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Cathy: And now for something completely different

I’ve been so wrapped up in the idea that I need to finish my manuscript, that the feeling has resulted in much the same as shooting one’s self in the foot, can’t win for trying, or a hundred other clichés. So when I saw the opportunity from Elizabeth Beck to be a part of Do Not Leave Unattended! by Judy Beckett of, I jumped at it.

It reminded me of last spring to summer when I discovered Kerri Smith’s Wreck this Journal. I was so stuck, I hadn’t worked on the manuscript since about three to four years prior, even though it had never left my mind. I had let life get in the way of art, and I needed to find a way back. I discovered the way back to art through Wreck. It has everything to do with being able to be free about it, make it messy, have fun with it and play. Because of that little tome and my use of it, I was able to return to the manuscript with a renewed sense of fun and inspiration about it. It didn’t matter if I made it work, what mattered was that I was writing about kids and what they go through in sixth grade, and that even if some of it is hard, it’s also fun to be a kid, have a family who loves you, even when they’re a pain, have friends who stick by you, even if you’re not exactly sure why, and that no matter who you are, you can do something great, maybe even change the world a little.

So, now that I really am right at the end of the ‘first’ draft (which has already been through practically word-by-word edits), like two to three scenes from the end, I find myself trying to make it work, or avoiding doing so, or whatever so that I won’t finish. I took a moment to breath, to get messy, to create something completely different and let it go out into the universe, especially not perfect. Here is the result:springjournal2


I wanted to feel like a kid, so I played with markers, I wanted the sense of youth and fun and something new and had been thinking a lot about spring because it’s spring. On my dog walks and in my gardening, I’ve been noticing lots of itty bitty wildflowers, like confetti all over my lawn and around the public areas in my subdivision. I thought about them being fairy footprints left behind after a night of dancing. I wrote a haiku. Then I free wrote in the journal about spring, how it’s about change and new and color…

So it looks like a kid did it, and I’m glad. I needed to feel more like a kid to finish writing about one. And I put a lot more productive hours into my manuscript the week i did this page. Letting go and playing in creativity really can set you free.

Who wants to be next?

Cathy: Can someone please explain how all the time in the world disappears without writing?

[Editor’s note: Shortly after she submitted this post on Monday, Cathy wrote to ask me not to publish it after all. She worried that her post sounded too whiny. I told Cathy that I thought she didn’t sound whiny at all, and that she was covering ground that many of us can relate to. (Me, for one!) At my urging, she agreed to the posting. Thanks, Cathy!]

Right now, I am a stay-at-home mother with a baby who won’t sleep off of me and must have one hand pinching, rubbing, or tweaking my muffin-top under my shirt at virtually all times, not just when she’s nursing. I look around my home, and think I need to do laundry, wash dishes, plan meals better, etc., but feel like I am accomplishing nothing because of little miss clingy or I’m on the chase because she must crawl, cruise, etc in the rare moments she is not attached to me. I know the regulars here are thinking my lack of sleep and how Baby C won’t sleep off of me are becoming like a Zen mantra of complaint: noooo sleeeeep….oooommmm…..noooo sleeeeeep. I’m sorry, but this is what I’m living right now. I have raised two other kids out of this phase and nannied a handful of others when the boys were little, so I know not all babies are this clingy and shallow sleeping. Just mine, apparently.

I must add that while it seems she is preventing me from getting anything done, she is generally a pretty mellow baby who is kicking my keyboard when I’m not giving her my full attention because I’m trying to have a creative life or a somewhat internet based social life. She’s not a screamer, like at times, my eldest could be, or always, like my second was. She’s generally the most pleasant baby I have known. But if I put her down in the port-a-crib, she won’t sleep and fusses for me like I’m breaking her heart. If she’s crawling around when I’m trying to accomplish something, S (by some miracle) is the only person who can pick her up and put her in the port-a-crib, and she’ll entertain herself nicely for enough time to make dinner, as long as she can see me hovering at the stove.

Now I can and do easily and often analyze the part I’m playing in this, such as giving in to her baby demands when I should let her be, put her down, train her to sleep off of me, etc. But then I turn around and don’t remedy it with all the advice I can readily give others. Part of me says, I’m 43, I had no business having this baby at this age, but in having her, I appreciate and want to hold her and have much more patience and appreciation for her than I did when my boys were little and I was 10 and more years younger, working, etc. I think my age difference is very telling about patience and perspective.

However, I’m trying to finish writing a novel. It’s not a very big or complicated one, it’s a children’s novel for goodness sake! A good old friend peeks in on this blog, but doesn’t comment because he’s a guy. He calls periodically with concern. He’ll say things like: are you sure now is the best time for you to be trying to finish the novel — because I remember when my son was that age, and it was impossible to write between lack of sleep and divided attentions. I thank him, tell him, I need to finish it now because I’m that close, and if I can sell it, it may bring some much needed income and assuage my guilt in that department.

Then I think: when S was in part time integrated preschool thru first grade and K was in kindergarten through fourth grade, I was working upwards of three part-time jobs, going through an unpleasant divorce that took forever, and began writing this novel. I was able to write it in the 30-minute snatches between my arrival home from job number one and when S’s bus arrived. I was extremely stressed, had no time, little to no child care, terrible finances, yet I wrote and managed my home by myself. And read The New Yorker within the week, novels and the collected poems of Robert Penn Warren repeatedly. I also journalled a la The Artist’s Way every morning while staving off the boys with the mantra “mommy’s morning pages!” How the heck did I manage all of that and start a relationship with my current husband, too? I seem to recall passing out on him often when we’d rent a movie at the beginning of our relationship. He claims that’s why he fell in love with me: I drooled on his shirt sitting on his couch on our second date.

Now I can barely see the time fly by while I feel like I am incapable of reading a book, doing anything beyond the wash and fold stage of laundry re: housework, yet I am home all the time! I have no brain to maintain a level of writing on a regular basis that I can honestly say: yeah, that sustains from the last part, and I can be proud of it. Is it that in being able to be more present for the baby, at my age, I am also less able to multitask in the ways I needed to at a much more stressful albeit younger time in my life? Or is it merely, I have baby-fied lack of sleep brain and forgot exactly how that taxes the mind from when my boys were also less than ideally sleeping babies?

I also know that I don’t feel like I’m having a heart attack for most of the day, because my stress level is nowhere near what it was then.

Someone please explain. Maybe I’m just having an overly critical moment. I did only write the first not quite 30 pages then, now I’m on page 85, after a four-year hiatus.

Women transcending

I hope everyone had a wonderful, joyous holiday!

I had an unusually chaotic week, as the holiday was bookended with house showings — but the very good news is that we signed an offer on our house over the weekend. Fingers crossed that everything proceeds smoothly. We’ve spent nearly two years in real estate limbo, and I can’t believe that this protracted process might really be coming to and end. Now, to negotiate on the new house, and try not to fall into panic mode.

While trying to take a deep breath, I was reminded of this beautiful video from writer Kelly Corrigan, who articulates so vividly the strength that women draw from the sisterhood we share with other women. (Thanks to Rebecca for the video link.) Without question, this blog is evidence of the sisterhood.

Notes from a Crone: Rock-Seeing

[Editor’s note: “Notes from a Crone” is an occasional Creative Construction series written by artist and artisan Juliet Bell. Juliet reflects on living a creative life after one’s children are long grown — with inspiration and wisdom for women at every waypoint along the spectrum of motherhood and creativity.]

rock-seeing-1I thought I would share with you a tool I learned years ago for tapping into the subconscious. I have used this method to resolve creative roadblocks, especially writer’s block — working out plots, and the like, and for quieting those deadly fears that rise occasionally, threatening to snuff out the flame of inspiration. There is no end to the ways this tool can be put to good creative use.

Back in the 80s I attended a weekend workshop on shamanism. It was led by Michael Harner, whose book The Way of the Shaman I had read years earlier. When I saw in the paper that he was offering a workshop in Boston, I jumped at it. It was a profound and life-changing event.  The many “coincidences” and synchronistic happenings that occurred over those two days still weave through my consciousness today.

Over those two days, we explored many tools for seeking answers to questions. Here is one which is particularly delightful, fun, easy to do, and a great one for sharing with children. It is described in Harner’s book mentioned above. He refers to it as rock-seeing, and was taught the method by a Lakota Sioux medicine man.

First one poses a question to oneself for which one seeks answers. Then you take a walk. Your goal is to come across a grapefruit-sized stone that draws your attention. (We were asked to come to the workshop already having found our stone.) You then find a comfortable place to sit, place the rock in front of you, and pose the question to the rock. Then examine it carefully. As you do, you will begin to see shapes, little creatures, living things, symbols, animals and such, in the crevasses, markings, pits and shadings of the stone. Make note of them, and then examine the other side. Once you feel you have seen everything, begin to work out what these things mean, how they fit together, and how they address your question. When you have found your answer, you return the rock to its original location and thank it for giving you guidance.

rock-seeing-2This can also be done in pairs, where you both examine the stone, and work together to find the meaning of what you see. At the workshop we were paired up. As my partner and I took turns posing our questions, we were not only blown away with the answers that were held in our stone (our subconscious), but by the interesting “coincidence” of our pairing. I was beginning the search for my birth mother and was seeking answers as to my motives, and he, with his wife, was beginning the process of adopting an older child and was seeking information about that journey. How weird is that?

You may find as I do that when you are searching for your rock, you will find many that in themselves take on the shape of animals and other living things. This can become a game in itself. Like looking at clouds or at the cracks in an old ceiling, one sees all kinds of shapes. This is great fun to do with children, though it does tend to slow the walk down a bit. The other day I found a perfect profile of a dog, a ewe’s head, and a little stone etched with a Ninja warrior, carrying sword and shield.

Happy rock-seeing!

For more information, visit the Foundation for Shamanic Studies, founded by Michael Harner.

Cathy: Crying out in the wilderness

I’m having one of those moments — one of those really bad moments of a stay-at-home mother or a writer. The kind where you can hear yourself screaming, but it’s as if everyone else in your home is looking right past you, no matter what you may be saying. In a movie, the lens would be panning through the doors, around the room and from a distance into close up, the sound of a scream gaining momentum until the camera is zooming into an open mouth of a crazed woman standing, in — Oh, I don’t know, let’s put her in the kitchen, with a steaming pot on the stove and a mess of undue proportion all around, but finally the camera goes into that cavern of a mouth, dodges past teeth and tongue, spotlights the uvula, and goes black, and silent. When the scene comes back up, she’s standing there, stunned look on her face, flyaway hair escaping ponytail, and breathing stiltedly.

This is also a common feeling for anyone who deals on a regular basis with someone on the autism spectrum. So I am having a triple whammy day of it — the regular wife and mother moment, the writer moment, and the aspie mom moment of it. So I thought I’d put it to good use. Maybe if someone stumbles across this blog as any one of the above, they’ll know they are not alone without having to feel like they should go on Oprah to talk about it. Following are just a few parts of my particular scenario that have led me to this moment:

  1. I’m still kind of feeling like I’m writing in a void since I don’t have an income from it, although I’m generally doing much better about that feeling while actively working on a novel.
  2. I spent much of yesterday, side by side with my aspie son, looking for the floor in his room — a sea of drawings, started and stopped over and over, because it just wasn’t perfect enough for him. He kept zoning out into whatever caught his attention. I kept calling his name and giving a different list: his list of choices to put things: paper to be recycled, paper to be saved, non-paper garbage or toy bucket. We made it about ¾ of the way through the mess in three hours, mostly by me and by my yelling “S- S- S– look at me — look at this — is this drawing to be saved or recycled? S- S- S– look at me — look at this — is this drawing to be saved or recycled? S- S- S– look at me — look at this — is this drawing to be saved or recycled?”
  3. My husband has not mowed the lawn in a month. The grass is taller than the dog. I know I got us out of the house last weekend for the whole weekend, essentially, so I intentionally backed out of plans for this weekend, except trick or treat, so that we could focus on what slid last weekend, especially the lawn. I finally started to ‘nag’ about it, and then he actively refused to do it. Now I must mention, we have a history with the lawn that involves my ‘green’ mower and doing it myself vs the gas mower and his doing it, in which I have been shut out of the argument due to my recent bedrest pregnancy complications and the fact that I’m still ‘recovering’ from that year in bed and one of the complications.
  4. I also have a teen son. His reaction time, if there is one, happens in stop gap motion. Have you ever seen anyone really look as if they are moving through molasses? That is K. And his slow motion voice has deepened to sound a lot like one of those slow motion effects, too. “Whaaaaaaa…”
  5. I’m more often than not, pinned nursing my lovely baby, which leads to a feeling of helplessness to accomplish one complete task from beginning to end. Not to mention the sleep deprivation involved. Too late.
  6. Economy is a huge issue and my darling husband is a classic sort — the quiet type who thinks he has to take care of it all himself and will probably give himself a heart attack trying rather than communicate better, so I end up having a freak-out moment because of the periodic buildup between us. Of course this only leads to my looking like a drama queen, and doesn’t get us effectively communicating, because he stands there in stunned silence at the monster who has taken possession of his petite, usually fairly sunny disposition wife, complete with flying laundry baskets.
  7. I have my period. Period.

Thanks for listening, and if you ever have the same feeling, feel free to leave a comment below. I must say, having vented, I feel much better already, nearly as well as if I had called a girlfriend and laughed about the same. Maybe now I can rewash that laundry that flew down the stairs last night along with the three day old few sips of coffee I had left by my bedside. Yuck, spotty.

Miranda: When does giving in mean giving up?

wave.jpgI had another book interview this morning, with a woman who was funny and candid. She works fulltime from home (doing a job she’s good at but loathes) with a 3-year-old, a 2-year-old, and a workday chopped up between taking her kids to and from preschool, feeding them lunch, and putting them down for an afternoon nap, with a bit of help from her mother-in-law around the edges. Oh, and the kids don’t sleep much at night–they go down around 8:00 p.m. (with one parent lying in bed with each child–at which point all four family members generally fall asleep), and, assuming the kids do actually sleep, they wake up at 5:30. How can this woman possibly find time for her creative pursuits–painting, sewing, and knitting among them–which increasingly keep her afloat in the face of a day job she hates?

As we were talking, we hit upon a complicated issue that has surfaced on this blog. I thought about it some more after our conversation, and then talked it through with my dear business partner over lunch.

Here’s where I’m getting stuck. On the one hand, if you don’t push yourself a little, and make creativity a priority rather than leaving it to the bottom of the list, it rarely happens. When you’re in the domestic trenches and in some capacity working for a paycheck, simply getting through the day takes so much effort and mindshare that creativity is not something that just “surfaces,” even though you might be thinking about it. Many of us are sharply aware of the speed at which our years are flying by, and that at some point we must pull our dreams down out of the treetops and fashion them into some kind of reality. Sure, there might not be any gaping holes in the schedule, glistening with creative promise, but there are a few slivers of opportunity in there somewhere. Others have made it happen, within similar circumstances. Why not us, too? Just roll up those sleeves and make it work. As women, if we don’t make our own needs a priority, it’s doubtful that anyone else will do it for us.

So we think, let’s add some structure, let’s add some tangible and achievable goals, let’s schedule some creative time, and let’s stick to it. Let’s add a little bit of pressure, both external and internal. (All of those things are good–and they are things that many creatively productive mothers do do.)

And then there’s the other hand. The friendly voice that says: hey, your kids are young. You have a lot going on. There are “only so many hours in the day.” Be nice to yourself–go with the flow, enjoy the scenery, don’t push too hard. Kids grow at lightning speed, and the quandary of making creativity happen while your kids are still in diapers doesn’t, in fact, last forever. (Though it often feels like it will last forever.) Sure, when your kids head off to school, there are other challenges, but they are different challenges. Your brain and your heart may actually get taxed at a higher rate–and you’ll invariably put a lot more mileage on your car–but parenting older children isn’t usually as bone-numbingly exhausting as parenting infants and toddlers. Slowly, as the years pass, the opportunity for creativity increases. And then, the kids are gone. (Unless, like some of us, you keep having more and more children, assuring a lifetime of offspring in residence.) Just love your children, whatever stage they’re at. Relax, enjoy your family, and live in the moment.

Figuring out where those two hands can meet, and share a high five, is the challenge. For each mother, finding the right blend will be different. For those of us who struggle with this seeming dichotomy, how do we make it work? I know my own fear: letting go, giving in to the domestic tidal wave, means that I get sucked under the breakers and spit out on the beach (if I’m lucky). I know, because it has happened many times. I’ve been a mother for nearly 18 years, and I know that for me, “going with the flow” means being dragged offshore by a voracious riptide. It’s too easy to be fully distracted by the life I’ve established. If I don’t swim hard toward my goals, the creative self will drown. Telling myself to take it easy and not to expect too much feels like a cop out–and tastes like the first gulp of sea foam. I panic.

How then to move closer to the place where I allow myself room to enjoy my “domestic bliss,” while being flexible enough to bend with the challenges–without feeling like I’m just fooling myself? Acknowledge my overflowing days, without giving in? Accept that every now and then, I have to set my creative goals aside–just for a while, not forever–not that I’m simply procrastinating? It may simply be my type-A personality, but giving an inch here feels like giving more than the proverbial mile. I’m not sure how to bend without breaking. The result, when I can’t do what I want to do creatively, is general crankiness, anxiety, and a deep fear that I’ll never get back to the beach.

Fishing line, anyone?

Miranda: Walking the walk (and stumbling)

stumbed.jpgWell, I was hoping to finish Chapter 3 by Friday. In the end, I didn’t spend more than two hours on Chapter 3 last week. I also spent some time revising my short story, but mainly, I was so distracted by life and work that I forgot about Chapter 3 until Thursday. Then I told myself I could make up the difference over the weekend–but that didn’t happen either.

It is strange to be organizing interviewees, talking to people about my book (on how to manage creativity and motherhood), and tending to this blog daily and yet still manage to “forget about” what I’d intended to accomplish.

Sure, there have been “legitimate” distractions: The new snow blower died in the middle of the last storm, so our driveway is an uneven glacial challenge, which I’m trying to keep navigable with sand and snow-melt. Most household members are recovering from various viral ailments; we’ve been spending time and effort getting the house ready for listing; we sunk half a day in dealing with a heating system problem on Saturday (which at least did NOT turn out to be a frozen pipe, as originally diagnosed). My back is bothering me, so I went to see my chiropractor for an adjustment. Then my mother came over to help with Project Basement on Sunday–followed by the playoff football games (and I actually like watching football). We also learned that my mother-in-law was hospitalized, which is a real worry, although she seems to be OK right now. And of course, being nearly 6 months pregnant, I’m pretty tired at the end of the day. With regular work and domesticity poured on top, driving kids around, there just wasn’t a lot of time on hand for anything else.

The bigger issue though is my mental framework: I want to work on the book; I’m in the middle of Chapter 3 and having fun writing it. But I think I need a hard and fast writing schedule, because without one, there is so much going on that I won’t get to it. I’m too distracted. That isn’t to say that I don’t actually have the time, because I think I do, it’s matter of claiming that time before all the other bonfires take over.

Any suggestions for how I can improve my focus and productivity? I almost feel like I need a live-in coach to continually point out the best way to use my time at any given moment, and keep me on track. But the only coach I can possibly hire is myself–and I don’t seem trustworthy at the moment.

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