The moment Steve claimed he could smell Sycamore trees, I was swinging–ever so slightly so as not to spill my coffee–on a wooden bench swing on the porch of a cabin we had rented during a recent vacation for just the two of us.
Before he spoke, I was sitting alone on the porch, gazing through the woods, past the Virginia Creeper bicycle trail, to Laurel Creek where sunbeams glittered on moving ripples of rushing water. I’d put the book I was reading, still open, in my lap and was half-listening to the ambient sounds around me. Birds chirped. The creek water gurgled. The gravel crunched when the occasional biker pedaled by.
From the cabin, Steve came out to the porch and sat down in a chair beside the swing. “Look at that walnut tree.”
At a public library, I stood in line to check out books not knowing I was about to face a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to give.
In front of me in line, a young, slim girl lifted an unwieldy stack of children’s picture books up onto the high checkout desk. She smiled as she unzipped a small change purse, pulled out her library card, and handed it up to the librarian. The girl’s mother stood to the side, watched, and nodded approval.
The child self in me envied the girl’s large pile of books. When I was a child, the library I frequented limited the number of books a patron could borrow to five at a time. Probably the girl didn’t even realize her great fortune. Continue reading “The smallest gift I ever gave…”
“Has anyone ever turned in a paper that you considered too long?” a student asked when I mentioned an approximate page length for an assignment.
Once, I asked students to define a term from their major area of study. Write two or three pages explaining the term to someone who’s not in your major, I said.
A zealous physics student emailed me a detailed, fourteen-page discourse on time travel. I opened the file, scrolled through the fourteen pages, and postponed grading the paper.
I did not put reading the paper on hold because its length discouraged me. I put the paper on hold because its promise engaged my curiosity. In the introduction, the student declared that time travel is currently possible. I was excited to learn about the possibilities. I saved his pages for last, so I’d have reading to anticipate. (I hear you. You aren’t the first. Others have called me gullible.)
The idea of time travel fascinates me. I have read A Wrinkle in Time, The Time Machine, and Danny Dunn Time Traveler more than once. I watched all the Back to the Future movies. More than once.
According to a recent Washington Post article, the American workforce faces a crisis of meaning. Millions of people report lack of fulfillment in their chosen jobs. They long for vocations that provide meaning and purpose but don’t know how to find them.
Steve and I don’t need any more stuff, but one recent Saturday, we stopped at a yard sale—just to look. We browsed through displays of other people’s castoffs—vintage purses, antique furniture, kitchen gadgets, books and tools.
Steve browses faster than I do. He got a few displays ahead of me.
After a few minutes, I looked for him and noticed he was doing more than browsing. As I watched, he handed some bills across a table to a vendor. And didn’t get any change. He seemed to be spending more than his fair share of the cash he’d pulled from our joint account on our way to the sale. Continue reading “How to find a purpose that delights you…”
The daily schedule of the writer’s conference I attended in early June did not coincide with my usual routine and by the time the early morning workshop concluded, the time for my usual second cup of coffee had long passed. I eagerly joined other attendees for a coffee break.
Coffee pots, cream, sugar, pastries and fruit were available on a long table that was set out on the campus lawn under the trees.
I made my way to one of the large coffee pots and fully engaged to adjust the spigot to fill my cup with coffee. My focus on pouring that beverage was so intense that most people would be pleased if their brain surgeon used half as much concentration when performing an intricate, high-stakes procedure.
My cup filled, I sidestepped to the cream station, added a splash of half-and-half, stirred, and, anticipating a big gulp, I surfaced from the act of preparing the coffee to find my nose almost touching the nose of a man who was equally intent on getting coffee.
Last week, I felt sad and perplexed when the author of a book that I treasure compared herself to other authors and came up lacking.
The author Christina Baker Kline ,who wrote a book that I’ve recently enjoyed titled a piece of the world, spoke at the Princeton Public Library. I was in Princeton for a writer’s conference held at Princeton Seminary and when I discovered that she was speaking at the library, I happily skipped a conference event, so I could attend her outstanding presentation.
During the presentation’s question and answer part, I asked her to talk about her writing process. How did she get that novel written?
She explained that writing a book takes her a long time. Then because she had recently spoken at an event that included John Grisham and Harlan Coben, she compared her writing process to theirs. Wistfully, she said: They write so fast–a book or more a year–I wish I could write as fast as they do. Continue reading “Beyond comparing…”
I scanned the confusing signs on a ski slope directing skiers to trails of apt difficulty. My ski skills are–at best–intermediate. And that designation might be a stretch. I have skied for a lot of years, and I’ve enjoyed the time I’ve spent skiing, but my skill level plateaued early. So that day on the slope, I had to be sure to choose a trail that matched my skill level.
I puzzled out the signs’ meaning, made a turn, took a long glide, noticed a very steep dip ahead and stopped quickly.
The best belonging allows us to fit in with others while living true to our value and values. Navigating the ins and outs of belonging takes a little bit of bungling and a lot of courage. I know. Once, I lost a chunk of my tongue while trying to belong on the big kids’ playground.
Our family lived in Canada when I was young and, as a child, I became accustomed to translating for my parents, especially my mom. I didn’t translate from English into French, but from one variety of English into another.
My parents speak with regional New England accents—my Dad’s from New Hampshire and my mom’s from near Boston. People notice my Mom’s “r’s”, or lack of them. She says words like pak instead of park and pizzer instead of pizza. Sometimes, the Canadians didn’t understand her Bostonian accent.
Often, my friends would hear my mother call my brother Mark and ask, “Why does your mother call your brother Mak?”
Once, I was in a small convenience store with my mom and she asked the proprietor for popcawn. The proprietor said emphatically that the store didn’t carry that item, in fact, he’d never heard of such a thing.
Mom insisted that he had heard of popcawn and proved her point by instructing me, “Tell him what I want.”
He did, in fact, sell popcorn. In a variety of types.
Even though I became accustomed to interpreting my parents words so their messages were not confused, I was puzzled a few years ago, when a friend said to me, that she used my Dad’s words of advice (from last week’s blog) with her sons. “I tell them all the time that Pastor Jack says: Remember whose yard you are in.”
If you read last week’s blog, you may recall the words my dad used to say to remind my brothers of their value (Remember who you are) and be as bewildered my friends interpretation as I was.
I was 12-years-old when I first felt a pang of not belonging. I stood on the sidewalk at the corner of Drewry and Valleyview with my back to the wind. My chin dipped deep into a woolen scarf which was tied around my neck. My crossed arms held school books tight against my chest–another layer to keep out the biting cold—and my mittened hands were pressed under my arms in search of warmth.
I waited for the school bus with my friend—for this post, I’ll call her Sally. At the bus stop that morning, I considered Sally my very best friend; even though she was a grade, maybe two, ahead of me in school. We shared seats on the bus. We played marbles in the snow. Every Monday evening, I went to her house to watch “The Partridge Family”. We spent hours in our fort in the woods paging through a wallpaper sample book discussing which wallpaper pattern we’d like to paste on our fort walls. We both had crushes on the teen idol of the year, Donny Osmond.
That morning on the corner, I chattered away proposing activities to do after school once we finished homework. Maybe we could put on a play and invite neighborhood friends to come watch it.
I was thinking about what the play would be about, who would act in it, and whether we’d serve refreshments when Sally said, “I’m not going to be your friend anymore. You do baby things.”
For this blog episode, I decided to experiment with breaking an unhealthy habit and to write about the experience because I hope that what I learn will help you when you try to break a bad habit.
When it comes to bad habits, I have many to pick from: when making decisions, I second guess myself–a lot. When I’m reading books, I fold down page corners to mark my place. When grading papers, I’m the Queen of procrastination. In fact, if a title more emphatic than Queen exists, I’m that. I’m Queen x ten of procrastination. I could write a 300 page manual on how to procrastinate. And then I could go through it and dog ear the best pages–anything to put off grading papers.
And, of course, there are other bad habits that I won’t divulge. You can ask Steve.