Books, writing

the banister on the dark cellar stairs

It’s 36 outside this morning. The real November has arrived. This Thursday marks the first of December, and there are Christmas lights twinkling a little here and there when I drive after dark.

The kids and I pulled out our Christmas decorations the day after Thanksgiving. I’ve still got a bit to do around here now that the heavy lifting of the remodel is out of the way, but it is slowly starting to feel like the home we love again. And I really think nothing can make you love your home more than watching it get taken apart and put back together again. It feels good to be back where we started – but with a few improvements which I’m grateful for.

Our tree is quite a sight. It is dripping with ornaments, and I usually go along after the kids to rearrange in a more sensible way, but this year I didn’t. They’ll cluster 5 close together or insist that one particular one have a place at the top. Our mantle is adorned with kid crafts and not the least bit coordinated or symmetrical. But the way I look at it, I have so many years ahead of me where things will stay in their typical place, but for now, it’s important to me that they feel ownership here.

They are at this perfect age where they don’t require nearly as much hands-on constant involvement as years past – no diapers (hallelujah, never again), no bag of extra clothing when we leave the house, no strollers or carriers or special accommodations. They dress themselves and brush their own teeth and generally listen if I tell them to play for a while in the other room so that I can get dinner done. But they are also easily impressed and still at that age where they are curious and want to learn and genuinely like spending time with parents. I can finally exhale a little with them after 2 years of life’s outrageous demands. It feels easy when it is just the three of us, and it’s natural to take that for granted or focus on other salt on the melon like sibling arguments and messy rooms, but as I think back on life with a newborn and a two year old or those first months of single parenthood when my youngest was only two, I gain a lot of gratitude and perspective.

I’ve spent part of the holiday break alone as well, and I’m grateful for that, too. I’ve listened to podcasts, put the house back together, and read a good bit of Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir. I’ve cooked a lot as well – both for Thanksgiving and to stock my freezer for the weeks ahead. Thursday morning, I had some time alone before the kids got home, and I baked a sweet potato pie from a scribbled recipe card I found in my grandmother’s things this summer.

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Food is so much more than physical sustenance, isn’t it? A holiday that centers around a full table reminds us of this, but it is true year round as well. It can bring health and comfort and a nostalgic longing like nothing else. Certain dishes send me tumbling down a tunnel of memory. In Karr’s book, she tells us “Memory is a pinball in a machine — it messily ricochets around between images, ideas, fragments of scenes, stories you’ve heard. Then the machine goes tilt, snaps off. But most of the time, we keep memories packed away. I sometimes liken that moment of sudden unpacking to circus clowns pouring out of a miniature car trunk — how did so much fit into such a small space?”

This happens to me all the time. One taste or one sight or one old photograph. The ricochet begins and the clowns pour out of the circus car. Sometimes it’s sweet and sometimes it is sad and hard. You have to wade through all the pieces before arriving at something true. And for me anyway, I only arrive there through writing. As the book opens, she tells me that for memoirists, “truth is not their enemy. It is the banister they grab for when feeling around on the dark cellar stairs. It’s the solution.”

I have felt that so many times while writing. I think I referred to it once before as feeling the walls for a light switch. And it’s only when I land on that truth that I know that the writing did what it is supposed to do – for me and for you as the reader. And it is the moments when I have landed on an especially hard-to-swallow piece of my story that readers have reacted most strongly and sincerely.

I read something recently that phrased it as the truth has legs to stand up when everything else falls away, and I love that. As the dust settles from the last few years of my life, I am seeing this – that you cannot hide truth, you cannot run from it. And when you claim it for what it is, you stand a little taller inside and see things with a lot more clarity. I was poking around at the etymology of the word true and found that in Old Irish, it was referred to as derb, which sometimes also meant tree. How perfect is that? Getting to that tree can be hard. You have to be still and lose the impulse to protect your ego. You sometimes have to wade through past experiences and memories that make you ache to revisit them. But that image of a tree is precisely what truth feels like when you land on it – strong and steady and incapable of withering or arguing or comparing. It just is.

 

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grief, Uncategorized

anything like a story

It is 6:30 pm, and the kids are gone this weekend. The dryer is humming with the week’s laundry and it’s pouring outside. That summer rain that comes down in buckets through the August heat and washes everything away for a while.

Tomorrow marks 8 weeks that my grandmother has been gone. When my phone rang just after 5am that morning, I knew. I didn’t have to hear what was coming next when I answered my mother’s voice. When I drove over to her house, it was a couple hours later. Mid-morning after a Sunday sunrise, and I listened to Patty Griffin sing all the way there. I can never hear that song again without my eyes stinging and my throat tightening. Open your eyes, boy, we made it through the night. Let’s take a walk on the bridge, right over this mess. 

It always feels like you’ve made it through the night. For a minute. But then you see another one on the horizon, another bridge you have to scale. Grief ebbs and flows. I’m missing her today.

One day, I will stop writing about this. But not today. Not on day 55. I can remember years ago, someone I knew lost her brother to a brain tumor, and her friend said to me that she was hard to talk to anymore. It’s like it’s all she wants to talk about, but eventually, you just have to get over it, you know? But do you? What does “get over it” even mean?

In Alias Grace, Margaret Atwood says, “When you are in the middle of a story it isn’t a story at all, but only a confusion; a dark roaring, a blindness, a wreckage of shattered glass and splintered wood; like a house in a whirlwind, or else a boat crushed by the icebergs or swept over the rapids, and all aboard powerless to stop it. It’s only afterwards that it becomes anything like a story at all. When you are telling it to yourself or someone else.” 

I’m in the middle of my story, and I cannot see my way out yet. But I can see the narrative forming already. I know a day is coming when I will look back and think, remember that time when I was alone and writing, writing, writing my way out of some hole like words were a shovel? Loss after loss and unfamiliar terrain everywhere. Remember that time when I spent Saturday mornings alone in bed with books and words in front of me and ate alone and slept alone and ran my hands along the walls of my unfamiliar grief until I found a light switch?

We are still sorting through her things, little bits at a time. I had an empty afternoon today, so I went to see my Grandad and cleaned a few closets of her clothing. I found my wedding dress in the back of a closet left from a time when I was a newlywed in a little house learning to cook from the back of a Campbell’s soup can, and she had more storage than I did, so I left it there. It seems like some unfamiliar relic when I take a close look at it. All I can think as I see it is if I knew then what I know now. If I knew then what I know now. If I knew then what I know now.

Today I found, among folded sheets and towels, one of the gowns she wore while home on hospice. It is gray with pink flowers and a slit cut straight up the back so that we could easily keep her clean and comfortable. It still smells like her. If I knew then what I know now. If I knew then what I know now.

But we never know now what we will one day see in retrospect, do we? Some days, I still can’t believe that this is my life, that these are my hours. That this place is where it’s led me.

I miss her so much, but as I look through her things and think about the 35 years I spent with her, I also find myself doing that thing humans always do, missing the way it used to be – all of it. I miss childhood and barefoot summers with afternoons spent in front of the oscillating fan on her living room floor. I miss knowing that she was there in the periphery of my life, like a permanent piece, though of course she was never meant to stay. None of us are. Once you break, you can’t go back. But it’s easy to miss what it felt like to be clean and whole.

I’ve seen art made from shattered pieces of glass, and it’s incredible. It glints and shines and takes a new form so much more interesting and beautiful than something solid and flawless and predictable. I think people are the same way. After you break and put it all back together to something new, you glint and shine in an entirely new way. I’m getting pretty good at knowing if someone has broken before and put themselves back together in a more beautiful way. It’s an obvious glimmer like no other when you learn how to recognize it. My grandmother had it. She broke and put herself back together again and again, and now I get it.

In that same Patty Griffin song, she also sings, It’s hard to live. But I still think it’s the best bet. It’s hard to live. It’s okay that it’s hard. It’s okay to not be okay. I know all these things, I do. But I’ll be glad when this becomes a story.

gratitude, Life and Randomness, single parenthood, writing

April Insanity

Weeks are passing by incredibly quickly lately. Work is on overdrive; I can’t even begin to explain how insane April feels for those of us in higher ed. We got home Friday afternoon, and my kids ran straight outside to play with neighbors and enjoy the late daylight. The season is a welcome change, but I’m finding that my energy level doesn’t match theirs lately. I feel tired and depleted while they are gaining momentum with the growing sunshine.

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Both of them are away for a few days at the end of this week, and I will miss them and feel on-edge about their being states away, but I need the time badly. The ability to work late without the afternoon shuffle and exhale a minute when I get home instead of the usual routine of packing lunches, making dinner, cleaning up, bathing kids, and bedtime cuddles. Thinking about their absence brings that old familiar tension of relishing the time alone but also dreading the distance and heavy silence in a house that is usually full and busy.

Life has been so busy lately that I haven’t been catching up with friends in the way I’d like. I squeezed in a birthday celebration three weeks after my actual birthday with friends who are worn and comfortable in the best way. There are six kids among us which means it almost takes an act of congress to convene us together these days, but we never forget to celebrate each other’s milestones and successes, something I’m incredibly grateful for.

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People are not always good at recognizing someone else’s achievements, and I think that’s rooted in the idea of comparison and scarcity. If you land a good job, that means there is not enough for me. If you move into a gorgeous new home, mine is somehow less. If you are finding happiness in a new relationship, that somehow means I’m eternally single. I’m grateful that, as I’ve aged and refined my priorities a bit, the friendships that remain for me are those where we can celebrate one another’s successes and be honest and solid in the face of each other’s challenges as well.

I wrote about this a bit last summer when I talked about compassion and bodhichitta, but the events of my past few years have really worked as a filter to mine the gems of true friendship in my life. It’s been interesting to see that the same women who never forgot me and offered real support when I was in the trenches of the hardest moments are also the women who find genuine joy in the good things as my life mends itself on the other side. It makes me see my own self in a different light and strive to offer the same to those I love.

Our conversations have changed a lot in the last 9 years – from work troubles to questions about pregnancy to frustrations about nursing babies and lack of sleep and now to kindergarten curriculum and that strange aching gratitude you feel watching kids grow independent. You never know what life holds, but it is such a relief to me that though I don’t have that box to check anymore — no legally recognized next-of-kin, the absence of “my person” as I’ve spoken of it before — I have a handful of others who would step up in a heartbeat for any little thing. Or any big thing. I feel lucky that I got to rest in that for a bit this week with a marathon dinner and endless conversation.

There are so many other things I want to write about, ways that life is changing and opening up for me. I listen to ideas float in and out all day while I’m engaged in other tasks. But life intervenes, as it does for all of us. I’m hoping to commit more time to writing when the rush of April is done.

I have been writing a bit here and there though. An essay about motherhood and forgiveness and how those two intersect everyday is up over at the March issue of Mothers Always Write. And my latest on Huffington Post was just published this week as well. Read and share if you’d like. More soon.

Happy April, friends. Spring is here.

 

 

blogging, writing

delayed introduction

Hi! I’ve acquired a few new ears around here since Scary Mommy ran my essay a few days ago, so I thought it might be a good time to tell you more about myself if you’re a new visitor here. There’s a bit on my About Me page if you haven’t been there yet. But as with most of us, the full picture is a little larger.

I’m Katie, and I live with my sensitive and curious six-year-old son and his sweet but very spunky three-year-old sister in northern Georgia. Life is never boring with these two, and they are hands down the very best thing that has ever happened to me. Motherhood pulls away the veil like no other experience (for me at least), and they push me to be better and stronger each and every day. They are the center that holds me together on most days. And the mess that makes me come completely unglued sometimes, too. Funny how parenthood works that way. We are never perfect and almost always messy, but they are my saving grace nonetheless.

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I’ve had this little blog for almost 6 years, and it used to be full of musings about how much I loved motherhood and my simple stay-at-home mom life. Truthfully, it really did bring me so much happiness. I cloth diapered and had a passion for natural birth and made my own baby food like one of those moms (haha!) and perfected all kinds of yummy recipes and pretty much found peace in all the little details of my day. I had a husband I loved and a life I loved. We traveled a lot with our kids (Costa Rica! Paris! Aruba!) as a result of my then-husband’s job, and I love to explore. It was a charmed life, and I loved it.

But something was stirring in the world at large and in my own heart. I have a Masters in English and taught literature to loads of high school students before I became a SAHM, and I received an offer to teach at my beloved alma mater, a liberal arts college in northern Georgia, in the summer of 2013. I had a 3-year-old, a 14-month-old and an unsure head, but my heart said TAKE IT in a loud and clear voice, and so I did. I teach written composition courses now, and I love it. Teaching satisfies my calling in a way nothing else can, and literature is a lifeline for me.

My life blew up in November of 2014, and that is the part everyone knows by now. I was the girl who behaved in school, pushed myself for good grades, demanded perfection of myself, and made all the “right” decisions. What happened when it all fell apart is that it left me with new eyes to see that I don’t have to be perfect, and I shed the heavy armor that, in hindsight, I was wearing to survive the final months and years of my former marriage. I now believe that grace is better than guilt. It’s hard to summarize the growth that has happened since then or the ways that I am still growing, but one of the greatest treasures of my life is that I have every step chronicled here. From the moment I shakily typed through tears at 2am to the moments the light began to return for me and even now as I continue to grow and move forward. It’s all here in words and pictures.

I penned “Enough” in July of 2015 for a Sweatpants and Coffee call for submissions entitled “Right Place, Right Time” about the time when someone said just the right thing to you at just the right time. I felt proud that it was chosen and immense relief at having written down the heavy lesson I’d learned.  I unleashed it into the wide world, but I didn’t know just how far it would travel. It has since been re-posted on Role Reboot, Alternet, and Scary Mommy’s Club Mid – all of which have widened the readership of this tiny journal that I’ve held closely for so long.

I’m honored it has resonated with so many people, and I still get chills every single time I receive an email or comment from a reader explaining why she relates to it. I’m forever grateful for what that little essay has done for me, and it’s amazing to watch it make its own way in the world at large and connect me with so many wonderful readers.

That said, I have grown in leaps and bounds since I wrote that 6 months ago, and I hope to continue moving forward and writing, writing, writing as long as I have something to say. That experience was the catalyst that pushed my life in a new direction, but it doesn’t define me. It feels like it defines you for a portion of time, (and those of you who have lived through any kind of unexpected trauma know what I mean) but as you heal, you see that experience in your rearview mirror as a piece that you will always carry with you but only a small picture of what else there is to you. I am currently 14 months out from those early moments, and I see it getting smaller in my rearview. I hope it will continue to get blurrier as my years roll by.

I have written a lot here, but I don’t give much space to the specific horrifying details of my divorce. I allude to clear and basic facts only when they are necessary to understand the context of my own growth. I was married almost ten years; I found email letters between him and a coworker; I begged and competed for a few weeks before a switch flipped inside of me and I heard the clearest voice imaginable telling me to get out and close that door. They got engaged five weeks later, got married seven months after that. The rest is my own story, my own progress. I made a decision as I began a life on my own that I would not grow smaller and more bitter as a result of what happened but that I would grow softer and more fearless. You can’t fake motivation, and I think readers can see in my writing that I have no desire to punish anyone, and I believe that people are complicated beings. As Charles Bukowski says, “Nobody can save you but yourself– and you’re worth saving. It’s a war not easily won but if anything is worth winning– this is it.” 

Though I have written in this space for 6 years, I’m just beginning to reach more to the outside world. My one and only resolution for 2016 was to write more, submit more, reach more. I’m vowing to create more space in my life for writing and just see where it goes and what the universe has in store for me.

I believe in God, and you can see that spirituality weaves itself in my writing often because it is central to how I understand the world around me. I simply believe, with every ounce of me, that there is a greater plan at work. That bad things don’t happen to you as a punishment but they happen for you as an agent of growth. That every single experience I’ve had is there to shape and mold me and prepare me for what is ahead. We can find meaning in even the worst moments of our lives as we put the pieces together in reflection.

I never once prayed for the pain to stop, never once asked God to soothe my heart even in the early, raw moments. My only prayer for about four months was help me, show me. And that happened. I sincerely think that human connection is the most incredible way that God reveals what we need to know and learn, and I’ve watched a handful of invaluable teachers show up for me when I needed guidance. Rob Bell, Pema Chodron, Jen Pastiloff, Elizabeth Gilbert, and Cheryl Strayed have been the main ones for me in this season. I have faith that I find the words I am meant to find in the wide world at exactly the time I am meant to hear them. We learn from each other and find comfort in each other, and now I see so clearly that it is the raft that will carry us when we’d otherwise drown. The way I have survived the past year of my life is through the words of others, my tight circle of girlfriends who are my restoration, and a stubborn practice of gratitude that shapes the way I see the world.

I am not done yet. I don’t have it all figured out. I do the best I can with every day, and sometimes the best I can do is just breathe deeply and vow to try again tomorrow. I think “balance” is a myth in the life of a mom, or at least the traditional way of seeking balance. I think balance means that sometimes I’m less prepared for my class than I’d like to be because my kids needed extra attention the night before. Or my kids get too much screen time one Sunday afternoon because I have books to read and papers to grade. My house is a wreck sometimes often because I spent time preparing a healthy dinner instead. And sometimes I feed my kids cheap pizza or curl up in a blanket and binge on Netflix to hide from the world when I have the house to myself because my sanity is important to me, and it often hangs by a thread. Balance means prioritizing and doing the best you can. My best is good enough.

So that is me in a long-winded summary. I am so honored that new readers are finding me across the crowded internet. If you feel like speaking up, I’d love a little roll call in the comments – whether you are a familiar friend or new.

Where are you from? What brings you here? And do you have a blog link or Instagram handle you’d like to pass along? Community is the very best thing words can offer, and I’d love to know more about you.

 

 

 

writing

new year

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.

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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.

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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.

gratitude, Life and Randomness

Manifestation

The kids are away this weekend, and I’m mostly using the time to be certain everything is ready for the first full week of the school year. Clothes washed, lunches packed, house clean.  Come November, I’ll be drowning in term papers and laundry and ready for a break, but I love the clean-slate feeling of August. For a few shining weeks, everything is new and organization is apparent.

I registered long ago for a Jen Pastiloff workshop that took place yesterday, and the timing couldn’t have been better.  Her workshops are so hard to describe – a combination of journaling and yoga and sharing and dancing.  It was a bit outside of my comfort zone as I knew it would be, but I’m convinced that all the very best things lie just beyond our comfort level.  I persuaded my friend Tally to join me, and it was the most amazing afternoon. An incredible experience.

UntitledI would describe myself as an inconsistent yogi.  I’ve dabbled in yoga at various times of my life – some Svaroopa yoga before kids, prenatal yoga regularly during my first pregnancy, a month-long Bikram yoga challenge a couple years ago, meditation here and there to help with specific anxieties and challenges.  But I am certainly not an advanced yogi by any stretch of the imagination.  It’s something I’d love to make time for, but it can be a challenge to find the time among the rest of my life tasks and events.  Jen doesn’t really demand a lot of challenging yoga in her workshops though. She simply uses the poses to get you out of your own head and into the body to strip away the ego.  You are also much more likely to share with strangers if the room is sweaty and you are moving or chanting in unison.

This idea was echoed in something I was reading recently on Melanie Tonia Evans‘s blog which has been a healing balm for me in many ways.  She discusses ways that we disconnect from our bodies and the reason that “coming home” to your body is necessary to self-fulfillment, especially when healing from past hurts.  Our culture always encourages us to reach outside for fulfillment, and she explains, “No-one taught the value of coming home to ourselves in our bodies. Rather than our [culture] guiding us with, ‘Sit with your bad feelings, take your attention lovingly with full self-devotion inside your body, ask yourself what is this really about and heal yourself,’ they would have been more likely to tell you, ‘Don’t dwell on it – get up and do something else.’ … Because of being unplugged from our connection to ourselves we have been easily trained into a model of ‘getting’ and ‘doing.’ The trying to secure something from outside of self in order to feel at peace within oneself…. The reason why any of us wanted ANYTHING was to try to feel content and at peace – not realizing it had nothing to do with getting or doing – it is always to do with coming home to self-partnering and addressing our own state of consciousness….We also need to understand this: emotional peace has NOTHING to do what Life and others have delivered you – it is to do with your own state of consciousness.” 

This resonated with me so much.  It’s only been a few months since my divorce happened, and I’ve already been torn between a desire to sit with my own grief and use that to heal myself and the loud voices of some people who say that reflecting on your pain is simply bitterness and that you should “move on” and busy yourself with something else. The glory of Jen’s workshop is that you have to be in your body and commit fully to the self-exploration she is asking of you.  Her journaling prompts cut through all of the false ego and get straight to what’s real: What would you be if nobody told you what you had to be? What do you fear?  To be where I want to be, I have to be rid of… It is nothing short of a spiritual experience to be in a room with strangers, move your body in a way that mirrors everyone else in the room, and then answer these questions and share your reflections with others.  

My recent essay on bodhichitta describes what I mean by this, and it was the first time in my life when I sat in a room and could feel that human compassion tangibly with people I didn’t know at all.  As one person stood up to share, she commented that so many people in the room looked familiar to her and she couldn’t explain why, just some comfortable familiarity that she felt and saw in our faces.  I think the answer for why she felt that way lies in bodhichitta.  For a few hours we were stripped of the ego or judgment that normally guides each of us and we saw others with a lens of common compassion.  You could hear in the conversation and what was shared that each of us is fighting our own battle, all so different yet exactly the same.

So many yoga or meditation instructors speak in these lofty terms and metaphors that are not always accessible to many of us. But Jen’s approach is different.  She speaks in terms that we understand and she is “real” in every way.  Her workshops are coined Manifestation Yoga, and you begin the workshop by writing down on a post-it a short list of things that you want to see unfold in your life. Meditating on, praying for, and visualizing those things each day can bring you closer to them, yes.  But she also acknowledges that if that’s all we had to do, life would be pretty easy and predictable.  Obviously it’s not that simple.  Manifestation in her words is to “Make shit happen.” You have to identify what it is you want, give some intent and clarity to that goal, and then identify what stands between you and the life you want.

I found when I sat down to write what stands between myself and my goals, I heard so many others share what I’d written: fear, uncertainty, feelings of inadequacy, and allowing others judgments or opinions to restrict me. These answers were the same for so many of us. She spoke a bit about the “1 in 100” scenario – meaning if you are in a room with 100 people, and 99 of them love you and 1 doesn’t, whom do you focus on? The one that doesn’t.  I know for certain that my recent months have allowed me to come so far in refusing to let others’ judgment affect me.  I at least don’t let it sink in as deeply or for along as I did before. But I’m only human, and I can’t help but be somewhat affected by it.  

And to be honest, when I reflect on the things said to me and about me in the past nine months or so, it’s enough to break anyone’s spirit.  You don’t measure up. You were a bad wife. Your own actions are what led to pain and disappointment. You need to stop writing and you should be ashamed of showing your pain and sharing it with others. Everyone perceives you as bitter and angry. People tell me your writing is terrible and nobody believes any of it. You are a terrible mother. You are selfish. On my best days, I can rest in the love and acceptance of people I value, but on the worst days, these comments sink in and cast a shadow where I don’t want them to dwell. Jen’s workshop yesterday was a safe place to work through these things and cast them out of my consciousness.

It’s hard though, right?  The mind is a powerful thing.  On the one hand, thoughts can enlighten us and guide us, and there is tons of research to support the power of positive thinking. On the other hand, if I believed everything that my mind tells me in regard to my own self-worth, I’d be in trouble.  It’s human nature. Fear and uncertainty is natural. Not only that, but I’m realizing that the only people who feel no fear at all and don’t care about others’ opinions of their actions in the least are defined as sociopaths and narcissists.  (Jen Pastiloff touched on that briefly yesterday as well.)  But to use her metaphor, when 99 people in the room see love and authenticity in you and recognize your gifts, to focus on the one who doesn’t see your worth serves you in no way at all.  And I’m realizing that is precisely what is standing in the way of myself and my big goals: the criticism I still hear far too loudly. I ran across this recently online somewhere, and it made me smile.  I need to tape it on my mirror.  

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It’s not as simple as placing glasses on my face. (I wish it were!) But I can drown out the influences that leave me feeling doubtful and unsettled if I’m very careful about what I let sink in and if I devote time everyday to focus on aspects of myself that are worthy of appreciation and value. I left the workshop feeling energized and ready to start a new academic year with a clearer purpose and more mindfulness to combat the outside voices that feed feelings of inadequacy.  When we unrolled our mats and were preparing for the workshop, we were given temporary tattoos from Conscious Ink as a little favor.  It will be gone in a couple days, but it’s on my forearm as a reminder to me as I begin the school year.

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It’s impossible to recognize the sacred value of the present moment when you have a constant soundtrack in your mind of the million things wrong with you or the million reasons some people dislike you. I’m vowing this week to push those voices away as much as I can and listen to my own compass instead. And right now, my own compass says I am strong and capable and loving and exactly where I should be.

writing

some cluttered thoughts on writing

I’ve considered myself a writer in the general sense for years and years, but it’s only recently that writing has become such a guidepost for me and a lifeline as I figure out what I’ve learned in these past few months and how best to move forward.  If you follow Sweatpants & Coffee on Facebook, you might have seen that I had an essay published last week as the first installment of their “Right Time, Right Place” series.  You can read that here if you’d like.

I’ve been writing a lot this summer, and I’ve collected all sorts of efforts and first drafts – some of which I post here and some I don’t.  A little of what I write about is concerning my background or parenting thoughts, but much of what I reflect on right now relates to the recent few months of my life and what has occurred. It’s natural that I’d focus on that given that the whole idea of memoir or creative non-fiction is that it is your personal history and your own perspective, and so much of my perspective is growing and changing and taking shape as a result of this year’s events and, more than that, as a result of my willingness to sit down and write it out.

It was HARD for me to hit the send button on my submission with the essay written above. It is by far the most personal thing I’ve ever written, and it deals with some inner thoughts and subjects that are hard to discuss.  I admit I felt things I wish I didn’t feel, and truthfully that is only the tip of the iceberg.

Writing is difficult, I’m finding. — not just because of the craft itself and the act of sitting down to write and having to flesh it all out, but it’s harder still when you consider being truly open and honest and putting your whole heart on the page. It’s like being naked in a crowd and asking people to point at what is wrong with you.

It’s terrifying and liberating at the same time.

I’ve started listening to the Magic Lessons podcast this week, and there was an episode recently with Cheryl Strayed (whose book I wrote about a few weeks ago) discussing this idea of putting yourself out there. Her advice to someone who felt stuck but wanted to write?

“Write. See what’s there, and see what comes. There’s the fear of revealing others, and there’s also the fear of revealing our own hearts on the page. For that, I say you don’t get to duck behind anything. You do get to delve into the deepest, darkest, most interesting waters. And it’s a really fun thing to do and it’s a little scary, too. But the best things are a little scary or a lot scary.”

It’s harder than you’d think – not ducking behind anything. I heard a writer give this same advice once with the reason that a reader can always tell when you are holding back and not being completely forthright.  You don’t want to feel that guarded sense of ego when you read; you want connection with the writer. I agree with that for certain, but it’s hard to put it out there.

But as difficult as it was and as intimidated as I felt, I’ve been rewarded tenfold with the feeling of liberation to finally share such a heavy experience and also the kind messages I’ve received from friends and even from people I don’t know who say they see their own selves a little differently after reading my words and my shared experiences.  Isn’t it amazing when something broken becomes something beautiful?

Have I received harsh words, too?  Of course I have. Not from strangers but from those directly involved, and it’s just an equation I have to continue to weigh and consider as I decide what to share in my writing. My aim is not to drag anyone through the mud, but to share my own piece of the journey, and I hope that is evident in what I write and how I approach it. I will never know someone else’s motivations and thoughts on my experience. That is not my job and not the role of memoir.

The older I get and the wiser I become, the more I realize not everyone will like me and that’s fine. As Jennifer Pastiloff wrote recently… (wow, she resonates with me lately!) “You ABSOLUTELY cannot make everyone happy. (So stop trying.) It’s a no-win situation. It’ll drain you and leave you like a pile of coffee grinds. People will be disappointed for various (often weird) reasons. Sometimes those reasons will make sense, sometimes not. …So stop worrying so much. There is most definitely someone out there who doesn’t like you or feels you’ve failed them. But, on the bright side, the really blinding bright side, the I-need-my-glasses-this-sh*t-is-so-bright-side, there are many people who love you, who think you’re the greatest thing since sliced bread, who could’ve never made it through X, Y and Z without you, who trust you, who care for you … So let’s do our best to keep moving forward with less second guessing and worrying, less ‘I-wish-everyone-loved-everything-I-said/did/wrote/wore.’ Less, ‘I am a bad/mean/awful person because I had to say NO.’ Let’s try not to intentionally hurt others but for the love of sliced bread (with gluten), let’s give up worrying so much, people pleasing, and all the other time-sucking, love-wasting, energy-vampirish things we do.”  Amen and amen. 

I’m working on abiding by this idea in my writing life and my regular life as well. I am not everyone’s cup of tea maybe. But to others, I am loved fiercely or connected with intensely or appreciated uniquely. Moving on from those who don’t love me – for whatever reasons – is the greatest gift I can give myself and the hardest lesson to learn for this lifetime “people pleaser.”  It’s an ongoing process that requires you thicken your skin on the outside so that you can soften up on the inside.  And for now, I’m getting better at it.

I have every intention to keep on writing.