Pick your passion.

I miss writing.  Like, a lot.

I miss it like a runner misses her morning jog or a young mom misses talking to her sister on the phone; I can’t get my mojo without it.   A writer not writing is like a toddler not walking:  we may be bad at it, we may look awkward trying, but we can’t seem to stop.  Writers don’t write because they like to, they write because they need to.  We know it’s probably a waste of time but so is talking to your sister on the phone and hey, life is short.

As I get (ahem) older, I’m learning that I’m slow to learn—especially the simple things.  They knock me on the head over and over, but like an inflatable clown punching bag, I keep popping up for another blow, stupidly refusing to lie down and take the instruction.  So it was a few months ago when I resolved to quit writing for Wise And Selfless Reasons.

See, I was asked to be an early morning seminary teacher.  And I was really excited about it:  reading, studying, teaching, talking, all about the gospel?  What could be better?  The assignment lived up to its fulfilling promise; I absolutely loved it.  I still do.

But the initial euphoria slowly gave way to a sense of inadequacy as the adventure turned-challenge-turned-responsibility.  I’d spend hours (with an s) reading, studying, praying and preparing a lesson that I truly believed (desperately hoped) would change at least one turbulent teenaged life—or even one turbulent teenaged day.  And when I finally got the lesson just-so, I’d rise at 5 a.m. to deliver it at 6 a.m., come home, get the kids to school, and sit down for further hours to read and study and pray and prepare the lesson for the following morning.  It was challenging and it was fascinating.  It was inspiring.  It was exhausting.  It still is.

And so after a few months of said routine, I decided that I would close my laptop and hence my blog for the next few months, if not the next few years (!) until my seminary teaching days were over.  I told myself that it wasn’t my “season” for writing, because all of my spare time and what little (ahem) “intellectual energy” I had was now being spent on teaching.

I was totally okay with this.  We can do it all, I’ve been told, but we can’t do it all at once.  And teaching the gospel was more important than frittering around on my little blog with a readership of seven (wait–nine!  I’ve got a few new Camas peeps on board.  Thank you, Camas peeps.)  I made the mature determination that trying to write, in addition to teaching seminary and getting my family settled in a new home and new city, would only make me anxious and grumpy.

I was wrong.  Not writing has made me anxious and grumpy.  I’m tired and edgy and busy busy busy all the time but also slightly bored inside my head.  I see gloriously random snippets of life all around me about which, sticking to my Mature Determination, I won’t allow myself to write.  I thought I could starve my nerdy appetite for punching words on a page, but it’s clawing it’s way out—and leaving the scratches on my husband and kids.  (Mostly my husband.  Because really, girls:  what’s he gonna do?)  Though teaching seminary more than fills my need for reading and understanding the big stuff (so much good, big stuff in there!), writing is the only way I have ever understood the good, small stuff in my good, small life.  And sometimes—most of the time—that small stuff turns into the big stuff.  Of course it does.



And so here’s what the stubborn air clown’s finally learned:  we need to make the time to do the things we love—now.  Not all of the things we love, but surely the thing we love most.  I’d say, the thing we’re passionate about.

I love good movies and a good book group and good food and a good girls’ night out.  But I’m passionate about my family, my faith, my health, reading, and writing.  That’s it.  Those are the things I cannot—and don’t want to—live without.  Fine cooking, travel, history, politics, current events, extensive reading, cuter clothes, better decor, perfect eating, organizing my home, organizing my life (ha)–these are all demoted to the lower rungs. I like them—maybe even love a few of them.  I’d love to have time to love them.  But right now, I can live without them.

So maybe the trick, while we’re raising the kids and earning the dollar, is that we get to pick one passion—just one—and then give ourselves permission to pursue it.  Because if we put that one passion on hold til its “season” arrives, we may find that when it finally does (five, ten, twenty years from now?) we’re just not that passionate about it anymore.  It’s like waiting til you’re sixty to take your kids to Disneyland:  sure, now you can afford it, but holding your forty-year old’s hand while she waits in line to meet Cinderella might prove a bit deflating after the sentimental build-up in your mind these last twenty years.

I think this means that, sometimes, we have to settle for the budget trip to Disneyland:  drive the whole way down, stay at the chintzy hotel, pack pb&js instead of eating at Mickey’s Mansion or wherever-the-heck they’re selling fourteen-dollar cheeseburgers these days.  I think it means that to find time in Adulthood to do something we love, we might have to settle for doing that thing poorly.  Poorly, spottily, half-way and half-baked, driving instead of flying, peanut butter instead of cheeseburgers.  Sometimes—most of the time—it’s the only way we’ll ever do it.

I was scared to start blogging again because I’d let so much time pass since my last post.  How dare I give myself permission to write after two months of not writing?  “A real writer writes every day, no exceptions!”  Hmm.  Maybe this isn’t my season to be a real writer.  Maybe it’s just my season to write.

Life goes on and the world goes ’round and I hate to be a killjoy but the hard truth is that what you or I contribute to it (artistically, anyway) matters very little to anyone but ourselves.  The good news?  Pressure’s off.  Do what you love, even if you do it badly.  Nobody cares.  And that’s a beautiful thing.

A case for loneliness

Do you remember the scene in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory when Mr. Wonka is showing the children his “lickable wallpaper?”   He points out each row of colorful fruit, excitedly explaining that oranges taste like oranges, strawberries taste like strawberries, and “snozzberries taste like snozzberries!”  His voice is giddy with the revelation.

Veruca Salt then replies, snotty as ever, “Snozzberries?  Who ever heard of a snozzberry?”

At this, Mr. Wonka cups her cheeks and then quietly delivers my favorite line of the movie—of any movie, really.  “We are the music makers,” he tells her, “and we are the dreamers of dreams.”

We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.

Come on.  Does it get any better than that?  I don’t think Mr. Wonka was necessarily talking about music here.  But I do think he was talking about dreams.

The line is actually the first of a poem, “Ode” by English poet Arthur O’Shaughnessy:

We are the music makers,

And we are the dreamers of dreams,

Wandering by lone sea-breakers,

And sitting by desolate streams;—

World-losers and world-forsakers,

On whom the pale moon gleams:

Yet we are the movers and shakers

Of the world for ever, it seems.

This poem, like all good poems, makes me a little sad.  Maybe it’s because along with music and dreams come words like lone and desolate; alongside maker and dreamer, we have loser and forsaker.  Maybe it’s because the movers and shakers soak up the pale moon, not the warm sun.  Or maybe it’s that despite all that loneliness—because of all that loneliness—they are the ones who, in the end, change the world.

Loneliness seems a terrible reward for changing the world.  But it has always been required for that particular feat, hasn’t it?  Maybe that’s the saddest truth of all.

Loneliness is only ever romantic in hindsight, when it’s endured long ago by someone else.  For the lonely here and now, it is empty and silent and shameful.  And unlike other human woes, loneliness gains no sympathy from its onlookers.  How could it?  The dreaded mark of loneliness is that it’s suffered alone.


But sometimes, I think, loneliness is on to something.  When we feel disconnected from the crowd and withdraw into ourselves—even (hopefully) for a short time—our mind may just be doing some different, deeper work that can only be done during the long days of Lonely.

When do you do your best thinking?  Your best dreaming?  Your best music-making, problem-solving, relationship-repairing work?  When you’re lonely.  Not just alone, but lonely.  Those ideas start percolating long before they’re put to paper and pen, days and weeks and months before that problem finds its solution.  Those ideas start to swell, bubble by tiny bubble, when we surrender to the sentence of loneliness.

Creativity, in its myriad forms, requires more than physical solitude every now and then because creativity can’t be called forth like a dog in the occasionally idle hour.  Creativity requires the ability—the learned skill—of detaching our minds from the peripheral buzz to explore the silent and sumptuous life of the imagination.  Unearthing it takes time and patience and yes, loneliness.  Because when we are lonely we are sadder but softer, quiet but curious, mournful but malleable.  When we are lonely, we listen.

Maybe to make the music, we must sit by the desolate stream.  Maybe to move the world, we must forsake what we once thought it was.  Questions that wilt under a bright sun can blossom under a pale moon.  Loneliness takes us there to answer them.

So if you are lonely, if you feel different, if you sense a gut-twisting gulf between yourself and Everybody Else, take heart, my world-forsaking friend.  You are simply wandering for a bit—as we all must wander for a bit—along that lone sea breaker, while your might and mind conspire to change the current of the world and the canvas of your world.  And change it you will, because you are the music maker.  And you, the dreamer of dreams.



My small life

I turned seven the week after my family moved from Caldwell, Idaho to Kennewick, Washington.  Mom, steering a Buick loaded with toys, clothes and kids, followed Dad as he drove the U-haul across three hundred desert miles that seemed a thousand exotic ones to my dreamy-eyed self.  Our destination met, I remember sitting in a new living room–cozy and bright with it’s gold brocade couch and wall-to-wall carpeting–and peeling confetti-colored wrapping paper off a large square gift that revealed itself to be, indeed, the record player of my dreams.  Candy apple red with a pinstriped case, the magnificent piece of equipment was shiny, brand new, and all mine–three things that didn’t come easily to young members of my large and happy family.

Splendid as the record player was, my parents managed to top it by next presenting me an LP called Grover Sings the Blues.  My sisters and I spent the rest of that summer singing along with our furry friend (Grover-On-Demand, anytime we wanted!) until the afternoon a teenaged neighbor brought over her shiny 45 bearing the title track for Endless Love.  I knew it was a glamorous movie my parents had banned, but more than that I did not know–which is why its lead song became the most achingly romantic strain to ever grace my tender ears.  We knew each verse by heart, whispering them alongside Diana Ross’s vibrato to keep from breaking the spell she cast across our linoleumed kitchen floor.  Exploring dance routines of various methods, we settled on ballet as the form that captured Endless Love best.  We twirled, we swayed, we plie-ed, we fell in love–if not with an actual boy, with the heavenly promise of meeting one someday.  Of course, what I really fell in love with that summer was growing up.  Growing up, and growing up in Kennewick.

I would live out my childhood in this friendly little town–the next twelve years–before spending the twelve years after that spreading (what I imagined were) my wild wings across the wild west.  I would live in Idaho, Utah, Oregon and Arizona, unsure of where I would eventually stay, only to return to my roots when the mother ship called me home.  And as if living to the tick of some regulated cosmic clock, I would spend the twelve years after that raising my children in the place that raised me.

Then and now, my time in Kennewick has been good, and happy.  But in a few weeks it will be over.  Adulthood requires me to move again, and I’ll begin another love affair with another phase of life.  I predict that it, too, will be good and happy.  But it won’t be the same.


This last week, as I packed up old scrapbooks and pulled framed pictures off dusty walls, a quote from an old movie threaded my thoughts:  I lead a small life.  Valuable, but small.

The entirety of My Great Life Adventure can be condensed in an underwhelming chronicle of new babies in old apartments, new houses in an old town.  When I flip through the volume from start to finish, there is little to dazzle or impress.  I cannot claim to have lived large, but I have tried to live largely: change and growth appear in that account, learning and aging, judgment and forgiveness.  Anger and gratitude, hope and regret, elation and frustration–all of these Big Emotions make an appearance in the little span of my life.  And their ferocity makes me wonder:  does it really matter where, on the map, we experience them?

I don’t think it does.  If it did, meaning would be reserved for the lucky few who land in the right spot.  I think the point is to land in a spot and make it right, allowing that tide of human emotion to wash over us with all the good and bad that it brings.

And so I close this life’s chapter soaking wet, drenched in the joys and the pains that have engulfed me in these valuable years of my small, small life.  I have wrapped them and packed them and labeled them (fragile:  handle with care) and now stack them in boxes under the stairs.  I push them deep against the low wall, take one last look at the neat rows, and close the door behind me, surprised that they fit into such a small space.  To me, it’s been huge.