Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Wordless, Day 1

It struck me that this season of Lent could be a good time to practice a different way of seeing and speaking. A picture a day, no words. Still sharing my life and my heart, but silently.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Stuff We're Made of, and the Good of a Story

I like to imagine sometimes that Oldest had a conversation with God the day he was born. Something like this:

“Hey, Kiddo, it’s about time. But I think you should know, most babies are more comfortable head-down. You’ll have plenty of chances to be upright after you’re born.”

(Cheerfully) “No thanks, I’m good!”

“Look, I realize it’s hard to tell from your perspective, but foot-first really isn’t the way to go.”

(Still cheerful, but firmly) “Thanks, but I’ve got this. Really.”

When he’s driving me nuts, I have to remind myself how much I admire his confidence and strength of will. Even when it hurts.

*       *       *

Recently I overheard Oldest trying to help Youngest with her pronunciation:

“It’s CHIP-munk, not CHICK-munk.”

“Yeah, well, that’s how I do it.”

That is her default response to many things. She is unapologetic for who she is and how she does things. She is not afraid to take up space in this world. She stretches me further than I thought I could stretch, and yet I admire her deeply.

*       *       *

The spring that Middle was three and her brother was five, I signed them up for swimming lessons together. Being in the water filled her with joy, and him with terror. As we drove to class one day, he announced that he wasn’t going to get in the water at all that day. I tried to reassure him. Middle joined in.

“Don’t worry,” she told him. “I’ll take care of you.”

Did I mention she was three? And the little sister?

Middle is quiet-strong. She does take care of people, and she wields an influence I never expected a nine year-old to have. She sees things, and understands, and even though I know there’s a lot going on beneath the surface she surprises me on a regular basis.

*       *       *

There is a story my dad likes to tell about his grandmother—Mutti, they called her. She was creative, and musical, and I imagine sort of feisty, and lived in a small town in North Dakota. She was also very small, and the way the story goes, she once removed a floor grate in order to clean a furnace duct and somehow accidentally fell into the duct. She stuck out her elbows and caught herself but couldn’t climb out, and so she hung there for what must have been hours until her husband got home from work and pulled her out.

I have told myself that story often through the years, especially during hard times. I tell myself in order to remember: I came from that kind of strength.

*       *       *

When I was in fifth grade I had a lot of conflicts with a close friend. I hate conflict, and usually try to avoid it at all costs, and I couldn’t understand why it was happening. I remember my mom telling me, “Some people look at you and see a girl who is quiet and soft and delicate, and they think that means they can take advantage of you. It is a surprise to them to discover that they can only push so far—that at your core you are strong, and cannot be controlled.” It is something she told me often through the years, in different ways at different times. It became a sort of story in itself—a continuing one, still evolving, but always with the thread running through it, “You are strong. You are strong. You are strong.”

*       *       *

I love hearing people’s stories. They are intimate, living things. They are invitations—chances to live alongside what somebody else has lived, and learn a little of what they’ve learned. Do not be fooled into thinking a story is ever just a story. It is a piece of somebody, a way of knowing them, a way of knowing yourself. A way to better grasp what it is we’re all made of.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Thursday, February 16, 2012

At Last

Two years ago she saw a potter give a demonstration at our local library. She turned to me, eyes shining, and said it as if she’d known all her life: “I want to do that!”

Since then, I have wanted to give her the opportunity. But always, always, there is something else that has to be done first—other needs, other activities, other projects.

She got a small pottery wheel for Christmas this year, and it has taken me this long to get it set up and give her a brief lesson. But we did it. She didn’t want me to stick around very long. She had watched so carefully and waited so long, she just wanted to sit down and try. I gave her a few pointers before she shooed me off, and this is her first creation.

Now the wheel won’t turn, and I think the motor is burned out—it wasn’t strong in the first place, and I suspect it was meant to be more of a toy than a tool. Middle, however, is serious. She got a taste, and she is determined—this is not over.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

In Honor of the Day...

I’d like to share my all-time favorite fairy tale with you: “The Queen,” by Anna Wahlenberg, from Great Swedish Fairy Tales, illustrated by John Bauer (translated by Holger Lundbergh--my copy has stories selected by Elsa Olenius and was published by Delacorte Press, 1973.)

It has a prince, of course, and romance. No dragon, though (or trolls, for that matter.) And guess what? They end up rescuing each other.

If only I could host a read-aloud on my blog…

What are some of your favorite love stories?

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Saturday, February 11, 2012


My connection to the physical world was different before I became a mother. I knew I would love my kids. What surprised me was how tangible a thing that love was. I was unprepared for the fact that holding them would be as necessary a thing as drinking water, that I could lose myself looking into their dark, deep, baby eyes, that I would be completely taken not only with their hearts and minds but also with their fingernails and armpits and cheeks and knees. I still experience moments of shock that I am connected to these beautiful, amazing, wholly-real-and-wholly-individual people.

*       *       *

But what I said about my connection to the physical world—maybe that’s not really true, after all. I remember being in a clothing store on an afternoon off from music camp when I was in high school, all alone and with lots of time on my hands. I walked from rack to rack, admiring all the artistic, too-sophisticated-for-me clothes. The lady behind the counter watched me for a while and then commented, “You like to touch everything and feel the different fabrics, don’t you?” She said it kindly, but I hadn’t realized until that moment that I was seeing as much with my hands as my eyes.

I remember that day in my second grade classroom, sitting on the floor. Maybe it was read-aloud time, maybe it was Show and Tell. I only remember watching another girl playing with dried glue and being struck with the thought that I wanted to do something with my hands. Badly. I wanted to feel something, or make something—just experience something with my fingers.

I remember realizing how enjoyable it was not only to make music with my violin, but also simply to feel the strings under my fingers, and to feel my bow moving against the strings.

I remember noticing that not only did I relish the soothing, repetitive motion of knitting, I relished stopping to run my hands over my work, to feel where I’d been.

My heart and mind—those were always givens. What I seem to forget at times is that I am body, also.

*       *       *

So I take it back. For all my head-in-the-clouds tendencies, I crave connection. I have always done a certain amount of my living inside my head, but maybe that makes touching the world more important. Yes, it’s still there. Yes, I’m still here.

*       *       *

Inner life, you can dip and soar, travel anywhere, live boldly, do things nobody would expect from a good, quiet girl. You expect to be free, unchained—wild, even—but something in you craves touch. You need to be able to land sometimes, to touch the earth. For all your otherworldliness, you carry deep within you the objects you ran your fingers over, the words people spoke to you, the things your eyes read in another’s, the food you savored, the scents you breathed in. Maybe this is how you know you didn’t make it all up. Your treasures—yes, they are stored up in your heart, but first they were in this world. Cut loose from them, you might just float away.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Friday, February 3, 2012


There was a dream I had in high school, one my memory has never been able to do justice. I was wandering through a crowded place—a fair or carnival, maybe. I don’t remember if I was intentionally looking for something, but I joined a large group of people all pressing in the same direction. We walked and walked, and after a while I found myself at a concert, standing in a great throng of people, watching a man play piano. His music was captivating, but the man himself was even more so. He was entirely glass—transparent and shining, dotted all over with multicolored jewels. His piano, too, was all jeweled glass. He played and played and I could not take my eyes off him. It is an image and a feeling that awake I cannot quite grasp, and yet I carry it with me. From time to time I try to bring him out of the depths to look at him clearly, but he is never as in-focus or as beautiful as he was in my dream.

*       *       *

There is another dream, one that comes back at different times in my life. The surrounding details often change, but the one constant is that I am trying to walk. I am trying to get somewhere, or escape from something, and I cannot move fast enough. Every step is like walking in deep water, slowed, ponderous, strained. And every step is incredibly painful. This is a dream that shadows me in waking hours at times, to the point that it feels like the memory of an actual event.

*       *       *

Have you ever had one of those conversations that twists out of your grasp? You try to say something, and somehow it changes direction in the space between you and the other person—its meaning floats away on the air like smoke. You feel like you are in a dream, then. You cannot trace back where you’ve been, and you do not know why the conversation has taken the turn it has, but the thing you wanted to say is lost. Somehow, though, you can still feel that thing in your heart. You hope it will stay with you, you wait for it to come back into focus.

*       *       *

The things you hold but cannot hold. The things you see but can't prove. The things you know but cannot name.

There is something to this—these things that change shape before our eyes, that slip out of our fingers before we can name them for what they are. And there is something about the fact that we see them better when we give them another form—whether in words, or in music, or in a piece of artwork.

*       *       *

My violin teacher in college taught me many things. Maybe the most important was that it wasn’t enough to just close my eyes and emote whatever. How was that communicating, he challenged me, if I didn’t know what I was trying to say?

Clarity is a hard thing, though. It seems to be something you have to come at sideways, sometimes. Or maybe it has to disintegrate and re-shape itself a few times before you really know what it is you’re dealing with. Sometimes there is nothing to be done but to wait for it to become visible.

*       *       *

One of the books my parents loved to read to me when I was a child was Attic of the Wind, by Doris Herold Lund. Or maybe it was that I loved hearing it read, I don't remember which, anymore. The attic of the wind was the place where all the things carried off by the wind—bubbles, snowflakes, autumn leaves, all the beautiful things that disappear—ended up. I loved the image of a place in the sky full of all those lovely lost things, and I loved the idea of visiting a place like that. There is something hopeful about the thought that the things which escape, the things that elude you, are gathered somewhere in a secret place.

Waiting for you to arrive.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email