Monday, December 27, 2010

Thank You

Almost two weeks ago, Cedar and I were rear-ended while heading over to my parents' house. I was stopped at a light behind two other cars on Lake City Way (a busy four-lane street), and I never saw it coming. Thankfully, neither of us were hurt, with the exception of some neck and back strain that I am getting treatment for now. But the impact was a shock to the system. Cedar started crying right away, and the scariest part of this whole experience for me was hearing him and not knowing initially if he was okay. Thankfully, he stopped crying soon after I got him into my arms. Dazed and disoriented, I exchanged information with the lady who hit me, and quickly joined my family who helped me to process the experience and the next steps to take. Cedar was smiling and back to his usual self within minutes, but my hands didn’t stop shaking for over an hour.

Thank God it wasn’t more serious. Thank God for seat belts and car seats. Thank God that I don’t have to deal with any more hassle than the visits with insurance agents, auto body shops, and chiropractors, and the lingering tightness in my back and neck. These things will pass and soon enough we will be back to our normal routine.

I want to take this opportunity to reflect on what else I am thankful for right now. I want to praise all that is positive, growing, improving, and illuminating in my life, for I know that I often write more in this blog on what is difficult or frustrating. It’s important for me to process what is challenging, of course, and parenting provides no end of material in this department, but if I had more time I would take care to regularly honor all that is encouraging and beautiful too. For despite the ongoing struggles, I am happy and thankful for my daily existence and for all the growth and wonderment that motherhood has gifted me.

So as we keep leaning into the coming of lighter days, here are a few other things I am grateful for:
  1. New friendships. Although I often bemoan a lack of time for so many things, one pursuit that I have actually had more time for since becoming a mom is the pursuit of friendship. Most of the new friends I have made in the last year or two are also new moms. Some I’ve met through my PEPS group, and others are old friends and acquaintances I’ve connected with through Facebook. As new moms, there is so much we share in common, so much we have to learn from each other, and so much we can offer each other simply by understanding the depth, strain and joy of experiencing motherhood. Even if I see these moms less often now than I did during those first few months when more of them were on maternity leave, I still feel and value their presence in my life enormously.

  1. Old friends and sisters. You know who you are, you ladies who have been with me since high school and college, or even earlier. You women who listen to me like no others, who hear me on deep levels, who inspire me with your creativity and passion, and who are the most remarkable aunties that Cedar could ever hope for. I am so very grateful you are in my life.

  1. The overall improvement in Cedar’s gas and rash. The slow, but continuous expansion of my diet. Figuring out exactly what Cedar is allergic or sensitive to, even if it’s taken a lot of effort, self-sacrifice, repeated mistakes, frustration, doctor’s visits, guesswork, nights of watching my baby suffer, and general overall struggle. But all this effort has been worth it, and now, my baby is happier and I have learned to be more aware than ever before of what I put into my body.

  1. Having my family close by. Watching my mom and dad’s growing delight in Cedar. Knowing that he will feel comfortable, safe, and loved with his grandparents and aunts and uncles. Knowing that I have someone to leave him with in a pinch, if need be. Knowing that me and Cedar are supported by my family’s love.

  1. Me and Cedar’s daily routine. Having a nap schedule I can count on, for now, which allows me to better plan and flow with my day. The mellowness of our rhythm, the small pleasures. Waking slowly and playing with Cedar’s bear in bed. Drinking my coffee and checking email while he plays on the floor. Cedar’s naps in my arms while I sit in the recliner, drink more coffee, journal, and read. Our walks to the Meadowbrook pond where we look at the ducks in the water, the crows in the sky, and the trees overhead. Our slow strolls through the yard around the house, with Cedar in the Ergo or Bjorn, examining bushes and leaves. Our winding down times, nursing and reading books on the bed, reading “Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You?”, playing his favorite throw the blanket over his head game.

  1. And while I’m at it, all the small, ever-changing things about Cedar that I love. The way he claps his hands in delight. The way he growls, or smacks his lips. The way his hands and arms quiver in excitement when he sees Miles, our cat, or when you’re holding something he wants. His emerging personality: a mix of quiet watchfulness with silly playfulness and curiosity. Watching him learn every day and grow aware of everything.

  1. The fact that my husband was able to find a job that he loves in less than two months in the midst of this recession, and that he is now able to be home with us every night instead of on the road. Watching my husband play with and watch his son. The cozy feeling of being a family, creating new rituals like going to a pumpkin patch or decorating a Christmas tree. Lying in bed together, the three of us, cuddling. Our rare date nights (or rather, date afternoons). Too rare, but that much more delectably pleasurable for that reason. The way we understand each other, always have, wordlessly. The new challenges we face, that are hard, no doubt, but that I know we will keep learning from.

  1. And finally (I could go on, but I’ll stop here so I can actually finish this post), I am grateful for this blog. For this outlet, for this ritual, and for the constant sense that I have something I need to explore and say about motherhood, about writing, about life. I am grateful for this life that is intense and new and hard enough that it keeps my compulsion to process it through words burning and immediate, but not so hard that I am left with no energy or time at all.

And I am grateful for you, my readers, whoever you are, because this knowledge that I am writing for both myself and for others motivates me to sit down each week and write, even when my mind initially protests that it’s too spacey or tired. For years I labored away on personal essays and a collection of memoirs, getting my MFA, attending classes, submitting work to my writing group, and revising pieces over and over and over again as I refined my voice and craft. This process was important to me and my growth as a writer, but after submitting my work to literary journals for years, waiting months for replies, and getting so close to being accepted to this journal or that one, but again and again rejected, it is such a blessed liberation to take a break from one narrow mode of publication, and instead to be able to put my thoughts out there, raw, immediate and less refined. Instantly accessible to family and friends, less digested and “perfect.” But out there, nevertheless, and read, and appreciated. I know, because you’ve told me so. Thank you.

During this time when I often don’t feel like I have much of a life, body, or space that I can call my “own,” this blog has been a lifeline to my creativity, my sanity, and to my overall sense of wholeness and balance. And more than this, it is also a major way that I have maintained a sense of connection to a greater community, whether this community is my father whom I would not be able to share my thoughts in such a nuanced way with in person, or whether this community is a stranger who has randomly stumbled across my words.

Thank you, blog. Thank you, friends. Thank you, husband, family, baby, home, universe. Thank you for everything you have given and continue to give me. I am so blessed, I know this. And as we enter this new year, my wish is that you may all know and cherish your blessings, too.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Making the Most of It

Artifacts of Longing Reading @ NE Library 11/21/10

Right now I am supposed to be at Write-o-Rama, the Hugo House’s all day writing workshop fundraiser, only instead I am sitting at a café, writing, alone.

I was excited for Write-o-Rama, excited to get away for a full day on my own, something I haven’t done in months (or truly, something I’ve never done since giving birth to Cedar—the longest I’ve been away from him is for 4 or 5 hours in July when I went to the spa with my girlfriends). In any case, a day like today where I have a free pass to be away is precious, and as I sat there in the first workshop session at 10 a.m., I realized that this wasn’t how I wanted to spend it. I didn’t want think about craft or try exercises in genres other than my own, as interesting as those activities can be. I wanted to be journaling, free-writing, unleashing a million and one thoughts that I haven’t had time to process. And if not that, then I wanted to be walking around Capitol Hill by myself in the sun, browsing through Elliot Bay bookstore, then buying myself two sweaters from Value Village in different shades of green, before eating my brown bag lunch at Lookout Park, and then driving back to Café Javasti, my favorite writing spot in my own neighborhood, to write for this blog.

So this is what I did, feeling only the slightest bit of guilt for leaving the Hugo House, and most of that guilt directed at the leader of the one workshop I attended yet barely listened to, instead journaling about my own private thoughts and scanning the day’s schedule to see what drew my eye. Sorry, man. As an instructor I know you can tell who is paying attention and who isn’t, and I know how hard it can be to be up there and worry about not doing a good job. So I just want to say, it wasn’t you or your workshop, it was me. It was me, and the fact that I am so seldomly alone these days, that when I do get these rare opportunities, there is absolutely no room for me to not do exactly what I want—or at least what is within my means. So that is why I am here, writing to you instead through this blog, or writing to myself. Because I desperately need to catch up with my heart in words.

It’s been way too long since I’ve posted anything on this blog. Over a month ago, I started a post that chronicles my four-month saga of being on an elimination diet and Cedar’s food allergy and gas issues, but that is turning into something much more involved; hopefully I will finish and post it in the near future. In the meantime, so many other thoughts and feelings worth capturing on the page continue to filter through my mind and heart that never get written down-- and thus processed, honored, and witnessed.

The last thing I posted was about my Els and Frank/inheritance project, mostly to entice you to come to my reading that happened two weeks ago. The reading went great, I thank those of you who attended or wished me well on the project, and I am also relieved it is over. It was a challenge to have a real deadline before me at the same time that I’m a full-time caretaker for Cedar, as opposed to just my own self-imposed deadlines, like writing for this blog. In the weeks leading up to the reading, my mom and sister pitched in and watched Cedar more often, but even then, I had a very limited amount of time to write, edit, advertise, practice, and edit some more. I ended up revising three sections from my manuscript to read, and in order for them to have the most impact as excerpts, I had to essentially craft them anew. Down to the morning of the reading, I was still making edits on the page. I couldn’t practice reading my drafts aloud even once without finding things I wanted to change. I am not used to reading stuff that is so new in public.

In the end the writing still didn’t feel finished to me, but the process was good practice in letting go of perfection. And now, I am thankful to be able to write anything or nothing again, and to ask myself, what’s going on? What do you need to write about?

One recent development is that I seem to have adopted a penchant for insomnia. The first time it hit was a couple months ago, and I can’t deny the apparent connection between the insomnia and the new (now removed) stress of my reading deadline. I am so stretched for personal time these days, that all it took was adding one outside pressure and I felt the added strain acutely.

For several weeks, insomnia struck about once a week. I’d be exhausted (as usual) and try to go to bed at a decent time (10, 11), but then I’d lie there awake an hour or more next to my snoring husband and sleeping baby, before I’d finally get up, frustrated and even more wakeful than before. Since I’m breastfeeding, I couldn’t indulge in several glasses of wine, which would’ve been a nice solo, late night activity. And chamomile tea or other herbal remedies didn’t seem to help. I tried a hot shower (I’d take a bath if we had one), tried yoga, reading, surfing Facebook, journaling, eating, going outside, whatever I could, but most nights I wouldn’t be able to fall back asleep until after 3 a.m., and by then my baby would start waking up again throughout the early morning hours and I’d end up with maybe three hours of broken sleep.

Insomnia is hell, yes, some of you know, or have known it far worse than my sporadic bouts. Especially when it happens multiple nights in a row. The night that happened brought me to tears I was so frustrated. Oh, to be that tired and not be able to sleep. And to imagine how tired I’d be the next day with my baby. I’ve had insomnia a handful of times in my life, but I’ve never considered myself a poor sleeper. Now, after it had struck enough times and I realized that it was not a fluke occurrence, I finally figured out that I shouldn’t be online, on the phone, or doing chores or any kind of work or correspondence immediately before crawling into bed. I absolutely need to have true down time, where I’m relaxed and am just sitting there reading or breathing in a chair for an hour or two before I go to sleep. It doesn’t matter how tired I am and how much I’d benefit from going to bed early. I need this time at the end of the day, without my baby, and preferably silent and alone. Going to bed at midnight or one a.m. is better than trying to go to bed at eleven, but then not being able to fall asleep and thus conjuring the frustration that keeps me up even later. There are no shortcuts. I need my own time and space each day to stay sane.

I also have recently recalled how in my “former life” it used to be so important for me to get exercise or at least to walk around outside for a bit each day. If I didn’t, then I’d feel all cooped up and wired at the end of the night, and I’d need to release that energy through drinking wine and dancing, or collaging, or staying up late and tapping into my inner depths in some way. But now, those outlets are no longer so possible. And although I can still stay up late if I please, I don’t have the luxury of sleeping in—not even on weekends-- to make up for it. So it’s always a compromise. The lesson in this is that I need to get out more on walks with Cedar during the day, even when it is rainy, oppressive and grey. This is essential. I must strive to maintain the delicate balance between my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. Any imbalance will otherwise reveal itself eventually in some way.

I’m doing better now, although the insomnia has not completely gone away. I’m happy I fulfilled my grant requirements, and I’m awaiting my final payment which I hope to plug back into my writing pursuits in some way. I’m proud of the job I did, and I have a better sense now of what it will take for me to keep working on my bigger projects in the midst of motherhood. I am also even more aware of how sensitive and stretched I am right now, and consequently how little it takes to tip me over. I need to be vigilant in making sure that I stay healthy and balanced. And I need to keep asking for help. Articulating my needs and then figuring out how to meet them.

It is imperative that I stay connected to my writing life. I can’t abandon my vital projects and goals. This is, after all, my life’s work, and I’ve known this for a long time. My writing may not bring in a paycheck, and it may pale in importance when compared to the heart-wrenchingly awesome work of motherhood, but it still absolutely will not and cannot go away. My soul will not allow for it. It must find room to thrive and breathe, even if it must make do with more limited time and space.

This makes me think of dancing. There is nothing I love more than to lose myself on the dance floor or out in an open field at some outdoor concert, to lose myself in the music and eventually ascend to that place of euphoria as I unite with each unfolding turn of the music. I love it the most when there is plenty of room around me, when I can twirl and stomp and jump without worrying about bumping into others. But when this is not possible, when I’m in a tight crowd or space, I must adjust my expectations, make my movements smaller and more contained. I must create a little bubble of intention, good energy, and movement around me, so that at very least those around me will respect my immediate space. And even though this may not be an ideal situation, I can still find a certain freedom within this containment, I can still eventually access that high and holy place inside if the music is moving me right. I might need to close my eyes and shut other people out at first, but eventually, once the music enters me, I can open my eyes again and see everyone and everything around me without having it distract me. My inner and outer world are in alignment, I am not striving to block anything out, nor do I need to push too hard to express myself. I am just dancing, lost in the movement and music.

This is what I am striving for now as I try to find balance between my life as a writer and a mother. I am learning what it takes to work within a vastly constricted bubble of time and space. And I am learning how to access those same transcendent moments where a commitment to a steady practice eventually yields to the gift of a moment where a sentiment or idea comes out perfectly expressed. I am learning how to ask for the space that I need, without pining for the expanses that are currently not available. I am learning how to make the most of all I’ve been given.


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