I have been away all week in a most beautiful location in the Catskill Mountains, Mohonk Mountain House, which is a very popular place at this time of year. The fall colors are peaking and on the ridge of the Schawangunk Mountains, the vistas are remarkable.
Every morning my wise mentor, Jeffrey Davis of Tracking Wonder, meets all who care to, at 7:00 AM out in dawn’s early light for a walking meditation out to a cliff. We sit to watch the sun reach over this ridge and in to the valley west of us. Every morning this week has been different. We have watched the golden leaves turn more golden. The reds have come out in the sugar maples. This dense diverse forest is rich in hardwoods so the path is full of differently shaped leaves. We hear Crows, Chickadees and Chipping Sparrows. The squirrels and chipmunks startle as we pass, even when we are a silent string of women walking in step single file, gently closed fists clasped over our bellies, eyes cast on the path before us. After a certain point, Jeffrey claps the signal that we can lift our gaze and walk at our own pace. Yesterday, steps after lifting our eyes, there was a double rainbow right in front of us.
It has been a week soaked in wonder.
I am here working on my book, Laundry Line Divine. I made important headway on this work that has carried me along since I started writing it 7 years ago. I think I can see the book as a whole now.
What came through most clearly to me this week as we worked on story structure and looked at aspects of our work in the world as business artists is this. The fullness of what you have come to recognize as Laundry Line Divine stands for the value of every woman’s life, no matter where she is on the spectrum of motherhood, no matter what age, no matter where she lives. As I read segments of my book to the gathered company last evening, I sensed resonance in a way that ears sense sound. I felt heard by the variety of women in the room, heard and listened to. For a writer, this is a sweet sweet thing.
The conditions of every woman’s life require some consistent elements and one that I believe is key to our well being is time. Sufficient time in solitude, out of the range of our myriad responsibilities, enough time to fill our inner wells. The work I do in the world, as an artist and writer, as a teacher and workshop facilitator, as a mother and wife, is all tied to tending time and how we spend it, as a family and as singular beings. My commitment to my daily creative practice shapes the way I spend time. It also impacts what I teach, what I make and how I make it, whether it is plum jam, dinner or a hand bound journal.
Another woman on this writing retreat, Donna Druchunas, of Sheep to Shawl, doodled while she listened. We peeked in to each other’s journals. These illustrations are hers.
We are makers, all.
Donna doodled while she listens. She knit too.
I hope this weekend finds you with time outside, in golden fall, if it is happening where you live. Or just simply with time to do what feeds you, even a short time will do. And if, like me, you have a mountain of wash to hang, take it outside in the fresh air. I assure you, the time will bring you joy.
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.
As a mother, you wake up with what-ifs in the middle of the night when the kid with the cold is suddenly sleeping quietly after hours of coughing and wheezing. You wake up from a surprising sleep you didn’t expect to get, and the what-ifs are sitting on your chest. You get up and stand over that child, watching her breathe, holding your own breath so that nothing, not even the soft purr of your relief, would disturb her rest. What-ifs are the thoughts that inch you towards answers that are founded in your instinct, where your soul sends messages in the form of questions.
What-ifs sound the alarm of potential change. What-ifs are where innovation and dreams meet. Depending on the setting they can be equally exhilarating as terrifying. It depends on where you are standing. They are what edge you off the cliff and into the gleaming waters of Superior, feet first, slicing in to water so cold that it takes no effort to clamber up the rocks to do it again.
In to Superior
Back to the cliff
People found businesses that begin with the question, “What if…?” During July, I continue with my pack at Tracking Wonder with #Quest2015 and consider what dares me to excel. This inquiry dovetails with the question that Lisa Sonora posed to me last weekend in her Creative Entrepreneur workshop when I wallowed in my feeling of being too much, too many diverse offerings, doing too many things or not enough…. just general NOT ENOUGHNESS which is a place I have dwelled for years upon years…. Lisa looked at me, paused, as she does, and said, “What if you got even bigger? Gigantic? What would happen if you got enormous?”
My immediate response was to laugh and cry at the same time. I did not expect to feel myself expand with a question like this, as if my presence just popped out a few inches from my body and I was, suddenly, without effort, bigger and okay with this new ground. Then today, Jeffrey Davis of Tracking Wonder posed this question to the band of business artists who are working with his free offering, Dare To Excel: “What is my burning question of possibility?”
I can string together a whole lot of questions, but if I strip myself down to the inner layers of my personal and professional quest here on Laundry Line Divine I come to this:
What if I fully unmask my creative fertility first?
(I am not quite comfortable with the “First” part, but I think it is necessary. See that it is not in the collage I made? First feels selfish. More on that in a bit.)
I wove Lisa and Jeffrey’s questions together and realized something true. What if I unmasked my creative fertility first? I would have to release my fear of being too much and dare to be enormous, gigantic, an AMAZON of creative practice. The first time I encountered the word “Amazon” in reference to a woman, was in Wisconsin, at my Aunt Johanna and Uncle Bill’s home. I am eleven maybe. I cannot recall the conversation, but some comment was made about my size and Aunt Johanna said something about “we Amazons.” All I recall is the flush of secret pride at being linked to elegant her. What if I let myself be an Amazon of Creative Practice?
So often in my workshops I hear women say that they feel taking time for their writing or artwork or to go slowly and rest is indulgent and selfish. There are days when I feel the same way. I hide out in a certain way, at home and alone, so that the expectations I hold of the world’s judgment on my relative productivity and contribution to the betterment of the planet go unheard. If you really saw me, back here on my porch in my pajamas, painting and writing, making messy collages and beautiful books, would you think I am worthy of this time? Am I doing anything of value? Does what I do matter? Is this art? Who cares what a mother has to say? I wrestle these questions to the ground every single day. Sometimes, I wrestle them in the person of one of my kids or my friends who don’t quite get what I am up to. There are many people who wonder if anything I am doing is really contributing to the welfare of my family and my world. They see me as a woman supported by her husband so she can natter around with paints now that her kids don’t need a ride to soccer and they know how to cook their own eggs.
Need I go on with all of those damning, silencing questions? I know you are all too familiar with them and have your own roster of self-limiting beliefs that shutter your own creative response to being a woman.
That is why I stand for you in this question: What if I fully unmask my creative fertility first? I know that I cannot lead another where I have not myself gone. All teaching I do would be hollow and useless, if I did not know the smell of those wolves at the door, baying about my behavior and what the hungry world needs from me, now, right now.
I know that a woman’s creativity remembers her to her soul.
I know that when I start there, amazing transformations happen-within my family life, within my expressive life, within my community life.
Lisa’s writing prompt today for her 30-Day Journal project flowed from this:
“When you do things from your soul,
you feel a river moving in you, a joy.”
My creative practices make me very happy. Creating signature experiences for women to discover their own creative practice is what I do. I teach, I write, I respond to my own experience as a woman and mother. What I do, you see here on Laundry Line Divine. What I you can partake in at Mapping Motherhood at the International Women’s Writing Guild in July. What I do, you can do with me at Slow Time Salon on Superior in Big Bay, Michigan on August 16 or in Escanaba, Michigan on August 20. What I do and have done within my family life, creative, domestic and wild, you will read in my upcoming book, Laundry Line Divine: A Wild Soul Book for Mothers.
All of this requires bravery. That is why I answer my longing for community by creating it, participating in it, forging collaborations and connections in real time and online to remind me that I am not alone.
Living in to this question, “What if I fully unmask my creative fertility first?” requires me to run right past selfish and in to the river of joy that is here at my feet. What happens next, you will be among the first to know.
So glad it’s summer,
Okay. I am leaping. Here is my first audio blog post. Let me read to you here. You can upload this to your iThingy and take me in the car with you.
The edge of spring is showing beneath the hemline of winter. All along the south side of my house where the snow has melted, green shoots persist despite the blowing cold temperatures today.
As do I persist with the Out of the Mouths of Babes blog series and digesting our event on March 7. And just as those shoots promise the gifts of crocus and daffodil, I promise you a small gift.
Today is a great day for a gift, right? It is my yoga teacher’s birthday today.
I am updating my mission here on Laundry Line Divine with the soulful guidance of Jeffrey Davis and his Tracking Wonder team. They are urging me to be clear and clearer about my mission here with this website and with my work in the world. My work has resembled my knitting basket with many half-completed multicolored projects, a complicated sock on five needles and scraps of yarn from old projects that I just cannot toss.
I am tossing.
I am setting aside projects that can wait.
I am writing my book Laundry Line Divine: A Wild Soul Book for Mothers.
And I am cleaning up this website so that you, my beloved readers, can enjoy my work, the work of the Out of the Mouths of Babes tribe, and explore my offerings.
Here is my latest, slated for April 18 in Charlotte, NC.
If you are in the Berkshires, pencil in May 17, for a soon-to-be-revealed event.
The following is the piece I read at Out of the Mouths of Babes: An Evening of Mothers Reading to Others on Saturday, March 7, 2015 at Dewey Memorial Hall as part of the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers. This is Ilana’s gift, since she was sick on this evening. Read on. Your gift comes at the end.
A Village: which originates between your legs
Human life begins in a fish state, this queer divine dissatisfaction that stays with you for nine months until you give birth. Little did I expect, when I was expecting, that I was bringing to life a conversation piece. As I spread my thighs and felt pain like no other pain, I opened a channel for a commerce of connection that developed a village around it without any effort.
My midwife. There she was on the other side of the stirrups in her green hospital robe. I cannot recall her face at this moment but I do hear her voice, feel her hands on my legs and the authority she brought to the room. And my husband, who without being the one to birth, stood and stands closer to me than any other on this ride of motherhood.
We were, in that delivery room, hammering stakes into the ground, marking the spot that would ever be known as our Village. From one to two to three to four and before you know it we had all the things a village needs, water, food, and people to eat it. At that moment in time, the area code of our village was 212. We began, there, at St. Vincent’s, which is no longer on 7th Avenue and Greenwich, our own Village.
When my mother-in-law, originally a 212 and no matter how many palm trees swayed over her 561, she was 212 through and through, gave me a copy of Hillary Clinton’s book, It Takes a Village, I had two small children in my arms. I looked at the signed front page. I hefted the book, as if in holding it I could glean it’s wisdom, and put it on a shelf to be read another day. Or year. But by the time I got to it, I was no longer interested in what Hillary had to say about a village raising a child. I was living in that Village and didn’t need to know more.
We stayed in Manhattan for a year and a half with a small baby in a very small apartment. For a while we were buoyed in the bliss new baby brought in to a group of friends who were all on the verge of their own first children. Our friends held Ben, cooed and caressed him, gave us breaks and dinner and promised to be with us for the long run. They stood and sang at his naming ceremony, which we held in the back yard of the tiny house we bought over in Hillsdale, New York. We were making a break from Manhattan a weekend at a time. We sang and dabbed water from Bish Bash Falls on Ben’s broad forehead and ate bagels and lox from H&H on Broadway and 74th Street. We were still 212s.
But in the following year we fully planted ourselves, some lilacs and all of our belongings in to that tiny little house on a very quiet road and moved our Village to the country. My husband set up his office in the living room, closed the double doors and commenced to make our living while Ben and I strolled up and down that quiet road watching blue birds, hawks, herons and tractors. Lots of tractors.
But not many Villagers. We found Jack in the Pulpit in the spring along the road. We watched the pond clear of ice and hundreds of geese arrive. We fed the chickadees and watched a tall old pear tree burst in to blossom that first spring. Ben and I were adventurers discovering a different way of life from the gritty playgrounds and noisy restaurants where a set of four one-year olds smeared hummus over everything and my group of mothers who were all taking a break from our chosen professions to be full-time moms, calmed our worries and looked for common ground beyond diapers and teething.
May I mention here how lonely that country road was? Ronnie, the farmer down the road was fine with us watching him work. Jonathan and Ben became very familiar with the variety of tractors, trucks and tools Ronnie kept in his many barns. But the rest of the neighbors were second homeowners only up on weekends, or retired teachers who had no interest, not one ounce of interest in this woman trolling the dirt road for hours at a time.
We started to attend the Mommy and Me playgroup at the Methodist Church. My heart leapt at the possibility of meeting new women. FRIENDS! I showed up early, helped set up, found Ben a truck to play with and then sat down at the coffee table.
Week after week, I would arrive with the same enthusiasm and no one would talk to me. Ever. I sat there studying the backs of the Shopper’s Guides and newspapers they read and talked over to each other. I sipped my tea slowly and started bringing a book to read, just to keep myself from crying.
It was not so easy moving to the country after all.
One neighbor, a beautiful petite woman who lived where our road teed with 22, stopped to visit one afternoon. She had a daughter with a child near in age to Ben. She invited us to tea in hopes of cultivating a potential friend for the day her grandson would visit. We struck up a friendship, this woman and I. She is a well-known actress and chef. Jonathan and I cooked food from a cookbook of hers and served it to her before we realized exactly who she was. We were naive to her celebrity and selfish with her attention. I visited often enough to confess to her just what the Mommy and Me sessions were like. I cried in to the tea she served me in cups so fine I feared the bulk of me would crush them just by holding them gingerly on my knee. I was so full of grief and loneliness, admitting it to someone, anyone who would look me fully in the face, gave me an ocean of comfort. But what she said has stayed with me even more.
“Susanna, (for she has the most elegant lilt to her mango flavored speech) you will always be a “212”. ”
I was too dumb with the admission I had made to understand her.
“Yes, my dear, you will always be a “212” here in Hillsdale. These women see you as a New Yorker. Keep trying my dear, and you will find a friend.”
So area codes did really matter after all.
I took this fine woman’s advice and turned my steering wheel north. I started going to Pittsfield once a week to a playgroup up there. I shopped slowly at the Big Y or the Coop in Great Barrington, lingering in the produce aisle, asking women with kids in their carts where they took their kids to play. Someone, thank you for this angel for I have forgotten her face, but not her advice, sent me to Lake Mansfield. There, on the shores of that sweet great pond as it truly is classified here in the “413”, I met a woman and her son by virtue of the pretzels logs we shared with them one afternoon. She and he became the first in what has now become a verdant Village sprung up around the Lake and this town and my family.
Turn to your neighbor. Most of us are 413s here, right? Raise your hand if you are or were a 212. How about a 517? How about 718? How about 973? Any 906s? That is the area code of my homeland and when I find another 906, things start to happen to my accent.
Once I had more than my immediate, albeit tiny, family gathered round, like kindling adds to a nubile fire, things started happening. We lived another year in our house in Hillsdale; weathered the loss of a pregnancy and a Halloween where the only knock on our door came from a car full of kids who were dropped off at the end of our driveway. I scoured the pages of my own darn copy of the Shopper’s Guide and one day, there was an ad for a house for sale by owner.
By this time, Ben had graduated up to drinking cow’s milk. The axle of my days spun around how much milk was in the fridge, where to get milk, what time I’d have it by and when in relation to his long afternoon nap would the milk arrive. (This intellectual exercise kept me only partly occupied. The rest of my mind was sure there was more to motherhood than milk.)
When I pulled up to visit the house I’d found pictured in the Shopper’s Guide, there were two bottles of High Lawn Farm milk delivered on the front porch. It did not matter to me what the house looked like, what the heating costs were or who lived next door, I was sold on the house by the milk delivery. We bought the house within a week. The owners removed the ad from the Shopper’s Guide and our life in Great Barrington began.
This piece is sweetened by the surprise of meeting my midwife, one of my original Villagers, Cynthia Casoff Henry here in town the other day. She lives here now.