Postcards from the ledge

I know I said I was going to be posting old stuff while I was away at retreat this week, and I suppose I yet will. But here I am on the cusp, the razor’s edge, of another year passing. When I come back next Saturday we will be days away from celebrating my daughter’s 9th birthday. It is a miracle, but no greater miracle than any other day. Once you get in the miracle business, you see, they just keep coming. Since I am spending a good part of my time missing my family this week, you can join me as I post pictures of what you’ve missed so far.


Here is Georgia Grace as she appeared at her premature birth in August 1999 at 34 weeks of gestation. We would soon pity the parents with those behemoth, 6-pound babies in what appeared to us to be the nursery for run-of-the-mill king-sized kids. They seemed so – how can I say this – big. But she was fine; she was ready for this. As many of you have witnessed since, I certainly wasn’t.

The thought of this day, and every day since, makes me tear up in amazement. There are many parents who know more keenly than I do the cruel afflictions of early-term birth. I weep for the inconsolable impossibilities. And in our case, I weep for the possibilities. I weep for the whole unknowable universe of it. The waiting and yearning, the coming and going, the missing, yes the missing, reminds me of this post, one of my first, which remains forever true. I’ve never lived any day or place that I wasn’t waiting for her all night. Missing is what it means to love.

Wish you were here

This weekend I’ll be reading here, then packing up for a weeklong retreat here, and after I get back, speaking to a group of parents here.

You’re welcome to join me wherever I go. Do give serious thought to coming here this Saturday for an intimate gathering as I read and sign Momma Zen. Every guest is guaranteed a triple shot of bliss!

Vroman’s Hastings Ranch Bookstore
Pasadena, Calif.
Saturday, July 26, 2 p.m.

In case you ever give serious thought to going on retreat like me, you should know that a meditation retreat is not really the kind of retreat we wish for, but a startling immersion in full-contact living. You probably have no idea what you’ve been missing, and you will never be the same. You can read about why I do it here, what it’s like here, and what I find when I come back right here.

Since I’ll be gone for so long, I’ll be re-posting personal favorites like the ones here, here, and here. Be sure to check back here for the announcement of this week’s giveaway winner after this Friday.

And anytime you’re here, come into my backyard for a one-on-one. I’m always here and wishing you were too!

Daily reflection on SPF 50


Me: You got a little red yesterday, honey, so let’s put more sunscreen on your face. The sun causes cancer and we don’t want you to get cancer.
Her: If I ever get cancer, I’m not going to brush my hair.
Me: No?
Her: No, because I read in a magazine about a girl who had cancer and when she brushed her hair it came out, so if I have cancer I’m not going to brush my hair.
Me: Okay.
Her: Does that sound like a good idea?
Me: It sure does.

Reflecting on my family history of cancer and hair loss and good ideas.

The winner: Show me where it hurts


Announcing the winner of this book giveaway: Megan from Exile in Kidville.

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned here that the author Darin Strauss was doing a bit of high-profile book touring. You have to love this next part. He noticed what I said and he sent me his book, More Than It Hurts You. I’m offering it as a giveaway this week, as I like to do, and here’s why you should ask for it.

I thought it was just a few years ago, but turns out it was more like six (!), that I read something that left me weak and weepy to the point of exhaustion. It wasn’t as though I loved the book, or even liked it. Some of my very smart and well-read friends disagreed, but I thought the author Jonathan Franzen, in The Corrections, had nailed the whole of our unsayable lives. The ignorance and cynicism, the glib cleverness, the buried sorrow and habitual self-deception, and at the barren bottom of all our failings, the love. Still, the love.

More Than It Hurts You is that kind of ride. An ambitious and frantic story about how none of us – not one of us – is honest or fair or true or what we appear, even to ourselves, to be. It’s a story about the strivings of love, marriage and motherhood, but I don’t read stories for the stories. I read to be awed and lost and left to fend for myself on a far shore. I only have so much time, you see, and I don’t want to finish a book in the same place I started.

I’ve heard it called “a beach read.” This is no beach read. Oh sure you could read it on the beach, and when you finished, you would sit and stare a long time at the convulsing waves, at the mysteries that combine and divide us. It is a difficult book, an uncomfortable reveal. It cuts close, and it hurts. In a very safe way.

I recommend it. Because good work, and the writers who enslave themselves to it, are so blasted hard to find. When they find you, it makes things better.

***
Leave a comment anytime before next Friday, July 25 to enter.

Under the sun


Have you ever noticed, I mean really noticed, that it’s all the bright side?

What page are you on?


It’s my daughter asking.

Page 3, I say.
Page 5, she snorts.

We’re sitting in a booth at Whole Foods. She’s dabbling in her deli peas and corn; I’m hunched over eight ounces of criminally expensive Greek salad. We’ve just cracked the spine on some new paperbacks. The bag of store-bought books; the $13 lunch; I’ve blown the top off an ordinary Tuesday, and all because I have work to do.

I have an inconceivable bit of writing ahead of me; an iron bull that baits my measly mosquito, an abandoned well with no way in, up or around; so naturally I want to eat. And read. And it’s a safe bet that something will come out of all this ingestion, eventually.

What page now?
Page 8.

Page 11,
she snarfs.

I had thought to just look into the window at the bookstore next door, the bookstore where I read on the 26th, to see if they’d set up a display like they said they would. But my daughter cannot merely peer through the plate glass of a place like this. She shoots inside. And me? I’m in a following mind. I pick up three books within three minutes, suddenly starving for someone else’s cooking. Guiltily, I tell her to find one, then two, then three books for herself.

My own book
is there like they said it would be. Stacks displayed bravely at the entrance, stacks undisturbed on the shelf, snow white and untouched, where they will remain, unless you and all your best friends and in-laws, even the ones you don’t like, come and save me next Saturday.

I have an idea! Let’s have a reading competition, she cheers.
Okay.
The first one who reaches page 22 wins!

I’m delighted now, by her invention and enthusiasm, saved by the starting bell of the only test at hand. It’s a test that reminds me once again that I only win by losing. So I give up, and she wins! We pack up our pages and walk over to Rite Aid where I buy her some press-on nails.

It’s hard to complain about a day like this, but I’ve got so much practice.

A skort of insight


I’m clipping a girl’s size 8 hot pink skort still warm from the dryer onto a plastic hanger in the cool quiet of a lonely house near sundown and I wonder:

How did I get here?
And oh, yeah
remembering just then (and again) to feed the fish, the turtle, the dog, the people, these people, an all-day dine,
from a fridge of their favorites, that brand, that bottle, those berries for breakfast, this yogurt not that, certainly none of it mine
Sorting the mail that’s not mine
the socks, the shoes, the glass I didn’t leave behind.
Noticing the brown tinged pine
the toppling trash, the heavy air, the weeds that taunt me everywhere.
Not mine, not mine.
The dusty car, the load of kids
we’re late, they whine
All but one, (thank god) not mine.
The days, the weeks, the calendars kept,
the dwindling time
not mine, no
none of it mine.

How did I get here?
Just lucky I guess.

It’s a sign


The random answer is in hand. The winner of last week’s giveaway of the autographed copy of The Maternal is Political is Jen Lee. Thanks to everyone for your eagerness to witness, chronicle and make a change. Keep at it. And here on the Cheerio, I never seem to run out of things to share, so enter again when the next chance appears.

Summer shoes for well under $100

I just came back from the health club where I was running on the treadmill (it’s a sickness) and watching “The View” (it’s another kind of sickness). They had this perky spokesmodel with a $500 haircut in an $800 dress hawking SUMMER SHOES FOR UNDER $100!

Really. Not even considering the fact that the best summer footwear is, well, your feet, I’m horrified, and then I wonder, Am I the only spoilsport who thinks this segment is unbelievably inane and insenstive in this day and age? SHOES FOR UNDER $100 is a newsmaker? In the SUMMER, no less?

And I immediately inventoried my own summer footwear finds, which were not only acquired for well under $100 but remain in every way utterly worthless, which for me evokes the true essence of summer.

Take these, for instance, which I picked up for $3 four years ago. I wear them every morning when I make the rounds in the yard to pick up dog poop:

Which always reminds me not to wear these while picking up dog poop.

Or these pink poolside classics, $5 at Wal-Mart three years ago:

Did you notice they are pink? They’re bloody screaming pink! Maybe that’s why even Wal-Mart had them on sale, you silly!

And these are my good running shoes. They aren’t my really good running shoes because those boats cost over $100, good grief, and I pound through them like putty:

No, these running shoes are old, worn out, dirty and so heavy that when you step on that unreliable bathroom scale you can automatically take, oh, 29 pounds off your weight.

In my view, that’s a steal.

A gift, a charm, a fortune


It was supposed to be about 115 degrees today but it wasn’t. I’d heard a rumble about it for days. But this morning I shivered under the covers. Outside, a morning breeze danced on my bare arms. I figured it would all ignite at mid-day, but by evening we had a cloak of clouds and a tease of sprinkles. This is the kind of thing I take as a gift, a charm, a fortune. Lacking any other kind, it will do.

A little respite, you see, an oasis in the crossing. I just finished a tough writing gig that had me on my knees for weeks, inching forward through the drifts, making up words about a topic so suffocatingly arid, so dense and intense, that it could only be called “work.” I burrowed into the clattering bones of it this afternoon, wrote a little bit more and shocked myself by being done. A gift, a charm, a fortune. Lacking any other kind, it will do.

We knew it was dying, one of those troublesome turtles that required so much coddling care that I couldn’t help but come to love it. It had stopped growing, stopped eating, stopped moving and then tonight Daddy pronounced it dead. “Mommy,” my daughter called, “Can you light some incense?” She adorned the burial box. My husband turned the earth. She placed a stone and I said the chant. A gift, a charm, a fortune. Lacking any other kind, it will do.

For Jupiter, my good turtle

***
Please remember to leave a comment to enter my giveaway of The Maternal is Political. A gift, a charm, a fortune. Lacking any other kind, won’t it do?

The sisterhood of the traveling chance


An interview with Shari MacDonald Strong

A couple of years ago, I shut my eyes and clicked the Send button to shoot a brand new piece of mine to Literary Mama. I’d been published before, but in my case, that little squeak seemed but a faint coda on the fabulously imagined career that had never quite materialized. I was a writer, but I was not yet a part of any community of writers, and I wasn’t sure I’d ever get the chance. I heard my little story swoosh into the brittle darkness where so many of my brave queries had disappeared. Shari MacDonald Strong, the creative nonfiction editor of the site, waited, oh, all of eight hours before she emailed me back with the message I still have: “This is beautiful. I love it. Let’s run it next month.”

Now that I look at those, her first beneficent words, I’m not surprised that such powerful collaborations come from this woman, the editor of the new anthology, The Maternal is Political. She gives fellow writers faith and love and chance. When I saw Shari a week ago, I asked if I could interview her for the blog. I want you to know her. Indeed, if you are serious about your writing, and all of you should be, you will want to know her. Here’s Shari about mothering, writing, editing and the great good chance we have right now to change the world. Change your own world by entering my giveaway at the end of this post. (I’ll give you every chance I can!)

As the creative nonfiction editor for Literary Mama, you “discover” many new women writers. How does reading, editing and supporting other writers affect your own writing?

The process of editing (among other things) makes me more aware of what I respond to as a reader, puts me more in tune with the magic and impact of a writer’s voice. It makes me feel more a part of the greater writing community, which nourishes me and gives me strength for my own writing.

When you assembled this book, whom did you envision as your reader?

It sounds egocentric, and possibly is, but I pictured myself and other women like me: women who care about the welfare of others, but aren’t sure how they, themselves, can make a difference during this frenzied, chaotic phase of life that is mothering. I pictured women who are making a difference in the world, and/or who want to make a difference, and women who want to learn what other mothers are focusing on, are managing to do. In the end, though, really, it’s for all of us who care about the world.

Where did the idea for this anthology come from? What is the first thing you did to act on the idea?

The title popped into my head one day, and I knew exactly what the book would be. I half-thought maybe it already existed somewhere. I come from a marketing background, so I immediately wrote up a proposal and started asking around, to find out if any writers I knew would be interested in participating. I got an agent. The book came out about 16 months after I got the idea. It was a concept that really wanted to be born, and it truly felt like the universe conspired to make it happen.

What are some of the ways this project evolved differently from what you had expected?

It came together faster than I expected, and the pieces I received were better than I ever could have hoped. I couldn’t be happier with the result. I also became friends with the contributors, and that has added a richness to my life that I absolutely cherish.

Do you believe words can change the world?

I’m counting on it.

How do you distinguish politics from partisanship?

Ha-ha! Hard to do. The Maternal Is Political is definitely left-leaning, no doubt because I am, and those topics in the book are the ones that spoke to me. I tried to pull in a couple of conservative voices, but those pieces fell through for one reason or another. The reality is, the lines between what’s political and what’s personal are blurred, and the lines between politics and partisanship are, too. What I see as political today I may view as partisan tomorrow. All I can do is listen to my conscience – my own, not the words of anyone else – and do what I can to help create a better world. That’s what it means to be appropriately, responsibly political, to me.

You have a book under your belt, a book with your name on the cover. Tell me what that feels like.

It doesn’t feel like it’s “mine.” I feel like I can brag about it like crazy, because I didn’t write most of it! I wrote the intro and one essay, and I got to work with some of the strongest writers I know of. Now that the book is out, I’ve participated in a few readings, and I’ve sat and listened to the writers read their work – or, alternately, I read the pieces at home, again and again (I never get tired of them) – and I just feel so, so proud of the work we’ve all done together. I feel like the most fortunate woman around. I really do think this book has the power to help change the world – maybe it will, if people find it and read it – and that gives me chills.

What advice do you have for mothers who write, want to write, or wish they’d written?

Get real and raw. No pat answers. Don’t wrap things up too neatly. Tap into universal truths with your own personal story. Get specific. Have fun. Do it, no matter what.

***

Now, here’s your chance: make a comment any time, many times, this week and you’ll be entered to win a signed copy of the book. In return, you must review the book on your blog (I promise you Shari will be reading) and then pass along the chance by hosting your own giveaway to a reader/reviewer. Why all this? Simple. We only have a short time to give this world a better chance. And this is your chance to join the community.

Going nowhere and making good time


Since I could use a fist bump right about now, I’m going to announce that my running partner and I ran ten miles today. Ten miles, albeit the old lady way. We have managed to train away some of the huffing, puffing, cramps and crying that had me convinced at an earlier, cynical age three months ago that I would never run ten miles let alone one.

Running has become just about the one thing in my life that is satisfying my expectations, expectations being the kind of oversized load that triggers a 20-car, fog-bound pile-up around the next blind curve. Still, as a pastime, hitting the pavement provides me with a wide avenue of observations about myself and the world around me.

My regular route has me crossing a busy intersection during morning commute, an intersection with eight timed signals for through-traffic and turns. The consternation is palpable at this spot as the engines belch and fume about the interruption in their all-important progress. The traffic experts have been here. The science is on display. In place of the benign illuminated hand that once invited walkers to venture forth – We come in peace! – the crossing light now pairs a hunched stalker with a flashing countdown of seconds remaining before the defenseless few are smacked back to where they came from.

Can you believe it? In this hurry-up world, they even want the pedestrians to tailgate! In these last, poisoned days of our planet, they want the people on foot, the innocents who are truly doing no harm, to get out of the way already!

Now it may just be the peculiarity of the hour and the carbon monoxide, or the pulsing love croons of serial seducer John Mayer in my iPod (I’d run anywhere he told me to), but when I see the flashing countdown of seconds left to me in this crossing, when I see this laughably unjust incrimination, it makes me smile. I find myself trotting across the intersection with a grin on my face. I make it my wholehearted practice to smile at the gauntlet of grim drivers I pass. I peer through their tinted shields into their dead faces. I want to make contact, you see. I want them to respond. I want them to see the first, and perhaps, the last happy person they will see today. I want them to be happy too.

I know, I know. We all think we’re going somewhere. But on these mornings, in a sudden gush of giddy bliss, I bet I’m the only one who realizes how free and easy it feels to be going nowhere. Fast.

Small town fourth

Because what’s the 4th without a small town? Happy independence, friends.




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