Micro-Connections

We’ve lived in this blue house for five years now. We’ve painted, and added tile. The inside morphed and changed to our liking.

Not until this summer, however, have we met those who live next door.

Covid forced us out of our quarters and into the streets. I now know the names of those living to the left and the right. The shy boys across the pavement yell, “Hi Dylan!” when we work on projects in the driveway.

I’ve shared banana bread and half-loaves of sourdough and found chocolate cookies tucked under our front mat.

Perhaps community is possible with the once-strangers who dwell closer than most.

This week we installed my favorite summer project thus far. Our free little library is open for business.

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We’ve had teenagers ring our doorbell asking if they can put books in the box. The same shy boys told me they need to pick out a few of their favorites to contribute. Another single guy asked if he can bring the books his ex used to read.

“They’re books for females” he said. “I have hundreds.”

I told him to maybe pick just a few.

Upon returning from our evening walk, I peeked in the glass window to see what new additions emerged.

I found this and laughed out loud.

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We may be standing across streets and waving six-feet apart. But the virus is keeping us home, and we’re playing in the streets, and we’re sharing baked goods, and building micro-connections to carry us forward.

And that is a beautiful thing.


If you believe in the pursuit of beautiful things, have ever come back from a set back in life, or hold firmly to the belief that we can all be kind to one another, invest in this on-going project.

If you like what you’ve read, please share the piece with a friend.

A Little Bit on Numbers

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Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

*Trigger warning* – Mentions sexual assault

I remember the first time the connection between the numbers in my text books fused with the actual people generating the data in my brain.

I was a senior in college waiting for my friend from Sociology class to come over to work on a group project. She was late. Her text buzzed in, letting me know she wasn’t going to be able to come over. She’d fill me in when we could be together again, in person.

I don’t remember when she showed up at my door – maybe later in the evening – maybe a few days later. I do remember the tears in her eyes, and the way the gray carpet blurred when she told me why she missed our meeting.

I remember walking to campus and holding her hand. I remember sitting in straight-backed oak chairs with the kind professor who listened, and gasped as she accepted my friend’s truth. My friend was raped the weekend before.

Our connection doesn’t go much past this recollection. I wish I could say I did more. I didn’t follow up after graduation. I held a small portion of the truth for her and created space.  I know her experience became a police report and she became a number in a file of sexual assaults on young females in 2011.

This is not the place to blame, or shame, or dissect cause and effect. I share this story because it helped me realize for every single model and number on a page exists a real human.

I am not comparing number of incidents of rape to the numbers of people being infected by the coronavirus. Rather, this is a reminder to think of the reports and predictions informing decisions during this pandemic. I’m not an expert and I know we all are doing the best we can.

But please remember, for each number, statistic, risk factor and odds exists these:

Loved ones.

College prospects.

Best friends.

Scared teachers.

Caregivers.

Cancer patients.

Pro-athletes.

Grandparents.

Elementary-school children.

These numbers will be in text books.

So, please, the next time you spout numbers or note previous studies, or look at models and statistics predicting human behavior and future loss of life, remember this: for each number exists a human.

For each number exists a story.

For each number exists a future.

We’ve got to fuse connections between our individual choices and the patterns our children will study in print or whatever futuristic ink they’ll read.

You are a number.

We can’t escape risk and we can choose love. We can choose to protect and pivot and wait. We can choose to care and give money and wear masks.

I tire of filling my glass half full. It’s not always rosy. Stop spouting statistics as excuses. What if those numbers were your people? Maybe they already are.

Can we be more compassionate to all of us, living through history now?

You get to use your number well.  I hope that’s a beautiful thing.

 

Not Much to Report

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Photo courtesy of Unsplash

By the end of the week, it’s easy to ignore the nudging whisper my creative spirit sends to my fingers. “You haven’t used your powers,” she echoes, “to use your words for something other than emails.”

My energy gets absorbed into the little keys for things demanding attention all week long. Any extra, left-over effort wonders how to type or draft or craft to contribute during this time.  Many attempts to focus on the good feel aimless – like little helicopters that fall from maple leaves in autumn. I keep throwing the whirls into the air and they spin and spin. No matter how many times I throw them up, they fall and continue to land at my feet, just like last time.

Will the cadence of my pushing fingers stringing words together echo out beyond this tiny home office? Will one whirly-gig plant catch wind and travel beyond my back yard?

I didn’t write last week because I felt I had nothing much to report.

Writer Mari Andrew reminded me, in an Instagram featured interview, how lucky I am for this statement to be true. Nothing to report means my people are healthy, we’re employed, we’re spending our days on Zoom meetings and wondering when we can venture out.

Nothing to report means we’re a little bored.

What a privilege it is to be a little bored.

I take a deep breath and lion’s breath away the urge to type CNN.com into my browser because I know the world isn’t in such a state.

There’s too much to report.

Brave journalists continue to unpack the truth and challenge the lies or contradictions we’re being fed. Asinine politicians keep making horrific decisions leaving us every-day contributors in a constant state of worry.

Once again it feels a bit self-indulgent to be focusing on the small things, when the big things the world reports are so-damn-heavy.

With nothing to report here and lots to report out there, I wonder what chemical reaction can occur when we mix ordinary gratitude with catastrophic loss and the magnitude of complex decision making.

How will the flakes of salt I’ve sprinkled on home-grown tomatoes influence the healing of the sick, or change minds of stubborn folks stuck in their individualistic, out-dated methodologies? I’m not sure.

Can the aromatics of fresh pizza dough encourage billionaires to use their resources to alleviate suffering? Unlikely.

I do believe, however, when we choose to seek the beautiful, we raise the energy within our little spaces. When we lift the watering can once more or lick the chocolate from the spoon, we challenge the darkness with just a little bit of light.

Every decision we make has the ability to influence another; yes, even in this Groundhog Day like existence.

While the essential workers scrub and treat and heal and feed, I’ll muster a bit of battery juice into my tired fingers. We must remember to report the good.

The smell of crisp edges of a homemade waffle.

The crunch of hiking boots on a sandy mountain trail.

The smears of tears left on cheeks when it all feels like too much. THIS IS TOO MUCH.

A handprint left behind on a window wave.

A sunset captured in a smart phone camera.

Episodes of Downton Abbey previously unwatched.

Pages of cookbooks splattered with oil.

Laughter at inside jokes.

If we don’t report the good stuff, the bad stuff wins. If the extraordinary boring things go unnoticed, we give too much weight to the dark.

Go on … start a chemical reaction. Make some wind. Blow your good whirly-gig seeds all over the place.


If you believe in the pursuit of beautiful things, have ever come back from a set back in life, or hold firmly to the belief that we can all be kind to one another, invest in this on-going project.

If you like what you’ve read, please share the piece with a friend.

At the End of This Chapter

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Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

This morning I sat in my home office and rolled my shoulders back before clicking ‘join’ on yet another Zoom call. My posture seems to be suffering, as does my spirit.

As the conversation with a new colleague unfolded, we both smiled knowingly when I said, “Five months really isn’t that long in the great scheme of things.”

March. April. May. June. July.

This creeping passing of time feels long enough.

I hope this season is but a chapter in our lives.

In my experience, there are some chapters that shape us more than others.

I keep thinking of all the people dying, and all the people grieving, and wonder how this chapter is forever redirecting their trajectories.

I wonder what my small family of two will remember. I wonder how long we’ll be apart from my mom and grandmother and brother. I’m jumping ahead to December and begin drafts of our Christmas letter not yet formed. Wondering what anecdotes we will have to share as most of our time has been spent in our separate home offices.

I wonder about small business owners not sure of what’s next. Of servers and waiters and delivery drivers who are trying to stay afloat. Of the tired doctors and nurses and physicians working long hours all over the world.

Of the thousands of stories and chapters being written right now.

On Tuesday, I found out a relative’s father passed away from Covid. Waves of my own grief washed over me and a deep ache came right to my heart pocket, as I now know another young woman my age has joined the Dead Dads Club. Just because this is not affecting you personally, does not mean it’s not impacting others profoundly.

Soon after, I kept scrolling and see glimpses of families at gatherings, on road trips, and outdoor excursions I’m not sure enough to take myself.

Grief and frustration and envy mix into a mingling cloud of letters spelling, as if in sky writing in front of the mist I keep walking through, “I don’t think that’s a great idea.”

Some stories are of fear right now.

Others of realistic truth. Of science. Of bravery. Of just doing the best we can.

Please don’t let your story be of carelessness, of insensitivity, of ‘Oh, I wish I hadn’t.’

This chapter is heavy in my hands and combatting the doom takes extra care – and it’s up to all of us to help shorten it’s length.

This pandemic is nowhere near over.

As always, I’m holding the truth in both hands. The world is dark and heavy. And beautiful and light. We get a say in how we want to interact with what we’re given.

I sigh again and adjust my shoulders once more, relying on a tired neck to lift my eyes up from the what-ifs and re-focus on what is.

Across the street, the neighbor boys set up an obstacle course through the sprinklers. Dylan was outside in the driveway and waved hello.

“Want to join?”the young mother asked him. “You get a popsicle when you reach the end.”

Always something to hope for at the end.

What a beautiful thing.

 

 

July Favorite Things – 2020

What a time to be alive. For the deep thinkers, those who want to make social change, the hurting, the hoping, the anxious, and the dreamers, this year is challenging many. Narrowing in on things to buy feels funny when I know acquiring more doesn’t do much to help in the long term. Here are a few of my favorites as we continue to stay safer at home. Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Stay home if you can.

1. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

A grief memoir that sparked more in my journey with grief. A differing perspective sure to keep you turning the pages.

2. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

I used to say this was my favorite book of all time. It had been so long since I read it, I wasn’t sure I could back up my statement. It’s still true – this is my all time favorite book.

“People always think that happiness is a faraway thing,” thought Francie, “something complicated and hard to get. Yet, what little things can make it up; a place of shelter when it rains – a cup of strong hot coffee when you’re blue; for a man, a cigarette for contentment; a book to read when you’re alone – just to be with someone you love. Those things make happiness.”
― Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

3. King Arthur Bread Flour

Really upped my sourdough baking game.

4. Scrabble

An oldie but a goodie. And last month, Dylan even beat me!

5. T-shirt crafts like this rug and this wreath

All Matters of Perspective

An email came through this morning from the public library. Like receiving a note from an old friend, I smiled when the familiar subject line showed up in my inbox.

“Reminder from the Poudre River Library District” – the note sat for just a minute and then I sighed. Remember the library? The travel guide book I had checked out at the beginning of March is due tomorrow. I wanted to get tips about traveling to Canada.

I haven’t gone to the library in months. I won’t be going to Canada – not this year. The time has come to return the book filled with notes on wonderful other places to its shelves.

Instead, last night I sat cross-legged with my laptop nestled in the tiny pocket of skin and carpet and scrolled Overdrive for new Kindle picks. Maybe this static place of scenery – aka my living room – will be where I stay to travel to different places as I read from home this year. I picked out three new titles and clicked download.

The reminders of the life we wish we could live tend to linger. Grief taught me this. The moments where the ache of what could have been needs tending. The holes need breathing into.

I remember, a few months after Dad died, I was texting a friend who also lost her dad and I said, “How do you ever get through this?”

“You don’t.” She said. “For awhile, you walk around the gaping hole, present in everything you do. Then, after a bit, a beautiful rug covers the hole, and the gap changes shape and size, and you walk around it more easily. But you know, no matter what covers it, that hole is still there.”

rug

The pandemic is stealing time from us, it’s stealing people and travel, and places we once loved. We need to honor the gaping.

We also need to nestle in and we get to choose how we tend to the holes presented to us.

Last night, on our walk around the neighborhood, we approached the last two houses on the block and was greeted by one of our youngest neighbors. A little boy with floppy brown hair stood up against the white porch railing. Wearing miniature rain boots, he swirled his legs deep in the grass and kept talking to the older gentleman leaning across his porch, leaving six feet of space.

As we got closer, the little boy looked to the street and exclaimed, “John! They have a dog, just like you!”

The old man raised his eyes to us and winked from behind his spectacles.

“Hi!” waved the little boy. “I like your dog!”

“Thanks!” I replied with a smile. “Our dog kinda looks like the dog on your shirt.”

The little boy paused, looked down, and quickly retorted, “Yeah, well that’s not a dog. That’s a tiger.”

“Oh,” I said, still smiling. “He looked like a dog to me.”

Nothing like being corrected by a three year old.

We kept walking and the two kept their conversation going.

Grief and loss.

Hurting and hope.

Wishing and acceptance.

Travel and exploring from home.

Dog and tiger.

All matters of perspective.

Beautiful things to me.

 

Was It Risky? Yes.

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Photo by Jude Beck on Unsplash

Anxiety seems to be a best friend to me these days. I’m swatting at my fears while sipping on homemade coffee, still here, working from home.

The glow of the computer screen fails to make up for my missing companionship, as I haven’t seen friends in close to 100 days. Almost a third of the year.

I don’t know how long we’ll be here, nor, I realize, do I have much control over the comings and goings of others who want to be out buying coffee from shops and swallowing down cocktails on outdoor patios.

The anxious ones are hurting here in this pandemic space.

This weekend, we drove down to spend time with my in-laws, a few of the people we’ve marked allowable in our pods of hopefully healthy people we love.

We have to have some connection. Father’s Day had arrived and while I woke with sadness in my chest, I needed to get my blood moving in different ways. Mix up the places we sit, the sidewalks we walk on, the conversations we’re having – variety is a great distractor.

Dylan locked our bikes to the roof of the car and the dog jumped in the back, panting heavily, as she always does when we transport her from here to there.

I’ve felt heavy for months. Laying on the ground helps. So do fresh flowers, and sourdough cookies, and sticking my hands in the dirt. I was hoping a drive may lighten the weight I seem to take on from the perceived painful energy of others.

As we drove, I looked west to the mountains and counted the snow capped peaks. Counted the cars in line for drive-up Covid tests. Counted the number of deep breaths I could take to let the grief and fear move through my tired body.

As the hour passed, we pulled up to the familiar intersection near the house, and a man about my brother’s age sat resting at the stop light. His back was arched, his face down, and he held a sign that said, “Can’t you just spare a dollar?” This man was someones loved one at some point. How long has he sat, ignored, unseen, unsure?

I pulled out my wallet and counted again, pulling crumpled bills from my purse that hasn’t been properly used in months.

I handed the cash to Dylan and said, “If you’re willing to risk it, we should give this guy cash. You can wash your hands when we get there.”

He rolled down the window, and we handed the man a few bucks. I didn’t make eye contact. I just wanted to help.

If I feel heavy, he may too.

We drove another block and scrubbed our hands clean, right after walking in the door.

It’s risky out there. Being human just is. One risk after the other.

Loving one another. Witnessing pain. Having hard conversations. Going grocery shopping. Driving in cars. Breathing in air of joggers who we don’t know if they are healthy. Facing the truth.

It’s all so risky.

And if we can choose to show up, over and over again, with our aching backs and light in our eyes, and hope in just a few dollars, our fears can be alleviated by miniature efforts to step into the truth.

It’s risky, yes. And beautiful too.

So we’re washing hands and weeping and hoping and praying and pleading. And still driving, and counting, and wondering how to apply the balm we all need to our wondering and waiting hearts. How can we find beauty in this risky space, too?

 

I Lost Track

Back in March, I thought I’d start a little list of beautiful things to get us through whatever this weird COVID thing was. In May, we topped 150.

I was counting days at home and wondering when we’d be ok again. That was over 80 days ago.

Seems much of the country thinks we’re fine now anyway. I’m not convinced.

And I’m not telling you what to do.

Except maybe wash your hands and wear an f’in mask.

Keep counting the good.

This list today is just for me. No numbers. Gratitude instead. Simple things when its so scary out there.

Ice cream in tiny pints

Support calls

A hand on the heart

Mystery

Hope

Puppy snuggles

Old connections

Friends planning weddings

Doctors, nurses, care providers

Vitamins

White daisies

Clean sheets

In-laws

Cheeseburgers

Fruit

Sweeping change

May peace dwell in our bones, anxiety dispel, hearts change.

Counting by Sevens

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The sun woke me this morning as cool air blew in through the blinds, pushed with a little help from the rotating blades of the plastic window fan working over time as the days grow hotter. From my bedroom window, I first watched our three-year old neighbor helping her father pick up sticks in a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle costume. Mask secured, she bent over and over again to clean the wreckage from the wind storm in her own backyard. Her squeals and kicks and appreciation for a costume warmed my heart.

Our home has been quiet lately – an unsettling calm in a world disrupted by sickness, racism, hatred, and positive action mixed with a crying call to be better.

This introverted writer hasn’t minded the pause – a time to be working from home and relying on comforts to make sense of things going on outside.

Only this week has the silence rippled in uncomfortable patterns in our home and my heart. I miss seeing my friends. I balance wanting to interact with more than just my husband and my parents via FaceTime with uncertainty of a risky world.

I am amazed by the bravery, determination, and willingness of hundreds of thousands of people standing up against injustice. Black lives matter. The work you are doing to change opinions, open eyes, call for action is inspiring me.

Does writing into cyberspace still hold power when my anxiety prohibits me from protesting in the streets?

Typing cautiously, I hold the heavy weight of pain in one palm, and unfurl my gripping fingers of my other hand with a readiness to accept good and beautiful things.

I tentatively wonder how long it will be for the open palm to fill with the same weight of horrific behavior and heinous tweets.

I have to believe it’s not as crappy as CNN chooses to remind me each morning.

I heard recently a positive thought takes seven times the reinforcement to stick in our brain than a negative thought. Seven times more powerful are the fears, the shames, the things you must protect yourself from.

In my continued silent sanctuary of home, surrounded by privilege- I know, I listen to dogs barking and a neighbor mowing the lawn.

In my aching sense of wondering,  I ponder and ask, “What beautiful things are here in all of this?”

For the world has always been messy – rarely are we all so privy to the pain and suffering we carry on a global scale. A mirror has been raised. The pain in me sees and honors the pain in you.

What would happen to our world if we could whisper those words to one another?

Father’s Day is coming and with it the ads land in my inbox like little paint ball explosions of grief. No one has texted me to see how I’m doing with the approaching marker.

Thousands upon thousands are missing their people.

We’re out of work and afraid to go to the grocery store and wondering when it will be safe to hug our friends.

I start counting and repeating to myself, seven times over.

Classical music plays and children pick up sticks, and protestors flood the streets with messages of peace and justice and the simple desire to be able to continue to breathe.

What privilege it is to start with a fresh, full breath.

You, too, can count and seek beauty. At seven times the rate of the negative we’ve been fed.

Classical music. Children picking up sticks. Cold brew coffee swirling with cream. Instagram messages of solidarity. Protests in the streets. Longing for connection. Feeling unsettled. Searching for someone to see your pain. All beautiful things.