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: https://karanorman.substack.com/
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.