Thursday, September 29, 2011

I, a parade!

THAT NIECE is coming to visit today! My sister called early this morning to report on the state of Sparkle Girl's's a treasure trove of information about what an 8 year old girl thinks the must-have items are for a trip to the big city: All her makeup (because strangely, Aunt Trish rarely has neon turquoise eye shadow), her Barbie Hair Salon and...her baton. You know, "Just in case."

I looked out our driveway--the proximity of widows on 3 sides--and thought, "I don't think we'll have any baton twirling opportunities..." (Which is just a sad thought no matter when it strikes!) But then my sister saved the day: "Wait," she asked, "don't you live near a big football field?" At which point, ladies & gentlemen, a dream was born!

So if you're wandering through Cambridge Saturday morning and see police apprehending two bespangled women and a small child wielding shiny flying weapons, give a'll have found us!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

What I learned from Brennan Manning

Brennan Manning's All Is Grace might be the most searing memoir I've read. He's at the end of his life: on assisted care, needing the help of a ghost writer. And in this, he offers the gift of candor about the cost of past mistakes that is incredibly helpful to those of us still coming along. I've never seen anyone lay it out as plain and bare as he does.

He was a priest, and then not a priest; a husband, and then not a husband. He traveled the world giving hope-filled lectures about how much God loves us, and then would disappear for days into hotel rooms around the world, drinking himself into oblivion. He admits that he's missing some chunks of his own narrative timeline because pieces of his brain are simply lost to the alcohol. But what he remembers will stick with me, I suspect, forever.

My "favorite" part of this book? Manning provides the clearest understanding of shame I've ever seen. I didn't grow up in a shame-based family, and I've always been grateful for that. But the downside has been that when I find myself in a group where shame is swirling around in the undertow, I'm REALLY slow to catch on.

Manning defines shame as "the sense of being completely insufficient as a person, the nagging feeling that for some reason you're defective and unworthy." He explains how, "in a shame-bound family, love is a moving target: one day it's this and one day it's that, and just when you're sure you've got it figured out, you discover you don't."

I suspect that even those of us who are fortunate enough to come from families where shame is not the dynamic (and here's me, waving at my Mom & Dad and shouting THANK YOU!) we still bump into it somewhere down the line.

So a suggestion: if you're caught in a place that feels like this description above, consider the possibility that shame is dogging you. Get a copy of this book from a bookstore or the library, take out your journal, and ask God for a strategy to fight back. Whatever shame is telling you, it's not the truth.

Okay, end of serious book review!
Thank you for letting me mix it up here on the blog--it's fun living in a world where Brennan Manning & Jerseylicious can coexist :)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Lunch with the girls!

Confession: most days, I spend my lunch hour with whatever food I can dig out of the fridge & a DVR of some reality TV show.

Sometimes it's the Real Housewives (especially NJ...oh how I love the Manzos). Other days I might cue up the ridiculous Rachel Zoe (it's eye-opening to spend a half-hour with someone who HONESTLY BELIEVES that clothing matters more than people) or some Jerseylicious (how fun is the possibility that life could be so simple: big hair, big tan, big bling?)

I call these my guilty pleasures...but I don't feel guilty about them at all. I watch the shows that make me smile, and make me feel like I've spent time with some especially crazy friends. (It's sort of like the summer I lived in Montreal with a bunch of guys who had just been dumped by their girlfriends and HATED women. I spent 3 months watching Sex and the City DVDs just to have some semblance of female bonding.) And in a surprising way, these shows inspire me. Not the fighting, but the real parts: we mostly want the same few basic things in life, and we use the resources we have (sometimes that's relational/intellectual/financial/spiritual...other times it's spray tan/stilettos/hairspray & bedazzledness) to try to make it from where we are to where we want to be. As a speaker & writer, this stuff is GOLD!

(And how do you like THAT for a blatant attempt to justify a daily hour of mindless television? There's my law degree at work!)

Do you have a secret TV escape that makes you laugh/inspires you? Do share...

Monday, September 26, 2011

A Good and Perfect Gift

It's New Books Week at Trish's Dishes! One of my favorite parts of being part of the writing world is that on certain super-special days, I come home to find that a publicist has sent me a review copy of a new book. This week, we have three! (Jazz hands! Glee!)

Today's book is especially close to my heart, as it's a long-awaited memoir from my friend Amy Julia Becker. She and I met three years ago at the Festival of Faith & Writing, and I've watched and cheered as she's chased her dream of sharing her story of her family and her oldest daughter Penny, who has Down syndrome. I wrote a tiny bit about Amy Julia and her family in A Maze of Grace, and blogged about Penny here. So as you can see, I'm not just a friend, I'm a fan :)

A Good and Perfect Gift was my first experience reading a memoir with someone I know in real life (rather than just online). About 45 pages in I realized, "I can't review this would be like reviewing her life!" So I'm not even going to try. But I can recommend it, with great enthusiasm. A.J. is a gorgeous writer who doesn't hesitate to lay bare her faults and struggles.

My favorite scene in the book is toward the middle, when A.J. and her husband Peter are driving home, discussing how to make sense of all the unknowns that go with having a child with a disability. She says to him:

"I just want good stories.... I want to hear that this kid with Down syndrome loves the tuba and this other one loves playing golf with his dad and this one had a hard time with spelling but loves to dance. Or whatever it is. I don't want statistics and predictions of who she will never be. I just want stories."

This is what makes her story (and mine, and yours) universal: We all need other stories to remind us of the larger realm of what is possible...and how very differently our lives can turn out, with options far more varied and interesting than statistics suggest. I'm grateful to Amy Julia for adding hers to the now you can read it, too :)

Thoughts from a travel adventure

So sorry for disappearing on you last week. I had a TRAVEL ADVENTURE! (Which means I also had a PANICKED WHAT-WILL-I-WEAR SHOPPING EXCURSION, followed by a HOW DO I CRAM ALL MY SHOES INTO ONE CARRY-ON BAG? DILEMMA. So really, it was a very busy week.

I flew down to Charlottesville, VA with Changing Seasons to encourage a ballroom full of awesome UVA women about two of my favorite subjects: God & boys. While I was there I kept thinking back to my own senior year, and how impossible it was for me to imagine how much bigger the world was about to get once I graduated. I wanted to say to these students, over and over again, "Just because your Mr. Right is not here at UVA right now doesn't mean he's not out there..." But in a huge act of noble self-control, I only said it once. (Or maybe twice...)

After UVA, I came home to Homecoming at Wheaton, and the annual gathering of alumni leaders at my awesome alma mater, only to realize this: The sense that there's something more out there? It never really goes away. Many of the questions we have when we're 20 are still there when we're 40. They're shaped a little differently, and some of the blanks have been filled in. But we still wonder: What's next? Who can I depend on/trust? Do I dare to dream about XYZ or am I being ridiculous?

The answers don't change, either:
We don't know what's next. We guess and try to nudge things along in a pleasing direction, but who really knows?

We depend on who shows up. Sometimes that goes well and sometimes we get crushed. But then we get up, do our best to shake it off, and love someone else.

And yes, we should all dream about XYZ...and yes, we're all being ridiculous. There are worse things. There are millions of people out there living in stunned astonishment at how far a little ridiculous can take you.

Here's to hope, courageous love, and being a little ridiculous :)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


I fell in love with this movie over the weekend. It's a story about all of us, in a way. The characters are musicians living in the tension between what real life looks like and what they hope might happen someday. But all of us do that. It made me think about how silly I am sometimes, heading out into my day as if I know what will happen, as if my plan is an outline circumstances are required to follow.

And yet...on any given day, something can happen that changes everything else. It's wonderful, and terrifying. And what strikes me most about this is how even after something remarkable & unexpected happens, I still try to forecast what will come next, adapting my planning to encompass this new aspect of reality, barely pausing to marvel or mourn at the wonder of it all and how much we just don't understand.

It was poignant to watch this movie after teaching an all-day class on memoir writing, meeting interesting people from all over who were looking at their stories--the unexpected twists, turns, reversals, disappointments, surprises--through the lens of hindsight, tentatively certain (because that's exactly what feels like) that what they've experienced fits in to the larger narrative. And it does. The trick is capturing that tentative certainty in writing, and to help others hope.

Then Sunday at church, the pastor said, When we live a good story, we reveal the beauty of God in a way nothing else can. That's what I want to spend this week thinking about, and believing :)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Patience, pigs, and waiting for Act 2 to end

I found this quote yesterday, in an interview author Lisa Tucker gave for Psychology Today:

"If you write without an outline, without even a sense of where the novel is headed -- as I do -- you have to have faith that your characters will take you where you need to go. And you have to be patient, because if you try to push them in a direction that you're more comfortable with, they just might rebel and decide not to tell you their stories."

I immediately copied it & then pasted it into a new blog post, not even sure why it struck me. I guess I'm thinking a lot about living without an outline lately (because really, that's what memoir writing is: you have to wait for the actual story to unfold, and for a long time you're just stuck somewhere towards the end of the second act, waiting for THE MOMENT WHEN EVERYTHING CHANGES) and how for most of what really matters, you simply cannot push.

I know people who push. I've been that person. The results are never, ever what we hope for, even when we're able to gloss them up and make it all look pretty on the outside. (The phrase "lipsick on a pig" comes to mind, and is making me giggle...)

It's such a fine line, really, between the times we should push ahead and the times when we should be patient and see how life unfolds. None of us really knows what we're doing. Sometimes it's fun to remember that :)

And the results of patience can be spectacular: Lisa has a new novel out, called The Winters in Bloom. I've been waiting for it since I first got word of it in April, as I simply adore the huge range of life she fits into her books. She might be the most diverse author I know. So now that it's here, I'm saving it for my travels next week, as I don't always sleep well in new places and I know her writing will keep me company if I'm up into the wee hours of the night.

It's nice to have good stories to keep us company--and remind us that the second act never lasts forever!--when we're waiting. In the meantime, let's keep the lipstick off the pigs.

Here's to a spiffy, unpushy weekend!

The Larger Story of the Universe!

I'm better! Or at least well on my way. I've been vertical for the better part of three hours already today, which is such an improvement over yesterday that I'm thinking I might even be able to take THAT DOG on a walk around the entire block, rather than just looping her back & forth across the backyard.

September is always my favorite month here in New England, and this one is extra-fun, because it includes two of my favorite things: a chance to meet new writers, and a field trip!

As I mentioned yesterday, I'm teaching a new memoir class at Grub Street on Saturday. I adore these all-day classes. It's inspiring to hear other people's stories, and when we discuss them within the context of writing (narrative arc, target audience, one-sentence pitch) the way we describe ourselves and our experiences takes on a whole new hue. It's like the stories are set free from the self-consciousness of cocktail party banter and loosed into the larger story of the universe.

(Okay, that was a dopey image. It's true...I totally think there's a larger story of the universe! Just wanted to admit that it looks a little dopey when you read it :) )

Next week, I travel to the University of Virginia (go Cavs!) to speak to a large group of students about, well...about the larger story of the universe! What I remember most about college was the feeling that if I didn't do EVERYTHING RIGHT, my life would be irrevocably messed up, forever. So I more or less did everything right for those four years, certain that it would guarantee my perfectly planned future. don't get to make a living writing memoir if THAT sort of plan worked out for you. So my fun job on this field trip is to pass along what I've learned since then, giving them a few tools to add to their "building a life" kits that they can pull out when they need them.

I'm a BIG believer in working hard, pursuing dreams, loving people with a big, open heart. When you live this way, you're going to take some hits. (And as I told a friend recently, the punch rarely comes from the direction you're facing!) The key isn't to avoid the hits. It's to get back up again, knowing that, as my friend Jon from Law School always said, Things tend to get done, and Things tend to work out. This is how I learned the third part of this little group of pithy maxims: Life is usually more interesting than we expect--pay attention!

And that, ladies & gentleman, is our theme for September!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Somewhere Sub-Stellar

Sorry for the no-post yesterday. I spent the better part of my waking hours shuffling between bed and couch, trying not to be awake. I've got one of those all-over-sick things happening, where vague feelings of not-quite-right bounce from my head to my stomach every twenty minutes or so. It feels like I took 3-4 medicines that weren't meant to be taken together and then added a shot of Jack Daniels to top it off. (Except that I didn't, which means I feel cruddy without benefit of any of the healing properties of those fine substances.)

But...I will be fine.
I'm yucky today, and might even veer out into gross tomorrow.
But I'm teaching a VERY FUN, VERY IMPORTANT MEMOIR WRITING CLASS on Saturday at 10am, and I will be feeling STELLAR by then.

It's decided.

Hope ya'll are rocking the stellar already. You can remind me how it's done :)

Monday, September 12, 2011

A serious post, inspired by a wonderful novel

I've been a fan of author Joshilyn Jackson since I heard her speak at the 2010 Festival of Faith & Writing and she made me laugh so hard I hiccuped. I just finished another of her wondrous novels, Backseat Saints, and I have to say: no other Southern writer so makes me LONG to trade in my New England-ly "Thank God!" (which I say often, because I have lots of things I'm thankful for and I believe in giving credit where credit is due...) for a full-on, drawled-out, "Well thank the Sweet Lord Baby Jesus!!!" Such is the power of her literary awesomeness.

Now, on a serious note: Backseat Saints is a prequel to her breakout hit, Gods in Alabama, but it also stands alone as one of the most powerful books I've ever read on women struggling with domestic abuse. She captures perfectly the bizarreness of it all: how strange it looks from the outside, to friends and family begging, "Please, just leave him!" and how it feels from the inside, when the options look far less clear. Jackson doesn't shy away from the ugly, painful truth: Very few women leave their abusive husbands (many who do go back), and no one really understands why.

If you've read my first book, you know that this hits close to home for me. I don't pretend to have one-size-fits-all answers, but I have a couple of ideas, if you know someone who is in this situation and want to help (Again, this is NOT professional or psychological advice...just some thoughts from someone who has been there):

1. Tell your friend that you understand why she might leave her relationship...but don't try to force her to commit to a plan. Give her space. Remember: If you've constantly been told that you're a failure and no one else could ever love you, it's tough to imagine that the world won't judge you if you can't make your marriage work. The point is to let her know you won't think she's a failure, and that it's okay if she needs some help starting over.

2. Offer tangible help. Put money in a bank account and tell her about it, saying it's there for her if she ever needs it. Offer to stash a bag for her with the things (clothes, etc) she'll need if she ever decides to leave. Put gift cards for gas, groceries, inside. But again--offer the help, and then back away. This has to be her decision.

3. If she attention to what she might be missing. When I left my ex-husband, it was October...I was in such a daze I grabbed high heels, two designer bags, and no winter coat. If you notice your friend seems to be missing some essentials, jump in: get her a coat, or lip balm, or whatever it is she needs. She may not even have noticed she doesn't have it.

4. Pray. I've realized that most of us have a really hard time walking away from situations that aren't good for us. We all need help--it takes a miracle. The good news is, miracles happen, everyday.

Okay, end of serious post. Thanks for reading. Check out Backseat Saints when you're looking for a good read. I bet you'll join me in thanking the Sweet Lord Baby Jesus for Joshilyn Jackson :)

Next Time, I'll Have a Burger

I had dinner with Super-G last night. You may remember my candid, heartfelt admission of salad struggles from a couple of weeks back. It was cathartic, and I was grateful for your supportive responses, both serious and hilarious. But last night, the discrepancies between her salad eating skills and mine were so glaringly apparent that I thought of you all...and had to take pictures.

Here, at the end of our meal, is my salad:

I picked off most of the good stuff! And even tackled the first 42 or so pieces of lettuce on the top! I was proud of my effort...until I looked across the table and saw her plate:

You just can't compete with that. It's a gift you're born with...or not. And yes, Super G was gracious enough to leave that little sprout of frisee on her plate to show that she's not invincible. But since "frisee" is a word that should refer to a dance step and not a food, I think she stands tall as the lettuce queen.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Saved from the Jaws of Outright Mortification

I'm going to spare you all the truly embarrassing post I drafted late last night. I was bleary-eyed from too much rain and not enough US Open tennis...but even so, it was so, so awful.

[There was a wafty quote from the early 1070s about a rose growing from a seed into bloom, & how it's perfect at every stage in the process. The quote was shot through with that sort of sentiment that demands we not judge ourselves and yet somehow leaves me feeling totally judged. And to top it off, I accompanied the post with a picture of a rosebud that was covered in (wait for it...) aphids. Yes, there were BUGS crawling all over my symbolic little rose, along with an inane comment about blasting them off with a hose.

Late last night, this seemed profound and important.

Today, in the cool light of morning, every part of my being is thanking God I didn't hit "Publish Post" last night.]

Thankfully, I found something better to send us all off into the weekend! It's a collection of "get moving" quotes author Natalie Taylor posted on her blog, gleaned from the t-shirts she saw at a CrossFit event. There's something for everyone. And with a little stretching, these apply to all different challenges in life--writing, working out, going after a degree or a promotion, building a business...

“Never fear competition. Welcome it. Embrace it. Then destroy it."

You can either have results or excuses.”

“Don’t wish it was easier. Wish you were better.”

and my favorite...

“Suck it up, buttercup.”

So much better than the aphid-laden rosebud of non-judgment!
Have a great weekend :)

Thursday, September 08, 2011

What's at Stake?

Have you ever read or heard something that exactly described an experience you'd had in a way you'd never been able to? I'm there right now. It came from this post from Michael Hyatt on thinking big. I've spent enough time in the world of imagination & possibilities to have come across most of his suggestions before, but #3 captured my attention. Connect with what is at stake.

"Before you can find your way, you must discover your why. Why is this goal important to you? What will achieving it make possible? What is at stake if you don't? What will you lose?"

These are GOOD questions. Big dreams come up against all sorts of opposition. With anything I've set out to do--become a lawyer, write a (first, second, third) book, build a happy marriage, recover from tough blows, plant a church--there have been people who lined up to tell me why it was a bad idea/would never happen and--my personal favorite--how I was embarrassingly unqualified to even consider such a thing and who did I think I was to try?

Michael Hyatt gets it exactly right when he says that knowing what is at stake if we DON'T follow through on a goal is what gives us the momentum to get up & over/around/away from the naysayers.

When I was writing He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not, I was frustrated that there were so few books out there bridging the gap between faith and romantic happiness in a way that made any sense to someone like me. I knew I wasn't the only woman out there struggling with questions about love & spirituality, and I wanted to encourage others that happily ever after is a dream worth chasing and that God cares. That kept me writing even as people told me I should be more realistic, because "People don't just their books published." (And that just seemed stupid: walk into any bookstore...clearly SOMEBODY is getting published. Why not me?)

You'd think I'd have conquered this when I sat down to write A Maze of Grace, but if anything, it was worse. Try telling people you're writing a book about how marriage can be really fun & happy even when tough things happen. Steely eyes, tense shoulders, change of subject. But again, I couldn't for the life of me find a book out there about a happy couple that came through life's ups & downs still liking/loving/finding each other sexy, and I believed with all my heart that that book should exist. So I had to keep writing.

And now, as I wrestle with the bits & pieces of what I hope will become book 3, there's opposition coming in all new directions. But this bit of idea--asking what it at stake if I stop--gives me a way through the discouragement so I can do the work anyway.

None of us get to skip this step, so the sooner we prepare for it, the better. What's at stake if you give up on your big dreams?

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Great Questions asked of Manly Men

Men's Journal is my favorite magazine. Not just because of the issue pictured here, with its great interview with Friday Night Lights' Coach Eric Taylor ("Clear eyes-Full hearts-Can't Lose!") and three pages of the disaster that is Jesse "It's not really my fault" James (Can't bring myself to find a link for him--don't want to know what it would unleash on my computer...)

It's partly that. But it's more that with every issue, the writing is SO GOOD that I'm compelled to read about things I wouldn't normally. Grilling buffalo meat, climbing big mountains in sub-zero temps, training for my first triathlon. God willing, I will never do any of these things (unless they come up with a triathlon featuring bargain shopping, typing, and a trip to the local bookstore). But the writing in this magazine makes me better at thinking about & describing the things I do, which makes me better at writing about it. That's a fine return on the price of our subscription.

The first page I flip to with each new issue is in the back, where they ask some celebrity with major "Manly Man" cred (it seems like Robert Duvall is the poster boy for this...I don't expect to see Elton John anytime soon, although I'd love to) a series of questions about what he's learned about life:

1. What's the best advice you've ever received?
2. What should every man know about a woman?
3. What's the best cure for heartache?
4. What adventure most changed your life?
5. What's the best survival skill you know?
6. What song do you have to hear at least once a week?

Aren't this INCREDIBLE questions? I love them. And I'm always surprised by what thoughtful answers the Manly Men give, even when they say something that sort of horrifies me.

It's raining today, and rain makes me ponder random things. Today, I'll wrestle with "What's the best cure for heartache?" I've spent some time researching that one :) If I come up with anything profound, I'll let you know. In the meantime, I leave you with this great quote from Coach Taylor:

"Every man at some point in his life is going to lose a battle. He is going to fight and he is going to lose. But what makes him a man is at the midst of that battle he does not lose himself. This game is not over, this battle is not over."

I think this applies to the ladies, too. We just look better as we fight :)

Monday, September 05, 2011

Laundry Love

We spent the middle part of the long weekend up in Maine with my sister and her family, welcoming the newest members of our clan. It was a special sort of celebration, as it wasn't a baby or even a puppy Meg added to our was a new washer/dryer! Now this might not be a big deal for some families. But for us, it's an occasion worthy of wine, toasts, and hours spent reminiscing about past laundry exploits (broken machines, bleach catastrophes, failed attempts to stretch ruined wool sweaters back into shape...) while looking excitedly toward the future. So much laundry, so little time!

We're laundry geeks. It's genetic. It started with my mother, who has always dealt with stress by gathering the biggest pile of dirty clothes she can find and bringing order from the chaos. My sister and I share in this delight, so much so that Steve and I brought a comforter, THAT DOG'S bed, two sets of sheets, and a load of whites from Cambridge all the way to Maine to help mark this important moment with her.

THAT NIECE (aka "Sparkle Girl") has inherited this love. She came running up to me when we arrived on Saturday, breathless with excitement, exclaiming: "Aunt Trish, I have something WONDERFUL to tell you!" Waving full-on jazz hands to emphasize the fabulosity of the coming news, she told me, "I found a new Barbie toy at Target...and it's a Washing Machine and Dryer!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" Her eyes were wide with awe. "It even comes with an ironing board," she told me a few minutes later. We shared a moment of spellbound wonder, imagining how much fun we will someday have helping Barbie wash, dry & iron her clothes. (I refrained from pointing out that Barbie's Dry-Cleaning Drop-Off seems more likely). It was a special moment :)

Sometimes it's the little things that make life memorable.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Emergency Success Plan

I love the U.S. Open. I've blogged about this before, a couple pf years ago when Melanie Oudin came out of nowhere, made a run for the title, and made us all BELIEVE just because she'd written it on her sneaker. Those moments are what remind me of how much can happen if we stay focused and keep on keeping on.

This year, I'm especially enjoying the commentators: John McEnroe, Chris Everett, Brad Gilbert... As they talk about what it takes to succeed in a sport with so many variables and challenges, much of what they say applies to normal lives like yours and mine. Last night, from John McEnroe: "Great talent is the ability to shrug off bad things that happen." Isn't that true? We're only a few days into the tournament, and already the discussion of how many players are working out a comeback of some sort is striking. It reminds me that in tennis and in life, there's no way to avoid setbacks, so you need to have a set of skills & a plan that helps you through.

Another topic that keeps coming up (they have a lot of air time to fill this early in the tournament, as most of the matches are smack downs that don't require all that much explaining) is how success--when a player breaks through and has a big win--often sets the stage for a season of disaster. A select few players assume the mantle of success gracefully, but many struggle to adjust to their new reality, floundering under the increased expectations, media scrutiny, and distraction of fans who suddenly know your name. Not to mention this: if you've had a single goal driving and motivating you for years, when you finally reach it, what do you focus on now? It can take a little time to figure out what life is about after that.

Have you thought about this at all? How will you handle being a top contender/published author/VP of Marketing/wife/husband/parent/lottery winner? Whatever it is we're working & praying about presents this question: aside from the daydreams of hoisting trophies into the air, how much have we thought about life after success? What are our non-negotiables in terms of the shape and direction we want life to take? How will we handle others' opinions of what we should do next? How will we preserve what matters and move forward into new endeavors?

Planning for success is so much more fun than coming up with a backup plan for if everything collapses. I'm grateful to the Johnny Mac & his peeps for reminding me to consider it.