Make Good Art.

-Neil Gaiman

Sunday, July 14, 2024

Good News

The Good News

Thich Nhat Hahn

The good news

they do not print.

The good news

we do print.

We have a special edition every moment

that we need you to read.

The good news is that you are alive

and the linden tree is still there

standing firm in the harsh winter.

The good news is that you have wonderful eyes

to touch the blue sky.

The good news is that

your child is there before you,

and your arms are available.

Hugging is possible.


They print only what is wrong.

Look at each of our special editions.

We always offer the things that are not wrong.

We want you to benefit from them

and help protect them.

The dandelion is there by the sidewalk,

smiling its wondrous smile,

singing the song of eternity.

Lo! You have ears capable of hearing it.

Bow your head.

Listen to her.

Leave behind your world of sorrow

and preoccupation

and get free.

The latest good news

is that you can do it.

* * *

During the summer of 2020 I was one of many people walking laps around our city neighborhood. My husband, a city bus driver, had just gone back to work. I was frantically worried about our health, his lack of insurance, and catching COVID-19, I needed to burn off the extra anxiety.

The Good News was that I had space to do it. 

On the way back from one such walk, I noticed a dandelion growing from the brick retaining wall. I looked at it for a long time, snapped a picture, and sent it to my husband. “If this isn’t,” I said, “an admonition to thrive wherever we are planted, I do not know what is.” 

Little did I know it, but I was hearing that dandelion’s song of eternity at that moment. 

Dandelions are a remarkable plant that seems unremarkable. For example, one thing that we all know about dandelions is their ability to thrive where they are planted. We see them in pavement cracks and brick walls. We pull them from our gardens’ deep soil. They are very common and they bloom where they are planted. 

Where have we been planted? 

Beloveds, right now I feel very much like the dandelion growing out of a sidewalk or brick wall, trying to sing the song of eternity into a world filled with sirens. But while the soil here may not be deep, it is rich. The good news is that it is enriched by this spiritual community, by my friends and family, by my volunteer work and by daily my spiritual practices. 

What enriches your dirt? 

The other interesting thing about dandelions is that they are edible–flowers, greens, and roots. It’s funny to think of this ubiquitous (and for some, irritating) sign of summer, as a nutritional powerhouse, but it is high in vitamins and calcium. They’re also delicious.  

Let’s pause and consider this briefly. What we roundly consider a nuisance flower or a pest is food not only for our beloved pollinators but for us as well. 

Consider too one of the most frustrating parts of our lives today–the knowledge that we are each one person standing against a tide of special interests and a broken political system that will sell us and our children, and our children’s children down the river for a quarter of a percent increase in profits or votes. In the face of this power we, like the dandelions, are common and perhaps a little unremarkable. 

The good news is that you too can feed a community. In my Catholic childhood we called these acts of spiritual and physical feeding the corporal works of mercy. Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the sick & the imprisoned, and bury the dead. We know how to do these things. We can recognize them even in their less obvious forms in our community and each of these acts is a  note in the song of eternity. 

The final thing I want to say about dandelions is that they spread prolifically. Each head contains hundreds–did you know that–hundreds of seeds. Every time we make a wish on these little weeds, we ensure that they will continue to grow into the next season. 

Here we are, rooted in this church, with the ability to feed those around us, and the good news–the best news–is that these actions plant seeds of hope, love, and grace in the community around us. They ensure that our notes in this song of eternity are heard, and lead us to the next movement. 

Beloveds, may our lives be representations of the good news. May we grow here, in this soil in which we planted, provide food to others, and let our deeds carry forth into eternity. 

May it be so, and amen. 

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Share Your Love with Me

 The Queen of Soul is belting it out in the apartment tonight. 

I can't decide on a specific album so I cue up the first one I ever bought: Aretha Franklin's 30 Greatest Hits. It's been a rough day at the office, so I really wanted to hear "Respect," and I'll see how I feel as the album winds on. 

I go on cooking and tidying things up until a song comes on that brings back my first marriage so vividly that I have to stop and remind myself to breathe. 

Oh how lonesome (oh how lonesome)

You must be (you must be)

It's a shame (shame, shame)

If you don't share your love with me. 

I listened to this song on an endless loop while the ex and I were breaking up. I was so lonely and I kept thinking that he must be lonely, too. 

* * *

"I think that this is what people meant by "adulting.""

I'm on a videocall with one of my dearest friends. I've been telling her about how everyone I know really seems to be going through it lately. Divorce, unemployment, issues with their health, issues with their parents health, discipline problems with their kids, it's just everything all at once. And it's hard to know when someone has enough space to hear the minor tragedies that are going on in your life. 

Community has been a buzzword for so long now that I think it has lost all of its meaning. We say that we know it is life-affirming and life-changing, but I haven't been able to build an actual community since the first few years after college. We got wrapped up in our jobs and lives and went our separate ways. I understand that life is like that. We love people for a season or a lifetime and whichever it is, it was worth loving them.

But I long for real community. 

* * *
I was laid off in December. 

It was awful. I was called into the office one day and told that the organization was 3.1M dollars in debt and that there was no way out. We were being laid off because they weren't sure they would be able to meet payroll for another week. We were laid off because of incomprehensible financial mismanagement. The people responsible for that mismanagement still had their six figure salaries and probably had a very merry Christmas watching The Christmas Carol

I digress. 

Getting laid off is one of those things that you can't really conceptualize until it happens. I killed it at that job. I raised our entire fundraising goal for the year in six months. I loved my boss. I loved my work. I thought that I landed at the organization where I was going to stay until I at least finished school. Having that yanked out from me was so disorienting that I took three weeks just to process it. I could not fathom going from having a good job where things were going really well to having no job, and not because of anything I had done wrong. There were very few people I could talk to about it. David bore most of the burden then and now, because my emotions have become even more volatile than normal. When I do see people I love there so much pressure to be positive about my job search, because no one wants to hear you rant about how middle management creates jobs for themselves by making the job search worse for applicants. 

Or whatever tear I'm on that week. 

* * * 

My longing for community is wrapped up with a concept I fucking despise

"Having enough spoons." 

I understand that sometimes we're carrying so much in our private lives that we can't carry any more. But I am also in the process of becoming an interreligious chaplain who wants to do hospice work. I know firsthand that grief and stress shared are grief and stress lightened. My favorite minister once said that "Asking for help is self care and giving help is community care."

I have never forgotten that sermon. 

I don't know if this is a me thing. Do you all feel disconnected and vaguely unhappy? Am I just unlikable and can't form the community I want? Is the community that I long for just non-existent anymore?

That's not to say that we should all be willing to take on everyone's everything all the time. Of course not. Boundaries are important. But if we can't put a card in the mail, show up unannounced with a hotdish, or offer to take someone's kids for two hours so they can go on a date, what's the point? 

* * *
I've been relistening to a lot of music I haven't heard in awhile. 

It's been a lot of what Spotify has dubbed "Millennial Post Rock." I've listened to The Crane Wife album on repeat while writing papers. I play The Postal Service and make baked ziti for David's lunch. I just sit and listen to For Emma, Forever Ago

This is completely embarrassing, but the reason I am revisiting all these albums is because I feel like I did in my 20s. Everything is too uncertain, all of these life experiences are new and overwhelming, and IamjusthavingtoomanyfeelingsandIcannotdeal. 

Christ, I turn 40 next year. 

In the midst of this review of the tail end of my emo years, I let David have a turn at the radio. Somewhere in his mix a cover of "Share Your Love with Me" comes up. 

I'm drawn back to those months before my divorce, but only for a moment. I keep thinking about the line "Oh how lonesome you must be." Every time I have told someone "I don't have the spoons" or had someone cry when I drop off tater tot lentil hotdish or allthefuckingfeelings of worthless and despair I have felt during unemployment come over me. 

It's a lot. It's almost too much. 

But I realize again that a lot and almost too much are exactly what I want. I want to listen to you complain about your horrible Boomer boss or the price of houses or your dog chewing up your $3,000 dental guard. I want drawings from your kids and to bring you cookies when didn't get the job you wanted. I want to be in this horrible phase of "adulting" with you. I want to share our love and grief and joy with one another. 

Maybe we can all feel a little bit less lonesome. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Ruth

 I've been thinking a lot about the Book of Ruth lately. 

Part of it is that we sing a version of Ruth's words to Naomi at church most weekends (and let me tell you, for a hymn it's an earworm). Part of it is that I remind myself of Ruth's words to Naomi when I think about David. There are probably a lot more "part of its" that I'm not ready to talk about.

But almost daily I find myself musing over Ruth's words. "Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God" 

* * *

I am spiritually exhausted, y'all. 

I don't know how else to talk about it. I am convinced that the world is going straight down the toilet. I expect the world to devolve into a Parable-of-the-Sower-dying-gasps-of-Capitalism hellscape in the next ten years. I know that aforementioned capitalism is grinding us all into pulp and that we cannot bring ourselves to imagine that there might be something else so there won't be. Inflation is making our already tight budget even tighter. I worry about climate change Every Single Day. I spend my life talking about how to provide healthcare to the homeless, jobs to the jobless, and basic human dignity to everyone and nothing has gotten any better and in many cases things have gotten worse. 

I was talking to my beloved last week about some of my more extreme end-times views a few weeks ago. How I'm teaching myself to identify medicinal and edible plants. My desire to learn to use a firearm. My almost fanatical obsession with water conservation that I can't impact (I'm looking at you, Western United States).

"I know, babe. I feel the same way."

"I am so tired," is all I can reply. 

* * *

I'm on the Amtrak back to Milwaukee. 

It's about a week before Christmas and I'm going to spend some time with my family. But I'm feeling a little . . . I'm not sure. I've left my beloved back at our apartment (he can't get the time off work) and the holidays don't feel like the holidays without him. 

So I've tuned into the livestream of the Unitarian Universalist church we've been attending for the last month. 

I love UU Church. 

I'm a little embarrassed by how much I love UU Church. I'm embarrassed by how quickly this community has found its way into my heart. I'm embarrassed by how much I look forward to services. I'm embarrassed by how much I need this place

This week, it's the sermon that gets me. My favorite minister is preaching and his words have managed to grab me more than once. Today he tells us "Everyone needs more than anyone has to give right now, but also, no one can fill those of your needs that you won't let show. I believe that asking each other for help is self love and answering honestly is self love and giving what we can is community love."

I embarrass myself by crying on the train. 

* * *

I want to have a heart like Ruth's. 

I don't want to feel like I have it alone.

Let me explain.

I am tired of being spiritually exhausted. All of the problems that exhaust me are too big for me to handle on my own. Truly, they are too big for even a dedicated community to have much of an impact on. But I don't have the money to run away from climate change and crime and desperation and even if I did I do not know that I would. Community love is the only way I can see out. 

Everyone needs more than anyone has to give right now

I am trying to have a heart like Ruth's. 

Instead of telling people that I don't have the spoons or the time or the interest, I am going to start asking how I can help them carry what they have to carry. I am going to remind myself that time alone in the woods is a spiritual practice and so is running an errand for our elderly neighbor and so is speaking truth to friends (and power). I am going to try to draw our family circle so wide that no one feels left out. 

I am going to have a heart like Ruth's. 

In the words of that favorite pastor: let it be so, and amen. 

Monday, April 4, 2022

Soft

I lost someone close to me this week. 

Not lost in they've died but lost in the "well, that was an unforgivable betrayal of my trust" kind of way. 

I've been through so many relationship implosions over the years that it took a little while for this one to hit me. I did all the automatic stuff that I do--blocked them from my phone and social media, put away the things they've given me until I'm less emotional, activated my support group. I thought to myself "Well, that was unexpected" and went on with my day. 

We all know where this is going. 

That evening, after I held it together all day I tried to pickle myself in bourbon (it takes less now than it used to). I got into a horrible fight with David. I cried at a bus stop. I self-harmed in a more intentional way and screamed with grief and sobbed for hours. I've said it before, but going through life with big feelings is a constant fight.

Friday night I lost that fight.

* * *

My favorite Mary Oliver poem is only four lines long. 

"The Uses of Sorrow"

(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)

Someone I loved once gave me

a box full of darkness. 

It took me years to understand

that this, too, was a gift. 

* * * 

I have fallen a little in love with most of the people I have met and liked over the years. 

What can I say? I have a lot of feelings, sloppy boundaries, and a soft heart. 

Each time someone lets me down in a big way I tell myself that this is it. This is the time that I'm going to put up taller walls, keep people at an arm's length, stop calling that one friend who never wants to hang out. 

Then the next time I meet someone with the same obscure interest, the same favorite book, hell, just someone who looks cute and smiles at me I lose myself all over again. 

I am grateful to have such a loving, supportive partner in David. Every time I get excited about some new friend (or, frankly, crush) he's patient and kind. He gently reminds me that not everyone in the world is worth my time. I laugh and say "Yeah, but this person is."

He throws up metaphorical hands and I let myself be disappointed all over again. 

* * *

I am a walking trope: 

The person who walks around with ohmygodsomuchlovetogive and who gives it to all the wrong people and ohgodsomeonejustloveme

Kind of. 

I'm also the person who left her divorce with the determination to keep a soft heart and I've worked really fucking hard to keep it that way. I'm also a person who believes that the more love you let into your life, the more your love grows and reflects in the world. More than that, I believe--no, I know that loving people, even the ones who do not deserve it, has made me a better person.  

So what the fuck am I supposed to do? 

* * *

It isn't until Monday morning that I can really even begin to contemplate my most recent box full of darkness. 

I spend much of the weekend in an emotional and actual hangover, tinged with just a delightful soup├žon of self-recrimination and disgust. I manage to pull myself out of it long enough to spend some time with friends on Saturday and go to church on Sunday, but I make sure to make myself feel worse at every opportunity (saddest shoutout to people who use food as punishment, too).

There isn't anything special about Monday. I went outside and felt the ground under my feet and the sun on my face. I went to the park and walked the gravel paths. I observed the mallards, finally home for summer, as they fed and played. I saw a cardinal--a bird that always reminds me of David--and took a short video of its song with him later. 

The whole time I carried that box of darkness with me and thought about how fucking fragile we all are. How stupid and frustrating and maddening we can be when we're hurt and want to hurt someone else. And then I did what I always do, what I hope I will always continue to do. 

I reminded my heart to stay soft and went home.

Monday, January 10, 2022

Grief

 I have a print hanging in my bathroom that's held an outsized significance in my life for awhile. 

It's a quote from a Louise Erdrich book that I love. 

Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won't either, for solitude will break you with its yearning. You have to love. you have to feel. It is the reason you are here on Earth. You are here to be swallowed up. 

Mostly it just sits there on the wall, placed inconveniently for anyone to really notice while they're peeing or washing their hands, but I know it's there. And occasionally I stop and read it and think of when I bought it and how my life has changed. Or I'll read it mindlessly while I brush my teeth. 

Sometimes, though, I read it and my heart breaks open. 

* * *

David and I have started going to church.

I can't remember how it happened. I know that we were both yearning for something. Community was a part of it. A lot of my friendships have changed dramatically during COVID and before COVID. But it was more than just looking for a beloved community for me. "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord" says Mary in one of my favorite bible passages. "My spirit rejoices in God, my savior."

God and I have not been on speaking terms since 2012, but my soul has been proclaiming something recently. 

So David and I have started going to church. We attend a Universalist Church not far from where we live. 

In graduate school, Unitarians were easy targets for derision because "They don't believe in anything." I made this argument as much as any of my peers, and what an arrogant, judgmental little shit I was. I didn't realize how badly people who didn't have my confidence in the One True Church still needed a place for spirituality, hope, and love. Now I find myself regularly attending Unitarian services. 

Who says the universe doesn't have a sense of humor?

Yesterday we had a Service of Remembrance. It was the first in-person one this community has had in over two years (everyone is asked to be vaccinated and masked for the entirety of the service, and we were in N95s, so don't get sassy). The service had some aspects that felt odd to a recovering Catholic (speaking your losses to a stone and dropping it in a bowl of water, profligately having conversations with your neighbors about loss mid-service) but weren't any odder than almost any Catholic ritual I could name. Near the end of the service there was a litany of the people we have lost in the past year, and the congregation lit a candle in remembrance of every person. 

I have never grieved communally. My beloved grandmother died in May of 2020 and I was stone faced throughout her entire service. When I came back to Minnesota I screamed with grief. I cried and retreated from David and held on to my grief like a weight. The worst of it passed. 

It always does. 

So when I found myself in the midst of a bunch of very earnest people speaking about loss so openly, I was terribly intimidated. Afterall, the only thing I'd lost was a beloved pet. Listening to people speak the names of their loved ones who had died made anything I've experienced in the past two year seem mild. 

At the end of the service, a little embarrassed, I went up the altar and lit a candle for my beloved kitty. And in the act of lighting and thinking her name, something odd happened. 

My heart broke open. 

* * *

We've lost so much in the past two years. 

Families and friendships. Pets. A civic society. Live theater and music. Jobs we loved. Time. Illusions. That teacher we really wanted our kid to experience. A sense of normalcy. Hugs and shared laughter and warmth. Maybe our conceptions of ourselves. 

I've lost a a grandmother I adored, a pet who got me through difficult times, getting to watch my adopted nieces and nephews grow, the choice about whether or not I'll be a parent, my sense of smell and taste, months to long COVID, a little bit of my sanity, the joy I used to take in my work, more things than I can name. 

And in the act of lighting that small taper candle for a cat who died in November, my heart breaks. 

It breaks and it breaks and it breaks. 

And then it's all there. All the complicated, overwhelming, messy feelings that I've been carrying with me for two long years now. 

Probably for longer than that, if I'm being honest.

Somehow, it's easier in this place. Perhaps it's the message of the day. That the kindness we hold for one another is the only thing that is left after grief. It might be that quote from my bathroom, rattling around in my head and reminding me that these complicated feelings are the reason I'm here. It could just be that it was a cathartic experience and my brain is hit with a wave of feel-good chemicals. 

What I think it is--no, what I believe it is--is that doing this together has somehow made things easier. That speaking our losses, whether to a stone or a neighbor, and lighting our candles for a person or a pet has made this act of grieving lighter. Grieving communally has created a place of compassion, empathy, and love that is so necessary and so lacking right now. 

As we leave I take David's hand and smile. "I'm glad we did that."

"Yeah, me too."

And my heart begins to mend. 

Monday, December 14, 2020

I Fall in Love Too Easily

When David slips into the shower with me I almost burst into tears. 

I've just been diagnosed with COVID-19 and it feels like four hours after the test results come back, all the symptoms show up at once. I'm so tired I feel like I might just collapse on the bottom of the tub. My stomach is roiling and I've been coughing so hard my lungs hurt. 

"Baby," he asks, concerned. "Are you okay?"

I wrap my arms around him and cry quietly into his shoulder. 

"I'm so much better now that you're here." 

* * *
"I don't know! It's not one of those things you just say to people!"

"That is literally the dumbest thing you have ever said."

"Why?"

"Because you aren't 16. Do you think if you say it to the wrong person it'll lose its meaning?"

"Yeah, kinda."

I roll my eyes so hard I can practically hear it. 

"Look at me. I got married to the wrong person. I still loved him. I still love David now. It's not like I wasted all my love on my ex."

"Yeah, but that's different."

"How?"

"It just is."

"You're an idiot."

"And you're a prig."

"Well, that's settled. Whose turn is it to pay?"
* * *
When I was eighteen, a close friend of mine lived, at least during the school week, with my family. 

As far as I remember it, she came home with me one night after school, stayed over, and just lived with my family off and on for awhile. I had to shared a room with my younger brother (sleeping on the bottom bunk, no less), but that was the worst part of it.

We did, or (didn't) do our homework together. When things went south with our boyfriends we stayed up for hours talking. I learned how to tell when she was sleep-walking and when my older brother found out that I forgot to tell Mom about her birthday, he deep-fried her some mushrooms. 

She didn't have the heart to tell him she hated mushrooms and Mom was so mad she could have whacked me with a wooden spoon. 

Years later I was telling a friend about that part of my childhood and he asked "Weren't you jealous?"

"Why would I be jealous?"

"That your parents loved her as much as they loved you."

I still think about that conversation. 

* * *
I have never had a problem falling in love.

I like to joke that my closest friends are people that I've pined for over the years who never materialized into friendships. I've had some issues falling out of love over the years (dear god, the amount of time I cried over my high school boyfriend), but the falling for someone has always been the easy part. 

I'm always shocked when friends (in their 30s, no less!) claim to be unable to say "I love you" to a new partner. 

What on Earth do you have to lose?

* * *
I don't see a lot of people during COVID-19 lockdowns. 

It's been crushing on everyone, I know, but I'm really struggling a lot now that cold weather has pushed us indoors and made seeing friends impossible. 

I have one or two that are in our bubble and a few I don't mind regularly videochatting with and while it's not the same, it always helps. 

The day after I manage to wrangle a visit or have a particularly good conversation or David and I connect in a deep way I do the same thing. I take a special red china mug down from the cabinet. I make a cup of hot cinnamon tea and drink it while reflecting on and giving thanks for all the love in my life. 

Call it prayer or magic or good luck, but the love in my life keeps growing. 

* * *

David and I have spent over 6,000 hours together in a 600 square foot apartment. 

I still love him. 

It's one of those things that slightly surprises me when I think about it. Falling in love has never been a problem. I am profligate in declaring my love. I'm just not terribly good at staying in love.

See: My marriage that fell apart after less than two years. 

I hate sharing space with anyone. I need long stretches alone to feel like a human being. The only things I've ever allowed to share a bed with me on a consistent basis are my cats. 

It's not just that I still love him, it's that I'm happy with him here. My life is better with him in it and my home feels more like home with him here. He is calm and kind and keeps me grounded. I'm learning how to disagree with someone you live with and not have it be a three-day fight. He is the only one I want to see when I find out I'm sick. 

What matters most, though, is the feeling that love isn't scarce. It isn't something to hold onto a guard jealously against other people. There's room for love to grow in this relationship. 

And that makes every day worth a cup of hot cinnamon tea.  

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

David

David and I have been dating for almost 18 months and making crispy tofu still eludes me. 

It's maddening. 

His current shifts have him working until late--8:00 or 8:30PM and I take a lot of pride in having something delicious on the table when he comes home. Eggplant parmesan, homemade root vegetable pot pie, stuffed squash and mashed potatoes--anything that gives me something to do in the evenings and makes it so he has something to look forward to after a long shift on a snowy evening. 

Tonight I've been trying to make a crispy tofu stir fry and the tofu turns out fine, I guess. But it's not what I wanted for him. 

It upsets me more than it should. 

* * *

When I'm feeling truthful, I'll admit I knew something was wrong in my last relationship. 

Of course I did. There were so many indications that my ex and I didn't belong together, that we weren't really compatible. I briefly thought about calling off our wedding about a month before it happened, but I felt like I was too far into it. 

I wasn't brave enough to admit that we were failing. 

I lived on comfort food during the years with my ex. Hotdish, pasta carbonara, anything that was a simple carb. Anything that was both comforting and that I didn't actually care how it turned out. 

Just thinking about my diet now makes me shudder and realize two things. 

I was deeply in love. 

I was profoundly unhappy. 

* * *
"Jesus, it's hot in here."

"Yeah, the air-conditioner has never been very good. Do you need anything?"

"Water?"

He gets out of bed and heads toward the kitchen. Before he gets there he doubles back and puts on a record.

"I think you'll like this."

He turns on an artist from his hometown--someone I've never heard before. I space out for much of the record in the way you do when you're happy and in love and in the moment. 

Then there's a lyric that catches me. It's funny how that happens, isn't it? 


This is the most content I've been in years. 

***
I've been hesitant to write too much about David. 

I wrote a lot about the ex and our relationship and I'm superstitious. I haven't wanted to jinx what I have. 

I've also spent a lot of time thinking about my marriage vs. my relationship with David. 

I'm not going to do yet another post-mortem of my marriage. My ex doesn't deserve that kind of thought. What I will say is that I feel like I have a partner in everything. I have someone who has my back and who loves me, even on our worst days. This is the most loved, supported, and . . .  I don't know, seen I've ever felt. 

I think a lot about that song he played me when we first started dating.

Never gonna be perfect, but I'm still gonna try. 
Closest thing I'll ever get is you by my side. 

We've been through such a ridiculous, maddening, infuriating year. Between COVID and layoffs and elections, I feel like there's so much that could have--should have gone wrong in a relatively new relationship. And we're still together. I'm still deeply in love and profoundly happy. 

I still give a shit about how the tofu turns out.