On Cold Mornings, Doomed Goats, and Stories Waiting to Be Told

We woke this morning to the shortest day of the year in the coldest house of the year. The batteries in the thermostat had apparently died in the night, making it a toasty 55 degrees on the main floor and colder yet in the basement. A few space heaters (why do we have so many of these?) and a couple new AA batteries warmed things up fairly quickly, and the cold did allow me to see my five-year-old son looking extra adorable in his robe and slippers.

The fairly warm temperatures we’ve been having continued this morning, hovering above freezing and giving a foggy, ethereal glow to the moisture-laden air. The rooftops, the lawns, the roads, and the sky are all varying shades of white and gray. Much of our beautiful snow has melted under the constant rain we had yesterday and I fear by the time Christmas dawns it will be brown rather than white. That’s how it goes sometimes–our ideals and reality at odds.

As time winds down before Christmas I find that I have a couple more gifts to buy, I’m waiting on a few things to be delivered, I have a number of gifts to wrap. I’ve got bathrooms that need cleaning, sheets that need washing, boxes that need recycling. Probably most of this is true for you as well.

More uniquely, I’ve been invited to attend a goat slaughter and a five-hour worship service and meal (at which the condemned goat will be consumed) to celebrate Christmas with my new Bhutanese-Nepali friends. I’m still deliberating on the goat. On the one hand, I am curious about how it will all go down and I feel intrinsically that a writer should observe those out-of-the-ordinary (to us) things. Certainly I would find something of interest to report to you. But I’ve never actually eaten something I witnessed being killed. Seriously, not even a fish. I guess we’ll see how things pan out on Monday afternoon.

Tonight, however, on the longest night of the year, I will not be thinking about goats. I’ll hopefully be finishing up my last short story for 2013. Once that is done, every item on my 2013 to-do list will be checked off and my mind will be free to turn completely toward writing the novel I’ve been researching and musing upon and planning for the past year. The story has gestated and grown and morphed in my mind to the point where I am more eager to write than I have ever been.

I think about the anticipation of the child who would come to deliver his people, of thousands of years waiting for the Word. I think of the people who converged on Bethlehem–Mary and Joseph traveling to be registered, sages making the treacherous desert journey to see the fulfillment of prophecies, angels coming down from heaven, shepherds leaving their fields and flocks, and soldiers dispatched to murder innocent baby boys. And the most important–God drawing near, so near as to become one of us. To feel pain and sorrow and temptation and anguish. To make meaning from chaos. To be both conclusion and new beginning.

The coming together of God and man. The crux of history. The greatest story, which informs all of our small and secondary stories.

Throughout 2013 I told little stories. Now I am ready for a big story.

The Past, the Future, and This Unending Winter

March 16, 2013, Fenner Nature CenterMichigan, like quite a large swath of the country, is in the midst of a depressing cold snap the likes of which puts me in mind of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter. We haven’t started twisting straw into kindling or burning our furniture yet, but one can’t help but feel that everyone is teetering on the edge of that kind of desperation lately.

Last year the temperatures in mid-March were a full 50 degrees higher then they have been during the past week. This was not necessarily good, as it caused massive fruit crop failures when temps dipped below freezing again (for example, Michigan normally produces about 96 million tons of apples a year while in 2012 we only managed 2 million tons). But still, I don’t think I’m speaking out of turn when I say that it would be nice to have temps in the 40s rather than the 20s at this point in the year.

Being stuck in this winter is like being stuck in a story. You get to a certain point where you feel frozen. You can’t push forward. You can’t go back. You’re just…there. Waiting for the thaw in your brain so you can get on with it already.

That’s how I feel right now. Frozen in time. Tired of what has come before. Waiting to see where things will go in the future. Ready to move on. But stuck frozen in place.

How do you hasten spring? How do you thaw the fertile soil of your creative mind? It seems clear to me that we cannot rush the changing of the seasons, as much as we might want to. There are plenty of tips and tricks to get beyond blocks, but sometimes maybe we just have to wait it out, trusting that the thaw will come, the waters will flow, the flowers will bloom, and the story will move on to the next chapter.