Jack and I spent our anniversary weekend in downtown Decorah, where we holed up in the Winneshiek Hotel. Traveling on Friday, once we left the Interstate, we took Iowa backroads through hilly snow covered fields past the small farmsteads and sleepy hamlets that thread their way throughout the northeast part of the state. We twisted and turned past corn cribs, frozen streams, bare trees, from Floyd to Colwell, to Alta Vista, where cows and horses stood in the cold as though taking the latest mannequin challenge.
Next to the only stop sign in Jerico, a chalk board announced that Pork Fritter&Wedges was on the menu for lunch at the restaurant. We passed windbreaks of cedar, pine, and arbor vitae, along with country cemeteries and the ever familiar tractor crossing signs. On NPR I heard Toby Huss say that you get stronger as an artist, the more you get out with and relate to and have compassion for different kinds of people, something I often lose sight of, and seem to have to relearn from time to time. (Toby is a television actor from Marshalltown.) I also heard Bridget Kearny talking about recording "Nintendo Orchestra" before forming the band Lake Street Dive. I never realized that people did that--turn Nintendo music into Jazz tunes.
Soon we drove past the abandoned house at Protivin, and into tiny Spillville on the Turkey River and discovered this--St. Wenceslaus Catholic Church:
From Spillville, it was a short drive to Decorah, where we settled into the Winneshiek Hotel. One of the advantages of staying at the Winneshiek is that there are so many good restaurants and businesses within easy walking distance along Water Street: good coffee, good art, good food, good bookstore, co-op, etc. We ate as many different places as we could in two days, and I actually tried hawking two of my author friends' books to Kate in the Dragonfly Bookstore. I also ate roasted peanuts and drank some of Jack's beer at T-Bock's on Saturday afternoon.
We ventured out Saturday morning to drive up into southern Minnesota to look for a fly shop in Preston. This took us along the Root River, through Amish country, just as the sun came out and the sky blued up, a crisp,cold morning with no wind. Melvin, the owner of the fly shop, is also an addictions counselor. I had a lot of questions, and he's a good conversationalist, so he and I chatted while Jack poked around the shop. We both enjoyed listening to Melvin, who is originally from Oregon, and came to Iowa "chasing a woman"--Ruth, his wife, whom we also met.
Not being a resolution-maker, exactly, I do feel a sense of renewal and intention for these early days in the New Year. I want to add to the creative work I am doing through Spiritual Direction, teaching, SoulCollage® and writing (particularly my novel). I love writing, and, as most writers will tell you, it's the hardest job in the world.
Compassion and hope have been on my mind this week, mostly in terms of "how to" and I'm also thinking about vulnerability, having read some things again recently from Brene Brown on the subject: "Failure and vulnerability are the very elements of spiritual growth and personal wisdom. What goes wrong for us as much as what goes right--what we know to be our flaws as much as what we know to be our strengths--these make hope reasonable and lived virtue possible. They are part of our gift to the world.
Courage is born completely out of vulnerability. Our capacity for wholeheartedness can never be greater than our willingness to be brokenhearted.
Hope is a function of struggle. Hope is a cognitive, behavioral process that we learn when we experience adversity, when we have relationships that are trustworthy, when people have faith in our ability to get out of a jam.
The most beautiful things I look back on in my life are coming out from underneath thngs I didn't know I could get out from underneath. I look back in my life, and think, 'God, those are the moments that made me,' moments of struggle."
I spent a little time on our roadtrip reflecting on some of my past lives, and those very elements of failure, vulnerability, and hope. I've moved so much and started over so many times, I have plenty to work with. What I notice is that in each new place the things that helped me most were structure, rhythms of daily life, friendships, and exploration, along with a willingness to live for a while with uncertainty, loneliness, and feelings of vulnerability while I got my bearings.
But we don't have to move to someplace new or start over in order to experience, on a daily basis, the vulnerability and courage Brene talks about. A friend shared with me this week that she always feels anxious this time of year, possibly because she's aware of things she's recently finished up, and is facing the blank calendar of a whole new year. What's coming next? How will the time be filled? What will she accomplish?
Also, this week, a distant friend asked me to place a call (he lives out of the U.S.) to another distant friend and give her his contact information. We haven't seen each other in too many years to count, and I can't believe how long it took me to make that simple phone call! (After forty-eight years plus, I reasoned, you never know what you're stumbling into in another person's life.) But I did it.
I realize, too, that vulnerability and courage are part of the minutiae, part of the makeup, the very fabric of the seemingly trifling matters of daily life, and in those moments I immediately feel my resistance rise. It seems that life is made up of such moments. . .whenever I choose to set aside my own agenda in order to give my full attention to something or someone else. . .whenever I risk saying what I want, think, feel, and need. . .and perhaps most of all when I choose to sit down to the blank page or the blank computer screen.
And I know I won't do it easily or perfectly. But I will do it.