“Everyone Else Can Suck It” – thoughts on art, work and making things.

LOOK WHAT I MADE!

One of the things I treasure about living here in the Twin Cities is its astonishingly vibrant, well-populated and deeply talented children’s literature community. I have friends who write YA novels and MG novels and picture books. I have friends who are illustrators and graphic novelists and copy editors. And not to mention the editors, publishers, agents and professors of children’s literature. And don’t even get me started on the librarians and curators. It’s ridiculous. And I adore them all.

And what’s more, it’s an incredibly loving, supportive and dynamic community, all deeply committed to children’s literacy, children’s access to books, as well as infusing the art form with the kind of vigor and wonder and love that it demands. I’m lucky to be a part of it.

The other day, I was at a local coffee shop, working at the big table with a bunch of other authors. We had laptops and notebooks and sketch pads interspersed with coffees and scones and salads. We kept one another on track when needed and offered commiseration when needed and told jokes and even, as a group, did some quick research on the names and types of ladies’ underwear. Yanno. Story stuff.

At one point I showed the folks present some of the preliminary sketches for the cover of my new book, The Witch’s Boy (I wish I could show you. But alas. It’s not ready yet), and I enjoyed the collected ooos and ahs, and I shared some of my feelings of anticipation and apprehension and worry. The other writers and artists assembled nodded their heads sagely. We know, their faces said. We super know.

“But,” I said, “fortunately, I have already pre-written my horrible reviews. So that’s taken care of and I don’t have to worry about it.”

Cue the collective sigh.

“Really, Kelly?” they said. “Why do you do this to yourself?”

And it’s a reasonable question. And I do this to myself a lot. The book I wrote. The book I wrote a while ago. The book I’m writing now. It is so easy to see how someone along the way will dismiss it out of hand. Who will turn a small gripe into a condemnation of the book. Who will not see my characters as I see them, and love them as I love them.

And it is silencing, this pre-bad-reviewing. And it is hurtful. And it is mean.

“Well,” my friend Swati said. “What do you think about your book? How do you feel about it?”

And I looked at her, and I allowed myself a rare moment of honesty.

“I love it,” I said. And I meant it too. “I really love it. And I’m proud of it. And I feel like it’s the best thing I’ve ever written in my life.”

She smiled at me. “Well. There you go. You wrote a book that you love and that you’re proud of, and that’s all that matters. And everyone else can suck it.”

And I told her that I was going to make a sign saying that very thing and put it above my desk, which I have done, and am looking at right now, with total love and adoration on my face.

I turned in my copy edits to The Witch’s Boy last week – it was my very last time being able to touch the paper, to make marks or switch things around or affect anything at all. And I took the time to savor it. I closed myself in my office for days, reading the pages out loud. It was, in truth, like the fiftieth time I have done so – I am an out-loud sort of self-editor. And I read each word with gusto, heft and meaning. I felt each sound vibrating in my bones. And I felt as though Ned and Aine and Sister Witch and the motherless wolf and the bandit king and the dead brother and the aging queen and the grieving father and even the insufferable Brin and Ott and Madame Thuane - all of them, you see, were right there with me. Their hands on my hands. Their breath in my ear. Their hearts rattling away inside my rib cage. And I loved them. And I was proud of them. And I slipped them all into a document box and sent them away.

When we make art – and really, when we do any kind of work that we feel born to do – there is this wonderful sense of non-self that comes over us. Hours can vanish, our real life can vanish, even our bodies and histories and futures can vanish. While we work, there is only the work. It’s wonderful, really.  Our work is not us, it is separate from us. And that is important, because we send it into the world, where it can be loved or hated, adored or abused, learned from, built upon, and, ultimately, transformed. The work changes us, it changes the people who touch it, and it changes in return.

There is something wonderful that happens when we make work that we like. We can hold it in our hands; we can turn it around and around; we can run our fingers through the sheets of paper, and listen to it make the sound of ocean waves whispering on an endless shore; we can linger on the scent of ink and paper and fingerprints. But what’s more – we can say to the world, Look. I made this. And you can love it or you can hate it or you can not care either way, but it doesn’t matter. I made this. And it is for you.

I was at South High School the other day, and I said some stuff about making art and being vigorous and demanding and infusing their stories with the fullness of their intelligence and curiosity and perfectionism. But what I should have said was this:

Make art.

Work hard.

There will be people who don’t care for what you do. That’s okay. And that’s their right. Work hard anyway.

Pour your heart and soul and self into whatever you do until you think there is no more you left. (You will be wrong. There is an endless fountain of you-ness. And there is no limit to what you can make.)

Make work that you are proud of. Work that will outlast you. Work that is your gift to the world. Make work that is separate from you.

And everyone else can suck it.

“Seriously, how can you stand it?” – a meditation on my beloved Minnesota

As I write this, it is -5°F. I think the high today is two. The snow squeaks underfoot with each heartbreaking step. The wind insinuates itself through our coats, into our boots and long johns and balaclavas. It whispers through the walls. The snowpiles on the sides of the road have not melted since November. They are now as dense and cruel as concrete. The streets are narrow and slick. Salt has grayed the edges of the world, uglying what once was beautiful.

This winter has been long, man. A long, bitter slog. And even the most dedicated of winter enthusiasts has found themselves looking at real estate listings in exotic-sounding places like Arkansas or Louisiana or Texas. Swampy places. Deserty places. Places where they close the schools if someone heard one time that it might be approaching freezing. Right now, that sounds wonderful.

I’m just kidding, of course. I am never leaving my state. I love its farms and its rivers and its lakes. I love its ancient granite cliffs in the north and its insanely fertile soil in the south. I love its forests and its massive bogs and its high prairie to the west. I love the rush of spring, the loll of summer, the symphony of color in the fall. And I love the winter. I really do. Even now.

I get a lot of people looking at our weather reports – did you know that some people read the weather reports of places where they do not live. They look at the crazy low temps in Embarrass, Minnesota, and they fan their faces – thrilled, swept away, utterly spent. It is weather porn. No one can convince me otherwise.

Wait, what was I saying? Oh, right. People write to me and say, essentially, HOW CAN YOU STAND LIVING THERE? Their words are kind, alarmed, and urgent. They talk to me the way one talks to a spouse in an abusive relationship. Or a long-term kidnapping victim. IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY, they plead with me.

The thing is? Even when it’s cold, it’s still pretty awesome. And there’s something that happens to us in the cold – an intense camaraderie, a joined sense of purpose, a collective pact of survival and victory. We are Sam and Frodo in Mordor. We are the Light Brigade, facing certain doom, and going down fighting. We are the 10th Mountain Division, fighting and  dodging Nazis on Nordic skis. Nothing makes you love your neighbor more than to help them build a glowing, multicolored ice castle in the front yard.

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Nothing makes you love the half-crazed kids in the neighborhood – especially after they descended on your home to play Minecraft and subsequently tore it to shreds, than to see them doing this outside:

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One thing my state does incredibly well in the winter making a lot of social things for us to do in the winter. Because, no matter how cold it is – and yes, it gets frakkin cold – we can still get outside. And we should. Getting outside changes our relationship with the cold. It changes our relationship with the seasons. And it makes it love it – and one another. I have been accused before that perhaps the over-cold temperatures make us high. This is possible. After, all, we do organize kite-flying festivals every year. On a frozen lake. It is marvelous.

And cross country skiing festivals:

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At some point, we simply learn that it’s not the weather – it’s the gear. And it’s the relationship, too. When we dress warm enough, we go beyond simple survival. We become part of the outdoors. We explore; we connect; we wonder. We have this incredible opportunity to fully experience the astonishing beauty of winter – ice crystals and wind, deer tracks in the snow, deep drifts, frosted tree trunks, the utter silence of a frozen forest, the swish of a ski on a well-honed track, the cut of branches holding up the sky. The landscape is beautiful. The people are beautiful too.

Yesterday, we went to the art shanties – twenty-two ice houses-turned-artist installations. There was a shanty turning wind into art, there was a shanty that had transformed itself into a giant music box, there was a shanty where you could write and read people’s letters. A shanty full of polar bear art. A shanty made of salt. A shanty with a Totally Legitimate Elevator. And the people drove out to the ex-urbs. And they parked their cars and they walked out onto the frozen lake. And they participated in the art – they made, they wrote, they danced. They climbed inside a giant, multiple-bike-powered polar bear puppet, and drove it around. And they smiled in spite of the cold, through the cold, because of the cold. And it was good.

Seriously, how can I stand living here?

Seriously, how can I live anywhere else?

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A history of water

I have this memory of swimming lessons when I was a child. We were at the Blaisdell Y in Minneapolis. The floor surrounding the pool was made of small tiles fitted neatly together and patterned in bright, seventies colors – turquoise, orange, brown, yellow. The walls were painted cinderblock, slicked with the damp clouds of chlorine and water and ringing with the shouting of children. I remember trying to slide my arms into my swimming suit (pink, with red and green flower appliqués). I remember the sound of my chattering teeth, my short hair clinging to my face in inky clumps. I remember how slippery the floor was, and how worried I was that I would fall.

And I remember feeling utterly disconnected from the other kids plunging merrily into the weirdly blue-green water. I remember how terrified I was. I remember positioning myself on the top rung of the ladder, hooking each arm into its curved handles, hooking each leg under the sides, and hanging on like a vise.

And I remember screaming. A lot.

“YOU CAN’T MAKE ME GO IN THERE,” I howled. It has been suggested to me that I may have also yelled something about not wanting to die. I can’t say for sure whether it is true. I do remember that I screamed myself hoarse.

My mother, as I recall, was not amused.

I told this story today to a mother at the beach, as we fanned our faces and huddled under the shade, cupping our hands over our eyes as we watched our children at their last swimming lesson down by the lake. Her son, like me, refused to go into the water. And she was exasperated.

“Is it fear? Is he actually afraid? Or is it just that I want him to go, and he wants to oppose me on principle. I’m worried that’s it.”

“It might be fear,” I said. “But it might be his very real need for personal autonomy. Water is chaotic. The kids are chaotic. The instructors have to yell to make themselves heard. And in the midst of that, here’s this four year old kid engaged in actualized existentialism, but with no words for it. I am me, he says. I make decisions. And then he doesn’t know how to undo them. So he stands neither here nor there, unable to move. He doesn’t want to follow your decision and he doesn’t want to follow his teacher’s decision, but he doesn’t know what he has decided on his own. He’s stuck, poor baby.”

The boy stood at the shore, his toes only barely touching the water, his blonde head shimmering in the hot sun. A statue. A sentinel. A pillar of salt. I understood.

We live in Minnesota, and learning to swim is a statewide occupation. Parents take this very seriously. We have a lot of water around here, and drownings happen. My kids take swimming lessons at the local high school during the winter months, and out at the lake during the summer. (We could do it at the Y, but it is expensive, and I am cheap. And broke.) I don’t particularly care for pools – chlorine gives me a headache and the noise is crazy-making. But they learn stroke refinement at the pool, which is important. At the lake, they learn how to stay safe and move efficiently in chaotic conditions. This is important as well.

My daughters are born swimmers – long and lean with strong legs and broad shoulders. They move through the water in a long, quiet slice, like a canoe cutting across the surface. They go long distances without being winded and can keep their heads even in the wind and the waves. They go back and forth between the shore and the diving dock, and I watch the curve of their arms as they lift, extend and pull. I watch the furrow they leave on the water, and my breath catches. They are marvelous, my girls.

My son, on the other hand. Well. We’re getting there.

I took him to an outdoor pool a couple summers ago. He couldn’t swim at all. Unfortunately, his innate sense of high self-efficacy led him to believe that he was awesome at swimming. This was problematic. It was a hot day – 102, as I recall – and the pool was packed. And he was not even considering staying close to me.

It was, hands down, the most terrifying moment of my life.

I pushed through the crowd of slicked, soaking bodies, standing chest deep in overly-warm water as my son darted from shoulder to shoulder to shoulder. He would cling, curl and leap through the water, grabbing onto strangers as he slithered from one end of the pool to the other.

“GET BACK OVER HERE RIGHT NOW YOUNG MAN,” I bellowed.

“I’m swimming!” he called back delightedly as he slipped between groups.

“NO YOU ARE NOT!”

No one noticed him. He was a fish. A salamander. A water moccasin. He splashed and wriggled and was gone. And it would only take one second for him to go down. And no one would see him. (Even the life guards, god bless them, would have been useless. There were too many people. And Leo was short.)

I love swimming instructors. I think they all deserve a medal. And the key to the city. They are not just rescuing children, but they are giving kids the tools to rescue themselves. This is a powerful thing.

Lately, after class, he and I have been going into the water together, practicing endurance and troubleshooting. I swim right next to him as we go into deep water. We tread water, we swim toward objects, we lie on our backs to catch our breath. We practice what to do if water gets in our mouths and we start coughing. We make plans on how to get to safety if we need it. We talk about what to do if we see someone struggling in the water.

The water in the lake is dark green and slick. It smells of fish and algae. We can’t see our feet when we stand waist-deep. He knows that if he goes down, it would be unlikely that he would be found in time in that world of green. More reason to be strong, smart and efficient. More reason to be aware.

There is a giant fish that lives in the bottom of Lake Nokomis, did you know? Leo told me. And a race of frog men and women with catfish tails and water bugs the size of golden retrievers. You’d think this would make him hesitant to get in the water. It has not.

“I love this lake,” he said to me as we floated out by the far buoys. “It’s so mysterious. We watch the water and the water watches us.”

Doing my best not to be completely creeped out, I swam back to shore, matching his pace. Kick, breathe, reach, pull, breathe, float, breathe. I imagined the bug-eyed frog men standing below us, looking up. I imagined the the giant fish with eyes the size of tractor wheels sliding through the muck at the middle, peering upwards from time to time to see the wrinkled surface of the lake shirring the sky.

There is something amazing that happens in a kid when they first learn to swim. Or no. When they first learn to move with surety and grace through the capriciousness of water. When they first learn how to survive in a medium that would kill them if it could. That didn’t care if they lived or died.

The water is wide, the child understands. Rise above.

The water is cold, the child feels. Move.

The water is insistent, the child says. Redirect. Recalibrate. Bend.

It might be the first time they learn to rely on themselves for their own survival. It may be the first time that it is their bodies, and their bodies alone, that mark the edges of themselves. The skin is its own shoreline. The brain is its own sky. The lungs contain a weather system all their own. The body exists and it is separate from the watery world that surrounds it. It is complete, whole, and powerful. And fragile. And precious. It is all of these things at once.

“Nice job, kiddo,” I said, as we pushed through the water toward the sand.

“Thanks mom,” he said. “Let’s do it again.”

 

Tick, tock, tick, tock. Pub day approaches. Yikes!

Well, I’m a basket case, of course. But I’m getting excited.

Last Saturday, I read from IRON HEARTED VIOLET at the Anderson Center – a place that I’ve never been to before, but now will haunt my dreams forever. It is a gorgeous and pastoral farm, tucked into the heart of bluff country in southern Minnesota, that has been transformed into an arts center with a residency program. Gracious brick buildings, art galleries, studios, a completely awesome brick tower with a meditation space at the top.  I can’t even begin to tell you how deeply jealous I am of every person who has ever done a residency there since the beginning of time.

Anyway, they host a children’s book festival every year, and you should all go next September. It’s everything that you would ever want from a children’s book festival: banjo players, art projects, face painting, balloons, STILTS FOR EVERYONE, sing-alongs, marbles, people in costumes, people ringing bells, cool authors giving readings in the parlor of a gracious old brick home, books being bought hand over fist, and……wait for it…… cannons.

Speaking of cannons, one went off, right in the middle of my reading. It was awesome. I was describing a scene when the king and queen stand before the court to present the new princess. I read this sentence, “The king and queen entered quietly, without announcement or trumpets or pomp….” and then there was a terrific boom. I bowed, of course, and added “or cannons.”

I don’t have any cannons today, alas, but I do have this: An excerpt! Of IRON HEARTED VIOLET! If I could, I’d send it to you on the backs of one hundred elephants followed by nattily-dressed zebras waltzing with pretty girls in their arms and prancing ponies singing the soundtrack of The Wiz. Unfortunately, you must use your imaginations to fill in the gaps. Enjoy! 

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Again, with the Zombies. (Also, gratuitous camping cuteness from the BWCA) (and some thoughts about writing too)

My son has, apparently been infected with some kind of zombie virus, which he did not catch after being burned, drowned, struck by lightning, falling into latrines (likely on purpose), boiled in oil, attacked by cougars, or any number of disasters that could – and have – befallen the Barnhills in their excursions into the woods. Still: he has been zombified, and I have proof:

And then it happened to Cordelia as well:

 Zombification aside, it was, in truth, a magnificent trip. Not that the weather was perfect (it wasn’t) or the condition ideal (are they ever?) but still. Here’s the thing about camping: even what it sucks, it’s still pretty awesome. We faced rain and wind and cold. Bee stings. Busted thumbs. Sore backs. But there’s nothing like carrying a canoe on your shoulders for 3/4 of a mile, lowering it back down onto the rocks without a scratch, and then hiking back down the trail to shoulder your 80-pound duluth pack just to do it again. And there’s nothing like filling a bunch of empty bellies with a bunch of fried dough  or curried rice or pesto on shell noodles. And there’s nothing like watching the space station cruise through a star-ridden sky and seeing every constellation you’ve ever heard of, and inventing some new ones of your own.

There’s nothing like it at all.

Also, there’s nothing like the process of letting go, either. The BWCA is utterly off the grid. Even if you got all fancy and had one of those waterproof solar collectors to shove sunlight into your i-phone, it wouldn’t do you a speck of good. No cell towers. No signals. No phone calls. No email. No tweets. Nothing. This is good for me because social media – while incredibly fun for spending hours and hours dorking around on the internets, are kind of the crack of writing: it feels like writing; it looks like writing; it requires the same attention to language and diction and subtlety that writing does. The composition of a tweet, say, uses much of my skills that I’ve honed as a writer – we make deals with our readership, don’t we? We compose tweets that begin like hello and end like goodbye. We play with words and build with words and suck on words like hard candies. And then we are rewarded with retweets and comments and funny reparte, and whatever.

Social media gives us what our manuscripts cannot.

But it’s the manuscript – not the twitters or the books of faces or the things with pins on them or any other one of the nattering pixellated heaps of ones and zeros that clutter our brains and our screens and our limited thinking – that pays the bills. That feeds the soul. That pulls us toward something large, something beautiful, that brief, ephemeral glimpse at truth. The manuscript can be a jerk sometimes. It can be witholding. It can be prickly. But it’s the important bit.

This is why I like to go into the woods. To get back to the important bit. We turn off. We tune out. We slink away from the endless, meaningless noise (recognizing our own part in it), and we recalibrate.

I wrote thirty longhand pages while in the BWCA. Despite the ache in my back in and twinges in my knees and the endless cricks in my neck. I wrote another fifty since coming home.

It was a good trip. Maybe I’ll go back.

 

(All of these photographs were taken by this guy. Beloved friend, and darling of my heart.)

 

 

Things coming, things doing, and things done.

So, I have a confession to make: I have a ridiculously humungous amount of fun doing bookish events. Maybe I would feel differently if I wrote for grownups and was therefore speaking in front of audiences comprised largely of grownups. Cuz, yanno. Grownups are stodgy and a bit of a snore.

Now, I don’t want to offend any grownups reading this blog, and I really want you to know that individually I think you’re marvelous and I love you all very much. But. Let’s be serious. Kids are more fun.

I hope I haven’t hurt your feelings.

(Kids, if you’re reading this, please remember that grownups – while insufferably tiresome when collected in groups – are a sensitive, fragile lot, and you should always try to boost up their self-esteem. For example: You can tell them that they just said something smart. Or that they look terribly attractive in that sweater.)

Is there anything more awesome, I wonder, than sitting around with a bunch of kids and talking about stories? Honestly, I don’t think there is.

So, I’ve been doing some more bookish-type events lately, and I’m going to be doing some more.

For example, back in September, I was reading at Wild Rumpus Books, surrounded not only by a bunch of kids, but animals too! 

Kids!

Animals!

It was magnificent!

And then, just last Saturday I was at Red Balloon Bookshop. And there was cake. CAKE!

One of the perks of being trained as a teacher is that I’m pretty good at getting the kids to think of – and then actually ask- questions after my brief reading.

And their questions are always really interesting and esoteric and random and wonderful. Such as, “Thank you for reading but what are those books about?” And, “But why did you stop there? What happens next?” And, “But seriously, did you write all the words in this book all by yourself?”

That last one was asked with some incredulity.

By my own nephew, by the way. (Honestly! The respect I get around here!) (Et tu, Charlie?)

Anyway, I feel exquisitely energized by these last two readings, and I’m looking forward to the next appearances. For those of you who are interested I’ll be at the Twin Cities Book Festival this Saturday for a reading, signing and teaching two writing mini-workshops for children. Later, I’ll be at the AASL conference in Saint Paul at the end of the month, signing books. Then, on November 13, I’ll be doing a reading with Minnesota writer, extraordinaire, Anne Ursu, at the Second Story Reading Series at the Loft. And then, on December 3, I’ll be speaking at Nokomis Library, doing a reading and author chat with their youth book group, and I’m ridiculously excited about all of it.

If you’re around, come by! Say hello! Throw tomatoes! Or flower petals! Or autumn leaves! Make fun! Tell jokes! Stick around for coffee! Or whatever.

In any case, I’ll be there. Having the time of my life.

Everything I know about the work and joy of marriage I learned from my gay married friends.

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Well, maybe not everything. But a lot, anyway.

For those of you who may be reading this from far-away places – particularly those of you who may have the good fortune to live in states and countries who acknowledge and support and love all couples, regardless of their various genders, let me get you up to speed. In my beloved state of Minnesota, the Legislature decided to offer up an amendment to the Constitution banning gay marriage.

Never mind that gay marriage is already illegal here.

Never mind that 53% of the state is opposed to the ban.

Never mind that most of the authors and sponsors of this legislation are divorced. (Defending the sanctity of marriage, MY EYE!)

Never mind that gay people are a part of the fabric of our culture – they own businesses and work in every sector of our economy and send their kids to school and show up at park board potlucks and church picnics and pay their taxes and fix up their houses and go for long walks at sunset and do every single thing that heterosexual married people do.

Never mind all of that. The Legislature decided to send a State-sponsored “You Stink” letter to the gay community – a “Get Off My Lawn” letter and a “Stay Out Of My Sandbox” letter and a “You Are Not As Awesome As Me SO THERE” letter. And for the next eighteen (I think? I’m not really one for counting) months, my poor state is going to be awash with misinformation, with hateful rhetoric, with outright lies, and with ad after ad after ad.

Why?

Simple answer: Money.

The National Organization for Marriage held a rally last July at the state Capitol against same-sex marriage.

Photo courtesy of Fibonacci BlueThe National Organization for Marriage held a rally last July at the state Capitol against same-sex marriage.

Because in the end, it doesn’t matter what the polls say, and it certainly doesn’t matter what the majority of the population thinks about a certain issue. It’s about who has enough money to control the message enough to make sure that their voters show up at the voting booths, and that the opposition does not. Democracy, in this day and age, has nothing to do with the will of the people and everything to do with who shows up.

Our voters, or their voters? I guess we’ll find out in 2012.

Which is why, on the evening of that fateful vote to put this ugly amendment on the ballot, Republican strategist after strategist said the same thing: “If this was a secret vote, it wouldn’t pass.” In other words, legislators weren’t voting with their hearts or their souls or their minds; they were voting with their re-election budgets. And that is a shameful thing.

Minnesota will flow with money. And it will be dirty money. God help us.

So, over the next few months, I’ll be fundraising and going to demonstrations, and my kids will be waving hand made signs, and we’ll probably go out doorknocking as a family, but in the meantime, I wanted to talk a little bit about marriage, and why it matters, and how my observations of my gay-married friends has deepened and strengthened my own marriage, and how grateful I am.

Here’s the thing: marriage is hard. It’s work. I’ve said it for years: getting married is one of the single bravest things a human being can do. Hell, it’s hard enough for us to live with ourselves, much less trying to live with another person. Now we all know the benefits and satisfaction of hard labor and a job well done; we all know what it’s like to look at the dirt under our fingernails and the grime on our knees and feel the ache of overworked muscles and know in our hearts that it’s bringing us one step closer gorgeous harvests come autumn. So is it true with a marriage: the work is good.  We also know that marriage, if it is done right, is predicated on the guarantee of tragedy. We will spend our entire lives knowing our spouses, and loving our spouses more than we love the breath in our lungs or the food on our lips or the sun on our skin. And then, one day, one of us will have to live without our partner – our best friend and dearest treasure. Love requires tragedy. There’s really no getting around that one – unless both partners die in a fiery wreck, which just sounds terribly unpleasant, so let’s remove that as a possibility.

So we hang on to each day because we know it is limited. And we make mistakes and we sometimes argue and we are sometimes blind, but in the end, we know that despite the work, what we have is precious.

Marriage is precious.

And it is because of that preciousness, and because of that temporal nature that we look to the married people around us as role models and as touchstones and as guides. The marriages of my friends and neighbors and parents and relatives and friends of relatives and everyone else in my broad and diverse community are all part of my marriage. I watch, I listen, I learn and I keep building towards the future. That’s how it works.

Gay marriage would not, and does not, hurt my marriage. Now, if any of my friends ever got divorced, it would – I know for sure – hurt my husband and I. Indeed, it already has. Divorce hurts marriages, not gay people saying “I do”. Gay marriage would not change how I think about marriage nor would it change how I teach my children about the importance of fidelity and honor and love. It wouldn’t change how I teach my children about the sacredness of sex. Indeed, if the state recognized gay marriage, it would provide me with an extra teaching tool – that it doesn’t matter if you’re gay or straight, because marriage matters and monogamy matters and you still have to do right by your partner. (I’m pretty conservative when it comes to that, actually.)

Gay marriage may actually strengthen marriage in this state. I believe that gay marriage as it stands now, despite it’s underground status, has already strengthened my marriage. Indeed, my gay married friends have – quite unintentionally – given me lesson after beautiful lesson on the building of a mutual life outside of the the assistance and blessing of the government. This is what they’ve taught me so far:

1. I learned that it’s not enough to rely upon the language of relationship to define a relationship. What does wife mean? Or husband? By removing the terms of the relationship, I was allowed to strip pretense away and observe the thing as it is: Something fragile, hungry and alive; something separate from me, separate from Ted; a life force with a path of its own, and it is my job – and his job – to protect it, love it, and follow it.

2. The celebration, the wedding, the community honor of a relationship that existed before the day of the ceremony and would exist after – well, it matters. Just like punctuation matters and pausing while speaking matters. Sometimes we need to take a breath, process what came before and prepare ourselves for what is next.

3. Divorce sucks. Doesn’t matter if your gay or straight, it hurts just the same – not only the couple in question, but the community surrounding the couple. Divorce hurts every marriage it touches. I’m not saying it should be outlawed or anything (I’m a SUPERPROGRESSIVE BLEEDING HEART LIBERAL, after all) but I do think we all need to acknowledge it. Divorce really really really sucks. So do broken hearts and broken homes and broken futures. And it makes me cry just thinking about it.

4. Don’t rely on the government to tell you what you already know. Whether you are gay or straight, it isn’t the piece of paper that makes you married. We marry in our hearts and in our minds and in our bodies. The piece of paper just makes it less of a hassle. And speaking of hassles:

5. Plan for everything. Two of my very good friends, who had a beautiful – though not government recognized – wedding, and raised two beautiful sons together, knew that they couldn’t take a single day for granted. The world is complicated and unpredictable, they told me, and life as we know it could be irreparably altered in a moment. But, because the state does not recognize their union, they had to bring their own recognition with them wherever they went: written power of attorney; adoption records; living wills; notorized documents stating that, in the event that one should be incapacitated, the other – and not their families – would have all rights and responsibilities of a spouse. Now, we all know that these documents are not always honored. But they did their best. They planned. They hoped for a better tomorrow.

6. Love the community you’re in; build the community you want. My friends know all about the pain of having one’s family or neighborhood or place of employment or church deny the tranformative power of their love for one another. They love their communities anyway. They volunteer and work for justice and teach classes and vote and give to charity. They also are very good at building new communities that are predicated on acceptance and tolerance and care.

Every marriage is a gift – to the couple, to their community, to the whole world. Every marriage requires bravery, tenacity, tolerance, insight and love. Every marriage deserves recognition and support, because the work is difficult and the benefits are tremendous.

Thank you, my married friends, both gay and straight. Thank you for your support and your instruction and your guidance in my own marriage. May your love thrive, expand and multiply. May it bless your lives, bless your city, bless your state and bless the world.

Love,

Kelly

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