Advice From a Tree


Today I am (supposed to be) rushing around, closing up the house for winter, hauling in the picnic table, cleaning out the frig, scrubbing toilets, vacuuming rugs, packing bedding and silverware in plastic to deter the field mice who generally move in for the winter when my cats and I depart.

I picked up my winter supply of New Hampshire honey and goats milk moisturizing lotion on the way back from Willa’s grave yesterday, but I forgot to visit the Post Office so I have to go back into town.

Today is also the deadline for sending in my sermon on gentleness (done, at last!) and I so, so want to be finished with all of this in time to watch the debate with my neighbor tonight!

All to say that I don’t have time to write, but I found this wonderful message from the Sierra Club that I thought you might enjoy.


Dig your roots way down underground into the richest soil of life, hold on, and enjoy the view today!


Waiting for Willa


Today I’m headed to Jaffrey, New Hampshire to wait for my muse. She often visits me at the grave of author Willa Cather.

Willa never meant much to me growing up, just a writer that my father liked, but I’ve developed a deep appreciation for her since writing an odd bit of memoir/biography about her in grad school. Our lives meshed in my mind. I tried to understand who she was, what motivated her, what she feared, why she wrote. I think she appreciated my respect and curiosity — bordering on obsession — and she has since come to live in my heart with my Dad.

So I’m off on my pilgrimage. The forty-five minute drive is glorious in the fall, even on a dreary day like today. I will sit on the stone wall that surrounds Willa’s grave and talk to her about my life, about my writing, about my aspirations, about my frustrations.

She listens. So does Edith, her life partner who is buried next to her.

And I’ll wait. Because Willa usually answers me. No kidding. And I need talking to, most especially about my writing and where it’s going. Or not going.

Here is the story of my first visit to her grave, taken from the grad school essay that I have yet to publish:

As I step into the Old Burying Ground and pull the gate closed behind me, I am completely alone. There must be a thousand monuments covering the hillside, and I wonder how Ill find Cathers grave. I begin wandering among the granite slabs, some standing askew, others lying broken in pieces. Small American flags flutter in a slight breeze, and a few polished stone obelisks reflect the setting sun. I read the worn names underneath patches of gray and green lichen: Spofford, Pierce, Worster, Brigham. A large square stone marker standing in the lowest corner of the cemetery catches my eye, and somehow, I feel certain its hers. As I walk toward it, I can see dozens of small rocks lining the top of the gray marker, and I know Ive found it. Admirers have left talismans to honor her. I realize its quite possible that my father made his own pilgrimage to this simple shrine during one of our stays at the farmhouse down the road.

Her grave is next to a low stone wall that marks the southwestern corner of the cemetery. Just outside the wall grow gnarled rhododendron bushes and towering pine, beech, and maple trees. The marker itself is about three feet tall and the same across. Around it is a small garden of impatiens, encircled by rectangles of cut granite. The sun casts shadow branches on the face of the gravestone, and I have to lean in close to read the words:


December 7, 1876 April 24, 1947





“…that is happiness, to be dissolved

into something complete and great.

From My Antonia




Hitting the Big Time


I celebrated too much last night. The wine was still flowing on the late-night train back from New York City, and it’s hard to tell if the clanking in my head is the remembered rhythm of steel wheels on the track or the fading pulse of champagne in my veins.

The Big Apple. Broadway.

Big Apple

Big Apple

Did I mention champagne?

I’m not a lush. I used to be, but I’m older and wiser now; plus, alcoholism killed my Dad when we were both too young. But that’s another story, and besides, I’m late to that authorial party – haven’t we all had enough of writers who survived alcoholic childhoods, overcame their own addictions and demons, and then hit the big time as an author?

Big Time on Broadway

Hitting the big time. That’s always the dream, and it’s what I have been celebrating.

A dear friend of mine had her Broadway acting debut this week in what the Washington Post calls the “brilliant” Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.

My “little friend,” which I’m allowed to call her because I knew her when she was a mere denizen of the womb, is well on her way to the big time.

Liesel Allen Yeager has been an actor from her first breath, bursting into song at the dinner table, dancing down the beach, and doing spot-on imitations of her teachers and a passable Elvis as well.

And now . . .

An understudy never knows if she will make it onto the stage, but Liesel has been playing Nina all week, the perfect role for her — an ingénue utterly enamored of an aging movie star played by Sigourney Weaver. Liesel performs alongside “Sigourney” (as I am now allowed to call her) and David Hyde Pierce (Niles on the Frasier TV show, if the name doesn’t ring a bell).



Backstage after the show as Liesel cleans up and we snap pictures of Liesel cleaning up, she tells us that Sigourney and David have been very kind and supportive, which is no surprise because Liesel is brilliant and beautiful and talented and charming

OK, I’m biased. Sue me. But it’s not just me saying that, the folks waiting at the stage door while she signed autographs for them said she was “sweet and nice and cute.”

Liesel with Admirers  (Photo: Barbara Early)

Liesel with Admirers
(Photo: Barbara Early)

Super Secret Stage Door

Super Secret Stage Door

Busting Butt

This all seems like a dream to her friends and family. But to Liesel, it’s a solid reality soaked in sweat and tears and probably more than a few drops of blood. A reality built on years of slogging through hopeful auditions and despair-provoking rejections, grueling days at The Juilliard School, strenuous physical workouts, nonstop networking, and practice, practice, practice.

Therein lies the lesson about hitting it big. There’s no guarantee that if you do all those things – totally bust your butt, discipline yourself, and never miss an opportunity – you will ever hit the big time. But if you don’t persevere in reality, your chances of reaching your dream are virtually nil.

I shouldn’t be doing the second-person thing here; I’m talking to myself more than to you.

Liesel is an inspiration to me as I approach the final semester of my Masters in Writing at Johns Hopkins. I want to channel her spirit and get up early, hit the keyboard, make the most of connections, send my vulnerable prose out into the world, and look for the lessons in the rejections — rejections that are already piling up.

Freshly Pressed Perspective

Up until last week, I imagined that “hitting the big time” for me would include getting “Freshly Pressed” by the WordPress Gods, who bless only a few blogs with that recognition. I reached that goal on Friday with a post about violence in the movies.

It was very exciting, but frankly not as exciting as I had expected. Especially the part where I had to respond to comments from a bunch of hard-core proponents of violence in the movies. It wasn’t a debate about censorship or some underlying philosophy — they simply enjoy watching violence.

At any rate, the glow of being Freshly Pressed quickly faded in the stage lights that shone down on Liesel last night as she grinningly gripped the hands of her fellow actors for that final bow, her flowing white dress and floral headband giving her the aura of a bride or an angel.

Congratulations, Liesel! You rocked the house!!

A Well-deserved Toast

A Well-deserved Toast

An Addendum – Welcome New Friends!

Although being Freshly Pressed has been eclipsed by the Big Apple and my Little Friend, I did want to say that I am most grateful to WordPress Goddess  Michelle and to all the new folks who have visited, “liked,” and decided to follow my humble offerings here at Writing with Spirit.


You will find this blog to be an eclectic blend of rambles with a splash of humor, a jigger of peace, justice and eco-ranting, and a twist of brilliantly insightful and/or piercingly poignant essay.

This particular ramble is in response to fellow-blogger and fellow-student Oliver Gray’s writing contest. I did not expect to be participating because as I say, my days of serious recreational drinking have passed, and his contest is focused on Writing and Drinking. I have chosen the category of Hangovers.

I’m glad that my New York trip qualifies me to enter Oliver’s contest. I did not set out to get a hangover, but a Broadway debut is heady stuff and worth a small champagne headache. Good champagne, I might add, courtesy of Liesel’s father, Brooks, who is shown here celebrating in a most dangerous manner last New Year’s Eve. Please do not try this at home.

Do Not Try This at Home

Do Not Try This at Home


A Woman’s Peace


“Ultimately we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it toward others. The more peace there is in us, the more peace there will be in our troubled world.”

A Haunting Challenge

These words come from Etty Hillesum, who died in a Nazi concentration camp when she was 29 years old. She had “an old soul,” as they say — wisdom beyond her years. We will never know what peace she might have brought to the world had she not been murdered. Yet she offered a haunting challenge as she pondered the annihilation of her people:

“I wish I could live for a long time so that one day I may know how to explain it, and if I am not granted that wish, well, then somebody else will perhaps do it, carry on from where my life has been cut short…”

Photo: Etty Hillesum

Etty Hillesum

Wow – “then somebody else will perhaps do it.” W ell, I can’t explain the Holocaust for Etty, but I can try to do my “one moral duty” by reclaiming peace within my soul and hoping some of it will transfer to the world. I do believe this is our moral duty. I’ve heard it said that “hurt people will hurt people,” and I’ve certainly found that to be true. We must each take responsibility for healing our own hurting hearts.

Wounds we received in childhood may still be causing emotional reactions today, and unless we become aware of that and seek healing and peace, we’ll just be dumping our crap all over everyone else.

For the rest of our lives.

Women in Peace

I am a member of Bloggers for Peace, and as such, I have committed to post every month on the topic of peace. March being Women’s History Month, I thought I would take a brief look at women’s roles in the movement for world peace. As it turns out, it isn’t possible to do that briefly. I’d have to write a tome.

Instead of the tome (I can hear you all now, “tome, tome, tome!”), I’m sharing Etty’s story with you.

Etty’s efforts to nurture peace in her heart resulted in a profound attitude of love, hope, and gratitude, which it’s hard to imagine could survive in a concentration camp.

“Sometimes when I stand in some corner of the camp, my feet planted on earth, my eyes raised towards heaven, tears run down my face, tears of deep emotion and gratitude.”

“I know that a new and kinder day will come. I would so much like to live on, if only to express all the love I carry within me. And there is only one way of preparing the new age, by living it even now in our hearts.”

I hope you’ll read more about Etty at Gratefulness.org

Nurturing Change

How are we doing at realizing Etty Hillesum’s dream that “a new and kinder day” was coming?

According to the Eisenhower Research Project, between 152,280 – 192,550 civilians have been killed in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan as a result of the fighting since 9/11. More than seven million people have become refugees. The numbers speak for themselves.

Sometimes it’s hard to hope. War seems to be an inevitable part of the human experience, and peace is certainly not inevitable in this world. It’s something we must pray for, wait for, work for. We must intentionally nurture it from within, growing what the Bible calls the “fruits of the spirit”: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Women know a little about waiting and praying and growing things inside themselves.

I am a firm believer in the power of inner peace to transform the world. It has to start with the individual. Perhaps I’m naive, but what’s the point of living if we can’t be at peace with ourselves and make a positive difference in the world?

For me, inner peace also includes action. For instance, if I ate meat, I know my heart would not be at peace. I would see that as waging war on animals. (I’m not judging you, I’m talking about my own heart.)

I volunteer for projects that help heal our planet, I participate in peace marches, and I help feed homeless people. That’s activism, yes, it adds to the goodness in the world. But the action itself is also good for the peace of my soul.

I like how poet and human rights activist Staceyann Chin puts it: “Every day I get better at knowing that it is not a choice to be an activist; rather, it is the only way to hold on to the better parts of my human self. It is the only way I can live and laugh without guilt.”

You can check out the stories of nine women who made peace activism a way of life and won the Nobel Peace Prize as a result, including Baroness Bertha von Suttner, without whom there might not even be a Nobel Peace Prize.

A Reason to Hope

One last story of hope for peace. My friend Nate Haken is active with Partners for Peace, a  network of individuals and organizations dedicated to promoting peace in the Niger Delta. Part of what they do is identify and celebrate local peace-building initiatives, like the one called “Mothers for Peace” in Rivers State.This group of wives, sisters, mothers, and daughters takes direct action to intervene when conflicts break out in their communities. Carrying palm fronds, they march right into the conflict, waving their branches and singing songs of peace. Below is a short video about these women.

As they wave their palm fronds in the face of war, these women continue to spread Etty’s brave and peaceful spirit in the world.

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