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Yearning: Tell Me Yours & I Will Tell You Mine

Cups up at Bascom Lodge, Mount Greylock, MA

 

Velvet magenta maple against a golden oak.

Rain soaked leaves around the compost bin.

Nuthatch upside down on the feeder.

The clink of my husband’s spoon on his mid-morning oatmeal.

My fingers are chilly. I keep it cold in my morning writing space.

 

I am in the center of something I started in 2009.

from one of my first Laundry Line Divine posts...setting forth on an adventure to parts unknown
from one of my first Laundry Line Divine posts…setting forth on an adventure to parts unknown

 

In the nearly six years I have been blogging here on Laundry Line Divine, I have developed something I had no idea I was heading in to. When I started this website, I was writing in the few free hours I had between my responsibilities as a mother at home, as a gardening teacher and all the other ways I spent my hours.

My mother was in the middle of her descent in to Alzheimer’s disease.

I had just had a complete hysterectomy and thankfully, did not have any complications from all the unknowable horribles that lurked around my life that year.

 

I was simply a mother writing my experience.

I was attempting to build my author platform.

I was putting wheels under my work in the world.

I began experimenting with speaking up and out.

 

Since that time, my life has changed dramatically.

I am still a Mom.

I still work from home.

I am still researching how to speak my own truth.

 

But so much looks different.

I have developed a body of work around mothering and creativity.

I produce events for a local writing festival and teach at conferences.

I teach two different writing workshops locally and have led over 60 art and writing workshops in the last three years.

I have published an anthology of 36 women’s voices about the creative lives of mothers.

I have one son in college.

I have on daughter in high school.

I have one German exchange daughter in my home right now, and two others in Munich who call me their US Mom.

My own mother has been dead for four years this past October 10.

I am 56 years old.

 

And I am still filled with the same yearning that made me start to write in the first place. I didn’t set out to become a writer. I didn’t set out to teach. I just began taking my own writing seriously enough to budget time in my week for a little solitude. As I warmed to this practice, I noticed a longing within me that had been masked by the chaos of mothering. I sensed a yearning that is taking me years to describe. I began to feed it by offering myself small windows of time within my days at home to make something for the simple pleasure of making. I began, slowly, to let what I longed for- which was some sort of affirmation that this mothering path was the right one, that this work is enough, this relentless, challenging and joyful work is where I am supposed to be-to let that direct me, like a rudder. Rather than finding distraction from my mothering life, I began to see what I was doing as important enough to consider it sacred. This most ancient of responsibilities, being a mother, could, despite what our culture has told us for generations, be important and valuable.

In those early days of writing, I told stories of how I lived my days here in the Berkshires. I live in a small town surrounded by woods and farmland, in a county peppered with other small towns and people who work to run this community and sustain the systems that make this sort of life possible. I had lived in Manhattan for many years. I knew what that life was like. And I knew, in my heart, that raising our children outside a metropolitan area would allow me to spread out a little, not spend every waking hour in busyness and give us all space to be outside and to live slowly.

 

Benjamin and Suzi 1997

 

Slow became my mantra. Slow is not always my reality. But by being as slow as toddlers studying ants on the sidewalk, as slow as candle flame at 2 AM when I am awake with worry and hot milk, I found a new way of being.

I began to hear what I longed for. I was happy with the decision I’d made to stay at home to mother. I thought we’d have four children. I lived through several very sad miscarriages and a few years of trying to get pregnant again and again, before I arrived at this size of our family being enough. I could make my way with this crew and meet a few community needs without too much frantic living. I gardened with kids for many years. I learned new skills, studied yoga and taught. I carved a life of doing around my children’s needs. I knit. I made jam. And I hung my wash outside on a cotton rope.

Whites

But I could not shake the calamity of my heart. There was a voice within me that said, “really? This is it?” My own mother had been bored with being home-bound with children. Out of necessity and self-preservation, she taught for nearly all the years of our growing up. I was not bored so much as deflated by the reality that motherhood merited no real value in our culture but for keeping the kids out of traffic and getting food on the table. I could see how advertising and merchandising were designed to supply our every need, every style shift and every worry. But I found little that spoke to the soul of a woman who mothers.

This afternoon I walked near a house where a young family lives. The sky was gray, a cold fall wind made me draw my sweater collar up around my ears. The wool could not muffle the piercing cries of an infant I heard as I walked quietly by this small house. Instantly propelled to a similar afternoon of my own, I was standing by the sink with a red-faced inconsolable baby in my arms. I knew the gut dropping feeling of the mother of this squalling child. I knew the inch-march of the clock through a relentlessly tedious afternoon, where a nap is fruitless, dinner a puzzle, and no end is in sight. I knew how much, in those moments, I wanted to be mothered or at least accompanied or witnessed. The isolation of those moments, the shame-tide that rises around your ankles for not being a better mother, a wiser mother or at least a mother with better snacks on hand soaks in through your grimy sweatpants. It took only a few moments of that baby’s cries to bring me back to a time when any sense of living a productive life had halted and I was lonely, but never truly alone. I thought that since I enjoyed the luxury of being a stay-at-home mom that I had nothing to complain about. It should not be so hard, right? I am not putting on hose and heels and getting out to an office, right? History has not helped to ease entry in to mothering, with damning portraits of women chopping up their children or driving them in to lakes only to be countered with the lambs and rosebuds we stencil over the cozy cribs in upstairs bedrooms.

The conversation about parenting is changing. There is more writing and art in the world made by women who are comfortable stating that they are mothers. There are many more ways today, that mothering is seen as a choice, as a lifestyle and as something to be planned for and perhaps even supported by our corporate structures.

Reality is life-blown-open-and-apart, no matter what your situation- whether you have a natural childbirth or a C-section, whether you grind your baby’s food, nurse on the subway or let the nanny make those decisions- your life is unalterably altered when you become a mother. I wanted to know if it was possible to express this, to talk about what gives me comfort, what inspires me and what leads me. I found myself rather alone in this quest. I didn’t feel endorsed to talk about myself. There was lots of discussion and whining on the web, there still is, about the drudgery of teething or the 10 best things your child has taught you. This is good, it is a start, but it does not satisfy my soul.

One of my mentors told me to write what I most wanted to read. What I needed to read. Mary Oliver wrote in Wild Geese, “tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.” Your sorrow and your joys, what sustains you and what clears your mind, I want to know those things. And I think that writing about mine may give you some comfort. Having a small bead on creating this small person, this house for a soul, I wondered if there was something more than practical about the ordinary acts of mothering. I wanted to know I was not alone in yearning for something more, for a deeper connection with Spirit/God/the Universe and with other women. Feeling isolated and ashamed while living in a community kept me alert to what was missing in my life. How could I be lonely? I was always in the company of at least 3 other people and many times, more.

Catherine and Suzi 1999

I have always lived with my creativity active. It is my natural state. My life force is as a maker and I fit my making to the times. Whether I am baking intricate birthday cakes or running the Parent’s Association, knitting for babies in need or building books, I find a way to make and engage through that making. This life force has buoyed me through the worst of times. It has also given me a strength and ability to do things I never dreamed of doing. And I am convinced that supporting women in engaging their creative voices will allow them to discover tools to improve their own lives and the lives of their families.

So my original yearning to find the sacred in mothering and the dovetailing desire to express from inside mothering has provided me with work that keeps me very busy. But it also has pressed me to be accurate in how I behave, to hold my integrity foremost and to be honest about where my priorities are. My children are now 16 and 20. The demands on my time are different now and I have an opportunity to complete sentences, thoughts and projects. I am more able to find ways for my work to be in the world.

This, for me, is a revolution, a huge change from the way things have been for me. Prior to becoming a mother, I pursued a career in theatre, never quite making it, always the one not cast, called back again and again, but not cast. My creativity was fully served by my career as a seamstress, which developed in to couture work, thus my making muscles were engaged, although my heart wasn’t.

And it was my heart that demanded attention.

Engaging my creativity in the service on my own voice was something that I had never done. In the midst of mothering, I discovered I had something to say.

Now, I teach others to do the same thing. I see the ways joy enters lives that were cluttered with sorrow and shame. I see the ways creativity enlivens and expands the horizons of women who thought they’d have to wait decades before they had a chance to speak or work on their own.

Since 2009, “seeing and celebrating the sacred in daily life” has been my mission.

Finding the divine in my ordinary existence- the church of now, discovering a sense of belonging within myself and with other women who express from inside mothering, of discovering my effort is important and worthwhile for the world and not just three people, these are the riches I have gained by pressing in to my creative expression.

Taped to the cover of the spiral bound notebook that was my journal in the months of March to May 2003, is a copy of Judyth Hill’s Wage Peace. Written in response to 9/11, her poem set something in motion with in me. Judyth presented the possibility that a way of being could promote peace. I was home with two young children when the World Trade Center bombings occurred. I did not feel capable of joining teams of volunteers cleaning up rubble or comforting the grieving. I had my hands full. The loss was so great and I felt so small. I carried her poem around with me as a talisman of hope.

 

Wage peace with your listening:

hearing sirens, pray loud.

Remember your tools:

flower seeds, clothes pins, clean rivers.

 

Clothespins?

Flower seeds?

Clean rivers?

Surely, she had written this poem for me.

I was sure she was telling me that being a mother is enough.

I know she was right. I just had to wake up to that myself.

 

Next week, I will be away at a writing retreat. I see myself posting from there. As I prepare to leave, I will be dwelling in the heart of my yearning. I would love to hear about yours.

 

Please comment here or send me an email.

I love hearing from you.

Even if you differ from my point of view, hearing yours is a joy to me.

I appreciate your time reading me here.

 

 

With love, S

 

 

Sunday afternoon writing time

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After the Powder Keg Sunday Session, a persistent, sweet feeling of the brave permission that happened here. #Berkshires women write. XoxoS

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If I offer you a word-morsel from my heart
does it matter so much, really, if you
deny my soul language?
If I believe this word-morsel is truth
what language could deny it’s reality?
If my last straw is a beginning to know,
how hard can it be to keep myself from the flames?
~Suzi Banks Baum

 

 

 

Today the Powder Keg Sunday Sessions met in my dining room.

There you have it. We have crossed the great public divide and brought my work home.

What a joy to clean up the house this morning knowing I was preparing for the arrival of what would happen when women show up with their journals and a willingness to dive in. Sometimes I write along with everyone. Today was one of those days. We answered a prompt I read on poet, Rachel McKibbens’ website. The prompt asks you to list “your last straws”. We took this ball and carried it throughout the afternoon. The writing took on a very soulful quality. We used my new painted Powder Keg Prompts to wedge new words in to our writing. The gathered writers had a really rich afternoon.

 

 

Displaying photo.JPG

 

What would you put on that last straw list? If you are in the Berkshires and want to write with us, our next gathering is November 19. I can only seat 7 women, so let me know ASAP if one of those chairs has your name on it.

It is Sunday afternoon. JNB is cooking in the kitchen. My girls are doing homework. The sun is setting on another day made good with light.

All my best to you,
S

 

Start Where I Am: Saturday at the Sheep and Wool Festival in Rhinebeck, NY

Dutchess County Sheep and Wool Fair 2014

Fall means wool.

I wear it.
I knit it.
I fondle it.
I try not to buy it because of the backlog of yarn I have, but some skeins are just meant to come home with me. Two. Two! That is hardly any.

My German exchange daughter was describing places in Munich where she has seen yarn coverings like this. Have you ever come across this kind of woolly fun?
My German exchange daughter was describing places in Munich where she has seen yarn coverings like this. Have you ever come across this kind of woolly fun?

The best part of a large gathering of knitters, felters, weavers and spinners, sheepdogs and herders, shearers and farmers, is what people wear. It was almost too warm in Dutchess County, New York today. Too warm that is-for long sweaters and heavily cabled any things. Today was a day for cardigans and hats, scarves and cowls.

 

I asked these women to stand together for this photo. Don't they look great in their creations?
I asked these women to stand together for this photo. Don’t they look great in their creations?

 

And, for a felted dress that two years ago was a wedding dress. Today, the young woman who wore this dress I had to admire, is a mother. This was the first time her dress came out in to the world since her wedding. A crowd gathered, for obvious reasons. Here is part of it.

The front of her dress

My friend Crispina ffrench was there with her upcycled cotton and wool clothing. Her clothing is distinctly Berkshire and uniquely wonderful. I have worn her beautifully made clothing for years. My feet warm on a woven rug of hers under my desk.

Makers stick together. We keep each other warm.

This group of women, a family, wore the same sweater that had to be captured. When I asked which of them knit the sweaters, their eyes twinkled with glee.
“Talbots” they answered in unison.

Talbots

Where I am is often around other people who make things.
The joy of working with our hands means we all have something important in common, no matter how many other things make us different. The diverse crowd of wool lovers today was a reflection of the autumn tapestry.

Carpet pattern

The sun sets. Soon, where I am will be in bed.
I  wanted to stop here at Laundry Line Divine.
Tomorrow is a Powder Keg Sunday Session.
I’ll be back on Monday.

Berkshire Sunset by Suzi Banks Baum
Berkshire Sunset by Suzi Banks Baum

I hope your weekend has some color in it.
With love,

S

Start Where You Are: Tuesday in the trees

Storm King Alley

There is a warm undercurrent in the air today, like a swirl of caramel in my friend Janet’s applesauce.

Tart with a warm vein pulsing sweetness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grass at Storm King

 

 

 

I have been to several hallowed places over the past few days. This does include the Registry of Motor Vehicles up in North Adams where my 16 year old took her driving test last Wednesday. She handled a very common, but potentially dangerous situation with her understated confidence, which caused the terse RMV instructor to drop her guard for a few minutes and praise my daughter. Both of them were happily surprised and relieved. My girl went on to execute a fine K-turn and forgot to use her emergency brake when parking. She parallel parked behind a van driven by a very attractive electrician who reached for a heavy case flexing every muscle in his angled back for my daughter’s benefit. She pulled in, pulled up and “prepared her vehicle for leaving it overnight” while keeping an eye on the guy. But when her instructor admonished her for under use of the parking brake and praised her quick decision-making and passing skills, my girl was aflutter with joy at having passed her test.

I remained silent, as was requested of me, for the whole trip. She had left my back passenger window open, so I was able to send prayers freely and on the breeze with not one care in the world but to be quiet. We cheered on the sidewalk after the whole thing was over. The electrician had vanished, having hauled himself and his heavy tools in to a storefront.

Thursday, I visited Storm King Sculpture Park over in Goshen, New York. For all these years of passing that outdoor museum, I have never stopped. I was there with two friends. We painted and walked, ate apples and photographed. It was an adventure with lunch and paint.

Then, on Sunday, we took my exchange daughter in to New York City. We like to drift, so having a few spare agenda points in a long set of hours suits us all well. We went from the Upper West Side down to the site of the World Trade Center Memorial Park. There were many people there. People standing, taking photos, praying, crying, laughing, touching the water, running their fingertips over the names names names that surround the terraced fountain.

We the People at the WTC Memorial Park in New York City by Suzi Banks Baum
We the People at the WTC Memorial Park in New York City by Suzi Banks Baum

I drew for a while. This always makes me slow down and see details I might otherwise miss. I noticed people walking up to a tree, different from the Swamp White Oaks that line the park, and special for being fenced with a metal railing and staked carefully with rubber straps around it’s branches. A man stood with his hand on the thick trunk as if he was a doctor feeling for a pulse or a healer applying his energy. I stood listening to him tell the story of the Survivor Tree.

The Callery Pear

You can read all about it here. This Callery Pear tree grew on the plaza near buildings 4 and 5. It survived the collapse of the Towers and being buried in rubble for three months. When workers at the site found green shoots coming up through the piles of debris in November, they knew these signs of life were worth salvaging. The tree spent a few years at Van Cortlandt Park recuperating and in 2010 it was replanted in Memorial Park. People place offerings, wreathes, flowers in the tree, they put their hands on the tree, as if this one live thing can bless. It is a gorgeous tree. President Obama has spoken next to this tree and many people stand in hushed company with this tree daily.

 

Rainbow at the WTC Memorial Park in NYC

I don’t know what will bless me next. A tree. A driving instructor. Golden leaves falling in a shower across my laundry line, filling the gullies made by sheets hung between the lines with leaves and pine needles. Whatever shows up has the potential to bless.

When I open my computer to write these posts, I am never sure what will touch you readers. I write to describe what life is like for me, here, in this small town, with these children, with this life and appetite to make things. I write to make sense of my experience. My longing is to express, to digest thoughts and cohere, which makes me think, Co-Hear—to listen along with you, to what traces my day.

There are so many ways to see things.
We could have seen the driving instructor has strict and authoritative, punitive and demanding. Or, we could take her instruction and enjoyed flexing our driving muscles for her to see and receive her hard won praise.
That tree, just a stumpy ruined thing, could have been discarded among all that terrible chaos. But, the signs of life, the green, and the tree’s vitality called out to the people working in that place.

There are signs of life all around us. Signs that we are on to something. Signs of vitality. I just have to be quiet enough to see them.

Golden Tree at Storm King

Have a good old week.
October feels so much like a mature person to me. I love being in its fuzzy golden aura.
I am teaching my Powder Keg Ramsdell Sessions on the 15th and 22nd.
This coming Sunday, the 19th is my monthly Powder Keg Sunday Session. Please email me if you are interested in either event.

Coming up on October 31, while some are trick-or-treating, I will be at Skidmore College with the Women Writers Artists Matrix as Siren of Ceremonies for the Friday evening Salon. This weekend of art, writing and wellness is a great boost of nourishment as we head in to November and the triple threat set of holidays ahead.

Wherever you are, watch for signs of life.

oxoxoS

 

 

 

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