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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.
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.
It’s been so wet and cloudy this winter, which is wonderful (we’re still in D3 drought last time I checked, hoping we make up some ground before spring). But this is my first morning back from the Missouri roadtrip, and I’ve gotten up early, and I kinda wanted to see a colorful sunrise. I’m having coffee, whose tang and richness is like a splish of sun. The leaves in my occultation plot in the backyard are still orange and burnt sienna, and the grass is faded but still has green shadows. I’ll take it.
Now that I have myself looking out into the backyard, I’m starting to make lists of things I want to do out there, like till the leaves into the garden bed, get rid of trash/junk, clean and repaint the toolshed—the list could go on for pages. But the purpose of getting up in the morning is to regain guilt-free solitude, and get a handle on my life.
So, to go one step deeper than making jumpy to-do lists, I’ll make an I’m-doing list:
1. I’m realizing that it doesn’t matter so much what I write, I just have TO write, to feel like I’m contributing to the world. Mary’s growing so fast, now, that I can add “mothering” to this category of things, but I honestly still feel like I’m barely scraping by in the mom department, and have this horrible dread of finding out that, in fact, anyone could be raising my daughter better than I am. WRONG! I know! UGHH!! Regardless. While I realize mothering is much more important, I feel like I suck at it, while I’ve always felt I was good at writing. One has to feel like they can do something well in life. I think I’ve finally got to a point where I can see that writing, while not as significant as parenting, will help me to parent better if I can just make time to do it. Ergo:
2. I am writing. Getting up at 6:30 is proving to be practically painless. Thanks in part to the fact that Mary is now sleeping through the night 70% of the time. (Only took 2 years!)
3. I may not be publishing poetry collections or children’s books, but I’m instead trying to organize my head and spirit, and that’s the actual best work that I have to do. And I’m doing it.
4. I’m trying to bring my body into better health (along with my head). I’m going to bed a little earlier (you can’t imagine how late we’ve stayed up, this past year, ffs!). I’m drinking herbal tea before bed to wind down. I’m eating things I make, except for chocolate, etc., and freezing CSA veg in pestos and broths so I waste less food. I’m drinking more water. I’m getting back into yoga … and since I’m getting back into yoga I really have to get my wrists x-rayed because my wrist problems are getting worse with age/more yoga. Dammit.
5. I’m becoming a more honest person, and that comes across as negative & brash at times … because the inside of my head is pretty negative and brash, these days. Pretending that I’m stoked and #winning is too tiring, feels fake & gross, and keeps relationships from really growing. The next step for me, after the work I’ve already started in the “make time to be with the women you really care about” arena, is to try plugging back into groups that I want to be a part of. I finally feel capable of this. I’d like to be politically active (already beginning), I’m curious about getting involved with the local writer’s guild (freaks me the fuck out for some reason), I want to head up a new committee at the farm where I work & possibly help with fundraising (though I hate fundraising with the fire a thousand suns), and I’m officially going to start volunteering with Nourish Knoxville, the little nonprofit that issues our local food guide. These feel like good places to start.
Sun is up. Looks like the heavy wall of gray is opening up a bit—nice.
Today, since I’m not gonna be able to march with any of the women’s marches tomorrow, I downloaded Shepard Fairey’s We the People posters for the Women’s March on Washington.They’re going to hang out on my laptop until I have the time and dollars to print my favorite out, and frame it.
I have so many thoughts and feelings and experiences and etc. to really talk coherently about what these marches mean to me. And yet I can’t help it. Women are and have always been very special, to me. Their places in their respective societies are gloriously faceted and full of life and blood and suppression and secrets and liberty. A lot of the person I am today is a result of what I’ve learned about & experienced of misogyny, and learned from all of the powerful women I’ve tried to surround myself with. Women are the creators of life, in a sense, and most often—in most societies through the ages (less so in the modern age)—the primary nurturers of it. They have historically been the keepers of seeds, of the weak, sick, and vulnerable, and of the chicken in the pot on the stove. Because political and societal power has so often been kept from them, they have also been the keepers of each other: this is what the women’s marches are about, for me.
It thrills me that men will march tomorrow, too, but women’s lives so often fray and dovetail into each other’s lives in a way that is unique. Pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, and childcare have each ushered me into an even sharper understanding of this cross-cultural and cross-generational sisterhood, unique vulnerabilities and suppressed dark (and light!) threads that run deep inside of our domestic and personal lives—this is what the women’s marches are about, to me.
It terrifies me that our new president has reached his office by the support of millions of my countrymen & women who dismiss his (violent, we have learned!) misogyny, racist and xenophobic rhetoric, and generally abusive behavior with a “meh.” Yes, these demonstrations do bring more attention to trump, whose face has become a symbol in public discourse of selfishness and impulsive greed. As we all know, trump thrives on attention, and no human being can truly be reduced to a symbol. But I can’t accept that the answer is to keep quiet, ostensibly dismissing the whole shitball with another “meh.” The attention the marches’ leaders have said they hope to capture is that of all Americans—we must teach our children, our students, our peers, our families, our leaders, ourselves, about who we want to become, or we will begin to forget it. This is what the women’s marches are about, to me.
My daughter is asleep, napping in a Super 8 motel in Lamar, Missouri, the birthplace of Harry Truman. We all come from small towns—towns the size of our mothers’ wombs, of our childhood homes, of our parents’ eyes, watching us drive off into adulthood. How little it really matters where we come from, or where we’ve been on the way to where we are, now. Now is where the power of the future is. And now is always so overwhelming that only one or two things can be done in a day—I know this VERY well. But let one thing you do today be singing, or drawing, or walking in the forest. Let one thing you do tomorrow be to affirm that women have the right to speak truth to power, and to applaud those who do. I will be for sure doing that all up in here.
Today feels a little momentous. First: after two years of sleeping till the last possible minute in the morning, i.e., being awakened by the baby, I have decided to get up early. Yeah I know I know. I should have started such a long time ago. But I was talking to my friend yesterday (she’s starting to do this too), and I was able to articulate part of the reason I’ve not gotten up early—my morning time (coffee, book or journal, staring out of a window, contemplating, ALONE) had been such a huge part of my day, both for waking up gently and preparing myself mentally/spiritually for the chaos that would come crashing down later, that the loss of it was grievous, and I couldn’t forgive. Honestly it was my favorite part of the day. Plus I was depressed (still am sometimes) and didn’t want the sun to rise. Sleeping in was my way of telling the Morning to go f itself. Ha! The logic here is astonishing.
But as I keep saying (over and over in different ways), the past 6 months—and especially the past 3 months—have seen my spirit rising and my body and mind healing. In some way. I still can’t figure out how to eat properly for lunch or pray or finish painting the house, but whatever. I can be patient-ish.
So I got up at 6:30, made coffee, lit a candle, and set up the laptop in front of the dining room windows so I could watch the sun rise while I write.
This whole feeling of rightness and courage was almost waylaid by me pulling out my phone in the bathroom and watching clips from the Betsy DeVos confirmation hearing—but nevermind all that garbage. I’m prioritizing my own mental and physical health this year, and while I also anticipate doing some protesting and demonstrating, I plan to not let politics be any less or more to me than one of my (several) jobs. As in, I’m a citizen, so I should speak about my citizenship and country; I should not let anxiety or anger ruin my enjoyment of my coffee, or my people.
Second reason today feels momentous: as you may have been able to tell, I’m writing. I’m writing a blog. Can I compare myself to someone undergoing physical therapy? No? A metaphor too far. But I really do feel rust powdering off in glinty little sprays, and the screeching of gears. I feel I’m learning to walk again, in a way. I feel, for instance, that everything I’ve written in these past two years has been garbage, and that I’m wandering around trying to figure out what would be the purpose of continuing to write. Dramatic, yes. Valid, yes.
In other news, and to keep those little showers of oxidized metal coming, I will say that Marshall’s grandfather died last week and we are going to take an 11 hour roadtrip (with a two year old) to go see family and be at the memorial service. It was a difficult decision for me—whether to go or not—because I’m so scared of sleep deprivation (on the one hand) and baby screaming in the car (on the other) that I just had this physical *NO* response to Marshall’s initial suggestions that we either drive through the night or drive through the day. I’ve had more than I wanted—and more on top of that—of sleep deprivation and baby crying in the car. Because of my terrible mental health in the baby’s first year, both of those items are all painted up in terrifying reds and oranges and blacks, nightmarish, horrible.
But guess what. 18 months ago is not right now. I’m now mostly-prepared to actually kind of enjoy the drive.
I also wanted to attend either the Nashville Women’s March or the Knoxville one. Someone please go and wear a pussyhat for me. (Weep.)
Last item, as sun is up and therefore soon the baby will be: I’ll be missing Hot Yoga at the Glowing Body on Thursday night, and my discovery of this class is such a new & exciting development. SUCH. DEVELOPMENT. So thrill. Wow. (I’ll be making doge jokes for the rest of my life, sadly.) This is a class that’s affordable, and at the perfect time of day for me to take it: 7:45pm. It’s ten minutes away from my house. I’ve longed to start yoga classes again, partly because yoga blesses my body in ways no other form of exercise has thus far, and partly because it is currently serving as my “church.” Shavasana (sp?) brings me to tears, every time. The grace that fills my whole body during one of these classes is the grace I long for, and need, and that I can’t find (yet?) while trying to entertain my toddler in a church service. I do have a church, in the sense that I love many of the people at one particular church and regularly hang out with several of them, but I’ve been growing away from its theology/liturgy/practice for a while, for reasons.
I mean, one reason is that I’m an angry bitch who’s spent a few too many Sunday mornings during my formative years being told why I’m deficient and faulty and untrustworthy and I can really live without that for a while. But that’s another blog (series).
The sun is well & truly up. Let’s do this again.
List of today’s notable things:
1. My big 25×40 foot garden rectangle is completely covered in cardboard and leaves/pine needles by now, and this garden is going to be home to annuals and vegetables mainly; this leaves the area around the shed to be prepped for my perennial culinary/medicinal herb garden. TODAY, while Mary napped praise god, Joel and I tore up the main toe-stubbing aggravation of that area, which was a random 3′ square of white decorative rocks enclosed by rotting 2x4s and overgrown by crabgrass. Hideous, unconscionable, gone. I could never have done this alone. Three tarp loads of gravel and accompanying dirt were insanely heavy. Lots of modifiers in this paragraph!
2. I had a good time with Mary today—yeah, sadly this qualifies as “notable.” We enjoyed each other all day, and never had a fight. We went to the zoo, where she strode around in her big boots and puffy coat like a kitten wearing big-cat-sized clothes; we read books, several of which she loves and talked about a great deal, with great interest and ideas and gesturing; we watched Curious George and had snacks, and both of these items were extremely satisfactory to her, so much so that I could squeeze her till she’s flat as a pancake.
3. I roasted a chicken, which is one of the most therapeutic things that I do, these days. I also sauteed garlic and kale in a skillet, and roasted two huge pans of turnips, carrots, sweet potatoes, Yukon Golds, beets, and onions—all but the onions and white potatoes being from our Care of the Earth Community Farm winter share. That feels incredible, to feed my daughter, husband, and brother with food from East Tennessee soil. Beware of asking me why. As I would tell you, probably at great length.
4. I started following an instagram account that is right on the edge of being bad for me—a young beautiful woman with effortless 30-something style and two kids and a cool house and she’s also some kind of professional, forget what kind. I keep having this one photo of her float through my mind, and fortunately I’m right here for my actual eyes to look at and compare to that photo of The Amazing Woman! It’s also fortunate that I look like a cross between a dirty hipster and an I’ve-completely-given-up frumpy mom. Way emphasis on frumpy mom. Like, my long hair was unbelievably tangled for THE LAST! TIME!! the other day, so I basically hacked off 5-6 inches of it in a rage, yanking out knots and giving about zero shits about whether it was even or not. So, hair. And the fact that I have no career or gravitas about me at all right now. Every day I’m surprised my fly is not open, and I’m still SHOCKED that my barely-breastfeeding status means I no longer have to worry about randomly leaking from ol’ lefty—can I just say that that is HUGE. I think breastfeeding boob leakage is one main reason I’ve felt like a Dodge Caravan these past two years: you never know when that van is gonna break down, but you know it WILL break down.
5. My mom gave me a muffin tin for Christmas, and I’m having trouble wrapping my mind around the fact that I can now just make muffins if I want. I’ve been muffin tinless for forever—for the same reason I choose to scrape ice and frost off my car windows with a credit card instead of a window scraper, and cut my own hair in a rage with sewing scissors: I prefer to put things that are going to require money or energy off, and just make do. The man I married, on the other hand, thinks I’m ridiculous, and does things like A) buys the floss he likes so that he will floss his teeth, B) takes care of his health insurance on time (with time to spare), and C) goes to Banana Republic to buy pants when he realizes he needs new pants. He’s as bad as I am in some cases, yes. But not that many.
I had some kind of food poisoning and/or bad food reaction the other night, to some rare steak, and what followed was 24 hours of hell. Rather than go into details I will just leave you to imagine. Ha. But this morning is the most normal I’ve felt in several days, and—while I’m your classic overachiever mother of a young kid & wife—I’m still somehow able to let Christmas stress slip away this morning. Yeah I love Christmas. OMG I LOVE CHRISTMAS. But since I don’t have time to make presents these days, I kind of have to buy them, which is a financial stressor; since both our families are in town we have too many fun events to choose from and have to say no to more people than is fun; and since our kid is only two, and life has been kind of a big ol stress train for most of those two years, we haven’t been able to hammer out what we want *our* family Christmas to look like, and our lack of prior discussion made for some high-stress misunderstandings yesterday…….
However. I waxed my armpits. They are the most gorgeous softest armpits you’ve ever seen in your life. That always makes me feel like tons of bucks. Also we said (it was tacit) “the heck with it” this morning and let Mary watch Robin Hood whilst eating her breakfast (it’s still on, which is why I get to blog!), and both Marshall and I got to shower and be slow about stuff. God. It’s amazing. I mean, I’m glad I didn’t let her watch tv for her first year, and limited it a lot till she was about 2, but—Pandora’s box over here. I’m gonna have to figure out how to not get hooked on letting my kid watch Robin Hood all the time. Conflicted on whether I want to solicit advice about this. Sigh.
Also this is the first morning since my illness that I’ve wanted coffee, and I’m having some. Also, the house had gone to absolute shit these past couple of weeks, because I got sick exactly after Mary had a stomach bug (so much vomit guys, and yes, at one point I did hold out my hand for her to throw up in it—she obliged me! Ok maybe I’m a good mom). The bathroom had seen horrors and looked like it. Cracker crumbs were literally everywhere (in the world). Toys, socks, shriveled-up bananas everywhere—etc. And last night—we cleaned up! It feels amazing. Yes, walnut stained wood floors shows crumbs and specks, but it looks so good when it’s clean that I still don’t care.
In other news, I’m realizing more and more that I need to get a regular writing habit going. Yeah I know I always say that, and then don’t, but I feel closer than ever. I’ve been so amped on anxiety these past two years that I haven’t allowed myself to rest, or mentally wander, which someone on the radio reminded me, yesterday, is essential for creative work (have known it’s essential for me in the past, but wondered if I could learn to do without). I haven’t found places of peace, but so much of the chaos is settling that I can imagine making those places. Especially on mornings like this.
I’m starting to think about being an artist and a mother with a little less angst, a little more distance, these days. Since I’m not sitting down to write, the thoughts seem almost fruitless sometimes, since I can’t pin them down to return to later. I just have to observe them, give them a few moments’ fervent attention, hoping they will return to me if I can’t return to them.
And like an idiot I loved Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea so much that I sent it to my friend in Seattle before I had finished it so I could get it to her in time for Christmas. So I don’t have those thoughts to soak in. But those thoughts have been catalysts for more of my own. I hope to make 2017 “The Year Anna Laura Started Writing Again” and even if nothing comes of it but better mental health for me, then it’ll be worth it. I have all the reasons in the world to dread the incoming administration and the particular kind of leadership it’ll offer its believers, and the opportunities and dignity it will deprive of many others. But I’m hearing that this is just a signal for us to double down on our own health and the health of our friends and families and local communities.
But I’m at a loss when it comes to how responsible I am to larger communities…like, should I be sending money to aid groups for Syria? Should I be contributing to groups that fight sex trafficking? Climate change? Or should I quit reading about all the horrific tragedies on the internet and learn how to love my daughter better? Duh, right? But then—what about Syria and all the people who say “You should be doing something”? Awash with information, crippled by anxiety. This is why the homesteading thing is so big right now. We all need rest. And healthy escape. Damn. Navigating the internet is so hard for me.
And my baby is so cute these days. SO CUTE.
..as making a last-ditch effort to make your child take a nap (like, it’s 5:00, if she doesn’t sleep now, it won’t happen), only to hear her screaming and crying from her room, and saying random things like “Mama get up? Mama get up??? Mama???????? [wailing]. I set myself up for failure, I know, by anticipating nap time, imagining what I’ll do while she’s asleep, and hoping it’ll happen. Or maybe she set me up—she’s been actually taking one-hour (or a little longer) naps at home lately, which still strikes me as so weird.
Actually, maybe the most relaxing thing ever is that moment when you buckle your whining/crying child in her carseat, and then shut her door, and there you are in the parking lot in perfect silence. Maybe there’s a crying kid in the car? Maybe not? Maybe you don’t have a car—maybe you’re a single, childless girl on a walking tour of the southeast. You can really feel your spine straightening as you sloowwlly walk from the baby’s door to the driver’s side. One last long breath through the nose. The perfect silence and clarity of the air, split second of astonishment that you are in love with a parking lot, then head ducking back underwater as you open the driver’s door and get into the car.
You’re welcome, world!
“For it is the spirit of woman that is going dry, not the mechanics that are wanting. Mechanically, woman has gained in the past generation. Certainly in America, our lives are easier, freer, more open to opportunities, thanks—among other things—to the Feminist battles. The room of one’s own, the hour alone are now more possible in a wider economic class than ever before. But these hard-won prizes are insufficient because we have not yet learned how to use them. […] With our garnered free time, we are more apt to drain our creative springs than to refill them. With our pitchers, we attempt sometimes to water a field, not a garden. We throw ourselves indiscriminately into committees and causes. Not knowing how to feed the spirit, we try to muffle its demands and distractions. Instead of stilling the center, the axis of the wheel, we add more centrifugal activities to our lives—which tend to throw us off balance. […]
“The answer is not in going back, in putting woman in the home and giving her the broom and needle again. …[Nor] in the feverish pursuit of centrifugal activities which only lead in the end to fragmentation. Woman’s life today is tending more and more toward the state William James describes so well in the German word, ‘Zerrissenheit—torn-to-pieces-hood.’ She cannot live perpetually in ‘Zerrissenheit.’ She will be shattered into a thousand pieces. On the contrary, she must consciously encourage those pursuits which oppose the centrifugal forces of today. …it should be something of one’s own…What matters is that one be for a time inwardly attentive.
“The cell of self-knowledge is the stall in which the pilgrim must be reborn, says St. Catherine of Siena” (45-50).
Anne Morrow Lindbergh, from Gift from the Sea
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Trying to write again today. Thinking about writing some kind of moving, self-contained essay gives me non-productive anxiety, so it’ll be rambly.
But I’m trying to save my life again, today. Which, in our shockingly inter-dependent universe, means looking for help or guidance, not steeling myself into some iron bar of blank stability. Not that steeling myself doesn’t have a strange allure: I’ve done a lot of that in the past two years. “Unsustainable” is all I’ll say about that kind of living, for now. So I look outside of myself for help or guidance, and I’ve decided to finally read through this lovely 50th anniversary edition of Gift from the Sea that I found at Union Avenue Books last month.
And, of course.
It’s so odd to think about how long and crazy life can feel, how many small lives I feel I’ve lived, and have passed into some kind of shadowy, living memory. Untouchable, though they touch me. When I dove into feminist lit & theory as a college student, I couldn’t have understood where I would find myself in 2016, because I felt equal to all the punishing forces of the world. Like, all of them. Ah, youth! If I felt mistreated, I could retreat and recover within myself a sense of self, justice, and make art from it. I could separate myself from the powerful paternalism in my family, I had the freedom to make my own life in the way I wanted (to an extent). How lucky I was!
But settling down, getting married and having a kid, staying at home with her, not sleeping much or eating well, depressed and anxious and a black umbrella of guilt hanging over it all, I slowly realized those wide open spaces all around me had contracted into a little fenced yard. Grad school helped me figure out how to squeeze time alone and good writing & thinking out of a few small windows of time, but in fact, grad school afforded me much more time than new motherhood did.
Yes, occasionally Mary would nap, and I would be completely overwhelmed with the rippling stormcloud of undone tasks (all important!) that hung over this precious hour of time, and because guilt usually won out, the chosen task would usually be: laundry, or dishes, or finding some food for myself somewhere. Tasks of survival. I have barely written five pages in the last two years. And this Zerrissenheit Lindbergh describes is my own state of mind.
My husband also struggles. He would be the first to say that this isn’t a “woman’s problem,” as he has wrestled with the bankruptcy that fragmentation causes, for years. I agree that it’s more a “modern problem” than a “woman’s problem,” but I have been shocked—and continue to be shocked—by how many mothers I know who are trying to eke out a healthy mental life in the midst of this very same Zerrissenheit. I don’t have tons of male friends; if you do, you can draw some helpful conclusions on that front. But what I’m learning from my experience and my friends’ is that we struggle terribly to keep ourselves together and healthy, and try to deal with guilt we have for (not pursuing a career, or for working and leaving the baby in childcare, or fighting with the husband in front of the baby, or not feeding the baby kale, or always picking the baby up when it cries, or ignoring the baby when it cries, or yelling at the baby and then picking it up and crying yourself, etc., can you tell I’m talking about myself here) by trying to water a field with a pitcher.
So proudly, my twenty-year old self figured out how to avoid all these pitfalls. First I didn’t want to get married; then I wanted to have a full-time career so childcare and housework could be split 50/50, completely fair, easy-peasy; then BOOM! I didn’t have a career, and I thought I’d enjoy being a stay-at-home-parent because you get fun times with a baby plus free time to write and make stuff, right? And the baby comes three weeks early and it’s a long slide down into chaos from there.
Anyways. Dramatic. It’s called growing up, I know. I now understand so much of the resistance to feminist ideals that I encountered, pre-baby. I can accept where I am though. I can take a reality check and continue to move forward. I can keep trying to honor myself enough to MAKE time to listen to myself, to write, to troubleshoot, to pray, to say mantras, to accept small gifts from the world, especially the ones—like Lindbergh’s seashells—that call me to inward attentiveness.
And that inward attentiveness, can I get an amen from Anne Lamott, does *not* include all the crabby spiders of gloom, guilt, glinting broken windows, and freight-train forces of anxiety and rage, ET CETERA. I got lots. I read Gift from the Sea and my soul clears of these ghosts, and I remember one of those instagram graphics I saw this morning which exhorted me to focus on who I am becoming, not who I once was, or whatever. I’m trying pretty hard to become a good woman (artist+wife+mother+daughter+sister+writer+consumer+worker), and I think I’m on the path.