Postmarked: Dear Jen (4)

Dear Jen

I’m writing to you on the very cusp of this new season. Summer thunderstorms now drive in cooler weather, and the days are noticeably shorter. My daughter attended freshman orientation a few nights ago as she prepares to enter high school, and then this evening our middle daughter went to her junior high orientation, giddy with excitement. It sometimes feels that life is racing ahead, leaving me behind. Tonight, I can feel my head spinning as the years sweep past.

It’s funny you would say that about you and Ryan’s 30s being the tired years. Maile and I can definitely relate. In the last few weeks we potty-trained our youngest, our baby Poppy, and not having diapers on the grocery list is rather disorienting. We’ve also entered the phase where everyone in the house is actually sleeping through the night (for the most part). I feel like we’re settling in to a more solid era, although if anyone asked me, I’m not sure I could define exactly what I mean by “solid.” It just feels like the right word.

All of these changing seasons have Maile and me talking quite a lot about what the next few years might look like for her. We took a few days away for our 20th wedding anniversary last week, and the question we kept mulling over (a question Steve Wiens challenged us with on his podcast) was this one:

“What are you building?”

His challenge was to think bigger than, “What are you working on?” or “What are you doing?” To be honest, it left both of us floundering a bit. What are we building? What am I building? Am I building anything? I’m still pondering that one.

But the reason I bring it up is that the question has affected how we look at the next few years. Two summers from now our oldest son will be entering his senior year of high school, and little Poppy Lynne will be going into kindergarten. Maile’s days will be freer than they have been in 18 years.

What are we building?

We would both love it if that new season could mark a return to more writing time for her, but if that’s our decision, we need to keep that in mind as we think about what automobile to purchase, what loans to take on, how much to spend on the house. There are things we would love to have and probably could if she got a job, even part time, but is that a trade we are willing to make? If we really want to build to a point where she can focus on her writing once the children are out of the house, it’s going to take a lot of discipline to make sure we don’t create a life that depends on her income, or begs for it.

What are we building?

I think we know what we want to build—a more creative life, one that values artistic pursuits, even when these things do not always bring about a huge monetary return. Perhaps we’d also like to build a home where these things are valued more than a large paycheck—writing, reading, music. It all sounds so naïve when I write it out and see it there in black and white. But it feels like it would be worth building that, or trying to.

In the meantime, Maile has taken on a new practice: she has started writing 250 words per day, and this approach has been a godsend. She first came across the idea in the acknowledgments section of one of Kate DiCamillo’s books—that is how much writing Kate does every day, and she’s written two Newbery Award books in that seemingly tiny window of time each day. 250 words.

Maybe building what we want to build doesn’t actually take as much time as we think it does. Maybe it’s just consistency spaced out over a long period of time, words gathering like drops in a bucket. Maybe these seasons come and go to remind us of our lack of control, our smallness, and God’s mercy and kindness to us as we stumble along, doing the best we can.

I hear everything you are saying regarding your continuing journey with writing, and navigating that space with Ryan. It’s so, so good you two are talking about it. What often feels like failure–in writing, relationships, whatever–always seems to tear open new ground, ready now for the seeds of future harvests.

Family time in Toronto sounds lovely. Really. Hopefully someday we can make it up there.

Warm Regards


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What began as a Twitter conversation between two writers has become an exchange of letters. Here is a list of our prior letters for Postmarked:

Postmarked: Dear Shawn (1)

Postmarked: Dear Jen (2)

Postmarked: Dear Shawn (3)

3 Replies to “Postmarked: Dear Jen (4)”

  1. Trust me, you have no idea what you are building! But, you’re doing a fine job with the most important element, the mortar! No way to tell how those wonderful bricks of yours, including you, Maile, and your special friends will continue to grow that’s part of the exciting mystery ( you read L’Engle, don’t you?). Besides, we know who’s in charge, right?

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