Bad teeth, bad dogs, bad weeks. And Puerto Rico.

The world offered up to me a week of minor insults–an emergency trip to the vet, a date that didn’t go as planned, a several-days migraine, a nasty email, a flat tire, ridiculous lines at the fabric store, a work meeting on Saturday morning, and a broken disposal on Saturday night that spewed water, cilantro, and various other semi-rotten vegetables all over the inside of the under-the-sink cabinet.

Meanwhile, Puerto Rico.

By which I mean (yes, of course) multitudes of people without food, water, homes, power–but also, everything wrong in our country right now that’s wrapped up in the reasons for Puerto Rico and that’s come out in all kinds of other ways over the past week. You know:  racism, corrupt/inept leadership, seemingly willful ignorance, our ability to be distracted and divided by lesser things, and–maybe most of all–our collective weariness and inability to be truly surprised/shocked by anything that’s going down any more. (Or is that just me? )

I found myself so longing to return to a time when I could feel free to share on Facebook the petty slings and arrows flying my way and gather sympathy in response. I did indulge in sharing a pic of the flat tire, but later that night when I thought about sharing the garbage disposal mess, it just didn’t seem like the thing to do. Because:  Puerto Rico.

I mean, how can I complain about the things bringing me down when I have food, water, shelter, and power? When I am not the target of so much that is wrong right now? When my problems, literally, would not exist if I didn’t enjoy the privileges I do?

I heard from three different friends this week that all their friends seemed to be having a particularly bad week. But it’s not a full moon and Mercury’s not in retrograde until December 3. Remember when that’s the kind of reason people looked for when it seemed like everyone was having a kinda hard time all at the same time?

What you get when you Google “is mercury in retrograde”

I know part of the reason I started crying when the vet asked, “So, how are we doing this morning?” was that I was afraid she was going to tell me that we’d have to put Daisy down and it would mean I am a shitty dog owner for letting things get so bad, and I could feel the migraine coming back for the third day, and I didn’t know how I was going to get done for work the things I’d promised to get done (I didn’t), but I think it was all of those things and Puerto Rico.

Daisy is one of the two canines living in my home that one of my children refers to as “your divorce guilt dogs.” The label is not entirely unfair. I hope I didn’t say to the child something like, “We’re going to totally disrupt your life and make you live in two different places (thereby no longer having one real home), but hey! Now you can have the dog you’ve long wanted!” but I can see how this child might have heard it that way.

I’m glad she didn’t see that I also wanted those dogs because I knew I was going to need a reason to come home on dark winter nights when there would be no homework to supervise and no squabbles to referee and no one to care if “dinner” was an entire box of Kraft macaroni and cheese eaten straight from a saucepan.

Daisy and her compatriot Rocky aren’t particularly good dogs. Because they pee and shit at will in our house despite my many attempts to persuade them to do otherwise, we’ve had to remove all the carpet from our home. (The other child and I once created a parody of the Commodores’ “Brick House” about Daisy, which opened with, “Oh, she’s a bad dog / She’s mighty naughty, just poopin’ all over the house.” ) Because they are Dachshunds, they’ve cost me thousands of dollars in dental surgery. Because I somehow didn’t believe what I read in the nano-seconds of research I did before bringing them home that told me such dogs are notoriously difficult to housebreak and and are prone to bad teeth, I have been surprised by these things.  In addition, Daisy lets us know pretty regularly that she doesn’t really give any fucks about a lot of things we care about. Like not whining all through dinner, or not eating Rocky’s poop, or coming when we call her and she is looking right at us.

I love her anyway.

She doesn’t do a lot of the things I’d like her to do, but she’s ours. The song-writing child, not long after I’d moved to a house filled with mis-matched things cobbled together from garage sales, thrift stores, and craigslist, once looked around and said with disgust, “Everything in this house is used. Even our dogs are used!”

It was true. I found them on craigslist, and Daisy wasn’t mine from the beginning, but she’s mine now. I love her, and despite the fact that she disappoints me on a regular basis and has never been quite the dog I envisioned for my children or myself, she’s the dog we have and dammit, I don’t want her to die. Not yet.

When I let one of the children know that I for-sure wouldn’t be coming for a maybe-visit in November because I’ll be paying for doggie dental surgery instead, even though the lower portion of Daisy’s jaw has so deteriorated that it has detached from the upper and cannot be repaired, she asked me, kindly, when I’d know it was time to let go.

“I mean, what’s the amount that is too much, Mom? She is just a dog, you know?”

I don’t really know, but not yet. I mean, yes, she’s just a dog–but she is also love and hope and dreams and history. Not unlike my country, which I love in ways not unlike the ways I love my dog and my kids:  Imperfectly, irrationally, deeply, unconditionally.

Even when it’s been a bad week. Even though Puerto Rico.

Because they’re mine.

 

 

 

Word for the year: Amplify

I know I’m a little late for the word of the year business, but I’ve been using every spare minute to launch the project I alluded to in my last post. It’s got everything to do with my word for this year:

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My word for last year was “voice”–and let me tell you, I’ve just gotta say that the previous 12 months made me a believer in the power of choosing a word. I’ll admit I was a skeptic. Choosing a word seemed like a twee, precious kinda thing for people who clearly have a sort of privilege most don’t. Maybe it is, but it made a powerful difference in my year, and I’d like to think that it made at least a small difference for some other folks, too.

Because my word was voice, I made the decision to audition for Listen to Your Mother. There, I got way out of my comfort zone, where I found wonderful new friends. I shared a piece that others told me helped them with their own struggles. I was not really pleased with my performance, but I’m pleased that I did it. And then later in the year I took a writing class from one of those new friends, and learned a new way to use my voice.

Because my word was voice, I entered into the political fray in ways I never have. It started with this post, but it didn’t end there. I began talking with others in different ways, about different things. As the year’s political events unfolded, I talked more and more. It was hard! I know some people don’t like what I’ve been saying, and for someone with decades of people-pleasing as her go-to strategy for getting along in the world, well…that doesn’t feel very comfortable. However, just as using my voice on stage brought me new relationships, using my voice in social media has done the same. I’ve found I’m connecting to some in different ways, and some in deeper ways. I may have lost some relationships, but I have more of the right ones. Using my voice more truthfully and more often has given me that.

Because I got myself more involved in political conversation and started to feel more comfortable using my voice, I made the decision to enter a program to learn how to be a leader for equity. And that has changed everything for me. My view of the world has changed. It has been hard. Really hard. Uncomfortable. Painful. I got to participate in some difficult conversations. They are on-going. I am finding myself tested to use my voice in ways I never considered using it. This is all very much a work in progress, and I know I’m in the early stages of it. Although it’s challenging and often doesn’t feel good, it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. My life–and the world in which I live it–has become richer than I ever knew it could be. Voice has given me that.

Using my voice has also brought gains in my personal life. I haven’t written much about that in a long time because it was a hard, hard year. Using our voices doesn’t mean that we don’t still get to make choices about where we’ll use them or what we’ll talk about. Cane and I have been dealt some pretty crappy cards in the past 3 years, and they are hands we needed to play out mostly privately. I think the only reason we’re still in the game is that I finally learned how to speak more honestly. I learned how to express hard truths that need to be said. That people-pleasing thing is a relationship killer and all kinds of ass-backwards conditioning. You do it thinking it’s making things better, but it really isn’t. It just send problems underground, where they fester and eventually emerge in destructive ways. We’ve still got hard road to travel. We’re still living separately half the time. But it is finally feeling as if we’ve turned a corner toward some light.

But that was all last year!

I will admit that I didn’t go through the same word-choosing process this year. Because:  The end of 2016 was brutal. I got personally gobsmacked by things I didn’t know in late October, and while I was still reeling from that, November 8th ran over me like a bus. I was feeling slammed on all fronts by giant truths I’d been blind to, and I couldn’t get my bearings. For most of November and December, nothing felt solid under my feet.

In the past few weeks, though, I thought about the word thing off and on. I considered “no.” And then I considered “yes.” I considered “resist” and “resistance.” And then one day the word just came to me, and as soon as it did I knew it was the right one:  Amplify.

2016 was about finding and using my own voice, and  2017 is going to be about turning up the volume. It’s not so much about broadcasting my own voice, though, as it is about lifting up the voices of others. If you’re my Facebook friend, you know that mostly what I do there is share things I think are important for people to see. That’s one way of amplifying.

Another way of amplifying is to create a stage and invite others onto it. As I stumbled around on that shifting ground in the last months of 2016, I spent a lot of time wondering what my response to our unfolding events should be. So many things are so pressing. It’s hard to know how to best use limited time and money and energy. I watched others leaping into immediate action, and I wanted to be like that, too. I did some things, but none of them felt like the best things for me.

The day the Electoral College voted, I drove in terrible weather for more than hour, alone, to my state capital for a protest. I knew no one, and the turnout was small. I stood at the edges of the crowd, wondering what to do. People were chanting, but I’ve never been a good chanter. (It always reminds me of the Hitler rallies they showed us when I was in school.) It was really damn cold, and, honestly, it felt a bit pointless to me. My state’s electors weren’t going to be casting votes for Trump, and it occurred to me that there were probably much better ways for me to spend my energy that day. After 15 minutes, I got back in my car and drove home, thinking about what I could do.

During the drive, I felt a calm settle over me. I think I needed that day to finally accept that the unacceptable was going to happen. Our president is going to be a lying, manipulative, impulsive, self-serving, ignorant jackass who threatens things I once believed could never be destroyed, and he is supported by huge numbers of people who don’t believe and/or care about factual truth. His presidency might bring the kinds of things I once thought would exist for us only in dystopian novels. It will definitely hurt people I care about. Somehow, paradoxically, these truths allowed me to stop feeling frantic about doing something rightnowrightnowrightnow and accept that we all need to adjust ourselves for a long, most-likely painful haul. I realized that what we are facing is a marathon, not a sprint.

I started thinking about what I can maintain over the long distance of four or more years. I realized that what we all need to do is find those things that are best suited to the talents and skills and resources we have and trust that others will do the things we’re not able to do. That’s been hard for me, as mine don’t feel like the ones that might be most essential right now. I’ll be honest:  I wish I had some different ones. But we’ve all got to work with what we’ve got.

What I am is an educator, a librarian, a writer, and a reader. I’ve got time in the evenings, but not much during the work day. I thought long and hard about what it is that created change in me over the past year, what pushed me out of my comfort zone and into a place where I can more clearly see how injustice and oppression works in my country. I realized that it was story and information and discussion–things that an educator/librarian/writer/reader is pretty much wonderfully equipped to support.

And so that’s what I’m planning to do in the coming 12 months. With my daughter, I’m starting a new project, The Year of Reading Dangerously, which you can find in a different site, right here. That’s a place where weI hope to amplify the voices of the writers and readers. It won’t be as much about my voice as about the voices of everyone in the community. While it is not the only work I’ll be doing to resist the degradation of our democracy, it’s work that I know I can do. It alone can’t save the world, but it’s a pebble I can drop into the vast pond we all share, with faith that the ripples will touch others in ways I’ll likely never know about.

I really hope you’ll join me there. I’ll still be writing here, toggling back and forth between both places. I can’t not write, and I value the community here more than I can say. At the beginning of 2016, I dared the year to give me whatever it wanted, thinking it couldn’t be much worse than 2015. Honestly, it was nearly as bad. The lifting up I’ve gotten from those of you who join me here made all the difference in the world to me. Thank you for reading, writing, and slogging through the challenge of being human with me.

Photo Credit: Joe The Goat Farmer Flickr via Compfight cc

Getting collective with it

As promised in my last post, I’m working on launching a project and I want this project to be a collective effort. I’m reaching out to ask for your support and expertise.

I’m looking for adult/young adult fiction/memoir that illuminates the experience of Americans in the following categories: immigrant, refugee, Muslim, African-American, disabled, Native American, Asian, women, LGBT. I’m interested in any group targeted in the election campaign and/or vulnerable if proposed policies are implemented.

I’m most interested in contemporary works that depict current American lives, and I’d like a range of ages for the main characters. Please share any titles you’d recommend in the comments.

Thank You!
#letsgetdangerous

Wednesday Words: 1.6.16

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To Her Absent Husband

I try to love you with light hands,
fingers cupped enough to hold you,
yet open, so you won’t mistake them for a cage,
but no matter how I curl them, too often
they are empty and you are gone again.
You seem to me then like a suit on a hanger,
or a car idling at a curb, no driver in the front seat.
I walk into love’s closet and bury my face in the suit’s jacket, inhaling
your scent, but the empty sleeves hang slack above my hips.
In the car, I rest my cheek against the cold window,
the chorus of a song you once gave me playing
in my head, wondering if you still listen to that music.

When I am away from you, my wonderings bloom
like weeds in the field of space between us, and then our marriage is a kite
I am running with to hold aloft.

I am tired of running, of looking backwards to see
if the kite is still there, bobbing in our infinite sky.
I need to let go of the string.
It is a beautiful kite, and I love it.
I love it.
But I don’t want a kite.
I want, perhaps, a glass of water.
A letter to read by the bank of a river, or in front of a fire.
A pair of warm socks.
I want something I can put on, hold close, drink from.
There are many things I might be for you,
would be for you, forever:
a sheer curtain, the limb of an oak, a painting
on the wall of a favorite room.
I do not want to be a shovel or a boot.
I do not want to be a cracked teacup, a scratched record,
a shutter banging against the house on a cold night.
I will not be the dog who whines outside your closed door.

Poem is mine. Photo is from: ** RCB ** via Compfight cc

Recently, someone asked about posting their own Wednesday Words and linking to them here. Please let me know in the comments if that’s something you’d like to do. And if you do your own version of Wednesday Words, please feel free to leave a comment with a link to your post. 

Yeah, about those napkins…

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they didn’t get finished. But it’s OK.

Despite starting in early November, which I thought would give me plenty of time, I ran out of it. No–that’s not quite right. I chose to use my time differently.

I might have finished the napkins, if…

  • I’d chosen a simpler design for them.
  • I’d done pretty much nothing but embroider during every free minute from Thanksgiving to Christmas.

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When I found myself feeling anxious and resentful about the project, I knew it was time to let go of it as a Christmas present. To hang onto my original goal, I’d have had to give up other things:

The quality of the finished product. I might have followed the advice some readers gave to embroider only one flower per napkin, but I really didn’t want to. I like them as they are coming to be, and I didn’t want to compromise that.

Time with my family. Although I can sometimes work on the project while in the same room with my family, I’m not giving them the same kind of attention when I do that. I chose to be more fully present than I would otherwise have been, which was something we all needed.

Other gifts that were also meaningful. I didn’t finish the napkins, but I did make these journals for a friend/colleague and her daughters. They were quick and easy and quite satisfying (and I’ll put up a quick post about them in a few days).

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I really did want to finish the project and give it to my mom for Christmas, but the relief I felt when I gave myself permission to let go of it (for now) told me that letting go was the right choice. The work already done is not wasted; they will be just as appreciated for Mother’s Day or for her birthday in September. In the end, I got my mom a pair of pretty pajamas, which she loved, and I gave myself the gift of a little gentleness, which I sorely needed to get through the holidays in what has been (and continues to be) a difficult season of my life.

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It was good to get a reminder that we always have the power to make choices and the ability to change our minds.  And, that what we originally hope for might not be the only good outcome.

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I hope you’ve all had wonderful holidays. Looking forward to connecting with you more often in this space now that things will settle down a bit. (I hope! Don’t want to jinx things!)

Welcome to Siberia

Welcome to Holland, a pretty famous essay about having a child with a disability, likens the experience to ending up in Holland when one has booked a trip to Italy. While it contains some important truths, it doesn’t really capture the disability story I’ve been living, one of parenting a child who develops serious mental health issues during adolescence . So, I wrote my own version. I call it, “Welcome to Siberia.”

Having a baby is like moving to a fabulous foreign country–say, Italy. Sure, it takes a while to get used to living in a whole new land, but…it’s Italy. There’s sun, and good food, and beautiful things to see, and everyone loves bambinos.

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Years pass, and life goes along as life does, largely without notice, but one day you and the rest of your family get on a train that doesn’t stop where you expected to get off.

You tell yourself that it’s no big deal and that you’ll just exit at the next stop, but the train moves past it, too. You’re not sure of what to do. You’re not even sure if you should worry. I mean, you’re all safe, and you’re in Italy of all places.

But stop after stop ticks by, and the train is picking up speed, and you start to feel a bit panicked. You look around for a conductor, some kind of helper, but no one seems to know what’s going on.

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The train keeps going, and because you’re so stunned by the unexpected weirdness of what’s happening, it takes a while for you to register that the train is on its way out of the country, out of your country, your beloved Italy. It’s just so unbelievable. I mean, how did you all get trapped on a train to…where is this train going anyway?

You travel through terrain you think you’ve maybe read about somewhere, but it’s nowhere you’ve ever wanted to visit, and at some point (you don’t know where, because you still don’t know where the hell you are), you let go of your denial-fueled belief that someone is going to fix this obvious mistake and help you get back to Italy right away. You become angry, and sad, and in quiet moments when the kids aren’t looking you admit to yourself that you are very, very scared.

Just when you finally accept that you may never return to Italy, the train stops. The doors open, and you step into…Siberia.

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The first thing you notice is that it is really fucking cold in Siberia.

The kids start whining and you know that none of you are equipped for this place. You don’t even have warm coats. Your co-parent (because parenting has become the defining element of your relationship to each other) shoots you a look that says, “How in the hell are we all going to survive this?

No one welcomes you to Siberia, but after awhile you see that there are some other people here. You’re desperate for information (Why are we here? How do we make it in this place? How do we get back home?), but you’re also afraid to approach them, afraid to get too close, afraid it might mean that this exile is not just some horrible dream.

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You’re lonely and you want to talk to someone, but you’re also not sure you really want to hear what any of these people might have to tell you. You know it’s not rational, but on some level you think that if you accept them and this place, it will seal your fate, make it impossible for you to leave. And you really, really want to leave. You make small talk, but your heart’s not in it.

Your heart is back in Italy.

You send letters and emails home, trying to explain to friends and family still there what happened to you. Some you don’t hear back from, and some send messages full of advice that only works in Italy.

Clearly, they have never been to Siberia.

Some want to understand and help, they truly do, but you can’t find the words to convey how sharply a Siberian wind can cut, how empty the sky can feel. Some tell you it must not be so different from being in Holland (even though they’ve never been there, either), and you kinda want to snap at them,

“Do you know what I’d give to see a goddamn tulip right now?”

But you know they mean well and they’re trying to help and it’s not their fault you’ve been sent to this godforsaken place where you’re pretty sure tulips will never, ever grow.

It’s hard to keep trying to explain, and you’re more than a little afraid that everyone back home is wondering what you did to make this happen to your family (because that’s what you are wondering, too), so you begin sending messages with general pleasantries instead:

“The sky was blue today.”

“It was nice to have some warm soup.”

“The wind has died down a bit.” 

Your Italian friends miss you, but they seem relieved when it seems that you’ve begun to adjust. You still love them and they love you, but you know the relationships probably can’t be quite the same, what with them there and you here, in Siberia.

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Eventually, just as when you moved to Italy, life goes back to going along as life does, and you become accustomed to your “new normal.” Still, you really miss Italy sometimes. You wish you’d appreciated more of it while you were there. You wonder if it would have been easier to have lived all those earlier years in Holland and never known Italy. You wonder if Holland is where you’re going to end up, and you’re just on this arduous detour through Siberia because that’s the path for parents who got to live in Italy first.

But mostly–because you now understand that you will never return to Italy and that anyone can be exiled at any time, with no warning–you allow yourself to let these questions go, and you surrender to Siberia.

Gradually, your expectations change. Your dreams change. You become grateful for different sorts of things–like, that you still have dreams and expectations. That although the landscape’s beauty is of the desolate kind, there is beauty, and you do see it.

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It’s only then you realize that even in Siberia, there are seasons. There are days, weeks, even months  of relative warmth, and damn if there aren’t even a few tulips after all–flowers more lovely to you than any that ever bloomed in Italy, not in small part because they are rare, and because they’ve blossomed where you once thought nothing delicate could grow.

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Ball Crawl Photo Credit: Rita Ott Ramstad
Moving Train Photo Credit: Cellanova via Compfight cc
Winter Tundra Photo Credit: Photo Credit: dration via Compfight cc
Boots Photo Credit: sibwarden via Compfight cc
Mail Photo Credit: Ian Broyles via Compfight cc
Siberian Beauty Photo Credit: sidnegail via Compfight cc
Siberian Tulip Photo Credit:  http://www.plantarium.ru/page/image/id/56178.html

Real Life

OK, “Edge” it is…but not quite yet today!

Because today, this guy and I have to go to the Clackamas County Fair!

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OK, so I know he doesn’t look super fair-ready in this shot. But believe me, he’s super-excited!

I mean, how could we miss such events as Pigeon Rolling, Rabbit Agility, and Chicken Races? (Well, we will miss some of those, because it’s already 10:00 and I’m sitting here typing this post. But we should be there in time for Chicken Races!)

So, the Edge story will come soon. And for those of you who wanted “Yellow,” it’s basically the same story. Or at least I’m going to roll them into one.

In the meantime, here’s this week’s August Break entries. As with previous posts on this topic, didn’t exactly follow the rules/timeline and how only a few entries.

First one up is not my photo. I couldn’t capture what wildfire smoke did to our air yesterday, but it was bad.

Smoke from wildfires made our air smoky and hazy yesterday. Continues today. So much loss.

FIRE: Smoky haze continues today. So much loss.

This one's a sneak peak at that Edge story...

REAL LIFE:  This one’s a sneak peak at that Edge story…

LOOK UP: I also like to look close.

LOOK UP: I also like to look close.

READING: I have been reading about fashion for women over 40. Which I keep on a secret Pinterest board because I'm embarrassed to admit that I care. And that I no longer know how to dress.

READ: I have been reading about fashion for women over 40. Which I keep on a secret Pinterest board because I’m embarrassed to admit that I care. And that I no longer know how to dress. More to come on this topic. Clothing is going to be my newest political axe to grind.

TWO and SWEET DELIGHTS: What could be a sweeter delight than a summer afternoon nap for two?

TWO and SWEET DELIGHTS: What could be a sweeter delight than a summer afternoon nap for two?

And…I’m off to see some chickens! And eat pie! Can’t wait to see the entries in the table setting competition…

Are you already doing the thing you’re meant to do?

During a visit to Powell’s early this summer, I found myself irritated by yet another book of the follow-your-bliss ilk, Elle Luna’s The Crossroads of Should and Must:  Find and Follow Your Passion.

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What a churlish, bitter old person I must be, to find such a positive and inspiring (and visually adorable) book irritating! Yet, irritated I was, and irritated I have been at the plethora of voices telling me I have a One True Thing and that the path to a meaningful, contented life is to quit the things I don’t like so I can  live out my passion.

 

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(The Holstee Manifesto, which you can find here: https://www.holstee.com/pages/manifesto)

I thought perhaps it was all just sour grapes on my part. I spent years–no, decades!–trying desperately to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. Sometime in the last few I decided that my time to satisfactorily answer that question had run out.

And that sucked.

It was a source of dissatisfaction and disappointment and a keen sense that I somehow missed out, had wasted my “one wild and precious life“–despite the fact that I had, for a while, rejected the whole idea that we have a One True Thing. Because there are so many, many things I am interested in and want to do, I’ve wondered if the idea that we all have a One Thing is counter-productive. Perhaps, even, destructive.

Being the kind of person who can’t help poking at a canker sore with my tongue, a few days later I checked out the viral internet post that Luna’s book grew from. And there I read the words that turned my irritation and discontent on their unpleasant heads:

Should is how others want us to show up in the world — how we’re supposed to think, what we ought to say, what we should or shouldn’t do. It’s the vast array of expectations that others layer upon us. When we choose Should the journey is smooth, the risk is small.

Must is different—there aren’t options and we don’t have a choice.

Must is who we are, what we believe, and what we do when we are alone with our truest, most authentic self. It’s our instincts, our cravings and longings, the things and places and ideas we burn for, the intuition that swells up from somewhere deep inside of us.

The turning didn’t happen instantaneously. The words had to stew around in my head for a day or so. Has there ever, I wondered, been a Must in my life? Has anything ever felt not optional? 

As a matter of fact, there has been, and the moment I finally saw it I felt the plates of my being shift:

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This wasn’t the satisfactory shift of things clicking into place. It was more like the shifting of tectonic plates, the kind that jolts the ground beneath your feet.

No, no, no, no, NO:  Mothering could not be my Must, my One True Thing! If anything was, it was supposed to be  writing. I’d known that ever since 9th grade, when my first poem was published and a portfolio of my work placed in a prestigious writing contest and Mrs. Marchbank, my beloved creative writing teacher, told me that she knew one day she’d walk into a bookstore and see my books on the shelf.

I’d known even longer that mothering was not the thing that could or should be any woman’s True Thing. I grew up during the second wave of the 20th century feminist movement, when we listened to Free to Be You and Me in the classroom, and Title IX meant I had a right play sports with the boys, and passage of the Equal Rights Amendment felt like an inevitability. Sure, I was raised by a (mostly) stay-at-home mom, but she was one who refused to buy me Barbies because she didn’t want me to think looking pretty and dressing up was what being a woman was all about.

By the time I read Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale in college, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to be a mother. I’d never liked babysitting or young children and I felt none of the maternal stirrings some of my college friends voiced.

But-but-but…is it possible that all those messages, so well-meaning and positive and affirming, were the voices Luna describes as the ones telling us how we should show up in the world? Although the intent was to free me from limiting expectations–and I am so deeply, profoundly grateful for that–is it possible that I internalized the messages as expectations nonetheless?

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When it comes to mothering, most things have never felt optional. I can see, thanks to Luna’s words, that the ways in which I’ve mothered have been inseparable from who I am and what I believe.

Although mothering seems antithetical to fully becoming one’s own self–isn’t it, by definition, about supporting others in doing that?–it is through mothering that I have become my truest and most authentic self. Mothering has pushed me to question just about everything I believe, to stretch my talents, to take hard stands. It has challenged and required both my creativity and intelligence. It has often been hard and heart-breaking, but it’s also the most satisfying work I’ve done. While I’ve done much for my children, at its core mothering them was all for me, too.

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I don’t want to get side-tracked into a Mommy War skirmish. I’m not claiming that mothering is either lesser or greater than any other Must, or that I’m a better or more committed mother than women who have had both children and some other Must. I’m just sharing my own, personal, surprising truth–mostly because it raised for me a question I’m not sure I’ve seen raised in any of the things I’ve read about following your bliss:

What does it mean when your bliss is something that isn’t (or can’t) be your livelihood?

Because, isn’t that always the assumption, that somehow our bliss should be the foundation for our paid work? In her original essay and book, Luna explores the difference between jobs and careers and callings, and asserts that our highest forms of satisfaction and meaning come when all three intersect. That sounds pretty wonderful–it’s what I spent years longing for–but what does it mean if our Must is something for which we can’t get paid? Is it just as valid/valuable to do work that isn’t a Must if it provides the means that allow us to follow an unpaid passion?

As I contemplated these questions and searched for answers, I discovered Cal Newport, who’s given me a much more satisfying and useful way to look at the issue of work and passion:

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Newport says that “the conventional wisdom on career success–follow your passion–is seriously flawed.” Instead, he argues, passion emerges when we adopt a “craftsman mindset” (asking, What can I offer the world?) and find/create work through which we can develop skill, autonomy, and value. As we engage in work that allows us to grow skill and develop value that sets us apart from others, we become passionate about it.

In other words, we don’t find or follow passion. We create it.

If Newport is right, love for work grows in the same way that love for people grows. Sure, it might start with an initial spark of excitement and attraction, but true love grows over time through an accumulation of engaged experience. And sometimes, love sneaks up on us and we see it only after we’re deep in the middle of it. Sometimes, not just in corny Disney movies, we realize that the flashy, hot-looking guy (perhaps a creative career?) doesn’t have as much substance as the good, steady guy who’s been right for us in ways we never even realized were important.

Suddenly, more plate shifting, of even larger seismic magnitude:  Is it possible I actually have been getting paid for doing a Must and I just never recognized it?

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Is it possible I  was never able to leave education, even as I so often felt as if it was keeping me from my One True Thing, because it, too, is a Must? Did it turn into a Must without me realizing it because I was so busy looking elsewhere I couldn’t see its true value? If I take the paragraph I wrote above about mothering and substitute the word “teaching,” it is just as true:

…it is through teaching that I have become my truest and most authentic self. Teaching has pushed me to question just about everything I believe, to stretch my talents, to take hard stands. It has challenged and required both my creativity and intelligence. It has often been hard and heart-breaking, but it’s also the most satisfying work [for pay] I’ve done. While I’ve done much for my learners, at its core teaching them was all for me, too.

For years I resented teaching for keeping me from being able to immerse myself in writing, but I can see now that I taught in the ways I did not because of what others required of me but because of what I required of myself, to meet my  wants and needs for autonomy and creativity and work that mattered.

I can see now that I was never able to leave education because teaching and mothering fed each other–and me–in vital ways. Teaching allowed me to mother in the ways I needed to, and mothering fostered a love for students that made it impossible for me to walk away from them. Once I had my own children, teaching others’  babies could never be just a day job for me.

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Why wasn’t I able to see this before? I think because choosing education always felt like copping out, playing it safe, failing to live up to some best version of me. Although the traditional narrative about creatives is that we are told we Should do something more sensible (and so we abandon our creative pursuits), I think that, for me, Luna’s voices of Should were the ones that said:

  • You should practice your art to its highest possible level.
  • You should make your art the centerpiece of your work.
  • You should follow your artistic passion because to do otherwise is to waste it (and your life).
  • Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.

What a relief to be able, finally, to hear these voices as ones proselytizing creative mythology, not truth. So, even though I disagree with Luna’s basic follow-your-passion premise (thank you, Cal Newport, for giving me a framework to help me understand why), I am so grateful for the ways in which her characterization of Should and Must set me on a path that’s ended with seeing my life’s work through a different and healing lens. It is such a relief to be able to lay the “what do you want to be?” question to rest and replace it with new ones:

What skills do I want to grow?
What can I provide that no one else can?
What is the best way to serve?

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If you have wrestled with questions of purpose and passion and work, the question I want to pose to you, now, is this:

Is it possible that you are already doing the thing you’re meant to do? What would it mean for you if you are?

You know I’d love to talk with you about it in the comments, so feel free to leave one. 🙂