I tend to spend a lot of time thinking about why I do things and the question of why I write is one I return to over and over again. For a long time, when someone would ask me this question (or when I would explore it myself), the answer would come, not in the form of words, but in a feeling. A standing-on-top-of-a-mountain feeling. Or a sitting-around-a-campfire feeling. Or a staring-up-into-a-perfectly-clear-night-sky feeling. I knew what the answer felt like but I hadn’t yet found the words to describe it.
Enter Brené Brown.
I hiked alone today. Not alone alone. There were the people who threw a stick in the river and the dog who jumped in after it. The woven-poncho wearing twenty-somethings who were disappointed they couldn’t actually enter the old abandoned mine. The grandma, the granddaughter, and the little girl’s young mother who never stopped talking. The girls carrying fluorescent hula hoops. The couple in galoshes. The man with the country music blaring from his backpack. I wasn’t exactly alone.
But I was.
Today was the second day of my solo retreat at Turkey Run State Park, a retreat I’d planned in an attempt to get a bunch of writing done on my novel, and to, you know, fix my life and stuff. I’m not exactly sure what wisdom or clarity I expected to gain in a day and a half, but whatever it was, I wasn’t getting it. I didn’t feel any better at all. In fact, I felt the same. Or maybe even worse. And if I wasn’t feeling better here, if getting away from regular life wasn’t fixing my problems, then what was the point in staying? I should probably just pack my stuff and leave early, like first thing tomorrow morning.
The other day Tony and I were talking about a woman he used to know who reminded him of Lorelei Gilmore (from the show Gilmore Girls). He described this woman as both looking a little like Lorelei and possessing her same breezy optimism.
“I wish I had breezy optimism,” I said.” You know, instead of…debilitating fear.”
We both burst out laughing. If you’ve ever thought much about humor, you know that juxtaposing two starkly contrasting ideas can be funny. So can being unexpectedly blunt—especially when what you’re saying is absolutely true.
I’m never prepared for January. After coasting through the holidays, sugarcoated and filled with the warmth of familiar movies, game nights, and a twinkle-light-covered world, I blink my eyes and January’s suddenly upon me full of all this newness and possibility. I’ve heard that some people actually find this time of year exciting. And sometimes, I follow them onto the resolution-making, goal-setting, this-is-gonna-be-the-year-that-I-finally-____________ bandwagon. But I don’t usually stay there long. January is too cold and too dark and too sad a month to be moving forward so quickly. So, I end up back on the couch wrapped in a quilt (or two) and petting a cat (or two).
January isn’t an inherently sad month for most people. But for me, the middle of January holds the memories of a death and a life I once shared. His name was Ed, and over the course of his time on earth, he was many things. A computer programmer. A gamer. A stargazer. A martial artist. A son. A brother. A dear, dear friend. And for a time, he was my husband.
A couple of months ago, a new squirrel came around. He was a bit larger than some of the teen squirrels we had darting about our yard. He moved more slowly too. Then, I saw why. There was something wrong with his left, front paw. It hung there, bent and limp, as he hobbled across the grass.
I immediately extrapolated his life out about three months when there would be a foot of snow on the ground and weeks at a time of subzero temperatures. Minnesota winters are not kind to anyone, much less a squirrel with special needs. I wanted to help him. But what could I do? If I put out food for him, the other squirrels would get it first. I couldn’t bring him inside because of my cats. (And because my mom told me that it’s not a great idea to keep wild animals as pets.) So, I stared outside, knowing that life was only going to get harder for this little guy.
Last night, I didn’t attend an election party or sit glued to the TV watching a map turn red and blue. Uncertainty is especially hard for me, and by now in my life, I know how much I can handle. So, I spent the evening doing normal Tuesday night things. By about 9:30 though, I needed to know something. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the news I was hoping for.
I wanted Hillary Clinton to be our first woman president, but that wasn’t why I voted for her. From her tweets to her speeches to her very life itself, it seemed evident that her main goal was to make life better for others, for the people and populations she served. I know it’s a vague sentiment—making life better for others—but this outward focus of good is something that never seemed to be as important to the man who is going to be our next president. Instead, he focused on the idea of America becoming great again, as if there was some moment in the past when we were great but now we’ve somehow failed in the greatness department.
When I look at America, I see a country of people who are sometimes struggling and often afraid, but I also see a country of people who are doing the best they can in the best ways they know how. Like I am. Like my friends are. Like my family is—both the Clinton and Trump supporters alike.
Meet Lester! He’s a smart, funny ten-year-old kid with big ideas and an even bigger heart. And in the summer of 2017, he’ll be coming to a bookstore near you.
I first met Lester about a year and a half ago, which feels weird to say because at that point, I’d been writing his story for over six years. But until that snowy January morning when I received the initial cover art, I hadn’t ever really seen his face.