Use Your Words

“Use your words,” is what I tell my four year old, when he’s bellowing with frustration. “Use your words. I can help, if you can just use your words.” Sometimes he doesn’t have the vocabulary to explain, but he tries, and he’s learning all the time. He impressed the heck out of me by using the word “articulation” a while ago, but he was referring to a custom off-road truck, not linguistics.

I started this site as part of learning to use my words again, with writing, after more than a decade away (not counting work things like business correspondence and grant writing). In writing here, I remembered how to use my words, and why, and I’ve picked up a few things, and learned what I’ve missed and a little bit of what I need to work towards.

A new thing: I’ve started using my words to write for magazines. I wrote an article for The Vermont Art Guide about The Marble House Project in Dorset, Vermont. Vermont Art Guide is a quarterly printed magazine about art in Vermont. The editor was looking for a contributing writer, and hired me after I sent some writing samples. I took a tour, I interviewed an artist working there, and even though I wasn’t sure what I was doing or whether I could do it well, I found my way through to the end of 1200 words. I crossed my fingers hoping the editor wouldn’t review what I wrote and say “what kind of crap is this!?” but… he said it was good. The article is not available online except in excerpted form, but I’ll link to it in a bit. I wrote a second article for the same magazine that has not yet published.

And then I thought to myself, why not ask a few other magazines? Three of the four publications I sent a brief inquiry to by email with links to writing samples responded in the affirmative. The third had no reply (I guess you can’t please everyone). I’ll link through to articles as they publish, but it is very much a part time thing right now. If you need an article written, and you think I might be a good fit, send me an email.

Another new thing: I’ve also used my words to volunteer this year. I volunteered part time (online, after work or during lunch breaks) with team of other people as a volunteer for a political campaign. Earlier this year, for a stretch of almost six months, I talked or texted with thousands of people all over the country, from New York to California, from Vermont to South Carolina, from the Upper West Side of New York to Greenville, South Carolina, and Ferguson, Missouri. When I say thousands, I mean that very literally. Thousands of people–more people than I’ve ever talked to before in my entire life. I absolutely loved it.

Despite the distance and the sheer number of people, there was a strong sense of community, with those I worked alongside and those I had conversations with about voting, registration, individual state rules, events, and volunteering. Technology has made so easy to connect with people across great distances who share a similar point of view or a set of similar values, in that it is so easy to find communities online that resonate no matter what your preferences are.

That sense of community or connection in talking to thousands of people all across the country made me sharply aware that I am not connected in that same way to my local community. I don’t have much of a connection at all, and it’s something I need to improve.

Local communities are so important because they show us, each of us, that despite our individual differences and disagreements that we are, all of us, more similar to each other than we are different. And it is there, in the overlap of our common humanity, that people can come together and cross divides, and work together. I wonder if this country has become so divided partially as a result of our ability to connect so easily online with those that share our particular views, to the point where we retreat from opposing views. I wonder if by absorbing ourselves in an online world, or in work, we sometimes retreat even from our own local communities.

I don’t know how common a sense of isolation or lack of a sense of local community is nowadays, but I’ve seen it discussed, happening more in cities but also across small towns. Not knowing your neighbors. People are occupied with work and family, and technology has expanded and blurred lines of work and home; we are connected to work for longer hours, and to online communities or entertainment more and more. I notice people are looking at their phones… all. the. time. Netflix binges and hours spent on Facebook, Pinterest, Wordpess, or Twitter? Somewhere along the way, in some areas or for some people, a sense of local community can be left behind and isolation can creep in.

If you find yourself in this situation, I think you should consider trying to get involved in your own local community. I think the best way to do so is through an already established effort, at the library or the church, or the volunteer fire department. I haven’t actually followed my own advice; I have taken a much more indirect route, and as a parent, I’m still catching up on that sleep deficit, so I still value sleep over socializing. But still, I made an effort to reach out, in between work and family and writing and volunteering. I reached out in small ways; I volunteered for the library book sale, frequented the farmer’s market in town, joined a knitting group, and got a sitter so I could go, but the knitters weren’t my people. I stretched a little further and launched a diaper drive, which took SO much time and effort.

Sometimes work can provide a sense of community. I work full time all week, but even at work, I don’t see or talk to many people. It’s a small office, and so I say hello to about two people in the building on my way to my own office, and then I sit in front of the computer and I draft documents and fill out forms all day. I send draft documents by email for review to someone else in the office, so we rarely talk face to face. My work phone rings once or twice a week at most, and there were days I went without seeing anyone except in passing hellos in the hall, or at lunch when the staff gather together to eat. Different work shifts meant that I’d also go days without seeing an adult at home after work.

I still think about when a close relative said, with a derisive twist of her lips, that she (referring to herself) was not a lonely person. Was I lonely? Not really. Sometimes though, I wondered if something was wrong with me. Maybe I wasn’t trying hard enough, I thought. I watched some more Netflix in between the busy parts of my life, the work week and short seeming weekends. The way that time seems to fly by, and trying to do my best to raise another human being, to weed the garden, keep up with laundry and cleaning, feed and water the chickens, and harvest honey from the bees, visit relatives, groceries, errands, how could I do any more really? It was hard. And, to be honest, I really do like Netflix a bit more than any social obligations. I guess there might be a… balance that I haven’t yet struck.

Looking back, I noticed through all this time, there was a certain thread of writing or of words, online, by phone and text, or in person. Communication, I guess you would call it. I used my words, just like I tell my four year old. After dipping my toes into the essentials of interviewing artists for writing articles (ask questions, listen to the answers, try to scribble down any good quotes, smile and be curious and… if you have more suggestions, let me know please), it turns out that… my writing has led me right back to my local community. In what I now think of as a funny twist, I was assigned by a magazine to write an article, and… this particular article is different than the ones before it. It requires that I talk to a lot of people locally, right here where I live, about what they do to contribute to the local community. This should be interesting. I hope I don’t make a complete fool of myself. Or, hmmm, no more so than I do usually.

Wish me luck. Updates to follow.


Steeples and Stars


Spring has arrived in Vermont.

Iris coming up. You know what pops in my head when I see these new iris? “And these are my steeples” from that kids game where you fold your hands into a church. I like visiting churches… as a tourist. I’ve seen quite a few across the world, but not many inspire the simple awe of spring and sunlight on new green, or the grace of hands on dirt, or the benediction of brushing off damp gritty knees after kneeling to weed. Excuse me while I go look up the word benediction… Not totally sure what it means…

A little boy asked me not long ago what a church was, as we drove by one, and I tried to explain, I said churches were where people went to pray and talk to God. He asked me if churches where were God lived. Well, I said, it’s kind of his house, but he doesn’t live there. He’s everywhere. I thought that was the end of it, but then he asked me, “what are we made of?” What are we made of? What? What should I answer? Skin and bones? I reached way back and remembered a song lyric and something about carbon. We are all made of stars, I said. He was quiet the rest of the way home.

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