AND AND AND



1.
“How can I help you?” That’s how I start every session with any student who walks into the writing lab. I smile. I am sincere. I want to be there. Forty-five minutes later, after fumbling through each word, pronouncing over and over again and you repeating, me finding the words to describe the word you don’t seem to grasp, sometimes drawing, sometimes miming, I am exhausted. And you? You live every day this way. I am shattered and inspired at once.

2.
It seems like most days you look at me with disgust. Is it testosterone? Is it that I don’t know how to speak to you without reminding you of something? What do we have in common? I can’t find it. I don’t like video games. You are waning on the baking. My attempts at humor and simply buying a thank you with junk food don’t even work. I don’t know. Am I losing you? I look at your broadening shoulders, searching madly for a glimpse of the sweet boy I know resides in there somewhere. Sometimes it’s like I am looking for a ghost. Was it ever real, how you’d take my hand or let me lie next to you forever reading, snuggling? I love you and I am terrified. Will you return to me?

3.
We have a bag of kale and so far it’s worked its way into four out of five meals. Mom made caramel corn this weekend. She bagged it up so each person received their own stash. It has worked its way into five out of five meals. Kale and caramel corn. The story of my life.

4.
The secret to happiness is having no expectations. Generally, I find this to be true AND I find it nearly impossible to not have expectations. Most mornings my hubby sits a steaming cup of coffee next to my bed. On the days that he does not, I am momentarily wrecked. I can also feel myself drift towards, and this is totally embarrassing, anger. I am angry someone did not hand-deliver a steaming cup of coffee to my bedroom. Jesus, girl! Get a grip! And the cornerstone of teaching, running a business, really, managing people, is to have HIGH expectations. I don’t get this and I do. I don’t understand this and I don’t. Regardless, I made my own coffee and I was sad about it.

5.
Every morning I climb back into bed after feeding the cats. I snuggle down just for me and try to write. After eating, one wanted to snuggle and I wanted to write. How can I have both? I can’t. It’s hard to write with a cat between my chest and the keyboard. I pushed him off. He was not happy. I love you and I need you to go away.

6.
I am putting too much pressure on myself for finding just the right way to celebrate my 50th birthday. It feels like a big deal to me. But there it is, it is big for me. Not to anyone else. So I want to keep the focus on me. But here is where I screw up, I skip ahead thinking I will do it wrong and feel regret. I do not want an “I wish I would have” birthday. But damnit….an after Christmas birthday sucks. It totally sucks and here’s another thing. I am the party planner. No one in my life likes to plan parties. And so, I get twisted and it’s dumb and I wish someone would just say, go away by yourself and I could forget it all. I broached this idea with my hubby.
“What if I just go somewhere alone for two days?”  
"You?" he said, "for your birthday? With no one fawn over you?"
He was right and so am I and then I am mad at myself for making something bigger than it needs to be. I am mystified by people who say, “Oh, we had dinner at home. It was not big deal” for whatever milestone birthday. How can this be? And what does it say about me that I want to mark the passage somehow? I am irritated with me AND I want what I want but, of course, I don’t know what I want so that is the trouble. And look at this? My rumination on my birthday is the longest passage yet!!

7.
It’s after 7 and I have to get ready for work. I started late because of no coffee and cat wrestling. I made this commitment to myself to do this and now I feel pressure. Jena would say some words are better than no words but I can’t stop. I don’t feel like a perfectionist and god knows, this is far from perfect, but I can do it. I can feel pressure and not stop.

8.
I stopped to take a picture of our bluffs yesterday. It was on the way into our valley and I pulled the car over and got out and walked around. The road was busy and I felt a little weird, but how many pictures have I not taken in the last week. So many! It felt good to be standing in the cold, cataloging the shades of gold and red and orange. The thing is, I love the way this land looks. And so I looked. I am happy I have the pictures. I am happy I said yes. I wanted to stay longer and I did not feel safe and it was worth it.

9.
My daughter looks strung out. Is this how almost 18-year-olds are? I am collecting poems for her. I am going to give her a book at Christmas of all the empowering words I have read in the last year. It’s my strange little hope that poetry will help her through this troubled time. I am not sure it’s worth the effort and I am hopeful that maybe there will be one phrase that stops her, helps her reframe this wonky time in her life.

10.
Everyone is up now and they are angry. I want to hide. I was just helping someone locate something and I am the wrong one. I have slunk back in here hoping to finish. I can do this and I don’t know why this is such a deal to me.

11.

It’s hard to keep promises to myself. Years of putting myself last are a well-worn path. Building new roads takes time. This is a step. It’s not easy and it’s worth it. (I did it!!!!)


Elevens: Don't Hesitate

Jena Schwartz, Promptress Queen recently lead a group of 7 women including myself through writing prompts during one of her wonderful retreats One of my favorites was her 11's Freewrite. She asked us to write 11 things starting each one with Don't Hesitate. We had 30 minutes and this was what I came up with. I read it out loud and I liked it. Maybe that sounds strange to say, but it's hard to get this writer to say when I actually like something I did. I am owning this one.




Don’t Hesitate


1.


When your husband asks you on a date, don’t hesitate. You will wonder if this will ever happen again and if he will notice the line of grey that stretches from the top of your forehead all the way along your part or the chin hair that popped up overnight. Deep down you know the answer is no and that even if he did, he would never say. After all, you choose well and it doesn’t matter because today is a new day. Unlike you, he let’s go easily. He has forgotten that you forgot to run that really important errand, the one that cost you a lot of money because you were late. He forgets. He lets go. Either way, he dresses up in jeans without holes and a flannel shirt without paint splotches. You will sit side by side on barstools each searching for words that don’t lead towards your kids. He will start by sharing a funny cat meme and you will laugh feeling grateful for saying yes. Again.


2.


When your body starts to tingle, a little alarm bell rings in your head, your pulse begins to race, and your face grows suddenly warm, don’t hesitate to back away. Say no. You’ve been here before. This place, exactly. Your body has not lied. This person, that person. They are not for you. They are not FOR you. Back away. Don’t hesitate.


3.


Don’t hesitate to take a photo. Why not take 20 pictures of the sunset? Why not stop along your walk 15 times or pull the car over suddenly because you must capture that cloud now, that riff in the sky you’ve never seen quite like that. It’s not a selfie- it’s a worldie. You want to see the world and its beauty and here’s the thing. Pain and suffering are tucked in a locked vault in your heart, your body. You carry it every day and so, the relief- the sweet joy of looking out- seeing such beauty is like none other. That moment before the click is the hit you are after. It says, “Here I am. I see”.


Click.


Don’t Hesitate.


4.
Don’t hesitate to say I love you to whomever you want however often you can Why not? Who will get hurt? The crazy lady in the cafe. I love you. The bad grocery boy who cannot seem to remember that it’s cans first, then bread. I love you! Catty workmates, annoying relatives. I love you! I do. I might not like you, but I love you. I do. Don’t hesitate.


5.


Don’t hesitate to write. To at least give it a try. So often you are clunky, without direction. But when your pen moves across the paper it takes you with it. Closer, you are getting closer to yourself. And so, do it. Keep going, don’t hesitate. Write. Now. Say yes. Don’t hesitate.


6.


Don’t hesitate to live your truth. Sometimes you like to be alone. Sometime you like to be with people. Sometimes you like to say Fuck. Sometimes only a poem will soothe your battered heart. All of it is fine. All of it is perfect. Like you. Don’t hesitate to be the complicated person that you are because fitting into one box has not yet worked so give up trying. Don’t hesitate.


7.


Don’t hesitate to listen harder. You love to talk. You love to process out loud, but don’t hesitate to shut your mouth. The teachers you’ve been looking for are all around you, but sometimes you’ve been too busy talking to take in their lessons. Be quiet. Don’t hesitate.


8.


Don’t hesitate to say you’re tired. You just need a nap, a rest, a chance to tune out. Though your body is weak, your emotional fitness is that of an Olympian. You deserve rest, too. Don’t hesitate.


9.


Don’t hesitate to let go of the inner asshole, critic, jerk who likes to trip you up with lies. You don’t do enough, aren’t thin enough, don’t contribute enough money to the family, serve your community enough. Remember how you like to say fuck? Now is a good time to say, “Fuck off inner asshole.”  Say it as much as you need to. Don’t hesitate.


10.

Don’t hesitate to notice what you feel. Those tears that rise up to overflowing, when the pit of your stomach is aching, when your heart squeezes with fear or hope or joy, pay attention. Those moments are fleeting but full of information. As they move you, notice.


11.


Don’t hesitate to follow your gut. It has lead you astray now and then but so what? Very few things are permanent. Don’t hesitate to trust that after almost 50 years, you know what you know including who you are and what feels right. It feels right to know this knowing you didn’t have before so trust it. Follow it. Don’t hesitate.

Eleven Things I Want to Say

My writing coach, Jena Schwartz, has this awesome exercise where you stop, drop and write eleven things that are on your mind in the moment you are in. I don't know what it is about this exercise, but more often than not I find some sort of flow. Today, I thought I'd share with you my Eleven Things as they occurred to me on a mild Monday afternoon.


  1. I went to Iowa to visit my parents. Over the years, my mom has created her garden the way a painter might, equal parts intention and surprise. She places eye-popping color in unlikely places to break up all the green corn and hay and grass. I miss it’s prime time most summers. I made it a point not to miss it this year. As I looked around at what her hands made happen, a woman of 72, I am amazed and humbled. What will I be doing at 72?
  2. In the span of a month, two teenagers died in separate automobile accidents. Neither was wearing a seat belt. I don’t need to know the teenagers or the parents or friends to know the anguish and the pain and the horror of getting that call. It’s the same way I don’t need to live on the border to understand the grief of watching a child being lead away from you. Pain is pain is pain. And though I don’t know, I know. My heart has been beating an irregular rhythm for months now and I can’t seem to find a way to regulate it. So I do what I always do and I pull out a pan and bowl and scan my pantry’s contents and figure out something I make while I scroll through a list of people in my life who might need something made with my hands. It solves nothing but gives my brain a way of focusing and that is something. My heart, though? It’s still wonky.
  3. There are so many flies in our kitchen. Is it the ripening fruit or the chickens or the compost or all of the above? We have the swatting hour. It’s after dinner when Big Man and Thing 2 have a contest to see how many they can get in little increments of time. I have started calling it Fly:30 in my head- the way my dad calls Beer:30 between 4 and 5 in the afternoon.
  4. We have turned off the air conditioner because we’ve had some pleasant weather. I have the stove on (see number 2) and it’s not comfortable here and in a way, I like it because I am reminded that so much of life is about discomfort and our way through it. This is minor, but I am going with it. The air is staying off for a few more days.
  5. I haven’t been writing except in my head. I wrote a gorgeous piece on the way home from Iowa. My son was in the car and I was floating in a dream of an essay when he piped up about something he was listening to on the radio- a program about a culinary arts school in Cedar Rapids. I don’t recall a thing I wrote.
  6. My husband is a hard worker. His hobbies require physical effort and his work mental. He does not have enough time to do everything he wants. I have time and accomplish very little. It’s a weird life we live.
  7. As soon as I wrote number 6, I could hear friends saying, “Oh but you do this and that and…” That wasn’t the point of my writing, just so you know. It’s a simple observation about him and me. He is a doer and I am a thinker and it’s ok.
  8. The best part of me thinking is that I do grow. I have had a few breakthroughs in my life recently and all I want to really say is when I do give things my attention, they can get better and my heart does lift and my spirit lightens and for me this validates my heavy thinking.
  9. I have spent this list trying to write away from sadness. I’ve poured myself a cup of afternoon coffee in my favorite mug and I am thinking of Zeke, the farm Corgi who gets walks each day from mom and from dad. He is chunky and long and his eyes are so bright and ears attentive most times. I recall hearing somewhere that every couple needs a third thing- something outside kids if they have them and themselves to flourish and grow. Zeke is clearly my parent’s third thing. Big Man and I have cats and drinks by the river or on the point and travel and books and politics and as our teens grow, I hope we find more third things.
  10. You may be wanting to know if I escaped sadness. Is there an escape? I’ve always believed if you are human and paying attention your heart will break every day. I have learned, at an older age than I’d like to admit that using this pain can be useful. The trick is achieving that balance of feeling to motion. Feeling to motion. Not easy
  11. A breeze just flew in off the deck and brushed a pesky fly off my typing fingers. My daughter is home (the first time in 5 weeks) and has pulled out the mixer and is staring at a recipe she got from her grandmother. I don’t think she’s sad, but she is doing. My daughter has a hard time adjusting to schedules. From all to nothing is a great challenge and she is like her dad. She is creating something and so I am I, just in different ways.