birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Promising Young Thing

My son is twelve and spends a lot of time playing Magic, the Gathering and collecting obscure sport statistics and negotiating later bed times. But he also plays another kind of magic, a magic of plucked strings and of fretting, not the worrying kind, but rather kind that brings delight. He is a promising guitar player. So I’ve been told. So I have told others. But what is it exactly he’s promising? A music beyond most of our imagination? A moment of beguile and charm, a moment when the heart’s strings are plucked as well as those of some Spanish guitar? And to whom is he making this promise? To me? The mother who wants him to soar? To the world that is always begging for more? Perhaps, really, the promise is to himself.

I haven’t caught him with his fingers crossed, but I don’t know if this is a vow that is destined to be broken, because who, really, fulfills youthful promise? Which of course makes me turn the question on myself. I too was a promising young thing. I made a lot of promises. To friends and teachers and the page and my parents and to the bank that issued my student loans. The loans are long ago paid off, but I can’t rightly account for the other promises. I know that adults, now turned into a vague anonymous mass, looked up from my test scores and my essays and pointed me out as promising. So I made a promise to myself that this promise of being special that had been extended to me would not be broken. This vow would be kept. Many years and jobs and notebooks full of writing and word lade bytes stored later, I have no sure sense of whether that promise was realized. And what does it mean to realize? To make real? Does that mean the promise was an illusion? Or was it possibility, a will o’ wisp, something that had to be captured in order to be brought to evidence? Promise is a swarm of fireflies, flickering in the night, and those of us with guts and determination can capture them in a jar and take them out into the darkness and smile as they light up the night.

There must come a time when we should do away with promising. Not promise, just do. Because promise is always about what might be, can be, should be, what we want to be and, really, isn’t it better to be, in the moment, in the here and now, than to be offering up potential? I’ll give you proof of promise by no longer promising.

If I could make my son a promise, it would be to help him turn that music into light.


Weary of the Beauty