Monday, January 18, 2016

I Don't Like That Word.

How is it possible that I've only written two blog posts in the last year? A few things come to mind, involving a degree, a job, and a wedding. When I first started this blog, I was in the throws of a break-up, the emotions of which lent themselves to a great deal of writing, which was immensely healing, and led me to believe quite fully in something my high school art teacher used to say: "You can only create in crisis." That break-up was then (four years ago) and this is now, and while I've been feeling the urge to return to this creative space, I'm acutely aware that currently, there's no real 'crisis' in my life. So, can I create?

I don't like the word 'creativity'; it fills me with a low-grade fever of annoyance and panic. There's a lot of pressure to be 'creative' these days; self-help gurus (not to mention MBAs, social-workers, famous authors, and fast-track entrepreneurs) are screaming it from the rooftops, it seems to me: To be happy in this life, you must access your own personal well of creativity. You must spend a significant amount of time engaged in play. You must fight, fight, fight against the daily grind that can catch and squeeze you tight. What's in danger if we don't do this? Our stress hormones, our connection to spirit, our very soul.

If you're anything like me, you find this call to creativity more than a little frightening; not because you don't agree (you do - I do; we're creative people, at bottom), but because an immense about of PRESSURE accompanies this call. I don't even have children yet, and still I'm conscious of how swiftly each day's hours slip by, full to bursting with work to do, errands to run, rooms to clean, dogs to walk, food to be made, love to be offered.

Here's the difference between the blog-writing Beth of 2012, and the blog-writing Beth of 2016:

2012. Then, I was single, and working a job that, when you really got honest about it, only took up about 20-30 hours of the work-week. I had quite a bit of time when I could live the self-important life of a twenty-something-year-old: walk and think. Go to coffee shop and write. Stay up till midnight (often later) because no six-o'clock alarm would ring. I had a tiny, drafty apartment that was my own, a teaching gig that kept me living a student's life, and plenty of time to dwell deep in 'crisis', when it came (or when I created it out of thin air).

2016. Now, I've got a real, live, full-time teaching gig. Like, I've got to be ON at eight o'clock every weekday morning, come rain or shine, come bad hair or lack of sleep. I no longer have those indeterminate hours for designing my own schedule; my alarm DOES ring at six a.m. Every. Single. Day. I've also got a husband to love and support, more bills to pay, and (knock wood) not a whole lot of crisis from which I'm supposed to bloom.

Here's what I don't like about this comparison: The 2016 blog-writing Beth comes off as a little bit...boring. At least, that's how I feel when I stack her up against the looming expectations of CREATIVITY. But I don't think her life is boring. It requires more energy, yes; it demands greater doses of reality and responsibility, but it's also quite beautifully peaceful, sturdy, and full of promise. Full, when you begin to redefine the word, of very creative living. Consider the following:
  • You are creating something when you pour cream into your cup of coffee (this is the way you like it). 
  • You are creating something when you help your children dress for school (this will keep you warm today; that color brings out your eyes). 
  • You are creating something when you kiss your beloved good morning (Love. Love is what you're creating). 
  • You are creating something when you answer that first e-mail or talk to your colleagues (communion, or kinship, or a link in the chain). 
  • You are creating something when you take the dog for a walk (look at the sky, dog; listen to the birds who are singing for us)
  • You are creating something when you make dinner (I don't care if it's boxed mac & cheese. Nourishment is pure creativity). 
  • You are creating something when you wash your face before bed and look in the mirror (hello, you. I know your unadorned face). 
  • You are creating something when you turn off the light, and close your eyes, and fall asleep (a body ready for another day of living). 
One of my goals for 2016 is to practice being 'creative' more regularly, and sure, for me that means producing more writing, my medium of choice. But it's also going to mean giving thanks for the chance to create (to bring forth more good life; let's call it that) in all the seemingly 'boring' moments of every single day. In that way, I've no doubt, I'll feed my small soul.

Thanks for reading.


Thursday, April 9, 2015

"With No Divided Heart" (For Ivan Doig)

Let me admit to something: It has always silently bothered me when celebrities are publicly mourned. I don't want to sound harsh, but that kind of grief -- the grief felt by fans for an actor or a singer or an activist they loved -- has always felt somehow...affected. Inauthentic. Tinged with self-interest. If you didn't know her, I want to ask, why do you think you care so much? I see the sadness at the loss of art, or philanthropy; I certainly see the sadness in the loss of a single human soul. Yet I still wonder: where does this public grief really belong? And is it true?

Ivan Doig died today. His death has made me confront my own irritation at this kind of grief -- that stranger grief, it might be called. I didn't know Ivan Doig. I haven't even read all of his books. As a matter of course, there are more deeply devoted fans who deserve a moment, or longer, to really share their sadness. The west, the world, lost a good artist today. A writer of certain grace. And I am struck by my own hypocrisy, and a shadow of self-interest, when I say: his loss has deeply saddened me.

My mother, an avid Doig fan, first introduced me to Doig's novel Dancing at the Rascal Fair when I was eighteen years old. You know those books (I know you know) that you remember almost viscerally? Like, you can close your eyes (or even keep them open you remember it that well) and remember the feeling of reading that book? The way the kitchen was silent around you as you stood at the counter eating with one hand and holding the book with the other because you just, couldn't, stop, reading. The way your legs went numb beneath you on the bed because you'd read so long they'd fallen asleep. The quickly diminishing pages until the end, and the harrowing truth of finishing, of no longer inhabiting that world you'd welcomed as your own. You were a part of that book. You were very nearly one of its characters (or you daydreamed you were, as you went about your real-life days. You daydream it still, when something calls the story back to mind. The sheered sheep in the fields along your running route; the old farmer who you know has lived beneath steep mountains all his life).

Dancing at the Rascal Fair was that kind of book for me. Even today, after years of reading other books, it remains on a short list of life-changers. There have been a select few writers who made me see how I really wanted to write, and Doig is one of them.  So it stands to reason, I see, that I should feel a sense of shock and sorrow at his passing. I didn't know him, but still, he changed me.

I suppose this is an apology of sorts, to all those who I once judged for their public grief. You deserved that moment. I understand you now. Here, too, is an attempt at an answer to my own question: The grief we feel for strangers is undoubtedly true. For at the end of the day, in the still rooms of our hearts, the places even our dearest loves do not visit, we are not grieving strangers -- we are grieving faithful friends. The artist, the writer, the activist, they created for us what we could not create for ourselves. They said what we could not say. They don't know it, but often they are the only other people we let into those still rooms.

Strange as it might sound, I will think about Ivan Doig on my wedding day. I will think about him in the months leading up to the day, as I prepare myself for a new country of life, as I've thought of him in the crossing over to so many new countries, new seasons, of life. I will think about this passage from the early pages of Dancing at the Rascal Fair:

"Do not emigrate in a fever, but consider the question in each and every aspect. The mother country must be left behind, the family ties, all old associations, broken. Be sure that you look at the dark side of the picture: the broad Atlantic, the dusty ride to the great West of America, the scorching sun, the cold winter, and the hard work of the homestead. But if you finally, with your eyes open, decide to emigrate, do it nobly. Do it with no divided heart."

It strikes me that I have been trying to live according to these words for the past twelve years of my life. They have taken up residence within me, and I hear them ringing when I am called to make choices, to forgive, to let go. They are not easy words to live by, but they are clear, and they are steadfast within me. 

Let me admit to something: I am saddened at the loss of Ivan Doig. I did not know him, but he knew me. He knew something of the silent corners of my heart.

Thanks for reading.


Friday, April 3, 2015

This is Just an Update.

Hello. It's been a good long while since I've written anything here. How to begin? This is the question that has stopped me every single time I've thought about writing. Here's how I'll begin: by just beginning. I'll catch you up:

Since I last wrote, a few significant things have happened (such is life. Much can happen in a single year, in a few brief months. Pay attention to this -- you are doing a LOT, even if you feel like you're not.).

1. I got engaged. I got engaged on a day late in August, on a dock on the northeast shore of Flathead Lake. I got engaged to a good, kind soul. I don't need to say any more than that. This soul is the most unexpected blessing of my thirty-one years. I am better because of him.

2. I went through a semester of student teaching at the high school that sits kitty-corner from my second-story apartment. The school where my good, kind soul of a future husband teaches. It was just as scary as I thought it would be. And a thousand times more life-changing. I cried regularly, like once a week. I also looked forward to walking into that bright classroom every single day. I've carried that feeling with me ever since I left. I will let this feeling carry me into more classrooms, and my single hope is that I will be sustained by this feeling in my career for a good thirty years or more. (Who knew, when this life began, that purest joy would be such a messy mix of vulnerability and sacrifice and humor and connection and success and failure? I didn't know. I thought joy meant only happiness and ease. I know better now, and I'm grateful.)

3. I started to plan a wedding. As a self-declared 'non-girly girl', I am surprised to find that I fall easily into the wedding planning trap. So many dresses! So many choices! So many things to do! But my daily goal, when I write my goals, is simple: to plan a wedding that feels true. I will wear a cardigan when I get married, both because I like cardigans and because I'm getting married on the first day of winter. Light on the darkest of days.

4. I got a job. Not a teaching job -- not yet. But a very good and very challenging job at a place dear to my heart. I get to help people and create things and I am supported every day. For this, too, I am grateful.

5. Like you, I've lived a lot of everyday days. Woken to the alarm, walked and fed the dog, made coffee and washed the sleep from my face. Gone to school, to work, to the grocery store, and home. Cooked dinner, washed the dishes, swept the floor. Answered e-mails, made phone calls, paid bills. All of it in the name of everyday living, and it has occurred to me that everyday living gets a bad reputation. The bed was soft, wasn't it? The dog was happy to wake with you. The coffee was hot. The money bought the first asparagus of spring. I'm not preaching; I'm guilty too. Here's a pledge for us two to take: make the everyday holy.

This is just an update. I'm still here, still thinking about writing, and I promise to write again. Until then, here's to the big things that can happen, to the everyday living, and to what comes next.

Thanks for reading,


Monday, July 7, 2014


I am a lucky fish. My family belongs to a parcel of land on the eastern shore of a large mountain lake. (We belong to it; it belongs to us--the distinction here is often blurry. Land owning in a place that wants to be wild is tough business; there are grasses to cut, critters to herd away, silt and sand to be filtered clean. But this is not a post about land owning; that's a post for another day. This is a post about precipices.) I have been going to this lake every summer and long weekend in between since I was just a bean in my mother's womb, and before that even, since I was just an idea, an unknown life. I have been going to this place, and letting it heal me in minute or momentous ways for a very long time. Each time I go, summer fall winter spring, I have a deep desire to let the lake water do its healing work; heal me heal me heal me I whisper, keening. Help me help me help me. Help me get done what needs to get done. Forgive him. Forgive her. Forgive me. Help me to be a better daughter, sister, friend, human being. I assume that because I am where I am, praying where I'm praying, that my simple requests carry more weight, and will be somewhat heard, somehow. The earth and the water are purer in this place, so my thoughts seem purer. At the hour of every departure, we each make one final visit to the water, together or in turn, and send out our final requests: take care of this place. Take care of us. Take care of those we love. Give us strength, and courage, and heart. I have a habit of closing my eyes and listening as hard as I can listen, trying to memorize the sound of the waves against the rocks. If I can carry this sound with me, I think, then I will be safe.

I was at this lake just a few days ago. I was standing waist deep in its clear water. At this time of year, that water is still cold, but warm enough for swimming. Our place is a simple place; we don't have a boat with a motor or a dock that stretches out far enough for diving. When we get in the water to swim, we do so gingerly and with devotion, feeling our way across the clean rocks and letting ourselves get deeper, deeper, until we're ready to make the final plunge and duck under. It takes a bit of bravery, this ducking under, even on the hottest of days. The water takes us in slowly, and as much as we say how nice it would be to simply take a running jump and just get it over with, I think we take a silent pleasure in the way we do things, in our slow immersion. The slowness is a kind of respect--for the lake, for the division between our bodies. As we walk slowly in, we are asking the lake to accept us. Take me in, we ask. And it does, time and again. And when we are waist deep, on the precipice of the plunge, it asks something of us. Come in, it says silently. This is the tough part. This is the part that demands bravery; a gulp of air, an expansion of chest and lungs and heart, a letting go of all thought except this: I'm going under.

Under you go. There is the startling cold of the water and tingling skin and the rushing sound of your own body getting swallowed up. Nothing else matters, but this. And then up, up, up towards the light (you can see it through the fine delicate skin of your eyelids, through the fine delicate skin of the water) and you breath in again, you are alive again, you are in a new place. You've crossed the precipice.

When I left the lake this time, I began a new tradition. I didn't close my eyes and listen as I've always done. Instead, I tried to memorize the feeling of going under. I would want to remember this feeling on other days, during dark moments when I can quite literally see beyond my own darkness, but am too afraid or caught or stupidly devoted to cross the precipice in front of me. I would want to remember that there is no easy way to go under, or over, the divide between what is and what can be; there is no easy way, there's only going. Gulp of air, expansion of chest and lungs and heart, a letting go of all thought. Except this: I'm going.

Go out slowly into the water, into the life, you want. There is nothing wrong with timidity, with tenderness. But when you reach the precipice, when your wanting fills you, go under. Do not be afraid. There is so much to be found on the other side.

Thanks for reading.


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

T is for Thirty

Me: Hi twenties.
Twenties: Hey.
Me: I'm going to be thirty this week.
Twenties: Don't I know it.
Me: I'm actually kind of glad, Twenties. I feel pretty steady.
Twenties: But thirty means that you're getting old. I'm young. Stay young.
Me: I do feel a little old.
Twenties: Exactly.
Me: But saying that thirty feels old is a little insulting to people who are older than that. Thirty is young, twenties. We've still got a lot of life in us yet.
Twenties: Let's talk about this 'life' of ours. Don't you want to come back to my side and do things a bit better?
Me: Such as?
Twenties: Love. Work. Money. You know, the big stuff.
Me: Money? Maybe. But we've got a nice home, and food in the fridge, and a crap-load of education. Work? We did good work, twenties. Remember how alive we felt so often? We feel that alive now, too. I'll fight to do the work that makes us feel alive, I promise. Love? Whatever I did wrong, it brought me to this love.
Twenties: You're not married.
Me: I have time.
Twenties: You don't have a kid.
Me: I have time.
Twenties: You haven't published the book.
Me: I have time.
Twenties: You won't always have time. Come back to my side; we'll have all the time in the world.
Me: Sorry, Twenties. It ain't gonna happen. You're not gonna win this argument. Let's talk about the things we love about each other? I'll go first: I love you for letting me figure myself out.
Twenties: I love you for figuring yourself out.
Me: I love you for letting me do stupid things sometimes. I needed that.
Twenties: I love you for knowing how to recover from the stupid things. Solitude. Apology. Truth-telling. You got better at those things every time.
Me: It took me awhile though.
Twenties: It's okay. That's what I was for.
Me: I'm sorry that it took me so long to say 'This is who I am'.
Twenties: But you said it.
Me: It made me lose people and places. It made me hurt people.
Twenties: But that's one of the things I taught you, remember? You're going to hurt people. If you want to be who you are in this world. If you want to tell the truth. When you walk away, brush the dust from your feet. 
Me: And just send back love.
Twenties: Exactly.
Me: My birthday is on Saturday, Twenties.
Twenties: I'll be there.
Me: I'll have to walk away from you.
Twenties: Brush the dust from your feet.
Me: I'll send you back love.
Twenties: Only love.

Thanks for reading.


Friday, January 31, 2014

Sometimes, I'll Write.

On my desk is a book by Julia Cameron called The Right to Write. I don’t open it very often, but I keep it here, where I can see it, because I’m a writer. I’m a writer who doesn’t write enough, by my own (often too strict) standards. I keep the book where I can see it in the hopes that I’ll get into the habit of writing every day (just thirty minutes, I tell myself. Just one page). You wouldn’t think it was so tough, and while I could give you a long, detailed list of reasons of why it is indeed that tough, I think I’ll condense it down to one simple life fact: there is a lot of other stuff to do. (I know you know what I mean.) More than that, there’s a lot of other stuff I’d rather be doing. Maybe this means that I shouldn’t be a writer; maybe it means I should give up the ghost. But I’m not going to. I’m going to continue limping along as a would-be-sometimes-eager-maybe-good writer. (A note: sometimes limping is a good thing; it denotes devotion, and it often makes you look your courage straight in the face.)

As a writer of this ilk, there’s another reason I like to keep Cameron’s particular book in front of me; it’s full of short writing exercises, and it presupposes that any act of writing—from love note to novel—is genuine. It counts. It makes you a writer in the most basic, unpretentious sense. I like Cameron’s book because it lets me off my own hook; just because I didn’t finish editing the tenth draft of the novel today and secure a publishing deal doesn’t mean I’m not a ‘real writer’. It means that today I was a writer who chose to also be a runner and a student and a dog owner and a human being who needed to catch up on some sleep. So be it.

But today, in and around running and dog-owning and waking up when my body said, you feel better now, I also thought I’d get around to a little bit of writing, because it makes me feel good. The truth underneath all of it—the self-inflicted ‘not-enough-of-a-writer’ thing—is that writing shouldn’t really be a label; when we label ourselves certain ways, we’re unknowingly committing ourselves, and that leads us to the dangerous territory of expectation. If I’m going to be a ‘writer’ (or runner, or teacher, or artist—fill in the blank), then I expect myself to act in specific ways. I’ve grown tired of this train of thought. I’d like to make it simple:

Sometimes, I’ll run, because it makes me feel alive.

Sometimes, I’ll sleep until I wake, because I want my body to know I still love it.

Sometimes, I’ll put in ten hours on the job, because I like feeling useful.

Sometimes, I’ll write, because it makes me feel like I’m in communion with my soul.

When I opened Cameron’s book today, the task at hand was to write a list of fifty-one things that made me happy. That was my original goal when I began this post—to try and do the ‘writerly’ thing and construct a list so vivid and humble it would move you. It would make you like me. (I do hope you like me.) Instead I’m going to sign off, and take a hot shower, and walk the dog through the new snow that has fallen. I’ll write the list of fifty-one happy things at some point, and no doubt ‘writing’ will be on it, but so will hot showers, and my little orange dog, and the days spent limping forward, courage in hand. I’ll write about the days spent bounding forth with bright abandon, and the days when I let myself off the hook, and simply rest. 

Thanks for reading. 


Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Truest Stuff of You

Late January marks Small Soul's second birthday. She came about in the dark winter weeks before what would become, in my short and lucky life, the deepest hurt I've yet known. I'm sad to know that greater heartbreaks will eclipse that trauma; now, far past the grip of its crushing fingers, I see how small it truly was, in the scope of a life. How small but also how meaningful; on a bleak day in early February my life turned a very definite corner, and sometimes I feel as though I have spent every day since hanging on that curve, turning and turning, letting the momentum of loss push me forward into new and beautiful territory.

It is new territory, and it is beautiful--surprisingly so; still, I know I didn't get here without some rather wrenching (often slowly realized) lessons. So, on this anniversary month, I thought I might consider some of the things I've come to know these past two years--many of which were solidified in me through this writing, in this very public space (thank you for reading).

1. That which we lose will become a stranger to us, one day. 

Let me just say: I didn't lose much. A man. Some hopes for the future that hung on me heavy. I didn't really want what I thought I wanted, but damn if I was going to look like a failure. I don't say these things to be unkind, but if I've learned anything in these two years, it's that some things--the people and places we believe are dear--can become utterly insignificant if we spend enough time apart from them. The time apart tells us: they weren't that dear at all. (The lesson here is to pay attention to those things that no time nor distance can cleave from you; the lesson is to notice that which you yearn for, long after its loss. Then we might see--here is the truest stuff of me.)

2. The truest stuff is often the most quiet.

From this vantage, it's pretty clear to me now how bad I was at simply listening to myself. There were the louder voices--comparison, loneliness, fear, embarrassment. But beneath them there was another voice, small but insistent: this is not enough. There is more. There is better. It got louder, and one day I simply wasn't afraid of it anymore. Regret may tell me--if only I could have heard it sooner, the pain I could have avoided (for myself and for others); but it came when it came, that willingness to listen, that sudden association with the inside voice that was always inside me, waiting.

3. Quick fixes don't fix. Do them anyway.

You are a creative genius! All these emotions, all these things you're learning--you've never been so prolific, so...non-fiction! So write about them late into the night, put them on the web (your bravery is new and thrilling). A new haircut can make you a new person, and the next day it is just a new haircut. Late nights with wine and gossip lift you up, make you laugh, carry you further away and away from the day. But you go home alone, and in the morning you have blog-post hangover--what will they think of me?--and you still have the yearning inside of you to return to yourself, because you have lost something of yourself, this is true.

Still, the haircut makes you see the lines of your own face more clearly, and your face is familiar to you. And the writing is steadying, and sometimes even good. And your friends listen to you, and they are blessed in their devotion to the you that they know.

4. When you find yourself again, you are sometimes a stranger to yourself.

Perhaps this was inevitable, considering the rhythm of this place--how everything, but everything, moves in cycles. Birth, life, death. Birth, life, death. Over and over again. So you are new to the world and the world you know is new. It is best not to fight this, but to accept the strangeness of it, and the fear. (Fear is just afraid of the light, and there's so much lovely light in this world; so many new strains to consider.)

5. Forgiveness can just be about forgetting.

No more, no less. This is okay.

6. Hurting others is inevitable.

This is perhaps the toughest beast to handle; why must this be true? And yet it is. If we're to listen to that quiet voice, we will hear that it tells us to say goodbye to certain things. Not because these things are bad, only because there are other things coming--and these things fit us better, our particular shape. We've got to make room. I console myself: by forcing myself to stick around in the old life I was taking up the space that belonged to something else. I console myself: I've gone away so you can have better things than me. There are better things for you, for me, for we. 

7. Expect the unexpected.

The life you've been looking for, it may come at you big and fast and not at all how you'd expected it to come, and you'll probably break out a lot for the stress and the glory of it all, and wonder what the fuck you've gotten yourself into, but it feels good (because it feels true), and you want to just. keep. going. To see where it all gets you.

So you keep going. And you leave people and places behind, and you miss certain things (the old house at full summer's bloom; the promise of getting all dressed up and going out, not knowing what you'll find; the riverbank where you knelt to rest on every single run; the apartment where you wept and loved and grew and slept and woke, alone), and you're sometimes afraid of what you now stand to lose, but you also feel a kind of deep and solid comfort, and this is new, and this makes it all worth it.

The loss. The guilt. The fear. The quick fixes that don't fix.

It is worth it, to let the momentum of change fling you forward,
to crash land,
to get up,
to listen.
To do the work it takes to get closer to the truest stuff of you,
to spend your life doing this.
To get as close as you possibly can.

Thank you, always, for reading.