Thank You, Dr. Leax, for Your Inspiration (part 2)

I am recently inspired by a book that I randomly picked up in a dusty resale shop in Marion, Indiana. You know how it goes — at least if you’re a reader or writer — the first stop is in the back where castoffs unsold at garage sales or lugged from overflowing home libraries rest precariously on makeshift bookshelves or in unorganized piles.

I’m usually looking for classics, memoirs, or books about writing, although our own overflowing bookshelves force me to try to be selective. But that day, I found a treasure. In Season and Out is a book by John Leax, my writing professor from Houghton College, whom I’ve written about before. A bonus is that the lovely illustrations are by a dear family friend, Roselyn Danner, now in heaven.

The book is simple, beautiful, lyrical. Divided into four seasons beginning with summer, the entries are dated and chronicle Dr. Leax’s woodcutting, vegetable gardening, teaching, and small town living. This passage, in particular, resonated with me:

Last night while walking Poon, I suddenly realized I had walked past nine houses within one quarter mile and did not know the occupants of any of them. I can rationalize my ignorance. The generation gap accounts for part of it, most of the houses are occupied by elderly couples or widows who keep to themselves. The cultural gap figures in it too; college English profs are not easily assimilated into the daily life of a small rural town. And the inevitable knowledge gap between old and new residents finishes it off; I’ve only been in this town nine years — I’ll never possess the local knowledge of those who go back generations.

(In Season and Out, Zondervan, 1985, p. 41)

My husband and I take a twilight walk. We’ve been in this tiny country town for almost exactly three years, slowly remodeling our 110-year-old house. We don’t know most of the 986 occupants of Swayzee. Fortunately, we do know most of our direct neighbors along our street, but any conversation quickly uncovers the truth that no matter how long we live here, we will always be newcomers who will “never possess the local knowledge of those who go back generations.” Folks here grew up together, went to school together, and lived around one another as they married, had children, worked, and grew older.

As much as I love our small town, I mourn the boarded-up and vacant buildings, the cafe someone bought to remodel and never finished, the houses unkempt or uncared for, the closed-up hardware store still full of supplies, the empty downtown building that fell (literally fell) because of neglect. At one time, this was a vibrant town — now the biggest news is that we watch a field outside of town slowly transform into a Dollar General.

But there is splendor here, splendor in the ordinary. The open fields, the sunsets, people’s care for one another, the annual rummage sales, the tractor day parade, the parks, the elementary school kids lugging their backpacks, the fresh wind bringing the scent of a new harvest.

Dr. Leax’s book inspired me to spend my summer writing about my small town, our butterfly gardens, our slow remodeling progress, our attempt at growing vegetables, my preparation for fall classes — all of which he touches on. I want to celebrate my very ordinary life, capturing its splendor as best I can.

I am not trying to get this published. I am writing to sharpen my skills and voice, to keep doing what I teach my students to do.

I owe it to my old prof, forty years later. Once again, Dr. Leax, thank you for your inspiration.

Submitting in 2021: Get It Done!

I’ve been watching Twitter feeds in the #writingcommunity hashtag and seeing lots of folks post that 2021 is the year they will finally submit — to magazines or literary magazines or a book publisher. I say, YAY. GO FOR IT! You pour yourself into those words and you have something to say into the world.

In order to do that, you’ll need to submit to gatekeepers at these various publications. Let’s make sure you do everything you can to get read! Following are a few tips as you make 2021 your year for submitting!

1. Follow the submission guidelines.

I can’t stress this enough. Read those submission guidelines — don’t just send off your piece. Not following the guidelines will assure that your submission will be rejected before it’s even read. Remember that editors and agents receive hundreds of submissions. They will immediately toss or delete anything that isn’t submitted per the guidelines.

You can find submissions guidelines on most publication or publisher websites (same for literary agents). You might need to scroll to the fine print at the bottom of the home page, or locate the contact page, but generally they will be there. You can also find information in Writer’s Market (or Christian Writer’s Market Guide if you’re writing for the Christian market).

For instance, if you’re going to submit to Grit magazine, navigate to their submission guidelines and follow them to the letter. Here’s the link as an example. Notice on the Grit submissions page that it tells you:

  • what they publish and what they don’t
  • the fact that you can’t send anything unsolicited; you must send a query letter first
  • where and how to send the query (even what to put in the subject line of your email)
  • word counts
  • where and how to send your submission

Or check out the submission guidelines for the Chicken Soup for the Soul series of books here. Notice again:

  • how to write your submission (even how the first paragraph should read)
  • how NOT to write your submission
  • that you must submit through their website

That basic information will get you a long way toward getting your piece in front of an editor’s eyes. Of course, you still need to write well, have a compelling piece, and fit the editor’s desires or needs (which, of course, you have no idea about necessarily). But you could have all of that but will lose the opportunity if you don’t follow the submission guidelines to the letter. So make that a resolution!

2. Proofread your submission and have someone else (who knows what they’re doing) proofread as well.

Have your proofreader double check your submission along with the submission guidelines. (They might see something you missed.) Make it a joint effort. Don’t be in such a hurry to meet your goals of submitting that you hurt yourself. And proofreading by yourself is never a good idea. You’ve read the piece so many times your mind will automatically correct words or fill in missing words. I have previously noted some tips and tricks to help you proofread.

3. Don’t take rejection personally.

You’re going to get rejection letters. The more you submit, the more you’ll get rejected. That’s just the way it is. But also, the more you submit, the more opportunity you have to get published. It might help to do as this writer did and actually set a goal for rejections — the point being, of course, that eventually out of all those submissions will come publication. Sort of takes the sting out of it . . . a little . . .

4. Keep good records of your submissions.

Do this now if you haven’t already. Create a document or an Excel sheet or some kind of system whereby you track where you send what. Trust me, over time, you’ll forget. Whether you’re writing articles or seeking an agent/publisher for your book, you want to capture:

  • the name of the publication/publisher/agent
  • website link
  • submission guidelines general information
  • title of the article/book you queried (or sent)
  • date sent (so that if it says they’ll respond in one month, you know when that month has elapsed and you can follow up)

In addition, you can keep a running list of various places that you want to query. In my Freelancing class (in the Professional Writing program at Taylor University), where we focus on writing articles, the students create a tracking system listing at least 10 possible magazines they can submit to, a separate page for literary magazines, and then another page with their various article ideas or WIPs captured. If they hope to one day get a book published, a new page can begin to capture potential agents or book publishers for the genre of their book. For every piece they write, they have to write an accompanying query letter, and then actually send three of those letters during the semester. Learning to have the discipline of creating solid query letters, tracking where they’re sent, and having a list of potential publications means that they can keep writing.

For example, you send out the query, you receive a rejection. Instead of letting that stop you, you go to your tracking list and mark down the rejection (so you don’t accidentally send the same query to them again). Then you look on your list for another publication that might like that same article or that article with a slightly different slant or focus or word count. You revise your query letter and send it to that publication. I know some writers who have such a system that, when a rejection arrives, they have that same article pitched somewhere else within 24 hours.

The same goes for book publishers. Find the agents and publishers that accept what you’re writing, create a solid query to them, and send it on. When a rejection arrives, move on to someone else.

The point is, keep going, dear #writingcommunity. Make 2021 your year!

Good Old Summertime: Or Why I Got Nothing Done and I’m Okay with It

I truly tried. I had a list. I had a schedule. I had good intentions. I was going to GET STUFF DONE.

Write some articles. Work with writing prompts. Submit. Start a more vigorous exercise program. Learn InDesign and Google Analytics. Write some letters.

Instead, you know what I did? Not that.

I rested. I slept. I read books. I spent more time in God’s Word. My husband and I spent many hours deciding on paint colors for our three rebuilt rooms. I cheered him on as he painted all those rooms (I offered to help, but he knows my shoulder problems would only be made worse). We brought some furniture to replace what was destroyed in the fire. We bought a dining room set at a garage sale. We planted and maintained our gardens.

Painting, painting, painting.
Butterfly garden in its third year. Mostly perennials, a few annuals.

I freelanced on a manuscript style tagging job. I ran our Taylor University Professional Writers’ Conference again — only virtually this time, with great help from my Taylor University IT friend and fellow writer and editor T.R. Knight, who managed our Zoom conference with great skill and patience.

But, honestly, I feel like I accomplished nothing.

I frustrate myself so often. What is it that makes me create lists and check off the little tasks (buy coffee) but let the bigger ideas, the longer-term items (finish that creative nonfiction article) go from week to week in my schedule book, carried over as if I can do so indefinitely?

What makes those writing tasks so hard for me?

Some if it is rejection. Some of it is imposter-syndrome. Some of it is being just plain tired. I could blame the pandemic and all of the stress of online teaching this past spring. I could blame the pandemic for lack of personal contact with many of the people I love most. I could blame the worries over the many issues bombarding our world today and how my brain is tired trying to navigate them. I could blame our house rebuild that has dragged on because of scheduling issues with various contractors. I could blame my age.

OR I could just let it go and say it’s okay. I did what I did and it was all good. Time with books and in God’s Word and resting were probably what I most needed considering everything else going on in my life and in our world.

Yeah, I think I’ll go with that.

I’m a Type A personality who always feels the need to “be accomplishing something.” Everything I do needs to be something I can check off a list or post on Goodreads or have something to show for it. My writing so often doesn’t. It sits on my computer because no one else should ever see it. Or I took the chance to send it out and get rejected.

Maybe I need to add “take a nap” and “get a rejection letter” and “write X number of terrible pages” to my daily to-do list.

That’s actually not a bad idea. I could at least trick my brain into thinking I’m accomplishing something. I already know that rejections and terrible pages are the stuff of good writing (well, probably naps as well).

And I’m okay with that.

Close Reading — It’s Good for You

Back in June of 2015, I wrote a post about how excited I was to teach a class in our Professional Writing major called The Writer’s Craft. As it turns out, I’m teaching the same class again this spring semester, five years later. I have enjoyed recasting this class with some new writing to explore, new pedagogies to try, and five more years of teaching confidence under my belt.

As I noted in the earlier post, this class does not look at the why of a piece of writing. Instead, we focus on the mechanics, the how, the craft. What words does the writer use? How are those words making this piece sing? What about sentence structure? Paragraphing? How is this dialogue telling us the story without telling us the story? We’re still using some tried and true greats (Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Steinbeck), but I’ve added a few titles still classic but not as old (Tim O’Brien, E. B. White, John Updike, Flannery O’ Connor), along with diversity (Joy Harjo, Jame McBride, and a few names I’m still researching), plus some YA and fantasy genre pieces (also still researching).

Seriously, the class is planned, but in the short time frame between closing out J-term capstone class and beginning the spring semester (3 days), I found myself with a few TBDs on the reading schedule that I’ll fill in as we go along.

College teaching is just sometimes like that.

In addition, we’re still using Francine Prose’s book Reading Like a Writerbut this time I’ve also added Anne Lamott’s delightful Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and LifeIt may be 25 years old, but I know it will speak volumes to my students about being writers.

 

The essence of the class is what Prose calls “close reading.” Usually when we read for pleasure, we skim along, anxious to discover who falls in love, or whodunit, or how to solve that problem the book promises to solve.

With close reading, however, we linger over the words. The students receive printed copies of the pieces they’ll be “close reading” so they can write all over them — commenting, highlighting, underlining, circling. This kind of reading helps us to read, as Prose says,

. . . more analytically, conscious of style, of diction, of how sentences were formed and information was being conveyed, how the writer was structuring a plot, creating characters, employing detail and dialogue. . . . I discovered that writing, like reading, was done one word at a time, one punctuation mark at a time. It required what a friend calls ‘putting very word on trial for its life.’

As writers, our currency is the words we string together. We write our first drafts and then go back and revise, putting every word on trial, forcing it to explain why it should stay, removing or replacing it if the case isn’t made — if the lyricism or characterization or structure or foreshadowing requires something else.

As we read these masterful writers, we stand in awe at how they make look so simple a scene that we know required dozens of small perfect choices.

And even as I continue to journal Scripture, close reading is causing me to slow down on familiar passages and read them more carefully, seeing them anew.

In our busy culture with quick social media posts and constant bombardment of words, it’s almost a relief to be forced to slow down and delight in the world an author so carefully crafted for us.

Try a little close reading. It’ll do you good.

What’s your favorite book that has delighted and astounded you with its writing?

Where’s Your Foundation?

As a Christian publishing professional, editor, writer, and now faculty member teaching Professional Writing, I have been considering my responsibility to my students about their responsibility as Christian writers.

The first concern, as noted in this post, is that my students stand firmly on the foundation of their faith. From the first day of the 101 class to the last day of capstone, I want to help them understand that they must stand on solid foundational truths that will undergird their writing (and, by extension, their lives).

bitumen waterproofing of the foundationMost of my students have a foundation of faith that drew them to Taylor University. Most are Christians but with a wide variety of perspectives on doctrines, social issues, and politics. There is room for all of those perspectives in my classroom, but I always want to draw them back to where we all agree: belief in Jesus Christ as Son of God and Savior. Scripture is pretty basic: “If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9 NLT). We have our theologies and our beliefs and our opinions, but it really comes down to that.

So where do they land? Where is their faith, personally? Much of this exploration occurs outside of my classroom in other classes, at chapel, in their small groups in the dorms, and just in living lives as college students. I want them to wrestle with these questions so that as they take the classes across the Professional Writing curriculum, they stand on a foundation as they think critically about how their faith matters in their lives and how it affects their writing.

It matters because their faith matters first and foremost. They don’t know if their words will ever get published into the world, but they do have a responsibility to write where they are called to write. They must not make their reason for being or their standard of success tied to getting published—that should never be the “be all and end all” for any writer. Far more important is their obedience to God wherever He places them and whatever words He gives them. Their relationship with God trumps anything else in life—it trumps every success and every failure, for it is ultimately what matters most.

I encourage them to pay attention in the Biblical Literature classes, to explore Scripture in small group studies, to read the Bible all the way through, to listen to God in a quiet time (in whatever way that looks to them). I want them to understand how God’s Word is “alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires” (Hebrews 4:12 NLT) and how Scripture needs to be a daily “lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105 KJV). I want them to love the Bible.Bible

So then, what it means to be a Christian is to have foundational belief and, I would add, to seek in individual, faulty ways to live and act on those foundations through a daily personal walk with Jesus. It means staying in Scripture and prayer so as to always walk closely with the Father. This doesn’t mean that all Christians will believe the same, act the same, apply those foundations the same, or carry that faith into the world in the same way. We are each working out our own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12-13). But still, the biblical faith foundation is vital.

Christian writers must be marinated in Scripture, in prayer, and in a daily walk with Jesus.

That’s the foundation we must have.

Christian writer friends, how do you keep your faith fresh and alive?

The Challenge of Christian Writing and Publishing

It’s been an interesting challenge, this past school year, as I’ve taken on new classes (translate—learn what I need to teach and then figure out how to teach it) and gotten out of my comfort zone.

But it has forced me to do some deep thinking about what I’m doing, why I’m doing it, and what really matters.

Why do I teach writing and publishing?

What do I really want my students to know?

In the past few months, three things have become more clear to me. For the Christian writers who come through the Professional Writing major at Taylor University, I am committed to them graduating with the following understandings:

  1. as Christians, I want them stand strong on the foundations of their faith, understanding that Scripture and their faith impacts every aspect of their lives; I want them to fall in love with God’s Word and see its power for the rest of their lives;
  2. as writers, I want them to understand that their love for and ability with words is a calling and a gift from the Caller that they should and must continue to hone and improve;
  3. as Christian writers, I want them to comprehend the power of those words and their responsibility to God for how they use their giftedness with words, especially as they seek to publish those words into the world.

How can my faith intersect my discipline as I teach the Professional Writing curriculum? How can I—a Christian publishing professional, editor, writer, and faculty member—bring these fundamental truths into our program? How can I bookend my students’ learning from their 101 introductory class to their final capstone class with these truths that matter?

It feels like a very heavy load.

But down deep in my soul, I sense that this is vital. This is more important than anything else I can do.

It is incumbent on Christian publishing professionals—whether authors or editors or publishers or marketers or bloggers or social media experts or agents—to deliver material that is well written, winsome, true, biblical, and honors Jesus Christ.

In a recent discussion, one of these Christian publishing professionals told me, “Too much of Christian writing is either preachy or saccharine. We need to bring wisdom, winsome words, and truth from our foundation into our writing.”

But what does that even mean anymore? The world is so deeply divided. Even among Christians there is so much division we sometimes act like a circular firing squad. I wonder how we can impact our world for good. How can we disagree about living out our faith (our politics, our work lives, our theological beliefs) but do so in a winsome and respectful way? How can we engage the questions so important in our culture, even as we disagree, while still being able to help others find what we have discovered in the foundations of our faith? In the end, that foundational piece is going to be all that matters to us anyway.

How do I guide my students to these understandings—even as we learn good writing and style tagging and editing and platform building and how to do a book proposal?

How do I guide them—even as we look for truth in Scripture and perhaps disagree on many other areas?

How do I help us all “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling” and work out our writing and publishing lives in the same way?

There’s a lot to unpack here, and I invite you to join me both as I prayerfully seek God’s guidance and express my thoughts in the blog. I invite you to comment with your own thoughts and ideas as I think this is a big conversation worth having.

Writers have a lot of power with their words.

And the world needs our very best.

 

The Splendid Work of Writing

I’ve been reading the essays of author Andre Dubus, considered a master of the short form. In his book, Meditations from a Movable Chair (New York: Vintage, 1999), Dubus writes an essay called “First Books” and offers this encouragement to writers:

An older writer knows what a younger one has not yet learned. What is demanding and fulfilling is writing a single word, trying to write le mot juste, as Flaubert said; writing several of them, which become a sentence. When a writer does that, day after day, working alone with little encouragement, often with discouragement flowing in the writer’s blood, and with an occasional rush of excitement that empties oneself, so that the self is for minutes longer in harmony with eternal astonishments and visions of truth, right there on the page on the desk, and when a writer does this work steadily enough to complete a manuscript long enough to be a book, the treasure is on the desk. If the manuscript itself, mailed out to the world, where other truths prevail, is never published, the writer will suffer bitterness, sorrow, anger, and more dangerously despair, convinced that the work is not worthy, so not worth those days at the desk. But the writer who endures and keeps working will finally know that writing the book was something hard and glorious, for at the desk a writer must try to be free of prejudice, meanness of spirit, pettiness, and hatred; strive to be a better human being than the writer normally is, and to do this through concentration on a single word, and then another, and another, and another. This is splendid work, as worthy and demanding as any, and the will and resilience to do it are good for the writer’s soul. If the work is not published, or is published for little money and less public attention, it remains a spiritual, mental, and physical achievement; and if, in public, it is the widow’s mite, it is also, like the widow, more blessed. (162-63)

dubus

Writers, we must endure. We must keep working knowing that the words we write are worth it . . . it being the process, the “splendid” work, the worthy and demanding work.

No one said it would be easy. No one said it would be a sure path to fame and fortune. But as writers, we must be true to ourselves, to our giftedness and our calling. We must reach and try and write and rewrite and reach again because it matters.

If we’re true to our giftedness, then we will continue to write — no matter whether published or not, read or not. It is the “widow’s mite” that we offer up, and we are blessed.

 

That Elusive Perfect Word

Child, to say the very thing you really mean, the whole of it, nothing more or less or other than what you really mean; that’s the whole art and joy of words.

C. S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces

Finding that perfect word that says the thing I mean, what I really mean, is a struggle for the writer — and I know all writers experience it constantly.

But it’s not just a writing problem; it’s also an editing problem

As an editor, my job (especially at the copyediting phase) is to make a manuscript sing. If I read your story or essay or article or devotional, I’m looking closely at the sentences and the words — and I’m asking if the words I see are the best words. Sometimes something I read makes me stumble. I have to go back and understand the sentence, or visualize the scene, or simply try to comprehend what the author means to say. I stumble because something isn’t working.

And if it isn’t working for me — the editor — then it isn’t going to work for the readers either.

Maybe I need to replace a blah verb with a stronger verb — or better yet, an adverb and verb with a strong verb. “He slowly walked across the street.” Ugh. Adverb. Not helpful. Many strong verbs can picture a slow walker, but the verb needs to be the best verb for the scene. Does he amble? trudge? shuffle? Amble sounds like he’s carefree . . . trudge sounds like he’s sad . . . shuffle sounds like he’s elderly or injured perhaps . . . I have to study the scene and suggest a strong verb, the right strong verb.

Or maybe the descriptor isn’t quite there. A “shiny” item might better be described as shimmering or glittering or glistening or gleaming or glossy (wow, lots of “g” words there).

At times, I look for a word that will add some alliteration — if it works with the tone of the piece.

It takes a writer, a reader, a word lover to be a good copy editor, to massage the message, to tame the tome (see what I did there?).

the best

Some sentences just make me stop in wonder. Some words string together like the notes of a beautiful melody. They take my breath away. (I gave a few examples in this post called “Word Power.”)

It’s hard work, this writing, editing, and trying to say what we want to say or trying to help authors say what they want to say.

But when a sentence sings, when we “say the very thing [we] really mean, the whole of it, nothing more or less or other than what [we] really mean” as C. S. Lewis writes, it’s all worth it.

We live for those moments.

Ever have one of those times when it all came together?

 

Hands (Flash Nonfiction)

I’m experimenting with another kind of writing not common to me called flash nonfiction. Flash is typically under 1000 words, and this particular piece is topping out at 250. I like to write about commonplace things, seeking the splendor in the ordinary. This one is called “Hands” and was inspired by some moments with one of my granddaughters.

Hands

“Grandma, what’s wrong with your hands?” My five-year-old granddaughter’s voice betrays concern mixed with a bit of awe.

I look down at the hand in question. My left hand is placed on the “treasure box” (an old jewelry box) that she and I are exploring. We have plopped together on the queen-sized bed and into the soft comforter. The morning sun filters through the lace curtains, bright and harsh on this clear and cool April Saturday and puts the blue veins of my hand into sharp relief, like a topical map of mountains and valleys. I too am a bit stunned at how odd my hand looks.

hand mine

“Those are my veins,” I explain.

Ari splays her little fingers and feels the back of her own hand. “Mine is smooth,” she announces and turns back to the jewelry.

I look at my hand again, moving it back and forth in the sunlight. I haven’t ever noticed these veins so pronounced before. Blue lines, mixed with brown age spots, travel around the back of my hand creating an impressionist pattern of muted colors. I’m in my sixtieth year, a grandmother, hands no longer smooth and strong, clearly betraying the age that I so desperately try to camouflage on every other part of my body from my graying hair to my slowly bulging middle.

These are old hands, these hands with the convex veins.

Nothing wrong with them, dear Ari. Just evidence of a life being lived.

 

My Experiment with Ekphrasis

Last post, I discussed my discovery of ekphrasis and how much I enjoyed using it in my classroom to help the students write the details. The practice helps them to notice and employ those details in whatever they write.

This is my ekphrastic piece about the photo below, a photo of me and my youngest son, taken in the early 1990s.

Sweet Sonme and sean

He snuggles into my lap—my sweet youngest boy, born a mere eighteen months after his brother and thirty months after his sister. His blue shirt and green shorts are most likely hand-me-downs from his siblings. The Velcro shoes revealing that he has not yet learned to work with laces.

Always moving, he is caught for a moment. Perhaps as he ran by me while I sat outside on our deck, I reached out and scooped him onto my lap as my dad snapped this photo. It’s summer, circa 1994, my parents still able and willing to make the eight-hour drive from their Pennsylvania home braving Chicago traffic to visit their 1-2-3 grandkids who had arrived in 1-2-3 fashion and then grew too quickly. These are their only grandkids at this point as my sister—eleven years younger—has only recently married.

Dad captures these moments on slides, his trusty and omnipresent camera yielding trays and trays of slides. He stores them upstairs in their home and, at every family gathering, is happy to haul down the screen and projector asking, “What years shall we revisit tonight?”

For Christmas one year, dad sorted his hundreds of slides representing a half-century, and downloaded them onto his computer. He then created a flash drive for each of his siblings and children with only the slides featuring them, creating a wonderful chronicle of them young, then with young families, then with grandchildren. My flash drive begins with me as a babe in arms, works its way through the hobby-horse days, every birthday and vacation, my awkward cat-eye glasses stage, all the way to me and my kids.

So the reason I have this particular photo is because I’m in it. I see my young mom self—newly out of the haze of caring for three toddlers in diapers and getting no sleep. At this point, finally everyone can pee and poop and sleep on their own.

Yet for me, the photo is all about my little boy. I have my arms around his sturdy body as he curls into me, his hands touching each other, mine cupping his shoulder. He smiles that mischievous smile that for a moment captures the fact that he is here now but mentally on to his next act. The large Band-Aid across his left knee attests to some misadventure.

He and I are close. His giggle could light up a room. He approached life in a lighthearted way, laughing at even those scrapes on the knee (after a few appropriate tears). A hug from mom or dad and he was soon on his way to what life offered next.

He will grow up to see what I don’t see—make films, create art, dive deeply into a realm that is beyond my sensibilities. He and I are able to snuggle this way for many years until slowly I begin to lose him to depression and, one day, an attempted suicide.

But he is back now. Stronger. Growing.

“You saved my life,” he says. “I am still here because of you.”

I wish I could still hold him this tightly. Protect him from the scrapes and sufferings and hurts that life inevitably gives. Let him know that it’s going to be all right.

Yet I do hold him just as tightly.

In my heart.

Every day.