30 days, 30 pages with writing on them. That's the deal!


Get out of your jammies,
Get out of your bed,
Step out of your mirror,
Get out of your head.

Get off of your sofa,
And open your door,
Start packing your suitcase,
Get set to explore.

Get ready to listen,
Get ready to look,
Get out of your headphones,
And put down your book.

Get out of your houses,
Get out of your cars,
Get into the sunlight,
Or under the stars.

Get using your arms,
And get moving your feet,
Get drumming your drum,
To your very own beat.

Get moving and shaking,
Start doing your dance,
Get rid of your stockings,
And roll up your pants.

Get tapping your fingers,
And snapping your toes,
Get doing your thing,
Because anything goes.

Get testing and trying,
Just giving your best,
Get off on your own,
Get away from the rest.

Get waving your banner,
Start shouting your name,
Get off of the sidelines,
Get into the game.

Get out of your closet,
And off of your shelf,
Get on with the business
Of being yourself!




30 days, 30 pages with writing on them. That's the deal.



This is where I live, waiting
for the rain, the next,
and next drop
sent to keep me

going, slow growing
pinpricks against empty spaces
lean, straight, hungry
miles, my curve the shadow
bent to tracking days

Nothing deep, you see
it all, except my reach
fingers just beneath
the surface, miles

of roots that watch forever
hands cupped
open-mouthed, amazed
at anything that finally comes



30 days, 30 pages with writing on them. That's the deal.


A long time ago, my Uncle Junior sent me a box of everything. It was big enough to hold all the stuff from his basement, plus anything he thought looked like something I might be able to use to make something else. One day, it just landed on the porch. Unannounced.

First, imagine a box big enough to hold an appliance. Then imagine it's full of things like broken jewelry and old pipe-cleaners. Now you're thinking of the kinds of stuff you might find in that box. And a whole lot of it.

But don't forget a pair of rubber bare feet big enough to slip over your shoes, with bright red toenail polish on them. Cracked rubber fingers and a nose to match. And an eerie black-face wig of human hair. These things called up the cellar of the house they came from, and made me a little afraid to dig.

Other finds included a plastic bride and groom (with an extra groom); a small, worn Tarzan costume; one very tiny leather kid glove; old souvenir cactus-seed packets, still rattling; a fake parrot made of feathers (one eye missing); stacks of paper doilies in all sizes, velvet flowers and table favors; everything useful for decorating ladies' hats; half-stitched embroidery kits, careful in their yellow baggies of thread (and still waiting to be resumed); boxes of buttons old enough to have come from underwear and shoes. 

And of course, all the cards ever tucked away for safe keeping.

Story bits.

But wait! Here's something I found just the other day, in a box of those old cards I never fully examined. First, let me lay out some details:

1) The same day one sister married a vaudeville musician, she invited the other sister, who wasn't married, to move in with them.

2) The vaudeville musician was part of a well-known duo. His partner had an unusual name. In that time and place, their names together were as familiar as ketchup and mustard.

3) Both men raised families that were pillars of the community (a few of their grandkids got tangled up down the line, but that's a different story).

4) The sister never did marry. She ended up staying in the spare room forever.

5) Now, just about a hundred real years later, from the bottom of Uncle Junior's box, a valentine. It's addressed to that spinster sister, and on the back, it says, "From Your Little __________." (fill in that unusual name) 

So far, I've turned it over in my hand a hundred times, in my head a thousand more. What kind of pictures might you make if you started connecting the dots from one page in your coloring book to the dots on a different page?

6) Even the most well-rehearsed plot can suddenly thicken.



30 days, 30 pages with writing on them. That's the deal.


I could mark the house by a stand of lonely silos in the distance, blank faced with black holes for eyes. I didn't like how they looked, no one ever home but the dark birds wheeling circles above them, waiting for a spot to land. I didn't want to think about those things. When we got close enough the house would appear too, just in time.
We pulled in on the gravel drive and he crunched out in his boots, opened the car door and said, At last, another living voice! From then the house was filled to the roof with living voices, and even my grandma talked and laughed. Because children require things.

We'd have the cushions thrown off the couch and a game started that could last all weekend before dinner even made it to the table. There was plenty of everything to go around, all prepared at once and no way to pick a favorite. Three kinds of pie too, and the promise of another little something before bed.

Politics and shushing, second helpings and usually Grandpa cussing before we were done, and a baby sitting high up on the Bible to reach it all.

She'd lost all of her own children except one, and it didn't occur to me that we could never fit in that hole exactly. Perhaps she didn't say much because it doesn't matter if you talk about some things or not. They never go away.

More than once Grandpa told me how it was his fault, that 50 dollars hadn't been enough to fix her teeth so they decided to just get rid of them altogether. But she was pregnant when they put her under and pulled them out. When that baby didn't live he was left holding the reason for the rest of his life. 

She never told me the story at all.

Instead, she sewed it and grew it and scrubbed it and cooked it and served it for everyone in the house, then got up and did it again the next day. At night, she took out her teeth and brushed them while answering anything in the world I could think to ask. Then into a glass on the counter. 

Now get to bed.

Grandpa had nothing but stories, every one told hard as scratches in the dirt. He did things like throw us in the back of the pickup, untethered and without our jackets. He'd haul us out to look at a piece of land or check on sheep, not quite managing to outrun the rain. Just like we weren't the most precious thing in the universe, except that he put up with us to begin with, which meant we were. He didn't put up with much.

Sometimes he'd catch hell when we got home, but if there was one thing we knew it was that we were in the safest place on earth. It was the reason we always begged to stay. Nothing to think about, if you didn't want to. Plus there was someone nearby who knew everything.

This was the way kids were meant to feel.



30 days, 30 pages with writing on them. That's the deal.


I should not have flirted with the bus driver.

I probably knew that of course, as much as I knew that aiming smart-mouthed quips over my shoulder at his familiar slump behind the steering wheel constituted flirting. I was young. I was flirting with everything.

Maybe I liked it when, on the second day, he adjusted the mirror over his seat so that he always had me in his view. 

Maybe I liked the feeling that he was looking at me while I was looking at the side of the road crawling by. Anyway, I had my current crush showing off in the next seat, a bag of snacks for the trip, a worksheet from the teacher because we were supposed to be pretending this was school, AM radio in my head, a pair of Levi's 501 shrink-to-fits that had done just that, molded with a spot for my strawberry lip gloss in the front pocket and my comb in the back. I had that new peasant blouse with the neckline that made me wonder about things I'd never thought of before the very first minute I tried it on. Basically, I was on a field trip to the world.

So maybe I wasn't thinking straight every time I used my smile or invented a personal joke for him to riff off. I shouldn't have laughed in just that way when he pretended to shut the door each time I climbed on or off the bus. I should have made him buy his own french fries too. I can see that now, of course. But I was just going to throw mine away.

I may as well admit it. I liked his attention. It was just about the only thing I liked about myself, compared to all those other girls. It was something I had that they didn't, so I grabbed it and made myself feel good.

By the last night of the trip, I was wanting to go home. My boyfriend was acting like a jerk to impress a group of guys we both agreed we hated, but now I could see he secretly wanted to impress. Traitor. My girlfriends were doing something somewhere else, and hadn't bothered to make sure I was with them. They were probably off trying to impress the same guys.


Which is how I ended up kicking the gravel in the parking lot of the motel wondering what on earth I was doing in nowhere Wyoming at 10pm, surrounded by nothing except a busload of Indian souvenirs, new props for the same juvenile act I had to pretend to care about at school every day of forever.

He was there against the open door of the bus, standing with the same slump he used when he sat. Same tired shirt as on day one. Same thin greasy hair, or probably worse. It was dark.

Why aren't you with your friends, shouldn't you be in your room?

That was exactly the question I'd been thinking about. He asked it out loud.

I need to get gas for the bus. You wanna go with?

And then for some reason, or probably for all the reasons, I ignored everything I'd learned in my life so far and said, Sure.

And so we drove. I sat two rows back, across the aisle. I don't know why. Sitting on the front row would have seemed too close. Sitting any further back would have seemed creepy, all alone. I remember a fleeting thought about the lever that operated the door, how it was there by his leg.

We rehearsed a few of our same jokes. He pointed out the moon through the windshield. Half full. We went away from town, not toward it. There were dark clumps of brush, and sky. There were black outlines of hills I didn't know. I remember giggling when he wasn't funny. I remember shivering, but not the kind that comes from cold. More the kind that doesn't like what's happening and especially what might happen next.

And then we stopped.

He turned off the bus. Here's something you might not know: there's a particular silence that happens when you're alone late at night on a bus in the middle of nowhere and the driver cuts the engine. You know it when you hear it.

My mother was once sitting in her car parked outside the post office when a man jumped from a 9 story building, hitting the sidewalk next to her. She knew that sound immediately, even with her eyes on a newspaper and the engine idling. I’m guessing it’s a similar sound.

I knew it would happen. He came back those two rows, filling the dark aisle and pushing into the seat beside me. I moved closer to the window.

We should be getting back. They’ll be worrying about me. I told my friends I’d meet them. They’ll be checking rooms. Did I say any of these things out loud? I’m not sure I made any sound at all. The window was cold.

I know where you live, he said.

And he did. Turns out he drove tour buses around the city on the weekends, and I happened to live in a neighborhood that was included on his tour. He offered me weeding petunias in the front yard on a Saturday as proof. But it was just an ice breaker. He was making conversation.

I see those buses all the time. I’ll watch for you, I said. Or thought.

Then he waited and let us both think for a bit before he said, I see what you do.

I see the way you strut around here. I see the way you laugh with your rich friends. But I know what you all really want.

I’m not sure if those were his actual words, but it's not important. Because it was going just like anyone would expect. I tried to figure out some way to make that funny. I wanted to make him laugh. I felt like the same thing that got me here was the only shred of hope I had to get out.

But instead, it somehow got even quieter.

I might have said something next. I remember wishing I’d gone to the bathroom before getting on the bus, which now seems silly and too specific. I should have just wished I’d never gotten on the bus at all. It was like my mind wanted to worry about small things.

There is comfort in counting details. Yellow teeth. His smell. A gut. The dullness of his wire glasses, shades unclipped and still there in his shirt pocket even at night. Stupid.

It almost felt like I needed to step back from the situation and watch it happen before I could believe it. So I took mental inventory.

The curve of rough, square fingers. Used to doing hard things.

The hair across his brown arm, spotted from spending its life propped in a bus window. It rested on the seat in front of us, blocking the aisle, ready. I don’t know how I could have seen hair at night, but it was there. Maybe I was filling in what I’d seen during the day. His sweating. His breathing. His eyes on me in the mirror above the steering wheel.

His eyes on me.

You think I’m yellow, he said.

You think I’m yellow. You don’t think I’ll do it.

His face was coming at me square, lips peeled back just the way they did every time he tried to be funny and close the door on me.

How do you answer that? It’s the kind of question you can’t answer. It’s the kind of question my dad calls do you still beat your wife. Thinking of my dad made me wonder all at once whether he’d be madder at the driver, or at me. And made me want to cry.

In the same flash, I realized that I’d never been around anyone who actually used the word yellow that way. I thought men only said it on TV, but now I met him. And it fit. And he wouldn't stop saying it.

Well, I'm not yellow. He said it with his eyes on me.

And then suddenly, there was crying.

But it wasn’t me. It was him.

He was crying all out, shoulders going up and down, forehead pasted to the seat in front of us. I’d never seen a man cry like that. Don’t tell my wife. I’ve been married 35 years. My wife will divorce me. I’ll lose my job. I can’t lose my job.

All his fear came pouring out and pooled there between us.

Next his relief that he’d decided, and whatever didn’t happen, didn’t. And then as fast as that rushed out, everything was gone.

He lifted up his head, and he turned to me, flat and deliberate and like I needed reminding. He said, I know where you live. And he made sure I saw what he knew.

Which said the rest.

And I didn’t have anything to say at all. He got up, and he started the bus, and he drove us back to the motel. And when I was getting off the bus, he didn’t try to close the door on me.

And no one asked where I’d been. I didn’t even need to lie.

The next day, he said it to me again as we were loading up, although he never opened his mouth at all and pretended like I was any girl, but we both knew what he meant. And even though I managed to swap my seat for one in the very back he knew how to work that mirror because he had been a bus driver for so long he could make it so no one could get away with funny business on his bus no matter where they sat.

And even though I mostly stared out the window across an entire state, every now and then I glanced up for a reminder and as many times as I looked up he was happy to say it again, just like that. And then once more. All the way home.



30 days, 30 pages with writing on them. That's the deal.


Producing something every day
Allows your insides out to play.
You needn't fear a single thing,
So jig your dance, or song your sing!
Blow off your lid, do something loud,
It's sure to make your mother proud.
No matter what, no matter how,
Do anything, but do it now!

Make some of this, make some of that,
Show off what's underneath your hat.
You could be great, so don't be shy,
We'll never know unless you try!

Tune up your keyboard, toot your horn,
Make noise as if you'd just been born.
Get busy! You have stuff to say
In every kind of messy way!

With clay or paint, with ink or thread,
Let out the pictures in your head.
You've only got one chance to live,
So give the gift you've got to give!

Bring out your sun, bring up your shine,
You'll find your friends will like you fine,
And better yet, you'll like you more!
(And that's what making art is for.) 

I'm a longtime subscriber to the idea that Creativity Saves Lives. Not only that, I'm living proof. So if you've had just about as much of February as you can take, consider hopping on the Creativity Challenge bandwagon. It won't be easy, since the best things never are. But after 30 days, you'll have 30 things you didn't have before. And the world will have 30 new reasons to rejoice or wonder or nod or sigh or smile. (If you decide to share. And we all hope you do.)



30 days, 30 pages with writing on them. That's the deal.


When she told me, I had no idea. I'd never heard a word about the wedding where the bride was tarnished and expecting while the family sat stiffly in the living room. Plates of awkward cake on precarious knees, blank-faced and quiet while only the flowers were happy. I think it rained like crazy, or maybe I imagine that it did. It's hard not to add details, my mind requires at least the sound of rain to fill dead air like that.

It was well before my time, then out of nowhere this: one afternoon, the old and yellowed centerpiece of that bleak wedding told me how she prayed every night of her married life for her husband's desire to be taken away. As if she owed God so much penance that even 40 years of marriage couldn't fix things.

This is the kind of page that turns only once in a story but still explains everything that comes after.

I remember exactly where we were then, small chairs and a room suddenly grown still beneath the tick of clocks. I saw her eyes dart sideways as her fork came up, the dark metal of old back teeth just behind a fade of lipstick. Deep lines guarding tight pressed corners of her mouth but yet the words escaped and I thought, So. 

This is what a secret looks like.



30 days, 30 pages with writing on them. That's the deal.


I remember parade days. I remember the creak and slam of the screen door, the reach of shade on the lawn, and all of it happening in the yard of the house right on Main Street at the center of the universe. 

I remember Grandpa being Master of Ceremonies for the entire world, tossing horseshoes to win, hitting badminton birdies over the clothesline and clear to the sky, roasting his dinner to perfection while squatting next to the fire pit he must have built the very first night he invented fire.

I remember marching bands that seemed they would never end, tassels swinging by on boots, the twirl of batons and the whistle of short skirts. A slow crawl of convertibles waving too, but by then nobody cared.

I remember the big boys climbing up on the roof of the garage to watch it all boom past, sweating cans of cold soda they gulped and tossed with a clatter on the driveway. The loud strut of their bragging, my own small wishing they'd notice me but feeling glad when they didn't.

I remember twilight, strings of cousins chasing their shadows where the yellow streamed from the kitchen windows. Overheard apron and dishwater talk, the things I knew I shouldn't try to listen to but wanted desperately to know.

I remember one old bathroom in that house, and nothing to do but wait if you needed to use it on a summer day when everyone in the world was there, and a parade was drumming by, and marshmallows were catching fire if you weren't careful. 

The pause of crickets, and by nighttime everything was so perfect it was as if the whole world were lighted by just the sparkler in your hand. The sleepy drift of laughter across dark grass. I remember summer.



30 days, 30 pages with writing on them. That's the deal.


Any child being tucked into bed by my Aunt Lillie might be lucky enough to delay the inevitable a bit by a game of Touched You Last, in which she would take an unexpected little swipe at you and then say, "Touched you last!" and scoot gleefully toward the door.

This would of course prompt the child to leap from bed and chase her down, poking her back and saying,"Touched you last!" before diving for the covers. 

On a good night, a kid might get a full five minutes of extra time with this back-and-forth play. It remains one of my favorite memories. Aunt Lillie was already 70 years old by the time she began sneakily "touching me last," and she seemed to get just about as much delight out of it as I did at age 5. (Or, I'll admit, 12.)

Maybe she was just a great actress. Either way, she worked her magic.

Of course, from my point of view, the appeal was never winning but rather keeping her near. I don't think I ever actually hoped to score the last touch. Did anyone? It was much nicer to lose, and go to sleep knowing that there was someone in the next room who loved you and not only wanted to touch you right up until the last second, but also got a happy little jolt of satisfaction when they did. 

Anyway, it comes to my attention quite frequently that my need for some childish things was never outgrown. "Touch you last" is one of the latest I've noticed. Because I guess I'm still playing. 

I have a few people with whom I converse during most days, across a variety of media and devices. I count this as one of the lifesaving advances of the 21st century. Aunt Lillie had to sit by the rotary dial in her sunny kitchen to check in with her circle every morning before getting to her busy day, often waiting a full 24 hours before the next injection of gossip or advice. Or just plain touch

I once had a friend describe me by saying, "She says she wants the last word, but she doesn't really like it if you actually let her have it." 

I pretended to be affronted by that remark, although it was dead on, of course. A real friend may be the person who knows you better than you know yourself, and kindly helps facilitate an introduction. 

Why would I ever want the last word? It's much nicer to have the pleasure of a notification--that happy signal from someone you love that they're thinking of you even when you're apart--than it is to have landed the last touch and be left waiting, hoping they'll come back so the conversation can continue.

I couldn't live without these virtual touches in my day. Or at least I wouldn't want to.

Anyway, with Aunt Lillie we kids did manage to score the last touch, years ago, tucking some of her favorite African violets in her hand and putting a bit of cotton in each ear to keep out the always-dreaded breeze before they closed the lid and carted her off. On that day, there was no glee. Just gratitude.

It doesn't mean our game is over. I remain hopeful that she's somewhere, waiting only for the opportunity to take another swipe. When that time comes, we'll be on equal footing, and neither one of us will ever have to be sent to bed. 



30 days, 30 pages with writing on them. That's the deal.


Thursday Notes:
9 am - Where I walk, the hungry skulk of coyote, hunting his breakfast along the edges. And then lunch. And then dinner. And then breakfast.

11 am - A tiny blade of grass, green as springtime and determined to come up between two rocks. In the open field it would also have withered, but without my notice.

2 pm - The odd suddenness of a laundromat; thrown into a batch with a world of children and parents and neighbors and grandparents and languages and smells, whole households emptied in a jumble and united by the dirt of daily living. We all belong. Sort, wash, spin, notice, remember. Rinse. Repeat.

7 pm - A walk, needing only a very light jacket, in February. Stars.

(Give thanks.)



30 days, 30 pages with writing on them. That's the deal.

 Little Girl in Big House, ca 1968

I have a reputation for being a real fraidy cat. I won't go into all the reasons that may or may not be an accurate label, although my brother would probably put on a convincing case if he were allowed to testify. However, we could talk about hallways for a moment.

I'll readily admit that a long empty hallway does have a tendency to spook me. I think it's probably a result of growing up in a house with longer-than-average hallways that, under the right darkish circumstances could be termed genuinely unnerving.

The one in the basement had George, our enormously loud, ancient boiler capable of exhibiting enough personality to have earned a name, thumping along in his spidery lair at the other end. And when I say spidery, I mean black widows. Wolf spiders with actual hair. It was an enormous old house with the impressive cast of spiders to match. And the basement hall was a subterranean tunnel armed with pipes for a ceiling. Even painted a sunny yellow, those pipes gave you the feeling that you were crawling deep into the underside of something big.

The hallway on the main floor was an echoing stretch of dark wood perfect for running and sliding in stocking feet with your friends on a sunny afternoon--long enough to have iron gates at each end! But at night, the arched entrance to the grand living room on the far side breathed a black yawn of prickles on the back of my neck as I sprinted upstairs. I remember the first time I took the tube in London, the thick round blackness of the holes called up those same prickles.

There are just some things I don't like to turn my back on.

So I'm going to admit that one of the hardest things for me about our current remodeling project has been the plastic at the end of the hall. It's a small house, with the type of hall you'd expect. But when it comes to eeriness, I've learned size isn't everything. As they demolished the rooms on that side of the house, they kindly strung up a large sheet of plastic to try to contain as much dust as possible. And when I came home from running errands and caught my first glimpse the day it appeared there, I had a sinking, prickly feeling right in the middle of the afternoon. 

Nighttime was going to come, and I was going to be sleeping in the house with the Plastic Curtain at the End of the Hall.

First of all, it breathes.

It really does. It moves. It sways, rustling at even the slightest movement of air.  I'm pretty sure it's alive. I think if you were here, you'd agree that's a fair assessment.

It's clear enough that you can imagine you see things behind it (like the moment in that awful Luther episode where you see the killer hiding behind the plastic in the attic??!) but not clear enough to actually see them. Add to that the fact that there's a lot of upheaval going on in general as a result of half our house being blasted down to the studs while I'm hunkered down in a corner of the guestroom and you've got a prescription for...well, since I believe in calling things by their best names: a fraidy cat.

But now...NOW! Sweet vindication!

We had a couple of smart kids visit over the weekend. Admittedly we're talking about the pre-K variety, but I'm not going to let that make me feel any less good about the fact that they were terrified by the plastic. They insisted that it was a GHOST! The little girl took one look and stammered, "It...it...moves!" They would not be convinced otherwise, even after an exploratory expedition led by their brave and trusty dad. They kept going to peek at it around the corner (going in a pair, of course...much too scary to look at it alone...don't you think I know that?) and then running back to safety.

All I'm saying is that even a 5 year old is smart enough to know when something is genuinely scary.

Anyway, I've got additional validation. Because Russ is home for the week and he's said, more than once, "You know? There's something quite spooky about that plastic at the end of the hall." Part of me wants to kiss him, but part of me also wants to quiz him further. As in, "I know, right? So you think I really should be afraid? It's the Luther episode, isn't it? Are you saying that could actually happen? If we hear a cat meow, we're not going in after it...wait, did you hear something?"

Let's just say I'm feeling pretty proud of myself for having survived as well as I have, even closing both eyes to sleep (now and then). At any rate, I can report that so far, it seems growing up continues to be just as hard and scary at 51 as it was at 5.



30 days, 30 pages with writing on them. That's the deal.


"I'm only saying that if we're going to put new lights on the back of the house as part of the project, we should replace the old lights out front, which we've never liked, at the same time. All the exterior lights should probably match."

"And I'm just saying that I'm getting a little worried about money."

"Okay. I understand that. Good to know. So how much did you spend on your--"

"You knew I was planning to buy that."

"I'm delighted that you bought it. I'm just trying to get a feel for exactly how worried about money you're getting."

"Well...that was different money."

"Of course it was." 

"So I assume we're doing the lights?"

"Is that rhetorical?"

"No. Actually it's not any kind of question at all."

"Good. Because I wasn't planning to answer."



30 days, 30 pages with writing on them. That's the deal.


I'm always faintly annoyed wearing an outfit with no pockets. I wander around all day feeling like I'm about to set my keys down somewhere and never find them again. There's just something I like about having a place to stash anything that might come up. With pockets, I move through the world keeping my options open. I like that feeling. 

I attended a lecture last week by neuroscientist David Eagleman in which he discussed, among other things, the extreme polarization between religion and science, which has caused him to coin the term Possibilian to describe himself. He defines Possibilian like this:

"Our ignorance of the cosmos is too vast to commit to atheism, and yet we know too much to commit to a particular religion. A third position, agnosticism, is often an uninteresting stance in which a person simply questions whether his traditional religious story (say, a man with a beard on a cloud) is true or not true. But with Possibilianism I'm hoping to define a new position — one that emphasizes the exploration of new, unconsidered possibilities. Possibilianism is comfortable holding multiple ideas in mind; it is not interested in committing to any particular story."

He used the 2012 Hubble Extreme Deep Field view, a very small sample of the observable universe in which every speck of light is an entire galaxy consisting of billions of stars, to illustrate that despite our significant advances in science, we still know next to nothing.

Not only that, no matter how much we learn, taken in the context of this photo it'll never be much.

He used another visual of a pier extending out into open water, explaining that science manages to add a few feet to the pier every now and then, but there is no horizon in sight. We are building a pier that will merely extend into the ocean forever. And I think he's okay with that.

I'm okay with that too. But I have a feeling there are people whose minds are not comfortable with that idea. There are people who far prefer having answers to having questions.

I think this has always been my difficulty with religion. Religion seeks to supply answers to mankind's most basic questions. The answers may provide comfort to people, giving them a place to direct their faith, their hope, and by extension, their actions. All of which is good.

But of course, we can only speculate. By the time we finally know, we are already gone and therefore it's too late to do anything with our knowledge. In our lives here on earth, anyway. 

So in my mind, the point must not be knowing, but rather what we do with our not knowing.

This is why we're asked to have faith, right? I can understand that, but where I run into trouble is when I am asked to, as a result of having faith, surrender my questions. 

I like to think that I can wear two pockets in my trousers, one for faith in a few key things, but also a much bigger one for questions. I derive comfort, and therefore value, from each.

This is where art comes in. Art is about asking questions, and isn't at all concerned with providing answers. Art encourages us to not only ask good ones, but to ask them collectively, repeatedly and well. Art allows us continual refinement of the questions we are asking, re-framing them in an endless variety of contexts and languages.

Art sits somewhere between science and religion. It's taking action in the face of the questions, but without seeking any specific answers. It's seeing possibilities in the questions themselves, and inherent value in the asking, and nothing more. Which is a place I'm quite content.

I don't know what this makes me, but the good news is, the older I get the less I care about the label.  There are so many more important things to think about. Galaxies of them, in fact. And so little time to ask my good questions before I'm handed the answer to them. I intend to keep asking them all, right up until the moment the lights go out and then . . . on.

If I'm lucky and find myself somewhere with a big table, I'll be able to empty both pockets and sort, classify and finally understand the things I've spent a lifetime collecting in each.



30 days, 30 pages with writing on them. That's the deal.


My daughter shared a picture of a valentine she received from one of her 4th grade students, whom she described as being "hyper-observant" because it was a box of chocolates that looked exactly like my daughter's electric guitar -- the strings on the front were even playable! 

(Here I'll interject that the fact she had already tried it and took particular delight in its playability tells you things about my daughter. She's never opened a pair of anything without putting them on and wearing them immediately. By Christmas afternoon, she is enthusiastically decorated. It makes her the best sort of person to give a gift.)

Her student may or may not have above average observational skills, but one thing I see for sure is that the student is having a positive school year with a memorable teacher about whom he/she will always remember that she played the electric guitar and shared herself with her students, inspiring them to the point of wanting to find just the right valentine to demonstrate and further cement the identification. 

Her students are largely ESL students from homes on the lower end of the socioeconomic scale, so it probably took some doing for that large guitar-ish box to show up on the teacher's desk.

I had a teacher in 4th grade to whom I might have liked to give such a special valentine. Not because I had a crush on her, but because she was the teacher who first Alerted Me to My Possibilities. She seemed a light at the end of my dark tunnel. There had been some difficult things going on at home, and at the time I felt cut off from the beckoning world that I perceived my friends to be moving into with excitement and ease. I wasn't sure what life was going to offer me in terms of opportunities or potential or futures. I was only pretty sure that the world didn't feel quite as friendly to me as it seemed to be for the other kids in the room.

And then I met my 4th grade teacher. She saw something in me, or seemed to, that I didn't see in myself. Something that nobody seemed to notice in 3rd grade. She seemed to think I was nothing but potential. She didn't seem to have any idea that I was struggling to find a way to not only fit, but also find a place to go. 

She didn't treat me like a misfit, but like a leader. It was baffling to me, frankly. I wondered where she got these ideas about me? 

And then, by about midway through the year, I stopped wondering how she came by her misconceptions and instead began to chart a course based on the way I felt she viewed me, rather than the way I did. For many years after, I would think to myself, "Well, Mrs. Spackman would probably think I could do this. So I probably can." 

She never had any idea the effect she had on me. I wish she did. She changed the trajectory of everything that came after. And it wasn't because she was hip or cool or beautiful or played an electric guitar. She was none of those things. It was because of the way she saw me and the way she allowed me to see myself. Game changer.

I've noticed my teacher daughter spends a good deal of time worrying about the ways in which teachers are measured and whether her students will be able to perform on the required tests. She's forever having to prove her worth. It seems to demand enough of her time and mental energy that it can only be a drain that adversely affects the amount of herself she is able to devote to the students she serves. But because I know she's the kind of teacher who is never going to shortchange the kids where it counts, it has affirmed to me that we're making a huge mistake and actually working against our stated goals. This aspect of our education system has turned our country's most underpaid job into our country's most overworked, misunderstood, underpaid job.

The other day, she offered as an anecdote the fact that she had a student throwing up during the all-important standardized tests. It's unlikely a student's scores from such a miserable day will be an accurate reflection of anything that could be tested by filling in an oval. Will the school be designated as worthy of funding? (All schools are worthy of funding. They are the places we send our children to allow them to dream and then become.) Will the students pass the tests? (Tests are a poor measure of what any human being has truly absorbed or is capable of achieving. People are wholly comprised of the variables that numbers cannot represent.) Will her teaching be deemed successful? (I'd offer as Exhibit A the guitar-shaped box of chocolates, which I think tells what a test never will.) 

I'm pretty sure she's already succeeded.