On Saturday, an article I wrote for a local moms blog was published online. This is the first time something I’ve written has been published outside of my own blog. Everything I read says that the main difference between a writer and an author is publication, so I guess that means I’m now an author. Technically, I started publishing my own work when I started this blog two years ago, but there’s a difference between writing and publishing an article myself and working with an editor to create a piece that fits with his or her vision. Somehow, having an editor put my work up feels like validation. According to my bio, I’m a “lifelong writer who only recently started sharing her work with the world.” That’s the best way I could figure out to put it. Even when I’m not actively writing in my journal, typing up essays, or fleshing out my memoir or novels, I’m thinking like a writer. I like to observe interactions between people and make note of the everyday beauties I encounter, and I record my observations in a notebook, which I keep with me at all times. The problem is that if I only ever write for myself, I’m the only person who ever gets to read what I write. There’s something innately scaring about sending my work out into the world. My mind is flooded with what-ifs, and I brace myself for rejection, but it’s time to forget rejection. It’s time to extend thinking like a writer to thinking like an author, and every author is someone who sent a piece out worrying that someone else might not “get it” who found someone who did.
When I meet a new person and tell them I am from Blacksburg, the Virginia Tech tragedy is sometimes the only association they have with my hometown. I am always happy to share that instead of turning to anger and fear, my community emerged from sadness stronger and kinder than ever. I hope we will continue to strive to make Virginia Tech a place where Hokies are made and show people that Hokies are people who make the world a better place, in spite of (or because of) tragedy.
I love conferences! There’s something about strangers united by a common interest coming together to learn that makes me all tingly. As a teenager, I participated in conferences for church. Later on, as a teacher, I loved organizing, attending, and presenting at conferences. Now, I haven’t nailed down my topics yet, but I’m feeling a pull towards organizing conferences and workshops in this new life.
This past weekend, I made a spur of the moment decision to attend the #PressPublish bloggers gathering here in Portland. Sometimes, the universe sends signs, and in this case, just after my sister-in-law Brittany asked if I had heard about the conference, my new friend Kathy mentioned that she was going, and then WordPress offered an upgrade to their pro package as part of the registration package.
I thought attending was out of the question since Steve was going to be out of town (along with most of my potential childcare providers), and then I realized that my mom would still be here. Thankfully, my mom is always happy for Nana-Karys time, so I registered for the conference Friday night (the day before the conference).
I’m so glad I listened to the signs. I learned so much at the event and had a chance to examine my motivation for blogging, to figure out how blogging fits in with my other writing/career goals, and to make connections with people who have a wealth of knowledge about blogging, technology, and building a platform among other things. Apparently, my writing career is more likely to be successful if I can show publishers that I have readers who actually want to read what I write.
I’m going to be upgrading my blog and beginning to apply some of the new things I’ve learned (embedding video, incorporating original artwork and photography, and playing around with writing forms). I’m really excited about the changes that are coming. Thanks for being on this journey with me!
Here’s another piece inspired by my mother, who flies out tomorrow to visit us on the West Coast. I’m also including a video of me singing “Wayfaring Stranger” as a way of exercising my vulnerability muscles.
Tonight, I’m headed to my second practice with my new women’s chorus. I’ve often been told that I have a lovely voice, but I haven’t sung in front of an audience or with a choir since Granny’s funeral in July when I sang “Be Still My Soul” as part of a trio with my cousins Jelita and Kyla (as well as “Finlandia” as part of a 50+ member choir comprised of Granny’s family and friends). I’m very excited for this opportunity to be part of a choral community again. I relish the times I spent in church choir and Madrigals in high school. Practicing alongside other singers creates a special kind of bond.
Unfortunately, it’s a bond I haven’t been able to share with my mother. My mother has a booming, soprano singing voice. When she sings, her voice trills above the hum of the other singers like a sparrow among crows. She’s been asked on many occasions to join a choir, but doesn’t really like the structure of practicing every week. She’s joined Easter and Christmas cantatas here and there, but her upbringing as the oldest daughter of Methodist missionaries must have spoiled her on organized singing early on.
As a child, I stood next to Mom in church and tried to sing along with her, but my little voice just couldn’t compete with hers. My face would redden and my ears would ring with the effort of trying to produce enough volume to be heard over her. After a while, I stopped trying to sing when she was around. I started mouthing the words during hymn-song and saved my vocal chords for times when I was part of a choir where my voice had a chance of being heard.
I don’t blame Mom for my struggle to sing with her. In fact, I am a bit jealous that she can sing so powerfully yet so effortlessly. I wish she would sing more often, because her songs are a sign of her health and happiness.
Even though the power of my mother’s voice has frustrated and drowned me out in turns, I must say that it is still one of my favorite sounds to hear.
In honor of my mom’s first visit to our new home in Portland, this week, I’ll be posting writing she inspired.
My mom always knew exactly what I should have said to the people trying to tear me down. To the boy who called the bleach spots on the seat of my jeans “buttholes,” she said I should have said, “Why are you looking at my butt? Like what you see?” To the friend who decided I wasn’t cool anymore, she said I should have said, “It’s better to have one true friend that 50 like you.” I could almost imagine myself saying what she suggested, but not quite. I just didn’t think of retorts that quickly, or else I didn’t want to invite conflict, peacekeeper that I was. I am only now becoming the kind of person who actually says what I think, witty comebacks and all. But her words did become part of my thought process. I pull them up as I replay an upsetting conversation in my mind. I sometimes retell a story to friends as if I actually said what I should have said. When my friends say, “Did you actually say that?!” with eyes open wide, I sheepishly admit the truth. I’m much sassier in retrospect, and print.
My friend Casey completed 20 skydives in her twenties. Twenty times, she stood at the edge of a plane thousands of miles above the earth and jumped into open air…on purpose. She said it was a part of living life to the fullest, something she would never do now as a thirty-something mother of two young children. I can’t think of anything I have ever done that is that stupid-brave. Not that I think skydivers are stupid. It takes a certain brand of intelligence, courage, and perspective to take that kind of leap. It’s like a Zen of Skydiving kind of thing.
Sure, I’ve mud wrestled in the middle of a Honduran banana plantation, and hiked the Appalachian Trail for a week at a time, but most of the things I’ve done didn’t subject me to true danger or physical harm. The closest I’ve gotten to harm is in my own imagination. I’ve lived pretty safely and comfortably for the first 34 years of my life, at least the parts I had any control over.
One day, as we watched our kids playing on the jungle gym, she said, “You’re due for a mid-life crisis.” But I don’t really see myself doing anything typically associated with a midlife crisis. I have no desire for red sports car or a motorcycle. I am completely and utterly in love with my husband, so that rules out an affair. I’ve considered getting a tattoo, but I’ve yet to figure out what symbol I want to have permanently etched in my skin. I don’t see myself drastically changing in order to have a mid-life crisis, so I guess writing will have to do. It’s the perfect mid-life crisis come to think of it. In writing I get to say what I really think. I get to try on different personalities and thoughts as I create them. I can travel places I’ve only read about. It’s a pretty nice way to make some drastic changes while keeping my world pretty much the same in all but the most important ways.
Disclaimer: In this post, I use actual anatomical language. If this offends you or makes you squeamish, you might not want to read this one.
Disclaimer 2: I am not pregnant. If you have been waiting with baited breath to find out that Karys is going to be a big sister, don’t read anything in to the last line of this essay.
Disclaimer 3: This piece is part of my upcoming memoir. It is just about ready to be shared with the wonderful people who volunteered to be my first readers. Thank you for your patience!
I used to agonize about how I would explain Karys’ birth to her. After all, the experience turned out so much differently than I had planned. Before she was even talking, I started preparing my explanation. I didn’t have much time to plan, since she said, “Happy Birthday, Karys!” at her first birthday party. I swear! I have it on tape. I asked every mom I knew who had had a C-section how she explained it, and I got a variety of answers. One friend told her son that the doctor installed a zipper to get him out (one of my favorite explanations). Other mothers said they stuck to the old stork story and left the reality of birth to a video played by their child’s high school gym teacher. I knew those explanations wouldn’t work for us. My child needs to know how things work, and her brain isn’t satisfied by dismissive answers. If I’d tried the zipper approach, she would have wanted to see the zipper. She would have probably lifted my shirt up in the middle of JoAnn Fabric to see how my “zipper” compared to the rainbow display of fasteners laid out before her. So, when she started asking questions, I told her the truth.
Eavesdroppers on our conversations tell me I have a knack for explaining things to Karys. Goodness knows I have lots of practice! My Karys version of her birth story goes something like this: “On the day you were born, Mommy and Daddy went to the doctor to watch a movie of you inside Mommy’s belly. Even though you had been dancing in there all day, the movie showed that you weren’t moving enough, and we thought you might be in danger. So the doctors did a C-section, an operation where they cut Mommy’s belly open so they could pull you out quickly. The doctors found out that your umbilical cord was wrapped around your neck and blocking your way out. The doctors took you out and let Daddy hold you until Mommy woke up from surgery. We loved you so much that we couldn’t wait to meet you, and we were so relieved when we found out you were okay.”
One day about a year ago, Karys and I were driving home from a baby shower. I’d just told “The Story of Karys,” as we’ve come to call it, for the twentieth time in her four and a half years, when she chimed in from the back seat of the car.
“I want to have a baby someday, but I don’t want to have surgery,” she said, earnestly. I quickly glanced in the rear view mirror as I merged into traffic. Her eyebrows knit with worry, and her blue eyes clouded over with concern. Her tiny hands sat anxiously clasped in her lap.
I told her I too hoped she didn’t have to have surgery, but if she did, she would be fine, just like Mommy was. I told her that not all babies are born by surgery and that some mommies push their babies out between their legs. I continued driving, glancing back at her every few seconds as she tried to make sense of what I was saying.
I could almost see the gears turning in her mind. Finally, she asked, “How does that happen, Mama?” I peered back at her confused face.
I once again tried to explain it in terms she would understand. “It’s like when you have a big poop in your belly and you have to squeeze it out. Sometimes you have to push for a while before it comes. While you’re working on it, Mama rubs your belly and puts a warm washcloth on your forehead to help you relax. Some mommies push their babies out that way. Does that make sense?”
While she pondered my description, I wondered how I had ended up comparing babies to feces. I knew that her daddy would have answered her first question with a question and left it at that. As I turned to switch into the right lane, I smiled at her. Her eyes widened.
“So, the baby comes out her butt and starts floating in the toilet? That’s crazy!” she said.
Perhaps this was a conversation that I should have saved for snuggling on the couch not hurtling down the highway. I felt like I had left out some crucial part of the explanation.
“Oh, honey, no,” I said. “The mommy’s usually not sitting on the toilet. She’s lying on a bed or leaning against someone. The doctor or the midwife will catch the baby. It doesn’t go into the toilet. And the baby comes out her vagina, not her butt.”
She seemed relieved as her face relaxed back into a smile.
“Oh, okay then. Maybe I’ll have a baby if you’ll help me push it out.”
“Sure, baby girl,” I said, “anything you need.”
Last weekend, I began my doula training. If I choose to pursue this career path, part of my role will be to help pregnant mothers understand what to expect before, during, and after birth. If I decide to work as a doula, by the time Karys gives birth in 20 or 30 years, I will have that many years of experience helping mothers feel empowered, supported, and held in childbirth.
When I woke up in the OR three hours after Karys was born, I didn’t know whether she was even alive, and I couldn’t move or make my mouth form the words to ask if she was okay. I’d never before felt so scared, vulnerable, and alone.
I don’t ever want Karys to feel that way.
That’s why, even if I don’t become a doula, I will spend the next chapter of my life learning how to speak my truth and teaching Karys how to speak hers in every facet of her life.
Hopefully, she will soon witness the full power of childbirth as she lays warm washcloths on my forehead while cheering me on as my junior doula. Because for my little scientist, the only thing better than a good explanation is to see something with her own eyes.
I’ve taken a break from blogging recently, mostly because I’ve been busily trying to follow through on my goal of finishing my motherhood memoir by the end of the year. It’s taking a while, because I’m finding it necessary to hand write every entry. Something about the graceful movement of pen across paper helps me tap into the emotions that are at the root of my experiences, and I think using this process will help me be more honest and raw with the writing I produce.
On Monday, I started writing in a new notebook which will likely be the last one I need for this project. I’m so excited to be so close to my goal, though I sometimes feel flabbergasted to think about my book actually existing outside of my mind. I’ve been writing this book in my head since the day Karys was born over five years ago, but it might only be a matter of weeks before other people can start reading it.
I realized recently that writing a book and creating a new life are parallel experiences. How lucky am I to get to do both at the same time?! I was getting discouraged a few weeks ago, feeling like I was reaching out in all directions to pull the people and resources I need into my life and career with little positive result. I was striking up conversations with strangers at the playground and handing out my business card to anyone with whom I felt the slightest chemistry, but my phone wasn’t ringing, and my email wasn’t dinging. I was sending my writing to magazines and contests, but I kept receiving rejections.
So, I decided to give up. I decided to stop trying so hard and be patient. I started focusing on my goals and radical self-care, and guess what?! People started calling. In quick succession, I had arranged several coffee dates, a couple of play dates, and a great possibility for supporting an organization I love through my writing.
With all of my efforts to create a fruitful new existence, I forgot that one of the most important elements in any growing process is time. Obviously, none of these experiences could have come to fruition if I hadn’t planted the seeds, but seeds need time to grow. The time for reaping is near; I can feel it. In the mean time, I just have to continue planting seeds when the time is right and then reaping the fruits of my labors when it’s harvest time.
PS: Yes, I used the word labor on purpose. Rarely is irony lost on me;)
I’ve been working on a memoir about motherhood. It started as a way to tell Karys’ birth story in long-form. About three weeks into writing and compiling what I had already written, I realized that her birth is only part of the story. The whole story includes everything I did to prepare for giving birth, including choosing Karys’ name from a Margaret Atwood novel when I was 16 and reading books by Ina May Gaskin starting at 18. I was a mother in practice well before I became one in real life, and I was a doula for my cousins before I even knew what that word meant. Telling the whole story also involves the everyday moments of being Karys’ mother and grappling with what that means for me. I’ve been writing this book in my head since my first day of motherhood and working with a mentor on this project since September, but it’s time to wrap it up.
So, in that spirit, I’m committing to finishing my memoir before the end of 2014. I’m about halfway done (I think, but I don’t really know, since I don’t know what it will be when it’s finished). I don’t want to save it as a New Year’s Resolution, and I’m probably setting myself up for failure by committing to such a huge goal just as the holidays are about to start, but I have done hard things before, and I thrive on challenge.
As I learned from blogging every day for two weeks while I was in the middle of managing a cross-country move and other major life changes, I can rise to meet my own goals. I may sleep less and cry more over the next six weeks (can you believe it’s only six weeks until 2015?!?), but I know I’ll get it done. I don’t know if I’ll ever get my book published, but I do know that I have to finish it, even if that seems impossible at times. Besides, it will NEVER be published if it doesn’t exist.
The other night, Karys wanted me to give her rainbow hair. I started to launch into all the reasons we shouldn’t, but then I thought, “Why the heck not?” She was asking for something so simple that was going to make her so happy, and I really couldn’t think of a good reason to say no. So I got out the washable markers and colored away.
I’ve been trying to find more of those why-not moments lately. Should I take over a Meetup group for ladies who are new to Portland (even though I am newer to Portland than most of them)? Sure, why not? Should I start an Etsy shop? Why not? Should I send in an article that’s sure to be rejected? Why not?
I posted over a week ago about my core desired feelings, and I’m pretty sure, “Because, why not?” will be central to creating them. What better way is there to feel visionary than to imagine a piece of jewelry and then create it? How could I feel more corybantic (wild) than being open to possibilities? For every core desired feeling there is a why-not to bring it into being.
I’m learning that sometimes when there’s no good reason to do something, that means there’s no good reason not to.