onbruisedknees

"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

MFA Feedback to Remember

I’m great at “capper” sentences. I cap off my paragraphs in a strong and meaningful way, which allows clever transitions into the next paragraphs.

Instead of using fragments because I’m lazy, I need to use those beloved fragments sparingly. I especially should not use several fragments in a row. When explaining thoughts and emotions, I need to intelligently convey what I want to say instead of using those easy-way-out fragments.

Learn to be more observant of places in my writing where I can slow down and expand instead of flying over scenes. Push myself to write longer pieces.

Controversial topics? Don’t go part-way there, dive head-first. Don’t worry about offending. Be a writer. Be a writer. Be a WRITER.

Pick out what is unusual and actually interesting in my pieces. Find ways to complicate and put pressure on the “truths” of my writing. Find ways to turn, tweak, and slant what I think I’m actually trying to say.

Polish. Be solid.  

Don’t worry about big aphorisms to tie the writing together. I naturally sprinkle in small aphorisms, and those small aphorisms are enough.

Think about ways I can use research to add authenticity to my writing.

I’m funnier than I thought, even in pieces that aren’t supposed to be funny. Explore humor.

Experiment with form and style. Occasionally move away from commentary and that first person “I.”

Don’t ever lose my distinct and memorable voice.

Think about my readers. Don’t self-indulge.

Think about order.

Read even more and “study” what I read.

Stretched

I’ve stretched. These travels stretched me well. My brain’s been pulled, my humanity broadened, my dreams expanded. I’m growing words, and returning to a normal state will prove difficult. I’ve locked eyes with an idea, become infatuated with the pain and the work and the writer-bliss. And I don’t want to give it up, watch it get carried away—examined to see if it’s acceptable and okay, measured and weighed. Most women my age birth a baby, but my ticking clock tells me it’s a book I must create before the age of thirty. With mad motivation, I’ve set a hard and fast deadline. I can’t go back to writing as a “hobby,” not when I love it like I love a life.     

I’ve stretched by meeting people, people who teach me about religion and worldviews and travels and grief and romance and books they love. They are naked with the details, so naturally, automatic bonds form from feeling that type of comfortable with bruised knees. The workshop writing had already forced us to put our hearts on the plate. We’d already confessed. We’d already learned how to “show” in our essays. Now we further “tell” over thai food and tacos and while walking endlessly through a campus cloud of sweet-smelling pipe smoke. Sophisticated. Sophisticated like the red wine served at the cocktail hours, the Virginia Woolf pieces we read aloud in cafes, the blazers with the elbow patches worn by the MFA men.

 My mind is clouded during lectures and genre seminars. My eyes burn and my throat chokes and my biology ticks and my whole face stings from intense desire to be the visiting writer, the professor, the mentor, the expert on some element of craft. I dream and doodle pen names, the words I’d write on dedication pages (for my students), the chapter titles for the table of contents. I’m star-struck at the readings. Books are my movies. These writers are my celebrities, my superstars who, even in their fiction, allowed their own hearts to stretch right out of their chests and onto those best-seller bookshelves.  

And while I’m waiting to deliver, I’m at home and growing big inside this sweet and sweaty pocket of the South.  

Safe

You know that people do things differently in the South. They even die differently. Still, love strikes you. You work in a floral shop up north where the names aren’t familiar and the addresses are foreign. But when you walk in the flower shop at home to pick out the casket spray, you watch your mama get a good forty-five second hug. Because she lost her mama.

You ruin your vegetarian, gluten-free, paleo, clean-eating, low-carb diet because people bring you casseroles. And cupcakes. And coffeecake. Southern love is always shown through food.

You discretely throw away dirty underwear and wash the sheets she died in and cups she drank from. You find her eyeglasses on the table. You water flowers because you don’t want them to die, too. You clean the toilet. The washrags crusted with blood. “Bless her heart,” your mom says as her face crumples. “She was in more pain than she ever let on.”

And the collection agencies and bill collectors continue to call. The phone rings. It does not stop. The abrasive cadence to your cleaning as you scrub sinks, pull sheets tight.  Mom holds the telephone to her ear. Listens for five seconds. Throws the phone back onto the receiver. Mimics their fake professional voices, “No Ms. Fewkes is not available. Ms. Fewkes is dead.”

Her house, which used to have tiny walkways through trash she hoarded, is sterile clean. No pictures or Bible verses or notes on the refrigerator. No purses with mildewed receipts in the pockets. No clothes of all styles and sizes spilling out of closets. No termites, no spiders. A toilet that functions. A shower that’s sturdy. Shiny appliances. Attention to detail. A brand new foundation, un-sunk.  It’s nice. And clean. You’re in awe of the work and the cleanliness should be comforting, but it is not. The house is empty. Gone is every little scrap that frustrated and annoyed you and boiled your blood.

I do not cry during the funeral song. “Mama Liked the Roses” only reminded me of grandma impersonating Elvis. The way she bent her knees and posed, stunningly like Marilyn Monroe, grooved to bluesy melodies, called the king a ‘hunky hunk.’ And I heard floating memories of the song that was ours: “I love you. A bushel and a peck. A bushel and a peck and a hug around your neck.”

Silly, beautiful, loving woman. A barrel and a heap of crazy and kind and crazy-kind. And you are your mother’s mother’s granddaughter.

“You’re special,” she said two months ago on the last day you saw her. She tucked it between, “You look just like your mom” and “I like Ashley’s fiancé” and “I’m so glad Kaci didn’t get hurt in that wreck” and “You tell your sister to be careful goin’ to Evansville.” But you heard it—the thing you most needed to hear that day. And remember the rest of your life. You knew somewhere deep that those would be her last words to you. She validates you, still, just as she did after every awkward day of junior high school.

You do not cry until you feel the weight of her gray casket. Until the graveyard part of the service abruptly ends. The end? This wasn’t supposed to be the end. She was supposed to get more life to live. Better life. Better. You look back.  You glance back again, again. Gray casket. Red rose petals in your hand.

“Be careful,” you hear her voice. The tears roll. Finally. The relief. Because you realize she’s the one who is finally free from fear. She’s not merely pain-free.  She is worry-free.  She is safe. Safe and filled. With better life.

Nowhere and Somewhere

The best part of the book I just finished reading? The first page. The first page captures something I’ve felt since moving north and hadn’t been able to put into words. The author of A Wild Ride up the Cupboards describes the Nowhere Place, a spot coined by her autistic son, which is actually the distance between the Minnesota sign and the Welcome to Iowa sign. “We’re nowhere now,” she writes. “We aren’t anywhere in the world.”

Author Ann Baur continues, “Because even then Edward knew, as I did, that a human being can be knocked off the continuum of this ordinary, sweaty, oxygen-filled existence into the locked stillness of nowhere….I came to believe it was our momentum, traveling sixty or even sixty-five miles an hour, that anchored us and kept us safe. And that if we were to stop between the signs, all three of us might just tumble out of the car and out of our lives, into a nameless expanse of space.”

No other passage could more appropriately describe the odd little village in northern Illinois. It’s meaning holds more than just the space between Chicago and Dubuque or the expanse between Wisconsin and Iowa and Illinois. This time is also the “nowhere” time in our lives. The waiting area. The holding cell. We landed in a dystopia. A twilight zone. Limbo. The nowhere place. I had lost the momentum which propelled me, kept me exhausted and productive and smiling. Like Alice, I fell down a rabbit hole. I somersaulted into weirdness. I crashed into the wonderland of Woodbine.

I spent many days wishing to disappear. And the people I love most told me to disappear, hide, cover up the scars and the reasons for the scars. They even told me to stop writing. But burns are different from other ailments. In order for a burn to heal, it should not be covered. Burns need air for cell division and regeneration. Burns must breathe in order for new skin to grow.

Several weeks ago, I went in for some blood tests. I collapsed. The needle left a bruise that stretched from my armpit to my inner wrist. I lost control of my body, a helpless feeling I do not want to relive. While dabbing my neck with cold compresses, nurses encouraged me to open my eyes, to take a sip. I didn’t want to. I was lost in unconsciousness and echoes—a nowhere place.

Upon awakening, I examined the damage. The bluish-purple-green bruise paired with the pink-gray burn scars reminded me of the arms of a drug addict. In that moment, I realized the world would hurt me enough as it is without the added pain of harming myself, and I vowed to never hurt myself again. I also vowed to eat food and nourish my body.

I am a stubborn, stubborn girl. I must get to those points myself. Must feel the lowest low and wallow in it for a moment. Must decide, then, what to do next. Move on. Finally, I hit the low that would allow me to move on.

I decided I do not like the mental distress and despair of “inside.” More claustrophobic than normal, I am restless. Inside feels like caged confinement. I do not like the itch and crawl of sedentary, stationary, artificial light and plastic plants. Suddenly, outside is safe and free. In summer, inside is cruel and dark and dangerous like waiting rooms and cancer wards, windowless classrooms and coffins and prison and the last week of school.

I decide that, like a burn, I need air. I get a free sunrise and sunset every single day. I need them. I need the space between the sunrises and the sunsets, too.  I don’t even want to go inside for meals. I’ll partake of food in open air, the burst of sun-ripened tomato on my tongue. Skin kissed by this sweet tingle of sun. Do enough trails exist? Because once I start walking, moving this body, I don’t know if I’ll ever get my fill. I wander in the Nowhere Place. I take a step and breathe. And breathe. And inhale. Exhale. I learn how to breathe in the Nowhere Place.

And when we are home, eventually, I’ll look back at the Nowhere Place and see that it was actually….somewhere.

Bare Cupboards

No secret. I don’t like it here. My attitude is awful.

Last night I ran away. And the plight (and also salvation) of the trooper’s wife is that she’ll somehow always get found.

Lost and insecure. You found me, surround me.

Just a little late. Where were you, where were you?

I ran because I missed him.

Oxymoron.

I ran because the small mind-mentality of the home I miss is to talk about a person instead of to her. To say logically that future employers won’t hire me. Because of my truth. Because I dare to share it. Because burying is just as foolish. To me. I should be careful, he said. Said it not to me but about me instead of caring as a friend should for a broken human being.

I ran because I wanted to feel God again. Somewhere. Somehow. And I did not. Not in verses or conversations or in the quiet. And this feeling is no fault of God’s.

What is so bad about feelings? I know they are temporary. I simply can’t comprehend, in this moment, how God will redeem the years the locust devoured. But I know. With faith, I know. But I don’t agree with the throwing around of scripture to cover up feelings and then not even feeling the scripture. Feelings are bad. Repress them. Choke on them like you would choke on vomit. Follow the rules. All of this:  The culmination of the only message I remember from months of northern church-going.

But..

Jesus wept. Washed dirty feet. Bled. Wept and washed and bled, and because he was as equally human as divine, he felt emotions. And did not throw stones at others’ emotions. And why are we ashamed of humanness, of brokenness, of our own sometimes-darkness?

As I ran, I realized the loneliness of nowhere to go. I am to blame. I isolated myself. If I were home, I wouldn’t bother a soul by showing up on anyone’s porch. Not even family or closest friends. But the difference between here and there? Simply knowing that I could. Comfort in that knowledge. I could say, “I just need to ‘be’ for a moment. Need some shelter from this dark night.

Then I could be, for a moment, a human being instead of a human “doing.” Then I could stop trying to convince others, “I was good once. In every sense of the word. I wish you knew me when I was good.”

No secret, obviously. I do not like it here. But I can tell you what I do have here, the things I’ll look back and be thankful for.

I have the opportunity to work with women who’ve taught me how to get stuff done. Effectively. Efficiently. Successfully. You dive right in. You embrace creativity. You don’t have to be afraid of ideas. You don’t necessarily need a man around to help you get the shit done. You simply convince yourself you are not a dainty bird. You innovate. You dream. You visualize. You do it. And you care genuinely for others in the process.

I have the opportunity to help a girl feel more comfortable in her humanness. And in her own writing. And in her own communication. And in turn, every Thursday at her house also helps me.

We have a house with a too-small kitchen too close to the highway. Old, old bathroom. Bad furniture. But I feel safer here than the other house. Basement is dry and clean. And there are no mice taunting me. No infestation. And there’s enough room for a garden plot. We are not settled. How can we be when we do not know? Still some boxes. No paint on the walls.

But I’ve been wondering lately what shelter means. I think it is the place where you get found. And I read somewhere recently, is love a lavish feast to devour? Or is love what you manage to pull together for a meal when the cupboards are bare?

Sucked Grace

I went out to feed the dogs this morning. Moments before, I finished reading Truth & Beauty by Ann Patchett and identified too much with her best friend Lucy Grealy, a woman who made sure people knew her physical suffering should not be identified with because it could not compare. But what disturbed me most, more than her disfigured face ever could, was that I identified with her mental and emotional struggles.

I told one of my dearest friends, “Read this beautiful book. I’m hallway through. I’m Lucy.” And not knowing what would become of Lucy, she enthusiastically agreed.

Her clingy behaviors in the book become increasingly more annoying and identifiable.

“Do you love me?” she asks.

“Am I talented?”

“Am I the favorite?”

“Why am I lonely? Will I ever be happy?”

“After this next thing….then I will be happy.”

“Am I best?”

Do you love me. Am I talented. Do you love me.

Are you mad at me? Do you forgive me? Do you love me?

I opened the door of the dog box and Gracie yelped. I said out loud, “Gracie you have beautiful eyes.” And they are beautiful—light and dark and amber brown and olive-green. Like there’s a soul in this dog. And I cried. I picked her up, remembering, “It’s okay to need things.” I just wanted to feel her paws around my neck. Give her a hug. Get a hug back.

And I found a little tick on her left ear. I couldn’t pull it off. I made a mental note to tell Josh later.

And then, clearly, I knew. Something was trying to suck the grace out of Grace. And days before, I was just thinking about how grace would never stiffly sit at a piano or sternly preach from a pulpit…or perch,

because it’s Sunday church,

mediocre on a pew.

No. She prances, dances, plays and sleeps and loves.  Just as Gracie leaps and attaches sweet tiny claws into me, ticks attach too. And I felt the hallucination of my own flesh crawling with them. Sucking all the grace.

The hallucination hadn’t come from nowhere. I know how my brain works. Yesterday, after morel hunting, I found a tiny deer tick on my chest.  And while it was crawling around, I asked Josh what to do, what to do? “Throw it out the window. We don’t want to keep it as a pet.” And then we joked about checking each other for ticks later. Like the redneck song says.

But I didn’t want to later. Other things on my mind.  And if he naked-examined me for ticks, he would find three burns on my left thigh. Three punishments I’d inflicted. And I am not allowed to self-inflict with any kind of harm. And blood was coming from between my thighs, too. And there’s nothing sexy about a shower with blood. Blood that’s not supposed to be there. Blood from pressure and stress hormones. I choose to burn instead of cut when I screw up or when something hurts my heart. And because I don’t like blood, my body’s goal is to make me bleed, somehow, with no reason or rhythm or schedule. And the friends who ask me if I’m miscarrying tiny little humans make my heart hurt more.

I took my too-hot bath. I locked the door and prayed he wouldn’t hear that little click. Later, he asked me why I took so long. The movie he’d picked up (a sweet Nicholas Sparks’ this time) was ready. I knew what he was thinking. He was hoping desperately the latest detail I’d screwed up on hadn’t driven me to burn my wrists.

I thought about how the welts and blisters and scabs were not on my wrists this time.

Thighs are not wrists.

“I’m so glad you are here with me tonight.”

“Me too,” he said. Kissed my forehead.

I am a shadow of what I once was. A sliver. A slice. A shiver. A wisp. A whisper. A ghost. So it doesn’t surprise me as the number on the scale goes down. It just seems fitting…..

Do they love me? Am I talented? Do they love me?……

Because something is sucking all the nourishment. All the life. All the grace.

Boxed Contentment

My husband asked me a loaded question. He asked me when I will be content. And happy.  I told him I was quite content in my job before I had to leave it. At my best. Kicking butt. But I wasn’t wholly content with life. And everyone knew it. The students. The teachers. My husband was away. I didn’t have him to come home to at the end of the day. Now, I’m content in my marriage. Hold it sacred. But I am not wholly content in life. And everyone knows it.

He always wants to know if teaching makes me so happy then why am I never happy to put the newest teaching resume and application in the mail? I told him I just put in the mail an awesome letter of interest and the most beautiful recommendation letter from my former colleague and one of my dearest friends. I told him I also sent along a copy of the stunning valedictorian speech that one of my favorite students will give this weekend (and will make you rise to your feet in ovation) because it was the best thing that could ever explain the special place I come from and what I’m all about and what that place is all about than anything else could.

Through the eyes of a student. I refuse to play politics. I refuse to play them in Edwards County and I refuse to play them up north. Why? Because what we do should be all for the students. And I want special. I do. I want a special place again.

At my church back home, a lady in Bible study never specifically mentioned her prayer request. She simply asked for the desire of her heart.

The desire of my heart? To speak to people. Full rooms. Auditoriums.  Classrooms. Singe souls. Face-to-face holding a coffee mug gulping cup after cup of grace and love. Or speaking to people through a book. My truth. In writing. Helping them find their own truths. THE truth. Dreams do not simply dissipate. If I feel I was created to do something big and I cannot let it go, please do not put me in a room and leave me to peel away at yellow wallpaper. Because if you’ve read that short story, then you know how it ends. For most people, “the little things” are what breed contentment. But I’m not most people.

“God is contentment. Learn to be content in all circumstances.” Well that’s just the easy answer, people. And the hard one.  And the real one. I know. I KNOW.

She had a baby.  In “The Yellow Wallpaper.”  And in the Great Gatsby, Daisy Buchanan was a silly little fool who had a silly little fool of a daughter too. And sadly, they weren’t content. But I’m no fool. I know babies fill a certain void of contentment nothing else can. My sixth sense Holy Spirit twitch tells me the women I love who most want to be mothers will be mothers. And my best friend since birth? She’ll birth another miracle this winter.

I see it more for them than I do for me. Always. A few Sundays ago I held my niece through church and I adored. Adored. She smiled. Touched my face. Danced to the worship songs. Fell asleep as I kissed-kissed the top of her head.  And my preteen nephews? Hugs. When they are eighteen and twenty, I will still get those same hugs. Because I’m Aunt Melissa. Because they were already mine at baby and two. Because there are no other two boys I could possibly love more.

I looked up our baby name—the name we agreed on years and years ago. I very well could have still been in high school. I love the meaning of names. I gasped when I read the name’s meaning: “bright and shining light.” I don’t have my shining light yet. Because we are not home. Because I am not healthy. Because I dropped fourteen lbs. and don’t know why. Because my meds are switched constantly. Because my body is screwed up. Because I can’t seem to handle anything. Because I have a Master’s degree to start and finish. Because I have higher-paying jobs to land. Because. Because I’ll screw it all up. Yet somehow, if God gives her to us? She’ll be true to her name. Light. What I’ve quested all along.

And maybe my contentment. Or my green light at the end of the dock. But I don’t want to put that kind of pressure on the girl. Her life is not merely for my contentment. It’s for hers. Are you listening, parents? I lived it. I saw that kind of hurt in the eyes of my students.

Once, I made my Themes class give speeches about their most important message. What did they most want the world to know? I think I assigned these speeches right after we read Fahrenheit 451, a book with an obvious message. Thank you, Mr. Bradbury, for your message. It’s a message that got stuck in our minds and never left. Why did I assign these speeches? Honestly, I was stalling. I hadn’t finished reading 1984 and didn’t know how to introduce another novel with such huge themes. Prophetic themes. Themes of life. The name of the class.

Some of the speeches were dull. Eating right. Exercise. Being a good person. Blah. Snore. Some students rambled so much that I couldn’t even pinpoint the message. And that’s ok. Because I don’t remember if I gave them much direction and probably didn’t give them a rubric. So I’m sure I gave everyone a good grade.  But some of these students? Their props were meaningful. They spoke eloquently. They interacted with their peers. Made me gawk and gape and wonder what kind of presence was I in? These kids were geniuses.

And one speech I remembered in the middle of the night, four freaking years later because its truth literally woke me and ironically reminded me of how everything I want right now was everything he warned against.

After he spoke, I was so inspired (and he reminded me too much of the unconventional, caged-in high school-me) that I made the students (those who wanted to) run or gallop or skip back and forth down the basement hallway, loudly proclaiming the specific ways they wanted to express themselves and get out of their comfort zones. I’m also pretty sure I got in major trouble for that one. Ah, well. You remember it though, don’t you? Stepping out of your boxes.

This student is in some city right now. He’s a talented playwright, a director, an actor. He impressed me from the moment I met him, and he will be famous. Brilliant.

He began his speech with an analogy and drew a street map of Lincoln Avenue on my whiteboard. Basically, he told us what drove him bonkers, and he said it with a lot of passion:

“You can be born at St. Mary’s. You can go to elementary school at St. Ben’s. On the very same street, you can attend high school at Memorial. You can go to church on this street. You can hop a block over and get your college degree from the University of Evansville on the same street.  You can have a nice Catholic wedding ceremony on this street. You can rent or buy a house on this street. You can do something during the in-between, and then you can go retire at the little nunnery place down on the very same street. And then you can die. And have your funeral. A nice Catholic wake.  On the same street.”

And that is exactly what some people do. And other than becoming a nun because I am not Catholic, I would be perfectly content returning to Lincoln Avenue. I’d happily return to teach at Memorial and then become a professor at UE (some professors in my subject matter departments are getting up there in age, God bless them). I could have my coffee every day at Coffee Cottage. And Barnes and Noble is right at the end of that long street! I could do book signings. I could browse the titles until I went blind and my fingers bled. Bliss, I tell you. Bliss. And my biggest dream ever since Ms. Felling took our class to see Twelfth Night at the May Studio Theater. Magic. I felt magic. I felt home.

I was told that if I can’t talk about a place without crying, then I have issues. I’m constantly told that Memorial is not the pinnacle of success. I’m reminded of law suits that should have been filed and of everything that was unfair and how it sucked everything I had in me right out of me and the retirement is pitiful. I’m reminded UE parking sucks, that we’re still paying on the ungodly tuition, that it is not Ivy League.

The street? It smells like sewer and it floods.

Shit. I just put myself in a box. I would live in a box. I would live in a box on Lincoln Avenue. And I would maybe or maybe not be content.

English: A square open cardboard box. Based on...

Because it’s ok to need…

I hate needy, clingy, high-maintenance women. I also hate that I am one of those wives. Because he was in the academy for the newlywed phase. Because schedules do not allow us to spend appropriate allotted time. Because I would like some normalcy. Because I hate that we were transferred. Because I know certain self-injury behaviors scare him and worry him and I cannot do them. Or I might do them. If I want attention. If I want to simply not be alone on a bad evening.

And he uses every stolen moment to cherish me. To ask if I’m ok. To Gesture of every tenderness. To show me love is a verb. I wonder when did I become so selfish?   

I could tell you it’s hard to be a law enforcement officer’s wife. A state trooper’s wife, in fact. But, heck, it’s hard to be anyone’s wife. Amen, sisters? Amen?

Does he want food, I wonder? Is he coming home for personal time? What shift is he working? When is overtime again? When is court? Is he actually off work or “off work” but working a seatbelt or drug detail? What were those sirens? Where? What county or counties or zones is he working tonight? Did I tell him to be careful and safe? Did I say I love you and kiss him like I meant it? If I call him right now will I break his concentration during a time when he should be concentrating on driving during a high-speed chase or reaching for his gun to stop a lunatic with a gun so he can come back home alive to me?  Will he ever come to bed? Will he EVER come to bed?

Fine. Then I will sleep in the living room floor. So that at the first eye-blink of morning I will know if he is home. And when he’s not working, I will sleep with him on the living room floor as he watches intense criminal-cop television shows too loudly and puts my nerves on edge even as he is physically beside me.

I will wait on him. I will wait on him to wake up so we can do something, anything that makes me feel alive and not trapped in a house with the blinds down and curtains drawn. I will leave the coffee brewing in the morning. I will move with him. I will listen to police politics, to crazy DUI stories, to tales of stupid citizens.

 I will adore him. I do adore him. For being others’ protection and hero and helper and defender and truth. And for being mine. I love him for what he is and does and believes. That you are not entitled. You must keep your kids safe in car-seats and safe in their general well-being. You don’t get to put others in danger. You do not get to bully. You do not get to try to pull any sort of crap.

My husband said to me, randomly, “It’s okay to need things.”  I’m not really sure what he meant. But I repeat it often, a little sweet incantation to myself. Okay to need people. To need some kind of healthy, not harmful fix to get through the day. Currently mine are caramel lattes because my appetite is zero. Currently it’s talks with Annie, my warrior. Currently it’s that snappy “Ho Hey” song from the Lumineers and a couple of too –truthful songs from The Band Perry’s Pioneer. It’s okay to need to call someone from back home and stop worrying about being a bother or wondering what to say.

Ok to need sunlight or a walk or a drive or a puppy. The need to lean way back into the solidness of him against a farmer’s fence at nightfall. And listen to the thunder and the heartbeats. And the wind. And the turkeys talkin’. Ok to need. Therapy or medicine or doctors or sex or Jesus or a good book or THE Good Book or people or an electric blanket or a really tight hug.   

Today at work, I needed. Something. So to see if it would help, I sat outside with the store’s phone in order to not miss any telephone orders and took out a bucket of starburst-colored roses and a handmade sign. Roses. $2.50

I felt like a kid with a lemonade stand selling some freshly squeezed J-O-Y.

And the northerners smiled. I people-watched happy customers spill out of the café.  Some spoke. Said hello. Talked about the sunshine. I said hun and darlin’ and sir and ma’am and southern phrases with extra twang. And they probably thought I was half charming and half crazy.

 I wheeled a homeless man across the street. I opened doors. Paid for a prom corsage for a special young lady.  Told myself I would look for opportunities to do something purposeful today. I’m not bragging about good deeds and believe works naturally spill out of grace instead of earn it. I’m trying to understand that whole ‘small things with great love’ idea. Trying to understand an extravagant grace. I’m trying to take care of others so I don’t harm myself. So that I take good care of myself. And that is Not. Selfish.  

And the northerners?  They’re a little different still. But humans can’t help but admire God’s beauty in those vivid bloomed-out roses. Older folks and young lovers and dog walkers and runners and passersby and mostly wide-eyed sweet latch-key kids stopped to admire. At least they talk to me. Look up to me. A role model until they ask about the boo-boos on my arms and I have to lie.

 I say feel spring in that warm breeze? Smell the good earth?  I kick off my shoes. Hopeful. I need bare feet. Such a long winter. They kick off their shoes, too. Sit with me on that little stoop.

We all need real light.

It’s okay to need grace. Did you know that’s why I named my puppy Gracie? See, I learn more about grace from her than I do under a steeple. My Grace leaps—leaps– into my arms. And how can she be so sure I’ll catch her? She attaches herself to me like a little puppy hug around the neck. Covers me and licks me clean. Finds within me favor and mercy unconditionally. When I get lost, she finds me. Grace. Amazing.       

For My Tigers

People snicker, ‘Those who can’t do, teach.’ But, oh, how right they are. I could never, ever do all I dream of doing…while having only been given one thin ticket in this lottery of life! In the recessional, as I watch them, mine, the ones I loved, I overflow with the joyous greed of a rich man counting coins. Wrongly I have thought teaching has lessened me at times, but now I experience a teacher’s greatest euphoria, the knowledge like a drug that will keep me…It’s an almost psychotic feeling, believing that part of their lives belong to me. Everything they become, I also become. And everything about me, they helped create –from Educating Esme

Dear Almost-Graduates,

I remember our very first home room class downstairs. And for those of you not in my homeroom—I remember our epic English classes. Every. Single. One. I remember you. Every. Single. One. I didn’t always know what I was doing, obviously, but we learned. And we had fun. And I thought it was so cool both those things could occur at the same time. I was happy you were mine. Blessed. We grew a lot together, didn’t we? You taught me. And I think, with the help of genuine friends and coaches and mentors and teachers, you found the courage to become yourselves. I hope so. I hope you at least started the process.

See, my first real class is graduating college now. I have a very special chunk in my heart that belongs to them, but you were my fresh start. My joy. You made me want to drive the fifty-seven miles. You were so purposeful to me.

Without you, I went crazy. Spent fifteen months just aching.  Doubted myself and God and His plan. Spent lots of time hurting myself. Haunted by you. I didn’t know who Mrs. Kiefer was without the teacher part. Didn’t know how to be just Melissa.  Had a major, terrible, unhealthy identity crisis. I never want you to have one of those when change and transition come. And change is coming. So please let me tell you who you are. You are a Tiger. Capital T. Forgive me for being a little cheesy and running with this metaphor.

We all came to be Tigers somehow. We were meant to be. And every experience you have had in the past and will have in the future has a purpose. The purpose is so that you can help others or help yourself. God intends so.

As Tigers, we are fierce and humble. A hunter of dreams. Noble, for we are fearfully and wonderfully made. We might travel the country and the world, yet we are territorial of Evansville, of MHS, of home, of our tiger pack. I’m still working hard in therapy and praying hard and loving hard and learning…and slowly remembering and accepting that I am still a tiger. And you taught me how to be a fighter for all the good and right things. Ferociously, we fight.

Maybe I was too young to teach. Maybe I found too deep of friendships with you. Too many things in common. I’ve always felt a little too connected to you. So maybe it’s no accident that you are beginning something new at the same time I am starting a journey new. We can compare notes if you want. Discuss literature. Share ideas. Buy backpacks and notebooks and those nice flow-y pens. Be nerds together.

I’m starting a new school in a new place, too. I feel many of your same emotions. Excited. Anxious. Thrilled. Afraid. Are we enough? Yes. Yes, we are enough just as we are. And we have more to learn. I’m thrilled to create projects instead of assign them. I get to write instead of grade. I never have to use my mean voice!

Through the Kiefer Café’s, the quotes on the board and the door, our talks on the floor, the way I watched you struggle and overcome—you inspired me. Your drive. Your passion. Your determination. Your wisdom. You depth. Your blank slate. Your unfolding and brilliant future. Your hope. I want to write about you. And I want you to someday be able to say you are as proud of me as I am of you.

You are prepared. So light-filed, so strong, so intelligent, so passionately curious. Life might not end up the way you planned. It’s ok. God is so good and knows what He’s doing. I’m proud of you. What beautiful human beings you are.

“What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
Build anyway.

The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.

Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.

You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and your God;
It was never between you and them anyway.”

Just wanted to end with some wisdom above from Mama T.

Love, Your Mama K ❤

“And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘if this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.'”

I haven’t done one of these joy dares in awhile. So these are the nice/happy things I’ve noticed:

glass mugs (a shopping find with the sis), lilac nail polish, coral nail polish, passion tea, guacamole and tortilla chips, teaching others to enjoy food, no fuss short sassy hair, sunshine, sea spray, visits, my puppy Gracie (she really is this little fur-bundle of grace), my full grown dog (but still my baby) Jovie, a turquoise polka-dot leash, a pink paw print collar, good therapists, Chinese checkers, stir-fry and sticky rice, always my husband, naps and warmth, victory songs, mint lace dress, old churches, old schoolhouses, adventures, allll the puppies, eos shave cream, eos lip balm, pickup trucks, finally succeeding in making non-lumpy mashed potatoes (win!), chalkboard paint, looking glass paint, friends who sound close on the phone, projects, repurposing/upcycling, French silk pie, homemade chicken and noodles, cinnamon rolls, mason jar soap dispensers, stickers, café heart-to-hearts, playing, good doctors, walks, people helping people, Carry On, Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton, polka dots and gingham, getting spoiled, coffee brought to me in bed, warmer walking weather, friends, local honey (like really local…and the best I’ve ever tasted!), plants and flowers (I cover my house with them because they won’t grow outside yet), regaining a sense of humor, the students I KNOW put on a heck of a “Crazy for You” show, art, my own art in words, when friends pray, intertwined lives (I get so sad sometimes…but my life has been so blessed by the intertwining), my KENTUCKY grad school, all the lives in the future where I might get to honorably and humbly intertwine, and that fish-hook in my heart that always leads me home ❤