Posted in Uncategorized

Co-Author, Co-Conspiriter

A week off schedule, but very exciting stuff!

I mentioned one of the other writing projects I have been working on is having a chapter as a co-author of The Rising Sisterhood, book 3. We are hurtling toward publication, and the blog for my chapter was just released.

You can read it here: https://therisingsisterhoodbook.com/marjanna-barber-dubois-the-rising-sisterhood-author-book-3/

(And yes, being in book 3 implies that there are two earlier publications as well, and you should check those out too. Proceeds from 1 and 2 go to The Trevor Project and Girls, Inc.)

I will return to my regular schedule next week with another Queer Mama Rising post, but I wanted to share my excitement of collaborating with some other amazing women to create the next installment of The Rising Sisterhood. 

Now I just have to figure out all the other social media stuff that isn’t pasting a link into Facebook. 

Posted in Uncategorized

It’s a Shame About the Weather

It’s a Shame About the Weather

I have not been shy about talking about the things I go through and experience – my mental health, stillbirth and pregnancy loss, losing my spouse, queer widowhood, sexuality and gender. These are often taboo to talk about, to write about; there’s a thin line between “enough” and “too much, I don’t want to hear this.” I try to stride down that line with my Docs on. I prefer to lead by example; if I think these topics should be destigmatized and not avoided, I’m going to write about it. The greatest reward would be to help someone else write or talk or explore what they need to.

There are also topics that are important to me that I don’t write about here. This isn’t from shame or remorse, stigma or embarrassment; some things are just private. A couple of times I’ve blurred that line, and asked the other person(s) involved if I could share the redacted story. This is, in part, in deference to the fact that I personally know many who follow this blog, and many of those are family. Oh, it still gets written; just not here. 

All that to say, my mental health has been junk lately. The early dark, the seemingly constant rain, the changing of seasons: none of these help. Depression has made its home in me again; uninvited, but not unexpected. 

I know the signs. The dwindling creativity, the defiance of self-care, the isolation all tell me I was right to be afraid of this season. I can function for about 14 hours a day; from the time I open my eyes before 5, unable to sleep longer, until Lucy is tucked into bed. After that, I shut down, as if programmed. I live in a state of exhaustion, one that is colored by that of having a toddler, grief, and depression itself. If you have never felt those last two flavors, I hope you never do; but those who have know the differences between. 

This is not a cry for help, or even a reason to worry. This is not the kind of depression where it is important to be able to ask, are you going to kill yourself? (The answer is no, anyway.) I have felt that depression before, and it is scary shit. 

This is an acknowledgment. I am depressed, and right now, that’s OK. This is a season I will get through. I’m not afraid; I don’t have scary thoughts, or thoughts I cannot control. I’m not in danger, Lucy’s not in danger. She may notice that I’m crankier and I cry a lot more, and she might watch a little more TV when my spoons are depleted before bedtime, but she still sees me laugh every day. She knows she is loved, she knows I will always pick her up when she runs to me. 

I have worked hard to gather my resources prior to the fall. My medications are stable; blessings on chemistry and SSRIs. I am on the waitlist for a counselor who seems to be an excellent match for what I need right now. I replaced my desk lamp with one used for seasonal affective disorder, and I love it. I have pulled back from social media, and I am allowing myself to only access the news of the world when I feel I can handle it. I have talked to my friends, to my family, to my doctor about it. I am open and frank about what I am experiencing. I buy little junk food and easy (I mean, easy; thank you, Wegmans) meals. I keep my routine and my bullet journal. I try to be strict about my bedtime. I have consistent plans to get me out of the house or allow people in, and I really enjoy my job. 

Someone asked me last week if they did something to upset me; another asked if something had happened. Both answers were no. This is just how it is, sometimes. And right now, sitting and writing with my sun lamp in the dawn of a new day, it’s easy for me to remember that this, too, will pass. This is a season, one I prepared for. 

I am depressed. I have chronic depression, and seasonal affective disorder. I have general anxiety, and symptoms of PTSD and agoraphobia at times. 

I am depressed, and I am OK.

For you creative types out there, I know you understand this next thing – when you start a new piece, in whatever your medium is, and it just takes off on you? You know what I’m talking about. That’s happening right now, real time. Front row seats for all.

I hadn’t intended to talk about mental health, mine in particular, like this. I had intended this post to be short and to-the-point. I wanted to tell my readership (and let’s be honest, anyone who will listen) that National Novel Writing Month begins on Monday, November 1st. I will not be keeping my schedule of biweekly posts to this blog for November, as I am concentrating my writing efforts elsewhere. I have a lofty goal to hit, and a lot to say. The blog will resume in December. Thanks for sticking around!

NOTE: if you are depressed and considering killing yourself, please check out these resources. It might not feel like it right now, but there are people out there who truly care. You will get through this. It gets better. 

(International) http://www.suicide.org/international-suicide-hotlines.html

(US) https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org

Posted in Uncategorized

Here Comes Your Ghost Again

I’m looking for my place in this town. We moved here during Covid, when everything was still locked down, and had been for ten months. 

For a minute, I think I’ve found it.

This place feels like walking into a sitcom. It sits on the corner of two of the major streets, full plate-glass front. There are 8 tables, all two-tops but for one, four of them sharing attached bench seating against the wall. The tabletops are mismatched, some finished with a gray sage covering, mostly hard wood stained light. The chairs are all black, paint and cushions, and are the only thing in here that match. The walls are a deep blue that edges toward navy, with a blue mural of a grizzly facing you as you walk in. The organizer in me is in awe of their storage system; shelves for coffee beans and pour-over kits mounted to the support beam, narrow shelf for cream and sugar and various accoutrements following the slight curve of the window. There is a cold fridge directly beneath the counter at the corner where the tiny screen that now serves as a cash register sits, still under a Plexiglass barrier. A small case for pastries sits on the other edge of the counter, flush against the section where the focus turns inward towards the barista. The equipment isn’t new, but gleams even three hours after opening. There is a great deal of foot traffic, no optical illusion even though a line of more than four people winds out the door. The barista is in her forties, with grays just beginning to scatter in her short cap of black hair. She calls every stranger honey or baby, and her regulars by name. She remembers their orders, giving them a hard time when they try something new. 

I took the last empty bench seat, sitting between two men also banging away at their laptops. To my right is a man in his fifties, comfortable in dark-wash jeans and a gray T-shirt. So far, I’ve learned that he has multiple children, enjoys tuna fishing, and didn’t want his wife to resign her job because he likes the money she makes.

To my left is a tall guy in his early twenties. His posture is ramrod straight and three inches away from the wall; his slim-fit, cinnamon-brown pants that are a perfect match to his large canvas backpack and leather “work” boots offset by a bright teal T-shirt. I know far less about him; he hasn’t said a word, has his Airpods in while he focuses on his computer. Occasionally he picks up his phone, but puts it back down after attending to whatever it was that notified him. I want to ask him the secret of his focus. 

The one other long-term occupant sits against the window, facing the back wall. She is also on her laptop, with a full headset and mic on. She’s taken three calls since I’ve been here. She is clad in pastel workout shorts and short-sleeve shirt, blue running shoes with the white of her ankle socks showing. She could have stepped out off the track if it weren’t for the Michael Kors bag with her own power strip and various chargers at her feet. She leans into her screen, readers perched on her nose, long red hair pulled back in a ponytail that was thrown up hours ago. 

There are a number of characters I’ve seen come in. One tall man in his fifties, navy polo tucked into his belted chinos, knew the generic picture of mediocre successful man sitting to my right. They chatted while his order was filled, the seated man never rising, the tall man never sitting. I could only laugh listening to their conversation; not eavesdropping, since it was the loudest thing in the café at the time. They couldn’t recognize the irony in their conversation about downsizing their sailboats, but bitching about their daughters’ tuition, wanting them to go to state schools and work part-time through their pre-med program, because “we told them, you know, you can’t just have everything. So anyway, where’s the little boat?” 

I haven’t met the mayor yet, but there have been several men in double-breasted suit coats and varying levels of white hair who have come in. Two young students come in and take a table, papers and notebooks and coffees all jousting for position on the small table between them. A mother in jogging clothes, stroller covered with a rain-cover, bright eyed baby quiet and staring. Construction workers pass the door to enter the convenience store for cheaper coffee and snacks. At no point in here is the radio ever drowned out. I don’t recognize a single song from the contemporary easy playlist. 

The coffee is strong, the muffins are soft and delicious. I’ll be coming back, but I don’t think it’s going to be a mainstay. 

Now, the library is another story.

My family didn’t go to the library often; it was across town and the parking was terrible. The sidewalks would be slick in the rain, and I feel like it was always raining when we went; perhaps we only did when we couldn’t be sent outside to play. I remember the stone had a softness to it, having been carved long ago enough that no sharp edges remained in the architecture. The stairs of the entrance were so well tucked under the building it was always dark. The double doors are giants in my memory, and probably only somewhat smaller in real life. It reminded me of an old church, but so much warmer, both in sentiment and temperature. It still held the reverent hush in its very walls. As you entered, the circulation desk would be directly in front of you, guarding the way to huge rooms with cathedral ceilings and stacks of books beyond it. The wing to the left was two stories, the wraparound balcony with its high wall and brass bar skirting around the edges of more stacks. Little desks were tucked here and there, lit by brass desk lamps with the green glass shade that I associated with colleges and professors; I had one on my desk at home, and I was immensely proud to see it there after visiting the library. 

The wing to the right was much more open and bright, at least, brighter gray; no shadows here, no towering stacks. Here there were individual cubicle desks, and a couple of old benches; shelves held VHS tapes in tattered plastic cases, and, if memory serves, the giant wooden card catalog. I thought those were fascinating; drawers upon drawers of little cards with secret codes that let you find whatever book you wanted. Now we have browser tabs, and all the code is hidden. 

I, somewhat desperately, want the library to be our place. It’s not walking distance; I imagine it will be biking distance at some painful point in the future. The architecture is highly reminiscent of my childhood, sandstone and pink granite with craggy bricks and soft curves. There’s no half-mile, uphill trek in, just a few steps on level sidewalk to small staircase. Once inside those magic doors, the stairs go down to the right, and up directly in front of you, welcoming you to ascend into the worlds of the printed page, or detour down into the open workspace of technology. At the top of the half-staircase is the circulation desk, now tucked behind Plexiglass. 

I had gone alone to the coffeeshop, but brought my daughter to the library. Lucy’s eyes were wide as she stood, taking it all in. I spoke with the librarian about the application I had started online, and within moments, was grinning ear to ear with library card in hand. I have a secondhand Kindle, which I have yet to use; but holding that card, I felt like I was given the keys to the castle from Beauty and the Beast. Any book I imagined I could conjure up and bring to me. The timing worked out well; just as I tucked the plastic card away, Lucy took off, thankfully to the children’s section. She stopped in her tracks and looked all around, trying to make it compute, before running over to the low table with its equally tiny chairs. She climbed up and spent a happy twenty minutes taking the crayons out of their basket and replacing them, occasionally moving a handful somewhere else nearby with seeming deliberation. I found myself, as I often do when I watch her play like this, wondering what spell she’s casting, what magic lives with her beautiful dark eyes. The moment breaks when she pulls down several books from a shelf. She’s found the books about trucks and other large operable machinery. I smile as she scatters a few of the books, and the pain slices me through like a scalpel, so sharp and neat, I don’t feel it right then. I don’t realize I’m crying until my hand comes away from my face, wet and streaked with running mascara. I don’t feel the ground beneath me until my knees start to buckle. I stay upright with a willpower borne of an audience, not willing to cause a scene, although we are almost the only patrons.

I want to find our place; I need to. I need to keep searching for this new dream, keep building this new life. As the one year anniversary closes in, the pain is swordsman, hiding around every corner, steel glinting only after it strikes. The missing of them is visceral; I feel it, deeply, in the fissures of my heart, in my empty arms. My chest wants to cave in upon itself, my body to bow as only the grief-stricken can. 

I stand straighter. 

A half-hour later, we finish our first tour of the library, making friends along the way. Lucy turns and waves, calling “bye!” to everyone and everything. She is entrancing; her  wide-eyed amazement over a painted flower pot, her desire to put everything she can pick up into her mouth. She keeps me going; she keeps me standing. 

We will find our spot. Maybe we already have, and I just don’t recognize it, because a world without Hawthorne still doesn’t make sense to me. Maybe it never will. Maybe the best we can do is to find some middle ground, some worldly place between absence and nonsense. Maybe that will be enough of a place to call home without my original vagabond by my side. 

Posted in Beliefs and Practices, On Writing

Girl, You’ve Got to Be What Tomorrow Needs

When I woke up this morning, two things came to mind: I remembered being extremely wary of mystical readings until just a few years ago; and I cannot begin to count the number of times I’ve been told I have an “old soul.” My feet hit the floor with purpose, knowing I wanted to tap into that soul today. I readied for the day, getting Lucy fed and dressed, the dog out. I did the things that needed doing; took Lucy to daycare, picked up prescriptions, called to get a repair on the car.

The sky is Oscar blue, brilliant and deep in the spring air. The maple tree extends her shade, bright new leaves reaching for the sun, a blanket of her fallen flowers in her shade. My new plastic Adirondack chair was covered thickly with samaras, helicopters that never quite touched down. I feel insulated from most of the noise of the city around me, and the tension in my shoulders finally starts to slide away. 

Since my birthday, I have had ideas knocking around my head. Essay topics, snippets of poems, ideas for long-form and short-form stories; fiction, nonfiction, memoir, academic writing. I feel surrounded by words; if this were a Disney film, my hair would catch and lift on a breeze of prose, as the words wound themselves through my animated world and the townspeople joined in my song. Je m’appelle Marjanna, et j’ai quelque chose pour dire. 

I kept my birthday very low-key this year. I had a beautiful weekend where I was more focused on myself than I had allowed myself to be before. One of the gifts I gave myself was today. I am off work today. I took the day off, on purpose; I have no appointments, no reservations. I’m not sick, and neither is my kiddo. 

I took the day off so I could write. 

Those reading it may not gasp at this thought, but I certainly did. I practically heard the record scratch. What a crazy idea, I thought. Taking a day off to write. 

I texted some friends; want to hear a crazy idea? Sure, they said. I told them. 

“Cool. So what’s the crazy part?”

I do not take days off lightly. I don’t take days off without reason. To do so, and focus on writing, on me and my craft, feels over indulgent. Who am I to think that my writing is so important that I can skip my actual job in order to focus on it? I must have some ego to think I’m good enough to justify that. 

The audacity of me. 

Self-doubt began to slither in the door that sarcasm and negative self-talk left open. It climbed like smoke, scaling the walls, winding around my body, curling tendrils around my fingers. I tapped out my thoughts on the bright screen in front of me. 

No, it’s silly. I can’t. I’m not really a writer. I’m not published, how can I actually be a writer? This is stupid.

Three dots, blinking. 

“You write, don’t you? You’re a writer. Take the damn day.”

Sometimes we need reminders of what’s true in our lives. When the night closes in and the doubts follow, it’s easy to get trapped in the sticky, negative thought spirals that can drag you down. You start to follow that path down, down, a sickly pale the only light you can see, so you follow it. 

It leads nowhere; it takes you through caves and channels you didn’t know existed, paths you thought you left behind long ago. It is the upside down; you’re not sure if it’s real, but it’s all so familiar, almost comforting. It’s easy to stay, in this dark world you know; you’re tired of fighting, tired of trying. The effort to get back is too much, why not just sink in? The darkness gets its hooks into you, a thousand tiny daggers; it feeds on you, draining you of your energy, your will. 

It is so insidious, so quick to come when you slip. It is opportunistic and cagey, using your own thoughts and words against you, twisting and distorting everything you have worked for, dismantling the structures you so carefully built. 

And it lies. 

The smoke shrank back as I pondered that answer. I write, yes, this is true; doesn’t that make me a writer? I cook, but I’m not a chef; I stitch, but I am no seamstress. What makes writing different? 

I cook to feed myself and my family, to show love and to share with them. I stitch to relax my mind and keep my hands busy, to show love and to share with friends and family. 

And I write for me. 

Me, first. I write for Oscar, and I write for Hawthorne; I write for my father, my mother. I write for all those beyond the veil, whose stories are left in limbo; and I write for those here as well. I write for my friends who can’t find the words; I write for those who hurt, for those who question. For those who wish, and want, and dream. I write for Lucy, that she may know who I have known. 

And.

I write for me. First. Foremost. Finally.

I recently was a guest on a podcast where I talked about confidence (among other things). I felt like I rambled, and the final version hasn’t hit the air yet, so I am not sure how it all worked. I enjoyed the experience so much; I loved talking to the host, and getting to dig into my interpretation and experience with confidence. A lot of my readers thus far have been friends and family; if you’ve been around some years, you know that confidence has not been something that came naturally. If you haven’t known me long, it may or may not surprise you. 

Confidence, to me, is an energy. It’s a force and a flow, something that can be harnessed or let loose. It shifts; it waxes and wanes. As with any energy, there can be disruptions, and you need to reset. On the podcast I mention those friends who help make that happen.  

No one can shake my confidence like I can, when I follow that path, when I let myself be carried by that thick gray smoke. I am a master at getting in my own way, at talking myself out of things. I flip to feeling guilty and self-indulgent very easily. It’s hard for me to see that it is an act of love to do things for myself, too, not just for others. I am learning every day how to love myself. 

I had a tarot pull for my birthday, a full-year spread to welcome 35. It’s been on my mind, daily; I’m not so skilled at reading the cards yet. My mind plays with them like Lucy with a Rubiks cube; futz around with it, shake it, chew on it a little. This is the first time I’ve had such a major pull. I have an app (which feels a bit like cheating, but I like it) for a daily card. I believe that you bring as much to the cards as they give to you. Some days it’s a BOLO, sometimes a new perspective. Some days, it’s the piece that completes the picture.

My card this morning was the Four of Wands, and the key words given were Home, Backbone, and Foundation. Not a bad omen for my first day off to pursue being a writer. 

Posted in Uncategorized

An Algebra of Lyricism Which I Am Still Deciphering

Every two weeks, I will write and publish a blog post, I said.

I’m announcing this for public accountability, I said. 

Six days later, the love of my life slipped wordlessly away from this world while I sat at my computer, tapping away. I had logged over two weeks of daily writing, more than I had accomplished in years. I heard Hawthorne’s snoring change, and left the cursor blinking on the screen as I tried to quietly run upstairs, so as not to wake Lucy, sleeping in her swing by my desk.

The next week I kept my promise, with the support of my friends, family, and therapist. 

Yet now, I sit here, watching that thin line blink, a silent metronome of progress unmade. 

I need to write, I tell myself.

I don’t want to. I watch myself in my mind’s eye, see my folded arms, childish pout on my face. Hawthorne said when my eyebrows came together like that, I looked like Sam the Eagle. It hurts too much. I hurt too much. 

It has been a difficult week. Work has been wonderful; I go, and throw myself into the data, the tracking, the registration of folks coming in for their first vaccine. It’s the closest thing to a party I’ve seen in nearly a year. Eyes crinkle up with smiles behind masks; the effort is made to stay six feet away, though difficult with this crowd, close talkers that they are. At times, there’s almost a waft of jubilation; we can meet our granddaughter, our nephew, our cousin/child/long lost friend, they say. I can see my parents, my older children, my students, they tell me. Soon, they smile. We will be back to normal soon. 

Some are frightened. Some have heard nothing but conspiracy theories, some have allergies and medical problems. So many have been isolated for so long they seem intimidated by the people around, the noise that builds at the busier times, even with detailed and careful scheduling. Many arrive, anxiety balled up in their pockets, worried to shreds by restless hands; but everyone looks lighter when they leave. The weight of “someday, maybe,” has been lifted, replaced by colorful kites of “soon.”

When the work day is done, the sun slips west. I pick Lucy up from her daycare and bask in her light, securing her. We sing on the way home; she interrupts herself with growls and little shrieks. The moon rises full, stark against the softening sky in the east. 

Within an hour of arriving home, Lucy is fed, changed, and asleep. Her single-nap days playing with her friends knock her out by 7pm. The hours lit by still mismatched incandescent bulbs stretch before me; what once felt like stolen time now drags by. I think Netflix has stopped asking if I’m still watching. Most evenings I wake up, disoriented, to the plot of episode something of NCIS, having no idea how they arrived at their conclusions, or even how many fifty-minute mysteries have been solved. 

All around me are projects, half-done or barely begun. Painted terracotta pots wait for their glaze; the plants droop, losing hope that I will soon re-pot them. A belated Christmas stitching lays over a bookshelf, and yards of fabric await their transformation into curtains. One room remains full of boxes to be unpacked; books and office supplies and blank greeting cards and candles. A roll of contact paper sits on the bar it is meant to revitalize. Corkboard monstera leaves sit in their stack next to a decorative photo box, on sale and misspelled, saying “kindess matters.” 

I don’t want to write. I don’t want to open that door; it’s too heavy, stained too dark, and I am weary. I lean against it, a passive act of resistance, feeling the creak in the boards and hinges. My heart already feels too raw, my soul still scraped from the last missive. 

But I know – whether I put pen to paper or not, or fingers to keys or not, the words will be there. They will build and build against the other side of that door, until, like a sinking ship, it bursts open. If I wait for that to happen, the waves come with splinters, arrowing in on old and unsuspecting wounds. My phone lights up to remind me to drink water; the little notepad icon taunts me. I carry how many notebooks, and still, my go-to place to record the lines and stories that cross my mind is my phone. Maybe I should call it Diane

A giant laid down their head the last time this week; one of the brightest city lights of San Francisco was swept away to the stars. Lawrence Ferlinghetti, my favorite of the beat poets, died at 101. I can honestly say that I have never really stopped to think about who my influences are in my writing, but without a doubt, he lead the pack. I have been infatuated with his poetry since high school. I had the opportunity to see him do a reading at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. I arrived late and breathless with my boyfriend; the auditorium was full, and we sat on the wide, shallow steps on the side. Ferlinghetti’s deep voice hummed over the words as if the world had slowed, allowing each line to reverberate from his lips, past the ears of all in attendance, and out and down the hallowed halls. I still hear the echoes whenever I return, though it’s been fifteen years. 

I loved his unabashed appreciation for the beauty of the human body; he didn’t shy away from words like cock or breasts, a titillating and undeniable mark of maturity to my sixteen year old self, poring over his poems in study period at my Catholic high school. I was already queer and appreciating the female form myself, but he helped me discover my love for women went beyond wanting to get under their skirts. Burned into my memory is the image of a woman hanging laundry atop an apartment building, no shelter from the California sun; the wet sheets cling to her, and she laughs. It is a gif; more movement than a simple photograph can allow, yet there is no need for a story before or after, only the complete immersiveness of the moment. Even now, as I lean hard into this season of anguish and grief, I know that rooftop awash in sunlight is there. It is no oasis, but a pinprick star through the gloom.

So, before I say goodbye, Lawrence, Mr. Ferlinghetti sir, a favor if you will – if you see my love there among the stars, perhaps watching the sunset between the baobab trees, tell them that I ache for them. Tell them I miss the planes and curves of their body, the soft skin and all the changes; tell them I’d give anything to watch them hang out laundered linens on a rooftop. While you’re there, mapping the constellation of your next hundred and one years, tell my son a lullaby, a spoken word song that comes from a far rockaway of the heart. And if you can spare it, send a little of their starlight this way, so I may teach my daughter how to paint sunlight, and give me a wild dream of a new beginning.

Posted in Uncategorized

Are You Still Taking Notes

I can write anywhere. When I make it a priority – when I let myself make my writing practice a priority – I enjoy the trappings. The desk set up just so; pens and notebook ready, for whatever comes through that isn’t the topic I’m working on, or doodles and notes about pictures to add. My brain feels like it’s always firing, so I always have some version of a to-do list handy to catch the fleeting thoughts of “call the vet,” “get creamer.” There is a window nearby, natural light softening as it shines through the curtains, or lit from the other side by the warm glow of the desk lamp. There are plants within reach; stuck on a thought, I check the dirt for dampness, and usually add it to my list before rising for a stretch break and to cross it off. There may be music playing, there may not; it depends on my mood, and that’ll change during the writing. If certain tiny humans and old puppies didn’t demand my attention, I could sometimes move hours into the evening before noticing the shadows. 

When writing makes itself a priority, I can and will write anywhere. On the back of an envelope off someone’s desk with a quick, “can I use this?” Post-its, receipts, bank statements. The Notes app on my phone serves as a catch-all, thoughts recorded while driving, intermittent list items, ideas to explore for a blog post. I’ve written entire journal entries on it, if you can call furiously moving my thumbs clutched around a three-inch light in the dark as my brain races ahead beyond the screen “writing.” I do. Right now, I’m sitting cross-legged on the cold wooden floor at the front of my new apartment. My posture is terrible (she says, straightening her spine as she types this), and my ass is frozen. In front of me is the thick braided rug that used to lay in Lucy’s room; I set up old lady Ella a little nest at my knee with a bathmat and the couple of towels I could quickly find. She’s tucked up against me, a scraggly black crescent of snoring dog. 

Yesterday was the day I moved the three of us into the apartment; the movers came the day before with the contents of the storage unit in Vermont, which apparently did not include a single chair. I had ordered an IKEA sleeper sofa which was supposed to be delivered yesterday and never showed (item for to-do list: call IKEA 10am). My desk is where I want it to be, but without the chair, I default to the couch – or where it should be. My pre-caffeinated brain put me in the right place, whereas my barely-caffeinated brain is telling me to move forward a few feet and join Ella on the rug. Yet my fingers keep moving, and my cold ass stays in place.

I am on a constant search for tools and tricks to maximize productivity, provide structure, and enjoy the results. Yes, enjoy – a deliberate choice of words, because using tools and structure to creates something – whether that’s a piece of art, a blog post, or a work product – sparks true joy (I will never KonMari my toolbox, and you can’t make me). One thing I stumbled across recently was a new app called GoalsWon. I chanced upon the opportunity to beta test it, and thus far, I’m finding it helpful. I’m using it specifically for my writing practice; I wanted something to keep me on track in this time of crazy transition, when nothing feels stable, and I don’t even have my coffeemaker unpacked.

On moving day, I set two goals in regards to my writing: make my daily goal of 500 words, and get my writing space set up. I hit my word count easily in the morning, pouring out my angst about the day, and how bullshit it is to have to be doing this. Later I muttered to Hawthorne that I never thought I’d be carrying them and our son under one arm to the car, I figured I’d be dragging them both; a kid-at-heart and kiddo not wanting to leave the playground when it was time to go. 

My other goal didn’t happen. My immediate thought was that I had failed; I wanted to get my writing space set up, and I did not. I automatically cast myself as both judge and defendant, Lady Justice peeking out from her blindfold to tip the scales and let me sink into the cold, comforting arms of the part of me who somehow always feels so undeserving. Reframing this as data doesn’t release me; it doesn’t give me the familiar path of saying, “well, guess I’ve gone and fucked it up again, what a surprise.” That loop of failure to accomplish equaling my failure as a person is a deep-set track; the banks are steep, and once I’m in, it’s easier to stay than grind my way out. 

One intention I set this year is to be kinder to myself; so rather than thinking about not meeting the goal as failure, I am trying to reframe it as a simple fact, one of two possible outcomes. Making this choice to deliberately turn failure into data is not easy; recently, one of my best friends told me that I could squeeze failure out of a tomato. It’s funny, because it’s true.

And clearly, the fact that I did not set up my writing space is OK. Because here I am, cold ass and snoring dog, banging away at the keys. 

I let go of writing for a long time; truly, it was a different world. The bright blue folder I’ve carried with me, hidden, house to house for over twenty years is ripped at the corners, the shine on it dulled from years of being tucked away. It is thick with my angsty teenage poetry, songs that I wrote in the shower, and fragments of stories that were not my own. I have been collecting these lines, building up the case to remind myself in ways that no photograph ever could of what my passion is; an indelible reminder of the kid that I was and the dreams that she had.

I had just recommitted to writing this blog when my world was utterly shattered for the second time in as many years. Hawthorne spent their last minutes asleep in our comfortable bed, Ella snoring alongside them while I sat with our daughter who was asleep in her swing. It was a sunny Saturday morning; I was awake, sitting at my desk, iced coffee going warm by my elbow. I was writing when the sky fell in. Exuent Hawthorne. Scene. 

One of my friends, a particularly badass and fearless woman, somehow held onto the thread of my writing through the chaos that became my world that week. She asked what no one else did, what I’m sure no one else was even thinking about; was I going to publish my blog on time? I told her, with some pride, it was already in the editing phase. One week after Hawthorne died, I met my scheduled biweekly goal when I published the obituary I couldn’t give to the papers. 

Part of why I had left writing locked up for so long was that Hawthorne had been planning on going to school. They didn’t think they had a career in sociology, so they were looking at their MFA in creative writing. I think their Facebook page still lists their major as “Sociology and Pretty Writing.” They were not so prolific as I find myself, but each word was hand-selected, a quality gemstone for just the right setting. Like their return to music, however, picking up the pen again proved difficult; pain robbed them of the ability to think of much else, and the medications that took the pain away also stole the keys to their creativity. For those who continue to fight through incredible pain, it is a battle engaged on every front and facet of a person. It’s too easy to forget that if you aren’t facing it day after week after month. 

I didn’t pursue writing because I wanted to give Hawthorne the space to do so. They never asked; they never would have dreamed of it. Instead, I let my impossible standards transfer leak out. I worried that success was pie, and there was only so much to go around; what if we both weren’t successful? What if writing turned out to be something good and important for me (which, clearly, it’s integral) and they did not have a good experience? What would the fallout be? So without breathing a word of this into actual conversation, I decided the best way to support Hawthorne’s writing dreams would be to put mine aside. 

It’s only now that I am able to articulate this thought process. Whenever it came up before, I’d always brush it off; Hawthorne was the writer, I was the data person. Qualitative and quantitative, a perfect match. It was one aspect where I did not want to compete; I was afraid for what either success or failure would mean, and I could not see beyond that binary. It took losing Oscar to find that in me again. The world had crumbled, leaving dusty artifacts and oddly preserved opportunities to build anew. Some of those are in Hawthorne’s own hand; I have a crate full of their notebooks that I cannot open yet.

Today, through the wonders of both time and therapy, I know that it’s not just writing. I find myself excavating pieces I had thought lost, for one reason or another, usually ridiculously self-imposed based on what I feared other’s perceptions would be. Each discovery is wrapped in grief and guilt, and must be carefully exposed. It takes time for the relics of my dreams to be brought out into the light, time I know must be dedicated. 

Hawthorne would never have knowingly buried my dreams. They were my champion; they gave me the pushes I need to take new jobs, to go back to school, to apply to my dream program. Once I said I wanted to write, they were all in, and they were hurt by my surprise at that. I tried to explain it wasn’t them, that this view was completely fabricated in my head. I’m not sure they believed me. 

I am getting to the point where I can talk to them again. I look at their picture on my desk or on my phone. I awkwardly met someone recently who happens to be quite attractive, and one of my first reactions was, Hawthorne’s got to be getting such a kick out of this. Our friends agreed when I told them, after only a brief internal argument that it was too soon for me to see another person as attractive. Hawthorne and I would tease each other mercilessly when this would happen; why not now? I like to think it’s their laughter that shines the stars bright enough to break through the light pollution of the city, giving them that extra twinkle.

It’s a different day; I still don’t have my writing space set up, but I do have a couch. I’m writing in bed, in my bedroom sanctuary, free of (most of) the flotsam of moving. I have the fan on, since the heat from the house seems to settle here the most. I’m much more comfortable than when I started writing this post; the urgency is no less intense. I can hear what Hawthorne called the sound of mice tap-dancing as my fingers fly across the keyboard, trying to keep up with my thoughts and outrace the red lines of misspelled words. Lucy will wake up soon, and the day will begin. By the end of it, I’ll find scribbled notes to myself, quick lines of prose enmeshed with shopping and to-do lists. Tomorrow morning I will take the time to sort it out as I find some space between the half-empty boxes to park myself and write again.

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Time Crawls On While You’re Waiting for the Song to Start

Forgive me, reader, for I have slipped, it has been nearly two months since my last blog post. I find myself staring out the window, waiting for the darkness to fade rather than looking at my screen. I want to write; I love my Saturday mornings. I made my coffee hot in deference to the 47 degree morning. Sitting on my couch, I watch the thin line of the cursor blink on a blank page, waiting for my fingers to move. Inspiration did not strike, so I pulled up another screen and started to let my thoughts flow. My brain moves quicker when I journal; reading back, it sounds as if it is spoken, packed with silence-fillers like “so,” and “ugh.” I typed away until I felt like I could write, brain pan emptied of the mundane and clutter. I pulled up the blank screen. The cursor pulsed, a patient heartbeat, keeping time. I feel like there is so much I have thought to be writing about that I just cannot access right now. We recently went back to Buffalo; an 8 hour drive with the baby, dog, and avoidance of public rest stops. I had wished more than once on those drives for a device that would simply pull the “written” thoughts from my head and record them without me having to do anything. My mind wanders to the days of tape recorders and a montage from Twin Peaks of the agent recording notes to Diane before I snap back. The cursor blinks back at me.

2020 has been a year of upheaval for me, someone who thrives on structure and consistency. That is not to say I’m not agile or able to adapt; I worked in EMS for 10 years. You never knew what you could be faced with next. Now that I work in an office setting where I am not holding anyone’s life in my hands, I have not kept up that level of high alert, but I am still able to adapt to changing situations and environments. Outside of work is a different story. I don’t live on the balls of my feet anymore; I did that for years, living in dynamic and sometimes volatile situations. That state is far too exhausting and stressful for me to be comfortable now, especially with a baby who stills smells new sometimes. I am not a spontaneous person, a fact that drives Hawthorne’s free spirit up the wall. I have recognized and accepted this about myself for a long time.

When things are good, I can keep a lot of plates spinning. I have the balance; I can keep an eye on them, making small adjustments, knowing when the next plate needs a touch to keep on course. I can handle things; just let me be, don’t approach too quickly, and refill my coffee often. When emergencies arise, I can focus on the immediate needs: pack the hospital bag, make childcare arrangements, respond quickly and calmly. You only need to worry if I’m worried, do I look worried to you? No ma’am. 

But when the bottom drops out and my whole world tilts, the plates begin to crash. I crash as I desperately try to not only catch them, but keep them spinning. I grasp wildly for those threads of control as they tangle and escape, slipping from clenched fists and burning on the way out. I stand shattered in the wreckage, not knowing where to begin. 

There are few acts that show off such vulnerability more clearly than writing. By the time of Oscar’s brief life, I hadn’t written seriously in years. A few poems here and there when I fell in love, a couple articles for work, papers for school. While pregnant with Oscar, I read Like A Mother by Angela Garbes. I sat in the river, my swollen belly keeping the book out of the water, his kicks and rolls adding turbulence as I devoured her words. The call in my head grew louder to write my own story as a queer woman navigating the overwhelmingly straight world of impending motherhood. I distracted the call with freeze pops and let my dream languish for Someday.

Then Oscar’s heart stopped beating beneath mine. The plates all fell as my world was irrevocably changed. I wandered the debris field for months, barely able to put the biggest pieces back together. I read a lot about kintsugi, the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold. It was hard to focus on the striking beauty of reparative work when the hands piecing everything back together were also shattered. I spent a lot of time staring; looking, but not seeing. The blank space stretched on and on, the only thing left unbroken. 

My soul had been wrenched out of my body to lay prostrate, soft underbelly vulnerable to a sharp word. My body recovered slowly, and I became pregnant with Lucy. 

The first difference between pregnancies I noticed was the new and complete lack of serenity. Everything was jagged, the shards of our life Before now sharp with worry; panic pierced through worn skin and would be soothed temporarily by our team. I tried to keep healthy, but many times I wondered what the point was. I had done everything right with Oscar: kept the appointments, tried to lower my stress level. I did everything for him, and he was still gone. 

When I stumbled upon the Pregnancy After Loss Support group, I admit, part of me wanted to look away. Yes, I had been lamenting the lack of resources for queer families; but there is something about isolation that can be comforting. Grief is an insular world that muffles the noise and dampens the senses. I wanted resources to be available, but I also wanted to stay wrapped in my heartbreak. I was scared to open up to other people’s losses. I was afraid to take on their sorrow, as if it would enhance my own.

As the weather grew warmer and his first birthday approached, I could feel the call again, louder, more insistent, an unrelenting drumbeat. I emailed the PALS link and wrote about attending Pride with empty arms. Within two weeks, I became a weekly contributor. And just like that, I was writing again. 

It took some time after Lucy’s birth to be able to tell her story. My memory of the events is still hazy, and is not likely to ever become fully clear. Preeclampsia and the associated treatments will do that. I am content with the good things I do remember from that time, namely, hearing the first squeaks of my daughter in the operating room, and having her tiny burrito-wrapped body pressed to mine before she was whisked away to the NICU. 

It wasn’t long after publishing her last update to PALS that I knew I couldn’t stop writing again. I had done it to help others and to help my soul heal; waking up halfway to dawn every night made me realize that I still needed that. I had spent my pregnancies doing everything I could for the life inside me. I had given up my autonomy and put myself solidly lower on the priority list. As a mother to a living child and as a wife, I continue to put others needs before my own. It’s something I have done my whole life; I’m a pleaser, and the worst feeling for me is that I have disappointed someone. I am good at doing what needs to get done. It has taken 10 years of Hawthorne telling me to take care of myself, and a new life depending on me for survival, to make me realize that I while I have been getting things done, I have been disappointing myself.

Once I had that tiny little revelation, I decided to become my own coach. Listening to podcasts and starting a daily writing practice, I have found myself in a season of self-discovery and development. I have started a daily writing practice, and I am starting to fill in the self-care and self-building boxes I’ve been making for years in my bullet journal. I’m reading the NY Times daily newsletters, following blogs, and have finally embraced the wonder of podcasts; I need to shoutout my two favorites, which have been instrumental to me these last few months. The Art of Speaking Up gets me to work in a mindset ready to show up for my career and my dreams and makes me look at myself through a critical yet supportive lens; EmpowerHER challenges me to get off my ass and own my shit. I’ve managed to read over 200 pages for pleasure (Stephen King’s The Shining – thank you, Hawthorne, for not making me read it in the winter) for the first time in years.

Oscar gave me another gift this year on his birthday. When I was driving and thinking about him, radio off for once, I had a future memory (I don’t like to call them visions). I watched as entered a small bedroom painted in a calm slate blue with a window facing the forest. Dark wooden furniture was brightened by large-leaf plants. I held my coffee, sat down at the desk in comfortable clean clothes with my hair pulled back, and I was at work. I was a writer.

That image has stuck with me, and I find myself returning to it. I don’t ever imagine myself giving up my day job; I love my work, its challenges and its impact. But why can’t I also write?

This blog has become extremely important to me, because writing has been a passion of mine since I was a child. I am extremely important to me. It’s taken me years, heartbreak, and immeasurable loss to get here. If I want to show up for my family – for my huswife, for my daughter, and for my starside son, I need to keep showing up for me. 

I can’t say I’ll never falter, but I can promise I will continue to get up. I am no longer waiting for the right time, I’m not waiting until I’m ready. This is the time for messy action. 

So I’m putting it out there, reader, universe, whoever is reading. Writing is important to me, because I am important to me. And I’m going to honor that. 

Going forward, blog posts will be posted every other Saturday. They will cover a variety of topics, which will be categorized. Maybe I can even figure out how to color code them in WordPress. I will be migrating my PALS works here soon. 

I am a writer, and I will be on the New York Times bestseller list. You read it here first, folks. Watch this space.