May Your Days Be Merry and Bright

 

Macy near the Clydesdale corral at Santa’s Woods where we accompany Grandma and Grandpa and other family members each year while they select a real tree. A nice sunny day is always welcome on this annual day-after-Thanksgiving tradition.

 

My mom rightly noted that it looks like Santa brought me some teenagers this year. While it’s not technically true, it certainly looks like it!

Merry White Christmas from us! And Happy New Year!

 

Can Football Make Your Son a Better Human?

My twelve year-old son plays tackle football. He loves it. I hate to love it. But I do.

I read the articles advocating a quick retreat from the sport of American football based on its “culture of violence” and I get it. I click every headline on CNN that mentions a tragic football injury. I wonder if we’re doing the right thing to let him play. I wonder if I’m going to regret it. I ask everyone I know their opinion. Which just leads to more confusion. (My dad always says opinions are like arm pits, everyone has two of them and they both stink!)

But on the other hand, when he plays I know it fulfills something in him that feels almost primal. Maybe it’s that masculine hero thing. Or the natural tendency toward war and conquest. Possibly the spiritual draw toward a noble brotherhood. Any or all of that may be true, but it is for sure true that football is a joy for him.

And it’s a joy for me, too. When I see him make a catch I didn’t think he could make. When I see him stand on the sideline and shout support to his teammates. When I see a coach rehearsing a play with him, showing him where he went wrong and how to fix it. When every boy on the field works together toward one goal and they win. I love it.

You can understand my conflict with football. But I’m starting to develop a more sure footed sense of my real opinion, even as I acknowledge the complexities of the issue. Let’s start here. Have you seen this?

 

What gets me about this video is the wide receiver at the end, the one who tears up when thinking back on how the beautiful gesture changed him. How many times have you seen a middle school boy share feelings like that? How valuable is it that he had that opportunity to express himself emotionally in a healthy way?

This weekend my favorite middle school football team played for the league championship. They had finished the regular season undefeated. They played as sure and as selflessly as any team we’ve ever been part of. Heading into the championship game they knew it would be a battle – the opposing team was undoubtedly as skilled and as motivated. And they did battle.

But they caught some tough breaks. Even after making four straight goal line stands and holding their opponent to only 16 points (one of their touchdowns a defensive take-away), in the end it just didn’t work out in our favor. As in any game, there were things we could have done better, but there wasn’t failure for lack of competing. We lost the game by 10 points.

And we were heartbroken. And there were tears. Big, genuine, sobbing tears. From not just my soft-hearted, emotive twelve year-old, but from the big guys on the team, too. They sat together on the sideline and from my husband’s perspective, “You’ve never seen so many weeping middle school boys.”

And I love them for it. And I love football for giving them an excuse to cry. Because a good cry once in awhile will do wonders for your soul. It’s true, even the comedic philosophers of our age know about it. Once we’d been home for awhile, reminded ourselves of some of the game’s highlights (personal and team victories), my son felt better. Maybe he even is better.

Today, that’s why I’m sure I love football again. (The last time I was really sure was when I wrote this post from two years ago.)

Author Interview with MY MOM!

My mom, Kathy Nickerson, is releasing her first novel, Thirty Days to Glory, THIS WEEK! It’s a lovely Christmas story set in small-town America. I’m hoping it will be the first of a hot new genre I’m calling Granny Lit. (You read it here first, folks! Can I copyright that?) Available now on Amazon or from the publisher. In today’s post I have a little interview with the published author herself, but first, some old photos.

www.kathynick.com_matchingFelic www.kathynick.com_wendell&FelicYep, that’s me and Mom in matching outfits she made herself. This is way pre-Pinterest, people, which will make you laugh after you finish the interview. And that’s me and Dad. Don’t we look ready for adventure? And that’s our Spitfire convertible. Yep, before Serenity we were the coolest family ever (this will also make you laugh after the interview). So, without embarrassing anyone further, the interview.

*****

Me: You have been writing novels as long as I can remember. How did you decide Thirty Days to Glory should be published first?

Kathy: Like most things in writing, this one was trial and error. I sent queries and proposals on three novels during the last few years. Glory seemed to get the most nibbles. So I revised and perfected and kept submitting it. The other two are waiting their turn.

Me: As a working mom who is also a full-time MFA student, I’m wondering how you found time to write books and magazine articles while we were growing up.

Kathy: Well, you probably don’t remember any gourmet meals. Or homemade cookies, for that matter. I didn’t do needlework. Or garden. Or drive you guys to a zillion sporting events. Writing was my hobby for many years, and I pursued it the way today’s mothers pursue Pinterest.

Me: Do you think writing is more of a career now than a hobby for you?

Kathy: I do. I’m sure some golfers have invested more time and money in their sport than I’ve put into writing. But my focus has changed. This isn’t just something I do for fun anymore. I see a real purpose in telling stories and connecting people to thoughts and possibilities.

Me: Does education make the difference between hobby and career? Or do you think it’s something more?

Kathy: Education certainly plays a role. I often tell people that just because I own a pair of scissors it doesn’t mean I’m qualified to cut hair. I’ll probably never seek a degree in this field, but I’ve taken several writing courses and attended workshops, and I will continue to learn from professionals in the future.

Me: I never thought I would want to be a writer, but now here I am! Isn’t it interesting that all three of your daughters are writers?

Kathy: I love that! I’m not sure what role genetics plays. Maybe you would all have been ballerinas if I’d danced in your youth. I also love the way you, Serenity, and Charity have each become writers with your own style and voice. And your brother, Joe, has written some pretty creative pieces, too. (Cue the jokes about your sibling names now.)

Me: One final question to follow up on yesterday’s post on Serenity’s blog. Is she really your favorite?!

Kathy: Of course not. I only said that on her blog so I don’t have to pay for her middle-child-syndrome therapy. You are obviously my favorite. [emphasis might be mine]

GIVEAWAY! My people will send a free copy of Thirty Days to Glory to the person who provides the best caption (in a comment below) for the above photo of me and Mom. Come on, think of it as a writing exercise! : )

Today is Not Every Day

A little over a week ago I was in Chicago, walking the downtown streets from my hotel to the various STORY Chicago conference events. It was perfection. One night it rained, but I was safely inside already, and by the time I ventured back out again the night air was temperate and the rain had seemed to give the sidewalks a gentle scrub. It was enchanting.

It was so nice, in fact, that my friend Liz who traveled with me had to remind me that we were probably seeing Chicago at it’s very best (in terms of weather). A week earlier we might have been melting. A week later and the lake wind might have chilled our bones. In other words, we reminded ourselves, today isn’t every day in Chicago.

So it helped when I got home to my smaller, slightly less exciting Omaha to take a lunch downtown and remind myself how great it can be here, too. Dan and I had a little lunch date at Block 16 and then dessert at Bliss Bakery. And that was perfection, too.

So I guess the moral of the story is that any place is perfect in September! No? Right. I think the moral of the story is that we just need fresh eyes sometimes, new perspectives. That’s what’s nice about a little trip out of town. Or a conference with speakers I wouldn’t hear from in my every day. All or any of it is a nice reminder that today isn’t every day and that’s why it can be special.

I heard a sports commentator say recently that after a big loss or a big win it’s always a good idea to remind your athletes, “It’s never as bad OR as good as it seems right now.” That’s not meant to squelch excitement or numb pain, but I think it is meant as a way of keeping us off ledges of despair or pride. There’s a super healthy place in between.

In a way, if today isn’t every day than is there really a true everyday? Huh. Probably not.

 

 

Why Poetry? (from the Poet Laureate)

This week I’ve been reading A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver (she’s the poet famous for the line, “what is it you  plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”). Here’s one of my favorite sections:

Writing a poem … is a kind of possible love affair between something like the heart (that courageous but also shy factory of emotion) and the learned skills of the conscious mind. They make appointments with each other, and keep them, and something begins to happen. Or, they make appointments with each other but are casual and often fail to keep them: count on it, nothing happens.

[The heart] learns quickly what sort of courtship it is going to be. Say you promise to be at your desk in the evenings, from seven to nine. It waits, it watches. If you are reliably there, it begins to show itself–soon it begins to arrive when you do. But if you are only there sometimes and are frequently late or inattentive, it will appear fleetingly, or it will not appear at all.

Just more evidence that being a great writer is less about talent and more about hard work. Which is actually pretty comforting even if it does at the same time threaten my usual list of excuses. Still, I can’t shake the idea that it’s something I can do. Should do.

Then last night I finally got to hear Natasha Trethewey (the US Poet Laureate) read her work. It was enchanting, to say the least. And toward the end of the evening she was asked the question, “Why write poetry instead of one of the other genres?” She laughed because it’s a question she gets often. Her answer is perfect, in my opinion:

Poetry is the best repository for our most humane and just expressions of feeling.

Next week I’m off to STORY Chicago! I imagine I’ll come back full of new drafts, don’t you think?

The Writer’s Life

This is actually an assignment in my MFA program: imagine the life of a writer and begin to live it. My sister is justifiably jealous. “That’s school?! What am I doing in the real world!?” she commented on my Instagram. Yes, the very best kind of school. I have scheduled writing time everyday. Everyday, you guys! It’s awesome. And hard.

The books above are the first I received from my reading list. I’m learning so much from them. (I’ll get to hear a reading from Thrall next week when the Poet Laureate visits my own Joslyn Museum!) For example, read this from Carolyn See in the chapter where she tells writers that part of the struggle will be against the rest of the world who just wants you to keep quiet and be normal in order to keep alive the structure of civilization as we know it:

But the minute somebody begins to write–or to make any kind of real “art”–all that structure comes into question. It’s no coincidence that repressive governments go after their artists and writers first. Daily life is serious business. It’s hard enough to put a civilization together. And one artist is–theoretically, at least–capable of bringing down the whole damn thing.

So if you’re a writer or an artist or anyone who dares to bring creativity into the earth (I know a lot of people who do this everyday at their “normal” job), then you are at risk for being challenged, even threatened by people who just want to keep the status quo. But you can’t do that anymore. Because you know better. And, as Oprah says, now you’ll do better, too.

This is the challenge: do the work. And it’s the challenge for all of us. We all have visions of who we want to be: a better mom, a stronger athlete, a more prosperous business person. But the only things keeping us from our desires are our own desires. I want to have time to write so I cut down on my work hours and set aside quiet time at home. But now I have to create. I have to write. I have to produce. I can’t just sit around surfing the Internet or even reading the millions of great poems already written by others.

Likewise, being a mom who has cookies and milk ready for her kids after school means you have to bake those stupid cookies, buy some milk, and be there after school.You can’t watch TV all day and try to do everything else after the kids come home. It’s too late then. (And please don’t think this is any kind of example from my own life. Oh, my.) None of it happens just because we want it to. If it did, the world would be full of rich, happy, successful people at Pinterest-perfect parties every day.

Nope, it’s just you and me and the people we love, and if we want to make it happen we have to do the work. And then rest in the grace of each other when we don’t. Because we all know how hard it is. And we all know how wonderful it can be. So we keep at it, we artists and creators and everyday people who believe in more than what we see.

It really is the very best kind of school. For all of us.