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Inhaling Ursula

Neon Shoes over Brooklyn by Suzi Banks Baum

When guests leave, I have a difficult time cleaning up after them. I like the presence of guests, at least most guests, to linger. My mother used to stop me from putting all the mess of toys in order before we would leave her house. She said the mess allowed her to see my kids playing on her floors, on the couches or in front of the fireplace long after we’d jetted off the Upper Peninsula towards the East Coast.

I know how she feels now.
Our beloved German family, a family we sprouted five years ago when the eldest son of this family of six children came to live with us, just spent a long set of sweet September days with us. They left the fourth child to live with us until December.

We spent warm days swimming at the river.
Cool days we toured MASS MoCA and Brooklyn.
We hiked and walked and strolled and went to yoga together.
We made many meals, much zucchini and melon employed.
And the mother, my dear Ursula, and I made art around the edges and for one and a half days, we worked plumb in the center of this swirl of teens and plums and a chard eating woodchuck.

This morning, I walked in to the room where she slept and without knowing what was happening, I was engulfed in the simple perfume of her presence. Like when you hug your partner’s neck after swimming and only the soft animal scent of skin fills your senses, an eager poetic soliloquy of scent surrounded me. The smell recalled her to me so fully I was sure she was near. But, only a pile of linens and the paper she’d wedged in to a rattling window frame on a windy Berkshire night were present.

We are both mothers. She has three times my children and just as much appetite to make things while in the midst of mothering. We first met in the airport in Florence, Italy near where her family vacationed in the summer. They’d invited us (inwhited, if you are a German speaking English, which is all I can hear in my head as I write. I recall her voice skipping over Vs when she was tired and letting them be Ws) to spend time with them there, before depositing our son with them for a semester at the Schaubing Waldorf High School.

We fell in step with each others mothering styles quickly. We found ease in each others presence through the affection our children spread and before long we were sketching together on a long table overlooking the valley towards Cortona. Ursula is a landscape architect with amazing drawing skills, so the vistas jump off the pages with just a few strokes of her pencil. That first summer of knowing one another had all the makings of a symphony with many parts yet to come, but each new phrase captivating.

 

Ursula's doodling
Ursula’s doodling

Since that first visit, we have traveled together, spent time in each others homes, sat talking for long evenings and early mornings, picked blueberries, celebrated Full Moons, eaten meals prepared with the other in mind, sent gifts and notes and letters and many many hand made mail art postcards. We have fallen completely in love with each others children and included their friends in the circle of our care. Our husbands are equally eager and engaged and this symphony feels like it will be playing for many years to come.

SBB to Ursula

So when I inhaled Ursula, the longing I felt for her real presence, her laughter, the way she orders a coffee, the endearments she uses for her children, the tone of her voice as she asks a question, her enthusiasm for leaping in to cold rivers or trying new art techniques mellowed from an ache to an exercised response. I have spent many hours with her painting and making books and drifting exotic neighborhoods, photographing laundry or hanging it, laughing over the singleton socks we each collect and seasonally seek to pair. Something about making art together has sewn our friendship, our sisterhood, our shared parenting in to a many-layered blanket that offers comfort beyond what I ever imagined. Now that I know that comfort, her scent, I require it.

 

Italian laundry by Ursula Kern
Italian laundry by Ursula Kern
Ursula sewing a book 2014
Sewing signatures

 

There are many tales to tell about Ursula. We have made art with our combined children now for five summers. As we travel, we create. We formed the Darling Hill International Artist’s Club four years ago and have had four art showings since then, in Vermont, on Cape Cod, here in the Berkshires and at a cafe in Monte San Savino, Italy. We have weathered a hurricane, an earthquake, a car accident, and foreign borne illnesses of our children. We have earned ribbons for our skillet tossing. Our dumpster dive at a bookbinders last year in Munich is an oft repeated tale these days. This past week, while waiting for her daughter at dance class, we sketched the skyline of Housatonic with the iconic water tower on to up-cycled file folders. We cut the drawings in to stencils, and then transferred the images on to vintage book covers given to us by the boyfriend of another of her daughters. We built Coptic Stitch book covers together, filled the signatures with found, painted and plain papers then sewed them up smartly on a sunny September morning. We make books in the same way we make everything we do, in the midst of making breakfast and lunch and planning dinner, picking figs or berries or apples, and delivering kids to and fro, brushing off all but the most urgent pleas for help so that we can focus together for a few hours.

 

Ursula's stencil 2014
Prints by Ursula of the Housatonic Water tower 2014

 

 

The porch art table by Ursula Kern
The porch art table by Ursula Kern

 

My new Coptic Stitch Journal visits Brooklyn By Ursula Kern
My new Coptic Stitch Journal visits Brooklyn By Ursula Kern

 

What we give each other is permission to want what we want.
What we give each other is permission to answer our soul’s calling in the midst of parenting.
What we give each other is the courage to stop waiting to do what calls us and to engage our families with our fullest selves, the selves that snort when laughing, that pick up random scraps of paper on the sidewalks and often bursts in to song.

What has happened is that our children, from 21 to 10, now, all know that this making art is what makes us happy and they too, in their own ways, have inhaled this brand of bravery in to their own lives, making choices that are much nearer to joy than to duty. They know that familial responsibility includes honoring what the other loves.

Processed with VSCOcam with s6 preset

Ursula left this stone circled heart filled with acorns and a marigold for us on Saturday. The squirrels thanked her for it and ate most of the acorns, so I refreshed her heart and filled it with a rose and nasturtiums and more marigolds. We pass our mothering back and forth like this, pass our time together and apart with these young people in our arms, needing rides, needing counsel, needing lunch and together, we make it happen with room to doodle, to discover and to know each other deeply.

So I see you Ursula, across the table from me, I see your hands chopping tomatoes or parsley, I see you holding the nearest child’s cheeks in your hands and loving with that big heart of yours. I am so happy to know there is a spot for me there.

Who knew our hearts could grow this big?

I am blessed beyond measure.
xo S

Plenty of fish in the net of my heart: Linda Gregg’s poem and what I find in my net

The Joy of Effort by Suzi Banks Baum

When summer turns toward September there are still beach towels on the laundry line, but there are also sweaters on the backs of chairs and socks where there were only flip flops last week. I sit out on my back porch with jeans on wishing for another day of full summer sun, but know that, as Linda Gregg says in her glorious poem, there are lots of fish this time in the net of the heart.

SBB and JNB by Ruth Barron 2011
JNB and me.
SBB Senior Photo 1976 by Tim O'Leary
My best friend’s brother Tim took my Senior photo. The hair, the eyebrows. Oy.

I have always been one to prolong a good thing. I am married for 21 years this past July and I am shooting for another 50 if I live that long. When I graduated from high school in 1976, I was messy mixture of DAR Good Citizen of the Year and wild child. In my Senior Will, listed in the B’s at the back of my Eskymos yearbook, I said my life wish was to “have the ultimate too much fun.” I was quoting a song that I loved that the band I hung out with (didn’t we all hang out with a band?) played at parties. That song was all I had in my mind at the moment. Forget world peace or food for the hungry, I wanted to have fun.

Oddly enough, while I live in service of women’s voices, as a mother and family member devoted to supporting and loving my people and everyone I can get my hands on, having the “ultimate too much fun” has not been a bad credo. Without realizing it, I have pressed in to the ultimate part. I am a fiercely loyal person and relentless when I have a good idea or taste going. I have been part of theatre companies working on new plays and groups devoted to various causes like rent control or lake preservation, I have banded with others, and I have worked alone. What this “ultimate too much fun” has led me to is getting off my duff and doing, especially when the doing is fun. And that means I am a hard worker. I like this about myself.

164907_592301360793684_1721969888_n
Leigh Strimback and Janet Elsbach and me, having fun at a reading of An Anthology of Babes: 36 Women Give Motherhood a Voice.
SBB at Bay Cliff by Bev Delaney
This may not look like I am having fun, but I am working Bay Cliff Health Camp in Big Bay, with Miss Terri and all the rest. Photo by Bev Delaney 1978

When I looked back at my Class of ’76 Senior Will, I was initially embarrassed to be so off color and rowdy. Couldn’t I have wished to find the cure for AIDS or to discover a new species of dragonfly? Wouldn’t it be oh so very virtuous to wish to build bridges and solve autism? I didn’t write that. I wanted to have fun.

I just turned 56 this week. I celebrated with my family and hosted a sweet evening around a campfire for my Moon Circle. We ate delicious chocolate cake with raspberries on top. Yes, I ate the last piece from the glass pan, licking the crumby layer of chocolate and red berries off my fingers. What recalls that Senior Will wish to me today is that there is no limit of cherishing something that could inspire me, like a birthday, like a raspberry, like this heavy air that promises rain on 9.11.

My birthday wish is the same as my Senior Will wish was, to have the ultimate too much fun. To work doing what I love with people I love. To meet new people and share an invitation to awaken their voices through making art and writing. To create space for women to feel permission to be their fullest selves, even on their bad days. To give voice to the inner landscape of my life as a woman who is a mother and to hold the light for others to do the same, whether that mother is here in the Berkshires or in Nigeria or cyberspace.

That sounds like a ton of fun to me. An ultimate too much fun.

What about you? What fish are in your net today?

Thank you for your birthday wishes.
I had a great day.
And I am ready to work.

All my love,

S

While searching for a way to request permission to publish Linda Gregg’s poem here on LLD, I see that her birthday is on September 9, one day after mine. Thanks to my Moon Sister Sarah for sharing this poem with me. Please read it here. If I can make contact with Linda, I will share it on Laundry Line Divine.

Going Willingly: Phillips, Ostriker and Erdrich offer permission

Permission Slips 2

This is the place where I write alone for an hour.
This is the place where the creaking floor quiets and I let go of needing to do or make or plan or arrange.
This is the place where I recall this:

“Please help me remember
that what I make
can be of use
and that the time I spend creating my work
is as precious as the time I spend
giving to others.”

~Jan Phillips

Whatever the case of this day, whatever transpires, this time of writing will be more useful to me than any preparations I can lay out now. This time will be every bit more laced with pleasure if I take in the music of the goldfinches and the parading clouds over the ridge and recollect that Janet is sending her first girl off to college.

“…she is going willingly. I send her willingly.” says Alicia Ostriker here.

I am in the stew of days with family and friends, in the stew of the many manys that stay in my mind as I float on in a green river and dive in to clouds, balance potato shaped rocks in the falls and let the water erase all my barnacled concerns about this child or that day or that school supply list or this proposal and just let the river carry me. I let my thighs release again and again and my shoulders spread in the water. A brown dragonfly, large, it looks like it would tip over one of my cairns if it graced one with its weight, this large dragonfly hovers over me as I slowly turn in the water. The ridge of my thumbs bones, the top of my collarbones and the tips of my toes are all that stay above water as I float. The orb of my face rises and falls with my breath as do my breasts, which my husband believes, are why I float so well. Buoys.

My breasts have been buoys for a boy and a girl and every kid I have nestled.

But they don’t make me able to float like this, so easy, listening to my breath, watching that dragonfly circle above me. I floated like this long before my breasts filled my double D cups. This past summer in a pond, a set of copulating dragonflies landed on my middle finger, an oasis of pink skin in the clear water. Then they skated over to my right eyebrow and carried on their romance. I was as still as I could hold myself in the currentless pond, suspended under a hot July sky. They needed a respite and all that was not submerged provided.

What kind of oasis am I to my growing children who no longer consider my breasts a place to return to? What kind of woman floats in a river, letting insects land on her high parts, considering her future in the grand scheme of things, the only sound her breath and flight of goldfinches?

I am not sure.
But I am going willingly in to this future, rinsed free by the river and letting myself be shelter to whoever arrives.

This is the place in time where I pause before tomorrow, 9-08-14. This is the place where I more than pause, but I come to a halt and look around. The clouds are ponying across the sky, creating caps for the Copper Beech up on the ridge, that I keep company with every morning early. The pears left by the red squirrels are ripening from bitter rock hardness in to something delicious. I can hear my husband fooling around with bicycles in the driveway. I can hear my guests rousing to find almond croissant and tea for themselves. I hear cars beginning to pass on the street. I can hear someone’s wind chimes needing to be quieted. The crickets are singing. A runner in lavender shorts lopes by with her ponytail airborne.

 

Spruce Lake Dragonfly  by Suzi Banks Baum

This is the place where I say, tomorrow is my birthday and dragonflies just happen to be carrying this news that halting, however briefly, will give me a moment, no matter what the situation, to breath, deeper to deeply. Ceasing the steady pull, like those relentless wind chimes, to make noise, make a difference, have an impact, steer the ship, these are the that impulses clutter my day. As it has all summer, Louise Erdrich’s poem, Advice to Myself, calls me to action.

Leave the dishes…..let them be done by someone else, or at least do them later, when the time comes to wash your hands. Double the fun.

Don’t patch the cup….let all those broken parts go, don’t try to hold on to every single moment because the sheer volume will make savoring them impossible. And all of those broken cups become material for Karen’s shard mosaics.

Don’t read anything except what destroys the insulation between yourself and your experience….I read poems and prayers in the morning, I read parts of many books that scour me clean and set me on my path. I don’t read a lot of other stuff like magazines and noisy emails, at least early in the day when my own first thoughts take shape like those cloud ponies. May this post serve to destroy that insulation that silences your fullest self….may it destroy those many manys that keep you from saying yes to whatever it is that calls you. For me, that means endless emails and free newspapers selling used mattresses and magazines that advertise lifestyles that I will never accomplish.

 

 

Permissions Slips 5

Today, on this day before my birthday, I will leave the dishes and write here. I will toss the broken pieces in to a paper sack to deliver to Karen. And I will surrender this habit of too much input.

There is nothing between me and the dragonfly on my eyebrow. There is nothing between the soft gaze of my daughter in early morning making her day known to me. There is nothing between these words and my heart except the time it takes to type. There is nothing between me and my blessings sent to you.

Leave the dishes.

Love what lands.

Happy day before my birthday.

oxoxS

 

 

There is updated information about the Powder Keg Sessions which resume this week at the Ramsdell Library here. Please check it out. Thank you for reading. xo S

What I Am Not Waiting For

Spruce Lake Water Lily

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.

 

Here is the Slow Time Salon on Superior workshop women. We took a lovely walk to the Big Bay Point Lighthouse after lunch.
Here is the Slow Time Salon on Superior workshop women. We took a lovely walk to the Big Bay Point Lighthouse after lunch.

 

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.

Permission Slips 1

 

 

 

There.
Now I shall step off this soapbox and get to that laundry.
All my best,

Suzi

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.

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