"We're all just walking each other home." - - Ram Dass

Thursday, October 16, 2014

On Showing Up

September is definitely over.

My son's toe has bust through his back-to-school shoes,
the lunch boxes already have a permanent unidentified sticky substance in their corners,
and our pencil erasers are worn and uneven.

As I watch my daughter fight hard with some of the academic challenges that come with growing up,
I've seen some of myself wrestling within her, down to the way she is timid to start to work on anything she's not sure she can master.
Stumbling, frustrating herself by not getting it perfect the first time, wanting to retreat before she let's anyone down.

So, we've been working on incorporating the concept of failure into our daily life.
A word that honestly is hard for me to even say out loud.

Every night at the dinner table in addition to everyone taking a turn to tell the family the days "highs" and "lows",
we've added a new element - sharing a "sizzling success" and a "fantastic flop or failure".
Getting everyone talking about not only the best and worst parts of the day but the best and worst of our own performance or attempts.

This exercise has proven even harder for me, who for a lifetime has tried to hide failure like it was my job, than it has for my kids.
The way they are slowly learning to embrace the inevitability of failure has really been teaching me,
and reminds me of something my son said to me just the other day.

I had shown up to the school pick up lines one afternoon fresh from a shower I had squeezed in after work -
wet hair, no makeup, yoga pants and a ratty old sweatshirt.
My son, who now in 3rd grade is growing into the opinions of others.
He's sensitive now to new wavelengths of social protocol like he never has been before.
So I apologized for my disheveled appearance.

He just shrugged, tossing his backpack in the car door,
{after all, long gone are the first days of school meandering walks to and from school rain or shine.}
He caught my eye in the rearview mirror and said,

"I don't care Mom.  What I care about is that I can always count on you showing up."

Showing up.
There is such power and needed strength in that showing up.
To come, imperfect into the world,
ready to experience and to be challenged by the day.

And as my kids are teaching me so well - that's all we are really in control over.  The showing up.

It doesn't matter if we look pretty doing it,
work harder than everyone else just to achieve it.
It just matters that we are brave enough to show up.

My daughter cannot force her brain to make words into letters.
I cannot by shear determination make the ingredients on the counter turn into a kick ass meal.
My son cannot magically be good at everything his friends deem are "cool".

But we show up.
We try.
We fail.
We open ourselves up to try again.

And that is where bravery lies.

In the vulnerability to show up -
looking like a hot mess,
being open, after ten days of dismissal, for that pass on the field,
or by sounding out every letter you need.

In the opening up yourself and embracing the risk of defeat -
that's really the only way to measure how we succeed.

Monday, August 11, 2014

We Are, Women

Original poem that I wrote and read to open the Mile of Music Festival's
Women Shine Concert at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center.

The World will try to contain us.

They will assign words to our fluid beings.

Our story – if we women let them,
will be defined in extremes.

That we are:
too much, or too little
too fat, or too thin
too bossy, or too submissive
too dumb, or too smart for our own good.

But you – my daughter, my sisters, my friends –
you hold within you the power of the seasons. 
Your spirit is large enough to hold each one.

Just as the sun is not too bright,
or the ocean too deep,
nor is sister moon too soft with her silver light.

For it is She that causes this earth to spin.
She sends those tides to extend and retract from the shore.
The crops to rise, the fruit to fall
It is her full embodiment of self that allows her quiet dominion over us all.

So too, it is never your fault to be fully who you are.

We need not look to others
to define, defend, or to shape us into their liking.

We need not pretend.

You are allowed to come in like thunder,
to whisper softly as the breeze.

To change your mind.

Shed yourselves of the leaves
that no longer bear your markings,
Step out of the golden husks at your feet –

Stand. Ready to bloom again.

We women belong to contradiction.

Our bodies start at the curve of our thighs
Winding its way along our thin spin
Before it falls curled into our tiny smiles.

We are living question marks.

Don’t let anyone outside of your skin tell you what its worth to be alive within it.

For this world is forever wide.
But we women – when we stretch out our arms,
Chests thrown back and hearts exposed
can circle it

Care for it
with an innate wisdom that allows us
to grow life within our darkness.

Nurturing ourselves; and always each other
with a love that is
womb deep.

We are infinite.
We are finite.
Flawed and divine.

Woven together by dust and stars.

We need no standards.
No extremes.
We need no definition.

We are – Women.

sharing with: Unforced Rhythms

Thursday, July 3, 2014

140 Characters

I just finished reading ‘The Circle’ a book that hearkens ‘A Brave New World’ meets ‘The Social Network’ – a cautionary tale about where social media and society could be headed.  It has got me thinking because I have this love/hate relationship with the internet, as most of us do.  My use of these tools are spotty at best – never have I been one to consistently maximize content, SEO, or try to hit target demographics in a way that makes me a Google Plus guru.

As I tuck myself into the side of the mountains in Tennessee for our annual summer vacation, I feel all of my cells relax, and I’m able to say – maybe that’s ok.

I want to live my life in more than 140 characters.

Turn down a road that Siri can’t find.

‘Recalculate’ not to a tiny pin dropped on a map, but to this big beautiful world that is teaching me by standing still inside it.

I want to ‘Check-in’ with my children over flashlights, our backs pressed against the solid earth. Our limbs clammy in our sleeping bags while their dreams and plans for the future spread out above us among the stars.

I look to capture their childhood and our life outside a 640px by 640px square frame.
To let this life wash over us in panoramic, its only ‘filter’ the sun and the shade.

Looking nothing like my profile picture as we explore the belly of this ol’ world, 350 feet down.
Feeling at once how small we are in stature to the cave that surrounds us, and how tied we all are to those who have come before.

I will eat a dinner straight out of tin-foil.
The smoke from the open fire where it was cooked still rising.
There will be no ‘Yelp’ review,
and certainly no food porn hashtag.

I will have no need to check a tiny status bar to find out ‘What’s on your mind?’
I will look over at my husband and see the slow smile creeping over the man I love’s face
as I watch him watch our children splash and dive.
Their voices carrying over the water top to where we sit, peacefully quiet
over the life we've hard fought to make over these past ten years.

To pay attention only to the ‘Tweets’ that come from the trees high above us, my son straining to identify each one.
He who will be turning eight this month, with a bird field guide stared at the top of his birthday wish list.

The only ‘impact’ worth achieving is the astonished delight across their messy faces as I say ‘yes’ to that S’more even after ice cream.

My ‘Klout’ measured only by the weight of their sleeping limbs that we carry to their beds, dirty feet flung over the side of our beds, to weary and full from the day to care.

Accumulating moments to hold like soft stones, weighing my life down with meaning,
worn smooth by being turned over so often in our minds and in family lore.

Not stats.

Not likes.

Not shares or follows.

Just life – fleeting, rare.

For my face to be remembered lit up by the fireflies we chased across the yard,
not by a tiny screen, scrolling through 400 feeds while diminishing my own.

I will leave my ‘Fitbit’ on the counter.  Tracking only the delicious stops along the way.
Just for this week no steps, no schemes to squeeze in a thousand more.

I will look for ways instead to shut-down.

My presence absent from the screen, and full again – in life.

Monday, May 5, 2014

On Writing

There are few things in life I love more than people, writing, and reading.

So when posts of some of my favorite writers started showing up as part of a blog tour of different writing processes and voices, I knew I was a goner.  I have read every one that my little fingers can click and scroll on.

Imagine my delight when a writer I adore, Galit Breen of These Little Waves asked me if I would be a stop on her train.  It took me about 30 seconds to say 'yes'.  Do yourself a favor and go check out the incredible way that Galit creates a writing platform for herself, all the while never losing her incredible open and sincere voice.  It's a gift.  But while you're here - here's a little of my process.

What am I working on?

My most on-going and in progress writing project I have is the novel I am writing based on my grandparent's real life love story.  The spine of this story growing from the love letters  penned in my grandfather's hand, complete with tiny smudges of dried teardrops my grandmother shed waiting for his ship to return.  She has entrusted to my keeping the family history, stories, and pictures.  I'll be honest to say that I feel the weight of all that love, and wanting to do their remarkable story proud.  But I keep showing up, page after page.  Pretty sure that this first draft will be mostly crossed out, started again. But yet, I believe in the thread that binds these lives and this story together.  I hope I can get out of the way and allow the story to weave itself.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I think that the most distinct quality of my work comes from the final form that most of my writing takes, which typically falls out in poetic stanza form.  It's interesting to me even as the writer, as I never intend for it to do so, but from the time it makes its way from my journals to the screen, it morphs itself into a more sparse form.  I like my words to breathe.  To give the reader the trust and ability to move within my words to find their own stories or their own lives.  I have a distinct cadence to how I write and to how I speak those words, never in a hurry for us to leave that shared space, that shared conversation.

Why do I write what I do?

Because, this. (Note my 7-yr-old wrote himself from the book I wrote him.)

As long as I've had a self-concept, it has always been a part of me to wish to share and to connect on deep levels.  To be known.  To experience this life with others.  And writing has always been that vessel for me.  Then, I became a mother.  And almost daily I can lose my breath for the gravity of that station, in its unique way of creating souls that know each other by heartbeat.  I want to leave for them ink-pressed-to-page reminders of the love, the struggle, and the hard-won beauty it is to be alive and to belong to one another.  And if I can remind one or two of the rest of us that we're all just walking each other home? All the better.

  How does my writing process work?

Slowly.  I have never been a person that can crank out instant thoughts into articulate or artistic words.  I need my life and my words to rise within me slowly and spill over organically. I watch life carefully.  Then, I allow for that life to pass me through.  I find when I keep my hands outstretched those pearl moments or slivers of truth stay in my hand while the rest of the thoughts, grand statements, or big feelings lift off into the wind.  I know what stays with me after this time of stillness are my truths.  I write best early morning just having awoken, my mind still crossing from dream.  I write from the same mental and physical place I inhabit when I read.  Nothing has shaped my writing process more than the time I have spent within books.  Just as I search for my subjects, I try to capture not the shape of an event, but the shadow.  The under current.  I am far more interested in essence than I am substance.  I think our hearts are too.  There is something magic in creeping down stairs to my little desk I found on the side of the road, while my house still sleeps, and creating bits of the world I would like to live in.

And now, my turn:

Next Monday, May 12th I have asked my soul-sister Angela from Imagine Angie to share with us her process.  This woman speaks and walks in the thin deep places and I am always moved by her words and her spirit.  Please join me next week at her place to soak in her soul wisdom.  

Monday, March 17, 2014

I Had Always Known {A review of Cory Chisel and the Fox Valley Symphony Concert}

super awesome brother sister duo.
I think these are the same black jeans Cory wears today :)

We would fight to take turns feeding the dog, eagerly doling out the scoops of cheap kibble until down deep in the bag a corner of the coveted plastic sleeve and blank black cassette tape could be seen.  It was some promotional idea by the dog food company, that if you found a tape that had a message on it, you’d be something like a million dollars richer. But for us?  All those blank tapes? You couldn’t put a price on that prize.

We’d hurry to our old cassette deck, packed full of dreams and ideas, press record and spill out songs and stories-  our fingers holding the faint scent of canine cuisine, but we didn’t care.  We were creating fresh dreams out of rented rooms.

He’d lock himself in our only bathroom for hours, standing in the shower for the elevated acoustic quality as he wrote and performed song after song, recording and listening until I thought those ol’ cassettes would break - redoing, redefining, until he finally found a sound that felt like home.

Being two years younger and a lot more passive, my “on-air” time got squeezed out to the occasional live interview with him, that he had taken the liberty of writing out for me, or production crew: equipment hauling or video camera holding.  But I didn’t mind, not really.  I got a front row seat to watch something beautiful be born.  Even at six years old, I knew it.  There was an energy released when he was in his element, an atmosphere sharp with the static of expectation and possibilities.  

mother-and-son date to the symphony

Twenty-five years later, I enter a packed performance hall, sit behind a pair of older women whose fur coats left draped over the back of their seats tickled my knees.  I’ve got my own son, seven now, beside me.  Older than I was when this all began.  The air no longer smells of kibble, but still holds that familiar buzz that comes before witnessing something great.  The lights went down as the orchestra tuned, the rumble of the timpani drums and strained sighs of the violins sounding off until collectively they stilled.

He walks out on stage, and even from the back of the hall my sister-sense can tell that he is nervous.  When we had talked before the event, he made it clear that he knew he was playing by another set of rules, surrounded by other amazing musicians, and that all eyes were on him to keep up.  I think we all held our breath those first couple songs, the symphony and Cory finding their way to each other, beautiful but cautious until 'Pale Blue Dress' broke down all formalities and the true collaboration could begin.

For 90 minutes I listened to songs that he had created -   All of those nights listening and re-listening, learning and phrasing his way into his art, teaching himself guitar, those tireless licks running over and over until I, in desperation, had stuffed blankets under my door jamb to keep them out. Those nights had led to this.  I listened as these beautiful songs were transformed from wandering ballads sung by a skinny man with a guitar, to full piece orchestrations, which seemed to live and breathe all on their own. 

At one point in the night he mentioned that when songwriters are first starting out, that they never  even dreams that a night like this could happen.  That he certainly never had.  But from my familiar spot in the audience, feeling the beauty and electric filled air surround us, I just shook my head, smiled and whispered that

I had always known.

waiting in the wings at rehearsal

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The View From There

source: Solar Farm University of Tennessee

It was a dead end street, in a small Illinois town.
Remarkable only for its ability to be so emphatically unremarkable.
I was skeptical, at five-years-old, of living in a town founded by people
whose imagination led them to name a town after a valley of coal.
And yet, that curved street end became the place I discovered I was alive.
A quiet inward child, I made friends with the large transformer
who towered behind the metal fence beside our house, sitting in a field of wild violets
that for the fence, I could only ever look at and never quite reach.
I would scramble up our small apple tree,
losing afternoons between its blossoms,
dreaming of where my life would take me, long after this town was behind me. 
It wasn't hard to imagine in the future something grander or more refined.
My mama did the best she could to fix it up nice.
Converting the old tire that had grown into the backyard into a sandbox,
until the stray neighborhood cats took it for their box too...
Mama, never daunted,
used what the good Lord had given,
planting tulips there instead with the free fertilizer the cats left behind.
My sense of self growing alongside
those bright red and cheery yellow heads nodding in the breeze,
guarded by a fortress of abandoned rubber.
My brother and I created alternate universes,
making them come alive in the nooks and crannies of that old house. 
That was, until my darling doll's hair caught fire. 
Turns out yarn haired dolls shouldn't be kept on top of hot water heaters. 
I hadn't known.  There was so much at five that I had yet to learn.
After that, we were told to find somewhere else to play.
That was alright. 
It was becoming hard to dream up new worlds
for the smell of burnt plastic and yarn still hanging about the place.
Then there was the time one of us accidentally broke the thermostat off the wall. 
The temperature inside the house rising and rising to near 100 degrees while the snow fell softly outside.
Mama called Daddy home from the live Nativity scene our church was putting on.
When they had picked my daddy to play Joseph? Well. I could have burst with pride. 
Now, as we sat, stripped down to our undies, waiting for the man who owned the house to come,
I realized that honor of my Daddy's really just smelled like the live donkey they had brought in to gather around the manger.
But still, there was magic to be found when you paid attention.
If you laid real quiet and the wind was just right,
you could hear the roar of the lions at the neighborhood zoo from our driveway. 
We could only go on Tuesday, when the admission was free. 
That was alright, because one dollar bought you a big bag of peanuts
for you to share with Kathy Sh-Boom,
the old elephant that resided there. 
She had been born in the wilds of India,
the adventure and mysticism still woven into her old trunk that she extended happily,
nuzzling my palm as I cracked the peanuts.
One for her,
one for me,
as I wondered...
how it was that we had both ended up in this place.

{Linking with Ann for #whereILivedWednesday, and Heather for Just Write}

Wednesday, February 5, 2014


I held you tonight.
Pulled your body to mine, shifting limbs that spill out of my lap
until you are tight in my embrace.

Your tears are silent streams
running the length of my neck, pooling silently on my collarbone
as your body shakes with grief.

You had a dream that our dog had died.

You stood above the open ground
and felt the panic of how to write the fullness of life
on her headstone.

"One sentence Mama, to capture all that love."

I rocked you and asked gently if you had come to any conclusions.
You had sweet boy.
You said you would write

"My dear Layla, I loved you so."

I thought of the whole world outside our door
that would be so lucky, and run so differently
if they found that one line written on their slate by your hand.

As fresh waves took you deeper towards the pain
I did nothing to stop you from feeling the hurt.
I sat with you in my lap and your heart on the wire.

Because my darling son -
my boy of wonder, darkness, and light
you can't truly love without letting all that pain in too.

Your heart, forever wide lined with ancient wisdom, is made on nights like this.
It is these moments of despair and fleeting mortality
that has the gravity to sink you more fully into the belly of it all.

Let's you feel the heat of the life blood,
while you cling to the brown scruff of your faithful friend
as you explain that

she's been by your side since the day you were born, 
and you didn't know the world without her in it.

You wondered out loud why you didn't feel any better knowing it had just been a dream.
You lifted your head from my shoulders to seek my eyes
before you said

"Because it's not just a dream, is it?  
We are all really dying bit-by-bit.  
It's not today I have to say goodbye, but still there IS a someday.."

My own tears slipped out as I nodded
to this soul who had divinely quickened within my womb.
Who by the very act of creating, I had committed to walking life full through.

I ached to tell you that it would be alright.
That the monsters wouldn't come
simply because today, they weren't at our door.

But your soul, who so often guides mine
stopped me short of offering a silver lie
to get us through the night.

Instead, I wrapped myself more fully around you
allowed the darkness to hold us close
and listened to you wrestle and grapple the frailty of it all

until at last...the rhythm of your heart and your slumbered breath met.

And still I hold you.
For I can't keep those dreams, those truth from finding you
but for at least tonight, you don't have to face them without me by your side.

(linking with EmilyHeather, iPPP, and )