Early-Mid-Life Inventory


Marta b&w apple orchard 2006


Early-Mid-Life Inventory for Marta Drew in her 43rd Year
(Wait … 44th year? If I’m 43, aren’t I in my 44th? I don’t know—shut up)


Math competency compared to first year of junior high:


Amount of life spent living in hometown:
approximately half


Current social status in said hometown:
Unapologetic Teardown Asshole


Garrison Keillor sightings within the last ten days:


Garrison Keillor sightings within the last ten years:


Number of Meyers-Briggs personality type indicator tests I have taken since my early 20s, legitimate and otherwise:


Meyers-Briggs personality type on every single one:
(I)ntroverted, i(N)tuitive, (F)eeling, (J)udging


Current self-improvement goal:
complete fundamental transformation into woman who remains gracious and benevolent even when absolutely everyone is being a dick


Progress towards this goal:
anywhere from 4-14 %, depending on how much sleep and ice cream I’ve had


Respect for 30-and-40-something women who really really want their children to be Cool Kids:


Favorite novel of all time, no matter what, after reading it at least seven times:
The Shipping News


Foods I will not eat, not ever ever, no matter how awkward it gets to refuse them:
tripe/liver/headcheese/haggis etc, bugs of any kind, anything slippery, tartare (raw beef with a raw egg? What kind of misanthrope dreamed THAT up?)


Primary vices:
judginess, hyper-sensitivity, meddling


Secondary vices:
excessive lecturing, negative thinking, intensity


Current investments:
local orthodontist’s office, summer camp, mittens, Legos


Number of cookbooks on my shelves devoted exclusively to the topic of baking bread:
at least 9


Last time I baked bread:
about a year ago


Primary sources of worry:
adolescent child’s fraught relationship with schoolwork, 2016 election circus, fate of Jon Snow


Careers I believe would be easier than being a Writer:
Supreme Court Judge, molecular biologist, NASA engineer, Governor of California


People I wish I were related to:
Chef Thomas Keller, Meryl Streep, Paul Simon, Mary Oliver, Annie Proulx


Temperature below which I feel forced to wear a winter coat:
20 degrees


Number of words written on Facebook between 2007 and 2015:


Feelings about that number:


Preferred breakfast:
mocha and a morning bun from Honey & Rye or birthday cake (anyone’s)


Exit plan if Donald Trump should be elected to American Presidency:
maybe London, maybe Montreal, maybe a remote town in Iceland


Number of seizures middle child has had since her surgery seven years ago:


Likelihood that she will have another one, according to experts at Mayo Clinic:
close to zero


Fear that every one of those experts is wrong:
less than five years ago, but still present in everyday life


Family member whose phone number has stayed the same for my entire life:


Most common astrological signs among my friends:
Pisces, Taurus, Scorpio


Fictional characters to whom I am overly and inappropriately attached:
Daenerys Targaryen, Elizabeth Bennet, Severus Snape, Lady Brienne of Tarth, Bridget Jones, Peggy Hill, Tyrion Lannister, Diane Chambers, Mr. Darcy


Willingness to participate in any school carnival for any reason ever:


Percentage of my children crying as we left the last one we attended:


Most firm beliefs:
God is real. Camp is good for kids even if they hate it. The worst mistake a woman can make is to dissolve into her family so completely that she forgets who she’s been trying to be all her life


Level of interest I have in anything the Kardashians do:


Pantry items I tend to overstock:
canned tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce, honey, olive oil, vanilla beans, flour


Number of remaining grandparents:
1 (out of 4)


Number of remaining parents:
1 (out of 4)


Three things I love about my dad:
his devotion, his soulfulness, his willingness to consider any topic, no matter how esoteric


Three things I miss about my mom:
her musical voice, her gift for developing systems, her dauntlessness


Most efficient way to show me I matter to you:


Average quality of close friends:


Belief that despite the shit, life is still mostly beautiful, hopeful, meaningful, magical:
strong, strong, strong


Signs of Spring

Spring in Pamela Park

After about five solid years of winter, I’m seeing signs of spring –not necessarily in Mother Nature, who is usually still sleepy and moody in Minnesota this time of year anyway– but in my own nature. For example, I saw a heavily lacquered Barbie plow her Escalade between two lesser automobiles (instead of patiently waiting her turn) at after-school pickup yesterday and it only irritated me for about seven minutes; 25 is the norm. I have switched from Adele and Bon Iver to Madonna and Fleetwood Mac, watered my plants two weeks in a row, and bought two articles of clothing that aren’t black or grey. Spring!


Really, though, I know spring is finally here because I’m looking at my life through windows instead of imagining it from behind doors.


I am sure you’ve heard this saying: “when one door closes, another one opens.” It’s true, but I have spent a lot of time standing in the dark after the first door has closed, waiting for the next one to open. Either I’m longing for whatever is behind me, re-imagining it until it bears no resemblance to the reality, or I’m staring at the door ahead of me, looking for light through the cracks, writing a story in my head about what will happen in the room beyond before I even see it. In the meantime, I’m trying to take as little notice as possible of what’s around me in the space between.


If you’ve had a lot of trauma in your life, you can understand this approach. While you’re sitting in the bedroom where your adorable, thoughtful, truly classy stepmom is about to die of breast cancer, you don’t want to absorb into your memory her rattling, gasping breath, the medicine smell, the anemic sun straining through the clouds. You want to reinvent that scene later from a safer distance, from the other side of the door, where you can replace the smell of painkillers with the scent of lavender soap; where you can replace listening helplessly to the labored breathing with reading to her from a magazine; where you can replace the weak sun with a brilliant one.


Nostalgia and speculation are destructive habits if you can’t see beyond them.


And you want to imagine a sunnier room behind the next door, where you can sit and heal and remember how she made damn sure she was at both your rehearsal dinner AND your wedding in December, though nobody thought she would make it past February (she made it halfway through April on sheer will). You want to picture a room behind the next door where all of your most important people can come to visit, sit with you and put their arms around you and let you cry about how hard it was to lose such a special lady. It makes sense to picture that room, invent several scenes in it, hope for it, even if the room you get is another sickroom, this time at your mom’s house, where your stepdad will die less than a year and a half later of melanoma.


But even after these traumas and several others have passed, after you have absorbed all the losses and near-losses, it can be hard to give up the doors. Nostalgia and speculation are destructive habits if you can’t see beyond them; they let you skip over the crucial points that explain why something (or someone) has to stay in the past or allow you to dream a life for yourself that is far less beautiful and spectacular than the one God is dreaming for you.


Yet I will never be the kind of girl who lives in the moment; that’s not typically how artist brains work. I need to have a view into my past and some vision about the future to make meaningful connections, to write. For a long time I couldn’t do that –the past was too painful and the future too scary. I needed the doors in place for protection, so I could feel brave enough to keep feeling my way in the dark, knowing there were barriers between what happened yesterday, me today, and what would happen tomorrow.


Now I have begun replacing some –not all, but some– of the doors with windows. I can see into the room now at Children’s hospital where I stayed with my Caroline last August, she watching Olivia and I listening to music while she sat leaning against my chest in the little bed. I have kept the doors on all the other hospital rooms for now.


I can see through a window into Kyle’s memorial at his parents’ house in Milwaukee –the singing, the cooking, sleeping in a bed with my cousin Jessica like we would when we were little girls. But there’s still a door on my visit to the same house to visit Kyle the month before.


I can look through the windows in one room to see another, finally understanding that they belong together –they belong to the same life.


I can see into Linda’s room the day she died, see beyond the rattling breath, the medicine smell, the weak sun to the honor of being there when she finally felt brave enough to let go. I can see into Steve’s den, past the tiny man who bore so little resemblance to the one I knew, to the one I did know asking an uncharacteristically vulnerable question: “Where will I go?” I can hear my own answer through the window: “You don’t believe in Heaven, I know, but I believe in it for you.” There’s the medicine smell in that scene, but also a little bit of lingering pipe smoke –the memory makes more sense to me with both.


I can see through these windows some of what used to be, who used to be, and be grateful without being cracked open all over again with grief or heartbreak or fear. I can look through the windows in one room to see another, finally understanding that they belong together –they belong to the same life. At the same time I can see vaguely into the rooms ahead, imagine someone who’s missing from the room in front of me showing up in a room beyond it, imagine what might be, who I might be, and remember that God will write it way better than I can. In the meantime, there’s a lot more light where I’m standing now.


In another month or so, I’ll see outward signs of Spring…peonies and roses in my dad’s garden, that mossy, electric scent coming from the earth, and all kinds of whackadoos jogging in 60-degree weather practically naked. I’ll wear dresses and open-toed shoes and maybe more jewelry. I’ll leave this house with all of its painful memories and close the door. I don’t know if I’ll ever replace that particular door with a window, but I might. Knowing I might is my first sign of spring.




An excerpt from a letter sent home from school with my four-year-old the other day:


“Dear Parent …This month, the Otters class will be talking about being kind, sharing, doing good for others, and being a good friend. If your child would like to participate in an optional Valentine exchange, we will help your child distribute these signs of friendship.”


Loath as I am to criticize the angels willing to civilize my preschooler while I roam around the Galleria or play Tetris in my underwear, they’re doing justice to neither the bracing security of friendship nor the euphoric calamity of romantic love by suggesting that Valentines are an expression of the former. True Valentines are dangerous shots in the dark, vibrating with the risk required to send them.


Here’s what the letter should have said:


“Dear Parent… This month, the Otters class will be talking about the violent pagan and Christian origins of Valentine’s Day, examining how ritual sacrifice and martyrdom are still featured in modern Valentine’s Day customs. If your child would like to participate in a voluntary reenactment of the scene in Say Anything where John Cusack stands outside Ione Skye’s window with a boom box while she silently rejects him, we will help your child rehearse and perform both parts.”


I picture tiny boys in trench coats standing in the snow outside the classroom window next to a Big Wheel or a Lightning McQueen car, holding up an iPod docking station blaring “In Your Eyes.” Inside, the girls take turns lying on cots, crying prettily because Daddy doesn’t approve. Then the boys come in and cry on the cots and the girls go outside in the trench coats with the docking stations –it’s 2012 after all.


True Valentines are dangerous shots in the dark, vibrating with the risk required to send them.

If we’re really going to commit to the desperate love theme (of which this particular mother wholly approves), then snacks throughout February should be tiny, watery salads; whole pints of Ben and Jerry’s; Diet Coke and rice cakes; giant bags of Cheetos; 2-liters of Mountain Dew chugged straight from the bottle. Art projects: mix tapes and Sharpie tattoos. P.E: listless wandering.  Music: humming U2’s “Love is Blindness” on their backs with the lights out.


Finally, the Valentine exchange: line them up, have them hand each other carefully-made cards covered in Fancy Nancy or Star Wars stickers, delicately scented with baby shampoo, Play-doh, mud, grilled cheese, canned frosting.* In response, some will say thank you, some say no thank you, some say nothing, some say too much, some give a hug, some give a mean punch. Some give a pen.


Those teachers might as well stick with teaching everyone how to be a good friend. Lord knows we hard-core Romantics need LOTS of those.


To send a real Valentine, you need both a risk and the bold willingness to take it. Children cannot yet perceive the risk and adults perceive too much risk to maintain the bold willingness.None of us understand the value of love until life teaches us what it costs to win it and what it costs to lose it.


When we say “be my Valentine,” that means please honor the original sacrifice, be willing as Saint Valentine was to risk everything for love.


Valentine’s Day is not merely a celebration of love; it is a celebration of the chances we humans will take to capture and keep it. The first Saint Valentine was a priest who defied King Claudius by continuing to marry couples even after the king had banned the practice (he wanted only single men for his army; married men kept defecting to be with their sweethearts). For this, Saint Valentine was sentenced to death.


One version of the story describes Saint Valentine being visited  in his cell by the couples he married, who passed him notes and flowers to express their gratitude. Another version suggests he fell in love with the jailor’s daughter and gave her a note: “from your Valentine.” Either way, he died for love. When we give someone a Valentine, we’re supposed to mean it. When we say “be my Valentine,” that means please honor the original sacrifice, be willing as Saint Valentine was to risk everything for love. Preschoolers won’t do that –self-preservation is still too strong in them.


But someday they will. Someday their hearts and minds and bodies will be electrified with the hope and longing and fear and desperation of a love that’s finally worth the risk of embarrassment or judgement or loss. When it no longer feels optional, then they will be ready to give a real Valentine and be one.


Whatever they get in return for the hearts they offer–a note of gratitude, a boy in the yard, silent rejection– they will understand that it doesn’t matter. The life of  a Valentine–whether long or brief, free or imprisoned –is always the same: risk more, risk again –defy the king, take shots in the dark, welcome the euphoric calamity, die again and again for love.


*thank you to Rachael Soesbe Vopatek, Lisa Corchran Hake, Wendy Legg Gilbertson, and Penny Hedquist Hanson for remembering which scents would be most appealing to preschool boys –it’s been a while for me 😉

It Gets Better


Are you out there? Are you listening to me? Listen to me when I tell you it gets better. Listen to me when I tell you I know what it’s like to have a permanent stomachache for months –YEARS– because someone is bullying you, because every day at school or work or home or all three is an anxiety dream. Are you good enough? Are you smart or beautiful or successful or popular or thin enough? You suspect you’re not.


But you ARE.


You wouldn’t believe some of the people I know who have felt this way, especially in junior high and high school. People with gorgeous, powerful voices; people with perception and insight; people who can understand complex math equations; people who sing opera; people who are brave enough to keep falling in love; people who are creative and sensitive and brilliant. People like you.


You deserve love and support and freedom. You will have those things. You will.


It gets better. Every year that passes means knowing more, understanding more, having more power over your own life. You’re going to learn who’s worth listening to, you’re going to learn who’s worth fighting for, you’re going to learn who’s worthy of your love. You’re going to learn that one of those people is you. Being bullied is an awful hell; nobody deserves it. You don’t deserve it. You deserve love and support and freedom. You will have those things. You will.


For now, listen to music and paint your paintings or write your stories or build your race car. Feel your loneliness, acknowledge it, find a safe place to be angry about it, then cry and release it. Pour it into your dance or your songwriting or your running or biking. Use it as fuel to propel you forward, away from any belief that your current loneliness defines you. It doesn’t. Your ability to love defines you. Your willingness to love defines you –and it doesn’t matter if you’re gay or straight or can’t decide. The world needs your kind of love –it’s important, so stick around. It gets better.