The Power of Story

What a series. We lit some dynamite this week, didn’t we? I had looked forward to introducing the all-star band of storytellers who had so much to teach us but they were the ones to be astonished by the level and depth of your response. Watching the relationships unfold was wonderful.

The success of the series Outsider, Looking In made me think again about the power of storytelling. Why would most of us – even a nerd like me – rather read a story than a textbook? Even to the point of spending years making them up for the hours it takes to read something called fiction? It’s as simple as that we are less lonely when we open ourselves to the world of another human being. Information alone doesn’t give us a sense of attachment or community. Which is why you have the social misfit geniuses, their mind plenty enlarged. Stories engage and expand our spirit. We don’t just get smarter. We can become more compassionate. There is a kind of osmosis that takes place between storyteller and listener. Attending one another’s burdens opens windows of insight in our heart. Textbooks offer answers but stories take us into the mystery we call life and lend us courage to live the uncertainties.

Something I admired about our guest writers this week is the way they came to be able to reject self-pity and take ownership of the ball waiting in their court. Self-pity is lonesome. When you’re unbalanced, the loudest voice you hear is your own. Not rocket science that The World vs. Poor Me dirge leaves us in a pretty sad minority.

I thought it’s time to spell out something I’ve wanted to for a long time now. Those who’ve been with me a while can finish my mantra, that I hate to take up anyone’s time. I’ve been busy writing on the questions we all ask, turning over rocks we might use for stepping stones, the songs we all have laughed or cried. But I never expected such deep healing joy and comfort from my readers, times the holistic journey became rough going this side of the blog. It is a wonder. The fragments in my head that struggle for light make themselves out to readers around the world who let me know in my bones that they get me, are in my corner. With my pen and notebook, and here, right here on this screen is one place I have found I belong. And I have felt such love and affection for you.

They will reveal the poetry and the pain of our humanity, sting your eyes with watery memories you wish were less clear, kill, steel your resolve, breathe life, take your breath away with their holy offering of beauty. They will, just words.

Insider Looking Out?

I got in a reader request today. She wanted to hear from the insiders. My questions for them:

So who of you grew up feeling you were an insider? Where or what group did you feel a part of? Was it by race or class? If not, was it tiring to maintain your status, stay “cool”? How deeply did this sense of belonging define you? Did you notice those who were outside or on the fringe? Did the easy belonging feed or diminish insecurity? Have you found yourself working harder to fit in anywhere over the years?

Having trouble disabling the likes. Be glad I don’t come to fix your computer or fridge.

Seven Signs You’re a V.I.P. Blogger

1. You laugh and cry with people you’ve never met. And if anyone tells you they’re not real friends, you know which friend is on his way out.

2. You feel like a superhero. Not because you’re out at night saving the world but because you have this whole other identity, a life some friends have no idea you live.

3. You burn your third pot in a month, preoccupied with the new post bubbling in your head. No one can get too upset when you’re…inSpiRed.

4. You have not only given up on the dishes but quit stressing that they’re in full view of guests. No time, no pride, no shame.

5. “Sorry? I don’t follow” or “You follow?” isn’t something you can say in cyberspace anymore.

6. Your vibes with bloggers are in sync. Just when you’re thinking of a reader, a like from the dear soul comes whizzing through.

7. You’re reading this blog. (Reader’s suggestion on Ten Signs You’re a Real Blogger. I will say it again: I have the best readers!)

Do You Love Your Blog?

We make a thousand choices each day. What to wear, what to eat, how much, which errand to run first, how to get there, what to say. Ever notice how one simple decision ushers you into a world of unforeseen events, some that are life-changing? In the aftermath of the accident you think, “Why did I have to turn on that street today?” March 6th last year, I brought over to WordPress the handful of posts I had started loading on Tumblr. Little did I know. I would never be the same on the Holistic Journey after putting up that first post Lessons from my 30s.

For the love you’ve already shown me, I had wanted to celebrate AHJ’s birthday in quiet. But I decided to share some thoughts on blogging.

BIRTH PAINS
I wish I could whip out posts like cowboys with their pistols. I have asked a lot of myself here. Every post is a birth. I don’t write for your respect or like but feel I must bleed to earn it. Even if it’s just a paper cut. Has to be the masochistic Korean in me. Some posts I’ve spent months preparing. I have asked through many of them why in the world I was exacting a college paper from myself. I think, squint, think some more, hush the groaning in my brain. And after handing you the gift I prepared with love, I crash. Am physically drained after clicking publish.

WHY I SUFFER
How can I not? Why would I not give you my best? You fit my holistic journey into the countless choices you make in your week. The question of why it is we do what we do as bloggers came up in a conversation with a reader. I contemplated it and discovered my reason was curiously one that many men would have. Impact. You know how women are supposed to derive satisfaction most from relationships and men from a sense of significance? Obviously the goals are not mutually exclusive, and I’m not done talking about this community. But isn’t the angle many men and women approach people and work from interesting? I was able to distill my purpose in blogging to the extraordinary satisfaction of making an impact, in whatever way that happens. No real surprise, actually. Like many men, I’d rather have respect than love. Yeah, you can imagine how it pleases my husband to tap my soft side (reLiEf). I have written so that my words would land somewhere and do something. Otherwise I would’ve kept to a journal. I have written also because I couldn’t stop once I started. I’ve gone about the past year more inspired than I could handle. CPU overload. The floodgates had burst.
Gold
IT’S GOLD
Many say they blog because they like to socialize. The relationships that gave me new life have been an unexpected reward for what I’ve put into the writing. The connection with my readers is so magical I’d have to call it alchemy. There are more than words in this place. There’s a couch, with a box of Kleenex. It hit me recently that the couch was for me, too. It wasn’t just readers who walked away with food for thought. You have given me much to ponder, reconsider. I have a treasury of insight and wisdom under every post to revisit when I need to. Gold. You’ve made me a rich woman. Do you love your blog? I shamelessly confess I love mine because my readers have turned it into what it is and I love my readers. Why should you like it if I didn’t myself? While having fun sharing some old posts with Opinionated Man‘s crowd, I put out The Power of Unstoppable Love for you here. And you responded. You didn’t know how good it felt to be home.

I was speaking to all my readers, which means you, in my last post on his main blog this week. I wanted to save your read for today:

I don’t hear just the song and the band when I play an artist. I observe the inflections that say it’s Celine. I hear Josh Groban’s breath between the lines. And breath is something you more than hear. It’s something you feel.

I’ve noticed in the past year how up close blogging brings you. I mean this even of posts that do not divulge personal stories. It’s the nature of writing. The voice, inflections, color of your words reveal so much of how your mind works, who you are, where your heart is. I feel the writer’s breath, his laugh, her cry. I’ve seen how high your sky is, how deep your night. When I see a reader on my Stats burrow into my archive, I almost want to cover myself. Hug my chest. He’s digging to know me better. He lifts page after page of my mind. Her understanding of the things deeply important to me will grow clearer with each post. She hears my voice. All to say, I have really enjoyed my time with you. Thanks for caring to read – and as many of you have, for doing it so faithfully.

My final song on mike, Curtain Call, I dedicate to you. It goes like this. If the curtain were to close on you in some way and the post you’re working on turns out to be your last, would you be pleased with your content and presentation? Would you be glad you got to tell your story? Did you leave us something worthwhile? Even a good laugh is a saving reminder of the joy of lightness. Make your posts meaningful or fun for yourself so that it’ll be meaningful and fun to us. Are you inspired, excited by your art or photography? Then you can hope we will be. Make the most of the time and attention on you, and the endless potential for connections from your post.

If we were each writing in our own cubicle with no way to visit one another – bring a cup of coffee – we know blogging would be a whole other experience. Pen name or no, you want to be known. Want to know you matter. So you splay your heart, asking us to feel its pulse. Make your posts matter, then. My readers don’t stop by my cubby with feedback on my posts. I’ve cleared the walls and we sink in the couch, our circle, with lots of pen and paper and the light in our eyes. While blogging has threatened to detract from the duties of living, my writing through this beautiful intimacy has been my living. My breath.

I’ve given you myself. I hope it was enough.

What If You Weren’t Afraid?

Fear dictates a lot of what we do, say, and don’t. Over the years, my husband and I have peeled back the face of harsh words, avoidance, and everything in between to lay bare this tyrant in the heart. The things I want from him will often lead back to my fear of finding myself out in the cold with hat in hand. In those moments I’m the little girl her parents let down, even while I now understand that they had done their best. Holistic Husband will hesitate to share with me what he really thinks, afraid of rejection. I am short with my boy for shedding clothes outside because I am afraid he will get sick. Not a 100 pounds, I could not relate to anyone with eating disorders. Until a few years ago when I showed myself I could overeat. I knew better. I was the health and nutrition consultant among moms, with over a decade of study under her belt. The worst thing you can do with your food is do too much of it. I realized something wild. Though my husband spared no expensive to meet our needs, the compulsive eating started from fear of going hungry.

There are many things we hold back from trying, scared to fail. We worry about what others will think and end up spouting dumb words or holding back when we should speak up. The wind of peer pressure blows on our kids everyday, right through the morning window when they decide what to wear before pushing them toward and away from other kids.

How would these things look different in your life, if you were not afraid?

Your relationship with your sweetheart
How you parent
The people you tend to befriend
The relational boundaries you draw
How passive or aggressive you are in conflict
How often you say no
How and why you study
What you would say in a job interview
Where you work
How you work, the hours you put in
Your relationship with your self, in exercise or ways you nurture your body and spirit
Your eating
Your career
Your blogging
Your art
Your dance
How and what you write
What you buy
The goals you set
Add your own.

Feel free to think before getting back to me.

How to Succeed as a Blogger – But This May Not Work For You, Part 1

This is one post I did not see coming. When a reader recently asked how I built my “vibrant community in such a short time” and solicited a “how-to”, I thought of the reasons I’m not the ideal blogger to be offering advice. While I’ve been blessed with a dynamic readership, my numbers are not something power bloggers would dignify with a sneeze. I also was as clueless as they come to the blogging world, and got off to a fairly slow start. I didn’t understand what the Reader was, took weeks to learn how to manage my dashboard, did not know to tag my posts (correct, I did not tag them), reparably broke my Follow me widget, had no idea bloggers reached out to one another. Precisely because my learning curve had nothing to do but shoot up, I decided I do have something to say after all. I will share in Part 1 the choices I have made in the blogging and talk more in Part 2 about how this responsive community grew.

Define Yourself
I’ve done network marketing, and appreciate the importance of goal-setting and positive thinking. But I’m just not one to determine I will have X number of followers by such and such time. A part of me remains in awe of people, both in and outside the virtual realm, who will their aspirations into being. Here are a few reasons I don’t dream to the moon as a blogger:

1) My cautiousness against presuming upon my life circumstances
2) Realism. The simple math in my weekly allowance of blogging hours. After Day 5 of not being able to put out my next post, I’m one ornery wife as is.
3) A different purpose. In what I like to speak of as an organic process, I discovered my blog would be an art gallery – at least an attempt at one. Not with paintings or photographs, but words. And so the way I give birth to my posts fits that vision. If I had to choose between searching for the perfect word and befriending 20 new bloggers in a given window of time, there would be no competition. Because my goal isn’t to bust the roof on my stats. My art will always trump the blogging. This is the act that disqualifies me from any chance at power bloggerdom. Not to say the celebrities among us don’t write well because you obviously can’t attract and sustain a massive following without good content. But those rocketing through the virtual stratosphere will not get hung up over a word. Most people won’t because it isn’t smart to. It’s the romantic in me. The Starving Artist Syndrome. I believe the readers will come, as they have – those who will think with me, drink words with me. Would Hemingway have spent his time marketing himself before perfecting a story? Just heard the man turn over in his grave, swearing at the comparison to a ten-month-old blogger. My writing isn’t perfect, and I continue to go back and touch up old posts. My husband withholds the “like” where his wife falls short of his expectation. Now, of course like any one of us I would love to speak to an audience ten times larger. But numbers will not woo me from my beloved word, a writer’s dream and duty to self.

One of the first rules from Blogging 101 is to identify a clear motif for what we want to share, along with our target audience. In my earliest days, I read enough warnings against keeping my topics broad as I have. I took a chance and look back, grateful I got away with it. I managed to because while my blog was open-ended, I was not aimless. The intensity I had to pack up and ship back to New York when I settled in the easy West I was able to reroute to cyberspace and put to work for me. I could go all out on my blog, simply be the woman who would much rather sit in on a college lecture than a baby shower.

I’m speaking of what’s consistent with my ability, nature, and temperament. It will be a different story for others. Many bloggers are and want to be more carefree and freewheeling. We need four of you for every one of me. Make the fun spirit and fluid energy work for you. As hard as I dig my heels in on some issues, I haven’t built this blog upon rants because I don’t want you coming near only to hear me yell all the time. I want to stay more measured. A philippic of a post that’s been sitting in my drafts pile will be a rational appeal as much as an emotional one when it’s published. I don’t bother sharing what new gizmo my husband got and don’t put up photos of breathtaking places in CA. I screen post possibilities through the grid of my goal, which is to elicit as much mileage out of the limitless potential we enjoy to sharpen one another, provoke thought, examine truth, celebrate beauty. The purpose might sound good to you but perhaps you’ll want to achieve this through a medium other than words.

But Don’t Just Be Yourself
I’ll be talking about the social aspect of blogging in the next segment but once people happen to swing by your site, you need content that impels visitors to become readers, right? Else, they will drop in and drop right back out. I never set out to capture followers in the writing. I don’t think you can decide you’re going to produce a post that will make others want to read and stay. I just write. Like my life depends on it. What gets you up in the morning, inspires you during the day, keeps you up at night? If what you want to share with the world does not light your eyes, you can’t expect it to strike anyone else’s gut or funny bone. Why should people follow your chronicle of pain, emotional or physical? How does your photography or drawing stand out? I am not speaking from the angle of competition. You are already unique as a person. How does your blogging bear your thumbprint? Don’t just be yourself. Be yourself in the fullest. For me, this means the 20th draft. I’m sorry that the bloggers who have collaborated with me know this is no exaggeration. Take the compulsion for the best word, every post signed in blood; and the desire to encourage others along the examined life, and what you have is A Holistic Journey. What are the defining characteristics of your blog and why do they matter?

I decided to include this part I pulled six drafts ago, afraid to come across boastful. It makes a glaring point. When I was a few months old on WordPress, Promise wrote me and Opinionated Man a word of respect and affirmation, asking for blogging advice. Promise held me up right alongside the blogger who’s in a class all his own. Needless to say I was flattered. My following amounted to a speck of dust swallowed up by OM’s thousands. I was something out of the Jurassic era unprepared for postmodern cyberterrain. What I hope to make illustrative is that the wonderful reader obviously considered OM and me successful in very different ways. How can anyone really tell you how to prosper out here when there are over 74 million WordPressers, each sui generis? Be who you are – but I mean, at your best. Find your best. This is what I ask of myself both to please the mirror and make it worthwhile for my readers. Locate your mission and be all you.

disarmed the sun

she bathed in sweat just
from breathing, shoulders 
rouge in the evening blaze

        as she balanced on the edge
                                     of hope

        the decisive rain
        disarmed the sun,
        a zealous s t u t t er
        that drenched her to a start

        and she smiled

                   as she fell headlong into
                                             expecta
                                                      tion

FacetoSky

The Writing Process II, Part 4: Why We Read

books-on-a-shelf4With every post here, I turn my nose up at her who’s bold enough to take minutes of your life. I make her answer, “Who cares?”

Your response has not only motivated me to do justice to my readers’ time, but made me contemplate the reading process. In all the talk about how to write, I began thinking about why we even try, then backtracking to why we read. According to Stephen King, “The real importance of reading is that it creates an ease and intimacy with the process of writing.” (On Writing) What I want to understand, though, is not the intellectual benefits of reading, but why we take such pleasure in it. We are preoccupied with Self. We are not dying to hear out another preoccupant who yaps without giving us a word edgewise. But we love a good story, romance or gore.

Among the highest compliments you can earn is that your work made me laugh or cry. A physical response. I watch the guys in the octagon at the gym. Their blows land with impact. To think – words can do just that.  Some time back, a post by Prashant cut open a deep, quiet wound. Good writing. A fizz of chemical reaction between me and the words. If we were able to maintain our distance, remind ourselves it’s just a poem or piece of fiction, we wouldn’t respond with our body, sensibilities, memory. King says, “The object of fiction is…to make the reader welcome and then tell a story…to make him forget, whenever possible, that he is reading a story at all.” That your writing drew someone in is high praise. As a teenager, I sought out this transformed reality in the proverbial escape into books away from my unhappiness. We like to lose this world, our very self, in a good book. But reading isn’t just anesthesia or a verbal trip to the theme park. We’re not only running from something, in many cases, but running to.

RECOGNITION
King says, “If you want to be a successful writer, you must be able to describe it, and in a way that will cause your reader to prickle with recognition.” Effective writing often taps our autobiography. It sights the strands in the reader’s own story – of love, sacrifice, heartache, mystery – and yes, we feel the tug. I recently finished Notes from the Underwire, former child actress Quinn Cummings’ account of her adventures from the early years into motherland. You’re hard-pressed to flip a page without laughing but in the chapter on the dog I would otherwise care little for, I couldn’t help tearing up. Through the fun description of the mutt she adopted and trained, she took me through the pain of losing him. Cummings made me care, speaking into my experience of the regret of mistakes, of loss, of coming up short. This response from one who will let her son get a tattoo before he does a pet. It was one of the most poignant chapters in the book.

When we’re happily settled in even the cheap paperback fling, it’s not only because we daydream the thrill of courtship but because it answers our inmost longing to be romanced by life. The horror genre? Apart from how interesting he is to read of, the boogeyman is someone we all know. We’ve all been afraid. Whether of a person who haunts you or the voice in the dark that murmurs you’re not good enough. King says he writes so the reader can lift the truth from the web of his fiction. We love suspense for the unpredictability it mirrors of our life, the questions we live daily. Why is the battle between good and evil a classic theme and not a cliché? We don’t tire of it because justice is the assent of the spirit, redemption its cry.

But we want more than the reflection of our own tale, especially when there is so much of the painful in it. Compelling writing also echoes the story under our story. It is the yearning for the distant country C.S. Lewis saw, the hopeful suspicion that the five mortal senses are not the arbiter of reality. And just behind the familiarity, we discover possibility.

POSSIBILITY
Suffering and beauty lift us out of self-absorption to something greater than ourself. Even humor, a touch of beauty for its dip into joy, helps us get over our bad self for the moment. There is lightness. Life isn’t all about shuffling along under a load. We can set it down. Trust that Someone or something’s got our back – God or friend or peace with self. When we hope or even fear as we ought from the lessons of literature and poetry, we realize a fresh reverence. Privy to the vast range of possibilities ancient and modern tales disclose, we learn new ways of responding to challenges and can exchange the load for a dream.

AND SO, THIS THING CALLED WRITING
Why show, not tell? Why go to lengths to paint it in a poem or novel when you can simply say She was beautiful. It was horrific. The universe takes my breath away? Not only do these declarations fall flat, they are inadequate. It is the ironic insufficiency of the human word that has seen writers and sages from the first incarnate Whisper scrambling to describe the fullness of experience so those on the other side of the story can see, hear, feel for themselves. If you take this illustration for egoism, I’ll risk it: I was taken aback yesterday by a comment that my poem – know? was “satisfying.” It resonated with me as a commendation every writer would embrace, while inviting survey. Webster’s top three definitions of satisfy:

1. to fulfill the desires, expectations, needs, or demands of; give full contentment to
2. to put an end to (a desire, want, need, etc.) by sufficient or ample provision
3. to give assurance to; convince: to satisfy oneself by investigation

God knows I never imagined the poem fulfilled anyone’s needs. I considered it decent enough to share when it sufficiently confided my mystified reverence for the Mystery that makes itself plain but remains inscrutable. But my thoughtful reader Monica found the pulse of the human heart. We hope from – even demand of – our reading that it deliver us from the tyranny of the mundane. There is more to life than these four walls. And the soul sings – in reader and writer – to envision something larger behind that corner up ahead. It is the Narnia adults follow kids into.

Writing with you has been magical.

Guest Post – Five Mistakes I Made as a New Blogger

Holistic Wayfarer:

Of course I’d share these with you. Hope they’re helpful!

~HW

Originally posted on HarsH ReaLiTy:

I’m still relatively new out here but I was your poster blogger for clueless newbies a year ago. I wasn’t familiar with blogs; it was a friend who introduced me to WordPress. Once he sat me in my dash and taught me how to pilot the thing, I just wrote like I was drunk. Well, writing is one thing but getting it out there another. These are some things I wish I’d known in the cyberworld fresh off the ship from Earth.

1. Don’t wait last-minute to come up with a good title. After putting in all that thought and time into the post, I would scrounge for a good title just before publishing. There were times I didn’t do justice to the text just because I hadn’t prepared. I’ve since learned: good title, good views. It’s our first – and possibly last – shot at inviting a reader in. It…

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Guest Post – Sex in the City

Holistic Wayfarer:

My turn to guest author. Perverts, crime, cutting school. Come see what the early part of my wayfaring was like in New York.

~HW

Originally posted on HarsH ReaLiTy:

I agree New York City is a great place to visit. But I could no longer live there or think about raising my son where I grew up. Even as young as five or six into the elementary years, I was on guard against flashers. The police went on the hunt one time, had a WANTED sketch out of the guy. His face, not the part he was flashing. So no, my childhood was not very innocent. Halloween brought the most nerve-wracking seven minutes of every year in Junior High. My friends and I braced ourselves on the bus as we pulled up in the afternoon. Sometimes we’d see the older kids waiting, raw eggs or Nair hair remover in hand. You know we ran home. I was about fourteen, home with my younger brother one day when someone tried our doorknob. Through the peephole I saw a Hispanic man…

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Guest Post – Make Him Feel Like a Man

Holistic Wayfarer:

Have we forgotten how to be men, how to be women? My two cents.

Originally posted on HarsH ReaLiTy:

You wait for him to text or email. You distract yourself with TV and Facebook. You wait. And wait. Oh, forget this.

You text him.

You suggest meeting up. “Uh, I’m not sure about that weekend. I might be out with the guys that Saturday,” he answers. No problem. You’re free Sunday. Or how about Tuesday after work?

Ladies, that is the problem. You are free. Free, when he’d rather you cost him something.

Men want a distance to have to travel to reach us. On wheels or across cyberspace through words he shoots you in hope. It’s the dream of being a knight, vaguely but deeply printed in their gene code. Lady Catarina didn’t rap on Sir Beef Biceps’ door to pick him up on horseback. And it’s not just physical distance I’m talking about. If you throw up all over the poor guy your deepest longings, give away…

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My Misfit Brain

One sunny afternoon I went to a family and friends’ celebration, and I wanted the earth to swallow me whole. I’d that very week been diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety; nobody there knew. Those at the gathering were celebrating religious and political beliefs that were virtually opposite to my markedly less conservative views. I was invited as a relative, and never knew if they really thought I shared their views or if it just didn’t matter. There was a lot of Bible reading, text interpreted to support favorite right-wing politicians. Many emotional speeches on the rightness and beauty of the group’s beliefs also implied that divergent views were stupid, evil or both. I wished I could disappear.

Mental health problems are inconvenient, messy, embarrassing. Incompatible philosophies and tastes, maybe even political or religious views, are sometimes socially acceptable as matters of personal leanings. But being exceedingly depressed or anxious? Lots of people would rather avoid or deny such things, and wish that mental-health patients, even functional ones like me, would keep quiet about it and get over ourselves.

Instead, I got help. I’m very lucky. I have terrific supporters, good doctors and meds. I’ve also recognized that I was already on the fringe before feeling so excluded at that long-ago party; that week’s personal crisis merely magnified it.

Feeling like such a misfit at the party simply exaggerated the real reasons I was miserable: severe depression and anxiety. Apparently I don’t have the balanced body chemistry that lets most people cope rather casually with everyday life. I think that every car on the road is about to crash into me; I have panic attacks in utterly benign situations; I believe everyone around me will reject me if they find out I’m so broken. My logic argues with my anxiety that this is all absolutely ridiculous, yet doesn’t always win.

The support and treatment have been great. I’m not ‘cured’ of being different this way, but for the most part I manage fine. Still, there will always be another odd-one-out party, another trial that seems gigantic though logic reminds me that being odd or upset is inconsequential.

What saved the day for me was to join the children. I discovered a wonderful kind of grace there: the littlest kids don’t care who believes what or who seems left out. While the adults bonded over joys I could never share, I wanted to escape to the car to nurse the emotional paralysis of my terrors in private. Instead, I slipped out to the front porch and sat on the swing in the safer company of kids, and we chattered aimlessly about how much cake and ice cream we all planned to eat. They didn’t care whether I seemed normal or grown-up, or not. Next party, I’ll be heading straight for the porch.

Kathryn at Art-Colored Glasses