blogging, Books

springtime (and a present for you!)

It’s officially the spring equinox today. The sun is out, the grass is getting greener, and new things await for all of us.

The rhythm of changing seasons is such a comfort, isn’t it? No matter how cold and bleak something is looking in the present moment or what little annoyances are speaking loudly in your ear, it will come and go and eventually make way for something new. Nature mirrors everything else for us if we pay attention.

March brings my own birthday, and it also brings the “birthday” of this little journal – one I began late at night in a chair at my kitchen desk in a house that is now two houses past with a baby who is now a growing boy and a life that is now a million lifetimes ago. I never in a million years – never ever ever, I cannot stress that enough – saw this tiny space as becoming what is has been for me in my past year and a half. I chose a blog title somewhat hurriedly and randomly when I knew that I’d be writing mostly about motherhood and a little about books. I had no idea that it would become about so much more than that. A journal of pain and heartache but also one of light and gladness and immeasurable personal revelations born in moments I never foresaw.

And here we are, six years later, I’m still writing and still recording details of my days that may or may not be of interest to anyone but me. But sometimes they are, and sometimes they have led to moments of clarified purpose that propel me forward even now to some place new.

I think words have a way of healing us like nothing else can. They have a way of shedding light on confusion when nothing else makes sense. I often write about someone else’s words and how they changed me, and it is my very favorite thing to get emails from readers – during this past year they came from as nearby as Atlanta and as far away as Germany – telling me that my words have done the same for them. Personal purpose and a burning need to record my own experiences is why I sit down to write in the first place, but it’s the circle of influence and the ripples that result that keep me showing up again and again.

In celebration of the 6th birthday of this little journal, and in appreciation for every one of you who reads here, I put together a little giveaway with the help of some amazing Etsy artists to pass on to a lucky winner. I’m starting with a copy of Cheryl Strayed’s Brave Enough, which is a compilation of quotes from her earlier works. I got my hands on it last fall when it was initially published, and it’s hard to choose a favorite passage. It’s a handy little guidebook when I’m feeling overwhelmed or lost, and Strayed’s usual no-nonsense wisdom shines on every page. The title stems from her passage in an essay on The Rumpus when she tells a reader to “be brave enough to break your own heart,” and that concept echoes on every page. It astounds me how many times in the past year of my life someone has called me “brave” when anyone who knows me knows that I am, in many ways, the opposite of brave. I am scared and cautious and careful at almost every moment of every day, but I’m realizing real bravery stems from the insistence to stand in your own truth and show your real heart. There’s nothing that requires more courage, and there’s nothing that provides those same feelings of peace and power.

To add to my bookish gift, Brianna over at BBeadazzled is giving this beauty. It seemed like the perfect accompaniment to Strayed’s work and a reminder to be brave and show up in the truest way every single day.

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And Lovewell Handlettering added this sweet little journal as well. Gratitude as a general concept and gratitude as a daily practice are two totally different things, and I cannot overestimate the ways my life has grown and changed by my persistence in recording the beauty of everyday moments in this space. It opens my eyes everyday to see the good in what’s around me. I’d love to pass on an encouragement to you to do the same.

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I have passed on quote after quote and underlined paragraphs and scribbled marginalia in so many books in the past few years and then shared those words with you here. What I’d like for this bloggy birthday is for you to do the same thing in return. What quote sets you on fire? What line have you underlined or scribbled somewhere in hopes you wouldn’t forget it? It’s hard to choose just one favorite passage, but I’d love to hear one that rings true for you right now. Pass it on and share it with the rest of us.

You are welcome to leave a comment here, or if you are reading from your phone, click on over to Facebook and leave one there if that’s easier. (This post is pinned at the top.) This Friday, the 25th, I’ll number the comments, let a number generator choose the winner, and then check in with the winner to ship your goodies!

Sharing words is my very favorite thing to do, and I can’t wait to see what bits of wisdom you scatter here. I’ll go first with a passage that has guided me immeasurably in the past year and continues to do so when I read it again and again.

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” – Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

So many times in recent months I have repeated live the questions now again and again in my head, and it still amazes me that words written in 1929 by someone I will never meet can do what they do in my own life. Pretty incredible, isn’t it?

So now it’s your turn. Tell us below or over on Facebook. What words shine like a light for you? I’ll choose a winner on Friday.

Happy birthday, little blog.

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Books

a line between this and that

I’ve finished Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things this weekend after beginning it over the holiday break. I flipped the last few pages last night, long after I should have been asleep. I was sad to finish it. Don’t you love it when that happens with a book? I was sad to turn the last page and put it away, but I will return to this one again and again.

There are numerous letters and stories and quotable paragraphs in it. It is impossible to choose only one to hold as a favorite.

I think the thing that pierces me so deeply about this book is her belief and her many examples of both knowing and not knowing the things that present themselves in our lives. It’s so hard to put this into words– the surprise yet the deep-down understanding– but she manages to say what I am feeling so often these days.

These full circle moments happen in life sometimes. If we pay attention, we see them.

She explains in one letter, “There’s a line by the Italian writer Carlo Levi that I think is apt here: ‘The future has an ancient heart.’ I love it because it expresses with such grace and economy what is certainly true—that who we become is born of who we most primitively are; that we both know and cannot possibly know what it is we’ve yet to make manifest in our lives.”

Do you feel that sometimes? That we both know and cannot possibly know what will manifest in our lives. I do. I feel it all the time, and in hindsight I have felt that in the past about my current reality.  It’s like these strangest sensations of deja vu, but not exactly. I’m not sure I’m explaining myself well tonight as it’s late and I’m tired and these moments are so hard to put into words.

It’s beyond hard to explain, but I am feeling so clearly that I’m where I’m meant to be.Where I’ve always been destined for, though it was such a painful bend in the road to make it to this spot. It’s what she describes as being “surprised and knowing at once.” And I’ve felt it enough times in my life to see the beauty in it, the wonder.

When I heaved and moaned in that bathtub and brought my squinting daughter in the world, it was the most surprising but known moment of my life at that point. The thing I didn’t think I could do, but when I did it, I realized I knew all along that it was going to happen exactly as it did in that instant. I always knew.

When I teach now in a classroom where I sat sixteen years ago – I am surprised and knowing at once. A moment I never saw coming, but somehow it feels so real and worn-in and familiar that it had to be that way.

When I lie down at night cuddled between these two and it is only the three of us, it seems. Only the three of us in the entire world. It feels like it always was that way, yet it is something I never expected – to be alone with them with no real plan as to where we are headed. Just the here and now.

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There are other moments, too. Too many or too intimate to share. Moments when life hands you such full circle perfection that it brings you this low hum of knowing underneath the surprise. A vibration that you can feel if you are still enough to notice.

I think this is what people mean when they say you are where you’re meant to be. It doesn’t always fill our ideas of what we thought we wanted, but underneath the shock or the pain or the confusion, it’s a calm surrender and a comfort. A voice that wraps us up in the smallest way to tell us we are on the right path.

In one of my favorite columns in this same book, she explains what it felt like to see her daughter wearing a dress purchased by her mother before her mother passed, one she’d saved for years in a box though she couldn’t decide why it needed saving at the time. And she says upon seeing her daughter in it, she could only think, “How beautiful. How ugly. How little. How big. How painful. How sweet” and then realizes, “It’s almost never until later that we can draw a line between this and that.”  How true that is.

I think I look calm on the surface to others, but in reality, when I look ahead, I am filled with immense anxiety. It is something I’m working on and wanting hard to change about myself. When I have a few days that are especially busy or filled with “future-oriented thinking” as my therapist likes to say, I can get a knot in my stomach that will not soften. A tremor in my hands, truly. The busy nature of day-to-day life plus the unforeseen status of what lies ahead for me (after years of what I assumed was a secure and held future) is a cocktail for mayhem on my nervous system. It is a physiological reaction I can feel when this happens, and it’s easy to get trapped in that scary and circular pattern of thinking. What now? What is next?  What now? What is next?  What now? What is next? 

But when I sit down to write, or I take a minute to think about my past and reflect on how it is intersecting with my present, I “draw the line between this and that” as Strayed says, and it brings a tangible calm to me that soothes every bit of what makes me quiver and hold fear in the pit of my stomach. It’s like a voice that says, this is not how you thought it was going to happen, but it’s how you knew it was supposed to be. It’s what I already knew.

In the closing paragraph of that same chapter she asserts,“We cannot possibly know what will manifest in our lives. We live and have experiences and leave people we love and get left by them. People we thought would be with us forever aren’t and people we didn’t know would come into our lives do. Our work here is to keep faith with that, to put it in a box and wait. To trust that someday we will know what it means, so that when the ordinary miraculous is revealed to us we will be there, standing before the baby girl in the pretty dress, grateful for the smallest things.”

The ordinary miraculous. It’s such a beautiful thing. And I see it everyday, I do– sometimes even in the biggest moments that make me catch my breath with their perfect unforeseen familiarity. But the hardest part is putting uncertainties in a box to wait. The waiting is hard.

 

 

Books

written word

Jude has been working on phonetic sounds for quite some time, but we had a big moment last Tuesday night at our house. He read a book to Norah and me for the first time. For this English Professor mom, that is right up there with the very biggest accomplishments. It’s the beginning of so much, kiddo!  I’m excited to see where the written word will take him, the ways it will encourage him to expand and grow throughout his life.

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Books saved my life this year. Not that I would be dead without them in the literal sense, but I would be stagnant and stale – which to me is the definition of death and despair even if you are still breathing.

This week, I got Cheryl Strayed’s latest work in the mail which is actually a compilation of quotes from her previous publications and interviews. It’s easy to flip through and packaged like a handy little portable life guide –  the perfect gift for graduations and birthdays and such. I think I’ll be passing this one on a lot in the future.

In the preface to the book, she explains her lifelong affinity for quotes: they “don’t speak to one particular truth, but rather to universal truths that resonate … they lift us momentarily out of the confused and conflicted human muddle. Most of all, they tell us that we are not alone.”

If you walked in my house, you’d see how much I agree with her. Words everywhere. Scribbled on notes on my fridge. Hanging in frames on my walls. Stamped on cards in a stack on my bathroom counter. And even tattooed discreetly on my body. I find it nearly impossible to read a book without writing notes in the margins, highlighting passages, and dog-earing pages. I have books I revisit like old friends and sentences I read again and again like a meditation.

I guess in hindsight, I was bound to be an English teacher and a writer. I really can’t see myself doing anything else.

But this year, it seems as though books crossed the line from casually inspiring me to essentially serving as my life raft, something to cling to when everything else was swirling and beyond my control. They are reminders that others have done things similar to or far more difficult than what I’m doing now and that there is value in suffering — meaning to be found amidst the madness. And because of books, I feel like I am finding that meaning everyday, even as life is smoothing out for me a bit now and I’m healing.

I’ve already passed on certain pages of Strayed’s latest work to a couple of friends of mine who are encountering their own challenges right now, and I can’t help but share when I read something that I know would resonate with someone else. Nothing makes me smile more deeply than when a friend reads something and passes it along to me to say, “This made me think of you.”

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It’s simply human connection. And that’s really what it’s all about anyway, why we read and write, why we study literature. I feel as though my first task as a teacher is to teach my students to communicate effectively, but my very next task – a close second to that one – is to teach them to broaden their perspective, to glean wisdom and advice from the multitudes of people who have come before us. Billy Collins once said that all literature is about the very same thing, “Life is beautiful. Then you die.” He’s right actually. Every novel or poem or memoir touches on that very idea, but there is so much richness in that one sentiment. When we share the human experience, we see that there is unimaginable beauty and wisdom in the gray areas of life. Absolutes don’t exist.  Humans are complicated. And life is long and unpredictable and messy.

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And that’s really what reading has done for me in my past year. It’s allowed me to feel like I am simply a part of the human experience by feeling what I feel, rather than the message society often screams at us which is that you only suffer when you did something to deserve it or when you feel too much too deeply. Books reaffirm that I shouldn’t run away from feeling and questioning because feeling and questioning are the catalysts that will change your life. That is a universal truth.

Voices around us tell us that we are doing it wrong if we feel sad or lost or broken. Literature tells me that brokenness is just when I know I’m doing it right and that joy can reverberate like a bass note under all that mess.