Posts in Essays
Dear Teacher, (thank you)
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I mentioned in my blog post the other day that I planned on writing a letter to my childrens' teachers, basically to thank them for what they do, and maybe as a way to put some positivity and faith back in the lives of good people who are under extra strain right now. And that is saying something - I know of very few groups of people who do more for kids, for less recognition, than teachers do.

I chose to write my letter to the principal, since my kids have 8 teachers each, as well as many non-teaching staff that are a big part of their lives. Here it is:

Dear Dr. Jordan, Teachers, and Staff at ----

I am the proud parent of two students at ----, and have had the privilege of being associated with the school for the past 3 years as my children have attended. My son Elliott is in 7th grade, and is 12. My daughter Rowen is in 8th grade, and turned 14 in February. This letter is to express my sincere gratitude to the administrators, staff, and teachers at ----. 

Like everyone in our country, I was shocked and saddened by the events in Florida on Valentine's day. No parent, no teacher, no child should ever have to go through a shooting at a school. EVER. As I heard the names of the victims read, I realized with a tremendous shock that seven of the victims were 14 years old. The same age as my kid. That made me scared. And angry. That was when I vowed to do two things - which in my small position are just about the only things I can do. First, I'm going to go to the March for Our Lives, either here in Raleigh or in DC on March 24, to show my solidarity with the student survivors in changing our country to increase the safety of kids.

Secondly, and the purpose of this letter, I decided that the courageous people who love and teach and protect my own children every day, need to hear how grateful I am. You need to hear how grateful I am. These two precious people I send into your halls every day mean everything to me, and I know that I've entrusted them into very capable hands. Almost daily, my kids come home and talk about a project or exercise or assembly that day that caught their attention. (That by itself is no small thing, I must say). They talk about teachers making jokes and having fun, making bath bombs, adopting a lizard, talking to the space station, the legendary guinea pigs. They play in the orchestra or take yoga or learn about lighthouses and cells. Their world is better and more fascinating because of the fire you and your staff have lit within them, and they'll carry those lessons - and that fire - through their whole lives. 

Nobody becomes a teacher for the fame and riches, that's for sure. They become teachers so they can influence the lives of kids, and I know that they work with and think about and pray for, and hope for, and LOVE the students they teach. I want you to know that it shows, in the lives of my own children. As a parent, that's a debt I know I can never repay, except to offer my undying gratitude and admiration for their work. For your work.

I imagine that the staff and teachers there have thought and internalized the unimaginable slaughter last week, and they still showed up at school anyway, their love for kids outweighing their fear. That kind of courage doesn't come easy, and they aren't thanked enough. They'll never be thanked enough. That they continue to provide my children with support, guidance, inspiration, and love no matter what else is happening in the country and the world earns the highest praise I can offer. That this support might extend so far as the defense of my children both frightens me and fills me with awe at their courage. Being a teacher - working at a school - is a hero's job, a sacred calling. 

Thank you for all you do, for my kids and all the others who you've reached and touched in your work. It hasn't gone unnoticed. 

With much admiration and gratitude,

Jessica Sprague, Proud ---- Parent 

NOTE: If you would like to copy any or all of this and shoot it off to a teacher or school staffer who could use your gratitude today, please feel free. I bet it would brighten a day or two.

#NeverAgain.

For the kids, teachers, and families at Parkland. For the kids, teachers, and parents everywhere. #neveragain.

And for them.

And for them.

Several years ago - 5 years ago, in fact, my daughter Rowen came home from 3rd grade to tell us that she'd had a lockdown drill in school that day. It shocked me, mostly because she hadn't ever talked about this before, and also because she was so matter-of-fact about it. That post is here:

Living in a Sacred Space 

I actually asked Rowen to read this post in the car on the way to school last Friday, when our talk of the massacre in Florida was getting grim. At 12 and 14, my kids are old enough to begin to appreciate reality of our world. The risk we all run as they get out of the car or off the bus. 

It has always been strange to me, how many of my emotions occur in a sort of delayed reaction to dramatic situations. As my shock over YET ANOTHER massacre of innocent kids at a school has given way to the despairing hollowness of why, sweet mercy, why, I was whipped back into focus this morning as I watched a clip reading out the names of the victims. I realized that seven of them were 14 years old. 

My kid is 14

She's halfway through 8th grade, and will be entering high school this fall. And my planned blog post in honor of the kids in Parkland, and in special honor of the staff and teachers there, suddenly shifted into clarity. This isn't just "the kids" and their heroic teachers, and their shattered parents. This is me, but for the grace of God. Me. 

I'm suddenly overwhelmed with two emotions.

One is anger. I recognize that one. But not the helpless kind of frustration I feel when I am moved by injustice and know that there is nothing I can do that will alleviate the situation.

For me, I regret that Sandy Hook wasn't the last time - the very last time ever - that kids got killed at a school. I am sad that their voices weren't big enough or angry enough or as good at organizing in social media as the teenaged voices are now. That perhaps we hadn't come to the tipping point just yet.

But I'm glad - so glad - that these kids who spend their lives connected are angry. That a hashtag can become a rallying cry can be come a movement that changes the world.

So my other emotion is hope. The kind of hope that grits its teeth and puts on its butt-kicking shoes and goes to war. That says hell or high water. Thy kingdom come.

Picking My Outrage Battle. Again.

Remember the post earlier this year about picking my outrage battle? Gun violence targeting children has just become one of mine.

I don't care enough about gun ownership to have a really open heart-to-heart with its advocates, especially about military-style weaponry. Not while there are children who still die as some kind of regrettable collateral damage, in our eagerness to protect what never should have been considered an inalienable right. Not while there is any chance that even one family or community can be spared. So I'm not a moderate voice. I'm a mama, scared and angry, who only escaped this horror because it was inflicted upon someone else. 

There are some rights worth the fight. Worth dying for. Some freedoms for which millions of soldiers have given their lives. That balance of freedom and responsibility - of what amounts to herd immunity at the cost of the rights of the individual - is the dazzling beauty of the American way. It's what makes America unique, and that push and pull is what keeps democracy alive.

But there have been times, landmark times, when we've made decisions as a nation that have changed the course of life for millions of citizens at a single stroke, because it's simply the right thing to do. What, in fact, MUST be done, even at the cost of the personal freedoms of some. This is one of those times. Enough kids - enough victims - have died from the same style of gun, that outlawing it should not even take a moment of consideration. 

For today, after my grand language, here's what I'm going to do. 

1. I'm going to find out where the marches are, and we're going to attend. I've never been a marcher, so this is a big thing. It takes a lot to get me out from behind my computer. ;) Here's one: https://www.marchforourlives.com/

2. Today I'm writing a letter to each of my childs' teachers, and their principal, thanking them for the work they do every day in the service of - and if necessary, in the defense of - my own children. They deserve it.

If you're a parent or a grandparent, I invite you to write a letter to a teacher. I'd love to see the posts if you do. I'll post mine.

With much love, and much hope. 

-JS

  

Doing Something: Crisis Hotline Wallet Cards

I've blogged a few times about depression: here, here, and here, and talked in person MANY times about the reality of the struggle with mental illness, but this idea came to me in the middle of the night and I want to share it. 

Last night I ran across a post by a girl who had hidden a card with the phone number for the National Suicide Prevention Hotline under some papers on her family's fridge. So she'd have it and they wouldn't know. Now that right there kind of eats me up. But first, what WE can do. You and me. 

I really loved the idea that BEFORE the crisis, we could provide ourselves and our friends and loved ones with a resource, a reminder of exactly what they can do. Kind of like a fire escape plan at your home. When you smell smoke and see flames, it's not the time for planning. When you feel the overwhelming pain and can't think of anything to stop it, it's the time to just get out the card and call. 

Hotline Wallet Cards

I made 3 versions of this card, and I hope you'll pick one and print it out for yourself or someone who matters a whole lot to you. All you need to do is right-click on the image and save it to your computer. Then print it out.

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Card 1: General Hotline Info

This card is for those of us who struggle with mental illness to carry with us. The day might come, the crisis might come, that it feels like there's no way out. Here is proof that there is.

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Card 2: My Hotline

I made this card in reference to a post I made just a few days ago, when I said I texted my bestie, knowing she gets it. She doesn't suffer from a specific mental illness, but she is very well acquainted with grief, and I know she'll be there, always. If you have someone like that - your Person, print out this card and write their name and number on it, so you carry that with you. There may come a day when the only thread you have left of the fabric of your old world is this card in your wallet. May this be that thread. Make that call.

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Card 3: Promise Card: I Will Be Your Hotline

This one is really special. We all know someone who struggles. This is proof you can give them, that no matter what time or place or circumstance they need you, that you will be there. If you are willing to make that pledge for someone who is really important to you, write your info down and give it to them. Look them in the eye and make them put it in their wallet. That promise is binding, and it is real. Your person will feel it. 

One of the devil's lies to people struggling with suicidal thoughts is that things would be better off - that YOU their loved one would be better off if they weren't there. Depression is not a rational thing but a terrible, ice-breathing, infinitely heavy, lying bastard who obliterates all sense and reason, even in a matter of seconds. Even if you find it impossible to understand how anyone could think that their sudden disappearance from your life could possibly HELP you, trust me, in the terrible darkness, this monstrous lie becomes a reverberating echo in their head. 

When you write this down, you have to understand how HARD it is to be someone who falters and fails, how hard it is to admit that there's no getting up unless someone reaches down for you, and I also hope you understand that if you ever get the opportunity to make good on this promise, you will have changed your person's life forever. There's a special place in heaven for the person who strengthens the feeble knees and lifts up the hands that hang down. 

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Please, PLEASE share these, ok? We CAN help save a life. 

Picking My Outrage Battle: Depression & Suicide
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I stepped away (okay, clicked away) from working on my latest class and spotted a news story from over the weekend. Apparently a "YouTube Star" - Logan Paul who makes a ton of money touring the world, setting up stunts, one-upping himself with the cray-zay, and basically "OMG!" reacting! to! stuff! with his face! in front of a camera! in a! crazy! hat! and posting it for millions to see, visited the "Suicide Forest" Aokigahara near Mt. Fuji in Japan, - which is known for being a place where many Japanese people go to end their lives, and actually found the body of someone who had very recently died from suicide

Granted, his lil' circus posse did call the authorities. But then rather than turning off the camera or leaving the immediate area out of respect for the deceased and their devastated family (who might not have even KNOWN yet), they zoomed in close. And just blurred out the person's face. And then talked about how CRAZY it was in the Whole! History! of Crazyness! That Nobody! Could! Top! This! talked about how crazy it was and his hands and how recently this happend, whatnot, and then proceeded on to a parking lot and drank sake, and asked your kids and mine (his regular audience) to subscribe to his channel.  

Thankfully the vid was taken down, and I didn't see it. Good thing, because instead of suffocating outrage I probably would be in my car on my way to kick someone's ass. But I have read several second-by-second descriptions of it, and it sickens me. It sickens me that the one and only serious statement he made was something like, "dude, mental illness isn't a joke." But then proceeded to make a joke out of it, by zooming up close to the tragic and preventable death of someone who was a person with a family and a future and people who loved them whether they could see that or not, and made fun.

ZOOMED IN CLOSE. AND MADE FUN.

I know there's a lot to get worked up over as the year 2017 moves off (tyvm) and a brand new bright shiny year with lots of hope and possibility and sparkles rolls in (ah just in time), with politics and the economy and the NFL and puppies and the housing market and suffering and starvation and war and injustice all over the world. If I got worked up over everything I probably SHOULD, I would not be able to get out of bed. So we have to pick our outrage battles. 

Joking about suicide or making light of depression is one of my outrage battles. I know too many people, love too many people whose lives have been destroyed by mental illness, by uncontrolled depression, by suicide, for me to EVER think that this would be okay. 

Depression is a lifelong struggle for many people. It's an invisible killer, and comes with a truly staggering level of pain that's impossible to describe, but must be built over, moved around, carried on with day by day, hour by hour. It's a monster that always lurks. 

I've talked before about how things for me are up and down, and that sometimes down comes without any warning at all. When it comes to depression, I am firmly on the side of "keeping it real", and so REAL is what you are going to get. 

Truth: I was feeling off-ish all morning on Sunday (Dec 31), and by the time we got to church, I asked everyone to go inside and I'd be in there in a minute. And then I just sat in the car and fell apart. Everything crashed at once and I just couldn't breathe, couldn't stop crying. Couldn't stop feeling desolate and desperate and filled with pain. Here is the text I sent to my bestie, as tears were running down my face:

12:23 p.m Sunday

I am sitting in the car outside my church building, and I need to write to someone. I choose you because you get it. The air is getting cold around me, but I can't bring myself to get out and go inside and smile. At a time and place in life and circumstance that I should be happy and peaceful I can see the gap with my reality most clearly, and maybe that is why  it hurts more. I feel sad, so sad and desperate, with a hollow longing for SOMETHING, for a nap, or for rest, or an OK you can put down your burden for a bit. I'm tired, mama. So tired.

I then did what I know I HAD to do: go somewhere safe and sleep. I texted my people who were already inside, and the people who were planning on me being at church (all of whom know about the struggle and have given me extra-generous compassion), and went home. Cried. Slept. Felt better.

So that was me 3 days ago. Right back there again. Not to the darkest of the dark places, but enough that I was debilitated by it for a whole day and night. You probably know I've been on meds and in therapy for 14 years, and on and off for years before that. Nobody should be fooled by now into thinking that it's something that a) will ever be completely under control, or b) will ever just go away. And yet, that misunderstanding keeps coming up. 

For me, I've definitely lost any shred of concern I ever had that someone would judge me or think less of me, or that I'd be disadvantaged because of my mental illness, but I'm lucky. I have a whole bunch of people in my life who, even if they can't fully understand, can at least give me compassion. Can give me their generosity while I sometimes stumble and sometimes simply can't. Just can't.

I'm lucky because I don't work for a boss who might use that information - even if it's illegal to do so - to my disadvantage. I don't belong to a family who sees depression and medication as a weakness, or parents who think mental illness is just a phase, or would be embarrassed if anyone found out their kid goes to therapy, or that it will go away if only I just ... (ate better, read scriptures, prayed, etc)... 

I know so many people aren't as lucky as me. Who feel like they can't be honest. Who can't find some way to find solace or safety or hope. It hurts as badly for them as for me, but they can't say, or won't, and so they just suffer on. It's excruciating. All-consuming. And I'm offended by ANYONE who makes light of or jokes about that kind of pain. It is no less appalling than dumping someone out of a wheelchair they need, or grabbing someone's crutches and throwing them in the street and then saying they're "raising awareness." Wheelchairs are real, y'all. And crutches.

So, when someone, whose life is full of hope and promise even though they can't see it right now, who might have benefited from meds and therapy or a hospital stay, or even just a friend to stick by them, finds themselves in the woods (literally or figuratively), and sees no other way out of the pain, and takes their own life my heart is broken, because I get it. Oh I get it. It kicks in this visceral mama-bear instinct in me that screams to PROTECT those who can't protect themselves. To FIGHT for the people who are already knocked down. To RECOGNIZE the pain someone else is in and do my best to shield them from extra hurt until they can get themselves looked after. Because I've been the one knocked down. I've been the one who needs protecting. And so for me, there is not enough outrage in the world. 

Final word: The world is full of awesome, generous, compassionate, good people. It also has a lot of A-holes. So I suppose if the appalling behavior of some high-profile A-holes can help keep a discussion going that improves the care and discussion and attitude toward depression and suicide, it'll be ok. It certainly has me raising MY voice again.

Important:

If this is YOU and you read this, call the hotline 1800-273-TALK and talk, just talk - there will ALWAYS be a kind supporter on the other end, someone rooting for you. Text the crisis text line. Gather your circle around you. Get somewhere safe and text someone. Go to the ER (for real, you can, just go). You will be ok. I promise you won't regret staying alive.

Much love, 

JS 

 

Finding Totality.

I mentioned that we'd been planning to travel into the path of totality for the 2017 Eclipse for some time. We followed this totality map from NASA to get as close as possible to the center line, where the viewing would be as long as possible - still a seemingly-paltry 2 minutes 40 seconds. So maybe in total 20 hours of planning across a couple of months (including about 4 hours the night before as we changed final plans at the hotel), plus 12 hours of driving, a day off from work and school, paying twice the $ for a hotel, waking at 6 to head to our destination (Lake Murray, more on that in a second), then sitting for about 7 hours as the South Carolina heat cranked up into the mid-90s, all for that breathless 2 1/2 minutes of complete totality. No wonder we know so few people here in NC who decided to pull THAT trigger. On paper it definitely makes no sense, and I have to admit I questioned it as we checked in to our hideously overpriced room in Florence, SC on Sunday, to prep for the second leg first thing Monday morning.

So was it worth all of it? I told my dad in an email (more on that later) that we'd have done it twice over to have that same 2 1/2 minute experience, and I'll probably go further than that when we get the chance to head to New York to repeat it in about 7 years. 

And yes. It was worth it

To marvel with the crowd of new friends as the shadows sharpened and the world darkened into a colorless sunset and the crickets began to chirp. To sit in a dome of near-complete darkness with several thousand of my fellow human beings, shouting and screaming, because we couldn't NOT shout and scream for the joy and wonder? To remove my eclipse glasses and tear the filter off my camera lens, and watch with tear-filled eyes, as a perfect circle of perfect blackness revealed the dazzling whiteness of the sun's corona, and the stars began to shine.

To see this, with my very own eyes.

This is a photo I took, with my comparatively modest 200mm lens. Still pretty proud of it though: This involved setting up my camera on a tripod pointing almost directly overhead, covering it with a makeshift eclipse filter, and then during totality manually adjusting settings and focus with my fingertips. 

Worth it? 

I will never be the same human being again. 

The Power of The Stars

One thing the stars have always had for me, is this ability to make me feel both infinitely small and infinitely important at the same time. To lay down in a field and scan across the dome of darkness at the spectacle of cloud and constellation, and then imagine those tiny lights, not as dots on a black sheet, but as giant, impossible fires in an impossibly vast infinity of space. Stretching literally back to the beginnings of time itself.

And yet, here I am, laying here on this fragile crust of earth beneath a tenuous swath of atmosphere, so absurdly tiny in comparison - but knowing that I am. I AM. And I - my own self, that I have such trouble loving sometimes, and such trouble acknowledging my own lovability sometimes - I belong to this grand universe. Belong as surely as any vast star or great sweep of galaxies, I'm a part of a grand plan, organized down to the smallest blade of grass I'm laying on. Organized by a Creator so dazzled by life and color, so loving of His children that he made it all for us. We, you and me, are the purpose of that mighty passion, so gorgeously arrayed across the night sky. The universe is infinite, yes - but its Great God, hidden from my mortal sight wherever He is hidden - knows my name, and loves my soul. 

The Edge of Heaven, The Crown of God

On Monday, for the first time in my life, I got a glimpse of that Heaven. In fact, that was the word that kept ringing in my mind as something deep in me recognized it for what it was: heaven. The edge of heaven

The word corona is Latin for crown, and (hello, word nerd), it in turn comes from the Greek word for wreath or garland. Surely this is as close as I will come in mortality to seeing the crown of God himself, and for me, it was fundamentally life-changing. 

It's no wonder to me that so many people of faith have described being in the total eclipse as an intensely spiritual experience. There's no other way to describe that feeling of resonance, of reverence, of awe. Of being in the Presence of something so vast, so majestic, so powerful, that has been hidden in plain sight all along. Just thinking about the dazzling pearlescent spikes surrounding a jet black hole gives me chills. The edge of heaven. The crown of God himself.

Jared took a timelapse of the sun darkening, which I will post. Elliott took a video of the totality, in which you can hear all the people around us shouting and screaming, and he and I loudest of all. How can we keep from singing? I've also got a couple of videos of me just riffing on the experience right after, that I'll transcribe. Stay tuned.

Your Turn: Eclipse 2017

I'd love to hear where YOU were for the Great Eclipse? Did you get supremely lucky and simply stand outside as the world darkened and you saw the sun with your naked eyes? Or did you travel for the experience? Tell me about it, ok? Stories are my heart and soul, as you know. 

9/11 Pentagon Photos: This Was Tough to Read.

It has been more than 15 years since the 9/11 attacks in New York, and Washington D.C. Of course in the years since then there have been documentaries, coffee table books, countless photo sites and blog posts - perhaps even to the extent that we've grown used to seeing the photos of mounds of rubble, of first the search and then the recovery at the World Trade Center, and those terrible, terrifying video clips of the plane that hits the second tower, and the first tower itself collapsing. I think for those of us who were alive on 9/11 those Twin Tower images have become like an annual pilgrimage, brought out once a year to be reflected on. 

9/11 Twin Towers: Well Documented

For my part, those video clips are burned in memory, and I will never, as long as I live, forget what it felt like to see that.  You don't have to, of course, but here is a vid you can watch to remember. 

The events of September 11, 2001, arranged into a news narrative, as they unfolded live on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, ABC News, CBS News, NBC News, BBC, and Sky News. Also included are notable excerpts from the FAA and NORAD audiotapes, a 9-1-1 call to a New York City dispatcher, and a portion of the recording from United Airlines Flight 93's cockpit voice recorder.

My little sister was serving an LDS mission in New York City on 9/11, and I clearly remember the wait through all that day before we were able to find out that she had been in White Plains and was safe. So relieved. Surely nobody from our little town of 1200 in Southeast Idaho would have been anywhere near there. In one respect I was right - as far as I know, nobody I knew was directly involved in New York City on 9/11. But in another, I was very wrong, because New York wasn't the only place attacked that day.

9/11 Pentagon

I clearly remember getting a phone call from my mom that my friend Brady Howell had been killed at the Pentagon that Tuesday.

At the time, and since then, I think that perhaps the Pentagon attack has been a bit of a footnote. Partly, of course, that's because so many more people lost their lives, and so much more was utterly laid waste in New York City that day. And I think partly it's because many of the photos and footage were held out from release by the government. It is the headquarters of the defense department, after all. 

The Pentagon memorial has long since been built. Brady's name is remembered on a plaque and inscribed on one of the benches in the Pentagon memorial.

But I think that very lack of photo and video media is partially to blame for the nearly forgotten Pentagon attack - why it is so often only a footnote in our annual 9/11 pilgrimage. And maybe that's why this CNN article, that the FBI finally released 9/11 Pentagon photographs hit me so hard.

I've had long years and my own annual pilgrimages through photos and videos from New York City to process. But these new Pentagon photos bring back the rawness of learning that my own friend was lost. This photo in particular, makes my heart squeeze, and the tears fall on my hands as I write:

The two men holding flags in the foreground are obviously soldiers, simply by the way they are standing. They represent the earliest honor guard, the truest military measure of respect for fallen soldiers, as lost colleagues and friends - my friend - are found and pulled free in the rubble behind them. 

In the intervening years since these terrible, terrifying, heartbreaking photos were taken - since my friend Brady died - trapped somewhere in that very rubble in the photo above - I've had two gorgeous children, lived a life of such richness and meaning that, if I had been killed in 2001, I never would have known.

I've had 16 extra years on Earth, to explore and learn and savor, to read stories with and snuggle my little sleepy ones. To hold hands with my sweetheart. To stand in awe of so many blessings. And yes, to weep and grieve and pray for peace and relief when none seemed to come. But to live.

Today I'll look at the photos (most of which are in the CNN article above) and grieve some, yes. And I shared them here so that maybe a few others who need to grieve can, too. But I'll also simply be grateful to God for my 16 extra years, and for the time right now to be up and doing. Earth is a blessing. Life is a blessing. And the measure of our gratitude for it is how we spend that time.

-JS

In Memoriam: Elie Wiesel

This is the Instagram feed for #eliewiesel as it is going on right now. So cool. 

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Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor, memoirist, professor, and humanitarian, died on July 2. His masterpiece is his memoir of his experience in two different concentration camps during World War II. If you haven't read it yet, or lately, I recommend it. 

I first read "Night" by Elie Wiesel in my high school English class. I grew up in a very small town (of 1200) in the middle of Idaho, and this was the first time I ever remember being punched breathless by a book. At 15, I couldn't EVER have imagined that there had been a horror like this in human history. It widened my world, changed me, haunts me to this day, and I will love my teacher forever for giving me that experience. I will love this book forever for that, too - in that "thanks for the hard lesson and for returning me a handful of my own teeth" kind of way. 

Elie Wiesel died yesterday, and I think the celebration - the mourning of his passing, yes - but the celebration of his eloquence and the weight of his words because of the horror he suffered is a perfect counterpoint to the celebrations we're having this weekend for Independence Day. "Night" is one of the supreme accounts of the Holocaust, and the lifetime of humanitarian work and speaking out for the silent and suffering he spent after his experience is what we can remember. That we must never allow human beings to be treated like this again. 

There are millions of people on earth RIGHT NOW who - while not being herded into camps to die - are running for their lives from hatred, oppression, and war. Are being turned away at the doors of country and city and state. 

We say this weekend, "Let Freedom Ring," and we relish the victory here in our own country. That freedom has its costs (you know, so every jerk with a megaphone can say whatever he wants, right? But so can I, and that's what matters). NO PRICE is too high to pay so that all the world might join us in celebration of freedom - from war, from oppression, from terror. 

In remembrance of Elie Wiesel and our commitment to honor the humanity of every human being, maybe we could do a little something extra this weekend - a little donation to humanitarian relief, a little love for the people around us who are different, a little more love for that flag of freedom, a little longer on our knees in prayer for the silent and suffering. 

Rest in peace, Mr. Wiesel. At long last, be at peace.

I started Violin Lessons at 39.

I don't consider myself to be a musician. An writer, yes. A designer, yes. An artist - probably. A musician? Nope. I once played a little piano, a little guitar. Jared plays the guitar pretty well, and we put Elliott in violin when he turned 7, because that was the instrument he wanted to play. I've mentioned several times how amazing it is to hear live music being played in my house. But I haven't told you this story yet. ;) First though, as always: backstory.

Meeting Ms. Petia

By total chance in 2012 we met an extraordinary woman named Petia Radneva-Manolova. She had recently moved to the area from California (via Bulgaria, where she was born, and she'd been playing with orchestras all over the world). Elliott and I both loved her immediately, not only for her warmth and humor and excellence at teaching - because she truly LOVES showing people how to play - but for her incredible relationship to the violin as an extension of herself, even something MORE than herself.

Ms. Petia. at Elliott's recital, december 2015

Ms. Petia. at Elliott's recital, december 2015

She understands and relishes the  opportunity to reach people right down to their souls. It's partly the magic of live music, especially when it's played by a virtuoso, and right in front of you. And it's way more than skill, and even more than art, although it's both of those things. Her playing is transcendent.

I am an exaggerator. I know it. Everything is Awesome for me, as the Lego song says. And it's at times like these, when I find myself sitting as she plays for us at the end of a lesson, with my eyes closed to the heavens and tears streaming down my face, that I regret all my exaggerations, because I have no words left to explain what her playing IS for me. It's spirit, and love, and a mountain stream, and the fog rolling in off the sound. It's hope, and goodness, and dancing in dappled light, and the joy of larks in the morning. It's the voice of God. 

I told her (and this was not even entirely a joke) that if she didn't mind, could I just set up a little pillow and snacks in the corner while she practiced and taught lessons? Elliott teases me because I've cried at every lesson I've attended. I grew up in the middle of nowhere, and didn't have an opportunity to hear live classical music until I was an adult. So maybe that's why her work is so breathtaking to me. Why I really do cry every time she plays. She should probably actually be a little creeped out by me. I'm glad she's not. 

Indeed, she seemed really delighted - truly, deeply delighted, when I told her last February that I'd like to learn to play. I wouldn't have been brave enough if it weren't for her, and for my son. And so about 14 months ago, it began.

in the beginning: it was hard.

In our very first lesson, Petia told me that the violin is the most difficult instrument to learn how to play. This is apparently a matter of some dispute among musicians, especially if you play the french horn or the oboe. But no guitarist or pianist who really knows is going to argue the point, and neither will I.

Example: It took me - when I was 8 - about an hour to learn how to play "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" on the piano one-handed. On the violin - at age 39 - it took me a week.

My violin, and "The Red book"

My violin, and "The Red book"

With the violin, there is just more - a lot more - that you have to keep a handle on, in order to even make a single respectable sound. Aside from the usual musical stuff like finding the note on your instrument and keeping time as you find the next one and the next, there is also the fact that right and left hands are doing completely different things - at different angles and levels of pressure. You can't push too hard, or move the bow too slowly in relationship to that pressure, or pull the bow down at a cross angle. Notes are a lot harder to find with the left hand because there aren't keys or frets. Although - you can see in the photo above, she puts stripes on to help the beginners. As you progress in skill, you get to take one stripe off, and then two, etc. Note the THREE stripes I still have.

But here's the big one: The harder you try, the worse it sounds. The violin will not be dominated. You cannot bend it to your will - you have to lower yourself in and find the perfect balance of position and angle and pressure and timing and emotion and find the note and coax it out. All while standing there and trying to find the F sharp that comes next and trying not to ding the E string because you overcorrected on the way over to the A. And then do it in an instant for the next note and the next. 

And to top it all off (this might be a matter of dispute - the french horn and oboe players haven't weighed in), badly-played violin sounds worse than any other badly-played instrument. And it's VERY easy to play badly.

One year later: it's still hard.

I've kept at it. Had to take a break for a few months, but in February I graduated to "The Red Book," which is the second in the Belwin String Builder series we mainly use in lessons. That was a really proud day. I have, if not full mastery, at least a working knowledge of such noble classics as "The Dancing Bears" and "The Happy Camel" and "The Caterpillar." Now I'm on to greater heights with "The Muffin Man." So Look Out. ;) 

I've also been bringing in the LDS Hymnbook every week and picking songs from it to work on in addition to the lessons. Being able to play "Come, Come Ye Saints" as a violin solo - much as the pioneers might have played it at their campfires on the plains - has been one of my best accomplishments (oh, and you can see that right here). I dearly love that song, and I dearly love being able to play it through with mostly all the notes. :)

A year later, I'm struggling with a lot of the same stuff. I push on the strings too hard, and I always, always overcorrect. The angle of bow between the two middle strings is about 4 inches, and I find myself dinging the next string over A LOT when I'm trying to switch between them. Because I'm nervous, and a perfectionist, and I try hard. And the violin isn't about trying hard. Practicing hard, yes. But pushing too hard, no. And I'm wound pretty tightly, as you already know. NOT trying hard, is really hard. Relaxing, letting go, trusting that the fingers and bow will make it there, THAT is hard. And it's also entirely the reason I will keep playing.

Here's why I keep playing: flow

I've been told it takes a lot of courage to begin something like this as an adult. And I guess so. I have at least 20 years on every one of my fellow-students of Ms. Petia's. And I play songs like "The Happy Camel" with as much quiet dignity as I can muster. I know what they really mean, though - is that it's hard as an adult to go into something really big as a beginner, knowing that you'll be sucky at it for a really long time. You might never get beyond the sucky phase at all, and as an adult that's a kind of defeat you see right from the start. 

But.

Every so often I play a mostly-perfect song. A really decent song, right at the top of my skill range, with a minimum of dinged strings and notes I forgot I needed to sharp or hold another count - and I feel the magic of it. Magic that I made or was part of in a way that's beyond just a person standing there with wood and horsehair in her hands. The playing becomes, for a minute or two, its own living thing I'm participating in the creation of, rather than being the sole creator. 

It's been called rapture. Some psychologists and artists call it flow. I'm going to talk about flow in a future post. It's a precious thing, and a lot of people would give up careers and fame and fortune just to pursue that flow every day, just to have it for a handful of minutes at a time. To be fully alive and aware, and somehow touching, by your ordinary action, the intangible strings of creation itself. 

Everyone has flow experiences

I know you know what I mean. Feeling an expanded, perfected universe of possibility in the context of a very narrow circumstance. Making a drawing. Making a scrapbook page. Making a meal. Playing a song on the violin. Rapture. Being able to reach that state - even for a few minutes now and then - is an enlightening and enlivening experience like no other. A HUMAN experience like no other. I've found that along with the other ways I know I can achieve flow (drawing and handcrafting and digital scrapbooking), I can achieve it in violin, and I'm hanging on to that.

I love the great sounds I make, more than I dislike the terrible ones I make. I love my teacher. I love striving for that flow when I practice and play. And frankly, I really LIKE being a beginner. As someone who is a teacher for a living, I have a ton of admiration for anyone who decides at 30 or 40 or 50 or 60+ to learn something complicated like Photoshop. And putting myself at the beginning of something worthy-but-complicated keeps me humble and appreciative. :)

Okay. Your Turn! 

1. Have you begun anything as an adult that say took great courage to start as a beginner? 

2. When was the last time you felt flow? What were you doing? Can you describe it?

3. I need a name for my violin. Ms. Petia's fiesty French lady is named Matilda. Elliott's half-size was named Hans, and his new 3/4 size is named Gretta. What should mine be? 

xo,

-JS

Word of the Day: Begin

This particular topic is HUGE. Vast. I might do another journal prompt with just this image and word again, because beginning is so critical to progression. But today's prompt brought back a story I want to tell. (Or retell, I've put bits and pieces here and there through the years).

I joined the Design Team of the Chatterbox paper company in the summer of 2005. Just before Christmas that year, we were each given an unusual assignment. (Chatterbox was always a company that reached at the heart of scrapbooking - the why as much as the how).

The Assignment: Intentions

Here's our assignment, in two steps:  

  1. Think of something that you've always intended to do in scrapbooking, but just haven't, and then DO THAT THING.
  2. Create a project about what we did, and our experience.

My Take: Ruined Wedding Photos

I thought for a little while of what project I could do, and one morning (December 23, 2005, I remember it clearly), I woke up knowing EXACTLY what I needed to do. 

Backstory. Insert wavy transition and backstory music. "It all began...."

Jared and I got married on June 16, 2000. That was 15 years ago, as of just a couple weeks. He's the man of my dreams and the love of my life. And it was our great honor to be married in the Mt. Timpanogos LDS temple by my dear sweet grandfather, Seth Bills. 

I LOVE my grandparents. They were (and are) two of the Great Trees of my life, and I grew up in their shade right next door. My wedding was a perfect day. My reception the next day in my grandparents' backyard was a perfect Idaho summer evening. Cloudless and warm and golden as the sun set among their beautiful trees and flowers. If you have never been to southeast Idaho in the summer, you really need to go. It is absolutely GORGEOUS. Just be sure to get out before October when Father Winter slams the door again. ;)

Fast forward, and in July 2000 I am living in Minnesota, when I received both prints AND NEGATIVES from our photographer (a thing I still consider to be the best part of this miracle). I wasn't a scrapbooker then (it would be four more years, when Rowen was born), but I wanted to put the pictures someplace special. I bought a really great album with these cool lumpy handmade pressed-cotton pages. Very organic, very cool. Totally not acid-free. Totally water-absorbent. See where this is going? I adhered the photos to the pages with some random combination of photo corners and glue and thought to myself that I'd done a pretty bang-up job of the thing. Well, then I left the album sitting on top of our little bookcase beside the sliding glass door. Our tiny apartment had only a small air-conditioning unit, so we spent most of the (wet, hot, humid) Minnesota summer and fall with that sliding door open.

Fast-forward to spring-ish of 2001 when I pulled out the album again and opened (tried to open) pressed-cotton pages pages soaked with four months of humidity and rain. Most of them were stuck together with water damage, and ALL of my wedding photos were ruined. I cried. I shook my fist at Minnesota. I probably stormed around a bit. 

And then I remembered I had the negatives! I could just get them (all 300 of them) reprinted. Any time I wanted. And anytime never seemed to come.

I intended a few times to get the photos reprinted. I thought about it quite a few times over the next FOUR YEARS at least, and I actually ventured into Walgreen's one day sometime in early 2004 and asked the clerk what it would take to reprint them. Obviously this person didn't want to do the job, so they said, "Why don't you wait until the prints go on sale?" I left with my envelope of negatives, and TRUE CONFESSION TIME they proceeded to ride around in the armrest of my car for the next year and a half. I know. I still cringe to tell it. I completely forgot about the negatives to my ruined wedding photos for another long time.

My Project: Getting Wedding Photos Reprinted

Fast-forward back to December 23, 2005. So it has been FIVE YEARS, right? I have two bitty babies now. I wake up with a start KNOWING what I need to do for my Chatterbox assignment and I have this urgent feeling that I really NEED to get these reprints done. Today. Right now. Get your intention done, you lazy thing! What have you been waiting for?

It was a Friday. I took the negatives down to Sam's Club, which was literally a half-mile from our new townhome, determined this time not to take no for an answer and not to leave until I had figured out how to get my little travel-worn envelope of negatives back out to life again. I said to the clerk at the photo counter:  "What would it take for me to get these 300 wedding photos reprinted?" The clerk took the envelope from me without batting an eye and said, "How about 24 hours?" Kind of embarrassingly easy, huh?

The next day (Christmas Eve, 2005) I went back and picked up my 300 reprints. I couldn't believe it! I spent a great Christmas weekend going through all my photos, relishing the memories of that beautiful occasion. I tasted my life again in all the golden glory that a union of two souls SHOULD be. I saw family and friends from back home, back in what had now become another life, and I cried for the happiness of seeing them again, remembering those relationships.

Just in Time: The Only Two Photos

A week later, on the afternoon of December 30, 2005, I received a phone call from my dad, that his father, my sweet Grandpa Bills, had passed away suddenly in his sleep the night before. I was devastated. I was even more heartbroken that because of distance and our two small children, I could not attend his funeral. I felt so lost and alone in the wintry darkness of Minnesota, wanting so much to be with my family in Idaho, to pay my respects, hug my Grandma, and remember and celebrate the life of this great and faithful man. I was so sorrowful and low, and so desperately sad that I can still taste all those tears.

That night after I'd gotten my babies in bed, I suddenly remembered that among the 300 reprints I had JUST received back, were two photos of me and my Grandpa on my wedding day. They are the only two photos I have of he and I together. Here they are.

Me and my Grandpa.

Me and my Grandpa.

My night was then spent blogging - reminiscing about the things I remembered about him. Was it my own personal vigil? My private memorial? Maybe. My tears didn't disappear - how could they? But they had turned from desolation to a kind of warm bittersweetness that reached down into my heart and gave me peace. 

And I do believe that it was the Intentions Challenge that inspired me - and placed that invitation in front of me to do the thing I'd been intending to do for so long, so that I could have these photos in my hands, just in time.

I learned that night in a way that has shaped my soul, that photos (while always important) can sometimes suddenly become the most precious things we own. Photos, and the stories that accompany them--only increase in value as time goes on. They bind us to our past, help us remember who and what we are, and give us strength and courage to face our days ahead. 

THIS is why I scrapbook. THIS is why I always have my camera out. Why I will always teach memory-keeping. Why I will always make it my life's priority to savor and save. And why I will always cry two times over these two amazing, incalculably precious photos. 

Your Turn

And it's why I'm offering this prompt to you today. What is it that you've intended to do in memory-keeping, that you haven't done? What is it that springs to mind when you hear the word BEGIN associated with what you need to do as you savor and save?

Check and double check? Let me know right here what your intention is, and then you can come back and tell me what you did about it, I'd love to hear! We can keep each other honest. ;)

xo,

-J

 

Through the deep waters.
Photo by Selover from Pexels

Photo by Selover from Pexels

In memory of Robin Williams, 1951-2014. 

Whose work made me think, and laugh, and try harder, and whose hidden sorrow and untimely death brings me here, in the hope that together we can save a few.

Rest in peace, Lonesome Robin. 

When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee. 

-Isaiah 43:2

I don't talk about depression very often around here - or specifically about my depression. I'm actually not that sure why, except that, especially here, I choose to focus on happiness, optimism, my blessings. And laying this stuff out there is hard, I'll be honest.

But man. For the second time in two days Mr. Robin Williams has propelled me to step back out. So I will provide fair warning: heavy stuff ahead.

Yesterday I cried.

I cried for Mr. Robin Williams, along with the world's world's cries of shock and bewilderment and sadness. But I also cried a little harder for him. Because for me, it is terrifyingly easy to imagine the level of pain and loneliness and darkness that surrounds such a decision, such a deliberate act as suicide.

And so here I am talking about it. And please, If this post gets to you somehow, consider it a sign:

Do not end it. 

I was first treated for depression when I was still in high school. So let's say 20 years, give or take. And on and off until about 7 years ago, when I went on (treatment) in a long-term way. Like a for the rest of my life kind of way. I've had a long time to assess the situation, a long time to figure out and accept three things:

  1. Depression is not our fault. Not weakness of will or lack of faith or lack of nutrition or effort. It can be deadly, and should be treated and monitored like any chronic physical illness.
  2. Depression is so, so much more than melancholy, or a passing squall of grief and tears. It can be deadly, and should be treated like any other life-threatening illness. 
  3. Depression is treatable, but it's like walking on sand. It changes states and degrees over months or even days, evading 'cure' and requiring (for many) lifelong treatment and vigilance. 

Depression is Not Your Fault

I've experienced a lot of misunderstanding in the last 20 years of dealing with, suffering through, and accepting the fact that this simply IS a part of my life. And I will say that it takes a really long time to come to the point where you can look yourself in the mirror and say, this is not my fault. This dark and desperate and powerless way I feel, this going-through-the-motions-of-life way I feel isn't because of something done or undone. It is a rock to carry, your rock to carry, and possibly to carry on and on, stumbling til you lay it all down in the end. The hills ain't going away, and the rock gets so, so heavy. Other people have other rocks, and this one is yours. That must be said with acceptance and not with despair, and that's a fine, fine line.

And I will say also, that YEARS of careful self-acceptance can be undone by a single breathtakingly insensitive comment like, "Well, maybe if you could just pray a little more?"

Or, "I'm sure if you just get moving then it isn't so bad? More exercise? Vitamins? Positive thinking?"

And this: "Maybe you're getting TOO MUCH sleep and that's what's wrong?" 

No. That isn't what's wrong. 

That isn't what's wrong. What's wrong is that I need real help and I'm reaching out because I'm hurt, and I'm being insulted in return.

Nothing but the fact that you have depression is ever what is wrong. Put away the lie that you have mental or moral weakness, or that you simply don't have enough willpower or that you were born to be a terrible housekeeper. What's wrong is this outsider perspective that sees depression as something that can be "powered through." That can and should simply be sucked up with gritted teeth. Like walking on a sprained ankle, maybe. Maybe you put a brace on it, walk it off, it'll be fine. 

Major depression is really like diabetes. Your body doesn't make enough of something it needs, or isn't using what it has in a way that works enough. There's no permanent fix. You get really, really sick if you don't treat it, and so you must spend a lifetime handling with great care and constant vigilance. Management, not cure. Support and not scorn.

And I cried for Mr. Robin Williams yesterday because his decision to end his own precious life full of humor and influence highlights a terrible misunderstanding in our society: That untreated or poorly treated depression cannot be as lethal as untreated diabetes. Do not ever doubt that we're talking about something as serious on either hand. No one in their right mind would tell a diabetic to suck it up or power on through, and chronic depression is no different

So if you are privileged to be one of the Trusted Ones that your person reaches out to, (depression is still a pretty embarrassing thing to admit to out loud, and it takes an immense amount of courage for a grown-ass, independent woman to admit to needing help), please, for the sweet love. Put away the thoughts of the ankle brace and focus instead on just listening. And do not walk away until you're sure your person is safe back to the shore.

So Much More than Melancholy

I've been sad a bunch in my life. We all have. Shocked or grieving or hopeless or blindsided or betrayed or wandering through a desert of doubt. Everyone wades through dark water, everyone. And it's the worstFather Lehi says in the Book of Mormon, that our trials on earth teach us the difference between joy and sorrow - that there actually isn't any song of joy to sing at all without its accompanying bag of rocks to carry. That's the way the world and mortal education just works. And we come back out of the deep water and find our way to some joy again, so grateful that we know the difference.

And then there is chronic depression. Major depression. Bipolarity. The long-term stuff that sends your psyche into a tailspin a thousand times worse than any other doubt or dark water, because it seems endless, the rock infinitely heavy.

What It's Like: My Journal

In my personal reflections I like to hand-write a journal, that I don't share with anyone, and wouldn't normally share here. But it seems important to tell what really is in my mind during one of the dark times. Don't ever let anyone tell you that psychic pain is any less exquisitely painful than broken bones or a severed artery. Or that it isn't real because it can't be seen.

This is from October 29 of 2013. It's also very, very tear-stained.

The rock is heavy tonight. It is both infinitely weighted and invisible, so when I look inside all I can see is just flatness. No desire. No love. No hope that doing anything will make it better or make any difference. 
Tears - hot shameful tears of self-pity and self-loathing and hopelessness, and - I think - grief - for lost years and all my stuck-ness and suffering and battle against something massive, invisible, impossible to describe. It is formless and so only feels like emptiness. Only feels like failure, and such deep, deep mourning. 
So here I am at the bottom - nearly as far down as I ever get, only hearing echoes in my head and not comfort, or answers, or peace. Only more tears. 
Eventually the tears will go quiet and I will go quiet, and stop writhing in invisible pain, and just sleep. It's the only answer I've found to get on by and back up the hill a bit. Back up to a place where I can at least believe in the sun even if I can't see it - too far down and all hope if light gets swallowed up in the unending, unfathomable, suffocating dark.
Drink the bitter cup and be strong. There is a Savior who went before me, who bore this grief and carried this nameless abyss of sorry, and who even if He will not or cannot take it from me, will at least tread down the long dark road with me, until the higher ground comes and there's a hope of sun on the horizon. 
I know at some level it's the devil's lie to think they're better off without me, that ending my own suffering would end theirs, too. A convenient and easy-to-belive lie that always surfaces during the worst of the psychic vulnerability when the idea of disappearance sounds so, so appealing. Rest. Anything to stop the present pain, bleeding like an amputated limb, collapsing like a deflated hot air balloon. And in the ashes around me, ashes of dreams and hopes and curiosity and desire, now all seemingly, everlastingly burned away - just giving up, turning off the cold dark path and lying down forever right over here.
Perhaps my people up on the ridge won't notice and come looking to shake me out of my stupor of living death, for what is life without hope?
 Perhaps they will move off into the distance, my bright little caravan, capturing the joys of their life together and no longer weighed down with watchfulness hoping that this time I can stay out of the dark valley. Disappointed, maybe, that I return here again and again needing rescue. 
I'll be rescued, if I wait it out. Time and sleep and some chocolate and maybe a bath will ease me back to life, back up the ridge to carry on. But my footing's unsure, and my rock's a tricky and unbalanced weight. So the real rescue - a permanent place among the caravan on the ridge is a hopeless dream. 
That's ok. The times on the ridge - out in the sun with a little warmth and perspective help me leave the valley to itself for a time. But tonight, among the ashes on this dark and familiar and neverendlingly infinitely dark road I want to lay down and disappear among the ashes. To not need the immense amount of effort of simply trying anymore. But I will and I always will, sometimes more and sometimes less. More's the pity. So I'll sleep while it's dark and hope for a bright morning.

Depression Is Like Walking on Shifting Sand

One of the things you might have noticed there is that I've known about this and been in treatment for this for two decades. Intensive treatment with therapy and meds for more than 7 years, and yet that journal entry from the abyss of darkness, that frightened me even as I copied it down, is from less than a year ago. That's because depression is a shifty bastard. No other way to put it.

See, the truly sucky part (there is no word to describe the level of suck, actually) about depression is that it requires not only vigilance (taking its daily toll as though collecting the cover charge at the door of every morning), but it requires that you be rescued - not just once, but over and over again. As if asking for help once weren't excruciating enough.

And despite all your care and vigilance it'll just happen and you won't be able to control when or for how long, or how bad it will be this time, no matter what you do. That's what that journal entry means. Seven years in, twenty years in, good meds and therapy, and still it happens. It is what it is. But what I do know, is that the chances of feeling better in the long term increase with meds and therapy in combination. It's uncertain and slow, kind of like going to the eye doctor for new glasses, but it takes a year to get anywhere close to a prescription that works. "Do you see better with A or B? Come back in a month and we'll check on it." Depression is all the more painful because treatment is so difficult. And what worked a year ago, might not be entirely working now. 

If you're like me, it'll never truly pass, and that shadow will live there all your life, sometimes growing and sometimes receding. Meds and therapy. Sunshine. Prayer. A text to a friend. Getting out of your damn bed even though you need a running start. 

Don't disappear. Please. 

I'm not gonna lie, 2013 was a beast. It was a near-daily struggle with physical and mental illness, imbalance, confusion. I was helped through it - rescued from that instance of it - by a very kind counselor (who at one point during last summer, made me do daily suicide watch check-ins). It isn't my fault. Meds and therapy. And it will get better.

I know this is seriously heavy stuff. Frightening, actually. But I need for two things to happen by sharing this:

  1. If you are suffering, I'm over here, ok? I know a little of what the valley is like, and how excruciating the pain is. And how lonely that desolate place can be. When the rescue comes, recognize it for what it is, ok? Sit tight and wait for it.
  2. If you love someone who has been in the valley, or who has gone there again and again, they need your strength. They need your hand in a practical way, and it's impossible for you to be too concerned about this. Say "here, tomorrow I'll sit with you while you call a mental health center. Tonight I'll bring you the laptop so you can email your therapist that we'll be at their office first thing. I see you and your suffering, and I'm here." You'll be the rescue. 

On Rescue From the Valley

Every time I've been in the valley, I've been rescued by something, or someone, that pushes me back up toward the ridge and into the hope of sunlight again. Here are a few.

In an Emergency: Call the Hotline

This is really important, okay? If it is really bad, and you are thinking concretely about pills or ropes or your car's exhaust or whatever, stop whatever you are doing, ok? Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

Call right now 1-800-273-8255. Right now, man. I mean it. Please, do not end your infinitely precious life. 

Step 1: Call A Mental Health Clinic

Go online or to the phone book and look up a local Mental Health clinic, call them and ask to see a psychiatrist. They're MDs who can evaluate, prescribe, and recommend what additional therapy is needed. And they'll become your Someone if it ever gets really bad and you need to go somewhere to get safe. 

Make the phone call right now. Not tomorrow, or after your other to-dos are done, okay? You know you've already put this off too long. Your life will change forever when you do this step, I pinkie-swear.

Reach Out

And while you're waiting for your appointment, which honestly should be less than a week away or you need to call someone else, text a friend just to say hi. I've been rescued by Heidi, Kristen, Tori, Tristina, Erin, Sherrie, Heather, my dad, another Heather, Greg, Carol, and a lot of others. And of course, my soulmate Jared. Rescuers all, and they probably don't even know it. They represent contact with the world, a tie and a touchstone that says yep. If I reach, only reach.

Sit Still

Sometimes, some of us are only rescued from desperate acts by putting ourselves in a place where we can't act - we can just ride it out. Lock up the pills. Get in bed. Get in the (empty) tub. Lay in your closet. Squeeze those eyes shut and sleep or ask for a milkshake or for someone to hold on to you til the pain gets easier.

Also, if you get to this place, you should have calls or emails in to your professionals.

A Beautiful Sermon: Hope is Never Lost

I was rescued by a just-in-time sermon by Jeffrey R. Holland from the LDS Conference in October, which I'm embedding here because maybe it will rescue you, too:

Put Pen to Paper

Write. Write write write. Get a pen. Sob it out. It sucks, it hurts, oh sweet baby Moses in a basket it hurts. But if your pen is on the page and your thoughts are here, they aren't over there where the water is a little too temptingly deep. And when you get back to the lighter place, maybe a few weeks or months from now when the meds and therapy are making it easier, you can read that thing and know, if you go to the valley again, you'll come back out. Your little bright caravan on the ridge will not leave without you. If they didn't back then, they won't the next time. Proof.

Find Hope in Music

Get a song or two that really speaks to you. I have been rescued by the great Pioneer anthem Come, Come Ye Saints more times than I can count. I can picture those stalwarts there on the plains, walking and freezing and dying for their cause, and echo, 

Why should we mourn, or think our lot is hard?
Why should we think to earn a great reward, if we now shun the fight,
Gird up your loins, fresh courage take!  Our God will never us forsake!
And soon we'll have this tale to tell,
All is well! All is well!

Incidentally, here is that very hymn as sung by the magnificent Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Take a minute to watch it, ok?

So. We are called, sometimes, to go through the deep waters. To tread down into a valley that seems only full of desolation, and the most exquisite pain imaginable. And we may go there over and over again before the journey's through. 

If you're there in the valley or you find yourself nodding to the journal entry above and you haven't gotten help, get help. I hope that I can be proof that hope and help are there. And I want you to know that I know what real courage is: taking the step. You don't have to go through the motions anymore. There can be a day when you don't need a running start to get out of bed. And when the light comes again, it will be breathtaking.

If you are a Trusted One, fight the urge to lecture or suggest, or judge or become impatient. This particular rock is excruciatingly heavy at times, and although it's probably completely baffling from the outside, all you need to get right now is that your person is hurting. Call in the troops. Get those wagons of mental health professionals circled up around them. Your bright and beautiful person will come back up the ridge, and you can carry on into the dawn together.

With so much love,

-JS

And YOU may contribute a verse.
Robin Williams as Mr. Keating, Dead Poets Society

Robin Williams as Mr. Keating, Dead Poets Society

Just now. Like, five minutes ago, I was shocked out of my bloggy silence by the news of the death of Robin Williams. I know, people - and even celebrities - die all the time. But this one, this news? Was the signal that I really need to end the silence I've held here for so long.

It isn't that I haven't thought about writing here in my blog. It's been my journal for years. It isn't as though I haven't laughed at something or thought of something and thought - I should ... but for all this time it hasn't gotten further than that. 

Confession: I've been hiding. 

Granted, lots of things have been going on this summer - with getting the kids out of school, the agonizing experience of selling our cute house (44 showings. That's right. 44.) Organizing endless repairs. Visiting grandparents in Idaho and Oregon for 2 1/2 weeks. Finding a new house to move to. Getting the kids settled into their new year-round school. Trying to make a list of all the stuff we have to do before we close on August 28 (my birthday!). And pain. And the always, always tiredness.

Whether they're reasons for silence, or excuses, the fact still remains: I've been hiding. It's so much easier to just disappear, don't you think? You don't have to talk to anyone, be responsible to anyone, and if you set no goals and account to no one, you don't have to face failure. Oh, failure and guilt niggle in the back of the mind, of course, but if you hide, nobody can see. And if you don't blog, you don't have to think about it.

Part of this has been the confusion and turmoil of slowing down teaching classes at JessicaSprague.com. If I am not this anymore (or not all the time), then what am I

Cue identity crisis. The resulting tailspin. The desire-and-yet-not-motivated-enough-to-overcome-the-fear of finding (creating?) something new in myself put on hold over and over again. And instead of facing the lack of answers with humility and care, cue hiding. From you. From myself. A lot of knitting. A lot of Sudoku. And a lot less introspection.

And then, (Mr. Keating) Mr. Williams. And one clear call for me. 

Is there anyone here who saw Dead Poets Society and whose life wasn't changed forever? I know Robin was talented (they're saying it all over the world now). And I know he played other roles. But his performance as Mr. Keating changed me. He was Mr. Keating, he inhabited that role. And as terrible as it is, his death made me remember: 

We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. 

How, in the face of this, can I stay silent? How can I keep from singing?

I've only got a bit, a little bit of life (relatively speaking) - to be on the stage, and I've been pretending I don't exist, hoping that people forget and don't look for me too closely. Well, just like always, no matter what I've ever done, there comes the point where I can't pretend anymore. Where the words and thoughts, the beauty and poetry and patterns and photographs and fonts have build such a pressure behind my heart I have to let them out, have to write it or glue it or cut it or edit it in Photoshop. Have to make the marks. Risky business, that. But it is the creative life. It demands attention, and it can never be completely ignored. (And I'm not the only one, mama: you feel it too, don't you? And if you ever doubt, please watch this video. As many times as you need to. Take two, call me in the morning.

And so I'm called up by this today, called to come back to the creative well and dip in again:

You are here ... life exists, and identity; ... the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. ... The powerful play *goes on* and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?

After so long afraid of whatever the answer to this might be (or maybe even more afraid that I actually had no answer), I've decided I don't care. Doesn't have to be great or grandiose, or even worthy (this whole idea that what we write has to be worthy of a post has held a lot of us back, hasn't it?) It does have to be spelled right, and it does have to be honest and earnest. here I am.

Turning Eleven.

Eleven years ago today, on a spectacular summer Friday morning, I knelt across from my sweetheart and became his companion for time and eternity. My grandfather married us. After the small ceremony, our photographer (the now-famous Jon Canlas) got some really great shots despite it being the windiest day I can remember, like this one:

JS-WeddingDay2.jpg

After our morning ceremony at the Mount Timpanogos LDS Temple, we all drove to Provo for our wedding luncheon at Tucano’s.

The next day was our reception in my grandparents’ backyard in Sugar City, ID. Picture barefoot bridesmaids in flowy blue dresses and flower crowns. Paper ornaments hanging from the trees. My friends Sally and Willie performing on guitar and bongo drums. And that was just the beginning of this great adventure, which has taken us from Utah and Idaho to Minnesota and North Carolina, through success and sorrow, frustration and tears, and so much more joy than I ever thought possible.

So much of the best stuff that has ever happened to me, has happened as a direct result of choosing to marry this cute boy, whom I had first seen nearly 5 years before as he walked out of his dorm room at Ricks College with another friend of mine to go get pizza at Craigos.

Over the years I have found myself thanking my 24-year-old self SO MUCH for that decision - and thanking God for the incredible blessing that brought him to me. He is an amazing stabilizing influence on me, a person who fully and deeply relishes the joys of the now. He’s brilliant, peaceable, loyal, generous, full of love. In a world where vows of honor and fidelity are built on shifting sand, his love for his family, his God, his country are built on bedrock sure and steady. It is a beautiful thing to support and to be supported. To trust and to be trusted in equal measures.

He has endured my ups and downs, postpartum depression, sobbing on the floor in my underwear in stress and despair, and - this is my greatest blessing: has unfailingly supported me in all my efforts to find and live my own true and authentic life. Because of him I have found my own creative wings, and have the courage to spread them and fly.

Babe, eleven years ago on that summer day I promised to stand by your side forever, through everything, no matter what. In eleven years as I have begun to discover the depths of that promise, it has only strengthened, and the sweetness of being with you has only deepened until I have no words to measure it. So all I can say is that I am so proud to be your wife. Happy eleven, my sweetheart.