“Aren’t we all just waiting for bad news?” advice columnist Carolyn Hax wrote in 2009. She was responding to a reader who had asked for advice about waiting for a loved one’s medical test results. Her question – right there in the morning paper beside the daily TV schedule and across from Arlo and Janis and the Peanuts gang– struck me as profound. I clipped the column and have a poem in the works using that quote.

I know a few folks – like my dear Mama – who are most definitely not waiting on bad news. Mama could have major, risky surgery scheduled tomorrow and still sleep like a baby tonight. She says she asks herself, “Is this (thing I’m worried about) anything I can change?” If it is, then she gets up and does something about it. If it’s not, she puts it in God’s hands.

But if you’re anything like me, even the remote possibility of bad news has kept you awake – or awakened you at two a.m. – on more than one night. It’s haunted your work day; it’s nagged at the back of your mind as you tried to have a normal conversation with a colleague, a friend, a spouse. It’s made your heart race and your stomach knot. Maybe you’ve prayed; maybe you’ve meditated; maybe you’ve medicated. Or maybe, if you’re like Dani Shapiro, you’ve delved deeply and bravely into questioning just who or what it is you might pray to; just how you’ve come to believe what you believe; and just what you can do to achieve a sense of personal peace. (more…)


The month of January is finally, blissfully gone, although, like an inconsiderate house guest, she has left messy reminders here in middle Tennessee. Snow still covers our yard; a little slush clings here and there on the more shaded roads; we are still not quite in normal routine (with schools finally going back 2 hours late today); and we are dreading the utility bill when it arrives in another week or so.

 “Hate” is a strong word that I rarely use, but I pretty much hate January. (OK, the beautiful images on display above contradict that statement, but we’ll get to that in a bit.) Never mind that I actually like thinking back on the past year and making resolutions for the new one. Never mind that several relatives and friends have January birthdays. Never mind that I love any excuse to stretch out on the sofa with a blanket and a good book. None of that is worth the cold and the mess and the short days and, most of all, the lack of energy and enthusiasm that I always feel during this month.

Colette felt like I do: “January, month of empty pockets! … let us endure this evil month, anxious as a theatrical producer’s forehead.”

I try to make it through the month by focusing on “a time for all seasons,” as modeled in Ecclesiastes. That is, there’s a time to lie on the sofa and read; there’s a time to get up and ride your bike. There’s a time to lie on the sofa and watch old movies; there’s a time to clean the house. There’s a time to lie on the sofa and take a nap; there’s a time to organize fifteen years of photos and start a new scrapbooking project.

You, dear and astute reader, undoubtedly get it: I am sloth in January.

A couple of weeks of being slothful is OK, probably even quite good for the soul. But as the month goes on, I get sick of being slothful – and yet, I can’t seem to do anything about it. I’m stuck – on the sofa, of course – just waiting for the month to pass.

But this January was a tee-niny bit different. I wasn’t particularly excited about the big winter storm as it hit. The snow didn’t seem that pretty as it was falling on Friday; the quite-impressive-for-this-part-of-the-country depths and drifts hardly phased me on Saturday. But on Sunday, the sun came out, and my outlook changed.  (more…)

Great chance lies precisely in the unlikeness of men...and crayons, I would add.

One of my favorite quotes is from Martin Buber in The Way of Man, in which he says, “Mankind’s great chance lies precisely in the unlikeness of men, in the unlikeness of their qualities and inclinations.”

A few weeks ago as I was leading a poetry class, I forgot Buber’s words when I unexpectedly found myself feeling very unlike the small group of students who faced me. I wondered if I was sharing poems – both my own and others’ – that they could connect with at all. Since I was the teacher, I didn’t have any choice but to press on. Read what I learned in my article The Power of Admitting Where You’re From on the Risk A Day blog.

This article is also a tribute to the poem and writing prompt “Where I’m From” by George Ella Lyon.