Getting Rejected and Other Fun Things About Publishing a Book

At the beginning of [chess], there are no variations. There is only one way to set up a board. There are nine million variations after the first six moves. And after eight moves there are two hundred and eighty-eight billion different positions. And those possibilities keep growing. There are more possible ways to play a game of chess than the amount of atoms in the observable universe. So it gets very messy. And there is no right way to play; there are many ways. In chess, as in life, possibility is the basis of everything. Every hope, every dream, every regret, every moment of living.

Matt Haig, The Midnight Library

What an analogy to life! You make a decision, thinking you know the outcome or the desired outcome or the correct outcome. We moved to Ecuador for our family to have a new experience and make a difference in our community and become bilingual. And while the first two are actively happening in wonderful ways we could not have predicted, the third is sliming along at a snail’s pace. Not what we imagined. I tell myself that the time and effort it is taking for all of us to learn Spanish might provide experiences and (embarrassing) memories that we will come to cherish. This time and effort might be making us into better humans. I can only hope so. Because if I don’t, my forehead will start looking for the nearest brick wall.

You might remember my announcing with great grandeur and flourish that I’m going to write a book, a terrifying but exciting decision. But I felt ready. I had the support and encouragement of a successful author and educational consultant. I had a good idea. I had the work ethic.

I sat at that chessboard knowing that my first move would be just that — the first move, of many. But I also knew that my first move would be the start of a game that I would win. And winning meant that I was going to publish this book. Not a bad way to play a game, knowing that you’re going to win and knowing what winning looks like.

So I got to work. I wrote, I edited, I pondered life’s mysteries, I drank coffee. I compiled my work into the required proposal format. I sent it off to a large educational publishing company with humility to know that it was my “reach” publishing company. No surprise, I received my first rejection letter a few weeks later. I was pretty sure my first move would result in this.

Oddly, I felt a sort of pride receiving this, knowing that most great authors out there have experienced rejection. I was all set for this rejection to be a wonderful chapter in my becoming a great author story. And, really, this big bad publishing company didn’t even know me. Why would they take a chance on a complete unknown author when they didn’t have to? Well anyway, I changed their message.

Jen
you
are
valuable.
we
are in
Development.

I created the closure for this rejection and moved on in stride. I went back to the proposal drawing board for the next company. Now this company — this company was the one my mentor recommended as a good fit for me and for the type of book I was writing. I pored over the proposal, checking everything. I didn’t want a single apostrophe out of place. Suffice it to say, I was very nervous submitting the proposal. I probably checked over the email and the attached proposal for 20 minutes before simply pressing that blue SEND (while holding my breath and twitching my toes).

In a few weeks, I received the reply.

You know, I felt like I had a knight-fork chess move going with those two publishing companies. Surely I would get one, but there was a countermove I hadn’t expected, and I lost my knight. (Steve helped me with this one: a knight-fork move is when a knight is attacking two pieces at the same time.)

Jen, you again

keep writing.
be
your best

Because losing my knight didn’t mean I was going to lose the game. I still had all my major pieces. I had my queen and two rooks (or if we care to remember the analogy to life — I still had my physical and mental health). I would keep playing and doing my best. But I was sad all the same. And that was OK.

Wipe the tears away . . . and ONWARD to the next publisher I go. I rewrote and reorganized my proposal to fit this publisher’s particular format and even added some details that I thought would help. Looking back, this third proposal really was the best. I had been so confident in my first proposal and then even more in my second, but those two rejections had forced me to see that my best hadn’t been that first or second proposal. It was my third. I was feeling good. Again I waited the several weeks for a reply, and when I saw it sitting unread in my email, I had butterflies. This could be good!

Neat. And, you’re welcome for the bit about the iPad and melatonin! How exciting that you liked that! So so great!

Sigh.

This trying-to-publish-a-book thing is not for the faint of heart. Luckily I have a nice strong heart. So that’s one thing goin’ for me. And a wee bit of creativity to bring me out of the black and white chess game for a little break.

We’re not
moving.
That was
you!

And speaking of movement, I remember another tidbit of advice Mrs. Elm, the wise librarian from The Midnight Library, gave to the hapless protagonist, Nora:

. . . a pawn is the most magical piece of all. It might look small and ordinary but it isn’t. Because a pawn is never just a pawn. A pawn is a queen-in-waiting. All you need to do is find a way to keep moving forward. One square after another. And you can get to the other side and unlock all kinds of power.

All you need to do is find a way to keep moving forward. And I’d humbly add to that: AND NOT GET CAPTURED BY THE ENEMY AND DIE. Simple yet powerful advice for playing with a pawn. And for living life. And for trying to publish a book in the time of COVID when publishing companies have had postponements and they’ve downsized and they’re only going with sure-deals and they’re only looking at known authors and
and
and
and.

Interestingly, two friends recently gifted me with the book Get to the Publishing Punchline, by Joy Eggerichs Reed. I devoured it. It was an easy, fun, funny read, and I enjoyed it. But it was discouraging, too. I read through all the advice Reed gave, and for most of it, I can say that I enthusiastically followed it. But just like reading a chess book can’t prepare you for every possible move you might need to make in a real game, reading a book about publishing didn’t help me for this particular move in this publishing game. But it might for the next move.

That is, when I figure out what that next move will be.

So that’s what’s on the agenda for me: stare at the chess board and do some serious thinking. Perhaps it’s time to pay a little more attention to my pawns.

And, hey, if you know of any good educational publishing companies out there, let me know. I’ll take all the help I can get.

There is always a time to say it with fresh eyes, a fresh voice, and, frankly, an alive voice. And if you are alive, and something is in you to write, get it out.

Joy Eggerichs Reed, Get to the Publishing Punchline: A Fun (and Slightly Aggressive) 30 Day Guide to Get Your Book Ready for the World

The Summer of COVID: 5 Questions To Ask To Protect Our Kids

Each second we live in a new and unique moment of the universe, a moment that never was before and will never be again.

Pau Casals, by way of Brainpickings

Listen 7:44

Having kids is the best reminder of this. When they’re little, so much for them is new and exciting and marvelous. Just a simple ladybug on a leaf is cause for wide eyes and glee and shouts of “Mommy, COME!” The little humans want to share in their excitement, and who better than with someone they love.

The most lovely thing is that you find yourself actually getting excited to see something as mundane as a ladybug on a leaf — because you know how incredible it is to your littles. And something incredible to the littles is something incredible to the parents and everyone else who loves those littles. It truly is a marvelous thing. Kids are a lot of work, yes, but, man, do they make the mundane marvelous.

Pau Casals was a child once and later became a famous cellist who had the opportunity to play in the White House for John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy and guests in 1961. A marvel to behold — for both Casals and the Kennedys. And not a mundane marvel. There is something transporting about good music, and to say that Casals produced good music would be an understatement. The President was so taken with Casals and his music that two years later, he awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, an award not often given to foreigners. But days before the ceremony, Kennedy was assassinated.

Casals was devastated. As was much of the world.

I think sometimes when you find a good friend, a kindred spirit, you are transported to the childhood wonder of the ladybug on the leaf. Interestingly, after Kennedy’s assassination, Casals felt compelled to write about . . . children:

Each second we live in a new and unique moment of the universe, a moment that never was before and will never be again. And what do we teach our children in school? We teach them that two and two makes four, and that Paris is the capital of France. When will we also teach them what they are? We should say to each of them: Do you know what you are? You are a marvel. You are unique. In all of the world there is no other child exactly like you. In the millions of years that have passed there has never been another child like you. And look at your body — what a wonder it is! Your legs, your arms, your cunning fingers, the way you move! You may become a Shakespeare, a Michelangelo, a Beethoven. You have the capacity for anything. Yes, you are a marvel. And when you grow up, can you then harm another who is, like you, a marvel? You must cherish one another. You must work — we all must work — to make this world worthy of its children.

Joy and Sorrows

Two and two makes four, and I want my kids to know that. But I need to remind myself that learning is so much more than that. I want my kids to learn about who they are — that they are a marvel, that they are unique, that there is no child in the world like them. I want my kids to learn to cherish one another (a lesson they force upon themselves every day as they seem to always default to fighting with each other). I want them to grow up doing everything in their power not to harm one another.

So what message are we communicating to our most cherished children when we are in a pandemic, there are no vaccines for the young kids, and yet everything seems to be life as normal? My kids got COVID from going to church, a place where you wouldn’t even know there was a pandemic still happening — no masks, crowds of kids, and, come to find out afterward, unvaccinated adult leaders. But in the States, this seems to be pretty normal. Kids church and sleepaway summer camp and indoor trampoline parks and indoor birthday parties (because it’s too hot outside, of course) and various other crowded events.

The message I most often see these days is that if kids get COVID, they will either be asymptomatic or their symptoms will be super mild.

My kids’ symptoms were not mild: they experienced fevers, lethargy, body aches, coughs, general discomfort, and trouble sleeping at night. My nine-year-old spiked to 104.9o F a couple of times. It was scary, and I wouldn’t wish it on any kid. Two full days of sickness and then the lingering cough that persists as I write this (over two weeks later) — no, this was not “mild.” And my kids (ages 9, 6 this Sunday, and 2) are healthy and active.

What audacity we adults have to live life as normal during these very much not normal times. Just because we can get vaccinated, we think “Oh, the kids will be fine.” And for the adults who haven’t gotten COVID, choose not to get vaccinated, then work closely with kids without wearing a mask, and then give kids COVID, I say this: you are negligent and reckless.

So how can we live a full life and attend events in a world where kids aren’t vaccinated? My advice is to be keenly observant and ask questions:

  1. The of-vaccinated-age humans who will be working with the kids: are they required to be vaccinated? Will they be required to wear masks?
  2. How much of the event will be indoors? Will we know the vaccinated status of the people who will be in attendance?
  3. Will the guests be asked and advised to remain home if they have symptoms, even if they think it’s just a cold?
  4. If someone from the event does contract COVID, how will I be notified?
  5. What, if any, extra precautions will be taken for the kids to prevent their contracting COVID?

And don’t forget to be observant. I wish I had been that fateful day at church. If anything feels off to you, just leave. Remember: the world is still experiencing a pandemic. You are absolutely justified to work in the best interests of your kids. And the preceding questions are reasonable. If you are met with hostility when asking any of these, just remind yourself: You love your kids — period.

Let’s treat our children with respect. They are marvels. They are unique. They are to be cherished.

And to my sesame seed baby: I love you already. You are a fighter, sticking around through my having COVID. I am hoping that you’ll stick around all the way until March. Sesame seeds may be mundane, but you are anything but.

Let’s work to make this world worthwhile for our children. That may start with protecting them from COVID.

Church in the Time of COVID

The evangelical church fears that recognizing women’s leadership will mean bowing to cultural peer pressure. But what if the church is bowing to cultural peer pressure by denying women’s leadership?

Beth Allison Barr, The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth

And in other words: what if we’ve gotten it wrong? Barr acknowledges that in her work as a historian and as a teacher, asking the question, “What if I’m wrong?” has enabled her to be a better listener and to keep her humble.

If only we all could ask that question.

And while this particular book is about how we got it wrong in terms of women submitting to men, I can’t help but relate it to so many things I grew up believing about what it means to be a Christian. It is humbling. It is enabling me to be a better listener to people of other faiths and to people who are, simply put, different than I. And while I am moving in this direction, I feel an undercurrent of hostility towards me from The Church. No, not anything direct. Not any particular person. But hostility nonetheless. I sometimes think that if The Church knew what I really believed, they wouldn’t think I was a true Christian.

But I am not renouncing my faith. I hold firm to identifying myself as a Christian, but man it’s been a rough year to be a Christian. I have been embarrassed and ashamed of so many things The Christians have been up to. And when I get embarrassed and ashamed of a group of people I somewhat associate myself with, I start asking them questions.

I’ve always had a problem with getting shut down when I question things, whether it be as a member of a Bible study or as a teacher in a meeting. Have you experienced this? It’s frustrating. I like to discuss, challenge, and disagree with popular opinion. But when my questions or comments are seen as undermining The Faith or threatening the powers that be, they don’t go over well.

I remember being stuck in yet another English department meeting, slogging through the meeting to-do list. One item was to go through these gosh-awful, beastly, 3-ring binders and talk about how what we’re doing in the classroom is meeting blah blah blah particular standards. Listen: Standards are good. They can keep people accountable. But when you teach at a small school where department and division heads actually do visit your classroom and students do fill out teacher evaluation forms and in general The People do know what you’re doing in the classroom, taking 15 minutes for each teacher in the meeting to turn pages in a binder and describe what, in my opinion, was a very contrived, rule-following-robots type of classroom was a colossal waste of time. The first teacher finished her Goldilocks just-right curriculum, then the second, and then I couldn’t take it any more. I spoke up.

And that has always been my problem.

But its being my problem is The Problem. Why can’t I politely make a comment that perhaps this isn’t the most productive use of our time? Why is questioning the meeting to-do list met with such hostility?

Because it was. My department chair was MAD.

During a Bible study at The Church on a Wednesday night a couple years ago, I challenged the pastor’s take on a passage in Hosea. After I asked some “why” questions, the pastor said that Max Lucado says that it’s OK to ask “what, God,” but it’s not OK to ask “why, God.” I tried to look this quote up, to no avail. So I’m not sure if it’s even accurate, but there it was, stated to me from the pulpit. I shouldn’t ask why. Another elder spoke up to say that I was just struggling with my faith right now.

Well, what? (I can ask that, right?)

So when it comes to our being in a pandemic and things getting political about *all the things* and The Church having to vote on a president based on a single issue (why?), I can’t help but ask if we’ve gotten it wrong about some things.

When Steve and I went to church on Sunday, hardly a soul wore a mask. In our neon green ones, we felt like swamp monsters. None of the kids or kids’ leaders (that we saw) wore masks. We (naively? stupidly?) assumed that the adults working closely with the kids had been vaccinated.

When we got a text on Tuesday that someone who had worked with our kids that Sunday was unvaccinated and had tested positive, our first thought was “Wow, that was reckless.” But we thought we’d be fine. We had gone a year and a half without getting COVID, and Steve and I were just a few weeks out from being fully vaccinated (we got our first shot literally the first day we got to the States, which happened to be the day before church).

SPOILER ALERT: We all got COVID.

And I’m writing this in my COVID fog because I want to capture how my brain is working right now. I hope my writing is bearable. I hope I’m getting my points across. But I’m hazy, I’ll tell ya.

I’m disappointed in The Church. I’m disappointed that we can’t ask why. That doing something to protect others is seen as a political statement that comes with its own judgments.

And I have my personal regrets as well. When we got to church and saw the dearth of masks, why didn’t we hightail it outta there? I don’t know. But that’s our fault. We take full ownership of that.

Coming full circle, I think it’s time for The Christians to start taking a little look inward, asking some “why” questions, and definitely asking if maybe they’ve gotten it wrong on some things. As I am a Christian, I will be doing this as well. To take it one step further, I think it’s what God would want us to do. On the podcast The Faith Angle, Kirsten Powers and Jonathan Merritt talk about how doubting things about God and the Bible and religion means that your faith is alive. What an interesting perspective.

So maybe you fear wearing a mask or getting a vaccine will communicate to people that you are a Biden-idolizing, abortion-loving liberal.* But what if wearing a mask or getting a vaccine is how you can show Jesus’ love — by communicating that even though you might not want to do this, you’re doing it on the off chance that it might help others.

Because my understanding of Christianity is that it’s about others.

*To those people who choose not to get vaccinated and live a stay-relatively-at-home-or-around-a-few-designated-people kind of life, I’m not talking to you. I’m talking to the people who are living life in a pandemic as “life as normal,” or treating life in a pandemic as some political thing, or treating life in a pandemic as a way the secular world is trying to undermine God.

And another note: if anyone from this particular church reads this, please contact me directly and let’s chat. I’m not trying to hurt anyone’s feelings, but I felt I should be candid in relaying my experience.

Which Side Will You Be On?

Which way are you going? Which side will you be on? Will you stand and watch while all the seeds of hate are sown?

Jim Croce, “Which Way Are You Going”; cover and revised lyrics by Drew and Ellie Holcomb

You know, with all the craziness (read: pandemic, mask politics, vaccine skepticism, conspiracy theories, protests, blatant racism, disregard of others, and just plain hatred) of the past year and a half, I think it’s important to take a step back and ask ourselves: Which way are we going?

Because when things calm down (and they will), we’re going to look back to see which side we were on. We’re going to see if we stood and watched while the seeds of hate were sown.

But it’s not too late to reassess. To make a change. To do good.

Which way are you going? Which side will you be on?
Will you stand and watch while all the seeds of hate are sown?
Will you stand with those who say “let his will be done”?
One hand on the Bible, and the other on the gun.
One hand on the Bible, and the other on the gun.

Which way are you lookin’? Is it hard to see?
Do you say what’s wrong for him is not wrong for me?
Lives have changed, they’ve rearranged, what have we become?
All the olive branches turned to spears,
and the flowers turned to stones.
All the olive branches turned to spears,
and the flowers turned to stones.

Every day, things are changin’, words once honored turned to lies.
People wonderin’, can you blame them,
‘Cause it’s too far to run, and it’s too far to hide.

So now you’ve turned your back on all the things you used to preach.
Now it’s let him live in freedom, brother if he lives like me.
You walk the streets of righteousness, but you refuse to understand.
You say you love the baby, but you crucify the man.
You say you love the baby, but you crucify the man.
I don’t understand.

You say you love the baby, but you crucify the man.

US Coronavirus Deaths to date: 617,952

US Gun-Related Deaths in 2020: 43,558, up by over 110% from 2019

US Children Aged 0-11 Killed by Guns in 2020: 299

Black people killed by police officers since the murder of George Floyd:

  1. Tony McDade aka Natosha McDade, 38, Tallahassee, FL
  2. Modesto “Marrero Desto” Reyes, 35, Marrero, LA
  3. Ruben Smith III, 35, North Little Rock, AK
  4. Jarvis Sullivan, 44, Yulee, FL
  5. Terrell Mitchell, 34, Philadelphia, PA
  6. Momodou Lamin Sisay, 34, Snellville, GA
  7. Derrick Thompson, 46, Fountain, FL
  8. David McAtee, 53, Louisville, KY
  9. Tyquarn Graves, 33, Brooklyn, NY
  10. Kamal Flowers, 24, New Rochelle, NY
  11. Lewis Ruffin Jr., 38, Orlando, FL
  12. Phillip Jackson, 32, Tunnell Hill, GA
  13. Michael Blu Thomas, 63, Lancaster, CA
  14. Rayshard Brooks, 27, Atlanta, GA
  15. Cane Van Pelt, 23, Crown Pont, IN
  16. Donald Ward, 27, Phoenix, AZ
  17. Brandon Gardner, 24, Beach Park, IL
  18. Terron Jammal Boone, 31, Rosamond, CA
  19. Derrick Canada, 43, Giddings, TX
  20. Skyleur Toung, 31, San Bernardino, CA
  21. Robert D’Lon Harris, Vinita, OK
  22. Rasheed Mathew Moorman, 26, Roanoke, VA
  23. Aloysius Larue Keaton, 58, Little Rock, AK
  24. Kevin O. Ruffin, 32, Sheboygan, WI
  25. Ky Johnson, 31, Kansas City, MO
  26. William Wade Burgess III, 27, St. Louis, MO
  27. Joseph W. Denton, 35, Milwaukee, WI
  28. Paul Williams, Houston, TX
  29. Malik Canty, 36, Paterson, NJ
  30. Erroll Johnson, 31, Monroe, LA
  31. Richard Lewis Price, 49, San Diego, CA
  32. Hakim Littleton, 20, Detroit, MI
  33. Vincent Demario Truitt, 17, Austell, GA
  34. Aaron Anthony Hudson, 31, Syracuse, NY
  35. Darius Washington, 24, Chicago Heights, IL
  36. Vincent Harris, 51, Baton Rouge, LA
  37. Jeremy Southern, 22, Sacramento, CA
  38. Name withheld by police, Detroit, MI
  39. Chester Jenkins, 60, Stockton, CA
  40. David Earl Brooks Jr., 45, Roxboro, NC
  41. Darrien Walker, 28, Detroit, MI
  42. Ashton Broussard, 30, Houston, TX
  43. Amir Johnson, 30, Ventnor City, NJ
  44. Julian Edward Roosevelt Lewis, 60, Sylvania, GA
  45. Salaythis Melvin, 22, Orlando, FL
  46. Jonathan Jefferson, Bossier City, LA
  47. Rafael Jevon Minniefield, 29, Moreland, GA
  48. Kendrell Antron Watkins, 31, Tuscaloosa, AL
  49. Anthony McClain, 32, Pasadena, CA
  50. Adrian Jason Roberts, 37, Hope Mills, NC
  51. Trayford Pellerin, 31, Lafayette, LA
  52. Damian Lamar Daniels, 31, San Antonio, TX
  53. Julius Paye Kehyei, 29, Houston, TX
  54. Name withheld by police, 43, Dearborn Heights, MI
  55. Michael Anthony Harris, 44, Daytona Beach, FL
  56. Robert Earl Jackson, 54, Thorsby, AL
  57. Dijon Kizzee, 29, Westmont, CA
  58. Deon Kay, 18, Washington, D.C.
  59. Steven D. Smith, 33, Syracuse, NY
  60. Major Carvel Baldwin, 61, San Antonio, TX
  61. Steve Gilbert, 33, Delray Beach, FL
  62. Jonathan Darsaw, 28, Moscow, TN
  63. Robert Coleman, 88, West Sacramento, CA
  64. Darrell Wayne Zemault Sr., 55, San Antonio, TX
  65. Charles Eric Moses Jr., 33, Brunswick, GA
  66. Dearian Bell, 28, Atlanta, GA
  67. Patches Vojon Holmes Jr., 26, Bellefontaine Neighbors, MO
  68. Kurt Andras Reinhold, 42, San Clemente, CA
  69. Willie Shropshire Jr., 57, Waggaman, LA
  70. DeMarco Riley, 27, Decatur, GA
  71. Jonathan Price, 31, Wolfe City, TX
  72. Stanley Cochran, 29, Philadelphia, PA
  73. Tyran Dent, 24, Queens, NY
  74. Anthony Jones, 24, Bethel Springs, TN
  75. Kevin Carr, 23, Los Angeles, CA
  76. Dana Mitchell Young Jr., 47, Los Angeles, CA
  77. Fred Williams III, 25, Los Angeles, CA
  78. Akbar Muhammad Eaddy, 27, Rock Island, IL
  79. Dominique Mulkey, 26, Tampa, FL
  80. Marcellis Stinnette, 19, Waukegan, IL
  81. Rodney Arnez Barnes, 48, Elmwood Place, OH
  82. Gregory Jackson, 45, Moss Point, MS
  83. Mark Matthew Bender, 35, San Bernardino, CA
  84. Ennice “Lil Rocc” Ross Jr., 26, Kansas City, MO
  85. Jakerion Shmond Jackson, 19, Sylvester, GA
  86. Walter Wallace Jr., 27, Philadelphia, PA
  87. Maurice Parker, 34, Las Vegas, NV
  88. Kevin Peterson Jr., 21, Vancouver, WA
  89. Name withheld by police, 42, Detroit, MI
  90. Justin Reed, 34, Jacksonville, FL
  91. Michael Wright, Sacramento, CA
  92. Reginald Alexander Jr., 25, Dallas, TX
  93. Frederick Cox Jr., 18, High Point, NC
  94. Rodney Eubanks, 25, Baltimore, MD
  95. Vusumuzi Kunene, 36, Lanham, MD
  96. Brandon Milburn, 37, Oklahoma City, OK
  97. Tracey Leon McKinney, Gulfport, MS
  98. Angelo “AJ” Crooms, 16, Cocoa, FL
  99. Sincere Peirce, 18, Cocoa, FL
  100. Arthur Keith, 19, Cleveland, OH
  101. Name withheld by police, Inglewood, CA
  102. Shane K. Jones, 38, Dania Beach, FL
  103. 103. Shawn Lequin Braddy, 37, Laurel, MD
  104. Jason Brice, 39, La Vergne, TN
  105. Kenneth Jones, 35, Omaha, NE
  106. Rodney Applewhite, 25, Los Lunas, NM
  107. Terrell Smith, 17, Atlanta, GA
  108. Rondell Goppy, 41, Queens, NY
  109. Ellis Frye Jr., 62, Culpeper, VA
  110. Cory Donell Truxillo, Houma, LA
  111. Mickee McArthur, 28, Ferry Pass, FL
  112. Udofia Ekom-Abasi, Phoenix, AZ
  113. James David Hawley, 47, Pineville, LA
  114. Kevin Fox, 28, Detroit, MI
  115. Dominique Harris, 20, St. Petersburg, FL
  116. Maurice Jackson, 42, Phoenix, AZ
  117. Andre K. Sterling, 35, Bronx, NY
  118. Casey Christopher Goodson Jr., 23, Columbus, OH
  119. Kwamaine O’Neal, 47, Toledo, OH
  120. Mark Brewer, 28, St. Louis, MO
  121. Donald Edwin Saunders, 37, Dayton, OH
  122. Thomas Reeder III, 44, Flint, MI
  123. Joseph R. Crawford, 23, Fort Atkinson, WI
  124. Joshua Feast, 22, La Marque, TX
  125. Charles E. Jones, 36, Houston, TX
  126. Bennie Edwards, 60, Oklahoma City, OK
  127. Jeremy Daniels, 29, Concord Mills, NC
  128. Johnny Bolton, 49, Smyrna, GA
  129. Larry Taylor, 39, Mobile, AL
  130. Andre Maurice Hill, 47, Columbus, OH
  131. Isaac Frazier, 31, Houston, TX
  132. Sheikh Mustafa Davis, 20, Midway, GA
  133. Shamar Ogman, 30, Hartford, CT
  134. Marquavious Rashod Parks, 26, Davisboro, GA
  135. Larry Hamm, 47, Denver, CO
  136. Helen Jones, 47, Phoenix, AZ
  137. Jason Cooper, 28, Charleston, SC
  138. Jaquan Haynes, 18, Atlanta, GA
  139. Shyheed Robert Boyd, 21, Highland, CA
  140. Dolal Idd, 23, Minneapolis, MN
  141. Carl Dorsey III, 39, Newark, NJ
  142. La Garion Smith, 27, Homestead, FL
  143. Tre-Kedrian Tyquan White, 20, Richburg, SC
  144. Vincent Belmonte, 18, Cleveland, OH
  145. Shawn McCoy, Spokane, WA
  146. Robert “Lil Rob” Howard, 30, Memphis, TN
  147. Jason Nightengale, 32, Evanston, IL
  148. Matthew Oxendine, 46, Pembroke, NC
  149. Patrick Warren Sr., 52, Killeen, TX
  150. Lymond Maurice Moses, 30, Wilmington, DE
  151. Kershawn Geiger, 24, Carmichael, CA
  152. Reginald Johnson, 48, Biloxi, MS
  153. Zonterious Johnson, 24, Lawton, OK
  154. Christopher Harris, 27, Toledo, OH
  155. Eusi Malik Kater Jr., 21, Titusville, AL
  156. Tyree Kajawn Rogers, 38, Wichita Falls, TX
  157. Randy Miller, Los Angeles, CA
  158. Roger D. Hipskind, 37, Wabash, IN
  159. Karl Walker, 29, Dixon, CA
  160. Marvon Payton Jr., 27, Las Vegas, NV
  161. Jenoah Donald, 30, Hazel Dell, WA
  162. Dontae Green, 34, Baltimore, MD
  163. Treyh Webster, 18, Mobile, AL
  164. Christopher Hagans, 36, Stratford, CT
  165. Andrew Hogan, 25, Trotwood, OH
  166. Dustin Demaurean Powell, 34, Lakeview, TX
  167. Gregory Taylor, 45, Seattle, WA
  168. Jordan Walton, 21, Austin, TX
  169. Brandon Wimberly, Coral Gables, FL
  170. Daverion Kinard, 29, Fontana, CA
  171. Arnell States, 39, Cedar Rapids, IA
  172. Benjamin Tyson, 35, Baltimore, MD
  173. Donald Francis Hairston, 44, Culpeper, VA
  174. Chandra Moore, 55, Detroit, MI
  175. Andrew Teague, 43, Columbus, OH
  176. Howayne Gale, 35, Lakeland, FL
  177. Tyshon Jones, 29, Rochester, NY
  178. Tyrell Wilson, 32, Danville, CA
  179. Nika Nicole Holbert, 31, Nashville, TN
  180. Christopher Ruffin, 28, Palm Bay, FL
  181. Daryl Lenard Jordan, 50, Miami, FL
  182. Kevin L. Duncan, 38, Bellefontaine, OH
  183. Frankie Jennings, 32, Charlotte, NC
  184. Travon Chadwell, 18, Chicago, IL
  185. Malcolm D. Johnson, 31, Kansas City, MO
  186. Donovan W. Lynch, 25, Virginia Beach, VA
  187. Matthew Blaylock, 38, Los Angeles, CA
  188. Michael Leon Hughes, 32, Jacksonville, FL
  189. Willie Roy Allen, 57, Lithonia, GA
  190. DeShawn Latiwon Tatum, 25, Rock Island, IL
  191. Noah R. Green, 25, Washington, D.C.
  192. Diwone Wallace, 24, Alorton, IL
  193. Gabriel Casso, 21, Bronx, NY
  194. Desmon Montez Ray, 28, Birmingham, AL
  195. Dominique Williams, 32, Takoma Park, MD
  196. James Lionel Johnson, 38, Takoma Park, MD
  197. James Alexander, 24, Philadelphia, PA
  198. Raheem Reeder, Tallahassee, FL
  199. DeShund Tanner, 31, Georgetown, KY
  200. Faustin Guetigo, 27, Rockford, IL
  201. Daunte Wright, 20, Brooklyn Center, MN
  202. Miles Jackson, 27, Westerville, OH
  203. Mathew Zadok Williams, 35, Decatur, GA
  204. Anthony Thompson Jr., 17, Knoxville, TN
  205. Pier Alexander Shelton, 28, Bremen, GA
  206. Lindani Myeni, 29, Honolulu, HI
  207. Innes Lee Jr., 25, Cleveland, OH
  208. Roderick Inge, 29, Tuscaloosa, AL
  209. Larry Jenkins, 52, Winter Haven, FL
  210. Name withheld by police, 31, Fort Worth, TX
  211. Dequan Cortez Glenn, 24, Douglasville, GA
  212. Doward Sylleen Baker, 39, Dothan, AL
  213. Ma’Khia Bryant, 16, Columbus, OH
  214. Andrew Brown, 42, Elizabeth City, NC
  215. Tory Casey, 41, Rosenberg, TX
  216. Michael Lee McClure, 26, Billings, MT
  217. Marvin Veiga, 32, Nashville, TN
  218. Hanad Abidaziz, 25, Kansas City, MO
  219. Terrance Maurice Parker, 36, Washington, D.C.
  220. Eric Derrell Smith, 30, Biloxi, MS
  221. La’Mello Parker, three months, Biloxi, MS
  222. Latoya Denis James, 37, Woodbine, GA
  223. Ashton Pinkee, 27, Mesquite, TX
  224. Adonis Traughber, 54, Clarksville, TN
  225. Kalon Horton, 29, Leicester, MA
  226. Lance Lowe, 30, Stockton, CA
  227. Tyrone Penny, 21, Decatur, GA
  228. Darion M. Lafayette, 24, Champaign, IL
  229. Kortnee Lashon Warren, 23, Albany, GA

To close, some book recommendations that I hope my friends and family and anyone reading this post and anyone with a pulse will read:

The Warmth of Other Suns, Isabel Wilkerson (If you can read only one, read this one. Please.)
How to Be an Antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi
The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver
Caste, Isabel Wilkerson
Prayer: 40 Days of Practice, Justin McRoberts & Scott Erickson
Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again, Rachel Held Evans
The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives, Dashka Slater

And on my to-read list:

The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth, Beth Allison Barr
Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You, Jason Reynolds
Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, Ronald J. Sider
The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism, Jemar Tisby
God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships, Matthew Vines
Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation, Kristin Kobes Du Mez

As a final thought: Throughout history, there often has been a difference between the winning side and the right side. I hope moving forward we can better determine which side of history is the right one and choose that side.

And help it win.

Grief and the End of the World — in Quito, Ecuador

The sting of a fly, the Congolese say, can launch the end of the world. How simply things begin.

The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver

Even though we are still lumbering through this pandemic — this pandemic that all simply began with one itty bitty bat (or an itty bitty pangolin, or an itty bitty lab leak) — when I read this quote from The Poisonwood Bible, I don’t think of a global pandemic that started with one infection and led to over three and a half million deaths.

I think of my own grief.

And when I realize this thought process of mine, I feel selfish. How can I possibly think of my personal grief when people are dying every single day in every single part of the world?

So I’m selfish. Because there are so many simple things that happen in the course of a day that launch me into the thick gray fog of grief.

Lately, everything reminds me of my mom.

When I tuck my legs up on the couch to read my book, I think of how my mom would tuck her legs up the same way.

Mini emotional breakdown right there on the couch.

Washing dishes the other night, I got to thinking about how my mom would keep her house so sparkly clean all the time.

Full, heaving sobs over the sink of dirty dishes and soap suds.

I made brownies tonight and was excited to add toasted walnuts to the batter. I remember my mom first discovering the magic that is brownies with walnuts and talking to me about it, going so far as to add a bag of them with a boxed brownie mix as part of a college care package.

Overwhelming sadness and nostalgia.

I sat down at the piano tonight to sing and plunk out the chords to Toto’s “Africa” and thought of how my mom wanted so badly for me to enjoy playing piano and here I was doing just that.

Fat tears. While I’m playing “Africa.”

When I watch old episodes of Call the Midwife, I think of how my mom would have absolutely loved watching that show with me.

Just miss her so much.

Typing that just now, thinking about how silly it is to be sad from watching some random TV show — a show that my mom was never even alive to watch — a fresh spring of tears to my eyes.

How simply things begin.

And while I don’t feel like it’s the end of the world, I do feel deep surges of anguish.

It’s been 12 years since I got to hang out with my mom, watching HGTV on her couch, walking over to downtown Sunnyvale to shop at the farmers market, grabbing lattes at Peet’s Coffee and talking about hopes and dreams.

Time has made things easier, and yet, at the flip of a switch, at any moment, tears can start rolling down my cheeks. I’ve accepted it. And I’ve learned some things about my own grief that might help you:

  1. Accept it for what it is and how it manifests. For me, it’s mostly tears — sometimes at inopportune times. Oh, well.
  2. Surround yourself with people who can handle it. And who care about you. The last thing you need is to be embarrassed about your grief.
  3. Don’t suppress it. I’ve found that my tears are pretty cathartic for me. Maybe they can be for you, too.
  4. Find outlets for your grief. Clearly one of mine is writing, as you know if you’ve been slinking around on my blog. Singing and playing piano is another. Reading books here and there about other humans experiencing grief has been helpful to remind me I’m not alone.
  5. Love others. Tight hugs and shared belly laughs can do wonders. But also being able to channel some of those deep, heavy emotions into love for other humans can be a boon.
  6. Do something that scares you. Perhaps a jump off a zip line tower. Or perhaps a telephone call to a dermatologist’s office to schedule an appointment — in Spanish.

This past Monday, I called a dermatologist’s office here in Quito. I was terrified. Speaking Spanish is already scary, but over the phone? I hate calling to make appointments in the States where I can speak English! But, as I mentioned, I’ve been watching old Call the Midwife episodes, and in one scene, one of the midwives is terrified to do her first solo birth. She knows that if she makes a mistake, a baby or mother could die. So when I started dialing that Ecuadorian phone number, I told myself, “NO ONE IS GOING TO DIE IF YOU MESS UP YOUR SPANISH.” And that made things a lot easier. Thank you, Call the Midwife.

But after I successfully made my appointment and got off the phone, I felt transcendent. I could fly! I could do anything! Silly, I know, but it sure put me in a happy mood.

So there you have it: a great way to deal with grief is to move to a country where you don’t know the language well and make an appointment over the phone. Let me know how it goes for you.

Until then, tuck your legs up on the couch and read a book. Or watch some BBC and have a little cry. Preferably with someone you love. Happy grieving, Friends.

I think my favorite part of this 17-year-old photo is that white-knuckled GRIP my mom has on my arm. Fierce is the love my mom had for me.

Unlock the House. And Get Out.

I have refused to live
locked in the orderly house of
reasons and proofs.

Mary Oliver, “The World I Live In”

Listen 8:15

Living locked — anywhere — sounds pretty icky to me. Say those two words together: live locked. Does that alliteration just punch you right in the tooth? It does for me. It’s definitive. It’s harsh. It’s like when you slam your locker door shut only to realize you don’t have the combination for the lock.

In junior high, I wanted to be locked in the orderly house of coolness, popularity, and rum raisin lipstick . . . and sunflower everything and baggy pants and white eyeliner and baby tee’s from Hot Topic and chunky-heeled jellies. Ah, the glorious mid-nineties — what a time to be alive! And I was living in California, so the word “like” was basically, like, a topic of conversation.

But my problem was that I didn’t have friends. Sad day, I know. (Hey, Parents! Wanna know how to really mess with your kids? Make them change schools right when they are at their lowest point in self esteem, self reliance, and confidence.) So being new and without friends, I — very logically — thought, Why not really go for it and get in with the popular clique?

‘Twas a great plan. A great plan that absolutely flopped. (Think of a fish out of water, eyes glazed in horror and locked with yours, gasping for breath, flopping its wet scales against the flat grey rock. A bit of an understatement to my situation, but appropriate nonetheless.)

You don’t just waltz into the popular group, the word like dancing on your lip-glossed lips. No. Those popular girls — they are exclusive, lemme tell you, and they decided pretty early on that the frizzy-haired, caterpillar-eyebrowed Plain-Jen just wasn’t gonna cut it. I even wore oversized overalls with a baby tee and men’s boxers peeking out. Not. Good. Enough.

So I would wander around campus, alone, wondering how to kill time during the soul-crushing breaks of brunch and lunch. One of my go-to tactics was to casually sidle up to my locker and pretend to busy myself getting ready for my next classes. Even better, to soak up juuust a few more seconds, I’d pretend to get my combination wrong opening my locker. In hindsight, it probably wasn’t the best strategy, seeing as how it killed maybe 20 seconds and made me look like a total idiot.

The funny thing here is that being a 13-year-old, I really thought that people were watching and judging me at all times. I wish I could go back to that girl, put my hands on her bony shoulders, give her a good shake, and tell her, People don’t really care about you that much! Nobody is watching you “struggle” with your locker. Just get your stuff and go find some decent humans to hang out with! Sheesh!

You’ll be happy to know that I did eventually find some decent humans, but only after a group of super-cool kids paid cash to Danny to try to “pants” me in the middle of the quad. It was all very anti-climactic, though, because I was wearing jeans, and when he got down and tugged, nothing happened. (Hey, Danny, here’s a pro-pantsing-tip: maybe pants someone when they’re in PE, wearing their stretchy-waisted sweat pants. Might work a little better.)

At the end of the nightmarishly long two years of junior high, I came out of it. I’d like to say I came out as a better person, but in truth, I came out as just a solidly average person. I still had lessons to learn in high school and a long way to go in getting to be a decent person myself.

I wanted so badly to be locked in with the popular crowd. I longed to follow their rules — their reasons and proofs. I held onto so much angst for such a stinking, rotten prize.

But struggling with my locker and struggling with my angst helped me to become the person I am today. And the person I am today would hop up onto that soapbox with Oliver and preach to the world that You can refuse to be locked up in the orderly house of reason and proofs!

Though it’s not about rum raisin lipstick and jellies and popularity anymore (maybe for some of you, it still is — yikes), we humans do have the tendency to lock ourselves into that orderly house. We like reasons and proofs and walls and locks and black and white and answers.

But wow has this past year been anything but an orderly house. For me, that meant an international move and the chaos that comes with it — all in the midst of a pandemic. But it was scary how quickly I settled into this new life and started allowing myself to be locked into the orderly house of Zoom and schedules and laundry and dishes and sweeping and cooking. Could I have gotten out of the apartment more, working on my Spanish in real-life situations with real people, exploring my city without waiting for Steve to be finished with school? Yes. But it was so easy to stay inside, telling myself I needed to keep my apartment orderly, telling myself I had to be with my kids during every minute of every Zoom call just in case they needed me even though Steve was in the house, too. I’m going to try to unlock a little bit.

Well this past weekend, we decided to unlock ourselves from our apartment and go stay at an Airbnb in Mindo, a cloud forest in Ecuador. It was a windy, nauseating 2-hour drive (vomit definitely happened — both ways), but when we finally made it, it was as if we had stepped into heaven, except with humidity and bugs and mosquitos. In reality, it was a wooden cabin nestled in the middle of lush tropical gardens and an organic farm. Hummingbirds, toucans, and lots of other birds I don’t know the names of twittered and sang us through the weekend. We walked, we read, we puzzled, we listened to the birds (Oliver would be proud), and we star-gazed. It was lovely.

I don’t think it was exactly what Mary Oliver was talking about in her poem, but, man, it worked for us. It was time to get out of the apartment.

Maybe for you it’s also about getting out of the house. But maybe it’s about refusing to accept the status quo. Maybe it’s about being the lone voice in opposition, being vulnerable. Maybe it’s about being OK with not having the answers. And maybe, it’s about refusing to live locked.

The world I live in and believe in
is bigger than that. And anyway,
what’s wrong with Maybe?

Mary Oliver, “The World I Live In”

One of our activities was hiking to La Reina waterfall. Here, we are trying not to slip on the rocks to get a close-up view of the falls. We were most definitely not inside the orderly house at this moment.
One of the views from the property.
On the property.
On the property.
On the property.
My boys had a blast running around, discovering trails through bamboo, forging into hideouts in the middle of banana trees, and catching sight of the guatusa, a rodent similar to the capybara.

Yet Another Storm — in Quito, Ecuador

The sky is blue, or the rain
falls with its spills of pearl.

“Spring,” from Owls and Other Fantasies, Mary Oliver

Well it’s been spilling pearls here in Quito lately.

So

many

pearls,

drops

upon pearly

drops.

We are officially in rainy season. I see it outside; I feel it in my heart. Sometimes it feels like each Zoomy-Gloomy class is a fat drop of rain. This relentless rain pelts us, and instead of giving us life and growth and blooms, we’re just cold, soaked, and exhausted.

And while most everything here in the city is open for the masked human, school campuses remain closed. While restaurants are packed with unmasked humans eating food, school campuses remain closed. While grocery stores and malls and markets and buses are crammed with people, school campuses remain closed. Ecuador, I do not understand.

But while I sit here complaining about what a drag Zoomy Gloomies are, I have to remember what a privilege it is that my kids have devices, internet, and a connection — albeit through a screen — to classmates and teachers.

So many kids aren’t having any school whatsoever right now. So I think about all that rain and realize that it’s better than scorched and burning earth.

I am trying to see those raindrops as beautiful pearls and be grateful. But I’m human. And I’m cold, soaked, and exhausted. As I write this, yet another storm is rolling in. The thunder just cracked so loudly that a couple of car alarms went off. Pearls — they’re comin’.

All this talk of pearls — I should mention that in my household, “Pearl” has a very different meaning from the beautiful gem used for earrings and necklaces and rings. A long, long time ago, when kids were not even a thought, Steve and I used to entertain ourselves during church services by making little drawings of animal combinations on the bulletins. For example: a “feagle” was a fox with an eagle head and wings, a “duake,” a snake with a duck head, etc. One of our all-time favorites, both in name and illustration, was our beloved “Pearl.” Steve drew the most hilarious depiction of a pig and squirrel that I remember physically covering my mouth with my hands, stifling the laughs, feeling like my insides were going to explode from the pressure. All this during church.

So of course I start thinking about that poem excerpt, picturing our Pearls spilling from the sky. And though the sky is DARK right now, the thought of hundreds of pig-squirrels dropping from the sky brightens my day.

This. This is why I married Steve. We laugh SO HARD together, sometimes at the most inappropriate times. But isn’t that part of the fun? Tell me you haven’t gotten the case of the giggles during church, or during class, or during a meeting. You feel that tightening of your stomach and lungs; your face contorts; perhaps there are tears; and this volcanic laughter-air does everything in its power to escape out of your mouth and nose.

It’s the best.

Maybe it’s a reason I loved teaching so much. Those crazy students would make me laugh so hard. And laughing is energizing! And fun!

One time during Wellness Club, a club I sponsored, I decided to talk about this very concept of laughter being energizing (if you haven’t ever worked with teenagers, I’ll tell you: there’s a lot of sleepiness happening at school). I thought to my 30-something self: I know! I’ll search around the internet and find some super hilarious videos to show them. We’ll all laugh together, AND IT WILL BE AWESOME!

I had such good motives. And such confidence!

So they all filed into my room, collapsed into desks, and I started what was sure to be a total laugh-fest. I started with the hilarious Steve Carell blooper reel from Anchorman. I started playing it, giggling in anticipation. But soon enough, I side-eyed my students to see them practically melting off their desks in boredom. (Think of those Salvador Dali melting clocks — those were my students drooping and dripping off their desks and onto the multi-colored classroom carpet.)

It was so bad that I casually grape-vined over to my computer with a squinty smile and pressed pause. Heads turned expectantly toward me. It was awkward, so I — as I do — filled the silence by talking. Soon enough, we were all laughing at how NOT funny the video was to everyone except me and how clearly out of touch I was with teenage humor.

Even when the rain is pouring, we can choose to view the raindrops as pearls.

Or Pearls.

So maybe this post is a pep-talk to myself during this Zoomy-Gloomy cloudy rainy time. I’ll take it. But I’ll say this to the nine of you reading this: find the humor in this life. Spend time with people who make you laugh. Start there. And maybe your own artist’s rendering of Pearl might help.

And if you happen to be one of my former students reading this, thank you for the laughs.

In all her glory.
More church shenanigans. You know those “connect cards” that churches always have? Yeah.
“I give Journey Church permission to print My Story.”