World emoji day: Not a haiku

Finally a holiday
Without enforced emotion
Feel something anything
Just make it cute

Even the mad faces
Anguished faces
Laugh-with-tear exasperated faces
Are cute in their suffering

Language could unify us
We could realize that because
We all understand anger sadness love
Peace
We are written by the same writer

But now since we write in pictures again
New hieroglyphs
Could our common library
Of yellow faces
Make us remember our unity in facedness

Well maybe
But facepalm wince eyeroll
That would require a different holiday
That enforces emotion

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Eye witness

That awning there
is too small to stand under
a slowly rusting unibrow
for four lined-up-front-tooth-style windows
so maybe the awning is more a mustache
the teeth enjoy a dry upper lip

An utterly missable building
rectangular brick façade
aforementioned curious mustache
single gabled roof above
unremarkable

Midcentury mass-produced siding in paint-peeling white
windows where eyes would be
but off center and
one portrait, one landscape
no shutters
much less a unibrow

Not constructed for beauty
constructed as if safety from the outside
was beauty’s closest approximation
black shutter white siding brick wall
was enough

It defies filigree
lies supine
as entropy advances
in silent protest to sense-making
as sessile witness
to incongruent eyes

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A life handwritten

This tribute was given at the funeral service held on Friday, December 29, 2017  for my Grandma, Maxine Dimick.

It’s a gift to be in your company this morning, to celebrate the life of my Grandma, Maxine Dimick. As many of you know, my Grandma loved words and stories; she loved to correspond but far preferred the pen to the keyboard. So while Grandma brought her vibrant physical presence to holidays, vacations, and – in my case – weekly childcare visits, she also accompanied us grandkids through life with an abiding handwritten presence. First in words printed with the precision of a kindergarten teacher, and later in her enthusiastic and confident cursive, Grandma relayed the stories, values, and love that helped to sustain us.

My grandma wrote in printing.

My grandma delighted in watching children learn, grow, and discover the world around them. To that end, we grandchildren each received photo books documenting our preschool life with Grandma and Grandpa. Each page held a snapshot, usually of one of us playing, “helping,” or just living, with a hand-printed sentence or two. For example, there’s a photo of my 13-month-old self sitting in a high chair next to my Grandpa, haphazardly feeding myself with a spoon. It’s captioned, “Lunchtime! My mommie sat in this high-chair when she was a little girl.

In making these photo books, Grandma was not just helping us learn to read; she was also helping us learn our own stories. She was showing us that we were rooted in family, held as precious, and simply enjoyed.

Grandma’s printing also represented structure. While she and Grandpa made it clear that their love for us was unconditional, it was also clear that a certain standard of behavior was expected. Outdoor voices were to be kept outdoors; conversation was welcomed, but interruption was not; diverse ideas were considered, but respectful exchange was required. In their home and through their expectations, Grandma and Grandpa created a safe container for us. The boundaries they set were intentional, not arbitrary; within them, there was space to grow.

In Grandma’s printing, then, lies a simplicity:

The world is a wondrous place to discover.
Human connections are precious.
Not all behavior is acceptable, but all people are.

My grandma also wrote in cursive.

As we grandkids grew into adulthood, our correspondence from Grandma didn’t slow, but the handwriting changed. A prolific and conscientious correspondent, my Grandma wrote lengthy letters, short notes, and lovingly selected birthday cards in technically competent cursive that was at once elegant and breezy. I remember her reflecting, half-apologetically, that “I don’t suppose I have much earth-shaking news to share, but a note doesn’t have to be deep, just chatty!”

She understood, I think, that the depth lay simply in making the connection. Her notes meant that we were remembered, appreciated as unique, held as precious.

Despite Grandma’s humble appraisal of her letters, however, they were not without intellectual and spiritual depth. Among accounts of family and neighborhood goings-on, Grandma sprinkled musings about ethics and current events, Bible verses she found meaningful, and prayers for those in need – which usually included us!

Grandma’s was an examined faith; she and Grandpa read devotions daily – after breakfast and very slowly, it seemed, when I visited them as a kid – and engaged in thoughtful, critical discussion about how to best reflect God’s grace in their daily lives. While quiet reflection was less than entertaining to a child anticipating a morning of play, its value became clear as I grew. Even as Grandma hand-wrote her life, she recognized a loving God as the ultimate author.

Simple and structured like hand printing, unbroken and flowing like script, Grandma’s love held us grandkids as we grew. Her passing, then, invites all of us to consider the handwriting of our own lives, its balance of structure and fluidity. It invites us to use our words to build wonder, share joy, engage our minds and spirits, and above all, hold one another as precious.

My Grandma was a gift to all of us; may we continue to be gifts to one another.

Grandma and me in June 1981.

Grandma and me on December 1 2017, my 39th birthday.

 

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Coffee

I was mocked for buying the number two coffee cone
Justifiably perhaps
Who needs so little coffee?

A six ounce cup is but a tease
Like pulling back a wind up car
Just until the wheels engage
It skitters forward but loops no loops

Indeed, for summer days in the field
Pulling weeds, pulling hoes
Driving trucks and agendas
The tall silver travel mug is needed
And the French press to fill it

But for today
A sweet sunny Saturday for not driving anything
My little number two cone is perfect

And my tiny cup
With a tiny cap of real whipped cream
Is just big enough to hold a low, lazy hum
That, in turn, holds me
On a day when small is not shrinking
But instead surrender

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Back from the woods

As some of you know, I made the first part of Spring Break into a solo retreat at a semi-primitive cabin along the Appalachian Trail in Northern Virginia. It was wonderful. I hiked; I read; I wrote; I sat; I built fires. I deepened my relationship to quiet, to cold, to the contrast of heat against cold. I let my mind run and run, until the running became not something to chase but something to allow and appreciate, like the rush of the wind.

I also checked out of social media, email, and the news during my time there. Considering the frequency with which I check into these things during my normal life, I thought checking out would be harder. It was not. It was a relief, a much needed re-prioritization that allowed calm and creativity to emerge.

 

So while I’ll reengage with email and the news, I’m going to limit my social media time to a breakfast-time window and an early evening window. Not first thing in the morning or last thing at night, and not during the “normal” nine-to-five workday.

 

Because as some of you also know, this has been a challenging semester for me. I’ve had a lot of academic success in my life, but in the second semester of Organic Chemistry lecture I’ve found my match. I’ve found a kind of thinking that my mind doesn’t naturally do, and having taken the first half of said lecture two years ago, “rusty” doesn’t begin to describe the oxidation state of my chemistry knowledge at the semester’s outset.

So I started the semester lagging behind my cohort – made of pre-med students and future chemistry majors whose handwriting looks like goddamn Helvetica font, I swear – and unlike most classes to which I apply effort, I have not been able to catch up. I’ve earned two consecutive D’s (yes, with the curve) on the first two midsemester exams, which means that I need two C’s on the last midsem and the final to pass. Or I need to drop the class.

 

That decision will be made in the next few days, after consultation with the people closest to me, whose support I would need in my refocused effort. If I go for it – which of course I’m inclined to do – I will need to minimize distractions during my workdays. Which augurs for the stepping-back from social media.

 

And even if I drop organic chemistry, I will be happier with a less jumpy mind. As much as I find mild enjoyment in watching yet another aerial-view cooking video involving canned biscuit dough, butter, and cinnamon, there are more interesting things to notice in this life.

It can be hard for we humans to be where we are. It’s an admission of our smallness, that our spheres of control are limited, that we are both tethered and cradled by place and people and past choices.

 

 

 

While I love the people in my life and am engaged in interesting work, there is still a fear that niggles in the soles of my feet that I Should Be Where I’m Not. That I’m missing my calling, wasting my talents, fiddling while Rome burns, pick your turn of phrase. That being just here, just me, just a person doing a thing, isn’t good enough.

But of course, being just here and just me is the essence of good enough. It is the essence of enough. I’ve spent a lot of energy refusing enough-ness – with respect to food, money, rest, love – and I’m learning that enough-ness is just waiting to give that energy back.

 

So. I’m back from the woods. I am ready for next steps, and different steps, that start exactly where I am.

 

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Before the march

The prospect of the march doesn’t make me hopeful
not eager for catharsis
for righteous rage

It makes me knotted
like I felt in church
when they gave me things to say
whether or not I meant them

Church was a business of so much internal translation
coding the words coming from my mouth
into something my soul could read

I can’t show up and say someone else’s words

I can’t acquiesce to the idea that my own thoughts aren’t enough
Because this whole thing is about being enough
Everyone being enough

I don’t elicit a lot of anger from others
but when I do
it’s for not being sufficiently mad

I am not mad now
I am other things, mostly sad
for the disconnection of good people from one another

I am conscious that in rejecting racism and sexism and all the ism’s
in judging people, as Dr. King hoped for
by the content of their character
we have rejected the people who express the ism’s

But people are more than their thoughts

Carl Sandburg was right when he said
that the ugliest word is
‘exclusive’

So how do we keep safe the people genuinely threatened by the ism’s
racism, sexism, classism
outright hate

Without descending into hate ourselves
based on ideals and ideology
not skin or sex
but hate all the same

We are better than that

We have to be better than that

And now I know what my sign will say

exclusive-sign

 

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A day of midlife birth

Today was my birthday. On this cloudy, drizzly, clammy-raw day, I turned 38. As of now, ninety-nine people have posted well wishes on my Facebook timeline. I feel the hope in their multiple exclamation points that I might drop my cares – or our communal cares – for a day, to revel in the love of others and the fact that I somehow *am*.

And I guess I planned to. Most of my recent birthdays have been spent soaking in such messages, planning my day around Exactly What I Want To Do, simply feeling the joy of living. Joy is, after all, literally my middle name.

But today I was assured that my path through this life will not get stale. Despite all intentions of finding a breezy, carefree spirit and celebrating with the absolutely wonderful coterie of people I get to call friends, I was sad. And lost. And despairing. And scared. And sad again, to the pit of my stomach, and ashamed for feeling so frayed on this ostensibly happy day, in the midst of a pretty damned charmed life.

So what’s wrong?

I mean, I could tick off the list of anxieties and hurts, but this isn’t a therapy session. That’s tomorrow, for real, ha! I’m in *therapy* and I still feel this f*cked up.

But if I’ve learned anything in these 38 years, it’s that pain is not failure. It’s a teacher, an opportunity, a shattering window at the edge of a growing soul. The shards were everywhere today, and pointy.

My last blog post was almost two years ago. Not coincidentally, it was my dad’s eulogy. It was the most wrenching writing experience of my life: propped up in bed at three in the morning, eating pear crisp with ice cream, because I’m my daddy’s girl. I wrote it; I spoke it; I felt proud and purified. In the following months, I grieved viscerally and, I thought, completely.

Then today my mom posted bday35a photo of her, my dad, and me on my 35th birthday. I was wearing the red Badger jacket my dad had given me, my eyes full of hope, my heart settled by the prospect of coming home, finally, after a thus-far prodigal adulthood.

It seemed forever ago, because everything changed after my dad died. I think I’m just learning how much. I’ve learned to operate in this new world, and not just operate but grow, learn, and love. But it’s still an entirely different place, and I miss my dad like water.

At a Plant Science Symposium last month, Dr. Dan Chitwood described the “fingerprint” of leaf shapes by counting the number of times the leaf body intersected a set of concentric circles. Follow me here: at the center of a maple leaf, there would be one intersection with a little circle; toward the lobed perimeter, there would be many intersections with a bigger circle. What was unified – all leaf – at the center would become fragmented into leaf and background at the border. Dr. Chitwood described the leaf’s “fingerprint” as the “birth and death of distinctions” between leaf and not-leaf.

And so our days are fingerprinted. Each is uniquely situated between birth and death, life and not-life, the beginnings and endings of loved ones’ lifespans and our own goals, identities, and relationships. The ridges and whorls of one day may resemble those of the next, or not.

Each day is ripe for the reading. The gift is in waking with ready eyes.

So while it was only intermittently and fleetingly happy, this was exactly the Birth Day I needed.

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