Seeing Men As Trees Walking

Pennies"[T]he poet takes bare fact and clothes it with meaning. The poet hears the roar on the other side of silence. The poet sees the world in a grain of sand, men as trees walking, and the ocean as a whale-road." (Suzanne Clark, in The Roar On the Other Side)

After silence, after finding the wherewithal to be still and wait on God, poets and writers must learn to see and hear in a way that most other folks can glimpse only in the briefest of moments. There is a fierce velocity about the world. Drive the speed limit and you begin to realize that you are practically alone in this idiosyncrasy or experiment in puttering. Leaving work at the end of a long day, eager to be home, walk slowly to the car as the herd of commuters rush past. Notice the slant of the light at the end of the day. Consider what kind of tree grows by the bus stop sign. Walk, don't run. Begin to see.

You slow down by looking at things much, much longer, by turning the radio/MP3 player/CD player off and listening, something like this:

Choir Rehearsal

One boy is staring slantwise at the
corner of the roof, mouthing
words he only half knows, another
fumbling with his too-big shirt, pulling it
this way and that, shaking his head nervously.

Pale moon faces watch, mostly, their
voices sing-shout words that resonate, an
elasticity of motion, listening, a smile here and
there, a request "can we take it from where I SHOUT?" a
girl says, directing already, telling the boy to move over. NOW.

Even here, I can hear the boy with the deep brown
eyes, his voice strong, his red sweater neatly lying
over courderoy pants, brown shoes, dressed to the nines
for rehearsal tonight. Angelic moon faces with Jesus
words, soft harmonies, a bubbling spring of song, a

slight glimpse, through a glass dimly, of heaven-song.

That's not great poetry but merely an attempt to see and hear, to stop and slow down, to hear the roar on the other side of silence, like Suzanne says.

Annie Dillard --- now there's a seer. Listen to how she speaks of seeing in her book of seeing, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek:

It is still the first week in January, and I've got great plans. I've been thinking about seeing. There are lots of things to see, unwrapped gifts and free surprises. The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside from a generous hand. But --- and this is the point --- who gets excited by a mere penny? If you follow one arrow, if you crouch motionless on a bank to watch a tremulous ripple thrill on the water and are rewarded by the sight of a muskrat kit paddling from its den, will you count that sight a chip of copper only, and go your rueful way? It is dire poverty indeed when a man is so malnourished and fatigued that he won't stoop to pick up a penny. But if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days. It is that simple. What you see is what you get.

In Annie Dillard's economy, the poor are rich and the full hungry. It sounds like the Kingdom of God.

My daugther is singing in the next room, happily at home with her voice, and me, I am rich. To listen is free. She sings for pure joy and delight. I'll stoop and pick up this copper penny.

The best things are free. You just have to listen. You just have to see. God help me learn to see, to stare hard at life until it gives up meaning.

The Death of Silence

Shout"We will make the whole universe a noise. The melodies and silences of Heaven will be shouted down in the end." (Screwtape, in The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis)

If you think about it, there aren't many public places left where you can escape the noise of modern life. First, there are the ubiquitous video screens trumpeting what I need, need, need from the front of gas pumps to restaurant walls, exercise clubs, department stores, billboards, and even the car next to me --- brief snippets of soundbyte content punctuating a relentless barrage of advertising of the newest, hippest, fastest, biggest, or otherwise "necessary" item. Escape is difficult.

But it's not just images that confront us around every turn, sound is also ever-present. Every store I enter is filled with music deemed appropriate by some consumer-savvy marketing guru, a soundtrack for the buying experience. Somehow I might feel better buying a $50 pair of Patagonia shorts with Fountain of Wayne's "Traffic and Weather" playing in the background, a lubricant to ease my parting with hard-earned cash. Pay attention to what you hear and see when you enter retail stores. There isn't much that is there by accident. It is a carefully scripted buying experience.

But this isn't a diatribe against consumerism but a lament about noise, about a cultural shift that you don't notice until you compare the present with an earlier time. For me, that's the 1960s. I distinctly remember going into stores where they was no video and no sound other than, maybe, a faint trace of muzak in the background, hardly noticeable, more like white noise. When we ate out (which was not often back then), there was music but not volume, not like the cavernous rooms most restaurants are now, with loud music, frothy conversations spilling over from other tables, the sounds of the kitchen and bar, and more. Somehow, I think it's all there as some vain attempt to remind ourselves that we are not alone. It's like my friend who turns her TV on upon waking and leaves it on all day until she falls asleep to it it at night. And that's not uncommon. Noise offers some hollow reassurance to us.

But that's not what God commends. He said "Be still and know that I am God." Be still. Part of being still is shutting up. And part is shutting out, dampering the drug of noise. Only then can we hear what's really going on.

I began on this a little over a year ago, incrementally. First to go was talk shows and TV news and then almost all network TV. I did not want the advertisements nor any of the jabbering, gossiping, talking heads. Ocassionally my wife watches the network news, to "catch up," and I have to leave the room I find it so annoying. I see a crying woman whose home was just sturck by a tornado, and then, after a moment of feigned sadness, the commentator shifts to a lighter story, something like the fascinating story of who is the father of Anna Nicole's baby (solved, thankfully). Such juxtapositioning of the tragic with the inane is bound to warp the psyche.

But this is not a datribe against TV but a lament about noise, about a cacophony of sounds that obscures the purity of a single human voice, the sound a pine tree makes as it sways in the wind, or the way houses hum at night with the sounds of air conditioners or refrigerator motors or the slow settling of foundations or the insomniatic gerbils busy moving food dishes around their cage. Have you listened for those things lately?

"Be still," He says. A series in our local newspaper which began today focuses on the speeding epidemic. People, almost all people, exceed the speed limit in their cars. Guilty. I confess. But while speeding sinners have always abounded, there is a marked change in the magnitude of speeding. People are moving faster, whether they are soccer moms making whistle-stops for kids at school car pool lines or Seth Shapiro on his way to the law office in his '92 Camaro (thank you Fountains of Wayne). Times have changed. Out on the Le Mans Beltline that encircles our city, I find I want to go fast as well and yet in saner moments I wonder at the herd mentality that takes hold in a careening swarm of cars.

But this is not a diatribe against speeders but a lament about noise, about why my car is pulsating from the hip-hop of the car next to me, about why his personal tastes in music must be lived out in public space. It's about why I have to listen to cell phone conversations and observe people speaking into thin air about things I do not want to know, personal matters of "she said he said" kind or about what the problem is with him or her or whoever on the other end of the airspace, about why that sound is in my space. It's about why I have a knee-jerk compulsion to play music when I enter my car, about why I can't be still.

Be still. Well it's amazing what the soundtrack of life offers, the one provided by God. Until this year, I think, I never knew that squirrels actually said a single thing, and now I listen to their chatter as I lay on the ground in my back yard. I listen to the The Great Pretender himself, the mocking bird, with a ever-expanding repetoire of bird calls and no voice of his own, a God-ordained recorder for bird-dom. At this lower volume the grand subtlety of life is evident, the music of Creation. Thank God for sound. Thank God for its absence.

In the end, this is not a polemic against noise at all but a Spirit-pronounced word for me, a quiet tapping on my noisy heart: "Be still. Stop. Listen. Pay attention. And know that I am God." I guess I should know that. I'm hoping I do.

A Writing Exercise: The Day the Carnival Came to Digby

[This past weekend our church hosted a writers' workshop with writer Suzanne Rhodes (formerly Suzanne Clark). It was a extremely fruitful time for the eight of us gathered. Suzanne treated us to a full palette of writing tips, sprinkling her talk with quotes, poems, resources, and more. During lunch she gave us 90 minutes to write something on the spot, choosing from a number of exercises she offered. I chose an exercise that invited me to tell a story from the perspective of someone sitting on a house's front porch. Other's wrote poems, personal narratives, and dialogues. They were all quite good, as I found out when we read our offerings to each other and discussed them. It was an encouraging time. We plan to meet once a month to encourage our writing, the second Monday of each month at 7:30. For more information, contact me. For now, here's a mostly unedited version of what I wrote that day.]

Roller_coatserThe Day the Carnival Came to Digby

That October, 1948 I believe, the carnival came to Digby. My little brother John and I ran barefoot through the meadow that lay beside my house to watch the Southern Railway train roar over the tracks, it's clickety-clack a kind of invitation for me. All manner of machines protruded from the box-cars --- the red and blue of a ferris wheel, the painted horses of the carousal, and other mysterious parts and pieces, all grand and hopeful and just a little bit dangerous, you know.

John and I were speechless --- just standing in the grass watching the train until the red caboose disappeared around the bend, the engineer waving to us as the train vanished from sight. I knew we couldn't go to the fair. My Daddy said there was gambling there and Christian folk didn't go and besides it cost good money and we weren't going to throw away hard-earned money on something we couldn't eat or wear. And yet I knew I'd waste every cent I had on the fair if I could, go without food for days if need be, if only I could go.

A few days later it was on this very porch that John and I were sitting, legs draped over the edge, swinging, sucking on a piece of grass, just waiting for something to happen I guess. That maple tree that stands over there was in full color, leaves of orange and red and yellow, and the air was cool and gentle. We were just sitting there, and then I heard, "Come on, get in the truck." I looked over my shoulder and my Daddy was standing in the front door way, his bib overalls on and hat in hand, my mother in her cotton dress beside him. But my feet were already in mid-air, John and I racing for the truck, whooping and hollering and jumping in that Ford flatbed, ready for something, anything, and yet we didn't dare ask where we were going. My Daddy was a man who believed in the economy of language, spending words like he spent money: rarely, and with great care. It woudn't do to ask him where we were going, just wouldn't do.

As Daddy drove down Oak Street, John and I were watching what we were leaving: the dirt road behind, the clouds of dust, the simple frame house that lined the street, that no-good Jacob Woodrow on his porch, rocking, the Nelson kids hollering out to us as they ran behind the truck. We turned onto the blacktop of Highway 24, past Drucker's store, the filling station, and on to the edge of town. I remember turning to John, his eyes wide with expectation. We were afraid to speak, afraid that if we said its name its possibility might just evaporate, that we really might not be going to the county fair.

And yet as we pulled into the meadow parking area off Highway 24, I saw that we were. The smells of hay and animals mixed with hot dogs and cotton candy filled me. There were the red and blue seats of the ferris wheel, spokes lit with what seemed a thousand lights. And the carousal with its hurdy-gurdy music. And the roller-coaster, something I had only heard about but never seen.

We walked the aisles and marveled at the sounds and smells and sights --- the screams from the roller coaster, the carnies hawking their games on the midway, the swings twirling round and round. John and I rode all the rides, all except the roller coaster, my Daddy paying with nickels and dimes without question, watching John and I go round, a slight smile on his face.

Near the end, after sunset, we stood before a kind of coaster called the Monster Mouse, little red and orange cars making their way over a cicuitous track, seemingly leaving the tracks at curves before sharply veering back on course. Arms crossed, head motionless, my Daddy watched the cars for a long time as they made their way up and down and around the track, following them with his eyes. And then he said, "Come on." My Daddy took me on the Monster mouse that day, the best and scariest ride at the fair. As we jerked to a start, he gripped the sides of the car, sliding lower and lower in the car as we went. (My Momma said later that all she could see of him was the white hair atop his head.)

When we stopped, Daddy slowly got out of the car, staggering a bit to the ground. I remember now -- he just lay down face down to the grass. After a couple minutes he slowly rose to his feet, said "Come on," and we went home, him like a converted gambler, sober once again.

Inside a Moment

"Inside a moment," Emily Dickinson wrote, "centuries of June." But then Dickinson had a lot of time on her hands, didn't she?

Not many of us have the kind of time that Dickinson had to simply focus on the moment we are in, with the tick tick tick of the clock and the e-mails filling our inboxes and the phone ringing and the to-do list that nags at us daily. How do we stop our movement? How do we slow down?

Unfortunately, sometimes it takes sickness to force us to stop the running. I've had a taste of that before, and I had an encounter with that yesterday, as the quick onslaught of the flu caught me by surprise and put a halt to life as I usually know it. I could not even read. Nausea is very distracting. I could not even rest well, as I hurt no matter which way I turned. I could not even sleep well. I really could do nothing but lie there and think and think and think.

For a moment I thought "I have't been sick like this for years. Am I dying?" I'm serious. (Well, you know how men are.) When your body hurts, when you know the work is stacking up, when all the things you need to get done aren't getting done, it's easy to focus on you you you until you make life miserable for yourself and those around you. I've been there before. Yes, I did some of that.

But then I began to think of what I had in that moment. I looked around my room and began to be thankful for the home I had. I heard my children downstairs talking and was thankful for them. I remembered my parents, my sisters, my childhood friend, an encouraging word, my church family, my pastors, my cat, my books, and Bette Jean Ellis, the very large African-American nurse who nursed and prayed me to health when I was in the hospital once for six weeks with a life-threatening illness and gave me a book of God's Precious Promises with my name mispelled on the front and these words inside: "To Steven, I hope that you will enjoy this little book, to know that God is able to do all things, and that in all things He is in control. God has an even greater work for you. Listen for that small voice. Do his will not your own will. In Christ, Bette Jean Ellis, 10/14/93.

Well, it was just the flu, I know, from which I'm much better today, and I know you've all had it and maybe worse. But I'd have to say it was worth having if for no other reason than I remembered Bette Jean Ellis' words to me.

"Inside a moment, centuries of June." Make the most of the moment. Redeem the time.

In Praise of Prepositions

[This clever poem reminded me of Will Strunk's and E.B. White's The Elements of Style, a classic guide to proper grammar and syntax.  Strunk had an obvious love for language, something that poets have to have as well.  The poet here has that love -- for prepositions of all things.  Usually I dislike the self-consciousness of writers writing about writing and prefer them merely to write something and not tell me about it.  This poem is a pleasure though, not tiresome like some such poems about words.]

Praise Prepositions

After against among, around. How I admire
prepositions, small as they are,
like safety pins, their lives given to
connecting. They are the paid help,
maids in black uniforms who pass
hors d'oeuvres, and they're
the forbidden joy that leaps between us
when we get to know them. Without
connection what can survive? Because
the lawn waits for sun to wake it from
its winter nap, we say sunlight
lies on the grass. Even the simplest jar
connects—jar under moonlight, on
counter, jar in water. It was prepositions
in the Valley of Dry Bones that stitched
the femur to the heel, heel to the foot bone.
And afterwards, they got up to dance.
Between, beside, within may yet keep
the precarious chins and breasts
from tumbling off Picasso's women.
I would make prepositions the stars of grammar
like the star that traveled the navy sky
the night sweet Jesus lay in his cradle,
pulling those kings toward Bethlehem,
and us behind them, trekking
from the rim of history toward Him.

(Jeanne Murray Walker, from Books and Culture, Nov/Dec 2006)

"Omit needless words!" said Will Strunk.  Indeed.  I've said too much already.  But maybe tomorrow you'll have a better appreciation for prepositions, the great connectors of our shared language.

(Love That Word) Propinquity

Clip_image002_1Life is full of small pleasures.  I had one of those pleasures today when I was able to use the word "propinquity" in a brief I was writing for the court.  I've been thinking off and on about that word, sometimes saying it to myself, just muttering under my breath, but I've never found a good use for it in ordinary conversation, and people who drop unusual words into everyday conversation are really intolerable.  I aim not to be that way, much.  But today the word fit perfectly, and given the (hopefully) higher order argumentation that should be reflected in legal writing, it seemed appropriate.  I only hope the judge thinks so.

Propinquity means physical proximity, or a kinship between people or similarity in nature between things.  In other words, it refers to nearness in place, relation, or time.  Amazingly enough, I first heard the word in 1976 when I bought that classic album by The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band entitled Uncle Charlie and His Dog Teddy(I'd like to tell you about that sometime, but not now.)  There was song on the album called, what else, but "Propinquity."  However, dim light that I was at that stage of life (I was a senior in high school), I never connected the title to the lyrics and never bothered to look the word up in a dictionary.  The song itself is a love song with the narrator lamenting that though he's known this person for a long time , he's just begun to care for them, just begun to love them:

I've know for a long time
The kind of girl you are.
And a smile that covers teardrops,
The way your head yields to your heart.
Of things you've kept inside
That most girls couldn't bear,
Well, I've known you for a long time,
But I've just begun to care.

And it goes on like that, the narrator saying later, as somewhat of an excuse for his indifference, that "I guess I've been standing too near."  And there it is: propinquity.  The song postulates a situation that is a bit of a caveat to what is referred to as the "propinquity effect," that is, the tendency for people to form friendships or romantic relationships with those with whom they have close contact or regular communication -- that you  can be so close and yet not realize what is right under your nose, be blind to those closest to you.  I think that's common.  So, now I know what the song really has to do with its title.

As interesting a word as propinquity is, I think its real attraction for me is its sound.  Maybe it's the four syllables.  Or maybe the "p"s and "q" (mind them), the percussive effect of the "p" that is.  But then, only people that read and appreciate poetry care much about such things as the sound of words (and children who love rhyming verse).  To what do I attribute my love of sound?  Propinquity.  My father loved music and my mother loved to read.  Propinquity.  Books and music, words and sound.

Before I leave you to your own propinquities, one trivia question for you:  Do you know who wrote "Propinquity?"  It was none other than the ex-Monkee himself and heir to the Liquid Paper inventor, Michael Nesmith.

Oh yes, sometime I'll tell you about another word I love: ubiquitous.  But that's another day.

Travel Can Be So. . .

Journalpage_1On a trip a few years ago, I asked my daughter to write in a journal about her trip.  I want her to write well, so I asked her to write with her senses.  So, this is what I got -- complete honesty.

We need to write like children.  I sometimes think I write what I like to hear myself say, not what I want to say.  It's an adult thing.  We become accustomed to thinking about how we will be perceived, almost to the point of it being a subconscious impulse.  We need to be like children.  They don't care.  They're just honest.

Per-spi-cu-i-ty: A Wonderful Word

Perspicuity is one of those words that's just fun to say.  Perspicuity.  Perspicuity.  When I look my cat in the face and say it with some force, however, he does not like it.  Perhaps it's the fact that I end up spitting on him when I say it.  That's part of the fun of it.  Those hard consonants, the "p"s and the "c" and the "t" require a certain force and have a certain effect.  Like Petunia.  Perspicuity.

Nevertheless, I'll have to enjoy it mostly in private, I guess, because per-spi-cu-i-ty is not one of those words you just whip out and use in any old conversation, like, "David, what I really like about that sportscaster is his perspicuity."  It's a word Home Improvement's Wilson might use, the kind about which Tim then asks "How do you spell that, Wilson," or suggests that Wilson should not share that with anyone else. Oh yeah.

Perspicuity.  Mostly I've heard that word in theological contexts.  We talk about the perspicuity of Scripture, meaning its quality of being "clearly expressed and easily understood," as my Bible dictionary says.  "For God so loved the world that He gave His son" is clearly expressed and easily understood, for the four-year old as well as the Nobel laureate.  It doesn't make it simple, as great mystery lies behind the words, and though J.I. Packer may be able to unpack its meaning and increase our understanding of that phrase, doubtless that barely touches its mystery.  Packer and the four-year old both get to Heaven, and when they both arrive, the disparity in understanding between them will fade as they realize how much more the phrase means than what either imagines.   Unfair.  I should compare Packer to a child.  That would be unfair to Packer.

I think I understand, maybe.  When I tell my son or daughter "I love you," I'm easily understood.  But behind those words are years and years of learning what love is and isn't, and yet never quite fully plumbing its depths.  "Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me, " says the Psalmist (Ps. 42:7), and we know he is describing something "clearly expressed" and "easily understood" and yet far too deep to really get our arms around.  And yet thank God we don't serve the Gnostic god, the one only the elites can interpret for us.

Perspicuity.  It's a good word, even a fun one to say.  But don't use it much, with people or with cats.  They might not understand or appreciate it.  And you may not be "easily understood."  And they may not like getting spit on.


Clip_image002_33"Remember that there's nothing higher, stronger, more wholesome and more useful to life than some good memory, especially when it goes back to the days of your own childhood, to the days of your life at home.  You are told a lot about your education, but some beautiful sacred memory, preserved since childhood, is perhaps the best education of all."  (Alyosha, in Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov)

I don't remember how young I was at the time, probably about six, but from my earliest memories I recollect a curiosity about how other people lived.  I was riding once with my mother to see my grandmother and distinctly remember looking around me at some small, white clapboard houses (smaller and shabbier than mine) and, seeing a woman come out of the front door of one of these small homes, wondering who these people are, what they do all day, how they live.  I'm sure it was but a momentary event, but it was, I guess, an epiphany for me: not everyone lived like me, not every place was like the town where I lived, and while I'm not sure I could yet think about what "other" might mean (my world was so small then), from then on I wondered what was "out there."

I became the resident travel agent.  I studied atlases, pored over maps, and sent my own postcards to far away state tourism offices and chambers of commerce seeking information to plan our trips, even though most of the planned trips were not taken.  Spreading the Esso map out on the tan carpet of our living room floor, alone, I almost felt transported just by following the red and blue lines that snaked across the pages, mouthing the names of cities and towns, wondering how far we could go and what we would find when we got there.

My uncle and aunt took me on a trip once to the Washington, D.C. area.  I rode between them, without seat belt, in the front seat, and directed them: "Turn here, not there; No, Uncle Clarence, not there."  Occasionally my uncle would pretend (he later declared) that he was lost, and I'd have to help get him out of the jam.  All our trips were car trips, and while my sisters yakked in the back, I sat in the front.  I wanted to see where I was going.  I still like knowing where I'm going.


Sub I suppose Idlewood is a good name for a street in a 1950s era suburb.  When my Dad came home from WWII, like many vets he married and set about having a family.  New houses were in demand, and developers began cranking out small three-bedroom bungalows along cookie-cutter grids with names meant to conjure up the leisure life of the suburbs, with trees, green grass, and good clean living, names like Gracewood, Fernwood, Friendly, Evergreen, and Idlewood.  I never thought much about those street names until now, though I walked those streets many, many times.

As far as I can remember, our Idlewood house was a small, white frame, single story structure, with three small bedrooms.  When you entered the front door there was a small living room, and you could see through to a small dining room as well with a window air conditioning unit.  Or perhaps a fan.  In fact, definitely a fan.  A very scary fan too, because I remember being frightened of it, convinced that a monster was in it or outside beyond it.

If I walk down the hall from the living room, that's where it all becomes quite dreamlike.  There's my room on the right, my sister's room on the left (with bunks), and my parents room at the end, but I can add little in detail about these rooms.  A three-year old's memory is episodic, focusing around things like monsters in the fan, the night the rat got in the house and my mother took me and hopped up on the kitchen counter, the rock I threw (accidentally, I hope) through our Greek neighbors front window, and the boys across the street who locked my sisters and I in the playhouse at the back of their house (they let me out through the window).

In back of my house was my favorite place.  We had some kind of a playhouse there, a homemade one, and perhaps a swing.  I remember standing at the back of that playhouse, on a hill, looking at an empty swimming pool behind us (I'm told it was a company that sold pools).  I was wistful, though I couldn't have told you that at the time.  I wanted to go find out what it was.  But at three, the yard is about as big as the world gets.  It gets bigger as you go.

I don't know the value of such random memories as these.  To anyone reading this, they likely mean little.  I'm not being sentimental nor nostalgic.  I'm just writing it down.  But I have to believe that what I am allowed to recall means something and has some purpose, at least for me.  God knows what.


Clip_image002_32"The school opened infinite vistas for this six-year old."  (Pablo Neruda, in Memoirs)

Well, not for me.  I remember many of my earliest days at school, and many are not good.  To this day, I do not wish to visit my old schools or even go near them.  You would think I was traumatized, but, in actuality, I doubt it was all that bad.  Nevertheless, there were some bad experiences.

One of those humiliating experiences was in the 5th grade glee club.  "Glee" is, I suppose, the hopeful way in which they referred to the experience.  At that age, there were sopranos and altos, with a fair number of boys beginning with girls as sopranos.  All well and good.  However, by midway through the year, with voices changing, I was only one of two boys left in the sopranos -- me and a guy named Brad.  Brad was the meanest, coolest, toughest kid in school -- and he was God's grace to me.  Nobody made fun of me for being a soprano (which was a great fear of mine) -- not as long as Brad was a soprano.  Actually, nobody messed with me at all, figuring that I was friends with Brad.  You know, the guy never even said more than two words to me that whole year.  I think he said "shut up" once.  That's it.  Grace comes in some odd looking packages sometimes.

And then there was the day I got glasses and had to wear them to school.  Now, some kids wanted to wear glasses.  I haven't the slightest idea why.  I guess they thought they were cool or something.  Not me.  They used to line us up in the hall to take the eye test.  I would excuse myself to go to the restroom in advance of this, walking by the eye sign (very closely) and attempting to memorize the bottom line so I could pass the test.  Ultimately, however, I flunked.  I still would not wear my glasses.  Finally, when it became obvious that my grades were suffering because I could not see the blackboard, it happened.  My third-grade teacher, Miss Morris (who was at least a hundred years old), stopped class and told me to "Put your glasses on, son!"  I shrank about 3 feet that day.  But I did do better in class.

For these and many other reasons, I never want to go to school again.  I'll bet Miss Morris is still at it, humiliating young boys.  And Brad?  He flunked out and went into politics.  Or did I just imagine that?

My Earliest Memory

Stroller"One memory comes up which is perhaps the earliest in my life and is indeed only a rather hazy impression.  I am lying in a pram, in the shadow of a tree.  It is a fine, warm summer day, the sky blue, and golden sunlight darting through the green leaves.  The hood of the pram has been left up.  I have just awakened to the glorious beauty of the day, and have a sense of indescribable well-being.  I see the sun glittering throughout the leaves and blossoms of the bushes.  Everything is wholly wonderful, colorful and splendid."  (C.G. Jung, in Memories, Dreams, Reflections)

At best, Jung is engaging in a bit of wishful dreaming.  At worst, he's simply putting us on.  I can't really believe he has a memory as well-formed as this at such an early age (or, in fact, any memory at all of that time).  Perhaps this is a recovered memory, one you wish you had.

Try as I might, I have no memory of lying in prams or cribs or riding in strollers.  In fact, when I consider the first bedroom I had, one I stayed in until the age of about 3 1/2, it's a bit like looking at a blurry picture.  I know what it is, but I can't make out the details at all.

But what I do remember is this:  I had a red tricycle.  I rode it on my street.  My sister who was 10 pushed me off it, and I fell and scraped my chin.  But then, she denies it.  Still. 

I guess I deserved it.  When my mother brought my younger sister home from the hospital, they say I took the brake off her stroller when my Mom wasn't looking and let it roll down the hill in our front yard. I have a distinct memory of those events.  I take the Fifth.

The Mindless Life of the Mind (or, What Writers Do With Their Time)

Clip_image003"It should surprise no one that the life of the writer -- such as it is -- is colorless to the point of sensory deprivation.  Many writers do little else but sit in small rooms recalling the real world.  This explains why so many books describe the author's childhood.  A writer's childhood may well have been the occasion of his only firsthand experience.  Writers read literary biography, and surround themselves with other writers, deliberately to enforce in themselves the ludicrous notion that a reasonable option for occupying yourself on the planet until your life span plays itself out is sitting in a small room for the duration, in the company of pieces of paper."  (Annie Dillard, in The Writing Life)

Well, who needs money when writing can be that attractive, that rewarding?  Everyone knows I'm not a writer like Annie Dillard but, having written a little, and been to a few writers' conferences and workshops, I can understand what she says.  Writers do surround themselves with other writers to remind themselves that they are doing something, that the little room and the pieces of paper or bits of information on the hard drive do have value.

Well, a lot of writing is simply looking around and saying something, noticing something about some particular thing or things that maybe not many people notice or, if they do, they rarely say anything about.  Maybe for good reason.

Like the way my daughter says "good point," just   like    that.  Good point.  Punctuation at the end of an answer, or maybe wherever she wants to say it, just to draw conversation to a close or maybe say "I'm wrong but I can't say it so I'll just say this to let you know that I get it, that I'm not stupid, that I really knew that."  Only it's easier to just say "good point," just     like     that.

Or the creaking board.  Oh, you know what I mean, only no one talks much about it.  You step out of bed in the morning, put your foot on the floor, the foot that feels as if it hasn't held up your body for a few months so it needs to get acclimated to you, put your weight down on the carpet, and there's that big "creaaaak."  That loose board.  The ones you told the builder to be sure were secure, would not creak, never creak, before you had the new carpet put in and it was too late.  And yet, it creaks.  Is that just life, the reminder that nothing will ever be exactly right here, between our coming and our going?  Just "creaaaaaak."  I'll never get used to that. I'll never get used to life here.

But when you get tired of writing about those important things, you can write about. . . about the time you were laying in your bassinet and your mother came in and picked you up and said something barely intelligible that sounded like "howsmibabeetoodayyyy."  Nope.  Just kidding.  I don't really remember that.  See, I was too young.  That's called literary license, folks.

Hey, this room is getting smaller.

I need some air.

Good point.


Something Only I Can Write

Dillard "People Love pretty much the same things best.  A writer looking for subjects inquires not after what he loves best, but after what he alone loves at all.  Strange seizures beset us.  Frank Conroy loves his yo-yo tricks, Emily Dickinson her slant of light; Richard Selzer loves the glistening peritoneum, Faulkner the muddy bottom of a little girl's drawers visible when she's up a pear tree. . . . Why do you never find anything written about that idiosyncratic thought you advert to, about your fascination with something no one else understands?  Because it is up to you. . . . You were made and set here to give voice to this, your own astonishment.  (Annie Dillard, in The Writing Life

Well, that's it, then.  That's the challenge for me as a writer.  I need to find the thing that needs to be said, the thing that only I can say, even if no one else is interested in that thing.  No small task.

It's almost a presumptuous thing to think that only I can say a thing, only I can say it in a certain way, with a certain perspective, and yet it makes sense.  It's not, as Annie Dillard says here and later on, that anyone else will care.  That's the challenge too -- making them care, writing in such a way that they too are interested in this idiosyncrasy.

This flows from being made unique, being made in God's image, and being given a particular mix of certain gifts and abilities and particular good works to do that do not perfectly match anyone else's.  It doesn't mean that most have the degree of gift that say a writer like Annie Dillard may have, or more notable, Hemingway or Faulkner, but everyone gets some unique mix that enables them to do that good work or works they were put here to do.

It's just that it can be a perpetual quest to find it, a long quest to find the thing that only I can say.  Frederick Buechner gets at it here, when he says that "the place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet."  Gladness, and hunger.  I'm on the lookout, folks.

The Importance of Words

"[Samuel] Coleridge believed that all religious language is poetic, containing many levels of meaning. The concrete, surface meaning is true in itself, but it is at the same time a symbol of something beyond language, an earthly lens for something eternal to shine through, Even the church is poetic-- it always points to a greater reality, and yet that universal truth is inseparable from the particular, historical, ever-changing flesh-and-blood reality of the church here and now." (Stephen Prickett with JenniferTrafton, in "A Faith That Feels," Christian History and Biography, Issue 86, Spring 2005)

Many have lamented the movement of our society from one rooted in words to one fascinated with images. And we can also note a trend for those who trade in words to use them for power, for manipulation, to simply persuade others to believe as they do whether or not the words they say are true. The latest example of this is author Dan Brown who, in The DaVinci Code, has the gall to state that what he is writing is historically accurate when much of it is a baldfaced lie. It is not truthful but, rather, what he prefers to believe (and apparently what many others prefer to believe as well).

What Coleridge believed about language is surely true. Words are a rich expression of what is true, both in the immediate, perceived sense, and in a mysterious as as yet not fully known sense. His comment is reminiscent of Dorothy Sayers' statement that "all language is analogical," that is, we cannot think about meaning except by analogy.  Sayers' point also illustrates the richness of language.

For example, take the phrase "God is good." As a mere abstraction, it is unilluminating. To fill in its meaning, we need analogies of goodness. Perhaps good like a mother is good to a child, or good like a friend who simply is caring and honest and trustworthy. We can even think of specific examples of goodness -- the man who finds money on the floor of a restaurant and, rather than pocketing it, carries it to the manager, or the neighbor who cuts our grass whilewe are sick and unable to, not even waiting to be asked. Language is analogical.

All of this adds to the richness of Coleridge's point: Words are packed with meaning and are large windows into an eternity where we will really find out the meaning of words like "church" and "good"and "faith" and, best of all, "love."

Language is a gift. We should love it, cherish it, and order it well. God is one who is always speaking -- in words that matter and convey deep and rich truth. As those made in his image, so should we so speak.

The more I think about this, the more I am aware of the way words are used. For example, on the desk in front of me is a brochure about a place at the resort where we are staying today called "The Self Centre." The caption at the bottom reminds me that the purpose is to "Renew Your Sense of Self." The two words most commonly used throughout the brochure are "spiritual" and "self," and yet reading through the brochure it is apparent that there is no real understanding of what the true self is nor what the spirit is. It does, however, resonate with our modern impulse toward individualized, tailor-made religion or spiritual renewal and not one where we are held to account to a God who made us in His image.

Words. They swirl about us. They matter greatly. We have to pay attention to them. We have to weld them well and truely. And one day, when God says our name out loud to us, when he calls our name, we'll know in a way we can only know dimly now who we are, what our name means. Every word will be true then, every word rich with meaning and life.

Losing "My Father's Car"

1967_ford_ranch_wagon_3Several years ago (well, perhaps as many as a seven or eight years), I wrote a short essay entitled "My Father's Car."  I can see the words on the page now as if it were yesterday.  I used my father's car (the night, in fact, of the wake for my father) as a metaphor for the cold reality of death that hit me then.  I can glimpse some phrases and images -- the cold hard steel of the hood of the car, the hood that my friend and I lay on talking, or the deep melancholy strains of Joni Mitchell's "River" floating in my mind, the people passing in and out of my house, the "funeral" food brought to us --- but have never been able to reconstruct the essay as it was then.  You see, I lost it and have never recovered it.

I've never really gotten over this.  I still look for that essay at times.  I still hope it will turn up, that's it's somewhere in digital limbo or that I squirreled away a hard copy. You might say it's just words, but I feel like a part of me was lost when I lost that essay.

Jill Carattini writes about this, noting that "[t]he loss of words is a silence palpable to many."  That's a good way of saying it: "palpable," meaning a silence that you can almost touch or feel, that you perceive deeply.  When we write out of deep feeling, we tell our story, at least part of it, and to lose it is to lose part of our life."God made man," said Elie Weisel "because He loves stories."  So too we love them, being His image-bearers; thus we feel their loss as if losing ourselves.  I feel the presence of its absence.

I can't bring my father back.  Nor can I summon up the spirit of "My Father's Car."  It doesn't work that way.  Somewhere my father lives on; so too my words live on.  One life, one story, but there's a greater Story being told, a greater Life unfolding.  Death may hurt, but it really has no sting.

Going Home to Wonder

     Clip_image002_8 “I like the way the ocean waves at the sun/ all glittering in its glory.”   It was my six-year old son’s first spontaneous poetic outburst, said with utter sincerity and marked by absolute wonder.  Doubtless no one will find it quite so captivating as me --- and yet, it made me ask some questions: when do we lose our wonder?, and how do we get it back?

     At six, my son was fascinated by the salmon.  We knew that it was born in a freshwater stream, in adolescence follows the stream hundreds, maybe thousands of miles into the saltwater ocean where it spends most of its adult life, and then, for some reason no one knows, travels back upstream, to the place it was born, to spawn and then die.  I knew more then about the salmon than I’ll probably ever know.  Yet the real wonder of it is that I had never wondered about the salmon before my son enthusiastically introduced me to it.  Why is that?  Why do I lack such basic curiosity?

     Niko Kazantzakias had this to say: “Everything in this world has a hidden meaning. . . . Men, animals, trees, stars, they are all hieroglyphics.  When you see them you do not understand them.  You think they are really men, animals, trees, stars.  It is only years later that you understand.”  Years later?  Perhaps it is the case that it’s actually years earlier that we really understand.  Maybe when we were children we were closer to the hidden meaning of it all. 

     I once followed my then three-year old son around for part of a day.  I listened to his conversation, trying to discern how he perceived the things around him.  In many ways, his capacity for wonder and imagination were beyond me. I literally found it difficult to think like him. Nothing was ordinary.  Nothing.  His bed became, in the course of only a two-hour rest time, an airplane, a bulldozer, a spaceship, a (magic) school bus, and a train.  When I came to wake him (ha!), I found him stuffed into his pillow, pretending to be a mermaid (well, mer-man I assume).  He spoke with people who appeared not be there, assumed a reality that I could not see, and asked reams of unanswerable questions.  I know, I know.  I’m saying nothing parents don’t already know, am I?

     Oh, to be six again!  Six, when Summer lasts all year, really.  Childhood now is not like the countless afternoons and Summers I experienced kicking around my backyard at six --- exploring the woods, turning over logs, catching tadpoles and minnows in the creek, mapping sewer drainage pipes which in our imaginations would take us everywhere surreptitiously (if only we had the courage).  A day was a long, long adventure, from the time the screen door slammed behind me as I raced to my friend’s house after breakfast to the announcement of dinner by my mother’s supper-yell of my name from the same door. No, this is not the Summer of life, where commerce continues unabated, around the clock, schools go year-round, and the every day and season seems about as busy as any other time of the year.  I’ve lost something, and I’m wistful for it.   

       At six, I knew so little and yet had so much.  So much love of life, of questions, of whatever came my way.  At six we are like the middle-aged Leo Bebb in Frederick Buechner’s Book of Bebb, “believing in everything, everything.”  At now, in middle age, I know a lot more (at least relatively speaking), and yet I have lost so much.  So much time to look, to listen, to wonder at it all.

     How do we recover our wonder?  Sometimes poetry reminds me of what it is to wonder, sometimes fiction, always good writing --- because when I read it I know that someone has stopped long enough to wonder.

     We simply need to slow down and stay longer in one place.  We need to stare hard at the ordinary until it gives up its hidden meaning.  We need to ask questions we cannot answer and answer questions we do not know.  We need to hang tenaciously to the belief that everything means something if we are only patient enough to await its revealing.  As Martin Luther said so long ago: “If you could understand a single grain of wheat, you would die of wonder.”  I can hear the birds outside my window, feel the wind in the pines, smell the rain coming. At least that's a start at wonder.

     I'm remembering my son, at six, who loved salmon.  He's long left the salmon behind, but he'll return, I hope.  I’m with the salmon. I’m heading upstream.  I’m going home to wonder.  I don’t know why.  It just seems like the right thing to do.  Maybe it’s what we’re wired for.


Clip_image002_6 Like many of my generation, I have a father who served in World War II, and also like many, I don't know a lot about this.  The men who returned from WWII did not talk about the experience much.  My father didn't.  He died when I was 14, and I knew little about this time period that certainly was large in his mind.

I know that he was a private in the Army, a "grunt," and served in Northern Africa, then Italy, and then Luxembourg.  While in Luxembourg he became separated from his patrol or battalion, stepped on a land mine, lost his left foot and leg up to just midway between the knee and his ankle, and came home decorated with a Purple Heart medal.  Some of this I did not know until about a year ago, when my sister happened to mention it.  He never spoke of it to me.

Recently my mother gave me an inexpensive silver bracelet, much like a dog tag.  It bears my father's name and serial number.  It was apparently issued to him or purchased by him from the military, I assume so that he could be identified if he was killed in action.  By God's grace, in His providence, my Dad did not die.  He was not shot, though surely there were many instances when he could have been.  And he did not die from the landmine, though he bore its wound for the rest of his life.

I say all this just to make the point that inanimate objects like bracelets carry weighty memories, stories, and meanings.  In this sense they live.  They continue to remind us of things.  They point outward to things we need to remember.  Though this function served by the inanimate can be warped into mere sentiment and nostalgia, like anything else good in life, it need not be abused in this fashion.  Objects have a Godly function.  God created a world of particular things, not a world of abstractions, and when He created, when He redeemed, and when He ultimately restores creation, it will be flesh and blood, dirt and rock and water, and we will not be  disembodied spirits roaming over a great nothingness.

Scripture is replete with particulars.  There are long chronologies, perhaps to remind us that history is full of real people who had names, who lived and loved and died, with God or without.  There are names of places, as well.  Even Eden is not some dreamy wisp of a place like Shangri-La but rooted in space and time by two rivers that still flow, the Tigris and Euphrates.  Racing ahead to the end of time, there is enormous detail about the New Heavens and New Earth -- a city 12,000 stadia in length, height, and width (a cube?), with walls made of jasper, streets of gold, the foundations in all kinds of (named) precious stones.  Why named?  Why the excruciating detail?  Why else than because the inanimate matters, as it has meaning, carries memories, and roots us in the particulars of reality.  Things are unique.  People are unique.  God is interested in the things that surround us, the created reality in all its detail.

"346033355" is not just a number.  It points to a person worthy of being remembered, not for sentiment sake, but for what he points to -- a loving God who cares for His creation -- all of it -- who is not disengaged but actively governing over it, turning even evil to His good purposes.  Everything matters.  Everything counts.  Even a bracelet.

Remembering the Incarnation (Christmas in February)

Clip_image001_2 Next Christmas we’ll run away ‑‑‑at least, that’s what my wife and I sometimes half jokingly, half seriously say to each other each December.  December has to be the heaviest month of the year.  It has to endure the weight of religious tradition and commercial hysteria and socializing to the point that I sometimes wonder if it may burst from the demands placed upon it.  That's why I'm glad we made it through the great sigh of January to February.

I don’t know if  last December brought you the Christmas of Christians, Hannakuh, Ramadan, Kwannza, Winter Soltice, or just buying, selling, and a gnawing empty that says there must be more.  Like any writer, I can only write from where I am ‑‑‑Bethlehem’s baby.  For Christians, life is rooted in the centrality of the Incarnation.  So too is writing. 

The Incarnation affirms that human, earthy reality is worthy of study and love and retelling.  It’s a favoring of the concrete, particular, earthy stuff of life ‑‑‑the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Yet at the same time it reverberates with something Other ‑‑‑something that transcends those particulars and points to a greater truth.  Whatever we make of this Incarnation, writers know this from experience, from craft, from our own attempts to incarnate reality in words.  We know that the better story or poem is one that connects with people where they are ‑‑‑in the rattle and rub of everyday life.  At the same time, and often serendipitously, we know that a greater truth emerges from the details.  It rears up, sometimes befuddling, sometimes amusing, sometimes filling us with wonder and even more questions.  In the story or poem, the writer says “I am with you reader” while, at the same time, he reveals some truth that transcends both the writer’s and the reader’s particular circumstances.

Even artists who attempt to create art from randomness ‑‑‑such as musician John Cage ‑‑‑cannot escape the tug of the transcendant.  Even out of the randomness, pattern emerges, meaning surfaces, like some natural law.

Dorothy Sayers once wrote an essay where she explained that Christians see this world as a novel, which has a whole universe of action within its pages but no independent reality.  Its reality depends on God, who alone is real in his own right.  But people are made able to enter this true reality, which is called heaven, so that when they die, “It is not as though the characters and action of the book were continued in our next like a serial; it is though they came out of the book to partake of the real existence of their author.”  God with us, God apart from us; immanent, transcendant; earthy and out of this world.

I am pro‑creation because I believe, like many others before me, that our creating is an inevitable and wonderful aspect of our created nature.  We, the characters in this tale spun by God, are telling our own tales, living out our lives in ways that sometimes surprise, sadden, or amuse our Maker. You know how it feels, don’t you?  We’ve all carefully sketched out our characters’ lives, only to find that they possess a freedom that inevitably asserts itself.  We ourselves are little incarnations that continue to incarnate reality, in what we create. 

A Hebrew baby.  A dutiful, albeit surprised young father.  A young girl with an illegitimate child.  The smell of wet hay, manure, and unwashed bodies.  A surreal visitation.  Dumbstruck sheep‑tenders.  A cow, a donkey, a cat, and a dog look on.

All details: concrete, particular, the stuff of stories.  Yet something greater emerges. It’s the mystery of every incarnation ‑‑‑every story, every poem, every God become man.

But the Incarnation is more than an affimation of the worthiness of what is created and what we create.  It also confirms that the most powerful and meaningful things ‑‑‑ including good writing ‑‑‑ are those which so often appear powerless, subtle, indirect, and deceptively modest.  Frankly, I am tired of hearing art validated as “bold” or “shocking.”  And I’m frustrated by the prostituting of art by its politicization.  The Writer of the Gospel tale told it simply, with understatement, and with an indirection and subtlety that has frustrated many a theologian.  When you end the story, you can’t quite put your finger on God.  Seems appropriate, doesn’t it?  Rather, the Author says “I love these characters, so much that I will become one of them so that I can liberate them from the reality of my making.  At the same time, I leave them free to unmake themselves, to ignore me and to ultimately write themselves out of existence, because they have no existence apart from me.”  The Incarnation says that the most powerful things come in apparent weakness ‑‑‑Word become flesh.  It says that good writing is that which is sutle and indirect, yet so full of meaning that its full expression is often beyond its author.

Finally, the Incarnation tells us that our creations, our writing, our truthtelling, is set in the context of love.  This goes against the flow of art culture because, for many artists today, free expression is sometimes viewed as the sine qua non of human existence.  Any kind of self‑censure is demeaned as cowardice ‑‑‑a failure to speak the truth, to say what must be said.  It’s almost as if what can be written must be written.  Yet as important as self‑expression is ‑‑‑as telling the truth is ‑‑‑we don’t believe that it is the highest value.  That place belongs to love.

The Incarnation wasn’t about some political or moral agenda, much as some would have made it that way then or utilize it for their own political program now.  No, the Author of Life wrote Love into the Universe in the most unexpected and personal way ‑‑‑a tiny baby, born of wide‑eyed poor folk with barely a roof over their heads in a tiny, insignificant country half‑way around the world.  And yet, it’s a story that continues to speak because its both chock‑full of the particular ‑‑‑baby, unwed mother, common folk, angels, prostitutes, tax collectors, and other unsavory folk ‑‑‑and yet, at bottom, it’s about something we all want to understand ‑‑‑Love.  It’s a tale told in Love and for Love.

So writing is more than expression, more than just telling the truth, more than message or agenda.  Not all that can be said, should be said, for Love.  Not enough that should be said, is said, for Love. Love both provides a boundary in our writing and the challenge, the challenge to say what should be said; the restraint not to say what would wound or hurt.

Frederick Buechner, who has written painfully personal memoirs of his life, has explained that he never wrote about his mother until after she died.  Why?  Because he was concerned that she would read it and that it would damage his relationship with her.  Not all that can be said, should be said, for Love.

You may regard the Incarnation as, at best, myth, and at worst, as a lot of rubbish.  So be it.  I’m not here to convince you otherwise, even if I could.  I haven’t even said all that could be said about the connection between the Word enfleshed and our words enfleshed.

But do this, will you? ‑‑‑Next time you write, watch order and meaning assert themselves, note the power in the sutlety of a little poem or story, marvel when love enters the equation of creation.  Then ask yourself: Why?

Describing the "Thing"

Clip_image002_2 “There is only one trait of the writer,” says Morley Callaghan.  “He is always watching.”

I’m watching all right.  I’m watching two gray squirrels chase each other.  I’m listening to a mockingbird sing and children’s playful taunts.  Rain is coming.  I can smell it on the wind.  The book in my hand feels cool, smells of new ink. . . .

Writing to a young girl in 1956, C.S. Lewis had this observation: “If you become a writer you’ll be trying to describe the thing all your life: and lucky if, out of dozens of books, one or two sentences, just for a moment, you come near to getting it across.”

Once upon a time, a friend and I co-edited a poetry and short story journal called ProCreation.  We read a lot of submissions.  Eighty percent of the submissions fell into one of two categories. The first category belonged to those who succeeded all too well in describing the thing – whether it’s sexuality, political cause, religious viewpoint, or confession.  These folks had plenty to say, but they said it so directly that the truth they expounded could not be heard.  The art was secondary to the telling. In the other category were those who through ambiguity or subtlety actually obscured the very thing they wanted to say.  As a result, the reader cannot connect with the words at all. One cannot find the universal in the particulars.  They might heed E.B. White (see Post entitled "The Little Book"), who quipped: “Be obscure clearly.” Not clearly obscure.

Often the best work occurs when we just concentrate on describing what we see or telling a story that unfolds day by day without some grand design and meaning.  Isn’t it true that meaning so often arises, serendipitously, from this process?  I think of the talent of my friend Tom who can tell a story about taking the garbage out that is full of suspence and humor.  Really.

I like what Kathleen Norris says about poetry: “The discipline of poetry teaches poets, at least, that they often have to say things they can’t pretend to understand. . . . In contending with words, poets come to know their power. . . . We experience words as steeped in mystery, forces beyond our intellectual grasp. . . . In composing a poem, one often seems to move directly from ignorance to revelation.” I can definitely identify with ignorance. And revelation?  Well, I’m not sure I have too much to do with that.  The point is we sometimes do not know what it is we've said until we've said it and even then maybe not fully.  (Hmmm, I'm not sure I know what I just said.)

There's those two gray squirrels again.  A mockingbird sings and children not so playfully taunt.  Rain is coming.  I can smell it on the wind.  Child-sized footprints track the grass to fade away at grass-edge.  A truck thrusts itself into gear,  moves on down the road.  The breeze rustles my paper, plays with the pages of my book.  Better get up.  Better get out.  Better go out walking.  Maybe today I'll get closer to the thing.

I haven’t the foggiest notion of what all this means.  Not yet, anyway.