Monday, March 23, 2015


We were at another lake this weekend, this time for the same reason every literary person goes on holiday: a basketball tournament.  That's right, I attended a March Madness gathering.  I was once invited to this gathering with the promise of movies and yoga but since the town we were in didn't even have a coffee shop, I wasn't holding out for any Bikram studios.  Not that I do Bikram!  I have attended two Bikram classes in my life.  During the middle of the first class the instructor answered his cellphone.  He stood in those strange underwear-pants Bikram instructors wear, in front of all those Jazzercise mirrors, and coached his wife through disconnecting their house alarm.  I returned the next morning because it was part of a free package and, also, because the instructor complimented my yoga skillz.  (I am not immune to compliments.)

I finished reading Alexandra Fuller's new book this week.  It's called Leaving Before the Rains Come and is about her divorce from the man she married as a young woman living on her family's farm in southern Africa.  If you haven't yet read Don't Let's Go To the Dogs Tonight, you must!  It is drenched in beauty.  It also has quite a bit of sadness, but if you can take it, it will honestly make your heart bigger.  Oh life!  Why so large and crushing sometimes?  Sighhhhhhhh.  

I really do love Don't Let's Go To the Dogs Tonight.  More importantly, as I rediscovered in the new book, I love Fuller's prose.  I found myself nibbling at Leaving Before the Rains Come like a delicate dessert, moving slowly, leafing back and forth between sections, wanting to taste every word.  The book moves between the progress of her marriage and some of her family's personal history in southern Africa.  The sections about her family were my favorite, a delightful reminder that no matter what genre I read, I hunger for character.  If you do it right, some family members make wonderful characters.  I'm thinking here of David Sedaris, obviously, who sort of takes the cake for this sort of trick.  On a different part of the memoir spectrum, the less beguiling Molly Wizenberg crafts a loving portrait of her larger-than-life dad in her first book.  And though Bill Bryson is, it seems, a bit of a controversial figure in both wilderness and literary circles, who can forget his outrageous send up of his longtime friend Katz in A Walk in the Woods

Some decisions are easier than others
If I'm being honest, I think the real reason I did not move quickly through Fuller's newest book was not just because I savored every word.  It was because I could feel the long slow car-crash of her marriage and was not ready for the bloody end.  The author herself took sweet time getting to her point and, in that slow, circling-in-on-itself way of the book, I knew I was in trouble.  There was not a huge story, or rather, there were plenty of dramatic events, but the way Fuller told them, I desired as much time to process the information as she herself had clearly been doing for decades.  No matter how resolved the writer tried to appear, I simply did not want to see one of my heroes go through the slaughter of divorce. 

Speaking of slaughter, we made the mistake of going to a brewery on St. Patty's Day.  I don't really go to bars, period, so to wade into one on an official drinking holiday, with a baby strapped to my back, was one of my dumber moves of 2015. But we were meeting new friends and I'm so glad we made it.  The conversation was lovely.  We discussed writing, reading, and how stressful a room full of drunk people is to all of us, not just to my young child.  Don't worry - no babies were harmed in the making of this celebration, only our vocal chords as we shouted over patrons arm-wrestling nearby.  For better or worse, our daughter is emerging as the social butterfly of the family and seems genuinely entertained by rooms full of buzzing activity. 

During barroom conversation, I was reminded of a novel I read in the fall.  One-third of the way through it, two of the main characters divorced.  I did not see it coming and it sort of undid me, as a reader.  I was Just So Sad.  I never really recovered.

Divorce is a super tender subject.  I haven't gone through it personally but something about it really slays me, and not for any of that silly judgmental religious business.  Obviously there are times when it is necessary and important, but it must be hard to find an example where it is not a heart-wrenching trial.  My response to it may be as simple as understanding what it means to lose your footing, your foundation, your trust in the world.  I could cry just thinking about people having to go through this in addition to all the other pain-in-the-rear things adults have to go through, and when kids are part of the mix, just hand me the whole box of Kleenex, please. 

Wading into Alexandra Fuller's account of her divorce was, I suppose, not too different from clasping a woman's hand you have known a long time, going to that difficult place with her when she unpacks bad news.  Even though she isn't really my longtime friend, what are books if not an opportunity to know another life, to sit with another being, watch them grow and change and reveal and share and dance themselves into being, out from sadness, into light, right in front of your eyes?

Tender.  All of it.  The story of loss, the grief of divorce, the pressures of life no matter who stays together and who doesn't.  All of us in this big stew at once maybe, just maybe, comforting one another through the darkness. 


Friday, March 13, 2015


What is that saying - Denial ain't just a river in Egypt?  Well, when the temperature breaks the freeze mark all week and the sidewalks flood with snowmelt and my houseplants unfurl with luxurious green sighs, I have to admit it: spring is nice.  There is a tick in me, a broken stubborn knot that insists always on being a little contrary.  It's not conscious, and I like to blame it on being the last-born in the family, but it is true that when anyone declares something ugly, I will search reflexively for the beauty in it.  Don't you tell me what to see! is my gut internal reaction.

I've been reticent to declare winter difficult, to admit that grating cold might do more than make our house pop and groan.  It might just be doing the same thing to my cranky heart, and all the people around me moaning about the weather might not be so crazy after all. 

We went to Lake Michigan last weekend.  I felt pretty cool picking my way across the frozen lake among fellow pilgrims, as if we were in the know somehow and had meant to stumble on such a sight.  There were just a few pockets of ice that opened straight to the lake. I couldn't believe how cavalier some people were near those ledges.  Then again, I was wearing the baby, so I was extra-special careful and superstitious. 

In yoga class this week, the instructor - someone I had never met before - asked if everything was okay.  Before that, a woman approached, put her hand on my knee, and said she was sending good intentions my way.  It took me a minute to put it all together. I guess they interpreted the somewhat langorous way I have of stretching, and one particular forward bow I like to do for, like, ever, as signs of defeat.  It made me laugh but also humbled me, like, I really need that lady's good intentions, you know?  Whatever it is people are offering as help, I'll take it. 

When I first discovered yin yoga, a style where you hold poses gently for extended amounts of time, letting the body unfurl at its own pace, I was pretty blown away.  Sometimes I feel like a little elbow grease is called for to accomplish my goals, but lately, I find my life asking me to slow down, to cross six things off my to-do list and go to bed early with my baby.  I'm still blown away by this, that no matter how much my mind thinks it can muscle its way to whatever it wants, what I really need is to take a breather. 

Tim once drew a pie chart that filled in 80% with school and friends and walking the dog, and left 20% completely blank as a way to illustrate how I was overloading my days.  This might sound condescending but it was perfect for our house and went up on the fridge at the time.  We even passed it on to someone who dubbed it "The legacy of 80%." 

There are Sanskrit names for this dance and Jason Crandell, a columnist at Yoga Journal, has an excellent article about ease and effort that I'm basically too lazy to quote right now, but there were several petite miracles this week involving me giving up and then seeing exactly what I dreamed of unfold beautifully later, without any force of my own.  Huh.

All right, that's all.  I just wanted you to see these pretty pictures of the lake!  


P.S. This post was written in a velour bathrobe.  I just thought you should know how serious I take this yin stuff.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Here We Go

Well, here we are.  My birthday has passed. The lovely roses Tim bought me are melting into a sea of white ruffles.  The cake has all been eaten, the wine drunk, the babysitter paid - in baby kisses - and sent away.  Two days ago, I swear, the fridge was packed.  Now my mom is gone, we are out of everything but spinach, milk, and jelly, and I don't know which end is up again.

I really resist talking about some things because I feel like one of the perks of this blog is that it bucks the mundane and reaches for a sense of peace in a chaotic world.  Barring that, it reaches for the absurdity that nourishes us all.  But lately, all I feel is the chaos of life and it's making me uncomfortable. 

This post by Joy Cho, whose addiction to color is one of which I highly approve, discusses how little balance she feels between her creative work and her role as a mother and a wife.  Amelia and I talk about this subject (and talk and talk about it!) and Elizabeth Gilbert says that a belief in balance is just one more way to sabotage yourself, one more way to stand between yourself and your dreams.  I can't say what has tipped the scales for me, whether it is all the changes I've sustained in the last year with a baby, a move, career changes, and an icy, wind-lashing Michigan winter, but something has tipped and I find myself with far more questions than answers this season, severely humbled.

On the plus side, it became clear to me this week how much my mom understands the language of babies.  Samantha is blossoming and squawking and banging and exploring in ways she was not just a week before, and I love watching - or rather, hearing - the transition.  It's like the girl has finally found her voice, and I'm so happy for her.  I'm also inspired: it's possibly no accident that the daughter of two writers has been on the quiet side for most of her life.

In that vein, for a number of reasons, I want to post here more frequently.  Sometimes the most appropriate response to confusion is stillness, but I always find my way out of muck with words, the light thread of gossamer promises I am both following and also weaving myself.  In fact, writing is my way of finding stillness, so here we go.  I hope to see you here more often.  Maybe together we can squawk and bang and explore life in all its wild and wooly ways, or you can just watch me slip and slide my way along this season's muddy slope.