What happens when a pastor, a poet and an artist walk in a house?

Six Doors to the Seventh DimensionA book!

Our newly published book is called Six Doors to the Seventh Dimension. It explores spirituality through the metaphor of a house offering a guided tour complete with poetic responses and artistic interpretations.

Upcoming events

Listen for us on the David Lile Radio Show on KFRU this Thursday, Aug. 21 at 8:30 a.m.

Become a Six Doors housemate at our official book launch party Friday, Sept. 5 at 6 p.m. in the Columbia Art League. Visit with us while enjoying wine and cheese. We will autograph copies and read excerpts. Our event is free and open to the public. See you there!

About the authors

You already know me, so I would like to say a bit about my friends. I recently asked them six questions about Six Doors.


Tim Carson
Tim Carson. Photo by Dave McGee.

Tim Carson is the narrator of the book. He is a bold person with a strong voice in his speaking, singing and written word. With a wonder and curiosity, he explores big ideas. He initiates change in people: how they think and feel and act. He makes new things happen, like this book as an example! One of the best huggers I have ever known, he does people good with his expressiveness and warm heart. He is willing to stand in the mystery.

Why did you decide to collaborate on this book?
I had a recent experience with collaboration through our local art league—one that paired writers with artists. The outcomes were something richer and more unexpected than any solo effort could create. So when the idea for Six Doors was hatched, I thought, why not? I am so thankful for the gift of that insight!

What was the hardest part of making this book?
The collaborative piece took more time, but I wouldn’t consider it hard. In fact, that was part of the fun. If you are willing to let go of some control, the outcome can be much better than any one person imagined.

For me, in my portion, the hardest part came as I shifted from the early part of the narrative that is pretty discursive to the final chapter that is clearly not. I had to change the voice and finding the way to do that without disrupting the flow was difficult. My fellow creators knew this was hard for me. They suffered with me in my relative confusion at that point and provided council in the ways they could.

Give us insight into what you think is different about this book.
The obvious difference that sets this book apart from so many others is the collaborative outcome itself. But there is also the schema of the house and its six doors. Using geographic referents is not new; it is found in classic literature from Dante to Chaucer to Merton. But the way that we used a physical schema—a house— to describe our anthropology and spiritual dimension beyond that does hold, I think, something new or at least fresh.

What are you working on now?
I’m working with an editor to provide a second edition manuscript to the publisher for my earlier book, The Square Root of God. Wipf & Stock should release it before the end of this calendar year.

How can we connect with you?
You could follow my blog at vitalwholeness.wordpress.com.

Any final tips for my readers on how to keep creativity flowing?
Look at the same thing from a different angle. Just because you’ve looked at the rose in the morning, it does not mean that it will appear the same in the afternoon or under the aspect of moonlight.

Set your mind and heart free from what you thought you had to create. Let your subconscious work for you, writing or creating after sleep, free-floating in the shower, piecing things together as you think of nothing beholding the river.


Jenny McGee
Jenny McGee. Photo by Dave McGee.

Jenny McGee made the art in the book. With tender vulnerability, she dares to go beyond words into the places of deepest feelings and deepest questions. She wants to see people with clear and bright eyes. She delights in her children and encourages them to be true to themselves. Delicate and strong, she is both fine fluttering branches and deep roots anchored in the nourishing earth of her faith. Healer-artist-interpreter Jenny is the whole tree.

Why did you decide to collaborate on this book?
Collaborating on this book was a chance to grow spiritually free with two people I highly respect and also offer others a chance to heal and journey through the combination of message, artwork and poetry.

What was the hardest part of making this book?
The hardest part of making the book was facing my own judgments about the artwork. I had to work hard on silencing the critic inside of myself and trust that my visual interpretation of the message was successful. During the process I tried hard not to critique or judge the artwork so that my hand felt free and the artwork could evolve unrestricted.

Give us insight into what you think is different about this book.
This book is unique because it offers its readers three unique interpretations of the story. Everyone is invited into this house and welcome to unveil its dimensions. It is like three books in one with each part interconnected to the other.

What are you working on now?
Right now I am working on a large custom painting for a family in Kansas City. It will be a triptych that will hang in their living room and is an expression of them and their uniqueness as a family.

How can we connect with you?
Please connect with me at www.jennymcgeeart.com

Any final tips for my readers on how to keep creativity flowing?
To keep the creativity flowing I would suggest being keenly aware of the critics in your head and what they are saying to you. Once you identified them, whoever they are and what they are saying to you, it is time to kick them out of your house. One way to do so is to close your eyes and imagine what they look like. Hand them a bunch of imaginary flowers and say, “Good-bye, you are no longer welcome in my life. Take these roses and you may never come back.”

How to stay motivated mid-project

lightLast week, I mentioned my process for starting new projects.

Beginnings have their own momentum. The middle of a project can bring the doldrums. During my two and a half years in grad school, my first year was skateboard ride down a hill. So exciting! New faculty! New friends! New projects! It was all exclamations points!!! Then came the third semester, the middle of five semesters total for me before graduation.

Due dates seemed too soon. The workload seemed too heavy. The glamour of the beginning had worn off. The syllabus seemed like a hard boss with no mercy. The exclamation points were gone. It was one | wall | after | another |.

Do you know that feeling? The initial thrill is gone, but you’re still far from completion.

Here are 7 ways I used to keep myself motivated.

Accept that you’re not in control

Sometimes you can’t pick the work that needs to be done. The syllabus or your job demand what they need, not what you want to do. As the serenity prayer suggests, accept what is out of your control with as much grace as you can. With any meaningful project, you will have to slog through some unpleasant parts. I love having a pony. Do I love mucking? But pony poop is part of pony having, so every weekend, I grab my rake.

Accept that you’re in control

This is like the second part of the serenity prayer. What can you own about the project you’re doing? Even in tight deadline situations, you can choose little things to make your work easier. Is there a photo you can post next to the computer that cheers you up? Do you have a favorite color rake?

Bribe yourself to get through short tasks

I broke my project into tiny tasks that could be completed in 10 or 20 minutes, and thought up prizes for myself as rewards. It might be having a cup of tea, making toast with extra butter and jam, painting my nails, calling a friend, watching TV or taking a bath.

Pick prizes that will bolster you, but not take too much work or money.

Get silly

It helps to bring back a sense of play to your work. Put on energizing music and dance around. When I was building my web portfolio for grad school, I also built a spoof website in parallel.

Get competitive

Find someone who is doing the same thing that you are, and make a friendly competition of it. Who will do it first?

Realize the desire to quit will not last

I once read that hunger pains only last 20 minutes. If someone was dieting and could wait the 20 minutes, the discomfort would go away.

I think this is true of many of our desires. Our desire to quit is a short-term discomfort. If you can remind yourself that you will feel better about the project soon, it helps propel you past the sticking point.

Ask for help

Tell your loved ones that you are glum and need motivation. They will remind you what a good job you’re doing, and shower you with attention. You can ask them with help staying on track.

Remember, you can always tell God you’re struggling and ask for guidance.

Keep praying, keep working and keep looking to the day when you accomplish your goal!

But, Gen, what about the memoir?

Speaking of being in the middle of projects, thank you for those who have stopped me to ask how the memoir is going. I love you for asking. It means the world to me that I will have supportive readers when I have it finished.

As I looked over my memoir this summer, and prayed about it, I recognized a hard truth. My memoir in its current written form isn’t honest enough, funny enough or well written enough for my liking. I left my childhood with chronic emotional pain that took me years to heal. I don’t want to impose my story on others so the end result is depressing. For the moment, I’m letting the memoir rest until I decide whether I want to try writing it a third time from a completely fresh start, or rewrite the draft I have with more honesty and humor.

Update on the newest writing project

Meanwhile, my new project continues, and I would love your feedback as I flesh it out!!! (Still in the exclamation phase!)

Here’s my pitch.

My book, the Creative Women’s Devotional, helps women who are doing crafts to transform their hobby into a spiritual practice. An uplifting gift for moms and grandmas who are Christian crafters, it offers stories, blessings and suggestions all looped together with God’s love.

This will be a book that I build through blogging. The final book will have additional content not found on the blog, and offer the convenience of one place for 40 devotionals.

How does this sound to you as a book idea?

Do you think I should open it up for more types of craft? Originally I was thinking knitting and crochet, plus quilting and possibly scrapbooking. I am most familiar with knitting and crochet. I would need to use others’ expertise to speak about quilting and scrap booking.

What do you think would make it more interesting, more entertaining, stronger or more inspiring?


Lord, thank you for staying with us when
we lose our way.

You are the tree giving us shade when
we need to rest.

You are the mountain calling us higher when
we need to stand back up and keep climbing.

May our work be done for your glory.
Energize us, focus us and guide us
on your way.

Tell me your thoughts!

What projects have you had that started strong but lagged in the middle?

My process for starting new projects

Family car rideThis week, I was riding in the car with my family and bouncing ideas off them. It’s a great thing to live in the country, because we always have plenty of time in the car, upwards of an hour and a half a day. Conversations happen in the car that wouldn’t happen anywhere else.

I recently received a CAFNR staff enrichment award to start an online class this week, How to Blog a Book (seats still open if you want to be my classmate) with Nina Amir. (Thank you, CAFNR!) I wanted to find a book project idea to use in the class which is where my family came in. During the impromptu road trip brainstorm, they helped me narrow my focus from 99 ideas to one.

This is my process for growing a tiny, wild idea into something more substantial. If you have a little seed of a dream, follow these steps to water it into fruition!

Breathe, pray and bring yourself back to your body

When I’m spending time in the mental world of ideas and possibilities, it helps to take a deep breath, settle into myself and spend some time in prayer. Not every idea is a good one! Checking in is the first step to see if I should weed the idea out, or move on.

Talk about it with my trusted people

The next step is to visit with the people I love and find out what they think. They know me and what I’m capable of. Again, some ideas are better left as ideas only (like, giving our pony free rein to run our household). When they get excited about something I’m thinking about, then I know it’s a green light. Having support at the early stage of a project keeps me steady and accountable.

Avoid the smashers

You know the ones who say no, call things stupid and come up with a list of 100 reasons why your project is bad? Stay away from them. They will poison an idea before it’s strong enough to take any negativity.

Get on the internet

Whatever I might consider, I can find something similar online. It pays to do some research and see what others are doing. My project might be different, but I can still find comparisons. For example, is there a market for crocheted chicken hats? How about crocheted hats for chickens?

Get educated

If I don’t already know what I need to for my project to be successful, it’s time to hit the books. The library, the internet, people you know and local educational centers can help fill in the gaps.

Get clear on my purpose

Why am I pursuing the project? Is it a callingor a pastime? Is it worthy? Am I doing it for my self-growth? For the good of the world? For entertainment? For making money to put bananas on the table? To create a happy home for ponies?? A clear purpose is the cornerstone for all the later work that needs to be done.

Control my doubts

When doubts start to drizzle on my enthusiasm for a new project, it helps to go back to my earlier steps: praying, talking to my trusted people and getting clear on my purpose. This areacontrolling my doubtsis my biggest challenge!

Go for it!

Now is the time for action. Our ideas only become real through us!

(PS—It was a fun and productive car ride. I am looking forward to telling you more about my blog-to-book project as it unfolds this summer!)


Lord, thank for the generous people who support
our ideas and believe in us when we are unsure.

Open our eyes to encourage those who are scared
to take the first step.

Tell me your thoughts!

What is a new project that you’re thinking about? Or that you’ve already started? How do you go from idea to reality?

Where judges aren’t welcome

An early love for judges

One of my favorite judges, Judy Sheindlin. Photo courtesy of Susan Roberts.
One of my favorite judges, Judy Sheindlin. Photo courtesy of Susan Roberts.

I started watching judge shows in high school. While my parents divorced during the summer between my junior and senior year, I watched the Newlywed Game and Divorce Court—back to back—religiously.

In the game show, raunchy newlyweds flirted to win washing machines. In the court show, couples described messy failed relationships, pleading to the cool sophisticated judge who gave them clean outcomes that didn’t always make sense: he gets the washing machine, she gets the dryer. I took comfort in seeing someone in control above the brutal fighting; I myself was living in the fray.

My internal judge and me today

Today chaos or insecurity triggers my internal judge who gives opinions on all aspects of my existence, including the way I pray and my creative process. It can get overwhelming. Instead of fortifying my self-image, the judge can become so destructive that nothing seems good enough.

This internal judge is almost certainly the voice that silences many people from writing at all. Before a song, story or prayer can be fully fleshed out, the judge squelches it.

A courtroom—not a mind or a private journal—is the perfect time and place for a judge. Judges make great editors, or list-makers for pros and cons, or researchers for the best washing machine. Much as I love them, judges don’t have a place in the early creative process.

Writing to deepen the spiritual experience

Spiritual writing is all about process. Results don’t matter. You only need to show up, put pen to paper and let the judge know you’ll call her later, if you need her. You won’t miss her. The divine presence will show love through ink and fiber, if you let it.

The practice of spiritual writing is a balm to heal and nourish my creative self. I face the water, put my hand in like a boat and let my work set sail. The spirit supplies the wind.

Upcoming Sunday School Class

As part of our church’s Christian Education hour, my friend, Resa Kerns, and I will offer a spiritual writing class 10 a.m. this Sunday, June 1, in the resource room (lower level) of Broadway Christian Church. It’s an 8-week class, and everyone is invited. Internal judges might tag along, but they won’t be listened to. In the space of spiritual writing, we will listen for God.

While I teach the class this summer, I will include some of my topics on this blog so you can follow along and try some writing on your own. No experience needed!

The pen is the path. As we write, we might be surprised by who travels with us.

Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” —Luke 24:31-32


Lord, when there seems no escape
from our fumbling, our fears,
our frantic chasing of the next goal,
our harsh self-judgements,
bless us with acceptance.

Let’s practice devotion.

May we accept what is real
and rest in your kingdom.

Tell me your thoughts!

How much rule does the judge have in your mind? How much rule does God have?

Changing my story, one memoir at a time

potentialI’m not the person I used to be. Thank God!

I finished the first draft of the memoir this week. After thousands of words and hundreds of hours revisiting the past, I ended my trip to the old days.

It was uncomfortable going back into devastation. It would be tempting to slant the story and describe my character with a positive history. But healing requires honesty.

It’s important to tell your real story. Shame is a heavy burden to carry. When we tell someone the worst of ourselves, we open up our lives. I was once in a prayer group when a woman confessed that she wasn’t the mother she wanted to be. She regretted her harshness. Did we attack her and feel superior? Not at all. We could all relate with ways we had failed as well. Her confession released an honest conversation for the group.

What it feels like

I feel light with my story out. Lighter than when I started writing. Lighter than when I lived it.

On describing the past, I had to pick which scenes to describe. Would I bring up the awful things, or stick to the more palatable? How to narrow down years into pages?

Writing the memoir was like a spring cleaning for the mind. I aired out the shadowy memories, like opening a door shut long ago on a stale room.

Next steps

I am old-school and still like paper; I went to the copy shop to print off the first copy. As the clerk ran off my 225 pages, he asked me about the title, “Broken hand to pray with.”

I explained it was a story about my youth and how I broke my hand. He said he broke his hand on a car window that his soon-to-be ex-wife had bought with his credit card. After she had been sleeping with his best friend. Can you relate? Perhaps not in detail but in heartbreak!

That is the power of telling the truth about the worst of us; we all know the shame of stumbling. By giving it to God, we can start clean. As long as we hide our weakness, we separate ourselves from one another and stop the Spirit from working through us.

The memoir looks substantial printed out. Now that the draft is done, I will let it rest—like letting bread rise—as recommended by Stephen King in On Writing. Then I will punch it down and form it into a readable book through the magic of editing.

I’m so thankful for all of you supporting my writing process. Your backing goes a long way to give me confidence in my writing being public! What worth is a writer without a reader?


Lord, bless us with the strength to tell our truth
to each other. Lift the shadow of shame from our shoulders.
Forgive us for failing and help us
let go of wintery memories.
May the warmth of your love melt our frozen blocks so
your goodness can flow through us.

Some days we don’t have to win. We just have to finish.
Lord, let us endure.
We can look back and tell our story.

We can walk forward with honest steps.

Tell me your thoughts!

Is there a story in your past that would be healing to tell? What trusted friend would be willing to listen?

A guide to gift-giving: the single gift you need to give

heart in hand

heart in handMy father was a successful executive when I was growing up. I was the only child at home in the 1980s. I remember fat times and lean times. During the good times, we lived in a nice subdivision and ate at fine Chicagoland restaurants.

When things were going well, our Christmas tree had presents that stretched out beyond the branches of the tree to the edge of the room. My parents were generous. I opened lavish and luxurious gifts: cashmere sweaters, a Casio keyboard, Atari 2600 game system, new leather tack for my horse and an electric typewriter.

When it was a time of unemployment, the tree branches overhung a handful of small boxes. The contrast from flush years made it seem like we were in desperate times. We weren’t, but I was too young to understand the difference between belt-tightening and true financial trouble.

In my life, I have experienced both extremes of luxury and poverty. Because of my experience at both ends, I wanted the holiday to stay modest for my son. I wanted to be sure that I could be consistent.

A time to spend, a time to wrap

What are your memories of Christmas?

Do you splurge on gifts? Do you show your love through gift-giving? Do you spend more money than is comfortable for your family’s financial situation?

This time of year encourages us to be financially irresponsible in the name of Christmas. We see romanticized ads showing happy families due to the perfect purchased items. Everyone looks joyful.

Yet our families haven’t changed just because it’s snowing and the nights are long. They will stay our families: wonderful, annoying, entertaining, vexing.

One of the best Christmas gifts I get from my mother-in-law is a long letter from her heart that she includes with the gifts she sends. She writes about the qualities she appreciates in me. I keep these notes in my journal and enjoy looking back at them.

You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late. –Ralph Waldo Emerson

Slow down, dang it! It’s Christmas!

The typical Christian message this time of year is to slow down and remember the real reason of the season. I’m all for that. I also know that this is one of the fullest and busiest times of the year for me. I go to more parties, do more baking and shop more than any other month. It’s unlikely I will have wide swaths of time for prayer and reflection.

But I can take ten minutes to write a few notes. I will tuck them in the presents. I will let the people in my life know why they matter.

Interested in writing some too? Here are some ideas with examples:

  • Say how the person affects you. Describe details about what you appreciate and why, such as, I appreciate how responsible you are with the animals when I come home late from work. It means so much to know they’ve been fed and watered. It’s a great feeling to be able to walk in the door and relax instead of deal with six hungry mouths.
  • Include something unique. List a quality your loved one might have, such as, I appreciate your ability to laugh off irritating situations at work. It is such a better commute home together when you are upbeat instead of depressed, despite a tough day.
  • Tell the story of a specific memory about something that happened during the year that stood out to you. After you got your driver’s license, you offered to go get groceries for us. I thought that was so generous and helpful.
  • Keep it short. Don’t feel like you need to go on for pages. A paragraph or two is plenty. You have a way of lightening the room when you smile. I appreciate your good nature even when I’m grumpy. Thank you for being a sunny person!
  • Do it now. One note of a few words today is worth more than the intention to write everyone you know entire novelettes. You have been there for me through three dozen hairstyles. Thank you for keeping the mullet jokes to a minimum.

Going forward, all the latest fancy gadgets will become quaint and outdated (remember the Atari and Casio I mentioned?). Clothing will get worn out. The popular games and music will be replaced by desire for the next new thing.

They might lose the notes you write, but the messages you give to your loved ones will be written on their hearts.

The effect of a love letter never ends. Write yours today!

Big Thank You Book Giveaway: my poetry book!

Have you gotten a note you treasure? Whom do you plan to write a note to? How is this Advent season going for you? Let me know anything on your mind and heart in the comments! I have my fifth and last book to give away and everyone who leaves a comment will get a chance to win it. It is my book of poetry from 2011 titled take. I will draw on Friday, Dec. 13, 2013 at 3 p.m. Good luck!

What you mean to me

lizardYou can find more reasons to stay put than move toward your goal.

It’s too hard. I don’t know enough. I don’t like being uncomfortable. I’m too old. I’m not experienced enough. There are already so many people doing it.

I’m scared.

And the biggest one, I’m not good enough.

Starting this blog at the beginning of the year with my first post, I heard my loudest inner critic say in a snide tone, “I’m not a good enough writer. I’m not a good enough Christian.”

It’s a risk to go for a dream. I’ll admit to you, I wasn’t sure what would happen. What if, instead of a place for us with light to grow in, this blog was a ghost town on the web, just me and some tumbleweeds with the occasional lizard running through?

Yet I felt I had to try. Under the voice of my inner critic, I heard a calling like a melodious whisper that I wanted to answer.

Seeing what happens

What happened exceeded my hopes! You, my beloved readers, made this experiment worthwhile. You passed on the word about the blog.

You stopped me for a quick visit about how you could relate to what I said.

You left comments that touched my heart and emails that I have saved in my journal.

You said, “I can relate.”

You strengthen me. You bless me.

I felt less alone. I realized that we’re working toward common goals of growing our faith, our compassion and our ability to enjoy life.

This Thanksgiving, I’ll be giving thanks for you, my valued readers.

The critic comes every week. I hear that same disparaging voice with its prediction of failure and the assessment of “not good enough.”

But friendship and support are stronger, steadier, louder. The sense of togetherness affirms that I should keep going.

As hard as it is, as little as I know, as badly as I write, as much as I stumble and drop communion on my way toward God, I will keep going.

I appreciate you for coming with me!

Big Thank You Book Giveaway

Daily Guideposts 2014 bookAs a thank you, I’m giving away five different books. I wish I could give all of you a book and sit down with you over a cup of tea, but the budget wouldn’t allow it 😀

Comment on today’s blog and you’ll be entered in the random drawing!

You can leave a comment here until noon, Friday, Nov. 22, 2013, when I will randomly pick the winner of the first book, Daily Guideposts 2014, a Spirit-lifting Devotional. A friend at church recommended this book, and I plan to use it in 2014.

The fun will continue with four more books to give away on social media with my Facebook page Genevieve A. Howard and Twitter @HowGen, so join me there!

Good luck and BIG THANK YOU!

How to break up with the person you used to be

If I met her today, I would raise my eyebrows. They’d be the same eyebrows: thick, rogue and ready to go off on their own. That would be the end of what we have in common.

I’m 80,000 words into my memoir, and I have about 10,000 words to go. I waded through more than 100 journals to get my story. Through listening to the echoes my earlier self left on the page, I got to know who I used to be.

I didn’t like her.


Cookie blessing
Pastor Tim blesses Cookie. Photo by Dana Fritz.

My beloved half-Chihuahua Cookie struggles with social anxiety that she expresses through growling.

In a kind voice, her vet once explained to us that he was going to write “fear biter” on her chart so she would be treated with extra-gentleness. It didn’t mean she was a bad dog. It meant she needed special handling so no one got hurt, including Cookie.

We had a pet blessing at my church last weekend. I brought Cookie.

People make her nervous. Other dogs make her nervous. Loud voices make her nervous. Vultures make her very nervous. All these things were part of the event.

Between the nervous shaking and the growling, Cookie almost trembled her way out of her skin. She was blessed anyway.

Even the nervous, growly ones need blessing. Maybe they need it most of all.


I had a hard time making sense of the early journals, in part because I went through a period of not dating them so one day ran into the next, but mostly because I wasn’t making sense. I recorded things people said to me next to my own ideas. Like untangling a knot in a fragile gold chain necklace, I pulled apart the snippet of a conversation in a café from a song lyric.

An exchange overheard on a bus went next to my plans for the future and a list of foods I got from the health food store called the Food Bin but affectionately called the Food Binge.

Pages rolled on without explanation or context. For hours, I worked to draw a single clear thought out of anguish mounded in dark scrawls, a glass bead in a neglected corner crowded with dust bunnies. The memoir grew.

Making Peace

Cookie at the pet blessing. Photo by Dana Fritz.
Cookie at the pet blessing. Photo by Dana Fritz.

I acknowledge the person I was 25 years ago. It’s true I ran around and bounced off the walls of the city. Nightclubs seemed too small, and each time I saw the ocean, I was tempted to dissolve in it.

I didn’t believe in goodness.

I was prickly and unpleasant while wanting to be praised, needy but unable to accept affection. I cussed and walked in the street, rejecting the sidewalk’s offer to keep me safe. I slept in my clothes due to apathy, drunkenness or lack of ability to choose a different outfit.

I saw no point in hoping.

I refused joy or couldn’t find it. I don’t know if I was looking.

Breaking up

As I extract a story from raw materials, I see my past in a new light. I realize I need to break up with the person I used to be.

Like a dysfunctional friendship you only hang onto for historical reasons, I’ve been carrying around my old self. I’m ready to let go.

I acknowledge my differences with who I was and end it with grace.

We need to say this to the past: “It’s over.”

And we need to pray: “God, bless who I was, who I am and who you want me to be.”

Because even the nervous, growly ones need blessing. Maybe they need it most of all.

Broken hand to pray with (excerpt nine)

Good news! I reached my 10,000 words goal for July. I want to thank you for urging me on. Whether it’s a public comment on this blog or Facebook, a private comment or a quick word just mentioning that you got something out of my writing, you make this journey worthwhile. Your thoughts matter to me!

I thought it would be perfect to post this excerpt about turning 21 since this is the week of my 44th birthday. Enjoy!


Turning 21

The morning of my 21st birthday I woke up and looked out the sliding glass door that served as one of the walls of my room. Outside on the bench sat a mango.

It’s a mango from God! I thought. I slid open the door and held it in my hand.

The green fruit blushed with red on one of its curved sides. It gave ever so slightly as I pressed it. I knew it would be ripe and sweet.

In my first moments of being 21, I was happy.

mangoI came to mangoes when I came to Santa Cruz. The view of my first mango at age 19 seemed unremarkable. Warren handed me the fruit. I held the green bulbous thing with a questioning look.

“It’s a mango,” he said. “Have you ever had one before?”

I shook my head no. Warren took the mango back and brought it into his kitchen. On the tile counter, he cut off one side of it and handed it back to me.

“Eat the yellow part.”

I bit in. The rich juice tasted of islands and sunshine. It covered my tongue with tangy sweetness, like an apricot and pineapple mixed together.

“Do you like it?”

“I think this is my new favorite fruit!”

From then on, I kept an eye out for mangoes in the market. In May, they dropped down to less than a dollar a mango and I gorged myself.

Warren said that you can’t waste a mango. You have to eat all the flesh. His family had a house in Jamaica with a mango tree.

“Even if all the mangoes on your tree ripen at the same time, you can’t waste it.”

I called the inner seed the bone and chewed all the fruit off until it was stripped of any goodness and left with frayed ends. The fibers stuck in my teeth. A mango made me appreciate floss.

There are some foods that are happy foods for me. I don’t remember any sad times eating them. Ice cream, popcorn and mangoes.

Later in the day on my 21st birthday, I found out Warren had left the mango for me, early in the morning before sunrise. I still believed it was from God. I was starting to understand that God worked through people.

Broken hand to pray with (excerpt eight)

In the café at a poetry reading, 1990.
In the café at a poetry reading, 1990.

When it rained, I took the bus instead of my motorcycle. By bus, I mean buses. I walked two and a half miles from the bus I called home to the Lompico bus stop. I took the Lompico bus to Felton. From Felton, I took the bus to the metro, the main station in Santa Cruz. From there, I could go anywhere.

The bus back from Cabrillo College where I took general ed and a poetry class (and an English class with lamps) was a slow ride. It seemed to stop every block. People would attach and detach their bikes from the front rack as if they had the whole afternoon free instead of a bus load of impatient passengers sending them hurry-up glares.

While taking the bus back from Cabrillo and heading to work in Scotts Valley, a tall man with a briefcase got on the bus and sat next to me. Uncommonly handsome with mussed dark hair and blue eyes, he had the look of someone who was used to getting attention. He seemed comfortable with admiration.

He opened the briefcase. I peered in. Inside he had a square bottle of thick mango juice and a stack of blue fliers, hand drawn with a Sharpie pen and photocopied. I wanted to talk to him.

I ran over possible lines in my head. Your mango juice might spill. No, too negative. Don’t see a lot of guys with briefcases on the bus. How was that a good thing to say? I settled on this: “What are the fliers for?”

He handed me one. “I’m in a band. We’re having a show tonight. Want to come?”

“I don’t know.” I hesitated but I was tempted.

“I could put you on the guest list.”

I longed to be known. I longed to be wanted. Being put on the guest list satisfied both longings. I was in.

“OK, I’ll come check it out.”

I spelled out my name for him. He wrote it down on the back of a blue flyer. He said it was a pretty name. He took care to tuck the flyer with my name on it in one of the inner silky pockets and closed the briefcase. His was the next stop. Uncurling his length toward the bus ceiling, he stood to go. He gave me a gargoyle’s smile as he shook my hand and told me he’d see me later that night.

It had been just a bus ride before the man with the briefcase boarded. Then it became an adventure.


The show was in a café that was seedy and charming, heavy on the seedy. The front door was kept open to the night air. It took a moment to orient myself to the atmosphere when I first got near the café. It was a world unto itself with its own smell, sound, look and culture. I could smell it and hear it before I could see it. French roast wafted out to mingle with the ocean air that carried strains of music, conversation and clinking dishes.

The café faced the metro station and the buses motored by at regular intervals. Next to the café, a whirring machine blew bubbles into the darkness. They rose, shining with tiny orangey reflections from the orangey street lights.

The café cockroaches knew martial arts and took no guff from the patrons. They sauntered over the floor during business hours without fear.

They didn’t matter much. It was so dark inside that it was hard to distinguish the cockroaches from the years of coffee stains and gunk built up in layers on the floor, like levels of civilization that an archaeologist could read in the future: We can tell that in 1988, someone spilled their soy latte here in this area. Then later in the afternoon, a vial of patchouli broke when a girl dropped her Guatemalan woven bag under the table.

I was peeling my Doc Martins from the sticky surface more than walking.

I walked through the front part of the café where the espresso machine hissed. Cool people draped themselves over furniture that had seen its heyday decades before. None of the tables matched and the chairs were metal folding chairs with different patterns of rust spots as if they’d been pulled from a soggy dumpster. Which they probably were.

I walked to the back room where the shows were. A big-bellied guy with a ZZ Top beard sat on a stool, a silver chain swinging from his wallet when he moved. He held a stack of money on top of a clip board.

“I’m on the guest list,” I yelled. “Genevieve.”

He looked at the clipboard and thumbed his way toward the room.

“OK, enjoy the show.”

My first time on a guest list, I felt like a mini-celebrity. I pulled my shoulders back as I entered the room. Once in, I scanned for a familiar face. I didn’t see anyone I knew so I joined the crowd standing around the stage.

The opening band was long on enthusiasm. Their vigorous playing only made up part of the gap between reality and talent.

I listened with a waiting ear. It wasn’t the music I wanted to hear. I wanted to hear him, the mysterious stranger with the briefcase from the bus. Would he be guttural, crooning or falsetto? Would he see me?

His flyer campaign and personal charisma had paid off. The room was full. Leather jackets dominated the dress code, with thrift store finds coming in a close second.

The walls showed art from a local artist. By local artist, I mean, one of the majority of the population. You couldn’t throw a rock in Santa Cruz without hitting an artist. The art was done in a neon cartoon style but with a gruesome subject matter. It might have been an ironic rebuttal to the ever present fact of mortality. Or it might have been the Technicolor vomit from a sick mind on drugs. Like the crowd and the decor, it was a mixed message and difficult to decipher.

Soon enough the group with the robust lust for performing was off the stage and his group was on.

His presence dominated the room. Screams replaced the polite clapping that the first group received.

I stood enraptured. With my youth, my impressionable nature and my ability to glom on, I was primed to be a groupie. He sang love songs and I took them personally. Did he see me? I pretended he did. I imagined he could see only me. The crowd blurred away. It was only me standing below and him, above on the stage.

The last song of the set was a cover of Lights by Journey. A blue spotlight lit his face and hair. It shone off him in a holy glow. His voice, sonorous and smooth, filled me with longing.

I had found my charmer. I swayed in fascination, a cobra transfixed. He held the mic in both hands, closing his eyes and telling about how he wanted to be back in the city. I started to miss home myself. Home as I had never known. Home as I could never find. I felt a melancholy so massive that it filled my mouth, like icing that is too heavy but still sweet.

I stood in a transcendent moment, pulsing with joy and connection, filth and shabbiness, beauty and harmony, sorrow and homesickness.

He found me after the show. I was standing to the side and he came up, sweaty with his eyes shining.

“Hey, it’s the girl from the bus. You came! How did you like it?”

“Wow, you’re amazing.” I looked up at him and could almost imagine him still haloed with a blue glow. I was star struck.

“We’re having a party at my house. It’s off Mission Street. Want to come?”

Me invited to his place! My stomach twirled as if my gut had a hamster running in a wheel. I managed an answer, “Yeah, that sounds good.”

“OK, see you there.”

He snaked his way through the crowd. I peeled my boots all the way outside but I hardly noticed. In my mind, I was flying.


A guest list. A rock show. A party. What more would come out of this bus ride?