The American Child and The Story Arc

I play house and swing on a rocky porch with small vents placed in the brick work where water can drain out, where mailboxes are filled and visitors knock and steps are swept. I play in a damp basement next to the washing machine with a metal kitchenette painted in quaint quilt squares. I play in a tree row, between sidewalk and street, beside a tree that has a hollow, big enough that I have made a story in it. I play in a driveway in a machine pressed baby pool with plastic toys that squirt water. I play balance beam on concrete parking bumpers, two arms held out, one holding a gilded and dripping vanilla ice cream cone which has been dipped into melted chocolate that magically hardens into a crumbly shell in contact with the frozen cream.

I wear tee shirts and knit shorts and sneakers. I have a room with a baby brother, a small bed and a dresser painted green. Some dresses and sandals in the closet. I play Barbies with the little girl the next block down. We listen to records and hold hands when we cross the street while our mothers watch from the yard. My grandparents are complete goodness and love. TV on a stand is evening time and maybe a babysitter or maybe friends coming over and a little boy who plays fort under the dining room table with me. And into my brain drips tidbits of education, tidbits of wrong and right, tidbits of true and not. But a future is laid out in possibility. What we’ve got wrong could be made right.

Let’s not romanticize the American child in the story arc. Let’s not make her not real. For the little house on the little street in the little town in the land filled with little towns and big towns and little cities and big cities is not altogether wholesome. Piano lessons and new kittens are intermingled with shouting matches and dark injustice and an unrelenting squashing fear of splintering the inheritance, deserved or ill-gotten be the gains.

But what was present there? What good thing was present there that is about to be abandoned? That those of us who carried metal lunch boxes and watched Mister Rogers sense is about to be abandoned? I feel it. I know you feel it.

It is the arc toward justice. The arc which was the lowest hum underneath our movement. The slowest and almost imperceptible bend. Within, and before and after, each struggle, we scouted for right for our destination. ‘How to get to right’ used to be the question. It is no longer the question that most of those in power ask one another and play out scenarios for. For the evil and delinquent and careless and selfish among us have proliferated, have reproduced, have multiplied and manipulated and vilified until that noble question begets a scoff, a shrug, and carousing shout and sarcastic cheer. ‘How to get to right’ is no longer the question. ‘How to get’ is.

As a prophet might say, a warning might read, we are heading toward doom. Stop! What is ahead is not the same as the grittiness and dust of real struggle. What is ahead is not the clearing out of old and wrong ideas. What is ahead is not the digging up of dirt or the hanging out of laundry.

This we are heading for is death. It is lies and greed and ugliness. It is crass and obnoxious and willfully ignorant. This destination is contemptible.

We the people, we the working and living must snatch away the helm, overwhelm the evil in the glass encased cockpit, smash it, stand upon it and point ourselves back to that arc. Back to that bend toward justice. Would that we eradicate those who profit off our toil and death. Would that we uplift one another and alter the course of every interaction. Would that we lean so far and so hard that our entire culture bends into kindness and good humor and humility and grace. Bends into the arc of justice.

Would that we pull down the old American monuments and peel away the lief of gilded icons, would that we charge without stopping for incremental celebrations or for explanation to those who have been granted time and access to evidence of the truth yet ignore it. Let us be relentless and restore our pursuit of right that once existed for us American children.

I can hear you, things weren’t ever truly right for us American children. But there was the pursuit of right. The hope of right. The possibility of right.

If you sit us each down and ask us, how many will shrug at the question of allegiance to evil. An angry and immature few. If you sit us each down and ask us, where is it? Will we point? There. There. There there.

Time will not freeze. It is dripping into reality like ice on which teeter the little villages on the edges of our world.

Time will not freeze. It is dripping into consequence like words sprayed onto concrete walls and cold against our pressed faces.

Time will not freeze. Though we want it to, though we want to catch up and clean up and redo and revamp. Damp is the slope before the drain to the pool where it comes due and collects interest. Compounding and sounding like ticks and seconds off counting. Off clocks. Of drowning. Like drops. Like drops amounting. Amounting in one place and slipping down and away and gone. We are running out of time.

Amid the bustling, the smiling and the blank, the myriad of hues and shapes and ages, all is hope. All is hope and goodness advancing. Father, gently stroke your baby. Friend, generously delight in delight. Aged, sing and talk and scatter yourself among us. Young, invest in yourselves. Take a chance. Stand with toes dangling over ridiculous. All is hope. And you as hope are beyond beautiful.

It is what God sees as his giant face is whipped out of air and cloud into shape. All consuming and breathing of objects and souls as fire takes and takes and leaves us with the nutrients to grow anew. It is maybe what God sees.

My mind is all taken up into the air. I am all but dwelling in the other world. Space and stars and galaxies beyond. Daydreaming of night skies. Of rocket boys and girls looking up. Of pictures I have seen somewhere before. Of swirls and lights that assure me our big mistakes are still so very small. I’m looking up for reassurance; away from that little whisper of fear every morning growing louder every day. I hope it’s not too late for the American child.


Push Them Open

This week our open doors were closed. Slowly, slowly they shut them. Eye contact held over the threshold till the last second. This was to show how much they didn’t want to have to close them. But they would. They did.

It is a battle lost. Shameful, unfeeling, short-sighted. And wrong. And lost.

Debate and deliberation poured into a funnel. All resounds as clanging cymbals. As loud gongs. All as nothing. Because it has not love. Because love cannot be mostly love and a little hate. Because love cannot be mostly all but not all.

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
admit impediments; love is not love
which alters when it alteration finds.
Or bends with the remover to remove
O no, it is an ever fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown although his height be taken.
Love’s not time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.  (Sonnet 116)

And how might this drama come about from those so ever fixed on the worth of goodness? From those so gentle as to close the door slowly. Would that it be slammed instead be a mercy? Oh come now, was it ever open?

No really. How might this happen?

There is language; there is tradition; there is art and music; there is a commitment to service and education and honest daily life. There is a commitment to the lofty principles grown on the tree of the spirit. We pluck them down and eat them till the juices are running down our chins. It is a culture dedicated to the idea that we can be good; we can be goodness in the world.

But sometimes we are not good. Sometimes we are mean. And we expect to be forgiven for our meanness because we wanted to be good.

In the circle of table talk, careful mothers offer gentle phrasing to one another, just tidbits of identity added here and there. Fractions of idiosyncrasy. Character shavings. Slight smiles and humility. Deference to authority. Manners and just a flair of the modern admired in clothing choices or idiomatic speech. Maybe a scarf. Maybe black eyeliner. Maybe a new way of addressing the God of the universe. Maybe a whimsical affinity for wine. She gets her nails done. Whatever the secular spin, this taste makes them desirable. The way chocolate is best when a little salt is added. The way a pair of rain boots are left near the door in a photo in a design magazine. We need to see the sin, just a little bit.

The sticky sweet don’t attract for long. Maybe in the afternoon, if you’ve woken up from a nap and the pull of thick sleep still lingers on your skin, and in your mouth is a craving for flavor and brightness. Then you want it, and you reach for the last iced chocolate cupcake. The coffee with cream. The bread pudding. Maybe it has a lovely southern drawl. Maybe it went to some devout school. Maybe it prays for you in sincerity and declares itself too inexperienced in the ways of the world to understand the complexity of science. You know, someone’s husband probably knows all about that. And they probably have told us we have nothing to worry about. That’s probably right.

Soon though, it wears off. You can’t really be friends with someone like that. You need a friend who has a disaster of a laundry room. A friend who says fuck. A friend who can’t cook. A friend who drives too fast.

And what does this little bit of sin do for the formula? It’s the salt; it’s the derived quotient. It’s the thing that makes us feel real. We’re not lying. There’s enough truth here. Enough truth so that we don’t dwell on the lie. Enough kind that we don’t linger over the cruel. That’s what it does. It makes things feel deceptively actual, okay, good enough. Acceptable.

The malignant power of this group is shocking. They tap into a reservoir that has been filled and filled with unconnected floating souls ready for better news. They were sculpted and pruned in early life for empowerment and then later, set up on pedestals for rejection and false hope. Reconciled souls primed and painted into believing this aqueduct leads to a fulfilling life of service to others, relationship with creation. Belonging. Desire and understanding and beauty and wisdom. Goodness. Love. You are one of us. You belong here. We so admire and appreciate you. You are a gift. Be with us. Live with us. We are good.

Generation after generation of souls are signed on this line. And they stand in training committed to suffer for the calling. It feels good to stand with others. Shoulder to shoulder. It feels good to belong. It feels good to exist.

One day though something shifts. You know what it is? It’s this. It’s this you agreed to; when you didn’t really understand what it could hurt. We’re on the good side. And so, since we’re on the side of good, we can do some bad things and it’s okay, because it will lead to good.

Oh it’s so uncomfortable. Because now you know you don’t completely belong. If you did the part of you that doesn’t like this wouldn’t exist. So the cruelty is expressed. At the table. In the open. White teeth. Pretty hair. Adorable children. And cruelty. What are you going to do? You’re in the army now.

That’s how it is. Around at the other faces you see no one cares. No one is offended. It is mundane. Unfortunate but mundane. Mocking, maligning, mean-spirited, irrational, illogical, blind, indecent. Is it?

Maybe there are a thousand reasons why the charade works, but this is one of them.

Take learning, geography, logic, language, and speech and mix with it a few lies. That is the harshest teacher. Take forgiveness, acceptance, understanding, and sanctification and tack on some exclusion. That is the private club. Take encouragement, gentleness, affirmation, and attention and add to it some condemnation. That is the cruelest friend.

Mix a little mean into the kind and it’s harder to say no. It’s harder to yank your hand back. You can resign and sigh in silence, but someday you’ll be asked to prove your loyalty. Someday you’ll be handed a gun.

The good and the kind must undermine as angels unaware. We must not pretend that all these ridiculous conversations, exchanged looks, knowing smiles, pretense of like-minds have nothing to do with what happens. Because they do. Hide frozen and electric in a bathroom somewhere, sure your heartbeat is louder than gunshots. And rise out of hiding to find the culture of love has before justified a little bit of hate. That is depravity.

Intentional ignorance in the presence of possible education, thoughtlessness in the presence of pain, heartlessness wrapped in the vestments of holiness. That is depravity. Because that which acknowledges evil in the world but cannot see it in itself is depraved. Depraved of cognition, depraved of self-actualization, depraved of consciousness.

I have heard it, and I have pushed back my chair. I stand with you behind the closed doors. Hearts in hands to push them open. Behind us I hear God say, oh my child, I love you, I made you. Who you are is enough.


The Magic Hours

And so you thought that the forest was green. But lay down amid the undergrowth, nestle among the fallen trees, and see what colors abound. Discover now that the vibrancy of discovery is cloaked in fancy. When filled to overflowing with rainbows and constellations, their glowing selves disguise one another, admire one another, flush with candor and leaping with life.

Close your eyes in the magic hours and let the light from the canopy dance on your eyelids, warm your face. Let it make swirls of red and gold and orange that dissolve into pink. Let it filter and bend the light into the pieces which define its glowing. Each textured color then cheerfully clothing the animals, the birds, the fish, the day and the night each.

Hear then the sounds as the world delights in beauty; laughter that floats and lingers into the trees but does not scatter the birds; they sing song to one another, tree to tree. The swishing of feet and legs among the brush, that flutter the blue bells and new oaks, but does not stamp them out; they nod and turn and grow. The hands tracing the roughness of the old trees, the heads and bodies leaned into them; the eyes turned up at their trunks to behold their majesty; they smile and rock gently in the wind like grandmothers.

Here is the path into the Limberlost that you did not know was there, or knew but forgot.

The Magic Hours, a work of glorious and intentional imagination, by Jan Brandt, 2019. Acrylic on wood panel 40″ x 30″.

The Magic Hours

While dreaming up this magical beauty, Jan imagined the children attending Easter Seals camps and exploring the outdoors. Perhaps for the first time encountering the mystery of the natural world, experiencing each sensation of sight, sound, and spirit; each magical hour discovering another marvel of life, captivating each who wandered through.

For the short time this painting lived in the gallery, so too did it captivate there all who wandered through. Halted in their journey elsewhere, paused in their conversations, each admirer became an explorer too.

Last week, Jan and I stood in front of its easel, pondering its placement. “It’s truly captivating, Jan. It’s gorgeous and mysterious and whimsical,” I told her.

“Thank you,” she replied. “Maybe you could write something about it.”

“Yes! Like a short essay or a song!”

I can think of little else now.

To the Forest

Oh be quiet
Footsteps will scare the rabbits all away

I’m sure we’ll find it
See what the constellations have to say

To the forest then in rainbow coves
To the hidden place of jewels and gold
Knitted fondly out of new and old
And a moon that glows

Seek and find the
Lines to define the birds and butterflies

Then filling in
Growing within, a magical surprise

To the forest then in rainbow coves
To the hidden place of jewels and gold
Knitted fondly out of new and old
And a moon that glows

And above it all
The night sky

Last week, following our performance at the TWOgether exhibit at the Jan Brandt Gallery which celebrates the artwork born of collaboration, and sitting in front of the painting, Mike Gardner and I composed, To the Forest, a song inspired by The Magic Hours. How serendipitous is that?

With the help of Jon Nord on the bass, Mike and I will debut To the Forest this Saturday at the Art, Wine, and All That Jazz Grape Soiree, and after that, to all who would listen.

Jan’s glorious painting that started this treasure hunt, The Magic Hours, will be auctioned off at the Art, Wine, and All That Jazz Grape Soiree at the Bloomington Country Club on February 23 benefiting Easters Seals of Central Illinois. Tickets available. For other merchandise and artwork made from this image, please visit the Jan Brandt Gallery website or Facebook page.

Make Someone Happy

Meta cognition is a hobby of mine. How did I get to the thought which I’m at now? Where did it begin its own veering? When stepping backwards into the footprints you left behind, are you not confounded by the fact that the things which thrill us today and the things which weigh us today push our thoughts in their own self-fulfilling directions? Can you not see in your own meta cognition, that even our wandering thoughts are subject to our subconscious wills? We think what we think because we want what we want. And we want what we want because we feel what we feel. And we feel what we feel because we infuse what we sense in the world with what we experience in our own selves.

What we feel has the root of buried thought, and veers off in directions of growth according to our experiences in the world. Like a plant pushing through the crust that encounters an obstacle and diverts into what is at once truly itself and also shaped by the world.

Today, rain falls outside in mid-tone pitches that steady a soul. Neither high nor low, the tiny thuds hit the grass, the ground, the hard surfaces of outside things and like a choir the raindrops hum. Inside, other noises have this organ drone as a foundation, and they are highlighted. The jingle of keys, the vacuum of doors, springs of turning in beds, the tinkling of cups and spoons. Is it loneliness that sucks you in? Are you overwhelmed by tasks and tiredness? Are you taken aback by the smearing of illusions?

Or maybe you are driving alone. And maybe you hear the spray of wet under tires, the steady sweep of the windshield wipers, the far away windy sound of the cars on the road. These sounds become your field where thoughts are sown. And you drive without knowing you’re driving, and thoughts fill your mind so that when you pull into the parking place, you don’t get out right away, but luxuriate in them. And breathe. And rest your head back while your mind creates them each. They will linger there for awhile and play for you as you begin your day like a playlist, a montage in a movie, an orchestral score beneath the thoughts of today. Beneath the feelings of today.

“Is anyone happy?” My friend asked me yesterday. “Is anyone happy? Because it just seems like everyone is struggling.” It does seem like that. It does feel like that. Like everyone is just barely holding on. Hoping there’s hope but not really finding any that sticks around from one thought to another thought.

Why now? What is worse in this field now? Can it be that the awfulness of authority, the injustice of our culture, the acceptance of things hollow and base and low and deplorable, can it be that they have dribbled their despicable ire over the living, trying world like poisoned icing. And like swallowed pink saccharin, its cancerous sweet deceives and teases us with platitudes and sarcasm of the meanest sort. What is prying apart the ties that have bound us? What is loosening the tongues of ignorance and bias?  If the strongest among us panic, if the most tender among us despair, if the most reliable among us freeze; what will become?

It is fearsome to consider.

If it is not the horrible big that has poured down, maybe it’s the biting little that has grown up and around. The weed that sprung innocuous in April. Bloomed innocently in June. And choked the life out of the garden in August. Is it pushing forward in line? Is it snide and mocking treatment of the neighbor? Is it aloof passing of the distraught and perilous stranger? Is it the heaping on of harmful untruths to oneself? Of unkindness to our reaching, trying, imperfect, slipping selves?

We are so connected. Our evident struggle is proof of that. We are so connected. And from whence these unhappy feelings, these empty wants, these hopeless thoughts have come, we are destined to overcome them together.

So my words have brought your perspective down among the root of gloomy thoughts into sad feelings. And if you had escaped it today, I am sorry for that. But I wanted to say something. Let’s try. Let’s keep trying. For each other. Let’s do something good. Something real and good and sincere. Let’s make someone feel better. Understood and valued and heard. Let’s make someone see hope. Glimmering and shining and delightful. Let’s make someone think happy thoughts and tell each other about it. Because they are wading through our field. Let’s just try and keep trying.

Go up into the poison and scrape it off our cake. Go down among our spindly, leggy selves and nourish one another in kindness and love and attention. Care for ourselves in understanding and truth and blessed love. Let’s make someone happy.

LISTEN TO: “Make Someone Happy” by Jimmy Durante

It’s so important to
Make someone happy,
Make just one someone happy
Make just one heart —the heart you sing to.
One smile that cheers you,
One face that lights when it nears you,
One girl you’re everything to.
Fame if you win it,
Comes and goes in a minute.
Where’s the real stuff in life to cling to?
Love is the answer,
Someone to love is the answer.
Once you’ve found her, build your world around her.
Make someone happy,
Make just one someone happy,
And you will be happy, too.







Hard Truth

The truth. The whole truth. And nothing but the truth.

After a long and shady, meandering driveway of thought, spent looking at the tonal green and gray columns holding up the forest, and leaning one’s head out the window into the cool air admiring the canopy shyness, and hearing the reverberation of bird calls mixing and swirling about, after all that, the soul feels subdued.

And when the tires’ sounds are acknowledged more readily as approaching a destination, and the shade begins to give way to a little more light, the thoughts slowly turn from their protected and free woods to the house through which they must tour and discover. That empty house, at the end of the way, standing a stone monument neither beautiful or ugly but just truly there and not moving.

There the stone cold truth is founded in the earth of the mind. Viewed from above the road map of approach is disarming and ridiculous. Going farther and farther here and there for no apparent reason, no waterways or hillsides dictate its ramble. For the true purpose of the meandering is to soothe and prepare the gravel for your arrival. Shake and rake it out for clarity and comprehension.

Hearing every sound therefore in heightened awareness, and seeing the markings of the rain upon the stone walls and tender growth of weeds among the pebbles of the walkway, missing nothing with the senses. Then will the body approach and open the door. Knowing instinctively, obeying readily, the slow pace with which this fertile but fragile mind must proceed.

This is how I see my year. I have spent it on this long driveway. And now arrived I find it time to stop and get out and look around and discover true things deep in the woods that have existed all along. Facts. Facts and true things under and beneath and within moving and growing things. If I could just finally get to those true things and scrape off the moss, I can have clarity. I can have certainty. I can have direction. So, I pry up a little stone whose pretty edge is sticking out, and with my fingers I sweep away the dirt and green sticking to it. And I hold it in my hands as a tangible souvenir.

Objects which are at once more than one thing are a poet’s favorite. The more things an object can be, the better the word. However many nouns, verbs, adjectives, idioms, and images the name of an object can conjure equals exactly the power it exerts when read or spoken. Consider the ‘stone’. The consistent resilience and hardness a perfect antonym for the flesh of our hands. The appearance of solidity, a determined gradient of coloring, shape, texture, and weight. To our picking up and carrying, our handling and touching of it never seeming to alter it whatever. And yet we know that those greater powers do permeate the surface of the stone; the water seeps in and settles. Harsh edges are softened by the unrelenting liquid. And living things growing in and around can shove and dislodge the most stuck stones. Send them careening off a hillside after years of burial.

So it seems to me that the truth is much like stone. It is itself. It does not grow and breathe and change into another thing. But, through existence in the world it can be altered somewhat in how it looks, and how it feels to us, and the sizes of the pieces which we encounter, whether the stone facades of houses, or boulders in a landscape, or pebbles in our palms.

But here I stand on the threshold with this little one in hand. The flat walls and the wooden door open, I am back lit in the doorway by the sun that shines here on the house. The woods have not been allowed to creep too close. The hedgerow, a ring around. Baby trees and ancient ones and cedars and ground growth all playing together and clamoring at the edge for a glimpse at that light filling the open space that they would soon block if they ever managed to reach it.

Upon stepping in, can you feel them too?, I find the way laid like old streets in thick brown pavers. I can feel through my shoes how the tops of them are rounded and some edges and corners lifted up in some places. Not a floor to cover quickly.

And there my hands trace the bumpy walls, finding divets and patched places with my fingers. The weight of the smooth stone I picked up bouncing lightly in my pocket. Not all the house is vacant; here and there are signs of life. Tables and chairs and objects for collecting. A clock on the mantel, a plate on a stand, an upholstered chair musty and still. I keep walking.

Room to room the windows are large and light seems to come in from all directions at once. Not one perspective seems favored over another. I must consider them all valid in my syllogism.

In the dining room cupboard, a little away from the light of the windows, I open the door to a full set of china. Salad and bread and dinner plates. Berry and soup and serving bowls. Gravy boats and butter dishes, tea cups and saucers. Platters and covered casseroles. Here is evidence of living. The lovely pattern chosen and collected. Knife rests for the anniversary gift. Salt and pepper shakers in the stocking at Christmas. The white linen washed and pressed, the table set and ready for faces in smiles and scowls. Memories in sunshine and in snow.

I continue my tour and puzzled I wonder again at the direction of the light. How is it that the light seems to shine from so many windows? Where is the shadow of the afternoon that must descend? But here in the center of the house, in front of the stone steps to the bedrooms I find my explanation. Here I raise my eyes to the vaulted ceiling and find the sky. Crystal blue outlined in black shingles dangling, surrounded in rafters still holding, in plaster peeling and falling. This center passage destined for artificial light all its days is brilliant now with rays of happy sunshine. The destruction and passage of time on display like a sweet still life.

I can see myself as apart from it. There with my feet on the pavers, broken up now with the fallen ceiling and the weeds and young maples that have taken root in the small spaces between them. I see myself in silhouette looking up and down and all around and know that I am trying to discern that meaning which within all things is yearning to be cracked open and accepted.   I feel a little sorry for the picture reveals that she is just one pair of eyes and ears and mind and soul stumbling over the tumult of meaning and symbol to get to the truth. Repeatedly ushering away self-deception. Sorting out the still born doubt from the valid. Finding seeds of truth and waiting for them to grow big enough to be seen by the world as well.

As big as it seems, and as small as I feel, I can find my way through this illuminated house. I can take each premise, each observation, each thought, and consider it in the light which glows here inside. Making picturesque all the dust particles floating in the air. As if the rays are the sounds of strings and glowing things are the humming of good voices.

I will sing a little to myself as I sift, and prepare a dry place away from this hallway for when it rains. Avoiding the lie at all costs. With no concessions for maybe this, maybe that. No understanding for the overly justified. Only the truth. The whole truth. And nothing but the truth.


The day of closed eyes and sleep breathing is past. The day of ennui and stagnation is over. For when the world snaps fresh and the earth melts and the smells of dark soil and green things erupts, when the very air changes colors from cool white and gray to warm yellow light which sparks the effervescence of blue sky and glowing green, when the breathing of it opens waiting alveoli in the lungs, then comes vigor, then comes vibrancy, then comes ebullience. It is time for new good things to be planted, to be written, to flourish.

I haven’t written in so long. For some instinct has kept me from revealing the thoughts in my head. Usually so open and carefree, I have crept in and out of caution like a quilt on a couch. I sometimes don’t recognize my new ways, for I am changed, truly changed. I am a horse in a stall. I am waiting for the starting shot and the crash of the gate. My eyes dart from side to side though availing no affirmation. There are needles in my haystack. Sifting and nosing I must begin. I am startled and propelled forward because it’s time.

A story comes first. It’s a true story, though not my own.

One lovely spring day she was cleaning the house. The windows were all lifted open. The door stops all placed. And clean air and sunshine and birdsong filled the rooms. All family help conscripted, she went steadily from room to room, supervising work and advising; herself skimming off the clutter that rose to the top as she stirred every closet and drawer. Rugs hauled out and shaken. Curtains taken down and washed. Fresh bed sheets flapped on the line in the backyard. Little weeds were pulled from between brick pavers on the knobby patio.

In the downstairs hall closet, with space that wound back into storage shelves, she pulled out boxes and bins and bags for sorting. The space would be reorganized, tidy; it would function. Soon the hallway filled with all the belongings of the closet; from deep inside came boxes of keepsake dishes, bins of baby clothes, and bags of heirloom quilts.  From nearer the front, dusty shoes, old purses, winter coats, forgotten library books, a borrowed cake pan, the dry cleaning. So of course things would look worse for the hallway before they looked better. The project begun but not finished, she stopped to make lunch. Fed her family, answered the phone, went upstairs to change into something cooler, and cleared off the nightstand while she was there. Through the open window she heard the sound of the garbage truck approaching and shouting down to her son, did you take out the garbage like I told you? The bags in the hallway? The truck is almost here.

No, he hadn’t. But he would hurry and do so now. He made it just in time and the garbage can was lifted and dumped into the truck.

Back to her project she went but there in her way were the bags of garbage she had asked him to take out. Puzzled she looked for an explanation. For she had heard the screen door. Heard the lid of the can slam shut. He had taken something out. Not the garbage. Not the garbage but the bag of antique quilts.

She ran outside but the truck was long gone. The reality of it, the waste of it, the horror of it slammed into her. They were gone.

Her heart broke. She felt the place where the feeling happens and the words make sense. A flush of feeling flooded her lungs and chest and throat and face. What could be done? Nothing could be done.

Her heart broke for the hopelessness of it. And her heart broke for the waste of it. For the beauty of them so tossed aside. For the warmth and character of them disregarded. For all they had meant, for all they could mean, simply gone.

For some dear hand had chosen each patch and swirl of color. Some saved from baby clothes, favorite kitchen curtains, and father’s shirts. Pieced together with friends long passed. Pieced and stitched together in an intricate pattern. Mistakes redone. Corners made straight. The quilt top finished, the batting and lining cut to size and added, the edges tucked under and hemmed, then the real work of quilting begun. Tiny stitches forming the secret design. The eye must see the next step as well as the last. The whole piece held aloft as the needle climbed down and back up. Round and round and round in swirls.

And washed and hung and pressed and laid over beds. Children tucked in with their little fingers tracing over the bumpy designs. Laid over mothers as they lay admiring the pattern of colors with the gliding palms of their hands, remembering the piece’s first lives. Cuddled over couches and folded into closets and cherished and loved and useful for lifetimes. Now gone. Wasted. Disregarded.

And what if the bag, when picked up, had opened a little? Enough to see what was inside and realize the mistake. And what if someone had seen them in the truck, gasped at the beauty, and rescued them just in time? What if the bag had held and even upon the descent into the landfill they were all still intact? What if they were found and taken home and washed and loved once more? What would you give for that part of the story to be true? To keep your heart from breaking too?

But it didn’t happen. All that was precious was just lost. And no trace of it heard from again. And hearts were broken and still are for the waste and loss. She cried for days over those quilts. Hiding her tears from the son who was so innocently mistaken. And in her sorrow she heard a lesson drip down into her mind from above. A lesson in words and feeling and pricking of the heart threads. Does your heart break as well for those little souls so disregarded as your quilts? Does your heart break as well for those not as seen as your quilts? Does your heart break as well for those not rescued as your quilts?

For little lives are sometimes mistaken for trash and carried out for pick up. For heavy lives are sometimes picked up and thrown away. For weary and lonely are sometimes dropped and tossing bounce down where they cannot climb back up again. Are your eyes scanning for who you love and regard? Are your arms waiting to pull them from the trash heap? Are you scanning among the things unwanted to want and care and love?

For mattering is the thing. Mattering to someone. That’s the thing we must have. That’s the thing we must be. We must matter so much that garbage trucks are followed and landfills searched. We must matter so much that flyers are made and hung and rewards posted. We must be so precious that our absence is despaired and unaccepted. Our story must have a happy ending. We must matter.

This is the story that keeps playing over and over in my mind. Somewhere, somehow, it lines up with the needs of my unconscious. It explains something that I feel, though it is held so close to my face that I cannot really read it. I’m sure it is about the same thing that it’s always about, for all of us. Mattering. To be seen. To be heard. To be understood. To be cherished. To be not lost, and if lost, then determinedly found. Purposely and profoundly found. I once was lost but now am found. Was blind, but now I see.

Am I those quilts moldering in and among, chance after chance passed by with colors and beauty waving to the open sky. Did I pry the bag open and let my embroidered hem trail the ground? Did I shout as I descended? All my stories, all my love in the burn pile like the velveteen rabbit? Did I quiet my pounding heart as I realized my predicament?

Outside the metaphor though are eyes that can really see, and a mouth that can really sing, and ears that can hear footsteps on the ridge above me. Arms that can test a place to pull up and footholds that can bear the weight of me as I make my way. For myself I can choose new places to fold into, to drape across, to decorate, to beautify, to be useful and make others loved and warm and comforted. I can be a comfort and I can be comforted. I can make and move and chose, and I can be made and moved and chosen. I can matter and others can matter to me.

Mattering. That is the thing we must all have. That is the thing we all don’t yet have.


Pictured above is Jan Brandt’s “Five Acres Quilt”. It hangs currently in the gallery for all to stare at in wistful and sentimental daydreaming. I’ll be there on Sunday doing just that if you’d like to join me for the opening of “Conversation”. Collaborative art by Jan Brandt and Krystal Lay Lyon will be on display at the Jan Brandt Gallery from 1-4 on Sunday, May 27. Event link.

Read more about Jan and her beautiful art:






Maybe I Am a Tree

Maybe I am a tree. A white birch tree with dark stripes along the column of me. Maybe I have veered off at funny sudden angles. Maybe my branching and growing is not elegant and sloping but knobby like elbows. Maybe I am somehow in a wood full of no other like me. Who made me to be here?

Maybe I have fallen. Maybe I am laying on the littered ground. Maybe my body has molded itself to this new home. Maybe I am becoming something good again. My white and peeling shell contrasted against the brown and shredding leaves, my arms still out and reaching. My face still turned toward the light, my roots embarrassingly exposed. I am a curious shape upon which to climb. I am a quiet place to ponder.

Maybe my shoulders and hips and turned, stacked legs are dissolving into the earth. Little parts of myself carried off to be renewed. Little patches of snow. Remnants of crunchy leaves. Among them maybe I am still and becoming. A hub of activity within me, and seeds blown into me and around me and wedged and protected and nourished by me are growing tendrils into the ground.

In the spring time and glancing all around me will be the idea of green, and looking closer and longer, the yellow green will glow with promise. And deepen. The green all around will begin as a sideways crayon shading. Surprises. Then smiles. Then promises fulfilled. Then glorious day and color and green and life and new.

Color I will be then. I don’t know what kind of flower, but I’m sure that’s what I want to be. And my decayed DNA will have fed into these new little buds and made them vibrant and cheery. I am picturing it now, and I want to see it now.

I think about going to the store and buying some flowers just so I can see the color now. Maybe I will. Maybe I will buy them and cut them and put them in a jar and stare at them and stare at them until I believe it.

Oh but here they are. Yellow and green and white and gold. Lilies just opening and their heavenly scent escaping. Lilies of white with yellow stamens and pink speckles along their petals, pointing their visitors to the nectar inside. Bright yellow, happy roses on long green stems. I see them upon waking and I smell them upon sleeping.

Something good and new and alive. Something of the promise of what is to come. Not yet but soon. Somewhere above and in and around is a something that brings this miracle to pass. That the matter of myself can someday be the matter of flowers. That the matter of flowers can somehow be on my nightstand on a wintry gray day. Appearing with but a wish and a longing.

Birds they fly overhead and their feathers layered perfectly protect their tiny selves from the cold. They seek out what they need, and they find it near me. Flock at landing, cacophony of birdsong, clothed you are and fed. So much more for the idle birch transforming, for she has been brought flowers. How much more is she loved by him who feeds the birds.  For she has been brought flowers and now her skin is covered in feathers. Quiet, rest, stillness, and hope.

And then

breaking open,
diffusion of light and photosynthesis,
beloved yellow,
and beauty.

Beauty and joy.

Listen to me read this post…

Let Go and Hold On

Now our minds are filled with the things about ourselves which we want to change. Things about our lives which we must change. For another year in stasis is unimaginable. Floating. In between swimming to somewhere and drowning. Floating is nothing. Someone come and see me through the glass. Come see my skin chalky, opaque through the glass. My eyes empty and my lips half open. Someone come see me through that glass and not recognize me, the water distorting my features, twisting my shape. For I am on your stage and waiting clear for all to see. For I am waiting for the one to find the beauty there. To crack the glass open with the chisel and hammer. First knock at the aquarium and a score and a rip. Soon will the shards explode and the water fall and out will walk the shriveled skin into the air. Lift a face to the no more refracted light. The full on yellow light. New, fresh, born.

Walk straight on, beauty, and let that light warm your skin till it feels again like it should. Wet clothes drying and the damp seams still clinging. All five senses will love the quickening of life without muffling water and glass. Oh how the music will fill your head. Oh how the glistening will delight. Look around, beauty,  decide what you will take with you, memories selected and pondered, decide and decide and place each neatly labeled and stored, easy to find for reminiscing. But leave plenty of room for all the new. For in all this open space you leave the echoes of your singing, and they will lift your soul. Heavy exchanged for light. Much though empty traded for less though full.

I am cleaning out the basement. I am pulling box after box out from deep under stairs, off of too high shelves. Box after box of things kept. Of objects set aside for what purpose. Of objects permitted to take up space in my world. Remove the lid and take the things out one by one and again and again the things that seemed significant before seem meaningless now. Oh but then in a moment that thing seems to be everything. Hold on or let go. Hold on or let go. I was holding on so tight, I was holding on so tight, I didn’t know that no one was holding on to me.

Contents, contents, contents everywhere. It’s a mess. The give away pile, heaping. The keeping piles sorted and overflowing, all over the room. I must clear a space before I can even keep working, for the sheer amount of accumulation is in my way. It is directly in the midst of this process when I begin to question its beginning. Should I really open that box and deal with all those decisions, or can I just continue to drag it behind me as I live my life? All these things, some of them not even my own, in my way.

But it must be this way for awhile. To make things better one must drag out into the open all that is problem causing. A surface tidying never truly solves anything. I’ll just end up going back and doing it all over again. The right way. So, box after box I open and sort. Open and sort and decide and decide and decide.

Open yet another bin of toys and here is how my mind drifts: I am seven. I am visiting somewhere and ask for the toys I know they keep for such as me. Into the closet and under the coats and that heavy old smell is a little red box. It is small enough for me to pull out with my hands and set on the braided oval rug. I open it and a few toys are inside. A Barbie, a few doll clothes, a tiny metal car, some little, colored, wooden blocks. Some metal toy dishes. And I am happy. I am fine. I sit on that rug, in the dim inside, blonde head bent, legs in knee socks, and play. My lips move as I sing to myself. Later I am handed a piece of paper and a pen. I am okay to draw and write for a bit. And later I will walk to the chicken house, or to the grassy field and feel sunshine on my face and goosebumps on my arms.

I was fine with that little box of toys. It was easy to take stock and understand what I had to work with. It was easy to lay all the things out. Sort them into directions for my pretending mind to wander. It is easy to love one doll. It is easy to decide what to pretend. A washcloth from the linen closet is the rug. A book, borrowed from the nearby shelf and balanced on a few blocks, become the doll’s table. I dress her and bend her plastic legs and balance her on a trinket box for a chair. She is having dinner on the giant metal dishes, no matter the scale. Behind her, on the red tile hearth, the tiny metal car is pushed and slid along. How fast can it go before it is stopped by the friction of the carpet. I put the doll’s feet on it, and she skates. And maybe by then an hour has passed, and it is time to go. And I was fine. Though no one made a world for me, I made a world for myself.

But here am I keeping box after box of toys. Dolls and all their clothes and bonnets and blankets and matching shoes in a suitcase made for them. Animals of every size and material. A stable with horses and more dolls to ride them. Legos. Games. Blocks. Dishes. And picture books and chapter books and Christmas stories and comic books and adventure novels. A parachute, a high chair, Little People and footballs and pillow pets and puzzles.

Memories are not things. But things are memories. And I hold this plastic horse in my hand and I can feel my baby girl. Open this page and his little finger will find the mouse. Tiny little world see how she arranges all her things. See how the too long days became too short years. See how the left behind loves on the carpet have become memories in bins.

All of life’s philosophy exemplified. Where will I look and keep my eyes? Changing the sheets and making the bed for the joy that other people bring, like a present for Christmas, a summer weekend in the country, a birthday cake with candles once a year, a perfect new play set assembled. Or will I look in the red box every day, right here behind the coats in the closet, joy to sleep with every night. Joy in the today and tomorrow and the next. In whatever is there. In whatever I can find. Make joy. Make a world. Make it for yourself.

Let go. Let go of too many things, the fabricated world. Let go of pictures that didn’t ever happen. Let go of stacks and stacks that bury memories beneath, unreachable without effort. Let go of over and old and broken and unneeded. Let go of doubles and too many and perfect gifts unwanted.

And then, hold on. Hold on to arms around and through and along. Hold on to fingers touching mine and smiles across tables. Hold on to long looks that understand. Words spoken and pictures that existed and exist and will exist. Hold on to little girls playing on braided rugs and baby fingers pointing in books. Hold on to white sheets flapping in the wind. Hold on to waists standing in front of a sink and a window. To hair that catches the light. To ideas. To stories. To me. Hold on, tears in eyes and gestures that endear. Hold on to me.

Goodness Forever

My Dog Smiles (Press play on both at the same time for maximum emotional impact.)

Nothing good is ever wasted. Good things are good things no matter how long they last. Sweet times are still sweet memories even when they are over. Beloved are still beloved, even after they die. Good things don’t have to last forever to be good things forever.

So it is true and accepted with sweet things like dogs. Whose purity and devotion and simple pleasure make losing them all the more painful. Our Cody, our happy, gentle, pleasing, easy soul of a dog, has died. Her greatest purpose in life, to please all those around her, to make happy and content all souls in her presence, achieved, she succumbed to cancer on Friday and left us all bereft of her companionship but not of her love.

I think about her and feel a combination of sadness at the ending of such a sweet story and gladness that I got to live it. She taught me many things. The value of gentleness. The simple joy in being seen and cherished. That long looks in the eyes of another are communication more than words. That bringing joy into the world, laughter, connection, contentment, is the work of love. And here now I am learning something new from her in her death. Things being over does not take away the joy of their existence. She is not removed from our picture. She is still part of who we are. Good things ending does not take away from their goodness.

Cody joined our family at Christmastime in such a storybook way. It is fitting that she end her life in this season as well. Let me tell the story from the beginning.

One Christmas Eve my children and I were making Christmas punch in the kitchen when we heard a knock at the door. Not expecting anyone who would knock, we all went to answer and opened the door to find no one there but a letter there on the threshold addressed to all of us in a very fancy hand. Lizzie picked up the letter and wondered aloud what it could be. What could it say?

Together we all sat on the couch in the living room together to open it. The rest of the family gathered too to hear it read aloud. I opened the letter with Mallory and Evan on my lap and my sweet Lizzie reading over my shoulder. The letter was for the family, but in particular to Evan, our sweet boy of just four. When he heard that the letter was especially for him, his eyes grew serious, and he listened so carefully.

The letter, it turned out, was from Santa. He had a very special gift for Evan, though the gift was to be shared with the whole family. The gift was very fragile and as it was cold in the sleigh, Santa wondered if just this once, he might deliver this gift early. The girls gasped and Evan’s eyes grew wide. The letter continued that if it was okay to deliver the gift early, would Evan go to the window and nod “yes.” Our little boy crawled off my lap and across the couch to the window, leaning over the arm with his little face to the glass, he nodded his head and said aloud very slowly, “Yes!”.

Having done as instructed, Evan climbed back in my lap to hear the rest of the letter. Santa must have known that it would be okay because the next thing the letter said was “Good!” Our next instructions were for the whole family, we all must close our eyes and count to ten all together. We were so excited, it was difficult to close our eyes and sit still, but we did. And together the little voices of my children counted together. We opened our eyes expecting something to appear, but the letter said next, “Now, go and find your gift!”

Smiling and excited the kids climbed down and began to look around the house. Just a few seconds later they found her. A beautiful little golden puppy. A red ribbon round her neck. In a little blue basket by the fireplace. Her huge brown eyes looking out at her new family for the first time. The children cried with happiness and surprise. “A puppy! A real puppy! For Christmas!”


We never had a Christmas as magical. Never one as much fun. We played and cuddled and passed her around the circle to smell and pet and get kisses. Her sweetness and happiness and utter contentment apparent from the first moment she joined our family.

That night as I tucked little Evan into his bed, with his new little puppy sleeping next to him, he hugged me tight. His little arms reaching up around my neck, he said, “Mommy, I love Santa.” He was so sweetly grateful for the gift he had been given. A friend, a playmate, a listener, a snuggler. And for all these years that’s what she has been. For all of us. The best dog ever.

My little son now towers over me. And when I hug him, it is me who must reach up to put my arms around his neck. I did so on Friday when I told him we must go and make the hardest choice. In brave and heartbroken tears, he lifted his dog up in his young man’s arms. She was no longer little, no longer easy to lift, and carried her to the car and into the vet’s office, determined to care for her bravely, be with her loyally, right up to the end of her life.

All of us said our goodbyes and too weak to lift her head, instead she looked at us all in the eyes as she always has done, letting you know you are seen and valued by her, loved beyond measure. And without even a whimper, she died.

It is sad that she should die just before Christmas, but it is also fitting and right. And we are reminded again of the gift we were given in being her family. There will never be another Cody. I am certain her kind of loving soul is too rare to encounter again. Her sad death this Christmas does not take away the sweet joy of her arrival at her first. Her leaving does not sadden her life. Her goodness is goodness forever.

For us too, my sweet children I remind you especially, there is more goodness ahead. New joys to be had. New sweet memories to make. New letters to open. New little ones to surprise. New puppies to cuddle. More happy moments to be lived. More gifts to be treasured. More chances to be seen. More of those held dear to become beloved.


Done Waiting

Light, light blue and bright, bright gold are the colors in between the lines of the blinds on my window. Within, those lines are gray and colorless. So the contrast between the beauty of the tree against the sky, and the blandness of what conceals it, has drawn my eye daily upon waking.

I can see the shape of it. That beauty. That tree. Though much of its glory I have hidden. It is the same with the sounds. Echoes, of tires on pavement, of wind, and movement without, contrast the stillness within this place. A hum pervades my space. A perceptible hum of air underneath all the objects that cannot produce sounds but seem to when all is so still. The quilt on the bed, the clothes piled in a chair. The mirror, with its muted reflection and the book on the pillow. None can make a real sound without me. And I am frozen among them with no need to move.

I often think of how my spaces seem when I am not here. When no one is here. How they wait for life. How they are still lifes unimmortalized. And still myself I have a glimpse of the secret. This space does not know that I am here. And I can be witness to how it looks and sounds and inaudibly lives when I am truly not.

Often, quiet does not offend. Often, it is presumed that withholding comment is safer than speaking. Often, the present and steady and unassuming but silent are praised, for their existence does not threaten or challenge our perceptions about them. We do not know that we do not agree. We do not know what they think and are not hurt. We do not know for sure whether they love or hate or worse, neither. It is easy to cloak them, those quiet things, in whatever attributes, in whatever qualities, in whatever meaning which we need.

But those liquids are neither hot for comfort or cold for refreshment. And they sit idle in cups unswallowed, on tables steady that do not threaten their contents. Left behind by people of action who have long left to go act and the cup, containing that which is now room temperature, is forgotten. Forgotten because it did not exist enough.

To stay in the quiet and wait. Wait and wait and wait some more. For perhaps that drink was just too hot and the memory of a scalding tongue warned. Wait and wait and wait until I forget what it is that I am waiting for. For perhaps it was innocent that forgetting. Wait and wait and wait and wait. For perhaps it was just time. Time clicking by until it was too late to finish the task. What amount of time is it that you will give to get a ticket? What amount of time is it that you will give to have your turn? What amount of time is fair? To get an answer. To be heard. Are you respected enough to get an answer? Are you remembered enough to get a reply?

Waiting, you are the stillness and the gray lines. You are the liquid level in the cup. You are the muted reflection, the soft pink and brown and ivory that all blurs together when no lights are on. When no music plays. When no dancing disrupts the day. When no sounds are heard at all.

Or go out. Go out into the blue sky, where it is cold and crisp, and I need a coat. Out into the noise where I must have things to do, where I must have a place to go in order to keep existing. Out, where the gold of dry leaves still clinging to trees do hint of beauty just past and beauty almost ready to arrive. Out, where eyes do see and know and permeate that which I could have kept safe. Out, where things are wanted and where those desires are longed for and spoken. Where hearts are laid open and vulnerable, fluttering through skin. Out, like opening and pulling in a freezing rush, the water in my eyes flashes to awareness. I know what I am taking in. The wind scraping all my naked skin. I know what I am feeling. Out, to that fullness of life where I might be foolish. I might be a dream. I might be wrong.

Joy, you are the blue sky. You are the gold leaves in my line of sight. You are the clean air that risks a discomfort. You are the noise and the moving and the being and the going. You are the risk worth taking and the starting over. The what that is not expected. Unwritten and unforetold. The shocking red, the blunt purple, and the glowing orange. The laughing at snowflakes. The smiling in bright sunlight. Joy, you are sounds and singing. You are words out loud and not withheld but freely given, freely lifting and lifting. A swing on long chains that glides into delight. And happiness in a moment. Happiness and joy.

I will get my hat and scarf and gloves and venture out into the dusk. I will smile at strangers. I will pet dogs, and I will stare at the moon. I will go out. I am done waiting.