Blue paint

August 2nd, 2009

Outside it is raining, the sky grey and compressed by low-lying clouds. Inside I am painting the walls the color of my childhood, the color of my heart, the color of my father, the color that comes as close as I could find to the “high blue windless skies”* of an early Idaho autumn without flying to Ketchum and cutting a swatch from the sky to bring to the paint shop.

I am painting the walls of the room that will be my private studio in the house that will be our home in two weeks. We are moving to the countryside, to the farming village where R’s parents live, to a second house on the farm property. It has been a long time coming, this move, something R and I have walked around slowly, circling closer each time it comes up for discussion. I have loved this neighborhood, this city, these views; I have loved this urban life but it is time for a change.

I am excited: excited to paint, to decorate, to have my own studio. Excited to have a garden. Excited to have space, inside and out, to breathe. I am anxious: I have been an urban creature for so many years now. Before this Swiss life, I lived here and here. I will miss things, I know, I will miss this city I have come to love. But the move will be good.

And my walls will be the color of an Idaho sky.

* Ernest Hemingway

Well how about that

April 28th, 2009

I found a little notebook today. Actually Boychen found it, pulling it out of a desk drawer along with a roll of clear tape, a black binder clip, a sheet of labels, some correction tape, and a 2008 agenda. I don’t remember when I used this notebook – I didn’t date it – but it was inspired by this post, so it would have been some time after that. So May or June of last year, maybe. I spent about a month listing each day a small handful of things that I really, really wanted. The very first line in the notebook?

“I want to publish my poetry.”

And here I am, one year later, with two poems in an on-line journal, four more coming out later in the year, and six currently under consideration.

Tonight, when the boys are asleep, I’m going to flip through the book and see what else I asked for. See what else I got.

Budding

April 26th, 2009

New writers are often called “emerging writers.” I like the term; it makes me think of a butterfly breaking out of its chrysalis. But that image is too dramatic, the transformation too complete, to apply to what’s happening to my writing, to my writing self. I like to think of myself as a budding poet. I have had four poems accepted this year (two of them were published here, the other four are coming out later in the year). It’s not enough to call myself a professional poet, it’s not enough to turn into a book. It is not the sudden transformation of pupa to butterfly overnight. It is more like a budding, the slow greening of spring when suddenly you wake up and there are blossoms everywhere and you’re not quite sure when it happened. It is like that. Slow. Gradual. Subtle. But irrevocable. Once spring starts, you can’t close the door on it. That’s what this feels like. There is no closing the door on this writing life, this budding writing life.

December wrap-up (updated)

December 30th, 2008

I set some goals for myself this month, wrote them down and put them out there on the internet for anybody to see, goals that were, for me, pretty ambitious. The month is drawing to a close now and it’s time to check in and see how I did.

  1. I’ve got a poetry submission still pending – as of December 8 I’m allowed to inquire as to the status. I need to find a secondary market for this package so that if it’s rejected by the people holding it now I can turn it right around and get it out the door the next day. I’ve found the next journal for these poems, but I haven’t followed up on their status. I’ve never done that before and I’m not sure how to word the request.
  2. I have two poems that sit nicely together. They need a market and a companion. (Two poems is generally too few for a submission). I think I’ve found the market, but I haven’t found/written a companion piece. Updated to add: Actually, I think I do have a complete package here.
  3. I have a submission package ready to go out the door. I need a good cover letter and I need to just send it already. I’m holding back because I think this is a journal I have a good chance with – I mean, we feel like a really good fit – and I’d love to know about that pending submission I mentioned so that, if it’s an acceptance, I can put that in my cover letter. The fact that this journal’s reading period is open until May is not helping my inner procrastinator. I didn’t send this package out; still waiting to hear about some poems and now waiting until a prose piece that’s been accepted is actually published.
  4. I’m revising a prose piece to submit to Brevity. This, my friends, is hugely ambitious but it’s a good piece. A really good piece. Discretion is the better part of valor. This was an overly ambitious choice and I decided not to burn any bridges. Perhaps next year.
  5. I’m working on a prose piece to send here. Their deadline is 15 December. I sent it. And they’re going to publish it. I’ll let you know when it’s out.
  6. I want another poetry submission out the door by the end of the month. New or newly revised I don’t care. That would make a total of three packages out this month, which is low for somebody who actually wants to publish, but it’s three more than zero as my father would say. Didn’t happen.
  7. I have got to organize my market research. I’ve got lists and excel spreadsheets and journals and piles of sample pages from on-line archives scattered between desk and filing cabinet and computer. I did a lot of market research and organizing and it will make my goals for 2009 that much easier.
  8. I want to order sample copies from five or six journals, now that I have straightened out the disaster that was my US bank merging, or being acquired, and setting my account to “dormant” without, as far as I’ve been able to determine, actually telling me, resulting in my bouncing checks to no fewer than five literary magazines. Can you begin to imagine the horror of bouncing checks written to the very journals with which I hope to place my work? Can you? I straightened out my banking mess, wrote new checks to the journals I’d ordered off of the old checks, and sent for some additional journals as well.

A modestly successful month. I could make excuses, like the holidays, or the fact that my entire family threw up more than once in the week leading up to and including Christmas. Even the cat! But instead I’m just going to say that for somebody who is still new to all of this, for somebody who is still figuring out the writer-mother-wife-self balance, for somebody as thin-skinned and thrown off stride by “thanks but your work is not for us” letters as I am, I did fine.

I’m doing fine.

Elsewhere

December 8th, 2008

I bring Christmas presents to the post office this morning, stopping along the way to recycle some glass jars and the first batch of aluminium that has been piling up forever because my husband and I, for all of our different virtures, share many of the same faults: procrastination, disinterest in many simple household matters, an out-of-sight-out-of-mind tendency and we do have the lovliest storage space for rendering the recyling invisible. After the post I visit the neighborhood organic butcher and buy beef for soup tonight; then to the whole food store where I pick up locally grown carrots still dressed in the dirt that nourished them. At home I feed Boychen lunch and do some laundry – bibs and face cloths, I am forever washing bibs and face cloths from the Boychen – and hang it outside: it is cold but there is sun that might bleach out the pureed carrot stains. I strap the Boychen into his Three-Wheeled-Bike-on-a-Stick and we head to the storage room where I gather an armful of Small Boy hand-me-downs. The Boychen is growing, I need the next size up. I am once again grateful that my boys are both winter babies and so sizes and seasons change in step. I throw the darks into the laundry, just a short cold wash to freshen them up, and vacuum, pushing the Boychen in his trike with one hand and the vacuum cleaner with the other. When he naps I make the soup, beef barley and the smell is filling the house now.

I try to find some virtue in this day, in the making of the soup at least, but I cannot. I am elsewhere today and these small domestic circles frustrate me. I think of a life in which I work a job – staff at a bookstore or waiting tables at The Three Bears in West Yellowstone, Montana – and return home to a little apartment where I pull on an over-sized fisherman’s sweater and read and write with a bowl of soup – yes, beef barley, I’ll carry the beef barley forward – at my elbow. It’s not hard to imagine. I’m a loner by nature and the simple chatter with customers would be, most days, enough to satisfy me.

These are the days that exhaust me, the days when alternate lives seem to step out from behind every tree; these days when they look good to me. Even with the smell of the soup, the soft hair of my sons, my husband stepping through the door there are days when those lives look so good to me. Then I feel like an animal in the zoo, pacing back and forth, and I look for the things in this life that would look so good if it stepped out from behind a lodgepole pine in West Yellowstone, Montana, and whispered to me as I walked home to my fisherman’s sweater and my soup.

But the truth is, I am elsewhere today.

December

December 2nd, 2008

I meant to blog last night. I liked the way NaBloPoMo made me sit at the end of the day and think of something to recapture, something to convey. I liked the way it made me take the time, if only for five minutes, to think about what might have been inside my head that day. I meant to blog last night, but it was one of those days. And, since it was December first, I took the opportunity to fall onto the couch at the end of the day and watch the first episode of The Starter Wife, which just started on Swiss television.

I was thinking about my writing goals for the month, the goals I set out on my little sabbatical last week, and I’m starting to think about my goals for next year. I had a lot of goals for this year, poetically speaking, and I didn’t come close to the half of them. I lost a lot of the year to post-partum depression. Sitting here now, realizing it is December, realizing that my baby has turned one, I’m beginning to understand how much of the year I lost. I’m glad to be on the other side of it, and I’m ready to turn the page and be done with it. I think I need to sit for a day or two over the holidays, when R is around and I have the time, and process how much PPD really stole from me last year, but after that I am ready to turn the page.

I’m forgiving myself for all the goals I missed this year. I got by. My sons got by. My baby is thriving and looking at him nobody would ever guess that he started his life under a cloud of sadness. He is one of the happiest children I’ve ever known. His default setting seems to be “Wow! This life stuff is going to be so exciting!” I’m eternally grateful for that. My older boy – well, it was different for my older boy. He was old enough to know something was wrong, to see me cry, to understand all the different emotions that passed over my face. The PPD rolled off my baby like water off a duck’s back, but I think some of it stuck to my older. To my sweet Small Boy. I need some time to think about that.

I’m letting go of last year. I wrote some stuff. Some of it was good. Some of it was bad. Some of it got rejected. (Most of it got rejected.) Some of it got accepted. Under the circumstances, that’s maybe more than I could have expected. I’m looking ahead now. I’ve got a plan, a sense of how to move forward. Carolee – who’s mostly password-protected these days but I’m all about the link-love – has been posting her weekly or bi-weekly writing goals for a while now; it’s been motivating and enormously instructive in how to go about the practical side of submissions and market research and thinking about how to get there from here.

I’m not in a position to make weekly goals – I’m still trying to find the 12.5 hours a week I figure I need in order to achieve the bare minimum of what I hope to achieve. But monthly, monthly I can do. I’ve got quite a list for December. For somebody in my position it’s ambitious but I’m learning that falling short and forgiving afterwards brings me further than setting “realistic” goals that I acheive every time. So I’m aiming high. I’m sure some of you could tick tick tick off the following in a day-and-a-half but the thing about goals and ambition and what’s hard and what’s easy is that it’s all relative, conditioned on the life of the goal-setter. For me, for my life, this is a big list for a month.

  1. I’ve got a poetry submission still pending – as of December 8 I’m allowed to inquire as to the status. I need to find a secondary market for this package so that if it’s rejected by the people holding it now I can turn it right around and get it out the door the next day.
  2. I have two poems that sit nicely together. They need a market, and a companion. (Two poems is generally too few for a submission.)
  3. I have a submission package ready to go out the door. I need a good cover letter and I need to just send it already. I’m holding back because I think this is a journal I have a good chance with – I mean, we feel like a really good fit – and I’d love to know about that pending submission I mentioned so that, if it’s an acceptance, I can put that in my cover letter. The fact that this journal’s reading period is open until May is not helping my inner procrastinator.
  4. I’m revising a prose piece to submit to Brevity. This, my friends, is hugely ambitious but it’s a good piece. A really good piece.
  5. I’m working on a prose piece to send here. Their deadline is 15 December.
  6. I want another poetry submission out the door by the end of the month. New or newly revised I don’t care. That would make a total of three packages out this month, which is low for somebody who actually wants to publish, but it’s three more than zero as my father would say.
  7. I have got to organize my market research. I’ve got lists and excel spreadsheets and journals and piles of sample pages from on-line archives scattered between desk and filing cabinet and computer.
  8. I want to order sample copies from five or six journals, now that I have straightened out the disaster that was my US bank merging, or being acquired, and setting my account to “dormant” without, as far as I’ve been able to determine, actually telling me, resulting in my bouncing checks to no fewer than five literary magazines. Can you begin to imagine the horror of bouncing checks written to the very journals with which I hope to place my work? Can you?
  9. Can you?

Looking at it now it doesn’t seem all that ambitious a list even to me, the one who right now has a feverish child coughing in his bed and the bowl he vomited in sitting in the dishwasher. And yet I know it is. Ambitious. For me. Baby steps.

The Boychen walks now. He loves to walk just for the sheer pleasure of it. He’ll make it ten feet until he plonks down, then he’ll get back up and keep on going with a huge grin on his face. I’ve never seen anybody take so much pleasure simply from being ambulatory. So when I say baby steps, I mean it in the best possible sense. Teetering and tottering and landing on my butt but smiling every bit of the way.

Rest days

November 26th, 2008

I’m back from two days away from the family feeling fresh and energized. I filled the well. I took long walks, just me and my camera. I ate soup and sipped coffees. I revised a prose piece. I did hours of market research on-line (doesn’t this journal look gorgeous?) and I have my December writing goals lined up. I’ve got a success in my back pocket now and I know where I want to go next.

I can do this. It will take time, because there is life, after all, but I can do this. I can see the way, I can plan my next step.

When I was a cyclist, my coach always talked about the importance of rest days. Every Sunday night we would have a team meeting at his place and plan the next week’s workouts, and there was always a hard day – spinning drills on Flat Bottom Road or sprinting up Firehouse Hill – and there was always a rest day and every Sunday night he told us not to skip the rest day. It’s not a day off, he’d tell us, it’s a rest day. It’s meant to be active rest. Make it an easy 20 miles, maybe just out to the Causeway and back, don’t climb any hills but you’ve got to get your legs moving on the rest day. The recovery days are as important as the hard ones. They make the hard ones possible.

Sometimes I think the most important things I ever learned about life, I learned on a bike. 

So I rested. Active rest. I took my pictures and did my research and used my muscles in a casual, familiar sort of way. To let them recover. So that I can keep climbing.

Awake.

November 5th, 2008

I was unable to stay awake until the first returns started coming in. I slept. And woke to a new day.

Dizzy, giddy

October 23rd, 2008

I woke up yesterday feeling strange, cloudy-headed and dizzy. On and off a sudden sensation of light-headedness would wash over me then disappear; it was like a tingling wave rolling through my head; it seemed as if perhaps I might faint, but I never did; they came out of nowhere, repeatedly. It could be a mild case of vertigo– I’ve had it once before, so seriously that it actualy woke me out of a sound horizontal sleep with the sensation of spinning spinning spinning and needing to throw up. That time, about two years ago, I could hardly move; we called a doctor in the middle of the night who did a house-call – at 5 in the morning! oh Switzerland how I love you! – and diagnosed me. Then, as now, I had a baby in the house. That last time it was so serious that I simply could not trust myself to pick up the Small Boy even for a diaper change – we called an organization that provides emergency short-notice in-home help for families with sick parents or sick children (for a fee, of course).

This time around I do not feel nearly as bad but again there is a baby in the house and this time around a flight of stairs as well; again we took the route of better safe than sorry and called for some help. Small Boy is off at the grandparents (oh grandparents, how I love you!), but they’re not in a positoin to take care of both boys all day so The Boychen is at home with me and the home-help aide, D. It is strange staying upstairs trying to rest while I hear Boychen downstairs. But I do have to stay upstairs. First to rest – I’m going to the doctor later today, the same doctor who diagnosed me last time around and who has more-or-less become our Hausarzt (GP), to see what he thinks  – and second because if I go down there and Boychen sees me he will not let D do anything, will not allow himself to be distracted by her and won’t play with her and then it is just pointless for her to be here. So I’ve taken advantage of the day by doing market research and finding a few places to send a few poems.

Whenever I find a promising market, when I send something out, I feel light and giddy with the possibility of it all. Or maybe it’s just the vertigo.

Hockey Mama

October 20th, 2008

I grew up around ice hockey, grew up in the northern suburbs of Chicago skating on outdoor rinks back in the day when winter was winter. My father was president of the hockey association; my mother was variously treasurer and secretary. Later my father coached the high school team and also a young adult league. My older brother played hockey from the time he was five or six until he left for college; after college he played in an adult league and coached high school hockey for a few years. Ever the little sister, I played hockey myself for a season, but this was back before a lot of girls played hockey and I was the only girl my age in the league. Not on my team – in the entire suburban league I played in. There was another girl two years older than me, her name was Annie, but in my age group I was it.  After one year of having to stand alone in the hallway while the boys changed in the locker room, of getting checked and knocked down because girls don’t play hockey, I retreated to the stands and the occasional stint in the scorer’s box. But I grew up around hockey.

My mother was a hockey mom. She went to every single hockey game my brother played in for a dozen years. She drove him to practice and car-pooled his teammates and served early dinners and reheated leftovers so that everybody got to eat. She kept his skates sharpened and his equipment aired out and always knew where the hockey tape was. She huddled in warming houses with the other hockey moms and drank cup after cup of bad vending machine coffee. She stepped in as time-keeper and score-keeper when somebody went missing in action and she was the unofficial record-keeper for every team my brother ever played on, keeping track of minutes played and goals for and against and goals and assists and penalty minutes for entire teams of exuberant boys. She cheered and yelled and taught me the phrase “cherry-picking.” She was a hockey mom extraordinaire at a time when nobody cared about the hockey moms.

Since the day Small Boy put on skates last winter and I guided him around the rink by holding his hands as I skated backwards, I’ve been looking forward to this winter, to this year when he would become old enough to start the hockey camp, to being a hockey mom. Hockey school started on Saturday, so I am officially a hockey mom, at last, and I cannot begin to tell you how annoyed – irritated and angry and cheated – I feel to become a hockey mom at a time when the phrase “hockey mom” is associated with someone with whom I have no desire whatsoever to be associated. So please forgive this brief forray into American politics, but I’m feeling the need to reclaim the phrase “hockey mom.”

I like cities. (Most NHL teams, by the way, are found in cities, as are most theatres and opera houses and ballet companies and baseball teams. It just kind of works out that way.) They are vibrant and exciting and give people opportunities to follow their dreams. I like small towns. They allow people to connect more deeply with each other and to look closely into the fabric of their own lives and dreams. I like that I can decide which one fits me better. I am a hockey mom.

I live at the foot of the Swiss Alps and yet I think Yellowstone National Park is the most beautiful place in the world. I believe that geography does not define love of country. I am a hockey mom.

I believe that a blistering slapshot from the point is the most beautiful thing in sports. I am a hockey mom.

I have enough faith in women to allow them to make the most personal decisions about their lives without paternalist outside interference from people who know nothing about them or their circumstances. I am a hockey mom.

I believe that starting a family through in-vitro fertilization is as special as starting a family through sex and I believe that the children of in-vitro fertilization are magical. I believe that the decision to seek fertility treatment is a decision a couple can only make for themselves and I believe that treatment should be available. I am a hockey mom.

I believe that embryonic stem-cell research has enormous potential and that couples who undergo in-vitro should be able to donate embryos to research if they so desire. I am a hockey mom.

I believe that reasoned disagreement is the engine of democracy and that reasonable people can disagree reasonably. The operative word is reasonable. I am a hockey mom.

I believe that the overwhelming majority of global warming is the result of human activity and I believe that the majority of statistical findings support this belief. I am a hockey mom.

I believe in the scientific method and that science is a method, not a subject. I am a hockey mom.

I believe that Wayne Gretzky played a type of hockey that the rest of us could only dream of. I am a hockey mom. 

I believe that wild places like ANWR matter. They matter simply because of what they are, not because of what they can give us. ANWR isn’t about the energy we could harness. Places like ANWR, places like Yellowstone National Park and Grand Canyon National Park and the great network of American parks, are about setting aside something rare and wonderful and preserving it simply because it is rare and wonderful. It is about knowing that there is still something wild and mysterious left in the world. Wild places matter. They matter because they inspire us and teach us. They make us whole. They heal our wounds. They let us dream. They call us to glory and if we listen they teach us the liberating magic of being wholly who and what we are in that moment. They show us, however briefly, a world outside of ourselves. I am a hockey mom.

I believe that while one of us is oppressed none of us is free. I am a hockey mom.

I believe that the world – that new things, new people, new places – can only be approached with an open mind and an open heart. I am a hockey mom.

The word “cosmopolitan” is not derogatory. I am a hockey mom.

I believe that knowledge matters, that facts matter, that expertise matters, that “elite” means highly skilled and that highly skilled people are not, by definition, bad people. I am a hockey mom.

I believe that I am but one of many, that our diversity is our strength, that the sum is greater than the whole of the parts, that we stand together or fall alone, that an open hand is more powerful than a closed fist, that generosity is strength, that I am less when you are suffering and that I am strengthened by your joy, and that greatness cannot exist in isolation, for even Wayne Gretzky needed a team to play on. I am a hockey mom.

I voted for Barack Obama and I am a hockey mom.