I was raised by a liberal, seminary-educated mother in a liberal United Methodist congregation, and both blanketed me with a theology of a warm, loving God. But the chill of original sin snuck under the covers regardless. How? It’s hard to say. Through the Adam and Eve of popular culture? Through my mother’s foundational guilt and insecurity? Through the Sunday morning stress of getting out the door on time, as though our lives depended on showing up for worship with clean hair and ironed clothes? Regardless, I understood myself to be fundamentally wrong, and faith was the antidote. Every time I screwed up, deliberately hurting my boyfriend, turning my back on a stranger in need, lying to my parents, my “sin” was a guilt-soaked reminder of my hidden, awful nature. (more…)
Maybe because my dining room table is plastered with paper dolls, cat toys are scattered across the living room, and Gwyn is almost constantly pulling at my sleeve begging me to play with her, but play has been much on my mind lately. Or maybe I’m thinking about it because I’m wrapping up my book about revision and realizing that the gist of 200 pages and six years of work is don’t forget to play.
Play is anything done spontaneously for its own sake—according to Stuart Brown, psychiatrist and founder of the National Institute for Play. Kids are pros. Artists are those who preserve this basic childhood capacity into adulthood. Artists are also ambassadors for play; by actually doing it, we witness to our communities and audiences that this basic human inclination is valuable. (more…)
When I was in my early twenties, flying back and forth between home in New York and college in Minnesota, the moment on the plane that terrified me most had nothing to do with take-off or rising to forty-thousand feet or landing. No, what gave me anxiety was that broad view of New York City, eight million people packed into three hundred square miles, that proved to me just how small I was. In the vast world I was a speck. An “insignificant number,” my chemistry teacher taught us, was like the weight of ashes in an airplane ash tray (back in the days when there was such a thing) compared to the weight of an airplane. I was an insignificant number, and it shook my foundation. (more…)
As a privileged white woman I sometimes wonder what to do with my strong commitment to racial justice. Much as I want to join the Black Lives Matter movement on the streets or participate in my church’s educational programming around white privilege, as committed as I am to supporting my native brothers and sisters in their fight to protect their land from pipeline invasions, I know that’s not where my energy belongs. My money, yes, and my whole-hearted support, but not my energy. My clear calling is to write, teach, mother my child, tend my home, and tend my partnership.
Despite this clarity, I sometimes regret that I’m not doing enough. Recently, however, I got some insight into how teaching writing and writing well myself might further the work of racial justice—in ways however hidden, however small. (more…)
Recently I plunged into Minneapolis Park & Rec’s latest phenomenon and started swimming across Lake Nokomis. The lifeguards tow enormous orange buoys out for the course, then hover alongside in their kayaks. The first time I was ecstatic—such freedom! such a great workout!—except that, without my glasses, I couldn’t see the buoys and kept veering off course.
So I bought prescription goggles.
Now you have to understand that I’ve been both terrifically near-sighted and an avid swimmer since I was nine. When I got my first pair of glasses, I was amazed that trees actually had leaves. (more…)
If my underwear ever had holes in it or the elastic stretched out or the fabric was stained, my mother would say, “What if you had some accident and wound up in the hospital? What would people think?”
So absurd! Who in any emergency would really care?
But because of this conditioning or my natural proclivity (I remember dancing ballet on a low tiled coffee table within sight of our open front door as a kid, hoping someone would drive by, be awed, and whisk me off to join the New York City Ballet) or because this is an ordinary human tendency, I arrived in adulthood with my attention well-honed toward others’ attention. It especially has haunted my writing, where awareness of an audience can invade even the most private journal pages. I’m as good as the next writer at leaping from rough draft to imagined New York Times review fame, or for that matter obscure distain. Dealing with my thoughts about what others will think is an ongoing, daily artistic struggle. (more…)