Mother’s Day 2018.

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When my daughters were little I used to want to celebrate Mother’s Day with time alone. They’d bring me breakfast in bed along with the cards and gifts they’d made then either my husband would take them out for the day or I would go out.

Back then, that is what I needed. Time alone to recharge, to remember who I was besides “Mommy.”

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Now, my daughters are 21 and 24. They just finished up this semester at college and both had trips to go on this past week. Katie attended a LeaderShape conference and Emily went on an Alternative Break where she volunteered on a Native American reservation in South Dakota.

All those years ago I couldn’t even picture having all the time I now have. Now, all I want is to spend time with them. Today, we went to a restaurant for a vegan brunch then browsed the bookstore.

Right now, we are all just hanging out together in the family room, watching “The Good Place,” pausing it to talk then playing it again.

And it’s been the perfect Mother’s Day.

 

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“Tully” is the Perfect Movie for Mother’s Day.

Warning: If you haven’g seen “Tully yet, A) Go see it. B) Spoilers ahead so read this after you’ve seen it.

Tully

Image found via Pinterest.

I took myself to the movies yesterday morning. I slipped into the theater for the 10:10 showing of “Tully” reminding me of how I used to go to the movies as stress relief when my daughter were little.

The movie swept me further back to that time of my life. The lack of sleep, the isolation, the monotony, the joy, the boredom. That feeling of every nerve being on edge from being pulled in ninety different directions throughout the day.

Marlo (played by Charlize Theron) is about to give birth to their third child. She is already stretched thin and her son Jonah, labeled “atypical” by doctors and “quirky” by teachers, is both a blessing and a challenge. After Mia’s birth, Marlo finally breaks down and gets the night nanny that her brother offered. Tully, the nanny, says she is there to care for her and helps her not only with the new baby, but also bakes Minion cupcakes for her son to take into class, gets the spark back into her sex life with her husband Ron and just generally brings the spark back into Marlo.

As Marlo comes back to life, I found myself crying. I remember those times so well. When I watch videos of myself back then, there is always this empty look in my eyes. I call it my Stepford-wife look. Part of it is being self-conscious and uncomfortable being filmed.

But it was more than that. The occasional movie couldn’t offset all the energy I gave to motherhood. My own spark was so faint back then. So when I saw Marlo reviving hers, I cried. I wished I had my own Tully back then. Then I thought that we should all be our own Tully. Be that inner voice guiding us back to ourselves.

As it turns out, that’s exactly what Tully was. There was no nanny, just a piece of herself that Marlo conjured up to remind her of who she was. Tully was her maiden name. Tully was her.

At first, I thought I didn’t even see it coming just like in “Sixth Sense.” But obviously I did. I sensed it without quite understanding the turn the movie was about to take.

I didn’t feel tricked or manipulated. It was exactly how it needed to be.

It’s the perfect message for woman and girls everywhere, whether they are moms or not, to take care of ourselves.

To put our needs first sometimes.

To listen to what we need.

To let that inner voice guide us back to our spark, to fan that spark, no matter how dim and faint it may be, so that we have a light to shine onto our families and out into the world.

When I First Heard about Columbine.

never again

Image found via facebook.

There are certain events that I will always remember where I was when I heard about them.

I was on the school bus when I heard about the death of John Lennon.

I was standing in the kitchen when a friend called to tell me about the (first) plane flying into the World Trade Center on 9/11.

I was in my bedroom, packing to fly out to my sister, when a nurse called to tell me that my brother-in-law had died from his injuries sustained in the car accident.

On April 20, 1999, I was on a pay phone at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House in Taos, New Mexico, attending my first ever writing retreat with Natalie Goldberg.

It had taken a lot of convincing on my husband’s part to get me to go. I objected that we couldn’t afford it, that even we could afford it there were better things to spend that money on, that I couldn’t leave him with girls for a whole week, that my oldest had to go to Kindergarten Round-up. My husband  assured me that none of those excuses were actually based in reality, so I went.

Obviously, this was before cell phones, texting and FaceTime. I tried to call once a day from the pay phone. The work was intense. Because I was so secluded from the world, I dove deep into the process of writing, filling three entire notebooks in seven days.

On April 20, after I spoke with both of my daughters, my husband got back on the phone. I heard something in his voice. When I asked what was wrong, he didn’t want to tell me. He didn’t want to burden me with it, knowing that I was pretty much off the media grid and hadn’t yet heard. After some prodding he told me about the shooting at Columbine.

Even just hearing about it, without seeing the constant barrage of images on a TV, was chilling. As the news began to spread throughout the rest of the participants, a palpable heaviness descended on the repeat. That night the wind was intense at the base of the mountain. Natalie shared that Native Americans believe that wind like that is carrying spirits into the afterlife.

When I got to the airport a couple days later, the images were splashed over all the televisions. I remember watching the line of kids, hands on their heads walking out of the school and thinking it didn’t seem real. There was a subdued quality to the crowds of passengers huddle around the images.

My youngest remembers being on lockdown in kindergarten. A real lockdown, not a drill. She remembers hiding behind a desk and seeing the silhouette of a man slide past the window and she didn’t know if it was a police office or the bad guy.

Last month she ended up on lockdown again, this time up at Central Michigan University when a shooter was at -large. It turned out that he didn’t have a gun with him while on the run after shooting and killing his parents in his dorm.

But nobody knew that.

Nobody knew how bad the carnage would be.

We didn’t know because we’ve seen how bad it has been.

Over and over again.

I pray that the next life-changing event I remember will soon be the passage of sensible, national gun control.

Because we know how bad the carnage has been.

Shame on us for ever letting it happen again.

The Company of other Writers.

Write Smart, Write Happy

Today, I find myself sitting at the bookstore cafe with a grande soy chai, notebook and laptop open. Not an unusual scenario.

What is unusual, these days, is for me to be drawn to a book on writing. A book that promises to help me “become a more productive, resilient, and successful writer.”

Now, I used to devour these books daily when I first knew I wanted to write. It was how I taught myself to write. I read books on writing fiction, writing essays, writing from prompts, writing practice, the writing life, writing goals. You name it, I bought it and read it. What I didn’t do was write very much.

Oh, I’d write Morning Pages and I filled notebooks with writing practice gleaned from Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down the Bones.” I loved how she made writing so much more accessible by declaring that just as an athlete practiced drills or a pianist practiced scales, a writer also needed to practice. It bought writing back from that lofty pedestal I had placed it on. It took the fear out of it by calling it practice.

I hunkered down into my writing practice for years, filling notebook upon notebook. The problem was, I got stuck in practicing. Don’t get me wrong. It served me well. I learned to put pen to page and write under pretty much any circumstance. I learned how to make space and time for writing in the life I was currently living ( a stay-at-home mom with young children) instead of waiting for the perfect time. I learned to write past my censor.

But I didn’t use what I had learned to actually get in the game of writing. When I finally began writing stories, taking classes and workshops, that’s where the bulk of my learning took place. Writing and finishing stories taught me how to write.

I’ve written dozens of short stories, some published, some not. I have a completed novel-in-stories (looking for an agent). I am well into my second novel, about 6o,000 words into the first book of a YA fantasy trilogy and am beginning to gather notes for a memoir on writing and yoga.

So, with all that writing under my belt, why  do I find myself drawn to this particular book today?

Because it’s a process.

Because I am always a student.

Because I am not afraid to be a beginner.

Because of course I want to be a more productive, resilient and successful writer.

Because now I know that I can read a book like this but, more importantly, I know I have to follow through with action: writing, querying, submitting, reading, setting goals and meeting those goals.

I know there are no quick fixes or shortcuts to being a writer.

I know that merely reading about becoming a successful writer is not enough but I am humble enough to be open to advice from others along the path.

I know that I am willing to put in the hard work necessary. And these kinds of books feel like my own personal cheerleading squad, telling me I can do it. Telling me that I am not alone.

Telling me that it’s okay, that we can walk this path together.

I am grateful for their company.

Room to Grow.

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As a wife and mom, I’m grateful that I’ve always had a room of my own.

When my husband and I moved into our first apartment, I got the spare room where I set up my drafting table and art supplies. After we moved to Arizona, he needed a home office so he took the spare room and I created my own space in the great room—a large open room off the kitchen and dining room. By this time, I was writing regularly so we set up my desk, bookshelves and our very first computer.

Our next move took us all the way across the street. That house had converted the third bay of the garage into an office, so he took that and I got the spare room downstairs. Our kids were little and I remember sitting in there, closing the door and trying to write, my ears and mom radar always on, waiting for them to need something. I alternated between getting up early to write and writing late at night. I preferred nighttime because I knew they were asleep and (probably) wouldn’t wake up until morning. But when I wrote in the morning, I was always waiting for them to let me know it was time to put my mom cap back on.

But it wasn’t just physical rooms I had. My husband has always given me room to grow, to change, to explore. When our daughters were five and three, he made it possible for me to attend my first writing retreat with Natalie Goldberg at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House in Taos , New Mexico. I remember sitting on the van driving up to Taos and feeling so…unencumbered. And then feeling guilty for feeling that.

But that week was turning point in my writing and not only because I filled three entire notebooks. It was more about the fact that I had given/taken/claimed that time for my writing, For myself.

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In our current house, I have two rooms of my own. One is my yoga room, the other is my writing room. Both are spaces where I can be alone and practice writing, yoga, meditation. But, again, it is more than just the physical space. Its about me claiming space and time for myself.

More than that, it is about the space my husband and I give each other to grow into the people we are meant to be. I don’t know a lot about plants. (Ask anyone who knows me.) But I do know that a plan cannot continue to grow in a pot that is too small. It needs to be repotted into a pot that has space to thrive.

We will be married thirty years this summer. People often ask how we’ve managed it. I never quite know what to say. Marriage is incredibly complicated. I think one of the keys to ours is the fact that we support each other’s passions and give each other the time to pursue them.

In our marriage, we each have a room of our own.

A Book I Love. #TBT

Each Thursday in honor of #TBT, I am going to feature a book that I truly love, that helped shape me as a writer, as a woman, as a human.

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This book saved me. I read it when I was a new mother myself. It was before I had found my circle of other mom friends. I was far from family, my husband was often on the road for his job so it was just me and the girls. Her daily reflections sustained me through the dark times when I was exhausted, had no idea what I was doing and felt incredibly alone and lonely. It wasn’t a sugar-coated version of motherhood. It wasn’t the Hallmark version. It was real. It was honest.

Exhausted, she leans over the bassinet as her son wakes up from his nap and thinks, with great hostility, “Oh, God, he’s raising his loathsome reptilian head again.”

I laughed out loud, I cried and found solace in her words. Here was another mom going through the same joys, the same shit, the same despair, day after day. She gave me permission to not enjoy every single aspect of motherhood even though it would go by so fast. By being herself, she gave me permission to be more of myself.

 “We had another bad night. We finally slept for two hours t 7:00 AM. What a joke. I feel like thin glass, like I might crack.”

Observations on Being Without Power.

 

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Image found via Pinterest.

Our state recently experienced an historic power outage due to winds of up to 60 miles per hour. My house was without power for over 72 hours. Here are a few things I observed.

Of course there is the initial annoyance. No power (and no generator) meant no lights, no heat, no water, no refrigerator. At first, it wasn’t that bad. It almost felt like a reprieve from normal life. But soon, it got old. I went to the bookstore for the afternoon to get warm and charge my phone and laptop. That night, my husband and I drank some wine and played a few games of Cribbage by candlelight. Sweet, fun and a little romantic. But waking up to a really cold house the next morning, the reprieve glow had worn off. I went to the gym to work out and take a shower. My daughter and I tried to find a place to get warm and charge our phones but every place was full. So, we got food to go and went to the yoga studio where I teach. No classes in the middle of the day so we had it to ourselves: warmth, wifi, outlets to charge. All in all, a pretty nice afternoon especially since I wrote over 2000 words on my current WIP.

That night we stayed in hotel where my husband had a business meeting. Perfect timing. Enjoyed a warm bed and a hot tub. Woke up to news that the power was back. Yay! On my way home, my daughter called to say the power was NOT back on. Boo!

I began to notice how easily swayed my mood was by things completely out of my control. I found myself getting incredibly irritated when the DTE app hadn’t updated the repair status and that irritation began to spill out all over the place. It made me wonder how often I let my mood be influenced by things out of my control. How often did I let irritations pile up and feed off each other until I was just miserable to be around for myself and others?

Each time I walked into a room, I hit the light switch. Every. Single. time. It made me realize how ingrained our habits are. It made me wonder what else I do just out of habit, basically on auto-pilot?

As the irritation began to build I realized that I was just waiting to get the power back. Just waiting. Filling time until everything was back to normal That’s what drinking the wine was about the first night. Let’s make this a little less uncomfortable and make the time pass a little easier. I wonder how often I did that, bypassing what was uncomfortable, waiting for things to happen that I want to happen.

As offers to use friends’ refrigerators or freezers to save our food, or their house for warmth or an invitation to sleep in their spare room came in, I found how awkward I felt when offered such gifts. I have no problem at all offering such gifts to others, but receiving is not easy for me. Even when it was my best friend in the whole world. She had me come down to her home for the day where she made me a fresh salad, had bought my favorite tea and crackers. I said, “My gosh you are spoiling me.” She said with a lot of passion that somebody should spoil me, that I deserve it. That I take care of everyone else all the time and the sometimes I needed to be taken care of myself. I heard the words, and I tried to receive them with an open heart but I could feel myself closing up against them. How often do I refuse to ask for help or feel guilty when accepting it?

Finally, being powerless felt like a huge, neon metaphor for how I’ve felt since the election. Certain things are just out of my control no matter how many calls I make, marches I attend, petitions I sign, meetings I go to, postcards I send.

So, with so many things out of my control, what is within my control? Always my response. Always. I chose to get irritated by the power being out. I chose to check the app twenty-five times a days, hoping to see an update. I chose to drink several large glasses of wine to escape the situation in front of me. But I also chose to seek out warmth. To continue my meditation practice even if just for two minutes. I chose to continue showing up to my current WIP, making progress despite what was going around me. Chose to notice when it felt uncomfortable accepting offers of help. I chose to accept the help anyway, learning to get comfortable with it.

Now that the lights are back on, I hope to stay aware of what is in my power, and what is not. To stay awake to my habits instead of sleepwalking through my days. To be grateful for help when it is offered and brave enough to ask when I need it, believing that I am deserving of it. To be grateful for all that I have that I blindly take for granted as I easily flip on a light switch to light up a room or turn on the faucet to receive water or open the refrigerator full of fresh food.

Just like Dorothy, the power is always within us.

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Image found via Pinterest.

 

The More I Befriend my Writing…

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Today is the 130th day of 2016.

I have written every one of those days.

Some days I have half-assed it, just barely showing up enough to call it writing.

But most days I. Show. Up.

I write. I edit. I revise. I re-imagine scenes to make them deeper, more real. I haul out the words and stories buried in my body, in my psyche, ones that are weighing me down, holding me back.

Today, as I rolled out of a 30-minute meditation, trying to stay in that soft space, I picked up my notebook and pen, watching the pink ink spill across the page and I realized that writing is no longer just something I show up for. It’s not longer just a red “x” I make on my board.

Writing has become my soft place to land everyday—even when what I am writing is hard and jagged.

Writing is no longer (well, more often) this “other” that I battle, compare, belittle and judge.

I have finally befriended my writing and it has befriended me.

It reminds of this:

befriending

And here is the fascinating thing:

The more I befriend my writing, the more I am befriending my body—the more I befriend my whole self.

The more real I am on the page, the more I let it all out, the more compassion I seem to generate for myself and all the parts I used to deem as broken or unacceptable or unlovable.

My youngest daughter (19 years old) recently attended my Poses, Pens + Inner Peace class which combines some writing with yoga. The topic of that “inner mean girl” voice came up. Later at dinner, I asked E.if she experienced that voice.

She shrugged and said, “Nah…my voice petty much says ‘You do you, Girl!'”

As her mom, I loved hearing that.

,As a woman I loved hearing that.

As a writer, I realize that is exactly what my writing says to me:

“You do you, Girl. I got your back.”

 

 

 

Choosing to Embrace Silence.

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Image found via Pinterest.

I’ve never been good at being alone.

Never been comfortable with silence. Which explains why I resisted meditation for so long. Even when one of my favorite writers/teachers highly recommended it for writers, coming just shy of touting it as the magic key, I still refused to sit with myself in silence.

When I first went away to art school, I arrived before my roommate. I had the apartment to myself for almost a week and I didn’t know a soul. I didn’t have a TV. This was well before personal computers, much less iPhones. I didn’t have a stereo. I think I did have a cassette player with earphones. And books. And myself.

Those few days were excruciating. I remember sitting on the couch in view of the apartment across from me where I saw other students, hoping, praying they would notice me, take pity on me and invite me over.

They didn’t.

When I was a young mother, I craved time alone, even if just in the bathroom. When I was lucky enough to get any time to myself, I almost always squandered much of it in front of the TV. Or I’d call family or friends and talk to them. Anything to fill up the silence. Anything to avoid being alone with myself.

Now, my daughters are both away at college. This week my husband is out of town so it just me and the dog and cat. And the silence.

As I sit in my cozy reading/writing nook in the living room I hear the tapping of these keys, the gurgling hum of the washing, the clock ticking over the mantel and the muted thrum of highway traffic. That’s it. No TV or radio or music to fill the silence.

No barriers between me and myself.

I no longer resist silence or being alone. I embrace it.

What changed? Me. I don’t know when exactly it happened but it’s been since I started practicing yoga, since I finished my YTT. Yoga has allowed me to dive deep and figure out who I am, how I feel and to, you know, actually feel those feelings.

I think I was afraid of feeling too much so I avoided being alone, avoided creating space where feelings could surface.

I am no longer uncomfortable being alone. It no longer feels lonely. It wasn’t because I didn’t like myself. I didn’t know myself. And I am not always comfortable with being alone or with silence. Sometimes I still get that feeling of wanting to crawl out of my skin. Of wanting to fill in the gaps of silence that press on me.

The difference now is that I allow myself to feel comfortable with being uncomfortable.

And that is something that has definitely emerged from my yoga practice. I find my edge in poses that aren’t comfortable but I stay there, I breathe, I feel my body, I note my resistance and choose to stay.

Staying there when I want to flee is where the growth happens. It’s like a muscle that I push to its limit and it grows stronger. That space of hanging in past resistance helps in my writing as well.

So, as I find myself sitting in the utter quiet of my home, I note the butterflies in my belly, I note my shallow breath and the urge to turn the TV on. But I don’t.

I choose to embrace the silence.

And in embracing the silence I am embracing myself , exactly who I am in this moment. I wish eighteen-year-old me had known this. But she was young. She didn’t know or appreciate the beauty of all of who she was.

That’s okay. We know now.

 

 

The Necessity of Structure.

dress forms

Image found via Pinterest.

I just played with my first haiku since high school.

As part of the Write Yourself Alive challenge, I am trying to do the prompts that, well, challenge me.

Poetry challenges me.

Structured poetry challenges me even more.

But here’s what I learned. Or, maybe, it’s something I remembered.

Structure is essential to creativity.

It seems counterintuitive, I know. Creativity is free flowing,exactly the opposite of structured.

But nothing gets done without a structure.

All those pages I have filled over the years would have just stayed pages of free-writing, or practice unless I came up with a structure to contain them whether it was a story, novel, essay, blog post or even just a Facebook post.

We need to structure our time or nothing gets written or created. Nothing gets finished. Nothing gets submitted or shared with the world.

My yoga mat is a type of structure. My practice is a container for my attention. I have this one hour on my mat to connect with my body, my mind, with this moment. Without the structure of a practice I would completely lose that connection.

A recipe is a structure for a meal.

The tools you choose to create are the structure for the next piece or art whether its paper, scissors and glue or paint and canvas.

A pattern gives structure to a dress, otherwise it stays a lump of material.

Goals give structure to our dreams otherwise they stay dreams.

Where do you need more structure in your life? Feel free to share in the comments!

Oh, and here’s the Haiku Series I wrote:

Just Us

The days of just us
in our own little cocoon
of freedom and love.

Then fertility
crept in with charts and hormones
leaving us afloat.

Let go of that dream.
Immersed myself in college
then the line appears.

And two became three.
Three easily became four
Perfect square of love.

Small and big moments
Wove us together as one
Fights, fun, tears and joys.

Then college takes one
Creating a triangle
Leaving a true gap.

Then the other leaves.
Two there and two here alone.
Learning to embrace

The silence and space.
Standing face to face once more
Just the two of us.