The Maybe of Muses

On July 28th, I went to the NC Museum of Art. The kids were back at school. We were 21 days post move. I needed to recenter. To come back to my creative self. The months of March through July were so tumultuous and busy and mind numbing that I was afraid I would need an ice pick to chip my way back to my creative core.

Art, the visual, is one of the fastest ways for me to touch that core. Music can be fleeting, at least for me. Each song brings its own emotions but when the last chord sounds, it’s gone, dissolved into the air again, it can be hard for me to pull it back.

But art? Art for me hints at a story. It shows me just enough and nothing more. It leaves me with questions and, on a good day, avenues for answers, the possibilities spinning, weaving, endlessly simple, inextricably complicated. Someone saw something – a bowl of fruit, a blackened barn door, a look between lovers – and captured it in paint, on film, in stone. The subject is nothing without what the artist brings to it. And when it is combined correctly? Pure magic.

I wandered the over air conditioned museum, happy I brought a sweater so I wouldn’t be distracted by my physical feelings. I happened into a temporary exhibit of photography. I was floored. I was immediately sucked into the fifteen to twenty photos on display. I love photography, although admittedly couldn’t name any famous photographers beyond the big A’s: Ansel Adams and Annie Liebowitz. But this photographer intrigued me. Or rather his work did. I moved slowly, staring down each one. Going back. Taking a closer look, then a wider. I think I made the security guard nervous. I was in front of the same two photographs for so long I think he suspected I was planning to make off with one. And if I had a malicious mind and could have figured out how to get away with it, I might have.

The months passed and I can still call to mind his images. There were the famous Woodstock photos and the chilling images of a waxen Martin Luther King laid out in his coffin at his funeral that would certainly stick. But there were also the images of twisted and blackened books with only a few words still visible through the carnage from his “Burned” series. There was the back of a blackened barn from his “Just Add Water” series, the barn’s doors thrown open wide in the front, our perspective making it impossible to see what could be hiding inside, discarded bottles littered the weeds around it, dents and scratches marred the exterior walls, and there is the black. The barn painted in some haphazard fashion of what looks like buckets thrown at it, black drips streaking like tears, blank spaces cloudy like smoke. These images left me wondering, thinking, considering. They left me melancholy, yet full. They sparked. The creative core in me had warmed.

But this was all months ago, remember. A long time. Spark ignited, I was back at the keyboard, working on my own projects, the blackened barn now just an image in my phone.

Then, today, during lunch, I grabbed the Sunday News & Observer I didn’t have time to read yesterday from the counter. There, on the front page of the arts section was a beautiful feature on a North Carolina photographer. He’s embarking on a fascinating portrait series celebrating African American culture. His thought process and care with each subject were fascinating. I found myself curious when they mentioned his bio, his credentials. They seemed so familiar. Could it be? The same man? The one who caught my eye months ago at the art museum?

It is. A quick Google search confirmed it. So why? Why is Burk Uzzle suddenly popping back into my life? Coincidence? Maybe. Sure. Probably. Perhaps it is no more than that. But what if it’s not? What else is it?

I have been scrolling through his web page and staring at images (the black barn is in the Just Add Water gallery on his page). I have subscribed for updates on the documentary currently filming on his life and work (watch the trailer here). I have written this post all without really knowing or understanding why. I just feel I need to. I just know that his work is flat out beauty to me. Beauty in the honesty of it. The heart of it. The ugly truth of it.

Maybe it’s his camera’s insistence on shining a light on things often forgotten or hidden or silenced. Maybe it’s his sense of humor (just check out some of the titles of his work). Maybe it’s simply good photography and I appreciate his art.

Maybe.

Or maybe it’s a muse. Maybe it’s someone trying to tell me something. Show me something.

Maybe it’s all those things. Maybe none.

 

But whatever it is. I feel it. In that creative core. Something has been planted. What it grows into, only time will tell. When it has blossomed, though? That will be the story I tell. Then it will be my turn.

And so the cycle continues.

Voices

I attended the Women’s March on Washington on January 21.

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Why?

I had so many reasons. I posted them on my personal Facebook page in the days leading up to the march. I thought and prayed on it.There seemed to be so many reasons and motivations floating about in my head. I thought I understood it.

But I didn’t. Not truly. Not in my bones. Not until I was there.

Somewhere, in the sea of humanity that morning, pressed between people on the Mall, the sweet voices of a group behind me singing “This little light of mine” to calm those of us who were starting to wonder where the fresh air was when all I could see in every direction were people, as I clutched the arm of my friend or she clutched mine and we both fought back tears, one simple word bubbled up out of the depths:

Voice.

Out of those hundreds of thousands of people:

Some marched for science.

Some marched for equal pay.

Some marched for black lives or Muslim lives or gay lives.

Some marched for abortion rights.

Some marched for health care.

Some marched for the environment.

Some marched for respect.

Some marched for impeachment.

Some marched to be funny or to be serious or to be humble.

Some marched for their grandmothers.

Some marched for their granddaughters.

It didn’t matter if we didn’t completely agree. We all marched. As women, we stood up and said enough is enough and we came together to give power to our voice. It didn’t matter in that moment what the group had to say. The group gave the power to whatever you needed to say.

We don’t all have to agree. We don’t all have to assimilate. That’s the very point. Or at least the one I came away with.

I left feeling powerful. Finally. There are so few times I can say I’ve ever felt powerful in the four decades of my life. That’s a long time. A very long time. I can, however, name dozens of times I felt powerless. It was a seismic shift to feel that change.

And when it was over. I was jazzed. I was inspired. I was motivated. I cried for nearly the entire first hour of my four hour drive home. I was overwhelmed by what had just happened, what I had been a part of. I was joyful and sad and all of the other things.

Then I came home. I hugged my boys and let them stay up well past their bedtimes as I told them about the march and what I had seen and what I had heard and what it meant to me. I posted pictures. I rested. I tried to process all of it.

And then Monday came. I started to see the wedge. The criticism. The put downs. Other women trying to tear it down with flippant dismissals. Men trying to stereotype the kind of women who marched.

I wanted to rail. I wanted to fight fire with fire. I wanted to battle back with logic and facts and statistics. I wanted to try to explain. I had this voice now. I wanted to use it.

But none of what I wanted to say – the carefully crafted posts I had tried to write last week, the thoughtful responses to social media posts, the attempt to explain and explain and explain – would have mattered. Not to those who don’t want to listen or who aren’t curious to understand the other side.

So I started to lose my voice.

In one short week.

Powerlessness began to seep back into my soul. And I felt uncomfortable. I could feel the battle waging inside.

Here’s the thing. I’m not a boat rocker. I’m a people pleaser through and through. I have a very hard time standing up for myself. And when I do, I replay every moment over and over to make sure I didn’t hurt anyone’s feelings in the process.

The problem? These feelings from the march, the motivations, the momentum, they are still there tickling at my edges, clarifying my vision, keeping me awake at night. The power hasn’t left. I had simply stuffed it into a corner in order to keep on with my regular life.

Until I finally had a realization: Fuck it.

(The people pleaser in my wants to apologize for the use of language…I’m still a work in progress). 

I will write. For myself. For this blog. For Facebook. For whatever. It’s how I process. Sometimes that might get shared and sometimes not. But I will write.

I will stand up for what I believe in. In big ways (I have called my senator’s office about senate confirmation hearings that mean the most to me to voice my opinion. I will call today about the Muslim ban and encourage the creation of effective and clear immigration and refugee policies that help, not hurt, those that need the most protection) and small ways (I have emailed my church to amend one of our weekly prayers of the faithful that felt exclusionary, not inclusionary).

I will teach my children our most treasured values – hope, peace and love – and how to protect them not only for our family, but for all families.

I will be curious. I will read books, I will watch documentaries about lives different from mine, I will continue to learn and be an educated citizen of this world.

I will volunteer my skills and time. I have offered pro-bono writing services for women running for local offices.

I will use my voice to protect my values. Not my politics. It’s time we blew up the party lines and spent a little time truly searching our souls for the values we hold dear and then protecting those.

That’s how I plan to use my voice. How will you use yours?

Sounds of Silence

Every day, I tuck myself into my office. From 10 to noon, I ignore the outside world and enter another. This is my protected writing time. My work in progress time. My focus on the novel time. I keep the house quiet during this time. The door is shut. The heat clicks on. A bird chirps outside. A construction vehicle beeps as it backs up down the street. I settle in for the work. The silence is mine. I shape it and fill it with words on the page.

The afternoons are not silent. There is usually music or a podcast in my ears as I edit or run an errand or work through a plot problem. There is chatter and thought and ideas clattering up against my ear drums.

Then, it is 3:30. The focus shifts.

School dismisses at 3:45. At 3:46, the school’s bus alerts start dinging on my phone. One ding at a time.

The buses arrive on campus – ding by ding.

The buses depart – ding by ding.

My children’s bus is one of the last to arrive back at school (thanks to bus sharing between schools) and so I wait and wait for the bus three ding. My ding. The ding that means I should head for the bus stop.

And while I wait, I finish whatever task I’m working on. I click off the music, pause the podcast, turn away from the book’s voices. The house settles and is suddenly quiet again in a way it isn’t the rest of the day. The heat clicks on again. I hear car doors slam at my neighbors houses as older kids return home. Someone laughs or hollers at another kid across the street. I hear the trash cans being dragged up a driveway.

This silence is no longer the same as the writing silence. This silence is the quiet pull back of the tide before it returns the quiet water in a rush and crash of a wave.

I suddenly long for my boys, crave them, can’t wait to see their bodies and minds return to me to tell me about their day. The attention they grant me is fleeting. Sometimes only as long as it takes for us to walk back from the bus stop or for me to help get them a snack. I remind them to put their bags and lunch boxes away. They pull out their homework. They disappear to play.

But their breath, their laughter, their stomping feet, the rustle of their turning pages, their whirring brains fill my silence and I wrap it around me like a blanket. My mother silence is anything but quiet, and yet it stills my soul and calms my anxieties.

It is 3:34 and the house is too quiet again.

I wait. For the boys to fill the silence.

I crave it. Like a drug.

I wait.

Another Year in the Books

Last year, I resolved to focus on one word. That word was forward. Rereading that post a few days ago, I smiled. I sounded so ambitious and excited.

I remembered where I was emotionally and what I was hoping to accomplish.

I remembered the roadblocks, the physical and mental ones, that had been holding me back. The obstacles that always (always, dammit) popped up when I was feeling the most momentum.

I remembered the book I was writing then. Or at least the book I thought I was writing then.

I remembered the thrill of the run, the progress, the determination.

And yet somehow I forgot.

I forgot the promise of progress.

I forgot that I controlled the steps.

I forgot the plan.

At the beginning of this December, it sure did feel like it. I was halfway through the very rough draft of this next book and realizing that I needed to rewrite that first half. I was feeling stiff and stuck and thought that the entire year had been dominated around our move.

After some thoughtful reflection (because what else is happening when you’re stuffed on ham and cookies and cake and your husband is watching a football game you don’t care about but you’re too exhausted to leave the couch), I realized I haven’t been standing still. Not at all.

2016 still ended up being the year of forward. Boy, did it ever.

2016 was the year I decided the book I was writing wasn’t the book I was writing. The real book I was writing was now a historical fiction. I researched. I read. I researched some more. Despite the cursor’s lack of movement across the page for many months, I was building a foundation for the book. And although it felt like stagnation, I can see now how far I’ve come in that year. How different this book will be. How much I’ve had to learn, and still need to learn, in order to finish it, to make it work.

2016 was the year we moved. A move away from all we’d built for our children, our family. We endured their tears when we proposed the idea to them. We suffered their blame when they didn’t want to leave their school, their friends, the only home they’ve known. And we endured our own sleepless nights trying to pull all the logistics together. We wept for all the familiarity we were leaving behind. We uprooted one painful root at a time and took our tree to North Carolina. And although we replanted that tree, we are still nursing it, watering it and adjusting to the new soil. Six months later. I wonder some days how long will it take. How long before I feel as entrenched, before I know the right balance between extended family events and incubating our nuclear one, before I get back to the most effective writing routine? But even I can see each step is a step forward in our new life.

Despite the destination being completely off from where I thought it would be a year ago, I suppose it was still the year of forward. I just didn’t anticipate the universe taking it so literally.

So 2017.

My kids are at a wonderful elementary school with a principal I love. She is not only elegant and graceful, tall and direct, she is warm and passionate and smart in a way that’s apparent in her hello. And you can tell she absolutely, unequivocally loves what she does.

Not only is she the principal, she has brought a new principle to the school. She has instituted a growth mindset at the school.

Not sure what growth mindset is? Watch this. Read this.

But in a nutshell, the idea is that our brains are constantly growing. That the growth mindset allows us to enjoy the challenge as opposed to focusing only on the outcomes.

For example, ever told (by yourself or someone else) that you were just not a math person  (raises hand) and allowed that to justify your subpar performance in math without putting in too much extra effort? That’s an example of the fixed mindset.

Ever train for a marathon? Did you tackle the training step by step and trust every run’s expanse of your running prowess until one day you actually could run the marathon when at the beginning you couldn’t run more than four miles? Growth mindset.

(Really, watch and read the above links. It’s a much better explanation than these sad examples.)

In the classroom, however, it means that the students are taught strategies on how to tackle problems when they run into challenges. “I can not” is not a valid response. That when something is new and hard, students can’t…YET. The students focus on their effort. Their growth. Mistakes and wrong answers are simply parts of learning. FAIL is now the First Attempt In Learning. It’s a fascinating field of psychological study and it is slowly seeping into my parenting and how I approach my own work as I am aware of when I am employing a fixed mindset. It’s been interesting to see where I am fixed and where I use a growth mindset naturally. Relationships? Totally growth. Academics? A little fixed, I have to admit. My public relations career?  I looked back and found I approached that with a total growth mindset (and realized I was also lucky enough to have growth mindset bosses at nearly every turn – thank you MJ, MB, SD, LZ, PG, and MO). My writing? Completely, utterly fixed mindset.

Why? I have a feeling people telling me I was talented at writing or good-naturedly saying they wished they could write like I did, all internalized into my thinking that I shouldn’t have to work so hard at writing. It’s a talent, so it should come easy, right? That because some writing comes easy to me, all writing should. Ah. There is the flaw, right? All writing is not created equal and only the best writers are the best writers because they continue to work on their craft.

Are you all still with me? Thanks. I know it seems like I’ve gone off the New Year’s Resolutions rails.

But not really.

2017. It’s my year of growth.

The year where I focus on learning, stretching, trying, challenging. The year of mistakes. The year of wrong paths. The year where I try on my own growth mindset. The year where failure is celebrated because it means I’ve learned something. The year of YET. I haven’t finished my book…YET. I haven’t found the right agent…YET. The list can go on and on and on.

As a family, we created a few other growth mindset resolutions. Each member answered the following:

In 2017, I want to learn…

In 2017, I want to help others in my community by…

In 2017, with my family, I want to…

And then a general, in 2017, I want to…

That general category, that’s where my paper says in big, capital, permanent marker letters: GROW.

And boy, did my boys smile when they saw that. Won’t that be wonderful for them to realize that growing doesn’t end? That even their old mom can still stretch her skills and learn something new and accomplish something fantastic and new? That you don’t ever finish growing up, you still continue to grow? I think so.

What’s your mindset for 2017?

 

 

 

 

Adjustment Period

It’s been awhile since I posted. Part of that was calculated. The election season was fraught. The aftermath even more so.

And a lot of why I wasn’t here wasn’t on purpose. Not consciously. But the fact was, I was struggling with what to say. Struggling with a lot of things.

Struggling since the move.

A few weeks ago, some ladies on my street got together for breakfast and invited me. I had a wonderful time getting to know these different and wonderful women I can see as part of my new village. They are good people. Fun people. People that get it – most of them have also moved here from somewhere else at some point. But I got in my car afterwards and felt a strange compulsion to cry.

And I didn’t know why.

The next day, I was meeting up with some ladies that also live in my neighborhood that I had only met through an online exchange about helping to coordinate an upcoming event for the neighborhood kids. I was a little nervous about this meeting. I didn’t know these people.

My husband told me to try to have fun as I walked out the door.

Try.

That’s what it was. I was just so tired of trying.

We are settling into our new lives, but there is a constant amount of trying. At our old school, I had already gone through the random volunteering to finally land the position I wanted as newsletter writer for the PTA. A position I sadly had to abandon after a year of shadowing when we moved. Now I’m starting over. I’m back to randomly picking up shifts at the book fair and spirit night events. It’s all great – these are all events I love – but I’m taste testing, meeting folks, working out where I best fit here.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s all great. I love our neighborhood. I’m in love with our school. Everyone (and I mean EVERYONE) has been nothing but welcoming and supportive.

But it’s still all new. All the time.

Even yesterday, I wanted to take the boys Christmas shopping to pick out gifts for the cousins. I had to Google where the independent toy shops were. Then map them so I wouldn’t get lost.

And Facebook reminds me daily of all the Christmas traditions we had in Atlanta. The santa we visited every year. The lights at the Botanical Garden we visited each Friday after Thanksgiving with the rest of the city and their out of town guests. The neighborhood Christmas party. The streets with the best lights. We knew how early to get to church on Christmas Eve and to head straight for the cathedral’s gym since the cathedral itself and overflow room were filled hours in advance.

Now, I feel like I’m starting from scratch again. And while the boys are just happy that their Elf on the Shelf is back and our advent calendar of activities is as comforting and fun as usual, I’m left trying to make sure that I find a Santa with a real beard since my kids have never been to one with a fake one (something that probably means nothing to them and I have latched onto as being of the utmost importance).

Trying. Again.

Then there’s today. Today the boys went back to school. They’ve been out since Veteran’s Day. Adjusting to year round school means adjusting to their three week breaks every nine weeks. The bonus was we took a nice trip to Washington, DC – partly because we love our old stomping grounds, partly so I could do some research for the current book and partly because most everything to do in DC is free (yay Smithsonian!), we hosted Thanksgiving in our new home, we hung out with my sister-in-law in town from Louisiana, we went for walks, the boys learned how to ride their bikes (no more training wheels here), we shopped small business Saturday with my sister in our new, adorable downtown. But through it all, I didn’t do a lick of writing except for scrawling down on a post it note the physical descriptions and mannerisms of a guitar player at a concert the hubby and I went to who will most definitely be showing up in the work in progress.

But when I sat down in the chair today. Ugh. I had lost it. Three weeks was too long to be away. I reread the last two sections I wrote, determined not to edit as I went but to find the thread. I went back to some research materials I collected on our trip. And hopefully the words will start to come back tomorrow.

So I sit here blogging instead. Trying.

And that’s all I can do. I keep trying. Trying to meet people. Trying to find new experiences. Trying to balance being near family during a time of year when we were used to being alone. Trying to write this impossibly daunting work in progress.

The trying isn’t bad. It’s everything really. It’s just that sometimes the trying can be, well, trying.

So if I’ve been missing or I’ve been distant, it’s not you. It’s me. Trying.

 

Words Matter

I was riding high today after a morning breakthrough in the novel plotting. I’ve been doing my best to come to the work every day now that I finally have time, but it’s been frustrating to say the least. I’ve been stuck, the work was stuck and I didn’t know what to do about it. And so I’ve been focusing on craft – reading everything I can get my hands on, contemplating my characters, my plot, my themes. I’ve been continuing research even when it pulls me into the internet wormhole and seems like wasted time. I’ve been jotting down notes and doodling and simply sitting my butt in the chair every day anyway.

So today, when a simple little note answering a tiny little “what if” suddenly cracked open the potential direction of the two thirds of the book, I was ecstatic.

Then reality hit. I had to run a few errands, including picking up the packs of circus peanuts I agreed to provide to the fourth grader’s teacher for a “treat assignment” they were doing this week. The first grocery store didn’t have them. Neither did Target. Nor did the second grocery store I went to. Finally, I cranked up the Google in the car (while safely parked) and entered “where to buy circus peanuts?” An area drug store topped the list and so I went back in the direction of the first darn store and crossed my fingers. A wild goose chase was most certainly not how I envisioned spending my afternoon.

I tried to keep my high. I listened to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Magic Lessons podcast in the car. I was noodling where I wanted to start when I got back to my desk. I pulled into the parking lot. A right turn off the main road, a right turn into the main artery of the parking lot. I wasn’t sure which side of the building I wanted to park on. Another car was turning from the far side of the building and approaching from the other side of the road. I made sure I had enough room for us to both pass and stopped quickly when a large pick up started emerging from a space to my right. I don’t think he’d seen me. I certainly hadn’t seen him yet – he was pulling forward from the space on the other side and my eyes had been on the approaching vehicle. I paused. He paused. I proceeded to drive past and park my car. I disengaged my cell phone from it’s charger, put it in my purse and then got out. The pick up was waiting, inching slowly towards my car. I was looking both ways before crossing the lot when the driver of the pick-up rolled down his window and told me to “Slow down, ASSHOLE.” Then drove off.

What?

First of all, huh? I couldn’t have been driving that fast. Truly. I was already watching another car, I was looking for a space, I had just made a turn, all of which add up to me going not very fast at all. I’m not even sure I’d hit the gas.

Second of all, why? Why did he feel it necessary to slow down and stop to yell at me and call me a name for whatever slight he felt I had made. And even if I had been going “too fast” (which again, I fail to know what that would have been), I had the right of way. His car pulling out of a parking space should have waited for me whether I was going 5 or 15 (which seems unlikely) or 30 (which I certainly wasn’t).

But here’s the thing. I replayed the whole drive in my mind over and over and over again as I picked up my circus peanuts (yes, they had them and even on SALE!) and on the drive home and as I recounted the story to my husband. I was certain that if someone called me out for something I must be in the wrong. Why else would someone get so angry? Why would he waste his time to call me names?

Maybe he’s just having a bad day. Perhaps he was picking up medicine for his sick kid or a wife recovering from surgery or his own prescription for a terribly nasty and humiliating condition. Or I reminded him of someone who has wronged him. Or he thinks women in SUVs are bad drivers. Or he just lost his job. Or he couldn’t find the damn circus peanuts.

I don’t know.

I don’t care.

It doesn’t matter. but the words do.

There is too much name calling.

This election cycle has been full of it. I don’t want to get political, but the fact of the matter is that the words that are uttered do have meaning. But whether it’s a politician, a neighbor, a friend, a family member, a stranger, these words can’t be taken back. They land on people’s hearts. They have meaning. They can’t be mitigated by calling them jokes or sarcasm. They can’t be excused by saying you were hurt when you said them. They can’t be apologized away. They fall into the minds of people and affect them. They leave marks – sticks and stones be damned. Words hurt.

That man calling me an asshole – he affected me. My high was gone. I was shaking. I was embarrassed. I was mad. I’ve spent the last hour questioning my driving in parking lot skills and going over every short stop, swerve and honk I’ve ever made at the wheel.

If I was truly going too fast in the parking lot (can you see I’m obsessed about whether I was or not?), that man could have made a more meaningful change in my alleged behavior by rolling down his window and saying, “Excuse me, ma’am. You might want to slow down in a parking lot, I didn’t see you coming.”

Instead, his name calling made me defensive.

Not only that, but he’s ruined the rest of my day.

And maybe he wanted to ruin the rest of my day. Maybe his day has been so bad and he can’t control whatever it is that’s happening to him and so he lashed out at the first thing that crossed his path, literally. I hope it made him feel better. Because it made me feel shitty. And I’m fairly certain I didn’t deserve that today. Or any day really.

How we speak to one another matters.

Let’s think about the words we use and why we use them. Let’s consider context and circumstance. Let’s give each other the benefit of the doubt that we’re all coming from a place of goodness, of love, or at the very least neutrality. If you find yourself wanting to call someone a name or say something ugly, think about why? Most of the time, I bet it has more to do with you than with them. You might be lashing out to cover your own insecurities or your own confusion. This isn’t always the case. Sometimes people are down right in need of a comeuppance, but even then, can you say it without the trappings of anger or meanness? Can you insert kindness in all of your questions and actions and reactions?

That man today had to go out of his way to shout his profanity at me. Let’s go out of our way to say something nice to someone. I made sure I thanked the drug store sales clerk for having exactly what I needed. I’ll be making some treats for a neighbor later who helped us out with a yard project without us having asked him to.

Words matter. Let’s make them count for something good.

Prince, The Dixie Chicks and the Power of Music

We were at Prince’s last concert in Atlanta in April. Eight days later, he was dead. The show was beyond incredible. The hubby is, and always has been, a rabid Prince fan, so we have been to quite a few of his shows. There was my first show I saw with the hubby where I was just a casual fan and didn’t appreciate what exactly I was witnessing. There was the weird disappointment show in DC one year where he went on late then had to wrap too soon because the Metro was about to shut down for the night.

Then. Well, then there was Musicology. By far the best concert I had ever seen. Ever. The music, the energy, the seats we never physically sat in because we were on our feet the whole time but were close enough to the stage that I made eye contact with the man during Little Red Corvette and my ears didn’t stop ringing for three days from the bass. That night was soul changing.

Until Atlanta. A man and his piano. A man and his music. A man and his people. It was magic. Pure and simple. I turned to the hubby at one point and said “Prince is taking us to church.” And he did. And it was glorious. And we were still riding on that high a week later when the news came and it didn’t seem real because we had just seen him, larger than life, teasing the audience with Chopsticks and giving all he had in a way we didn’t understand at the time but cherish now that we know that it was, truly, all that he had left and we were the chosen few to carry that piece of him on into the future.

Last night, we went to our first concert since that show. Instead of the sequins and stilettos I had worn to see Prince, I pulled on my cowboy boots and shorts for the Dixie Chicks.

The lights went down, the stage dark. Suddenly, Let’s Go Crazy pulsed through the speakers in the dark. And I cried.

Since Prince passed there have been numerous tribute performances. Some delivered, others not quite, but all were meant in a sincere honoring of the legend that was Prince and his music. What moved me last night was hearing his words, his voice, his guitar licks and seeing nothing but a dark, empty stage. The stage he will never again grace. The absence was palpable.

We danced and sang. We rose our arms to punch a higher floor. And it felt meaningful. And sad. And right.

Later, the Chicks sang Nothing Compares 2 U and I’ll even forgive the Sinead O’Connor-esque arrangement because they sang that arrangement the way it should have been done, full and throaty and deep and full of angst. His symbol drenched in purple behind them, the song ending on his profile. And I’d like to think that in that musical moment his spirit rejoiced. Mine did.

So thanks to the Chicks for that closure. For giving us a moment to mourn and then to celebrate. For being unabashedly yourselves always. For never apologizing. For never backing down. For being women with something to say and saying it. For being stellar musicians and fantastic performers and challenging your audience. Because that’s the legacy Prince left: using his gifts for music to say something, to stir emotion – joy, sadness, regret, passion, love, euphoria, grief – and then challenge the listener to ignore that whatever that was now that it was known to them.

That, and putting on one helluva show.

 

10

Ten years ago, I spent 30 of the most excruciating, boring, horrible, wonderful hours in labor with my first. I could probably recount in infinitesimal detail those 30 hours, how I felt, what happened, what didn’t, and who said what to finally get me through the finish line of labor. It felt like forever.

And yet, somehow the last ten years have flown by. First teeth, first steps, preschool, kindergarten, soccer, baseball. Now he’s a fully formed person with his own sense of humor, anxieties, skills and dreams. He’s lovely. Truly. Sure, he’s got his foibles, but I love those, too. As much as one can. And I do my best to help him navigate this world with them so that one day those weaknesses can be strengths.

Ten.

Five years ago he was five, barely able to read.

Five years from now he’ll be a freshman in high school with a driver’s permit.

Ten years ago he was swaddled and safe in my arms.

Ten years from now he’ll be twenty and making his own decisions in a big world where I won’t be able to protect him.

We are here in the middle at ten. And it is glorious. He is funny and smart and annoying and goofy and tries too hard at some things and not hard enough at others. He is finding his way in this world. He is rereading Harry Potter while begging to read The Hunger Games. He’s trying to stay a kid and trying to grow up all at the same time. He loves Battlebots and Jeopardy. He hates taking showers, his feet smell and he’s got morning breath. He would eat a breakfast burrito, PB&J at lunch and cheeseburger for dinner every day if I let him. He still wants me to sit with him on the porch swing while he’s having a popsicle and snuggle with him at bed time.

He mirrors the best and worst of me. He teaches me every day how to best be his mother, if I’m paying close enough attention. He is curious. He is introverted and kind. He has set the tone for this family by his mere arrival into the world and every day I work to earn him.

Ten.

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Amazing.

I am in awe of all that he is and all that he has yet to become. Mostly, though, I’m just grateful that he’s mine. Today, I will do my best to make sure he feels special, that it’s not just an ordinary day. Because his mere presence has made my life extraordinary.

Creative Re-Entry

Back in March, my second novel took a turn. Or, more accurately, I set it free to make room for what was a better story. I was digging in on research and finding my way through this new, much more daunting idea, getting to know my new protagonist and trying to fill in her life a little. Then, we were suddenly discussing moving. Upending our lives and starting over. My mind was filled with debate. Once we made our decision to indeed follow this course of action, my hands were filled with tasks to complete it. Staging, repairs, finding movers, it all became my job. Research on new neighborhoods, the end of the school year and trips to see possible new homes of our own took up my time. Packing and moving and living in limbo at my parents for three weeks while parenting our boys through this transition demanded every iota of my attention. The idea languished. The research stalled. The words stopped. My computer has seen many a map search as we learn our new town and plenty of online shopping as we fill our new home, but very few full sentences were typed from left to right across a blank page.

But the boys are in school now. The house is mostly put together. And for the first time in months, I felt the lack of writing in my bones. Kind of like when I get sick. When I’m really sick – laying in bed with the door shut and the covers pulled up and the medicine nearby and the hubby taking on all one hundred percent of the life tasks – I don’t notice the mess. The toys on the floor. The clutter accumulating on the counters. The laundry exploding from the hampers, the pantry’s empty shelves. But one morning, after moving from bed to couch and cruising HGTV, I will suddenly look around from my sick bed haze and finally notice the mess. That’s how I know I’m feeling better. When I start to see all that has fallen by the wayside in my absence and it starts to bug me.

Now, with the book (or at least the idea for the book), I’m starting to see all that hasn’t been done, all that needs to be tidied and filled in. Similar to being sick, however, when I start to see the mess, it doesn’t always mean I’m well enough to do something about it yet.

I don’t know if it’s simply being out of the routine, out of practice or out of excuses, but I’m a little scared to start writing again. Okay, a lot scared. I recognized this week that I need a plan. A plan to squash the doubt and ease myself back into a creative life.  Julia Cameron outlines the importance of the artist date in The Artist’s Way. Doing things for your creative soul can inspire, offer new perspectives and open up new pathways of thinking. This seemed like an easy place to start. So I spent an afternoon this week brainstorming locations – museums, coffee shops, historical spots – in our new town for me to explore. And for now, I will commit to visiting one a week. These field trips may have nothing to do with the topic of the new book or writing, but they will force me to dedicate time to nurturing the part of me that needs strengthening. The part that has been left forgotten and dusty for the last few months. The creative part.

Although I was tired and cranky and really didn’t feel like it, I took myself out on an artist date anyway. My first date was to the NC Museum of Art. Art has always been an easy way for me to unblock. What better exercise than to sit in front of a painting and then write about it? Write about the scene, the people, the emotion. The visual is already there, you just need to capture your imagination’s interpretation. Today, I didn’t write. I let my self simply look. I let my mind settle and my eyes wander. I found myself entranced by a Burk Uzzle photograph, The Black Barn. It was just a barn filling up the frame. But I felt my writer’s eye start to wake. I noticed the beer bottles discarded in the grass by a corner. Did teens find this abandoned barn? Did they sludge through the fallow field burdened down with coolers or six packs to spend an evening drinking and bellowing the laughter of youth? I noticed the impossibility of the paint job on the barn. Did someone try to spray paint it? Why? How was it both cloudy and dripping streaks of black at the same time, as if clouds of paint were raining on its rough hewn wooden canvas?

I wandered through Egyptian artifacts and European still lifes. There were the Monets that always manage to settle my soul a moment with their hazy light and thick layers of paint. There was the Andrew Wyeth that felt so real I nearly expected the curtains to move in the breeze if I stared at it long enough. And there was the Rodin sculpture garden with his impossible ability to capture weightless movement in the heaviest of mediums.

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And I wasn’t breathlessly inspired. I didn’t rush home to write. In fact, I stopped by the grocery store, the most mundane of all tasks, on the way home.

But I did feel something open. A small crack that let the air rush back in to my writer’s soul. And I found myself here. At the keyboard. Wanting to share, to tell you about it, to write about it.

For me, frustration was the first indication that I was neglecting myself. I stewed on that frustration for awhile. Probably too long. But this week, today, I was ready. Ready to turn that frustration into some kind of action. And although it was a small step, it was a step. A step towards re-entry into writing. Re-entry to the novel to be. Re-entry to the creative life. My creative life.

What places inspire you? Will you honor yourself to take an artist’s date this week?

When I Grow Up, I Want to be Like my Kids

We’ve been on a hamster wheel of non-stop activity and change since spring. Every day I keep thinking that’s the day my real life will start. The day when I own my life again. The day when I feel comfortable and ready and the hours stretch ahead of me in an organized and productive way.

Instead, I wake up to boxes that still need unpacking, blank walls begging for pictures to be hung, a worn out GPS app from needing directions to everything, and an ever-growing list of errands. To top it off, our school registration plan backfired a bit and the boys started their new year-round school this week. Our school district offers a variety of traditional and year-round schools. Unfortunately, the traditional options were closed to us and although we had been hoping to keep them on a traditional calendar because, you know, creatures of habit, it wasn’t meant to be. So a week to the day of our furniture being delivered to the new house, the boys packed up their school supplies into their back packs and started a new school.

The boys? They’ve been fine. Excited even. They were unfazed about starting school several days into the new school year. They have rolled with the change to their summer schedule. My boys are happy, optimistic, content. They play between the boxes. They sleep in their make-shift beds. They explore the new spaces. They still hug us tight, maybe a little tighter. But they come home excited about things they did at school, people they’ve met, ways that the new school is different.

And I wish I could be more like them. Instead, I’m still hungering for a normal. The school routine starting earlier than I expected threw my non-routine into further non-ness. I’m wandering the house tackling projects that never seem to get finished and wondering when I will ever get back to writing.

But the boys? They’re good.

We might have been the ones to initiate this great and risky plan to move to a new state, start a new school, uproot our entire lives for something bigger in the grand scheme. But in the little ways, my kids are showing me daily how to actually do it by being brave and open and receptive to this new life.

So I will follow their example. I will do what I can when I can. I will start to learn what the quiet feels like in this new space without their feet on the stairs. I will take a deep breath and realize that the non-routine is where I am and where I am is still pretty damn good. Because every day is different. Every day is an adventure. Every day is an opportunity.

My boys taught me that.