writing

in deep enough

It’s been nearly a month since I’ve written here. But I am writing everyday, up early in the dark. Books don’t write themselves, and I am seeing firsthand the deliberate determination and fierce desire that I have heard authors speak of my whole life. Writing doesn’t feel easy lately. It feels like shoveling something heavy from one side of the street to the other over and over. But it is still the only way that I make sense of anything at all, and I feel so grateful this thing is mine.

This is how it goes lately — I wake early everyday, brew coffee, set a timer for 15 minutes and use my hand with a real pen on real paper to get that space between sleepy dreaming and consciousness on the page. Then I open the computer and pick up where I left off before and sometimes use something scrawled in the notebook. Inevitably, I think it is absolute shit. Then weeks later, I print off the chapter when it is done, and it seems moderately less shitty than what it felt like when I wrote it. And I line edit and fill the holes or find the moments where I am just scratching the surface of what is really there, and I shovel in deeper. Again and again on repeat. I am in deep enough that I have no real interest in anything else right now – not Christmas shopping or news headlines or fashion or decor or men. Just words all the time, either my own on the page in front of me or another writer whose sentences I study to see how they are built. I am only 80 pages in and have no literary agent yet, and somehow my heart has set sail with this thing, and I don’t think it’s coming home until it is finished. This is the space I have wanted so desperately to find myself in since I began cooking this idea a year ago, and yet now that I am here it feels scary and burdensome and like some insurmountable summit I cannot reach.

I am in that space that people misunderstand and over-romanticize, the one where the book is this living, breathing thing you have to care for like a pet. It barks at me when I ignore it for a day, and it sometimes feels like I am just cleaning up after it. But every now and then – between the this is terrible thoughts and the will anyone ever read this anyway? thoughts – I see a glimpse of the whole picture it is shaping up to be, and I feel it for just the smallest split second. Like when the sun glints through leaves on a tree and you see the glimmer sparkle for just a tiny moment before it hides again.

In the past few weeks, I’ve also fallen down a Netflix hole of Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth, and I cannot find my way out, but I’m okay with that. I’ve watched pieces of this before in preparation for writing papers about his ideas or teaching them, but this marks the first time I have watched him just because I want to. It speaks to me in ways I didn’t expect. I know him mostly for his ideas on the hero’s journey and their usefulness in the classroom when I teach students about how to view fiction, but there are so many other notable things he touches on in this series that leave me feeling full and less alone. In an episode I watched more than once just to hear it again, he talks about the North Star that lies in all of us that can take us where we are meant to go. In his words, it is so simple – just follow your bliss to find where you need to be. The brain, he reminds us, is only “a secondary organ.” The body, the heart, that pool of warmth and joy that you feel when you are doing what you love, that is where the real self resides. I am there, finally. Not sure where this will go and what the point of all of it will be, but I have tapped into that space where even the hard work feels right and good and true and almost unavoidable. I’m just going to stay here in the flow and keep going and see what happens.

In one of my daily Richard Rohr emails recently, he quoted William Stafford, an American poet from a century ago, who wrote, “There is a thread you follow. It goes among things that change. But it doesn’t change…. While you hold it you can’t get lost.”

In ways this has been a hard year. I’ve felt stuck in my tracks more than once. I have blinked for just a second and somehow the leaves are falling again, and it is the last of November and soon to be the end of the year. I want to say to 2018, No no no, I’m not done with you yet. This can’t be all it was. But maybe I am not giving enough credit to all the little things. The tiny imperceptible shifts that I can only see when I look back. The ways I am standing straighter and stronger and more sure than I was before. Every distraction that found its way to me was derailed, and sometimes it felt painful and senseless. The small annoyances and the large ones too, the break-up, the biopsy, all of it.

Every single thing that came my way woke me up and pushed me onward to find that pulsing thing that only I can judge and only I can give to my own self, that thread that pulls me on and on to where I’m meant to be. All I know right now is that it is hard but it feels right and that I am closer than I was when I began.

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gratitude

engine

I can hardly believe there are three days left in October as I type this. Another year almost come and gone.

I mentioned this on my Instagram feed a few days ago, but I had a biopsy last week. It was a situation that began in August when I had my baseline mammogram, and it led to a second scan, and then my insistence on a second opinion when the first practice claimed I needed a biopsy. I am relatively young and have no strong family history of breast cancer, so I was hesitant to do it. But then eventually I agreed when the second specialist explained that the way it was clustered on the mammogram image did, in fact, need to be checked.

So on Friday the 19th (my grandmother’s birthday incidentally) I drove to Atlanta for the procedure, and it was honestly a little more than I’d bargained for. This wasn’t a lump I could feel; instead it was a spot deep enough that it required a sterotactic biopsy which just means that they do it while being guided by a mammogram machine. Like anyone else, I have had so much going on in the regular business of my everyday life. So I realized when I finally laid face down on the table that they elevate to access your breast and do the procedure that I honestly hadn’t really processed any of what that meant – the big stuff anyway. It was just an item on my to-do list until I laid still for 90 minutes for it to happen and that is when I finally let my head go to the what if question that this whole thing prompted.

The tech was an angel, an absolute angel. She grabbed my hand like a old friend when the needle made its way in and told me to squeeze. They like to stop the bleeding before you leave the room so that you don’t have risk of infection at the site later, and as I finally sat up, she stood there holding compression on my bare breast for another 20 minutes until it stopped bleeding so much. Then she cleaned me up and bandaged me with an ice pack and gave me a hug to send me home. As I sat there shirtless in the cold and sterile room and she cleaned me up, I remembered why it feels so ceremonial to clean someone else’s body. All the times this has happened before. In religious texts, when we read of washing someone’s feet, that first bath with a baby when they are still covered in blood from their entrance, the memories of bathing my grandmother in those last days when she couldn’t do it herself. These shells we live in. Both sacred and mundane.

In the days that followed, the initial soreness wore off, and on Wednesday the doctor called to say that magic word benign, which I knew was the statistically probable answer, but exhaled deeply nonetheless. What if, what if, what if is a scary game to play for any one of us.

And for me, if I am being honest, the physical vulnerability highlighted the fact that I am the only adult in this house. My working body is the engine that keeps this train moving, and never for a second had I thought about the possibility that it might not until last week. As is always the case with the moments that shift our perspective in life, this was so many things rolled into one. Fear and courage. Pain and relief. Dissatisfaction followed by gratitude. And the heavy realization that in ways I am very, very alone. But also in ways I am supported beyond what I realize. The friends and family who volunteered to go with me to the procedure itself and even the way that the universe delivered a stranger who treated me like a sacred friend for the hours we crossed paths.

Here is the weird thing I am learning about life: we are never alone, but also at the end of the day, we are all alone, every one of us. These big questions can never be resolved by anyone other than the one you see in the mirror.

I have a lot of catching up to do this weekend — uninspiring things like laundry and grocery shopping and cleaning the bathtubs and grading papers. But I have also spent time recuperating under blankets with soup and hot tea and some television last night. I started watching Amazon’s Forever on the recommendation of a friend. I am only 4 episodes in but struck by the quiet thoughtfulness of this show. I won’t ruin it for you with too many details, but I will say that Fred Armisen plays the most perfect husband who is always cheerful and serves his wife dinner each and every night, and they exist in a house where everything is in its place at all times. Their lives are easy and predictable. And yet there is this moment where you see Maya Rudolph’s face as he serves his perfect dinner in their perfectly clean home, and there is such boredom, such misery. It delivers those lessons that only a paradox can teach you, the ones that echo inside you for a while after you quit watching.

It is only ever the scary and the risk and the unforeseen and the unknown that makes it worth any of our time, isn’t it? Tomorrow could change everything for me — for the better or for the worse. And that idea is terrifying but also electrifying. I have no idea what lies around the bend, but I know that my life has given me a spine of steel and the softest heart, and I think those two things can withstand anything.

I picked up Naomi Shihab Nye’s latest poetry collection a few weeks ago, and my favorite poem in the book concludes with her assertion that, “We’re so anxious but deep down, in the heart place of time, our lives are resonant, rolling. They’re just waiting for us to remember them. We are here, so deeply here, and then we won’t be. And that is the most unbelievable thing of all.”

It is unbelievable, isn’t it? That we are not here forever, that every single one of us has an expiration date. That we have no idea what tomorrow will bring. That we are never alone but also we are the only ones who can do it. I am so glad, always but especially this week, that this very particular life is mine. I would not trade any piece of it for anyone else’s. This body is mine, and the engine is still rolling onward to something I cannot see.

gratitude

something different

It is Monday again somehow. I spent part of last week and half the weekend at a large academic conference, and I was presenting this time, so it has consumed a good bit of effort from the past few weeks to be ready for that.  It feels good to have it checked off my list. Yesterday I crammed all the usual prep for the work week into the few free hours I had. Today is Jude’s ninth birthday, so I baked a coffee cake to greet him when he wakes up, and we will do what we always do and sit at our breakfast table and sing happy birthday to greet another year.

Right now, as I type this, the house is quiet and it is still dark outside. Coffee on my left and the dog sleeping in front of me with only the glow of my favorite lamp and the screen in front of me. I always wake up an hour before the rest of the house. The only time of my day where I can feel the space around me and in front of me and slow my pace enough to settle in. This is my favorite hour.

Where to even begin with this? Saturday I finished up the conference just in time to catch Rob Bell’s Atlanta stop on his Holy Shift tour. Pete Rollins was the opener, and I also grabbed a ticket for the Q&A session an hour before the show started. My brain was so fried from 3 days of academic jargon that I was a little worried I wouldn’t be able to rally for hours of talk on God and humanity and philosophy, but they both grabbed me with their material, and it was the best night I’ve had in such a long, long time. As always, what I needed to hear found me at exactly when I needed to hear it.

As Pete Rollins opened, he spoke a bit about that space between what we are and what we want to be – the ways that it can motivate and it can also create pain. The story of Adam and Eve shows us this. As does psychology (what is out of reach is always what you crave) and Greek myths, too. But Rollins rolled on with that Oscar Wilde quote, “There are two tragedies in life: one is not getting what you want and the other is getting it.” And he spoke about how we always think that next thing is what will make us happy, but in reality it never does. I think I forget this – that the secret to life actually lies in the longing, the desiring. Until you lock into that space of longing for something just outside of your reach, you can absorb a kind of inertia. (Something Rob Bell has coined as death by wallpaper and flooring on an earlier talk. A slow, steady death I see all around me in this chapter of my life. People who are asleep at the wheel all day long.)

I think the image Rollins left with us that won’t leave me alone is the idea that we are all haunted houses full of ghosts rumbling somewhere just beneath what we can access in our daily lives. He asserts that only when we are dreaming can we access this real space and we have to, in a sense, go to sleep when we wake up to begin our days so that we can get on with the usual business of life and distract ourselves from all these existential questions.  As someone who swears that my dreams speak to me sometimes (especially lately), I feel this so closely.

The whole intention of this tour is to explore the word holy with both its ancient context and its modern use, and Rob Bell came out after Rollins to do just that. (Here we are in 2018, and someone can come to an empty stage, one microphone, one chair, and no screen, and talk for nearly two hours about the word holy. Amazing.)

He used the story of Isaiah who claims he had a vision of the throne of God as angels circled saying Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh which is Hebrew for holy, and he jumped forward to what exactly does that word mean anyway, and how can we harness that in 2018.

I cannot condense two hours into a few paragraphs, but essentially what I came to hear and to hold a little closer to my own experience is this — Some things cannot be explained. And what is holy never makes sense in our immediate lives. When something makes me feel big (motherhood) or small (staring up at the night sky) or when something is just too weird as he so simply called it (the million instances in my life where things just cannot be rationally explained) … all of these things show me that there is just this space where I stand sometimes that I need to hold a little more loosely. I need to perhaps stop trying to connect the dots and just let it be and know that this is something different than the rational, something sacred and set apart only for me and my particular path.

I thought I was there already, but this past month has shown me that I am not. I could hold it all a little more loosely than I do. I could trust a little more.

In one of my favorite of Bell’s talks that I have downloaded and listened to repeatedly, he says, “When we suffer, often our first instinct, our first impulse, is we want answers and we want them now. And that longing and desire is driven by if I just had a black and white, clear cut explanation as to why it would perhaps fix this pain that I am holding that I don’t quite know what to do with. But in my experience, I don’t know if explanations and answers are ultimately what help us heal. Why did that particular cell mutate that way? Why did that car hit that patch of ice? Why did that person’s heart become hard in that way?  Would a clear explanation of that really help a person begin the long, slow road of putting one foot in front of the other and begin to heal and imagine a new tomorrow? …. There is an absolute universal truth I know for sure and it is this. When we suffer, this too will shape us.”

Two weeks ago, when my kids had been at dad’s for the weekend, they rolled in at 5pm, and we sat down in the little playroom to the right of the front door. Jude was babbling about something; I don’t remember what. Norah was trying to interrupt him to say something as well, and she laid down on top of me on the floor so that her head was on my chest, and I was just lying there on the floor looking up at Jude sitting there next to me talking and talking. He laughed at something; I don’t remember what it was, and it didn’t matter. And I don’t know what it was about that particular second. Maybe that I’d had a hard weekend battling my own never-ending need for answers and demons of self-doubt. Or maybe just that the house was full of smiles and noise again, and there was fall afternoon sunlight spilling through the front window.

But whatever the reason, I know that one full sentence ran through my brain unbidden. Maybe I am building something different than I knew I was. Unexpected words that come from someplace else are another way that the holy shows up for me.

I don’t even know entirely what that means yet and where to put it. But I think it is connected to all of what I heard on Saturday night. There is no end game where I stand. This is not some stepping stone to a perfect plateau that I can see stretched in front of me. This is now and here, and that is all I can see. Instead of connecting the dots, I’m going to hold it all a little more loosely. Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh. Maybe I am building something different than I knew I was.

 

 

Life and Randomness

birth pangs

I have been waking in the middle of the night a lot lately. Unable to go back to sleep for quite a while, but eventually I do and then I am so sleepy when my alarm rings. It will pass, but my body has some humming energy with it these days that I haven’t felt in a such a long time.

Two nights ago, I had a succession of three vivid dreams right in a row. The first one found me in some unfamiliar house, and there was a sleeping person in the basement and others crowded around her telling everyone to sshhhhh stay quiet as not to wake her. I would tip toe around her and hear her stir and get scared I was going to be the one to wake her up. Then I walked upstairs and back down again, and the light in the kitchen woke this person up while I was standing in the middle of it. Everyone was a chaotic mess and looking straight at me as the culprit. I felt the guilt of it, and I was frantically trying to turn off the kitchen light with no switch to be found.

Dream 2. I am in a house again. But this time I am in a room of a house I lived in during college that has been torn down years ago. And my close friend and I (actually the same one I referenced in the last post) were saying, Isn’t this nice? To be in a dream where we can come back to this place that doesn’t exist anymore?

Dream 3. I am in a house I have never seen before, but in the dream it is mine. There is water coming in through the roof, pouring through the ceiling and dripping down the walls. I am trying to stop it at first, but then I just watch it happen with total surrender, understanding I can’t do anything about it anyway.

I know it is not as simple as looking up some magic symbol in a dream dictionary. But I also know what it feels like when some other subconscious piece of me is trying desperately to tell the rest of me something. Sometimes dreams, if we are patient with them and sit with them a minute, are trying to tell us something that we aren’t seeing otherwise. These three for me were so vivid and so strange that I have not been able to shake them.

Jung believed that dreams of houses represent the self and your various levels of consciousness. I don’t know about that, but I do know that I somehow feel like I have awakened some sleeping giant in the basement in this past two weeks, one I was trying to ignore and hope she’d sleep forever. And I was frantically trying to find a way to turn off that light switch and put her back to sleep, but she is awake now. I am for certain back in a space that I thought was torn down, long gone. And at first I tried to fight the water pouring in on all sides, but now I just let it flow.

Grief is cyclical. Things like intuition and spirit and emotion never move in a linear way, but they are always leading me where I am meant to be. And I am not even certain I can say I am grieving. That is not the right word. It’s more like an ache that echos and I don’t know what it means or where it came from — only that it needed to be here in this space and time in order to birth me onward to something new. I turn on the news, and I see the same thing collectively in our entire culture. Like it’s all boiling over for a lot of us.

This just happens sometimes, and I have lived long enough to know that I need to wait it out. Sit down and let it wash over and handle me however it needs to. Tears are like baptism, and I did nothing but write all weekend. Creation always has some scary, stirring energy that comes along with it.

I was thinking about this concept today when I was standing in line at the grocery store, and I remembered when Norah was born. I can remember when it was really intense, just beyond the scope of what I thought I could handle, when I’d swear aloud that I cannot handle another contraction, and then it would come and I would breathe through the pain, and then it would pass. Then the next one would come, and I would somehow forget everything I’d known, everything — forget that I’d already been doing this for hours, that I was doing this now, forget that I was born to do this. I’d feel sure of nearly nothing anymore. Repeat, breathe. Repeat, breathe. And just when I thought – for the millionth time – that I couldn’t do it anymore, that is when she came. Crying and bloody and messy and staring at me with the quietest eyes like she always knew we would meet and always knew it would be that second and in that exact place.

What if the whole world works like this? Every new and amazing thing that is born in my life. Every new and amazing piece of myself that I bring forth. What if the act of creation always puts you through a dark spot first? Breathe, repeat, breathe, repeat. Again and again until the new thing comes forward and looks at you with eyes that seem to say it was always supposed to be that way.

Life and Randomness

trigger

It’s been a hard couple of weeks in the news. I know so many women who are having to turn away, and sometimes I do as well. It feels like the same message is taking different forms and swirling, swirling in the universe for me to grab hold and bring it to the light for a better look.

I unloaded to my friend last weekend about some personal battles I’m having in my own head and heart and some hardships she is facing, and she mentioned that Pema Chodron quote, Nothing goes away until it has taught us what we need to learn. And look at us, here in 2018, still having public conversations about who is to blame for someone taking advantage of a woman’s body, her trust, the essence of who she is.

Look at me in 2018, at nearly 38 years old, still wondering if I am to blame for my own heartaches. It is all the same thing.

Do you know how many times a day I say either aloud or in my own head that I am sorry about something? Or that I should have done better? Or that I should have some kind of future-vision where I could see something coming before it gets here and read through someone’s false exterior like an x-ray? Or any other number of questions I use to dig through emotional labor like a shovel through gravel in the wreckage left behind by a man in one form or another. Always in a soft space where I am looking for the kindest way to respond, looking for the silver lining, trying to put pieces together in a way that fits. But sometimes none of it fits. None of it. You just have to leave it there untouched and unanswered.  I guess I’m saying tonight that it feels heavy and I’m tired of my own softness.

I am trying so hard, so so hard, to believe that there are men in this world who are kind and real and honest and mature and can do hard things. But I have been proven wrong so many times that I am losing faith, friend. Losing it fast.

And even as I type this, I think don’t post this because clearly someone who has repeated heartbreak with the same scenario playing on repeat like a broken record is at the root of her own pain somehow.  But can you see what that is? Again looking for a way that I am to blame for someone else’s dishonesty.

I had a night this weekend where I was alone in the darkness trying to sleep, and it felt like such deja vu that was so long ago buried in my body that I forgot what it even felt like until it bubbled to the surface again. I was right back to a place I’d rather forget and it felt unwarranted but real, so incredibly real – that voice in my head and my gut, that heaviness and quiver. I talked myself out of it for days and days, telling myself it was trauma buried somewhere and resurfacing unnecessarily and I shouldn’t listen to it – to my own blood and bones and frame and gut that knew what it knew without reason. I was telling myself it was wrong.

But the body never lies does it? My wiser self is always in there somewhere saying can you hear me? knock knock. Until louder and louder it goes. And even then sometimes I blame my own self and call it a misdirection. But she is right every time, my body. Every time she speaks to me, I need to listen. Nothing goes away until it has taught us what we need to learn.

I asked that same friend tonight on the phone – through a few tears and a lot of her refrains of I know, I know – how many times a heart can take a beating before it just closes for business. Tonight I feel as though I am at my limit. In my own life, when I watch the news, when I look at a string of days behind me that I would rather forget or at least be able to write over again.  When I think about doing this again and again, I want to give up and just harden it and close the doors for a while.

But I know that my heart is a muscle the size of my fist and it somehow keeps beating again and again. Yours does too.  Nothing goes away until it has taught us what we need to learnNothing goes away until it has taught us what we need to learn. I’m letting these words flow over me tonight like water, letting them slide and sink in the dark as I fall asleep. I don’t feel the deja vu anymore at all – no shakes and no quivers and no tightness in my center. All I can feel now is the quiet rush of my own self here again, the same as she ever was. Sore but not broken.

Today I drove home from work in the late afternoon light. My drive is long but mostly rural and beautiful and winding. I was exhausted from work and the questions tumbling in my head the last few days. And I remembered the day I moved from my old house – my married home – when I was coming out of a season of my body screaming at me for months and months before I listened. My friend, a fellow single mom halfway across the world raising her girls alone, sent me a song as a moving soundtrack. This played on repeat for me for nearly half of that day as I packed the last few boxes and swept the dust from the corners of the empty rooms in that house that felt like a haunted museum.

I flippantly put that same song on today as I rounded a curve, and I turned it loud as I drove toward the sunset to a quiet and empty house of my own waiting for me.

I didn’t expect it, but my chin quivered when she began the second verse – And I’ve been a fool and I’ve been blind. I can never leave the past behind. I can see no way, I can see no way .I’m always dragging that horse around. Then the tears came with my favorite line – I am done with my graceless heart. So tonight I’m gonna cut it out and then restart. A long and winding road with the music loud and the tears flowing will get you where you need to be. Every time.

Here’s to cutting it out. Every last graceless piece of me that blames myself for someone else’s actions. It’s hard to dance with the devil on your back, sure. But the heaviest horse I carry, the one that hangs on my back like some never ending shadow is that command I have absorbed that tells me that it is my job to clean up any mess left and make neat, beautiful piles from the wreckage.

Tonight, I’m not sweeping anything. I am letting it be. Shaking it out and out and out again until all that is left is who I am underneath the heartache – solid and true. Grace upon grace upon grace. I believe every story my body tells me, every true and right thing she whispers. And I believe yours, too.

 

 

single parenthood

all in all the time

It is mid-afternoon on Saturday, and the kids are away. I had to give a work-related presentation this morning, so this feels more like a Friday than a true weekend, and I am trying to think of all the ways I can find the fast track to relaxation. Maybe a bath or a slow dinner or a good soundtrack. But writing always gets me there faster than anything else does, so here I am.

The kids and I went away last weekend for the Labor Day holiday – back to one of our favorite spots in the mountains of northwest Georgia.  It was fun, and it was exhausting… which seems to be the theme of my time with these two lately.

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We spent three nights in the woods, and I more or less just let kids be kids. It was three days of loud noise and sweaty shirts and sticky hands and a body that was so bone-tired every night as we fell asleep in the darkness that I didn’t mind the hard surface beneath me.

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I’ve had a lot of frustrations with parenting lately, and it is like some grumbling thing that I cannot even entirely put words to very easily. It’s under the surface, and I never have time or space or silence to comb through it. I think it is mostly just exhaustion. The start of a school year is a shock to the system, and every year the demands grow a bit. The homework and the expectations and the after school clubs and activities and the big feelings that begin to brew in these years. They have likes and dislikes and blooming personalities and so many needs. It is not the same as the never-ending needs of a baby which are just physical mostly. This is different.

They need me to be all in all the time with them, and it’s hard to even finish typing this sentence through the mom guilt, but the truth is that I cannot be all in all the time. I need a rest sometimes. And of course other times it’s that I need to think about something else — like my own classes I’m planning for my students or my own writing goals or maybe even a personal or relational thought sometimes about the million other things that make me a human being. In short, I wish I had super powers to be on all the time with them … or maybe just a clone of myself to be at home stirring dinner on the stove while this self takes them to activities or stays in the office a couple extra hours to catch up.

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I tried to stop the clock last weekend, to run away to the woods and hit the pause button. There were some beautiful moments, but it wasn’t entirely a pause button. My brain hummed the whole time with other things as well. It pains me to write that, but it is true.

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I’ve been listening to a Ram Dass lecture series when I’m in my car or washing dishes, and in a portion I heard yesterday, he said something along the lines of taking something seriously doesn’t make it go away any faster. It made me laugh. It’s so pervasive in our society to see everything uncomfortable as a problem to be solved or as a pathology of some kind. His words encouraged me to try to look at my current feelings of overwhelm with some playful curiosity instead.

What would it look like to accept that this is life and this is single parenting and I cannot be all in all the time?

What would it look like to do the best I can and leave the rest well enough alone?

What would it look like to lessen the weights in my life that bring me chaos by just taking everything a little lighter, a little less seriously?

Yesterday morning, the kids were moving slowly and it took at least five commands of BRUSH YOUR TEETH to make that happen. I couldn’t find the right mate for Norah’s sock, and when I finally did, I came downstairs to see that the dog had thrown up twice in the middle of the kitchen floor. As I cleaned that up, I remembered that we didn’t do Norah’s reading homework the night before, so I told her to get started then and we’d get it done just in time for the bus. Jude had his backpack on and begged to walk out to his friends at the bus stop, and I told him no. He’d have to wait on his sister. He paced and huffed and asked again, but when he realized I was serious, he just sat down next to her and helped her. And I’m not exaggerating when I say that the three minutes of their quiet concentration and his gentle help was the absolute highlight of my entire week. It was over fast enough, and we rushed out the door, and the rest of Friday’s demands tumbled after.

I am Jude sometimes – pacing and hurrying and sighing and grumbling and wishing things were different. But I think maybe if I would just sit down it could make it all better and let the space settle around me. Perhaps I need to take a deep breath and know that I won’t miss the bus, that I am here and this is real and I am always right on time.

gratitude, Life and Randomness, single parenthood

sacred

We are almost to the end of August, my least favorite month. Routines are not quite established yet, and it all feels new. Once we are in the swing of things, it makes me feel a little more firmly held. But not yet.

Yesterday’s schedule had us leaving the house at 7:30 in the morning and walking back in the door at 7:20pm, a routine that will feel normal in a few more weeks, but last night I went to bed depleted and frazzled. These years and their packed lunch boxes and homework checks and ballet tights and sports practices. It’s no wonder older parents swear to me that it flies so quickly.  The rhythm of my academic life mirrors my kids’ seasons as my work schedule gains speed right when theirs does. Most weeks race like a mad dash to the finish line.

School year routines can feel good and firm and safe though – once I get used to them again. But they can also feel overwhelming. I was drowning in work tasks this last few days, unsure if I could finish things in time, and the frantic brain wasn’t helping. All of my mental browsers open at the same time, like a desk full of scribbled post-its. Yesterday morning I vowed to take a long look at my list, choose what was most important (not necessarily most urgent), and do only one thing at a time. Suddenly instead of spinning my wheels, I was checking things off my list. Multi-tasking never works as well as we think it does.

Urgency and priority are not the same thing.

The hard part about this time of year – and perhaps about parenting or even existing as a human in the modern world at all – is that it is actually up to me and only me to name the priorities in my life and to hold them sacred. No one is going to help me with that. And even worse, what the world demands of me, what is screaming loudest for my attention, is hardly ever what I truly value most. It is not easy holding those things firmly in their place at the front of my life.

I heard an interview with Wintley Phipps on the way to work this morning, and he talked about partnership and character. He said something like if you ask someone what they hold sacred and they cannot name a single thing, that person is not someone you want to be with. It’s a concept that made me stop and think and replay it in my head and then toss the word sacred in my brain and heart all day long. Sacred, holy, set apart, inviolable, unassailable, cherished, revered. (the synonym game)

He was speaking specifically about marriage and partnership, and it spoke right to me and gave voice to something I’ve thought a lot about in the last year or so and didn’t quite have words for yet. But apart from relationships, it also made me think about my own self and what I hold sacred.  What is revered most and what feels holy in my own life.

Sacred to me is never what screams the loudest for attention. It is early quiet mornings when it is still dark outside and my kids are sleeping, and I am stumbling through the kitchen to feed the dog and brew coffee. It is time with only the three of us. It is the ways they share the tiniest pieces of their days just before their eyes get heavy, just after I have turned off the lamp beside them. Sometimes sacred is something simple like a lunch at my desk with my office door closed to students, or early evening light through the kitchen window while I stir something on the stove. Sacred is laughing at something one of the kids said that I wasn’t expecting to hear. It is a handwritten card or a quick note from someone. The sound of a voice on the telephone line in the age of too many text messages. It is typing words on a screen and printing them on a page to edit with a favorite pen. It’s reading a book in the late lamplight before I go to sleep.

I am not always a pessimist about the modern world – usually quite the opposite actually. But this is one area where we are not winning at all. The very things that hold most of us together don’t happen unless we claim them and notice them. And somehow that gets harder to do with every passing year and the hurried pace we all measure ourselves against.

Perhaps my resolution for the academic year ahead is just to see things through this lens. To ask myself the right question everyday – Is this important or it this just urgent? To seek the sacred and recognize it for what it is and demand space for it everyday. I once heard boundaries described like the careful hand we place around the tiny flame on a birthday candle as the voices sing and we prepare the cake for its moment on the table. That tiny burning flame that needs a shield from the space around it in order to survive. It’s up to me to name what’s holy and to shield it from all the rest.