Saturday, July 19, 2014


Hi.  It is the middle of July and cold in Northern Colorado.  Lots of rain, lots of mosquitoes, and a downstairs neighbor who leaves the back door of our house open and invites in all the flies.  He has a sweet dog - hence the back door left open - with silky black hair, so I forgive him.  Also, this person is very nice, and, while we're on the topic, nice is an underrated quality, I think.

There is that Laurel Thatcher Ulrich quote, "Well-behaved women seldom make history," which a friend recently (and completely flatteringly) mentioned in conjunction with my name, but within that idea and now all this talk about how bossy is a bad word, there seems to me a danger of promoting one more patriarchal idea: it's okay to step on others.  Although there is nuance in all of these discussions, and behaving wildly does not necessarily mean behaving rudely, I'm afraid I esteem tact and kindness more than almost anything and I don't want these virtues to get lost in a race to be noticed.  I hope my daughter is kind and wild and powerful and considerate.  Is it possible?  I'm not sure.  But the men I surround myself with all share these qualities so: why not?  I guess it's a balance thing we're talking about here. 

Am I ranting about how to behave again?  Sorry.  I am shy about what I really want to talk about which is...birth!  That's right.  You had to know it was coming, right? 

1. A book called Labor Day came out recently with the tagline: "True birth stories by today's best women writers."  At first I was like, who says?  Who says these women are the best women writers?!  (Nevermind that old debate about why we have to tack "women" in front of the "writers" bit.  Oy.)

Anyway, the book.  It's freaking awesome.  I recommend it to anyone who has ever had a child and wants to be in conversation with other smart, wry, honest, open women about it - in book form. 

Ina May
2. My friend recommended Ina May Gaskin's Ted Talk recently and I watched it.  Another friend and I have discussed the dangers of obsessing about having a natural labor as pitfall for feeling badly about yourself if your birth goes otherwise, but I really really like Ina May and her talk!  At one point, she speaks about having "good manners" and not telling birth horror stories, so that as a culture we start taking the fear out of birth. 

As a woman who has now given birth, I agree 100% with Ina May - or maybe, like, 93%.  I agree one should (always!) consider audience when telling a tale, and also intention and content.  But, I dunno, it's sometimes helpful to talk about everything and process it.  Ina May suggests this is what a therapist is for but, in my experience, one great girlfriend can offset decades of therapy. 

Birth Story, Internet Style
3. I've gone back and forth about sharing much beyond pictures of Samantha on the internet because I like to follow social etiquette and keep the private private.  Buuuuuut, I'm a writer, and writing is how I know: it is how I listen, how I feel, how I process, how I love.  So I wanted to talk a tiny bit about the birth of my first child because, like most things in my adult life, I once again found that inside challenge are the sweetest kernels of light.  Also, I am newly obsessed with birth stories - see item 1 - and have found other posts on the internet helpful, generous, and comforting.  Like chicken soup for the internets.  So here we go.

I gave birth to my daughter by caesarean section, after many many hours of natural labor.  When I showered finally after giving birth, because of the medication I was on my husband was instructed to stand guard.  I guess narcotics plus wet tiles are not good in combination?  Anyway. 

Among the many things I never understand until I go through them myself (aka everything), one thing I hadn't counted on was how much my stomach would shrink immediately when my daughter was no longer inside me.  The first time I showered, I undressed from the clothing I had specially bought for the hospital which was already now too big.  My hair was in tangles from days of labor and sleep and being transferred from bed to surgical table to bed again by other hands.  My now-soft abdomen wore its pregnancy line, a deep tan stripe from my sternum to my incision, which itself was reminiscent of Frankenstein: strips of tape like zipper teeth holding my skin in place.  In short, I was a mess, and yet my husband and I both thought the same thing.  Actually, I thought, Holy F**k, I am gorgeous while he went so far as to say it.  "You are beautiful," he said, and I knew what he meant.  My body wore its wounds like a badge of honor, the injuries of a passage between two worlds: pregnancy and motherhood, utero and birth.

In the beginning of my pregnancy, I surrendered my body to its animal nature.  As my skin stretched and muscles cramped, I began to think of my body is as a thing to behold - not just in pregnancy but for the rest of my life.  If an excavation team stumbled on my remains in two hundred years, I felt with pride my body would offer them information.  Like a mare or ewe or cow, my body would tell the story of offspring.  I had been a mother: here was proof. 

I'm sure this kind of reducing myself to biological factoids is horrifying on some feminist level, but it's obviously not the first time I've thought of my life in terms of nature.  Last night, in fact, my husband burst out laughing when he overheard me say that spending my days with an infant is not unlike encounters with a wild animal: even though she doesn't speak the English language, in her eyes, the intelligence is all there.  She is one hundred percent present, and intoxicating.  I guess he wasn't used to his daughter being compared, in essence, to stumbling upon a wild buffalo or a wolf, but I say parenting a young child is not terribly different.  For me, respect and intuition are key. 

So there's my story, a piece of it anyway.  And here is my wish, for all of us: that what we have been through matters, to each of us and all of us, and we learn ways of sharing through the grief and the darkness.  Because therein lies the whole of life's experience, and by such practices I believe we may learn, and love, and evolve together. 

To your story, to those with whom you feel safe enough to share it, and to all the gems that come from living through it, like this little banana boat, my own personal buffalo calf:

With love,


Thursday, July 3, 2014

Poetry On The Doorstep

In Charge
Once upon a time, I helped run a writing camp for high school students.  The graduate department where I studied was in charge of the camp and the whole thing was fun fun fun.  We also, for some reason, launched fundraising efforts each year.  I think I'm remembering this correctly.  If not, it's because I want to block out all memories of fundraising because it makes me squeamish and I'm terrible at it, two things that likely go hand in hand.

One year it was decided we would see which among the writing genres was the most generous.  Multiple containers were purchased and each genre was charged with depositing spare change or larger bills into those containers.  The man behind this believed that writers, being a competitive lot, would be shamed into donating more and more money to meet the donations of their peers.  I don't know what world this man came from, besides a hard-working optimistic one, but in my experience writers have never been shamed into parting with their money, mostly because they have so little with which to part.

Joe Bueter: Man of Mystery. And Miracles.

(Young) Joe Bueter
Needless to say, that fundraiser flopped, but some good did come of it, namely, a dark green jug stenciled Poetry across its belly.  This jug I promptly commandeered at the end of the competition and installed on my doorstep.  I meant it as a real invitation: just as I had a mailbox to receive postcards and bills, I had a jug where anyone who wanted to could drop off a poem.  Few friends took me up on the offer, the exception being our saintly friend Joe who supplied us with poems for a good two years. 

As if to prove his saintliness once and for all, the day Tim and I finally moved from town, Joe gathered all the items that did not fit on our moving truck and hauled them away to Goodwill for us.  My lasting memory of leaving Wilmington is of Joe driving away with my rickety old writing chair sticking out his back window.  I lost a good chair that day and also a good deal of cynicism about human beings.

I write all this because Sut Nam Bonsai used to feature a poem in each post.  The poems, combined with my natural wordiness, added up to quite a lot of text and I feared it was just too much.  I came to believe that the people wanted pictures (and I believe I'm correct on this point).  But when I saw this tribute marking Allen Grossman's passing and read the words, "Poetry is a register of the moral order of experience and of the metaphysical order of nature," I felt a twinge of shame that I had let SNB's poetry habit die so quickly, and so quietly to boot. 

Truth be told, I'm no match for the scads of proper poetry websites out there.  I also felt guilty sharing poems without express permission by the writers or their publishers.  It's one thing to copy a poem for a friend and mail it in a letter, but a whole other thing to make it accessible for copying and pasting on the internets.  I dunno.  What do you think?  What I do know is, due to an appreciation for groceries and electricity, SNB's litigation funds run low.

However, that summation of Mr. Grossman's life sobered me and woke me to the pleasures I gave up when I worked full time, when poetry started to feel like a luxury I could not afford.  So, in honor of a man who said, "the principle of poetry is a collective and perpetually renewed act of love," and in honor of the rhythm my life at home once again affords me, here is a poem or part of a poem, from Wendell Berry's The Country of Marriage

Sometimes our life reminds me
of a forest in which there is a graceful clearing
and in that opening a house,
an orchard and garden,
comfortable shades, and flowers
red and yellow in the sun, a pattern
made in the light for the light to return to.
The forest is mostly dark, its ways
to be made anew day after day, the dark
richer than the light and more blessed,
provided we stay brave
enough to keep on going in.

To the moral order of experience, to you, and your renewing acts of love,