to say boils down to this. Don't make me something I'm not, don't skew me to fit into the version of life you've created in your downtime. Don't find labels that stick enough to get the job done. "Take me for who I am," the song warbles in my brain, "Take me, baby--or leave me."

Because when every other thing has traveled the bell curve of thrill to mundane, I'd prefer to be somewhere in the middle--rarely your headline, but never off your radar. At the end of the day, what I need is not to be the center, but to be known as me. In a word, to be noticed. Not so much acknowledged or glanced at, but in the root of the word, to be made known, to be seen and, insodoing, understood.

A very simple gift, but a powerful one. Never not notice me. Sometimes that will mean saying the wrong thing, hurting me, tearing into my heart with rough fingers, but it will never mean being unseen, forgotten, ignored. Maybe I ask for too little, but from where I sit it stands towering and mighty.

Never let me become part of the scenery. Just notice me. Know me. Understand and fathom and plumb the depths of me, believing, trusting that one day you'll carve me out on parchment, a map of formerly unknown regions, now laid out and documented and explored and loved and known.


Thursday, November 20, 2014

NaBloPoMo 20: Being Bossed

So, for the record, I'm still sick, and should really be in bed right now with Nyquil slowly dissolving into happiness. BUT NO! Blog we must!

One of the let-down-the-hair joys of this job is dinner at the end of the day. As I've mentioned recently, I work hard at this thing, and this day has been a prime example, marked by a couple of curveballs to throw things off, and, of course, the aforementioned sickness. Nothing makes manual labor better than having to blow one's nose (and then disinfect, lest we infect the books and our fair customers!) every 3 minutes. GLAMOUR, this work.

But tonight, all was made up for. We Uber-ed our way into D.C. to a restaurant I'd checked out when I was in town a few months ago. Excellent company, in the form of a handful of hardy coworkers, was ascertained. An excellent, near-overwhelming menu was placed before us. All was in order for a very good dinner.

But something I've noticed about myself lately is that it takes a very precise element to take a dinner from good to great: a knowledgeable, bossy waiter.

I LOVE a bossy waiter. I've found this out about myself only recently, and Justin (at Zengo, just at the edge of Chinatown in D.C.) fit the bill perfectly. Of course, he was those other things a waiter should be--friendly, polite, attentive--but it was his bossiness that set him to a certain echelon on waiters. After only a few minutes with us, he gave strong recommendations for cocktails and appetizers. By the second bite of Salt and Pepper Shrimp Tacos, we'd set our menus aside, and with only slight prompting, he picked everything else for the night for us, with no mistakes.

We chatted. We talked about how he doesn't plan to work in restaurants forever. We told him the lines about how anything is possible and the world is his oyster, and if he wants to work at St. Jude's then what is he waiting for? (Answer: our billl, waiting eagerly on the table.) He's 24, and we unanimously agree that he is young enough for anything. But quietly, to ourselves, a coworker and I acknowledge the truth that is hip-checkin its way to center stage in our lives.

Twenty-four becomes 27, which becomes 31 which becomes 43. The days pass and people keep telling you that you hve your whole life in front of you--an adage that is never not true--but each day there's a little less. Each day we agree to keep waiting tables instead of stepping into scary unknown is another day in the history books. We know these things. We have lived them. We are living them now.

Another coworker has asked Justin what his dream job is, and I am flooded with thanks that the question wasn't directed at me. I used to relish this question. I was maybe 24 at the time. And now... To say I don't have any dreams anymore is self-indulgent and incorrect, but it doesn't feel like either. It feels like truth. It feels like I have let the world corral me into a place where it can label and identify and process me, every once in a while giving me just some little something--a new friend, an office--to placate me. Good grief, I even enjoy being bossed around by a waiter.

I was rushed with sadness just now, picturing a different Justin. One who was eclipsed and owned and brought into a drawer in the world's card catalog, perfectly known and handled. One who doesn't pause when asked if he enjoys working there, one who doesn't reply, "Do you want the frou-frou answer or the real one?" One who just smiles and says he loves it and doesn't feel the punch of the lie until later.

So this one goes out to Justin--and to the Justin in me, and you, and the Justin in the guy next to you on the bus: fight back. Live. Do the thing. And if you can't remember what the thing is, dream it until you do. But then, seriously: do it.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

NaBloPoMo 19: Stymied by Sickness

Ughhhh. I really do want to write with coherence (and LENGTH!), but I have been attacked by some kind of sickness on the eve of our second biggest show of the year. Tomorrow is a 12-hour workday of manual labor setting up the booth, followed by three days of sunshiny salesgirl Sally in my future. Sadly, work commitments must take precedence tonight.

So we're going to call this (Nearly) Wordless Wednesday, and we'll see if I have a little zap left tomorrow...

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

NaBloPoMo 18: In Which I Got Pretty Much Nothin'... Yet.

I'm flying tomorrow (I always feel like writing on planes--I've mentioned this before) AND I have a topic I want to write write about--as opposed to right now, when I am writing to fulfill my now-near-manic need to blog daily--and so tonight I'm feeling at a loss for words. Maybe my brain is already warming up for tomorrow or something.

So instead, I'll leave keep things short tonight. It's been a productive evening of cleaning the apartment and packing--the rebellious piles of laundry and stacks of dishes have been convinced to take their place in the system, the vacuum's bin has been emptied twice, and the trash and recycling have been taken out. Food was swiftly eaten, the last of that mediocre BBC show watched, and now I am over-aware of my waiting book and bed. So instead of writing much myself, I'll direct you to my awesome friend (and equally awesome writer) Zsofi, whose post today was the inspiration for what I'll write about tomorrow. Read her awesomeness here. (And yes, my real-life-actual friend blogs regularly for HuffPost, to say nothing of her occasional visits to the Washington Post. No big deal...)


Monday, November 17, 2014

NaBloPoMo 17: Microblog Monday: Book Lists

There's an article floating on my Facebook newsfeed telling me about the 10 Books Everyone Should Read at Least Once in Their Lifetime and I am resisting the urge to make snarky comments. It is #microblogmonday so I will post here instead.

Books lists--especially those with the implication that you are problematically less open-minded or well-balanced in the general world if you haven't checked all the boxes--are a big ole pet peeve of this English-major-book-nerd-wordsmith. The only times I've enjoyed these book lists are when I've checked off an inordinate number of them, and then what? Then I'm just the guy at dinner who knows waaaaay too much about wine, and nobody actually likes that guy. Nobody.

So I have a challenge, for you and for myself: make your own damn list. Not to post or compare or score anyone else, but just for you--and then check every title off and go read something new that you found on a shelf, not a list.

Microblog Monday is good stuff. Check it out.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

NaBloPoMo 16: Psalmody Psunday, 115

Danggggg. For someone trying to blog everyday for the last six weeks, I did a terrible job of remembering about ole Psalmody Psunday. Not sure if Matt and Jenny will join in this week, but this served as a good, easy means of blogging without requiring anything pesky like pre-planning...

The rules, for those who are new: pick a psalm (or use this randomly selected one), and write freely for 10 minutes. Analysis, reflection, or let it be a jumping-off point for something nearly unrelated. It's a day of rest--don't stress over the rules.

This week's randomly selected psalm: 115. I am returning to my college-essay-writing roots for this one, bouncing between translations to make my points sound better. I'll give you a moment to process that envy at never having had to proof me.

Aaaaaaand GO.

Opening sidebar: this psalm contains, I think, my favorite slice of sass from the whole collection: 
Why let the nations say,
"Where is their God?"
Our God is in the heavens,
and he does as he wishes.  
(vv. 2-3, New Living Translation)
I love that. I love that I don't have to explain the motivations of God. I love that this is the ultimate, Scripture-approved, hands-in-the-air reply. He's doing his thing, that's what he's doing. 

Okay, back to what I wanted to talk about. The handful of translations I read circled around this, but I like Eugene (paraphraser-poet of The Message) for opening this line up to more than the specific idols referenced in vv. 4-7. By verse 8, he's drawing a bigger picture which, in this case, I think is appropriate and true to the spirit of the psalm:
Those who make them [the idols] have become just like them,
have become just like the gods they trust.

We become like the god we trust. Ain't it the truth. Yes, certainly, the psalmist is talking about actual, brick-and-mortar idols, carved images of wood or stone or silver. And so the comparison is too perfect not to make: you are becoming just like these lifeless, impotent statues you're falling in front of. But it's true of the idols we carve out in our lives, as well: comfort, or wealth, or a particular dream. And it's true of the misshapen god we press together with our own misconceptions and the lies we've heard.

I created a god when I was about eleven years old. He was a very sensible god, really, and in many ways he resembled the one described in the Judeo-Christian bible, but with a few key differences. Unsurprisingly, these differences bore certain similarities to my biological father, or my perception of him. In short, I crafted a god with human limits, a god who would pursue only for so long. A god who would give up. A god who leaves. 

This made a great deal of sense to me, so much so that I clung to this idea of god--trusted it implicitly, in the face of all manner of contrary evidence--for seven years, until the real God brought enough shift and churn and change into my life that this carved god shattered under the pressure. As did I. Like the carved idols the psalmist describes, my god looked beautiful and made sense, but was lifeless. In the awesome (and somewhat Yoda-esque) words of King James' translators,
They have ears, but they hear not: noses have they, but they smell not:
They have hands, but they handle not: feet they have, but they walk not: 
neither speak they through their throat.   (vv. 6-7)

He broke, this god of mine, and that broke me. But like a near-drowned man waking up on a beach, I soon found that the boat I had thought was the whole world was... just a leaky boat. (Does that metaphor work? We'll find out later.) 

I still stumble into carved aspects of the god I worship. Something resembling but not altogether like unnecessary prosthetics. I decide that God is or should be or might be a certain different way, and after some amount of time that peg leg I gave him starts to wear or splinter or crack. And I find myself pushing aside the remnants, happily, blessedly finding that there is something better, something more real than my own carvings to trust in. Something that does not break or chip or melt or wear away. 
Something unchangeable.


Saturday, November 15, 2014

NaBloPoMo 15: Looking Forward, Looking Up

We're going to keep things simple tonight. It's been a very good weekend so far, surrounded by lots of wonderful (and some mightily-missed) people, but this introvert is feeling a little threadbare. So we're going formulaic tonight with a list of things I'm looking forward to--some reasonably certain, others only hoped for in confidence...

I'm looking forward to tomorrow afternoon, when this selfsame tired introvert will come into her quiet house after church, don some PJs, and snuggle up with a cat and a quilt and a book for the afternoon. It might even snow.

I'm looking forward to Monday night, when two precious and not-seen-as-often-as-I'd-like friends are coming over to eat and chat. Cooking for people who pour into my life and let me pour into theirs = the best.

I'm looking forward to getting confirmation from a loved one's medical testing--that everything will be all-clear, harmless, fine.

I'm looking forward to getting settled into a new workspace this week. I hate moving, in all its forms, especially when it involves increased distances from friends. (Some would argue that one floor away isn't that far, but compared to sight- and hearing-distance, it's a vast and blustery desert of sadness.)

I'm looking forward to my JetBlue flight this week--ahh, legroom and friendly service!--and to that first night in a city before a show, the quiet before the storm of our second-biggest conference of the year. I'm looking forward to setting our booth, and hosting our author party, and seeing author friends and hanging out with coworkers and eating tasty food.

I'm looking forward to coming home to spend Thanksgiving with my Maine family, to rest and laughter and games and movie marathons and--yes, more food.

I'm looking forward to writing "NaBloPoMo 30: Each Single Day." :D

I'm looking forward to a couple quiet weeks at home: no conferences, no weddings, no moving offices.

I'm looking forward to enjoying stories in the dark with strangers: Imitation Game, Hobbit, Into the Woods...

I'm looking forward to spending Christmas in Iowa with my family: hanging out and cooking with my mom, playing with my cousins' girls, seeing relatives of various varieties.
     Related but separate: I was sitting watching a middle school basketball game today
     when I realized that in a few short weeks I'll get my first big bruvver hug in
     eighteen months--on Christmas Day, no less. Cut to where Chandra is mopping
     tears in the bleachers. I am looking forward to this.)

I'm looking forward to God bringing resolution to the question marks hanging in my life like oversized Christmas ornaments. I'm looking forward to a season of peace and joy and rest, to follow this one of pain and unsettledness and growth.

I'm looking forward. Looking up. Because despite anything else that hits me, this is the ultimate privilege of faith.  "I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth." (Psalm 121:1-2, KJV)

NaBloPoMo 14: FMF: Still

Check out the Five-Minute Friday community... Good people!

Also, I was all prepared to purposefully focus away from the more traditional takes on "still"--namely, tell an old family story about a woman and an illegal still out back--but after a lovely, relaxing evening of community and family and worship tonight, I can't get away from this:


It's the verse that hits everyone, the one we all know the first third of: "Be still and know that I am God." We use it in the name of slowing ourselves down, of excusing ourselves from responsibility, but tonight I found myself wondering if we overcomplicate even this.

Is the reason we are called to be still simply the fact that He is still? He is unmoving, unchanging, entirely reliable and entirely faithful. "There is no shadow in him," breathes another psalmist. When I am racing from one well-intentioned distraction to another, I'm going a hundred different ways, while He waits for me to remember--or exhaust myself.

Because He is still, and waiting. He has not changed, in spite of every other ground being shaky, every other view shrouded in fog. He is still, and He does not invite me to run to Him--not yet. The first step is just stillness.

Tonight, coming back from my family's house, a halved moon hung impossibly monstrous just on the rim of the hill. All a trick of the eye, I've been told, but my eyes cried truth that it was that big, that there. Wonder like that demands stillness, demands the catching of breath and the backburnering of every other thing.

Be still, He says, and I try. I push the brakes on my racing mind, my beating heart. I remember that the One who is speaking is more impressive even than this beloved moon of mine, and far more dependable.

Stillness is hard, it is work, but it is the only way to peace.


"'Be still, be calm, see, and understand I am the True God.
I am honored among all the nations.
I am honored all over the earth.'"
Psalm 46:10, The Voice translation

Thursday, November 13, 2014

NaBloPoMo 13: Reflections on "Without Running Away"

I was wondering what to write about today, watching the dark fly past my bus window on my way to dinner. I was feeling a little empty on the writing thing, but I'm twelve days in and DANG IT if I'm not going to get to thirteen. Maybe I'll write about a song, I thought half-heartedly, and really, honestly, the next song on Spotify shuffle was this one. It mirrors so much of where I am these days that it needed to happen--but that said, I'm aware that this might be one of those posts that's just for me. (I hope not, but I'm prepared.)

If you want to listen, Jason Gray's "Without Running Away" is easily found on ye olde YouTube.
If you want to just browse the lyrics, see here.

I'll open with saying that I'm not looking for a length of rope--though those days are carefully bookmarked in my past, so I don't make the disclaimer too loudly. But just don't take this as a cry for help or anything. We're okay. Promise.

My attention tonight was snagged by that simple line: "It's not like I'm trying to be optimistic / If the truth be told, I'd rather dismiss it." Some who share life with me will smirk at that based on some recent conversations, but it's very much where I am these days. Traditionally, I've been a reasonably positive person, but for the last several months it's been a struggle-filled search for that feeling and yes, if the truth be told, dismissing "it"--whatever the it of the moment is--is pretty tempting. I'm hesitant to talk about seasons of life (insofar as emotional states are concerned), because I tend to use that as a justification for various not-great mindframes and behaviors. But this is just where I am these days. Maybe it'll last for another eight or nine months; maybe it will close out before the week does. But I don't think I limit myself or my God when I say life has been less than shiny, and it's been wearing me out.

My natural leaning, then--and Jason's, too, apparently--is to close down. Not dramatically, not in a huff, not with slamming doors and paintings falling to the floor in a froth of glass. Slowly. Gently. Like falling asleep in the sunshine, a gradual numbing and closing and softening into gray. Because hurting and pressing on with the effort of living, of loving, is hard. I don't say this to sound a pity party for myself at all--we've all been here, at the bottom of our own particular barrel, and we've all made it out again at some point. I don't suppose these are the darkest days I've seen--I know they aren't, not when I really sit back and grasp perspective--but immediacy is quite a magnifier.

"Jesus is speaking but it's so hard to hear / When disciples with swords are cutting off ears." I love that line to the moon and back, have since the first time I heard it. I love it because I hear it at first about other people, so quick am I to point out splinters, but before I've completed the thought I'm usually noticing the plank that's all mine.* I also love it because of the mindset behind Peter's swordplay. Yes, he was defensive and angry and violent, but all of that was stemming from love, from an overwhelming knowledge of injustice and unfairness. He wasn't right, but he wasn't unjustified. I am so quick to list out the injustices against me--and Jesus, awesome as He is, counts them out in His hand with me. But that can't be the end of the story. We have to keep going, because I could spend the rest of my life listing off injustices or I can do something about them--even if it's just loving people in spite of them.

The still small Voice 
that calls like the rising sun, "Come, 
bring your heart to everyday 
and run the risk of fearlessly loving
without running away."

That's almost my favorite part, but the refrain that catches in my head most often, most consistently, no matter the circumstance, is, right now, more a prayer than a reality. And I think that's why I love this song, too: that it's not just "poor, pitiful me." It's not a litany of what's wrong. It's a progression. It's the problem and the solution. Because the more that I seek out and listen to and follow that still small voice, the voice that makes mountains and moves them, the more this will be true. And I can believe that, even if I don't feel it.

My heart is not lifted up.
My eyes are not lifted up.
But calm and quiet is my soul--
like a child with its mother is my soul.

The injustices will stick around. I was never promised otherwise. It seems, lately, that every time I open my Bible there is another reminder that, to quote the oh-so-sacred text of Battlestar Galactica, "All this has happened before, and all this will happen again."

Jesus got exhausted, too. At times along this road over the last several months, I've felt that very clearly: that He is exhausted, is hurt, is worn out with me. (Yes, He's God and can't actually be, but I think you track with what I mean.) But when Jesus got worn out, His response never varied: He got out, He retreated into His Father, and from there He could bear every exhaustion, every hurt--even death.

This process has worn me down, and I'm not feeling too pretty these days. When Paul talked about completing the race, I hope he meant on hands and knees, covered in mud and blood and worse, because I'm pretty sure that's how it's going to go. But while I may not be able to raise my hands or even my eyes, calm and quiet will be my soul.

Like a child with its mother will be my soul.

*Sorry for my casual references here--two awesome moments when Jesus shows ludicrous, otherworldly poetry and justice:
- splinters and planks: in pointing out the hypocrisy of his own followers, Jesus uses the metaphor of one pointing out a splinter in his neighbor's eye while not noticing the plank in his own. We are so quick to detail what is wrong with everyone else, even--especially--those we are closest to. (Matthew 7)
- Jason's line references the arrest of Jesus, immediately before his death, when a very well-meaning but ultimately misguided Peter (my homeboy forever) defends Jesus by lashing out with a sword, likely not his. His love for Jesus emboldens him, but he puts that boldness into the wrong response. How do we know it's wrong? Because Jesus puts the man's ear back on. (John 18)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

NaBloPoMo 12: Not Counting

Each silver line
in the brown field
is a tally mark,
a score kept in a game
I thought was just for fun.
But in and through this
fun there are rules,
there are numbers hard
and inflexible.
Years that do not grow longer.
Days that do not ask permission to fly.

Even without counting them,
the light lifts each
silvered hair in the mirror,
reminding me that there is
nothing certain
but this: a fading, a loss
of color and life, a score
that will one day
be settled.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

NaBloPoMo 11: Leave Them Laughing

I don't know when I learned to be funny. I don't have a moment of clarity where I heard the silver tinkling of someone laugh and knew this was what it meant to feel alive or anything like that. I understand, from comparing notes with others, that this isn't an uncommon trait among children of divorce--that we learn to be funny as a way to keep you entertained, to ensure our value, to keep you from leaving. That's a sad reson to be funny, but it makes sense in my head. It wouldn't be the first time that tragedy fueled comedy.

I've gotten a little overdiagnostic with myself in the past, wanting to shake off this humor dependency like a bad psychosis, but more recently I've come back around to embracing it. Because, yes, sometimes it's just a knee-jerk reaction: I have nothing else to say, or the conversation's getting a little heavy. But there are times I use my power for good: times when it breaks the tension, or when it stems tears. Times when it puts someone at their ease and lets them breathe, lets them be.

It's that last one I love best: another form of hospitality. I will do just about anything to make someone comfortable: welcome you, cook for you, make you laugh. I will give you home in whatever small doses and reasonable bites I can manage until you are full and happy and your ribs hurt (from eating or laughing, who can say). Until you are nothing else in the world but you.

Monday, November 10, 2014

NaBloPoMo 10: Meetings on Microblog Monday

I have an honest question for anyone who cares to answer it: Do you know anyone who likes meetings?

I've sort of been waiting for myself to arrive at a place of adulthood where I take some degree of enjoyment from meetings, but it just hasn't happened yet. For someone who loves to talk and loves to listen, loves to trade ideas and sharpen brainstorms with other people, as soon as it turns into a meeting I have a firm ball of loathing that rolls around in me like a stone on a slanty floor.

Of course, there's no escape from them. And they're a necessary evil, I get that. But I just hate them. And I'm pretty sure I have approximately 47 scheduled for this week. Yee haw.

Just discovered Microblog Monday and was in the perfect headspace for it. Done and done. (These three sentences don't count...)

Sunday, November 9, 2014

NaBloPoMo 9: Adding Love to Food

This won't be the first time I've written about food, especially cooking, on this here blog of mine. But as I've been gone for ten days, my hands are itching to cook while my brain has still been fiddling with my post about Problematically Attractive from the other day, and I got to wondering how those are linked.

I've always been bothered by the touchy-feely-ness of food tasting better because it was made with love. Yada, yada, yada, sounds like a load of hooey to me. Even when I've written about nearly the very thing, I've not been terrifically comfortable with it. I'm the sort of person who doesn't understand the science, but I'm comfortably certain it's there. So how do the same basic variables combine differently dependent on the presence of love?

Well, attraction is an aspect of love, isn't it? And this is what got me thinking.

I don't mean to take away the magic, from Gretchen's cooking or my own, but I got to wondering about this. Problematically Attractive is attractive not because of some mysterious something in the air, not because his eyes are imbued with love, but because of the particular, particulate attention he pays to every piece of what you say and do.

Isn't it the same with food?

When I am tired, when I am cooking so that I can eat something so that I can continue with my day (or crash in a heap with the couch and Netflix), I pay only enough attention to keep my fingers uncut and unburned (most of the time). The onions are rough-shod, the meat is cooked unevenly, the spices are unbalanced. It's just food, sustenance. It's not bad, but it wouldn't bring anyone back for lukewarm seconds.

But when I am cooking for therapy, or for people I want to love or take care of, it's an entirely different thing. Like Problematically Attractive, I consider and ponder and weigh and embrace each element. The onions are cut to thirds and then shaved paper-thin, their water soaking into skin and bamboo board. The pan is heated well, just slicked with oil, and the meat is timed by its shifting sizzling, not a mental timer. The spices are combined in my little glass bowl, saturated with olive oil to meld them better. The wooden spoon corrals the contents like a gentle hand instead of a handy stick, and in so doing the pieces are folded in but not broken, combined but not mashed.

This isn't really magic, not at the end of the day. It's practiced skill and basic culinary knowledge, but more than either it is attention. It's watching, it's giving care, it's listening. Just like purposeful flirting, it's making the food important even if it wouldn't be otherwise. The commonplace carrot is turned sweet and perfectly forkable; the unremarkable chicken breast is crisp but still juicy, swaddled in just enough spice. Each finds its place on the plate, and the spoon is tucked in carefully so as not to break the spell.

Because maybe there's a little magic mixed up in there somewhere, too. Who's to say that wooden spoon isn't part magic wand? That magic that floats across the table from an attentive man is the same magic (or a close cousin) steams up from the plate, curls around your tongue and tells you that this wasn't assembled but made, not for just anyone, just for you.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

NaBloPoMo 8: FMF: Turn

It's been a long conference, and a lovely long day with my Nashville friends, and I am nearly zapped. So, though it's a day late, I'm jumping the Five-Minute Friday train, which I haven't ridden in some eons (why??) to fulfill my NaBloPoMo duties. Cheap shot? Maybe. But writing is writing, posting is posting, Day 8 is Day 8!

ALSO, fifty-nine page views yesterday?? I believe that is a daily record, my friends! Thank you soooo much for visiting, for reading, for referring! (You should comment and say hi.)

For those who aren't familiar with Five-Minute Friday, you should check it out! It's the perfect end-of-the-week, scrape-the-last-of-the-creative-juices-from-the-baseboards-of-your-brain exercise, and it's good people, too.

BEGIN: turn

Children waiting in lines, in circles, in desk chairs with arms stretched taut learn the lesson early, and I learned it well: you wait your turn. But don't misunderstand: you don't wait to learn patience, or to glory in other people's turns, or to reach an epiphany and find that what you were waiting for wasn't what you really needed. You wait because your turn will come, like physical development, like multiplication tables, like gravity. It isn't important that you understand how, only that you bear with the waiting in order to receive your turn. Your hand can fall as you eagerly speak. You can stand and take your place. 

What we don't learn--what it would be cruel to teach children--is that some turns don't come. You can be patient and quiet, can celebrate others' time in sun, can do every ounce of preparation and still be skipped, like just another duck in the circle. You legs can tremble with readiness, your arm can ache as muscles atrophy, and still you can wait uncalled upon. I don't know if this is true of me, but I know it's possible. I've realized, only recently, in that gut-level, full-awareness means of realizing, that my turn might not come. Not because the world is dark and cruel, not because God is mean or forgetful, not because I wasn't good enough--just because. Unexplainable, but unavoidable. 

I watch a man show off cool science on a TV show: he floats an aluminum foil boat on nothing, bobbing on waves of pure air. The eyes squirm and insist it isn't possible, but it's right there in front of them. No amount of wishing will make it less real--even without understanding the whys (it's resting on a gas that's denser than oxygen, just like it would on water), it's irrevocably true. 

My arm is tired. My crossed legs are ready to spring me into motion and give chase. But it's not my turn yet. C'est la vie, childhood Chandra. C'est la vie.


Friday, November 7, 2014

NaBloPoMo 7: Attractive

Drafter's Note: One eye is nearly shut from exhaustion, so if this doesn't make sense... Try closing one eye and read it again. And NaBloPoMo has become a personal bet with myself--what date number will be the first without a post?! We shall see...

Some friends and I know a lovely older man, who is--really, there's not a better word than lovely. But a couple times when we've hung out with him, he's brought his son, who we now refer to as Joe Schmo's Problematically Attractive Son (names have been changed to safeguard the less attractive). Addressing first things first, it's Problematic because he's married. We're sure his wife is completely lovely, and we have no wishes to cause fracture with their union, so we keep the word in his title to remind ourselves that he's off limits.

My favorite element of our history with Problematically Attractive is the second time I spent time with him, along with a friend of mine who, to be fair, was a little circumspect of how attractive he really was. I could see it in her eyes: "Sure, Chandra. Poor Chandra. Her opinions have been skewed by too many New Englanders overly swaddled in Reny's woolens." We had dinner, the group of us, and at some point Problematically Attractive excused himself, and as he did Jill leaned over, keeping her wine glass between her mouth and our unsuspecting guests, and mumbled something to the tune of, "Holy SHIT. You weren't kidding."

And to understand this you have to understand what attraction really means. A man can be handsome, can be muscular and perfectly shaped and a downright Greek god... But might be an idiot, or a jerk, or disinterested, or boring. What makes Problematically Attractive problematically attractive isn't his face or his body. (This isn't to speak ill of either--both are perfectly nice. Better than nice.) What puts the attractive in Problematically Attractive is how he listens.

I know. You think I missed a crucial day in Being a Modern Woman class. But just hold tight for a second.

You are making small talk, just shooting the crap over appetizers, making conversation, and if someone interrupted you or changed the subject you would barely notice--even you don't care that much. But gradually, without affectation or guile, the man across the table is stopping what he's doing, leaning across, asking follow-up questions and following them up with, "I never thought of that!" and "That is so interesting." Every statement you make is the most fascinating thing he's heard all night, maybe all week. He is engrossed--more importantly, it's you who is engrossing. You find yourself agreeing with him: You're right, this IS fascinating. Thank you for noticing. It's about time someone did. Everyone else at the table disappears because the only thing there is any room for is the utter mind-blowing interestingness of your words. Food goes cold. Other guests feel left out. And you regret nothing.

There is absolute, gut-wrenching power in the art of listening well. I can't overstate how selflessly well Problematically Attractive listened, and how that's all he did. He didn't compliment me or use code words, he didn't pull out my chair or bring me flowers. And, no exaggeration, I still remember that night years later. Have I met more physically pretty men since? Probably. But all of them pale in comparison and are now long-since forgotten.

I write all that as a tip to the fellas out there. I loathe generalizations, especially gender-based ones, so I won't make any claims about how this is how all women tick. And I'm not suggesting you fake it, because that's easier to spot than you think. But if your aim is to be appealing, romantically or otherwise, just be engrossed. Put away your phone. Don't people-watch. Do your best to back-burner the mental grocery list, that actor's name you can't quite snag. Just stare into the person's face and listen to them. Gather every trace of information you can find and retain it. Be someone else's Problematically (or, better yet, Uncomplicatedly) Attractive.

You can do it, pretty face or no. Just listen.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

NaBloPoMo 6: What I Loved About Today

So my job is great, but my job is hard. I typically just talk about the fun stuff, but that's not to say that it isn't work. Running a show is physically hard--setting up and tearing down a 200-square-foot booth from scratch, being on your feet all day, running around getting other stuff done; it's emotionally hard, being "on" (think Price Is Right Showgirl, but I'm expected to have intimate familiarity with your personal state and district struggles and mandates, and how our books dovetail into them--actual comment today: "So you haven't actually used this in a classroom yourself?!") all day, managing customer and author crises, and keeping up on regular work email to boot. I don't say that to earn pity or anything--on the whole, I'm very blessed with my job. But I'm mostly setting the stage before this list, so you see it in context.

But all that said, things I loved about today:
- I loved that first customer. I was a little overeager and scared her off a little, but it's been a long six months since I've run a booth, and I loved hearing my cadence come back so easily, inescapably tinged with a trace of adopted Southern accent: "C'n I help you find something in pa-ticular, or are you just browsing? ... Nope, browse away, totally fine! Let me know if y'need anything."
- I loved the one burst of true busy-ness we had today, a rush of customers surrounding my popular author (dressed up as Doctor Who, complete with sonic screwdriver and shouts of "I suspect you are a dalek!"), that feeling of being the prettiest girl at the ball as other vendors glare from their peaceful corners.
- I loved the quiet chunks of the day while teachers were busy in their sessions, laughing over private jokes with Rebecca, sustaining ourselves with coffee and potato chips.
- I loved catching up with my author-friend, checking in and trading jokes and laughing at my typo and--most importantly--receiving a pound of O'Henry's Pumpkin Spice coffee fresh from Birmingham.
- I loved counting down the minutes in the last hour, the frustration as the organizers waited until five past the hour to close the hall, the frenzy of packing up and escape.
- I loved today's fellas--Oscar at the hotel bar, Paul at the restaurant--being friendly, funny, attentive, chatty, borderline flirty. Makes an exhausted girl feel pretty and worthwhile. Tips for everyone.
- I loved the crazy-good water pressure in this shower. Standing with eyes screnched shut, letting it pound away the ache and tired and wash it all down the drain.
- I loved dinner, hunching over our table in this restaurant we discovered three years ago, sighing over fried green tomatoes, wedge salads, shrimp & grits, apple bread pudding. Comfort food being its much-needed comfort at the end of this day, laughing and people-watching and taking a breather.
- I loved getting lost on our way home, barreling down 40 East, mesmerized by food fullness and a quiet jazz piano on the radio, corrected at last by the ever-helpful iPhone.
- I loved flopping out on the bed to write instead of turning on the TV, a near-automatic impulse now.
- I love knowing that this whole routine will unroll again tomorrow. My feet ache and I am a little more tired just thinking about it--tired but happy, too.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

NaBloPoMo 5: Same Kind of Crazy

I've forgotten what I was going to say now.
There at dinner, half-hearing familiar stories
and their reactions, reading the body language of the man
across the room before he took to his knee, before the applause--
it was clear then,
chiseled and carved and perfect.
It was going to be something about how we're
all different kinds of crazy,
and how all we're really looking for
is someone to share, to be the same kind with us,
to nod their head and welcome
what we thought would exclude.
There would be something about how
I try to use better words to say the same things--
smarter words, taller words, words that need etymologies to explain them--
when your smaller words work just fine.

I wanted to fit those words I'd found for you into
the rhythm and rhyme I used to long for.
But in looking for form I've lost function,
and the carved words have melted and loosened
so that now they are only hard lumps, word-lengthed ghosts.
Picking them up and turning them over to fit into lines
only presses the edges away more, and so I drop them
into the glass, hearing the comforting clink,
smelling the cold, waiting
for you to come to the table
and share one more glass of crazy with me.

NaBloPoMo 4: The Wherefore

I should just call this The Why, because that's what I mean to write about, but ever since I learned that little bit of knowledge, like breaking a code long-kept secret, I've loved it. "Where is the for of it?" my brain rhythmically snaps, though I'm surprised tonight to find that's really its etymological basis (and you have to love the c. 1200 spelling, hwarfore). I can clearly picture Mrs. Maisano caricaturing Juliet, clarifying that her question is one of philosophy, not geography.

But that's not what this post is about. I was thinking earlier today about what I would write, seeing as my day was remarkably similar to yesterday's. Which got me thinking, this isn't a diary or a new report. Which got me thinking, what is it?

A lot of people have a blog for a specific thing: their thoughts on food or make-up or home design or parenting or basket-weaving or Benedict Cumberbatch. But this... I don't have a specific plan for this blog of mine, other than to give me more drive, more accountability, more feedback for my writing--whether that ends up being driven by my spirituality, my given emotional state, a triggered childhood memory, or, say, Benedict Cumberbatch.

I'm caught by this, even as I write it out, because in some things I am a finite kind of girl--I like the precision that numbers and organization brings to things, and glancing at the stats of this blog, 107 posts in 39 months isn't impressive to me. Less impressive still is that it hasn't been all upward trajectory, each month with more posts than the last. I'm quick to discredit myself further--how many of those posts were forced, between Slice of Life and Essay a Day and now NaBloPoMo?

But the philosophy speaks louder than the geography once again. No craftwork, nothing that deals in creativity and polishing, can be added together in a spreadsheet. I do more, I do better, because of this little landing page out there in the interwebs. and whether ten thousand people read it or just me (and I do--more than I'd care to share) I will do more and better still. Not in a perfect positive curve, but in the fits and breaks and re-starts that have always characterized my writing, and my anything-else-good.

Closing note: I'm not really an R&J fan--it's the teen rom-com of Shakespearean tragedies--but you can't stop the poetry...

O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo? 

Deny thy father and refuse thy name;
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I'll no longer be a Capulet.

ROMEO [Aside.] 
Shall I hear more, or shall I speak at this?

'Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What's Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.

                          I take thee at thy word.
Call me but love, and I'll be new baptized;
Henceforth I never will be Romeo. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

NaBloPoMo 3: Nothing Day

It's a day where I don't have much to say for myself at its close. It's been a nothing day--a purposeful, I'm-on-vacation-so-yes-I-am-eating-Doritos-for-lunch, shoeless (would-have-been-braless-if-I-weren't-in-someone-else's-house), stay-inside-and-snuggle-with-the-pit-bull kind of day. I watched a movie and two thirds of a TV season. My major accomplishment for the day was feeding the dog and cat. Unless you count getting out of bed which, considering the sort of day, should really be acknowledged.

And while this kind of day does not do much for the writing juices and their flowing, it does something necessary for the soul. Not that today was uplifting or meaningful, but that I spent a whole day--from waking up until now--not thinking about the stresses and worries and questions that have pinged around my brain for months. This is, I'm quite sure, a first. And while I could certainly have been more productive, I don't feel like today was wasted--I feel, in fact, like it was necessary. That while it was a stunning fall day, a walk would have had ben trolling my brain for things to ponder. And instead, I spent it just breathing, just getting wrapped up in invented stories, wrapped in a blanket, sandwiched between the couch and the remarkable dead-weight of a sleeping dog.

The day is ended, and I have little to show for it unless you count rest. Which I do. I feel rested in a way that I haven't in ages. That cannot be time time wasted.

And just to be sure, I'm doing it again tomorrow.

NaBloPoMo 2: Under the Wire, Already

It was 16 hours ago that I told Facebook I would blog, and now I'm 11 minutes from midnight--thank God for the time change and the time zone.

But there's something about this that I love: using the last scrape of the day--after breakfasts and church services, after games and movies and phone calls with grieving friends, after snuggling into blankets with a pit bull, that the last but of my day goes to finding the right words for each part, fitting them into sentences, finding them homes in paragraph tenements.

Such small revelations today, but peppered through like yeast in dough:
- that even a couple years ago, I would have sat in this morning's service as an outsider, casting down judgment, shaking my head in mock compassion. And instead I found myself latching onto the common grounds, the places where we meet--focusing on the joinings and not the cracks and gaps in between.
- that grief is a stage of love, another step in its dance, and while there is not enjoying grief it is not only a privilege but also a testament to the strength of a love. "Speak of your lost love in the present tense," the woman at the pulpit says, "because it is." And, similarly, where we have ceased to mourn? Where the vacancy is less noticeable each passim month? Equally indicative--it's not a sign of problematic grief, but only of a shallower love than others.

It is the end of the day. Time for rest, for that last stage before everything is made new again, and before the clock is reset on this challenge I have set for myself. Tick tock. Tick tock.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

NaBloPoMo 1: No More Strangers

Drafter's Note: Another month, another daily writing challenge! (I might officially be insane.) Welcome, National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo) visitors. :)

I walked into a house last night, following a friend I'm visiting as she steps in to greet her friends. There is every reason in the world for me to feel awkward, uncomfortable, strange in standing.

"Thank you for Chandra," he says later in prayer, pronouncing my name better than people who've known me for years. "She walked in and was family."

What a crazy thing our faith is, that it makes strangers family. Not after introductions, not after a quick analysis of our standing, not after a Bible quiz or a prayer-off*. It does not--cannot--make sense. It is based on something from outside of this world, and the words of this world will inevitably fail to capture it. In this living room, curled up with coffee and crying and raising my hand in praise, I should be the most awkward houseguest in the history of houses or guests. And instead I am family.

We hug at the end of the night--people whose names I'm still uncertain of--and go on our ways. Maybe I'll see them again before I leave, maybe not. But one of the thousand beauties of this faith is that I am theirs and they are mine, even if the next time we meet is on the other side of this life.

A few weeks ago. A visiting pastor talked about the calling of a Matthew, a man we have no cultural comparison to--Mark's best effort was a drug dealer out behind the middle school, but one who the law approved of. And it is to this man--not the well-put-together, not the rule-abiders--that Jesus comes. And there are no expectations, no analyses, no Bible quizzes or prayer-offs. The truth is so good I jot it down in my notebook: "Jesus didn't say, 'Behave, and then maybe you can belong.' He went to the most despised, the most broken, and He said, 'Come. Belong. Follow. And as you do you'll see, slowly, that even your life can change, can be new.'"

This is the Jesus I love, the Jesus who restores me and gives me exactly what I need, even when it scalds and scars. Like His own love, like His relationship with the world, there is no escape from pain, from disappointment, from feeling failure. But He shepherds. He saves. He walks step by step, breath by breath, as close as I let Him be. I can crowd my life with every other thing, but He is the only thing that tells me I am okay, I am safe, I belong, I am family.

There are no more strangers in this faith--only family we haven't met yet.

(A quick note: this feeling of family is not just for those within the Christian faith. We are called, without disclaimer or release, to shamelessly love everyone else with no thought of ourselves. In this we--I--miserably fail, everyday. If you have been hurt by a member of this faith that should only know how to love, I can only say that I am so sorry, and pray that you will find that was a failing of the person, of that church, but never, never, never Jesus.)

* I'd like to say that's a thing I made up. While it is, I am also certain that somewhere, it's a thing. I'm so sorry for the rules we make up to leave others out.

Essay a Day #15: Ford the Jordan

Drafter's Note: I write this yesterday! Honest. Just didn't get it posted...

It's the last day of the month, and I only just barely have done half of what I set out to do--a post every other day, on average, instead of every day. This, in one kind of light, is failure--but in several other lights, success:
     I wrote far more than I otherwise would have.
     I was encouraged and buoyed by friends and strangers.
     I worked harder at writing than I have in months, maybe years.
But I think the largest success, for me--and the reason that, as of tomorrow (today), I'm taking part in NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month) with a goal, again, of writing a post each day--is this: that it has made me remember (not in a sais way but in a connais way--see paragraph four here) that writing isn't all pretty. Sometimes the words don't come like I want them to. Sometimes I trip and fumble and have nothing sensical to put down. And the perfectionist in me answers, "Then stop. Take a break. Wait until the juices pool enough to do this well." But any writer--any real writer--will tell you this isn't how it works. You don't wait for it to show up; you work until it does.

Two quick buttresses to this idea that have come to mind recently:
   1) The first is one of my favorite moments in the Old Testament, which I was thinking of earlier this week. The narrative of the Israelites crossing the Red Sea is more familiar--the intricacies of translation will tell you that their sandals hit dry ground. But for most applications in my life, I prefer a similar but different story: those people's children, their sandals having crossed forty years' worth of dry ground in the wilderness, wait on the edge of the place God has promised them. Joshua leads them toward the Jordan River, too strong to ford on their own. They take the first several steps in, and the water remains--slipping stones, sinking silt, frothing rapids. It is not until several steps more that they realize the water isn't climbing their thighs like it should, and several more again before they see bare, wet skin: the waters receded just the same, but this time they had to move first. Had they waited on the shore, afraid of getting their feet wet, expecting the same provision as their parents, they would have died in exile and shame. No less a miracle, but they had to participate to see it happen.
   2) I'm reading a book right now, larger than my Bible and nearly as fantastical. As I was just reading, the hot-and-cold enthusiasm of a character is given detail in his pursuit of poetry: that he had an exceptional first day at it, writing feverishly, pages scattering to the floor in the fury. "He was very delighted with everything he wrote," the narrator explains, and this, in a glance, is what the writer longs for, what I long for. But the second day, begun as the first, ends midway through, the poet becoming stuck on a pesky rhyme. "He struggled for an hour, could think of nothing, went for a ride to loosen his brains and never looked at his poem again."

This is how I am--a fury-writer until my toe hits a stone, and then I am distracted, over-busy, too important. And then I wonder why I haven't felt like writing in weeks. I sit on the beach watching the waves, never wondering about wandering into them.

So in this one little part of my life, in this small way, I am walking in. I am writing even when the rhyme doesn't work. I am committing, to myself and to a writing community. Will I fall short? Depend on it. But I will write anyway, because like any muscle, the hurt of overworking it feels better than the ache of lethargy.

I cannot wrap up this little Essay a Day journey without a few acknowledgements:
Thanks to my coworker, Sherlock buddy, and writing co-conspirator Zsofi, who alerted me to it in the first place.
Thanks to the EaD community, especially ringleader Chelsia, for their ideas and craft and accountability.
And thanks to you, who reads this--friend or stranger. Thank you for letting my words take you somewhere, even when the road is broken and winding and littered with typos.