I said I would write from where I am this week.
I supposed I would be posting and writing about my upcoming workshops.
I thought I would have all this time to incorporate what I am experiencing in to blog posts that would nourish you like the blackberries I scavenge from along the forest edge.
But instead, I am stewarding a group of women through Mapping Motherhood in the mornings, diving deep in to the heart of poetry in the midday, then facilitating Salon discussions on a variety of topics. Today Kelly Dumar spoke about playback theatre.
What is happening for me is I am immersed in the heart of sisterhood. This summer I keep visiting these pools of sisterhood, leaving my home community of creatives and venturing off to make paste paper journals or inquire in to social justice through the arts or, as I will do in August, make stone cairns along Lake Superior, write and make small collages capturing “slow” like we hold fireflies. Gently. Briefly. Sumptuously.
Suzi and Suzi
I am at the International Women’s Writing Guild summer conference. Here is where my writing mentors teach. I get to listen to poet Myra Shapiro gather us in to a group recitation of Robert Bly’s The Black Hen. Laundry Line Divine readers know of my affection for chickens. When I am here, I get to teach, I get to study, I get to listen, living and breathing the creative life of a writer for a full week.
So, I ask you the question I have been holding and hearing all week long-
“What meaning does your story make in your life?”
How does your life express what you care for, what brings you joy, what causes a rising in you, a lifting towards light?
Sometimes it is a handful of blackberries, warm in the sun, handed palm to palm.
Sometimes it is a finely wrought poem on fresh white paper, with pencil marks all over it, as if that black hen walked all over it.
Sometimes it is the sweet revelation that comes from a simply made collage that points you towards the portal to your own inner life, towards making sense of the yearning that keeps you itching for what is yet unnamed.
I hope this post finds you well.
And that if you are intrigued by what you read here, that you will share this with a friend. There is so much comfort in finding you are not alone in your yearning.
If you are in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in August, I am presenting three events. You can read all about them here. And if you are in Boston in September, I am performing here.
Until then, find me in the blackberry thickets.
a ribald clutch lets loose laughter
a serious look at who we are now
a very different perspective on humanity
an urgency long withheld, surfaces
It takes courage to write about motherhood in a culture that sets women with children on the sidelines, and it takes even more courage to give voice to the powerful emotions and fears that swirl deep beneath the surface of our daily lives, informing and sharing our relationships with our children and the world at large.
-Katrina Kenison and Kathleen Hirsch
This week I am in the thick of preparing to teach.
I am also sitting with my heart-broken son on the phone as he navigates a cross-country trip with his friends and sorts out being single, suddenly. We look up at the same moon.
I am also walking to the river again and again with my daughter, figuring out what her next steps are, if not only in to the blazingly cold clear waters of the Green river, but what of her senior year in high school?
Live your full life.
“Your body does not lie.” -Terry Tempest Williams
Your story matters.
Taking one small step for yourself today makes a difference in everything you do.
Your story matters.
Love your kids, ask for help, listen closely to the world around you, talk to each other, and be outside, every single day. Bring the littles with you.
Your story matters.
There is room for you here, even within motherhood. Take up your own space and urge your sisters to do the same.
Your story matters.
This is what I believe.
Today, I offer you a fresh post in the Out of the Mouths of Babes blog series by Sara Nolan. She lives what this series is all about, expressing a woman’s life within motherhood. I am so happy Sara offered this post. Please leave your comments for Sara here. I will be at the International Women’s Writing Guild this week, posting from Litchfield, CT. You can expect more Out posts and a running update from my workshop, Mapping Motherhood.
Experiment in the Mini-Essay #16- Infant Poetry has God on the Line
by Sara Nolan
I read aloud to Ronen while we nurse. Gulping is his foreground music; words are his background music. Not Hungry Caterpillar, Not Goodnight Moon– he’ll be well-fed on those classics everyone includes in an early literary diet. Instead, I’m moving through the anthology that Rick, our beloved officiant, left here for our wedding preparation: the “Winged Energy of Delight.” That’s what I want my son to know. Vallejo, Dickson, Machado, Issa, Kabir– the poet’s ardor and specificity. It ain’t Mother Goose’s regular posse.
This morning I read the verses of poet Caesar Vallejo, not so kid-tastic; his existential dreariness is leavened by the abstract, bizarre, and surreal. He’s in depressing Paris, trying to be an artist, being an artist, dying there an artist. Couldn’t be farther from my infant’s reality, but the fuzzy borders between self and world that poet and infant must traverse and explore, and sometimes be confounded by, are similar. The regular old world still reads to them both as nonsense. Vallejo’s lines also have currents of odd joy that would not be everyone’s joy, manifesting in pulses throughout his poems the way Milk lets down in pulses.
My small boy, suckling intensely, is anchored to my body while I read. Nothing could be less abstract than breast-feeding. As counterpoint to that, Vallejo writes: “I feel that God is traveling/so much in me,/ with the dusk and the sea….He is kind and sad, like those who care for the sick;…I consecrate you, God, because you love so much;/because you never smile; because your heart/ must all the time give you great pain.” Just as I read these lines to Ronen, who smacks my breast by reflex in aim-iess rhythm, my dear friend texts me a snippet from her first day in her program for a Masters in Children’s Literature and Research: “Poetry eases an infant’s transition learning division of self and world”(From her teacher Karen Coats). Yes, ease— what I want for my boy, ease.
And yet I read to him about what we all long to keep from our children, from anyone we love, or, if we have the Big View, from anyone at all– pain that cannot be mitigated. Pain that is as elementary and constitutional as blood and lymph. Motherhood brings on a special ache over this pain– when Ronen flinches and whimpers from any discomfort whose source I cannot know, as private and inaccessible as his moment of embryonic implantation, I flinch, I hurt with reciprocal depth, I grimace, I flail. I am on my knees even while standing up, on his behalf, I pray despite myself.
I feel that god is traveling so much in me, Vallejo explains. Pregnant with my boy, not knowing then he was a boy, I too felt god traveling in my body– really! Coursing through the blood, using hormones as floatation devices. Not to say that it was a comfy situation, not at all. How could it be when the infinite moves through the finite? But it was supersonic fullness, continual transit across placental hallways, mood spikes, a tsunami of creative energy working itself into compressed cellular organelles and organs and an eventual organism. Mother Mary, turns out, as special as she was, was nobody special. She was us, you and me, holding the urgent and ineffable becoming.
When John and I made love in those 9 months– when I managed to take a break from being irritated at all of humanity for which he was, in my limited, warped, delusional pregnant viewpoint, the unfortunate front-runner in my household– I’d say to our baby-to-be, this is where you come from, you come from love, and you’re coming into love. Simplistic, yes– and, if you pushed me to admit it, the world is not exactly that straightforward. But mothers fib sometimes for the sake of a good story: egg and sperm and cellular replication was involved, and the baby enters into a lot more than love– into bureaucracy (fittingly hard to spell), burrs, bumpers, a mish-mosh of phenomena. The world is inescapably complex, and not reducible to any one element, however glorious. But still, not a bad creation myth to tell your child or yourself. It is a non-sentimental kind of Love that catches the child, more absolute, more daunting.
With my boy in my arms, feeling the increasing loops of love that tether me to his funny particularities, that twine around the arbor of my body, fixed, from which he is the heavy grapes hanging, I feel something like Vallejo’s god again, that sad god who kindly cares for the sick, a person of great pain, the heavy pain that comes with separation. I feel God in the strange lumpy tissue accruing beneath my C-section incision, I feel God in the tingling that signals the milk truck has filled up the ducts, I feel God in the endlessness of diapers that seem to pinwheel off the table into the garbage, off the table into the garbage. I feel God in the way my beautiful husband razzes and strokes the baby, the way my stepsons ask to hold him and cradle his erratic head with confidence. This holiness is like water, taking the shape of its container.
Sara Nolan finds life amazing and whole, and bios awkward and partial. She teaches young people to write about their lives through personal essays, using the imagination in support of truth. Sara can be found leading classes and workshops in NYC via her education initiative, Essay Intensive, which is what it sounds like. She is also findable via the written word on her blog of sorts, Massive Missive, where she occasionally posts essays that took a long time to hatch. Meanwhile, she learns and mothers with all her might.
Summer is so sweet and so full of life.
But grief has arrived and she cannot be ignored.
We have to speak about loss.
In my community, there has been a terribly sad loss of a teen-aged girl. She is the daughter of people I don’t know well, but know in the way you know people in a small town. She is the niece of our friends, she is the cousin of my daughter’s close friend, her name is Maia, and though I don’t know that I ever saw her as a grown-up kid, I remember when she was born, the ripples of happiness that spread through her extended family and touched those of us further out from that center.
What do you do in the face of this or every other sadness we encounter on a daily basis? The surprising losses like Maia who drowned while snorkeling with her father, or the shattering devastation at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina? Each loss reveals more about us than we’d like to admit. Here, this tender dear girl who resembles so many of her cousins, thick eyelashes and a smile that stops traffic. I sense the utter sadness of her parents and I want to claw my children to my chest. I hold my prayers like shoulders leaning in to my heart. In Charleston, layers of revelation about the sinister presence of past and present oppression continue to disrupt communities. Street names, place names, flags and habit patterns bear not-so-subtle reminders of terrible sorrow.
What do we do? How broken open do we have to be before we start to take steps, remove flags, rename streets, extend a hand to another who cannot even speak for the sadness that has stopped us in our tracks?
This past week, I gathered with my sisterhood of bookmakers. We painted papers and built journals and sat in sacred circle where we wrote and shared. In that quiet held space, grief sat among us and carved a bigger space in our hearts for each other. Sitting there with bare-boned knowing, grief rubbed elbows with celebration and the agonies of our lives return from exile.
How do you sit with grief, yours or someone else’s?
What do you do?
In my town, we start cooking. People trodden down with sorrow need to eat and drink, so we utilize the online tool of Meal Train and the family eats.
In the lushness of summer, grief joins us. She edges in like a dog soaked with skunk, fragrant and impossible to ignore.
It is Sunday morning.
From the church of my heart, I send you love.
My apologies for the earlier draft of this post that misnamed Charleston. Yes, I am right with you #Charlestonstrong.
I am up to my elbows in scaring the birds off my black currant bushes and painting pages in my journal, responding to prompts from Lisa Sonora and Jeffrey Davis. Summer is playtime for me, where I experiment with new techniques, take time to swim and see friends, see my kids off on large adventures (boo-hoo and yippee) and continue to hone my work here on Laundry Line Divine. It is also a time of great preparation for my upcoming teaching in July and August. More on that here.
Today’s post is a response to Jeffrey’s Dare to Excel challenge and I want to share it with you because the question is so potent and filled with potential. My response is shaping a new offering I am about to launch and has spurred some juicy discussion here at my house about what parts of me are active and what parts of me could be roused to alertness and re-engaged in my daily life.
I think the question is worth considering. Here is what Jeffrey posed.
#DareToExcel Challenge – 3:
Take a few minutes to remember a time when you were nine, or around that age, when you felt free to be your best.
Feel an exact moment in time and place. Are you outdoors or indoors? How does the air feel? How do you feel in your body? What are you uniquely doing or making? Who are you with and how are you uniquely relating to others?
Looking back with full compassion toward yourself, what 1-3 adjectives would you use to describe your younger self at her or his best?
These are your 3 Young Genius Qualities. How can you bring some of those young genius qualities forward to this project?
Curious about beauty
Physically active, especially swimming
In my ninth year, I am with my family the entire year. Even at school, my mother substitute teaches for my favorite Mrs. Finzer who is out with an injury.
I am brave this year.
The student riots in Chicago are scaring me.
My parent’s unhappiness is making my tummy hurt.
The lady who lives next door to our apartment building is so upset about loosing her son in the Vietnam War that early in the morning she raves in her back yard, which my bedroom window faces. She weeps as she chops at the corner of her house, wailing on the brick with a butcher knife. This startles me.
I break my front teeth in a fall on the sidewalk, fainting from the sickening smell of tar being poured on a street surface and endure the argument my parents have in the kitchen, while sitting in my bedroom, just a door way between me and my yelling parents. Just a window between me and the crazy sad lady next door.
My stomach got a workout that year.
I am curious about beauty this year.
I read Tiger Beat magazine and pour over photos of the Monkees.
I begin parting my hair on the side.
I am a Junior Girl Scout and play Bonnie out on the playground by tipping my green wool beret to the side over my eye, just like Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde.
I am in a play this year and experiment with multiple identities (a girl playing a boy who is turned in to a rat).
My mother sews me a black and white gingham tiny checked maxi skirt that I wear with a crinoline slip underneath and saddle shoes. My burgeoning identity is tossed around from straight up Lutheran girl, to wild child and I wear it all at once.
I kiss Lenny Howard, my first Jewish boyfriend, under the steps of his building and consider going by “Susanna” so I can get in to the community dance at his temple. I can still feel his full lips on mine and see the slatted shadows from the stairs on a bright Chicago afternoon.
I am physically active this year.
I have a three-speed bike that I love riding.
I pull my red wagon packed with Girl Scout cookies to sell in the student union at Loyola University a few blocks from our apartment.
I swim whenever I can and the summer adventure my family is on allows me to swim almost every single day. My legs are growing and I ache with the effort. I am becoming.
I get food poisoning on this summer long camping trip and have to ride in the very back of the VW bus we are living in, throwing up in to the bottom of my sister’s kiddie potty. This stands out to me because I have never been very sick before, except for earaches.
I feel myself this year, as a person, as an individual on the bus ride of my family life, one of many, and somehow, I have a pen and paper and I am writing at this picnic table. I have no recollection of this writing, whether it is a letter or a list or a drawing for my little sister. The attitude of privacy that I carry, even in proximity to my family so nearby, nearly on top of me, is what I see here.
I found a safe harbor between that pen and me.
♥Watch for more news on this new offering over the next two weeks.♥
Until then, I really want to know how you’d answer this question about your young genius. What qualities of wonder and aliveness were so prevalent when you were nine or ten? How might you enliven them to reengage your young genius even now amidst the mayhem of family life? When I asked JNB this question, he couldn’t get to any wonder or aliveness until he was a teenager, but the qualities he recalled are keys to the new work he is developing right now.