Tag Archives: Family

Shameless self-promotion: reading

Tomorrow, Thursday October 9th, I’ll be one of six readers in a virtual reading hosted by the magazine Under the Gum Tree in honor of their third anniversary. Details below; the piece I’ll share is a “flash” creative nonfiction piece titled After. It’s based on writing about my mom’s journals that I did for a Priscilla Long workshop in 2012. Whee!

Thursday, October 9 at 6 p.m. PDT (9 PM EDT)

It will be broadcast live online via Google Hangouts and that means you can watch from anywhere with an Internet connection. Just click on this link:

http://underthegumtree.us2.list-manage.com/track/click?u=d092cccd976e0c27416b6175a&id=ad36d7a8fd&e=bf3a6ed342

If you’re able to make it, please let the editor, Janna Marlies Maron, know–she will be hosting the event and would love to give you a shout out. You can let her know by emailing her at info@underthegumtree.com, or let her know on twitter at either @justjanna or @undergumtree.

To write, perchance to produce?

World Cup Cafe

World Cup Cafe

I returned to Taos for the third consecutive year last week, for the Taos Summer Writer’s Conference. It’s a highlight of my year. It’s a highlight because it’s in the desert southwest; because its attendees are, to a one, interesting, informed, and intriguing; because it’s an excellent “reset” button for my writerly self; because it’s near Taos’s World Cup Cafe; because the World Cup Cafe serves a mocha borgia; because I feel like a brilliant writer after a mocha borgia; because when I fell like a brilliant writer I am a more productive writer.

Productive writer. An abstract concept that toddled into my thinking three years ago when I first read Prisicilla Long’s must-have-if-you’re-a-writer book, The Writer’s Portable Mentor — an abstract concept that steadied itself and began walking, sure-footed, during the time I worked with her (for the second time) at the Taos conference this year.

Prisicilla Long's book ...

Prisicilla Long’s book …

Long, like Macklemore, notes that the greats aren’t born great. They’re great because they paint/write/practice a LOT. Long suggests writers make a “list of works,” an inventory to track their pieces’ completion dates, where they’ve been sent, and when they’ve been accepted. In The Writer’s Portable Mentor, she says,

The list allows you to see the work you’ve done and it signifies respect for work done. It allows you to track your yearly production. It allows you to find any given piece to take up again. The list gives you a practice that you now share with those high-achieving creators who do quantify their works. (Georgia O’Keefe, 2.045 objects; Edouard Manet, 450 oil paintings among other works; the American painter Alice Neel, about 3,000 works; dare we mention Picasso? — 26,000 works; the remarkable short-story writer Edith Pearlman has published, according to her website, more than 250 works of short fiction and short nonfiction. That of course, does not tell us how many works Pearlman has composed.

I have a modest list of works that has grown incrementally for the past three years. And I do mean incrementally, because I haven’t been able to focus on more than one writing activity each day: if I’m generating a new short story, that generative free writing takes all my writing time. Ditto editing and conceptualizing.

But this year, for the first time, I managed two, sometimes three, types of daily writing during the conference: generative, editorial, and conceptual. And I did this because I told myself, per Long’s advice, that I only had to do it for 15 minutes. Those 15 minutes, for five days, yielded a found poem, an improved short story, and several roughed out story concepts.

I’m sure this capacity was enhanced by the total absence of my Domestic Goddess responsibilities, Engineer Hubby, our two sons, the dogs, the cat and that pesky groundhog in the backyard — a lot of my writing is done while it appears I’m daydreaming, and there’s no daydreaming time in my Real Life. Nonetheless: I’ve managed the 15 minute practice every single day, for a week, so I know I can make progress on several fronts simultaneously.

Here’s to slow, steady and productive. May it be so.

That pile in the basement …

Longed-for warmer temperatures have graced us this past week, eliciting the usual assortment of cliched remarks about the flora and fauna (crocus, daffodil, spring beauty, snowdrops, forsythia, redbud, chipmunks, baby rabbits, robins, wrens).

I undertake my version of spring cleaning: open the windows and let the breeze amass the swirling dog fur and dust bunnies into one massive fluff ball in a corner; hook up vacuum and suck up mass. I tidy and I rearrange; I sort my books and I file my papers. I stop and drink coffee and browse thru’ the Sunday paper.

In the March 20th New York Times “Museums” section, I stumbled upon Golden Age of Discovery … Down in the Basements by David Wallis. Who knew?, but some of our capital-C, Capital-I Cultural Institutions share my lowercase-d, lowercase-g domestic goddesses struggle of staying on top of STUFF.

Of course, what they discover when they go to their basement archives includes Picasso sculptures, rare war helmets of indigenous peoples, and notes from Famous People of History. I find adolescent journals, my grandmother’s account books and timesheets tracking my hours on a federally-funded redevelopment project.

ledger enlargedI’ve tossed the timesheets, but my Grandmother’s account books, with their tidy columns and itemized rows of expenses: they tell me a lot more than she ever chose to share, or I ever know to ask, about her daily life. She, too, struggled with the tension inherent in running a household and creative work. There are entries for groceries, laundry, coal, magazines, stamps. Charmingly, under “miscellaneous” there is, twice-monthly, 35 cents for roses; every three weeks or so is one dollar for “H’s candy” — her husband must have harbored a sweet tooth. There are no entries for weaving supplies though the outstanding feature of her house, when I was a child, was two huge looms. She traveled with a smaller table-top loom. She wove placemats, table runners, samplers, towels, decorative coasters, scrabble tile bags, chair coverings, bookmarks, napkins. You name it, she wove it.

I still use, daily, one of her woven bookmarks. I have always enjoyed it, and find it elegant. No polyester junk, but for-real, finely-patterened silk and linen threads. Having seen her careful accounting for the very real expenses of her daily life on this spring day, and the lack of any such entry for her artistic life, the bookmark becomes dearer.

Some of Gram's weaving

Some of Gram’s weaving

The work we do for love, the work we are privileged to do above and beyond the grunt work of daily necessity: that beauty lasts, to be held and felt and loved. On a breezy spring day, in a basement crowded with life’s leavings.

Let’s look for the treasures in our archives basements. Find whatever we’ve forgotten, whatever scraps of paper and memory may unexpectedly reconnect us, remind us, restore us, return us: to ourselves.

Do you hear what I hear?

Our two dogs are of varying intelligence and thus responsiveness to our commands. One “off” moves the smart gal from my lap, while the oh-so-lovable-but-slow canine continues to warm my thighs until dumped to the ground.

Their barking has become annoying:  yapYAPyapYAP until the source of  inspiration either disappears from view (other dogs out for a walk, meandering cat, saucy squirrel) or has been thoroughly sniffed (friends who come to the door). Our lovely neighbors, cyclists who pedal up and down the Virginia mountains for dozens of miles, suggested using their “dazzer” to control the barking.

The Dazzer emits an unpleasant sound, audible only in the doggie range. One zap and the smart dog understood and now ceases barking promptly when told, “no bark.” The other dog continues to bark despite the command — and will do so until the Dazzer is used. Which of course is unfair to the dog that was already quiet.

And, as it turns out, also a bit unfair to my younger son, whose youthful ears register the Dazzer. “Don’t you hear that little squeak when you press the button, mom?”

No, I do not. I barely hear Engineer Hubby when he asks me to pass the cream for the coffee. I know I’m not hearing the whining about soup and sandwiches for dinner again, right?

imagesSo yet again I discover the very real limits of my (aging) human senses, and, all kidding aside, am momentarily quieted. I wasn’t in awe of the 13 y.o.’s hearing, but it was in the neighborhood (see I know nothing for a dog-taught lesson in humility). I was awe-struck last Sunday when, twenty yards into the woods, both dogs sniffed snuffled snorted snurkled the leaves — speckled with bird poop, huh, look at that, my dull human brain noted — and then both mutts looked straight up and above us turkey vultures were circling, settling on branches, all with their wide, whispery wings. I know they’re carrion feeders and their heads are weirdly bald-looking but still: they are awe-some.

Then I read about the the concept of rewilding — as articulated by George Monbiot in this interview in the fine magazine Orion. He notes that humans are perhaps the most domesticated of all animals, living out our days in relative comfort despite having been designed to survive in a world bloody in fang and claw. We do not often experience the heart-stopping awe that is ours when we wade into the world sans civilized expectations and protections.

I don’t disagree, and/but I when I pause to look at my now-almost-six-foot son, who started as a mere eight pounds; when I see my Grandfather’s wild hair atop my younger son’s head; when I notice EH’s eyes look like his father’s, then I am momentarily awed.

These small details are invisible in the scope of things (the new Cosmos illustrated this for me: I had no idea we (think) we know as much as we do about the universe. The Local Group?) We are, relatively speaking, so very very very tiny. Eensy-weensy. How awe-some is that?

As I near fifty years old* (fifty years! A microscopic pinhead of days in the universe!), I find it easier to remind myself to switch from the daily-annoyances-perspective to the holy-cow-isn’t-this-amazing-perspective, especially when the dogs are pointing out the limits of my nervous system or the scientists my lack of knowledge. (Full disclosure: my family will disagree that I *ever* switch out of annoyed mode, as I nag them nigh unto death about putting away dishes, clothes, shoes, homework, etcetera.)

NASA photo

NASA photo

But what a wonder! What a happenstance to be alive in this time (whenever it may be), in this place (wherever it may be), with this consciousness (however it may be limited by no-dog-nose capacities).

All I can do is write it down. Badly, baldly, awe-struck-ed-ly, make-up-words-ily. What a ride. Buckle up and look to the heavens and tell us what you see.

* This post dovetails nicely with WordPress’s weekly writing challenge, about “The Golden Years” at their site, The Daily Post

The Yuletide 100

My writing craft group and I agreed that during the holiday break we would  jot notes about the holiday.  At least 100 words or phrases to capture the essence of the season.

I’ve resisted the list concept for most of my writing years: all those “list my life” books at Barnes and Noble. Listographies  for couples, for singles, for mothers and daughters. Barf. Like a list matters. Plus, is listography a word? (Not in my 1979 edition of the New World Dictionary! Oh, I feel so vindicated!) Regardless: making a list is just too easy! One must *suffer* for enlightenment!

You’d think I’d have learned by now that when my instinct is to sniff haughtily, a great Lesson is lurking. But no. I sniff away and it is only under duress — duress I PAY for in the form of a workshop or a book, or duress that is unavoidable (yes, I consider the holidays a time of duress) — that I grudgingly push open the creaky door of my Self  to possibilities.

My writing group adapted a Priscilla Long list exercise from her book The Writer’s Portable Mentor, and here’s mine. Not only was it a valuable exercise that I’m Officially Adding to my Writerly Toolbox, it tells a wee story. Happy New Year!

Unknown

  1. 12 y.o. has two teeth pulled after last day of school.
  2. 12 y.o. vomiting, 2 AM.
  3. 12 y.o. sick first day of vacation.
  4. Amazon shopping.
  5. 16 y.o.’s girlfriend over for supper, to make treats for neighbors.
  6. 12 y.o. rallies to deliver treats to neighbors.
  7. Xmas tree purchased day after mini ice storm.
  8. Ice inside heated home = water. Duh.
  9. Entire first floor washed by melted ice.
  10. Kids dub ice “christmas juice.”
  11. Xmas tree trunk too big for 70’s-era metal stand.
  12. Engineer hubby drags tree to deck for trunk detailing.
  13. Engineer hubby shaving  trunk with pathetic little saw.
  14. Engineer hubby borrows Real Tools, updates Xmas wish list to include Real Tools.
  15. Tree tilts 15 degrees to the left
  16. To the right.
  17. More trunk shaving.
  18. Tree tilts 5 degrees to the right.
  19. Engineer hubby: I’m done. Kids: but the tree …
  20. CVS has one tree stand left.
  21. Tree top breaks off. No one cares
  22. Tree is vertical!
  23. Burned out Xmas lights.
  24. Xmas eve shopping at Dicks Sporting Goods: all Medium sized fleeces gone. Panicked call to Engineer Hubby re: 16 y.o.’s preferred basketball clothing. Does it matter so long as it’s in school colors of blue and yellow? Engineer hubby: you know there are different shades of blue. Me: Seriously?
  25. Two hours later: new fleeces acquired for all the men in the family. Restorative hot chocolate purchased for frazzled mama on way home.
  26. My dad and brother arrive; my brother tallest person in the house @ 6’2″.
  27. Tissue paper for wrapping.
  28. Cat on tissue paper.
  29. Curling ribbon.
  30. Cat claw stuck in my thigh after “playing” catch the ribbon
  31. Can only find one batch of gift tags. All gifts labeled with the same green disc.
  32. Dog treats laid out with Santa gifts on coffee table.
  33. Dog treats all gone.
  34. Dog barf Xmas eve at midnight.
  35. Six hours sleep.
  36. New bird feeders: one with copper roof glinting in the sun. Birds confused, pecking forlornly at deck railing.
  37. 16 y.o.: “This is great!” re: coupon book for movies, dinners out, “Dates” with parents.
  38. Bag of gluttony and regret: chocolates & electric toothbrushes
  39. Kids give me hot tea/cocoa coupons 🙂 I redeem immediately.
  40. Settlers of Catan.
  41. Multi-handed solitaire.
  42. Blokus.
  43. Goldfinch.
  44. Mini Poppers: pig, monster, penguin, monster. Unknown-1
  45. Dogs eating popper balls. You’d think they’d had enough stomach upset. You’d think wrong.
  46. 16 y.o. visits girlfriend on Xmas day: a first
  47. Panettone
  48. Holiday-blend coffee from Milwaukee’s Colectivo Coffee.
  49. Turkey breast.
  50. Turkey breast with spine intact.
  51. Turkey breast deboning YouTube video.
  52. Dull knives.
  53. Scissors.
  54. Brining on back deck.
  55. Cold sunshine.
  56. Walking dogs.
  57. New scarf.
  58. Stuffing with sausage.
  59. Cranberry sauce by my dad. 3072908890_d2d0eb7ddd_b
  60. 16 y.o.: mashed taters.
  61. Toasted pecans.
  62. Frozen crust.
  63. Cook’s Illustrated cookbook: brand new. Corn syrup on page 720 by 3 PM
  64. Dessert wine.
  65. Port.
  66. Sauerkraut crock.
  67. Nine cabbages.
  68. Dill borrowed from neighbor.
  69. Virgnia Tech pillowcase over sauerkraut crock.
  70. About Time with 12 y.o. & Engineer Hubby. 12 y.o.: “That makes you think about life.”
  71. The Dark Knight Rises: surprisingly good.
  72. Sherlock Holmes, season 1 marathon
  73. The Full Monty: even my dad laughs
  74. The Last Emperor: like taking vitamins
  75. The Santa Clause
  76. All is Lost. Yikes
  77. Listing all colors for brown with writer pal Andrea Badgley day after Xmas.
  78. Basketball tournament in Roanoke for 16 y.o. Massive losses ’til very last game.
  79. Sauerkraut smells a bit funky.
  80. Old friend visits after New Year’s
  81. Old friend’s dog encounters skunk in backyard.
  82. Friend’s dog rolls on rug, runs through house.
  83. Friend to PetSmart for enzymatic skunk cleaner
  84. Friend’s dog washed on back deck with skunk cleaner.
  85. Temperatures dropping.
  86. Friend’s dog confined to crate.
  87. Friend’s dog depressed. Our dogs confused.
  88. Entire house smells of skunk; food tastes like skunk.
  89. Apple-cider scented candle lit.
  90. Sauerkraut smell obliterated.
  91. Rug removed to patio.
  92. Clothing washed with de-skunker.
  93. Friend’s dog washed repeatedly next day.
  94. Dog smelling better. Released from crate confinement.
  95. Joyful frolicking.
  96. Friend returns home.
  97. 16 y.o. to youth orchestra. Cello, case and music all smell like skunk.
  98. Xmas tree to fire pit, rug to dumpster.
  99. Sauerkraut funk again discernible.
  100. Carpool buddy to 12 y.o. on first day back to school: your hair smells like skunk.

Striped_Skunk_(Mephitis_mephitis)_DSC_0030

PRACTICE!

A colleague is battling cancer, a neighbor’s mother the same, a friend’s mother passed this last week: we are in the midst of the messy business of life … and I confess to feeling during the nadir of these bleak moments that sustaining writerly momentum is “not worthy.”

Tortoise 04

Slow and steady ... Image via Wikipedia

I have invited these feelings to reside in a pleasant, albeit windowless, room at the top of an imaginary house and locked the door on them. I have plugged my ears to their cries with metaphorical earplugs and returned to my creative kitchen (again, an imaginary space: my family can attest I have pretty well nigh given up any pretense of Real Cooking since the new year). In that cozy space writerly momentum simmers on the stove: I have a short story nearing completion, an essay out for critique, and I’ve honored my resolution to have three submissions out at all times. My search for an agent progresses tortoise-like but the verb weighs more than the metaphor.

And. But. The real and imagined kitchen is a space of continual traffic: hubby, children, dog, cats, friends. The messy, dare I say unhygienic?, cookie-making of writing and parenting continues to be an endeavor that consists of equal part flour dust, spilled sugar, butter underfoot and fragrant, edible product.

Belle Boggs, author of the lovely short story collection Mattaponi Queen, has an essay, “The Art of Waiting” in Orion where she checks out her assumptions about how children change your life by asking her dad, “Do kids really kill all your dreams?” He pauses before replying, “Yup. And they take all your money, too.”

English: Christiaan Tonnis ~ Virginia Woolf / ...

by Christiaan Tonnis, oil on canvas, 1998, Image via Wikipedia

She also cites Virginia Woolf (a child-free woman) as noting, in her journal after a good writing day: “children can’t touch this” – this being the feeling of euphoria, of satisfaction. Today we’d call Woolf’s feeling the state of flow. It arrived for Woolf, and does for me, too, during and after a day spent in the company of words, sentences, paragraphs. If we’re lucky, we all have one or two activities in which time stops for us, and we simply are.

Since Woolf’s journal entry, brain science has demonstrated that the experience of “flow” is based on brain chemicals that give us a natural high. Most relevant to my writing/creative practice is: we’re learning that it’s possible to train ourselves into habits that give us that high AND support creative, functional practices across a range of our lives: exercise, diet, writing …  See this intriguing New York Times Sunday Magazine article by Charles Duhigg about how our shopping habits reveal us to companies.

Deutsch: Blauschimmelkäse,

Smelly cheese ... of course it can also taste fabulous, which is part of the problem when one is wrestling with demons ... Image via Wikipedia

This probably also explains why the DTs arrive with all their relatives and stinky cheese when I don’t put pen to paper.

And. But. Much of my no-time-to-write this past week has been on account of my role as Support System for the 14 y.o.’s preparing for, participating in, and subsequently recovering from, a cello competition at the Tennessee Cello Workshop. This as Engineer Hubby travels for three of the last four weeks, and the 11 y.o. needing, per teacher conference, “additional strategies to focus,” and the male cat peeing in every room, presumably to prevent the other two felines from usurping his sunny spots (this strategy also works on humans: I don’t like to sit near that smell, either).

The 14 y.o. prepared well (with his teacher’s help and some parental nagging), and then: he performed well (with himself and the fabulous pianist Erica Sipes). Last year at this same competition he Flubbed Big Time: forgot the music, had to come to full stop. And find his place again, in front of an audience. So this is a Major Victory.

He sought and won this victory on his own; I avoid all high-pressure situations requiring live performance on a stringed instrument. He continues to leave behind the child that was “my” little boy: he is too tall, his voice too deep and his feet too smelly for that. He possesses himself. And as I watched him perform in the final round of the competition, in front of a goodly-sized audience of strangers, peers, parents and judges, I was struck by his resemblance to my brother and my mother. Because of his dark hair, I think, and his (temporarily) serious face.

As those who have read my earlier blog know, my mother’s side of the family was dysfunctional in ways I’ll certainly exploit in a memoir when everyone has died off.* And what struck me as I watched him was: this happens when energy is well-directed. When it has a place to go, and be, besides drinkinggunsfighting.

English: Medford Square, Medford Massachusetts...

Medford Square, Medford Mass.
Image via Wikipedia

My mom, despite being raised around drinkinggunsfighting got me off that path (with my father’s steadfast presence), tho’ not without collateral damage. I lamented to Engineer Hubby, during a bus ride on a rainy night in Medford Massachusetts, about my challenge of integrating critique comments, not realizing at the time that my struggles were connected to that collateral damage. He said, well, maybe your son will be a better writer than you because you’re doing all this work now and can share it with him from the time he’s little.

First I had to correct him: I was the eldest daughter of an eldest daughter of an eldest daughter. MY first child would be a girl. (My first lesson in how everything you think you know about children is wrong: I have no daughters.)

Second, I was miffed. Why would my CHILD get to be a better writer than me? Wasn’t I working hard enough? Didn’t I care enough? Wasn’t I good enough?

But the fact of the matter is, whether or not my children will be better writers, they are already reaping the benefit of our understanding of habits, of practice, of motivation – and all the information our civilization has gained, and is gaining daily, about our brains, our Selves, how we work, how we are put together and why some things work in manner X and others Y, etcetera.

And even as I am, most days, grateful to know why it’s worth fighting the battle of regular music practice with my sons, I am also oh-so-hopeful that this old dog can learn some of those new tricks. Here’s a quick run-down of some I’m trying with varying levels of success:

>> Specify the next day’s intention at the end of the current work day. Not, “rewrite short story” but “rewrite first paragraph of short story to convey protagonist’s emotional state.”
>> Work hard with full intention for 45 minutes, then take a break for 10-15 (my thanks to Ellen Sussman for articulating this so helpfully in a Poets & Writers essay).
>> Meditate, even if for only 15 minutes.
>> Put on your walking shoes (or running shoes or basketball shoes) at least five times a week … and then get outside to walk run or shoot hoops. Or sit on the porch and stare at the weeds I mean flowers.
>> Drink plenty of water and nourish your body with good food.
>> Read, read, read.
>> Keep a journal or log of how your practice actually went. Review this bi-weekly and tweak your intention-setting based on how the writing is really going.
>> Take one day a week off of “hands-on” practice – read a new journal, do the crossword, listen to an interview with a writer.
>> Attend a master class-type event at least twice a year.

When I’m able to implement a few of these strategies, I find my real and imaginary kitchens are much more cheerful places for all involved. Even the peeing cat seems a tad less inclined to micturate on the furniture.

Baking my famous chocolate chip cookies. Can y...

Cookies-in-process Image via Wikipedia

And those feelings of unworthiness? Becalmed by the state of flow wafting up the stairs, they have made their prison a playroom, and are ready for some cookies.

* I know, I know, all the memoirist/creative nonfiction writers out there admonish us to write our truth, anyway, and let the familial chips fall where they may. I have begun jottings for a memoir, but I’ll wrestle the Extended Family only if (and when) I feel called to share those stories.

Shakespeare said it better, so why bother?

In the very early weeks of motherhood, when I flipped through the photos of my hugely pregnant self, I didn’t recognize that woman. That  wasn’t me! Certainly her body was different, being an additional fifty pounds (yes, fifty. 5.0.) pounds heavier – much of which was “water weight,” hah! But what was most alien was the expression on her face. She looked happy, completely and comfortably certain that she had everything under control.

This despite plenty of contrary evidence. I’d suffered three miscarriages, and subsequent diagnosis and treatment of “luteal phase defect.” At 28 weeks, early labor arrived, requiring hospitalization and two weeks of bed rest.

Nonetheless, for whatever reason – mother’s intuition? sixth sense? – I’d remained certain this pregnancy would result in a healthy birth.  I was proven right when son #1 arrived right on time, all fingers and toes present and in the right spots. As my midwife stitched me up, she casually joked “now the hard work begins.” I needed a fair number of stitches. I’ll spare you the labor story, but it was, as so many of them are, a lesson in pain, humility, faith and miracles. There would be nothing harder than what my body had just endured. I thought my midwife was making a bad joke.

My midwife was not making a bad joke.

shower head

Shower: so wondrous and fair, so unattainable when kids are little

Unfortunately, I did not recognize this due to my complete and utter immaturity and egoism. I flat-out disbelieved what others told me about parenting. Those who said it was impossible to get out the door with a baby in under an hour? They had no idea how to organize, that was all! Haggard mothers who claimed no more than an hour’s sleep per night, for six weeks? Surely their parenting partners weren’t as good as mine! Parents who lamented that showering was nigh unto impossible? Please. It only takes ten minutes, how hard can that be? [Best book on this: Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions.]

Everyone who’s had a child, lived with a child, interacted with a child: join me in laughing heartily at my younger self. Because it is exactly that hard and frankly, the physical demands of childbirth and infant-baby-toddler childcare melt to nothingness relative to the labor of explaining injustice, cruelty, famine, death, loss and heartbreak as your child grows up.

I’m a fast learner and it only took me, oh, about two years, to discover that everything everyone had told me was true.

I’ve had now fourteen years to practice hanging onto the person I am regardless of being a mother. I’ve been practicing a lot, first, because my kids won’t be at home forever and I’m a big believer in steady maintenance: if we don’t tend to things, they fall apart. True of physical structures, true of our bodies, true of our souls, true of our hearts and minds.

Image by Dave McLean via Flickr

Mount Laundry.

Second, because when I don’t hang on to the now-wiser remnant of that young, water-weighted, utterly certain young pregnant woman, I’m lost. The days when I only tend to others from the moment my slippered feet shuffle into the bathroom ‘til they plod upstairs at day’s end are days that deplete me, gobble my joy, my patience, my sense of humor. I am not satisfied by days with nothing but carpooling, volunteering, shopping, paying bills, chauffering kids to cello, soccer, cub scouts, cleaning up the cat puke, folding laundry, preparing some semblance of an edible meal, and walking the stir-crazy dog.

Don’t misunderstand: I enjoy each of those things for its own unique pleasures (eavesdropping during carpool, chatting while volunteering, finding a yummy new ice cream, watching my kids enjoy sports and music, folding sheets hung in a sunny breeze, savoring the results of my kitchen labors, the obvious delight of the dog in the cool evening air).

Probable photograph of William Shakespeare, ci...

Shakespeare via Wikipedia ... still going strong

It’s the cumulative effect of the duties layered with the simple fact that I freak out in a cluttered and/or dirty environment that does me in. The swirl of life with three other people in a smallish house distracts and distresses me on the bad days, and I dive into fixing all the details and then I look up and … I’m exhausted and find the muse is already snoring and I am faced with a metaphorical and often literal blank page and a serious case of the what-the-hell-do-I-have-to-say-anyway-and-even-if-I-figured-it-out-why–bother-Shakespeare-said-it-better-four-hundred-years-ago-anyway-quit-whining-your-life-is-amazing-look-at-the-people-starving-in-Somalia.

And then I compare myself to other parents who don’t, apparently, shove their kids out the door with breakfast in a “to go” bowl, admonishing them to “Hurry up! Because if mommy doesn’t write today her head will explode!” Do they?

In my clearer moments I realize 1. Maybe their heads don’t explode for the same reasons mine does. 2. Maybe their heads don’t explode at all! 3. Maybe my hard-wiring is as defective as my uterus was and I should still be on the antidepressants.

Image via Wikipedia

Moonlight ...

And perhaps if the pills’ effectiveness hadn’t waned and if writing didn’t wax a big golden moon that illuminates my life, I would be. But pen on paper is how I find out who I am, and why I am, at least for a moment. It helps me figure stuff out and then it helps me figure out how to deal with it.

If we’re on the Titanic, and we know we’re going sinking and we also happen to be in first class, why not drink the champagne? What are we saving it for? What’s the point in self-inflicted, unnecessary miserliness with our souls? *

While the confident, certain young woman I was before motherhood’s cloak wrapped me up was foolish and arrogant, she was also beaming from ear to ear, full of life and stories yet untold. On the other side, here with the doubt, exhaustion, heartbreak, wisdom, and humility of wearing that cloak , I need her confidence, her certainty, her fecundity, because “… it hurts when buds burst. There is pain when something grows.”

Guess who? Not Shakespeare. Karin Boye.

Source: Wikipedia

Pop it open. Life's short.

Guess what? If I can hang onto her, my arrogant self will suppress my Shakespeare inferiority complex, guide me to the table, set me down and put me to scribbling.

She knows we need to drink whatever champagne we are lucky enough to find.

Cheers.

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* Credit for the Titanic metaphor goes to Dr. John Cairns