This Vantage

Last Sunday we went to Lotte World Tower, bought tickets to the Seoul Sky observatory, took the elevator up one hundred and seventeen floors, and circled the enclosed deck, pausing to read placards telling us how far away landmarks were. We could point to lakes, stadiums, a distant fortress we may have imagined. But what I liked more was the immediate city beneath us. The towering apartment buildings dwarfed like a Lego city on a dining table. The river appearing placid, still. The run of traffic snaking main arteries.

That morning at church our pastor led the congregation through a year end reflection in three parts. We meditated on the love of God, our need for salvation and grace, and the hope to which we are presently and eternally called. Through each meditation, and the exhortation that we now choose to walk in freedom, living holy lives, I waited for the weight of the Holy Spirit. I waited for a sense of lifting, or for a wrap of warmth at the thought of my mighty and personal savior. I diligently prayed as guided, and wrote a few thoughts that came to mind, and worshipped as we sang old hymns, and at the end of the service I packed my bag, talked with a few friends, and left wondering at the silence.

Two things I have been thinking about. Awe for God. And the gap between the Old and New Testaments when God didn’t speak to his people.

A few months ago I started practicing awe. Praise, wonder, respect. The thoughts felt clunky. God is bigger than me. God is amazing. His love is good. God knows me. He knows every person. God loves each person. I am not much better at expressing awe today, but I continue to name the attributes of God, to offer thanks for the many gifts in my life, to remember I am a small part of this story. I had a sense that my spirit needed to praise God to lift myself from myself. I was then (and now) too consumed by my own life.

I think about the Sermon on the Mount too. The lilies, the sparrows.

Most days I sit with my notebook and write for an hour. I circle the same fears each year. A couple of months ago, following a jagged afternoon sobbing without explanation, I decided to begin counseling. There is a short list of big things I need to sort, with guidance. Before I began the sessions, I supposed that my writing practice offered a natural head start, and that is true. I don’t feel too afraid to say what is difficult, complicated or contradictory. Each session I am challenged to consider how to understand a part of me, or how to grow in an area. Now when I run in the mornings, I practice awe. I petition. I turn inward. And all of it makes me want to know the end.

Standing on the observation deck at Lotte, I lifted. There came a lightness to my body and mind. How easy to make ground level thoughts a towering complex, a wide river, a mountain range. I stood nearly five hundred meters in the air looking at a clear day wishing I might keep this vantage. But what I want more is peace when I am on the ground. I want to look up and be answered.

Five of thirty-nine! 568 words. A vignette I will likely use to build a fuller piece. I have another similar experience (or moment of understanding) I want to write as a parallel to this, but while drafting in my notebook I couldn’t find a way to write both at once.

Kleines Cafe, Vienna

This is an essay draft, the ideas from a late morning coffee. Verb tense is a small mess. I need to read the whole thing aloud to hear what I want it to sound like. This next school year will very likely be our last in the Middle East and lately I’ve been feeling more afraid than hopeful for change. Also, this summer I’ve been seeing pregnant women, babies and toddler every third step and that’s turned over more thinking about my early motherhood, a time that remains lovely and difficult to remember. Anyway, there might be something to this start. I’ll find out if I go back to it in a month or two.

The online reviewers give Kleines Café 4.3 stars. There’s a note about Kleines being a café locals go to and a picture of a latte in a clear mug so you can see the band of espresso between the whole milk on bottom and the frothed milk on top. That was the latte I ordered after finding the place a couple of blocks off Stephansplatz. I navigated what looks like easy turns following the blue dot on Google maps and then, even with the café in front of me saying Kleines Café with two doors open to its small rooms, I looked at the map and saw the pin dropped maybe fifty meters further and wondered if there were two Kleines Cafes in the same block. Be where you are, I told myself, and stepped into an alcove of a dining room.

I was going to write. When you go somewhere to write, be a little picky about where you sit. I like to sit at the side or back of a room but not with my back to others because the pause between thoughts or paragraphs is a good time to see what people are like. There really isn’t a back or side at Kleines. You go in and you’re in the middle of the whole room wherever you sit. Cracked, cigarette scarred vinyl upholstered benches line either side of the room. A bar with three wood backed swivel stools is where the waiter double checks orders before carrying trays out to the patio tables where most patrons sit. I could have sat outside but the tables and chairs are wood slatted with spindly metal legs standing on cobblestone. I don’t like to write at a wobbly table. I sat near the door at a marble topped table with enough space for my latte, water and notebook if I set the sugar, salt and pepper and ashtray on a chair. There were two more tables on my side and then a few steps down to the toilets and a narrow hall opening to a second room. I don’t know what’s in that second room. Maybe another bar. The kitchen has to be back there somewhere too.

I ordered a latte and opened my notebook. All morning I’d thought about the regret I have, for a couple of years when the kids were little and I wavered, insecure and angry but recognizing those currents and seeking security and peace in God. I’ve been thinking about this a lot because I’m enjoying my kids more now than when they were babies and sometimes I feel bad about that. Some of the new joy is attributable to relative ease of having school age children who tie their shoes, wipe their bottoms, read books and play Lego. And some of the joy stems from a shoot of security I root daily, that I am loved by God. Maybe it was my age or being a new mom, but when the kids were babies I looked at myself and saw this vein of pride that for years had pushed me to seek the approval of others.

Parenting is humbling. And parenting in a social media blitz of links and posts is devastating if you aren’t sure of your own purpose. Even if you are sure. So I opened my notebook to write more about this. I didn’t figure it out. Instead I sort of paralyzed myself playing a highlight reel of my approval seeking ventures.

My daughter strings together nonsensical lyrics, walks through the street pretending she’s a husky, wears polka dot socks with stubby blue leather boots and carries a smartphone made out of a Tic Tac box covered with stickers. I sat in Kleines Café thinking I can’t watch her lose any of that sureness. I thought of my mom too who was my age, thirty-five, when I was a sophomore in high school. What did she see when she watched me walk out the door wearing old corduroys I’d salvaged from St. Vinny’s thrift shop? Did she think I was making it okay? When I was fifteen I had a shell of superiority, not too different from armor most teenagers wear. Now, at thirty-five, I get a little nauseous at the thought like me because it’s a heavy chain to drag through all my places and relationships.

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If By Wishing: Still Holding Back

A week ago I started writing around the phrase

If by wishing

and filled a few pages. I wish a lot. I grew up daydreaming. Going to a story (wish, want, fantasy) is easy. This is great for writing fiction. But sometimes wishing can be dull ache under the perfectly fine present. It kills me.

This essay (draft excerpt below) hurt to write. I remember a lot my wishes. My childhood and early adolescent fantasies are unremarkable. But when I started writing my adolescent and early adulthood wishes, and then my marriage and parenthood wishes: something turned in my heart. It’s familiar territory, my selfishness and unhappiness. Answered by my dependence on God’s love and grace. Answered by the guilt-saturated sense that I have nothing to be unhappy about.

I wanted to end the piece with my current wishes. I wish a lot. But I couldn’t think what to choose.

I lack. I want. God sustains. I hold what I can in my hands. I let go. I am done fighting. I give up. Alone in my bedroom, on my knees, then stretched flat in security that demands surrender. I wish. I doubt. I go back to that posture of humility. I beg. I wait. That is where I am now.

I would love to post the entire essay here, everything that comes between the first paragraphs I’ll share below and the last above. But I’m in the middle of deciding where my writing belongs (seeking publication) and how much I’m allowed to post as a writer when I am also an educator. The way we share our art is shifting rapidly but publication continues to lend greater validation than a personal blog post and so I hesitate to give you my finished work here.

Be content with excerpts, friends. They are likely enough for now.

If By Wishing

I make my M&Ms last, like my brother, instead of eating them one after another because they were too good to save for later. I jump the alley distance from our roof the neighboring roof where an Italian girl invites me to come play. I listened to the funny belly feeling.

I have curly hair and primary colored wardrobe. I grin in a detergent ad in one of the women’s magazines. In the middle of the summer I toss autumn leaves for a fall catalog. At school, friends trade their sticker collections to me. At home, Mom doesn’t make me eat goulash. I’m not punished for saying damn when I failed a spelling test. In the spring, I get a ten-speed bike with taped curly handlebars I hunch over. The wind roared in my ears.

I need a training bra instead of the pastel undershirts I wear. My fifth grade teacher tells me my story is the best. Friends from my old school like my friends from my new school. No one leaves my slumber party crying. The boy with ruby lips I like likes me back. I’m allowed to read my book through math. I don’t feel so dumb when my teacher moves me to another math class with a lot of kids who don’t know what they’re doing. I’m a gymnast. I couldn’t stick the landing.

Try similar. Take

If by wishing

on a tour of your years.

Why The Freakout?

Every few months I reexamine my entire life and crawl into bed midday. Okay, every few weeks. And if not a midday nap, then an afternoon picking scabs in my notebook. I wait for the day introspection offers immediate pleasure rather than paralyzing regret. I get to the pleasure eventually, humbly, in the truth of the Gospel and my identity in Christ. And then I’m chastened to realize that

once again

I freaked out about stuff that isn’t worth worrying.

I’ve been thinking a lot about publishing. This is because I’m submitting a trickle of work to online magazines. I’m reading these magazines and thinking if my pieces would fit, what would my fiction look like in that font, how I’d word my brief bio. This is more modest daydreaming than years past when I pretended I was running the Olympic marathon on a ten-mile route through rural Wisconsin and, on that same run, designed the book cover for my first collection of fiction. The title was a toss-up: either Call It Fiction or Broken Plate Mosaic. I don’t think either are taken yet. Mine.

When I reread my last post: thank you for putting up with me. This blog is a place to chronicle process. So. Even when it gets whiny or a little too pep talky. I think about publication. I fantasize validation. When most of what I do every day is so incremental, I crave a giant whoop.

That whoop a ways off. I need to be okay small. I need to be okay with mundane practice. And in this moment, my words are not for an imagined bestseller, but for my drafts, notes, revisions, composts, weeps, whispers, arguments, prayers.

Why I Write: After The Usual “For Myself” Answer

Why I write rarely changes. My notebook is honest. Unflattering. Observant. Thoughtful. Sad. Desperate. Fun. Hopeful. Pleading. Knowing. Secure. Insecure. My notebook is instant reflection. I interrupt myself. I pour out. I am so fine with keeping a writing practice. I think I may be dead or unbelieving if not for a lined place to set ugliness and beauty side by side.

My writing practice is meditative but also generative.

I cried about generation on Thursday, to my husband. I want to know why I bother spending hours on stories and essays kept on this computer, occasionally shared with friends but largely unread. Sometimes there is no comfort saying I write for myself first. No comfort pretending the meditative or creative benefits of practice are their own end. No comfort acknowledging the necessary stretch of practice preceding good work.

I am not quitting my practice. But I’m asking why I write anything with the thought of a reader.

I heard back about two essays I submitted. Declined. This is fine. It’s what I expected. Not in a self-pitying way but because this world is full of writers, many better than myself. I am small. And I beg to know small is okay.

I have no conclusion.

When I sat down with my notebook on Thursday and again today to ask why I want readers – what am I supposed to say? I want the community of readership. I want to know I’m not alone. I want the performance of sharing art. I want validation. That’s it. I want readers to tell me I am not wasting my time revising four-year old drafts for the fifth time. I want readers to tell me they like me enough they want more, even if some of what I write is uncomfortable, unvarnished. Even if some of what I write lacks a tidy end.

I am not quitting this.

One day other readers I’m already writing for will find me and we won’t be so alone. Stick with me. Keep reading me. I’ll keep writing for you.

What I’ll Write When I Have Time To Write

Like, maybe this Wednesday, right?

The following ideas are showing up in my WP again and again:

Being Still
Being Present

I can’t tackle them all at once, but one topic I am so so close to drafting is


yet I am a little (lot) afraid I’ll just turn it into a giant righteous rant with a load of qualifiers and an end admission of hypocrisy. I do think we are all a little (lot) too plugged in to our devices. I think we’ve made so much noise in this world, it’s difficult to hear our clear thoughts, listen to God and find quiet. While I’d love a wilderness run, I don’t have a wilderness nearby. But I do have off switches and silence settings.

We find a measure of comfort and dullness in excessive refreshes: social media, news cycle, bite-size entertainment. I do not think I have anything newly critical to add to the technology/unplugging conversation except to lay out my own interaction with media.

That may be worth nearly nothing.

Even so. I believe our individual, specific stories matter. So write your relationship with technology. Write what you’re plugged in to. Write what you want to unplug. Actually unplug and write that experience. A twenty-four hour novelty. Go!

Underscoring Nothing

Today I played with syntax. More on that tomorrow. Near the end of my writing session, I decided: One more page. Usually one more page is my push to say what I really want to say, but today, it was my push away from what I really want to say. We all have things that show up in our notebooks every other session. Sometimes I want a break from that repetitive thought – whether an idea, worry, memory, feeling, prayer. Sometimes I just want to not scratch the itch. I want to pretend ___ isn’t there.

I think composting is a valuable part of writing practice, but sometimes I just don’t want to rake through the mulch again. So today when I sat to write one more page, I was (and wasn’t) surprised how difficult it was not to give ___ its space, or even to name it.

Because I’d just finished messing around with a syntax exercise, some of my phrases seem looser, coming unbidden. That was unexpected and fun.

In the following I’ve boldfaced ideas I might return to. Do that in your own WP, circling or underlining words, phrases or ideas that you want to come back to at another session.

I want to rearrange, order effort my home. Pull a room from dropping off. All there out there first thoughts penned carefully one word one word one word but still a tinge of wild, like smeared paint. This is what happens when I quit thinking about ___ (always at the base of my skull, a little stone). I need a break from ___.

Steadily writing one plodding word after another, one more away from ___ which shows up here even when I want to quit thinking it: a little stone taking up space in my page as a short underscore. Underscoring nothing. Literally underscoring nothing.

All that nothing holds at least a hundred words I am not wanting here because those hundred words (more) have been written a few pages back, a few notebooks back; those hundred words have been prayed on the treadmill, cried on my bedroom floor, whispered at the kitchen sink. If only I could whittle ___ to one hundred words.

I would feel better and worse about everything.

I was going to write about my home. ___ gets in my way. God, please.

My daughter wants an art table. I want one too, to keep our dining table. Our dining table. We orbit. We put stuff on every surface. I have a box of papers I think might be too important to pitch but I’m not sure. Sometimes I think about the mess we’d leave if we all died in a car accident: know our lives by a cupboard of child’s drawings, bins of Lego, hidden chocolate bars, writing on walls, garlic stuffed green olives, a baking stone, mismatched furniture. It kills me to think of anyone else deciding what to keep when they open a drawer of hair bands, sunglasses and a lone playing card.

This makes me sad. It makes me want a kind of order. An art table. A world map.

I think I can stop now. I can go home and open the drawers, decide what we keep.  I am afraid once I quit putting one word after another here that I’ll be full of ___ again, giving ___ more than a hundred words. I almost want to write my way through the end of this notebook, about anything but ___. Fuck. Instead, I finish here. Go make room for an art table.

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.

Pulled From Introspection

My last two weeks have been a push: wrapping another school year and the heavy sadness of my friends’ loss left me stretched. I didn’t sleep much. Sometimes in the middle of the night, I sat at the dining table with my notebook, scrawling out a prayer or a list. I write my worries in a column. The giant monster fears and the mundane chores. I say, God, here are my cares. I imagine pushing my heap of anxiety off a cliff.

Even though I was grieving and my pages landed a lot of that, I also kept writing on prompts. At first, that seemed repulsive. My impulse at the page was to continue turning over the tragedy of my friends’ baby dying. I did that, writing my own empathy and prayers. The first two prompts after were

He refuses all fear (after Pierre Reverdy)
You don’t know where you are

I wrote on each. The first ended quickly, one paragraph, because that was it. I couldn’t nudge another line. The whole idea of writing on prompts seemed very stupid. Journaling serves me well enough. But the day after when I wrote on You don’t know where you are, I found another side of introspection, on my third or fourth try at the prompt:

I don’t know where I am. I thought I walked by this place once before. I think I got stuck here once before.

God help me.

You don’t know where you are. Check Google maps. Check for a landmark.


Here is why. Usually I know exactly where I am and it makes me crazy to see exactly where I am because I can often also see where I should be.

That is why this prompt feels so tough. I am used to writing about where I am. I look around. I figure it out.

I went on to write a stuttering fiction start a page later. But that frustration – I don’t think you can hear it, but I can still feel it – clarified what my introspection looks like. It made me sad to say it on paper, that I see where I should be.

I am where I am. I am not stuck or lost but when I line my sight on what I think I should be, I lose the present. I lose the gift of this time, of this dusty place, of my husband and children, of who I am when I simply walk as I am. I think introspection is valuable and I’m bent toward examining my faith and self. But I need a rest from that too. Writing from prompts tugs my glance away from me and all the big questions to something new I wouldn’t find otherwise.

A few more recent prompts from A Writer’s Book of Days by Judy Reeves:

While the world sleeps
The place where wild pines grow
Lighting the first lamps