You Heard It on The Radio

A local radio show asked me to discuss my writing as it pertains to some efforts I am making toward a book. Of course we discussed writing and life because the two really can't be separated in my mind and what I found myself thinking was, "This is so much fun!"

Talking is another way of processing the world I see. Taking these thoughts to the page is another step further in distilling how I see the world at any given moment.

This is all to say that I found myself thinking as carefully about what I said as what I write. If you choose to listen, I set up the work I am doing about my life in Iowa. The whole thing started because I felt like people were dissing the area where I spent my childhood. That stung and so I set out to sort it out a bit by examining those closest to me, my family. I am enormously grateful to them and proud of the people they are. I think you'll pick up on that.

If you'd like to hear a few stories, maybe you'll enjoy this.

The Art of Lisa Gray

On Birds and Change and Hope

We were both barely awake. I was not deep enough into my first cup of coffee and Ben's Monday morning eyes told me it would be slow going to make the bus on time. It had been a very full weekend and the remnants clung to both of us as we tried hard to work ourselves into the day. As I slid open the patio door to let the cats out on the deck, a lone robin warbled and it felt like a bit of hope. Despite everything that is true today, this bird was singing and for months to come birdsong will soar above the normal morning music of coffee percolating, water running, and toast popping. 

"Did you hear that mom?" he asked.

I nodded and he went on. "You know how they go away one by one and you just sort of forget because you get excited about the first snow and you don't think about the birds being gone? And then they come back slowly and you remember what you missed? I missed the birds."

Ben is 13. His voice is changing and the hair is appearing on his face and legs. He's dropped holding my hand, sharing a book before bed, and sometimes he even forgets to say goodnight. The kid who always wanted to "be" wherever we were suddenly wants to be elsewhere. I don't tell him I notice these things. I don't tell him I notice how the bedtime routine, once the hallmark of my evening, has gradually disappeared into the ether of  "when you were a kid'. I don't tell him I feel each loss a bit more acutely because a pining mournful mother is not what a son wants. 

What's that they say?  Eeeewww!

I also don't tell him I like that he noticed the birds. Instead, I let his words hang in the air with the birdsong and my heart seems to double in size. His observations and how freely he's given them have always been a gift to me. As his body changes and his brain works to keep up with the pace, I know these verbal riffs might also become rare.

And so I do what I've always done. I sit in the moment, I let my heart regroup, and then I smile.

He looks at me and says,"At least we know they always return, right?"

Ah...that is the hope, I think. 

Ben has moved on to food and clothes and Monday morning. But not me. Instead, I sit a bit longer in my hope of what will be.


I’ve always had trouble feeling comfortable in my skin. I can trace it back to junior high journals where I write, “I wonder what it would feel like to be at ease.”  I’ve said this at 13, at 21, at 27, at 33, at 41, and I can say it now. For as far back as I can go, I can point to times where I felt squirmy. I can see little moments where it’s like I’m in a bodysuit made for someone much smaller and I cannot get out of it, but I am trying hard for release. Maybe it started with noticing I didn’t look like other girls. Maybe it started with just thinking I didn’t look like other girls. I don’t really know.


Today I can tell you exactly when I started feeling uncomfortable again, sort of off and unsettled. Many people might say election night, but I was a fighter until inauguration day. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to face it. I just wasn’t willing to give up on everything I believed to be true about who Donald Trump showed himself to be. His actions never lied.

There is this life of mine before he became our president and there is a whole new life unfolding after it. There was the life of mature leadership and measured thought and equality and kindness (before) and the life of secrets and lies and manipulation and abuse and isolation (after). I feel whiplashed. I feel like I don’t know my country anymore. I’ve witnessed abusive relationships. I’ve had too much exposure to narcissism. I know enough to know this is bad. This is not normal.


Why divide my life into the before and after? Before I lost babies. After I delivered two children who live (still!). After Andrew died. Before I met my husband. After I got married. After my sister came out. Before I knew steady love. After she got sick. Before depression stole my heart. After the roof caved in. Before the fall. All these moments, big and small, all mine. What is the point in before and after? Is it to see that you really did have the sun and the moon at one time? Is it so that you know when the dawn breaks, it is a gift?


I have been labelled “too sensitive” and “touchy”.  I react and notice and I have a hard time trying to manage all I am taking in. I know my feelings enough to trust the ones that will pass. I know what to write through, walk off, let go. This doesn’t mean I am always good at it.

I was told to release my negativity, that I need to pray to find joy. But there is a far-reaching and treacherous malaise setting in and it’s not just happening to me. I think I am seeing that this is what it must feel like to anyone not white, not born here, not privileged. Finally, I am tasting a microsant of their exhaustion and I don’t mind letting others know that the power of positive thinking is not going to will away the nightmare unfolding around us. This doesn’t mean I don’t see the good and I don’t experience joy. I have cats! But so many are fearful and in pain.I will not be ignoring that.


I think back to my hot pink carpet and lime green bedspread of my seventh grade bedroom. I am sprawled across my bed and  I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings is on repeat for me that year. I devoured everything Maya Angelou had written. I know I don’t think about why a chubby white girl from Iowa is drawn into the world of a mute African American girl. Was it the first time I “got woke”? Was this the first time I understood that beyond geography and skin color, our humanity is what unites us?

I am thinking about walking through Anne Frank’s hiding place in Amsterdam. I went there when I was 22. I am remembering the beautiful commode and how unexpected it was to find bright white porcelain inlaid with beautiful tiles. It was strange amidst the cramped quarters, the slanted roof and creaky boards. The tenacity and resiliency of the family in the midst of utter terror seems remarkable. I am wondering if this is what will be required of all of us now.

My introverted husband, peaceful, loving and tender asks, “ At what point do we become physical with our resistance?”

This morning my web browser history has a site I do not recognize. It is called Guns and Gear.

I don’t know anything so I keep writing. I keep asking questions and searching for answers that may not be there. I keep talking and typing towards relief, towards commitment, towards something that looks like a stance, a promise, a protection, a resistance to all that I do not believe in. I keep going. That is all I can do for now. And I won’t “release negativity”when it’s being trotted out on a daily basis for all to see. It’s not mine to release. Somehow, our country brought us here. I certainly didn’t ask for it, but I do know what I won’t stay quiet about what I see as unjust. Because when I am, a different sort of trouble begins.

Freedom is my voice.

I heard a young man say that the other day. He’s in jail for reasons I don’t get to know, but when I asked him why he mattered to the world he said, “Because I have a voice.”  And it’s true. Even in jail, he can use his voice to make his presence known.

I am grateful he reminded me that in difficult times it’s more important than ever to speak up.

I am thinking of him and the daughters he discussed with pride. I am thinking of the music he says he writes in his head when he can’t find a way to express himself. Even confined, he is not quiet.

It’s true I want to remain kind and that I want to treat anyone I encounter with kid gloves because everyone is under some duress. I have no idea how what’s going down is shaping my neighbor’s life or affecting my friend’s children. Or maybe I know, but I can only think about it little bursts. But none of this means I have to be quiet. That, I think, would be the worst thing.