When I started this blog ten years ago, I had no idea what I was going to do. I had just lost my teaching job the month before, and I wanted to be a storyteller. More than that, though, I wanted to survive. I wanted to survive as a mother, as a creative person, and as a human. The job I'd lost was our main income source. It was my sole professional identity. It was my community and my calling, I thought. And it was gone.
Within the next two years, I'd also lose my mother. We'd lose a business. We'd deal with vehicle accidents and illnesses, acute and chronic.
There would be so much stress, and pain, and grief.
I would also win a year-long fellowship to assist with my storytelling. I would get a contract to create a storytelling-based curriculum for an intergenerational childcare. We would start homeschooling our child, and I would move from classroom teaching and substituting, to working in a Waldorf-inspired preschool program and tutoring students from age 6 to age 20.
There would be so much growth, and joy, and beauty.
So, what if I didn't question it? What if I stopped expecting my life to look differently than it does. There are so many expectations -- I'm 46, so I should have this much in savings, this much status in my career, this much clout, this much... It's so quantitative.
I recently read The Hazel Wood, by Melissa Alpert. The stories that run through this book are both like and unalike traditional stories. They are bloody and weird, as many traditional stories are, but they are also wild and unpredictable and without an internal balance and center. They are driven by fear, as are many traditional stories. There were references in the book to so many of my beloved tales, and the re-workings that fed my adolescence. What I came away with, though, is how much I have missed the stories.
I still get to tell stories, sometimes. I tell gentle stories to the little ones in my care. But my telling-out opportunities dried up with the advent of the pandemic, and haven't come back in any strength yet. That's okay. I've been really busy-- haven't we all? -- but I am starting to miss them. The stories.
And I miss knowing my life as a story. I miss finding meaning, and finding hope.
Winter break seems to be when I start to find my way back each year. I hope maybe this time, I can stay a little more connected. A little more in tune with the stories. I hope I can find my way to writing, and thinking, and dreaming a bit more.
And I hope I can just let it be, my life, and look at its shape with a little more distance, and a little more magic. Not questioning so much, "Am I doing it right?" but perhaps, "What next?"
We got the bikes out today. It was time. I struggled with the tire stems, and hooked up the amazing electric pump my wife got me last fall. My son has outgrown the bike we got him just a year and half ago. He is growing so fast, I can't keep up. My feet fit into the new rainboots I bought him.
Muddy snowmelt splashed up from the streets onto the back of his pants and his jacket, even up to his helmet. He strove to master the hand brakes and gear shifts, such a step up from his combination hand-and-coaster break fixed gear bike last year.
Today, I struggled to say yes, and was glad I did. I said yes to taking a walk with my tutoring student, instead of sitting down to our books at the start of our lesson. I said yes to getting on my bike and going around the block three times. I said yes to a board game after our bike ride. I said yes to spending the morning puttering and storing up ideas, instead of forcing this blog post to get written then. But saying yes is hard for me. It's easier to say no, to retreat into busy housework and hiding behind my screen.
I'm going to step back from social media for a time, to focus on being present for springtime. The snow is melting rapidly. My child is growing. My wife is eager to share news from her day, and to dream about our garden. We have a vacation coming up, and the last few months with our wonderful school before we start our homeschooling adventure. I want to invite you into my courses and coaching practice, and to share from my heart, and that requires attention.
I'm afraid to do this. I'm afraid I will miss important news. I am afraid I will be all alone. I'm afraid no one will ever know what I have to share with the world, and this work will go undone. But you have found me, here. I can keep working and sharing, sending my newsletters. I can write letters and send texts and call people on the phone.
And I can always go back. I probably will. I just need to re-learn how to breathe and move like the wind on my bike, like I did at 7 and 17. I need to re-learn how to pour our my thoughts on paper, and how to stop spinning from activity to activity, and to be here.
Spring is coming. It's nearly here. I can feel the melting of the frost under the earth, the stirring of the sap in the trees, the exploratory stretching of daffodil bulbs. I don't want to miss it.
Here we are, playing in the wintry air that blew in last week. It's not really winter yet, but I can feel it on the edges of the day. The early sunset, the lazy, slow light of morning, the gusts of air that smell of the arctic -- all of these have come this week. So we layer on our thick coats and snowpants, mittens and hats, boots and gaiters, and we go out. How can we stay in, when the sun is shining, or a soft rain is falling, or snowflakes are swirling?
Play is learning, and play outdoors is deep learning, a learning that cannot occur within walls. There is a feeling of strength and courage that such play engenders, when we bravely step out of the warmth and into the cold.
The little ones made lanterns this week, and we sang songs and heard stories of sharing our light with the world. This week, go out. Feel that glow in your heart and listen to the call to share it. The world looks dead, or is full of sadness or fear -- shine there. Notice the life under the surface. Meet the fear with love, the sadness with gentleness, the death with life.
And run. Jump. Climb. Argue and make up, laughing the whole time. Tumble and swing, or sit quietly in some magic place (psst -- they are all magic) and dream...
Have a beautiful weekend.
It's election day. I voted this morning. I love going to the polls, filling in the ovals on the paper ballot, feeding it into the machine, getting my round, red sticker. All of it speaks to me so strongly of hope. Hope is something that seems in short supply sometimes these days.
But voting, like hoping, often seems like it's not enough. And it isn't -- voting does not absolve me of the responsibility to do what I can to create the world I want to see. Hoping for change does far less than getting up and taking action. Even if that action is just to smile at someone on the street, or to ask how someone is with the intent to really listen.
So it isn't enough, no. But neither is it small.
I've been taking time away from facebook this week, just stopping in to check my messages and notifications. I spent some time scrolling and liking posts this morning, but more and more, I feel like facebook is really good at lulling me into a false sense of enough-ness. it's not enough to "like" someone's photo of a new baby. It isn't enough to share an article on a candidate you support. I feel like I want to live my likes a little more, to seek out a different level of connection.
I've been on social media of one kind or another for 25 years now. Maybe 26. I have had friendships form and flourish entirely online. But those friendships sprang from deeper sharing and listening than facebook engenders for me. Longer form media has given way to quick bites and pictures. I love both, but the latter aren't enough for me.
So is it enough? No. But it's not bad. I just crave more. I am deeply hungry for connection, beauty, playfulness, creativity. I dream of and desire a world my child and your children can grow into and love. Voting isn't enough, but it's absolutely necessary.
So vote. and act. and reach out. Post on facebook and instagram, and stop to chat with your neighbor as you both come home from the world. Share an article that touched you, and then discuss it with someone whose mind and imagination inspire you. Snap a photo of your voting sticker (I did!), and then talk with people about why it was important for you.
And then turn it all off, and go driving into the countryside or walking down the block or wandering down rabbitholes until you are breathless with wonder, as I was at the scene above. We had gone out after a disappointment, to assuage ourselves with sugar at Minnesota's Largest Candy Store (a real place), and then went adventuring. We found a tiny, rustic county park, climbed around on barely-groomed trails, and felt a million miles from home. And then, we followed the moonrise back to dinner and warmth.
It might not ever be enough, but don't get discouraged. Just keep going deeper.
Blogging is, in and of itself, a weird thing for me. I feel really silly, putting my personal comments on the world out there. I can't control who gets to read them -- find my blog, and you find me. That's just how it is. That means, too, that my family and friends might learn hear things I've been quiet about in person, things I've been facing alone, trying to bear up in the face of what feels really heavy and hard.
Not being asked back to teach at the school feels heavy and hard. It feels like a big old lump of iron, half-melted down, twisted. It feels like I've lost my way, like I should have known to turn back at the beginning. There are so many things I want to be doing, and somehow, it's not happening. It's not the right place for me, which makes the moments that things work feel even weirder.
But it also feels like I'm being given another chance to make it happen. What ever "it" is. The "it" that has been calling to me for years, just out of hearing. The one I hear on the edge of my sleep. I don't call it a dream...
There's that word. Dream. This is "stories from the dream." Storyteller's Dream. And yet. What is the dream? I am quick to say, "but I don't have any dreams. there is nothing I dream of doing." and that feels really true. I don't want to be something when I grow up. I don't have a dream house, a dream car, a dream lifestyle. A dream job.
For one thing, where do you stop? A dream child? A dream spouse? A dream hat? A dream bathroom cleaner?
People like to ask, "What did you like doing as a child?"
I liked wandering around outside, telling myself stories and pretending to be book characters. I liked playing with my dolls. I liked going to school and brownies and choir and tap dancing lessons. I liked reading. I liked writing stories and poems, and dressing up in costumes. I liked going to church, and visiting my grandparents. I liked watching tv. I liked going to movies and museums and zoos with my family. I liked shopping for perfect, lovely little things, just to have bought something in a fancy store -- a fancy piece of chocolate, or a sticker, or a pencil, or a book... None of those sound like jobs to me. They sound like being a child. I like doing a lot of those things, still. But they aren't jobs. They aren't a career.
Here is something I'm still trying to understand, and I wonder if it is even possible to do. From "Two Tramps in Mud Time," by Robert Frost:
But yield who will to their separation,
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
as my two eyes make one in sight.
Only where love and need are one,
and work is play for mortal stakes,
is the deed ever really done
For Heaven and the future's sakes.
What does that even mean?
This is long and rambling, and I feel shy about putting it out there. This isn't a blog that's helping anyone with anything. I'm not even sure why it's here, or why I write, but maybe someone will feel less alone, someday, in seeing that I was here, and felt this, and wrote it.
Long story short, I am postponing the ecourse I was going to run. I know nothing about launching ecourses or products or services. I would love to do story/reading work with someone, soon. Soon, I'll have loads of time... And hopefully, I can find my way into offering blossom later in the year.
There will be a lot to let go of in the coming days, and weeks. As there always is, because that is part of living, and it sure beats the alternative.
This summer, I got to go to the National Storytelling Network's summer conference for the first time. It was amazing to be surrounded by storytellers from around the country, and some from other countries, who were exceedingly welcoming, supportive, and kind.
The day before the official conference opened, I took part in the Healing Story Alliance's pre-conference workshop, led by Lani Peterson. Lani does deep, world-changing work in Boston with people who have experienced homelessness or incarceration, and with other community members, facilitating their understanding of one another through storytelling.
There was a lot A LOT of stuff that I took away from that workshop. I'm not a trained psychologist, so much of it went over my head, but there was a part of the morning when we talked about helping people to tell their stories in order to re-construct their sense of self, helping them to "thicken" their stories. We go from the old normal -> through an experience of liminality and "undoing" our story -> to arrive at a new normal, where we are intentional in our responses. We then can return to the beginning of the story and help others.
This is the hero's journey, folks. We get to take that fairytale, mythic path every single day.
But it goes deeper.
We get to take that path every single moment of the day. In the pause between stimulus and response, where we make a conscious choice, we are responding to the call to adventure. That moment is sometimes briefer than the blink of an eye.
In every breath, in every response to our children, in every time we choose to speak up against hatred, and in every moment that we respond out of choice and not out of habit, we are heroes. We can have a thousand epic journeys in every day.
Those tiny, miniscule stories are woven together into the novel of our lives, the huge bildungsroman that tells of our journey from innocence to knowing, and then, we hope, into wisdom.
There is so much more to pull out of those few short hours, and I hope to bring you examples and insights over the next few weeks.
If you missed last night's facebook live, I have the video for you right here! Enjoy!
I'm sitting down to write, and I feel empty. A beloved guest from far away is staying with us, and my panicky only-child self is at war with my desire to spend time with my dear visitor. So I over-extend and do too much, and don't set boundaries, and then wonder why my heart is racing and I'm snapping and sniping at my child and spouse...
And our time together is good. A mirror is being held up, though, to how much i rely on my own routines and patterns to get by.
I hate that I'm letting my child soothe himself with tech -- games and cartoons on the iPad -- when I retreat to my phone and computer to tune out.
I hate that my kid is eating so much sugar, when I search the cupboards for a quick snack instead of a meal.
I hate being begged for a toy or soon-to-be thrown away thing, when I am letting money run through my fingers and bills are piling up while I don't work enough.
Im in a rough and whiny spot tonight, and angry with myself for not being happy.
Sometimes, I want parenting to be easy. I want to be able to blame any difficulties on something outside -- school, holidays, busy grownups, too many activities -- even when the truth is that being a child means being a child. It is messy and inconvenient and gorgeous. Growing up isn't easy; why should helping someone to grow up be easy?
I feel as if I should know by now, but I forget over and over, that when things get awful feeling and hard and so very annoying I want to scream and yell, that big changes are happening. When you're travelling, and you get lost or confused, or the car breaks down, or the train is no longer stopping at the exact station you needed, it's time to sit down, shut up, and check the map. Then, look around at where you are. What is really around you? What can you see, feel, hear, touch, smell?
So right now, I'm checking my maps, my guidebooks. I'm filling the tank, picking up snacks, resting up. Lightening the load. Repacking the stuff that's gotten jumbled on the way. Remembering where I'm going, and why...
My wish for you, as this holiday season whirls towards new year's, with all the promises and resolve that are entailed, is this: that even if the road is blocked or potholed, even if you feel like you're running on fumes, that you can always find a map, a rest stop, a few snacks, and, maybe, the confidence to throw out the maps and drive by feeling, looking for the familiar landmarks that remind you we are always on a journey home, to ourselves.
stop caring what others think.
stop listening to the voices in your head that whisper half-truths and full lies.
stop checking your stats, likes, follows, retweets, comments.
stop checking the phone.
stop feeling like a failure.
stop trying to fix it. all of it.
stop asking for permission.
stop staying up too late.
stop trying to live on rice cakes, candy, and coffee.
start caring what you think.
start letting your heart lead.
start taking a risk.
start being playful.
start opening your close clutching hands.
start being kind.
start enjoying the magic.
start speaking to yourself with honest kindness.
continue to breathe.
continue to question.
continue to tell.
continue to reach out.
continue to look in.
continue praying, dancing, cooking, offering. speaking.
continue being gentle.
continue being brave.
stop. start. continue.
after this week, with a sick kiddo (now recovered), a missed lantern walk, last-minute work changes, newly scheduled gigs, and the work of simply being human, I need a moment to breathe.
Here's a huge summer sky over the Green Mountains.
breathe in the warmth, the space.
Tonight, we walked in the cold, just the boy and I, and sang our songs as we circled the neighborhood with our lanterns. so far away from the scene above, and yet, there is something the same in both.
Hi. That's me. I write, sometimes, about parenting, storytelling, and about living a life with stories.