Archives for April 2014

Everything That Makes You … Dauntless

My friend Laura Lynn Brown published “Everything That Makes You Mom” last year, but I didn’t read it until this year. What follows — this Wednesday and next — is a review (albeit a strange one). Laura’s book is part memoir, part writing exercise. She offers memories of her mother, interspersed with questions for you to answer about yours, such as, “Does she have a nickname for any of her gadgets?”

Tis the season when I really miss my mom — the run-up to Mother’s Day. She’s been gone for four years now. So, who knew that the worst possible/best possible choice for reading was “Divergent” by Veronica Roth.

“Go see the movie first and then read the book,” my daughter said, “because they change lots of things in the movie, but you’ll never read the book if you don’t see the movie.”

My daughter was right.

Here’s the dedication: “To my mother, who gave me the moment when Beatrice realizes how strong her mother is and wonders how she missed it for so long.”

I think I stopped breathing when I read that sentence. The point in the movie when Beatrice comes to this realization was my favorite part, and in the book, the realization about her mother is actually in two different parts. So, spoiler alert.

Quickie summary: When Beatrice, age 16, gets to chose what faction she will belong to for the rest of her days in this dystopian society, she chooses to leave her family’s faction, which is Abnegation (the selfless), and join Dauntless (the bad-ass fighters). I certainly would never have chosen Dauntless as my faction, but at 16, I would have chosen any faction other than the one my mother belonged to.

It wasn’t until Mom’s cancer returned after I had my own children that I began to see her struggle with the perspective that only adulthood brings. In some ways, it took her death for me to see her clearly.

One of Laura’s questions is, “What is something about your mother that you know only through someone else’s storytelling?”

Since my mother died, my dad has told me more of the story of her 29 years with cancer. I’m realizing  that my parents told me the truth but not the whole truth, and that was appropriate because she first got cancer when I was 10. They never told me, for example, that when the radiologist got the results of the metastisis to her vertebrae, he dropped to his knees and said, “Oh, my God.” And that when her oncologist said to the radiologist that he thought he could buy her up to 18 months with a hysterectomy, the radiologist thought he was crazy. Her oncologist bought her 23 years of remission.

In the “Divergent” book, there’s a scene when Beatrice, now called Tris, and her mother talk in a dark hallway of the Dauntless compound on Visiting Day. Her mother gives Tris some unexpected advice, revealing that she knows a whole lot more about what’s going on than her daughter does. And the truth dawns on Tris:

“She has been to the compound before. She remembered this hallway. She knows about the initiation process. My mother was Dauntless.”

Squee! I think I actually squealed when I read that. Of course! Her mother was born into the bad-ass fighting faction and gave it all up for a life of service in Abnegation! Hallelujah!

When my mother had cancer all those years while I was growing up, I didn’t realize she was Dauntless. How did I miss it for so long?

I’m sure my daughter doesn’t see me as Dauntless either, and maybe I’m not. But Laura knows what Tris did not know and I did not know for a long time — that our mothers are strong. It just takes awhile for us to notice.


Polo and Clover and I are so happy we can work outdoors again. Which means me and my laptop and my tea on the back patio at the octagonal picnic table and them lying close by.

The early part of spring is not pleasant where I live because of all the oak pollen, but we had lightning and thunder and rain last night, and the air is no longer yellow-tinged. Today the birds are rowdy. Their chattering goes well with Sondre Lerche, whose music I’m listening to over my phone.

I have done almost no writing over the last couple of weeks—only editing. I feel stiff, sort of like I did when I went to yoga this morning. Afterward, sufficiently warmed in soul and body, I opened my sun roof and actually enjoyed my jaunt to Walmart.

My daughter had a preschool teacher who called April “lion and lamb month,” referring to the weather. How we have thunderstorms, like last night, followed by gorgeousness, like today. I’ve found that lion and lamb metaphor to be quite apt for this month, this year. Storms, sun, oak pollen, rambunctious birds.

I’ve kept myself centered during the other thing that distinguishes April—National Poetry Month—by going through a poetry collection poem by poem and trading notes with my friend Laura Lynn Brown. Even with all the lion and lamb stuff, I’ve stuck with it. Indulging my writer’s crush on Kevin Young has been a nice way to end each day.

Usually I wake early and bright, but not so much this month (early, yes; bright, no). My solution? More poetry. I had an idea while reading “I Happened to be Standing” by Mary Oliver yesterday at The Writer’s Almanac.

While I was thinking this I happened to be standing

just outside my door, with my notebook open,

which is the way I begin every morning.

If there was ever a morning I needed Mary Oliver at 6:44 a.m., it was yesterday morning. And in the middle of this  meditation on prayer and animals and sunflowers, Oliver writes these exquisite three lines, which aren’t even an actual sentence, but there’s a capital and a period, so she made it so.

Oh, Mary. I actually like the way I do begin every morning, walking Clover and Polo. But what you describe is something I could do immediately afterward. I could feed the dogs, get my coffee and then sit “just outside my door, with my notebook open” and listen. Maybe I need to stand, the way you do with your  “pen in the air,” to listen better.

But no pens for me. I listen much better with a pencil.

Poetry Dare: Tweetspeak Poetry

Love Idol 7

This is the last post in my Lenten series about Jennifer Dukes Lee’s book “Love Idol,” which released on March 25, 2014. Have you read it yet? I’ve already given away my copy!

In Jennifer’s epilogue, she mentions running a 5k with her daughter, Lydia. I have run a 5k with my daughter, but I have never run with my son. Even when he was 6 years old, I didn’t stand a chance of keeping up with him when he’s pounding the pavement. He’s a cross-country dude.

Several years ago when we were at Antioch Community Church in Waco, they did this series called “Running Man,” starring a guy named Jason Florian. The sermon series, which was accompanied by short videos, showed poor Jason, a fellow determined to run the race set before him but who mostly failed. I still remember the one where he ran holding a bunch of suitcases to illustrate Hebrews 12:1.

But the best video was the last one. We see Jason wake up, and the “Chariots of Fire” music is playing, and he just starts running. And he’s looking great — confident, even. Slowly, we start to realize that we’re not watching a pre-taped video; it’s live. Jason is running past the pawn shop across the street from the church. And, oh, look! He’s in the parking lot! He’s opening the door! Oh my gosh, he’s at the back of the auditorium! He’s running down the aisle! And he steps it up and runs right straight into the arms of the pastor and practically knocks him down.

Was there even a sermon after that? Because I sure don’t remember one.

“And when that glorious finish line comes into view, we will run like mad, and the wind will whip through our hair, and we’ll forget how bad it hurt sometimes,” Jennifer wrote.

Some days, Jennifer, it it hurts so bad. The finish line has not yet come into view. And I’m not much of a runner—nothing like my son, who thinks a 9-mile jog around the city is a perfect way to spend a Sunday morning.

This Sunday is Easter. We’ll be at St. Mary’s on Saturday night for the Easter Vigil because a friend is coming into the church, just as I did two years ago. It’s a late night. The service doesn’t even start until 8:30 p.m., and it will go for almost three hours. There’s no way I’d be up for running 9 miles the next morning. Maybe a little 5k, if I’m not completely exhausted.

“You can never outrun Jesus. And Jesus’ love will never, ever run out,” Jennifer writes.

That’s the promise of Easter Sunday, whether I run or whether I sleep in. I am loved. We all are.


13 April 2014

Clover has gotten very protective of me lately. She lies down nearby, head glued to the floor, ears perked. Sometimes she watches me, like right now. Her brown eyes are fixed.

What does she know that I don’t?

I’ve heard dogs can be trained to sense low-blood sugar in a diabetic. I’ve heard they can smell cancer. There must be some scented signal she’s responding to.

What do dogs remember?

Clover was my son’s dog. She became mine when he went away to school. She hasn’t seen him in a year. Would she recognize him if he walked in the front door? I’d hope so, but my in-laws came over yesterday and once again, Clover seemed to have forgotten who they were. And they come to our house about once a month.

What do dogs forget?

In August, my daughter will go off to school, and I feel sure that when she does, Polo will become my husband’s dog. He calls her “The Good Dog.” She’s quite uncuddly, except that she lets my husband rub her neck with his foot. She’ll stand on her hind legs and just rock up and down.

It appears that Clover’s fallen asleep on guard dog duty. She must have decided that I’m OK.

Love Idol 6

For the next few Wednesdays in Lent, I’ll be talking about Jennifer Dukes Lee’s book “Love Idol,” which released on March 25, 2014.

On Friday night, when it was just me and the puppies at home, I rented the documentary “20 Feet From Stardom.” It just won an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. It’s about backup singers. Tagline: “Millions know their voices, but no one knows their names.”

It’s heartbreaking.

Oh, it’s great — don’t get me wrong. Fabulous, fabulous music sung by women who … it’s unbelievable what they can do with their voices. The heartbreaking part is that very few people outside of industry insiders know their names. Many of them have tried to launch solo careers, and for whatever reason it didn’t work. A few theories are proposed, but each one falls flat next to these women’s voices.

You know who else was basically a backup singer? A fellow in the Bible I’d never heard of until I read Jennifer’s book “Love Idol.” Apelles.

“Greet Apelles, tested and approved in Christ,” (Romans 16:10).

“That’s all that Paul wrote about Apelles. Just one sentence, nothing else,” Jennifer writes. “No accolades or applause or records of great conquests.”

So, imagine Paul as the lead singer. He’s one of the guys featured in this film — Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Stevie Wonder, Mick Jagger. And Apelles is the backup singer you’ve never heard of — Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Judith Hill, Claudia Lennear and Lisa Fischer.

“I felt like if I just gave my heart to what I was doing, I would automatically become a star,” said Merry Clayton (“Gimme Shelter,” The Rolling Stones).

Things got so bad for Darlene Love (“Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”) that she started cleaning houses.

I cried right there on my couch. I wanted to stand up and tell these women they are preapproved. That it doesn’t matter that so few people knew who they were. They’re amazing. They made the careers of these lead artists. And they have gotten to do what they love for a living — sing. They just sang 20 feet from stardom.

Most of us will be more like Apelles than Paul. We’ll never be the stars, the ones with the name recognition. We may be 50 feet, maybe even 1,000 feet from stardom. We can still bring all of our talent and passion to what we do. We are still preapproved, whether anyone knows it or not.

6 April 2014

It’s been too long since I’ve done a Polo and Clover update, but they’re good. At the moment they are annoyed that it is raining because it has kept them from getting a walk. What they don’t know is that before the smattering of rain we’ve received over the last three days, we were at 0.56 inches for the year. So, the dogs are thinking, “Mom hates us,” and the humans are thinking, “God must not hate us after all.”

John was gone one night last week for a conference, and Clover slept with me. She literally laid her head on my pillow and stretched out alongside my body. It was like sleeping next to a very furry person.

I haven’t been posting poems lately. I’m writing about poetry, which apparently renders me incapable of writing actual poetry. But I did read a great poem featuring dogs the other day, “Bereavement” by Kevin Young. Here’s one stanza:

I’ve begun to think of them

as my father’s other sons,

as kin. Brothers-in-paw.

Love Idol 5

I’m over at Jennifer’s place today (actually, yesterday). If you want to know the special place lipstick on a mirror has in my heart, read on.

P.S. Did you know this whole Love Idol thing has become a movement? I just couldn’t be happier!