Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Stretch, bend, snap and bind: like-mindedness and marriage and a few other meandering thoughts

My husband is playing the guitar on the other side of the room, and I keep opening and closing browser tabs trying to decide what I have to say here right now or whether I have anything to say at all, or whether to close the whole thing down and play Candy Crush. I've almost done that twice now.

But as satisfying as passing level 216 of Candy Crush would be, nothing beats jotting down a few words. It's the thing that wakes me up, even when I'm cross-eyed tired.

Last light. Hang on, green. Things are about to get crazy in your world.
Two days ago, Brandon and I celebrated 12 years of marriage. He's playing "True Companion" by Marc Cohn right now, the song we danced to on our wedding night to launch us into the years that have done (and will likely continue to do) their "irreparable harm." Gratefully, "I can see us slowly walking arm in arm" my husband and Marc Cohn continue, "just like that couple on the corner do. Girl, I will always be in love with you." This weekend, I get to tag along to Columbia, SC, and while he works, I will also work--on essays and poems and blog posts for Off the Page--and the kids will stay back and destroy the house for us while we're gone. I'm really excited about going away with him for the weekend, because, as predicted last time, I've already found myself sobbing on the couch with my laptop and wine several nights this season waiting waiting waiting for my husband to come home.

It's hard, marriage.

So, Columbia will be glorious. Even if it is supposed to rain all weekend.

Tonight I started listening to Love Wins by Rob Bell and had one of those fluttery heartbeat feelings. This guy gets it, I kept thinking. I walked into the house after my commute still buzzing and blubbering a bit about Rob Bell and heaven and how YOU HAVE TO READ THIS ROB BELL BOOK IT'S FREAKING AWESOME.

I love finding those people whose spirits align with mine, like we're really all in this expansive universe together. When Brandon and I met, we were at that perfect place where ideologies and hopes for the future aligned. Somehow, over the last 13 years, we have stretched and bent and sometimes snapped, moved ahead of each other or lagged behind the other on our respective journeys. We have warned each other about giving the devil a foothold. We have gone door to door together and separately for varying causes and political campaigns. These days, our conversations about faith and politics, peace and love find more common ground than not, and I love this space between us. I love that we are like-minded. I love that right now, in our relationship, we are partners in this space. It makes the times when circumstances of life grind a little more tolerable.

It's really touchy-feely and I apologize for that but man, I just love it. Love it love it love it. I've felt that way a lot lately about people and places where I've landed, connected to like-minded people, united in common causes, gathering in a "sharing everything in common" Acts 2:42 way. Richard Rohr and Rob Bell don't know it, but we're totally breaking bread together. Same with Elizabeth Gilbert and Brene Brown and Cheryl Strayed and and and and...it makes me feel like we can all take on the trouble and pain of the world and deliver light. Together.

Don't forget to pack your crazy eyes!
Last week, I was depressed about the husband-on-the-road. I think it was one of those deadly swings of hormones and circumstances spiraling like they do for me, and when I get in that haze, I lose sight of hope. The world narrows and all I see is want. Grief. Loneliness.

How is it that one week later the world is light and life and heaven-on-earth? Is it because of Rob Bell? Is it because Brandon is home and I'm going on the road with him next week? Is it circumstantial only, and if so why am I so short-sighted, blinded by this fog? When will it descend again? Will it?

I don't know, but the surge of energy, the need to engage with the rest of humanity, the drive to do the thing that I was made to do, whatever that looks like, blossomed out of the chaos again. Maybe it's coincidence. Maybe it's hormonal. Maybe it's human touch. Maybe it's that recognition of a common vision. Maybe it's hope.

Anyway, here I am. Writing a wandering blog post, anticipating the weekend and the good work ahead. Grateful. It only seems right to end my blathering blog post tonight with what has become a mantra for me these last few years:

Sow your seeds in the morning, and at night let not your hands be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well. - Ecclesiastes 11:6

Back When:
2014: The In-Between
2013: Most Memorable Moment: Ten Years Later
2012: That Isn't on My 30th Year Goal List
2011: Anniversary
2010: I'm Going Pro-Joy
2009: Posting Poems
2008: You Can't Have It All

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Next Thing and the Next Thing

Summer is coming to a close, which means the children go back to school, Henry starts preschool three days a week, and football season begins. Now that we're done with this thing, onto the next thing. The clouds are racing and changing across the sky, moving the weather and the seasons along, and now it's almost fall. Would ya look at that.

Who am I kidding? I'll be whining all fall
about this guy being on the road.
This might be the first year I am not overcome by anxiety about Brandon's travel each weekend. Maybe it's because nobody in our family is playing soccer, so I don't have any Saturday morning, standing in the cold and rain, cranky spectator obligations. Maybe it's because the kids are getting older and more manageable on my own. Maybe it's because I'm getting older and able to occasionally recognize the lonely Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights without Brandon around after the kids go to bed for what they are, or can be: my weekly writer's retreat, my silence, my repose. Maybe I'm just at a really steady and secure place, not overwhelmed by job decisions or graduate school or babies, just... here.

Don't hold your breath, though; I will probably find myself sitting in our living room a night not too far in the future, alone with my laptop, pouring tears and capital letters into this blog, waiting waiting waiting for my husband to come home.

Voted "Most Powerful" for the Ashland University
MFA Class of 2015
Keeping in the spirit of weekly writer's retreats, though, I am very excited about this fall. I finished my MFA at Ashland University this summer, and I spent the last few weeks reorganizing and writing a few additional pages towards my manuscript, American Honey. I am really pleased with this final draft... or at least this I-think-I'm-ready-to-send-to-agents-and-editors draft, and my plan this fall is to send it out into the world of agents and editors. If you are by some magical coincidence an agent or editor reading this now who sees the need for a collection of memoiristic essays about the first decade of marriage, temptation, desire, and love, well, ahem, I'm available by email, phone, or post. I can even access a fax machine.

One of the essays in the manuscript was just published online by the litmag Full Grown People, "Careful Intimacies." To me, it captures the spirit and tension throughout this collection. That essay I linked to above about soccer, "The Worst Soccer Mom," is also included.

I'm also continuing as a regular contributor to Off the Page, a ministry of Our Daily Bread, and I'm loving that monthly exercise. I write twice a month for them. It's where I've been going to hash out the things I think about on the way to work, listening to audiobooks, the matters of faith that matter most to me right now. Here are a few of my most recent posts:

Today: Sabbath Afternoon - "If you haven’t done so lately, it’s time to grab a picnic blanket before the warm days slip away and the evening sun skitters over the horizon in the hurry of new autumn notebooks..."

August 5: Know Thyself - "One of the things I love about this world (and there are many of them) is the synchronous connections that happen throughout the whole body of knowledge. I was reminded of this again recently..."

July 22: At Least Ten Best Things about Girl Friends - "Greeting Cards We are called to encourage each other, and so we buy and send and give them on a whim. Thinking of you! we say. Hang in there! we say. You and me, we’re..."

July 8: Gas Station Evangelism - "An older woman pulled up behind me the other morning as I was pumping gas. She got out, walked straight over with her Bible in her hand, and said she had a verse for..."

This Day in History:
2013 - Just Call Me Sarah "All Heart" Wells (oh Lord, what a day at church this was.)
2011 - Soccer Mom Fail (the origins of "The Worst Soccer Mom" essay)
2008 - Seconds from Shaken Baby (the good ol' days... ugh)

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Basement After-Dinner Theater

Our kids have taken to putting on shows for us in our basement. They take turns choosing the plot, often involving a pirate queen, the Incredible Hulk, and either a cowboy or sheriff or good pirate or Star Wars character (take your pick). There is always some battle involved and there is always some mid-scene break from character during which one of my children will protest or give another child their next line. 

Lydia is loud and uses a gravelly pirate voice to announce each character, including herself. Elvis is the director and producer. Beware taking any liberties with his script; he has in mind exactly what is supposed to happen next. Henry generally just wants to smash and tackle things. Take a guess which character he is.

Last night, they introduced commercial breaks between scenes, which were solo performances by Lydia, singing along to a band called One Girl Nation. We hear her yell-singing the lyrics in the basement through the floorboards throughout the day.

"Okay, commercial time!" Lydia shouted, in her gravelly pirate voice. The boys skittered off to change costumes. Lydia pressed play on her CD player and stood on her mini-trampoline, pigtails in her hair, hairbrush microphone in hand.
You heard me say my first words
Watched me crawl before I walked
I grinned and wept, of course.

"Bahhh, bahhh, bahhh, bahhh," Elvis and Henry chanted.

Lydia turned to them in exasperation and tried to keep singing.
People say I have your eyes
But I've always wanted to have your heart
"Bahhh, bahhh, bahhh, bahhh," the boys continued. To be fair, it was right to the beat.

"Guys, stop," I pleaded.

"We're singing along!" Elvis giggled.

"You're ruining it!" Lydia cried, near tears, turning off the CD player.

Sigh. On to the next scene.

It takes so long to learn how to love each other well, doesn't it? How to cooperate, to lead, to follow, to serve, to take direction, to give over the spotlight, to discover our roles and how they work with everyone else's, to take turns on the stage, to make space for each other in your basement theater. I know my role down there: I am the audience. I throw my bouquets of bravos, my kisses, my applause, and cheer my three actors on in their beautiful roles. Become who you are made to become, darlings.

Me, I couldn't handle much more of One Girl Nation's song, "Daddy's Girl," sung with such sincerity and passion by my sweet daughter. My cup overfloweth, and with all this rain we've been getting lately, I don't think our basement sump pump could handle all of the overfloweth coming from my cup.

My three thespians

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Things We Love

I am hanging out in the bright afternoon heat. Our kids have found other kids to be this afternoon's best friends. My husband is in a baseball uniform and catcher's gear, waiting for his next at-bat. It's Father's Day, and there's nowhere else I'd rather be, around this dusty diamond, squinting in the light.

There's nothing hotter than the person you love doing the thing that he loves. My husband loves baseball. He loves coaching it and playing it. He comes alive. He is the fullest and best version of himself here. I imagine when he plays he must feel the way I do in the grip of writing or reading, energized and deeply satisfied, even when it doesn't go well.

I think this is partly what it means to love someone - to be able to recognize who a person is and encourage them in the things they are passionate about. It can go so wrong. What would have happened to our marriage if Brandon said, "I don't like you writing about our lives"? What would have happened to our marriage if I had said, "you really need to stop this coaching and playing business." We would have strangled each other's lifeblood and become hollow shells of ourselves. How can we love fully and live fully when we have to deny an essential part of our being?

So here we are. Brandon just shouted, "Two, boys!" from behind home plate. My boys are playing dinosaurs and learning for themselves daily what makes their hearts beat, and I am writing on my phone in the sunshine. Finding the holy in our every day loves.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Two Herons

Can't shake the sadness over the shooting in Charleston, SC this morning.

My muse of late has been a heron I look for every morning on my drive to work. This morning there were two. Here's a poem that hopes to capture the conflict in me when I hear about these kinds of acts of violence.

Two Herons

Good morning, heron on my right,
who lifted in flight as I drove by,
who glided above still black waters
for a time. I think we met
eye for eye. You were there
with me, my speeding
my needing heart my
furrowed brow. Good
morning, heron on my left,
the one I expect each morning,
upright and erect, how are you
undisturbed this morning, this
mourning, this morning’s news,
how do you not lift and turn
away, how do you keep facing
this day, how do you stand
and pray and not take flight,
or fight, my heron, my heron.
Heron on my right, lift high
your sorrow, your indignation,
your praise, and I will rise
with your wings. Heron on my left,
how do you stay, why do you
stay. Please stay. I will
follow you to that place
on that log in the dark wake,
and try to be still, and try
to be calm.

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Desire to Be Desired

A couple of weeks ago was the River Teeth Nonfiction Conference, and leading up to that were lots of long nights getting ready. I've been feeling frustrated with my ability to make time for writing, here or anywhere else, but now that the conference is over and I've given my brain a little break from evening writing duties, I am ever hopeful that I can return to writing. I guess it's a season of scribbling notes on my iPhone notepad to get to later.

Well, I am writing, two blog posts a month for Off the Page, and I have a series of heron poems that keep coming to me like little mercies. I've been enjoying the blog posts I'm writing for Off the Page, but it is a different kind of writing than essaying. It's the essaying I miss right now. When I was whining about this to my friend Tania a couple weeks before the conference, she told me, "What, you can't write for the next 14 days? Big deal!" and grant yourself the space and permission not to write for now. I'm pretty sure that's what she said. So, okay, stop whining. There are worse things in the world than not writing for a small stretch of time.

Watching the Cavs game
In other news, it's SUMMER and baseball season. We spend a solid four to five nights a week at someone's baseball or softball game right now, and I loooooove it. There's nothing like sitting outside in late summer afternoons, the pace of a ballgame, an excuse to do nothing but enjoy the evening... ah. I love it. Have I mentioned that I love it?

We're also letting the kids - especially Elvis and Lydia - stay up a bit later now that it's summer, and they've been staying up to at least the half for the Cavs games the last two weeks. It's been fun spending that additional downtime with the two of them, even though it's intruding on my alone time with Brandon, which is always so guarded. Lydia sat on my lap last night for part of the game and now stretches out almost as long as I am. They are amazing people.

What I've been listening to:
I just finished up two books by Bill Bryson - At Home and In a Sunburned Country. I almost started One Summer and then changed my mind. There's only so much of the same voice reading to you that you can take. I loved both books. They were engaging and funny and informative. Before that I listened to Small Victories by Anne Lamott and LOVED it. I'll probably go back to Lamott again soon because she's so funny and tear-inducing, and I like that kind of writing.

I shifted gears and started listening to Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. For some reason it isn't at all what I thought it would be, but I also don't know exactly what I was expecting, so there's that. I'm really enjoying the switch to fiction for a spell, and I love the narrator's voice, the epistolary nature of the writing, and the gradual unfolding of the story. It's no wonder it won a Pulitzer.

What I've been up to:

If you are into Jo Ann Beard or you want to be, you might enjoy the presentation that Jill Christman and I did at the River Teeth Conference: "Negotiating the Plasmapause: Patterned Images, Delayed Revelation, and Sheer Awesomeness in Jo Ann Beard's The Boys of My Youth"

The series for Off the Page I mentioned in my last post, The Desire to Be Desired, has wrapped up. Here they are in summary with links to the full posts:

The Desire to Be Desired
I ran as fast as I could through the wood chips and up the wooden steps and beckoned from the highest point of the playground equipment. “You can’t catch me!” I shouted, grinning and staring down into the faces of Nick Germano and Jason Ream, and when they motioned for the steps, I squealed and giggled, sliding half-way down the stainless steel slide, its hot metal burning my hands and thighs. I stopped and waited to see which way they chose to go so I could make my break-away run, away from my chasers.

So went every day on the playground in first grade, then second, then third, sometimes different boys, eventually new playgrounds, but always the same game. Tag, freeze tag, TV tag, hide-and-go-seek tag, You can’t catch me! No one wanted to be caught, not really, anyway. What would you do when you were caught? That was the end of the game, the end of the chase. The thrill was in the running, the pursuit, the simple and potent knowledge that someone sought to catch you. Read More...

What Good Guys Do
One night, my husband and I were out at a country line-dancing bar. He got up to pay our tab and I watched the couples waltz on the floor.

“Hey, how ya doin’?” a voice came up from behind. I turned on my barstool and grinned at a guy obviously looking for a dance partner.

“I’m fine!” I said cheerily. He glanced down at my hand resting on the bar.

“Oh, you’re married!” he said, his arms flinging up in the air into the “I surrender” position. “I’m sorry!”

I nodded, still grinning as he walked away and Brandon came back. They exchanged glances, the guy smiling meekly and my husband giving him a nod of acknowledgement.

“Ready to go, Tiny Dancer?” Brandon asked.

“That guy was trying to hit on me!” I said with astonishment.

“Yeah, I figured,” he said, wrapping his arm around my waist and guiding me toward the door. I continued grinning, the warmth of admiration and the heat of my husband’s palm on the small of my back making me glow faintly on the way to the car. Read More...

Empty Houses
It has been three years since I sat in a dark bar on the dark side of town alone with a colleague, out for a drink to talk about writing and family and his failing marriage. It has been three years since he confessed to having a crush, his hand flitting like a fly on and off of my thigh. Three years since I laughed and blushed, stunned to be so openly admired by someone other than my husband. I didn’t know how to handle this advance, how to stand and stare down disaster before it could take root.

Instead, I wanted to be nice. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. My “no” was mushy and clouded with desire—not for this other man but for this other man’s words, this other man’s advances, the unabashed expression of his desire for me. Me! Goofy and ridiculous me, flabby around the middle me, mother of three, me! “But I love my husband,” I said, again and again, with a grin, because I also loved to hear how beautiful this other man found me, how lovely, how smart, how good.

I would like to say that I stood up and slapped him. After all, he had just shook hands with my husband in our living room, just stood in the presence of all our wedding pictures and smiling faces of our children. I would like to say that I insisted he drive me home, immediately. I would like to say that every email conversation and text message from there on was strictly professional and never slid slyly into flirtatious, that I reported his advances to my supervisor and ended it, ended the confusing, terrifying, anxiety-inducing friendship and work relationship. But I didn’t. Read More...

The Directions Desire Can Take Us
It’s tempting to conclude this series on desire with the pattest of pat answers: If I were truly holy and pursuing God, this fire would be quenched and I would never again face the dichotomy of flesh and spirit, as if my body is evil and my spirit is good.

Except God made me, body and spirit. Adam needed a helpmate and so he was given Eve, before the Fall, before separation from God. Sarah needs a helpmate and so she is given Brandon.

We are made for connection, with God and with others. This connection is rooted in two things: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.

If God is love and we learn to love God by watching Jesus, then loving our neighbors as ourselves is one of the only ways we can express and experience that love for ourselves. It’s a give-and-get kind of relationship, a pay it forward, a pouring out to be filled again and again. Read More...

Back then --
2014: Holiday Greetings from Nine-Month-Contract Land
2013: Why Do We Need Men?
2012: Corrective Lenses and Parenting
2011: In the Center Ring: Motherhood vs. Work
2010: Maybe She's Born With It...
2009: Potty Training Adventures

Monday, May 4, 2015

Tackling Transitions

Next week, a new series of blog posts will begin to be published on the site Off The Page, a ministry of Our Daily Bread. I am excited about this opportunity to reach a larger audience and hope that the posts are engaging, inspiring, and thought provoking-- sincere and maybe even a little funny now and then.

My first series with Off The Page was about transitions and what it's like to change jobs, change communities, and change churches. Here are a few excerpts:

Changing Directions
I recently did one of those things you do in your twenties and thirties: I changed jobs. The job change was a package deal and included a new town, a new commute, a new house, and a new school district for my kids.

I wasn’t really looking to change jobs. It’s rare to think that you’ve found the job you are made for when you are twenty-five, but I was certain I had: administering a graduate writing program, managing a small press and literary journal at the university I had graduated from four years earlier, working with faculty members who had mentored me when I was an undergraduate … I was in happy spreadsheet, literature, and poetry heaven.

Everything had fallen into place to make it happen too. My husband, Brandon, and I had prayed through the job offer and acceptance, the house sale and moving plans, the birth of our second child … every single little detail that summer. And it was good. Read More...

Church Hunting
I hate trying to find a church.

The last time we moved, Brandon and I fell by mercy into a community of believers that met our deep need for friendship and community. We only visited one other church in the land-of-a-thousand churches before we found 5 Stones Community Church.

5 Stones is filled with people who praise Jesus for his extravagant grace, make no claims of perfection but aspire to become the truest versions of themselves, and drape other people in that same outpouring of mercy and forgiveness. For realz, I know that was a lot of church-y talk and all, but I’m serious. Like all churches that exist here on earth, it has its battles and bruises, its history and its weaknesses. It’s made of a bunch of broken people covered by God’s grace, so that’s to be expected. Read More...

Life Together
I started the new year feeling a need for some meaty inspirational reading, so I picked up a book that’s been sitting on our shelves for a while now, Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Hangin’ out with other believers and talking about Jesus is one of my favorite things to do, but deep and sustaining relationships in the church are sometimes hard to come by. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Christians can be kind of judgmental and easily offended. Whaaaaaat?! I know. Crazy. Because of this and my incapacity for small talk, I don’t find it easy to jump right into faith communities. I’m not always sure if they’re going to get me, and I don’t want to offend them by my sarcasm, self-deprecation, wide laugh, and loud grace.

Bringing the Word
You should know that I didn’t grow up reading the Bible—though we did have a basic illustrated Bible stories book floating around among the Dr. Seusses.

One Thanksgiving Day, I paged through a King James Bible looking for the section on Thanksgiving prayers, resolved that I would provide the most eloquent of blessings on our meal. This made perfect sense to me; after all, I had found the proper formal place setting arrangements for Thanksgiving in the cookbook. Surely there would be an index of holiday prayers in the Bible.

Later still, my mom bought me a red-letter, black, leather-bound, New International Version study Bible for Christmas. I was sixteen, and the hunger and curiosity from internal and external sources burned. I wanted to know: Is there a God? Is he real? Who is he? How do I reconcile all I’ve learned in sixteen years with this book? Can I?

I started reading at the beginning, like you do with most books. Genesis wasn’t so bad, and the start of Exodus is eventful, but then you get Leviticus and Numbers and Deuteronomy all up in there, and my interest waned. Read More...

Tune in beginning May 13 for the next series on Off The Page: The Desire to Be Desired.