On Tending Art, Heart, & Hearth:

Reflections from Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew

 

 

Your Stories are Wiser Than You Are

Whenever readers express their admiration for what I’ve created, I feel abashed. For many years I interpreted this as feeling fraudulent, as though surely I hadn’t written whatever they’d read or perhaps they were projecting their own unintegrated esteem onto me or buttering me up. Then I went through a spell of deliberately trying to take in others’ praise. I’ve earned it! I told myself. But that didn’t sit right. Later I tried practicing gratitude; the opportunity to have a reader read my words is a real gift, and doubly so when the reading experience matters to the reader.

Somehow, though, none of these reactions to others’ praise felt right. Was I conditioned to deflect compliments? Why, despite positive responses, did I never feel worthy? read more…

April Snowballs

Our mid-April blizzard (and ensuing school release day; arg!) has melted down to patches of wet, icy snow on Minneapolis’s boulevards. This is the kind of loose snow you can easily scoop and pack that only appears in the spring. Our family after-dinner walks to the lake have naturally turned into moving snowball fights. Sun warms our shoulders, loons dive down at the lake, an occasional heron flies overhead, and we sling snowballs at each other. We reenact the dual between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. We hurl them into the lake. We aim at stop signs. They splat, leaving a wet smear. They soak through our mittens. read more…

Strange Humility

Strange Humility

When my mother died I inherited some money from her life insurance policy. Most of it went directly toward retirement but there were two small extravagances I indulged in and about which my mother would’ve wholeheartedly approved: I bought my first couch after 25 years of sitting on a futon, and we hired once-a-month housecleaning help.

My mother kept an immaculate home. You could have eaten a meal off her garage floor. read more…

Receive the Blessings of Failure

There’s an old Taoist story about a farmer whose horse ran away. His neighbors on hearing this came to him and said, sympathetically, “Such bad luck!”

“We’ll see,” the farmer replied.

The next day the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “So wonderful!” the neighbors exclaimed.

“We’ll see,” the farmer said.

Then the farmer’s son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown off, and broke his leg. The neighbors offered their sympathy for his misfortune. read more…

Consenting to the Cold

Yesterday, watching dozens of bundled children careen down the sledding hill toward the creek, I had a pure Minnesota Moment. Big, heavy flakes filled the air; the kids were exuberant, flying over the jump, then trudging back up through deep powder; every so often some fat tire bikers passed by over the frozen creek bed; I felt how fortunate we all were to have hefty snowsuits, parents included, and wool socks and the fortitude to be glorying outdoors.

Eleven degrees and a snowstorm seem balmy only after a stretch of truly hard cold. read more…

Faith & Writing

Faith & Writing

One of the hardest things about creative writing, as far as I’m concerned, is the pervasive sense of getting nowhere. Sure, I might have a productive morning and crank out a few thousand words, but tomorrow I’ll cut half of them, and even if I don’t I’ll likely wait years before those words see the light of day. If I see them in print I’ll do a little jig. But I’ve published enough to know that publishing isn’t ultimately satisfying. What does satisfy is the creative journey itself and any journey my writing gives readers—but even this I rarely see. read more…

Bowing to What Is

Recently a friend who is going through a prolonged stretch of care-giving asked me how I understood the tag line at the end of my email. For years this quotation has traveled with me, guiding my work and ending my every correspondence:

Aliveness springs from our making something of what we experience and receiving what experience makes of us. –Ann Belford Ulanov

read more…

All My Relations

Genealogy held absolutely no interest for me up until three months ago. When friends waxed enthusiastic about their lineage, my eyes glazed over. When my memoir students are passionate about their ancestors’ stories, I’ve responded with impatience; the past means nothing if it doesn’t change the present, and what defines memoir as a genre is exactly this dynamic interaction. Your great-grandmother’s experiences are interesting enough, but how do they impact you? read more…

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