What the Elephant thought

Babs the elephant reached down into the lovely dust with her trunk and whisked it up her side. Her mother was next to her, having shown her this spot when she was a child.Dust baths made the elephants feel like she should.

“You weren’t there,” Barbara said to her mom. “They were gentle and kind.”

The matriarch threw a big trunkful of dust on her back. “There is no such thing. You have not seen what I’ve seen.”

Babs loved her mother and respected her wisdom. But there was something about the six shuffling men that touched her. They did touch herbody, but also they touched her heart.

Mother flipped the dust up to her forehead and let it flow over her broad face. “I’ve seen the graveyard of the elephants: tusks torn out and whole bodies left. This was man’s doing! You cannot trust them.” Her sides rippled in revulsion at the memory. To comfort herself she threw more dust on her side.

Babs knew of this memory. Her mother had a suspicion of men from long ago, and told her often she should feel the same way. She had not seen the elephant graveyard but it sounded horrible.Did the men really kill elephants this way?

Not all of them did, surely. 

“Mother, these men were not killers.” She flapped her ears and the dust settled nicely behind them. “They wanted to know me. They separated and surrounded me. Each one touched me, carefully and then more insistently. They meant no harm.”

She was honored by their attention. They were so small and frail. And still, they wanted to know more about her. One of them caressed her trunk, while the other investigated her tail. They each had a focus and took the time to touch her intently.

Men walking were so funny: upright like birds, but without wings to balance them. How did they do it?

“Mother, they came not to hurt me, but to find out more. They were kind.”

Mother huffed. “In their hearts, they are killers.”

Babs swished her tail. She thought about the men who must have killed the elephants her mother saw. Who were they? What was in their hearts? 

Then she thought of the gentle probing hands of the slow shuffling men. Their hearts had something other than killing. They seemed interested in knowing her.

“Mother, perhaps we just don’t know the men well enough. I cannot say what is in their hearts. We should meet more men and then we could really know what they are all about.”

Mother threw dust on her head. She threw dust on her belly. Then, as she tossed dust onto her back, she said, “I am willing to learn more about what men are.”

Babs flapped her ears with pleasure. “The world is big and you are very wise, Mother. I want to learn too.”

Sap Rising

I can see snow on the mountains. It is far away. Snow has never piled up on my land, like it did when I was a kid.

Easter has just passed, the time of resurrection and spring. Some parts of the world are still covered in snow when Easter happens.

I have seen those places pick pussy willows for Easter.

That was not my Easter tradition, but watching pussy willows come out was definitely a spring tradition.

Winter is long and cold. The snow stays long past being fun and I could wonder when it would thaw out. I walked through the woods every day, walking through paths I’d already tramped through the snow. It looked the same as ever.


Tiny fur buds popped along the willow switches. Willows were not even trees, only thin wands. Thin tight bumps with silver kitten toes–I would pet the fur when I saw it.

Did this mean the snow would melt?

What did this baby tree know? My breath blew white and this branch was growing.

It didn’t always mean the snow would melt. The pussy willow would emerge, and the cold would return.

The branches would go dormant again. This might happen a few times.

Those willows sprouted whenever the sap started to move. And it was eager to move. They had growing to do!

Eventually they would prevail. If the cold was finally gone, the pussy toes would get bigger, spraying out into a fluffy pollen spray. Leaves were right behind.

I think of them now, not just because it is spring. I think of their eagerness to get out. And how they would push out even before it was fully safe to do it.

I love their pioneer courage. Rush the gates! Even if thrown back it’s worth the attempt.

And it’s only a plant.

I am stuck waiting.



But I know the sap will run again. I’m ready for it.

There be Monsters

Old maps recorded as much as they knew. After they reached the end of their knowledge, they drew sea monsters.

The unknown is dangerous. It’s scary and should not be messed with.

And yet we know we must. Every day is filled with possibilities, and we don’t know what will happen.

On a good day, that’s really exciting and wonderful.

On a bad day, it’s terrifying.

What is going to happen today? 

In the world of pandemic today, a whole lot of us know what is going to happen. I am going to stay home. I will take a walk and not breathe the air of anyone but my family.

How boring.

How stressful.

I don’t know what will happen.

When will this stay-at-home thing be lifted? What will this disease do? And what will happen to the world because of our measures? What businesses and what people will be left?

I don’t know. No one knows yet.

In my job, I have to take high-powered executives through the process of a project. Something they want done needs to go through the process from start to finish. And always always there is a snag along the way. Something that we didn’t expect.

It’s my job to take that unknown and wrestle it into the plan. But while it is still unknown I have to talk to all the people working on it. The high-powered execs want to know “What is going on and will you fix it?”

I have to make the unknown look small and fixable. Mostly this is done in two ways:

Review what has already been successfully completed

Pick the very next task to work on

I spend a lot of time and energy on this for my customers at work. I am resolving to do it for myself too. I don’t have to do all of it today. Just the next thing. Look how I’ve already come so far!


Road trip! Suzanne and packed a tent and our sleeping bags and headed off to the Grand Canyon. Like so many things she’d already been there. This was my first time.

We had our road music and drove and drove through the bare desert. We turned off into the national park, still sandy rock and pine trees. We got out and walked the little insignificant trail.

And then I saw it. A very big hole in the ground. Breath- taking. I was rooted at the sight.

At the camp that night, I said, “There was no warning. Mountains, you see from far away. But a canyon? Nothing nothing nothing all the way up to the end and THEN! Everything is different.”

I could not see that I would be trapped voluntarily at home. I did not know that my whole family would lock ourselves away from other people and develop strategies to avoid the air of other people for as long as possible.

I did not see that coming.

Very few of us did. So the grocery stores are picked clean like a swarm of locust. No toilet paper, bread, bananas, milk or eggs.

During Soviet Russia, at least they had bread.

None of the other things. In 1992, I made it my job to walk to every single store in town to see what they might have and make sure we got what we needed. Usually in 40 below weather.

The shelves were bare. I never did find toilet paper or baking soda. Not the whole year.

Walking through the stores now grips my lungs with the memory of those uncertain times with the reality of these new times.

My family–husband daughter dog and cat–are staying home. For a month at least. Today was the first day of no school. Day one of 30.

And it is raining. Spring is the rainy season.

Rain means life. Blessing. Especially in our dry county.

Growth and new life are all around.

My tree has tight buds. Perhaps the leaves and the people will burst forth together.

Some things you don’t see coming.


Last Sunday was International Women’s Day, one of my favorite holidays. It’s such an easy thing to celebrate. Of course! What took us so long to come up with this holiday?

Places with a history of communism celebrate this with pleasure. Many other places celebrate it with guilt.

Google had a doodle for it. A circular parade of paper dolls in what appeared to be women in the costumes of different professions.

I”ve been looking forward to this woman’s day, 2020, since it marks the 100th year anniversary of American women getting the vote (most of them, anyway). And I’ve been reading a lot of feminist literature.

That’s a lot to think about.

One of the books pointed out that women think in terms of relationship. How will policies and personal decisions affect those around us?

And I realize what bothers me about that google doodle. They are not in relationship with each other.

As a woman, I think of myself in relationship to others all of the time. A mother, a wife, a sister, a daughter a friend.

I have a lot of connections, and they pull me and I pull them.

Equality is a small part of the story. An important part, but nowhere near the whole picture.

In the creation of a person, which we women do, and in the creation of a society, which we all do, there are a lot of components. There are an incalculable number of compromising, giving and takings, sacrifices and demands.

It impossible to keep track of it all.

These books have convinced me to take better care of myself in these interactions. To fight for myself as much as I would for my family. To require an equal partnership moment by moment and to speak out when I am blocked or hampered.

What give me courage to do that is that I am not doing it only for myslef. In woman-fashion, when I speak up and demand I am doing it for everyone.

Better all the time

He did set his lower lip when he played the bass. His daughter pointed it out to me. We had been friends for a long time. She was one of the few friends I could trust.

Thing is, most of the time I didn’t see him. He was playing the bass behind in the seat behind me as I played the piano.

He had a band, and he played really well. He played at home, with an amp and a guitar out in the living room. He was the real thing.

Sometimes I would get to go to some of his band’s performances. They played Christian music, of course. But I loved it. I loved being near the performance, done by people I knew. Impossibly cool.

He encouraged me, and told me how to be in a music team–that is what it was called when we played the songs at church. But it was kind of a band. And I was the lead instrument.

That’s what he said.

I wanted that to be true. And it was true, when we all played together. I wanted to be a real musician, but I had no idea what that was. I’d taught myself how to play, and even though he said I was the lead instrument I was sure that I was secretly deficient in all kinds of ways. As if I had huge hole in the back of my pants but could never quite see it.

I practiced, all alone, learning what I could on the Casio keyboard I’d bought from Costco. I was alone and ashamed, but I did all I could.

I asked him, the one who knew, “Is this how it works? That I will get to a certain level as a musician, and then I’ll stay there? That I’ll be set?”

He cocked his head, trying to understand my point of view. Then he shook his head decisively. “No, you keep getting better.”

“You do?”

“Sure. I practice, and I think I’m better than I was last month. I know I’m better than I was a few years ago.”

I looked at him, wanting it to be true. Wanting there to be something I could be good at and get better and better. To have something in my future that I could count on and look forward to.

I trusted him. He was a full-on grown up. And he said I was good. Probably he was saying it to be nice, but when we all played together, it did sound good.

But then things happened and we didn’t play together anymore.  And I became a grown up and I didn’t play much anymore. Life has a way of catching up with all my time.

This year, I decided I had to do something creative. I had to make time. I wanted to write more. I also gave myself permission to buy a new keyboard.

And it was there. In a way that writing was not. I remembered how to play the keys. The way I had learned to play never left me, and I could play something new every single time.

It was right there. Practically where I left it.

And I remembered. I thought about Bill and his bass. I wondered if I could find people to jam with. Maybe I could find a band.

Somewhere between the chord changes, I thought maybe someday I’d get to play with him again. That would be incredible! I’d kept in touch with his daughter. It felt good to imagine that bass behind whatever progression I was working out.

Then I heard the news. Bill’s heart gave out.  It’s done.

I owe him. I owe him big. I wish I could tell him.

He made room in his life for creation, for music and performance. I didn’t know then how hard that could be for grownups.

I want to get better. I know I’ll remember him as I do.


reading father boyle talk about his gang members, i feel so much kinship. I’ve got these stories too

and it’s awkward. I dont’ look like i do. I don’t have tatoos on my face or anywhere. I look extremely acceptable

But i know that i have stories that freak people out

I can pass. I can make my hair shiny sometimes, and i have a vocabulary.

I passed passing and now make people uncomfortable the other direction. people say “I appreciate you being so on top of things” which is another way of saying “can’t you slow down and back off?”

I know there is a shadowy figure that people see that they think I am.

I can pass as someone worth feeding. but it’s tenuous.

because it takes a lot of effort

is that enough?

All my life, I have had non-standard hair. Other people had ‘normal’ hair, but my curly head just was not

I’m behind. I’ve been working to hard and I’m not sure how I’m going to get caught up.

I know the working parents…and which parent isn’t working?…knows what I mean. I am neglecting my daughter.

Every time I see her I tell her to comb her hair. It’s starting to get curly.

Curly is another word for tangly.

Let’s be clear, her blonde hair is not curly like my hair, it has some wave to it now.

My hair, I know, is non-standard. My daughter is still in the range of normal. But there is a new level of tangles that need some attention. I’ve been trying a few different products, but it seems that it needs to be blow-dried after her evening bath.

With my curly hair, I read about people who blow-dry their hair. It seems that people use blow driers to dry and straighten hair.

This is way too much work for me. My weird hair doesn’t seem to get dry that way. I figured people with normal hair could blow-dry their hair in minutes, but my hair is not that lucky.

I got the short end of the stick.

So when I tried to dry my little girl’s hair, I was surprised that it seemed to be taking a long time. She hated it, and the hair was barely drier than when we’d begun. I was mad at myself for not seeing it through, but no one was having a good time. I gave up.

The next morning, though, her hair was far smoother.

whaddaya know?

It was enough.

That was not what I expected. I thought that it would be a lot harder. I’d always assumed it had to be bone dry to make a difference.

Her hair responded. My little bit mattered. I thought I had failed. But I’d done just enough.

For her, for this, that was enough.

Maybe that perfectionist pressure I’ve been putting on my self for other things is not required.

Maybe the tangles aren’t as stubborn as I’ve assumed. What if it were easier?


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.