Endless Winter

As rumors of yet another nor’easter arrives in the news, I can’t help but wonder, when the heck will this winter ever end?!

snow day

I didn’t intend to write about the weather. This was supposed to be an update about my memoir. But somehow I’m sidetracked by all the snow still on the ground and the cold chill in the air. Part of me wants to hurry the season along. Enough already. But then I stop myself because I can’t believe how fast this year has gone.

Wasn’t I just worrying anxiously about my son’s entry into kindergarten? Wondering how he would possibly adjust? Well, he did. Not without some bumps, but for the most part, the kid has soared. I am still in awe every day he actually gets on the bus, or jumps out of the car and waves goodbye. I wasn’t sure he would, and some days, I’m still unsure. But most of the time, his resilience surprises me.

Then there’s my daughter, gliding toward the end of fourth grade, a month away from turning TEN. I just reread an old journal from when she was a baby. I couldn’t believe she was already six months old.

How. Did. This. Happen.

Oh yeah. Time.

Do not mess with time. If you keep yelling at it to speed up, it will laugh in your face, spin you around in circles, and the next thing you know, you’ll be sitting alone in your spotless (well, maybe not mine) and silent empty nest of a house wondering what the hell just happened.

My children are growing up. I’m growing older. The stray silver eyebrow hair I plucked out a couple years ago (which inspired an essay on the HerStories Project relaunch) has spawned many sisters, including some brand new face framing highlights. Again, because I’m a novice at aging, my initial thought was, oh my hair is getting lighter, and then I realized my mistake.

Not blonde, gray.

I alternate between feeling completely cool with my gray hairs and rising digits, to spiraling into a black hole of despair over time’s relentless pace.

Some nights after an exhausting day parenting, writing, adulting, I turn off the light and pass the hell out. Other nights I fall into a downward spiral of existential angst, frantically cataloguing my accomplishments, or more often, my lack thereof.

I wonder if I’ll ever publish a book. I wonder about all the time I “wasted” in my 20s. I wonder what my kids will think of me when they’re grown up. I wonder if I’ll be around longer than my mother was for me to enjoy their adulthood. This is around the time I wish I had a sleeping pill.

Recently I got teary on the treadmill thinking about my mom. Certain songs trigger my grief, just like certain songs make me run faster. For a fleeting moment I wondered if there was something wrong with me. If I was obsessed over my mother’s death. If my grief was “normal,” and then I remembered that it was. My normal is this.

Working on a memoir does stir up the past, and I wonder if I’ll think about my mother less when it’s finally done. But I kind of doubt it. Grief is cyclical, and like I wrote in my decade old journal, I will miss my mother for every stage of my life that she is missing, for every piece I can’t share with her.

me and mom.JPG

Writing this book is a labor of love, but it’s a labor nonetheless, and sometimes I just wish it was done already. Part of me wants to speed up the process like I want to speed up winter, but then I remember that I can’t, and perhaps I shouldn’t.

Every moment of illumination, self-reflection, and discovery is another gift from my mother to me, and in turn, to my children who will one day read this book, published or not, so I will remind myself to be grateful for this journey, however long it takes.

(But between you and me, I’m still ready for this winter to end!)

 

 

 

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When The Story Finds You

We spent our winter holiday in upstate New York on the edge of the Catskills. To our delight, despite initially mild temperatures, it snowed. Not much, but enough to coat the ground and frost the trees, enough for the smallest snowman and sledding.

snowy play 2At one point, I decided to take a walk. I grabbed a wooden walking stick and headed up the empty gravel road. Away from the shrieks of my children, there was little noise. Just the satisfying crunch of the stick as it punched holes in the snow and the sound of my breath.

I’d forgotten how much I love walking, how fast thoughts rise up, like cream to the surface. After nearly a week indoors with my children – no snow to distract them, but thankfully, cable TV – I was finally alone.

snowy roadMy mind soon landed on a short story I’d been mulling over. A story about a family on the cusp of big change. A story that takes place in the Catskills. A story that happened to me. Since the specifics are hazy, and frankly too boring, I always knew it would be fictional.

With each step the story unwound like yarn in my mind, getting tangled up, unraveling, leading the way. I decided to write it in four sections, in the voice of each family member: mother, father, and their two daughters. I didn’t know yet the mother would be easiest to write, the older daughter the hardest.

I paused by a circle of pine trees and hesitated for a moment before heading into the brambles to explore. It wasn’t far off the road, there was no chance to get lost or hurt, but I hesitated. It’s how I’ve lived much of my life. Cautious, staying on the path, but lately, especially with writing, I’m taking more chances.

Back on the road, I stared at the smooth expanse of white snow. Without thinking, I began to write my mother’s name, as I used to do in sand at the beach, but instead of Mom, I wrote her name, Susan. Then I added these words: You Are Missed.

My mother, and the weight of her absence, is often just a whisper away.

Back in the warmth of the house, after hot chocolate and bedtime madness, I curled up in the chair between the rooms of my children and began my story.

It took me two weeks to complete, right in time for a mid-January contest deadline, which lit my initial fire. The story isn’t finished. I’ll tweak and sculpt more before sending it out to other contests, but the hardest work is done.

I don’t think I’ve ever written a story so quickly, but the truth is, it took longer than two weeks. I’ve had this story growing inside me for months, maybe years. The weekend I spent in the Catskills at age fifteen was the last vacation I ever took with my family. In fifteen more years, she’d be dead.

When you’re a writer, people love to tell you their stories. Oh, have I got a story for you, they say, perhaps expecting you to whip out a pen and take notes. It’s not their fault. Often their stories are fascinating, and could certainly make wonderful fiction or memoir. But in my experience, a writer doesn’t necessarily choose her stories – the stories choose her.

What themes do you return to over and over again? Is there a seed of a story growing inside you? Is it ready to bloom?

I’m so pleased to be part of Writing Bubble’s wonderful link-up. Come by, take a look, and perhaps join in!

What-Im-Writing-linky-badge

 

Time to Unfurl

Though I haven’t yet spotted my first spring flower of the season, it’s coming, and fast.

pink flower

I’m ready for it now, but few weeks ago, I wasn’t. This is unusual for me. Normally I’m on high alert for the first signs of spring. But not this year. For some reason I was hanging onto winter – despite the freezing temperatures and towering drifts of snow – I didn’t want it to end. I wasn’t ready for the thaw, for the melt and the mud, for the sudden exposure and vulnerability.

There is a risk in being seen, and heard.

A couple months ago I wrote about discovering my love for winter, and how in a way, my writing life has been in an extended winter since the birth of my daughter almost seven years ago.

It’s not as if I stopped writing. I blogged and journaled, I even published another short story, but writing was something I squeezed into the edges of my life.

When I read this passage in my favorite creative book, Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, I recognized myself:

“Women trick themselves this way. They’ve thrown away the treasure, whatever it may be, but they’re sneaking bits and pieces any way they can.”

Writing wasn’t a priority. My life as a writer was in hibernation.

I’ve been hesitating into spring for some time.

My daughter's attempt to hurry the season.

My daughter’s attempt to hurry the season.

Now that I’m finally ready to claim it, there is – of course – fear. Not just fear of failure, which is a familiar companion, but fear of keeping up.

The clock of my life is ticking away. I will be forty years old in a few months. I’m itching to begin and yet paralyzed by the task ahead of me.

Against my better judgement, I’ve been playing the dangerous game of comparison. Social media is not helping. Though I enjoy it for reconnecting with old friends and making new ones, there is a danger in falling down that rabbit hole. When I spend too much time there scrolling, clicking, commenting, favoriting, I grow exceedingly anxious.

It takes effort, such effort, to drag myself away and remember this truth:

comparing

It helps to have friends. Ones who I’ve never met except online. Their words are like hands reaching out in the darkness, footholds in the cliff I scramble to climb.

There are many voices that I gravitate toward for guidance and grounding, but these two in particular rang out like bells this week, guiding me out of the shadows of winter into the green golden light of spring.

“Without the clutter, I feel the weight of my frailty, the extent of my lostness, and the possibility of newness. I put aside the striving of to-do lists and achievements, and the burst of energy comes.” studies in hope

YES. This is what I needed to hear. In a post inspired by Lent, which I know little about, the idea of making space, of clearing the path, and seeing what may filter in resonated with me.

Then there is this quote, from another wonderful site, Healing Your Grief:

“Our freedom is always in letting go, surrendering and allowing our life to unfold exactly as it is meant to be. This doesn’t mean we do not create and open or build doors towards our goals, it means we need to loosen our grip and stop holding on so tightly to our plans and dreams.”

This one I’m still untangling. What does it mean to loosen my grip, to let go of what I’ve been clutching for years? What might I accomplish if I let my gaze wander away from the prize?

I don’t know, but I’m ready to find out.

As I steady myself on this precipice of change, I know it’s imperative to turn down and tune out some of that noise. I must remember to focus, my word of 2015, and to trust myself.

focus rock

Are you ready for spring, or do you harbor some residual winter longing? (Clearly, this is not the case if you are a New Englander!) What season of your creative life are you in?

Winter: A Love Story

A strange thing happened.

I realized, just recently, that I like winter.

I might even love it.

winter field

This is a crazy revelation for me because for most of my life I’ve been a staunch spring and summer supporter. I have a summer birthday and my daughter and husband have spring ones, and there is nothing I love more than seeing the first pink flowers bloom on bare winter trees.

I was so happy that my first child was due at the end of April. Spring felt like the perfect time to give birth. Just as everything was awakening and blooming, there was my baby, in my arms, her sweet bow lips as rosy as those blossoms.

By the time my second child was born in early November, I had come to appreciate fall, a season I had formerly dismissed as simply a precursor to winter. My mother had always loved autumn and as a child this baffled me. Perhaps it was because I associated fall with the start of school and the end of summer’s freedom. I only began to enjoy it when I became a mother myself.

Maybe my new appreciation for winter is a natural shift.

In my old mindset, winter was the death of everything beautiful. Trees were bare, plants looked skeletal, and the cold was unbearable. I still don’t like the cold. That fact will probably never change. But what I realize now is that you can still love the winter.

This first dawned on me a few months ago when I watched the first snowfall of the season. I sat in my office as the flakes fell thick and wet, quickly covering the grass and frosting the tree branches. My heart thawed as I witnessed this transformation.

There is something to be said about winter’s stark beauty.

Photo Credit: DIDS' via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: DIDS’ via Compfight cc

The blacks and whites of tree branches and snow, the crystalline sparkling of ice, the glistening of icicles. One evening my daughter called me over to look outside. I ran to the window. Every surface of the backyard was sparkling as though dusted with glitter.

Maybe it’s the recent move from city to country that has opened my eyes. It was hard to appreciate winter in Brooklyn. The beauty of snow is quickly diminished by snowplows, boot tracks, and well, dogs.

There’s also the whole stroller problem. Have you ever tried to push a stroller through thick slushy snow, or slick patches of ice? Not fun. At all. Winter with small children in a city can be isolating and lonesome. You spend many hours holed up in small living quarters, and when you do venture out, it can be treacherous. I shouldn’t complain so much, we had a car, and that helped quite a bit, but I still struggled to get through the winter months. I ached for spring, counting the days until the first flowers pushed through the cold ground.

But here, in the country, surrounded by farmland, the snow is a thing of beauty. I no longer have to push my child in a stroller while the cold wind bites into my face. I can drive. The other day when I drove home after dropping my children off at school, I was struck by the loveliness of sleet.

Yes, sleet! It was not rain, not snow, but this strange amalgamation of the two. It looked like snow but melted the moment it hit the windshield. Another day I drove along the same road and watched snow blow in gusts across the street. It looked like sand or dust, flying over the fields. It was a little like magic.

In winter, things only appear dead. Beneath the snow packed ground there is life. There is energy in the branches of the apple tree, in the trunk, and in the roots. We just can’t see it. That energy, that life, is what will bear fruit in the spring. This season is about waiting. It’s about trusting. That can be hard to do.

As I look around the snowy landscapes on my many drives to and from school, to the museum, to play dates, to the café where I write some mornings, I realize that in some ways, this season represents my creative life after I had children. My writer self went into hibernation. But it was not dead, though I worried at times it might be.

I understand now that it was there all along, like the lifeblood of the trees in the orchard, waiting for the right moment to bloom again.

Photo Credit: roddh via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: roddh via Compfight cc

Now, finally, I can appreciate winter. The way it looks, the purpose of it. It makes so much sense for me, personally. I’m a homebody, a Cancer crab (in the astrological sense). I like hunkering down. I like warming up by the fire and drinking hot chocolate with my children, their red cheeks still cold from playing in the snow.

night snow

I like the forced solitude of the season, the inwardness of it.

I used to be the first to jump in with complaints about winter, and some days I still do, out of habit, but I understand now that while I may have claimed spring and summer as my own for most of my life, my personality has always leaned toward the other side.

What seasons do you feel most comfortable in, and why? Have your opinions of them changed over the course of your life?

I shared this post on Mum Turned Mom’s The Prompt, whose word this week is Winter. Click here to see what other writers have to say…

the prompt