Audience of one

The weekend after I gave birth, a friend sent me a poem.

She’d written it months earlier, at a time when my pregnancy’s outcome was uncertain—capturing both my heartache and my hope. She saved the poem and sent it to me when my miracle baby arrived safe and healthy.

What made me tear up (beyond the beautiful words, and post-baby hormones) was the idea that my friend wrote her poem, knowing I would be the only one to read it. And even that was in question until my due date.

She knew the piece may never have an audience, but she created it anyway.

Too often, I forget to just write. I look too far beyond the page to the audience or the cover letter or possible venues for publication.

But not every creative act must be a Big Important Thing.

Our creations do not require crowds to be valuable.

Sometimes, you have the most powerful impact on an audience of 1.

Wait.

In a hundred ways, we’re told to act now.

Just do it. Seize the day. Take a leap. Life is short. Don’t wait.

But I’m finding that waiting also has its beauty and benefits.

Waiting is not doing nothing. It can be just as active as ploughing ahead, but it tends to be quieter—observing, gathering information, listening and looking ahead.

When the most important moment to act arrives, waiting can mean that instead of being busy doing other things, you’re ready.

Every day deserves a dance party

Every morning, we have a dance party.

My six-year-old gets ready for school and then we turn up the speakers on a song she loves—usually a silly one, like a Weird Al polka medley—and her ponytail flies around while she leaps and twirls and sprinkles her spontaneous footwork all over the carpet.

After that, she puts on her backpack and walks out the door into her world.

*

Anxiety, anger, pain thread themselves through my newsfeed–especially these days, at the lip of a heated election.

So many people saying, Look! Look at what’s wrong here, look at what needs to change. I hear pain over what has happened, worries about what’s to come.

If we are to be good humans, we need to look. We need know what other humans do to each other and we need to say to the wounded and worried, “I see you. I love you. I’m here.”

Witness can be powerful, healing.

*

And.

I can get stuck in the swirl of stories that call me to witness, my attention held by events and words that can only ever break my heart. If I step away from the worrying conversations and pay attention to right now, something hopeful is always waiting: the miraculous voices of children, the wonder of breathing in and out.

I’m not suggesting we ignore the injustices and offenses of the world. I do not advocate heads in sand.

I’m just suggesting that beauty and delight exist alongside our heartaches, right in this moment—-that right now, as you scan these words, you physically inhabit a space where something good exists. Where you are, the sky is filled with sun or rain or snow. Where you are, the peaceful can be found in something you see right now, in the sound of your own heartbeat.

And wherever you are in the morning, you can stop for a moment and know that somewhere, a little girl is twirling, twirling, believing today has the chance to be beautiful.

Free speech

The constitutionally protected right of free speech means that the government can’t censor or imprison you for what you say.

It doesn’t mean that after you say whatever you want, everybody has to like it.

That won’t make headlines

No news outlet will air coverage of the woman who baked a complicated lemon blueberry cake for friends yesterday.

Not one major media source will publish a story on the gathering of warm, thoughtful people who celebrated my soon-arriving baby with generous gifts.

No front page will feature the patient, forgiving smile on my husband’s face when I apologized for huffing and grumping about being late to an event.

Small moments like these don’t (and shouldn’t really) make headlines, for plenty of good reasons. One possible reason: People reaching out to be helpful and human is not an anomaly to report. (Though you might think so if your own source was the news.) Day to day, or even in the midst of newsworthy catastrophes, humans extend hands of remarkable compassion to other humans.

Overall, people are astonishingly, persistently good. Let’s trust that.

The remarkable packed inside the familiar

Traveling to southern Utah this weekend, I took photos: the quirky rock shop, the fine sand of the dunes we walked on, the shadow my pregnant belly cast on red rock.

More photos in three days than the last three weeks—all of them worth taking.

But how many equally remarkable moments passed by me in those weeks, simply because they were familiar?

Novelty and change make attention easier to pay, which is why changing scenery can be so useful. Daily awareness takes more conscious focus, but has room for as many noteworthy moments. If I take care, I can walk through my days making meaning, finding beauty in the light through my curtains, the everyday sounds of a family coming awake, the snap of apple slice my daughter eats for breakfast.

Sometimes, the enemy to my creativity is inattention.

Stories to end the shouting

The internet felt like a shouting match tonight.

In the midst of so much noise, I almost don’t know what to say. I’ll say this:

This weekend marked the end of a small writing workshop I’ve been facilitating. We’ve worked on capturing a single moment on the page—an irreversible personal turning point.

Today, everyone brought their finished stories to read out loud.

Around the wide table, each reader shared a piece of their life, each one a snapshot of things I’ve never done:

I’ve never driven a Jeep through the jungle in the Philippines during WWII, never convinced my sisters to take a mud bath in a pigsty, never worried my child might have leukemia, never been diagnosed with diabetes, never gotten in trouble with the pastor by playing marbles behind a church.

But I (and all of us at the table) had been afraid before, or made mistakes, or faced uncertainty, or landed in trouble.

Sharing personal stories opened doors for us to feel those feelings together, to look across the table and discover we had even more in common than we thought.

“Let’s tell stories,” might sound like a reductive, overly simplified solution to all the shouting and name-calling and collective anger that seems to be swirling through the corner of the internet I’m looking at.

But the solution—which holds true in most instances of conflict—is seeing and treating each other as people. Stories can be just one way to get us there.

PS. At the end of our class, I read this page-long piece (A Sin, by Brian Doyle), which was wonderful, but also a total mistake because I tear up when I read it aloud, even if I promise myself I won’t. Enjoy.