How worried can I be on a bright sunny cold November day?
My daughter clambered on to a coach bus this morning with her Anatomy class to see an exhibit in New York City. I fixed her a thermos of tea, some snacks and checked to make sure she had her phone and charger, cash and a scarf. She did not wear socks, but some things must be left unsaid.
On any other day, this field trip might only be seen as a day when I can work uninterrupted for many hours, not concerned about who is home and when, what they want to eat or with what they might need help. No, today, my city savvy daughter is with her classmates in the city she’d like to call home, where her brother was born, where I met her father, 25 Thanksgivings ago.
I have to come clean here. I am a championship worrier. If it were an Olympic event, I’d rank. If I could be a Rhodes scholar for worrying, I’d be a top contender. Worry is why I pray. I learned in Al-Anon, “If you worry, why pray. If you pray, why worry?” Never one to single task on anything, I figure I can worry and pray and cover my bases. And yours. And the bus driver’s. And all the cars driving near that coach bus. And everyone on the West Side Highway. And absolutely every single soul in the region of Times Square, right now, with the towers gleaming in the sun, wind blowing through those fresh young faces, just where I stood when I was 24 with Stevie Wonder singing in my head.
“New York. Just like I pictured it. Skyscrapers and everything.”
(This song of Stevie’s is so very prophetic. I quote it lightly for my own purpose here, but had I been able to listen then with the ears of a mother of a son, I would have wept as I do now.)
Then by the kindness of the readings that appear in my inbox in the morning, or that I pour over in the soft early light of morning, I came upon this writing by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes.
“…there can be no despair when you remember why you came to Earth, who you serve, and who sent you here. The good words we say and the good deeds we do are not ours: They are the words and deeds of the One who brought us here. In that spirit, I hope you will write this on your wall: When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But … that is not what great ships are built for.”
-Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes
I nearly nag, but not quite, my son with questions about alcohol consumption at college. I read the statistics, I listen to what other parents talk about, I have ears to our current culture about alcohol and drug use on college campuses. I have sat in the rooms of 12-Step programs for many years. I witnessed my father’s demise with alcoholism. It is the hardest thing for me these days to let that question rest. And yet, I ambush what could be rich conversations with my son, modeling worry instead of compassionate listening. Am I the only one who does this?
“When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But … that is not what great ships are built for.”
I have to rest in the faith that my son and daughter are both great ships, not built to moor at my side for long, but built for the open seas. Our friend Marley Reed is on a sail boat right now. Here is what he saw as they left Chesapeake Bay for the open sea. See that sail?
Brené Brown discusses in Daring Greatly, if I meet my children with a face and heart of worry every time they leave my house, or my hand, or my car, if all I offer them is worry, then I am not seeing them as capable, well formed, great ships built to ply the waters of life. I am giving them the impression that I don’t see them as built for the adventure they each long for and live.
Today, my offering is sandwiched layers of prayer, seeing my children as capable, our cities as safe, our roads navigable, and our country welcoming to all. I slather on the words that Vice President Biden said about not letting terrorism win. I lay in grace and all my children have learned about the subway system, about kindness and about personal responsibility. Then, like a schooner catching the first winds out beyond the mouth of the harbor, they billow forth.
What happens to me, back here in the harbor, is up to me. And that is what my work is all about, what rises forth when I create from my own life experience. The same is true for you, gentle reader.
Please stay tuned here on Laundry Line Divine. Some big changes are up ahead for this website, most importantly, in name. I will be shifting to calling this site by my name and reserving Laundry Line Divine for the book I am completing this year. Your images of laundry lines are still welcomed, especially because I am making a collaborative mosaic collage for the Laundry Line Divine page that will soon be up on this site.
But til then, stay warm. Pray often.
All my love, S
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.
Today’s post continues with the Quest2015 project. It is a set of 12 days with 12 visionaries to imagine my best next 12 months as a business artist. You can learn more about #Quest2015 here and join the free offering by Jeffrey Davis.
Or you can follow along my quest here on Laundry Line Divine. I will post the prompts and my responses here all month. I really enjoy your comments, emails and notes on social media.
Yes, it might be messy. Yes, it might be personal and vulnerable, and yes, I am brave enough to show you my work here on Laundry Line Divine.
Today’s prompt comes from Pam Houston, who is the beloved author of four books including novel Contents May Have Shifted (have you read this yet? please do!) and the interconnected short stories Cowboys Are My Weakness. She is Professor of English at UC Davis, directs the literary nonprofit Writing By Writers, and teaches in The Pacific University low residency MFA program.
Sit quietly and ask yourself, what in the last day or week or month has made your heart leap up? Not what should, or might or always had, but what did. Make that list. Be honest, even if it surprises you. Keep the list with you this month. Add to it when it happens. Train yourself to notice. Then ask your self today, how can I arrange my life to get more of those heart leaps in it?
• When she calls my name
• When there is laughter
• When the popcorn I thought was for me alone, became three batches, one for the two teenaged girls and another my husband’s dinner
• Laundry gusting on the line
• Simple neat stitchings in wool, on silk, in old linen, on the dress I made for myself 21 years ago that I put on today
• The ice
• The owl
• The eagle
• The titmice
• The way he studies them now
• The way she wiped her nose on stage, as a man, in a Shakespearean coat
• The way he calls me just to hear my voice
• That would be me, connected to and in connection with people I love
• Being lost and found in this love, retrieval and permission
• Knowing that I should read page 140 today in three different books and finding a synchronicity, call it serendipity, of learning and insight.
• The promise of ice skating
• Remembering how much I love to ski, even though I am a terrible skier
• Falling asleep holding hands with my beloved
• Knitting, knitting, knitting and then seeing something more than the string, sticks and a plan take place
• Feeling a through line in my work, noticing, perhaps what others see but I am only just discovering and beginning, leapingly beginning to trust that this is my work, not something that will soon arrive when I am ready…. I am ready.
• Seeing my best friend for just a few minutes, but he has grown in to a man from the 18-year-old I met 33 years ago. Such a nice boy.
• Doing yoga…. rotated triangle, crow, plank, watching my palm open up above my head, watching my feet, yielding my heart, bowing to my beloved in class because he, after all these years, has started doing yoga
Woolly comfort in yoga class.
I am staying.
• Seeing my friend’s pottery, knowing him since he was 5, now, an artist.
• Pine boughs
• Taking her to my red oak and sitting there with her
• Texts from my German kids, love notes, postcards, photos from Meine lieben Kinder.
• Old pages of handwriting
• Photographs of my mother
• Fervent comments from my readers on Laundry Line Divine
• My anthology in the hands of other readers
• All my journals lined up in a bag, ready for an exhibit
• Painting and packaging my Powder Keg Sessions painted prompt cards and preparing them to post and then going to the post office. Happy dances in the lobby of the post office.
• Terry Tempest Williams, John O’Donohue, Jeffrey Davis, Danielle LaPorte, Hafiz, Rumi, Debi Millman, Marilynne Robinson, Mary Gaitskill, Jane Hirschfield, Mandy Steward, Hilary Rain, Brené Brown, Tami Lynn Kent, Alice Orr, Tania Pryputniewicz, Alice Munro, Ruth Krauss, Sarah Ruhl, Adrienne Rich, P.K. Page, Natalie Goldberg, Flora Bowley…reading makes my heart leap because things happen between me and the page and the reality of my life. I gain understanding. This makes me leap all over the room, a gazelle of enthusiasm.
• Listening to my Powder Keg Sessions women read their work aloud.
• New women coming to the group.
• The embrace of a woman I taught last summer and the joy we shared
• Sitting in sacred circle with my Moon Circle exploring the deeper essence of gratitude
• Running downhill
• Acorn caps
• My oak and her skirt
• The copper beech up on the ridge
How could I orchestrate my life to have more heart leaps?
Getting out of bed after just the right amount of sleep and socializing.
Speaking my truth even if it makes me quake.
Dreaming bigger and with more language about my work in the world.
Developing excellence with a complete willingness to fail, to be wrong, to wander, and to get lost. Go outside. Every single day.
Even when it is freezing and raining and gray…like it was this morning when I rescued the linen curtains that I left on the line from yesterday’s sun…. there is a crow. There are the titmice. There is the phlox leaning in to the messy garden, but I recall their perfume, their pinkness, and their tall strike of elegance on a September afternoon.
Going outside pretty much keeps most of those heart leaps leaping.
Being present with my family and friends.
Working in a way that supports my well-being and joy. Staying connected…. to my long-time friends who see the difference and to my new friends, with whom I make a difference.
I woke this morning with three words in my heart. Persistence. Betty. Dedication.
Persistence? Showing up to write daily.
Nudging projects along, however slowly they roll, rolling them.
Dedication? Being there to say good-bye and hello, good morning and yes, I cannot wait for you to come home from college, stirring soup, closing my door, lighting the candles…
finding solitude within the fray of family life and creating art from this captured territory this is where and who and what I am dedicated to.
My soul sister Betty sat next to me years ago as I nursed my daughter. Betty had just returned from work in Niger, as part of a United Nations project. She, peace activist and teacher, me, messy, chaos stuck to me like burrs to my ankles. I whined a bit and said, “Your work is so important.” She grabbed me with her words without disturbing the suckling, “The work you are doing right now is the most important work you can do right now.”
I am not sure she said ‘Right now” twice, but in recalling it, I feel the right now-ness of her words. Even today. After that, I quieted down. I settled in to motherhood, learned to live with the burrs, and grew more dedicated.
That baby is now 17 and drives herself to school.
The burrs teach me a lot.
And the heart leaps just keep on leaping.
This tiny video is better full screen. Hit the start arrow then click on full screen. It is only 19 seconds. Worth the clicks.
As part of the Quest2015 project, I have been reading some new blogs. These three have really made my heart leap. Ginny Taylor of Women of Wonder, whose work is to help women heal from the trauma of sexual abuse.
Stan Stewart’s improv poem this morning made my heart leap and urged me to create this list…imperfect as it may be in literary terms, it is more improv than anything. Thank you Stan.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’sWage 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.
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.