Poor Midnight.

I’m six, working with my third grade writing buddy to compose this month’s masterpiece: basically the younger partner in the pairing (me) got to dictate a short story and the older student (Stephanie) practiced handwriting (I guess?) and put up with my immaturity.

“What do you want to write about?” she asked, pencil poised above the yellow legal pad.

Last time we described my rabbit, Midnight—since then buried in the backyard under a skewed wooden cross. The time before that was a winter-day adventure, skating on our frozen pond and hiking along snowmobile paths. Now what? In first grade I had limited experiences to draw from.

“How about your best friend Jess?” she suggested.


But how could I start a story about our friendship when I couldn’t remember how the friendship began? I racked my brain trying to think of the exact time, the moment I knew she was the One. Had we coincidentally shared the same monkey bars at recess? Swapped sandwiches at lunch? Discovered a mutual love for horses? Or had it grown from a straightforward, “Hey, let’s be friends”?

Since then I’ve gone through the same process at some point in nearly every lasting friendship I’ve had/have. There’s a point when I try to connect the dots from past to present like you might trace the lines of a conversation from car tires to tire swings to summer camps to first crushes to the meaning of love. And I fail every time.

I know she makes me feel good. He makes me laugh. The why is less important than knowing they are in my life and I’m happy.

Butterflies and Gender Roles.

Overheard at the grocery store between a mother and her 5-year-old son.

          Mom: “Look at all the balloons!”

          Son: “I see a sparkly butterfly…and the sun…and a baseball!”

          “Which one would you want to take home?”

          “Ummm, probably the butterfly.”

          “Are you sure? Look, there’s a baseball player over there .” [Lifts up son to see this balloon.]

          “I see it now… But I still like the butterfly best.”

Who says little boys have to prefer baseball over butterflies? It was a kick-ass butterfly.


My Secret Library.

Today I secretly packed probably 20 pounds of books, hidden beneath oven mitts and kitchen utensils in a plastic storage bin. Children’s fiction, cookbooks, American literature anthologies, Spanish grammar guides, and Anna Karenina, just in case.  My parents would call this frivolous and would pressure me into weeding through the stacks (I’m leaving a shelf’s-worth behind already!), thus the secrecy. But this is it for this room, these shelves.

I’m leaving. For good.

I’m excited! I need to get out, and here’s my opportunity, a blank canvas on which to interpret my idea of home. I’m starting a working life, building momentum for a future that can only hold better things, which could include living in not-Ottumwa, more school, or a year in India–I can do absolutely anything.

This just happened very quickly, and at a time when I had resigned myself/begun to look forward to autumn in St. Louis. I’d written concert schedules in my planner, made bike dates…and missed Kirksville friends, sequestered myself in my bedroom to avoid a sometimes-frustrating deluge of family time.

So, mixed emotions about this transition, and it doesn’t help that Ottumwa reminds me of the stereotypical middle-of-nowhere town in horror movies. But at least I’ll have Dostoevsky and Austen and Bradbury there.

Catholicism can be cool!

Who knew? Actually, I did 10 years ago when I was writing 5th grade reports on Mother Teresa and watching “Romero” at least twice a school year. These were religious people I could respect, and my wide-eyed idealism identified—then and now—with their struggle to do right, if not their spiritual fervor.

Reading Tracy Kidder’s “Mountains Beyond Mountains” about medical reform in Haiti, I’ve again stumbled across the positive side of religion in liberation theology. The philosophy emphasizes ‘preferential option for the poor’ and the importance of praxis over sedentary belief. This is a version of Catholicism, originating in the Latin American Church and largely (not surprisingly) frowned upon by the current pope, that equates sin with exploitative capitalism and class struggle. Redemption is political activism, social justice, human rights.

It can also lead to violent means to good ends, which I can’t condone—but then, what ideology (pacifism excepted…) is not, at times, violently upheld?

I’m disenchanted with my high school’s version of Catholicism, which seemed to seek only money and abstinence. There were weekly chastity lectures, but little mention of poverty, repression, and the gross inequalities that existed outside that wholesome bubble. Nowhere in the Bible does God demand, “Thou shalt not wear condoms,” but the commandment to love is made pretty clear.

If I still consider myself Catholic or religious at all, it’s because this kind of spirituality exists.