I knew going into this challenge that I wouldn't blog every day. Sometimes life gets in the way. Sometimes I don't have a clear emotional space, for many different reasons. Not that I require blissful silence and a happy heart to write, but some days things happen that put me in a state where writing is difficult. But since I knew that I wouldn't blog every day, I didn't get discouraged on days I missed. I just picked it up the next day (or the day after that).
Back in March, I stumbled across Effy Wild's blog challenge. The goal was to blog once a day in April. There is also a Facebook group where you can post links to your blog, as well as find and read other people's blogs. The rule was to post a comment on three blogs every time you added a link to your blog, but I confess: I often went to more than three!
I knew going into this challenge that I wouldn't blog every day. Sometimes life gets in the way. Sometimes I don't have a clear emotional space, for many different reasons. Not that I require blissful silence and a happy heart to write, but some days things happen that put me in a state where writing is difficult. But since I knew that I wouldn't blog every day, I didn't get discouraged on days I missed. I just picked it up the next day (or the day after that).
My goal was to reestablish my habit of writing. I know that blogging is a thing that's far past its heyday, but I never totally stopped. Mostly, before this challenge, I've blogged only about books, with occasional political, religious, or social rants thrown in. I wanted to go deeper than that, to have the experience again of sitting down with the goal to write something, to shape it and edit it and give it some breathing space. To work with words on a regular basis.
I feel like I began to accomplish my goal (which is really about reconnecting to my writerly self, in an attempt to figure out who I want to be as I get closer to the empty-nest phase of life), and that I learned some things, so I thought I'd share them here, mostly so I can remember, but also so I can use what I learned to keep moving forward in my writing journey.
1. I like having an audience. I understand it was part of the challenge, but holy cow: getting comments consistently on my posts was awesome. It made the world feel smaller, in a friendly way. Being heard is pretty amazing.
How I can use that: I have been thinking for awhile now that I need to find a writing group. Honestly, I have no idea how to do that, and probably it will continue to be unlikely until COVID is more under control, but I am putting this out into the Universe: I want to find some like-minded people to share my writing with.
2. Blogging takes time. Many mornings I started the day with a warm cuppa and writing my blog post. I'd look up and the beverage was gone (or gone cold) and an hour had passed.
Often this would make me feel a bit anxious. One of my current struggles is feeling like I have worth and that I contribute. This comes from the huge imbalance between what I make working as a librarian and what my husband makes working in tech world. Let's face it: librarian is not a high-paying career. I can only work at my job because my husband's job supports us. Logically I know that I contribute, but emotionally? Emotionally, lately, I cannot feel that. Which is tied up in being at this place where I only have one teenager, and while of course I still take care of him, there is far less active mothering to be done. If I'm not contributing much to the family finances, and if I'm not, you know, housewifing or mothering, then...it feels like I'm adding nothing. So often, after writing and posting, I'd clean the bathrooms or do some laundry or start planning dinner, just so I could feel like I had done something measurable.
How I can use that: In reality, this is a new iteration of the same feeling. I've always understood that being financially successful as a writer is even more elusive than being critically successful. It doesn't help that I'm married to a person who sees money as a huge proof of a person's value. I have always wanted to be a writer but I haven't ever, really, had the confidence to pursue it with my whole heart. I mean, if I don't feel like I am a person of value within my family, how can I feel like my writing work would be embraced by anyone who isn't required, by marriage or genetics, to love it?
I just...I just want to find the mental courage to say "fuck it." (sorry for the language.) To not care about what other people think of me, and to pursue my dream without guilt.
Guilt is holding me back. Perhaps exploring that will help me to cast it off.
3. Blogging and writing are different. I mean, clearly: blogging is a form of writing. But it is easy satisfaction. You write your blog post, you polish it up a bit, you try to find a photo that works. You click "POST" and voila: your words are out into the world. No one but me determines what is "publishable."
This blog post is the 1682nd one I've written since fall of 2005. With varying degrees of success, I try to keep my blog posts around 1000-1200 words. If an average-length novel has 100,000 words, I've written roughly 15 novels. 1.5 million words.
But only on my blog.
Early on in my blogging journey, a commenter told me that a writing professor she was taking a class from told her that blogging can become an excuse for not actually writing. I thought blogging would be a stepping stone to other writing opportunities, and I know for some people it is. For me, it hasn't.
How I can use that: do the work. Do the work, which is hard. Face rejection. Find places to submit. Sit with the discomfort of whatever story I want to tell—the goddess locked in the mountain, the baby in the cave, the three-voice story about motherhood, the LDS vampire, the zombie story that is really about fire—rather than giving up and never finishing.
Do the work.
Does that mean I will stop blogging? I don't think so. However, I do think when I have an idea for something to write about, I need to pause and ask myself: what do I want to do with this idea? Do I want to share it right now in a social media setting? Or do I want to be more ambitious? I think there is room for both.
How childish grown men could be, in a way women never were, not in Maddie's experience. Sullen and grumpy, still playing by the sandlot rules, obsessed with fairness and stature. Of course women cared about stature, too, but they learned early to surrender any idea that life was a series of fair exchanges. A girl discovered almost in the cradle that things would never be fair.
Every year, I try to read at least one book that is outside my usual choices. I am not devoted to any one specific genre; when someone asks me what my favorite kind of book is, I usually answer "the well-written kind." I'll read in any genre of fiction, really, so long as the writing style works for me, and honestly: there are fewer books in some genres that fulfill my "I love this writing!" need. Often, the goal of much genre fiction is to meet the requirements of the genre, which are less about writing style and more about plot.
(I rewrote that last paragraph several times because I don't want to sound pedantic or uppity. One of the things I've learned well and truly as a librarian is that there are types of books for everyone, and you get to decide what works for you. I just have a specific taste that works for me.)
So, just to keep myself a more well-rounded reader and librarian, I often try to hustle up a mainstream genre book that doesn't drive me bonkers. I like doing this because I've found many books I ended up really loving. I still am not a fan of meets-all-the-checkboxes genre fiction, but if the book breaks the rules a bit, I'm happy. (For example, I don't love most romances but The Time Traveler's Wife, a very romantic book, is one of my favorite novels.)
Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman was my recent attempt at genre fiction. The reviews made it seem like a mystery/thriller/historical fiction combo. I don't love mystery series that have the same detective figuring out cases, but I do enjoy a mystery that explores something more than just "who done it." The Booklist review, which says the book includes " a Greek chorus–like assembly of voices, some fictional, some historical (including former Baltimore Oriole Paul Blair and Violet Wilson Whyte, the first black person to be appointed to the city's police force), who add texture to the portrayal of the city's racial politics," sold me. (I thought it would be like an adult version of Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind them All, as one of the voices is the murdered women's.)
It tells the story of Maddie Schwartz, who at 37 decides to divorce her husband, leave her big house in the Baltimore suburbs, and explore who she really wants to be. She gets a job at a newspaper, working as a sort of assistant, and discovers she likes the world of newspapers, even if getting any sort of recognition, as a woman in the 1960s, is difficult. She becomes a little bit obsessed with discovering, and hopefully reporting on, who murdered a young Black woman, Cleo Sherwood, whose body was found in a lake.
I think it's important to remember, when considering my response, that I chose this book because it seemed like it would fit my genre-but-not-too-genre expectations. I'm just not really sure how to label Lady in the Lake. It wasn't super thrilling in the sense that I was never on the edge of my seat, heart pounding, worried that a character was about to die. And as for the mystery, the way it is solved eventually has nothing to do with Maddie, other than that it helps her finally start to be seen as a reporter. There is a twist at the end that I didn't see coming, but it was explained so swiftly that I didn't really get to fall inside it, if that makes sense.
That said, I did enjoy this novel. The mystery and the thriller-ness really are the backstory; really, the story is about Maddie trying to figure out what type of person she is, now that she is divorced. She bumps into the social restrictions of her gender, religion, and status, and has to figure out what is worth trying to push over and what she has to live with. How does she negotiate the world in her divorcee status, especially since her son really wants nothing to do with her, so in a sense she is also not a mother? What does she like, what does she not want to engage in, how does she want to be within her newly-made freedom? She is a very different type of woman than I am, the kind of beautiful woman who knows how to flirt and how to use her beauty to get men to do what she wants, but her struggles with her self-identity are something I deeply, deeply relate to.
And Booklist got it right for me. That chorus of Greek voices, which are interspersed with the chapters telling Maddie's story, made this a book that didn't just tell the story, it played with how the story was told, and I loved that.
I'm actually not sure if this book even meets my "read some decent genre fiction" goal. It's more literary that most mysteries, but not really literary. And I felt like the ending just sort of...petered out. I'm glad I read it, but I'm not sure it will stick with me as other books have.
About a week ago, Kendell and I somehow came to the decision that we should switch rooms. He’d move into the smaller, darker bedroom for his office and I’d get the brighter, bigger room for my crafty space. We’d previously thought my current table/bookshelf setup wouldn’t fit in that room (which is bigger but only has three walls because the fourth has a built-in bookshelf). I’m not 100% sure what sparked our conversation, but it got to a point where I said “well, it must be nice to be hanging out in here with all this light,” which is funny because Kendell likes a darker room than I do. We started measuring and figured out that yep, we could make it work.
Thus engendering this mess:
I decided that I only want to move what I am actually going to use. (You can read more of how I am choosing what to keep on THIS POST.) Kendell thought this would just take a couple of days but, alas, no. I am seriously pondering every piece of paper and package of stickers. I’ve got eight different give-this-to-this-person piles going. I’ve thrown away dried-out rub-on packages (I honestly don’t think I will ever buy a rub-on again because they definitely have a shelf life, which makes me wonder how long they will actually stay rubbed on to layouts), alphabet stickers with so few random letters left I couldn’t spell anything at all, many duplicate photos, and several half-finished mini albums I’d made for scrapbooking assignments (in the long-ago days when I had scrapbooking assignments).
I started by cleaning off my main table and then going around the room clockwise so I ended up with my closet full of product drawers. I have most of my supplies organized by color, the rest by theme. Five days later, I am almost through with that closet (about six drawers to go). I intend on finishing the drawers tomorrow and then I will start actually moving stuff from one room to another.
This is not the first time I’ve gotten rid of scrapbooking supplies or moved my crafty space. (I’ve actually had my stuff set up in each of our bedrooms at different times since we’ve lived in this house; my favorite room is the one I’m returning to because all of the kids slept there as babies, at one point or another, and it makes me happy to be in the same space their baby breaths lived.) So I know it can be a learning process, and I wanted to write down a few things I have learned so far.
- There are supplies I buy a lot of but use rarely. Namely, black foam alphas, white foam alphas, and anything green. Even though I set myself the goal of getting rid of stuff I don’t actually use, I kept most of these because I still know how I will use them, and it isn’t on imaginary layouts I might never get to create, but on specific topics I just haven’t done much. (This also applies to the baby boy drawer...I have very, very slowly scrapbooked Kaleb’s baby year. Not because I don’t want to, or don’t enjoy baby pages, but because I love them so much that if I hurry up and do them all, I won’t have any left to make. Please note the contrast between not wanting to “hurry up” and Kaleb’s age...he’s almost 16.)
- There are some photos I’m a little bit afraid to scrapbook. Not the topics themselves, but the photos. Namely: pictures from hiking and pictures from southern Utah. When the photos are of gorgeous places, what products do you use so as to add rather than detract from the gorgeousness of the location? (This is why I have all of those unused green products, by the way. Because they’d be great—I think!—with hiking photos.) Also, travel in general. I’ve done some awesome trips over the past decade but have made almost zero layouts about any of them.
- I had supplies grouped in awkward ways that made it harder to find things. One drawer with travel andbeach and summer was overwhelming to find anything in. (And only in my mind do birthday, Easter, and sports supplies go in the same drawer!) So I eliminated some categories and combined others and came up with new categories. Which means I’ve also gathered travel memorabilia and notes from random spots and put them all in the travel drawer with the travel supplies. I also have a drawer of hiking supplies, which I didn’t think I could do as not many manufacturers actually make many hiking-themed supplies, aside from a random hiking boot here and there. But I guess I’ve accumulated what has been made.
- My scrapbooking approach must change as my life changes. I’ve mostly caught up with Christmas layouts, for example, so I really do not need the massive amount of Christmas supplies I’ve accumulated. Same with Halloween. I still have a ton of untold stories about my kids, but if I stopped scrapbooking tomorrow, they would all have a lot of tidbits of their life recorded. I think it is OK if I also scrap more about myself at this point. (While still telling their stories as well.)
- It is impossible to discard any Basic Grey supply. I’ve tried. I just put them back. So pretty, so unique, and now completely irreplaceable. (RIP Basic Grey)
As I have gone through this process—which I am calling a cull rather than a purge because it feels more positive—I have had some self-castigation. I’ve definitely overspent. (Don’t tell my husband I said that. I will deny it to my dying day.) But I’ve also remembered some really cool stuff I have and should USE.
I’m excited to see how my new space comes together and to start scrapbooking (and quilting! but that’s a different post) with my supplies that feel enlivened by the reduction.
"she thinks of the ways people make for themselves when there are none, the impossible things they render possible."
Once upon a time there were four sisters.
This is not a book review, not really. I mean—it is about a book, The Once and Future Witches by Alix Harrow, which is the story of three sisters, Beatrice, Agnes, and James Eastwood. It is a mix of fairy tale and witch tale and historical fiction. Set on the eastern seaboard—a fantastical Massachusetts near the end of the 19th century as women fight for their voting rights—the plot combines the suffragette movement with witchcraft. I could write about the writing, about the skill with which the story is told, about how I loved being immersed in this world and so I read it slowly, picking it up and putting it down so as to stretch out the time I had with the sisters in the story.
I loved the book. I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in history, women’s power, or just a damn fine story, well-told.
But I also had to put it down often because it was rubbing on some of my sore spots.
Once upon a time there were four sisters.
That was my identity growing up: one of the four Allman sisters. As long as I can remember, I’ve been drawn to books about sisters. It was one of the reasons I loved Little Women so much: four sisters taking care of each other. However. I don’t think I could put it into words then, but now I can see more clearly that while we were four sisters, growing up in the same house, we weren’t united like the March sisters. We fought a lot, both with each other and for our mom’s approval, and when I think about myself as a child, I see myself alone. People near me, but not truly connected. In the same house but neither truly seeing my sisters nor being seen by them.
Once upon a time, there were four sisters, but not really.
It is hard to tell the stories of our fracturing. Because even if they couldn’t see me and I couldn’t see them, we still made bonds. They were based on memories from childhood, and then on being mothers ourselves, and on the shared histories of family parties. Conflict grew uglier, because of stories that aren’t mine to tell, and for a long time while we still had the four of us, there were really only three of us sisters making connections.
Once upon a time there were three sisters and a shadow fourth.
The three of us seemed close. We travelled together. We asked for advice. We spent time with each other. We tried to take care of our mother when she got sick, to varying levels of her approval. When she died, we took care of her possessions.
But life had other stories to tell us. We had to learn, as Juniper and Amaranth and Belladonna do, that the damage which tears the most is the sort done to you by someone you love and trust. June tells a fairytale story about their story, "In stories, things come in threes: riddles and chances, wrongs and wishes." She then lists the three points, the turns in the story that changed everything. If I told you them I would spoil the book for you, so I won't, but it doesn't matter because I think she gets it wrong. The real start of the story, and the one that they go back to over and over, is the first damage, the first breaking, the first time they betrayed each other. That the betrayal happened because of their abusive father's actions matters, of course. But really—in the novel, in life—there are two points, not three: the way they break each other, the way they repair each other.
Right now my sister relationship is broken. As before, the story bent because ugly words were strewn and secrets were spoken, because of the way one damage sparks more and more destruction. Because there is no spell that can undo any of it.
So reading the stories of Belladonna, Amaranth, and Juniper (these are their “mother names,” middle names that are somewhat secret) kind of broke my heart a little. Because they were fractured too, their relationship made complicated by the actions of abusive men. They had to learn to trust each other again. They had to learn that sometimes the decision one sister makes feels like betrayal to another, while it was really that the sister needed to save herself because this time no one else could. They had to learn all over again how to talk, what to accept, not to judge.
As the story progresses they learn these things. Partly they learn them through magic, which their grandmother bound them with. Partly they learn by seeing what happens when they are together. Partly through having one common enemy. Partly by discovering their individual wounds grew smaller in the largess of their connectedness.
I don’t have a magical binding from my grandmother. I don’t know how to make new connections. I don’t know how to fix things—actually, what I know is that it isn’t my problem to fix. My issue is learning to deal with having fewer connections than I used to. So when the Eastwood sisters figured things out between them and started repairing their relationship, I teared up. When Bella writes that magic will continue because it will be passed from mother to daughter, from sister to sister, from aunt to niece, I put the book down. When you are a sister you are also an aunt, and I am learning how small my role really is in my nieces’ lives, and consequentially in their daughters’. I might have magic to pass but it doesn’t matter if no one is there to receive it. And I can still pass it to my own daughter, but the web of Sisters and Daughters that is built in the book tore me. I thought I had that but I don’t.
Once upon a time there were…
I don’t know how to name this place that we are at right now. Once upon a time I can be with one sister, and then at a different once upon a time I can be with the other sister, but never the three shall meet. Never the four. I cannot blame anyone as I love them all and I understand the hurting on all sides.
Once upon a time there was a...
“Never” is maybe too long of a word, and perhaps like the Eastwood sisters the story will turn again, toward healing. But I’m not sure what kind of sacrifice would have to be burned at that pyre.
Once upon a time there was a middle-aged woman who couldn’t fix her sisters.
Once upon a time there was a woman who loved her sisters.
Once upon a time there was a woman who had to rely on broken magic, and eventually, after many days of journeying, she began to learn that broken magic is all anyone has.
Once upon a time a woman learned she had to heal herself.
One of the scrapbookers who inspires me, Heba Alsabai, has a series on her Youtube channel called "Me, Myself, and I," where she makes a scrapbook that is completely about her stories, using a list of 31 prompts. I'm all in on women realizing it's important to tell our own stories. When you first start it can feel like it's conceited or weird but really, if you don't tell your stories, no one else will. There are so many things I wish I knew about my mom and my grandmothers. It is a sort of void in my psyche, honestly. And maybe there won't be a granddaughter or great granddaughter (or grandson for that matter!) who has my same need for stories about her ancestors, but if there is, I want to fill it.
In thinking about Heba's prompt list, which you can see HERE, and my own process of telling my stories, I am inspired to tell some stories I hadn't thought of. Maybe on a scrapbook layout, maybe on my blog. And since all this thinking happened around my birthday, I decided I'd do a list. Just some random bits and pieces about me right now, just for fun, like I used to do with my kids around their birthdays. Some of the prompts are from Heba’s list, some are my own ideas, but the spark came from listening to her on the Scrap Gals podcast.
Me right now, as I’m writing this post. Home from my long shift at the library. Home from getting my second Covid vaccination. I have blisters on my forearms, hamstring, and finger from spot removal at the dermatologist and another bandaid on my neck from a mole scraping. I’m wearing my newest t-shirt, which I bought from Stately Type. I couldn’t resist it because that is the old logo from Lake Powell, from the 80s, when we went to Powell every summer. It made me miss my dad.
My favorite donut: a chocolate old-fashioned from Daylight Donuts. Almost any old-fashioned donut, really, but the Daylight ones are the. best.!
Silly things I say are my love languages: getting cards in the mail, sending cards in the mail, photographs, baking.
My actual love language: None of the five love languages in Gary Chapman's book really feel like mine. Like, I love getting gifts but I don't need them to feel loved, and none of the rest fit me either. My love language is, I think, being seen and appreciated for who I am. I don't know for sure if that is unique to me or if, when you boil it down, that's everyone's basic need.
Something I miss: The Exponent II Facebook group. It kind of imploded over issues of intersectionality. It was the perfect place for me because it's far less intense on vitriol than other post-Mo spaces are. I don't want to be angry and hateful while I work through this process (although I understand the anger and the hatred) and I miss having a place I could engage in discussion with people who understood and didn't judge me.
Something everyone seems to care about except me: The British royals. Just don't care about the lives, even the actual struggles, of these powerful, wealthy people. Not when the vast majority of the world is also struggling, but without the wealth and power.
Something contradictory about me: I love poetry but I cannot stand novels in verse.
Something random that makes me happy: getting packages in the mail.
Thoughts about what I am reading right now: I'm about 75% through The Once and Future Witches by Alix Harrow. I LOVE the story, the characters, the setting, the time period, the main conflict. But, a story based on three sisters who don't understand each other has hit too close to home so I delve in and then I have to scurry out again...
Thoughts about the audio book I am listening to right now: Recollections of my Non-Existence be Rebecca Solnit. I LOVE AND ADORE everything Rebecca Solnit writes. A favorite quote from this book, which is a memoir about the experience of being a woman in contemporary America:
"I remember once looking at the Pacific Ocean, to which I often reverted in trouble, and thinking 'everything was my mother but my mother.' Books were my mother, coastlines, running water and landscapes, trees and the flight of birds, zazen and zendos, quiet and cellos, reading and writing, bookstores and familiar views and routines, the changing evening sky, cooking and baking, walking and discovering, rhythms and blues, friends and interior spaces and all forms of kindness, of which there has been more and more as time goes by."
However, I don't love her actual voice reading the audio, which in turn makes me not love my own opinion because I love her writing so much...
What my friendships look like right now: Lots of messaging. After getting my second COVID-19 vaccination today and so in a few more days (OK, 2 weeks) I'll feel safer about meeting up with friends. But probably will still want to be outside with them. But I can't wait to do something in person with Wendy, Julie, Chris, Becky, Cindy and many others!
A song I love: When I upgraded my phone this winter, my music app stopped playing WMA files. I have yet to figure out a different app (please note that YES I am that old-fashioned person who listens to music she actually owns, rather than via streaming service) so right now I just shuffle all the songs on my phone and it's playing music I have forgotten about. (Don't you think "shuffle" should be fairly random? And yet, it isn't. I think it circles through the same 100 songs or so, and ignores the other 357 tracks.) A few in particular: "Never Stop" by Echo and the Bunnymen, "When the Stars Go Blue" by The Corrs and Bono, "Nothing's Wrong" by Echosmith, and "I Found Out" by The Head and the Heart.
Books I currently have checked out from the library: The Once and Future Witches • We Run the Tides • The Lady in the Lake (I am actually halfway through this, but I put it down to read OAFW, but then I haven't picked it up again) • On the Way Out, Turn Off the Light: Poems • The Witch's Heart • The Charmed Wife • Kate in Waiting • The Dictionary of Lost Words.
Books on the hold shelf waiting for me to bring home and add to my pile of library books: The Nine Lives of Rose Napolitano • Sharks in the Time of Saviors
Something my husband and I argue about: How many books I have checked out and scattered around the house.
What I am making right now: Four baby quilts in various stages. I can feel them tugging at me, wishing to be finished, but right now I am in the middle of moving into a different room for my crafty space so they will have to wait. One baby is five months old now...is that too old for me to give it to her?
Something I've recently finished: This layout with some pretty bad cell phone pics from 2013:
and this hot pad, which I made for Haley's birthday:
(I am still fairly new at doing paper piecing. This was REALLY fun to put together but involved some seam ripping as paper piecing requires you to think backward and my brain is still learning the tricks.)
Something I need to buy: A pair of shoes with stiff soles that I can wear to work. I'm currently wearing my hiking boots to work to support my healing toes but I don't think I won't need such support for awhile.
Something I have too many of: Shoes I can no longer wear. I've actually never been a "pointy-toe high heels" kind of girl. I like thick stacked heels and open toes, but I do have a few pair of high heels I just won't put on my feet again after my surgery.
Something I'm finding ironic: red-hued politicians who simultaneously ban books and decry the "cancellation" of Dr. Seuss.
My current favorite treat: latte truffles from Lindt
A suggestion for better writing that I clearly can’t follow: Brevity is the soul of wit.
Tell me something random about you right now!
When my kids were newborns, I cried a lot. I would look at them, their tiny toes and perfect skin, their unscarred-by-the-world innocent smiles, and cry. I loved the experience of mothering my babies, and I knew it would be fleeting, that the tininess and the gentleness would end. I wanted to hold on to them, to make them stay forever small, but at the same time I wanted to know them, to speak to them, to listen to the story of their day, to bake them their favorite cake.
I was so happy in those sweet, blissful moments, even with the diapers and the spit up and the exhaustion. The clean-baby smell, the long hours spent just rocking or holding a tiny human, singing Yaz songs to them quietly in my awful voice. I loved them so much and I wanted to protect them and I knew I couldn’t, not fully, not completely, because they were here to grow up and become a part of the world, the world that would need them but also sometimes harm them. I knew they would have their hearts broken and be betrayed, that they would have illnesses and broken bones and all sorts of struggles. I knew that life, no matter how good, also holds difficulties. We can’t be human without them and yet I wanted to keep them away from every type of pain and damage.
My mom told me it was just hormones and I would stop crying eventually.
And sort of, I did. I learned that there is joy in all of the phases of parenting. It’s never the same as that first rush of newborn love, but that is just fine. There are a million different types of love you are blessed to feel as a mom.
But even as I loved each phase, I still, in the moment of it, was deeply aware that it wouldn’t last. This joy—the magic of her reading her first words out loud, his absolute bliss the first time he ran across the beach toward the ocean, the pride infusing his whole body as he managed to ride his bike without wobbling, his concentrated admiration of an orange flower as he struggled to balance in the green grass. At each good moment I still felt the tug, that same sorrow right in the middle of happiness.
I don’t know if there is a word for this feeling: The awareness, while in the middle of happiness, that the happiness itself is ephemeral, so that part of the happiness is always a deep sadness over its ending.
I don’t know if everyone feels that, even.
But it is a feeling I have had ever since they first put my daughter Haley into my arms.
Yesterday was Haley’s 26th birthday. We got an email from our health insurance company letting us know that a life event had happened to change our policy: she aged out.
And I confess: It made me cry. That same kind of crying that I did when she was a newborn, barely seven pounds, and I was terrified I would do everything wrong but I knew I loved her too much to ever make any mistakes and I would do whatever it took to protect her all her life.
All her life. Pediatrician visits and immunizations. Broken bones. Eye doctor and the dentist. The dermatologist for her plantar warts. Stitches. Physical therapy for her shin splints. All the way up to adult medical needs: I’ve taken care of that, taken care of her in those ways, for every day of her life.
And now she’s on her own.
The feeling is the same, but my understanding of it is different. When they were newborns, the feeling was about them being newborns. Now they are adults, the feeling is about them being newborns and toddlers and schoolkids and teenagers and who they are right now. The feeling is about knowing the feeling will never go away and that I wouldn't want it to.
Right in the midst of birthday happiness, of taking the day to think about all of the things she has accomplished and the good things that are happening in her life, I was reminded there is no holding on to any moment. Time just keeps passing. All we have is now, and now is infinitely precious because in a second it will be replaced by another now.
One of the hardest things for me in the immediate aftermath of my mom’s death was trying to decide what to do with her fabric collection.
It’s hard to even put into words how much fabric she has accumulated over a lifetime of sewing. Maybe 2000 yards. It filled the entire family room in the basement. And so much of it was just her, her personality in cotton. (For example, in all of those yards and yards, there were only five or six small pieces of grey. She did not like grey!) I know exactly how that feels, when you’re standing in the fabric store and you find a piece that speaks to you, and so you buy it and bring it home and then…add it to the pile of other pieces that also spoke to you. You intended to do something fun with it, but there are only so many quilts one can make in a lifetime.
The supplies of your craft are creative sparks, and we want to have them because they speak to our unique creative vision.
The reason it was painful was that it felt like giving away (or in some cases, tossing) parts of her, not just some fabric. She had plans for all of that yardage, and so there was a part of her connected to it. And so not keeping it all felt like a betrayal or a rejection of her.
I hope not to leave something like that for my own kids to deal with.
I’m actually pretty good with my fabric. I mean, I do buy things just because they “speak” to me, but I try to keep my collection small.
But my scrapbook supplies are another story entirely.
I’ve been scrapbooking since 1996, when the only companies were The Paper Patch and Creative Memories. I have a clear memory of the first patterned paper I bought that didn’t have a white background (it was by Keeping Memories Alive). I remember American Craft’s first line. I actually still own some of SEI’s first line, which was revolutionary in its use of simple lines and color blocking.
Twenty five years of scrapbooking means I’ve had 25 years to buy things. Things I love, things that speak to me. Things that I might use somewhere. Things that were a great price.
Over those years, I have honed my purchasing habits. I know what I never use (chipboard, metal, anything pokey or stiff or bulky) and what I use with regularity (alphabet stickers, small puffy stickers but only the ones that are squishy, white cardstock). I have also purged my supplies often.
Kendell and I were talking yesterday and I was complaining about the lack of light in my current crafty room. The room he uses for his work-from-home office has two windows and is bright and airy, and I’m not really sure why but we thought it wouldn’t work to set up my office in that room. But we got out the measuring tape and figured it out, so soon we are going to switch rooms.
And I am going to take that opportunity to purge. Brutally, viciously purge. Streamline. Make my space more functional because there are fewer supplies.
So far, I have purged with this rule: I can only keep what I LOVE and ADORE. If I’m kind of iffy about a supply, or if my tastes have changed, out it goes. Since I have kept up with that, I do truly love & adore what I have.
But I also know that I have way too much stuff.
Like my mom’s fabric horde, my scrapbook supplies have become a sort of drain on my creativity. It’s overwhelming to delve into all of the stuff, so I’ve gotten into the habit of using my newest supplies (which is great!) instead of mixing in what I already have.
I think I need a new purging rule. I think I must ask myself this question:
What will I actually use this for?
This makes me think of my drawer of floral papers. I love floral papers. But. I have mostly sons. And many of my daughter’s photos have already been scrapbooked. So while I do love & adore them, I rarely actually use them.
Answering that question might be painful, honestly. Because what comes to mind, often, when I fall in love with a piece of patterned paper or some floral die cuts, is what I could use it for. Photos I’ve already scrapped. Pictures I never took. Imaginary, in-the-future photo shoots.
Saying “I love this floral patterned paper” is one thing. Knowing—knowing for real, not just imagining—where I really will use it is another thing altogether. It’s like, if I get rid of a sheet of stickers that I could use on a layout about, say, a future grandchild, I am eliminating the possibility of that future person.
And it’s also difficult because it is like my mother’s fabric: taken as a whole collection, my scrapbook supplies say something about my personality. My tastes & interests & favorites, even the things I don’t really like much. (You’ll find almost no red in my supplies, for example, as it’s just not a color I use much except for Christmas layouts.)
But I also know it’s time. All of these beautiful supplies really are beautiful, but they are holding me back. The combined weight of it all limits my ability to move dynamically. So I am giving myself both an assignment and a permission slip: let go, because it is OK to do so.
February 14, 2019.
My husband asked me the other day if I remembered the last time he went into the office to work, and I replied immediately: February 14, 2019.
He said “how can you remember that date for sure? It was two years ago!”
I remember because it was the last time I felt truly unrestricted and free.
This is one of my life’s main conflicts right now. After working for two decades in a job that supported our family but was frustrating and unfulfilling, my husband has a job that he loves. He gets raises and feels valued and we don’t have to live with the constant fear of him being laid off. A huge perk for him in this job is that he can work from home. (Even before the pandemic and shut downs he was working from home.) This means no commute in traffic (he hates traffic) and when he has a break in calls he can do stuff around the house.
He is much happier in this job than he was in his old one.
While I am…I can’t push it all the way to “miserable,” but I am less happy.
My whole life I have thrived when I had solitude. Even as a teenager with a large friend group, my happiest times were when I was alone in my bedroom. As a mom, I structured my days around solitude. Maybe it sounds selfish, but I wasn’t the mom who scurried to clean the house only when the baby was napping. I needed their nap times, then their preschool afternoons, to recharge myself. To be alone and to do something I love in solitude. (Reading, scrapbooking, quilting. Oddly enough, I don’t need solitude or quiet for writing.)
This is something I love: no one at home but me, the house already clean, maybe a load of laundry running. Time alone in my house, making something.
Oh, that solitude.
It is like the feeling that comes when you’ve hiked for a long time on a hot day, and you get to a stream of ice-cold, snow-fed water. You take your shoes off and plunge your feet into the water, and you almost want to weep as the coldness travels through your body. It is a quiet, rejuvenating pause.
Being around other people all the time makes my brain feel hot and overworked. It makes me wilt.
Solitude revives me.
It’s not really that Kendell is doing anything annoying while he works. He rarely says “maybe you should clean the kitchen” or anything like that. (To be fair, this is because I have carefully, and sometimes angrily, taught him that he is not my boss.) It’s just that he’s here, in the same space as me.
It’s a tug. A constant awareness of someone else here.
It makes me feel an almost physical response. It’s a sort of low-grade anger that’s always there. It would calm down if I could just be alone but since I’m not it never gets a chance to sizzle out. It is also based on guilt, and my flawed sense of self-worth, and the indoctrination of how women are “supposed” to be. It doesn’t help much that Kendell is not an introvert. He doesn’t need a lot of people around, but having people around doesn’t tug at his energy sources. He doesn’t understand my need at all.
Then the pandemic started. Jake worked from home, Kaleb did school at home. Not only was I never alone, there were two more people here all the time. The tugging was never-ending.
(At this point I feel I should clarify: I love my people. I love spending time with them. I love taking care of them. I also just need time to myself.)
So what do I do with this situation? When Kendell didn’t work at home, he was unhappy. Now he’s happier, but I am less happy. How do we find equilibrium?
Some of it has come by me learning to adjust. Part of it has been Kendell learning not to take it personally. Most of it still weighs on me.
For more than a year, I haven’t really had a choice. This is just how it is, people working at home and there is always someone here.
But dare I confess that I hope it will change in the future? Maybe when the offices open back up. Maybe when we move.
Today, Kendell, Jake, and Nathan are hiking. I would’ve gone if my foot allowed it, but it doesn’t. So I’m happy to stay home. Kaleb is here, but he’s sleeping. And for a minute, even for a couple of hours, I will have solitude. My feet are tingling with the chill and it’s starting to work its way up to my overheated heart, to my scorching brain. My lungs are filling up with air and I can breath for real again.
One of my goals this year is to share my every day joys on Saturdays. I just pay attention to the things that make me happy, watch for some sort of photo op (I try to not have it be a selfie) and then post a list on Instagram at the end of the day. (You can follow me on Insta! amylsorensen )
But of course there are happy things that happen all the time, so just because, today I’m making a list of some random stuff that made me smile, laugh, or feel happiness in some form during the past week.
- It rained! And rained some more! It’s actually been really chilly for last week, so no warm afternoons spent reading in sunlight, but I will always be happy when it rains here. It also snowed in the mountains and if I could I would be up there hiking in the last of the powder.
- Speaking of rain. Yesterday it was raining, and slowly turning to snow, and I looked out my window when something caught my eye. (Had to lower my reading glasses to understand what I was seeing!) There was a guy on my neighbor’s roof. Washing windows—in the rain. “Like a man washing windows in a rainstorm” feels like a line from a poem to me.
- Cooking with Jake. I made a roast on Tuesday and since I worked that afternoon, he peeled the potatoes for me. Then he hung out and made biscuits while I made the gravy. We listened to his playlist and talked a bit and it was just…nice.
- On Sunday I was pondering what to make for dinner and I was like… “it’s going to cause an argument but I really want spaghetti with red sauce so that is what I am going to make.” (Kendell doesn’t like spaghetti, even though I make a scrumptious red sauce, but it is my favorite meal and yes, we have had several arguments during our marriage over spaghetti.) And just as I was finishing the sauce, Nathan walked in! He had his Guard weekend so I didn’t think I’d see him, but he surprised me. And then I surprised him with perfectly-timed spaghetti! (He does not share his dad’s spaghetti opinions.) After eating (kind of a late lunch because no one had eaten anything yet), he took a long nap in my bed and it just made me happy. Happy to have him home and to be able to take care of him.
- Sharing poems on Facebook for National Poetry month. Almost no one responds with comments but I still like the thought that I'm putting poems out into the world.
- Nathan sending me pics of his drawings. And a good, long phone call with him.
- The social media trend I’ve been seeing here and there (I don’t know if it’s even a trend) of writing a poem with the titles of the last books you read. I am totally working on mine!
- A few days ago, the city I work for posted on Facebook the requirement to still wear a mask in all city buildings. Holy cow. I thought the anti-mask crazies had found some sanity, but apparently they’ve just been being quiet because there is a bunch of vitriol in that thread. I posted my thanks to the city for protecting its employees and things got ugly. But Haley waded in and started arguing in my defense. (I can’t really say much, as a city employee, even though I have some strong opinions.) My daughter kicking ass and counting names for me? Ummmm. So good.
- I took Kaleb to get dinner one night at KFC. We had to wait a bit for his order and so we just hung out in the car and talked. He makes me laugh.
- I drove! First time since January. It felt weird at first but muscle memory is a thing. SO NICE to have my independence back!
- At PT this morning, the tech told me he used to play a game with his dad, trying to be the first to say who sang whatever song came on the radio. So for the rest of the appointment I called him out on songs. I was a bit disappointed he didn’t know Prince or Michael Jackson (and it made me feel old) but it was the first time I’ve really laughed during PT, so that was great.
- Listening to Kendell’s story about his first trip back to the (newly remodeled) gym. There’s a slide and an uphill ramp and let’s just say neither of those were great for his 50-something body…
- I finally got the quilts that have been waiting to be sandwiched pinned together. The pinning did not make me smile. (That is my least-favorite step of quilting. I actually detest that step.) But having them pinned did! And I started quilting one.
- My audio book was making me so happy. I have been listening to N. K. Jemisin’s “Broken Earth” series because I never read the third one and I decided I want to, but I couldn’t remember enough details. So I’ve been listening and oh my. They are so good. I mean…a world with a community that lives in a giant geode? God, she’s brilliant. Sewing and listening to audio books is just a little piece of peaceful nirvana. BUT THEN. I have only about 90 minutes left in the second book, The Obelisk Gate, and my check out expired! NINTY MINUTES. And now I’m #13 on the hold list. I mean, I own the actual book. I could just finish it. But I was so enjoying listening to it!
- I cooked dinner. I cleaned the kitchen. I did laundry. I vacuumed. None of which usually find themselves on my happiness lists…but having not been able to take care of anything much lately, it did make me really happy. To just walk around my house on my own two feet and do all of the normal things.
What made you happy this week?
I read two different pieces of writing yesterday that have been working in me. Here’s the first one:
I confessed that I had a burning desire to be excellent but no faith that I could be. Martha said to me, very quietly, “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open.”
This comes from a conversation between Agnes de Mille (a dancer who choreographed the dances in Oklahoma! and many other Broadway plays and who changed the way dance was used in drama) and Martha Graham (a dancer who revolutionized modern dance and all-around brilliant, creative soul). A writer I admire, Katherine Arden, shared it on her Instagram and I read it about twelve times yesterday morning, almost making myself late for my PT appointment. It ends with the declaration that no artist is ever, in the end, fully satisfied with her work. “There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than others.”
The second one comes from an essay I read last night at work, when I had roughly 27 minutes left before I could go home. In theory we’re not supposed to read at the desk, but sometimes you just need to. I was feeling worn out all day from my PT appointment (he worked my foot in hard but lovely ways that made me feel that it won’t always be a stiff club at the end of my ankle), but at that point I was just out, so I read for a few minutes:
She made weather, like all single peaks. She put on hats of cloud, and took them off again, and tried a different shape, and sent them all skimming off across the sky. She wore veils: around the neck, across the breast: white, silver, silver-gray, gray-blue. Her taste was impeccable. She knew the weathers that became her, and how to wear snow.
This is from an essay called “A Very Warm Mountain,” which Usula K. Le Guin wrote in 1980 about the eruption of Mount St. Helens. The essay itself is a masterclass about how a piece of writing is “about” one thing but then that thing is about everything, and if I could I would read it out loud with you and then discuss it. But what really, really hit me in the gut, what mixed with the Martha Graham words, was this small paragraph. It made me think Ursula would so understand my relationship with my mountain. She writes that of course St. Helens is a woman, but not in the way men believe, and that she is a sister, not a mother.
I have loved my mountain—Timpanogos—since before I even knew her name. And ever since I first hiked to the summit with my sister in 2006, I have carried an essay in my mind. If I had written it in 2006, when I had only hiked it once, it would’ve been much thinner than what I would write now, having summited it many times and grown intimate with its foothills and crags, its secret meadows and exposed ridges, its temperament from different directions and altitudes. Her temperament. But the basic construct would be the same, the way the local story explaining why she looks like the profile of a reclining figure, created by a white man and then labeled as Native American myth, is wrong. Of course Timp is a woman. But not only a virginal maiden pining for her lost love.
because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique
And yet, there in that essay is one of my favorite writers, exploring the same idea. Mountains as women, and how men don’t get the metaphor correct at all. And that sentence: “She knew the weathers that became her, and how to wear snow.” It is one of those sentences that fill you with both the joyous spark of something perfectly constructed and the despair that you, yourself, will never be the one to construct it. Someone else already did.
I took a little break from my April social media goals, after last week when I posted every day on Instagram (for a photo-prompt challenge) and blogged almost every day.
I started this blogging challenge because I wanted to reestablish my writing habit. A writing practice of showing up, every day. I imagined that it would help me tap in to the old feeling I used to have, when I was brimming with ideas and potential pieces. I wanted to reconnect to my writerly self, who I have carried with me every day of my adult life. Every day, in fact, since that time in April during my junior year of high school, when I tried to show up at school again, and in English class another student read a poem she’d written to the class and I realized that writing wasn’t just the thing I did in my notebooks, it was a thing that actual people did and shared with the world.
I have always, for maybe even longer than I have loved Timp, processed my world with writing. “Writer” has always been my highest aspiration. Words have always been my structure.
But here I am, almost fifty. I could tell you: I raised four children. I could say: I married a person who is wonderful but who does not understand this aspiration in any way, and that makes me feel ashamed and blanketed. I could make a story about how the words of a professor two decades ago still linger in my psyche, reminding me the odds are not in my favor.
I could explain all the many reasons I have doubts and hesitations and how they have stopped me from pursuing what I always wanted to do.
But deep down I know: they aren’t reasons. They are excuses.
The truth is, fear has stopped me. I have let fear stop me. Out of fear I built a dam and closed the channel.
I never stopped writing, not really. Even when blogs fell out of fashion I kept blogging. If you follow me on Instagram you know that my photos are mediocre but I spend a lot of time writing my caption. Before social media I wrote letters and kept a detailed journal.
I have always written.
But after I got married and started having kids, I stopped chasing my “be a writer” dream.
There was school and then there were kids and then there was unemployment and then there was teaching. There was the long decade of Kendell’s medical issues. There was my dad’s dementia and my floundering relationship with my mom. There was this messy, freeing, painful, redemptive process I am still inside of, the rebirth that is midlife. Through all of it I had the same sparks, different colors: I could write about this, I could write about this, this is how I would write about this experience…
I have sometimes written those ideas. Fewer times, I have polished and rubbed until the edges were smooth enough and I have submitted. Even fewer times have I received the “accepted” response and seen my words in print. I have written, yes, but not done what writers do, which is the work of having your work be seen by the world.
I wanted to find those sparks again. I still want to, but they are slow in returning. The dam is sturdy.
But I am finding something is different in me. I am having dreams and falling in love with images. I am putting my pen onto paper and writing, trying not to censor myself, trying to just follow where the ideas lead. I haven’t, perhaps, found my “blogging mojo” again. Maybe I won’t. But there is something moving. And o how I want to not let fear hold it still. How I want to not be constrained by the fear of how good or valuable it might be, by my feeling that my small life can’t be important enough to connect to the larger world.
I want to be like Le Guin and like all the other writers whose work has brought me joy. To leave something of myself behind that perhaps someone exhausted late at night might find, and read, and be, during the reading, lifted instead of tired.