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#16Days of Activism and Cherishing Gratitude

Janet's Offering Boat

A year of giving thanks on Laundry Line Divine:

We have entered the season of lists.
If you have had your fill of ten bests, three worst, or all the things I dream about condensed into seven bullet points, then this post is for you.
I will not be telling you any secrets to surviving the holidays.
I will not divulge just how it is that I already have an Advent wreath on my kitchen table, except to say, please don’t call it an Advent wreath until November 30. Until that date, it is a joyful Thanksgiving table decoration.
This post links to 16 days of action you can take about a very important topic. I move beyond Thanksgiving here. Forewarned is forearmed.

I cannot help but look back at Thanksgiving.

Mostly because it was in 1990 that I was guided by the angels, by my Al-Anon sponsor, by the hands of fate and maybe my long dead grandmother, to sit next to a very nice man who has since become my husband. But on that day, and ever since, JNB is one of the best conversationalists I’ve ever encountered, generous and curious, and he is also fervent dish-doer. Our friend Ted, husband of my sponsor, considers it is his doing that we are coupled these 24 years now, all due to a dearth of clean dishes after Ted’s preparation of a meal for many Thanksgiving orphans, like me. We stood, Ted, JNB and I, in a postage stamp kitchen, three-part-harmony, doing all those dishes. I dried.

SBB and JNB by Ruth Barron 2011

This year on Laundry Line Divine has had many highlights.

Here are links and highlights because while you are digesting pumpkin pie and packing in your courage for the later part of this post, a little dip in to the Laundry Basket might be fun.

• the Giving Motherhood a Voice Book tour to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan with my brave Anthology authors, three generous host organizations and my husband and me on a 17 hour drive in a car laden with bikes, books and art supplies. We did return with a few rocks. What a great trip it was!
• Making paste papers journals with my friends in Holliston, MA and the adventure Karen, Sarah and I had on the way
• The week I spent at Penland School of Craft in North Carolina making more paste paper, working with clay and dancing with my mentor Paulus Berensohn.
Out of the Mouths of Babes: An Evening of Mothers Reading to Others   the event, the blog series and the way this lives today? Mark your calendar for March 7, 2015!
• FeMail Art and IS183’s ArtLab event featuring To Spring From the Hand, a documentary about Paulus and the beauty of the craft arts
• teaching Writing Motherhood at Edith Wharton’s Mount as part of the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers
• Reading aloud my piece, A Minor Miracle at Mohonk as part of the Your Brave New Story retreat with Jeffrey Davis
• The long weekend conference Women’s Voices, Women’s Visions that meets next June at Skidmore College. Teaching Rampant Sisterhood was a blast.
• During the rousing, inspiring, captivating, humbling month of Berkshire Festival of Women Writers, I got to meet and present Gloria Steinem with my book and a gift. What a joy.
Seeing Sarah Ruhl in a reading of her collection, 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write. Sarah is one of the 20 topmost produced playwrights in the USA not counting Shakespeare.
Slow Time Salon on Superior, making art and exploring our awareness of what happens when we slow down with 10 brave women on the shores of Lake Superior in August.
• My girl Catherine and all the work she has done in her junior year already, but mostly her maṇḍala project.
• My boy Benjamin, spending the first part of the year playing lacrosse, then working in Munich, then heading to college. He will be home in a few hours.
Being in Milwaukee with my sister and niece and my Geri.
• Being on the Cape with my sisters and our families.
Paper dress show at the PRESS gallery in North Adams, MA. Exploring themes of permission, freedom and constriction with paper and words.
• The day my pal Nancy Moon came up for a day in the Berkshires.
• Exploring myth during late winter with Elizabeth Duvivier of Squam Workshops and another weekend retreat with Catherine Anderson and Cat Caracelo exploring our personal myths. The day I spent alone with Catherine after that was pregnant with ideas and inspiration.
• The steady pulse of posting here on Laundry Line Divine. My more sporadic posting on Berkshire Family Focus. And all the people I have connected with online, especially Lucy Pearce, Pippa Best, Mandy Thompson, Tania Pryputniewicz, and Jennifer Louden.
• The Powder Keg Sessions, both the Sunday Sessions and the Ramsdell Sessions: what a varying group of amazing women who are willing to show up and write together. You can come hear them read on February 22, 2015 in West Stockbridge, MA at No. 6 Depot. 2 PM.

There are many more things that happened this year. This list is neither complete or in order, but if you follow the links, you will get a sense of how things roll out on the Laundry Line. There have been moments with friends, meeting new ones like Emily McKhann at the Social Good Summit or Holly Wren Spaulding at the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers, that have touched me deeply. By far, the most gratifying experience for me here is your comments. I have developed online relationships with some amazing bloggers, some of whom I know now and am close friends with, but I must say thank you to Elizabeth, Jennifer, Julie, Marisa, Nancy, Joanne, Laurie, Lori, Lorrin, Kitty, Mandy, Jenni, Amanda, Collen, Janet and Tara and so many more- your words mean so much to me. Those of you who don’t comment, but send me emails or speak to me in person-this back and forth gives me courage. I thank you for this.

I cannot leave this gratitude shower without some attention to the fact that today,

November 25, is Amnesty International’s day to stand up for women on

International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

The linked post offers you suggestions of things you can do over the next 16 days.

Last night, after a busy day, I sat at the kitchen table reading the new issue of Rolling Stone that had arrived in the mail. It was late. I had tea and a slice of gingerbread cake. I could have picked up an Athleta catalog. But I read the Rolling Stone coverage by Sabrina Rubin Eberly, of an alleged campus rape at the University of Virginia and the culture around sexual assault and date rape on campuses across the US.

If I’d read the catalog, I would have slept better.
Since I read the article, dreamed the dreams I had, I woke thinking of my son on a campus, playing lacrosse and studying to be an EMT, about my daughter, soon to head to college and all the kids I know who have set off to institutions of higher learning in the past few years…. all of them, each of them, fresh thinkers, inspired young people eager to engage in a bigger way.

What if one of them experienced what many girls and boys are experiencing on campuses?
Do you realize that in a college cafeteria, students are warned not to leave their meal trays with open drinks on them alone? The concern is that someone might slip a date rape drug in to his or her iced tea. Does that surprise you? Ask the nearest college kid about this practice.

My son is about to arrive home from school within a few hours. I really want to talk this over with him without stirring his concern that I am worried about his behavior. I have no desire to instruct him, but I want to ask him this and since I am here with you on Laundry Line Divine, I must ask you too:

What is missing in the lives of our children today that they escape to college for unlimited partying and wild social lives? Why the need to be so inebriated? What are they seeking to escape or create? If one person’s fun injures another, then how can that still be fun? How do we help our kids understand limits and tolerance? How do we as parents instruct our children when they are still young and attentive to our teaching that social lives that denigrate one person or another, members of either sex, cannot but lead to dangerous activity?

What is a mother to do?


Finding my way in to the arena of conversation with my kids is what I can do today. The facts make it imperative. The Rolling Stone article states

“One in five women is sexually assaulted in college, though only about 12 percent report it to police.”

You can read the New York Times coverage here.

So while you are managing the pumpkin pies and who is sleeping where in your full house this week, take a look at the crowd of girls at your kitchen table. Are there five of them there?

Conversation with our children is the best tool I know today to deal with the worries that plague mothers. Having the courage to open a difficult topic within the safety of our own homes is one way to draw common ground and explore scary realities. We cannot stop the reality, but we can find ways to build resilience, compassion and tools for self-care with our children.

I am about to write, “Hate to be a bummer.”
But it is true.
Motherhood puts you in direct line for a shitload of worry and concerns your whole life. Just ask the mothers of military personnel or parents and teachers in New Orléans.
We cannot gather round tables laden with food and love, without also too acknowledging our blessings and the power that compassion can work in the world.

My friend Peggy just sent this quote in her Thanksgiving message. It is more perfect to me than pie.

English novelist Dinah Maria Mulock Craik said:
“Oh, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person; having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but to pour them all out…knowing that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then, with the breath of kindness, blow the rest away.”

I urge you to find ways in to gratitude this week.
Talk about gratitude, express your gratitude, take action in gratitude.      (click that link to Tweet if you please. xo)
I urge you to find the courage to talk about the hard stuff…maybe not over the Thanksgiving table, but sometime, find a way to invite conversation with your kids. No matter how old they are, there is an appropriate way to speak about social behavior, kindness, integrity and truth. Topics about alcohol and drug use, topics about how to ask for and find help or how to help a friend in need.

Our children rely on us to lead, no matter how old they are.

At Helen's in Ishpeming


Thank you for staying with me this long.
I am grateful, so purely grateful for the community of Laundry Line Divine.
Many thanks to you and much love,




PS If you need more information or want to look at a website designed to support conversations about gender equality, see He For She.


What Do Mothers Make? Delight

SBB and CBB by Becky Moulton summer 1998

“One of these things is not like the other”- do you remember that song from Sesame Street?
While interactions on social media are never the same, there is a common thread that runs through what happens on Laundry Line Divine and on the other platforms I participate in, like Twitter and Instagram. I am fascinated with connections. I am intrigued by the stories of mothering. I am intrigued by the patterns we make in our lives, what we return to again and again and when and what we learn new and relish, a new vista, a new flavor, a new photography app.

There are things that happen on Face book that I never imagined enjoying.

This month the building I lived in for six years in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan was demolished. As the nymphs of social media would have it, a woman who was in my Powder Keg Sessions, who happens to live in Portland, Oregon but was in the Berkshires on a certain Sunday last fall, got wind of this small factoid as it scrolled by on my news feed. Well, this woman, Margaret, has a good friend, who lives opposite my old apartment building. While she was in Manhattan this week, Margaret snapped a photo of the space that was the building in which I lived with my former beau. There has been quite a funny banter on Facebook including this man, who I love being connected to in the Face book way we are- loosely but within a distance to enjoy his humor. Now, the place where we once made Thanksgiving dinners and fed cats and organized a rent strike is a pile of rubble.


Margaret Barton-Ross 25th Street

Without Face book, this connection would not have been made, linking my former life on 25th Street and 8th Avenue with a new writing student who has a penchant for laundry lines and vintage stamps and sends me little missives full of gifts. Nor would I have found a comfortable social relationship with my former partner. Aside from a funeral for a common friend perhaps, I don’t know where we would have connected.

I have met many amazing women on social media. Many of the contributors to An Anthology of Babes: 36 Women Give Motherhood a Voice and the Out of the Mouths of Babes blog series are women I met through Twitter or on other blogs, or on Huffington Post. One such author, Amanda Magee, who lives with her family in the Adirondacks and worked at the Williamstown Theatre Festival for several seasons, writes today’s Out blog post. She and her husband have a set of Huff-Po blog posts written together that are cause to get up off the couch and go hug your partner. You can read Amanda’s response to “What do mothers make?” post here. I will include links to her Huffington Post pieces there.

Social media has it gifts. This past Monday I got to have a real live visit with a dear friend and collaborator, Lori Landau. Familiar to readers of the Anthology and the Out blog series, Lori lives with her family in northern New Jersey. I was passing through her area and stopped for a whole afternoon of slow wandering through a park near her home. Long walk and talk, sharing book forms and parenting thoughts. Her daughter is just south of mine in age and her challenges are ones I have lived with for a year or so. We dove right in to conversation, relying heavily on all the threads we have woven in to friendship through social media, emails, texts, real live mail and art sent back and forth, as if all those lines of intersection weave something tangible. Looking in to Lori’s eyes, I would say very tangible.


Writing about being a mother is dicey. You write, freely I hope, with no editor on your shoulder, just letting the stories flow. Later, when you look over your writing, you decide whether you have told yours or someoneelse’s story. That is how I decide whether what I have written is mine to share. When I publish something that includes my kids I always run it past them.

Laundry conundrum

So, last night, I had a surprise. In my Powder Keg Ramsdell Sessions we have been experimenting with the blazon, a form of poem that is a list of attributes of another. I learned about it from Monica Devine. In its medieval roots, it was a roster of praise for a woman, starting from the top down. Over time and with a dose of irreverence from William Shakespeare and many others, the form retains is roster of attributes aspect but has come to include wry pathos and revelation.

I wrote one last week that has been simmering in my writing mind. I was itching to share it with you all, as I prepare for teaching a Writing Motherhood writing workshop in June. So, while my girl was preparing to go for a run last evening, I read it to her. I just blasted open whatever reticence I had about exposing my tender heart to her and a potentially personal moment in her abundantly sweet life.

She stood in the doorway to this studio listening. I picked my way through the lines I thought she might take issue with and cruised to the end, expecting her standard, “Oh god Mom, you can’t say that”. But, because she is not standard in any way, her response was a deep flush of pleasure and she beamed at me.

And without asking, she said I was free to share it.

In honor of this week and loving daughters, every single girl, each of us, daughters and sons, and the loving gaze that mothers hold us each in, no matter which realm those gazes issue from, I give you my Blazon for Catherine.

Please be tender with yourselves these days.
Find a live person to go hug and share an appreciation with.
Social media brings us together but what glues us takes breath and skin and the mingling of fingers in to a grip that is unforgettable.

Blazon for Catherine

Catherine the Great.
Catherine the girl.
Catherine my Fluffy Angel who leaves teabags drying into
crispy dead bats in the bottoms of long ago supped tea cups,
her rosebud lips with a staining pale birthmark over the
upper left petal,
that once
drew comment from a very opinionated neighbor, that
oval of color rises when she is furious or
when she is flushed with pleasure as she was
one summer night, arriving after her curfew, confessing to
making out in the parking lot of the appointed place where
she was to meet her older brother and be safely transported home,
he, who texted and paced and prowled looking for his little sister,
Catherine, Cath, Cat, is the little sister, a strong beautiful
quiet storm of a sister, who, that night,
stretched in to the arms of a tall boy
who kissed her til that mark raged red and
here she, Catherine, the young woman flushed at the
foot of our bed apologizing and fearful we will take
away her new found, enpinkening freedom.
Catherine who works harder than most to
overcome what she sees as a lack.
Whose “tiny writing” fills pages of her little books but now,
whose writing, big words typed by long fingers
Catherine the smart, the able, the curious,
the persistent as a raccoon in the trash,
ass over head with her nose in a book
or baking vegan zucchini bread
or sussing out a social conundrum.
This girl is a sucker for a thrift shop.
Catherine is a seller of squash and a bagger of lettuce,
rows of community supported lettuce, spun neatly in to a plastic sack
and sold on sunny summer Saturday mornings.
Catherine is market-fresh, this girl and she is mine.

May 1, 2014
Suzi Banks Baum
Powder Keg Ramsdell Sessions

CBB and me Cape April 2014

Love your friends.
Love your mothers.
Love those kids, Nigerian, Amanda’s, Lori’s, Margaret’s, yours and my own.


He’s Coming Home

Ben Photo Strip piece




My boy will be home in less than a week.

Without realizing it, I have been making the place ready for his whirlwind to arrive.

Today, as I tidied up a corner of the kitchen, I realized it was for his eyes that I replaced photos on the bulletin board over the kitchen sink, a place I know he will gaze while he, I pray, washes at least one dish.

The feeling in my body is a mix of choked excitement lest I be too thrilled and scare the kid, flooding tears for the ache his departure has carved in to me, and happy dancing for all the playful light hours we can spend or I hope we will spend or if I am really truthful here, the minutes we will spend in between his visits to friends and going out and just leaving and coming and leaving and laundry, repeat, over the course of

six days.





I am happy.

Here is Leigh Strimbeck’s poem about her boy’s departure to college in August.
I recall my first visits home after the first leaving. And how those returns always brought with them a sea of emotion.

Leigh is one of the authors in An Anthology of Babes: 36 Women Give Motherhood a Voice.

Leigh is also going to be one of the readers for my Out of the Mouths of Babes: An Evening of Mothers Reading to Others this coming March 1, 2014.
Mark your calendars.

After Leigh's EVE Talk at Women's Voices for (a) Change at Skidmore College June 2013
After Leigh’s EVE Talk at Women’s Voices for (a) Change at Skidmore College June 2013

Remember Almanzo’s mother in Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder?

How she would cook and cook and cook for the family gatherings?

I am beginning to understand that instinct.

Keep them at the table.

Enjoy Leigh’s poem and so many more women’s writing about mothering and creativity on the Out of the Mouths of Babes blog series.


Thank you for reading us here.




What Forces Affect a Woman’s Creative Voice?

Momma Love by Ali Smith on the altar with Grandma Jo waving.
Momma Love by Ali Smith on the altar with Grandma Jo waving.



The Atlantic published an article that spurred a great round of discussion on the Internet over the past few days about motherhood and the creative life.

The original article by Lauren Sandler asks if the secret to being a successful writer is to limit the number of children one has. The article has drawn many comments, including authors Zadie Smith and Jane Smiley. Here is one of the literary responses on Melville House Books by Zeljka Marosevic.

Sandler’s article opens the idea that women writers would retain their peak effectiveness if they have only one child. She goes on to say more. Please read the article if you are interested. Marosevic’s response states that children are not a threat to a woman’s creativity and supports her points with some of the comments to the original article.


If you asked me,


Yes, having children does impact a woman’s creativity.

So does having a full-time job. So does having a marriage. So does having a life.


Creativity is born out of chaos.

It is a human response to longing.

It is fired by the passion we have to express our inner responses to this fascinating and complex world. We yearn to leave a mark, to discuss ideas larger than our back yards, we yearn to remember or simply to play.

It is vitally important to get to that expression.


Having or not having children is a choice most women get to make today. Women, in a historical perspective, only recently got to make this choice. But I think the discussion of children or no children, one or two or twelve, (as Ingrid Hill had and still managed to write Ursula Under, one the best books I have ever laid eyes on), is beside the point.

Creative work, good intellectually valuable work, is borne no matter what your life circumstances. It is up to you to make the choice to nurture that work. Many commenters on Sandler’s article suggest that the way our society values mothering, what services are available to a woman with children are forces that have the most impact on a woman’s creative work. A woman may or may not have a partner willing or able to support her creative work, she may struggle with time and budget and scheduling conflicts that no partner or day care center can completely ease. So, she adapts. She finds a way to work.


Here is a bit from an interview with author Ingrid Hill on Bookslut:


Hill had begun the writing process the only way she could: in her head.


“We had a huge, long table we got from the University of Michigan surplus, taken from an old library. It was 12 feet long, and every night we sat down to that table for dinner. I made dinner, everything. I baked bread twice a week, I made my own yogurt; it was Little House on the Prairie. And I wasn’t thinking about the celery I was chopping or the pajamas I was washing; I was writing stories in my head, and I was doing the writing and revisions in my head.”


Certainly we could ask the question, what would Ingrid Hill have written if she did not have 12 children? What would Emily Dickinson have written had she found her way out of her house and into a marriage with children? What would Anna Quindlen or Anne Lamott or Maya Angelou or any one who’s work has inspired you, what if they had more time? Fewer distractions? Maybe they would not have had the yearning to express that they have now. Maybe Barbara Kingsolver would have stayed in the jungles with Steve and never gotten to living a year of living Animal, Vegetable, Miracle that she wrote with her daughter.


The crux of this matter, for me, lies in what happens in your life that shutters you, silences you or tells you that your words, images, offerings are not important enough, not worth the time, money, space or effort. If motherhood makes you stumble, it also can make you stronger, just as any other struggle gifts us.


Motherhood affects you. Alters you. It changes you forever.

But you are still a human being with something to say, with work to do.


Therese, a commenter to the Sandler article suggests that mothering changes the way you work. I am interested in this place of being transformed by mothering. This is why I write, why I teach the Powder Keg Sessions: A Writing Workshop for Mothers and Others (next one meets on June 30 at 1pm) and it is why I run the blog series that fueled the live event and the publishing of An Anthology of Babes: 36 Women Give Motherhood a Voice.


Therese writes,



When I meet people who are considering whether to have children, I tell them it’s like eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The scales fall from your eyes, and suddenly you have this new magnificent wisdom about human existence. And then maybe it was something about the prolactin hormones nourishing my brain – I never was able to be so organized or disciplined as to get whole books down onto paper before my daughter was born. There was a year of mommy brain, where all I could think of was her, and then after that year, I started writing in a way I had never quite seemed capable of before.



In the stew of this discussion float some big chunks of ideas to savor.


Do you feel that your creative life is supported by your life choices?
Does taking time for your creative work feel like an indulgence?
What would do for you?
Can you begin to consider that, as Katherine Paterson wrote, “ the very persons who took away my time are the ones who have given me something to say”?
Is it possible to begin to look at the way you live your life as innately creative?
Are there spaces and places in your life where you could redirect your choices to provide for your own creative expression- to read, to day dream or to pick up a pen?

Whatever your place, children or no children, bringing forth your ideas and dreams is worth the time it takes to do that.

I am going to be with Jan Phillips this week at Women’s Voices for (a) Change. This conference at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY is a gathering of artists and activists looking to take our work higher, to celebrate the work of women who have gone before us and to circle, to listen and consider what is possible for our work. Jan, who inspires my creative work so much, has written a new book which I cannot wait to read.

I will post from Women’s Voices for (a) Change this weekend.

Stay tuned.













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