The Power of One Writer
Back Yards, Ethiopia and Children's Books

Our humble best

Christmas?  What’s Christmas?

Don’t get me wrong.  My local NPR station floats the most gorgeous Christmas music into my living room–songs that all the juice hasn’t been wrung out of by playing them over and over.  Pinpoints of white light that poke out of the dark as we drive over the Kansas prairies make me feel brave and hopeful.  And grandkids…well, this picture speaks for itself.  (And I get to see them Christmas Eve this year.)

But every student and teacher knows that the holiday season is also End-of-Semester season.  The Vermont College MFA program where I teach is no exception.  That means I’m reading my students’ last packets, mulling and tweaking evaluations, and preparing for the January VCMFA residency.  Residency = talking about fiction, reading fiction, thinking about fiction, discussing each other’s fiction, lecturing about fiction, experimenting with making our new fiction insights seep from our brain cells into our fingers.  Ah, residency…aka Fiction Boot Camp.  A chunk of my pre-Christmas brain is already in Vermont.

A chunk is also in the middle of Kansas.  I just spent several days back in Hesston, staying at the house of my good friend LeAnn Clark.  This is LeAnn’s stove.  She has not been baking Christmas cookies.  She’s been creating display boards for Ethiopia Reads and putting together gift baskets (which filled up her dining room table) for the Ethiopia Reads fundraiser she planned and pulled off with a bang this week.

‘Tis the season for last tax deductions.

‘Tis the season where many Americans commit to sending a little hope and love and good cheer zinging out around the world.

So it’s also the season when most nonprofit organizations find out whether or not they are going to survive the coming year.

Ethiopia Reads is so lucky.  Moms and daughters (and aunts and grandmas and great-aunts and, yes, dads) poured into the Dyck Arboretum, where I used to walk and where I gathered much Lanie inspiration, to make bracelets and create nature journals and decorate oak leaf cookies and stamp cards.  They bought books and donated for a chance to win a Lanie doll and listened to me talk about writing the Lanie stories–all in order to raise money to get books to kids in Ethiopia.

Successes like this one (and the three school and two bookstore events that LeAnn also planned) don’t happen without the hard, kind, slogging efforts of people who create the chocolate fountains and lay out the napkins and make the paper for the nature journals and print the flyers and write the articles for the local newspapers and lug the boxes.

 They don’t happen unless someone vaccuums the floor.

And that fits the Christmas story.

All around the world, including in Ethiopia, people have long believed the only way good things will come into their lives is through the generosity of kings and rich merchants and other powerful people.  Projects like Ethiopia Reads are a triumph of often humble volunteer efforts and small chunks of money, put together to create something amazing.

The triumphant moments in the Lanie stories come from the same thing.  Stopping.  Bending down.  Noticing a bug or a plant or a butterfly or a bird or some dirt.  Knowing we are all part of a glorious and fragile web of life.

The Kansas prairies at this time of year are not at their luscious best.  They remind me a little of my own writing life right now, in fact.  But words, like winter plants, creep and whisper and dig deep.

At the end of the day, we count the pennies.  We nod with satisfaction.  We haul tired bones off to bed.  We know we did our humble part.

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