Musings

Shelter in Place

sap boiling

My husband and I take turns sleeping in everyday. He is careful not to stay up too late on nights before his wakeup day. He’s like that.

Our littlest climbs into bed beside me around 6am. He takes most of the pillow.

By 6:45, our oldest wakes and wants a bath or a podcast. Today I roll under the covers like a bear and sleep on while my husband tends the children.

Sometimes mid-day I wonder if I’ve already drunk my coffee. I want more of everything.

Outside I feel more alive.

in the woods

My children find certain things exciting: a paper airplane they fly into a bonfire, a documentary about the wolf pack in Yellowstone, ice cream with maple syrup they boiled in a pot on the bonfire.

We are bracing for the death of at the least 100,000 of us. Probably more.

So far, most people are in the denial stage of grief.

No one panics anymore because it’s too exhausting. We’ve acclimated.

During online AA meetings people complain about work or grocery shopping.

Showing our homes to each other feels like a shameful exposure.

I watch a video of the author Glennon Doyle saying, “This is grief.” I find her intimacy difficult. I find intimacy difficult right now or maybe always. Maybe I just find her difficult.

But it is true. This is grief.

I’ve eaten chocolate covered coconut bars every day, sometimes two a day. They were a gift from a friend. But I just ate the last one. Now I’ll eat the chocolate chips. I think my husband has a bag of oreos hidden somewhere.

The president is mentally ill. I shouldn’t write this. It’s offensive to those of us with mental illness. Daily we get a report from him on how well he is doing. What a great job. It’s embarrassing. I don’t watch.

Here is a secret: I rarely cry because I’m on an extremely high dose of antidepressant medication. I don’t really like my therapist. I have felt stuck in my life.

Today I’m listless.

Only five students show up to the online Zoom checkin for class. Seven in the second class. I don’t blame them. I did say it was optional. But I miss their faces. I miss their thoughts and jokes and complaining. I miss their stories.

We make bonfires here. Today we’re burning brush. The smoke billows. Last week we boiled sap for the first time. I love the smell of campfire. I love fire.

Burn it down, is a phrase we once used: patriarchy, capitalism, rape culture, racism, homophobia … fear, I suppose we were talking about the way fear gets manipulated or used against others in greed. Or the way greed destroys everything that is good here, including people. The way some think they can take what they want but their wanting consumes us all.

We may know this. But we can never agree on how to change it. So, now we have a dictator and a pandemic.

I’m not saying it’s someone’s fault. But it is.

Every day the children spread their toys across our home. In every corner of the house a pile of toys, pillows, peed pants freshly stepped from, dirty socks, pajamas, towels, cracker wrappers, empty cups… it’s unreal the spread.

Mostly I hide in my room or go for runs. Avoiding work.

There are two sweaters splayed on the floor beside the closet, one on top of the other–arms outstretched but also piled. They seem to be making love. The rusty brown cardigan kisses the nape of the deep rose cowl neck, my current favorite.

Last night I couldn’t sleep, worrying that the children would die, thinking of their small bodies alone in hospital beds. How I wouldn’t be allowed in to see them. Every other death pales in comparison.

Yesterday, at my desk, I saw my little boy gallop by the window. The older one followed, giving chase: a wolf hunting an elk. I don’t see the wolf take down the elk, wrestle it into the grass, pretend to devour… but I picture it and know this is the best part of the game.

I’ve always wondered what it was like to live through a pandemic. It’s not as scary as I imagined. As movies and TV imagined. Not yet.

I stare out the bedroom window at the field, the dead tree standing, the forest of pines, and gray sky. Soon spring will arrive and green will rise up like a god.

How is anyone getting anything done? Only what’s necessary.

How many will starve, lose housing, die by the hand of abusers, overdose, work themselves to death? How many? What do these numbers mean? I keep a running tally in the back of my journal.

In the middle of the day I fall asleep. It is the kind of half conscious sleep that feels delicious.

Greif exhausts us. I will not feel ashamed for sleeping.

sleeping child

I wait for night. The long dark beauty of sleep. The Netflix, Hulu wash.

I listen to birdsong. Follow the mourning dove through the field. Chase a flock of starlings that swarm the trees. We find the stream. My son falls into it. We tromp home to take a bath.

War games are their favorite.

An old cabin in the woods beside the stream leans earthbound. Inside, a floor covered in droppings, walls torn and insulation shredded. A photograph of an old man holding a little girl lays on the floor. I pick it up but do not take it.

My husband disassembles a shed in the woods near the cabin. The work makes him sweat, his muscles sore, his heartsong red like a fierce hawk, a warrier.

We are all warriors now.

I run up the hills in the woods. Up the mountain. I run out to Black Pond and Half Moon State Park. For days I run and then, suddenly, I quit. I don’t want to anymore.

It rains. Then the sun. It’s cold then not. We can’t remember what day it is. We can’t remember what we had hoped for or planned or what we had worried about before now.

I wish I had a thing of beauty to offer you. I’d lie it down at your feet and weep.

The geese collect in the sky, long bodied and fluid on their return migration. The water rises in the creek. The frogs awaken. We are close to the earth now. We are waiting. She’s calling us back. Calling us forth–resurrect yourselves, transform or I will shed you, she whispers. Her love like that of a womb where we wait quietly in the darkness, unknowing.

Bless you all.

Interview with Fiction Points: The blog of the alcohol and drug history society

Two nuns and a penguin approach you at a bar, and you tell them you’re a writer. When they ask you what you write about, how do you answer?

Holiness and death. Everyone has something sacred and something to which they devote themselves, whether it be spiritual or just an iPhone, or self-improvement which I think is just a part of capitalism. But mainly I write about death, indirectly. That we die and our lives are small and insignificant and trivial but we feel them to be immensely important and singular, and so they are and we are. I can’t get over this conundrum and so I write about it because in writing all the weird feelings and thoughts can become significant or they gain voices and lives of their own and I take comfort in this. I take comfort in beauty… continue reading

Happy February…

xo

-e

Good-bye January, my not so dear friend: My go to strategies for surviving Winter…

I want to believe in winter’s magic, I really do, but it isn’t always magical for me. Yes, the frosted branches of morning trees present a certain mysticism that can get quickly squashed by the idea that pops with a robotic ding into my head: I should take a picture of that. The sliver of moon in the trees I saw this morning, made me think, I am the only one seeing this. The cold sniff of smoke as I move from the car to the house, the ache of just a glimpse of winter stars, the warmth of the fire. Yes, there is magic in those moments, those brief glimpses into eternity.

Why can’t I move through this season like anyone else? Why this grief that catches like broken ice in the gully of a river or what, the gullet of some creature… even better. What weird and melodramatic metaphor can I offer up from the self-effacing dungeon of despair. OK, it’s not that bad! Or is it?

My kids are out the window playing in the snow as the last of the light dusts out. I can hear the soft thrum of my husband’s radio upstairs where he works trimming hemp plants he harvested in October. Black beans and onions and garlic in a pot on the kitchen stove, something made, something done. I used to write poetry from January to May every winter. Here, spring doesn’t come until May. But it’s been years since that time.

I tell my husband I want to move. I tell him that the children are corrupted by X, Y, Z. I say I can’t take it anymore. It’s a broken record, the depression. He says, you will still feel these things even if you move, get a new job, fix X, Y, or Z. I grow angrier when he tells me these true things. I feel trapped. I know he is right. I just have to ride this out. But how?

It happens like this: first the feeling of malaise and discontent, then the story…. but what if, I don’t start in on the story, you know the one? The story of all the things that aren’t the way you’d like them to be? What if I refrained?

Running, I see a fat red tailed hawk swoop–why does it look so plump? Winter feathers? I hear the mechanical sounds of the neighbor’s farm, the scent of manure and grain–animals. I pass the stonebarn where last year’s lambs munch hay, their wool a dull white.

Up and down, back and forth, I move through this season with a mix of trepidation and unhinged determination. Here’s what I can offer you based on my experience (forty years!) coping with long winters…

My go-to strategies for surviving winter because, let’s face it, we still have several months to go!

Get outside. Everyday. Take a walk, take a jog, ski, snowshoe, window shop. We need 20 minutes of sunlight a day in order to get enough vit D and feel like our normal selves. Fresh air leads to fresh ideas and increases my mood 100%.

Glacier National Park

Drink tea. Find your favorite warming tea blends and stock up. Make a ritual of tea and relaxation. Rituals help us relax because our bodies create associations with activities that lead us to anticipate what comes next. Our bodies can learn that tea drinking leads to relaxation.

Heat up. Take a hot bath, sweat in the sauna, or sign up for hot yoga. Do you feel like your whole body is clenching? Heat loosens us up, releases tension, and helps us reconnect with our bodies. I stock up on bath salts and suds and get in there at the end of every day with my tea. I also use the sauna at my gym after workouts (it’s great motivation!). When in Minnesota, I try to get to my sister’s hot yoga shack as much as possible–who knew a shack could be such a luxury!

Tea, Loverna Journey

Plan cozy celebrations with your besties. Potlucks are the mainstay of Vermont winters. They used to include copious amounts of red wine, but now we seem to drink a lot of seltzer and apple cider. Celebrating with my best friends at low key, relaxed gatherings where there’s no pressure to create a fancy meal or host, helps me to feel connected and feeling connected to those we love is essential to our well-being.

Get Away! A long weekend in a different city, a couple of days in a cabin, skiing in the mountains, or, if you can, get to a hot beach for winter break. I love heading to NYC or Montreal to check out museums, see new art, walk around and find fun places to eat. If I could, I’d be headed south for at least a week of sunshine. Wherever you go, take it easy and keep your expectations low. Plan to wander with maybe only a dinner reservation in place (yikes! I can’t tell you how many friends find themselves hangry in Montreal with their loves and end up ruining their getaways!). You’ll be even happier to get back home to the comfort of your routines after a break!

This Month, I wrote a short essay for Cynthia Newberry Martin’s How We Spend Our Days blog. Give it a read here: A Day In January And follow her newsletter for more amazing writers writing about how they spend their days.

Join me Tuesday, February 11th at 6:30PM at the Brandon Library for a reading & conversation of Made Holy and The Essay Exhibits. I’ll be discussing creativity and spirituality as a form of healing from substance abuse disorder.

I’m reading this amazing book: This Is My Body by Cameron Dezen Hammon “In this memoir of faith and faltering, musician Cameron Dezen Hammon, a Jew-ish New Yorker, finds herself searching for love, meaning―a sign. She’s led to Coney Island, where during a lightning storm, she is baptized in the murky waters of the Atlantic by a group of ragtag converts. After years of trying to make a name for herself as an artist, she follows her boyfriend and new God to Houston, Texas, the heart of American evangelical subculture. Her job at a suburban megachurch there has her performing on stage before crowds, awash in lights and smoke, yet grappling with outdated gender expectations―look pretty but not too pretty, young but not too young―and ultimately her identity as both a believer and feminist.”

xo

emily

Dear December,

It’s funny how the end of the year suddenly seems daunting because it’s supposed to mark something big. Last night was the final full moon of the decade. This year marked the end of a decade for me as well. So perhaps it is a big ending for me.

Look! I made the cover of Arts & Leisure in our local paper the Addison Independent!

The end of my thirties, which began with marriage in the Spring of 2010 and saw my graduation from an MFA in creative writing program, the birth of my two sons, the writing of my first book, first teaching job, first marathon, and probably a lot of other first I can’t think of.

Last night we gathered in the community room at the Ilsley Public Library in Middlebury where I read from Made Holy, lead the group in a walking meditation around the Essay Exhibits artwork and writing currently on display at the library, and spoke with artists Sarah Ashe and Fran Bull.

Both are immensely talented artists and creative people. It was with a tender admiration that I asked them about their work, why they said yes to The Essay Exhibits and how art can change the world. Can it? I think their work can and does. I think creation, bringing into existence what is previously only a ghost in one’s mind–image, light, color, song, idea–is the radical center of our holiness.

These are holy days, high holidays, and the end of the darkness.

I feel most taken up by the light, most called to a place of humble acceptance, a place of love.

I also dig the story of Jesus’ birth in the manger, the message of salvation that he brings to the world, and the lighting of the Hanukkah candles, the menorah, to symbolize the miracle in the temple and the faith of a people in their God. I have always love Christmas trees–lights!

But the force of materialism is at its most powerful this time of year. While I love our little shops in Middlebury, adore The Vermont Book Shop, and strolling across the bridge with an oat milk latte in hand, consumerism isn’t where it’s at for me.

But consumerism reminds me that it is through our spiritual selves that we are fed, made whole, filled with light, set free, or whatever your way of saying it is.

There is a tender inward turning that occurs in the north where light and darkness do not maintain equilibrium. We are called to slow down and snuggle into bed early. Our bodies grow drowsy and for a while we resist the cold by staying inside, lighting fires and candles or Christmas tree lights to keep us.

In the new year as the light begins to grow again, I become more engaged in outside activities again. But it’s this small moment of darkness in which we most need to pause.

Last night at the reading, a small group of people (20 or so) gathered and I sat in a chair and read two essays with intense commitment and deep emotion, which is the only way I know how to read and which takes a lot of energy for me. My husband wept, as he usually does, and I kept looking at him, my true north–focus and anchor.

I was surprised each time I looked up to see people still looking at me, still engaged in my words, and not their cell phones. We were connected in this moment of offering. Here, I give you this gift; here, I receive it. There is nothing more powerful to us than this connection, unfettered by money.

***

I have started and abandoned this December letter half a dozen times in these past weeks, not certain of what to say.

Stop buying shit. Settle down. Stay cozy. Snuggle up. Pay attention.

My dear ones

These are merely reminders to myself. But perhaps you need them too. Just remember why we make celebrations, why we gather, why we give offerings to each other–small trinkets of our affections. They are meant to signify our love and nothing more because what can really mean more than that?

Go out into this cold night of long darkness and seek the stars. I often stand for half a minute looking up into the clear sky on my walk from car to home. It’s just a tiny glimpse of the stars, but I think how I want to get bundled up and come out here and lay down on the earth and let the stars come alive. Let this be the gift I give myself. Let me remember how short it is, how quickly it goes, how beautiful the world.

May your new year be filled with joy!

Emily

October

I’ve been working on getting “The Essay Exhibits” ready to hang at the Orwell Free Library and I think all the pieces will finally be up later today. On Wednesday, October 16th at 7PM I will be reading from Made Holy, answering questions about the book, and signing and selling books! I hope you can join me. Bring cash or checks to buy a book.

Thursday night, I met three amazing writers while reading for the New England Review Vermont Reading series at the Vermont Book Shop in Middlebury. Check out Sarah Wolfson’s beautiful book of poetry A Common Name For Everything published by the Green Writers Press and Sara London’s book Upkeep. You can also hear the work of NER Summer Intern, Middlebury College student, and writer, Rahat Huda by listening to episode 7 of the NER Out loud podcast which she worked on. It was a privilege to read with them.


Promoting Made Holy has at times felt overwhelming. But when I read the essays that speak to the current social issues we are facing right here in Vermont and across the nation I feel empowered and carried by something bigger than me. I am grateful to be of service in this way and to have a voice and a platform to talk about addiction issues.


As the season changes, I feel the familiar pull of the inner world, the longing to retreat, to hunker down and hole up. It’s a good feeling mostly. But this season is rife with fears of melancholy and depression for me. And while I have a number of ways to cope, I feel the beast of it in every corner. Of disease I make myth because in my culture we are barren of stories, guides, healers who move beyond the medical models instilled by psychiatry and western medicine–both entrenched in the masculine model (patriarchy and capitalism) of the industrial complex. And so, this black dog or angry beast or shadow self grows.

In my groups, many people offer up suggestions on how to cope with depression: Light box, eating less (for real), exercise and fresh air, meditation, and one man whom I admire said it was soul work. Depression arrives to call us back to ourselves and to remind us that we have healing and a healer within. I am skeptical but also the places that bear light for me are often spiritual and internal as well as of genuine connection with others.

Mostly I believe that depression is a social disease that comes from the despair of trying to live in a society that stifles human creativity and devalues human life. This morning, over breakfast at a friends, she discussed the ways dividing ourselves into liberal and conservative create a divide that can often shut down communication between members of a community such as those in Orwell. Our response to people we don’t agree with lays out the way we will treat them–the standard for treatment. This is hard when we feel under threat, attacked, and like our human rights are at stake. It doesn’t feel like there is room for this level of compassion. But there is.

The deepest wound of capitalism is our loneliness and our lack of connection to each other. We too often do not see ourselves in our neighbors. This beautiful essay “A Letter to my Children: Historical Memory and the Silences of Childhood,” written by Timothy J. Stanley, discusses this loneliness along with the “drearily mundane reality of ordinary people doing evil things”.

Stanley quotes the great philosopher Hannah Arendt and her understanding of loneliness, which she discusses in relation to Nazism: She argues that loneliness violates human beings’ contact with others, and undermines common sense “which regulates and controls all other senses and without which each of us would become enclosed in his (sic) own particularity of sense data which in themselves are unreliable and treacherous..”

He goes on to discuss how mass culture fosters loneliness and encourages us to replace others with whom we engage with Others we fear. “[Mass culture] replaces others with whom we are connected with Others whom we fear. It encourages the folly of abandoning the public sphere for the dubious safety of private fortresses”. We become consumers rather than producers of a shared culture.

How do we rebel? Here in Orwell I have met quite a few rebels and they are mostly farmers (hill people) and folks who want to create a different way of life. They understand that as long as we participate in the system of exploitation commonly known as the forty hour work week, we cannot heal, connect, or deeply engage in our world. As long as we maintain our to do lists above all else, we will never find time to lay and the grass and watch a chubby caterpillar or the clouds, bring food to a neighbor or spend a day in deep connection with loved ones because we are saddled to our lists, our work, our finances, our debt and not to each other.

It’s not black and white. It’s always gray. But I want more breathing room. Less drudgery. More connection. Less isolation. More spiritual journey. Less careering.

Above all else I want to be in service to this world and the people here. What can I offer today? A cup of tea, a conversation, these words, a hand? I know there are layers of privilege here. People can’t walk away from their jobs, they have mouths to feed and a mortgage to pay and so on. But most of us can argue for a different world simply by choosing different priorities. Taking time to consider what we value and how we serve each other. Yes, serve.

Ask yourself, How can I be of service today? See what happens.

***

The Essay Exhibits is up! Here’s a peek.

The first piece in the exhibit by Fran Bull



Winnie Looby & Rhonda Ratray on the shelves!

I’m so excited about this show and I hope you can all catch it at one of the libraries this year. Here’s the exhibit schedule.

Happy October,

-e

Book Launch This Friday 6PM

For those of you who live in the Burlington area, I hope you will join me THIS FRIDAY EVENING from 6PM – 8PM at BCA (the Firehouse Gallery) upstairs for a reading, book signing, and celebration of Made Holy.

Dear Friends,

The best part about publishing this book is that so many of my friends and family have reached out to me with their own stories and emotions about loss, longing, sorrow, grace, and love. They’ve said, in various ways, I’ve felt that too. I realize that in sharing my most vulnerable self, I am giving others permission to share theirs, and that is a level of healing I never realized was possible.

I always thought I’d write an esoteric book of abstract poetry, fragmented essays, or academic gobbledygook. But Made Holy is exactly the opposite. As this book makes its small way in the world, I am heartened by how much love we all really possess and how much we want to connect with each other in these deeply vulnerable ways. We long to share our true selves and to not worry about the judgement of others. We long to let go of our fears and the shame we’ve been made to feel about who we are. My hope is that we will keep working on this and that we will speak our truths with courage to each other, and listen with courage, compassion, and acceptance to each other.

~

Here is what my sister Alida wrote about the book:

We are ever-flawed beings~ but ever meant to love and be loved, to be made holy not by learning perfection but by stepping into grace, learning forgiveness, and accepting every part of ourselves.
It is incredible to me how raw the feeling of loss can be, so many years later, when that mourning is given shape in these beautifully written words. It is an unabashed desire to be truthful, to share through a most personal experience the parts of life & humanity that are common to us all, that takes me deep into these pages. 

xo

Emily

P. S. Still need a copy of Made Holy? You can order one from the publisher (buy two and shipping is free) or on Amazon.