Monday, December 26, 2011

A Promise to Love

by Zinta Aistars

Derek and Lorena

When the two of them talked about it not being all about sunshine and happiness, then I knew these two were keepers, that their life together would be a success. My mama's heart sang.

Derek had asked my daughter Lorena to marry him a couple days prior to Christmas, and they had kept it all hush hush until they arrived at my house on Friday evening, December 23rd. Lorena stood in the kitchen with a mischievous little Mona Lisa smile on her lips, and Derek perched on the stairs, when she held out her left hand for me to see ... and oh my, it was a beauty, this diamond ring he'd bought with such care for her. I squealed and enfolded my baby girl in a happy  hug.

"I wanted to see your face when we told you," she smiled.

Shucks, I wasn't surprised. None of us in the family were. It was clear two years ago when Lorena first introduced Derek to the family that they had a special connection. I loved listening to their shared laughter ... and sooner or later, everything between them ended with laughter. If they understood that a shared life would be much more than just sharing happy moments, they seemed to have the magic ingredient of long lasting relationships: they knew how to laugh together. They are best friends who fell in love.

We all knew .... we just didn't know when. Now the world knows and laughs with them, a twinkle of joy at new love. Our world can always use new love. New hope, new dreams. It really does keep this silly, wonderful, scary, complex, grand world turning.

My very best wishes to you both, my darlings. Congratulations.

Lorena and Derek share their news with her grandparents

Thursday, December 22, 2011

In Good Time

by Zinta Aistars

Rough day. If anything could go wrong today at the office, it went extra wrong. Murphy's Law had settled like a dark cloud overhead. By lunchtime, I was questioning everything. Including myself, and that's never fun. Every decision, past, present or future, seemed iffy. Today was the kind of day that I felt so far from my best dreams that they were a fading pinpoint in the next universe.

Five o'clock and the end of the work day couldn't feel sweeter. With a sigh, I was out the door. And still, that dark puff overhead floated along. As soon as I merged onto the interstate toward home, an SUV the size of a small mountain pulled up behind my little Civic. Pulled up so close his headlights bobbed just above my bumper. If anything happened ahead of me, no doubt in my mind I would get rear ended. I tapped my brakes to indicate that he was too close.

His response? He pulled back just far enough to aim headlights into my rearview mirror and turned on his high beams. I blinked at the glare, shoved my mirror down to keep from being blinded. For the next several miles, he stayed glued to my bumper, high beams on.

Yeah, Merry Christmas to you, too.

Finally, I had a chance to slip through traffic and into the next lane, blinking to get my vision back. My mind rumbled over bumpy thoughts all the way home. Maybe I'd chosen the wrong career. Maybe I wasn't cut out to be a writer, after all. Maybe living alone deep, deeper, deepest in the woods was an excellent idea, all communications with the civilized world severed. Maybe I would never achieve zero debt so that I could find out. Maybe I'd be spinning in this gerbil wheel forever, and the harder I ran, the faster I stayed in place. Oh hrmph.

I coasted home on cruise control. Easy driving. Only that was a bummer, too. I'd been waiting and waiting (and waiting) for a good snow, and not a flake to be seen. A little drizzle, a little spit, but the world remained triple shades of gray and black and piddly brown. No winter joy. I'd suffered through a long, sweaty summer for this?

Grumble, hrmph, spitty spit, mutter, grump. I even felt a spot of wet collect in the corner of my eye. This was not a good time.

By the time I drove into my driveway, it was solid night. Even so, in the faint silvery flow of the street light, I could see something hanging from the doorknob of my front door. A little gift bag. I skipped up the stairs to take a closer look. The bag was a pattern of red and green and gold, a beautiful Christmas globe at center that said "Merry & Bright." The handles were silver rope.

I plucked the bag off the doorknob and took it inside. Fed the dog and cat, picked through the day's junk mail, put a pot of homemade soup on the stove to warm up.

Then I sat down next to the fireplace, set aflame, and took another look at the gift bag. Merry & Bright ... I wasn't feeling it. But how sweet to find this gift awaiting me home on an icky day. Who was it from? What was inside?

I drew out a card in a red envelope. On it: "Zinta/Mom." And I knew. It was from my son and his lady Dawn.

My heart pinged. I knew, here was a large part of the reason I was dragging my heels into this holiday. My son and his lady would not be among us for Christmas. Oh, how I would miss my boy, grown man that he was ... and Dawn was dawning a sweet color of rose on his horizon, bringing light back into his life.

"For a Mother who loves and gives so much ... " I read the card, and my eyes got misty again.

Inside were two gifts, each carefully wrapped. A pillar candle, because I can never have too many, and something else, wrapped inside an intriguing swirl of gray paper. Written this way and that across and around it were sayings about TIME.

"Timing is everything."

"Take time to smell the roses."

"Take your time."

"Time will tell."

"Time is on your side."

"There's a time to work, and a time to rest."

"Time heals all wounds."

"I'm having a great time."

I unwrapped slowly, taking my time, and inside was a delicate little hour glass. I set it on the corner of the coffee table and watched the glittering sand begin to trickle through the slender middle, from the top into the bottom of the glass.


They knew ... how much time I spent worrying about time. Not enough. Too  much left. How to use it. How best to enjoy it. How not to waste it. How to save it. How to spend it well. How to cherish it. Where to direct it. When to keep a tight hold on it and when to let it fly and when to just let it go. And most of all, I worried about when it would be the right time ...

Time. Sometimes I lost track of it. Sitting here now, in this moment of time, I watched the tiny grains swirl through to the bottom and was mesmerized by the trickling sands of time. I had started to practice meditation recently, and this hour glass seemed like a wonderful way to measure time in a soft, unobtrusive way as I lost myself in time.

Funny. Watching the grains of sand pass like time, I felt the stress of the day ease away. My pulse slowed. There was nothing I could do to stop the grains of sand from falling. I could not slow them down. I could not speed them up. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Time just kept flowing.

For this moment, I could just be. Time moved ahead without my assistance. What I needed, what I wanted to accomplish, my son and Dawn were right, time would tell when time was right. There was so much I still wanted to do, and I was frustrated at not having the time, or that it wasn't that time yet that I could immerse myself fully.

It was not yet time, and I had to do my time until it was. If I could just slow my mind, I would be able to move through the confusion and find the answers.

Odd, how this little hourglass inspired introspection, even as it calmed me into a slower pace.

I brewed a cup of tea, sat down again, sipped and watched the grains of sand. Nothing would ease the ache of time spent apart. My daughter and her Derek were coming out for the holidays. Someone near, so dear, someone far, so dear, and the heart simmered between joy and sorrow.

Time spent waiting. Time passed doing. 

As the old year passed into memory, and the new year approached with a promise of fresh-to-be-used time, I wondered at all its promise. In time, my son and his Dawn would be back home again, too. Good times would come again.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Announcing! Fall/Winter 2011-12 Issue of The Smoking Poet!

"Words that turn the page to flame."

Pottery by Ed Gray (Jikiwe)

Something about a New Year … a clean slate. Whatever didn’t meet our hopes and standards in the previous year can be left behind, marked “lesson learned,” and we can move ahead with reinvigorated creativity. Think of it as a rewrite—writers get that. Almost nothing comes off the pen, or the keyboard, without room for improvement, and it’s the rewrite that brings polish to the pearl.
2011 was an exceptional year for The Smoking Poet. The highlight of the year was our 5th year anniversary in April, a reading of 14 authors participating and an audience that left just barely room for standing. So what can we do in 2012 to beat that? Well, in our sixth year, we hope to expand our collaboration with Kalamazoo, Michigan’s NPR affiliate station, WMUK, bringing more author interviews to our readers—and our listeners. Not to worry if you don’t live within the 102.1 FM frequency. You can listen online at WMUK’s site or right here on our pages.
Now entering our sixth year, we bring you an artist, Ed Gray (Jikiwe by his Ojibwa name), and a group of writers and poets from the far north—the Keweenaw Peninsula in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Writer t. kilgore splake refers to their long winters on Lake Superior as “the long white.” That’s a time when bears go into hibernation, but artists surface, using that time of winter silence and solitude to immerse themselves in their art and emerge in the spring with new visions of creativity. We bring only a few of the Keweenaw and U.P. talents to you in this issue—there will be more to come in our spring issue.
Author interviews have expanded. Katie Alvord talks to us about divorcing our cars. Rick Chambers talks to us about self publishing. Kurt Cobb talks to us about peak oil. James Sanford talks to us about beating cancer. Recording broadcast interviews include Joseph Heywood, Michael Loyd Gray, Maryann Lesert, t. kilgore splake, Vic Foerster, and others to be added throughout winter.
And we have travel essays, memoirs, poetry, fiction to inspire you and keep you reading through your own long white. A Good Cause invites you to consider Miss Representation, how contemporary media portrays women with a stunning video and a challenge.
A warm welcome to Kim Grabowski, our newest intern from Kalamazoo College. She will play a big role in moving our winter into spring.
Got some holiday bucks to burn? Visit our Gift Shop, proceeds to writers and the maintenance of our online literary magazine.
Don’t miss our book reviews! We add to these pages throughout the season, so keep coming back—there is always something new here for you to enjoy!
With a good word,
Zinta Aistars
TSP Founder and Editor-in-Chief

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Kalamazoo Foods Market on Second Wave

by Zinta Aistars

Southwest Michigan's Second Wave has published my article about the Kalamazoo Foods Market. I do so enjoy writing articles about fresh food!

Photo by Erik Halladay of Damon Geary at the Kalamazoo Foods Market 

Kalamazoo Foods Market keeps it fresh through the winter

by Zinta Aistars

Thursday, December 15, 2011

During the summer months local food fans get used to fresh produce. At the Kalamazoo Foods Market the opportunity to find local produce extends for months to come. Zinta Aistars talks to co-owner Damon Geary about the community that comes with creating such a place to shop.

Read the complete article with wonderful photos by Erik Halladay.

See also ...

Growing the local economy with locally grown food

Sawall Health Foods leads the way organically

The roast that brings in the customers

Serving up burgers with inspiration on the side

Bringing the best of the Middle East to the Midwest



Monday, December 12, 2011

Healing Between the Lines

by Zinta Aistars

No better editor than the one who can gently point out all the rifts and fault lines in your manuscript and still remain a cherished friend. I’m lucky. After dinner this weekend, I sat down with my friend, the esteemed editor, to go extensively over the manuscript I’d recently finished—what I had half-jokingly called my fantasy autobiography. Past and present truth leading into an imagined future.

And we writers all, without exception, need such an editor. Any who think this step isn’t necessary should sign up for a few therapy sessions to understand ego issues.

When it comes to editing my work, I leave ego on the other side of the door. After all, this isn’t about making me feel like a star. I’m not fishing for compliments. This process is about making my work as good as it can possibly be. Sometimes, it can also mean flinging my work into a bonfire.

We talked for hours, into the late night, about my first draft. My chosen editor asked me a great many pertinent questions. Some of them I could answer. Some left me hanging. I had no idea. Slack mouthed and wide eyed, I could only shrug.

They say writing is therapy, and I would say it may just be the best kind. To write true, the writer must stand naked in the spotlight, fully exposed, even the skin cut and peeled away to expose the meaty red beating of the heart. Hide one chewed off fingernail and a good editor will catch you on it.

Mine did.

Yet it wasn’t that I attempted to hide. Not knowingly, at least. My modus operandi in this first draft was to write so fast that I would outrun my inner critic and censor. I expected the work to be dirty. I was still hoping to achieve some kind of clarity.

Instead, what I now saw exposed on this stack of pages was not one fleshy heart, but two. I had not one voice in this story—I had two. Inside one main character, I had exposed two conflicting and conflicted persons, each one pulling in the opposite direction, and so the character twirled in one place where someone else might skip along ahead with a carefree whistle.

For the rest of the weekend, I mulled and pondered over our discussion. The weekend was almost entirely over before I dared pick up the manuscript to read the editor’s notes in the margins. I couldn’t argue with one single point. Not one. My respect for my editor friend was immense.

I rolled up the manuscript and considered tossing it into the fire pit on the deck out back. Certainly wouldn’t be the first time. At least one layer of the depleted ozone layer is due to my burning of my manuscripts. Deep inside, I always know when I have fallen short of the level I wish to achieve.

This didn’t sadden me. I recognize it as part of the process. I’d grown up watching my father, the artist, discard canvas after canvas, paint over many of them, or cut out a salvageable corner where he’d hit the mark and toss the rest. Early on, I learned that having good work to show meant having a very full wastebasket.

Was this salvageable? Was there a corner I could save where I’d hit the mark while tossing the rest? There probably were, and quite a few, but sometimes I think it is best to keep the exercise incorporated in one’s writer muscle and proceed on a clean sheet.

Yet the fault lines here went deeper than that. This wasn’t about writing skill. The fault lines were about me, my life, and where I had found my way and where I was still twirling and thrashing. Where I was still looking for answers, my writing lacked definition. Where I was still unsure about the values I admire, my heroine stumbled. Where I was still ambivalent about my own direction, my storyline got lost in the woods.

The next step for my manuscript wasn’t so much about new writing as it was about taking a moment to look in the mirror for introspection. Yes, writing is indeed therapy.

I remembered the first time I attempted to write a novel, still in my early 20s. I was just a few pages in, intoxicated with the joy of the process, when I suddenly hit a wall. I came to a dead stop. I can see myself at that moment as clearly as if it were yesterday. I sat down right there where I stood, in the middle of the kitchen, and sat cross-legged for a long, long time, thinking.

Like any story, my new novel had a main character—call him my hero if you like. What would he look like? How would he behave? What did he want in life? What caused him conflict? What kinds of mannerisms were distinctive to him? How did he respond to others? What were his ideals? What made him howl in pain, in rage, in bliss?

Holy moly, I had no idea! To move him even one step forward in the story, I had to answer a great many questions. And all of those questions came back to me. What were my values? What did I admire in a person? What made someone good or evil? To create another, I had to first define myself.

I’d once heard someone advise a writer to take his or her character out to dinner. Observe how this character behaves, eats, treats the waiter, dresses, converses. Something like a first date. It’s all in the details.

When writing my fantasy autobiography, I was taking myself out to dinner. It was a revealing experience. Where real life can tolerate indecision and waffling on goals, fiction is much less tolerant. In reality, characters move in and out of our days without ever making a second appearance. Thoughts go unfinished. Mysteries remain unsolved. If all that were brought into a book, readers would lose patience. In our books, we like our stories to have beginnings, middles and endings, with all loose ends tied up.

While something in me protested about so much orderliness in a work of literary fiction, I knew that my plot waffling reflected on my internal waffling. In my pursuit of my best dreams, I wasn’t nearly making the kind of progress I might be if I were to make a few more hard, solid, nail-them-down decisions.

I set the manuscript aside. I will make THAT decision later. There was other work to be done first. It might just require a few hours of sitting in the middle of my kitchen, cross-legged on the floor, and asking myself: Just who is my heroine? What does she want more than anything else? How will she get there? What demons must she face before she does? What is she willing to give up along the way?

Only then, answers to questions firmly in hand, can I return to my second draft.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

On Becoming a Hood Ornament

by Zinta Aistars

His light was a solid red. Mine, the sign at the other end of the crosswalk, read WALK. I was on my way to a holiday lunch at work, served at the hospital cafeteria, our executives and leadership serving up quarters of chicken and thick slabs of prime rib with wild rice, a medley of vegetables, croissant with butter, greens with dried cranberries, and raspberry cheesecake. It's a delicious meal, and all the employees show up ... there are, count 'em, about 18,000 of us. Yet each year for this annual holiday meal, the long and winding lines move remarkably quickly.

I'm thinking lunch as I step off the curb. I have no idea what he was thinking. Two lanes of cars were idling at the intersection, waiting for the light to change, but suddenly the driver of the white Ford on the outside lane decided he wanted to turn on the red ... turn right ... right through the spot where I was walking. He was looking left, watching for oncoming traffic, but I was in front of him, in front of that wide silver grill as it started to move toward me.

I made a yelp and a leap to my right, but I couldn't outmanuever a moving automobile. Next thing I knew the car's bumper was plowing into me, and if I didn't want to go under, I would have to go up. I bounced up on the edge of his hood and he hit the brakes.

I was okay. Surprised more than hurt. I got out of his way but then turned around to glare at him. His window came down, and I saw a kid, maybe 16 or 17 years old, wide eyed.

"Are you okay? I'm sorry! I'm sorry!"

For some reason, I needed to reach out and touch him. A kid. I walked up to his window and squeezed his shoulder. "I'm all right," I said, "but you need to look both ways! Not just traffic, but you need to look for pedestrians, too!"

He nodded, pale.

Lunch then. The chicken was excellent. Drop off the bone tender and juicy. I enjoyed it and I felt fine. Only later, working at my desk again, did my left side feel a new soreness spreading, hip to knee. I thought about my grandfather, Latvian author Ernests Aistars (1899-1998), with a dozen published novels. He's long gone from me now, but I often think of his spirit, still with me. I thought about the time he was hit by a car as a pedestrian.

Pencil drawing of Ernests Aistars by Viestarts Aistars

My grandfather lived just shy of 100 years, and except for the last couple months of his life, he was always in remarkable health. Tall, slender, handsome, vibrant, he never missed a day of walking. It was the only exercise he did, but he couldn't accept a day without putting in a few miles. If for some reason he couldn't go outside to walk, he would pace the hallway in the house, back and forth, back and forth, holding his hands behind his back, deep in thought. I figured he was working out some thread in his next plotline.

Lidija and Ernests Aistars, my grandparents
My grandfather and my grandmother Lidija were known by everyone to be the perfect couple. They were often seen holding hands, huddling together, evident joy on their faces when they saw each other. Not once in my life do I remember a hard word between them, a look of impatience, or any evidence of discord. They were hand and glove. She taught language and literature at the Latvian school, and she edited and typed his handwritten book manuscripts. He had been director of the Jelgava Teachers' Institute in Latvia; they were two educators in life--with four sons, my father the eldest.
My grandfather with his four sons at my grandmother's funeral
When my grandmother died, none of us in the family or among their friends could imagine one without the other. How would he keep going without her? He walked. He read. He wrote. A painting of my grandmother, painted by my father (artist Viestarts Aistars), hung on his bedroom wall, and my parents once told me when visiting him on an evening that he'd been heard talking to the painting, still telling the love of his life about his day ...

My grandfather writing with chipmunk as muse

His walks weren't just strolls around the block. In his 90s, he no longer drove a car, but he walked everywhere--at a fast pace, with a long stride, covering miles in a day. He had rented an apartment about two miles outside of Kalamazoo. That meant frequent walks to the downtown library, two miles there, fill tote bag with books, two miles back.

That evening, my grandfather was on his way to the grocery store. If memory serves, he was 95 by then. The store wasn't so very far away. He cut across the street a little before the crosswalk, and that was his mistake. A Chevette had just made a fast turn right and he was right in its path. The car plowed into him, so hard that it threw him a good 50 feet across the pavement. An ambulance was called out and soon had him racing across town to Borgess Hospital ... where my father was already an inpatient.

My father at one of his art exhibits
Now, my father was once a great walker, too. When I was growing up, the two of us enjoyed long walks together in the evenings, talking art. His painting, my writing. But my father had back problems, and by now, this was his fourth back surgery. All those painful surgeries made no improvement on his crumbling spine. As straight-backed as my grandfather was, standing next to him, my father was bent over with chronic pain. More than once, those not in the know made a mistake identifying which was the father, which was the son.

When the ambulance brought my grandfather into the emergency department, my grandfather was conscious and grinning. No Chevette was going to dent his humor. In his Latvian accent, grinning, he told the attending physician and nurses: "I don't drive anymore. I needed a ride here so that I could visit my son, here for surgery. Thanks for the ride."

Stunned, they looked up the names of the admitted patients and found my father. After careful examination, finding no broken bones, no internal injuries, my grandfather, with badly bruised legs but otherwise no worse for the wear, was placed in the room next to my father.

I wasn't sure I wanted to continue that legacy. At least I wasn't thrown 50 feet. And I have some years, decades yet, to put down before I would get to my grandfather's age then. I figured there was a good chance I'd inherited not only his love for literature, but I was hoping for the genes of longevity and endurance, too.

Odd to say that becoming a momentary hood ornament on a white Ford brought back good memories. But it did. I massaged the sore area on my left thigh, wondering if he wasn't grinning down at me, up there somewhere, holding hands with my grandmother, tellling me to write a story about it, make it a good one, and keep walking.

For a catalog list of my books and my grandfather's books currently available at the Latvian National Library in Riga, Latvia, visit RIIM.


Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt, Kettle Chips, and Triple Crème Brie

by Zinta Aistars

That’s me wishing happy birthday to me and giving myself a good dose of pampering. All within a very grown up birthday. After all, it’s a Tuesday, not exactly a party day, and I am nose to deadline grindstone all the work day. My one reminder that this is not just an ordinary Tuesday is that I get to park in our own parking lot today. I usually park across the street—with the other little people—as the parking lot next to our office building, small as it is, is meant for directors and clientele only.

The only thing I’m trying to direct is the copy on the page I am writing and editing at my desk—and my life.

I slip out on an early lunch hour to beat the crowd and make a run to Martha’s Vineyard, a nearby deli and wine store, to find myself something extraordinary for lunch. Usually, I eat at my desk, taking a little time for myself to read a book or indulge in a little creative writing or even put my head down for a moment and grab a cat nap.

With deadlines pressing, I will do no differently today, keeping up with assignments so I can be sure to get out of work on time. But something decadently delicious—oh yes, today I deserve that. I prowl the deli for goodies. There’s a particular cheese I especially adore, and they keep a bushel of fresh-from-the-oven baguettes in paper bags to go with it. There it is—a large triangular chunk of Saint Andre’s triple crème brie. This isn’t just any brie. This is triple times better. Creamy and silky and melt-on-the-tongue rich and delicious.

I pluck a large bar of Chocolove Almonds and Sea Salt in Dark Chocolate from the shelf. Every square is marked with a heart, and a love poem is printed on the inside wrapper. “And all the stars that crowded the blue space/Saw nothing happier than her glowing face … “ by Lord Bryon is tucked inside mine.

A bag of kettle chips and a tub of creamy dip, and a large jar of Brownwood Farms Northern Michigan Cherries. And there, behind the glass of the deli, my coupe de grace: a dark chocolate mound, as big as a fist, drizzled with more chocolate, with hints of caramel inside. I hold up two fingers and nod. Price tags are a little frightening, but it’s my birthday! and I purchase it all with a smile.

Dinner will be waiting for me at home; I’ve already chosen my favorites in the morning—smoked pork chops from Jake’s Country Farms nearby, roasted potatoes, Swiss chard and acorn squash still from last season’s garden, and a heaping side dish of mushrooms sautéed in fresh butter.

I know there will be a gift or two as well, but I know what I cherish most about this day. The more of these birthdays I have, the more I look forward to the best gift of all—time with loved ones, and an experience to remember.

Amusingly enough, the little red light flashing on the corner of my cell phone all day long adds to those simple pleasures. From morning until late, birthday wishes come in from my Facebook page. My friends there vary from very close and intimate to barely known but with shared interest in literature. Regardless, I smile every time the red light blinks. Another “Happy birthday, Z!” has just appeared on my “Wall” and somehow it does what it should—adds a little humanity to technology. These wishes arrive, after all, from various points across the globe. They delight me. It’s a small world, after all.

The simple pleasures … ever more appreciated. Less stuff, more memories. Less prestige, more meaning. Less glory, more truth.

Closing my office door to lean back in my chair and tear off a piece of baguette and slice into that creamy brie, I fill with the warm sense of blessing. I am nearer to where I want to be. The occasional setback, but my focus remains true. Not a day goes by that I don’t ponder my dream and how I might maneuver myself one or two steps closer. The last several weeks have tossed more than one setback in my direction, and some of that hit hard, even had me reeling for a while. But there was little time to brood, only time to plan a new maneuver, and so—to it. Get on with it. The goal remains unchanged.

One candle will go on my chocolate bomb tonight, one candle only. The years may accumulate but the wish is only one. Most all else I could want I already have. I am old enough and wise enough now to know when to say: Enough.

I ponder the manuscript I recently finished for a short novel, now in the hands of a trusted writer and editor. I have jokingly called it my fantasy autobiography. Indeed, that’s what it is. Much of it is from my life, and what yet isn’t, I hope someday will be. I’ve dug back into my past to uproot what has shaped me, tangled it into daily frustrations, and then worked it out again into threads that lead me into my future.

In that novel, I am the age I become today. I am entering my future today—the future I have predicted and worked toward. The story ends about a year away. Have I written my own future?

I pop a square of salted chocolate into my mouth and let it melt across my tongue. As my eyes fall onto the notes strewn across my desk for an article I am working on, I see the quickly scribbled words: “Believe. When we marry intention with action, miracles happen.”

At this moment, there are a few large gaps in that path paved forward. Steps I don’t yet have any idea how I will make them. I realize I may be facing some pretty big tests of my resolve, and points of reevaluation, perhaps even needed changes in direction. And still—that vision at the end is clear. I’ve come to understand that the journey itself is making me worthy of the goal.

Without this journey, without these obstacles, without these tests, the goal itself might fade away like a mirage. I am being shaped and molded and evolved to have the eyes that know how to see the beauty, the heart that is capable of embracing the commitment, the wealth of experience to recognize home when I get there—in person, in place.