11 November 2015

A good week to be an English major

Last week was a good week to be an English major in my world.

First there was Word Week, an event that Hallmark hosts every fall, organized by the Writing and Editorial community, in order to celebrate and venerate the craft of the writers and editors. We showcase our own skills and talents and we invite guest speakers to come enlighten us on their particular work. And each year I come away from Word Week with a keen appreciation for the work that my colleagues and I do.

Then, I left Word Week and headed to OKC for the weekend to attend homecoming at my alma mater, Southern Nazarene University. I typically don't attend homecoming but this year the school is honoring the Division of Cultural and Communication Studies so I made the trip down. Back when I was in school it wasn't called that; it was called the English Department. But nowadays the school has an entire division devoted to modern languages, literature, mass communication, and graphic design.

Since the homecoming focus was on the English department and our ilk, and since Word Week had just wrapped up at Hallmark, I found myself ruminating on all of us in that department - the storytellers of our day; the hard working word people wielding our rhetorical powers for good, not evil.

The writers and editors, yes, but also the broadcasters and bloggers ... the translators and interpreters ... the lyricists, the poets, the playwrights ... the advertising copy writers, the graphic designers ... the debaters, the PR folks, the speech writers and lawyers ... the professors and the presenters ... the VPs of corporate communications and the heads of foreign languages departments.

We are the ones who see the stories that others miss. Or we write the stories that others need to hear. We are the observant ones that find the patterns, the analytical ones that make you think. And the funny ones who make you laugh. We are the ones who ask the unanswerable questions and who don't shy away from trying to answer them. We are the ones that tell the narratives that help people find their place. We are the ones that make sense of a senseless world and find beauty in the darkest moments; we process the confusion and smooth out the rough spots and bridge the gap. We are the ones who write your greeting cards and who write the things you share on Facebook. We are the ones that write the songs, sermons, poems or prayers. We are the ones that know that just the right well-crafted message can make all the difference.

Everyone has the same set of 26 letters to work with. But we are the ones, the alchemists who take those same 26 letters and make some magic.

From the commercials that go viral for all to see ... to the blog posts that only a few people read - writing that matters is everywhere. Maybe we don't sign 4 year contracts for 80 million dollars, nor will we be welcomed home with a ticker tape parade and 800,000 attendees. But we know how hard we work and we know how important it is that we celebrate our skills.

Here's to all my fellow word people. Thank you for what you do.

03 November 2015

Halloween: the Colorful and the Contemplative

Halloween - 2015
Halloween is a little bit of a high holiday around here. I have been really getting into it since we moved to Brookside and since the girls have gotten old enough to love it. This year's preparations have been underway for a while.

Honey offered to make the Halloween costumes for the girls (certainly not the only time recently that my mom has brought Halloween to life) - a rainbow fairy, sometimes called Brite Rainbow, for Julia and "Clara Caterpillar" for Clara (from the book by the same name). The costumes were superb and I could tell that the girls felt like a million bucks as they embodied their alter egos. "I'm a cabbage caterpillar!" Clara declared many times with a winning grin (a frightening costume for all my farmers, I'm sure). And Julia with her rainbow fairy wand, abracadabra-ing everyone and everything. Because rainbows give you powers. Obviously.

We carved our pumpkins weeks ago; they had long since been consumed by decay and squirrels by the time the actual day arrived. But we've been decorating the house in other ways since early October. Ghosts in the trees and skulls on the mantel. We are slowly building a collection.

pumpkin carving
We're also talking a lot about Samhain these days, not just Halloween. Samhain (pronounced "sah-win") is a Gaelic festival (October 31 - November 1) that celebrates the changing of the seasons. Many of our modern Halloween traditions are rooted in Samhain traditions (for example, pumpkin carving came from making lanterns out of turnips with faces carved in them). Samhain also focuses on gratitude for the cycles of life, death, and rebirth.

altar or memorial

Sergio's recent interfaith work (and his familiarity with Day of the Dead traditions) spurred him on to create what in Mexican, Catholic, or Pagan tradition would be called an altar. You might also call it a memorial. This year felt like the right time to bring this element into the mix. Not only have we lost several close family members in the last year, but the girls are old enough to know about these losses and are certainly old enough to talk about them.

Having pictures of our loved ones out for us all to see was a wonderful reminder. And the beautiful white display that Sergio created was a striking spot of clarity and calm that encouraged a pause and a moment of contemplation. Halloween goes hand in hand with All Saints' Day (November 1 on the liturgical calendar in the Episcopal church - a day to recognize those who have gone before). In Day of the Dead tradition (as well as in the Jewish Yarzheit tradition) you light a candle as the spirit of your departed loved ones returns for just a moment. As we discussed each photo with the girls, we brought everyone back if only for just a moment. 

Halloween day arrived and we had way too much to do, far too little time, a major distraction threatening to spoil everything, and a hell-bent determination on our parts to have a fun Halloween party despite it all. Miraculously we pulled through. Friends and family gathered and we joined the entourage of little ghosts and ghouls and Annas and Elsas all traipsing up and down the sidewalks of Morningside. We came back home and put Charlie Brown and the Great Pumpkin on for the kids, and we ate chili, taking turns handing out candy at the front door.

There's nothing like a Halloween party to infuse your life with delight and to entice you to be like your children who don't have to try very hard to be happy. After the revelers had all gone home (or fallen asleep on the floor next to a pile of legos), I began cleaning up and discovered a drawing that Julia had made in the early morning when Sergio and I were far too preoccupied with worry and concern to have a clue what she was doing. It is a drawing of a rainbow (not surprising these days; she does a lot of those) but this one came with a caption. Some days we don't have to try very hard to be happy. But there are other days when we need all the rainbows we can get.