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?"
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.
Do you ever say to yourself, "I'm starting something new! A new chapter starts today in the book of me! I'm going to be a new person, starting now! Everything is changing!" and then, three days later, you're in your jammies, zoned out on facebook, eating entire bags of Lundberg's brown rice cakes, wondering where all that momentum went? No? Just me?
It happens to me a lot. I get this whoosh of power and energy, and I get really excited about a new project or exercise regimen or foodway, or I feel super compassionate and I just love everyone, and I want to do amazing things in the world. Then the laundry piles up, and I wake up late, and I yell at the dog... and it all fizzles out. Stephen Pressfield calls this resistance. I call it blind, back-pedaling terror.
To Start a New Chapter, do this:
The voices sound like this : "It isn't safe. No one will love you if you grow and change. You're failing. You'll fail again. You have bills to pay and Responsibilities. YOU"RE DOING IT WRONG!!!"
I think I've mentioned those voices before. And I've talked about starting over, and a fresh start. It's a recurring theme here. Life is a constant dance of renewal; we start over, and over, and over, and over. Every day, every hour. But this time, this time I really mean it. I'm laughing at myself now. Because I say that every time. What's different now?
What's different is that I am taking action. Real, concrete action. I am not sitting around, wishing I could make something happen. I am feeling such fear, and moving forward anyway. I have help this time around, too. I have a group of wonderful women who have agreed to be guinea pigs for one thing, a business mentor who is smart and funny and has cute dogs (dogs help any venture!), the support of my awesome wife, and a new sense of determination.
The stakes are a little higher. I'm eager and scared and joyful and a little nostalgic for when I could just get up and go to work, but this is so important. This time, I hear the call, and I have to rise to meet it. I've been holding back so long, out of fear and a need for security, but Life doesn't need that. My gifts are needed in the world. That's why I'm here. How dare I hold anything back?
And it goes for you, too. Your gifts are needed in the world. That's why you're here. How dare we hold anything back?
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.
I heard an awesome interview by Kerri Miller this summer with Dan Wilson, of Trip Shakespeare and Semisonic, in which he talked about how you have to do the work of artistic creation in order to make anything. You don't only work when inspired, but you work, and maybe, if you're lucky, you're in the studio when the muse shows up. (He says a lot of good stuff here).
I'm here, writing. Every night. Ugh, it's hard. There's no uninterrupted time; I have multiple jobs and a family and there are PILES of laundry downstairs. I'm not complaining now, just naming the excuses that my little brain tries to serve me, but as Elizabeth Gilbert said recently, your excuses are boring. My excuses are boring.
Let's talk about all the reasons we can't make art. Can't tell stories. Can't paint.
Blah blah blah blah.
make like a 90's Nike ad and Do It.
They have their own stories and struggles.
no one wants to hear how tired you are, how late you were up,
how the baby wouldn't sleep,
how work was hard, or just long.
No one really wants to hear about your aching feet, or head, or heart.
Unless you are willing to punch through the tired, the ache, into the source, into the deep
Pull back the tight-wound layers of it all, the election,
the dishes, the words bitten back, the ones you regret,
and take a moment to tell me
what the moon looks like tonight.
tell me about your anger, or your sorrow, or your need for something
you can't quite name.
It's so much more than tired.
No one wants to hear
they want too much to see, to touch, to hold.
to hold you up.
to hold your hand.
to hold on when you are so ready to let go.
I'm tired of battle metaphors. I want a metaphor of building.
less tearing, less fighting, less struggle.
No one wants to hear how tired you are.
I want a soft pillow, and a gentle hand, and strengthening sleep, not just for me.
for you, and for them, and for the person who made you angriest.
Goodnight. Tomorrow, the sun will rise,
and we will go on building.
going to hot yoga, like writing, is a lot harder to do when you haven't gone in a while. inertia exists.
also, it's very hot at hot yoga.
and it''s okay to stop, and lie down on your mat. yep. totally ok.
all this is a metaphor for writing, except it's also really about yoga.
It's happening. I'm getting excited to write. I found myself thinking today, "Yes. I will share this. And this. And this."
Because I am beginning to feel the urge again, and I love it.
"A writer writes." So often, I have taken this as a tsk-tsk, how dare you call yourself a writer if you don't write?! But now, it feels like permission. I am writing. Ergo, I am a writer; you, if you write, are a writer. We write. We are writers. And I have permission to do it HORRIBLY! So do you.
What shall I share with you? Today, I made delicious Golden Milk, green juice, grilled cheese sandwiches, and toad-in-the-hole. The Sugar Sprite took away a pumpkin full of candy and left two books. I read almost half of this book by Seanan McGuire. I brought a photo of my mom holding my son when he was hours old, and placed it on the table at the front of the church.
I enjoyed this doodle.
The desire to share all of this with you has been immense, and I am delighted to know you are there, and reading, and living. What did you do today?
On Sunday evening, I was driving home from a student's house, and I turned on the radio. Krista Tippett was intervening Maria Tatar. I read Dr. Tatar's work on fairy tales in college when I was working on a semester-long project on Baba Yaga in Russian folklore. When I heard her talking as I steered the car down the cold freeway towards home, I heard a voice that was speaking to all I hold to be true about our need for stories.
Not so long ago in our human evolution, the day's work had to end at the end of day. True, there were tasks that could, and would, be done in the flickering dimness of firelight, but there was an acceptance that night was the time to gather closely around the fire, to share warmth and food, and, if you weren't entirely exhausted, conversation. In winter, when that twilit dimness extended for hours into the daytime, evening brought time for longer, more emotional tales-- "A sad tale's best for winter; I have one of sprites and goblins," says the doomed child of Shakespeare's Winter's Tale. Young and old alike took in these stories.
When I read and tell fairy tales, both traditional tales and well-crafted modern ones, I feel the thread connecting me to the women and men and children who heard these stories years and years ago. I feel the tug in my heart and my mind, to open to the journey of the story, which is the journey of humanity, the journey of life. In each moment, I find myself within the tale. Sometimes, I am not the heroine. Sometimes, I am the wise woman, or the weary king, or the magic horse. At a storytelling performance last September, the wild poet Martin Shaw stopped in the telling of "Tatterhood" and asked us who we were in the story, where were we? Everyone nodded. We knew we were there, we were in that moment. The story was living n the room with us, and we were living there, in the forest, in the castle, at the edge of the wood.
In my second year of college, I was going through the kind of soul-searching, identity-seeking journey of most young people. As I envisioned my conference project-- a year-long independent study on an aspect of my coursework-- for Russian language and literature, I felt my love for folklore and stories rising to the forefront of my mind. Together with my professor, Melissa Frazer, I envisioned a two-part project: a paper on the role of Baba
Yaga as both villain and fairy godmother, and a storytelling performance. The paper was adequate; reading it now, I see how much deeper I might have taken my research. The storytelling performance was more than adequate.
It was a chilly spring evening when my friends and classmates, and their friends and classmates, packed into the campus Teahaus, a tiny building in the center of the lawn. It had once been Joseph Campbell's office. Perhaps his spirit's echo was with us that night. I don't remember which tales I told. Probably, the evening included Vasilisa the Beautiful and Marya
Morevna. What I do remember, is the rapt attention of the students in the room, the quiet breath, the startled laughter and gasps of dismay. These were not children, really, these college students in their sweatshirts and jeans, living on coffee and cigarettes and Postmodernism. But they were desperately hungry for these stories. They talked to me about that evening through my senior year. Some recalled it to me at our reunion years later. It was not me they remembered, though. It was the stories, or more, it was the talisman within the stories, the gift of a moment out of time, and the satiation of a hunger carried from childhood.
Eugene Schwartz has written about how college students who are starved for childhood stories and play as children, seek it out in college, buying themselves stuffed animals and Lego sets, but those who had their wells of experiences filled with real, living stories and true heroes when they were little, decorated their rooms with modern art. Can it be, that by allowing children the kind of stories they need when they are small, we are equipping them to be real heroes as adults? Not the kind with capes and crowns, but the kind that sees the need and suffering in the world, and seeks to assuage it, and the kind that quests after the grails of justice and truth?
I don't know the answer to that question. All I know, is that I need stories, and I suspect you do, too. And if I need them now, as an adult, then I am sure in every fiber of my being, that my child needs them. I don't always have the strength or energy to find them within me, or even to retell "Sweet Porridge" or "The Little Red Hen", for the hundred thousandth time, but I seek out books with real stories in them, and I can read those aloud in the moments when I need to be fed on stories, too.
Spring is supposedly here, though Minnesota is laughing at that idea. Getting Boyo to bed early becomes more and more difficult as the days get longer. Stories help lure him towards sleep. Dreams are a kind of storytelling, too, and perhaps the dreamlike imagery of fairytales helps us to make the transition from the waking world to the world of symbol and memory we visit in our dreams.
Dr. Tatar talked about bedtime stories, and about the importance of that time of day for creating connections with children. I am at work on a resource for you, on creating a magical, comforting bedtime for your child, built around the gifts of ritual and story. There will be snack and story ideas, recordings of stories for you to learn and retell, tips for creating a cozy environment for sleep, and more! Not every evening will be sparking with twinkly stars and sweet, sleepy smiles, but the more often they happen, the more possible they feel.
All I can really tell you, over and over, is this: stories matter, and they are food for human development and growth. Like food, the kind of stories matters, too. Let's feed our children the best we can, without becoming so orthorexic that we cannot allow a little fluff now and then, too. Even the most awful drivel can contain a pearl.
This morning, Boyo and I made a wire ball filled with bits of colored wool. Lest you think I am the kind of mother who has lightweight silver wire and bags of colored wool batting just lying around the house, waiting to be put to use in some inspired craft or other, I will tell you that Boyo was given a subscription to Donni's gorgeous crafting boxes by his grandfather for Christmas. Each season, a box full of glitter and butterflies and flowers arrives with four all-inclusive craft projects; this was the easiest one. I was astonished at how much the little bag of wool bits expanded as we teased out bits to stuff into the wire ball we'd made. We had to stuff and tuck the soft bits of fluff into the edges, but it all fit. Then we pulled on outdoor clothes (Boyo put his over jammies), and went outside to hang it in the branches of the crabapple tree so the birds can tug out bits of soft wool to line their nests.
Friday's blog post struck a chord. I have never had so much response to anything I've written. Thank you so much. Since then, of course, I've been obsessively checking my blog stats and pushing down the anxiety rising in me -- now what do I do? I am fearful that I will never write anything that meaningful again, that I've peaked early, that it's all over. How can I go on?
Weekends are busy here. My partner works at our coffee shop in the mornings so that Boyo and I can ease into the day, so you would think it would be all Lazy-Saturday around here. Some of it is. There is time for lots of reading aloud. This morning, I changed sheets, made these pancakes, built a fort, and made the aforementioned wool ball. We took the dog for a walk around the neighborhood, ate lunch, and fought over where that lunch would be eaten. Exciting, no? Yesterday morning was much the same, only it had laundry in it, and I got to spend the afternoon with fellow alumni of my college, discussing Poe and Dostoyevsky and video games and mystery novels with my Russian professor; Faculty on the Road is a cool program, and I can't believe it's taken 12 years for me to attend a second one.
Tonight, it's back to my "day job" of tutoring. I feel like I am trying to fill my life like that wool ball, squeezing things in around the edges. Honestly, though, the more there is to put in, the better and more expansive I feel. I can't stand always rushing around, but I also cannot stand too much unstructured time. I need plans. I need ground to stand on. Once I have some framework, some wire, I can begin to fill in with all those gorgeous, bright bits of wool. Without the frame, the wool seems contracted and lumpy, and I have no idea how to begin.
I had never intended to be an at-home mother, but every summer since my son was born, it has gotten harder to go back to school, whereas I used to crave the structure and rhythm of school. Now I have to make my own rhythm, create my own routines. And it's hard. It's also hard to write this with my son yelling, "That's boring work! It's not fun for you! Stop writing and read to me!!" So, my publishing days are likely to be Thursdays and Fridays, when he is at school, and when I can sit quietly for a while and just settle in to writing. That will be a piece of wire for my frame, something to let me collect my little bits of color, and perhaps you can take them home to your own nests to make them more cozy and warm.
Thank you for reading.
Hi. That's me. I write, sometimes, about parenting, storytelling, and about living a life with stories.