Category Archives: essay

A Simple Potluck Dinner

Last Saturday we piled into the minivan and headed, for the first time since moving here more than five years ago, to a locally infamous community potluck at a place called Big Bear Camp. The potluck happens monthly and follows a different theme. I imagined themes like comfort food and Asian food, but wasn’t exactly sure. We’d long wanted to go to the potlucks but missed the opportunity during Autumn’s newborn phase, and then the pandemic happened, and it wasn’t until recently that the owners of Big Bear Camp, an engaging couple of retirement age, called us on the telephone. They addressed us as the “chicken people” and invited us to their monthly community potluck, which had just started up again.

We’d passed their sign before marking Big Bear Camp on the long, winding and wooded Nelson Mountain Road back when we used to drive it regularly to visit our good friends in Deadwood. The road connects our small town, Walton, with another small town, Deadwood. Deadwood was always a decidedly cooler place than Walton, but if anything were to change my mind about that, it was sure to be our experience at Big Bear Camp.

Time stands still in some places. Takilma, Oregon. Deadwood. And even, I would learn, at Big Bear Camp–located 33 miles outside of Eugene. I am certain that a million places like this exist across our country. They’re the places that don’t show up on glossy brochures. They’re places where GPS always gets it wrong. And where you are more likely to see a person walking in bare feet, with flowers in their hair, a beer in their hand, and their face toward the sun, rather than looking down at their watch, or phone; or rushing in and out of big box stores, and chasing the next “thing” at breakneck speed. These places are a step outside, even, your quintessential small towns–your Tombstone, Arizona’s; your Virginia City, Montana’s. It’s a place for locals where nothing, and I mean nothing, is being sold. Just bartered.

I immediately felt at home when we, after arriving late, were welcomed into the wide circle of what must have been over forty five people, who were introduced as our neighbors. In that moment I honestly felt more connected than I have in years.

After introductions, people made their way to the lodge for a potluck feast served on the wraparound porch outside. Lively discussions about solar energy, sustainable food production, and building homes using reclaimed local timber ensued.

“There’s more food inside,” a pretty elderly woman dressed in a blue wool coat told us. She sported coral pink lip gloss and I was immediately drawn to her, and inspired by her style. I almost regretted wearing my fresh-of-the-farm outfit: black from head-to-toe. Next time, I told myself, I’d wear some color. I wanted to talk to her, but before I could say a word she’d fluttered away.

It was eye-opening to see so many other likeminded and friendly people, right there in our backyard. I’d almost come to believe to some extent that these kind of people only existed in my phone. What a mistake that had been, and what a casualty of the isolated, pandemic-era.

After the feast, which was as lively as always for Steve and I–balancing our paper plates with metal forks and grabby, wobbly, three-year-old–the host pointed us to the “library” on the lodge’s second floor. We rounded the spiral staircase to a comfortable landing place for any parent and child. Energized as she was, I couldn’t get Autumn to focus on a single children’s book. That was until a little girl close to her age–almost three years her senior–wandered up. Autumn was content to have the little girl read to her when she offered, and the two happily played together for the rest of our visit.

For sometime, I sat in a chair in the corner of the library, just catching my metaphorical breath. Not catching my breath from socializing or parenting, things you might think of when I say that. But catching my breath from the fast paced and often artificial world outside the walls of Big Bear Camp and other places like it. Looking down from the loft library at all the people sitting face-to-face, eating pie under the glow of solar light, with not a phone or screen in sight; I felt both sad and happy. Sad because something as ordinary as sitting face-to-face, and really giving someone your attention was somehow a novelty now. And happy because I felt warm and fuzzy just witnessing and being a part of it all. This recently forgotten ritual: a simple potluck dinner.

I wanted to stay forever off grid, where the norms were flipped on their heads and where the something missing was at the heart of all the magic. When devoid of technology, we only have each other to connect with.

Of course I didn’t say any of this to anyone. And when one of the hosts appeared in the library on multiple occasions, I noticed that while he was speaking to me, he was also grabbing books. He grabbed one book off the arm of a chair. Another off a shelf. He did this very nonchalantly, as if I wouldn’t notice. Of course, I did notice. I noticed one was titled “Women of the Woods,” or something like that. I knew he was going downstairs to pass the novel off to one person or another, and naturally that made me happy. I liked to imagine how far back these traditions went, how long he and his neighbor had been trading paperback westerns. Two individuals, about my age, popped their heads into the library. Both said they’d been coming to Big Bear Camp since they were kids, that their parents read to them in the library I was sitting in. I smiled thinking of my own upbringing off grid, and how deep an impact my community had left on me, too. And how I desperately wanted that for my daughter.

This is all to say that the potluck was a reminder that there are still one million ways to live a life. And that time stands still, even today, in some places. Perhaps with this new awareness, we too can create a more intentional living space, built on a foundation of art, knowledge and community. And food. And although we did puncture a tire on the drive home, we will definitely be going back to Big Bear Camp’s next monthly potluck. And I’ll be sure to wear my colors.

Love,

Mama Bird

The Importance of Showing Mercy in Memoir

Like all of us, I’ve always been of the belief that actions speak louder than words. But over the past several months, I’ve been thinking about how loud words do speak, particularly if you are a memoirist.

I’ve had many years of writing and publishing (mostly here on my blog) to teach me that those who are written about will read your words closely and they will take them to heart, naturally. I have also had the luxury–I humbly admit–of those characters showing me extreme grace and forgiveness.

My memoir writing journey began in my very early twenties, and because I knew virtually nothing about memoir, other than having read a couple of them, I approached my writing this way: I wrote everything about everyone and used all their real names.

Now, I look at my pages and I see the truth, yes. But I also look at those pages and see real live people with real live emotions, and I have to honor that. At this juncture, having written the meat of the story, and revised it several times over, I have a choice: Do I change names or soften the story? Do I painstakingly sort through and assign similar sounding names to key characters? Cousins, boyfriends and bosses? Or do I keep their names and speak as if they are there in the room with me: with honesty, integrity, and compassion?

Writers in the genre have all heard the same line, “If they didn’t want to be written about poorly, they shouldn’t have behaved badly.”

It’s a fine starting point, a line to help you get your pen moving across the page. But I am curious to hear from other aspiring memoirists if it’s that same sentiment they think of when crossing over the threshold into querying and publishing.

Because, after all, most books do not become overnight bestsellers. What if we memoirists, in the end, sell our books only to our family members. If your book subject matter, childhood trauma, wouldn’t make for some awkward Thanksgiving dinner conversation, well I don’t know what would.

But here’s the thing, when it comes to me, the majority of those who have purchased the books I have self-published are not my family. I haven’t had a Thanksgiving with my mother, ever, and abandonment, whether comfortable or not, is central to my story. I cannot untangle myself from the truths and tell some other story. But maybe I can tell my story with a balance of both transparency and grace. Maybe. That’s what I hope for.

Back when I first started writing The Poetry of Place, long before it had a title, long before I’d changed my mother’s name to Moonbeam, and long before I started dragging my pages through critique group, it was all about the therapeutic benefits of memoir. I didn’t think of it in those terms back then, but looking back I’d really, really, really needed to exorcise my story. I was always a writer, from elementary school on up. So my story–once I finally realized it’s potential–became viable subject matter. And my intention morphed from the therapeutic benefits of writing to the creative challenge it presented: Writing a book worth reading.

So rather than “If they didn’t want to be written about poorly, they shouldn’t have behaved badly,” how about, “Hurt people hurt people.”

Most people agree with that statement, and I believe the message is being conveyed through my memoir. Therefor I cannot take responsibility, or blame, when expressing, in so many words, something that we all agree is true, that “hurt people hurt people.”

But that’s what it all comes down to, responsibly. Because memoirists aren’t just airing our dirty secrets, but in some cases the secrets of others, too. In turn we have the potential to create a significant portion of someone’s legacy. And that is a responsibility that should not be taken lightly. Ever.

As I cross over the threshold into querying (that’s the long process of landing an agent or a book deal), and as I refine its final pages, imagining its bound version, I weigh my options. I am trying to strike a balance that honors both what I’ve endured, and protects the inherent innocence of those surrounding the story itself. Because none of us are perfect. Not even close. I think the most helpful advice I have heard is to be as hard on myself in the story as I am being on others. I assure you, given my nature, that my flaws will come across strongly in the final story. No matter what version you get.

Love (above all else),

Mama Bird

Second Life: My Relationship with Thrifting

I slathered some second hand shopping on my wounds today. The last time we spoke, my grandmother asked me if I’d “scored anything good” at the thrift stores lately. I blathered on about the red wool jacket I’d scored six years ago at the Super Goodwill in Eugene. Nothing too good lately. But today, I would make up for lost time. I’d taken an intentional day off work for some R & R. A born n’ bred thrifter, this was my version.

It is my belief that we are all hopelessly addicted to something. If second hand splurges are my poison, so be it. Inside St. Vinneys, beyond the Christmas décor, the pieces started jumping out at me. There was a pair of camel-colored suede cowgirl boots. I tried them on. They were too much. Too costumey. Other suede booties swirled in front of my vision. Christmas music clouded my ears. How are all the boots my size? I backed away from the booties, but not before settling on two pairs. One, a lived-in leather wedge to go with my wedding dress in the springtime. Two, a basic chestnut brown ankle bootie. I reminded myself it was justified. Second to our homes we like live in our clothing, right? And not to mention how good second hand shopping is for the earth. I would give these booties a second life.

A man who was in step with me when we walked through the double doors, now shuffled past me with a blazer draped over one arm, and holding a golf driver in the other. He didn’t look at me then, and he didn’t look at me now. His eyes were glazed over similar to the other mid-day, mid-week thrifters. If there were drinks here, I’m sure we’d all have much to share, and much in common. At least our affinity for thrifting.

The elderly thrifters are my favorite. When we last spoke, my grandmother told me her caregiver, the one who handles all her medical stuff, has been taking her thrifting as a treat after her appointments with specialists. Cacti and that same, familiar blue and white Goodwill sign welcome her when she arrives. “Hi, welcome in,” I can imagine the clerk saying to her.

“They pull out all the good stuff and put it up front now. It kind of takes the hunt out of it,” she told me over the phone.

“I know, I know,” I responded in the same tone of voice she would have used, with a hint of a southern drawl.

As my grandmother grows older, I am slowly turning into her. We are in step.

I ignore the impulse to buy a baby blue fleece sweater–Champion brand–even though it is in my color. I have a lot of colors. Black. Red. Lavender. Green. Instead, I scored a brand-new pair of Old Navy mittens, violet, still with the tags on, for $1.99.

Then I decided I need a new, used wallet. The one I unearthed has an exposed window for drivers’ license located on the outside of the wallet. Perfect.

In that section, a small backpack with a blue and white print spoke to me. I swear it literally said my name. So I didn’t even question that purchase, just tossed it in the basket. It was 25% off.

On the other side of the store, in the jeans section, I asked the clerk if the fitting rooms were reopened yet. Having them closed was pandemic protocol. She said no, and they would probably never reopen again due to theft. I eyed the fitting rooms, caution tape surrounded them. I knew better than to stay in the jeans section if I couldn’t try them on.

I have a couple firm rules for thrifting: 1. Try everything on. 2. If it’s not yes, it’s no. (The second one is actually a bit of dating advice I’d gotten from a friend, but I’ve found it applies here too.)

Four long sleeve shirts later and I was up at the counter finally checking out. The clerk didn’t know it, but I was going to be trying the four shirts on outside my minivan to ensure that they were the right fit (by the grace of the thrifting gods, they were). I even have a superstition around this: if I notice a dress or a shirt fall off a hanger, I place it back where it belongs, with hopes that the thrifting gods might bestow good luck on me in return for my good deed.

My total came to $59.90. I always act like it’s good luck when the total comes to “just” under something; as in my just under $60.00. “Alright, I kept it under sixty!” I chirped to the clerk.

It was something my grandmother would have said, as was complimenting the clerk on her red blouse, and asking if it was designed by Carole Little.

I’ll have to call my grandmother now and tell her what I scored: two pairs of boots, one pair to go with my wedding dress, one pair for work, a new, used wallet, a blue-and-white bohemian-esque backpack, that can double as a purse, and four basic, long sleeve shirts for winter. A lot has changed since the “fill a bag for a dollar” days of thrifting. But the closeness I feel to my grandmother when doing this simple ritual is one-hundred percent priceless.

Love,

Mama Bird

Breaking the Spell: I’ve Been Logging Off Social Media for the Weekend, But it Still Isn’t Enough

My experiment started innocently enough, and in December I’ll be approaching 40 consecutive social media-free weekends. I know you’re probably wondering how the experiment has been going. In short, it is difficult to imagine a lifestyle where I didn’t set firm boundaries around my screen-use. But…it still isn’t enough. (More on that later.)

I began logging off social media on the weekends on the morning of Saturday, March 6th. I know because I’ve kept track in my planner–“No SM weekends” is scribbled into the top right corner of each square labelled “Saturday” and “Sunday.” Step One of accountability. Step Two was to announce it weekly on my Instagram stories.

“Why do you do that?” A well-intentioned friend asked me early on in my experiment. My answer was for accountability, of course. If I didn’t tell everyone on the platform that I was logging off, what would keep me from logging on and abandoning the experiment? Through my past experiences with addiction, I’d learned that willpower sometimes isn’t enough. For more food for thought on that, just listen to this episode of Radio Lab “You v. You.”

Another (HUGE) thing that inspired this lifestyle experiment was a documentary I watched called The Social Dilemma. In it, a group of former employees of social media companies out the inner evils (i.e. no restrictions on the relentless algorithms) of our most loved platforms: Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and even Google itself. All very cringe-worthy material. If you don’t believe me, just watch it.

After the documentary, I was left feeling like I needed to break the spell of social media and gain control again. I knew I was facing an addiction in the eyes–I’d been there before–and I wondered how many others knew how to recognize the signs and symptoms. Thoughts like, “If everyone jumped off a bridge, would you?” came to mind. I wondered why our society condemns some addictions, and let others slide. Like was the case with tobacco, I think we just don’t know how bad it is yet with screens. All the signs are there. Like, I can see the writing on the wall. And I’m betting that you can, too.

During the experiment, my lowest screen time happened on a Sunday. That day, I logged just 13 minutes of screen time. Alternatively, I clocked five hours on a recent Thursday. So there is a marked reduction in my screen use by eliminating social media alone. I just don’t know if that difference is enough to satisfy my overall need for a better quality-of-life.

The truth is there’s nothing more maddening than feeling powerless. And that is the distinction that I have come to recognize between using social media apps and the Internet in general (other websites like news, online magazines, etc.). When I’m scrolling Instagram, I get to that place where my mind is putting on the breaks (don’t you this, you already saw all you needed to see today, you need to get up and make lunch), but my body/hands have a totally different response (scroll, scroll, scroll. Ding, ding, ding).

Having had some exposure to gambling culture, I always vowed never to get caught up in gambling. And I’ve achieved that goal. But when I find myself on a website, and was driven there by a social media advertisement, and I end up buying this Rosehip Face Oil endorsed by Crissy Teigan, literally a woman I barely know exists, I have to wonder: how is this all any different? The bottom line is profit.

It just feels so similar to other addictive patterns I have experienced–and overcome–in my life. I liberated myself from tobacco and haven’t had a cigarette in years. In my memoir, I write extensively about my experimentation and addiction to street drugs. The similarities are this: I know what I am doing is extremely unhealthy, but I’m going to do it anyway, because I feel powerless to stop. I am here to tell you that education, knowledge and intention can bridge an addiction to anything. It was my curiosity that finally led to my recovery of those other substances. I just hope in the future I can say the same about my scary unhealthy addiction to screens.

What matters most at the end of the day is the example I am setting for my daughter. The recommendation for a person her age is 1 hour of screen time per day. I can tell you that there are days that she far surpasses that recommendation. And that responsibility, of course, falls ultimately on me. So I’m looking for another story to write.

We are at a fork. On the one hand, there are smartglasses on the market now, and on the other hand, some people are participating in screen-free week and some communities are even experimenting with screen free zones. (So cool!) I’m just trying to decide which side of history I want to be on…and how far in any direction I am willing to go.

For the immediate future, social media-free weekends will definitely continue. I am now debating going completely screen-free on either Saturday or Sunday or both. Even as a woman on a farm with seven acres to roam, in a general environment and community that is not at all artificial, I find myself really struggling to find the appropriate balance. It’s kind of crazy. The cool thing is, I know I’m not alone. I know that you are reading this right now and thinking of ways that we can both continue to use the Internet more as a tool and less as a rule. I know that you are thinking of ways that we can preserve our creativity while still having a space to share and connect and relate with a lot of interesting people. I am open to hearing your thoughts, but if you direct message me on Instagram, don’t expect a response until Monday.

Love,

Mama Bird

Why Social Distancing Feels Right For Me

Social distancing restricts gatherings in an attempt to stop or slow the spread of infectious diseases, in this case I’m talking about COVID-19…who isn’t? Social distancing may include canceling events, slowing or stopping business, and requires just staying put. It has a long list of social and economic repercussions that I know nothing about—yet. As of today, I sense that I am taking this COVID-19 thing more seriously than other Oregonians, a fact that probably just boils down to my being able to stay put more than anything. As a freelancer who works from home, I have this luxury amidst a crisis. But I’m beginning to think it’s the most practical step for everyone.

I see social distancing (specifically self-isolation) as temporary. It requires a huge sacrifice upfront. Here in Oregon, we seem to be waiting to get a pass from our employers, school districts, universities and state officials on when to stay home. I’m not exactly waiting for that pass, but rather I’m thinking for myself as I watch the uptick of cases of COVID-19 world and state-wide.

Really, I’m self-isolating because I’m sick. So I am taking public health advice on that: stay home if you don’t feel well. But probably even if my daughter and I didn’t have runny noses and coughs, I wouldn’t be heading out to do shopping or work or anything else. In the past 18 days, we’ve stayed home 13 of them. This seems to be a logical approach to me, given everything that’s been happening with COVID-19 and the fact that we still have these stubborn colds!

Yesterday I left the house to go to the bank. Wearing a pair of large ski mittens, I cashed my check through the drive-in window. There was a shiny slate of glass positioned comfortably between the checker and me. Then I drove home, taking the long way by a winding creek. I didn’t see one soul in sight, and I didn’t have any bumping-into-anyone-guilt.

This week, I’ve had to reschedule three engagements. Even with all the infections happening worldwide and in the state of Oregon, I get a knot of anxiety inside my belly cancelling things. I feel the pressure to perform. Don’t we all? I also feel a glob of snot travelling down the inside of my right nostril. So this is not just precaution and I am not just paranoid. I’m being realistic and considerate. Autumn and I got back-to-back colds this spring with the second one hitting us on February 25th, five days after returning from our trip from Arizona. We flew and had layovers both ways, one in Seattle and one in Salt Lake City. So contraction of COVID-19 was possible, though not necessarily plausible. I am being extra mindful anyway. (Note: a Lane County public health official informed me that only those who had traveled to China, South Korea, Italy or Iran are currently being tested for COVID-19, as of the publication of this blog.)

I am fortunate that I can finagle social distancing, professionally and lifestyle-wise. I get that most people don’t have the option of staying home, and I empathize with them. But maybe they should draw a thicker line, and think about the long-term repercussions of this disease: the impact on our elders and the fact that it’s now a world-wide crisis.

I feel I am making the right choice for me, but the thing is: we’re all in this together. In fact my partner Steve breaks quarantine daily, bringing in and taking out whatever germs, however benign, we are carrying. To his credit, he is limiting his lifestyle too, and doing only the absolutely necessary engagements. As our primary earner, he doesn’t feel like he can just stop going to work.

As of Tuesday afternoon there are 15 positive cases in Oregon, across seven counties. The state of Washington, just north of us, has more than that number in sheer deaths. Some experts believe the numbers are projected to rise thousands, and that the virus has already been circulating regionally for well over six weeks.

As I reach for my handkerchief to blow my nose, I wonder if ingesting as much news as I have—listening to NPR, reading The New York Times and The Washington Post—has literally kept me snotty and coughing for the past two weeks. It can’t be helping.

Despite that, I know we are slowly getting better. I am hoping when we do recover from our colds, the threat of community-spread COVID-19 will be over.

My choice to semi-self-quarantine—to quarantine to the very best of my ability (I can’t make the same decision for Steve)—coincided with a 50% increase in Oregon cases on Sunday, March 8th. That’s double the number of cases overnight. So I am relying on my own judgement on this one, not just heeding the public opinion. If hypothetically we were infected, my conscience couldn’t handle infecting others!

I trust that everyone is doing the same and thinking for themselves. The good news is, we can all share different opinions. The bad news is that we will all be affected equally by the outcome of this disease.

COVID-19 or not, Autumn and I deserve to get better from our colds. So for this week I will be working exclusively from home, staying close to NPR and OPB news coverage, and praying for the health of our state, nation and world. I will also be drinking lots of mint tea, eating chicken soup, and wondering—as I see cars flying by on the highway—what everyone else is doing to stay healthy out there.

 

 

Regrets

One benefit to aging is that I used to not believe in regrets, but now I do. Wise, I am not sure, but having regrets shows compassion I believe. I am big on compassion. Or I like to think I am. I am still learning.

My regrets are strange. They’re not huge, but petty little things. They creep up in my mind often and I wonder, should I call so and so? Should I dredge this up from the past? Would they even remember? What if they retroactively hate me once I remind them?

I feel like I can out my regrets on both my hands (probably not) let’s see:

-My exboyfriend in college was a sous chef at a Japanese restaurant. A girlfriend and I went to eat at his place. He’d come up with a fancy special—soft shell crab, whole, with some sort of sophisticated sauce and garnish. We both took a couple bites but couldn’t eat it. It was too strange/out-of-ordinary to my 22-year old taste buds. I would finish that crab now. I would eat every last bite. I still remember the look on his face when they cleared the uneaten delicacy from our table. I should have known better. Cooking was his everything.

-Also in college, a boy I worked with always wore a baseball cap. Always. What’s your hair like under that baseball cap?, I asked him in a teasing manner one day. He took off his baseball cap to reveal a prematurely bald and shining head. I wanted to crawl under the table and stay there.

-Leaving that workplace to move to Oregon, I decided to distinguish every person I had worked with in some special way. I worked there for four years, so my coworkers had become dear to me. I wrote out a goodbye note to post on the walk-in cooler. I wrote things like, “To Lexi: who always wore a smile.” The place was owned by two brothers. My first inclination was “To Pete: the cool one” and “To Brent: the cute one.” Instead, to keep it professional (or so I thought) I wrote, “To Pete: the cool one” and “To Brent: the hardass.” Pretty sure “cute” is better than “jerk”—and in my defense, “cute” was more true-to-my-feeling.

-I’ve used writing as a tool basically my entire life to handle unpleasant circumstances, deal with grief, etc. I’ve had my blog for about 11 years and throughout that time I’ve posted things that I would basically have written in a diary. (In my defense, that’s kind of what a blog is.) I have also taken those blog posts and put them on my social media. Sometimes, being that I write about my life, those things have been blasted out to an audience larger than I would like. Basically I write about my mom and my dad and then they see it. For better or for worse. What I regret is that not only are they witnessing my feelings about their shortcomings, but everyone else is too. At times this has felt good but most of the time this feels really bad. As an antidote I try to write things that are true, compassionate, and, whenever possible, self-deprecating.

-I regret any form of gossip or negative talk (I identify this as putting others down to lift up myself). Gossip and negative talk about others is easy to identify because you instinctively know when you’ve crossed the line. In your head you think “so and so wouldn’t appreciate this” but you keep talking—past the line. You might even lower your voice as if they were in the other room.

-I regret many incidences that involve past substance abuse. I will leave it at that. I will save the rest for another story but mainly the repercussions have included the deterioration my mind, body and spirit. And often times embarrassment.

-In the 5th grade an older cousin told me I needed to find someone to pick on. That way the other kids wouldn’t beat up on me seeing that I was so tough. So I chose this kid who walked home the same route as me. He was chubby and had curly hair and wore Wranglers and no one talked to him and he didn’t deserve it. Many years later, he contacted me on Myspace. Do you remember chasing me home all the time? He asked me. I can only hope my apology was sincere.

-I regret not buying an olive green pant suit I saw at St. Vinneys about two and a half years ago. It was one of those kind that were supposed to look wrinkled so it didn’t matter if it actually got wrinkled. It was my color and it was perfect. I almost flipped a U-ey but I didn’t. It was the pantsuit that got away.

-I regret leaving a good career job for an okay man and moving to another part of the state. That remains one of my biggest lessons.

-I regret snapping at my fiances grandmother when I was hangry in Hawaii. I’d knocked over the car seat and she’d said Good thing the baby wasn’t in it! ‘I wouldn’t have knocked her over if she were in it!’ I’d snapped back.

-I regret telling my dad his cooking sucked when I was a teenager. I regret calling him a dork and many other cruel things I did at that time. You’re mean to your dad, my best friends told me. I was mad at the world and took it out on him. I regret that.

-I regret that a woman I know sent me a poem recently and I haven’t read it. She wanted feedback but I haven’t got the time. I hope she understands what it is really like for a woman with a newborn. Time keeps on slippin slippin slippin. I can’t do all the things. I can’t even look at my own poem and I am sorry.

-I regret not going to see my good friend Connie more. She was a customer of mine when I worked for the post office. She is a lovely person, a wise old soul, and she cares for me deeply. I know because she sends me kind emails regularly. I regret that, because of our coupled anxiety, I believe, we rarely see each other in person. She will die someday. So will I. And I will regret it.

-I regret that, since my daughter was born, I am doing just an OK job at everything. Work, writing and cooking. Especially cooking. That is especially just OK. I regret that being ‘just a mom’ doesn’t seem satisfactory enough for all of society. I regret that I couldn’t be just a mom if I tried. Toys, I find, actually bore me. I regret that Autumn doesn’t want to just sit in the corner and read like I do.

-I regret throwing a golf ball through an old man’s front window in high school. Even if he was stalking my grandmother, and sending inappropriate things to our home, the shock of that golf ball and the cascading of the glass panels must have scared him something fierce. I didn’t actually expect it to connect. And until now, I never told anyone.

 

Earthside

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Earthside

(dedicated to my daughter, Autumn Nell Knox)

4:12 p.m.
October 12th, 2018
Riverbend Hospital, Springfield, Oregon

For the next few hours, I am still a girl. A daughter. A grand daughter. A girlfriend. A fiancé. A young woman.

At some point after, I hear, an incredible amount of intensity or pain (whichever school of thought you prefer), I will become a mother. A guardian. A protector. A womb-an. You, child, will make sure of this. And for that, I thank you.

Thank you.

For the next few hours I will continue to wonder Who Are You? Are you like your father? Outwardly wild and rambunctious, inwardly steady and responsible? With big blue eyes, an easy smile? With confidence unparalleled. A thinker. A do-er. A boy. A male?

Or are you like me? A Tiny T, as your father says. A girl. Are you a female?

4:31 p.m.

You are too comfortable inside of me and don’t want to come out. That’s why we’re here at the hospital for an induction instead of laboring naturally at the birth center. The midwife inserted a cervical softener about two hours ago. I feel fabulous—no change. The nurse joked she’d have me “frowning by morning.” I feel so good I was tempted to do cartwheels on our walk around the labor and delivery unit. I am only a girl for a few more hours, after all.

Your due date was ten days ago—ten days! By current standards, that’s too long. I would’ve been happy letting you gestate longer but there are these scary reports—online and in print—about the risk of still born and meconium (that’s poop) inhalation and all these things I don’t want to read about or think about but have to.

So all this brings us to the Riverbend Hospital, in one of 325 other labor and delivery rooms. Would you believe we ended up with a room with a view? It’s not the best view available (those rooms have a view of the mountains) but it is the second best view: a clock tower. Three bells hang within its open brick walls.

Like I mentioned before, you were supposed to be delivered in a freestanding birth center. In a four post bed. Once we went a week past your due date, however, it was required that we transfer to the hospital.

What I like about the hospital:

  • It’s fancy and modern
  • I still receive the care of the birth center midwives, including during delivery
  • the view!
  • the ice machine
  • the bathtub (with jets!)
  • when we arrived there was a live pianist in the lobby playing “The Circle of Life”—I hadn’t cried much in pregnancy but I did when I heard that song, given the circumstances

Things I don’t like about the hospital:

  • Mandatory IV’s
  • Hospital gowns with a cute pattern but an awful cut

8:22 p.m.

We had dinner (fish for me, spaghetti for Papa). We received another dose of misoprostol to soften the cervix. Other than the miso, we’ve had no other method of induction. We took a thirty minute walk through the labor and delivery unit. As we walked, we talked and joked. It’s what we do best.

We are mainly excited because the miso is working. After our walk, I began my “bloody show.” I won’t bore you with the details of all that but we are hopeful that you will be born tomorrow.

10:30 p.m.

Believe it or not, little one, things got so intense after my last entry that I wasn’t able to keep up with the journaling. I expected this, of course, I’d just wanted to get the story (your story!) started.

Luckily your papa took notes. Well, that is until he got so swept up in the labor that he couldn’t take notes anymore either.

The last entry I made was at 8:22 p.m. on Friday night. Papa and I were so excited the contractions were starting. That’s probably the last time I would describe being excited about contractions. (Remember, other than being artificially induced I was laboring naturally with no pain medication.)

We’re not sure, but the miso seemed to make the contractions come on strong and frequently. Your papa asked the nurse quietly while I was in the bathtub if they were supposed to be this frequent. “She’s hardly getting a break between them,” I overheard him say. This didn’t make me feel worse, it made me feel better. Your papa cared, and I’d rarely seen him with the opportunity to share his sensitive side. (Side note: now that you’re here, I’ve seen it a lot more.)

From a clinical standpoint, I was two and a half centimeters dilated. Your heart rate was steady, excellent even, and your head was down, doing its work of opening my cervix.

1:00 a.m.
October 13th, 2018

The hospital bed bothered me. Too much light, noise, and movement, so I curled up on the bed reserved for guests. It was a flat, large, vinyl double bed tucked into a dark corner. The nurses didn’t really want me on that bed but thankfully they didn’t push it. As the contractions grew stronger and stronger, I felt best lying on that cool surface, covered in blankets, with soft music (Yoga Sanctuary on Pandora) playing in the background. I developed a song, a hum, a howl to accompany every contraction. It was all I could do to stay centered and sane through the pain I was experiencing. My songs went something like, “ho, ho, ho, ha, ha, ha,” or “ho-o-oooooo! ha-ah-ahhhhh!”

This went on for hours. At one a.m., my water broke. I cannot tell you the relief and excitement of this happening. It was what I’d been wishing and hoping would happen since October 2nd, your due date.

3:30 a.m.

Earlier in the night the nurse said they would wipe the smile off my face and replace it with a frown. We’d laughed about it then. See, that was the goal. Well, now we were winning.

The midwife, Kanya, responded when my water broke. She confirmed that it was brown with meconium, common in post-date babies. There was a fear that you’d have inhaled this meconium and would need immediate attention from the NICU. I had also read that babies exposed to meconium could come out green-tinged. Your hair. Your skin. And that it would take a while to go away. Compounding these nagging thoughts were the ever frequent and incredibly painful contractions. There, I said it: painful. You see, I’d read every book by Ina May Gaskin, and within it’s pages were testimonies by women describing childbirth as intense but not painful, their contractions as waves or rushes, and the whole experience as psychedelic.

Look, I’m all for positive imagery. I’d come to your birth armed with a Himalayan salt lamp, a handmade sculpture of a mother and child, a book on childbirth by Deepak Chopra, and at least six essential oils. I had lavender, the calming herb, on speed dial.

Your papa and I submitted our birth plan, prepared weeks in advance, heeding the advice of the nation’s most beloved midwife, Ina May. Hell, I even had a vision board, “I am doing a fantastic job!” it read on onside, and, “I accept this pain to bring my baby into the world” on the other. Your father had my favorite soothing music dubbed on his cell phone, only by this time I didn’t want to hear it. I didn’t want to hear a thing. I even asked the nurses to turn down your heartbeat on the monitor, it was reassuring, yes, but it was static-y and loud. I had them turn the monitors away, facing the wall (too bright).

By this stage I requested that your father not touch me (I would recoil), he could not talk to me (what did he know about birthing babies, anyway?) but he needed to be there. It was just he and I, with the occasional visits from Kanya and the PeaceHealth nurses (who only wanted to adjust your heartbeat monitor). I was vomiting profusely. I was still wrapped in blankets, lying on my side on the guest bed. I continued my chant of “ho-o-ooooo! ha-ah-ahhhh!” and every time I wanted to moan “noooooo!” I moaned “yeeaaaa!” instead.

Kanya was scheduled to leave at six a.m. When it became apparent that she would not be delivering you that Saturday morning, I brought up pain management. That’s what they call schedule I drugs in a clinical setting.

Kanya had wanted me to sleep through the night but the only rest I’d gotten were strange little blips between contractions. One to two minute naps as my womb rocked and rolled in anticipation for your arrival. I experienced the lightning bolts and thunder of labor. In retrospect, I’d needed a little guidance. I never felt better during labor than when a midwife was talking me through a contraction, but that only happened once or twice.

“Somethings gotta change,” I explained to Kanya between contractions. Her response was Fentanyl, which I understood was synthetic heroine. Was there no in-between? No extra-strength Tylenol? “It won’t take the pain away. And it will make you feel funny,” she told me.

I declined the Fentanyl.

I retreated, naked, back to my dark corner on the guest bed. My limbs were shaking like leaves. Kanya checked my dilation, which was stalled at 5 centimeters. Though the contractions were regular, I’d somehow stopped progressing. I continued my chanting and moaning. When it felt right, I squatted, walked, and used the yoga ball. Your head, dear child, was not dilating my cervix like it should. The positioning needs to be just right to be effective. Despite my walking and forward positioning over the past night, days and weeks…the midwives kept saying that progress was stalled.

The sun rose and I barely acknowledged it. I was writhing in pain in my dark corner. The concept of an orgasmic birth (see the documentary titled Orgasmic Birth) was laughable now.

“I would not recommend this to ANYONE,” I told your father. I even had the fleeting thought that he should, effective immediately, hit the streets and start warning women, “No, really, DON’T DO IT! Child birth. Don’t do it!”

10:30 a.m.

Six a.m. to 10:30 a.m. went by incredibly fast. In fact I don’t remember much except the hoo-ing and haa-ing. The new midwife Pauline, an elder, came in to check my dilation. No progress. I was in such intense pain I could hardly navigate the room or a conversation. Pauline wanted to try a different position and asked me to get on my hands and knees on the hospital bed. But once I did, your heart rate dropped below 60—a dangerous low.

“Get her back up, get her back up!” Pauline pleaded, and your papa and a nurse helped turn me back over. “Whatever you do, stay on your back or side. Absolutely do not get on all fours,” she told me.

Pauline also indicated that my pelvic bone was uniquely shaped, a particularly narrow V. She thought this oddity might be preventing your head from descending properly. She said something about a c-section, almost under her breath, maybe it was to a nurse.

I touched Pauline’s arm, demanding her attention and croaked out, “If this is going to end in a c-section anyway, I request that we do it now.

Then I told her what I’d told Kanya, “Something’s gotta change. This is too intense,” I told her, keeping with the Gaskin language but not the Gaskin morals.

The sun was gaining on noon, I could tell from the picture window behind Pauline. It had been twenty some hours since we came in for the induction. I was a woman who popped an Ibuprofin at the onset of a headache (then again I was prone to migraines) and here I was in the throes of a medication free labor. Pauline swiftly responded, “I’d like to try all the tools in my belt before opting for a cesarean. I’d recommend an epidural for pain relief followed by Pitocin to get things really rolling again.”

She was the midwife, an experienced one, and I trusted her.

“Okay,” I managed to say. “Let’s do it.”

12:20 p.m.

What happened next was not at all what I expected. What happened next was neither an orgasmic, natural birth like I had hoped for nor was it a series of invasive interventions from a menacing male doctor, like so many of my natural-leaning mama friends had warned. What happened next is that Pauline got the anesthesiologist in the room in a snap (in less than five minutes). He was a kind, pleasant man whom I felt reassured being in the care of. What happened next is that through the cries and moans I could hear the anesthesiologist telling me I would soon experience complete relief from the pain.

Your papa gave me reassuring nod as I felt no more than a pin prick at the center of my low back. Ten minutes later, as promised, I felt pain-free, like new, and I was downright chipper. I could sense a collective sigh in the room. The nurses gained a pep in their step as if to say, “Thank god we don’t have to deal with that whole natural childbirth thing anymore!”

Your papa sunk into the guest recliner pulled close to my hospital bed and we both, per the midwife’s recommendation, fell into a deep, much needed sleep. When we woke it was more than two hours later.

2:35 p.m.

Pauline and I shared a knowing smile as I roused to wake from my epidural-induced slumber. Unlike Fentanyl, the epidural only affected my lower body—most importantly it didn’t affect my headspace at all. I felt clear as the bell outside the window.

The only struggle was the weight of my legs. It took all the nurses and your papa to lift them into the stirrups so Pauline could check my dilation. “Time to start pushing,” Pauline said. I was fully dilated at ten centimeters!

Your papa and I looked at one another with amazement. I was thinking, “All that walking up and down the gravel lane, all that walking the corridors of the hospital, all that Evening Primrose Oil and spicy food, all that time on the yoga ball and all that active imagery—the lotus flower opening up—only to konk out for two hours, completely not conscious, and it’s then that my body works its magic…or was it the Pitocin?

Nonetheless, Pauline said it was time to push.

I held your fathers hand, a nurse rolled a full length mirror to the foot of the bed, and the midwife called for the NICU team should we need backup in the event of, well, any number of things. As it turned out, the NICU didn’t come in time.

I looked into the full length mirror. The sun was shining bright behind Pauline’s head as you began crowning. A sliver the size of a mango pit revealed my child, you, cocooned between my legs.

Every time I pushed through a contraction your papa yelled “Yeah babe! Go babe! You’re getting so close!” I’d rarely seen him so enthralled and excited. Well, once, river rafting. And who could blame him?

In my mind I was only warming up. In the births I’d witnessed (two), the “pushing phase” lasted for one and a half hours, maybe two. Later your papa said my face was so red and puffy it looked as if I would explode.

After just a handful of contractions, Pauline pushed the mirror aside and replaced it with a tray of stainless steel instruments, scissors and who knows what else. Then she said something to the effect of “this baby’s coming now.

We all did a double take, though I couldn’t see anything now that the mirror was gone.

“Push,” she instructed when I sensed the next contraction. And when I did she said, “Here come the ears!”

The what?

I felt the warmth of your skin coming through my labia. I felt the weight of your body, a helpless, delicate thing but full of life and spirit. I scanned your face for reassurance that you were breathing and well.

“Well, what’s the gender?” Pauline nudged at your papa, who was just as amazed as I was that you were here.

“It’s…it’s a girl!” He stuttered.

I held your liquid warm, just-birthed body to my chest and kissed your head. There was no reason to whisk you away to the NICU. You were not green-tinged or chord-wrapped. You were, and still are, a perfect baby girl; earthside.

You were born at 3:44 p.m. on October 13th, your great great grandmother’s birthday.

We named you Autumn, after the season.

With Child

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Along the edge of the spilled water, a wavy black line. The length of a hair. It could have been my mothers, mine, my daughters. Indistinguishable, this edge of liquid on the countertop; this long black hair. Was it clean or dirty, the countertop? Should I wipe it or leave it be? Disorder of any kind makes me nervous. A disorder of disorder. That’s me.

Would I make a good mother? Me, who baby talks the dog, hogs all the blankets, possesses a double Scorpio, Aries moon, a combination of eldest-child-and-only-child syndromes, a born and bred rebel, a seeker of balance, the receiver of highs and lows, a giver, a taker, withholder of personal truths, sharer of haphazardly selected anticdotes and flower petals, she who is happy most of the time, plunges into run-and-write-go-panic-go-take-all-my-money-and-hole-up-somewhere-with-chocolate-and-fantasies-in-the-dark-nights, some-beach-that-is-close-enough-to-home-far-enough-to-be-full-of-strangers-days. Me, who waited all this time for for the “right” man to make the “right” baby. Poor guy. Me, with my own apartment at 17, a babys-name list at 22, collecting baby books and sneakers at 23–one-decade ago–me who they told “had a nice stomach” (I never personally loved it til now). Me, afraid of marriage and 2-year contracts of any kind. A sock wearer in summer. A fixer upper. A devotee of solitude, craft, words-on-page, food-on-plate, words-in-brain. A devotee of simplicity.

Do I have it? The patience, the selflessness, the love? If not, where within myself might I find it? The soles of my feet? My stomach? My brain? I’d ask for help if I knew how to receive it. I don’t.

Me. of fierce independence, wild with child.

Me, swollen in summer, begging for rain.

Me, grasping at time for the chunks of it lost, donated to others, these days on the calendar.

Me, the selfish and selfless colliding within me like the earth shifts and tidal waves of impending labor.

Me, melancholy yet smiling in July.

Me, the weight of adult-mother-time anchoring me in bittersweet duty.

Do I have what it takes? Is suddenly irrelevant. The invitation-to-dance has long been RSVP’d within my womb.

My wiser self nudges: do you, with child. Read, write, love. Even if it hurts at first: unearth deep peace. Take baby steps and mine for it. It was yours all along, this peace. It is not in the soles of your feet or the curve of your belly, but down where the spirit meets the bone.

 

Mother Wasn’t There

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Wounded Deer, Frida Kahlo, 1946

Mother wasn’t there
when I bled in the JR high bathroom
I looked at the gray stall wall for reassurance
I found none
Mother wasn’t there

Mother wasn’t there
when I needed feeding
in the beginning, in the middle, nor in the end
Mother wasn’t there

Mother wasn’t there
when I was felt up under my red primary school dress
Mother wasn’t there so it happened again
and again and again
As it will happen, inevitably,
when a Mother isn’t there

Mother wasn’t there
when I cut my own hair
Mother wasn’t there so
“cut it like Dads” I told the barber,
uncertain of my role in the world,
girl of boy or boy of boy
cause Mother wasn’t there

Mother wasn’t there
but when she was there she covered me
in slobbery, 9-years-over-due kisses
They smelt like smoker’s saliva and
how I hated them and how she always
showed up just under one decade
At 30, that makes it three times mother showed up,
only the third time it didn’t happen

Mother wasn’t there
Mother isn’t there
I regret that someone I so despise personally
can leave a love wound this big within me
like a boy who never, ever deserved it
only not, because this is like the Grand Canyon,
(if I am being honest)
and the boys just leave a rivet in the sand
some laughable could-have-been

I regret the biological yearn for mother, father, whole
I regret, I regret, when Mother wasn’t there
I capitalize her name, the sick parts the sad parts,
she imparted to me insatiable love and passion
and now I can’t get no satisfaction
I am free child, free woman, wild baby, always have been
I built a shelter in my heart, for refuge from the wind
I learned to withstand life’s letdowns on a whim
I laugh in the face of pain, but I still fear it so
Mother wasn’t there when learning
all there is to know

 

 

This is What Democracy Looks Like!

Hello friends, thank you for stopping by to view my latest creative project: a pictorial about the 2nd Annual Women’s March. When I first heard about the march taking place on Saturday, January 21st in Eugene, Oregon I was honestly concerned. I mean, I knew I was going to be there, but would everyone else who participated last year show up too? Was this really a movement or a just one-off deal, spurred by the widespread anger regarding our just-then-official president-elect? On the Indivisible Eugene Facebook page, only 33 people had registered for the 2018 march. A handful more were “interested” but wasn’t Facebook where life, like, happened now? I mean, if only 33 people said they were going, what was this march going to look like? Indivisible Eugene was one of the main organizers of the event, so where was all the hype?

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Nevertheless I registered and I vowed to go. I texted all my local gal-pals and they seemed stoked about it too. Many of them were planning on going already…Facebook confirmation or not.

The day of the event I had a massive head cold but, motivated by the march, which was such a powerful experience for me last year, I put on my hiking boots, grabbed my camera, and met my gal-pals at Laughing Planet Cafe a few blocks from the march.

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Laughing Planet has the best virgin hot toddys, I was pleased to discover.

Waiting for my friends, and hoping they would forgive me for arriving sick and contagious (we will see), I spotted my first other march-goer…who just happened to be male. “Not just a women’s march, but a men’s march too,” I’d stated a few days early on my Facebook page. I worried that the language “Women’s March” dis-included some men, men who didn’t realize what this march is: effectively an anti-Trump, pro-women, Peace Protest. Nothing to be afraid of.

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A young man grabbing a bite to eat solo before the Women’s March.

Arriving at the Women’s March it was clear that wayyyy more than 33 people felt passionate about women’s issues, freedom of speech, the DREAM Act, and other current political, economic and social issues. The crowds extended from the Whole Food’s parking lot to the complete other side of the courthouse, and even up our main street bisecting town–a major thorough-way. The place was humming with a sobering yet optimistic energy. “This is why I come to these things,” I thought, as my headcold drifted to the background and I became engrossed in the scene unfolding before me. The first thing I noticed, right away, was the number of children and men compared with last year.

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This is the first photo I snapped. In this picture, there are three men and just one woman, something I didn’t even notice at the time.

 

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The crowd of protesting Eugenians was said to be in the 5,000+ range. Last year, it was stated there were 7,000 participants. But no official count has been released yet, according to the Register Guard.

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A woman honoring the legendary Latina feminist Frida Kahlo,”Feet, what do I need you for when I have wings to fly?” -Frida Kahlo

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A sea of signs.

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He’s just sayin’….

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Check out their signs: “Feminism means Equality!” … “What She Said”

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Some signs focused exclusively on Women’s Rights, an age-old battle. (Note: I’m pretty sure those pink things are IUD’s!)

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While others blatantly ridiculed our current President, Donald Trump (above, below).

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A picture speaks a thousand words.

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Immigrant’s rights and the DREAM Act were at the top of the agenda for Eugenians, too. The keynote speaker addressed the crowd bilingually, and she drummed up the crowd in anticipation for the march.

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After the speakers finished up, the crowd began marching, chanting “This is what democracy looks like!” and other protest ballads.

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Lest we not forget that Native American’s have been fighting the good fight against white patriarchy in our country for hundreds of years.

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On the day of the protest, Donald Trump tweeted “Get out there now to celebrate the historic milestones and unprecedented economic success and wealth creation that has taken place over the last 12 months. Lowest female unemployment in 18 years!” So, first of all: don’t tell me what to do. And second of all, um, just…you’re an asshole.

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Women make prettier signs.

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And they were clearly pumped to be marching!

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Some signs were meant to be ironic.

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While other signs (like my dear friend Linda’s!) were a nod to the Women’s Liberation’s Movement of the 1970’s. (If interested in brushing up on your Women’s Lib, I can’t recommend the documentary (below) enough. It’s available on Netflix.)

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The truth is: Strong Women Scare Weak Men.

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Be like this guy.

We shall overcome.

This is what democracy looks like!

No Trump! No KKK! No fascist USA!