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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.

 

 

Five Read-Aloud Books for Grown-ups

When we first started dating, Lyle and I used to read aloud to each other. Dating seems like a funny word for it. We met in a trailer park in the redwoods at UC Santa Cruz, without cell phones or wifi (this was 2004), and spent a lot of time hiking, hanging out in the community hammock (I know), looking for mushrooms, and talking for hours over tea or wine. And sometimes studying. It was pretty magical.

I think we must have started with poems– probably Robinson Jeffers, whose paperback Selected Poems we were each secretly astounded to find dog-eared on the other’s shelf.

Twelve years later, we’ve just celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary, and reading aloud remains one of my favorite ways to reconnect with him and to those early days, when life was a lot simpler.

Here are five of our favorite read-aloud books from over the years.

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The Monkeywrench Gang, Edward Abbey

He had a red Tacoma truck with a lumber rack, and I still remember how my heart pounded when he picked me up for a daytrip– just us, to a beach near Pescadero, for a sandy, cold picnic that turned into sunset-watching. It’s the same truck we took a few years later up to Portland, to check out a city we both thought we’d be happy in… That was a lot of miles to cover, so I brought along a paperback of Abbey’s classic novel about a group of saboteurs in the southwest, taking apart machines that threaten environmentally vulnerable places. However you feel about that, the book is incredible as a read-aloud, with plenty of dialogue and action and intrigue. I think I read this until my voice was hoarse and I couldn’t see. Later in life we discovered audiobooks.

Into the Wild
Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer

We read this aloud to each other in a tent in the rain, while camping along the Canal d’Ile-et-Rance in early January 2008. I was teaching English in St Malo, France, and we were on a serious budget. We took a train to Rennes for the new year, then bought second-hand bikes and a tent and rode back to St Malo along the canal, camping along the way. Sounds great, except it’s FREEZING in northwestern France in January. (We were 24 and naive. I mean, resilient.) We parked our bikes in dark orchards after midnight, huddled in our thin sleeping bags, and ate cold bread and cheese and drank cheap cognac to feign warmth. Reading Krakauer’s account of Chris McCandless’s ill-fated decision to leave civilization for the wilds of Alaska, we were distracted from the cold in our own bodies, and transported by Krakauer’s seemingly effortless prose.

All the Light We Cannot See
All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr

We read this while I was pregnant with our daughter, taking turns reading each chapter. I was exhausted, uncomfortable, and had to pee about every ten minutes, so the short, memorable chapters were just right. This book lends itself to reading aloud because it is a novel in two voices. Set in St Malo, France during the German occupation, it tells the intertwined stories of a blind French girl and German boy through luminous language. It was interesting to imagine the story happening in a city we’d lived in and explored for the better part of a year. Doerr won the Pulitzer for this book, and it’s a must-read whether aloud or silently.

intothinairInto Thin Air, Jon Krakauer

Something about early parenting pitched us into a string of mountaineering books and movies. Maybe there are similarities: intensity, extreme discomfort, and marathon exertion on thin reserves of sleep and food. Whatever it is, Krakauer’s book got us hooked– so much so that on our first date night post-birth, we went to see Meru. Then we started watching the First Ascent series, and every Everest documentary we could find online. Most recently it was Sherpa, the story of the Everest industry from the perspective of the indigenous Nepalese, who do the bulk of the mountaineering work, face the greatest danger, and receive the least benefit. Into Thin Air tells Krakauer’s side of the 1996 Everest disaster– which he experienced first-hand– and was written in grief and shock in less than a year. We knew we wanted a read-aloud book, and we knew we loved Krakauer, but we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. The book is gripping, informative, terrifying, controversial, and so well-written.

The Curve of Time
The Curve of Time, M. Wylie Blanchet

This is our most recent read, and I’m laughing as I realize we’ve been reading it since early June! It could be a quick read, with its short, fascinating chapters, but we are tired parents and sometimes we just want to watch Colbert and go to sleep. (ha!) It’s the story of a family’s many summers spent exploring the coast of British Columbia by boat in the 1920s and 30s. And by family, I mean a widow and her five children. And by boat, I mean a 25-foot cruiser. On days when I feel uncertain about heading out in the rain with my toddler, I think about this incredibly brave woman who taught her children to read maps, pick huckleberries, and hike to freshwater streams to wash their salt-stiff clothes. But the most refreshing part of this book is its style and voice. Blanchet focuses on action scenes, keenly observant depictions of wild places long-since settled, and detached philosophical musings on the nature of time. It’s a nice change from the more introspective, highly personal memoir we’re so used to now.

General Thoughts and Less-Successful Picks
I notice a few themes: we like books about outdoor adventure, and fast-paced novels with risk and a strong narrative voice. But I’ve learned to be wary of narratives that hit too close to home, and I try to steer clear of lush literary styles that lend themselves more to silent reading.

Doerr’s book deviates from the outdoor theme a bit, but I think it worked because of the alternating short chapters told in different voices. Picking up on this thread, we joined our county library’s Everybody Reads program last winter and tried out The Book of Unknown Americans, which also has alternating chapters. In hindsight, it’s a better book for solo reading, and because it centers around a mother’s guilt over an accident that injured her daughter, it also created a lot of extra anxiety for me as a new mom often visited by worst-case-scenario visions. Not the best choice for pre-bedtime reading, for me.

We also attempted and abandoned Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose, a gorgeous book that would have been a perfect read-aloud when we were younger. We tried to read it when our baby was a newborn, and we were both way too exhausted to focus on the prose. I think it’s one I’d like to read alone, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be a great read-aloud for you.

What are your favorite read-aloud books for grown-ups?

 

On Anxiety, Prayer, and Mothering at Hip Mama

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I forgot to post that I have an article up at Hip Mama! In September, I participated in the Literary Kitchen Personal Essay Intensive, and wrote the rough drafts of five new essays in under two weeks. This is one of them. (This was an incredible workshop I highly recommend for both new and experienced writers! Go, go, go sign up for one right now.)

This essay is a chronicle of my relationship with worry and faith, both of which have been challenged and intensified during new motherhood. Since writing and sharing this essay, I’ve learned from so many other women that this anxiety thing is very, very common– and that fact alone has been helpful.

The first few months of motherhood can be especially dark for new moms, and it’s a slightly cruel corollary that they’re also months when it’s extremely hard to get out of the house. So not only are you sleep-poor and anxiety-rich, but you are fairly convinced you’re alone in both. Not true! We moved into a new neighborhood just after our daughter was born, and I had a hard time getting together with friends across the city– even and sometimes especially with other new moms. Changing nap schedules and frequent colds inevitably led to canceled and postponed playdates.

Some new neighbor mom friends and I got together last night. We shared a bottle of wine, some chocolate and popcorn, and lots of good, cathartic laughter about the relentlessness of mothering toddlers. We told stories about new words and potty-training successes, and swapped frustrations over neighborhood issues and tantrums and skipped naps.

I am buoyed by this possibility of new friendships developing. It’s what I’ve been missing in this last year– the chance to be real with other moms and in doing so to realize I’m not alone. In the overwhelm AND the joy. That being a mom can be all of this– gratitude, absurdity, irritation, fierce love, fear, sadness, pride, happiness, and yes, worry.

Writing and sharing this essay on anxiety, prayer, and mothering has been a meaningful experience and I hope it helps other moms feel a little less alone.

Image via Hip Mama

My Poem “An Incomplete Alphabet” at Ekphrastic Review

3909-babynursingmodotti-1219117192_2_origHere’s a poem I wrote in response to Tina Modotti’s “Baby Nursing, Mexico City,” a 1926 photograph posted as part of Ekphrastic Review‘s 20 day poetry challenge in September.

An ekphrastic poem (from the Greek ekphrasis: ek “out” and phrasis “speak”is a poem inspired by a work of art.

It was definitely a challenge, stretching my writing muscles to respond in verse to a different work of visual art each weekday. I am grateful to editor Lorette Luzajic for hosting this annual challenge, for publishing my poem, and for so joyfully bringing together the worlds of visual and literary art in a way that feels accessible and welcoming to both reader and writer. It’s really a stunning journal! You should check it out.

This image in particular spoke to me because I began weaning my toddler in early August.

The morning Modotti’s photograph was posted, I was feeling a little sadness about this transition in our lives as mother and daughter. Simultaneously, the photo filled me with gratitude for the 16 months of nursing we’ve had, and grief for the gradual shift toward independence that weaning marks and initiates.

Read my poem “An Incomplete Alphabet” at Ekphrastic Review.

Photo via Ekphrastic Review, under public domain.

Marjorie Stelmach’s “After” in Image Journal

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Here’s my latest short introduction for Image Journal‘s Poetry Friday column. Marjorie Stelmach’s poem “After” is a tender and nuanced meditation on grief.

I love this weekly showcase of beautiful poems from the Image archives, and I especially love the challenge of writing the briefest of reflections on a poem. It’s getting me back into the habit of close, sustained reading that I cultivated during graduate school. Writing these intros on deadline is like making mini-annotations. I’m grateful for the invitation into the worlds of these poems.

Read Stelmach’s poem at Image Journal.

Take a Creative Leap & Receive a Gift

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Take a risk or leap with your creativity and tell me about it in the comments below. If your story grabs me, I’ll give you a one-year subscription to my favorite magazine.

Yesterday I received Issue 40 of Ruminate Magazine, in which my poem “Yellow” appears, winner of the Janet B. McCabe poetry contest. Entering the contest felt like a leap, after a hiatus from writing and submissions following my daughter’s birth.

It felt like recommitting to my dreams, and receiving the prize has been affirming and supportive. It’s helping me pay for childcare to work on my book. I’m grateful for a magazine that pays its contributors and runs contests like this one, because they’re committed to fostering and supporting a dynamic community of writers, artists, and readers.

To celebrate, I’d like to give the gift of a one-year subscription to a new reader.

Interested?

Comment below with a few words about your creative leap by October 4th, 2016. I’ll pick my favorite story and give a one-year gift subscription to this beautiful journal of art and faith.

Be bold. Submit your writing to a journal on your reach list. Apply for a grant or a fellowship. Undertake a new project. Reach out to a fellow artist and ask them to collaborate with you. Paint a big canvas when you usually work small, or a small canvas when you usually go big. Whatever feels like a risk or a long shot, try it.

I can’t wait to hear about it.

Photo via Unsplash.

***10/5/2016 UPDATE: Congratulations to Janaya Martin and D. Allen, who will both receive one-year subscriptions to Ruminate Magazine. I loved both of your stories and am excited to share this journal with you. Thanks to everyone who responded via email and social media, as well. Congratulations on all of your creative leaping. Keep it up.***