How to Live with Contradictions: Embrace October

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“All things on earth point home in old October; sailors to sea, travellers to walls and fences, hunters to field and hollow and the long voice of the hounds, the lover to the love he has forsaken.” ~Thomas Wolfe

It took me forty years to unearth this truth: Everything I hunger for is satisfied by October.

It is a study in contrasts:  warm and cold, wet and dry, blooming with life and sliding towards decay. It is glorious in its turning, changeable by nature, and I can feel the heft of it bearing down on my shoulders. It is weighty.

Each day is unknowable from the beginning and yet satisfying in its end.

October reminds me to set my face towards home. It is a returning to all the disparate, changeable sides of myself, and acknowledging that I can welcome all parts of me to be at home here. Like you, like October, I am a study in contrasts too. I am a homesick wanderer. An artist mother. A dreamy pragmatist. A lazy runner. A skeptical believer. A wise fool.

It has taken many years for me to learn the beauty of complexity and accept that this complexity is ok. It’s ok to hold all of these things within my body. It’s ok to give them a flesh and blood home.

If you find yourself struggling with some of the contradictions in your life, wondering how to feel at home within yourself again, step outside and take a deep breath of October. Take note of the warmth of the sun carried by the sharp bite of the autumn wind. Listen for the crunch of leaves beneath hibernating branches. Recognize it as a wealth of riches, a homecoming, a ripeness.

Find yourself at home within the contradictions, not in spite of them. Welcome home. Welcome October.

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.

……

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

 

A Bit of News

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After fourteen years out of the workforce, I started a new job a few weeks ago. I haven’t written about it because the change is so new, I wanted to be sure I stuck with it. I habitually quit things—historically, much to my husband’s chagrin, I quit jobs.

My feelings about it lie fresh on the surface, like a new layer of skin after a sunburn peels away. On any given day, I gently inspect tender pink feelings of working-mother guilt, sadness over the delay of my full-time writing dream, and elation over the fact that people actually pay me to leave my house wearing real clothes a few times a week…

Today, I’m honored to write at my friend, Michelle DeRusha’s place. To read the rest of this post, please join me there. As always, thanks for reading.

Sunshine and Somersaults

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Nine girls giggling, squealing, splashing. Nine girls laughing hard and diving long into the deep end. Nine girls bearing brightly wrapped gifts and faces smeared with ice cream smiles. They ate all the red and pink Starbursts, and took turns wearing the blue mermaid tail that shimmers when it flips through the water.

My husband and I sat and watched them, refilling food bowls, making sure no one drowned. We didn’t see a trace of drama. No mean girls allowed. It restored my hope in humanity, if only for an afternoon. From what I remember of ten years old, it felt just like this: It felt like freedom and it tasted like chlorine and it smelled like sunshine.

I have a friend who practices turning one somersault a week. She said she wants to remember what it feels like for her body to move the way it did when she was a child. After she divulged this secret, I went home and looked for the largest space of cushioned carpet. I knelt on the floor and curved my head under. I tried to remember what my creaky old body felt like at ten years old, and I flipped this curved spine over with what I imagined was a great flourish. In reality, I feel certain I looked like someone having a spasm.

It hurt. It physically hurt. I tried one more time and told the silent walls who witnessed my attempt that my friend is crazy. She is also ten years older than me, so she’s obviously part acrobat or magician.

Speaking of magicians, my husband, like all boys trapped in a grown man’s body, has developed a magic obsession. I find him tucked under the covers at night, bathed in the dim glow of his phone, watching you tube videos of card tricks and slight of hand. I shake my head and then a twitch of a memory will ripple across the surface. I grasp at it, trying to capture what it feels like to be a kid again. To turn somersaults, to feel certain a glittering blue tail could transform a girl into a real mermaid, to believe mystery lurks behind tree trunks and deep waters. To be a kid is to trust in ordinary magic.

Those moments were few and far between for me as a child, but they’re etched beneath my skin, like the lines of a poem running through my blue-green veins. I miss the mystery and the magic. I miss the potential for anything to happen. More than anything, I miss the freedom.

This summer, I want to re-learn the lessons of my youth, to allow the poetry of sunshine and ice cream and mermaids and mysteries to flow free beneath the surface of my skin. I might remember how to make my body turn somersaults. I might remember what it feels like to believe that in every ordinary thing there is magic hiding within.