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What is the root of my pernicious envy? I grew up somewhat financially insecure, second oldest in a family of nine, and am a people-oriented socially inept hermit wrapped up in conflicting creative energies. I compare myself constantly to other people to see how far “ahead” or “behind” I am. I do it all the time. And I mean all the time. If you wondered why I struck you as competitive and resentful, yet charmingly yearning, then that is why. I don’t make a good pet.

I’ve been through beautiful periods of self-appreciation and self-forgiveness, free enough of spirit and mind to take hours-long walks, to see petals, leaflets, Mare’s Tails, dewshine, hues, glints, and grassy contour like I was new to the planet. I have been free, at times, to see and love the world the way I think it deserves to be seen, and loved. I’m a poet, and will be my whole life, whether I #amwriting or not.

But I’m the kind of person who sometimes makes a terrible mother. Sometimes ye olde conflicting creative energies blow up into shame-rage cyclones, and the isolated nature of this early-motherhood gig compounds the destructive forces. Once I finally had a kid, I never looked at the ill, dented mugshots of mothers who had hurt their children the same way again. Now I know what it feels like to be consumed by negative forces, swirling overwhelmingly within the self, and have to selflessly take care of a kid at the same time. I know what it feels like to want to hurt everything within reach, but retain the freedom of movement that my mind still has that mothers who try to drown their kids have lost. I always know where I am, and what’s happening to me. I always calm myself, talk myself into stillness. Stillness is an excellent consolation prize when peace is not to be had.

Postpartum depression and anxiety (with a dash of OCD) was a trip. But I never fought for a diagnosis because I’ve had periods of overwhelming depression and anxiety throughout my life—I knew something was wrong, postpartum, but I was kind of familiar with going through the wringer, and everybody around me told me that early postpartum felt like going through the wringer, so? Here we go through the wringer I guess? This is taking a really long time though?

According to Enneagram (have you taken the test what is your type & what is your partner’s type & all your siblings & also your parents), shame is a powerful motivating force for those with my personality (type? profile?). Shame is big for most everyone, but it is really big, for me. I am slowly making my way through Daring Greatly, Brene Brown’s Big Shame Book, and finding it all resonant. Somehow I know that my impulse to compare myself favorably with others is directly connected to my lifelong struggle with jealousy and anger, though I don’t know what to do about it yet.

I pulled some SOS quotes from Brown’s book and sticky-noted them to my dashboard, hoping that I can learn some mind karate techniques. My paraphrasing: 1) I can be warm and understanding toward myself when I fail; 2) feeling personally inadequate is common to humans, this doesn’t “just happen to me”; 3) I can be “mindful” by neither ignoring negative feelings nor “over-identifying” with them so that they sweep me away (Brown 131-132).

Maybe you’re like me, and can hardly imagine not flaying yourself within an inch of sanity for your failures. Maybe you, like me, believe that you are uniquely inwardly misshapen and maladjusted and therefore mammoth struggles are something that you have that not many other people have, those other people who look so chill and chic. Maybe you have “surfed” negative emotions like it was your sport of choice since early adolescence, and crying in bed has always been your idea of a relaxing night in. Eh? If so, these points are HARD TO UNDERSTAND.

But the fact remains that they are saving me.

Motherhood, right?? *slaps knee, spills drink*

Motherhood is to my life what salt is to a dish, a catalyst, an intensifier, it raises the boiling point, the air is super-saturated and super-thin up here. Army-crawling through my low points isn’t cutting it, anymore. Retreating to get a handle on my negative emotions isn’t possible, anymore. I can’t hibernate or become a hermit. So this is why I think motherhood is forcing me to grow up. I can’t get lost in my negative feelings anymore, so I have to slog down into my strange subconscious and do weird inventories, organizing motives, responses, etc. I have to read self-help books like they’re candy (Codependent No More and Daring Greatly were fucking incredible, next up: The Dance of Anger!), and write things that sound like the most common of all common sense on sticky notes and try to memorize them.

Those creative energies have to find new outlets, new syntax, new vocabulary. Even new purposes. I used to write at every serendipitous shoulder-tap from my own personal muse, but now I basically have to used my own hands to bend my own knees and force my own ass to sit in a chair and start writing in what feels like a new language that I have not got down yet. Ugh, God. And I have to soothe that horrible sense of being-at-the-very-beginning-again by creating other things, like gardens, bouquets, quilt blocks, herbal teas, roasts, raw salads, pestos, marinades. And when I can slow down enough to be kind to myself, I can (to borrow some language from my Evangelical days) rejoice, exult in my work, and in that little being who neither competes with me nor against me, who never envies me, who never compares me to all those other moms that I compare myself with daily: my own little kid.

One of my best “a-ha moments” as a mother came from a podcast interview, in which a childhood development researcher said that families (and communities) benefit more from a “gardener” approach to parenting than a “carpenter” approach. Yes, yes of course. A child is not a work-in-progress in a closed system, but a plant growing in an ecosystem that is (almost) impossibly complex. The accompanying thought, months later, was that I have to learn to treat myself like a plant instead of a WIP, too, if I’m going to ever be comfortable treating my daughter like one.

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I have this friend. And we are trying to do so much. She’s trying to do more, since she has two kids, and one of them has had a lot of heart surgeries because of a congenital heart defect, and basically has PTSD from some of those times when her son could have died. I’m just over here trying to sort out my socks. Just kidding—I’m trying to deal with my past and create my future, just like the rest of us. And what a shit-show it can be.

So this friend and I have something in common, and that’s high-achievement, perfectionism, and an amount of ambition that feels alternately inspiring and impossible. Actually, two of my friends are like this (probably most of us, to be honest), and the friend I thought of just now told me that she knew her pattern of “I feel like I’m killing it … and then I want to kill myself” was unsustainable, long-term. All of us high-achieving perfectionists can make that roller coaster work for us WAY longer than makes any kind of rational sense, and I think it’s because we remember what it was like before we had kids.

So many people—once the adorableness of our children has been the topic of conversation for a few minutes—open their mouths and “Do you even remember what life was like before?” comes out. Oh my god.

It’s a personal “pet peeve” of mine, because there are times I have regretted having a kid, and since no parent is supposed to admit that, I’m often in the position of having to smile and force a small agreement-laugh through my nose when asked (rhetorically) whether I have amnesia and forget what it was like to be a free and independent young adult with prospects.

I’m sort of kidding, but sort of not. All the truisms about parenthood (and motherhood in particular) rain down on my head and shoulders these days, when I’m wanting to make bread AND do the week’s meal prep AND clean out grass roots from the garden area AND go to an anti-white supremacy demonstration downtown AND split the goddamn bulbs in the front flower bed. This first friend and I, we think about our choking bulbs all the time. Who has time? I don’t even usually have time to condition my hair in the shower.

No, having experienced the vast surprising fun of creating a new human, I wouldn’t go back; children are a shock and a delight; I am growing in ways I might not otherwise be forced to; sacrificing greatly to nurture a kid is, in fact, worth it, for me. But I remember what it was like before. I daydream about it.

Sometimes when I am dragging stuffed animals and snack leavings out of the yard on my way to starting dinner, I think about how I used to climb trees and wait to be blown about by the wind, like a flag, or a bell, wait like I had nowhere in the world to be—because I didn’t. Sometimes when my daughter has her pants around her knees and is yelling for me to wipe her butt, and I have to leave the garden for the afternoon (after only having been able to weed one small area), I think about the long, lazy afternoons I used to spend alone or with friends at outdoor café tables, languorous and dreamy in the summer dusk. Sometimes when I have eight things I want to get done in a day, but after work I’m exhausted and I realize I can only do two of the things, and only one if I want to spend any time sitting down before I start dinner, I think about how I used to lie on my bed on my days off, reading and reading and reading and reading, till the shadows got long and the air grew cool.

One answer for me has been a hard pill to swallow, and even now I’m not sure I’ve swallowed it totally. It might be stuck in my throat right now. And that answer to my tearful, ragey, or numb responses to having so little time to do the things that used to make me feel whole and peaceful has come in different forms from veteran parents: Make new good times with your kid.

How? I’m working on it, after resentfully (“UGH” & “FUCK FUCK FUCK”) rejecting that advice for a few years. (And, to be fair, there are very few “new good times” you can actually have with a baby; now that my daughter is three, things are different.) Yes, my creative work will, in the end, have to wait for a while to be reborn. My love for solitude will have to wait to be reborn, my immense satisfaction in long to-do lists, manicuring both the front and back yard at the same time, fast-tracking the kitchen renovation. I used to look at this kind of admission as an admission of failure: I have failed to bring my whole self to the present, or to motherhood. But nothing essential can be lost for long, and losing ground in the battle for solitude and productivity is temporary. Solitude and productivity will come back, sooner than I thought: they are trickling back in, they are sending up different-looking shoots in surprising places. I still hate this, but finding fun with my toddler is the medicine I need.

Another friend—a writer whose kids are almost grown up—wrote to me in the midst of the fierce chaos of my early postpartum days, saying that when her kids were young, she had accepted that creative work would not get done in the same way as before. (She remembers the before, too, ha!)  She instead let her new environment reshape it. Instead of sitting at a desk and writing stories, she invented stories to tell her kids at night, working from prompts they gave her. At the time, I couldn’t hear this. All I could hear through my postpartum noise was, “You can’t be a mother and write.” Returning to that email a year later, it brought tears to my eyes and a place in my ribcage tightened suddenly, unbearably, because I knew she was right, and that I could understand her.

I work on a farm, and I’ve always been attuned to the mechanisms of the natural world—I should know this stuff. Our vocations are deep, perennial roots, and can’t be killed by the winter, or even a few winters.

Today my alarm went off at 6:15 instead of 6:00  (lost so much sleep in a 5-day period I felt like I had the flu, probably also should start taking an antihistamine just before bed because my throat, nose, and sinuses are feeling v. raw and throbby). I’m dragging myself up this morning. Instagram tried to keep me in bed, scrolling, but I managed to resist. For a tired crawl from the bathroom to the kitchen to the bedroom to the bathroom to the office, where I am now trying to be pithy for 11 minutes and then I have to put on mud-encrusted Carhartts and go to work. I remember being excited about this writing project, and the slow build-up to actually starting it. I’m not feeling the excitement now, but according to People the important thing is to sit, and write.

God I’m tired. Yesterday I was so tired I felt like my head was a big steel keg, and stimuli gonged it softly every few seconds. Inside was jelly and the gonging sent thoughts traveling from one side to the other, little slow determined journeys. V. heavy.

This morning I can tell is going to be better. I’m eating something besides fig bars and coffee this morning, and I really did probably get almost 8 hours of sleep last night. I don’t know what I’m having for lunch, unless I have a banana and 3 of those super-expensive fruitynutty bars I got for 99 cents each (on way sale) at Kroger yesterday. Was going to save them, but? Who am I kidding? Ok so I’ll have protein. (I’m the worst at feeding myself. Why? My main daily preoccupation when I’m *not doing well in life* is what food to feed the fam for dinner, and that sometimes means I feed myself total garbage from 6am til 6pm, I behave really like a Smokey Mountain black bear rummaging through a campsite. Is this refined flour? Ooh yeah. Wait where did this wrapper come from, did I eat that already? Oh but there’s crumbs in there yay!

So the build-up to starting this project.

Red azaleas and lavender irises are blooming in the green shadow outside the window. I love irises but feel like they’re too cool & elegant to care about me. I do know that Nature doesn’t give a fig for the human race, but most plants have a very compliant kind of attitude about it; irises make me feel like if I say the wrong word they would all move out, maybe just go ahead and load up with all their iris friends and leave Middle Earth. I haven’t picked any since we moved into this house 2 years ago because I want them to like me first.

Anyway yeah ok right this writing project. I have 6 more minutes. Next time I get up to write (tomorrow morning, MUST happen NO EXCUSES) I’m going to go into a few things:

  1. Saving myself from drowning since no one else lifting a finger to do so, smh.
  2. Saving myself in order to (do what I can to) save the marriage, since I don’t think it could survive both of us being unhealthy to such a degree at the same time. Fortunately husband is also taking steps to gain health, and at the end of our therapy session yesterday our therapist basically said “You guys are halfway already to making this work for you,” and I was like (in my head), “Can I pat self on back? No that’s dumb he said ‘halfway’ you still have to get into Mordor ugh.”
  3. Saving myself involves being #codependentnomore and trying all the old numbers for God in my phone to see if anyone has his number or knows how I can contact, AND writing and reading. Writing and reading are what my soul is made of, and I used to say to myself (back in college days) “I just don’t know what would happen to me if I couldn’t write! *hair flip*” as if I was so sure that would never happen. Well guess what happens! *Draws self up fully into light, ominous music, claws clacking, scales glinting* Yes, I can forgive my younger self. And, theoretically, I can forgive my current self. Saving self also includes a thousand things, because in my life I have loved a thousand things. Can I make another bullet point for this? Yes I can.
  4. Saving myself involves resuming active love for the following: songbirds, flowers, gardens, exploring forests, sitting outside and thinking, baking cakes, distance from social media, creating visual art like quilting or bookbinding or home decor*, reading Hopkins and Howe and Hirschfield and Rilke and all the other spiritual writers and poets that I’ve been longing to return to but life is a maze & how, and lying on the grass and letting the earth hold me up, AND climbing a tree and letting the tree lift me up.

*assuming home decor is art. It is right? At the very least I need to put actual art up on the walls of this house. My God. I need that so bad.

Chapter 1.

Last night my three-year old daughter got out of bed three times: 1) her blanket had fallen off  the bed, 2) Papa had put her to bed that night and forgot to leave a cup of water at her pillowside [gears grinding], and 3) she needed her nose “sucked,” i.e., she still refuses to learn to blow her nose and depends partly on her own ability to pick with her tiny fingers but mostly on us in the middle of the night to suction her nose out with an infant bulb suction device that we still have for this reason alone. She gets hay fever in the spring and fall and wakes up truly congested, but my god. My current thought is, Why not throw it away so that we will have one night of misery and then she’ll have to learn to blow her own nose?

Regardless. I dragged myself out of bed at 6:00 am like a normal fucking human mom, and am writing. This child has rarely been a cock blocker; she has always been a writing block. Is that fair? Are children fair? Are moms fair? Notions of fairness recede a little further every day. For three years I’ve clutched my daughter’s slowly-expanding pond of nightly sleep (she’s given up naps already, though they were rarely a regular thing) with disbelief and the greed of the starving.

She was born three weeks early, and somebody (not sure, now, who?) told me to feed her every two hours until she reached her birth weight. If I’m remembering correctly, which of course I’m not, because I’m a mom now, it took her two weeks to reach her birth weight. I was setting alarms to wake every two hours for two weeks, and who says babies that little have no memory-storing ability? She was like, Every two hours? K. Forever. Much later, when I would take her in to see the pediatrician/nurse practitioner, I would lie about how often she ate, because although I didn’t know much (I was a mother now), I knew every two hours was too often, but I also knew she wasn’t like, ill, or weird, or anything. I was incredibly depressed, and the thought that I was doing something wrong was paralyzing—almost literally. Didn’t realize it till later, but I lied a lot about little things back then. Little tiny maniac of a woman doing jumping jacks behind my eyes, saying, YOU CAN DO EVERYTHING SO DON’T STOP DOING EVERYTHING YOU CAN THINK OF TO DO AT ALL TIMES! RAH! RAH! RAH! EVERYONE IS WATCHING!!

Years later I realized I probably also have fewer milk ducts (right term?) than many women, so my daughter was likely getting less milk per feeding than other babies. So she made up with frequency. And, as you can (if you’re a mom, and can’t if you’re anyone else SORRY) imagine, neither my body nor my time was my own from the moment she was born. BLAM.

Anyways, this is a diary of The Year I Got My Shit Together. I am committed to rising at 6:00 am 3x/wk, opening up the laptop in the pink salty glow cast by yon Himalayan salt lamp which are all the rage right now (or did I jump on the bandwagon late? Who knows—not me, I’m just a mom) and writing myself into a new season of life. This diary will show how a maniac climbs up a stem, weaves a cocoon around itself, undergoes a magical process that is super fast and efficient and unpainful, and then struggles for two years to not die of panic attacks while it tries to crack its imprisoning cocoon open and tries to keep believing in the outside world, freedom, courage, change, that it is not the ugliest insect to have ever existed, that wine is not the best answer although it is an ok answer in moderation, etc. R U EXCITED.

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.