Give An Honest Minute

Thinking in drafting, again. There is more to this. What comes after giving an honest minute?

We were sitting on a restaurant patio having lunch when a couple walked past with their son. The boy had shoulder length hair. He used a walker. Each step looked like a thought. After they headed in for lunch I said to Justin, That looked difficult. I was talking about raising a child with physical disability. But also the effort of having a disability and learning to walk when it isn’t easy, when it might hurt.

We ate lunch and I took Grant in to use the bathroom. I saw the family from the parking lot sitting at a booth. We stopped to say hello on the way back to the patio. I didn’t say what I wanted to say because what I wanted to say was just taking shape then.

There was something about how the three of them carry an obvious challenge, as partners, parents, child and family. The boy is named Max and his disability means a different kind of life as he grows. His disability means a different kind of parenting, a different kind of normal in a world that loves easy similarity. We didn’t talk about that. We talked about Max’s two front teeth grown in after losing a mouthful when he was six, like Claire now. We talked about why we were in Point, their family and ours not from here but visiting. And then it was time to go. I apologized to Kim, if I was awkward, but she said it was nice to have people acknowledge Max – as he is.

As he is. Skinny limbs, toothy smile, wide eyes. A lime green walker. Two parents with good haircuts. And I wish I’d said to Max that I know he has it tough (and his parents too) and that all the joy doesn’t negate the everyday limp. I thought about how we all carry


challenges but most are rarely as apparent on first glance as Max managing his walker and carefully forming his words.

The other thing I wish I’d said is that while I don’t pity them, I do see them. That didn’t come out in our short conversation and I heard myself say I wasn’t sure why I’d stopped to talk – but Max’s parents have grace that must come from years of being stared at and ignored, and they let me find a goodbye.

I wanted to find this: That I wonder if we would be


if we could see each other’s hurt, fear, injury, illness, doubt, regret. What if I wore my insecurity as splotches on my skin? What if vanity twisted my face so you knew too? What if we could see a marriage tearing at the seams or a family divided by grief? What if we could see loneliness hiding in a crowd? And then, what if we said something? Had an honest minute.

Last summer in Prague I stopped to talk with a couple of teenage girls sitting on a bench. One girl was wearing a tank top, the outside of her arm laddered with scars. I asked about them. I asked if she’d gotten help. She had, she was much better now. Her friends on either side had smooth arms but we all talked about living as we are. At that point, I was a year out from a brief round of self-harm that didn’t scar. I stopped to talk with those young women because I saw an arm that looked how I felt: scarred, healed, not the same as before. And I wanted her to know I saw those scars.

For years yet I’ll think of that young woman and hope she is still wearing short sleeves and making people see this is what life looks like sometimes. And sometimes life looks like a boy walking a crooked step. Sometimes life looks like a lot of us, okay-fine-good on first glance. Give an honest minute. Pull up a sleeve. Admit a limp.

Ending In The Middle

I like a tidy end. The messy made right. With my essay work especially, I want the last paragraph to tell me everything turns out okay. A year ago, an editor I work with encouraged me to resist tidying too much.

Readers don’t need a didactic summary after I’ve just unloaded all my junk. I need it. I want that conclusion to tell me why I went through a year or two of ___.

I’ve referenced my unpretty lust, envy and pride here before. There are certain experiences and relationships I want to write a tidy end for. Like looking at ___ from another distance, in a different light might reveal its purpose. I write ___ again, hoping this time I’ll understand something new. I wish composting would yield not only the right way to say what I want to say, but also a conclusion that makes sense of the sorrow, shame or anger. More often, an experience or relationship remains just that, waiting for time or heart to change the perspective.

This is my tenth year of marriage. The seven-year itch started early and ended late, unscratched. Finally, I looked at lust. I wrote about it in my notebooks, in essay and fiction. I didn’t find a tidy end to my experience. I’m still embarrassed. A little mad. Marriage and monogamy are work, boring sometimes, even when comfortable. I could have answered that without a long run of unsatisfied want.

Here’s an unfun prompt: Write what isn’t finished. Write the junk you want made into a mosaic. You might only find sharp edges and weird colors. Fine. Write it anyway. You’ll still see a bit of art.

I need to be okay with untidy ends. They reflect living in the middle. Which is where I am. You too.

(That wasn’t too tidy was it?)

Just Up And Go

I’ve spent a week thinking about a theme for my multigenre narrative. What kept coming up in my writing was

Being an expat
Faraway friends
Keeping in touch

This is my eighth year abroad. I don’t miss living in the States. Sometimes I feel guilty about that, but mostly I appreciate missing the inflammatory election year ad campaigns. I have written about moving abroad before, many times, in my notebooks. And I usually end the entries with anger or tears. Though I planned to leave the States soon after college, the exit was bumpy.

Actually, the exit was a nightmare.

There was nothing great about it. I was grinding my teeth. I very nearly hated my in-laws. By the end of it, I just wanted to get on a plane. I would have gone anywhere. When I write about this time, I want to find something that shows grace or purpose. Instead, I find a year that I’d like to undo. I wouldn’t know how to re-do it, unless I backpedaled a few more years and didn’t marry.

The other pain of writing about moving abroad is this: I feel obligated to include a line or two stating the obvious.

My in-laws are nice.

Great. See. They’re nice. It just happened that the year Justin and I moved abroad is a shitty stretch in our relationship with them. I think I am tired of writing the disclaimer. Yes, my in-laws are nice. I’ve said it three times now, and I mean it. But they also hated that we moved abroad. My father-in-law was angry and my mother-in-law told me I was taking her only son. I think they thought we wouldn’t really do it and when we did, signing contracts with a South American school, they were the only ones who watched our school’s recruitment video with frowns. My father-in-law wanted to know if there was an escape clause in the contract.

I almost said this was the escape clause.

I was so angry. For years I’d wanted to leave the Midwest. Early in our dating, Justin agreed to go with me. A few years out of college, we were finally packing crates to ship to Colombia. I wanted everyone to be excited. When my in-laws were not, I tried and failed at compassion. I could see their side but couldn’t generate any empathy. They had one kid who grew into an adult who wanted something different than his parents. That’s the story of a million. More.

So I was angry over my head. This was when I began thinking how much happier my in-laws would be if their son had married a local Polish girl and took a mortgage one town over. I thought my husband might be happier with that outcome too, given the tension of family dinners.

I simmered for years. A couple years after we moved abroad, I said something to my mother-in-law (no doubt recorded in angry cramped cursive in a journal) and she told me, not unkindly, that I needed to get over it. She was right. I needed to get over it. For years, anytime I thought of my in-laws, I got tense. We learned to keep our tone cordial, missing out on a fuller, truer range. Maybe that’s just how I know them now, carefully.

That doesn’t feel okay and it doesn’t seem right that a painful break away should continue to sway our current relationship. I can say my in-laws are nice (four times) but I can also say how it happened. And I can say I want better yet.

More Than My Chosen Portion

Another round of overthinking. I wish I were blind to my heart sometimes. This from my WP, an extension of previous posts and essays. I am near desperate to write the one that says I’ve got the whole thing figured out.

The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed I have a beautiful inheritance.
Psalm 16:5,6

There is a church song with a line in its chorus that says “Christ is enough for me” and when I sing it I want it. There are days when I am ready to abandon my nets and let the dead bury the dead. There are minutes when I see my stuff and my body as dust. There are shifts in my perspective when I get an eternal eye and want more than anything to follow the radical Christ who says I must be willing to lay down everything.

The state of my heart hammers me. The last few years have stripped me of pretense. I have no desire to play Christian. Instead, let me be refined so that I am. Still: I want what isn’t mine and am jealous to keep what I hold. I am afraid to lay down everything, unsure that Christ is enough.

I want more than my chosen portion.

I want what’s over there. I want what you have.

And in my relationships – I am not always a servant. I am not always loving. Sometimes I want your approval. Tell me you like me. Flatter me. Chase me. Need my thoughtful insight. Want my clever brilliance.

Tell me what you see in me is good.

In Christ, I am good. Whole, covered, free. Why do I seek more than my chosen portion? Why do I not trust that this marriage family place church work body moment is my pleasant place? I bang my head against these questions, again again again.

Here And Now Weighed More

I decided to challenge myself in June and write daily from a prompt. I turned nearly every prompt into a response to my personal life, essentially journaling with the lightest of constraints.

Here and now I am became a go-to.

Sometimes it’s like that. Not every turn at the page becomes a start. I show up, more in the spirit of Natalie Goldberg, taking my writing practice as meditation. I open on the page. I repeat myself, trusting repetition is inherently valuable. Writing the same ___ allows me a different kind of practice, a refinement of my thoughts, beliefs, opinions, emotions: open to sway, argument and resolution.

When I am generous with myself, I take this repetition as hopeful. I am unfinished. And unfinished is a beautiful adjective. But when I am harsh with myself, that same repetition makes me impatient. After ___ years I am still writing about ___ ! Like, when will I learn, forgive, accept, repent, enjoy, heal, turn! All of that lands in my pages too, the frustration that I am still dealing with ___, even if in a new context.

Selfish ambition

Let me return to hope. I am unfinished. Let me take heart in the process.

Even this is a revisit of a familiar theme. I keep writing about refinement, waiting for the better expression. Perhaps all my writing around refinement adds up to the better expression, illustrating process.


June WP prompts weren’t a bust. On the whole, June just wasn’t a month of fun writing. It was a month of necessary writing. And I am grateful for a pen and notebook to ground me in the here and now.

May Revision: Essays That Nearly Killed Me

I revised five pieces this month. Let me tell you a little about each, most waiting for a better title than their topics:

Comparison: I pulled this piece from a long rant, bringing into focus my insecurity about parenting. This insecurity comes and goes. And that made revising this piece difficult: while I have hope for myself and my children (let us quit the comparison game!), I still wobble. There isn’t a tidy summary to this unflattering view of me.

Envy: The second piece pulled from the aforementioned rant, with an eye on wanting what I can’t have. For years I was sure I shouldn’t have become a mom because I can be so selfish. I looked at the childless people with an envy that occasionally bordered on hate. In this piece I write about contentment. I am really sad for that stretch when I couldn’t see the joy I possessed because my eyes were on what I didn’t have.

Rose: Rose is a woman whose death brought my own sin into painfully sharp focus. She was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer and died within a month. And that month for me was perhaps the peak of my anger and discontent at being a wife and mother. I can see that now, a little over a year away: a shift begun when I thought about this mom who knew she wouldn’t see her eight year old son turn nine. The challenge of returning to this piece, and a couple of others, is that I wanted to write about the experience as I see it now, or as I have (or haven’t) grown since.  Instead, I kept the piece in present tense, editing to tighten.

The Year After Grant: Also about a year ago, I wrote two essays back-to-back about the year following the birth of my son. That year was wonderful and awful and I was looking for a way to say all of it. With this revision, I combined the two pieces. The challenge was finding an appropriate tone. I’m letting this piece sit right now: it’s stronger, but not finished.

To An Affair I Haven’t Had: A Confession To My Husband: Oh, the one piece with a title. Also written a year ago. This essay partners with a couple of my fiction pieces. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I returned to this piece: it is hot, raw, sad. I center on the fight of flesh and spirit, knowing right and wanting wrong (Romans 7). I returned to this piece less concerned with keeping the details of my own situation accurate, and more concerned with writing a work that encompasses the absolute despair and suckiness of wanting an affair you can’t have. And shouldn’t have!

Title of my first collection: Wanting What I Can’t Have. Joking. Kinda. Sometimes in the middle of WP or drafting, I write God. I might follow that with a quick prayer like help or I might take a page to pour out the spiritual or faith side of topic. When I returned to these pieces, I did pray. Because I get shaky writing these things honestly, now with the intent to share. I am fast reaching the point where I don’t care what ugly bits of me you see, so long as you also see my faith worked out. So during this month of revising (and drafting) tough pieces, I returned to this question: what purpose does my transparency serve?

Swear Jar

I am not settled on my use of swears, but I think about the purpose and context of my written and spoken language. I’ll write on this again, as I’m thinking through.

Yesterday I wrote the word fuck in my post. Before publishing, I thought about finding another word or phrase, but fuck had the connotation I wanted.

I didn’t grow up in a blue household. I heard my parents swear only a few times. We didn’t even say dang, shoot or what the heck. When I was in third grade I swore about a failed spelling test and got grounded from the Brownie troop overnight trip. During adolescence, if I swore, it was under my breath, behind a closed door. Even in college when the wheels came off, I kept my mouth clean, a hallmark of good Christian living.

The first time I wrote a character who swore, I read the scene thinking my parents would be disappointed, and edited the F word.

The F word: effing, frick, friggin’, freaking. I don’t understand swear subs.

Here is where I am now: I use swears sometimes. I rarely say dammit, because I don’t want it damned. And my language toward or about people is affected by my belief in our inherent worth. But some situations remain shitty. When I titled a draft Comparison Shit, I called it that because saying stuff or junk connotes a yard sale or a drawer of pencil stubs and loose change. Shit gets to the point: a mess no one wants to examine closely.

I read the book of James often. Chapter three opens with a passage about taming the tongue. My emphasis added:

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.

How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.

James 3:1-12 ESV

I used to read that passage with a small mind, thinking the main reference was swears. There is more truth contained. I can start a fire without putting a quarter in the swear jar.

Essay Revision: Practiced Avoidance

I need to practice revising personal pieces.

But a few are so personal:
Contentment (as in: my plea for complete)

Some pieces read like first thoughts. When I read them, I feel where I was. And then I wonder where I am. I read some pieces and sense refinement bringing me a breath closer to holy. A year ago I wrote a piece called “To an Affair I Haven’t Had.” I read it now, to rework it, and know I was spared. I didn’t fuck up my marriage. I only wanted to.

I only wanted to. That is why returning to a few of these pieces is tough.

The other day I showed Justin my sunglasses, the inside lenses speckled with tiny tear drops. My car cries, I call them, when I turn the radio off on my commute home and wrestle through whatever lump is in my heart. Some of these pieces I want to revise might have been written last week, rather than a year ago, or two. I drive fast and cry about wanting what is wrong. I drive fast and pray to want what is right. To really want it.

I am not returning to these pieces to tidy my story. I write confessional pieces to remain confessional. I remember writing about lust and thinking, I am not the only person who has felt this. But I named it on a page. I see no reason to hide my sin. And I see no reason to hide my desperate faith. I have no shame in its desperation. If I lived in a cave, I might have a meditative faith, but I live in the middle of full days and my faith is worked out on car cries and in my pages.

When I return to some of those pages this month, I pray I go with compassion and honesty.

Already Wanting to Quit

Yesterday I wrote a post about my March April May Revision plan: about fifty thousand shoddy pieces of essay and fiction I’d like to slap into shape. I listed the pieces by theme or character title, with a cheery note about updating my progress on each, published the post, looked at it, trashed it.

March April May Revision will happen and I will post the process. But seeing the list in print – the same list I write out in my notebook when I need to see it still fits on a page, it isn’t such a wild reach – seeing the list in print made me want to quit.


Every third day I want to quit this work. It is work! My WP is valuable. But I often show up at the page and just write junk. I write my same messes over and over. The joy of generating a piece is tempered by the effort of revising that piece so that what I really want to say comes through.

I have learned to make myself finish a draft. Yesterday afternoon I looked through a few notebooks from 2009 and was shocked by how many of the pages were fiction starts, many of those characters left right where I wrote them. So I have learned to write my way to an end. And now I am learning to make myself revise. Take the feedback I’ve received, work with my own ideas, play, reshape, and revise my way to a finished work.

I need this revision practice. Over and over and over. I need enough practice to know what’s possible in my own work. I need to see that I can finish a work, many works. I need to practice the discipline of opening a file, rereading notes, thinking thinking thinking, and revising before I close the file and fear-eat an entire chocolate bar.

I won’t quit, but I’ll want to, again and again.

At the Turn Of a Page

I remember being sixteen, curled by my bedroom window with my spiral bound notebook. I don’t remember why, but I was angry at my mom. I wrote “Mom is a bitch” in neat pencil print. I looked at that sentence, my stomach rolled a little, and I erased the words.

Mom is great.

But the truth of that tiny moment was that I thought she was awful and I wrote what I would never say aloud to a lunch table of girlfriends. That adolescent admission, erased, still etched permission to write what I do not say aloud. My sin surfaces. I don’t pretend it isn’t there. My salvation works out on the page, heart change charted through years of journal entries.

Sometimes I think what would happen if you read my notebooks. If you read what I do not say aloud. You would see

I am so ugly,

and beautiful

at the turn of a page.