Spoken Over Me

This is a special edition of Thankful Thursday, birthed out of a writing prompt from the National Writing Project Annual Meeting.  The direction was to take a moment to write a thank you to our writing mentors in the project.  I, of course, DID NOT follow the directions and instead wrote to my very first writing mentor.

Dear Mom,
You were my very first writing mentor.

You put books into my mind before I was old enough to hold them in my own hands. You took me to the library and let me read whatever I wanted just for the pleasure of reading. Even when it meant I only read Sweet Valley High and Babysitters Club. You had faith that I’d grow out of those books, that I’d grow up into richer things.

Thank you for giving me crisp notebooks to fill and for always reading my poems, even the really dreadful rhyming ones.  Maybe especially those ones.

You were careful with criticism and generous with praise, honeyed words that drew me back to the blank page time and again.

Thank you for understanding that my first language is the written word and for speaking it to me fluently in notes in my lunch box, birthday cards, post cards when you were away and hosts of other scraps of your writing that I’ve squirreled away.

Those scraps of paper have bound me into the writer I am today.  You were the first person to call me a writer and I’m starting to believe you.

I walk this earth, from the sunny skies of California to the humid heat of Africa, I walk with my pen in hand and a blank notebook because I am a writer.

I am a writer in large part because you first spoke that word over me.

Thanks, Mom.

10,000 Percent

Dear Little One,

You aren’t easy to teach.  You’re headstrong.  And opinionated.  And passionate.  And hilarious.  Nobody makes me laugh like you do.  I love you for all of those qualities.

Last week, when we were writing for the National Day on Writing, you gave me a peek at your softer side-a side you usually keep safely hidden.  We sat in the quiet of the library ruminating on this sentence stem:

I write because…

Other kids wrote about how fun writing is, how great it is to write with friends or how much joy they find in making up stories and writing the pictures.

Little one, your response brought tears to my eyes.

“I write because I like writing love notes to my big brother in the Navy.  He is 20 years old and I love him 10,000%!!!”

I hung all the responses in the hallway and when I showed your paper to your mom, she teared up and rested her head on my shoulder for a brief moment.

What I want to say to you, Little One, is that I love to teach writing because it births moments like that where love is spelled out so clearly in blocky first grade handwriting.  The other thing I want to say to you is that I hope you continue to be brave enough to give voice to that softer side of yourself, to let that meek voice speak as clearly as your voice that keeps me in stitches with laughter.  That still, small voice is just as important.

Loving you 10,000%,

Mrs. McCauley

Dear Lance Armstrong,

Dear Lance Armstrong,

You’ve been quoted recently saying you’ve had a bit of a rough week.  I’ll say.  Don’t worry, I’m not going to add to it.  Am I glad all the doping in the cycling world is coming to light?  Yes, yes I am.  I love the sport of cycling and I look forward to the day when I can love it for its purity.

I’ve read a lot of articles on you this week, Lance, and a singular thought keeps rising to the surface: Thank God I’m not famous.  I’m profoundly grateful I don’t live a life where my mistakes are broadcast to the world, where the publicity of those mistakes negates any good I’ve done.

Whether you doped or not, whether you lied about it or not, whether or not you deserve your Tour de France wins or not-frankly I’m not interested in being the judge on any of those fronts.  Judgement doesn’t birth healing.  Truth does.  I can’t attest to what the truth is in any of those situations, but this is a truth I know: LiveStrong has helped many of my loved ones who have battled the beast of cancer.  For that I’ll always be grateful.

It appears that you’ve hit bottom, although you said yourself last week that you’ve had worse days.  So perhaps this isn’t rock bottom, but I think it may be close.

I like what Anne LaMott has to say about grace and mercy.  “Mercy is that we don’t get what we deserve. Grace is that we get what we so don’t deserve.”  I wish you measures of mercy and grace this week because if I were in your shoes, mercy and grace are the things that would make me take a step in the right direction.

You’ve got a great opportunity to decide what’s next in your life and, frankly, I hope you’re looking up because watching you climb has always been exhilarating.

Kind regards,


Dear Every Cyclist

Dear Every Cyclist,

You delight me, absolutely delight me.  I’d kiss you all on the mouth give you all a nice hearty pat on the back if I could.

Yesterday That Laura and I went for a flat spin along the beautiful Keswick Reservoir.  It was to be a short ride, a ride just for the pure joy of riding.  It was a thing of beauty.  The sky was blue, mirrored by the water.  We set off in shorts and short-sleeved jerseys.

image courtesy of happehtheory.com

About five miles from the end of the ride, Laura rode over a freakishly pointy rock that bit into her rear tire.  The tire fizzled out and we pulled to the side to change the tube, meaning That Laura replaced the tube while I held stuff for her and said “Good job!”.  I am excellent at holding stuff.

Here’s the part where you come into the story, Every Cyclist.  Every single one of you who pedaled by asked if we had everything we needed.

We did.

Many of you also asked if we needed help.

We didn’t.

But darn it all, Every Cyclist, if you didn’t make my heart grow two sizes that day.  You are the best of humanity, I’m sure of it.  Offering to help is a foundational tenet of the Sacred Cyclist’s Code.  Every Cyclist, it’s with a big smile that I say you did our sport proud yesterday.

I look forward to returning the favor.

An Open Letter to an Uninvited Chin Hair

Dear Uninvited Chin Hair,

Just who do you think you are showing up as I wiped grains of sleep from my eyes and stared blearily into the bathroom mirror?  At first I thought you were an errant head hair that somehow landed underneath my chin in the middle of the night, but no, when I went to brush you away, you stayed there in all your black, curly horror.

How long have you been sneaking along underneath there, coiling underneath my chin until you reached a full centimeter or two in length?  Surely you didn’t grow that much overnight.  Just how many days have I unknowingly been The Bearded Lady?

Image by Bridgette at brigetteb.blogspot.com

Admittedly, an apology on my part is in order for the profane names I spewed at you as I tried in vain to remove you.  In my defense you were a tenacious little sucker, claiming your turf through two tweezing attempts and only finally giving way on my third and final tweezing.

Sadly, Evil Chin Hair, I am well acquainted with unwanted facial hair including an errant head hair that springs out of my right eyebrow.  Chin Hair, I am not one to be trifled with.  I will bust out the wax and demolish you and any of your unsuspecting cousins who just so happen to be innocently meandering between my chins.  So you tell ’em I’m coming and hell’s coming with me!

Sorry, I watched Tombstone the other day and have a tendency to get a little carried away.

The point, Chin Hair, is that I’m standing tiptoe on the edge of 35 and I just can’t be sprouting unwanted patches of hair for at least another ten years.  So kindly pack up your follicles and leave at your earliest convenience.  Meanwhile, I’ll be stocking up on waxed strips and keeping vigil against your nefarious sneak attacks.


Your Huckleberry

A Tree For My Friend

Dear Friend,

I bought you a tree today.

It’s a Zelkova Serrata, a tree known for strength and resistance to disease. As I ran my hand down the gray trunk, I thought of you and how hard it must have been to say goodbye, to let your father go. I thought of how quickly cancer consumed his strength.

There aren’t words to express how sorry I am for you. Every word feels meager in the pallid face of such staggering grief.

Thankfully when there aren’t words, there are trees.

The Zelkova Serrata can grow to be 100 feet tall with a crown that stretches wide to provide shady relief in the heat of Summer. In Spring it has pale yellowish green flowers.

The Zelkova Serrata is known by furniture makers for the beauty in its bold grain, but I think its real beauty comes in Fall when it covers the ground in a blush of red, yellow and purple leaves.

You’ve wanted this tree for some time and it’s fitting then that there was only one of these trees available in the whole city. One singular tree. Your tree. Tall and full of healthy buds ready to wake from dormancy.

I put the top down in my car and drove the tree to your house, my hair and the branches whipping in the wind. We were quite a sight, me and your tree sitting tall in my Mini Cooper. The man at the nursery tied a plastic red flag to one of the branches and as I drove to you I could see the red flag snapping in my rearview mirror like a lone prayer flag.

Sadness was etched in your face today, dear friend, and I felt silly as I stared at my shoes and explained that I’d brought you a tree.

The tree houses my wishes for you.

I wish that it provides cool shade and respite. I wish that months from now, when your grief has begun to ease, you’ll delight in the beauty of its colors. I wish that when you look out at the tree, you’ll remember the love between you and your dad, love that is strong, love that is impervious to disease and death. And each spring as new buds press out through the branches, I wish that you find renewed strength.

I bought you a tree today. And somehow in my cavernous lacking of the right words to comfort you, the silent branches of the tree said it all for me.

With love,
Your friend and a tree

An Open Letter to the Girl Scouts of America

Dear Girl Scouts of America,
Let me begin by saying I’m a big, BIG fan. I love your uniforms and your sashes covered in bright patches for doing things that make our world a better place. And I’m not at all jealous of those patches, which make the nine patches I earned as a wee Brownie look unimpressive. Nope, not at all jealous. Or bitter.

In fact I have fond memories of dressing up in my Brownie regalia and singing about gold and silver friends.  Although to tell you the truth, my friends don’t actually like it when I point out that they’re only a silver friend.  That would have been a helpful verse.

Make new friends,

but keep the old.

Be sure not to tell the silvers

they’re not gold.

Speaking of brownies, I love any organization that lets you start out being called a sweet treat. In fact it’s a trend I think you should continue up the ranks. First you’re a Brownie, then a Samoa, then a Thin Mint, etc., until you reach the pinnacle of your Girl Scoutness and become at long last a hallowed Tagalong, by far the most superior of all your cookies.

image courtesy of lightgreenstairs.com

It’s your cookies that have prompted me to write this letter.  I love the cookies.  I ate some for breakfast this morning after a well-balanced dinner, of course.  I have just one teensy, tiny problem with the cookies: the serving sizes on the boxes are wrong.  I’m not sure who’s in charge of the packaging, but they need to spend some time crunching numbers and crunching some cookies.  It is a well-known fact that a serving size of Thin Mints is one sleeve.  Equally well-known is the fact that a box of Tagalongs is a single serving in itself.  Please, darling Girl Scouts, speak to the powers that be and remedy this misinformation quickly.  I’m sure this extremely important act of public service will earn you a shiny new patch for your sash.


Alicia, former Brownie