Stumbling Into Joy
True Story #29; Longreads
“Even on the days it was particularly hard, when I would put the bass back down after only ten minutes of practicing, I knew I wasn’t going to give up. The frustration went hand in hand with joy, a depth of joy I hadn’t anticipated. It was the way that, when my fingers wrapped around the neck of my bass and I lifted it from its stand, slipping the strap over my head, a lightness bloomed inside me. How it just felt right — like coming home. Maybe this, this rightness, is what happens when an instrument — or anything at all — chooses you, and you finally give in to it.”
Burningword Literary Journal
“I shift a pile of books on my desk, and dozens of slips of paper shower to the floor. They’re wrinkled and torn, some no larger than one square inch, each decorated in my dad’s shaky cursive—noting an idea, a page number, the name of a theologian long dead.
My dad threw away nothing. His home office was uninhabitable, full of faculty meeting agendas from the 70s; sixty years of tax returns; yellowed articles about canning tomatoes and pruning apple trees; tattered lecture notes for every class he ever taught; a lifetime of letters from his mother.”
“Your pulse beats, defiant, in the tender crook between thumb and forefinger. My gaze shifts between it and your face, your cheekbones prominent, your neck slack. The cardiologist tells you, “Your heart is very sick. You should start to have conversations about the end of life.” And I can feel you shrinking next to me.”
A Different Sky
The Fourth River
It’s early evening, but already dark. It’s our second-to-last night in San Vicente and I’m both ready to leave and know I’ll never be ready. We are walking down the road, heading back to the house after a visit with Betty’s mother. The sky above us is filled with stars. They are different stars from the ones we see at home in Minnesota, or rather some are different and some are the same, only in different positions. Here the Big Dipper is upside down, stars spilling from its cup like milk across the universe.
She's Got This
Before I see the bakery’s blue door, I can smell it—the mix of bread and sugar hanging in the air, thick as fog—and I send up a silent plea: Please have them today. When I open the door in a clatter of bells, I see I’ve been granted my wish: the display case is filled with white cupcakes topped with white bouffant buttercream. They are lined up in tidy rows like an army of brides. So orderly. So hopeful. My mouth begins to water.
The only way I know how to reprimand the heat here is to imagine myself deep in the north woods, zipped into a down jacket, my feet snug in furry boots. There I traipse through fresh snow, following my own footprints, shadowy and blue. Above me, naked tree branches wear thick sleeves of white. Flurries spin around me. If I stop my trek, I can hear the flakes fall; the freezing air fizzes with their descent. I open my mouth to the sky, let them melt on my tongue, trying to capture winter.
Bard of Rock
A legendary rock journalist, Chuck had written profiles of many of music’s greats, and that day over lunch I wondered if there was one in particular that stood out. Which of the profiles he’d written had been his favorite?
He raised his eyebrows slightly and, always determined to make me more precise with my language, said, “The one I’m most proud of or the one that was the most fun to write?” I smiled. “Either. Both.”
He took a bite of his dal and chewed for a moment. “Well, I’m probably most proud of my cover story on the Sex Pistols,” he said, smiling. “I’m not sure they liked it because I portrayed them exactly as they were, but I loved that piece.” I smiled, remembering Chuck’s colorful descriptions of the Pistols. “And,” said Chuck, looking at me over the rims of his glasses, “Keith Richards was probably the most fun.”
Becoming a Sanvicenteña: Five Stages
The old highway to San Vicente is nothing more than a dirt road. At the height of the dry season the landscape is leached of color, the road pale as bone. We bump in and out of potholes, my American advisor filling the Peugeot with 400 years of Costa Rican history: the Chorotegan Indians, the Spanish conquistadors, ceramic arts, tourism. Dust billows through the open windows, and I cough, struggle to catch my breath. Against the vinyl seat, my legs are slick with sweat.
Afraid of Loving Her
I shook Stella’s limp hand. Move, baby. Move. I stood up, ready to shake the breath into her, but suddenly the nurse was there, rubbing Stella’s tummy, rubbing the bottoms of her feet — everything in slow motion. Breathe, baby. You have to breathe. Finally, my daughter’s ribs stuttered to life again: up and down, up and down.
Bleeding. Confined bleeding. Small area. Stella sucks on her green pacifier. I take a step back, lean against the wall. “A hemorrhage,” I say finally. “I don’t understand.”
She pulls out a piece of paper and draws a picture of a brain, and she draws two lima bean shaped ventricles inside it. “It looks like this,” she says, drawing a spot on one of the ventricles, a dark swirl of ink.
The Nuk Princess
For months before Stella's 3rd birthday we talked about The Big Changes That Would Happen When She Turned 3: no more nuks, a big girl bed, and eventually no diapers at night. Then one day, a few weeks before her birthday, I asked her - as excitedly as I could - what would happen when she turned 3.
"When I turn 3," she said, very seriously, "a princess is going to come to my house and eat all my nuks."
"Really?" I asked, trying not laugh.
"Yes," she said.
"The Nuk Princess?"
"Yup," she said, nodding her head.
Go, Mama, Go
Race day dawned foggy and humid. It was going to be the hottest Grandma’s Marathon in the history of the race, but I didn’t realize this. Even if I had, I wouldn’t have understood what that meant for my pace. I had never run 13 miles before and really had no idea what I was doing.
Reviews & Articles
“Make Your Mark: The Writer’s Guide to Trademark” in Poets & Writers