This also means I am deeply immersed in the small projects I am doing that will illuminate these events. It also means my writing time is divided up and so far, I have slipped out of my long post/short post schedule here on LLD.
My @Quest mate Brenna Layne wrote this post about developing brevity as she hones her time-shaping skills. For many years, I considered multitasking as my super-mother-power-force for maximizing my time. You know, churning the butter while rocking the baby, while working on my abs? Exercising this power, I got cricks in my neck from holding the phone while hanging laundry, dropped the phone in the rain barrel more than once, and nearly blinded myself by leaving a spoon in the blender and looking away at some other small shiny object while I pressed the ON button. The kids were fascinated by the pattern spread across the ceiling from the blueberry smoothie. We will call this episode “another cleaning opportunity” and not chide myself anymore than the nightmares I had about being impaled by a soup spoon have done.
Doing one thing at a time while you have children underfoot is really a challenge. There is always a pot of soup simmering, a load of wash spinning, someone throwing up or jumping off radiators, beds to change and lunches to unpack. And, there is the dreaded topic that I still hate: dinner. For inspiration, I always go here.
Today, no kids underfoot and I am still capable of near death experiences by distraction. I am, however, letting that super power go.
So to better deliver a quality blog post and magnificent events to you, filled with lasting impressions of real life illuminated by articulate women engaged with their creative voices, I may put up shorter posts this coming month. And perhaps only once a week. There will be guest posts, and photo posts and tiny glimpses of the short movie Lynnette Lucy Najimy and I are making with miles of great footage submitted by many of the women of the Out of the Mouths of Babes blog series. The short movie will be full of moments in these women’s lives where they “leave the dishes” as Louise Erdrich suggests in her catalyzing poem, Advice to Myself.
People often ask me how I do all that I do.
I have a couple of answers to that, but I have to admit I am growing my brevity muscle and my “no thank you” muscle and the discipline to consider that the urgency of an incoming email is not something with which I have to engage at the moment of seeing it.
Just writing this makes me feel I have more room to breathe.
Thank you for reading me here on Laundry Line Divine.
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I do send out a newsletter once a month, usually.
And you can count on at least weekly posts here where I illuminate the sacred in daily life, with kids underfoot or not.
Arriving with the boatload of life-change my offspring brought in to
my tidy little life, was a continually developing habit of worry disguised as imaginative thought. This habit became the default setting for my mind.
One small event is expanded upon. It is as if a Sears catalog of horribles opens with the merest slight. My mind draws on all resources including hearsay, titles from grocery aisle magazines and Huffington Post blogs, everything I have ever heard said about, say, concussions or menstrual cramps or faulty brakes comes forward. I not only deal with the facts at hand, but I have this Wagnerian chorus chanting doom in the background.
Some days the chant murmurs.
Some days, it lofts to colossal measure. Worry prepares me, I think. I check through my resources and concoct solutions to possible outcomes.
I found myself at the kitchen table the other midnight. I laced my Sleepy time tea with elderflower syrup because that is what Janet would do for me, if she was there
in her jammies, reading and keeping company. But I was alone, and though I know I am never truly alone-by this I don’t mean mice or my husband upstairs snoring, I mean that I am never truly abandoned by the Holy. But, the Holy was not there in flannel at the table with me to talk through my concern about something that had happened to one of our kids that day.
I do pray. Without ceasing, really. Not in the way that I learned as a child, I don’t grovel or abnegate. But I face this Power Greater Than Myself, and for the sake of brevity, please call that Power whatever you will and let us allow each other that name in our hearts. I do pray earnestly with a heart full of gratitude for the many blessings in my life. I read, on another night at the kitchen table, Danielle LaPorte’s words, which so closely resemble my own.
In The Desire Map, Danielle writes “My relationship to prayer has transformed in parallel with my relationship to life. My name for God has changed. My location for God has changed. My capacity to feel God has changed. What I used to call him, I now call Life.”
Believe me, I have sat with people who are dying, people who I knew to have lived long lives devoted to a religious practice, others with a deeply personal relationship to the Holy not attached to an organized religion. There was no debate in these hallowed moments, where the lapses between breaths were counted, where time slowed and the shimmery veil between life and death rested on our shoulders. There was no debate in these moments about which club they belonged to or not. There was no checking of credentials. There was life and there was Life and as I sat with these cherished souls making their way, picking their way with tender aliveness over the last rocks and crevices of their time on earth, which is to say, there was care and time here, slow, very slow time, I never ever felt that the religious or the not religious ones were more or less welcomed in to death.
This strengthens my resolve that though I do worry, and some days, I worry a lot, my prayers are answered in ways that I cannot know immediately. It struck me during a perfectly horrible time with my son, when his teenagerliness overshadowed any kindness between us and our conversations were minefields, that this, even this, was exactly how things were supposed to be.
My heart, bless my heart, my heart or my deeper knowing that is revealed in quiet hours, asked, “What if this is exactly how things are supposed to be?”
There was a moment, at 10:17am on a Saturday 3 years ago, when my husband called from a Berkshire ski mountain to say that the EMT s had him, but our boy had a badly broken leg and I should come, now, right now, and meet them at the hospital in Hudson. I leapt to my knees to pray. It anchored me in grace. I don’t think there was a second of consideration of to whom I was praying. Names were not mentioned. Grace was provided. Courage and stamina for a grueling day of holding my son’s head in the ambulance as they transported him from one hospital to another on a very very very rough, icy wintry road where every bump caused him to gasp and tears to flow. The EMT who sat with us in the back of the ambulance breathed with us. There was plenty of grace. No names mentioned.
So, this week, when I was murdering Wednesday night with worry, I let my prayers become, as Danielle suggests, declarations. I love my child. I “immersed myself in the pure wanting” of this child to be safe and well, to heal and feel comfort. There was something different in this praying than I have ever experienced. Rather that seeing the horribles, I envisioned all that was possible, I envisioned that child well. The Wagnerian chants quieted. I was able to finish my tea and crawl back in to bed.
Years ago, when we were planning our wedding, the celebration of our faith lineages uniting as one (read: Lutheran meets Jewish, Escanaba Michigan meets Coney Island New York), we found a verse that resonated for us then and has only increased in importance to us now. Our best friend Benita read from Psalm 121:
A song of degrees. I will lift up my eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth.
Looking in to the hills at night is not so easy, but the stars help. Looking in to the hills from my desk right now is one way that I gain perspective and calm myself. Truly, we have all witnessed horrible events in our lives, which cannot be explained or mollified by “being the perfect thing”. But, having witnessed those things myself, knowing grave loss and tragedy, untimely death, stupid mistakes and earth shattering changes, I know that I live differently because of them. Perfection arrives in knowing more, in learning, in gaining confidence standing close to the edges of life and feeling the presence of whatever you call the Holy. And though I cannot stem the losses, my living differently, this slowing down is the gift.
Worrying, how I love thee. Worry, you bring me in to necessary relationship to slow, to prayer, to requests for help and light. Worrying, though I carry you as a horned Viking screeching agonies, you drive me to candle light and to seeing what I desire.
“Desire joins you with God, with Life.” writes Danielle.
All is well today. Bumps are healed. Legs are strong. Tests have been taken. Life bumbles along. There was a bluebird, a female, at the feeder near our kitchen window this morning. Almost too heavy to perch without shutting the feeder, she batted her wings wildly while grabbing seed- her body engaged with frantic beating while her beak steadied to reach and gather seed. This combination of action and focus is just like worry and prayer for me. I may be worrying frantically, but prayer allows me to focus and rally what I need for the situation at hand.
May your desires bring you closer to God, closer to Life.
I woke up singing this song, which led me to think about mountains, which led me to thinking about worry and prayer, which led me here.
Thank you for reading me here. Please share this post with a friend. Share it with your people if you are up to that. And look up at the hills.
And T-minus the rest of today and 3 full days til the 20th, the Solstice, the arrival of our son home from school and when the holidays, such as they are celebrated here at my house, will begin. School will be out for our daughter. I will slow down on working in my studio and lean up on the kitchen counter to listen.
I have so much I want to share with you in these next weeks, in the waning of 2013, in particular the delicious discoveries I have made this past year, of what has impacted me greatly and may offer you a measure of inspiration.
But, this morning, I listened to Marie Forleo. The topic she presents prepares me in a deep way for the onslaught of energy and information that comes along with being the mother of two enigmatic teenagers.
After that I read my newly met and dearly loved Tania Pryputniewicz, at MotherWriterMentor. She wrote about creating a timeline of motherhood and what experiences she recalled as she doodled on the timeline. Close LLD readers know I am a fan of doodling, mixing your media, of
writing in the margins of your real life because there is where inspiration takes place…just off to the left or the right of where your laser focus lies.
I wrote this response to Tania’s post and I share it here with you. The comfort of knowing that it is the force of life that pulls my kids out in to the world, out and away from the simple sweet rituals of our family holidays, up and away from the well-set table, the intricately planned meal and out the door in to the world, where they meet the presences that will make impacts on them. Sure. I’d be lying to you if I didn’t admit to yearning for them to stay and play Scrabble with us, stay for Charades, stay to talk in to the night as the beeswax candles drip low. But, they are pulled and it will only be agony if I try to tether them home.
Here is what I wrote:
Oh that holy edge, that longed-for precipice towards which all chubby knees clamber.
Is the floor of childhood tilted? I feel like my teens still reach for that edge…adventure calls them, it sings songs to them in their night long dreaming so that when they rise, between a ten pound biology text and choosing outfits, between ‘on-call’ notes written on an oily cardboard in this house of paper, the centripetal force which exists over that edge, twines ropes round their bare-in-the-13 degree-air-ankles and they go. Go. Go.
Marie gives me the reminder to stop and however awkward, to listen.
And Tania reminds me to leave room for the forces beyond my control that pull my children forward in to life.
And in this quiet permission, I do think I can find room to celebrate these holidays.
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.
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.