the time it takes to paint the canvas

A few days ago, my son came home with a paper invitation in his backpack that explained his artwork was featured in an exhibition at a local church’s annual Festival of the Arts. He’s in first grade, so I’ve only had a school-aged kid for a couple of years, but I have already figured out that it’s really impossible to tell with some of these functions if they are a big deal, so to speak, or if you will rearrange your schedule and drag kids out for something they would’ve hardly missed. There was no teacher email or mention on this one either, but I stuck it on the fridge and figured we’d go.

Wednesday rolled around, and it’s speech therapy after school which makes for a long day anyhow. Plus it’s the end of the month when my finances are always extraordinarily tight, so I didn’t want to splurge on dinner out when we had food at home. We race home, I make a quick dinner, and we turn around to race back out in the same general direction we came from. My mom was at my house the day before and saw the invitation on my fridge, so my parents wanted to check it out and were a little ahead of us and already there. She texted that there were A LOT of people there, and she wasn’t kidding. We arrived and took a while to find parking and shuffled in a line with everyone else to see the student exhibitions with work from 21 different elementary schools in the county – plus middle and high schools. There was visual art and ceramics and fashion design and sculpture. It was pretty amazing. And amazingly crowded. But we did spot his work along the wall with the others.

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At 6:45, they shuffled everyone upstairs to the sanctuary to list award winners, and they read a long list of 20 Honorable Mentions for elementary schools. They didn’t say his name, which did not really surprise me given the volume of art and participants, and he seemed a little disappointed, so I was whispering that it was an honor just to be included and don’t forget that your teacher chose only you for this event. Only you.

Then they listed winners for elementary school, and when they said his name for third place, both he and I perked up in surprise! I have his art cluttering my fridge and my coffee table and the back seat of my car and nearly every surface in my house, but that is mostly just because he’s my own kid and he loves to draw and paint and create. I never compare his work with others. It is such a fun experience and a rare moment of genuine surprise when you hear your kid’s name called and see them recognized in such a big way. He was competing alongside kids years older than him from 21 area schools, and it was such a special moment of pride for him. I’ll never forget the look on his face.

I emailed his art teacher early the next morning to say thank you, and she explained that she “knew it was special when she saw him painting it.” And Jude’s only mention of it weeks ago was to tell me that they were studying Van Gogh, that he kept working, working, working on it when all the other kids were done, and that his art teacher let him work slowly and take a long time to finish. (How seldom we do that, right? Such a reminder to have patience and let the canvas take shape — which is one big metaphor for raising kids and for watching your own life take shape, too.)

I’ve written a lot lately about being exhausted and pulled to my limits, which I am. The long days are the longest. But the good days feel like such a welcome break in the monotony sometimes. Wednesday was a really great moment.

As any divorced parent will tell you though, these moments do not ever look like what you’d once expected them to.

Jude’s dad was on the other side of the country, so neither of us told him when the initial invitation came home as there was no point. As we were walking out the door though, I think it dawned on Jude that this was a big deal and dad wasn’t able to see it, so he sent a hurried text message to his step-mom detailing the time and location. She dropped whatever it was that she was doing and hurried there, baby in tow.

I let him contact her without asking otherwise. We slid over in the crowded pew for her to have a place to sit. My family flagged her down in the crowded sanctuary so that she would feel less alone. We waved her off at the end of the event so that she felt included. I say all of this not to say look at me, I am amazing. I am not. We are not best friends. I say this to say that after months and months of practice, it really is not impossible to look at someone like a human being.

I wrote a little last fall about seeing her in a different light and feeling commonality and even sympathy for her in many ways. I do. And yet the hardest part of this is that, though she and I have stepped up to drop the bitterness and rise to a higher calling for the sake of my kids, there are bumps in the road beyond the two of us. My parents and I will sit down at a soccer game with folding chairs near my ex so that kids see us as one unit, and my children’s father and his own parents will stand up, fold theirs, and move to the other side of the field to make it clear we cannot do that. I will greet with a hello and get nothing back. When we are passing bags of clothing back and forth between households, I reach my hand out, but it gets placed on the ground at my feet though I am standing 3 feet in front of him and an outstretched arm would be the most respectful and least awkward way to do this. There is so much more I could say, but I will end there.

I worry a lot about how my kids absorb this as they are growing old enough to watch and observe with their own thoughts. I don’t write a lot about that dynamic here because it feels weird to do so, and I always write with the intention of revealing my own heart, but sometimes someone else’s actions and the effects on your own heart are so tangled that you cannot unwind them to talk about one without the other. I know so many readers here are coming from the same story, and I’m being transparent for the both of us. If you are in it too, I see you and I feel your sadness. If you have emerged to the other side where you are treated like a real person and a human being and not a ghost, please tell me how to get there.

Sometimes I think it’s just that women are capable of seeing complexity in a situation and rolling with it in all its gray areas so that we can put or children first. Sometimes I think that it’s because I took the time to clean up my own heart after my divorce so I can make eye contact and say hello and sit in a chair near them and it doesn’t hurt like it did at first. I know how it was in the beginning when I couldn’t look at them without tears in my eyes, but I don’t feel that anymore now that we are 2 years out and I did the hard work of cleaning up the mess inside my own self with time and reflection. If you cannot make eye contact or pass a clothing bag with an outstretched hand or answer a hello, is your heart anything but messy? Sometimes I wonder if I can be my own self without bitterness and shame and anger because I was not the one who stepped out of the marriage before it imploded. Is it actually easier in the long run when you are the one left behind in the beginning? That seems so ridiculous and counterintuitive to say, but there are ways I think it is true. I have nothing to hide or explain.

And in a literal sense, I know if I never once wrote the first word here, it would be very different. I have laid out all my fears and my sadness and my hurt and my confusion in this space, and it has only ever been my own perspective and my own heart. I have always said that. Many, many times, I have been told to be quiet and stop writing anyway, and yet I never did. This space has evolved to something else entirely where I have written about a million more things but always with the simple intention to tell the truth and lay it all bare as I feel it inside – whatever it may be.

I am revisiting some Marianne Williamson this week, and she says, “Women are still in emotional bondage as long as we need to worry that we might have to make a choice between being heard and being loved.” That passage slays me because I can glance back at every moment in my life when I felt that being heard did not equal being loved and feel how painfully that suffocates you. I think I finally realized that love is not real love anyway if it comes with the condition that you cannot be heard, so here I am still writing. And here I am still loving – even those who are hard to love. I can know that someone made choices I would not have made and maybe still has some mess left to work through, but my only ability to change anything at all is to be responsible for my own actions – whether that means making room on a church pew, recognizing my son’s desire to reach out for love from his other household, or looking someone in the eye to say hello. I think I will have to wait on the hand of time to soften all the rest, and if it doesn’t, it is still softening me. Maybe that is the other side I am meant to arrive at — not some sitcom reality where divorced parents have dinner together with their kids.

It’s our small daily choices that paint the whole canvas in the end. And though my kids don’t fully understand everything now when they see someone move a folding chair at a soccer game or decline a birthday party invitation or leave a hello hanging in the air between us without an answer, I know that they will look back and see that if nothing else, mom stayed open and soft and honest and real.

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wide open

It’s been 16 days since I last wrote something, so here I am with no agenda but with a determination to mark this month somehow so that I don’t forget it happened. It’s still dark out, and I’m typing as fast as I can before the kids wake up. The only way to get it done.

I proctored my final exams yesterday morning – which means I am only about 240 paragraphs of grading + one long assessment report away from my summer break. My composition exams are always at 7:30am (university schedule dictates that, not me) which means I leave the house at about 6:30, Norah in tow. It takes a lot of coordinating. My mom always stays with us the night before to get Jude off to school since his bus comes a full hour after I leave. Then we drive, I check Norah in, I proctor, I grade, and I scribble our other spring priorities on the planner — dentist appointments this Friday, birthday party coming up, pediatrician visit, graduation ceremonies, and the list goes on.

Spring is crazy always, but the older they get, the busier life feels. And I wish there was a way to change that, but it mostly just comes with the territory. We have all these lofty ideals of what parenting will look like, and then we have the reality. These two pictures are generally not all that similar to one another.

I spent Friday night at a international festival nearby with countless food trucks and vendors and entertainers from all over the world.  After doing these sorts of things alone for the past 2 years, we finally have someone tagging along with us every now and then, and thankfully he has what seems like endless patience. There were a few sibling spats, some occasional long lines, and a little whining. But there were also some memorable moments and big smiles and full bellies. Jude climbed a rock wall and has watched my video footage repeatedly to relive his fearless pride. Norah charmed a few high school football players who were selling bottled water, and she lugged the bottle home and to bed with her that night. After one, long, exaggerated sip, she explained, “That ‘festibal’ was so fun, mama. This water is so good. I think it’s from China.” (This coming from the child who requested a hot dog over dozens of delicious international options.) Their imaginations are wild and unleashed these days, but their excitement and pride is, too.
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I decided to forego the occasional summer camps that I usually use to break up the routine. Instead, I figure we can do things together nearby and maybe squeeze in a road trip or two and a weekend away.  They have private swim lessons lined up in May so that I can finally exhale at the pool every now and then. (They are both so close to swimming efficiently, but one mom and two kids is not getting it done as securely as I’d like.) I find these sorts of things bouncing in my head a lot — that they cannot swim yet and that we still use training wheels and that my first grader can’t tie his own shoes. There are so many life skills I know they need, and it stresses me to remember that I am the one who needs to teach them when truthfully laundry + homework routines + mealtimes and bedtimes take up every ounce of time and energy lately. Do other moms think about this sort of thing? Envisioning some future where your adult child cannot ride a bike and knowing that it is all your fault for not teaching him?

I’m in a weird place in my own life and in the life of my little family. I’m used to being independent and managing a household and all of the things necessary to get us from day to day. But then sometimes I realize with such weight and truth that I really could use an extra set of hands. I think families come in all shapes and sizes, and we are happy and feel complete in our comfort and routines. But I also think there is a reason it takes two people to create human beings – because it takes two people to tend to their growth if you intend to have any energy or sanity left. I try to do the job of two, and sometimes I am pretty good at it. But sometimes I fall short. I’m human, and I have a full-time job outside of this house, and there are only 24 hours in a day.

I tend to look at motherhood like project management these days, employing the village where I can to get us where we need to be. Delegating what I need to – like swimming instruction – and playing on my own strengths, trying hard not to worry about the rest and knowing that it will come together when it does and they will be okay. Eventually, we all will be. I give them a lot of wide open time to play and explore on their own, and even though that is mostly out of necessity for me, I tell myself that has its advantages, too.

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Among all the chaos and the sibling fights and the demands of the calendar, I do see so much independence growing among the both of them this year. I can see that kids need space and autonomy to grow and find their own way. I’m praying the goals and milestones will happen somehow in this stretch of time.

When I think back to my own life, I see how many times I have met goals this way, too. I chug along in the regular mess of life and look back to see I ‘ve actually learned something and crossed that big item off the list and somehow arrived at the goal along my own path. I’m hoping it’s the same for them – that they will look back and see the safety net of my own arms and our food on the table and our home and routines — and that wide open space of childhood everywhere else.

invisible notes, recorded

My kids slept until past 8am these past three days, which is beyond rare.  Even in the slow pace of summer, that doesn’t happen much. They both made their way to my bed in the middle of the night last night, so I woke up under a pile of heavy heads and limbs with my own back a little sore. The outright neediness of baby and toddler days has passed, but it sometimes doesn’t feel all that different now. Still always someone or something needing something from me. Kids or the dog or the job or the house. Or my own self which is the last thing I have time for in the frenzy of regular life.

Neighbor kids were over two weeks ago playing hide and seek, and my living room curtain rod was a casualty. One bracket came down, and the wall left behind seems a little crumbly where it was drilled in before, so it’s not a straight-forward fix. Add to that my apprehension on using a drill, and it has been abandoned for the past two weeks, along with a large box of self-assemble furniture sitting in my dining room for a full month now and at least three large piles of clean laundry upstairs that need to be put away.

Do you ever feel like the piles of unattended tasks in your life somehow take up real estate in your brain so that there is no fresh air there to move around? I prioritize what is first, squeeze by and turn sideways among all the lists and piles, glance the other way, and do all I can to function despite the unfinished mess. But sometimes it just reaches a point where I cannot do it anymore. As my students say, I can’t. [As one complete sentence.] I just can’t. I can’t do much of anything. It takes a lot for my brain to reach overflow status, but when it does, I’m done.

I think motherhood is a challenge because so much of our work is invisible to everyone else — the meals that appear magically on the table 3 times a day and the laundry that is cleaned and the school schedules that are recorded and the million other minutiae that are pulled together somehow. But when you are the only adult in the house, you can feel even more invisible somehow. Invisible to your own self, too. Treading water all the time.

Last week I tried and failed to set up my cable television myself. Then last night, I tried and failed to put the furniture together myself.  Then I drove 2 kids at 8pm to purchase heavy duty Command strips and pray they’d hold up my curtains because I had also tried and failed to drill the bracket back in the wall, and there is only so long I can stare at the fallen curtain before losing my mind when what sits in front of it is a cable box that doesn’t work and what sits above it is a water stain that I should have attended to weeks ago but haven’t.

I had a ten minute span of time this morning as I finished my coffee where I thought my curtain solution would hold and felt mildly successful, but then it fell. And I consequently cried in the shower for a good 30 minutes while hiding from my kids. The little things feel big sometimes. And I think everyone always says just ask for help, but I do that in nice or subtle ways that no one hears. Or maybe they do, and they have their own agenda to tend to which is entirely understandable.  But whatever the reason, it just sinks in sometimes in that particularly heavy way: you are alone. entirely. on your own. man up. figure it out.

I’m so exhausted from figuring it out. I feel like I am out of creative solutions, and I’m spent. Done.

The truth is I’m not done, of course. The truth is that I have felt this way a million times before, and I just keep moving and the wheels keep turning, and it works out. Every time and always. Frederick Buchner says, “Life is grace. Sleep is forgiveness. The night absolves. Darkness wipes the slate clean, not spotless to be sure, but clean enough for another day’s chalking.” Grace always comes along last. Just a little last bit, just a little more room to breathe deeply and say thanks for what is here and what shows up for me. Then tomorrow is new.

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We went to the park this morning. I was knee-deep in laundry and wanting to finish it, but a neighbor knocked at our door with a last minute invite, and both kids started jumping. So I dropped the laundry [again] and said let’s go. Jude took a notebook for his “field notes” and numbered his observations with his first grade penciled lettering. Seeing a blue bird, rubbing two sticks together to try and make fire, watching “a butterfly in spring,” and seeing a large ant.

He takes so much solace in these observations, like our time outside only really happens if these things are recorded for him to see and feel. I get that. Writing does that for all of us, I think. In so many ways, that is exactly what I do here – write my observations and experiences as they happen, not always trying to do anything with them, just writing them here to see them staring back at me and know that they aren’t invisible.

Sometimes I do that to reflect on what’s good so I can say yes, remember when? And sometimes I do that with the hard stuff, too. So when it gets better, or when it comes around again, I can say see, hear that? You’ve been there before and you did it. Just hang on; grace always comes last.

long uphill climb

I’ve had a few days alone as the kids are on spring break and on a trip with their dad. Truthfully, I’ve got neither the cash nor the time for a trip right now, and I am always a little anxious with them away, but I’m so happy they get the chance to go. I am in full swing at work with only about 4 weeks left of class this semester. Student meetings and a visiting poet today and papers pouring in and reports to complete for administrative purposes. I’m almost drowning, but I don’t mind since I’ve come to associate this frantic April pace with a long rest that is coming soon enough.  Summer is around the corner.

Yesterday my friend indulged me in a belated birthday treat that we’ve had on the calendar for weeks. I went to a traditional Korean sauna, and it was outside of my comfort zone in ways (gender segregated nude areas), but it always feels so good to push myself to do something new. I don’t do it enough. I ended up getting a “body shampoo” which actually means someone scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed every dead skin particle off my body and left me feeling like a baby. It was a perfect ritual to mark spring and newness. I need to shed so many things, I think. And so often our bodies are the tools through which we can get to something else. I see that idea reflected more and more as I age.

After that, I spent five hours lounging in their various saunas – lined with anything from amethyst to charcoal to clay. As we walked out into the Atlanta spring sun, it felt like nothing was left in my skin that was there when I walked in. Newness is good.

Life has evened out in a way that, to be totally honest, makes me feel really strange. I spent the last two years shedding layer upon layer, and now what? I am just here and moving along at a usual pace and there are no scary surprises or catastrophes or major adjustments. I think yesterday’s experience felt so good because it has been too long since I jumped out of my comfort zone (after two solid years of living every single second outside of it). It’s easy to fall back into that human desire for complacency and consistency, isn’t it? Sometimes we need experiences – little or big – to shake us up again.

Two summers ago, I read Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea at the recommendation of a friend. It resonated with me in a major way, and I like to revisit it every now and then. Lindbergh says, “It isn’t for the moment you are struck that you need courage, but for that long uphill climb back to sanity and faith and security.”

I think I am on the long uphill climb now. The part where I am out of the woods, but now I figure out what I want and how to get it and do the hard work of plowing ahead to get there. I want so many things — stability and comfort and solid ground but also persistent renewal and new challenges. I’m grateful for the wide open road in front of me, and the different sort of stability that I feel having spent two years on my own feet in some rocky waters. I don’t want those same kind of rocks again, but I do want some new terrain on this uphill climb. I want to see new places and have the faith to pursue what I know is coming for me. More.

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Our back patio is overflowing with so much green  – thanks to my grandad’s generosity and my inherited love for homegrown food. The kids help pick greens every night now – lettuces and chard and kale that make their way to the dinner table. We’ve created this place somehow with neighbors and friends and our own little village of sorts. I was making dinner one night last week to glance up and catch a glimpse out the back patio door of my two playing with a crowd of neighborhood kids with bare feet and short sleeves and late daylight. It was the simplest of moments but the one I scribbled on paper for my gratitude jar that night. Here we are in a home we love with predictable routines and a solid foundation.

I’ve heard that saying “what you take for granted someone else is praying for,” but now I see it in my own life in a different way. What I have now, this little life with all of its routine beauty, is what I so desperately prayed for years ago when I really couldn’t see my out to the other side yet. And here I am. But now I want more, and I can feel it just out of reach. That’s the secret perhaps – to always be reaching for more and pausing in between to listen to that voice that tells you what you really want.

the dirt in the corner

I turned 36 this week. I am not sure how that happened. I was just 33, I thought. And before that just 29. Then 27. I am doing that thing where I double-check my age by glancing at the calendar and then doing the math from the year I was born. I can remember hearing adults do that when I was a kid and thinking, how do you not remember your age? And here I am. But somehow the second digit gets fuzzy when the years fly by quickly. I am 30-something and nearing closer to 40, I suppose. That is specific enough.

I went to a funeral the week before. My great aunt passed, and the service was in the same chapel where I sat almost 9 months ago to sing hymns at my grandmother’s goodbye. Time is a weird thing, sometimes dragging slower than we thought possible and sometimes rushing and sometimes doing something in between that still somehow surprises you.

As I sat in my seat adjacent to the wall, I could lean a little as I listened to the eulogies and the pastor’s message. He spoke a bit about her last years and how difficult they were and what a testament her husband’s love and attention was. I think he quoted I Peter 4:12 which reminds us “do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”

Hardship somehow feels like a surprise though, doesn’t it? Is that an American thing? A modern thing? A middle class thing? A human thing? I don’t know. But even now, after all the lessons I have learned, I am still sometimes surprised and exhausted at mishaps and trials of any kind.

A couple weeks ago I was off on midterm break while public schools were still in session. Jude woke first that morning and headed downstairs before I did. As I fumbled out of bed to make coffee, he came racing back up the stairs, Mama! There’s water dripping!

After what happened 5 months ago, I am ridiculously paranoid and react with almost PTSD panic about any water issues, so my heart jumped and I ran downstairs in emergency mode. As it turns out, the one bathroom that was not touched in the renovation had a leaking supply line. It was only a trickle, but it left a water spot below and a slow drip in the living room. I turned the water off at the main valve in the house, then at the street, then calmly called my plumber.

He came later that day and replaced it quickly and inexpensively, but in that process, we discovered that my hot water heater was slowly leaking a bit and on its last leg – which probably explains why my bath could only get half full these days before turning lukewarm. I took a deep breath. Here we are again. Two days later, I was $1700 poorer but have hot water and new valves throughout the house in every single sink and toilet.

It’s just life. This house is almost 12 years old, and it’s simply time for some wear and tear to be replaced. But it’s so easy to get frustrated with what Peter called the fiery ordeals, the flies in the ointment, the salt on the melon. Anne Lamott writes in Small Victories that “Life can just be so lifey. Life on life’s terms, which I don’t remember agreeing to.” Amen to that. Me either.

But at 36, I’m learning to change my expectations a bit. Leaks will happen, and funerals will too. Hot water heaters will break. Siblings will squabble. Laundry piles will grow more quickly than you want them to while bank accounts grow more slowly.

But we still have sunsets, thank God for that. And chocolate cake and music. And snoring dogs, laughing children, hot coffee, soft sheets. And occasionally I have mornings like this one where I am alone in a quiet house with a minute to be here without demands and expectations. I read Elizabeth Alexander’s “Ars Poetica #100: I Believe” with my students this week. She claims “Poetry is what you find in the dirt in the corner, overhear on the bus, God in the details, the only way to get from here to there.” I think if we are being honest with ourselves, all of life might be what you find in the dirt in the corner. Those little bits of time are the only way I ever get from here to there, the only way I put it all together.

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I have so many hopes for my 36th year. Big ones, like a book proposal. But lately, I just keep swimming as best I can, and these goals are pushed to the back burner. I woke up at 5:15am on my birthday and set my intention with a yoga session before I began my day. I’ve got to carve time somehow to sift the treasure from the dirt. Books don’t write themselves.

Spring is here in Georgia. Ripe strawberries are making their way to grocery stores, and birds chirp at us in the rush of our morning routines. I’m trying hard to squeeze out every ounce of energy spring offers me. God is in the details, no doubt. And life is in the tiny pieces of time we carve away from the bigger picture.

on the other side of where I came from

Life is finding a predictable rhythm with fewer surprises lately, it seems. I’m grateful for it. Atlanta weather is confused about the February calendar, and it feels like spring. The flowering trees have busted wide open a month early, and there are tulips springing up beside the sidewalk as I walk across campus to class this week. We’ll have another chill in a month or so – as we always do before Easter. But for now, newness is here, ready or not. It always feels good to see the seasons change and usher in something new.

The kids had a little break from school with an extended weekend, so I got some extra time to myself. I caught up with a friend Sunday afternoon, worked late on Monday, and carried my coffee back to bed with me yesterday morning in my last few hours before kids arrived back home. I’ve all but abandoned my usual cornerstones of sanity lately – the little things that ground me – like quiet mornings alone and writing and reading and podcasts. But I am making an effort to get back at it as the seasons change. I caught the latest episode of On Being as I drove to meet my friend on Sunday, and it won’t stop tumbling in my head.

Krista Tippet interviews Alain de Botton, the writer most well known for “Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person” which was the most widely shared and read piece from the New York Times in all of 2016. The On Being episode features an hour-long conversation with him about life and love and the difficulties of being human.

I’ve been thinking a lot about relationships lately and choices and companionship and all of the things that go along with it. In so many ways, I am not the romantic I once was – or at least not as naive. But I think a strength lies in my realism in a way that I couldn’t exactly understand or articulate until I heard the conversation with Botton. He tells Tippet, “In a way, there’s a lot of mundanity in relationships. And one of the things that romanticism does is to teach us that the great love stories should be above the mundane. So in none of the great, say, 19th-century novels about love does anyone ever do the laundry, does anyone ever pick up the crumbs from the kitchen table, does anyone ever clean the bathroom. It just doesn’t happen because it’s assumed that what makes or breaks love are just feelings, passionate emotions, not the kind of day to day wear and tear.” That day to day wear and tear is no joke, is it? And it seems both liberating and depressing to realize that mundane and tiring details are often what makes and breaks love, not just feelings.

I’ve been teaching Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing this last few weeks in a composition class, and I’ve had a lot of conversations on these ideas with my students as well.  What is love and what is marriage and what is the difference between those two things? What does Shakespeare tell us about those topics, and is his view restricted to Elizabethan England or is it timeless? I think as much as we like to laugh at his comedies of crazy fictional characters flying from one idea to another as a result of feelings, so many people in the modern world are not all that different.

I’m seeing someone a bit these days, and it is a hard topic to write about. (I mean what a brave soul he must be, right? What scarier topic can exist on a first date than your side job as a blogger and a writer?) But it is also a hard topic not to write about as I share nearly everything else on this journal, and it feels weird to hide it among other words here when I know what is between the lines.

For now, I will say that it is good and it is simple and lucky, and it just feels like a rest for a while after such a long season of no rest at all. For once, I am not thinking much about the past or the future. We owe each other nothing except attention in any particular moment we are together, and for now, that is more than enough. My past few years have brought experience after experience that softened and opened my perspective in ways I never expected, and I can see already that this is much the same – regardless of where it lands.

It’s funny how relationships begin, isn’t it? (And I don’t mean only romantic ones but friendships as well.) We put our best foot forward, that face that perhaps only the bank teller or the coworker sees. We smile and talk and share carefully chosen pieces and act as though we have it all together, but the cracks make their way out eventually. I am less inclined to hide them now that I am on the other side of where I came from. It gets easier to let your real self be seen as you grow older. Or perhaps I am just tired and left without the energy to conceal the mess.

Alain de Botton mentions this in the interview as well: “Look, one of the first important truths is, you’re crazy. … all of us are deeply damaged people. The great enemy of love, good relationships, good friendships, is self-righteousness. If we start by accepting that of course we’re only just holding it together, and in many ways, really quite challenging people — I think if somebody thinks that they’re easy to live with, they’re by definition going to be pretty hard and don’t have much of an understanding of themselves. I think there’s a certain wisdom that begins by knowing that of course you, like everyone else, are pretty difficult.” 

I am difficult. Like anyone else, I am not easy to live with. I tire easily, and I crave time alone. I thrive on routine that probably drives others insane. I sometimes leave cabinet doors open, and I can be messy about the things I don’t care about and ridiculously picky about the things I do. I have lots of opinions, and sometimes I make judgments quickly. My kids are wild at times, and we have grown so used to life with just the three of us that I often wonder how I will ever fit anyone else into this shape we’ve come to know as home.

But as it turns out, I think I learned a lot about relationships by living through a very long and difficult one and watching it all dissolve. And in all the twists and turns of children and family in this past two years, I have learned even more. Love is love most clearly in the confines of a family. Botton expands on that best when he explains, “Families are at this kind of test bed of love because we can’t entirely quit them. And this is what makes families so fascinating because you’re thrown together with a group of people who you would never pick if you could simply pick on the grounds of compatibility. Compatibility is an achievement of love. It shouldn’t be the precondition of love as we nowadays, in a slightly spoiled way, imagine it must be.”

That last line blows my mind with all of my 21st century expectations. Compatibility is an achievement of love, not its precondition. I think what happens when you spend so much time alone and you grow and stretch and expand so much by sitting with the discomfort is that you eventually realize that self love is the best love and that the only person perfectly compatible with me is me. There is no perfect soul out there waiting to save me or complete me because I am already whole. But connection is still the best thing I can offer and the best thing I can receive.

The details of it all are just messy, aren’t they? You fumble and move along as best you can, and sometimes you are surprised with these most beautiful moments of connection and the simplest seconds of happiness without motive or reason. But underneath it all, there is still you. Still me. Same as I ever was, but flawed and true and real.

 

 

 

the rushing lens of a microscope

I find myself falling down some black hole of time lately. I wonder where my hours go, what I do. I can’t always name much at the end of the day. I grade a few papers, read and prep for class but not as much as I would’ve liked, answer an email or two, run that lingering errand, pick up kids from school, make dinner, and then 6-10pm is swallowed up with all the things required at the end of the day, and my tired head hits the pillow.

Somehow things become more involved than you think they should. As is the case with all of life, it seems. In a current course I’m teaching, I begin the semester listening to Jenny Hollowell’s “A History of Everything, Including You” with my students. (It’s featured in New Sudden Fiction, but you can listen to her read it herself on this podcast here.)

This particular story feels like some rushing lens of a microscope zooming from the cosmic confusion of the dawn of the universe to the very particular pain of an individual woman. It’s a work I can read again and again, and it resonates with me more each time. How did we get here? And I can mean that collectively, as a society, as I watch the news unfold hourly these days. Or how did I get here? I can ask that personally and know that there is no short answer for the hum that is created from all the pieces that add up to what I have become. One thing leads to another and to another, and before you know it, your life has a shape all its own that has come to pass because of a thousand twists and turns, some intentional and some circumstantial.

I have the urge to simplify everything right now. Clean the closets and throw things out that I no longer need. Check my tasks off as quickly as I can without muddling them with too much thought. Read some bulleted list of news without the analysis I usually crave. The older you get, the more you see why that’s hard though. Things have layers of attachment and value. Tasks have more thoughtful ways of being done if we take the time. News has loads of context that you don’t get with a quick bold heading or summary. People have layers upon layers of meaning and history that construct who they are and how they see the world.

Tonight is said to hold a full moon, a comet, and an eclipse at the same time. An eclipse in Leo which astrology tells us is a fire sign – known for being bold and playful and confident and creative. I don’t chart my life by a horoscope, but I love the ceremonial spaces granted to us with the changes and cycles in the sky above. And I always need a reminder that things are bigger and grander and more complicated than I can ever imagine, but yet my tiny little life in this warm house is what I hold and what matters.

Eclipses are also often representative of endings and beginnings, closings and openings. They invite us to think about what can be left behind and what threshold we need to cross next. This one is reminding me that the layers are always going to feel messy and deep and too difficult to understand, but it’s still my job to walk forward anyway, to figure out what I am meant to do in this season and this place, to find what makes me happy and do more of it. I’m ready to close this season that’s left me feeling like I’m almost drowning. I’m ready to reclaim that creative energy and move forward through the muddled complicated layers to find something simple again.

David Whyte has a poem that says, “Sometimes everything has to be inscribed across the heavens so you can find the one line already written inside of you. Sometimes it takes a great sky to find that first, bright and indescribable wedge of freedom in your own heart.” 

The kids and I huddled under blankets tonight and ate take-out in the living room while watching a movie. Then upstairs for bed, and I can hear them snoring now with the perennial February sniffles that always appear this time of year. The moon is bright enough to shine through the blinds and leave some faded lines of light along my bedroom wall as I’m typing this. There’s something big inscribed across the heavens tonight three times over, but I can hear that one line written inside, too. Pulsing like a heartbeat. Here, now. Here, now. Ready to begin again.