My Big Magic

big magicA few years ago I was cleaning out my file drawers. I use “file” here loosely because the drawers are an odd collection of miscellaneous ephemera: ticket stubs, campground maps, prayer cards, receipts ($12.97 at Meijer, and I saved this?!), and unopened mortgage offers. I’d just slogged my way through some serious upheaval and organizing is my go-to ritual. If I can’t put my life to rights, I can certainly put my papers in order.

At the bottom of one of the drawers I found a folder with a few stories I had written nearly thirty years ago. In another life I’d have been a writer, but I pursued a more practical path instead. I had kids to feed, a mortgage to pay, and ain’t nobody got time for make believe. Part of the fallout of these last hard years was that I had to put off retirement and pay the bills. I was the breadwinner once again–but a heartsick and weary one.

The stories reminded me of what could have been, I was mired in the misery (self-inflicted, mind you) of the wouldas and the shouldas, and I just wanted to forget the dreams. I flipped through the typed pages. Wondered if they should stay or go. And threw them in the trash.

As I did, I remember having some strange sense that those stories could never really be trashed. “They’re out in the universe somewhere–living on in some other dimension. I only set them free.” Maybe I’d done enough to just write them; maybe keeping them wasn’t the point.

So imagine my surprise when I read Liz Gilbert’s Big Magic last weekend and she confirmed my intuition. Ideas, says Gilbert, are “an energetic life form … ideas have no material body, but they do have consciousness, and they most certainly have will.” Ideas will tap us on the shoulder, knock impatiently on our hearts–waiting, waiting for us to give them welcome. Whenever we create (whether it’s story or quilting or painting or dancing) we embody those ideas and they come to make their home with us.

Now am I sorry I tossed those poor stories out? Of course. I think they know that I did so from a very sad place. But I also think they forgive me. Their brothers and sisters–story sprites!–come sit next to me and whisper sweet nothings in my ear.

And we are all of us happy to be alive.

Created male and female

He created them male and female, and he blessed them and called them “human.”
Genesis 5:2 New Living Translation

It was one of those late night conversations, just friend-to-friend over two (or it was three?) glasses of wine. My good friend turned to me and tossed out this zinger: “You approach life like a man.” I didn’t know whether to be insulted or take it as a compliment. Me, masculine? I was a single mom whose sole purpose at that point in her life was to nurture three kids through childhoods encumbered with all the messiness that divorce brings. I had loved a man as dearly as was humanly possible. I baked brownies and simmered homemade chicken soup on cold Sunmale and femaleday afternoons. I cross-stitched, for heaven’s sake!

But as much as I wanted to deny her assertion, I recognized the truth in what she said. I could be blunt and sharp-tongued. No nonsense.Get-down-to-business and let’s-not-talk-too-much-about-feelings. Impatient. Short-tempered. Kind of like my dad on his good days.

It only took a couple more decades for me to figure out that nature sometimes is nurture, and I was molded by what my mother and father modeled. But nature is also sometimes just … nature. And those masculine qualities were traits I was born with.They could serve me well in times of crisis when a cool he
ad needed to prevail. They could work against me when a more vulnerable approach was necessary. More importantly, I think, I’ve come to see that when humans are at our healthiest, we’re all of us male
and female, yin and yang.

When it comes to LGBT issues, I’m not well-read–and I’m certainly not savvy enough to be political about the issue. I do know people whom I love and admire and maybe that’s enough. I’m also drawn to stories of women and men who must come to terms with their feminine and masculine. Sometimes this is made even more difficult by the times in which they live, or the rules they believe they must follow to be normal or good. Which isn’t a thing, really.

There’s just you and me and all of the muss and muddle that makes us human.

Great reads about interesting human beings who bend gender rules:

Misfortune (Wesley Stace): A baby boy is thrown out on a trash heap in London, and his benefactor rescues him, only to raise the baby as Rose. Is this misfortune? Or is Rose Miss Fortune? (See what Stace did there?) It’s a romp of a read.

The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell (William Klaber): Based on a true story, Lucy Lobdell initially disguises herself as a man after she runs away from an abusive husband. But after a time, Lucy comes to see herself as Joe.

Neverhome (Laird Hunt): A Civil War story with a twist. Johnny doesn’t go marching home; his wife does. Ash longs to go off to war–and adventure–but her husband Bartholomew does not. So she binds her chest and goes off to join a Union regiment, hoping to pass.

Middlesex  (Jeffrey Eugenides): I put off reading this Pulitzer Prize winner for a long time. I shouldn’t have. This three generation family saga tells the story of a Greek immigrant family’s journey to the U.S. The narrator X is diagnosed with a rare genetic mutation. So at age fourteen the child who was raised as the girl Caliope becomes Cal, the young man. Cal’s story is engaging, poignant, and not at all voyeuristic. It’s a must-read.  

In One Person (John Irving): If you’ve read me for any length of time, you know I love me my John Irving. This novel, however, isn’t his best–I just couldn’t leave it off the list.

Love Warrior: review

Love Warrior
Glennon Doyle Melton
Flatiron Books

“The journey is learning that pain, like love, is simply something to surrender to. It’s a holy space we can enter with people only if we promise not to tidy up … the courage to surrender comes from knowing that the love and pain will almost kill us, but not quite.”

love warrioI dragged my feet reading Glennon Doyle Melton’s latest book Love Warrior, even going so far as to skip over the title on my last two book orders because I was “in the mood for fiction”. (Hah! Can you say “ostrich”?!) Even though I’d watched Melton on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday. Even though I loved her podcast on Elizabeth Gilbert’s Magic Lessons. Even though my very own therapist had recommended it.

Because who wants to read about a marriage that failed and then didn’t when your own can be like a ride on the Blue Streak? But read it I did, and I survived. In fact, after I finished it, I went back and re-read the end, marking up pages that need some more reflection.

Love Warrior is that good.

The first seven chapters bring us to the Big Divide in Melton’s marriage, the thing that made Melton a Warrior. She reveals that she became bulimic when only a tween and struggled with alcohol addiction in college and after until she got sober. The catalyst that brought her twenty-something-year-old self to recovery was a little blue line on a pregnancy test. Not sure what part her boyfriend would play in their future, Melton was certain she would have this baby. A whirlwind engagement and wedding followed and the two played their roles as faithfully as they knew how. Eventually, Melton wrote about the messiness of family and relationships on her popular blog Momastery and also in her first book Carry On, Warrior.

Three kids and a cross country move later the bottom fell out of the world she tried so carefully to create: Melton discovered her husband had a series of affairs throughout their entire marriage. She was done. It was over. There are no do-overs in the face of such betrayal.

And so what started as Melton’s own personal quest for wholeness without her husband became the very glue that patched them back together*. Melton is brutally honest, insistent. Women have for too long separated themselves from their breath, their bodies, their Life’s Work; we end up an empty shell that serves neither our families or our own happiness. Coming back into our own skin and embracing even our pain is the only way to save ourselves.

And when she recognizes the Grace that had been extended to her, she realizes it is her great privilege to extend it to her husband.

Glennon Doyle Melton has given women committed to faith and family a much-needed treatise for a new kind of feminism, one with fewer ties to politics and more to the spiritual.

“Love, Pain, Life: I am not afraid. I was born to do this,” writes Melton on the final page. Them’s fightin’ words, Love Warriors.

* The  after-afterword to Melton’s story is one about which, I’m sure, she’ll write. You can find it on her August 1st blog post, and even more of her story on her Facebook page.

Word of the year

my word of the yearMy word of the year for 2017 is unfold. And I’m pretty sure I’m in love with it. The idea of choosing a word to focus on is gaining popularity, but my prompt came from writer and photographer Susannah Conway whose website is a treasure trove of gentle nudges to think. Reflect. Transform. And dare I say … unfold! (Subscribe to her email and you’ll get access to all sorts of goodies: e-books, online courses, and her blog. I’ve also started her e-book journal Unravel Your Year which has provided me with a beautiful framework to think about the year ahead.)  I like the fact that unfold can be both receptive and generative–I can unfold and receive what life has to offer; I can unfold myself and offer back to the world what I discover.  Such a gentle word with a touch of mystery–the perfect focus for this new year. Many thanks to friend Denice for steering me towards this idea …

My reading vacation

sycamore rowFor at least November, I ordered up a few things I everyone else had read, but me–I’d been too busy reading advanced copies. It was time for a little vacation from those DRCs and how I’ve loved having books in my hand again–ones with real pages I can fold down to mark my spot (yes, I’m that person!) or lie face down opened to the page I left off (I can hear the groans now…). The sight of a TBR stack that’s paper, not digital sets my heart a pitter-patting. I loved cover art right in front of me. Or maybe it’s just all that color–my Kindle is a basic e-reader, black and white, with no frills.

So what have I read on this little reading vacay? I did proper reviews of My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry and News of the World. Keepers both. I read Girl Waits With Gun which was a hoot–and deserves its own proper review sometime soon.

For fun I’m reading John Grisham’s Sycamore Row. I do like a good John Grisham once in a while (and I’ve learned it doesn’t pay to file a class action suit, so there’s that)  and this one’s got it all. Race, class, good cops lawyers, bad cops lawyers, a hand-written will, and $23 million on the table. Predictable, but very readable.rosie

I am either proud–or ashamed–to say I’m probably the last person in the U.S. to read The Girl on the Train. And it was just what I needed it to be: a compelling, yet undemanding story I could let unravel. It lived up to its Gone Girl comparison, but with characters I didn’t find repulsive.

And oh my goodness! The Rosie Project was the dearest thing I’ve read in quite some time. A sweet little nugget of a book, like finding that chocolate caramel when you were expecting a raspberry creme. Once Thanksgiving break begins, I’ll bring out Where’d You Go, Bernadette. The New York Times called it “comedy heaven” and I’m holding them to it.

It’s been a fairly relaxing reading vacation so far–but time again to return to the work-a-day world of new releases.