Tag Archives: writing

All The Tattoos I Never Got

Tattoos are expensive. But not the first tattoo I never got. The first tattoo I never got was going to be free, because my friend who was fourteen, had an older brother who was sixteen, and he was doling them out for free. He may or may not have been on something. But the real reason I didn’t get the first tattoo I never got–a flaming heart on the inside of my right hip bone–was because I knew Dad would kill me. Or that he’d want to. Or, at least, he’d say he wanted to. “I could kill you,” I could picture him saying, fists clenched like he wanted to fight, but without a fighting bone in him. All soft on the inside like the bubblegum ice cream he bought me down at CC’s Diner.

Plus I didn’t think my friend’s brother could do color, and I didn’t want a green flaming heart, I wanted a cherry red one with licks of yellow and orange flame coming off of it, like was on the sides of the hot rods down at the annual Sea Cruise.

The second tattoo I never got wasn’t quite as symbolic as my “love equals pain” flaming heart. Like my friend Aimee had done, I was considering a full back tattoo–a landscape. The landscape of home. A redwood tree, and the ocean, and maybe some rhododendron. The plan only got as far as that–a fantasy–before cost prevented me from even considering it. Months later, at 23-years-old, I moved from the high desert where I was living in Arizona, back to the Pacific Northwest. Back to the big trees and the sea. It hadn’t been about having a tattoo at all, but about answering a calling.

The third tattoo I actually got close to getting. It was on a whim which, I was sensing, had to account for at least half of all tattoos out there. It wasn’t even during a break up, or anything. I can’t even put my finger on why I was going to finally get the tattoo I never got. Something about being hip, or the potentiality of appearing as hip as I felt.

I almost went through with it. I thought about it for several days before walking into Cry Baby Tattoos in Eugene. I presented the tattoo artist with an image from my phone: two minimalist looking tattoos, a sun and a moon. Stick drawings for the backs of my arms, placed above my elbows. The sun on my left arm, the moon on my right. I kept thinking of a favorite quote, “Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.”

The tattoos would be a reminder to always be truthful, to seek truth in all situations. To demand truth. To be truth. Because to me, truth is synonymous with justice.

As soon as the tattoo artist stenciled the designs on my arms, a perfect replication, I looked into the mirror and suddenly my elbow wrinkles jumped out at me. I hadn’t noticed them before. And when I bent my arm at the elbow, the sun and moon stretched, misshapen.

When I confessed to the tattoo artist that I felt conflicted, and didn’t think I could go through with it, he responded gracefully, “It’s your body.”

The next tattoo I never got were the coordinates of home:

41.7353923 N -123.9828519 W

It was either that or a fiddlehead fern on the inside of my left wrist, to remember Dad by. Later, I learned that I didn’t need the coordinates of home tattooed on myself anymore. Because now that place would forever be a part of me. I could plant trees in Dad’s yard instead, and spend decades watching them grow. It seemed I had outgrown all of the tattoos I never got, which lead me to thinking that from here on out, maybe I should just let my scars do all the talking.

Moon Teachings

79 days ago, on May 3rd, 2022, my dad was knocked off of a tall ladder by the force of a tree branch he was limbing with a chainsaw. It happened at an odd construction job he took, painting some house. A side gig. A split second decision he made at the request of a neighbor.

That evening, after getting the call that Dad was in the ICU, I drove from Oregon to Northern California along the coastline. His only child, I was frantic and pleading with the Goddesses to save him. I worried about everything from the fate of his soul, his consciousness; to his potential suffering.

Gazing out the window at the ocean rolling by as I drove, I noticed the moon: a waxing crescent in Gemini. The night sky was crystal clear and the moon and the ocean were a painfully beautiful sight. An inky blue sea. A golden yellow moon. Brilliant silver stars. I needed everything to stop being so perfect. I needed the moon to remain as it was, and not to move an inch until everything was sorted out. I felt anything but in control. All was chaos and confusion…so how could it look so peaceful? 48 hours later, Dad would dearly depart us.

Today, at three p.m. on July 21, 2022, 77 days after he died, I stepped outside after spending all day inside a building at the university where I work. I looked up at the blue, cloudless sky and noticed the white reflection of the moon. A waning crescent moon in Taurus. It was another painfully beautiful sight, this moon, coupled with the gorgeous, sunny weather and flowering bushes lining every path and street. The moon had risen and set, waxed and waned, over and over and over again since the days of Dad’s passing. Had the moon betrayed me? Relentlessly marching across the sky? Didn’t the moon get it? Any why does summer feel the need to carry on, too?

Perhaps, I thought. Just maybe, I cautioned…maybe nature knows how to let go. And we don’t. My body softened, shoulders releasing just a little bit of tension. Perhaps I should be bowing to the moon and reflecting on its wisdom, rather than questioning nature at all.

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

This is How I Care for Myself

Only build what you can properly care for.

This is how I care for myself:

Some people listen to their bodies, I listen to my heart. Of course, it’s louder when it’s pumping full of blood, so I take big, long strides up and down the hillsides near our home. When the sun comes up in the morning, I raise the blinds in both bedrooms and make two beds before making the coffee. I work for that cup, I earn it.

This is how I care for myself:

If I have time, I sip my coffee seated by the window. I especially love the blue sky. I didn’t appreciate it as much pre-pandemic, but now, after everything, I value the blue sky much more. If I don’t have time, the coffee goes into a dented aluminum mug, long on function, but short on looks.

This is how I care for myself:

I paint my toenails a sunny yellow. I paint them myself because it’s more satisfying that way. I offer to paint other people’s toenails too, because I secretly like to do that. I love imagining the joy on their faces when they look down at their toes.

This is how I care for myself:

I write in my journal and I don’t care about the scribbles and trailing thoughts because I remember a time when it was all about the journey and not the product. It really can’t be any other way and still be true.

This is how I care for myself:

I register for a grief writing group because feeling and writing is what I do. And feeling is better than numbing. I do it to help with the anticipatory grief I am experiencing over my grandmother’s health. “It’s an investment,” I remind myself.

This is how I care for myself:

I sing and dance with the children, even when I really don’t want to (even when I’d rather be writing).

This is how I care for myself:

I only take what I have it in me to give in return.

This is how I care for myself:

I take social media fasts on the weekends. It doesn’t transform my life, but it helps me stay accountable to the things, and importantly the people, that really matter to me.

This is how I care for myself:

I put invisible, impenetrable walls up around me–porous for only a few.

This is how I care for myself:

I knock them down from time to time. I rock n’ roll.

This is how I care for myself:

I learn, slowly, what boundaries are. I communicate my needs, first to myself and then to others.

This is how I care for myself:

I get my hair trimmed regularly. I don’t need a cut, exactly. I just like feeling cared for. I wear a big, soft shawl the color of wine.

This is how I care for myself:

I accept whatever weird and wacky–or totally mundane–way I have of taking care of myself. I trust myself–now, finally–to care for myself in healthy ways, the best ways for me. I do these things regardless of what others think of it.

This is how I care for myself:

Some people listen to their bodies, I listen to my heart. Of course it’s louder when it’s pumping so I take big, long strides up and down the hillsides.

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

Surrendering to a Season of Change

We woke up to rain. Big droplets clinging to the rhododendron and sunflowers outside the bedroom window. Every day on the weekend I ask myself the same thing: Should we stay home and clean, or leave and spend money?

It would be a stay home and clean kind of day.

Usually I welcome fall with open arms. If the fact that we named our daughter ‘Autumn’ is any indication…But this year I’m just not as warm to fall. The summer was long, and scorching. One of our farm cats perished in the 108 degree heat. More positively, we managed to get some family time in with loved ones. Long overdue visits and quality connections as we somehow managed to not even get the Coronavirus. Several times, I thought we had. This most recent time impacted A’s experience at preschool — she missed her first whole week. Over a cold. But we rolled with it. Rolling with it is just the way now. Things change all the time. With headlines like, “National Guard Deployed to Drive School Busses in Massachusetts” and “UN is seeking $606 Million in Emergency Aid for Afghanistan After Taliban Takeover,” we’re living in a totally new reality. Disappointments are common place. Ours are minor.

I started gardening this summer. With a lot of cooperation from my fiancé and our neighbors, a plot of food erected itself, now in view from our bedroom window, beyond the rhododendron and sunflowers. My life is layered and rich. We have tomatoes and peppers piling up in the kitchen, and are running out of freezer space. I’m going to miss the days of summer…stretching on and on. Brown shoulders. Blackberries. Golden sunsets.

With the rain, the environment feels to have shifted beyond its allotted amount while we slept. The moon when I last looked was half full — now it appears almost completely full. It is waxing and ready to shine. Last night, a coyote was howling — more like yelping — and it wouldn’t stop. I went outside to make sure it wasn’t down with the chickens, having a feast and tipping us off with its cries. Barefoot on the dry pale grass, it felt like no one was aware of this animal but me. It was ten o’ clock at night and everyone else was sleeping. I shone my cellphone flashlight in the general direction of the coyote — like what was that going to do? When I went back inside and crawled into bed, the yelping suddenly stopped.

Maybe the coyote doesn’t want summer to end, either.

This pandemic, hanging over us like a curse, feels just a little lighter in the summer. We can pretend that things are sunny, even when they’re not.

Then I came across this quote, which I felt echoed the changing season:

Historically, the Waxing Gibbous Moon symbolized the concept of ‘final steps.’ It is a time of the month in which people strive to complete their projects, just as the moon strives to become full. As such, it represents the hardest part of the month for many people. How the Waxing Gibbous Moon behaves is instructional for our lives. For instance, it doesn’t require the hard work of change. Instead, it trusts nature and energies and always transitions to the full moon, without fail. Thus, we should try to do the same.”

The words were an antidote. Meant to counteract the insecurities I am currently feeling about Autumn being in preschool and, more specifically, my routine changing as a result of that. I used to be on the farm all the time, now I will be in town two days per week, minimum. A temporary sacrifice to provide Autumn with her Montessori preschool experience. I don’t want to give up my work-from-home life, but when quotes like the above one jump out at me, I’m sensing that I need to adapt. I need to have some faith that something good can come from being in town. (It just goes against my instincts. Hashtag hillbilly.)

I will leave you with this, “Through the unknown, we find the new.” If you, like me, are feeling negative about the future because you just can’t predict it; then what better time to attract the things–and places–that feel right to us? My life is a blank page, waiting to be filled with all the right things. Finally, at thirty five years old, I feel like I can trust myself to choose wisely what will ground me. No matter where I am.

Love,

Mama Bird

I Needed to Make My World Small Today, and That’s OK

I have this thing where I ask myself: Do I need to make my world big today, or do I need to make my world small today? Big days are off-farm days. Small days are days like today.

I am mostly a small day kind of person. For me, it’s not about adding things, it’s about subtracting them. (Of course I sometimes–maybe even often–forget this and try to fill the void with material things or quick distractions.)

In-between housework and Zoom calls and farming and writing, I have been reading a book titled “Hare Krishna in America.” I am neck-deep in the memoir-writing process now, and I have a three day retreat upcoming at the end of June. Going into that memoir rewriting retreat, I want to better understand what Krishna Consciousness is. What Krishna Consciousness has meant to other Americans. I write about my narrow slice of experience with Krishna Consciousness in my memoir extensively, but I have always lacked a birds-eye view of the religion (or cult; even the label is controversial). The author, E. Burke Rochford, Jr., immersed himself in Krishna Consciousness in the late 1970s. Rochford worked to maintain his position as an un-bias journalist, while experiencing all that one would experience undergoing the transformation–the journey to becoming–a Hare Krishna devotee in America.

The scenes that Rochford describes echo my experiences. They tell me that those memories I have written down are true. In many instances, Rochford is referring to temples whose grounds I have walked on with my own bare feet. And perhaps most astoundingly, he describes Krishna Consciousness as a sect of Hinduism that branched in large part due to beliefs of inclusivity: Hinduism as a religion adhered to the idea that only members of a certain caste could achieve spiritual liberation.

Caitanya preached that all people, regardless of their caste or station in life, could be self-realized through their activities performed in the service of Krishna.” E. Burke Rochford, Jr.

It was no wonder why my twenty-five year old father, who was set apart due to a disability he suffered, in conjunction with a near-death experience, was (and still is) drawn to Krishna Consciousness. Given the background that I am learning about, through this book and other personal stories I am reading about online about Krishna Consciousness in America, it is easy to see how Dad extracted so much meaning, and so much hope, from the Movement. Many Americans, disillusioned with their own culture, did and still do derive meaning from Krishna Consciousness.

In a final act of transparency, my good friend who will also be completing the writing retreat with me in June, is writing about her childhood raised in another counterculture, one that is more commonly perhaps than Krishna Consciousness, referred to as a cult. That group was the Children of God. For fourteen years I have known this friend and we have connected over many things but this, somehow, the shared experience of being raised in very strict religious households or communes, was never at the center of our dialogue. Until now.

~ ~ ~

I have been having a hard time sleeping at night. I just don’t want to sleep or go to bed. I find it boring. Life is so much more interesting right now. My creative and emotional energy is high. I can’t quite put my finger on why. So after I nurse Autumn to sleep, too tired to write, I’ve been watching This is Us, an NBC family drama streamed from Hulu.

In it, the character Randall is reconnecting with his biological father, who disappeared from his life almost as soon as he was born. (If you know anything about my personal journey, it is easy to see why I feel kinship with this character. I, too, lost a biological parent very early on.) Anyway, there is a hilariously embarrassing scene where Randall is trying to express an artistic part of him that he believes is somewhere inside him, because his father was so artistic, he must be too. Randall is clearly trying to win his fathers approval, and bridge the years between them in a very short amount of time. It is painful to watch, because Randall sings a song and plays piano in front of a live audience, and totally bombs it. His intentions were good, but Randall momentarily lost sight of his strengths, of who he is, and how to best express himself. The vulnerability in that scene is heartbreaking, and heartening.

I can relate.

Sometime in 2013 or so, I took my poetry in front of a live audience. I didn’t rehearse like I should have. I think I cried. I think I’ve cried every time I’ve recited my poetry in front of a live audience. People I knew and loved were there. They told me “good job,” but, probably, they felt kind of sorry for me. My performance fell flat.

I should have asked myself that day, “Do I need to make my world big today, or do I need to make my world small today?”

I am a small day kind of person. Recently, someone asked me what my “happiness trigger” was. My answer: peace and quiet. Does that count?

I don’t know if it’s the Hare Krishna in me. The little calm devotee. But I am getting more and more comfortable with who I am, and saying “forget it,” to who I am not. I am not a performer. I am a writer. It is time to edit. To cut. To whisper. To be quiet in my surroundings, and loud and performative on the page.

My mind is poised toward this writing retreat, and my daily happenings are becoming more and more narrowly focused toward this one goal of sharing my story, my memoir, with the world.

So, what’s your story?

Love,

Mama Bird

Mercy Kill

Friday always punctuates the end of our work week. We always get plenty of time on the farm during the weekend, and these days rarely even leave the farm, but Friday is special because we take our weekly poultry delivery to Eugene.

Last Friday, after our delivery, I pulled up our long gravel drive, parked next to the white Dodge truck that never leaves the farm, and noticed a duckling lying outside of its poultry tractor out on the pasture. Although it is rare, I immediately figured it must have died inside of the tractor somehow, maybe suffered a trampling from other ducklings last night, and Steve had placed it outside the tractor before heading to work in the morning. He must have forgotten to go and chuck it in the blackberry bushes on the edge of the property, our standard way of handling the rogue dead duckling or chick. That way a coyote, or whoever eats those things, could get it. Back to nature.  

I helped Autumn out of her car seat and started unpacking some of the groceries. I hollered to Autumn from our back door, when I noticed she had neared the poultry tractor. She was standing, staring down at the duckling.

“I’m just looking at the duck, mama,” she told me.

 “Okay…” I responded wearily, and approached. “Honey that duck die—” just as I was about to finish saying “died,” the duck blinked.

I looked at its body: pale-yellow, stiff, big, blue veins. I looked at the sky: gray, wet, big droplets of rain. The other ducklings were moving around inside the tractor, they were dry, but this guy. This guy had gotten wet. He was freezing. He was barely alive.

And by default, I knew we were to blame. I just wish these things didn’t have to happen, ever.

I didn’t have time to wonder what went wrong. The duck hadn’t blinked again. He was not visibly breathing. He was barely hanging on. My mind began to grip on to what I knew was in store for me…a mercy kill.

I took one or two breaths, devising a plan, and then grabbed Autumn’s rubber chore gloves from the mudroom. I handed them to her. I knew the task of putting those rubber gloves over every single one of her eight fingers and two thumbs would take enough of her attention—and time—that I could sever the ducklings head on the chopping block, or near it, with an ax before she noticed.

Why?

Because I hate suffering more than death. I’d had to do this before, mind you. Not only here on our farm, but when I worked on a larger poultry farm for a season. (The more ducks, the more death. And ducklings, actually, tend to fair better than baby chicks do. Mercy kills? It all just comes with the territory.)

Based on the ducklings visible paralysis, and the fact that its beady black eyeballs were a notch closer to gray than black, I had confidence that I was making the right decision—though I could not know for sure.

Nonetheless, I carefully carried the duckling in my gloved hands over to a grassy area near the chopping block. I was already chanting the Mahamantra. As a kid with one foot in the Hare Krishna Movement, old habits die hard.

I remembered a time when I was eight years old and my dad was called on by a neighbor to put a kitten who’d snapped their neck out of its misery. I have no doubt that as he placed the writhing kitten on the chopping block, he was saying the same thing under his breath: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.

There is something about how when you say that, God has their hand in carrying the soul over to be reincarnated. Or something like that.

“If you’re ever dying,” Dad told me. “Just think of God.”

If you’re ever killing. Just think of God.

A couple of minutes later, though, the conviction in my choice to kill the duckling (rather than try to resuscitate him) was brought into question again as I rounded the corner of the poultry tractor to find three more ducklings, two splayed out, and one barely holding upright, in the rain. I eyed the heat lamps that were inside the tractor, unplugged. I would plug them in, even though we usually only kept the lights on at night. It was still early in the season. The real problem wasn’t the heat lamps, though. It was how these four Pekin ducklings got out from under cover in the first place, and into the rain. That’s what had gotten them.

Wet duck. Wet duck meant that I had to take two more stiff, nonresponsive ducklings to the chopping block, defeated. They must have wriggled their way through a small gap in the chicken wire. They were out in the rain the entire day while we were out running errands. I identified the hole, then wrapped the wire around a small nail a few times, hoping to secure it temporarily. Though it didn’t look like any more ducklings were trying to get out.

“Honey, I want you to go inside and get your rain jacket,” I said as I carefully handled the ducklings, placing them in an empty rubber tub to carry over near the chopping block.

Should I have dried them with a blowdryer? I knew placing them under the heat lamps they would just get trampled on. The one duckling, the upright one I was trying to save, was holding court under a lamp in the north corner of the tractor and the other ducklings seemed, more or less, to be leaving him alone. (Eventually he would die, too.)

The other two were mostly muerto, however. To give you some sense of the scale, these ducklings were from a group of one hundred and fifty ducklings. I just wanted to get the business done and go get started on dinner.

“I’m so sorry buddy,” I said to the ducklings, breaking my habitual, under-the-breath chanting. (Clearly a coping mechanism.)

I repeated what I did with the first duckling: placing it down in the grass, instead of directly on the chopping block. I thought that it might have some semblance of habitat as it crossed over. I wasn’t sure if I was making the right choice, but I was making a choice, which, sometimes, is the best one can do.

Later, Googling “hypothermia in ducklings,” I learned that one thing I could have tried was filling the sink with warm water, then gently placing the duckling, holding it’s head above water, into the sink. Had I done that times four, I might have saved the day. I’m not saying I was happy with my choice to cull them outright. And now that the experience has resulted in me gaining more knowledge about what to do next time, I feel good about that. As good as a farm mama can feel just having put baby things “out of their misery.”

“Did you use the ax on the ducks in the grass?” Autumn asked me, having retrieved her purple rain jacket with the rabbit ears in good time.

It was a literal observation that I didn’t have a good answer to. “Honey, sometimes animals die, okay?” I tried, and then we went to toss their carcasses to the coyotes (kie-yotes) and finish bringing in the groceries.

Something Was Missing. It Wasn’t Social Media…Was it?

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.

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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?

Was it?!?

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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.

Love,

Mama Bird

Rhythms

“Nobody can counsel and help you, nobody. There is only one single way. Go into yourself.” -Rainer Maria Rilke

I’m trying to get them all to live together. Farming and writing. Parenting and writing. The truth is: the adventure is real and I want to tell you about it. But through the years, I’ve separated the two (particularly farming and writing) in my mind. I’ve always had a tendency to do that when it comes to work…concerned that it takes away from my real job of writing.

But farming is our lifestyle. We live on a farm. We live on a farm we are growing. We are business owners—after four years in business, I can finally see that. I feel it. I have hope in it. So when I recently rebranded my blog “Mama Bird,” it’s because I know that my identity–as a mama and a farmer–is at the root of my story now. I can’t outrun it, I’ve tried.

There’s a whole lot I am figuring out, internally, about becoming a mama and farm wife and owner. There are a lot of pieces to the puzzle. It isn’t simple. It’s typically idyllic, but not always. As a farm wife and parent, I have a lot of domestic responsibilities. But does that pay? This feminist wants to know. The balancing act is sure to be at the heart of my writing.

It’s a season of trust for me, and has been since I’ve undergone such seismic changes: becoming a parent, getting engaged, starting a farm, coping with an ageing parent. I am 35 now (as of yesterday!) and my life barely resembles what it did ten years ago. An immature part of me clings to the idea of who she was and the vision of the life she has lost…but a larger part of me can see my life clearly as one that I’ve built with intention and now am at the center of. How do I articulate that feeling? What do I write about when I used to write about longing…for the life I now have? Do I still write about longing…or do I write about something else now? Do I write about maintaining?

Is maintaining as provocative as longing?

Writing doesn’t just make order of my feelings, it contains all of my life’s experiences—yoked. Or it should.

I enjoy raising animals: the monotonous, physical work, the rhythm of chick pick-up, chick-to-pasture, chicken-to-processor, our sustainable model of raising livestock, watching the rotation of poultry and ruminant out on the pasture, the changing of the seasons in the hollow, the nature of business ownership, the people.

I don’t enjoy mercy kills. When you raise thousands of animals in a year the reality of death, for every living being, becomes a starker picture. It brings to mind metaphor and regularly makes me want to grab my pen and write about it. I never thought I’d have to make the call to decapitate a baby chick or duckling, but it’s a semi-common occurrence, when an animal just isn’t thriving. I place Autumn out of sight of the chopping block whenever I raise my ax. I feel good that I can end the animal’s suffering. But I sometimes wonder if the chick might have made it had I left it alone (though I know intuitively that isn’t likely, and that I made the right choice).

I guess if I were to write about Now, it would be less about longing and more about building. And then rebuilding. Because if that isn’t at the heart of parenting, marriage and farming, I don’t know what is.

Love,

Mama Bird