Losing the Words

The right words were there, clearly, when I woke, so I got up, fixed a coffee and sat. But I checked my email, followed a link, remembered a FB friend’s response to something yesterday and how I meant to check out an article she referenced. And when I came back to the blank page, the sentence I knew clearly was gone.

I need to relearn this lesson every so often.

* * *

From the Archives:

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“Someday” Thinking

A very quick post. Thanks for the emails and texts, inquiring about the refugees. We don’t have class on Mondays, so yesterday was the first day back.

* * *

The Governor-elect’s voice on the radio near put me off my breakfast.

“I recommend we close the door to Syrians….”

I understand the need to appear to be taking a strong stand. I wouldn’t want his job. It’s the ring of hate speech, though, that I can’t shake. I want to put my hands over the ears of everyone listening.

When I get to class and see Anisah’s eyes, cast down and circled red from much crying, I know some part of her has left, has gone somewhere. But where? To the roads and schools of her childhood, now vacant and bombed out? And who has she left behind, and where are they now?

I hear it in the news, every time there’s a bombing, a mass-shooting, etc….a Muslim leader saying how all Muslims hold their breath and pray, “Please don’t let it be a Muslim that did it.”

It is suggested to me that perhaps the students don’t know.
“Have you seen Anisah’s eyes? They know.”

I tell each one each day “I’m happy to see you,” but today I add, “I’m happy you are here.” What other antidote is there for what’s being broadcast?

We carry on, exploring the pressing mysteries of this world:

“Tee-cha! Knife is spelled with ‘k’?”
“Yes, like ‘knee.’ The ‘k’ is silent.”
“Knee is spelled with ‘k’, Tee-cha?”

There really are no words and I probably shouldn’t be posting, but I’m offloading impressions and appreciated all your questions.


EVEN BEFORE PARIS, my head felt scrambled – too many thoughts, too many trains running in too many directions. It had been a good week, but it all came piling in at week’s end. Time for an Artist’s Date.

I make a plan. Saturday early, I’ll go go to the Frazier History Museum to see what’s happening there. It’s been a few months.

I see the Breaking News Alerts on my phone Friday night and again Saturday morning. All the more reason to go. Chaos in the world makes art more essential, not less.

I plan to leave my phone in my pocket, but I can’t resist taking pictures. Whether that’s a sign of addiction or an artistic leading, I don’t know. Let greater minds than mine debate it. Grief is rising in the world and I can’t be bothered arguing the small things.

I worry for some of the ESL students who, only 2 months ago, woke to find graffiti on their mosque. Right here in Louisville. They will experience this latest act of violence on an entirely different level. I know I would not like to have to answer for some of the things done in the name of the Christian faith.

The museum trip is good for my head. You know how just getting out and seeing something different refreshes and resets your mind? But it’s a moment in the gift shop that really gets to me. There, right at the table with all manner of Abraham Lincoln kitsch – his face on socks, golf balls, Band-Aids.

“I will heal your wound as I healed a nation!”

What WOULD Lincoln think? I wonder.
I laugh, shake my head, take some pics.

There is something about the ridiculousness of it all. (Don’t get me wrong – I’d be the first person to buy some of this stuff, even if just for gag gifts.) But I mean, in juxtaposition to the breaking news in the world. Both exist at the same time. And this is what grief is: Surreal. A struggle to make the tragic, the ridiculous and the mundane somehow sit in the same room, behave themselves and get along.

Sarah Bessey, when she doesn’t know what to do, immerses herself in “Ordinary Work.” That sounds about right to me. I have a spaghetti squash waiting for me to find a use for it. I think I’ll go tend to it.

She takes my hand, like she has something she wants to say and is determined. But how can she, knowing so little English?

* * *

She came to us 2 months ago from Congo, bringing with her a contagious smile and a gentle spirit. She came in at the bottom rung on the language ladder, but has worked hard. I catch her practicing all the time. When she understands a lesson and her worksheet is all correct, she looks around to see who might need help. She never leaves class without saying ‘Thank you.”

No matter the weather, she shows up. And then last week, the whole week, we didn’t see her.

* * *

Today, instead of waving hello from across the room, she comes and stands before me. It’s the first time I’ve seen her without a smile.

She squeezes my hand.
I squeeze hers back.

“How are you?” I ask.
She shakes her head, pats her tummy.

“You don’t feel well?”
She shakes her head, again pats her middle. She crosses her arms in front of her as if cradling an infant.

She nods her head, then shakes it. Yes and no, both at the same time. Then, with a single gesture, the sweep of her hand away from her, I know. Something she treasured is now gone. A miscarriage.

My face falls. She nods. We hug long.

There are griefs for which there are no words, but also no language barriers.

I should warn you, in case you get into this kind of work: You do get attached. You do care.

A Bona Fide Irony


At last my kitchen feels like home. Not that it didn’t before, not that I didn’t like it. Not that I had a difficult adjustment coming to Louisville. I didn’t. This house felt like home the minute I came. But this morning, I looked up from my Cheerios, which, until now, I’ve eaten standing up, and I looked across the room and everything looked different to me. Felt like home.

I’m sure this has something to do with having turned a chapter
and looking for the story
and being surrounded by creative voices
and autumn colors
and my baby sister turning 60 tomorrow
and my being reflective,
even more reflective than before everything happened,
if that’s possible.

I have taken in the long view and found it set against a backdrop of peace, which defies logic. I could even say it’s ironic, but I try never to use words that people typically follow with “whatever that means.” It’s accurate, though. I looked it up!


A bona fide irony, right here in my kitchen, right here in my life.

creative forces
SURROUNDED by creative voices here. It’s Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Magic Lessons” while I cook and Mary Karr’s “The Art of Memoir” while I drive. Claire Burge’s “Spin” is by the chair in one room. Deidra’s “Every Little Thing” tucks into my bag. All of it, blending and simmering, has me softening like the split peas I put on the back burner last weekend. No need to hover. In time, it will all come together.

A memory dredged up from the vaults comes forth while I eat my Cheerios. And what could have prompted that, except the channels are open? Write it down. It doesn’t matter if I think it has nothing to do with anything. Write it down, even if poorly. I can always fix it later, if I want to use it.

I have started keeping of list of the questions I am asked.

I go looking for the story and what I find is this: Sometimes the story I think I have to offer is not the main story at all. Sometimes I think I know what the story is, but when I start to tell it to people, they are interested in knowing something I consider a side story, a tangent, an incidental. They are curious about this little thing over here that I’ve brushed past. I need to pay better attention. They are trying to tell me something. So I’ve started a list. I’ve gone back and thought about the questions I’ve been asked, to see if there’s a common thread.

I have a theory, brand new! I’m starting to think maybe the first step in finding the story in something is abandoning the belief that I already know what the story is.

I’ll have to run this past my writing friends.

TODAY WE TOOK the REFUGEES to the library. We walked. There’s a branch just 10 minutes away. Before we went, we spent an hour filling out applications for library cards. We talked about the sentence:

“My ____________is………”

My LAST NAME is…..
My STREET is…..
My ZIP CODE is …..

Some do not know their address. They just know what bus they take.

“I take the 23 bus.”
“Where do you get off the bus?”
They shrug. And yet somehow they find their way home each day and come back.

Do they have an ID card?
Most don’t
, or at least not on them. So they can’t speak their address and they aren’t carrying a piece of paper with it written anywhere. It’s probably the parent in me, but just the thought of them in a strange city, not knowing the language, riding the bus and not being able to say their address! I can’t get over it.

We somehow manage to garner the needed information, fill out the applications and take them over there.

At the library, my efforts to pass as an easy-going person are in jeopardy. I feel the weight of the entire Dewey Decimal System on my shoulders as I follow students around, watching where books have been pulled off shelves and put back, to make sure they’ve been put in the right spot.

I’ve written this for my own pleasure, just to say what I did today, but I see that it’s all about addresses and locations being clear and everybody and everything being IN their right spot. It’s about control and panic over the possible lack of it. None of this comes as a surprise.


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