These enchantments are medicinal, they sober and heal us.
These are plain treasures, kindly and native to us.
We come to our own, and make friends with matter…
Ralph Waldo Emerson Essays: Second Series Nature
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On this day twenty years ago today I was very pregnant.
I was uncomfortable in the best of ways.
My body was tuning for a symphony that has played on for winters and summers and falls and many, many revitalizing springs.
I have become, my 5’7” frame, wide thighs, strong arms- an orchestra hall with acoustic panels surrounding the conductor, my heart.
This symphonic alignment of my being began with a newborn devotion to love, to my husband and the possible future we conceived before we had an iota of an inkling of how this musical passage would alter the course, the texture, the foundation of our lives forever. Forever, that is, being from that moment until now which has every indication of momentum, of forward motion.
I have learned, while caught in this musical reverie, to be more present, to drop my prospective planning of future to settle in to the melody of now.
This journey, the playing of the symphony of motherhood in my life, in the concert hall of my body, in the acoustic sphere of my emotional life, in the reverberant sound waves that pulse into the world around me has called me in to a vivid kind of listening.
20 years ago, I found myself in the scarlet velvet seat of mothering and I have not tired of the changing melodies, the sonorous undertones, the minor keys, dissonance and cacophony yielding to mellifluous tones.
I have questioned at timorous times whether I could trade my seat for a better view or perhaps a different composition. I have wondered if I could just turn the sound off or at least lower the volume more than many times.
But this all penetrating, relentlessly consistent world of sounds is as steady as sunrise. It has the beauty of Yeats:
“I thought of your beauty, and this arrow
Made out of a wild thought, is in my marrow.”
The music is that close to me, so close it is within me. I pulse with it. Even twenty years in.
Poet Alicia Suskin Ostriker wrote in a poem,
“Oh young mamas
no matter what your age is you
are born when you give birth
to a baby you start over
and both gently, just slightly
separated from each other
like a vine, like an oriole’s nest”
I might doze through a passage, I may flat out sleep through an exciting part, but when I wake the symphony reels on, playing in and though and around me. Curious to me is the fact that no one else hears my symphony of motherhood. They witness the effects of its playing, catch wafts of sound when the breeze carries it just right, but on the whole, I am the only one who hears this sound. I venture to guess each of us have our own symphonies, the ones struck in to our mothers and fathers and the ones that are struck in to us each as parents. This symphony is an ocean of sounds waves that permeate every single thing I do.
So, when 20 years ago, my husband performed the ubiquitous duty of parking the car on 7th Avenue in Greenwich Village at 4:35 AM on a Sunday morning, I clung to a parking sign post that prohibited him parking right there, but provided me with an anchor. I was lost to all social decorum. Lost to the delicacies of how people behave on a city street, albeit the wild frayed edge of morning on a warm July weekend. My bare hot hands pressed in to the green metal, sharp-edged and evenly punched with holes that I could peer through between contractions.
I felt a wave of sound coming at me. I braced myself, as if that parking sign post was the mast of a great ship, bow heading right in to the wind, musical notes pelting me, an unfamiliar melody that now, 20 years later is the sound of my cells.
I sailed in to motherhood and I live in the symphony, square in the center of this haunting, startling, heart-breaking beauty.
This morning I was struck by this phrase from John O’Donohue’s book Beauty.
“Each of us is aware of certain threshold times in the lives of our hearts when such thoughts arrived and changed everything.”
Our son, my boy Ben, is in Munich, warm in the arms of our German family. If he cannot be here, eating blueberry buckle for breakfast, then him being there is a comfort and joy for us both. I will spend the day listening to the current measures of this music, the ones that carry his voice over the airwaves or the cadence of his speech in a text.
Hey Mom. Just wanted to hear your voice.
Mothering is about sound, about hearing, and about listening.
Thank you Ben for bringing this music to my life.
Twenty is very good.
Very good indeed.
That segment of the Alicia Suskin Ostriker poem, Propaganda Poem: Maybe for Some Young Mamas, appears in her book, The Mother/Child Papers, published by University of Pittsburgh Press 1980, 2009. You can find it here.
Do you have any idea what your mission in life is?
When I graduated from high school as a slightly over-confident feminist theatre student, ready to take on the world, my mission was “to have the ultimate too much fun.” The phrase was from a blues song I loved and it seemed open ended enough to cover just about everything. I have matured in to this:
My mission is to express from inside my life as a woman who makes things and to put the tools for this work in to the hands of others.
Surprisingly though, nearly 40 years later, I could say the phrase that is in my “Class of 1976″ yearbook still guides me.
This weekend I spent time on three different evenings, with three different friends- the most recent one I have known for 33 years. (Is it possible I am old enough to have friends for 33 years? How about 35 years? Or 37?)
There is a certain sort of fun that happens with these women and the men who are their lucky partners. We laugh louder, our decorum is a bit rowdy and we make choices like “dessert for all of us please” or “yes, please, I will make one more S’more” that we might not make around people we wanted to show our most shiny selves to. We walk in the rain and don’t care about our hair. At all.
Well. This weekend, I saw that this is my shiniest self. The self that doesn’t edit because I fear someone will judge me, compare themselves to me or vice versa, that all of our scary parts are welcome at the table, the questions about our lives and how we are living squeak out in to our conversation and suddenly, I am having the “ultimate too much fun”.
I have friends who I have known for a brief 17 years who I am heading off for an art retreat with this week. Four days of painting paste papers and building journals by hand. I write in to the books I will make this coming week all year long, so this retreat has a sense of industry about it that carries me forward in to words and days I have not yet lived.
We will be having a ton of fun. And I wager, there will be a moment, maybe in our hotel room after the lights are out and we head off in to another round of story telling or maybe as we sit and sew Coptic stitch books where, we will discover that
in the midst of making art, what we are truly making is a life.
And that life is filled with too much fun.
I worried until about ten minutes ago that I am too much. For my entire life thus far, I have feared that I am too loud, too big, too hungry, too big hair, too big curiosity, just too much in every single way. My arms are too big. I pack too much stuff in the car when I travel. I am too much for you to take in.
And so, I have feared, that you wouldn’t- take me in, befriend me, laugh with me, make art or maybe even make a life with me.
I am just about done with that fear.
Being with my longest time friends who have known me with a variety of hairstyles and seem to care for me despite gray, fuzzy out of control hairs, or hat hair or hair that I can’t decide whether to color again or not, I feel buoyed by their love.
This summer, my appetite for “too much fun” is taking me home to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for the Giving Motherhood a Voice book tour. We have three scheduled talks and then I am offering a daylong “Slow Time Salon on Superior: writing, art and awareness immersion in Big Bay”. You can respond to a Facebook invitation to the event here.
My mentor Paulus Berensohn taught me this:
“It is not about making art, it is about making a life.”
You can imagine that when I met him, I did not worry, for a minute, about being too much. I knew instantly that being a woman who is a mother, a theatre person, a visual artist, a writer, book builder, jam stirrer, seamstress, knitter, gardener, singer, yogini and a bunch of other stuff including wife, community member and daughter- that the way I live is my art and my mission of expressing from inside this is what I get to do.
Please enjoy this trailer of “To Spring From the Hand” a lush documentary about Paulus made by a devoted friend, Neil Lawrence. This peek at Paulus and the movie may entice you to buy the DVD for your library or the Public Library in your town and even to share with others in your life that are fueled by making.
But before you hop off, tell me in the comment section how you have fun…. and with whom you can have “the ultimate too much fun”. I would love to hear.
Here is all my love to you.
I will be posting from the road with painty fingers.
I trust that will be just plain old fine with you.