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Gun-Shy

Tuesday, April 4th, 2017

I used to dream of being a professional songwriter. I didn’t want to be famous (still don’t) because I didn’t love to perform (still don’t) — but to be the mind and heart behind the music? That appealed to me so much.

Life has taken me in a different direction than music, at least in any sort of “professional” sense. I don’t dream of making songwriting my bread and butter anymore, mostly because (full disclosure) I don’t think I’m all that good. But every now and then, I follow an idea on a chase and wind up with a little something.

Here’s what I’ve discovered about writing songs: it’s my favorite thing, regardless of whether anything happens with those songs. I like the challenge of it — figuring out how to tell a story, turning words this way and that, and hopefully making someone feel something. That’s all. That’s my only aim in writing songs these days — to make someone feel something — even if the someone is just me. Which is easy because, as you know, I am all feelings, all the time. Cheap date.

All that to say, here’s a new song, recorded with my friend Jeff Harper in Nashville, TN. It’s called “Gun-Shy” because LOOK WHAT LOVE HAS DONE TO ME.

Thanks for listening!

Hope on the rocks

Friday, January 16th, 2015

I am not a rock climber. Aside from that ill-fated day at elementary summer camp when I was forced to rappel which resulted in emotional trauma so severe they made a special exception to let me call my mom afterward (thanks a lot, CAMP REDCLOUD), I have never been roped to a rock wall – or, you know, however it works.

But I can’t stop tearing up about Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson.

If you haven’t heard, these two climbers made history on Wednesday, being the first people to ever summit El Capitan’s Dawn Wall via free ascent – that is, using only their hands and feet against the natural formation of the rock, and using ropes only to stop a fall. This 3,000 foot (remember, that’s over half a mile) granite slab has long been considered the world’s most difficult rock climb – but after 19 days living in mid-air, sleeping on cliff tents and pooping in bags and having supplies ferried to them by cohorts, they made it.

So why does this make me tear up? Mostly because I gave up on them.

Here were the rules, as I understood them: both men needed to free climb the 32 pitches (segments the length of a rope) without falling. If one fell, he had to start again from the beginning of that section. And Jorgeson? He attempted Pitch 15 time after time, and fell every time. While Caldwell waited above, Jorgeson kept falling. For days.

And in that time, I thought, “Yeah, this isn’t going anywhere. What a bummer – this dream they have isn’t going to come true.”

I come by my negativity honestly. I was raised to be emotionally cautious, opting to prepare for the worst rather than hope for the best, all the while marinating in that Christian pessimism called Calvinism. Stack on top of that a plethora of personal disappointments and a decided absence of fairy tale endings, and you can see why my default might be to assume that all of our best efforts usually end in defeat.

But then again, sometimes they don’t.

After 11 attempts over 7 days, Kevin Jorgeson made it through Pitch 15. And less than a week later, he and Tommy Caldwell reached the top together.

The other night, I was immersed in Sara Hagerty’s beautiful book Every Bitter Thing is Sweet (read it read it read it), completely engrossed in the account of her adoption of two girls from Uganda. It’s an amazing story, full of miracles and unlikely providences. This part stopped me in my tracks:

“It has always been safer to expect that God allows suffering in the interest of refinement. While I still believe this is a significant aspect of his nature, Uganda had given me the chance to discover new frontiers of his generosity. For he also allows joy.”

He also allows joy.

When they reached the top, Kevin Jorgeson said he hopes that their accomplishment inspires others to “find their own Dawn Wall.” None of our stories will mirror the achievement of Jorgeson and Caldwell exactly – but we all dream of something, right?

I don’t know what you’re hoping for. Some of my dearest friends are waiting for things that feel so far off that at times they seem impossible – waiting to get pregnant, waiting to be matched with a baby to adopt, waiting through a season of prolonged singleness, waiting for a job to improve, waiting for a spouse to change, waiting for an illness to shift, waiting for the pain to lift. I am well aware of the things I am personally waiting for. And hope? Hope can feel cruel – because by its very nature, hope means that the thing we want hasn’t happened yet.

But like I once heard it defined to a child, hope also means “something wonderful is about to happen.”

I’m not a rock climber, and I probably never will be. But I’ll remember Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson as long as I live for reminding me to check my doubts at the door – because he also allows joy.

DawnWall

Photo credit: Corey Rich

 

More

Monday, September 29th, 2014

“Do you find the tension between seeking contentment and desiring more, difficult? I do, certainly.”

Those were the closing lines of an email I received last week from a woman who has lived more life than I – and just like that, she so concisely distilled my entire life’s dilemma. Perhaps you relate?

Contentment in its truest form is a beautiful thing, and worth cultivating. But personally, I can easily confuse contentment with complacency – an artificial version of “satisfaction,” keeping my dreams and desires in the OFF position.

Contentment should never be at the risk of betraying one’s heart.

I used to feel a little sheepish that I (still) love the song “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid – but not anymore. Why shouldn’t I love it? The lyricist, Howard Ashman*, perfectly articulates the honest acknowledgement of restless desire, regardless of how much one has – which is actually quite profound.

I want more.

When’s it my turn?

Contentment and wanting more seem to be in direct opposition of each other – and like my friend Joey recently said, “I think that for some people, it’s honestly just harder to be happy.” And if it hadn’t been 10 in the morning, we would have clinked whiskey glasses.

The trouble with wanting more is that we’re never satisfied. The beauty of wanting more is that it cracks our lives wide open – for better and for worse, but ultimately for better. It’s like when you love someone. Loving makes you vulnerable to pain. Loving means there’s a lot to lose.

Loving can make you afraid. But being loved means you don’t have to be.

I don’t know that any of this makes much sense, and I don’t know if I even mean for it to. All I know is that I want MORE – and I’m not talking about the material things (although I’d definitely take another pair of Frye boots if you’re offering), but just… more. Life. Depth. Beauty. Freedom. I don’t want to play it safe – because this is what Mary Oliver calls my “one wild and precious life.”

What if there’s more for me? What if there’s more for you?

IMG_2720

(Once on a trip to Texas, I forgot pajamas. I raided the Target sale rack, and obviously chose this.)

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*From what I’ve learned about Howard Ashman (and trust me, I’ve obsessed over the man), I so wish I could have met him. His work on The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin is some of the best musical storytelling there’s ever been. Watch this short clip, and try not to fall in love with him. And then watch this longer clip and witness Jodi Benson sing like a laser beam.

Top 10 reasons I haven’t been blogging

Monday, June 10th, 2013

10) TECHNOLOGY
I don’t own a computer – not one that works, anyway. My Macbook is from the year Two Thousand and Six, back when dinosaurs roamed the Internet. It barely turns on. Work has provided me with the privilege (?) of a PC laptop that blows hot air like [insert politician of choice], and when it’s 95 degrees outside and the house I just bought doesn’t have air conditioning, said laptop is the last thing I want to cozy up with. Besides, the wi-fi that I share with two (count ‘em) neighbors is spotty at best. Plus – PLUS – my digital camera is broken, so I can’t even make you a video of the Shotgun. All of these things make me want to pull out my newly dyed hair – which, sidenote, has now grown out to the awkward in-between phase. Great.

9) JUICING
I saw “Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead,” okay? And yes, now I’m doing the trendy thing and spending ungodly amounts of money on produce just to distill it into vegetable sewage. The process of juicing is time consuming and the cleanup is a beast, but I’m hoping that switching out a meal or two a day will help me feel like my old self, back when a mere breakup was the hardest thing I’d experienced, before the years of hard living got me down. (But seriously, if anyone knows a fruit/veggie combination that won’t leave me tasting liquid spinach with a celery splash, please let me know.)

8) HOMEOWNERSHIP
Last Friday, I came home from work with big plans of reading a book, relaxing, maybe drinking an end-of-week cocktail. What did I do instead? I set up my newly purchased ladder and, rake in one hand, iPhone in my teeth, climbed onto the roof. I spent nearly an hour filling three turbo-sized garbage bags with leaves, sticks, twigs, dirt, and the remains of a few unfortunate critters. When I’m not spending time on my roof, I’m taking things to the cellar (we can’t even call this hole a basement – the entrance is a HATCH in the backyard). And when I’m not taking things to the cellar, I’m painting my bathroom or running loads of laundry or paying bills or trying to decide if buying a house was a good decision (it was).

7) CROSSFIT
Let’s not lie, I’ve only gone three times. I’m supposed to be there right now. Whoops.

6) NIGHTMARES
Maybe it’s the aloneness. Maybe it’s the book I’m reading. Maybe it’s watching Toad get more fragile. Maybe it’s reading about deaths on the mountains I’m planning on climbing this summer. Maybe it’s just turning on the news, hearing about massacres and beheadings and building collapses and freak accidents. Whatever it is, I’m not sleeping through the night these days.

5) MUSIC
But don’t go feeling sorry for me – I’ve had some great music to keep my toes tapping and my heart humming. Hunter Hayes’ “I Want Crazy” makes me happier than everything. The Band Perry’s sophomore album “Pioneer” is solid – they’ve won me over, despite their hair. One of my favorite writers, Gretchen Peters, came to Swallow Hill a few weeks ago, and I took my mom; sharing the music I love with the people I love is one of my favorite things. I saw David Ramirez at the Soiled Dove last week, and his new EP “The Rooster” is songwriting at its best.

Also, joining a group guitar class 16 weeks ago was the greatest, most life-giving decision. I love the new friends I’m getting to know, and it’s good to have a reason to practice.

4) DATING
Sike. Haha, sucker.

3) SOCIAL MEDIA
If being online wasn’t such a big part of my job, I’d scrap it all. Social media is a major source of envy for me, since it’s easy to read other people’s happy posts and assume that everyone’s life is perfect except mine. We’re bombarded with a steady stream of highlights and never the low points – which makes sense. I don’t particularly want to share my Ugly Cry face, or the moment in which I say the very most hurtful thing – why would anyone else? So we continue to revise our wording, and crop our photos so no one sees the mess, and pretend that everything’s okay when it most decidedly is not.

2) DREAMING
Someday, I’m going to hike the Colorado Trail, record another album, live out of my car, write a book, fly first class, spend quality time with my nephews, hold every one of my friends’ babies, sit still, speak the truth, drive all the way to Alaska, cook a turkey, take an art class, stop guarding my heart and start using it, do something drastic, trust, read so many books, finish climbing the 14ers, stay at a bed & breakfast, and sing to old people in a nursing home.

1) NO GOOD REASON
I miss you. Maybe that sounds weird, since to you I might just be words on a screen – but you (yeah, you) are more than that to me. You are an important part of my community and my life. My posts may be sporadic these days; I suppose that’s the season I’m in. But I skipped doing anything “important” tonight just to write, because that’s what felt important and significant and as necessary as breathing. This space matters to me, and you matter to me, and it feels good just to say hi.

Wanting

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013

There’s nothing like being on the brink of a major life decision to make a girl have a meltdown.

Over the weekend, I was working fast and furious toward something that I thought might materialize, only to find out that the dream was dead on arrival. On Monday night, I called my mom in tears – not so much about the thing not working out, but because I was crashing from the adrenalin rush of almost, almost making a significant change.

Big decisions are a big deal whether you’re making them alone or not, but I’m reminded that I don’t always like carrying the full weight of those decisions by myself. Sometimes you just want an arm around your shoulder.

It’s a scary thing to admit that you want something, because all of a sudden, you’re admitting that it matters. And once you admit that something matters, the potential for disappointment exists: if it doesn’t happen, it could hurt.

But these days, I’m wanting – I’m wanting a lot. And I’m learning to admit it. I don’t know where this wanting will lead, but whatever happens, I would rather want and risk pain than be safe but numb.

Today, I’m flying to LA for a crazy-busy few days of work. My hair is looking okay and I’ve done a great job packing my suitcase, which is always a personal victory. I’ll be back in blogging action next week – until then, channel your inner Ariel and don’t be afraid to want something.

The chair

Sunday, December 30th, 2012

It was love at first sight, really.

I was wandering through a vintage store in Kansas City when it caught my eye. I made a beeline for it, and bought it the same day. It made no sense – because how would I ever get it back to Seattle?

It didn’t matter. I didn’t care. The chair was made for me.

That was the spring of 2004, and it wouldn’t be until the summer of 2005 that I would drive nearly 2,000 miles from Seattle to Kansas City in my Honda Accord just to fetch the chair from my parent’s basement where I had left it underneath a sheet. I drove back to the Northwest, and the first thing I did was head to my new apartment building in Wallingford. I muscled the chair up 3 flights of stairs, unlocked the door for the very first time, walked into the empty studio, and set the chair right by the window on the hardwood floor. It was the first and only piece of furniture I owned.

But slowly, my little home began to build around it.

The chair became the centerpiece of my décor, the first thing that people would notice when they walked in – then outwardly show their disappointment when I told them it was from the 50s, and that no, they could not find an equivalent. When I eventually decided to leave Seattle for Nashville, the chair was the only piece of furniture I moved with me. I stopped in Kansas City on the way, and carried it to the middle of a field where my sister-in-law snapped what would become somewhat of an icon in my life.

I built a new life in Tennessee, and as I moved around, started using the phrase “Home is where the chair is.” And it’s true: each humble place that my chair graced truly felt like home.

At the end of 2009, I loaded the chair for yet another move, this time to Denver. From Franklin to Hooker to now Alcott, the chair has traveled with me, and has remained my favorite piece of furniture. I’ve talked about how I want to keep it forever, picturing it in various reading nooks, or maybe a daughter’s room someday. This chair has been woven into the story of my life, and I have never run across another that could compare with how much I love it.

But this year, something tragic happened. Blame it on years of use, blame it on age, but the seat of the chair wore through and split open. The threadbare fabric finally gave way, and just disintegrated beyond repair. I tried to pull and stitch. I brainstormed how to reupholster it – but it was no use. This chair was done for.

I fought it for months, the raggedy chair keeping up residence in the living room, guests commenting on how the stuffing was coming out. I didn’t want to get rid of it, and tried to think of any way I could resurrect what had become such an important item to me. But I knew that the day would come.

And that day was today.

I bought a utility knife. I walked into the living room, turned the chair around, and took a blade to it – I felt like Fantine cutting off her hair. When I was through, I had removed the back panel of fabric, the only piece that was still in good condition. This memory, this scrap, is now lying in the living room.

My future brother-in-law Michael carried the half-naked and now-destroyed chair out to the alley and threw it in the dumpster. It’s over. It’s gone.

– – – – –

I have some dreams that have not come true. Like the fabric on the chair, no matter how I’ve tried to pull, the fiber of my life just won’t reach far enough. No matter how I’ve tried to stitch, the threads unravel. If it were up to me, my dreams would come together seamlessly, creating something good and unique and beautiful, something that others would comment on, something that I would love.

Just hours before I cut up my chair, I talked to Greta about the importance of letting certain dreams die, or at least transform. If the dream no longer holds together, if it dissolves despite our best efforts, then maybe it’s time to let it go. If forcing the pieces only tears them further, then maybe it’s time to be open to something new – and to be open to that something new being GOOD, even though it isn’t exactly what we’ve valued in the past.

As I look ahead to a new year, I don’t know what to dream. But I know that it needs to be new.

Tonight, I mourn the loss of my chair. I stare at the panel of fabric that I saved, and wonder what to do from here.

But whatever it is, I have to believe it could be good.

“Your vision isn’t big enough”

Monday, March 12th, 2012

I can’t tell you how many times in the last several months that I have sat down to write, only to be confronted with the alarming realization that my spirit feels dry.  The five fairly consistent years of this blog should prove that it’s not like me to have nothing to say – but you can’t draw water from an empty well, and you can’t draw words from an empty girl.

There are probably a lot of valid external factors contributing to this soul-drought.  Starting a new job (no matter how awesome) takes a significant amount of brainpower and creative energy.  Going from working from home to being surrounded by people (no matter how wonderful) is a whiplash of sorts, and requires some adjustment.  The evolution of important relationships can be uncomfortable – not bad, not wrong, just different.   The Colorado weather swinging from 72 degrees one day to 28 the next is enough to kill all the joy that ever was.

But deeper than all of that, it’s a heart thing.  It’s a heart thing, and I know it.

Last week, two of my favorite friends posted two separate blogs – and both brought me to tears.  Both of these friends had a dream.  Both of them worked really hard for a really long time.  And both of their stories have led somewhere beautiful and inspiring.

Annie and Valerie, you remind me of what it means to hope and dream and work, and to wind up somewhere beyond what you thought was possible.  I’m so incredibly proud of both of you.  (Also, let’s just take a moment to recognize how GORGEOUS they both look – good grief.)

I recently heard a pastor say, “If you don’t have to pray about the vision you have for your life, then your vision isn’t big enough.”

Contrary to my self-sufficient attitude, we’re supposed to dream of and work toward things bigger than what we can do on our own.

I’m pretty sure that a lack of vision has contributed to my stagnant heart – but Annie and Valerie have reminded me about the importance of working toward a dream.  Consider me nudged.

From Head To Foot

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

You know my friend Annie Downs?

Of course you do.  She is famous in the blog world, famous in Nashville, famous in my heart, and now, famous in honest-to-goodness book print.

When I first met Annie several years ago, she was in the beginning stages of writing a book.  She wrote and wrote and wrote, more words than I have ever strung together.  She poured her heart and her time and her stories into this book – and now it’s finally ready for you to read.

Anyone who knows Annie in real life knows that she’s the greatest to hang around.  She is honest and funny and loves people like she means it.  She draws people in like a moth to the flame – except in the end, the moth doesn’t burn to death, so it’s actually not like a moth to the flame at all.  It’s more like cartoon birds and chipmunks being drawn to Cinderella’s song, or me being drawn to men with scruff.  (Please note that Annie Downs does not have scruff.)

Here’s the crazy thing: so much of the good that is Annie translates directly over to the way that she writes.  I’m only a few chapters into this book, and reading it feels like we’re sitting across the table from each other, hashing out the good, the bad, and the ugly.  The girl is gifted.

For those of you who can’t get enough of her hysterical, heart-felt blog, you will definitely want to grab a copy of “From Head To Foot.”  It’s geared toward young women – and chances are that you either are a young woman or you know a young woman, so order one or five or enough for all of the high schoolers at your church.

It’s a really cool thing to watch a friend’s dream come true.  Annie Downs is doing one of the many things that she’s meant to do – writing good, truthful, life-giving words, and sharing them with others.  It’s a big deal.  It’s a great story.  I’m so proud to call her my friend.

Welcome mat

Friday, June 4th, 2010

I’ve heard it said that to start anything requires a certain willing suspension of disbelief.  You have to allow yourself, on some level, to dare to hope – even in the face of potential disappointment or failure or heartbreak.

What a scary place to live.  There is no guaranteed win.  But thankfully, as a sweet friend recently reminded me, “winning” is not the point.

We might not be fearless, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t be brave.

I want a heart that’s rolled open like a welcome mat.  I’m working on it.

Different

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

I’ve been doing some thinking.  I’ve been crunching some numbers.

To accomplish Tuesday’s boldly declared goal, I would have to walk 10.6 miles a day, every day, for the next 94 days.  And seeing as how I have walked 0 miles since Monday, I’m thinking that 1,000 before Labor Day may have been a WEE bit overly ambitious.

Oh well – I am still going to walk.  I will walk until kingdom come.  And mark my words: I WILL climb at least 6 14ers this summer.  That, gentlefolk, is money in the bank.

– – – – – – – –

A few years ago, I saw Rosie O’Donnell on one of the morning news shows – you know, when I still had a TV and Rosie still had the media’s love and devotion.  The interviewer asked her if she could go back and tell her younger self one thing, what would it be?

I’ll never forget Rosie’s response.  She said, “I would tell myself that everything is going to happen, just like you dreamed – it’s just going to feel differently than what you expected.”

I don’t know why, but I’m kind of experiencing some of that right now.