Taking the long way home

Twenty-five summers ago, I lived in a sweet little house in a charming old southeast Portland neighborhood. It was the first house I owned, bought not long after I married and started my first teaching job.

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It was only a few blocks from a park where I walked every day with my dog, Billie. The previous winter we’d gone to the mall one Sunday morning to buy a Billie Holiday CD (remember those?), but the record store was closed. The pet store wasn’t. This was before I knew about puppy mills. Before I knew the first thing about taking care of another living being. Or about making commitments.

That summer, Billie and I went on many walks, traversing up and down the sidewalks of our neighborhood’s tree-lined streets. I remember looking up into the trees, thinking that their branches looked like canopies. I wrote that into a poem I worked on later that fall, thinking that no one else had ever seen how trees looked like canopies. I didn’t know, then, that many people have seen canopies when looking up at trees that flank both sides of a street. These were so different from the trees of my childhood neighborhood, which was filled with Douglas fir and cedar. We had no sidewalks, nor any tree-lined streets. It didn’t occur to me that these new trees were common, or that my perception of them might be.

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I was lonely that summer. I had lived in that charming neighborhood less than a year, and in that city for less than two. I had spent most of those months working the long days of a first-year teacher. Although there were people at work I was friendly with, I hadn’t made any real friends, there or anywhere else.

My husband worked during the days and studied for the MCAT in the evenings. I spent my days walking the dog, working out to an aerobics TV show, sanding (probably lead-filled) paint from the woodwork of our 1920’s house (I didn’t know about lead-based paint then, either, even though I should have) while watching soap operas, planning dinner, and waiting for the hour or so I’d get his company when he came home. I made the uninsulated attic into the kind of private space I longed for as a teen-ager, not realizing that it would always be too hot up there in the summer and too cold in the winter, or that I didn’t need such a space because the whole house was my space. There was nothing I needed sanctuary from within its walls.

That husband–he was a smart, funny, earnest, kind, and gentle person who, like me, had no business getting married or adopting dogs. He was as good to me as any good person can be who is too young to get married. I was not as good to him. Or to myself.

Instead of facing the chasm within that my loneliness illuminated with blinding intensity, I ran away from it. I ran away from him, and our dog, and the house, and the neighborhood, and the park filled with geese that Billie loved to bark at. I ran away from all of it, too blind and scared to see that I had everything I’d ever wanted, right there:  a good person who loved me, a safe and cozy home, meaningful work, the promise of children with a man who would be a good father to them.

I didn’t know that many, many people had looked up into the same void and seen the same thing I’d seen, and given it the same wrong names I gave it.

*******

The weekend before last, Cane and I drove through my old neighborhood on our way to spend a late afternoon on the river. As I always do when driving through there, I felt nostalgic and wistful. The aftertaste of regret lingered at the back of my throat.

I thought of my house project, my recent fascination with small, working-class houses. My first husband and I bought that first house with the salaries of a first-year teacher and a lab tech. Although Cane and I both have equity in another home and advanced degrees and decades of work in our field, this neighborhood is out of our reach now, even if we could make our lives fit within its geographic boundaries. That is due as much to our respective (poor) life choices as to Portland’s gentrification, and we know the sting we feel is nothing compared to the pain of those whose communities are lost to them through the effects of systemic racism and other injustices. Still, it hurts.

As we drove through again on our way home, I thought about the home of a colleague I’d recently visited. Her lovely Portland house sits in an even more charming neighborhood, and it is filled with photos of her family. I could see how all of them have grown, together, through two decades or more. I imagined, briefly, the home and life I might have had if I’d faced my demons 25 years ago, if I hadn’t left that kind boy I married and we’d done the hard work of growing up together.

“I should never have left here,” I said to Cane as we drove back home. “I had everything I wanted, but I couldn’t see it.”

“Well, then, you wouldn’t have had your children,” he said.

“Oh, I know. I know. That’s what I always tell myself. But as my daughter reminds me whenever I say that’s why I’ll never regret marrying their dad, I probably would have had different children I love as much as I love them. I’d never have known them, so I wouldn’t have missed them.”

“You can’t know that,” he said. “You might not have been able to have any children at all.”

He is, of course, right. We can never really know where a different choice at a fork in our life’s road might have taken us. We always imagine the best-case scenario when we’re punishing ourselves for the choices we didn’t make but wish we had. In mine, I somehow get to have the same children I have now.

“Well,” I said, reaching for the hand of the smart, funny, earnest, kind, and gentle man who loves me now and takes no offense when I suggest that perhaps I should be married to someone else, “I know I wouldn’t be sitting here with you, so I guess I need to just get over all that.” I squeezed his hand, hoping he knew I meant it, hoping my daughter knows that any life I might have had without her and her brother would have been a lesser one.

******

On one my friend Jill’s recent, always-wonderful weekly list of Something Good, I found this post by Austin Kleon, about bliss stations. In it, he writes:

“It’s felt impossible lately not to be distracted and despondent. I’m trying to spend as much time at my bliss station as I can.”

Between events in the world around us and those in my own private world, I know more than I’d like to about being distracted and despondent. But what is a bliss station? Kleon, quoting Joseph Campbell, says that it is

“a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation.”

Kleon wonders if it is enough to have either a particular place or a particular time, and reading his words I realized that in this summer I have been lucky enough to have both:  Time almost every morning, and my own, dedicated creative space.

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Although I found solace in this space during the spring, over the weeks of this summer I have entered it only to iron clothes or drop off junk I didn’t want to take the time to find a real home for.

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I thought of another post by another friend, Shannon’s musings about how hard it can be to get started again after a creative dry spell.

I thought about how I have, right now, things I wanted for years:  time and space to create. I thought of all the times in my life I’ve been blind to what is in front of me, and how I don’t want to be that way any more.

I thought about how good it would be to spit the taste of regret out of my mouth.

*****

I went back to my old neighborhood, to take photos for my project. To take inventory. To confront my regrets. To see.

The old park, which once had a big, flat, grassy open field, swing sets, and a square, man-made pond, has been transformed into a natural wild space.

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I didn’t see any of the geese Billie used to chase, but a stream was home to delightful ducks.

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I walked the neighborhood sidewalks I used to walk with Billie, remembering the young woman I was 25 years ago. Trying to figure out how to forgive her.

I took photos of houses I might want to do something with.

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You can’t see the older woman sitting in a chair in front of the window, reading a book. But she’s there.

I left when I felt a migraine coming on. I went home and took a nap, grateful for the time and space to do that.

******

A few days later, I went into my creative space, wondering if I could cultivate bliss there. I pulled out my scraps of text about houses.

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I set aside a few that spoke to me, when I thought about my first house.

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I sketched it.

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That was enough for one day.

*****

I had coffee one morning with a friend who is also sending a child to college in a few weeks. The day my daughter flies out, she will be heading south with her husband and son in a car packed with the college supplies that have been accumulating on her dining room table all summer.

We compared notes on the unfortunate places we’ve been overcome by tears.

“I couldn’t stop crying in the detergent row at Target,” she said. “Another woman took a tissue from the box in her cart and gave it to me.”

We laughed.

“I’ve come to understand,” I said, “that as much as I’m crying about how I will miss her–and I will, terribly–I’m also crying over my own mortality.” She nodded. We struggled for words to capture what it is, exactly, we’re mourning.

“Their lives aren’t going to be about us any more.”

“It’s just gone so quickly. I’m not ready to let it go.”

“Our time has passed. It’s someone else’s turn.”

“And it’s too late now to do some things right.”

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*****

I saw my therapist.

“I don’t want to talk about how things are going,” I said. “I don’t want to talk about Cane or his daughter or my daughter leaving for college or what’s happening with my son. I want to stop dealing with the surface of things.”

“OK,” she said. “What does that mean?”

“Here,” I said, handing her a book open to a poem. “I wrote this maybe 20 years ago.”

A Map to the Future

You try not to despise her.
You know it isn’t really fair:
What more could be expected
of one such as she,
growing in the twin shadows
of anger and expectation?

She was the kind of girl who ran
to the edges of cliffs and jumped,
just jumped–
not because she was daring
but because she didn’t know
there were cliffs and once there,
jumping seemed the only option.
She was that blind
to her own geography.

You walk away
when you sense her
wandering through the dark
valleys of memory, wish
she could be forever exiled.
You can’t help but regret
all that she lost or wasted,
and you can’t seem to forgive her
for what she never knew,
want only to put that floundering
child away from you, forever,

do not see that you must
carry her with you
if you are ever to climb
from your desperate canyons
and lie upon the grassy meadows
that frame those gaping holes.

“It’s beautiful,” she said.

“I want to know how to do it,” I said.

*****

Last Saturday I returned to my bliss station again.

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That morning, my daughter found me there. As she settled into the corner chair, I stopped what I was doing. I sat on the floor, and we chatted for a good long time–about the election, and how different some things were when I was her age, and about college, and the effects of growing up with dysfunction in your family, and the meaning of life, and what kind of life she wants to have.

“My therapist told me the other day that it takes three generations for a family to fully recover from addiction, abuse, trauma,” I told her. “But it gets better with each one.”

It was just the two of us home together all day. I vacuumed the floor of her room, which she (and sometimes I) have been cleaning out for the past two weeks. It is still filled with her clothes, her toiletries, her scent, but it is empty of the things that made it hers. I did cry some, alone in there, but not the way I did the morning I took all the bags of stuff she no longer wants to the thrift store–her cheerleading uniform, her many school spirit t-shirts, the vampire series books she devoured as a young teen, the photo display thingy she wanted when we re-did her room a few summers ago, the pottery she painted over the course of many trips to visit her grandparents.

“Do you think we’re ever going to paint pottery again?” I asked her as she put those things in the bag.

“If you pay,” she said, grinning. I kept two small pieces and let the rest go. She thought I was being silly to keep them, that I should let go of all of them. Thinking of the clay monster I made in third grade that resides, still, in my parents’ bedroom, I told her that it’s good to be silly sometimes.

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After vacuuming, I thought about doing more of the things on my never-done to-do list, but she wanted me to watch Gilmore Girls with her, so I did. Somewhere during the second episode, I decided that I wasn’t going to do any of those things that day. I was going to just be, with my girl, all day long.

We might not get this again before she leaves, I thought, just the two of us alone for the whole day.

We puttered around a bit before going out to get pedicures. We had dinner at our favorite noodle place. We came home and made popcorn and watched Legally Blonde, an old favorite of hers. She deconstructed the feminist messages she sees in it. She left before the movie ended, to accept a last-minute invitation from friends.

I watched the end of the movie by myself, feeling the emptiness of the house settle around me. I didn’t let myself shrug it off my shoulders. The weight of it was uncomfortable, but I could hold it.

I thought about how I have, right now, things I’ve wanted for years. I felt grateful that the woman I’ve become is  stronger than that girl I was 25 years ago. That I knew it wouldn’t be nighttime in an empty house forever–that the next morning I would wake up to a day filled with light and the return of people I love, where I could enter into a bliss station and begin this post and keep working on projects with eyes that are becoming increasingly clear.

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Poem ©2002 by Bellowing Ark Press.

 

 

Grief and creativity

This week’s ear worm song:

When I tell my therapist that I can’t talk about my daughter’s impending departure for college without crying, she says, “Of course. You’re grieving.”

Really?

“Grief” feels like too strong a word. I mean, c’mon. She’s not dying.

But last week, as the time left for her to live with us changed from the unit of month to week, I have found that I often can’t even think about it now without crying. Yesterday as we made breakfast, I had the thought that Cane should make his beignets, her favorite, before she goes, and I was so flooded with memories my body literally couldn’t contain them.

Time has taken on an almost tangible, viscous quality. I have no work-based entries to make into this creative notebook because, I am learning, creativity requires a kind of mental fluidity that’s beyond me right now. I feel suspended in some kind of thick, gelatinous reality that is not reality. Although time is moving, I am not, and it feels I won’t be able to until what’s going to come next is finally here.

It’s true:  No one’s dying. But something is–the life I’ve been living for more than 18 years. It might seem as if that statement’s not true; in that 18 years I’ve changed jobs and homes and life partners. Through all of that, though, my kids were the constant, the one thing I knew I’d never leave, the only thing I’ve ever remained wholly true to.

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I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people say that when you have kids, your life stops being all about you. It becomes about them. You’re no longer the most important person in it.

Um, no.

It’s still all about you:  When you have kids, they have to go where you take them and do what you tell them to do.  They are woven into the fabric of your every day. They become your people, and you are theirs, and you are a family, a unit in the world.

Truth is, I didn’t feel my life really started until they came into it. Now, that life–with both of my children–that’s ending, and it’s happening less than a year after the end of the family life Cane and I tried to create.

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So, yeah:  I guess I’m grieving. And it’s kicking the stuffing out of my creative productivity.

Back in the spring, I finally “finished” the house project I’d been documenting here:

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This isn’t the final product, but it’s close enough. I did finish it by covering it with a glaze.

I’m not pleased with the final result. It’s too cute; I was trying to express something more serious than this image conveys. The book pages I used to make the house came from a chapter of a history text on the Industrial Revolution. It talked about the terrible housing conditions for the working poor in many cities, and how difficult it was for mothers, especially, to care for their children. The text for the tree came from a children’s book about animal habitats. When I started it, I had recently read a YA novel, The Hired Girl, in which the protagonist runs away from her abusive father and works as a maid for a wealthy family in the city. I wanted to create a piece that would provoke thought about need vs. want, resources, social class, and how we nurture our young (and don’t). The leaves around the edge make this too cutesy/cheery, and I don’t like them.

There are also some issues with my (lack of) skill. Part of the reason it looks too cute is that I don’t have the skill to execute the vision I had in my head.

As a learning piece, though, it’s fine. I learned some things doing this one that will serve me in the next. I’m ready to let it go and move on. Working on this piece, while simultaneously thinking lots of personal thoughts about housing, home, resources, needs, and privilege, has me interested in small (not tiny) houses, particularly those in what were once working-class neighborhoods. Portland (OR) is in the midst of a housing crisis. A deep history of racist housing policies and current gentrification are driving many out of Portland. (If you’re interested, this article recently published in The Atlantic is an important read.)

Although I’ve tried a few times to go into my studio and begin some new work, I haven’t gotten anywhere in there. The most I’ve been able to do is go on walks and take some pictures.  I’m posting them here so I have easy access to them:

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Great photography wasn’t my goal. I just snapped these with my phone. I’m not even sure where I’m going with this. These are just interesting to me, and even though I don’t seem to be in a place to do anything much with them right now, I know that will change.

I’ve been doing creative work long enough now to know this is just the way of it. Sometimes, other things in our life use up our creative energy. Sometimes, those very things are the source material for future work. This might seem like a disjointed post–about grief and kids leaving home and…working class houses and gentrification and displacement?–but I know it’s all connected. Just as I know there will be future work.

It always comes back. There are so few enduring constants in any life, but this is one of them in mine.

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About those darling succulents…

Remember these?

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Back in February, inspired by lo the many, many images of cunning little succulent pots I’ve seen online…

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I decided that turning these sweet little 70’s coffee cups into such planters would give me justification for buying them.

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Here’s what they don’t tell you in all those blog posts:  If you do even a half-way decent job of nurturing your succulents, they will grow out of those adorable little pots:

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And it will happen far more quickly and spectacularly than you ever thought it could.

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As you see new shoots budding, you realize that the charming vision you had about those pots is going to have to be abandoned. You are going to have to let it (and them) go. If you want those succulents to keep living, you’re going to have to find a new place for them to grow. Because–of course!–they have to keep growing. The only way to not grow is to die.

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And you don’t want that:

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So you look for new pots, ones with more space. You prepare to transplant. You let their old life, in the little cups on the kitchen window sill, go. It’s hard. They were so sweet, and you loved them even more than you thought you would. You know how empty the sill is going to look without them.

In not unrelated news, this song–released the year my daughter was born (yes, that was really 18 years ago!)–has been playing on repeat in my head the past few days:

 

Of seeds and waiting and blossoming

Please let me introduce you to Miss Rumphius:

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It is because of Miss Rumphius, aka The Lupine Lady, that I’ve always wanted to grow lupines.

She is first a librarian and then a world traveler, but after an injury she realizes it is time to find her “home by the sea” and fulfill the final prong of her 3-part life mission statement, which is to make the world a more beautiful place. She comes to do so by planting lupines.

I have always wanted to be like Miss Rumphius (well, at least since I first met her–which was probably 25 years ago), and it is because of her that I’ve long loved lupines.

Sadly, I’ve never had much luck with growing them. I’ve planted lupines numerous times, but they’ve always been a bit puny and nothing like the ones growing on the cover of  Miss Rumphius’s book.

Until this year:

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I have only this one plant, but isn’t it glorious?

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It’s struggled to grow for at least two years. Its leaves would come up, but it never flowered. I’d pretty much given up on it, thinking that, perhaps, I was just not meant to be a grower of lupines.

It’s funny how things sometimes grow and blossom when we leave them be.

Miss Rumphius plants a few seeds in stony ground, and they bloom several seasons later, after winter and then a spring of illness. Looking out her window at them from the confines of her bed, she wishes she could plant more, but her health prevents it. When she is finally able to get out again after another winter and spring, she sees that the flowers have spread, their seeds carried by the birds and wind.

It happens without her needing to do anything other than plant those few first seeds. And wait, and let things take their natural course.

I suppose it might have been well enough to leave it there, but she doesn’t. She orders bushels of seed that she begins to carry in her pockets, tossing them everywhere she goes. Some people call her crazy, but she just walks and flings seeds, trusting in the process.

Which, of course, is enough. Eventually, her flowers bloom everywhere.

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Like Miss Rumphius, I am ending one stage of life and beginning another, wondering what I might do to make the world a more beautiful place.

I suspect the seeds of an answer to my question have already been sewn, and that it will unfurl when I turn my attention to other things and stop waiting for its bloom.

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A friend told me this week that a watched peony never blossoms.

What about you, friends? Anything you’re waiting for?

Of eggs and small actions and big days

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One of my most precious eggs is rolling away.

That is OK. It is right. It is the fitting culmination (and simultaneous beginning, of course) of a huge creative endeavor.

It is amazing to me, how every finished creative work is the accumulation of so many, many small actions. Many of those actions are tedious–adding layer over layer of color, driving the car to a school, making dinner, putting a comma in and taking it out and putting it back in again. Cutting out a hundred tiny leaves.

And yet, there is a certain joy in them. There must be, or we wouldn’t persevere.

Tonight I join with a cast of amazing, talented women on a stage. There will be joy in the culmination, the celebration, the finished product. But no small part of it will be because–not in spite of–all the small actions each of us has taken to live and craft and share the stories we’ll be telling.

This truth, and my ability to live by it, is an egg I can keep within the walls of any shelter I might find or make.

House 2.0

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A few posts back, Marion pointed me to the work of Amanda White, who makes wonderful collages of writers’ houses. (You can see some nice, large versions at Brown Paper Bag.)

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I love the way creative communities work. If Marion hadn’t done that, I might never have gone down the road I have with that initial impulse I had to make something about houses. I love White’s work so much. (Collages, houses, writers? All in one? Yes, please.) It sent me on a Google search for collage houses, and oh, the things I found! (Rather than linking to them all here, I’ll just send you to the Pinterest board I created to store them in.)

Once I discovered these, I lost interest in the  map houses I was working on (which is part of the reason I just finished that project, even though I thought it was crappy). I wanted to create houses with more detail.

A bit about process

The first thing I did was head out with my phone to take pictures of houses I like:

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I was looking for houses that reminded me of my grandmothers’ houses, and I was looking for houses that I thought I might be able to re-create. (As  you can see, I didn’t focus on taking great photos. I really just wanted to snap as many as I could as quickly as I could. After making one house, I now know that I need to take the shot as level and straight-on as I can. Maybe later I’ll want to try making houses from different angles/perspectives, but not yet.)

The next thing I did was attempt to sketch some of the houses, because I knew I’d  have to draw the parts on the paper I would use to make the collage. I remembered my lessons from Ed Emberley, and I focused on breaking each house down into its shapes. When I do this, drawing isn’t quite so daunting.

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Nonetheless, I’m thinking about trying to find a drawing class to take this summer.

I started with the simplest house I could find, and as I started to figure some things out, I moved on to more complex ones. I found it was really helpful to have the photos to help me. I would measure the dimensions of the shape in the photo, and I used that to get scale correct(ish).

Then it was on to making a house. Again, I chose the simplest one to start with (top left in the photo collage above, which is from the house in the bottom left of the first house images photo collage).

For materials, I decided to use paper from old books I have. I thought about not coloring them in any way and trying to use varying fonts and type sizes to create color and texture, but I decided I’m not that good yet. I used watercolor pencils instead. I cut out blocks of text, and then used layers of pencil color that I rubbed together with my fingers.

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When I went looking for text to use, I found I didn’t want to use just any old random text. I have two books for cutting with information about the industrial revolution and the horrible living conditions that most working-class people lived in during that time. That seemed like fitting text (more on that later), so that’s what I used.

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Then it was a matter of cutting out my pieces and gluing them together.

I say that like it was a simple undertaking, but in truth it was hard and very slow-going. I learned that I have to build the houses in component parts (doors, windows, etc.). I’m careful about when I glue something down–because if I mess up and have to discard something, it might mean discarding several components if they are already glued together. (Ask me how I learned that!)

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This was not the only roof I made.

I can’t believe it took me two weeks to make this simple house, but it did. The chimney alone probably took an hour.

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So many teeny-tiny bricks…

I will be combining this house with some words and with some other elements, but this is what I have for now:

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It’s not perfect, but I’m much happier with this than I was with my first draft houses. And I can’t wait to start house 3.0.

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Doesn’t a new set of pencils make you feel like you could create amazing things?

 

 

The good kind of shitty

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So that is my collage poem/art about home.

Don’t spend any time trying to figure out something nice you can say about it in the comments. I know it’s not good. It is not at all what I could see in my head as I was making it. And that’s OK. I’m even going to call it more than OK.

Somewhere around the time I laid down some crappy-ass Sharpie on the houses, I knew it wasn’t going to be what I hoped. I thought about chucking all the houses and starting over, but one thing that came to mind was Anne Lamott’s famous words about shitty first drafts.

I was feeling fairly paralyzed until I started thinking of this collage as a first draft. I mean, I really wanted my whole houses from maps and collage poem about houses thingy to work out differently. When I realized it was going to be crap, I contemplated starting over with it. But then I started remembering Ira Glass’s words about being a beginner. I’ve referenced them before, but today I’m going to put (some of) them right in front of you:

All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But it’s like there is this gap. For the first couple years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good. It’s not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not that good.

But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you. A lot of people never get past that phase. They quit.

Everybody I know who does interesting, creative work they went through years where they had really good taste and they could tell that what they were making wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be. They knew it fell short. Everybody goes through that.

And if you are just starting out or if you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Do a huge volume of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week or every month you know you’re going to finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you’re going to catch up and close that gap. And the work you’re making will be as good as your ambitions.

(One of many sources for this here.)

If I waited to share this until I had the skill to make it match the vision in my head, I could be doing nothing else for a very long time. (And not sharing for a very long time.) But, once I was able to think of it as a shitty first draft, I was able to finish it and let it go.

Let’s look at it again. Like all first drafts, there are some glints of promise. Some sparkles of potential. But, let’s not deny how it is also, right now, pretty damn shitty:

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I look at this, and I know Glass’s words are true, and sometimes this truth is disheartening.

When I was parenting younger children, I just didn’t have enough time to do a huge volume of creative work. (And that’s a truth, too, despite all the creative gurus out there who tell you that if you want it bad enough, you’ll make the time. Don’t believe me? Read Kelly Diels’s piece on time confetti, and then let’s talk.) Although my kids are less time-intensive than they once were and are preparing to leave my nest, I still have heavy time commitments to others.

But here are some other true words, too, that my friend Alexandra shared on Facebook over the weekend:

“When people start stopping, that’s when they start getting old.”

I don’t use “old” as a pejorative, but there’s a certain kind of old I want to be. I want to be the kind of older person who never stops starting.

And who never quits.

That’d be the shit.

 

Telling it raw

Last week, I traveled to Bellingham, Washington, to see my grandmother.

As we drove the last stretch of I-5 that carves into the foothills bordering Lake Whatcom, my mind was filled with a hum that sounded like homehomehomehomehome.

I’ve never lived in Bellingham, but it was home to both sets of grandparents, assorted cousins, and loads of family lore. The happiest days of my childhood were spent there, and I know it felt like homehomehome because it is the place I have felt most safe, most free, most me. As a young adult venturing out on my own, Bellingham was my safety net. My other grandmother’s house caught more than one of my cousins during a tumble, and I always knew I had a place to go if I really needed it.

That grandmother’s house was sold the year I was pregnant with my twins, and the grandmother I was visiting isn’t doing well. Although she’s still in her home, she’s not in a place to have company. Cane and I stayed in a lovely, funky little house we found through Airbnb, close to Bellingham Bay, near the house that has been sold. Through the night, I could hear the sounds I heard when I slept there as a young girl, the trains’ whistles and gulls’ cries. They, too, sounded like homehomehome.

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Bellingham has changed since the years it was a regular part of my life. It feels much smaller, as places from childhood tend to do. But it was still homehomehome, and although I didn’t cry when our car moved again through the foothills, this time heading south, I felt heavy inside.

Too heavy to cry. I have lived away from the Sound and my people for more than 25 years, and I want to go home.

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This wonderful bookstore wasn’t there when I was a kid. I spent a happy late afternoon here.

Until last fall, our house in Oregon felt like home to me, but it really doesn’t any more. It is just a house now, one my children will be leaving within the next 6 months. I am feeling untethered, and I am asking, again, questions I feel I should have answered long ago.

And so, this is why I am mucking about with words about home.

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I can’t say much about my process. I spent more time than I’d like to admit over last week’s spring break just moving strips of words around on a piece of green paper, not getting anywhere. I am not sure why I decided to make houses out of pieces of maps, but I did.

To make the houses I first sketched some house shapes, and then I looked at some images of house drawings. (Do a Google image search for “house graphic vector” if you’re in need of house drawings to help you see the shapes of houses.) Then I just started cutting out boxes and triangles and putting houses together. I did that for a day or two and left the words alone.

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Then when I returned to the words, I realized I needed the bit about looking on a map–because the houses are made of maps. I decided to take out anything having to do with building/creating a home.

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During yesterday’s early-morning, 4th day of migraine insomnia-fest, I realized that, perhaps, the open space needed to curve on the page the way Bellingham Bay curves into the town. And that I definitely need the water words. I might need to think more about water.

At any rate, this is where I am now.

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I’m not that thrilled with this.

I want the houses to look differently. As I’ve been driving about the past two days, I’ve been seeing the shapes of houses. I think these houses may be just practice houses. I know the words aren’t right, either.

But I am attempting to practice stripped-back storytelling, which Jill introduced me to this week. I like the idea of it, raw blogging.

This is pretty raw, all right. Just like my feelings these days. We’ll have to wait and see what comes of any of it.

 

 

Wednesday words 3.23.16: Home

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I think most of you who read followed me here from my now-defunct home blog. If so, you know that questions of home have been at the core of my being for a long, long time.

I suspect I have much to say again on this topic, but not yet.

The images above are from something I’m working on. I don’t know yet what it will be, what form it will take. I don’t know what it will say–about home or anything else.

Sometimes, I start to write because I have something I want to say, and I work hard to get the words to convey what I mean.

Sometimes, I don’t know what I mean, and I work hard to get the words to help me figure it out. Right now is one of those times. This is a different kind of “writing” than I’ve done before. It feels almost like reading Tarot cards, or looking for meaning in my dreams. (In other words, way more woo-woo than feels comfortable for me.) Instead of producing words and looking for some kind of sense in them, I’m looking for words and seeing what kind of sense they make. Or might make.

Clearly, I am not far enough into this to articulate anything clearly–about my topic or my process. But one thing I’d like to do here is share process. I wish I’d been able to see much more of others’ processes when I was younger. So here it is, nebulous and messy as it is:

I’m looking through books and cutting out words that seem connected to my questions of home–what is is, how we make it, what we need from it, how we will know when we’ve found it. 

I’m trying not to think too hard right now, not to force anything. I’m trying to trust my process, and myself. Like so many things right now, it feels both very uncomfortable and necessary.