Thursday, December 27, 2012


I walked her around at the restaurant last night, because she was fussy and tired and in need of distraction, and both her mom and her nana—her regular, more familiar walking companions—looked like they could use a break. She does not know me as well, doesn’t remember me from six months ago. But we walked around and looked at things together, and got to know each other a little bit, exploring.

We started with the shapes on a tall carved screen, painted bright white. Circle, square. White. She put her finger inside the circle. We looked up, touched the whiteness. We wondered together. Probably about different things, but together, nonetheless.

Not quite eighteen months old, and teething, and tired. I kept moving, kept pointing, kept talking. Look at this Christmas tree! See the lights? They’re so bright! So many shiny things!

We moved on. I pointed out more lights. Chandeliers and shades—red, green, yellow, orange—look, purple, even! Had I noticed that before?

A red velvet couch. Oooh, it’s soft. Soft red. Touch the soft red! I stroked it myself, and held her hand to it so she could feel, too. Soft, soft. She smiled. Back to the tree, and a shiny metal ornament. Hard—we touched that, too. Everything I pointed to, she looked at, all amazement. Look here! A green velvet couch! Touch the soft green! And here—maroon! Touch the soft maroon velvet!

And this is something I love about being with a very young child. Everything is amazement, and at the same time nothing is a surprise. Because it’s all a surprise. The amazement is a perpetual state—taken in stride—it is all new, all amazing, all wonder-ful. No line between fantasy and reality, because every last bit of it is fantasy. And when you come alongside and see things their way for a moment? The world expands. You realize, or maybe resolve anew, that you want to make no time for jadedness. No allowance for cynicism. No room for anything but wow—okay, sure!

Show me more.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Saturday, December 22, 2012

One Reason I Love Winter:

Strip away the green (and I love the green—both when it is young and new and when it is older and glossy and abundant; I love, too, when the colors change—the leaves blazing out with everything they’ve got,) but strip away the green and you have dark lace, delicate and chaotic, and room to see new colors—all the shades of opal and pearl and light that are so easy to miss when the green is prevalent.

That line of white just above the center of the picture? Birds, many of them. I wish you could have seen them the way I saw them this afternoon, catching the light and glowing like pearls.

I am always happy for the shift of seasons. For the in-between and deep-within of each of them, and the chance to see and hear and feel differently.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Gold I Bring

A recent weekday morning. Downstairs in the kitchen there is butter out on the counter, softening, lying in wait beside a cookbook opened to a recipe for Anise Kringle. I am imagining mixing the ingredients, twisting soft dough into pretzels, the smell of sugar and butter and flour and anise seed filling the house while the cookies bake. Chances are this is wishful thinking, at least for today. There are other things more pressing today, all of them good, and I’m trying to stay focused, trying to remember that I am in fact a responsible adult.

I wish I were baking cookies. I wish there were more time in the day. I wish I could drown myself in good and beauty and not think anymore, about the rest.

*       *      *

I just started reading a book, a fitting book for the time of year I think, in which there is a character who loves color. Except love is not a strong enough word for its pull on him. Color gravity is what he calls it. He is completely drawn in by color, stops in his tracks to witness a sunrise or watch a house being painted. He steals paintings to get it. He wants not only to have it but to dwell inside of it.

Something in my mind is telling me I’m supposed to think he's strange, but the truth is, I get it. That’s kind of where I want to live, too.

I wish I had gold.

You know that longing, too, don’t you? For gold, for color, for beauty? That longing to inhabit only the precious places? To shut out everything else?

*       *       *

Yes, I long for gold. I suspect that this time of year brings out that longing even more. You go to the store and think maybe you can buy it for yourself or the ones you love. Collectively we surround ourselves with light and beauty and hope. We work hard to dwell in those places. To assure each other that this fallen world does not in fact have the power to eat us or our loved ones alive, even when the evidence seems to suggest otherwise. We give gifts, in imitation of ancient wise men—things that shine, that scent the air around us, that speak of costliness—that try to get at what is really precious to us.

And I don’t want to get lost in that. I want to lose myself in the real gold, not the physical-thing-that-really-serves-best-as-a-metaphor.

*      *      *

Because we do have gold. Sometimes lots of it, sometimes very little. Sometimes you have to look very hard for it, but oh when you see that glimmer you can’t take your eyes off it.

After Oldest was born—an unplanned, last-minute c-section—I found myself lying alone in a recovery room that reminded me of some dark hidden basement, shaking with cold under a pile of heated blankets. All I wanted in the world at that moment was to hold my baby for the first time, but what I had was a Polaroid of him in his father’s arms, somewhere else in the hospital. And I could not take my eyes off that picture—I held it with my eyes and with every cell in my body and it was pure gold.

*      *       *

I read these words yesterday, in an essay about music education. The author after making the statement, "I have also been musing about the impact of spending so many hours of growing up dedicated to, and inside the creation of, beauty" says this:

“Beauty lives paradoxically in two time frames, the immediate and the eternal; and experiencing this paradoxical reality provides essential nourishment for the challenges and aspirations of the human condition.”
Eric Booth, “El Sistema’s Open Secrets

This thought takes my breath away.

Dwelling in those places, surrounding ourselves in gold, giving it away to those who are more precious to us than gold itself—it’s good.

What I keep coming back to is that when I feel like there’s not enough, when sickness and sadness and violence and all the rest close in, I will look harder for the gold. I will point it out to others. I will make it, give it, share it, dwell in it as much as I am able, because the alternative is just too bleak.

The anise kringle eventually got made. They are good—delicate and rich and sweet. Do they make up for the fact that I gave up sending Christmas cards two or three years ago, or that it is December 20th and my Christmas shopping is nowhere near done and I am completely overwhelmed by my to-do list? Probably not. But what needs to get done will somehow get done, and I am learning to let the rest fall by the wayside.

There is unending gold to bring.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Monday, December 10, 2012

Today's Offering

A completed project—part escape, yes, but also an act of praise, a meditation, an attempt to contribute something beautiful. With fresh determination that this is a good way to live.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Friday, December 7, 2012

'Tis the Season

Forgive me if you are tired of this music. I am not. Many Decembers of my childhood meant a chance to see “The Nutcracker,” and if I was lucky, “Hansel and Gretel,” as well. So far in my adult life I’ve had the chance to play in the pit for each of them only once, and I loved every moment. Maybe if I’d played them more I would be bored with them, but maybe not. Like grilled cheese sandwiches and butterscotch malts, I suspect some things are just good forever. In my world, at least.

This still slays me.

As does this.

(I checked.)

Duke Ellington’s version of the Nutcracker Suite was new to me (fun vintage promotional video here), but I enjoyed that immensely, as well. And look—an accompanying picture book with CD:

More Nutcracker resources here and here.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


What a nice chewy word. How perfect that it is so physical to say, so enjoyable in the mouth.

It is a word that came up a few times in the comments on last Thursday’s post, along with a fair amount of talk about knitting and a general agreement that keeping one’s hands busy is a very good thing.

And oh, how I love words, and the intangible in general, and oh, how I love tangible.

I keep trying to get at this thought. At the airiness of words, and the desire to take life and substance and turn them into things that travel through time and space. I want so much for them to take hold and become something of substance again on the other side. It is easy to believe, sometimes, that they get to within a breath of something you can touch. And they fill—they really do. You start to believe you could live off them. Yet sometimes they make you yearn for tangible all the more.

And then there’s this—I am certain that if I had the chance to stand right in front of you, look you in the eye, touch your shoulder, maybe (there—tangible!) my instinct would be to speak words, to tell you what I’m thinking.

Because the physical realm is not enough.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Sometimes You Just Have to Make Stuff

It was just about this time of year during my freshman year of college—after the worst ear infection of my life, with my left eardrum still adding a kazoo-like sound to everything I heard, after Thanksgiving but before finals—that I started making paper snowflakes.

Hello winter. You are lovely and magical and cold. I am tired and stressed and the best thing I can think of to do with my world right now is to pour some extra beauty over it because it is otherwise rather hard. Sort of the way you’ve coated everything with glittering fresh snow. Underneath you are pretty grimy.

I cut out a lot of snowflakes. From plain white paper, as intricately as possible. I learned to cut big holes rather than little snips, and to let the lines swoop and dive across the paper. I worked when I took breaks from reading or studying, and my hand ached from cutting before I was done. By the end of finals week there were quite a few snowflakes hanging from my dorm room ceiling. My grades didn’t seem to suffer, and I think the project actually helped me get through that first semester. And I loved being in a room dripping with paper snow.

Very often, this time of year, you can find me making things.

This season—paper cranes. Made in odd moments. I have specific plans for them, so I tell myself what I’m doing is practical. Extremely practical. Mixed in with healthy doses of avoidance and coping. It is unbelievably soothing to have your hands moving, and to see something taking shape beneath them. To lose yourself in motion and color and pattern. To allow your mind to think and process freely, far beyond the neat folds and bright bits of paper you are working with.

Hello winter. You are lovely and magical and coldexcept right now you are rather warm and drab. I'm waiting. I long for your snow.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Monday, November 26, 2012

Grab Hold

Friday I touched a sea anemone. Between the cold water and the softness of the creature it was hard to tell I was touching it at first. But then—yes—I felt mass under my touch, something that gave way, and pale green—can I call them tentacles?—moved toward my finger, reached for and surrounded it. When I pulled back a bit it was like pulling a burr off clothing. Suction cups the size of pin heads had latched on to my skin. Its grip surprised me. The whole interchange was delicate, but the fact that it reached for me was delight, a blessing.

Hello stranger/hello friend. Worlds met briefly, held on for a moment.

*         *        *

The sea anemone is easy to write about. It was a special moment—one of those things, standing on its own, that I love. What is harder to write about is what I want you to see under that story, or maybe threaded through it. What is so much more important.

*        *        *

Saturday we went to An Extremely Large Shopping Mall. And all I really want to say about that place is that it tends to put me into something of a panic. Partly because there are so many people in one place and I can only take that in small doses, but mostly because I hate wanting so much. For myself or for my kids.

Getting through the better part of a day there felt like a feat of strength.

I thought a lot about the little brown catalpa seed in the pocket of my jeans. Middle gave it to me in the parking lot after breakfast out (cachapa venezolano with cotija cheese and maple syrup—goodness, my only regret is that I did not eat it more slowly.) She bent down to pick up one of the catalpa pods scattered on the ground and tore it open. “Look Mom—I love these big beans!” and we both admired how pretty it was, so smooth and such a nice rich color.

I thought about the sea anemone and how when I reached out it touched back.

I thought about how glad I was that Oldest wanted company when he went on the roller coaster (twice!) How good it felt to be nervous and excited together, and to give in to the ride and enjoy the sensation of rising out of your seat just a little. How sometimes he will still hold my hand.

I survived the ELSM. Sunday we all said goodbye to Nana and Grandpa and left my home state. We weathered a sick child, and extra stops on the way home, and driving with the windows open in November. I spent a lot of time reaching into the back seat to keep my hand on the leg of a certain sick, miserable child as much as possible. I still have my catalpa seed, and pictures of my friend the sea anemone, although I can’t get the colors just right.

*      *      *

Funny, sometimes, the things a person can choose to hold on to. In the face of Other Things they might seem small. In reality, though, they are enormous.

I’m glad to know that.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thankful, Day 22: Pie

I’m fighting the urge to try to write something all-encompassing and deciding instead to talk about dessert. About how essential it is to start eating from the crust end of things in order to finish with the tenderest part. About how whipped cream is nothing but a distraction from what is really good about dessert and I’ve never wanted to waste my time with it. About what a blessing it is to finish off sweetly, and how good it is that even with everything else, life has those things in it that are so sweet you want them to never stop.

Happy Thanksgiving, my friends.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thankful, Day 21: I-35

Sun-on-fields and cloud-wisps, wind turbines slowly cart-wheeling. A kinship with every car headed north that bears the license plate of my home state. Anticipating warm hugs and time together.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thankful, Day 20: More

I am thankful that there is always more—more to seeing than what your eyes take in, more to listening than words, more to life than what is immediately in front of you. More to discover, more to understand, more to be thankful for.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Monday, November 19, 2012

Thankful, Day 19: Flash/Smolder

I am thankful for ideas—those that appear with a flash of insight and those that smolder and grow slowly, swelling and brightening over time the way one has been doing inside of me over the last few weeks. The ones with what-ifs and maybes attached, the long-awaited, the complete surprises. The ones you can laugh off and the ones that change you. Love them all.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Thankful, Day 18: Sweet Things

I took each of my kids on a date this weekend. It was a treat to carve out time that had nothing to do with homework or practicing or getting someplace. We didn’t get very fancy, but in each case we ate something sweet and did something that was just-the-two-of-us. As Youngest and I were getting ready this afternoon I asked her if she wanted to bring along a book or something to do. “Mama, of course not. It’s all about talking.” My girl. I am unspeakably thankful for such sweetness in my life.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Thankful, Day 17: Slightly Bored

Or maybe it’s that I’m thankful for what can happen as a result of being slightly bored on a Saturday morning when nothing is scheduled—when there’s time and space to be, and have ideas, and do. I’m thankful for the things that appear— showing their seams, lacking polish, bearing something of their maker’s hand.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Friday, November 16, 2012

Thankful, Day 16: Knowing

That this lace scarf grew out of a single line. That by putting one foot in front of another a person can cover many miles. That practice gets you somewhere. There is power in knowing these things. Comfort, too.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Thankful, Day 15: Conversation

Between friends, with a book or work of art, between voices in a piece of music. I am thankful for the richness of back-and-forth, for hearing and responding, for real, deep listening. For the realization (every time it hits) that we are neither speaking nor listening into silence.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Thankful, Day 14: Warmth

I am thankful today for the steam rising from my coffee, hot soup, hugs. For warm dry socks when your feet have been wet all day, as well as their soul-equivalent. For the ability to take all these things in.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Thankful, Day 13: More to Learn

This morning I broke away from my regular schedule and attended a yoga class, attempted racketball, and ran on a treadmill. All for the first time in my life. There was a fair amount of clumsiness involved, but I had fun. Trying is not as scary as it once was (I was the kid, my mother reminds me, who fought the idea of piano lessons because I didn’t know how to play piano), and for that I am thankful.

(No picture today--I was too busy living it.)

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Monday, November 12, 2012

Thankful, Day 12: Permission

I am thankful to have learned it’s okay to sit with a poem I don’t understand, and to let it sit with me—to allow words and images and glints of insight to wash over me, and take hold where they will, and work somewhere deep below the surface. Even if I never find the words to tell you what it means.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Thankful, Day 11: Rain

I am thankful for the days that the heavy skies break open and pour out everything that has been held back; for the colors of newly-washed, drenched things; for the sound on the roof and windows when I am inside, warm and dry.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Thankful, Day 10: Small and Strange

The sky did all sorts of wonderful things this morning, and yes, I took lots of sunrise pictures. I love that you can look up and be amazed so often—that every day has its own kind of beauty.

But I also love that you can look down and find something much more humble but still magic. I’m grateful, actually, for the things that seem a little awkward at first but maybe only because you don’t know them well enough. Because I get awkward. And of course it’s slimy, but the fact that a slug has that much delicate detail—that much personality—is delightful. What if we all left a shimmering trail behind us wherever we went?

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Friday, November 9, 2012

Thankful, Day 9: Burning Bush

I am thankful today for the surprise of a brilliant red shrub, still full of leaves and berries in a season that is increasingly brown and yellow and gray. It seems especially appropriate, considering only a short time before I happened across it I had been thinking about the color red, and about grace. How I’ve known for years that if grace was a thing I could physically put on each morning it would be something red and shining around my wrist—leading my hands, always in sight—something that held every possible shade of red warmth, glowing with the translucence of pomegranate seeds, or (now that I think of it) the berries on that fiery bush I just happened across. It is a color, a quality, I want to carry with me everywhere, reminding me to give and receive, reminding me that yes, it is a vibrant and glowing thing and it is with me always.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Thankful, Day 8: Tenderness

Tenderness like in the morning after a frost, when the sun reveals the glaze over everything but hasn’t yet melted it away.

Or earlier in the morning, waking my children for school, when their breath is still full of sleep and everything about them is so impossibly soft.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Thankful, Day 7: This:

Walking into a pool of warmth and light, you want to stay there and soak it up, don’t you? Cold floor, cold feet—and suddenly warmth.

I am thankful for the times the words of a friend or a book or some other beautiful source have warmed my bare feet. It makes me wish I could move through life from one pool of light to the next, like stones across a river.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Thankful, Day 6: Elegance

Tuba Mirum, Mozart Requiem

It’s hard to say, exactly, all the factors that went into the Moment I had playing those two measures (0:52–0:58) last night.  I was already thoroughly steeped in Mozart, and that made a difference. But the way the voices fit together right there struck me as so perfectly elegant, elegant like the word limn or curved glass or a sliver of moon, that I felt a little giddy. I like being witness to those things.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Monday, November 5, 2012

Thankful, Day 5: A Chance to Listen

I had the opportunity over the weekend to hear a number of writers speak about their craft, their lives, everything really, and everything touching everything else—their work and their lives glancing off and intersecting with and informing my own work and life.

One writer, in particular—listening to her spill out her words, poetic and brilliant and funny, was like being pulled through a flashing, shifting maze, effortlessly, into a single core thought. I don’t know how she did it, exactly. But all I had to do was follow.

What a gift it is, that chance to be quiet, and listen and listen.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Thankful, Day 4: Diffusion

Some things are hard to look at directly. But when you get to see through something else—and there’s a time for that, even as you wait/hope/pray for the veil to be lifted—there’s grace in that diffusion, in the sideways, out-of-the-corner-of-your-eye, brushing-against-the-hem of what you are trying to see.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Thankful, Day 3: Dryer Bounty

Some details I’m good with, with others I totally stink. I rarely check pockets before doing laundry. Opening the dryer is sometimes a bit of an adventure. On the other hand, I love discovering the little treasures that were tucked away in children's pockets. I love that they gather little bits, too.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Friday, November 2, 2012

Thankful, Day 2: November Sky

Late-fall light has a certain look, and so does a November sky. I know because I have seen a November sky at other times of the year and suddenly felt transported. Stark has its own kind of beauty, and I’m thankful for it.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Thankful, Day 1: Shiny

Billie Holiday. Oh she’s sad, but sometimes the mood fits. And somehow it fits, too, that light is streaming in my window at the same time. Cold, late-fall light streaming into a warm room looks different than summer or winter or spring light. Another day I might try to figure out why—do the bare tree branches and lack of green make a difference? Or the position of the earth in relation to the sun? Something about the atmosphere? Another day I might wonder about that more, but for today it is enough to know the light is different. It is welcome in this room.

Post tenebras lux—light after darkness—I just learned that phrase. Words I will tuck away to remember because they speak to me about so many things that in a way all come down to the same thing. Are you conscious of doing that—gathering into yourself words and phrases and sounds and images that speak for you and to you? It is especially helpful when you cannot speak those things yourself.

I’ve decided today is the day to make chutney. I’ve been looking forward to it for days—all the bits of color in four kinds of peppers and raisins and sugary bits of ginger, swimming in a bowl of golden vinegar. After much chopping there is a bowl in the microwave, and not soon exactly, but soon enough, the air in the house is heavy and sweet and spicy.

The sweet and the heat are both their own forms of light, I think. Different forms, but complimentary. And just like my cookbook promises, the chutney itself glistens when it is finished.

How good it is when your food glistens.

And suddenly it hits me: I’m like a crow or magpie, collecting shiny things for her nest. So be it. There are worse things to be hung up on. I am happy to keep collecting and lining, trusting there is always more.

Thank you Lord for things that shine, things that reflect the light.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


We were so proud of these. Each pumpkin so carefully picked, each face so carefully designed. And we all knew about Halloween pranks and the possibility of vandalism, but we put our creations out on the front porch anyway, to share with the world.

O pumpkin-smashing pumpkin thieves, if you only knew what my children wanted to do to you, maybe you would have thought twice.

There was much venting. Along with reminders that there is such a thing as mercy.

And Monday afternoon we made time for a do-over.

The pumpkins were less-carefully picked, and the scooping-out of pumpkin guts and designing-&-carving of faces was interspersed with regular schoolday afternoon and evening activities. But we are very proud of these, too.

We have not been defeated. Later today I will put them out on the front porch to share with the world.

At night I’ll bring them in.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Friday, October 26, 2012

Recent Magic

Saturday: sunlight and warmth and not much of a schedule.

Sunday: my first trail half marathon. It was hard and beautiful and sometimes felt beyond me, but I did it.

Monday: ran into a friend at just the right time.

Tuesday: a morning run in driving rain with another friend—listened to stories about ultramarathoners, tore through large puddles, laughed hard.

(Tuesday night: caught Piazzolla on the radio)

Wednesday: a gift of habaneros. There's a hot pepper chutney recipe calling to me.

Thursday: laughed with a friend. A lot.

Friday: looked up just in time to see a shooting star. Kids off from school, and the sound of tape being used for an elaborate project. Lots and lots of tape.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Let the Whole Thing Flower


"Let the whole thing flower: the poem and the person writing the poem."
Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones

I keep thinking about what it means to make things. Why we do it.

I carved the top of this box during the summer between fifth and sixth grade, at Norwegian language camp. Karveskurd, a form of chip carving. I was so proud of my work. Drawing out the starry, snowflakey design was deeply satisfying. Carving out the little triangular wedges was even better. And goodness, somebody trusted me with a knife!

But the most significant thing about this box, to my almost-11-year-old mind, was that I made something real. Real, like the-stuff-grown-ups-do real, which is a different kind of real than school and camp and crafts designed and packaged for kids. This box was a tangible thing, linked to tradition, beautiful. Plus, it had hinges and you could put stuff in it.

I got a lot of that kind of real in my childhood. Around the time I was learning to sing “Itsy Bitsy Spider” I was also playing Bach minuets and various and assorted gavottes on the violin. I know I could sing a lot more pieces than I knew how to play because my mom often had to remind me that I was humming along too loudly with whatever the older kids were playing while I waited for my own lesson. And the other Suzuki kids around me—they were all doing the same thing.

It was a rich way to grow up—learning how to make music and art. Real music and art. My child-world overlapping with the adult world.

*       *       *

I listened to this story on NPR yesterday morning, while I was making lunches for my kids to take to school.

I read these words last week, in a book I am half-way through, about a groundbreaking movement that uses music education as an instrument of social change:

"…it’s not just a bonita idea—‘Isn’t it sweet, the children playing music?’—I mean, sure, that’s beautiful. But his [José Antonio Abreu’s] vision is much bigger than that. It’s about the orchestra giving a sense of life to young people, in the deepest possible way.” (from Changing Lives: Gustavo Dudamel, El Sistema, and the Transformative Power of Music by Tricia Tunstall)

I keep thinking about the way I was raised, steeped in music, due to the influence of a man who looked around his devastated country at the end of World War II and decided he could do his part to rebuild it by teaching violin to young children, creating noble human beings in the process. (That creating noble human beings part—that’s what the Suzuki Method is really all about.)

And I’m trying to wrap my head around it all.

*       *       *

Here’s what I know:

There is a tremendous amount of power in an education.

There is also a tremendous amount of power in creating something. Power, because creating something gives you a voice, gives you a way to reach out. Allows you to make a difference in your world, even if in the teeniest possible way.

Because what do you do with what you encounter in this life, otherwise—the hurt, the joy, the beauty, the bare facts of it—if you do not respond somehow? I know how easy it is to think of Art as some kind of extra in life, but I don’t buy that. It comes from our very core as humans. It comes from our need to respond—to reach out, and look for, and show. It begs for interaction and community and it is meant to grow beyond itself. And if you show a child how to hone and direct that power to create, to find that voice, to reach out and look for and show, you are giving that child something huge.

Now. While we are educating our children (all of them, regardless who they are or what anybody thinks will be their usefulness in this life—) while we are giving them opportunities and opening the world to them and filling them with information, are we also giving them a voice? The ability to process and translate and communicate everything with which we are filling them? Because that’s not extra. That’s the depth and the power of their education. The stuff underlying and sustaining all the rest.

The whole thing flowering—the poem (or painting or piece of music) and the person. That's the real.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Hard Run/Run Hard

Friends, last week got a little dark. (I’m telling you this not to be dramatic but because I don’t feel like I can honestly write about light if I'm not honest about the dark as well.) I lost my voice for a while. Physically, because I was sick, but in other ways too, it felt like—enough that I started to wonder how many different ways a person can lose her voice at one time. Then I got smart and decided, No God, I really don’t want to know the answer to that question.

But I wasn’t too sick. My lungs have gotten stronger, between asthma medicine and allergy shots and all the running I’ve been doing. And so I decided on Wednesday morning that even though I was coughing and feeling ragged and couldn’t speak above a whisper, I could still run.

So I ran. Not long, but hard. Because I could. And because my body, even though it let me run, felt tight and tired and unwilling, and I wanted to escape that feeling. Because, also, I’ve been feeling soul-tired in a way that I can hardly stand, and I wanted to escape that feeling, especially.

So after giving myself the gift of sleeping in, I took my unwilling, tired body for a run in bright sunlight for once, instead of in the dark of pre-dawn. And then I countered my hard run (because that’s what it was, given my unwilling, tired body and restless, soul-tired self) by running hard.

*       *       *

When I first started running a year and a half ago it was with the knowledge that it was part of a fight against things that wanted to overwhelm me: stress, depression, frustration, anger. It felt good. It cleared my head. It calmed me, helped me deal with things. Made me feel stronger.

It wasn’t long, though, before I noticed that running also shakes things loose. Trapped things break free when I run—they jostle against each other, burst open, start flying. Thoughts, feelings, fears, ideas, dreams—they come out into the light. They find their voice. And running for me no longer means just a strengthening of the body, but a strengthening of the heart and mind and soul, as well.

*       *       *

The thing I am learning about strength is that it is something you have to use. And I don’t always want to. I know exactly how Middle felt, that one-morning-among-many that we were struggling to get to school, in danger of being late, and she was pedaling so slowly up a particular hill I thought for sure her bike would tip over. I tried to encourage her. “Come on, Tigress, you need to show your power!” And she roared back at me, “I DON’T LIKE TO SHOW MY POWER!!!”

I get that. Using my strength is not necessarily the glorious thing I want it to be. More often than I would like it means pushing myself when I feel ragged, fighting when I no longer want to fight, keeping on when I want to stop.

And yet I’m sure it’s there to be used.

So I ran hard Wednesday morning—knowing that I would shake things loose that had to be dealt with, knowing I still had to fight when really I just wanted to crumble. Counting on the fact that I had more in me than I thought.

I was right—that day I did have more. I averaged a pace, over 4 miles, that was my fastest ever. It’s a pretty decent number for somebody who never considered herself fast or athletic. It’s a number I’m going to hold close, regardless, because it speaks to me about things I didn’t think I could do, and strength I didn’t think I had. A small victory in the grand scheme of things, but it’s one I’m going to keep like a trophy, like a promise that there’s more there.

And my voice? Not gone. Hiding, maybe, but not gone. I plan to keep using it—counting on there being more behind it than I once believed possible.

Photo by Amanda Truschinger

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Picking out Gourds

What could be better
on a Saturday morning
than the delicious agony
of hunting through
a truckbed full of possibilities
at the Farmer's Market,
waiting for The Perfect One to speak to you,
knowing (almost) without a doubt
that you will recognize it when you see it?

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Just Because

Another pretty picture:

Because I love what happens when light takes over.

Because maybe the night was long.

Because color—it’s good, isn’t it?

Because it spoke to me. So did this.

Because I love the quiet edges of a day.

Because even though—no, especially though—there are times when you feel raw and worn-thin, these things matter. So does sharing them.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Friday, October 5, 2012

"I Could Always Live in my Art, But Never in my Life"


I had lofty aspirations for this post. It was going to be about going to the Minneapolis Art Institute, especially the time in high school when I went to complete an assignment for an art class: pick a piece of artwork and draw it.

I wanted to tell you about the hush of the place, and the coolness, and the shiny floors that echoed with my footsteps. How I’ve been there many times in crowds, but in my memories I am usually there alone, or almost alone.

I wanted to tell you about copying the work of someone greater than you—what it is like to try to recreate their lines, and how you internalize something of theirs as you work. How when you hold your drawing up next to the original you can see your inexperience—the stiffness and haltingness of it—but that there is also something there you recognize, and that is a feeling that surprises.

But when I went looking for that drawing in my old high school art portfolio, I also came across this:

And my lofty aspirations sort of fell apart.

I don’t know when exactly I made this picture, or why. I know that the quote is originally from an Ingmar Bergman movie I’ve never seen (“Autumn Sonata,” from what I can tell.) I know also that it is quoted in a movie I did see in 12th grade English, “My Dinner with Andre.” I don’t know if this picture is part of a project for that class or something I did on my own. I am certain, though, that if I spent that much time dealing with those words they meant something to me.

Have those words been haunting me since then? Not in any conscious way. Yet there they are, tugging at my heart, reminding me of a 17 year-old who felt like she could live well in one place but not the other. Or was she afraid—afraid that she would not be able to find a way to live in her life, afraid of being cut off from the real things, afraid of her lack of skill?

Was it shock I felt, when I saw the consistency—that this is something I find myself dealing with still? That my continual desire to have art inform life and life inform art goes back farther than I realized? Always, I find myself looking for synthesis. And does it go back to this? Or farther?

I know that I have learned this:

When you are trying to draw a face, and you know that something is not right but you can’t tell what, you can turn your drawing upside down. Suddenly the things you couldn’t see because you were looking at a face become clear: one eye is lying lower than the other, or the nose is off-kilter, or the mouth is stuck in the middle of the chin.

When you are learning a piece of music and do not know what needs work, you can record yourself playing and listen to it. Suddenly there they are: the out-of-tune notes, the places where you rush or drag, the dynamics you thought were so dramatic but actually hardly come across at all.

When you are unsure if a piece of writing is finished, you can set it aside (for as long as you can stand—days? weeks? months?) until you are able to read it with something of a stranger’s eyes. And you start to see the awkward words, the passages that can be cut, the ideas that need to be tightened.

And that thing in your life that you don’t know what to do with? That seems harder. But you try what you can, and your efforts look something like what you might do with your art.

You can look at it from a different angle. What if it was not your thing but that of someone you love? What if the tables were turned? What if one thing was different—you were not afraid, or you knew things would work out?

You can share it with somebody else, or pray your heart out, or both, and listen very carefully to how it plays back to you.

You can sleep on it. Or simply wait.

You can decide, finally, that your life is a work of art. That you were intentional—every bit of your personality and your story. That where you are and who you are is no mistake, but part of a story line, and no, in this case you don’t get to skip to the last page to see if you get the ending you so desperately want. But you do get to wade through it.

You could, even, throw all of yourself in.

Because it strikes me suddenly that holding yourself back from your life is just as pointless as holding yourself back from your art. It’s all there, waiting to touch and be touched, to feel and be felt, to see and be seen. To go deep. And to matter, deeply.

Don’t you want to do that? Holding nothing back? Making of it the most beautiful thing you are able? Maybe you know how to live in your life, after all.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Monday, October 1, 2012

"And What Do You Do with a Mouse?"

Asked by someone with a dog in their lap.

I love dogs. My early years were spent with a big, shaggy Old English sheepdog who claimed an important role as my parents’ first baby. I remember watching him and wanting to jump on his back and ride him around the house like a horse. I told my kindergarten teacher that he was my big brother. But he died when I was in first grade, and my parents noticed after a while that I was no longer such a sick kid. My breathing improved. Allergy tests confirmed that I was allergic to dogs and cats (and too many other things to count,) and our prospects for family pets changed drastically.

I cannot tell you how I longed for a dog. Something warm and furry to bury my face in, and hold and cuddle and pet. A companion, a friend, a resting place for my affection.

I came home with stories of hypo-allergenic dogs. I spent time walking friends’ dogs, and tested out different breeds, and if wishful thinking could have made it possible, I would have cured myself of the allergy. But the reality was that I could walk into a house where there was a dog and my lungs knew within a few breaths. I have never met a dog that didn’t affect me, and if it had been a matter of itchy eyes and sneezing it would have been no big deal. But dogs make my lungs close up. I have learned not to touch them at all.

My family improvised. Myrtle came into our life. But turtles don’t receive affection quite the same way warm furry creatures do, and a variety of other animals joined our family as well: gerbils (5, plus many babies), mice (3, plus many more babies), hamsters (2), a guinea pig and a rat. Later on, birds.

And now my children, who also are desperate for a dog or cat but are also allergic, are learning about odd pets that may or may not make other people squirm. On Saturday we brought home a mouse.

So what do you do with a mouse?

Watch her burrow through the bedding in her cage. Marvel at the quickness and lightness of movement.

Hold her in your hand, warm and light. Feel her heartbeat on your palm.

Get her used to your hands. Teach her to trust you.

Carry her all over the house. Learn her personality.

Tell her all your secrets. Wonder about her secret life.

Tell her about distant relatives: Ralph, Stuart, Reepicheep, Desperaux, Bernard and Bianca, Celeste.

Watch. Wonder. Learn. Grow. Love.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Thursday, September 27, 2012



A slow brilliant sunset, with time to watch it.

A towering Duplo Lego structure, left by children waiting for lessons.

A piece of notebook paper titled, “Hoverplate plans,” complete with drawings, labels and purple ink stains.

A deer, trailing me on an early-morning run.

A note on a tiny scrap of paper: Will you go out with me? Yes or no. PS—Hi!

A child too busy naming a future pet mouse to fall sleep.

A note from a student: I love you.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Monday, September 24, 2012


I was working on September Birthday Cake No. 4 yesterday (Middle’s, chocolate with cream cheese frosting, decorated with strawberries and hearts) and pondering musical memories when I opened the cupboard over my stove and got showered with pearly cake decorations. Now, I have a habit of thinking that if I can get a door or lid or suitcase closed it means that whatever’s inside fits. I am sometimes wrong. At least this time when something came flying out at me I didn’t have to get stitches. (I also have a habit of using my stovetop as extra counterspace, and then not paying close-enough attention to which burner I turn on. It hasn’t happened for a while, but can you see the partially-melted handle on the scissors in the background? Yeah.)

So I looked at my mess, the pearly cake decorations and scissors with the partially-melted handle, and had a dark moment in which I decided I was looking at clear evidence of what a mess I was in general.

And then I looked at my mess and thought, “Those pearly cake decorations look very pretty spilled all over the black stovetop.”

*       *       *

Before my little mess I had been thinking about how pieces of things lodge themselves in your soul and become part of you, maybe in ways you don’t even realize. How it seems, sometimes, that we are completely made up of fragments.

*       *       *

Take the Mozart Violin Concerto in A Major. Learning it in college was like learning no other piece, ever. I felt like I already knew it, like I was re-learning it. I have felt that way before, especially as a child, with pieces I’d heard older kids play so often that I knew the notes inside-out before I started “working” on them. But this concerto was a much more extreme case. I’ve never learned anything so effortlessly. I actually called my dad, to ask if I’d somehow worked on it before and simply forgotten.

It turns out that when I was an infant my parents played an Oistrakh recording of this concerto for me every day. For months and months. Once, when I was 3 or 4 months old, my mom left the house to run a short errand while I was taking a nap. My dad was practicing Bartok, getting ready for a performance. And I woke up almost immediately, and cried and cried. Hoping to not lose rare practice time, my dad switched to "my" Mozart concerto, and I calmed down and smiled. So he switched back to Bartok. And I started crying. And we went back and forth for quite a while, between Bartok and Mozart, crying and smiling. To this day my dad is certain I knew the difference.

Somehow this piece is part of me—it is my piece—more than any other.

*       *       *

There is other music like this, too, though—fragments that have taken hold.

The Dream Pantomime from “Hänsel and Gretel,” by Engelbert Humperdinck, for example. I’m not sure how many Decembers I accompanied my parents to their performances of this with the Minnesota Opera, but in my head the music melds with Christmastime, and slushy parking lots, and the sound of my boots clunking through backstage hallways, and entering the theater by climbing out of the orchestra pit, and sitting next to my sister trying to figure out which angel surrounding Hänsel and Gretel was the one we knew, the son of one of the horn players in the pit with my parents. By 1:24 in the Pantomime I am ten years old again and there in the darkness with those lost children; danger and hurt and hope are rising up together around them, and around me and my sister, as well. When I finally played this opera as an adult, I suddenly understood where so much of my taste in music comes from.

There is, also, the memory of my grandparents’ house one summer, not being able to sleep because I could not breathe, and how it felt—sitting with my grandma on her porch on a vinyl-cushioned glider, eating butter brickle ice cream and looking at distant city lights while Pachelbel's Canon in D played in the background, still not getting quite enough air but feeling calmer, and safe.

There are symphonies—Dvorak 9 and Tchaikovsky 5 and Bruckner 7—music that when I played it for the first time I thought: “I knew this existed! I’ve always known and now I have proof!”

*       *      *

Sometimes the pieces that make up a life are bits picked up along the way, treasures gleaned and held safe. Sometimes the pieces are really just pieces, what’s left of something shattered—jagged shards—but still they work their way in. Somehow the treasured bits and jagged shards intermingle. At a certain point, who is to say which is which? Maybe you get to step back from them to see better, maybe you don’t. But together they form something new.

Something whole.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Thursday, September 20, 2012

To Share:

Sarah M. shared a link to a lovely animated movie called “The Danish Poet”* in the comments of my last post. I enjoyed it and thought you all might, too, so I'm passing it along. Sometimes a good story is just the thing, don't you think? (Thank you, Sarah!)

*My computer was having some trouble with the origianl link, so this is a different one.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Sunday, September 16, 2012


Oldest found this little guy at an art fair yesterday. I was barely paying attention when he asked if he could see how much it cost—we had been walking around long enough that Middle, whose Tylenol was wearing off, was starting to feel sick again, and Youngest was beginning to crumble under the realization that the world was even more full of things-she-couldn’t-have than she’d realized. So when he came back and told me it was $2, I was simply glad he could afford it.

The lady who sold it to him, though, left her booth to tell me about the transaction. “I can tell you’re busy,” (I think Middle was by this time sitting in the street, and Youngest was climbing me like a tree) “but I want you to know about the deal your son made. These whistles are $15 dollars each, but this one’s whistle is broken. This one just needs a good home.” She seemed genuinely touched that Oldest wanted it anyway, and used his own money to buy it. I was, too. But then again, what’s a whistle when you’ve clearly got so many stories to tell? I like this guy better, knowing he’s flawed.

At that same art fair, Middle found, among a cluster of handmade glass beads hanging on loops of ribbon, one with a price tag marked “free.” “Mom, what does this mean?” The woman working the booth assured us that it meant it was free, and while she was untangling it from the other beads she told Middle that the artist had hidden one free bead on each rack at her booth, and all the rest had already been found.

It was a good day for rare things. I started my day with friends who like to wake up early on Saturday mornings to run through the woods, and we were treated to a lovely pink sunrise, and fog over the water so thick it felt like we were at the edge of the world. At the end of the day, I got near the end of our current read-aloud (Ronia, the Robber's Daughter by Astrid Lindgren) and realized how much I was going to miss it when we were done, because of how full it is with wildness and sweetness and love.

Do these things speak to you? I remember one fall that I felt so lonely I didn’t notice the leaves changing color until it was almost too late, and I decided I didn’t ever want to miss that again. There have been harder times since then (and better times, too) but I try now, not to forget to see.

And sometimes those things just come, unasked for, and remind me not to stop trying.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email