Making melodies out of the humdrum.

Sunday, January 31, 2010


I don't really think that much about what I blog after I blog it. I  just write it so its enough of me to feel truly out of me, yet far-flung enough from myself. You know, I've learned that if everything is too close to my own home, everything I write feels a little lonely and self-indulgent.  If I look out when I write, my between the lines have an easier time reading, "Well come on! Tell me what you think!" And I try to remember that that's the point. 

Anyways, all this to say, that the idea of place I gathered myself in last week has stuck with me post exhalation-- just like it shouldn't.  I'm still taking it in; in deep breaths that is, place and all. Here's what I 'm thinking:  Place leaves us, and still, we live in its loss.  It's morbid, but like most morbid things it's quite a big part of being alive. Still, who wants to say: "This was my home, my corner of the world, but now, may it rest in peace."  Not me.  

Pardon me while I go against my grain and make a concrete analogy: this weekend I house-hunted.  I looked at a beautiful home with all kinds of personality, which are, of course the best kind. It was flipped several times.  You've seen one like it before, I'm sure. Three decades ago, the owners made her over.  Two decades ago, they gave her another little face-lift, tucked some things away, clipped some things to their liking.  Now, she still retains much of her original 1947 charm, but she had been re-constructed, essentially demolished so she might be canoodled and attended to in ways that her original self would not even have beget. And now in 2010, she looked perfect for her owners, who actually said to me: "We wish we could pick it up and take it with us."  

To find, no, I think I might mean soak up place, we must re-fashion ourselves without losing ourselves. Quite like my dream flip-house I saw this weekend:  Post-war sturdily built American dream home? Yes. 2010 whimsical garden bungalow for Sarah to be inspired?  Yes. Both at once! And she didn't lose herself.  I wish I could BE the flip-house, let alone BUY the flip- house. (And for the record, this house was completely out of my price range.  I already cried about it) 

But quite unlike flipped homes which we can comfortably manipulate: "I like the dining space, the dining space has worked well for us, it's the kitchen that we really need to change," when the seasons shift and we leave the harbor for the horizon, sometimes we must. just. let. go. We cannot pick up all things even the close things, and take them with us to new places, lest we become the anxious hoarder type. Perhaps the spirit stays with us, but let's face it when we start saying things like spirit, we're talking about dead things in kind of a pretty way.  Beautiful maybe. But still, dead. 

So it haunts us, these places we knew, the people in them that we knew even better and the way they fit together to make, might I say, a beloved Community.  I thought about this looking at homes today; the great and bittersweet tragedy of leaving a place where so much beauty has dwelled. Call me lame, but my brow furrows and my eyes fill, and I think, "Will good things happen again? Will the next place be as good?" Now, I try to remember really I do, that God has come, is coming, and will always come after me. How then, I ask myself, could joy be fleeting? Surely Goodness and Love and Kindness will follow me all the days of my life, like the Pslamist says. 

Surely! Surely. surely... 

There's that ellipsis again. Here is me, God, down on my knees again, praying the sweetest prayer that I know: Please, God, might I know deep in my bones that you are good? 

So I cry a little partly because I am sentimental and used to cry when my family traded in our old car for new, or when we took down the Christmas tree or when the blizzard of 1996 uprooted the blue spruce trees. But I also cry because it is tragic for beautiful things to fade away.  Isn't it? Especially a home. 

Anyone know Emily Webb from Thornton Wilder's Our Town? One of the best plays ever written. It's set in Grover's Corners, New Hampshire in 1901. I like it because the beautiful things in the play are the simple things- like the soda fountain and moonrises and heliotrope. I wish I knew Emily, but I guess even if literature world shattered real-life world I wouldn't get to meet her.  She dies in the play, and then her spirit comes back.  It was the most terrifying and painful thing even as I was reading it.  Dead Emily Webb watching over her beloved place. It is (was?) her home, but the timing is all wrong now. They have mourned her yet she is lingering. She is not supposed to be there, and mostly, we know this because no one can see her. Here, I think we can glean great insight: our home is a place we must be seen. And if we are not? It is, all too naturally, time to go. 

"Goodbye, Good-bye world. Good-bye Grover’s Corners…Mama and Papa. Good-by to clocks ticking…and Mama’s sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new-ironed dresses and hot baths…and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you..."

The simple things are the homey things. And they will come again. And if they are already here? May we soak them up before we have to say goodbye. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Last May, I distinctly remember telling a friend over coffee that I think roots are important. And roots are important especially for things like seedlings, agrarians and weeping willows. They bring life! But I am talking about the kind of equally as life-bringing roots that are important to twenty five year old girls (yes, today I feel like a girl). That's right. It's another one of these dangling ideas I like to bat around: place, community and roots. I'm not sure if it's this Wendell Berry kick I'm on or what, but I've been aware of place for some time now, maybe dating back to that conversation last May.

Even for those of us who have jumped on the global citizen bandwagon, we still can't deny the currency, albeit urgency of location. Beyond our geographical latitude and longitude, there are the things that really matter: the grocery store two blocks down, the poor neighbor who goes by Cookie and asks me for my recycled cans, the sorority house next to her, and the irony of it all. Place grounds us, literally and figuratively, and I think most of us long for it because it might make a home. After all, The Secret Garden doesn't cozy on into its plot until Mary Lennox asks Dickon if she might have, "a bit of Earth."

So my place right now is Waco. And finding my personal place, or might I say, self in it? It's a wishy-washy thing I have going on, and usually, it creeps in like this:

Not long after I pay for my groceries, warmed over the friendliness of those acquantainces I side-hugged near the tortillas (still getting used to these tortillas replacing the baguette section let alone the awkward side-hugs), a much much cooler wave of indifference runs through me. Here I am in Waco... I think. And when these are my words, they are a little reticent and a little bored, but altogether uncertain. Note the ellipsis (a.k.a DOT.DOT.DOT). In these moments, the friendliness is just surface, and the DOT.DOT.DOT some mundane rabbit trail that I find myself wishing would, for crying out loud, find it's END. But you can't force an end any more truthfully than you can contain an absence, and right now for better or for worse, I feel quite swallowed by the dots.

Now I like feelings and all, but I'd venture to say this is more than a feeling (Boston, anyone?), and more like a nag. Some days the DOT.DOT.DOT pulls me to tears or to laughter or batches of blueberry muffins (the sifting, the mixing, the pouring, the's therapeutic). And some days, the DOT.DOT.DOT flows and flaps and tumbles in a way that makes me feel free-er than ever. On those days, I surrender to my, and I'm not sure why. My friend Courtney tells me it has to do with allowing for space. I think she's right. It does have to do with space and peace and listening to the God of the universe that is absolutely in charge. I certainly like my free and flapping self better than my compulsive baker self, she's just all thrown off by this ellipsis sometimes and in a hot second, she calls on this neurotic self that gets quite preoccupied trying to seal the deal. Freebird, please push out resident control freak. I know she's eager and persistent, but she's so dang annoying.

So, Waco, 31 N, 97 W, my "bit of Earth" you are also my ellipsis for now. But for now doesn't mean for always. And my free-spirit, somersaulting self is quite comforted by the obscurity of the ellipsis. She keeps me company here. I just have to find a way to keep her around.

I'm thinking e.e. cummings might help, he would have a poetic field day with this punctuation metaphor that nails everything down without actually nailing anything down at all. For those of you that know e.e cummings, or perhaps, know the know what I am talking about.

we are for eachother: then
laugh, leaning back in my arms
for life's not a paragraph

And death i think is no parenthesis

-e.e cummings

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Dream Catchers & Kaleidoscopes

Remember kaleidoscopes? I hadn't thought about them since, oh, 1994 until that is, this evening. Perks to working with kids: you get to re-experience all the kid things. We were playing with these kaleidoscopes at a local museum here in town which has, of late, expressed great interest in working with our agency.  I immediately remembered these friendly scopes once I saw them shelved in the optical illusion room.  They look a bit like party favors from far away, wrapped up in that bright glossy paper that says, "Pick me!"  So, I did.  The kaleidoscopes were the first thing I noticed, and the kids followed.  I selected a pink one, and the nine year old next to me stared inquisitively.  I think she thought I was inspecting an artifact. "Miss Sarah, what is that? Are you allowed to touch it?" I looked at her just as funny as she was looking at me.  "Yes, it's a kaleidoscope!" Again, but more emphatically, "What is thaaaat?" 

Really? They don't know what a kaleidoscope is? I did say, 1994 not 1904.  And I am, Miss Sarah not Auntie Sarah or some other matronly title. Geesh. Besides, I always thought Kaleidescopes were cool-- if not for the toy, then just for the name.  It sounds like the title of an Iron and Wine song and after the final, melodramatic chord you would say to yourself, kaleidoscope? How was that about a kaleidoscope? And then, for all its obscurity, you'd download it from Itunes. Or at least I would. 

Anyways, completely tickled by my disbelief at their disbelief (sometimes I think I am way too transparent with these kids) they began to play too.  Pretty soon we were all looking through these paper-towel like tubes, saying "Oooo...Aaaahh..." Every once in a while, my little friends would nudge my side, "Wait Miss Sarah, I have to show you THIS one." Love them for that. And I would look and enthusiastically approve, and life was good, looking through these kaleidoscopes, all five of us lined up in a row. But sometimes, someone would want to share, want to show, and they wouldn't be able to "get it back." The colors, the pattern, the pretty thing they just saw, it was fleeting. "Sad!" I would say to them, and it was sad because I like to see pretty things, especially when someone else is showing them to me. 

So, herein lies the metaphor.  Do you see it?  Moments.  We remember moments because it's usually the moments rather than the days that are so sweet.  The light reflects, and the colors blend, and the patterns collide and...yes! That's it! We laugh!  We cry!  We hug!  We jump up and down. The moment is perfect, the stars have aligned.  And our little kaleidoscopes did this for us tonight: "Pretty! Perfect! Come, look!"  But then it's over, and we had nothing to show for it like the best dreams that we have nothing to show for when we wake up in the morning. Nope. We just hit snooze, roll out of bed and stumble to the coffee maker, almost like we didn't dream at all. My mom used to tell me that dream catchers were new-agey, but you know what, I totally want one.  

No matter how hard we might try, formulaic moments don't exist. We don't make them. I'll be the first to admit, as loosy-goosy as I can be, I can also be a mathematician when it comes to therapy (yes, this does cause great angst in my life).  I don't know where I picked this up but I'll often say to my clients: "Tell me about a moment when you were so happy."  Or, "Tell me about a moment when you felt so safe."  Some of my clients could talk for hours because it was just that good.  Instead of listening to them relay the emotion, the feeling, or perhaps, the cognitive processes they experienced (i.e. doing my job), I pull out my calculator. It's embarrassing how much my mind whirrs. Well, I think,  how could we make a+b+c exist in such a way that they are divisible by z and then, the equation is balanced! Client can have her moment back! 

I'm learning that this number crunching equals dumb and naive. No remainder. 

I'm not trying to be a downer or too hard on myself.  Really, I'm not. And sometimes, I like that I am moment-clinging even though the client is weeping because it exudes hope. And hope, even if wide-eyed and far-off feeling, is something to stand on at least.  But sometimes, it is therapeutic to remember how it once was. "That sounds really wonderful," I might say, and "Sad!"  Sad that you can't "get it back"like the nine year olds tonight. But maybe, just maybe remembering and sharing soaks up the memory. And soaked up memories? They might, with just a little mopping, turn into these drinkable dreams that run our cups over.  

Sunday, January 17, 2010


"Taking it all in," means different things for different people. Consider the great island of Manhattan. Some visit awestruck by the architecture and the swarms of bodies climbing into the same subway car.  We might, for example, count how many languages we've heard while perusing the MET, or how many indie-bohemian-chic boutiques hem in Brooklyn's corner. Others are more inclined to feel the energy, experience the rush, or ponder the meaning of one's small self between the hustle and flow of this insomniac of a city. Regardless of our processing preference, I've found most never fail to mention the pizza. Let's be honest- food is a sincere love. 

Which is why I'm writing tonight.  About sincere love.  Like pizza which is most concretely cheese and tomato and starch, and most abstractly an Italian art form, love is best when it's both.  It's entirely simple (mozz+tomato+bread) and entirely complex (who knows anything about Italian cooking?). Give me a brick oven pizzeria in the West Village and a four cheese pie? "Buon Appetito!" I'm in love. 

I haven't found him (you know, not to be cheesy but, "the one,") yet, but I tell myself he is coming as quick as he can. And maybe, just maybe, the hold-up has to do with the fact that he's been stumped by this mozzarella of a mystery too. I once experienced a break-up/breaking off/ending of a dear relationship (read: most painful), in which I pleaded with this person who didn't love me back to tell me why he ever referred to us as "we" if in fact, he didn't love me the way I loved him.  I know it sounds pathetic, but it was the real thing.  He would always talk about OUR plans and where WE were going and what WE would do and how WE were different than everyone else. Did he not understand the significance of these pronouns? "Everybody wants a we!" I cried to him.  It was sad. As he shook his head, I felt bare and I never wanted to see him again.  We did not go together anymore.
And that's what it comes down to doesn't it?  Belonging.  Even before the philosophical truth that love is this astoundingly simple and complex wonder of a thing like light or wind or water, we first understand that we belong to our beloved.  I am yours, you are mine. Not like a possessive ownership thing.  Ugh, no. Then it gets all objectified and twisted and narcissistic. But a BElonging, the long-awaited peace tailor-made to fit your longing.
I have found myself, these past few weeks, increasingly grateful for the complexity of my God's love for me. He is Abba Father, and Messiah King and Counselor Friend and the Captivated Lover of my soul.  Some nights, I am in such great awe that I might lift up my hands, or open my heart, or pray for purpose with greater purity and gumption than the night before.  Or quite simply, I might just thank Him that He is my shepherd and I am His lamb, and He is gentle with my stubborn bleating self. And I will roll over and sleep well. We cannot help but be found by the depth of His love. It seeks us out, beckoning, "Come, come, you belong with me."   What sweeter words do we know?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Secret Keeper

Today was lo-ong and I am exhausted.  Typically, I like to think I am a fairly articulate person.  A little roundabout, yes, but articulate. Not tonight. When I am exhausted I babble and then I apologize for babbling in that awful self-deprecating way. We'll just call it a Monday. 

Words and language are funny like that.  They help us know what we are about, especially when our receiver listens well and graciously.  As I listen to my clients, I know we're digging some sort of therapy groove when I hear them say something and then see them cover their mouths- frightened by the taste of: "I think my mom is a liar" or "I am scared of my own sister" It's courageous to let such words free, they are near and dear, and speaking them somehow makes them truer than we may like. 

And so words like these fell on me tonight, some softly, some thumped hard.  I cannot cover my ears.  I am open and calm but I know my eyes are always curious, and if the speaker is ready, I can beg for more. " I just don't think she wants us that much." Thump! Thud! Crash! Ouch, I want to say. But it's not about me, is it? 

So, I say, thank you for telling me your secrets, which are, perhaps, the most tightly-wound kinds of words.  Like coils and springs.  You cannot contain them all alone, but they just might stretch between us and be alright.  And in the meantime, I think, you are brave to keep this all together, all these coiled and twisted words.  

"Confessing all the secret things in the warm velvet box
to the priest-he's the doctor
he can handle the shock"
-Peter Gabriel 

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Arc Camp and Amelie

I have a knack for winding up in really random arrangements. The startling thing is, I usually don't realize that it's a little odd until I'm up to my neck in a pickle, realizing that I should have run while it was pooling at my ankles.  If this sounds concerning, it's really not. It's more just funny. I am wide-eyed and chatty and a bit of an open book, but not altogether naive and reliant on friends who say things like, "Sarah, if it's weird after fifteen minutes, you don't have to do it."  (dear friends, thank you for that, by the way)

During my school/work limbo, it was through such a roundabout way that I worked at the ARC camp with special needs children.  Hey, I thought, I like little ones, and while I didn't have experience with this particular population, I felt confident.  If you promise not to pass judgement, I'll tell you that I never felt particularly drawn to working with special needs children, so I saw this opportunity as a means to render a match. For better or for worse, I can be pushy with myself that way. Sometimes it makes life rich, sometimes after much hammering, I realize that "oh yes, square pegs really do not fit in round holes." 

I admit, I am ashamed that in working with these campers, I ever imagined I could make anything happen at all.  A bit embarrassed that I actually thought, "oh let me use my skills to provide them services." 

Well, when I type it out like that, it really doesn't seem so shameful now does it? After all, that is why one gets hired for a service position, and helpers in particular always experience this sort of rub.  I guess, as I am processing, the greater issue was that I marched (first faux-pas, never "march," it's obnoxious), right into my camp counseling duties and forwent opening myself up to them.  Unknowns are daunting and sometimes that very human diffidence is easily compensated for by control. But, let's do ourselves a favor and try to learn from the newness rather than keep it in line. I am not preaching.  Hindsight is 20/20.

On day # 1 of camp I still was so arrogant as to assume that my expectations might be the real thing.  By day # 2 I realized I was wrong, not to mention I was plum tuckered out.  By day # 3 I was ready to quit.  The past 72 hours had been marked by tantrums, dirty nine year old diapers, food allergies and compulsive swearing that made me wonder whether or not a mis-diagnosis had occurred. Terrets, perhaps?  Truly, I had never seen or heard anything like it. Oh yeah, add in 100 degree heat.  Every. Single. Day. My life felt as repetitive as all get-out.  Like a nightmarish routine.  And I think routines in general are nightmarish, even without tantrums and food allergies. 

One day, mid-June, I came home from camp in desperate need of a hug, chocolate and a glass of wine. Apparently, I also needed to watch the movie Amelie. If you've never seen it, please do. It's artsy and eloquent and wonderful. It spoke to me that sweaty June day because of a particular clip explaining Amelie's desire to help.  Helping, for Amelie, has to do with a) love and b) simplicity.  Nothing more, nothing less. She does not seem overburdened by deep care or deep concern, she just follows a pull to give of herself, and nothing has ever been easier. She keeps to her pure little way and it is lovely. 

I tried to carry this with me the next day at camp.  You know why? Because Amelie fit so perfectly with the Arc Camp.   Here I was, given this great opportunity to help in a very simple sort of way in part, because I was working with very simple individuals. I was doing quite menial tasks, but if I was patient, and present, and if, for one little boy, I drew 28 hamster wheels, life was perfect.  The next moment it might be imperfect, but then I drew hamster wheel #29 and it was perfect again. 

I had been furrowing my brow far too much about what to do and why to do it and how long the tantrum would last.  This tantrum was lasting, yes, but it would also pass, and in the meantime, my hand was on his shoulder. 

And a hush:

You are loved. You are touchable.  You are human and you are worthy. 

To my Arc campers: Thanks for loving me back.  You are dear, and far more patient than I. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


Dreaming has always been like refuge for me.  Not night dreams, but day-dreams, idea-dreams, schemes and dreams, under-the-oak-tree sorts of dreams. Castles in the air.   The dreams that left me doodling in the margins as the teacher concluded her instruction with, "Right, Sarah?" It's true.  Sometimes I still drift and have a hard time staying on track, in the lines, whatever you want to call it. Frankly, I'd just rather skip down the rabbit trail, and yes, I know that's not practical. 

It's occurred to me that in spite of this dreamy jibber-jabber that can, on good days, congeal into thoughts and voices and opinions, its hard for me to own them out in the open.  Maybe that's why my dreams feel so safe.  When I write, however, these voices come alive as dear to me as any in the real world and I must allow them autonomy.  They push themselves onto the page, shatter my dreamy world, and seem altogether more assured than the person that wrote them or conjured them.   Perhaps that detachment seems a little heebie-jeebie, but it's there. And honestly, I think that's what makes the writing, the words, the process such a gift.  It is not of me, but it is in me and somehow it all works out. 

That's all a little mysterious sounding, isn't it? Let me turn the corner.  For all my fogginess I also like to break things down, pull them apart, understand why and know better for next time. So, here is my psychoanalytic self on my sacred dream world:  tension is painful for me, and quiet, internal creation provides solace and outlet without bumping up against opposition. Awkwardness, I can handle because typically I can find a way to diffuse...normalize....what have you. Tension? Real, raw, in your gut kind of tension? H-a-t-e it.  It makes me want to just close my eyes and tap my heels, crawl into a corner AND pull the covers over my head.  All at once. Now, I understand this can make the whole vulnerability thing tricky.  Yes.  But I would also say that vulnerability is just as hard for everyone in his or her own way. It's one of those human things. 

So for me? Sometimes I don't get to hold the key to peace gates or make differences into similarities, or do dot-to-dots until everything makes its way into some bizarre and cosmic whole. I don't get to be Suzy go-with-the-flow, iron it out, make a joke, smile real big, sing-a-song...because before I know it something that's all sorts of dishonest might make it on that list, and I just wouldn't be true anymore.  And I think I desperately want to be true, don't you?  

So here's to choosing sides, making boundaries, all the while mustering the courage to SAY what I'm thinking like my narrative voice that leaps out on the page with such candor and ease. Besides, tension isn't always all bad.  As my friend Hillary once told me in the throes of disquiet: "Sarah, tension can be loved when its like the passing note to the most beautiful, beautiful chord."  I don't know where she got it and I think I was crying too hard to ask, but I am grateful she said it. 

Thanks for reading my self-talk.  I hope you can find yourself in it, too. 

Monday, January 4, 2010

New-ish Grown-Ups

Yesterday evening I celebrated the 29th birthday of my friend, J.  I am not calling her J like I do when I talk about my clients,  that would be weird.  J is her nickname because she is petite and sweet and to-the-point and it has fit her for as long as I have known her. All honorary invitees to this party were total foodies (that does not mean FAT, that just means we appreciate different tastes and flavors and the like)  so we dined well: chile quile (I don't speak Spanish, but it's pronounced kee-lay), homemade guacamole, and a creamy/cool dessert. 

Moosewood Enchanted Broccoli Cookbook, I tell you. Add it to your collection, it'll change your life. Additionally, everytime I go to steam those little green trees, I think about the way Moosewood touts it as mystical and it makes me laugh because if we're going to anthropomorphize broccoli it would totally be boring. Does anyone remember that book: "How to be Perfect in just Three Days? " Part of the process was broccoli three meals a day. I don't remember if he reached perfection, but I do recall my entire third grade class tying broccoli to a string and wearing it around our necks for three days. There was nothing enchanting about it. 

Forgoing perfection, writer Barbara Kingsolver pays much homage to the processes of life. About letting things transpire organically, trusting that the basics which we so often neglect, suffice as cultivation. I love Barbara for this, and I loved last night for this too. I'll try to explain. This particular house I was at, is always a little wild and random.  Nothing is really set up just so, or has to be this way or just like that. The conversation lulls and then we go outside, wave to the neighbors, talk about tattoos, go back in. Time seems to take its time- slow and lazy and dawdling the way grownups told us not to.  The dishes stay undone and the dogs (all four) play. All is well, and I like it. I know that I'll go home when it's time but for now, I'll stay and drink sweet red wine.   To my friends in the yellow house, please keep inviting me over.  I like laughing with you. 

Things move along.  We step from one decade to the next. And I think I'm realizing that new things, or stages, or days, are more new-ish, not just plain new.  Take age for example.  Do you recall when age became very apparent to you? I do.  I was probably four.  Excuse me.  I was probably four and three quarters.  Additionally, I was a girl.  That small wrapped up bundle was a baby. The gray-haired woman with the old man was a grandma. My cool single babysitter with the poufy bangs and painted fingernails was a teenager. And the tall(er) woman next to me that made rules and kept me safe was a grown-up. 

I'm a twenty five year old grown-up, and last night J became a twenty nine year old one. I feel sort of grown-up on the inside, but I am not a very skilled rule-maker and I don't have many people I need to keep safe. Maybe that's coming.  Mostly, I feel like I have bits of all of my 4 year old and 9 year old and 15 year old (even thought I tell it to go away) and 21 year old selves in me all at once.  Something tells me it's probably not a good idea to leave them behind altogether even though they might be unattractive, lest we forget who we were (are?). If we do, they'll show up, in the middle of the night, drenched in loss: "I don't like feeling deserted."  

Unexpected company. Let's invite them in, out of the rain,  so they don't stalk us. 

We are new(ish) each day but the journey has mattered. And continues to. You know: that year we learned things aren't as they seem. That year we lost hard. That year we realized we can't always deliver. It adds up.  I guess it makes sense we wrinkle up too with all that baggage tucked away in our heart and soul. I just sure wish we didn't. Perhaps my 32 year old self will be okay with it :). 

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Paying Attention (to paper towels and other things).

I use way too many paper towels.  Last spring, I house-sat for a lady who is a committed eco-friend. I am not.  I am probably more in the camp that wears the "love my planet Earth" t-shirts.  I know that's kind of embarrassing and I'm working on not falling into trends quite so readily.  Marketer's dream: yours truly.  For what it's worth, I haven't actually bought any of those t-shirts or the tote-bags pictured below, I just think they're cute sometimes. 

Anyways, this gentle friend of the Earth used seventh generation cleaners, and didn't have cutsey note-pads,  but most of all she didn't have any paper towels in her kitchen. Not in her kitchen, not in her pantry, not in her bathroom, not in the mudroom ( I looked). Nope.  No back up paper towels.  Instead she had a basket of colorful hand towels that I grit my teeth to dirty, but then remembered oh yes, there IS a washing machine, and it IS just lemonade.  All in all, her house was lovely and the dearth of paper towels made it all the lovelier. 

Ever since then, I have paid more attention to the amount of paper towels I use and am embarrassed. Microwave a potato? Wrap it in a paper towel. No time to mop? Spray a little Clorox, swish around the paper towels with my foot ( you know you've done it too).  Got two minutes? Spray the countertops and swipe 'em clean. Maybe I just need to calm down and not wipe things so much or something, but it's kind of second nature.  Regardless, I am spending way too much money on paper products and continue to give HEB grocery stores my livelihood in return for those little point coupons that amount to oh, three dollars. 

So when I eat up these paper towel rolls, it makes me think about bigger and more abstract things  (I'm totally normal, promise). As much as I try to be a good steward of the things that have been given to me, hence entrusted to me (yikes), and give back and share like we sang about in our pre-school performances,  I am still an avid consumer.  Of paper towels, yes.  But of other things too.  Of pretty and comfortable and illustrious things that do wonders for my ego so I might feel quite in control and quite in charge. Two news-flashes: a) I am not. b) Pretty, comfortable and illustrious is American code for debt and waste and consumption. Read: Anxiety. 

 Tricked? Are we all tricked into this grandiose business of striving but never actually arriving, all the while forgetting to empty out, breathe in and perhaps enjoy the view.  Only then are we grounded, feet on the floor, eyes open wide and deep enough to receive the unspeakable joy that comes about in our awe and interest, serenity and curiosity, gratitude and love. The things that make us human, for crying out loud! Only then in great grace and wisdom, after we have opened up, can we give back.  Cheerfully. 

As I am writing, I am reminded of an anecdote that Kierkegaard uses to illustrate, well, something of much richer significance than the parallel I'm drawing, but I don't remember his profound point.  I just remember the story, and it went like this: 

There was a  man riding home in a carriage on a dark and cold night. In his little carriage he arranged pillows and lanterns so he might settle in comfortably and enjoy the ride. The burning lamps, however, made the stars dim, and it was a beautifully starry night. He didn't see the stars. 

Poor old man! He was occupied with lanterns and pillows rather than the star-show. His view was lacking. And his world stayed small. 

Some people might say its okay, to be careful and stay safe, and keep gathering things around us, and do perfunctory things obsessively like use paper towels.  And maybe it is just okay. Promise, no judgement. I totally would have nested my carriage like Kierkegaard's friend.  But life is miraculous, star-shows and all and like Wendell Berry says, can we please not give up on it?  I'd rather sip out of a simple, cool and clear glass, trusting that it will in time run over again, instead of fretfully gulping down some scroungy mixture I know I can concoct whenever I need it. Hello, acid reflux. 

So, here's to paying attention in 2010.  To what we use and what we grab and what we hoard. Are we full? Are we open? Are we gracious? Or, are we skrimping by with our three dollars worth of HEB points?  

Look up! Look Down! Look All Around! There are star-shows.  Promise. 

Friday, January 1, 2010

Grace Blankets. And, Happy New Year!

Nope, not Waco.  This is a bit of River Road in Topsfield, Massachusetts which is the town over from my hometown.  I took the picture last January when I was home for the holidays. Growing up, I loved River Road because the grassy pastures folded and rolled the way I imagined the moors in the English countryside did.  Why exactly I had an interest in English countryside is past me,  but when I decided to study abroad in Scotland and saw that the hills and pastures did, in fact, look like my American muse, the real and prettier thing made me homesick. Funny how that can work. Sometimes, I still get homesick for the River Road hills. 

I have spent some of this morning thinking back on the space between the time I took this picture a year ago, and the time now and my eyes well up.  My 24th year was so hard.  I have no pretty way to say it because it felt so raw most of the time.  And we all know that raw can be refining at best, gut-wrenching at worst, and the in-between can feel, just, well, lonely and orphan-like. At least for me.  I really have no idea who reads this, so I won't make slush all over the page.  I will say, however, that in spite of the way I walked into each day frightened to take another step, my God led me, and the way was opened. The ground?  New and rocky- but solid and good and NEW.  In spite of feeling quite vulnerable, exposed and altogether deserted, I woke up with the conviction that I am dearly loved--beloved in fact, and perfect for the One who matters.  And in the midst of happy and sad tears, I found myself believing more than I ever have in my whole life that He who has promised is faithful.  Thanks be.  

So, I have no idea what 2010 holds.  None. I have my wishes of course and I sure hope it's better than last year, but I don't really know.  I figure the odds are in my favor, since the ebb and flow of life and history and time, is usually a good news-- bad news-- good news--bad news sequence. Regardless, I am intent on being at peace; peak or valley, mountaintop of joy or depth of sorrow.  In fact we are called to be this way because in and throughout Grace abounds! And that Grace in His Glory covers over the earth, like water over the seas. Or, perhaps, as Grace was once described to me, as snow covers the hills.  As lovely and green as those River Road hills are, I'll tell you nothing compares to their snow-covered perfection. The snow falls, and it blankets.  The messy, muddy, dried up brown stuff underneath? It's no matter.  The snow is absolutely pristine and pretty, so the hills are too. Can we take on perfection like the hills do? 

Whatever this year brings you, and before we run full force into it with our resolutions and the like, may we be still for a moment in the perfect warmth of our Grace blankets.  And may we thank the One who wraps us up so tight. 

With that, Happy New Year!