Pen & paper

I received a let­ter in the mail recent­ly from a young-earth cre­ation­ist who was incensed about a recent arti­cle I pub­lished that stat­ed that Homo Sapiens have been around for about 200,000 years. The let­ter chas­tised me for being “a god­less sin­ner,” and per­haps my recent mis­for­tunes were war­rant­ed. It help­ful­ly informed me that “all life was cre­at­ed less than 10,000 years ago by God.”

There is no ben­e­fit in my enter­ing this dis­cus­sion. Experience has taught me that if you are a young-earth cre­ation­ist, you will not be swayed by sci­en­tif­ic proof of evo­lu­tion. I most­ly dis­re­gard­ed the letter.

But one line resonated:

“God is a trick­ster. He hid dinosaur bones and fos­sils to test our faith.”

While I remain a staunch believ­er in evo­lu­tion, the last six months of my life make me think that God might indeed have a twist­ed sense of humor.

The wis­dom tra­di­tions are full of Trickster Gods, those hal­lowed beings who are so casu­al­ly, care­less­ly cru­el with the lives of mor­tals. Loki. Anansi. Trickster Rabbit. Kokopelli. Hermes. Bugs Bunny.

For the last decade or so, I have start­ed my day in a par­tic­u­lar way. As soon as I awak­en, before I jump out of bed and start main­lin­ing cof­fee, I ask myself three questions:

How can I give?

How can I grow?

How am I grateful?

The first two are no prob­lem. As a mom, wife, and busi­ness own­er, I am always giv­ing in some way. As a writer, I am always grow­ing. But grate­ful? That has been a real stretch lately.

I’m com­ing out of the hard­est sea­son of my life. My rela­tion­ship to grat­i­tude has shift­ed. Every morn­ing when I got to the third ques­tion, I felt resent­ful. Hopeless. Angry. Forsaken.

In this head­space, grat­i­tude felt like tox­ic pos­i­tiv­i­ty. I’m sup­posed to be thank­ful for med­ical bills, for pan­ic attacks, for meds that stop work­ing? For unem­ploy­ment, covid restric­tions, per­i­menopause, for insur­ance cov­er­age that doesn’t actu­al­ly cov­er any­thing? For doing my best and fail­ing any­way? For let­ters that shame me as god­less? I had hoped it would be eas­i­er than this, that I could skip the hair shirt and go straight to singing the redemp­tion song, a head and heart full of thanksgiving.

The peo­ple in my house live with crip­pling depres­sion. For the first time in my life, I start­ed to see the world through their cloud­ed vision, for­ev­er falling down a nev­er-end­ing flight of stairs. Sometimes life is just so unfair. Is it any won­der we seek solace in the bot­tle, in the arms of some­one oth­er than our spouse, in car­bo­hy­drates, in addic­tion and sleep­ing and mind­less scrolling? Maybe God is uncar­ing and deceit­ful, start­ing trou­ble for his own amusement.

And then I remem­ber the point of the Trickster arche­type. The Trickster, no mat­ter the reli­gion or wis­dom tra­di­tion, is a har­bin­ger of chaos. Not because the Trickster is unfeel­ing or evil, but because trou­ble is part of life. My hus­band is unem­ployed. My daugh­ter is strug­gling with her men­tal health. My busi­ness, post-covid, is on finan­cial life sup­port. My ovaries are giv­ing up the ghost and instead trad­ing viable eggs for brain fog, weight gain, and insom­nia. Yeah, I know trou­ble. Don’t we all?

But the Trickster reminds me to just light­en up already. Sometimes we’re dealt a bad hand. The cos­mic pen­du­lum will even­tu­al­ly swing back the oth­er way. If, as the Buddhists teach, suf­fer­ing is part of the nat­ur­al order, who wins by scream­ing at the sky? It’s not per­son­al. It sim­ply is.

Trickster teach­es that we don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly have to be grate­ful for all of it. But we do have to deal with all of it. Best we dust our­selves off and get back to prac­tic­ing the per­son we want to become.

The morn­ing after I received that let­ter, I opened my jour­nal and start­ed a grat­i­tude list for the first time in a long time.

Staring at trees, I wrote.

Then, B7 chord.

Taylor Swift.



Ted Lasso.

My book club.

Pigeon pose.

Once I began, it was all pen­nies from heav­en, page after page of unseen and unac­knowl­edged gifts. I wrote until my hand cramped, kept listing.

I’m sure Trickster was laugh­ing some­where. So I laughed too, final­ly in on the joke.

In case, like me, you’re won­der­ing about the term “hair shirt” Erin used in this arti­cle, I asked for an expla­na­tion. She wrote that a “hair shirt is from the Catholic tra­di­tion. It’s a scratchy, coarse shirt worn by pen­i­tents as a form of suf­fer­ing and/or pun­ish­ment.” [Ed.]

  • Erin Skinner Smith

    Erin Skinner Smith wants every­one to slow down, eat real food, move their bod­ies, go out­side, and hit the pil­low a lit­tle ear­li­er for a more pur­pose­ful exis­tence. She is a pub­lished writer, yoga teacher, and mind­ful­ness coach. When she’s not stand­ing on her head or typ­ing on her trusty lap­top, you’ll find her read­ing, play­ing gui­tar, enjoy­ing a glass of bour­bon, or snug­gling on the couch with her peo­ple and pets. Send her a dig­i­tal high five at