Category Archives: greatness

Flying Ice

Monday this week was a day made for disappointment. It always is, but this week was worse than most. After an ice storm lent me another four-day weekend, it was a real bummer to come back to the office. Nobody was in a great mood, and everybody had a lot of work that needed doing, to get caught up. I put in my nine miserable hours, packed up some extra reading to take home with me, and then called it a day.

The roads were pretty clear by then, except for the steep-walled piles of dirty gray slush spilling onto the sides, but the drive still posed some little risks. I felt my car slip a little turning onto MacArthur, and again as I pushed up the ramp onto the highway. It was nothing dangerous, really — just little reminders that the road wasn’t really dry.

I hardly needed them, though. My windshield was enough evidence of that, with the thin, semi-transparent patina of slush thrown up by the cars ahead of me. That got a lot worse when I got onto the highway, and I was leaning forward, waiting for another pass of my worn out wipers, when the car in front of me threw up more than just slush. A pebble the size of a BB flipped up and smashed against my windshield, inches from my nose.

The sound of it startled me — surprisingly loud crack in the still of my car –and as I flinched back, I wondered if it had chipped the glass.

I first started driving in 1995, and I drove for fourteen years without ever getting a cracked windshield. I’ve certainly taken my share of pebble bombardment, but they make those suckers pretty strong. Still, the thought crossed my mind because, only a week earlier, gravel bouncing out of the back of a dump truck had put a big score in the driver’s side glass right above the dashboard. First time in my life, and here came another pebble one week later.

And then the wipers blurred by, smearing away the muck, and they left behind a single glittering spot, ten inches above the week-old chip. I grunted in frustration, I rolled my eyes, I probably thought something mean about the driver of the dirty white Tercel.

But then a sarcastic smile twisted my lips. I shook my head and chuckled, and said, “I wonder if I constructed that.” See, I believe in something called social constructionism, and one aspect of it is that the things we expect, the things we anticipate, are the things that are likely to show up in our reality. By worrying about my glass getting chipped, had I made it happen? It was a swift-passing thought. I sighed and let it go. Probably just coincidence. It’s a funny old world, after all.

The words were still fresh in my mind, the smile still on my lips, when I heard the distant groan and rip just before a sheet of ice tore free from that same car. I’d seen it happen on my drive in that morning, and even once or twice already on my drive home, but this time it happened right in front of me. A blanket of ice and snow packed two-inches thick suddenly caught the wind, dancing like a kite up into the air for two seconds, three, and slashing back down to earth.

I was too close, though. I got in the way. The largest shard — probably two feet across — came stabbing straight down at me. I braked, I swerved, but there was no time. I caught a dozen pounds of ice dead center on the passenger side of my windshield, at sixty miles per hour. It boomed like an explosion, and the whole windshield shattered — safety-glass holding the fractured bits in place, but ruined.

It was five o’clock on a Monday afternoon, northbound in the left-hand lane of one of the city’s major thoroughfares, so I had sixty-MPH traffic right on my tail. As soon as I knew I was still alive, I put my foot back on the gas. My heart thundered, and I had to fight to catch my breath, but the windshield held. I had a small rectangle, maybe two feet by one, right at eye level on the driver’s side where the glass was whole. It was enough to give me a clear view of the road, as long as I leaned forward. It was enough to get me home, anyway.

So I drove on, terrified every time another piece of ice flipped up into the air and wondering if the shattered windshield might give way yet. Ten miles still to go, and nobody else on the road cared how fragile my situation was. I just focused on breathing, focused on getting home safely.

And while I was at it, I tried my hardest to ignore that chip, right in front of my nose, marring the one bit of good glass left to me.

(I prepared this post according to the assignment description in this week’s Creative Writing exercise over at UnstressedSyllables.com. I’d love any feedback you’ve got to give.)

The Golden Age (a poem)

“She’s got a rule. She never dates her friends.”
“I know,” he said. “I really hate that rule….”

She keeps it, though, and she is all alone.
Alone at home, at work when it gets bad.
There’s trouble in the air, has been for years,
Then something breaks one quiet afternoon
At a presidential speech.
A kid is killed, and soon it’s on the news
And riots follow, cities start to burn.
There’s soldiers in the streets, and all too soon
There’s bombs.
And she is all alone.

She goes back to a place she once called home,
To friends who all among them made her world
And quietly they watch this world burn down.
All huddled up, squeezed tight on that sad couch
In his tiny apartment, second floor,
And wonder what the future holds in store.

For days it’s dazed and frightened disbelief.
At night their only light is CNN.
Then Dave hears that his boss has got a plan
The governor needs him to craft a speech
A bold address to set the city right
And bring back hope and reason, end the fight.
They go — these four, these friends, these college buds.
They’re kids, but they’ve been called to save the world
And only one has doubts — in that, she’s all alone.

More bombs in store, more death than they could guess
But through it all, he holds them to the course.
He’s brave for her — he saves the day for her —
But in the end they all are heroes true.
Here in the quiet Heartland, they wake up.
They face a dragon, slay a villain dark,
And live storybook lives in too-real life.

But then it’s done. It’s done, and they’re all safe,
But her mother back home is so afraid.
Her dad is, too, and asks her to come back.
To leave her friends, and come back to her home.
And hero though he is, her friend, she’s got a rule.
So she goes home, to grander stories yet….

And she is all alone.

September Seventeen (a poem)

You’re Alexander, son.
You’re born, you’re named, you’re blessed to be a king.
It’s up to you to choose where you end up,
But already you’ve conquered hearts, and bent some lives to you–
At two weeks old.

You’re Alexander, son.
You’re stronger than you ought to be, but only just begun.
There’s power in your name and mighty destiny bestowed,
And world enough for you to shape your dreams
And make them real.

You’re Alexander, son.
I’ve known your name for decades. Since I was a boy myself
I’ve known I’d shake your hand, and look you in the eye
And teach you how to cope, or hope — to break or make the world,
And trust in God.

You’re Alexander, son.
With riches already in store, the wealth of nations at your hand
In all the loving wisdom of your friends — a hundred friends
All waiting, all breathless, on that first day when you were born.
Yours to the end.

You’re Alexander, son.
And you could conquer states, or you could light unrighteous dark,
Could tame some scary wilderness we don’t yet know exists,
Or live a quiet, happy life at home. It matters not.
We will love you.

My Tens of Thousands

I’m an observant person. I’m introspective and extrapolative. I spend a lot of time thinking about how the world really is, and how that information should affect my decisions. I call this careful consideration my “governing intellect” — not that it does a ton of governing. It ends up being more a source of guilt (that I don’t follow my reason) than a helpful tutor. But still, I sometimes heed its advice — and sometimes to my own detriment.

Once upon a time, not too long ago, the Lord said to my governing intellect, “Come and sit by my side.” I’m not a proud man. I went and I sat. The man had some interesting things to say.

I have always lived a charmed life. This has manifested in mundane ways (a happy, prosperous family environment, an upbringing with a strong emphasis on education, and an inborn talent with the written word), and in ways mystical (I’ve never lost real money in a game of poker).

I’ve long recognized this effect in my life, and rarely taken it for granted. I remember reading the Odyssey early in high school and recognizing an easy familiarity with Odysseus, beloved of Athene. He was clever and careful, but even so, he had help. Things ever fell his way. So also with me.

In our own lore there’s another like him, and I’ve also often compared myself to King David. Chosen and blessed, set apart to do great things, I had nothing to fear from even the mightiest of enemies. That became my refrain. I can’t count the times I’ve whispered under my breath, “Lord, let me pass unseen through the camp of my enemies.”

He took me aside recently, though, and reprimanded me. That has been too much my attitude. When a university-level teaching job fell into my lap — money we sorely needed and an opportunity many people invest years of their lives just to apply for — I spent days and weeks and months just worrying, just hoping that I could survive. I just wanted to get through it, hopefully without drawing any attention to myself, and make it to December in one piece.

Oh humble yes, he said, but humble son of God!

There is so much more to David than the slinking thief, discreetly hemming his king’s old cape. An heir is made not just to survive, but to reign. I’ve spent years hiding in my dirty cave, with nary an adversary on the plains below. Anointed and appointed, spending all my gracious charms on nervous getting by, when my role is so much greater. I should be capturing cities to swell my empire. I should be conquering to preserve my name, and to lift up the names of my sons. I’ve spent long enough as a shepherd, I should long since have become a king.

That failing is on me. The opportunities to rise up are always there — served up to me on royal finery, and squandered in my timidity even as I proclaim that I’m trembling in fear of the Parable of the Talents. The Lord said to my governing intellect, “Come and sit by my side, and we’ll make cautious reason our footstool, because there are far more interesting things going on than your boring old reality.”

I can’t wait to see my Jerusalem.

The Placebo Effect

Found this article through Digg, and thought it was worth sharing.

The headline claims that placebos are getting stronger, but the real situation is a little more complicated than that. Still, it’s a great review of the placebo effect in general and a fascinating look at how major pharmaceuticals are addressing it right now.

Greatness: The Dream House

A Postmodern Short Story

Facebook has recently put me back in touch with an old high school friend, G–. He was never a close companion on the scale of D– or Brad or Mike, but we shared classes and we shared conversations for most of six years, so I was glad to see his name and face show up under the enigmatic, “People you might know.”

I added him to my friends list right away, and when he confirmed he immediately followed up with an email offering a quick summation of his lifestate, and I responded with one of my own. Then he wrote back, saying, “Man it’s good to hear from you! I’d completely lost track, but I’ve never forgotten all the crazy conversations we used to have. Are you still playing part-time philosopher, or have you finally joined the flock?”

I hesitated over my answer, and finally wrote back, “Still just as crazy, but I hide it better. My big obsession since college is radical social constructionism, which suggests we collectively shape our reality by our expectations. It goes deeper than that, but that’s a good snapshot.”

I sent that off and put the ball in his court. If he wanted to ask me for more clarification, he could. In the process he would bring down an avalanche of information from me, but at least that way it would be on his hands. If he wanted to let it go, safe in the knowledge that I still had some weird notions ready to hand, he could. He surprised me, though. He wrote back and said, “No way! That is a good summary, but I know all about it. Weird that we would still end up talking about the same ideas after all this time….”

So it turned out I was the one who couldn’t leave it at that. I’ve known a lot of people who get social constructionism when I explain it to them, but never one yet who was already familiar with it. And I sure didn’t expect G– to be the first one! He’d always been willing to listen, stupefied, while I rambled on, but he was never the real philosopher himself. So I asked him for his story, and it was a good one.

He graduated with me in the spring of ninety-eight, and while I went off to Little Rock for the summer and then to Oklahoma for college, he stayed in Wichita and spent a few months working on a roofing crew to save up his tuition. When he got into WSU in the fall, he held onto that job. It paid well, and he liked the work.

So one weekend he was working on this rotted out roof over on the West Side, tearing out ruined plywood and rebuilding the frame while the irritated homeowner tapped his foot down in the front lawn, wanting them to be done. It was a big job, though, and they ended up working until well after midnight, tacking down new shingles by the light of flood lamps so they could do another job the next day. Sunday morning he got up, went to work, and showed up at a home halfway across town to find the same homeowner standing by the curb talking to his boss.

G– pondered on that while he worked, and when his first break rolled around he struck up a conversation with the client. Turned out the guy flipped houses for a living, and both of these were projects he hoped to clear in a couple weeks. That piqued G–‘s curiosity, and I guess the fellow liked G– because he gave him a business card and told him to keep in touch. G– did, and at the older man’s direction he spent all his free time that fall going to seminars, reading books on the topic, listening to tapes, and checking out videos that all promised the guaranteed secret to financial independence through home sales. By the end of his first semester he was ready to give up roofing and studying and become a real estate man.

By that point he really felt like he knew what he was doing. Nineteen, with no money, no degree, and still working his high school job, he was sure he was ready to make the investment. So he did his research, and over finals week, between tests, he closed on a 2/1/1 FSBO west of Tyler that he knew was worth a twelve percent profit. It cost him sixty thousand dollars and he had the whole Christmas break to get it fixed up and listed.

So he drove out on a Sunday morning in his crappy little pickup, armed with nothing but a little toolchest he could carry easily with one hand. There may have been a power drill, too, but that would be pushing it. He eyed the dead lawn critically, the gutter hanging loose over the front porch, as he approached up the walk and turned his sixty thousand-dollar key in the twelve-dollar Wal-Mart lock. Then he pushed the door open, but it caught fast at three inches. The chain was on. Not only that, but he could smell incense burning in the house, and a moment later he heard someone moving around inside. He took a step back, checked the address, but this was the right place. He’d been here before after all, for the inspections, and the house had been empty then.

He probably should have been afraid, but young men are fools. He pounded on the open door, loud as he could, and called out, “Hey! Hey! Who’s there?”

A woman’s voice answered him indistinctly, and a moment later she floated into view. Her haid was black, pulled up on one side in a complicated braid. Her eyes were green, and she was wearing nothing but a threadbare white towel. That stopped him short.

She didn’t show any sign of embarrassment or remorse. She just smiled politely and said, “Well? What’s all the fuss?”

“This is my house,” he stammered, his anger coming back a bit. “I came out here to do some work on it–“

“Good,” she said. “You need a new water heater.”

“I need to know what you’re doing here,” he said. “This is my house.”

“No,” she said, shaking her head. “It’s mine.”

He frowned, and his heart started pounding. He knew all about liens and he’d spent a week reading about squatters’ rights, but he hadn’t really expected problems at this place. He’d cleared the title two days ago. His stomach knotted at the thought of the legal expenses it would take to get this sorted out. He shook his head, trying not to think about it, and said, “How do you figure?”

She just smiled and said, “Magic.” He stared, blank, and she slipped the chain off the door and withdrew into the room. He pushed in and found a beanbag chair and a tiny, ancient black and white TV plugged in by the front door. A spill of worn paperbacks lined the wall — the tattered carpet their only bookshelf — and a stick of incense burned in its holder atop a battered minifridge on the far wall. He took it all in at a glance, and felt his rage rise up again.

“What is all this?”

She shrugged one shoulder without losing the towel and said, “My stuff.”

“Why?” he asked. “Why this house?” He felt a desperate fear, and wondered if his dad could help him out of it.

“I had a lovely dream that took place here,” she said. “Well, not exactly this house, but one close enough. And I was driving down the road last week and saw the sign out front and I thought, ‘That’s it. That’s my house.'”

“But it’s not yours,” he wailed. “It’s mine. I saw the sign, and then I bought the freaking house.”

She smiled and turned away. “That’s a kind of magic,” she said. “Money. But mine’s better.”

“And what’s yours?” he said, as he dug the cell phone out of his pocket.

“Desire,” she purred, turning back to him. “Anticipation. Faith.” She gestured to the room around her with a long, slender arm. “This is going to be my house. I can make it mine by sheer force of will.”

She caught his hand and dragged him back toward the hall. “This will be my room,” she said, opening the door on the smaller of the two. “Just enough room for a twin bed and four bookcases.” Then she turned him around and pushed open the door to the master bedroom with one toe.

The walls in there were angry red, the wookwork stained almost black. Bringing that room to a neutral color was a chore G– was dreading, but it had a dreadfully oppressive feel as it was. It didn’t seem to get through to her, though, because the girl danced into the room and said, “This will be the kids’ room. Lots of space to play. Can’t you just imagine?”

“Listen,” he said, “if you want to buy it, I’ll have the house on the market soon–“

She shook her head. “No you won’t,” she said. “Not this house. Besides, I don’t have any money.”

“You don’t need any,” he said. “I’ve got a great guy. I’ll give you his number.”

She just shook her head again. “I’m not interested.”

“Then you have to get out.” It was hard to be stern with her, but he had work to do. “Today. Now. Or I’ll call the cops.” He wasn’t entirely sure he could do that, but she didn’t call his bluff.

She sighed, and her shoulders fell, and she said, “Fine. I’ll go. Can I use your phone? I need my dad to bring his truck if I’m going to get all this stuff out.”

He grumbled about that, too, but if it got her gone he could spare the minutes. He waited there with her while she made the call, heard her ask the man on the other end to bring the truck, and then he got his phone back. “Good,” he said. “Umm…thanks. Now you can get dressed or whatever. I’m just going to get started–“

“Fine,” she said, and disappeared into the guest bedroom. He just stood for a moment, stunned, staring at the closed door. He thought about calling his dad, but decided to wait. He didn’t want her to overhear any part of that conversation.

Instead he went to the front door and got his tools. He had a handful of little projects from the inspectors, and he had planned to knock those out quickly and then spend the rest of the day planning his big renovation. He pulled the list from his back pocket, unfolded it, and picked the first item: busted faceplates in kitchen and laundry room. He had a couple cheap tan light switch and outlet covers in his tool chest, so he grabbed those and a flat-head screwdriver and got to work.

Thirty minutes later he was out front with his pickup pulled up in the yard so he could stand on the hood to reach the gutter. He had three long gutter spikes between his teeth and a hammer on his belt, but all his attention was on the warped bit of sharp-edged sheet metal in his hands. He couldn’t get the dangling section to match back up to the piece still on the wall.

Below him the screen door screamed open before it banged against the wall, and G– mentally added two items to his list: oil the hinges, and reattach the hydraulic arm. Then he glanced down at the pretty trespasser. She was wearing patched jeans and a worn brown sweater now, with flip-flops for shoes in spite of the cold. He growled, “You still here?” but the nails between his teeth garbled his words. She giggled and held up a thick paper cup. Sweet-smelling steam curled off the top of it.

“He’ll be here any minute now,” she said. “Hot tea?”

He just shook his head, amazed at her aplomb, but after a moment he relented. He climbed down off the hood of his truck and let go the dangling gutter. It creaked ominously, but it didn’t fall. He took the offered cup, then sank down on the front steps. “Thanks,” he said.

She moved around in front of him, fists on her hips, and waited until he looked up to meet his eyes. “I’m not a bad person,” she said softly.

“No,” he said, biting off the words. “You’re just crazy.”

She took a step back as though he’d hit her. For the first time since he’d shown up she looked upset. “I’m not crazy!”

“You can’t just move into someone else’s house because you want to.”

“You’d be surprised,” she said. “But I didn’t. I moved into my house–“

“This is not your house!”

“As you see it,” she said, then held up a hand to forestall his argument. “Okay, and the cops, too. I can’t suppress that kind of authority.”

He took a slow sip of his tea, then set the cup aside. He leaned back and looked up at her, finally curious. “What are you talking about?”

She frowned, as though she didn’t understand the question, and he shook his head. “You were talking about magic earlier,” he said. “Now it’s ‘suppressing authority.’ You don’t look a crazy person–“

She stomped her foot. “I’m not crazy!”

“Then what are you talking about?” He glanced up at the dangling gutter and knew he’d rather hear her story than get back to that. “Spill it.”

“Have you ever heard of Phenomenology?” she asked. “Brain in a vat?” He shook his head and she sank down on her heels in front of him. “Your whole universe is a model built inside your head, using your experiences, your expectations, and tiny electrical pulses from your nerves to populate it. Everything you see is just a message from your eyes to your brain, and based on that little spark of lighting your brain adds to the model however it sees fit. Everything you touch, every word you hear me saying–“

“Okay,” he said. “What’s the point?”

“It’s all a dream,” she said. “Your reality is a dream. Your brain is making it up, all the time, and you just go along with it. If you wanted to, though, you could change it. Take control of the dream. Put your mind to work for you and start producing reality instead of just consuming it.” She was breathing faster now, and her eyes were wide. He couldn’t help smiling at her enthusiasm.

“See,” he said, “that’s where you start to sound crazy.”

She rolled her eyes. “That’s the hard part,” she said. “When dreams overlap. When my world and your world come into contact, and they’re not the same, we have to negotiate a common ground.”

“And how would you do that?”

“Talking,” she said. “That’s the purest magic, rhetoric. Money works, too, like you said. And force.” She turned up her nose. “You invoked force, and I retreated, and your dream won out over mine.” She rose back to her feet, unfolding gracefully, and reached out to touch the fallen gutter with a tender hand. There was sadness in her eyes. “I lose my dream house,” she said, “and you get this dump. Congratulations.” As she said it her dad pulled up to the curb behind her. He honked the horn once and she glanced back over her shoulder. “I’ll be gone in a minute,” she said, and disappeared into the house.

After that there wasn’t much excitement to the project. G– got down to work. He fixed the easy stuff quickly, but after that things ground to a halt. He got into the attic to examine the ductwork and found termites in the ceiling. He pulled up carpet to check out the hardwoods and found water damage down to the subfloor. Christmas break came and went. When the lease on his apartment expired in the spring, he moved into the house so he could work on it full-time over the summer.

In spite of his difficulties, he kept an eye on the real estate market, still committed to his plan. In June he bought another place and sold it in July. In August he bought and sold two places, one of them in the same neighborhood as his starter house. He finally settled into a rhythm, learned the eccentricities of the local market, and got pretty good at what he did. He never could sell that first 2/1/1, though.

Then on a Thursday night, two years later, he was at Barnes and Noble grabbing a book on plumbing when he spotted her in one of the comfy chairs reading a trashy fantasy novel. He fell down into the chair next to her and when she didn’t look up he said, “Hey, squatter.”

That got her attention. She blinked at him for a moment, then grinned sarcastically and answered, “Hey there, cops.”

“That’s me,” he said. “What’s happening?”

“The kingdom’s crumbling and the lord goes off to war,” she said. “You?”

“Better than that.” He grinned. “Want to know something funny? I never did sell that house.”

She tilted her head, considering him, and said, “If you’re looking to unload it, I still don’t have any money.” She opened the book back up, ready to forget him.

He blinked, and coughed an awkward laugh. “Umm…no,” he said. “That’s not what I…. Listen, do you think you’d want to go out to dinner?’

Again he got that long, quiet stare, but then she nodded. “Sure,” she said. “Where did you have in mind?” They did Mexican, and then the Olive Garden on Saturday, and burgers next Friday before they went bowling. And then in April they got married. He finished college, and two years after that they started a family with twins on the first try. He spent a weekend moving furniture, painting, getting the kids’ room ready. And as he put the finishing touches on the new nursery — their old master bedroom, but they would need the extra space for two cribs, two dressers, and oh, the mountain of toys — he laughed out loud and went to find her in the living room, curled up with a book.

“It’s about done,” he told her.

She looked up at him absently, then saw the look on his face and her eyes narrowed. “Why are you smiling?”

“Remember the day we met?” he said, sinking down next to her on the couch. “Here?” She nodded, and he went on. “You said the master bedroom would be your kids’ room. Standing there in a towel, you told me that with a straight face.” She nodded again and he smiled. “Well, it’s done,” he said. “It came out just like said. Isn’t that crazy?”

But she just smiled, and laughed, and told him, “No. It’s just as it should be.”

Greatness: Heart’s Desire

There’s a verse in the Psalms that took me by surprise, first time I read it.

“Delight yourself in the Lord; and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

That’s Psalm 37:4. It’s in a familiar vein, “Ask and you shall receive,” and the kid asking his father for a loaf of bread, and even the insistent widow. That’s all Jesus, though, right? I mean, he was a generous guy. It struck me, though, reading the psalmist saying the same sort of thing….

Prayer is a serious thing, in the Bible. It’s a powerful thing. We are encouraged and ordered to use it. And not just for meditation, not just as an opportunity to spread our lives before God, and hopefully gain a new perspective. We are directly instructed to ask for what we want, because God wants to be our provider. He makes that clear, again and again. Look what he was trying to do in Eden.

That Psalm caught my attention when I was a boy, back when I was about sixteen, and I put it to the test. I felt confident in that time, because I did delight in the Lord, I was certain of that, and more importantly, I knew without a doubt the desire of my heart. And I didn’t have it.

So I prayed. I prayed, and in the night I had a dream, a glimpse of the life I wanted to have, years off, and that was enough for me. I took confidence from that moment, and I received what I asked for then.

That was a powerful experience for me.

A prayer isn’t a birthday cake wish, y’know? I don’t think it needs to be a secret. Sitting in church last Sunday, the man was saying this or that about relying on God, about letting him exercise his power within your life. That’s something I believe in, as all of you know. I believe the world is a malleable thing, that reality can be bent for the purposes of God or man. I nodded, understanding and encouraged, even, and suddenly I remembered high school, and that desperate prayer….

I have a heart’s desire, in my life today. I have lots of things to ask for (and hope that they will be given). We have a baby on the way, and I want her to be healthy. I want Trish to be healthy through it all, and I worry about that. I want lots of little things, the comforts that require wealth beyond what I already have. I pray a lot. I ask for a lot. But those are just things. Somehow, in my head at least, I’ve separated such prayers, such petitions, from the sort of desire the psalmist was talking about.

My heart’s desire, today and now, is to be a best-selling writer. I want to publish a work, and have it read by the world. I want to write, stories and lessons and snapshots, to show readers what the world was and is and could be. I want my name to be remembered, for the words that I said. I have a message that I want heard, I have talents, gifts, that I want to use. I want the money. Not that — I want the opportunity. I want my writing to be my life.

I was an A student in elementary school. I was good at everything except multiplication. I could teach myself, given the right books, and I usually managed to get them. I had a lot of plans for the future. For most of my childhood, they had nothing to do with writing.

A lot of you have known me for a long time, but if you haven’t heard me tell this story, you don’t know this story. That is to say, most of you know me as a writer, but none of you were there, at the crucial moment, when I discovered why I was a writer. Maybe Josh, but no one else.

I was maybe twelve. Probably eleven. We’d had a handful of writing projects over the last year, and I’d done well enough on them (but, then, I did well on all of my projects, as long as they weren’t based on multiplication). One day I was thinking through the writing process, though. The actual job description, of the sort of person who writes stories, and I realized it would be a home job. Maybe a nice office, maybe just a pad of paper on the kitchen table, but it would be a home job.

I wanted that, because I wanted to be home for my kids. I wanted to be home with my family, even when I was working. That picture stuck in my head, and I’ve never shaken it. Even times when I was certain I didn’t want kids, it was mostly because of some variation of the disappointment at realizing I wouldn’t be able to realize that picture.

I was twelve. That’s how I thought when I was twelve. Yeesh.

That’s my heart’s desire. I have a great job now, a fantastic one, that pays well and demands nothing of me but those things at which I excel, those things I can do easily and quickly and well. Given some of the things that have been discussed recently, it could get even better. And it’s a better job than I deserve, considering the effort I’ve put into it. I chalk that up to a blessing, a gift. I’m in no position to complain, and I realize that.

But my heart’s desire is to be a writer, just a writer, completely a writer, for my family. That last bit matters, too. I could have been a starving artist. I could have refused to take a job, and chased after every avenue available to me to get a book sold (in a market that is incredibly difficult to get a foot in the door), but it’s about more than that to me. That’s why I described my picture, my goal when I was twelve. I want it for my family, not in spite of my family. I want something better than I deserve to have, something I maybe had a shot at in the past, but I’ve squandered my opportunities. I want something that would completely change my life. I want it as a gift, served up on a silver platter.

Why not? It’s happened before.

I do delight in the Lord. Maybe not as loudly as I did back then. Certainly not as dogmatically. But I do. And I crave this, looking through the few short days between now and then, I want this very much. Please, let it be so. Amen.

Once I Was a Child (A Poem)

Once I was a Child

Have you ever read The Little Prince?
Or Catcher in the Rye? Or just Jesus’ admonition,
“Blessed are these little ones.”
There’s a purity in joy and hope that only children know.
Crave that peaceful chaos.

I grew older, though, and outgrew those things.
I’ve grown old enough already to yearn for those lost things.
I cast aside the unassailable might of childhood, but cling, day by day, to all its weaknesses.

I feel, still, like a little child,
Confused, scared, unprepared,
And dropped into a great big world.

Now I’m chasing, every day, after learning, after answers,
After all the things I’ll need when I’m grown up….
Then I recall, my heart all gripped in terror, that the time has come and passed.

Oh, I am grown.
I’ve stepped into my life, put on adulthood like a costume.
It’s a role I’m always playing, now.
I tremble, and worry someone will notice, will see through my disguise.

I’m just a child, guessing at my world.
I stumble and I fall, I burn my hand and scrape my knees, every single day.
I hide, from what I am, and from what I am not.

When does that end?
Will I outgrow this, too, or go on faking ’til that role is second-nature?
Will I die a fraud, or someday, old and grey, discover that it’s true,
Now, at last, with no one left to listen, that I can truly say,
I am all grown up.

What truly makes me shudder, when I stop and think,
Is all the precious things that I have broken, in the course of this deceit.
Clumsy child, foolish acts, and Mom’s fine vase in pieces on the floor.
I do that still, but this is my real life.
I am already there, surrounded by responsibilities my heart can’t comprehend.

Though I pretend,
I play the part,
And I’m afraid.

The King, to the Poet (A Poem)

The King, to the Poet

Something happened, when no one was looking.
Quietly, politely, we tore it all down–
Ages old, majestic and mighty, we tore it down to build something new.

Shiny and new.

It was a tapestry once, that told a story around which we built our lives.
It was a mighty whole, a single fabric, built of myriad mysterious pieces.

With the blessing of all (or all but the fringe) we took it apart.

We took the shiny pieces and the pretty pieces and the useful pieces
And put them to work,
Doing our bidding (we once did its), and serving us in strength.

We marvel then at what our lives have become,
All built of artificial fibers and synthetic materials.
Appropriated. Misused.

And what of that old rag, that ancient tapestry?
It’s tatters now, of course, torn to shreds and threadbare
All that’s left behind.

And those same who plundered it now mock it for all the things it lacks.
For all the holes, for all the inconsistencies and flaws–
For gaps, that they had made.

There are gaps, and holes. Places where things once were,
Where things shiny and things pretty and things useful used to be.
It’s not the rag that’s torn, though.

The single piece is shattered, scattered, but its fragments still as strong.
Alas, they no longer grow as one.

You see, it was a living thing. It breathed the life of man.
We killed it, for our own ends — butchered it, for our wealth.
We took its intellect, to make us wise.
We took its heart, to learn some sort of kindness.
We took its soul, to give us more than life.
We took its might, its powers, its strength to change the world, and we made the world we wanted.

We still have all the pieces, and look how much they change our lives.
We killed the thing to get them, though.

We could start anew, of course. Some have tried.
We could make a new fabric, and start the ages-long process of giving it life,
Weave in the first of many threads, and make a gift to our descendants.
We’re a world of scavengers, though.
We’ve made our lives out of plundered parts now, and we’re not about to stop.

Start another if you want. It can be done.
But I’ll tell you this, my prophecy and sigh:
They’ll watch,
And they’ll point and laugh,
They’ll criticize everything that is not what the old thing was.

Then they’ll take everything that’s good, and mock you all the more.