Monday, December 26, 2011


Today, we hit fifty-six degrees. In England. In York. On December 26. Fifty-six degrees.

And in honor of this remarkable occurrence, Tyler and I went to nearby Rowntree Park on the bike-and-trailer. While there are swings, slides, rope ladders, more swings, more slides, and more rope ladders at Rowntree Park, Tyler found the most joy in having an intellectually stimulating conversation with an ancient man named Hemojababala.

You may have heard of Hemojababala. He's well-known in many parts of the world. I am somewhat ashamed to admit that I had not met him "officially" until today. Yet I always knew he existed. Knew it in that deep place inside of me where oatmeal chocolate chip cookies go to hibernate. Where water evaporates. Where you can stretch out your intestines to incredible lengths.

Hemojababala is known for many sage sayings, such as this one: If you are standing under an apple tree and you are hoping a mango will fall into your outstretched palms, and then you look up at the sky and lightning flashes, and then you hear thunder, then you had better get inside, because being outside in a thunderstorm while standing under an apple tree (or any tree for that matter) is a very bad idea.

But Hemojababala is perhaps best known for his ability to reason with toddlers. Some have called him the Toddler Whisperer, while others have simply called him Weirdo.

I include the following real-action footage of Tyler's discussion with Hemojababala today so that you can make your own, educated decision.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

What Did I Do, Daddy?

Tonight, during goodnight kisses and hugs, I said to Tyler, "I'm so proud of you son, and I love you so much." Jennifer and I both tell him this every night--we believe that his knowing these two things is essential. That no matter what has happened during the day, we still love him; we're still proud of who he is.

But tonight, the look in Tyler's eyes told me, essentially, this: frontal lobes, dude. Frontal lobes are kicking in. It's true. All the toddler books say that around the third birthday, the frontal lobes of a child's brain really start coming in strong. (The frontal lobes, by the way, are the area of the brain that involve reasoning and step-thinking and action-result analysis, in other words, the parent's Hallelujah! lobes of a child's brain.)

So tonight, on Christmas Eve, as I said the words to Tyler, he looked back at me and I could see his frontal lobes doing somersaults. Olympic rings. Synchronized swimming. And Tyler said to me, "What did I do, Daddy?"

"You mean, what am I so proud of you for?"

"Mm-hmm."  Tyler's wide eyes really wanted to know. The lobes had spoken.

I returned Tyler's gaze and said, "Because you are you. I am proud of you and I love you no matter what, because you are Tyler and you are my son."

He smiled, asked for another kiss, and that was that.

Walking out of his bedroom, it struck me as highly appropriate on the night before we celebrate Christ's birth--the fact that Tyler's frontal lobes decided to really kick up just now. Because the Creator of the universe loves me and you and all of us in exactly this way--unconditionally and because we're His kids.

Not because of how much money we have or don't have; not because of the fact that we haven't cursed at all in the last seven years and three months (or because we have cursed every day of the last seven years and three months); not because of our successes or our failures.

There is no other love like this--so unconditional that it encompasses all we have ever done or thought and all we ever will do or think and it fully holds us just the same. Few modern books have been able to really touch the heart of the gospel message in this regard as poignantly and boldly as Francis Chan's Crazy Love or Shane Caliborne's The Irresistable Revolution. They reveal the wonderful absurdity of this kind of love and return a question to us: what will we do with it? How will we receive and use this love to help heal, grow, and restore the earth? How will we use this unconditional love of God to care for the broken, the poor, the hungry?

God's love is crazy because it is freely given with no measures and no standards. A love like that can't be contained--it can't be measured by hours on a Sunday, or group meetings on a Wednesday. Instead, a love like that throws logic to the wind, bids propriety adieu, and says to the status quo, No. Instead, a love that responds to this kind of crazy love does one thing: it keeps going.

This Christmas, I want to look at my Creator and ask the same question Tyler asked me--my frontal lobes kicking in, all my reason, all my logic, all my measure-for-measure standards--What did I do, Daddy? Why are you so proud of me? Why do you love me?

I want to ask so I can hear the words in reply--those glorious, unearned words: I love. I love. I love. You.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

You Know What?

Sleep, in all its grandeur, has once again become a part of our lives. I'm reluctant to write too confidently, as it is still a new found friend in these last few months, but Tyler had made it straight through numerous nights, and though he wakes up at 5:15 ready for action, still.


Today, by ten in the morning, Tyler's eyes were rolling around his head like ice cubes in water, and his eyelids grew pink and heavy, so I decided to take him out in the stroller for a walk in order to hopefully lead into sleep. We walked by our church, and Tyler immediately wanted to head inside--to thew warmth of the Village Cafe they run three mornings a week--where great coffee, juice, and biscuits are offered cheaply and a corner houses toys and coloring books.

"Daddy! Let's go to the church and get one juice! It will be great!"

"See, we've got to keep walking right now. We'll go to the church later."

"Then can I get out and walk? I am a good walker."

My mind sees both possibilities--the good in each.

1) Tyler stays in stroller, possibly naps. Sleep = positivity. Positivity = aaahhhh. Aaahhh = happy family.

2) Tyler walks, gets good exercise. Exercise = positivity. Positivity = aaahhh. Aaahhh = happy family.

While my mind plays ping-pong against itself trying to determine which parenting choice is the best one, I trump myself. A third ping-pong competitor enters the match and claims, inside my head, but Tyler doesn't have his winter coat on now. He's buried beneath his go-on-a-walk-and-hopefully-fall-asleep-blanket.

"But Tyler, you don't have your winter coat on now. You're buried beneath your go-on-a-walk-and-hopefully-fall-asleep-blanket."

"Daddy, I have this sweater, see?" Tyler points to his red fleece, gloriously proud that he has found a way to combat each of my initiatives.

"But Tyler, you don't have your winter coat." Broken record, baby. It's all about the broken record.

"Daddy, you know what?"

"What, son?"

"Sometimes sweaters can keep people warm, too." Tyler smiles this glorious smile. The kind of smile that feels like waking up after twelve hours of sleep to a cup of strong Sidamo fair trade coffee with loads of cream.


He knows it. I know it.

Tyler and I both walk to the church. We get the juice, the coffee, the biscuit. We color. We play.

Afterwards, Tyler climbs back into his stroller, and I tuck him in under his go-on-a-walk-and-hopefully-fall-asleep-blanket.

And you know what? On the way home, he falls asleep.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Early Doors

The night began with two of my "woods" going clear off the indoor lawn mat. Usually, at bowls, I can manage to get close enough to the jack--the tiny yellow ball we're all trying to sidle up next to--to make the game interesting. This particular night, though, I was all over the place, unable to find that groove and bowl with a sense of peace.

Tony, a man in his early seventies, comes beside me and puts his arm around my shoulders. He smiles big. We're on opposing teams tonight, though that doesn't stop him from sending a little encouragement my way.

"We have an old saying in South Yorkshire, Luke." He smiles even wider and squeezes my shoulders again.

"Yeah?" I ask, glad for anything to take my mind off my egregious bowling tonight.

"Early doors." Then Tony tilts his head back and laughs like those two words unlock some kind of deep secret of the universe. I laugh, too, even though he might as well have said pumpkin pie for all I can figure.

He notes the quizzical look on my face. Tony always wears a sweater with a collared shirt beneath. As do most of the guys who bowl. They wear ties, ironed and pleated khakis and shoes that shine like the moon on a night that is the purest black we know. I think momentarily of my grandfather, Harold Fenton, who spent his own life building houses all over Bloomfield, Connecticut. Worked from sun-up to sun-down and held a hammer as if it was a permanent appendage. Now, Grandpa wears a shirt and tie every day of his life.

"I never had to wear one in all my work, now it's nice to do so," Grandpa once told me.

And I look at Tony, wondering what he used his forty years of work to do--building, teaching, banking, doctoring, parenting? All the bowling men come dressed like it's a banquet; they bowl ready to meet the most important audience of their lives.

Tony's smile warms me. It welcomes me in like Grandpa's, like grace.

"Early doors simply means that it's only the beginning, Luke. It means, don't worry about it--the game is long. Things change." Tony winks at me, straightens his collar, and collects his next wood to roll it down the mat.

It stops leaning against the jack. He smiles wide.

With my next wood, I end up alongside him, a measure for who's closest to the jack. "There you go, kid," he tells me.

Another wink.

As we walk to the other end of the mat, I take stock of my own sweater and collared shirt beneath it. My own khakis. Granted, mine are un-ironed, and purchased from a charity shop for about four pounds in total. But these guys are rubbing off on me. It's a long cry from when I came to bowls dressed in my pajama pants, a T-shirt and hiking boots.

Something about them suggests that every moment is important--and why waste a single one not preparing for the banquet, not preparing for the finest introduction you might ever have?

Early doors.

And throughout the rest of the evening, each time a wood rolls away off the mat, it's all I can think. Early doors. And the truth is that it's all early doors. Even late in the game, there's still time. It's something a guy like Tony--in his seventies, knows.

It's something I imagine all these bowling guys know: that's it's never too late. Never too late to turn the game around with a wood that saunters up to the jack and hangs close. Never too late to become the kind of father you always wanted to be. Never too late to write the kind of book you always hoped you had inside of you. Never too late to start believing that the mistakes of our pasts don't need to be imbibed for the duration of our future.

Or, as George Eliot put it, more eloquently, "It's never too late to be what you might have been."

As I consider the wonder of whether a book I write will ever make it out into the big wide world, doing well enough to help support our family, or whether I'll learn to be the kind of father who discerns those two poles of love, grace and truth, with great clarity, or whether this journey we're on is more logic than craze, more faith than fear--as I consider all these possibilities, I know Tony's words are true. Early doors.

No matter how much time passes, the thing is to keep playing, to keep believing that this next time down the mat, you just might dance with the jack. And if not, there's always another bowl inside of you. Inside of me. No matter how many chances we've squandered before.

Each time down, hope beckons us to consider the possibility anew.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

How We Know

This is the sound a poem makes:
Flapping wings pushing air;
But the air, too:
Fleeing for new space.

A poem aches
With the kind of grace
That arrives only from
Suffering we can taste.

Because our hunger is so acute.
So finite.

In one number,
A poem moves a thousand ways--
Dancing not just for me or you.
It has to: unanalyzed.

We know when we meet it
Because its stubborness
Is quiet, unrelenting--
As our stomachs, hearts.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Safe Place

Tonight, during the tea break at Bowls, I sat next to a man named Trevor who is in the early stages of Alzheimer's. He smiles. he looks at me when I ask questions--watches my forehead, then my eyes. His face searches, and then he answers, sometimes with the same responses over and over.

Each time, I give him a thumbs up and smile wide. Trevor returns the thumbs up to me.

Around us, older men and women drink their tea, take small bites of their biscuits. The heating in the church hall is on. Strong. Tonight, we are forecasted a freeze.

In a few minutes, when we all rise from our chairs and play the second hour of Bowls, the subtle teasing begins. If I am playing well, it's "Let's buy the American a ticket back to his own country." If I am playing poorly, it's "Square woods tonight, oy ay?" And then a chuckle.

A chuckle that is safe.

Safe for a man like Trevor.

Safe for a man like me.

Safe for a whole army of the elderly who gather here each Thursday to send a ball down an indoor lawn mat, fully knowing that with each bowl, they affirm their belief in the power of life moving on. The power of themselves, to keep believing in the beauty even after knees are replaced, bones are mended, brains slowly fail.

They gather like a crowd around a fire on a cold night camping. They warm their hands on the hearth of camaraderie and fun. And I'm grateful to tag along, a few decades early, and be a part of their circle.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Charlie McNarry Has a Query

Yolanda Mews has exciting news:
"Anything times zero is zero!"
The teacher nods, munches pretzel rods,
Says, "But don't think you're some kind of hero."

Beatrice Shelly has a pain in her belly.
"I need to go to the nurse!"
The teacher's head shakes, he eats his cakes,
Says, "Not until you're much, much worse!"

Charlie McNarry has a query:
"What makes the sky so blue?"
The teacher sighs and east his fries,
Says, "Does the sky ever ask about you?"

Phil Brigands has a worm in his hands:
"Look, it's so slimy and cool!"
The teacher yells, belches taco shells,
Says, "Touch it again and you're out of this school!"

A few weeks pass; teacher has gas.
"Oh, my poor poor belly is aching!"
He falls to the ground, sees a worm sitting down.
The ache makes him cry, look up at the sky.
He pleads for a hero to make the pain equal zero.

Charlie and Beatrice, Yolanda and Phil
Go down to the nurse and get him a pill.
Teacher says thank you, teacher feels great.
That night, at home, teacher stays up late.
A book lays on his lap as he falls asleep:
The Science of the Sky is one he'll keep.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Staying Burned IN

A few years ago, I became consumed with the question, how do we stay "burned in" to our work as teachers? I wanted to get a feel for what others had to say about sustaining energy, joy, and hope in a profession that carries its share of obstacles and challenges.

The result of that question was a volume to which many of the educators I most admire contributed: Burned In: Fueling the Fire to Teach.

But I see that the question of staying "burned in" is a question that applies to all of us--whether we are teachers or writers or parents or chefs or postal carriers or pool cleaners or salmon fishers or scuba diving instructors or sculptors. How do we all stay burned in?

So it was with tail-wagging glee that I read my wife, Jennifer's, latest blog: "Getting Lost in the Creativity of Work."  She includes some pretty potent wisdom, as well as two awesome YouTube clips. Well worth reading!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Alternate Mapping

It's one of those things
You can't control:
What tides bring, how sun sings.

Content to settle with clouds,
To leap from pavement,
Or lay in valleys, pool unproud.

You don't want to, anyway.
You know it's not to know,
But to live the unknown
In ways steady and new--
Dancing barefoot on soft grass,
Rain the only room around you.

Gratitude lives a life hidden.
Old habit, really.
But your knuckles at his door,
Then a warm cup of tea:
Better than knowing more,
Stronger than what you see.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Freedom That Awaits Us

(Note: Ammi-Joan Paquette is my literary agent. She's a fabulous agent AND she is a remarkable, fascinating, stunning writer.)

The odd thing about reading a book in which a teenage girl escapes the Thai prison where she was born and where she has lived her entire life: it’s you.

Even though she speaks Thai, gets stuck in the prison bars when she’s little, finds a gruff mentor in the Warden, and has a veritable treasure trove of secrets concealed from her like good counsel from George W.—it’s still you.

A.J. Paquette’s mesmerizing story of Luchi Ann—a blonde American girl born in Khon Mueang Women’s Prison—is a vivid novel that offers one journey towards an openness that is more real and more filling than all the certainty we’ve ever before known. Nowhere Girl speaks to us in powerful, profound ways. Once Paquette’s protagonist is released from prison at age 13, we read:

Emptiness, that’s all I can see right now. Roads that lead to the mountains, mountains that scrape the sky. It’s all strange and huge and wild. Of course, I have seen it all before, but that wasn’t me; that was a girl with my same name, some creature of mud and bone who had never felt the lick of true freedom on her skin.

When she shares that she has “seen it all before,” she refers to the television which she is allowed to watch in the prison—the dead colors of recorded life. But seeing life firsthand, along with the terrifying sense of freedom that accompanies Luchi Ann’s view, aptly defines our own existence, too. The bars behind which we often wait, thinking we are held beyond our own power, resemble a kind of pre-existence that we accept. The television occupies us and shows us any color we wish to find. Our lives can be full in prison: there is plenty to eat, stability, organization, clarity.

Once Luchi Ann is released—after her mother’s death—a new emptiness affords a different kind of food, however. So it is with us.

Plato’s Allegory of the Cave helps to make the case. Essentially, Plato (really Socrates talking through him) claims that we’re all in prison. We’re trapped there because we grow up seeing the world a certain way, and when some new person or perspective or event comes along to try and dissuade us of our loyalty to what we’ve always known, we freak out. Plato (Socrates) goes so far as to say we attempt to kill whoever’s is trying to break us out of the prison from which we’ve come to view the world, but I’m not sure I’d go that far—perhaps we just go to the mall and buy a latte and a new shirt to forget about the encounter?

Maybe Plato (Socrates) is on to something: the vision we learn to cling to desperately is often the same one that drags us blindly past any kind of authentic freedom. By walking outside and allowing the sky to lick us a bit, we find that a different kind of living waits. The kind that has loads of space, little certainty, but fills us nonetheless.

The kind of living that Paquette's gloriously courageous and admirable Luchi Ann learns to find.

When I was seven years old, I was terrified of vans. Any van came down Alcott Drive, and I would run, screaming wildly, back inside to my mom, claiming that the killers had come to get me. That year of my life, I watched the movie Cobra with my two older brothers. Cobra in brief: Sylvester Stallone plays a cop who must find a group of men who drive a van around town finding people, kidnapping them, then killing them up in the back of the van, then finding more people and killing them as well. In a sense, I had power as a seven year old—I had my fear. When I saw a van, I knew exactly what the people inside were going to do: kidnap me and kill me. So I ran from the vans. My running from the vans gave me a certain ability to order my life—the fear helped to provide some sense of safety.

When we cling to our fear, we feel safe. But this kind of safety is not much different than a kid who hasn’t turned in his homework claiming that the salmon took it upstream. As a thirty year old man, I am no longer afraid of vans. But I am terrified of leaving my three-year old son in the hands of a babysitter. New fears replace the old; new prisons replace the ones we’ve worn out; new visions to which we adhere loyalty rise up in the place of those we’ve outgrown.

What A.J. Paquette reveals so wonderfully in her lyrical novel, Nowhere Girl, is this: they don’t have to. Following the journey of Luchi Ann, we experience that cathartic passage from a familiarity of fear and organization to a foundation of emptiness and freedom. Safety exists, too, where colors are alive—where the sky reaches down to touch us, and we feel it fully for the very first time. Paquette’s remarkable novel shows us the freedom we long for ourselves, and which we too may find if we are willing to courageously leave the prisons we’ve so long inhabited.

Read this book, and be inspired to find your freedom as Luchi Ann finds hers.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


While only three, Tyler has taken an active role as a writer. Some days, he can scribe twenty pages. His words are always typed with enthusiasm, energy, vigor--as if his hands are daring the keyboard to reject what his brain conjures--things like "AAAghtyTT6777343890lklklAAA."

Profound stuff.

This morning, as I was finishing up some work on the computer, Tyler pushed open the door to our bedroom and said, "I want to do writing!"

We opened up a new Word Doc, and Tyler set straight to work. No hesitation. (He must have already learned the wisdom of that Chinese proverb, "He who hesitates is lost.")

And then Tyler found--for the first time in his young writing life--the apostrophe.

Ah, the Apostrophe.

I wish I could recall my first fling with the Apostrophe. But, alas, it's lost. Now I use it to conjoin words, to reflect dialect, to report time. But I wonder what I might once have used it--and a small spark of that ancient love was rekindled as Jen and I watched Tyler serenade the Apostrophe this morning.

"Apostrole! I like this Apostrole!"

And the document on the screen corroborated his claim: "AAAA''''''''''''''''Jujghfyt52111'''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''AA"

Jen and I smiled. Our little man wrote.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Dust Mites Must Die

I have always had an allergic reaction to dust mites. The dust mites themselves are infinitessimally small and infinitessimally gross. They crawl; they're alive. They make me sneeze in an ongoing succession that rivals the sound of a locomotive.

But after almost a year I was still joyfully free of allergy attacks. Perhaps there were no dust mites in York?

And then suddenly, as we hit our one year anniversary of our little experiment abroad, bam. The dust mites moved in. They must have been migrating here.

Coming to find me.

From America.

I'm no purveyor of conspiracy theories. But consider the facts: one year of dust-mite free living. Every season, no dust mites. Now, the dust mites are building paved roads in my nose. They're digging trenches and they're settling in for the long battle.

Today, as Tyler and I had a playdate, small drops of mucus continually fell from my nose--even right after I had blown it. When allergy attacks strike and I do not have a playdate, I am able to expertly stuff wads of tissue up my nose to prevent the mucus drops from exiting freely--No Skydiving Allowed. But during playdates, or any public appearances, it's hard to discern which is the worse sin: tissue wads in the nose or mucus drops.

Dust Mites love that I feel this ongoing tension. It's a fact little known about Dust Mites that, although they are infinitesimally small, they have enormous brains (comparative to their body sizes, that is). Their brains are extremely advanced, and unlike us humans, Dust Mites use all of their brain capacity.

Trust me; I know. Because I can hear the infinitesimally quiet laughter of the Dust Mites when they watch me battle impropriety.

Oh, really, your daughter is struggling with sleep as well? [mucus droplet, mucus droplet, drop, drop, droplet]

Dust Mites love this. They laugh like I'm Jerry Seinfeld doing stand-up.

To date, Dust Mites have been winning the war in the last few weeks. But they don't know some things. For instance, they don't know that I have been writing a novel entitled Dust Musts Must Die. (Dust Mites, while possessing massive brains, cannot read because they have no eyes. This works in my substantial favor as a writer.)

Dust Mites Must Die is a very serious novel about a single Dust Mite named Finley who decides to betray his clan and befriend the boy who suffers tragically at the hands of the Dust Mite Bullies with No Hearts and Surely with No Empathy (but Possessing Massive Brains).

Dust Mites Must Die could be the most amazing thing I've ever written. It could be the most amazing thing anyone, anywhere, has ever written. Because, see, the whole novel is written in Latin. (I did this just in case Dust Mites ever evolve and develop eyes and are able to read English. I want this novel to withstand the test of Time, and so even if Dust Mites learn to read, it's highly improbable that they'll learn Latin as well.)

I was recently contacted by the estate owner of Leo Tolstoy's literary property. It seems that the estate owner has been planning a new edition of Tolstoy's classic War and Peace. (New chapters have been found, albeit with small smudges across them.) The estate owner asked if I would consider including a small selection from Dust Mites Must Die in the new, revised version of War and Peace.

These were the estate owner's exact words, actually:

"Dear Sir Reynolds,

Word has come along the winds, carried no doubt on the backs of a million infinitesimally small backs of Dust Mites, that you have a novel in the works entitled Dust Mites Must Die. I would be deeply honored if you would consider including a small selection of this novel in the upcoming War and Peace. The Leo-nator, my affectionate name for Senor Tolstoy, had a lifelong vendetta against those creatures. Even when he gave away all his land to his servants, and sought to emulate the life of Christ, he could never learn to love Dust Mites. I think he would very much like knowing your novel is joined, in part, to his.


Jonathan Jon-Jon, Estate Owner"

As you can imagine, receiving a letter like this was stunning.

However, I need some time to mull it all over. After all, I still have to finish the novel (which is currently at 280,000 words, and I've only just completed the second chapter.)

If I keep going at this rate, Dust Mites may develop eyes before the work is ever complete. And that cannot happen.

So while mucus droplets still fall freely from my nose, the sneezes shout loudly and defiantly, I will not lie down.

(Because then the droplets will merely slide back into my throat, and that is disgusting.)

No, nor will I go gentle into that treacherous night. Instead, I will rage against the dying of my dignity, and I will finish Dust Mites Must Die, even if my fingers become stubs and my keyboard a mess.

I will finish, no matter what.

Dust Mites Everywhere Who Have Already Developed Eyes: consider yourselves warned.

Monday, October 31, 2011


Is a beautiful thing.

For the past month and a half, Tyler's sleep habits have been as erratic as a moose chewing bubble gum trying to itch his hind leg with one of his front legs while also sneezing into a thin tissue.

The stats:

Last night: four wake-ups at 1:00 a.m., 2:30 a.m., 3:30 a.m., and 4:30 a.m. Each time, he wakes with an incredible gusto, as if he'd been summoned to run with the bulls, climb to the peak of Mt. Everest, or eat a yellow lollipop.

Jennifer and I thought we had left this stage long behind, after we passed babyhood and entered the glorious land of toddlerhood. And now, hitting the big "3" we were sure it was over and done with. After all, only two months ago we were the proud parents of a child who slept from 6:30 p.m. until 7 a.m. every night.

No wake-ups.

Not so much as a cough or a mumble.


I used to listen to the other parents at playgroups discussing their problems with non-sleeping children, and I could nod empathetically and emphatically, all the while thinking Dude, we, like so DO NOT have that problem! And I am desperately sorry for you. Yes, I really, REALLY am. But I'm so glad that I am me and you are you. Because seriously: I couldn't handle losing that much sleep.

Now I am the one who gets the empathetic, emphatic nods. And I know what they mean.

Yup: I am the one now. Jen and I are the ones who don't know what it feels like to say goodnight and then wake when the sun is rising. Instead, we hear the shouts from our little man and we half-wakingly mumble to one another "Your turn?" while each hoping it can't be me again!

But then something happened last week to change everything.

The thing that happened is the kind of thing that can revitalize life and goals and dreams and hopes and joys. As a writer, the thing that happened is particularly applicable to other areas of my life.

Namely this: surrender.

Jen and I finally realized that nothing works. We tried letting him cry out the wake-ups. But Tyler only got more and more, well, woken up. He then got scared. Really scared. Coughed. High-pitched screams. Trial over.

We tried talking it through. Dead-end.

We tried eating a lot before bed. Nope.

Eating a little. Zero success.

Drinking a lot? Drinking a little? A bit of Children's Tylenol? A softer mattress? A harder mattress?

No, no, no, no, and no.

And so finally we came to the realization that I think happy parents everywhere must come to: surrender, baby. Surrender is what it's all about.

But not surrender as in, I give up! This is too hard! White flag: wha-la!

No--I mean surrender as in we say: Okay, all my theories turned out to be about as substantial as using masking tape to fix a broken banana.

Jen and I began letting go of the expectation that Tyler was supposed to be sleeping straight through the night. We started to think differently: hey, he's not sleeping through the night now. One day he will. Not this day.

And expecting him to wake up, and dealing with it hopefully, has made all the difference. Surrendering our view of the ways things should be has allowed us not to miss the joy we're experiencing now, when he's AWAKE (instead of walking around the house mumbling, I'm as tired as a donkey who has hiked the Grand Canyon down and up while also contemplating the image of a moose trying to chew bubble gum, itch his hind leg with his front leg...)

We're getting the same amount of sleep, but we're feeling a whole heck of a lot more rested.
As a writer, expectations run the gamut in my head. Before I began sending work out ten years ago, I had an inordinate amount of expectations about what the publishing process is like. Once I began getting back my early rejections on my first novel, I began to develop a more realistic sense of how it works.

But it hasn't been until the more recent close calls on my sixth novel that I'm seeing how dizzying it all is, and how inevitable a part of the process waiting is. We write. We wait. And if we're really committed to being lifelong writers because the thought of NOT writing makes us feel like moose who chew gum while...then we write while we wait.

We see ideas painted in the sky and graffiti-ed on the fences and stamped along the construction sites where we walk and live and laugh.

We hear ideas in the words of a grocery store clerk, a learning baby, a consoling daddy, an interesting bathroom experience.

We sense ideas in a scene that develops before our eyes like it was part of some cosmic movie projected just for us--just for a moment--so that we could be inspired by life to create life that will inspire others to live.

To live.

And isn't that the point of it all? Or, as Rainer Maria Rilke once wrote it, "To live the questions." One way of living the questions--as a parent and as a writer--is to surrender to them.

It doesn't mean throwing up our arms and then sitting on a patch of dry grass sucking our teeth. No. But it does mean letting go of the expectation that things have to progress a certain way, or follow a certain formula.

Because children and books share one beautiful thing in common: neither much likes to be told who it is--to be told exactly how to live, grow, stretch, sleep, wake, breathe, dream, dance. Both need to have the space to learn themselves and find their own ways into the hearts of their creators, the hearts of their friends.

And space, perhaps, is just another word for surrender.

Whether Tyler sleeps straight through the night tonight, or five weeks from now (or more!), I've stopped holding my breath. Instead, I'm learning to enjoy the waking moments, not counting the cost so much of the minutes of slumber lost.

Whether I get a call from my agent tonight with the news that a novel or a picture book has sold, or five weeks from now (or more!), I've stopped holding my breath as well. Instead, I'm learning to throw all energy into the process. More voices clamber for their stories: that seventh novel needs to be written to join his six siblings. That 29th picture book is waiting for an incarnation to join his cousins.

And there's too  much to enjoy to count the minutes of waiting through the times that don't follow the patterns of my expectations. Because the living is in the now, the living is all about learning to have real joy and create magical moments even if Sleeping or The Call don't arrive anytime soon.

And if there's one thing I want to teach my son, it's exactly that: don't live your life waiting for the next thing; live your life embracing the present thing. The next thing will happen soon enough--and usually once you stop calculating exactly when.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Long View

It had been over a month since I'd been to the Fulford Bowls Club--a collection of men over 65 who play indoor lawn bowling. (And one 30-year old American.) Life has been pretty hectic lately, with Tyler fighting cold after cold, sleeping through the night a thing of legend and lore, and allergy attacks gathering around me like I'm a never-ending supply of sticky notes for a highly organized person.

So attending the Thursday night bowling just didn't make the list of Must Do in Order to Survive.

But this past Thursday, I attended again.

Ten years ago, I ran the London Marathon with my oldest brother, Christopher. By mile 20, the two of us were Jell-O men, stumbling forward under the weight of gravity and lunacy, in equal parts. Walking into Bowls last Thursday, my legs felt similarly. I wanted to keel over a few times--or at least just bowl from a chair.

But as I looked around, I felt heartened. So many older men welcomed me back. Told me they missed me. We shook hands. Talked about the weather. Talked about the wars they had fought in fifty, sixty years ago. Talked about bowls.

Always about bowls.

Ah, good wood there, mate!

Just ease up to the Jack. Bring it straight round there.

Oh, ay! That's a Yorkshireman's delight right there.

Every time down the green fake-lawn mat, these older men smiled with joy at the smallest attempt, the closest call, the possible point.

The thrill. Even of indoor lawn bowling.

And I was struck by something my soul was in desperate need of: the long view.

I talked with Ken, one of the men who landed on the beaches at Normandy when he was only 18 years old as a conscript of the British Army. He was paid twelve pence a day. By contrast, American soldiers during World War II were paid the equivalent of four pounds a week. Ken was making 84 pence a week. And he served at the invasion, then for two years in Palestine during terrible battles there. In both places, he was wounded.

Now, Ken smiles with ease. He jokes. He laughs.

Ken has survived. He has taken the long view of life, realizing that we pass through immeasurable difficulty and confusion and fear and sometimes horror, but somehow, we survive. And when we do, we keep on walking the path that falls before our feet.

I talked with Tony, who described how his four-year old daughter (now 39) would wake up screaming night after night after night. For six months. He and his wife had just had another baby, and between the four-year old screaming, the newborn with terrible colic, Tony and his wife had zero sleep. Literally. I watched Tony's face as he recalled the time.

"How did you make it through?" I ask, wanting to glean some kind of wisdom for our own sleep trouble with Tyler of late.

Tony shook his head, looked at me, and smiled. "The thing is, our daughters are beautiful human beings. You just have to love them through the hard stages and remember that you might always know what the hard stages are about, but they pass." Then, Tony smiled and patted me on the back.

The long view.

During the eight o' clock tea break, I talked with Henry, who lives and breathes bowls now, as a seventy-year old man. His face rose and fell like an ocean of glee as he described the five Bowling Clubs of which he is a part. The different match-ups, the visiting teams, what bowls means to him and how it gives him a place to belong.

And I couldn't help but think, here's a seventy-year old man, and he has passion and joy. He looks forward to waking up each day, playing bowls almost every night. He;s not mourning his past, regretting the past 69 years. He's living his 70th.

The long view.

Walking back from St. Oswald's Church Hall at nine o' clock with the wind whipping cold across my ears, hands, all I could think, over and over, was the long view.

I am often so accustomed to contemplating the short view. What is happening now? What if this or that circumstance doesn't work out? What if this hard stage lasts forever?

Such are questions that the vocabulary of the Long View doesn't know or acknowledge.

In bowls, you might have an incredible turn: your ball might land square next to the Jack, lean against it like there's nothing in the world that will take that point away from you. But then another player gets up and knocks your ball completely off the mat. Your point is gone. Lost.

Alternately, you may bowl a ball that is as far away from the Jack as ice from fire. But then another player takes a turn and inadvertently slices your ball, knocks it square next to the Jack. One point.

You never know. The game changes moment by moment. Like life. And you can't play by giving so much power to each turn that you lose the thread of the game.

You can't live by lending so much significance to every circumstance that you lose the narrative of your own arc.

It's what the men at Bowls are teaching me. It's what I am slowly learning to do--slowly learning how to see. The Long View doesn't throw away the moments, nor does it anxiously plan and prepare for the future. Instead, it simply approaches the present with open hands, receives it, but does not allow any present moment to crush or signify the worth of existence. The worth of a life is much more valuable than any one thing, much more authentic than any sound bit, no matter how treacherous or beautiful.

Because what is most miraculous about our lives of it all is this: the story. It's not the sentence that decides our fate, nor the chapter. These are but a part of the narrative. The story as a whole is what matters. The mistakes I have made before, the patterns of fear I may have allowed to beat in unison with my heart--these do not signify the substance of the novel of my life. Nor yours.

The Long View tells us to wait and see. Keep living. Keep going. Keep bowling. The next time down the lawn mat, we may just end up with an incredible bowl, one that we would have missed had we been caught lamenting our last turn.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Writing with Enthusiasm

Say that something's in the air: the changing of seasons, exhaust from the cars, baby gifts to the world as strollers (aka buggies) whirl past our little home on Lesley Avenue. Whatever the case, enthusiasm has been my best friend lately.

There are those days when the writing feels hard to begin. When e-mail seems a lot more exciting, or easier, and reworking that MG manuscript or picture book idea for the 21st time doesn't doesn't seem to possess the YES! that it sometimes does.

This past year in England, though, writing has become more of a Show Up endeavor. Specifically, this process of writing not by emotion but by will entails two parts:

1. Show up.
2. Write.

The more I show up at the computer each morning, afternoon, or night (depending on Tyler's sleep schedule), the more the Emotion, the Inspiration, and the YES! decide to join me. In other words, once those Lovely Three start to learn, hey, this guy's going to write his brains and heart out no matter what, it's like they decide, Okay, well, if he's that loyal, let's go give the guy some company.

And lately, enthusiasm has been pounding through my heart and fingers--even when I haven't recently poured myself a cup of strong-beyond-belief coffee.

Take today, for instance. After dropping Tyler off at pre-school this afternoon, I came home and went straight up to the computer. Before I checked e-mail--always the culprit that sucks time like a Hepa-Filter-Super-Powered-Vacuum-Cleaner--I opened up my MG work-in-progress, Fortress (about a Muilsim boy, a Jewish girl, a Christian owner of an old, falling-apart movie theater, a Grandmother with Alzheimer's who, only at three a.m., is struck coherent and relates a story about York, England from 1198 that involves King Richard the First, Robin Hood, the Crusades, and a little girl named Liljiana who loves flowers).

I wrote and I wrote and I wrote.

I wrote like my characters were no longer characters. As though the letters of my keyboard were very, very tiny orange lifesaving floats that I had to furiously press repeatedly to get them to reach the characters but then--

Oh no!

Something would inevitably happen and my characters had to find out how to deal with the new storm, the new joy, the new complexity.

All that to say, this afternoon, writing was not writing. Writing was living for a group of people whom I could watch being created by fingers that moved across the keyboard that were not my own.

I wish every writing day could be like today. But the ones that are not hold their own beauty, their own excitement. (Even if that excitement only happens to be a single line that is made right after forty attempts at the sucker.)

But man, I sure an grateful for days like today: when emotion and will mix and create one heck of a little baby.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


We cut our fingernails,
Peel back the sleep from our eyes.

We pull the stray hairs off,
Watch them fall.

Crooked eyes make for
The straightest disguise:

We wear the face of humanity--
Our imperfect noises, ideas, cries.

In the face of despair,
We turn our tired eyes towards


However dark our lives,
We rise.

Against all logic,
all fear,
all confusion,
all despair.

We rise like rain
That bounces off rock:

Too bold too stay,
Too strong to remain.

Made for more than this,
More than superficial bliss,
We rise.

And while we stand,
The crooked of our pain remains,
But the straight of the sun dances
Like it's new again.

Like it's piercing holes in

Like the Nothing that we
Worshipped was a sham.

(I wrote this poem while listening to the following song on YouTube over and over, and over and over, and over and over. And again. Hold Us Together by Matt Maher

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Gruffalo and Pees! (Or, Notes on Getting a Toddler Home While Also Realizing You're Not Realizing The Words That are Actually Coming Out of Your Mouth)

Today, Tyler and I made the trek into the city center to go to the Dinosaur Museum. In reality, its official name is the Yorkshire Museum, which sounds a lot more formal and considerably more dull. So, we've taken to calling it by our own nomenclature.

It was the first day of only slight drizzle which then fading to a Zero Tolerance policy of rain in the late morning. After three days of staying within a five minute radius of home, we had to take the chance and walk the forty-five to the center.

Tyler did puzzles and we watched an endlessly still wolf eating a bunny (poor rabbit--but the little guy is never actually fully eaten, which makes explaining to Tyler, "No, no, the wolf is just high-fiving the bunny with his paw and he's actually smiling, not growling" a lot easier. Once Tyler turns three in a couple of weeks, I may have to add a bit more reality to the scene, but hey, you're only two once. There'll be time enough to learn about wolves and bunnies a bit later, right?). 

We also built a few Roman towers that resembled those who once lived in York a thousand years ago. We looked at reconstructions of dinosaur skeletons. We learned our weight in dinosaur-scale: Tyler has recently graduated from a microvenator to a domiceiomimus; and I have remained a Velicaraptor. We played a touch-screen dinosaur game where we learned that Rob Owen came up with the actual name dinosaur and that a T Rex has a very, very, very, infinitesimally small brain.

Afterwards, running around in the massive museum gardens, we noted leaves, prickers, thorns, and nettles (alternately called prickers or thorns). We ran back inside for Tyler to do a poop in the immaculately cleaned Dinosaur Museum bathrooms. (One of the many other reasons I love bringing Tyler to the Dinosaur Museum.)

We ate a couple of samosas purchased at 79p a piece, and then meandered our way through the city and back home.

Once we reached the final five minutes--the long sidewalk that leads to Lesley Avenue--Tyler announced that he had to pee. Announcing a pee-need for Tyler is akin to a sportscaster calling a ballgame and announcing a grandslam. It's no small thing. It's something the world needs to know about.

And so we began to run. But Tyler soon noticed a yellow-berry bush. He stopped. He was intrigued. I wanted to salvage the sidewalk (and perhaps a some dignity) and get home to the potty (or at least our backyard).

We had planned to watch the DVD version of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler's masterful book The Gruffalo when we got home. (An incredibly kind gift from Tyler's Aunt Megan and Uncle Matt, Cousin Jacob and Cousin Ava in Texas.) We were both thrilled. How can one not love The Gruffalo?

And so it was that I found myself attempting to hurry Tyler along by yelling with glee the following phrase: "Let's get home quick and watch The Gruffalo and do pees!  Come on! The Gurffalo and Pees!"

And even though I am a thirty-year old man, and even though I do have some sense (however small) of decorum, something about the words felt right. Magical. Fun. Us.

We made it home; we peed; we watched The Gruffalo. We smiled.

Monday, October 10, 2011

After Illness

The thing is, there's no way around it. Even though we plan our lives to completely evade it as much as possible, we can't.

No matter how much money we try and insulate ourselves with, bam! It's there like mud after rain.

No matter how many packets of Vitamin C powdery-fizzy goodness we mix into our waters, or how many super-healthy-eating cookbooks and fitness guides we buy with titles like Become a Super Human Android in Five Easy Steps While Eating Only Chocolate Only Through Your Nose, it's there.

It is.

No matter, either, if we stayed inside, never got wet, never touched another human being even. It's still there. We're going to get it.

Illness. Colds. Flu. Diarrhea. Vomiting. The whole gamut.

I started to come to peace with this reality when I began teaching seventh graders. I caught everything they had--and man, they had it all. It seemed every week I was coming home with a new variation on the age-old cold.

Now that I am a home-dad, it seems playgroups and playdates in York, England carry those determined bacteria just as confidently as do public schools in New England.

Tyler has just fought off his third bout with something. Jen and I have stopped trying to label each successive cold. Instead, we've tried to love him through it, help him see that it will pass, put vapor rub under his chin, hold him through the coughing fits, and let him watch as many movies as he wants.

(Meanwhile, we steel ourselves for the undeniable fact: we're next.)

But the thing about realizing that we're all going to get sick is this: after illness comes health. Most mornings, we wake up and start our days. But after illness we wake up and feel like high-fiving the post carrier, doing a flip down the stairs, and eating our bowls of cereal while singing the Hallelujah chorus through every bite--milk spraying, Cheerios flying free.

We get better. Colds leave. Flu hitchhikes out of town. Fevers drop. Coughing stops. Vomiting ceases. Diarrhea slows. It passes.

During my most recent battle with a vomiting-inducing-cold of some strain or other, I sat on the bathroom floor, clutching my stomach with one hand, the toilet with the other. Preparing to retch for the 11th time in two hours (no hyperbole, really).

Tyler was asleep, and Jen was there with me for moral support. (It hadn't yet made the leap to my lovely wife.) I looked up at Jen when there was a break in the vomiting traffic. "I can't do this anymore."  Then I took a breath, and then I vomited again.

Jen's reply was as true as true as true: "Yes, you can babe. It's going to pass. I know it's awful, but it will stop and you'll feel better."

And that's the thing. It stops. The better comes.

None of us like to vomit or feel like our heads are exploding or like someone is gleefully sticking their fingers up into our nostrils and poking around trying to find the valve marked MUCUS RELEASE! But we all love the moments when it clears, when we can breathe, eat, laugh, feel what good is, again.

So I'm really only regurgitating here when I write that wisdom is all about--or at least a little about--finding a way to hold onto the it will end! during the it's hurting!

In our illnesses, yes, but also in our work, in our writing, in our relationships, in our wounds, in our confusions. No pain has the power to wield a full attack forever. It stops. Somehow, in some way, it gives up. And what remains are not the trails of bacteria and germs and messy clothes and broken relationships. No. What remains is the way we've grown through the pain. The way we've learned just a little more about love.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


Sweeping the kitchen floor,
Washing dishes,
Picking pasta remains off my bare feet:
Singing "The Eye of the Tiger."

A new kind of tiger.
A new kind of eye.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Poem to End the Month

On the walk home from this week's Public Speaking class, the words for this poem trickled even though the sky was a rare rainless clarity and the stars were bright, and the air--the air!--was unseasonably warm. So: a poem to end the month.

In Teaching

The way, after a good class,
That learning remains

Stays like rain
That drips after it falls

Wetting the ground beneath
Our feet, on which we stand

In all composure,

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Shirkshare Dales and the 426 Steps

Yesterday, the three of us were carried two hours north by a good friend to the magical land of the Yorkshire Dales. I woke with an allergy attack the likes of which I hadn't seen in a year--but which enjoyed making my nose blast as regularly and forcefully as Old Faithful. Tyler woke with a cough. Needless to say, Jennifer got us together, packed a picnic lunch fit for the Queen, and we made it into our friend's car and two hours later?


We stopped first at Gordale Scar, which is essentially a massive rock wall enclosure built by years of water wearing down stone. (Analogies ad infinitum ensue: the way persistence wears down resistance; the way faithful work as a writer wears down rejection; the way steady, loving parenting wears down temper tantrums; the way believing wears down doubt; the way humor wears down grumpiness; the way writing wears down not-writing; the way voices that continue to seek justice wear down nay-sayers...).

Tyler loved walking over the many rocks strewn about on the path to the rock enclosure, and at one point, he asked, "Where are we?"

Us: The Yorkshire Dales!

Tyler: The Shirkshare Dales! I like the Shirkshare Dales!

Us: We do too. We like them too!

After Tyler left a fairly substantial water supply by one of the rocks, we made our way back to the Park Headquarters for this area of the Dales, at Malham. We ate a picnic lunch as rain drizzled and three ducks and two roosters sauntered about, ever more boldly requesting various foods from us.

Next, we walked the one mile trek to the bottom of Malham Cove (where we were told, on good authority, that a section of one of the Harry Potter movies had been shot).  We learned that 426 steps led to the top of the Cove. The three parents (myself, Jen, and our friend) looked at each other and considered the facts:

Time: 3:30pm.

Who: Three adults and a two-year old, a four-year old

Status: Children becoming slightly delirious, throwing various items in nearby brook (all natural items, of course)

Decision: Go for it.

The five of us began the long trek up the top to Malham Cove. And here's the stunning thing--the really shocking thing: my legs complained more than Tyler's. He climbed those steps like it was part of any two year old's job description--eat ice cream, have the occasional tantrum, look super-cute and say the occasional highly charming thing, laugh like the rain, climb 426 steps to top of Malham Cove in the Yorkshire Dales.

At the top, the five of us sat, sharing three oranges, two granola bars, and a Cadbury milk chocolate dream. While the pieces of chocolate melted, carrying sweetness everywhere inside of us, the view that confronted us was like this: the way you feel when the mail arrives, and there's an unexpected letter from a fabulous source, and just looking at the outside of that envelope--stamps slightly covered in ink, your own name scrawled about the middle, the return address gorgeous ion its corner--gives you the indelible feeling that life is really something. Really beautiful.

And you feel gratitude for the letter that's been sent your way; excitement to open it and learn what's inside.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Prove What?

When I was in high school, the movie Rudy came out, and it instantly became one of my favorites. The fact that it was a true story. About a guy who had little natural ability, but who worked his butt off harder than anyone could have expected. That he made the Notre Dame football squad at five-foot nuthin;, a hundred and nuthin'...

And what I used to love about the movie, of course, was the final scene in which Rudy runs out onto the playing field for his glorious 27 seconds of actual Notre Dame football. The climax. The moment of victory.

Recently, I found a clip of the film that I love so much to use with my night Public Speaking course. The course explores growing confidence, belief in one's voice, and clarity. And I realized that I wanted the learners in that course to sense that it isn't the result--the official outcome--that matters most, but rather the way we carry ourselves--the way we speak, live, and believe that really matters.

And so I didn't show the final, climactic scene: the 27 seconds of glory.

Instead, I chose the clip where Rudy finally realizes (through the remarkable speech of a friend) that not quitting is the victory. Choosing to keep going is the victory. Realizing that he doesn't have to prove anything to anyone but himself is the victory.

Three minute speech. A lifetime of truth. Check it out.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

What English Weather Teaches Me

In short: you never know. (And that's a good thing.)

Some mornings, I wake up here on Lesley Avenue and look outside to find a mass of dark rain clouds gathered like linebackers, having already eaten their Wheaties, ready to literally let it pour.

And one hour later, as Jen and Tyler and I busy ourselves in the kitchen pouring cereal, yogurt, buttering toast (perhaps, if it's a slow morning, frying some eggs and beans), I look outside to find this blue that makes my heart ache it's so beautiful.

So defiantly itself, saying to the rain and the heavy cloulds that only an hour ago owned the sky, your time is done. It's my time now. I may be a puny quarterback, but I'm calling the shots now.

And Blue does. Call the shots that is. She orchestrates a morning so divine that Jen and I hustle upstairs to grab our laundry basket--overflowing by now because of yesterday's rain--and then launch its entire contents into the washing machine. Smiling. Anticipating hanging up that oversized load of laundry amidst the glory--the sanctity--of Blue.

But by the time our 30-minute wash cycle ends, and the Laundry announces, Let's do this, homeslice! it is too late.

Blue has somehow lost her handle of the morning. Even though it seemed impossible, an interception from the other team just as Blue was throwing to the endzone has happened. Rain has arrived.

Jen and I look at one another. We've been here before. We've seen this kind of game-changing weather. And while, in our first few months in York, it caused indigestion in our hearts, it doesn't any longer.

We ask one another a simple, you hanging it today, or me?  And unfailingly, one of us will carry a full load of laundry out into our backyard. In the rain.

In the pouring rain.

And we;ll hang each pair of underwear, each towel, each black or blue shirt, wondering--considering--that maybe it'll clear. Just maybe.

And if Blue should find herself with the ball again, ready to make another game-changing throw, well, our laundry will be ready to soak up the shining that Blue's team holds forth.

And so will we.

Because, hey, you never know. You really, really never know.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

One Minute Longer

As writers, we sometimes fall prey to that most venemous of frogs (or dragons): it ain't gonna happen. The doubt. The nagging, incessant doubt that tries to slowly convince us of its truth.

When I was a high school senior, many (many!) years ago, I recall that our Superintendent of Schools in Windsor, CT was being "asked to resign."  I don't remember much about why, but there was loads of controversy, and when he gave his last speech to us seniors as we prepared for graduation, I remember a single line of his: the person who accomplishes what they set out to do is often the one who can hold on for one minute longer."

One minute longer.

When it comes to writing and publishing, 'one minute longer' might more accurately be translated, 'one month longer,' or 'one year longer,' or even (yes, even) 'one decade longer.'

When we first open our notebooks with a smile on our faces, saying to our husbands or wives, "I've got this cool idea for a book," the journey we begin is nothing like a walk to the park. Or a walk to the center of town to make a stop at the local library.

It's more like the Appalachian Trail or a jaunt up Mount Everest.

To see our scrawled bubbles go from notebook pages to hardbound or paperback books is nothing short of a miracle--a miracle which sometimes seems and feels as though it will never happen.

Last night, our son Tyler took an unusual nap around one in the afternoon. He slept for an hour as Jennifer and I walked into the city center of York. We felt the inner angst as we confided in one another, Yup, tonight may be a tough night to get the T-Man to sleep. Very tough. May give new meaning to the word 'tough.' Step aside, Stallone. We're gonna have one heck of a ride trying to get our guy to fall asleep. But we'll stick together. It will happen.

So we enjoyed the hour of magnificent conversation--sharing dreams, discussing our latest story ideas and ups and downs, and considering the journey we're on.

Tyler woke happy. His words were literally bubbles that floating out of his mouth into an open sky all day. We saw some famous people get married at York Minster. (Well, we didn't actually see them get married; we watched them exit the church along with the rest of the large crowd. We don't know who they are. or how they;re famous. But the mob seemed to think so.)

When seven o' clock came, and bedtime along with it, Tyler jumped into his Bob the Builder themed bed, and the saga began.

Story time--which usually consists of a five minute story told by me about crane trucks, ice cream, lollipops, and various friends of Tyler's--stretched itself into about twenty minutes.

Song time--which usually consists of a five minute litany of ice cream, lollipop, crane truck, and Christian songs sung by Jennifer--stretched itself into twenty minutes.

Ten more minutes of lollipop stories by me.

Ten more minutes of lollipop songs by Jennifer.

It seemed that sleep would never come. But then another thought dawned on me. Tyler is tired. He needs sleep. He will sleep. Sometime.

And then I remembered: one minute longer.

It's usually just when we're about to give up that things break loose. Really give up, I mean. When our hearts tell us, Nothing, man. I got nothing. And our souls say, Dude, I'm spent. And our bodies and brains echo the refrains--then it's right at that moment that stuff happens.

And in life, stuff always happens when we wait long enough, focus our hearts on what matters rather than what we think matters, and when we keep the faith.

In writing and in publishing, it may seem like it might never happen. But it will. With enough heart, love, authentic passion, and diligence, it will.

Last night, Tyler finally fell asleep amidst a thousand songs of all his favorite things. And maybe, just maybe, that's what it's all about: learning to tell stories and sing songs--holding the faith amidst the wait. No matter how long it takes.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


First article publication.

First day at a new job.

First time watching son using the potty (assisted).

First time watching son using the potty (unassisted).

First time trying fish (for whatever reason, with eyeballs intact).

First time getting dizzy after trying fish (eater's eyeballs not so intact).

First time weeping.

First time laughing so hard milk comes out of your nose (even though it's been awhile since you've had milk).

First book publication.

First child.

First sleepness nights without choosing to have a sleepness night to prepare for an exam which you should have studied for throughout the term rather than on the last (sleepness) night.

First letter from a reader.

First kiss.

First kiss representing a lifetime of further kisses from that one, first forever love.

First time becoming clueless about everything you thought you knew but now know that you really (really!) do not.

First time weathering a severe storm and realizing, hey, it's gonna be okay.

First time realizing, No, it's NOT gonna be okay; I was wrong!

First time getting past both previous firsts to a more substantial first that lasts: yes, it is. But it takes time.

First rejection of a book which reveals that the editor thought it was really, really awful.

First rejection of a book which reveals that the editor thought it was really, really strong. (But still didn't buy it.)

First request to see the book again with revisions.

First rejection of re-considered book with revisions.

First time being without our son at two in the afternoon, as he attends his first afternoon session of pre-school in York, England, with five teachers who seem as wise as Yoda and as kind as Mother Teresa, yet still feeling vaguely filled with terror, worry, fear, anxiety that something will happen, and what if something happens and WE'RE NOT THERE TO HELP and what if he cries and cries because he doesn't realize that pre-school is a good thing, where he can shed his overbearing father for a bit and play with other kids on his own, even though he doesn't know that this is a good thing yet but will soon, but maybe not until AFTER many rounds of afternoon pre-school have already passed and what am I supposed to do about that in the meantime?

First time writing a hard-to-follow, nervously crafted, fingernail-biting blog while our son is at pre-school.

[Breathing. Breathing. Breathing.]

First time realizing, it will be okay. Son will be okay. Letting go a little is okay. Life is okay.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Ladders or Fences?

Tonight, Tyler climbed the small wooden fence in our backyard to talk to the neighbors' dogs--Oscar and Prince. While the dogs roamed their own yard, looking for a place to deposit the churned up outcome of their day's intake, I peeked out from the kitchen, while heating up some left-over pasta, to see Tyler standing there talking to them.

"Hi Oscar! Hi Prince!"

The dogs look up in wonder, glee.

"I am just talking to you now, because daddy is inside getting my food and his food ready because we going to eat dinner in a few minutes."

Prince gives a single bark. Oscar tilts his head.

"Daddy will talk to you when he comes out with the food. That's okay? Okay. Good one."

Tyler climbs down from the fence and runs to the back door, where I am already waiting.

"I told Oscar and Prince that you will talk to them in a little bit. That's okay Daddy?"

Something about the way Tyler says the words to me, the innocence with which he just climbed the fence to talk to you fully expecting them to comprehend his every word, the way that imagination and concern for others--even for dogs--is etched on my son's face as he says the words to me--something.


And the something that Tyler has just sparked and touched inside of me suggests I look at the pot of reheated pasta, the mess in the kitchen that we left in a rush this morning, the rejections I receive as a writer, the very hard work Jen has had to do on her literature review, the nighttime wake-ups with some of Tyler's recent bad dreams, the constant wondering if I'm learning enough, living with wisdom, and more importantly, living with love--

All of it.

The something in me that Tyler touches with his feet just a bit off the ground is, in a word, the need to get my feet off the ground every once in a while, too. To remember that climbing fences is always a better pursuit than climbing ladders. For while climbing ladders afford us higher views, perhaps more stuff to surround ourselves with--fences offer us, instead, places to stand from which we might peer over and see other souls, other lives. Places from which we might yell out in a child-like way, expecting contact, communion.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Why We Need Pain to Write

For the September issue of The Writer, I wrote a piece with the above title. It came out of much of what these past eleven months have taught us, and I thought I'd include the link to where the article appears on the magazine's webpage: "Why We Need Pain to Write."

Friday, August 26, 2011

On Gary D. Schmidt's OKAY FOR NOW




This book both broke my heart and made me laugh hysterically. Often at the same exact moment.

Schmidt tells the story of eighth-grader Doug Swieteck as he deals with difficulties and pain facing him at every turn. Doug's voice is believable, endearing, strong, and hopeful, even as he complains about everything from the town where his family moves, to school teachers and grocery deliveries.

Readers will quickly (read: immediately) fall in love with Doug and root for him page after page. Doug's journey is vividly revealed, and the language makes readers feel as though Doug himself is sharing with them the story--as if they themselves are a customer on Doug's grocery delivery route, and he's decided to tell all.

I read the book in about two days, even though Jen and I were transitioning our little man to a big boy bed and were already sleep deprived. However, I couldn't keep away from OKAY FOR NOW. The book literally squeezed and squeezed my heart and refused to let go. When I finished, tears in my eyes, laughter dancing on my lips, all I could say to Jen was, "You've got to read this book."

It's a book that is impossible not to enjoy. Additionally--and more importantly--it's a book that gets inside your soul and doesn't leave it in the same state once the final page closes.

It makes my list of All-Time Top Six Books (which is a hard feat to come by!).
(The others, for the curiously inclined, are TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee, THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV by Fyodor Dostoevsky, A RAISIN IN THE SUN by Lorraine Hansberry--I know, I know, a play makes the list of "books", but I can't help it, it's that powerful--MOCKINGBIRD by Kathryn Erskine, and THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN by Mark Twain.) I kept my this old list at five pretty tight, but Gary Schmidt's stunning and transforming novel forces the list to six!)

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Thing About Jerry Spinelli...

Is, in short, that on any page of any of his books, I can find a sentence that I'd like to write on an index card and carry around in my pocket. Just to re-read it and be awakened to the rhythm, power, and redemption in our lives.

Ever since I read Wringer, I was hooked.

I just finished Spinelli's Love, Stargirl, the sequel to his enormously powerful (and popular) Stargirl. I read the original five times a year with my seventh graders, for two years. Ten reads in class, combined with two on my own, and the book still jived with my soul. Spinelli--like Kathy Erskine, Jacqueline Woodson, Gary Schmidt--has a remarkable way of getting to the height of emotion in every scene, without overshooting and without missing any power, however subtle or silent.

Reading the last lines of Love, Stargirl, I felt an immense gratitude: to be able to read a book and be moved to rethink my own perspective; to feel both peace and challenge speak; to be inspired to continue crafting and revising my own novels; to listen to the life of another.

I'm onto Okay for Now, by Gary Schmidt, which, too, makes my heart beat fast. I'm grateful for the words.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Rambo, Conan, and the Impossible Male

Walking home from the city center today pushing Tyler in the stroller, my eye caught an advertisement for the new Conan the Barbarian movie plastered along the side of a double-decker bus.

Under an image of Conan as biceps-and-pecs-the-size-of-Texas, the movie's slogan was printed in all caps: BORN ON THE BATTLEFIELD.

Immediately,my mind jumped back to four years ago, when Jen and I were leaving the movie theater in Flagstaff, Arizona after having watched The Freedom Writers, and we saw the movie poster for the latest Rambo installment. The slogan on that one? HEROES DON'T DIE. THEY JUST RELOAD.

So, along my walk home, my mind started a little mini-synthesis paper. (Perhaps I miss the classroom a bit, or maybe the rain that had begun pouring made me pensive.) I combined both movie slogans and came up with one that presents a fairly accurate depiction of what many men see as their culture-proclaimed epitome of manhood is: REAL MEN ARE BORN TOUGH; THEY LIVE TOUGH; THEY NEVER DIE (BUT IF THEY WERE TO DIE, THEY WOULD DIE TOUGH).

But when I tried to enter the next layer of synthesis and try to make my slogan fit men generally, or even any man specifically, I was stuck.

Thing is, a lot of men profess drivel like this. A lot of us y-chromosome-wielding guys might claim that toughness, battles, and reloading guns is what masculinity is all about. But the truth is, no man really believes it. (Though he may be suckered into it by the way his dad raised him, one too many Rambo films, video games where you can kill your opponent a thousand different ways, and bully-peer-coolness culture in our schools.)

See, every male student I've ever taught at the middle, high school, or college level has all had one thing in common: a heck of a lot of pretense. (This, by the way, includes yours truly.) In other words, all men learn that sooner or later, you've got to act the part and try to look cool, act tough, and carry a big stick / gun / sword / mouth / name-brand-clothing-that-has-been-advertised-by-a-guy-with--yes--pecs-as-big-as-the-state-of-Texas.

But every man knows, deep down, that this is all one big load of baloney. Because we men know how we feel. We know that we get sad; we get happy; we get lonely; we get scared (even terrified); we get needy; we get contemplative (yup, even those guys who you'd never expect it from); we want to get real.

I think there are a lot of us guys out here who would rather push a stroller than wield a sword.

Writers like Robert Bly, who popularized the notion of this secret, innate-warriorness / wildness / aggressiveness that all men possess and which has somehow been crushed by women, talk a big game. Their words get a lot of guys fired up, thinking to themselves, Hey, maybe Bly is right. I am a warrior. I need a sword! I need a gun! I need to tell this nagging lady to be quiet so I can lead the way! After all, Bly must be right because, hey, didn't they give him a Pulitzer Prize? And didn't John Eldridge translate Bly's notion of the wild man for the Christian male with Wild at Heart?

But in reality, maybe we men are starting to come to some new conclusions:

1. Courage isn't necessarily about one big moment of power and aggressiveness with a sword or a gun. It might be more about the way we live; the way treat people; the way we learn to love when it's excruciatingly hard to do so.

2. I'd just as soon drink a cup of tea and watch a rom-com with my wife rather than kill a thousand people on a video game.

3. It's a heck of a lot more fun to be honest rather than hide. Hiding gets old. Boring. Tired old script; same old hiding places. Ugh.

4. There's got to be something better out there--some better model.

And there is!  Men like Atticus Finch present a far more beautiful--and courageous--notion of what authentic masculinity should look like (and could, really could, look like).

In the Acknowledgements section of his bestselling book Guyland, author Michael Kimmel writes movingly about the wish he has for his sons. He quotes a poet and Pulitzer-prize winner (three times!) far different than Mr. Bly. Kimmel cites Adrienne Rich's wishes for her own sons--that they would "have the courage of women" regarding his sons, too.

What a beautiful desire: that we men would learn the courage of women--the courage to love when it's hard, to live not only the moments of glory but also the moments no one sees (that are no less valiant or brave). To walk among the noble souls who live not only for battle, but for peace.

Conan and Rambo may wield power when it comes to the masculine ideal, but men like Atticus Finch have another kind of courage and power entirely: the masculine real. real love; real conviction; real courage for the long journey. And I, for one, am a heck of a lot more interested in that.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Lollipop Day

Thursday is Lollipop Day.

There is a small, red store about fifteen minutes' walk from our house, right across from the tiny library where we go on, yes, Thursday. We can buy a lollipop for six pence. (Roughly 11 American cents--used to be 10 a few weeks ago.)

The lady within the store knows that Tyler and I stop in to see her every Thursday at 2pm, just before Story Time begins at the library. We choose two lollipops--one for Tyler, one for Daddy. (Tyler picks both colors.)

She takes our twelve pence with a smile and says, "See you next week."

As we leave the store, Tyler inevitably processes what has just occurred.

"We got lollipops today?"

"Yes, because it's Thursday, and Thursday is LOLLIPOP DAY!"

"Thursday is lollipop day Daddy?"

"Yup, Thursday is LOLLIPOP DAY!"

"I like Thursday."

"I like Thursday too."

We walk on in silence for a while, Tyler enjoying his yellow lollipop, me enjoying my blue/purple/red one. The only other sound's the sweep of easy slurp and downy take. The lollipops grow smaller by the second, and soon we're at the library, waiting for Story Time to begin.

Inevitably, the next morning, Tyler will often ask if we can get lollipops again.

"No, only on Thursday, remember? Because Thursday is LOLLIPOP DAY."

"Today is not Thursday?"

"No. Today is Friday."

"We can't get lollipops on Friday?"

"Well, we could get lollipops on Friday, but then our teeth would say, Ah! Too much sugar! Ah, we're melting!"

"They say that one?"


Tyler stops, thinks for a moment, and then says, "I like Thursday."

It's hard to disagree. On what other day can you hold such joy in your hands--multicolored--as you sit in a library listening to great stories?

The great poet W.H. Auden once write that "In moments of ecstasy and joy, we all wish we possessed a tail we could wag." If Mr. Auden were alive now, I'm sure he'd feel just this sentiment on Lollipop Day.

Monday, August 8, 2011

What She Said

I just read Jen's latest blog post on commitment--something we've been talking a lot about lately, in all areas of our lives. Hard to say it any better than she did, so here you go:

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Brief Poem on a Slow Evening

Wait for the words
That wake like dew--
Whose origin you never see,
Whose presence is always true.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Breaking Some Gender Stereotypes

Jennifer and I recently celebrated our sixth anniversary. Six big ones. (But only one little one thus far--though at two years old, and consistently in the 99th percentile for height, weight, head circumference, and naturally-released, constant energy levels, he feels like a big (good) one as well.)

For me, marriage has been like teaching: I've always loved it, but I think I learn a heck of lot more about it the more experience I get. And there's no way to learn without doing it. As much psychology, relationship, and literary fiction as there is that deals with strong marriages--there's no substitute for the real thing: learning by doing, as the poet Roethke once told us.

So here is one of my big lessons from year six that experience has taught me: it's good to break gender stereotypes.

Our son is a good example of how breaking gender stereotypes has brought Jen and I a heck of a lot of happiness. Tyler loves two things in life with a passion as deep and as profound as the Atlantic Ocean: his baby doll and his uptrucks. He carries his baby doll (a female whom he named Bob the Builder) around with him everywhere he goes. He pushes Bob on the swings; he gives Bob a thousand kisses a day; a pushes Bob gently down his small backyard slide (and, admittedly, laughs when she falls over and bumps her head all the way down; but then Tyler is there to pick up Bob, caress her head bruises, apply a few band-aids, profusely kiss the injuries, and then continue on).

Lining the fence in our backyard (here, called a garden) are seven yellow construction vehicles--yellow dump trucks; yellow uptrucks (diggers); yellow cement mixer trucks; yellow backhoes. He runs them through the dirt and delights in their carrying capacities.

I think Tyler's passions demonstrate something Jen and I have come to accept about ourselves in our marriage: we enjoy breaking gender stereotypes. It just feels...right.

Case in point: The Plough Pub. It's July 30th, 2011, and we're out for our anniversary night. My mom and two brothers, Michael and Matthew, are babysitting while Jen and I get out for the night. Walking like a couple giddy in anticipation of a full meal without mentioning the words "poopies," "itchies," or "snots," we arrive at the pub barely able to remain calm. But we do. We keep calm and carry on through the beautiful white oak door of The Plough.

We snag a table by the window, discuss what we'll start with for drinks and our meals, and I make my way up to the bar. I order a martini for Jen, a pint of Timothy Taylor's for me. I saunter back to our table, drinks in hand and food order placed.

I am a husband heading back to this wife, thrilled to have a long conversation about dreams, emotions, and emotional dreams. Jen takes a sip of her martini and finds it a bit too sweet, which enables me to gladly switch with her, secretly pumped about a sweet martini, and there we sit, a man drinking his sweet martini; his wife a pint of Yorkshire's finest local ale.

Case in Point (B): Our neighbors let us borrow an electric hedge clipper. Having landscaped my way through high school, I am jazzed about using the thing to trim our relentlessly misbehaving hedges. I work for about ten minutes, then ask Jennifer if she'd like to have a go.

Jen takes the hedge trimmer and Tyler and I watch--in sheer amazement--as Jen goes to town for the next hour, creating a masterpiece of our hedges. Beauty. Perfection. No limb of any hedge a millimeter longer than any other. She's a natural. (Meanwhile, Tyler and I had quite a blast giggling like, well, toddlers.)

Case in Point (C): The obvious, I guess. I like what I'm doing. Really. So does Jen. Sure--we each miss what we were doing before. I sometimes get that longing to be back inside of a high school or middle school classroom; and Jen has that urge to spend the full day with our guy, attending playgroups and chatting about poopie endlessly (that latter part I may have made up). But neither of us would want to change a thing.

It works.

It fits.

Even though people look at us like one of us isn't being honest, or one of us is somehow hiding some deeply honest desire (me to scale cliffs and Jen to nurse a kid till he;s five or something like that), we're not. There's something that just fits together, and in this sixth year of marriage, I'm grateful beyond words for a wife who has both passion and compassion, both strength and nurture, that work all together in this balance that I can only call love.

Saturday, July 23, 2011


Currently: eating a bowl of Fruit N' Fibre, Tesco brand (the English version of generic, cheapest of cheap). Here, we can buy a 750g box of fruity, fiber-y goodness for £1.29, roughly the equivalent of two bucks. That's a heck of a lot of fibre (or fiber) and dried fruit per penny.

Cereal has always been an active part of my nightlife. Forget drinking pints. Forget chocolate cake. Forget dried grape leaves dampened with mist and elongated by bruschetta made from freshly picked and diced tomatoes after having been sprinkled with homegrown pressed garlic and a touch of oregano.

No. I'm talking about the milky goodness of cereal--its perfect balance of refreshing, cold taste-thrilling joy, along with all the stability of a full meal (or dessert) in a bowl.

And consider: a bowl is a wonderful symbol of life--its circular symmetry, its concave (or convex, depending on your perspective) presence, its willingness to hold steady in the face of all danger.

When I was in high school, I began eating a bowl of cereal every night. Now, thirteen years later, the habit continues (for which Jen deserves serious commendations for hearing my chomping, slurping, cereal-loving sounds emanate each night of our lives together).

Tonight, I sing the praises of cereal as one of those always-present, seldom-thanked-properly companions. I'm grateful. I'm content. I'm sitting on a couch that is half red flannel, half beige cloth (not joking: this is our couch where we rent) and I'm typing these words as, beside me, sits a bowl of Fruit N' Fibre. Half-eaten. And I'm struck by the joy of small things.

The joy of cereal.

This past week, a deal came through for a book at which I've been at work, entitled Keep Calm and Query On: Notes on Writing (and Living) with Hope. And I can't get a cover image of the original 1939 British poster as the book's cover out of my mind. And it's exciting, and I'm grateful. Very grateful. It's a neat book (well, at least, I think so!) with interviews from writers I deeply admire and am inspired by--people like John Robinson, Jane Smiley, Robert Pinsky, Daniel Handler, Lindsey Collen, George Saunders, and others.

But the thing is this: there's the cereal. Always the cereal, which leads to an important truth: being thankful for the fiber--content with the fiber, really--is what matters most. Everything else is fun and enjoyable as well, yes, but I want to live in that stable place where I can look down into a bowl of cereal, thank God for its milky wonder, and eat while closing my eyes as I slurp (far too loudly) another bite.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Real Voice Percentages

Three years ago, I seldom spoke in a voice other than my own. Unless I happened to be feeling particularly excitable with my 7th graders (or had consumed far too much coffee), I generally spoke in my own, natural, low, sometimes-sounds-like-I-have-a-cold-even-though-I-don't voice.

Over the last three years I have watched my real voice percentage decline on an almost daily basis.

Case in point: before Tyler was born, I'd say my real voice percentage was at about 97%. Thus, only 3% of the time did I use the voices of cows, astronauts, or trees.

During Tyler's first year of life, that percentage fell to about 70%. I found myself excited to make trucks talk as they drove past us, get the inside scoop from a cookie, or hear from the oft-ignored various furniture items in any given abode.

During Tyler's second year of life, the real voice percentage fell to about 60%, as the need to distract Tyler from things he wanted that would not be safe (i.e. chain saws, various electrical outlets and plugs, sharp objects) grew enormously.

Now, in Tyler's third and most vigorous year of living yet, I find that my real voice percentage has dropped to about 40% most days. Considering Tyler's recent acquisition of a baby doll that we purchased for two pounds at an annual fair, this real voice percentage is likely to drop substantially in the days and weeks ahead.

And an eerie thing has happened in the past few days: I almost forget which voice is mine.

Case in point # 2: Tyler and I are walking home from playgroup, only ten minutes away (walking at a normal pace; however, thirty-five minutes walking at Tyler/Daddy-pace).

Tyler: "Flowers, you want me to stop and talk with you?"

Daddy (Flowers) in high pitch: "Yes! Yes! Talk to us about all the trucks and ice cream!"

Tyler: "Okay. I like uptrucks! I like ice cream! You like uptrucks? You like ice cream?"

Daddy (Flowers) in normal voice: "Yes, we like uptrucks and ice cream!"

Tyler: No, no, no, no, no--I want to talk with the Flowers now, Daddy. I will talk to you later."

And so I find myself mixing up the voices of the Flowers, the newly-acquired baby, the various truck-vehicles, and other inanimate objects like favorite trees, certain bushes, and sleeping cats.

But even while the real voice percentage plummets, the opposite trend has been developing in writing. I find myself writing sillier and sillier picture books, stranger and stranger stories and novel ideas, and ever-more-honest journal entries (even when they're really, really hard to write about the tough emotions and the places I'd rather not visit).

Perhaps in losing a bit of my natural voice, there is another kind of voice that arrives, too.

However, I'd be lying if I didn't report that it was beautiful to meet another dad yesterday at the playground and have a normal, one-on-one conversation with another human being who didn't expect me to make the slide sing or the rocks tell a story. I see the need to remember that it's okay to sometimes say, "I'm wiped, man. How are you?"

And in admitting the need to let all of the adventure rest for a bit, it returns later, with more energy, vigor, and--yes--even lower real voice percentages.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Purple Man

We first met him seven months ago, after we had been in York for only a couple of months. Fraught with the culture shock, not-having-a-car-shock, and a general litany of other shocks (as small as no discussion of American politics to an inability to find a number of American books we wanted to read), our early time in York certainly left us with the lingering question, What in the heck have we done!?

And in response to this question, there was Purple Man. (See his website here.)

He rides an eternally immovable bike. (Purple.) He wears an endlessly blowing necktie. (Also purple.) His face evidences a thin layer of stubble and a massive smile. (Yes: purple.)

We see him most frequently on Stonegate, embodying the very essence of joy as he sits atop his bike, first fixed, then moving to say hello to some tourist visiting York, only to bring them closer, whisper conspiratorially, and then raise his bucket of paint and paintbrush.

"Would you like me to paint your hair?" he asks, in such a kind voice and with such a clever smile that no tourist--or local, for that matter--can resist.

The cameras flash. The Flip videos record. An audience of onlookers raise their hands to their mouths.

It wasn't until after Purple Man had painted Tyler's, Jennifer's, and my hair that we realized the paint on his brush is dry. He smiles with glee at the excitement of it all--the uncertainty as to whether or not you've actually been painted.

After the first time, Tyler began calling for Purple Man every time we went into the city.

"T-Man, what do you want to do in the city today?"

"I want to go see Purple Man."

"And then what?"

"Then I want to see Purple Man."

"And after we say hi to Purple Man, would you like to go to the library?"

"No, I just want to see Purple Man after I go to see Purple Man. We can do that one?"


And thus our little York experiment took on a new life. A new energy. Purple Man came to represent, for us, a kind of living that included telling any setbacks, Hey, Dude! Watch Out! We;re not giving up. We're not giving in. So what if we have to hang our clothes outside to dry in the rain? So what if we have to walk 45 minutes to church? So what if feeling a gas pedal beneath my right foot and getting somewhere--anywhere--fast feels like an impossible dream? We're sticking this one out. We're going purple.

Why else, after all, would someone decide to paint themselves purple, smile at people he doesn't know, and make them laugh? Why else but to share one small piece of something we all know to be true about this thing called life: joy.

Joy. We can most of us complain for hours on end about how hard certain events are, certain discomforts, certain having-to-do-withouts. But in the final analysis (whenever that is, and whether it takes place in a Graduate-level college classroom, or along some distant shore on a beach while the tide comes in) we've got a heck of a lot to be thankful for--a heck of lot of joy to embrace. For one thing: the color purple. (And yes, The Color Purple, too.)

Purple Man never gives advice on how to make it through the tough times. He doesn't wax poetic about the glimmers of hope or the cracks of despair. Nor does he recommend books, movies, or therapists.

He sits on his bikes, paints your hair purple, and smiles. Which, in my mind, is just about as good, if not better, most days.

Thanks, Purple Man.