Wednesday, December 13, 2017

blue foam cake

My youngest son
doesn't interact with
other children.

Instead, he
makes me fake food,
pen sketches,
block buildings--
shows them to me,
waits for praise.

Sometimes I think,
in the way parents of 2017 do,
I should schedule play dates
for him, introduce
him to friends his own age. 

But I don't.
I love the attention
he lavishes on me
and quite frankly,
I don't actually believe
he needs any fixing.

He just brought me a
blue foam cake which I
pretend ate
with real enthusiasm.

Friday, December 8, 2017

great healer

My sister is here, in town with her baby.

What is it about babies that brings out our smiles?

Also, it is a weird phenomenon, being around family. I sing aloud again, do puzzles, dance in the living room. Everything is as it should be.

Like the good ol' days.

She took pictures of me and the boys, I ordered my Christmas cards. I started holiday shopping. I even finished revising my manuscript, which I've been meaning to do, and finished writing a short story.

We made cinnamon roll popcorn, she made caramels, we're going to make bath bombs. 

It's been a good week. 

Family, biological or not, is a great healer.

Friday, December 1, 2017

frat bros

I have an addictive personality. In both the chemical and compulsive behavior categories, I like to get fucked up. Fuuuuucked up. I wrote an essay about it this semester: about why I drink or smoke weed. I like to feel OK as I am and it seems I can only achieve that when I'm drunk or high or in the heat of sex. That is the only time I can ditch my self-loathing narrative, the one that runs on a loop saying I'm not good enough, I'm a fuck up, I won't amount to anything, I'm a piece of shit.

Instead of feeling like I'm spinning when I'm under an influence, that is the only time I feel calm. I have it all backward and it's when I'm sober that I feel like I'm spinning out of control.

But this year. Oh this year has been such a redemptive one for me. Blessed 2017.

I have this group of friends I met at school. We actually call ourselves a fraternity. These are friends who write, who laugh into the wee hours of the night with me, friends who road trip with me, who workshop writing with me. Friends who send me letters, friends who invite me to Thanksgiving dinner, friends who group text horoscopes, friends who eat Gandolfo's sandwiches, friends who moved me into my apartment, brought me housewarming gifts, FaceTime me. Friends who sustain me.

Yes, I have been known to get drunk or high with these friends. Most my friendships, really, have revolved around getting drunk together, getting stoned together. But other than my siblings, these friends might be the only ones whose friendships I sustain in the absence of drugs. When I was sick last week, my friends brought over teas and Werther's originals and Alka Seltzer and we played Sequence and laughed so hard snot poured from my nose.

I am going weeks on end between drinks now. One of my friends is sober and she inspires me to enjoy life as it is, without altering my mind to it. Some days I walk to the mailbox and see a brightly colored envelope from a frat member and I rip it open and read it right there in the cold, getting a high off our correspondence. These people have helped me realize my own strength, have listened to me cry when I didn't have any strength left. These friends are satiating my hunger for companionship, teaching me another way to live.

Friendship is my new drug of choice. 

Thursday, November 30, 2017

and now a sandwich

It was earlier this week, while I was washing the dishes and Holden was playing with toys in the living room while a Pandora station played that I sighed and thought, "this feels like home." You know: a place to just be. A place that is comfortable. A place where you don't have to pretend.

My computer is plugged in now, my furniture is all moved into place. I decorated the Christmas tree. I bought plants which I water each morning. I keep this place so immaculately clean.

Days are falling into a rhythm.

Brandon tells me where he is going to spend each night, and he's always right.

I had worried about living on my own because of all the administrative work it would require. Steve has always taken care of scheduling repairs, remembering oil changes, paying bills, grocery shopping.

I thought I hated all that stuff. Well it's true I don't necessarily like it but it's also not that awful. I took Holden to the grocery store on Monday when it was quiet. I registered for a class without asking Steve to do it for me. And then today: I went and got my car door repaired on my own. I took care of it all.

Now I'm going to make myself a nice sandwich and eat it on the patio while the sun hits my face.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Friendsgiving

Thanksgiving is a weird holiday. When I was a kid it meant Grandpa's house, for my favorite weekend of the year. In the first two years of college, it meant tacking myself onto someone else's family holiday. Once in Wyoming where I shot a gun at cans in the foothills, once in Saint Louis when I was zig-zag parting my hair. 2005, the year of my baby, when I lived alone in my small apartment in Omaha, my sister came from Wisconsin and stayed with me and we ate smoked turkey bagels and pieced puzzles together.

Since I've been married, we've alternated between my family's Thanksgiving and Steve's, more often Steve's due to convenience.

This year was to be the year of my family's Thanksgiving, but with divorce in full swing and people not yet knowing it, we didn't make plans to head back to the Pacific Northwest. I called my mother on Thanksgiving Eve once the boys were asleep and I heard my newest niece crying and my sister talking and my mother was making her famous rolls and there was so much going on that I wasn't a part of, as usual.

Mom asked if I had anywhere to go for the holiday and I said I did, I have this marvelous friend who not only invited me to her house for this holiday but also was with me on the fourth of July and sends me cards through the mail because she knows those are my absolute favorite. I made green bean casserole and drove to her home where her girls were on the lawn waiting for me. I rolled down the window and said, "can I drop by for dinner?" in an accent and they giggled because they're the most delightful age (ten). There were name cards set on the table in the living room to designate where we each sit and mine was inscribed by one of the twins in the most gorgeous kid affection that I almost cried right there.

Then we ate and I gorged myself on tortilla chips and a cheeseball (which more people should have as an option in the lackluster Thanksgiving spread). Then we toured the small town and played Yahtzee which I lost very miserably (I even had to cross out my Full House). I drove back and thought not of what I was missing by not being with my family, but instead of what a good time I'd had in a Friendsgiving.

And I was thankful for that: the surprises that pop up that we can make the most of or lament.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

upended

There are times when I sit in the garage with the car idling, willing myself to turn off the ignition, drag myself up the stairs, and go about my day.


And then, there are homemade pancakes.


There are times when Brandon is crying to his father, asking when everything is going to go back to normal, when mom is going to move back into the blue house.
There are times Brandon gets disobedient behavior colors at school.

There has been a time at school drop off when Brandon started crying and then I started crying too and his Kindergarten teacher came and wrenched him from my arms and said he could lead the class with her and made him happy and I walked back to my car with the cold wind freezing my tears onto my face, wishing someone would calm me down and make me happy.

We have been upended.

And then, Brandon falls asleep in my arms and his body is warm and his head leaves a sweat mark on my shirt and I smile and lie down in my bed alone with a book and I realize not everything has changed and I can totally do this, I am a strong independent woman.

There are times like today when the boys put on gloves and pretend to be trash men and then they rescue their stuffed animals who they call pets and they are so alive and vibrant and even if they're sad, I know they can pull themselves out of it.


There are times when I sit at my computer, crying into my coffee and Holden says, "I'll make you better" and brings me a blanket and kisses me on the cheek and I think, god damn it, kids really can do everything. They help us, ground us, heal us, fix us, make us realize the length of our problems  Our problems are only as wide as we let them stretch.


But there are times when I open my new garage door and Holden, from the back seat, sighs and says, "home sweet home."

There are times when Brandon takes long showers at my apartment and marvels at the water pressure, how perfect it is, and I record him singing so I can remember that despite what people tell me, that I've ruined our family and destroyed my children, the kids are alright.

Upended, yes.
But not ended.

There is a difference.

There are times I make us my favorite childhood comfort foods for dinner. There are times we eat endless breadsticks at Fazoli's. There are times we eat cereal. There are times we share a bag of Doritos and watch a movie in my bed.

We are feeding ourselves in the ways we know how, as imperfectly as that is.

Still: we are still feeding ourselves.


In this new life so precariously perched in two separate places, we are finding the path that connects them.

I am writing again. Running. Finding my balance.

The boys are doing puzzles and reading library books and sleeping in their new bunk beds.
Keeping their balance.

I am alright, or I will be. The kids are alright, or they will be. Just a little upended for now.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Fucking Finally

Whenever I've thought of what I want to do, the only things I ever came up with were writing and teaching.

I have been writing. But we all know that doesn't pay the bills. So I'm dipping my toe into the water of teaching. Just a tiny baby toe. I'm working one afternoon a week, at a high school. There, students meet after school to write and read poetry. In the spring, they will compete in a spoken word poetry competition.

I'm going to be a part of it all.

I was excited yesterday, to be in a room full of people who wanted to write, who are already writing, at fifteen or eighteen. I wish I had been involved in such a thing during high school, to have the healthy outlet for coping with raging hormones and petty friendships. I would've known that there are communities of people who are also passionate about writing and I would've anchored myself in one much sooner. I want to do high school all over again.

These kids are going to write some good fucking poetry. Really good shit. We're going to do it together. It's going to blow all of our minds.

I'm getting paid to write and teach writing. Can you believe it?
I'm thirty-four and I'm finally figuring my life out.

Fucking finally.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Adulting So Hard

This is hard to admit, but here goes:

Steve and I are separating.

To say I'm overwhelmed would be such an understatement.

On Friday, when I walked into the office to get my apartment keys, the office manager said I needed my co-signer with me. So I called Steve who thankfully dropped everything and drove over so I could get into my new place. The office manager asked for the form proving I had set up gas and electric. I had set up neither gas nor electric. She let me in anyway (with gas and power on) even though the paperwork says they won't.

I am so thankful for the kindness of strangers.

The weekend was a whirlwind of hauling boxes up the stairs and unpacking them, of finding new places for old things to go.

On Monday, I drove Brandon to school and then went to Steve's house with my laptop to use his WiFi. I scheduled to have my utilities started. I called to get my own WiFi. I texted Steve to find out what routers and modems are and if I should buy or rent one.

Yesterday, I drove to Lincoln to order a couch. Holden fell asleep in the car so I sat in the parking lot returning emails I had forgotten about, crying. This was my first time missing a school deadline. I woke up Holden and we ordered a couch which won't be here for 8-10 weeks. I bought a chair which we finagled into my car with only one seat down, Holden in the other one. I bought a trash can from the hardware store which rode in the passenger seat. I had so many blind spots: behind me and next to me. I could only see what was going on around me by contorting my neck.

What a perfect metaphor.

I stopped and picked up a router/modem and installed it myself. I have WiFi now.

Last night I stayed up late unpacking the last boxes. I vacuumed the floor, loaded the dishwasher. Today I submitted my workshop materials five days late. I set up automatic bill pay for my utitlies. I made an email folder called "Adulting So Hard."

I am learning to live this way.

Every day is easier than the last.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Halloween 2017

It's always cold here on Halloween.
 
But this was the first year it snowed. Just light snowflakes that didn't stick to much, but snow nonetheless. I looked up into the streetlights and watched them fall as the kids ran from house to house, shivering in the snow, collecting candy.
 
This is embarrassing to admit, but when I was nineteen, I went trick-or-treating in West Omaha to get some candy for my dorm room. I know, I know. I was one of those kids. But I remember I was wearing flip-flops because I hadn't accustomed myself to the weather here, how it gets cold quickly. One day you're wearing flip-flops and the next you're freezing your toes off.
Brandon was a trooper, he could've trick-or-treated all night. But Holden my homebody said, "let's all go home." So we did. And we ate a lot of candy. And watched Charlie Brown. Brandon manned the door and handed out candy to kids much older than him and Steve and I marveled at how big he's become, how grown up sometimes.
But happily, only sometimes.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

why i write


I am overwhelmed sometimes and feel a great deal of wonder at words, just simple words and how deeply we can touch each other with them, though I know that most of the time language is the most abused of all human abilities or traits. 

On the river a few weeks ago, we wrote about why we write.  Here's what I came up with:

I write as a way of wondering aloud about people. Who are we? Why do we act the way we do? What are the traits that connect us, the emotions that fuse us? Although we have such varied experiences, there is a universal humanity that we all share.

How do we move through the world in relation to other people?

We wouldn't be able to navigate completely alone, without those connections that sustain us.

I write to join in. To add to the conversation, sometimes by distracting it: by thinking of it differently, challenging why we are this way--imperfect and flawed. But are we, if there is no perfection, no pinnacle? We are only not good enough when measured against others we think to be better, only OK when measured against who we think to be worse.

There is no scale, no scoring.

We are people moving through the world in ways so differently they can divide us but with motives so identical they could connect us.

*

Writers often seem like loners. And we are, in social ways, a lot of times. But we write as a way to connect to people, to understand ourselves and the people around us. In that way, we are not loners. We just do our work alone.

We use language to fuse ourselves to other people.

But through stories from each other we can feel that we are not alone, that we are not the first and the last to confront loss.

*

All semester, I have been writing my own story. A self-indulgent past time, it feels. But it has been cleansing nonetheless, to say the words I hadn't, admit my faults, wonder aloud about my future.

I am wrapping up what I have to say about myself, but I am not done writing. I will finish out grad school writing fiction again, telling stories.
  
I often wish I had more to say, but somehow it comes out in a story. such as these. 


(Italicized quotes are Leslie Marmon Silko's, pulled from her letters to James Wright. They can be found in The Delicacy and Strength of Lace). 

Friday, October 20, 2017

fly in my coffee

I had plans today: clean the toy room, do the laundry, take the boys to the wildlife safari.

But instead of following them, I allowed spontaneity.

Today was one of the last nice days of the year, before the winter winds blow in, freeze us, coop us up. So we played outside, me and Holden still in our pajamas.

I read Annie Dillard, who is something like a naturalist and a scientist and a writer and a quiet thinker all rolled together. She is the queen bee of being present, of observing.

I put down my book and watched my boys as they played. I noticed what I usually don't: the way the wind ruffles Holden's hair, how in charge Brandon is. I watched a fly land on my leg then fly away, again and again.

Brandon brought out cheese and chips and we had an accidental picnic.

We lived the day as it wanted to be lived.

I drank around the fly in my coffee.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

hear us

Recently, spurred by Harvey Weinstein, women have been posting #metoo online to show how widespread sexual assault and harassment is.

I have not been assaulted, but I know so many women who have been.

I have been harassed, I guess you'd call it, but only with words.

Once, by my boss when I closed down the bar. I went into the office and said, "anything else you need me to do before I leave?" and he spun around in his swivel chair, his bald head shining under the florescent light and said, "you can suck my dick." Wordlessly, I left.

Another time, a co-worker from the Olive Garden came to my apartment between lunch and dinner shifts and while I was filling up Tucker's dog bowl, he said, "are we gonna have sex or what?" and when I looked up, his pants and his sailboat boxers were around his ankles, his arms outstretched. I chose the "or what" and drove him back to work. I never saw him again.

Both times, the men were not aggressive and I had an escape. I am one of the lucky ones.

I know from my friends who have been physically assaulted that the pain is deep and doesn't go away. I know that they feel they can't say anything or shouldn't. I know they feel like it's their fault even though it isn't. I know they feel helpless and afraid to ask for help.

I know I feel helpless, knowing this happens so often to so many. 

So what I'll do is everything I can to keep my boys from turning into demonic men who see women only as sexual objects. I will teach my boys that women are people with the same rights and liberties they have, with brains and humor and ambition. I will teach my boys to appreciate girls for who they are, not what they can offer. I will teach my boys to never use a position of power as a manipulation. I will teach my boys to be gentlemen, not depraved goons.

To the women who haven't had it as good as I have: every day you have been brave and courageous. You are beauty in the world, making it despite the ugliness.

To the women who have had it as good as I have: we are lucky and relatively unscathed but don't let that blind you to what is happening around us. Let us raise our sons to be better. Let us rally around women who haven't had it so easy. Let us teach our daughters they have a voice and we want to hear them.

We are women, hear us roar, howl, wail, and growl.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Q317 songs

Dark Side - Bishop Briggs
Habits of my Heart - Jaymes Young
Summertime Sadness - Lana Del Ray
White Lightning - The Cadillac Three
False Alarm - The Head and the Heart
Like I'm Gonna Lose You - Jasmine Thompson
No Diggity - Chet Faker
Bloodstream - Stateless
Sparks - Coldplay
The Night we Met -Lord Huron
Copycat - Billie Eilish
Dive - Ed Sheeran
Feel it Still - Portugal. The Man

Monday, October 2, 2017

writing on the river

This weekend I spent on the Missouri River, at a writer's retreat. A writer's retreat is a place full of artists, other tribe members. These retreats exist so we can be learn from each other, inspire one another, read, write, and watch the birds fly south overhead.
On the first night, we each wrote on three scraps of paper what we were leaving behind: a role, maybe, like mother or wife or job title. Or maybe it was grief or blockage or being a public figure or guilt or chores.
We dropped our scraps of paper into a jar and Karen screwed the lid on tight. We gave ourselves permission to focus on writing, to do writerly things.
We have to do this, give ourselves permission to focus on what doesn't pay bills and what doesn't serve anyone else (yet), but what is important because it fuels us, this exploration, how we find our place in the world.
Because then we go back to our lives and our roles, the ones that distract us from our writing but also give us something to write about, fuel us differently. We are finding our place, these misfits who write because we must, it's a current running through us.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

for brandon

Last night, Brandon, you couldn't sleep because you watched a video on the iPad that frightened you. You called, "mommy!" from your bed, even though you never call me that anymore and I raced up the bunk stairs to hold you. You were covered in a cold sweat. You told me about the video, that it had a devil on it and now you believed monsters were real. I smoothed your sweaty hair and said, "that might have seemed real, but it isn't. What is real is that you are safe here, in your cozy home. Your brother is right beneath you. I am here to hold you. This is what's real."

I told you what I know to be true, but I also know your fear. I told you I remembered seeing something that scared me once, at the mall. It was Terminator 2, playing on the tv at Suncoast next to the Gap. I remember Arnold Schwarzenegger on a motorcycle, shooting or getting shot at. I had nightmares about getting holes blown into my back after that, too often. Only a little while ago I found out my brother, who was with me, also had reoccurring nightmares from what we saw. We had been sheltered until then. And then, we knew that people killed people, that people might kill us. The ugliness I hadn't known was too much for me to process. I remember being afraid to fall asleep, being afraid that what had scared me once would scare me again while I dreamed.

It took a long time for you to fall asleep, but when you did, it was cuddled in my arms.

There is so much I wish I could promise you that I can't.

I wish I could promise you that you won't be scared, but I can't.
I can only promise you that I will hold you, smooth your sweaty hair, and reassure you of what is real.

I wish I could promise you that you won't get sick, but I can't.
I can only promise to give you a juice chaser after your medicine, a sucker after the doctor, and lots of couch snuggles while we watch movie marathons instead of going to school.

I wish I could promise that people will never disappoint you, but I can't.
I can only promise that I will try to make it better by being for you what you need.

I wish I could promise you that things will turn out the way you hope, but I can't.
I can only promise you that things will turn out, and that you will learn to adapt because you are a smart and sensitive boy that can handle absolutely anything, even devils on the iPad.

I wish I could promise you that you will always know you're good enough, but I can't.
I can only promise you that I will remind you over and over again how important and special and kind and smart and funny you are.

I can't promise you life will be easy, but I can promise to be there with you, as long as I can.

And I can promise you that you're strong enough for all of it, because you are. You fell asleep last night, and your chest heaved up and down, breathed in, then out. That's all there is to it, in the most basic sense. Taking another breath, then another. You made it through last night. You'll make it through a lot of other shit, too. You will, you will, you will.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

favorite short stories

I often write posts about books I've read and loved but I've never made a collection of short stories I love, which are equally important, but don't get the attention novels and memoirs do, for some reason I can't explain. I don't know why everyone isn't reading short story collections. Short stories are condensed versions of entire books! There is still plot and character and an epiphany (often more pronounced). Or sometimes its just a scene without a plot but you get to sit there, in that moment, with the character and live with them.

A writer friend asked for my list of my favorite short stories, so I made one. And then I figured I would share it. Because short stories are the tits and there is no excuse not to read them. They're short! You can read one while your kids are bouncing on giant pillows at the Pumpkin Patch. You can read three while the rice cooks.

In no particular order:

1. "The Yellow Wallpaper" 
by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
If you want to feel a character, read this. You get to crawl around in this post-partum, maybe crazy, maybe gaslit, woman's skin. It'll make you want to peel wallpaper off in giant sheets, scratch through the wall until you have sheet rock under your fingernails. 

2. "The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar"
by Roald Dahl
Lame title but incredible story. Probably my favorite. It is a long short story, but that's because it's a story within a story within a story. And all of them are incredible. Dahl somehow can give us minute details of a moment and the overarching summary of years all in this same piece. He is a master, making us believe what might or might not be possible because of how he tells it.

3. "Rape Fantasies" 
by Margaret Atwood  
Possibly my favorite title ever. Long before The Handmaid's Tale swept the Emmys, Margaret Atwood was writing incredibly funny stories like this one. She is a chameleon, an artist, the very best kind of writer.

4. "A Small Good Thing"
by Raymond Carver 
I know when people think of Carver, they think of "Cathedral," but it was this story that I liked the best. I constantly think back to the epiphany of this story, remind myself of small good things in my own life when I need.

5. "How to be the Other Woman"
by Lorrie Moore 
Lorrie Moore was the one who made me first fall in love with short stories. She is so funny and writes in her own way, damn everyone else. Second person? Hell yeah. Why doesn't anyone else use it? If they could like Moore does, they would. She twists conventions into something all of her own.

6. "The Man who Invented the Calendar"
by B.J. Novak 
Confession: I have a think for B.J. Novak. How could I not? He's a self-deprecating, funny writer who is also smart and thoughtful. His whole collection is smart and fun, but I found this story particularly inventive.

7. "Sparks"
by Susan Minot
Minot is a master of using language as more than words. Watch what she does to make you feel the crazy of her character with punctuation, scene changes, word repetition, tense vacillation, well-placed images. #aspirations

8. Parker's Back
by Flannery O'Connor
I'm probably not that literary because I'm not a big O'Connor fan. But this story is special. She created a whole story based on an image and I think of that image often, Parker's back, covered in tattoos he can't see. 

9. "Deep Kiss" 
by Tobias Wolff 
 Wolff packs so much to think about into such a small story. His writing is nice and tight. He even makes me consider writing in third person, because he does it so well, makes it look effortless. 

10. "Where are you Going, Where have you Been?"
by Joyce Carol Oates 
I love the tension Oates writes into both her characters and her story's action. She writes ominously, so the reader just knows shit's about to go down. She was inspired to write this story by an actual news story, proving writers are inspired by real life, but not necessarily their real life.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

resembling myself

I read the phrase, A woman who has only recently come to resemble herself ("The Folded Clock: A Diary" by Heidi Julavits). I underlined it. I read it again: "A woman who has only recently come to resemble herself." There was a break on the page then, which I used to mull over this sentence, why it stuck out to me.

Steve often tells me I'm a different person since I started my MFA. I don't deny it, he's right: I am. I'm writing all the time. Instead of watching tv, I'm reading. I started running again. I also have friends again, who I am in constant contact with: we text, send each other writing, see each other for coffee when possible. I didn't have friends for years while I was staying at home, not like this.

When Steve says I'm different, he might mean I'm pulling away from what he knew me as. Our kids are older now and they don't require the constant attention I gave them for years. Admittedly, I don't keep that clean of a house: I often skip chores to write now. Steve and I have always spent much of our time separately, but not to this extent. We used to meet up in front of the tv, which I never do anymore. I'm no longer the me he once knew.

I have been many variations of me over the years, none of which were honest. There was a long stage where I played fantasy football. There was the try-to-be-the-best-mom-ever stage where I was always taking my kids places. There was the wake-up-early stage. There was the listening-to-other-people's-music-instead-of-my-own stage. There a wino stage, there was even a yard work stage. None of these stages stuck. None of them were me. They were personas I wore to benefit someone else.

Now that I'm being honest with myself, I know I hate football. I also don't like yard work or waking up early. I like to make my own playlists. Wine gives me headaches. And as much as I'd love to give my sons a perfect childhood, a perfect mother, I know that I am an imperfect human that can not be more than I'm capable of. It has been in learning what I'm not that who I am has pixelated.

I am a writer. I am a mother. The order doesn't matter: I am both without one taking precedence. I like to listen to my headphones. I can only tolerate so much time around other people. I like to read and piece together puzzles and run and practice yoga. I like to edit other people's work, discuss literature and the craft of writing. I like to drink too much coffee, sometimes too much vodka. I like to keep friends with people who make me laugh and think and sometimes even cry, because they keep me honest. Sometimes I'm funny, sometimes I'm sad. I like jokes that go too far, past what is politically correct. I like to give people gifts when they don't expect them. I like to feel the breeze in my hair. I like to sing aloud, horribly, to the song I'm feeling, the one on repeat. And, best of all, I'm courageous.

It takes courage to be yourself. Because yourself isn't who people expect you to be. They tell you to be yourself, but they don't mean it. They mean, "be what I need you to be for me." But all of those personas I wore for other people, the ones that didn't suit me, are gone now. I'm dropping the act, the charade, the mask.

I think all of this is why I underlined the line: A woman who has only recently come to resemble herself. And I thought: finally.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

somewhere discoverable

Once I was a writer in the sense that I wrote sometimes.

Now, I am a writer in the sense that I depend on it. Like exercise, or sleep: it is a part of my day. My head fills with words and sentences to write and each day, I empty my head: scribble it down or type it out.

It was harder before, when I cared too much about structure and organization. I would keep things in my head too long, until I could be at my computer, put it in the proper Word doc. Or until I had my proper journal, which I have some inexplicable system as to what warrants entry. My thoughts would vanish there, into some dark corner of my brain, never to be found again.

But now, I have a "fuck it" notebook that I put anything and everything in. A sentence to use in a new piece, a revision idea for a current piece, a journal entry, a poem, a check list. It's a fucking mess. But it empties me out so I can fill back up with other thoughts to write down. I am creating content that I might use one day, might not. But it exists, somewhere outside my mind now, somewhere discoverable, which is what writing is, basically.

Writing is putting your thoughts somewhere discoverable: somewhere that someone one day will find it, maybe even appreciate it, maybe even tell you.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Milwaukee

Writing was lonely.
So very lonely.
Until the day I discovered other writers.I knew they existed, of course, on couches being interviewed, represented with jacket pictures, in print. But not in real life like this. 
When I joined this MFA Program last summer, my world exploded. Suddenly I was filled to the brim with the camaraderie I had so desperately craved before, alone at my desk. Now, I could see in color.
I was home, with these people who thought a little like me and laughed at the same jokes I did, people who noticed subtleties like I do. We talked well into the night every night. No one wanted to go to sleep, no one wanted it to end.
This summer, during student readings, Jen and I acted in Colleen's ten minute play. I was the first Indestructible, Jen was the first Dorothy Wick. We rehearsed much more than necessary because we just really loved running lines together, making each other laugh. I wrote a poem inspired by the character I played. I read that. The crowd loved us. 
So when Colleen texted us that her play, the play we loved, was being produced at a play festival in Milwaukee with "road trip?" Jen and I each texted back "hell yeah" without contemplation. Of course. Writers support writers. That is what is so incredible about the MFA community. So we drove, a lot of hours, after Jen and Brandon were out of school, in the dark, and arrived at 3:30 a.m. We woke up and ate gluten-free pancakes and we went and saw Colleen's play acted out by "real actors" đŸ™„. They were incredible. Colleen was a celebrity. We were groupies.

On the ride back, at a Walgreens somewhere in Wisconsin, I checked my email where I had an acceptance from a literary journal for the poem I wrote at residency based on my character in the play. I told the girls and we high-fived, shrieking loudly. We are writers, becoming published together, by writing together, editing for one another, texting prompts and urges to write and submit. We are friends who get each other, get this business, and give each other a tunnel out of the loneliness that could envelop you if you let it.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

like a child

When my arm is across Brandon's or Holden's chest, I feel their hearts racing, running. I think, slow down, calm down, breathe. You're running your little selves ragged, you're so high strung, you chatter too much. 

I think all of these things while I drink my coffee, trying to stimulate myself.

I tell them not to interrupt when I read them books, but they have so much to say, so many questions. I think, as Brandon falls asleep in my arms: I used to wonder like that. I used to be amazed, think aloud. 

Maybe they don't need to calm down. Maybe I need to get excited again. Maybe my heart should race and run all day until finally, at night, my chest heaves and my breathing slows and I fall into dreams which I believe because I am capable of something other than skepticism. 

I caught the sunset last night which did make my heart race, a smile spread across my face. I've still got it, I thought, although it is a minimal dose.


Over the weekend, I was playing a kids' game on the iPad while I watched Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders and a woman on there said, "when you get comfortable, it's time to try something new." Yeah, like the next level, I thought, passing the last one.

But I knew what she meant: something that makes your heart race, your breathing shallow. Something that makes you giddy, something to chatter endlessly about. Something that makes you feel like a kid again: full of wonder and excitement.

Tonight I want to fall asleep next to my son, both of us exhausted, not because we survived a day but because we lived the motherfucking shit out of it.

Monday, September 4, 2017

time, money, and bath bombs

I need a break from this paper which is making my head spin.

So here's what I'm into lately:
 Bath bombs. I don't know if I can take a bath without one. It turns a bath into an experience. They're expensive, yes, but you can get six cheap tiny ones for ten bucks in a pinch.
 
I am listening to this EP on a loop. It's sexy and haunting. So it's both chill and chilling.
You know how girls say they could never cut their hair short because then they wouldn't be able to put it in a ponytail? I know because I was that girl. I wanted to cut my hair short last spring, but I was training for a marathon and was tying it back every day. It's true, ponytails are convenient and short hair comes with its own challenges. Luckily, bandanas exist for bad hair days, or, more aptly in my case, those days when I don't give a fuck (every day).


 I was at my friend's house, looking at this book her ten-year-old was reading when I said, "hey, is that a timer bookmark?" I knew I had to have one. I'm reading 20 books in 4 months this semester, so forcing myself to read for a certain amount of time each day is pretty much the only way I get all of my reading done. I don't really know how to work it forward, so I have it count backward for me.
I've always been into these bracelets, that part isn't new. I wear quite a few on my wrist and people always ask me what they symbolize. Sometimes I'm kind and shrug and say "nothing, I just like them," sometimes I say "one for each person I've slept with" because I'm not in the mood. But what is new is Pura Vida makes these for babies now, my sister told me. So I bought a couple for my five-month-old niece. Pudgy baby wrists! We need to draw more attention to them. They are not appreciated enough. I love that crease.
 My fall Sauconys. This time around, I'm going to iron patches to the inside because my right toenail pokes a hole through every pair of Sauconys I own.
I haven't worn a watch since my activity tracker (which fell into toilet water and I have since refused to wear). I don't like the look of activity trackers any way, and I can guess my steps pretty accurately, so I have no need. But I did miss knowing the time. I always misplace my cell phone so I can't count on knowing what time it is. Having a kid in school now, I always need to know what time it is. I have to drop him off and pick him up! Aah! What time is it?!?


I'm unemployed but I have no shortage of shit to do. I'm not very organized by nature, so I force myself to fill out and complete a weekly to do list every Monday. Even on holiday Mondays, like today. I think I'm adulting.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

night runs

Night runs.
Ahhhh (breathe in), night runs.
They have always been my favorite.

When I was in college,
I worked evenings
and I didn't get home until 11 p.m.,
and then my favorite thing to do
was lace up my running shoes
and run.

To run under the stars and the moons
without all the honking cars and barking dogs
is as peaceful
as runs can be.

The weather is turning toward fall
and there is a slight breeze
and it's not too humid at all any more.

This time of year,
--this and spring--
are the two little pockets
when I don't hate
being here.

I run to reclaim myself,
to remember myself.
 To know what hasn't changed
despite all that has. 

Thursday, August 24, 2017

eclipse

While I was drunkenly piecing together a puzzle last Saturday (so classic), my sister texted me:

A: You guys gonna watch the eclipse?
Me: If I find glasses
A: *sends infographic of where to buy eclipse glasses*
     Are you going to the path of totality? I hear it's incredible. We're planning on going.
Me: Not sure what that means but it sounds extreme
A: Do you live under a rock?!
Me: Ha ha
        Basically
A: Dude it's been all over the news here for the last month
Me: Oh yeah well, if you mean are we going to be in the 100% path, no
        We're 98%
A: Not good enough
Me: B has school and I only care a little
       (like not at all)
A: *sends three pics of Facebook comments about how incredible a total eclipse is*
Me: you're really into this

The next morning, I had breakfast with my friend Jen, who happens to live in the path of totality. "Your sister is right," she said. "You should see it in totality."
Their enthusiasm, admittedly, was infectious. 
 "I don't even have the glasses," I said, being difficult as usual.
 "Then we'll get some."  We went to Target, which of course, was sold out. So we went to HyVee and got a few of the last pairs of solar eclipse glasses (which are basically just cardboard with a hefty bag as lens).

I texted my sister a pic of me wearing eclipse glasses, a teaser.
Woo hoo! she replied.

The next morning, Monday, eclipse day, I sent her a car selfie captioned "Driving Holds into totality."
A: Sweet! We camped in our car last night in totality. 1 hour til partial!

I-80, which never in the history of driving in Nebraska (except during the College World Series) has been busy, was packed. Minnesota and Iowa license plates on most of the cars. Totality fever was legit.

I made it into Lincoln in time for the Salt Dogs game. I thought it would be best since I had a book and Holden had the iPad and we could sit in the berm and be left mostly alone but also notice when the big event was about to occur. And, there was cotton candy. 

So we ate ballpark food, I read, he played the iPad until he got bored and we walked back to the car and he sat in the back of the SUV while it got darker and darker and then, the sun was gone. "Look!" I told him, excitedly because all what came before was building to this. "It's so dark," he said, just as a statement without any enthusiasm whatsoever.

But then, the moon passed and Holden jumped around in a circle chanting, "the sun is back!" On the horizon, we saw fireworks and then Holden said, "let's go home." So we did.

One day, I watched a total eclipse with my boy who wants to be an astronaut. Once we saw the moon cover the sun. "You might be there one day," I said to him about the moon. "Mm hmm," he said without paying attention, sliding puzzle pieces into place with his finger on the iPad.  

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 NĂ¼shu, 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, NĂ¼shu 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 NĂ¼shu 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 NĂ¼shu 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.

Monday, June 12, 2017

shadowy corners

I've seen the paths that your eyes wander down, I wanna come too
I think that possibly, maybe I'm falling for you


No one understands me quite like you do
Through all of the shadowy corners of me

 
"All of the shadowy corners of me." I like that. I like how many different aspects one person has to offer. I like people who are complicated, or at least not simple. I'm here for the dark corners. 

Friday, June 9, 2017

aspiration

One day, I am going to be a writer and I will look back at this 34th year of my life, the one where I was in grad school and waitressed at nights and took care of my boys by day and I also freelanced and kept a house and attempted to take care of my body and tried my damnedest to maintain friendships. The year that I finished my first novel and started my second and thought I was going to lose my mind, being so overwhelmed and exhausted from all the effort I put into everything.

And I will smile, then, because it is over.

And because then I will know what I don't yet: that I was so close to my dream. That all of that effort compiles, each little one on top of another into something big: bigger than me. My aspiration, which has always seemed so far off, farfetched, nearly unattainable, will be achieved then and I will have a new aspiration, even loftier than the first.

I will be proud of what I did: exactly what I had to. And I will have my Friday nights clear, my name not on some company's schedule tacked to a bulletin board somewhere. I will pull my chair up to my desk and write, sipping a screwdriver, no doubt. Having things to write about, but different things, not only angst and stress and loneliness and quiet desperation.

I am only passing through.

Drawing breaths.


Thursday, June 8, 2017

chasing babysitters

I have been spending the morning trying to nail down a babysitter. For one afternoon a week, some (hopefully) responsible person will watch my children so I can run and write.

Once we had not one, but two children, Steve and I decided I wouldn't work. Which was great in some regards: like we saved a shit ton of money on childcare (but also lost a shit ton of money without me pulling in a salary). It was great that I could spend so much time with them, but it also suffocated me.

I had these things that fulfilled me before having children, so being a mother couldn't fulfill me on its own. So I have kept writing, just with two little kids nipping at my heels (I don't mean to make them sound like dogs. They're much louder and more snarly). But I have also taken large breaks between writing, months on end.

It's funny, how as kids grow older, parents relax. When Brandon was a baby, just the thought of someone else watching him would bring tears to my eyes. I thought no one would ever watch him without a background check and ten references. But now, here I am, trolling Nextdoor for a reliable teenager that I don't know at all to come stay in my home and watch my kids wrestle each other.

Moms need breaks. Sometimes just a car ride alone, without kiddie music or fighting or whining is a vacation, because it's all we get: an errand run. But we need more than that. We need our own hobbies, interests, our own meals that aren't fishsticks, our own air to breathe and space to be. We need babysitters.

So damn it, that's why I've been spending the morning online babysitter hunting. Because come hell or high water, I'm getting a break. I can't take months off of writing anymore. And when we find what fulfills us, we must chase it.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

headphones

A lot of people my age with kids are hover parents. A hover parent is a parent who is always up in their child's grill, out of protection or lack of anything better to do.

When I said a lot of them, I meant *cough* "all of the ones I know" *cough.*

OK, that's not true. There is one that isn't. We used to organize play dates. My sons and her sons are only a couple of months apart. When her son would crawl toward the fire place, I would want to reach out and  grab him, but I didn't out of respect for a mother's space and rights (later blog post).

She would get up and walk to the kitchen when her six month old was on the floor. I thought, oh damn, can we do that? 

The answer is yes we can.  

This woman was great for shattering my narrow view of what parenting was. I thought it had to be what everyone else did. But it doesn't. A parent has the right and even responsibility to make parenting her (allow me the female pronoun, but know this can also apply to males) own. To tailor it to what works for herself and her children.

I do not subscribe to any parenting philosophies. In fact, I don't even know what they are or how to define them, most of the time. That's because I don't read parenting books with the rare exception that gives a parent allowances rather than restrictions (Bringing up Bebe gave me great peace, learning that I could leave my child to cry for minute at night).

The reason for this is because I believe parenting is mostly intuitive. We operate based on instinct. We know our kids and what will and will not work for them. Kids are not all the same. Some are emotional, some are physical, some are introverts, some are extroverts, some like to build things, some like to destroy them. So when I read in a book that I should discipline my child by taking away TV, I just think, "ha. He doesn't even like TV. Joke's on you."

I once was, but no longer am, a hover parent.

I am a convert.

Part of this is necessity. I do not have a babysitter (terrible strategy I wouldn't recommend, later post on that). But I write. I write and edit for money and also for school. Both have hard and fast deadlines. Neither one allows me to be all up in my children's grills (not that I want to be anyway). So I leave them to their own devices, with my ears open for hunger, bickering, and emergencies.

The other part was contained in my parenthesis. I do not want to be all up in my kids' grills. I believe kids need freedoms. Kids need to be kids. There is a sense of community within children: they learn not only independence, but also how to take care of each other in the absence of adults. I'm not saying I'm never around. I'm always around. I'm just not sharing their breaths, recycling their air. That's their air. And I need my own air (more on that later).

All of my favorite childhood memories were in the absence of adults. It was playing roller hockey in the cul-de-sac, building a fort, biking around on recycling day and taking Pepsi points. It was reading and writing and drawing dopey little catalogs that advertised clothes. It was sleepovers with my sister where we stayed up too late listening to Point of Grace and playing M*A*S*H. It wasn't my mom saying, "be careful" or my dad following me on my paper route.

It was when I was free to be me. It was the space between people that allowed me to become my own person.

We need parents to teach us responsibility and respect. Parents provide for their children: a home, food, clothing, education. But I don't think a parent needs to be an extension of her child. Let the child do their own thing and the let the parent do her's. Allow each other to be. I don't ever want to be so wrapped up in my kids that I forget who I am. And I don't want them to be so attached to me that they can't go to school, have a babysitter watch them, or cut up their own food. Fuck that.

Mama needs her sanity. You know that DMX song:

Y'all gon' make me lose my mind
Up in here, up in here
Y'all gon' make me go all out
Up in here, up in here
Y'all gon' make me act a FOOL
Up in here, up in here
Y'all gon' make me lose my cool
Up in here, up in here


That's a mom about her kids. That's when it's time to let them run around outside and sit down with a good book, a cup of coffee, and--yes, I'm going to say it--headphones set on low.

Monday, June 5, 2017

a gift, but also a nightmare

Can I be candid about motherhood?  I'm going to be.

A lot of times, it sucks.

I remember being a new mother, with raw nipples and tear-stained cheeks and puffy eyes thinking, why didn't anyone tell me this? Why couldn't one person have been honest about how hard parenting is?

It's fucking hard. I mean, really fucking hard. Kids are a gift, but also a nightmare.

I know I'm not supposed to say that. I live in a generation full of moms who say only the stuff people expect to hear. The gift part. About how their lives are richer, fuller, complete even because of their children.

I, on the other hand, think you could have a rich, full, complete life with or without children. Choose your path. One is not greater than the other. We should not shame people who choose different journeys than our own.

I digress.

Here's my truth:

There are those moments--like tonight, when I looked over at the two boys sleeping in my bed between my husband and I--that are heart-warming. I smiled and thought, this isn't so bad. It's good even. There are moments when your family is united and everything is running smoothly and no one is yelling. It's true, there are some. But mostly, that's when the kids are asleep.

The moments that fill the space between the peaceful, happy ones are the majority of parenting. There is whining and screaming, fighting and yelling, tantrums and meltdowns. Sometimes it's the kids. But it's us parents too. We are not immune to the ups and downs of all these beings sharing a home, an existence.

There are lessons to teach, lessons to learn. 

I don't know a single mother who wears lipstick and drinks her coffee on the patio each morning, serenely watching her children toss around a baseball. Usually it's stained sweatpants and yesterday's mascara, nagging for the umpteenth time to put the toys away. I've told you a hundred times to clean up these damn toys! 

Most of the time, we aren't actually waxing poetic about what a gift children are.

We are dreaming of a cocktail on a beach somewhere. A vacation. A break. Peace. Quiet. Calm. We do this while we pick up toys, while we spread peanut butter on bread, while we wipe pee off the floor. We do this when we hurry our children out of public, apologizing profusely to strangers. When we're up at three a.m., inching out of the nursery, praying the baby doesn't stir.

We are not as good as we claim to be. Because we're humans. Fucking humans. We are real people, not glossy magazine stills. What's so bad about being real? About ditching the act? There is nothing wrong with honesty when it is delivered with good intentions.

This is the start to a little blog series on mothering.  My mothering.

It is not a how-to guide.

But it is honest. And despite the language, I promise I'm writing it with good intentions.