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There is something about being under fireworks with someone.

You look up and it’s like the world is being born again; the sky is split into pieces of light and the stars have found themselves out-matched for a moment.

I was once in an airplane on the Fourth of July while fireworks were exploding below – the clouds turned red and purple and green. I felt like the planet was going to fall out from underneath me. For us Americans, fireworks exist to tell the story of death and rebirth – I don’t think we can watch them without this tug inside of us that feels like danger and vulnerability. Like kids giddily waiting to be scared, we toss our necks back and shiver.

When you are under the fireworks and they’re reflected on the lake and you are rocking in the dark water in some boat, you like to have someone’s skin up against you. You can’t help but watch the sky, but there’s also this feeling that you need to have a hold of this girl beside you. However strong she is, you want to gather her up next to you so you can be witness together, as if somehow your peace under a fiery sky depends on its echo inside each other.

Or maybe it’s because you’re lonely and you’re hurt – and in that moment when she’s looking up and sulfur is raining down in flakes, caught in strands of her hair, you believe grabbing her hand will keep her from shooting up there with a smoke trail after her, away from you.

During a fireworks show you get one moment to look into her eyes – right before the finale when the boat is rocking and a few times you’ve leaned more into her and she’s leaned more into you – when a handful of rockets glare down from their zenith, that’s when you look over and catch her like a five year old in awe of the night she’s in. She’ll notice you before she looks down into your eyes and it’s a moment, just a moment, that you really see one another as the lights burn like foxtails on their way down and sizzle on the surface of the water.

Then the blackness before the next burst seems like forever as you’re there together with hot shoulders gazing up and thinking about how easy it is to be alive and how hard it is to feel alive.

You watch the smoke clear after the gunpowder has burned itself out and the flashes against the darkness stay with you the rest of the evening. As the boat idles, you look out at a low hanging orange moon fighting for a sky-space and you gaze out across the water at the houses with the lights still out. The heavy night settles the noise and people sit in silence on their porches and finish their drinks thinking about the world and freedom and all of that.

And you can see the ignited sky still in her eyes. You look at her and she’s got it – that thing that goes up high and away from you and strings off a hundred miles it seems, and then comes back down to settle against the smoky wake of homeward boats.


Man Seeks Couch

mad men couch

In the year 2010 I slept more than 200 nights on a couch.

I had both a bedroom and a bed, but there was this transitional feeling of sleeping on a sofa that I liked – this sense that you weren’t allowed to drift off from life for too long. My roommate and I took to sleeping on the couches that year and rolled off early in the morning to get on with our lives.

When I go visit my parents, I don’t sleep in that stupid guest room that’s not my room anymore – I sleep on the couch. This way I hear my father stirring in the morning when he reads the paper and thinks about our family so I get up and sit on the couch and think with him.

I’ve been looking for the right couch for almost a year now but have yet to make a purchase. I’ve caught a bit of grief for not getting it over with, but have convinced myself there is more weight to this decision than some folks realize.

This couch isn’t just a couch – it’s a representation of my life. It has to measure up to all of the other couches I’ve had if it’s to join the conversation of my living space. Because I think our surroundings should tell the story of who we are.

Read more…

Naming the Good

After speaking with a group of incoming college freshmen a few months ago, I went through a car-wash  Sometimes I’ll do that when I need to think – it’s almost a ceremony to unscrew the antenna, place it in the passenger seat and pull forward while the world blurs under the water.

I thought about the platitudes I offer every student group I speak with – how I tell them about ownership and compassion on themselves and taking risks and looking for the “next hardest” thing.

And I thought about how sometimes I feel like I shouldn’t be speaking to these students because I’ve yet to get all of this right – which I normally share from the stage. There are a few tricks you use when you talk to a group and that’s one of them – you make the audience believe you’re with them, that you don’t know anything and you’re together in the suffering of unknowing and lack of answers.

But I really mean it. Read more…


I turn 27 today – I’m sure time will continue to go by faster than I’d like.

When you’re in the twilight of your life I wonder if you wake up and read a few chapters of a book and then the air heavies and you walk outside and just like that, the day is gone and you go to bed. I wonder if life becomes just like those high-speed shots on the Discovery channel where a thunderhead accumulates from wisps of temperature and darkens and roils into a black presence with silver veins before it empties itself out onto the world and vanishes – threaded into the wind again.

I was in Washington DC a month ago sitting in a hotel lobby watching people come down the escalators. I thought about what they were descending into. For all I knew, the most important thing in their entire life could have just happened to them. The squinted focus or the red-faced smile could have told me they were never going to be the same. I wonder how many times we see people in moments like that and have no clue. I wonder how many times our whole lives shifted in an instant and we didn’t know it either. We feign interest in the world around us but I really think we’re after that one thing that’s going to completely change us – all of the time. The problem is that we ask for it, we yearn for it and we dream about it and then when we get it, it’s not what we wished for so we wish for something else. It’s not good enough somehow. So we keep worshiping that illusion of transition. Read more…

Porch time

A few years ago I was invited to work cattle with a friend out in west Texas – it was the first time I’d ever been invited to do such a thing. I was about to move up to South Dakota and teach for a few years and he told me I ought to know how to work a herd before I got to the prairie and embarrassed myself. So, another buddy and I made the drive out one night and set our alarms for 4:00am the next morning.

After a long day of overcoming the smell of singed hair and burnt flesh in my nostrils, jamming needles into the necks of baby cows and slicing off testicles and screaming, we took a break and went to a restaurant with plywood walls where we had chicken fried steak. We then dropped the ranch hands off at their trucks, they loaded up their horses and we went back to the house, showered and sat on the porch. It was hot. We tried earlier to swim in the pond out back, but that water was hot as well. So we just sat on the porch in rockers while the sun threaded rays right down inside of things.

When I spoke up to complain about the heat, my friend was quick to offer that we were right where we needed to be – out on a porch, away from the air conditioning.

He told me with certainty that air conditioning killed community. Read more…

Summer Job

In college, I’d sometimes earn money by doing odd jobs for an alumnus who lived in town.

One of my best friends was a fraternity guy and he played the middle man – so when work needed to be done, we’d get a phone call to be out there early on a Saturday morning. It would already be hot and our pores were stinging by nine o’clock.

This alumni had hands the size of catcher’s mitts and in the wrong lighting might’ve looked like a black bear walking across his manicured grass. He was very particular about his things and he was very good at throwing parties. Every year, he’d have a few get-togethers at his house and make sure the entire street shut down so his guests could park. He’d string lights above the road between houses and have students in golf carts pick up the folks who had to park far away. Read more…

Passing Through the Fog

I grew up alone in Switzerland.

It happened in a few weeks.

I went to a place in the Swiss Alps along the French border called Shelter – In French, L’Abri. Across the horizon, you could see Mont Blanc.

After studying there for a short time, I weaved my way through Switzerland on my way back home.

Death and fog

Two years ago this weekend, my grandparents died a day apart from one another. My grandfather, the stronger one we thought, took a dive and was bed ridden in about six months. I got the call before school started. My roommates and I were beginning the normal routine of coffee and music in South Dakota; we were about to draw straws for who was to dash out to the frozen cars and start them, then my dad called. I was in the hallway. Read more…