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What happens when we map motherhood?

Vintage line-up


a hootenanny
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?

And then, there is me.
Here, a blossoming is going on. There is energy building with the work I am doing.
Here is an interview that I did for Wild Motherhood. Morgan’s questions prompted me to write this prayer:

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.



Ronen sleeps on Sara

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.

Half Heartedness from April 18

This post appeared on April 18. Then, it disappeared. Now, found and returned, it is here.

Hellebores in Central Park April 2012

April 18, 2012 NYC

Have you been kinda wondering where I have been? 
Not to London to visit the Queen, though in this season of hellebores, I love to be in foggy old England, where the climate is just right for this magnificent plant.
No, I am on a college tour with my family.
 We are in New York City right now, where the street art is completely captivating.

Tuesday, Catherine and I toured the Brooklyn Art Library with Karen Arp-Sandel. We met our cyber sister, blogger, artist and yogini Lori Landau, whose blog post in the ‘Out of the Mouths of Babes’ blog series continues to inspire readers. We all have sketchbooks in the library. Do look them up if you find yourself in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. A perfect spot to urban drift.

Tomorrow we are off to the Philly area. I will post all about it, but before I tell you about these days, I have to share the amazing experience I had last weekend as an actor (my first profession, laid aside long ago to be a full time Mom and just recently reengaged with- last weekend was the first time I was on stage in a play in 17 years). I had an absolute blast. As soon as I get the official photos, I will post. Here is one of mine.

The People of Corn rehearse by Laura Badami WAM 24 Hour Theatre Project
The People of Corn rehearse by Laura Badami WAM 24 Hour Theatre Project

I am always collecting things for you to read, like this article. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.
This is a really interesting read if you are counting who, on the TIME magazine’s list of the world’s most influential people of the 30 women are mothers. Read on.
And, here is a Rumi for you to ponder. I am becoming more and more sure that halfheartedness will keep me quiet and unseen. I prefer to be visible. Much easier to create light this way.

Half Heartedness
Gamble everything for love,
if you are a true human being.

If not, Leave this gathering.

Halfheartedness does not reach
into majesty. You set out

to find God, but then you keep

stopping for long periods

at mean-spirited roadhouses.


As April turns to May, I am still savoring the sweet loft that Berkshire Festival of Women Writers has provided for so many women in the Berkshires. This scene of 3 Berkshire authors, Gina Hyams, Mary Pope Osborne and Tracy Mack visiting at our March 2 event of ‘Out of the Mouths of Babes’ is perfect capture of the spirit of our community. Thank you Christina Rahr Lane for these gorgeous photos.

My posts will catch up to me.
I promise.

I’ve Got You, Under My Skin



It is in the air. Sitting at a table this coming Thursday, whether you like it or not, you are part of a community. Riding on the subway. Driving on the Ventura Highway. In line at Joe-to-Go in your rented car. Sitting in an Advent Circle. Floating on the ferry across the Sound. Sitting in an office waiting room. Sitting at the computer in the office of that waiting room.

Our hearts beat in community. There are many solo acts among us, but even they, by virtue of their choices, are a community.

Sometimes you stand alone in Community

Then there is family, which many of us are thinking about this week. Even stinky Uncle Phil, or adorable Nora, these people who burp loudly or reach under the table with a small sweaty hand to squeeze your clenched fist, they are your community.
These are the people who will be standing up at your memorial service to tell how deeply you loved, because, yes, you stood for loving even the difficult to love.

That is what community is about. Loving each other including our difficulties.

My friends in the School of the Womanly Arts are good at community and getting better. If you look at my friend Joanne’s blog, you will see us in Miami last week, looking so happy. We know each other glowing and we know each other in the moments not pictured here, with gales of tears, snot and despair soaking our socks. We have stood for each other through major life passages and celebrate it all.

My family, my little community here under this roof is a bit like an anemone, reaching out tentacles that suck people in. We each, in our appetite for fun, invite friends for movies or dinners or memorial services and these friends show up.
This salves the challenge of friends who live so far away, for whom showing up is not easy. It comforts you when what you need is a good long cry or a talk over the dirty dishes, getting clean, both of you. We create community.

I believe in community. I thrive in it. I rely on it. I live it.

Moon Circle Moon Rise at Antigua by Denise Barack

Six weeks have passed since my Mom died. First, there were the gatherings in Escanaba, where my parents live(d). The Lutheran response to grief is food and for this, I am fortunate. When else would my diet be laced with Scotcheroos for breakfast?

Scotcheroos CBB

There was the service and the people who traveled across the country to be with us. Miles traveled do not earn any badges of honor, but being there does. Whether it was a custodian from one of my Mom’s schools or my Uncle from Colorado, each came to stand with me, my siblings and stepdad in respect for my Mom. I relied on them to help me remember Mom.

Then, back here in Massachusetts, I was pining away like the dog at the door for people with which to grieve. My knitting circle friend urged me to plant my grieving here in my yard with a service and in my town with a notice in the paper. I could not have come to that clarity without her help. Another in my rich circle of friends, community, comes to my aid.

Standing in our yard a week later, with 30 friends talking about Mom, I felt a bit like I was on top of the Empire State Building…looking out over the vista and realizing it was mine. All this sadness and celebration of Mom is mine. I share it with my sisters and stepbrother and Stepdad, but each of us has her own vista. Whoa. I felt dizzy at the real estate.

Now, as the days pass, peppered through my hours are people I can look at who, though they did not know my Mom, they stood in the yard and planted daffodils in her honor. My friend Roger, who is one of the most extraordinary friends available, even adopted my Mom’s favorite song in to his Jestering. Perhaps you will be fortunate one day to hear his rendition of “I Know A Weenie Man”.

Hard to Laugh and Cry while eating a cookie watching my Roger the Jester

This week, I will be with my community. My sisters each have their own plans. We have not gathered as a family at Thanksgiving for years, so my husband and I have settled in to our community family holiday plan which we all enjoy, wrapped in deep love. We will toast our gains and losses of this past year, we will bake pies, and we will remember with each other how to laugh crying and cry laughing.

May your holidays find you celebrating your community.
Even stinky Uncle Phil.

Love, S

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