Category Archives: The Junk Drawer

My parents had a kitchen junk drawer, a catch all for gadgets that otherwise had no home. This is my writing junk drawer, a catch all for my writing.

Love in the Middle

“I don’t have a middle initial,” she tries to submit the form, but the computer highlights in red her namelessness.

I feel her begin to crawl up into herself, chameleoning into my couch.

“Shouldn’t I have a middle name?” she asks.

“Not everyone has one,” I try to make this unnamed middle a smaller absence.

But it is there.

This blackness.

This shadow always creeping across her face.

This unbuoyed business of being unclaimed.

I think of names for her, this blazing star so terrified of burning everyone else.

“You could choose a middle name,” I say, cursing the computer and that damn red box.

“What’s your middle name?” she asks.

“Wheeler.”

“Like a wheel?” she laughs.

“Sort of,” I smile.  “It was my maiden name and I kept it because I wanted to remain linked to my brothers.”

“What do I want?”  Her question is pregnant with wanting.

I hold my breath.  She’s not asking me.

“Love.  My middle name will be Love.” She types an “L” and submits the form for college.  “What do you think?” she asks.

“It’s perfect.  But then again, what do I know?  My Acholi name means ‘Laughter’,” I shrug.

“Love and laughter,” she relaxes into the herself.

“Love and laughter then,” I squeeze her hand and we giggle.

Hard to Love

You fold your matchstick arms, one atop the other,
The sun is a token of yellow,
Glinting through the window behind you,
Playing off the filaments of your skin,
The skin of my soldier boys.

You twist the straw wrapper,
Threading it through your fingers,
Then crumpling it in your fist, which contains your story.

I choose to take another bite, the avocado slippery on my tongue.
“How do I unscrew you?” I think.
“How do I unfold you?”
You who have determined to occupy so little space.

I think of you,
Tucking yourself under the pews at church,
Until the parishioners left and you slept there alone,
Notched in the arms of God.

I wait for you.
I wait with you.
I wait.

You slough off your shell.
And tell me about the father who sold you,
And your mother who let him.

You walk a tightrope between telling and keeping,
I hold onto your silence,
Watch the landscape of your face,
Marvel at your eyes, still white, still lit.

You tell me about being a slave at the age of ten,
And of the man who tried to undo your silver straps.

But the worst of it all
Is the family who rescued you,
Called you Princess,
Loved you,
Taught you,
And then,
And then poured it all out and sent you back.

You say to me, “I think I must be hard to love.”
With bravery trickling down your face, you whisper,
“It is hard for me to love.”

I nod.  I know this difficulty of loving and being loved,
The exquisite risk of allowing myself to be loved.

We sit across from each other,
Two so hard to be loved.
And somewhere on the table,
Between lunch plates and crumbs,
Love has joined us.

for E.L.M.

A New Year’s Benediction

Um, is this thing on?  I forgot how to use it.

It’s lovely to be with you again.  I feel like I should explain why I haven’t been here in quite some time, but the truth is I don’t have a reason.  I just didn’t have anything worth saying.

Two things have compelled me to write today.  First of all, tomorrow I get to speak at a Rotary meeting about my loved ones in Uganda, my Vigilantes of Kindness here at home, and the beautiful stories we wove together last summer.  I’m thrilled to share and horrified, absolutely horrified, at the thought of speaking to a largish group of adults.

Just thinking about it makes my armpits drip sweat.  Hang on a sec while I go administer copious amounts of deodorant.  Talk amongst yourselves.

Alrighty, now that I’ve got that under control, the second thing that made me pound away at the keys today is Neil Gaiman.  You know him, right?  Amazing author, incredible speaker.  He probably doesn’t sweat a drop when he speaks.

Anyway, Neil Gaiman has written several brilliant New Year’s benedictions for the world.  You should read them.  You’ll be better for it.  Promise.

For the conclusion of my Rotary talk, I reflected on my trip to Uganda and the year as a whole and then I wrote my own New Year’s benediction.  It’s as much for me as it is for you, but most especially it’s for my Vigilantes of Kindness from last year and the Vigilantes who are already on board with me as my return trip begins to take shape.  I’m grateful for each and every one of you.  You inspire me.  You move me.  You make me absolutely giddy to see what’s in store for us this year.

A New Year’s Benediction

love ringsIn this new year, I hope you love deeply and are loved in return.

I hope you find family in the most surprising times and places.

I hope you make beautiful plans, but more importantly I hope that when your plans fall broken at your feet, because they sometimes will, that in quiet solitude you’ll want nothing more and nothing less than to hear God.

And then I hope you’ll listen for His voice, listen so hard that the pounding of your heart overwhelms your eardrums and your very spirit.

I hope you’re tickled and delighted when He answers you in the most unexpected of ways and suddenly you find yourself living a dream greater than you ever fathomed.

I hope you discover depths of humility that compel you to lay aside your own ideas and speak the soothing words, “What do you need and how can I help?”

I hope that when you encounter inequality that you will resist the urge to run and instead stand with feet firmly planted in justice.  I hope that your voice, quiver as it may, rises from your throat in defense of those who have not been allowed to speak for themselves.

I hope that both in the warmth of joy and in the cold face of contempt, you’ll know beyond a shadow of a doubt that beauty rises from our tender, broken places.

Most of all I hope that in this new year you’ll be passionately, unswervingly, desperately vigilant in lavishing kindness on one another.

Men of Goodwill

I have a friend, Jason, who has three noteworthy talents.  Wait, that came out wrong.  Sorry, Jason.  He has many noteworthy talents, but three in particular that I greatly appreciate.

1. He orders well off the In N Out secret menu.

2. He can play pretty much any instrument just by looking at it.

3. He picks out the most perfect music for me, music that I wouldn’t normally give a second glance to.  Then he points it out and lo and behold the songs he suggests are now all of my favorites.

That third one may actually verge on the side of superpower and it’s that talent/superpower that brings me here today.

A few weeks ago Jason tweeted about loving this Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth mash-up that Bing Crosby and David Bowie sang together.  Rub your eyes all you want, you read that right.

Bing Crosby.

David Bowie.

Singing.

Together.

When I read Jason’s tweet, my eyes rolled so hard they almost got stuck, which would have been terrible because moms all over the world would have rightfully let out a global, “I told you so.”

My eye roll was impeded by a teensy niggling thought.  Jason always recommends brilliant stuff.  But David Bowie and Big Crosby???  No.  Just no.

So with my eyes set on auto roll and my scoff turned on high, I watched the video.

And then I swallowed my scoff back down past the lump in my throat and my eyes were too busy blinking back tears to even think of rolling.

The sorrow of the Newtown shooting was still a bleeding wound, soaking through my days in the classroom and staining my pillow with nightmares.

So when David Bowie sang these lines, I found myself weeping and echoing his prayer.

I pray my wish will come true for my child and your child, too.

He’ll see the day of glory,

See the day when men of goodwill live in peace,

Live in peace again.

Many Christmas songs wish goodwill to others, like goodwill is a thing to be gifted with a plate of cookies.  I stopped in my tracks at the phrase “men of goodwill” because as it turns out, all this time goodwill is something to be, not to have.

I get that it’s a Christmas song and that you’re on an eleven month sabbatical from Christmas music, but that verse has been loping in my head for the last few weeks as my little ones and I studied Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his call for all of us to be a people with spirits devoted to equality, a people with minds set on peace, and a people with hearts pulsing with goodwill.

This Monday as we honor Dr. King, his words will ring in my heart and in a surprising twist, David Bowie and Bing Crosby will be singing the soundtrack that plays in my mind as I seek opportunities to be a woman of goodwill.

Everything is Upside Down

Everything is upside down because you are not here.  It hits me in the most unexpected places, on the most unexpected days and today is one of those.  I can’t call you and tell you about the books I’m reading, about the speakers I’m hearing, or about the big thoughts I’m thinking.

I thought about you as I slid into the cab and the driver spoke in a thick Eastern European accent.  His voice was so deep, so low that I had to lean forward in my seat to hear.

“Where to?”

“MGM Grand Conference Center, please.”  I hold my bag on my lap and look out the window at the drizzle raining down on the Strip.  It’s not enough to fill puddles, just enough to give the street the illusion of being clean.  It’s the quiet of morning, no flashing signs, no men snapping fistfuls of paper women at passerby.

“Where are you from?”  I ask, watching the corners of the windows etch with steam.

“I live here.  Where are you from?”

“California.”

“Los Angeles?”

“No, Northern California, the pretty part of the state-with lakes and mountains.”

“I lived in California many years ago.”  He waits for the light to turn from red to green.

“But where are you from?”

“Romania.”  He clips the word and I hesitate for a moment, wondering why he left Romania, wondering what he isn’t saying, always wondering, always wanting to know the rest of the story.

“I’ve been to Romania.  My grandmother took me on a bus tour of Eastern Europe for my thirtieth birthday.  Romania is beautiful.  I always had my nose pressed to the bus window when we drove through Romania.”  My rush of words fog up the cab window.

“What towns did you visit?”

“Oh, I’m terrible with names.  Say some of the names and I’ll tell you if we visited the towns.”

“Romania isn’t very big.  Only the size of Oregon.”  His eyes meet mine in the rearview mirror.  His are brown almost black and mine are turquoise today.  “Of course there’s Bucharest.  And there’s Brashov.”

“We visited Bucharest, but Brashov was my favorite.  I prefer smaller towns.”

“I am from Brashov.”

“Do you visit Romania often?”

“I haven’t been back there in twenty-six years.”  He says, the decades stacking in his throat, the lapse of time thick in his tone.  He pauses and I don’t say anything.  “But I’m going back in March.”

“This March?”  I resist the urge to ask this stranger about the long stretch of years between homecomings.

He leaves me wondering and asks another question instead, “Why did your grandmother take you there?”

“For my birthday.” I repeat.

“But why Romania?”

“She loves,um, loved-” I correct your life to past tense and it stops my heart for a moment.  “She loved to travel to places she hadn’t been before.  She had a heart for meeting people all over the world.”

“She gave this to you.”

“Yes, it was a present for my birthday.”  I fiddle with my wallet, slipping out cash, guessing at the number of bills I’ll need to pay when we arrive at my destination.

“No,” his eyes smile in the mirror.  “You’re here.  She gave you a love of travel.”

“Yes, I suppose she did.”  I smile back.

“Her heart is your heart.  Her blood is your blood.”

The taxi comes to a stop at the curb.  I hand a wad of folded up bills over the seat, more bills than I’d first counted out, still a paltry offering for this taxi driver who has walked the same streets you and I walked, an entire ocean and calendars of years away.

I think about how the cash I give him isn’t nearly enough for the man who reminded me that you’re still here, that my blood is your blood, that your heart is my heart.

“Thank you.  Have a safe trip home.”  I say to him.

“You, too.”  He tucks the bills in his back pocket and flashes a last smile.

I step out onto the curb and I no longer feel so upside down.  The rain holds its breath and I begin to feel righted again.

NoIdWhToWriAb

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) stands tiptoe at my door.  It’s a wild month of writing 50,000 words in 30 days and hoping at least 25,000 250 25 of them are good words.

Usually a plot idea strikes me or comes to me in a dream a couple of days before November 1st arrives.  This year?

Nada.

No ideas.

No dreams.

Nothing.

So I’m affectionately calling this year NoIdWhToWriAb.  Rolls right off the tongue, right?  It stands for No Idea What To Write About and I’m fully embracing the sheer terror of just sitting down at my computer come November 1st and starting to type, hoping that my fingers will transcribe an idea to my brain.

Questions are jostling around in my brain.  There’s the big one.  What on earth am I going to write about?  Insert your suggestions here: _______________________________________________________________________________

Perhaps I could cobble together a novel sort of Mad Libs style wherein you give me stuff and I mash it all together into sentences that kind of make sense.

Will I finally be able to kill off a character this year?  Probably not.  I like them all too much.  Even the jerks.

Will I actually write the ending to the book within those 50,000 words?  Probably not.  Let’s face it, there are times when somebody just has to die and I just can’t seem to make it happen.  Thus I have an unhealthy stack of unfinished novels and undead characters.

Will I ever develop a taste for adverbs?  No.  Meaty verbs always clobber them and I like it that way.

With 1,666 words a day vying for my time, will the laundry get done?  That’s a good one.  Does it ever?  I may be venturing into an unhealthy definition of ‘clean clothes’.

Will I beat my friend Ed?  Yes, my word count will make his word count weep.  Sure he’s already got an idea and everything, but what I lack in ideas, I make up for in blind confidence.  Sorry, Ed, but you’re going down.

And finally, what songs should I add to my writing playlist this year?  Tell me your favorites.  Maybe your song will be just the thing that inspires my magnum opus.  No pressure or anything.

To my fellow Wrimos, happy writing!  And yes, that shirt’s clean enough.  Set down the laundry basket and pick up your pen.

The Great Machine Strike

The machines are against me.

*I’m far less embarrassed by that reference than I should be.  I watched it when I was sick at home once, k?
Image courtesy of thecia.com.au.

Not in a Transformers Dark Side of the Moon* sort of against me.  There aren’t huge talking robot cars breaking into my house or anything.

It all began when the air conditioner at the school broke.  My classroom A/C worked just fine mind you.  But when the men in coveralls came to fix the school-wide A/C, mine stopped working.  Stopped working as in it was eighty-eight-lord-have-mercy-degress inside my classroom.  Dear ones, let me tell you that there isn’t a tougher crowd than 30 five and six-year olds who are too hot to move and/or think.  Due to the smoke from the fires blazing around us, we couldn’t even open a door or crack a window.  Teaching Sweating profusely for upwards of 10 hours a day and then driving home in a cauldron of smoke made me contemplate 2 things:

  1. How hot can hell really be?
  2. Am I in hell right now?

Truth be told, it also made me long for my days in Uganda writing with my sons and daughters in their beautiful open air classrooms that don’t need pesky things like air conditioners or for that matter, electricity.  It made me long to sit under the trees with them, looking out over the bush while they entranced me with their stories.

Once word got out that one of my machines had gone rogue, the others followed suit.  My router went on the fritz, taking my internet access and printer with it.  No amount of cajoling could bring the router back to life.  Believe me I tried.  I tried to fix it with the help of customer service agents from all over the world.  I was on the phone with customer service for 5 unholy hours which led to me saying very bad words and entertaining thoughts of taking the business end of a screwdriver to my router, which I may or may not have done while having a full on fit in my garage.

So while I would have loved to write about said ridiculous fit in detail here, the last thing I wanted to do after sweating through my clothes all day was vagabond myself out to free WiFi spots.  The only thing I wanted to do was come home and take an icy shower.  Trust me, sparing the public of my presence during those days was really an act of community service because let me tell you, the funk rising out of my skin was so strong it sometimes brought tears to my eyes when I happened to catch an errant whiff of myself.  There aren’t deodorants strong enough for that people, there just aren’t.

After the A/C, router and printer went on strike, my classroom projector and camera followed suit.  I swear it’s because they were melting in the heat.  My classroom A/C has now been out for 2 weeks.  Luckily for me I have a student teacher who climbs into the spiderwebby A/C closet every day and manually starts the thing up.  What better way for him to get a glimpse of the realities of teaching that to do that every morning, right?  Unfortunately once it’s on, it will not be stopped, so we’ve moved from the sweltering fires of Mordor to the frozen tundra of Antarctica.

But today, dear ones, is a turning point in The Great Machine Strike.  Perhaps they saw the damage I can do with a single screwdriver.  Perhaps their little metal innards were scarred by a full-grown woman melting down in all senses of the word.  Today two men in coveralls came and banged on things in the A/C closet outside of my classroom so I’m hopeful that tomorrow it will be humming away again.  Also a man with a jangling tool belt came and did things to the projector and it’s all bright and happy again.  I bought a new router that is speedy and quick and smiles at me with a pretty blue light.

The last hold out is the printer, but I think it knows I mean business because it’s beginning to perk back up and make clicking sounds and flash cheerful blinking lights at me like it wants to be friends again.  Just in case it needs a little more convincing, I left the screwdriver out in plain sight.

Image courtesy of flatheadscrewdriver.net