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.

My six-year-old does not get creatively blocked

Sitting at the counter, she draws the moon eating ice cream, a smiling cactus, a howling wolf with a camera around its neck. She does not bemoan blank pages. She finishes one drawing, grabs another sheet, and makes a sharp, new line.

What changes from that age to this?

After completing the draft of a book a while back, I’ve roamed around on semi-empty pages, writing lines I then erase, telling myself I’m gathering details, exploring ideas.

But part of the time, I’m just blocked. And the block is fear.

Fear that revisiting the book draft will reveal how bad it really is.
Fear that the stories I write won’t reach the standard I set for myself.
Fear that the new ideas coming to me aren’t flashy or big enough.

I wonder if the only creative block is fear—fear of a future misstep that hasn’t happened yet (and never can if you just keep the page empty). The block is your brain’s way of keeping you safe.

My daughter is not yet afraid. She shows me that the actual process of making something may involve missteps and retries, sure, but never a dead stall—not if you’re here now, focused only on making the art in front of you.


PS. I’ve been inconsistent here—blocked. I lost sight of what I’m using this space for: grabbing another sheet, writing low-stakes lines to share among friends. My life right now doesn’t support a post every day, but I commit to posting every Sunday night at least. See you then. I appreciate that you read the little things I share.

One opposite of empathy

I think the word empathy has many possible opposites.

Among them: Certainty.

  • Certainty that you know what’s best for someone when you do not live in their shoes.
  • Certainty that pities or disdains someone with a different point of view.
  • Certainty that responds to someone else’s suffering with a platitude that does nothing to patch the pain.

The empathetic exercise of trying on someone else’s experience, attempting to feel from the same place they feel, is a creative act (one we need more of in this world). And if I’m so certain, so cemented into my own position, I’m less able to do it.

I feel certain about this right now. Uncertain how to resolve that. Hitting publish.

A little beyond the giving up

I’m making some needle-felted figurines for a friend—little people made of wool. At some point in the process of every single figure, I look down and think, “Uh-oh.” The shape has become lumpy, disproportionate, basically unfixable. I should start over.

But inevitably, if I felt the layers tighter, if I add wool in strategic places and keep my needle going up and down, the misshapen mess shifts into something that just might work and then into something that actually does work and then into something I can share.

Always before the breakthrough: that moment when I almost abandon the project because it’s no good.

Ordinary shmordinary

In the first session of local writing workshop I’m teaching, I asked everyone to share their name and 3 details about their childhood bedroom.

Someone at the beginning prefaced her details by saying her room was just ordinary. But then we went around the circle and discovered nobody’s room was the same.

One person was afraid of a pattern in the wallpaper. Another grew up in a farmhouse that sometimes had snowdrifts in the hall. (Snowdrifts! In the hall!)

Everyone present had slept in a bedroom as a child. But not one person had an ordinary room. Even if the bunk beds or closet monsters sounded familiar, each person’s details came with singular stories that were uniquely theirs.

In the thick of routine, I easily mistake my day-to-day as humdrum, ordinary—the details around me turning to white noise. But after a peek into rooms that weren’t mine, I’ve been noticing my ordinary more carefully, which adds a dose of unordinary magic to every day.

Hear the tiny jingle

My brother-in-law is in experimental cancer treatment. We’re all hoping, hoping, hoping.

In the meantime, he eats food and takes his kids to the park and lives his life and posts it on Instagram. His feed shows his son on a swing, his baby climbing a stair.

In one 6-second video, his four-year-old daughter runs down the sidewalk.

She’s adorable, sure. But it’s his caption that stops me:

The cute little jingle I heard everywhere as she ran with her jewelry.

I watch the video again. I hadn’t even noticed the jingle.

Because I know his situation, I am probably projecting, but each picture, each little clip in that feed almost seems to be taking in every detail of the world and repeating a mantra: I love this, I love this, I love this.

I want to hear tiny jingles, to love the world that much today, cancer or not.