On being photographed with a cocktail in hand

In her family, people fought bravely with addiction and depression. They made gut-wrenching personal decisions and accepted tough financial times with graceful humility for the good of their children.

His family was full of drunks and crazy people. They had abortions and lived off food stamps. Continue reading


Is There Anything New Under The Sun?

Lily on her last day of being 10.

My daughter, Lily, on her last day of being 10. She says, “Yes, there is much new under the sun.”

Is there anything new under the sun?

Solomon says no.

With a little more than one day left in 2012, the speaker at our church Sunday asked the congregation what we thought.

I gave the question a solid half hour or so, I promise.

Then my 11-year-old daughter and I went about our frantic, thank-god-the-holidays-are-almost-over, suburban rainy day.

Some lowlights:

– We argued about her nail polish. (She said it was dry, I said it was wet, and when she smudged it and I said ‘I told you so’, she refused to speak to me for at least three whole Taylor Swift songs.)

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Perennial Christmas

The sedum bloomed beautifully, taller than most sedum and full but tightly constructed like a cheerleader’s pompon, just like it did the year before and the year before that. The difference was that as it grew, the stalks separated from the middle of the original plant, spreading all over that part of the garden and leaving a hole in the center that mildly annoyed the gardener but not enough to propel her to do anything differently.

She cut stalks and decorated her home with them, arranging them with sprigs of rosemary, a plant with the same sort of beautiful, unwieldy but predictable center-holing attributes.

The best thing about the sedum was that when it dried, it looked almost exactly as it had when it lived. The other best thing was that the seeds were easy to harvest, and the gardener did so each holiday season, tucking them into Christmas cards (real Christmas cards, often homemade) that she wrote for people she loved.

She found many people to love each year.

The most precious people were the same ones as the year before, and the year before that.

She knew good people and she knew good plants, with annoying habits and otherwise.

One night she sat alone in her house, a little sleep deprived and a little buzzed on red wine she’d enjoyed with one of those good people, and she realized that people and plants were the same because the world – lovely as it is – does not allow for too much deviation from what has already grown.

A Christmas tree glowed in the background.

A year ago she found herself alone and wrapping presents, feeling 50% sentimental and 50% melancholy, in a state of wonder about all the ways she and the world around her had changed in 12 months. That refrain would repeat, and repeat again. Fundamental change, when it happens, takes many lifetimes.

The sedum flourished. The gardener flourished.

It was Christmas.

The people who loved each other toasted another year, and were surprised at their surprise.

The Best Songs Ever

Right now she’s 11 and has a playlist called “Best Songs Ever” which has 125 songs on it. As she gets older, the list will narrow.

She’ll get better at making lists, but “Best Songs Ever” – if she still has a list like that – will have (I predict) eight songs on it. Maybe nine.

One song for when she was 13 or 14 and was nursing her first heartbreak. Maybe it’s actually his heart and she broke it. She’ll lay on her bed in her room and lock the door and write in her diary and listen to that same song over and over again. It’ll make her feel as sentimental as a kid can feel at that age. She’ll write something along the lines of “I remember when life was much simpler and all we worried about was whose house we were going to have dance practice at.”

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She Takes the Road Less Traveled By

Lily was concerned she’d get a bad grade on her writing assignment because, as she put it, “I didn’t do it the same way as everybody else”.

A couple years ago, she turned in a social studies project that was radically different from the other kids’, and rather than praise her creativity, her teacher knocked off a few points for not following rules.

I’m glad she is the sort of kid who can put perspective to a sucker punch.

She turned in her “different” take on the latest assignment, and this year’s teacher praised it as being “a very creative way of writing the story.” Exclamation point. Smiley face.

Lily was excited for me to read her story about the Underground Railroad, which she told from three different characters traveling via a time machine. While I was impressed with her choice of narrative technique, I was truly moved by her willingness to go with it regardless of what kind of grade she might get.

I love this line, from the perspective of someone helping the escaping slaves: “I had never felt genuinely risky. Twists and turns, I loved this feeling. Adrenaline was pumping through my veins. I felt fearless. I wouldn’t get caught. I just knew I wouldn’t.”

That’s my girl.

I asked her to help me write about bravery. Continue reading

Tree Painting Needs a Name (other than ‘Tree Painting’)

I need a name for this painting.

It took me almost a year, which I realize sounds ridiculous given that it’s basically just a blue background, naked tree and various colored blobs functioning as leaves / petals. And I didn’t even paint most of the tree part.

It wasn’t an issue of procrastination as much as it was one of wanting (and being able to) do something on my own terms, in my own zone, without deadline or expectations.

I’m not an artist; who cares if it sucks. It’s not for work; who cares if I don’t finish it.

So each phase of it, I did with deliberation and care. The right music, the right people, the right cocktail. Continue reading