Keeping Journals

Journal, 1975

Journal entry: New Year’s Day, 1975

Writing your thoughts down in private is a nifty way to discover what you think, especially if you’re puzzling through something complicated or emotionally charged. Recording events lets you relive them with a double ownership. Putting the words on paper or typing them letter by letter focuses your attention into concrete expression, and at the same time, it frees the mind to go racing ahead toward the next idea. It’s at once liberating and therapeutic.

By contrast, reading a journal can be a mixed… Continue reading

Eyes to the Stars

porchviewWhen I was a kid, my father liked to take my siblings and me up to the roof to look at the stars. I well remember how scary it was to climb the ladder and the awful, pivotal moment at the top when I had to step around the ladder onto the roof itself. For an instant, my weight would hover above a drop of dark air, the crickets would crescendo, and fear would suck the breath out of me.

It was worth it, though, once I reached the flat,… Continue reading

Summer Family Reunion


Log-rolling nieces.

We meet every July on a lake in northern Minnesota to pass the sunscreen and rediscover how we are a family. We played volleyball (10 vs 10), barefoot soccer and Ping Pong, swam, canoed, log-rolled, paddle boarded, water-skied, water-tubed, jigsaw puzzled, ate scrumptiously, read books, wrote in the log, sang around the piano, and played ukulele, guitar, and chess. The kids organized the annual harrumph, which in our family is not an expression of disapproval, but rather a show featuring magic tricks and musical performances. Families took turns… Continue reading

Back to School: Unknowns Ahead

When I was little, my dad often drove me to school, and as he pulled up to the curb and reached across to open my door for me, he’d say, “Sock it to ‘em.”

Nice, Dad.

Belongings are packed in the back of a moving truck.It was great advice, considering I was a sensitive, dreamy tot who could barely juggle my books and my gym shoes without toppling over. I loved school, but that didn’t stop me from getting anxious every morning. The first day of school was the worst. At a gut level, I felt a deep betrayal… Continue reading

Ma’s Rifle

Late one night, at the cabin way up north, we heard a truck coming along the driveway when a truck wasn’t supposed to come.  My mother pulled on her boots, loaded her rifle, and told us, “Stay in the house, kids.”  Then she stepped out on the front porch with her gun and our dog.

CabinMy brothers stayed in the bedroom, but I crept to the kitchen window and peered over the sill to see her standing under the porch light in her Lanz nightgown, with her long… Continue reading

An Irish Tune

GrasshopperI had two Irish grandfathers, Walsh and O’Brien, who both died before I was born.  They’ve been strong presences in my life, nonetheless, since their songs and stories, colored by longing, have come down to me through my parents.

Legend has it that “The Rose of Tralee” was a song my grandfather Walsh sang by campfire light in the evenings when he worked for the railroad.  Other workers would throw him a few coins, which he saved up and sent back to his mother, asking her to keep… Continue reading