Saturday, November 24, 2012

Fan The Flames.

“Would she stop halfway as he had done, or would she throw all caution aside and let the flames within her rise?” (His Family, Ernest Holmes)

This phrase has been popping into my head repeatedly since I first read it. Roger is speaking of Laura, his daughter driven by flash and fun who is heading into marriage as another experimental adventure. Her yearnings and “burning curiosities” remind Roger of a younger version of himself and as he looks on her potential, he wonders if she’ll waste it.
I do the same. . as I look at myself. What caution do I embrace? What flames do I smother? I don’t think that all flames are grand or daring. I have zero desire to run with bulls or jump from planes. But I do have flames that pop up and crackle at me and make me wish I could be more. I know that I have more, but sometimes the fear of discovery or change makes me stay with the comfortable, the known, and the accepted. I accept the limitations of my rearing and the traditions of my family. Many of these traditions are wonderful. My faith, my work ethic, my compassion, my desire for excellence. . .these are the flames my family has fanned.  But there are others.  I want to write and tell stories. I want to farm. I want to live near the mountains. I want to have chickens and apple trees.
Still, I have realized something. I cannot sit on my hands and build a fire at the same time. If I want change, I must change. The life I envision will not magically happen if I waste time living another one. If I want to write, I must make time to write. The person I picture in my head will not evolve without effort. It will take goals and time and discipline. Will I do it? Will I shake off the caution that makes it more comfortable watching a movie that working on a story? Will I let the flames of courage rise up and drum up a storytelling show?

Will I rise?

I will try.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Not So Simple After All. . .

“And after that you buy ‘em clothes—not fluffy clothes, but ‘simple’ clothes, the kind which always cost the most. And you then you build a simple home, in a simple place like Morristown. The whole idea is simplicity, if you can’t make enough to buy it, you’re lost.” (His Family, Ernest Holmes)

    Today, there is a lovely glow about that word: simplicity. We visit old-fashioned farms and buy their apple butter. We meander through Farmer’s markets and ponder cloth diapers. Natural childbirth is best and breastmilk is a must. Simplify. Streamline. Get in touch with the earth and true humanity.
       The glitch is this: That which boasts simplicity comes with its own costs. I’ve often dreamt of a Little House life—complete with acreage, chickens, and long hair blowing in the wind. But, Laura and Mary could walk to school by themselves through the prairies. And Baby Carrie didn’t get ballet lessons. And after their chores, they were free to run in the prairie grass until Ma called them home. If we lived on acreage today, it could mean hours a week in a van together, to school and back, to church and back, to playdates and back. . . . and so on. The ideal of simplicity is a flawed one if approached too purely (which I have a tendency to do). In actuality, I’ve thought, the city life is the simplest of all. You can actually walk everywhere you need to go, avoiding the car seat wrestling match and burden of a car at all. You can get to the park, the library, the school, etc. quickly and easily—preserving time for family. The market is close by, as are any friends. You can build a simple little microcosm. But in sprawling isolation, you must make the choice to be at peace with either constant shuttling or true, unadorned simplicity of few errands and little outside enhancements. I think we beat ourselves up with simplicity.
          My best case in point? Breastfeeding. I am no milkmaid. I don’t make milk and am anatomically challenged when it comes to feeding babes. Even the lactation specialist said so. My children would be in serious peril had I lived in a sod house. Still, I try. I know it is best. I’ve tried every time. It is ideal. It is simple. It is handy and natural and wonderful. And it is hard. I pumped, I took herbs, and I cried apologies to my little girl as I gave her a bottle.  If breastfeeding alone were the only requirement to raising a happy healthy child, then I’d be screwed. But, it isn’t that simple, is it? Each and every mama does their best for their babies, be it breast, bottle, cloth, disposable, organic, or Wal-mart. Simplicity is holding a baby and loving with all the heart you have. That is simple.
          My jury is still out on how to truly create simplicity in my life. It seems that if simplicity means stretching the budget too thin to get the simple ideal, then perhaps that isn’t as simple after all. I think true simplicity must be defined individually. If we aim for the simple life that leaves us happy, fulfilled, peaceful, and productive—then I think we can get there, especially if we don’t pay attention to the way “everyone” else is doing it. Buy the frozen dinner. Use the formula. Plant the garden. Get the cheap produce. Do what feels right. Perhaps it is just that simple. 

Any Other Thoughts?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Blessings of a Sinus Infection

    One might think this would be a fairly brief list. I was knocked out Ali-style with a sinus monster for the last week and a half. It isn't that I thought I would die. . I just sort of hoped I would. Okay, not really, but the hyperbole carries the point. I was low. And in that lowness I could do little but rest and read. I had one day that I was home all by myself for hours, and I willed myself to stay in bed. Guilty pangs of productivity bothered me: "I should vacuum" "I should organize our garage" "I should create a better storage system in our kitchen" NO! I shouted. I will rest and recover! Though I could not sleep, I vowed I would stay in bed--away from computer screens that burned my eyes and ladled away my time.
    What did I do? I reintroduced myself to Annie Dillard and pen and paper. And in the throes of infection, I remembered who I was. I was once a reader, a voracious one. I was once a writer, a prolific (unpublished) one. I used to love words. I would mark pages, re-read paragraphs, and tilt my head back as the beauty of the words washed over me. I was a Reader. I decided to be one again.
   Where to start? With my MA in English I've read much of the canon, though certainly not all. I queried the Facebook universe but my hook came back with far too many options. It was then that the Pulitzer Mama Project was born. I found a list of all the Pulitzer winners (84!) and pronounced it as my own personal reading list. I aim to read through the list, staggering it at times with excellent non-fiction finds, until I've read them all.

The Guidelines. . .
  • I will not read a book I find offensive. I recognize this might undermine the purity of the project, but is is my project and I can do what I want. So there.
  • I will read the books in order, re-reading those I have already read. Yes, I recognize this means I must again venture into the mammoth that is Gone With the Wind. I can take it. Bring it on Scarlet.
  • I will not put this on a timeline. As a full-time teacher and mother of three, my personal reading windows might be fairly small.  This could take years and I'm fine with that.
  • I will write as I read. Observations, thoughts, memories, and opinions that the texts stir will fill this blog. This way anyone else who is joining the challenge can find a place to dig deeper and respond as they read along.
  I hope that this project will encourage lots of folks to join in this adventure. Reading, especially for women that enjoy reading, often gets placed at the bottom of the list. The "to-do" we can only do if the rest of the "to-do's" are done. Can't we look at it instead as a method of growth, productivity, and enhancement? We make time for exercise, we scour articles about weight loss, and we research parenting methods. What if we just read a novel and sat with it a bit, and see what it stirred within us?

First up: His Family by Ernest Holmes.

Away I go.

P.S: In full disclosure, I am fully aware that it will take time for my writing to settle into my own voice. I will have hits of Dillard, Holmes, Wharton, and whomever else I might be reading for some time. I might be too flowery, obtuse, or long-winded for many of my posts. I recognize that, and I am determined to be patient with my writing until it catches up to my ambition. Having been warned, I hope you'll be able to do the same.