The World You Long For

When I begin to make lists again I know I’ve returned, at least in part, to my previous life. During her nap, the baby sleeps in a wind tunnel of fabricated white noise; she swings in the darkened bedroom above a humidifier. She is wrapped in blankets, snuggled and steadied. I am in the next room making lists with a blue pen that I treasure on a page of notebook that was supposed to contain research on the novel I’m writing but has turned into a collage of lists, reading notes, and Wordle diagrams.

PC: Loverna Journey

In the morning when we rise, I get my cold coffee from what’s left in the french press by my husband and the baby and I sit on the couch together. I look at her and think, what am I supposed to do with you? We coo at each other. I show her a black and white board book. She nurses. I sip the cold coffee. I burp her. She lays on her back again. We smile at each other. Then she’s sleepy and I put her in her swing bed and sneak away to make my lists.

Above my desk I hang things. They shift and shimmy and change like the weather patterns within me. I think of the cross-stitch tracks of birds in the snow. I think of blue skies made abundant by fields. There is a slow ache. Like the melting of ice. A trickle of water returning. This is my weather.

Above my desk three post card prints of artists I bought on a trip to Europe twenty-two years ago hang in a silver frame–I no longer remember the names of the artists. A photograph of my sister Hannah and I at 18 and 16 beside a glacial lake in Canada. Written on a slip of paper: You can create the world you long for. I pause.

I have stayed inside too many days. It’s the middle of winter, but still. My body begins to ache. I think of running and picture the road in summer. I can feel my muscled body slick with sweat and heaving. I can run the entire route in my mind.

Today I nurse the baby and think, I will never do this again in my lifetime. This is the last time I will do this, feed a baby with my body. Love of fierce biology. Desire needled through pressed into the brain like a magic braille.

My sons fight. They wrestle and scream and tease and meddle. It goes on and on. It’s exhausting. We eat dinner like we’re escaping. Fast and silent and with very few manners. My youngest son licks pieces of boiled peas and corn from his plate and calls out, “I’m a cat.” He is jolly like a bowl full of cherries; hilariously absorbed in some other universe that the rest of us don’t understand. We are all shocked that a person can be so full of joy and chipper, singing lines from songs on repeat: I wake up in the morning like pee dee… and a bottle of jack cuz I ain’t coming back.

He doesn’t sing the right words. This is not a problem for him. He likes his own version. Sometimes I ask him questions like, who is your favorite friend? Do you want to learn how to ride a bike today? What do you want to do today? Invariably his response is, I’m doing something or I can’t hear you right now.

Once after he spent hours playing in the field with with his brother and their friends, this son reported to me that he had played a wolf with a tattered cape who had a sword. His brother was a chicken with bull legs wearing a tunic; he could pluck his feathers and throw them like spears or perhaps poison darts. One friend was a retired knight with a sword and the other was part leopard and part human–he also wore a tunic and carried a bow and arrow. When I ask them about it again, my oldest son explains that his wings could also morph into human hands and there was a name for the game but he had forgotten it. I wonder why the knight was retired. But I suppose it’s obvious that if he was still a knight he’d have other work to do.

My oldest son is not jolly. Nothing about him is jolly or full of humor, though he likes jokes. He is sleek and muscled with long strawberry blond hair; serious and tender and now at an age where I feel I must be careful not to share too much about him, not to spill his secrets which, to him, are many.

On the wall above the desk, a photograph of me carrying this son three or four years ago in the sand dunes of North Carolina. The photograph is mostly blue sky and frothy white clouds, our bodies tangled in relief against this gift of sky. I carry him on my back.

The lists create a sense of control, organization, cohesion. What to grade, what to do, buy, complete, create. What if the lists were different. If I could let go of the real world of lists and live in the strange lands of imagination, mother country I long ago abandoned and only occasionally revisit. I long to call out, I’m doing something! When asked questions I don’t care to answer. I am aware of the stiffness of my entire body: jaw, shoulders, spine. Even when I’m swimming in the most beautiful place on the most beautiful summer day — the first really hot day when the water is still brisk and delicious, I am making lists and thinking about what I must do later. This ticking off of time, this parcelling of life like packaged meat, creates a toll that I pay again and again, a rage that creeps in.

Written on a slip of paper: You can create the world you long for.

This rage is a surging river, running through the heat of August, thick like the sweat of the saunas in my north woods home. It is the whiskey I no longer drink, the needles I never used but understand why, it is the gorgeous bodies of our youth exhausted by this world. Not the real world that lives at its seams and breathes and breathes; but the one in which the lists are made, the time quartered and sanctioned, the rungs of a ladder wracked up, and human bodies transcribed in a million tiny rules–consume, consume.

My list would be about building things: cabins, a sauna, gardens, trails. It would be about painting and sitting for a long time, looking out at the field or the lake. It would be about growing plants that healed and inviting people to come to my sanctuary and heal from the fabricated world of rules and demands. It would explain my body: part fish, part wolf, fully human–wearing a tattered cloak and a silk robe, red shoes, sparkly sunglasses in a forever summer. I can breathe underwater and run with the pack.

You can create the world you long for.

Photo by Paulina H. on Unsplash

Happy Christmas Eve Eve

My brain is total mush. The night is a wash of panic & exhaustion. Is the baby alive? Did she fall off my chest? Will she ever stop grunting in the cold, hard box that is supposed to be a bed? It occurred to me the other day that perhaps I depend on other people too much for my happiness. Perhaps the echo logic of my mind: should we move back? should we stay here? what should I do with my life? Has to do with this common human problem of existential emptiness. I’ve been eating cookies and bagels and my second son is hounding me to make mini-waffles with the tiniest waffle maker I’ve ever seen, which was a Christmas gift from a student.

In college I studied philosophy. I wanted to major in everything. I was obsessed with esoteric knowledge — which felt like magic spells made of words and power. I was desperate for approval, survival, and love. After I graduated with a BA in English, I took a French Literature course (in French) and got my first C. I had planned on applying to graduate programs in Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature, a specialized study of modern philosophy and language, but I never did. I moved to Vermont in January of 2005, migrating to creative writing while firmly establishing myself in what I considered an extremely male-dominated sub-culture of not-yet-woke, pre-hipster hipsters invested in music, literature, drugs, art and womanizing.

That chapter of my life remains ensconced in cold early mornings mopping the floor of a coffee shop bar, listening to the same CDs on repeat (Lenard Cohn, Bonnie Prince Billy), windows fogged or frosted in ice, the smell of stale beer and fresh brewed coffee stuck to my clothing like a fragrance. It was cozy & extremely cold. I loved when the sun set at five and I lit the candles across the room and the hippie-hipsters came in with their huge boots and woolly hats and mittens– long skirts over pants, and sat down to sip mulled wine or hot totties, leaving behind a puddle of melted snow. It felt like I had found a home. But always, the edge, the empty parts remained tender and untouchable.

I drank enormous bottles of beer upstairs in my cousin’s apartment where I was staying until I found a room to rent on Greene Street. Beer that I can still taste in my throat, bitter, dark and delicious. Eventually I turned to wine and that, thankfully, led to an ending.

The baby doesn’t sleep well at night. The snow makes me feel claustrophobic, but also joy when the sun shines and the light is amplified. I’d prefer to give the baby a bottle, a sort of parenting equalizer, but I cannot.

bb & me

All this time since she was born at the end of October, I have missed home and now that it’s Christmas, when we normally visit, I feel the ache of that longing more than ever. I miss the cold of Northern Minnesota, the crunch of snow under my feet; the long, cold runs passed snow covered evergreens followed by the hot sweat of the sauna. I miss sitting in the living room drinking coffee with my siblings and parents, while the kids binge watch TV in the basement. I miss the large Christmas Eve gathering, the chaos of so many beloveds in one home– a place and family built by my mother and father.

The tiptoe dance of one against the other–which place will love me more? will I love more? Perhaps its the curse of having choices to want other than this. Also, the current and pulse of my life–anxious wanting, getting, and feeling the curse of disappointment. But perhaps this isn’t a thing to change, to eradicate with meditations and chants and picked over Buddhist insights; perhaps, it just is, and this wanting, this pulse, is me–fully alive even in this haze of sleeplessness, doughy minded and soft.

I resist the urge to write anything cathartic or merry. I don’t feel those things. Though I feel pockets of joy. Catharsis is to nonfiction as plot is to fiction. Necessary but overwrought.

I’ve become waterlogged in self help-y, self care pause and smell the roses shit and long for the hard edges of logic, which I took instead of algebra or basic math in undergrad. What part of our human brain seeks the cold, controlled contours of this life? Nothing in nature is this way and yet I feel the imposed strictures of commerce and time pushing into everything, pressing and pressing until the skin breaks. The doing-ness obsession. One cannot just sit and look at a baby as she nurses, she must scroll or read or eat or drink more water; she must make requests of her husband, children, mother; or mentally list the tasks she’ll complete afterwards when the baby finally sleeps.

For a moment after the baby was born, a reprieve. The dewy womb of afterbirth, love-panic-exhuastion-love covers everything, a stained glass window / breast-milk squirting out like a hose over everything / the lure of cookies. But then, around six-weeks, its shimmer slips – the feelings of tender hollow angst, the old neuroses and anxieties and lists of things undone returned, and with it the emptiness–the huge God-hole as they say, the enormous crater of abyss, the crying over beauty and death and love and loss and longing, followed by the mean edged desire to win, to get ahead, to be the drone they’ve trained you to be since birth. Don’t pretend you’re above it all, your culture.

But the light pushes through, soft and ever-present, unassuming, self assured. There are other worlds. Worlds upon worlds always, their fingers reaching like the tiny hand of the baby tickling your skin–your sagging, mottled, old skin, well loved, ever so well loved.

To the Pond: Come if you will

Sun’s down by the time I leave today. But the light will fade for a while. I walk across the wet lawn in sandals. I am passing the stout apple tree when Mo calls to me that he’s coming. He races across the lawn and down the path — running is his favorite thing — to catch up with me. We walk side by side and he chatters about bears and coyotes. Will they attack us? I tell him they won’t; they’re afraid of us. But why? Because we kill them, I say.  

We reach the old orchard with its leafless, cluttered bows and tiny apples holding on, and when we turn Mo sees something bound into the woods. It had a white tail he says, but he can’t decide how long and whether or not it was a deer. I say, it was a deer, but he seems to want to entertain other possibilities. I’ve never seen something leap and jump so far, so high, he tells me. I, having looked too long at the apples, missed it.

We go along, the grass tall and wet, the road narrow. The dark of the evening filters through the bright leaves of fall—shiny green about to burst into yellow. We climb the road until it evens out and Mo continues his chatter. I wonder if he is nervous. He clasps my hand lightly. His slight fingers feel like a bird in my hand, the wing of a bird perhaps. It’s a gentle holding between us, not like the clench of his babyhood. The tight, holding on for life.

Lately, I have looked at photos of him as a baby and no longer remember what I felt. I know from reading my journals, the intensity of that first love overwhelmed me and even today I wish it could have lasted forever, just him. We love our children differently—the force moving between, shifting based on the particulars of need and struggle, tenderness and independence.

When I was pregnant with him, my friend Susan once said, and so it begins… the love affair of mother and son. I thought it an odd thing to say. She would be someone I knew only briefly in this life. Someone who passed too soon after decades of cancer. And though I never knew her that well, it always felt like a part of us had come from the same place, was made of the same substance. We were instantly close, intimate. Don’t smoke, you’ll regret it, she told me when I still smoked and we had barely met. It wasn’t a scolding statement, just something wistful, as though perhaps had she never smoked, she wouldn’t have gotten the cancer, though breast cancer isn’t caused by smoking. She had one son and one daughter, and she told me that her son felt like her soul mate in this life. I understood, by then, what she meant.

He lets go of my hand and we scurry along, looking for creatures in the woods, the light still holding ever so. It crushed me to become a mother, in every way—the overwhelming love, the exhaustion, the endless caretaking, the fear. It goes on and covers everything, and though my husband is fully a co-parent with me, he doesn’t seem to carry the same burden of worry and longing and hope. Yet every year my sons grow older and more independent and I both mourn and celebrate this.

We reach the pond and walk out onto the short dock. We sit together, crossing our legs, and he begins to hoot and holler, then cry-bark like he imagines a coyote would, though we rarely hear them from our snug beds with our fans whirring and our windows shut. He likes to imagine these creatures close, but not too close. The sky is still blue, and we wait for the first star, entangled in our chorus of animal ruckus, our closeness. All around us the world turns to shadow, misty and blanketed. The first star arrives but, we decide, it must be Venus.

Again, we speak of the bears and the coyotes and I tell him he doesn’t need to worry. Then he is ready to go. All the way through the thickening darkness, he chatters and talks and calls to shadows as though he might corral them. In the field we look out at the lit windows of the little house. We walk towards them; towards Josh and Willem, the two earthy forces of stability in our swirling galaxy of emotion and feeling and transcendence—of sorrow and exuberance, conviction and devotion.

When Susan was dying, I called her in hospice. I wanted to visit but Willem was still little, and my life felt chaotic and difficult. I asked her how she was doing. Oh, you know, she said, I’m dying. It’s abstract and surreal. Come on down. I never did and when she died, I was sad, but I didn’t regret the missed hospice visit. The last time we saw each other, she was at home in bed. I brought Willem, he was six months and crawled onto her lap when I placed him at the foot of the bed. I don’t mind at all if he climbs on me, she said to reassure me. She was easy with children and seemed to understand them intuitively. She never spoke to them in a childlike voice.

We likely spoke of writing. She’d written a novel and we often exchanged our shorter work. My last critique of her was harsh, she said. I was sorry, I’d been in a bad mood. Something about the story irked me. I thought it was memoir disguised as fiction. But why had I cared? What did I know about fiction or writing or truth? Convictions can be a terrible thing.

I still miss Susan. Still think of her as though I might tell her something, find her again, ask her a question, share a bit of writing or a cup of tea. Once I saw her daughter at the college where I work. She told me that the family planned to move out west where her brother lived.

Moses runs ahead, bounding up the porch steps and into the house to find his brother and father. I trail, exhausted, too heavy, full with growing life—somehow an entire being can come to be within my own body. Her soul I called from the netherworld years ago, chanting softly every spring, every fall, come if you will, I am ready.

To the Pond: The Secret Canoe

the secret canoe & blue kayak

Today I water the ducks and pick up apples before I depart. It’s late afternoon, the kids are at soccer with Josh. It’s hot for the second to last day of summer. The sky, a stunning blue, feels like a portal of joy. The leaves look dry, some curling, more changed already since yesterday. I carry my phone and take photos of exploded milkweed, tiny green apples hanging from leafless trees, the expanse of the field. I find a stick as I walk and tap it lightly on the ground. Up the little hill, passing the overgrown yard of the old cabin where George’s daughter once lived, I walk at a quick pace, my mind wandering.

I go to the woods alone, writes Mary Oliver, without a single friend. And I understand this need. To be alone in this slant of light between lush August and barren November is a kind of magic. The veil between worlds seems to lift this time of year — autumn, day of the Harvest Moon. Later, this moon will rise through the trees and I will go out into the wet grass to spy it. All night I will wake intermittently to see the streaky light out my window. I will roll from side to side and reposition the pillow I rest a leg on and feel the light of the world swaddling me.

in the field

Today I reach the pond with a sense of beginning. I take out the blue kayak I bought Josh for our tenth anniversary, but mostly use myself, and paddle around the pond. A slight breeze skims the surface, a bird hovers over the shallow waters near the mouth of the small stream that leaves the pond to eventually join Lake Champlain. I cut across the middle and marvel at the depths, the dark silence beneath me, and then I follow the shoreline to where the secret canoe is hidden.

I found the secret canoe a week ago. It’s well hidden if you’re not looking for it, but once you’ve noticed it, it’s not. Someone has also pounded two nails into a tree and hung the canoe paddles. Along the east edge of the pond, the property only extends inland enough to create a border along the water. But other properties stretch out behind this, into a wooded terrain that has felt vast to me in my wanderings.

I go out today along the well groomed trail, wide enough for a car to pass, much like the pond road. With my phone I track my location against an arial photograph of the property lines. It’s hard to follow exactly. The trees grow tall and thick creating a canopy that blocks out the light and keeps the underbrush sparse. I love the cedar and pine, the old oaks whose branches long ago twisted to reach the sun. I feel the deep comfort of breathing forest air, smelling the scent of this place, touching the bark of its trees.

Last fall, I got lost running on trails like these; stuck in a field, I couldn’t find my way out as the light fell and the owls began to bark. I was hardly clothed. It was a similar warm fall day, but the coming night brought a chill. I’d been running all summer. My body strong and muscled. Finally, I figured out how to backtrack. Only the smallest part of me grew fearful that I would not find my way out, that I could somehow be lost in these acres of wood between two parallel roads not quite miles apart. I wondered what it felt like to be truly lost. liberating. Even if I fell and couldn’t move, I’d likely survive the autumn evening. Josh would somehow find me. Right?

I made it out last year, just as Josh and the boys were headed in on the neighbor’s ATV. I laughed at the idea that they could have found me, so intertwined and unnavigable were those woods to me. So many paths and roads and fields that didn’t lead out. But that is what I want from the woods. The delicious aloneness of these trails where the changing light of the seasons and the coming and going of foliage offers an ever-changing perspective. It is here I find a sense of my own smallness; a smallness that reveals my connectedness to all things. It is here the aura of the living world surrounds me in its richness.

Back in the blue kayak I cross the pond to our little dock. I walk back home along the familiar path, filled with wonder and hope and gratitude.

growing towards the light

To the Pond:[1]

the beginning of the field

At seven months pregnant I feel the need to turn inward towards privacy and protection, towards the quiet of aloneness. I long to burrow into my own warm nest of safety and let the world slide away.

It’s late September and the leaves are just beginning to turn. I had this idea that I would take thirty walks in thirty days to our pond. Walking grounds the soul. The spectacle of the pond enlightens me. I feel its movement, the wild creatures comings and goings, and its constant presence. Walking the same path daily, which is something we did at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, reveals the way the world changes ever so slowly around us and with this grows an intimacy and love for the place we call home.

The pond is about .8 miles from our house. We walk out across the lawn and down the mowed path of the field. The field grass and goldenrod grow over my head along the first part of the path. To the east, the cellar hole from the old farm house, long gone now, is overgrown and home to summer snakes. Cedars grow there and a row of spring flowers stubbornly push through each year where there might have once been a walkway. A white rose vines the fence as well. I’ve stood near the cellar hole in the spring to get a sense of the lives that once lived there. I know where the old barn rose and look up the hill behind our house to the grave yard of husked souls from the 1800s.

This area is also covered with rocks that make it difficult to mow; burdock and prickly vines. In the spring, when the snow has matted down the brush and we can walk there, my husband and I survey the area and articulate big landscaping plans. But usually after spending July away, we no longer attempt to keep it mowed.

The field is long, perhaps two acres – I am not good at measuring land. We’ve let the field grow up all summer but keep a path mowed along its perimeter. We now need to find a tractor to mow in order to keep it a field, but as it is home to so many creatures we worry about when we should take on this task.

At the end of the field we reach the dirt road. Across it, an old apple orchard still produces hard, sour fruits. We turn left or west and head down the road. This evening, a Sunday, the four of us are quiet and tired out from Will’s birthday party and other weekend activities. The cat follows with us. We meander in a long line that occasionally pairs off. Will still likes to hold my hand in the woods, though not around his first grade friends. The boys begin their count of red efts, which they do whenever the conditions are right for the efts to slyly appear. Josh takes the lead; he has always liked to walk the fastest. His hiking pace when I met him required me to jog.

The road is rough and difficult to drive, though drive-able. The forest looms close, made up of maple, beach, oak, shag bark hickory, some birch and poplar, white pine, and cedar. In foliage, the forest looks dark and mysterious – a difficult pass. But once the leaves fall it opens up and there are roads and paths throughout the 180 acres of mostly forested land.

The boys count in total 19 red efts. We pass the path that leads to the other side of the pond where we skate in the winter and the path that goes up the mountain hill deep into a woods I have yet to fully explore. We catch a glimpse of the pond through the cedars. Two Canada geese float in still water. But we don’t stop here, we venture further and then up a little hill and down to the spot surrounded with pine where we come to meet the pond.

There’s a tiny platform – a first section of a dock – that my father built for us when he visited in June. I love this platform because it reminds me of home and my parents’ dock, composed of I’d guess around six of these sections. I can still smell the fresh wood, a scent so close to my childhood and my father who was and is always building something, whether it be his home or furniture or a new sauna when the old one burned.

We say little on these walks. Shrouded in the woods we each occupy our own bodies, our own silent space. The boys will bicker now and then, Will whines, someone will find a stick and whack at the brush, and then there is the counting of the efts. But otherwise we are quiet. I am tired at this stage of the pregnancy.

At the dock, Mo takes out the kayak alone. He fits comfortably into its little bowl seat and paddles off, heading toward the two geese that quickly, but loudly fly away. On the dock I sit cross-legged, while Will hits the metal poles with a stick, making a clinking sound. The sky is blue, the day has been a perfect warm, sunny fall day. Only a few leaves have turned, a few yellow beach leaves scatter the ground.

My husband’s step-grandfather George, died a few days ago in Georgia where he’d lived for two years in a nursing home near his daughter. Before that he had lived with a caretaker friend in Vermont for a few years. But, he had lived on this land for over forty years with his wife, my husband’s Nanny June, who died in 2006. When he arrived in the late-seventies he had already retired from the state police and received a pension. He was in his late-forties. He and June purchased several hundred acres of land and built the log cabin we now live in. He spent the second half of his life farming and engaged in the rural community around him, selling off bits of the land over the years.

swings on the old apple tree

Part of what I think about when I’m walking to the pond or in these woods, has to do with how long we will stay and whether and how we will attempt to purchase at least the house and some of the land. A part of me grieves the loss of this land, which is not mine, even before it’s gone. Human nature projects grief in this way. But it reminds me too of the tender feelings I have about my children growing older, the fear of them leaving. The fear of endings.

I have always felt connected to landscapes of home, have always loved old houses and the histories of the people who lived in them. I want to imagine them walking and moving across floors, through fields, up hills, down roads. It’s a quaint and antiquated desire, I know, but it’s also the part of me that feels wholly immersed in place. A devoted caretaker of the earth, a wanderer of forests, a lover of all water.

On our way back, Mo fusses about the cat getting lost. At one point he starts to cry when we leave him behind. I walk back and wait while he gathers her from the woods. His tender hearted worry over his animals feels mostly like a burden, but I see the beauty in him, his care and love, his devotion to creatures. We walk together discussing the new chicken coop he wants to build and the ducks he plans to get next spring until we reach the yard and he races off to greet our neighbor, tend his flock, and race marbles down the old screen door.

Mo’s chickens

How to Write a Book

Image by Dariusz Sankowski

The first thing you should do is have a baby (or get a puppy). You need some sort of really obvious distraction so as not to realize it’s actually just you procrastinating all those days, hours, minutes. A baby offers ample distraction 24/7 so that when you get to your desk to write, there’s a sense of relief as well as exhaustion. Exhaustion tends to disarm the thinking brain and you don’t want that brain to write a book. At least not at first. What you need is the sleepy morning dream brain, the place with no boundaries, the place of journey. You enter a field and there you are in its grassy middle with so many ways to turn. Your compass is your intuition alone. Why have you lost trust in it?

Elizabeth Gilbert has this idea in Big Magic that our stories (creative inspiration) come from the universe; they are delivered to us and live with us only as long as we nurture them. If we let them go, they move on in search of another creative body. A lot of her ideas here remind me of Julia Cameron’s classic, The Artist’s Way, which Gibert reports having “done” three times. Some writers poo poo both books because they seem too magical or self-help-y. But, for me, it’s a way to both let go and plug in to my creativity. I don’t want to feel like the soul creator of my work; that’s a lot of pressure. I also think, imagining that our ideas come from the universe allows us to trust our ideas long enough to work through them, nurture them, let them develop.

Which leads to the next step, nurturing the work. My first book was a collection of essays (Made Holy), which felt manageable to me because I only needed to focus on one essay at a time. I only needed to nurture one idea at a time. Though I trusted I was writing a collection, I didn’t know what it would be about or how it would evolve over the years I spent writing the essays. There were times when I gave up and turned to short story writing for distraction, but I always returned to the essays.

Do the work you love, the work that calls you, whatever that is. Really, it’s the only work we can do. I’ve attempted several novels in recent years and have come close to a finished draft with one, but, always, I abandon them. When I abandon them, I lose the story. I lose my sense of the characters — their wants and needs, their hopes and fears. I return and pick them up again, but each time, I have to recreate the direction of the story and it is never the same story. The point here, is that I get overwhelmed and begin to fear that I’ve got it wrong. I forget how many times I revised my first book, how many revisions of each essay before it became a book. I forget because if I remembered I’d probably give up. But if I stay here, with what is right in front of me, I can do the work each day. The goal is just to keep working, to keep the idea-inspiration-story-etc alive in your mind.

Finally, you have to trust your gut. Trust that you know where you’re going and that there is something beyond you, bigger than you, that is guiding you. You are creating this work because you’re called to it. Period. It will be hard; it will be joyful. There will be those days when you walk around with the work in your mind so vividly you’ll forget which world you occupy. It will save you, it will nurture you. And there will be days when you hate it and you spin a million stories about how bad you are, how stupid, how foolish, and so on. Let that shit go. Trust your gut. Trusting allows us to manifest. Fear blocks our powers of manifestation.

Practical Advice:
  • Try Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages
  • Create a private, comfortable, inspiring writing space. If you return to it again and again only to write creatively, your body will know what to do when you sit here.
  • Make small goals, make big goals: what are your weekly, monthly, yearly goals? Write them down, track your progress.
  • It’s best to make goals about process not product. For example, I will write for 1 hour a day rather than I will write 1,000 words a day.
  • Expect and plan for setbacks. You won’t always meet your goals, but this shouldn’t deter you. Adjust your goals. Reassess what’s reasonable, possible, and doable.
  • Be gentle with yourself. Self compassion is your balm for all that negative self criticism that writers seem to be born with. Make a cup a tea, take a walk, call a friend. Don’t cave to the negative stories. They’re not real!!
  • Find a writing group or writing friend with whom you can discuss writing, share writing, or meet up with to write. Many of my friends meet on Zoom to check in then write privately for an hour or two before reconnecting on Zoom. It’s a way to be accountable to your writing, feel connected and supported, and get some writing done.

The First Geese of Spring

Photo by Julia Craice

I saw the first geese of spring this morning while standing on the porch, watching my son point to them from the driveway. When the geese depart and when they return are sacred times for me. They mark the coming and going of the dark season. There’s a letting go and letting in that happen in parallel — deeply corporeal in form. One of those wordless knowings that come through like a prayer or an intuition or a long forgotten scent worthy of time travel.

The little motions of springs remind me of Emily Dickinson’s dashes — breath ballooning out in space that has been created through ritual you made over the years without even realizing it. Here returns the body in prayer. Something to do also with Rumi’s love dogs — the longing you feel is the answer. I might cry now.

In Vermont, it’s sugaring season. Everywhere sap lines are strung between trees, silver buckets tapped into the sides of sugar maples. Soon the annual posts from sugar houses full of steam. There can’t be a more perfect way to begin the movement towards spring, the long poem of her becoming, but in a sugar house covered in the sweet smell and warmth of boiling sap.


All winter I have sought the comfort of tea: tulsi, nettle leaf, chamomile, red clover; mint and lemon balm and lavender from my garden.

Photo by Loverna Journey

Lately, I have been writing about forgiveness, flipping Tarot cards, and logging daily “morning pages” in my journal. I have been sitting before a single lit candle for exactly 12 minutes trying to meditate while my body engages in a wrestling match. I have been making soup, buying bread, walking through town alone with oat milk lattes (Lost Monarch’s are the best) and buying books like an oragami of salvation.

Yesterday, I bought The Book of Mythical Beasts & Magical Creatures for my youngest son, who lately has been obsessed with Greek Myths via a podcast called “Greeking Out.” He wakes me in the morning and I ask him to tell me his dreams, which he almost never recalls. Instead he tells a story, I dreamed of worms and a wormhole in the ground the same color as worm skin. Today in the half fog of before coffee, his story included imagery that I could tell came from his beloved myths… the head of a beautiful woman attached to the body of a bird, to which I cringe.


The geese form a recitatif between winter and spring: an interlude, a break, something to take me from my domesticity. They seem both archaic and otherworldly. In the fall, they cry into dark night, but in the spring, the are flush with the wild winds of March, the cracking open of the winter shell.

Until I grew older, I never understood the value of these seasonal touchstones. Though I grew up in the woods, I lived divided from my body as a young woman and long into adulthood, and thus the physical world. Spring hurt me. It felt like a cruel joke in the crushing sea of trying to get by, surviving the daily onslaught of tasks and responsibilities; anxieties, hopes and dreams that always felt impossible, lofty goals that perhaps weren’t really even my own.

I did not understand how the planning of a garden, the starting of seeds indoors, the planting of that garden and the daily devotion to its life, could change a person. I did not understand the way we long for rituals of the earth and fill this void, in our time, with consumption in all its varying chimeras. I did not know the way the geese could be the supple dash of Dickinson:

Oh March, Come right upstairs with me –
I have so much to tell –

Or that my son’s devotion to a flock of chickens and two ducks could teach me something about the way he longs to be loved. I did not let myself walk long enough alone in the woods to fully recognize the parts of me that came alive in that landscape; I had not learned how to nurture myself this way or how to seek new paths through the trees, trails and road, in order to keep my vision of the world alive, to warm the visionary within.

You can be told that you possess everything you need within you. Those words can become a mantra for years, but our awakenings are not fully our own, they happen in a different time, a landscape and place both fully of the body and otherworldly or “a beautiful and strange otherness.” Human biologist Paul Shepard in Francis Weller’s book The Wild Edge of Sorrow says, “The grief and sense of loss, that we often interpret as a failure in our personality, is actually a feeling of emptiness where a beautiful and strange otherness should have been encountered.”

Weller writes of how animals shaped who we are as a species; they were the first things we depicted in cave drawings. They continue to speak to us in the myths and stories of our ancestry. Their beautiful and strange otherness, however, has been all but lost in humanity’s relentless desire to conquer and control.

But I wonder, how do these lost parts of our soul inform the wretchedness of our world? Can they still provide for us if we do not provide a place (space) for them? In the face of so much loss–loss of our planet, loss of our home, loss of ways of life, loss of nature, loss of small places like a corner store, loss of our connection to the physical world and so on–and the violence of systems of oppression, how do we find hope?

At the edge of winter, many around me are breaking like the shattered ice of waterways. The tides within pull us apart; we heave forth, throwing ourselves against the shores in the splitting sun, breaking down little by little until we flow freely. We are struggling, now, to find our way in yet another new world. And in the face of all this, we are planning our gardens in the shape of our souls. Waiting for the geese to return. Boiling sap into maple syrup that will cover our oatmeal and pancakes and biscuits come next winter.

The open water, the open soil, the open field, the open sky, form the long and supple dash of all that we hope for and can only really be known through the “beautiful and strange otherness” that we were born longing.

Books & things:

I’m currently reading Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro who also wrote The Remains of the Day. It’s definitely a page-turner and a deep dive into human psychology. I’m told the ending is devastating.

I recently read the poet Anne Boyer’s memoir on illness, The Undying: A Meditation on Modern Illness, which won the pulitzer. It’s a breathtaking account of her immersion into the cold, impersonal institution of modern medicine.

I recommend Toni Morrison’s short story Recitatif which we just read in my Intro to Lit class. It’s brilliant. You can read it here.

I’m teaching a monthly writing workshop online through the Howe Library. More about that here. There’s only a few spots left. So sign up if you’re interested.

We just watched the first episode of The Stand (based on Stephen King’s novel about a pandemic) last night. I highly recommend! It’s interesting to watch how they recreate this classic in light of current times.

P.S. Follow me to get these posts in your inbox every so often!

Write With Me

In the new year we reflect on our goals. It’s a time when we consider what we might set in motion, complete, or resurrect as writers. It’s time when I am reminded of a simple word that feels all-powerful: begin.

Now is the time to hone your practice and find your seat at the table, writing desk, or couch. Work with me to reach your writing goals this year. I’m offering weekly and bi-monthly coaching sessions for writers looking to launch their work in this new season.

Drop me an email if you’re interested in discussing possibilities. I currently have space for new clients:

Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash



Thresholds: The Sacred Rituals of the Everyday

On Monday, in my writing group, we read Maggie Smith’s poem “Threshold.” The three of us all thought of threshold differently. One, thought of the exact moment of crossing between as in the point when the light turns to darkness each evening. Another imagined a going between space, the movement from one thing to the next, as in a phase of life, perhaps. I imagined the threshold of reaching a limit, as in a threshold for pain. What do you think of when you hear the word threshold?

The first line of Smith’s poem:

You want a door you can be
            on both sides of at once.

Reminds me of the space I often occupy. I feel between things. I am on the threshold of middle age, not quite ready to accept this transition. Some would easily call me middle aged and others would laugh at the suggestion. It seems reviewers love to call women in their forties middle-aged. To make a note of it, as though we need this information in order to understand their work. I noticed it again recently in a review of Eula Biss’s new essay collection Having and Being Had, on class, property, the demands of capitalism, and how we spend our time. The word “middle-aged” feels like a stain or a check against her. Youth being the ideal of our culture, and entirely wasted on the young, or so they say.

field as threshold

Precision and exactness are something I secretly love, but also loathe. I know that, for example, scientifically speaking, I could identify the exact moments of change. But I prefer poetry as in the feeling one gets on the day that it becomes clear summer has crossed over into autumn. The sinking loss before I turn towards the next season with hope for all it has to offer.

Reaching the threshold could also mean reaching the pinnacle, the prime. But in my mind I think of limits. In many ways, because of my class, whiteness, education, I have fewer limitations than most Americans. The limitations I struggle with are mostly my own use of time and imagination, and my choices around how I make or don’t make money. I have always been pulled by the spoils of Capital towards a desire for comfort, wealth, status, money. But I am also, and I would argue this force is more powerful in my life, pulled by the desire to reject capitalism, to live in my own way, to support others with the work I do, and to write. To make a masterpiece of my own life is to focus on and relish the daily work I do and not its product, which brings me to the sacred nature of everyday ritual.

winter field: light turns to darkness

We make our lives sacred through recognizing what we most value and focusing on it. We do not let the voices of “not enough,” the voice of fear, overcome us. When it arrives we greet it, we welcome it gently–hello, old friend–but then we turn to our sacred, everyday rituals of walking in nature, lighting candles, baking, reading, friendship, and so on. These acts that give our lives meaning also make our lives sacred when we relish in them. Living under the pressures of capitalism, we need a daily refuge and reminder to turn towards what is true and right.

During this most sacred time of year, we battle the wound of Empire. We are taunted by the stuff we must buy, we must do, we must be. But we don’t have to do it. We can turn towards ritual instead. Make this season about the sacredness of your life. Sit under the stars and tell stories to your dear ones, light a bonfire and drink hot coco, walk quietly through the woods, along a lake or a river, through your town or city with all its windows lit up and its comings and goings, sew or bake or write or make, dance or run or twirl alone in your living room. I promise, nothing you buy and no gift you give for the holidays will render as much joy as these simple acts of renewal and gratitude.

with love,


Embracing the Darkness: Francis Weller and the sacred life of grief

There are 20 days until the Winter Solstice, which means 20 more days of moving into the darkness before the light begins its slow return. The solstice makes a threshold between the waning and waxing of daylight, and is perhaps the most sacred day of the year for me, as I am one who has always been drawn to darkness and who at one point in her life turned toward nurturing light instead of darkness, which was no easy feat.

The darkness of November has always brought me grief often I name it Seasonal Affective Disorder. But this year, I moved into November on the heels of a private loss that evoked the deep life of sorrow in me. We all have these losses from time to time as humans on this earth, but we don’t always know how to cope with them, let alone embrace them. Swimming, in the perfect silence of the empty house, I thought of the grief we carry and often squander.

I walked through the woods and built a fire beside the pond and felt all the lives I would not live and the grief I harbored for the loss of each one. In the woods, I search for bones. I have found skulls, carcasses, the empty shell of a turtle. I covet the remnants of death because I want to draw close to death. I never want to turn away from that mystical doorway, and I want to let it soften me, just as grief will do if we allow it. But what I did not realize, until recently, is that I most likely covet death because the other forms of grief are not recognized or ritualized by my culture.

skull & fire

In his book, The Wild Edge of Sorrow: The Sacred Work of Grief, Francis Weller writes that grief is a threshold emotion and when we cross through it we enter the world of community, of conversation, of sacred ritual. If we compress the sorrow of grief, we also compress our capacity for joy. In our culture we don’t have sacred communal rituals for expressing grief and we limit and restrain the experience of grief, which is why, Weller argues, we are a culture of secondary satisfactions like entertainment and shopping, but also a desire for power, wealth, status, rank, priviledge. Empire, he says, is one of the most egregious expressions of secondary satisfactions –we always want more. We are conditioned by our culture to never feel like we have enough. This is one of our greatest sources of grief and loss, our greatest wound.

Primary satisfactions are much simpler and yet sometimes they remain forgotten in our daily lives: human touch, laughter, shared meals, story telling, kindness offered in times of sadness, and rituals that mend and tend to the sacred world around us.

Weller writes of the five gates of sorrow, which go beyond the first gate of loss through the death of those we love.

Here are Weller’s the five gates of sorrow as outlined on in Apprenticeship with Grief from the website Pathways to Resilience:

Gate 1 – Everything We Love We Loose: this is the only gate we recognize on a cultural level, and yet, we seldom give it the space it deserves.

Gate 2 – The Places That Have Not Known Love: this gate refers to the aspects of self we deny in order to fit into family, peer groups, and the broader cultural systems.

Gate 3 – The Sorrow of the World: tending our Earth grief. As Francis Weller puts it, “We are born expecting a rich and sensuous relationship with the earth and communal rituals of celebration, grief, and healing that kept us in connection with the sacred.”

Gate 4 – What We Expected and Did Not Receive: For Weller, this gate has to do with “the expectations coded into our physical and psychic lives” due to our ancestors evolving for at least 200,000 years in relational environments and societies. The contrast of our contemporary life creates a type of deep grief that, Weller believes, we seldom have the language for or space to acknowledge.

Gate 5 – Ancestral Grief: The grief we carry in our bodies from the trials and tribulations of our lineages.

This year, during November I nurtured my grief, I did not turn away from it, I lit fires every day–a candle, a bonfire, a small fire beside the pond, a fire in the fireplace, and the flames comforted me. I sat in meditation, willing myself to soften to the sadness I felt, to let it in, to let it speak. I lay in hot baths filled with bath salts my beloveds had gifted me, sniffing tinctures made for grief, eating pie, walking through the woods, dragging my children along behind, running, and gazing at the moon. And, amazingly, I did not get depressed. I cannot say what will come, but after all these years of running away from the grief without even realizing it, I have finally sat still with it and let it heal me. That is the work of grief and we must engage it if we are to find the wild joy of our living.

I hope to make these next 20 days of darkness sacred through the rituals of lighting fires and candles, sharing food with my family, laughter, and snuggles. I will also be writing here about grief and sorrow, and how embracing this time of darkness can lead to a richer, fuller life, not constricted by a denial of grief. I hope you will join me.