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Posts tagged ‘women’

Brittany Writes a Book

britmirandacropEditor’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

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.


Brittany

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.

Brittany_bouquetI 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.

Brittany_mermaidI 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.

Brittany_carI 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?

Brittany_bouquet2One 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.

Brittany_wandsI 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.

 


See more of Brittany’s artistic projects at her current blog.
Order Courtesan at amazon

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Ellie: Writing Has the Power to Heal

For many years, I kept a journal. Almost daily, I would write and write about everything from the sublime to the ridiculous. I kept these journals for nearly 12 years. Recently, I was looking back over them, and it hit me: I stopped writing at just about the same time that my life began to unravel.

I’m a recovering alcoholic, and those pages chronicled a journey I didn’t even know I was on: a slow, spiraling descent into alcoholism. I stopped writing when I didn’t want to tell myself the truth anymore, when the words on the page were too ugly and stark. I didn’t want to face my burgeoning problem, so I simply stopped writing. It wasn’t as if I was writing about drinking—quite the contrary, in fact. The evidence appeared on the page nonetheless, though, in the form of tear stained pages, illegible handwriting, and rants about things I couldn’t remember doing the next day.

There is one entry, though, that hit me like a punch in the gut. I wrote it in 1997, 10 full years before I stopped drinking. It said: “I feel like I’m standing on the edge of something dark and powerful. If I’m not careful it will swallow me whole.” I knew at the time I was writing about drinking, but something about actually writing the words—I think I have a problem with alcohol—breathed life into my problem, turned it into something real. Shortly after this entry I stopped writing completely.

I find myself now, over two and a half years sober, writing to breathe life back into me.

I started a personal blog last May, with the intention of promoting my little handmade jewelry business. I envisioned a few quippy entries about Life in the Craft Lane … that sort of thing. I had no idea it would morph into reflections about life, recovery, addiction. All I knew is that once I started writing about it, the words poured out—writing brought emotions to the surface I didn’t know I was having until I saw them there on the page. I was healing, and I was inviting the world along for the ride.

This sparked an idea I made a reality about two weeks ago. I launched a new blog, called Crying Out Now. I wanted a platform that could bring writing and recovery together. My first thought was a book, a compilation of stories by women, mothers, who struggled with addiction and who were now sober. But a problem remained: how on Earth do you get people to tell you their story? How do you get them to trust you enough? And then there was the very real problem of identity. Most people in recovery aren’t open about it. The whole process is shrouded in secrecy and anonymity, and for good reason. Very few people want the world to know about their struggles with addiction, particularly women, and most particularly mothers.

But what about a blog? A place where women can come dump their struggles and triumphs—on the internet, where you can hide behind a digital identity of your choosing. I had no idea if it would work, but I thought it was worth a shot. I created the blog, tweeted about it, facebooked about it, blogged about it. Through the power of social media the response was immediate, and overwhelming—in a good way. It turns out people were aching to tell their stories—sometimes to metabolize struggles, sometimes to trumpet victories. A place where they can feel the healing power of writing, as well as receive the immediate gratification of hearing peoples’ responses right away.

I was clear about the rules: you don’t need to be a writer to contribute. You can create an anonymous e-mail account and submit your story without fear of discovery. You don’t even need to be sober. You just need to tell your truth. Just write it down. Make it real.

Many of the stories are beautifully written. Some are not. It doesn’t matter. People who have never, ever spoken to another person about some of the darkest, life changing moments of their lives are writing about it. Most send e-mails to me afterwards, telling me they feel cleansed, validated, loved.

We are healing together.

Stop on by, if you’d like: www.cryingoutnow.com.

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.

Alana: The Original Women Writers

I’ve been feeling a little daunted of late. Giving up my high flying career to look after my girls seems to have morphed into a full-time child-rearing job, combined with a (very) part-time writing career, swamped by the domestic drudgery of housekeeper, cook, cleaner and general slave to everyone else’s wishes.

As I fight a losing battle for some time to call my own (having long given up on a room of my own, a desk of my own, a moment of my own), I’m afraid writing has taken the biggest hit. As I lie under the duvet desperately grasping another ten minutes of rest I console myself that I’m not leaping out of bed earlier than my sleeping angels to write, by the fact that I’m a (now pregnant with my third) hectic mother of two under three and exhaustion has won the day. I pat myself on the back for getting through the day without causing anyone any actual physical harm, and meeting my magazine deadlines. I shrug my shoulders at the long list of writing I should / could / would be doing if only I had the time / childcare / energy – my blog (once daily, then weekly, now sporadic), other blogs, my diary, my novel.

But now I must confess to being shamed. I’m reading a book called Can Any Mother Help Me, about a group of women in the 1930’s who were stressed and bored and isolated from marriage and motherhood. In those days you gave up your job when you married and raising a handful of kids by yourself was the norm. One day a lonely woman wrote an ad in The Nursery Times asking if any other mother could help her. She was desperately lonely and isolated, and needed creative interaction. She got so many replies from so many women around the country they decided to set up their own secret magazine. They all took anonymous names and wrote articles about their lives. Taking them through their child-rearing years, through the second world war, through marriage breakdowns and life’s highs and lows, these women found solace in their writing and their friendships. The magazine – called CCC (Co-Operative Correspondence Club) – lasted for over 55 years.

Their lives where often harsh, and many had been educated but forced to become nothing more than domestic drudges after marriage. They endured bringing up their children alone and in austere circumstances during the war and they fought their own battles to find identity, creativity, and achievement. They were brave, funny, witty, enduring, strong and smart. They worked much longer and much harder than I do, and they still found time to write. For 55 years these women literally wrote the story of their lives, weaving a weapon against boredom, domestic drudgery, marriage and motherhood. Life gave them something to write about, and their writing gave their life meaning.

It’s 5.30 a.m. and I’m writing. And it feels wonderful. Thank you Creative Construction – a little modern CCC.

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