Hello friends! For those of you who have followed me here from Ten Thousand Places, welcome! I hope you like my new digs. Ten Thousand Places will still be up to hold all my old blog posts, but I’ll be posting new things here now.
For new folks, welcome as well! I’m going to try doing a periodic newsletter here, as blog posts, free of charge. I’m currently working two jobs as well as launching my book, so I’m not sure how consistent I’ll be able to be, but I’ll try to keep you updated on what’s going on in my writing life, as well as sharing a new essay, story, or poem each time. Are you ready?
Most of you probably know that I wrote a book. The Long Night: Readings and Stories to Help You Through Depression comes out May 19th, 2020 from Fortress Press. It’s a book about a time of deep depression I went through a few years ago, with excerpts from other writers who were what I call “companions along the way” for me during that time. Even though I had friends and family who cared for me, it was still a time of deep loneliness and fear, so I wanted to write a book so that others would feel a little less alone in their time of struggle.
Artist Olga Grlic designed the amazing cover. I am in love with that moon. I want to send everyone who is struggling with depression or other chronic illness, a yellow moon in a deep blue, starry sky, with those simple, clear words: “You are not alone, and this will not last forever.”
You can pre-order The Long Night now, through Barnes & Noble or Amazon, or use this link to order from your local bookstore through Indie Bound.
This summer I was very nervous and excited (nervicited?) to talk with my friend James Prescott on his podcast Poema. We talked about the Enneagram–particularly our type, fours–as well as my book. James is a wonderful, kind host, and a generous friend. Check out his many other interviews while you’re there! The ones with Glennon Doyle and Laura Parrott Perry and Matt Bays are among my favorites.
This summer I also began working at Together Rising, helping to tell the stories of the amazing work they’re doing there. If you’re not familiar with them, they were founded by Glennon Dolye several years ago and began with projects like Holiday Hands in which those who needed a little help buying gifts or other things in December were matched with those who had a little extra to share. They then began to do Love Flash Mobs–fundraisers in which thousands of strangers give in order to meet a particular need in a matter of hours. They cap donations at $25 per giver so that everyone donating feels like they are really making a difference. If you haven’t been a part of a Love Flash Mob, you really need to be.
But perhaps the most exciting thing about Together Rising is what goes on behind the scenes every day: Thousands of faithful recurring donors give $5, $10, or $25 a month, and Together Rising turns our pennies into miracles. A college student who uses his housing scholarship to pay his mom’s mortgage is given the computer he needed to complete his education. Together Rising covers the rent of a cottage for a woman fighting terminal cancer so that her far away friends and family could visit and say goodbye. Mothers in New Hampshire are given a safe place to life while they recover from opioid addiction. Veterans are given a hand up as they adjust to life after service.
I am so grateful and proud to be a part of what Together Rising is doing. Follow their blog, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to read more about the amazing people they are investing in every day. And stay tuned–this year’s Holiday Hands is happening NEXT WEEK!
Things you may have missed on social media
I’ve been writing short benedictions in the evenings on Twitter–little blessings for those who are on my mind and heart. Most of them have been written, but a couple were in the form of songs, including this one of the old song Parting Glass, and this one of Warren Zevon’s lovely, silly little song, Don’t Let Us Get Sick.
I got to see Glennon Doyle and Abby Wambach at Old South Church in Boston in October, and their photographer captured this photo of me apparently sarcastic-clapping for Glennon’s parents? I blame Nancy Pelosi. (PS, that’s Ceilidh of Willow Baby Studios sitting next to me. Follow her, she’s an amazing photographer!)
I love to read, but I now own three screens–computer, phone, and ipad–and they’re so much shinier than my books, and give instant dopamine rewards when someone likes my tweet or comments on my Insta photo. Luckily I’m also very competitive, even if it’s just with myself, so the last few years I’ve been challenging myself with Goodreads’ Reading Challenge. This year I challenged myself to read 65 books, yikes! I’m up to 55 though, so rolling right along. My secret is that I alternate novels and nonfiction with poetry and YA books–the latter two tend to go much faster. Meanwhile I am still plugging away at The Noonday Demon, Andrew Solomon’s exhaustive atlas of depression, which I started sometime in January.
Some of my favorite nonfiction books this year (stay tuned for my next newsletter for fiction and poetry!):
Pastor Lenny Duncan writes a moving love letter to the Lutheran Church that is both tender and challenging. Though his love for his denomination and his readers is apparent, Lenny does not write to make anyone feel better, but to call them to action. What can the church do, he asks, to right the wrongs of racism, misogyny, and homophobia? His answers are both bold and simple. I am not a Lutheran so some of the discussion wasn’t directly relevant to my own experience, but I found the whole book riveting nonetheless. It is a pretty quick read, as well, though there is enough in there to warrant being read again.
Alternating between Biblical stories and the author’s own story, this book poignantly describes a God who cares for immigrants and calls God’s people to do the same. It is a fairly quick read, and would be a great primer for people who are new to exploring a Biblical view of immigration, but even those like myself who have given much thought and study to the topic will find new lessons here. Karen has style that is deeply personal and evocative, and she draws forth both the personal and the prophetic in the Bible stories as well as her own.
Layton Williams walks us through the various gifts that difference, doubt, argument, tension, separation, vulnerability, trouble, protest, hunger, limitations, failure, and uncertainty have to offer us, giving Biblical examples and modern applications of each. I found it to be an incredibly powerful examination of how the things we label as negative and try to avoid can actually be our teachers. Layton writes in a passionate but endearing style that I greatly enjoyed.
I’ve loved everything that Sarah Bessey has written, and this book is no exception. She writes with such care for her readers that you always feel you are present with her, that it is less a book than a story being told over hot cups of tea. I have had much less of a felt-connection to God in the last several years (though my faith is deeper than it was, I think) but there always comes a moment in a Sarah Bessey book where I find I am praying again, like I used to, with tears of hope, sorrow, and joy.
This collection of essays was my favorite book of 2019. Besides the fascination of learning botany alongside of Indigenous wisdom about plants, Robin is simply an amazing writer, able to blend facts, emotions, and descriptions together to create something that transcends all of those things. It is pretty long, and I found some of the essays more compelling than others, but overall I highly recommend this book to everyone who loves the earth, science, truth, poetry, and really, really good prose.
New Original Essay
I went to Seattle this summer where I saw my aunt and three of my first cousins on my dad’s side. I haven’t seen one of them in fifteen years and another in twenty-five, so it was a very exciting reunion. My cousins are all amazing people, all very different from each other, but we found lots to reconnect over, including coffee, food, our education and careers, and our family history.
My dad, who was the youngest of his siblings, had a hard time as a teen and young man. He was living with then-undiagnosed bipolar disorder and was self-medicating with all the recreational drugs that were available in the late sixties and early seventies. He felt lost, and when he stumbled one night from a court-ordered rehab clinic to a Christian hippy compound for folks like him he felt Found. His family was Jewish, but he found healing and purpose in his life through his newfound Christian faith. My mom, whose family was Catholic, also became a born-again Christian, and my brother and I were raised as Christians.
Being raised as a Christian with Jewish grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins caused a disconnect between what I was being taught and the way my Jewish family saw the world. Besides that, of course, were all the normal strains and miscommunications that all families have. Nevertheless, I loved my cousins, and liked them a lot, too. Even as a kid I remember being able to hold that tenet of my faith — that only those who believed in Jesus would go to heaven — loosely, and as I grew older and even attended an Evangelical seminary I found I cared less and less about evangelism and leading people to Christ. Surely that was up to the Holy Spirit anyway? I was happy to “share the reason for the hope that I had” (1 Peter 3:15), but I wanted to hear the other person’s story, too. What were their hopes and joys? What had the Spirit been speaking to them, and was it in different ways than to me?
It was wonderful, this summer, to catch up with my cousins as adults in our own right, connected by our family’s story but also able to step back from it and ask questions, examine old assumptions and fears.
One gorgeous summer day my cousins took me to an outdoor concert at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle. Up first were Marc Cohen, a Jewish man, and The Blind Boys of Alabama, a Christian Gospel choir. The sun was sinking low towards the Pacific Ocean as we set up our folding chairs, and hundreds of crows circled the sky preparing to roost for the night. My cousin Ben — the one I hadn’t seen in twenty-five years — began sharing his own story more deeply, and I listened, honored to be a witness to his suffering, his courage, and his hope. Then The Blind Boys came out and sang a Gospel song a capella. My other cousin and his wife held hands and looked into each other’s eyes, their faces glowing in the evening light.
Then Marc Cohen struck the chords to his hit song, Walking in Memphis, and the joy of the music and the crowd seemed to lift us up to heaven right then and there.
Now Muriel plays piano every Friday at the HollywoodAnd they brought me down to see her, and they asked me if I wouldDo a little number, and I sang with all my might.She said, “Tell me are you a Christian child?”And I said “Ma’am, I am tonight!”
The crowd sang the last two lines as passionately as worshipers sing a praise song, and I watched my cousins singing, too, laughing at the thought that music could instantaneously convert a Jew (or an atheist) to a Christian, but earnest, somehow, too. And I laughed and was earnest, as well, just so happy to be there with them as the sun sank below the tips of the Douglas firs.
And that week I shared my own story as vulnerably as I could, too. What else would I do? Aren’t our stories our testimony, after all? And isn’t anything beyond that above our pay grade?
Peace, hope, and love to all of you,