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Posts Tagged ‘connection’

A Bit of Earth

balcony garden 012

This was my fourth summer growing a balcony garden. And I’m feeling a little guilty about it.

My roots are on two Midwestern farms, where I spent my childhood summers watching cows graze on quiet hillsides and riding in the tractor cab with my grandfather. I spent hours shelling peas and snapping green beans into stainless-steel bowls, pulling dinner – or at least part of it – from the earth outside. I learned about how the land fed us, how in turn we tended the land. How our hard work and care, combined with rain and soil and light, produced the vegetables and meat that ended up on my grandparents’ table.

These days, the most I can manage is a row of pots on a balcony.

I’m a city dweller now, living above the land instead of on it, in a second-floor flat on a suburban street in a bustling town just south of Boston. My husband and I have yet to own any of the places we’ve lived; we are renters, tenants, temporary residents with a lease, not a deed, to our names.

There are perks to this way of living, of course: when a faucet sprouts a leak or an electrical circuit shorts out, we call the landlords (who conveniently live downstairs) and let them deal with it. But since we live upstairs and don’t own our place, the yard – the land – doesn’t belong to us.

Most of the time I don’t mind, but sometimes I wish we could have a garden. I wonder if it would help ground me, help me feel connected to the city I’ve lived in for three years but still hesitate to call home.

I’m over at TRIAD magazine today, talking about my balcony garden. Please click over there to read the rest of my essay and see Kristin’s gorgeous photos of my plants.

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My stack of signed books is growing. Rapidly.

Prior to moving from West Texas to Boston, I had only a few signed books in my collection, mostly inscribed by Christian authors (Lauren Winner, Donald Miller, Kathleen Norris) who braved the heat and dust to come and speak on my college campus. I love Abilene, but neither it nor my hometown (even farther west) appear on most people’s book tour itineraries, and I never could convince myself to drive six hours, round trip, to Dallas (often on a weeknight) to hear even my favorite authors speak.

However. I may have mentioned (once or twice) that some of my favorite Boston-area bookstores – notably Brookline Booksmith, the Harvard Book Store, the Concord Bookshop and Porter Square Books – regularly hold readings and signings featuring authors I love. (I must also mention the Boston Public Library‘s fabulous author series.) Nearly every week, one or more of their event schedules and/or e-newsletters offers a tempting event or two that gets me thinking about how to rearrange my schedule, talk my husband or a friend into coming with me, and/or juggle my book budget to accommodate the purchase of one (or more) signed books.

siobhan fallon author reading

Siobhan Fallon reads at Porter Square Books

I don’t go just for the signed books, though I am fan-girlishly thrilled to meet these authors and tell them how to spell my name so they can personalize the inscription. I don’t go for the treats (though Deborah Copaken Kogan bribed her audience with mini cupcakes from Sweet last week, handing one to each person who asked a question). I go for that moment of connection, for the chance to hear these authors’ work read in their own voices, for the Q&As and brief snippets of conversation, for that brief glimpse into their writing process and how their books and characters came to be.

Sometimes I can only stammer and tell them how much I enjoy their work (as when I met Anne Lamott and the Yarn Harlot, Marisa de los Santos and Jacqueline Winspear and Alexander McCall Smith). Sometimes I can explain that I’m a writer too (as when I met Rebecca Makkai or Molly Birnbaum), or a reviewer (as when Niall Ferguson realized he was signing my ARC of his new book). Sometimes I bond with writers who live or have lived in Texas, like the darling Sarah McCoy and the vivacious Siobhan Fallon. And sometimes I throw my arms around Twitter pals like Rachel Bertsche, Laura Harrington and Erin Blakemore, as glad to see them as any longtime friend.

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Rachel Bertsche reads at Brookline Booksmith

The authors I’ve met are, without exception, gracious, kind, brilliant and poised, always willing to answer questions or personalize books or listen to their fans’ stories. They love words and books and the creative process as much as I do. They are often introverts who struggle to muster the energy to speak in public (and hug strangers), but they do it because they believe in the power of stories to shape lives.

I treasure that growing stack of signed books. But I treasure these moments – these connections with my people – even more.

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I’ve taken half a dozen online classes in the past two years. And I’ve finally learned: they don’t usually work for me.

More specifically: it is difficult for me to invest in an online course (or any course) with little accountability, little or no face time, and the feeling that I’m just one person in a sea of faceless class members.

The fault doesn’t lie with the course content or the instructors – I’ve enjoyed some of the lessons on writing or photography, scrapbooking or yoga, from women like Jen and Andrea, Marianne, Jennifer and Ali. I am in no way criticizing these women or the content of their courses. In fact, I’d heartily recommend all of them. The problem is mine.

Sometimes the problem is my motivation for signing up. I’ve signed up for several online courses run by bloggers whose work I enjoy, because I didn’t want to “miss out” – because I was, in effect, trying to “keep up” with others in the blogosphere. And, tellingly, even with access to deep stories and thought-provoking questions, or useful yoga poses or photo techniques, I ended up disengaging within days.

Sometimes I simply wanted the course to do something it couldn’t do (similar to the root of the gift-giving anxiety I struggle with around the holidays). I am always – and especially since I moved to Boston – searching for connection and real community. It’s hard for me to get that in a big, anonymous-feeling online forum (though it often comes easier via blog comments, tweets and one-to-one emails). And when I start to feel anonymous and/or ignored, I shut down and withdraw. (This is true – oh so true – in my offline life, too.)

Let this be a lesson to me: there are some ways to connect online that really work for me – and I’m grateful for the community I’ve found in those places. But there are some ways that don’t suit me as well. And next time I’m tempted by an online course, I’ll think long and hard before clicking the “Register” button.

Have you taken any online courses? What has been your experience? I’d love to know.

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keeping in touch

I think I’ve decided what my dream job would be. (Aside from writing wonderful books, of course.) I’d love to earn my living by keeping all my friends in touch for the rest of their lives.

I just sent an email to Jake (in Houston for the summer) and brought him up to date on my life and Jeremiah’s. I emailed my dear Charity (in Austin) this morning and gave her bits of news about several people we know. Every Sunday night I bring the Lifeteam up to speed on Jeremiah, and vice versa…he gets to hear all about everybody’s kids and jobs and lives during the Sunday edition of our nightly chats. It’s not gossip, because these are all people about whom I care deeply, and it’s all information that they would want their friends to know. I treasure relationships above all else, and I love seeing people I love connect with one another. I want everyone to know that Dawne just moved into a new house and Jacque got to go see the British Royal Ballet at Kennedy Center this weekend, and that Jamie has a new boyfriend and that Kara and Dani and Tori and I are still trying to find jobs. I’m thrilled to know that Robert and Jodi are doing a great work down in the New Orleans area, and that Jake gets to make a CD with a group at his Houston church this summer, and that my friend Erin had a beautiful baby girl on June 2. I want to help foster that connectedness within my network of friends. I love being the connection point, but I don’t want to be the only one. I want them to know what’s going on with each other.

Too bad you can’t get paid for this. But then, I wouldn’t want my friends to have to pay me for that privilege. Isn’t there some kind of a non-profit organization that exists for the benefit of helping friends stay connected? And I don’t just mean cyber-connected, or connected via Facebook. I mean really knowing what’s going on in each other’s lives.

I guess it’s just called friendship, huh?

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