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The Sky and the Page

May 29, 2019
agriculture clouds countryside cropland

Photo by Ákos Szabó on Pexels.com

 

To escape annual May snowstorms (truth), I find ways to write and work away from home. Although it would be lovely to hop on a plane and head somewhere exotic, I usually settle for something a bit more realistic.

Like Nebraska.

This year, after I finished grading papers and wrapping up the semester, I found a small space to rent on a Mennonite organic popcorn farm. Who knew? But the cabin was the perfect size and place for a writer on retreat. In addition to a chair and a bed, I had a small desk and an outside picnic table perched under a tree filled with songbirds. The property came with two happy dogs, chickens, cows, a couple of old barns, and gracious hosts.

To break up the writing, I took long walks down dirt roads. Sky surrounded me in every direction, and it wasn’t hard to imagine pioneers plodding across the prairie in their covered wagons. Not much changes on the prairie.

Except the sky.

The sky in Nebraska was nothing short of spectacular, opening itself with outstretched arms. Birds welcomed the sun in the morning and sung it goodnight in the evening when the colors changed from dusty blue to violet black. The wind whipped across the grasslands. Throughout the day, clouds came and went, gathered and scattered. In the distance, lightning struck, and rain fell.

As I wrote, the sky became my metaphor for the page.

The morning skies ushered the sun, and my day began with hope. As my shoulders warmed, my writing worked. But later, I struggled for the correct word, the just-right sentence. Thoughts jammed inside my head like the clouds cramming together to block the sun.

I slammed my computer shut. The rain came. Finally, when the smell of sweet grass filled the air, a fresh idea, a different twist and take on the story, came to mind. My fingers flew across the keyboard as the shape of the sky transformed into something new, something breathtaking.

During my stay, the pattern of change repeated itself. When the rain arrived, or the sun seared, I took breaks. I played with crayons and read stories. I napped. When my thoughts struggled, I moved. I walked and ran and drove across the prairie, and eventually, new ideas appeared. Allowing myself space to stand back gave me and my work renewed life.

The Nebraskan sky spoke to me. I surrendered to its never-ending bursts and applied that to my work. I paid attention to the way the sky, my writing, and my life transformed throughout the day. Harmony. My work had its challenges, but like the sky, I had amazing moments, stretching far and wide.

Both beauty and words arrived.

 

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Road Trip Stories in the South

April 8, 2019

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Last week, I had a most excellent adventure. First, I met my oldest and closest friends in New Orleans and then road-tripped with my 88-year-old mom through the South. Both pieces were extraordinary.

My friends never disappoint. Sure, we’ve grown older; our legs more tired and our wrinkles much deeper. We’ve raised kids and dogs and worked and suffered. We’ve become strong, independent women who know a thing or two, and yet, have plenty to learn. We’re a complicated crew. Because of my gals, I’ve learned that relationships take effort. I’ve also learned, the best ones are worth the investment.

As lives change, friendships shift; but once together, my friends and I remember. We remember big hair, Bon Jovi, shoulder pads, banana bike seats, pool parties, and Schaeffer Light. Now, we roll eyes, remembering the jocks and the burn-outs, the teachers and the coaches. We remember laughing. We remember predators. We remember love. Mostly, we remember our stories. Together; eating and drinking and dancing like fools, we make more moments to remember. Stories.

After my friends, dispersed, Mom arrived. Because her grandma was a suffragist and taught her to demand social justice, Mom taught me the same. We headed for Montgomery where much of our nation’s horrific history is recorded. We sat with ghosts. We studied at the Legacy Center, listening to stories of incarceration, injustice, lynching, and death. As white women raised in America, like it or not, we’ve benefited from slavery’s dark legacy and the Jim Crow laws that followed. After many museums, we sat with ourselves; sorry and ashamed. Mom and I had long talks about racism, social injustice, and the history that got us here. We committed ourselves to listen better. Act more. And to speak about what we learned; sharing both the stories that were told and the stories that disappeared.

By the end of my adventure, I realized, not for the first time, how quickly life moves; how tragic and joyful it can be. In the time we are given, relationships and stories transform life, making it either better or worse.

Stories.

For me, I hope to create a life where I live a good story, I write a good story, and I listen to all the stories I can.

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Quotes (for me and maybe for you, too)

February 10, 2019
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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

As the light slowly begins to return to the Northern hemisphere, so does change. At least for me. For reasons I’ll write about soon, these quotes speak to me, and I hope, for you as well.

Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns.

–Anne Lamott

The root of the problem lies in the way we deal with change. Most of us feel soinsecure that we want to create a structure around us makes us feel safe and then wedon’t want it to change. Any change increases our uncertainty and our confusion andour inadequacy. And it frightens us

Think of how bizarre that is, because you are a part of nature. Look out there, and youshow me something out there that isn’t changing. The nature of things is that theychange, including us. Do you see how you’re in a losing strategy if you pit yourselfagainst change? See, it’s a losing game.

-Ram Dass

The road to something is the start of something.

–K. GiselleBasilwango

…Only we can create that change—with skills like cooperation, community, cohesion, collaboration—that will see us through this dark night of the planet’s soul. The roots of each word is “co”, meaning together. Only with others can we create a kind, flourishing world. However (and this is hard), it means banishing the idea that your outrage and effort alone can fix this. It can’t. Only together can we right the wrongs, heal what has been broken, and over come the obstacles ahead. Together.

-JenHofmann jen@jenniferhofmann.com

 

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What Rudolph Taught Me

December 15, 2018
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Photo by Kristina Paukshtite on Pexels.com

It seems as though Rudolph has been thrown off the sleigh. In current times, some folks cry for the cartoon to be banned, claiming that it’s filled with prejudice and insensitive behaviors. If Rudolph were written today, I might agree.

But it wasn’t.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeerwas written in 1939 and first hit television in 1964. The show should be appreciated in the contextual times it was written.

When I was little, Rudolph was my favorite Christmas show. I loved the bouncing bumble who scared me and then endeared me. I loved the land of misfit toys. I loved the tiny cozy cabin and the terrible storm. I loved the jingle of Santa’s sleigh as he crossed the moon’s path.

But mostly, I loved Rudolph.

The heart of the story focuses on a character who doesn’t fit in, because he’s different. He’s teased and taunted and ridiculed because of his nose, but also, because he’s an independent thinker who believes in a greater truth than what’s been told. It’s a hero’s journey of perseverance and self-discovery. It’s a story about prejudice. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer helped me understand that being different can and should be championed. Rudolph resonated with me because even at a young age, I understood the inequity and unfairness in the world. Without realizing it, at age four, I became a champion of social justice.

We all have hidden and not so hidden obstacles to overcome. Some folks have harder lots than others. In a world that desperately needs more compassion and understanding, it’s important to fight for freedom for all. At least, that’s what Rudolph taught me.

 

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Best Books of the Year

December 3, 2018
books on bookshelves

Photo by Mikes Photos on Pexels.com

Back Again: A few of my favorites books of the year (some were published before 2018- it just took me until now to read them). They are in no particular order.

Middle Grade:                                             

Louisiana’s Way Home; Kate Di Camillo

The Someday Birds: Sally J. Pla

One and Only Ivan: Katherine Applegate (how did I not read this until now?)

Young Adult:

Written in the Stars: Aisha Saeed

We are Okay: Nina La Cour

Dear Martin: Nic Stone

You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone: Rachel Lynn Solomon

Adult Fiction:

The Great Believers; Rebecca Makkai (this is #2 on the NYTIMES best books of 2018- see below)

Nightingale: Kristin Hannah

Sing Unburied, Sing: Jesmyn Ward

Non-Fiction and Memoir:

Why I no Longer Talk to White People

The Recovering: Leslie Jamison

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks; Rebecca Skloot

Educated: Tara Westover

Here’s a link to the top 10 2018 favorites from The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/29/books/review/best-books.html

As always… it doesn’t matter what you read, just read!

Happy December, y’all!

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And Yet: Gratitude for the Moment

November 15, 2018
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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Gratitude. While wildfires strip lives, and storms rip away homes, it’s hard to feel grateful. It’s hard to feel grateful when we see pollution and destruction and division. It’s hard to feel grateful when people are hurt and hungry and suffering.

And yet.

The birds still sing.

Dogs wag their tails.

Sun warms our skin.

Peach juice drips down one’s chin, delicious and juicy.

Ice-cream sweetens the tongue.

Someone opens the door and smiles.

The breeze blows gently; bringing with it the smell of soft rain.

A pillow offers welcome relief at the end of a long day.

Someone says thank you and another whispers you’re welcome.

And yet.

There are hundreds of small moments to offer gratitude. In a world where so much is out of our control, leaving us helpless and frustrated, it’s even more important to find gratitude in the present. It is the everyday flashes of beauty and joy that will bring a sense of hope. A sense of wellbeing. A sense of gratitude.

Happy Thanksgiving.

 

 

 

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Arriving in Tunisia as a not-so-proud American

November 2, 2018

 

American passport on desktop

I arrive at night, not sure what to expect. All I know is that someone will meet me—I’m sure of it. Still, my nerves zap with unsettled energy. How will it feel to be back in this place, remembering pieces of my former self? Neither Tunisia or I am the same as we were 35 years ago, and these are unsettled times. Wars and bombs and tremendous upheaval have plagued our countries. Since my last return, Tunisia has had a revolution, and America has put into place a corrupt president. I wonder, with trepidation, how Tunisians will react to me. I’m ashamed of our country and no longer proud to be American.

I search for my suitcase as others, speaking Arabic and French, sweep their bags away. I wait and wait and wait; my anxiety increasing. Finally, the last load emerges on the conveyer belt, and although I spot my suitcase, the woman searching bags pulls it aside. She raises her eyebrows and clucks. The hair on the back of my neck prickles as she calls for another customs officer to join her. They rifle through the gifts I’ve brought for my family, and when they spot my toy drone, I know I’m in trouble.

More officers surround me, and they take my toy. Then, when my passport is confiscated, something inside of me drops. My identity to the United States; the only legal link to my homeland is gone. My bones shift, cracking with concern. In spite of my shame for our current government, the United States is still a great democracy built on the backs of strong women and determined men. In America, I have the freedom to speak my mind and the choice to resist.

The customs officers whisk me away and ask more questions, but I don’t speak French well and know even less Arabic. They shout and wave their hands as my own shake the tiniest bit. It sinks in. I am alone in North Africa.

With my passport gone and the drone appropriated, I cross my fingers and sing silent prayers. Maybe they think I’m a spy. Perhaps they think I’m a scout. Maybe they think I like Donald Trump. I bite my lip and plan my defense. As I do, my host sister, Sonia, and her husband, Sami, burst through the door. I jump toward them grinning. It’s been eight years since my last visit. Between hugs and kisses and many tears, they ask what has delayed me. They’ve been waiting two hours, but because Sami works at the airport, he’s been allowed to come find me. He speaks with the officers, clarifying that he knows me and that I’ve been to Tunisia many times. Sami argues hard, and the officers reluctantly agree to let me go—minus the drone. I’m instructed to return 20 hours before my departing flight to sign more papers. Fine, I say. I’ll do anything to get my passport back.

When the woman hands me the little blue book with the United States emblem printed on the front, relief washes across my face. We hurry away before they change their minds.

The night air assaults me with petrol and jasmine. Sonia has prepared a feast for my arrival, and their two adult children join us in celebration. I devour couscous and spicy fish as we review the past few years. We laugh and cry, and as we talk late into the night, the conversation drifts toward politics. The Tunisians, at least the ones in my family, are incredibly knowledgeable about global issues. They are fiercely proud of their country, and as we talk, I realize I’m proud of mine, too. I don’t like our current government and say so many times. But I am proud to be American. I have the freedom to vote, the freedom to travel, and the freedom to rant and rave and protest our president. I whisper thanks, aishik. I’m grateful for my family in the States. I’m grateful for my Tunisian clan. I’m grateful to have my passport back. And I know without a doubt; America is a country worth fighting for—she makes me proud.