The Summer I Bought New Pencils

The experience of putting hand to paper stimulates an entirely different writing experience for me. Back in 2016, I found this to be true as I started writing long hand at times to break through the long, dreadful periods of staring at the glow of my expectant laptop. I’m not sure why, but it took me until mid-2017 to go out and buy a pack of brand new pencils for the first time in… more years than I care to admit.

Suffice it to say, the selection these days is pretty limited. But the pack of black, No. 2 Triconderogas has served me well. I should’ve done this years ago: as a lefty, I’ve spent almost my entire life accumulating enough ink blots on my writing hand to make an entire book of Rorschach tests. But, in the maelstrom of our WiFi-enabled way of life, I still forget to just sit, think, and write what comes to mind. Going right to the keyboard just makes more sense, in terms of efficiency, but it never feels as second nature as pencil to paper.

My handwritten notes indicate that I bought the pencils right before Memorial Day, at the beginning of a summer that I’ll remember for two unforgettable events. For different reasons, I’m still trying to comprehend them both.

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Working for the Work Ahead


It’s a simple set of tasks, an annual ritual that signifies the changing of seasons, a reconfiguration of habits, and the compression of our living space back into the modest square footage of our 1880s farmhouse. Still, every fall when we pack away our porch furniture and winterize the wraparound porch, it’s a reluctant exercise that we avoid for as long as possible. Some of the work, like picking up leaves in the front yard, is pleasantly autumnal. I’m alone with my thoughts while raking and vacuuming up the browns, yellows, oranges, and reds that have made our lawn an earthy carpet for the past few weeks.

Together, Jaxon and I hang sheets of plastic over the porch screens and tack in glass window panels (actually a massive supply of cabinet doors he found in Ikea’s as-is section several years ago), a move that closes in our cabin-like summer retreat but drastically reduces the edge from icy northern winds. Our summer porch bed- a cozy full-sized box spring and mattress that somehow holds two adult men, two grown dogs, and an occasional visit by the cat – will be leaned against the shingled inside wall until we bring it inside for use by holiday guests. The cabin, as we call it, will go dormant until springtime.

In eight years of homeownership, we’ve made these rituals into central markers of the passage of time. It’s not as as nostalgic as Thanksgiving (my Super Bowl for cooking the big feast) or Christmas (our lowkey day of dog park visiting, leftovers for lunch, napping, and homemade soup). But, wrapping the porch and putting away the yard furniture represents a ritual of work, anticipating the dark and frozen winter to come while looking forward to the days when we can walk outside in shirtsleeves and drop the top on Jaxon’s convertible. We do our work so that we can repeat the cycle, fulfilling the patterns we’ve established that keep us connected to our home.  Continue reading

Just the Beginning

When I started running last spring, I could manage about 1/2 to 3/4 of a mile nonstop before I would pause to walk for a stretch. By late summer and early fall, I had pushed that distance up to a mile, maybe slightly more. In the spring, I steadily extended that distance to 1 and 1/2, then 1 and 3/4. It sort of hovered there for a while. My overall distance on runs is about 5 miles. I think I probably could have pushed myself further, faster. At each stage, though, I let myself hold steady for a while. I think it was psychologically comforting; at some level, I knew I could take a break at that benchmark and finish the full run in reasonably good time and condition. Two weeks ago, I ran around Lake Nokomis in South Minneapolis. Two laps equal just around five miles, maybe a pinch more. From my car on the nearby parkway, I jogged to the lake and circled once around. Lately, my usually stopping spot to walk has been about 1.7 miles, as I reach the Cedar Avenue Bridge. I kept going. I made it a full lap around the lake, and I kept going. I made it three miles when, just as I was contemplating a breather to walk, my phone rang. Good excuse. I stopped, walked, and talked for about four minutes, and then continued to run the rest of the way. It was my best time ever, best speed per mile, and by far the longest I had run uninterrupted.

That breakthrough came exactly two days after my dissertation defense. As any good researcher will tell you, correlation does not equal causation, but I like thinking that my newfound endurance was symbolic of a burden lifted, setting my legs free to stumble further than they’d taken me before. As a closing image on these last five years of my life, it offers a certain optimism, albeit drenched in sweat and punctuated by my gasps for air. Continue reading

Disappointment and Rededication

Fifteen years ago, I was a senior English major, on the verge of graduating with honors from Michigan State University. I had co-founded Q-News, MSU’s first literary magazine for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and allied students, led its staff to a well-received presentation at the national “Creating Change” Conference, and was close to finishing a novel that would serve as my creative senior honor’s thesis. What was my topic? It’s hard to narrow it down to a brief, polite blurb, but in a nutshell, here it is:

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Reflective Thinking

I feel unsettled, not necessarily by anything occurring around me, but by the amount of time I let pass before deciding to write something new for the blog. Part of my purpose in creating this space was to challenge myself to keep up on my writing and reflections, even as I have managed the multiplicity of tasks surrounding my Ph.D. work. It’s been easier said than done. I last wrote a piece in June, not far removed from a winter season that seemed to drag me (and everyone around me) into the depths of a frozen ennui. Today – heh – Jaxon and I could barely bring ourselves to walk the dogs on this frigid November Monday, when I can’t help but wonder if summer really happened.

Yet, I know it did. On multiple occasions, I meant to write about some key occurrences, each hitting an existential note in some way. To sum up:  Continue reading

The Unique Point of View

I had the pleasure of watching my partner introduce himself to a shop owner yesterday, in the hopes of finding a place to sell the beautiful, handcrafted chair he restored earlier this fall. Typically, at home I get to witness the inner part of his creative process, where he really dives in and puts his hands to work on a design vision, many of which have benefited this lovely old house that we share. But, I seldom have gotten to see him meet a total stranger and, within the frame of a few brief minutes capture their interest and imagination. Sometimes it’s not such a satisfying process for him, but in this instance the shop owner—who seems to have a passion of her own for thrift and salvage—really connected with his vision and intentions. The word that she kept using—“unique”—stayed with me as together they pored over the several fine details he put into the chair. There are no two pieces like it—which is both a selling point and a potential barrier to quick sales, as the right person has to see it, resonate with it, and be able to pay enough to make Jaxon’s efforts worthwhile.

Here’s a link to his newest work, including the chair. I’m sort of envious that his unique voice is so visual—he brings so many keen, nuanced, and emotionally stimulating details to his vision for design that I’m often amazed at how much lived experience he can capture in a piece of furniture, a faux finish, or one of his paintings. When arranged in one space, which he carefully and obsessively arranges to make sure that the energy feels just right, the assemblage of elements leads people to just relax—physically, emotionally, and intellectually. I’ve seen it multiple times in this house and our old apartment: people sort of sink into the furniture, gaze around, and in a brief while become completely and utterly disarmed.

I, on the other hand, am not a terribly visual person. I am instead extremely verbal (hence the blog), with a strong ability to empathetically listen and extract the subtle details of people’s stories, emotions, and intentions. I like stories, but more importantly I love the way people present their stories, especially in the age of social media. Take “It Gets Better,” for example, which Dan Savage started as a way to reach out and extend empathy and encouragement to bullied queer youth. Part of why it took off beyond just the GLBT community, in my opinion, is the catharsis that good storytelling demonstrates—our ability to connect with each other’s struggles by absorbing not only what they tell, but how they tell it. While I think that the key question of “how” things get better is still being culled, just creating space where people can share how they have struggled, and what they did to overcome it, opens us to a whole different set of dialogues concerning who we collectively want to be, and what we need to do to achieve it.

That brings me back to my fascination with the word “unique,” which I think so aptly describes Jaxon’s work. On the one hand, there are so many media out there for establishing our uniqueness—social media, blogging, videos, photography, etc.—yet cutting through the noise is such an ongoing challenge. Earlier this week my alma mater’s alumni association hosted an event in Minneapolis on social media, and I realized that I probably break about fifteen rules on good “personal branding” by writing out these lengthier, more introspective meditations and keeping my exposure confined to a few intentional channels. I think, though, that good storytelling comes through when people use the medium that best highlights their vision, skills, and points of view.

I remember twelve years ago when I tried shopping a novel, at age 23, with no real connections outside of a Midwestern university town. Uniqueness on its own couldn’t cut it—the networking piece, which might have enabled me to get noticed by the right people in publishing, was a job all on its own. For now, certainly there are more options for reaching out and sharing unique stories or viewpoints. At the same time, I think it requires a more deliberative process to make sure that the material we create reaches and resonates with those who will most likely connect with it.