A Star in the Dark

This past May was a time of celebrating, remembering, and just a few tears–happy tears. My oldest graduated from my alma mater and now hers, Wesleyan College.  The graduating seniors voted for two parents to speak at the Baccalaureate service.  It was a great honor to be one of the two chosen.  As I told the seniors that night, the only thing better than being a Wesleyanne has been being a Wesleyanne’s mama.  

Tomorrow my oldest starts her newest journey–the first day of classes in law school.  My sisters at Wesleyan also begin the new school year, so I thought I’d share my dreams for them that I first shared on May 12th.  I wish them all the best–my daughter, my sisters, and all those beautiful young people starting a new year of learning.  I hope they all will remember the beauty of their light, freely share it, and often remind others of their beautiful light.  

We need each other y’all.  Now more than ever.  Love to all.  

 

Hello to all of our friends and family here tonight, and an especially warm welcome to my sisters in the Class of 2017. Thank you for the honor of being here to share with you this evening.
I’m going to start with a line from a song you’ve maybe heard a few times during your time at Wesleyan—
“…..a star in the dark is thy glorious past…..”

You. All of you. Did you know? From the moment you took your first breath, your light has been shining. This world is better and brighter because you are here. Each and every one of you.

I recently saw something on Facebook that one of your sisters shared. It had a picture of two pink sparkly eggs just like these, and it said,
“me vs. you bc we both cuties who don’t tear other women down.”
Yes. That. Each and every one of you is a pink sparkly egg, and your light is important.

Don’t let anyone let you feel like it isn’t either—whether you are graduating with a 4.0 or 2.7. Whether you’ve garnered many awards during your time at Wesleyan or none, whether you know exactly where you will be on Monday or in August or if you have no idea what is ahead for you—your light is still beautiful. As is yours and yours and yours. And it is so very needed. The most precious thing about light is that it doesn’t diminish when shared with others. And when we stand together, it shines even brighter. That’s what it means to be a Wesleyanne. That’s what the sisterhood is about. And it doesn’t end either, y’all. My sisters from the classes of 1987-1993 have continued to be a strong presence in my life, even more so in the past few years. We had a saying back when I was here, “Sisters in spirit stay sisters forever.” And after all these years, I’m adding another line, “Sisters in spirit stay stronger together.”

As you go forth from tonight and tomorrow, I want you to take three things with you.

Your light. Share it. Use it to shine in the darkest places, and become a safe place for others. And if you find yourself needing a safe place, look to your sisters. Even those you may not have met yet. Find me. Love on each other and lift each other up like the pink sparkly eggs you all are.

I want you to take with you gratitude. My first birthday after my Daddy died in 2011 was the last one I’d have with my Mama. And she gave me this gratitude journal. I didn’t get it. I was still very much grieving and I knew she wasn’t in the best of health. A gratitude journal? Really? It was while she was sick in the hospital that I found myself getting it—grasping a bit of this gratitude thing. I began to notice little things—a cup of coffee at just the right time, the gentle nature of a caring nurse, my phone that I could use to research things—things and people to be grateful for. And it was because of the light of those around me that I could see it. My friend Ashley, the Baddest Mother Ever, and a sister of yours as well, often uses the hashtag #saythankyouhere.  So number two, my sisters, is gratitude. Practice it often. Say thank you as much as you can. Let folks know when you appreciate them.

This past week I found myself out with my Auburn, my daughter who is my sister, just the two of us, and we were laughing our way through the Walmart. At one point, when we were giving each other a hard time, like we do, I said to her, “I don’t know why you do me like that, I’ve always been good to you.” She laughed and said, “Well, there was that one time…..”

Y’all, there will always be that one time. Or two or three. This is not a world of absolutes. Success is not a run of no failures or mistakes. There will always be that one time. Or two or ten. (I did pretty good in college but there was that one time…..we do not talk about Calculus II…..ahem) But neither is anything or anyone all bad. Someone might be grating on your last nerve, but as time passes, I’m betting you will wind up saying, “Well, except for that one time…..” Look for those times, okay? Look for every opportunity to find that one time when their light shines, even just a little.

I wish you all the best. I know most of you are probably ready to go. I was not. I had no clue what I was going to be doing, and life is turning out okay. (Well, there was that one time…..) As you finish packing up and saying goodbyes and heading out on your next adventure, remember to take your light and refuel it with laughter, good friends, and all the things that tan your soul. Offer grace every chance you can and offer the comfort and compassion to others that you learned here from each other. And finally, remind folks all around you that they too are pink sparkly eggs. And y’all—look in the mirror and tell her too. She might really need to hear that.

You are standing on the shoulders of giants. On the shoulders of the ones who stood at that same marker you just gathered around and the ones before who attended school there. You saw many of them Alumnae Weekend—all of us crazy old ladies. You are standing on the shoulders of your professors and the staff who supported, challenged, and encouraged you the past few years. Look around you—you are standing on the shoulders of the ones here—friends and family who love and cherish you—your biggest cheerleaders. And you are standing on the shoulders of the ones who aren’t here—the Caps and Maemaes and Papas and Ollies and Denises and Rev. Hurdles and grandfathers, grandmothers, aunts, uncles, mothers, and fathers. Their light shines on through you.

My sisters, a star in the dark is your glorious past. But now you are all blazing comets, leaving a brilliant, beautiful trail behind you. Soar on and leave love and laughter and pink sparkles in your wake. Best wishes and happy everyday!

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Spread Your Wings and Soar

This past Saturday many young women walked across the stage I’ve walked across, and they received the piece of paper that is so much more than that–it’s the results of minutes and hours and days and years of listening and learning and writing and critiquing and speaking and sharing and thinking and challenging themselves to do more, do better, be stronger, think harder, and take one step more towards their goal.

And now. They’ve taken one very huge step.

They are college graduates.

One of those young women is my friend whom I had the privilege of sitting with about a month ago.  As we sat in the rocking chairs facing the green of the golf course on my visit “home” for Alumnae Weekend, I had the honor of hearing about her journey.  Some about where she’s been and more about where she hopes to go. What she hopes to do.  I heard her decisions and her questions in her stories and thoughts, and let me tell you this–

We are in good hands.

If.

If we don’t mess this up.

This beautiful soul has, as so many of us have, found out a lot about herself during her years at Wesleyan.  Some surprising, some not so much.  She has gained confidence in her abilities and her voice, as her professors and classmates challenged her to come up with ideas, defend her opinions, and put together words and thoughts in a way that others could learn from her.  And now–

Now she leaves this nest, this safe place, this place of incubation and growing.  It is time, and she is ready.

But–y’all.

I need to ask a favor.

For years, we have been telling this young woman and all the young people her age to “grow up.”  We’ve sighed when they’ve been silly, calling them out to “do better, be more mature, be responsible.”

And now that they are on their way to do this, it is our very important job not to muck it up for them.  It is up to us not to discourage them.  And it happens everyday, doesn’t it?  People groan about the millennials.  I’ve heard comments:  “Oh look at them, they think they are grown.  Who do they think they are?”  Or this:  “Ha.  Did you hear the ideas they’ve come up with to fix this or that?  Right.  Like some young upstart can fix this.  It’s been a mess for years.  Our generation tried, and we couldn’t do a thing about it.  What makes them think they can?”

This is WRONG in every sense of the word.  Because, in the words of the Grinder, “But what if they can?”

We’ve told them to grow up.  They’ve been watching us for years to see what THAT looks like.  Now that they’ve reached this pinnacle, this landmark of “being grown,” how can we be anything but positive and encouraging?

We need their dreams and their hearts.  They are fragile right now.  Fragile, strong, and prepared.  Like a baby bird who is a baby no more and whose wings are ready to take flight.  Instead of letting our words and eye rolls and patronizing tones take them down like a rock from a sling shot, let’s cheer them on.  Just as we did the little blue birds who finally take flight as spring turns into summer and the leaves sway in the breeze and the frogs sing their evening songs.  Let’s let them be who they have been becoming the past four or more years, and let’s watch them and listen to them and treat them with the same respect and love that we show those little birds.

And to my little birds who have flown the nest.  It and all of your sisters will always be there for you.  Years from now, when you most need to feel the safety of the nest, they will take you under their wings and you will be held tightly in their safe embrace, protected, if only for a moment, from life’s greatest storms.  You are going to do small things greatly and great things well.  Your dreams you have right now might not come to fruition, but never stop dreaming.  Never forget the hope you had as you packed up your things to move on to the next part of your journey.  Oh I know, there was trepidation too.  I remember that.  I hate to tell you this, but it never completely goes away.  There’s the next step and the next step and the one after that.  Over twenty-five years since I left the nest, and at times I still feel the uncertainty of what to do next.  But hold on to the woman you have become.  She and all the encouragement and advice you have gotten and all of the things you have learned both in the classroom and outside of it will guide you if you will let it.  Hold on to your dreams and keep growing.

Because that never stops either.  The growing and changing.  You are the beautiful butterfly and metamorphosizing caterpillar all at the same time.  Ever-changing.

And, to be honest, that’s been surprising and pretty cool too.

Here’s to our new graduates.  May we have the wisdom to listen and to encourage them and give them space to try out all the things without fear of what failure would look like.  And may they have the energy and resources and support to envision, create, attempt, dream, and change this world for the better.

Because I’ve met them.  And I know they can.

Love and pomp and circumstance to all.

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By Wesleyan College [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

pollen painting

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the rain came and washed away the pollen

or so we thought

until the wind nudged the leaves along the sidewalk a bit

disturbing them in their slumber where the rough storm had left them be

 

and there underneath was the brightest yellow

where all had collected and gathered

protected

beneath the leaves

as the storm passed

and the day began

 

a perfect painting of what once was

and would not be again

 

 

 

 

Hug ’em, Y’all-And Give ’em Chocolate

Today the littles and I, after a day of decorating, learning how to do new things, and organizing around the house, traveled up to a place I love and saw one of our favorite folks do something new too.

We went up for my Aub’s Washboard Band performance at Wesleyan College.  She has played her guitar in public before, but this was her first time playing the cajon with a group.  She did well, not that I was surprised, I guess, but it was good to see something come out of the year of percussion lessons way back during our first year of homeschooling when she was in the eighth grade.

I enjoyed every moment.  The rewrite of the Twelve Days of Christmas, Wesleyan style, was hilarious and yet it rang so true.  It reminded me of the stress and anxiety of this time of year for students.  If you know one, especially a college student, hug them. And then feed them copious amounts of chocolate and put a fiver in their hands just in case they need a little more later.  Bless them.  My college student alone has two finals, a big paper, and a presentation all coming due in the next week, and she’s not even done attending classes, not to mention her job.  And this is NORMAL for a college student.

Hug ’em, y’all.  It’s hard.

They can do it and do it well, but when you’re in the midst of it, it can make you crazy and make you doubt yourself.

NOTE TO ALL MY COLLEGE FRIENDS:  You’ve got this.  Breathe.  Go watch the sunset (which was fabulous tonight, by the way).  I believe in you.  And I’m here if you need a reminder of how wonderful you are and that this too shall pass.  (And so will you, you’ve been working hard.  Yeah, I’ve noticed.)  

As we were leaving, we drove the long way to leave campus, and this stopped me in my tracks.

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The famous Wesleyan geese…..

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…..heading towards the pond. 

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…..almost…..

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There they go.  “Merry Christmas, geese!” 

And made me smile.  I love the geese.  I mean, I always leave a respectable distance between them and me, but I do love them.  Our Princess  rolled down her window and wished them a Merry Christmas, which was–well, so her.  Precious.

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Yes.  Those are the ginkgoes I love so much.  A beautiful sight.  

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My future Golden Heart said, “Oh look, that’s Golden Heart snow!”  A Wesleyanne through and through.   

As we were about to leave, Princess asked out of the blue:  “Mama, when you go here, is there a curfew or do you just have to put yourself to bed on your own?”

I laughed to myself.  She is a special bird, and I love her for it.  “No, you’re on your own.”

“Oh, okay, so you just go to bed by 9 pm, and it’s okay. Or maybe a little later as long as you get up for class the next morning?”

Oh me.  Bless her.

I don’t think she’s quite ready for college yet.  But that’s okay.  She’s got years to go yet.

And I’m sure they will fly by.

Tonight I’m thankful for my alma mater, which isn’t too far away and always welcomes me with her beauty and laughter and sisterhood across the ages. When I saw one of Aub’s classmates–one whom I adore– heading into a final, I stopped my car at the same time that she did a double take.  That’s what being a part of this community is about–and I love the young women who are a part of my girl’s posse.  Her people.  I am thankful for them.  I am also thankful that Aub shares the journey with us, and that we were able to be there and hear her perform.  I give thanks for the love our Princess has for Wesleyan, but I’m also glad it’s not quite time to send her off with suitcase and dorm fridge in hand.  (And I’m thinking, where on earth did she get 9 p.m.? That girl is a NIGHT OWL in every sense of the word. Good gravy!)

Wishing you all a moment or twelve of peace in the midst of the chaos, no matter what your chaos might be.  And if that can’t be found–chocolate.  And lots of it.

Love to all.

 

A Masterpiece in Gold

Today I had an appointment in Macon, and I found myself driving down one of the old streets there a little ways from the downtown area.  As I looked down the street towards my destination, the sight before me took my breath away.

Ginkgo trees in all their golden glory lined both sides of the street.

Beautiful.

I remember the words my pastorfriend quoted from “The Color Purple” about how God must feel if we go by a field of purple flowers and don’t take notice.  If that is how our Creator feels about a purple field, I can’t imagine it’s any less important for us to notice that beautiful gold that fairly glows in the afternoon sun.

I’m in love.  As I drove on, I thought about my oldest asking me in the past week what I want for Christmas.

I think it might just be a ginkgo.  Or ten.

Well, that and a weeping willow or two.  I have my Bradford pear (that has yet to catch afire with the flaming red and golden leaves–seems late to me this year for some reason), and I have my heavenly smelling tea olives.  I even have a couple of magnolias.  So yes, I think a ginkgo would be just the perfect addition.

As I sat at my appointment thinking about all those lovely trees whose leaves were dropping to make a golden carpet beneath, I remembered seeing just such a sight at my home away from home–Wesleyan College, where I made such wonderful memories and where my oldest calls home for now.  They also had them in Japan which we enjoyed seeing while we lived there.  The ginkgo is another tree whose story is interwoven with mine.

Our roots are bound together now.  And I love that.

What tree or plant shares in your story?  Which ones bring you joy just at the sight of them?

Loving this time of year when, quite frankly, so many of the trees are showing off before crawling into bed for the winter.

Love to all.

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The gingko trees at Show Park in Japan–a place that helped ease my homesickness while we lived there. I didn’t get a picture today because I was taking it all in and didn’t think of it until too late. Japanexperterna (CCBYSA) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The Packing Up and the White Shoes

Twenty-five years ago today I graduated from college.  I don’t remember a lot of the particulars but there are a couple of things that stand out for me about that day.

The night before, Sister had come up to spend the night with me.  Though she is three years my junior there have been times in my life when she has taken over and helped me through a hard time.  This was one of those times.  We visited while we packed my things–something I had been putting off.  About midnight we ran over to Denny’s for some sustenance in the form of fried mozzarella sticks and nachos.  (Two of the basic food groups for us back then.) When we got back to the dorm, Sister told me to go on to bed, rest well for my big day, and she would keep packing.

Which she did.  I should probably call and tell her thank you for that again.

The next morning I woke up and hurriedly put on the special one piece dress/culottes outfit that I had splurged on from Karats and Keepsakes–the only way to describe it is to say it was completely and totally ’90’s.

And I loved it.

I threw on my white shoes, because they matched it best, and because well-it WAS after Easter.  As I ran out of my dorm heading towards Porter Auditorium, one of my classmates pointed out my white shoes (“yes, thank you, they are pretty awesome, aren’t they?”) and kindly “reminded” me that all graduates were supposed to wear black shoes.

Oops.  Did I miss that memo?

Nowadays all information at my alma mater seems to be disseminated by e-mail.  Back then I am sure this was announced in a meeting. I can pretty much guess which one it probably was.  Only my mind was in a million different places about that time…..my future plans, moving back home, saying goodbye to sisterfriends I would miss dearly, and how to leave this place I had begun to call home.

Two thoughts for the young women I know who are about to graduate soon–actually no, this is a message for all of us.

Pay attention.  Listen up.  Don’t get so bogged down in worrying about your future that you miss out on what’s going on in your present. You might miss out on something important.  And it might be more than a fashion faux pas.

And here’s the other, even more important thing:

Have each other’s backs.

No matter what.

See, my sisterfriend who called out to me about the shoes–she was in a hurry too.  She had her mind on the BIG THING about to happen.  But she took the time to notice and to help me out by pointing out my mistake.  Kindly, I might add.

It’s so easy in this world where pushing ahead and success are so valued to just focus on ourselves, isn’t it?  But I challenge each one of us to take the time to notice.  To make the time.  And to help.  Offer a kind word.  Let someone know something they might have missed before.  It doesn’t take anything at all away from me to take a minute and say, “Hey, those are cute, but today we’re all supposed to be wearing black shoes.”

And it sure gives a lot to the one who hears those words.  (Seriously, what was I thinking? While the white shoes matched the outfit UNDERNEATH my graduation gown, they stuck out like a sore thumb with my black cap and gown.)

Two days ago I helped my rising junior finish packing up her things so we could move her back home.  Home from the same dorm where my journey at Wesleyan began.  As I moved around her room, consolidating and packing, I remembered Sister and gave thanks.  Paying it forward seems only right, you know?

Tonight I’m thankful for Sister and my sisterfriend, both of whom were interruptible.  Both of whom set aside what they had going on–for a minute, for a night–to help me.

That’s humbling right there.

May we all be so fortunate to have such a gift in our lives.

May we all strive to be that gift to someone else.

Love to all.

Pumping Gas in My Pajamas…..

I put on my purple plaid “silly pants,” aka pajama bottoms, and I got in the car.  It was as I was backing out of the driveway that I realized I needed gas if I were going to get to my destination.  There was no time to go back in and change.  So it happened–I pumped gas in front of God and everybody in my pajama bottoms.

This wasn’t a dream.  It actually happened Friday afternoon.  Fortunately, I am over the age of 40, and I just about didn’t care if folks stared at me in my silly pants pumping gas at the gas station next to the only traffic light in my little town.  These things happen, right?

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I was invited to be a part of the 14th Annual Storytelling Festival at Wesleyan College, my alma mater, and we were encouraged to wear our pajamas.  It was an honor to be asked to come back home and be a part of it, but it was bigger than that.  It was a chance to share stories.  Stories about the people I love, where I come from, why I am who I am.  And all of the laughter and tears that go with that.

Despite the traffic-stopping gassing up, the littles and I were only a couple of minutes late.  The attendees–students, professors, staff, and their children–were getting snacks and playing with the balloons spread out over the blankets under the half tent made of sheets.  It was such a fun setting, and here’s the cool thing.

This event?  This evening of storytelling?  This was the FINAL exam for an education class.

How awesome is that?

I was so impressed when I learned that.  The fact that the professor values hands-on application of the learning instead of mere regurgitation of the facts–that is huge.  Once again, I was overwhelmed in a moment of gratitude that my daughter chose this college.

The evening was delightful.  The students shared their stories–from personal and true to tales from homelands to fables.  Funny, magical, exciting, and intriguing.  A staff member told a story impromptu, because when students all team up and beg you, well, what else can you do?  He did extremely well, and his story was in Cooter’s Top 2 pick.  Another alumna told her story, one that she said her own students ask to hear regularly.  Absolutely hilarious.  The one shocker of the evening was when she asked for songs you listen to, no one said, “Let It Go.” Considering the age range of the young girls there, well, I was very surprised.  Especially since it is still our Princess’ favorite.  The woman who shared her story about her brother and “got to get the enemy”–she had us all interacting and saying the right thing on cue–it was adorable.  She was adorable.  And her story alone made Cooter, only one of three or four males in the entire room, very glad he went.

Just after the intermission, it was my turn.  I learned many, many years ago when I was in 4-H not to write out what I’m going to say in public.  Outline, yes.  Work it out in my head, absolutely.  Write it down word for word–epic FAIL, guaranteed.  This was what happened when I was headed to Rock Eagle for our District Project Achievement.  I had my whole presentation written on note cards, word for word.  Only when we prepared to leave from school–I could not find my cards.  I spent much time after our arrival trying to rewrite the thing.  The words were gone.  Once I put them down on paper, I couldn’t recall them at all.  From then on, whenever I was planning on public speaking, I just made notes in a semi-outline form, and winged it from there.

So the day before the festival, I sat down and jotted down the main parts, a few key words, of the stories I wanted to share.  I even copied them on yellow paper, in honor of the senior class, in the hopes that my “class spirit” would distract the audience from the fact that my memory isn’t what it used to be, and I needed a crutch–just in case.

Turns out, when I got up there, I didn’t need the crutch.  I put the card on the chair with my props (yes I am a sucker for bringing the story to life with visual aids–goes back to my storytime days with the library), and I never looked at it again.  The stories from years past at Blackberry Flats came to life in front of my eyes, as I told about the cedar trees and cutting the grass and our old school lawn mower and the snake in the tree and my Mama.  Oh, Mama.  I wish she had been there.  She could bring a storybook to life like nobody else I’ve ever heard.  My Daddy though–I can recall long afternoons of sitting and listening to him and my Granny telling stories about our family.  Friends.  Folks in town.  It was a sharing of the history.  Of how things used to be.  As I grew older, I loved even more to hear Daddy share with us the tales of folks like Grandma Jane from so many years ago.  And about the old high school.   And the Easter baskets he and my Uncle dug for themselves out in the yard on Easter Eve.  So many great stories.  So many words released into the air to wrap around another’s heart and be locked up tight for later reflections, time and time again.

I come from a long line of storytellers.  I didn’t really think about that until later last night, sitting in the quiet of the memory of the evening.  I love putting the words together and recording them for my children to read at their leisure later in their lives.  But what I realized last night is that stories are alive, and they beg for breath and to be told and heard and felt in a way that only sharing aloud can make happen.

In that moment, sharing the stories with people–some whom I knew, some I had never met–we shared something else.  Our hearts.  Our quirks.  Our hopes and fears and what we find funny.  We shared a moment of togetherness, of connection.  And in that moment, I was home in a way I’ve never felt before.  My folks and their stories and the very essence of who they were swirled around me in the room, and for a moment, they were there.  The stories gave them life and breath once more, and it was exhilarating.

As the evening came to a close, I saw where my Fella had texted in response to my simple text: “Here.”  He too used one word: “Fun?”  As we got in the car to head home, I wrote back: “Beyond fun.  I now know what I want to be when I grow up.”

When I walked in the door from our wonderful evening of sharing stories and laughter and fun, my Fella looked at me and said, “So what is it you want to be?”

A couple of weeks ago, my friend Lisa at My So-Called Glamorous Life: The Adventures of a Domestic Engineer introduced me in her blog as a “master storyteller.”  To be honest, I was gobsmacked.  And honored.  It brought tears to my eyes.  I wasn’t sure that it fit just yet, but I knew when I read those words that I want to be just that–a master storyteller.  My Daddy and my Granny were two of the best.  They could weave a tale that would capture the imaginations out of one strand of yarn.

And last night only served to validate that desire.

I want to be a master storyteller.

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Tonight I sat around the fire pit with Mess Cat and Aub while our Princess, Cooter, and Shaker chased each other around the yard.  We caught up and talked about what had been going on in our lives.  We shared memories of years past, and we laughed until we just about cried.  While sitting there, I realized that deep down inside all of us is a master storyteller.  We all come from folks who used to sit around the fire swapping tales.  And for the past two evenings, I’ve rediscovered the joy of doing just that–fun, entertaining, meaningful, and connecting folks–all without a device or gadget in sight.

Last night when I arrived at Wesleyan, the young woman who had invited me told me they were being graded for their final.  I had a horrible flashback to all dreams I’ve had, like one does, of showing up in class in my pajamas not ready for the test that was about to be handed out.

That makes me laugh.  I was in my pajamas, back in college, and there was a test.  But you know what?  I think I am ready.  For the next step–for becoming a storyteller and giving life to the things I write.  I am not sure where the journey is headed, but I know I’m ready.

After all, it’s who I come from.  A long line of storytellers.

Love to all.