Credo II (Morningside After Dark edit)

Three times a year — once in January, once in February, and once in April– a sympathetic and broad-minded crowd gathers in the basement of Morningside Church in Edina for a night of stories and songs on a particular theme. The event is free (donations to the church are always appreciated but not required) and always both life-and-spirit-affirming. 

Last night, I did my third MADark reading. I’m always honored to be included, but last night felt particularly special somehow. Anyway, here is the essay I read, a version of “Credo” I edited for last night’s theme: Growing Pains.


Lizzie on Henry's shoulder


First and most of all, I’m for love –the kind you need and want from the people who give it best.


I stand for Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, and Slytherin. I am against mocking people for believing in God and I am against mocking people for not believing in God.


I believe in deep quiet, loons, and swimming with horses, which I tried once at Camp Lake Hubert the summer I was 15– it felt like flying. I believe in an Afterlife … not harps and fluffy white clouds so much as a clarity, an understanding, a lifting of all the veils that make us think our stubborn, self-destructive thoughts. I am for a Heaven that reconciles my vision and God’s, a big explanation, God saying “this is why and this is why and this is why.”


I’m for Grandma Betty, who kept rosaries in her desk and fed me soft, pillowy doughnuts rolled in sugar on Sunday mornings after Mass. I’m for the tiny, Technicolor strawberries she grew in her garden, which I picked and brought to my dad and grandpa in a metal pail, one by one.


I am for Grandpa Skluzacek, whose pickup truck smelled of wood shavings, tobacco, and the fish he caught alone in secret lakes and I am for Grandpa Thacher, who took me to get stitches on my chin when I was 4 and told everyone how brave I was when I wasn’t.


Camp Lake Hubert


I am pro-cabin, pro-camp, pro-canoe. I’m pro-Constance, who meets me at the back fence now and then to exchange lemons, eggs, sour cherries, solidarity. I’m for the teary girl I saw at the elementary school last October, willing herself down the hall. I was her once. I am pro-aloneness, anti-loneliness.


I am in favor of the simple, peaceful Lonsdale cemetery where my dad and other members of my family are buried, but against all the reasons it’s full. I am in favor of tough old ladies and soft old men and I am all in for Minnesota. I believe in flannel sheets, down comforters with the windows cracked, the romance of a December wedding. I would relive mine a thousand times if I could … I probably have.


Yes to my dad and stepmom, who honored me by dying when I was right there in the room and yes to my mom and stepdad, who spared me that sorrow. No to a crystal ball, though I badly want one. No because I would use it irresponsibly.


I swear by birthday cake for breakfast and I swear by my mom, who taught herself the Club Med line dance with a tape she bought at the gift shop and practiced in our living room until it was perfect. I am passionately pro-nerd.


43rd birthday cake for Brian 2015


No to mealy apples, no to fake vanilla, and no to both phone and in-person solicitation. Yes to bread, GramBea’s rice pudding, lake swimming, being up late at night. Yes to wilderness and protecting it.


I believe in the peonies my dad grew and brought to my house in vases each spring; the Eames chair where I sat in his lap when I was five, watching Little House on the Prairie on Monday nights; I believe in the bronze stars and purple heart he brought back from Viet Nam. I believe in anyone brave enough and wise enough to choose tenderness.


I’m for the brilliant nurse who helped me bathe my toddler at Children’s Hospital when she had wires glued to her scalp and I’m for the brilliant neurosurgeon who performed her brain surgery at Mayo when she was three years old. I’m against staying in the hospital with your child alone – don’t do it.


Sweet Brian and Carolinbe post EEG


I am for raising yourself as you raise your kids, I am for Dad, who worked at my high school and would make a convincing camel face for anyone who asked and I am for Mom, who called me Lamby and Lovebug right up until she died when I was 41.


Yes to GramBea playing piano out on her four-season porch as I was coming in from school, yes to the beautiful connection between my children, which is what I have always hoped for. Yes to the way my dad and his sister would laugh together in a kind of harmony and yes to letting your kids see you cry. No to anyone who makes you feel like you’re crazy for feeling too much.


Yes to reminding people they are not alone – including myself. Yes to growing up together, to people who are afraid but keep trying anyway.


Yes to you, my friends from long ago and far away and yes to you, my friends from always. Yes to everyone who is here now and yes to those who couldn’t stick around for one reason or another.


I stand for you.
I stand for me.
I am for you and me.


Bridesmaids 121199

My Camp

Camp Lake Hubert


If you know me at all, if you’ve known me for five minutes or more, you know how I feel about camp. I never shut up about it, nor am I fazed in the least when my friends roll their eyes at me and say something like “oh, are you talking about camp again?” Yes, I’m talking about camp again –because it’s my place, where I feel like my purest and best self, where I go expecting and wanting a certain experience, rarely get it, and still leave feeling like I got exactly what I came for.


Where I am right now — at Squam Lake Art Camp celebrating 20 years of friendship with my Mary– is very different from the camp where I spent 11 of my childhood summers. For one thing, we’re in New Hampshire, not Minnesota. You don’t think there’s a difference? There’s a difference. New England camps have a totally different focus and philosophy…I picture Walt Whitman nature walks and crafts centered around the reproductive cycle of some local butterfly.


When I think of a camp in New England, there are groups of peppy, earnest, intellectual girls in camp uniforms with the logo embroidered tastefully on the breast pocket (it’s in Latin). They sing songs, toast marshmallows, paddle canoes, and play cricket with neither failure nor emotional excess as an option. I have never been to a New England camp before, but I just know I’m right, based on movies I’ve seen and a few people I met when Mary lived in Boston.


New England camps have a totally different focus and philosophy…I picture Walt Whitman nature walks and crafts centered around the reproductive cycle of some local butterfly.


Camp in Minnesota is a little messy –it’s all pajama bottoms and sand candles. There’s sailing, horses, tennis and all of that, but it’s a context, it’s not the point. The point is always deep connections –with the place, with the other girls, and with yourself. You arrive with your duffel bags –or, if you’re from the South, your decoupaged, monogrammed trunk– full of clothes and gear and the first thing you do is hurl yourself at your friends like a mental patient. You make a scene, you laugh, you help each other up, and you start singing songs and talking over each other and telling secrets you would never in a million years tell anyone at home. It’s all very vulnerable and embarrassing, and it’s why I went back so many times.


This week the two kinds of camps are converging. We are physically at the camp in New England, where the walk to the dining hall requires rock-climbing certification and advanced orienteering skills. My flashlight is practically worthless, the darkness at night is so impenetrable I bet the little campers years ago had to curl up beneath a mushroom if they didn’t make it back to their cabins before dark. There is a dock next to every other cabin –I’m guessing pre-breakfast swims, to invigorate body and mind (however you say that in Latin)– were encouraged, if not required.


And we’re here with all women. There are a few men, who have been duped or coerced by their wives into coming to this, but they’re pretty shell-shocked and/or angry and neither speak nor make eye contact, so I’m not really including their energy in the general vibe. I can feel the girly, oh-I-LOVE-your-hat/dress/boots/handmade waterglass cozy kind of atmosphere and I can see who considers themselves the art camp power elites (you know and I know there’s no such thing, but we’ll keep that to ourselves…it seems so important to them).


I’m blown away by wisdom, beauty, perception, brilliance. I love when that happens because it means those qualities are everywhere; I just have to notice them.


There are women who are getting left out, which is sad but might help them shift their approach, and there are women who are chilly or just out-and-out mean girls. Mostly, though, it feels like my camp, where you smile and hug each other at breakfast, wait for each other to go to activities, and share your stuff when someone forgot hers or didn’t pack it at all. You can cry whenever you want because it feels good and girls usually know that and let you. And you can share whatever you want –what you say, what you make, who you are.


The best part for me, though, is that though I know I’m completely right about what New England summer camps are like, I’ve been wrong at least a dozen times about other women I’ve met here –I’ve sold several short in my initial assessments/judgments. I’ll think I have the measure of them because they said this one thing or did that other thing and then they open up about their paintings and the stories behind them and I’m blown away by wisdom, beauty, perception, brilliance. I love when that happens because it means those qualities are everywhere; I just have to notice them.


Of course the stone-faced Galleria goddesses and crabby Byerly’s patrons at home don’t generally make a habit of sharing their art with me, so it’s a little bit harder to access their wisdom, beauty, perception, and brilliance, but maybe I should pay closer attention to how they wear belts (I never get that right) or choose produce (SO tired of anemic cantaloupes). Who knows what they know?


So yes, I’m going to keep talking about camp and going back whenever and however I can as long as it has something to teach or remind me. This time it’s reminding me I’m an artist and telling me to go ahead and call myself one. It’s reminding me I know less than I think I do about the people around me and more than I think I do about art of all kinds. It’s reminding me that camp is still my place, which means now this camp is my place, too. Which means I’m going to have to pick up Latin. And a better flashlight.


Rainy Camp Night



I put my little duchesses to bed tonight while rain dripped through the trees outside the cabin windows–my favorite kind of camp night. They’re sleeping in the same room while we’re here, which adds to the nostalgic, summer campy atmosphere –I can picture them snuggled in camp beds in Happy Hollow or Orioles cabin a few years from now, listening to their counselor sing “Blue Sky” on a rainy night just like I did tonight. I can also remember myself tucked into those camp beds, and I can remember myself as the counselor singing. I have been all of those things, just as they may eventually be all of those things, including the mother imagining it all for her daughters.


That thought makes me dizzy in a happy way.