The World in Your Wallet

FullSizeRender (3)“I have found the most valuable thing in my wallet is my library card.”—Laura Bush

It’s been a while since I had a library card. As a marker of books and dog earer of pages, my habits hardly classify me as an ideal library patron. Not to mention the last time I visited a library five years ago in Pensacola, a particularly nasty librarian accused me of losing a book that I know I returned (and was further assured of when I never found it during my subsequent three moves.) It was the young adult book The Summer of My German Soldier; I was researching to write about American concentration camps.

Another reason I’ve steered clear of libraries is that I’m a germaphobe when it comes to holding something that unknown persons or number of persons have held in unknown locations and in unknown hygienic conditions. And, let’s face it, if there’s one thing you learn early in life, it’s that libraries—really any place with books—attract weird people who seem too preoccupied with either learning or pursuing their fandom to practice basic hygiene regimens. (A bit off the topic, but perhaps not by much: Laura was reading a second-hand book the other night [Tinkers by Paul Harding, if you must know] when she turned the page only to be sprinkled with what appeared to be dried cupcake batter—either that or powdered sugar from the top of a funnel cake. One can never quite tell with these things, and Laura refused to taste it to find out.)

Another reason I’ve steered clear of libraries is that I’m a germaphobe.

Still, two weeks ago, Laura and I decided to go to the local library just to look around. Like the bums we are, we stopped first at the DVD section and filled our arms with movies starring Meryl Streep and Elvis—like the discriminating movie watchers that we are.

Laura’s tour of the library ended when she discovered adult coloring books and colored pencils at a table, presumably the library’s service to bored chaperones or stressed parents. I set off to peruse the other shelves while she set to coloring an ornate fish. By the time I got back to her half an hour later, she had managed not only to finish coloring the fish, but also to creatively cover a crude word and two anatomically vulgar pictures etched on the pages by either a perverted adult or horny teenage boy.

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Though largely taken for granted, libraries hold an inescapable appeal. Everything is free (providing, of course, you return things on time.*) Can you think of many other experiences quite so rewarding as walking in empty handed and strolling out with a bundle of items, all free. No gimmicks. No membership fees. No two-hour sales pitch. No hidden agendas. No background check. Just free stuff. (I know, I know—taxes, blah, blah.)

But just think of the possibilities presented in a library. There is nothing that cannot be discovered, no topic that cannot be explored at the library. No one laughs at your research of cures for toe nail fungus. Never is heard a discouraging word for those seeking to know the mating habits of porcupines. Not one librarian blinks an eye at a request to be shown to the section on ancient torture techniques.

The old cliches about the library opening new worlds is true.  (It’s also true what one of my favorite authors, Michael Perry, said in response to so much information being available to our generation: “Nowadays, ignorance must be willfully tended, like a stumpy mushroom under a bucket.”) Having a library card is really like stuffing the world in your wallet.

“Libraries really are wonderful. They’re better than bookshops, even. I mean bookshops make a profit on selling you books, but libraries just sit there lending you books quietly out of the goodness of their hearts.”Jo Walton

Chances are, you remember your first library card. For most of us, it was the first plastic card that would get us something for nothing (at least for a little while). We tucked it in our pocket or wallet, our proudest possession, a simultaneous responsibility and honor. We had arrived, members of an elite club of knowledge seekers (or of those hoping to score free movies and internet access.)

“When I got [my] library card, that was when my life began.”― Rita Mae Brown

I practically lived in the library as a teenager. It was to me what the mall was to most gHula hoopsirls my age. Though I can’t claim to have been reading classics (except 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, which probably led to my fascination with all things oceanic, especially the giant squid), I enjoyed the eclectic—researching for my World War II novel; ordering black and white Humphrey Bogart movies through interlibrary loans; feeding my obsession with Ben Affleck; learning how babies are born; and, my favorite, gaping at each page of the Guinness Book of World Records.

The librarians knew me, if not by name then by face. I remember the tall man with the gold chain around his neck. He looked more like a drug dealer than a librarian. But he always smiled when he saw me coming, and he spoke gently when I laid my stack of books on the counter and often suggested other things for me to read or put on hold other movies that I might enjoy. There were other librarians, too, who acted as tour guides through the world of books, gatekeepers to the cities of knowledge.** And after all these years, I’ve never forgotten them.

I even liked the noises of the library: the beep of the card scanning; the click of plastic as the librarians opened the VHS boxes and closed them; the rustle of pages turning; the creak of the circular, metal DVD towers being rotated; and of course, the national sound of libraries everywhere—sssshhhh.

The smells stay with me still. Closing my eyes, I can imagine the faint odor of wet carpet and scotch tape. The unmistakeable perfumes of old books and the sour aroma of paper. The garlic and sewer fragrance of the homeless guys surfing the web. The plastic smell of book covers and DVD cases.

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Though long estranged from this institution I once inhabited, two weeks ago when the librarian placed the library card in my hand, I felt something familiar.

“It’s amazing how a library card can make you feel grounded, like you belong to something,” Laura said as we toted our mounds of DVDs, CDs, and one lonely book to the car.

And I think that’s what it was: I had found my way back to the place that for me, once upon a time, felt very much like home.

 

“A library is a good place to go when you feel unhappy, for there, in a book, you may find encouragement and comfort. A library is a good place to go when you feel bewildered or undecided, for there, in a book, you may have your question answered. Books are good company, in sad times and happy times, for books are people—people who have managed to stay alive by hiding between the covers of a book.”― E.B. White

 

 

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*”The world´s largest fine for an overdue library book is $345.14 (£203.29), the amount owed at two cents a day for the poetry book Days and Deeds checked out of Kewanee Public Library, Illinois, USA in April 1955 by Emily Canellos-Simms. Although the book was due back 19 April 1955, Emily found it in her mother´s house 47 years later and presented the library with a check for overdue fines.”—from The Guinness Book of World Records

**Libraries have been around for a long time and let’s hope they stick around. (Ray Bradbury said, “Without libraries what have we? We have no past and no future.”) Check out the restoration going on in one of the world’s oldest libraries.

Anything Can Happen

For a while, the world was obsessed with the eagle web cam documenting the lives of two bald eagles who have nested in a Tulip Poplar tree in Washington, DC, and have proceeded to capture the world with their two eaglets (and their curious menu.*)

Eagles

Mr. President and The First Lady, as they’re called, are the first eagles (that we know of) to nest in the DC area since 1947. In 2015, they raised a first eaglet.

Every so often I turn on the eagle cam and watch them. The breeze rocks the tree and ruffles their feathers as they huddle there in austerity, pecking at flies as if to distract themselves from the interminable boredom of being confined to a nest, the mother to keep her babies warm and the babies to wait for their feathers to fledge.

And not much happens.

My fingers sometimes twitch to find the fast forward button while they sleep, heads tucked beneath their wing. Then I remember—this is real time. Reality knows no rush. Time will not be hastened. The micro-life plot somewhat plods. And, also, bald eagles will sleep as long as they darn well please. (Though once I was rewarded for my patience by seeing an eaglet shoot a projectile stream of poop over the side of the nest.)

Each time I visit the website, perhaps to assuage my boredom, I’m drawn to the disclaimer below the video.

This is a wild eagle nest and anything can happen. While we hope that two healthy juvenile eagles will end up fledging from the nest this summer, things like sibling rivalry, predators, and natural disaster can affect this eagle family and may be difficult to watch.

It gives me chills to think of watching a predator kill the eaglets or the eaglets harm one another or the nest fall from the tree. I’m horrified to think of watching life play out its gruesome tale, with me helpless to intervene.

May be difficult to watch, the disclaimer warns. There’s still time to back out, to close the window and go watch a Disney movie—something you can fast forward through the scary parts to the happy ending.

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Here at Goose Hill, we’re surrounded by goslings and ducklings. Last night Laura and I strolled around the lake at the back of the property. (We also have a lake at the front of our property). The geese had congregated—the families of five, six, seven, and another of five newly hatched goslings. Twenty-three yellow- and gray-downed goslings scurried behind us and in front of us, down the hill, pecking the whole way. Their parents hissed and gave the evil black eye, as if reminding us exactly where the term to be goosed came from.

Each time we see the geese families, we count them, relieved to find that all the families are accounted for. No goslings lost. But we know that anything can happen.

Cars. Hawks. Cats. Storm drains. Disease. Snapping turtles. Cruel humans.

I think it keeps us grounded to watch something other than ourselves surviving. It keeps our minds off, yet somehow on, the fact that real life is perilous, for birds and otherwise.

God sees every sparrow—but the sparrow still falls. Though we’re cradled in the Father’s grace, not one creature is immune to the Fall. Life doesn’t have a disclaimer so blatantly stated, still we know it’s there, silently posted above, beneath, through every day: This is life and anything can happen.

In every fragile moment, may heaven find me grateful.

Rejoice that your uncertainty is God’s will and His grace toward you and that that  is beautiful, and part of a greater certainty. . . . be comforted in the fact that the ache in your heart and the confusion in your soul means that you are still alive, still human, and still open to the beauty of the world. . . . And when you resent the ache in your heart, remember: You will be dead and buried soon enough. –Paul Harding, Tinkers

 

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*Recently, the eagle family made the news when one of the parents brought home a cat for lunch.

**Though not entirely creative or original but certainly appropriate, the eaglets’ names are Freedom and Liberty.

 

 

 

Goldfish Crackers and Four-Course Dinners: Talking Dreams and Motherhood with Diane Tarantini

Diane Face2Diane Tarantini—you can sing her name to the tune of “Gary, Indiana” from The Music Man. And she’s the kind of person who would have a name you could sing to. With her vivacious blue-green eyes, be-ringed fingers, and quirky wardrobe, Diane is excited about life in general, and especially about the two callings that she loves the most—being a mother and a writer.

All of her three children have their own flairs, which Diane readily describes.

“Josephine Joy (Josy), 24, graduated college and married in May 2015. She teaches third grade and plays the flute beautifully. She and her husband plan to go to Nepal this summer for a one-month mission’s trip serving in a house of prayer there.

“Then there’s Cody Brook who will be 21 in May. A junior psychology major at Wagner College on Staten Island, N.Y., Cody lives with her rat, Hazel Grace, in an apartment. She is currently working two waitressing jobs, tutoring other students, and has a radio gig at the college station.

“And then there’s Tre Antonio—he’s 16. He goes to Young Life (faith-based youth group) two times a week, karate three times a week, pole-vaulting practice four days a week, and is in the marching band. When asked recently what he wanted to do in life, Tre said, ‘I want to make things for NASA.’ Aerospace Engineering it is then.”

Motherhood was an unexpected adventure for Diane.

As much as she loves her children now, motherhood was an unexpected adventure for Diane.

“I never wanted to be a mother. I didn’t play with dolls. I didn’t babysit. My biological clock never ticked or tocked. But I consented to have one for my husband, Tony, who wanted many. And then daughter #2 arrived. And then our son was born. I was 29 when I became a mother, and I remember thinking a few months later, ‘Why did we wait so long to do this?’

“I remember the time when Josy was maybe three, and I looked at her in the car’s rear-view mirror and thought, ‘She’s my best friend. A three-year-old is my best friend. Who would ever have thought that?'”

But it’s not as if being a mother hasn’t required sacrifices of her.

“The first thing you give up is your body. You will probably have various levels of discomfort—morning sickness, migraines, incredible fatigue, indigestion, and swelling of hands and feet. Sleep was a huge loss for me. I remember thinking upon occasion, This is how they torture people—sleep deprivation.

“I never dreamed I would a) have children or b) choose to be a stay-at-home mom. But only two months after Josy was born, I decided there was no way I could allow someone else to . . . spend more time with her a day than I did. So I guess I sacrificed my dream of a high-powered career. [But] I have never regretted my decision.”

Writing came along a little later in Diane’s life. In college, she was a journalism/ advertising major and thought she would move to Manhattan to be an account executive in an ad agency. Instead, she worked in advertising in Washington, D.C., and then as an office manager for an interior design firm in Cincinnati, until her first child was born. Two years later she moved back to West Virginia where she currently lives.

There is SOMETHING I’m supposed to do with my life.

“All along I DID feel conflicted about being a stay-at-home mother. I have ALWAYS felt there is SOMETHING I’m supposed to do with my life.

“When the kids were young, Tony and I participated in a Bible study called The Journey of Desire by John Eldridge. Studying the workbook, I came to realize that the SOMETHING I was supposed to do was somehow related to writing. So, what to do about that?

“I saw in a magazine (Today’s Christian Woman) an ad for The Christian Writers Guild. I researched the two-year program and ended up signing up for it. It was a 2-year correspondence course with assignments due, via email, every two weeks.
Not long after that, I applied for a one-year spot as a ‘food writer’ at our local newspaper. I joined [a writing] group and attended [a writing] conference that summer. I came alive that weekend! These people were like me. They spoke my language.

“I knew the day would come when my children would ‘fly the nest’ and I’d need to be prepared. So after I graduated The Christian Writers Guild, I subscribed to Writers Digest magazine, read craft books, and attended writing conferences. In addition, I entered (even won prizes) in writing contests. And I also formed relationships with other writers.”

Once her children were older, Diane took a big step toward furthering her dream of writing. When a friend posted on Facebook about the fabulous experience she was having in her low-residency Master of Fine Arts program, Diane messaged her with questions. After fully researching her options, she applied and was accepted into the MFA program at Converse College in Spartanburg, S.C. In June of 2015, Diane graduated with her MFA in creative nonfiction writing. Like motherhood, the process of chasing her dream of being a writer had sacrifices and challenges as well.

“I wanted to show my kids that you’re never too old . . . to go after your dreams.”

“As much as I didn’t ever think I wanted to be a mother, once I had children I gave 120% to the task. The hardest part of my low-residency program was the four, 10-day residencies in South Carolina. I was pretty sure the home front would fall apart without me. I prepared and froze meals and printed out detailed 10-page documents for Tony, telling him how to take care of the kids and our many pets.

“It was scary to go back to school in my late 40s. I had to use my brain in a way it hadn’t been used in decades. My critical project during my third semester was the most difficult academic task I have ever done.

“But I had another reason, beyond my own education, for getting an MFA. I wanted to show my kids that you’re never too old . . . to go after your dreams.”

Diane Wedding2

Motherhood and writing intersect for Diane in many ways.

“I was at a reading one night, chatting with a group of local writers when an older man who works at the university commented, ‘Diane, she just writes “family stories.”’ He said it with such scorn, I was furious. Not even hurt, just mad. He said it like family stories don’t matter, but I know otherwise.

“I blogged faithfully for more than three years. I would say a good 50% of the posts were about our family. So for me, being a mother has provided a lot of material for stories.”

As Diane’s children grow up and move on, she increasingly has more time to pursue her writing—and to expand her vision.

“I used to think all I wanted was to be the author of a published book. I’ve tweaked that vision lately though. I want to be a ‘communicator.’ I believe that will involve writing, blogging, and speaking.”

Today Diane strives to build her platform and find a literary agent interested in representing her various works-in-progress. A new blog is also in the works. But for now, check out a few of her published pieces.

“The Woman in Red” took third place in the Writer’s Digest competition several years ago in the inspirational category.

“Killing Her Softly” won second place in a nonfiction competition (my state’s, but still).

“Black Lungs” is a very popular story of mine. A more edited version of it went on to place very well in two contests: The Appalachian category in the West Virginia Writer’s competition and also second place in the West Virginia Fiction Competition.

“Playing Favorites” is one of my “family stories,” published by Pithead Chapel, an online literary journal.

I’ve recently been asked to write for the website Grace and Such.

You have to feed that vision, even if it’s goldfish crackers, not four-course dinners,

For women currently juggling their dreams and motherhood, Diane has sound advice.

IMG_3600“To create life along with the Creator is a great privilege and a fantastic adventure. [But] you need to identify your gifts, talents, abilities, and even as you mother, begin to nurture your dreams. And if you can’t pursue them 100% right now, identify small ways to stay connected to your dream.

“The Bible says, ‘Without a vision, the people perish.’ I believe it. I think you have to feed that vision, even if it’s goldfish crackers, not four-course dinners, so that you stay ‘fed.'”

 

 

Author’s Note: This interview was first published on Do blog.

Putting the Next Season on Hold: A Grammy’s Perspective on Helping to Raising Her Granddaughter

Paula

When her unmarried youngest daughter announced her pregnancy, Paula Allnutt took the news hard. But after recovering from the initial shock, she determined that there was only one thing to do: accept the baby with as much love as she had accepted her own three daughters. This turned out to be much easier than she could have ever expected when Shira Catherine was born. The two were almost inseparable from that day on.

I’ve been with her since the day she was born, helping her mother care for her.  Other than breastfeeding her, I’ve done everything for her that I did for my own children. I feel like she is one of my children.

I enjoy every minute of being with her. I enjoy feeding, bathing, playing, and talking to her. She has a sense of humor and a big imagination, and she hates to think that she has hurt anyone’s feelings.

The most important thing as a grandmother that I want to instill in her is how much God loves her. After that I want her know that her Grammy and Papa love her unconditionally, and she can never change that no matter what she does. And that as much as we love her, God loves her more. . . . Her value is in Christ and what He did for her.

Paula’s dreams and goals have always had to do with her kids.
I’ve loved being a wife [since I was 18] and mother since I was 19, and enjoyed having my children around me. I dreaded the day that they would all be gone. For 30 years I’ve enjoyed the role of being a mom. That’s what my identity has been for so long that it’s hard for me to change gears and transition into the next “season of life.”

Two of Paula’s daughters live in different states, and just over a month ago, her youngest daughter (Shira’s mother) got married and moved out. Though most women would be enjoying post-child retirement, that next “season of life” is on hold for Paula since she babysits Shira four days a week and often on the weekend while her daughter works. Though she’d love to find more time for gardening and spending time with her husband, Paula is rarely alone—and she’s fine with that.
Am I tired at the end of the day after caring for a toddler all day? YES! Do I dream about a quiet evening with my husband when I can kick back and relax? YES! But when I actually get one of those rare evenings, I feel so sad and worried about Shira that I can’t fully savor the quietness that I’ve longed for.  When I don’t have Shira, I tend to fill my day with as many things as I can so that I won’t have as much to do when I do have Shira.

On this round-two of child rearing, her techniques have changed a bit from when she raised her three daughters.
Being a new mother you tend to worry about everything, from germ exposure, to too much TV, to keeping them on a rigid schedule for eating and sleeping, and trying to make sure they eat the healthiest of foods, and making every moment a teachable moment, and the list could go on. I try to be more relaxed and enjoy the moment we’re in instead of thinking about what’s next and what needs to be done.

In part, Paula’s drive to be a good mother and grandmother came from her own mother who died from cancer a week before Paula’s seventeenth birthday.
I [loved] my mother dearly, but to be frank, she made some stupid choices that affected our family greatly. I know by the choices that she made that I do not want to make the same mistakes she made. . . . I can try my hardest not to repeat them. . . . Looking back over her life, I’m sure she has regrets just like we all have because we are not perfect. But God will wipe away all tears from her eyes, as well as ours, and we will live perfectly in eternity in a home better than we could ever imagine.

For other grandmothers helping to raise their grandchildren, Paula’s encouragement is simple.
Just love them! Love them with all you have in you to love! Pray for them, and enjoy them. Don’t be eager to get rid of them. They know when they’re loved and wanted. Love them like it’s the last day you’ll ever spend with them. You never know what a day will bring.

Mommy Blog

I write for a website called Do blog. A month ago, the administrator asked me to write a Mother’s Day blog post about mothers in different stages of life.

I interviewed several mothers, but in the end found that I could only squeeze one story into the word count. So in the coming days, I’ll post the blog that I published on Do, and another that I wrote just because. (Ok, because she’s Laura’s mom—and she’s kind of my “other” mom too.)

So don’t be alarmed at the coming posts: I’m not turning Goose Hill into a mommy blog. I’m just going to share the stories of a few special moms.

The Jungle Book: The Oddest of All Species

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I went into The Jungle Book tonight with pretty low expectations—mostly just to enjoy my popcorn and the soda I’ve been craving all week. But with delightfully re-imagined characters, a triumphant score infused with motifs and nods to the original animated movie’s music, and spectacular CG scenery and creatures, The Jungle Book took me back to the sunny afternoon when I first watched the original Disney animated film when I was four.

Particularly, I enjoyed the organic themes throughout this movie and was pleased to find it lacking the cloying “agenda” that I initially feared it might promote. Rather than promoting humanity’s supremacy over nature or over-emphasizing nature’s preeminence or even giving a sentimental interpretation of Kipling’s beloved tale, this version of the movie encouraged respect for nature, an acceptance of our unique qualities as humans, and the necessity to use these differences responsibly.

Throughout the movie, the wolf pack and Mowgli quote the Law of the Jungle (a phrase which has come to mean “every man for himself” but in Kipling’s story means the complete opposite.)

           “NOW this is the law of the jungle, as old and as true as the sky,

           And the wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the wolf that shall break it must die.

           As the creeper that girdles the tree trunk, the law runneth forward and back;

           For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.”

King Louis tells Mowgli that it is fire that sets man apart from the animals. But he missed the larger point. Akela and Bagheera scold Mowgli throughout the movie when he uses his “human tools and tricks,” (such as using a cup to drink water); however time and again, it is the man-cub’s ingenuity that saves the day (i.e. feeding Baloo’s sweet tooth by harvesting honey comb from atop a cliff, and rescuing a baby elephant from a pit).

Fire is one of man’s tools, for sure—one that all in the jungle fear. But in the end, it’s fire that saves the day because of Mowgli’s decision to use it to defeat Shere Khan. It was Mowgli’s choice to use his differentiation for the benefit of more than himself. And it’s a good lesson to us all—to respect and realize our place among nature which, quite frankly, outnumbers us and has us thoroughly surrounded. In return, we’re bestowed with nature’s bountiful benefits—resources, food, labor, pleasure, friendship, and the opportunity for us to exercise humanity in it’s truest sense. In other words, nature lends us the bare necessities.

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I’m thankful that from Mabillda the duck to Shere Khan the tiger, God has allowed us to live on the same planet as these magnificent creatures.

This Atlantic article gives a more detailed and graceful review of The Jungle Book.

“The Jungle Book [is] perhaps the oddest of all species: a movie nearly devoid of human beings, yet one bursting with humanity.”

“In the Heart of the Sea” Gives Us the Courage to Go Where One Does Not Want to Go

Whale Tale 3In the middle of Moby Dick, Herman Melville encapsulates the whole of his veritably epic tale: “I tell you, the sperm whale will stand no nonsense.”
This statement also, naturally, summarizes the story of Ron Howard’s “In the Heart of the Sea,” a rendering of the true story that inspired Melville’s classic. After an enraged bull sperm whale attacks the whaling ship the Essex, the crew fight for survival and revenge, learning along the way the virtue of humility and humanity (ironically the traits that Ahab never understood.)
For what it might have been lacking in screenplay and convincing time-period authenticity, the movie was a visual delight (and I’m talking about more than just Chris Hemsworth).
The light filters and cinematography made every frame a work of art. The sea was captured in its magnificence, as were the whales. And the story adequately kept my attention though, strangely enough, the intermittent scenes with Melville interviewing the Essex survivor, Thomas Nickerson, were the most interesting. The rest of the plot seemed a bit purposeless, the characters’ stories underdeveloped. (However, Rotten Tomatoes’ 42% seems a bit harsh, even by my sometimes overly critical estimations.)
Most satisfying (read, relieving) of the whole movie was how, um, tastefully Howard portrayed the horrifying measures to which the crew resorted in their final days of shipwreck.
Though details of the true story that the movie is based on were left out and others a bit exaggerated, it still makes me proud to know that filmmakers are willing to portray magnificent true stories that were first captured by master nonfiction writers (such as Nathaniel Philbrick, author of the nonfiction book In the Heart of the Sea.)
Because, of course, long before a book about the wreck of the Essex, and long before a movie about the book about the wreck of the Essex, there was a novel, which inducted the true story into literary history. And before the novel, of course, there was a whale.
At the end of the movie, Melville thanks Nickerson for sharing his difficult story and for giving him “the courage to go where one does not want to go.”

“The courage to go where one does not want to go.”

It was a good reminder that sometimes, especially as writers, the stories that need to be shared are the most difficult to tell. And for all of us, sometimes the most difficult tasks end up being the most rewarding.
After the movie, I found myself searching my bookshelves for the mammoth classic, dog-eared and marked from my journey—more like a plod, at ten pages a day—through its cumbersome prose several summers ago. I’m thankful that Melville persevered and produced the work now vastly disregarded for its antiquity and length. And I’m thankful that I persevered and read it through. Yes even chapter LXXIV, “The Sperm Whale’s Head—Contrasted View.”
Of all the books I’ve read, it was definitely the most rewarding.

Friendiversary

After an early breakfast at Cracker Barrel with an old friend passing through town, Laura and I headed to Starbucks to read while waiting for the morning church service. Maybe subconsciously we were drawn there, the most appropriate place to celebrate the day.

Laura ordered our coffees and came to join me at a table in the sunlight. After a moment, she handed me a card.“Happy Friendiversary, Pal!”

I opened it and read, I love my friends and I love my family . . . And I love how sometimes I can’t tell the difference. She had written, “So here we are at Starbucks, four years later, in this life so perfect simply because we’re together.”

“Where are your sunglasses?” I asked, knowing she’d catch the reference to the night we became friends at the Starbucks in Pensacola, four years ago today.

She dug in her purse and pulled out the big, fashion glasses—her bug glasses, I call them.

“I lost my favorite pair of sunglasses that night and gained my best friend,” she said, thoughtfully. “It’s symbolic, really, because they were the mask I was hiding behind before we became friends.”

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We celebrate our friendiversary every year because, well, when God answers a prayer, when your life completely changes in meeting one friend, when you have as much fun as we have, it’s kind of a big deal.

It’s hard to say how four years can be enough time to weave two lives so inextricably together. Hard to tell how a friendship with so many obstacles could last even this long. But that’s a story for another day, if you’d like to hear it.

Here’s to Starbucks coffee meetings that turn into life-changing events, to enemies becoming friends, and to friends who become family.

Keeping Boxes

January. The boxes sat on the front porch, dusted with snow. With each box we unpacked, I drew a sharp breath. This was the third time I had moved in two years—from apartment to apartment in Florida, from Florida to South Carolina, from South Carolina to Kentucky.

Six hundred dollars for the truck. Time off of work for my dad to drive the truck. Damaged items. Disorder. And now I had moved five hundred miles away from family to a job I wasn’t even sure was going to work out.

I hate the process of moving so much that I felt myself having mini anxiety attacks at the thought of possibly moving again. Still, Laura and I and my mom tossed box after empty box onto the porch into the winter weather, dumpster bound. Honestly, I wanted to rip off the tape, fold them up, and neatly store them in my already stuffed storage closet. Just in case.

Two days into my new job, the amount of information to learn and retain overwhelmed me enough to want to dumpster dive and retrieve all my precious boxes—to safely store my stuff in some storage unit or garage somewhere, to not risk the possibility of having to tear up roots again.

Of course over the next few weeks, as I became familiar with my tasks and realized that this job of adding commas and changing hyphens to N dashes was going to work, I forgot about the boxes. . . mostly.

But that fear crept up in other ways. In my decision to not put money in my 401k, in my dread of the potluck at work because I don’t want to get close to my co-workers, in my refusal to become endeared to the big old “Florence Y’all” water tower.*

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Last week, as I was driving home from work, I stared at the license plate on the car in front of me. My South Carolina license plate features a sunset with our navy blue Palmetto tree and moon silhouetted against the sky. But Kentucky’s plate is plain old light blue. Unbridled Spirit, it says—though clearly the designers did not have unbridled creativity.

Thursday, I trudged into the DMV and turned in my South Carolina drivers license. I’m officially a resident of Kentucky.

“Do you plan to stay a while?” the DMV clerk asked.

“I hope not,” I replied, perhaps too eagerly.

“Where are you headed?”

I had to pause because I have no idea. Don’t even know where I want to be.

Perhaps it’s a side-effect of being single, this feeling of restlessness and rootlessness. Like maybe every job, every house, every city will just feel like, rather than a stop, a step toward some nebulous destination. Will anywhere ever feel completely like home?

My friend told me it took her six years to feel at home in her new state. But who’s got time for that?

Laura says it’s because we don’t have husbands and children to force ourselves to be grounded. Maybe she’s right. Maybe wives and mothers are too busy wiping baby butts and packing school lunches and untangling teenage drama to feel displaced or rootless. But I hope that’s not the answer because there’s certainly no man on the horizon—which makes me wonder at my part in this emotional root-laying process.

As I look around at the apartment that we’ve decorated and settled into now, I find myself not wanting to think about dismantling it again, yet I find myself not wanting to get used to it.

But maybe feeling at home, at place, is as simple—if not as easy—as screwing on my Kentucky plates, not scowling at the old water tower, and just enjoying myself at the potluck.

In other words, maybe I just need to unpack my fear and throw away the boxes.

 

 

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* In the early 1970s, developers of the Florence Mall gave land to the city of Florence for a water tower, asking only that the city paint the words “Florence Mall” on the tower. However, because of the city’s sign height requirements, this “advertisement” caused legal concerns. To correct the issue, the city decided to change the M to a Y and add an apostrophe. The result: a Kentucky icon.

 

The Proof of My Existence

Though we never formally laid out the details of our agreement, it works for us: my roommate Laura cooks the meals and I wash the dishes. She serves us mounds of fluffy white rice and succulent meats; I scrape the slimy rice pot and scrub my finger nails into the baked bits of lamb or chicken stuck to the Pyrex pans. It works for us—an even trade.

One evening a few weeks ago while we sat playing on our iPads, I felt ornery. “What if I told you I don’t exist. That you cook these meals and set a place at the table for me, but I don’t exist. You live alone with an imaginary friend. I’m not real. You just created me out of your loneliness.”

She didn’t even look up from her screen. “But you have to be real. My dishes get washed.”
So there it was—the proof of my existence. Not that I touch lives through my writing or clarify an author’s message through my editing but that I’m faithful to wash the dishes.

“What if I told you I don’t exist?”

It makes sense. Mom looks forward to my visits home because she knows it means she’ll have a dish washer. After dinner or lunch at my parents’ home, sometimes even before everyone is finished eating, I collect the dishes, like setting the table in reverse.  I scrape, scrub, rinse, stack. While the rest of the family sits around the table discussing politics, religion, and the overall condition of the world, I stand with suds on my arms, warm water soaking my sleeves as I swipe a dishcloth over the mashed potato clumps and spaghetti sauce splotches and gravy smears. The patterns reappear on the center of the dishes, ready to be used at the next meal. I stack the dishes in the cupboard just to set them out again, wash them just to watch them get dirty. But it doesn’t get old to me, making dirty things clean, the service no one else wants to do.

And it didn’t get old to Brother Lawrence, a monk in the 1600s who was assigned to fix the monastery’s meals. He said, “Lord of all pots and pans and things, make me a saint by getting meals and washing up the plates! The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer, and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.”

We all have something God has given us to do, some small or large thing that depends upon us for historical record or family lore, world acclaim or little note, a mission for eternity. Do it well, whatever it may be—the proof of your existence.