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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single parenthood, writing

process and evolution

I’m almost to week three of this semester, but it feels like years. Winter can do that to you.

Where to begin? I haven’t written here in weeks, and I have been doing nothing and everything. We’ve had school closures during both weeks of the school year so far. Only little days sprinkled here and there, just enough to throw you off your usual routine. The kids have gone to dad’s for 24 hours instead of the usual every-other-weekend 48 hour routine because of his travel schedule, and it seems to be exactly enough time to answer an email or two, mop the floors, and grocery shop before they come pouring back in. Rinse, repeat. Do it again.

We were home on Wednesday for school cancellations when I walked in my garage to grab something from the car and saw my back tire flat as a pancake. It’s a long and boring story, but this is not the first time I’ve had issues with this tire. I kept going back to the same shop because they were under warranty there, and the man on duty persisted to attempt to flirt with me in such an overt way that it made me dread walking in, and then he’d fail at fixing my problem so that every time I returned I was increasingly aggravated and uncomfortable. Car issues are a major trigger for me in terms of stress. I know next to nothing about cars, and I rely on mine so much with long commutes and kid pick ups and general life needs in the suburbs.

But here I am on Saturday morning in a warm and quiet house with a functional car again and a clean week ahead of me with a weather forecast that promises five solid days of work and routine. I’m feeling for the rhythm again and trying to use its beat to push me forward.

I’ve heard before that the specific challenges that emerge in your life point to where you need to grow. I hate car trouble. I hate being assertive in general and especially with an auto mechanic. I hate it all. I lived 35 years of my life without once getting a nail in a tire, and in the past year I’ve had this happen 4 times. I also ended up with a dead battery over the summer. And the broken compressor I wrote about a while ago. But this time I walked in with a different feeling. I was happy to see a different mechanic there, but I fully intended to ask for another one if I came in to see the same face who made me so uncomfortable before. With some instruction, I used a tire inflator to reinflate my own tire in my garage just before I drove over – which I know is simple and not impressive to anyone who knows anything about cars, but this is a major improvement for me.

I was watching this documentary last night on the Galapagos Islands and all the animals who have adapted and evolved to survive in such a strange climate. All kinds of miracles happen when you need to survive — you grow webbed feet or your wings get longer or shorter or you change your diet or you cooperate with the other species around you to get what you need from each other.

When I rewind my life three years back and compare it to my current self, that evolution is no less impressive than a bird growing webbed feet when he never had them before. Anytime I feel frustrated with myself, I think I just need to rewind the frame a few years and remind myself of that.

I ran across someone else’s words this week that said something along the lines of “People mistakenly think happiness is the goal in life and are persistently disappointed and endlessly searching for it. But when you realize that personal growth is actually the goal, happiness happens anyway as a byproduct of your growth and evolution.” The joy is in the process, isn’t it?

Part of the reason I chose Trust as my word this year is that so much of my life feels like process instead of completion. I’m trying hard to trust that this is, in fact, going somewhere very good if I just keep taking on the assignment in front of me. One foot in front of the other. Next right thing.

I haven’t been writing here as often because, as much as I love this space and all of you who read it, I’m seeing that it does take a little time and creative energy, and I am chugging away on this book one line at a time with real progress now. I’m seeing firsthand the feeling of that famous Doctorow quote about how writing a book is like driving in the dark with headlights where you can only see the little span of road in front of you. I get that. I can only really see one paragraph at a time. But at the same time, I see the whole vision now, too. Finally. I see the general shape of what this will be, and I trust the process that will take me all the way there.

The process is ugly sometimes. I’m digging deep and writing about moments that have been beyond hard for me. I threw out something like 33 pages last month and started all over, but I’m at that moment where I can feel my little boat floating from the shore with this project, and I think I will be on the water for a while. Letting it float me all the way home.

 

 

writing

ambition. bedrock. spirit. soul.

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There’s only one week left to register for my online writing workshop before it closes for the year. Head on over to Truth Collaborative to take a look and sign up if you want to join us. Registration closes November 18th.

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We are wrapping up the soccer season this weekend and watched the final game yesterday in the chilly wind. There are three weeks left of my semester. December is almost here. I know I’m not alone in this, but 2017 feels like it just began. I can hardly believe it’s almost over.

I love the reflection that the end of the year brings and the goals it prompts us to make for the future. I’m thinking a lot about what I wish for my 2018. I mentioned on Instagram yesterday that I’ve thought lately about that Zora Neale Hurston line when she tells us that “There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” After years of questions and hardship and confusion, 2017 was finally an answering year. Everyone in my house learned to stand a little taller somehow. We are steadier on our own feet than we were a year ago – all three of us.

MitchellFamily-Nov17-18(Color)

I think the big answer that 2017 gave me is that I can handle it – whatever it might be – and I can do it on my own. When I think back to the past three years of my life and the catastrophes that seem to tumble one after the other, big and small ones, it seems like some divine storm. What other explanation can there be for so many things happening at once? And there are moments in all of that when you think you are not okay and you maybe will never be okay again. But this weird thing happens eventually when you just suddenly find yourself in the most mundane of tasks – grocery shopping, or stepping out of the shower, or stirring dinner on the stove, or sitting in a boy scout meeting or a neighborhood festival – and you are suddenly struck with how okay it feels now. It quietly swells in me in the most simple moments sometimes. 2017 showed me the other side of the storm.

I’m using this last few weeks of the year to ready my own self to take on 2018 with what I hope to be a combination of intention and surrender. I’ve got big ideas and little pockets of time, but sometimes the most fulfilling things can happen with that simple combination.

I think I’m ready to remember myself again now that the seas are quiet and I have a rhythm. I can feel this brewing in big and small ways. I updated my ancient iPhone 5 this week. I ordered clothes last month to freshen up my fall wardrobe. I cancelled plans to do things I want to do instead of heeding the call of a guilt-induced yes to someone else. These things are no big deal really. … The phone adds $20 a month to my budget; the clothes are simple and second-hand; the scary no felt not scary at all once I did it… I find myself wondering why I didn’t do these things before, and I don’t really have a good answer except that I was treading water for quite a while, and it’s easy to forget yourself when you are in that mode. And now it’s time to remember me again.

I caught Rob Bell’s podcast on ambition last week on my drive to work, and it’s worth a listen.  It was a message meant to find me at this particular time. (I love it when that happens.) I’ve struggled a bit with wanting things for myself and my own future, I think. I didn’t even realize that I was resisting that until recently, but now I see it so clearly. It’s hard to sort out our ambitions sometimes – what we want and why we want it.

I’ve been feeling the call to greater goals but also feeling both overwhelmed and a little guilty about pursuing them at this season of my life. Rob Bell noted on the episode that the New Testament tells us that it’s only selfish ambition that gets you in trouble. The original translation refers to a mercenary which is so interesting to me – a reminder that doing things for no reason other than your own interests without a nod to a greater purpose and framework will lead nowhere good. But as Bell says, “Proper ambition will move you beyond yourself.” 

I took a big leap of commitment, and my Christmas gift to my own self is a series of sessions with a professional book coach and editor. I’ve worked myself to the bone this semester teaching overloads to earn extra money for my household, and I set some aside for this purpose. I’m something like 10,000 words into a book manuscript that is disjointed and incomplete, but it’s a start. And every finished thing begins somewhere. My commitment with these sessions is a commitment to my own self too, a nod to that proper ambition I own. It’s both exciting and scary for me.

But Bell’s show made me feel a little better about that fear as well because he reminds me that “When you own your ambition, what you will notice is how humbling it is. Because when you properly own it, it will – if it is the deepest desire within you – inevitably tap into the divine within you which is the divine within everybody” Or as he says later, “When you go far enough into your own ambition, you strike bedrock, spirit, soul.” I dabbled for years without going deeper into that ambition. I guess it took the storms to find the bedrock, but I’ve found it now. Here we go.

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I have things I am meant to do, which doesn’t make me special or more important than anyone else because we all do. But I think the difference for me now is that I am listening and that the call is for the purpose of a greater framework and not a mercenary life. We all have stories that can open the eyes and hearts of other people, and I think mine is meant to make its way to other people as words on the page. I feel that thread between my ambition and the spark in others, and I want to watch it grow. 2017 paved the way for that, and maybe 2018 can finally be the year I can hold that ambition without question or apology and just heed the call. I’m listening. I’m ready.

 

**** Photos on this post are by my friend Michelle Andrews this fall. If you are in Atlanta, check her out!

 

gratitude, writing

that higher order

Fall has finally arrived in Georgia. We’ve bundled up this week to walk to the bus stop, and afternoons are that perfect breezy and 75. It’s over in a blink, but that makes it sweeter. We have two weeks left of Daylight Savings Time, and dark is coming fairly early even now. We are finally moving to a new season.

We had a neighborhood festival yesterday afternoon with a cake walk, kid games, a ticket booth, a chili cook-off competition, and a hayride. It’s an annual event here, and it gets more comfortable for us every year. Faces we know well and a place that feels like home. Every afternoon, the kids are outside with friends on bikes and scooters or playing “capture the flag” in the grassy area beside the playground. Life is stressful beyond belief for me on some days, but I have to pinch myself sometimes that this part is even real. We created a home that somehow feels more solid than any other home I’ve had as an adult. Sometimes it really is possible for things to turn out even better than you ever dreamed. It’s so incredible to bear witness to things like that unfolding in your own life. The miracle of it doesn’t go by unnoticed for me.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the things I care about and the things I don’t, about where I spend my energy. I caught an interview with Joan Halifax this week on the latest On Being. She talks a lot about “compassion fatigue” and the general sense of helplessness and burnout we can encounter in the face of what we see around us everyday – sometimes in our own lives and sometimes on the news. It’s hard to care sometimes. It takes a lot out of you to care about things that you cannot easily change.

She encourages, as she calls them, antidotes for these moments we are pushed to our edge. Beautiful spaces that are safe for us to retreat to can be an antidote, as can stillness and meditation and spaces of contemplation in our own lives. It occurred to me as she was talking that writing is my antidote certainly. It functions as a space for me to retreat and a form of stillness. I’ve seen this work with all kinds of situations I cannot easily change, all the continued difficulty of a blended family where my idea of boundaries is entirely different from the view of the other adults involved. I feel pushed to my edge a lot these days, but the blank page is where I sort it out.

Halifax talks about how we can deal with the despair we feel looking at the world at large, but I hear echos of my own life’s path in her answer, too: We can look back through history … when systems break down, the ones who have the resilience to actually repair themselves, they move to a higher order of organization. And I think that this is characterized by something the complexity theorists call robustness, that we can anticipate both a time of great robustness, which we’re in, with tremendous potential to wake up and take responsibility … we need resilience to make our way through this change. 

My own resilience and robustness are what enabled me to move to a higher order of organization, as she calls it. So I can say, as I did earlier, that I’ve watched a miracle unfold as I feel such solid ground beneath my feet. But when I look a little more closely at the past few years, I see why. Everything about my present life operates on that higher order of organization that I was forced to reinvent. And I was given this gift of time to thoughtfully put it all together piece by piece with no rush and nothing to prove. What I’m left with is something that can never be shaken. It’s no wonder this home feels more solid and true than any other place I’ve been. I built it with intention.

I’m so excited to pass along to you a closer look at the writing workshop I’ve completed. I’ve spent the past couple of years answering a lot of questions and building friendships across wide spaces as a result of this blog. And I kept finding myself again and again answering some similar questions — How do you find clarity in the middle of all this? Do you ever move past pain and onto something else? How do I get there? I want to write, but I don’t know where to begin.

I’d answer when I could and offer little pieces of my own experience here and there, and it finally occurred to me that I should just put together a more polished path to share the tools that worked for me with anyone else who needs them. I’ve worked really hard on this over the summer and spent the last couple of months having a few friends do a trial run for me and offer honest feedback. I wanted it to be something I felt good about sharing with all of you and something I could potentially build on in the future.

It’s a 5-week course where you are given a theme each week to write about and consider. I created these by looking back on my own path and seeing what worked for me, how I made it through from one end to the other in a major transition. The result is a string of lessons and writing prompts that carry you through the process from asserting and exploring your own independent identity to reconsidering past experiences that shaped you to capturing a better presence in your everyday life and eventually setting goals that you want to manifest for your own life. It’s a path that can offer clarity and empowerment for anyone – not just in the throes of grief or major transitions, but in life’s more subtle storms as well.

Registration will open on November 1st, and I’ll be sending out a 15% discount code to those on the email list, so be sure to sign up there if you haven’t already. I use that list to update on the course enrollment and also send along writing resources and journaling prompts every now and then. I’m thinking I’ll do another run of this workshop in 2018, but this will be the last one for the year. I hope you’ll join me if you have an honest curiosity about your own life’s questions and want to shape whatever lies on the other side. You can build it with intention, too. And I know from my own life that writing is a powerful tool to get you there.

*** A closer look can be found here, and the email sign-up is here. Feel free to reach out to me with any questions over email as well. 

writing

on being human

I spent yesterday afternoon sweating and writing my way through Jennifer Pastiloff’s Atlanta workshop titled On Being Human, and I was still humming a little on the inside this morning as I sat down with my coffee in a quiet house to flip through my journal and put all the pieces together.

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Jen at Form Yoga here in Atlanta, photo cred @nadenoughyoga on Instagram

This is the second time I’ve attended one of Jen’s workshops, and the last was two years ago when I was in the midst of such major and difficult transitions. It was enlightening to be there again in this next chapter of my life where I feel so different than I did in August of 2015, so much stronger.

I managed to recruit two friends to join me because I’ve bragged on Jen so much and explained the transformation that happens when you attend one of her workshops. But even so, I find it hard to really explain the alchemy that happens in the room. 76 women in attendance yesterday, yoga mats laid parallel and touching one another. Jen explains the rules when she walks in — only two things: tell the truth and listen. And somehow it works and people do just that.

Though she is a yoga teacher and it was held at a yoga studio, there is pretty minimal yoga involved. She uses the poses (and the warm room) to break through the shell of the body, so to speak, and come back to ourselves so that we can write the truth instead of the buttoned up version of the “truth” we carry when we are dressed in our finest and sitting comfortably in an air conditioned space. Before you know it, the magic comes along and it’s 76 of us laughing and crying and sharing and nodding in that way you do when real resonance happens and you can say yes, me too. The thing that astonishes me as I sit here putting the pieces together is that it is such a simple formula and yet so transformative because we never get this in our daily lives. You shed every last bit of your ego and look someone in the eye – a stranger no less – and tell the truth and listen. That is all. And it is somehow so terrifying at first, but unbelievably liberating when you drop into your body and out of your head and get out of your own way.

Some of her journaling prompts were the same as when I took the class in 2015 and some were different. I used the same little journal I’d carried to her 2015 workshop, so I can flip back a few pages today and compare my lists when she asked us to write what we were afraid of. Some things ring that bell both times, then and now. But I also see ways my life has expanded and some things that were overwhelmingly terrifying to me then have completely fallen away. I can see it so clearly in my scribbled handwriting.

What I fear (2015)

  • love
  • men
  • judgment
  • failing my kids

 

What I fear (2017)

  • messing up
  • not making the time to focus on the big things because I am always drowning in the little things
  • waiting too late
  • not finishing the work I know I am meant to do, the book I know I’m meant to write

 

What a shift that is, right? I think sometimes we change in huge, monumental ways, but they happen so incrementally that we don’t feel it in real time. It’s only when we look back that we see that staring back at us in undeniable ways. It’s one reason I love writing and one reason this blog has become one of the most cherished things I’ve created in my life. I can get caught up in my own bullshit stories, as Jen calls them, and I can neglect to see what is actually written in the beautiful details of my own life. You know the bullshit stories; we all have them. The ones that say You should already have this figured out. You are always failing. You’ll never get where you want to be. You’re just a ___ (fill in the blank – just a mom, just a teacher, just a woman.) But as I look at what I’ve written and recorded here and in scribbled notes from Jen’s workshops and other raw journaling I’ve done, I can see these stories for the lies they are.

I left feeling so full and inspired and curious about the faces I encounter everyday. Everyone in that room had a story, and everyone in that room echoed the fears or worries of someone else. Here we all are, slogging through the difficulties of our daily lives and feeling alone in our struggles, and as it turns out, so many of us have the same things tumbling in our hearts all day long – the same fears and bullshit stories on repeat. We all need friends who will tell us our stories are false, and I’m lucky enough to have a few people like that – one of whom came with me yesterday. Both of us left feeling full and happy and ready for whatever comes next. (Also ready to stuff our faces with Indian food at a local favorite spot.)

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One of Jen’s prompts yesterday asked us to write what we are saying yes to. Mine is a list I think I need to read every morning in this season of my life, a daily charge to do what I am here to do. Today I say yes to sweating, listening, feeling, dropping judgments, letting go of expectations (and of my bullshit stories), working harder than ever, new pages, better chapters, what I sometimes think I should have been doing all along, but it took there to get here. And here is good.

What is it about a pen and paper that offers something so magical? I don’t know. All I know is that when I lie to myself in my own head and offer these untrue assessments of my life or untrue evaluations of what is in my heart, I can sometimes take them to be the truth. But the second you write something that is not the truth of the matter, you can tell. It literally jumps off the page for me and feels stiff. When you write that truth inside, it feels soft and real and puts all the pieces together. It clarifies my intentions and my feelings every time. That’s the power of the pen in getting to the heart of the matter for all of us.

 

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I’m opening registration in October for my online writing workshop designed for women who want more insight and clarity and offering some guidance patterned after my own journey as I’ve written through my life’s challenges. I’m so excited to get started with this new project! Details here, and get on the email list for upcoming news and free journaling prompts by signing up here.

 

 

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single parenthood

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.

Life and Randomness, single parenthood, writing

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.