“Hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act. When you recognize uncertainty, you recognize that you may be able to influence the outcomes – you alone or you in concert with a few dozen or several million others. Hope is … the belief that what we do matters even though how and when it may matter, who and what it may impact, are not things we can know beforehand. We may not, in fact, know them afterward either, but they matter all the same …”
– Rebecca Solnit,
Hope in the Dark
I have been mulling since I wrote about creative commotion quieting the maelstrom in my mind. I ask questions in my journal or in conversation as a way of moving off the usual dialogue.
What got me here?
What keeps me here?
are probably the best questions so far. I love a bit of history, context, a map of what happened before now. And I love the part where I attend to what lights me up, keeps me engaged.
It has been helpful to consider these questions in the dull of March, gray days strung together like mud balls on the wool socks, when motivation lulls and doubt is on the rise.
Question: What Got Me Here?
First a word about where “here” is:
Here is a person who makes time to write every day.
Here is the voice speaking in this writing.
Here is my work in the world, hope-filled.
Here is me living a life of a woman with two big kids, who makes books and other things with her hands, who teaches and facilitates creative practice for others, who travels to inquire about the thresholds we cross in to the maze of making and all of the things that impede our expression-from the global-as in the patriarchy, to the mid-range-as in the places we live and how it works to live here as women, professionals, mothers, community members, to the intimate- our early learning, and current lives with the people we call family.
Here is where my longing is voiced.
Here is where my value is recognized.
Here is my current state of aliveness and connection-to what is true for me and what I aspire towards, my desires and dreams-global, mid-range, and intimate.
What got me here is the specific state of lack I lived in when my children were 10 and 13. This lack was not material-but emotional and spiritual. The question then was-“isn’t there more to my life than this? What else do I have in me? And how, in the midst of mothering can I find my way?”
I was steeped in a kind of hopelessness, I had lost the thread of my inner life.
What moved me from there was my daily creative practice, learning new things. My family helped me shift my schedule enough so I had one day “off” of mothering. This was nothing short of revolutionary. I needed long hours of solitude. I needed to not worry about dinner. I needed to listen to myself for a while.
From there, once writing in earnest, studying collage and being introduced to the book arts, I knew that there was a sweet spot of tender expression that I wanted to nurture in the same way I nurture my children. Not all flowers and soft voices, but with urgency, with a fierce appetite, and with integrity. Not easy. Not predictable. Not what my mother did.
“I have been patiently waiting since four-thirty this morning to write this article. Now, at eight p.m., I am in my basement studio ecstatic to put to paper—or more accurately, to screen—the words I have imagined writing all day, for the last month, and since I had my first child four years ago.”
That ferocity led me to call up a circle of women who became the Out of the Mouths of Babes: An Evening of Mothers Reading to Others event for the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers and the blog series here on this site, which features writing from “inside motherhood.” Hungry to engage with more writers and readers, I published An Anthology of Babes: 36 Women Give Motherhood a Voice. To promote the book and link to other communities of women, I met Kate Hopper, Tania Pryputniewicz, and Miranda Hersey. I found colleagues.
In a talkback after an Out event, an audience member asked a question that catalyzed me, “How can we learn to write like that?” I began to teach a free writing program at my public library, which is in its fourth year. We just had our 3rd annual public reading.
All of what has become my work has been accomplished along side and while raising two kids and witnessing them set sail in to the world. Because of those questions, I committed to my daily practice in a big way, and because of that commitment, I have been led to the teaching I do here in the Berkshires and internationally.
But my questions remain the same,
“What else Do I have in me? What do we have in us?”
I work with women. I support them finding their voices through daily creative practice. I teach writing and the book arts as a way to lead others to build nests for their creative work and find refuge in busy, cluttered, and chaotic lives. What we make in plenty generates a bounty that is worth sharing.
Nothing I do is assured success. These gray March days have bellied with rejection and a few acceptances of my work in the world, like a poem published on Mothers Always Write. I have no idea how the manuscript of Laundry Line Divine is going to launch, but it will, I have no doubt. But there are days that I wonder. Will I find funding and return to Gyumri, Armenia to continue to work with women artists there on writing and books? Will my work find other homes in the world?
The future is completely open and we are writing it moment to moment.
What keeps me here?
That urgency. Warming up my chili on the stove just now, thinking of the article I just read by Kate Fisher on Studio Potter about being a mother and an artist, I was impatient for my food to heat. But I was also aware that without that heat, I would not be satisfied, or comforted. Years and years of comforting children, even in these days, via text or phone calls to them at college, have taught me that a complete, solid something (meal, write, talk, nap) fuels. Half-assed is not acceptable.
What I wanted 9 years ago, was a chance to finish my sentences, to have space to think and express from that very place.
I still want that, even with having time to work. And I know much more now, having worked with and alongside so many women in these 9 years. My teachers, my collaborators, my colleagues, my students, the women I interview in Armenia or the Upper Peninsula of Michigan-I am still fervently curious about women’s lives, our motivations and confoundments, what connects and what separates us.
This is what keeps me here.
Right now, sitting at my studio table with the rain jumping down the gutter outside, I have a hat on. It is cold. My friend is coming over to paint for a few hours and talk things over. We share our personal and professional lives over color and paper, working things out in the way that we do. I have learned over all of this time to keep asking questions. To make things that nourish and are fully satisfying.
And to connect to others enough so that the loneliness of mothering or the solitude of creative work is countered by a legion of women on fire in their lives, this Rampant Sisterhood.
That is where you, dear reader come in.
I am all of these things, woman, mother, sister, daughter, friend, aunt, teacher, student, interviewer, interviewee, sage, celebrant, and student. What remains consistent is this urgency, a palpable haste to make something more of my life, to celebrate what is, to appreciate it, and to share it with others.
“Vulnerability is about having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability isn’t weakness, it’s our greatest measure of courage.”
I have learned that there is no greater gift than showing up, no longer waiting for the perfect moment, the perfect day, the perfect outfit or political climate. Messy? Yes. Imperfect? Yes. But present and accounted for? Yup.
I am so grateful for this chance to do it here.
Here is a post about listening in Armenia.