Wednesday, September 28, 2011

family night

We stand around and take in the room. Or rather, I stand around and take in the room. The jobs, the traffic light, the pictures of little names painted with dots and stripes, the paper dolls holding hands across the side of the room. I am standing in front of a tiny desk with papers that say "Bea's Family."

Do you think we have to sit in that little chair? 

There is a man standing next to me, smiling. He is also flying solo at Family Night, which comforts me. Our babysitter couldn't make it, and we had no one else, so Sam stayed and I went.

Yes. I was waiting for someone else to do it first.

The dad chuckles. Then we spend the next few minutes shuffling uncomfortably, looking around the room at our kid's names. Turns out we are sitting right next to each other, or girls sit right next to each other.  The teacher begins the presentation about pre-kindergarten and what they do here.

This year is about socialization.

For Beezus or for me? I think.

Beezus seems to be fine, comes home every day with new stories of her friends. I, on the other hand, have very rarely interacted with other parents in the four years since she came into the world. I stay home with the kids, play with my nieces and nephews, hang out with my crafty sister. But every day, I walk to the school to pick Beatrice up and drop her off. I wait with the other moms. Recently, I have been chitchatting and it feels okay. Some moms are seasoned, others new school moms like me. I ask the seasoned moms advice on school stuff, and commiserate with the other moms who are going through all of this for the first time too. Some days it is easier than other, but I want to fit into the group of parents more than I wanted to fit in during high school. Maybe fitting in isn't the right phrase. I just want not be noticeable as weird or kooky or grieving or anything. I just want it to be about Beezus. I don't want any parent to think, "But her parents seem weird."

After the presentation, I go to a wall of sheets with interview questions. The questions are what do you want to be, what is your favorite toy, what would you do with a million dollars. One kid writes that he wants to be a priest. I live in a place with a lot of Catholics, but it still surprises me. One kid writes that he wants to be an adult. My daughter writes that she wants to be a doctor. Her favorite animal is a giraffe and if she had a million dollars, she would want ice cream. I would recognize the answers if it had no name on the paper. But it does, large across the top:


They call her Bea here. The teacher, all the kids. We call her Bea too, but mixed in with Beatrice, and Beezus and Bea-triche, and Buzz and Bumble Bee. And I realize that her name is her own, she can be called what she chooses, she can become whoever she chooses. The mountain climbing doctor with an all-girl punk rock band called Shark. Man. Attack.

I thought this part of parenting would be so difficult, watching her go out into the world, but I find it so beautiful and comforting that she knows what to do. This week, she is the Line Leader. She pushes her shoulders back, and raises her head, and walks straight away without a wave or a blown kiss. The other kids need her, and she takes it seriously. In the midst of grief and loss and anxiety and fear, we have given her something beautiful and gentle and kind to carry into the world. It is a line of qualities that surprises me, and warms me, and gives me faith in the human spirit.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Not to be overly dramatic, but sometimes it feels like my chest is wrenched open and my heart is exposed to the world.

I am naive.

Is that surprising? It still surprises me. I angers me that I can be reduced so quickly to shaking and tears and feeling like she died again because of one cruel remark. I am skittish here, like a crack-smoking chihuahua. Or something. A shaky hairless little thing that piddles on the floor.

I wish I could strengthen my walls. I wish I had resolve. I heard this piece on NPR this weekend about willpower. Willpower is a muscle. Willpower is finite. Willpower is a talent. Use your willpower judiciously.

The doctor on the radio, talking with the sounds of a cupcake bakery in the background, said the way to strengthen willpower is to meditate and pray. I do that. Every day. I meditate and pray. But still I shake with anger. So, I keep sitting. All cramped legs and shifting focus. I light a candle, some incense. But I am still incensed. I lay in bed with my hands raised in prayer position, staring at the moon.

God, help me find my path. God, help direct me to your will. God, thank you for giving me challenges so I might use my tools. God, thank you for letting me feel anger that I might understand serenity better when it comes.

I have so much right now, I don't even know what to prioritize. I downloaded games on my Droid and play them instead of the thousands of things I committed to in the next few weeks. The games, particularly a game which seems to be a combination of both Boggle and Scrabble, is better than the fucking meditation. It works better, so I keep doing it. My husband asks me if I am replacing alcohol with DropWords. Yes, I reply. He nods and goes back to watching a show about the molten core of the Earth. It all feels so out of control right now. I feel so out of control, because I cannot control the anger that replaced the shame. I really want to tell you what happened, but I won't. I don't want to be that person anymore. And anyway, there was something I wanted to tell you today. Something that I have hanging above my desk that feels like a prayer. It is just this:

You are lovely.

Leave the sentence that feels like a prayer, a wish, a coin toss below. We all need a little pick-me-up these days.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Kindness Walk in Philadelphia, PA

When Lucia first died, I felt like the only woman in the world who lost a child in this way. Then I reconnected with my friend Mimmy, whose son Alex was born on Mother's Day of 2004, almost three months premature. We worked together at the time. I was single and oblivious, but we all grieved with Mimmy. Alex died three days later. As the weeks went further from Lucia's death, Mimmy and I emailed, and I began connecting with more women via forums, then blogs. And the feeling of being alone, while sometimes still there, felt manageable. We were alone, together. That felt okay. It made me stronger. Other women, grieving and hurting, helped me in their worst moments. And so, this year, feeling stronger myself, less acute in my grief, I became a HOPE Mentor for the MISS Foundation. HOPE stands for Helping Other Parents Endure. And that is what other parents did for me, and what I hope I do for other parents--helped me endure. I became a HOPE Mentor because one of the women that soothed me, helped me, gave me a voice and language to speak is Mother Henna, a.k.a. Kara L.C. Jones. She is a major force of love and light at the MISS Foundation, and throughout every project she touches. She gifted me art and creative expression and an entirely new life full of fearless energy and love in the wake of terrible tragedy and life-altering grief.

A few weeks ago, the MISS Foundation executive director emailed me to let me know that the MISS Foundation chose Philadelphia to have a walk. A WALK?!? For babies?!? HERE! That is the kind of thing I craved when Lucia first died.  A place to go to remember, to talk of her, to gather with the others like me. I was very excited at the possibility of connecting with women and other families grieving, and of showing that we are present here in Philly. Finally, it has all come to fruition.

So, please check out my fundraising page for Team Lucia and if you can spare it, please consider donating to our team. Any little thing helps. It all goes to the MISS Foundation. Better, if you can join us at Ridley Creek State Park, 9am, October 15th, for the MISS Foundation Kindness Walk, please consider starting your own team to walk in your child's name, or join Team Lucia. We would love to have you.

Monday, September 12, 2011

questions thirteen through fifteen: gurus, relationships and remembering.

Nerissa: Do you ever feel like a babyloss/grief guru? Not like you are an expert or you are totally enlightened about it all. More like, people (like me) come to you and seek your advice, even though it's not necessarily advice that you give so you are like a guru... Do you know what I mean? Are you ever overwhelmed at how many people share their stories with you and come to you in such a desperate time in their lives?

Thank you for that question, even though it feels a little weird to answer. Okay, firstly, no, I never feel like a babyloss or grief guru. I am just a mother who lost a child. I like to write. I like to connect with other people. And I majored in religion at university. I did that because I have always been seeking the answers to really large questions about the universe, God and human nature. Losing my child made me question everything I believe in and everything anyone else believes in. It also strengthened some really fundamental understandings of the world. I work those things out in a public place like Glow in the Woods and my blog because I crave discussions about these aspects of our losses and grief, so I never ever feel like I am lecturing, I always feel like I am having a conversation.

But more to your point, no. I am never overwhelmed with people sharing their stories with me. I always feel privileged and honored to be trusted with someone’s story and baby. I never take it lightly, but I also don’t feel weighted down or saddened by it, necessarily. If that makes sense. People ask me, particularly people not in this community, if it depresses me to hear about losses and grief. No, it doesn’t depress me. Maybe it is because I see grief as another expression of love. I am always amazed by the strength, compassion and love of the men and women I meet along this journey. Most of the time grieving parents ask me about Lucy as much as tell me about their baby. It was a surprise of talking to people freshly in this community. That is compassion and generosity. At someone's worst moment, people seek to listen and comfort as much as to be heard and seek comforting. And you are right, I just share my experience. I am always amazed at the wisdom of newly bereaved women and men. Their insights usually help me process some aspect of my own grief and experience.

When I first came into this community, I wrote to people a few months out from me, or years.  And I sought refuge in blogs and other women's writings. I also tapped into the community at LFCA and connected with other women in other experiences around pregnancy loss, like infertility or secondary infertility or recurrent miscarriage, but I focused on clicking, (sending stories to LFCA) with Jen about stillbirth and neonatal loss. Truly, being compassionate to another human being in the same situation as me helped and helps me understand and forgive myself for my daughter’s death and make peace with the decisions I have made along the way. They have not all been good decisions or healthy ones, but seeing someone else in their vulnerability and early grief helps me process where I was. If that makes sense. And to understand that I did the best that I could.

Cullen's Blessings (Leslie): How do you keep Lucy's memory alive for Bea and Thor? What did you do on the first anniversary of Lucy's death?

Thank you for your question, Leslie. I sort of answered this question earlier, but I will touch on it again.

The short answer is that I just talk about her, like I would anyone in our family who died. I don't harp on her, or bring her up continually, but I just bring her in naturally. Sometimes I tell the kids, "You have the same nose as Lucy did." And Thomas does. Beezus is starting to grieve her, because she is starting to realize what death means and that she had a sister. She really talks a lot now about sisters. When she asks me a question about death or Lucy, I just am honest. We do have a place where we light a candle and some incense or sage, the warmth and light from that candle feels like a presence in our space. I do it when I miss her, or just want to remember her. Sometimes the children collect things for Lucy's altar. All in all, we try to make it as non-weird as possible.

Lately, Beezus has been singing this song around the house. She is at an age where she makes up songs, and it goes "Fly, Butterfly, fly." Over and over. Sometimes the fly is float ("Float, Butterfly, float.") I asked her about the song, where she heard it, and she told me that she made it up. She sings it whenever she misses Lucy. I never associated Lucy with butterflies or anything, but Beezus made that connection for herself. I told her that when I see ladybugs I think of Lucy. So sometimes, when she is singing the song, that gives me an opening to ask her if she is missing Lucy and talk about how we hold the ones we love after they die. I also read When Dinosaurs Die if she has questions that are hard for me to answer..

We had a very low-key day on Lucy's first death/birthday. We napped and went out for sushi on her first birthday, because that is what we did for everyone's birthday back then. I cried often. I took a bath. Lucia died on December 21st, was born December 22nd, so three days before Christmas. I wish I could say that I have something set to do every year, but I suspect it will change every year. The first birthday seemed so important, I couldn't figure out what to do. I thought about it a ton, actually. I bought candles to light, wrote poems to read, and I did none of it, because it didn't feel right.

Because she died on Winter Solstice, last year we did some solstice-y type things, like light a candle for each window through the house. And say a poem for Santka Lucia. Talk about the lightness and dark. We ate a feast. Last year was also an eclipse, so my sister and I went out in the middle of the night and watched the eclipse in sleeping bags. That feels right and good to stay up all night, light a bonfire, and honor the seasons of change.  So, I think those rituals are going to stay in place now. I try not to worry about setting up something forever. I just do what feels right in the year and place we are all at. Beezus really wanted me to make a cake for Lucia last year. I am not a baker. But I did make cupcakes for her.

I hope that helps. I'd love to hear what other people do or did.

Ines: What's it like to be on the other side of the fence - of babyloss and sub-pregnancy and parenting after loss or through loss dealing - one side and the other side - with women who suffered loss of motherhood alltogether with their loss who have wanted a child or children and can't or don't get to? Do you feel the divide? Have you lost "friends" who "unfriended" or un-followed you? How do you feel about that? Would there be anything you want these women to know or would there be something you would do differently in retrospect? How do you feel about the question? Have I forfeit my chance to win -the gnome book? :-P I loved that book when I was a child and miss it like crazy just seeing the front page on the link you posted.

Ines, it is never too late for a good question, though I did pick a book winner last week. Maybe the gnomes will find their way to Ireland. Thank you for asking it, though I actually think this may be the most difficult question for me to answer. I don't want to sound like an asshole, and yet I also want to be honest. I am walking the razor's edge on this question, so I will try to be as honest as possible with as much love as possible.

I don't think of myself as now on the other side of any fence, honestly. I had a living child when my second child died, so for many people, my experience of loss was already different than their experience losing their first child. So, if there is a fence, I was already on the other side of it. When I began writing, I wrote this blog to process how to parent one child while grieving another. To have an outlet to write about grief and suffering and my religious ramblings and parenting a toddler and everything else in between. Also, I began writing to become part of a community and to connect with other women who were also grieving. And so both Beatrice and Lucia were part of what I imagined I would talk about here. I have never sold a bill of goods that was different than simply my life--all my children and all my parenting and all my experience. The joy and the grief. Perhaps that in and of itself was enough of a reason to not read my blog, or have a reason to identify out of my experience of grief for some people. After Thomas Harry was born, perhaps that divide grew larger, the wall between me and people who lost their only children absolutely impervious.

And that is absolutely fine. Do I feel the divide? No, not particularly. I see us all as grieving parents. And yet, I acknowledge that my experience is different from someone grieving infertility, the loss of motherhood, or recurrent miscarriage. It is an entire added level of grief I don't experience. There are very few people in this community whose experience is exactly like mine. I ache for my friends who want children and, through no fault of their own, struggle with conceiving, the grief of losing children or not getting pregnant at all, the loss of motherhood and their kids and the complex emotions of relating to people who they genuinely like who have living children. I cry with them. I root for them. I try to remain present with them. But I don't know what that is like. Any distance they need physically or emotionally doesn't stop me from loving them fully. I guess what I am trying to say is: I don't take it personally if someone can't be my friend, or read my blog. I want them to be happy and find comfort wherever it is and in whatever form it comes.

Have I lost friends, lost readers with the birth of my third child? I would be surprised if I didn't. I don't catalogue readers or followers. I don't know how many followers I have. I don't know who unfriended me, or who didn't. If you hold a resentment against me, I don't really know about it. (You can email me about it, though.) I think that it is absolutely natural to grow out of blogs, or move on from a blog writer. People cycle through blogs according to what they are going through and what they need. It never offends me when and if someone doesn't read a post I write, or stops reading my blog all together. It doesn't hurt my feelings when a post gets no comments. I am a writer. I am used to rejection, edits, rewrites and insults.

In the beginning, I did care. I wanted to know who read what, if my friends or family were stopping by, and then who were the grieving women coming to visit. I worried about what I wrote and how people took it. I started different blogs for different parts of my life. I tried to control your experience of my writing and my life based on what I imagined would be hard for you if you were going through infertility as well as loss. Then I just felt kind of started feeling funny about that.

I got to a place, and maybe that place I got to coincided with me getting sober and being more honest about my suffering and where I am in my life, but I got to a place where I felt like the reader needs to be responsible for his or her own experiences in the world. I cannot protect the reader from my life. I cannot guess what is and isn't hard to read. I cannot underestimate my reader's emotional ability to handle my happiness or my grief or my daily life. That is fucking insulting of me. How presumptuous of me. How arrogant. Now I work under the premise that people will stop reading if they don't like what they read. I think self-preservation should be the foremost guiding principle of what anyone reads. If a blog hurts to read it, stop. I certainly stop reading blogs, then I pick them up again, then put them down again. I also read blogs of people who have a different experience than mine. I read a lot of blogs of women who suffer through infertility as well as loss. I read blogs written by drunks and addicts. I read blogs of writers and artists.  I read blogs of architects and I have never built a house in my life.

You know what? There is also a whole other set of readers, people who have never lost a child, who can't relate to this blog from top to bottom. But I relate to those people in every day life outside of my blog. I talk to them. I laugh with them. I share experiences. Listen, what I am trying to say is that I am not three people. I am one person who parents living children, who is an artist and writer, who birthed a stillborn child, who rides bike, who is a wife and sister and daughter, who is a Buddhist and a Catholic. I'd love to combine all those parts of me into this blog. I am doing that gradually. I don't know. This space is confusing to me too. I don't know how to be here all the time. I am still figuring it out. I hope that if I lose readers, I don't lose friends.

So, what do I think I would have done differently? I don't think I would have ever split my blog into my everyday art blog and still life with circles. I want them all to be the same blog. I would have just been more authentic about this experience of grief being part of my life, a simultaneous experience with joy. I wish I would have written about my spiritual wrestlings a tad more frequently, because I think people go through that too. So, I guess I would have stopped worrying about who is reading here a long time ago and just been myself.

You asked me, Ines, "Would there be anything you want these women to know or would there be something you would do differently in retrospect? How do you feel about the question?"

To be frank, this question makes me feel like I am missing something. Did I offend these women? Did I upset them with the birth of my child? Did I upset them with something I wrote? I don't know. I understand if it is hard to read about my children. I understand. No one needs my blessing to not read in this space, but if you want to know if I will still be friends with you even if you cannot be present with my parenting posts, absolutely. It is important, drastically important, to protect your heart. So I would say the same thing I always say.

I love you. Go if you need to go. Come back if you want to come back. I will always be here with open arms. Loving you. Email me privately and we can have a friendship separate from my blog. I will always be here for you in whatever way you need me to be.

Ironically, as I was writing this post, my arm was resting on some papers. I picked them up to move them, and a postcard from please be still fell out of the pile that said, "We Are All Connected." Suffering is suffering is suffering. Grieving is grieving is grieving. Love is love is love. We grieve for different things, but we grieve. I think it is a universal form of suffering that every person can relate to, even if they haven't lost a child, or they lost their only child.

If you want to clarify the question, I would be happy to be more specific if it relates directly to something I did at some point in time. Otherwise, thank you to everyone who asked me questions this month. I love answering questions because it helps me to clarify these things in me, and it helps direct my writing when I am feeling scattered and unsure of myself, and I have been feeling scattered and unsure of myself. I hope everyone writes on these topics and links to their blogs. Much love to all of you.

Friday, September 9, 2011

question twelve: spirituality

I'm going to take these questions individually as they are all sides of the same cube, but all have different perspectives.

FireflyForever: So, where are you at spiritually? I have always admired your willingness to engage with issues of faith faith/spirituality/religion and baby death. I have deliberately avoided raising it on my blog as I'm too confused and scared by it all. Interested to hear your perspective. 

Thank you.

I try to talk about spirituality in the way that I learned to talk about it while pursuing my degree, so I am just going to talk a little about that before I answer this question.

I studied Religion at university. In the Religion Department, one often clarifies the area of expertise in this way: In theology, people study what God thinks about people. In religion, we study what people think about God. It is an area of study fairly devoid of preaching or God talk, even though, ostensibly, all we talk about is God. By that, I mean, most people engage in talking about history, psychology, sociology, archaeology, philosophical and theological theories surrounding religions, but disengage in talking about why you, the listener, need to be of that certain religion. Most often, you hope to have no idea to which faith people adhere by reading their work, or listening to them talk.

I learned much in the way of religious practices by just going to services, listening, praying with other people. I have not been to a religious service that I don't think is beautiful. There is a continuum of compassion and love that runs through most religions that strikes deep within me. I guess that makes me a kind o f pluralist--someone who sees all religions as different paths to the same place.

ANYWAY, my point is a kind of disclaimer on this post to keep this in mind in the comment section of this post, because I hope others share where they are at spiritually too. People have a strong tendency when discussing religion to compare the ideal with the real and vice versa. For example, one might say, "In my religion's sacred text, we believe that killing is wrong, but this other religion's peoples are always murdering each other." Of course, in both religions, murder is more than likely a sin. The former is the ideal, the latter is the real. When you compare their ideal, i.e., their model of living and their sacred texts with the real, i.e., people are flawed and sin, you have an unfair discussion. So, please don't do that here. Be kind, dammit. If you are abusive, I will erase your comment.

At any rate, I can give you a fair overview of most of the major religions, an in-depth theological and sociological overview of a few smaller religions, and do an Idiot's Guide quickie for most of the rest of them. Of course, there are some 200 Protestant sects in the United States, of which most I am fairly ignorant. I am a bore to be around most of the time, especially when listening to NPR or something. Unless, that is, you are interested in the obscure practices of the snake handlers of Appalachia, or the differences between Sunni and Shiite, then I am a fucking hoot.

I guess what I am trying to say is that I think when it comes to religion, I intellectualize it a little too much. I understand why they do this piece of the ritual this certain way, but I never really understood faith. It cannot be explicated, diagrammed, or argued, you must simply feel the Divine, and I just never really understood how to do that before. I respect religion and faith deeply. I have wrestled with religion, which I always thought meant that I wrestled with my spirituality. I see religion and spirituality now as two very distinct things. I always had my spirituality. It has morphed and changed based on where I am in life, but it was always there. I think questioning one's beliefs is the very essence of faith. Faith implied by its very definition, that it is not knowledge, but rather a kind of confidence in the unknown. Some of the greatest pieces of philosophical and religious writings I have read have been men of the cloth wrestling with their faith.

I think that this particular point in my life, I am most at peace at where I am spiritually. Maybe because I am finally confident that I know nothing. I am confident in the unknown, that is, I am confident that there is something out there. I don't know what it is. But I do believe in God. I began praying again in the beginning of the year, refinding that belief in a Creator. I also began meditating every day, rather than whenever I felt insane. But I think the best way to describe it is that for the first time in my life, I am allowing myself to believe without having to understand everything. And to really pray, not asking for things, but to ask God to point me in the direction of the Greater Good, to help others first, before I help myself, to understand before being understood, help me find serenity and peace in how I deal with other people and myself.

I am asking for help. I have problems asking for help, so I started asking God first. I am just learning how to trust again. And to believe again, and I'm still not positive I am doing it well. Here is the thing about where I am with my spirituality. I just don't have to figure all of it out right now. I don't have to find the one right religion or way of being. For me, trying to find that one right religion stymied me from practicing anything spiritual, from praying, meditating, any of it. It was like a black or white issue for me. I either have to believe in everything and convert to a religion, or I can believe in nothing. I used this line often, "I respect religion too much to not believe in everything." And yet, doing nothing is not honoring myself or God. It was a way for me to justify my selfish behavior.

Now, I pray without a religious agenda. I meditate for peace rather than to see if I can sit longer than anyone else. I honor the seasonal changes with my family, because the mystery and awe and power of nature humbles me, and that seems important to honor. There is a spirituality there for me. The other part of my spirituality is just trying to alleviate suffering, to help someone else, to put other before me without being a doormat, to find the action that causes the greatest good for the world and doing it. I'm not sure I am making sense, but that is my convoluted way of saying--I'm at a good place, spiritually, because I stopped trying to be perfect at spirituality. I just started being.

J: I think I'd like to springboard off the previous comment. Did the loss of Lucy alter your spiritual beliefs at all? I think, in my instance, people almost expect me to now have some greater spiritual understanding and to have all the answers to everything when I'm still questioning and seeking and not really much different than I was before C. entered our lives. My reflections on spiritual aspects on C.s blog are an indication of that--all over the place really, possibilities with no concrete answers. 

I would say that early in my grief, I really was not sure what I believed. And like you, I am still all over the place with no concrete answers. In the beginning, though, I was angry that my daughter died, but I didn't blame God. Even though I wasn't sure what I believed about God, I never thought God controlled who lives and who dies. My feeling now is that God was crying with me rather than punishing me. I was angry at people who used God to make themselves feel better about my daughter's death. Many of those people came from my religious background--Catholicism. I couldn't bear hearing platitudes. On the other hand, I have been studying Buddhism for a long time, and I was disturbed by the idea of karma and what I might have done to deserve the death of my daughter. Until I started asking Buddhists (my therapist and my friend Kitt) and came to understand that concept a little more in depth.

When Lucy died, I had this incredible spiritual experience of feeling connected to all people who suffer. It was overwhelming and powerful, and, well, Divine. I was possibly totally insane, but I felt like I could see people's suffering. Like they embodied their suffering, so they stopped being egos, but a conglomeration of their pain. It didn't last long, but it was a hard, yet spiritually powerful, way of seeing the world and others. When that went, I felt like my spirituality died for a long time. My therapist at the time said, "So you lost your daughter and your enlightenment?"

And that is how it felt, like the light of my daughter and the light of spirituality had both been extinguished. (I wrote about it on Glow a few months ago.)

Now, as I wrote above, I am not trying to figure out what I believe so much. I am praying every day, meditating every day. I believe in God, but I am not trying to figure out which God, or reconcile the contradictions in the Bible or in God's existence with the existence of suffering. I am just believing in a loving God, one that guides us to helping others. Because I have begun to let go of the expectations of my intellect, I feel more connected spiritually, more grounded. That is what I missed after she died, a feeling of groundedness.

I hope that made a modicum of sense.

Amy: Hi Angie, I think a discussion I would love to have with you and hear your thoughts on is the idea of "Belief". I have been struggling with this word, notion and idea for some time and it becomes more difficult as the days go on. I feel resentful toward Belief. I bristle against it's sound. I feel inadequate in it's presents. Foolish for having believed in the past yet unable to forgive myself for doing so. It is an emotionally charged word. The word has become black and white in it's meaning, leaving no room for elasticity or fluidity in definition. Somehow I've cornered this word into being the purest of pure of tight lines to walk. I struggle to soften it's edges and redefine what Belief means to me. And this is not just about Belief in some God or Goddess, this is Belief as a whole. I'm stuck on this so your perspective will be interesting for me to hear. Thanks so much! 

What an amazing question, so beautifully honest in the way you articulated it too. So, thank you, Amy.

I am not very good discussing belief, honestly. I think truth is largely subjective. Maybe because of what I wrote above. I tend to intellectualize everything. There are very few empirical truths in my experience. Yes, science and nature, there are some empirical truths that we point to, but even things like atoms I take on faith. I cannot see them. I cannot feel them. I cannot even really visualize them, and yet, I trust science enough to believe they exist.

Belief is such an emotional, intuitive thing. And I think, by reading your question, you might mean believing in hope. Or believing in anything not concrete. For me too, it has been a long journey for me to get to a place where I can say I believe in anything, really. I think it is an issue of control for me. Or the illusion of control. Giving up the illusion of control that I have clung to for so long. Now that I am in recovery, there is a focus on not having control over anything. You are powerless over alcohol. You are powerless over everything. And in some ways, that powerlessness leaves only belief.

Sometimes when I was pregnant with Thor, I would think, "I must have believed I was capable of having a living child, because I would never have tried to get pregnant just to birth another dead child, would I?" And so, that is where I start with belief. A nugget of hope somewhere that this, all of this, is not for naught. I get logical about belief, which is to convince myself that I "believe" many things, and "believe" in many things. I believe in them so fiercely that they have become a kind of empirical truth. I believe that eating organic food is better for my children, for example, even though I can't see the effects. I believe that people are inherently good, even though men murder other men. I believe that when the ground is wet, it had rained overnight, even though I didn't hear the rain, or see it. And so, there are a lot of things I believe in.

I guess by believing in those things, it opens me up to have hope. And hope is the beginning of faith. But I don't believe that the greater good always prevails. We suffer as human. How and what we suffer is random and chaotic, and that seems utterly cruel. That fact makes it hard to believe in anything, for me personally, except I do. I must. Let's put it this way--believe it will work out or believe that it won't work out won't change the outcome, in my opinion. I don't subscribe the positive thinking-changes-the-world philosophy that is floating around these days. But I find that my life is less oppressive if I believe that I can only worry about my own actions. That magical thinking won't change the end, but real action does. So, I believe. I kind of try to live the Serenity Prayer in my life these days--God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. I trust that the actions I am taking are for the greater good. And in that trust, I guess there is ultimately optimism, trust and in the end, belief.

As you can see by this confusing answer, I wrestle. When I first got into recovery, someone shared what is called the Eleventh Step Prayer with me, and I have never heard or read anything that encapsulated my beliefs so entirely. I later found out that this is actually the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, or rather it is dedicated to him.

I think for me this is what belief is. Belief is the trust that the journey is the important part. That my actions are all that I should be concerned about. That all I can do is act and work for others. That trust is the only nugget of truth I need. Trust that by tapping into the Greater Good, the good I know as my conscience or my moral compass, I am believing in something outside of me. I am not in control--call that Mother Nature, God, the universe, or Chaos, both upper and lower case C in chaos, or maybe simply, believing in other people.

I'm not sure I made much sense, but the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi is below. I'd really love to hear your answers to these questions. I am going to put a Mr. Linky up so you can write about them on your own blog if the comments seem to confining. But I also think it would be awesome to have a conversation in the comment section too. Thank you for these incredible questions.

Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi.
Lord, make me a channel of thy peace 
- that where there is hatred, I may bring love 
- that where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness 
- that where there is discord, I may bring harmony 
- that where there is error, I may bring truth 
- that where there is doubt, I may bring faith 
- that where there is despair, I may bring hope 
- that where there are shadows, I may bring light.
- that where there is sadness, I may bring joy

- Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort, than to be comforted 
- to understand, than to be understood
- to love, than to be loved. 

For it is by self-forgetting that one finds. 
It is by forgiving that one is forgiven. 
It is by dying that one awakens to Eternal Life. 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

first day of school.

We began walking fifteen minutes before the bell. It didn't seem that far, but with a four year old watching the sky for birds, playing with her unicorn bag, and skipping here and there, it is farther than fifteen minutes. It is like incredi-minutes--stretched out and impossibly short, intangible and ordinary. We pass our friend's house. She points it out. And then the big road that makes us hold hands and run/walk, like no one will stop for a little girl, her mommy and a baby in a stroller. We walk down the high school steps to cut across the football field.

It won't be long before she is walking to high school on her own. Banish the thought. Live in the moment. That is ten years from now.But still, ten years ago for me feels like yesterday. I was twenty-seven and working a corporate job and never imagining a blonde girl and her dark-haired brother on the way to the first day of school.

There is a huge hawk sitting on a fence about six feet from us. The high school mascot is a hawk. Is it the high school's hawk? Will I look foolish asking? Is it supposed to be there? He looks at us and turns back to the soccer field. His feathered claws grasp the fence top. He is hunting. He is waiting. He is just chillin'.

I am perched over my daughter, grasping at her childhood. She is her own bird. I ask her for the fifteenth time if she is excited. I don't know what to say anymore. Are you afraid? Are you excited? Do you remember our address? Are you nervous? Will you miss us? Have you outgrown us? Do you know not to talk to strangers, except for everyone in your classroom? I mean, don't talk to bad people. Are you thinking about bullies or just new friends? Will school be fun? What do you think of this huge occasion, the start of the rest of your life?

Are you excited to start school?
Yeah, I'm excited.
Are you sick of me asking that question?
No. I like that question.

The baby kicks his leg out. His chubby leg and foot stuffed into a little blue shoe. He is still awake he is telling me and his shoe is still on."Hi, baby boy. It is soon going to be just you and me." Beezus skips, and I look at my watch. We need to run, children, or we are going to be late for school.So we run the last quarter mile. Through the muddy field, up the steps, around corners in neighborhoods I don't know. I think this is the way, I mutter only to myself. It is muggy and warm and overcast, so our hair is sweaty and wet. I am wearing jeans. (It made sense when I left.) I don't want her to be late on the first day. I don't want her to be the kid that is always late. I don't know exactly how far the school is, or where I am going. This is my first time too. And we see it, finally, the little things. The little playground. The little benches. The little fences. The little bikes lined up. It is the first day of school, and everyone is wearing new clothes.

There is a line and she falls in place at the end. The bell rings and the teacher marches them in. I didn't kiss her. I didn't say good luck. I didn't tell her not to take wooden nickels. I wave, and she waves non-chalantly with her arm still at her side. Just her hand moves. I smile. It is like she is in high school, and I am a nuisance and embarrassment. Already. It is only pre-k. Then I catch this look. It is her brave look. The one she has when I turn out the lights and say I am leaving the room now. She is afraid and brave. She doesn't cry. She just tucks her lips in, and smiles.

I turn away. It is as though I just got there and threw her into the classroom. Like she is a book returned. And I can't believe it is just the two of us. Thor and me. The baby falls asleep on the walk home. I carry him in, still strapped to the stroller, and place him on the rug in the living room. I make a sandwich and iced coffee and walk to the office to write.

And I am alone. Just. Like. That.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

question eleven. creativity

Sara: You do a lot of creative stuff. How/when do you get it done with two little kids around? 

Hope's Mama: How do you find the time and motivation to keep up with all you do, especially online. You maintain a handful of blogs, all very well, and you post very frequently. And when you are posting, you're often talking about all the things you're doing when you're not online - crafting, cooking etc etc! Just wonder how on earth you fit it all in, and do you ever get any time just for you? How does Angie unwind and rejuvenate herself? xo 

Great questions, Sara and Sally. Thank you for asking them.

The most basic answer I can give is that I just do it. One thing I have learned in the last few years is to simply prioritize creativity. I have woven art and writing into the fabric of our daily life. I prioritize it with my kids and I prioritize it alone. So when I start making commitments for our family, I definitely think art or writing as part of our schedule. And I have to say that art and writing also means that I prioritize me and my mental health, because I also unwind and rejuvenate with art and writing. That is something that used to feel selfish, but now I see as a vital part of my mental well-being. That is a huge change in who I was--to do something solely for the sake of doing it without regard for being paid--I used to judge my worth on how much money I made.

I am incredibly fortunate to be married to someone who supports my art and writing habits in any way he can. He also works forty-four hours a week in three days--one twenty-four hour shift and two ten hour shifts. It affords us lots of time together as a family and gives me the space to do art and writing. In those forty-four hours of him being at work, I try to be really present with the kids. But when my husband gets home, he also wants to spend time with them, bonding and doing the stuff he loves with them --wrestling, building forts, running, climbing high things, hanging from the ceiling and flipping around. So, he likes the hour or two alone with them if I work where I am not freaking out and telling him they are going to break their necks.

Less formal, more personal art, craft or cooking for our home, I tend to do with the kids--either I set the kids up with a creative project of their own, or get them involved in some way. That took a lot of discipline for me, because I am impatient. But now, I am used to kid-pace and I like it. They slow me down and that is good. When I have jizos and do meditation paintings or something from my Etsy shop, I wait for Sam to be home and take the time to close the door and not answer the phone. I cannot do meditation paintings with the kids coming in every few minutes. In general, I would say that it is a mix between formal, set-aside art time and just doing art and writing whenever I can. When I add it up at the end of the week, generally, it is quite a bit of time.

I always want to be writing or painting. Usually both. It is a constant gnawing at me. If I could sit at the computer and write from the time I wake until I go to bed, I would. I write sentences, ideas, phrases, paragraphs throughout the day. I am always thinking about art and writing, so I have about fifteen windows open on my computer at any given time. When something hits me, I go back into the office, wake the computer and just add those lines to the file I am working on. I also have a few files on my smart phone and write ideas on there. So, I have a ton of three line pieces in my "In Progress" file that may or may not become something some day.

Creativity--art and writing--brought me a peace. It was a way of being right in the moment in a way that was absolutely impossible for me after Lucy died. It was like meditation. Hell, it was meditation. It still is meditation for me. Meditation for the addled, grief-fried brain who cannot sit still. Others find their thing--knitting, baking, running...that is why I set up still life 365, because I knew other grief-stricken parents were doing something too, something for a moment of peace, and I found their moment beautiful.

That was probably too much information, but suffice to say, I have alone time to do art, blogging, writing, crafts, which is important. I am motivated to do it, because it brings me such a sense of wholeness and calm. When the kids go to sleep, I write. I don't always want to, but I know if I start, I will get into a zone. I believe in my writing in a way that I never did before. Not that I am a great writer, but that something will be discovered if I write. The best thing I did for my creativity was the Creative Every Day project and still life 365, which I did through 2010. It gave me the discipline for writing and art that I was lacking. It transformed my thinking about virtually every aspect my life. And kept me accountable every day. Now, I don't need that project to do something creative every day. It just is part of my schedule and my life and my children's lives. Last year, I also did NaNoWriMo, and wrote a novel in a month. That experience was difficult some days, but mostly, it was like every other day of my life. I write, write, write.

Anyway, you asked me HOW I do it. How I did it was firstly by setting up a daily art time with Beezus after Lucia died. I wrote it down on a piece of paper. It was part of a whole day schedule after Lucy died, because I had no idea what the fuck I was going to do with Beezus when Sam went back to work. I was a wreck. How am I going to take care of a little twenty-one month old baby when I can't stop crying? I tell this story a lot, because it changed my life. I just penciled in a time every day that we painted. Actually, I made a whole schedule for my day, that is how I thought I would survive. It said:

8am-Brush teeth. 
8:15am-Get dressed. (Then fill in lots of daily chores.)
1pm--Art time.

Then, I bought a book on how to paint still life with watercolor, and did the lessons. Because I thought maybe taking a painting class would be good, even though I didn't want to be around people. I had been painting since I was a kid, but I had wanted to pick it up again for years. I gave Bea washable paints, and just didn't correct her work, or if she painted on the wall. I just let her paint, and I just painted. We listened to Tegan and Sara or Bjork. It took almost no time for me to begin painting about my grief. Now, I have integrated art and writing into my life more or less daily.

Sally asked me what other things I do to unwind and rejuvenate. I play guitar. I read. I like to read books with other people and talk about them, or just read them. I would join a book club in a heartbeat. I like literary fiction, mostly and memoirs. This summer, I have read the Paris Wife, State of Wonder, the Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, Fearless, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, Mummy Knew, Dead Reckoning, Mommy Doesn't Drink Here Anymore and I am currently reading the Magician King. I also love playing Scrabble, or doing crossword puzzles. When I get a free fifteen minutes, I do a crossword while sitting in the really hot bath. I also am really dedicated to my sobriety right now, so I hit meetings most days of the week, call other women in recovery. I sponsor a woman. This weekend, I am going on a spiritual retreat for other women in recovery.

In general, I just be. Part of what I love about being a stay-at-home mother is the freedom to do all of this. I don't take it for granted, so I really try to utilize my time in creative, soul-satisfying ways. I will have to do back to work soon, so I am trying to get all the writing I want done before that point, because I just don't think I will have time to do it. I also love just being with my kids. We paint for a little. We talk. I play guitar and they sing. They draw. I write a blog post. We color. (I love coloring.) It feels busy and very relaxed. Relaxed is the crux of it. Basically, I find my life to be extraordinary in its ordinariness. Art and writing have a lot to do with that.

Monday, September 5, 2011


Fuck, I just need a moment to breathe.

Ugh, these clothing are so oppressive. My body is so oppressive.
Just a moment to breathe. In and out.
I cannot control who reads here anymore than anyone else can control what I write here. Should I use that as a mantra? Maybe that is irrelevant. Maybe it is the wrong statement. Maybe it doesn't fucking matter in the end.

I sit, legs crossed, hands in my lap, feeling the earth beneath me. There is a root growing out from the base of my spine. It winds into the earth, through dirt and clay and rocks, twisting into darkness. The smell of earth and rot and death and life seeps into me, pulses into the furthest regions of me. As I sit, the top of me opens, and parts of me reach high into the sky, arms branching and splitting by twos, twos, twos until it is twenties, all reaching, still reaching for something warm, and reaching for the water too, something bright and comforting and hopeful.

I am a solitary beast. Of both light and darkness.
I growl. I snort. I moo.
Mooo. Mu. Mu.

Mu is a Japanese thing. Or a Buddhist thing. It means no thing. It has an intangible quality in which even saying it is nothing means it is something, but it is the absence of nothing and anything. There is a zen koan in which a monk asks his teacher, Does a dog have Buddha-nature? And the teacher grunts, Mu. And through the years Mu has meant different things in this koan. For a long time it was explained that the answer means that, no, dogs do not have a Buddha nature. But later it has come to mean that you are asking the wrong fucking question.

Do I have a Buddha-nature? Do you write to be read or write to be right? No, I write because I must. It is a compulsion, a disease and a blessing and a friend. If I don't write about my life, I don't write. And if I don't write, I wither. I have no nature, no mu. Or perhaps too much mu.

I am easily wounded. That is something you may not know about me. I am easily wounded. If you use my children against me, I will crumble. If you use my love as a weapon, you will win. Anyone can cut me open, remove my heart, replace it with doubt, but the heart will grow back. It will. The savvy person can hide anger and fear in my own weaknesses and my sins. I am an open fucking book. Here I am, this is me. I am on built on floodlands, stilts are made of guilt and anger, self-loathing and compassion. You can read here and never tell me. You can read here and write a book about it. You can read here and think it is a letter to you. The writer and the reader are only the same once. The reader continues on and on and on until I no longer exist. Until you only read you in these words. But I am an open book. I pretend nothing. I am a drunk. I am La Llorona. I am a mother. A wife. A person on a perpetual diet. I am a sister. I am moody and dark, and also wise and light. I am impatient.

So fucking impatient.

I never sit with the important things. I want to be there, right there, to reassure someone I am not aloof. I don't think I have ever been aloof in my life. I am the opposite of aloof. I am loof. I act on it. It makes me a fool. No matter how damned smart I am, it makes me a fool.


The stillness feels palpable, you know, when I sit. 

It is only a few days. Take the break. Be present with yourself.

But I process everything through writing.

Yes, but maybe that is the problem. It was a problem for someone.

Maybe I can fix it by writing.

You can fix it by not writing. You will have to reconcile the turmoil in your heart. You were a problem long before you wrote a word. You were a problem and the writing was an easy target. You will have to forgive yourself, because acceptance is the answer to all your problems today. 

My fingers are poised over the keyboard. I. Must. Write. Something. What if it hurts to write?

It always hurts to write. That never stopped you before. If you are going to write despite my wisdom, why not pray before you start?

God, help me write something from a place of love. Just one thing. 

Thank you.

I typed thank you. Not fuck you, not something less palatable than even that. Just thank you.  

Thank you is a good start. But who are you thanking?

I don't know. Mu?

I think you need to sit longer.

I think you are right.

But really, thank you. You. You who told me that I can forgive myself, but will still get angry from time to time. You who loved me until I could love myself. You who took a moment to write to me personally, when I was scared and vulnerable.

You wrote, "I don't know what happened, but please remember that this is your community. The power of writing," you explained, "is raw and vulnerable and painful and hard and dark and sometimes unpalatable. We get it. We get you. We have to write in spite of the other people. We have to write because of them. You helped me, Angie," you wrote. "You help me."

And I believe you.

Thank you for reminding me why I write here. Thank you for refocusing me on the reasons I still have this space.