Friday, September 9, 2022

September - Seeking Flame

I am now writing on the Substack platform, exploring daily creative habits in a public sphere. I would love it if you would join me there. Here's that link:

Come on over!

Whisking through breakfast today I thought: I'm fine. Not great, but fine, which reminds me of  the title of this podcast Terrible, Thanks for Asking, which is such a great title. It encapsulates how I've felt most of this year which is, Wow, I'm not doing great. And that's okay! Do I check out books for my children about "big feelings"? Yes. Do I learn from these books more than my kids? Probably. It's my firm belief that in parenting, we have the "privilege" to cycle through lessons we missed on our first trek through childhood, and it makes parenting a pretty wild ride.

I once heard Samantha Irby (beloved! all hail the queen!) say on Glennon Doyle's podcast that she didn't have kids because she knew she would be too exacting as the adult in the room (paraphrasing here) and I really related to that. Like, I only became aware of the gremlins in my closet when I became a mother. Sometimes one of my kids does something that angers me and my reaction seems to come out of nowhere. Also unnerving is the uncertainty of their actions. (It was worse when they were two or three, going from sweet, compliant, needy baby mode to I'm-gonna-color-all-over-your-writing-notebooks in one week, it seemed.) All this uncertainty has the potential to undo me some days. After eight years of parenting, I've got a better handle on how to regulate myself even when the kids are unregulated. (Hint: stay hydrated! eat food! listen to music . . .) I'm also not as slow to be like, well, that was weird. I can sometimes tenderly peel back whatever door the gremlins inside me just slammed and started throwing junk around behind, and ask them to say more about what they're feeling. 

Parenting is the most humbling thing I've ever done - a genuine writing practice could be a close second? or maybe just properly communicating with another human being?? - but I'm starting to find the humblings somewhat freeing. I mean, parts of it are crushing but also grounding. (It can also make writing an escape, which is nice, and vice versa.) These days I find myself thinking variations on a theme of, Wow, I'm a pile of human rubble and that's okay. Like, what a sweet pile of rubble, ya know?

It is probably perfect that skeletons came crashing out of the closet after a nineteen-hour brain surgery. Things I didn't want to look at about myself or my life were suddenly at the front door and windows (mixing metaphors here and also getting ready for Halloween?). It's also true that this winter I will turn 45. Fun fact: I consistently forget how old I am. People think I'm younger and I feel much older. Tim is also five years younger than me. It's safe to say time is wonky. Our souls are fish in a deep dark ocean and swim all over the map. So brain surgery + middle age = awakenings! Yay! And those have been so neat and tidy, like real life!

Lolz, as my friend Amelia would say.

I have been meditating on vulnerability A LOT. It is both tres Buddhist and tres Brene Brown to see that our vulnerabilities are also our greatest strengths. I originally started Sut Nam Bonsai to be an exploration of "all things heart." Here's that first post (I still approve of the joke that this blog is not devoted to the band Heart). I find it hilarious how scandalized I was that I snapped at Tim over hanging a picture on the wall. We're still having that argument on the regular, both while hanging pictures and living life. You better believe after two kids I've said way worse to my partner now, too.

Looking up my first post feels full circle, like: wow, my intentions are still the same. The seeds are still right there. 

A quick note about the name Sut Nam Bonsai, which I go back and forth about, and a warning that this gets tedious fast. Sat Nam is a Sanskrit phrase fairly recognizable in the yoga community. I chose it in homage to my interests but don't recall intending to misspell the words. (I changed the "a" in Sat to a "u.") The word itself can sound like suht, but I'm pretty sure when I chose the name, I did that by accident. But the mistake got built into the URL. I realized the mistake months later, and when I did I had one of those visceral panics, like a nudity dream. OMG I walked into school naked and everyone can see my flaws. I KNEW I was an idiot and now everyone else can see it, too!! etc etc. I had a couple of weeks (and then years) like that, wondering if I should correct it. Every time I went to change it, however, I felt this pause, like, actually, this encapsulates everything perfectly. I am deeply interested in yoga and personal evolution and spiritual growth, but not all that interested in rule-following. (If you know me IRL, you will find this a gross understatement, lol.)

It's like a design flaw built into the model: I'm interested in guides for better living, but am completely devoted to exploding them. Sometimes I feel bad about this facet of myself. Like, why can't I just behave and be more precise? I'm actually fanatically precise in LOTS of other ways (see commas in my fiction or when my kids ice cupcakes) but there is a big free-flowing part of me, and this is, IMHO, one of my more attractive features (if you're into it). I'm the person you call if you need permission to do something you're not "supposed" to do, something that really calls to you and scares you at the same time.      

So then I thought, yes, okay, the name Sut Nam Bonsai is perfect. I mean, perfectly imperfect. Wabi-sabi. And that's where I am today. Yet I often wonder if it's hard to pronounce and if that is a turn off. Is its shagginess appealing or non user-friendly? Does it house the kind of wiggle room I want out of life and art. or is it like a shrub I've let grow over my front door and half my friends can't find it when they come for tea??

So that's the name conundrum. Thanks for listening :)

Speaking of listening, I heard a beautiful episode of Glennon Doyle's podcast featuring a man named Carson Trueller who took my breath away. I keep thinking about the episode: the vulnerability, the openness, and how kind Carson sounds, so I thought I'd share it here. What he says about sex is so basic and necessary and yet so profound and I am here for it.

I've also been thinking about Miriam Parker's great essay on Lit Hub
about what Nora Ephron got wrong about your 40's. I went to school with Miriam, and her accomplishment of publishing a second novel recently called Room and Board made me very happy.

Did you see that Less Is Lost, follow-up to the Pulitzer-winning novel Less, is coming out in eleven days? I am not generally hyped by pub dates, I get around to things when I get around to them, but I bolted upright when I saw this. I am absolutely Less-obsessed and would pose as Andrew Sean Greer's doormat if I could.

Speaking of hems of garments, I was sad to hear the news about Queen Elizabeth's death, genuinely touched as if she were a relative. I blame Netflix, obviously - I could watch The Crown every night for the rest of my life - and while I know there are a thousand cogent anti-monarchy arguments, I had a moment contemplating what power and grace looks like on a woman, and how much dignity Elizabeth seemed to possess.

Switching gears to humbler topics, ha, the title of this blog's first post was October: Lighting Candles. I still find it fitting for both my intentions and the spirit of fall, the season in which we find ourselves now. It occurs to me, unpacking this house, we don't have any decent candles. People sent them when I made the announcement that I had a brain tumor, which I loved because I needed those lights in the darkness. But I used them all and then some, and candles have been on several grocery lists I've made since moving. For various reasons, the need for them has been only partially satisfied. I've always loved them, used to make my family light them at the dinner table, ask my mom, but they take on new import with a five-year-old in the house, especially someone to whom the words Don't do that seem to mean Actually, see if you can do that five times until my head explodes. It's no longer romantic or desirable to light tall tapers on our wooden table. Hurricane candleholders, a hand-cuffed kid, and three fire-fighters standing by seem more appropriate now.

So I'm trying to figure it out. And I guess that's the point of life? To keep asking the questions, digging in, being here? I mean, hopefully some of your questions are grander than "where should I buy my next candle . . ." I am really vibing this year on something I read in Kelly Corrigan's book Tell Me More, a line from Voltaire which she expertly lobbed into the end of one of her essays:

“Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.”

Heart emojis, Voltaire.


Friday, August 26, 2022


Friends. We moved! It's been a longtime coming and still was a hard decision to make. It's been a messy process. Speaking of messy, we are surrounded by boxes. The kids have started school and I have spent too many hours getting over-the-door hangers for every door I see. I texted Tim a picture of a hanger that holds belts the other day. Do you need one of these? This is what my life has become and I'm fine with it. Insert intelligent analysis of free labor done by women for home and country! But also, there is real food for me in chop wood, carry water work. (Wax on, wax off, etc.) I also feel like creativity thrives in constraints, and I'm trying to realize this in my body, to not panic about being a mom of somewhat small kids with ambitions of my own. 

I recently emailed a health update to family and friends. Traditionally I've been private about some of the details in my life (while also plastering photos of my kids on the internet) but something about this brain tumor has made me understand how much we are in this sordid mess together - this mess being life, of course, which is pretty heartbreaking. Of course I'm coming to see how much beauty is woven into heartbreak - you can't have one without the other. (If you'd like to read about my tumor diagnosis, I wrote about it here and about my surgery here.) If we learn nothing else from COVID, I hope we learn how intrinsically connected we all are. I'm speaking to myself here, too, someone who always needs a reminder that I can't do everything myself, and don't need to.

I've been feeling an itch to catalogue here more. I'm afraid what this will mean - will the writing be unpolished? Will I bore people with unwelcome anecdotes about children? (Why is it so hard to talk about parenthood and/or caring for young people while the experience itself is so profoundly transformative???)

In the past, I've been waiting to have things more together to share it with you. I think I've wanted to be entertaining or helpful or something. I think I've also wanted to be an impressive version of myself and . . . that version isn't coming! Lol. I might as well help myself by being present in my days and maybe sharing it with you? I'm not sure what form this will take. At first I was like, I'll do before and after photos of each room in our house! But while I'm obsessed with decorating interiors (I have never met a wall I didn't have an urge to paint or a throw pillow I didn't have an instant opinion on) I don't know how much I want to be influenced by what is or is not an "after" moment. I also really care about how a room feels, and feelings are hard to photograph which is why I'm a writer, not a fashion model. I'm not going to win prizes for all the floppy pants I wear (or will I??) but I can whine about sadness in an artful manner and that can win friends! Ha. To be honest, I think I have been more concerned about how artful I'm being or am not, and I'd rather focus on expression now both because it's a healthier way to operate and . . . it's a healthier way to operate. 

I'd like to visit this space more frequently and perhaps less cohesively. Personal snippets, helpful quotes, etc. etc. I need writing for clarity and I could use some clarity these days! If you're picturing me sobbing behind a mound of moving boxes, you're not not correct. I'm joking but you get the idea. There is something deeply soothing to me about making things. I honestly believe creativity is the core of who we are. So, see you soon?

My bedside is still piled with books (my son once tried to join me on the bed and couldn’t rest his head for all the volumes which he shoved aside with disgust. “Ugh! Why are you reading so many BOOKS?” I said honestly didn’t know, they just bring me joy.) Right now the piles tend toward theology; less fiction, more narratives of grief and tales of healing.  

[Reading Update: I just started What Happens at Night by Peter Cameron which Amelia gave me and it is beautiful. I'm also (still) trying to finish Underworld by Don DeLillo which I started with a friend last year because we are insane. It's like reading someone else's free-writes, snorting someone's practice pages. It happened to get published but didn't necessarily need to? I also don't hate it. It's just . . . long. I really like the subplot about the mystery garbage / barge sailing around the world looking for a place to land. It's DeLillo at his best, a darkly comic mirror held up to our worst habits.]

That’s the news from Lake Woebegone as we used to say before Garrison Keillor disappointed us all. I don’t intend to update you on my every dental cleaning, but I do want to acknowledge how much your support and inquiries mean to me. I am thinking of you all and hope your summers have been filled with sun and movement and what brings you joy.
More soon. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Oh hi there

Friends. I have been unsure how to re-enter this space. It seems a little rude to drop "Got a brain tumor, see you soon!" on the webs and not check back in. The surgery went great. They got 95% percent of the thing, which was beautiful and absurd. My recovery has been somewhat uneventful. Things are *quite* good, all things considered, and I really mean that.

At the same time, the healing process in my experience is very slow and long and mysterious. A friend of mine who went through a terrible thing said people give you about six months, then they want you back to normal. I don't quite feel that way - having brain surgery is sort of a built-in Back Off! I'd like to meet the person who's like, "What's your problem? Snap out of it!" after you get a metal plate in your head. And, but, etc, etc, there is a lot on the surface of life that I have snapped out of pretty quickly, which can sometimes be difficult for everyone including me to remember what I've been through. (A week after getting out of the hospital, I went with Tim to pick up the kids at school and got horrified looks. What are you doing here?! You should be on your death bed! they seemed to say.)

There's so much to recount and I am filtering so many things through this experience, some quite banal. I still spend a lot of time resting and walking and doing whatever I want. I don't really feel like breaking down my vestibular schwannoma (my band name, like My Morning Jacket) or its medical effects in this space, but my balance is back to about 85% percent. I still regularly run into the trash can from all angles but in fairness to me, that thing pulls out of a special nook in the kitchen and Ellis also slams into it frequently. He's running in to share his fabulous and surprising announcements -"Hey, look!" ... "Did you know...?" ... etc etc - so much daily abundance and instantaneous miracles - and whack, a new little bruise.

Frankly, I am not sure how to talk about what I've been through yet (not unlike
Chris Rock after Will Smith gave him that slap. Wink!). I'm not shy about what I've been through, but I also feel like, wow, that's a lot to summarize. I have had some new ideas about how to move forward with this space. In some ways, I'd like it to be more of a reflection on the challenges of life. Then I'm like, wow, that sounds like a lot of work.

In short, I don't know what I want and I'm sitting in a lot of uncertainty. However, that's pretty much always been my cozy spot. One of the big reliefs I felt after my diagnosis was that certain life choices - which may have appeared a little crazy but always helped me feel like myself - now feel doubly blessed. If the tumor had been malignant, this whole journey would have a WAY different flavor, but I'm not sure how many regrets I'd have. Yet something like this can't help but influence how I move forward. I'm asking myself lately, what really matters? what do I really need?

One of the somewhat devastating things about having a brain tumor is how inherently unfunny the topic is. When I was diagnosed, it felt like one of my biggest defense mechanisms was whisked away. It was hard to be the barer of the news, I have a brain tumor! I'm not out of the woods yet (fun fact: no one is?) but the surgery was majorly successful. From here, as we all do, I see what happens. Does the remaining bit grow back? Does it sit tight? What do I do now? What changes, if any, do I make? 

I return again and again to how truthful religious texts I've studied throughout my life have been. (Not necessarily the religious people, lol. Human foibles are real, including my own.) Across traditions, I have welcomed teachings on impermanence and acceptance and trust in ethereal things, and I now find those teachings bedrocks of my sanity. It's not that life is or was ever easy - even without medical crises of this size - but I come back to these teachings now, in what has turned out to be not a dress rehearsal for me.

Here's one from Pema Chodron in her book When Things Fall Apart, which is a comically dramatic title that sums up not only when sh*t gets real but also how a standard Tuesday can go awry:

"We don't deserve resolution; we deserve something better than that. We deserve our birthright, which is the middle way, an open state of mind that can relax with paradox and ambiguity."

This winter, I found myself saying the following to my friend: "It can be useful to think about death every day." She laughed which I appreciated because it's both true and delightful. The gift of a tumor is its holographic skeleton behind your days? Maybe. Having a brain tumor has, unfortunately, given a little gravitas to the things I've been trusting all along. Did I manifest this tumor as the ultimate practice for myself? I don't think so, but it does feel like I've been training for this moment for awhile.

And now, for funsies and the strong of heart, I am going to display before and after photos of my incision. The scar has faded even more than when these photos were taken in December. Do I feel like a Bad-A Mofo? Absolutely.

So far, my physical health is holding strong but it is fair to say I'm having several existential crises: first as a mother rediscovering the gifts of being here to care for my kids and also as an artist. How do you say the meaningful thing? When do you share and when do you study something further, listening to its secrets? Where does humor deflect and where does it illuminate? I am pondering these questions, along with the perennial one of what's for dinner. In some ways I am right where I've always been, but the rooms look a little different now.