Monday, January 25, 2010

Extra Special Birthday Blessings

How does a writer see a holiday?

Maybe it’s my Grandma’s fault for making holidays such a big deal, but I LOVE holidays! I always anticipate something good and find a different pace in my step, a new smile coming more quickly. I’m not talking about Christmas or Thanksgiving, I’m talking about every holiday – especially a birthday.

My birthday this year was a writer’s classic! No kidding. It was amazing. It made me think back to other birthdays and the pack of emotions they held.

I've had more than my share of special birthday blessings over the years. I have a birthday quilt stitched by a very special friend to tell a story, a purple paper weight, a handmade angel and other special tokens received through the years that fill my home with their charisma. I remember my 40th birthday with a smile. A former student paid for me to have a special dinner at an exquisite restaurant where I was treated like royalty. Yes, I've had more than my share of good birthdays.

But this year in particular I was made to remember my Sweet 16 Birthday. My Grandma thought that it should be special and so she invited all of my friends to stop by and made sure that I was going to be home. She cleaned the house extra clean. A fresh bowl of punch on the side table with a clean white table cloth. My favorite strawberry cake with Kool Whip proudly displayed. Candles burning in the candelabra.

I was upstairs doing homework – as it was, of course, Exam week. Grandma called me to come down to have dinner with her and watch a movie.

“Put that away for awhile and come and sit with Grandma, honey. It’s your birthday!”

I reluctantly put my books away.

Now, don’t think I was such a good student and that’s why I was holed up and studying. That’s not true. See, what Grandma didn’t know is that a couple of my friends at school had told me about the party. They asked what kind of liquor would be there and would my Grandma be gone. When they realized she would be there and there would not be any liquor, they laughed. They wouldn’t be there. How stupid to have a party without anything to drink and with an adult present. Ridiculous! True story. That’s the kind of friends I had.

I remember feeling very alienated and alone. Torn between my loyalty to my fabulous Grandma and the embarrassment she caused by suggesting such a thing to the kids who called me friend. I knew they weren’t really friends, especially when they behaved that way. But it still hurt. Didn’t it prove my lack of value that no one would bother to be at my party? No one thought enough of me to want to celebrate with me?

When I felt that way as a teen, I either drank away the sorrow or buried myself in a book. That’s why I was upstairs.

Looking back, I wouldn’t trade that night for a thousand parties with ten thousand guests.

Grandma and I talked and laughed and watched a movie, I don’t remember what, on TV. At some point we had cake and punch and talked about being 16. Grandma told me stories about her young life. I can see us sitting there surrounded by memories, “if these walls could talk, the stories they would tell!”

Sincere, genuine, real, healing love flowed from my Grandma to me. I felt like my worth was multiplied over and again by the way she loved me.

Sometime after 9:00, the mainstays of my foster family arrived – Pattie and the kids. Presents in hand, excusing profusely, “I had to work late. Sorry we couldn’t be here earlier. How was the party?”

I tried not to let the sadness show, “it just started.” I remember the gift they brought - a red flannel shirt (can you imagine me in that? I LOVED it!) and the sound of their voices singing happy birthday.

This year was full of depth and genuine love just like Sweet 16. The notes I received, calls, texts, Facebook messages made me feel like the guy on It’s a Wonderful Life, except I wasn’t dreaming. I was so blessed to hear the genuine caring poured out over me. Honestly. I was.

A writer hears those words as though magnified through the mist of memory. The good words have to crawl over the self-doubt to be heard. This year, they resounded like a cacophony of voices drowning out all else. From the latest of my adopted girls standing in the snow singing Happy Birthday while holding a flaming muffin, to random texts from people who I imagined would have forgotten I existed, to notes saying things like, “I’m glad you’re alive,” to the annual Birthday Choir Call, to a special dinner surrounded by Angel Baby voices and grown children smiles . . . it was an amazing week-end full of blessing.

Like that winter night when my Grandma showered me with her attention, I was again center stage and amazed at how much I am loved.

I often think of my Grandma and the love she poured into my life. I hope I can be as sensitive and as giving. I hope I’m worth her efforts.

Happy Birthday to me! I am alive!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Work-A-Day World

When a writer goes to work on any given day, nothing is ever the same as it was the day before.

To begin with, there is the sunrise outside the door waiting to be watched. I love to see each new watercolor day stretch out on the horizon. I do find myself enjoying it more in the country than I did in the city because I can see farther. Although, I have to tell you, watching the sun bounce off the buildings of downtown Minneapolis is pretty cool, too. Even on a grey day, there are nuances to the clouds that make me stop to consider their depth and purpose.

When we are at work doing the things that we must to pay the bills, we see things differently than you might, too. We hear our co-workers sighs and laughter and wonder what’s happening without us. We sing within ourselves as the hum of the day dances in our heads.

As a legal secretary, sometimes it’s very, very difficult to be a writer. Not the kind of business transactional law that I’m working with now, but the other stuff: medical malpractice. There were days that the human tragedy which immersed me pulled me deep into its sorrow and I could hardly breathe. I would have to find a place to pray so I could continue to face it. Useless, senseless, awful tragedy and bitter lives filled my screen day after day after day. I would awake at night fearful that some miniscule mistake I made would add to the sadness by losing the trial or undoing the settlement. Honestly. Writers feel entirely too much for that type of work.

Now is better. The files on my desk at the beginning of the day are put away, filed cleanly, settled in their spaces before I leave at the end of the day. Clean. Neat. Functional.

That’s the best kind of work for a writer.

Teaching was tough, too. I had to constantly concentrate on who was doing what and why. Each day presented a new set of needs. My heart hurt so badly for the young lives I was challenged to mold. What if I said the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong person? What if my encouragement was ill received and tore down instead of built up? What if I failed? This was their education at stake! One can never re-live a slice of their educational life. You either get it or you get passed over. I fretted often that I didn’t know the most important lessons. I prayed a lot then, too.

Now is better. The files on my desk at the beginning of the day are put away, filed cleanly, settled in their spaces before I leave at the end of the day. Clean. Neat. Functional.

I can’t say I miss the challenge, although I did enjoy the other seasons. I like this one better. It allows my creative mind to wander and gives me impetus to write. This is the best kind of work for a writer.

I know that this is where I should be. I see the blessing of the moment and enjoy it as it tells today’s story.

Casual conversations participated in or overheard confirm my suspicions. My writer’s ear is always sensitive to hear beyond the obvious. Time will tell how and when my life will become meshed with theirs. I can wait.

When a writer leaves work, they see the setting sun, the decorative sparkles tossed across the sky, the strangers hurrying beside them and smile. Words walk through the writer’s car looking for a pen and paper. I liked the train commute in Minneapolis for its opportunity to write and read. I like the drive now to give space to the words as they germinate.

You might just go to work.

A writer experiences the day. Tomorrow, see if you don’t notice the sky. What words would you use to paint it?

Welcome to work through a writer’s eyes.