Friday, February 17, 2017

sunshine

Yesterday, Holden told me I'm his sunshine.

Every day, he tells me he loves me, that I'm pretty, and that he likes my yellow hair.

He holds my hand and gives me kisses.
 
We listen to music together, one earbud apiece.

He asks me to sing aloud to the songs he knows I like. He asks me to dance. He reminds me to do these things, to be happy, to live in the moment. 

Yesterday, he met a girl and he tried to hold her hand and help her up the climbing apparatus. She wasn't ready for his affections, but he is going to make some girl very happy one day. He will beat up the creepy guys for her and then he will turn around and hug her. He is hard but soft. He will make her playlists and tell her nice things which he actually means. When inevitably some girl compliments me on how my son turned out because it's awkward and she doesn't know what to say, I'll say, "bitch, I taught him that!"

Monday, February 6, 2017

self-fulfilling prophecies

While I was driving, I heard a new song called Issues. (Sample lyrics: 'Cause I got issues, but you got 'em too/So give 'em all to me and I'll give mine to you). It reminded me of something I think of often: self-fulfilling prophecies.

Parenting is such a giant responsibility because we are setting these people up for the rest of their lives. I am trying not to create any negative self-fulfilling prophecies (ie: calling my kids "difficult" or "bully" or "crybaby") when I am with them. Because if someone calls you something enough times, it's only a matter of time until you believe it. Then you emulate it because you're expected to, not because you want to.

I want my kids to imagine the best version of themselves and then create it. I don't want to construct something for them. I want to watch them build it themselves.

Monday, January 30, 2017

She Used To Be Mine

Last year, Bob Dylan won the Nobel prize. Some people said song lyrics aren't poetry/literature. 

This is one of my favorite songs from the week. I might start a thread of favorite songs, actually. Music is inspiring or hopeful or sad or relatable or sometimes all of those things. When the music swells and Sara pushes open the door, I choke up just a little. Every time. Maybe I choke up a lot. It's beautiful.  

Listen to this song and then say again that song lyrics aren't poetry. You can't. You won't.

This is from the play "The Waitress" which is probably fantastic.
 It's not simple to say
That most days I don't recognize me
That these shoes and this apron
That place and its patrons
Have taken more than I gave them
It's not easy to know
I'm not anything like I used be, although it's true
I was never attention's sweet center
I still remember that girl
 
She's imperfect, but she tries
She is good, but she lies
She is hard on herself
She is broken and won't ask for help
She is messy, but she's kind
She is lonely most of the time
She is all of this mixed up and baked in a beautiful pie
She is gone, but she used to be mine
 
It's not what I asked for
Sometimes life just slips in through a back door
And carves out a person and makes you believe it's all true
And now I've got you
And you're not what I asked for
If I'm honest, I know I would give it all back
For a chance to start over and rewrite an ending or two
For the girl that I knew
 
Who'll be reckless, just enough
Who'll get hurt, but who learns how to toughen up
When she's bruised and gets used by a man who can't love
And then she'll get stuck
And be scared of the life that's inside her
Growing stronger each day 'til it finally reminds her
To fight just a little, to bring back the fire in her eyes
That's been gone, but used to be mine
Used to be mine
 
 
 
She is messy, but she's kind
She is lonely most of the time
She is all of this mixed up and baked in a beautiful pie
She is gone, but she used to be mine

Friday, January 27, 2017

my void, my aloneness, my self



At any rate, that’s how I started running. Thirty three—that’s how old I was then. Still young enough, though no longer a young man. The age that Jesus Christ died. The age that Scott Fitzgerald started to go downhill. That age may be a crossroads in life. That was the age when I began my life as a runner, and it was my belated, but real, starting point as a novelist (Murakami, 47).

I am thirty-three. I was thirty-three when I ran my first marathon. Thirty-three when I started grad school. It is only now—at thirty-three—that I am having these thoughts about the rest of my life: what I want it to look like. If I’m content with it the way it is or if I want a different one.
I began running seriously three years ago, when I also began writing this novel I am still writing. My second son had just been born and I had baby weight to lose and was unemployed for the first time in my life and suddenly, the story I wanted to write began to pour out of me. I wrote and I ran and I took care of my baby and toddler. Sometimes, I slept.
Life ebbs and flows and I lost the momentum on my novel. As I lost weight, I decreased my running. I had thought I was running to lose weight, but it wasn’t just that. I didn’t know it then, of course, but I was running as Murakami says, “in a void. Or maybe I should put it the other way: I run in order to acquire a void” (17). I was running to have an hour to myself, without anyone crying or whining or nagging. I was running to feel myself, which I only feel when I’m alone.
I’m the kind of person who likes to be by myself. To put a finer point on it, I’m the type of person who doesn’t find it painful to be alone. I find spending an hour or two every day running alone, not speaking to anyone, as well as four or five hours alone at my desk, to be neither difficult nor boring. I’ve had this tendency ever since I was young, when given a choice, I much preferred reading books on my own or concentrating on listening to music over being with someone else. I could always think of things to do by myself (Murakami, 15).

I was mid-ebb in December. I wasn’t running much because I discovered a mysterious lump on my heel that scared me. And I was between semesters so I took a break from writing. But in January, I flowed. I wrote and I ran and I realized the two of them coincide. I thought back to when I first started my novel and first started running and realized when I do one, I do the other. They are a pair. They are my life force.
“Being active every day makes it easier to hear that inner voice” (Murakami, 49). When I run, I don’t necessarily think about what I’m writing. But I am able to get those mundane, ordinary thoughts worked out so I can clear my mind and make way for my creative thoughts.
“From the start, artistic activity contains elements that are unhealthy and antisocial” (Murakami, 96-97). My running fuels my lonely writing. “To deal with something unhealthy, a person needs to be as healthy as possible” (Murakami, 98).
It is only now, after losing all that weight and keeping it off and giving up running and returning to it and entering grad school and reading this book that I realized why it is I really run. “Human beings naturally continue doing things they like and they don’t continue what they don’t like” (Murakami, 44). I am acquiring my void, my aloneness, my self.  

Works Cited

Murakami, Haruki. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. Vintage Books, 2009.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

trying

January 2017 has been the most productive month of my life. When I started this MFA program, someone warned me, "don't expect to finish your novel in a semester. But maybe over the course of the whole program."

I nodded. Of course I didn't expect to complete my whole novel in a semester! I have two kids at home with me! I work part-time. I read and I exercise and I make dinners and even occasionally clean this house. Don't be preposterous.

My first semester, I completed 60 pages of my novel. I was writing it simultaneously while writing short stories. I was pleased with some of it. A lot of it, I suppose.

Then, I took a break from writing. I spent December barely writing at all (did I write anything?). There was a trip to Seattle and then I had my 10-day residency. At residency, for second semester, I was assigned to a new mentor. Let me tell you about her: she's a real badass. She's tough as nails. She pushes people to be their best. She runs a printing press and has multiple books to her name already. She is working on other ones. She runs marathons (yes, plural). We vibed instantly. And I knew I had to impress her, or at least not let her down.

So I got home from residency, started running again, and wrote like crazy. I revised the 60 pages of my novel from last semester then added 20 more and sent it to her. Then, I started on my real work: writing 50 more pages. Yesterday, I finished my creative work for the month. My novel is now 132 pages. I have lost eight pounds and my mind is clearer from the exercise and the writing. I have new thoughts churning and escaping into my writing over and over.

And now I think, maybe I can finish my novel by the end of this semester. Because no one knows what they're capable of until they fill up their capacity. It's easy to say you can't do something; it's fulfilling to actually try to do it.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

golden age

It's finally here. IT! IT! That time everyone has told me will come is here! The time they soothe you with promises of when you're in the throes of  raising a baby and a toddler. When you're covered in spit up and sleep deprived and screaming and crying is rattling around in your brain, even when no one is screaming or crying. The kids are reaching the golden age. Holden is being potty trained. They play nicely together. And I sleep in now until--get this--9 a.m.! They can forage in the pantry, although they usual emerge with fruit snacks, it's still food (technically I think).

Today the sun is out, melting everything from our ice storm over the weekend and it is the perfect metaphor. If you're in the middle of raising a baby or a toddler, or god forbid, both, I'm here to tell you: it's true what they say--it really does get better. Raising a baby is so demanding, but raising a nearly 3- and nearly 5-year-old isn't so bad. And soon they're not going to need me at all. So much needing happens at the beginning, but it eases off you as you get older and less capable.

Soon you will be writing or reading or practicing yoga while the kids entertain themselves. Hell, maybe you'll even pour yourself a cocktail. Lord knows: mama, you've earned it. 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

favorite books from 2016

2016 started off rough for reading. I just wasn't picking anything that inspired me but was reading it anyway. Then I started school and learned not to do that anymore. Reading for a writer is very important: it is the study of writing and it also inspires writing. If reading does neither of those, it's time to put it down and pick up something else. I am unlearning to always finish what I start.

 Here were my top reads from last year: 


1. The Sound of Gravel
by Ruth Wariner
Memoir 
A heart-breaking account of a young girl raised in a pologamist Mormon colony in Mexico. Young Ruthie is abused and sees two family members die. Memoirs rip me up. Places like this exist, people actually live through these experiences and live to tell about it. 

2. Going Clear
by Lawrence Wright
Non-fiction
This was recommended to me by a customer at the coffee shop and a few pages in, I was hooked. This is a book explaining Scientology - all the way from the founder L. Ron Hubbard to his psychology ideas evolving into a religion. Fascinating and disturbing, much like The Sound of Gravel.

3. The Mermaid Chair
by Sue Monk Kidd
Novel
Sue Monk Kidd (also author of better known The Secret Life of the Bees) is a master of writing place. This book takes place on Egret Island. The protagonist, Jessie, returns there as an adult, after her mother has chopped off a finger. Jessie's daughter has just left for college and Jessie is going through something of a mid-life crisis. On this island, Jessie finds a part of herself that was lost. 

4. Self-Help
by Lorrie Moore
Short Stories
I read a lot of short stories during the last half of 2016. My mentor in school has a bit of a penchant for them, and I learned that I do too. It is pretty fantastic to be able to pick up a book and read a self-contained piece between errands and chores. Lorrie Moore has a voice that I envy. She writes in second person. She is sassy and self-depricating and sad but funny. She is a new favorite writer. 

5. Lust and Other Stories
by Susan Minot
Short Stories
The title story of this collection is something like the novel I am writing so I read the collection as a requirement for school. Susan Minot is another master of short fiction. She also has a voice to envy and writes and revises with some sort of crazy genius.

6. Cathedral 
by Raymond Carver
Short Stories
Ray Carver writes about ordinary people doing every day things, but somehow makes it interesting. I can't get his story, "A Small, Good Thing" out of my head. Carver successfully folds stories into stories with his own unique style. His narrator always has a clear point of view that pulls the reader in. 

7. After the Dam
by Amy Hassinger
Novel
Amy is one of the mentors in the MFA program. She is actually one of the first people I met at residency and she has this calm, welcoming aura about her. Right after residency, her third book came out and I went to see her read at UNO. There was a busload of high school students and Amy read a sex scene and they giggled and guffawed and it was an experience I was glad to have had.  Her book follows a young mother who, like in The Mermaid Chair, returns to a place where she grew up. I guess I like these kind of books because I can relate.

8. Lift
by Kelly Corrigan
Toilet book
I'm calling this a toilet book because I don't know what they're called. It's one of those small books that can be read through really quickly. You find them suggested as stocking stuffers and see them on coffee tables. Any way, everyone knows I love Kelly Corrigan (I even fan-mailed her this year and she wrote me back. My love grew). I realized she had a book I hadn't read and instantly ordered it. This book is written as a letter to her daughters. I would suggest it to any mother. 

9. Why Won't You Talk to Me?
by Richard Duggin
Short Stories
I have a bias on this one. Richard was my mentor my first semester in the MFA program. Additionally, he is the reason the MFA program exists. He has been a professor for fifty years. He is a wealth of knowledge and helped me as a writer immensely. He is also an accomplished writer His stories about loves that were lost or given up on remind me what I write to understand, ultimately: human emotion. 

10. The Color Purple
by Alice Walker
Novel
I have no idea how I made it to 33 without reading this book. If you haven't read it, what are you doing reading my blog? Pick this up. Read it. Cry. Laugh. Remember how a book can transport you and illuminate you and make you feel. 

I have a long list of books to read for school in 2017. Books are multiplying around here, like rabbits.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

2016 in review


 Brandon can sit through the movies. But we've learned better than to take Holden. 
I register for a marathon. I begin training.
 We go sledding for the first time.
 During winters around here, we read a lot of books. 
 
Holden turns two. 
 
Brandon turns four.
Kylie and Khloe have moved back here from Hawaii. 
I run a half marathon, my tune-up race.
 
The boys are still best friends.
 Brandon makes me laugh.
 We play outside. All the time. 
I sort through clothes and toys for weeks for a garage sale. 
Brandon helps. 
I travel to Washington and run my first (and last?) marathon with my older brother and younger sister.
 My boys welcome me home.
 They play with their best friends.
 And catch fireflies.
 In July, I start school. This means a 10-day residency, so I'm away from my boys again. But I make great friends.
 In August, Steve and I celebrate our 10-year anniversary by traveling to NYC. Then Aunt Amber comes to visit us and tells Brandon and Holden they will have a new cousin in 2017.
 In September, Brandon starts pre-school. After a couple days, he loves it.
 My friends from school come visit me for a weekend. Writers are an odd bunch.
 As soon as it opens, we go to the pumpkin patch all the time.
 Or sometimes other places.
 They become even better friends.
 We make our own Halloween costumes. Brandon is Charlie Brown, Holden is Linus. They are obsessed with watching Peanuts movies.
 Holden takes up a new habit of sleeping in my bed next to me each night. I'm not complaining.
 We travel to Washington for Christmas. Brandon and Mila are reunited.
 But all four of them get along, most of the time. It's the Christmas of Shopkins.
 Then, I went back to school for my second residency.

Ready to start 2017 off right. I plan to finish my novel and not train for a marathon this year.

Monday, January 2, 2017

not so lone dreamer

To be in this place full of writers, this literary community, is what I have craved since graduating college. Eleven years it took to weave my way through a labyrinth of what wasn't me to return to where I started: writing and sharing with other literary people, other people whose lives revolve around something other than TV or obsessing about white-collar jobs.

There is nothing wrong with people who are nothing like me. The world wouldn't exist without them. We need people to build roads and write proposals and make deals to keep society afloat. We need people of all different types to keep all these balls in the air.

But fuck, it feels good to know I'm not alone.

I am always the lone dreamer, wherever I go. Or maybe just the only one who admits aloud that I have dreams outside of the space I currently occupy. I am the one who doesn't care enough about jobs to hold one down, the person who takes books to the children's museum rather than interacting with other moms, that person who would rather be alone than surrounded.

But I've learned that it is important to have people who understand me, people who share this part of me because it is also a part of them. It is comforting to belong to something rather than always existing as an outsider.

I've also learned that just as the world couldn't exist without the deal closers and the shop owners and the farmers, the world couldn't exist without us oddball dreamers. The creative types with their heads in the clouds. Us who make art to document, to imagine, to ask questions and seek answers.

I am glad to have found my tribe. I am no longer the lone dreamer. I am not a weirdo for wanting something so badly that I will spend hours and days and months and years working toward it. I am a writer. It's not odd anymore, once I am among others. And I don't want to be alone rather than surrounded anymore, not now that I am surrounded by people who understand me.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

buoyancy

I am good at piling on, but not at unpacking. I give myself things to do: chores, school, work, parenting. It accumulates on top of me, the pack mule who is never unpacked.

But last week I read the word, "buoyancy" and I thought, that's what I'm missing. I am always treading water, never lying on my back and floating. So I decided to unpack a little. I started with a bath bomb and a book. Then I scheduled a massage.

The masseuse said, "you sure are tight" when working my shoulders and I thought, work it out. All of 2016. All of the work I did and the stress I had. All of the worry and the anxiety. Knead it out of me. 

In 2017, I will not begin to sink. I can not do that again: gasp for air and struggle to breathe. I can not feel the heavy darkness washing over me, into me, through me again. I will swim toward the light and when I find it, I will stay there.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

pain and cookies

When I dropped Brandon off at preschool, he clung to my leg, tears in his eyes like it was his first day again. He loves preschool and always says, "bye mom!" with something like enthusiasm. But today was different.

"Sit here, next to Ryan," I said. But then a redheaded boy sat next to Brandon's friend Ryan instead. "Sit by him," I said, as if one person was as good as another.
"But he's mean to me!" Brandon wailed.
I wanted to demand to know what this redhead did to my sensitive boy. I wanted to track down the mother and have a word or two. But I acted calm and Brandon's teacher helped wrench Brandon off of me.

"I'll be back soon," I promised. Then I came home with Holden, to stew over what could have happened to my boy. Because when something happens to your child, you feel it just as intensely, maybe more so.

Once preschool ended, I picked up Brandon and got the story. On Friday, the redhead and Brandon were in the bathroom and the redhead punched Brandon in the belly and didn't say he was sorry. Brandon said this boy isn't mean to anyone else, only to Brandon.

And I felt a pang like pain in knowing that Brandon has learned that the world is not always kind. That he will have to fight, even though he doesn't want to. That right and wrong are always at war. That people punch each other and say awful things and purposefully hurt one another.

But I brought him home, where he is sheltered from all of that and we made Christmas cookies and despite what he went through this morning, he said, "this is the best day of the year!"

Although I can't keep them from the evil, I can remind them of the good.

Friday, December 9, 2016

small efforts

So much in the habit of sewing something I stitch up a bunch of scraps, try to see what I can make. 
~from "The Color Purple" by Alice Walker

I don't watch a lot of TV, but one of the few shows I do watch is Project Runway. I watch it while I run on the treadmill, constantly marveling at the parallels between designing clothes and writing. We are each being creative, using our imaginations to create something for someone else to enjoy.

I am getting in the habit now of writing, thanks to grad school forcing it upon me. When I'm about to fall asleep, I think about what I am going to write next and when I wake up, I plan when I will sit down to write. It is becoming the habit that running was before. It could be a journal entry or a blog or revising something I wrote this semester or working on my novel, but I am writing and I am feeling good.

My sister sent me a "writer's box" last month which was full of writing inspiration: blank books to be filled and pencils and books. I cried while I marveled at each object she had included, knowing me and what I would like; spending so much time and effort to make it personal. She hand lettered on every page of a journal a quote to inspire me.

One is: "Success is the sum of small efforts - repeated day in and day out" (Robert Collier). Right now, Steve and I are cleansing again and I am shedding weight quickly because day in and day out I am disciplined. Small efforts, whether walking for ten minutes or not eating a cookie or writing until I'm proud of something or avoiding my phone at bed time are accumulating to make me feel purposeful.

Monday, November 28, 2016

gerunds

That time of motherhood is almost behind me when the ear is not one's own but must always be racked and listening for the child cry, the child call. ~from "I Stand Here Ironing" by Tillie Olsen

I know this sounds terrible, but it's honest: I'm looking forward to what comes next: the part of parenting when my kids clean up after themselves and help with chores and put themselves to bed and can put toothpaste on their toothbrushes and pull on their own pants and pour a bowl of cereal and even use the remote. I am looking forward to being needed less. I think what a lot of women love about motherhood is constantly being needed, but honestly it's what I like least. I love being loved, but not being needed.

The startling part of motherhood was that I was the one being depended on all of a sudden. I was no longer being doted on or looked out for. Now it was my responsibility to do that for other helpless people. Me, helpless myself, helping others! People depending on me! It was a lot--still is: today I forced medicine down Holden's throat and gave him a haircut as he screamed and cried and kicked and punched. Adjustment is not the word because it's so opposite of what I was used to that it wasn't like adjusting at all. It was like starting over, reinventing myself to be what someone else needed.

Some days, I can not believe that I'm not a child, but that I have children. I still remember many scenes of childhood with such clarity it's like I'm there. I remember the emotions with the same intensity. Sometimes I will smell strawberries and cream and remember a dollhouse of this girl I used to play with or I will walk into someone's house and the layout will be the exact same as a girl on my street. When I see one of those battery-operated cars for toddlers I think of this time when I rode on one, trying to outrace these dogs I was vehemently afraid of. Cozy coupes still make me think of Sarah Beth next door, even though my son has had one for years, that is not what I think of. I am a child still: just a grown, but not grown-up one.

I am the one now who acts, rather than the one the acts are done for. I am no longer the receiver, but now am the giver. I am cooking, cleaning, wiping, bathing, reading, organizing, gifting, driving, rocking, holding, nagging. I am all the gerunds, the ones people need. Today I am needing a warm bath and a hot bowl of soup and some apple cider and some ice cream and someone to tell me to "take a load off, go lay down"  or even, "you look terrible, do you feel okay?" but that isn't the way it is for parents. We do and we do and we do and if we ever don't we feel guilty and beat ourselves up and make ourselves even more haggard and run-down.

So I will clean the kitchen now and finish my Cyber Monday shopping and be what is expected of me because I am a parent now, not a kid. But it smells like strawberries and cream and I am thinking of a dollhouse or maybe it's Avon bubble bath, the kind I would use if I was a kid and I was sick and I needed a warm bath. This time of motherhood is almost behind me, and that gives me hope of a time where I'm not needed so much, but still loved with intensity. A time of baths and clean kitchens and not listening for someone to call out and need me.  I will slip back into who I was like a coat I just misplaced for a spell and I will take a long whiff of mothballs and smile.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

morning after

A few weeks ago at the pumpkin patch, we went on the big slide. We had just bought pumpkin cups and could not take them with us so Brandon said, "what will we do with these?" and I told him we would put them in the corner by the fence while we slid. "But what if someone takes them?" he asked, because although he's half my DNA, he's also half Steve's.

"Sometimes you have to believe in the good in people," I replied.
Reluctantly he left his new cup in the corner by the fence and then we slid down the slide over and over again. And when it was time to leave he said, "my new cup!" and he went to retrieve it, and there it was, exactly where we had left it.
"See?" I said. "People are good. You have to remember to trust in that."

That's what I thought of this morning when I woke up and Brandon was in my bed and I explained with tears in my eyes that Clinton didn't win. Although some people are bad, many, many people are good. We have to remember to trust in that.