In Defense of Mud

It’s raining today, a rare treat for Southern California.  I think the weather I miss most about the South is our fantastic thunderstorms.  I used to sit on the swing on my front porch and watch the rain pound and the sky light up like it was alive. ( The sky can be such a show-off.)  Today I sat staring out the window at work, watching the storm and feeling six years old again.  The world was full of joy when I was six years old, full of beauty and magic and wonder and possibility.  This was the year before I grew up, the year before my whole world shattered, before everything changed.  When I was six, I used to run out into our grassy front yard wearing only my pink-and-blue polka-dotted one-piece and twirl.  How I loved to twirl at that age, the last year I was a child.  I would twirl in the warm summer rain, arms outstretched, and drink in the world the way only a child can–with innocence and simple bliss.

I have always loved the rain.

When I was six years old, I was a ballerina.  Or I could have become one, my teacher confided to my mother, if I had been willing to put in the years of hard work and dedication necessary to acquire such discipline and skill.  (But I was only a ballerina for a year, the last year I was a child.  The year I turned seven–when everything changed–I found my mother sitting on a bar stool at the island in the kitchen, a wet dishrag in one hand and her head in the other, and told her very seriously that I was quitting ballet, that I couldn’t handle it right now.  My mother understood.  No one better than she.)  I could have been a ballerina, and indeed what six-year-old girl isn’t enamored of tutus and silk-ribboned shoes?  But what I loved best was the class after ballet: tap dancing.  I remember our annual recital, the night I proved to the world that what I lacked in rhythm and grace I made up for in…being a six-year-old girl.  We tapped our carefully memorized routine to “Singin’ in the Rain,” decked out in our green-and-blue polka-dotted rain coats and matching umbrellas.  (I must’ve had a momentary obsession with polka-dots, a six-year-old girl’s prerogative).  Years later, when I first saw the movie, I was excited to discover that my six-year-old memory could identify with Gene Kelly‘s difficult dance. (Watch the clip here.)  I saw him tap around his umbrella and thought to myself, I can do that!

Our backyard was the envy of the neighborhood.  This was the backyard my brothers and I still talk about with a hint of child-like longing.  Sometimes I wish I could whisper in my six-year-old ear to enjoy it, no really enjoy it, because it’ll be a long, long time before we have any kind of yard to play in again.  But I don’t think it would have changed anything.  We could not have loved that yard better than we did that last year, when the grass had grown in fully, the playhouse de-spidered, and Angel towing us around in the little red wagon.  On summer days when it did not rain, I would pull the hose from under the deck and set the sprinkler to wave at the sky with its long, slow arc across the backyard.  My brothers and I would don our suits and run through the spray, tackling each other and trying to escape the sporadic and energetic attacks of Angel’s slobbery kisses and wet, muddy fur.

Ah yes, mud. I had intended to write about mud all along, and here it is now upon me.  Someone told me today that mud is rain’s disgrace.  That it eats shoes.  That it slanders rain’s good name and drags it through the, well, you know.  I must, in memory of my six-year-old self, beg to differ.  So here are 10 reasons mud is great (click the links for more info on each item):

10. Mud stoves

9. Mud stencils

8. Mud run

7. Mud bath

6. Mud masks

5. Mud bricks

4. Mud therapy

3. Mud wrestling

2. Mud gardening

1. Mud pies!

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Sounding My Barbaric Yawp

I didn’t quite make it to the Arboretum today, despite my best intentions.  Instead, I interviewed for a tutoring position at EcoAcademy, a charter high school in downtown LA.  I was really impressed by the emphasis on community and mentoring; I think I could really get behind their goals.  Talking about my personal and professional goals with my interviewer helped me realize how much I value opportunities to empower others to be able to express themselves in a way that is both effective and authentic to who they are as creative and capable individuals.  It’s been a while since I’ve given thought to just why I love to do what I’m doing with my involvement in the Fuller Writing Center and my private tutoring business.  As much interest as I have in theological training and as fired up as I get about shaping the education of tomorrow’s church leaders, I believe my calling has always been outside the church walls.  Even in college when I had high hopes of getting into an MFA program for creative nonfiction, my dreams were always too big for some small-circulation Christian devotional magazine.  I know it sounds hokey, idealistic and naive, but my secret hope is to impact the world–and to do it in a way that is unique, creative, and in all honesty God-breathed.  I have always reserved a special kind of awe for art and ideas that carry in them (for me, at least) a glimmer of the power that spoke the world into existence.  I know this is the age of image, whether YouTube videos or breakthroughs in cinematic experience.  But I confess that my heart finds the foundation and culmination of artistic expression in the word.  If you’ve ever seen Dead Poets Society, you can’t deny the power of words to shape a youth into a strong, confident adult whose greatest merit is character. (Of course, the last scene is the best, but I can’t risk spoiling the moment if you haven’t seen it.)  DPS brings me back to my initial point, that I could rock this job if they gave me half a chance.  I can’t compete with Robin Williams’ charisma, but his passion is something I think we all share–all of us whose euphoric moment is seeing the confused face light up with understanding, that breakthrough so hard-won.  Don’t tell anyone, but I think there may be something of a teacher in me after all.

Welcome to the Garden

I spent the afternoon at the LA County Arboretum in Arcadia, California.  My little brother gave me a membership for Christmas, and I have to say: best gift ever!  I wish I hadn’t lost my camera last year so I could capture every moment, but luckily I have dozens from my previous visits.  My brother complained when his gift to me arrived in the mail, “Why’d you make me give you a membership to a flower garden?”  Believe me, the Arboretum is way more than a flower garden, although I did spend about half an hour smelling all the varieties of roses in the Rose Garden.  God’s natural perfume!  I’m exhausted from trying to take in 127 acres in 3 hours, and my blistered feet are complaining already, but it was totally worth it to bring in the new year with the creative genius of the Gardener.  Amen!

Not that I put much effort into a list of goals I know I’m most likely going to give up on within a few weeks, but I have made one New Year’s resolution I hope to see through: blogging once a week in 2010.  So here’s the plan: Tuesday afternoons at the Arboretum, winding down and reflecting over a pot of tea at Peets, and wrapping up with a Tuesday evening blog post.  Sounds feasible, right?  Here’s hoping!  To help keep me motivated when I get bored or slip into those terrifying moments of total lack of inspiration, I’ve got a stack of books from the bookstore with my handy-dandy staff discount on a variety of subjects.  Check the tabs for new stuff in different areas of inspiration–different paths around the garden, if you will!  Comments are always welcome.  I’m always up for banter, verbal sparring, or intellectual interrogation. (Interested in my old stuff? Click here.)

Welcome to the garden.  Come on in.