Have you ever hit a point where you knew you had so many things to blog about, but you just didn’t know what to say? It’s not writer’s block, more like writer’s dam. There’s too many things jostling around in my brain getting mixed up with each other and sulkily refusing to come neatly out and be arranged in tidy rows of print. There’s my latest tangle with my sister Michelle, who irritates me more than I can say, probably since we’re so much alike. And then there’s my oldest brother, who’s been insisting that we Work On Our Relationship in this pushy manner that sets my back up. And then there’s Gabe, who has embarked on a cross-country motorcycle trip right when I’m fiending to see him the most.

Well, that’s the annoying stuff, anyway. There’s lots of not-annoying things too, like an upcoming visit from Ilse, part of her own cross-country trip, fun on family vacation that included playing Guitar Hero for the very first time (I only sucked for the first fifteen minutes – much better than I expected!) and a ten year old neighbor boy who decided that I was all things awesome. Then there’s my garden (always a source of joy and delight), plus all the crocheting I’ve been doing. And I can always blog about dancing, although I haven’t been out nearly as much as I’d like lately (see above: family vacation).

Yet for all these lovely ideas, nothing is standing out, coming together, or even beginning to approach coherency. Instead they’re staying stubbornly snarled in my subconscious, like an itch I can’t scratch, an unsettled feeling in the pit of my stomach. Sooner or later they’ll come out – they always do. It just isn’t going to be terribly comfortable to be me until they do.

Whoever said writing was easy lied.

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I remember when I was first starting as a dancer, hideously insecure, longing with all my heart to be having the kind of dances I could hear in the music. I knew that it was possible to dance that way, so connected to the music and your partner, making the music come alive through the way you moved your body, through the way the two of you moved together on the floor. I watched others, the good dancers, having those dances, losing themselves in the moment, their partner, and the melody. They styled and improvised, and every once in a while threw in a swingout so pure and clean it could make an angel cry. I wanted to dance like that almost more than I wanted to breathe, and I was sure that I would never, never be that good.

When watching, I noticed that one of the ways you could always tell when it had been a really, really good dance was by the hug. The two dancers would end the song with a flourish or a pose or a dip, and hold it for a long moment as the music faded. Then the tension would be released, the partners would come out of their position with a smile or laugh, and give each other a big hug full of spontaneous affection. It was all there in that hug: the joy of the moment shared, the gratitude for the gift the other person has given you and allowed you to give them, the satisfaction of knowing that you have done something well.

I watched these dances with despair in the pit of my stomach. I had hit the point in my dancing when I started to realize how much I didn’t know, how much I wasn’t following. I was so frustrated with myself, my limitations, my body that just didn’t do what I wanted it to do. I could hear so much in the music, but I couldn’t seem to get it out on the dance floor. I felt lucky to finish a dance feeling that I had followed everything correctly. Every once in a while I got a “Good job.” or “That was nice.” I treasured those moments and kept working. One day…

Then came the first time I lost myself in the music. It was only five seconds during a rotation at a workshop, but it was… dizzying. When I looked up at my partner I saw the same half-stunned look on his face. That was when I found hope. I kept working hard, practicing, getting critiqued, taking lessons, pushing myself to get better. Then I had a whole dance like that. I can still hear the song: Sixteen Tons by Tennessee Ernie Ford, though when I was dancing it was almost like I didn’t hear the music, or I did, but it was as if it were coming through my lead. At the end my partner held on to me for a long moment, and we looked at each other. “That was…” he said, “that was…” and then he gave up and hugged me.

That was over a year ago now. I’ve had more dances like that since, though I’ve learned never to take them for granted. They’re rare moments of serendipity when you, your partner, and the song all line up in fleeting synchronization. But I’m no longer surprised when they come along. Last Wednesday a good guy dancer from another city showed up at our weekly dance. We had a really fun dance, playing with the music and off one another. There was styling, improvising, and fancy footwork. We laughed and had a good time together. At the end of the song he led me into a big, flourishing pose, which we held as the music faded. Then we both laughed, and he pulled me into a big hug. As I walked off the floor I realized that I’d made it – that for all of the ways I’m still far from the dancer I want to be, I’m now one of the “good dancers” I used to watch with such hopeless envy. And I have the hugs to prove it.

So the other day Liv plopped herself down in the desk chair in my room, gazed up at the many shelves of books which decorate the walls, and told me that I should lend her some books. We’ve been talking about this since I and my library moved in, but she’s been pretty busy until recently writing her Master’s thesis. I looked around at my collection, and asked her what kind of book she would like. “I have history, sociology and biography over here. That big shelf over the dresser is all poetry. Over the desk is sexual ethics, reference books, and foreign languages. That shelf is fiction hardbacks, and the small shelves by the bed are the fiction paperbacks, except for the science fiction, which is on the bottom shelf of that book case. And those shelves over the chair are theology and philosophy.” She processed this for a few moments, and then said that she would like about half a dozen books with a mix of fun and make-her-think. So this is what I picked out:

  • Cordelia’s Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold (one of my favorite books of all time)
  • Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons (more pure, wonderful silliness than ought to exist in one book)
  • The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley (solid entertainment all the way through)
  • The Art of Loving God by St. Francis de Sales (a book that has had a pretty big impact on my spiritual life, also easier to get through than some of the other stuff by St. Francis)
  • Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell (all about the small things which change the way we live our lives)
  • The Uses of Enchantment by Bruno Bettelheim (another interesting book about the ways we use fairy tales to explain/understand our lives)

Liv started on Cordelia’s Honor right away, and is devouring it gleefully (“I didn’t know science fiction could be like this!”), which makes me so glad. I identify so much with that book; it would have been very hard if she didn’t like it. (I remember how anxious I was when I lent this book to Trey last spring, and how relieved and thrilled I was when he loved it.) The other books aren’t as crucial, though I would wonder what was wrong with her if Cold Comfort Farm didn’t make her laugh.

Anyway, yesterday I told my brother Larry about this, and he asked me to make a list for him of twenty or so books that he should read. It made me think of all the books I love that I wish everyone would read. Most of them aren’t the books you’d find on traditional Must Read book lists. For instance, I don’t think everyone should read War and Peace, and while Jane Austen is a supremely wonderful author, I can acknowledge that not everyone would appreciate her charms. My book would include such works as the above mentioned Cold Comfort Farm, and Gentlemen Prefer Blonds by Anita Loos, and maybe Stephen King’s Carrie.

It’s a lot to think about, and I’m not sure which books I should put on the list. Therefore, I am now officially opening the floor to suggestions. What books would you consider Must Reads, not because of some high cultural value, but simply because they make the world a better place?

So Stuart over at Tears of A Clown just posted the beginnings of a list of things to be cheerful about, and invited others to contribute. You know me – I just couldn’t resist. This is what I posted in response:

A is for applesauce – tasty every time
B is for badgers – just go watch the toon
C is for coffee – without which the world would not go ’round
D is for dandelions – yes, they’re pests, but the bright yellow flowers look cheerful, plus there’s the puffy seed heads that can provide hours of enjoyment
E is for elephants – they’re just fun
F is for facebook – so sue me, it’s more fun all the time
G is for gardens – no explanation necessary
H is for horseradish – indispensable for roast beef sandwiches
I is for ice cream – especially since it’s summer
J is for Jell-O – you know you love it. Plus, it jiggles!
K is for kites – go fly one today and you’ll feel all better
L is for lemon juice – sparking up the taste of so many foods
M is for movies – especially at the drive-in on starry summer nights
N is for newborn babies – see?
O is for Oompa Loompas – what?
P is for pickles – also tasty, and nearly calorie free
Q is for quilts – snuggly on chill summer nights
R is for radishes – they’re so pretty with their clear red and white, with the lush green tops. It’s almost a shame to eat them. Almost.
S is for sunflowers – especially the big, comical ones that grow taller than people
T is for tea – comforting, no matter when you drink it
U is for umbrellas – especially the ridiculous one my sister got me, a large black thing with big red fabric roses appliquéd all along the edge
V is for velcro – so useful
W is for walruses – seriously, how can you look at a walrus and not laugh?
X is for xylophones – the traditional answer
Y is for yo yo’s – especially the ones that light up when you throw them
Z is for zebra butterflies – because zebras are silly enough in themselves, but take that black & white pattern, and apply it to a butterfly’s wings? Even more wonderful!

This is a sketch I made this winter, sitting in a thoroughly boring class, daydreaming of gardens and color and sunlight, doodling on scrap paper instead of taking notes. I planted the lavender (which is much more lush and flourishing than this somewhat scanty sketch) last year, and was playing with ideas for extending the garden along the low, crumbling concrete wall that lines the back yard. I wanted hollyhocks and asters, cosmos and zinnias. The added flower beds wouldn’t be the small things illustrated here, but long swaths overflowing with bloom. It was ambitious, but I was starved for flowers, so I didn’t care.

This past weekend I made this a reality. Months ago Liv had started aster and cosmo seedlings for me, but that was just the beginning. First they needed someplace to go. That was easier said than done. It was most of an afternoon’s work to carve the beds out of the lawn, standing on the shovel to force it down through our dense, clay soil. Then the beds were double dug, with bone meal, dried blood, and a little sand to improve the drainage. After that I could finally set out the seedlings, some beginning to get root bound in their cells. The hollyhock seeds were planted first, then dwarf zinnias in front of the cosmos, and lilliput zinnias at the end of the bed. On the other side of the lavender I planted Chinese forget-me-not, money plant or innocence in between the asters, white eyed susan vine (a vine with white, daisy-like flowers with black centers) to grow up over the wall, and snapdragons at the end of the bed. Already the hollyhocks have started to come up, the asters and cosmos are doing well, and some of the cosmos have even begun to bloom. It will take about a month for things to really get started, but it already just looking at the beds fills me with such satisfaction.

It’s also satisfying to feel how much good working out in the garden is doing me. This weekend was the third time I’ve done a marathon gardening day. Always before I came away with excruciatingly aching muscles, blisters on my hands (particularly where the ring I always wear rubs against the base of my right pointer finger), and more often than not, sunburn. This time I was sore, but at an ok level, didn’t have any blisters, and only got sunburned on one small patch of my back where the spray-on sunscreen somehow didn’t reach. I was exhausted at the end of the day, but it was the good kind of exhaustion. Little by little, I’m toughening up.

Today as I was heading out to lunch, I saw the most beautiful thing. Across the street from where I work is a large-ish, block like apartment building with a green lawn stretching down a hill in front. They haven’t mowed the grass in a while, so it’s tall, and thick with puffy, white clover blossoms. Toddling through the grass and clover was the most wonderful baby, maybe a year and a half old, with white-blond dandelion puff hair and a pacifier firmly fixed in her mouth. Just behind was her mother, who was kneeling in the tall grass, plaiting the long clover stems together to make a garland. As I waited to turn the corner, she rose to her feet and headed toward her daughter, holding what she’d made. I saw that it was a wreath of clover, just the right size to put on the little girl’s head. Just then I made my turn, so I didn’t see any more, but the image was so lovely: the mother and daughter together in the clear, golden sunshine, the quiet love between them, and the light outlining both of them against the green grass. Beautiful.

It seems like a very long time ago that I used to make clover garlands too. I was in southern Louisiana at the time, my second year with NET, a traveling youth ministry team. It was spring there, and the grass was thick and lush with the biggest clover blossoms I’d ever seen. I love their sweet, grassy scent, and would pick huge handfuls of them every chance I got. Most of the grass hadn’t been mowed yet, so the stems were long and sturdy, perfect for braiding. I don’t know how many garlands I made. I left them behind at host families, at the foot of saints’ statues, and hung them from the seatbelt supports in the team van. One time I got my whole small group on a retreat into it, and we returned from our time away wearing necklaces and bracelets and thick anklets of clover. I wrapped the dried wreaths in paper, and took them home with me. For a long time I kept them in my drawers with my clothes. I still run across them sometimes – odd little paper packets folded up around dried memories.

Memories can be mixed blessings. You don’t get to pick and choose what you remember. Associated with the clover wreaths isn’t just the hot Louisiana sunshine on my arms, the taste of cherry limeades at Sonic, the total security of having my NET Team around me. At the same time it’s also inextricably tied to the total exhaustion that comes at the end of a second year of NET, the fight I had with one of the guys on my team right before my birthday, the way the whole world went surreal when one of the girls on our team got sick and had to leave us for a while. But there’s also the memory of sitting at a picnic table in the shade on the side of a bayou, feeling the breeze against my skin as I looked around the table at the people I loved, the memory of walking arm and arm through a Wal-Mart parking lot with Isabelle, belting out “L Is For…“, and the taste of Zapp’s Cajun Dill potato chips on my tongue. I can’t have one part without the other. I guess I’ll keep it all.

I was planning this very happy-go-lucky sort of blog post, all about the gardening I did this weekend, and my new summer job working one and a half days a week for the admin of another division in addition to my regular job. (They have windows! Windows, I tell you!) I was maybe even going to mention the continued, almost-sickening cuteness of Justin and Lori as they venture deeper into mutual gooey-eyed-ness. If I’d been feeling particularly open, I would have shared about Rocco’s latest (and hopefully final) intrusion on my life. It would have been a good post. And then yesterday I got the message that Zeke is dead.

Zeke’s family went to the same small parish as mine, and attended the same Catholic schools. They live a few houses down from my sisters, a block away from my parents. However, he was seven years younger than me, so I didn’t actually meet him until he showed up one night at the Wednesday night swing dance. This was when I was just starting to learn how to teach, so the Powers That Be decided that I should get some teaching practice by teaching the Free Beginner Lesson to him, his cousin, and their friend. They picked it up quickly, and it was a lot of fun, assisted by the fact that all three were pretty darn cute. Except Zeke kept staring at me, and it was starting to creep me out. Then at the end of the lesson he said, “You’re a [Family Name], aren’t you!” I looked at him warily, very weirded out, and admitted that I was. He laughed. “I’m a [Other Family Name]!” And then I laughed too and relaxed completely, because that explained everything.

We were friends. He could make me laugh like no one else, especially when we were dancing. He would make these faces – it was like you could see every panicked thought that went through his mind as he led. It was awesome. One time I laughed so hard I came perilously close to peeing my pants. He took my odd-ness in stride, which made me want to be even a little more odd just to provoke him. It made me sad when he eased away from dancing, and then moved to another city an hour away, but I was sure I would see him again sooner or later. We still talked from time to time, and I reminded him that he had promised me a ride on his motorcycle one day. He always told me not to worry, that I would get my motorcycle ride.

And, well, no I won’t. He was hit by a car while riding his motorcycle in Florida, a hit and run accident. Although he was wearing all his protective gear, the injuries to his head were so severe that he was pronounced brain dead. His whole family had flown down to Florida to be with him. They’re making arrangements to donate his organs. They think that he might save eight people’s lives.

It’s selfish of me, but I’d rather have Zeke back.