The beginning of March in Upstate NY is like being in a sensory deprivation tank. I miss the feel of the sun and a warm breeze on my face. I miss the smell of flowers and the tickle of grass on my bare feet. Most of all I miss colors. My eyes are parched for any color besides white and grey. So I decided to try to quench this thirst by going on a color quest around my neighborhood. Here are some of the images I captured. How do you saturate your senses in the winter?
In the middle of January, my mom and I were both feeling a bit tired of winter. We decided to do a shared project about Bleak Midwinter and make it as depressing as we could, just revel in the bleakness! So I wrote, she painted and here are our results. Somehow a little sneaky hopeful light seeped in to both of them though. You just never know what will happen when you start to explore an image. So feel free to share your Bleak Midwinter project in your own creative spirit of dance, photography, music, sculpture or any other path your muse may lead you down!
Dismal grey sky, so ugly
Dirty snow, full of germs
Smell of someone’s fireplace, I don’t have one
Dogs pulling me on the icy sidewalk, undoubtedly fall
Black crows, poop all over
Lost mitten, frostbit fingers
Behind stupid salt truck, late for work
Kids sledding, probably get a concussion
Sun comes out, feels kind of nice
Hot cup of coffee, tastes pretty good
Lit Christmas tree, I suppose it’s festive
Soft blanket, I guess it’s cozy
Lit candles, a bit relaxing
A little-less-dreary Midwinter?
In my early 20’s I was a counselor at a sleep away camp for kids from NYC up in the Catskill Mountains. One morning I went for a run up a dirt road, flanked on both sides by deep forest. I heard a noise off to my right and slowed because it sounded bigger than a squirrel or rabbit and I was curious. I could hear something climbing a tree and walked closer. Was that a bear cub? Remember that saying about curiosity and the cat? I should have thought of that. As I got close to the tree line I heard a noise that’s hard to describe. Kind of a snorting, heavy breathing and I just remember seeing brown fur and something big. My thoughts went something like this, ‘Bear! Don’t get in between a mama and baby bear. Back away slowly. Don’t run and don’t climb a tree.’ So I turned and ran as fast as I could into the woods on the other side of the road and tried to find a tree to climb.
Luckily that mama bear didn’t follow me. But I think of her now that I have my own kids. I am not really an overly assertive person but boy; if someone wakes the mama bear it’s not pretty! There have been two times in particular that my mama bear has emerged in defense of my kids.
The first time was soon after my second son was born. My other son was three and we decided to take a road trip to visit some of my husband’s friends at a lake. This was really mistake number one, as traveling with a 3-year-old, newborn, and hormonal mom is not widely recommended. We stopped at a rest stop and all trooped in and sat at an empty booth.
My 3 year old was still in the midst of getting the hang of potty training so my husband took him to the bathroom. A bus full of people pulled up and emptied its travelers into the rest stop. After a few minutes I realized I could hear angry banging from the restroom area. I realized that someone was pounding on the men’s bathroom door over and over. I thought of my little guy in there trying to use the potty and got madder and madder.
Finally, with baby in arms, I stalked over to the bathroom. There was a short hallway and a single men’s room on one side and women’s on the other. There was a long line of tourists waiting for the women’s room. I walked past them with the man banging on the door in my sights, a growl building in my throat. I said to his back, “Sir! You will have to wait your turn just like everyone else!”
He turned around and I could see immediately that he had a developmental disability. The poor guy just really had to pee. All of the women in the other line were looking at me. I felt like such a jerk! “My son is in there, I said apologetically, “He should be done really soon.” Then I retreated back to my booth cave to hide.
The second time there was less roaring and more mama bear posturing. This was when the baby discussed above was about 4 years old and I took him with me to the grocery store, which in and of itself is a test of patience. All of a sudden in the middle of shopping, he had to GO TO THE BATHROOM! It was an emergency. So we left the shopping cart parked haphazardly and rushed to the bathroom. Again only a single men’s and women’s bathroom were available. The women’s was occupied so I ushered my son quickly into the men’s and then stood outside the door. Of course at that moment a man decided he needed to use the bathroom and stood grumpily in line. Two other men soon joined the line. The first man stared to check his watch and shift his body weight back and forth, rolling his eyes. I checked on my son who had a tummy ache and was still occupying the single toilet. The man grew more and more agitated as my hackles started to rise. I stood calmly trying to ignore him as I periodically checked on my son. Finally the man said, “You should have used the women’s room.”
“It was full,” I answered, “and my son really had to go.”
The man let out an angry puff of breath.
I focused myself on being calm and unruffled but wanted to say, “I wish we did use the women’s room because a woman would be waiting patiently for a little kid with a stomach ache and not acting like a big stupid jerk!”
A few more moments passed as the tension rose. “You could use the women’s room, I said, “It’s empty now.”
“They frown on men using the women’s room,” the jerk said with another stomp of his foot as he crossed his arms tightly.
Again, I shut my mouth while inside I was screaming, “Well they also frown on people acting like assholes but that’s not stopping you!”
Finally I heard a flush and the water running. My son and I walked away as the man walked into the bathroom and slammed the door.
We finished our shopping, with me congratulating myself the whole time on standing up for my son while not letting that man have the satisfaction of getting under my skin. I was outwardly patient and relaxed with my son as we continued to fill our cart and check out, even though the whole time I was practicing sharp and witty lines to throw at this man if we saw him again.
Finally we finished and pushed our cart to the car. I loaded the groceries in and strapped my son in his booster seat in the back. I started the car, still proud of my restrained mama bear self and took a sip of coffee and then wiped my nose with a napkin. From the back seat I heard a little voice say in a mocking tone. “Take a sip, wipe your nose, take a sip, wipe your nose. That’s soooo dumb.”
I looked at my son’s face in the rearview mirror and thought, ‘This is why some species eat their young.’
After these experiences, I decided that maybe mama bear should just hibernate for a while….
My dreams are racing these days. I sometimes wake up more tired than when I crawled into bed. Full of being late for a plane, missing an important test, arguing with a friend. Sometimes they’re even scary like running and hiding in an old house from an unseen villain. Then there are the creature dreams where I am running from bears, clinging to a dock over shark infested waters, picking my way along an overgrown path looking for venomous snakes. I don’t know what causes these types of dreams. They seem to happen whether I think I feel happy, stressed, excited, scared or frustrated. And I am a very vivid dreamer and can usually clearly recall these dreams once I am awake.
I would like to have dog dreams. I watch my two mutts as they are curled up next to me on the couch. They whine and twitch. I wonder what they dream about. I bet it’s finally being able to climb that tree to catch that elusive, taunting squirrel. For one of my dogs, I’m sure it has something to do with swimming after a ball. I think she is dreaming of endless laps around and around in the lake, chasing pesky ducks. Visions of rawhides and dropped pizza crusts. Sneaking that steak off the counter and not even getting caught! Oh-joy! Wagging tales and lots of petting and scratching that particularly itchy spot. Wrestling with doggie friends. Tearing apart those doggie toys that are supposed to be indestructible.
I wonder if in order to have doggie dreams, I need to live more like a dog. Enjoy each moment to the fullest, kiss everyone I love all the time, play with toys, eat and run and swim and jump. Take lots of cozy naps. I think I will give this a try today and see if my dreams turn into running through a field, tongue hanging out, searching for the perfect tennis ball. That would be nice…
I recently saw an image that has stuck with me and I wished I could draw it. Then I realized I could write it. Then my brain started thinking about all of the way images can be represented and shared. Through paining, drawing, writing, music, acting, dancing and others. And I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to take one image and ask people to represent it in their own creative way?’ So I would like to share this image with you in my writing and invite you to illustrate it through your own creative spirit, in whatever form that may take.
My car is waiting
At a red light
Across the city street
A brick building
Through a bottom window
The glow of a TV
Sending out a hopeful light
Onto the dark street
Where a woman
As she waits at the bus stop
Looking in at the TV
And now there are
Strangers who are
Sharing an experience
They don’t even realize
A moment of light
Connecting them in the darkness
For Christmas, my husband gave me a subscription to Creative Nonfiction. My first issue recently arrived in the mail. In it was a series of email exchanges between Cheryl Strayed, also known as Dear Sugar from the The Rumpus and Elissa Bassist. Yes! I had just read Wild by Cheryl Strayed and loved it. I hadn’t heard of Dear Sugar but was immediately sucked in by this exchange. As a new writer, Elissa Bassist had written to Dear Sugar to say, “I write like a girl. How does one go on when you realize you might not have it in you? How does a women get up and become the writer she wishes she’d be?”
Yeah how? I wonder the same thing. My bookshelves are peppered with books on writing; Bird By Bird, Writing Down the Bones, On Writing, and many others. I have found some wonderful words of wisdom in these books, but I must say Sugar’s response to Elissa certainly caught my attention, “…get your ass on the floor. So write Elissa Bassist. Not like a girl. Not like a boy. Write like a motherfucker.”
Immediately enamored and intrigued with Sugar, I ran to the bookstore to purchase Tiny Beautiful Things, which is a compilation of letters from The Rumpus readers and Sugar’s responses. As I began to read this fabulous little book, I found that each of her letters could be a stand-alone beautiful piece of writing. She doesn’t pull any punches but also bares her heart by sharing her own stories. Sugar writes with such compassion and freely includes terms of endearment for these people she has never met, such as sweet pea and honey bun.
In Creative Nonfiction, Cheryl and Elissa continue their conversation by email. Elissa asks, “What would you say if I said I felt jealous of you?”
Cheryl answers, “I’ve been writing a lot longer than you have. With all Sugary affection, Elissa, you haven’t yet earned the right to be jealous of me.”
So if you are a fellow aspiring writer, I say we get our asses down on the floor and write like a motherfucker!
I think the Universe wants to make sure I don’t get too uppity about my parenting skills. It wants to keep me on my toes. Just when I start to think, “Hey, I’ve got this,” something happens to knock me down a few pegs.
A couple of hours after my first son is born, my best friend comes to visit me and meet the new little guy. She is due to have her first baby in 3 months. She sits in the rocking chair holding wee Duncan who is screaming his newborn head off. She looks over at me laying in my hospital bed, “What should I do here?”
I look back at her and say, “Your guess is as good as mine sister. I just met the kid myself a couple of hours ago.”
She goes home and starts reading parenting books.
But then I get home and start to get the hang of this parenting thing. I get to know my baby and he gets to know me. I start to figure a few things out over the next couple of years and then…
I’m shopping with my 2 year old in a grocery store in a fancy shmancy part of town. He’s sitting in the seat in the front of the cart and I’m pushing him through the produce section letting him help me search for yummy fruits and veggies. I’m feeling like a pretty dang good mom as he holds out the plastic bag and we count together as we put the items in. One red apple, two red apples… That’s right, I can shop and provide a learning opportunity at the same time. I turn away for a spit second to peruse the potatoes and notice out of the corner of my eye, people flocking toward my cart. What the… I turn to see Duncan sitting happily with one of the plastic bags firmly over his head. I pull it off just as the first lady reaches my cart with a look of disgust for my lax parenting style.
And I know I’m not the only one to learn these lessons of humility. There’s nothing like a small child to deflate the ego…
Carol and Bill have a daughter and twin boys. One day one of the boys shares this helpful observation with his mom. “Dad is smart… but kind of mean. You are nice…but kind of dumb. You two fit together just like a puzzle.”
And nothing seems to be off limits to these little guys!
Caitlin’s young daughter, Arleigh stands next to her looking first at herself and then her mom. She puts her hands about 2 inches apart and slowly draws them further apart. “Mom, how come you are so…thick? Why do I look like this (moving hands closer together) and you look like this (pulling hands further apart)?”
“Well,” answers Caitlin, “Because I am older than you and we all have different bodies.”
“Mommy, when you go on the Biggest Loser, I will be so proud of you.”
“Honey, I don’t think I need to lose enough weight to go on The Biggest Loser.”
Arleigh cups her mom’s face in her little hands, looks earnestly into her eyes and says, “You will Mommy, you will.”
Thank you Universe. I get the message…