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the fears that keep me from writing

If I write, then people will know.
They will know I’m different.

To some it’s that I’m quiet, that I’m not always bursting with jokes and laughter, always casting spells on the audience, singing loud and uninhibited. I know the truth about myself, and it is hard enough to accept because sometimes I wish I was all of those things. But I also know what’s true: I’m full of life, of energy. I create, I have ideas.

And I also watch.

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That can be a blessing and a curse, because the watchers are the storytellers, and they have a special role in the world. They help people remember, help them see what they would normally miss.

But also sometimes the writer sorts  sit back, sit still,  wait for the people to come to them instead of standing up and reaching out.

I can be like that.

Some of you can be like that.

You don’t reach for things. You’re all curled up inside yourselves. Every once in a while I can see inside enough to know you’re the same way I am, I see just pieces and glimpses of the you you’re hiding.

And I think it’s beautiful.

Because I’m the the sitting-back-and-putting-pieces-together sort. The finding-beauty-where-it’s-hidden sort. The sometimes-quiet sort.

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Course, there are times I unfold and spill over, loud and excited, but those are when I am absolutely, completely surrounded by people and routines that say, every day: you are wanted. you are accepted. you are useful. 

I’ve been there before, and I’m not there right now, but rather in this strange limbo world between safe-places.  I can relate to C.S. Lewis, who said when he first came to Oxford: “Is it that no man makes real friends after he has passed the undergraduate age?” Something about adulthood, about reserve and manners and dignity, makes that joyful “you too!?” so much more difficult to say.

I kick myself for not being able to reach out, for letting my scared little heart be content to only watch. The excuse? “I’m a writer, I was meant to observe, not engage.”

NO.

That’s a lie, heart.
A writer has to live, too. The best writers have compelling stories of their own, and though they can tell someone else’s with honesty and grace – well, they have to be able to tell their own with the same force.

And they have to lower their guard enough to discover the others in hiding.

So this is me, waving a white flag of sorts, saying, I want to  live, and watch, and run headlong into all of the scary new places of that lonely world called adulthood. I want to know your story, though I’m terrified to ask.

If you can relate, leave me a comment about it, will you? I’m in desperate need of some kinfolk.

running and poetry

{Found this among the stacks of drafts and decided to pull it out. Critiques welcome!}

 

The woods are January-quiet, and smaller than in the summer. (In the summer, you can get lost in the foliage and winding trails, but here, now, the paths are bare.) The air is icy hard, even the gold-liquid sunlight takes on a silvery glint that catches on the snowflakes as they fall. Only the trails catch the snow without melting it, so I follow the winding white over well-worn footpaths. From the ridge I can see over the river and all the trails beyond – silver-white ribboning between the damp dead trees. One set of footprints leads before me, gentle on the new, hard snow.

I stop at the bridge (which is a crossroads), panting a little for air, then listening. All is quiet, so I break the silence by yelling.

“I hate Mondays and I hate college and I-want-to-go-home and I’m sick of not feeling useful and I don’t know what to do with my life!!”

Then the woods ring with silence I gain. I grow quiet to match and the swift rush of the brown river beneath the bridge beneath my feet becomes apparent.

Quietly this time, taking in all the paths.

“God, which way should I go?”

I hadn’t really meant to ask that question the way I did.

Up. Go up.

So I do, and when I reach the top of the ridge I realize the lonely set of footprints had gone up too.

And the woods breathe so clean and meld the earthy wintry dull browns with a new clear white and I dare not speak any more so I don’t break the beautiful hush of the air. To my left gleams a sharp late-afternoon sun through pewter clouds, ice and silver and gray swept across the sky all on the same brush.

I have to stop again, and take it all in.

At my feet there is a seed pod the shape of a heart. It adds to the beautiful everything on all sides. Like a poem, I think.

This is how God writes poetry… this silver day is his poem.

A few lines, a few minutes. For my eyes only, seeping with reminders of his love. The woods are his page, the trails are his lines, and I am his pen.

I turn towards the distant opening in the woods and start running again.

why i haven’t posted

because I haven’t been writing, exactly. I’ve been baking.
here’s a splendid poem…by somebody else.

The Poet’s Occasional Alternative
by Grace Paley

I was going to write a poem
I made a pie instead it took
about the same amount of time
of course the pie was a final
draft a poem would have had some
distance to go days and weeks and
much crumpled paper
the pie already had a talking
tumbling audience among small
trucks and a fire engine on
the kitchen floor
everybody will like this pie
it will have apples and cranberries
dried apricots in it many friends
will say why in the world did you
make only one

this does not happen with poems
because of unreportable
sadness I decided to
settle this morning for a re-
sponsive eatership I do not
want to wait a week a year a
generation for the right
consumer to come along

three definitions of hope

words are coming. but they are not ready yet. so here are some words that aren’t mine:

hope
is the power of being cheerful in circumstances that we know to be desperate.

hope 
is aggression in its most elegant form.

hope
begins in the dark

(G.K. Chesterton, Katie Blemker + 2010 Acura TL, Anne Lamott)

mumford wrote a song to sisters and I replied

There’s a chip on your shoulder, girl
And it’ll make you fall
If you let it take a part of your soul

Don’t test the ones you love
It’ll only tear us down
If you want to feel alive
Then learn to love your ground

~Mumford & Sons, Sister

The following appeared in our campus newspaper a long while back. Since it’s possibly one of the most significant things I’ve learned this year, of course my natural urge is to write about it – ohhhkay so now I want to launch into a long explanation about this but it would entirely defeat the purpose. Just read it. Or don’t.

~
 I’ve always wished I’d grown up with all brothers. My dad tells me about growing up with three brothers and I picture a rollicking adventure of a childhood, full of camping trips and wrestling matches and heaping dinners that disappear in a flash of lanky arms and t-shirt sleeves and the forgetting of forks. Having all brothers would mean backyard football games and fighting over TV shows and late night refrigerator raids. There would be adventure books stacked up by every bed, and fishing poles and shotguns and rusty bicycles heaped in cluttered tangles in the garage. It would be a chaotic mess of movement, of excitement, of love shown in slaps on the back and challenges and the short-and-silent look.

Basically, it sounds like an awful darn lot of fun.

Of course,(me being a girl) things could easily get complicated.

“But we’re simple creatures,” my guy friends protest, when I introduce this topic.

And I know what they mean. “Simple” depends on the definition. That is the beauty of it. My womanly way of wording wants to say, “But guys AREN’T simple! Guys have so many layers, and the real them is buried deep deep inside,” but that would be sappy and if I said it aloud, I’m sure all of my layered brothers would all sound a collective snort of disgust.

So it is my job to figure out a different way to say it WITHOUT sounding sappy.

Let me try it this way:

They have the wordless down. That’s what it is.

They don’t always need words to say “I love.”

One of my good friends helped me realize this last summer. We were taking a walk down long Ohio roads, and the high morning sun was blistering our bare feet over the pavement. This was a serious conversation, and I was (inevitably) making a mess of things.

I was telling him how I felt like I’d gone too long without saying how much he meant to me. I was fervent, eloquent, speechy, and he interrupted me finally:

“But you don’t NEED to tell me,” he said.

“I’ve always known you trust me and care about me. And likewise. I didn’t think we had to say it.”

His words have worked on me these last months. It’s not my natural state – I usually spill every emotion all over my own sleeves and everyone else’s. But this new idea, this practice in KNOWING instead of SAYING…

I think I like it. I think it works.

I am, in fact, surrounded by brothers who are looking out for me. When I stopped letting words of affirmation (and lack thereof) dictate my moods and my attitude, I started seeing all of the little ways I am taken care of and stopped demanding so much.

Yes, some days I need a big,lanky-armed bear-hug and I get a sullen “good morning” instead. Some days I feel like a wet soppy puddle of emotion and I know I must try very hard to keep my mouth shut at all costs. Sometimes I inadvertently overstep and my brothers say without words, “you are SUCH a girl.”

But I’m learning. I’m learning that I don’t need everyone to put into words what I want to hear. And on those insecure days (they happen to everyone) when I wish someone would just SAY that I’m smart enough or that I am strong enough or that I look nice or that I’m fun or that I’m not useless after all…I can just relax and know that I’m just fine.

It’s funny. My strong-and-silent brothers probably won’t even read this because it isn’t in the sports section, but that’s okay – you can spread the word around.

Or maybe you don’t have to.

you are the salt of the earth

             I went to Martins supermarket-with-a-Starbucks today to read Matthew. (Matthew: the Message version, if that counts.)

I’m homeless this week. Well, not really – but I drove back to school a few days early, so I’m not yet allowed to sleep in my own dorm bed. I have several friends with beds; one with a landlady who had a two-night only guest policy. I’ve stayed there for two nights.

Food is dodgy, too  – understand, I’m a poor college kid mooching off of poor college kids. That means a lot of chicken nuggets and hot dog dinners.

So I’m wandering around Warsaw while my hosts are at work or class, looking for places with hot drinks and comfortable chairs. Not exactly homeless, but looking for a home. Which is the other reason I’m at Martins. To buy a Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate.

You have to understand – Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate, to me, means home. I’m weird that way, but every time I’ve had one it’s been with friends. They connote Good Things, and Good Times. I crave them all the time.

So I bought one and had just gotten settled at a table by the window when this guy walks in.  He’s wearing a Carhartt and a woolen hat and has a scraggly mustache.  He doesn’t fit at all with the manicured, maroon interior of the cafe.  He ambles over to a table near me and pulls out a chair, half-facing my direction.
  “Nice day, isn’t it?” he says, obviously eager for company.
                I decide I’m not afraid of him. He starts talking about the blue Schwinn parked outside of Martins, which I soon discover is his.
“You like Schwinns?” he asks me. I can tell this is a conversation that could take a while.
I tell him I do, and he says, “That’s right, it’s the best bicycle in America.” And tells me all about it: the paint color, how he doesn’t do wheelies on it anymore like he did when he was a kid, the broken brake handle, and how a preacher bought it for him once when his old bike got a flat tire.
He’s telling me a lot about himself now – he doesn’t have a car, he’s 51 years old, he has a little cash (seventy dollars) because he just got a paycheck. He says he lives nearby, by himself.
“Ten years ago, I would just sit and stare at the wall at my house – but I decided I didn’t want to live that way anymore. I can decide what to do and what I want…”
“I like it here, at this new Martins – because it’s warm. And it’s very comfortable. I come here a lot. No one’s ever talked to me before, though.”

Not exactly cold, but looking for warmth.

I have a stack of books in front of me, ready to read and write in solitude. But I find myself offering him a drink instead.
“What would you like?”
“Oh – wow – anything. I like hot chocolate.”
“Do you want to try a Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate? That’s my favorite.”
He is perfectly willing to, so I buy a Venti and bring it over to him.

By now, Starbucks is filling up a bit – I can tell people are staring and I try to ignore it. Talking with him was fine when no one else is around; what do I do now?
I hand him a packet of salt.

“Usually they put this on themselves; but they’re out of salt today. It’s not Salted Caramel without it!”

We looked pretty funny, sprinkling iodized salt on our Starbucks drinks.
“Now this is good,” he says, taking a long, warm swig.
“You know, this is the nicest thing someone has done for me in…(he counts in his head) in two years.”
“besides that preacher buying me a bike. God is going to bless you for this, you know.”

I tell him, God already has blessed me, that’s why I can try to bless others.
We talk for a while longer – about church, about houses, about bikes – and he finishes his drink and stands up to leave.

“Can I ask you your name?”
He hesitates in the asking, like he is used to being turned down the simple courtesy of an introduction. I tell him, and remember to ask for his.
“My name’s Levi,” he says, and adds a broad smile.

I tell him thanks very much for sitting and talking.
“Oh – it’s the least I could do!” he finishes, “After how nice you were! After something like this,” (and he gestures to his empty cup) “I feel like I could do anything.”  

“Well, I’m quite happy that I got to share my favorite drink with someone. So far everyone I’ve introduced it to has liked it almost as much as I do! So thanks again.”

I watch him pedal off in the snow on his bike and open my New Testament to where I’d left off in Matthew 25. I still have some cold chocolate in the bottom of my cup.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:”

(I glance out the window again and turn the page):

I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.

“Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’
Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me – you did it to me.”

I start to cry right there in Martins – fortunately I’m practiced in crying nonchalantly, so I don’t think anyone notices.

I was homeless and you gave me a room.
Not exactly homeless, but looking for a home.

I was thirsty and you gave me a drink.
Not exactly thirsty, but looking for a drink.

…Which happened to mean home already.

Please pass the salt.