Routines

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You position yourself and

you do not know if things will turn out,

though you’ve bled a little, and hoped, and hated.

And there are worse things in the world

if your words return to you, flat yellow and slightly

dishonest, and you have to swallow hard because they belong to you.

There are worse things than that.

So you keep sending them out, you keep pushing, letting the dead ones die,

because what else can you do?

The Mini Re-Entry: How to Return to America After Leaving

I’ve been an international traveler for more than twenty years.  During college I lived in Europe for a time, having already visited there on a number of occasions during high school.  Then, after my husband and I got married and had our kids, we moved our family to South Asia, where we lived for three years.

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Since returning to the States, we’ve continued to head back overseas for short stints.  Between the two of us we’ve been to Malaysia, West Africa, East Africa, and South America.  In June we’ll go back to Africa, this time together.

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I’m gearing up for the trip in the usual ways.  But having just returned from Paraguay in March, I’m already feeling tired, and not because of jet lag.  It’s something harder to explain: I’m preparing myself for reverse culture shock–again.

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I experienced it in 2012, of course, when we returned to America after living in India. But I feel it now, too, every time my plane touches down in the U.S. after carrying me across the ocean.  It’s weird and silly seeming because, these days, I’m only ever gone for a couple of weeks or so.

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But it’s real.

Today I came across a blog post about this strange traveler’s phenomenon.  I don’t know if you’re a globe-trotter, or if you’re friends with, or family to, people who are.  If so, this article is worth the read–either for personal help in coping with RCS, or for help in supporting someone you love who deals with it.

The Muse

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This is one of those days when words don’t fit.

Sit and wait and tap and think

but silence sits under too-bright images (those blurs one sees

on the way to the beach) and there’s the painful, everything pulse,

which is less peaceful than the nothing.

What does one do at a wasteful time such as this?

She looks at dogs.

~For my niece, Maddy, who is a writer.

On Swallowing Seeds

My mother used to eat apples straight through the cores.  I don’t know if she still does, but I remember her crunching every part with her back teeth when my sisters and I were kids.  Naturally, we asked her why she did it.  We knew the seeds were chewy and tasted bitter because we’d tried them ourselves.  And the fibrous tissue at the apple’s center was disappointingly unlike the crisp sweet flesh we loved.  Hard to grind, even harder to swallow.

Our mother’s reply was that she didn’t like for things to go to waste.

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I am my mother in ever-multiplying ways.  I don’t eat apple cores, but I, too, have learned to feel uneasy when I see things going to waste.  Maybe that’s why I tell my kids about each rejection letter I receive after sending in a story to some literary something or other.

It happened today:

Dear Hannah,

Thank you for sending in your piece.  We really enjoyed reading it, but it wasn’t for us.  Please keep sending us your work.

With superior intelligence,

 The Secret Literary Highbrow Society

(Or something).

I read that email, and then I sat my kids down and told them about it–about how I felt when I read the words ‘not for us’, about what I was tempted to think about myself as a writer, about what I know is actually true, and what probably isn’t.  And I made myself say out loud that a letter like that (or several), won’t make me give up.  Though rejection always hurts–sometimes like a bee sting and sometimes like childbirth.

I tell my kids about the times I get the “no dice” response, and not just about my success stories, because I don’t want those bruised moments to go to waste.  I want them to see me disappointed but persistent, so that someday, when they’re trying to do something that feels beyond their reach, something that requires them to be tough, to have a willingness to flop or look silly or feel sad or foolish occasionally, they won’t give up.

So here I am eating the seeds.  They taste bitter, but I’m not spitting them out.

The World’s Okayest Mom

Maybe it’s because I’m a brat, or have a little rebellious streak or whatever, but I don’t like contrived holidays, AKA Forced Celebrations.  And none is more forced than Mother’s Day (except maybe Valentine’s Day).

Mothering is hard work and isn’t treacly eighty percent of the time.  Neither is marriage.  Hallmark doesn’t seem to understand this.  Or maybe it does, but has figured out a way to make money off of our collective sentimentality/guilt/ideals.  I don’t know.

Anyway, I think holidays like Mother’s Day make it harder to live up to our own expectations of what motherhood should feel like.  We think it should feel like puppies and snuggles but it actually feels like peanut butter sandwiches and bedtimes.  With some hugs thrown in, yes, obviously.

Having said that, I’m all about the pursuit of excellence in our mothering journeys.  It’s just that I suspect excellence doesn’t look like a promo for a made-for-TV movie (at least I’m hoping against hope it doesn’t because I demand better acting in my life-script).  And I think that we all need to keep our eyes fixed not on some blurred-at-the-edges ideal of the The Mother Life but on Truth and Mercy.

Still, my kids better make or buy me cards because all the other moms are getting them.  It’s just that it would be alright with me if they said something like this:

images-2Because, honestly, of all the OK moms out there, I really am one of the okayest.

Happy Mother’s Day, all you moms (celebrate, or else)!

On My Nightstand (and in my purse, and on the table…)

I’m a feast or famine kind of girl when it comes to reading.  Seems like I’m either in binge mode, staying up far past my bedtime with an un-put-down-able something or other, or I’m not reading much of anything (except those books I read aloud to my kids).

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This year I decided to change all that by putting myself on a bit of a reading plan.  I say ‘a bit of a reading plan’ because I follow it somewhat loosely.  If, say, I come across a book at the library that looks especially interesting, and it’s not on the plan, I end up grabbing it anyway.  Still, having the plan in place means that I’m never looking for a new book.  It saves me time and means that I’m reading more consistently than I have in the past.

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Historically I’ve read one book at a time because I don’t enjoy having myriad plots and premises floating around in my head.  But this year, for one reason or another, I’ve broken my own rule and am currently working through several books at once.

They are:

Age of Opportunity, by Paul David Tripp (non-fiction, on parenting teens)

New Collected Poems, by Wendell Berry (with the kids)

Cousin Betty, by Honore de Balzac (on my own)

The First 50 Pages, by Jeff Gerke (writing craft book, on my own)

Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo (with the kids)

Long Day’s Journey Into Night, by Eugene O’Neill (play, on my own)

What about you?  Do you read as the mood strikes, or do you have a list you’re working through?  Do you have any good book recommendations?  Feel free to share them in the comments.

The Job

Occasionally, when you sit down to write, you realize that you need to trim your jagged, ugly fingernails (why do you let them grow out sideways like that?).

And you haven’t ordered the things off the Internet (you should do it before you forget).

Plus, you remember that your kids left pans in the sink with bits of egg on them (those bits are crusting, will grow mold soon, probably not, but maybe).

Then, of course, the afternoon marches toward you with one raised eyebrow (and there are words somewhere, but they’re knotted up in vague little hairballs).

And you could scream (but it never helps).