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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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