It’s Your Fault

Before you hit that like button, know that I’ve disabled it under the post. So if you tap it on your notice, I’ll know you didn’t read. I feel bad getting all these likes. Wondering if it’s the Korean in me.

The ballooning comments to When Parenting Sucks makes me think I should put out When Marriage Sucks. Any other ideas? Maybe When Christian Music Sucks.

I’d better hop off before I’m boycotted.

I love you, Husband!

When Parenting Sucks

I’m going to regret this post. I’ve avoided rants on this blog for a number of reasons, among them my great dislike for the word rant. It rubs me the wrong way, especially in its overuse. If the word is a big part of your blog, please don’t take offense. You shouldn’t care what I think. I’m only me. Well, I never imagined my first tirade would be about my sweet, amazing seven-year-old. But if it must, it’s really about myself. Days like this, I’m mystified – in fact, undone – by this beast called parenting. Because I come up short.

I’d just like to stay human as I find myself relegated to a parrot in my home. I tell my boy eight times to do his math. Six times to come here. Seven, to clean up his stuff. By the third repeat, he should hear the aggravation rising. On the fifth, the mercurial red transmutes into its auditory counterpart commonly known as yelling. Dear Christian reader, kindly pause before you start composing your advice. You might spare yourself the trouble. We don’t have to force our relationship. I know I’m not doing it right. I know I should pray with and for my son more. I know it’s his parents’ job to train him to obey promptly, cheerfully. It’s a gulf between knowing and practice. I sat in on the best parenting Bible studies as early as my college days. I was geared up for this, signed up ready to lay it all down.

All, that is, except myself.

I need to get out of my own way so that it’s not so personal when I’m ignored. It’s not about my demands that must be satisfied. I want my child to submit to authority higher than his mother’s. To Playroomdevelop a sense of honor and a work ethic that lasts beyond twenty golden minutes of fresh resolve after the tears, brokenness, I’m so sorrys and I’ll work harders. On his third plea for forgiveness and promise to take lessons seriously, all noble intentions in the parenting evaporate in the indignation that this kid is not listening to me, is wasting my time. I explained to him today why I’m always driving him to work when it’s time to work. Time is one thing you can’t get back like the toy you lent a friend. You let it go and it’s gone for good. “Why can’t you listen when I’m nice?!” It’s a rational appeal my wide-eyed boy can’t answer in word or deed. Why is something so simple so illusive? I’m all angst because the question bears implications for his character. You said you want to grow up and have seven kids, Tennyson. How are you going to take care of them – make money like Daddy – if you don’t build good work habits, build your mind? I worry that you are so comfortable. Daddy and I didn’t have a giant playroom like you do. I never even had my own room. You have more toys than we ever counted in our dreams. But it’s not his fault he has a spacious house, has all his needs met. How to keep him thankful for all the blessings? All I know is somebody‘s working in a soup kitchen when he’s a teenager. And here I am talking about gratitude when there are women who’d give their left arm to be a mother. We’ll always find something to be unhappy about.

P1070961So we’re out almost everyday for his mixed martial arts classes. Then there are the art, drum, swimming lessons. Between my time outside and the cooking inside, this is my kitchen. Everyday. If I attempted an offense against the dishes beyond the minimal defense of trying to eke out the bowls we needed for the day, I couldn’t touch this blog. I packed Tennyson’s swim things and snack this morning and rushed to boil his eggs, steam his sweet potatoes for lunch so they’d be ready the minute the “I’m hungry” came out of his mouth at noon. Fatigue tattooed in my bones, I served up lunch and after, told him to come read to me. I said it three times. After a month, a year of this, I was fed up. Am I asking too much? I’m surrounded by moms who talk like they’re broken record players. Many employ my favorite of parenting tricks: “I’m going to count to three…” Nice, teach the little ones to delay obedience. I refuse to be one of these women. At the same time, I can’t help feeling pathetic blaming a child for my failings in all of this. Unless kids have some disability of sorts, they do or don’t do what they have learned is allowable. And I have a pretty easy kid. He’s wonderful on the whole, isn’t ornery, doesn’t throw tantrums.

On the way home from his art class this afternoon, I told him I called the local school. As of tomorrow he no longer homeschools. Yes, I lied. (This is where you unfollow if you were on the fence. I agree. It’s a sham I want to teach my boy integrity.) He will learn to learn and we can be happy as mother and son. Tennyson flipped out. In helpless fear, he retorted, “I’m just going to run away!” Right. Leave your palace, your stash of 1001 toys, and the mother whose life revolves around your sumo wrestler’s appetite. I pulled over, pushed the button to slide open the door of the minivan. “Get out. Go.” He stayed put, then burst into tears looking older than his years. He unbuckled and stumbled over to me, “Umma, I’m so sorry. I’ll do my work. Pleeease.” And half-contorted himself to be able to wet my head with kisses – generously spilling the canteen of water in his hand. I told you to place it by the window!

P1070654Tennyson, you can’t know how desperately I want to crawl out of this body, disappear and place a wiser, more easy-going woman in front of you. Someone not hung up about how things should be. You’re growing and I’m just not sure how to teach you life is not a playground. I know that by the time you read this you’ll remember how I made you feel more than the facts I taught you. I just hope you’ll still be my famously happy boy.

On Poetry

Crack
       open time

Poetry sifts the moment

The lyric of dreams
       aborted hope
            hearth of pain

Poetry is the  space  between
          the noise outside  and  my voice

Poetry reasons

          is intention 
      question
   assurance
a luscious joy 

Jealous for beauty 

Poetry, watercolor memory
surfaces to clear lines, light

Poetry
       is breath

womanwater1

Your Place in the Virtual Revolution

This post is for parents, bloggers, Facebookers, anyone who’s stuck a foot out on Cyberland. In our talk about belonging, we seemed to think in terms of the social Haves and Have-nots. Many of you spoke of the self-consciousness of often feeling on the fringe. Some shared you were too fat or too this or too that to fit in, others that you never even figured out why you always seemed to find yourself on the outside. I wanted to bring to attention something that’s as right in your face as the computer or phone screen in front of you. The Internet has given every one of us the power to lead. It has made us all insiders.

It’s a new day, a global Do-It-Yourself culture everyone with online access is privy to. YouTube alone is an open platform where anyone can catapult himself into stardom and not hurt himself trying. You can post the silliest, quirkiest, most informative videos and reach thousands in the least – and make as much in dollars. My husband has had the opportunity to monetize his funky YouTube tutorial on how to make Man Kimchee (kimchee made by a man, unheard of in Korean culture. No, I didn’t edit the instructions. See? You can toss basic grammar out the window and still have a shot at good money). We all have watched publishing, newspaper, music conglomerates groan as they caved, giving up a share of the power to self-publishers and bloggers. Cyberspace has become the Great People’s Republic. Alongside the question of copyright; space, boundaries, relationships have redefined themselves yielding a new profile on leaders. Here’s a snippet of a TED Talk from Squidoo.com’s founder Seth Godin and my thoughts on the traits he believes leaders have in common:

1. They challenge the status quo. I’ve observed that high achievers in any field are always on the move, eyeing the next benchmark or creating one. They’re never static.
2. They build a culture. Leadership is less about giving orders as it is about connecting people over shared values and goals. It is the worldwide web, after all. Tribes are no longer bound by geography, no longer have to adapt to the dictate of seasons. Virtual tribes can build community across distance and time, and determine their own climate.
3. They have curiosityabout the people in the tribe, about outsiders. They’re asking questions.
4. They connect people to one another. Do you know what people want more than anything? They want to be missed. They want to be missed the day they don’t show up. Seth wasn’t clear if he meant that leaders help people feel valued or if they themselves end up missed where they leave a vacuum. But I found this a fascinating point. We want to know we count, don’t we?
5. Finally, they commit. To the cause, to the tribe.

Seth also describes leaders who have risen from the masses by sheer drive, people who outside their success are socially awkward. “You don’t need charisma to become a leader. Being a leader gives you charisma. You know, Bill [Gates] has a lot of trouble making eye contact. Bill has a lot of trouble getting a room of strangers to come around to his point of view. But now, because of the impact his foundation has had, people feel differently around him.” Interesting. People are drawn to success. Social Have-nots can actually get.

Seth points out that you don’t need permission to lead. I would add, to make a difference. “I’m not the best blogger there ever was, but I’ve been persistent at it. Anyone could’ve done what I did. But they didn’t. And we keep making the same mistake again and again where we say, Oh no, no. That’s not for me. Someone else is going to do that one. [We make] excuses from fear.” So it seems all that’s left if you hope for a voice and an audience is to deny yourself the fear and get out of your own way.

Last Sunday I hit 1000 likes on my About. A part of me finds it a pretty remarkable milestone for someone who didn’t know which way was up when she started out. If I can do this without the aid of other media platforms, you can get along farther than you think. But the rest of me isn’t starry-eyed about my numbers. Partly because I’m too tired to be impressed, partly because others out here have done that and more, partly because you quickly adjust to your new heights and press on to higher ground. Like those who’re not satisfied with just one medal, title, or mission. This last feeling is a point of transformation all its own for me because I’m not a born dreamer. I went wide-eyed as a baby blogger, seeing 200 follows on a board. And wow, how’d she rack up 75 likes? I wondered. But I’ve come to a point where I’m not concerned about the numbers anymore. They’re nice but they’ll take care of themselves. My focus is on delivering the goods and on my relationship with you. As for authenticity, at that time my About page walked itself right out of my head, decided it had to live. What in your life insists on its own breath? Give it sun and air. I plan to support my son in just about anything he wants to pursue when he’s older. But I’ll want him to stay persistent, skillful, and inimitable. Do what he wants to do beautifully, and in his own way. Leave a mark. It’s my job to provide the opportunities for him to hear what in his spirit asks to live and nurture the will for him to shoot it to the moon. The majority of us has limitations weighing on our dreams, but don’t let your self-talk be one of them. We stop making excuses for ourselves, license to achieve little, when we accept that the stars usually won’t align over our head or the red carpet run under our feet when we want to set out. We each have our pace, mine maddeningly slow most days. A dream to me feels like a painstaking tapestry of priceless minutes I thread here, braid there, working my way around this giant rock I resent that’s really the stuff of life. We make do. But Berlin isn’t the only place the Wall’s come down. We’re talking about leadership in any context but the virtual world has leveled the playing field. Take your place. Claim it. If you want to.

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.

The Afterlife We Call Legacy

I wondered why Bill Clinton’s and Michelle Obama’s tribute to Maya Angelou sounded so familiar. The eulogies were beautiful and compelling, but it felt like I was hearing the speakers replay a long conversation I’d just had with them on color, courage, and identity. Then it hit me. They were talking like contributors to my Race Around the World. I grinned thinking Yeah, I do believe Michelle would’ve written for the Race. Anyone have access to her for my next series? I felt awe seeing the ripples of Maya’s influence upon people who would become pillars of the most powerful nation in the world. When Maya was a little girl she was afraid her voice had killed a man after the rapist she’d named was found dead. She quit talking for six years. Maya didn’t know she would find it again, a voice that would bring life and healing to those who listened.

Here’s Bill: I first encountered Maya Angelou as a young man when I read “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” It was written in 1970 about the time I started law school, and shortly after it came out, I read it and I was the one who was struck dumb. She called our attention to things that really matter — dignity, work, love and kindness — things we can all share and don’t cost anything. And they matter more than the differences of wealth and power, of strength and beauty, of intellect. All that is nice if you put it to the right use, but nothing is more powerful than giving honor to the things we share.

I got chills hearing Michelle. I was struck by how she celebrated black women’s beauty like no one had ever dared to before. Our curves, our stride, our strength, our grace. Her words were clever and sassy, they were powerful and sexual and boastful..but she also graced us with an anthem for all women, a call for all of us to embrace our God-given beauty. And oh, how desperately black girls needed that message. As a young woman, I needed that message. As a child, my first doll was Malibu Barbie. That was the standard for perfection. That was what the world told me to aspire to. But then I discovered Maya Angelou, and her words lifted me right out of my own little head. Her message was very simple. She told us that our worth has nothing to do with what the world might say. Instead, she said each of us comes from the Creator, trailing wisps of glory.

Dr. Angelou’s words sustained me on every step of my journey, through lonely moments in ivy-covered classrooms and colorless skyscrapers, through blissful moments mothering two splendid baby girls, through long years on the campaign trail where, at times, my very womanhood was dissected and questioned…Words so powerful that they carried a little black girl from the south side of Chicago all the way to the White House. She touched me, she touched all of you, she touched people all across the globe, including a young white woman from Kansas who named her daughter after Maya and raised her son to be the first black president of the United States.

As a kid, I kept to peers who were bicultural and shied from those more Asian than I out of a sense of superiority. Not thinking I myself was above those who were more traditionally Asian but because I had bought into the myth that white culture was superior. The blonde on TV was cooler than my parents. I’m obviously over that. I wish I were the measure of my mother.

When Oprah took her turn to speak at the memorial service, I saw more clearly than ever the power and need of role models for all children. Being able to see ourself in the mirror of a hero gives us hope to dream bigger than our circumstances. I marvel at God. I am just in awe that I, a little colored then Negro girl, growing up in Mississippi, having read “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” for the first time, read a story about someone who was like me. I was that girl who loved to read. I was that girl who was raised by my southern grandmother. I was that girl who was raped at nine.

I remember when I opened my school in South Africa and I said to her, oh Maya, this is going to be my greatest legacy. And she said, not so fast. Your legacy is every woman who ever watched your show and decided to go back to school. Your legacy is every man who decided to forgive his father…Your legacy is every person you ever touched. Your legacy is how you lived and what you did and what you said every day. So true, sister Maya. I want to live your legacy…Each of us who knew her, those only touched by her words or those who were able to be blessed to sit at the kitchen table, we are next in line to be a Maya Angelou to someone else. It’s a challenge that I embrace with my whole heart.

I caught philosopher Stephen Cave on radio last month when he maintained that all fears, like those of flying or driving, really come down to the fear of death. He said we can’t imagine not being. In the post What If You Weren’t Afraid?, readers brought up the matter of healthy fears. What some consider necessary survival mechanisms. We’d better be afraid of anything twice our size wielding a weapon, be it fangs or knife. I’m no evolutionist but oh yes, we do want to live and keep living. I believe our wish to leave a worthy legacy is the desire to live on beyond death. Our afterlife.

Calling

old-door-handleMy husband and I often find ourselves encouraging friends with this bit of wisdom from Elisabeth Elliot: God’s NO is His mercy. We have had our share of disappointments and fears while single and married, but this posture of trust has taught us the goodness of God. Hindsight faithfully reveals that the doors that had shut on us, as in the areas of love and work, were pointing us on to the portals that would swing wide with blessing.

I had always felt barred from overseas missionary work. The door to service abroad that I tried and tried wouldn’t budge. In 1996, I set foot in California for the first time on a working vacation as a guest contributor to a Wycliffe Bible Translators magazine called The Sower. Through the research and writing, I was in part scouting the missionary landscape and tapping possibilities for my place in it.

Fast-forward about ten years to the night a church leader came over for dinner. I had felt judged by this man who was passionate for overseas missions. I got the sense that he, knowing nothing of the many challenges I’d faced until then, thought me complacent in my little world. He never cared to probe, to discover anything of the work abroad I had pursued but that had never panned out for me. That night, he picked up the copy of The Sower that happened to lie on our coffee table, and flipping through, found me in the byline. He was quite taken aback and seemed to see me in a new light.

A deep, sweet realization emerged in a talk with a friend last week. When she expressed pleasure over my writing, I pointed out that my hands, in turn, don’t have the magic touch of hers and that I lack the verve and strength to serve people in the way she does.

I suddenly got chills.

I saw, after all these years, that anything I arguably could have accomplished as a missionary would have remained limited in scope. But the words I have put down, both here and in global publications, reach more people than I would by labor of limbs teaching English or trying to build a hut somewhere. I heard God’s answer to the misperceptions of the man who had wanted more…activity out of me. And I don’t always have to be talking faith. My writing is my art and the art, my worship.

My worship, my calling.

These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. Revelations 3:7

Why I Run

You might run for the thrill. You sail into the zone, keep on like you’re under a spell. I wish it came so naturally to me, wish these limbs would move with knowing.

I run because I was terrible at it. And I’m less terrible the more I do it. I run to silence the aspiration for what’s easy. To teach my body to endure, hold on just a little longer. I run to meet my weaker self head on. Conquer her on strong legs Treadmill2so I limp less under my load. I sprint for the fullness of being alive. I often forget how to live. I remember the power of simplicity. I jog to find my pace and cadence. I run to take ownership of myself and to stretch my reserve. I run to claim all my days.

I run because good enough isn’t good enough.

 

See me wrestle? Why I Sweat

 

The LIKE Epidemic

So if you can like help me figure out about when and where this linguistic virus like grew, I’d really appreciate it. People use this curious filler like all the time, even on news radio. I worry hearing moms talk like this; they depend on the word like every five syllables like oh my god. Their children start like picking up the like off the floor and mopping like every breath with it and the saddest part is like I’m not exaggerating.

So like is this originally like an American phenomenon? I really don’t mean to like offend anyone but like didn’t this start as a caricature of the blonde American Valley Girl*? I know East Coasters are also fond of their like. Did it sweep in from the West, fly over and spare the Midwest? Hit mostly like the major cities? Can older readers tell us if you like remember Americans talking this way like in the 50s or 60s? Hey readers like in the other parts of the world, have people like forgotten how to talk over there too? If the like virus runs amok there, is it like an airborne disease from the States or has it like grown from native soil?

As a linguist, I’ve been trying like hard to uncover the subconscious role of this filler. There must be like a rhyme and reason to the madness. Seems it like began with the strange substitute for the verb to say.

So he said, “I’m freezing!”  —-> So he’s like, “I’m freezing!”

How in the world did this like happen? Words take root, like have a purpose. This one’s got me. The filler doesn’t like seem to discriminate the part of speech that it wants to like introduce. We’ve like allowed a linguistic aberration, an unnecessity, to make its home in our speech like a five-headed monster that we’ve like taken in for a pet. Language takes the path of least resistance, will like look to save spit. It’s not supposed to grow weeds. Why is it that people like depend on this word? What is it they feel that they can’t quite like express without it? Why are we like wasting b r ea th?

This is like one of the serious posts on class and language like coming out of the Race Around the World.

*Wikipedia: Valley girl is a stereotype depicting a socio-economic class of white women characterized by the colloquial California English dialect Valleyspeak and vapid materialism. The term originally referred to an ever-increasing swell of semi-affluent and affluent middle-class and upper-middle class girls living in the early 1980s Los Angeles bedroom communities of the San Fernando Valley.

How NoT To Write A Poem

The poem below would earn a D in Holistic Poetry 101. I worked hard to pack in the clichés. You will do well to steer clear of them, avert your gaze when they greet you on the dirt road we call the draft. They’ll hijack your best intentions. Tip for the day: apart from the clichés, watch those -ings! They end up diluting and weakening the poem. I Googled “most famous poems” for confirmation. Seamus Heaney’s Digging is among the few that makes use of the -ing to portray action. The present participle remains safe in Heaney’s deft hands. Remember, the man would be writing in Poetry 301 – as the professor. The majority of poets I pulled up were sparing with the -ing if they used it at all. When they did reach for it, it was the adjective “In its unfading flowers” (Dickinson) or noun “With loathing” (Frost). To shower us with the bursting, dancing, singing, loving is to drown the cake with icing. Don’t paint those lips too red. Please.

The wind swirls as the music caresses
my soul with its warm embrace

Soft rain drops mingling with the tears
streaming down my face

My memory is an undulating sea
reeling, engulfing me in the past.

Prisoner in my mind I bottle my tears
and my mind ponders if I can
soar on eagle’s wings.
I land where the wind whispers softly

As I am embraced by the song of
heaven, a flame of love from above
Sun-kissed I fly into the clouds.

Really? How many thousands of years has the earth seen rain mingling with tears? And why do they always stream down your face? Here’s a Kleenex. You might watch the engulfing. Or just engulf me while you’re at it. You don’t need to say it’s your mind pondering. You ponder because your mind is by definition in the verb. I can’t count the number of songs out there that soar on eagle’s wings. Please make the wind do something, anything, besides whisper. (Are not whispers soft?) You are embraced by –? Guess what? It doesn’t matter. That one hurt the most. If you insist on an embrace, try the active voice. You are aware that first graders learn to rhyme with love and above? You might be careful with the sun-kissed. Very 80s, passé. And since you’re in the air, why fly? Why not break into those clouds? Oh, you’re breaking my heart. Killing me softly (with your song, strumming my pain with your fingers laaaa la laaaa la laaaa).

Sister post The Writing Process: Let the Clichés R.I.P.

Carry You In The Rain

Your toe broke through the sole of your shoe. I didn’t want you stepping on the cold, wet ground. I put you on my back – my boy almost seven – and had trouble walking. A friend of mine was with us and we peeped our head into several restaurants, more like run-down bars, for a new shoe. We left the row of shops and stood on a threshold, facing the pavement. I cradled you.

I would carry you in the rain.

You grew a few years smaller in my arms. As I asked my friend to cover your face with your blue jacket, you slipped into bed with me, pulled me out into the fresh, dry morning. The first thing you asked was what I’d dreamt.

Last week you mused, “I wonder what’s inside the sun, Umma. I want to see.” You expressed this so imploringly. Should I not have told you that you will burn? Should I have left you to dream impossible dreams? Did I kill your wondering?

The other day you took car tracks bereft of the remote and car, and turned them into a runway for your plane. The delight on your face when the plane took off. And Daddy and I had wanted to get rid of the tracks. You blow me away. Life blows you away.

I forget why I keep you close, teach you at home. To free you to stand on your slab of questions and ingenuity, ready to run into the sun. I know that this side of dreams, there’ll be no carrying you in the rain.

 

sunbig

 

How You Fit Into My Prophetic Dream

I flew a lot in my dreams when I was a kid. It would start a bit slowly, and sometimes I rowed the air with my arms while swinging forward on a pillow to build momentum. Even now I could feel the exhilaration of taking off, sailing above land. This one particular dream was different, though. Vivid with a heaviness of meaning.

Up in the air was a booth with wide oblong belts for sale. Turns out each one had 666 stitched on. Everyone was required to buy and wear one. To refuse could mean death.

I refused.

I said it was because Jesus enabled me to fly that I wouldn’t dishonor Him. In the next moment, I found myself soaring higher than I thought possible. I perched atop a fence that scraped the sky and beheld the city below.

Fast-forward about a decade. I wished the fight between Mom and Dad were something I could wake from. It got so bad Mom and I found ourselves spending a surreal night in a motel. In the morning I was off on the church retreat I had agreed to go to for some unexplainable reason. Broken, angry, I was one unapproachable 17-year-old who scared the counselors away. But the speaker shared something out of the book of Exodus that caught my attention. “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.” The eagle pushes her young out of the nest not to abandon them but to teach them to fly. And eagles are the only birds to pursue the eye of the approaching storm. Using the pressure of the fury for wings, these regal birds go right through it only to come out higher.

Into my darkness came this beacon of understanding about God’s loving dealings with His own and called to sudden memory the dream where I had flown and spurned the mark of the devil. I sensed the specialness of my dream all over again. I felt its promise of good. The reminder of the ways of eagles was meant to prepare me for the many storms I would face into adulthood. God started putting back together the shards of hopelessness in my spirit and I left the weekend retreat one radically transformed convert.

Two years later I was thrilled to settle into a large apartment-like college dorm unit. But I slowly came to feel something was off. One day while brushing my teeth, I leaned forward to study some engraving on the wall. My eyes grew wide. 666. It was carved in invisible ink but get this – one that glowed in the dark. And I discovered the number all over the walls and in the bathroom, with splotchy marks on the ceiling and an eerie stick figure of an angel on the inner door of my room. I learned from others that Christians have felt freaked out in that building, and friends urged me to request relocation.

I stayed.

I would live that old dream of mine, meet the trial head-on. I couldn’t in good conscience flee the force of darkness with the power of light at my disposal. But it was really difficult and I actually look back in wonder at the determination of the girl twenty years my junior. I’ve become a softy for better and worse with time. Let’s just say I prayed a lot that year.

So you see that my dream has resurfaced at certain mileposts on my journey, a harbinger of the challenges and joys. Thinking about the blogging that has been so transformative for me, I made the connection once again. It’s felt like I’ve been flying. Not for my numbers, with bloggers out here who have done far better, but because writing with you has given me another life. And this cat had been down to her last one. I feel direction. I have a blueprint for my blogging. I’m not posting primarily for the likes or to raise my stats though I’m glad they help mark my blog. I don’t try to come up with the next post simply because it’s time. I don’t want to just take up space on WordPress. I hate inefficiency in all things. If I’m going to think and stomp and sing and ask why and why not and eat my words and be filled I want to do these things alongside you. You’ve received so well the collaborations I have tried out that you gave me a taste for what is possible in community. When I toss my list of daily to-dos and silence the noise of talk and cars, I don’t want to find at the end of the day I’d been running in a hamster’s wheel. Which I do, in many areas of my life. But on A Holistic Journey, I have drunk air that revives. I go places, I daresay, on wings.

And the best part is not flying solo. Today’s sermon at church happened to cast fresh light on my ruminations on this post. The Bible does not talk about my potential, my personality, my gifts. Our personal fulfillment comes naturally when we pursue our calling. And our calling is for others. Not just in the Race Around the World but in the interaction and dialogue with you, my purpose has been to encourage you out of your nest of fears, setbacks, uncertainties and test those wings. Your steps echo off this blog as you hurry away to write something for your readers. Your heart reached your mind, which they say is the longest distance between, longer than how far we are across the world. And fingering the ball and chain of my disappointments and burdens, I cheer you on to gain your ground and lift off. Because dreams do come true.

This piece was an answer to a prompt by Opinionated Man: What is the Most Interesting Dream You Ever Had? I have disabled comments on this one because you’ve encouraged my blogging and writing plenty.

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!)

A New Earth

Birdless sky swells grey blue against
trees that stand like brushes 
stiff in the cold

It is the penultimate breath
of a new earth.

The dark disappears in a steadfast
philanthropy of color: red, orange, rose 
blush up from the land over lakes and hills 
and roof slats to tell the inhabitants

Night has not prevailed.

Earth  e x h a l e s
as the sun spills her promise.


DAwnLake

the leaves of my poem

i chew the leaves of my poem
they fan green and spirited
in the height of their hour
veins visible like these 
that inscribe my hand, run
with the life of dreams 
that have nowhere to go but 
back  down   to the 
branch to the root
you don't see

look:
        their asymmetry of being

red oak stained with rain pollen
much like the blemishes on my face
t o r n  by time and caterpillars 
that become f u l l   and
bloom into butterflies

the leaves testify to all the seasons

green ash have weathered the wild 
waltz of wind and rain
hungry for the sun 
they drink from the clouds

i feel the laugh lines on the maple
and swallow their history -
    this one, curled copper
    like rusted edges but it's
just the candor of time 

grain and weave of memories 
cru n ch between my teeth
composition on my tongue
i chew the leaves of my poem


Poem Leaf

How to Succeed as a Blogger – Lighting Dynamite, Part 2

Socializing
I just finished saying that before you connect with others, you have to know and be yourself. Moving on, we see that a purpose-driven blog won’t stand alone. Because it’s a blog, not a book. If you are putting in the time to draft posts that are four, six, eight paragraphs long and are counting on one or two hands the number of likes and comments coming in or haven’t seen a rise in readership, it’s probably a good idea to step out and socialize more with other bloggers. You can write, sing, preach, journal, cry, paint your heart out but if you’re not investing in other blogs, you’re not as likely to draw investors for yours. In the world of business, you need to offer a product that is unique and consumable, something people need and want to come back for. But even generic goods will earn sales if you put in the time. It’s a simple correlation between exposure and growth potential.

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

Connecting
More than the quantitative aspect of blogging, though, I would like to look at the qualitative. Your zeal will ring out, only to fall flat, if it doesn’t offer relevance or resonance. I repeat something I was impatient to throw out in Part 1. Ask yourself why anyone should read, let alone follow, you. I shouldn’t have to declare I’m a writer on this blog. You should be able to see and feel it. But let’s go a step further. So what if you do? Do I seriously imagine that thousands of people week in, week out will be as involved in my struggles, questions, poetry as I am? You ought to see something of your own story here – your past, your hopes, your convictions which grow sharper in your assent and dissent. Isn’t the finest literature or visual art a mirror of human experience? Why is this so? I borrow from the wisdom of a professor who said years back: we listen autobiographically. This gem of a truth is a whole other post but keeping to this discussion, it’s good to bear in mind that people are reading and processing what you offer from the reference point of their own story. Rather, this is what they want to do. Here’s a powerful example. I assumed it was the thought of divine sacrifice that brought Casey to tears over the sculpture of Mary holding her dead Son after the crucifixion in this post. Casey clarified that she was, in fact, “very moved by the poignant imagery of being held by a loving mother” because her own childhood experiences had left her beggared in this regard. We approach a relationship, whether with a friend or work of art, through the screen of our own story. This describes the wife, reader, consumer in me. But as an artist I blog by seeking to tap a part of life that we all participate in so you can relate to me in the most fundamental sense of the word relationship. In your own blogging, you can target a topic relevant in your niche. Or more broadly, keep up the writing, dance, artwork that touches the universal longing for knowledge or intrigue in what is fantastic, beautiful, and possible. You will find more on resonance in this post Why We Read. It is not a strict dictum of blogging to give viewers something they want or can identify with but it’s understandably the ideal. Something neat can also happen along the way. Once you establish a loyal readership that comes to trust you will deliver the goods (or at least die trying), it almost won’t matter what you offer. This, from my observation of dynamic bloggers who have charmed their crowd. It is the faith of relationships, the magic when your readers want you.

Discovery
When we’re moved to action or wonder we don’t stay self-absorbed. Or silent. We express how we were affected, tell how we found a forgotten part of our heart or the door of a mental paradigm opening. It’s the relating back, our need to deepen connections. I went ahead with this miniseries largely to acknowledge the remarkable support that has made this holistic journey as transformative as it has been for me. It gets electric here sometimes. I told Casey, a new reader, that it felt like we were lighting dynamite in the conversation. We agreed it was kaboom! My generous supporters wow me with their profound, eloquent insights. Fourteen hundred followers with and without the verbal response will be two different blogs. I’d be willing to lose a piece of my stats if that were the only way to keep the extraordinary comments – no way on earth am I parting with them. My grandchildren will know me more richly and deeply for them. In sharing how my writing affected their spirit, beliefs, decisions, my readers have in turn pulled parts of me out of the shadows. I’ve discovered more of myself in the connecting. It was a blogger I thanked here who folded the poetry back into my hands and told me not to give it up. And though it’s comprised only 15% of my posts, poetry has made up the majority of my Top 10. Which means that if I want to grow faster, I should put out more poems (or shorter posts). It is unthinkable that I almost closed shop in the early days. I was torn between the helpless writing and the uncertainty of blogging. “Who the hec wants to hear another mom blogger?” I grumbled on my husband. Little did I know that my readers would show me I am more than Mother, especially through the feedback on the poems I had yet to write. That yes, I can stake a place among 74 million WordPressers.

Conscious Blogging
Listen to your supporters. Just as you have to move in tune with your dance partner, cue in on their response. Observe your most popular posts. They might shape your blogging. Seeing the Black Santa garner the greatest number of comments among all my posts (until the posts on blogging came out) confirmed I was on track with a big project that’s in the works. I also discovered that I thoroughly enjoy playing Barbara Walters – to gain access to motivations and history, encourage people to spill their guts. Turns out, my readers got a kick out of the role play and the results as much as I did. So it seems my alter ego should be let out again someday.

Community
As each blogger is unique, so will each community be. This reader left a wonderful reply on Part 1. Like energies will find like energies. And this is why I feel compelled to read and comment here. It’s the reason others are compelled to read and write where they read and write. There is an energy that is often more than the sum of the parts. But it all starts with the craft, the need to expel and breathe out something that nudges us to move from us. Just the other day I visited a blog with an energy very different from the one here. The personality, the language of the blogger drew company I probably won’t. It was an active site and the group was having fun. I think two bloggers can also put out a similar post and get a different type and level of response. Your community will be its own.

There’s nothing complicated about blogging at core. To succeed, you need both the interaction and the content others want to interact with. Many of you have made me feel like the richest woman this side of heaven. But the point of this post is to serve my fellow bloggers, to help pave your road of gold. I did not touch on the technical part of blogging because I would end up plugging your path with potholes if I did. I leave this essential task to One Cool Site, one of the best resources on the infrastructure and mechanics of blogging for new and veteran bloggers alike. The wealth of knowledge there would have spared me some silly and costly mistakes last year.

Let me know what was most helpful. I appreciate the interest in this miniseries. I enjoy writing every post but am ready to move on, talk less of myself.

– know?

 Geese3

He dressed the day with clouds
   and spilled a sea of stars
      into the night
         calling each by name
  The night's aria declares 
      His deep pleasure

The universe is intoxicated with glory.

    The Autumn wind gasps
the surety of Winter

The geese, one giant wing
   a moving geometry
      that angles into the wind

How do they know? 
   where to go
   when to stop

Trees give up leaves like paper hopes
    swept into the sleepy season

The gray whale pursues the southern waters of Baja
    to warm her heavy womb

How does she know?
    how to birth
    what to eat

Spring forgives the freeze
    and laughs to live again
       in the resurrection of color
before the ferocious Summer

The dolphins' dance is
   a cadence of instinct
      in waves wooed by moontide

The Earth sounds a symphony of reverence.

We build skyscrapers and businesses and poems
   and the tides rush up and claim
      the sand castles of our dreams

      i, the crown of creation
    trifling, a mark of punctuation,
   know less than the beasts
that live and play as they ought.