Thursday, August 17, 2017

window blinds

But today...

After three and a half years of being a stay-at-home mom: of wiping asses and making lunches and putting out playdoh and scrubbing dishes and breaking up fights and band-aiding scrapes, I had two hours to myself. Holden started preschool.
I ran to the lake, a spring in my step. There, the wind blew what is left of my hair and the sun warmed my arms and my phone pumped hip hop into my ears.
Then I ran back here, to this place that has housed us through all these scrapes and cuts and bruises.
I opened the blinds, let the light in.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

emptying and filling

Here is how I measure the progress in my life:

I quit my job. There is a guy I worked with there who recently left for a few weeks so he could check himself into rehab. On his last night, we were rolling silverware together and I said, "this place is a trigger" and he said "absolutely."

What I meant was that it was reminiscent my younger days, waitressing, then spending my tips on booze, getting shitfaced with the other servers, blacking out at their apartments or mine. Someone who has been known to drink too much alcohol shouldn't work at a place that peddles alcohol. Shouldn't be suggesting it to people, pushing it on them, so that I can make tips and stop at the liquor store and pick myself up a bottle of wine.

I shouldn't be staying up until two a.m, or three, or four. I should be waking up at seven, making my sons breakfast, walking them to school. I should be writing. I should be practicing yoga and running and sending letters to my friends and watching Big Brother without a cocktail in my hand. I should be better than who I was. More responsible, less reckless.

That guy came back after rehab: not 30 days but he made it 21 and returned more tan, less predatory. I was glad and sad to see him. Glad because I like him as a person, sad because I knew he shouldn't be in a place like this. Neither of us should. A few weeks ago, he told me he was quitting for good. Two days later, I put my own notice in.

I woke up on Sunday, hungover after having last night drinks with my co-workers. I puked, just like in my younger days. But unlike my younger days, I thought, "this is over." I went to the salon and my hairstylist chopped off my hair: cut it short, clean. "I don't go backward in life," he said, referring to his old boss calling him up, asking him to return. And I said, "yeah, me neither," which isn't true but I want to be true.

Being unemployed isn't exactly progress in life to most people, but it is to me. Because I've learned that money isn't what is important to me. It is fulfillment that I'm after. I will fill myself now, rather than emptying myself. I will not drain myself any more. I was empty once. I won't be again.

This is how I measure the progress in my life: I notice the hole I'm falling down while I'm falling, before I've reached the bottom. And I claw my way out, dirt beneath my fingernails, back into the sun. 


*First line borrowed from Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Me

Monday, August 14, 2017

first day of kindergarten

At work the other day, my manager was talking with another parent about how hard it was to say goodbye to their kids on the first day of school. "I'll be fine," I said flippantly. "Get out of my house already, I need the quiet." And while it's true that I crave quiet and aloneness, which mothers don't get enough of, I am not as hard as I thought I was.

This morning, I was a softie. Last night, too. I tried to go to bed early, knowing we would all be waking up to an alarm. But I tossed and turned, thinking of my baby out there in a cafeteria line, finding his desk, hanging up his backpack, all without me protecting him.
 
We walked to school, all of us together, and at the door, Brandon lined up with the rest of his class. First, he kissed us each on the cheek, gave us hugs and high fives. "I'll miss you, Holds," he said and a tear slipped down my cheek.

A girl in his line was crying and screaming, lying on the beauty bark, kicking her feet. "I don't wanna go!" she cried, tears everywhere. Brandon just watched her, no tears or hysterics of his own. I remember last year at preschool, he clung to my leg and begged for me to stay. But this year, he stood on his own, fearless.
I will have to learn to let Brandon experience this big world I've sheltered him from. I will need to learn to back off. There will be pain, but also joy. There will be lessons, both good and bad, that he will learn. He is not a baby anymore. He will grow into that giant backpack.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

symbiotic brothers

Brandon starts school on Monday. All day Kindergarten. Before, I thought it was me who would have a hard time with it. But now I realize it's Holds. These two have this bond that is so incredible. They speak their own language together. Brandon coaxes Holden into absolutely anything because Holden wants to be just like Brandon. They are into the same things: stuffed animals, watching iPad videos, making an Animal World on the train table. They race each other down the sidewalk. They draw with sidewalk chalk. They play video store in their fort.

They have become so attached that they poop at the same time every day. Last night I was getting ready for work and I realized the house was too quiet. I came downstairs. "Boys, what are you doing?" I pushed open the bathroom door and Brandon said, "we're pooping and telling jokes." They try to hold hands across the bathroom. They have a symbiotic relationship.

At Open House on Thursday, I watched them playing on the playground and I said to Steve, "I just wish they were going to school together." Because together, they take care of each other, have an ally and a friend. Alone is a whole different story. I know they will find other friends, but it will never be like this: pooping while holding hands.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

illiterate women's secret writing

I once saw a copy of a page filled with the strange, elegant scratching of Nüshu, a secret writing system used for centuries by women in the Hunan Province of China and still one of the least known writing systems in the world. Only boys were allowed an education and to participate in the public world of ideas and communication. Girls were kept at home and taught the skills required to run a household. When they were old enough for marriage, they had to leave their mothers and sisters forever and travel to the faraway home of their husband to live under the rule of his family. When a girl left her home for marriage, there was great crying and wailing among the women in her family.

Illiterate, the women developed a secret way of writing in order to communicate with their lost daughters. They borrowed some characters learned over time from the Chinese and made up many more. Like Chinese, Nüshu is written top to bottom, right to left in columns, but the writing looks very different from written Chinese. The characters are not square. They are elegant, feminine, elongated like the legs of cranes, with thin swift strokes connecting the vertical lines, binding women together outside the rules.

Grandmothers and mothers taught their girls the secret writing by making up and singing a verse, then writing it on the hand of the girl. Verse after verse, day after day, slowly the girl came to share in the mother-language of secrecy, a connection, of loyalty and love. Forbidden paper and ink, the mother would give her departing daughter a beautiful book of Nüshu she had sewn, stitch by stitch, to comfort her and bind them together forever, the characters themselves little signs of their eternal connection. For years after the girl went away into marriage, her mother made up long verses of steadfastness, stitching them in Nüshu into her little books and secreting them to her daughter.  
 ~An excerpt from Without a Map by Meredith Hall

It's true; I wikipedia'd it. Isn't this the most beautiful thing you've read today?

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

little acts of kindness

I have been thinking a lot about days. About these self-contained units of time we wake up to each morning and make something of. Each one is filled with little acts of kindness and unkindness. By ourselves, by our family members, by our co-workers, by our friends, and by strangers.

These little acts we amplify into something more, let them ruin or make our day.

I was telling my friend today, while we walked along the Missouri river that it seems like so many people just want to focus on the acts of unkindness. We want to bitch about the driver who cut us off, moan about the wait at a restaurant or the storm warning that interrupted The Bachelorette. We focus on the negative, because its what other people do too. It's our culture. Let's write bad reviews about restaurants, tweet out every frustration. We live in anger, band together in shared hatred.

But what if instead we focused on the acts of kindness? What if we amplified those into something bigger? The old man that holds the door at the library, the chirpy barista who likes your nail color, the six green lights in a row that you hit when you were in a hurry. Then we would let joy wash over us instead of pissed-offed-ness.

We talked about this while we walked. A nice breeze hit us and cooled our sweaty bodies. Why couldn't we focus on the breeze instead of the beating sun?  We went to a restaurant in the Old Market for sandwiches. I pulled into a parking spot where someone had overpaid the meter and given us an hour free. At the restaurant, my friend just wanted toast and peanut butter, berries and whipped cream. "When people ask me for special orders at work, I say 'yes,'" I encouraged her. "I mean, why the fuck not? Get what you want."

She asked our waitress. "I don't mean to be a pain," she began. Then she asked for it. The waitress just asked what kind of bread, then brought out exactly what my friend had asked for. "Sorry I'm so sweaty," I apologized, self-conscious. "Don't apologize for a bodily function," she replied. "I mean, it's not like you're spurting blood all over the table. That would be concerning. A real health hazard." We laughed, hearty, full laughs, imagining me spurting blood all over the table, the commotion it would cause. In comparison, a couple pit stains were nothing. We could laugh or apologize. We chose laughter.

When we returned to my car, I said, "look, the meter expired and we didn't get a ticket! We're living a good life right now." She didn't criticize me when she sat in my passenger seat which was covered in shredded cheese. We laughed about how I slammed on my brakes on the way to work while eating a taco the other day. Today I chose happiness over pissed-offed-ness; I chose to amplify the good. I'm going to do it again tomorrow. And the next day.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Seeking:

An employer which allows me to work part-time, flexible hours. Somewhere that lets me put in my headphones when I've had enough of people. A job that keeps my mind free to be creative: a place that doesn't clog me with pettiness and politics. Must be near a good coffee shop. I will show up, log in so you know I'm "there," then immediately leave to get coffee every morning. It's cool though, I'll bring back some for the people I like.

A place that doesn't discriminate. No sexists and no sexual harassment, for god's sake. Also, speaking of god, a place that doesn't pray together or only hire Catholics. A place that doesn't discriminate against Muslims because they pray at certain hours of the day. A place that doesn't fire me for speaking up against injustices (because it's only a matter of time). A place that doesn't discourage friendships by forcing us back into our cubicles like cattle in stalls.

A place with cool ass people, a refrigerator, and plenty of parking. I offer a shoulder to cry on, jokes that go way too far, and unsolicited commentary on anything and everything. I'll send you my resume as a PDF, not that you need it.

Monday, July 24, 2017

adult camp

When I was a kid, I spent some babysitting money on Pringles and Snickers, but most of it I saved. I gave it to dad who put it in his safe and occasionally brought it out for me to count. Camp money. I spent the year adding $5s and $10s, looking forward to that week over the summer. The week of intense friendships. A week where I could shrug off my chores and obligations and just be.

On the last day of camp every summer, I signed the back of my friends' shirts with a Sharpie. The grass was always dewy, I remember.  "Keep in touch," we instructed. That week was life-changing. We would be friends forever. Until we weren't. We returned home, crying in our parents' sedans. We did the dishes, homework. We told our brothers and sisters about our week, but they didn't get it. Couldn't. You had to be there. I sent letters to my best friends from camp and they wrote me back. Pen pals. We stayed friends as long as we could, but real life and camp didn't have any crossover. We couldn't recreate camp. We lapsed back into our lives, unsure of which self was real.
That's what residency is like, but with life crossover. It's a week of intense friendship. There is constant camaraderie with people who get you, people like you. "Our tribe," we call it. We spend a lot of our time in lectures and readings in this conference room in the Lied Lodge. In the center of the room, above the fireplace is inscribed a quote by Thomas Jefferson: I never before knew the full value of trees. Under them I breakfast, dine, write. read, and receive my company. 
 
We do just that. We eat jiggly eggs and we workshop each other's writing and we scribble notes during lectures. We laugh and we cry at readings. We get rowdy and obnoxious on the terrace with a lil vodka. All my best friends are there. Imagine writing your heart and sharing it with people and them doing the same. There is nothing like it, no greater vulnerability, no stronger bond. Like on the last day of camp, so many summers ago, I cried yesterday in the car ride home. I thought about Chad Christensen's poem: People cry in cars. The guy who holds the stop sign during road construction knows this. 

We will wash our laundry and unpack our suitcases and order our books and real life will slam its way in. Our cock tattoos are gone now, but we are bonded nonetheless.
 
Unlike camp, we come home, knowing we will do this again. We will send each other our writing, our hearts, and we will respond, delicately but honestly. We will be pen pals. We will write and we won't quit. Those kids I went to camp with were campers. But we are writers. We will never stop writing.

Monday, July 10, 2017

with joy and pride

Writing is hard.
Because it's lonely and draining.
Because it takes a long time to get it right, or right enough.
Because it is a discipline.

Because we're not getting paid. That makes people think it isn't that valuable. Because we are doing this with merely hope that one day it will be something that other people value.

So practically, writing gets pushed aside. Money-making ventures take priority. So I waitress and freelance. Those I do for money, but not with joy or pride.

Sometimes I think about all the time I'm spending working a job I don't love and I wince, but then I finger the dollar bills bulging in my pocket. And then I think of all the writing I might have done instead but didn't and I wince again. 

My kids are here and until a few weeks ago, I didn't leave them in someone else's care to write, because I felt guilty, and because that means not only does writing not make money, it also costs money.  But now I do. I'm spending money because writing isn't only something I do, it's something I love and I will throw money at the pursuit of happiness for the rest of my days.

I could write in the evenings, or on the weekends, but that's my only time when Steve isn't at work, that's our only time together, his only time to himself. I still do, but I feel guilty sometimes. I'm working on not feeling guilty.

Writing demands it.

And although it doesn't end with a paycheck, it does have other positive results. Like a clearer head, a happier mom and wife: one who laughs and dances in the hallways and sings because I am lighter, lifted, without my unsaid words weighing me down like an anchor. I remember that I am more than just a mom and a wife, that I have a craft and it is a gift and to squander it would be sadder even than that waitress apron I stuff into a cupboard because I can't bear the sight of it.

You can be a writer once you stop giving a fuck. Or once you start giving fucks about yourself.
With joy, and with pride. It's a pretty badass thing, if you think about it: writing yourself into your dream.  Selfish as fuck too, but that's writers for ya.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Do I still have what I carried east?

Most of it has disappeared.

I lost some flip flops in a lake once, when I was drunk. I walked barefoot to my car the next morning.

The car I drove here inmy first car, a black Saturn SC1I cried over as I sat with my husband at the Mazda dealership, trading it in for something more dependable.

My Abercrombie clothes were sent to Goodwill as I replaced them with slacks and sweater vests.

I sold my books to Half Price Books, the religious ones, at least, because I don't believe in God anymore.

My CDs are still here, but only because no one wants CDs any more. Stacie Orrico. Backstreet Boys. Joe Diffie (there's something women like about a pickup man).

And I still have my notebooks filled with poems. And a chapbook from my undergrad writing professor. I still have pictures. And a couple of camp T-shirts. A little remains, but mostly, what I carried east has blown away like dandelion seeds.

What remains reminds me of who I was.
And on the right days, when the wind doesn't blow, of who I still am.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Q217 Songs

Love Your Memory - Miranda Lambert
A Little Bit of Rain - Amos Lee
Tupelo Honey - Van Morrison
Look At Miss Ohio - Blind Pilot
Falling in Love at a Coffee Shop - Landon Pigg
Makin' Me Look Good Again - Drake White
Imagine - John Lennon
Last Thing I Needed, First Thing This Morning - Chris Stapleton
Lose It - Oh Wonder 
Brokenheartsville - Joe Nichols
The Greatest - Cat Power
Losing My Religion - Dia Frampton
All This Time - One Republic
Easy Way to Cry - David Gray
Better Than You Left Me - Mickey Guyton 
Without You - Holly Williams
Kiss Me - Ed Sheeran
Stars - The xx
Everyone's Waiting - Missy Higgins
Slow Dancing in a Burning Room - John Mayer
Somewhere Only We Know - Keane

Sunday, June 25, 2017

meshing

I think I have the perfect kids for me. The perfect kids for me to parent. I don't feel equipped to mother properly, but they make it easier on me by being for me what I need: adventurous, affectionate, and self-reliant.

I hope I am for them what they need, too.

This week my boys begged me for another kid. "Ask your father," I said, in typical mom fashion. So they FaceTimed Steve at work. "Dad, can we have a baby? Please? Pleasepleasepleaseplease." Steve and I laughed while they begged, each of us thinking about what a bad idea it was.

Not because we wouldn't love another kid, but because three is so much more than two. But a third kid, no matter what it was like, would still be the perfect kid for me to parent.

I don't think any of us need to worry about having kids that aren't for us what we need. Because instinctively, we do that for each other. Kids give you what you need and you give them what they need. I am hands-off, congratulatory, and adventurous for my kids. But is that because it's what they need or because naturally, because of who they are, that is what I am for them?

There is this meshing that goes on between parents and children, between spouses, in deep friendships. In any close relationship, I suppose. We learn about each other and want to be for one another what is needed.

I have a friend who always hugs me. I am not a hugger. I pull away from hugs and handshakes. If you need to touch me, a pat on the back will do. But I hug her. With her, it feels right. She needs to hug me and I, in turn, need her to.

My kids are even learning about the quiet time I need. They are learning that when mama is at her desk, entertain yourselves. When she is doing yoga, don't yell. They aren't perfect, of course. They're actually quite terrible a lot of times, but they are the perfect kids for me. We mesh.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

evangelizing Grandpa

Once upon a time, I tried to evangelize my grandpa. It was 1998. I was still home schooled. I knew very little about the world. I thought what I knew then was the absolute truth. And of course, I had to share my vast knowledge with everyone who didn't believe what I did, to make them become like me.

What my grandpa wrote back to me never left me:

May 14, 1998

Dear Holly

It's raining and everything is green outside. I'm doing laundry so I'll take this opportunity to reply to your letter. 

I don't usually discuss religion but you took the lead in bringing it up, so here goes. 

First of all I think it was very sweet of you to consider me important enough to write your letter. Your mother and I have had this same conversation before. 

There are many denominations of Christians from those who believe that "giving yourself to God" to those who believe in "Jesus of Nazareth." I've had experience with some of these Protestant, Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Latter Day Saints, Jewish, and Watch Tower. Would you believe they all can defend their religious beliefs and consider themselves the one who are correct. And how about the other great religions which include many others: Hindu, Muslim, Buddhism, Mohammedan, Sikhism and lets not forget the American Indian. They are determined their belief it the correct way. They can't all be right but each one has good things about them. 

As you get older you'll come into contact with different religious groups and you'll probably discuss the aspects of religion. The more you get out among others of different faiths the more you'll wonder. I have worked with many people of other faiths and the "measure of a man" is NOT his religion. 

I don't want you to be as skeptical as I am. 

Remember we love you very much and the hope you'll keep your innocence. 

I have Bibles and the Book of Mormon, I don't have the Koran yet. 

Love
Grandpa

And here I am now, nineteen years later, agreeing with my grandpa. As "skeptical" as he was. But I don't like the negative connotation the word "skeptical" holds. We are independent thinkers. And I have seen much more of the big world now than I did in 1998.  

The measure of a man is NOT his religion.
I have grandpa's genes. I believe we can do the right thing without a religion telling us what that thing is. That we know intrinsically that being kind and honest with ourselves and others is good.

Go to church or don't, but be good to one another. Be kind and honest and care about what is important. What is important is not our religion, but the measure of who we are.

RIP Grandpa. You died nearly ten years ago but I'm still learning from you.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

we are not scarecrows

When you take someone for granted,
you view them as a fixture,
not someone you need to prop up. 

Someone told me that once. I hurried to write it down.

Don't be taken for granted.
But more importantly, don't take anyone for granted.

We are not fixtures.
People move and change, evolve and grow.

We do not stand still in one place like scarecrows. 
/
Nothing is permanent unless you take care of it so it can be.

And no matter how independent a person is,
they could use some propping up.
Just because you can make it on your own two feet
doesn't mean you have to.

It's nice to have someone's arms to sink into once in awhile.
It's nice to feel not as if you're not alone.