Thursday night of art day here at Laundry Line Divine.
I have been listening to Harry Nilsson all afternoon while I paint Powder Keg Sessions prompts.
I sent out a newsletter on Wednesday announcing the sales page for my painted prompts.
If you didn’t get that bit of news, please consider subscribing to this site.
(In the sidebar on the home page of this site.)
I send out a newsletter once a month, usually.
Winter is coming.
Where are you headed?
This weekend, my Powder Keg Sunday Sessions: writing workshop for women meets here in Great Barrington.
I hold an intimate afternoon of writing.
We prime the pumps of our creative wells with painting and doodling.
And there is always tea.
If you are in the Berkshires and intrigued, please email me.
Wherever you are when you read this post, the space we enter in the Powder Keg Sessions is always available to you.
Clear a spot. Brew the tea. Close the door. Put on quiet music. Light a candle.
Need a jumping off spot? Start where you are.
When you dwell in silence though, your inner ear opens.
“There is a real world that is really dying,” Marilynne Robinson writes in Mother Country, “and we had better think about that. My greatest hope, which is a very slender one, is that we will at last find the courage to make ourselves rational and morally autonomous adults, secure enough in the faith that life is good and to be preserved, to recognize the grosser forms of evil and name them and confront them. Who will do it for us?”
This morning in the woods, a huge old red oak tree (Quercus Rubra) lay across the path I usually walk on. I began to follow the tracks around it when the green-mossed bark called out to me. In a flash, I was astride the trunk. What a rare gift to connect with a tree so viscerally.
I am intrigued by connection.
You could call me a connector.
And connecting fuels my writing process.
I am terribly plagued by this quote I read in Terry Tempest William’s An Unspoken Hunger by Marilynne Robinson- both writers I hold in high esteem. For so many years, I have looked at someone who I knew through their work and check out their hair and faces for distinctions born of age. I would compare where they are and where I am and think, “Oh I still have time to catch up with them. They got there first, but I am on my way.”
Now, when I read Terry’s bio and see she is only three years my elder I know there is no waiting anymore. If I don’t do the work that I feel called to do now, in an orderly fashion so as not to kill myself, then what is keeping me from it? Chaos is no longer an excuse. Nor is making lunches. I debate and debate about feeling reluctant to admit I have been a stay-at-home mom for 20 years. Yes, I grabbed this job from a nanny and I have been doing it ever since and WITH NO PAY, just a free ride from my husband who works out of our attic.
It is true. Comparison and guilt run through me sometimes. I want you to believe that they are not present ALL the time, but hell, they are, just louder some days than others. (This is not going to be a soft-spoken easy blog post. This may have a lot of CAPS.)
Yes, I look and weigh where I am in relation to where someone I respect/admire/idolize is and I say, okay…. just a few more months of this and then I have time. Just a few more hours on this project that really feels like chains around my ankles and I will be free to do the work that calls me in raw hours spent at the sink or right before I open my eyes in the morning.
But, there is no project that I cannot say no to except raising this family with my partner.
Our children need me but have grown respectful of my writing and art hours.
I teach on a schedule that supports my own writing and time for reflection.
And if I want to fuel my wild soul, I just have to step out in to the woods, about 10 minutes walk from my desk (even shorter if I bike), stand at the trail head where a Barred Owl winks at me overhead. Soon, I am lying on a towering oak felled by time, looking at layers of clouds whisk past, watching leaves fall slowly, where I hear chiming goldfinches off in the shrubs and feel the aged wisdom of this tree seeping in through my layers of wool.
There is no time like now.
“There are two important days in a woman’s life: the day she is born and the day she finds out why.”
― Terry Tempest Williams, When Women Were Birds
I spent yesterday in the kitchen. I wiped the kitchen counters after every mess I made, vacuumed up the crunchy droppings from baking and prepared a big birthday snack for my daughter’s play rehearsal cast meal. I generally spend lots of time in my kitchen. Since having kids and taking on this role of full-time mother, I have wiped my kitchen counter about 72,800 times in twenty years- give or take the surge on holidays, birthdays and compulsive cleaning during flu season and the ebb during summer when we are eating out of our hands or over the sink on our way outside.
I was happy in the kitchen. I made granola bars for 45.
But, Marilynne’s quote about the real world vanishing stays in my mind.
It is here with me wiping up bits of millet and candied ginger.
It is with me shaking mud out of the treads of my garden boots.
It is with me watching a Great Blue Heron lift out of the shallows at the lake.
It is with me reaching for my daughter’s hand and her only giving me a finger’s contact, but contact all the same.
Yes. This real world? Is this the real world you mean Marilynne? And if so, then this is my real world, and my real world bears some telling, right? That if vanishing, then this real world bears being described and connected to, in the way that I do?
My real world is wiping counters.
My real world is multiple-y dried tissues stuck in the bottom of my jeans pocket that I discover when I wedge an acorn cap next to it on my walk.
My real world is going to bed hating my husband for being who he is because I am so tired I have forgotten what we stand for in our marriage and failed to accept the permission he urges me to give myself to go to bed.
My real world is waking up refreshed from a complicated dream about making arrangements to sense that hatred dissolved and notice the blossoming of an ordinary day, the morning moon fading under white-capped lavender clouds on the ridge.
My real world is eating the leftover granola bars today and sweeping up the crumbs.
“Evolutionary creators traverse constantly between the private and the public, deepening themselves in silence and study, then reaching out with what they’ve gained on the inner journey. Their energy, then, is whole and integral; their intelligence is embodied; and in their words and every action is a power that others identify as a force for good. It is this integration of inner and outer, self and other, insight and action that fuels the work of prophets and mystics.”
– Jan Phillips, No Ordinary Time
When Jan describes evolutionary creatives as she does in this quote, I find myself in her words. My work is a “great dynamic call and response” that is cluttered with sunflower seeds plump with honey stuck to my socks and a passage from Emerson that my “love afar is spite at home”. It is Terry and Marilynne and Jan asking me, why not write from where you are, take your inner journey out, as you so boldly urge others to do?
I get dumped back on my heels every once in a while with writing from inside motherhood. It does not always feel so dynamic or great, but it is real. And it is my life. This struggle marks me, but I run with it because I sense that other women know how this feels. And I am devoted to something larger than the vacuum cleaner and my counters, though they are all part of what makes this world mine.
I am devoted to unmasking the fertility of women through story, particularly the stories of mothers.
I do this by writing my own stories.
I do this by running Laundry Line Divine, highlighting the work of people I admire, sharing poetry, music and an occasional film, but mostly telling it like it is from here.
I do this by teaching writing and art workshops; most prominent today are the Powder Keg Sessions, which you can read about here.
I do this by making my own artwork, mixed media collage, and mail art, book binding and painting and showing this work.
I do this by talking about permission and the sacred and value in women’s lives.
I do this by producing an event called Out of the Mouths of Babes: An Evening of Mothers Reading to Others for the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers and a blog series so I can include women’s words from far-off places. Our next live event is March 7, 2015.
I do this in the way that I live in community, with organizations and at the kitchen table.
So, if you, at your kitchen counter or your desk on the 30th floor of an office building wonder, “what is the use of me telling my ordinary story?” or if you plague yourself, as I do, with thoughts like, “who wants to hear about you and your regular assed life?” I say, listen to Ralph. Listen to Jan. Listen to Terry. Listen to Marilynne.
PS If you are in the Berkshires, or near and in the mood for a road trip, I will be selling copies of An Anthology of Babes: 36 Women Give Motherhood a Voice at the Bushnell-Sage Library in Sheffield, MA tomorrow from 10 to noon. This event lets local authors meet and greet readers and sell our wares. Which tomorrow means I will sell my Powder Keg Sessions writing prompts. You can purchase your own set of hand-painted cards that are perfect for daily writing, collage or photography prompts or as a mindfulness moment on your altar or even, over that kitchen sink. I package 20 of these small jewels in a vellum sleeve that can stand on your desk. They are $15.00 each. You can also order them here on Laundry Line Divine. The sales page will be live in the next few days. Make sure you are subscribed to this site to stay in the loop!
This brain worm-y song has plagued me since high school. Until this week that is.
The Lettermen and every high school chorus who spread that pitiful platitude in to the minds of teenagers like me have done us all a disservice.
It took me until about yesterday to really know, in my bones know, in my cells know, that the power of an authentic apology can change the way I feel deep inside my body where I hide my darkest secrets. I suspect that it also changes the cells deep inside the person to whom I offer my apology. I feel changed when I am on the receiving end of an apology.
Over the past few days, a river of forgiveness has ribboned through my thoughts.
I am in a book group reading, Daring Greatly, together. Our conversation about shame and forgiveness opened a door in my heart. We talked about risking being emotionally naked when we speak our vulnerabilities. I think that owning up to feeling upset by something someone else has done or hearing that I have done something to upset another are moments that make us who we are. I have a choice to be truthful and current with what is happening or I can duck and cover. Clam up. Bury the hurt. Bathe in blame. Fester.
Or I can carve a new path and speak to the hurt.
Risk being emotionally naked.
This begins to define a sense of emotional maturity that I desire in my life.
When powerful ideas enter my world, the Universe starts offering me things to ponder.
Yesterday, I read this in Lewis Hyde’s book, The Gift.
“To atone and to forgive are complimentary acts. In forgiving a sin, he who has been sinned against initiates the exchange that reestablishes the bond. We forgive when we give up attachment to our wounds.”
This past weekend, I mistakenly offended someone.
I took the opportunity to listen to her anger.
And then, to apologize.
I could not fix the situation for her or take away her feelings.
All I could do was express my remorse.
She accepted my apology.
It took me another day to understand my own feelings about the mistake that contributed to her upset. And, later that next day, she had the grace to send me a note telling me she was feeling much better and had sorted out a few things that contributed to her feelings. Those factors had nothing to do with me. She initiated an exchange that helped me recover. Or gain new ground.
Then, earlier this week, I found myself saying, “I am sorry” again, only this time I spoke to a close friend who is grieving.
Same words, different melody.
What do you say when you stand with someone in grief, raw broken open grief or long-lived with grief that has become an entity, bears a scent and has an address?
Saying, “I’m sorry” can be enough, if what you offer with those words is the fullness of your presence. The walking-a-mile-in-your-shoes feeling that can only be truly shared when you stand still long enough to listen, to watch your friend’s face change. See how the weather of deep emotion moves across the open prairie of her being. I am not great at this, but I am getting more comfortable with grief.
Truly, you may not ever walk more than a block in her shoes, you may never really know how her loss fits around her heart, caged in pain and remembrances, but you can imagine that unimaginable. And that imagination makes an impact.
On Wednesday evening, in my Powder Keg Ramsdell Sessions writing workshop, I wrote along with the group. I don’t always do this, but this week, there was room for my words at the table. We used Judyth Hill’s poem Wage Peace as a common ground to stand on. Then, we made spoke graphs centered on questions we asked ourselves.
“What do you require for your own well being?”
“What do you require for inspiration?”
“What do you require for connection?”
From those three graphs, we looked at what words were common between them. Using a selection of those words, we used the format of a recipe to write directions for something we felt a yearning for in our lives. (If this explanation is hard to follow, come join me sometime to write and we will do it together)
This is what I wrote.
And, having lived with these words for two days, I wondered if they might come in handy for you.
For the application for plasters in the event of heartbreaking grief
When you come upon a friend who stands before you in sorrow, breathe a sigh of gratitude for the onlyest time you can truly help her. Hold her cheeks in your hands and apply the warmth your mother gave you. Ask the clenched teeth to release, that knot at the top of her jaw under her ear to soften.
Kiss her forehead.
Rub your thumbs under her chin gently.
Lean your forehead against hers and recall Judyth’s words, “Think of chaos as dancing raspberries and grief as the outbreath of beauty or the gesture of fish.” Step inside with her; take shelter from the wind and passersby. Lean on a wall, a column or a tree and notice what holds you both to the ground. Clasp her left hand softly in your own and if time allows and space and aloneness in the picture of this savage moment, rest your hand on the adventure of her heart. Say grace.
How do you handle apologies?
What do you do when you witness a friend’s grief?
What does an authentic response to an offense look or feel like to you?