"Tell your story. Tell it on your bruised knees if you must, tell it at the risk of madness, scream it at the top of your lungs." –Andrew Lam

Category: winter

M is for Misunderstood

In high school English, we made an acrostic with the letters of our names. Probably a first day of school activity or something. You know, A stands for “awesome” and “amazing.” P stands for pretty and popular, R stands for remarkable or radiant or risk-taker. And so on for whatever your mother named you.

I thought all of those adjectives were stupid. I took this assignment seriously. I was after all, defining myself. Oh the pressure. And the thrill. While I don’t fully remember the rest of the adjectives used to describe the other letters of my own name, I remember the first letter–the M. M always stood for misunderstood. Misunderstood Melissa. “Good word,” my favorite teacher said. Different. Interesting. Creative.

I love Billy Collins’ Introduction to Poetry. The poet-teacher is frustrated because the students automatically want to tie the poem to a chair and torture a confession out of it. Much is missed. by trying to find all answers, by assuming, by jumping the gun. by a one-explanation-fits-all mentality.

by not holding it up to the Light. not taking the time to meander the life maze.

And I am frustrated, too. We cannot catch the Holy Ghost in a paper sack. We cannot label these misunderstood mysteries. Cannot call disappointment sin.  Cannot beat it with a stick. Cannot capture. Cannot wear and hold its power or pain on a cross around our throats.

Or in a behavioral analysis diagram.

Therapy takes time. Can mean something new at different stages just as an old poem can bring new ideas to life. You must sift. Revisit. Sift again.

I brought the misunderstood jagged pieces and scraps to my appointment. Reopened the old sea salt-weathered satchel. Heaped it all up like a sandcastle wailing wall. Stuffed half-prayers into crevices.

Ta-da, empathetic therapists and educated doctors. I want to be well. I’ll take the help. I used to be good, I want them to believe. I used to be very vivacious, impressive.

But I wonder which one was real? The manic? The depressive? The pushed through the panic? The misunderstood. Sift and find me, won’t you? Just in case there’s gold. pearl. treasure.

I want to be well, and,

right now…this is all I can do. I cannot be good or impressive. But I can survive. With the help of diet coke and white and yellow pills and good coffee in the morning and solid soul-advice and a too-good husband.

And this the glamour of surviving:

I sit in front of the space heater cocooned in blankets. I do not move from heat. No heat is bad.

I pick up my puppy, Gracie, and zip her in my coat. Because she’s alone and cold and confused. She burrows there in the crook of my neck. Tiny claws securing skin. And I need grace close to my heart. And her mama with the name that means joy by my side. So I keep the dogs close. Attached.

I re-read a lot of Anne Lamott because she’s neurotic and funny and honest and faith-filled in a way that doesn’t make me gag.

And I read a lot of WordPress to feel less alone.

I don’t wash the dishes in the sink. I don’t put away the laundry hanging haphazardly from the chair.

Afraid to be alone. Afraid in my bones. Afraid of myself. Afraid of people. Afraid to watch him walk out the door. To go to work. To go to the garage. To pick up the mail.

I drink enough to warm the insides and I sleep. And then wake up at 3 in the morning. To take the hottest bath. To see if I can shock the body into calm. And I burn. The curse is too much fire in the veins.

The curses are the raw burns on the forearms from the iron and the glue gun and the curling wand because I like the sensations and the tingle and the warmth. The warmth that takes away the tremble and the mind’s chaos and the ringing and the body’s disarray.

This is what it looks like when it’s sunny and finally April and still thirty degrees. Almost. The dreadful almost. The waiting.

I accept your triple-layered diagnosis. And the labels. And the stigmas. I will accept them in order to dignify them. Because dignifying, affirming, validating, facing truth–makes humanity more human. My life-song mission. And I will use this season of survival. And I will teach again someday with even more dignity. If they let me. Because, see, I am not less. I am more. So I will wait. Because the time will pass.

And someday I will offer scar-burned arms in an embrace. And I will bare bruised-up knees. I will tell a thousand daughters that beneath this weakness and this damage and this fragility is a strong and brutal beauty.

And I will use it.


in order to


and teach



And someday the daughters will come out from under the covers

and do more

than survive.

They will live




Margaret, Da Vinci, and Me

photo credit: sheknows.com
During a particularly dreary winter, my creative nonfiction professor at UE (award-winning author Margaret McMullan) handed us copies of Leonardo Da Vinci’s health tips. We’re not exactly sure why. Maybe she’d read them recently and it moved her. I get that. I often lingered over a quote or anecdote at the beginning of class because it was about life and held more weight than the dumb story I was supposed to teach that day from the state-mandated high school literature books.

Or maybe she looked at us through her chic red-rimmed writer glasses and thought we all looked a little rough and run-down. In fact, the class before the Da Vinci handout, a guy passed out. Fell right from his chair. Another student and I sprinted (I was wearing heels for my internship after class) to the health and wellness center and frantically tried to explain no, the student who passed out is not that other boy on campus who has the seizures all the time and this was a serious emergency. An ambulance came and put him on a stretcher. The guy was fine. The class was traumatized.

Until Margaret (you must call her by her first name) glamorously glided (she did work for Glamour magazine, you know) to the front of the classroom a few days later holding a vegetable platter and croissants. She read Da Vinci’s health tips aloud: eat simple foods, exercise moderately, go to the toilet regularly, be covered well at night, rest your head and keep your mind cheerful, beware of anger and grievous moods, and try not to drink too much wine (we laughed at that one). She forced us to eat carrots and broccoli and bread, and then probably told us to leave, take a nap, cheer up, and live well.

I adore Margaret. Always wanted to be just like her. Many professors and administrators–Mrs. Nayden, Dean Clayton, Dr. Ciscell, Tiffany (another one of those first-namers)—fed my dreams, but only one professor literally fed me.

I recollect her act of nurture and advice today because…this northern winter is a bitch. The wind chill is 15 below. I find myself losing southern hospitality because all my energy goes into keeping myself warm. Please don’t stop and talk to me while my hood is up and scarf is wrapped around my chin. I am trying to find shelter.

I am not the incredible Da Vinci or the incredible Margaret. But I do have my own tips for getting through the funk. The winter blues. The dumps.

Listen to music. Try K-Love or a good Pandora station. Music is powerful.

Get a plant. You need something alive and growing to remind yourself that you are living and growing, too.

Read. Or Write.

Sip hot tea or coffee or cocoa. It’s just soothing—a simple way to be kind and good to yourself. Also, drink water.

Put warm food in your belly. Or make a fresh salad that looks like summer. Or bite into fruit that tastes like summer. Buy a pineapple. Pineapples are happy. You are worth nutritious food.

When the wind-chill advisories are over, go for a walk.

Get a dog. Seriously. Best tip on this whole list. Let the dog wallow you in love. A dog is always happy to see you.

Look forward to something. A fishing trip. Spring. A new movie coming out. The weekend. Sunshine in the forecast for Thursday. Whatever. Just hold on.

Take your meds. Take them when you’re supposed to.

Give yourself some time to linger in the mornings. Over coffee. Or words. Or prayer.

Fall asleep in your actual bed. Take some Zzzquil if you need to. Wash your sheets. Don’t fall asleep with the television.

Get in touch with someone even though you don’t want to talk to anyone. Understand someone else (probably everyone else) feels in a funk too. Do a little reach out gesture. You probably won’t be sorry.

Get a haircut. Buy some good-smelling shampoo.

Create something. Don’t. Stop. Creating.

Rub lotion on your feet.


Light a candle.


good tidings

here’s my comfort and joy…

family game nights, new purse, comfy boots, invitation for cinnamon rolls and coffee, the always warm welcome from a school that will always be my family, inspiration to create my own cozy with whatever I have and whatever I can make (doesn’t have to be perfect, doesn’t have to match, doesn’t have to be fancy), facebook Bible studies, duke and dolly, horses, target practice, kennels, dogs, sunshine, rocking to sleep, psalm 27 (my nephew’s favorite), beginning to dream again, vanilla mt. dew, dimaggios twice, 7 hills, carhartts, finishing paperwork, k’s happiness, when friends pray for you in front of you (so powerful..and I always cry), starbucks with sister, hearing “mama, mama”, hearing what they plan to do in the future, birthday messages from students, lavender chamomile sleep aromatherapy luxury bath, farmer’s daughter restaurant and bakery, pasta, Christmas shopping finished, birthday lunch with mom, happy babies, hand kisses, cousins coming south for Christmas, rustic exposed wooden beams, sexy showers (giggle), chocolate peanut butter cupcakes, “say ‘cheese fries,’”a safe trip home despite the fog, the scent of ginger-fig, primitive present wrapping, the movie The Thomas Crowne Affair (ok, not an entirely appropriate movie…but I love wit, and I love art, and I like those actors), making our house and the flower shop merryfestivejoyfulbright (love adding special touches), being on an organization kick, breakfast invitations (thanks, annie!), extra time with josh, a re-stocked fridge (sort of), fruit and nut trail mix granola bars (I keep about three in my purse at all times), watching dvrd grey’s while sipping my coffee before work, “season’s blessings,” sweet customers, stella’s cherry pie, wreath-making, a new computer (because joshua spilled coffee on my old one…merry merry Christmas to me), black leggings (do I ever have to wear real pants again?), the movie Great Expectations, the book Great Expectations, real balsam Christmas garland and wreaths (yeahhh, Stockton!), African autumn tea, mumford and sons, pinecones, communion, simplicity           

a warm twenty-sixth

This week I’ve been cold. Cold like an ache. Colder than normal.  That shiver-shake panicked cold I get when I’m still not warm and I’ve already tried toasting myself in a tanning bed and scalding myself in the bathtub and piling three blankets (one like a shawl, one wrapped around my legs like a cocoon, one draped around the other two). Cold. A cold that’s more than psychological but more than physical. A heart-chill. Soul-frost. Hell is fire? I think it’s a spirit, iced.

I almost didn’t meet my favorite sisterhood friends tonight because of my particularly uncomfortable cold scared sad day. Because goodbyes are hard. Goodbyes make me colder.


They kindled me, warmed me up, and thawed me back to life.  

I’m warm-content and happy now. I slipped on the gift of the softest sweater that wraps me in the comfort of friendship-grace. Warm like a birthday candle glow. My belly full of decadent cupcakes and coffee sipped from big white mugs. My quota of hug-like-you-mean-it hugs met, finally.    

We took a grand tour of a sisterfriend’s house—a home her family’s labored and mostly built themselves. A long process. Like this frustrating, gratifying life. They’re still building the fireplace in this home. The place where family will sit and warm toes and watch flames flicker-glow. So they’re fitting giant stones together to hold up other stones. And bonding them all tightly, securely. Like a group hug. Where I just lean. Because I think I might fall down.

ButI don’t. Because even with strained arms, we’re a sturdy bunch. Like rustic wooden beams. Like the pillars of the porch. Like the rocks making up the hearth that gives the warmth. The warmth.  

I’m twenty-six now. They’ve built me. They build me.