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Orchid

Dan bought me a flower this week.

I’ve actually had one of these before, in college.  It died after a couple of months.   “It died” is my way of not accepting responsibility for killing it.  It is amazing to me that I can keep a child alive and not a plant that I have to sprinkle with water once a week.

But this one is beautiful, and it makes me so happy to see it sitting there on the table, so here goes nothing.  (Dan, in his wisdom, bought me the easiest possible plant to care for.  I put three ice cubes on it; they melt, thus watering my plant for an entire week.)

I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…

( $20 says my mom is going to send me weekly reminders to water this flower.  I’m calling it right now.)

Hey Look!

Hey look!

A pretty new site!  It is bright and happy and green and super-functional.  I think that now would be an excellent time to click around and explore.  And while you’re at it, you should go check out sixtysevensouth to see what other pretty things they can create.

Thanks, guys!  You’re awesome!

Creativity

Dan mentioned to me a few weeks ago (when I was debating on whether or not to post that little rant about being subjected to read about human excrement on my Facebook newsfeed) that self-consciousness is the great enemy of creativity.

Did I mention that he is awesome and I love him?

Self-consciousness is the enemy of creativity.  I’ve applied it to a hundred situations and repeated it to a hundred different people since then.  How profound, and how absolutely true.  If you’re worried about what people are going to think about you all the time, you’ll never get to the good stuff, which is usually hiding at least two or three layers down.

I see it everywhere.  My favorite artists, writers, musicians; the people who make me laugh out loud, the people who make me think; the most interesting individuals out there have laid their own reputation on the line – more than once.  They threw what they had out there – into the big scary lion’s den of public opinion.  And I’m so thankful -because now we have it.

Allie Brosh of Hyperbole and a Half comes to mind.  Anne Lamott comes to mind.  Heather Armstrong of Dooce comes to mind. In fact, Heather sort of proves the point when she writes,

“I’ve been invited to participate in a White House Forum on Workplace Flexibility, and they told me I might want to hold off saying anything until they had completed my background check. Because no telling WHAT they mind find that I haven’t written about in way too much detail here. No, really. Too much information. Heather, stop. STOP NOW. HEATHER. No one wants to hear about your episiotomy, HEATHER.

Actually, I wrote a New York Times Bestseller that says otherwise, JON.”

(Jon being her husband.)  Clearly not self-conscious.  Clearly funny.

My friend, Brooke, is one of the most creative people I know, and she continues to amaze me with her bravery.  We took a vacation together a few months ago, and while we were driving to Target (to buy whipped cream and coffee and ice cream – neither here nor there) she asked me out of the blue,

“How do you sell something to Target?  I mean, who would you call?”

“I don’t know…”

“Because you know those drawings I do?  The ones where I don’t look at the paper, and then I paint them in later?  I think they would make really cool plates and stuff.”

In my head I’m thinking, “Ballsy, Brooke.”

Yeah, ballsy and INSPIRING!  I absolutely love this about Brooke, and for the record, her drawings would make the coolest line of dishware EVER.  Self-consciousness is the great enemy of creativity.  Brooke isn’t often self-conscious, and it gives her the freedom to try and explore and expand – to discover the art and talent and ideas three layers down – and she gets beautiful work to show for it.  (www.brookecourtney.com)

So often we get (read: I get) totally, consummately, hopelessly entangled in whether or not something is “okay.”  I send frantic, insecure questions to my friend Megan:

Is this too mean?
Is this too weird?
Do I sound neurotic?
AM I NEUROTIC?
Am I allowed to say ‘ballsy’ on my blog?

Anne Lamott writes a chapter in her book Bird by Bird called “Shitty First Drafts.”  (See?  Risk-taker)  She writes about the recurring nightmare of every single writer – that one day he will die and someone will log onto his computer and discover how shitty his first drafts really are.  She says you have to get over it and just write.  Self consciousness is the enemy of creativity.  She says to write every single thing you can remember about your parents and your neighbors and your in-laws – and you can worry about libel later.

And Shauna Niequist writes in her book Cold Tangerines,

“It matters, art does, so deeply. It’s one of the noblest things, because it can make us better, and one of the scariest things, because it comes from such a deep place inside of us. There’s nothing scarier than that moment when you sing the song for the very first time, for your roommate or your wife, or when you let someone see the painting, and there are a few very long silent moments when they haven’t yet said what they think of it, and in those few moments, time stops and you quit painting, you quit singing forever, in your head, because it’s so fearful and vulnerable, and then someone says, essentially, thank you and keep going, and your breath releases, and you take back everything you said in your head about never painting again, about never singing again, and at least for that moment, you feel like you did what you came to do, in a cosmic, very big sense.

I know that life is busy and hard, and that there’s crushing pressure to just settle down and get a real job and khaki pants and a haircut. But don’t. Please don’t. Please keep believing that life can be better, brighter, broader, because of the art that you make. Please keep demonstrating the courage that it takes to swim upstream in a world that prefers putting away for retirement to putting pen to paper, that chooses practicality over poetry, that values you more for going to the gym than going to the deepest places in your soul. Please keep making art for people like me, who need the magic and imagination and honesty of great art to make the day-to-day world a little more bearable.

And if, for whatever reason, you’ve stopped — stopped believing in your voice, stopped fighting to find the time — start today. I bought a mug for my friend, from the Paper Source in Chicago (which is, by the way, a fabulous playground for creative people), and the mug says “Do something creative every day.” Do that. Do something creative every day, even if you work in a cubicle, even if you have a newborn, even if someone told you a long time ago that you’re not an artist, or you can’t sing, or you have nothing to say. Those people are bad people, and liars, and we hope they develop adult-onset acne really bad. Everyone has something to say. Everyone. Because everyone, every person was made by God, in the image of God. If he is a creator, and in fact he is, then we are creators, and no one, not a bad seventh grade English teacher or a harsh critic or jealous competitor, can take that away from you.

My friend leads a junior high ministry, and it’s a fun, funny, creative group of kids and leaders who get together on Tuesday nights to talk about how to live great lives and make the world better in God’s name. He asked me to come one Tuesday night so that he could interview me and let some of the students ask questions. We talked about being a writer and what that’s like, and about Henry, and about bands that I like, and after it was over, one girl came up to talk to me. She looked nervous, and a little shy.

“I write, too.” She said it like it was a confession or a secret. She leaned toward me and opened a notebook and showed me page after page after page of precise cursive. “Do you have any advice for me?” she asked.

“Thank you, and keep going,” I said. “Thank you for writing, for taking the time and spirit and soul to write, because I love to read, and I’m so thankful to writers like you, for writing things for me to read. And keep going, even when people make you feel like it’s not that important. It might be the most important thing you do. Keep going.”

So to all the secret writers, late-night painters, would-be singers, lapsed and scared artists of every stripe, dig out your paintbrush, or your flute, or your dancing shoes. Pull out your camera or your computer or your pottery wheel. Today, tonight, after the kids are in bed or when your homework is done, or instead of one more video game or magazine, create something, anything.

Pick up a needle and thread, and stitch together something particular and honest and beautiful, because we need it. I need it.

Thank you, and keep going.”

(For the link to a PDF of the whole chapter courtesy of Shauna’s website click here.)

Self-consciousness is the great enemy of creativity.  Go be you, the best version of you.  Figure out what you were put here to do, and go do it.

Duped

I took a closer look at my laundry detergent today.  I came across it at the store and it had such a bright, pretty package – boasting about how bright my clothes would be – 2x brighter to be specific!  I thought, “Yes, that’s what I want.  Bright clothes!”  So I bought it.

WELL, upon closer inspection, the label says “clothes look 2x as bright in just one wash*.”   Note the asterisk next to “2x as bright.”   Always note the asterisk.

The footnote says …  ”*vs. dingy.”

Vs. dingy!?   Not vs. other detergents or even vs. no detergent at all.  It just looks twice as bright as something dingy.  It looks brighter than it did before you washed it.  What??  My spit does that. I’m ashamed I fell for this.  Officially duped.

(Dan experienced a similar frustration last winter when he was reading a box of Swiss Miss Hot Chocolate that boasted “As much calcium as an 8oz glass of milk*”   “*when made with an 8oz glass of milk.”)

Also, while we’re on the topic of lame advertising:
There is a sign on the parkway by our house that says, “Twickenham Funeral Home.”  Underneath it says, “Climate control self-storage in back.”  So my question is, would they store my stuff in a morgue, or are all the bodies lined up in a storage unit?

Crunchy (Indiana)

My mom is crunchy (Crunchy like a hippie, not crunchy like a carrot).

She’s actually mellowed out a lot over the years, but when I was little?  We had whole wheat everything – not a white grain in the house (this includes a bag of flour).  I think I might have 6 childhood photos of myself in which I am wearing clothes that match.  I went to a Waldorf School. I had no plastic toys, only wooden.  In fact, my favorite was a “gnome house,” and it was AWESOME.  The base was a big slice of tree, it had a two story tree house on it.  It had a hut and a pulley system, and all sorts of little secret things that kids love, like a trap door.

Mine was MUCH cooler than this, but it gives you an idea.
Mine was MUCH cooler than this, but it gives you an idea.

I didn’t realize that my mom was so crunchy until I got into first grade and started comparing lunches with my friend, Becca.  She had nice Wonderbread sandwiches with turkey and iceberg lettuce (the bag-lunch standard).  She also got chips.

But today, I am more thankful for my mom’s crunchiness than I’ve ever been (with the exception, perhaps, of that time she came to visit and bought me a whole cabinet full of delicious Method and Greenworks  organic cleaning supplies….).

We just got back from spending the better part of a week in Indiana with mom and let me tell you something, crunchiness really lends itself to mothering/grandmothering!  Madeline probably had more fun this week than she has had all month put together.

This week Madeline: watered 5,000 flowers, filled a birdfeeder, washed fruits and veggies, played with oatmeal, was introduced to playdoh on the back porch, learned to identify a chipmunk’s bark, danced to Broadway music, played in the sandbox with sieves and enormous buckets of water, learned to identify rudbeckia (yes, my mom uses the scientific name for Black-eyed-Susans), received lots of wooden toys, but some plastic ones too, and went to a science museum…

…all with Grandma Elliott patiently coaching, encouraging, and cleaning up behind her.

I felt like I got to be a fly on the wall of my own childhood.  Like somehow I transcended time and got to watch mom mother me.

My counselor told me that my personality type likes to “reserve energy,” which is totally true.  (I’d paint my nails more often, if it was worth the effort.  I only go outside when the temperature is below 80 degrees.)  So all week I was amazed and inspired by my mom and her antics because all I could think was, what an incredible amount of WORK!

To constantly be wiping up playdoh, sweeping up oats, birdseed, and sand.  Taking 35 minutes to do a task with the “help” of a toddler instead of 5 minutes to do it by yourself.  Did I mention that this woman also cooked all of our meals while we were there?  And made a peach/blueberry tart?  And her house is clean?  Parenting ain’t for sissies.

My mom is no sissy.  She’s hardworking and creative; brave, patient, adventurous, and so, so practical.  And crunchy; I love crunchy.  I’m so thankful for her, and I’m thankful to have had the chance to talk, laugh and drink tea together this week.

Here are some pictures of our time in Indiana.

In The Meantime

Travel updates coming soon.  Musings on family and childhood.  Thoughts about science.  A first-ever interview.    Quotes/thoughts from fascinating books.  Music I can’t stop listening to.  My first executive board meeting is Monday (Get the story here). All of this is rolling around in my head, and will eventually be blogged (so stay tuned).

But in the meantime:

Really cold.
Really cold.

Such a mom thing to do, but I can own it.  Gosh, she’s wonderful.

A Bushel and a Peck

Madeline’s song du jour.

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“I love you, a bushel and a peck!
A bushel and a peck, and a hug around the neck!
A hug around the neck, and a barrel and a heap
A barrel and a heap, and I’m talkin’ in my sleep.
About you.”
["Bushel and a Peck," from Guys and Dolls, 1950]

I love HER  a bushel and a peck.

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And I shall call her Bubble Beard.  Grandma, if you would please get a dog, Madeline would really appreciate it.   Thanks.

Peace

I remember the exact moment anxiety came into my life.  Much the same way anger came into my life much later and with much more conviction than I would have thought (this similarity is what led to the tangent/confession/thoughts on anger in the previous post).

A new level of anxiety came into my life this week.  Tuesday, to be exact.  In hindsight, it was actually kind of hilarious.  I was wound so tightly, like a too-tight guitar string, ready to take an eye out with a loud TWANG at the slightest brush.  Before we even left the house for Madeline’s eye appointment I said out loud to myself (first sign of danger), while pacing frantically around the kitchen (second sign of danger), “I need chocolate immediately (trifecta).”

What?  You don’t have directions?  We have to go print them at the church?  That was my responsibility?

What, it’s time to leave?  What, you’re not ready Madeline?  You mean to tell me you’re two-years-old and didn’t bathe yourself, dress yourself, feed yourself, and pack your own diaper bag???

What, there’s traffic in Atlanta?  Since when?  What, Madeline doesn’t LOVE her carseat?  What, there’s no time for lunch????

What?  We’ve been married all this time and you don’t even know the EXACT type of granola bar I’m craving from the gas station in this exact moment?  UGH!

You mean Madeline doesn’t love having her eyes dialated?  And she isn’t thrilled to wear the cheapo sunglasses from the opthalmologist the WHOLE WAY HOME?

What, we have less than a day left in Georgia and we still haven’t seen how many people?

When Dan asked me what I wanted for dinner I walked into the next room, curled up into the fetal position in a chair in the corner, and started crying.  No exaggeration, you can ask him.

We’ve had a very busy three weeks.  Last month I sat down with a calendar and tried to organize it all very strategically, so that Madeline always had at least three days between “events.”  Because when toddlers cross the line of “too much,”  it’s like the sixth circle of hell.  Whining, screaming and crying – and nothing to be done.  It’s not their fault, it was just too much.  There is no toy, no treat, no incentive that can console them.  Also no threat of punishment or violence.  So you’re dealing with this kid, and THEN there’s the mixture of guilt and empathy; sadness and frustration; “stop whining!” and “I should have known better;” and  a healthy dose of “I need to go smash some dishes right now.”  And then you think, “This was sooo not worth it.”

Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything…

So I planned our travel in such a way that it would not be too much for Madeline.  What I gave no thought to was, is this too much for me?

I did not occur to me that I am an introvert.  That an evening at home in my pajamas playing Super Mario on our old school Nintendo sounds like a really wonderful date to me.  That Dan and Madeline could go on vacation for two weeks and I would not run out of things to do while they were gone.  That since I like to sit and process things before I talk about them – maybe I should have allowed myself more than 24 hours between getting home from a week in Georgia and hosting a Girls Night.  And more than 12 hours between Girls Night and Madeline’s transition meeting.  Yeah, that would have been helpful to remember.

So back to Tuesday.  I was curled up in the chair, hoping that if I ignored dinner,  our hunger would vanish and I would not be forced to make a decision.  Dan, my patient husband and ever the problem-solver, was saying, “Why don’t we go visit so-and-so right now?  That way we can be done and relax the rest of the night?”

And I was saying, “No, it’s too much for Madeline.  She just got back from an entire day at the doctor, and a long car ride.  She needs to rest, it’s too much.”

At which point, we both looked down at Madeline, who was SINGING and toting blocks happily around the living room.  She looked up at us, realized she had our attention, and giggled.

.

.

<crickets chirping>

.

.

Okay, so maybe I was projecting a little bit.  What I really meant to say was, “It’s too much for me.  I just got back from an entire day at the doctor, and a long car ride. I need to rest.”

It became abundantly clear;  I realized that my whole person had been hijacked and devastated by anxiety (which I should have realized after the chocolate incident 12 hours earlier).   I grinned at Dan, sheepishly, as if to say “I realize I’m being ridiculous, thank you for loving me anyway,” and began to pray a mixture of song lyrics and scripture:

“Breathe peace, breathe your peace on us, that we might breathe You deep…You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in You….Do not be anxious about anything…the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds….Take from our souls the strain and stress, and let our ordered lives confess the beauty of Your peace….Do not worry about tomorrow, who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”

Yes, let my over-scheduled life and my tightly-wound heart confess the beauty of Your peace.

Anne Lamott says that her pastor says, “Peace is joy at rest.”

I so absolutely love that – such a fitting way to describe the peace that “surpasses all understanding.”

It feels as full as joy, and as refreshing as rest.

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“Your voice has stilled the raging storms
The wind and waves bow down before
Your still small voice brings hope to all
Who wait on You, we’ll wait for You

To lead us to the place where You’ll restore our souls
And all our earthly strivings come to cease

Take from our souls the strain and stress
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Your peace
The beauty of Your peace

Bright skies will soon be overhead
We’ll enter in to Heaven’s rest
There’ll be no death, there’ll be no pain
The things of old will pass away

You’ll lead us to the place where You’ll restore our souls
And all our earthly strivings come to cease”

["The Beauty Of Your Peace," Tim Hughes]

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“Calmer than the sky
Far away so blue
Land of living God
Grant your peace on earth

We can feel you move
And cannot stay the same
The winds are blowing strong
God of heaven come

(chorus)
Breathe peace
Breathe your peace on us
So we might breathe you deep
Breathe peace
Breathe your peace on us
Land of the living God

If we are in the way
Move us to the side
God forgive our wrongs
Rest your hands on us

All the world is yours
Let us not forget
It was you who bore the cross
God of comfort breathe
(chorus)”

["Peace," Robbie Seay Band]

[Isaiah 26:3-4]

[Philippians 4:6-7]

[Jesus, in Matthew 6:25-34]

Be anxious for nothing, breathe peace.

Anger

I can remember the exact moment anger was introduced into my life.  I was 22 years old, living in a tiny apartment in Athens, Georgia.  I had been acting horridly towards my husband for a week-and-a-half, and couldn’t figure out why I was so…”edgy”  (The words hostile and venomous also come to mind).  One night I was up at 4:00 am, nursing Madeline,  just simmering and festering and brooding in the rocking chair. I can only imagine the expression on my face – contorted and sour, smoke rolling slow and steady out of my ears.  And it occurred to me – I’m angry!

I thought I’d been angry before, but when I felt real anger, I realized that this was a wholly new emotion and I had NO IDEA how to handle it.  Sort of like being in love.  You think you’ve been in love, until you really fall in love, and then you realize that, in hindsight, you probably didn’t love your 8th grade boyfriend.  Rita Rudner once said, “Before I met my husband I’d never fallen in love; I’d only stepped in it a few times.”   And that’s exactly how my first experience with anger felt.  I’d been irritated, frustrated, wronged, and hurt – all of the precursors.  I’d dipped my toe into anger, testing the waters. But during my 22nd year of life, I fell in.

So at 4:00 in the morning, when I was finally able to put a word with the emotion, I felt simultaneously furious, and utterly hopeless.  ”I’ve never dealt with this before.  How do I survive this?  How will my joy survive?  My marriage?”

I’d heard sermons and read books about anger, and how Jesus says to be self-controlled – not to let anger determine your behavior.  He also says to forgive, to turn the other cheek and love your enemies.  I used to tell people these things all the time when they’d come to me with their anger.  I told them to take a walk, exercise, get some air.  Take a long shower, pray pray pray.  Ask for the mind of Christ – that you would have the ability to see people like God sees people.  To see their need and hurt and sin and complexity – and that out of your new vision, compassion might be borne.

I’d heard all about how anger is a poison – that it affects your life much more than the other persons.  That whomever you’re angry with is likely as happy as a clam, totally unaware that you are in danger of a stroke because you’re sending them mean thoughts of flat tires and bad haircuts with such intensity.

But when I was angry, it still felt like there was a piece missing.  A key that, when I found it, would unlock my heart and all of the advice would just fall in and I would grow into this bigger, forgiving person.   But I couldn’t find it.  I felt powerless against this new emotion, that, for the record, is just as enslaving and consuming as any other sin or addiction.

I wanted to find all the people whom I gave advice and say, “I’m so sorry that I didn’t appreciate what you were feeling! I didn’t know you were consumed.  I didn’t know that the word “forgiveness” didn’t compute, that it felt foreign on your tongue.  I know, now, that you were looking for the key.”

For the record, there is no key.  And if there is, it’s something like getting over yourself.

There were three things that brought me through my year of anger.

Yes, it took me almost a full year to learn how to deal with new, real anger.  Sometimes I relapse, but at least I know how to handle it now.  (It should be said that my way is not necessarily the most efficient way, or even a good way of dealing with anger.  I’m sure there are people out there with great exercises and strategies, and if it had occurred to me to talk to someone, I probably could have saved myself a lot of stress.)

But for me, what worked was:

Commitment
Love
And letting go.

Commitment.  I was more committed to Jesus than I was angry.  In fact commitment to Jesus was about the only thing in my life that was bigger than my anger at the time.  (From my perspective, anyway.  Everything about God is bigger than everything about me.  And there were certainly much larger problems in the world – but when you’re angry, you tend to think that the whole world is about you and your hurt.)  So the thing that saved me was that anger could never be primary.  It never really had full reign of my life, my choices or my heart.  Christ had that, and it saved me.

Love.  I loved Jesus more than I was angry.  And because Jesus was primary in my life, I was still able to love Dan more than I was angry at him.  Not in a doe-eyed-drunken-puppy kind of way, but I had a deep appreciation for who he was as a person.  I believed in him, irrevocably.  I have every single day since the day we met – true story.  And no matter how angry I was, I knew that if we could get it right, it would be so, so good. (And it is now, for the record.)

And letting go.  At some point I became exhausted of the sensation that my blood was actually boiling in my veins as I nursed Madeline in the middle of the night, while Dan slept peacefully in the next room.  I felt weary and batterd, not like myself.  Who has time for that?  So I let go.  Which is a useless thing to tell someone who’s feeling angry because it doesn’t compute – they’re looking for the key.  Except that at some point, that’s the only thing there is to do.  Letting go is the key.

As I committed myself to Jesus and to Dan, I was able to let go.  And once I did – all of that advice actually helped.  I went on walks, I took long showers, I prayed a lot.  I forgave a little bit at a time, inch by inch across my heart until I wasn’t angry anymore.

Believe it or not, this is the longest introduction ever to what I actually wanted to write about, which is peace.  But I think peace deserves it’s own post.

So if you’re angry, I understand.  I know what anger feels like and what it can do to your insides.  But please don’t stay angry.  It will poison you and steal your attention away from good things, worthy things, and focus it on the sensation of boiling blood.  And boiling blood is really lame compared to the sweeping, overwhelming, totally freeing, ocean-sensation of grace.  Compared to laughter, connection, and trust; compared to joy, anger isn’t really something worth holding on to.