Thursday, May 28, 2009


"It's a bold move to Photoshop yourself into a picture with your girlfriend and her kids on a ski trip with their real father. But then again, Michael is a bold guy. Is bold the right word?" (Jim Halpert, "A Benihana Christmas" episode)

I experience frequent bursts of courage. They aren't stretches or phases or anything else that might imply a lasting nature. No, my courage to make bold moves, decisions and statements comes in bursts; exciting little spurts that I find irresistable in the moment, and often regrettable after the fact. It's true. When the courage hits me, it cannot be resisted. I am its dancing marionette. And boldness is a fickle, laughing puppeteer, swinging my arms and legs, opening my mouth and speaking for me. If I didn't enjoy the passing moments of courage so much, I might build up some defenses against them. Isn't it fun though? Isn't it a thrill to say what you really long to say to someone, or to sign on for a challenge before reasoning with yourself against it? The power of that thrill, that self-daring willingness to try and willingness to fall, holds sway over me. Goethe (or whoever really made the statement) was right: boldness does have power and magic in it. He said it had genius too but maybe the presence of that characteristic shouldn't be assumed. At least with me, it's pretty hit or miss.

What is consistent is this experience of being true to myself. That's what matters, according to Shakespeare, right? I have come to appreciate the integrity, the sincere engagement between my will and my actions that is involved in moments of boldness. Whether shallow and trite, or deep and meaningful, if the matter at hand requires any degree of courage, if it requires facing a moment of hesitancy with stubborn resistance, I am likely to consider it worth the effort. Is it always worth the effort? Is the bold choice always the right, the prudent, the wise choice? Are my instances of courage untainted by folly or selfishness? Nope. Lesson learned time and time again. Am I better off resisting though? I loathe the thought of becoming someone who is only guided by an "I know better than to try" or "I know better than to expect" attitude. How easily I might adopt that mindset! How self-contained and protected it would be! I won't lie. Sometimes I wish for a little self-defense against the optimism and willingness to try that seems to come naturally to me. Sometimes self-contained and protected sound comforting. I'd not only have to sacrifice the boldness though; the self-respect would have to go too.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Markers and Memories

Hopscotch makes me think of Saginaw, charter buses, Mike Chenier, sleeping bags on the hard-as-rock cafeteria floor, falling asleep to the recitation of the rosary. Every steep ravine I pass while hiking in Wisconsin transports me for a fleeting moment to freshman year at Grand Valley State, my window seat beside the trees, nighttime excursions across the crunching leaves that carpeted the ravines. Narrow creeks running beneath roads and cutting through fields take me home. Watching an episode of Gilmore Girls, I might as well be back in the apartment in Steubenville, pretending to work on Methods homework with Sue and Michelle, leaving late to walk to my job at the campus library.

There are a few approaching events that have me thinking on the past. They signify the amount of time that has passed, the ways our lives have changed... Except these road markers leave me feeling behind. Not left behind, for that could imply that others are at fault, but simply behind. The sense of missing a turn somewhere along the route from past to present is my familiar companion. When I get this way, reminiscing and thinking how nice it'd be to see the faces and places I treasure from the past, I am not wishing to return to the past. I don't want to go back. I want to reach another place, another stage or situation, which in 5 or 10 years will give me reason to again feel this nostalgia. What it comes down to is my own road markers - sparse in number, small in meaning. If I ever do have a wish to go back, it is only to repave the road since.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

LOL: True or False?

Anytime I read something that includes "LOL", be it a text message, email, facebook comment or other such online conversation, I wonder, "Did they really laugh out loud?" I wonder what the percentage is of people who truly laugh out loud, laugh their asses off and roll on the floor laughing when they claim to do so? Probably pretty small. Are we turning into a whole race of annoying Julie's? I don't blame J. D. at all. No one can sincerely say that typing LOL feels as good as physically laughing out loud. Maybe we are actually losing our ability to laugh out loud! If I quickly make those 3 keystrokes in order to move on to my next full words, rather than taking a moment to laugh at what I just read or heard or saw, think of how many laughs I am missing out on each day! For a person who is in the frequent habit of using those acronymns, the number could be atrociously large. Couldn't we all benefit from a little more loud, from the gut laughter or shaking fits of giggles in our days? Supposedly laughter is contagious, so wouldn't you be doing more good by sharing the sound of your amusement with whomever happens to be in hearing range rather than conveying a merely mental laugh with the person on the other end of that text or facebook conversation?

Cosmo Brown would find us LOL-ers pitiable, don't you think? He knows what we're missing.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Alas, I'm Back At Home

The trip to Traverse City and its surrounding area was fantastic. Yes, fantastic. The only thing that could have made it better was if I could have stayed through the week. I love it down there. (Not that it's really 'down' from here in northeast Wisconsin, but to a Yooper, the lower peninsula is always 'down' from wherever she happens to be.) There is water in every direction you look. There are blue and green striped bays, meandering rivers, quietly beautiful inland lakes, and of course, the great Lake Michigan. There were also blossoms in just as many directions as there was water. Cherry blossoms, lilacs, tulips, flowering crabs, and then some more cherry blossoms. Straight rows of cherry trees ran up and down the glacial hills of the peninsulas, heavy with white flowers.

In the category of research, the trip was a success. I found neighborhoods, parks, churches, etc. that will prove useful for writing The Mercy Hour. I developed ideas for the characters lives and activities. In the category of vacation too, the trip was a success. We relaxed, we soaked in the views, we laughed, we drank wine, we ate treats. It was loveliness.

And now I'm back, trying not to indulge in self-pity. Let's be honest though, I miss the views. The wine wasn't bad either. :)

And more views...

Views, Cont.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

How many heads?

Jessica finished reading the two chapters I have written of The Mercy Hour and came into my room to clarify something. I was already in bed, lights off, grogginess settling over me. "Okay, this Renee girl is great, but how many heads does she have?" I could not stop laughing out loud. Apparently I'd written that this girl waved her "heads" in front of her, rather than her hands. I'm pretty sure this typo will be referenced repeatedly as Jessica gradually reads the book.

I love having Jess along for the journey of writing my novels. (I also love that I get to put an "s" at the end of "novel" now.) She was my only reader until the first draft of Full of Days was complete. It was torture for her because I'd give her several chapters to read every few months and then she'd have to wait through another extended period of time to find out what happens next. What a trooper. I realize that it is to the author's great benefit to have some folks who can read the manuscript with an unbiased, critical eye, but I am also confident that it's to my benefit to have Jess around to read it, especially during the long process of writing it. Her excitement and anticipation to read what I've written is edifying, to say the least. There are days when I look back over what I've written and wonder if I'm fooling myself to believe I can do this. Her enjoyment of my rough, freshly penned pages builds up my faith for the long haul.

She is your mirror, shining back at you with a world of possibilities. She is your witness, who sees you at your worst and best, and loves you anyway. She is your partner in crime, your midnight companion, someone who knows when you are smiling, even in the dark. - Barbara Alpert

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Night by Night

Last night I cut nearly all my hair off (or at least, I paid someone to cut nearly all my hair off). I haven't worn it this short since high school, or maybe freshman year of college. That's 10 years ago! After a decade of hairstyles reaching my shoulders, if not longer, it was awfully strange to have nothing to grab at the back of my head while I washed my hair in the shower this morning. It felt like I was washing someone else's hair. But it's mine, and I am actually loving the new, easy-doesn't-begin-to-describe-it cut and all the compliments it's garnered thus far. It's fun to keep track of the adjectives people choose when they notice the drastic change I made.

Tomorrow night I shall roll my packed suitcase out the door and hit the road. I'll only drive as far as my parents's house in the U.P. but early the next morning my mom and I are scheduled to depart for Traverse City, MI. The Traverse City region happens to be one of my favorite places to visit, with its bays, beaches, sand dunes, cherry orchards and boutique shops. It is also the setting for The Mercy Hour. Mom and I will do our best to strike a balance between chilling out and researching the book's setting during our four days there. Prediction: I will be inclined to stay.

Of course the approaching journey means tonight is to be dedicated to filling that suitcase and readying to leave as soon as I finish work tomorrow. The little more than a day standing between me and my road trip just feels extra. Expendible. Such days can be annoying if I'm caught up in the spirit of anticipation, but with a tweaked attitude they can instead become a worthy challenge. Maybe it's yet another sign that I need to learn how to chill, but I enjoy taking what feels like an expendible day and changing it into the opposite: a day of accomplisments and enjoyment. The expendible day is tailor made for all those little tasks I have put off, for crossing lines off the to-do list, for praying for all those people who asked for my prayers, for watching that movie I have wanted to watch, for calling that friend I meant to call sooner, for reading a book, for driving over to the adoration chapel, and for (of course) writing. I don't know that I've ever met an expendible day I didn't change into something else by the time it ended.

Monday, May 11, 2009

All By Myself

What can a girl do with a whole weekend by herself, no plans, no people? Finish writing the first two chapters of her new novel, that's what. When my weekend began, I had a measley two pages written. Come Sunday afternoon, two full chapters are ready to be typed up. That's what happens when I spend over four hours in a quiet coffeehouse on a Saturday and attend early Sunday Mass so I have the whole morning and early afternoon to continue writing. Add in a houseful of clean windows, three loads of laundry done, two Brewers games watched, groceries bought and a third of a book read, and you have the sort of weekend I need to be having more regularly. Allow me a moment of happy pride in what was, dare I say, a weekend designed just for me... ... ... Thanks.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day

Mama Robin, scolding me for coming so near. She's a protective matriarch, this one.

Considering she made her home on the porch light, a mere foot from the patio door of our kitchen, I didn't think she really had a right to be quite so angry with me. I tried to be understanding though...

...since she has two precious reasons for not wanting to share the deck with us.

Friday, May 8, 2009


Let me share a fond memory of days gone by...

Jessica, Claire and I drive away from campus one spring evening. Across the bridge into West Virgina, over the hills into Pennsylvania, and into the land of shopping known as Robinson Township. It's a mysterious place, this so-called Robinson Township. No homes. Just places to spend money. Impossible to find on Mapquest. A veritable vortex of American capitalism. For us college gals residing in the old steel city of Steubenville, Ohio, it is a haven of civilized commerce. And a mere 40 minute drive from the dorm to the Barnes & Noble front door! But on this particular evening we ventured beyond Barnes & Noble, beyond the disconcertingly named Quaker Steak & Lube (great wings!), to a little strip mall. What do we see in the window of one of the strip mall's tenants? "WE BUY BOOKS." Bright florescent lights make the declaration, to which we reply, "So do we!" Oh it was a happy day, the day we discovered that warm, well stocked, low priced oasis: Half Price Books. Our lives would never be the same, nor would our book shelves.

Flash forward to Spring 2009, Appleton, WI. Rolling down Casaloma Drive one Saturday morning, my eye catches a sign to my right. I squeal (really, I squealed) and accelerate, eager to get home and share the news with Jessica. "We're getting a Half Price Books!" The thrill! The joy! The potential! The new book shelves I'll need to purchase!

I finally made my first visit to the new store last night. It was everything I remembered our beloved Robinson store to be. Honestly, I think my heart grew a size or two when I walked through the door. 9 books, 2 dvds and 1 cd later, all at half price of course, I felt I'd just spent an hour with a long lost, very dear friend.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Keeping the Door Open

In my growing up years at a charismatic Catholic parish, with charismatic parents and a charismatic youth group, there was plenty of talk about charisms. I frequently heard and learned about those gifts, talents and strengths the Holy Spirit instills in a person for the sake of serving God and building up the Church. Discerning our charisms is an ongoing process, as is learning how to use them to be Christ's presence in this world. Parallel with this positive understanding of the gifts we have runs the negative: the understanding of what we don't have. There are certain charisms with which I am not blessed, particular strengths it'd be helpful to have but the Lord saw fit to withhold from me.

The tricky thing, however, is that lacking an abundance of talent for an aspect of Christian life or service is not an excuse to neglect that aspect. Quite the opposite can be true. In my admittedly limited experience, I've found that those areas of weakness are often the ones the Lord will lead you to so that He can mold you into a fuller image of Himself. They become opportunities to depend completely on Him and challenge yourself to serve Him in more uncomfortable ways.

How else can I explain the calls He has placed on my life in the last year or more to be the gracious hostess? Hospitality is not one of my charisms, yet it's an area of service and love in which I am consistently asked to engage. The Father's house has many rooms; we each have a place prepared for us there by our very welcoming savior. When I think of the open arms of Christ, I cannot deny how feeble my heart is when it comes to generous hospitality. I like my routines; I prefer times of quiet and solitude; I am easily annoyed by the demands placed on my time and energy by my large family. I could go on but you probably get the picture... and it's not a picture of Christ.

Lord Jesus, teach me the depths of Your inviting love. Heavenly Father, open my heart like You have opened Your heavenly kingdom.

Monday, May 4, 2009


With its start-of-summer feeling and easy, laid back mood, it was a weekend to put a smile on my face. Those weekends don't come along as often as they used to so I soaked in the minutes and hours as thoroughly as I could. Tailgating and rooting for the Brewers at Miller Park on Saturday, then strolling around Madison on Sunday before seeing Jason Mraz in concert... talk about an abundance of fun!

It may be due to the distincly Mraz-ish atmosphere of the concert, but I am feeling lighthearted today. No, I know it wasn't only the charm of Mr. A to Z's musical talent. The unburdened mood is also due to my brief time spent in prayer before Mass yesterday. The Lord reminded me of the treasure of His love and the relief of entrusting my oft mistaken heart to Him. Then throughout the day, He dropped hints. Hints of sweetness, goodness and delight: the 2nd reading during Mass that was a passage from my favorite chapters in the Bible; the warmest sunshine of the year with not a single interfering cloud; blooms at the botanical gardens- pink, white, red, yellow, blue, purple and scents straight from heaven; curling my toes into plush new grass; the entirely unexpected find at the random used bookstore (who knew the brilliantly quirky British film, "Cold Comfort Farm," was originally a novel?); a chance to begin reading that find atop a rooftop terrace overlooking Lake Monona; then the enjoyment of the music with my constant companion of enjoyment, Jessica. God does like to see us smiling.