Praise Song: Children at Play

042515Praise how a field, any field, means run! To the trees and back and–panting–let’s go again. Up and down on one leg or leaping like a frog or hand on the head because we are unicorns. Praise a pickup game of soccer behind the barbecue restaurant. Praise piggybacking the little kids as we sprint. Praise dusk coming on, the air April thick, parents waiting at picnic tables while the children keep going, keep going. Praise their breathlessness. Praise how fully they enter the action. Praise their dampened hair as we hug goodbye in the parking lot.

April 25, 2015

Praise Song: Voting on Slips of Paper

042315How alive the vote when you cup one hand for privacy while the other writes. One name scratched on a slip of paper, folded tight, then held in the air. Praise the old coffee can that contains the choices. Praise how after nine shared months, there is affection, respect, and the wish for a voice to speak for all. Praise the act of unfolding each slip of paper in another room to tally, the counting and double-counting just to be sure. Praise Todd, who won the night, who will stand at the podium and do it right.

April 23, 2015

Praise Song: Comfort Food

042015The tom kha gai is tangy and creamy, the tofu crisped and floating in the broth. Back when I wrote stories for the university, I would head downstairs and sit at Madam Mam’s eating it, book or draft in hand. It’s the soup I chose when I was getting a cold. When the days sat too heavy on me. When I needed escape. The soup at Sap’s is the same, same woody bits to work around, same scoop of the whitest rice to the side. Praise the old standby. Praise spooning it onto the plate in a practiced way. Praise how it was there on the day I needed comfort. Praise umbrellas hanging from the ceiling. Praise the good husband who came when I called only an hour later, who sat in the room while a machine clanged and banged, all so that we can know that I’m okay. Praise being okay. Praise it every day.

April 20, 2015

Praise Song: Stories

After nourishment, shelter, and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world. — Philip Pullman

In front of the wood wall at Malvern Books, they brought their stories. The girl next door seen anew. A pit bull in the back yard. A return to Antibes. Two sisters and their swagger. A photo of a father. Daddy, cleaned up and beloved. Poodles and a Mercedes Benz, elders in song. 041915Praise the courage to stand up and say your truth. Praise the audience overflowing the chairs. Praise laughter and listening and cheese cubes eaten from toothpicks. Praise the thoughtful way Charlotte affirmed those stories for all of us. Praise community, generations, the tinkering with a phrase to get it right.

April 19, 2015

Praise Song: Getting Through a Hard Week

It’s true, each day I found something to praise. The focus of students writing around a table, the sweetness of the restaurant where we held our rehearsal dinner almost seven years ago. Amid an endless headache and doctors’ appointments and traffic that didn’t want to release me from its hold, I snapped pictures of the CSA baskets and the dinner I came home to and kitchen shears on a wrinkled towel that deserve a song for the satisfying snip that they make. I found what was tender and worthy in a week that tested me. So praise the practice of praising, even when it’s hard. Praise three meals a day and a husband and friends who look after me. Praise three years of Amelia at Free Minds and how proudly the writers read their work on Tuesday night. Praise a headache subsiding and a blog still alive and how I took those kitchen shears to the garden, Saturday afternoon, and clipped a small bouquet for the kitchen.

April 18, 2015

Praise Song: Overheard at the Capital 10K

The women walked in shirts printed with “In Memory of David” on the back. His face, his uniform, in color. All those walkers and runners wove through and continued on. Praise the woman who paused beside them and said, “I am sorry for your loss.” Praise the questions she asked — where was he, was it his first deployment, how long has it been? Tens of thousands of us cruised past that starting line, the gate and Texas flag, in modest clothes and impressive costumes. We noted the fog shrouding the Capitol, the strength of our legs, the hills we never noticed in our cars. We cheered for the high school band playing under Mopac and the singer songwriter on Cesar Chavez. I was so happy I texted Chris to tell him he needed to come next year. It was fun, so fun. But praise those women and the overheard moment. Praise the dignity of pausing to ask. Praise what we carry with us, sometimes on apparent, sometimes not.

April 12, 2015

Praise Song: Napping Cats

0411151Some days deny my ambitions to praise. Say, Saturday. The endless headache. The event we planned and few attended. The hovering threat of rain. The kitchen needing cleaning again. It’s when I know I must praise what’s so easy to forget, the house I get to live in or the legs strong enough to carry me through the exhibit. There are daisies blooming in the yard. Remember, there are daisies blooming in the yard. Except that I am thinking of my headache, the poor turnout, how I am again on the couch watching back-to-back episodes of Chopped. And then come the cats. Praise their oblivion to expectations and existential angst. Praise how they know an afternoon on the couch is no great disappointment. Praise the simple satisfaction we feel when Cosmo, aloof prowler of closets, leans his body in and naps. Praise his curled form, his quiet purr, the weight of him leaning against my legs.

April 11, 2015

Praise Song: Live Music

0410151At City Hall, Tibetan monks start building a sand mandala that four days later they will dissolve and distribute, pouring their art into palms to be released to the wind. It is like that with live music–drinks on the table, lights focused, picks moving across strings, and the sound gone at the second it is most realized. Praise the moment of creation, and praise the moment after, when all that remains is the memory. Praise Peter Mulvey bringing his full heart to a small stage on Friday night. Praise how he once was a 19-year-old busking on the streets of Dublin with my friend and how he chose, after that, to go all in. No bets hedged. No alternate plan tucked in his back pocket. Nearly 30 years later he is driving from gig to gig–two guys, two guitars, a new song every Tuesday. Praise the tenderness of his lyrics. Praise the high notes, and the low. Praise the Cactus Cafe, which almost didn’t make it yet still remains, every seat a good seat. Praise the synchronicities that brought us to sit with old friends at a round table. Praise chords, words, rapport, all offered up. Praise how we follow them into the moment, into the song.

April 10, 2015

Praise Song: Old City, Old Selves

Go back to your old haunts in your old neighborhoods and what do you find: they remain and have disappeared.

— Colson Whitehead, “Lost and Found”

Praise the city you hardly see anymore, with a glass and steel Marriott rising right over the spot of the long-gone Mexican cafe where you’d sometimes sit alone at the counter eating migas. It’s all any of you talk about–where the city you once knew has gone, and how long it took to get wherever you were going in the traffic, the traffic. As if everything isn’t always changing anyway, as if you could still be 19 or 31 or 42 and strolling through streets ever familiar. And then, praise that day your old life comes marching toward you carrying who you were when you first set foot in the city. The writer in overalls reading a book in a coffee house was once you, now isn’t, but you know you once embodied that ease.

041015Then while you sit at a different counter eating fish tacos and drinking red wine, up walks a man you had one date with 15 years ago. It was your first fall or spring, and the first time you realized that the temp in this city can shift 30 degrees in a matter of hours. What you remember is how he walked down the sidewalk a pace ahead of you, to your right, trying to block the wind. Praise that you knew his face when he said hello. Praise that there are still writers and coffeehouses and books to pull from satchels. Praise that no matter how tall the new buildings, you still know the way home.

April 9, 2015

Praise Song: Walking After Work

040815Praise the long days of April, when I can finish up those final emails, make the drive home, change my clothes, hustle across the traffic of Riverside, and still have enough light for a walk. Praise the boardwalk, which sometimes feels like it was built just for me, me whose six-word memoir might read, Loves to walk beside the water, who carried a Wallace Stevens quote tucked into the front of her journal for a year, Perhaps the truth depends on a walk around the lake. Praise how for these 45 minutes I can leave behind the HVAC installers up in my attic, failing again, and the budgets and questions of program outcomes and who really deserves an A in the class, and just move my sandaled feet forward. Praise Anne Lamott’s long ramble about turning 61, which I read aloud to Chris before bed, in which she reminds us, If you want to have a good life after you have grown a little less young, you must walk almost every day. There is no way around this. Praise how many writers I can carry in my head, their voices coming at me when I least expect it. Praise the health that allows me to be here, the slice of time between things where I can breathe, and all the pauses I make so often for skyscrapers glistening in the distance, for rowers gliding by in sync, for colorful boats awaiting their next paddle.

April 8, 2015