Tag Archives: beauty

Good Things #15

I decided to write “Good Things Mondays” back when Monday morning was spent with my writing and reading and catching-up. This year, my schedule has shifted, and Wednesday is now the day for creativity.

So, are things just as Good on Wednesdays as they are on Mondays?

I like to think so.

Thought-provoking. I have recently become re-addicted to TED Talks. I posted one last week on being a twenty-something, and this week’s favorite is on body language. We’ve heard this idea before – that information is conveyed through non-verbal cues – but Amy Cuddy asks if perhaps our body language can change our thinking. It left me thinking: How do I portray myself just by the way I stand? Do I adopt a posture of powerlessness? Or the other way around?

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Music. I can’t remember how I found this song. Probably Pandora. And for once I was smart and wrote down the name. It’s called “Way Over Yonder in a Minor Key”, and the version I like the best isn’t on Youtube. This one’s pretty good though, and when I heard his speaking voice, I was surprised he sang such folksy music.

Books. Right now I’m reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer. I bought it from an independent used book store right before they were unceremoniously kicked out of their space of twenty-plus years by outrageously-raised rent (can you tell what I think about that?). It’s written as letters back and forth so that was an adjustment at first. It’s set post WWII, and I really like that time period these days. It’s also Shaffer’s first novel, and I like reading author’s firsts.

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Fall walks, bike rides, etc. Is there any other season that begs to be walked in? The leaves are changing here in New England, the air is crisp, and I revel in the particular way the sun looks in autumn.

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Fall foods. Crunchy apples. Warm cider. Pumpkins (uneaten on the steps). Cider doughnuts. Apple pie (as soon as I get to apple picking).

Woo-hoo! So, I submitted a poem to a competition a few months ago (okay, more like a lot of months ago), and while it didn’t win, it was one of 17 finalists. It’s called “Almost Family” and it comes out in the September issue of Ruminate. A step in the right direction. Now if only I could write more…and more… If you click on the link, you’ll see my name, fourth from the top in the poetry section as proof!

Words. Autumnal. Puerile. Euphoric.

Painting in the Temporary

I’ve been rearranging my bedroom for the past few weeks. Yes, it takes me a long time. Partly because I’ve only devoted small chunks of time to pondering the feng shui of this girlhood bedroom of mine, and partly because something is in the way.

I think I need to paint my bedroom.

This is not a huge development for most of you. But look at it this way:

1. I haven’t changed the color of my room since high school.

2. I don’t like doing big projects and I especially don’t like doing them alone.

3. Alone, you say? What about your sister?

4. Oh, right, she’s moved out and designing her own a-little-bit-too-big-for-one-person bedroom.

So that’s the crux of it. I sit on my bed and look around. Maybe the bookshelves should go here? Maybe I need more bookshelves (well, that’s a definite)? Maybe I should move my pictures to the other wall? Maybe I’m the most indecisive domestic there is? And all of this wondering is stuck because I feel like I need to paint over the white compound marks her posters so cunningly covered, but I don’t have the heart to do it all alone.

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When we were little girls – maybe nine and ten – we painted our room “Frosted Cranberry.” We huddled our beds in the middle, draped old sheets over everything, and Mom taught us how to roll the thick dark paint on the walls. I was terrible at edging so Mom did that, carefully maneuvering around the moulding with the same attention to detail she brings to weeding the garden.

That is the color I think of when I remember being a little girl.

The deep cranberry of Laura Ingalls Wilder Club, writing inventive and terrible short stories about murders in a small town, trying to start a business – any business – because entrepreneurialship is in my blood, and, probably the best, the color of two twin beds sitting parallel with a little rug in between.

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If “Frosted Cranberry” is the color of my childhood, and “Waterfall” is the color of my teenage hood, what should be the color of my young adulthood?

I think there is a tiny part of me that is afraid to commit to this place in the form of new paint.

How long will I call this room mine?

How long will I actually spend in this little white house?

And how many hours do I want to devote to a project that will take me far too long for what it is?

But I am reminded that temporary things deserve as much beauty and commitment as non-temporary things. I get stuck when I think that way; if I’m always waiting for certainty, I’ll never do anything. Before I know it, I’ll be living in a room with worn-through carpet and peeling-off paint.

Why live in a room whose walls are covered in compound and the smoke of beautiful candles burned years ago? Does it matter if I’m here only one more year?

Wouldn’t I rather be surrounded by beauty?

I know that I could elicit help from a brother or a friend. Maybe I will. My sister would probably even come home for the weekend and slap some paint on these walls.

But I’m the only one choosing the paint.

Night Fishing

I hadn’t been night fishing since I was nine or ten. I’d fallen asleep in the middle of our 14-footer, and I remember waking up to the bright stars spread out wide around us, my father at the motor behind me, my uncle’s cigarette lit up at the bow. What were we fishing for? I don’t know, but I remember feeling like a rebel – out past my bedtime, the dark ocean engulfing us in our smallness.

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We went night fishing again this Sunday, leaving as the rain started pelting huge white drops on the pavement. “It’ll let up,” Dad said, even though of course he had no idea.

We followed him anyway.

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Down to the marina, across the wobbly dock, into the boat my grandpa bought in the ’80s. The floor’s starting to give-way, but we cruised out of the channel, me in a backwards Red Sox cap to both contain my hair and make me feel like I was actually fishing.

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There are things that overwhelm you. The ocean is almost always one of those things for me.

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And sometimes, you want to talk about that overwhelmed feeling. Your girl friends sit across from you and plumb the depths of your mind and soul. They ask questions and you question yourself and you hope that no innocent bystander is listening to your crazy.

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And other times you don’t want to talk about it at all.

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Sometimes being on the boat with your dad and your brother is the perfect place to be quiet and thoughtful and melancholy and not be asked why. And a backwards Red Sox cap is exactly what you should be wearing.

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[We caught a fish at the same time, not big enough to keep but big enough to sore my shoulder and bruise my rib where the rod was sticking – I am tender. The fins were sharp but stripers don’t bite, and I was proud.]

IMG_1626 [We got home at 10:00pm and I fell asleep, exhausted. Grandpa would’ve been proud.]

Good Things Whenever #12

My Good Things Mondays have been tossed about by 1) my lack of planning and attention, 2) my lack of time, and 3) that’s pretty much it.

Not that there has been a shortage of good things lately. One might say that I’ve been discovering more and more good things with these last few weeks. These kids are hilarious (a little anecdote: a thirteen-year-old boy in my class loves sausage, so every time I ask for a noun, he shouts out, “Sausages!” and I die laughing.)

Even though I’ve been teaching and living at school, I’ve still been able to go to the farmers’ market on the weekends. We even tried out a new market Saturday – our name’s getting out there.

Among the new things I’ve discovered:

This is my new favorite musician. It was one of those moments – you know what I’m talking about. You put a cd in your car radio, a cd a friend claimed to love and then lent you, making you a little nervous about both your response to said music and if his taste in music will cause you to avoid the topic all together in the future. But you pop it in, and the first chord – the first sound of his voice in your car – reminds you of the most beautiful reasons we create.

We write because we are confused, and confusion gets worked out through pen and paper and sharing.

We make music because it is the thrum of life. Because it is in so many ways a universal language. Because I truly believe God has a special place for notes strung together and shaped into stories.

And when redemption is longed for, the beginning of redemption has begun.

I have one day of teaching left, and one day with these students I am only beginning to know and understand. I will never see them again. They will be strewn across the globe and I am only one woman in a small town in Massachusetts. But I know that every time they hear “English only!”, every time they listen to Adele’s “Someone Like You” and the Beatles’ “When I’m 64” and Joan Baez’s rendition of “Boots of Spanish Leather,” they will think of Miss Hawkins.

[Lyrics to James Vincent McMorrow’s song]

“We Don’t Eat”

If this is redemption, why do I bother at all?

There’s nothing to mention, and nothing has changed

Still I’d rather be working for something, than praying for the rain

So I wander on, until someone else is saved

 

I moved to the coast, under a mountain

Swam in the ocean, slept on my own

At dawn I would watch the sun cut ribbons through the bay

I’d remember all the things my mother wrote

 

That we don’t eat until your father’s at the table

We don’t drink until the devil’s turned to dust

Never once has any man I’ve met been able to love

So if I were you, I’d have a little trust

 

Two thousand years, I’ve been in that water

Two thousand years, sunk like a stone

Desperately reaching for nets

That the fishermen have thrown

Trying to find, a little bit of hope

 

Me, I was holding all of my secrets soft and hid

Pages were folded, then there was nothing at all

So if in the future I might need myself a savior

I’ll remember what was written on that wall

 

That we don’t eat until your father’s at the table

We don’t drink until the devil’s turned to dust

Never once has any man I’ve met been able to love

So if I were you, I’d have a little trust

 

Am I an honest man and true?

Have I been good to you at all?

Oh I’m so tired of playing these games

We’d just be running down

The same old lines, the same old stories of

Breathless trains and worn down glories

Houses burning, worlds that turn on their own

 

So we don’t eat until your father’s at the table

We don’t drink until the devil’s turned to dust

Never once has any man I’ve met been able to love

So if I were you my friend, I’d learn to have just a little bit of trust

Good Things #8: Willing to be Dazzled

[I wrote this post as part of the Love Yourself link-up started by my friend, Anne. It goes beyond loving yourself – it starts by allowing things to dazzle you, and then, maybe, you will dazzle yourself.]

I am sitting at a round wooden picnic table. The sun is blaring hot and it isn’t even 9:00 in the morning. The beach is quiet today after a people-packed weekend – there isn’t a single person on the sand.

For my beach read this summer, I packed Bridget Jones’s Diary. I’ve never read it before, even though I’ve seen the movie, and I thought it was a pretty light book for the ocean. Poor Bridget. I sometimes see myself in her, but most of the time I just wonder: What were you thinking?!

I also brought along some Mary Oliver. My first impression of her was not so grand; nature poets don’t hold my attention as much as they should, perhaps. But every now and then I come across a gem, a piece of honest beauty.

Still, what I want in my life

is to be willing

to be dazzled –

to cast aside the weight of facts

 

and maybe even

to float a little

above this difficult world.

I want to believe I am looking

 

into the white fire of a great mystery.

– The Ponds

This hit me in a gentle strong way. Maybe I can’t help having moments of darkness, but perhaps they are made darker by my unwillingness to be dazzled. Maybe it is this small, simple thing that makes life sharp and pulsing.

Maybe it’s this willingness that sets people apart.

The sun is hot as blazes on my right arm. I’m already sweating. But the sea is sparkling in the light, the grasses on the dunes are waving in the breeze, and there is a calmness to the air that settles me.

Shift your focus and you see differently.

The thing is, not everyone can do that. Or at least, not without help. There have been times when I’ve looked at something straight on, I have known that it is beautiful and good, but I’ve not been able to see it. I’ve known but not experienced. I’ve touched but not tasted.

A lot changes when, for a few months, you think maybe your life will never be the same. Maybe, in fact, it’s almost over. You know you are dramatic, but you also know that no one is above dying.

And later, a year later, you are digging a hole in your garden, in which you will sink a spidery rosemary plant, and you look at your arms and marvel at their strength, at even the swinging motion it takes to dig.

One day, you are driving, and you look at your hand on the steering wheel and think, This is my hand. It is no one else’s. And that is shocking to you.

You see, for the first time, really, the sharpness of green grass against blue sky, and you wonder how you looked at the same landscape for the past twenty years but never really saw.

It is perhaps the first time in your life you can honestly say:

I have rejoiced in my suffering. I have praised God for my discomfort. I have been made weak that His strength would show.

That is how I am willing to be dazzled.

Good Things #7 An Invitation

I feel like my head has been spinning for two weeks – not demonically, per se, just with so much stuff. Some of it is an inevitable part of the end of the school-year: baccalaureate, graduation, writing test after test (and subsequently grading those tests…). But part of it I bring on myself: Yes, I’ll come! Yes, I’ve been wanting to see that movie! I haven’t been to a Red Sox game in ages. 

I don’t regret for a minute any of the things I’ve said yes to.

Star Trek 2, from a sincerely un-knowledgebale non-Trekkie, was quite enjoyable. It was loud and action-packed, but the movie’s 3-D was a little painful for me. My eyes kept focusing in and out and I hadn’t thought to wear contacts so those huge 3-D glasses were competing with my regular glasses. The moment Benedict Cumberbatch started speaking, though, it was more than worth it.

The Red Sox lost, but we laughed and told stories and people-watched and I reveled in the history of that place.

Then Baccalaureate and graduation came, faster than I thought and far more emotional. I was surprised at my own internal involvement with this event, with the speakers, the students. Our headmaster spoke at the graduation, and it was a speech that will stay with me (not something I’ve ever said before, I don’t think).

Three questions: 1. What will you do? 2. How will you do it? 3. And with whose power?

It hit me because even though I don’t for a moment regret the way I’ve spent my time these past two weeks, I do regret the things I have let slip to the wayside.

One-on-one time with good friends I need to catch up with.

Chunks of time to do something – anything – like running, or yoga, or even walking.

 

I’ve prayed, but only surface-level prayers.

 

Thank you, God, this sun is beautiful.

Help me.

Hey there.

And those aren’t bad. In fact, I think the regularity with which words to the Lord formed in my mind – even when I was on the run – is a good thing.

What I’ve been thinking about, though, is that I’ve lost the deep communion that is so vital. Vital to my relationship with the Lord, vital to my relationships with my family and dear friends, and vital to my own sense of wholeness.

1. What are you doing? Good and beautiful and helpful things.

2. How are you doing it? Pretty well, with minimal grumbling… 😉

3. With whose strength? Ummmm…

It catches me in the moments right before I fall asleep. You have not communed with your God. He is here, waiting, but you have rushed past him, laughing and happy, but missing that element of reverence.

God isn’t calling me to be less happy. He just wants to share in that happiness.

To have me pause long enough to be wrapped in His strength so I can continue rejoicing.

Now, as I prepare for church, I wonder how to hold these fun, laughing, blessed times with open hands. How to say Thank you and simultaneously invite the Lord to enter into this with me. How to do the good, helpful things I am called to do, do them well, and do them with the only strength that’s worth its salt.

[On Going Back]

We all say the same thing: It’s a flash

and slug.

 

You can’t wrap up time in a pink box

and raise it high in definition. You can’t seal

an envelope with a slow, deliberate lick –

explain the work and love, hate and despair

of four years.

 

What do you say to two shining faces

that’s honest, loving, real?

 

Sometimes, I would forsake all the settledness

I’ve uncovered in these two stretched years

for one day surrounded by the me and yous

of that place.

 

Ponds are dark even when they’re shallow.

The paths around them hold every word

whispered, shouted, proclaimed

until you wonder if the very gravel

has ears.

 

So I tell them: Sometimes, I would forsake

all the settledness I’ve uncovered.

 

Mostly, though, I look with gentleness

at those long-tough times, and I praise God

for not giving me the choice.

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Good Things #2

This past week was unusually beautiful: I drove with the top down, drank iced coffee instead of hot coffee, enjoyed a good Mexican dinner with my brothers and cousin, and felt a hankering for country music (this hits me in the summer – very strange phenomenon). Sunday ended with an hour-long talk on the phone and a reminder that we are all changing, just some are faster than others.

Here are some Good Things that are brightening my Monday:

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Teaching. I spent Sunday afternoon compiling material for a chicken class. It all happened last fall when I was teaching an adult ESL class – somehow it got out that I have chickens and the director of the program asked if I would be interested in teaching an “Introduction to Raising Chickens” class in the spring. Well, spring is here and the class is this Saturday and I find myself making lists of the hardiest breeds, best layers, local farm stores, and all the weird things you learn when you raise chickens [Wait, you’re telling me you have to check hens for mites?! Yes, that’s what I’m telling you.]. I can’t wait to show the girls off. I hope my Barred Rock gets her act together and grows some feathers back in time!

Music. Okay, so I know I posted a song from Ivan and Alyosha last week, but I’m still listening to them. This is one of my favorites, probably because it’s so upbeat. Oh, to be easy to love! [This is a live recording because they’re cool.]

I’m also really liking this guy lately. This was sent to me by my contemporary music guru [a.k.a., my city-friend]. I don’t know much about him except that his name is Joe Purdy and that he looks pretty much how you’d imagine him to look [judging from his music]. A little more melancholy than “East to Love,” but sometimes that’s what you’re in the mood for. [This one is not live because the camera on the live version was so shaky I felt nauseous.]

Iced Coffee. I think I’ll always drink hot coffee in the morning, but iced coffee really hits the spot in the afternoon. I’m wondering if these afternoon beverages aren’t what’s affecting my sleep patterns…?

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Movies. I finally saw Silver Linings Playbook after months of hearing about it, and I loved it. Which is weird, because usually when people praise things to me, whatever those things are, they’re never as wonderful as I’d imagined. But I loved the way this was filmed, the way the dialogue was lapped over itself, and the character development, especially. Good stuff. Should be nominated for an award or something.

Books. So this isn’t a particular book, but this past Saturday I went to my library’s annual book sale. Oh my gosh, I forgot how great these are! Only $1 for a paperback, $2 for a hardcover?! I’ll take twenty. We walked down and got old fashioned doughnuts and coffee at the little cafe [there’s actually a funny story that goes along with this, but that’s another post] and then headed over to canvass the tables for interesting finds. I found an old copy of Dostoyevsky’s Idiot [I’ve been meaning to read it for awhile – gotta add to my Russian literature, you know?], Bridget Jones’s Diary, a Margaret Atwood book, and Barbara Kingsolver’s The Prodigal Summer [a guy at my small group keeps recommending her, so I figure I should give it a shot]. My friend and I bought a good stack with plans to switch in a few weeks. I was thinking of having a book-swap, because I have all these books that I’ve loved and want others to love, too. Maybe this summer!

What good things are filling your Monday?

Song of My Mother

I was going to wait until Mother’s Day to write this, but May is too far off and sometimes you just feel the timing.

My mother and I are very different. I am sharp where she is soft. My tongue is quick where hers is careful. My eyes roll where hers share compassion.

Sometimes I think I will never be as good as my mother. When I tell her this, she starts to cry because she doesn’t believe in her own beauty. There are some things that you just can’t be told.

I hate it when people take my time. This is probably my Big Number One Badness. I am quick to listen over coffee, happy to write back and forth, delighted to exchange ideas and longings and go on day trips. But I am slow to do for people. My family (sort of) jokes around about the fact that I am not the most reliable when it comes to cleaning the house or doing favors. They joke because they love me anyway, but I know that it isn’t exactly funny.

My mother gets up every morning to drive my father to work. She taught us at home for twelve years; I still remember the moment she showed me Little House on the Prairie when I was in kindergarten and my life changed forever. My favorite place to learn is still the little round table with the blue and white checkered table cloth, just me and my mom while the three younger kids were taking naps. She drops what she’s doing to help any one of her children. She works in the house and she works in the garden and her loyalty is sometimes so strong I’m scared. She bakes amazing cookies for no occasion other than it’s Tuesday and I don’t think I’ve ever heard her complain.

Some people think she’s too emotional; they see her emotion as weakness. What we – my father, my brothers, my sister, and I – know is that she is the strongest woman in our lives.

We are so different in so many ways. My mother doesn’t write, but she crafts the most delicious meals and the feet of loved ones are never cold with her cozy knitted socks. She doesn’t sing, but she knows how to encourage and make you see where you can grow but also how far you’ve already grown. It’s taken me years to see that these are gifts of infinite value.

I know my mother will read this and she will say, “We are not so different,” and I will hope and pray that she is right. It might not be against the grain to say that my mother is my dearest friend and my closest mentor. There isn’t a smile more genuine or a heart more compassionate. God shines through her, and I want everyone to know what a woman lives in this little no-name town.

IMG_0737[from this summer on our rare family weekend-away. the coast and good food and a mini-hike – all six of us together in the bright sun.]

To read about other amazing mentors, check out this link!

 

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.