2016 is here, and I’ve never been so happy to see a new year arrive.
Thank you so much for the kind comments, emails, and messages in the past few weeks. I read every word and every bit was encouraging. I’m happy that this space has grown a little, but the small growth comes with new challenges in the writing process, and I just needed a few weeks to take a break and regain my footing creatively speaking.
My resolution last year was to find what makes me happy. And I’ve done that this year. I spent New Year’s Eve with the kids at the home of a good friend in the afternoon. The kids played happily with her crew, and her husband made tacos for an early dinner. By 7:30, we were driving home, and my two went down for a usual bed time which left me with a couple of hours to look through my jar. I read them all. Every single little moment that I recorded in 2015.
There were so many little seconds recorded there that I would have forgotten otherwise. Jan 11 Winter sun. Driving home. Distant flock of black birds in a perfect formation. / Jan 24 Two students moved to tears by poetry in class. A tangible connection to the page in front of them / May 3rd Sitting in the warm grass next to my grandmother. Watching kids pick flowers in her yard. / July 31 Cousins running through the grass, ice cream, lightning bugs. / Sept 4 Broken A/C, but it just rained. Cool sheets, windows open, kids asleep. Feels like summer camp. / Oct 28 Making dinner, dancing in the kitchen with Norah, Jude laughing. / Dec 15 Watching Jude build a rocket ship from a box on the back patio. Concentration with his paint, tape, scissors. There were so many more, tiny details of happiness, even in a dark season or on otherwise bad days.
Life is neither good nor bad, but it is a lot of things at once, and it glimmers in the best way if we just take notice. Mary Oliver wrote, “I don’t know what a prayer is. I do know how to pay attention.” Sometimes I think they are the same thing – to pray and to pay attention.
Healing is not a straight line, I suppose, and my life is not always shimmering. I’m still grieving a bit, and it sneaks up on me sometimes. But grief doesn’t mean I can’t move on in the best way I know how. I have more to do, and I can feel it stirring. I’m still working to shed the last bit of what needs to fall away, but that is always a process in life, I think. If you are awake and aware, then you are always growing and changing. And the layers are falling away all the time.
I look at 2015 as a year I am ready to leave behind, one I never want to do again. But I cannot bring myself to look at it as a bad year. It is the year I built my own bones. I think back to December 31, 2014 when I was alone in a house that no longer felt like home, still married though he celebrated in NYC and I stayed at home with Jude and Norah. We made an early dinner. I put them to bed, and stereotypical as it sounds, I remember crying in the bathtub as the final hours of the year were coming to a close. The night felt heavy and scary and lonely. I had no idea where I was going next or how I would climb that mountain in front of me.
Now I look back at all the little tasks – opening the solo bank account, meeting with attorneys, selling and buying a house, dealing with my insurance and retirement accounts, the stacks and stacks of paperwork that felt like they’d never end. I can’t believe I did all that – emotional wreckage aside. I can’t help but sit here today in a house that is my own, surrounded by a life I am composing on my own volition and wonder how I even got here. One step at a time is how it happened, but that doesn’t make it any less miraculous. I did it, and my story doesn’t end here. That has been the common theme in these months. I can feel it moving and stirring and pushing me forward. There have been dark days when I felt overwhelmed or unworthy, but never once have I doubted that there is a story unfolding and a reason for every single moment of my year. I’m so grateful for all of it, every second.
I know beyond a shadow of any doubt that I’m meant to do something that I couldn’t do in my former life, and I am not even sure what it is or how it will surface, but I feel certain I will do it. If this year has taught me anything it is the power of my own strength and determination. If I am meant to do something and I want to do it, it will happen.
In a famous advice letter on Dear Rumpus, Cheryl Strayed describes the process of writing her first book, and she explains it by saying, “I didn’t know if people would think my book was good or bad or horrible or beautiful and I didn’t care. I only knew I no longer had two hearts beating in my chest. I’d pulled one out with my own bare hands.” I feel a little of that every time I write here. And every time I pull out that piece with my own hands, it facilitates a healing and a clarity that I cannot achieve any other way. Writing is the raft that pulled me through my past year. And as you look back at so many posts that emerged in 2015, you can see that I was writing for myself– for the questions and fears in my own mind. And yet without much effort on my part, it has made its way to many of you and caused a few small ripples in the world around me. It’s been such a beautiful thing to watch.
I’m finally reading Big Magic after hearing so much about it, and she describes writing in a way that was so familiar to me that I had to say yes! aloud and read it again — “Sometimes when I am in the midst of writing, I feel like I am suddenly walking on one of those moving sidewalks that you find in a big airport terminal; I still have a long slog to my gate, and my baggage is still heavy, but I can feel myself being gently propelled by some exterior force. Something is carrying me along — something powerful and generous — something decidedly not me” (66). The vast majority of the time I spend writing just feels like laborious digging, to use Seamus Heaney’s metaphor, but sometimes I get picked up by that moving sidewalk, and it is the strangest and most amazing feeling ever. I will read a sentence or a paragraph, and I think did I write that? Really?
Friends, I’ve got only one resolution for the coming year and that is to make space for that moving sidewalk. I’ve got a second beating heart inside me, and 2016 is the year it is going to make its way out.
It will come in fits and starts and bits and pieces, but I will write and write and write without fear of judgment or failure this year because it is what I am here to do. I’ve always felt that teaching was my calling, and it still is. But something else is bubbling up. What has happened this past year with writing is that it moved from a tiny voice to a loud roar on my inner radar. There are so few things in life that give you a clear message telling you to walk that path. When it happens, you need to listen. I don’t know where it’s leading, but for now, I am just going to listen and obey and make space for it. I own every single thing that has ever happened to me. I need to unload this second beating heart because it is burning me up.
I write a lot here, but there are so many things I haven’t said. Lessons I have learned – not just as my marriage dissolved but as I began to discover life on my own. Lessons that began long before I ever thought about boyfriends and marriage. Lessons that start deep inside all of us and take a lifetime to learn, and some of them take longer still to unlearn. These are lessons I am learning everyday still. I have something to say, and I think if it is knocking so hard on my heart, it is meant to be heard by someone else as well.
I’m getting braver as the months roll by, and this task requires a lot of courage. Memoir is what we call it when you write about your own experiences, but if it is done well, it taps into that common consciousness that every human has. It’s not writing about me specifically. It’s writing about Us in the largest way. When a book shakes me at my core and makes me question everything I know or makes me scribble in the margins and say yes! me, too – that is memoir done well. You can’t do that when you hold back from your reader or guard yourself with some attempt to seem perfect.
My goal at the start of 2015 was to find what makes me happy, and I did. Writing is it for me. My resolution for 2016 is to listen to that calling, to set loose that second beating heart, and to do it with painful honesty.
I don’t expect it to pay the bills. I don’t expect to accomplish some perfect recipe for major publication. But I can say with all certainty that writing has given so much to me these past few months, and it’s the least I can do to give back to it as best I can – with determination and courage and dedication. Basically I’m saying that this is the year when I begin to take my craft seriously. Hiding in a corner of the internet and writing my way through my own path has been exactly what I needed this past few years. But now I’m ready for more.
I’m going to do my own part. I’m making a commitment to give writing a higher priority in my life in the coming year. To do the work – to get through the ugly early drafts, do the painful editing, and submit in hopes to be heard by someone else. But I’m also going to ask for your help as I begin this task, friends and readers. The publication industry has changed much in light of online connection, and my work begins here. I’ve begun a Facebook page for this site, and if you are active on Facebook, I’d love to see you there. I’m also new to Twitter as Mama the Reader and hope to share there often if you would like to follow along.
For the past five years, I have written here for my own self and shared a bit with family and friends. I haven’t made much effort to really reach the world beyond, but I’m ready to change that.
I’m asking you from my deepest place of heart and purpose – when you read something here that moves you or changes your perspective, please pass it along. The small growth that has happened last year in this space encourages me so much, and I’d love to see that expand and open new doors for me as I begin writing more seriously in a way that I feel I’m meant to. Each of you is instrumental in building that platform for my voice, and I can’t thank you enough. If Facebook and Twitter aren’t your thing, pass along through links or emails or conversation or any way that you feel led to. There are new spaces to illuminate and new views emerging everyday for me, and I’d love to move forward together.
My favorite thing about writing is that I never know what’s on the other side. I never know when I sit down to write what kind of treasures and discoveries I will find by the time I reach my conclusion. I’m ready, 2016. I can’t wait to see what’s in store on the last page.