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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.
Just as the backyard pear
these long peach limbs
cut down last month because of disease
and lying piled
waiting to be burnt
are, as I feared,
budding, and blooming.
Three weeks of sap
and softwood fiber swelling
with the idea of five thousand pink blossoms;
persistent, dead, yet undead.
Really, it’s exactly like hair growing
in the grave, or a corpse
bellowing in the cremator.
Or exactly like the memory
of fifty years past,
the moment that terrified then
will come to these flowers.
Then they will brown, and shrink.
One last effort.
Maybe the blossoms will open, but be dry,
fooling the bees as I am not fooled.
I am fooled, so long is the winter,
so thirsty am I.
First poem in such a long time, I had to celebrate by getting some eyes on it. Second act of celebration will be to finish a journal for myself so I can use it for more poetry. This one was written on a notepad that really should just be used for grocery lists. Or not. Regardless, I need a new journal.
Last weekend my parents-in-law took the baby overnight for a cousins’ sleepover. When the baby is gone, and she’s over two so maybe I should stop calling her a baby, but every time she’s gone on the weekend I have to actually think about what I want to do. On Sunday, it was go to church, and be inspired mid-service (by ye olde hymn Fairest Lord Jesus) to go take a long and solitary walk on the greenway over the river.
Taking long, solitary walks—like rising early—used to be one of my favorite things to do, ever. Partly a product of a lonely adolescence with no car to jump into and drive away, partly a product of some lonely college years in a new city, also with no car for the first couple years. Partly also a product of my fierce love of Gerard Manly Hopkins, whom I always imagined roaming the coombs and coasts of Wales with note-paper and pencil. Leaning against trees, etc.
A friend turned me on to Hopkins’ fragment The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo while I was still in high school, and it’s stuck with me, but the older I get, the more the poem Spring and Fall appeals to me. As a matter of fact, I have been using my (infrequent) trips to this particular greenway to memorize it. On Sunday, I believe I finally got it. I’m so bad at memorizing anything these days. But rhyme and rhythm help, and this poem lights a dark way. I also re-read God’s Grandeur, as I wanted another sonnet but felt The Windhover or Spring were too cheery.
Spring and Fall: it means infinitely more to me than it did when I was in college. I remember one English professor saying it was her favorite Hopkins poem, and—in the way of young snobs everywhere—I thought, “she must not have really give *my* favorite a deep reading,” and moved on. But it’s written from the perspective of an older person who has seen much of life, especially suffering, and is moved by the sight of a young child’s sadness. Now that I have a young child, who is sometimes sad, this is a strange perspective that I have slipped on like a glove. It allows me to look forward to my daughter and her experience of grief, and backward to my own experience of grief as a child. “Sorrow’s springs are the same.” Yes.
And God’s Grandeur: I read this young—maybe it was even in my elementary school curriculum—and loved everything about its structure, visual and auditory. I think I remember connecting it to the Industrial Revolution, or the Great War. Now that climate change’s work is no longer subtle, now that renewables are still mostly a cool idea in our country and nothing more, now that environmental protection is a partisan issue (and therefore in the process of becoming “de-funded,” in large or in small part), and so on, it is an eyepiece that suddenly zooms in on the present day. On my Sunday walk, I read the octave aloud while walking, but reached the volta with a surprising surge of feeling. The sestet, especially the last couplet, had me in tears, tears that maybe I’d been squashing down all day, all month, all winter.
I feel like this is a super-crap post but I’m trying to write as often as I can…regardless of whether I feel like it. In other news, I was typing away and listening to the baby wake up, and after a preliminary cough or two, she made this horrible gurgly-choky sound and I ran down the hall like Miss Clavel, “fast, and faster,” and up her head pops over the railing, big grin, two stuffed animals in her arms. Turns out she was just “clearing her throat” in this horrible growly-raspy way that she’s started doing here in the last month or so. Wth. Good morning.
Recovering from a “survival mode” period in life is something you want to be gentle about. I’m becoming more and more open about my experience of postpartum depression & anxiety, these days, in an effort to understand it more, myself, and I’m surprised to hear myself using phrases like “suicidal thoughts,” “panic attack,” “intrusive thoughts,” and so on. I can admit that I lied (without meaning to) on the Edinburgh postnatal depression scale (test they give you after you deliver, when your head is still spinning and nothing feels normal, and you’re supposed to indicate if you feel normal—obvs I have some thoughts on this test).
One of the things depressed people deal with is “lack of interest in activities you normally enjoy.” Asking a woman with a brand-new newborn if she’s interested in activities that she used to find fun, is strange to me. Like, no. Right? Or was I even more delusional than I thought? When you have a new baby—I guess especially your first—you’re suddenly in (allow me to borrow a concept from Netflix’s Stranger Things) “the upside down.” Yes, things around you look familiar… but they’re not familiar. Because everything in your head and body has made shifts that you don’t understand, but that make you feel like a strange version of yourself. I could write a few more paragraphs on these physical and hormonal changes alone. But since everything has changed, your perception has to change, and your focus, and your brain is struggling to find what’s familiar and de-code what’s unfamiliar.
After my husband’s partial week (now that I think about it, I’m not even sure it was a whole week—I think he was at home for some of that week but had to be working) at home with us, he went back to work and I was at home with the baby, feeling like the world had flipped. No I wasn’t interested in reading, or hiking, or writing, or sewing, or watching movies, or cooking or baking or calling friends up or putting real clothes on. But I thought that was “normal.” You hear this all the time about moms with babies: “He’s/She’s my whole world!” —followed by heart emojis. But I didn’t feel bonded with my baby—I just felt glued to her and urgently attentive to her helplessness, every cry felt like a dark and evil mystery to be solved. I also didn’t know that I didn’t feel bonded with her. I didn’t know what was normal, and what wasn’t. I even asked friends about some of these things, and they nodded, like it was normal. Of course I didn’t go into detail about some of the uglier feelings. Because I did have a deep fear that I was failing this enormous responsibility.
But life moved on, and I still never wanted to return to all these fun and creative pursuits I’d loved in my previous life. I thought it was sleep-deprivation, exhaustion (and there was that).
But there have been such beautiful moments of freedom and clarity, here in the last six months. I’ve pulled out of “the upside down” and am only having a few flashbacks, a few dreams about what life used to be like. To be honest, I wish it all could vanish. I don’t even want it all as writing material—I don’t want to have lived it, I don’t want to re-live it by writing about it. (But writing this blog wasn’t so bad.) Now, I can say with HUGE gratitude that my life is coming back together in ways I prayed for. I’m creating again, and exploring the city with Mary occasionally (instead of holing up in the house all day), and doing some yard-work and bird-watching. I’m planning gardens, and showing Mary all the bugs that live underneath rocks (she is blown away by snails and roly-polies especially).
Maybe these early mornings, still new to me, are the beginning of the end of the puzzle: sitting at the dining room table with candles burning while the sun comes up in front of me—this is perhaps one of the greatest pleasures of my life. I loved this through college and afterward, through grad school and afterward. Mornings are sacred circles of holiness that I have always wanted to touch before entering the day. Two years of sleeping till the baby is up have been lame. But mornings are back. And I’m back. Here’s to surviving things you weren’t sure you could.
This morning I have 2.5 hours to drink coffee, write, and work on my quilt before I go to my volunteering gig at Nourish Knoxville. I’m at the “bar” in our odd and ancient kitchen, wondering why I want to be here even though it’s probably the ugliest room in the house. Answer? I’m always going to love the kitchen, no matter what, because it’s the heart of the house. And two east-facing windows with bushes underneath them that songbirds like to hang out in doesn’t hurt, either.
I’ve had something on my mind for a while. And it has to do with how polarized humans naturally become, and how to “make bridges instead of walls.” I’m socially and religiously progressive, and most of my larger community is conservative, but most of the that community is also open-hearted. This means that I feel loved by them, regardless of our views on theology or politics. So, that’s a nice rock to sit on for a few minutes. I’m grateful.
But enter facebook. One friend—who I haven’t caught up with in maybe 10 years, and lives way far away—recently linked a blog essay which I mentioned in an earlier post. It was “against” the Women’s Marches and what it called “modern feminists,” implying that feminists like to kill babies and hate men, and that it would be impossible to be both a Christian and a feminist. When I read stuff like this, I tend to dismiss it as trolling. But the Christianity element caught my attention, and has held it firmly, two weeks after. I’ve written a lot about how I see Christianity freeing and empowering women, and it’s kind of a pet issue of mine, so I couldn’t scroll past when that friend linked the blog and also asked (perhaps rhetorically, I can see in retrospect) for feedback from friends. The “I’d love to know what these people are thinking!”-type comment. I bit.
To be honest, it didn’t end well. I’ve studied feminism—working on both my BA and my MA in literature and writing—and I’ve grown up in the church…and am still in it. I’ve found a place where Christ and feminism are living in harmony. I have a lot to say, I realize that, and I tend to be earnest and prolix. But I was also careful to say what I meant, leave no room for misinterpretation, and be kind and gentle. This friend’s responses made it clear that my responses both stung, and were ultimately irrelevant: she didn’t believe I was Christian enough, that we had enough common ground, theologically, to find a meeting place. I’m extrapolating, because her responses were not as clear as I would have wished, but I think it’s a fair conclusion. I haven’t had a response in days, and probably won’t get another one.
When I told my husband I was engaging in this conversation online, he sighed. He doesn’t really believe these kinds of conversations can be productive. But I’m an idea woman. I love to debate and even though I can get emotionally involved, I love to get to the bottom of a disagreement. I’m unsatisfied if I can’t understand the central problem. I thought this conversation—since I know this friend to be a very kind and loving person—could be an opportunity to talk about religion and culture, and how we understand them to mesh and grow and so on. But I suspect she chose not to continue the conversation because she didn’t see the point—for many Christians, debates on theology, exegesis, or hermeneutics with someone they see as a “corrupted” by the world, or false teachings, are pure wastes of time. A door in the mind clicks shut, and I am on the inside, and you are on the outside.
I find this frustrating. To put it mildly. I find it hard to believe that God doesn’t like us to talk about these things—impossible, in fact. I find it impossible to believe that humans have received the strange gift of enormous and impossibly complex brains (terrifyingly complex, I say, after having read Vonnegut’s Galapagos–ha), but with the tacit injunction not to use them too much.
In fact, one of the strands of feminism is a recognition that world cultures most normally form a societal structure in which a few powerful people are allowed to do the thinking for the entire populace. Those few have historically been men, and again let me emphasize that there have always been few. In the instances when those men discourage women and less-powerful men (and children, for that matter) to think for themselves—this is the beginning of a problem. And this structure will be familiar to those who have grown up in the church, on one hand, because men are the overwhelming majority of those with religious power, but the underside of this problem is a more hidden one: who have been the translators of the Bible, the best-selling authors of books about Christian life, the blockbuster radio teachers and pamphlet writers and worship hymnwriters—i.e., who have been the ones who have written the implicit (or explicit) rules of daily thought and prayer and life for the vast majority of the church? Very few, and almost always men.
I don’t inherently mistrust men. Far from it. What I mistrust is “the few” being the teachers of “the many,” while they weave through their teachings this thread: “TRUST ME. I know what I’m talking about. Don’t go see if I’m right. Trust me.”
Anyone who’s spent much time in the church, or studied it, recognizes this implicit statement. It’s not always a dangerous thing to say, I would like to emphasize! But sometimes, it has been, and sometimes it will still be. So many people throughout the centuries have been misled by leaders who said, “Trust me. Don’t go see if I’m right. Trust me.” This is the hallmark of cults, and the thing that scares me most when I hear versions of it in sermons.
And it frustrates me when I hear it in the background of a friend’s response to my questions or comments. I do believe one of Christianity’s great gifts is the holiness of trust—but while I can trust God, I find in my complex brain a message from God, too: “Think about what others tell you. Think about what you believe.”
Today I’m finally back on my early-rising schedule, after having dropped it for almost two weeks while Mary and I recovered from a “flu-like illness.” As a side note, Knox County schools are closed for almost the entire week for illness. The teachers were getting too sick…and then the substitute teachers got sick. Ha. I feel a little ahead of the game, that we’re on the upswing already. I swear to god though, if we get sick again. *fist emoji*
Yesterday was really difficult. Two things made it better: I planted seeds, and I met up with a couple of friends for a weeknight spaghetti dinner, with all our kids. (Shout out to Brenna and Elizabeth for letting us crash your kids’ spaghetti date! I needed that.)
I’m going to start talking about plants and my garden. (You are warned; and I shall persist. Did Elizabeth Warren get Rule 19’d yesterday, too? Cause I’ll add that to the list of things that made it better, by virtue of the fact that McConnell’s words are now a feminist rallying cry.)
So I’m going to become an amateur herbalist. I’m all the time wanting to make herbal bath mixes and body-butters and such, and some of these things are expensive and a hassle to buy. For instance, I bought a big bag of calendula to use for my postpartum care kit, and it was great, but a few months after I bought it, tons of weevils hatched (?) in there! Ugh! So that went in the garbage, and I have been a little scared to replace it. Lavender flowers are *not* a dime-a-dozen, either, and neither really is anything else. So, I’ve planned a perennial herb garden for the space around our toolshed in the backyard. I’m growing rosemary, thyme, sage, oregano, parsley, peppermint, chamomile (and raspberry leaf)—we eat/drink so many fresh and dried herbs, too, so here’s the beginning of trying to supply my own culinary herbs—and nettle, comfrey, yarrow, calendula, lavender, monarda, and and coneflowers. Ohmuhguh I get so excited thinking about this garden.
The main garden will have a block of perennial flowers in it: milkweed (if I can get any of these seeds to germinate), more yarrow and monarda, black-eyed susan, tithonia, more chamomile, and cosmos. I’m growing Long Island Cheese pumpkins, San Jose Mountain Club Squash (extremely rare, Care of the Earth Community Farm is crossing it with butternut squash to get the size smaller, so this will be an ongoing experiment), and Pennsylvania Dutch Crookneck.
I’m getting crazy and growing corn—Tennessee Red Cob, a local heirloom dent/flint corn for which we East Tennesseans are justifiably proud, and Cherokee ‘White Eagle’ Blue corn, another extremely rare variety from Baker Creek Seeds that originated/was selected somewhere around here by the Cherokee. Both make marvelous cornmeal, and the blue corn is just a rare treat that I could go on about. I want to know more about our indigenous peoples and the food they cultivated. I’ll be hand-pollinating the blue corn. Beans: Tiger Eye, Cades Cove pinto, Lena Sisco’s Bird Egg beans, and Whippoorwhill peas.
Basil of course, tons of it, celery (wish me luck), and both Clemson spineless and Burghundy okra. TOMATOES: Principe Borghese (for drying), San Marzano and Opalka (for canning), Italian Heirloom and Speckled Roman (for canning and fresh eating), and Matt’s Wild cherry (for the joy).
If I can get extras from the farm, which I can, I’ll also be growing whatever else I feel like trying but certainly storage onions. Onions are one of the only things I have to buy from the store throughout the year (except in onion season). Pretty much everything else I can get in some quantity from the farm. We eat just SO MANY onions. Would love to have big bundles of these braided and hanging to cure in the basement.
I wanted to write today, but have been pretty down this week so far, and nothing is really poking up above the water (except the inexorable nightmare of politics, ugh, no more facebook today!!). Maybe it’s the fact that Marshall and I are both equally on board with marriage counseling/couples therapy, now, and so we actually have to make an appointment. When it comes to therapy, I’ve always encouraged ALLL my friends to do it, saying ‘everyone should get therapy,’ but not meaning mySELF. Like, everybody else should do it. But I’m coo.
Actually, I do believe we need a third party, but in the past I’ve used long silent afternoons or evenings of solitary thinking, praying, and writing to be that third party. But I don’t write anymore, I’m hardly ever solitary anymore (usually if I am, I feel compelled to do things like food prep, phone calls, cleaning, etc.), and since I’m used to doing my deep thinking via writing … I don’t really think deeply that often anymore. So—let’s pay for an actual human person third party. And since there are talented and empathetic people who act as third parties for their livings, let’s get one of those. K.
I actually opened this tab up to talk about a couple of cardinals, though. The steel-gray sky is so oppressive that I want to close all the curtains, while Mary is at PDO, and make a warm little cave of this room. But the walls are dim and blank, the lights are wan and weak, and I feel like I should be rushing around doing productive things. Especially things to make money, cause money is tight. So I was looking absently out the window, trying to decide what to do with the morning (a luxury that still startles me, sometimes), trying to not be so depressed by the gray fog sheeting the world so coldly, and up in the window pops the brightest red beak, followed by a russet head and black eye. A female cardinal hopped across the outside sill, looking in at me at every hop.
This is what poetry is (just typing that phrase, tears have come to my eyes): into of the cage of the mind, the anxiety-ridden, sad, overwhelmed mind, a red beak and brown feather come. A bright eye, like nothing the mind can remember, glistens, saying, “there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy” (slight re-phrasing mine).
I have a friend who seems to always (i.e., probably actually about once a month) be sending me links to great episodes of the On Being podcast—a podcast which we can all agree does this work. Tippet (host) is consciously trying to break into the little hamster-wheel cages of our minds, where we do our daily anxiety exercises, to show us rifts in the fabric of time. Life is overwhelming, so I’ve stopped reading poetry, stopped listening to these podcasts, and stopped reminding myself that there is an unworld out there, a place outside of time, where God lives and beckons.
The female cardinal hopped to the edge of the sill and flew off. Ten seconds later, a bright scarlet head with another glistening otherworldly eye popped into view where she had been: a male cardinal was following her.
I still don’t know what to do, today, except to try to leave the door of my mind open. If God is there, then I will know.
And I called my senators about Jeff Sessions ALREADY so I’m officially staying OFFFTT of facebook for the rest of the day I swear to god. If you know me, feel free to text me asking if I kept to my promise. Haha.
This is one of those terms that I’ve googled three times and still can’t remember if I’m using it correctly: occultation. You tarp over some ground, forcing grass to die and weeds to get leggy and pale. You come through with a tiller, turn the plant matter into the soil, let it decompose, till one more time & then you’re ready to plant.
I’m trying a version of this, since I’m putting a 30’x40′ garden bed in the middle of our crabgrass backyard, and I ain’t got time to cut up no sod. THAT is a workout. And leaves you with piles of grass and grassroots. I’m hoping to till in my organic matter in March, if we keep having warm spells like the one we’re in now (highest high was 69F I think…).
I read a blog essay that a friend on facebook (with whom I haven’t caught up in 10 years?) posted about the women’s marches, yesterday. It was written by someone that’s part of a “Christian Orthodox” group, and the blog’s “About” page was as clipped, testy, vinegary, and theologically narrow as the post had been: “We support traditional Christian Monarchy and Hierarchic social order, as the true pillar of Christian Patriotism,” for instance. A list of “we believe” items followed, whose main concern was to isolate “we” from “them,” casting “we” in the purest most righteous light, and “them” in the darkest and most lost/misguided shadow.
One of the most-used “weapons” in the traditional Christian arsenal, as I experienced traditional Christianity growing up, was this “us versus them” tool of the mind, an easy and clever trick that allowed us Christians to isolate ourselves from “the world” by thinking of ourselves as “found,” “set apart,” “saved,” etc., while our unbelieving neighbors were by the same token “lost,” “of the world,” “damned,” and so on. It gave us both the satisfaction of knowing we were always “right,” or at least “ok,” while slowly pushing us further and further from our neighbors around us, ultimately resulting in fear and ignorance of much of the world around us. I speak generally—I can at least say of myself that I grew up fearful and ignorant of much of the world around me. It’s only in the past years that I’ve been able to move further away from this dualism of “us versus them.” I don’t know why it took me so long, since Christ himself rejected this kind of thinking, immersing himself in his culture (while questioning or rejecting parts of it that were damaging), and drawing people to himself that his friends the Jews considered “lost,” “of the world,” “damned,” and so on.
In this woman’s essay, she castigated the “modern feminists” of the women’s marches for being pro-abortion (not all were), for being exhibitionists (very few were, I imagine), for turning the natural order upside down (indeed), and other grave irreligious crimes. A short string of “Well written!” and “I wish every woman would read this!” comments dropped off the bottom of the post, and I commented as well, defending the marches as unaffiliated, spontaneous expressions of unity, peace, and goodwill, and questioning the author’s assumptions that “feminism” is the opposite of “Christian values” or Christian love.
In fact, as lovers of the gospels know, Christ broke societal norms several times, in shocking ways, to make it clear that women were more important to him than they were to Jewish culture at large. He tacitly worked to re-define Jewish “holiness” when he taught Mary in her home, as women weren’t allowed near the teaching that went on in the synagogues. By talking to lower-class women (even former hookers) in rough neighborhoods, letting them touch him and follow him, eat with him, he was creating a new ethic for “holy women,” and by cancelling a public execution of a woman who broke religious law he … what would you say was his goal? I can only guess. And my guess is that he was still about his work of raising up the destitute.
One of my favorite stories in the gospel is Christ’s appearance to Mary after the resurrection. Why did he choose a woman to be the first to see and hear him? Why did he create for her the task of spreading “the good news” (“gospel”) of his resurrection, rather than appearing in the room of disciples himself? What would you say was his goal? I can only guess, that it was important for him to entrust a woman with the job of spreading news. I heard someone say once that Mary was the first preacher, and I like to roll that idea around in my head. Can you imagine how it must have hurt Peter’s feelings that Mary was the first to see him, though? I mean really.
And I was going to find some thread to tie the above conversation up with the occultation method of soil preparation, but the baby’s up. I’ll leave you to tie them together…
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.