Tag Archives: art

Whirlwind in the Windy City

Chicago has a way of tricking me into thinking I could live in the midwest.

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The lake really is quite huge. You can’t see to the other side of it and it slaps against the edge and even has whitecaps in the wind.

The L is just as bizarre as the T. Actually, that’s probably not true. At least it’s cooler because it’s above-ground.

The Chicago Institute of Art is one my favorite museums.

There’s good coffee everywhere.

And as of right now, I have two good friends living out there, and the numbers seem to be growing.

I finished Andre Dubus III’s memoir Townie on the plane. I closed the book and cried (just a little, no one noticed, but there were tears nonetheless), and even though I tried to put words to it (like kinship and desire and maybe someday) there was no way to separate the reasons that book hit me.

I landed in Chicago to the arms of the friend I met teaching English last summer. Her hair was just as wild in March as July and the weather was no better than Boston.

We wandered the Art Institute (and this time I didn’t take a nap in the park).

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The most beautiful sculpture that my blurry pictures don’t do justice to. My first thought was Adam and Eve, before and after the Fall. I wasn’t far off, together and not together, to know each other but still not fully know another person.

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I met a good friend from high school, and she took me to Wilde Bar and Restaurant. That’s right, Oscar Wilde, complete with quotes. I saw her condo and she showed me the bus system and I navigated it just fine, thank you very much.

We got dressed up to pumpin’ tunes. I dumbly forgot my contacts, so I took on the challenge to look sophisticated and Friday-night-out-worthy wearing glasses.

I greeted the boys, our dates, our city-chaperones, with the charming:

“Can I help you find your reference materials?”

(They said no and took us out on the town.)

Heard of dueling pianos? Check out Howl at the Moon and get ready for some loud singing and great piano.

Take a taxi to Navy Pier and attempt to get on the ferris wheel. Accidentally crash a wedding reception while your date steals the show, find the ferris wheel closed, then awkwardly walk back through that same wedding reception.

Have two taxis stolen right out from under you.

Sit at the Drake with new friends and newer friends, drink a classy cocktail, and wish you could sing along with the Frank Sinatra crooner and baby grand.

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Take a walk in the sunshine on your last day and wish that everyone you love lived in the same place.

Chicago1And be grateful for airplanes.

The World by Alexandria

When I first watched The Fall it was October of 2011 and I was sitting in an upstairs apartment in the dark. My friends had recommended it highly and they sat next to me, across from me, eyes glued to the television. It was beautiful – the red sharp against the desert sand, the ocean a deep tropical blue-green, the feeling of a huge block of ice melting on your tongue.

My reaction to this movie is visceral. I’d rather not try to paraphrase it here – a string of words that means nothing if you haven’t seen it for yourself – but every time I watch the six-year-old Alexandria discover (yet again) that life is not perfect, that evil happens, and that people make the wrong choices every day, I am thrown into a pair of worn-out mary-janes and shocked by the very same things Alexandria cannot accept. The tears pouring down the rounded contours of her cheeks dampen the navy sweatshirt I’m wearing every time.

I watched The Fall again last week. I should’ve warned my friend how I react because I think it was surprising. What strikes me is that I’m not even sure the director or writer intend for me to view their film the way I do. God wasn’t in the picture for them, most likely, but that is what I see.

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As Roy tells Alexandria the fantastical story of bandits and adventure, he manipulates. He twists the story for his needs. He shakes morphine pills out of a plot line and uses a little girl’s devotion to alleviate his suffering. In the end, as he’s realizing the futility of his own life, he begins to destroy the world he’s built, and as each of the beloved characters dies, Alexandria becomes more and more outraged. Deeply angry, deeply sad, she cries out to him in both the story and real-life,

“This is my story too!”

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She weeps for her friends in this false-reality, but I think she is also weeping for herself. For Roy and his brokenness. For her dead father. For all the things that happened but shouldn’t have, and for all the things that should’ve happened but never did.

All I can think as I am re-immersed in this story is that Alexandria is not alone in her sadness, her anger. When God watches what we’ve chosen, He feels something akin to it, I think.

This is not the way the world is supposed to be. I feel this way when I watch movies like The Fall, when I hear about typhoons in the Philippines, when I read about another gunman.

I feel this when I (yet again) choose comfort and ease over helping another. When I watch students I care about spiral down a path that can only lead to more wrong choices. When I try to love and can’t. When I remember the death of a boy I knew, a boy whose grin is still bright in my mind.

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I know that this might not be what the artists had in mind when they made The Fall. That’s the beauty of art, though, the grappling and insight that comes even when you don’t expect it. I’m grateful for the beauty they created, for the suffering they show, and for the reaction of a little girl who speaks for me in ways I’m not always able.

Good Things #22

Latin. I’ve only been teaching Latin for a year and half, but let me tell you, there are some pretty crazy things I’ve been learning. We had an event at school where parents and potential-parents of students could learn about classical education and what the heck are you doing over there, anyway? So for twenty minutes, I gave a “Welcome to Latin” class to adults – because let’s face it, lots of people wonder…

Here’s the thing: you should see how uncomfortable grown, successful adults become when asked to read a sentence in a language they don’t know.

I started by talking about SATs and the benefits of learning Latin for vocabulary and how Latin helps you learn other languages.

Here, look at our textbook. It’s so cool – it’s all Latin! Even my third graders start right here, page one (or seven, technically). Go ahead, read the first sentence.

Cricket.

I had to volunteer the only parent I recognized in the room. Let me say that the sentence was anything but complicated:

Roma in Italiā est.

(Oh my gosh I can’t believe I figured out how to include macrons in a blogpost!)

What do you think it means?

Yep, Rome is in Italy.

But you should’ve seen the trepidation in their eyes, the slowness in their speech. They looked up at me when they encountered a new word, and they were even less inclined to take a risk than their nine-year-old child.

I was struck tonight by our inhibitions.

We spend so much time trying to hide things that we stunt ourselves. Or, maybe I should say, I do. Or I did. Or I still do, but I’m getting better.

If I walked into an art class right now, I would hardly remember how a piece of charcoal feels in my hand. I’d be embarrassed by my lack of art vocabulary; I’d fear my fellow students’ critiquing eye and vast knowledge.

I’d look up at my teacher with eyes filled with questions, but the biggest one would be:

Can I do this?

That’s what I encounter every day. I’m learning slowly that teaching Latin is so much more than teaching declensions and conjugations, derivatives and study skills.

Really, it’s about answering that question. And hopefully as it gets answered more and more, and each time I’m proven right, my students will be able to stop asking it.

I’d love for the day to come when I don’t need anyone to tell me I can pick up watercolors and paint. I’d love to take a pottery class and create beautiful and useful things. I wish that, in this one lifetime I’ve been given, I could grow enough to stop asking the question.

Maybe someday instead of Can I do this?, I’ll start asking, What will I learn if I try?

What I’m working on right now? Learning to spin wool with a drop spindle (this procedure deserves its very own post). It’s taking longer than I ever expected, and I’m terrible. But I persevere, if only because I want a nice skein of yarn at the end of it.

Tonight, a few unsuspecting parents and I read a whole paragraph in Latin. Not everyone can say that.

[And here’s a song I’ve been loving.]

 

[Photo: Johnny Grim]

Good Things #21: Pinterest

Pinterest, anyone?

I know I am a little late on the band wagon, but that seems to be my lot in life.

Okay, okay. If you know me, you’ve heard my mini-rant about how Pinterest makes you want things you don’t have and is just promoting the cyber world over the real world (why look at cool ideas instead of doing them?!).

And while I still agree with the above statements, I have come to realize that Pinterest holds a lot of awesomeness.

I’m pretty new to it, so I haven’t exactly plumbed the depths of all Pinterest has to offer, but I have some pretty nice boards if you ask me. My favorite is (of course) “my someday farm”, which is really a conglomeration of dream homes and rustic views and animals.

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farms2 Sometimes when I forget how beautiful the world is (like when it’s raining and I’m annoyed and all I want to do is drink hot tea), I look at this board and I feel happy.farms3

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“secret gardens” is beautiful too. My garden may never look like these, but aim high, I say.

gardenMy most outlandish board? Possibly “i couldn’t help it”, because that’s where I pin things I’m embarrassed of, but like I say, I couldn’t help it.  Sherlock lives on!

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And I feel like every single woman in her twenties needs a “world traveler” board. Not that you can’t travel when you’re hitched, but there’s something about the freedom of singlehood that makes traveling so utterly enticing. I keep pinning the most beautiful places – some I’ve seen but most I haven’t – and this is where Pinterest gets unhealthy for me. Every year or so I get itchy to go somewhere, and Pinterest makes it seem so possible.

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italy

 

 

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france

 

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The board that inspires me? That would be “to make”, although “food and other delights” is inspiring in its own fashion…

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I mean, come on. This is the cutest thing since babies.

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Roasted apricots with honey, marscapone, and blackberries? Yes, please.

And as a shout-out to my dear artist friends and my own sense of aesthetics: “artsy”.

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artsy2So, there you have it. There are things in life that I change my mind about. I hear the ability to change your mind is a good thing, at least that’s what I’m going with. Pinterest could without a doubt become a problem for me. Especially when I start to long too deeply for things.

But you know what? Moderation. Like with all Good Things.

[Check me out on Pinterest if you like the outdoors, silly quotes from Sherlock, Latin and teaching ideas, and other not-so-necessary but fun things.]

 

 

 

Athena and Poetry

I bought myself an owl necklace a few days ago. It has a long chain and pearls for eyes. He sits perched on a little swing, his body round and his nose pointy.

I bought it for an Athena costume because the owl is the symbol of wisdom, and Athena is the goddess of all things wise. It’s no coincidence that the goddess of wisdom is also the goddess of the arts: painting, drawing, writing, singing, they all mingle in her power.

I’ve worn it a few times now, always expecting to put on something else – something a little more normal, a little more traditionally me – but each time I reach for this odd gold owl. I like that when I talk, I can hold it, and I like the way it feels in my hand.

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I taught my first poetry class to a room of adults, and I wondered What am I doing? but instead I said, Here, read this Ted Kooser poem about loss and brokenness, and let me define “imagery” and “diction” and “personification”. And please, pretend you’re in eighth grade and this is all new to you. Thanks.

I tried to present poetry like the mysterious gift that it is. What is imagery? You tell me. What do you see, taste, touch, hear, smell? What do you feel, and how does the poet make you feel that? What does Kooser do that other poets do not? Can you create your own images? Can you reshape this to be yours?

This is the work of poetry. This is the distilling of moments.

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I slipped the long chain over my head as I got dressed in the dark. My first poetry lesson would be in roughly two hours. My first attempt at teaching this thing I have come to love would be over in roughly two hours and twenty-five minutes.

The owl swung down on its perch, its pearly eyes wide.

[Photo: Farid Fleifel.]

Good Things #3

You know those days when you think: I wish this day never ended?  That’s how I feel most Sundays this spring.

But, it ended and Monday dawned bright and sunny.

Here’s how I’m starting my 5th-to-last week of school:

Music. This song is getting me. Originally sketched by Bob Dylan, the song was completed by Old Crow Medicine Show (what a great band name!). Maybe it’s the New England part, maybe it’s the harmonies. The romance doesn’t hurt, either.

Art. I went to my first art show in nearly two years, and it was like I’d forgotten part of myself for awhile. I don’t know much (or, really, anything) about the visual arts, but part of me wants to keep it that way. To just sit back and marvel at the artistry without worrying about how they did it. I can’t do that with writing or music, so I think I’ll keep visual art in that beautiful, ignorant place.

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Movies. We went to see The Great Gatsby with two friends Saturday night. We’d heard It’s all glitter and one long music video. There was glitter. And there was certainly music. But the thing is, that was the point. The book was all about the corruption and debauchery of the 1920s, and that’s what this movie showed, just in more 21st-century terms. I’m sure LOADS of my English-friends will disagree with me, saying it destroyed the book. Well, I enjoyed the destruction.

Family. Yesterday afternoon, I brought books out to the lawn and read in the grass. My brothers and sister played cribbage, and their laughter and arguments over the score drifted out to me through the garden. When I looked over, I could only see pieces of them through the white birch tree.  You know how wonderful it is to listen to people you love? And it was even better because I was a little separate, reading and reveling in the sounds.

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[That is NOT a honey bee.]

[P.S. The chicken class went well! It was kinda funny – only two older women and me, but it was great. More like a coffee date than anything, and we probably spent more time on writing and other nonsense than the down-and-dirty-facts of chicken-rearing. People are so interesting.]

[P.P.S. The morning glories are from last summer – there’s no way they’d be that big already. Soon!]

What Good Things are you enjoying? Feel free to link-up a youtube video for music or movies!

Faces and Illuminated Manuscripts

I wander into the throng of people, past the long table covered in delicious-looking food, and into the gallery. I haven’t been in this building in nearly two years; the tile floors and walls of windows remind me of creative writing classes and theatre monologues and my first interview for college admission.

Now I’m twenty-four years old and attending the senior project of a fellow lit-journal friend. I’m not sure who I’ll run into, who will glance at me from across the room and smile (or not smile). I rarely like to read about the projects first – the words get all tied up in my mind and crowd out what my eyes are seeing – so I skip ahead and look at the repetition of trees and brick building edges. In the center is a dark, tiny room, with illuminated manuscripts meticulously created. Candles flicker, and I want to reach out and touch despite the “Please Do Not Touch” sign.

I know it’s hers when I see the faces, familiar faces that I can’t put names to. The oil paintings watch us as we gaze, and I’m shocked at the enormity of time and material and space this takes up.

[My senior thesis was “Poetry and Music”, a mere hour and ten minutes of my hardest and best and most exhausting work. English, German, Italian : aria, song, jazz. That was two years ago.]

I know why I’ve come when I run into an old professor, a man who sat across from me in a Salzburg coffee shop and didn’t have to pretend he was interested in our conversation. We stand talking, he, his wife, another art professor, and I.

Teaching Latin at a Christian school. Love it.

What’s next?

THIS. or THIS. or THIS.

You’ve got the moxie for that.

And even though I’ve never heard the word “moxie” other than soda, I know what it means, and I smile.

So it can be done! You did it – taught and created and studied – and now look at you! Yes.

My fear of being the one who “had so much potential” but never quite cut it ebbs as I see the lack of concern in their eyes.

We do not actually know it, but we sense it: our life has a sister vessel which plies an entirely different route. While the sun burns behind the islands.

– “Blue House” by Tomas Transtromer

The Writing Life [and its many components]

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The feeling I get standing in the wings, waiting to walk out on stage.

The scratchy grass on my back, the sun too bright in my eyes, and the smell of the earth baking.

Singing “Caput, umeri, genua, pedes” (“head, shoulders, knees, and toes”…or feet, technically) til I feel like I’ve gotten my workout for the day.

Digging in the cold, icy earth first thing in the spring. Clearing away old brush. Seeing nothing but gray-brown until one sunny morning green shoots magically appear.

The moment I scan through the mail and see in beautiful or messy or barely-there handwriting my name and address. Opening a letter that’s traveled from Pennsylvania or Maine or Switzerland. Remembering that geography isn’t strong enough to destroy good friendships.

The ocean, cold and thick with seaweeds. The feeling of rough sand on my feet, when I can barely see because the wind is whipping my hair in my face. The long stretches of days when for a moment I truly think it will never end.

When I walk around the corner at a museum and come upon a life-size sculpture. The lines of the body, the artistry in the way the cloak is draped across the torso, the way the sculpture seems to be breathing right there in front of me.

Explaining the word “etymology” to a too-young class because they’re too excited to wait. Opening their minds up to the beauty of language and the world ahead of them.

The way I feel when I’m surrounded by people I love. Maybe at my house, maybe at a dark cozy restaurant, maybe at a beach house or church or the lake.

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I don’t think it’s possible to be a writer and love only writing.

Last summer, I wrote a post about my plans to write when I was at the beach for a week. I foolishly anticipated long stretches of time when I would be able to read and write to my heart’s content. What I forgot to factor in was people: the people who make everything worth it. Who can turn down a four-hand cribbage game with the Gram, a brother, and a cousin? Who can stay cozied up on a beach chair while everyone else goes for a long ambling walk along the ocean? Who asks a room-full of family to “Please stop singing along to the record player because I’m trying to write?”

Some people probably do, but this girl finds it pretty difficult.

Writing is a solitary act in so many ways. Right now, I’m sitting at my kitchen table, waiting for the water to boil so I can fill my french press. I’m alone, and that’s okay for now. In fact, it’s rather nice. In the long term, though? Not so much fun.

Maybe there is a writer out there who loathes people. Maybe he sits at his desk for ten hours a day and throws his hands up in gratitude that he never has to interact with anyone. Maybe he doesn’t like music or art or the outdoors or any of the other beautiful things of life.

I don’t think I’d really connect with whatever he wrote.

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I had a long talk with a friend from college. He was asking what I was up to, what life looked like lately. I told him about teaching Latin (“You wouldn’t believe it! When I teach them derivatives it’s like they cannot believe ‘manipulate’ comes from manus and they freak out.” Granted, this is only my younger grades. My high schoolers are a little less enthused.), directing Alice in Wonderland (“Do you know what it’s like to have those songs stuck in your head ALL THE TIME?”), and applying to MFA programs (Um, scared.). It was in talking with him that I remembered one of the best parts of being a writer: Everything I do will add to it.

I came across this woman from Colorado. We’d actually met briefly four or five years ago, but I found her because of Twitter (that all-too-kind-suggester thought we should be friends). We’ve been writing back and forth, and she was telling me about applying to grad school – but in history, not writing. What is history if not stories? What is music if not stories in sound? And what is good conversation if not a sharing of our personal plot lines?

Being a writer is like having the biggest job description ever.

Do I make my money from writing?

Not yet.

But writing makes you look at the world and your life in a different way. It makes you more attuned to the little things, and it reminds you that sharing those experiences and being able to reproduce a moment of truth for someone else is your job.

[Over-nighted my last MFA application. Any nervousness I would’ve felt was nervoused-away in the days leading up to it. I popped it in the mail between Latin classes, and I’m currently attempting to pretend to forget.]

Writing (and reading) connect us to each other. Just as I met Anne who’s going to study history, I can write about any of those things and someone in the middle of South Dakota or Canada or the United Kingdom probably loves them too. It’s all part of living the Full Life, like I tried weakly to express in an earlier post. It’s one of those constant discoveries I keep discovering.

Do I regret going for walks at the beach? Playing cribbage and screaming during games of Taboo? Do I wish I’d really committed and sat down and written line after line of poetry or what-have-you? No way.

Advent and Narrative

My Advent-morning ritual is elongated today. All the fifth and sixth graders are off on various field trips, leaving me with only my high school class before noon. The coffee’s steeping (brewing? I know what we say for tea, but what does coffee do in a French press?!), candles are burning, and the tree is lit. Attempting for a moment to slow down and think.

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A friend told me the other day that she’s afraid of blogging because of how personal it is. She’s written a few posts (to which I am privy), but she said she felt hindered because she didn’t want people to know things about her. [this is where I’m tempted to post a link to her blog, but I’d rather not die today]

She’s right, though. There is this strange reality that I haven’t really dealt with yet: personal histories being read by strangers.

Growing up, I was intensely private. I remember having a crush on one of the boys in town, and I didn’t tell a living soul. My sister begged me, pleaded, said she didn’t understand why I didn’t trust her. But there was no way I was letting anyone in on that secret part of my life. I thought it was foolish to open up to people, because you never knew when they would use that information against you. (I guess I was a cynical nine-year-old…)

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Things have changed in the last decade or more. I think college had a lot to do with it. Living in such close proximity with peers, getting to know the ins and outs of roommates, friends, classmates, sometimes to the point of really not wanting to know ANYMORE. (I’m just kidding, guys. Bring me your woes, your fears, your strivings!) I came in as a freshman with no desire to open myself to the possibilities.

I was scared.

But I’ve realized that there isn’t much more to life than opening up to the possibilities. Isn’t that what God asks of us? Open yourself up to the possibility of being loved. Open yourself up to knowing Me. Open yourself up to the fullness of My blessings.

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The best literature is honest. The best writing is the writing that gets at the core of it. I’ve read a lot of good writing, but the stuff that sticks in my mind, the words that have burned themselves into my consciousness, are the ones that spoke from the writer’s soul. That is what connects us.

I’m reading Wild, a memoir about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. The author, Cheryl Strayed, gets lost and attempts to find out where she is by using the graphs and maps and calculations in her guidebook. It doesn’t work. She’s not very mathematical: “I see things in narrative,” she says.

While I certainly value math and science, and even enjoy them sometimes, I come from Strayed’s view. I see things in narrative. I look back on the things that have happened in my life, the people I have known, and I see stories.

Now, blogging may not be for my friend. It does require a certain openness, a certain letting-go of oneself. I told her there were many ways to blog – to write. If she’d rather stick with the less-personal, she should!

But the stories are what connect us. They are what show us the brokenness in each other, but they are also what deliver salvation.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6 

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The Art of Letter-Writing

There are few things that bring light to my day like a good letter. When I was little, I had two pen pals – my cousin who lived in northern Maine and my neighbor’s granddaughter who lived down in Virginia. We were very dedicated little writers; I remember getting envelopes stuffed to the brim with things like stickers, little plastic toys, homemade bookmarks.

I keep all of them in my great-grandfather’s old briefcase, the one with the gold clasps.

The one on the bottom has all my old manuscripts – all the horrible plays and short stories I wrote before I became self-conscious. The middle one is my great-grandfather’s, the leather handle almost broken off.

Almost every letter I’ve ever received (along with birthday cards, letters from my sponsor child in India, little notes I used to pass in class) is stuffed in.

The top one holds my letter-writing things: stationery, cards, my old wax and stamp kit, my address book (yes, I have an address book).

I probably never would’ve stopped writing to them, but middle school does different things to people.

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Letter-writing is very personal. It’s like a journal, only in some ways, it’s far more vulnerable. You’re opening your thoughts, your life, to someone else, trusting him or her to guard it, to read a part of you without judgment.

It’s personal, and yet there are so many beautiful, meaningful letters to read. My uncle told me about this website (“Catherine, you’d love this.”), Letters of Note, and I’ve poured over it.Steinbeck’s letter to his son about love is one of my favorites – honest, straight-forward, understanding, loving.

And while my letters will most likely never be read by anyone other than the intended recipient, I still like the idea that I join a long line of people before me. Thinkers, lovers, readers, writers, artists, theologians. People who stopped, saw the beauty around them, and then made that beauty palpable for those they loved.

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This week I got a letter from my world-traveling friend. I read it once, twice, disbelieving of the beauty of my friend’s artistry, both in word and paint.

Switzerland is far away, and even though I miss my friend dearly, letters like this help make up for it.