#UULent: Solitude

Today, my solitude came in the sound of blueberries gently popping in the heat of the oven, and then in the smell of meat, vegetables and sauce simmering, bubbling over the edge of the pan and leaving a sputtering mess.

My resolve to write on all the topics of the #UULent project has waned. Not surprising, as my ability to write has been stilted a bit. When I say I haven’t written because two of my daughters were home, it sounds as if I am blaming, but it was a choice I made because I knew if I dove into writing, I might not come back up in a timely way. Instead, they introduced me to The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt–and it was delicious. As were the cookies I baked.

The reason I feared I wouldn’t float back up to the surface was because my writing had been going so well for the weeks before and I owed that good writing not to willpower but to solitude. Long stretches of solitude that allowed my mind to wander the paths it needed to in order to get to the heart of my work. The solitude was as delicious as the cookies and Kimmy Schmidt, but differently delicious–delicious in the sense of it being rich and abundant and exactly what I needed.

But for the last week, what I needed was to be a part of something not in my head nor in my imagination, but in the tangible connection that sometimes manifests in sitting near each other on a couch.

So here I am, dipping my toes back into the solitude that my writing self yearns for, though today it looked like making blueberry muffins and stew. Today, my solitude came in the sound of blueberries gently popping in the heat of the oven, and then in the smell of meat, vegetables and sauce simmering, bubbling over the edge of the pan and leaving a sputtering mess. And it resurfaced in the small snores of three languid felines, nestled on my legs or around them at different times of the day.

No writing came to me today, except this longish revery. And still my day was filled, not only with Congressional hearings, but with purposeful movement that may not change the world outside my home, but certainly changed a part of me in the doing.

Today, in solitude, I was fed, body and soul.

 

2. Tenacity

So much is broken here
or soiled
or not-quite-complete
or just plain blemished

Imperfect

A metal lamp shade
with no lamp.

A mid-century dresser
with deep gashes, water marks,
and spider webs from one
arched wooden leg
to the next.

A step to a long-ago
decommissioned box car.

And glass. So much glass.

Rusty, raw, and cracked
waiting to be made
new-ish

The artist’s spirit lives here
among the culled castoffs,

But not her tenacity.

Shy girl

She said hello and washed her hands while I
stared in the mirror fixing my hair and
lips. Hi, I said, shunning intimacy
in a public washroom. I love your boots,
she said and I smiled and said thank you as
I grabbed the door handle with a paper
towel. She smiled wider and a giggle
erupted from her like a noisy word-
bubble on a silent newspaper and
she pulled the door open with her naked
hand, ushering me out into her world
as I tossed the dry paper in the trash,
enraptured by her easy and wanton
way with germs, and love and super shy girls

Best New Poem Ever!

15 Greatest Words Ever Used in a Row
20 Syllables You Won’t Believe
The Way These Words Flow Will Make You Cry
Get the Tissues, the Words will be flowin’
You Won’t Believe the Words She Uses
The Colors Alone Will Blow Your Mind

If only the poet
could benefit from
click bait.

Of course, her job is
more about
paying attention
and recording
for everyone
the truths that underlie
our hard and generally false
learning that any one thing
is more awe-inspiring than another

I know, dear ones,
because I just clicked on
31 Child Celebrities You Won’t Believe What They Look Like Now
and hoped to provide you with
100 Words You Must Read Now!

And ended up with 117.

 

Internet Parents: Right, Wrong, Whatever

Here’s something I learned in the trenches: I was a better mom because other women around me challenged my way of being a parent. Sometimes they did it with care and concern and sometimes they did it snarkily and to my face.

Oh, internet parents, how much I adore you! And you know what else? How much you annoy me.

There I was, in the midst of my review of the world via social media and the links embedded within, minding my own business and enjoying the kitten videos and baby pics when I got slammed by a blog post about how to be at the park with my kids.

Of course, my kids don’t go to the park anymore. Most of them don’t even live at home anymore. In fact, I think if someone wrote a blog post on “how to be at the bar with your (young) adult children,” I’d be very grateful. Well, not really, when you see what I’m about to say, which is: Shut up about my parenting styles. Sure, tell me about yours, but stop telling me that I’m deficient because I’m not you.

Okay. Taking a quick breath now. Breathing in good vibes, breathing out judgy-ness.

Here’s something I learned in the trenches: I was a better mom because other women around me challenged my way of being a parent. Sometimes they did it with care and concern and sometimes they did it snarkily and to my face. Other times people just dropped out of my playgroup or my life. Many other times I simply watched at how other women were being with their children and if I admired it, I tried to emulate it.

But no one was ever able to shame me out of my bad or just plain odd behaviors. No snarky blog post about how this is better or that is better–even the ones I wrote–changed one bit of my method of interacting with my children.

And, sure, there were enough times that I challenged other people and their tight reins or lax grips by being who I was with my children in their presence.

If you are feeling judged by another parent’s behavior, maybe you ought to consider who is doing the judging in that relationship. Lighten up, Internet parent police.

Take a deep breath and ask yourself: What’s got my panties (or tighty-whities) in a knot? Chances are you aren’t as comfortable with your parenting expertise, after all, if you feel challenged by someone else’s behavior.

Yeah, I know. I’m doing it now, but I get to. I put in my years (and years), and my children no longer drink from a bottle (generally), wear diapers, or depend on me to remember things for them or run interference for them. They’ve grown into mature young women who are masters of their own lives (mostly) and who have carved out their own independent path either because of me or despite me (and sometimes both).

Yeah, I was pissed a lot then, too. And, yeah, you want commiseration rather than an old mom’s advice. I get that. But here’s what I want you to know that I didn’t: I learned so much more by having people with diverse approaches in my life than I ever would have had I stuck only to my slackermom friends (who I will forever love and adore for providing fun company that provided a soft place to fall into when the trenches were so brutal.

I learned from all the moms. I just didn’t know it how much I was picking up at the time.

So, internet parents, I’ve been writing about being a parent in this crazy world for two decades now. I’ve been snarky, judgy, mean and exasperated on occasion but the thing I feel most right now is just plain grateful that I wasn’t doing this parenting thing all by myself or with only my husband as co-parent and co-conspirator. Because things didn’t always go smoothly and my way turned out to not be all that reliable a lot of the time. Still, I was smart enough to take what worked for others and fold it into what worked for us.

I just spent a weekend with three talented, kind, smart, and funny young women. I would love to take credit for who they are, but I recognize that they are who they are on their own dime, but also on the backs of all the other mothers, the church friends, the close and distant family members, the teachers (oh, the teachers!) who all modeled for them what it is to be a functioning adult in the world.

It was a lot more fun to be judgy (which I guess I’m being right now–or perhaps more preachy), but I say this with all the love in my heart: unless someone is being openly hostile to you and yours (like calling the cops on a three year old), figure out what the take-away is for you, either in the behavior of the other person or in your resistance to it.

And be kind to the mom who seems overly anxious. One of the reasons she may be anxious because she’s pretty sure she’s “parenting” wrong, too. And maybe because she thinks you are judging her, too.

With love and tenderness,

Tina

___

P.S. See the brand new “Ugly Pies” logo up there? I’m so grateful to my friend Melissa Washburn for the design. Be sure to click on her link to view her portfolio of art and design!

Starting anew: a question for you

How do you start something new? I’m not asking theoretically, but in sincerity. How do YOU start something new?

Do you plan first, make a list of resources, do your shopping and follow a recipe and make sure you have all your ducks in a row?

Do you jump in feet first, then figure out what you need, usually requiring many trips to collect what you need when you need it?

Do you wander in gently, like wading into Lake Michigan in early summer, when the ice may still be melting in it? Take your time, pondering what is needed, if you have the skills to do it, and if not, where can you get those skills?

I’m asking because I’m starting a few things, or have started them, and I know the way I address these things looks like bedlam to most anyone observing from outside my head. I want to know how others address the issues. I tend to get stuck on “too much; it requires too much work or too many ingredients (this is a problem I have with recipes, when they have too many ingredients, I back away slowly and go back to roasting meat with salt, pepper and garlic powder). When things look too big or too complicated, I tend to shut down. At these moments, I try to remember the old joke about how to eat an elephant (one bite at a time), or Anne Lamott’s title of her book on writing “Bird by Bird.”  Sometimes that helps, but other times, I just. can. not.

So, I’m asking in earnest: how do you start a thing, a big thing, a thing that could change your life? How do you sustain your interest in the project? Because another habit I have is to “almost” finish a thing. And then I pick it up, days, months, years later, and wonder, why didn’t I finish this?

Thoughts? would love to hear them–comment away, below.

Or, if you don’t have any insights to share, I could also use a cheering squad for my vague but purposeful efforts.

Have a great day, friends.

Goodness abides

I wrote an entire post this morning that got lost because I forgot to close the browser before opening it. So, the two lines of bad stuff I wrote yesterday is all that was saved. This morning’s post was epically good, if I do say so myself. Best stuff I’ve written in weeks (because I have not written in weeks, except for the two lines of drivel I wrote yesterday).

It started with me saying that I had bupkis to say about the how the world is burning right now. How I’ve been silent and have been cocooning myself in my silence for far too long, telling myself that the world has heard all that I would say and from better sources, smarter sources, sources that aren’t white, middle-aged, cis-gender and heterosexual like me.

Oh world, it was an epic call to action for me and for you, and the bottom line was this: goodness abides, even when it doesn’t always preside.

I talked about flags and about history and about how we white Americans who want to preserve our heritage have to give homage to the fact that our heritage was built on the lives and enslavement of unwilling Africans and their descendants. And that our heritage was built on the land that was stolen from indigenous tribes through trickery, murder, and in some instances, genocide.

I wrote about how I’m not an expert in History, or Justice work, or really anything except: feelings. I get that expertise from being who I am and from being the mother of three young women. I earned that expertise. So what I really wanted to say was that when we ignore feelings, when feelings are denied, descried or invalidated, they often become something else. So, we can have pride in our heritage and our flag(s), but we have to know that when we wave a flag it engenders very different feelings from others whose lives, religions, skin color, and lived experiences are different from our own.

Feelings, I find, are a great way to transform a moment, a movement, a world. We have to acknowledge them because they will not be denied. Acknowledging difference doesn’t have to mean denying the worth and dignity of another person or group of people. But we have to have a common goal: a goal, perhaps, of goodness.

We have to want the good to prevail–not necessarily the strong or mighty or even the majority–but the good.

The good includes community, taking care of each other as well as ourselves. It includes art and experience and feelings about all that. It includes nurturing even those who can’t nurture themselves, whether it be from endemic poverty, mental or emotional differences, or chronic illness. It includes looking at the world from all viewpoints in order to understand the difference.

But we have to want goodness to not only abide, but preside, even in the face of evil, ignorance, and privilege.

How will you help the cause of goodness today? Leave me a note in the comments; I’d love to hear from you.

People don’t say such things

Some days you just have to open the curtains and let the sun shine on all the dust. So you see it. So you see yourself in the clutter and debris you have left behind and around and everywhere.

And then you have to look up and see the picture you picked out for yourself and no one else. The one that is of a place you’d like to find yourself in. Just out of frame is the bench you will sit on with your journal and your travel mug of coffee or flask of gin and stare at the doors that may open and let you see the life within.

But you don’t drink gin. It just sounded good, like a life you would like–a hard writer’s life with a voice gravelled by smoke and whiskey (which you also don’t drink, but let’s just roll with it).

IMG_1957Then your eye continues to travel around the room with the curtains open wide and you see the softness you have collected, instead. Cats, kids, blankets, and vodka tinged with lime and pomegranate (which is something you drink).

You hear the drip of the kitchen faucet and look forward to the day when it isn’t kept from streaming by a tightly wound rubber band, which seems to lead to other metaphors for the life you currently live. Alone in your head, keeping others at bay with your fear of the revelation of who you really, truly are. Because people don’t say such things.

They drink gin on benches outside other people’s homes, smoking or vaping, while scribbling away about imaginary folks who are teetering between weary and dreary and worry about insane things like what other mother’s think of them, or whether the life they are living is true.

On second thought, sometimes you just have to shut the drapes and have another cup of coffee and turn the music up louder than your heartbeat, louder than the thoughts that rip through you like evil talons. And dance. Hard. Whole body thumping hard. Hard enough that your jiggly parts don’t stop for three days after the core of you has dropped into the overstuffed chair from the sheer exhaustion.

Because some days call for Talking Heads Burning Down the House.

And gin. Even if it is just the word.

Or the card game.

War stories

Finished reading a first-time novel of
men and war. The old man’s voice comforted
me. Beyond, I heard the pans that hang from
above the window jangle against the panes
and each other, an indoor windchime, it’s
resonance low, beckoning me to a
slower, deeper place of thought. The cat crawled
on the afghan that covers me as I
read of cold and pain. He purrs his rhythm
into my bones, and sends waves of pollen
collected in his nighttime hunts. I see
him low in the wet grass, preying, and I
am back in the story, a man crawling
from murder toward death. The pans play on.

Self Portrait of the Author as a Young Woman

I know you won’t know this if you only recently met me, but I really am photo-phobic. I usually hide from the camera by being behind it. Or, I put my children in front of me so no one can see the real me.

But if you wade through my blog, you’ll notice I’m a little less self-conscious about it than I once was. I even wrote about it after a trip my sister and mother and I did last fall where we made sure to take a group selfie a day.

There haven’t been many grand occasions for the selfie lately, except Easter Sunday when I made the whole family smush together for one before the eldest and middlest hit the road for “home.” Sigh. Their home. Not our home.

Yesterday I went digging around in the garage through boxes of old papers and journals and lo and behold, right on top of one of the tubs of papers (some 30 years old!) was this “selfie” I painted. I can’t even remember when I did this. I’m thinking it was in the studio apartment I had in Redlands that was a refurbished garage, as opposed to the studio apartment I had in West Lost Angeles that was next to a garage.

Either way, it was from my early 20s, so, nearly 30 years old. Yup, youngsters, this is how we old folks did.

I know this isn’t a good painting (the nose, good Lord, don’t look at the nose–which is, of course, all you are going to look at now, right?), but that I did it and that I kept it are two very amazing things for someone like me who doesn’t like to look at herself. Ever.

I was mostly struck, when I opened that tub of letters, by the vibrant colors in this piece. I see the dots in the ears that either represent holes where earrings should be or are small studs. I think it is the former and I think I might have been referencing Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s strange how some things stick with you and sometimes it is the smallest of details, like Atwood’s use of the dimples where holes used to be in the ears of the handmaids who no longer were allowed to wear jewelry.

I brought the painting and a bunch of my old writings into the office and hung the picture up on my wall so I now literally have my younger self staring down at me, holding me to some sort of accountability, I guess. What would she think, that young girl with the bloodshot eyes and upturned lip, of the woman she has become?

Update:  I found this piece in my drafts. It was originally written on April 17 and not shared. I just reread it and deleted the two paragraphs that ended the draft. They were written to answer the question posed in that last paragraph and they were written from a perspective that lacked compassion. So today, I’m posting this as an act of compassion for myself. Finding the painting among all the old letters, stories, and drafts I’d written in my lifetime was a surprise to me. But the biggest surprise, I think, is that I’ve lived with this picture and those eyes looking back at me for the last few weeks and I’m okay with it. Not the picture, itself, but of the assessment that young woman might have of the life we’ve led. I’m not only okay with it, I am compassionately accepting all the wins and losses, dreams and dramas, heartaches and blessings that have come along in those many, many years. There’s a lifetime of learning in these eyes, that came from the lifetime of loving those eyes could not even begin to fathom.

Acceptance. Compassion. Love.

We’re getting there.

All blessings on a new day,

Tina