Wednesday, December 31, 2014

What I Did During Winter Break

I've been binge-watching Downton Abbey these past two weeks.

Normally, I don't have time to watch TV. My days are full of kids, housekeeping, food preparations, family chauffeuring. Nights are when I work.  But during winter break, everything got quiet (except for the kids' voices -- it's loud with everyone home). There has been so much less to do (except for holiday activities -- there was that sweet busy-ness). And come nighttime, I had some real, actual free time. I hardly recognized it.

We just subscribed to Amazon Prime (for holiday shipping deals). Suddenly we have access to all kinds of media we hadn't before, so I finally got to try out Downton, which I've been hearing about for years as a must-watch. And -- oh! -- I was completely taken in. Absorbed, transfixed, rapt. It's been better than a movie because it is divided into small parcles I can handle without staying up too late. And with four seasons to catch up on, the story just goes on and on. One episode ends and then there's another -- so many conflicts and resolutions, highs and lows, and I never have to turn the last page. I don't have to say goodbye. Now I'm friends with the characters; I'm committed to the plot. I don't want to put it down.

The girls have been asking, "Mama, how many episodes of Downton Abbey have you watched?" They're incredulous. They know I don't really watch TV, don't really approve of all that watching. Oh, that attention-sucking, energy-feeding screen. They know how I feel.

But winter break is ending; the holidays are are almost over. Soon it'll be time to leave off gluttony of all kinds and return to the usual routines. That's okay with me -- routines are safe; I know my place in things. But I've enjoyed the break very much. And I'm not done with Downton Abbey. I'll find some time to watch it.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014


I woke up
with glass shards in my mouth.
I spit them at moving targets
and I was sorry.

But I thanked God
or whoever
for that quick heel stamp,
that satisfying give and

Because there's nothing you can do
with a mirror but
reflect the cloudy sky
or collect grains of fog.
(Unless you're lucky and
it's sunny. Otherwise,
you're stuck
with gummed up and heavy.)

Sharp, ragged, dangerous,
shards draw blood.
But rounded and rearranged,
I see art.

And I'm grateful for the choice.

Monday, December 22, 2014

shaking hands

I remember when we were first looking at houses, how the empty rooms seemed so expansive. There was so much potential. I couldn't even imagine our stuff in the space. How would we fill it? We had just two kids then, and they loved to run circles in these spaces, turn summersaults if there was carpet, and their shrieks and laughter bounced off the walls. Everything was big, empty, and possible. Now the house we're settled in feels cluttered; the stuff is always closing in on me, pulling toward the center of the room so it's hard to walk through. A million books on the ottoman at the center of the living room, papers in the middle of the kitchen table, toys clogging the playroom, clothing at the heart of every bedroom. Sometimes I'd like to just get rid of it all, start over with those empty spaces, think more carefully about how to fill them. But -- that's not possible. We're up to our necks in it at this point.

A sweatshirt crumpled at my feet. A tissue balled up on the floor. Dust, dust, everywhere, except on the path through the room. It's messy in my bedroom, but neater than I've had it for a long time. What is so pleasing to me about a neat space? Order, everything snapped into place: a lego house. Out of order is the potential for falling apart, for rotting boards, for rain seeping in. I want everything to look untouched. (Do I?) And that's what kids do best. Touch everything. But that doesn't explain the sweatshirt, the tissue, the dust. Those are mine. And I don't feel like picking them up. Not right now.

Lego houses are plastic anyway. Lego people can't bend their knees. And I'd hate to have one expression painted on my face all the time. So: welcome, rot. Let's shake hands. I'm trying to be okay with you.

Sunday, December 21, 2014


The sun hasn't shined in weeks.

The news is filled with violence.

Some of the very best people die too young.

There are whole cultures that straight up hate each other.

And I disappoint myself every single day.

But today when I was out walking, I saw a hubcap leaning against the base of a street sign, propped there on the off-chance someone might come back looking for what was lost.

It's as simple as a head nod to a stranger, a door held open, a single coin in the donation box: one extra minute of daylight tacked onto tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Surya Namaskara, in the shower

We're always living

This is the thought that comes to me
in the shower
while the notch-too-hot water
reddens the skin
on the back of my neck--hurts
so good.
The thought
is like
a slap,
a clap,
something loud and startling
right in my face.

I widen my eyes
at the white shower wall
in front of me,
at the beads of water
tears sliding down,
so obvious:

The edge is always right
We're toeing the
Even in our

I swallow once,

and panic sinks
into the horizon
where shadows burn
with the heat of the rising sun.

Friday, December 5, 2014

a love letter

I know you're in a tough spot right now.
I can see that it's hard for you,
even though you're pretty good at kicking dirt over your own rawness
and planting flowers on top.
I don't know how you do that.

But the space between us is so full of sound, so overflowing with movement,
that I can't seem to reach across it,
not with my hands or anything else.
And I worry -- do I seem unfeeling to you?

I think I'm showing you that I love you when I--
  --iron your shirts, make dinner, clean up, try to help with bedtime--
But I don't always do these things with an air of selfless service.
That's mostly because:
  I'm in a tornado 
  and the wind takes my breath away and 
  whips my hair across my face and 
  knocks me over sometimes, too. 

You see that. And I know you understand.
I want to give you something else.
Something softer than a crisp shirt or a cooling dinner.

  Something more like:
  The expansive space at the top of an inhale
  The warm gap between sleeping and waking
  The peaceful rhythm of new snow creaking under my boots
  The rushing energy of one hundred geese flying overhead

Basically, a place to rest.

But I know I'm not that. I never have been, have I?
Not even under the influence of motherhood,
which is such a rounding, softening force.
My edges have always been sharp.

But I'm trying to evolve
And I am
honored to receive your support in my efforts.
You probably can't see any difference
but I want you to know this:

  If you see any softening,
     it is for you. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014


Everything depends on this:
your hands on the steering wheel,
your awareness of the periphery,
your foot lightly on the brake.

I watch you turn left through the intersection. I am stationary
At the stop light.
The space between us narrows
For a fractured second I'm sure you're going to
Hit my car.
It won't be a fatal crash, but it will be
I wait for it--

I see your face:
your sunglasses,
your body leaned into the turn,
your jacket open just at the top,
your hair the same color
As mine. I wonder where you're going--

You navigate the turn.
It's not even a close call,
really. I'm not sure what I was thinking,
Once you're gone.
I'm not sure why I drew my breath in so sharply.
Why I'm still holding it.

My light turns green and I exhale.
The image of you dissolves
into pixels that blow off the roof of my car
As I accelerate,
Powdery snow trailing behind me, diluted and lost.

Monday, December 1, 2014


I know a lot less than I used to.

No, that's not true.

I actually know more.

Wait, I don't think that's accurate either.

What I know now is different than what I knew before.

Before what? Before kids, I guess. My world narrowed so much when one was born, and then another, and then another, and yet one more still. It narrowed all the way down to the walls of this house.

  Please don't practice pliĆ©s while I'm wiping your butt. 
          I can't believe I just said that.
     If you can't wait patiently for your turn I'll just throw it in the trash 
     and you won't use it at all. 
          I said that, too.

My world narrows further still, and sometimes all I can consider is everything inside the boundary of my own body.

A mind that bounces off the walls of an eternal to-do list, pockets of tension around this annoyance and that frustration, cells boiling over from too much noise too much activity or -- imploding into absence of meaningful conversation. 

Sometimes I think this narrowing is sad. Sometimes I see it as selfish.

But I also know this:

I am a whole universe. There are galaxies flung in every direction, distant stars bound together by unseen fibers stretched across the space between a breath, life burgeoning on blue-white planets, completely [or partially] undiscovered. 

So there's another dimension to this narrowing: it is an expansion, too.
     A flower blooming inside out,
          petals unfurling into darkness,
                growing toward a single point of light that is not as far away
                     as it might

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

writing from a sentence

The reason you keep your hand moving is because there’s often a conflict between the editor and the creator. The editor is always on our shoulder saying, “Oh, you shouldn’t write that. It’s no good.” But when you have to keep the hand moving, it’s an opportunity for the creator to have a say. All the other rules of writing practice support that primary rule of keeping your hand moving. The goal is to allow the written word to connect with your original mind, to write down the first thought you flash on, before the second and third thoughts come in. -Natalie Goldberg
So, this is what I've been doing lately when I write: keep the hand moving. I usually write directly after meditation practice so I'm starting from a clear mind. I often begin with "I remember" or "I see" or just some image that pops into my mind. Yesterday I didn't have a planned starting place but I wanted to try asking for a sentence at the end of my meditation practice. I did that before, and it was so interesting what came out -- that nearly-fainting-in-church experience wasn't something I had been actively thinking about.

So I was sitting there, still and quiet, and I had just asked for a sentence. Suddenly, my 2-year-old daughter shouts: "Mama! I. Want. Cheerios!" I had sort of forgotten about her (I let her watch TV while I meditate). Her voice sliced into my consciousness -- not like a sword, not drawing blood, but like a wedge, separating. I opened my eyes, surprised by the brightness of the room and something else light: I did not feel a tightness in my chest, a rebellion, that part of me screaming, "Leave me alone!". I'm very familiar with that voice. But it was quiet.

I held my sentence in my hands for a few minutes, then I got up to pour the Cheerios.

Monday, November 24, 2014

searching for

I remember reading about saints as a child and the longing I felt to experience something miraculous, something I could hold onto, physically see, something that would be evidence of my own holiness or specialness, evidence that I was somehow good at faith, that I really was a child of God as I had been taught. I remember convincing myself (in third grade, this might have been) that the statue of Mary in church lifted her downcast eyes and looked at me during school mass. Later, I passed a note to my best friend during class with a sketch of what I wanted to believe had happened, as if retelling the story would make it true. I don't remember my friend's reaction but I do remember that longing. It was something like a dark spot on the sun; it drew my eye, it had to be explored. I wanted something I could put there, a way to fill that gap between my head and my heart, something I could trust. Authenticity. 

I also remember this happening:

My heartbeat is the loudest thing I can imagine. 

The sun pulses along with it. Except I'm indoors. There is no sun. Just the heat expanding in my body, bright and hot. 

My vision clouds as black specks condense on my periphery. I remain kneeling because this is the consecration. I know it's okay to sit if I need to. But I don't want to draw attention to myself.  

All the color has gone from my face. I felt it leave. My breath feels constricted, squeezed, the smallest thing I can imagine. I'm starting to not be able to hear. A buzzing creeps into my head and starts trickling down my skull like rain dripping there. 

With a shallow exhale I sit back and let my head drop to my knees. My vision clears. I can hear the priest's voice again but I'm not listening to his words, just my breath, a whooshing in my ears. I feel like an emergency until finally I'm not. The teacher asks if I'm okay. I am. 

This is not an experience; this is low blood pressure. 


Now, there's this:

When I still myself I can feel my pulse bouncing no echoing no calling from inside my body, a rhythm vibrating with a sound I can almost hear but it's on the other side of something, a wall or something else in the way. I press my face against it and there's a small hole I can see through, just barely if I align my eye just so. It's big out there, wide and wild and more than everything. I want to force my hand through the gap, widen the hole and wiggle my entire body through. But that's the thing, I have to leave my body behind and I don't know how to do that. I sense my hands on my thighs, resting there and I can't remember if they're palms up or palms down. I'm thinking palms down but it could really be either way. I shrink to a point for a split second before I crash back into full awareness and I open my eyes. 

I'm not pretending. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

I don't always write about my kids

I watched the woman walk down the sidewalk in those heels: tall, narrow, impossible. She wobbled, but expertly so. She wobbled the way you should when you're wearing heels: a slight external rotation, the same with each step. It's not really a wobble, then, but a pattern of walking. So I should say she stepped expertly, with precision and confidence. I'd have to say she rocked those heels. And her ass, as huge as it was, stretching that black and white zebra print as it did, moved with a rhythm that magnetized my eyes. I had to stare at her ass. And I'm not normally one for ass-staring; it's not my thing. But stare is what I did, as if hypnotized. It was a neutral thing, a zoned stare. I followed her progress down the sidewalk with my eyes, the rhythm of her step both audible and visual, until she turned into a doorway and disappeared.

Sunday, November 16, 2014


I walk the dog in the pre-dawn night. Morning, we call it. 

I'm on the sidewalk of the busy street near my house. I don't like walking here -- the dog, I don't trust: he'll dart into the street if he thinks there's something worth sniffing in the gutter, so I have to keep his leash short or my reaction time quick. But it's a means to an end. 

A fence borders the sidewalk -- wooden, so it holds my shadow (it would just slip through chain link). As cars pass, my shadow runs ahead then crashes to the ground when the headlights are gone. I watch myself accelerate and disappear, accelerate and disappear, a slideshow of identical figures but each in a different light. 

I turn onto the quiet side street I was heading for. There are no cars here: just the one streetlight, a halo. I pass into its circle; my shadow walks with me. A few more paces and now I'm in the dark again, alone with just the sound of my sneakers on the pavement. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

how I saw her

I saw her in her winter coat and her too-short snow pants (they're FINE, mama). The bare inch of her calf exposed to the air where boot and snow pants yawned apart and her thin red leggings had gotten bunched at the knee. It was 7 in the morning. (too early to go out, only a millimeter of snow, it's cold, you'll freeze). (I want to go, Mama -- and she went), I saw her in that pink Hello Kitty hat, in mittens thin and worn, ones I had bought for her oldest sister something like seven years ago. I'm not sure why I haven't gotten rid of them. I saw her standing there in the backyard with her chocolate milk mustache -- a double smile on her face. I saw her brushing off the swing, content in her own skin, fine with being on her own, tapped into the joy of the first few flurries sticking to the grass. I saw her standing there. I saw her shining there. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

making something

Drawing, painting: I watch it happen; I clean up after it; I exclaim over it; I tape it to all the walls in my house; I recycle some of it (in secret). But I do not draw myself, as a rule. I've never been any good at it. I'd like to externalize onto a visual plane but -- well, what I remember about painting is this:

On a roof in a South Carolina spring, I dip my brush into the absurd purple paint and it saturates each fiber, bubbling and thick. No one else is around right now. I press the brush against the wood and drag it left. It's a dry feeling. The wood wants the color, eats it right up, asks for seconds, please. This I can do. I fill the brush and spoon the paint across the space again; the color slides better now. Again, again. I'm working on a small corner of old wooden siding, and there's so much more to do. I'm not afraid to go slow here; I really can't mess this up. I don't need to speak. All I need to do is feed this space. I can meet these physical needs. It feels good across my arm. Some paint drips onto my boot. I like how it looks, the purple splatter pattern on my toe, so I let another drip fall, on purpose. It looks like I've been doing something fun.

I came across those boots not so long ago, and that purple paint -- I could just feel it again, lubricating the dry old wood of that dry old house. That was a long time ago, now, when I was in a place so far from home, where I doubted myself so intensely, where I felt lost and inadequate. I've never been much for creating things with my hands -- not building, not drawing, not painting. But I found solace that day, covering a blank space with color, feeling like I coudl actually do something real.

I hung onto those boots for years beyond their useful life. They sat in the laundry room, molding probably, but I couldn't get rid of them because they had a history. They look like I was somewhere, like I did something, like I made something. And it's true: I had.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

it is what it is

My winter coat is deep and warm and long. I had meant to take it to the cleaner at the end of last winter, but I never made the trip. It hung on its hook all through the warmer seasons, dirty sleeves forgotten. Now, it's not quite cold enough to wear daily, but there have been occasions. The first time I sunk my hand into the left pocket, my fingers closed around something small and smooth and hard. It's always a pleasant surprise to find money in a coat pocket. But this was something else: a stone, handed to me no doubt by small fingers for safe keeping. The memory of the exchange is gone, an exhale into the wind, but I have proof in my pocket. It is completely unremarkable, though: the color of any stone, such an anonymous shape, sized like a million others. I could toss it at any time -- it belongs everywhere -- but for now I'm holding onto it.

Because it reminds me that we're all --
    that I'm just --
         that at the core of everything --
No, none of that.
But I'm keeping it just the same.

Sunday, November 9, 2014


The lights are dim. The sun isn't doing anything yet. Two cereal bowls sit next to the sink, a spoon in each so they don't stack neatly. Two kitchen cupboards hang open, the last gesture forgotten. My coffee cup is half empty. I take another sip and trace the warmth from my throat down through my chest and into my stomach. It spreads. I'm not awake yet, but I feel a brightening around my edges. I'm starting to be able to see. It's been a restful night.

Friday, November 7, 2014


Is of the essence.
I see it falling on the ground like leaves, days ripped of the calendar and fanned across the lawn, some right side up and some up side down so there's red and grey, brightness and shadow, collected there.

Time always goes by so quickly. The clock tells me it's morning, the sky isn't light yet, but if I don't walk the dog right now -- I mean right now -- there won't be enough time before the kids are up and the breakfasts need making and the school bus needs meeting. So I walk in the cold, in the dark, through time I've stolen from myself, from my sleep, and when I return I'm warmer, a little more ready for the sun that's just lightening the sky, just starting to get in.

Then there are pockets of time that stagnate, moments that pass that should be whole, fat minutes slipping by. This is always when I'm sitting still but my mind is not still at all. When I'm asked to play babies by my two-year-old, when she wants me to sit here -- right here -- while she puts Band-aids on my arm. Time crawls then, and my skin will sometimes, too, because I know there are one million things I could be getting done, but I also understand the value of staying here, feeling her small fingers brush my arm. And so I sit, I keep my eyes off the clock, and I try to see her, not the laundry wrinkling all by itself in the cooling dryer. It has all the time in the world.

Sometimes I get to the end of the day and I'm gasping for time. My fantasy is a long stretch of nothing. I imagine myself bored, nothing to do, and I would wallow in that, sunk deep like in the tub, bubbles of time swirling around my toes like hot bath water. I could drink time, breathe it in, save it up, store it, bank it. Back when my kids were babies I thought a lot about borrowing time -- from where, though? -- I'd take it out on loan from someplace safe and the only thing I would want to do with it was sleep. Now I think that would be such a waste. Give me an extra hour and I'd probably do more ironing, or, you know, change the sheets for once. But the best thing would be to just sit and let every delicious minute pass without doing anything at all.