The Alure of an Uncrossed Intersection

Wednesday is workshop night. Each week of summer break our little tribe of MFA students gathers at the Panera Bread on Saddle Creek Road. We order cups of soup and tall smoothies and then get started on the task at hand: responding to the poems or stories up for workshop that week.

I’ve been extremely thankful for our group this summer because it’s kept me in the habit of writing. I’m a deadline writer by nature, but knowing I have a workshop coming up has also trained me to write quick drafts wherever I am. Last week I dashed one off while the reading students I tutor were busy with a group project. Surprisingly, the poem was inspired by something I see while I’m in workshop on Wednesday nights.

While I’m sitting in the too-cold air conditioning, I often look out the big widows toward an intersection that connects the Panera parking lot with Saddle Creek and a cross street I don’t have a name for. It’s a tidy intersection: our small plaza on one side, a Walgreens (the kind with lots of green space and boxy shrubs) on one corner and a mid-sized apartment complex (the kind with white wrought iron balconies) on the other corner. To get onto Saddle Creek you’d take a left or a right. If you drive straight through the light you disappear as the street goes up a slight hill and the large over-hanging trees obscure any further view. And every week I think, “I wonder what kind of street is just over that hill. It must be beautiful.”

But every week after the workshop has concluded, I don’t detour to find out. Because I kind of like the not knowing. I like imagining what could be and I hate being disappointed by an alternate reality. I’d rather keep it a secret from myself and just live in the pleasure of not knowing instead of being disappointed by dilapidated rentals or empty store fronts. If that’s the view I’ll find, I’d rather not find out.

On the weeks we workshop my poetry I leave the parking lot with at stack of edited and commented upon poems. I set them in my backseat like the child of mine that they are and I take them home, load them into the appropriate file folder, and tell them I’ll be back to finish them up later.

Except I don’t want to finish them. I like them as they are: full of raw potential and encouraging comments. In this state, even the critical remarks don’t sting because they are followed (by my generous friends) with “a quick fix” or “just something to consider in revision.” Different than the comments I see on the published work of others online. Those comments are directed at the finished work, the work that has no further hope of renovation. Those poems are finished. But my poems full of green marker edits and ball point commentaries are pure possibility in their unfinished state. They might turn out to be perfect.

I like them that way. And I’ve yet to take that unnamed street just to see what’s on the other side. Because I fear being disappointed. But it’s crazy, right? Because what if on the other side of the intersection is the street of my dreams? A house just the right size and shape for our too-large family? A historical marker that will engage my imagination and prompt another poem?

So, I’m planning to dig into that box. And I’ll take the detour, too. Eventually.

This is Good Work: Claire Update

Claire is in the middle of lots of good, hard work right now. Her hour-long physical therapy sessions start with several minutes of stretching. We’ve surgically lengthened her hamstring and Achilles tendons and still there is a daily fight against her body’s natural tone that pulls and tightens muscles in her leg (and arm, but that’s another day’s battle). We noticed she wasn’t being able to pinpoint where her pain was coming from and realized this is probably yet another issue with the way CP works on a body: the brain-to-appendage connection is damaged, so messages just don’t get where they are supposed to go at the right times.

After stretching, the games begin. She plays washers or Don’t Spill the Beans or dominoes, all of them just fronts for the real work that her therapist is doing with the way she asks Claire to stand or lean. Squaring hips, stretching flexors, and bearing weight. The funny thing is how often I’m surprised by what her body can’t do because of how well she compensates in daily life. Her therapist was the one to notice the way she didn’t extend her left (troublesome) leg behind her in her stride. When asked to isolate those hip and butt muscles in an exercise, she barely has any strength in them at all. To walk, she has figured out how to over-use and contort the muscles that respond to her. It isn’t always pretty, but it gets the job done. In therapy, the PT does a kind of deconstruction, finds the holes and the manipulations, and addresses them head on.

Most sessions include extended time on the treadmill. There is usefulness in the quick repetition required of her muscles when the ground is moving under her feet. The therapist adjusts speeds and inclines to find a spot that produces the best gait. We work from there.

At the end of her time, she usually gets to choose a fun activity. The indoor zip line is a favorite. Another is a contraption called a Pedalo. By the time we leave, she’s feeling good but tired. At home we try to follow a routine of daily stretches and strength exercises. Sometimes I try to sneak a stretch in while we’re standing in line at a restaurant or store. That doesn’t always go over well.

One of the tough things this go-around is how much more aware of other people she seems to be. She’s worn a brace off and on for years, but it’s been several since she’s worn it daily.This time, though, she isn’t as likely to want to run in with me at the store or take the dog for a walk, and it isn’t because she isn’t able. “I just feel like everybody is looking at me.” I remember feeling that way when I was 11 and probably no one actually was. In her case, they usually are.

So she works. Strengthens the parts that are weak, stretches the parts that are tight, coaxes the non-responsive parts into action. It’s good, hard work. I’m incredibly proud. Sad, some days, that it has to be her this way. Sad, some days, that I’m filling my Instagram feed with filtered shots from the Rehabilitation room at Children’s Hospital instead of a beach vacation. But thankful, every day, that she’s mine. Thankful for what she’s taught me about what it really takes to be important and special (hint: none of the things I would have told you before Claire). Thankful that when I think of Claire, the analogy of Christ and the Church as a head and a body makes more sense in a practical way for someone still being surprised by how tough and how great this faith community thing can be. This isn’t perfect. It sometimes looks awkward. But the beauty isn’t in an elegant, flawless product. The beauty is in the trying. The beauty is in the being. The beauty is in the work.



I Instagrammed this image of Macy’s homework a few weeks ago. After she had carefully traced the outline of this word she was searching for, she asked me if they would let her do it this way. I said no. She sighed and declared, “Well, they should,” even as she flipped her pencil over to start erasing.

I was surprised by her recognition of a very real yet ambiguous THEY. For Macy this was some combination of her teachers and maybe the creators of the word search. But maybe it was larger too. Maybe she was asking about the world in general. What are the rules? And who is enforcing them? Or if it isn’t really about the rule, maybe it’s about the standard practice, the status quo. How is this done? In essence, what is expected of me and am I measuring up?

The other thing I noticed about Macy’s reaction was her resigned reflex to begin erasing. Even though she felt like it should be okay. Even though she had worked so hard to find that beautifully creative and clever solution to her search. She started erasing.

And in the moment, I let her. But as I’ve been thinking about it since, I wish I had told her to leave it. Her teacher would have had a good laugh over it, and eventually Macy will run into enough word search puzzles to figure out the rules. We need rules. But maybe we’ll get lucky and she’ll keep finding new ways to solve the problem, despite unwritten expectations. Maybe she’ll keep going.


Pitch Night Omaha: Author Event with Ben Arment (UPDATED)

*Our event is ON! Click here to get your ticket and copy of the book!

On August 6, 2014 I’m co-hosting an event with Robert Murphy at The 402 in Omaha, Nebraska, and we’d love to see YOU there! Ben is the founder of the STORY Conference held in Chicago. He champions the creative and entrepreneurial spirit in all of us, and this book is like a transcript of the successful Dream Year coaching program he’s been practicing for years. And he happens to be a friend of ours.

Dream Year

What you can expect when you buy a ticket: You’ll get one hardcover copy of Ben’s yet-to-be-released book Dream Year. You’ll also help us “greenlight” the author event with Ben in Omaha. If we can gather 100 of us Omaha/Lincoln/CouncilBluffs Dreamers, then the event is on. We’ll hear Ben share his message in person, partake of Aroma’s goodness in Benson, and also hear the dreams of 10 selected attendees! All for $17 (plus whatever Bliss Bakery treat you can’t resist from Aroma’s), which is less than a typical hardcover book. Oh, and Ben is offering two free e-books with your ticket as well!

Dan and I went to one of Ben’s Dream Year events in Nashville a few years ago. It was a weekend that awakened things in us that we hadn’t paid attention to in a long time. Since then, we moved to our “dream city” (Omaha is our Homaha), I started an MFA program in Creative Writing, Dan joined a community of like-minded musicians at The 402, and he also landed a job he loves with Flywheel. That’s not to mention the community of dreamers we met there that we still get encouragement from today.

Your dream could be about anything. I’ve seen Dream Year projects like these: a book, a foster care advocacy non-profit, a documentary film, a small business, and several ministries. It can really be anything. Maybe you are still uncovering your dream – we’ll discuss that, too. Maybe you just want to experience something new with some people in your area. Maybe your dream is in full force but you want to encourage those just getting started. Check out the Dream Year website and our page for Pitch Night Omaha. Let’s get together and dream!





If I buy a ticket, do I have to share my dream? Or even know what it is?

No! If you’re like me, this is sort of still unfolding. But, if you are also like me in another way, you are inspired just listening to someone else pursue their dream. I find something to learn from their passion or creativity. Dreamers are just the kind of people I like to hang out with! Maybe that’s you, too, and if it is, you’ll love this night together.

After we get 100 people to sign up for the event, I’ll send out an email asking if anyone has a dream they’d like to share. Interested parties will send me a one-paragraph summary and a sample slide. (We’ll be doing the presentations PechaKucha-style, and Robert and I plan to have a short workshop/rehearsal before the event so the presenters will feel 100% comfortable and confident.)

What if I’m not sure I can make it to the event on that date?

You could still a buy a ticket – which helps us get the event fully funded – and I’ll make sure you get your copy of the book. Or, you could transfer or gift your ticket to someone else. Just email me and we’ll work it out. We only have 30 days to make it happen. If you think you might be able to make it, buying your ticket now will help make sure the event is a go!

Could I sponsor a ticket or a group of tickets?

Absolutely and please do! Just go to the website and purchase as many tickets as you would like. Once we know the event is on, you can email me with the names of the people you’d like to sponsor. Or, if you just want to sponsor but don’t have anyone in mind, I can help you with that! Robert and I have made a couple of lists of people we think would benefit from this event (and the book). We’d love to be able to gift them a ticket/book in your name. Just email me ( and we’ll work it out. Remember, if for some reason the event doesn’t fill up (crazy talk!), you won’t be charged at all.

My First Reading

ReadingA few weeks ago I gave my first poetry reading at The Bookworm in Omaha. The New Voices Reading Series is co-sponsored by my university (Creighton) and the University of Nebraska Omaha. I was one of four readers, two in fiction and two in poetry. It was a very positive learning experience. For sure I discovered that as much as I like writing poetry, I probably like reading it even more.

My professor gave me the best advice, and I think it could apply to our lives in general. After giving me a little tutorial on how to arrange my poems and how to practice for the reading she said, “Just be sure to read your own poems in the same way you read someone else’s.” What she meant was that I shouldn’t be embarrassed to read my own poems out loud with passion and energy, the way I read, for example, Elizabeth Bishop’s “An Invitation to Miss Marianne Moore.”

I love nothing more than to throw myself into the out loud reading of a really great poem. But she was right that when I read my own poems in workshop I don’t do it with the same kind of confidence. Making that one switch in my brain is one of the reasons I felt like my first reading was successful. No one wanted to feel me apologizing. They came to hear some poems. So I read them some. And it was really fun.


Day One of the Longest Four Weeks Ever: A Family Update

Claire had a tendon lengthening surgery on Friday. The goal of the surgery is to release some of the tightness in her left leg (an effect of cerebral palsy) so she can have better balance and mobility. We’re very excited about that prospect. We’re not as excited about four weeks in a hip-to-toe cast.

So far Claire is, per her feisty usual, recovering well. She’s already putting weight on the leg and tooling around with a walker and in a wheelchair. It’s just the logistics of a cast that big that is tough. Going to the bathroom, for example, is an unbelievably complicated task fraught with many dangers.

We’re also still working to manage pain and comfort levels. She’s got a pretty high pain tolerance but she’s also used to sleeping on her tummy, something that seems nearly impossible in this monstrosity. So we use pillows and stuffed animals and try to make it work.

The first two nights I felt like I had a newborn again (something I’m obviously too old to try because it made me ridiculously emotional). I went to bed dreading how soon I’d be awakened by Ada to tell me Claire had to go to the bathroom. Just like the good old days. But then yesterday Dan let me have an uninterrupted nap and last night Claire slept all night without pain meds or getting up to pee. So this morning I think we’re going to make it.

We still have to figure out the logistics of school. Luckily, Grandma Cheri is one of her teachers and can help with the technical work of the restroom. And Claire has been practicing her wheelchair moves. One big plus of all of this is the extra weight-bearing and exercise her left hand is getting with the walker and the wheelchair. That’s one thing she probably wouldn’t have done on her own and it should really help the weakness in her left arm because it’s forced to be a strong link instead of a weak one.

So that’s where we are, friends: hanging in there! Thankful for an opportunity to see Claire get stronger even if in the meantime we’re forced to stay a little closer to home and depend on each other a little more than normal. All good things.