Beginnings. Advent.

mitten Advent calendar at hearth

The beginnings of things are sometimes hard to discern, as they are happening. Sometimes we experience that lightening bolt of recognition, a sudden, stark contrast between then and now, seeing in a stranger’s face the one we are beginning to love in that same moment. More often, we realize in the midst of things that they’ve already begun, something new seeping into the familiar terrain, changing the texture like steady gentle rain saturating dry ground. What was hard and dusty becomes damp and spongy, the moment of change imperceptible.

Advent doesn’t officially begin until the Sunday after Thanksgiving, but if you are paying attention to the lectionary you’ll notice the end of one Christian liturgical year and the beginning of the next seep into one another over several weeks before Advent. There are anxious and bored people who concoct “wars” regarding Christmas: that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the way it can be hard to tell where we are in the circle of the year, how professing Christ as Lord of all sounds a lot like talking about his second coming. I mean to point out how, when we are busy with lines in the sand between Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas retail displays, the bareness of winter arrives in the midst of falling colored leaves and pumpkins, gratitude arises weeks before and after Thanksgiving Thursday, and the practice of waiting opens into the necessary miracle of an unclenched heart, making enough breathing space for today.

It’s the space that interests me most. No room in the inn. Census cities full of crowds. Sidewalks bustling, full social calendars, and long lines at the register, where everyone peers down into cell phones while they wait. Even the space in Mary’s day to allow time in solitude for reading before Gabriel shows up. More obviously, the literal space she makes in her own body to carry another body for most of a year. I imagine that was good practice for making space as her son grew up into exactly who she’d been told he would be, and more than she could have conceived.

It’s the space I need most right now, and pray for. The downside of being an accomplished scheduler is any empty space looks like it needs an agenda. I am ready for the unclenching of heart and time, the strangeness of open anticipation, the space for something wholey new and holy to be born. I am ready to lay off organizing my days and to experience making room in myself to receive the gift God wants to give. I’m OK with being pregnant a while, giving attention to simple, daily patterns of eating and sleeping, while God works out the rest.

What if this is the way Advent comes? What if this slow and simple longing for what’s missing in my life is the seed God’s ready to water and tend, if I leave enough room and let myself be tended? This is not a plea against the marketplace or holiday gatherings or Christmas cantatas. It’s a simple prayer, reminding myself that I’m not God, that I need God, and that I’m ready (again) to let God be God.

The carpenter from Nazareth knew long workdays, sweaty lunch breaks, lazy coworkers, small paychecks…delicious dinners, restful sleep, the warmth of family, healing touch. The incarnation means there is nothing secular anymore. No place to hide from God. No part of life God-in-Christ is not intimately familiar with, in human form. We miss this all the time, like most people missed the lowly birth of God into this world. It would have been easy to go on about your census business in Bethlehem the next day, unchanged. Even for the wise travelers who recognized something had happened, did they know what to do with it those thirty years the baby took to grow up and take on his ministry? It’s too easy to hold our breath through “the weeks leading up to,” through shopping lists, long workdays, countdown to vacation, advance baking – as if all of that doesn’t hold the potential for incarnated holiness, too.

Seeping-in texts, festive foods, special soundtracks, candlelight at church and at home. Space looks like these, too, like ordinary spaces and paces transformed, like flickering lights in the yard. Holiness has not escaped the everyday. It’s shining right through the middle of it. If we remind ourselves earlier than normal and linger longer in the music and lights, so be it.

When holiness is harder to see – as it has been this week and too many angry, violent weeks – or, when we forget how beautiful and ordinary and accessible it is, it helps to make a point of seeing and celebrating it. Unmistakably. Longer and larger than a season itself can hold. Until, without quite knowing when the change occurred, our dry-cracked hearts are drenched with new rain.


Before I even started this blog, I wrote a few pieces for an online publication called catapult. The thoughtful themes and diversity of voices was an appealing place to begin writing for a broader audience.

Topology is a brand new magazine from the folks who used to put out catapult and they are running a few “throwback” pieces from the old magazine this fall.

This month they are featuring a piece I wrote in 2013 about living on the margins as a family dealing with autism. I hope you’ll click over and take a look.

Expectations Met


What did your parents tell you to look for or look out for when you headed to college? What are you telling your own kids as they leave home? What we say – and don’t say – matters.

Do you know what your church says about campus ministry? What’s that – you’ve never heard anyone say anything about campus ministry? Unfortunately, you are not alone on that one. I’ve got a few thoughts about this, over at the blog for the National Campus Ministry Association.


photo credit: “Daffodils and serpentine wall,” © 2010 by Karen Blaha, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Grace on the porch

I’m a sucker for a good porch. It’s possible I could write my spiritual autobiography traced through porches I’ve known and loved, from my grandparents’ painted cement slab porch where we ate tomato sandwiches in summer…to the rustic framed Appalachian porch painted with the reminder to “Be still, and know that I am God,” in bold blood red letters hanging over the view…to the wide, wrapping Adirondack refuge of a porch, with nap-assisting furniture and a constant breeze at the lapping edge of the lake… Asked recently for images of God’s grace and presence, I replied in complete honesty, “Porches and Communion.”

So when The Walking Dead decided to pause a while on one of the porch-fronted fancy houses of Alexandria this week during the season’s opening episode, I smiled. [Light spoilers ahead.] They had my attention from the beginning of the scene, where Morgan was perched on the porch steps, tending his walking stick/weapon. This is the first time I can recall any lingering on one of the pretty porches of Alexandria. Mostly folks just stand on them when they are waiting for someone to answer the door.

As Rick and Morgan get reacquainted, Morgan persists in seeing Rick as the man he once knew, back at the start of this whole thing. Rick persists in explaining how he’s not that guy anymore. They’re both a little right and a little wrong. [Early last season, Rick and Tyreese shoveled graves behind the church for their cannibalistic captors, but as this season begins, Rick considers leaving the body of a more recent enemy in the woods to rot. Morgan starts shoveling the grave but Rick doesn’t (until his encounter with the dead man’s son). Are the ethics of The Walking Dead measured by when they stop burying their dead properly?]

In a moment I think they underplayed, Rick offers for Morgan to hold baby Judith. Underplayed, because imagine having been on your own as (we assume) Morgan has been, without any company for all this time, fighting every moment for your life against walkers and the occasional humans with nefarious designs on you. Imagine that as your existence, and then imagine just seeing a baby, much less the wonder and intensity of holding one again. I can’t imagine anyone in that scenario not crying from the relief and hope of that touch. They don’t play it that way but the rest of the scene takes place with Morgan holding one of the most precious and vulnerable parts of Rick’s life.

They’re discussing an incident between Rick and Carter, one of the inexperienced Alexandria men who doesn’t know how to fight and yet doesn’t want to follow Rick’s lead. Rick and Carter just had a showdown where Rick stood over a crumpled Carter, gun pointed at his head, before finally lowering it without shooting. One of the main tensions of the story right now is how unprepared the Alexandrians are for the world as it is now because they haven’t had to fight for survival the way Rick and his crew have. The ethos of Alexandria has been to fortify and stay out of sight, but Rick knows how vulnerable this makes them – and how they don’t even recognize this yet.

Trying to explain his actions and who he is now to Morgan, Rick says, “I wanted to kill him, so it would be easier. So I wouldn’t have to worry about how he could screw up or what stupid thing he’d do next. Because that’s who he is, just somebody who shouldn’t be alive now. I wanted to kill him, but all that hit me and I realized I didn’t have to do it. He doesn’t get it. Somebody like that, they’re going to die no matter what.”

The dumb luck of the naïve and sheltered and the gritty determination and survival skills of experienced fighters amount to the same thing: being alive at this moment. In both groups there are those who shouldn’t be alive, if the world were logical. A defenseless baby, formerly abused women, nerdy super-brains afraid to fight, people who’ve made terrible, hurtful choices, and others who’ve made room for their journeys toward reconciliation and redemption.

That’s how it is with the grace of God, offered lavishly to each of us regardless of merit. None of us deserves to be here or to get a second chance. But here we are, in the midst of an ongoing battle where we are both who we once were and no one like that person anymore. Here we are, out of the jail cell and on the porch, holding something as miraculous as a baby in an apocalypse, and invited to come live inside the house with the family.


Time for a big hit

The RevGalBlogPals group sends a weekly email with encouragement, highlights from blogs around the group, and a short article and a prayer for the week at hand.  I wrote this week’s article and prayer (below) on the theme of fall break — for which I am very ready!  I hope it reminds you to enjoy a break soon.


When my dad was growing up on a tobacco farm in Southside Virginia, the family ritual was to take a mid-morning break right there in the fields. My great-grandfather would say, “I think it’s time for a bit hit,” and that was the cue to sit down for a few minutes for a snack, which was always the same: a Pepsi and a pack of Nabs. Simple and satisfying, enough to go on until lunch.

In campus ministry, the first big hit of the year is fall break. We start fast and furious in mid-August and steamroll our way to the third week of Advent, when exams end and my congregation leaves me until the season after Epiphany. It’s startling how much can fit into the first six or so weeks before fall break – and how tired I can be so early in the year, so far from Advent 3.

I have been tempted to use the weekend without my usual preaching gig to get ahead, and then to keep at my desk Monday and Tuesday while the university is a ghost town, to get more things done. Instead, I give myself full permission to be off these precious four days when students are off. My husband and I often take a short trip and indulge in ways we usually don’t, like last year’s ridiculously long naps in a hotel right on the beach. I make no apologies.

The thing about a big hit is you know when you need one. In my ministry and my life, I’m trying to trust that and give myself what I know I need when I need it. I’m constantly surprised at how easy that sounds and how hard I find it to do. So I’m thankful that this weekend the university has called for a big hit and we are pointing the car towards the mountains, with napping, hiking, slow meals, and something bubbly to drink in our very near future. Simple and satisfying, enough to go on until Advent.

God of the six days of creation and the seventh day of rest, remind us of how we are made in your image. You are not too busy or important to rest and relax, and neither are we. Give us the rest we crave and the fearless hearts we need to accept this. Amen.

And now for something completely different

“Meet George Jetson, Jane his wife, his boy Elroy…”

It was a scattered summer and the time I had hoped to devote to pottery went to other things. My summer pottery class produced just four pots and so far I’ve only fired one. Here it is and, yes, I realize it looks like something from The Jetsons or maybe an homage to Ho Jo’s or a slightly-miscolored attempt at UVA colors. There are a lot of ways in which it isn’t really a “me” pot.

Maybe someone will see this and know just the right home for it (and if that’s you, let me know). But I’m proud of it because it represents a lot of New. I made it in the first class with a new teacher and I was attempting to make something in her style, thrown then altered by stretching and cutting the clay. I was also trying out underglazes for the first time, which are painted on (the outside of this bowl) or sprayed on (in the center), rather than dipping the pot into them, and whose colors stay true through firing. Even the colors I chose were departures from my usual earthy palette.

Before my very first pottery class four years ago, I was so hopeful I’d be “good.” I recognized my mind starting to count on that outcome and gave myself a talking to. I showed up early for the first class and said to my teacher Nan, “I hope I can do this and that I’m good. But no matter what, I want to have fun.”

Summer was full and fall is looking the same. Times like these tempt me to treat play like another job, one more area of work in which to push myself to excel/produce/accomplish/check off the list/insert-more-impressive-and-exhausting-things-here. It’s good at precisely these times to remember and reclaim that original intention, to have fun when I’m supposed to be playing, and not to turn it into more work.

So, no apologies for “only” making four pots in the last class and there will be no production schedule mandate for the fall class. And no apology for my Jetsons bowl, which isn’t me at all, but is definitely new and even a little playful.

Dreams and anxiety


Last night was one of those 3:30am nights. Awake, mind already racing at full speed, rehearsing, rehashing. I hate those nights.

I usually sleep well so when I don’t it feels especially abrupt and intrusive and disorienting. And it sometimes means maybe, just maybe, I need some decompression and download time I’m not giving myself, so my mind takes over in my sleep when my defenses are down. I was up for a while, trying to breathe and listen to my rain sounds app, then, when that didn’t work, trying to zone out to the background of familiar Friends episodes until a fitful, anxiety-dream-filled sleep set in from about 5:30-8am.

When I told my husband about the stew of dreams that rushed in during that time, he said I managed to include every major anxiety-inducing situation. Why, yes, I did. One dream included our home’s roof leaking in two places, the discovery that a small child used one of our vases as a toilet, and realizing after lounging unshowered in my pjs all day that I had one hour to be dressed and at a wedding. I made it to the wedding in question, where I was not the clergyperson presiding but where I was supposed to pray before a meal. I stumbled as I started the prayer, stopped myself, and said, “I’m just going to start over.” Then, as I gathered my thoughts in a moment of silence and was about to open my mouth to try again, the clergyperson I didn’t know who was officiating the wedding – Generic Priest Collar Dude – jumped in and just slapped out the prayer himself.

Luckily, my husband had the coffee ready when I woke up.

My autistic stepson Blair sometimes has trouble sleeping straight through the night so I’ve taken to gently telling him, when he comes for his good night hug right before bed, I hope you have a good, long sleep. I hope you have beautiful dreams and you rest and sleep all the way until morning when it’s time for everyone to wake up. And in the morning, we’ll say “Good morning!” and give you another hug.

Even when I know things have built up and I need decompression and meditation, I’m not as good at saying similar things to myself. Today, as the dreams recede, I’m hoping a swim in the sun and the space of an afternoon off can help where words seem lacking.


We like short-shorts


During a writing workshop at Collegeville a couple of years ago, our marvelous instructor Marge Barrett encouraged us to write “short-shorts,” snapshot pieces of 250 words or fewer. It’s an interesting exercise, to see what stories this form suits and to impose word count limits where the story wants to seep out past its arbitrary edges. It’s also good practice in self-editing, whittling away here and there, gently carving off what absolutely doesn’t have to remain.

This summer Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary’s Communitas journal published two of my short-shorts in the “Love Hurts” issue (“Pull” was published under the title “Love Hurts”). As I continue to work my way through a much longer piece, going very short was a great stretching of the opposite muscles. If you’re the curious type, about to use the word count tool, I’ll save you the trouble: I came in with one word to spare in “Pull” and was over by eight in “Neighbor.” But here they are.



Not yet in school, my little brother waited for me after school each day, pestering my mother so he’d know when it was time to walk up to the corner and keep a lookout. I can’t remember all the days he must have done this or what we talked about on the way home. I only remember the day he stopped.

I was with two friends and spotted him from blocks away. David had climbed onto the fire hydrant at the corner of our street to get a better view of my approach. He was waving his arms and hollering, “Deborah! Deborah!”

The girls I was walking with were both big sisters, too, and one of them had seven siblings. Still, somehow my first grade self became suddenly invested in “cool” and decided this wasn’t it. When we reached the corner, I stepped close to him and whispered fiercely, “Don’t ever wait for me again.”

He never did.

He knows I tear up when I remember this. He knows if I could take it back I would. He tells me it doesn’t have the hold on him that it does on me.

David lives four states away now and I see him once a year. It’s not enough. But on the phone last month when I worried our lives might go too far off in different directions, he cut me off and said, as if it’s obvious, “A lot of things come and go but siblings are like gravity.”


Love Your Neighbor

The golf pro is getting work done at Starbucks. It’s been raining for three days in this southern resort town known for temperate winters. Today it’s 45 degrees. Eyes bracketed by crow’s feet, set wide in his winter-sunburned face, squint at his laptop between calls rescheduling three days’ worth of cancelled lessons.

The sloppy twentysomethings sharing the long table with center electrical outlets have doughy faces, new laptops, and Vitamin water. Occasionally one speaks gibberish about list views, headers, and tap events, and one of the others yanks out his earbuds. It’s mostly the curly-haired boy and he’s loud, like he’s trying to get all three to take out their earbuds, like he wants to impress anyone who can hear.

The golf pro has old-school Sony earphones, bigger than a Kindle, the kind you can’t stuff in your pocket.

I didn’t bring mine. I relish the relative silence, waiting for my friend.

We’re in town for a conference. Coffee and conversation before the long day, campus ministers without nametags.

So it’s not like we’re wearing signs or anything, but five minutes into our conversation, the pierced boy sipping Frappuccino at the next table suddenly starts talking, wants to explain his single earpiece to us.

“I’m deaf in the other ear. That’s what happens when you fall asleep next to an amp. There was a bunch of feedback when they cranked it up. The doctor said if it’d started full blast I’d have 100% loss in that ear. But it’s 85%. Some stupid number like that.”

So we listen.


photo credit: “Studying in Starbucks,” © 2013 by Nicola Sapiens De Mitri, CC BY-SA 2.0

First kiln at City Clay

not food safe mug_summer2015

So, this one will become a pen and pencil holder rather than a mug. It’s one of two mugs whose form I liked and whose glazes were swirly in almost all the right ways, but which are both casualties of my learning curve with new glazes in a new studio.

I wrote in February about the final kiln at Nan’s studio. I’m about to embark on my third class in the new space, each with a different teacher. I’m still trying to get into a rhythm there, learning the routines of the studio, learning from new teachers, rearranging my schedule from semester to summer and back again while also trying to hit the open studio times just right. Summer seemed to hold the promise of extra hours and longer studio time but that didn’t pan out as I’d hoped.

Neither did some of the new glazes. I didn’t fire any test tiles so everything was an experiment. I’m mostly pleased with the results, including the colors and effect on the non-drinkable mugs. Next time I’ll go easier on this glaze combination so it doesn’t pool and bubble (into breakable glass pockets) in the bottom.

Here’s where you can see the modest take from the kiln so far, with thanks to my husband for the great photos. On to the third class!

Traveling Companions: Hair, hair bands, and driving with the windows down

old car radio

[This summer’s Traveling Companions is a relaxed blog series telling stories about and highlighting songs/albums/artists that have accompanied me along the way. This is the fourth in the series; other posts are here, here and here.]

This was not part of the plan when I started this series. I mean, Jackson freakin’ Browne is still waiting his turn. Or I could go Van Morrison next, or Sara Bareilles. But last Friday a totally un-August-in-Virginia day befell us – upper 70s and not a lick of humidity. I cannot stress enough how unlikely this was.

I had an errand to run down the road in our county and my hair was still wet from the morning’s swim. The day was so gorgeous, just driving through it wasn’t enough, so I opened the windows and let the wind do its worst, tangles be damned.  I found the local classic rock station, the same one whose station promo, back when I was in college, was “lock it in and rip the knob off.”

It’s been a while since my hair was long enough to whip in the wind. As soon as I picked up speed on the curvy road I felt like the students moving into their dorms this week – young, free, invincible, like the road was opening up before me into possibility and promise.  Not just the road.  The Road.  It’s the way I’ve always felt when the air kisses my skin just so and the wind whips my hair and the radio’s up loud enough to hear over that noise.

I wondered as the feeling washed over me if this is the way I’d always feel, in a car with the windows open and good tunes on the radio.  When I’m 85 will those sensations still combine to fool me into a carefree younger-than-I-am moment?  When I used to look over at my white-haired, arthritic, sun-spotted grandmother, driving the truck to town with the windows down when we’d visit in the summers, is this how she felt?  When I saw a comfortable, soft, old woman was she feeling The Road and existing as a young girl in her own mind?

This is really the kind of thing my mind does.

Anyway, Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive” came on in the car last Friday. I can still remember the black and white grainy MTV video and the intense longing the song, the band, and the sight of Jon Bon Jovi’s hair brought out of me at a certain point in life. For a while, I had a picture of Jon, cut from a magazine and taped to the visor in my car, so I’d see it any time the sun was in my eyes.  My friend Katie and I would flip it down even on rainy days, because sometimes you just need to see something beautiful.  Eventually I became embarrassed about my visor and my interest in Bon Jovi and started listening to other things, but last week in the car I let my Bon Jovi freak flag fly unapologetically, singing along at full volume.

Like my own personal “this is your life” tour of college days, the next tune up was “Hard to Handle” by The Black Crowes. Every time I hear it I’m transported to a certain stretch of Interstate 64, heading east from Richmond, the place where we were when my friend Molly called it the “Sahanahanaha” song, which, you have to admit, is exactly how it sounds when they sing it.  (Go on, listen and you’ll hear it.)

I almost waited until I could get it together to write about Jackson Browne.  I mean, I don’t even own any Black Crowes or Bon Jovi anymore.

But this summer I’ve been writing about Traveling Companions and the best of them are the ones who, despite the odds, are still accompanying you, even when you no longer have their albums…even when you see each other more on Facebook than in real life.  The best traveling companions are the ones who awake in you someone you thought you’d let go of but who, you realize, you miss sometimes.  Maybe they can even still see your younger self when your grey hair is flying about in the wind.


photo credit: © 2014, Feddacheenee, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Traveling Companions: Susan Werner and “Barbed Wire Boys”

[This summer’s Traveling Companions is a relaxed blog series telling stories about and highlighting songs/albums/artists that have accompanied me along the way.  This is the third in the series; other posts are here and here.]

I used to drive a stretch of I75 in Kentucky, from Berea to Lexington.  Listening to the radio on one of these drives, I heard a new voice singing, “Here I come, banging my broken drum…there will be no more standing in my own way.”  I knew something about getting in my own way, blocking my own steps forward.  The song and the singer’s strong, clear voice resonated.  By the end of the track I was singing along, like it was my own manifesto.  The radio station must have done a “twofer” because the next tune was the same gorgeous mystery voice, telling the humorous and heartfelt tale of waiting around on the next train to show up (“Time Between Trains”).  With descriptions of boredom captured in the image of counting the ceiling tiles of the train station, the song is a metaphor for time in between loves, waiting on the next person to show up and feeling ready long before s/he comes around the bend.

Susan Werner outdoor concert PA

If you have the opportunity to hear Werner play live, take it! She’s a superb performer and she plays great spots, like this (free!) outdoor summer concert in King of Prussia, PA. At the concert we attended this summer, she sang “La Vie en Rose” in flawless French.

I have been an evangelist for Susan Werner ever since.  I haven’t yet introduced her to anyone who couldn’t appreciate her talent or didn’t like her and I’ve nurtured several fans almost as ardent as I am.  (So beware, reader, of your iTunes behavior after reading this.)  That first song I heard, ”Standing in My Own Way,” was written by Dana Cooper, but other than a few covers and her cover-concept album (Classics, which showcases her perceptive arranging talents), she falls squarely in the singer-songwriter camp.  By that I mean she mostly writes her own music, though the style ranges from singer-songwriter/folk to Americana to pop to jazz standards to gospel to torch songs.  She plays and composes on both guitar and piano, thought at one time she’d be an opera singer, and earned a master’s in voice from Temple University.  The woman’s got range.

The same album – sometimes the same song – can go from hilariously irreverent to beautifully poignant.  Her most recent album, Hayseed, includes “City Kids,” the revenge fantasy for farm kids who grew up jealous of the kids who lived in town, alongside her affectionate and cheeky tribute to her home state in “Iowa,” and the lovely and reflective words of advice to other young Iowans dreaming of pulling up stakes for the big city in “Something to be Said,” the chorus of which ends with “There’s something to be said for blooming where you are planted,” with “planted” landing in her lowest register, like a seed being pushed deep into the earth.  An older album, New Non-Fiction, boasts another fine use of extended metaphor in the darkly funny and sweetly hopeful “Misery & Happiness,” in which lounge lizard womanizing Misery, “sings at the Hilton…sways his hips and smooths his hair back, winks at you and gets you thinking/ He’s handsome from a certain angle.”  Misery “woos you when his show is over, buys you drinks and keeps you laughing while he’s looking down your shirt.”  Over in the corner, good guy Happiness is keeping a watchful eye while he “doodles on a cocktail napkin and waits for you to figure out that you should really lose this loser,” saying, “call me when you want to come back home.”

Piano, guitar…it’s all excellent.

To pick a favorite Susan Werner song would be an enterprise in frustration and never-ending “but then there’s…” so I won’t name just one.  I will say “Barbed Wire Boys” (New Non-Fiction) is pretty near the perfect song.   If I were teaching either a writing or songwriting workshop, we would start by listening to and looking at this song. It’s a tribute to and portrait of the men in the rural Iowa she “knew when [she] was coming up,” and though I’ve never been to Iowa and only fleetingly lived in rural communities as an outsider on an extended stay, one listen and I know who she means.  “Barbed Wire Boys” is a complete short story in three minutes and twenty seconds.

Like any great writer, Werner’s language is precise and revealing, as she describes the men who “were sober as coffee in a Styrofoam cup” who “sat at the head of the table and prayed before meals/ Prayed an Our Father and that was enough/ Pray more than that and you couldn’t stay tough/ Tough as the busted thumbnails on the weathered hands/ They worked the gold plate off their wedding bands.”  It’s a full moment, presiding at the head of the table, nodding to the depth of faith and family – but just a nod, no tears, no extraneous words.  It’s a portrait of working class life, summed up in the detail of the “gold plate” worn off the wedding ring by hard, continuous, feed-his-family work.

Looking back on a childhood surrounded by barbed wire boys, the adult Werner wonders about the dreams these men may have had for life and considers their unexpressed deepest hopes “beat[ing] like bird’s wings in the cage of their chest.”  It’s a love song at heart, for a place and a people and a way of life she took for granted as a child and sees differently now.  It’s an ode of deep appreciation and hero worship for the overlooked men who “[held] up the sky” and made way for dreamers and artists like Werner:

And now one by one they’re departing this earth

And it’s clear to me now ‘xactly what they’re worth

Oh they were just like Atlas holding up the sky

You never heard him speak, you never saw him cry

But where do the tears go, that you never shed

Where do the words go, that you never said

Well there’s a blink of the eye, there’s a catch in the voice

That is the unsung song

Of the barbed wire boys

If you haven’t heard it yet, you can listen here to a live version that’s a bit more slowly and reflectively paced than the recorded version on the album.  At first I preferred the tighter, faster recorded version but each has its merits and the song itself is so utterly perfect it shines through each arrangement.

I hope you enjoy it and the unfolding journey of getting to know Susan Werner’s music.  She’s worth the trip.


[A note on the text, or, How I Wrote Something and Then Completely Disregarded It:  Yes, my previous post was about how I was going to forge ahead into the one space world and try to curb my many-decades worth of two-spaced typing after sentences.  I’m still trying to change that but, after a nice break from writing and work, traveling to see family and Susan Werner, I completely forgot about that goal until this very moment as I had it all uploaded and ready to publish.  So, I won’t go back and painstakingly take out the extra spaces.  I’m a work in progress.]

New Tricks. One Space.

It was hard for me to write that title. I had to back up and take out a space after the first period. I had to do it again after the first sentence in this paragraph. (And again, just there.) You see, I learned to type in high school in the 1980s, on a typewriter. I took this as an actual class in school and at the time it seemed both very old (like secretarial typing pools) and at the vanguard of technology (the typewriters were “self-erasing”!). In what has become a keyboard-oriented world, typing class has come in handy, though lately I’ve realized my typing may say more about me than I knew.

I read an internet-incendiary article a few months ago about how “old” you seem when you use two spaces rather than one. The author proclaimed she could tell if writers are over 40 by the amount of space left at the end of sentences. I wondered who’s going around counting spaces. And I knew she was right: it was drilled into us in that high school typing class that there are two spaces after the end of a sentence.

When I talk to design-oriented folks they definitely notice the spacing and, I suspect, they would have thought my typing class was behind the times even in the 80s. According to at least one article this whole thing was decided in the 1960s. There are explanations about font types and spacing explaining why it used to be two spaces and why it’s now unnecessary (and incorrect) to use two. I’m not really interested in internet wars about what “everyone” is doing, and I’m not pretending to be younger than I am.

But I am trying to learn a not-so-new trick. I am trying to release over 30 years of two-space practice. Strangely, at a time when I’m hoping for more space and less crowding in the rest of life, I am aiming for a slightly slimmer margin between thoughts on the page. I will have to employ the find-and-replace tool at the end of writing this because this feels like trying to sign my name left-handed – I keep looking back to see two-spaced sentences scattered like want-to-sprout seeds throughout these paragraphs. (Did it again just then). I will have to go back and pull them up like weeds, even though yesterday I planted them purposely.

What once served a purpose is no longer needed. And if we’re writing to try to get through to one another, we should care how we come across – out of touch, outdated, unstylish, stuck in our ways, or worse. I want to be part of a common conversation, so I work on changing my habit.

Things change. It usually feels weird at first, even when we long for the change. Blind resistance for the sake of tradition and comfort is an understandable knee-jerk reaction, but it’s a crappy way to live in the long term. We can all learn new tricks, no matter how hard or how late in the game – look at South Carolina today. Here’s to the one space world.


Photo credit: “Typewriter Letters,” © 2007 Laineys Repertoire, CC By 2.0