Dreams of a Rocking Pony is the first self-published title I feel really good about putting out there and promoting. Not one single typo, cover-to-cover, glossy finish, attractive artwork, “Luminare Press” stamp at the bottom of the first, beautiful blue page. The book makes me feel alive. It makes me feel like me. The me who writes–and publishes–books.
But I can’t really take the credit…money can.
I have been writing poetry, essays, memoir and children’s books for well over a decade. I began writing in high school, and in 2023 I will have been out of high school for 20 years! I have multiple projects just sitting in my writing den collecting dust bunnies. There’s the big project, a memoir, which I have spent most of my creative time on: I’ve workshopped it, critiqued it, hired a professional editor, had my best writing friend beta read it, and I’m critiquing it again, now. It still doesn’t feel perfect, but in August I will be pitching it at a professional writers’ conference. (Fingers and toes all crossed.)
My other projects include: “Do Nothing, Alone,” a children’s book on meditation, “Earthside and Other Everyday Miracles,” a collection of essays, “Mama Bird,” a farm memoir…I also have two other projects that don’t have names, but tons of material has already been written for those books, too.
Dreams isn’t the best representation of my work. (I realize that saying this risks putting you in the position of not wanting to buy the children’s book. But don’t let what I’m about to say stop you, just hear me out.) Dreams is the best representation of my grandmother, the illustrator’s, work. The book also illustrates the level of professionalism that comes from hiring a publisher to print it, and what a little money, used with the right intention, can do.
This experience–publishing Dreams–will probably change my outlook on self-publishing forever. In short, I will never do the formatting, cover design, and publishing work again all on my own. I will only hire professionals from here on out…as long as I can afford to. (And if I can’t afford to, I will save the money until I can!)
My first two self-published titles–Love, Blues, Balance and New Moon, were 100% free and 100% created by me. It was a painstaking process formatting the pages, creating a table-of-contents, and getting it all to line up appropriately formatting-wise on KDP (Amazon’s direct publishing platform). I don’t even think that one of the books has page numbers. It was perfect at the time, however, because it cost me nothing. It was a good experience and I had fun. Especially designing the covers.
But I didn’t LOVE the books. I could see all the little errors.
Fast-forward 5 years and my grandmother and I have just co-created Dreams. (I wrote about that experience here, in my previous blog post.) We joked about having the book published for real and I knew that self-publishing a children’s book myself through KDP was going to be a challenge. Publishing a book with illustrations was next level! I would need some help.
Honestly at first, when I got the price quote, I tabled the idea for many months. The pandemic was dragging on and on and, finally, while taking stock of my life and priorities, I decided that publishing a book with my grandmother was the thing I wanted to do most. My intentions around book publishing came into clearer focus when I received an unexpected financial boost. And yet the entire experience has taught me that I should value my work enough to have it bound professionally, even if I have to save money all year to do it.
Writers write. Book cover designers create book covers. Publishing presses print books. I learned through all of this to let others do what they do best. And then do what you do best. For a long time, I thought I had to become all of those other things…just to bring my words into the light. Now I know better. Now I see the piles of dusty papers in my writer’s den from a new, more optimistic, angle. They will, someday, get published. And I credit this book, Dreams of a Rocking Pony, for teaching me a valuable lesson about writing and publishing: That for 1/3 the price of a used car, I can bind–and sell–a beautiful freaking book.
By the time you get around to reading this I hopefully will have packaged up about 25 pre-orders of “Dreams of a Rocking Pony,” shipping them off to Cottonwood, Arizona; West Palm Beach, Florida; and Austin, Texas, to a name a few. The book is going to some cold places too, like Billings, Montana, which is currently buried in snow.
In light of this incredible milestone of publishing a book with my grandmother, I wanted to share the story of what got us here, of how we came to complete this passion project, together.
In the Spring of 2019, when Autumn was just a few months old, we were visiting her Great Grandmother Peggy (I’ve always just called her “Peggy”). Peggy had recently, in the last year or so, completed a series of paintings of whimsical, playful animals. She was a lifelong painter so this was no surprise. Then Peggy made copies of the paintings and pasted them together in a book. She wrote small descriptions of the animals, such as, “a trick skunk black-and-white.” She presented the book to Autumn as a gift, gluing a piece of rabbit fur on the book bind, a little detail that was in perfect Peggy-fashion.
Autumn loved the book (as much as babies can express themselves anyway) and so did we. Peggy then asked me to help toy with the wording, creating more of a storyline to accompany to illustrations. We put in some time on the wording and joked about having the book published together someday (clearly once you see the illustrations, most, if not all, of the credit goes to her!).
Then the pandemic happened. The visits to Arizona stopped. The book got read and worn and read some more. I started taking stock of what was most important to me (I think we all did) during this time. I thought about the things I wanted to invest in. I thought: What if I did pursue publishing that book? Wouldn’t that be cool?
During this time I researched publication for children’s books, eventually settling on Luminare Press in Eugene (which is to say we didn’t settle at all, they are fantastic!). I decided to surprise Peggy with the book, and did just that when she received her proof copy in the mail on January 19th!
Now, almost a month later, and the book is live and ready-to-order on Amazon. Come February 11th we will celebrate our true “Pub Day,” when we receive a box of 75 books ready to be shipped directly to our readers via the “MamaBirdBooks” Etsy page. (More about Amazon vs Etsy later, but the short story is we prefer book purchases be made through Etsy.)
It feels good to be typing this. Not because I am super proud of myself, I am not. I am most proud of my grandmother, the illustrator. I am most proud of the publishing house, including their cover design artist, Claire. And I am most proud of my daughter, Autumn, for inspiring it all. It feels good to be typing this because this was our pandemic silver lining. This book was a beautiful glimmer of something different and luminous in 2020. And honestly, I think you’ll like it a lot, too.
I heard something really interesting and inspiring on NPR this morning. NPRs poet-in-residence Kwame Alexander recently put out a call for poetry starting with the words “I Dream a World…”. If you have the time, you can listen to the segment here. Naturally, I felt I had to participate in the poetry challenge. Please enjoy these words, and never stop dreaming of a better world.
I Dream a World by Terah Van Dusen
I dream a world where our sisters and brothers across the globe can feel, can see, can empathize with one another’s plights.
I dream a world not that has no starvation no famine—no, I dream a world where, when these things exist, others can go without, so that a belly can be full elsewhere, a life can be saved, and cherished.
I dream a world where when immigrants come knocking on the door, folks can envision the horrors they are escaping. That we have some sense of what these families have seen and witnessed. That we feel the collective pain they have endured, and empathize, as we would want others to empathize with our own trials and traumas.
I dream a world based on shared resources not the capitalist society we live in so clearly benefiting the few, the one or two, so brazenly guilty and full at the tip top of our species.
I dream a world where woman does not pack lunch for a man and man does not pack lunch for a woman but they both pack their lunches for themselves.
I dream a world where children are more familiar with flora and fauna, than Belle and Madonna.
I dream a world where when one falls, others do not kick them.
I dream a world where mothers and fathers take responsibility for their offspring…sheltering them from harm, gore, and neglect.
I dream a world that cares for its ecosystems by replenishing them with buffalo, and quenching them by refusing to bottle city water and then reselling it to its people labelled “Mountain Spring.”
I dream a world where big box store demolition is a favorite pastime.
I dream a world where Native American culture is restored and revered, guiding us to walking lighter on our this shared earth.
I dream a world that is a collective, and land that is sacred, and life that is equally as valued as the next one.
I dream a world where we are utilizing all our senses, sight, sound, taste, touch to understand each other, to create harmony together, in our own little tribes and families, with a clear understanding of the challenges facing those less fortunate in, on the periphery, or outside our own circles.
I dream of a world where we understand that every choice has a butterfly effect.
I dream a world where less is more.
I dream a world where minimalism is magnified.
I dream a world (not an earth) that is ours for the taking that is ours for the making.
A few months ago, I deactivated my social media accounts. I posted an index card on my bulletin board that read, “No Social Media. No Corporations. No Amazon. More creativity & blogging” next to a poster I clipped out of a magazine that reads “Keep Calm & Save Money” in bold red lettering.
Three clear thumb tacks lined up neatly below the messages—reinforcing one thing that was resounding through my mind and soul lately: minimalism.
Minimalism: a style or technique, that can be applied to a lifestyle, characterized by extreme sparseness and simplicity.
Deactivating my social media accounts was my way of extending the concept of minimalism even further. Everything felt so cluttered.
It started out okay, as I explained in this blog post from September. Gone were the feelings of embarrassment I’d felt during those rare but inevitable moments of “oversharing.” Gone were the unnecessary hours spent scrolling, or “managing” my various accounts—I have two personal accounts, and three business ones. Gone was the feeling that I needed to “capture” everything: a good meal, Autumn collecting eggs from the chicken coop, an innocent walk to the creek.
All the time the world offered came tumbling back in, and I began to experience more productivity at work, and creatively too. Things were happening. Actually happening. I became a more productive team member at work, a more present mother, and more conscious partner to my fiancé. I even took the final steps toward completing a huge creative project.
The days turned into weeks turned into months. During this time, I posted several times on my blog—a significant increase from previous months (years, really). But I could tell that my creative social network had gotten really, really small.
There was my small handful of loyal readers who reached out to me via text or by responding directly to my posts. I am grateful for these folks with a capital G, but I began to wonder if I could get through the rest of the pandemic, and election year, with my “capsule” of friends. I was starting to feel a little lonely.
Late one night, after a productive day of freelancing from home, I found myself borderline distraught. I lay in our bed, without the glow of my cell phone, and I said dramatically into the dark room, “I just feel like something is missing.”
In the silence that followed my—for lack of a better term—wail, I thought of my vow against social media…it wasn’t that, was it?
Not jumping to conclusions, I continued to wake, live and sleep every day without the companionship of social media. A few people reached out, but where were my other 538 friends? I realized, as I’m sure we all have, the predicament these social platforms present: they are an instant doorway to our families, and some relationships that are quite important to us. So why would we want to give up that? Honestly, especially now in a pandemic, how else are we going to get to know our new cousin’s baby, Jaxon? Or even remember his name? It’s all there, on Facebook. We understand that the heart emoji doesn’t convey all we want to say, but it does convey something.
In addition to working more intentionally—both personally and professionally—I toyed with the idea of letter-writing. I wrote a letter to Elizabeth, my longtime pen pal who resides in the Yosemite Valley. She wrote me back, as did our mutual friend, David. But David’s letter was so long and rich, I wondered how my response could even compare, or come close to being as meaningful as his letter had been, as he described the terror of wildfires looming near his home on Caves Highway this summer. If social media was intimidating, trying exchanging letters with intellectuals. Maybe I wasn’t cut out for this, either. Anyway, I knew I couldn’t exchange letters with as many people as I loved. (I love a lot of people!)
I don’t remember the exact day I reinstalled the apps on my phone. Only the approximate number of people who interacted with the photo I posted. Warily, I “liked” all of their responses. But where were these folks when I sat at home for four months? Autumn and I had both celebrated our birthdays—her 2nd, my 35th. Was it me who’d left them or they who’d left me? In this day and age, I’m honestly not sure.
In the meantime, I began to value my work relationships more, and my relationships with my family members who don’t use social media, my blog readers, and my neighbors began to deepen—it was as if I could suddenly see that they’d needed attention, too.
I am on social media now, and I do feel more connected to those that I’d lost touch with. I at least like knowing that such-and-such person is there if I need them, even if we’re not interacting every day.
But friendship can’t survive solely that way, and neither can a creative or professional dream. The inspiration—the ideas and conversations and plans—they need to lead somewhere. I’ve learned that “breaking the spell,” ie taking a break, is the perfect antidote for that. So just one question remains: can I take what I’ve learned and apply it? Can I use social media as a tool, to share my art and give and receive love from my friends, while still setting a healthy boundary with these websites and apps? It is hard to know for sure, but I have hope. Hope that I can either find the balance, or at least recognize when my “real” life needs more attention.
After waiting a full five minutes for the lodge’s hot water to kick on in the shower, I wash my hair twice with 2-in-1 Shampoo and Conditioner. Autumn sits on the shower floor, folding and unfolding a damp washcloth. We are on a girl’s trip to track down Dad, who lives off-grid in Northern California.
Sometimes I don’t know if my writing frees or pains me, if it liberates me or holds me captive. We tried watching TV but turned it down to hear the creek outside–Patrick Creek–a tributary to the Smith. Now I bounce Autumn on my foot, trying to soothe her toddler boredom, and somehow keep my pen to paper, too. I’d say she can’t sit still, but the same would have to be true for me as well. (Proof: I couldn’t stay put on the farm this weekend. I simply woke with the urge to ramble home.)
I told myself it was justified to see Dad. Steve gave me his blessing, and then tried to suggest routes and game-plans. But I already had it mapped out in my mind; we’d get a hotel room closest to home. Hiouchi Motel or Patrick Creek Lodge.
The rooms at Patrick Creek Lodge have mission-style furniture and vaulted redwood ceilings. In the past I would have camped in the van or a tent or on my best friend’s couch in Crescent City. But the pandemic has changed everything. You know that.
Driving south on the I-5, the words “Do whatever you have to do to feel alive” came to mind. So maybe that’s what this is really about, more than seeing Dad.
I’d forgotten how when we travel, it upsets Autumn’s natural rhythm. She gets antsy and angsty and now she sits across from me indian-style on the white 70s-style bedspread. “Let’s talk,” she says so we talk about what’s outside the window: bushes, trees, lights, leaves. There are no other cars in the parking lot and I am uncertain if there is an overnight watch person or not. The friendly fellow who checked us in said he was “locking up and heading home for the night.”
A couple and a lady stumbled out of the bar around 7:30 p.m., piled into a full-sized pickup and drove south toward Gasquet (gas-gee). Other than that, crickets (metaphorically of course, because it’s winter in these woods). The temperature registered at 34 degrees but it was sunny and t-shirt weather all day. Of course we only got out at a rest stop somewhere near Riddle, Oregon.
Pacific madrone and redwoods, that’s what I came for. Other than to connect with Dad, the man who raised me. Pacific madrone with its smooth chopstick bark, the redwood groves already shooting up toward the sky, just seven or ten miles into California.
When the sun set we decided it would be best to surprise Dad first thing in the morning, rather than an hour or two after dusk. Dad, like me, is better in the morning. Freshest and sharpest and most optimistic. We both like to have our coffee, too.
As a girl, Dad took me to this very lodge once for breakfast. The waitress seated us by a window where we could watch Patrick Creek flow by. A small porcelain ramekin held strawberry and grape jelly packets. I chose grape jelly to smear on my sourdough toast, not because I liked grape best, but because there were just two choices: grape or strawberry. I knew that a better family, one that would come in next, would have a little girl or boy who would prefer strawberry, and that kids from better families always got what they wanted because of people like us. I knew that my going without kept everything in balance.
The grape jelly kind of tasted like the liquid cough syrup Dad sometimes had to force down my throat. He’d either pin me down on the cabin floor, knees holding down my kid-arms, or convince me that if I plugged my nose I couldn’t taste it, so then I’d just drink it myself. I hoped that kid enjoyed his strawberry jam, whoever he was. I was in heaven just with the butter alone and the creek flowing by.
Dad sometimes liked to elbow his way in to a class above our own–the ski lodge at Mt. Bachelor in Oregon, riding elevators in the business district in San Francisco, the fine dining restaurant in The Wharf where we just ordered appetizers, then sheepishly paid and left. Dad has a penchant for experiences he can’t quite afford, and if I am being honest, so do I. But at least it’s a penchant for experiences, not a penchant for things.
“What are we going to do tomorrow, mama?”
“Well, we are going to get up…”
“Use the restroom?”
“Yes, use the restroom.”
“And then what?”
“And then we are going to make mama some coffee and Autumn some breakfast.”
“Yep. And then we’re going to take a walk down to the creek. Patrick Creek.”
In my minds eye I can see the dirt path leading from the lodge, then along Patrick Creek, and under a bridge to where the creek forms a confluence with the middle fork of the Smith River. In a past life, before Autumn, I would make a pit stop here to pee, take a toke, and hop on boulders. The middle fork of the river meanders southeast through mossy canyon walls until it intersects with the south fork of the river. You head up the south fork, and that’s where I’m from. I was raised in a single-room cabin that burned down in a fire in the year 2010. Now Dad lives in a fifth-wheel his ex-girlfriend gave him.
“And then?” Autumn asks.
“And then, after our walk, we are going to see Grandpa Rob!”
“See Grandpa Rob?” Autumn repeats, in her high-pitched voice. It’s as if the higher pitched her voice, the more likely she will get an answer she’s satisfied with.
We haven’t seen Grandpa Rob since Father’s Day–five months ago–when we met up with him halfway between his home and ours and ate salmon bagel sandwiches on the bank of the Umpqua River. He didn’t eat much that day, and it worried me. But I am always worried about Dad: worried about him driving distracted, worried about him choosing nutritious over junk food, worried about the steel parts collecting on his property, worried about his future. But mainly, I’m worried that he’s sad, and that I had something to do with that sadness.
Autumn is snoring now. She is laying on her back, mouth slightly open, arms and legs splayed, sleeping off the day. Today was a big day. She said the word “California” and dealt with her mother’s impulsive need to “connect with her roots,” enduring what turned into a 4-hour drive. She kept asking for “Nana” and “Grandpa Norm,” her father’s folks who she is more acquainted with than Grandpa Rob. Dodging fallen granite from rock slides in the road, and manuevering corners I haven’t seen since Aunt Dort’s memorial in March of 2018, I tried to explain, “No, honey, this is mama’s family. Mama has family too.”
“No, I wan’ see Nana.”
I don’t know what to expect in the morning. That’s the thing about mama’s family. It’s the reason we pulled back at dusk, instead of gunning it forward. In the past, I slept on riverbanks or friends couches, desperate to connect with my dad but not willing to endure his lifestyle off-the-grid, which due to his disability and a variety of factors, has degraded some through the years.
But my soft place to land has always been these hills, fog hanging in the treetops like ghosts, white fingers wrapped around the branches of the evergreens. This place hasn’t moved an inch since I left home. Oh, but it has. I’ll be lucky if I can still recognize myself in the mirrored reflection on the water.
I close my journal, place my writing pen beside it on the nightstand, and open up a new Sun Magazine. Barbara Kingsolver’s essay “The Only Real Story” jumps off the page:
“A world is looking over my shoulder as I write these words; my censors are bobcats and mountains. I have a place from which to tell my stories. So do you, I expect. We sing the song of our home because we are animals, and an animal is no better or wiser or safer than its habitat. Among the greatest of all gifts is to know our place.”
I didn’t know what to expect in the morning. I didn’t know that we would arrive just in time for coffee, and that Dad would pour me two steaming cups, before hitting the trails just outside the doorframe.
I didn’t know that Dad would be fine, not sad at all.
I didn’t know that we would hike the land of my youth until noon, with Autumn on his shoulders.
I didn’t know that we would crouch by the rivers and streams and say blessings.
I didn’t know that I would harvest bay laurel and Dad would locate a field of matsutake mushrooms.
I don’t know that when no one was looking I would press my forehead into the earth, addicted to the feeling of the damp soil crushing into my third eye.
I don’t know that Dad would go on and on about God, as he always does, and I would just gesture at the nature all around us as if to say, “Yeah, but…this.”
I didn’t know that it would all be intact: the land and the dad, just as I’d left them.
“I adore my two little ones and love being their mom, but even with the joy, motherhood can be challenging, exhausting, and frustrating.” -Mary Novaria, Why I Chose To Have My Tubes Tied, Good Housekeeping
Some, not all, have questioned my decision to have “just” one child. I’ve known a number of men who were open about their choice to have vasectomies (before and after becoming fathers), and I wonder how many raised eyebrows they got. I thought it was so righteous when a man I admired made his decision to have no children official, by getting a vasectomy. It was so bold. And it showed me how committed he was to his values.
I know virtually no women, however, who have been open about opting for tubal ligation. But I know there are so many women out there that have probably had the procedure done, or are curious about it. It’s just not talked about very much. So naturally, I’m here to change that.
It wasn’t that I always knew I would someday get my fallopian tubes removed, but what I did know is that I desired to raise only one. I was raised that way. It just feels right. I hadn’t really thought through what it would take to accomplish it until I got to that bridge: More years of birth control? Sterilization? (Surely we can come up with a more positive-sounding terminology than that one.) How about saying, She who desires to run with herself. Or, she who desires to run with one. Or, he who desires to care for four, on the intake paperwork.
I’d relied on various types of birth control for years, and had my share of ups and downs using the different methods. I won’t go into detail, but if you are a female who has too, then you’ve experienced the challenges I’m talking about.
So the day before Election Day 2020, on a bright, clear morning in western Oregon, we arrived at the hospital. The same one I’d delivered our daughter at two-years prior. Red and orange leaves clung to the trees that lined the drive, but I wasn’t thinking of that, I was thinking of how I wished there were an easier way of accomplishing the end result; other than anesthesia, and three incisions on my belly, one of which was in my bellybutton. I was a little apprehensive of the procedure itself. The fact that I was taking control of my body and my future was empowering, however. That’s the word I kept throwing around, “Empowering.”
Maybe I should have been thinking more about being “Prepared.” Because shortly after checking in, when I was getting settled into the hospital bed at the entrance of the operating room, the nurse asked me a series of questions, one of which was “When was the last time you had anything to drink?” and then, “Any cream or sugar?”
“Umm. Let’s see. Coffee at 6:45. A little cream.”
“So that’s not a clear liquid,” the nurse said. “We’re going to have to see if Dr. Bock is available to push the procedure back 2 hours.”
I called my fiancé and told him I messed up, and that the whole thing would be delayed. (We live rurally, so it was fortunate that it could be rescheduled for the same day. We had arranged child care and everything.)
With an IV in my arm, I fished Margaret Atwood’s new book The Testament out of my purse, and asked the nurse if we could close the curtain around my bed. I wasn’t sure if I was impatient or relieved. I was having what some desperate parents jokingly call a hospital fantasy. The hospital was okay, but the bright lights and noise gave me a headache, honestly.
Fast forward 3 hours and we were driving back home, stopping by the pharmacy for scripts. The procedure went well. The doctor gave me a full page color print as “proof” that both my fallopian tubes had been removed. Yep, not there. Seared off. Mission accomplished. I was still worried what level of pain I might be in once the narcotic they’d given me wore off. Come to find out, my worst symptom would turn out to be the headache that morphed into a migraine. That first night after my procedure, I experienced the nausea and vomiting that come with intense migraines. I had to force myself to eat more, in order to take the medication (Excedrin migraine) that would soothe and ultimately cure it.
Once that was over, I was fine. If you are reading this and are thinking of getting the procedure done yourself, I have only one major suggestion for recovery (which for me took about 2-3 days): Use a heating pad. I know, it’s simple. But the doctor’s recommendation to place a heating pad constantly on my belly on top of the brace-type thing they give you to wear was a real game changer. It brought a lot of comfort and may have been one of the reasons I had virtually no pain after the procedure.
Children become between you and everything.
That’s one of those lines that came to me recently, nagging, until I wrote it down. I wanted to use it in this piece, but I didn’t know where it fit. So there it is. Awkwardly at the end. Children come between you and everything. With no real rhyme and purpose, except this…
It feels like something I should say because I am currently sitting at my toddler’s desk, in her room, typing this as she takes a nap on my half of the bed in our bedroom. It is noon on a Wednesday. Soon, after I hit “Publish,” I will get up, stretch, and walk to the refrigerator to prepare her a lunch to be ready for her when she wakes up. Then we will start thinking about what to make for dinner, and I will pull it out of the freezer. This evening, after dinner, I will complete the list of things it takes to get her prepared for her big day at day care tomorrow–diapers in diaper bag, extra clothes, sippy cup and bottle, blanket. I will bathe her, and then she will get dirty, and I will bathe her again. I will worry about her picking up COVID at day care. Or worse, being the one that brings it to day care. I will research Montessori schools and Montessori parenting-styles, and then let her watch too much Sesame Street. I will have standards and I will wonder if I am achieving them. I will tell her “no” too loudly, and then get down to get level, eye-to-eye, and tell her that I was wrong to raise my voice. I will try to wean her, she will bite my nipples. But I will always be there. Always. I will be her soft place to land. Every. Single. Day. My career, hobbies, and needs will come last. But they will still need tending to.
I love how I can experience the joys and tribulations of parenting, but that I have active control over to what extent that is. I love that, in our country, we mostly have that freedom. The freedom to pursue birth control, and permanent methods of birth control. I think that it’s a choice for our bodies, minds and souls, that is probably under-used and under-valued, even by those who define themselves as pro-choice. I also think it is equally empowering when a woman choses pregnancy and childbirth. That’s feminism. Her body. Her choice.
Our household is happy with my decision. We’ll probably just grow the farm. I do worry about if something ever happened to Autumn, what would I do? What kind of person would that leave me, mentally? But I am trying to focus on things I can control, not the things I can’t. This is just our current chapter in the story, and there’s no need to read ahead.
I can place myself squarely in her shoes: the 25-year old who worked for the National Park Service, in a cave in Southern Oregon, dating, hiking, staring down the past, one handwritten page at a time. Thirsting for a domestic life in the woods, with a love and a child.
And now: the 35-year old part-time nonprofit worker, fulltime mama, committed in love, still hiking, staring down the past, one handwritten page at a time…living a domestic life in the woods, and (unexpected twist) on a farm, with a love and a child.
I used to write about longing. Longing for love. Longing for a child. The theme crept into all my poetry, and it embarrassed me. But it was the truth, and as a memoirist, it was all I had. But my essays about domesticity ran counter to my feminist frame-of-mind. I was sometimes surprised at what came out on the page: scribbles about sweeping, cooking, and romantic ideas. And after becoming a mother, I realized that it was family that I was always after. (If you’ve read any of my memoir, you know I was raised by a single parent.) So I just had to experience what I’d never had: A complete home. A triangle, not a line.
And now here I am. My dream-turned-reality. Reporting from the field.
That’s why I’ve given my blog a new name, to reflect where I am now, ten years down the road…and 195 miles up Interstate-5. Mama Bird will continue to be where I share my stories of domesticity, parenting, farming, and anything else that sparks my soul.
Is this a fever or not-just-any-fever that our daughter has Am I tired or too tired to wake up next week Why do I keep justifying a cup of coffee from the drive-up shop Why do I manage to laugh when a waiter pulls down his mask to reveal his smile I cannot ignore the numbers or the signals all around me I won’t Why do I feel like I am being pushed into a corner the odd duck out inconveniencing others by setting appropriate boundaries by drawing a line in the heavy granite sand on a Labor Day weekend beach when I know and you know we should all be doing something anything else at home safe and away from others protecting those who do not know better yet clearly we all do not know better and all we truly know is the insatiable habitual power of Instant Gratification of Get it Now and Get it Hot and Get it Cheap My takeout sandwich laughs at me, without a mask on and I know and you know that somewhere deep down within us there is wisdom the size of a particle of sand (but it is there) that does know better and can do better and can build fire and can carry water and can resist temptation and can make their own sandwich and can stop being grossly negligent carrying on practically licking the shopping carts laughing in the faces of others and thinking it won’t happen to me because I am ________ because I eat organic because I am me and we are us this blatant display of gluttony and luxury that our culture has come to know and love so well will love us to death if we let it.
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.
Nature will carry on
outside our picture window
despite her obvious difficulties
Acting out, she is, off in the distance
in California, always, and Houston, again
The birdsong this morning
sounded just like seagulls
and I wondered, if while in slumber,
some ocean made our pasture