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The Village: Lori Landau

The Spirit of Creativity and Mothering

I have decided

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.

Are you following me?

-Mary Oliver

Penguin Books; Reprint edition (September 24, 2013)

 

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.

My perch in front of the fireplace by Lori Landau
My perch in front of the fireplace by Lori Landau

***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.

 

by Lori Landau
Portrait in the journal I keep by the fireplace photo by Lori Landau

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.

 

by Lori Landau
where ritual meets habit Meditating at home photo by Lori Landau

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.

 

My (now 21-year old) son who was allowed—even encouraged—to use himself as a canvas
My (now 21-year old) son who was allowed—even encouraged—to use himself as a canvas

 

by Lori Landau
Drawing on skin portrait (drawn on my daughter’s foot) and photo by Lori Landau

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?

by Lori Laudau
Cake? by Lori Landau

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

The Village: Why is this so hard to write about?

The Crew on Long Pond

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.

Icy ice

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.

-Lydia Littlefield

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?

Never ending shoveling
Heave-ho, snow snow snow.

 

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.

-Parker Palmer

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.

–Jan Phillips

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.

 

#fromwhereistand Sheep shearing with Janet and Bart. XoS

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.

Out Blog Series Submission Guidelines 2015

Leave me a comment.
Do you have a regular in-person Village life?

Thankful that you are here, at the Laundry Line,

S

 

This poem offers a question or two.

 

 

The Upside of My Dark Side: Difficult Riches

 

Campo Bust

Day Six in the Quest2015 posts and it’s getting dark in here.

Is it just me or is it the holidays?

I crave the dark at this time of year, so this prompt fits right in.

Get a cup of tea. This is a long one.

 

What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life?
The world would split open.

Muriel Rukeyser

 

 

 

Which emotions do you feel most guilty about having?

 

 

 

 

We invite you to take a closer look. We think that you can gain more from accessing the full range of your emotions. You don’t have to avoid discomfort to live a meaningful and engaging life.

Dr. Todd B. Kashdan & Robert Biswas-Diener from The Upside of Your Dark Side

 

 

I grew up in a home with an alcoholic father.

Story goes that on my parent’s wedding day, my Mimi told her new daughter-in-law, “Thank goodness someone else can take care of him now.”

 

This poisonous truth seeped in to what became my home long before I was conceived, but writing that sentence makes my belly ache.

 

This does not have to be a post about alcoholism does it?

Can I just give you the website for Al-Anon and be done with it?

 

The onus of caring for my father became one of my mother’s many responsibilities. I learned early to care for myself and to help with my three younger sisters. I learned that we did not speak about what was confusing or painful, that we just, “paddled our own canoe.” As a kid, I had no choice. We lived around and within my father’s illness, for that is what I now consider chronic alcoholism. The fragrance of beer was as familiar to me as the smell of the liquor store on Clark Street, a dank bouquet refrigeration, cardboard and vodka, mixed in with floor cleaner and matches.

 

Vintage postcard

 

The culture of my family was one of isolation. We belonged to each other and the ship was always in danger of sinking. (Boat metaphors are a constant in my life. I grew up on the Great Lakes. We nearly lost our lives on a boat. Story to follow.) In her book Daring Greatly, Brené Brown describes culture as “the way we do things around here.” I learned that the way we did things at home was to bear up no matter what. And what could take some pretty drastic proportions.

 

There are many difficult riches in the shadow side.

John O’Donohue

 

I learned valuable lessons as a result of growing up with alcoholism.

  • First, I learned that Al-Anon is an absolute lifesaver and if the holidays are activating your emotions about your behavior or of your family members, then please get to a 12-Step meeting.
  • The second thing I learned is that I always have a choice to do things differently.

 

If I am to answer this prompt honestly, I feel guilty about loathing having to stop my life to take care of other people, particularly people who are sick. The stories I have to tell about my growing up are many. But the overriding emotion of resentment I have had about caring for others is something I have dealt with in Al-Anon and therapy and many other healing modalities. During my children’s young years, I had little conflict with them and illness. They were so lushly dependent on my husband and me, even when they did silly things like jumping off radiators and landing on their heads, I did not get triggered. But as they have grown and my devotion to my creative work has increased, this resentment has paid me a visit.

 

 

Afraid that others might find out?

 

You’d think I’d be over all of this, right? This is what I fear you might know about me. I still wrestle with the weight of having to care for others, even my own kids. This isn’t an all the time thing. But, the weight catches me, poisons a moment when I might reach out in care, but instead resent the responsibility. And then, I have a chance for change.

 

Yesterday, real life served me a cocktail stuck with two swizzle sticks of inspiration that made me know that I still have room to grow.

Yesterday, my 17 year old was laid up with a lapful of homework and menstrual cramps, normal run-of-the-mill physical symptoms that most overwhelmed young women have today. My foray in to resentment did not last long after I read this post from Matt Licata:

 

 

When you sit with a friend in pain,
when their world no longer makes sense;
when confusion rages and
no rest is to be found.

Just for a moment,
will you resist the temptation
to make things better,
to reassure them,
to provide answers,
even to heal them?

Will you offer your stillness, your listening,
your presence, and the warmth
of your immediacy?

Will you hold them in your heart,
with the same tenderness
of a mother holding her little one?

Will you embrace them where they are,
without needing them to change or transform
according to your own needs and schedule?

Will you stay close,
holding your own impatience
and discomfort near?
Will you look into their eyes
and see yourself?

Will you stay in the inferno of healing
with them, trusting in disintegration,
knowing that you are only witnessing
the falling away of an old dream?

Sometimes in doing nothing
everything is undone,
and love is revealed to be
the only true medicine.

- Matt Licata and Jeff Foster

I took Matt and Jeff’s words as tickets to the possibility.

 

“Will you embrace them where they are,
without needing them to change or transform
according to your own needs and schedule?
I let her be. I inquired. What I gave to her in time and juices and tea and ideas were offered with a loving heart. And she asked me for nothing more. We talked a little about cramps. My husband went out for Midol and gave her a heating pad before he left for yoga class. He made sure we had soup set up for lunch.

As I sat on my mediation pillow listening to him pad around the house a memory appeared like a livery insides of a lake trout. My father on such a December day before the holidays, I am 13. I have my first menstrual cycle and am supposed to go swimming at a pool with my Lutheran youth group tomorrow. I am sewing a red poplin dress for Christmas on my treadle sewing machine in my bedroom, which is plastered with Monkees posters. I walk to the corner store to get tampons having never purchased such exotic items before. They are far out of my reach. I stand with my nose stuck to the display of paperback romances, edging my eyes over the tops of the thick lascivious looking novels wondering if I have the courage to ask the kid behind the counter for help.

I don’t.

So later, my Dad went out for them. He brought the box of tampons in to my room, where he touched my shoulder. I stayed bent over the sewing machine, not yielding to acknowledge his blessing on the day. I went swimming after church on Sunday.

This is perhaps my only memory of my father giving direct attention to my actions when not perfumed with beer and wine. Brené Brown says, “We cannot give people what we don’t have.” During my childhood, my parents did not have a sense of faith or belonging to give me. The safety I felt was won from desperation. The belonging I felt was just this side of isolation, of hiding in plain sight.

Neither of my parents spoke to me about my menstrual cycle. Yesterday at my house stands in stark contrast to my upbringing. In my parent’s home, we did not talk about things like near-miss tragedies or grave mistakes; we did not talk about adventures that turned out to be dangerous and stupid endeavors. One might say my parents were brave, leaving the society of their combined 14 siblings in the Chicago area in 1968 and finding a home for us in a new, very small town where there were no people of color and only 3 Jewish families. They took big risks. On our first Memorial Day weekend in the U.P. my father piloted his fishing boat with his newly won operator’s license around the entire Upper Peninsula of Michigan. His only crew was my not nautical mother and three girls under 10 years old. It was a trip that nearly cost us all of our lives.

And it was something we never, ever spoke of, even after surviving a gale off Whitefish Point in the same waters where the Edmund Fitzgerald went down. When we arrived at the fishery where we sought safe harbor, the people there were surprised to meet us alive.

I grew up with silence around every important event. I learned to skulk around the house to eavesdrop on my mother’s phone conversations with her sisters. Long distance, so they were short calls, but potent. 190 proof. I learned things by standing quietly behind closed doors. I read the emotional weather of our family and dressed accordingly.

I held that memory as I heard my husband leave the house. Then I asked myself, what is different in my life today that provides this reality for my daughter? What has changed in my life?

The culture of our family is, “We belong to one another. We show up. We are in this together. And we will make time for each other, even if that looks different from what other people do. We may do things differently than other people, but we’ve thought about it and this is how we roll here.” And most often, that is together.

Later yesterday, after the Midol and heating pad had done the trick, we had dinner together. Without any baiting on my part, the conversation turned to the question of how technology has impacted real life. The discussion bears telling, but not here, not right now. What does bear repeating is that as we asked how texting has changed our lives directly, we got to share how different it is for my husband and me to talk with our children, to have a sense of who they are and when we are needed. The conversation led to our daughter understanding in a historical context how we have crafted a life with conscious choice about the culture of our family.

“Our stories define us. They affect our well being, our relationships, our present and our future. They are vehicles of energy, vessels of possibility. They contain infinite potential and we can harness light and power from the experiences of our lives. Every ordeal we have suffered holds some treasure for us. Every catastrophe has stripped us of something and given us something. The nakedness, we know. The gifts are yet to be unearthed. According to Hannah Arnedt, the story reveals the meaning of what would otherwise be an intolerable event.”

from Jan Phillips on Huffington Post

 

Housatonic Cross Collage by Suzi Banks Baum

 

How could you spend this year trying to be open to the emotional window that allows you to be courageous?

 

I will be open to the emotional window that owns my childhood, grieves the toxic silence that still resides in me, but finds tonic in the way I live today, tonic in my open heart.

It is the window that allows for the hassle of parenting, of living in close proximity to others who get sick, who have cramps, who need lunches made or doctors appointments, who need college tuition paid and tires rotated and prayers and petitions for safe passage lit onto one thousand sacred candles and traffic lights.

I live this close to my kids because I know the emotional wasteland that exists for some. I live this wary of alcoholism because I know the rampage it lays waste to in the very best lives. I live this openly because I know you have stories too.

Mary Oliver’s poem arrived in my lap today. This line speaks to me of memory and of what we learn from asking hard questions like these and making room for the answers, no matter how uncomfortable those might be.

 

believing in a thousand
fragile and unprovable things,

 

~Mary Oliver

 

I believe in the value of real life.

I believe it is fragile and irrefutable.

I believe that we get to make different choices than our parents made and often, those choices are a result of our own hard work and willingness to heal.

I am thankful for taking this long look at my darker side. Thank you Todd Kashdan. (Click to tweet this if you like.)

Thankful for you letting yourself in for this long read.

My Quest mates have been brewing some brave posts.

 

Tania’s is here. Saundra’s is here. Ginny’s is here.

And Stan provides the soundtrack.

 

 

What about your dark side? I always appreciate your comments and sharing.

xoS

 

 

You can learn more about Quest 2015 here. Here is more about Todd Kashdan, who stopped me in my tracks with this prompt. And so glad he did!

A central figure in positive psychology, Todd Kashdan is author of The Upside of Your Dark Side: Why being your whole self – not just your good self – drives success and fulfillment (Hudson Street Press) with Dr. Robert Biswas-Diener as well as Curious? Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life (Harper Collins). He heads up the Laboratory for the Study of Social Anxiety, Character Strengths, and Related Phenomena at George Mason University and travels the globe to speak to business executives, organizations, schools, and health professionals. He also adores his two little girls.

 

 

 

 

 

Yearning: Tell Me Yours & I Will Tell You Mine

Cups up at Bascom Lodge, Mount Greylock, MA

 

Velvet magenta maple against a golden oak.

Rain soaked leaves around the compost bin.

Nuthatch upside down on the feeder.

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.

from one of my first Laundry Line Divine posts...setting forth on an adventure to parts unknown
from one of my first Laundry Line Divine posts…setting forth on an adventure to parts unknown

 

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.

 

Benjamin and Suzi 1997

 

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.

Whites

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.

Catherine and Suzi 1999

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’s Wage 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.

 

Clothespins?

Flower seeds?

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.

I appreciate your time reading me here.

 

 

With love, S

 

 

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