The Packer Game Incident

My wife says I never listen to her. At least I think that’s what she said.

There it was, gleaming at me from the glossy pages of a catalog: the perfect slogan t-shirt, with its cheeky grasp of the truth. I reached for my purse, intending to pull out my Visa. My husband, Pete, and I don’t have a ton of arguments—mostly because he’s so nice—but his lack of listening skills has been the source of many of them.

I got as far as my wallet, then stopped and tossed the catalog in the trash. I knew that even the humorous tone of the t-shirt wouldn’t soften the truth of the statement and any chuckle he got out of it would just be masking a wound. I realized that if I did buy the shirt, I wouldn’t be going for a laugh. I’d be going for a “Gotcha!”

Less than one year into our marriage, we had the mother of all our later non-listening incidents. Pete is a huge Cheesehead and Packer Backer (that’s “Green Bay Packer fan,” for the uninitiated). One Monday evening in November, we sat at the dinner table with the tv on and clearly visible in the living room. The Packers were playing the Bears. At Lambeau Field. If that means nothing to you, well, back then it meant nothing to me either.

As we ate our dinner and Pete looked past me to the flickering image of Brett Favre’s green-clad torso, I began to share the details of yet another horrible day at the office. At first Pete tore his eyes from the television at regular intervals, nodding and mmm-hmmming at the appropriate moments.

But then it was first and goal—both at Lambeau Field and at our dinner table. I’d just gotten to the climax of my story, in which a troublesome coworker had scolded and humiliated me in front of several others. As I dabbed my tears with a napkin, I glanced at Pete. He was mid-nod with his head turned toward me. But his eyes were cast to the side, riveted on the image of an airborne football headed straight for the end zone.

Clenching my jaw, I decided to conduct a little test. Beginning a new sentence, I stopped halfway through to see if he’d notice. Instead, he pumped a fist in the air and roared, “Yyyessss!” To Brett Favre and Sterling Sharpe—not to me.

I rose from my place at the table—oozing grace and dignity—and stomped between Pete and the television to the bedroom. There I flopped, sobbing, onto the bed. And waited. I was sure he’d tear himself from the game and follow me, devastated at the hurt he’d caused his precious young bride.

I kept waiting. I waited at least twenty minutes.

By then, it was halftime at Lambeau Field. In our living room, Pete snapped out of his football-induced fog and noticed something: His wife was gone.

Despite his profuse and sincere apologies, it’s taken 12 years for me to find this story funny. Before I saw the humor, I carried it in my back pocket, whipping it out whenever I needed help winning an argument. Pete would swear I hadn’t told him something—perhaps that I’d invited 12 people for supper. Into my back pocket I’d reach: Oh, really? Who was the likely culprit, considering our history? Clearly, it was more plausible that I had told him, but he hadn’t been listening. Didn’t he recall The Packer Game Incident?

Over the years, I’ve come to understand that intentionally wounding Pete because of his failings does nothing to inspire him to listen to me more, or to fix things between us. Actually, my actions and attitudes regarding the problem have been far more poisonous to our relationship than his, infecting it with a spirit of unforgiveness.

I wish I could say that Pete has learned to listen to me all the time. He hasn’t. But I know he tries, and I know it grieves him when he fails. I wish I could say that I’ve learned to quit being angry and manipulative. I haven’t. Apparently we’re both flawed.

But there are some things we’ve learned: to laugh at the little things; to forgive the big things; and, believe it or not, I’ve learned to love football. Which means I don’t want him talking to me outside commercials and half-time either!

Though I didn’t buy the t-shirt, I did tell Pete about it. He got a good laugh and then thanked me, profusely, for resisting the urge to buy it.

Originally published in Marriage Partnership Magazine/Kyria.com. Copyright © 2007 by the author or Christianity Today International/Marriage Partnership magazine.

Just Because it’s Gorgeous

I’m working on my next column for the Pikes Peak Writers Blog, and I’m pouty because I can’t seem to justify the inclusion of one of my favorite novel excerpts. My article is (loosely) about different ways to open a novel. To illustrate my points, I’m using the first lines of some of my favorites, and the excerpt I’m trying (and failing) to use is one of my all-time top three.

The trouble is that the book (Gilead by Marilynne Robinson) is complex and richly layered, so if I were to use it in the article, it would need a good deal of explanation to show how it relates to my central thesis.

But I love it and I want everyone else to read it and love it too. So, just because I’m the blog boss over here, and because I feel like it, I’m offering it below for you to read and enjoy. (FYI: the liberties with grammar and punctuation are intentional.)

I told you last night that I might be gone sometime, and you said, Where, and I said, To be with the Good Lord, and you said, Why, and I said, Because I’m old, and you said, I don’t think you’re old. And you put your hand in my hand and you said, You aren’t very old, as if that settled it. I told you you might have a very different life from mine, and from the life you’ve had with me, and that would be a wonderful thing, there are many ways to live a good life. And you said, Mama already told me that. And then you said, Don’t laugh! because you thought I was laughing at you. You reached up and put your fingers on my lips and gave me that look I never in my life saw on any other face besides your mother’s. It’s a kind of furious pride, very passionate and stern. I’m always a little surprised to find my eyebrows unsinged after I’ve suffered one of those looks. I will miss them.

It seems ridiculous to suppose the dead miss anything. If you’re a grown man when you read this–it is my intention for this letter that you will read it then–I’ll have been gone a long time. I’ll know most of what there is to know about being dead, but I’ll probably keep it to myself. That seems to be the way of things.

 

There. I feel better. Don’t you?

A Bit About Believing

My creative writing students are required to write in composition books every day. Often, I find notes to me: “Sorry this is boring,” or, “You don’t want to read this,” or, “I’m lame!”

They’re wrong, but I have to laugh because of what I’m thinking when words won’t flow: “I’m a hack. This will never happen.” It’s hard to maintain belief in your dreams when the road is so long and curvy and filled with pot-holes of disappointment.

That’s what made my latest birthday present from my husband so amazing.

He’d asked a friend of ours–a photographer–to make mock-up book covers for my two novels. Mind you, neither has been published (the second isn’t finished). But the book covers are so gorgeous, one guest at my surprise party asked where he could buy the books!

What’s truly incredible is what they represent: my husband believes. That there will be real book covers one day, covering real books, filled with words that I wrote in those impossible-feeling moments. When I can’t believe in myself, I look at those book covers and let his belief take over.

My students can’t wait to open their composition books when I return them. I write notes like, “You’re not lame,” and, “This isn’t boring–I wish you’d kept going.”

Find someone who believes in you; and find someone to believe in. It makes a difference–believe me.

Originally published in the Nov/Dec 2009 issue of Pikes Peak Writers NewMag.

Photos by Sandi Evans
Note: The Gathering Summer is now titled The Things We Leave Behind.

Living the Life

Yesterday I was in my all-too-usual state of barely suppressed frustration.  I was thinking of all the tasks on my to-do list, and how most of those tasks will only need to be redone in a matter of hours, days, or a week at most.  Dishes, laundry, bill-paying, cleaning the floor that looks streaky and attracts footprints the instant it’s dry.  Not to mention the tongue-marks that our puppy leaves, since apparently the floor is quite tasty.

Minor annoyance at life’s tediousness isn’t an enormous problem.  But too often, I find myself letting it balloon into frustration at life in general.  That’s when I start grumbling to myself — audibly if I’m alone.  And I wind up cranky, snappish, and not much fun to be around.

But yesterday, my normal progression of thoughts was interrupted somehow.  I don’t know why, but just before I got to the point of frowning and huffing, I remembered something.

When I was four years old, a bright, shiny dream took shape in my imagination and became a persistent, life-long goal.  That goal stayed with me all through school, college, early marriage, early motherhood, and even to this day.  That goal was to be a published writer.

So the thought that stood me upright yesterday, letting the steam mop do the huffing for me for a minute, was that I have reached that goal.  Five times over.  My name isn’t on the binding of any library books.  And that would be some kind of wonderful, to be sure.  But on five separate occasions in the past two years, editors have found my words to be worth paying for–worth printing and sharing with their readers.

Not only that, but I am living in a quiet, beautiful rural area–another dream I have nurtured for years, along with my husband.  Everybody in my little family likes one another at least 90% of the time.  I get to hang out with teenagers a couple of times a week, which is its own special sort of crazy, surprising joy.  And I’ve recently been dubbed the Editor of the Pikes Peak Writer NewsMag, which is as fun for me as playing video games is for my sweet husband and our girls.  (Yes, I really am that odd.)

I have an expandable file folder that I use in my Creative Writing Class, helping me organize assignments and notes for my lesson plans.  I customized it a bit with favorite quotes, and the one that I wrote on the front, with thick black permanent Sharpie, is by Henry David Thoreau.  It reads, “Live the life you’ve imagined.”

Even when I’m mopping, fluffing and folding, or filling a sink with hot soapy water for the second or third time in one day, I can remind myself that those tasks do not define my life.  They’re a small, necessary part of it, but they’re more like the salt and pepper, not the meat.  The core of my life, thanks be to God, is what I always imagined it ought to be.

I resolve to be grateful for the dreams I’m already living.  And then, to keep on dreaming.

National Novel Insanity Month

Let me first state the obvious:  a man–with apparently no interest even in football–must have been the one to decide that November would be the perfect month for hundreds of thousands of aspiring writers to write an entire novel (50,000 words, at least).

Because how on earth am I to write a novel AND cook a turkey with all the trimmings AND host out-of-town family members in a clean, nicely-decorated home, AND do my Christmas shopping, wrapping, and letter writing?  And by the way: I love football!  What could be a better end to Thanksgiving Day than to curl up on the couch next to my honey with an entirely unnecessary extra piece of pie, watching college boys toss around the pigskin.  Ah, I feel bloated and happy just thinking about it.

So I did most of the holiday preparation stuff early.  I have my Thanksgiving menu planned out, but not my shopping list.  I have decorative pumpkins on the table, at least.  Flowers can come later.  And I have all my Christmas presents squirreled away–but not wrapped.  The football?  Can’t do any of that in advance, unfortunately.

And I have decided to give myself the first twenty days of November, rather than all thirty, to complete the 50,000 word goal.  So far, I am on target, having written more than 2,500 words per day for the past three days.

And you know what?  It’s been fun.  As anyone who loves to write will tell you, writing feels like catching your breath after a long run.  Like the first few days after falling in love.  Like seeing someone you adore, when you haven’t seen them in ages and didn’t expect to any time soon.  Like laughing so hard and long and freely that after awhile, you are only laughing at the laughing itself.

My fear: that what I write this month will be horrible, and will betray the integrity of these characters who have lived inside my head for more than a year now, and with whom I have fallen deeply, helplessly, and inexplicably in love.  (Yes, I know they are imaginary.  That’s the inexplicably part.)  That what I write will be meandering and goopy and far beyond repair, which would mean the death of the idea and the story and those wonderful, aforementioned characters.

But the fact is that I had been thinking and talking about this novel for, like I said, over a year now.  And I needed something to force it out of me.

And so, I write.  For at least the first twenty days of November, I write.

Sleep?  There’ll be time for that in December.

Or not.

UPDATE: 50,419 words, completed on November 21st, logged on November 25th!  I’ll blog more about it later, but that time I thought I’d have in December has been unceremoniously swallowed up by my new position as Editor of the Pikes Peak Writers’ NewsMag.  First issue?  January!  November might have been Novel Insanity Month, but December is NewsMag Insanity Month.  Have to finish in time to write the Christmas letter…

Life with Mr. Puppy

Lord help me.  We got ourselves a puppy about a month ago, and I am exhausted.

Yes, we should have gotten a rescue dog.  I realize that, so please don’t leave a comment admonishing me for falling into the cute-little-puppy trap.  I already agree with you.

He is definitely cute.

Particularly in photos, or while sleeping.  And he’s little.  But only in size, not in personality.

The dog trainer we talked to a couple of weeks ago called him “a bold little guy.”  In other words, he is pushy, demanding, hyper, and exceedingly difficult to control.  He is, in short, a toddler who is not potty trained and who runs around the house without a diaper.

He is stretching my patience and forcing me–a committed homebody–out the door into the neighborhood for long, fast walks that wipe me out and pump him up.

I have met neighbors, which can be difficult to do when there are a few acres between each front door and mailbox.  It’s that cuteness thing again.  People in cars pull over and roll down their windows to see him.  People on bikes stop and coo.  People in their front yards drop their rakes to come and say hello.

All of which Mr. Puppy loves.  He squirms, wags, and makes hilarious semi-whining sounds as the neighbors approach, and then he attempts murder-by-licking.

If I can survive the puppy days, which is somewhat in doubt (I’ve already almost posted an item on Craig’s List to sell him), I think Mr. Puppy might change me for the better.

Let’s put it this way:  “If I do not kill him, he’ll make me stronger.”

Things I’ve Learned from Living in the Country…

…which you’d think would have been obvious before.

1. If you live on a dirt road in a particularly windy geographical area, you will be dusting much more often. Much, much more often. Particularly in warm weather, when the windows are open.

2. Goats are great for eating weeds. But they don’t know the difference between weeds and grass. And shrubs. And flowers. And the lower branches of pine trees.

3. If you live in the forest, you might not want to wrap your house in wood. The woodpeckers get confused. Which explains the large holes in the side of our house, where a smaller bird has recently moved in, nest, eggs, and all. And birds do not sleep all night long. Which means we don’t sleep all night long, since the interior wall opposite the exterior hole is in our master bedroom.

4. Dandelions are lovely. It’s a lot easier to adopt this mindset than to try to eradicate the happy little buggers from two acres of land. It helps to recite George Washington Carver’s famous quote: “A weed is a flower growing in the wrong place.”  It also helps that I have an endless supply of bouquets, presented by grubby little hands nearly every afternoon.

5. People think it’s really fun to drive as fast as possible on country roads. If you are one of these people, it might interest you to learn that all that dirt you’re kicking up has to land somewhere. (See #1.)

6. I love it, I love it, I love it. Dirt, dandelions, confused wildlife and all.