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Writing in the Margins Again

Hello out there. My baby boy is three months old, the fourth trimester has come to an end, and I’ve been slowly returning to my writing practice. In a few weeks, I’ll finish maternity leave and return to preparing grant proposals.

With my first child, I didn’t feel the need or have the energy to write creatively until my daughter was over a year old. At that point, I gathered a few friends and formed a monthly writing group, to help one another achieve our writing dreams by taking small steps— writing, revising, and providing feedback, one essay at a time.

This time around is different. I began writing creatively much earlier postpartum, and I’m not exactly sure why. Maybe it’s because the tasks of mothering a baby feel more familiar now. Maybe it’s because my identity isn’t going through as much of an earthquake, now that I’m already a mother. Maybe it’s because I’m better able to recognize the restlessness building up in me when I don’t make the time to write.

In any case, I’m writing in short bursts here and there— during nap times, after the kids are asleep, and on weekends when Lyle takes both kids to the park, the baby napping in his stroller or carrier. I’m revising essays I wrote while pregnant, gathering notes for new essays, working on blog posts, and even making time for some fun freewrites.

Here’s something I wrote as part of Coffee + Crumbs’ Instagram freewrite challenge. It’s a micro essay in response to the prompt “grow your hope,” about finding the strength to grow during the season of small children, with their own impressive will to grow. Like tiny seeds, children seem so small and powerless, yet within is a blueprint for the massive potential that lies in each of us, unfurling with breathtaking speed and power.

I wrote this one while nursing Robin, letting him fall asleep in my arms as I typed one-handed at the computer. My own will to grow is pretty fierce, I guess, and writing is part of that.

Here’s to more growth and more writing this spring and beyond.

Where I’ve Been

Awfully quiet around here lately!

In the fall, I was busy preparing a bundle of grant proposals for a client in advance of my maternity leave. I also had the pleasure of writing several articles for Red Tricycle, an online parenting magazine. It was fun getting to research and write about kid-centered activities in my city. I learned a ton and I just enjoy the work.

Some of my favorites were this roundup of affordable or free indoor play spaces, an in-depth look at where to donate used kids gear BESIDES the Goodwill, and a profile of a brand new indoor play space designed for children with sensory-processing disorders.

But the best part of my recent absence? We welcomed our son Robin into our family in early January and I’ve been soaking up time with my children since then.

I also started a little parenting blog of my own over here at A Patch of Earth. Please feel free to follow along on our adventures as a family of four. (7/29/18 Updated to add: I deleted this blog in July in favor of focusing my writing energy in one place.) I’ll be back here with more updates on my professional writing when I’m back at my desk this summer.

Happy spring everyone!

Love,

Melissa

Poetry Friday Series: Cellar Door

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Here’s my latest intro for Image Journal‘s Poetry Friday column. I’m writing about Marjorie Stelmach’s poem “Cellar Door,” from Issue 79.

I share these short intros here with you because it’s such a joy to write them, and an honor to be invited by Image to do so monthly, as it’s a journal I read regularly and really respect.

During busy weeks spent teaching and playing with my energetic toddler– days that start at 5 am and don’t stop until I sink into bed around 10– along with the more technical writing I do as a grant writer, it’s a great pleasure to pause and really take in a poem. I usually read the selected poem over the course of a few weeks, highlighting and underlining the phrases that draw me in, looking up unfamiliar references, researching context. And then I get to tackle the challenge of describing as plainly as possible how the poem works its magic on me.

Every time I write for Image, I think about Tania Runyan’s lovely little book How to Read a Poem— a poet and a book I discovered, in turn, through writing reviews for Image Update, the journal’s awesome newsletter. I run through Runyan’s tips for unlocking a poem’s mysteries: listen to consonants and rhythm, notice the images, check out how the lines are shaped, focus on the moments of surprise or discovery, and most of all, just let the poem be.

I hope you’ll join me and the other poets who “introduce” poems every Friday over at Image, and maybe even contribute your own thoughts on what makes a poem sing to you.

Image: Via Image Journal

 

When You See the Heartbeat at Coffee + Crumbs 

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In early June, my essay about waiting to miscarry appeared on Coffee + Crumbs.

“When You See The Heartbeat” is a short essay describing the two weeks between an unpromising first ultrasound just before Christmas, when the heartbeat was detectable but weak, and a second scan after the new year. Writing this essay helped me process the swirl of hope and fear I felt as I waited.

In January, we lost our hoped-for baby at 9.5 weeks, in the middle of one of the coldest, wettest, iciest winters in a city wholly unprepared for snow. It was a long and difficult winter. Spring’s arrival never filled me with as much hope and relief as this year.

On June 2nd, when this essay went up on the site, I had my first ultrasound for the baby I’m now carrying. This time, baby measured right on track with a strong heartbeat. I sobbed through that ultrasound, thinking of the baby we lost and this new little one we are so hopeful for. We are praising God that we’re at 14 weeks now, and praying this baby will be born healthy and full of life in early January of 2018.

I share this essay for anyone who is waiting, anyone who is grieving the loss of even the tiniest life. I share it in hope and with an outstretched hand if you are feeling alone in the middle of your own dark winter– even in high summer.

Photo via Coffee + Crumbs.

Creative Lives: In Conversation with Julie L. Moore at Ruminate Magazine

clem-onojeghuo-205193-unsplashLast fall, I received the enormous gift of an extended conversation with poet Julie L. Moore, facilitated by Ruminate Magazine.

Here is Part 1 of the series “Creative Lives,” a slightly edited version of our email exchange in which we discuss the highs and lows of pursuing a life in poetry.

In Part 2, we discuss writing community and the poets and writers who have shaped us. And in Parts 3 and 4, we talk about the process of building a collection of poems, and how we respond as poets to the aching, changing world around us.

I hope you enjoy this conversation on poetry and the creative process.

Photo via Unsplash

On Creativity, Marriage, and Parenting on Coffee + Crumbs

 

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I’m delighted to share my essay “Through,” published this month on Coffee + Crumbs. This essay is about how becoming a parent transformed my relationships– to my husband and to my creative work.

Coffee + Crumbs has been a lifeline in these early years of parenting. I’ve looked forward to each new essay appearing on this collaborative blog about motherhood, because I can always count on the words published there to be affirming, encouraging, and real. I appreciate how this collective group of writers and editors does not shy away from the hard parts of becoming a mother– and how the readers respond with kindness and support.

And as I’ve folded laundry, washed dishes, prepped dinner, or collapsed on the couch after my little one’s bedtime, I’ve LOVED listening to the C + C podcast, with its humor and helpful advice on everything from adoption and being a working mom to making time for spiritual practice and finding the perfect postpartum bra. (PS, there’s also an awesome monthly newsletter you should subscribe to right now. It’s probably the only newsletter I subscribe to that I read, reread, and save. Click here and look for the subscribe button on the right.)

One of my favorite things about growing as a writer has been finding publications that really fit my voice– and becoming part of the community of readers. It seems so obvious: you should publish where you read. And yet actually doing that has made such a difference in my life. It has connected me to other readers who resonate with my writing, and to writers whose work I love, too.

Read my essay “Through” on Coffee + Crumbs, leave a comment, and join this amazing community of mothers, readers, and writers.

Photo via Coffee + Crumbs

Writing in the Margins

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Here’s a short essay on how I write poems, a contribution to the “25th Hour” column at Mothers Always Write, on process and mothering.

As mothers who write, we often stretch and steal and bend time in order to make new work. The writers in this column compose poems in their minds as they rock babies, prepare lunches, or wait in the school pickup line. They carry notebooks in their purses, and write on the back of junk mail envelopes at the post office. These mothers always write, even when we’re not writing.

“In the Margins”speaks to the way I’ve stretched time throughout my life, writing poems since I was young, always at the edge of things.

How do you make time to write? Do you write in the margins of life, too?

Read my essay at Mothers Always Write, then click over to my poem “Sunflowers.”

Miscarriage, Faith, and Self-Compassion

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I recently had a miscarriage, and moving through grief with God has taught me a lot about myself– especially how much I have to learn about self-compassion.

I’m excited to be a guest blogger at Voice of Courage today, sharing a short essay about trusting God through times of change.

Trust feels a lot different than I expected, and I’m thankful for the people God has placed in my life in the past several years who have helped me deepen my faith. I’m learning that there is room in faith for all kinds of emotions, including the heavy sadness and anger that come with loss. I’m learning that there is room in my relationship with God for feeling whatever I am feeling, and that when I choose to trust God, it actually means feeling everything a lot more deeply.

This dovetails with ideas about self-compassion from the Buddhist tradition and mindfulness practice. I believe God is Love, the ultimate ground of being. In Christ, God took on human form and knows our suffering intimately. Jesus tells us to Love one another even as you love yourself, and yet most of us– maybe especially in the Christian tradition– have a hard time loving ourselves. I know I do.

I have found a lot of help in learning how to do this through prayer and meditation, and through reading books by Buddhist authors and mindfulness practitioners. Since my daughter was born, I’ve found a mindfulness and self-compassion practice SO helpful in my mothering. A copy of Sarah Napthali’s Buddhism for Mothers, a gift from my sister, sits dog-eared on my bedroom shelf. In addition to some basic information about Buddhist thought, it includes lots of practical ways to practice self-compassion and mindfulness as a mother. I don’t see this as a conflict with my Christian faith, because I believe God wants us to love ourselves– and mindfulness really works. I haven’t found many practical books on self-compassion in the Christian tradition. (If you have, let me know!)

If you are reading this post because you’ve miscarried, I am so sorry. I wrote this blog post for you. I hope you will find something helpful here, and just chuck anything you read here that doesn’t help. I am with you, sister, and I know this hurts.

Losing a baby is hard. Really, really hard. Because our culture throws a strange net of silence over miscarriage (though I think that it’s changing for the better), it can feel like there is no space where your grief is welcome. And yet miscarriage can bring on a huge, heavy grief that needs a lot of room.

So what do you do?

Self-compassion means taking care of yourself, but because grief doesn’t proceed logically or linearly, self-compassion doesn’t look the same from day to day. Sometimes you can barely pick yourself up off the floor. Sometimes you don’t eat well. Self-compassion means accepting ALL of it– and not beating yourself up because you’re not grieving or doing self-care “right.”

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Here are some things that have helped me take care of myself.

  • Talking about the loss with people who feel safe, including a professional counselor specifically trained to counsel women through miscarriage.
  • Reading about miscarriage, especially stories of personal experience. Links below.
  • Praying through a set of liturgies the Episcopal Church developed specifically for reproduction, including stillbirth, abortion, and infertility. I LOVE my church.
  • Watching Netflix while eating ice cream/ drinking wine/ in the tub. Perhaps all of the above. It’s okay to be sad for a while. It’s okay to laugh and have a good day, and then wake up depressed the next day. Grief moves in unpredictable directions, and I find it helpful to give myself permission to check out for an hour or so when I need to (and have childcare).
  • Writing. I am working on an essay about losing my baby. Writing this blog post, slowly, over the course of weeks, has also helped me direct my focus outside of myself and connect to the reality that I share this experience of suffering with all humans.
  • Acupuncture, swimming, yoga, walking, massage, and anything else that brings stress relief and relaxes my body.
  • Saying no, doing less, and being really careful about who I connect with. I’ve also checked out of social media for a while.
  • Practicing meditation, especially guided self-compassion meditations with Kristin Neff. (I found the audio book at my library, and the second link has a few free ones online.)

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When you miscarry, well-meaning people can say unhelpful things, like God has a plan, It just wasn’t time for this baby, or probably worst of all, I don’t believe it’s actually a person yet. (Yes, someone I love really said that in my presence.)

Some people won’t know how to support you, and it’s okay to be pissed off about that. After you’re done feeling pissed off, you can ask for what you need, and you can keep learning how to give yourself what you need.

I am INCREDIBLY grateful for the wealth of support I have received from my family and friends through this grief. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

I wanted to write down some of what I learned while grieving, in part so that I can remember how to support others, too. And in part because it might be helpful for someone out there who wants to be there for a grieving friend. I know everyone grieves differently, so these are just observations drawn from my own personal experience.

Here are some ways you can support someone grieving a miscarriage.

  • Be there. Be there, be there, be there. Send a text, make a quick phone call, spend an hour sitting on the couch beside them, take them out for tea. Just say I’m here and I’m with you. That’s it.
  • Don’t try to fix it. You can’t fix it. Please don’t give advice that isn’t asked for.
  • Listen. Ask if the person needs to talk. Ask if it would help to talk about what happened. The details of miscarriage are murky in most of our minds, and it happens so differently for each woman. Personally, it really helped me to talk about what was actually going on in my body and it helped when someone was willing to listen calmly and empathically, without pity.
  • Send a card or flowers. It really does help. It’s what people do when someone dies, and miscarriage is no different.
  • Pray with them. If you are the praying type and they are, too, offer to pray with them over the phone or in person.
  • Offer (simple) help. Get groceries, bring a meal, watch their child. They might not take you up on it, but it will probably be meaningful to know you’re there.
  • Don’t forget. When it’s been a month, or when the would-have-been due date arrives, or a year later, you can bet that the date is sitting heavy on their heart. Reach out with a text or a call and tell them you’re thinking about them, and you haven’t forgotten.

Things to Read

“Hope is what my grief is held in.” From a beautiful essay on Coffee + Crumbs.

“Such a Thing.” By Kaitlin Barker Davis.

“I was pregnant, and then I wasn’t.” By Laura Ortberg Turner.

glow in the woods. This site is about baby loss of all kinds. Be cautious here if your grief is fresh, because many of these essays can be extremely hard to read.

Coming to Term.  A book about a couple’s experience with repeat miscarriages, including a lot of personal accounts from other people.

Come and Gone: A Miscarriage Remembrance.” An essay by the author of The Science of Mom.

ALL PHOTOS VIA UNSPLASH

An Essay on Growth Charts at Mothers Always Write

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Read my essay from November about childhood growth charts. In it, I reflect on what it means to measure your child’s growth, and your own personal growth as a parent.

I’m catching up here on the site after a bit of a post-election hiatus from social media and the digital world in general. I wanted to be sure to post about this essay because I learned a lot while writing it.

This essay took shape during an online writing workshop called Boot Camp, organized regularly by Mothers Always Write. MAW is an online journal I came to know and love last year when my poem “Bean Saving” was accepted for publication. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know other contributing writers at MAW through reading their work, and supporting one another as moms and writers.

If you’re a mom who writes, consider taking a workshop with MAW. In fact, there’s one coming up next week, March 6-24!

Read my essay “A Vocabulary of Growth,” and check out my previous publications for MAW here.

Image via Mothers Always Write.

Community Gardens at In Good Tilth

 

IGT_Fall16_CommunityGardens2-768x432.jpgThis is an article about how community gardens preserve valuable intercultural knowledge about growing, cooking, and eating food– something called “kitchen literacy.”

I had the privilege of researching and writing this article for In Good Tilth in the late summer of 2016, as part of their fall kitchen literacy issue.

As a volunteer community garden manager, I had a unique perspective on the incredible people you meet when you join your community garden. I interviewed gardeners Larisa and Vasil for this article, two kind and generous neighbors who grew one of the most impressive, beautiful gardens I’ve ever seen.

I’m sharing this article today as I attempt to catch up following several months away from my desk. It’s a chilly gray February afternoon, and remembering the colorful rows of tomatoes, carrots, and chervil in Larisa’s garden makes me feel hopeful for spring’s arrival. It’s got to be coming soon, right?

Read my article on how community gardens renew our foodways and invigorate civic discourse.

Image via In Good Tilth. Author’s own.