Reclamation

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This morning as I was slicing an apple for my 3-year-old, she marched around the kitchen chanting, “You’re the best mama!” It’s the first time she’s said that, and I don’t know where the heck it came from, but it sure felt good.

This first week off from daily writing was filled with excitement and events, and then when it got quiet, I crammed the silent spaces with volunteer work and course work and mini social media binges. I became distracted, my brain ballooning with noise, lifting me off the ground. Untethered.

I knew it was time to sit down and write.

Before and after the inauguration, I channeled my energy into volunteer work, uploading submissions to the Disability March, a project spearheaded by author, activist, and Fairfield University professor Sonya Huber. It’s been an honor and a gift to work on this project, to be able to take a positive action, to help give voice and visibility to those who were unable to march, and to spend time with individual photos and stories. These marchers carried me through the inauguration and reminded me of the way our stories keep us connected.

On Saturday, I marched. My 8:30 a.m. train to Manhattan was packed. A group of seniors moved slowly down the aisle in pink hand-knit pussy hats, holding cardboard signs that read, “RESIST.” The train was filled with a contagious positive vibe, and at every stop, the conductor reminded passengers, “Make room! Today is the Women’s March.” Grand Central was humming with electric energy.

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I met my friends by the clock and we hugged and talked national news and personal news, and my friend Kelly brought me an extra pair of sunglasses, and we walked city-quick, into the cool, damp air and headed east toward Dag Hammarskjold Plaza. The streets were already filled with marchers and signs and sporadic low-level chanting. We slipped into the rally just before the blockade closed and listened to speeches by Cynthia Nixon, Helen Mirren, and Whoopi Goldberg. There was music and dancing, and then the entire crowd sang “The Star Spangled Banner” with solemn gusto. In that surge of unity, I felt a reclamation of the hope I’d lost after Election Day.

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Later in the afternoon, as I wove through crowds on my way back to Grand Central, I felt light and joyful, buzzed on solidarity and goodwill. On the train, scrolling through my phone, I was awestruck by the photos and videos pouring in from sister marches across the country and around the world.

Over the last few days, my joy has fizzled amidst the signing of executive orders, the suppression of factual tweets by the National Park Service, the inevitable in-fighting among groups within the Women’s March movement, the inane memes circulating, the inflammatory, clickbait articles. It’s easy to forget I have the option to quiet the cacophony.

Last night I opted out of all that noise and focused on uploading the last submissions to the Disability March. Today I promised myself I would not engage with news or social media. Today I’m retreating to my small patch of earth, my own story, my own work, my own day. It’s going to be a long haul, this process of reclaiming our collective hope and continuing to march forward, and tending to ourselves is an essential part of the work.

Today I duck the swell and catch a small wave of joy, that tiny voice declaring I’m the best mama.

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Crossing the Finish Line

I’d intended to get fresh thoughts down this morning for my final post in this 365-consecutive-day series, but I dodged it. I dragged my feet. Procrastination, I’ve learned, is part of the process. The whole time you’re writing in your head–that’s part of the work too.

A few things I can say with certainty on the last day: I have found my way back to me. I pushed aside that paralyzing and imaginary concept of perfection. I walked through my fear back to myself.

I learned, or rather I taught myself, that the main thing is showing up. The action is everything.

I found my voice again. And my strength.

In light of all that lies ahead, for us and for our country, I can think of no better way to leave off. Strong in my sense of self. Strong voice. Ready to show up and do the work.

On Saturday, I’ll take an early train into NYC for the Women’s March.

And in a week, I’ll be back with a new post. Imagine, a whole week between posts?

(Post 365 of 365 ~ I did it!!!)

New Year (Let’s Try This Again)

Here I am on my second-to-last day, about to cross the finish line. Just one more post to go!

I’m afraid I’ve made it sound like the blog itself is ending–it’s not! I’ll be posting here weekly, and I hope you’ll keeping reading. The last two weeks my posts have been thin, and it felt like I was fizzling out. Between the post-holiday blues and a long stretch of sickness, it was all I could do to come up with a few words each day. That’s just how some days go. But that biopsy I had was benign. I’m on day 3 of no sugar/no starch, my brain fog has cleared, and I have more energy. It feels like my new year is finally beginning.

I’ve been thinking a lot about organizing (one of my biggest challenges) and housekeeping aspects of the blog. I should probably create some sections and perhaps house this 365-project under one of those sections, as novelist Cynthia Newberry Martin at Catching Days did with hers. For anyone who’s joined me later in this project, Catching Days is one of my favorite places on the internet, a beautifully curated literary site that offers endless inspiration to writers. I happened upon Catching Days as Cynthia was finishing her own 365 project, and it was the exact inspiration and guidance I needed at that moment. I was surprised and delighted when Cynthia followed me through those first days and months offering feedback and encouragement, a gift from a professional writer to an aspiring one.

Catching Days hosts a series called How We Spend Our Days that features a different writer each month and an essay about how they spend a typical writing day. I’ve finally had a chance to read the January’s writer, the poet Sawnie Morris. It’s a meditative start to the new year that’s returned me to a place of noticing. After having been away from my writing practice (evenings at the library, etc) for the last month or so, these words really resonated.

“The next day and the next, I force myself to get up and go directly to my studio, to the desk. I’ve been away for months now and the only way back is to ruthlessly dedicate myself. The effort is awkward, but I am starting to catch the faint scent of liberation, which is to say, I will disappear and only the writing will be left.”

I also loved Morris’s description of her husband thinking through the process of painting, assessing where the work was in that moment and the blind, gut-level path every artist has to follow toward completion.

“For several seconds, his mind is in the painting’s landscape and I can see that he is worried and alone in the snowfall of its forest, at the same time that he is fully awake and betting on his instincts to find the way out.”

 

(Post 364 of 365)

Mother-Writer

There is a thought that’s repeated in my head over the last year like a mantra: “I write because of and in spite of my daughter.”

At this time last year, her just-turned-two-year-old self was small enough to fit in the cradle of my legs folded indian-style, nursing while my hands typed. That was my method of buying time to write in the beginning. I know I felt touched-out and drained, and the recurring sentence fragment in my brain was, “To think a clear a thought.” But I can only see it now through a rose-haze, those little hands, the newness of language, the cure-all comfort of breastfeeding. In fact, at the start of this project, I had never spent an entire day away from my baby. Not until Day 32.

Shhhhh.

Do you hear that?

QUIET.

Not the temporary quiet of sleeping baby. Not the little old lady from Goodnight Moon whispering hush. I’m talking husband with toddler taking a day trip across state lines to visit grandparents quiet. Blue sky almost-spring sunshine fed cats asleep in windows quiet. Alone in the house for a good big stretch of day quiet.

Drink. That. In.

This has not happened since I’ve become a mother. A whole entire day alone. I couldn’t relinquish her to the world for the span of an entire day until today. I know how bonkers that sounds. But it’s the truth. It took so long for the miracle of her to arrive, my life’s sole mission became protectress. It was nothing I planned and everything I had to be.

I’m glad I trapped that moment on the page. That version of me, now gone. Are we like snakes molting minute-to-minute or Matryoshka dolls, former selves stacked within us to be cracked open again and again?

When I was pregnant, a friend told me, when a baby is born, a mother is born too. I heard “mother”–that part I understood–but I didn’t quite hear “born.” I couldn’t grasp the way an entirely new version of myself would be born. Or the mysterious way those former versions of me would show up. My daughter reignited my desire to write, to be true to myself. And at the same time, she made it so darn difficult for me to take up the task of writing. To think a clear thought. But for all the essays lamenting the incompatibility of motherhood and writing, I think they pair well, the push-pull, the toggle. Because of and in spite of. What better training is there for a creative pursuit than motherhood? Motherhood, that supremely creative act, that exhausting slog. What else could have taught me to dig so deep?

(Post 363 of 365)

 

Wrapping Up

Before we left for Bass Pro Shop this morning, the toddler asked, “Are we all going? Together as a family?”

“Yes, we’re all going together!” I told her. And her face lit up.

This is usually an excursion she goes on with her dad while I write. We played a lot of pass-of-the-toddler this year. With just three posts left, I realize I’m feeling ready to wrap it up, make space, see what comes next.

(Post 362 of 365)

Party Day

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My little three-year-old had the most wonderful time at her party today, and it made my heart so happy.

Over the last year, she’s gone from shy toddler to party lover. So I planned ahead and booked it at our local gymnastics place, where I knew the kids would be free to run and play. Two gymnastics teachers led them in a few games, and Isabella ran around the room like a little sprite before joining the group. She went back and forth, partaking in games and running wild, and I just loved watching her enjoy herself. It was one of those parties that couldn’t have gone better. Fun, relaxed, and perfectly timed. Everyone seemed so happy.

Afterward, my sister sent me this incredible photo. My tiny, sweet just-turned-three-year-old gazing up at all those candles. Every once in a great while, there’s that shot that captures it all perfectly.

(Post 361 of 365)

Zen Friday

Two weeks of little writing time and no jogging have me feeling blue, but today was brightened by my sister, who took us to lunch at our favorite feminist, vegetarian restaurant and bookstore, Bloodroot. During my postpartum summer, my sister visited many Fridays–“Zen Fridays,” we called them–and we’d have lunch under a big weeping willow tree. Isabella had her first tastes of soup there. Today she danced among the bookshelves of feminist literature, ate her own plate of quiche, and chatted with the resident cat, Gloria Steinem.

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(Post 360 of 365)

 

Slow Down

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Photo credit: Famlii

Today was a juggling running around catching up with course work almost forgetting to order cupcakes for the birthday party kind of day. Wondering if/when I’ll catch up, find my equilibrium. I do much better with a routine, and I’ve been knocked off mine for so long now, I feel like I can’t quite get traction.

When I become impatient and an edge creeps into my voice, my daughter says, “Okay, mama, just slow down.” I have no idea where she got it from. But it works so much better than “relax” or “calm down” or “take a deep breath” or “count to ten.” Just slow down, mama. Okay zen toddler, lead the way.

(Post 359 of 365)

This is 3!

 

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This is 3! We hung the birthday sign and the paper chain and blew up balloons. I made blueberry pancakes and lit a candle and we sang, all before sun up. I was a full and present parent who didn’t try to juggle other tasks into the day. She chose the Peabody museum, so we went to New Haven and, as luck would have it, they were feeding the bearded dragons and frogs and Vietnamese walking sticks, so we got to hold and touch and marvel up close. In the afternoon it was warm enough to go to the beach and build sandcastles. I’m still off food from the stomach flu, so when my mom offered dinner and a birthday muffin, I said, oh yes please! (I’m getting a lot better now at saying, yes, thank you for your offer to help, I’ll take it!)

I would like to write another ode to age 2, but I’ve been catching up on my course, and must save it for the weekend.

Thank you, dear readers, for hanging in there and leaving so many kind comments during this stretch of thin posts and two bouts of illness. It was a beautiful day celebrating my sweet girl and I’m feeling so grateful.

(Post 358 of 365)

 

 

Le Chat

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A photo from a long time ago at art school in France, sitting in the sunshine with one of the stray cats of the village. My mom has been giving us our old things that still take up space in her house–books, art work, old photos–and she gave this to me a few months ago. Glancing at it tonight I remembered that while I was there, I wrote and hand-bound a children’s book about a cat, which may have been titled simply Le Chat. I’d learned enough of the language to write it in French. I wish I remembered more about the story. As I always did with my art, I gave the book away to a friend. It’s one of the few things I wish I’d kept, tucked away in my suitcase and saved for my daughter. Anyway, it got me thinking that’s one of the things on my list this year, to write a children’s book.

(Post 357 of 365)