Build with care

I used my grandpa’s level for a recent home improvement project. It’s wooden, sanded smooth and stained a deep walnut brown. Or, maybe it’s worn smooth from use, from being pressed against walls and beams and the oils of my grandpa’s hands conditioning the wood, him wiping it clean before putting it away, I imagine always in the same spot. I never met my grandpa, so what I know of him is what I have heard from others. He went to the Colorado School of Mines, I think. He worked in the coal mines that hugged the Ohio-West Virginia border. He taught my father how to set and check trap lines. He took care of his tools. In my mind, my grandpa is a black-and-white photograph and made up of these details, statements rather than stories. 

Between my grandpa and me, my dad had the level. Shortly after Levi and I were married, my dad gave us a Craftsman bag filled with basic starter tools—extras he had that would come in handy while living in a first apartment. Everything was well cared for. My dad takes care of what’s his. It’s one of the things I admire most about him. Everything has a place, everything is cleaned, instruction manuals are catalogued. Were those values instilled in him by my grandpa? Or from my dad’s time in the Marine Corps? Or maybe, a bit of both?

I wonder what my grandpa would think about me using his level to build something. I was told he knew I was on the way. My mom was pregnant with me when he died. So, in a way, I feel like I would have been to him what he is to me: known, but not. I wonder if it would make him happy that I am using his tools to build a place where his great-grandchildren will hang their coats and school bags. 

I hope he would notice I am taking care to build something correctly. Measure twice and then twice again and then make the cut. I would guess he would probably think it is senseless that I plan to hang the level on one of the walls above this project. A reminder of the man I never knew, the one who came before my dad. More so, a reminder of some of the values and lessons my dad has taught me, that may have trickled down through generations: build with care. Take care of what is yours.

And that’s what this small home improvement project was really all about. Creating a place where my kids can stumble inside, weary from another day in the world, and shed their coats and bags. A first glimpse of home, a safe space where they can leave any expectations and undue weight at the door. I hope it smells like home when they walk in. Something baking in the oven. Scrubbed countertops. Clean laundry and cozy throws. Most of all, I hope when they step inside and walk through that back hall, they feel a home built with care, and know just how deeply they are cared for. 

To the present

The heartbreak over the impermanence of life only exists with the moments we don’t want to lose. The ones that make us want to press pause and linger in like a long, summer afternoon.  How is it that those moments seem so few and far between and the difficult and mundane can seem so common? Is it as simple as a perspective shift? An attitude adjustment? Why do we wish away Mondays and set our sights on the weekend? 

In some cases, it can be as simple as attitude adjustment. But, I think it is more apt that there is a lack of acceptance. It’d be nice to fill our days with things that don’t make us want to race toward the weekend, and sometimes we can make changes to work toward that. But, what happens when things fill our days that we did not plan on? 

When we’re dealt a hand we didn’t envision, it can be devastating. Instead of accepting the present and focusing on how we can make current circumstances work, we all-too-often dwell in the past. We get stuck in the scenarios we had imagined in our minds and then disappointed that reality does not match up.

The inspirational gurus preach that only you have the power to make changes in your life to be happy. But they don’t seem to step into the waters that are beyond our control—the circumstances we can’t change. No one envisions a future filled with diagnoses, corporate buy-outs, unexpected loss of loved ones, global pandemics—all the things we cannot change and do not have control over. 

The world is a chaotic place and people are unpredictable. 

But, from chaos comes beauty. Storms overturn and unveil hidden treasure. Adversity sharpens the stone. The everyday provides time for growth, space to learn grace. There are times when we can’t change the circumstances–whether it be another Monday during a global pandemic or an unexpected major life event. And those times are also opportunities where we can choose to be disappointed that things are not going as planned, or accept what they are and set our course once again. 

Here’s to the present and what may arise from it. Here’s to sitting in the mundane moments and recognizing the beauty within them too. Here’s to rolling with the punches of the unexpected and rising once again. Here’s to casting away expectations from past lives and embracing the life right in front of us. 

A call to the creatives

Constant Moyaux. View of Rome from the Artist’s Room at the Villa Medici, 1863. Watercolour on paper, 11⅝ x 9 in. Musée des Beaux-Arts, Valenciennes. Réunion des Musées Nationaux/Art Resource, NY.

Creativity begins from a place of need—a desire to communicate an idea. Whether the realization of that idea is shared with others is at the discretion of the creator. Maybe they create only for themselves or maybe they create with the intent to share. A painting, an essay, a project made, music played or plans built—they’re all iterations of a response to a pull to see a thought in a tactile presentation. Brush strokes layered, words arranged, thread needled and stitched, materials sawed and bound together. Creativity is important because it is often these makings that look at a norm in a different light. Turn an idea on its head. Challenge patterned acceptances. Take something ordinary and make something extraordinary from it. It is this magic equation of transforming a feeling or idea into a proposal, if not a reality. And two things are necessary for it happen: time and space. These two things are really hard to come by as a work-from-home parent of young kids during a pandemic. 

I used to slip out to a coffee shop a couple times a month and had the time and space to sip a cup of hot coffee and write what I wanted—uninterrupted. I could step out of my regular space—the house where I’m mom and the home office where I’m a freelance writer—and into another where I could write what was on my mind. 

This need for dedicated space is why artists have studios. Carpenters have shops. It’s why a lot of writers write best early in the morning or late at night—when the demands of the ordinary aren’t immediate.

I worry that the pandemic is muffling the creatives. People who do not have any space from their ordinaries also do not have any space to create. 

A lot of creatives also need a transition time—a window where they can shift from the ordinary and into the making. 2020 has made it difficult to shift from the ordinary. A global pandemic, a much-overdue racial reckoning, social unrest, an election year—there is so much in the world that needs our attention right now, I feel guilty putting any time I can carve out into creative pursuits. 

But, I also believe now is the time creative thinking could be the most important. Art, music, words and design–all can bring us together. They all can connect us at the most basic level: as humans.

Maybe it is the creatives who are going to take the norms and force people to see them in different lights. Turn ideas on their heads. Challenge patterned acceptances. Take the ordinary and make something extraordinary. 

A call to the creatives: do not stop. Find the time and space. Even when it feels hard–or impossible—or you feel guilty to be putting pen to paper, brush to canvas, fingers to keys, needle to thread, saw to wood. Explore the feelings, communicate the ideas, do whatever it is you do to create the magic that could connect us all once again. 

Have you ever gone back?

Have you ever gone back?

To that place when it was all you ever knew? To those streets and the people who lived in the houses that lined them and the events they contained. When all of that was everything that made up your life?

What would you tell that version of you? Run? As as fast as you can?
Soak it up. This is it.
Keep going.

In the past 10 years I have lived a number of places and known a number of people. My life in each of those places—jobs held, relationships formed, return addresses penned on letters mailed, coins pushed into washers and dryers, grocery aisles walked—those everyday pieces that make up a life—changed. And not once, but over and over.

Our lives are only what we know and have known up to this moment.

There is so much more.

Streets to walk. People to meet. Events to happen.

It can feel disorienting to come across a place or person that you knew before. Drive a street you used to daily. See someone else walk through a screen door that used to be yours. Bump into an old friend or colleague. Something or someone that once defined a piece of your existence but no longer does. Your life changed, the place or person you knew kept existing, and maybe changed too.

It can be sad to think of ones that have gone. Opportunities, people, moments that will never again be what they were. But also a relief to think of others that have passed.

When we think of this moment, right now, it can feel so final. Because it is all we know. But if we look back and see how much can change in such a short window, it can offer a shift in perspective.

Life will keep changing.

What will we bring forward with us to the next moment?

Who will we become next?

Mother’s Day

When they both wake up from their naps and their lids and limbs are still heavy with sleep, they crawl onto my lap and we rock until the world comes into focus.

To all the moms who protect us when we’re at our most vulnerable, and when we’re ready, send us out freely to tackle whatever project we have our sights set on, all the while waiting if we need to climb back into their protection once again.

This casting of love and faith sends our kids out a little further each time, but, fingers crossed, they will know they can always come back, that we will always be waiting, and eventually they will come back not because they need us—they will have learned to navigate the world on their own—but because they simply want to be with us.

Happy Mother’s Day.