Fall-en Goals

With the advent of fall we rearranged our rooms. With this rearrangement, came a reshifting of goals. There is something about the start of school that brings both sorrow and resolve. The languid days of summer with swimming punctuating our days gives way to flurry of pencil sharpening and uniform preps for the first day of school post labor day. 

With this surge of organizational activity I feel the urge to cleanse our house of stuff, of dormant idleness, and really an urge to move. I've moved many falls since I have been an adult so when the season of fall becomes apparent I get that itch. Instead of moving this year though, I decided to move rooms. And by rooms, every bedroom but the babies was involved. My sweet husband tolerated it, although did not feel the urge to do this. Finn's room became Kieran's room and my office. Our room became Finn and Liam's room. Liam and Ki Ki's room became ours. Did you follow that? Lots of beds were taken apart, reassembled and then taken apart again when the positioning in the room was not just so. 

During all this dusty upheaval came our kitchen farm table from the kitchen to my office/third's bedroom, where I resolved to get busy with my fall writing projects. 
Zen Desk-September light streaming in.
My nighttime view as I write...One of my sweets!

I need goals. I need the space to achieve those goals. And, I wanted to start my own schooling with the commencement of my boys schooling. The following is in no particular order, but is numbered for sanities sake--don't numbers look nice?!

  1. Writing in my notebook...make this a daily meditation. When it is not daily do not get frustrated and feel all is lost, only reopen it and write. As you once wisely said: "Your notebook will not judge you it is always there waiting for you." 
  2. Pull out past notebooks and start to piece together the hair book...daunting but necessary dragon to slay in order to move onward.
  3. Write some shorter feature essays or short stories to send out to magazines.
  4. Write some more posts for Outside.
  5. Write daily poems--or at least weekly.
  6. Recommit to the Nest!
  7. Read good books. Good reading makes for good writing.
Then life happened to me and all my above goals gave way to real life.
Wild thing... you make my heart sing...you make everything...
Wild thing...I think I love you
Doulaing for a friend who's baby would have an intricately short life, reluctantly companioning my dog, Emma, through her sickness, Peter traveling oodles (thank God he is back again), and launching Yoga Calm classes at my boys school accompanied by six stitches in my achilles, and my zen office/third's bedroom now looks like this!
Real Life Zen Desk.
But guess what, all it took was some realization that I was missing my writing. Missing the page. Missing showing up. And realizing that without writing and exercise I can not do anything else with grace and composure, it's a life line for me. And guess what, confessing to you that I was spinning in my sorrow about the previous paragraph helped! Once I got that out and heard the gentle reassuring voice that nothing is ever lost, it all comes out in it's own time I was able to unclench, open my notebook, sit at my cluttered farm desk with the seasonal-clothes-switch-out still begging me for my attention, and like Max be able to tell the baskets: "Be still! And tamed them with the magic trick"--not now I am writing!


Poem of the Day

Inspired by your 2012 project poem of the day, and your post on Power Bursts, which is totally the only way I can write these days, I share with you some of my poems of the day. Written with a call response form from my friend, Melissa, and inspired by her relationship with her children as well I give you...

Coloring and Art work by Liam call me William

Request of a friend: "There's a poem to be written about crayons...their divine capacity to both transform paper and be an inspired tool of creators....as well as their cursed presence littering floors and demanding organizational attention...Who will write this poem for me?"

Coloring and Art work by Finn
My response to a friend: "Crayons crayons crayons, waxed and papered, prim and pointed. Belaying my child's inner world brought forth on crisp white snow of paper, on walls, in their mouths so that they speak their color. Oozing reds and yellows, wax indented molars, littered crayons, with scattered peeled paper traipsing my floors, missing my trash. They scamper like mice when I graze my unassuming toe upon their forgotten presence. Evidence of a masterpiece."



Total hiccups. Damn hiccups. Interrupting speech, thoughts, dreams. Hiccups total intrusion. Upside down water glass, peanut butter, surprise scares, prayers. Hiccups damn hiccups. Holding breath holding hope hiccups. Damn hiccups be gone!


Sacred space, when analog time holds no meaning,
life suspends itself like a hammock between two rooted trees swaying in the breeze between here and there,          
between before and after,
swaying into that intimate space of the present.
When all you can do is breathe, deep breaths, shallow breaths, breaths…because no one can prepare you for the threshold you are crossing over,
they can only silently, reverently, hold your hand,
offer a gaze,
provide a subtle gesture to let you know that you do not walk alone;
the oils you were baptized with, blessed with, live in that garden of your body’s memory.
The hands that laid upon your own still lay there caressing you.
No, no one can do what your life asks of you.
They can just lay down on the tall grass next to you and sigh,
watching with you as the clouds overhead pass,
and notice as that ant climbs that blade of grass near your face, and that tall strand curves under its presence;
much like the arc of God’s arms cradles our weight in his embrace-- as we too strive to climb nearer to his heart.
And when we rise together from the summer’s green grass
and look back at the matted imprints our body’s left behind
we know we were there
in that sacred space of raw, real life that brings us to our knees
only to know what it is like to rise rooted again.
(Poem, prayer inspired by the Kiemde family written in July.)


Power Bursts

I only have a few minutes to dash off a post, my first on the Nest in ages. This is fitting, considering that I want to write about writing in short bursts, ten minutes, even five minutes. I like to think of it as a kind of interval training for creativity: Any writing time is good time.

I've always suspected that I write better under pressure but didn't fully test the theory until earlier this summer. For three weeks at Stony Lake in July, I was a solo parent while Steve was back at home in Santa Fe tending to our gardens and his clients'. I enlisted the help of a part-time babysitter several times a week and relied on my mother and sister to steal snippets of time for myself, a few minutes here and there. But other than that, I was in the thick of mothering on an island in Ontario: feeding, lifeguarding, bathing in the lake, boating to swim dates, bedtime, story time, middle-of-the-night potty breaks—all the summertime tasks of childrearing fell to me. 

This is how it had been the past four summers ever since Pippa was a newborn. The challenges of trying to manage one tiny baby—let alone two—in motorboats, around open water 24/7, were so great that it required a monumental effort just to get off the island. Needless to say, my writing took a hit. I was so worked at the end of the day, I barely had time or energy to change out of my bathing suit and comb my damp, tangled hair, let alone write any lines in my notebook. So I was expecting more of the same when we arrived at the landing on the second day of July and were ferried across to our cottage by my 12-year-old nephew Andrew. 

But, oh, how things had changed. The girls, 4 and 2, were bigger now. Maisy, who had learned to walk/teeter at the cottage last summer, was steady on her feet and—like her sister and mother, grandmother and aunt—went everywhere without shoes, hopping over the island's smooth granite rocks like her feet held their memory. She could sit unassisted in the boat now, so I didn't have to hold her on my lap or put her in her infant car seat while I drove. Pippa had learned to swim, so I could sit on the dock and watch her without having to be in the water myself—just like my mother had done for my sister and me when we were little. I knew we had to keep our eyes on her at all times around water, but it was such a relief to realize that if she fell in, she wouldn't sink to the bottom—extra energy I could put into writing, not worrying. 

I had fewer hassles, more help, and more time. I was also fresh off a silent writing retreat in France with the teacher, Natalie Goldberg, who championed 10-minute writing practice in her bestselling book, Writing Down the Bones. I knew from studying with Natalie that good writing didn't require heaps of time, just discipline and a little structure. I also knew from experience that when presented with eight hours in which to write, I will almost certainly squander half of that out of fear, procrastination, and doing useless things like shopping for cardigans online. 

So things got simpler. I settled into a routine. I put the girls to bed, and in the half an hour while I was making sure they had settled, I sat at my little green wooden writing table overlooking the lake and wrote in my notebook. Writing practice, writing my Outside blog, or writing about my day, it didn’t matter.  I wrote. If Pippa got up, I took her back to her room, and kept writing. It was writing interrupted, but it was writing. I wrote about summers I’d known and the summer that was happening right out the screen window, the summer I was living, we were all living, that minute, with loons shrilling out the window and the sun setting over Juniper Island. Later, after dinner with my parents, I’d write some more, but not on my computer. That was my rule: Powering down by 9 PM helped me sleep better. Later still, I’d climb into bed with a cup of chamomile tea and write my poem for the day. I'd read a few pages from Richard Ford’s novel, Canada, and then fall asleep to the sound of water sloshing under the dock. 

In the morning, I woke early in the bright, curtainless room above the boat house and wrote some more, before the girls woke up. My writing space consisted of a rickety table and a single bed and no doors for privacy. I wrote surrounded by the girls and their books, toys, clothes and lifejackets strewn about, and a stuffed white christening bear that sang "Jesus Loves Me" when you pushed his paw. Just like time, less space, the less stuff you have for writing, can turn out to be more.  

I carved out shards of time here and there and took them rather than bemoaning how little of it I had.  The results were obvious: I was writing much more in less time. And because of this, it was easier to  appreciate being with my girls, as they flung themselves off the front dock, raced to the store to buy penny candy after swim lessons, or sat at the old out-of-tune piano pounding the keys.

Now I suspect that this is how I write best: in pieces, snippets, found moments at the computer before bed or early in the morning before the girls wake up, or when they are just waking up, sleepy and content to sit on their beds and look at picture books. By making do with what you have, you suddenly have more of it. It’s a shift in logistics, but mostly attitude. Maybe some day I'll have more time to write my novel, but for now I'll take the time when I can get it. Who cares if it’s only 10 minutes and you think you need 100 days or 10 years to write a masterpiece? Short power intervals strengthen your creative muscles. Take the ten minutes, take the three minutes. Stop making excuses and start writing. Just write. 



Peeling Back the Onion

So I am finally coming back to our neglected blog, like a favorite novel I am dusting off. I have missed our blog, our connection here where we meet on the pages of motherhood, friendship, nurturing our creativity, our ability to be prolific, or at least intentional. Where our lives crisscross like doodled hash marks on a mindlessly drawn dinner mat, waiting for a server to deliver the meal. I miss this sacred place of intersection, and instead of talking about it, I am just plunging in and recommitting to it. 

Seamus is now 15 months old and I feel like another layer to the onion of motherhood has lifted. The first being when he hit six months and I came up from air to look around, and see that yep everyone was still there in my life after six months of gazing down at his sweet cheeks while he nursed. The next layer revealed itself when he turned one in April and I breathed a sigh of relief that yes, he made it to one, able bodied, breathing, and in his case sprinting around our house like no other boy before him had done. (The others did not attempt walking, much less running until 15 months, he had mastered it by 12. Much to my chagrin.) Now this most recent layer peeled back to reveal my oldest boy waiting for more of my attention to his creative endeavor, photography. And no coincidence, my writing presses in on me for more time, and my running pulls me out of bed before dawn, or some mornings with dawn, when previously I would have hit snooze and rolled over; I roll out.

Having a new baby, is sacred it takes you into your center. Like diving into the center of the onion, its raw, pungent, sweet nucleus, its heart, its core, and then gradually layer by layer working your way back out to its papery sheaths. Seamus’ feet still tender, have slivers from walking barefoot on my brother’s dock, they will never be that newborn raw again like last summer. And reading your Outside post, made me miss the carefree ways of summer, the way I grew up, the way I want my boys to grow up. And yet, this summer has felt heavy with humidity; with summer’s abundance juxtaposed by some friends who have had near and dear losses, and with the anomaly of our lack of travel. No Seamus’ baby feet will never be that fresh again. As I write this, Sandro Cisneros’ words from A House on Mango Street echoes in my mind, “Only a house quiet as snow, a space for myself to go, clean as paper before the poem.” Summer is about barefeet, solitude, a space for myself to go, the quiet raucous; and having a baby is about that clean fresh paper before you know the poetry they will inevitably write upon your heart.  

And so, I begin again adding another layer to the sheath.


Start Making Sense

I’m overwhelmed by the urge to post from the Nest again. It’s been months since I’ve been here, and I can’t quite say why. The easy answer is too much other work, real work, though the longer I’m away from here, the more I think that maybe this is my real work: wrestling with the balance between creativity and motherhood (or maybe there’s no “between”—if I’ve learned anything in the past couple of years, it’s that the two are completely enmeshed, symbiotic, inseparable), scrapping out a few minutes here and there to do the writing that makes me feel sane, grounded, and whole, while life in this house gets increasingly busy, messy, and unpredictable. 

What I’m realizing, though, is that I may have things backwards: Abandoning the Nest isn’t a symptom of feeling overscheduled and disconnected, it’s the cause of these feelings. I need to grapple with the inexplicable wonder and weirdness of trying to mother two girls and keep writing, in equal parts. Months can go by when I’m not thinking about it actively, but instead living it chaotically. There are birthdays, cross-country flights, road trips, powder days, Christmas cookies to bake and houseguests to entertain. This is called Getting Things Done, and it works—for a while. But it’s also pure survival mode, and as such it’s pretty reflexive and unconscious. Which after a while begins to feel foggy and dull, like having a really bad hangover. 

That’s when I know it’s time to claw my way back into the Nest and start trying to make sense of it all again. It’s not that I think I’ll ever have the answers—like, how to write a kick ass first novel and maybe also a memoir while raising two curious, compassionate, intrepid daughters and simultaneously training for an ultramarathon, nixing gluten and sugar from my diet, and being a good mate who doesn’t get too grumpy when my husband asks me to do his company’s bills. Last week, I went to Alta for a ski clinic, led by former Olympic mogul racer and big-mountain extreme skier Kristin Ulmer. She said repeatedly that the mental techniques we were learning are so infinite and universal, they're ungraspable. “I’m not asking you to understand these concepts,” she told us. “I’m asking you to be them.”

Leaving home, like I did last weekend, is fabulous for perspective (not to mention a full night’s sleep), but to do the thorny work of untangling the strands only to try to see how they might possibly fit together, I have to bring myself back to the thick of the action, where it’s all happening, right here in the Nest. 

But boy, do I fight it sometimes. Like for the last three months. I’ve developed certain depraved but effective strategies for avoiding the Nest. Mostly, I take on too much other work. I say yes to everything, so I can say to myself, “I’m so busy, I couldn’t possibly write my own stuff,” and it’s easy to justify because I’m earning money, posting stories that actually pay rather than writing for free, and what’s more important than that? Well, probably a lot of other things, but try telling that to the deep, dark heart of my resistance, which sits like a lump of ancient bedrock somewhere below my solar plexus. (“It doesn’t pay,” I told a friend a few weeks ago while we were skinning up the mountain at sunset, talking about novel writing. He replied, “Well, not money.” Point taken.)

So here I am. But coming home isn’t always pretty. For starters, there are kids to tend to at inconvenient times, when you’d rather be skiing or sleeping or writing, and mouths to feed. Some days, parenthood can feel like one long interruption. Like yesterday, when the babysitter called in sick and I held a little pity party for myself all morning, bemoaning my skills as both mother and writer while trying to corral two semi-sick girls with serious cases of cabin fever and trying to finish my Raising Rippers post for my Monday deadline. 

I did have a moment of clarity, though, amidst the lunacy: Forgiveness. My goal is to finally write my novel this year, but I have to be prepared to let go of that if the interruption called life and motherhood pulls me away. And I have to trust myself that the writing will come when the time is right. It always does. Until then, I can forgive myself—a little more every day. 

Somehow, just being in the thick of the resistance all day, not so much figuring it out as seeing it clearly, from all its unflattering angles, I broke free. When Steve came home to spell me for a couple of hours, I dragged myself out for a run; then I went for tea and 15 minutes of peace and quiet and writing at a coffee shop down the street. Then I came home and while the girls played musical instruments in the playroom, I scraped together my Monday deadline, one eye on them, one eye on the screen and my heart somewhere right in the middle. The house was a disaster, the girls were making a racket, and I was glued to the computer when I should have been with them. Lesson: Even on the most impossible days, creativity will come if I surrender to the chaos exactly as it is, suck it up, and try my best. Ah, forgiveness. It works. 

It's good to be back!

—Katie Arnold