Clear Skies

It wasn’t so long ago that I began to claim “writer” and “poet” as my identity. I put it on like a well-tailored piece of clothing: something made just for me, something that sets me apart and makes me separate from my identity of “mama”–because that particular identity is one that exhausts me. I don’t want to be solely defined by “mama”, in large part because it feels reductive. It feels like a threat to my perception of myself. But more than that, if I’m only “mama”, if I come to exist only for my children, if I am seen only in my relationship to my children, what happens when they grow up and move out? What happens when they don’t need me anymore, what happens if they move across the country or across the world? What happens if they die? Who am I then? If I hang all of my self on who I am in relation to other people, then when those people are gone, as they inevitably will be one day, I’m left groundless. So I decided that in addition to, or perhaps more than just “mother”, I am “writer.” I am “poet.” I’m more than mom. It gets me through the hard days, and it will carry me forward when the kids are gone.

But what about the times when I’m not writing? It happens frequently. It’s happening right now. As much as I’d like to establish a regular, daily writing practice, it just doesn’t seem to be a reality for me at this point in life. I’ve written about it before: as soon as I carve out a time for myself and my writing practice, someone drops a nap, or my partner goes back to work, or someone else needs me more. I haven’t written a poem in months. I torture myself, wondering if I’m still a poet, if I ever was a poet to begin with. How do I define myself now? What is my identity? Am I still just/only/forever mom?

In her book Love Warrior, and in speaking on several different podcasts, Glennon Doyle Melton, of the blog Momastery, says that we have an identity problem. She talks about how we (specifically, women) define ourselves by our relationships to others or perhaps by what we do for a living or as a passion. And when we inevitably lose those things, we’re left reeling. She has arrived at a place where she only defines herself as “a child of God.” She says that this is how she came into the world, and it’s how she’ll go out of it. That no one can take that away from her. That’s her truth.

And while “child of God” doesn’t ring true for me personally, I think I understand what she’s getting at. I’ve been reading a lot of Buddhist literature lately, and in some Buddhist traditions, it’s believed that we all possess an inner Buddha-nature, our true selves that become lost in the identities we put on and the thoughts and emotions we’re constantly reacting to. A common metaphor used to explain this is that of a clouded sky. The sky may be obscured by clouds for days or even weeks, but we know that beyond those clouds is a clear sky. We catch glimpses of it as the clouds drift by. We are born with that clear-sky nature, and we’ll die with it. This really resonates with me. In the last few days, I’ve been turning this idea over in my mind, along with Glennon’s ideas about identity.

When I first encountered the idea of non-attachment, I felt immediate resistance. If I’m not a writer and a poet, I’m no one. And that’s scary. I clung to those for dear life. I did not want to let them go. But now, I can feel that resistance loosen its hold. I’m realizing that there is a great freedom in releasing myself from my many titles. If I don’t cling to “writer” or “poet” or even “mama”, then I can’t lose those things. I can still write: there’s no denying the fact that it fills me up and connects me to some greater creative energy. And I can still mother my children, respond to their needs, move through life with them for a time. I can even still grieve those things when I lose them. But it’s not who I am. I am the clear sky above the clouds. That’s my peace, my truth right now.

On difficult days, and there are many, I try to catch a glimpse of that clear blue sky. I try to take comfort in knowing it’s there. With practice, maybe there will be longer periods of cloudlessness. Sometimes, the sky will be dark and I’ll likely forget that there was ever a clear moment. But it’s there. It can’t be taken away from me. I feel more free in my writing since coming to this truth; instead of trying to fit myself into that well-tailored piece of clothing that now feels too tight, I clothe myself in the expansive sky. I write when I can. I let it go when I can’t. I know that the intensity of parenting will lessen with time, and space to write more will open.

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Learning to Stay

It’s been a little while, friends. Since my last post, I’ve managed to pull myself out of my tailspin. It’s taken time, and I would say I’m still in the early days of really feeling 100% in control of myself again. Things are in constant flux; there’s no guarantee that this stability will last. In fact, the only sure thing is that it won’t. Things will change again. There’s comfort in that, I suppose. The highs don’t last, but neither do the lows, not forever.

We’re in Ontario visiting family right now, trying to tie up some loose ends since our move in the spring. Having extra hands to help has certainly contributed to my most recent recovery. I’ve been seeing my therapist weekly since we got here, and that little “top up” has been so important for me to sort through my shit and reaffirm some things.  I know I’ve got this; I know what needs to be done. It’s the doing it that’s hard. I’m working on not numbing out: no more wine, trying not to overeat, not to check out mentally with my phone. I’ve been running, or meditating, or reading, whenever I find a spare moment in the day. I’m trying to let go of the absolutes: the “I have to do this thing at this time every day or else I do nothing.” I’m trying to embrace the fact that, with three kids ages five and under, I’m never going to have that kind of regularity. I’m embracing the chaos of it, embracing the flux. The writing has been missing, and so here I am. And here I will try to come more often. If I can’t have my therapist in Dawson, maybe this can stand in to help me stay accountable to myself.

Something I’ve realized in the past two weeks is my intense discomfort with myself, with the present moment, with being still and staying with whatever is happening. More and more, I notice myself constantly looking for an exit. Yesterday, I took the kids to the beach. We had some fries and Orangeade; the sun was shining, it was windy but warm. A gorgeous day. As the kids ran across the sand towards the lake, shorebirds taking flight in their wake, it started: that nagging voice in my mind asking “so when do we leave? What’s next?”

What the hell?

The kids are happy. They’re not fighting, they’re not throwing toys around my parents house or nagging me for a snack. We’re fed, we’re rested, we’re outside and there is so much to see and smell and feel. Why can’t I just enjoy this? So, I brought myself back to the moment I was in. Acknowledged that restlessness, and sat through it, there in the sand and sun. It passed, and we played for another hour or so.

It’s this restlessness that drives so many of my habits. Bored? Pick up the smartphone: exit. Frustrated? Start yelling at everybody: exit. Overwhelmed? Open that bottle of wine: exit. Sad? Eat another huge helping of dinner: exit. Whether it’s physical pain or emotional pain, I’ve got an exit strategy. And I’m finally starting to see them play out, time and again. And I’m ready to stop and stick around with my shit, because I’m beginning to learn that it always passes, eventually. That the discomfort doesn’t kill me. But the exit strategies are.

Last week I got a new tattoo. It was about three and a half hours of tattooing, and of course it hurts. I breathed through much of it, chatting off and on with the artist, looking around the room, listening to the music, but at times I was overwhelmed with this creeping-up-my-spine feeling of “get me the fuck outta here!” But of course that’s not an option. I can’t leave with a half finished tattoo. I don’t want to do that. I chose this, and at the end, I’ll have this beautiful piece of art on my body. So I came back to my breath. I got through it. And it occurred to me that choosing to be present through whatever is going on isn’t a choice you make one time and then you’re set. It’s a choice you have to make over and over again, a million times a day if necessary.

That creeping feeling shows up in meditation, it shows up when I’m conciously trying not to pick up my smartphone: basically any time I’m trying to keep myself from running for the exit. It is so uncomfortable to just be present with myself. To be present in my life, this life that I’ve got. These three kids who exhaust and overwhelm me daily. But if I’m not there for the overwhelm, chances are I won’t be there for the (often rare and fleeting) bits of beauty.

In her book ““Taking the Leap”, Pema Chodron says we only have to do three things when we feel ourselves about to run for the exit:

1. Acknowledge it (with kindness, if possible)

2. Take three concious breaths. Be curious about how you’re feeling (have a sense of humour about it, if you’re able)

3. Relax. Get on with your life.

I love that she doesn’t specify what “getting on with it” might be. She leaves the possibility that we’ll still run for the exit. But the more frequently we practice creating this space around our exit strategies, the easier it will become, over time, to choose to stay present.

I’m going to practise this today and every day. I’m going to be kind with myself even when I do run for the door. My hope is to eventually stay, like a faithful dog, through all of it.

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Big Things, Little Things, All the Things

I’ve been quiet in this space for weeks, now. I’ve got a few draft posts saved, but each one I’ve sort of given up on with my hands thrown in the air. Truthfully, I’ve felt unclear on the purpose of this blog, on where I want it to go, what I want it to do. I started it because I just needed to write. But over the last year, that need has turned into a (fairly) regular poetry practice.  In fact, I think I could safely say I’m working on a chapbook length collection of poems focusing on my experience of motherhood. When I have time to write, I want to be working on that, because, let’s face it…I don’t actually have all that much time to write.  So all of that being said, I’ve decided to use this space as a place for me to announce upcoming publications and to give my readers regular life and writing updates. Ideally I’d like to get back to publishing once a week, but realistically I’m shooting for twice a month.

I’ve got two more poems forthcoming online in June and August, and I’m still sending my best work out as it’s polished. Recently I’ve decided to try submitting to some of my “dream” markets: they’re print (as opposed to online) publications, they have a wide readership, and they pay. They also have very small acceptance rates, but I’ve got nothing to lose. And in a further effort to get paid to write poems, I’ve submitted a poem to Room’s annual poetry competition. I’m working on a batch of three poems right now, and I think two of them are good enough to send out. It’s tricky, learning to critique my own work. Over the winter I met with the University of Western Ontario Writer-in-Residence several times during her office hours at the public library. It helped me to hone my inner editor: by the last time we met, she didn’t have much to suggest–in a good way. Writing continues to be the keystone to my mental health. It is so hard to drag myself to the page some days, but I keep doing it.

If you’ve read this far, you might be wondering about the “big things” promised in the title of this post. It’s truly very big. Are you sitting down? Good. Make sure you don’t have a mouthful of coffee (or wine.) Ready? Okay. We’re moving back to Dawson. I know, right? It’s pretty huge. I am at once excited and heartbroken about this. But the reality is that we have a business there. And it needs our attention, more than we can give it from here. Thankfully we’ve still got our log home (with our outhouse and our limited running water) so we’ll live there for the summer with a plan to move into town by the fall/winter. My parents have very generously offered to do some needed repairs on our home here in London, and then we’ll likely list it at the end of the summer. P is in Dawson now, and he’ll come back in the first week of June so we can all travel up together.

It all seems a bit surreal, at the moment. Two cross country moves in less than two years. It’s exhausting to think about. But we’re taking it one day at a time, and it really is the only thing that makes sense right now. I look forward to seeing my dearest friends again. I look forward to the fresh air, the mountains, and the river. Northern themes abound in my writing so I’m curious to see what sort of inspiration pops up once I’m living there again. I try not to think about how much we’ll miss our family here. It’s going to be really hard.

So there you go: all the things. What kinds of things are happening in your world these days? Have you ever moved across the country? Twice? Did you survive? Tell me all about it in the comments!

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