Thursday, February 28, 2013

update on the rose bushes

I've been wanting to take a photo of the rose bushes for you. Two months ago the branches were cut back to bare brown nubs. You should see them now. Dark green and reddish leave are sprouting all over the place. You can almost see them soaking in all the sunlight, which has been showing up earlier and sticking around later each day. Weekends here have been warm. Spring is making a slow and steady comeback, which feels just about right.

Friday, February 22, 2013

writing about food, and so much more

I've been chewing on some food essay topics to get started on after my current writing class is over. There are quite a few publishing opportunities for short pieces about food (and about more than just food), and it's a topic I think I can write about, so I figure I'll give it a go.

In said writing class, we were assigned to read a profile of Mr. Rogers. It turns out the link broke (or something?) just a week before we were assigned to read it, which left me so very disappointed. Fortunately, the author, Tom Junod, didn't write only one great piece, so our instructor directed us two shorter essays he wrote. They were both about family, and both were jaw-droppingly, pen-stoppingly good (as in, I don't think I can write now that I've read his stuff). Ok, maybe I'm being dramatic, but they're good. I'm taking notes on his characterization, which is for sure one of my weak points.

All that to say: Junod's essay on his mother and cooking is the kind of writing I aspire to. It's about food, and about so much more than food. Here's a tiny taste:

My mother, Frances Junod, was not just a mother, not just a mom. She was a dame. She was a broad. She was a beauty from Brooklyn who wore fantastic hats, when they were in style, and furs, even when they were not. She went through her entire life as a Harlowesque platinum blonde, and I never knew the real color of her hair. She liked go to the track, and she liked to go out to restaurants. She did not like to cook

(After I read it, I turned to one he wrote about his father and liked this one even more, which I didn't think possible. Get ready to laugh.)

Monday, February 18, 2013

small graces

I woke up on Saturday morning afraid that that was faint light I saw trying to peek through the slats of my blinds. I turned over and opened my eyes just wide enough to read the time on my phone: 4:56. My alarm would go off just a little over an hour later so I could get out the door and to a new running group by 7am. Joining any new running group would give me a few jitters, but my intention was to find a story to write about in this group — an assignment that’s been causing me some worry because I’m afraid I won’t be able to pull it off — so I felt an added pressure to make this group count. When all I really wanted to do was do a long run by myself, on a course that was familiar and that I chose. So instead of falling back to sleep, I spent the next hour fitfully willing morning not to come. Not a good way to begin my weekend. Who starts a Saturday already stressed out?

But I was committed, if not for the writing assignment, then because I’d told my housemates I was going. And I hate not following through on things I say I’m going to do when other people know about it. About ten minutes before I needed to leave, I laced up my shoes and sat on the couch with my warm coffee and thought about my writing assignment. I asked God for a small grace, some easy way into the day that had already started off so rough internally. Outside the sun was bright and gentle, offering a new day to anyone who was ready for it.

At the group, I met a few people but ran alone, which in the end is what I prefer anyway. I didn’t find anyone who was quite my pace (story of my life, eh?). But listening to my own rhythmic breathing and the natural soundtrack that belonged to this new-to-me course was soothing. The first four miles was almost all uphill, and that felt right: a challenge, but one I could meet and that made me feel like I was working.

That small risk — and receiving God’s small graces — set the pace for my weekend. There were other things I didn’t want to face, but like morning, came whether I was ready or not. I guess I could choose to stay in my room with the blinds shut, but I’m finding again and again that the best way is straight through. In the end, I was given precious conversations with two lovely women, a fun movie night with the ladies, dinner with a family from my church, and prayer from someone who could empathize with wounds I’m trying desperately to heal.

During a short nap late Sunday afternoon, I started to wake up and sense the light through my blinds slowly dimming, and I felt that faint, nameless sadness that comes with evening and I thought, I don’t want these graces to end…

Thursday, February 7, 2013

learning from Abby

Abby is learning to speak. Her words don’t always sound like we think they should. For example, she refers to the park as “swing slide,” as in, “Abby, what did you do today?” and she says, “swing slide.” Only it comes out as “singside.” Sometimes we don’t always understand her. She repeats her words over and over until someone understands. Sometimes she points or shows us, but mostly she repeats words. Right now, her response when we finally guess right is a long “yeah” accompanied by a bright smile. She is finally recognized. There are other times when she says things over and over just for the joy of it. She’s not trying to get anyone to understand her. If anything, I think she wants people to join in. I wonder if she just enjoys the sound of her own voice.

Abby is pretty cute, so when we have visitors at the house, they want to play with her. But with unfamiliar people, Abby is shy and cautious. I joke with these visitors that the two easiest ways to earn her affection are to pull out food or an iphone. She will be in your lap in two seconds flat. And on seeing an iphone, she will ask for pictures, meaning, of her (show or take, your choice). Sometimes this is cute, and sometimes Abby gets chided for it. She is almost two, so her parents are teaching her boundaries, and I understand how important that lesson is. But it’s also just the tiniest bit heartbreaking, because I wonder if telling her no or redirecting her to ask instead of assume will dampen her instinct to get what she wants. I admire her focus.

Sometimes I get jealous of Abby, which I know is pretty ridiculous. But let’s be real: the girl stays home every single day, spends most of her time playing outside and reading, and most of her trauma is over being forced to eat her egg at breakfast. She also gets a lot of love. Her mother recognizes that most of Abby’s acting out is resolved with the reminder that she is loved and safe, and so she shows Abby this with pats on her back, answers to her cries and questions, and lots of cuddling. Adults don’t get too much of this kind of treatment, though I think a lot of us (and I really mean me) could benefit from it. I’m afraid to admit this, wondering if I’m psychically stuck at age 2 and Abby will soon surpass me in maturity. But I’m already taking cues from her, so I guess not much would change.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

watch the light come

I, at first, thought I didn’t have a [writing] ritual, but then I remembered that I always get up and make a cup of coffee while it is still dark—it must be dark—and then I drink the coffee and watch the light come. ... For me, light is the signal in the transition. It’s not being in the light, it’s being there before it arrives. It enables me, in some sense.
 - Toni Morrison

I'm not going so far to say that Toni Morrison and I are kindred spirits, but we do have the morning coffee/watching the light come thing in common. I like this idea of transition and how she uses it to prepare herself to start writing. With so many mental (and spiritual?) blocks that keep us from doing what we really want to do, a slow, gentle rising - the way the sun does it - sounds just right.

For more gleaming gems of her wisdom, read her interview with Paris Review.