Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Sparkling

Today, our house is sparkling—not the tidy, freshly polished kind of sparkling, but the kind spangled with twinkle lights, glistening with chipped bits of tree ornaments, littered with shreds of metallic wrapping paper, scattered with glitter fallen from children's craft projects, and sprinkled with colored sugar and a fine dusting of flour all around. Very messy. Very merry. May your Christmas be so blessed it sparkles.



Saturday, October 22, 2011

We Are the 99 Percent


We are the 99 percent. We are getting kicked out of our homes. We are forced to choose between groceries and rent. We are denied quality medical care. We are suffering from environmental pollution. We are working long hours for little pay and no rights, if we're working at all. We are getting nothing while the other 1 percent is getting everything. We are the 99 percent.

These are stark and disturbing claims, are they not? The above is the summary statement on the home page of the "We Are The 99 Percent" website, a blog where supporters of the Occupy Wall Street movement can post their stories of worry, deprivation, and suffering at the hands of the wealthiest 1 percent of the American population–the 1 percent who own and manage some of the world's largest corporations.


A tale of two Americas

I confess that I have not been following the protests closely. But the protesters' signs are big, and their complaints are loud, so it would be hard to miss their point: Corporate moguls are selfish moneygrubbers who couldn't care less about the little guy. They would rather line their own pockets at the expense of the other 99 percent of Americans than consider the economic hardships the rest of us are enduring. And while we dig ourselves deeper into private debts, they cruise carelessly above us in their private jets. Somebody (Congress, are you listening?) had better make them give back some of what they've taken from all of us.

By now, of course, we've seen plenty of opposing commentary highlighting the benefits these corporations bestow upon us Americans, and I know that I myself have enjoyed many of the goods and services that they provide. But let's grant, just for the sake of argument, that these corporate billionaires really are nothing but heartless financial dictators who would rather starve a child than lose a dollar. Let's say that they truly do care more about the bottom line than about the bread line. Let's grant, in other words, that the ugly portrait that the protesters have painted of these Wall Street Scrooges is perfectly accurate. It's not a pretty picture, is it? Wall Street has some serious penance to pay.

But now, just for a minute, let's shift our focus away from those bloodsucking CEO's and back on the protesters themselves. They are the 99 percent. Their signs say so. And they have been painting a portrait not only of Wall Street but also of themselves. You can see it on their website. You can read it in the quote up above. The contrast couldn't be starker: The 99 percent are suffering. They have no rights. They are, to put in their words, getting nothing.

Nothing. Let's meditate on that.

How impoverished, exactly, are 99 percent of the American people? How accurate is the self portrait these protesters have been painting? What if, for the sake of perspective, we took away their paintbrush and instead handed these 99 percent a mirror? What, I had to wonder, does it look like to get nothing? What does suffering look like in the US of A? What does it mean to have no rights? Well, I've got eyeballs, and so, I hope do you. So pull up on Google any Associated Press photo of the Wall Street Protesters and tell me what you see.


Living with nothing

What I see over and over again is a gathering of apparently clean, healthy, well dressed, well fed individuals carrying cell phones and digital cameras and being respectfully allowed to take over city streets to voice their opinions—even in spite of their violation of minor laws about the acceptable use of public spaces.

What I do not see are swollen, malnourished bellies. I see no open sores or untreated diseases. I see no dirty rags or disintigrating shoes. I see no one being beaten or shot or arrested merely for voicing their opposition to the status quo. Nor am I seeing that sort of thing on the streets where I live—or on any American street, for that matter. So, while appearances can be deceiving, just on the face of it the claims of the 99 percent seem suspect.

That's not to say that nobody is suffering, that nobody is underfed, that nobody is being crushed by corporate greed. That's not to say that some Wall Street corporations haven't taken merciless advantage of some of us American citizens. I do believe that more and more people in our country have been struggling to make ends meet in recent years. I might even count myself among them.

I myself have known well enough what it's like to be uninsured, to go without certain luxuries, to live "paycheck to paycheck." Our family spent several years in which my own kids were eligible for Medicaid. Just this past year we lost some of our health coverage due to the economic downturn, and even now our family fits squarely within the definition of "low income" according to federal guidelines for a family of seven. I am the 99 percent, I guess. So it's not that I think these people are completely delusional when they say that times are tough. But the question is, tough compared to what? 

I have no doubt that among the Wall Street protesters there are individuals with legitimate grievances. But do they represent the 99 percent? To ask it another way, for every 100 people in these United States, are 99 being robbed and cheated and trampled upon by Wall Street? I found that hard to believe, so I decided to do a quick search of the internet to find some reliable statistics that might show what life among the 99 percent is actually like during these dark financial times.

A better summary?

Don't get me wrong. I understand the rhetorical power of hyperbole, but is our plight truly as bad as the "We Are the 99 Percent" crowd describes—that 99 percent of Americans are, in essence, homeless, sick, starving, poisoned, unemployed, or "working long hours for little pay and no rights" and are "getting nothing"?

Exaggerated claims like these are, in part, what prompted the government of North Korea, of all places, to issue official public statements claiming that these dire conditions in the United States now prove that capitalism has failed us. Would you, the 99 percent, prefer to emmigrate to North Korea, that great land of economic equality, in order to enjoy the wealth and freedom that it has to offer? Would you trade your American poverty for their prosperity? Yeah, me neither. 

I'm not saying that we couldn't do better. I'm not saying that Wall Street is guiltless or that poverty—even relative poverty—should be ignored. What I am saying is that, before we decide to condemn greed, we might want to take a look in the mirror; before we march through the streets lamenting our poverty, we might first do well to learn what poverty actually looks like in this country. Our "necessities" look surprisingly like luxuries to most of the world's population.

If we compared our poorest citizens to the wealthiest one percent of the rest of the world, I suspect that we might be astonished by the resemblance.

As most of us know, legitimate statistics can be used, and routinely are used, to cloud the truth. So I fully realize that the following percentages are unlikely to paint a completely accurate portrait of American life. What I do hope to prove, however, is that these statistics bear very little resemblance to the portrait painted on the We Are the 99 Percent website.

If nothing else, I hope that after reading the statistics below the response that we come away with is gratitude. We Americans, we 99 percent, have been given far much more than we realize. Thanksgiving is coming up. Allow me to help you get ready:

According the US Department of Energy (2005), of all Americans at poverty level or below,
99.7% have a refrigerator
97.9% have a TV
95.2% have a stove and oven
81.7% have a microwave
74.7% have air conditioning (Really? I am now slightly envious of 74% of poor Americans.)
72.3% have one or more VCRs
66.8% have more than one TV
64.9% have cable or satellite TV (!) 
64.8% have at least one DVD player
63.9% have a clothes washer
53.1% have a clothes dryer
54.5% have a cell phone
51.7% have both a VCR and DVD player
38.2% have a personal computer
29.3% have a video game console
29.3% have internet service
28.4% have a computer printer
24.2% have more than one DVD player
22.7% have a separate freezer
17.9% have a big screen TV
(I should add that these percentages are even higher among poor families with children.)

According to the USDA,
85.5 percent (101.5 million) of U.S. households were food secure throughout 2010.
Food secure—These households had access, at all times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members.

According to National Geographic,
Americans on average have the largest homes of the 17 countries surveyed.
97% have hot running water
94% have a reliable source of heat
82% have air conditioning
85% regularly eat chicken
79% regularly eat beef
79% of Americans drive cars alone (So that's why the carpool lane is always empty during rush hour!)
67% have a dishwasher
57% have 3 or more TVs
48% have their own washer and dryer
19% have 3 or more cars per household.
16% of American homes have 10 or more rooms.

According to Pew Research:
96% of 14- to 29-year-olds own a cell phone
85% of all American adults now own a mobile phone
76% of Americans own either a desktop or laptop computer
47% own an dedicated MP3 player such as an iPod or Zune
42% of Americans own a video game console
And lastly, according to the CIA World Fact Book,
the current average life expectancy in this country is 78.3 years, compared to a global average of 67.2 years. (Throughout much of Africa, you would be doing extraordinarily well to reach age 50.)

After looking at what the majority of us really do have, I think we would do well to rewrite the summary found at the beginning of this post. If we are being honest, most of us could sign our names to something more like this:
We are the 99 percent. We drive our own cars. We have free K-12 education. We watch TV. We play games on our cell phones. We take hot showers regularly and turn on the AC in the summertime. We eat meat several times a week. We wear new clothes and have machines to wash them for us. We live long and prosper. We are the 99 percent. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

That Is Why It Is Called the "Present"

The day before my 33rd birthday I nearly died.

Yesterday morning was nothing remarkable. I had made a few loose plans to do laundry and read books with the kids. I had lunches to pack and errands to run and chores to do. I was preoccupied with a collection of quotidian details as I was driving home from my sons' school where I'd been helping with reading groups.

Just as I was starting to cross the highway to turn left at a green light, out of the corner of my eye I noticed a car flying like a bullet toward the intersection and showing no signs of slowing down.

I slammed on my brakes and lurched to a halt. My front wheels had already advanced half-way into the crosswalk the moment the speeding silver sedan shot through the red light. It was gone before I had gathered enough wits about me to honk my horn or read license plate numbers. With the sound of my heart swooshing rapidly somewhere behind my ears, I rolled forward again, trying not to let my knee shake as my foot pressed the gas pedal. I turned left, catching the eye of one of the drivers who had stopped at the red light. Her mouth was hanging open, and she raised her hands and shook her head in utter disbelief.

Death had just looked me in eyeballs, and my eyeballs were now open very, very wide. My vision, for that moment, was as sharp as shattered glass: My time is decidedly not in my hands.

Had I left the school just a split second earlier, had I proceeded from the stop sign up the hill just a moment sooner, had I driven just a hair over the speed limit on my way down that hill, I might have spent this day not enjoying birthday hugs from my children or lunch with my grandmother or a dinner out with my husband and some good friends but in a hospital bed or, worse, in a morgue.

Ironically, it's brush a death that may revive a love of life in all is mundane details. After that near escape, the fall leaves look a little brighter, the sky a little bluer, the laundry a little softer, my breath a little warmer, my family a little dearer. Life is good.

That "every day is a gift" may have been reduced to a greeting card platitude, but it's a truth nonetheless. Today I feel acutely that the mere fact of a beating heart is the gift of a lifetime.

Today I celebrate the day I was born. Today I celebrate that first day that life was given to me. But today I will also celebrate the other 12,044 days when that precious life was given to me again and again. Today is my birthday. Today I am alive. It is a very happy birthday indeed.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Why, Yes. Yes There Is a Doctor in the House.

The African elephant, I recently learned, has the longest gestation period of all mammals—22 months. That sounds painfully exhausting if you ask me. But I can tell you with certainty that the African elephant has nothing on the American PhD candidate.

Nine years ago, when we had one tiny baby (and we thought our lives were busy), we moved to Dallas, Texas, where my husband would pursue a Master’s Degree in Literature. A year later, he was enrolled in the doctoral program at the University of Dallas and was on his way to earning a PhD.

I, na├»ve young thing that I was, truly believed that in a mere three, or at most four, years we’d be walking away from that fine institution cradling a sweet little diploma in our arms.

I, of course, ought to have known better; I have had a college student in my household for all but a few short years of my life. I have had a graduate student in my immediate family for half my life, at least. Higher education is and has always been my bread and butter. My own father, if I’m not mistaken, was a college student for fourteen years, and I was old enough to remember when he finished his PhD. (There was great rejoicing.) So why I assumed that my husband would have no trouble accomplishing such a feat in a few short years, I do not know. Looking back now, the expectation seems completely ridiculous.

“I recognize a workhorse when I see one,” said my husband’s professor as he introduced Jayson before his final public lecture two weeks ago, “and when I took one look at Dr. Grieser’s faculty description on the website of the college where he teaches, I could see that that’s exactly what he is.”

It’s true. Only a workhorse (or maybe an elephant) would do what my husband has done. But at that moment, I wanted to stand up and tell everybody present, “You don’t know the half of it.”

For the young, childless bachelor living on nothing but student loans and ramen noodles to complete a doctorate is nothing to sneeze at, I suppose. But for the family man who does the same thing—while simultaneously retaining a full-time job, a social life, and a church life, as well as the love of his wife and five children—some special honor should certainly be added to the degree: PhDE, perhaps (Doctor of Philosophy, Extraordinaire.) Give that man an extra stripe on his academic robe, say I, and an extra tassel on his tam. It wouldn’t be too much, would it, if I followed him around town holding a flashing neon Applause sign over his head, would it? Surely not.

Plenty of people have asked me, “Isn’t it such a relief for him to be done?” And the answer, of course, is yes. But it is more than a relief; it is pride and gratitude and euphoria and fatigue, all rolled into one. If you have ever given birth to a child, you know exactly what I mean.

But just as with the birth of a child, when one kind of labor is finished, a new kind of labor begins. Much as I may wish we could take an extended vacation to celebrate the completion of this degree, I have to remind myself of the saying repeated every year at graduation by my husband's students: Omni cui multum datum est, multum quaeretur ab eo. (To whom much is given, much is required.) Jayson, workhorse that he is, had hardly taken on the title of "doctor" before he moved on to the task of planning new classes to teach and making improvements to the classes he currently teaches. He finished his glass of champagne, and then took up his books again for the work ahead. After all (as Shelley once observed), "nothing wilts faster than laurels that have been rested upon."

Now that the dissertation is complete and successfully defended, you can only imagine how good it feels to be delivered of that 250-page burden. It took my husband nine years of graduate school to bring forth that baby. Nine years. That, if you're counting, is the gestation period of the African elephant five times over. So if you notice a new lightness in his step, you now understand why.

After all these years, I am delighted to finally report that yes, there is indeed a doctor in the house.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Birds and the Bees and the Flowers and the Trees

I have done some writing in the last month. Honest. As a matter of fact, I've written more than usual during the past five weeks. But unfortunately, all those words weren't coming together into any proper shape, which is why editing was taking far too long. I felt like I was sculpting jell-o. So rather than publish the formless, strawberry flavored blob I've been chiseling away at, I thought I'd be better off sharing something a bit more concrete to ponder instead.

Here, therefore, are 2,000 "words" from my photos this week:



Thursday, June 9, 2011

A Little Local Limelight

Famous people don’t often rub shoulders with folks living in this small Idaho town surrounded by wheat fields. Red carpet premiers and star-studded galas simply don’t happen up here. So whenever some big name arrives in town, it’s almost always front page news. When Jesse Jackson came to speak at the University of Idaho last year, half the population turned out to hear him. Nevermind that half the population thinks he’s a joke. He’s famous, dadgummit, and that gets us excited.

But if the mere arrival of somebody famous gives us a thrill, you can imagine how much more thrilled we are when somebody from around here—somebody we actually know—becomes a household name.

That is why a bunch of us here in Moscow are all abuzz this weekend over our newest—and probably our biggest—encounter with fame. The J.J. Abrams/Steven Spielberg movie Super 8 is opening nationwide on Friday, and it just happens to star one of our local home-grown kids. We are more than excited; we are practically intoxicated. This sort of thing just doesn't happen here.

I remember listening to NPR while washing the dishes in my kitchen in Dallas one day when an album review came on the air. “Our next artist hails from Moscow, Idaho,” said the announcer. I stopped scrubbing. Nobody had ever mentioned my home town on a Dallas radio station before. Who on earth could they be talking about? “Josh Ritter’s newest album, The Animal Years…”

Wait. What? Josh Ritter is a musician? I know that guy! Well, sort of. He’s in my junior high yearbook! I used to go to the Lutheran church with his family!...Whoa. So, of course, I had to look him up online where I discovered that he’s actually made something of a name for himself on the folk/pop music scene. And that made this Moscow girl feel mighty proud. I like to see my home town on the map from time to time, and I know I'm not alone.

When Sarah Palin's name went global during the last election, our town—well, half of it at any rate—was happy to remember her as having spent her college years here in Moscow.

When track star Dan O'Brien made sports headlines when I was a kid, our local university named its outdoor track after him. We claimed him as ours.

And then there’s N.D. Wilson who graduated from high school with me (lo, these many years ago) in our little class of 17 and now lives just down the street. And he is a bestselling author who has appeared on a National Geographic special and the Today Show. Every time Nate's work makes the news somewhere, we small towners who know him immediately start posting links all over Twitter.

Successful people are impressive. There’s no denying it. We get a charge out of our little brushes with fame. We’ve all heard people tell those long stories in which some chance encounter with a rock star is the punch line of the whole narrative. And most of us actually like to hear those stories told. (Count me among them.) If you shake hands with Alice Cooper at a Target store in Phoenix as my husband did many years ago, you’re going to tell people about it. And if you have a movie star as one of your acquaintances, you and I both know that that tidbit of information will find its way into plenty of casual conversations.

And I think all of that is just fine, to a point. It’s inspiring to watch friends succeed. We love our hometown "heroes," we love to tell their stories, and we especially love to be somewhere within their orbits. There's something just plain fun about being little moons to their sun—satellites that are just near enough to reflect some of the glaring spotlight; the higher their stars rise, the brighter we ourselves seem to shine. But sometimes (maybe more than sometimes) the glow of that limelight turns us a bit more green than it should. To be honest, when astonishing success comes close to home, it can be subtly tempting—all too easy to start thinking that hey, it could have been me. The thought, fleeting though it may have been, has crossed my own mind more than once.

But no. Actually, it couldn't have been me. And to think so would poison the delight of seeing our friends being publicly recognized. Far better to rejoice with them and for them. Far better to enjoy the show than to stupidly regret not being a part of it. It is inspiring to watch a friend succeed. And that, I think, is the reason for all the excitement over tomorrow's release of Super 8.

It’s been entertaining and a bit surreal to see Joel Courtney, who attends our sons’ school and whose family has been part of our church community for years, on the cover of Entertainment Weekly and showing up next to Steven Spielberg on MTV. That cute kid with the bed head who used to sit in front of us in church is a movie star? And we’re not just talking about a bit part in a low-budget, limited-distribution art-house flick. We’re talking about the lead role in what some reviewers are calling the must-see movie of the summer. It’s a bit hard to process.

But most of us who know him and his family are thrilled. We know a movie star! We know somebody who knows Steven Spielberg! I can’t scroll through my facebook news feed without finding link after link to reviews and interviews about Super 8. And I can’t say that I mind. I could take a ride on my high horse and ask what the big deal is. I could wonder aloud why everyone is so worked up about this. After all, it’s not like he found the cure for cancer. It’s not like he’s some kind of genius. It’s just a movie, for pity’s sake.

But that wouldn’t really be the truth. For us, it’s not just a movie. It’s our movie. It’s hard to say how long the thrill will last or whether we’ll get used to seeing our local boy’s face on billboards and movie posters all over the country. But for now, we’re enjoying the ride. Joel’s success feels, in some small way, like our own.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Earth Day

One Good Friday, when I was a child, we attended the Tenebrae service at our Lutheran church, and while we sat in our pews a storm rose outside. The wind began to blow wildly, and while Christ made his way to the accursed tree, every tree on the hills around us was made to bow and bend. Hail, King of the Jews. The sun went dark. The windows shook. The clouds shed tears. Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children. From the steeple at the center of the circular sanctuary hung a large wooden cross on a chain, and as the rain lashed the roof, the steeple began to vibrate. As those wind vibrations worked their way down the chain, the cross began to hum. To buzz. To moan. The wood itself seemed to cry from out of the depths—a basso profundo wailing. Eli, Eli, lama sabachtani? I remember the chills I felt as the massive Bible was slammed shut and the lights flicked off, the creak and groan of the wooden pews as we filed wordlessly out of the service, the whip of cold air as it snaked its way through the glass doors, biting at our heels, making me shiver.

Truly this was the Son of God.

That Good Friday storm was one of the more dramatic events of my church-going life. In retrospect I have wondered what physics were behind that mourning cross. More than physics, perhaps. That the storm blew in at the perfect moment, that a cold Canadian front met with a mass of wet southern air at that precise geographical location and sent the wind swirling in just such a way as to communicate grief through the glass, down a chain, and into that heavy wood seems almost unbelievable. As unbelievable as the death of God. But I was there. I was a witness. And I do believe.

Today is Earth Day. Today is Good Friday. On this day, two holidays—two holy days—collide. Today, Evangelical pastors and Greenpeace activists share the same hope: the hope that the earth will be saved.

We Christians and we earth-lovers want this world to be redeemed from destruction. None of us want it to go up sulfer-scented flames. I, for one, would rather not turn the wetlands into a trash heap. I'm all for biodegradable grocery sacks, and I don't mind the green glow of my compact fluorescent bulbs too much either. I do have a mandate to care for creation, but by composting my potato peelings, I am not, ultimately, saving the world. We all want to restore paradise, to bring heaven to earth. But at this point the Good Friday and the Earth Day visions diverge. Today we preach our respective gospels to the dying:
    Christ was crucified.
    Plant a tree for your tomorrow.


And yet, in a twist of irony, the salvation of the earth does, as it turns out, depend upon a tree—a tree that was planted on a hill outside Jerusalem two millennia ago. Creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.

There was an earthquake that day on Golgatha. Seismology played a roll at the crucifixion, but something more than plate tectonics was at work; the earth itself was taking part in Christ's passion. There was a storm on that Good Friday of my childhood. Perhaps a meteorologist could explain the peculiar atmospheric fluctuations that arose that dark evening when the earth, again, acted out its passion play. Was climate change behind it? Should we try to prevent those conditions from arising in the future? Somebody, after all, paved paradise to put up that church. But that church—that cross—is where the heavens met the earth that day. And where heaven and earth are joined, paradise is restored.

The cross, that deadly collision of heaven and earth, is where the true lover of the world—He through whom the earth itself was created—bled to save it. If He did not come to restore the earth, then all the neighborhood recycling programs in the world be damned.

Good Friday is Earth Day, this year and every year. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Clouds Ye So Much Dread

Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness 
instead of lightbecause their deeds were evil. 
—John 3:19


From the pink glow behind my eyelids on Tuesday morning, I could see that the sun was shining before I had even opened my eyes. The window to our bedroom faces east, and the warm light leaking through the yellow curtains spoke of crocuses and daffodils and soft, damp grass. Sitting up in bed, I peered through the glass and let my dilated pupils contract. Below me lay a street washed clean by night-rains and sparkling beneath a blinding sunrise.

After months of snow and weeks of drizzle, these bright mornings blast through the gloom with a jolt of energy that no quad-shot latte can rival. Sunshine spills over the yard, puddles on the carpet and trickles into my soul. By the time I pull the living room curtains as wide as they will go, I am already inspired, ready to tackle projects that have lain untouched for months—ready to sew duvet covers, try new recipes, push strollers, plant seeds, pull weeds, get dirt under my fingernails. Goodbye, clouds. Hello, life.

My name is Hannah, and I am addicted to sunlight.

I don’t remember when I first noticed that a lack of sun was resulting in painful withdrawals, but as I’ve grown older, I’ve found that the weather can hold more than a little sway over my mood. When the sky is gray, my thoughts tend to be gray as well. I struggle to get myself going in the mornings. I drink one too many cups of coffee. I stare blankly at the monochromatic blandness, and I sometimes wonder what on earth possessed us to leave Texas: I could be driving past sun-warmed fields of bluebonnets right now, and instead I’m going numb scraping ice off my windshield.

Short, dark days find me fighting against a short, dark temper, and by the time we give up on saving daylight near the end of the year—when our clocks “fall back” with a dull thud—the loss of sunlit hours starts to rankle.

When the elderly choose to flee the frozen north and spend their winters in Scottsdale or Miami, I do not laugh. I sympathize. Maybe I am merely a snowbird who has not yet learned to fly. Why shouldn’t blue horizons and pink hibiscus brighten the winter of life? With our hair and teeth turning gray, why should we stay to watch the sky and earth do the same?

There’s a reason you’ve never heard the word “bleak” used to describe a mid-summer’s day. Warmth and light need no defense. Light was the very first created thing. And it was good. Does a “cold” shoulder or a “dark” glance ever describe friendliness and joy? Does not the very nature of things tell us what cold and darkness ought to communicate to our poetic sensibilities?

I have friends who claim to love winter. This I do not understand. Not in the least. Nay, not even a little tiny bit. Winter is cold. Winter is dark. Winter is colorless and confining. Winter kills. When people say they look forward to winter, it strikes me with the same discordant note as when churchy people say they look forward to death. Yes, by all means, look forward to what’s on the other side, but do not look forward to death. Death itself is the curse. And I cannot help but think of winter in the same way—as a thing that must be overcome. Winter is a good only insofar as it is a means to arriving at spring.

In order to be enjoyed, winter must be conquered and subdued. We war against it with down parkas, with fiberglass insulation, with UV lamps, with tanning beds, with vitamin D capsules, with tropical beach screensavers, with wood fires, with hot cider. From November to March, my home can feel like a castle under siege; we may not escape its walls without wool hats and snow shovels—the shields and weapons of our hibernal battle.

When I was 13, my family spent the winter in Warsaw, Poland, where the color of virtually everything we saw was a cold gray—clouds, ground, snow, trees, buildings, and even clothing. The sun rose at 10:00 and set at 4:00. There were days when the sun itself seemed to have had the life sucked from it, days when color film seemed a superfluous commodity. Countless pitiable souls had given themselves over to fifths of cheap vodka in their pursuit of a remedy to the chill without and the darkness within. We felt the oppression of that winter ourselves. It was the only time I can remember ever seeing my mother give way to inexplicable tears.

Snow, I grant, is beautiful in its way, but I always feel that it’s at its best when viewed from indoors while it gleams fresh under a clear blue sky and tries for all the world to mimic the white sands of a subtropical beach. I, for one, am dreaming of a green Christmas. I’d trade a thousand soggy snowmen for one sun-drenched sandcastle.

During the season of Epiphany when the days are dim and the nights long, we sing the hymn “As With Gladness Men of Old,” and the final verse always makes my heart swell with longing:

In the heavenly country bright,
Need they no created light;
Thou its light, its joy, its crown,
Thou its sun which goes not down…

Sun which goes not down. Meditate on that. I think I know why my stalwart ancestors settled in Norway; it was surely summer when they arrived, and that midnight sun must have seemed very near to the heavenly country bright. The very thought leaves me pining for the fjords. Little did those pre-Viking hoards know what awaited them come November. Maybe those dark, tiresome winters were behind all the pent up aggression that my distant forebears eventually unleashed on the rest of Europe. And while I may not feel the urge to ransack a village at the end of a long, drab season, I'm certainly tempted to be unreasonably irritable with my family.

When sun finally does break through the gray, as it did this Tuesday morning, the effect is glorious, and I need little other help to embrace the morning. On those days, it's easy to love whatever I meet, and you may even find me humming a tune before I reach the coffee pot. But I cannot spend nine months of the year in fetal position waiting for those sun-days to arrive.

This succession of gray days is trying. But I also know that it has been good for me. When the sun retreats for days on end, it tests my patience and my hope. When that created light grows dim, it drives me to seek a light that endures in spite of thick clouds and short days and winter winds; it drives me back to that sun which goes not down. Light—unchanging, unwavering, unerring Light—shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it: good news that should make for a very good morning indeed.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Betrothal

“There is nothing I so abominate for young people as a long engagement.”
 —Mrs. Croft in Jane Austen’s
Persuasion.

Today is Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras, and snow flurries have mingled and danced with sunshine since dawn, now gray, now bright, now gray again. Who leads this reel and who follows? I am dizzy in the midst of all this swirling indecision. Blades of green and flakes of white contend for dominance on the ground beneath my feet. For now, the white is winning.

The weather is in that state of limbo we call March, but which the calendar still obstinately calls “Winter.” Nevermind that the snow started falling long before the Calendar informed us, in its authoritarian way, that Winter could officially begin.

From its lofty vantage, my Calendar has a clear view through the kitchen window of what is now going on outside, and it knew that Spring was ready to move in weeks ago. A ridiculously fat robin was out there, hopping around the yew branches in plain sight. Sun was lazily warming the clusters of primroses blooming on my table. Snow was melting, and mud was rising. A pile of children’s black rain boots littered my floor. But the over-anxious Spring must have looked up through the fingerprint-smeared glass, noticed the hard gaze of my Calendar, and, realizing its sad mistake, left without saying goodbye. As if the snow had not lingered long enough, that decorative dictator hanging from my cupboard door insists that Spring is still two weeks away. Cruel, cruel.

• • • • • •

March is always engagement. Betrothal. It is the Already/Not Yet of every year. It is (the Calendar notwithstanding) neither Winter nor Spring; it is neither celibicy nor marriage. Winter is retreating, but Spring, as yet, is nothing but a sharp desire, a promise unfulfilled.

I and the naked branches are wearing this ring that glitters like ice. It weighs us down like wet snow. But these vows will be fulfilled. The dress is purchased, and the date is set. Already I feel the sun—like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber—lend its heat to the table where my cup of coffee grows cold.

March is pregnancy awaiting birth. Those warm days that come with greater frequency as the month wears on bring all the thrill and disappointment of false labor. Hope deferred maketh the heart sick. The new life for which we yearn is buried in damp earth. Locked inside its womb. I feel the pangs, and I watch the frozen ground for signs of dilation, effacement. Nothing. Braxton and Hicks, how I hate you. The whole creation groans.

The high and mighty Kitchen Calendar has also decreed that Lent begins this week. There it is, printed in stark black and white: “Ash Wednesday.” Tomorrow we die.

• • • • • •

Every morning, I peer through the curtains, hoping for fresh signs of green. I check the forecast and see nothing but snow. But I feel a rumbling that the weatherman has missed. It is the rumble of thunder not from the clouds but from the earth—the chest-rattling sound of a heavy stone rolling. 

I am ready for the sun to burn through this cosmic permafrost. I long to fling the windows wide to an air perfumed not with embalming spices but with hyacinths and lilacs. I want to hurry through the front door and discover the shroud has melted away. I want to turn and find myself unexpectedly face-to-face with the “gardener” only to realize that He is the Spring—the Resurrection for whom my long-betrothed soul aches.

This is Lent. This is a wilderness. Forty weary days awaiting consummation. Forty dreary days of relentless rain. Forty days of testing. Of hunger and thirst. Verily I say unto you, I will drink no more of the fruit of the vine, until that day that I drink it new in the kingdom of God. This is a long engagement. This is a pregnancy overdue.

This is March. In the empty fields I can see where rocks have surfaced through the snow-speckled mud. But resurrection will come: these hills will live again, and these stones will become bread. These days of fasting will end.

Send out the wedding invitations. This long engagement will soon reach its fulfillment. The Calendar cannot hold it back. The snow cannot lead this dance forever; the sunshine will cut in and begin the nuptial feast in earnest, strewing flowers in its path.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Haircut

One warm afternoon when I was eight years old, I was skipping down the sidewalk under a row of black walnut trees on my way home from a friend’s house after school. As I passed a couple of boys in backpacks, I heard one whisper to the other, “Was that a boy or a girl?” I turned my head just in time to see the other boy shrug as he looked left and right before crossing the street.

There was no malice intended in that brief inquiry. Clearly, they thought I was out of earshot. But I, with my Dutch Boy haircut and my unisex corduroy pants, could hear those words with the precision of a freshly honed knife. With that simple overheard question, all my third-grade self confidence dropped with a crash into my gender neutral sneakers and shivered into ten thousand sharp-edged pieces.

From that day until the day I graduated from high school, I avoided getting my hair cut short.

• • • • • • •

What makes hair so important to our self perception? To the perception others have of us? According the Apostle Paul, it’s meant to be a glory and a covering. It’s a means of pursuing beauty. But it’s also a way to distract ourselves from pursuing beauty of a more lasting kind. It’s one of the first identifying features we use to describe other people, and it has a remarkable capacity to either attract or repel.

Just this weekend, after dropping off two of my kids at a birthday party, I saw a woman walking through the Safeway parking lot. She wore a cute white coat, a pair of trendy boots, and carried an armload of carefully folded, environmentally friendly, reusable grocery bags. She also had one of the worst cases of bed head I’ve ever seen. On account of her hair alone, she looked, to put it bluntly, like a mess—like she’d had, if not a terrible life, then at least a terrible morning. She looked like someone who deserved my pity.

Odd as it seems, hair has a way of telling a story; we use it to show the rest of the world who we are and who we want to be. According to one recent survey, the average American woman will spend roughly 2 ½ years and $50,000 on her hair before she dies. Apparently we think our hair is a worthwhile way to invest our time and money. And maybe the returns are substantial enough to justify the expense; a person’s “do” is often all the signal we need to tell us whether she is headed for a night on the town or a day at the gym—whether she is one of us, or one of them.

Hair is, in fact, behind many of the snap judgments I find myself making. One look at a woman with a pink Kool-Aid dye job, or a mane of carefully highlighted layers, or a slicked-tight chignon, or straight, down-to-the-rear tresses can leave the impression—accurate or otherwise—that this person is insecure or confident, ambitious or socially inept. It seems a bit strange that I, who spend relatively little time on my own hair, would instantly attach such significance to what other people have done with theirs. Does it prove that I am shallow? Mercilessly judgmental? Astute? Could it be that some poor woman’s bad hair day has kept me from making a new friend? Is it possible that the lady in the Safeway parking lot had her Saturday morning act together more than I did? Or did I accurately assess the truth about her from one quick glance at the back of her matted head?

• • • • • • •

During my last year of high school, I had spent months wanting to change my look. I would stand in front of the mirror, pull up the ends of my long hair and fold it over on itself, letting the bottom of the loop hang down to my jaw, giving me an amateur preview of the style I wanted. I would raise and lower the looped hair, trying to decide how drastic an amputation this should be.

I was partly excited and partly terrified as I finally picked up the phone and scheduled my haircut for the day after graduation.

When the day came, I sat waiting in the salon chair, all nerves beneath my black cape, watching in the glass as a girl with acrylic nails and “Tammie” stamped on her nametag twisted and clipped the top layer of my hair into loose coils around my head, transforming me into a kind of brunette Medusa. Across the salon, a lipsticky woman with squares of foil sprouting haphazardly around her face stared at my reflection, if not exactly turned to stone, then temporarily transfixed as the last snake of my hair was held in place.

“Okay, girl! Ya sure about this?” I turned my eyes toward Tammie and nodded, feeling my heart beat rise. I watched her raise the scissors, felt the cool metal against my skin, heard the first definitive ksssht of blade against blade.

Oh gosh. Oooh my gosh. What had I done?

When that first foot-long snake of hair slithered to the floor, the woman with the foil seemed to revive from her state of petrifaction and dropped her lipstick mouth wide open. “Oh honey,” she said with a loud East-coast accent, “Oh my gaaahd. You are so brave! I could never just go cold-turkey short like that.” My eyes made contact with hers in the mirror, and I saw her shake her metallic head in disbelief. “You are so brave,” she said again.

So brave. Something about those words calmed my jitters and made me feel almost heroic, a sort of side-kick to my acrylic-nailed Achilles. With a repetitive click and hiss, she cut down snake after snake while I looked on with growing approval.

When Tammie was done and the blow dryer was turned off, she passed me a small hand mirror and spun me around to give me the full, 360-degree view. I liked what I saw. So did my foil-framed admirer. “Oh wow, that is so cute!” she said, “You are so, so brave!”

For weeks afterward, I would find myself stopping by the bathroom mirror just to see if I was still satisfied with the new look, half afraid that I’d find nothing but an older version of my crushed Dutch Boy self staring back at me. But each time I looked, I liked this girl—this young woman—better. I felt somehow grown up. Sophisticated. People I had known for years would pass me by on the street without recognizing me, and, when I said hello, would repeat some variation of the foil lady’s shock and admiration. I reveled in their reactions at the time, but in retrospect, I wonder what else they could possibly have said.

The only person who has ever reserved the right to criticize what I’ve done to my hair is my grandmother, who let me know in no uncertain terms that she had liked it better long. But hair, to my grandmother’s relief, turns out to be a renewable resource, and for the past 15 years I have let it grow and cut it off at roughly annual intervals, shocking my children, dismaying my grandmother and pleasing myself every time. I might like to think that these periodic drastic alterations prove that I am so brave. But really, it’s just that I’m no good at fixing my hair; when it gets unwieldy, it has to go.

• • • • • • •

Just a couple of months ago, I went to get my hair cut at the local beauty school. (Risky, maybe, but it’s hard to argue with a five-dollar shampoo, cut, and style.) I’d intended to go sooner, but with other priorities getting in the way, I had left my hair to grow until it reached past my shoulders and was spending its monotonous daily existence as an inartistic—but highly practical—ponytail. So when I sat down in the salon chair and explained what I wanted, my student stylist, was timid about cutting my hair back as far as I’d described. Not once, not twice, but three times I had to ask her to cut it shorter. After an hour under her scissors, it was still an inch longer than I’d hoped, but I decided it was close enough. I paid my five dollars, threw in a tip, and walked home.

When I entered the house, my sons received the new me with varying degrees of enthusiasm. “You look ridiculous,” one of them told me.

“Whoa,” was all another had to offer.

And my youngest child, who always has a flair for flattery, assured me, “You look beautiful, Mommy.” I play to a tough crowd.

I remember, though, how the same alteration startled me the day my own mother cut her hair short when I was little. It took several days to convince myself that, in spite of all appearances, she was still the same person.

• • • • • • •

Even knowing what a powerful effect hair can have, I usually hate taking the time to fiddle with it just to make myself presentable, which is why I like a low maintenance style best—and which is why it’s probably a good thing I don’t have daughters. With five kids (who sport no-nonsense buzz cuts) keeping me busy, there are plenty of occasions when I skip the hair routine and spend the day looking like more of a mess than that lady from the Safeway parking lot. At least she had trendy boots. I, meanwhile, schlep around in my slippers until lunchtime trying to get ahead of the laundry.

But still, even if I am less than gifted with a blow dryer, I do appreciate a good hair day. It’s a lovely feeling to step out of the house with a fresh haircut and a sense of having faced the enemy and prevailed. Nevermind that the enemy was nothing but a bad case of bed head.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

Better is a neighbor who is near than a brother who is far away.
—Proverbs 27:10

I live in my childhood home. There is something charming—and almost anachronistic—about raising my own children in the same house my parents bought when I was nine years old. I know every corner of this century-old farmhouse by heart, and every room holds memories in its walls. I am comfortable here. But as familiar as this house is, we are, in many ways, living in the middle of unfamiliar territory. A foreign world lies outside our doors.

Of course, it’s not as though a whirlwind has pulled us from our foundations and given us a yellow brick road where the sidewalk once was. Our street, in fact, looks almost as it did twenty-some years ago. The buildings themselves have hardly been altered; their structures, their yards, and even their paint colors are largely the same as they have been for two decades. The difference, rather, is their occupants. Most of them have been replaced. A couple of familiar faces remain, but after 17 years, they no longer recognize me.

The residences on our block—including ours—are mostly rentals or "starter" homes, which means that the people who are here now won't be for long. We’ve spent three years trying to learn the names of most of our neighbors, and within that short time, several of them have already moved on.

We rarely see many of our neighbors, and with so few of us likely to remain for more than a year or two, putting forth the effort—and it is an effort—to meet them feels almost futile. Some will never even make eye contact before ducking hurriedly into their house-shaped bunkers. They live in hiding, and then they leave.

* * * * * * * *

Twenty years ago, meeting our neighbors seemed easy. With so many kids sharing the same block, spontaneous encounters were practically inevitable. There was a time that children formed a part of the landscape, a time when I could recite the names of the occupants of nearly every house within view of our front yard.

I could tell you that the neighbor in the white house across the street would step onto his front porch at five o'clock each night—you could almost set your watch by his appearance—and call for his son John, stretching his short name into two long, operatic syllables. And John, with the blond rattail flying out behind him, would race his bike home for dinner.

In the fading red house facing ours lived two little girls, younger than I, whose father owned Southside Mini-mart down the alley. I envied them. They could skip over to their father's business after school and have their pick of free candy.

Two houses down, with their mother and the hard rocker step-dad they called Tony, lived Chris and Jennifer, unkempt in their oversized Def Leppard t-shirts. They smelled like dirt.


And at the end of the block was a family with three children who attended our Christian school. They had a friendly brown and white dog named Ginger, and their mother taught me how to sew Barbie skirts by hand.

But for all our quotidian interaction, we never grew close to the people around us. We knew their faces, and we knew their names. We said "hello" when we met on the street, but we never so much as shared a meal. We never really knew them.

Most of these people are gone now. I don't know where. Or why. Or how long ago. Maybe some of them are dead. And, to be honest, I have a hard time caring.

* * * * * * * *

Ours is a small college town, so the student population is in constant flux. As unsettling as that can seem, it's at least to be expected. What distresses me more is how rapidly the rest of the population turns over.

I often wonder what subtle effects our modern nomadic lifestyle has had on our society. What would our neighborhood look like if the people in it had stayed? How much different would our attitudes and expectations be if we knew we couldn't just pack up and leave every few years? And what investments would we be willing to make in our relationships with the folks next door if we expected to find them still living there in twenty years?

* * * * * * * *

Twenty years ago, those casual encounters with our neighbors cost us nothing; it likewise cost us nothing to say our casual goodbyes. Because forging friendships with our immediate neighbors requires more from us than it once did, it’s just possible that those friendships will seem more valuable in the end. But what, exactly, will it take to reach these people in the first place?

Most of us are just not home enough to regularly bump into one another. We spend too little time in our own yards. We're busy. We may have collected enough virtual "friends" to keep us from feeling the need for the kind with flesh and blood. We invert our sense of community by allowing Blogger and facebook to turn our private spaces into public spaces and iPods and cell phones to convert our public spaces into private spaces. Even when we do find ourselves forced into some kind of neighborly small talk, our fragmented culture has made common experiences next to impossible to find.

Bleak as it sounds, the only sure-fire way of making contact and forming relationships with these disparate individuals seems to be disaster of some sort. A massive windstorm this fall knocked out power and downed several trees around us, damaging a number of nearby homes and vehicles. Destructive, yes, but also an easy and natural topic for conversation. It provided an opportunity to finally meet some of the people on our block. I even had a chat with a man on the corner who had the top half of a giant pine tree resting comfortably on the roof of his camper. Before that day, I had never so much as seen his face.

My husband does a much better job of making friends with the neighbors than I do, but even so, it hasn't been easy. Sharing food has been somewhat successful—excess garden produce in summer, hot cross buns at Easter, homemade cookies at Christmas. A couple of neighbors have even accepted our invitations to dinner, but we have a long way to go before we could say we know them. When we tried to share a plate of treats with one man across the street, all he said was, "No thanks," and shut the door in our faces. Maybe he thought we were trying to poison him.

These people could be suffering some horrific trials in their lives, and we would be blissfully unaware. And tragically unable to help them—tragically unable to love them.

We've all heard the story of the Good Samaritan. We've all gotten the message that "Love your neighbor as yourself " doesn't literally mean to love your neighbor; it just means, as the old rock song suggests, to love the one you're with. But what if loving my neighbor actually meant loving my neighbor? As in, the person next door? The one with the Buddhist prayer flags and the political bumper stickers covering his door? The middle-aged single lady who plays the cello? The young couple that leaves for work in the pre-dawn hours and comes home at lunch to walk their tiny dog? The former police officer with the gorgeous flower garden? The registered sex offender whose front door was inexplicably smashed to slivers one night? What about those neighbors? What would it mean to love them?

Unless some of them stick around, we may never find out.

* * * * * * * *

I, too, have been a nomad. I may live in my childhood home, but I've taken a long time to arrive back here. As my facebook "friend" list reflects, I have put down shallow roots in other states, in other countries, only to pull them up again and be transplanted elsewhere. But there are fibers in that soil, traces of me, that I've left behind with every move. Those transitions, however necessary, are never entirely painless.

I'd like to say that we'll stay comfortably rooted forever in this house, but that may not be up to me. And honestly, I have the same wanderlust as those around me, the same hope for something bigger, something better, something we can call our own. Our family is growing, I tell myself, and we'll need more space. I truly do want to hold some kind of principle of rootedness, to maintain a deep sense of belonging to a place, but on this point my principles and my desires work at cross purposes. I don't think we'll ever leave town. At least I hope not. But even if we stay here in this neighborhood until our dying days, I can say with almost prophetic certainty that most of my neighbors won’t.

It’s our modest hope, however, that in the meantime we will build a few friendships here that will cost more—and be worth more—than a shallow hello.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

This Little Light of Mine

Here we are in mid-January, and I haven't posted in over a month. And that last post was practically cheating, since I didn't write anything.

I'd like to think that I'll be writing more soon, but writing takes time, and free time is a commodity that seems to be running low around here of late. Writing—at least the kind that anyone would want to read—also requires a clear mind, but my sleep-deprived thoughts have been about as clear as the oily mud puddles in the alley behind my house.

Several times a day, I walk into a room and immediately forget what I came for. My children are learning to answer to any of five boy names. (At least I'm still sticking to names that belong to actual members of our family. That's pretty good, right?) The Christmas tree, until just a few days ago, was still standing fully decorated in our living room. And the dust. Let's just not talk about that.

My excuse is that I have a newborn who is taking up all my time. And I have four other children who take up all my time. We had Christmas preparations and Christmas celebrations and Christmas cleanup which took up all my time. And now that Christmas is over, I have graphic design projects that are taking up my time. I have groceries to buy and floors to sweep and thank you notes to write and books to read and Candyland to play and guests to feed and laundry to wash (oh boy, do I have laundry to wash), and all of it is taking up all my time. I could be wrong, but I suspect that this is why the old woman who lived in a shoe did not win a Pulitzer prize. She was too busy—changing diapers while talking on the phone to the insurance company and pausing to tell the six-year-old to quit using the piano keys as a Hot Wheels race track—to consider the metaphorical complexities inherent in domestic life and then string them together into graceful narrative arcs.

But then again, some women not only maintain blogs but sign book deals while knee deep in this kind of beautiful chaos. So I suppose my failure to write reveals more about my priorities than about my busy schedule. If you can call it a schedule.

Blogging has been pretty well near the bottom of my list of ways to use up all my time right now. But this may be a good thing. The fuller my life is, the less time I seem to have to talk about it. The best writing I have managed in the last couple of months has been the occasional uncreative Facebook status. Brilliant literature it is not. That kind of writing sheds about as much light as a dollar store glowstick the morning after a party.

Last week, as I was mentally reviewing shopping lists and to-do lists and hurrying home with a van load of groceries to my crying baby, I was inhabiting—both literally and metaphorically—the gray cloud of mist and mud being spat upon me by the tractor trailer I was following. I was thinking how colorless and drab life can be on days like this (poor me), how dull and monotonous, when I started listening to a CD of Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. I bathed my weary brain in her lucid prose, and began imagining how satisfying it would be to write as she does, capturing in precise phrases the glory and excess and teeming life hiding within an unassuming clod of earth.

There I was, a living clod of earth myself, and failing to be amazed by the mere fact of my own of my own existence. But gradually, as I listened, I found the dark cloud growing lighter. I found myself seeing through it. Or not seeing through it, but seeing it, seeing the thing itself:
Look at this grimy cloud!
Look at these living, mud-clumpy hills emerging from their snow shroud and rolling along beside the traffic.
Look at that tired barn leaning on the verge of collapse next to the highway, and see the story hiding within its weather-and-rain-silvered boards.

I am suddenly aware of the strange beauty on every side of me; I wonder how I could have missed seeing what I was seeing. How could I have forgotten that every particle of dust mingling with the rain and melting snow has a history of its own? Each, if it could speak, could tell me how it came from a distant volcano or an ancient glacier, from a maple leaf or from the palm of my hand. My hands—my own hands—are formed from dust, and are returning to dust even as I write this. I, too, am dust with a story. But I did not have to exist here any more than that muddy raindrop. How could I not be overwhelmed with gratitude and awe?

That is what this book does to me—and I haven't even finished it yet. It helps me to see. It shines a blazing light into places I'd never thought to look. I can't take it in all it once; I have to pause it and revel in words for a while. It's probably not safe to listen to while driving. Customers should be sent home from the bookstore with this volume packed inside a brown paper sack stamped with the warning, "Be safe. Don't Dillard and Drive." I need to give my full attention to what she's saying.

That is how I want to write.

Sitting there in my van, I wished I had the power to shape thoughts into the kind of words that could rip away the grey veil from those dreary clouds. I longed to shine my own verbal spotlight, to make everyone see the swirling magic, the millions of untold stories, contained in the spray of muddy water spattering our windshields. I wanted to uncap my highlighter and pull everyone's attention in glowing yellow lines connecting the dust in those hills with the dust gripping the steering wheels in the cars that flashed past—living dust, dust filled with borrowed breath. Dust with birthdays. Dust with dental records. Dust with college degrees and laugh lines and regrets. I wanted to wield my pen and make the pages shout, "Dust you are! Isn't it miraculous?"

But then I sighed and just kept driving, watching the wiper blades flick away the dingy film that clouded my view. I flipped the turn signal and absorbed the gritty rhythm of studded tires on wet blacktop.

Who am I kidding? Annie Dillard must have been born with a gift for writing. And she also has more than just a fleeting desire to commit her ideas to paper. She reads about writing. She writes about writing. She, no doubt, gets up early and stays up late just to write. I am sure that she edits and revises and edits again. Is that really what I want to do with my life right now?

Her life is not mine. I will never write like she does. I will never write about the same things that she does. I will never be a writer. Much as I admire her book, I occasionally get the feeling that something huge is missing from her prose. I realize that all her vivid descriptions, all of her startling metaphors, all her hours spent holding perfectly still until her cigarette burned down to her fingertips simply in order to observe the secretive behavior of muskrats could arise only from study, practice, and an essentially solitary life. Not a lonely life. Not a boring life. But a life full of lengthy meditation apart from the society of peanut-butter-smeared toddlers.

I would not trade my life for hers—Pulitzer and all. I would not trade Candyland with noisy preschoolers for rendezvous with quiet muskrats. At least not on most days. There is no less wonder in my sticky, spit-uppy existence. There is no less magic. There is merely less opportunity to write about it. For now, I will content myself with the few words I can post here on this neglected blog. I will shed what limited light I can.

Annie Dillard can carry her spotlight and I my dollar store glowstick.

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