They are artfully made to tantalize you to pick them up.
And often, what they contain tantalizes you further.
What is on your summer reading pile?
Jessica Fechtor’s Stir arrived this weekend and today, I baked this cake from the first chapter. You can too, here. Or you can get your own copy of her well-told tale that is punctuated, as those toasted almonds and granulated sugar dot that cake, plentifully, with recipes.
Honesty is the net by which we fish the deep.
I am thinking a lot, a very lot, about attention these days.
The kind of attention where you notice hazel flecks in otherwise brown eyes.
The kinds of attention where you sit watching a stunned small woodpecker regain
it self after smacking in to your porch window, under which you too sit, a bit stunned, trying to regain the same.
The kind of attention that is what I call “hands free living.”
Maybe this will be a perennial topic for me?
Maybe living with kids, who are quickly becoming emerging adults, as my friend Alison Leah Sher names her generation, means that I will be asking for full attention at the dinner table or in conversation. Are you one, like me, who likes to notice the flecks?
Undivided attention is a gift.
Poet Mark Nepo says,
“We can find our place in the beauty of things by the attention we can give.”
I wish he’d been at the dinner table last night.
It was not pretty.
I was not pretty.
But motherhood is like that, right?
I am salvaging myself by writing, reading and sorting out books and linens against the ensuing humidity and navigating the alleys of clothing and gear that are strewn in the hallway upstairs. I know I am not the only mother of a teen and an about to be 21-year-old who have to pick steps from the bathroom to my bedroom. Right? Please tell me I am not the only one.
I spent this weekend studying with the luminous Lisa Sonora, author of the Creative Entrepreneur at my beloved friend Catherine Anderson’s studio in Charlotte, NC. I am hot on the trail of upgrading my work here on Laundry Line Divine, clearing the decks so I can complete my own book this year and offer you, my readers a clearer view of what I do here and in the world.
You know I am devoted to the stories of women, in particular the stories of mothers. My own stories included.
That means, I show up at the page, this one and in my journals, first, before doing other stuff like email and errands and other work stuff pertaining to mothering or teaching. I have to show up here. I have to give myself undivided attention; otherwise I spend the rest of the day botching every single interaction because I am not clear. I have not done the sacred work of connecting with my spirit through writing or painting or whatever else I do that connects me. We each do different practices, but do them we must.
I see this in the Powder Keg Sessions, my writing workshops for women. After thirty minutes or so of centered, quiet writing, no matter what emotional pot was over-boiling the rims of their days, the writers at my table carry forward some truth on to the page that brings tears or laughter or hushed awe when it is read aloud.
Owning our stories is standing in our truth. It’s transformative in our personal and professional lives AND it’s also critical in our community lives. But we don’t think about history as our collective story.
If you are hungry to step towards your inner life with a pen, to journal, please consider Lisa Sonora’s 30 Day Journal project. I am one of the contributors to this free offering. The theme is “In the flow.” Summer is a time when our days are different. Even if our jobs remain steady, our hours are different because the daylight is different. If your house if busy with kids, take a journal for a walk and find a park bench to sit and write for a bit each evening. If you can get out when dark falls, find an open field to watch the fireflies. Carve out some time to wander.
Like Mary Oliver says,
“You too came in to the world to do this. To go easy. To be filled with light and to shine.”
“As a student of writing practice, I should have known better than to look outside myself for the direction of my book. I should have trusted the story was within me.”
I trust that the stories I have to tell are already within me. It takes undivided attention to get to them. That is why I am teaching my Mapping Motherhood class for six days at the International Women’s Writing Guild in Litchfield, CT in late July. Come explore the uncharted territory of your life experience with me with literary and mixed media tools. The summer conference is ripe with wonderful teachers and opportunities for new and experienced writers.
If you are in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, big news. I am offering my Slow Time Salon on Superior in Big Bay on Sunday, August 16. This daylong immersion in writing, art and mindfulness is an intimate visit with your own undivided attention. Then on August 20, I will be giving an artist talk at the Escanaba Public Library about a daily writing practice with a pop-up exhibit of my hand-bound journals and later that day, a writing workshop for women AND men! Stay tuned here for more details on these events.
Here is all my love to you and gratitude for your undivided attention here on Laundry Line Divine. Please share this post with a friend.
PS Tonight is our final Powder Keg Ramsdell Session. We reconvene on September 23. Sunday, June 28, is our final Powder Keg Sunday Session. We meet at noon this Sunday. Keep your ear out for news on these offerings as I will be upgrading them this coming fall.
PPS go find some fireflies, please.
PPPS if you are in the Berkshires, July 7 I am part of this reading event at the Mount.
PPPPS Here is a poem by Taylor Mali titled Undivided Attention.
PPPPPS If you are in the Berkshires, consider attending an evening with Dave Isay of StoryCorps at the Mahaiwe on August 5. More on this in another blog post, but read here for more information.
I have decided to find myself a home
in the mountains, somewhere high up
where one learns to live peacefully in
the cold and the silence. It’s said that
in such a place certain revelations may
be discovered. That what the spirit
reaches for may be eventually felt, if not
exactly understood. Slowly, no doubt. I’m
not talking about a vacation.
Of course at the same time I mean to
stay exactly where I am.
How do you feed your creative spirit when there are diapers to change, dishes to be done, and a thousand little details pulling at you? This is the dilemma of a yearning mom. As human beings tend to do, we moms divide our lives into sections, like oranges. This wedge is parenting, this one is cooking & cleaning, that one represents our creative selves. We divvy things up, prioritizing the “have-to’s” feeling squeezed for quality time. And in immersing ourselves in the tasks, we find ourselves desperate for space to experience more soul in our busy lives. We fall asleep and our dreams are full of longing. And then the alarm rings, or the sick child beckons, or there’s a snow day and broken glass to be cleaned, and our longing is swallowed by the sheer demands of mothering. This is what happened to me, until I realized that I was the only one who could change it, and that whatever change I made would become the juice that ran in the blood of our lives.
***I am sitting on the leather chair in our family room drawing, entranced by the muse, immersed in forming lines to shape eyes and the bridge of a nose when the aroma of burning food comes to me. Distracted, inattentive to anything but the portrait in front of me, full awareness rides the molecules slowly.
The wind is howling outside-the temperature is sliding downward, snow is wheeling through the sky, dropping in the shape of stars.
There was a time when a snow day would mean less time for creativity. But I have restructured the way I approach both parenting and time. Granted, it’s easier to do now that two of my three kids are in college. However I have learned some tricks to make it easier. That’s because the T.S. Eliot line: “we measure out our lives with coffee spoons,” runs through my mind like a warning. Eliot-like, we divide our lives by days, and months instead of focusing on this one moment in front of us. We forget that time is a mystery, that the future is tied up in the choices of the present moment, that time is an illusion, that before we know it we are packing our kids off to college, wondering what happened to their entire childhoods. It’s something we’ve all experienced on a macro-level, for instance, during a Facebook binge, when we sign on to check the latest posts and look up from our computer an hour later, blinking, wondering where the last sixty minutes went.
I have learned tools (meditation) to re-focus on the present moment, and in doing so, stretch it, to find the spaces in-between the moments, to make it more meaningful, to make it last longer.
I have structured my life around my practice, built it in to my home life, rather than relying on somewhere else to nourish me.
Of course, like everything else, I do it imperfectly. Right now, as the snowflakes fall, and my pen moves across the page, I am content to draw as I wait for the chicken that I lovingly drizzled with a marinade of olive oil, lemon, white wine and mustard and sprinkled with herbs to be ready. Yet as I sit, I am unaware that the oven, known to run hot on a good day, is somehow cranked up to 500 degrees, instead of a slow and easy 300.
I can often be found here, in the red shaker rocker in front of the fireplace, or if the fire is throwing off too much heat, in the leather chair set a few feet back from the hearth.
This is the room where I winter. I spend most of the day here in front of the golden fireplace, while the kids come in and out (when they’re all here), where their friends hang out playing chess and pool, where my oldest plays piano and my daughter practices her ballet. Where my middle son reads philosophy and plans meals with me. It’s an inviting space for my husband; we often sit in front of a fire on cold mornings talking over coffee. Or to be honest, he talks and I try to cultivate a little more quiet before the details of the day drag me out of silence.
It’s the first place I go upon waking to do my meditation and drawing practice, and then write a bit before anybody even gets up. It’s where I eat my lunch, and where I sit down to write and read. Everything I need is at my fingertips here except my computer, which I don’t generally keep right in the same area because I don’t want the distraction. It’s the place where I ignore the dirt on the floor from the logs, and the dirty dishes which that I put on the floor next to me as I create.
To be truthful, it is just one of the places in my house that I turn a blind eye to, because if I looked closely enough I would see all of the flaws-I would stir the embers of self-judgment, I would feel compelled to clean instead of make art.
I have been thinking about random things as I draw—the shape of eyes, how red looks when it’s right next to yellowish green, and wondering why so many artists squint when they are drawing. My wandering mind has made me deaf to the subtle alarm going off on a more primal level, but suddenly the smell of charred food reaches critical mass, breaking my reverie and I bolt up and run to the oven. When I get there, a cloud of steam puffs out of the oven door when I crank it open, and when I lift the lid to the brand new dutch oven that I waited three years to buy, I am dismayed to find that the chicken has burnt to black and so has the pot. It’s the kind of thing that can derail my day. A ruined dinner, an unexpectedly sick child, a schedule change. There are times when I let it pull me under when I lose whole chunks of time lamenting things that already happened, things I can’t control, choices that didn’t turn out the way I planned.
In fact now, a thought flares in my mind that I didn’t sign on for this. For the trillionth time as a mom I miss the life I don’t lead: some nomadic existence that involves mountains and travel, oceans and fields, and a lot of silence and meditation. A lot of revelation, the kind that Mary Oliver talks about in her poem. But when it comes right down to it, as much as I dream about meditating on a whim in a peaceful spot where my spirit can touch what it reaches for, I know that I mean to stay exactly where I am. I have learned that this is what monkey mind does. It throws up resistance, tries to convince me that enlightenment is somewhere else, when I have learned that the possibility of it is right here in present moment, in how I respond to what life throws at me, in the choices I make about what’s actually happening now.
It took a long time to realize that, and it’s a practice that I can’t always access. But I spent a lot of years vacillating between gratitude and restlessness, slicing up my insides into quarters, this part of me is mom, this other one is artist, and so on. Over the years I have come to fully understand that as it teaches in the philosophical tradition that I study that “that which gets in my path is my path.” Instead of constantly mediating between the spiritual pull of creative mystery and the mundane demands of mothering, at my best, I remember that they are one. The imperfection of overcooked chicken becomes the perfection of healing chicken soup; broken plans become the pieces of whole day to make art. Everything from my meditation practice to my mothering, to my art and everything else is part of a cohesive, imperfect, glorious whole. I don’t have to wait for “me” time to be me. It is inseparable from family life.
It’s something I came to when my kids were little. I decided to blur the boundaries between the tasks between “mom” and “person.” Sometimes I feel guilty about the dishes in the sink, or the laundry piled on the dryer instead of folded neatly in drawers. If you saw the inside of my linen closet I would be embarrassed. But for the most part I don’t care. If life is short, then I plan to make the most of it. I have a bucket list running in my head, and having a perfect house isn’t on it. Sometimes I have to remind myself to put myself first. That isn’t as selfish as it seems. Putting myself first means prioritizing creativity. It means including my kids in my process.
It means letting things get messy. It means letting my kid smear (washable) paint all over his face, and it means painting his face at four turns into me painting portraits on skin years later, or me reading poems to my toddlers becomes me writing a poem at dinner, turns into my son writing a book of poems in college. It means drawing the sugar bowl and teacup while someone is doing homework because that’s what’s right there, making found poems from the newspaper while a cake is baking, and using the old dried flowers to decorate the cake. It means reminding myself of what I want for not only myself, but for my kids- remembering that I don’t want their lives to be about having spotless homes either. I always figured that if they saw me feeding my soul, they would learn to do the same. And in fact, they have. Because I meditated and did yoga with them, they all meditate now. If I had chased inner serenity in an ashram (not that there’s anything wrong with that,) my kids might not have learned to develop their own practice. If I hadn’t rolled my yoga mat out on the carpet in the bedroom and let them do downward dog right under me, they might not know what it is.
Because I let them paint their faces and draw pictures in my own journal as kids they now keep journals, and draw. Because we listened to music constantly, and because impatient, tapping hands were taught about drumming, they now make music. Because art was offered as balm, as salve, as connective tissue, we all seek it out together and separately.
While I purposely avoided some household arts, like learning to fold a fitted sheet, or folding every pair of socks, I’m not a slob. My house is not chaotic-if it was, I couldn’t create or be organized enough to get my kids where they needed to go. But I have found ways to marginalize housework, yet still get the most important stuff done. Ever since they were able, I included the kids in the housework, so they’d grow up knowing what it’s like to take part in the work of community. I do dishes early in the morning while the oatmeal is burbling on the stove, and start dinner prep just before driving to school. I give myself permission to have “me” time as soon as I get home from drop-off. I give myself permission to leave piles of books of counter-tops, dirty glasses on dressers and beds unmade for days at a time. In other words, I put my own oxygen mask on first so that when things get challenging, I can breathe.
There are times when it doesn’t work and the tasks pile up and I feel overwhelmed by the lack of organization and the sheer demands of it all. But I have learned to use that tension as creative fuel. I carry a notebook with me and make the most of in-between times. I jot down ideas while on line for school pick-up, draw portraits on napkins in restaurants, write down three small observations about what’s happening around me that later get folded into poems or blog posts. I make lists and set intentions early in the morning, and then hold myself to it. Now that my kids are 21, 18 and 15, I look back and think that if I had it to do all over again (and oh, how I would love to)! I would let more dishes sit, let more clothes go unfolded, keep the “shoulds” at a minimum. I would spend even more time outdoors, lying on the grass with my kids and talking about the stars, more time melting crayons to make candles, more time counting the raindrops and looking closely at flowers.
There’s a saying in yoga that you need to root to rise. Being a vibrant, spiritual, creative mom is what roots me, it’s my mountain. But I’ve come to learn that it’s also what makes me rise, what makes me see that everything I need is right here, where I am. Are you following me?
Please find Mary Oliver’s poem here.
Lori Landau is an artist, photographer and writer who uses a variety of mediums to explore the nameless force that seeks connection between self and other. She is intensely engaged in the hidden emotional structure of things, and her work investigates the poetry of the ordinary, the tension and soul that’s concealed beneath the obvious surface. Landau views her pen and her camera as a third eye, to intuit what she cannot put into words, and as an ear to listen deeply to what often remains unsaid.
We do not exist in a vacuum.
But you knew that right?
You emerged from a place.
You arrived in a place.
And you are, where you are, right now, here with me.
Maybe you read this in a café, alone with many.
Maybe you read this in your home, with many, never truly alone.
Maybe you read this while nursing. Never ever alone.
Maybe you read this alone in your house, lights out, tea steaming, middle of the night wondering what could possibly be made of your life when the sun rises.
When I floated the theme for Out of the Mouths of Babes: An Evening of Mothers Reading to Others, I had no idea how hard the topic would be. I asked women to write for my live event and for this blog series here on Laundry Line Divine on the topic of
the Village: Who else is here while you mother?
I addressed the question my self and began writing what seems rather tip-of-the-icebergish. I wrote on. I pondered. I have a running list of questions and topics that will easily keep me busy for a long while. But it was hard to begin. And sad. And humbling. I remembered things I’d wished had stayed forgotten. I remembered people that I wish I hadn’t forgotten. And I begin to look at the world with new eyes.
Whenever a topic like this floats in to my life, a huge lens peers in to my world. I find myself in uninitiated conversations with surprising people, hearing them say things that answer questions I have not asked yet. The world around me starts serving me medicine, soul food-for-thought that urges my heart open a little wider, zooms my mind wider, and allows me to see how The Village is a concept and a desire, but also a standard that we let slip past us on our way to the bank. We step over ways of being for the sake of time and efficiency and avoid discomfort or eye contact and what do you know? Five years go by and you haven’t stopped over to see that friend who you know could use an in-person visit, but you are too darn busy with your life to manage that.
But you take chances, small chances and tiny steps which cause time to open up. My friend Julie Jordan-Scott describes this flowering of time in her post about synchronicity. She stepped up to granny-sit her toddler grandchild, endured the disassembling of her schedule and learned a new wonderful thing about the elasticity of time.
Being in a Village takes time. Being a solo-act is much quicker and more efficient. You don’t bake as many cookies because there are no drop-offs or love-notes or donations to the family with the flu down the street. I write all this not to admonish you. I write to admit it to you. I am as lousy a Villager as the worst among us. I do a lot. I do. But there are visits I haven’t gotten too. I find it enormously convenient that our home phone line is disabled so certain phone calls that might interrupt my evening don’t make it through. My Village is vivid and active, but after many years of being a vital part of my kid’s school community, I have stepped away from that neighborhood of my Village. I am relieved about that. Fewer pesky potlucks, picnics and food chains for families in need.
But, is that a good thing?
The scientific evidence in the past 10 years has mounted in favor of social interaction as an integral part of our health, happiness, and problem-solving capacity. Playing cards once a week with friends correlates with better health and longevity. Regular karaoke practice, too. -Jeffrey Davis
I turn to my colleagues to listen.
I invite a friend in for tea.
I receive a fresh blog post from Tania Pryputniewicz that speaks to the cohesion she and I experience as both of our hearts get torn in to so much confetti while we raise young women in to this brave new world.
I think the Village has less and less memory the more our villagers plug into global stuff versus local stuff. The more mobile people are, the less plugged into their own village they are.
What about you? Do you feel locally connected to a Village? Does Instagram know more about you than your brother? Is it easier to be friendly on Facebook, but you avoid eye contact with that person at the Big-Y?
Perhaps your Village has changed as your kids grow up? Maybe the elders have died. Maybe there is a vulnerable step ahead for you as you make new friends, set up a card game with new neighbors or invite someone to tea whom you haven’t spent time with before. I am so impressed with my online friend, Laurie Buchanan, who has relocated to a community states away from her home and how she is building her Village up again.
When I read the thread of comments on an OnBeing blog post covering the wickedly sad murders of three Muslim students in North Carolina this past week, I was struck by the vindictive things people said about where attention goes when hate crimes like this happen. A hate-crime like this draws our sympathy while there are thousands of crimes that occur daily, which rouse little sentiment in the wider Village of our world. I have been holding that story in my heart- three students dedicated to social change, to making a positive difference in the world, only to be brutally murdered by their neighbor. And yes, I am aware of the many murders that happen daily, if not in such detail, but I know that tragedy is a regular feature in this world.
In a comment on the another OnBeing post, Parker Palmer wrote this, which could be considered a prayer for a Village.
I’ve tried to develop the kind of X-ray vision that can see the invisible challenges so many people face — and then respond accordingly, from the heart.
We are in this Village together here.
Global and local.
The Village that includes my neighbor down the street whom I haven’t seen in-person for over four months.
And it includes the families of the Muslim students.
It also includes the gunman, the flamethrowers, the bombers and the high-jackers.
It includes the mothers of the Chibok girls, the families in Syria, Turkey, Afghanistan and Somalia.
What is your heart ready for?
On our tiny spin round this green globe, we get to have and hold a whole lot of love. We get to decide where our attention goes and who gets the best of us. We get to make a difference, no matter how tiny. We get to see that batch of ginger molasses cookies as setting in motion a tiny ripple that may one day reach Chibok or reach the sister you haven’t spoken to in fifteen years.
Who is in your Village?
What defines your Village?
What is missing in your Village that you have in great supply?
How might you offer yourself to the greater good, to be a vital part of your Village?
I am going to be pondering these things, like Mary, in the Bible verse I love so much, about “taking these things in to her heart and pondering them.” I am going to be baking. And making. And writing.
I am hosting an event this coming Sunday that expands my Village. This Sunday at No. Six Depot in West Stockbridge, from 2 PM- 4 PM, 13 women from my two writing workshops will be sharing new writing that they have worked on in the Powder Keg Sessions. If you find it hard to believe that 13 women writing from their own life experience could have an impact on anything grand, please read my friend Jan Phillips’ Huffington Post piece here.
Though I have no singular solution, I would travel days to sit at the common table with citizens invested in a different future. We could admit together what is not working: a patriarchy where women’s voices and authority are devalued. There’s a start.
I value women’s voices.
I welcome the difficulty of talking about the Village.
I willingly admit I could do better.
Beginning with this New Moon, which I learned ushers in the Year of the Sheep- an animal that can only move forward, I invite you– heck- consider this your permission slip to ponder your Village.
I hereby christen the Year of the Sheep on Laundry Line Divine as
the Year of Permission to Move Forward.
Tania’s post goes live here tomorrow.
More will arrive in the upcoming days from writers across the country.
If you want to join us for the March 7 live event, go here for details.
If you want to offer a blog post on this topic, here are the submission guidelines.