Two Stories, One Post

I am excited to debut on Her View From Home this morning. I’m writing a little story about my sweet friend Angela.  It’s all her fault that I love fall scented candles.  Read more here.

IMG_2026And in case you weren’t sure, Hadley is currently 9 going on  14. Lord, help me. This has absolutely nothing to do with my writing (yet). I am just sharing a bit of news.

Over on Makes You Mom, I wrote one of the hardest essays I’ve written in a long time. It doesn’t matter how long it took me to write it, but there were lots of tears and revisions.  There were lots of crumpled up drafts and lots of “I’m walking away from this piece of….” well, you get the idea. I don’t need to use naughty words.  The essay is about a spider and a locksmith, and my struggle to come to terms with the stories I weave in my head. Don’t read it if you’re in a good mood. You can find it here.

Here’s a picture to cheer you up if you did read it. Who can’t be happy looking at those blue eyes? Also, it was taken on a cold Tuesday afternoon when we were supposed to be doing homework, but I decided ice-cream with LOTS of sprinkles (for me) was in order.


Thanks for clicking over and reading my work.


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Some Thankful Things

Towards the end of the summer, my friend Rachel contacted me with an idea. Our daughters were heading towards the end of Children In Worship, which is  a program that goes on during our church service for children in preschool through second grade. Rachel wondered if I’d be interested in working with her to give the “older younger” kids a chance to process the scripture our pastor would preach on through painting, journaling, and other creative outlets. This seemed like something that is right up my alley, so I said yes, and for the past three months, Rachel and I have taken turns sitting with three or four girls and talking about the Bible through coloring, and painting, and it’s been lovely getting to know these kids who I used to hold on my hip and stack blocks with a few short years ago.

One of the girls has a longer version of my name. Another recently moved here from Chicago and she and I have talked about Gino’s East and the Sears Tower. Rachel’s daughter has the best smile I’ve ever seen. I have a long history with the other sweet gal who shows up, her bright eyes always ready for a story. I’ve known her daddy since we were 20, and her mom is one of the coolest, funniest people I’ve met. And of course, there’s Hadley; she and I get to sit with and talk about Bible stories together.  It’s good sitting with these young ladies on a Sunday morning.

This past Sunday, our pastor wrote a sermon on Genesis 49-50. This is the story of Jacob’s death and Joseph’s forgiveness of his brothers.  I decided to focus on Genesis 50:20: “God intended it for good, to accomplish what is now being done”.  The girls and I talked about inheritance and some of the things we have that we know we got from our parents: our eye and hair color, but also our personality traits and our interests. “Where do you get your love of reading from?” I asked one. “Do you like science like your daddy?” “Are you an artist like your mom?”

I had the girls trace their hands for turkeys, and in the center they wrote their names. “Can we write them fancy?” they asked, to which I (of course) replied, “Yes.”


IMG_2032I told the girls that God takes parts of us, even our mistakes and sins, and He can use them for good, as he did with Joseph and his brothers.  I love that part when Joseph tells his brothers, “Don’t be scared.” What a gracious way to forgive someone.

IMG_2038IMG_2039Next, we read the story, Don’t Let Auntie Mabel Bless the Table.” It’s a cute little story about a lady who has Sunday dinner for her friends and family at her home. Before eating though, she wants to pray. Not a bad thing, except her prayers take forever. Everyone is starving, and annoyed, and some even fall asleep. It all works out in the end and everyone in the book has a full tummy by the last page.


We talked a little about Thanksgiving and what our plans would be for the day.  I passed out paper, stencils, stickers, and crayons and told the girls to write a prayer they could either say on Thanksgiving, or give to their family to say.  “It’s a surprise,” I told them. So they got to work again, talking and drawing and writing about all the things they are thankful for.


IMG_2035IMG_2036IMG_2037We rolled the prayers up and I tied bows around them, and sent the girls off to get treats after church. They ran up and down the hallway, giggling, and Hadley and Harper were among them, laughing and running, too.

At the time of my posting this, I will be nine days away from turning 40. It occurred to me recently that I have spent my 30s in the Washington DC area, and that seems significant. Jesse and I have struggled to find our way here; the DC area is not an easy place financially to live. In that sense, the city has broken my heart. But about 72 hours before I was in church, I was with Rachel and some other ladies in DAR Constitution Hall watching Willie Nelson get the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. This summer I sat with my friend Cara and our kids at The National Theatre and we watched the production of Roald Dahl’s The BFG. I got to perform on stage in Arlington with a group of ladies who believe in the power of stories. I’ve been to two Easter Egg Rolls at the White House. I have a friend in Alexandria who is a writer and we’ve met at a delicious cheese and wine shop and talked shop. When I visit her, I take the George Washington Parkway, and on the way home I pull over to try and get a shot of Georgetown, the Kennedy Center, and the Cathedral all across the river. In so many ways the DC area is where I got my start, and I think that more than breaking my heart, DC has mended and grown it.

So on this Thanksgiving, I’m thankful that DC is the place I spent my 30s: where I learned to be a teacher again, where I became a mother, where I learned how to write better, where I made friends, where I have had a chance to think about and see God accomplishing things for good; no matter the broken and sinful heart that these things come from.

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A Letter On A Name

Dear Naomi,

I understand you’ve learned that you were almost given my name. You were told recently that your parents were deciding on the way to the hospital whether you would be a Callie or a Naomi. Your mom told me that when you heard this story you told her you wished they’d named you Callie.



I’m incredibly self-centered and like to think you want my name because of my magnetic personality and my wry sense of humor, even though you’ve only met me once or twice. (Three times to be exact, but you were barely walking that first time. You had the cutest pigtails in your hair that day in the kitchen when we first met. Your mom and I and some friends were on our way to Breckenridge and your mom deftly and gracefully did your hair before giving you a kiss goodbye, and this is all to say that I remember you and your big as saucers blue eyes and your tow-headed pig-tail self.)

I remember wanting to be a Samantha. People would call me Sam. Now that’s a cool name, I thought. “Is Sam coming to the game? Did you hear? Sam’s in my homeroom! Sam’s a fast runner.” Everyone would assume people were talking about a boy and then I’d walk in the room and BOOM! I’d shock them all with my female fast running self. It’d be just like when Atticus Finch proved there was no way Tom Robinson hurt Mayella because his left hand doesn’t work and BOB EWELL’S DOES. Indeed, I believed if I was a Samantha, I could spend my life surprising people.

It’s good to play pretend every now and then. I know you know this because you’ve read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. You’ve walked through the wardrobe and back again and you know that pretending helps us with the truth we encounter and hold everyday.


Here’s a bit of truth about your name that might have some “Callie pretend” in it, but like Aslan, sometimes there needs to be a lion in the story to open up the possibilities truth offers. “No, no,” you think when you read CS Lewis, “there’s no way a strong, fierce lion would allow the queen to do what she did.” But he did and you read that story and begin to think about the different ways there are to be strong and fierce, and maybe you start to think what kind of person it takes for us to feel at home in grace.

So here’s my take on your name: You are named after Ruth’s mother-in-law, Naomi, whose husband Elimelech died pretty early on in the story (Ruth 1:3 to be exact). Ruth married one of Naomi and Elimelech’s sons, but he died, too, and in one of the saddest passages in the Bible, the narrator tells us that “Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.” Naomi gives Ruth an out. She tells her it’s OK for her to go back to her town, her friends, her mother and father.  Naomi’s sister-in-law, Orpah, decides to leave but Ruth, in what I think is a pretty powerful passage tells her mother-in-law that no, she’s going to stay with her. “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where  you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay,” Ruth promises Naomi.

I think about this verse often (it was the verse Mr. Feyen and I chose to use on our wedding invitation), and here’s what I believe: Ruth’s Naomi must’ve been so captivating, so comforting, so funny, so creative, so something that Ruth wanted to be around her. There was something about Naomi that Ruth needed. I refuse to believe that Ruth stayed with her purely out of obligation.

Please don’t misinterpret; I am not saying Naomi was all of these things. I am not suggesting you strive to be the Proverbs 31 woman. Ain’t nobody got time for that.  What I am suggesting, sweet Naomi, is that your parents chose your name over mine because they knew – before you were even born – that you have something about you that will make people say, “Don’t turn away from me. Where are you going? Can I come, too?”


You are going to read this and go to the Bible and look for proof that Ruth felt this way about Naomi. You won’t find it. Like CS Lewis’ wardrobe, I created it. It’s what I do – take a bit of truth and write it over in the hopes I, and others might see it differently. I’m working hard to make a career out of it.

But how could you not believe me? Of course your parents would name you after a woman someone desperately wanted to be with. Of course they would name you Naomi and not Callie. They already know Callie; what’s she’s like and what she’s capable of. Naomi, though, she’s a mystery. This child that was knit wonderfully and fearfully in her mama’s womb will carry a name of a woman whom I believe must’ve had something about her that made her daughter-in-law turned widow promise she would never leave her. “Don’t turn away from me, Naomi.”


Don’t wish your name away, Naomi.  Callie holds all sorts of problems.  Most people, upon hearing it, assume I cannot say my “r’s” and call me Carrie. But I’ve enjoyed fitting into this name for the past forty years. It’s served me well, and I’ve learned that I don’t need to be called “Sam” in order to surprise others, including myself. What I need is a story I can sit with for awhile, and I guess that’s what I think you need, too.  So I’m giving you one. I hope you like it. I hope it helps you walk through a mysterious world where you will meet all sorts of people who will surely say to you, “Where are you going? Can I come along?”

Love, your friend,


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Around Here


IMG_1830IMG_1826IMG_1831IMG_1833Around here, we’re strolling around and playing at the new town center in our neighborhood. It’s the perfect place to learn how to ride a bike. Or have mom and dad walk with the bike while some of us skip along the boardwalk.

IMG_1849IMG_1863IMG_1870Around here, we celebrated a 9th birthday with an outing to Bounce U with a few friends.

IMG_1841IMG_1913IMG_1915Around here, we are in full Harry Potter mode. Parents, if you are hesitant to begin the books let me just tell you that once you start YOU CANNOT STOP. I tried. I really did, but we’re a third of the way through the fourth one and there’s simply no turning back. Harry Potter has become my discipline management plan, though. All I have to do to get the girls to do anything is threaten to take away reading HP in the evenings.

IMG_1958IMG_1966IMG_1970IMG_1973Around here, we’ve celebrated someone’s 7th birthday with a trip to the National Zoo with a few friends.

Around here, it’s been a busy time of year and it’s easy to interpret busy as stressful. I suppose I fall into that trap. The other day though, I was talking to a friend about some of what I am working on and the activities we are doing, and she said, “You were made to work.” I’m not a hugger, but I wanted to hug this person for not saying, “Ohh, you’re so busy. That must be stressful.” Or, “Relax. Calm down. Take a break.” I cannot stand it when people tell me to relax and/or calm down.

Anyway, I’m happiest when I’m working. Working is how I take care of myself, I think.

And around here, we are working hard.

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List-Making and Public Bathrooms


My main objective on road trips is to get to wherever we are going without having to use a public bathroom with Hadley and Harper. I’ve been a parent for nine years now, and so far this objective has not been reached. I’m a mildly well-mannered person, but when I hear one of my offspring tell me from the backseat, “Mama, I have to use the bathroom,” I lose it.

“How bad?” I ask after slamming my head against the headrest in frustration. “Like, can you make it to Grand Rapids?” I turn to the girls, pleading with them.

“We just entered Pennsylvania,” Harper moans.

“Yeah,” Hadley adds, “Grand Rapids is ten hours away!”

I turn and face the road, put my head in my hands, and moan, “Nononononononono.” Sometimes I’ll rock back and forth. The point is, I hate public bathrooms and I turn into a crazy person if I have to visit one.

Jesse’s afraid I’m going to give the girls a complex. I roll my eyes when he brings this up. “I don’t have a complex,” I tell him. “I have a healthy disgust and fear of public bathrooms.” Also, Jesse doesn’t have to go into the stalls with the girls. I’m pretty sure if he did, he would understand why I come out of the bathrooms looking like I’ve just gotten off the battlefield from Game of Thrones.

I tell the girls, “Don’t touch anything,” and it just goes downhill from there. “What about this, can we touch this? What if I have to throw something away in the personal garbage cans in the stall, Mommy? They’re so cute, can I throw my trash in it? Please? I have a gum wrapper in my pocket. I really want to throw my trash away!”

I have rarely seen Hadley or Harper throw anything away in our house, but Harper has a gum wrapper in her pocket from last spring that she must put in the feminine waste bucket in the stall. “No!” I hiss, “DO NOT TOUCH ANYTHING.”

If we’re in Ohio, the girls run to the “family stalls” because in these stalls, there are three places to sit: the big potty, the little kid potty, and a chair bolted to the wall with a seatbelt for babies who don’t need a potty. I’m thankful for things like this, but here’s what happens when the Feyen girls enter:


HADLEY AND HARPER: I want the little kid potty! Dibs on the little kid potty!


HARPER: Hadley, please let me use the little kid potty! You can use the grown up one because you’re bigger. I want the little kid potty because the seat has scallops. It’s like a fancy potty. Please, Hadley!

HADLEY: Fine. But let’s race.


HARPER (after sitting with delight, I might add, on the little potty): Hadley, you don’t win the race because I didn’t really have to go. I’m just here to try.

HADLEY (jumping off the seat and pulling up her pants): That’s cheating, Harper! I won! I  WON!

Using a public bathroom could be an Olympic sport.  It requires preparation, patience, endurance, and lots of strength. And I’ve just given you about 90 seconds of our experience. I haven’t even discussed what happens if I have to use the bathroom, or what happens when they need to wash their hands.

It’s all just a nightmare and I can’t talk about it anymore.

Except to tell you this: We were on our way to Raleigh, North Carolina when I lean over to Jesse and say, “Ummm, Jesse? I kind of have to use the bathroom.” Jesse knows that this mild statement is an exaggeration because unless I am about to explode, I will never ask to stop at a public restroom. (I believe I’ve proved that point above.)

“No problem,” he said. “We can all stop.”

“Nononononono,” I said and went into rocking back and forth crazy person mode.

Enter Petersburg, Virginia, one of the most delightful places to use the bathroom I’ve ever been.  We parked in front of this huge chalkboard sign with the prompt, “Before I Die…” and folk passing buy write what it is they want to do before their time is up.

“Well, that’s just the greatest!” I said to Jesse hopping back and forth. “I’ll need to get a picture of that before we leave.”

The visitor’s center, where we used the bathroom, was an old building that I think withstood the Siege of Petersburg from 1864-1865. It didn’t seem that anything had changed, but the place had that nice Colonial Williamsburg character; the floors were hardwood and creaky, there were rocking chairs to sit in and the building was chilly in a romantic drafty kind of way.

The bathrooms were set apart from the building – not outhouses – in a courtyard with flowers and more places to sit. I’m not exaggerating when I write the entire experience was charming.

“I could live in either a big city or a small town like this,” I told Jesse as we walked back to the car. I surveyed the store fronts along the street we were walking on: a cute wine and cheese restaurant, an adorable coffee shop, a second hand store, a beauty salon. “I bet this street is it, you know?” I said to Jesse. “I mean, I bet this is the place you go to when you need a hair cut, and this is the place you go to for coffee.”

You run your errands in a town that was under siege more than 150 years ago and you head towards that huge chalkboard wall where I imagine soldiers once treaded asking what it is you want to do with your one wild and precious life.

Jesse made a u-turn so I could get a better picture of the sign. I snapped a photo and we drove away.

“I think I want to take a dance class,” I told him as we head towards Raleigh.  “Ooo! And I want to run enough races next year so that it adds up to 40K.” I sip some of my coffee. “You know, because I’m turning 40.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Jesse said while he merged onto the on ramp and Petersburg became smaller in the side mirror I was looking in.

“Do you think 40K is a good goal? Do you think that’ll be too hard, or too easy? I don’t know anything about signing up for races. Do you think I could dance? I feel like I want to try that again. It’s been so long, though. I’ll probably look like a fool, but it sounds fun. You know what else sounds fun? Having writing parties. Like, I’ll invite some friends over who like to write, and they bring their work to our house and we read it out loud. Then, before everyone leaves we share one writing goal we want to work on before we all leave each other. Doesn’t that sound fun? What do you think?”

“I think you can do whatever you want to do,” Jesse said.

I smiled and grabbed his hand. “I can’t use public bathrooms.”

Who knew I’d find so much inspiration at one, though?

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Fall Conversation

IMG_1811IMG_1812If I were to write a poem about these two pictures, it would go something like this:

Driving to school,

I see a change in the leaves

and the girls see a Halloween decorated house.

The three of us gasp at the same time.

“LOOK!” we all say, but

they get the words out faster.


So I look, and I say, “Oh!” and, “Wow!”

We pass the red-orange tree,

and the girls ask,

“Can we duct tape the shrubs in our front yard?”

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Old Lady Dances to “Thriller”

“Mommy, did you know Taylor Swift recorded ‘Fearless’ two days after I was born?” This is Harper, reading facts to me from the book, Taylor Swift: When I Grow Up. “She wrote ‘Mean’ because a music critic was being mean to her,” Harper explains. “He was giving her, like, bad grades or something.”

Harper picked this book out at the Scholastic Book Fair.  Hadley’s choice is a book on practical jokes. The title is something like, 250 Practical Joke How-To’s. The last few days, anytime anyone’s reached for toilet paper, hundreds of paper holes from the paper puncher come streaming out of the roll.  It’s hilarious. I know way more than I care to about Taylor Swift, and I’m afraid to use the bathroom in my own house thanks to the Scholastic Book Fair.

Would it be so difficult to line the shelves with Newberrys and Caldecotts instead of Frozen, Justin Bieber, and Mine Craft paraphernalia? This is what I’m thinking as I drive to the gym. I take a step class on Monday evenings. It’s a fun, kind of complicated class that reminds me of my Drill Team days, so I like to catch it when I can.

I punch buttons on the radio hoping to find a good song to listen to. My choices are: “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae) (why are “Whip” and “Nae Nae” in parentheses?), “Sugar” and, you guessed it, “Bad Blood”, “Blank Space”, or “Wildest Dreams” by Taylor Swift. I slam the radio off and hit the CD option. A mix my brother made me years ago comes on and I turn the volume up as “Rosa Parks” comes on. “I don’t trust that chick,” I think as I bop my head to OutKast’s beat. I think she gives Creative Nonfiction a bad name. If I spoke to Miss Swift, I’d tell her to read and study Mary Karr, and then write a song.

I wonder if I should try wearing red lipstick every once in a while as I turn over a pretend conversation I’m having with Taylor Swift in my head. “Off the Wall” comes on next. I love this song. Geoff always made the best mixes.  What do kids do now when they want to make mixes for their friends? Put it on a cloud? You can’t decorate the cassette or write out the songs in your own handwriting if you just keep it on the computer.  There’s nothing to hold. That’s so sad.

I had a friend who once wrote a letter to me incorporating a song title or some of the lyrics from the entire mix he made. OK fine, he was a boyfriend, and it was incredibly romantic. Like John Cusack in “Say Anything,” or “High Fidelity.” You can’t do that kind of stuff anymore and I swear it’s because of Taylor Swift and the Scholastic Book Fair.

The class before mine, Zumba, is still going on so I wait outside with the other people who’ll take the step class with me. Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” is blaring over the sound system in the cardio room. The Zumba teacher does this one every October in her class.  The choreography is a blast.

A woman whose name I don’t know but who I’ve been working out with for almost seven years now says, “Now this is a good song!” She’s tapping her foot and shifting her shoulders, and I can tell she knows the part in the dance when the mummies or zombies shoot their hands up like claws and pivot from side to side.

“I love this song,” I say. “I love Michael Jackson.”

“Me, too,” she says.

“I had the book, and the pleather purse with his face on it,” I tell her. “I think the purse was blue.” I could fit a Lip Smackers, a jelly bracelet, and a 10 cent box of Ferrara Pan Candies in it. I usually stored Jaw Breakers in there.

“Girl, I had the jacket,” she tells me. “The red jacket with the zippers? I had that.”

I can’t compete with the jacket, but I want to, so I say, “I once wrote out, ‘Mama say, mama sa, mamakusa about thirty times so I could memorize it.”

There’s a pause, and I think maybe I’ve admitted too much so I say, “That glove, though. I really wanted that glittery glove.”

“Hmmm, mmmm,” she says. “Nobody could do it like Michael Jackson.”

“Yeah,” I say, and we stare at the dancers in Zumba.

The instructor sees us, and skips over to the door on beat. “Get in here, and dance with us!” She waves us in.

She doesn’t have to tell us twice. We prance in to the beat like we are MJ’s back-up dancers late to rehearsal.  I toss my bag to the side of the gym and take a spot on the floor. We’re at the part where the zombies sort of plie and twitch for three counts, then stand, legs together, and clap. I do my best to imitate Michael Jackson’s sharp moves and fancy footwork.

When I was in high school, the Drill Team did a Halloween routine to “Thriller.” We practiced that five minute dance for hours every day after school for weeks. We wore orange shirts, black biker shorts, and masks over our faces. I know it was the end of the quarter because grades had just come out and I knew I could still dance because as long as I had a C average I could stay on the team. I think I was making my way through The Grapes of Wrath and trying to understand Algebra at the time, though I can’t say for sure. What I do know is every move to that routine that I learned back in 1992.

And the Michael Jackson book and purse? I got those at the Scholastic Book Fair.

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When Readers Listen – “Fresh Air” Remember ‘Nightmare’ Director Wes Craven

When Readers Listen_Twitter

Anyone who spent more than five minutes with me from age 9 to about 14 knows that my three greatest fears were dogs, bees, and Freddy Krueger. In fact, the movie “Nightmare on Elm Street” left such a dent in me that I cannot think of any memory of my Longfellow days after fourth grade without thinking of him. Back then, we used to walk to a video store on Saturday nights to rent movies, and once Wes Craven’s movie came out in VHS (or Beta, for those of us who chose the cuter of the tapes), every movie store had a life size Freddy welcoming us inside. I would stand outside with my hands on either side of my face blocking my view lest I be tempted to look at him, while my parents and brother looked for “The Parent Trap,” “Karate Kid,” or “Unsinkable Molly Brown.” Just the other day I was in a store admiring these adorable thick striped sweaters and thinking about purchasing one until my eyes fell on the red and dark khaki one. I gasped when I saw it and walked away as quickly as I could.

I am afraid of this movie, afraid of Freddy Krueger, afraid of Wes Craven, and I am ashamed that I am admitting it here. I believe that my inability to not be scared of it is something that will define my intelligence, my capabilities as a writer, a mother, and a human being. I believe that I am missing something vital because I am unable to go down to this dark place and come out transcended, as Scott Derrickson said I ought to in a lecture in Santa Fe three years ago. I remember running out of his lecture, sobbing, assured that I didn’t have what it takes to get an MFA because I can’t understand horror movies and monsters. Everyone else seemed to get it and I didn’t, but I knew that if I heard one more word out of Scott Derrickson’s mouth I would pee my pants.

So listening to a series of interviews with Wes Craven on Terry Gross’ Fresh Air was not something I was chomping at the bit to do. When I found out Craven had died though, I remembered a story that I’ve held onto for so long that I don’t know if it’s real or if I made it up. After I’d watched “Nightmare,” there were months (years, if I’m being honest) when I had trouble sleeping.  My parents did the best they could to calm me down, but I was a pretty permanent resident in their bedroom for a chunk of years. I remember once though, my mom suggesting that every time I think about Freddy, I think about something good instead. Ice-cream, donuts, roller skating, all those ideas helped for a while but he kept popping up slashing (pun totally intended) my memories to bits. So instead, I wondered about him. What happened to him that made him the way he is? This is the part that I’m not sure is actually in Craven’s movies, or if I made it up: Freddy was neglected and abused as a child. His parents did the best they could but they were poor and also they died in a horrible accident. Nobody took care of Freddy after that, and he was beat up on the playground and didn’t have any friends. He only had one sweater.

I started to feel sorry for Freddy, and that’s around the time I could go back to sleep, assured that he didn’t set out to kill people, but too many people had hurt him and he wasn’t going to let that happen.  He was being proactive, is all, stepping into others’ dreams and mutilating them so they wouldn’t hurt him first.

This is the story that prompted me to listen to Wes Craven talk to Terry Gross.  Surely there was a reason he made these movies other than to scare the ka-ka out of people. Here’s what I learned:

*Terry Gross had a similar reaction when she saw his first movie, “Last House on the Left.” She said it was the most violent movie imaginable, and she ended up needing to leave the theatre. While she was watching it, she decided that if she was going to get through the movie, she would need to detach herself from how she was feeling, but then she thought, “Why should I go through all this work to detach myself from what seems like an appropriate emotional reaction to this film?” So she left, and decided she needed to talk to the guy who made the film. Certainly there was more to him, and she was right. She said Craven was a “thoughtful, articulate, reflective guy.”

*I learned that Craven decided that we’d become immune to violence. He made “Last House” during the Vietnam War and decided that people were paying money to be entertained to see people killed so he was going to show them what that business was really like. He “wanted to get to the essence of killing; depriving a human being of his/her very life force.” “Let’s not cut-away,” he told Gross. He didn’t want his audiences to be entertained.

I couldn’t help compare/contrast Craven with Derrickson while I listened. I liked listening to Craven better. Craven seemed to be ailed by the stories he told. He had a gentle way of explaining why he did what he did. I felt like I was listening to an apologetic, I guess, whereas with Derrickson I felt assaulted while I heard him talk. Craven didn’t speak defensively, actually, he spoke like every other graduate from Wheaton College speaks.

Here’s another story: My friend’s mother died within hours of Craven. Mrs. Bass was a lady I’ve known since I was 5 years old, and I can’t say that I knew her well, but here is what I remember: she was friendly. She had a great sense of humor. I couldn’t name it then, but she was sarcastic and witty like my mom, and because of that, I felt safe when I went over there for playdates with her daughter, Mollie.

Mollie and I became pretty good friends right around the time I was growing immune (or maybe I was getting used to) my fear of Freddy, and this could be another story I’m making up, but I think Mollie’s friendliness helped me stopped thinking so much about him ripping me to shreds. I can’t remember the exact date I started sleeping through the night again, but I know that Mollie and I spent a lot of time together in 8th grade and that was also the time Freddy didn’t seem so scary (who needs a horror story when you’re in Junior High, anyway)?

If I’m looking around for truth here, it would be this: Wes Craven created unredemptive monsters, and they’ll probably haunt me forever, but I don’t know if that’s a terrible thing. Mrs. Bass was a kind woman who raised an interesting, funny, and friendly daughter. I think that both of these facts are gifts that I can choose to turn over and think about as I search around for what shimmers while I’m afraid of the dark.  If what shimmers are blades, I hope I can stare at them long enough to create something redemptive from them. Even if that redemption is a lie.

You can read Abbigail’s thoughts on this same podcast here.

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Hopeful Red Geraniums

My favorite part in To Kill a Mockingbird happens in Chapter 17, when Scout gives readers a picture of the Ewell residence: “the plot of ground around the cabin look[ed] like the playhouse of an insane child,” she tells us. It’s a dreary paragraph with a grocery list of descriptions that support Scout’s observation. I’m not of the haunted house type, but if I were, this paragraph would be what I would base my inspiration around.

My favorite part comes next, when Scout tells us about a corner of the Ewell yard that baffled Maycomb because in that corner sat “six chipped-enamel slop jars holding brilliant red geraniums.” Word on the street is they were Mayella Ewell’s. Mayella Ewell, who has never seen kindness in her life, never been treated with love and respect. Mayella Ewell, who has no friends, and who had to drop out of school after a year or two to work. Mayella Ewell, who snapped the mockingbird’s wings. She’s the one who cleaned out the old slop jars, went to the hardware store or the farmer’s market to buy the seeds for the red geraniums. She’s the one who learned how much water to give them so they’d grow, and where to put those jars so they’d face the sun. She’s the one who had to trudge through that nasty yard, kneel down next to those flowers and look to see if anything was growing.

What do we do with this kind of beauty? It certainly complicates things. It’s hard for me to hate Mayella Ewell for one thing. This scene makes me look at evil for a long time until I can find something good to fix my eyes on, even if it’s a remnant of what was, or what could’ve been. This scene reminds me that people are not always who they seem to be. Sometimes they can’t show another side. Sometimes they don’t know that there is another side to show.

This is the part my 8th graders and I are studying in class. They are working on a little project I call, “Slop Jar Beauty.”  They need to create a scrapbook of six memories: three from To Kill a Mockingbird and three from their own lives. Each memory they write about and draw must show something dark (fear, sadness, anger), but the students need to find what shimmers in each memory as well. Last year when I tried this project, one student wrote about why mangoes are his favorite fruit; it was the last meal he had with his grandmother before she died. Another wrote about being sad he and his family had to move, but his parents let him have a say in the house they’d pick next. He chose one with a red door because it was his favorite color. Another found beauty in the leftover pedals that were sent to Jem from Mrs. Dubose. Don’t forget you lost your temper, Mr. Jem. Don’t forget you read to me every day for a month so that I could die peacefully. 

This project was easy to present to last year’s 8th graders. They were risk takers. I shine when I have a class like this, and I cower when I don’t. “I’m as good as you’ll let me be,” I used to say in my early days of teaching. I’ve been thinking a lot about that statement now that I have this year’s 8th graders, and I think I have it wrong. Why should I be as good as someone will let me be? Where’s the grace in that? Why should I hold back something that could change the way they see themselves or the world just because I have a group that acts like the Herdmanns?

I don’t do it to punish them. I second guess myself because I’m afraid. They snicker. They roll their eyes. They’re going to say this project is dumb, I think, so instead I should just give them a test: Who defended Tom Robinson? Who plants red geraniums in her front yard? What was Scout for the Halloween play? Pick a theme for the story and in three paragraphs explain it.

If Mayella can grow something beautiful in her world, then I can do the same in mine. She is an example of someone who had a mustard seed of faith to hope for something to take care of and make beautiful. I don’t believe she knew whether those flowers would bloom. My guess is she scrubbed those chipped slop jars in an act of misery and desperation and loneliness. I imagine her crying as she cleaned. I imagine that, despite how awful her life was, the idea of creating something, of attending to it, no matter what the outcome would be, was enough to fill those jars with a bit of soil, press a few seeds into it and give those seeds a drink of water.

The day I presented my “Slop Jar Beauty” project, three students were non stop snickering and talking. I stopped what I was doing, walked over to them and told them this story:

When I was in 8th grade, I was supposed to read Animal Farm. I had no intention of reading that book. I wasn’t into reading, and I really wasn’t into animals who could talk.

I came to class during that unit unprepared and ready to mess around with my friends instead of participate.  I remember once I tied a kid’s sleeves to his desk chair so that when the bell rang he wouldn’t be able to leave class.

One day, my teacher took my desk and chair out in the hallway and told me to sit there for the remainder of class.  I did, staring at the cover of Animal Farm, and about 15-20 minutes later he stepped out of the classroom and placed an index card on my desk. On the card he wrote that while it may not seem like it now, he cares about me and he believes I am better than the way I am acting. He wrote that he hopes I’ll make better decisions from now on.

The nerve of that guy, I thought, thinking I was better than this. I’m not better than this, and I’m not reading this stupid book.

I didn’t read Animal Farm, but I kept that card. It was on my bulletin board in my room next to pictures of my friends, song lyrics, and movie ticket stubs. I took it to college with me.

Look, I can’t make you read To Kill a Mockingbird, and I certainly can’t make you like the story. I don’t know if I would’ve like the story in 8th grade, either. But I do think you are better than the way you are acting. I do believe there is something inside of you that is waiting to come out, and it might not be this book that brings it out, but the reason you come here Monday-Friday is to look for what’s inside you, and to fight to bring it out. Right now though, you are not ready to be in this classroom. So I’m going to ask you to leave. I want you to go upstairs with a piece of paper and sit in the administrator’s office. You are to summarize what I said, and tell me three things you will do to change so that you can come back and figure out what it is that is inside of you, because I think there’s more than what you’re showing right now.

I shook while I spoke. I cried on the way home from school. I was nauseous the rest of the day. I worried I got it all wrong. After all, after those red geraniums were grown and showing off their brilliancy in the Alabama sun, Mayella took advantage of Tom Robinson. Then she went to court and lied about it, and poor Tom Robinson died. Those geraniums weren’t enough to soothe her tortured soul.

Several years ago, I went back to my 8th grade English teacher’s classroom after I was a teacher. I showed him the index card he placed on my desk. I thought he’d be happy to see I still had it, and to see what I’ve done with my life, but he flinched as though he was shaking the memory off of himself. I didn’t understand why until last week, and now I wonder what kind of toll this digging around in the dirt and hoping for things unseen takes on people.

I’ve always thought that the reason I love this scene in To Kill a Mockingbird is because it’s proof beauty grows everywhere, no matter what we do or who we are. I’ve always looked at it as a religious metaphor; Jesus seeps through it all and there’s nothing we can do to stop Him. Now though, I think what I mean is this scene haunts me: I try to grow things, I try to create stories, I try to teach middle schoolers because I will die if I stop grasping for and imagining beauty. I’m wondering now whether Mayella even noticed how brilliant her red geraniums were. My guess is she’d be embarrassed, maybe even flinch in disgust, if someone where to tell her how beautiful they are.

Maybe all we get is the opportunity to work with seeds before they’re beautiful, and hoping for things unseen is plenty.

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Never-Ending First {Coffee+Crumbs}

Hadley and I are walking into her orthodontist appointment: the one where she’ll get a metal bridge—I guess that’s what it’s called—attached to the roof of her mouth. It’s going to straighten out her very unstraight jaw. It’s going to make her drool. It’s going to cause her pain, and Hadley’s going to have to learn how to chew and swallow with a wire in her mouth. I don’t know how long she’ll need the retainer. I don’t know if this is an anecdote to future braces. All I know is that the appointment is at 4:40 and we are walking up the stairs holding hands because Hadley is nervous.

A very pregnant woman walks down the stairs as we walk in. I watch her as I hold the door for Hadley, and my uterus skips a nostalgic beat. I smile at this soon-to-be-mother walking towards all the firsts: first contraction, first push, first swaddle, first Target trip with the baby, first smile, first coo, first night sitting outside the baby’s room wondering if the cry-it-out scenario was really meant for her child. Surely the authors of Baby Wise hadn’t heard this child’s screams. If they had, they’d re-write the book.

I watch this woman walk all the way down the sidewalk, unlock her car, and get in it. Meanwhile, Hadley pushes the button for the third floor outside the elevator. “It’s here, Mom,” she calls. I trot towards the elevator to catch up to Hadley, and together we head to her first orthodontist appointment.

The appointment is not going well. Hadley’s sobbing while the nurse fits her retainer in her mouth. As we were warned, Hadley’s drooling, and she can’t figure out how to swallow when it feels like a piece of hard candy is ready to drop down her throat. The nurse walks away, giving us a minute alone. I wipe away Hadley’s tears and promise her any Minecraft toy she wants.

“Why do I have to do this again?” Hadley asks, wiping her face of spit and tears. Hadley is a rational girl. Cause and effect resonate deeply with her. Today, she is asking me for a reminder: tell me the reason I have to endure this, and I’ll do it. I can’t remember why. Is it to get her teeth straightened? Or is it her jaw? Really, though, is this life or death? Or is this just cosmetic? Why did I agree to do this?

I mumble something lame and blame the dentist; he ordered this. Hadley nods, not satisfied but resolved that it has to get done. She lays back down in the chair, closes her eyes and extends her hand, so I can hold it. The nurse walks over and finishes the job.

You can read the rest on Coffee + Crumbs, here.

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