Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Just Write: Building home together

Some friends asked us recently, "How's married life?"  And we get this question often, though my answer rarely changes beyond a version of the customary, "Oh, it's great."  Big, semi-plastered smile.  But this time, we looked at each other first with those searching eyes, giving permission to answer our friends, "It's been hard."  Hard, friends.  So much harder than we can give words to, than I want to put to writing, yet.  No, now is not the time to write bare the soul of our five infant months of marriage.  

Now is the time to labor hard together on the foundation of our house, to wipe the sweat off each other's brows and rub knots from shoulders, and at the end of the day, sit across from each other over bowls of freshly made soup and stroll with fingers interlaced through wooded trails in our neighborhood.   

So that's just what we do last night.  We savor my experimental soup of sweet potato, leek and red chili flakes, garnished with tortilla strips fried crispy.  Then we get in our little white Honda and drive the few miles to tree-canopied trails, the ones I've drooled over from the passenger seat with my cast and crutches, ear-marking them months ago.  Now, I sit in the passenger seat, drumming giddy feet into the floor mat, my husband glancing over at me with one of those smiles of endearment.  Five months after my injury, we can finally take this walk.

I'm pulling him along, our arms one long extension, like the accordian Metro buses in Seattle, and he's laughing.  We stop and inhale the forest.  It's quiet here at first, nearly absent of human soundtrack, then our ears perk at the live concert of the woods.  Bird voices, how many we're not sure, join with high-pitched chipmunk chittering.  I try to imitate the chipmunks and we giggle at the squawking and how the chipmunks freeze with beady eyes, and Ricardo snaps their picture.  The breeze we didn't notice until stepping inside this sanctuary now plays the strings of tree branches, rustling leaves and swaying trees high above.  Ricardo wonders, "How long do you think these trees have been here?"  And of course I don't know, but we crouch down to study toppled trunks and marvel at the dozens of rings so close together, marking years of birthdays.  

It's near the end of the day, and we know this by the beams of orange filtering through the cracks of forest. We follow the light, our yellow brick road, and it leads us out to the street, across to a neighborhood that towers above the lake.  The sun that started the day a ball of florescent pink, now burns like a tangerine on fire, steadily disappearing into smoky clouds above the water.  We watch with ooohs and ahhhs and the air is warm, just a hint of autumn tonight, but the trees are already dressed in colors of fall.  

photo credit
We turn back to the forest, reluctant to leave.  "Let's come back tomorrow," I say, and he agrees.  There's something about being out here that restores our souls, opens our child eyes, locks our happy hands together.  

And this, too, builds our house, with a window seat overlooking the lake and woods and sun. 

Joining the writing community today at Heather King's blog for another Tuesday installment of Just Write...

Monday, September 24, 2012

Turning back the pages of time

Nearly five months of marriage has introduced me to many new experiences, some of them as bizarre for me as Alice dropping down the rabbit hole to Wonderland.  It's strange, for one, to cross over the tracks from thinking hypothetically of being a parent one day, to holy Moses, that could be me any month! And I feel this surge of pressured anxiety, like the person trying to go from couch-potato-to-5K (but let's be honest, more like ultra marathon), as if I need to really start getting my rear in shape but all the classes are in a foreign language.  Someone tell me, does a person ever truly feel prepared for this venture?  

But on my less panicky days, I have sweet and nostalgic thoughts, of what I'd like to pass on to any future children, what values I'd like to instill in them.  One of my current favorite daydreams  - and for some reason, made sweeter in the autumn - involves passing on a voracious appetite for books, childlike wonder of libraries, and the experience of knowing many 'friends' through stories.  I can't take credit for this.  I don't know if it started with my Grandma Rosalie who has written several books, or someone before her, but my Papa grew up loving books so much that he spent a chunk of his adult life starting and running bookstores.  Mom grew up devouring books as a little girl largely out of desperate loneliness.  She had only one friend growing up, so many of her weeks were passed with the maximum number of books her library allowed checked out at a time - the thicker, the better, simply because they lasted longer.  For years, she read Gone with the wind each summer, for its sheer bulk.  While some of her reasons for reading so extensively have morphed, she continues to have a running tab of library books checked out, often finishing a book in one day. 

While I was in the beginning years of grade school, living in eastern Washington, some of my favorite memories are of strolling hand-in-hand with Mom to the public library, less than half a mile down the street from us.  The children's section had a little sunken area in the ground, two steps down, where we sat among cushions with piles of books and read for what felt like hours.  We'd lug our treasures home, all the ones we didn't finish at the library, and I'd stretch out on my tummy on the floor in our "library" at home.  Our library was really a corner of our living room, three walls without a door, decked with bookshelves from top to bottom.  Most of our books belonged to Papa, ever the theologian and bible school drop-out, his and Mom's huge collection of Louis L'amour books and various westerns among the masses.  Some of my own collection of books ended up here, but my favorite ones belonged on my own wall to ceiling bookshelf in my bedroom.  

Across multiple moves Portland to Seattle, from college to bachelorette living situations, and now to marriage, my book collection has sadly dwindled.  In the moment, when boxes are few and far between (and you're a last-minute packer as I am), I admit, books become less of a priority.  How badly do I want this Anatomy and Physiology textbook, for instance, or books with theologies I've outgrown?  And so they get donated.  I don't actually know the extent of my collection any more, what with a third of my books still boxed up and spread across several storage units, but what's remaining at mine and Ricardo's home is a mere three shelves of a bookcase filled.  It's a start.

People occasionally like to talk with me about how books are heading toward the endangered species list, eventually to be exterminated by the popularity of Kindles and electronic books.  Of course, they're talking to the wrong person, the girl who still owns a basic flip phone that happens to look like it's been nibbled around the edges by a goat.  I'm the one who wants to curse at the smartphone because I can't figure out how to get back to the page I was last on and it's so dang hard to type on that little keyboard.  So, while I see their point, I respectfully disagree.  

Because I think there are enough of my breed of book lovers in the world, the ones who don't just love books for the sake of written word, but also for the aesthetic joy of holding something hardbound in our hands, the scent of paper, the crinkle of pages, the sight of text that isn't coming from a screen.  Inevitably, less books will be printed as more e-books are available, but I don't see them becoming antiques any time soon.  For my part, I will make sure to preserve a library of these relics for my children and their children and their children's children, because there's something purely magical about holding books in your own hands.

It's all these things that have shaped who I am and placed visions in my head of creating a nook in the corner of our house one day, with a cushioned bench carved out below a window and comfy arm chairs lit by some of those curved-neck lamps that can be turned on with the tug of a metal link cord.  And there, I imagine little Mexican American children curled up for hours with wall-to-wall books, in Spanish and English, holding their friends in tiny hands and turning back the pages of time. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

The endless blue

His eyes were so blue in my dream, last night, when he paid me a rare visit.  I waved at him, trying to get his attention, until our eyes locked and my heart raced to greet him, at the same time holding back like a shy little girl whose dad has been away for a long while.  He held my hand as we walked and I couldn't stop staring into those eyes.  

"Why are they so blue, Papa?"

"Things are as they were meant to be where I'm at," he replied.  "They never could reach the fullness of their true color while I was here."  And now, as if peering into the depths of time, I leaned forward, wanting to fall head first into those eyes. 

Yes, I remember.  His eyes were more silver blue here.  My ears strained for his voice, but in dreams, the mouths are moving while the fuzzy recording of my memory fills in the gap.  

I woke to static, to thoughts of Ricardo's cousin Paloma, the one riddled through with cancer, unable to talk or eat.  Hoping this wasn't a cryptic message preceding a phone call from Mexico.  

I went to work and passed by a coworker wearing a mask of pain.  She's been wearing it for the past few days, a dam waiting to burst, and yet I know she doesn't want to.  I feel sorrow radiating from her as we cross paths to and fro in the store, and I am speechless.

At the end of my shift I see her, sitting alone at a table.  I approach her, tentative, and watch as the carefully held tears begin to spill.  She spills sadness down her face, her lips trembling as she talks.  Her son, younger than I, practically lives in the hospital now, his body full of cancer.  I watch helpless, wanting to catch those tears as they fall, but my ears catch her words instead - and all the words she dares not speak.  I see some of me in her, the me that existed before Papa died, so afraid to let anyone witness my pain.  I kept tears locked up for years, thinking I was alluding them altogether when really I was only stuffing them in the closet until it burst, unhinged.   

And now, my eyes are old plumbing, leaky faucets I couldn't turn off if I wanted to.  And I think they're cleaner this way, these old pipe eyes, purging all that emotion before it builds up to erosion of the heart.  But it's terrifying when it all comes unhinged.  When we surrender to the flood, the force of it dragging us along, and we're not sure where we'll end up or if we'll even be intact when we get there.  It's easier, safer, in some ways, to keep the faucet turned off.  Until it blows, that is.

I watch her, this beautiful woman whose heart is dropping in pieces around me, and frustration mounts inside.  I can do next to nothing to help her.  There are no words to ease her pain.  No hug or sweet distraction to whisk it all away.  It's not until I'm walking away from her that it hits - I want to be God to her.  To send her son home from the hospital with a colon and two healthy kidneys, a cancer-free body, no longer shriveled in size.  I want to hold her heart together so it doesn't shatter in pieces.  And I want Paloma to get out of bed, to play with her young son, to cuddle her husband, to find her voice again and her body what a healthy thirty-something woman should be.  Like so many humans across the pages of time, I want there to be no. more. suffering.  Now.

I loathe cancer, wish to hack it into pieces with a slew of expletives, cast it in the fires of Mordor, like Frodo destroyed the ring.  But I am not God - or Frodo - and I cannot destroy cancer.

But I can pray.  And that's no small thing, though it may be that nothing on the surface or even deep below may seem to change and hearts continue to shatter around me.  I will pray because I know no other way; because in these pockets of grief and cancer and failing bodies and shattered hearts, God resides.  It's no Band-Aid, for sure - it's pure mystery.  And this - "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted" - is no easy blessing to swallow.  It goes down heavy in the stomach, until somewhere far, far down, after it's been digested and distributed throughout the body, it nourishes weary souls. 

When it comes to easing suffering, I'm so far beyond my abilities, but completely swallowed up in God's, like the endless blue of Papa's eyes. 


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Just Write: My new friend, Firoozeh

When I read an unusually profound, honest or clever book, I usually develop something that might be called a 'writer's crush.'  This has nothing to do with gender or romantic feelings, of course, but purely with the person I meet in the pages of a book.  I'm attracted to creative voices.  The ways in which authors and artists express ideas, stories of the inner workings of someone else, or who they are personally.  I find myself wanting to know these authors in real life, to sit down with them over a cup of tea or coffee, or follow them around for a day.  I imagine we might be friends, if we met, though I immediately feel self-conscious, aware that my life and conversation may not be as eloquent or clever as theirs.  

Writers are a funny breed.  

Just this morning, with a sense of sadness and satisfaction, I said goodbye to a new author friend, Firoozeh Dumas. She's from Iran, and I think she made me laugh aloud to myself, echoing off the walls of our apartment living room, on the bus, or in a coffee shop, more than any other writer.  From her first chapter, more like a preface, I was hooked by her voice.  Over two-hundred pages later, I felt like she offered me a glimpse inside her home, from growing up in Iran to becoming Iranian-American.  I laughed with her as she regaled me with stories of her crazy, endearing family.  I desperately wanted to meet her dad and mom in person.  I felt a quiet appreciation for her warm and humorous way of cracking jokes about Persian culture, American culture, Muslim culture, her family and herself, which she did with a solid sense of respect and awareness of the flaws and beauty of each. By the end of the book, I knew if she ever showed up in Seattle to speak, I'd be there if I could, even if it was at a graduation or some kooky Mandala society (I guess you need to read her book to know what I'm talking about).  

It's writers like Firoozeh that gently open my eyes, a little wider, or shut them in laughter while squeezing tears from the corners, and help me to know how alike we are, even coming from different countries, cultures, ethnicities, languages and religions.  We're really not that different.

In her preface, she shared that in order to have her book translated and published in Iran, she had to run it through a censor.  Sadly, an entire chapter was omitted from her book - one that I would have loved to read - called, "The Ham Amendment."  But even how she wrote about her father's reaction to the censor delighted me:

     In that chapter, which I considered the soul of my book, I explained my father's philosophy that it does not matter what we eat or whether we are Muslim, Christian or Jewish; it's how we treat our fellow man that counts.  The censor did not agree.
     When I told my father about the removal of that particular chapter, he was every upset.  He said it was probably because the censor did not believe in shared humanity, at least not with Jews.  My father also added that my next book should be entitled, "Accomplishments of Jews I Have Known," interspersed with recipes using ham.

By the end of her book, I felt I found a new friend, or at least, hoped I'd be worthy of a friend like her.  In her closing chapter she talked about a good friend of hers, a Christian woman who was one of the hostages held in Tehran in 1979 for four hundred and forty-four days, describing her as one "who believes in the Bible but also leaves room for other cultures to believe differently."  She spoke of this woman with a deep respect.  Her graciousness left my heart aching a bit.  Here is the first Muslim author I have read, to be completely honest, and I have yet to read a Christian author who has conveyed this kind of friendship with a Muslim.  I'm not saying these books don't exist, simply that I haven't read one yet and it was humbling and refreshing to read about life - and a respected Christian friend - from Firoozeh's perspective.  

I can only speak from my limited perspective as a certain kind of Christian, but it seems that on whole in the U.S., the perception (and maybe reality) is that Christians are intimidated or threatened by the presence of the 'Other.'  Particularly Muslims.  And maybe all we know of Muslims is the severely limited, negative slant of what we've seen on the news: terrorist attacks, Osama bin Laden, Taliban abuse of women in Afghanistan.  Maybe we've never met someone like Firoozeh Dumas.  I think for Christians, she needs to be required reading - a small step toward not being afraid of our neighbors, and even, learning that we could really enjoy being friends.

In fact, I think one of the highest compliments any one could pay me would be the words she spoke of her friend.  What a beautiful thing, to love and embrace people without fear of differences.

Thank you, Firoozeh. I'm glad I met you.

* Joining the community of Just Write today, over at Heather King's blog...

Friday, September 14, 2012

Dear Me: Letter to my 16-year old self

Dear  Sixteen-Year Old Self:

I wish this were reaching you fifteen years ago.  I'm not sure if it did, however, that it would make a huge difference.  I'd like to think if my forty-five year old self were to write me a letter now, I would listen with ears and heart wide open.  Truth is, I think it would scare the bejeebers out of me.  Girl, you don't want to know the future, as much as you think you do.  Sometimes, it's too much to know beyond today.  Remember when, at the beginning of Geometry class, you flipped through your textbook to the end and felt panicked that you would never be able to do those complicated equations?  Well, you did.  But it took you all year to work through that book, building skill set upon skill set, to reach that level of ability and confidence.  Life's not much different than that, so don't go freaking yourself out trying to peek at the end of the book.  You'll get there, trust me, by the grace of God, one baby step of faith and perseverance at a time. 

So, if I could reach back in time, there are a few things I would love to impart to you from your older and wiser self.

(1) Try to chill out.  I know you're ambitious, passionate and driven.  I know you're scared stiff of failure, of not being enough, but I'm telling you, you'll enjoy life so much more the sooner you learn to let go.  Control is an illusion. 

(2) On that happy note, I want you to know that dreams are good.  Wonderful.  God-given.  But since you were a little girl, you've lived in a world of dreams and imagination.  That was splendid for childhood, but as an adult, it will rob you of the ability to accept and enjoy who you are and what you have now.  Life is not to be lived for the future.  Today is the real gift, so live it fully.

(3) Not to be confusing, but also, hold onto your capacity to dream.  There is coming a day when it seems your ability to dream has been shot down.  When you struggle to pick yourself up off the ground and rise from the ashes of tragedy and failure.  You will be tempted to despair, wondering if you are lost, or if your heart will ever fully be recovered.  But don't be afraid, Amber.  God is with you, as he always has been, and you will find your way to healing.  

(4) Everything you've heard or will hear on this matter is absolutely true:  Your value in life is not in what you do, but who you are, whose you are and how you love.  You tend to get so locked in and focused on the particulars and performance.  You envision such great things for your life and I know how deeply you ache for them to become reality.  The thing is, your definition of great is not necessarily the great that you will be.  God's idea of great is always, always greater than yours, even if it seems, on the outside, to be small and insignificant. 

(5) There are no "secrets" to this life, but the closest thing I've discovered is this ancient treasured wisdom: Learn to be thankful in everything.  I know, I know.  You've heard this, too, from a young age, but I can't tell you how it will transform you and your life when it finally begins to seep down through the soil to your roots.  Gratitude nourishes you, changes the way you see, and this will set you free to live a life that is truly full.

(6) Don't be afraid of people who are different from you - in religion, in culture, in politics, in worldview.  These people enrich your life and stretch you to see how LARGE and limitless God is.  Don't be boxed in.  Know what you believe and don't compromise, but nurture an open, un-judging, humble heart.  You won't regret it.  It makes life messier, yes, but richer and deeper.

(7) You've always been a late bloomer.  Just keep that in mind as you wait for someone to share this journey of life with.  I wish I could impart the gift of patience to you (as if I have learned it so well fifteen years later), but it really must be learned.  So please, do me a favor.  Enjoy the journey.  Learn who you are.  Don't be so eager to give your heart away.  And Amber, the man you end up with is wonderful, but he won't fit any list you've written.  He's one of those special "different" kinds of people from my 6th point.  And you'll love him for that.  

(8) This goes back to the whole not knowing the future point, but, my sweet, innocent self... tragedy will come in life.  Please, as hard as it is, don't fear this.  Yes, it hurts like hell, like nothing you can imagine.  But I promise, you will live and you will become a deeper, more real version of you.  What I wish you to know is simply this: Love the ones you have.   Love them well.  Hug them often.  Talk to them, listen to them, spend time with them, enjoy their company, even when they drive you crazy.  Because there might come a day when you don't have them around, and you will understand the importance of Today in a way you never did before. 

(9) Fifteen years later, clearly, you will still be an intense person.  Geez.  So, moving onto lighter things... Study hard, but choose, also, some things that you love - things you've always loved, perhaps, and new things - and pursue them just for the sake of creating.  You are a creative, artistic person, even though for years you will not believe that.  It's who you are.  Embrace this, nurture this, and never underestimate the potential for beauty that this can produce in and through your life.  Never stray too far from what first captured your heart as a child.    

(10) Finally, for the love, stop making excuses for why you don't need to stretch.  Your high school aerobics instructor, track and cross-country coaches, and everyone else who's told you the importance of stretching was NOT bluffing.  If you want to minimize injury and have a healthier body, you can't afford to skimp on this any more.  Don't believe me?  Google (oh wait, you don't know what that is yet... ok... look it up in the library) "Ruptured Achilles Tendon" and then tell me if you want to avoid that particular malady.  That's what I thought. 

And Amber?  Learn to love yourself, ok?  It's kind of one of the more important, basic things in life.


Your Older and Wiser Self

Linking up with other letter-writers at Chatting at the Sky today, in honor of Emily's release of her new book, Graceful...

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Just Write: When seasons tip

Spring this year collided into summer, like a four-car pile up on the I-5, and then slowed to a crawl as the cars do behind the accident, waiting for ambulances, police cars and clean-up.  I passed half the summer in our one-bedroom home, staring out at mountains and water, at eagles flying high against aqua and sun streaming through windows.  From running 60mph to a dead stop, I entered married life, but of course, life never really stops.  Time only feels to slow, but it's the same clock ticking out the same seconds, minutes and hours as it was before, when it seemed to race like my heart during one of those boot camp classes that tore my achilles and sent me home for months of rest.  

Summer came for me, drawing me in for my first dip in the water, at the end of July.  From that swim, I pushed forward, equal parts eager and tentative.  Hungry for fresh air, for cool water streaming across my face as I cut through the lake, for movement and heart pumping harder and muscles tired, for ground gained on my own two feet.  Ten days into August, I ditched the big boot that encased my foot, laid crutches aside, and slipped a shoe on each foot.  

Healing comes in small, relished steps.  

And who knows, but me, the work that goes into each step - the things I couldn't do last week - the ways the tendon stretches just a wee bit longer, the limp just a little less, the swelling longer in coming, the movement of toes and ankle regained in tiny victorious battles, the almost imperceptible return of muscle to atrophied leg.  This is my summer this year, and I reach out to receive it, as it is, the best I can.  The memories this summer are not in zip-lining and kayaking in Kauai, hiking many stunning trails near our home, canoeing in Ross Lake among the Northern Cascades, competing in triathlons, exploring the island in my running shoes or on a road bike.  The memories are these, fleck of movement stacked upon fleck of movement, so that if I weren't already slowed down to a crawl, I would pass by them altogether, like the towns populated with sixty people, passed through on route to bigger destinations. 

And now, the season tips to autumn, ready or not.  The cool carried on the breeze wraps me up in a sweater, holding that scent of change, and I step outside on two feet, still limping, to embrace what is. Another season.

* Joining the talented community today with Just Write, over at Heather King's blog.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Drunken writing

Hi, my name is Amber, and I'm a drunk. 

Yeah, it happens.  I get all self-righteous about how I write for the "right" reasons, meanwhile daily checking how many people are reading my posts or hoping for the rare comment, fretting about how my following isn't growing and how my readership has declined in the past several weeks.  I write a frantic post disguised as the musings of a writer, when really, I'm starved for validation, and then, I wake up with a vague tingle of embarrassment the next morning.  Like, I'm pretty sure something happened last night that I don't wish to acknowledge. 

It's called self intoxication.  I hate to say, I know it well.  I'm just good at hiding it, most of the time.

I border on priding myself on being real in my writing, and the first thought I have this morning when I see the one comment on my last post, is "Damn, I should delete that post altogether."  As in, hehe, no one needs to see that real me - the needy writer me - so let's just send it into the void of oblivion and pretend it doesn't exist.  Pretend I don't care what people think of me or my writing or whether or not I'm good enough to make it or why I'm not as "popular" as others.  Uck.  It's disgusting.

But when my reader commented yesterday, sharing some of her own thoughts and struggles in this process of being a writer, it was like she lovingly shook me from my drunken stupor.  It hurt.  And I'm so glad she did it.

On her blog, she wrote these words that carve to the depths of my soul: "And then it comes to me: God’s listening.  I create simply for the joy of creating.  My words are an offering and a sacrifice, and I can imagine no other audience that matters more. I am an artist. I offer up these small gifts, my brown-paper stories filled with sparkling words.  And that matters, even if no one else is paying attention."

I know them.  I believe them.  I don't do as good a job as I'd like to think at living them.  I breathe a sigh of relief that she had the courage to write them in her own beautiful voice.

I'd like to promise it won't happen again, that from this day forth I will no longer care if no one else but God is paying attention to my words.  I know I write because I feel the words burning inside me and I am compelled to share them.  But in the end, if God was my only fan, why feel deflated about that?  After all, he's the one who puts the words there in the first place.  I just need to listen and pour them back out to him.

And I'll always be a recovering drunken writer.

Friday, September 7, 2012

On writing: Lingering questions, emerging answers

In my four months of medical leave, I did a lot more writing and thinking about writing than I have since Ricardo put an engagement ring on my finger at the first of the year, and we were off running this mad sprint of wedding planning.  And all that thinking was beneficial, I hope, except I came away with a lot of lingering questions.  Questions that maybe only other writers fully understand, the ones that might bore my readers.  So if you can bear with me, and if you have any feedback, please hear me out: I could really use it. 
  • Like, what makes a blog successful - and for that matter, more successful than another?
  • How much of it has to do with good writing, and how much has to do with having enough contacts and visibility, and perhaps most of all, creating a niche for yourself in the big wide expanse of Blogosphere?
  • Who are my audience, really?  Am I really writing for a wider audience, or am I excluding people, through my language, who I want to draw in? 
  • Why are so many non-writers writing books and getting published, while I am chomping at the bit to have enough direction for a book project?  
  • How do I walk this fine line of writing for the sheer joy of the craft, because it's in me and needs to come out, and writing for others - because I want, more than anything, for my words to count for something?
  • Do I have what it takes?
To be fair, some answers have emerged over time 

While I may appreciate the overtly Christian blogs and go to them some days for encouragement, the truth is, that's not who I really want to be.  My faith and Jesus play a deeply defining role in my writing, for sure, but I yearn to be the kind of writer who can own my faith and at the same time, make an inviting space for those who share differences of faith, politics, worldviews, and opinions.  Yes, I have my strong beliefs, but I'm comfortable with them not bleeding out of my writing every chance I get.  I don't have all the answers.

I know I'm not a daily-dose-of-inspiration blog.  I hope my writing can be inspiring, but I know it's not always in an upbeat way. 

While themes like gratitude have been and continue to be foundational to my writing, I don't need or want to be another Ann Voskamp.  I can't be.  I am indebted to her, and writers like her, for the impact their writing has had in my life, but I am not her or them.  I am me. And the world does not need more writers imitating each other.

The blogs I gravitate to most are the ones where writers have distinct, artistic voices.  Who are not afraid to be real.  Who don't wrap life up in neat little packages.   Who inspire, evoke emotion, make me laugh, help me not feel so alone and crazy in my messiness, aren't afraid to be different or rough around the edges, who can be strong in who they are without fitting in a box.  I'm not there yet.  But this is the kind of writer I aspire to be.  

I choose to be a courageous writer, to find my own voice, even while, at times, drawing upon the voices of others who challenge and inspire.

And finally, my niche.  I don't have one, in a clearly-defined sense.  This is not a mom blog, obviously.  It's not a newly-wed blog or a Christian blog or a women's blog.  It's not a do-it-yourself blog or artsy-craftsy blog, a food blog or travel blog.  So, what is it, then?  

The longer I have this blog, the more clearly I see that Beautiful rubbish is an evolving theme.  It's about growth and change and healing in the midst of the mundane, seemingly ordinary, painful and dark times of daily living.  It's about being real, about learning to see with more than physical eyesight - with eyes of gratitude - to the redemption and beauty that exist even in the messiness.  It's about appreciating the simple, everyday joys and gifts of life, whether out in the open or hidden underneath muck and rocks.  

And Beautiful rubbish, I can see, is about this sweet intersection between childhood and adulthood; the sacred place where they meet, timeless and ageless and pure.  Somehow, I want to focus more on this place, because Lord knows we adults need to remember the child we began as, the one who still lives in us, whether we openly embrace that person or not.  

As I wrote the other day, growing up never was meant to grow us away from what first captured our hearts.  This is going to be a theme emerging more concretely on this blog.

If this sounds like you, or something that resonates with your heart, then by all means, please hang in with me.  I'd love for us to be more of a community.

Thanks for being here, and I hope to see you around and even hear your voice on this journey.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Just Write: Retracing the dust of childhood

I'm watching a video and it only takes eight seconds for the tears to pool, miniature waterfalls tumbling down my cheeks.  The music, the footage, the stories, the faces, I'm utterly sucked in.  Ricardo turns to me and says, "Why didn't you study to work with animals?  Really.  That's what you should have done."

The video?  Beagles released from a life as research subjects, crammed in metal crates for their whole lives these three years.  Never seen the sun or stepped paws onto grass.  When their cage doors were opened in the middle of a grassy yard, ten minutes passed before the first brave beagle soul stepped unsteady onto grass with soulful eyes.

No, it's not genocide.  It's not drought or famine.  It's not human trafficking or the AIDS epidemic.  It's not a number of devastating, heart-rending injustices that rob human beings of life (and also bring tears to my eyes).  It's just beagles - released from imprisonment.

And I shrug, blink back through moist eyes at Ricardo's expectant face.  "I guess I never thought of it."

But really, when did the thought ever disappear from my world of dreams?  As a little girl, I was always begging my parents for pets.  We took in stray cats, cared for goldfish won as prizes at school carnivals, loved on worms from the garden, opened our hearts to two rats who gave us ten babies, tried out hamsters and gerbils, and rescued my one and only dog, Yankee Doodle, from the pound.  I even mothered our neighbor's pets - Lady and Skip, beautiful thoroughbred horses, and Norton, the lovable Springer Spaniel who was best friends to Yankee, and all their jersey cows.  I dreamed of owning a seal that lived in our bathtub and slept in bed with me, and thought I might one day pursue a career as a pet trainer at Sea World, to swim with dolphins and orcas.  I crafted homes for fuzzy caterpillars in a shoebox, then released them after a day or so, with a guilty conscience.  I nursed a baby squirrel we found sick in our backyard and cried when she died.

And yet, at some point, I tucked this love away.  Perhaps it had to grow up, like me, and so I traded for something more serious.  More mature and professional.  Where did I learn to believe that caring for animals was only for children and veterinarians?

Now I'm thirty-one.  And for several years, these dusty passions exiled in childhood are making a gradual pilgrimage back to my heart.  They keep gently knocking on my door, reminding me they're still alive, like long-lost and treasured relatives.  I'm not searching for a new career path, one with animals, but I open the door and welcome in these dusty travelers.  As they make themselves at home in me again, they awaken places in me that I cherish.  Instead of drowning out their voices, I open my ears and listen, and I find smiles and tears and joy so sweet.  And I give myself permission, once more, to dream of a home one day with rescued dogs and goats, chickens and parrotlets, fish and bunnies and maybe a donkey.  I dream of imparting this love to my children, of providing a home where they can grow up with furry family members.  Because I will never, ever outgrow this.  It's in me.

Towering trees with climbing branches, fields of grass and wheat bowing down in the breeze, creeks running cold with crawdads and tadpoles, dancing in ocean waves foaming, barns filled with the sweet smell of hay and musty wood beams, forests for exploring, autumn soaked leaves for collecting, earthy scent of horses as we nuzzle nose to nose, pitching backyard tents to stargaze, soap sudsy tarps for sliding, big-eyed does wandering through backyards, cherry trees heavy with fruit for the picking, arms wrapped around soft cow necks, chocolate milk puddle splashing in spring rains, pouring my heart out to trusty dog ears.  The magic of childhood.

And I wonder, how much of who we are as children and what we love remains, covered in dust, waiting for us to open the door as adults to welcome them back in?  Maybe growing up never was meant to grow us away from what first captured our hearts. 

Joining the Just Write community today over at Heather King's delightful blog.