Friday is Valentine’s Day. Hearts and Romance.

Last Saturday I took myself to see “Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolfe?”
I left the theater at a run to get back to my own husband. What mean and horrible people filled that play! I was so glad that my days are filled with a responsible and respectful partner.

I mean, mostly. We both are not so good about re-hanging towels on the rack, and other similar transgressions. But we are nice to each other.

Chris said, “Nice people make poor drama.”

In my nice low-drama marriage, I am ready to admit that we are also low on the typical Valentine’s Day hearts and flowers.

For the last couple of weeks, it’s been like this: one of us will say “Valentine’s Day is coming.”

The other will pull eyes up from whatever is being read or eaten and we will lock eyes. Like a game of chicken. Who will say what first? What is expected? What is required?

What if one of us has plans, and the other forgets? Like some kind of blindfolded competition. Neither of us wants to be the one to under-give.

I don’t want to undergive. But this is not what my husband means to me.

I was talking to someone about how I don’t have time to explain to people what’s happening in my day. I was sad that I used to have a whole bunch of friends who I could tell about my day and they would be able to follow along.

I went on, “It would take too long to explain before I got to what I wanted to say. Like, I would have to set the whole table before I could get to the dish I actually want to serve. I can’t even begin, because neither one of us has the time to get to what I want to say.”

Except my husband. He’s been paying attention to all the episodes, the whole season of my life. He’s been willing to binge watch along the way.

So I don’t have to begin my stories with a montage intro “Previously in Murphy’s life..”

He’s been paying attention. And he has opinions about what will and should happen next. He’s a fan.

And I feel the same.

It’s a precious thing, so have someone following along on my life. I’d rather have that than a box of chocolates. It lasts a lot longer.

Fewer Substitutes

I taught someone the word “ersatz” this week. I only learned it last year, and it’s not in common usage.
It means “substitute,” and I needed it to explain to her how I wanted this year to be different from how last year went.
Last year was very busy. That has to shift.
I worked really hard at my job…my jobby job. I had a lot of responsibilities and I got up early and stayed up late and nailed them to the wall. It took a lot out of me.
And I’m proud that I did that, but in a sort of unsatisfying way.
My job takes a lot of thought and I have to be smart and creative to do what needs to be done. So it is creative output.
But it’s a very low-grade version. Like eating popcorn for dinner.
I’ve done that before. I admit. I can eat a huge amount of popcorn and it is technically food. But I’ve learned that if I do that, I will feel weird.
It’s not very good for me. It will do. And that’s probably why I feel like I need to eat a whole lot of popcorn to replace a real nutritional dinner. But a lot of not-enough still isn’t enough.
That’s where ersatz comes in. Ersatz means substitute. So, eating a huge bucket of buttery popcorn is ersatz dinner.
And working hours and hours and weeks and weeks using my creative energy on work things is like eating popcorn for dinner.
It’s ersatz creativity.
And boy howdy, I know how to lean into that bad-for-me bucket of popcorn, or the never-ending inbox at work. Neither of those will tell me to stop. Work is very happy for me to keep it up.
But I feel weird and unsatisfied.
I’ve learned my lesson about the popcorn, but it only just occurred to me that work is ersatz creativity. At least for me.
I’ve been longing to create something. And it was easy to stay in my rut and create these factory spec cogs and widgets for my employer.
Until I had to spend several weeks sick in bed and I had a chance to see what I was doing.
I had to clear some mind space to figure out how to get to what I really wanted. And rebuild some boundary walls.
I have to have a reason to say no.  
I would think I’d learned that. I have. And I have forgotten it.
My first book is about this very topic. The Parable of Miriam the Camel Driver expressed it beautifully. I need to re-read my own book.
This is my life. I loan my creativity out. And I want to keep some for myself, for the quality, nourishing self-expression I know I’ve capable of.
The easy way doesn’t satisfy. I don’t have to accept the substitute.

Veronica cooks

I woke up from a nap

it’s super bowl


and we went shopping for food

I took a long nap and woke up to

Veronica had used a cookbook and cooked rice and a modified black beans recipe

she make fantastic rice

the black beans were a noble attempt

but I explained carefully that she was not yet allowed to use the stove without helpwoke me up


The thing that stops us from writing is not a lack of imagination.

What stops us from writing is being interrupted.

That’s what the famous author–whose name I didn’t catch–said in the Facebook ad. It’s true, and it’s probably a very successful ad. I hope they do get a lot of people buying their course on how to write.

I was thinking about that snippet all day today. I was not writing. I knew I needed to. I really wanted to. I had this weekly wonder to write, but also I have a short story I’m working on that it really exciting.

But I really had to clean the house.

Really. It’s seriously filthy. I’ve been sick…still climbing out of that pit. And I haven’t had time to do the basics. I still took a three-hour nap today, and when I woke up I just had to do something about the floor.

And I knew exactly what I was doing. Not writing.

This reminds me of when I was studying in college, and I would feel compelled to clean my house during the last week of the semester–the week when all the papers were due.

My house was so clean that week.

I was interrupting myself.

I really want to finish that short story. It’s been FOREVER since I wrote one; I was beginning to think I didn’t know how.

But I’m excited about it, but I’m still not making time.

I will be so glad when I am over this flu. I want those nap hours for my own use.

And as I mop the floor I accuse myself. Those three hours back so I can squander them on un-creative activity?

Sigh. I’m not myself. Or maybe I am, just a particularly awful version.

I have to trust that I will have the time, find the time, make the time to get to the part I long for.

The floors do look very clean now. Maybe that will help me concentrate.

And maybe tomorrow I will not need to sleep so much.

It takes longer than I want it to, but I’m moving in the right direction. At least I hope so.

Temperance in all things

I hadn’t quite stopped saying happy New Year to everyone yet, but last Friday something else took my attention.

I’ve got the plague. It’s a bad one this year; a lot of people are down. I hope I recover quickly. I’m hearing some people are out for two weeks.

This was NOT the plan for the New Year. Nobody wants to get horribly sick!

As I sit in a fog, I am catching up on TV shows without stress: documentaries. I’ve picked up Ken Burn’s “Prohibition.”

This one is interesting. The drive to outlaw liquor was a cause led by women. Since men were the ones who earned the money, women relied on their fathers and husbands to bring home enough money to pay for food and shelter.

But again and again, men would spend their pay on alcohol and leave the family with nothing.  It was an evil that had to be stopped.

Forces united and a monumental effort was made to have a constitutional amendment.


But it didn’t turn out the way they hoped.

Alcohol became more of a way of life than it had been before. And it even jumped the gender divide–women had been excluded from saloons before but entered freely into speakeasies.

It was increasingly clear that it wasn’t working.

And one big reaction was to double down. They said it’s not working because the police aren’t enforcing it enough! Take it more seriously!

I know there have been times in my life when I clung to a goal, not seeing the harm I was inflicting on myself.

If it’s not working that means I must try harder!

I used to think that way, but I’ve learned to take a step back and tinker. What’s out of line? Is there something I’m missing? There’s likely a better way.

As I sit in my brand new year, with my brand new plans for the year derailed, I think how it could have been different. What if the temperance unions had been a little more temperate in their temperance?

Could we have had a whole different ending?

And I wonder what a different perspective could do for me in my life too. Taking an enforced break from my usual focus because of sickness has its benefits. I wonder.

Darker or Lighter

As a women, I have the freedom to try new things with my look. I decided to try something different with my hair: go darker.

This is a thing that matters very litle in the world, but matter a lot in my world. It’s my head after all.

So made the choice, and bought the dye. Darker this time.

And i waited for the big reveal. It has to dry before the color can really be seen.


I looked into the mirror and it seemed practically black. Then I took a selfie, and the camera showed a much lighter color.

Then I looked in the mirror


then selfie

over the next few days I couldn’t reconcile it. How do cameras see this differently?

Remember that weird picture that can be a beautiful young woman in a hat, or a big nosed old woman with a shawl on her head?

I looked at myself in the mirror and tried to see what the camera saw. I began to see the glints of light.

What is the truth? What do my eyes see that others don’t?

There is no doubt my eyes focus on the things I’m most insecure about. But they are probably not as noticable as I fear.

Staring in the mirror to worry about my hair being too dark was not making me happy. And it would seem it’s not even true.

What else is true?

Or, how else can I see the picture that would make me happier? That’s worth trying for. It could be so easy to shift my focus.

2020 what I’ve read

  1. The other americans
  2. the gift of fear nf
  3. good omens
  4. Pachinko
  5. the dearly beloved
  6. eloquent rage
  7. cymbeline
  8. plague of doves
  9. burmese days
  10. coriolanus
  11. getting unstuck
  12. born with teeth
  13. The modern political tradition from Hobbes to habermas nf
  14. Originals
  15. the inimitable Jeeves
  16. my oh my nf
  17. tge art of astrology nf
  18. The woman’s hour
  19. The forgotten man nf
  20. Advances energy anatomy nf
  21. barking to the choir nf

Moving into the New Year

“Let’s go dance!”

I was a plus one, coming as a favor to a friend. I didn’t have to impress anyone, and there was free food and a DJ. Her Co-worker’s wife had been talking with me life she was my new BFF and that was fine with me.

But the music was playing, and that was the real reason I wanted to be there. Let’s get this party started!

We made our way to the dance floor, ducking around the buffets and the elegantly dressed men and women. 

At Last!

I found a spot near the front with enough room to move and got my groove on.

Except the people to the side were coming at me. What?

I moved over, and they moved over. 

My new BFF said “It’s the electric slide.”

I don’t know the electric slide. I mean, I know  it but…

“It’s easy I’ll show you.”

This is a club I am not a member of. It seems all of America–maybe other countries too, for all I know–can line up in a row and their left foot out and tap and turn and then bump into me.

I like the song. Leave me alone, I’ll just groove to the song.

But no! Everyone must teach me the RIGHT way to dance THIS song.

I don’t want to do it the way everyone does it.

I want to dance the way I want.

That’s what dancing means to me.

That cannot be permitted. This one has rules.

Unsurprisingly, this song is only played in situation of great conformity:


Bar Mitzvahs

Corporate parties

So my klutzy ignorance burns extra fierce as I turn the opposite direction and move counter to the wall of shuffling bodies.

I’m the one who is out of step. Literally, and holistically.

The one who was picked last

The one who stopped conversations when I entered the girl’s bathroom in Jr high

The one who doesn’t understand what the plan was

They’ll come after me, you know. I could leave the dance floor, but someone will take my elbow and say “It’s easy! I’ll show you”

Then I’m back in, crashing my misdirected body into the path of the ones who did get the memo.

This is not who I am! I can do things! I can be coordinated and keep the rhythm with elegance!

Not here. Not now.

Until at last the song ENDS. The sweet release of Wild Thing comes on and I’m set free.

I got this. This space it mine. I can move here. Just get out of my way. You do your thing and I do mine.

I’ve caught this drift. No conversations are stopping because of ME. 

I’ve come a  long way, Baby.

Happy New Year


Merry Christmas

I’m celebrating Christmas tomorrow. Actually, I’ve been celebrating it for at least a month now. It’s a big holiday, and it’s part of my family traditions.

All the songs, and the stories

The story of the baby Jesus born in a manger.
Away in a manger
No crib for a bed

We were telling the kids in Sunday school about it. Poor humble Jesus.
Poor Mary on the road because of some highly inconvenient government mandate.

I had to look it up. There are only two gospels that mention Jesus’s birth. Matthew and Luke. Matthew is the headliner in the New Testament, because he leads it. Matthew chapter 1 tells us about Jesus’ birth, with a big “begat” section of genealogy.

Mary is skipped over, mostly. Joseph gets the angel visit in a dream and:

“When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.”

Matthew is supposed to show the human-ness of Jesus. The “Man”ness of him. So, mom is off screen.

Two whole gospels later, Luke spices up the story. He was writing for a non-Jewish audience, and there is more drama in the popular Greek and Roman mythologies. His audience expects more. He gives some drama, including a solo for Mary.

Adding a musical number gives it some juice! The Angels got an ensemble piece later and the whole thing got wheels. It’s still a hit.

Luke was the one who staged it in a barn, with live animals and a manger and everything.

As far as Matthew was concerned, humble wasn’t the theme. Jesus pops out and almost immediately is gifted gold by leading scholars. He did have a fleeing-from-the-king problem, but that is a high-class problem to be singled out as the usurper.

Luke brought out the humility. And as we were telling the kids about poor poor Jesus in his barn I remembered Milton.

I remembered Satan from Paradise Lost.

We were in the world of Biblical stories with Luke and his ensemble cast. It was within easy reach.

Remember Satan? Starting out as Lucifer, clothed in light, he got jealous and started a coup d’etats up in heaven. Bad move.

He loses and is exiled to fire-and-brimstone hell. Yuck.

There he has time to plot, as well as be described in fantastical detail by Milton. He plots to sneak into this “Earth” place God just built and make some mischief.

The part that zinged my memory was when he lands his big old sneaky snakey body on earth.

He loses his mind by how beautiful it is. Milton puts line after line of archaic poetry in his mouth to express it:
O Earth, how like to Heav’n, if not preferr’d

He is homesick for heaven, missing its glory and when he lands on earth he says that God was just practicing on heaven and made earth even better!


This place where we keep our stuff.

The sun, the stars, and the cows and the straw.

All the little parts of it in small and in aggregate are glorious.

Hi Jesus! Welcome to Earth!

We have stars and straw!

And moms and cows!

It turns out that even if there had been room at the Inn, it would only have been incrementally more glorious than what this place has to offer.

This whole place–all of it–is a fantastic Christmas present.

I’m so grateful for it all.

And I thank you, my readers, for being here with me.

Merry Christmas! And may your dreams be bright.


Now that I have digital camera in my phone, like almost everyone, I have become a much better photographer. The instant feedback showing how my photo turned out helps me make choices about framing my picture.

But there is one thing a camera can’t change. It shows everything in the range of the lens.

When I look with my eyes, I focus on only a few things. A camera looks at everything.

This is why I find it hard to take a photo of the moon. The moon fills my eyes. It’s the only thing I’m looking at in the sky.

A camera is not that choosy. The ugly power lines can seem even bigger than the magic moon.

I went to the Art Institute of Chicago this weekend, and saw paintings. Paintings are the thing, the first definition of art. Are you an artist? You must be a painter.

The painting does what the camera cannot. It draws the eye to the desired object.

The world, the literal world of the camera, is always much bigger than we can take in. Our eyes choose a few things. What we value, what we fear–this is what pulls our eyes.

I saw a painting by Sargent wherein the ladies face was distinct, but her dress was blurry. The impression of dress was enough as we looked at her face, at how she stood.

The artist is arranging us, as much as he arranged the paint.

I paid for the experience of seeing this art. I am glad to be so manipulated.

I know I am manipulated all the time in my life, with messages and advertisement and instructions.

Professionals also create most of those, too.

Somehow, this is not that. These arrangements, this portrayal of impressions and ideas, are a window outside of my daily life. That makes all the difference.