This blog series on motherhood and creativity explores The Village: Who else is here while you mother? Amanda Magee, Barbara Ungar, Marisa Goudy and more... The Out Posts
Powder Keg Sessions
Ignite your voice in the next Powder Keg Sessions: Writing Workshops for Mothers and Others. I lead two different Sessions in the Berkshires. Follow the fuse
Mapping Motherhood in Charlotte, NC!
Come explore the territory of motherhood with writing and mixed media. Space is limited. April 18 10 AM- 4PM Right this way
Anthology of Babes is here.
Do you feel alone in your mothering? An Anthology of Babes is the voice in the room who urges you to come play, pick up your knitting needles, a pen, a paintbrush, to answer your creative yearnings. Read on
I am traveling for the next few weeks.
Today, I am in Boulder, Colorado with my daughter and husband.
It is her spring break from her semester school where she, along with 47 other high school juniors, is discovering a new confidence and establishing her own ground.
She is finding home, in herself.
I will tell you right now that hugging her, I smell the wind.
I will tell you right now that holding her, I feel her strength which has nothing to do with me.
I will tell you that walking along a dark street, fingers knitted together, telling each other our deeper thoughts, I find a young woman who sees fear and acts anyway, who is gracious and real when encountering disappointment, and who inhabits a language that is being newly inscribed in her heart by challenges in the back country and in classrooms, and in the clutch of her nine bunk-mates who are each responsible for keeping the wood stove burning and the foxes out of the food on the trail.
This is a very interesting part of my map of motherhood.
This is new territory.
My eyes are open.
If Mapping Motherhood calls you, please join me in Charlotte, North Carolina on April 19 at the studio of my dear Catherine Anderson. This day-long writing and art adventure will put new tools in your hands to illuminate your own journey. Please email me using the contact form on this page to complete your registration.
Tapped maples have been offering their juice to the fires burning in sugar shacks.
The lakes are still covered in ice.
Some years, when the end of March arrives, I stand at the edge of Lake Mansfield and felt the cold updraft of newly thawed water, listening to the Spring Peepers off in the cove that warms with first morning light.
Are you watching green return to your landscape?
Or are you ankle deep in mud as we are here in the Berkshires?
This week, Julie Bond Genovese offers a guest blog post for the Out of the Mouths of Babes blog series. Julie is a friend I have made in the cyber-Village, having not yet had the pleasure of a face-to-face meeting; we have come to know each others work. Her book, Nothing Short of Joy is a triumphant memoir, funny and revealing in the best of ways. Her father recently died and I felt, having read her memoir, that I knew something of him, of his place in Julie’s life.
Before you dive in to Julie’s post, I just want to tell you about some events in the Berkshires. This is the final weekend of the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers, which has roused the sap of hundreds of people all during the month of March. Three events are happening this weekend by women in my Village.
The first, Can You Hear Me Baby? directed by Jayne Atkinson.
This is a special event for the Festival, a collaboration of some amazing theatre artists all about sex, love and OMG Birth! Jayne asked me to tell you that when you go to the box office for tickets, let them know you are with the Festival and they will honor your purchase of a $35 ticket. Just go see the show. I am so sorry I am away and missing it. You can read more about it here.
Then, on Monday evening, join two wise wonderwomen, Sarah Nicholson and Cindy Parrish for an evening exploring menopause. This intimate event at the Stanmeyer Gallery and Shaker Mill Coffeehouse in West Stockbridge is sure to be deep and lush.
I offer you Julie’s post today. Leave her comments. Julie is a blogger like me and loves to interact with readers.
Wherever you are, I hope these posts by and about The Village: Who Else is Here While You Mother?let you see where you ache for community, where you have it in abundance and just how you can connect to create a meaningful life.
I am off to see my girl today in Leadville, Colorado.
Round about 7 PM Mountain Time, expect to see a meteor shower of love streaming across the sky.
Three gentle giants wait for me in the backyard. Eighty feet tall, our magical maples watch over our home, guard our dreams. They stand in a curved row, committed back-up singers, ready to harmonize with those who’ll listen.
Daily, I feel them calling me away from the computer, the rush, the worries. They’re humming, encouraging, being. They know when I’ve forgotten to breathe again. Meditation and quiet have fallen away this week. Ease and gratitude were kicked to the curb. I’ll relax later when everything is done. But it never is.
I push to do more – more posts, promotions, social media megaphones. I paint and write toward a goal, without any open-ended wholeheartistry. I’m caught in the story of not-enoughness – not enough time for family, for business and, especially, for the colors of me.
I search for what’s missing in my post-its, emails and chopped up chores. The kids interrupt, the laundry moans, and the phone rattles the air. I plug my ears. I can’t hear myself over all the questions. So I answer the maples.
I step out the backdoor and we sigh in unison. They are the quietest of teachers and it’s their stillness I seek. “There you are,” they whisper sweetly. “Come sit down in the dandelions.” The lawn chair scoops me up and I rest in her arms. I stare at the maples who breathe me like a prayer.
In the front yard, I hear crying. Drat. I get up, unlatch the gate and walk away from my sanctuary, knowing I may never return today. Or tomorrow.
Down our drive, I spot the two five-year-old friends sitting on the sidewalk, scooters flung to the side. I check my son Kyler’s face, but the hurt isn’t his. I switch to our neighbor, Jeremia. His mouth is wide and wailing. My heart, my pace, quickens.
Just as I’m about to call out, I see Kyler raise his finger and gently, quickly, touch Jeremia’s nose. I catch my breath. A tiny giggle spurts out of Jeremia, defying his tears. Ky blesses his friend’s nose again, loving and light as tinker bell. They both giggle more.
I back away, not wanting to disturb the vision, the sweetest sharing, of love being passed on. I’m soothed by Ky’s tenderness. His presence. I walk back to my spot in the sun with a heart open wider.
As I sit back beneath the maples, I remember an important email I must return. My reverie hits the dirt. My brain backs up into busy, formulating my response, when I hear a firm and penetrating, shhhhhhhhhhhhhh.
My body freezes. My mind dumps it’s contents. What was that? But nothing is there.
Whoa, there it is again. Oh my goddess, it’s the maples. They are addressing me! They’re swaying inside the message, perfect in it’s tone and lullaby. Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh they coo, as their leaves wave and laugh. The air is rocked clean in their soft mama spell. My smile sails down the long green lawn, sweeping up into a vast and hopeful sky.
I’m startled, each time, by the truth – I’m a part of this glory. Although I feel small at the feet of mother nature, I’m larger, too, the moment I touch Her expanse.
Grace patiently waits within and around me, and when I’m open to its Presence, a greater heartbeat syncs with mine. Like pixie-dust, it lifts me back home.
I may forget tomorrow. But no worries, amnesia is a piece of the poetry. Remembering is a natural wonder, too, and remedies are everywhere.
I hear the clank of the gate unlatching and I sigh. I turn to ask the intruder if I can take more time alone, but before my words escape, Ky asks brightly, “Mommy, wanna piece a gum?” My smile surprises me. “Sure,” I answer. “Jeremia had to go,” he reports, as he hands me a piece. We unwrap the pink puff and chew together, in silent sweetness. Kyler rests naturally, cross-legged in his chair. His breathing is free and whole. His spirit, unencumbered.
Just ‘being’ is the most productive and loving choice I’ve made today.
The maple chorus rises up with one more shimmering shhhhhhhhhhh and I remember what I’ve forgotten. Tears close my eyes. The magic sits before me, within me, like a wide-eyed child. My boy, and the mama maples, have settled the breezes inside me, again.
Please download Julie’s free 60 pg. ebook, “Release the Blocks So Creativity Rocks!” at her website www.nothingshortofjoy.com. Julie Bond Genovese is an inspirational speaker, creative living coach, blogger, artist, mom and best-selling author of her award-winning memoir, Nothing Short of Joy, endorsed by Wayne Dyer, Dr. Christiane Northrup & Dr. Bernie Siegel. Julie has been featured on TV & radio including Anderson Cooper Live, NBC LX & Oprah.com. Being born a dwarf, with degenerative arthritis, was not the poison Julie originally believed – it became the cure. As she began to view her challenges as sacred choices made by the soul, everything shifted. Julie mentors spirit-led creatives on how to use self-expression to transform life’s grief and energize ginormous joy.
The edge of spring is showing beneath the hemline of winter. All along the south side of my house where the snow has melted, green shoots persist despite the blowing cold temperatures today.
As do I persist with the Out of the Mouths of Babes blog series and digesting our event on March 7. And just as those shoots promise the gifts of crocus and daffodil, I promise you a small gift.
Today is a great day for a gift, right? It is my yoga teacher’s birthday today.
I am updating my mission here on Laundry Line Divine with the soulful guidance of Jeffrey Davis and his Tracking Wonder team. They are urging me to be clear and clearer about my mission here with this website and with my work in the world. My work has resembled my knitting basket with many half-completed multicolored projects, a complicated sock on five needles and scraps of yarn from old projects that I just cannot toss.
I am tossing.
I am setting aside projects that can wait.
I am writing my book Laundry Line Divine: A Wild Soul Book for Mothers.
And I am cleaning up this website so that you, my beloved readers, can enjoy my work, the work of the Out of the Mouths of Babes tribe, and explore my offerings.
Here is my latest, slated for April 18 in Charlotte, NC.
If you are in the Berkshires, pencil in May 17, for a soon-to-be-revealed event.
The following is the piece I read at Out of the Mouths of Babes: An Evening of Mothers Reading to Others on Saturday, March 7, 2015 at Dewey Memorial Hall as part of the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers. This is Ilana’s gift, since she was sick on this evening. Read on. Your gift comes at the end.
A Village: which originates between your legs
Human life begins in a fish state, this queer divine dissatisfaction that stays with you for nine months until you give birth. Little did I expect, when I was expecting, that I was bringing to life a conversation piece. As I spread my thighs and felt pain like no other pain, I opened a channel for a commerce of connection that developed a village around it without any effort.
My midwife. There she was on the other side of the stirrups in her green hospital robe. I cannot recall her face at this moment but I do hear her voice, feel her hands on my legs and the authority she brought to the room. And my husband, who without being the one to birth, stood and stands closer to me than any other on this ride of motherhood.
We were, in that delivery room, hammering stakes into the ground, marking the spot that would ever be known as our Village. From one to two to three to four and before you know it we had all the things a village needs, water, food, and people to eat it. At that moment in time, the area code of our village was 212. We began, there, at St. Vincent’s, which is no longer on 7th Avenue and Greenwich, our own Village.
When my mother-in-law, originally a 212 and no matter how many palm trees swayed over her 561, she was 212 through and through, gave me a copy of Hillary Clinton’s book, It Takes a Village, I had two small children in my arms. I looked at the signed front page. I hefted the book, as if in holding it I could glean it’s wisdom, and put it on a shelf to be read another day. Or year. But by the time I got to it, I was no longer interested in what Hillary had to say about a village raising a child. I was living in that Village and didn’t need to know more.
We stayed in Manhattan for a year and a half with a small baby in a very small apartment. For a while we were buoyed in the bliss new baby brought in to a group of friends who were all on the verge of their own first children. Our friends held Ben, cooed and caressed him, gave us breaks and dinner and promised to be with us for the long run. They stood and sang at his naming ceremony, which we held in the back yard of the tiny house we bought over in Hillsdale, New York. We were making a break from Manhattan a weekend at a time. We sang and dabbed water from Bish Bash Falls on Ben’s broad forehead and ate bagels and lox from H&H on Broadway and 74th Street. We were still 212s.
But in the following year we fully planted ourselves, some lilacs and all of our belongings in to that tiny little house on a very quiet road and moved our Village to the country. My husband set up his office in the living room, closed the double doors and commenced to make our living while Ben and I strolled up and down that quiet road watching blue birds, hawks, herons and tractors. Lots of tractors.
But not many Villagers. We found Jack in the Pulpit in the spring along the road. We watched the pond clear of ice and hundreds of geese arrive. We fed the chickadees and watched a tall old pear tree burst in to blossom that first spring. Ben and I were adventurers discovering a different way of life from the gritty playgrounds and noisy restaurants where a set of four one-year olds smeared hummus over everything and my group of mothers who were all taking a break from our chosen professions to be full-time moms, calmed our worries and looked for common ground beyond diapers and teething.
May I mention here how lonely that country road was? Ronnie, the farmer down the road was fine with us watching him work. Jonathan and Ben became very familiar with the variety of tractors, trucks and tools Ronnie kept in his many barns. But the rest of the neighbors were second homeowners only up on weekends, or retired teachers who had no interest, not one ounce of interest in this woman trolling the dirt road for hours at a time.
We started to attend the Mommy and Me playgroup at the Methodist Church. My heart leapt at the possibility of meeting new women. FRIENDS! I showed up early, helped set up, found Ben a truck to play with and then sat down at the coffee table.
Week after week, I would arrive with the same enthusiasm and no one would talk to me. Ever. I sat there studying the backs of the Shopper’s Guides and newspapers they read and talked over to each other. I sipped my tea slowly and started bringing a book to read, just to keep myself from crying.
It was not so easy moving to the country after all.
One neighbor, a beautiful petite woman who lived where our road teed with 22, stopped to visit one afternoon. She had a daughter with a child near in age to Ben. She invited us to tea in hopes of cultivating a potential friend for the day her grandson would visit. We struck up a friendship, this woman and I. She is a well-known actress and chef. Jonathan and I cooked food from a cookbook of hers and served it to her before we realized exactly who she was. We were naive to her celebrity and selfish with her attention. I visited often enough to confess to her just what the Mommy and Me sessions were like. I cried in to the tea she served me in cups so fine I feared the bulk of me would crush them just by holding them gingerly on my knee. I was so full of grief and loneliness, admitting it to someone, anyone who would look me fully in the face, gave me an ocean of comfort. But what she said has stayed with me even more.
“Susanna, (for she has the most elegant lilt to her mango flavored speech) you will always be a “212”. ”
I was too dumb with the admission I had made to understand her.
“Yes, my dear, you will always be a “212” here in Hillsdale. These women see you as a New Yorker. Keep trying my dear, and you will find a friend.”
So area codes did really matter after all.
I took this fine woman’s advice and turned my steering wheel north. I started going to Pittsfield once a week to a playgroup up there. I shopped slowly at the Big Y or the Coop in Great Barrington, lingering in the produce aisle, asking women with kids in their carts where they took their kids to play. Someone, thank you for this angel for I have forgotten her face, but not her advice, sent me to Lake Mansfield. There, on the shores of that sweet great pond as it truly is classified here in the “413”, I met a woman and her son by virtue of the pretzels logs we shared with them one afternoon. She and he became the first in what has now become a verdant Village sprung up around the Lake and this town and my family.
Turn to your neighbor. Most of us are 413s here, right? Raise your hand if you are or were a 212. How about a 517? How about 718? How about 973? Any 906s? That is the area code of my homeland and when I find another 906, things start to happen to my accent.
Once I had more than my immediate, albeit tiny, family gathered round, like kindling adds to a nubile fire, things started happening. We lived another year in our house in Hillsdale; weathered the loss of a pregnancy and a Halloween where the only knock on our door came from a car full of kids who were dropped off at the end of our driveway. I scoured the pages of my own darn copy of the Shopper’s Guide and one day, there was an ad for a house for sale by owner.
By this time, Ben had graduated up to drinking cow’s milk. The axle of my days spun around how much milk was in the fridge, where to get milk, what time I’d have it by and when in relation to his long afternoon nap would the milk arrive. (This intellectual exercise kept me only partly occupied. The rest of my mind was sure there was more to motherhood than milk.)
When I pulled up to visit the house I’d found pictured in the Shopper’s Guide, there were two bottles of High Lawn Farm milk delivered on the front porch. It did not matter to me what the house looked like, what the heating costs were or who lived next door, I was sold on the house by the milk delivery. We bought the house within a week. The owners removed the ad from the Shopper’s Guide and our life in Great Barrington began.
This piece is sweetened by the surprise of meeting my midwife, one of my original Villagers, Cynthia Casoff Henry here in town the other day. She lives here now.
Did you get that beautifully made map all midwives and obstetrician’s hand out to newly pregnant women? Did the adoption agency place that treasured Map of Motherhood in your hands when you learned of your soon-to-arrive child? What? No map?
That is because, my love, there isn’t one. There never has been. Until now.
Led by writer, maker, and mother Suzi Banks Baum of Laundry Line Divine, Mapping Motherhood is an art and writing workshop that requires your expertise in neither. Bring your willingness to artfully quest in to the regions of mothering that you are now in, have been in or dream of inhabiting. We will illuminate our personal stories with writing prompts and mixed media art techniques to create an illustrated folding map.
Please invite your sister, mother, daughter or friend. This intimate workshop will be a wonderful way to share an early spring day, catching yourself in the act of making. Please use this form to contact me about registration. The form I had here previously has driven tons of spamming email in to my inbox. I will email you back within 24 hours to give you instructions for registration and directions to the studio.
I am not waiting for the laundry to be done or the floor of the bathroom to dry out from the deluge of a passing 16 year old, nor am I waiting for inspiration to strike or this malaise to pass. I am not waiting for the garage to be organized or the pollen to get washed out of the air. I am not waiting for a clear idea of what to write, for acceptance or comment by my writing peers or for the squirrels that are chasing each other’s very flouncy late summer tails up and around the oak to settle down. Neither sink nor washer, refrigerator shelf nor unfinished projects on the dining room table can dissuade me from my primary spiritual aim today, which is to write.
I was just about to skip it.
I was done with my daily writing in my journal.
The wash waits folding.
The project I am sitting on is pressed and ready for the next steps.
I got up and as I walked in to the house there was this little laptop.
Sitting on the counter, getting juiced up, the red-sleeved metal box said nothing. But I have a Pavlovian enough response built in to my body that I knew to pick it up. Pick it up. Open it. Pause in Facebook long enough to see Holly’s invitation for daily writing prompts, which I hoard and use, usually, but do I really need another when this phrase does it for me?
“Many writers wait to begin writing until the laundry’s done, children are in bed, or their day job is less stressful. Don’t be one whose life passes while you harbor a secret wish to see what happens when you really apply yourself to your art.”
I have been really applying myself to my life, which includes my artwork, for seven years. Before that, I lived my life as a full time mom, managing community projects, and teaching gardening at my kid’s school and maintaining this home front while my husband worked in his office in the attic. I had spent years studying and then teaching yoga. I had clocked hours of service work. I attended a regular Al-Anon meeting and had to tame my urge to do more in every one of the situations I was engaged in. I went from helping with the parent education program at my kids’ school to running it. I went from being on the Strategic Planning Committee at that same school to co-leading the Parent’s Association and clearing a few years of backed up resentment that had collected around that organization. I was hungry and appetitious.
But these community efforts, while immediately rewarding for the direct human impact, did not satisfy me deeply. They were temporal offerings in a grand cycle of re-inventing the wheel that spins within many organizations. I was useful and purposeful, but others had done it before me. Others would see the need and follow after me.
I longed to have a more singular purpose that could be executed within the boundaries of motherhood, but that I hoped would bring more of me forward, more of what I know to be true.
I increased the time I spent writing. My daily journal keeping was a steady feature in my life. I added more writing by taking a class that met one Saturday a month. Like Holly suggests, I made writing a priority before phone calls and meetings. I began to organize my days so that I had a few chunks of writing time a week. Eventually, my husband agreed to cover the home front one day a week so that the fluctuating needs of parenting, which are so immediate and necessary and unquestioningly important would be covered by him that day. On quiet days, that meant he worked in the car while waiting for the guitar lesson to be done. On busier days, that meant he was the one making lunch for the sick child or waiting in the doctors office or attending a school meeting. Something had to give so that I could clear my day and focus. And what gave was my husband.
Truly, there were Thursdays he could not cover. There were snow days when I got an unexpected gift of a few hours alone while they went off to ski. There were Saturdays when I stayed home and wrote instead of doing the myriad things families do on weekends together. I began to make space for my writing. My family survived.
This habit, as Holly includes in her invitation for her daily prompts in September, does what Twyla Tharp says, “Skill gets imprinted through action.” By making my writing a habit, my skills began to change. I started attending workshops and classes and went to conferences. I am still in the soup of this skill building today.
I don’t wait anymore. I don’t wait for all the right conditions to be met for me to work. I just work. I teach. I lead workshops. I give talks on the creative lives of women, mothers in particular. I lead this blog series. I produce events. I study. I mentor. I have colleagues and sisters. I have found, built and participated in a growing community of creative women.
Ultimately, I am writing my first book, which offers a magnetic invitation into the life of a woman who rescued her voice while mothering. My current blurb is: “Discover the wild treasures of daily life in Laundry Line Divine: A Wild Soul Book for Mothers.”
What waits for you?
What do you choose to do daily?
In those pockets of time in between, do you feed your appetite or squelch it?
What would change in your life if you made time for your creative spirit to play?
I believe that mothers are the most creative folks around, the unsung heroines of creative thinking. Just listen to one tired mother sing a homespun lullaby to her babe, while another part of her brain dreams up a solution to the story she is mulling over. We play at the portal of creative life all day long while raising our children. But in my experience we fail to value this play as important action. The very base activities that mothers engage in are springboards. But, for generations, mother’s voices have not been considered of interest to our greater culture. This is changing, but it is not changed entirely. For every woman I speak to who has begun to engage her own voice to express from inside motherhood- however that takes form, there are five women who cannot even contemplate how they’d spend an hour off from their regular routine of child-raising, career building, and home tending. There is shyness in many women, branded with this question, “What could I have to say? I am just a housewife. I am just a social worker juggling two part time jobs and picking my kids up at the day care center. What does the world want to know of my existence?”
Waiting for confirmation that the world is interested is akin to waiting for the house to be clean enough for you to sit down and write. You might as well just plop in front of the TV and let the people who come for your dead carcass turn it off as they carry you off to the mortuary.
Louise Erdrich’s poem Advice to Myself is a call to action that I answer every single day. I write permission slips for myself on the days when I need an extra boost.
… Leave the dishes.
Let the celery rot in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator
and an earthen scum harden on the kitchen floor.
Leave the black crumbs in the bottom of the toaster.
Throw the cracked bowl out and don’t patch the cup.
Don’t patch anything. Don’t mend. Buy safety pins.
Don’t even sew on a button. …
I am not saying that we are all going to be the next Beyoncé or Elizabeth Gilbert by prioritizing time for creative play. I am not suggesting that the very next thing that flies off your knitting needles will be placed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
I am saying that by engaging your creative voice in whatever way calls you, you will begin to lead a happier, more fulfilling life. You will feel more engaged with what inspires you because you will be able to hear what your inner appetite craves. Ideas will bubble up because you have made room for them. Stories will spin from your pen because you have told yourself that this action is necessary to your joy. Your life will gain an authenticity of which you did not know you were capable. And, you will be a better person, parent, sister, daughter, son, husband, brother, aunt, uncle, unicorn, because you have decided that what you have to say is worth saying.
You are worth the time it takes.
Here, a permission slip just for you.
Download this image, print it out, frame it and hang it by the kitchen sink or glue it in your journal. Prioritize time for yourself. Subscribe to Holly’s September prompts if that calls to you.
Now I shall step off this soapbox and get to that laundry.
All my best,
PS I will tell you that this malaise has passed since writing these 1470 words, give or take. And the guilt about the hours spent lurks like a hungry woodchuck, pressing forward even when I have successfully kept it off the lusty cabbages for a few hours. It exists. And in this world, I write.
PPS I would be remiss if I did not say all this and not invite you to my Wednesday evening Powder Keg Ramsdell Sessions from 6:30 to 7:45 PM. We meet at the Ramsdell Public Library in Housatonic, MA. The Sessions are free. The library has a lovely children’s room so that if you need to bring your kids, they can be engaged for that period of time. My Powder Keg Sunday Sessions begin on September 28 here in Great Barrington. I charge $30. for a three hour monthly Session. Email below if you are interested. And if you are far-away from the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts, then please subscribe to this site. It is my hope that you find nourishment for your creative life here.