When I was in 2nd Grade, our teacher read a novel outloud to us every day. My favorite was “A Wrinkle in Time,” by Madeline L’Engle. Mrs. Baldridge developed voices for Mrs. Who, Mrs. Which and Mrs. Whatsit. She made the story come alive. I was captivated, and I also became obsessed with reading any book by L’Engle I could find.
Thankfully, my school library had her entire YA canon. Over the years, I moved from Meg Murray to Vicky Austin. By the time I was in 7th grade, I had read “A Ring of Endless LIght” at least three times. That was the year I met the author herself.
She was the featured speaker at Women’s Institute, a retreat sponsored by the Episcopal Church Women at Camp Mitchell, high atop Petit Jean Mountain. My mother let me skip school to attend. I sat in rapt attention as she spoke, and I stood in line with middle-school timidity to get my well-read copy of “A Ring of Endless Light” signed.
I honestly don’t recall my interaction with her — I was star struck! But the inscription on my book stuck with me all these years:
“To Jennifer: be a light bearer.”
It’s a loaded assignment. Does she mean “bear a light into the world” or “bear heavy things lightly?” I’ve never known the true meaning, but I can honestly say over the course of my life I’ve tried very hard to do both.
I look back over the course of this blog’s life, and I love my writing. Well, most of it. I have to admit I’ve struggled recently with what to write in this space. My posts have been few and far between. I’m the first to admit my most recent posts haven’t been all that great. It’s like when Eminem admits in Not Afraid: “Let’s be honest that last Relapse CD was ‘ehhh…'”
My best writing is borne out of heartbreak, struggle and searching. Isn’t that always the case? I mean, you can’t sing the blues if you don’t have some serious shit to manage. Much like the blues, my writing seems to work best when I’m facing my demons, owning my story, healing my heart and trying to figure out how to move on. It doesn’t work as well when the lyrics to the blues song are: “I found my groove … My kids are great … We love our life …. And all is straight.”
I have been hesitant to write life is good right now, and I’m not convinced my writing is any good without a tinge of drama.
Today, on a 3-hour road trip, I tuned in to Season Two of Magic Lessons, a podcast by Liz Gilbert. She’s the author of “Eat, Pray, Love” and most recently “Big Magic.” I dig her insight. This edition of the podcast focused on a woman from England who has known her whole life she wants to be a comedy writer. And yet, she convinced herself this wasn’t serious art. To be taken seriously, she maintained, she needed serious subject matter. So instead of writing comedy, she got a PhD in Holocaust Studies and did her dissertation in crimes again women.
So, Liz being Liz levels with her (I’m paraphrasing here):”What the hell, sister, seriously? You have a gift. And guess what? If the whole world majored in pain and suffering, it’d be a pretty bleak place. So write your comedy. Make people laugh. Bring some joy to the word. It’s a public service. Do it!”
Later in the podcast, her guest Sarah Jones (I hadn’t heard of her. Ya’ll. Google her. Amazing.) says, “What if joy were your only metric for success?”
I turned off the radio and drove in silence. How could this play into my life and, by extension, breathe some new life into this blog?
What if, ya’ll?
Most of my writing up to this point has been heavy. Many people have reached out to me after reading my blog to say: “Me, too.” “Wow.” “Yes!” “Thank You.” I deeply appreciate their support. It was never about gaining followers, and I’m still genuinely moved by such responses.
I made a connection with people by being honest in a vulnerable time. Doesn’t it follow that I could now entertain and inspire with how far I’ve come and how silly my world is these days?
So, what if my only metric were joy? What if I began bearing witness to Madeline L’Engle’s charge to me all those years ago? What if I bore things a little more lightly and brought a little more light into this world?
If my only metric were joy, this is where I would start:
I’m obsessed with “Hamilton: The Musical.” I quote it constantly and break into hip-hop lyrics at the drop of a hat. My kids are tired of it. My coworkers are baffled. Seriously, the other day, a coworker commented on another’s cute new pants and I said, “I think your pants look hot. Selig, I like you a lot. Let’s hatch a plot blacker than the kettle callin’ the pot.” They looked confused. I felt triumphant. I feel I should be comped tickets for such a feat. Sadly, the Broadway fairies have not come calling.
It stands to reason, I’m a pop culture junkie. I quote movies and books constantly. I sing all the time. Music is like oxygen to me. I don’t care if it’s rap, hip-hop, disco, pop or country. I like good writing as much I love catchy hooks. It all moves me. I’ll throw lyrics and quotes at you until your head spins (as witnessed by the title to this blog post!), so just try to keep up. I don’t think this makes me less of a professional or undermines my intelligence. It’s a layer. And it’s me.
I also cuss … a lot. I’m not sure why. I know better. But there is something cathartic in working “motherfucker” into a sentence to express intense emotion. I mean, not in front of board members and VIPs, of course. Although there have been accidents. Again, it’s a layer. It may be the brown, scabby layer of the onion you peel back and throw away … But it’s still part of the onion. And the onion is me. You got that metaphor, right?
I love to tell stories. I’m lucky writing is a major part of my job description, but I’m honestly funnier in person. Just ask my brother. He thinks I’m hysterical.
It’s bat shit crazy around my house most nights. But we have fun.
My daughter spent the majority of the night singing the words to the Pledge of Allegiance in Latin to the tune of “Little Cabin in the Woods.” My son has emerged from his serious state and laughs more, smiles lots and talks my ear off. I’ve gotten more hugs from him in the last month than in the last year put together. He’s a different child. I believe it’s due in large part to his new daily environment and in no small part to the fact I’m finally listening to him and not trying so hard to control him.
As I said in my intro to this blog, there is so much of my story that’s yet to be written. When I wrote those words almost two years ago, I thought my story would be an award-winning drama. I joked about the day I’d write the screenplay and Reese Witherspoon would produce and star as me. It would cause weeping and wailing. We’d win an Oscar for Best Drama.
Now, I have a feeling it’s a comedy. Reese may still play the lead role, but it will be the “Legally Blonde” version of Reese, not the “Mud” version. The next few chapters are going to be lighter, funnier and more joyful. Sure, there may be fewer raw life lessons imparted, but maybe those of you who are on your own journeys to happy can catch glimpse of what’s in store for you.
It’s time for me to be a light bearer. I’m ready. Hope you are, too.