Freeze Frame

I have to start taking my camera to the bus stop.

Pine needles etched in white relief against the soil.

Green mossy mountain peaks capped with snow.

Peaks and valleys of meadow grass filled with frost.

A large oak leaf the color of cowboy boots, its stem pinched between pink mittened fingers, the snow crumbling and peeling away in the wind as it bends.

But then there are the things that can’t be captured with a lens.

The great rushing of wind through the treetops.

The force of it demanding spine erect, shoulders back.

A tingling of the checks, a tear in the eye, a crisp, fresh burn

that makes life seem new,

the morning full of possibility,

the body full of life.

* On an somewhat related note: I found many gorgeous pictures of frost on moss by many talented photographers.  I, however, did not have the heart to steal them, though they would have accompanied my musings perfectly.  I also learned a lot about BFFs Sadie Frost and Kate Moss.

Stop This Train

How do I shut off the interior noise?

How do I ignore the gritty, tacky texture of frosting on my fingertips and ringing the ring on my finger?

How do I remember that the ashes on my forehead are an outward sign that everything I do is in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit?

How do I stay focused with the distraction, the inability to focus, gravity pulling me elsewhere, my eyes to the side when they need to be focused front and center?

My brain feels fuzzy.  It has that detached feeling that comes with being unhinged.  “Unable to prioritize” as the postpartum/anxiety literature says.  That’s a nice neat term for what I’m feeling.  A gross oversimplification of the split between my rational and emotional selves.  I can prioritize.  My mind can still order things, ranking them in order of importance.  But my [free will, stubborn mule, FU factor, overwhelmed stressball of anxiety – pick one or all of the above] ignores that list, places it behind a film so the suggestion of it is there, but I can’t quite grasp it.

In the sleep-deprived days following the birth of my third, I finally came to understand what my grandmother and other relatives described as a futile searching for a word in conversation.  You know what you want to say.  The idea is fully formed in your head, but you cannot transmit it out your mouth and to the understanding of those around you.  Grasping, pinching, clutching, coveting those words, like a linguistic Scrooge, you can’t pull the one you need down from the clouds in your head.  You would share if only you could.  Being at a loss for words truly brought home how sleep deprived I was.  With the birth of the second, third, et al, child, you don’t have a choice but to continue on with the routine of your family as if nothing happened except a new addition to your family and sleepless nights.  It’s easy to ‘forget’ or repress how damn tired you are – until you stammer like a blithering idiot because you truly cannot form a sentence.

That’s the sensation I get now – only not with words, but thoughts.  I cannot light on one particular thought before being pulled to another before it’s fully formed, and another and another, ad infinitum, until I write obsessive lists because I’m so desperately afraid that one most important thought will fly out of my head.

With my three year-old chatting next to me and the priest’s microphone shut off for the second half of mass so his words only slightly permeated the walls of the cry room, I actually did get some peace.  Before the microphone went off, a handful of most important words permeated the walls of my heart.  Everything we do is in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Comforting and terrifying at the same time.  The ashy smudge on my forehead, at least for today, gives me a tangible reminder to hold my tongue, cull my words carefully, not let my obnoxious, self-absorbed anxiety-ridden self rule my role as mother, wife, human being.  I want to ooze peace, love, and hair grease (well two of the three anyway).  I’m in my own miserable little world lately, but I need to relate to the greater world and try to improve at least my little corner of it.

It’s hard to break out of rotating loop of mindchatter, though. – especially when it comes at you like the feed from a manic channel surfer.

So how to do it?  Shut off the TV by going to sleep?  Prayer?  Beating my head against the wall?  Go on vacation?

Any suggestions?

A Change in Me

I was totally on my game last night.  I mention it because it is so not me.  I was laughing, telling jokes, comfortable, making comments without much worrying about what people would think of me.  In other words, I was my authentic self.  Not insecure, not worried, not painfully self-aware.  And there were times throughout the night when I realized this and took note; not quite like an out-of-body experience watching it from afar, but my insecure or irrational or timid mouse inner self noticed and was pleasantly surprised.  And then I tried to tell her to go away, to enjoy it for what it was worth, to follow this relaxed, uninhibited self however far she would go.  Not to jinx it, second-guess it, scare her away with too many self-checks and ruminations.  And now I think of the Halloween party we went to last Saturday.  My kindergartener was invited to a classmate’s family party.  Their neighbors were there, family members, other classmates and their families.  Walking in to a crowd of ‘strangers’ was a bit daunting, but surprisingly only a little.  A playmate’s mom soon walked up and introduced herself.  I found the host’s mom and introduced myself.  I sought out other classmates’ parents.  I told jokes.  I talked to strangers.  I initiated conversations.  I was so not me.  But then, I said to my husband, I was on my game.  Because that is me – part of me, anyway.  The part that is uninhibited, comfortable in her own skin, totally inhabiting the spacious self that is she.  My authentic self.

Is it this place?  Is it the excuse, the opportunity of a change in place to make things happen, to reinvent myself?   Because I could’ve done all these things in my former home.  But I didn’t.  Was it the memory and residual trauma of postpartum?  Was it the repression of people who knew me from way back when, when I was a certain way?  Was it the familiar that I began to blend into?  I was scared.  I was stuck.  Now I’m free.  I don’t know if it’s the physical space that now surrounds us that is freeing us; the mental space that in turn affords (if you believe if in the elements of Feng Shui); the need to ground ourselves and make connections since we don’t have any.  But life seems to be shaping up.  And me right along with it.

A Rock to Remember

Last week, I was forced to go to the beach.

I was cranky.  I was tired.  It was a holiday and all three kids were home, but my husband was working.  I still had tons of tedious tasks to do to get settled in the new house.

My parents said, it’s a beautiful day, let’s go for a walk.

I walked from the breach way to the border of this same beach with my parents when I was a girl.  It was like coming full-circle treading it this day with my own children a short distance from the place I now call home.

The girls dove straight into rock hunting with my mother.  I didn’t even have to chase my three year-old out of the waves, as she plopped down in one spot and proceeded to sift and stack.  I sat down, too, and gave myself over to the sound of the rocks chattering against each other in the surf.

My other home was a short walk from a small inlet on Narragansett Bay.  It was a lovely spot and we were fortunate to live so close to it (though we didn’t make the trek nearly enough).  But it had nothing of the raw power and expansiveness of this beach, the open ocean.  I am not used to the mass amounts of rocks, perfectly pounded and rounded by the constant tumbling of the sea.  The smooth spheres of granite, mica, and other minerals I should remember from science class and Rhode Island history.  Their shapes were so alluring to me, beckoning me to pick them up, roll them in my hands.

And so I did.  I sat just apart from my daughter’s sifting and sorting and felt the weight in my hands.  The cool heaviness, the sun-soaked pressure.  I searched for the one that fit perfectly in the palm of my hand.  Then I spun it round and round, the smooth surface soothing me in a way that didn’t seem needed, but became suddenly essential.

I felt my hackles lowering, my blood slowing in my veins, my body decompressing, my soul expanding.  I was running, running, running so quickly, so constantly, that I didn’t even know how wound up I was.  I didn’t know how much I needed the salve of the sea.

I recalled a stretch of preteen fall days when a friend and I rode our bikes to the sand flats with our notebooks and sketchpads.  I was so disappointed that I was caught without a notebook when the muse was so apparently calling to me, when an epiphany was beating me over the head with a smoothly-shaped rock.  I hoped beyond hope that I could bottle this feeling and bring it home with me.  It’s been diluted over the last week, but I did bring some rocks home with me as reminders.  I picked out some beautifully speckled, striated, spotted ones that I stacked into cairns in my garden.  I selected two larger ones to use as worry rocks, prayer stones, literal talismans to ground me; I planned to give one to my husband so he could benefit from my lesson, too.

As I kneaded these rocks in my hands, I thought of the many manifestations of humanity’s need for physical reminders of the spiritual side of life, of our souls.  Kachina dolls, worry dolls, worry stones, chime balls, stress balls, rocks perched on gravestones, relics . . . there are so many examples.  But they all begin at their basest level with a bit of the natural world.  There is a reason humans turn to nature to reset their moods, their demeanors, their selves.  While I cannot put my finger on it, there is something about it that resonates in our souls.  I’ll just have to wrap my hand around those rocks each time I forget.

Liminal and Beyond

“The Waiting Place . . . [a most useless place]

for people just waiting.

Waiting for a train to come or go

or a bus to come, or a plane to go

or the mail to come, or the rain to go

or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow

or waiting around for a Yes or No

or waiting for their hair to grow.

Everyone is just waiting.


Waiting for the fish to bite

or waiting for wind to fly a kite

or waiting around for Friday night

or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake

or a pot to boil, or a Better Break

or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants

or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.

Everyone is just waiting.”

As I was waiting for the will to write a positive blog entry today, these lines from Dr. Seuss’ Oh, the Places You’ll Go rang through my head.

I’m waiting.  For the end of PMS.  For the washing machine to finish its cycle.  For an expected tradesperson to show up.  My husband to come home from work.  My children to stream up the stairs and into the corner in which I’m hiding (which took one more line of typing, by the way).  For this new place in life to feel ‘normal’, to reach some sort of stasis.

Well into On Moving by Louise DeSalvo now, I’ve read about “liminal life – the life that is neither here nor there . . . These difficult-to-live-through interstices, I’ve read, are necessary for growth: the psychic spaces where the old self is shed and the new one begins to develop (DeSalvo 72).

A few weeks ago, I said that I felt I could become my authentic self in this house.  I didn’t realize how much the move would shake things up though – both our physical possessions and my own psychological foundations.  Everything can’t feel just as it did in the other house, though, because then I’d fall into familiar routines and frustrating ways of being.  Now’s the chance to fix things that are broken.  Discard things that are hindrances.  Create new ways of living and doing and being that improve our life, not just get us through it.  I wouldn’t have done that in the comfortable nest of my other home.

On the flip side, I cannot ignore the pieces of myself that will remain no matter where I am, those rituals that will follow and sustain me wherever I go.  DeSalvo said, “I’ve been waiting to ‘settle in’ before I start writing.  But writing will help me ‘settle in’.” (DeSalvo 88)  Just as there are certain beloved objects that will travel from home to home and comfort with their mere presence, so must I make time to practice these rituals that will soothe me.

I cannot wait for everything in my home to be set up perfectly before I roll out the yoga mat.  I cannot avoid writing until the perfectly appointed writing desk sits in its nook.  I cannot avoid ‘living’ while I run through my unpacking/set-up list.  If I ignore those foundational elements of myself that will indeed make anywhere I live a home, the window of liminal time will close and this chaos will become my life.

No more waiting.

This is not ‘the waiting place’.  These are the living rooms.  This is home.  It’s time to start feeling it.

Phases and Stages

As my three year-old legs trudged after my parents on the last leg of a trail where the promise of the parking lot was just around the next corner, I was the most tired I had ever been in my life.

In the final push of a crazy semester where all-nighters became a necessity, I was the most tired I had ever been in my life.

On the last day of the marking period during my first year of teaching, with too many grades to process and not enough daylight hours to do it in, I was the most tired I had ever been in my life.

When I slept twelve hours a night and still needed a nap during my first pregnancy, I had never been more tired in my life.

Then the baby was born.

Then a pregnancy while taking care of a toddler.

Then a pregnancy while taking care of a toddler and a preschooler.

When a few years into a family of three, I thought I could resume my own interests and still maintain the smooth flow of said family, I was never more tired in my life.

Undertaking a six-day intensive writing institute, prepping a manuscript for publication, tearing through my house for showings, looking for a new home for us, and hosting a birthday party, I have never been more tired in my life.

It’s so easy to get snarky with ingénues of any sort, in any matter, when you know what’s coming down the pike.  But they don’t.  To them, in that instant, it is the hardest thing they’ve dealt with.  As is everything that I think is the penultimate exhaustion-inducing tribulation.  But there’s always something more challenging than the last, isn’t there?  Which is another good reason not to resort to snarkiness – karma will come around and knock you on your ass – or at the very least, laugh heartily at your discomfort.

All the more reason to be present.

If we lament our lot now, when we’ve reached the next, progressively more difficult step, we’ll look back and realize we didn’t know how good we had it.

A wise woman with almost as many children as Mrs. Duggar with whom I’ve become acquainted once said, “You always have one more child than you think you can handle.”  So true.  Adding one more straw of any sort isn’t going to break our back, even if we fear it may.  If we only follow our instincts and trust in ourselves, our bodies, our lives, our mindsets will shift naturally to accommodate the weight.

Great advice.  If I wasn’t so damn tired, maybe I’d be able to follow it.



Cucumbers, Tomatoes, and Too Much Shit to Do

That odd sense of weightlessness, of floating adrift; the feeling that something important, some thought or memory, appointment or task, is there, but hovering somewhere on the periphery, just out of grasp.  Is there something I forgot to do, or should be doing right now?  Some pertinent task that needs to be done or the world as I know it will burst apart from the center outwards?

That was my feeling as I wandered around my garden this evening.

Yes, I needed to put those tomato and cucumber plants I’d bought in the ground before they withered up and died.  Yes, I needed to pull the damned crabgrass out of the ground before it choked all the plants that were supposed to be there.

But wasn’t there something else I should be doing?  Something on that mile-long to-do list I’d been working off for the last two weeks or so?

The end goal in my house lately has been to get said house up on the market.  I had two weeks to do all the things I’d let slide over the last few years, the things that don’t have a fighting chance of ending up on the priority list when you have small children.  Scraping the tiny stray hairs off the bottom of the medicine cabinet.  Ridding the wood in the dining room of dried milk droplets once and for all.  Magic eraser-ing the bejeezus out of my living room walls.

The phone rang, books went unread, writing went undone.

And after one last marathon night stretching into the wee hours of the next morning, my husband and I somehow had the house ready for the real estate agent to take photographs and post the listing.  I took that afternoon and evening to revel in my newfound freedom.  Yeah, the basement could still stand some purging, the garage some cleaning, but for now, we’d earned a respite.

Until the next day.  So used to being on the treadmill (or hamster wheel is more like it), my anxious mind felt like there was something I was missing.  For days on end, everywhere I looked, everything I touched, begged to be fixed, cleaned, put away.  It felt dangerous to shut that off.  Though I know I couldn’t operate at that level much longer.  The systems were breaking down.  Exhaustion – mentally and physically.  Blood-shot eyes.  Cranky.  Irritable.  Snappy.  Emotional (or is that just every time I see the ‘for sale’ sign out front?).

And I suppose that’s the point.  When I get to the point where I feel like I’m at the center of a system – objects, ideas, responsibilities swirling around me in a swiftly moving orbit – it’s time to step back before the whole thing collapses in on itself.  Or I end up in the nuthouse with a nervous breakdown.  Which reminds me of another thing that would help me keep perspective, too.  So what if I miss one of those things that seems supremely important?  Would the world end?  Would I end up checking out?  No and no.  The world doesn’t revolve around me and I can’t possibly control it all.

But I can help those tomato and cucumber plants from kicking the bucket – and if the squirrels don’t get a hold of them, end up with some tasty produce at the end of it.  Digging in the dirt always grounds me (no pun intended).  There’s something soothing about the quiet, the repetitive nature of digging, weeding, deadheading.

Maybe if I’m that present in all I do, I won’t see the ghosts of to-do lists past floating in my periphery.

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