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Escaping My Calling


Writers, I find, will formulate any excuse not to write.  They will clear the table, organize the pantry, empty the dishwasher-- anything to avoid the task of actually sitting down and hammering out those words.  

I can avoid and procrastinate as much as I want but when I am met with stillness, the story I must tell is ever-lurking.  It seeps out of my pores, sweat-staining my bright white tank top, begging to be written.  


The other day, I had coffee with an old friend.  Actually, I had a smoothie. She had coffee. I had already downed almost two cups of coffee in the early morning hours. That’s a good amount of coffee for me.   Cole woke up earlier than expected that day.  So I opted for a healthier option, watching my caffeine intake and my waistline.  It was great to see this friend - we haven’t caught up in God-knows-how-long, and she’s one of those people I can pick up right where I left off with.  We even talked about that (I’m pretty sure we always do).  She’s a baby lover so she snuggled Cole for almost our entire time together. I only left her when I saw he was growing restless.  We embraced, laughing at a silly story we made up about some young kids in the parking lot and promised one another we would get together soon.  We always do that. “Why don’t we do this more often?” we beg the other.  We never come up with any great answer for it.  Life always seems to get in the way.


I’d barely pulled out of the parking lot at 1:04 pm and onto the back roads of my hometown, heading back to my current home, before checking the baby mirror and noticing Cole had fallen fast asleep.  I assumed he would wake upon parking the car outside our condo, but he didn’t.  Scrolling mindlessly through my Instagram feed, flipping through Facebook, checking my stock account, nothing engaged me.  I always come prepared with a book, journal, or laptop, JUST in case my son decides to sleep.  For whatever reason, today I brought nothing. At 2:08, after finishing up a podcast episode I’d attempted to listen to several times, I began to grow restless.  I couldn’t believe he was still sleeping. Lately, he’d max out at hour-long naps. A block of free quiet time had been granted to me, and I found myself feeling trapped in my car with nothing to “work on.”


Reaching for a fine-tip Muji pen on my console and the back of some scrap paper I found poking out underneath my passenger seat, I began to doodle some ideas for the book I’d been avoiding.  “Let me just jot down some intentions for the book,” I told no one.  I was speaking to a writing friend earlier in the day and I suggested she stick with her intention for why she wanted to write her book, so why not take my advice? 


It turned out to be great guidance because the words began to flow. When I established WHY I wanted to write this book, the ideas of HOW I would write it and the rough idea for what I wanted to say, began to flow.  


Cole napped for two hours and fourteen minutes.  I scribbled for nearly an hour, discussing my plans with another dear writer friend, a woman determined to publish a children’s book.  She acted as a sounding board and I just kept going, flushing out my concepts and remembering my desperation during pregnancy and why I needed to write this book. I wanted to offer women something I WISHED I had. That was a good enough reason, wasn’t it?


I also felt self-inflicted pressure. If I waited too long, would I be too removed from the experience to relate to these women? I have so many journal logs, so many letters to Cole, and as I sort of mind-mapped what I wanted to do, the feelings came flooding back.  I know I can do this.  I just need to maintain the confidence to do it.


Sometimes when I’m writing, I’m afraid that I won’t have anything to say.  Or that I’ll epically fail.  Or what my book won’t be successful.  What if I embarrass myself in front of the people I love -- or worse- what if I fall flat in front of the people who don’t love me?


Today is the day I stop giving a fuck.  Stop clearing the table (not to say it isn’t necessary), but stop robbing myself of the time I should and COULD be writing.  I CAN DO THIS.  


What I realized about today that was so interesting was that I got a whole lot done without the distraction of my journal or my book.  As much as journaling is writing and as much as reading is wonderful to help me be a stronger writer, today required minimal distractions.  I had nothing else to cloud my mind.  I could not escape what I have felt compelled and yet run away from doing. In some ways, I felt the way I did when I was pregnant (with far less anxiety of course). I felt trapped. I couldn’t leave the car and organize the house, or be distracted by bingeing Gilmore Girls for the thousandth time-- I didn’t have those things to keep me from my writing.  Instead, all I had was my beautiful sleepy baby in the back seat, allotting me the time I needed to write.  No excuses. Nothing standing in my way.  And damn, did it feel good to work toward that goal today.  


Shit, I need to write this book. 


Escape is the theme for my writing group this month.

Read more pieces about escape from my fellow Illuminate members:

How Do You Escape? by Crystal James
un-becoming by Laci Hoyt
Escape Via Him by Amy Rich

First Bites



I never dreamed I'd relish
every "mmmm" and mouthwatering
lip smack that emanated from
your full, pouty lips.
Thus far, I’d only known to fear the
thought of a savory morsel
lodging itself
in your delicate throat.
The mere thought
asphyxiating mine.
That notion stained in my mind—
any joy in feeding you, impermissible.
That first taste of crisp bacon,
the grease tickling tongue buds
expanding your limited palate
with intensifying flavor.
I forgot for a moment about
the sharp edges of thin fried pork.
And instead, I gambled on
the joy of my favorite food
satiating your small mouth,
nourishing your little belly.

I let it go.

Permitting the flavors
of my life
to wash it down.


Flavor is the theme for my writing group this month.

Read more pieces about flavor from my fellow Illuminate members:

Swedish Pancakes (Plett) by Kirsten Bergman
Tr(eating) by Crystal James

A Rose Grows in Brewster

Every year around this time, a handful of bright red roses bloom right outside our condo. They climb along the fence that runs parallel to where we park our cars. Ascending as if suspended in thin air, the delicate buttery petals peek out between two evergreens and shadowed by the slender branches of the maples that shade them.


My husband is colorblind; he mixes up red and green, often not knowing the difference or not being able to spot something red on a green background or vice versa. Recently I asked him;


“Do you ever notice those amazing red roses that bloom outside our place every year?” I was pretty sure he hadn’t since they are somewhat concealed by other foliage and their colors might show up similarly, camouflaging them in his eyes.  


“No,” he replied, “I haven’t.”


I grabbed him by the arm, ushering him from our cars toward the thicket. I could tell he still couldn’t see, so I brushed the lush green leaves away from the blooms, gently pinching the cluster of new growth between my pointer and middle finger, careful not to get pricked by the thorny vine.


“Do you see them now?” I asked, raising the clinging pant into plain sight.


“Yes, wow. I never noticed them.” He commented.


It posed the question; how many times have I walked by and neglected to marvel at the beauty of my surroundings? How many times have I been transfixed, mindlessly scrolling through my phone, disregarding a room bursting with family?  How many of my one-year-old’s expressions, giggles or milestones have I missed due to distraction?  Granted, I am not affected by the colorblindness my husband has, and yet I hardly noticed the six heads of dainty crimson that climbed in front of a fence I come face to face with on a daily basis.  


It made me wonder, what else in my life have I missed? 


Pre-pandemic, I spent so much time racing for a train; I rushed to travel into buzzing Manhattan in the morning, and back to the quiet suburbs of home, at night.  I was constantly focused on the timetable illuminated below the iconic celestial ceilings of Grand Central.  The 5:27 pm train, if missed, meant I needed to wait for an additional half-hour to start my nearly two-hour trip home.  Most days, I arrived at the historic terminal drenched in sweat from the brisk six-block and two-avenue run.   


It has been said that what we notice says a lot about who we are.  But what about what we fail to notice?  Before the world shut down, I raced without noticing what was growing right in front of me.  How much had I missed when I didn’t stop to smell the roses? 


Having a baby has caused me to become hypervigilant and acutely aware of my surroundings, and yet, there is plenty that I miss.  The blooms, while adorned with tiny thorns, are a gentle reminder to slow down, peel my eyes to relish in the extraordinary, tucked behind the lush greenery of the ordinary. 



Notice
 is the theme for my writing group this month.

Read more pieces about notice from my fellow Illuminate members:

Notice Me by Adeola Sheehy
Noticing by Megan Vos
Nurturing Noticing by Hannah Kewley
For the Joy of It by Katherine Mansfield
Notice Me by Amy

Notice by Crystal James 

"I am A Writer"



“So, what do you do?” the esthetician inquires as she applies pressure, extracting blackheads from my nose. 


Wincing, both from the pain of the removal of the dirt and debris from my pores, and the weight of the question, I hesitate to answer. I’m not entirely sure what to say.  Amid a pandemic, I haven’t seen many people since I’ve become a mother.  Many acquaintances have yet to meet my son and also have yet to meet the latest version of me.   I have completely transformed, and I also feel the most me I’ve been in a long time.  It’s been nearly nine months since I left my job of over ten years and life has taken a complete turnaround since then.

 

I’m reluctant, unsure how to answer the esthetician’s question.  When asked in a more formal setting like a doctor’s appointment, I’ve labeled myself a stay-at-home mother, and that bares a big part of who I am today.  But I’ve also picked up my pen, my laptop, ready to spill my innermost thoughts with an open mind again.  I’ve committed to filling the page as a daily practice. 

 

“I’m a writer,” I declare, trying on for size. 

 

Shit!  That sounded strange.  Was that my voice that said that?  The words slipped out, nearly inaudible, barely above a whisper.

 

It is the first time the title escapes from my mouth, and oddly enough, I’ve uttered this information to a stranger. 

 

It has taken me years to admit this to myself.  And even though I’ve taken on flexing my writing muscle almost daily since the new year began, I haven’t found myself completely comfortable with declaring myself a writer as of yet.  My insecurity plagues me, dreading the questions that I’m certain are to follow:

 

“Have you written a book?”

“Where can I read your work?”

“Would I know of anything you’ve written?”

 

The truth is, I’m only just getting acclimated to the fact that I’m actually on this journey with the goal of becoming a published author, and I feel that I know nothing, other than that I have much to learn.  I bare and unveil my soul with my words, and they have been rejected far more places than they’ve been accepted.  Therefore, I’m not entirely sure where I fit into this new “job” as of yet.  


The uncertainty of my future also includes a barrage of questions I’m asking myself, the most pressing being; will writing provide an income or instead remain a hobby?  I intensely fear settling for the latter.  This uncertainty causes me major self-doubt and I wonder if I am wasting my time.  My primary role right now is mother, and I relish that responsibility.  Observing my son’s growth over the last eleven months has been a joy I never could have anticipated.  I’m grateful to bear witness to every milestone, every first, every sweet moment. 

 

And yet like Ariel, Disney’s Little Mermaid, “I want moooorreee…”

 

Writing has always been a sacred space for me.  I’ve neglected it in the last decade as I ran to Manhattan focused on the fast-paced fashion industry. I had plenty of time for it on a lengthy train commute, and I certainly recorded certain anecdotes from the day or varying thoughts and ideas in my iPhone Notes App, but I was not committed to the craft.  I never felt I had much to say besides the random bursts of thoughts and inspiration that infrequently surfaced in my mind.

 

The esthetician continues her work, gliding soft fingertips across both cheekbones.  She’s simultaneously massaging and applying toner, tingling my sensitive skin.  She only murmurs, “very nice,” in response to my declaration that I’ve just agonized over, and continues working on my face.  It is likely that she asked me the question as a nicety and doesn’t care about the response.  I remind myself that this is how most of the world operates, on autopilot, and heave a deep breath of relief.

 

And then it hits me.  I am so conditioned by society to introduce myself and immediately follow up my name with my profession.  I used to say, “I’m Christine.  I’m a Product Developer and Sales Representative.” Once upon a time, I liked that title.  I was proud of the Fifth Avenue address I commuted to daily, and the Manhattan job I’d landed right out of college.  I loved what I did.  In the aftermath of the birth of my son amid the array of changes that Covid presented, that love faded.  I had a new focus; my child, my growing family, and a desperate need to slow the fuck down and soak it all in.

 

I’d rather not define myself by my work, but if I have to, I’m damn proud to be a mother.  It’s cliché, but while the “hardest job in the world,” is a club I never imagined I’d be a part of, I am grateful that the last two years have delivered me to this juncture.   I’m also proud to be a writer.  (There, I said it!)  I’m living a dream that the 8-year-old me (who used to fantasize about being a published author) would be so excited about.  I’m carving a path that feels natural and right.


And as for my work? Maybe one day I’ll feel safer declaring it to the world when someone asks me.  Maybe I won’t need to justify it.   Maybe I can say, “I’m Christine.  I’m a mother, and I’m a writer.” Maybe I can proclaim it, unapologetically, and not cringe in anticipation of the world’s questions.

 

After all, I’m following a calling, not conferencing with the world regarding my employment status. I need not grant the space for the careless questions from random voices, and instead embrace my work wholeheartedly, in whatever form it takes.




Work is the theme for my writing group this month.
Read more pieces about work from my fellow Illuminate members:

How Do You Define 'Work'?
 by Adeola Sheehy
My Work is Never Done (a poem) by Mia Sutton
What Do You Do? by Hannah Kewley
They Say a Mother's Work is Never Done by Leesha Mony
Working in the Margins by Laci Hoyt
You Gotta Work B**ch by Amy Rich
Labors of Love by Liz Russell
on my terms. by Eunice Brownlee
Potted Houseplant by Crystal James

ANXIETY HANGOVER


A fellow writer whom I’ve been exchanging essays with, providing feedback back and forth, recently read one of my pieces about anxiety. She commented that while she knows that I’ve mentioned my struggles with anxiety, she noticed that in our weekly zooms for our writing workshop, I look so composed and so together. I found this interesting because I thought …well, I am sort of composed and together. And then it occurred to me that it has been years of conditioning in a non-accepting world that I have spent concealing my fears and anxieties.  Hiding is a learnt behavior because I know that it’s not socially acceptable to wear them on my sleeve. There are very few people that I allow to see that side of me. It is such a painful, raw, unfiltered version of myself that I only share with a certain few.  It is a level of vulnerability that leaves me feeling splayed open and exposed.  I am running down Fifth Avenue, unclothed and with nothing available to cover myself.  My hands unsure if they should cup my breasts or shield my lower region.  In the midst of panic attacks, I tend to share with the people closest to me, that girl unintentionally streaking through Manhattan.   I am in such a raw place that I don’t even have the space to hold back.  I am fortunate enough to feel safe enough to divulge this side of me with a small handful of my people.  


And then… the feeling passes.  Dissolving like the tiny little pill I place on my tongue for relief; the aching subsides, and a new flood of emotions crashes in.  Shame.  Like wind whipping my face, the embarrassment burns my cheeks, an outward symptom of my outpouring.  Because sometimes, even with those select few trusted souls, I can look back on the texts, re-hash the conversations in my mind, recalling what I’d said in my moment of grief, and I identify with what I like to call the “anxiety hangover.” It is that moment of shame you realize you’ve divulged so much of yourself and you’re feeling a bit better and you think, “Why was I acting so crazy? What is wrong with me? Was it really that bad?”
Of course, nothing is wrong with me.  And yes, it was that bad, that is…in my mind it was.  The distance from that panic attack and the freedom from thought are eons away, even if they exist only minutes later.  It is merely my mind that has mapped out a path in which I’ve fallen down the well, and find myself scaling the walls, no rope in sight.   The juxtaposition between the gripping grief and the mental freedom feels insane.  “How did I get here?” I ask to no one but me.  “How could I have been so low yesterday and today I'm alright?”
 
In a world where mental health is slowly becoming more and more widely accepted, I find that it has become somewhat chic to feel anxiety and depression.  We grant grace to celebrities who have had a stint in rehab, or required extra support.  If the Average Joe confides in you, painting a picture of their mental hell, they can appear totally crazy and out of your normal realm of understanding.  I’ve experienced this countless times, specifically at doctor’s appointments.  Anything medical is a major trigger for me and when I have no choice but to act vulnerable because the pain, a knife too sharp to keep inside, slices the surface, I find the other person (the doctor, the nurse) as kind as they can be, are confused by my reaction.  Things that are seemingly “no big deal,” are a big fucking deal in my mind.  The compassion is there (sometimes), but the empathy is rarely present.  How can one consider themselves a medical professional with an intent to facilitate someone's wellness, if they do not examine the entire scope of wellness?


I find, even now, sharing these words on a public platform, there is an immense amount of fear of judgment.  And I’m working on that.  Who will read this? What will they think?  Will someone who I know doesn’t like me read his and criticize my struggle?  Do I even care?
I remind myself that there is power in sharing the struggle.  If I can bare my soul, naked, running down Fifth Avenue, and one person can relate, it will all have been constructive.  It’s worth it.  Is it comfortable out there, by myself, stripped down? No. Not even close. But I have that inner circle to bear witness, and they are essential. I am on a mission to make those moments of shame dissolve like that tiny white pill, and it is my hope that in speaking freely about this, without little fear, that understanding will emerge, and become as contagious as the pandemic. All anyone needs in those moments of hell, is someone who understands.  Someone who, even if they will never know the depths of the aching, will ease the morning hangover of shame, their open mind a tall, clear glass of water.  


And I hope someday I too, can heal the pain of the next day’s shame.




Vulnerability is the theme for my writing group this month.
Read more pieces about vulnerability from my fellow Illuminate members:

Quitting Cold Turkey by Mia Sutton
I Have Been Sick All My Life by Jennifer Brown
Butterfly Wings by Megan McCoy Dellecese
with love, eunice by Eunice Brownlee




HOPE

 

2020. The madness of this year encircled me; it did not permeate me. I was too consumed around the intense fears that rattled my pregnancy. I remember looking for a therapist and reaching out to several by email – sifting through the responses, one in particular stands out. A pretty blonde woman in her fifties (I googled photos to see if she appeared sympathetic, because of course one can gauge empathy from a psychologists website biography photo) wrote me back noting how difficult it was to be pregnant, ‘especially with the state of the world’.... The coronavirus pandemic had yet to hit the US but was days away from detonating, a high-stakes presidential election approached.. I knew all of this, and yet I didn’t even know what she was talking about – I couldn’t even acknowledge the state of things occurring outside of myself. In the self-absorbed caverns of my mind - the world whirled wildly around MY life, MY fear- the changes, the unknown a predator threatening my every thought. My plaguing mind a cyclone, gaining speed and intensity with every thought it touched.

The fear came to a screeching halt with guttural screams—mine—between contractions surging through my core-- the moment seven pounds and one ounce of sticky new life was placed on my chest. The soft cries (his) and the gasping sobs (mine) met for the first time and every facet of my life would alter.

Outside, the mask-faced world kept spinning. My parents stood in the parking lot amid the strict pandemic no-visitors rule, while I, an hour after birth and completely depleted, clutched my sweet, swaddled baby against the scratchy hospital-gown, pressed into my chest, presenting him through the glass to the parking lot below. Though a few floors up, I could see their eyes glittering behind their sunglasses. That warm June afternoon, my husband’s gentle protective arm around my shoulder to steady my wobbly legs beneath me... faith floated between all of us. Hope strung from one generation to the next, the strength of my parent’s love threaded to me, my husband, looping to the tiny baby in my arms. This new life that I’d spent months agonizing over – fearing his arrival, withstanding the birth, looking upon the life changes with such dread....it never occurred to me that it would be a perfect instant, twinkling in time, amidst the madness of this year. I never grasped that this fleeting moment would surge with peace, with hope. That the thing I’d feared the most, would be an anchor in a swelling sea of uncertainty. This tiny precious being, would become my one sure, my one pure thing. Enveloped tightly within that swaddle blanket was the heartbeat of MY world.

The one around me could wait.

Hard Work, Heart Work

"Heart Work"
Pun, Intended.

Does it pour from you?
Explore from you?
Are you saturated?
Infitrated?
Does it pulse through,
the blue
Underneath
your Snow White skin?
Do you feel the power,
Of your own power,
within?