(A short piece based on 3 random photos in my instagram feed)
A jumble of letters lay on your desk. Your baby rests at your feet, smiling and snug in her bouncy seat, just content to gaze up at you. But you break the gaze and it feels like a tiny piece of your heart snagged on the moment. That moment of turning away from her to your desk. From her to yourself.
Your palms press into the smooth wood. Sitting here feels foreign, like you don’t quite fit here anymore. Not like you used to.
Not like when you could stay up until 2 AM because the words were just spilling out of you and who would walk away from that for mere sleep?
Now sleep is precious. You hoard moments of sleep like a vagrant lost in the depths of the desert hoards drops of water.
Now you gladly trade words for sleep.
No wonder you no longer fit here.
You swipe up a handful of the letters, shaking them in your palm like dice, feeling and hearing the solid yet delicate clink of ceramic edges gently colliding. Maybe if you shake long enough actual words will emerge from the letters.
Maybe a whole story will tumble onto the desk like the elusive Yahtzee you played as a kid.
The misshapen cubes fall out of your hand, landing on the desk, scattering into an incoherent pattern. No story. No words. Just random letters adding up to nothing.
You glance down at your daughter and see her eyes have closed. She is asleep. You know you should follow the rule of new motherhood and sleep when she does. But rolling those dice in your hands has left your palms itchy. That familiar twitching of your blood and cells beneath your skin tugs at you to show up to the page. You remember it doesn’t matter what you write at this point. Just write. Just show up and who knows where you’ll end up.
Maybe in the skin of an old woman sitting on a bench in the grocery store next to the mechanical horse.
Maybe you’ll end up in a memory of your grandma knitting a pair of slippers with pom-poms that bounced off the front of your foot with each step.
Or maybe you’ll end up on a boat with children, gliding through space, parting the stars with the bow, leaving a swath of stardust in its wake.
You never know where you’ll end up unless you show up.
You pick up a pen.
You open a notebook.
The snow slants to the frozen earth outside her window.
A wind comes and disrupts the precision with which the snow descends, scattering those individual particles of frozen atmospheric water vapor frozen awry, off the path.
Her path is on the snowy white of the paper beneath her hand. Or the glaring white of the screen on her desktop. Both waiting to be filled with the “breathings of her heart.”
They don’t care about the quality of the words, of the sentences, of the stories. They only wait for the presence of the words, sentences and stories she needs to tell in any given moment.
Sitting at her desk, her dog curled up behind her, the silence broken only by the soft hum of the space heater at her feet, she writes.
She claims this time as her own.
Claims the space as her own.
The space around her.
The space within her.
She claims the page.
She claims it all.
But mostly she claims herself as a writer.
And don’t ask if you can buy her books on amazon or find them in the library as if having her words bound and packaged and marketed for human consumption is the only proof available to back up such an audacious claim.
That kind of question diminishes her path.
Diminishes her claim.
And she won’t be diminished.
Each time she shows up to the page, she stakes her claim on this path of writing.
The path is slanted like the snow outside her window.
It is easily blown off course.
It is filled with mud
And vast swaths of desert
And frozen tundra.
But she shows up.
Not for the so-called validation of having a book published but
because she must.
If she doesn’t show up
to the page,
she doesn’t show up
This was written in response to Day 11 of the #WriteYourselfAlive challenge.
I like hard work and I don’t like pretending things are perfect.
I’m a fan of any book that starts with a preface titled: Writing is Hard.
I’m even more of a fan when that book is written by Amy Poehler.
I mean, I’ve always liked her. Loved her on SNL. Thought she and Tina Fey killed it on Weekend Update. And I think they should host every award show from now until the end of time.
But after reading her book, I wanna be her BFF. She’s funny, smart as hell, sassy, real, takes no shit, tells it like it is.
And she admits writing is hard. Because it is.
I love the structure of her book. Or maybe it’s an anti-structure. It’s not a straight up memoir. It’s a collection of essays, thoughts, lists, letters, and haiku. Yep, haiku like this:
We know it’s Botox
And not your vegan diet
Nice try, Margaret
She cracks me up.
We hear about her life from childhood to her improve days.
We hear behind the scenes stuff from her time at SNL especially the memorable Sarah Palin rap.
We hear about her marriage, divorce and the mature stable relationship they’ve managed to maintain for the sake of their kids.
We hear about her kids and being a mom.
She tells us her rules for sex for men and women.
She tells us about her friendship with Tina Fey.
What it’s like being a woman in comedy.
We hear it all.
And I still wanted more.
A sentence I love: It takes years as a woman to unlearn what you have been taught to be sorry for.
“The Good Sister” a YA novel by Jamie Kain
It’s strange how someone you never knew and will never know can change the course of your life forever.
The three Kinsey sisters grew up with hippie parents and without many rules. When, Sarah, the good sister, is lost in a mysterious accident the other two sisters Asha and Rachel are left even more adrift than before Sarah’s death. They grieve alone, pushing each other’s buttons as sisters do leaving themselves isolated without the weight of Sarah’s presence to anchor them.
The story is told in alternating chapters of each sister’s voice, including Sarah who has died and is trying to make sense of her life and her death.
Each sister has a unique voice and story and they weave together to finally discover the truth behind Sarah’s life and death.
A sentence I love: Everything about my life felt stolen.
Day 2 of the Write Yourself Alive Challenge.
Narrate a day in your life as the main character of an autobiographical novel.
She is getting used to the silent days. So much silence, it is like another presence, sharing space with her. What she wouldn’t have given for that peace and quiet when her kids were little and the only quiet time she had was in the shower or while she slept. But even then, even in those moments, the quiet was punctured by this underlying waiting, this awareness of others in the house, others who could need her at any moment.
She lived her life on guard.
Now, for the most part of most days, she is in the house alone. When her husband travels, the only time she hears her own voice is when she talks to her dog. She lavishes her with language, as much for the dog and for herself.
She tells herself that all that silence feeds her writing. And it does, When she lets it. Some days though she hides from it. Dodging the silence all day long by calling people, mindless meandering across the internet, binge watching a show on Hulu, pouring the glass of wine a little earlier than normal. Those days, the silence feels like a call to a duel, a duel she has no energy to engage in.
Other days, she embraces the silence, the solitude. She starts the day with meditation, that thing she has resisted for so many years but now feels familiar. Not always comfortable but definitely familiar. A candle glows on her altar, the sweet sugary scent reminding her of a bakery first thing in the morning. Then she goes to her desk and opens a notebook to fill three pages with the ramblings of her mind, no product in mind, just pure process of connecting pen to paper, heart to mind. Then it’s over to the computer where she dismantles the internet through Freedom for 45 minutes and manages to eek out at least 500 words on her novel.
Those days are good days. Those days she gives her writing and silence the attention and priority they deserve.
She’s learning to have compassion for all of her days. Trying not to label them as good or bad. Trying not to label herself as good or bad. Learning there are days when she is present and days when she is not.
And they are just days.
Her precious days.
Then she remembers the Annie Dillard quote:
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
Her life has been made up and is made up of days, some loud and crowded and pulsing with other’s needs and some quiet and subdued and just aching for her to look at her own needs. But they are all her days making up her life, a life that she tries to rise up and meet every single morning the best she can, honoring the ebb and flow of moods, energy, attention, awareness.
Honoring her self.
Honoring her wild and precious days.
Honoring her one wild and precious life.
Today I’m sharing the answer to the 17th question from an interview with my creative self.
Say I have died and my Inner Critic stays behind to write a goodbye note in the third person that commemorates my work. What would make me Rest In Peace?
She followed the hungry beating heart of language and stories and words sewn together with blood and tears and joy, never giving up. Always showing up. She spilled both her light and dark onto the page regardless of what anyone thought. For her it was all about the process—the process of showing up, diving deep, swimming out to the deep end not knowing what came next and not caring. She believed in the alchemy of writing—that seemingly magical process of finding, discovering, unearthing the right words at the right moment that could crack her world open, allowing a little more space around the thump thump thumping of her own little heart, connecting her with the awesome heart of the Universe.
“Drink- The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol” by Ann Dowsett Johnston
For me, it happened this way: I took a geographic cure to fix what I thought was wrong with my life, and the cure failed.
Part memoir, part research, this book really hit home for me. I have often joked that I am so grateful that it never occurred to me to keep alcohol in our house when my kids were little and I was a stay-at-home mom. I’d probably have a serious drinking problem by now.
For some reason, we only had alcohol in our house if it was leftover from a party. I would drink when we went out to dinner or at a party. If we had kept bottles in the house I think it would’ve been just too easy to have a glass or two or three of wine each night after a long day of giving giving giving to my kids. Just a glass to take the edge off. To smooth out my rough emotional edges.
According to Dowsett, that’s exactly what booze companies banked on when they started marketing to women, specifically wine to moms with names like “Mommy’s Time Out.” She also explains how alcohol is much more dangerous for women: we are more easily dependent, we get drunk faster, it affects our health more aversely.
She also delves into the culture of alcohol, especially on college campuses and with one daughter of legal drinking age already at school and my youngest leaving in six months, it really shook me up. When I was their age I wouldn’t have stopped drinking because of any potential health risks. It just wasn’t on my radar and I am sure it is not on theirs either.
With all the research and statistics, Dowsett also shares her own dark journey with alcohol, revealing how insidious it can be as it seeps into all the crevices of your life.
“Drink” is a the perfect balance of personal and universal and it gave me a lot to think about. Alcohol can truly become an intimate and intricate relationship. I find myself thinking twice about why I am pouring or want to pour that first, second or third glass of merlot.
What I learned: Women are 70% more likely to experience depression than men and twice as likely to experience anxiety.
“Going Om- Real-Life Stories On and Off the Yoga Mat” edited by Melissa Carroll
We unroll a mat and, unexpectedly, we fall in love.
That’s how it was for me!
So when I read that first sentence that completely resonated with my own experience on the mat, I knew I had to read it. It’s a lovely collection of essays that explore the experience of yoga both on and off the mat. That has always been key to me—bringing my yoga off the mat. This book is filled with compelling insights that delve into many aspects of yoga from caring for an elderly parent and pets to the sexiness of yoga.
I came away with a deeper appreciation for my own practice as well as nuggets to share with my own yoga classes.
What I learned: There are so many layers to not only doing a yoga practice but living your yoga.
“What We Talk about When We Talk about God” by Rob Bell
I realize that when I use the word God in the title of this book there’s a good chance I’m stepping on all kinds of land mines.
I’m just going to get this out of the way: I have a bit of a soul crush on Rob Bell.
I’m one of those “I’m not religious, I’m spiritual” people and he lets me be that. In fact, he embraces it and encourages me to embrace it as well.
He makes God accessible.
He writes about God, Jesus, Einstein, physics and Hooters (yep, the restaurant) and I never once felt like he had lost me.
He challenges old ideas, offers new ideas all while keeping it all so real. So accessible. And so relevant to daily life.
That has always been important to me. I was never interested in a Sunday only kind of God or spiritual practice. I want it/Him/Her to permeate my days and nights. All of them, not just Sundays.
So, yeah, I kinda loved this book.
What I learned: Atoms are 99.9% empty space.
“Signs of Life” a memoir by Natalie Taylor
Matthews walks in the door.
I remember picking this book up when it first came out in 2011 but being afraid it would remind me too much of my sister’s story of being widowed at a young age. I guess I wasn’t up to reliving all of that at that time. Recently, for some reason, I was.
I was right. It did remind a lot of those first days, weeks and months after my brother-in-law died. I was crying within reading the first few pages and thought, “Well, this is gonna be a long read.”
It wasn’t easy but as I slipped into Natalie’s story, my sister’s slid into the background. Oh, it was definitely there the whole time, but it didn’t keep center stage.
Natalie’s voice is honest, funny and real. You read it and think, I wanna be this girl’s BFF.
The book is structured month by month after her husband’s death. She is a high school English teacher so there are many literature references as she struggles with her grief which I appreciated.
Throughout, we see her real grief, not the polished up for a memoir version.
What I learned: What the photo at the end of the book is and why it was included. Brought tears to my eyes all over again.
Aaahh, yes…self-doubt. That shadow that often looms over me as I write, that often seeps deep inside me when I am not writing, coloring my vision of myself, distorting my view of the world, of my work, of myself.
The only thing that dissipates that particular shadow is to pick up that pen or tap those keys. Writing anything, of any quality sheds enough light that the shadow of self-doubt slinks away. For the time being anyway.
How about you? How do you deal with self-doubt?