for we are wired
to feel productive
to have purpose
in what we do
in who we are
to be lit
for we are wired
to feel productive
to have purpose
in what we do
in who we are
to be lit
My aunt bought a tape recorder
such a modern thing
she had my little sister and I
sing into the thing:
Let me be there in your morning
Let me be there in your night
Let me change whatever’s wrong
and make it right (make it right)
Let me take you through that wonderland
That only two can share
All I ask you-ou-ou–ou
is let me be there ..
and felt so grown-up
singing the soul-felt words
If you love me, let me know
if you don’t, then let me go
I can’t take another minute
of a day without you in it
If you love me, let it be
if you don’t, then set me free
Take the chains away
that keep me loving you….
Flipping through my planner today, scheduling even more things to be done before school is out in June, I discover this quote…
We go through things we never imagined but it may lead us to places we never dreamed.
For just a fraction, a breath, the brokenness of things diminishes…
I could write of this school year’s hardships on colleagues, with colleagues, on families, and on children most of all…
of COVID still rearing its tiny invisible head in the community…
of young and beautiful creatures that have died…
of incomprehensible suffering and loss…
but I will write instead of lush green moments, the “birdiest” spring I’ve ever known, an abundance of wings and chatter and song each day, so many things I’ve never seen before, like a pair of great blue herons flying low over the road from pond to brush…
my son arriving at home, placing his baby daughter in my arms, her tiny sweet hand reaching to pat my face as she drinks from her bottle…
a newness that is more than seasonal, invoking the eternal like shafts of sunlight in shadowed places…
for just a fraction, a breath, I have a sense of undoing, of forests, animals, people restored, rejoicing, the Earth itself laughing, the whole atmosphere charged with absolution, pure, deep, and complete…a bright glimmering, a pulled curtain quickly falling back into place.
It is enough.
I turn the pages and keep writing on my tomorrows.
Dear Goat In The Pasture At The End Of The Street Where I Make a Right Turn On My Way to Work Each Morning:
I just want to say thank you for lifting my spirits on weekday mornings as I drive by your pasture. You cannot know that I look for you and your herdmates, or how the sight of you fills me with inexplicable peace. Perhaps it’s the idyllic setting, the pastoral scene with its inherent restfulness. Maybe it’s the continuity. Your pasture remains as it always has, while all around us fields are being bulldozed and sculpted for the coming of houses. The trees farther down this road are being timbered this very moment… I wonder: Had birds already nested in them? Were there any little eggs that are now lost? It’s possible; this is March. Isn’t tampering with birds’s nests and eggs a crime? I digress. I cannot help it, watching the trees come down even though I know the new houses to be erected will be homes where people will build their lives and live their stories, where children will grow up… meanwhile, on the other side of the world, a man is busily destroying people’s homes, sending them fleeing from danger like animals trying to outrun a raging forest fire, in search of a different place to survive…
Yesterday as I came through here I heard a bird calling and wondered if its tree is gone. Will the big, beautiful,snowy-feathered hawks soon be gone, too? I haven’t seen one for weeks now. I keep watching. And in all the years I’ve lived here, I’ve never seen skunks until last week when I saw two dead in the road and my son saw a third. We didn’t smell them, thankfully. Makes me wonder about them never seeing the end coming…
I don’t know why I should be telling you all of this, dear Brown Goat in your green pasture so often dappled with new morning light when I drive by. All I really meant to say is thank you. I see you grazing in the grass and a tiny bit of balance returns to the universe. Your placid nature spills into mine. You somehow impart the right and needed mood for the day…
I am grateful for you.
P.S. I would deliver this letter to you in person but I suspect you would only eat it… I’ve had to eat my words before and it’s not a particularly pleasant experience… trust me.
with thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the Slice of Life Story Challenge every day in the month of March.
November afternoon. Driving down backroads alongside bare brown fields where a smattering of birds takes flight. Snatches of woods scattering scarlet and yellow leaves into the swirling wind. A glance in the rearview mirror: My kindergarten granddaughter, strapped into her carseat, looks pensively through the window.
I shall make conversation…
—You’re very quiet.
—I’m just thinking.
(pause to see if she’s going to elaborate. She doesn’t. So…)
—I have a question for you.
—The other day you said you wanted to be a scientist when you grow up.
—I’m curious: What kind of scientist? There are so many, you know. Do you want to be a biologist, studying living things?
—I want to be a nurture scientist.
—A nurture scientist-? Do you mean nature, or…
—No, a nurture scientist like the Jeopardy! host.
—Ahhh… Mayim Bialik. You mean neuroscientist.
—Yes. I want to be a neuroscientist.
—Do you know what neuroscientists do?
—They learn about how brains work.
She is five.
Full of love and wonder and confidence. These and the deep blue sky are reflected in her eyes. No limits, only infinite possibility. The faith of a child is a pure and mighty thing.
Someday I shall tell her about the hippocampi, the two little seahorses in the brain that so fascinate me, and their importance to learning, memory, and emotion, how they navigate us through the stormy seas of life.
But on this golden afternoon, as we head home where her mother and baby sister await, I just marvel at her own brain. The beginning of a brilliant neuroscientist, if that is indeed what she wants to be. The world can surely use more. Humans, know thyselves. It is a daily, moment-by-moment undertaking.
Meanwhile, as evening settles in, I Christmas-shop online for my granddaughter and discover a book by her role model, Mayim Bialik: Flash Facts: Ten Terrific Tales About Science and Technology!
I place it in the cart, thinking about Bialik’s own inspiration to pursue neuroscience, born of a love for understanding the way we think and feel and communicate. On a whim, I search for “nurture scientist.” Turns out that nurture science is a real thing: research-based therapy around the healing power of nurturing as a means of helping families cope with emotional, behavioral, and developmental difficulties.
The tugging of the tiny hippocampi on those reins between the brain and the heart.
Ever a delicate balance.
–with thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the Tuesday Slice of Life Story Challenge–
Just outside my window
an unexpected song
so loud and full of joy
I want to sing along
An unexpected song
bright spirit, wild and free
I want to sing along
until you fly from me
Bright spirit, wild and free
winging your doxology
until you fly from me
I’m clinging to your singing
Winging your doxology
so loud and full of joy
I’m clinging to your singing
just outside my window.
The Carolina wren is a little bird with a big voice. I’ve been trying for days to get a photo of this regular visitor perched on our birdhouse church. I finally managed it this morning. As wrens are a common symbol for artists, musicians, and poets, a poem seemed called for. The pantoum form beckoned, with the rhythms of its moving, repeated lines (per new line, in stanzas of four: 1234 2546 5768 7381).
The wren also represents rebirth, immortality, and protection. It is considered a guide through dark times.
Mostly I am awed by its glorious singing.
Where I live
of soybeans, tobacco,
and occasionally cotton
are the familiar.
it all looks like
a patchwork quilt
of various textures
from the sky.
where the pair of old mules
lived and died,
on my way back to school
at summer’s end,
I see something
Tall and tangled,
bordering a garden.
with open faces
and inner resources
At sight of these
my heart leaps
Is this what they’re mostly for,
Beyond seed, oil, fiber,
beyond cleansing the soil
of nuclear radiation,
burning with their own
silent, mysterious fire
just to inspire?
I realize as I drive
backroads I’ve not driven
in a while
that they are everywhere.
All around me.
Whole fields of them
where I’ve never seen them
They buoy my spirit.
lies before me,
I am up to it.
I stop at a store
to buy sunflower seeds
for my workday lunch salads,
as if channeling
the power of the sun
what Van Gogh said,
as he painted:
The sunflower is mine,
in a way.
My first encounter with sunflowers was in childhood summers spent deep in the countryside. My grandmother’s brother, who suffered trauma at birth and who lived alone in the old homeplace with his siblings looking after him, planted sunflowers in his garden. I marveled at their towering height and how their faces always followed the sun. Fields of sunflowers have indeed been planted to remove toxins from the soil after nuclear radiation. They are cleansing, healing, and surprisingly buoyant: their stems were used as filler for the first life jackets.
There could hardly be a more encouraging motif as the new school year gets underway.
Thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the space and invitation to share these noticings in the weekly Slice of Life Story Challenge.
“Cooking is an art, but all art requires knowing something about the techniques and materials.”
—Nathan Myrhvold, former Microsoft CTO and author of Modernist Cuisine
At a restaurant during our recent vacation, my health-conscious husband ordered a black bean burger. I don’t recall him ever eating one before. For the better part of his life, he’s been a hearty meat eater. The man loves food…his reaction upon tasting this vegetarian concoction: “AMAZING! I can’t believe how good it is!”
Then, with a subtle batting of his eyes: “I wish you could make these.”
—Was that a throwing down of the gauntlet, at my very feet?
Call it inspiration, determination, seeking to please, or self-challenge, whatever: I decided on the spot. I would do this.
I’ve never made black bean burgers before.
As a rule, I don’t like veggie burgers. They’re mushy. The whole idea of a burger is, you know, substance.
And so I do my research. I find a recipe entitled “The Best Black Bean Burgers I’ve Ever Had.” Seems a reasonably good starting point (why settle for less than the best?).
It doesn’t seem too complicated, really. While I organize and prep the ingredients, however, doubts seep in…if this tastes awful or falls apart, maybe we’ll go get Mexican…
I learn a couple of things in this new undertaking. It’s essential to get as much moisture as possible out of the beans. The drier they are, the better the texture, so the recipe says. Not only do they need to be drained, rinsed, and patted dry, they need to go in the oven on a baking sheet for a few minutes. I discover that cumin, smoked paprika, chili powder, and Worcestershire blended with the dried beans create a surprisingly grilled taste.
One big concern: Will the burgers hold together after baking? Sometimes my regular hamburgers don’t. Not enough bread crumbs, maybe? How did my Grannie ever make those phenomenal, flavorful burgers of my childhood? She could have sold them and made a mint. I’ve never been able to duplicate them. The scent of Worcestershire stirs the memory with a wave of intense longing…
Furthermore, I’ve decided not merely to make these black bean burgers, but to recreate the one my husband thought was so amazing. I’ve looked up the restaurant menu for the toppings: avocado, tomato, arugula, red onion, spicy mayonnaise.
— What IS spicy mayonnaise?
More Googling. Mayo mixed with hot sauce, apparently.
“Hey,” I say to my husband, who’s washing his hands after cheerfully helping to shape the patties for baking, “pick the hot sauce you want to go in this ‘spicy mayonnaise.'”
He has a whole collection of hot sauces.
He picks Texas Pete.
All righty then.
And, if nothing else turns out…we do have gorgeous homegrown tomatoes that have been given to us. They are another reason I love summer, these tomatoes. I think, as I slice into their luscious redness: We could just have cheese and tomato sandwiches in case of disaster…
My husband has also chosen Brioche buns: “The bread at the restaurant was really, really soft.”
We take the burgers out of the oven and—wonder of wonders!—they hold together when we lift them off the pan.
I put them on the buns, layer on the toppings. They’re pretty, but the final test awaits…
My husband takes a bite.
He closes his eyes.
“This is the BEST. THING. I. HAVE. EVER. HAD.”
High praise from my former give-me-steak-and-fries guy.
He eats every blessed crumb for the next three meals.
The black beans combined with finely chopped onion and green pepper create good texture, much like a tender hamburger.
Pretty proud of my culinary work.
As an educator I could make many analogies between this experience and teaching or writing. We see effective or impactful things that we wish to duplicate. Things we’ve not tried before. It’s daunting. Risk of failure is involved. So is risk of succeeding, if you will. There’s an art and science to writing and teaching, just as with cooking. Myhrvold’s quote on knowledge of techniques and materials at the top of this post struck me as foundational; this is the beginning of process. Knowledge combined with a spirit open to experiment can yield surprising results and discoveries; what you experience and create will not be exactly like your model nor a complete replication what others have done before you. It shouldn’t be. You are making something your own. The work reflects the uniqueness of the artist.
Wishing sustained strength and inspiration to all my fellow teachers preparing to return to school with the residual effects of 2020 still lingering. Here’s to aiming for the best. And to our own learning.
with thanks to Two Writing Teachers and the Slice of Life writing community, ever a safe, nourishing place for creative strivings and growth.
As a participant in the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge with Two Writing Teachers, I will be posting each day for the month of March.
What better way to start than by expressing my love for writing? Or, to be exact, by expressing my love TO writing for the profound impact it’s had on my life.
Inspired in part by Kobe Bryant’s retirement love letter, “Dear Basketball.”
It occurs to me that I’ve never told you how much you mean to me.
It is time, for you mean more now than ever before.
I remember when you first materialized. I was, what, about six years old? I wonder now whether I discovered you or you discovered me, sitting there at the coffee table in the living room, wide-ruled paper in front of me and a fat pencil in my hand. All I know is that it began with story. A pull, a beckoning, a desire to get what was swirling inside me onto pages. By some great alchemy, my blocky letters, erratic spelling, rudimentary sentences ceased to be merely themselves; combined, they became something distinctly Other.
And there you were. Almost a living, breathing presence.
I didn’t know then that you’d come to stay. That as I grew, you would grow with me. That you would, in fact, grow me, always pulling me to more. To think more, explore more, discover more, strive more, play more. To be more.
Do you remember the diary Grandma gave me for Christmas when I was ten or eleven? Trimmed in pink, little girl on the front, with a brass lock and tiny key. Do you remember this entry: “I wrote a story that I hope will be published”? Whatever happened to that diary—? To that story? They’re lost in time. No matter. I can see that page in my mind to this day; is it you that keeps this memory alive?
People began to notice our relationship early on, didn’t they. Teachers who said it was a good thing, who gave tips on how we could be stronger. Friends and family who told me to stick with you: Please keep writing. I owe them all for how they shaped you and me.
Where would I have been without you in my teenage years? In the early days of my marriage? Those were the poetry years, the journal years, when you let me glimpse the beautiful inside the uncertain, when you compelled me to pour out my heart. You were bigger than my anguish, my anger, my fear. You channeled it all, absorbed it all. Ever how circuitous the path, how violent the storm, how steep the mountain, how dark the night, how deep the pain, you were there, leading me to safety, to calm. Even now, I reach for you and you are there. Like the ocean, you bring forth unexpected treasures. And healing. When my emotions and energy are spent, washed clean away, you reveal over and over one thing that always remains: Hope.
For there’s always more to the story, to the ones that I create, to the ones that I live. I think that’s one of the most important lessons you’ve taught me: This chapter of life is ending, but a new one is about to begin. Embrace it. It’s one of your most extraordinary powers. As amazing as your ability to mine my memory. With you I am any age I ever was. I sit on my grandfather’s lap once more; he walks with me, holds my hand. I hear his voice. I am in Grandma’s kitchen while steam fogs the windows, in her arms as she rocks me and sings: Jesus loves me, this I know . . . I see my father’s blue eyes, hear my mother’s laughter and the whir of her sewing machine late into the night. With you my children are still little, my husband is young, black-haired, healthy, whole, and out on the court shooting hoops. And every dog I ever loved comes bounding back to me in absolute joy, all my shortcomings forgiven.
With you, I relive it all. The parts I am proud of and the parts I’m not; the moments I cherish and the ones I survived. With you, they all become a celebration of living, of learning.
I learned long ago that I can harness your power to attack but you showed me that it doesn’t bring me peace; you taught me, instead, to defend. Not as a warrior with drawn sword but as a careful guardian of my own mind and heart. Not by destroying, but by edifying. You enable me to walk in another’s shoes and see through another’s eyes, to understand that fighting doesn’t move the hearts of others, but story does.
There’s something of the divine about you as well. Marvel of marvels, how a spark in the human brain becomes a thought and a thought becomes substance because of you. Like something from nothing. Ex nihilo. It’s how God created, speaking the world into existence. With words. Without limits. Anything is possible. Believe. To me there’s a sacredness behind the human spirit’s desperate craving to create, to express, to be heard . . .
Which brings me back to being six years old, at the table, pencil in my hand.
And you will outlive me. You are my record, what I leave behind.
Let it be the best of me.
Know that you’re an inextricable part of who I am, one of my life’s greatest gifts. Meant to be given. And so I give you away.
I am grateful beyond words.
I love you.
A poem written at age sixteen
This morning I planned to post a poem I’ve been working on for a while, about the brokenness of the human condition and the need for mending.
But the poem was stubborn; it wouldn’t allow itself to be finished. I ran out of time. A colleague came to pick me up for a meeting and we left early to beat traffic.
From the outset we encountered detours, one of which providentially took us by McDonald’s to grab a coffee. Liquid stamina.
There in the drive-through, between paying and receiving the order, my colleague and I watched a man pull into a parking place. He got out and opened the trunk of his car…
There wasn’t time to wonder, really, what he might be pulling out of that trunk, or for what purpose. He could have planned an act of destruction; isn’t that where our brains go first, nowadays?
I watched intently, not believing what I saw: The man took out a large bag. He shook it in a corner of the parking lot, by a curb and a tangle of trees.
Out of the brush ran a cat, followed by another.
To eat the food the man brought for them, from the bag he carried in his car.
Mission accomplished, the man returned the bag to his trunk and headed into McDonald’s for his own breakfast.
My colleague, a diehard cat-lover, took time to run in and thank this man. He laughed. “I do this everywhere I go. People either love me or hate me.”
It wasn’t a stop we planned to make, on a detour we hadn’t planned to take. This isn’t the piece on broken humanity I planned to post this morning.
Instead, the detour provided a glimpse of human compassion. A taste of the milk of human kindness.
Or, in this case, the cat food of human kindness.
If we can feel this for homeless cats, we can feel it for one other.
Meaning we’re not so broken. Not yet.
Sometimes a detour is about more than steering around a problem.
Sometimes it’s an opportunity to be fed.
Sometimes detours are a taste of the divine.