Retreat-ing

I’ve never been to any kind of writing retreat thingy. I’ve never taken time away from the real world to think creatively (outside of school, but oh shit that’s not any kind of “break” when you’re working full time and schooling and trying to just LIVE goddamnit!). I’m generally put off by most writing retreats at this point because they all take so much time. And I don’t feel like I have it. Six weeks away from work and kids? I just can’t. Two weeks? That feels like it should be spent on a family vacation. Do I want these things? Yes! But not right now. Right now my time is needed most on the hustle, on the babies, on the grind.

But where does that leave me? Void of ideas most of the time. My brain turned to mush by the end of a day filled with reading and editing and using every ounce of training I can remember, using every ounce of work experience I’ve collected. Being professional AND creative. I am spent.

A few months ago I was invited to join an artist retreat. Art/Eat/Repeat. Creative people running away to an island to commune together over wine and food and the quiet spaces where you can finish projects and recharge your creative batteries. Color or read or write or knit or whatever. Discuss books, add to your to-read pile through recommendations from people who GET YOU. Stay up late watching Princess Bride or talking about your strategies to publish and where and why and how and when. Walks in the woods, walks on the beach, forever looking out the window willing whales to appear.

These are the moments you say yes to. These are the events that can flitter by without you unless you grab hold. These are the self care moments that keep you human in a world that tries constantly to chomp at bits of you until there is nothing left. Not even on purpose really, but the world is a selfish beast and all it knows is take take take.

Things I successfully accomplished:

  • Eating enough carbs for the month. Mmm… no regrets.
  • Walking 9 miles in a day – and that wasn’t even my main goal or accomplishment of that day!
  • Finally finishing The Underground Railroad and feeling broken inside after it was done.
  • Seeing an otter, and some wild ferret creatures, and a snake, and some bunnies, and many deer!
  • Walking on rocky beaches.
  • Reminding myself what I need to refill my creative buckets that I have been empty for a solid two years.

That last one is important. Because what I reminded myself – more like what I fully acknowledged after denying it for a while now – is that what MY creative self needs to function is solitude. How did I write a book in a year? I took a lot of long walks where I talked to no one and had no time limit. How did I write so prolifically in my early twenties? I had a lot of quiet people watching – whether it was commuting or bored at work or whatever – where I created worlds and scenarios and allowed my mind to unfurl. I do not currently unfurl. I run and then I sleep.

Did I complete my next great novel or re-write the short story I can’t shake? I did not. I finished a bunch of stuff on my to-do list that was filling me with guilt. And the space to do so is a goddamn gift. I also realized the reason for those longer retreat times – you need the space in the beginning to sit and do nothing and take long walks and stare out the window and drink 700 cups of tea and eat milanos and catch up on podcasts as you stare at the ceiling before you can write. You can’t come from a life that needs everything from you and jump into a life that demands of you to create. The transition is necessary.

When I left Kamel said, “I can’t wait to read what you write!” And when I get home he will ask me what I finished and I will say “nothing.” But I reminded myself how. I remembered how and why and what and where and when. I know it’s there waiting for me whenever I make the time to grab it.

What’s Happening?

I dropped off the blog with no announcement. My book club schedule  gone awry. Podcast… what podcast? What is even happening anymore?

I don’t know.

There are a good number of things I want to talk to you about. That I want to write about.

Things like… how I died my hair purple.

… how I LOVE IT.

… how I will never ever do it again.

Things like… what happened with my kitchen!

… how all of the construction finally ended.

… how now we have a space that feels more like me, like us, like ours.

… how the first summer in our home feels.

Things like… Fae is almost 2. She turns two on Thursday.

… how did that happen?

… how that is making me feel unaccomplished and frustrated.

So many things. So many marriage things I want to talk about on the podcast – which WILL return. With willpower. And time.

But I’m also enjoying feeling not rushed to the computer. Feeling like I don’t have 3 jobs. Feeling like I don’t even have time to think about what I think about, let alone write it down. There is no leisurely tea drinking, gazing out the window time over here. I have been so busy and feeling like I’m barely holding it all together. Barely squeaking past the deadlines, barely grabbing the kids on time from school. Barely making it to my bed before I fall asleep.

Kamel gets annoyed that I need to sleep so early. 9pm? Delicious. But I explain to him how I go hard all day, from the minute a child forces my eyes open, I am go go go. On the weekends we are up! and going! to the zoo! and to the store! and to the park! and snacks! and lunch! and naps! and yardwork! and laundry! and and and. During the week it is everyone to school, everyone to work, shoveling salad into my mouth in front of the computer, finding 45 minutes to sweat until I maybe feel like I’m going to barf. Kids. Dinner. Bath. Chasing babies in the backyard, beach towels, sprinklers, wiping down counters, folding more laundry, turn fans on, cracking open bedroom doors. Realizing I haven’t showered since….?

And being in it is good.

I want to be here too.

I’m finding my way back.

(TWO on THURSDAY. HOW.)

April: Surfacing, Margaret Atwood

I know. It is May 16th. And here we are. I am so late! It was bound to happen at least once. I apologize! Now my book club is slightly out of wack. Sigh. And I even had the book read. I just didn’t get to the posting of the post. Or the writing of it. You get me.

Surfacing. I have a lot of thoughts. This book made me feel so smart. SO SMART. And I really want to hear everything you think about it.

First – If this is your very first Atwood, I’m sorry. This is a weird one to start with. So I hope it is not your first. If it is, go read Cat’s Eye. Or Alias Grace. (or Handmaids Tale) You’ll be like “ohhhh, I get it now.” Some of her books are practically beach reads, and some of her books need a whole class discussion. This one falls into category 2. Class is in session.

This book started off with me not knowing what the hell is going on. We’re in a small French-Canadian town. It is very scary-movie-esque. Only one real road in. Everyone is suspicious of strangers. What murder secrets could they be possibly hiding? And then we find out that the main character (Is her name Sarah? Am I making that up? It is almost never mentioned. I tried to find it and am having a super hard time. Maybe it is never said at all… that would be interesting.) is trying to find her dad who has been missing for quote awhile.

This is immediately a psychological thriller and has the vibe of a modern day noir. Everything is suspect, everything is hinting at some ominous threat. Should they go out to the island? I was screaming in my head “no, just leave, don’t do it.” Every mundane task (cooking fish, washing dishes, killing time with books and cards) is weighted so heavily it’s as if the boogy man is about to jump out of a closet.

And as the main character’s past is revealed there is a darkness there. A complication beyond a missing father, a dead mother, an absent brother. Drownings. Slipping. Distrust. And on and on. I kept thinking about how the book is also a modern day The Awakening. I immediately wanted to write a these about those two books and the conversation they are having about women, sexual threats, how pregnancy is a sexual threat, how having a child is a sexual threat.

The main character’s grip on reality sort of devolves as the book continues. Near the end I pretty much stop being clear as to what exactly is happening anymore. What is real? What is even real? And that’s the struggle with first person narrators. When they stop being reliable, the story goes bonkers. It was really well done. It succeeded in its task. But the ending was so unsatisfying for me. I wanted the main character to shed her skin and move on into the world being free. But I feel like the island trapped her in the end. It called her back and she gave into it. But! I always want everything wrapped up in a nice bow at the end of every book I read (even if the books I write don’t end that way). It doesn’t necessarily make the stories better. It’s just my impulse.

What did everyone think of this one?

This month is allegedly The Underground Railroad! But it is going to take me way more than 2 weeks to finish it. So I’ll aim for mid-June! Join me?

March: America’s First Daughter, Stephanie Dray

Hello! This month has been so long. It always is because it is literally long with 31 days, but on top of that it’s the push up to spring that everyone needs and wants and needs and wants. So here we are! A month of reading! I bet you read more than 1 book this month, but I didn’t! So let’s get to it.

I really enjoyed America’s First Daughter. I was going to initially say that it was a gentle read. Even in its most tense moments, the most gasp-worthy, it was pleasant. And that is true! But then I hard-sobbed through the last three chapters. Is this the best book I’ve ever read? No. But is it a lovely foray into historical fiction? Yes!

I did find it particularly useful, during this time of political unrest paired with Hamilton FERVOR to read an intimate portrayal of the Jeffersons. The book is based on letters, so it feels very accurate as far as life events go. I had this naive epiphany moment about half way though where I realized the US has always been a mess, except for a handful of brief moments when we could all come together over a common goal. One of those moments was the Revolutionary War (And not everyone loved the direction we were taking). But not even 20 years after the war we were back to arguing and dueling and tearing down politicians over affairs and character smear campaigns. And though what’s happening right this second is pretty bad, it made me feel like this country is actually very resilient for all its fragility.

And though Hamilton and Jefferson didn’t agree or get along, it was nice to read something from the other side of the Hamilton love fest. It’s important to keep in mind that these men were all flawed people with big ideas. And the work that the women did, always there, always pushing, always behind the scenes, was immense. Without them things would be very very different.

Jefferson’s daughter, Martha, was a FORCE. And I am incredibly impressed with how much she accomplished in the face of so much death and so many BABIES. Holy god. She didn’t stop giving birth for like more than 20 years. Insane. And she still held down the fort during Jefferson’s presidency, she still managed the political aspirations of her husband, she still educated all of her kids.

I also thought the way the book handled slavery was really interesting. I was pretty uncomfortable with how I was reading it for the first half of the book. It seemed a little apologetic. But, because it was first person and because slavery becomes a main focus in the politics and the moral struggle of the characters, I felt like it was handled ok? I think it is probably controversial how they portray Sally Hemings and her devotion to Jefferson. I feel like even talking about any of this comes off so racist. This paragraph that I am writing, even. This topic is so fucked up and I truly don’t know how to read it or how to write it in historical fiction. So, you know, if anyone else has thoughts on this definitely let me know. I was conflicted and cringe-y most of the time.

I feel like most people are going to really like this book. But how did everyone else, especially in this political fraught time, read it? How did you feel about it? What stuck out?

For April we are reading Atwood!! Check out the full BIRL Book Club book list here. 

February: I Was Told There’d Be Cake, Sloane Crosley

Month two of the BIRL Book Club is now over! I read I Was Told There’d Be Cake by Sloane Crosley and I hate hate hate to admit this but I was… underwhelmed. I felt old and weathered reading it. I felt like a grumpy old lady, rolling her eyes, and thinking (against my very hip and aware will) “oh you just wait and see.” Oh my gosh I was so annoying, even to myself.

Here’s the thing. This book was published in 2008. Before the great recession. Before I graduated grad school only to flounder financially. Before entry level jobs were no longer falling from the sky in one’s chosen field. Before people lost their family home or had to go back to work at 70 because their retirement up and vanished.

This was also the height of the blog. The lifestyle blog was going strong. Everyone had quirky design tips. Everyone had slightly self-deprecating stories that made them feel unique and interesting. This was probably written before literally every single personal story archetype had been published on the internet.

I think I’m a solid 5 years too late reading this book to appreciate it.

I think I’m old and weathered and tired and when I spend my last moments of awake time reading about people in their early 20s it just annoys me that they are so self centered.

I did think some of the parts were funny though – and I did actually laugh out loud at a few. Especially the story about her first job. That was… ridiculous and horrifying and I enjoyed it immensely.

Have you read this book? Did you read it recently? Did you read it like 5 years ago? Am I just being a grumpy gus? What was your favorite part? Where did you eye roll so hard you thought maybe that was just your face now?

March is for America’s First Daughter and I am SOOOOOO excited for it!! I love historical fiction! Come read along with me!

January: My Life On the Road, Gloria Steinem

Here we are! The first review and discussion in the BIRL Book Club! YAY! I have to say, My Life On the Road was perfectly timed and it had absolutely nothing to do with current events. Whoops. The reason I chose it first was because I already had it from seeing Gloria Steinem speak, and in order to get this review out on time I couldn’t wait for the rest of the book list to get to me. Happy accident, though, because it was exactly what I needed to be reading at this exact time.

I started reading it the week before the March on Washington and this book filled me with incredible purpose and incredible drive to keep going on and on and on.

The books speaks on many levels, lest you think this is killjoy feminist drivel. It’s a memoir of Gloria Steinem’s life and career through all of her time traveling the world and the United States. The book is one of those that demands to be read from cover to cover. Don’t skip the dedication, don’t skip the appendage. It’s all good. Every last drop.

The paragraphs that I keep coming back to in my mind are some that I’m going to share here. (And for anyone who has read this book, please tell me what you keep chewing on. There are so many moments that Gloria has lived and thought about and bared witness to and I’m sure you are all chewing on something.)

[When speaking about her mother]

If I pressed and said, “But why didn’t you leave? Why didnt you take my sister and go to New York?” she would say it didn’t matter, that she was lucky to have my sister and me. If I pressed hard enough she would add, “If I’d left, you never would have been born.”

I never had the  courage to say: But you would have been born instead.

As a mother I have to work to still have a self. I have to work to not be swallowed up by my children while still doing my best by them. This part breaks me. It is too common that women are trapped by children because they have no choices. Because they have too many. Because they didn’t know there were any other options.

But where this book was its biggest educational win for me, was in explaining the history of intersectional feminism, and how second wave feminism was largely intersectional. BUT that getting the media, at the time largely run by men, to GET IT and run with it, was incredibly difficult. Second wave feminists have been pushing for intersectionality for decades, and our love of boxes has been making that message muddy. Betty Friedan didn’t help either.

I finished this book on the plane home from DC. I read the majority of it in flight, as I think it is best digested. It frustrated me just how much I did not know because women’s issues don’t make the news. It frustrated me how much what we’ve been pushing for we are still pushing for. It made me love Gloria Steinem even more for her ability to talk about her regrets, her mistakes, her personal shortcomings while also paying homage to the many women who helped her along the way. It made me want to listen more. Listen and learn and offer assistance.

If you haven’t read this book, you should read this book. If you have read this book, talk to me about it in comments!

2017 Book Club Revealed + Winner!

So! Here we are. A list of books and the promise of 1 winner to win them all! My plan is 1 book a month and one instance of two books in 1 month. We start…now!

I grabbed from everyone’s suggestions except for me adding an Atwood into the mix. Because of course. Plus I have a goal of reading them all and it’s been a while. So here we go!

January: My Life On The Road by Gloria Steinam. This one first because i already have it, haven’t read it, and I feel like this is the month for it.

February: I Was Told There’d Be Cake by Sloane Crosley. This is a short month, so a book of essays is fitting.

March: America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray. This is a long one, so we need a long month. I am ridiculously excited for this one. I love historical fiction(y) things.

April: Surfacing by Margaret Atwood. It’s my birthday month, so Atwood for all!

May: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. I love Colson Whitehead. This will be the third book I’ve read of his. He is so masterful. Plus he has a really lovely sense of dry, self deprecating humor and when he used to be more active on twitter it made my whole day.

June: Orleans by Sherri L Smith. June is for dystopian YA. Obviously.

July: Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson AND The Unthinkable by Amanda Ripley. The days are long in July. Enough daylight to read two books. Plus I just feel like we should fully understand how to survive massive disaster. I just think MAYBE that might come in handy this year and into the future.

August: Station Eleven. I have heard nothing about amazingness about this book. I was writing when this was all the rage and therefore not reading, so I’m so very late to this party. If anyone else is late to the party, come party with me.

September: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. I was ridiculously obsessed with A Secret History and again, missed the boat on reading this when it came out. So, back to school time equals back to Donna Tartt. Heart thump.

October: The Folded Clock: A Diary by Heidi Julavits

November: Homegoing by Yaa Gynasi.

And nothing in December because that is a coo coo bananas month and no one can be held accountable during the holiday hubub. Will you join me on this reading journey? If you see something you want to read, mark it in your calendar and then come hang out in comments at the end of each month. If there is something on this list you have already read and have strong feelings about, please please come and share your thoughts. Talking about books is one of my favorite things in the whole wide world.

Oh, and before I forget…. the winner of a box of books courtesy of me (and random.org), just because I love to share the beauty of READING is…..

MADDIE!

So Maddie – you will get a box of books delivered to your house. 🙂 And if you’ve read some of these (I know you have) – share them!

BIRL Book Club is Back!

Hello! It is a new year and I am ready to get back on the horse of READING. Do you want to join me? This time around I won’t be having anyone writing up posts for me, but if you want to read along with the list I am looking for a hearty book club discussion in comments.

First, though, I need to build the list! I am looking for book recommendations. Anything that you highly recommend that you have read recently/semi-recently, please tell me about it! Some of you have already left awesome suggestion on instagram and twitter! This means that you are already entered to win this year’s book giveaway! Surprise! 

If you haven’t left a suggestion yet and would like to win the full reading list, please leave a book recommendation in comments! One lovely winner (chosen at random) will be receiving a big box of books from Powell’s! 

All kinds of books are welcome! YA, Non-Fiction, Genre, etc. I want it all. books written by POC and women are especially welcome, but I guess I can read a few books by the mens too.

I will be posting the list and an estimated schedule in the next two weeks. I hope some of you will join me in reading along!

Episode 23: Celebrations

This weekend we are (finally) going to celebrate our 5 year wedding anniversary! But it is really easy to neglect celebrating your partner in the face of LIFE and EXPENSES and SHOULD WE REALLY SPEND THE MONEY ON THAT?

The answer should be yes! But it isn’t always. This week, Kamel and I break down how we approach celebrations and how we should probably not neglect each other for Christmas, even though that seems like it is maybe becoming a trend. :/

Things, June

The biggest update of the month is that Kamel starts his new job on Wednesday! Hooray! We have started back up house hunting (though that is a mixed bag of feelings) and our new routine is just around the corner. In the mean time Kamel is soaking up his last hours of video-game playing, house-putzing, afternoon-napping. Big deep breath. It has been a journey and now I am looking forward to some prolonged stability for a little while. Right? Right.

I am so tired of doing for others. Which sounds like such a shitty thing to say. But here we are. When my day is surrounded by caring for others, being exceptionally patient with my children, working with their schedules, being kind to my husband, planning and being flexible for others, hosting events, honoring loved ones, spending much of my daily energy and a lot of money on people who are not me, it starts to wear on me. And this is not to play the martyr card. Maybe it is a flaw of mine. It has to do with balance, but is sounds so toddler to say so. When I’m not feeling thought of, but I’m spending a lot of time thinking of others it really does feel like something is pushing on a bruise. Lately I have had way too much output and not enough input. I am not eternally giving, what can I say?

I have been feeling the pull to Maine stronger and stronger and stronger. A vacation home? (Ridiculous in the face of our inability to even get a home-home.) Or maybe it is the pull to escape to a place where no one can find me. A little world all my own sectioned off from the masses. With bad cell reception and crap data plans. Is this why people go camping?

I want into a book store this weekend. It was kind of cheating because it was an Amazon book store. In real life. But it was SO COOL. Even though, ugh! Amazon! Independent book stores are where it is AT. But… they had a section of most popular books purchased in the PNW. And they had little side sections where the top rated books of certain genres were listed. And other little side sections where they had “If you like this, you will like these” books set up. Which were just FASCINATING. Algorithms in real life! I’m such a nerd for information like that. It felt like I was walking through a tangible internet. It was intoxicating. Kamel and I started off in there together and then silently moved apart until I was suddenly aware that I was browsing alone. Then when I was filled up with words and thinking and quiet time I had to go search for him. It was delicious.

I bought one book. It was in the “most purchased in the PNW section” or whatever. I’m certain I am phrasing that incorrectly. It’s “Milk and Honey” by Rupi Kaur. It’s a book of narrative poetry and I read it all in one sitting. I have to share a piece or two from it because I dog-eared a lot of pages for this one purpose.

In a section called “The Hurting”

you pinned
my legs to
the ground
with your feet
and demanded
i stand up

In a section called “The Breaking”

the woman who comes after me will be a bootleg
version of who I am. she will try and write poems
for you to erase the ones i’ve left memorized on
your lips but her lines could never punch you in
the stomach the way mine did. she will then try to 
make love to you body. but she will never
lick, caress, or suck like me. she will be a sad
replacement of the woman you let slip. nothing she 
does will excite you and this will break her. when
she is tired of falling apart for a man that doesn’t
give back what he takes she will recognize me in 
your eyelids staring at her with pity and it’ll hit her.
how can she love a man who is busy loving
someone he can never get his hands on again. 

Father’s Day was freaking beautiful. I handled the baby wakeups in the night, the kids woke up at 545, I ordered breakfast to be delivered by postmates. We made pancakes with Gabriel while we took turns eating our scrambles with hashbrowns and crispy bacon (Which Kamel ate all of, as he should). It was a sparklingly sunny day, Kamel got presents from Gabe, we went to the park and spent a lot of time looking at baby ducks and fish swimming around in ponds, Fae napped deliciously, Gabe refused his nap but was super cute about it, and then we went over to my parents for barbecued halibut and steaks. I mean, that describes heaven, does it not?