He wrote these poems while receiving cancer treatment that made his skin sensitive to the sun. If he wanted to take a daily walk, he had to do so in the dark.
I read these poems four years ago, on increasingly dark mornings. I read them slowly, aloud, while taking slow steps around my bedroom. I came across one I copied in my journal on October 22, 2014. Will God grace me with a marriage someday, I’d asked, — a good one? Will my childhood self finally know what she has only daydreamed about? Will it be all she hoped?
Windy and cold.
All night, in gusty winds, the house has cupped its hands around the steady candle of our marriage, the two of us braided together in sleep, and burning, yes, but slowly, giving off just enough light so that one of us, awakening frightened in darkness, can see.
I had gotten an MRI and was viewing the results: a bulging disc near the top of my spine. Even as the doctor tapped her pen on the offending bump, my eyes strayed to other bones, other features. My jaw, especially. My jaw convinced me I will one day die. It was the jaw of a corpse.
The MRI revealed something I knew but didn’t realize: There was a skeleton in there, with a skull like the kind on a skinless body. There were empty black eye sockets. Teeth that would fall out and turn to powder. There was a brain that might nourish a tumor, which would press on nerves. Meanwhile the doctor tapped her pen on the screen, its plastic tip hitting the slipped disc where a nerve was already being pressed. She suggested physical therapy, acupuncture, chiropractics, maybe an anti-inflammatory diet.
I came home and e-mailed my 74-year-old friend. He wrote back, “That was pretty scary, thinking of becoming a corpse.” And he’s a Buddhist who meditates on his death regularly.
Happy All Souls’ Day, everyone.
The entire braid of the self is coming unwound in a rush.
– Advice for Future Corpses * * And Those Who Love Them
On Day 12 of the Whole30 nutrition program. We’re hanging in there.
Quick summary: Fill up on meat/seafood, veggies, and fruit — but you can’t have dairy, beans/corn/soy, peanuts, grains, booze, added sugar, or things like carrageenan/MSG/sulfites (none of which I can define). You have to read every label and scrutinize every ingredient. It will likely mean you make your own sausage, tomato sauce, Caesar salad dressing, and mayonnaise.
Breakfast has gone from a bowl of dry Cheerios with cheese on the side, to:
Slider buns get replaced with potato wedges, accompanied by homemade mushroom/kale/squash chips:
And, as an added bonus, you get intimately acquainted with your grocery store clerks!
The Whole30 lasts about 45 days — 30 days of following the rules, then a two-week period of slowly reintroducing food categories and seeing how your body responds. Do you feel more bloated? sluggish? Does your skin break out? Is your sleep suddenly restless? From then on, you can know which foods keep your energy high and which foods make you gassy. Everybody wins.
Ideally, you’ll not only manage your weight better, you’ll also rack up NSVs — non-scale victories. But I’ve been surprised which ones have bubbled up, for me:
more gratitude for food
praying before every meal and almost every snack
and meaning it!
more peace while eating
I used to “need” to read a book or watch a show while eating. Now I can sit quietly, simply savoring and thinking.
more confidence in the kitchen
I hated to stray from a recipe, but now I’m growing more comfortable estimating — and riffing!
less screen time
because when you can’t just zone out in front of the boob tube, mindlessly feeding yourself chips, there are fewer and fewer excuses to watch TV at all
more sense of control at work
Building on the positive momentum of planning ahead and meal-prepping at home, I feel more motivated to tackle work projects and chip away at each next action. One positive change in life can lead to another, and another.
All right, so far the Whole30 has not been all magic & fairies…but the good has outweighed the struggle, and we’re still early into it. The book promises that in a week or two we’ll be filled with Tiger Blood.
I look forward to that.
Of course, eating itself reminds us that none of us can stay alive on our own. If you are breathing, it’s because someone fed you.
Tish Harrison Warren, Liturgy of the Ordinary, p. 71
Thanks to this guy for introducing me to the term “marginalia.” Here are some recent markings:
Thanks to this gal for being my friend and for publishing a book.
[He uses the phrase “natural responsibilities,” “natural ordinances of life,” which got me thinking — what could be a more natural responsibility than raising kids? It is, indeed, a high priority — perhaps even an ideal. Yet if the Christian life is simply another priority, another ideal among several, then might the two compete? Another way to ask the question: If it were more faithful not to have kids, would I be willing not to?]
The page above is an excerpt from Chapter X, Why Women Who Do Too Much Housework Should Neglect It for Their Writing.
The book smells like the crackling-spine Berenstain Bears books I used to get from the library. It has the crackling-spine sound, too. I like to smell books right in the neck, in the heart, at the top. Ink and page and dust and shelf. Worn, musty carpet and metal shelf dividers. Must. Inhale. Books. I love the rubber-stamped address marking the book’s rightful place, and the thick paper.
Our little community college library lets any local resident get a card, and I leave there wanting to kiss every librarian for her goodness.
Nearly thirty years of hopeful writers did what I did today: stood at the counter and waited as a librarian crackled the back cover and stamped the stamp. I hope the library filled them, and Ueland filled them, writing filled them.
Mom doesn’t want you to waste money on flowers and doesn’t want the hairdresser to give her any volume. She doesn’t wear pants so snug they’ll show her figure, doesn’t mind eating leftovers to spare the rest of us, doesn’t drive a Prius for ecology, just economy.
But when she read to me she read with enthusiasm. Not with impressions, like Dad, but at least with interest. Can a person be both practical and have a flair for the dramatic? Can she be no-nonsense and at least a little whimsical? I don’t remember the titles of any of the books from my childhood (other than Let’s Talk About Whining), but I know she read to me, with flair, and I know such a thing is to be canonized.
Every Sunday in worship, the pastor prays, but leaves a silence where you can say the name of someone on your heart. Like popping kernels the names jump up and die down.
For years I’ve been saying the name Kate Bowler. She was my professor. Before I moved away, I went to her office and asked how I’m supposed to lead as a woman — how I’m supposed to be taken seriously. She said, “You don’t need to wear business suits with shoulder pads.” I said, “Does that mean I should get rid of all the suits I just bought from Goodwill?”
Only months later, word got out that Dr. Bowler had been diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer – at the age of 35. I never knew how young that was until I reached my thirties. It’s young. It’s when you should be flourishing, finding yourself, falling in love with life.
So every Sunday morning I said, “Kate.” Because what else can you do? And she lived, and still lives. She’s, what, 37 now? Maybe 38? She’s still with her high school sweetheart, still watching their toddler boy grow up.
My church family prayed for Kate without knowing her. When I put her name on a prayer card, they mailed their heartfelt prayers. They surrounded someone they’d never met. They let me say her name out loud.
I’m beyond ready to read Kate’s new memoir, which I guess she wrote in between traveling to another state for chemotherapy treatments and trying to spot Jimmy Carter down the hall. But anyway. Just the title of her book says it all: Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved. It officially releases on Feb. 5. Order your copy here.
Or if you can’t wait, get a preview of her voice by reading her New York Times op-ed here.