Reflections

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This morning a gentle snow fell. Chris brewed coffee. And the brain fog from this cold began to lift.

It’s been one of those weeks when this 365 project has felt challenging. Challenging, but not impossible. Life never fails to get in the way. But if you carve a path for yourself, you’ll eventually create a smooth groove, one that allows you to stay the course even when other forces attempt to push you in a different direction.

Committing to this year-long daily practice has been life-altering in big and small ways. One of the things I learned very quickly was that fear will rise up again and again, and there is no choice but to walk through it. I had to contend with my fear of being seen, my imposter syndrome, and my self-doubt with every step, from writing to submitting to publishing to promoting. Every step was an act of courage. Until courage became habit. And the fear piped down.

I began the project with no real idea where it would go. I had planned nothing beyond putting words on the page and hitting publish every day. That alone felt daunting enough. I hadn’t planned to take writing classes or give a reading or attend a professional conference. I didn’t know I would spend those first months writing and revising one essay, a strange process that came out like a prose puzzle. I spent so many nights at the library trying to figure out how to piece it together. When an editor asked to publish it, I was beyond thrilled. My secret goal was to get a piece published before my birthday, and somehow that little dream came true. But I hadn’t anticipated how publishing a personal essay would make me feel exposed and raw, how it would make me want to tuck myself into a dark closet for a couple of weeks. Nor was I able to anticipate how moving it would be to receive emails from women struggling with the same challenge. Women who shared their stories with me. Women who told me I’d given them hope. Looking back, there was so much contained within the experience of a single essay.

2016 was a year of learning and growth and connection. I feel rooted in myself. I feel strong.

A few of the highlights: I turned 40! (Holy wow, still getting used to that number.) Brain,Child Magazine named me New Voice of the Year and invited me to become a contributing blogger, a dream come true. I saw Roxane Gay speak in NYC. I grew my first garden in our new backyard (and wrote and published an essay about it). I attended my first professional writers conference. I weaned my toddler. I voted for our first female president with my mother and my daughter by my side. I had my first poem published.

This year was big. How do I top it? How do I keep up the momentum? My mind spiraled toward a hundred different goals and dreams. I couldn’t focus. Then on New Year’s Day, a nasty cold virus took the wind right out of my sails. I had no choice but to pause. Be still. Let my mind drift. The word that came to me was tethered, a word that’s come up a lot over the course of this year. Daily practice has kept me tethered to myself, to my art, to consciousness. This project will end, but I want to stay tethered in the new year. Shortly after, I received an email saying I’d been accepted into a writing course I’d forgotten I had applied to during the holiday mayhem. And there it was, an opportunity tying me from one year to the next.

For writers involved in a daily practice or considering one, there’s a terrific article up at Brevity today, The Power of Listening to What Your Practice Demands. I’m also thrilled to announce that my writer/author-friend Rachel‘s newest book Writer’s Boot Camp, A 30-Day Crash Course to Total Writing Fitness has just hit bookstores. I ordered my copy today. I can’t think of a better way to kick off a new year of writing!

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Dear Readers

It’s a funny thing, this year, for the first time, I don’t find myself wanting to pack up the ornaments and toss out the tree. We chose a modest tree this year, one that’s tucked nicely next to the fireplace. I’ve enjoyed having the outdoors inside and the many twinkling lights to brighten the darkest time of year.

I feel the same way about this project–I’m not ready to give it up. I wonder, should I attempt to go another year? But that doesn’t feel right either. I plan to write every day, now that I’ve proven to myself it can be done. But I need to channel the daily commitment into various projects. Perhaps that sounds too much like I’m abandoning ship. I’m not! I plan to blog weekly in this space. I’m curious what you, dear readers, think about that.

I began this project as a lone little boat at sea. I had no notion of marketing or self-promotion, no flares to send up, so how would anyone even see me? It was a relief really, because I was so afraid of being seen. I’d chosen to blog my 365 project, rather than write privately in a journal, mainly for accountability. If I failed, I would have to fail publicly. Blogging also meant I’d have some freshly published writing samples floating around the interweb.

While those factors fueled the first months of this voyage, they were not at the heart of what kept me going over the long haul. What motivated me to write, even on the most challenging days, was you. I hadn’t anticipated the deep sense of connection I would find here, the way blogging would feel like letter-writing, and the way that intimacy would allow me to write in my truest voice. You, dear readers, who’ve generously spent time in this space offering your thoughts, feedback, ideas, advice and support, have been one of the greatest gifts of 2016. You have lifted my spirits and reminded me I’m not alone, you’ve generated conversation, you’ve ushered me through milestones like weaning my toddler, and celebrated my first essay publications. I am so grateful for you and everything you’ve shared with me. And it is because of you that I’ll continue to write at One Blue Sail.

I wish you all a joyous and peaceful New Year’s Eve! I’m curious about your traditions and celebrations, and your dreams for the coming year. We’re celebrating with my sister and brother-in-law, low-key pajama party sleepover style. Today I’ll pull out a big sheet of drawing paper and we’ll write out our dreams, goals, and ambitions for the coming year, our New Year’s Eve conjuring ritual. Mine range from simple to lofty. I may as well dream big!

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Santa Claus

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Christmas Eve. 9:00 p.m. We’re home and we’ve just finished the wrapping and the kitty threatens to dismantle our work and it’s all happiness. Isabella¬†has already received heaps of gifts from three sets of doting grandparents. There’s nothing like grandparent love. This is a picture from today with her sweet cousins just before Santa arrived. My father-in-law has an elaborate Santa costume and he looked as if he’d just flown in from the North Pole. She jumped up and down when she spotted him from the window as he rounded the house. During the hubbub and picture-taking, I noticed her studying him closely before she turned to me and said, “Mommy, Papa’s so silly, he’s Santa Claus!” It made us all laugh, this perfect moment of recognition. It didn’t dispel the magic. In fact, it enhanced it. Santa wasn’t a stranger, but someone who loves her, someone she feels safe and comfortable with. And there we were, all of us playing this wonderful game of pretend. For my little one, nothing could’ve been more magical than that.

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Thanksgiving

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Today I give thanks. For able hands to create with. Hands that can braid dough, hold a pencil, type these words, lift my child, change a diaper, shovel earth, wipe tears, wave hello, grip a steering wheel, strum a ukulele, cup water, peel a clementine, fold laundry, pet the cat, build sandcastles.

There’s so much I’m thankful for. A strong and loving partner. Our daughter, who will never cease to feel like a miracle. The precious and valuable gift of good health. Parents and stepparents, who are alive and well and vibrant. A big family I can always rely on. Sisters who I can turn to for anything. Friends who are like family. Two sweet kitties. Our house with its cozy front porch and old stone fireplace. First world luxuries so easily taken for granted like a dishwasher and washing machine and health insurance and a car. The beach. Salt air. Seasons. The freedom to express my thoughts, speak my mind.

And I’m so thankful for everyone I connect with in this space, the readers and writers and thinkers and creators. Thank you for taking the time to read and for sharing your thoughts with me–it truly means so much. I hope you all had a blessed day!

Bullet Journal

Thank you for all your responses to my post two days ago about wanting to convert my to-do list into an organizational system! Your comments, texts, and emails were so appreciated.

The bullet journal method immediately clicked for me, and I decided to jump right in yesterday. Continue reading “Bullet Journal”

This is 40

img_6563-2Everyone asked me, how will you celebrate your 40th? A teenage version of me scowled, I don’t know. A toddler version of me stomped my foot. Today, on my birthday, I’m laughing at these other me’s who’ve been so resistant to the inevitable. (Graceful transitions have never been my thing.) But I woke up this morning so happy. Look at how far I’ve made it! Look at how beautiful this time in my life is, this exact moment. So much emerging, growing, flourishing. Four decades flew by and landed me here, inside heaps of happiness.

 

40 is new motherhood at midlife. It’s waking up to my two-year old announcing, “Happy birthday, Mommy! I love you!”

40 is being married to a good man, a true heart. It’s watching my husband with my daughter and seeing a dream realized.

40 is a house with a front porch and a rambling backyard. It’s rooted and grounded.

40 is learning to live with uncertainty. It’s believing that ultimately, it will all work out. And even if it doesn’t, that’s okay too.

40 is the gift of parents and stepparents, happy and in good health. It’s the joy ¬†of seeing them with their granddaughter. My toddler on her Papa’s shoulders or snuggled with her Grammie reading a book. It’s a new and profound appreciation for my parents’ dedication, hard work, and unconditional love raising my sisters and brother and me.

40 is the difference between dreaming and doing.

40 is believing in myself. It is brave.

40 is having traveled so far. From the Grand Canyon to Uluru. The blue stained glass of Chagall’s chapel to the music of the ocean dragging across the rocky shore in Nice, and far more beautiful, the laughter of my daughter beneath a cathedral of maple branches.

40 is having sisters who are also my best friends.

40 is knowing who I am and who I’m not. It’s writing my own narrative.

40 is reliving the highlights of my early childhood through the experiences of my daughter.

40 is running for fitness, not weight loss. Strength of body, strength of mind.

40 is knowing I look good in dresses, not skirts, and never buying a skirt again.

40 is writing. Every single day.

40 is published.

40 is listening to a lot of Raffi and singing nursery rhymes.

40 is a new and stronger feminism.

40 is accepting that, though I may never kill the voice of self-doubt, that ruthless second-guesser, I don’t have to listen to it or let it decide.

40 is observing wildlife, naming the birds, paying attention.

40 is sometimes still falling into the habit of spinning my wheels, frantic to get traction, then remembering that’s not how traction is achieved.

40 is being the same hippy I was in the ’70s at age 3 and in the early ’90s as a teenager.

40 is valuing kindness and connection. It’s choosing words carefully. It’s mindful of the feelings of others.

40 is looking back on more highlights than regrets.

40 is deep gratitude for the endurance of old friendships and the people who lift me up.

40 is the fulfillment of my heart’s desires. It’s the most beautiful my life has ever been.

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The Garden

In the garden. Late afternoon sun. Shoveling, raking, leveling dirt until my hands blistered. While my stepdad staked the fence. He pointed to the poison ivy I can never seem to identify. He persisted with staking despite all the rock ledge, found the soft earth. And we laughed about a politician, you know the one. He wrapped the wire fence, joining it to each stake, but I never once looked up from shoveling to see how he’d done it. The sun sank into shade. And my mom put on her garden gloves and plotted out the plants and I dug with my daughter’s yellow plastic shovel because I couldn’t find the spade, which isn’t a spade but a trowel. And the spade made me think of A Tree for Peter. Then the trowel was found. And my mom and I planted tomatoes and eggplant and peppers and herbs, and my stepdad quietly persisted with the fence. Until he was finished and sat on a rock to rest. And I didn’t think to get him water. We were digging and patting down dirt. My mom in her straw hat, kneeling at the garden bed, separating the basil, saying, remember we come from pioneers, we have pioneer blood. I had underestimated all the work, but they knew exactly what they were getting into, happily, without complaint. I tromped around in my bare feet, hauling dirt and water, holding the afternoon like a smooth stone, the kind you pocket and find a special place for so you can come back to it again and again, turn it over, catch each fleck in the light.

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Blessed

It’s been a long week, but we made it through. Yesterday we discovered Chris has Lyme disease, which explains why he’s been so sick. A relief to have a diagnosis, and to have him on the mend. It’s easy to take our good health for granted. Today I felt especially grateful.

Grateful, too, that it’s June, the weather showed up spectacular, and that we live in such a beautiful place.


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Faith, Miracle and Motherhood

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A picture from 2014 that captures all the joy in my heart.
This Mother’s Day I feel settled into motherhood, not so new anymore, not so green. There is a rhythm and a dance and a comfortability in knowing. There is the sacred tapestry of our finely-woven bond of cells and blood and breastmilk. There is self-trust. And there is the powerful feeling that my baby-turned-toddler is now fully of this world. Throughout my pregnancy and during those first fragile days, weeks, months, it felt like there was always the small chance of losing her. Nothing hinted at vulnerability, other than pregnancy and infancy being inherently vulnerable. I’d had an uneventful pregnancy, a natural birth, and a baby deemed “perfect” by the pediatrician. But it took so long for the miracle of her to arrive, an almost 3-year journey to become pregnant, that I could never quite believe it was finally happening. This blessing, this good fortune, this miracle of miracles.

The odds weren’t against us, but we were approaching our our mid-thirties, biologically short on time. Everything was normal and the eventual diagnosis was “unexplained infertility.” A mystery I was determined to solve. Life was suspended during those years of not-knowing. All energy was focused on one intent. I changed my diet to gluten-free, caffeine-free, alcohol-free, sugar-free. Mixed maca root and water like a magic potion. Consulted with doctors, acupuncturists, clairvoyants, priests. Nailed a wishbone above our bedroom door. Prayed Catholic novenas, Lakota blessings. Meditated. Built cairns on the shore. Asked of the sea, of the air, of the trees.

It was two years before we lucked upon health insurance that included fertility coverage, which would end up being exhausted on months and months of tests. Tests that ultimately provided very few answers. The endocrinologist lost interest in us as our coverage bled out, so eventually we decided to take the last bit of money to a new doctor. He seemed friendly and more hopeful. When journeying through a test of faith, the act of hope-seeking is repeated again and again. Omens arrive as great blue herons, roadside signs, changing weather. You must renew and renew and renew faith. When it is written on your heart, etched in your bones, you do not give up.

The new doctor began by running blood work, the same blood work I’d had seven months before with normal results. It was an easy hurdle the first time and would be again this time. But when the call came, he said the numbers had changed. The blood work indicated almost no ovarian reserve; suddenly, supposedly I had only a few eggs left. Even if we’d had additional fertility coverage, I would not be an ideal candidate for IVF. A few days later came Mother’s Day. I focused on my mom, on gratitude. But I carried a heavy heart. My cycle was a few days late, but after receiving the devastating blood work results, it seemed past foolishness to even hope. I did not bother with a pregnancy test for another two days.

It was Tuesday morning after Mother’s Day 2013. Chris was in the shower. We were getting ready for work, a regular day. I ripped open the foil wrapper on what felt like the millionth pregnancy test. I started breakfast while I waited for the result. Hope, that irrepressible little drummer, thumped in my heart. I returned to the bathroom to check the test, not wanting to look. I wanted to suspend that tiny hopeful feeling, hold it a little longer. When I picked up the test and found a plus sign, I screamed and my heart exploded and I jumped around like a maniac on a pogo stick. Elation will send a body straight into the air. Chris pulled back the shower curtain with a big beaming smile and said, “I knew it.”

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Spending a rainy Thursday among the dinosaurs.

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Roxane Gay in NYC

First blog post from a train. First time back in NYC since before I was pregnant, almost three years ago. New York’s not my home, but I still feel at home in New York. And that feels so good.

A cold and rainy Sunday night in the city to see the luminescent Roxane Gay, who delivered the Arthur Miller Freedom to Write lecture at the PEN World Voices Festival. She is truth, beauty, and brilliance, with a speaking voice that sounds like song. I feel so grateful and so inspired.

Also, she retweeted my tweet, a virtual hug. I’m walking on air all over again.

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