Open Ended

To be honest, I have never paid much attention to meeting protocols. Generally, they have struck me as another one of those things we do to check a box on some arbitrary checklist “they” came up with (“they” are that mysterious force responsible for all bad decisions–I definitely imagine “them” sitting around a long, stark meeting table). 

However, years ago, while attending professional development with Ruth Ayres, I became intrigued by her mention of the protocol: expect and accept a lack of closure. 

I was a guest at this session, so the message wasn’t even really for me, but Ruth’s calm explanation immediately put me at ease with a concept that would usually cause me to push back. No closure? You mean we are just going to end the day with all of these dangling ideas hanging out in the open? Yep. And we are going to be okay with it because although a professional development session ends, it is not meant to be a tidy ending with doors tightly closed. The best professional development ends by sparking a new beginning and flinging the doors wide open.

I am not wired to be okay with ends left hanging open. 

This afternoon while walking my dog, I noticed this gap in the river rock acting as a border around our tree.

a missing river rock leaves a gap in our landscaping

I was not happy about the empty space. It had to be filled. 

But what bothered me even more is that I don’t know the story of where that missing rock went. And I probably never will. That’s right–there is a story left hanging wide open right here in my yard. Although I quickly snagged an extra rock from another area of the yard to fill the gap, there is nothing I can do to prevent the mystery of the missing river rock from lacking closure.

Years ago, we learned the story of one missing stone when the police rang our bell in the wee hours of the morning to question us after it had been thrown through our neighbor’s picture window. 

Apparently our grogginess, and the fact that we do not have children, was enough to convince the police we weren’t the culprits (we weren’t). 

As a result of that story, the missing rock this morning caused a little stone of worry to settle at the bottom of my tummy because of the possibility of another of our yard decorations being up to no good.

While I walked, I tried to imagine the many positive journeys a missing stone may have taken. My imagination apparently is not capable of generating many helpful reasons to carry a single stone down the block. I walked on and wondered if any animals may have a use for a hefty rock. But I became uneasy when I imagined how large an animal would have to be to move a stone that size. The midwest suburbs are not known for gorilla sightings. 

Had I been able to come up with a plausible story about that single stone, I know I would have happily adopted it as a likely truth. This made me think about how often I wrap up loose ends by telling (and believing) my own plausible (though not necessarily true) stories. 

The story of why she never responded to my text. The story of what will happen once I send that email. The story behind her facial expression in last week’s Zoom session. 

Perhaps it might be better to expect and accept a lack of closure in my day to day life. Perhaps where the stone went is less important than the lesson it left behind. 

Input Stan

I had no idea I didn’t know what it meant to be a “stan.” I did not even know the word existed (apart from being the name of Dorothy Zbornak’s ex-husband on Golden Girls).

It is rather refreshing to discover something I never knew I didn’t know. I got a double dose of new knowledge. I know a new thing. And learning the thing even exists for me to know reminds me my knowledge is limited. Somehow the reminder of my limitations expands my way of being in the world. What a gift!

In case you, like me, did not know about stan, I will share. Stan can be used as a noun or verb and is a slang term representing the portmanteau of stalker + fan, denoting an overzealous fanatic. As in, “I am a Bea Arthur stan” or “I stan Bea Arthur” (to stick with my Golden Girls thread).

I learned about stans while attending a ticketed virtual event through Book Soup, an independent bookstore in Los Angeles I patronized while visiting my sister. It was not within my purview of young adult and middle grades author events. Rather, this author encounter consisted of actor Robert Downey, Jr. interviewing Colin Jost of Saturday Night Live about Jost’s new memoir.

RDJ and Jost via my laptop during the virtual event hosted by Book Soup

I had no idea what I might get out of the event other than the refreshing feeling of doing something different and some entertainment. I have felt so compelled to make meaningful use of my time that when Robert Downey, Jr (referred to by youthful stans as “RDJ” in the chat–where I learned about stans) opened by wryly asking Colin Jost if he thought it might be frivolous to be out peddling his memoir right now, I immediately felt relieved. That is exactly how I felt about this guilty pleasure–it was as frivolous a way to spend time as chewing bubble gum or flipping through magazines.

Guilt quickly turned to delight as the conversation unfolded around surprisingly relevant-to-me content including study skills, note taking, and even writers’ notebooks! Jost shared he used to walk around with a small Moleskine notebook in his back pocket and a pen in a front pocket, but now he uses the notes feature in his phone to record things like sketch ideas, inspiration for stand up comedy routines, and even a list of things people suggest he watch.

This idea of keeping a “watchlist” intrigued me. It came up again near the end of the event when RDJ asked Jost, “How have you kept your creative side alive during quarantine?” Jost responded he has spent time watching and reading things that he loves from way back. He went on to explain that he finds inspiration here.

RDJ pointed out that we so often think about creativity in terms of output that it is significant for Jost to share what an important role input plays in creativity. It is so often in the spaces where we are open to receiving input that we are able to generate new ideas.

There is something inspiring about learning how much there is to learn.


“I love a metaphor. I don’t know if you know that about me.”

-Karamo Brown, Queer Eye, Season 5, episode 7

I walk through the world, unaware.

Until one day, I notice.

Noticing changes me. Not a grand, flashy sort of change; rather a quiet, seeps deep down into the marrow sort of change. The kind of change that impacts what I see when I walk through the world. I am aware.

I have been walking past this stretch of the woods for years.

Today I admire that branch reaching out over the trail for sunlight. See how it reaches so much farther than the others? I hear it calling to me, “I am here. I matter. See me.”

Today I do more than admire that branch and notice its reach. I pause to better understand it. I lean in to listen to its story.

As I approach, I follow the branch right down to the earth. It is not a branch at all. It is a tree. Imagine that! A whole, solid tree trunk bending and stretching in pursuit of light. The same light surrounding trees have reached with a linear, unobstructed path straight up to the sky.

I see the struggle this tree has gone through in seeking sun. But it is not only the struggle I see.

I also see the beauty.

This tree is not beautiful despite its struggle.

This tree is not beautiful because of its struggle.

It is simply beautiful. And its truth includes struggle.

I see the tree in its individual glory.

I see the tree as a stunning contribution to the collective forest.

I want to protect the tree. I want to rescue the tree.

This tree does not need my protection. It does not need my rescuing. It is not better for my awareness of it.

Instead, I sense that I am better as a result of listening to its truth. Perhaps I am the one in need of rescue.

I continue my walk.

Seeing one sideways tree opens the door to notice others.

It is a big forest. I have a lot of noticing, leaning in, and listening to do.