The first big snow in Marshall today, slow but steady accumulation all day long--like living in one of those miniature snow globe worlds.
By the time my daughter Elaine came to pick me up from work, the roads were bad, and plows had not made the rounds yet. But we only had a short 3-minute drive from campus to home. No sweat.
As Elaine pulled up to the stop sign at a busy cross street two blocks from home, a driver came barreling along on our left, too fast for the poor road conditions and attempted to turn right. But the driver must have realized that wouldn't be possible. There was no traction to turn. The car's trajectory would crash it right into my daughter's side of the car. My daughter who turned 25 today.
The car swerved back onto the cross street rather than attempting the turn.
As I watched, time slowed as they always say, as Kelly Madigan Erlandson writes in the poem below. We were driving home to celebrate my daughter's birthday, but in one instant it could have been otherwise. I felt my heart rise into my throat, as the car whooshed so close to our front bumper. "A God thing," a gift moment. It reminded me of Kelly's poem, so I share it here:
After the Test Said Yes
Stopped at the crossroad on 14th street, ice clean
as an apple slice under my wheels, I am waiting
for my turn and I don't know yet about looking back
which is why I cannot describe the color or make of what hit me,
moving too fast to brake on the black, and my blue Volkswagen
shoots out into oncoming lanes and once there begins to spin--
and that is where time slows, like they always say,
forming an opening in the day that was already thick with news.
The man comes to the car window,
wants to know if I'm okay, and I tell him I'm pregnant,
that I just found out this morning, and he looks like he will faint,
and I open the door and step out into the street,
and this, I believe, is the story of conception; how my daughter
used momentum and ice and velocity and impact
to pierce the atmosphere and enter the world.
-Kelly Madigan Erlandson
(from Born in the House of Love. Main-Traveled Roads. Originally published in Barrow Street. Selected for Poem of the Day, The Writer's Almanac with Garrison Keillor, March 4, 2006. Reprinted with permission.)
Today I read Gregory Wolfe's editorial statement titled "Stalking the Spirit" in the new issue of Image (a journal focused on art, faith and mystery). He quotes Annie Dillard and Gerard Manley Hopkins, two of my favorite writers. About both of these writers, says Wolfe, "In the act of exploring nature's mysteries, they teach us how to write. The process might be described as a four-fold effort involving sacrificing, seeing, stalking, and sacramentalizing."
Wolfe is addressing MFA graduates in creative writing at their commencement, but his words seem wise for writers to heed any place along their path: "This is the end toward which your writing must always strive, the weaving together of words so as to invite the indwelling of the Word. As you embark on your writing careers, practice self-sacrifice, see the world truly, and stalk the spirit within the flesh.
He continues: "Then you will be able to confect sacraments that unite your journeys to those of your readers--and to the journey of the one who descended from air to earth, who was gashed and galled by our pettiness and vanity, only to rise again and ascend through the air, but not before he revealed through the gash in his side the burning heat of his sacred heart."
Good words to sustain us on our writing journeys.
What are you reading right now that you'd recommend to others?
I'm reading My Life in France by Julia Child with Alex Prud'homme. My husband Jim and I saw the movie Julie & Julia last summer, and Jim gave me Child's book (and the DVD of the movie) for our wedding anniversary in July. Since then, we've been reading the book out loud at bedtime--a delight, especially since the romance between Julia and Paul was so juicy. I think it's one of the first times I've thought "Glad I saw the movie before I read the book!" Meryl Streep did such a great job of channeling Julia that when we read the book we can see and hear Julia better.
Another book I'm reading is Prayers for Bobby: A Mother's Coming to Terms with the Suicide of Her Gay Son by Leroy Aarons, recommended to me by one of my freshmen comp students. Harrowing reading, especially the excerpts from Bobby Griffith's journal, but a hopeful book because it saves lives. Some of you may have seen the movie based on the book with Sigourney Weaver.
The poetry collection I'm currently reading is The Chain Letter of the Soul: New and Selected Poems by Bill Holm, one of my former colleagues in the English Department at Southwest Minnesota State University who died in February 2009. The book was published posthumously this past summer and brings together new and old poems. Wonderful, well-crafted, earthy, feisty poems--Bill at his best.
Here we are on Black Friday, the annual American ritual of feverish bargain-shopping on the day after Thanksgiving. It's also the day, though not the date, our daughter was born 25 years ago, so a good day to start something new, to bring something fresh to life, to shop around for new metaphors, apt similes, to take a new step.
Taking the Big Step into the world of parenting back in 1985 connected my husband Jim and me to The Tribe of Parents. As parents, we turned to others in our tribe for support and guidance along the way. It really does take a village to raise a child.
Today, in that same spirit, I launch Fly-over Country, a place you can enter to become more connected to the Tribe of Writers wherever you are on the path. Let me know the names of your favorite writers, living and dead, tell stories, share favorite poems, offer helpful books, advice, links, tips and support.
"Only connect," E. M. Forster wrote as the epigraph to his 1910 novel Howards End. That's what Fly-over Country aspires to be--a place to connect writers. Drop by, look around, ask questions, leave a comment, become part of the conversation. I look forward to meeting you in Fly-over Country.
I love to play with words. To capture moments on the page. To explore the physical and spiritual geography of what I call "fly-over country." I write from imagination, observation and my own experience of wandering in fly-over country--the literal, physical spaces of my life on the Minnesota prairie and the inner territory of the soul.