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Submission–

is Pandora’s box, is a false bottom, is essential. Is an open palm–even if pried, finger by finger–and an open mind–even at the risk of losing it altogether. Is to relinquish what you were certain was all yours: free will; personal space; emotional independence; your art. Is an uncomfortable exposure, a public nakedness, an objectification.

Submission is the virgin’s dive into the volcano.

*     *     *

Over months, perhaps even years, the pen has courted the page. One gave, one accepted. They were gracious; they were at odds. They were unabashed, then apologetic. They created a life, then left me with it. They’ve moved on to other mating rituals, other memories; the pen and the page are migrants, gypsies, pilgrims.

But the life they’ve left behind is my responsibility, and I have been dutiful, keeping my promises, even after I had grown too attached to simply let go when the time came, as I told them I would.

It was whole, fully formed, complete—or complete enough to survive without my constant tending. Its paragraphs no longer needed pruning. Its sentences could manage their own cowlicks. Its chapters crossed their legs and sat properly. It behaved, but also knew when to rebel.

I re-read it once, this living thing, this manuscript, this daughter. Just once, for errors, for reasons to hold it back. But at all turns it held up, held its own, and I knew it was time to submit.

I gave it, like Hannah gave Samuel: freely but with great trepidation.

*    *    *

There is something sacral in the ending. You reach it and do not know how it arrived. Now here you are, with something arduous and wonderful behind you, and some great and glowing mystery ahead. The prospects, both for what you have just accomplished and for what you are about to undertake, are exceedingly vast.

And becomes clear: whether you are ready or not, someone will publish you. Someone will read and represent you. Someone will advocate for the proliferation of your work—even if that someone must be you.

This is only the case because you have been brave. This is only the case because you have submitted.

*    *    *

There are people to thank. We achieve nothing alone–and gratitude should not be reserved only for the inner flaps of published books. It should begin at the inception of a battle, not held until after a victory. It should begin long before the page reserved for acknowledgments. It should be ongoing.

Thank you to each reader. Thank you to those who have commented. Thanks to the people who’ve alerted someone to this blog’s existence. Thank you to PostBourgie and  HuffPo and Clutch and the other publications who’ve provided me with a platform, however temporary, or who have allowed me to feel what it’s like to be monetarily compensated for my creative writing (which is, really, all I’ve ever wanted in my professional life). Thank you to the woman I’ve never met who heeded her dream and the voice that told her the dream was about me; thank you for sending the gift. Thanks to my daughter for being a wellspring and an education, to my mother for helping me raise her, to her father for being gracious about my need to tell our story; to my nana for being a stalwart; to all of my family for their continued investments, both financial and emotional. I can be difficult, and you are all lovely enough to overlook it.

I am thanking you now, because thanks is owed you. I would have submitted nothing–not time, not vulnerability, not perseverance–were it not for you. I would have succumbed to everything–to fear, to shame, to self-doubt, to second-guessing–were it not for you.

When the manuscript I’ve finally finished writing is picked up—and because many of you have told me it will be, I am choosing to be courageous enough to believe you—just know that it absolutely would not have been (because I would’ve been too terrified to submit it to anyone at all), without the encouragement and engagement of every one of you.

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Faith, Nonfiction

Gradient Grace.

The gift is stunning, arrayed in scarlet satin, adorned in gilded bows. Here, says the giver, presenting it with relish. I have chosen this especially for you. I am giving it according to your need. There is no other occasion, no other motive.

You believe him; your need hastens that decision—for as you open the decadent package, you see it is a platter piled with money. There is no promissory; this is not a loan.

You fall at the giver’s feet. I am overcome. You kiss his ring, tell him he is a pillar, a paragon. I do not know what I would do without kinsmen like you.

But it is only this last part that perks the ear of the giver. There are others? I am not your only source? I am not your sole rescuer, your singular kinsman, your only salvation?

You are not my salvation at all, is what you think, but before you utter words, you rise and stand at full height. No. Of course you are not, you state with certainty, for the people who love and care for you cannot be numbered, even if they do not have the means to help you stave off your personal hellhounds.

The giver is deeply displeased. He reaches into his satchel and brings out a cluster of cords. Here are my strings; they are many. Accept them along with the gift or you will depart with nothing.

You remember your pining for more than the crusts of bread, for a well-soled shoe, for the luxuries of a parlor’s grooming. You wince at the echoes of creditors, cringe at the memory of the computerized self-checkout voice barking a grocery total that staggers you. You calculate the balance of days that your daughter will spend wearing diapers.

I will fasten myself to your strings, but only for a time.

The giver grins. Then this is to be an indentured servitude. I will alert you when the racks of my conditions have been cleared.

Years later, you still rub your wrists. You are better off; no one is after you. You can walk with your head held aloft, owing nothing. For all intents, for every purpose, you are free; you’ve the papers to prove it. But the cosmic damage has been done.

Now, when anyone offers to help you, you are wary. You recoil from beautiful packages; you tremble at the hand that proffers an unearned check.

Every generous gesture is greeted with a bemused half-smile and a polite, but resolved, “No thank you.”

It is better to give than to receive. It is easier, too.

They mistake it for pride, the new givers. Just learn to take a compliment, a gift. No reciprocity is expected, they insist, their patience wearing thin.

But they do not know the grace it requires to accept without distrust. They do not know how desperately you have to parse your gratitude. It must be pulled from the uncompromised parts of yourself; you must find it in the unbroken places, where the last giver could never seem to shatter you by calling you a “user” or an “ingrate.”

It amazes you that you are even still capable of such grace, and anyone who knew the serfdom you’d escaped would grant you the gradation you will need to achieve it. You will learn to open your hand, without expecting the sting of a lash. You will recall the small flourish of curtsies. But you will not apologize for the years it may take to do so. And you will never again be so clouded by need that you will extend your gratitude and graces to wolfish givers.

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Constants for the Wanderer, Faith, Nonfiction

Rejoice, Rejoice, Rejoice.

Christmas hasn’t been a favorite holiday of mine since I was a child. It feels claustrophobic and excessive and so, so impossibly gaudy and red. But the pocket of time between 25th to the 1st has always been hallowed for me. I treat it with seriousness and give myself wholly to reflection: on the Nativity; on the subsequent Massacre of the Innocents; on those who go hungry; on the children who have to square their shoulders, lift their chins, puff their chests, and let their eyes become stones, when they awake on Christmas morn to the same bleak cots in a shelter, to the same loss or absence that claimed a parent near some Christmas past; to the same dearth of gifts or of cheer.

Joy does not always come easily to the world these days. And despite our best efforts to tinsel over everything that ails us and others, there are many who cannot forget their struggles through caroling or office holiday parties or heavily spiked punch and nog.

What is so heartening is how vigorously we try. Every year, we volunteer; purchase that extra unwrapped toy to take to the nearest giveaway station; write checks for international causes; give bonuses to civil servants; reconcile with estranged loved ones; make peace with our long-feuding neighbors; light candles and place them in our windows, as if to alert to all who pass by: Cheer is welcome here. Hope is present here.

If you read this blog often, you know well that I am big proponent of hope. And the last week of a year seems to be when mankind is most open to it. We have suspended our cynicism, in preparation for the swell of possibility every countdown to a new year provides. And suddenly, the world’s ills seem solvable. Galvanization seems sustainable. True love seems well within our grasp. And every dream in default is made current.

The New Year is the Great Equalizer. Even for those for whom the holidays feel unbearable, there is a great sense of relief at their coming and going. It means that there is something we can definitively put behind us. It means there is a mystery. For all we know, this is year we will finally feel at home; we will sail the seas; we will find a job; we will beat a repossession, a foreclosure, an eviction; we will graduate; we will marry.

This is the year that will satisfy some large and persistent longing.

For me, the end of the year is about eradicating regret. It’s about our realization and, perhaps, our relief that we come here, to this earth, in part, to falter. It is the only thing that earns us empathy and humbleness. Whatever the next annum will bring, it will certainly include our mistakes. Often, the mistakes–more than any of the things we get right–are what carry us to the next year’s shore, altered, enlightened, matured.

And that, more than lit trees, wrapped gifts, and a cheery array of confections, is worthy of the effort it may take to rejoice.

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Faith, Music Appreciation, Nonfiction

Be Grateful.

I get chills when I listen to this, and I wanted to share it with you today:

God has not promised me/sunshine.

That’s not the way it’s going to be.

But a little rain, mixed with God’s sunshine…

A little pain…

Makes me appreciate the good times.

If you’ve been following my work here, you’re well aware of how difficult my 2010 was. For the past year, the arteries of my blog have been clogged with musings about my tower of challenges. I value that writing; I’ll continue it. But today, I just want to be appreciative. Of my life. Of my child. Of my God. Of my abilities, my opportunities, my slowly increasing drive. Of my ideas, my future. Of my daughter’s health, of mine. Of my large, extended family. Of the fact that both my parents are still here–and better still, that they are so accessible. How beautiful it is to be able to build bridges of dreams with them and to cross the long-held reservoir of water underneath them.  And what of my daily increasing capacity to love, of this miraculous wonder whose tiny arms reach out, of their own accord, and search for mine, to provide a reanimating embrace at the end of a deeply exhausting day?

Can you imagine? Who could ever lament the obstacles of a life this full and this rich, without taking frequent reflective pauses to say, “Nevertheless…?”

I hope you’ve had a few moments today to take yours.

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