December 2018


I’m in a funny place in life. New Year’s Eve and vacation give me opportunity to reflect. In my life, reflecting often coincides with writing. In this busy year of so, so much, I haven’t taken so much time for writing. There are reasons single moms working more than full time don’t publish a lot of novels or write a lot of poems or read a lot of books. There are also reasons they do and should.

So, today, this week, I’m returning to the writing of my story. I’ve missed that time in my day to follow the words and to see what comes. I’ve missed tuning in to the voice inside that is there if I can be still enough to hear it and calm and trusting and connected enough to let it guide me.

Taking time to listen requires a special indulgence on my part, to let the dishes go, to not vacuum, to get up early while my children sleep and sit at the desk alone, to miss breakfast and make tea and write, to clear one desk or surface or chunk of time and commit, to be still, to allow what comes to be, good, bad, ugly, beautiful.

I’m not sure who reads, so I also try to be a little careful, not to offend, not to violate privacy, not to put out a side of myself that might hurt a former lover, a child, a parent, a mother, a boyfriend, a friend, a sibling, that might put off a client or potential client, that might be a face I’m not ready to or shouldn’t share with the world.

This morning for the first time I thought about joining another writing group. This weekend I sorted piles of papers accumulating in my bedroom. Amidst those papers were stacks of pieces from the writing class I joined a few years back and dropped when life got full, when the writing felt less than satisfying, when the group felt dysfunctional, when finances were tight. A member of that group leads a free women’s writing group on Tuesdays in a Cambridge library and I’ve thought of joining. Maybe in the New Year I will. Or maybe I won’t.

Part of my ambivalence is not knowing what to write, what I could or should or might have to say. I try to remember that part of writing is finding answers to those questions, that the listening we do when we write is powerful in itself, that we don’t know what we are going to write until we write it, that writing can lead us to know ourselves in ways nothing else can, that I love writing for just that exploration of the unknown, for that connection to the creative process, to myself and to mystery, as for the craft or any ambitions to create anything in particular, or to be read.

For now, Proprioceptive Writing meets that need to write for myself, to find my inner voice, to shape my thoughts and story in words on a page. I can come back to it anytime, anywhere. It feels good. It helps. It shifts. Writing feels good. Writing helps. Writing shifts.

More than anything I’ve been feeling battered about, not in control, not in charge of what next. The shifts, big and little, are endless, for all of us. Noticing and integrating them takes quiet for me, reflection, and if I can pull it off, writing.

Writing gifts me access to thoughts and threads I have trouble grasping any other way. I can get up in the morning agitated and afraid and overwhelmed and sit down at my desk with blank paper and a pen and something will come. I’ll feel some gratitude. I’ll put a shape to my worries, to my sorrows, to the losses. I’ll put them down, get them out of my head. Even if no one, not even me, ever reads them after they’re written, I almost always feel better. Sometimes I also feel sadder, more alone, more desolate. Even then, it’s better when those feelings have a shape in words, not just in my body as aches and pains and discomfort and dis-ease.

Why do the words matter so much?

I can’t say. Photos can do something similar. When I’ve been fully absorbed in taking photos and once upon a time in making art, or when I am in the Drum Circle, or singing with the kids, at a Museum looking at art, reading a book or article, watching a movie or television show, having a conversation that moves me, I also feel that something inside shifts. I can let go the worries and find new meaning that otherwise might have eluded me. I can relax.

I’ve been reading three books this vacation, slowly, slowly, slowly, two by Thomas Moore about Soul and one about conversations between the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu about Joy. I’m a seeker. Seeking in my own way.

I’ve lost my way with the Quakers. I can’t seem to find my way to Sunday Meeting for Worship. I miss it as I miss yoga and meditation, walks around town, writing, farmer’s markets, walks in the woods, Ashfield, and yet.

What I’m doing is being home. Home is where I want to be right now. With myself is where I need to be. Being lost makes me uncomfortable. Being uncomfortable makes me want to be at home, to make a nest here for myself and those I love, to surround myself with comfort, tea, candles, good food, cooking, beautiful things I’ve found or chosen or been given, been left, books, warm blankets, soft clothes, comfy furniture, music of my own choosing.

Making a nest I’m like a bird, the image I’ve been drawn to for the last many years. I read somewhere that birds are the connection between heaven and earth. That is my fascination. How to connect to the ethereal while remaining very much grounded here on earth.

Nature gives me that sensation. To walk in the woods and hear the sounds of whatever leaf is drifting to the ground, of the snow crunching underfoot, of the birds in the trees, of ice crackling, water rippling, is to feel that connection between heaven and earth.

Art, too, transports me. The ability of any of us to connect with what is inside another can be elusive. When we connect with another in words or images, in a shared sense of what is beautiful or meaningful or hard, we are less alone. In that I find divinity.

Prayer, newly returned to me after many years away, also connects me. I find myself talking to god, even as i don’t believe in any particular god, in god at all, and wondering what part of me is doing that, what part is drawn to pray, how I can feel comforted by an internal dialogue, by a message sent to the universe.

This year I may join the Friends Meeting at Cambridge. I began the process of inquiring over the summer. I’m not sure of next steps. That’s where I am. Not sure of next steps. Taking them every day.

Next step at this moment is to get up from this writing and stretch. After that, for a couple more hours, I don’t know. Then the plans for the day, with others, kick in. As I write this, I think instead of doing bills and chores, I’m going to read. I’m remembering my writing teacher reminding us that all writers need to read.

Taking time for reading and writing is ok, I remind myself as I write here. It isn’t time wasted. It might be the most important thing I can do right now. Who knows where it might take me. Being lost, I’m finding my way through the wilderness, willing to try paths to see where they might lead, without much expectation about where I’ll end up, aware that adventure lies ahead, as unclear as the future might be.

To live a creative life I can allow myself to be still, to take in new things, to create, to listen to myself and the world, to leave the to do list on the table and to see what comes. If I forget I hope you’ll remind me, readers, universe, god, teachers, family, friends, world.

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It’s December 29th. I’ve been on vacation a week. I have four days before we re-open for the new year. My children have been home, intermittently. One left on the bus for New York after an early dinner last night. The other left for his gal’s apartment last night before bedtime. One is sleeping upstairs, will be here for some part of the rest of my vacation. Our plans are unclear. The kids, in their young adult lives, like it that way. We talked about this yesterday, along with the challenges of living in a family of divorce and all the ways we tried to make schedules that worked, and all the ways we failed and did our best.

The house this morning is untidy, in that post holiday, unstructured staycation way, someone’s charger cable tangled up with the throw pillow my daughter and I bought in a Portland indoor market this summer on the couch I rescued from the curb, Christmas tree in need of water, with gifts and wrapping and an unopened delivery tucked underneath it, table runner folded/piled at the end of the dining room table, box of vegan Christmas cookies at the other end, pen and pad in the middle, remnants of last night’s long run of Dutch Blitz, our new favorite family card game, introduced on Thanksgiving by my New York son’s new gal, played for hours by the rest of us after he boarded the bus last night and the Somerville son and his gal and the boarding school daughter had kindly cleaned the kitchen, aiming successfully to have it done by the time I returned from dropping New York guy at the bus.

At this point in life, the evidence of their being here is significant. I got up early, after going to bed at a reasonable time, hoping I’d have energy to clean house, to tackle paperwork, to pay bills, to take on some project or another, cleaning out a room or drawer or closet, hanging art back on the walls after painting, making and writing cards, even yoga and meditation and writing. Instead, I’m here on the couch opposite the charger cable and the pillow, next to the tree, in sight of the dining room table, hesitant to restore order, drawn to write here on the computer, wishing for the story to continue, not knowing at all what comes next.

Its that place in life, 52, kids now 18, 22, and soon to be 24. We’ve had Christmas Eve, Christmas, and three birthday celebrations in one week. The shopping and wrapping and baking and cooking and hosting are done. I’m tired. I’m a little sad. A little overwhelmed. A bit unclear about my own future, even as my children boldly and brightly take on theirs.

Midlife is messy. Its’ not the stage of life I played about in doll houses and Barbie worlds and under the cherry tree with the baby dolls and my childhood friends. We didn’t pretend about divorce, about financial fears, about friends and their health crises, about remaking home again and again and again. We didn’t have working or single mothers in those games, as far as I remember. Every child had two parents. Every family had one home. Every mother had sisters and a mother and friends nearby to help her carry the load. The houses were relatively clean, if cleanliness was even addressed in the game. The story was always unfolding. The homes were always being added to, redecorated, full of children and adults and activity.

We didn’t play about a quiet house in middle age the day after the adult children have left, four days before the single mom goes back to work, five days before the teenager returns to boarding school. This stuff isn’t in the books I read or the games I played, or even in the lives of the grown ups I watched and learned from and hoped to emulate. The single mom I knew was my aunt, and we all held out that eventually she would remarry, which she did, but only after the last child left the house. The other was my mom, who was widowed and soon remarried and stayed that way til we were all fully adults.

The kids I imagined left predictably, as I had, after a life in public elementary and high school, four years of college, and a decision to follow a job and/or a partner. This is not how my children have left or will leave. We are the family of the willy nilly. Start in public school, fight for that place, which falls apart. Go to Sudbury Valley one by one by one. Leave Sudbury Valley when you are ready, at 17, at 19, at 15, then return, if only for a few months. Go to college, graduate in four years or leave after a semester and a half. Go to Cambridge Rindge and Latin, leave after a semester and a lot of testing. Go to Landmark as a boarder, deciding less than a month before school starts. Move back home, move out gradually, then decisively.

All of this is within the range of normal. Almost none of it was expected or predicted by my early life of family stories and tv watching and modelling of my friends and family. We’ve made it up as we’ve gone along, as I’ve made up life after marriage, three long term relationships post divorce, no more marriages, no shared living, except time spent in each others’ houses, three pseudo step families of relationships, three worlds new to me I’ve entered, two I’ve left to return to what’s left of my own.

Through all the family and relationship changes I’ve had a pretty constant work life, though with phases of exploration of other options, home schooling, independent, and charter school startup ideas and attempts, a year staffing at Sudbury Valley, ideas about closing shop and moving to Western Mass, fantasies of returning to school to become a therapist or a financial planner, and this year, a six week closure and the loss of my long term day care partner and another of our four long term teachers.

It’s a lot. And yet. Love endures. Love finds new forms. The story continues. Its not entirely the story I expected or rehearsed, but some of it is familiar. Home and family and work and decency and love are all there and have been from the beginning. I was raised to cook and clean and to make a home for my family, to put my children first, to make community with others looking after children and one another, to travel, to enjoy life, in the food and fresh air and good company sort of way, to look after my finances, to be happy with a standard of living I can afford, not to acquire more debt than I can handle, to be a member of groups outside the family, to contribute in ways that matter, to take time to be quiet, to be in the woods, to be alone, to light a candle and make tea, to wear wool socks and flannel pajamas and cotton shirts and feel the comfort in close connection and even in silence, silence to which I will return for a bit while my daughter sleeps in her bed, bleach blond hair sticking out of the comforter cover of brown cotton and red poppies which her dad and I used to share when he lived here and she was small, worn and a little tattered, but still her favorite place to sleep, or one of her favorites, reminding me our home still a home after and through all the changes, a place with heart and soul and a life of memories, some we’d like to cherish, others we’d just as soon forget.

This year I have a group of kids who love to hear stories. Alice told me yesterday they are asking to hear stories from her childhood. She tells them about her neighborhood, her brothers and sisters, and the games they played sixty or seventy years ago.

The children ask me to tell Jonah and Isabel stories. At first I told stories of their childhood. Lately, I just tell the latest news. Jonah is working in a coffee shop, so I told about walking in on Sunday afternoon and seeing him in the kitchen with his co-workers and how I ordered one treat and got one I didn’t expect and was first disappointed, then given the one I had wanted for free, and how I wondered if that was because I was Jonah’s mom, or because the place was about to close, or both.

I tell stories about Isabel at boarding school, going to visit a friend instead of coming home one weekend, writing a poem about being twelve and independent and sharing it with her mom and dad over the internet, cleaning out her room and making her bed and keeping all her clothes in her dorm, going camping, rock climbing, eating her meals in a cafeteria with her friends and teachers, enjoying her independence at nearly eighteen.

The children, mostly the twos and threes and fours, find these stories fascinating. Every day they ask for more.

Tonight I hosted two little girls for dinner at my house while their parents went out for dinner at a fancy restaurant as a thank you to them for helping me through this hard year. The girls and I enjoyed Japanese food, udon noodle soup and dumplings. We used chop sticks and ate from the Japanese bowls my kids gave me for my birthday, drank tea from cups given to me by various grandmothers. We talked about Akira’s children, their names, how many there are, how they are Japanese and I’m learning more about Japanese food from being with them.

After dinner I washed all the fancy dishes and put the others in the dishwasher and the girls explored the house a bit, played the singing bowl and the glockenspiel, made designs with the magnet mosaic blocks I bought my kids just as they were outgrowing toys. Then we walked to their house a few blocks away, tracing the steps we have walked together to the park every day for all the years they’ve been in care, the five commenting on how weird it was to be walking with me in the dark, all of us noticing the holiday lights at the high school and the five commenting as we crossed Mass Ave how amazing it is that the whole world was made..by people, and me noting that the world made itself and the people have been making things the way they want.

Back at their house we lit the menorah. The five used the candle to light the others. Then she called for a drum roll and lit the tree. We brushed teeth, read two stories, turned out the overhead light and put the nightlight on. They fell asleep and I went downstairs for a few minutes before their parents arrived. We shared stories of our separate evenings. I told a few Isabel and Jonah stories. As I was leaving I realized out loud I felt as relaxed as I have all week, having had my fix of the coziness and closeness my children no longer crave, the oldest living on his own in New York, the middle one living mostly with his girlfriend, the youngest settling into a more full time life at boarding school.

Coming home in the dark, I looked at the Christmas lights and sky differently, having been with the girls as they leaned in close to look at the lights on the trees at the high school, having forgotten to look up with them and count the stars, as we had planned to do, which turned out to have been the kindergartner’s homework assignment. Turns out it was too cloudy for stars. I texted the parents some photos of the girls and the news of the cloudy sky for their gal so she would feel less bad about the  missed homework.

Do you like babysitting? She had asked as I tucked her in and prepared for the girls to go to sleep. I do, I replied, now that my own children aren’t home. It’s very nice to spend an evening with kids who want to read and talk and have a tea party and listen to music together. Very nice, indeed.

I don’t know if I’ll do it again, but this week it was just what I needed to restore some balance to my psyche. I could imagine someday being a grandmother and tucking in grandchildren and making tea parties and sharing a few toys left around the house, and that, in a small way, lit up the cloudy night with a vision for the future I’ve been struggling to find as I give up my life of close mothering at home.