Doing it Anyway

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I wasn’t sure if I’d write today. I’ve started a new course with Rachel Thompson, Lit Mag Love, which focuses on refining your approach to publishing in literary magazines. I’ve been working on that this morning, with this blog post nagging at the back of my mind.

In the last two weeks, I’ve felt my seasonal depression creeping in. The sun takes a little longer to rise, now; the leaves have all dropped and the hillsides are bare and grey. Some mornings, there is ice on the pond near our house and the woodstove is going almost all the time. I find the days are more work. It is work just to maintain some equanimity: I feel sadness out of nowhere. I acknowledge it and I try not to let it take over my day. I focus hard on engaging with the kids, on coming to the page and writing each day, on going to the yoga class I signed up for, on reading and on stepping away from social media when it’s too much. It is real work to do each of these things.

It helps to have a name for the thing, and a box to put it in. This is seasonal. This is because there is a lack of sunlight. This is not my fault. I will do all of the things that I know might help me: vitamin D, exercise, light box therapy, maybe talk therapy.

I’ll continue to focus on my writing life. Tomorrow I have a FaceTime appointment with someone who is editing my chapbook manuscript. We’ll talk about her suggestions and my hopes for the work. Next week we’re doing another spoken word open mic at the Westminster, and I’ll read some of my new poems. Last week, in Whitehorse, I went to an art opening and poetry reading and connected a little with the very active writing community there. I’ve decided to do that as much as I’m able. Each of these things gives me a bubble of anxiety, a flutter in my tummy that suggests I don’t belong, I’m not good enough, I’m a big faker. I take a few breaths and do the thing anyway.

It’s a strange place for me to be in, and feels quite new: to be fully conscious of what’s happening internally but not to be swept up in its tide. I’m curious but also apprehensive about this new place. Can I let these feelings exist in me and still continue to do the work of living? So far, I am.

For now, the early morning fog has lifted. The sun is shining through my window, warming me. I’m off to get something to eat before the live video portion of my course begins. I hope you’re doing well with whatever life has sent your way.

 

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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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Coming Up for Air

It really does feel like I’m drowning in children. Drowning in their whys, their wants, their unending demands for attention. Drowning in their little hands tugging at my hands, my legs, creeping under the hem of my shirt to tuck into the warm heavy flop of my breast. Drowning in cracker crumbs, soggy Cheerios floating in almond milk, toast crusts, uneaten vegetables, rotten apple cores under the couch. Drowning in broken toys, rocks hurled through air, sticks slapping the ground in a challenge. Drowning in the challenge of every day.

I’ve had a run of bad days. I’ve forgotten myself again. When I have a moment to myself I don’t even remember what to do with it. What do I like, again? How did I used to spend my moments? Oh, right. Doing whatever I wanted to do. When I see a free moment looming, I feel this rush of “shoulds” pouring over me. I should write, I should read, I should do yoga, I should meditate, I should wash the dishes, I should close my eyes and nap for a moment. Often I do none of those things because they all feel exhausting. I scroll through Facebook, news blogs, and then the moment ends and they need me again and I’ve wasted it. Fuck.

The negative self-talk is screaming loud these days. I won’t bring those words further into being by typing them, but they’re pretty nasty. And I’m starting to believe these awful things about myself, my life, my kids. And reacting accordingly.

So two days ago now, after probably the worst of the bad days, a day that ended with me yelling “HERE IS YOUR DRINK OF WATER” because I’d forgotten how to not yell, I woke up and told myself as kindly as I could “just be present today. Be present for you, for your emotions, for your kids and their emotions. That’s all you have to do today.”

And it’s working. Being present is working it’s magic. It still fucking sucks, a lot of the time. But I’m there for it, instead of checking out. I’m there, saying “yeah, this fucking suck, it sure does,” and there is power in that. Power in witnessing your own life, instead of going numb. And I’m there for my kids, too. I catch them before their “please pay attention to me” outrageous behaviour reaches its crescendo, someone crying and things broken and me just yelling like an asshole.

So here I am, present in this space, letting you all know that it’s not great right now but I recognize that all things are impermanent. This will pass. It’s a cliche but that’s because it’s true and it’s been proven over and over, with each moment passing by, it’s proven.

I’m not writing much these days. Which makes me question if I’m still a writer. I look over the poems I’ve collected for a chapbook and I hate them, because they’re all about how difficult this is. I’m tired of it all, tired of my own voice, my own words, circling over and over how difficult this is. I want to bury those poems, bury myself, or maybe that’s the wrong metaphor. Circle back to the beginning. I want to break through all of this, come up gulping fresh air into my lungs. I need something bigger than all of this, something outside of it. I’ve got an idea for a project, that might actually be two projects, and I need to focus on that. I need something to take me out of this groundhog day loop that is my life right now.

I am not just mom, mommy, mama. I am more than the maker of snacks, the breaker-upper of fights, the picker-upper of toys. I am a woman and a writer and I am interesting and interested and evolving.

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