Charlotte and Our Coming of Age

I’ve not really been honest with myself about Charlotte’s Web; it is one of my favorites in all the libraries of the world, and I wanted to share it with my children. But I just didn’t want Charlotte to die ever again.  Not on my watch.

So just before the Zuckermans and Arables took the trip to the county fair, I stopped reading aloud. I set it aside, and we started reading something else. And I silently apologized to them, knowing someday they would have to know how Charlotte’s story ends.

Tonight, we were just going to watch something short, simple, and measured to end the day. But then I saw that we could watch Charlotte’s Web, the live version with Dakota Fanning at her finest and Julia Roberts as the most demure voice over.  Suddenly, I was okay with stretching the bedtime rule.

Now as we sat, piled under one blanket, my younger son could sense an unhappy ending, straight away. “Mommy, is the spider going to die? Charlotte? You have to tell me. You’ve read the whole book. I have to know.”

I debated, and then decided that if I couldn’t be brave enough to read the truth to him, I could at least brace him for the truth to come in the next 118 minutes. “She does, buddy.”

He stiffened. “How?”

“She just dies. It’s the end of her life.”

“But who kills her?”

“Nobody’s going to kill her. But at the end, she’s going to die.”

He worried for most of the movie, checking in with me every few minutes to see if this is the scene when Charlotte will go away. It’s just that he knows what this means. He knows on a grander, greater scale.

Then he started to ask more specific, careful questions, and I realized what he really needed to know: “Will Templeton be kind later? Will Wilbur get to keep all of Charlotte’s babies? I have to know, Mommy – who will be Wilbur’s friend when Charlotte dies?”

When the moment came, when we watched Charlotte close her eyes, I confess this to you, here and now: I watched my children instead of the movie. Because if there’s a moment when books come to life, it’s when a child realizes how much he has come to love Charlotte.

Then all of Charlotte’s babies are born, and they drift away into the sky, they catch the breeze and go wherever the please, and Wilbur stands with his front two feet in the slop trough, and he says, “But, wait. Wait. There’s so much I wanted to tell you. And someone I wanted to tell you about.” And my heart felt so swollen I nearly choked.

The boys are in bed, after this coming-of-age evening that we will all three of us remember. My heart is full.

Charlotte, you are the most beautiful.

* * *

“It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.”

~ e. b. white

(If one could choose her own epitaph.)

Somehow I Didn’t Punch Him In the Neck

So, remember when I was all lit about about the book When We Were on Fire?

And I invited all of you to read it and join me for a giant book club discussion over lattes and scones at the world’s biggest Starbucks which might just be in my imagination and an ethereal dream?

I’m still pretty fired up about this memoir.

(No pun intended.)  (Okay, yes it was.)  (It always is.)

Addie Zierman has become one of my favorite authors and contemporary theologians, and (…wait for it…) she invited me to write a guest post on her blog, to her audience, for the people who call her well-written and wise.

Today is the debut: Somehow I Didn’t Punch Him In the Neck.

Please go to Addie’s blog, and give yourself the pleasure of a virtual stroll.  Give her some love.

And order her book.

 

The Night Donald Miller Changed My Life

Pour yourself some coffee, my friend. Or a mimosa. Whatever you need to settle in for one of the best moments of my life.  I’m probably about to plow through every word-count suggestion for blogs. But, when your life changes in one night, you should use as many words as you need.

So, remember how I told you I love the Storyline Conference? If you need a refresher course, click here to read a favorited post from the archives: Donald Miller is a Freaking Genius. Or click here, to read about the time I marched in a protest because I thought it was a parade, all inspired by Storyline.

This weekend was my second rendezvous with Storyline, and I have long awaited this trip. I registered months ago, and I’ve had a paper chain countdown going on. Such has been my anticipation.

Our weekend launched on Friday night with a dinner at a trendy club in Nashville. Donald Miller, the Storyline team, and 500 of his closest friends – with 500 more to arrive the next day. This place was filled with Storyline Groupies, and we were all thankful to have found one another. Storyliners get starry-eyed when you mention words like Inciting Incidents and Climactic Scenes and Redeeming the Negative Turns. We are like a Star Trek Convention, except instead of being compulsive science fiction junkies, we can’t quite get enough of the high of telling better stories with our lives.

Don came by to dismiss our table to the buffet line, and I said, “Could I just walk with you for a few minutes? I know you’re dismissing tables, but… well, I have something I need to tell you.”

He smiled and motioned for me to join him. “Sure, you bet. Talk to me,” said Don Miller, who is every bit author and every bit real person.

I said what I had hoped to say, in the moment I had prayed for, should I have the chance to have an honest-to-goodness conversation with DM. I didn’t want to be lost in a sea of adoring fans waiting for him to sign their arms. I wanted to have a legitimate conversation. Authentic. Real. No authographs necessary.

“Don, in 2012, I attended Storyline in Portland. I was sitting in the third row, and you asked for an example of an inciting incident, something someone could do to propel change in her life. I raised my hand; you called on me. I was a young widow. My husband had just died 15 months before.”

“Yes, yes. I remember you,” he said. I had his full attention.

“I told you that I was a single mom with two small boys, and I needed to inject some happiness into our lives. And you said, ‘Have you thought about writing a book about this?'”

He smiled. “I remember that.”

“And you said, ‘Let’s stay in touch. I want to see where this goes.’ Well, it’s been almost two years, and since I last saw you, I’ve written a book, I have an agent and a publisher, and my book will be released in February.”

Don Miller gives great hugs, and he swept me into one. The thing about telling him your dream has come true? You’re making his dream come true also. He’s the story guy. His story is to help us tell better stories.

“Tricia, that is fantastic. Would you be willing to share that story with everyone here tonight?”

“Absolutely. I would love to.”

(Sidenote: when I shared thie story with my Tuesdays later that night, one of the girls said, “Wait – I need to know what you were wearing.” I gave her the head to toe rundown, right down to the patent leather heels. She approved. “Okay. Go on.”)

After dinner, I joined Don at the front of the room, and he introduced me to the Storyline groupies. He said, “Here at Storyline, we collect stories. We love to hear what people are doing, the stories they are living, and tonight I heard a really great one. Tricia, tell them.”

1393116_10201624009629417_228989609_nHe handed me the mic, and I told them the story: the five-paragraph version of my life in the last three years. I finished, “…so in February of 2014, my book is coming out.”

They applauded and cheered, because we are groupies. (See above.)

And then – brace yourself, because this is H-U-G-E.

Don said, “We think there will be about 1800 people at our San Diego conference in February, and you need to come and be one of our keynote speakers. Are you in? And we’ll launch your book. New York Times and above. Let’s do it.”

The room roared.

I said, “Are you kidding me right now, Donald Miller?”

“I am absolutely not kidding you. In front of 500 people, I’m inviting you to be a keynote speaker in San Diego. This is what they call ‘an Inciting Incident.’ You in?”

And that’s how it happened, where I was standing, and what I was wearing, in the moment that my life changed. Because I’m pretty sure, there is something forever changed. Essentially, I won the writer’s version of American Idol.

There was applause. Photos. Cheering. And I couldn’t stop giggling. I said to Don, “You changed my life tonight. You know that, right?”

With classic, potent Donald Miller eye contact, he said, “Oh, we’re just getting started.”

As guests at the dinner, we were surprised with concert tickets to close out the evening, and the crowd of Storyliners streamed out of the ballroom and into the concert venue.

“Tricia! Are you coming?”

“Thank you so much, you guys, but I’m going to my hotel. I want to call my mom and dad.”

I came to my hotel room, set my purse on a chair, my room key on the desk, kicked off my heels, and I lay on the floor with my face to the carpet. And I was speechless before the God who has orchestrated this story. I have nothing, Jesus. I have nothing to give you. Oh, God. Thank you.

And please, could you tell Robb?

(My Tuesday said, “Wait. On the floor? The hotel floor? Tricia, that’s gross. Please go on, but promise me you won’t do that again. I get the whole falling-prostrate thing. But do it in your bed.”)

So, here’s some news: I belong to the Storyline Team. We’ll be in San Diego in February – with a book to launch.

February 27 – March 1, 2014.
Keynote speakers include Don Miller, Bob Goff, Anne Lamott,

and Tricia Lott Williford.

Seth Godin: Buy The Book.

Seth Godin is one of my favorite authors.  Pure brilliance.  He wrote this yesterday, and I would like to have it written across the sky.

You should buy the book

Mitch Joel is a generous and perceptive blogger. Well worth the daily read. He has a new book. You should buy it.

David Meerman Scott writes an essential blog, daily. His book is a classic. You should buy it.

Tom Asacker writes a very thoughtful blog about marketing. Worth the read. He has a new book. You should buy it, too.

Every day, Mark Frauenfelder and Corey Doctorow blog tons of goodness at Boingboing. They each have books. You should buy them and share them.

Bernadette Jiwa’s blog keeps getting better and better and you are probably already reading it. She has a new book on the way. You can guess what you should do.

There are authors and actors who only show up when they have something to sell, who hit the road to briefly entertain us, pitch us and then leave. If you love their work, then by all means, buy it! But the frequent blogger is here for another reason. He or she has something to share and is relentlessly showing up to teach and lead and connect.

If you want that to happen more, if you’re getting something out of it, buy the book.

[I actually hesitated to write, “should,” because it puts books into the same category as classical music and supporting NPR. No one says you “should” buy comic books or go to action films…

Buying books is actually scary for many people, so they make up excuses about not having enough time or money. The reason that books are frightening is that they might make us feel stupid, or we might get a lousy one or we might end up feeling like a failure for not finishing it. This is pretty common, actually.

I think buying books from consistent bloggers is a little different, though. First, you’re probably not going to be disappointed with what you get. Second, it’s almost always their best work, because it doesn’t feel as ephemeral as a blog post to the writer or reader–it’s a far more focused and direct shot to your neocortex. And third, most important, because it’s a very concrete form of encouragement (not just for the writer! but for the reader too), one that will selfishly make it likely you get more blogging from the very people you’d like to hear from more often as well as reminding you, the reader, that you’re worth the effort and investment.

Plus, when you’re done reading, it’s a generous act to share one.]

To Be Literary or To Be Relevant

I stood at Barnes & Noble, debating on whether or not to buy the Collectors Collection, “the cornerstone for any reader’s library.” The box contained titles such as Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Dracula, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and a few others that literary people speak highly of.

Basically, it’s the list of books I didn’t read when they were assigned in my Honors English class in high school. (It’s a little known fact: I’m not a good student.)

It truly was a beautiful collection, leather bound, embossed titles; even if I never read them, they would look beautiful in my library.

But the honest truth is, I’ve never read them. And I likely wouldn’t. Not because I don’t want to, but because there’s another one by Elizabeth Berg or Marisa de los Santos or Madeleine L’Engle or Donald Miller or Henri Nouwen or Lauren Winner or Anne Lamott.

I don’t read fast. A girl has to make choices. To be literary and well read, or to be relevant. These are not always synonymous.

Anyway, I didn’t buy the books. It was a $70.00 investment in a beautiful addition to my bookcase, and that’s frivolous. Maybe after I pay my self-employed taxes, I will revisit this topic. But it’s more about the identity than the money, since the collection is something I could set aside and save for if I wanted those books badly enough.

The truth is, I want to be the girl who has read those books.

In another book-buying come-to-Jesus situation, I scrolled through Amazon to one-click my way to some new piano music. I looked at so many, talking myself into practicing more and refining my skill so it would make sense to have these lovely arrangements among my collection.

In the end? Get this. I chose “42 Classical Pieces in Easy Arrangements.” I like to play, but I don’t like to practice. I want the artistic expression of playing freely, but I do not want the discipline of learning the song. (Another little known fact: I am not especially good at working at something I’m not good at. This may relate to the fact that I’m also not a good student. See above.)

The truth is, I want to be the girl who can at least enjoy the Intermediate Arrangements.

I want to be the girl who soared through grad school without a single hiccup or extension or letter from academic advising. I want to be the girl who reads faster, parents wisely, pays attention, and can play etudes and sonatas that will resonate throughout the neighborhood.

I’m not that girl.

And as long as we’re talking about who I want to be, then I need to clarify with myself that I don’t want to be the girl who will display books in my home for the sake of wishes, pretendings, and apprearances.

Collectors Edition, I love you, and I wish I were worthy of your calibre. Intermediate Piano Classics, someday I hope I can play you with ease. Or at all.

I’m just not that girl.

I’m in my jammies on my couch, drinking cherry KoolAid that I wish was wine (but I’m not a girl who can drink wine and stay awake), sitting next to laundry that I wish was folded (but I’m not a girl who plans past underwear for tomorrow), and looking at chipped toenails that I wish were tended (I will get a pedicure on Thursday).

Poor me another glass of KoolAid, and hand me that latest bestseller. Me and my toenails are coming to terms with who we are.