When You Don’t Want Summer to End: A Serenade for the Seasons

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Come mid-August, I’m ready for the return of structured days. I’m ready for yellow buses and quiet hours and watching my kids play sports under a canopy of burnt orange leaves. I’m ready for early mornings and rain-soaked skies and school books fanned out across the dining room table. Did I mention I’m ready for the quiet? I love the muted hum that enters with the advent of Autumn.

My kids begin school in two weeks, and for the first time in many years, I want to tug the curtain back on the new day dawning, exposing us to more sunshine and summer. I blinked and an invisible hand drew the drapes on this season. This year, I’m not only saying farewell to summer, I’m also saying goodbye to this season of parenting. This abundant season when all my children live under my roof, needing me, wanting my time, my approval, my attention.

My oldest enters her senior year of high school in two weeks, and she is ready. I am ready. All is as it should be, but knowing this doesn’t remove the taste of it from my mouth. It is, like most things in life, bittersweet. We are moving into a new season, and the bright blooms of summer will fade, the sun will play hide and seek, and the child of my heart will trim away the strings that tie her to me.

I want to lament the passage of time, but I would be wrong to wish for anything other than life as it is today. This season is so good–so very hard, but so very good. Next summer, my daughter will pack her life and all of my love in a few cardboard boxes and drive into the beginning of the rest of her life. I hope she’ll remember how I used to sing her to sleep. How my life was spent as a serenade to the changing seasons.

A Summer Q&A: Everything You’ve Never Asked Me (Part 2)

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Yesterday, in Part 1, I shared my current reads, instagram inspiration, and thoughts on living abroad. Today, I’m touching on past failures and future projects. Thanks for joining me.

What’s your latest project?

Besides writing dodgy poetry? I’m currently joining my friends Elise Daly Parker, Kimberly Amici, and Noelle Rhodes for the new Slices of Life Podcast. We launched a few weeks ago, and I join them every other week. I have no idea what I’m doing, which you will discover fairly quickly as a listener.

Also, my voice is upsetting on multiple levels.

As is the case with many writers, I’m more articulate when there’s a blank page and a delete button handy, but the other hosts are great. I covet Elise’s radio-ready voice and Kimberly’s ability to summon a proper answer immediately. Every Tuesday, we offer candid conversations to enhance life, grow faith, and build community. Give us a try when you need a companion for your walk, long drive, or while washing the dishes. Find us and subscribe on iTunes.

What is this “bizarre turn of events” of which you speak? (See yesterday’s intro)

Thanks for asking. Over the last year, I’ve had a string of rejections related to my writing. Specifically, I was turned down for a number of writing gigs, ideas I pitched were more often than not rejected, and an editor removed my essay from a recent book release a few months before it was published. A few months ago, I was given the green light on a major project, which promptly took a tailspin when the commissioner of said project changed their mind in a most dramatic fashion. It left me deflated, wounded, and to be honest, kind of a hot mess.

I’m a firm believer in walking through the doors that open, and it seems that publishing has closed most doors to me right now. I’ve prayed for months about my next steps, and a few weeks ago, I was unexpectedly asked to interview for a teaching position at a local university. I interviewed, was hired, and filled out all the paperwork in a single afternoon. I would have settled for a cracked door to cast a single slant of light across the shadows of the past year, but this one swung wide open.

Within two weeks, on the very afternoon I began to prepare the syllabus, I received a phone call rescinding the job offer based on an obscure university policy that only recently came to light. This is not the kind of light I had hoped for, and I stood in a state of shock as the door closed and locked in front of me.

Why am I telling you this? Because it is real and true and crummy. It is the journey this year has taken, the year I named The Year of Restoration. Oh, the irony. Sometimes I want to write words of encouragement, and sometimes I think it’s best to spill the ugly guts of the story. This is the story of beat-up dreams and broken promises, but it’s also a reminder that while this part of my life is messy, there are other areas that are thriving.

I don’t have a beautiful bow to tie on this tale. I don’t have redemption or a job or a book contract. I don’t have the restoration I long for. I have a hoarse voice and a bruised hand from the asking, seeking, and knocking. I have dreams that refuse to die no matter how many stones the world stacks on top of them. I can choose to see these stones as a grave or an altar.

I have one thousand and one reasons why I continue to show up and write here. And I’m so grateful you show up here too.

A Summer Q & A: Everything You’ve Never Asked Me (Part 1)

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While I was busy contemplating the bizarre turn of events in my life over the past few months, I wrote and published my One Thousandth (1000!!!!) post here, in my starry corner of cyberspace. For a woman who has a strong predilection for abandoning projects (jobs, hobbies, diy projects, exercise, people who annoy me), it surprised no one more than myself to discover I have sat down with a blinking cursor and an alphabet soup of words a thousand times over the last eight years.

For this, my 1001st post, I thought I’d give myself a little Q&A, to answer all of your burning questions. That’s a lie. No one is asking these questions, but I thought it would be fun anyhow.

What are you currently reading?

People do ask me this question, and my answer is usually a disappointment. I’m often reading books for my MFA program, so more often than not, they’re a bit obscure or strange or both. My recent reading list includes:

Fiction–Gods Without Men: Hari Kunzru. Well written, bizarre, with a taste of magical realism. This is a genre I typically struggle to understand. After my attempt at reading One Hundred Years of Solitude, I gave up the genre for good. Until now. I don’t feel any smarter having read it, just generally confused by much of the story.

Non-Fiction–The Journalist and the Murderer: Janet Malcolm. A bit dry for my taste, but it raises questions about the ethics of the relationship between a journalist and his subject. It did cause me to consider how I tell stories that involve other people, and my responsibility to them in that process.

YA Non-Fiction–Charles and Emma: Deborah Heiligman. This was an enjoyable read after so many heavy books over the last year. I enjoy YA, and this didn’t disappoint. This is the story of the marriage between Charles Darwin and his wife Emma, a devout Christian. Well researched and an interesting study in how opposites attract.

Poetry: Selected Poems by Gwendolyn Brooks. Absolutely beautiful, and although it was written decades ago, her work is oddly (sadly) relevant in our current racial climate. Brooks wrote this particular selection between the 1940’s-60’s from her perspective as a black woman in America. She was the first black author to win the Pulitzer prize in any category, and I feel privileged to have met her across the pages.

Classic–A Tale of Two Cities: Charles Dickens. This is not a beach read. I repeat, do not read this on the beach. Your head will swell with the details, and combined with the heat pulsing off the sand, your head might explode. Otherwise, this is reading for a rainy, autumn day, and it’s a classic for a reason.

Childhood Favorite–Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret: Judy Blume. I love to re-visit books  that made an impact on me in my childhood. I often find small clues about the woman I’ve become as I rediscover what drew me to a book in the first place. What drew me to Margaret? Everything. The struggle for belonging, the desire for my body to catch up with my brain, the inability to understand the world of grown-ups, and the search for meaning through conversations with God. Reading this again filled a little chink in my adult armor.

Current read–The View From the Cheap Seats: Neil Gaiman. The man is a genius and this book is absolutely wonderful in every way. This is a collection of essays, forewords, and speeches spanning Gaiman’s career. Fantastic material and proof that one doesn’t have to live in one particular genre. Caveat: I’m only 1/3 of the way through, although I doubt the back-end falters.

What is your reading strategy?

To read as much as possible while still feeding my family. It’s more difficult than it sounds. Do other people have reading strategies? I think we might have to label this as something specific to nerdy people.

As you can see from my list above, I enjoy reading earlier childhood favorites, as well as reading across most genres. Due to a woefully inadequate English education, I like to throw in a classic book every few months. I like to mix it up, and I typically read one fiction or non-fiction book and a book of poetry at the same time. It’s a bit like music, the different notes bring together a single melody. I love to follow where the notes lead me.

When will you stop talking about grad school do you graduate from grad school?

I’ll graduate with an MFA in Creative Non-Fiction next May. There is much work to accomplish in the meantime, including an elective in Poetry. What possessed me to take a class in poetry, I’ll never know. It was likely the fantasy of calling myself a poet and finally having an excuse for my melancholy sensibility. I may also have been inspired by the book, I Capture the Castle. Which, incidentally, is the book I wish I’d written.

Who inspires your photography on Instagram? (an actual question asked by my 11 year old daughter)

Lean in, here’s a secret: she does. I love seeing the world through my daughter’s eyes. I love discovering what she finds absurd or lovely or artistic or photo worthy. At eleven years old, it’s mostly some version of herself. And I love it. It allows me a peek behind the curtain to the little wizard she’s hiding.

I like to think I offer the same with my instagram, without all the selfies. I’m inspired to capture whatever catches my eye. It’s my own little work of art on the internet. Perhaps it’s not the most original, but it captures life through the filter in which I see it. Or as I’d like to see it. I typically edit out the offensive and the ugly. I don’t feel the least bit guilty about that. I see the pile of muddy shoes by the backdoor and the egg smeared like an abstract painting across the countertops in real life. I don’t need to see it in my feed, and you probably don’t either. My life is just as ordinary as your average suburban mother, but I challenge myself to find something beautiful in it daily.

What do you miss the most about living abroad? (also a real question!)

Oh, where to begin! I typically avoid thinking too deeply about the losses, because they are many. Thinking about them makes me discontent with my current life in suburban New Jersey. However, more than anything, I miss the ability to travel Europe (and further abroad) whenever the mood struck us. The mood struck often, and we took full advantage of all the culture, art, and beauty of the world surrounding us while living in both London and Zurich. Our experiences traveling abroad are the scaffolding upon which I’m built. I was built by the hot, bustling streets of Rome, the croissants and culture of Paris, the heavy grey skies and conversations over cups of tea in London. I was sculpted by the Alps, by long runs through the evergreen forests of Horgenberg, by the beaches of Egypt and the ancient olive trees in the garden of Gethsemane. They are molded into my bone and blood and skin. And I miss it more than I can say.

What do you love about living Stateside again? 

This question would have been more appropriate to answer prior to the current election, which has soured me a bit on these, our Divided States of America.

But, I love two things:

1. The convenience. Call me shallow and consumeristic, but this actually matters when you’re raising three kids. Everything here is built for convenience and ease. Until you’ve carried your toddler, infant child, and their stroller up and down four flights of stairs at various Tube and/or train stations just to buy your favorite pint of ice cream, you haven’t experienced inconvenience. Parking is readily available and free. Shopping carts are free. So are smiles and trouble shooting and conversation.

2. Being a part of the conversation. Living abroad, one is automatically “other”, an outsider to the national culture–particularly when there’s a language barrier. I missed ambient conversation and understanding the punchline of a joke. I missed all of the back story that one absorbs by learning and living in their birth country. Moving back to the US was like one long exhale, having never realized I’d been holding my breath for years across the ocean.

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Join me for the rest of the Q&A tomorrow to hear about my latest disappointments and developments. Thanks for reading!

 

The Art of Catch and Release

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I watched him from the kitchen window as I washed the dishes. He bent his blond head over the purple riot of echinacea and moved a cupped hand slowly over a single bloom. He pulled his hands to his face and discovered they were empty, just as the object of his affection fluttered to another part of the garden.

He approached the Tiger Swallowtail a second time, cupped his hands, and caught it with a shout of delight. He brought it close enough to trace the black markings on pale yellow wings with his eyes. Then, he reached above his head, opened his hands, and let the wings beat air against a blue summer sky.

Like the little boy, I have seen beauty and chased love. I have run after dreams. I have reached for one vision, only to find another a bloom away. I have imagined the world in my hands, and I have caught it, spinning there. I have cupped so much abundance in my hands, and still felt the beating of wings against my palms, the innate desire for many of these gifts to fly free.

For a moment, I called them mine. But, over time, all wild things return to the freedom of green and petals and honeycomb and sky.  I have released homes, friendships, and the voices of a wiser generation. I have cupped Inspiration until it fluttered away. I caught words, and then, just as quickly, let them go. Jobs, callings, cities, desires, children–every one a single whoop of joy, a triumph, then a flicker of wings, a call for release.

I often think of Robert Frost’s poem, in which he closes with the line, “Nothing gold can stay.” I have found this to be true, over and over again. Love is the only thing that remains after everything else flies away. I am living a long season of catch and release, and it is at once joyful and also full of pain. There is grief over the losses, but also love has grown here. I have held beauty and courage and adventure in my hands. The brush of something alive has beat against my skin. And when I have opened my hands to watch it fly away, they’re covered with a fine dusting of gold–a reminder that I will catch something alive again.

When Life Turns Out Differently Than You Planned

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Twelve years ago, I stood on the precipice of a decision that would shape the future of my family. Staring into the chasm between what I desired and what God desired for me, I wondered which ledge would hold my weight, or if I’d find myself lost, falling in the echo chamber in the center. Our family had made a home for ourselves in London for almost four years, and the tendrils of roots had begun to take hold. We had extended my husband’s work contract twice–this time, we needed to decide whether to stay long-term or go back home.

Together, we had birthed a life of deep friendships, rich culture, and journeys across the English Channel to enjoy Paris for the weekend. Tucked away in my wallet, I carried my hard-earned UK driver’s license and our National Health cards. We grew in new ways too, our family of three grew to four as I labored in the upstairs bedroom of the house on Second Avenue, giving birth to our son. We filed my son’s British birth certificate under “Important documents”, and from the filing cabinet on the third floor it pulsed like beating heart, reminding me that we had birthed a life here.

We’d labored long and hard, shaking with the pain of  tender skin stretched taut, watching our family breathe the oxygen of adventure for the first time.

I wanted to stay. I envisioned a future rooted in sprawling London under low grey skies heavy with rain. But, it became increasingly clear that our future lay on the other side of the chasm, across the Atlantic Ocean. I refused to loosen my grip, but the ground beneath me crumbled and fell away. I felt myself falling and falling and falling. I didn’t know if I’d ever reach the other side.

I stand on the other side now, after many tears and accusations and flashes of anger, and I know we ultimately made the right decision for our family. After the fall, we are planted on the other side of the chasm. Rooted. Thriving.

I continue to dream big dreams for my future, but at times I still fear the tearing away of the ground where I stand. I fear the wide gap between my own desires and the unknown plans God has for me. I fear the crumbling of solid ground, the loss of my footing, the falling.

Over the last few months, I’ve scrambled to safety as I’ve watched some of my desires crushed beneath my own weight. The future I envisioned in minute detail has grown more and more fuzzy, and across the way, I see other opportunities beginning to take root and grow. I didn’t dream them into existence, but there they are, pushing up out of the ground, an unexpected unfurling.

The ground holding my sacred circle of dreams no longer holds up beneath me. I’ve wondered whether or not it’s time to release them entirely, but I’m not ready yet, even as new things unfold across the way. I’ve decided to carry them with me, tucked under my ribcage, beating like a record of a new birth, beating like a heart.

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What unexpected or new thing is being birthed in your life? How do you reconcile it with your vision for the future? Where do they intersect?