Mary is singing and talking to herself in her crib, but she’s  in her crib, and I showered and made myself tea and am deciding—of all the top-priority things on my to-do list—to write a blergh. What if this is the road less traveled by, and it will have made all the difference?

So it’s Friday, and despite a terrible night of sleep, during which the husband’s bad cold roused him constantly till about 2a.m. with phlegmy throat-obstructions (sudden spluttering coughs like gunshots), and consequently roused me, I am feeling light and buoyant. Let me count the ways.

  1. It’s Mother’s Day weekend, and we’ve agreed that my present will be a solitary date all by myself—to the mountains or some other piece of wilderness—where I will have fancy cheese and crackers and a beer, and write/edit, and read in a hammock (or similar). I might decide at the last minute to take myself out for lunch and then see a movie instead—obviously I should go to the mountains. But MAN I love movie theaters, and I hardly ever get to go.
  2. Making pizza tonight.
  3. The president of my country continues down the path of horrid nightmareness and it’s becoming less and less easy for his supporters to support him. TO MY GREAT RELIEF. One tweet in particular came out today and was fucking insane. Madhouse. But our independent paper has just reported that no fewer than six (6) women from Knoxville or Maryville are preparing to run for office as Democrats. A pertinent quote: “In Tennessee’s 220 years of statehood, only two Democratic women have held office in the U.S. House of Representatives, and no woman in Tennessee has ever served as a governor or been elected to the U.S. Senate. Just two Democratic women serve in Tennessee’s 33-member state Senate, and seven Democratic women in the 99-member Legislature” (17). Makes me curious about Republican women, but I’m sure it’s safe to assume their numbers are comparable or fewer. Hope for the future!
  4. Garden is getting along, and only one plant has been eaten by rabbits. A garden fence is on next spring’s agenda, so I’m just planting tons of the things I really want, and hope that the neighborhood warren spares me enough to freeze and can. For instance, as of today I have 25 tomato plants in the ground. Ridiculous, but like I say, some of them will get eaten by rabbits. I have gorgeous rows of Whippoorwill peas, Tiger Eye beans, and a cranberry bean called Lena Sisco’s Bird Egg bean. I have about 20 winter squash plants in the ground as well: Tan Cheese pumpkins, San Jose Mountain Club squash, Pennsylvania Dutch Crooknecks, and one random red Japanese squash plant I saved from the compost at the farm. One long row of Tennessee Red Cob corn. Also four pepper plants and five rows of zinnia & tithonia, also brought home from the farm. The herb garden is looking good, too, but the vegetable/flower garden is exciting because my hopes/expectations for it have risen sky-high and plummeted several times this spring, and I think it’s gonna turn out to produce ok. Yay.
  5. The “long-term forecast” for East Tennessee was so worrying, earlier in the year, as they were predicting a year like last one—hot, extreme drought—but despite (portentous) roller-coaster high and low temperatures, we continue to get rain. I’m grateful for every drop, even though we’re garbage neighbors and let mosquitoes breed in collected rainwater that we keep finding around the yard.
  6. We got a new couch to replace the old one, and we are delighted by it EVERY DAY. The old one was vintage velvet (?), striped with dark gold and pale yellow and blue—a very cool old couch—but it was passed down by someone who had bought it secondhand, and it was on its absolute last leg. I had grown to despise it. Its cushions needed daily re-shaping, the upholstery was stained and faded, it made bad noises when you sat down, and occasionally harbored mysterious odors. The day it left was the day I rejoiced. The new one is a gray sectional with nothing frilly or fancy—you might even call it Brutalist—but it is like heaven. It makes the room nice to be in. It has room for two people to stretch out, which is a heretofore unheard-of luxury, in our house. It makes me feel a little more at home.
  7. We’ve only killed one of the five chickens my boss gave me. Technically the other chickens pecked it to death (one of the several reasons I have no fuzzy feelings AT ALL toward chickens), but I think it was because we had them in an enclosure that was too small. We’re working on a larger pen and hope everybody will be somewhat at peace till it’s ready.
  8. I have so many things on my to-do list that I rarely write them anymore. It’s too frustrating. There are emails I should have replied to months and months ago, rooms to clean, weeds to pull, and just numerous other things. I don’t even have time to write them out. So instead of scrolling instagram, as is my wont, I’m writing. It’s little, it’s shitty, but I’m writing. And it makes me glad.

Today Mary threw up five times between 6:00 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. Since she’s been incredibly congested from leftover cold gunk and allergies for the past week, we’re guessing it’s drainage build-up in the stomach, not a stomach bug. After her last barf she seemed especially bright and cheery and kept down a cup of yogurt (I know I know), two pieces of toast, and a handful of banana and apple bites. The nurse I talked to on the phone said “just watch her,” so I’m staying home and watching her.

I did like four loads of barf-laundry, moved the chicken house to a new spot of grass, planted a row of winter squash in the garden, and got climbed on while Mary watched Clifford and The Magic Schoolbus. Mary is not a snuggler, but simply MUST have me close by, so I let her climb and sit on me till it drives me crazy, at which point I jump up with a roar and run into the next room and shake the sharp little elbows and knees off like a dog after a bath. Definitely find her amazing, etc., but my god she jabs me with every hard little bodypart in the boobs, neck, —ugh!

I’m having Reese’s cups for lunch/tea while she takes a nap. Wishing I could take super glam selfies and work in a tall glass building, wearing clicking heels. I’m feeling pretty again, for the first sustained amount of time post-pregnancy, but have poison ivy rashes on my face and neck, and a farmer’s tan.

To which the better half of my brain replies, “sure love my job” and “things are pretty good right now,” both of which are true. The garden is growing, and I think I’m going to be able to grow most of the things I wanted; I have a few chickens and only one has died; I’m getting back into shape and feel strong; I’m reading White Teeth and am delighted to report that I’m underwhelmed by it at the mo; and I’ve been thinking about sending some poems out to litmags this summer. And I’m still finding profound meaning in my work at the farm (and I got a raise, binch).

But we’ve been watching Ken Burns’ new series The Roosevelts and the person of Eleanor Roosevelt feels a little too kindred for comfort. Hearing about her life, reading her letters, reminds me of my immersion in the character of Mrs. Ramsay from Woolf’s To the Lighthouse; I have the feeling of sisterhood, of her soul having been made of a similar material to mine. And when a guest historian declared, after a brief segment on her early life as a mother, that “Eleanor Roosevelt never really hit her stride, as a mother,” I felt the invisible cymbals clash. That does it.

I also feel out-of-stride as a mother. I realize that doesn’t make me a bad mother, but it makes life strange and out-of-joint. I hardly seem to catch my breath when I’m underwater again—I finally re-work my daily schedule so I can re-incorporate something life-giving like writing or reading poetry when the porch is blown off the house in a gale, and I with it. All that exultant fuss about me getting up early in the morning, a few posts back? Daylight Savings, a.k.a. parent-sanity-ruining-time, and creeping sunrise had Mary awakening at 7:00 instead of 7:45. And 45 minutes may seem like a tiny amount of time, but it had already been a delicate balance. I haven’t gotten up early to write in at least a month.

The next episodes are going to be about how ER fledges, how she manages to “run a family” and also enter into a new time of her life’s work. Already I can see little glints of hope coming from this woman’s life and words. She’ll likely become a new muse and mentor for me.

 

 

Yeah I’m off facebook, yeah it’s been really good for me, no I haven’t missed it for a second. I’m still on instagram, though, and its focus on “moments”—of both mundanity and epiphany—are way more what I need in my life right now than facebook’s weird world. So obviously my first trip to the bathroom in the a.m. involve some insta-scrolling.

THIS MORNING, after the first pangs of regret for *still* not managing to go to bed or get up early had passed, I landed on a post about a creative workshop-thing led by a local artist whom I have envied for years. She’s a visual artist, and very good, deserves all the clients & publicity she has and more, but I envy her because she has figured out how to be a mother and an active, prolific, good artist. I feel like she has studied her Gordian knot and untied it. While I hover over mine with a machete, completely stymied.

I think of all the mothers I’m jealous of—and I’m jealous of most of them, except for this one really wit’s-end-looking one carrying a baby and dragging a screaming toddler through the PDO yesterday—the ones I envy most are artists who manage to continue and grow their work without the help of loads of cash and/or babysitting family members. The ones who can afford nannies and house-cleaning services—I don’t envy them so much, because I can at least appreciate the fact that we’re not quite running the same sort of race. I don’t need to compare myself to them to get a sense of how I’m doing, because what we’re doing is so completely different.

And why do I feel the need to compare myself to other moms? Dumbest question I’ve ever heard. Next!

Anyway I usually avoid instagram images I see of this local artist because I haven’t felt like I could bear the sense of failure I’d get from seeing them. But today I steered into the wind and looked at several of her photos and works-in-progress.

It hit me, once again, that I’m making painfully slow progress…but I can’t pretend that this artist didn’t have long periods of painfully slow progress, too. I know enough about her to be certain that she has slogged through periods of her creative career that may have felt completely barren. I can’t wonder if I’m the only mother-creative who has hit obstacles, and let that uncertainty drive me away from other mother-creatives who are having “success.”

A first step, for me, lately, has been to re-focus on my immediate surroundings. Easy to say, hard to do. Actually I suck at it! Methods of escape have been a significant part of my life, these past couple of years. I’m gonna try not to guilt myself all to hell about that, because I was in survival-mode for some of that time, and escape is a better coping mechanism than self-harm for instance. But—anxiety about the future and about others in my family removes me from my own present life…and when the anxiety is overwhelming I have been escaping one more remove into novels, food/wine, and tv. So… when I put it like that, it makes a little more sense why I feel like I’m looking far into the distance to glimpse my own life and desires.

A second step, once I’m feeling “present” and “grounded” to my own individual life, is to organize my days so that I can search for 1) joy, and 2) time to create. I can’t even explain why this is also so, so hard. But it’s so, so much easier than it was last year, and I couldn’t have even organized my thoughts two years ago. I do feel like I’m making progress.

I had the incredible INCREDIBLE opportunity last weekend to go to a spa resort with some girlfriends. All but one were young moms, too, needing a place to retreat to and feed their/our souls. We booked massages and yoga classes and solo-tub-soaks in an open-air cabana that looked down on mountains and a river. It was just one day, but it felt impossibly long, to me. I couldn’t believe how many things I could do in a long row—things that I usually starve for and stockpile and gobble up secretly—like lounge in the sun and write, like a massage, a yoga class, more lounging in the sun and reading, looking out over mountains, talking with friends who have nowhere else to be, thinking and writing in solitude, having wine and cheese, and then the unspeakable delight that was the solitary open-air cabana. We did whatever we wanted all day long. I wrote seven (7) poems.

My mom used to joke about me that I’ve always needed to “have fun,” and I received that as a criticism for a long time, thinking that I should be able to face life without needing “fun”—I should be able to plow through whatever life throws at me without crying or breaking down or needing a break. And in a sense, I’ve tried to plow through the past three years of enormous life changes without seeking out much help (which I tend to equate with “admission of failure”), much release, much soul-food or luxury or fun.

I had a few tiny epiphanies at the spa, that day. One was spiritual in nature, and directly related to the poems I wrote, and I’m hoping my next blog entry can be about that. But another one was this: not only is it not a “failure” to need fun, but it’s an area of my life that I need to cultivate, if I’m going to survive as a writer and creator. Some advice I’ve received from people about motherhood is that “it won’t be like this forever,” and “things get better,” but passively waiting isn’t producing the results I want. Apparently, no one is volunteering to live my life for me. So I have to assert my own agency and 1) discover what makes life worth living, for me, and 2) make those things happen. Responding to the stressors in my life, and there are serious ones—I’m not a whiny-ass ‘millennial’ bullshitter—ok there was a moment of something right there—but anyways—responding to stressors by escaping was ok for a while, but I’m growing out of that phase.

And now my daughter has watched Sesame Street for an hour and I’m trying to be a super good and patient mom today, so no more tv.

Is it obvious that I don’t journal privately anymore and as a result my public blog entries are getting pretty intense and personal? Normally I save the more self-involved stuff for my personal journal because The Internet and Feelings and Life Being What it Is, but— there you have it.

Ok it’s time to get outside.

Is it getting old? My husband feels like some of the activism and fervor for “women” is diffuse, unfocused, maybe a little misplaced. I’m paraphrasing, and will come back and clarify if I misspoke. But I understand that position. American women, speaking generally, have so many freedoms, today. Opportunities their grandmothers would be dazzled by, and that women in many other parts of the world will not see in their lifetimes. Yes.

But one thing I’ve found to be a huge obstacle in my white, middle-class life as a mother is this: I have become the one in our family that engages in hours upon hours of unpaid work; work that is unseen, unmanaged, receives no raises or accolades, and is mostly solitary. I know I complain about it a lot, and am a real bitch for doing so, since it’s something I can “afford” to do—many women don’t have partners who make enough money for them to stay home and do unpaid work for the family (take care of children, make meals, etc.). Most of the poorest women in the world do heavy shares of unpaid work (taking care of children, the family, food, housework) WHILST returning to paid work. I’m lucky, and feel rich most of the time. But the fact that my work is difficult…and yet does not get the kind of honor, in our money/career-driven society, that paid work gets, has been hard for me to process.

I’m not sitting around wishing I could get medals for wiping butts and picking dirty clothes up off the floor. I’m not cleaning the fifth mess of the day off the kitchen floor with gritted teeth, so bitter that I can’t get a raise for this. I don’t walk into the tenth cloud of the day of baby whining, baby songs, baby questions, baby toys, and baby-throwing-a-crying-fit-in-the-middle-of-the road-while-cars-are-waiting-for-us-to-cross, jockeying inwardly for First Prize in Enduring Brain-Deadness. Nope. I’ve moved into what I truly believe is a healthy appreciation for the work I “get” to do. I’m finally mentally and physically healthy enough to find that the joy of being a mother is simply enveloping, simply transformative—thank God. Bye, PPD.

HOWSOMEVER. It is impossible for my husband to understand the work I do all day, since he hasn’t experienced it firsthand, and since I can’t explain why taking care of a baby/toddler should be so difficult that I just can’t get to the sixth kitchen floor mess, or clean the bathroom, or get to the dishes in the sink, there’s a lot he just can’t understand about my daily work. I’ve done a terrible job of trying to explain it to him. Not because he doesn’t care or want to know, but because I just find it hard to articulate why this job is so hard. And I’ve been unwell enough that we now have a track record of pretty awful fights originating with this very issue: Why is the house such a mess? What did I do all day???? Marriage 101: Fights with the purpose of showing that one’s work is more difficult than one’s spouse’s work are unproductive and there is no moral high ground to retreat to when things get loud. Make a note of that.

So a lot of the work I do at home every day continues to feel invisible to everyone in my life … but me. (And I suck enough at Peaceful Joyful Parenting that the idea of this being my & my daughter’s “secret life” doesn’t really do it for me, either.)

But when I come to today—International Women’s Day—and re-watch Hillary Clinton’s iconic “Women’s rights are human rights” speech, and remember that billions of other women are walking our common path, doing paid work for public view, and unpaid work that’s hidden deep in the underground of history, I can do my work with a sense of community and support. Even if I don’t participate in the strike. I can honor and advocate for societal changes that will support women and the work we do: like paid parental leave, which will benefit fathers too, who need it and often don’t get it. Like equal pay for equal work, and a recognition that mothers can and should contribute their skills and knowledge to the “workforce,” with more help from employers. Like childcare not COSTING A SHIT-TON and basically being unaffordable for most people. I could go on. These are causes I stand up for.

Today I’m working: I’ll be taking care of my daughter at home this afternoon. Probably doing some cool stuff like looking for our favorite snails under our favorite snail-hiding rocks. I’ll be working for a couple hours at my place of employment (notice how this phrase implies that anywhere I’m not being paid, I’m not working? Thanks ‘merica.), Care of the Earth Community Farm, which is owned and run by a woman and her husband, and is shaped and buoyed by her generous vision and principles—I’m inspired by her and her husband every day. I’ll also be doing some unpaid volunteer work for a nonprofit, Nourish Knoxville, that does excellent work and is steered by another hard-working and visionary woman. These women, and all women who do good work, I want to honor today…with my work.

And yes—it is the job of a feminist to honor women, and work for equal rights and opportunity, and it is also a job of feminism to recognize the value of ALL peoples’ work, including that of people of color, lgbtq people, fathers, indigenous people, veterans, etc. When there are days to honor the paid & unpaid work of another group, I want to hear about it, and participate. It’s not the job of feminists to ignore other groups who need recognition. I always feel like that goes without saying, but I think I’m wrong about that. There’s so much pushback that I’ve experienced, in the past couple of years, against “feminism” that I do see the need to be as clear as I possibly can about what I mean.

Go forth and strike; alternately, go forth and work. Either way, know that your work has iceberg-like value: only 10% is on top.

P.S.! A shout-out to the women who organized and continue to run the childcare programs at First Presbyterian Church and Washington Pike United Methodist—these programs run (so lovingly and well!) on a shoestring, and have impacted my life deeply. More generous women for which I am SO thankful.

 

Just as the backyard pear
blooms,

these long peach limbs
cut down last month because of disease

and lying piled
waiting to be burnt

are, as I feared,
budding, and blooming.

Three weeks of sap
and softwood fiber swelling

with the idea of five thousand pink blossoms;
persistent, dead, yet undead.

Really, it’s exactly like hair growing
in the grave, or a corpse

bellowing in the cremator.
Or exactly like the memory

of fifty years past,
the moment that terrified then

terrifying still.
Bees

will come to these flowers.
Then they will brown, and shrink.

One last effort.
Maybe the blossoms will open, but be dry,

fooling the bees as I am not fooled.
Yet,

I am fooled, so long is the winter,
so thirsty am I.

 

___________________________

 

First poem in such a long time, I had to celebrate by getting some eyes on it. Second act of celebration will be to finish a journal for myself so I can use it for more poetry. This one was written on a notepad that really should just be used for grocery lists. Or not. Regardless, I need a new journal.

I rose in the dark, washed my face and sighed on some leggings and a cardi and made coffee. I wanted to write, needed some strict, soul-washing solitude, so when no words were forthcoming (like, not even one) and the baby starting coughing and rustling in her bed at 7:18, I went outside, where the sun was rising in the dark.

I had read a chapter of Job, forgot to mention that. I thought about a Psalm, but then gagged a little . I’m not doing a lot of praising the heavens, these days, nor begging & pleading. David’s two main things.

And I sat on the step and thought, “Why do such bad things happen.”

Then, and I’m not trying to be melodramatic, but then, the cold morning breeze made my eyes feel bright, my face feel fresh and new, and the sky suddenly appeared to me as it was: slate-blue clouds checkering the sunrise with the clearest pale blue sky behind them, and the light from the sun (wherever it was) was a sheet of living gold overlay, and underlay, and all of it was alive and too huge and beautiful for me. If I’d been any closer, I would have been blown off the face of spring. And I thought, “Why do such good things happen.” Today, I can remind myself as the day ages and ages, I felt the balance.

I remembered I had gotten two Anne Lamott books from the library yesterday, one of which is Help, Thanks, Wow, and it struck me that I’m wanting to be able to pray again, and that this was why I had gotten that book, and that what I had just done was a tiny prayer, and therefore I should get a quick booster shot of Saint Anne before the chaos of the day began to rain down on my head. Sorry for the construction of that sentence. So I brought it outside and read the following:

“My belief is that when you’re telling the truth, you’re close to God. If you say to God, ‘I am exhausted and depressed beyond words, and I don’t like You at all right now, and I recoil from most people who believe in You,’ that might be the most honest thing you’ve ever said. If you told me you had said to God, ‘It is all hopeless, and I don’t have a clue if You exist, but I could use a hand,’ it would almost bring tears to my eyes, tears of pride in you, for the courage it takes to get really real. It would make me want to sit next to you at the dinner table” (6-7).

And with this, I bless myself with a cross of ashes on my forehead, two days late, but idgaf, since today is the day that I spoke to God/the Mystery, and it spoke back. I’ll take it.

 

Plants I’m growing in my herb garden:

  • Thyme
  • Sage
  • Rosemary
  • Lavender
  • Oregano
  • Chamomile
  • Calendula
  • Nettles
  • Comfrey
  • Peppermint
  • Echinacea
  • Monarda
  • Dill
  • Yarrow

It feels ominous to be so optimistic. Don’t know why I *must* add things like that, but apparently I must.

Plants I’m growing in my vegetable garden:

  • Tomatoes
    • Principe Borghese
    • Italian Heirloom
    • Opalka
    • Matt’s Wild Cherry
    • Speckled Roman
    • San Marzano
  • Beans
    • Bird Egg/cranberry/October beans
    • Tiger Eye beans
    • Whippoorwill peas
  • Winter squash
    • San Jose Mountain Club Squash
    • Long Island Cheese Pumpkin
    • Pennsylvania Dutch Crookneck
  • Basil
  • Celery (I’ll let you know how it goes…haha)
  • Okra
    • Clemson spineless
    • Burghundy
  • Storage onions (Valencia?)
  • Corn
    • Tennessee Red Cob
    • Cherokee White Eagle Blue
  • More flowers, for the pollinators
    • Black-eyed susan
    • Cosmos
    • Tithonia
    • Milkweed
    • Chamomile, yarrow, monarda, calendula

Isn’t that so exciting? Yeah our springs are getting shorter (and earlier, in aggregate) every year, and yeah this year we’re 20 days ahead of where we should be, temperature-wise, and so on & so forth, but “for all this, nature is never spent; there lives the dearest freshness deep down things,” speaking of Hopkins, and I mean to bring them up.

Things I want to do with these plants (now this is where I’m getting way optimistic, someone hold me back):

  • Can maybe 10 quarts of tomato sauce, freeze lotsa tomatoes
  • Dry all herbs
  • Freeze basil pesto
  • Dry beans
  • Cure and store onions, winter squash
  • Become That Person who gives away tons of garden produce. You know who I’m talking bout. These neighbors that you don’t hang out with but who hang plastic bags of tomatoes and okra on your front door knob. That kind. But I’ll try to be kind of clean and presentable and maybe speak once in a while. So I don’t fit the type too much. I’ll be like…a gardening millenial, or young-mom-with-unusual-hobbies.

Omg I forgot we have that pear tree. Geez I wish somebody could tell me how to manage this tree & its heavenly bounty. It’s one of the old pear trees, with pears that end up with more of an apple-texture than regular Anjou—crisp, juicy, sweet. But it’s a huge tree and I don’t know how to tell when they’re ripe, or what to do with them when they all get ripe, etc. A little overwhelming. We have a huge, unpruned apple tree back there, too, which may actually set fruit this year since we’re replacing the diseased peach tree with two little apples. Someone planted a single apple tree and then wondered, each year for like 10-15 years (it’s a BIG tree) why it flowered but never fruited. Anyway, crossing fingers we get *some* apples this year.

Do any of you parents out there find it unfair that JUST as you’re getting up earlier, the sun is also rising earlier, and therefore your toddler is also rising earlier? I have to go to bed at like 10:00pm every night if I want to get up at 6:00am, and I just cannot tell right now if that’s a bridge too far. Because Mary used to get up at 8; now, thanks to ridiculous annoying sunrise, she gets up at 7:30. Unspeakably obnoxious, wth. But I just don’t know if I can go to bed at 10 every night. It’s diametrically opposed to our cemented habits.

My last thought for this morning, before Mary gets bored of whatever toys survived the night with her in the crib and starts yelling for me: there seems to be a huge black walnut stump in our yard *precisely* in the area I wanted to plant little apple trees. Last year we cut maybe a thousand suckers off of it, so it’s still got some juices down there somewhere. How bad would it be to plant there, anyway? I’m talking about the “toxin” (if that’s the right word) that walnuts produce in their roots and spread through the soil, some substance that acts like a repellent for other plants. I’m not sure what effect we’d have if we tried to plant little trees 10 feet away from this dying stump. Anyways. Maybe if I asked someone at the nursery? I guess I’ll do that.

Last weekend my parents-in-law took the baby overnight for a cousins’ sleepover. When the baby is gone, and she’s over two so maybe I should stop calling her a baby, but every time she’s gone on the weekend I have to actually think about what I want to do. On Sunday, it was go to church, and be inspired mid-service (by ye olde hymn Fairest Lord Jesus) to go take a long and solitary walk on the greenway over the river.

Taking long, solitary walks—like rising early—used to be one of my favorite things to do, ever. Partly a product of a lonely adolescence with no car to jump into and drive away, partly a product of some lonely college years in a new city, also with no car for the first couple years. Partly also a product of my fierce love of Gerard Manly Hopkins, whom I always imagined roaming the coombs and coasts of Wales with note-paper and pencil. Leaning against trees, etc.

A friend turned me on to Hopkins’ fragment The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo while I was still in high school, and it’s stuck with me, but the older I get, the more the poem Spring and Fall appeals to me. As a matter of fact, I have been using my (infrequent) trips to this particular greenway to memorize it. On Sunday, I believe I finally got it. I’m so bad at memorizing anything these days. But rhyme and rhythm help, and this poem lights a dark way. I also re-read God’s Grandeur, as I wanted another sonnet but felt The Windhover or Spring were too cheery.

Spring and Fall: it means infinitely more to me than it did when I was in college. I remember one English professor saying it was her favorite Hopkins poem, and—in the way of young snobs everywhere—I thought, “she must not have really give *my* favorite a deep reading,” and moved on. But it’s written from the perspective of an older person who has seen much of life, especially suffering, and is moved by the sight of a young child’s sadness. Now that I have a young child, who is sometimes sad, this is a strange perspective that I have slipped on like a glove. It allows me to look forward to my daughter and her experience of grief, and backward to my own experience of grief as a child. “Sorrow’s springs are the same.” Yes.

And God’s Grandeur: I read this young—maybe it was even in my elementary school curriculum—and loved everything about its structure, visual and auditory. I think I remember connecting it to the Industrial Revolution, or the Great War. Now that climate change’s work is no longer subtle, now that renewables are still mostly a cool idea in our country and nothing more, now that environmental protection is a partisan issue (and therefore in the process of becoming “de-funded,” in large or in small part), and so on, it is an eyepiece that suddenly zooms in on the present day. On my Sunday walk, I read the octave aloud while walking, but reached the volta with a surprising surge of feeling. The sestet, especially the last couplet, had me in tears, tears that maybe I’d been squashing down all day, all month, all winter.

I feel like this is a super-crap post but I’m trying to write as often as I can…regardless of whether I feel like it. In other news, I was typing away and listening to the baby wake up, and after a preliminary cough or two, she made this horrible gurgly-choky sound and I ran down the hall like Miss Clavel, “fast, and faster,” and up her head pops over the railing, big grin, two stuffed animals in her arms. Turns out she was just “clearing her throat” in this horrible growly-raspy way that she’s started doing here in the last month or so. Wth. Good morning.

Recovering from a “survival mode” period in life is something you want to be gentle about. I’m becoming more and more open about my experience of postpartum depression & anxiety, these days, in an effort to understand it more, myself, and I’m surprised to hear myself using phrases like “suicidal thoughts,” “panic attack,” “intrusive thoughts,” and so on. I can admit that I lied (without meaning to) on the Edinburgh postnatal depression scale (test they give you after you deliver, when your head is still spinning and nothing feels normal, and you’re supposed to indicate if you feel normal—obvs I have some thoughts on this test).

One of the things depressed people deal with is “lack of interest in activities you normally enjoy.” Asking a woman with a brand-new newborn if she’s interested in activities that she used to find fun, is strange to me. Like, no. Right? Or was I even more delusional than I thought? When you have a new baby—I guess especially your first—you’re suddenly in (allow me to borrow a concept from Netflix’s Stranger Things) “the upside down.” Yes, things around you look familiar… but they’re not familiar. Because everything in your head and body has made shifts that you don’t understand, but that make you feel like a strange version of yourself. I could write a few more paragraphs on these physical and hormonal changes alone. But since everything has changed, your perception has to change, and your focus, and your brain is struggling to find what’s familiar and de-code what’s unfamiliar.

After my husband’s partial week (now that I think about it, I’m not even sure it was a whole week—I think he was at home for some of that week but had to be working) at home with us, he went back to work and I was at home with the baby, feeling like the world had flipped. No I wasn’t interested in reading, or hiking, or writing, or sewing, or watching movies, or cooking or baking or calling friends up or putting real clothes on. But I thought that was “normal.” You hear this all the time about moms with babies: “He’s/She’s my whole world!” —followed by heart emojis. But I didn’t feel bonded with my baby—I just felt glued to her and urgently attentive to her helplessness, every cry felt like a dark and evil mystery to be solved. I also didn’t know that I didn’t feel bonded with her. I didn’t know what was normal, and what wasn’t. I even asked friends about some of these things, and they nodded, like it was normal. Of course I didn’t go into detail about some of the uglier feelings. Because I did have a deep fear that I was failing this enormous responsibility.

But life moved on, and I still never wanted to return to all these fun and creative pursuits I’d loved in my previous life. I thought it was sleep-deprivation, exhaustion (and there was that).

But there have been such beautiful moments of freedom and clarity, here in the last six months. I’ve pulled out of “the upside down” and am only having a few flashbacks, a few dreams about what life used to be like. To be honest, I wish it all could vanish. I don’t even want it all as writing material—I don’t want to have lived it, I don’t want to re-live it by writing about it. (But writing this blog wasn’t so bad.) Now, I can say with HUGE gratitude that my life is coming back together in ways I prayed for. I’m creating again, and exploring the city with Mary occasionally (instead of holing up in the house all day), and doing some yard-work and bird-watching. I’m planning gardens, and showing Mary all the bugs that live underneath rocks (she is blown away by snails and roly-polies especially).

Maybe these early mornings, still new to me, are the beginning of the end of the puzzle: sitting at the dining room table with candles burning while the sun comes up in front of me—this is perhaps one of the greatest pleasures of my life. I loved this through college and afterward, through grad school and afterward. Mornings are sacred circles of holiness that I have always wanted to touch before entering the day. Two years of sleeping till the baby is up have been lame. But mornings are back. And I’m back. Here’s to surviving things you weren’t sure you could.

 

I’m up early again this morning, early enough to light candles on the table and have them glow richly against the walnut (veneering?) tabletop. And the horizon was a thin band of rose and pale blue, the rest of the sky was still dark. I’ve decided—once again—that as long as I can, I have to keep getting up this early.

I wanted to talk about how I’ve been inspired by American politics and this election particularly, to quit pretending I can’t influence the world around me. I’m at the most limited I’ve probably ever been—more than grad school or recovering from surgery, even. Having a kid and a husband with a chronic illness will do that (not to mention I’m still recovering from PPD/PPA). But I look around at things like the president, the conditions under which he was elected, the enormous protests and demonstrations that blew up after the election, the confusion and debasement of public discourse, the rising violence against people of color and immigrants, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s recent report of the tripling of American hate groups, and I think, “I have to do something this time.”

So I’ve started volunteering an hour and a half a week, until I start back at work in April, at a local nonprofit that serves local farmers and connects people in our region with them: Nourish Knoxville. Small, diversified farmers (and small farmers MUST diversify to make it, these days) are vulnerable to the changing winds of public opinion, government protections (to a lesser extent), and most of all: climate change. I may not be able to make it to the Climate March on Washington this spring, but I’ll be doing what I can, where I am.

I’m also going to dedicate 2-4 evenings a month to volunteering as an adult literacy coach/tutor with another local org., Friends of Literacy. Another problem I see in the world around me is a lack of knowledge about how to read widely & critically, and research information to see that it is true—many simply don’t have the resources or time. Again, lack of resources and time that a sense of powerlessness can really aggravate. Immigrants and non-native English speakers are part of this population. But even among natives, a large percentage of Tennesseans haven’t finished high school, and another large percentage finished but life swept them off their feet and they never got a chance to develop their learning skills so that they could grow into adulthood with self-education along for the ride. I want to help. I think this is going to be fun. My older sister has been doing this for a while in Nashville, and I’ve been inspired by her to give it a try.

Lastly, I’ve swept Black Lives Matter and many conversations about race in America under the rug, these past few years. But now I’m inspired—again by the new administration—to listen. If there has ever been a time to choose to listen, it’s now. As a white, middle-class Southerner, my life is astonishingly separate from the lives and concerns of “the black/POC community” in my city. So much of the South is still segregated. I used to look at that fact and shrug, thinking, “nothing wrong with like communities sticking together.” But I’m seeing now that those with an amount of social and economic privilege are often the ones (if not always the ones) who should be listening first, and asking questions later. I’m aware, to some extent, of the lasting results of Jim Crow and the residual stereotypes and fears from the terrible centuries of slavery and abuse and repression and deprivation and denial. But as NPR & PRI ramp up their coverage, here in the last few years, of racial disparity in American, I’m learning more about the concrete actions that result from those residual stereotypes and fears.

I’m learning that discriminatory housing laws and rules about drawing local district lines (“redlining,” “blockbusting,” to name two such—google them!) are largely to blame for the segregation of neighborhoods and much of the poverty that’s characteristic of black communities. I’m learning that proven bias against young men of color has resulted in unfair police harassment and imprisonment, and that this fact has resulted, itself, in an enormous sense of powerlessness and anger in those communities. These are examples of “systemic bias/racism,” that have helped to deprive people of color of a sense of power and, in too many case, of justice. All of these things are important, if we want to be proud of our democracy.

The extent to which Knoxville is still so segregated makes this an opportunity for me to change my life a bit, since I don’t often rub shoulders with or speak to people of color, and especially since people must often live together (be neighbors) before they can get to know each other, and our neighborhoods are the most segregated of all our local arenas, I think. One of my bosses is from Mexico, and I’ve learned a lot about Knoxville’s hispanic immigrant population from him, but it’s my choice to go home and forget what I’ve learned…or go out and make new neighbors. I’ve occasionally heard Christians say that that they are praying that God would put needy people “in their lives” or “bring opportunities” to them—when Jesus didn’t wait for the marginalized to come to him (because they likely wouldn’t come—social class, social status, and religious mores are such strong social dividers): he went to find them.

These are causes that I find compelling in the Year of Trump. We can’t know what will happen as the year goes on, except that we will find people to help if we go looking for them. I haven’t often done that. I will, now. What has the election inspired you to do?