The Human Library

Ada reading

After my mama, the drama queen pulled out the television plug at both ends and chopped up the cord in the driveway for dramatic effect, my siblings and I were left with books and storytelling for entertainment. We had always been avid readers, but in our post-TV years, we became insatiable book consumers. Every week we would stagger out of the library, arms trembling with the weight of a teetering tower of books. Reading was a solitary pleasure, but storytelling was a communal ritual. The best stories could be told over and over again without losing their power to eviscerate us or make us scream with laughter. To this day I find myself in the middle of an experience, already weighing its merits as a worthy story and framing it in my mind to tell to my family the next time we get together.

Lately, the radio has been gratifying my love of storytelling. I’m a hardcore fan of This American Life. Ira Glass is my secret nerd crush. I adore the stories he spins in his dorky, entirely-unsuitable-for-radio-voice. I was hooked on Serial (Season 1) and waited for each episode as anxiously as a junkie trying to score her next hit. To my disappointment, I just couldn’t get into the second season of Serial…but then came the latest This American Life spin-off. S-Town is a dazzling, brilliant work of art. Host Brian Reed’s voice and intonation get increasingly awkward with each episode. I haven’t quite figured out why, but for me – his ragged upspeak somehow adds to the raw, forlorn beauty of the work.

Other radio favorites:

The Moth: the stories and the storytelling can be patchy, but are almost always compelling.

StoryCorps: When I read John Green’s Fault in our Stars I was PISSED. It was so mawkish and emotionally manipulative, yet I couldn’t help weeping as I read it, while simultaneously kicking myself in the ass for weeping. StoryCorps makes me cry every single time I listen to it, but I don’t feel like I’m being played like a cheap violin.

Last week I experienced “The Human Library,” hosted at the University of Virginia. The Human Library is an international initiative that began in Copenhagen in 2000. Today there are Human Library events all over the world during which people can “check out” humans with a story to tell. I went through a catalog of short bios and picked four different people. I was given twenty minute appointment slots for each person and visited them in various rooms on the Lawn where they were stationed for the day. The stories they told were fascinating, brutal, thought-provoking, and deeply personal…At the end of each twenty minute session, I experienced that rare and miraculous feeling of true human connection. In my perfect fantasy world this is how I would spend my days – exchanging stories with my human family.


Happy Easter

The five of us sang at four different Easter services at two different churches this morning. IMG_9088The Easter Bunny visited our house while we were at church and left an obscene amount of candy hidden around the yard.

IMG_3171IMG_3178IMG_3186IMG_3191IMG_3198IMG_3201IMG_3209IMG_3216IMG_3220IMG_3222IMG_3228Those beatific smiles disappeared as soon as the Easter Bunny’s mean, mean wife immediately confiscated aaaaaaaallll the candy and hid it away.

And then the poor Easter Bunny, who, after all that egg-hiding,  would have much rather sat on a couch reading a scholarly tome, tried to change the air filters. He ended up having to get four stitches on a very important finger…

IMG_9096 2



I’m a sucker


Anyone who knows me knows I have a weakness for pets…My husband neither supports nor endorses my penchant for collecting extra mouths to feed and poop to shovel, but he tolerates it with the stoicism of the English.

Last week I was in Portland, Oregon with two of my siblings. We stayed at the historic Benson Hotel. As I perused the menu of guest services, my eye was immediately drawn to the “Fish Program”:


I relentlessly pestered my sister with whom I was sharing a room until she broke down and let me order up a “companion fish.” I gleefully called housekeeping and made the request.

A young man came to the door bearing this beauty…


I announced the betta’s arrival into my life to my friends on Instagram, and named him “Benson” at the suggestion of one of my cousins. My husband, a rare consumer of social media, spotted the post and countered with his own suggestion for a name: “Blood Clot.” (You see what I’m saying? This is a man who is not at all into animal husbandry).

I tried to freak him out a little by telling him that the hotel was going to let me bring Blood Clot home, but he did not rise to the bait.

My next attempt to yank his chain was to send him a picture of the “emotional support companion” dog who happened to be sitting next to me on the flight home from Portland.

“They wouldn’t let me bring Blood Clot home, but…meet Sprocket! I know you’re going to adore him!” I wrote:

IMG_9049My little joke was met with deafening silence. Perhaps because I had already tried to play that dirty trick on him a couple years ago:


I’m not the only one in my family who loves animals. My daughter really wanted baby goats, and for a hot second I actually considered getting them for her:

I came to my senses and we reached a more reasonable compromise:

So when my son asked if he could adopt his friend’s mudskipper, I could hardly refuse, although I had no idea what the heck a mudskipper was. “Mudskipper” didn’t sound at all cute or cuddly.

The name was somewhat alarming, but more alarming still was the fact that my son’s friend wanted to unload him in the first place. I happened to know that this friend of his has an even larger and more diverse menagerie than we have. He has a falcon, two dogs, a whole aquarium full of fish, geckos, chickens, a snake…Hello?! The boy has a pet FALCON, for Pete’s sake!

Why in the world would he want to get rid of his mudskipper?

I agreed to let my son bring the mudskipper home, but I told him we could only take him after Christmas since we would be traveling over the holidays.

To my dismay the mudskipper arrived well before Christmas.

“Hey! I thought we’d agreed that we couldn’t take him until after Christmas?!”

“I know, but we had to take him now, because getting rid of the mudskipper is [my friend]’s Christmas present to his dad.”

May I remind you that my son’s friend has a falcon, a gecko, a snake, two dogs, chickens, and a whole plethora of other fish? The kid has his own chest freezer full of dead mice to feed his falcon. But the one pet which his dad objected to was the mudskipper. He was SO anxious to get it out of his house, that he asked his son to get rid of it as a Christmas present to him.

Meet Darwin, the mudskipper:


So adorable, right?IMG_7674

Why in the world would anyone want to get rid of such a sweet little creature?


Darwin arrived with a jar of food, which he begrudgingly eats:



…when he can’t get the fresh food he prefers.

The other day I came upon my son, who was sitting on his haunches rooting around in my garden.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Just getting some dinner for my man, Darwin.”


My birthday isn’t until September, but I already know exactly what I’m going to ask for!