22 December 2009

Celebrate the Coming of the Light

Today is the first full day of winter. Yesterday at 12:47 p.m. EST was the Winter Solstice. If you had a chance to see the sun rising or setting, it would have appeared to hug the horizon closer than ever because the earth’s tilt was at its maximum declination.

I use that word, declination, for fun--it was the word of the day yesterday at Visual Thesaurus Magazine, an online service I subscribe to.

It used to seem odd to me that it feels like winter several weeks before winter officially arrives and that Christmas, which we consider a winter holiday, barely makes it into the official winter season. Part of the reason, I think, that it seems like winter long before it really is, is because daylight wanes up until the Winter Solstice, when it begins to wax again.

I don’t know if it happens like this every year, but the new moon very nearly coincided with the Winter Solstice this year. Through Dec. 15, the portion of the moon we see was growing smaller (if, indeed, cloud cover allowed us to see any of it) and thus giving off less light. Then, Dec. 16, 17 and 18, the three days of the “Dark Moon” phase, it disappeared entirely until it reappeared Saturday, Dec. 19, as the merest eyelash. Yesterday and today it’s in its peak crescent form, and it will continue to “grow” until the full moon on New Year’s Eve.

Many gardeners, in springtime, continue to plant with a new moon as almanacs advise, so that the increase in light at night will help to pull the new life forth from the ground.

Cycles Within Cycles Within Cycles

I see the waning and waxing of the moon as a smaller cycle within the larger cycle of the earth’s movement around the sun and the changes in sunlight we experience as a result. That cycle is in me as well, and in every living being. I go through times of decrease and increase, and each of those is natural and will pass into the other eventually. This happens to us all. It is what makes us alive, and we should celebrate it in ourselves and in each other.

It’s when I began to garden that I gained a new appreciation of cycles and of winter’s place in the cycle of life. As much as I love watching things grow, caring for a garden takes a great deal of time and effort. Suddenly, winter revealed itself anew to me as a time of rest, and along about July I began to look forward to its coolness and its chance for repose.

The plants rest in winter, too, after pushing past their peak around the time of the summer solstice and retreating gradually back inside themselves so they can regenerate for another year of spilling forth. Let me give you an example: my asparagus. Unusual in that it’s a perennial vegetable, the asparagus crop is done around the first of June, depending on the weather and my diligence at harvesting.

Instead of cutting the stalks for eating while they’re still under a foot and tender, at that time I begin to let them grow as tall as they like. In a few weeks they’re as tall or taller than I am and they “bloom” into gracious ferns that shade their corner of the yard like a primeval forest. Or at least it must seem so for the birds, rabbits and other wildlife who congregate in their coolness as summer temperatures soar.

As the garden moves toward fall, these same ferns bear tiny red berries, which the birds and rabbits feed on. We don’t cut down the stalks until falling temperatures and waning light turn them from citrusy green to brown. Why? Because as long as the topside is green, the underside, which I personally buried under a foot of earth, is drawing off energy to produce next year’s crop. The ferns are like giant straws, reaching toward the sun to suck energy down into the plant crowns.

I’d like to see what happens underground the day after the Winter Solstice when daylight begins to increase again! The plants certainly must feel it, as I do now that I'm aware of it. This knowledge gives me a new appreciation of the winter world. The colors of my yard, though subdued, are alive with a sort of restful beauty. Shapes are more apparent, particularly when snow accentuates the remaining deciduous plant structures and evergreen shrub forms.

Winter turns my yard into a sort of sculpture garden, and I realize I don’t need to see evidence of growth at all to know it’s going on. Something is always happening, always growing. And often, more is going on below the surface, beneath the ground, in the dark, and even in the winter. It’s true for people, too; you’ve heard the adage, “Still waters run deep,” right?

Bird by Bird by Bird

I like to feed the birds, and I usually keep feeders filled in both the front and back yards year-round. But 2009 was a stressful year for my family and me. I forgot to fill the feeders most of the time, or if I remembered, I just didn’t do it. I was too depleted. But things are finally turning around.

I know birds depend more on feeders in winter when there’s less food available naturally than in summer when things are growing everywhere, and that snow makes it even more difficult for them to scavenge for food. So before the last snow hit, I brought in ALL my feeders (Six? Seven?) and cleaned and filled them. The snow came and went over the weekend, and no birds showed. The seed and suet just sat there. The birds had forgotten me, I surmised, just as I’d forgotten them.

Then yesterday, on the Winter Solstice, the first cardinal couple visited my front-yard feeders. This morning, the tree outside the window where I sit to write is full of at least six pairs of cardinals, busily exchanging places at the four feeders. The males spar in the air from time to time, as do the females. All flit from feeder to feeder to ground, where they retrieve what’s fallen. The brown and white palette of my snowy, hibernating yard and the gray, clouded light that is midwinter make these always colorful birds more striking than ever. Even the tawny females seem lit with an inner glow I wouldn’t notice in the glare of a sunny July day.

Now there are two gray-blue nuthatches with white chests and faces and black caps, prancing down the trunk of the ash tree. One squirrel just chased another away until he (or she?) is done filling his cheeks with my corn. It waits across the street until the first squirrel leaves, then moves in and out in a flash, followed by a third. Where there was no activity, now there is an abundance of life.

Most of winter is about the light increasing, whereas after the Summer Solstice in June, the garden is on the wane; it’s dying, in spite of the beautiful weather yet to come. Like an iceberg that’s more than three-fourths underwater, winter is mostly the “new” waiting underground. Life, of which I’m a part, always finds a way to sustain itself, though some days the feeder is empty, and other days no one comes there to eat in spite of an abundance of food. But if it hangs there long enough, eventually there will be diners.

As I organize my writing projects for the New Year and prepare to celebrate the Christmas holiday with my family, I look forward to a period of flow after so long an ebbing. And I’m thankful for cycles, something I can depend upon. Regardless of our individual differences and various beliefs, it’s important to realize that the one thing that unites us, world over, is the cycle of life and, at the Winter Solstice, the coming of the light.

True blessings of the season to you and yours.

10 December 2009

Dreams: The Stuff Shirts are Made of

PROMPT: Dreams are always a good prompt because of their stark imagery and unusual associations. It could be one of your own that gets you writing or someone else's (with their permission, of course!). Here's one of my husband's I expanded on thanks to an news item, which also often make good prompts.

About a year ago, my husband Chris and I got a chuckle out of a dream he had in which he acquired a new skill: how to "program" shirts (yes, as in long- and short-sleeve, button-down, buttoned-up and stuffed). Chris has a degree in computer technology and has done his share of pounding out code in the 30-plus years he's worked at an electric utility. Even now, his job involves scouting emerging technologies to augment customer service. So it's a fitting dream, no matter how "out there" it seemed at the time.

Imagine, then, our surprise when this week he discovered "programming shirts" isn't as far-fetched as we thought, that one company has developed a flexible screen onto which they can feed video-rich information. Making that screen part of a garment is a logical next step:

Chris and I often tell each other our dreams and puzzle over the symbolic content. I keep a running log of mine and try to analyze many of them. We know we're the only ones who can really figure it out for ourselves and that what seems "right" to us today will likely yield to another layer of meaning tomorrow, next month and next year. A dream has that kind of life. It begins inside us like any other creative product and is just as real as a book or a poem or a program we write--even as real as a tasty holiday meal we plan and serve to family!

Dreams and Premonitions: What's the Connection?

More often than we probably realize, a dream possesses foreknowledge--either in what will come for us or for the larger culture. Sometimes in reaching ahead it gives us warnings. For instance, many people didn't arrive at work at the World Trade Center at their regular time on Sept. 11, 2001. Still others did not board planes involved in the tragedies that day. A number of these people spoke of premonitions and dreams that made them uneasy and either kept them away or slowed them down. Who knows how many of those who perished had similar misgivings that day?

I had two dreams of a car accident before I actually had one a couple years ago. All this is not to say that the purpose of the dreams was to warn me about the old lady who backed into me in the grocery store lot--in my dream the vehicle and the circumstances were different. But it could have been to warn me I was driving myself  too much in my personal life. Or, it could have been trying to tell me my thyroid medication was too low and my attention span and reaction times were off, because it was and they were.

About this time five years ago, I dreamed of a tsunami. The day after Christmas that year, a tsunami devastated the island of Sumatra, Indonesia. The focus of my dream was the personal me and how I felt overwhelmed by some personal issues. In my dream, I surfed the tidal wave and watched from the ocean shallows it left behind as it went onto shore and swamped the buildings. But instead of destroying them, it washed them dazzlingly clean. The cities and peoples of Sumatra weren't so lucky.

Certainly the dream wasn't meant to warn me away from traveling or to get me to call the earthquake warning center, because I had no travel plans and the dream contained no information about where or when. But when the waking-life tsunami hit, my spine tingled. The dream became an extra source of encouragement to me that I could survive these tough times, that they had a purpose. An artist friend who also pays attention to her dreams told me she, too, had a tsunami dream--hers just a day or two before the actual one.

I believe these seemingly odd occurrences happen because everything living--us, the plants and the animals, our thoughts and our dreams--are all connected in the organism that is Earth. Just like a whale or a bird can create a new pattern of vocalization and transmit it to all other members of its species everywhere within a few months without direct contact, so can we. We haven't even begun to tap what it is that happens in our inner lives.

Searching for Evidence of Inner Life

Last June I had some physical therapy. I don't remember what was on TV as the therapist gave me my treatment, but we started to discuss it. You've probably all had conversations along this same line: What on earth is the world coming to? I said I thought a big problem nowadays was that many people have no inner life. The therapist asked me what I meant by that.

My reply was dreams and the stream of thoughts that go on inside us all, nonstop. It's not really that people lack this current of thought, but that they don't pay attention to it. They don't remember their dreams, and they don't try to. They don't quiet the outer life enough to hear the inner one, and it's the inner one that's full of all the new stuff waiting to emerge.

Did you know Abraham Lincoln dreamed about his assassination on several occasions? His wife did as well and didn't want him to go to Ford's Theater that night. Julius Caesar's wife, Calpurnia, dreamed of her husband's assassination, too. German chemist Friedrich Kekule correctly postulated the structure of the benzene ring after seeing an image of a snake swallowing its tail in a daydream, and Mary Shelley attributed her fictional character Frankenstein to a similar source.

The list is endless. Launch a Google search of your own sometime.

I just finished re-reading a favorite book and posting a review about it: The Wild Braid by Stanley Kunitz . In it, he talks about the inner life and dreams:
One function of dreams is to inform us that the boundaries of experience are infinitely open and that the limits we perceive in our daily life are in themselves an illusion, that actually to be alive is to occupy territories beyond those we recognize as our physical universe. Each person's dream-life is in itself a universe, a product of a single tangle of membranes and nerve centers and the rest of it. In the dream you move beyond that dominion into one where the rules have not yet been discovered and never will be.
Later, Kunitz tells of recurring dreams of being lost. He admits he doesn't know how to interpret this feeling and concedes he couldn't possibly tell what the dreams "mean" once and for all. But he believes his purpose as an artist is to try to describe the feelings they evoke. "There is, above all," he says, "a need to articulate your own source of being so you will recognize that source and know who you are. How could you be an artist if you didn't explore your own inner life?"

I'll take it one step further: How could you be fully human--or fully alive--if you didn't explore your own inner life? I believe a blade of grass has an inner conscious sense of itself. My two cats are ALL inner life; they could care less about anything that goes on outside them beyond food and sunlight!

Kunitz writes of how he had a vision of his garden as it was to become prior to creating it, as if predicting the outcome. I've changed my own waking-life garden after staring at it quietly, long and hard, so that it has become, through the years, more of what both the land and I wanted. But I also dreamed once that a more ideal version of this garden existed alongside it--with trim brick paths, neat root cellars with cold-frame windows and just the right storage conditions for seeds and bulbs, and (best of all!) no weeds.

It's a garden no one will ever walk through in the ungainly western side yard of my house, but it lives in my mind to help me grow the things I say and do and write.

Are You Really an "Early Adaptor"?

Someday soon, my inner garden may also be available in a "shirt version." Do you think long ago the person who coined the phrase "wearing your heart on your sleeve" actually dreamed the same dream as my husband?

Before you go to sleep tonight, put a pen and a pad of paper on the table next to your bed and, if you have it, a flashlight. Tell yourself: I will remember my dreams. If you wake up from a dream in the middle of the night, write it down. When you wake up in the morning, lie still for a few minutes to see if you remember anything else, and write that down. Start a log on your computer with dates, all the weird images and any ideas you have about what it might mean. Begin your writing day with the transcription of the night.

You really don't want to miss the drama of your inner life, do you? Once it realizes you're paying attention, even more will begin to come through, night and day. When the "shirt version" of what makes you grow becomes available, don't you want to be ready?

The Wild Braid:
A Poet Reflects on a Century in the Garden

by Stanley Kunitz, with Genine Lentine
photographs by Marnie Crawford Samuelson

Billed as a "visual memoir," this book is an intriguing introduction to the poetry of Stanley Kunitz, the two-time U.S. poet laureate who died in 2003 at the age of 100. Published in 2005, it follows Kunitz from summer 2002 through fall 2004. It details a near-fatal health crisis in 2003, from which he says he "emerged in a transformed state" and also his loss in spring 2004 of his wife of 47 years, the poet and painter Elise Asher.

Throughout, Kunitz discusses how fashioning a garden is like fashioning a poem and how growing a body of work involves growing a life. The reader is treated not only to glorious color photos of Kunitz at work in his gardens, but also to a sampling of some of his best-loved poems. The conversations with co-author Lentine and the excerpts from Kunitz's journals give the reader a rare peek into the lived life that went into creating each of the selected poems.

My copy is hardcover first-edition and was a Christmas gift--a keepsake--from my husband. The book came out in paperback in 2007; the price difference between the two on Amazon is a mere $5. I advise you to get the hardcover, though, because this is a book you'll thumb through again and again.

Why is this book so valuable for writers? Because of the process it depicts. Your process isn't like mine, which isn't like Kunitz's, which isn't like someone else's. But by examining how writers talk about their process we start to develop a respect for our own, as it emerges. It's like the "wild braid" in the title of the book, which is a phrase from a well-known Kunitz poem, "The Snakes of September" (included in this book, of course).

Do you have to be a gardener to enjoy this book? Hmmm...that's a tough one. You need to have a curiosity about the natural world, that's for sure. Nature has its own rhythm, and that external creative rhythm has a way of thrumming its way into your soul and feeding your creativity. So no, you don't have to be a gardener to enjoy it. But if you've already discovered your garden as a place that slows you down and feeds your inner life, then you'll likely enjoy this book all the more.

A few of the gems aglow herein:

  • Gardening is a living poem, a collaboration between the spirit of a place and the intervening human, who must respect the spirit of the place. This carries a message for the teaching of writing, Kunitz says. Just like a gardener in a garden, "it's a terrible mistake to impose your pattern on a student...What one needs to cultivate in a young poet is the assertion of that particular spirit, that particular set of memories, that personhood."
  • Knowing what to keep and what to cut (in both gardening and writing) is an art in itself. Kunitz bemoans a perfectly healthy Alberta spruce he had removed because it blocked a great view and prevented other plants from getting adequate light. "When the time comes for cutting, gathering, moving, removing, one has to be pretty ruthless," he advises. "It took may be 15 minutes for them to cut it down. It came down all in one piece. The root system took longer to hack out...one can easily sense the metaphorical resonance in that."
  • Knowing how to shape--our writing and our gardens--without destroying is also an art. He discusses a juniper he trained to spread and shelter rather than grow upright and adds the writing parallel: "The danger is that you cut away the heart of a poem, and are left only with the most ordered and contained element. A certain degree of sprawl is necessary; it should feel as though there's room to maneuver, that you're not trapped in a cell. You must be very careful not to deprive the poem of its wild origin." (emphasis mine)
  • Mystery is as important in our writing as in the structure of flowers. "The height of the beauty of a bloom is its folded state, rather than when it's fully opened," Kunitz says. "That's why I've always believed that so much of the energy of the poem comes from the secrets it folds into what we would call, in a flower, its crown...In a poem, the secrets of the poem give it its tension and gift of emerging sense and form, so that it's not always the flowering in the poem and the specific images that make it memorable, but the tensions and physicality, the rhythms, the underlying song....So much of the power of a poem is in what it doesn't say as much as in what it does say."
  • Fostering an inner life is at the heart of all creative work, and what works for one person may not work for another. But: "The more you enter into the unconscious life, the more you believe in its existence and know it walks with you, the more available it becomes and the doors open faster and longer. It learns you are a friendly host...The unconscious is very much akin to what, in other framework, I call wilderness...It resists the forms, the limits, the restraints, that civilization itself imposes." Later he calls this "the wild permissiveness of the inner life" and says it was as a child "I learned I could go anywhere in my inner life."
  • Time is a luxury both gardener and writer must allow for. As a gardener, I know you plant small, with the mature size of the plant in mind. It has to have this room to survive, even if it doesn't look so great for a few years. "The mystery of the creative process is that the poem is there but not there within you, accumulating experience, accumulating images," Kunitz says.
  • Good writing means taking chances and exploring what you fear, what's unknown to you. With gardening, particularly in the beginning, that will be just about everything, and you'll make a lot of mistakes. A good gardener is one who's accumulated many mistakes and puts them to work. It's the same in writing. "...you are hesitant to explore unfamiliar areas," Kunitz says, but "if the terrain were familiar, the poem would be dead on birth...the path of the poem is through the unknown and even the unknowable, toward something for which you can find a language."
  • The art you make is your unique gift to the world and therefore is sufficient unto itself. "That work is not an expression of the desire for praise or recognition, or prizes," Kunitz adds, "but the deepest manifestation of your gratitude for the gift of life."

I can't pick a favorite poem in this collection because that changes for me with every reading. Certainly "The Snakes of September" is right up there, along with "The Round," "Touch Me," "Raccoon Journal" and, lately, "The Layers." But I do have a favorite Kunitz journal entry, excerpted in this book that pulls it all together: "My garden, my life, my poems--a planned disorder."

Enough said. I love this book. I hope you will, too.

08 December 2009


What roads do the leaves go down
when summer's through with them 
and autumn blows their worry from its bosom 
like a shot sun's gush?

I have listened to leaves trade secrets with
the stone from the lake's bed and 
the moss from the rock's ancient frown. 
Skim or swim, says one. 
Don't let go, says the other.
But leaf song never misses its take:
Laugh and spend, it advices
Laugh and spend.

PROMPT: Magnetic word tiles selected on the basis of what appealed to me that day. (I have LOTS!)

07 December 2009

First Snow

By first light 
winter whispered itself white
onto the green grass like 
a woman whose beauty 
withers so soon and
as  you watch.

Something died in me today--
drowned in a sky of silent soup.
Do not search for it,
only sleep--

sleep and dream of 
sour springs and blood summers 
and shadows of cold words still-
born eggs like wishes broken 
in the growl of this fall storm.

PROMPT: Magnetic word tiles selected on the basis of what appealed to me that day. (I have LOTS!) 

04 December 2009


What secret of winter-to-come
makes them wander through my windows
in time for frost's curfew?

This house's hot smile fools me too sometimes.
Here, sun is a fiction that
warms our frantic sleep and
withers the easy play of fall.

Water is hard to come by then
and I find them waxed
still and stiff in the shadow of drink
like some climber who
judged his seasons wrong.

PROMPT: Magnetic word tiles selected on the basis of what appealed to me that day. (I have LOTS!) 

02 December 2009

The 38th Signal: An Open Invite to Jason Fried

I'm more artist than entrepreneur, so my business manager (i.e., my husband) scans periodicals like the Wall Street Journal and Inc. in search of crumbs of information and insight I might want to link up with an idea from a book, poem, movie or experience and develop into a blog post.

Meanwhile, I try to slog through One Hundred Years of Solitude in time for a discussion group and gaze longingly at the unwieldy stack of other books I'd rather read (see photo at right) piling up on my work table. Chances are each one will become part of a mishap involving one of my cats (that's Katie marking them with a rub) at least twice before I get to them--IF I get to them. Some are fiction, some are nonfiction, some are poetry, and some are prose; I love them all!

I also love--okay, more accurately, really like--a lot of what entrepreneur Jason Fried says in Inc. magazine's November 2009 "The Way I Work" feature, which hubby flagged for me most recently. Fried is the 30-something co-founder of 37Signals, a Chicago-based tech firm launched in 1999. Here are some of his very cool statements:
"I don't believe in the 40-hour workweek, so we cut all that BS about being somewhere for a certain number of hours. I have no idea how many hours my employees work--I just know they get the work done."
"We rarely have meetings. I hate them. They're a huge waste of time, and they're costly...they chop your day into small bits, so you have only 20 minutes of free time here or 45 minutes there. Creative people need unstructured time to get in the zone. You can't do that in 20 minutes."
"After lunch, I get a little lazy between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. I don't feel that productive, so I'm usually screwing around, which I think is really important."
 "I like to read in the middle of the day, to give myself a break."
So far, so good. I especially like that last statement, because reading is a passion with me. But alas, my enchantment ends with the very next set of quoted words out of Fried's mouth: "I don't read fiction. I find it a waste of time. There are so many amazing things that are real; I don't need to spend any time on a made-up story."

Huh. So much for "screwing around."

I agree, there are many amazing things that are "real"; I just happen to think fiction is also one them. More than that, fiction is good for you. That said, Fried's attitude isn't unique. As a writer and writing teacher, I've heard many down-to-earth, upstanding folk say they think fiction is something untrue and they should neither read nor write it. But these views could use some reframing.

Here's how my teachers explained it to me when I studied fiction and creative writing in college: Fiction is something more true than mere fact, true in a "Yes, that feels right in my bones" way. It may or may not have been made up in whole or in part. Often it begins in something that really did happen. But then, as it becomes crafted or fashioned, it differs from an historical event. It is the story of something, rather than its history, but no less true because we touch it with our minds and our feelings instead of our fingers and our wristwatches.

"Fiction is about possible selves in possible worlds," says Keith Oatley, Ph.D., who with colleagues at the University of Toronto looks at how fiction affects people differently than nonfiction. What they found in a 2006 study was that reading fiction is associated with increased social ability and greater empathy. "Through stories," Oatley says, "selfhood can expand."

When we observe how scenarios work out for characters, we learn how we may or may not want to react if something similar happens to us. Moreover, we experience the ups and downs of what it is to be another person--even if it is a made-up character. If we can empathize with made-up characters who are different from us, maybe we'll do better with the flesh-and-blood ones we encounter.

One of the tests Oatley's team of researchers devised involved Anton Chekhov's story "The Lady with the Little Dog":
It is about Dmitri Gomov, and a lady, Anna Sergueyevna, whom he sees walking with her little dog. They are both alone, on vacation at a seaside resort. They are both married to other people, but they begin an affair. At the end of their vacation they part. But their feelings for each other grow, and both are shocked to discover how much more important these feelings are than anything else in their lives. They encounter many difficulties, and overcome some of them. The story ends with this: "...their hardest and most difficult period was only just beginning."
Researchers wrote a nonfiction version of the story as a courtroom report of divorce proceedings. It had the same characters and events, some of Chekhov's words, and was the same length and reading difficulty. Study participants reading each version scored them equally interesting, though Chekhov's version scored higher artistically.

But results showed that those who read the fiction piece had measurable changes in belief, colored by the emotions they felt while reading. "My colleagues and I believe that readers of Chekhov's story were taken out of their usual ways of being so that they could connect with something larger than themselves, beyond themselves," Oatley says. "This is an effect that goes beyond fiction. All art aspires to help us transcend ourselves."

I can't be too critical of Jason Fried. It's great in this age of multimedia distraction that he reads books at all. And what a person reads is so personal; everyone's tastes are just so incredibly different! It makes me glad for the public library system, where just about anyone can find something they'll enjoy at no cost as long as they return it on time so someone else can do the same.

The stack of books on my worktable waiting for my attention includes titles I got interested in because I found them referred to in something else I read, and I followed a trail--like breadcrumbs in a dark wood. The real thought I hope to pass along to Fried and others is not to rule out any type of literature: Try everything, then let this spill over into other aspects of life. Stepping outside our usual ways of doing and seeing is what keeps us vibrant--and creative!

Remember 100 Years of Solitude, that book of fiction by Colombian Gabriel Garcia Marquez? It's the one that at the start of this post I felt tortured by?  Well, along the way of writing this, I finished it and shared in a discussion about it with my book group. It was a tough read for me, and individuals' reactions ran a full gamut, which made talking about it all the more fun. Even though it will never make my list of favorites, the book disturbed me, and so I'm still thinking about issues it raised. One of its major themes involved the destruction caused by always and only seeing through a single lens.

I have no idea why Fried's business is called "37Signals," though it's an engaging name. I find myself thinking that maybe a reconsideration of the value of fiction could be his "Signal No. 38." Maybe, like Chekhov's Anna and Dmitri, the intensity of feeling about this "new thing" will surprise him. Because, after all, our future, like theirs, is apt to be hard and difficult at times. Best to face it all with a good story.