On Tending Art, Heart, & Hearth:

Reflections from Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew

 

 

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…

Practice, Practice, Practice

The old joke goes like this: A visitor stops a local on the streets of New York and asks, “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?” The New Yorker replies, “Practice.”

Every morning before school, Gwyn practices piano. She’s a musical kid; when she was four she begged for lessons and we made a family commitment: Piano would be our means for nurturing Gwyn’s natural interest. But Gwyn’s enjoyment of music, her inherent musicality, and her fantastic ear don’t add up to a love of practice. Practicing is hard, so we routinely endure the pre-practice, baby buffalo huffing with arms crossed. Practice is Gwyn’s means to screen time (read: bribery), and most days she needs our physical proximity on the piano bench in order to stay there.

Why bother with all this effort? read more…

Adding to the Universe’s Order

I’m still unpacking Annie Dillard’s statement that a “complete novel in a trunk in the attic is an order added to the sum of the universe’s order.” Why? It seems to me that creative people value our work almost exclusively with external measures—the fact of being published, sales numbers, reviews, literary recognition, etc. Sometimes we’re wise enough to value the process over the product; sometimes we orient our hearts toward how our stories impact the internal lives of our readers. But when it comes to feeling like our work matters, most often we lean on external measures for validation.

Dillard says that on some subterranean level, a fully developed but unread creative work makes a metaphysical difference in creation. Okay. Do we writers need to take this on faith? Or can we find concrete evidence?

Here’s the latest bit of evidence I’ve dug up. read more…

Stories in the Genes

During my childhood, I was aware of only six relatives on my father’s side beyond his siblings’ families. It seemed as if the Delessios popped onto the planet from nowhere. They were Italian—I knew that much—but the first generation ditched their names and kept quiet about the past; my great-grandmother abandoned Catholicism when one Sunday she took the Eucharist and returned to her pew to find her purse gone. My dad’s generation never learned the language or the family recipes or anything about their heritage except the sketchiest of stories: My uncle was born frozen on the stoop. We weren’t really Italians, we were Albanians. After my great-grandfather’s first wife died, he ordered a second one by mail. He spoke Muschitan, a name that sent us into hysterics because surely someone made it up. read more…

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