When You See the Heartbeat at Coffee + Crumbs 

1496066704917

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

 

C+Cphoto

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

thought-catalog-217861.jpg

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.”

On Anxiety, Prayer, and Mothering at Hip Mama

linden-tree-playground-1024x768

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

Reviving My Writing Practice Post-Baby

Bundles of Journals

My daughter was almost one before I began writing again. Her early months were all-consuming, and I simply didn’t have the spare energy to either write or worry about not writing. It was late May when I decided it was time to jump back in and figure out where I had left off. Staring at the haphazard pile of drafts and notebooks in my closet, I swallowed a nervous lump in my throat.

Where do I start?

I want to share some of what I’ve learned as I’ve stepped back into a regular habit of writing. Please note: this is not a how-to. I read so many how-tos during the anxious months of pregnancy and early motherhood, I now recoil at the very sight of a how-to infographic. The last thing any of us needs, parent or not, is another way to feel anxious, or another list of things to do.

As a parent and as a writer, I like learning from others and feel grateful for the people and resources that have helped me along the way. Friends texted us when we were struggling with our daughter’s sleep. Eula Biss’s On Immunity and a big fat history of vaccines helped me grapple with all the fear out there about immunizations. The moms and babies in my breastfeeding support group have shared snacks and hugs and recipes and tips with me as we each made our own way through our little ones’ first year.

So what I want to share here is, like so much of my parenting style, a big collage of trial and error and learning from others. It’s what is working now, but I know I will need to stay attentive and active so that I can respond to the changes in my writing and my family. That’s probably the biggest take-home here:

For me, reviving my writing practice has meant tuning into what works today, and taking one step at a time. It has meant being fierce—I will find time to write today because it’s important. And flexible—I will accept the amount and quality of time I have today, even if it’s five minutes, and trust that both will grow and deepen with time.

My goal is to finish a collection of poems, and write prose for paying markets, while continuing to be the primary caregiver for our daughter. Here are five things that are helping me as I reach for those goals.

1) I’m reading more, especially about writing.

It’s really, really easy to collapse on the couch when my girl naps and zone out on the Internet. This is what Steven Pressfield, in The War of Art, calls resistance. It’s easier to fritter away my time on Pinterest, in the name of researching dinner recipes or garden hacks, than it is to feel my fear about creating. That fear is currently tuned into my sense of time having accelerated since becoming a mom. I’m afraid I won’t ever have enough time to complete the projects I really care about, so I don’t even begin. You know what? It’s true. I don’t have enough time. I have slivers and bits and scribbled-on margins of time, littered all over the day. But I feel way more inspired and motivated when I use those margins of time purposefully. Now I try to sit down and write, or I read– especially about creativity and career. These are the books I’ve found most helpful so far:

Writer Mama, Christina Katz
Ordinary Genius, Kim Addonizio
The Artist’s Guide to Grant Writing, Gigi Rosenberg
Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert

Next step is learning how to be kind to myself when I choose Pinterest or Facebook or some stupid slide-show (Kid Stars of the 1980s! Where Are They Now?!) instead. Your tips requested!

2) I map out the weeks and months.
This spring, I signed up for an 8-week Fit4Mom class. Every Monday and Wednesday night for eight weeks, I worked out at 7:30. Period. When I finished those eight weeks, I felt great and saw a difference. I thought, Why not do this with writing?

Now I put writing time and deadlines into my schedule. To keep track, I use the free Monday Calendar app. I also have two whiteboard calendars: one on the fridge for family life, and one above my desk for writing deadlines.

3) I joyfully hitch my wagon to other wagons.
If you are a new parent, and especially what they (so unimaginatively) call a “stay at home mom,” you’re probably well-acquainted with loneliness. Writing can feel lonely, too. I love being able to connect with others about our writing goals and projects– sometimes while we push our kids in swings or pack them into the backpack for a hike.

From time to time, I connect over Skype with a couple of incredible women from my MFA program. We exchange work and critique via group video chat. The technology is hit-or-miss, so I am on the lookout for ways to improve that side of things. But I love the magic of suddenly being reunited with these powerful, compassionate writers. It still feels like sci-fi or Charlie’s Angels to me.

In the spring, a friend included me in a 40-day accountability email exchange. She had a goal and she just wanted a handful of people she was close to to “listen in” on her progress. I was so deeply impressed with her vulnerability and her courage. I read every one of her emails and rooted her on to success. What I learned was that it wasn’t about completing a task perfectly– it was about discovering more about herself and what she valued. So in August, I asked her to join me in a 30-day poetry challenge. I wanted to do something that scared me, like she had. It was scary. Some days I hated it. But I ended up with about ten poems I think I might actually be able to do something with– and that’s more than I’d written in the past two years combined. Holy sh**.

I’m super, duper excited about this next one: a monthly critique group that meets in the evenings. I just started this last month with a handful of friends. I really hope it becomes a long-term thing, because I love it. We plan to rotate houses, exchange work by email a week before each meeting, and keep the snack thing simple.

Last thing in terms of community: taking online courses. I tried one with Poetry Barn and wasn’t able to get through all of the assignments, but I did my best. This month I’m trying a class called Literary Boot Camp with Mothers Always Write and a Personal Essay Intensive course with Ariel Gore, in which we will somehow write the drafts of six essays in twelve days. Both of these just about scare the pants off me. But supposedly that’s how you know you should do something, right? Right…

4) I found a great babysitter, and I stay home and write.
There is no way–no way— I would take on the “6-essays-in-twelve-days” thing without a solid plan. That plan is called childcare. I feel like I struck gold with our babysitter. She works in early childhood education, lives in our neighborhood, and has a gentle personality that my daughter loves. My husband and I pay her well and give her presents because we want her to be our babysitter forever. In the past, I used the time to get out of the house or nap. Now I hunker down at my desk and write.

This automatically saves money on coffee and gas or lunch or whatever I used to do instead of staying home to write. It also has meant combing through our family budget to cut expenses and be able to afford childcare. I say “no” to a lot of small things so that I can say “yes” to one thing that matters a lot to me.  Which leads me to my last point…

5) I’ve let go of a lot of other things.
I’m an American mom in the 21st century, so there are oh, I don’t know, 82 things I think I need to perfect. Tell me I’m not alone when I say I have somehow got it into my head, as a woman in the United States, that after having a baby I need to focus on having a great body, stylish clothes, an amazing sex life, homemade homegrown vegan meals, a spotless and stylish house cleaned with homemade natural cleaners, and spend all of my time engineering crafty sensory-play activities for baby. Good grief.

Thankfully, there aren’t enough hours in the day. Thankfully, I believe in a God who loves me as I am and covers me with grace, because not only do I fall so very short of perfection, I also believe the lies of this culture and keep wandering down their hall-of-mirror detours. Writing is prayer for me, because I also really suck at praying. But when I write, I feel like I get in touch with who God made me to be, and everything else starts showing up the way it ought to. The important things look important again, and the silly things look really, really silly.

Caring for our daughter is in.
Writing is in.
Connecting with my family is in.
Basic self-care is in.
Everything else is bonus.

I am learning to simplify my exercise routine (… sometimes that means I don’t exercise, but progress not perfection, right?) and keep our weeknight meals really simple. This summer I got fed up with keeping house and kind of just quit. Turns out that isn’t sustainable for any of us, so last night my husband and I sat down over a glass or two of wine and made our very first chore chart. In five years of marriage and twelve years of living life together. I hope we survive this. (Just kidding– like everything I’ve written here, the chore chart is an experiment designed to help us figure out what works for us. I’ll let you know how it goes.)

The best part about writing again— writing even though I’m scared, writing instead of procrastinating, writing myself toward a career I have wanted since I was a little girl— the best part is that the more I write, the more I feel like… me.

I feel motivated to write. Ideas find me. I wake up with lines for a new poem or one in revision. I have more energy. I’m a lot happier and that means I am more focused when I’m with my daughter and family.

I don’t have this nagging sense of work left undone, of missing out on a life I want to live, because I’m living it.

Are you returning to a writing practice after becoming a parent? Please share your ideas in the comments. I’d love to learn from you.

Photo via Unsplash stock photos; Simson Petrol.

 

Poem Response on Vox Poetica

Here’s a poem I wrote in response to a photo prompt on Vox Poetica, a photo called Alberta Bound by photographer Michael Lee Johnson.

Mind

Stopped by the gate, you pace the place old
wheels have smoothed, tracks so worn

that’s all you see, never mind the fact
they cross over, go on. You believe

in the gate, though your lips shape
other words. Your hands trace the rubbed

wood, paint peeled—listen, you may as well
leave it here. There’s a way out that’s everywhere—

see how the sky goes around and through? Despite
the signs, forgiveness is the usual procedure: an inch

per century pushing up through plates.
The pace isn’t what’s important here. Out

in the estuary the same light grows, seeds
ripen and shake: little fists opening.

I love the tagline for Vox Poetica: “It’s just poetry. It won’t bite.”

I wrote this poem as part of a 30 day poetry challenge I’ve undertaken this August with a friend and fellow poet, and it’s helping me reaffirm that creativity is there in abundance. I don’t have to ration it or fear there won’t be enough. There is plenty there, and plenty of places and people to share it with.

Try writing a poem to a photo prompt from Vox Poetica, Rattle, or the 20 day poem challenge coming up at Ekphrastic Review.

Writing About Climate Change

Here’s a letter I wrote for Dear Earth With Love, a collaborative community chronicle of personal stories about climate change.

My dear friend Jo created this project. I encourage you to write your own letter to the earth, responding to your personal experience with climate change. It could be a letter, poem, story, song, or spoken word piece. It could be a video of a dance or performance; a painting, collage, or sculpture. Whatever medium suits you best, use it and make something– then submit your work.

Dear Earth With Love holds rolling submissions, with a deadline posted every few months.  The next deadline is August 31, 2016.

Read the beginning of my essay here:

Continue reading “Writing About Climate Change”

the geography of memory

My MFA mentor Jeanne Murray Walker recently came out with a new book: a memoir of her experience caring for her mother through ten years of Alzheimer’s. A poet, playwright, novelist, and essayist, Walker is a veritable renaissance woman, and I was blessed to work with her for a year.

https://i0.wp.com/www.english.udel.edu/PublishingImages/NEWS_Walker-geography-memory-book-cover_450.jpg

The Geography of Memory is more than a memoir of Alzheimer’s. As the title suggests, it’s a meditation on memory itself, and told in such lucid prose that it’s compelling for any reader, even those whose lives have not been touched by Alzheimer’s. In prose as in poetry, she writes clearly and honestly. Her writing is like an open hand, extended, and inviting the reader to see their own stories in the narrative.

SPU’s low-residency MFA program in creative writing meets on Whidbey Island in March. It’s a small cohort, and the March residency is particularly quiet and intimate. For three Marches, I remember gathering in the main room in the evening to listen to Jeanne read aloud from sections of the book-in-progress. I was always spellbound by her storytelling, and I could tell we all looked forward to the book’s release.

It came out this fall, and being several months post-graduation, I confess I was a little homesick for everyone, for sharing in the rhythms of writing and deadlines and residencies. I went to Powell’s and picked up a copy of the book. I’m now working several part-time teaching jobs, and I found myself looking forward to that little window of time at the end of each day when I could curl up with the book. I could hear Jeanne’s voice in the prose, and recognize sections she had read to us.

But beyond my personal connection to the author,  I was also moved because of a recent experience working with people in various stages of memory loss. This summer, I facilitated eight weeks of creative writing workshops with Write Around Portland, this time at a local assisted living residence.

Our first workshop was bewildering. I didn’t have a reference point for an encounter with dementia. As is so common in America, I tend to spend most of my time in the company of people from my own age group– and not much time with the very young or the very old.

A few of the residents talked to me about relatives I’d never met as if they had only just left the room. Some were sharp and present, and contributed clear suggestions to our brainstorm for group guidelines. Others wanted to take the floor and tell the whole group a long and elaborate story. One resident fell asleep halfway through our hour workshop. The staff reassured me it wasn’t me, she just did that sometimes, and had asked to be gently awoken.

It took another session or two before we hit our stride together. I learned patience, adjusted my expectations, and changed my definition of a succesful workshop. I began to see participants bonding with each other and with the volunteers who wrote for those with vision or coordination problems. Themes began to emerge in each participants’ writing. They shocked and delighted me with their vivid memories of being six years old in an old stone house in the midwest, or crew on an Atlantic fishing boat. I loved the way they lined up disparate imagery. I felt honored by their openness. On the page, they often expressed their anxiety over the confusion they felt, their fear of death, their amazement at the change they’d witnessed.

Our time together was often painful. Two of the members died before the eight weeks were up. But there was joy in our workshops, too. We celebrated each person’s writing and laughed at funny stories. I began to see their writing in a new way. I began to see a strange and particular beauty in the way stories surface out of the sea of memory loss.

Maybe it isn’t fair for me to say so, having spent just an hour each week with these writers, these people with families and histories. Caregivers and children might have a different perspective. They’re witness to repetitive behavior and storytelling. Their own histories may be implicated in the creative weaving a person with memory loss can make with strands of time. I don’t have the experience with which to test my statement, don’t have the perspective of someone who has really gone through the labyrinth.

The Geography of Memory gave me that perspective. It’s a firsthand look at the pain, frustration, and yes, beauty, of memory loss. Jeanne manages to tell her mother’s story and her own story in a way that honors both, and lets the deeper story through. The deeper story is the one she writes about toward the end of the book:

Although most of the accounts I’ve read about Alzheimer’s are characterized by horror, the truth is, even my mother’s final months were not relentlessly grim…

…I saw flashes of tenderness and humor even in my mother’s Alzheimer’s ward. I felt what I often feel when I am walking on the nature trail at Haverford College, where thirty species of trees shade the meadows, where a nimble resident heron stalks fish in the stream, and every May a snapping turtle creeps across the running path and stands, blinking for hours, patiently depositing her eggs.

There’s plenty of evidence that in spite of suffering, our universe is ordered by a force that is not chance, not brutality, not evil, but goodness.

.

 

the power of writing

this video will give you goosebumps.

witness the transformative power of writing in this short segment from a free writing workshop, made possible by write around portland.

get a behind-the-scenes look at the continuing impact of this non-profit, which brings free 10-week writing workshops to underserved populations all over the portland area. from burn units and prisons to homeless shelters and low-income housing, these communities get the chance to connect to one another through simple, yet powerful writing exercises.

I’ve had the privilege to volunteer with write around portland for over two years now, including one year as a workshop facilitator. I just love what they do, and what I get to do alongside them, thanks to the generosity of many, many volunteers and donors.