Erring on the Side of Kindness

I’ve been grateful recently that in art, in the making of things, we have permission to be messy. I’ve been struggling the last few days to make myself sit down and write an entry here based on an idea I had about peace. But now I’ve deleted what I had and decided to tell you stories about my grandpa instead. He was, incidentally, probably the most peaceful person I’ve ever known.

When I was in college I spent most summers in Missouri with my mother’s parents. If you’ve hung around here long enough, you probably know that. One of the things I did, every Wednesday evening, was get in the car with my grandpa and drive him an hour southeast to a town called Moberly where he would lead a Bible study at the state penitentiary. I would sit in the local YMCA with my laptop to wait for him—it was the only time I got internet all week. As we drove we would listen to the radio or to the silence or sometimes, though he was a quiet man, Grandpa would talk. 

He told me about once when he’d driven himself to the prison and accidentally left the car running and the doors open when he went in, so that it looked like a getaway car. And he told me about his friend in the Air Force, David, who had been killed during training exercises at the end of the war. But one of the stories he told me most often was about a visit he made home to see his family when he was in college.

He went home for a weekend and visited his mother and aunt. His uncle, who was a bit of a drunk and the family black sheep, lived just across the street. This uncle happened to officially be on the outs with my grandpa’s mom and aunt the weekend he went home, so to keep the peace Grandpa didn’t go see him—just waved at him when he saw him sitting out on his porch. When the weekend was over, Grandpa went back to school, and not long after his uncle killed himself.

I’m sure my grandpa understood that his uncle’s death was not his fault, yet sixty years after the fact he repeated the story to his twenty-year-old granddaughter as if it had great hold on him. He knew he had not done what he ought. It was a story which I now suspect informed much of the rest of his life. I remember that when I started teaching, my mom advised me to always “err on the side of kindness” when dealing with my students. And that’s how he lived the rest of his life in full view of his seven children and exponential grandchildren: disregarding cruel feuds, generous to the point of seeming foolishness, willing to be taken advantage of by the least of these, erring on the side of kindness, salt and light.

The last summer I spent there, Grandpa, still his same gentle, faithful self, started seeing people who weren’t there. He saw children waiting in hot minivans who needed the door opened for them, strangers—perhaps hungry—approaching the kitchen across the back field, a boy sleeping at the end of his own bed who needed a warmer blanket. He always brought our attention to their presence in his soft voice, unwilling to make the mistake he’d made decades before, determined his uncle would not spend the afternoon alone on the porch.

But my favorite memory of my grandpa is perhaps my oldest. I was maybe five, and it was summer then too. The middle child of his middle child engulfed in a sea of visiting cousins, quiet and large-eyed. And he took me in his truck, just the two of us.

Our errand, I think, was to the slaughterhouse to pick up a side of beef that had fed on their land, but that doesn’t color my recollections. What I remember is tearing down Highway F, the little pick-up catching air at every bump. My grandpa loved speed. When we got to our destination he bought me a soda from the machine—I think it was orange—a treat which overwhelmed me. As we came back, I remember soaring over the hills once again, half-full can in the cup-holder and pop sloshing in my stomach. It’s been well over twenty years now, but I would live that ride again and again and again.

A Love Letter to July

I used to name blog entries after months much more often. In fact, if you were to dig back (please don’t) December and February actually ended up with two each over the years.

It seemed like a simple thing to do, to just say, here’s this month, for what it’s worth.  But I haven’t written like that in a while and just at present we are all in the midst of a seemingly interminable period of tension and unpredictability and confusion. There doesn’t appear to be much good reason to write about now. I’d rather hurry on past now, to be honest. I’d like to get to later as soon as possible.

But perhaps there is something valuable in taking stock of what’s currently around me, of not comparing it to my wider expectations and hopes (of which I have so, so many), of just saying, yes, okay then, this here is July. It may have strange privations and discomforts, but it has its own abundance as well.

I’ve just started a part time job in a long-term care home and my commute to West Van takes me through Stanley Park and across Lions Gate Bridge each time, inching in slow traffic through trees and low clouds and over the wide-stretching water. I get to deliver flowers to residents on their birthdays. I get to sit next to them and fill in a print out of a mandala with an unreliable set of washable markers and together we watch its petals slowly fill with color. I get to hold old ladies’ hands as I paint their nails, listen to them exclaim over and over at how nice it is to have the ugly chipped polish off, and isn’t this new red so beautiful.

On days when I’m not working, there’s blue, blue sky and sun on my shoulders and pasta salad. I get to watch my friend Lorna exclaim over every single fern in the UBC botanical garden. I get to read poetry in a backyard. I get to eat cherry jam with a spoon. I get to walk through golden summer grass in a school field that’s all going to seed and I get to take my car through the car wash. When I was a very little girl I used to be afraid of the car wash. I would cry, and a parent would hold my hand—it was dark and it roared at me from all sides. But now it is precious to me to sit alone in the dappled, swirling dim as the colorful splatter of suds is rinsed away, washes in torrents down the sides of the car, allowing the light back in. 

And friends, I get to write. I get to pile words in a heap and see what they yield.

A week or two ago, I got a card from my mom. Usually her cards have a Picasso reproduction or an old sketch from a 1940’s Vogue printed on them. But this one had only words on the front. It was a couple lines from a very tiny Emily Dickinson poem which I’d never read before: “Not knowing when the dawn will come, I open every door.”

So this here is July.

What Words Won’t Do

This August, I’m writing. I’m writing four papers (none of them terribly long), a first novel chapter, whatever bedraggled poems come begging at my door, many, many to-do lists, and now this blog entry. Hello.

Not to bore you by belaboring the obvious, but I love to write. I do not always find it easy and I rarely find it simple, but it has become to me itself a way of loving. When I see something or someone, really see properly, my first instinct is to write, to conjure out of that spot of time the requisite words, then to order and reorder them till they say the true thing and the beloved sits shining before me in verbs and vowels. Words for me, one who struggles to throw away even the most decrepit of old flannel shirts, are a means of well-ordered, small-s salvation. (You see why I’m attached.)

But, to my continual frustration, I have not been able to explain in words the sort of summer it’s really been. I’ve tried to explain: to others, to God, most often to myself. Yet I cannot, no matter my angle of attack, capture the sort of creeping growth crawling through me as of late. If I look at it, try to catch it in the act, it stops.

So I’m endeavoring to settle in and accept that. Just because I can’t articulate in words what I’ve gained in the last few months doesn’t mean I haven’t learned. (I mean sure, if I can’t properly describe such things, then clearly I’ve failed to fulfill the learning objectives as stated in the syllabus, but, lest we forget, life is not an academic exercise. Thank God.)

Though I cannot draw any succinct conclusions, and words are not arriving on their cues, I can offer a few small tokens: pictures and sounds, things you could hold in your hand for a moment or two.

There has been Pomp and Circumstance playing in a big North Carolina sanctuary and me in a soft brown dress and tired eyes stepping into the line of processing faculty as if I’d been there all along, and there has been a week or more of tires on the asphalt of the interstate: spinning round and round and round but also moving forward.

There has been that ferry ride back from Victoria in the afternoon sunshine with my mother in the seat beside me, while I clutched tight a children’s book I’ve never read before, leaning in to its last melancholy pages with every ounce I had, and there has been the trick pilot who dove and danced and generally defied death in the blue sky above English Bay a couple weeks ago, and the looks of dumb, gentle awe on the faces of the watching crowds at Kits Beach.

But most, there has been this intermittent and wandering sound of my keyboard while the traffic hums soft outside, and there has been a jar of bright, fresh-cut, wild-ish flowers bought for $5 from a homemade stand outside a quiet house on 14th Street.

There have been these things.

Patience and Long Light

We are deep in July now, and I have been thinking about patience today.

Back when I was teaching, if you had asked any of my students to describe me, probably one of the first descriptors you would have heard from almost any one of them was that: patience. Once, on a Friday afternoon in Spring, a student asked me if I had ever yelled, and all his classmates fell into an earnest, curious silence waiting for me to answer. If I had a trademark, it was patience. There were upsides to this, certainly. Being told I was patient by the ones who struggled to write an introductory paragraph and needed slow, painstaking help, by the keyed-up, anxiety-ridden ones who were used to grating on the nerves of most adults they came into contact with, by the talkative ones, the attention-hungry performers, was a compliment. I never got upset, always had the time, and that was something they could rely on every day they set foot inside my class. But being told I was patient was often also an indictment, though usually a gentle one, and I knew it. Coming from some kids, the ones who did what they were asked the first time around, who came into my class having completed every page of the reading without fail, who opened their binders to that quarter’s scripture before the bell even rang and stood ready and waiting, it meant: You let too much slide, Miss Hodgkins. Some days, your patience does none of us justice.

So when I think of patience, I often think of it in that context: the way it operates for me as a double-sided coin: a gentleness to those around me, but also an excuse, an abdication of responsibility, an escape into passivity.

But today I have been coming at the thing from another angle. Because in some ways I am not patient, for good or for ill. This will reveal the deep veins of selfishness in me which adulthood has not rooted out in the least, but whenever there is something which really directly relates to me, to my own well-being and comfort and satisfaction, I am not patient at all. Summertime reminds me of this, without fail, in its awkward, unreliable rhythms and the way we all leave town and come back only to leave again, and this one has been a particularly good example. It has been my first summer in Vancouver and sunlight here comes before I wake and lasts well past dinner. The days not only move slowly, but sometimes, despite my busy-ness, they seem to sit still. When will the sun set? When will the balance between rest and action return? When will the heart beat properly again?

So with all my annual angst and impatient kicking against the goads which mostly no one can hear but myself (and a few lucky loved ones!), I thought today of a couple of things about patience which I hadn’t before.

First, I thought that perhaps I could get a better, deeper grasp on patience, really dig into up to my elbows, if I could stop thinking of it as a virtue intended for use in the love of others, but, as perhaps all virtues ought to be, as an entrance into wisdom, a way of learning old rhythms anew. I thought that if I waited long enough, if I were patient, there might be time for something to come from very far away. So the fruit of this patience today, while my late lunch slowly cooked, was found not in the eventually browned Italian sausages but in wandering out onto the sun-dazed patio and chewing absently on a fresh mint leaf, like we used to do as little girls in our North Carolina backyard when it was a wilderness and we played at adventure. I stood still instead of straining forward, and there, on my tongue, was a gift.

But more than that, and conversely, the other thing about patience I became convinced of today was this: patience needs an object. Though we may be called to stand in the sun, we are not really supposed to do so absently. We are supposed to direct our patience toward someone. When my old friend Hopkins began a sonnet way back when with, “Patience, hard thing!” he was not really talking about the patience I directed toward my students, that we are called to offer our friends and families and neighbors. He was talking about the kind of patience which I struggle to exercise when July rolls around, about the patience you use to quell the thing gnawing in your gut. But who, pray tell, is the object of that patience? To say that it’s our own selves veers too near the realm of patience as excuse and passivity. But if we are called to stand still in a given spot and be longsuffering there perhaps the object of our patience ought the be the One who does the calling. Indeed, he may well be the Object of all virtues, and they may only ever be complete virtues at all when directed towards Him. He is the maker and breaker of rhythms, the crusher of foes and life-breather of hearts, the one who separated the light from the dark in the first place.

He is patient. Patience fills                                                                                                               His crisp combs, and that comes those ways we know.

The Souls of Things

I am home this week in the quiet and the soft, sticky heat of my parents’ house, and I have just been sorting through books. Box after box, cover after cover, my hands built up a bit of a residue with all the handling and I went reluctantly to wash them. There is nothing, but nothing, which makes me so simultaneously grateful and able to write as simply touching a whole lot of my own books. As I flick the pages they release their ghosts so quickly that the room is full in a matter of minutes. Ghosts of characters, of authors, of friends, family, teachers, of myself as a child, and, wildly and nonsensically, the ghosts of all of us in some eternal future. For these words, printed and dusty and sometimes crumbling, are already pumping through the veins of many of us, pushing us on to somewhere else.

One of them is a book I was assigned to read in undergrad. It’s by a man named Vigen Guroian and it’s called Inheriting Paradise: Meditations on Gardening. I can think of about twenty-five different people at Regent who would devour it in one sitting if they haven’t already. In fact I was startled by the number of books I was setting aside to take back to Vancouver, not because I love them, but because I know someone else would.

On Thursday night, as I waited in the Vancouver airport curled in a chair looking back out over the darkening city, I felt an unfamiliar ache realizing that though I’d only be gone for about three weeks, there were people in that place whom I would miss. And as our plane lowered itself through North Carolina’s clouds the next morning I looked down at the green and the trees and began to cry because I loved them so much, because though practically speaking they grow in clay and soil, they also somehow grow in me.

I’m getting soft in my old age. Or that’s what I thought. And then came today and the boxes of books, and I was reminded that it’s always been such. I was made soft, I think. I can pretend that I am not sentimental, that I operate efficiently and practically, up until something in my soul stubs its toe on or wraps its little finger around a tangible object in some concrete place, and then I’m toast. When I left Caldwell last year, I did not cry on the last day of school, but when, a week later, I realized that a stack of precious final assignments from past students had been inadvertently thrown out in my classroom, I drove to school in a flood of tears at nine pm, to see if I could get to the trash before the cleaning crew did. And I’ve spent the last few weeks working on a series of poems about my grandparents and though they are certainly written in memory of them, to my surprise much of what I wrote is actually about their house, their driveway, their dry summer grass.

It’s things that always get me, I suppose because I feel a kinship with their frailty. They were made with high hopes of being some use, imbued with sacred meaning and purpose, whether small like a safety pin or large like my mother’s PhD dissertation. Perhaps they were loved and valued, and perhaps they show marks of it, but inevitably, eventually, they also show marks of time and age and general thing-ly weariness. And when I was sorting books today the weariness of so many of those cracked spines made their mysterious secrets leak out in glistening dust onto my palms. Because a thing cannot spend too long in the human world, in the flickering shadow of the divine image, without becoming just a bit eternal.


Last Friday, I got home from what turned out to be a whirlwind tour of the American midwest. I was gone for only about a week and a half and in that time managed Dayton (sort of), Chicago, the Iron Range, Minneapolis, Madison, and Indianapolis (kind of).

We drove a lot. I drove a lot. On the days when it wasn’t just me in the car, and I had a back up driver roster one or more family members deep, I spent a lot of time staring at my dad’s big road atlas. I’ve always done this. From the time I was probably seven or eight I spent a lot of time on family trips leaning forward from the cramped back seat of our little minivan and asking for the atlas. It was the way we all avoided “Are we there yet?” Look–here–see for yourself–then you tell me.

For me this habit grew into a love of knowing where I am, of placing myself. I look at the map of where I am, where I’m headed, where I came from, and I trace the blue interstates that connect them like arteries, but once I’ve done that, I still don’t put the atlas down. I’ve learned to go farther afield. And this time around, beginning with British Columbia, of course, I ran my fingers over Canada: the heavy pockets of civilization in the south, thinning out into the stark ranges of the north. (Did you know that not only does Nunavut have no road access in from other provinces, but there is no reliable system of roads between its towns and settlements? Most of it is above the timber line, and you have no choice but to fly in.)

Looking at Canada for very long scared me, though. In a month and a half I am moving to the other side of a notably large continent. The bed I will be sleeping in is just under three thousand miles from the one I’m sleeping in now. I checked. And all that space scares me.

But of course the land that lies between is not just some unknowable, disembodied thing. I can know it–I do know it.

Last Thursday I left friends in Madison to head towards more friends (and my sister) just north of Indianapolis. I spent the first hour or so winding around on back roads in southern Wisconsin, and then glanced down at my phone and realized I had it set on “avoid tolls.” (Despite all my talk about the atlas, Google Maps is just easier when I’m alone.) But I didn’t mind. I accepted my fate even though it would take more gas and more time and once or twice included a gravel road. It was a hot day and the sky was very blue and the cornfields were very green.  For that first stretch, I rarely saw another car and drove on highways with letters for names. The houses and shining metal outbuildings I passed seemed settled in the soil, basking in the sun.

A few times recently I’ve found myself fancifully telling some patient listener that the British countryside (particularly what we walked through in Wales last summer) is the landscape of my soul. But as I drove those summer midwest roads I kept thinking of the commercials I used to see when my Missouri grandma would turn on the news as she cooked dinner, commercials for regional chains like Menards, boomingly announcing their home as America’s Heartland, and I know this seems silly, but for me it is. The midwest is the land of my heart. (I don’t know what this makes North Carolina–the land of my skin, the largest organ, the place I surround myself with? But I digress…)

Of course, the vast majority of my time in the midwest was spent in north central Missouri when my grandparents were still alive, and at no point on this trip did I set foot on its poor-cousin-of-Iowa soil. Instead I wandered through states which I mostly don’t know very well for themselves. But it all felt familiar.

Outside of Dayton my mom and Mary and I took a walk near our hotel and when everything dissolved to rain, we cut back through the parking lot single file, along one curb after another like children, our umbrellas held out for balance under the wide grey sky.

In Chicago we walked around U of C, trying to find the room where my parents first met. We never did find it, which perhaps made poetic sense, because it was called the Nonesuch Room.

The highways we drove were sporadically flanked with those monstrous, calm white windmills, and chains like Culver’s and A&W’s where my grandpa liked to stop to have a chocolate malted for dinner. I had never been down these particular roads before, but they tasted like home and my heart beat to the rhythm of tires on asphalt.

Of course I don’t mean to idealize the Midwest too much. After all, it was at a rest stop in Kansas when I was ten or eleven that I saw a Wanted poster for a sex offender who had escaped from state prison in the area, and then barely slept for the next few nights because I was fearfully processing the existence of human evil, perhaps for the first time. I could still give you a description of the tattoo on his chest. But the presence of wickedness does not negate the perseverance of good, and the heart beats on, yearning–sometimes self-consciously–for redemption.

After I walked out of my classroom for the last time in early June, I went downstairs with my last boxful of papers and books and told my friend that I felt a bit naked. I was leaving behind the teacher, the Miss Hodgkins, in the corner on the floor, and was stepping back out as only Alice. That’s how I left for the Midwest, stripped and small. The original point of the trip was my cousin’s wedding up way north of Duluth and the first night we got there, Mary and I went to the last evening campfire program of teen camp. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would, and we stayed for the whole thing as dusk slowly set in. Along with lots of laborious prize-giving for verses memorized and games won, we sang worship songs, and one in particular, which is notably not a favorite, stuck to my ribs. Every chorus ended with the line “Look to the sky!” And when I looked to the sky my uncomfortable nakedness and exposure, my unsteady weakness made sense. I fit, a small child in an immense and well-worn palm. I was at peace. The next night, I danced barefoot in the grass alongside my siblings and cousins because Joe and Becky were married and the sky was great above us.

I am still anxious when I think of August when I will get on a plane alone and spend a day suspended in the air between two places, but if I look down at those first flyover states I will see a place that has the power to make me calm. A place of ice cream and gravel, of dry bones and rich soil, of green-brown openness fading grey in the twilight, where they look their dead hard in the face before they bury them. It’s a place I know as well as my own breathing, that’s as close to me as the thumping chambers of my own heart.

Die before you die. There is no chance after.


If I were to tell you briefly what I miss most about studenthood, I would tell you that I miss all the measurements. I miss the measurements because back when I had them, they could tell me how I was doing. The grades told me I was doing well, or I was doing alright, or sometimes they told me “Oh no!” The comments I received along with the grades gave me other measuring words: “Excellent analysis” “Adequate reading” “Very poor introduction.” But my favorite was the way that for a student everything, good, adequate, or poor, came to an end: years, semesters, classes, papers, projects. Everything reached a point where it was finished, polished and shiny, ready to become my ancient history. I used to love the moment when they passed out the test and you put your notes under the desk: whether I had studied for fifteen minutes (which was not enough) or three hours (which, frankly, was rare) there was nothing more I could do now. I knew what I knew, and not what I didn’t. I found it easy to be a philosopher when it was up to others to decide the value of my work.

But now it is hard. I have a great deal of freedom in my job, and I am grateful for this, but it means that much of the time I am my own judge, jury, and occasionally executioner. Each day I come in, and for lack of anyone else to constantly measure me, I become the fly on my own wall as I make curriculum decisions, pacing decisions, policy decisions, grading decisions, classroom management decisions. I sit and watch myself, with the good, adequate, and “oh no!” score cards waiting in my hand, as I make second to second decisions about what words and inflection to use with the student I’m speaking to. Oh, I want to do well. I want to do well so badly that I am hard on myself, because how else will I grow? I’m terrified I might end up complacent or even delusional about my own performance. So I come into school each day, saying, “Alright, do better, Alice,” without really knowing what I mean by that. Sometimes I wonder if the standards I ask myself to meet are possible, or even definable. But I never know, because that final test that would tell me never comes.

And if school is bad then summer is worse. It is formless and quiet. By choice I spend a lot of time by myself, left to my own devices. And there’s the rub. Alone, unshowered, on a July Tuesday morning, I sit on my bed, feeling a desperate pressure to accomplish something, without entirely understanding what I mean by that. I know that it is summer, and I am free. Free to do all the things I don’t normally make time for: cook and clean and read and write and walk and talk and put on make up and spend money. The list begins to grow and overwhelm me, the Mr. Knightley I have built out of extra shards of my own conscience says “Badly done!”, and I end up watching Netflix and indulging in a self-loathing which is nothing like rest.

I say all this not to sound dire, but because this is so often the gist of my inner monologue. I want to be told that I’m doing wonderfully, and by a more reliable source than myself, but I also want to be alone, and do things my own way.

So first I must laugh at myself, because that is usually a good way to begin (and beginnings are the best endings).

And second I must repent of more than a little self-aggrandizement. I must repent of the silly belief that even if I cannot be the savior of the world, I can still be the savior of myself. I must remind myself that goodness and growth and learning come not through human effort, but through God’s grace to us.

Last, I must find a new way through. I am not a good measurer of myself, so I must find something else to measure, some other structure to lean on, to tell me the value of the work I am doing. I must hold it up to the cross, I must ask it about joy, I must find if it leads me to worship.

Philosophers have measured mountains,

Fathom’d the depths of seas, of states, and kings,

Walk’d with a staff to heaven, and traced fountains

       But there are two vast, spacious things,

The which to measure it doth more behove:

Yet few there are that sound them; Sin and Love.

Summer Update

This is going to be a little more of a vintage-Alice-blog-entry: more rambling and personal, probably not very philosophical. I guess summer brings out the nineteen-year-old in me.

I’ve been done with work for two weeks now. I’ve reorganized my bedroom, gotten a massage, accidentally made an obscene amount of corn pudding, had my oil changed, gone to a wedding, applied for a credit card, donated four bags of clothes to Goodwill, finished reading eight books (three of which I began at least a year ago, two of which were re-reads), and finished writing one (short) short story. Hello, June.

Other highlights so far have included more in-depth planning for trips to London this summer and next, getting to sit down and talk with various wonderful friends whom I almost never get to see, ordering stuff off Amazon Prime nearly every other day, and listening to heavy summer rains wash down my windows in fresh torrents.

Also, Karen moved out on Saturday. I will miss living with her and her habit of walking to my room and beginning enormous theological and cultural conversations with no preface whatsoever. Even though I have a lot more stuff than she did, it echoes here now.

The last summer I spent at my grandparents’ in Missouri was in 2014. They were not really doing very well at that point and shouldn’t have been left alone for long, but sometimes I got restless. Some nights, despite all the books I had to read and the movies I routinely rented from the Redbox at Walmart, I felt like bursting out of my skin. Everything around me seemed to be either stagnant or in decay, so I would take my grandpa’s pick-up to the Sonic in town, where I would buy a large cherry limeade. Then I would drive out into the countryside for an hour or two, down all the little highways with letters for names, and I would try to get lost out there, in the silence of the thick summer. I was never able to do it, though. No matter how far I rolled down the windows, and how the wind rushed through my hair, all my responsibilities and cares stayed in their neat little pile on my lap. I never managed not to know who and where and why I was.

Over time though, I find I mind that less. Responsibilities and cares tie me to people and purpose and community. You don’t always need to be lost to be found.

So, like I said, hello. I’m here and I’m grateful.


Learning to Live

My senior year of college I wrote a novel: one draft fall semester, and two more during the spring. When I had a deadline approaching for honors seminar I would be crouched on my desk chair till two in the morning, whispering and backspacing words on to the page, hardly noticing when my roommate came in and out. I’d be up at nine the next morning writing again: in t-shirt and sweatpants, curled in a snarl of sheets on my bed, dirty tea-mugs mounting on the stacked crates beside me. Late in the morning, I would get dressed hurriedly and head to class with a hot hole burning in my chest, because I had left my heart lying on top of my closed laptop back on my desk, still fast-beating a story. It was terrible and glorious.

The summer after I graduated, I very purposely took the summer off from any serious writing. I travelled and saw people I loved. I read a good deal. I made nervous stabs towards planning for teaching.

Then I taught.

And now there’s this summer: what with travelling and moving, this has been my first real week of it, of having the days all to myself, to dispose of however I choose. I have meant to get back to that serious writing, that state where I produce, produce, produce and walk around a little lopsided, because I have one foot on the ground and one foot stuck in the air. I meant to write for hours each day. But instead this week has confirmed for me something which I have to quietly admit to myself I already knew: I am not a creature of routine. I never will be.

I like to plan, but then I live on a whim: now I want to make myself some eggs, now I want to read a new book, now I want to take a bath, now I will do dishes, now (though it’s five-thirty) I will make my bed!

This leaves the short story that I’m working on moving slowly, painfully, in twenty-minutes-a-day starts and backfires. But college is college and this, for now, is real life. My mom and I are making a deal to keep each other accountable for writing this month, and I think that this will help.

Part of real life (if not most of it) is making do with what you have: your hands, your feet, your mind, your time, your lack, your abundance. Making all these things work for the glory of Him who loves us. Even when we submit to having all the parts of us brought together, the days we do this right, the unexpected and complex amalgamation of gifts and understandings in each of us combines to make strange little people, creatures who limp and plod along on odd numbers of legs, looking laughably like misfits. (The cloven in The Wingfeather Saga made me cry because I know that they are true.)

But what matters is not whether we look funny, but whether we are moving, and moving in the right direction, even if it goes in fits and starts and circles that don’t seem to make sense. What matters is that we walk alongside one another and that we laugh because we know the great secret. We know that we are not misfits after all’s said and done. We are “kept in grace.”

Oh, I like living. I like making do.

Cricket Neighbors and a Spread of Books

I’m at my grandparents’ in Missouri for a couple weeks, and there’s a cricket in my room. At first he was in the corner by the chair, chirping cheerily and loudly all night long. He kept me awake, but when I searched for him, I couldn’t find him, and the internet informed me that he would probably live for weeks on end. I was a little lonely after my sister left so I resigned myself and thought, “Oh, well, I guess it’s nice to have a friend.” One night he seemed to be in the closet and one night in the shower (though I was grateful to find it empty when I got in a few minutes later.) Eventually I thought there might be two of them, calling back and forth to one another about secret cricket things. I would lay awake listening, and wondering what they were saying, and generally wishing that if I was to have roommates we could maybe all be on the same sleep schedule at least one night a week.

Then on Saturday evening I was sitting in my chair reading, when my elusive friend emerged from under my bed. He was larger, uglier, and altogether looked much more like a cockroach than I thought he would. He stopped in the middle of the carpet and stared, so he may well have been thinking the same thing about me (though I know I don’t look like a cockroach.) In any case, I immediately realized that I had been deluding myself to think of him as a friend and that we would in fact always be mortal enemies while he insisted on keeping me awake at night. I lunged for him with a shoe and he retaliated by taking one great leap back under my bed.  So I turned out the light and took a less impressive leap onto the bed and under my covers. He continues just as awful every night, and I’m seriously considering moving down to the end room just to escape, even if it means having to wash an extra set of sheets.

I’ve been doing other, more valuable things than running away from crickets, though. Last night after Sally had had her fill of the game between “the Spurs and the Heats,” I watched the first bit of Ken Burns’ documentary on the Civil War to help me out with teaching next year. At first I nearly cried because it was so good, and then I settled down and took notes.

I’ve also been reading. Or, rather, spreading books all over my bed, face down, and switching between them at a hectic pace.

The Wingfeather Saga (by Andrew Peterson, yes, the one whose music you love): As I said so many times this year, I’m not normally into fantasy, but these were lovely, the footnotes in the first book particularly. If you like very large puppies, people who can fly, and noble twelve-year-olds, you will like this. (I would guess it also has a niche market with people who hate cows and forks.) The fourth and last installment comes out later this summer and I’m pretty excited.

Between, Georgia (by Joshilyn Jackson, worth it for her first name alone): I found this in the massive Ed McKay’s in Chattanooga. I enjoyed it. It was worth the time I spent reading it. Now go find your own summer novels at McKay’s.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being (by Milan Kundera, that Czech man): I’m part way through this. I like the bits about the one character’s crass mother, but every time he goes back to talking about all these love affairs that all these neurotic people are having with each other and obsessing over, I get bored. Probably won’t finish it.

Radical Femininity (by Carolyn McCulley, whom I know nothing else about): I’m not a huge fan of the title. (As my dad says “I only like the word radical in math. It actually means something there.”) But I like the history in it very much and wish there was more of it. Also only halfway through, so the verdict is still out.

Home (by Marilynne Robinson, she of Gilead fame): I’m enjoying this. I like Glory. I like her father. I like John Ames. I like their little town. But here’s the thing: they’re all preoccupied with and fascinated by Jack Boughton and his sudden reappearance, and I’m not. I’d like to move along and hear about Glory’s divorce and other things that are not Jack. But then again, I’m halfway though. We’ll see what happens.

Mere Christianity (by C.S. Lewis, of course): I don’t think I’ve read this since high school and I’m very pleased to be coming back to it again. It’s my grandparents’ copy, but I’ve been sneakily marking the bottoms of pages for bits I want to copy down. Hooray for truth.

After I’ve finished wading through all of these to my satisfaction, I plan on rereading all the Little House books for the first time in a very long time, and then moving onto Robinson’s Housekeeping (not about Jack Boughton! Hurrah!) and the “spiritual biography” of Flannery O’Conner that Mary got for me. Please write me a letter and tell me what you’re reading, in great detail. I will add it to my list and perhaps get to it in five or ten years.