Editor’s note: Brittany and I have been friends for more than a decade. Our friendship started through this very blog and then transitioned to the holy grail of IRL. I’ve read enough of Brittany’s writing over the years to know that I love her work. So when I saw that she’d self-published a narrative chapbook of poetry, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy. Brittany graciously fulfilled my request for a signed edition and mailed it to me post-haste.
It’s always an interesting experience, reading the work of a friend. I’m a writer and editor by trade and have worked in the professional world of words for nearly 30 years. As a creativity coach, I enthusiastically applaud every passionate, whole-hearted foray into creative work—but that doesn’t mean I admire the work itself. As many of my creative friends will attest, I’m unable to say, “Wow, this is brilliant,” when I’m not of that opinion. I’m preternaturally allergic to even little white lies of artful affirmation. I don’t want to give or receive disingenuous compliments about creative work. With that nugget of context, here’s what I wrote to Brittany after receiving Courtesan:
“Brittany, your book arrived on Monday (or was it Tuesday?) and after a ridiculous work day that capped off a 55-client-hour work week, I crawled into bed with it. Granted, I was a little punchy on account of chronic fatigue, but in the dozen pages I read that night, I laughed out loud and—I know this is going to sound like I’m blowing smoke up your poopchute but it’s the truth—I wept with happiness. Some of these poems are So. Damn. Good. At one point I had to explain to Liam (11 years old, who still sleeps with me when he’s home and my man isn’t) why I was making such a racket (‘persnickety douchebaggery’ set me off). I’m bursting with pride for you, Brittany. I truly am.”
Courtesan is an anthem to the contemplative divorcée. This slim volume will delight you, hit you in all the right spots, and leave you wanting a bit more—just as an experienced courtesan should do. These poems confront you with the pain and loneliness of being married to a person who (you are ultimately forced to concede) will never be able to love you in the ways you most want to be loved, even if one day he does stop screaming and throwing shit and raving like the asshole he is. (Apparently you’ll also find a dose of catharsis between the lines.) Despite what hurts, Courtesan is also a tale of hope—and finding oneself, and love, again. Highly recommended.
It’s amazing how much can change in 11 years. In the spring of 2008, Miranda discovered my blog Re-Writing Motherhood and plucked me from total obscurity to ask me to become a Studio Mothers contributor. The Studio Mothers blog was still in its infancy, as was my life as a (theoretically) stay-at-home-mom and full-time novelist. That time marks one of the most prolific creative periods of my life. But considering that I’m *still* working on the novel I started that year, it’s clear that creativity waxes and wanes, too. Now in 2019, I’m in another creative period. In addition to the 900 craft projects I have going on, I recently self-published a poetry chapbook titled Courtesan.
Courtesan is a diary told through poetry. It’s an eye-opening, no-holds-barred exploration of social and sexual re-awakening post-divorce. This is the book I never had any intention of writing. Generally speaking, I’m fun-loving, free-spirited, and unabashedly whimsical. Dark, brooding, erotic stories that would cause my southern Baptist relatives to have a collective pearl-clutching stroke were never part of my repertoire. But as I state in the book, there comes a point when the last thread of I-would-nevers snaps, and you become someone who would.
I became someone who would when I got divorced in 2015, after 13 years of marriage, eight of which I’d spent as a stay-at-home mom. There is a reason stay-at-home moms don’t just up and get divorced and abruptly go from full-time mom, to full-time working/part-time mom. It is traumatic on every level, and something I don’t think you can ever be prepared for. I was completely unprepared for the cold, hard smack of reality that awaited me.
And I did this alone. I was in Upstate New York, which was a 14-hour drive from my family in North Carolina, and across the country from my mom in Idaho. Not that my family was supportive. No one could understand why I was willing to give up such a seemingly comfortable life to go back to work and become a part-time parent. They acted like I had selfishly decided on a whim that getting divorced, re-entering the workforce after a 10-year absence, and parenting my children only half time would be a fun thing to do.
I sunk into a horrible depression, a depression deeper and more pervasive than the depression I had already felt in the last year of my marriage, a nasty black pit I couldn’t seem to dig myself out of. For the first time in my life, I experienced panic attacks and constant anxiety. I’d always been an introverted loner, and suddenly, I couldn’t be alone anymore. I would beg my friends to let me come over and sit huddled on their couches, just to hear the noise in their households and feel like I belonged somewhere again. I cried constantly. My relationship with my children suffered. They were angry that I’d left them. My relationship with my ex further deteriorated. My family was as unsympathetic and unsupportive as it was possible to be. And overnight I became a third wheel among my married friends. Suddenly, I had not very much in common with them anymore.
I liken it to throwing a grenade on my entire life and watching it blow up around me. And into this stew of existentialist crisis, I thought it was a good idea to jump headlong into dating again.
Fresh from a bad marriage, I lived in a fantasy land where post-divorce dating was like an island of misfit toys. Divorcées would arrive broken and battered, having seen better days as a result of living with the wrong partners, and there they would magically find a more suitable person and live happily ever after. But my little fantasy couldn’t have been further from reality. Dating post-divorce is an, as yet, unexplored layer of Dantean hell and I realized that for most men, I was merely a commodity. Interchangeable with every woman out there. The transactional aspect of these relationships left me feeling very much like a courtesan, or more colloquially, a whore.
I wasn’t sure how to process any of this, but I started a diary and wrote down snippets, dialogue, things people said to me that angered or inspired me, and all the observations I made, to process it, make sense of it, and ultimately learn from it. I pulled the diary out periodically to add to it, but was mostly preoccupied with other things, like paying the bills and buying groceries.
The worst part of that period was the complete lack of creative spark inside me. For the longest time, I was barely functioning. And when my creativity started to trickle back, it only came in fits and starts. I knew for my own sanity, I needed a creative outlet, so I took a painting class. And a jewelry-making class. I started to dabble at doll-making and embroidery again in my spare time. My friends knew I was their go-to girl if they saw something on pinterest they wanted to try and we started having semi-regular craft nights. I felt better when I was crafting, so I crafted. I felt better when I was painting, so I painted. I wasn’t able to write anything for the longest time, but eventually, poems started forming in my head again. I wrote them down on whatever piece of paper was handy. If they were good, I stashed them away and saved them. They were shoved inside books and drawers, and sometimes fished out of the dryer lint tray.
Fast-forward three years. My life was entirely altered. In the past, I’d thought of myself as a writer, and only a writer. But during my post-divorce journey, I became an artist, too. And after three years, I was more artist than writer.
I bought myself a little green bungalow and painted the walls bold turquoise and coral and purple. I painted the furniture and decorated the walls with my artwork. The dining room table was always covered in hot glue, paint smears, and glitter from the numerous projects I had in progress. I was always creating something, and as a result, I was happier than I had ever been at any other time in my life. My happiness changed the trajectory of my relationships and three years post-divorce, I was living with the man who would become my husband. In clearing away my clutter to make space for him in my house, I started to rediscover the writing and poetry I had been stashing in all manner of strange spots for three years. He encouraged me to do something with them, rather than re-stashing them somewhere new. But what was I going to do with a bunch of mostly unhappy autobiographical poems about my days as a single divorcée?
One day as I was driving (a time when great ideas seem to arise), and it occurred to me that if I collected all those poems and added the love poems I’d started writing more recently, I had a story there. I imagined calling it Courtesan, as a nod to my former single life and the way dating had made me feel. I mulled the idea in the back of my mind for some time. It continued to grow on me.
This winter I put it all together and self-published my chapbook. People ask me why I didn’t go the traditional publishing route. I self-published because I figured my “weird little book” didn’t have mass appeal. I wasn’t really sure how you’d market a diary that was poetry. And I thought it would only appeal to women of a certain age who’d experienced a traumatic mid-life divorce. Plus, to be brutally honest, I wasn’t particularly confident in my writing. I liked my writing. I had written it for myself, but I wasn’t sure at all if it would resonate with anyone else and I didn’t want to alter it in any way.
Since I published Courtesan, I have been shocked to my core by the feedback I’ve received. Women who are single, and never been married, have written to tell me how much they related to and enjoyed it. I don’t know whether to feel pleased or saddened that so many women can relate to so much darkness and despair.
I think that in most stories, and Courtesan is no exception, the main narrative is that a woman’s life turns around when she experiences true love. But the story functions on two levels. While on the surface, Courtesan is the story of the darkest time of my life and how I fell in love with my husband, there’s also the secret story hidden in the pages, about my love of the creative process, how it brought me back to life, gave me purpose, and fueled the creation of the diary in the first place. Ultimately, I rediscovered myself through the act of creation. And I continue to be amazed at what I can do, and how much joy I get from the doing.
Marion Dooling is a real-life friend who creates enchanting digital art. After admiring her pieces on Instagram, I asked Marion to share her thoughts on the creative life, along with her wisdom as an empty-nester who has been through the trenches of raising children and has revived her creative life. Enjoy!
I’m sitting at home in the midst of a blizzard in an area that hardly gets snow. The weather forced me to cancel my workout plans. While we still have power, we have no WIFI because of a corporate mishap. I can’t access my art files in the cloud. I’m bored. And I can’t even watch Netflix to assuage my boredom. My laundry is half done, the kitty litter needs changing, and the bills are unpaid—but I’m unmotivated. I get stressed out when I feel like I can’t control my life or am off my routine.
I spent much of my active parenting days feeling this way. Like a blizzard of parenting had buried me and my creativity. How do you get back to creativity when the flow of life carries you through a blizzard of endless chores, appointments, obligations, meals, chauffeuring, and such?
The fact is, you can’t. Any creative life you may have had previous to children is gone. At least gone in the form you may remember. But not gone for good, just changed. It might be in moments, now, as opposed to in hours or days. But don’t despair: In this era, technology can help you fit creativity into those spare moments. A moment may come at 5:53 am, 9:28 pm, or midday naptime, or waiting for an oil change. These moments do exist—we just have to look for them and take advantage when they arrive.
If you’re a parent, you’re inevitably already creative with your kids on a variety of levels. Don’t forget your own creativity in the mix. As a mother, I learned the hard way that it’s all too easy to forget ourselves and just become “Mom.” But we are more than that. I’m sure that if I had made the time for myself when my kids were young, I wouldn’t have become as depressed and isolated as I did.
Moments of Opportunity
When you find a pocket of time, do what you love. As active parents, we often want to take those free moments to eat popcorn and watch another episode of our latest binge. Especially if the kids are napping and you find a rare moment of solitude. But don’t. Instead, look outside: See the view. There are apps to help you write about it, draw it, edit it, film it, transform it, and then to share it. You will have a much better time doing that than holding the remote in one hand and a handful of popcorn in the other.
I’m a digital artist, collager, and recent empty nester still trying to find my routine after the advent of some major life changes. I’m coming to realize that as much as I want it, routine is not all it’s cracked up to be. It can become monotonous, dull, and in a word….routine. Creativity is a lot of things for me, but it’s never been routine. Over the years I’ve had to learn to squeeze my creativity into the pockets of my life that remain unclaimed by partner, kids, pets, and life in general.
Technology Is Your Friend
I’m a lifelong photographer, paper and ephemera lover, and inveterate collector of everything from buttons to feathers to boxes to Pokémon. Today, technology allows me to create anywhere and in many different ways.
More and more I use my iPhone for pictures, along with a plethora of photo apps that enable me to do whatever I want to my photos. I have a flatbed scanner at home to digitize my paper collection and I splurged and subscribed to Adobe Suite, which allows me to access Photoshop on my phone and iPad—and more importantly, allows me to access Lightroom and ALL my digital resources stored in the cloud. It’s like having my laptop anywhere I go. I can create in bed, on an airplane, or in a vet’s office waiting for the doctor. It’s all there as long as I have an internet connection.
Someday Is Today
I started on this path many years ago as a scrapbooker, well before scrapbooking became what it is today. And if you think I’m going to tell you I scrapbooked my kids’ lives from birth to 18, you would be correct. I did. However, they were 16 and 22 when I started. So don’t be impressed or feel bad. It took determination and commitment and waiting for my kids to be grown.
Back when they were young, I didn’t think I had the time, the resources, or the energy to make good use of my time. I didn’t have today’s game-changing technology. Instead, I saved every scrap of paper from their early years through graduation (remember what I said about collecting?) with the idea that someday, I would have the time to create scrapbooks. Finally, about four years ago, someday arrived. In a way I was glad I’d waited. Scrapbooking had transformed into the magic of stickers, papers, and all sorts of delightful things. I spent a small fortune on these supplies, on top of the considerable cost of photo development.
And it was very slow going. After slogging through 7 months of daily work and effort the old-fashioned way, I discovered digital scrapbooking. I made my oldest daughter’s high school yearbook as a digital scrapbook and had it printed. I loved the process and the outcome.
My discovery of digital scrapbooking set me on the path of digital collage, photo compositing, and figuring out what to do with all those photos of clouds, trees, and interesting patterns and light and pattern I’d taken over the years.
Take advantage of the resources available online. Find your people, live in those pockets of time, and relish that nothing goes as planned. Today there are even more there are apps to record our children’s lives in the moment. There are apps to create montages, scrapbooks, days in the life, etc. It’s really only limited by what you want to create: Ali Edwards’s amazing One Little Word, Tangie Baxter’s amazing Art Journal Emporium, and many other great artists out there on YouTube and Vimeo all there to teach you a craft.
As a photographer, I rely primarily on Snapseed to edit my photos. When I create collages, I use Photoshop Mix and Photoshop Fix. To transform pictures into digital paintings, sketches, or distort them into something new, I use Glaze, Decim8, and iColorama. When I draw, I use Procreate.
During the course of my daily life I keep an ongoing bullet journal (I call it that, but it’s really a Moleskine with to-do lists, ideas, reminders, and thoughts). I also keep pen and paper handy. I also use notes on my iPhone for everything from passwords to prices paid when I’m out thrifting for the Pokémon who have escaped my grips so far. Dropbox and Evernote sync across multiple apps. If you’re are a Mac person, Airdrop is your ally.
Pockets of time are your friend in a busy life full of obligations. Use them to develop or rediscover your innate creativity, whatever that may be, and you’ll find that those pockets of time become universes in and of themselves, opening new realities and discoveries.
When my friends Shannon Morgan and Terri Kaminski decided to reinvent real-estate marketing, they went all in. The result is not a yawner of promotion but rather the in-depth sharing of our community: Bainbridge Island, Washington.
Now brokers at Charter Real Estate, the Mo-Minski Team at Charter Real Estate publishes meaningful stories of those who live and work on Bainbridge Island and surrounding communities, and I’m proud to be one of our storytellers. We’re writing authentic stories that include struggle and sometimes heartbreak, with an eye on promoting diversity and inclusion. Woven among these inspiring profiles are useful posts (and gorgeous, original photography) on bringing more beauty into your life through design, food, art, music, health — you name it — all written by local practitioners.
Our website content is growing daily and the response thus far has been overwhelmingly positive. To introduce you to the project, I’m sharing the piece I wrote on Isiah Connor, an icon in the making. Coincidentally, although I met Isiah here on the West Coast, he grew up in Ayer, MA (right next door to my former home town of Groton, MA), and is the same age as my oldest son (28), which means that we probably crossed paths once or twice a decade or so ago. I love synergies like that.
I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Writers, you know how it goes. You submit to journals and contests, learning to ignore the rejections as they pile up. With a Zen-like mastery, you learn to frame rejection as a positive thing. If you weren’t submitting, you wouldn’t be rejected. And if you weren’t writing, you wouldn’t be submitting. And if you weren’t writing, you wouldn’t be a writer. Hence, using this somewhat reductionist — and albeit recursive — logic, rejection is a good thing. It means you’re a writer.
And every now and then, something like this arrives in your in-box, and the affirmation feels very, very good.
Soldier on, dear ones!