May is motherhood memoir month


The Ekphrastic Letter

Dear Mother,
I should’ve cleaned your fingernails before you died. I know dirty fingernails never bothered you, but in that last photo I took of you where your hands wrap around the ceramic mug of fresh coffee I brought with real cream, instead of the styrofoam cup of instant with powder packets you’d been getting—-in that picture the gleam is back in your eyes, feisty again, but a dark, dirty rim lines each fingernail. I regret not offering to clean your nails, but at the time it didn’t occur to me. You had lots of life left in you. You could’ve cleaned your own fingernails….

I Am a Tree

Picture yourself as a tree. All day I’ve seen myself re-cast as a tree and it has been my best new thought, drawing me toward the sky, a seeker transforming the air we breathe. I love trees. Last week I posted this quote from John Muir: I have never seen a discontented tree. Muir’s words speak to two of my deepest places: a love for trees, and a desire to be satisfied. I’ve pondered contentment much of my life, coaching myself toward it, sometimes thinking I’ve arrived. But I haven’t entirely whipped it. I know this because I’m often restless. My restlessness takes the form of wanting to consume things I don’t need, or even really enjoy all that much after the initial dopamine hit. Dark chocolate or some other “healthy” treat is usually my consumable of choice. Sometimes wine or beer, but not on a daily basis, and usually…

Seurat and Social Distancing

In Seurat’s pointillist painting, La Grande Jatte, notice how everyone is arranged in small groups with some distance between them? I never saw it quite like this before, but living through a pandemic changes your view on just about everything. Is there a piece of art that represents how life has changed for you since the onset of the pandemic? A painting might inspire a story or poem, or vivid imagery in a poem or story might inspire a painting or sculpture (reverse ekphrasis). Using art as a starting point, describing what you see until the story or idea behind the objects or scene reveals itself. That’s ekphrastic writing and it can bring new layers of meaning, along with new ways of seeing, to your work. Give it a try. And stay safe this Memorial Day Weekend. Writing, generally done alone, is a fairly safe activity.

A Discontented Tree

Have you ever seen one? I try to imagine what it might look like. Thirsty, parched, in need of water is the best I can do. Maybe a Yucca in Death Valley. Certainly not the trees lining the Columbia Gorge where I live. We walk under their canopies daily, looking up, breathing in the oxygen-rich air they provide, thankful to be here, sharing life. No sign of discontent anywhere nearby. “I never saw a discontented tree,” said John Muir. He might’ve been in or around Yosemite where he spent much of his time. He soaked in the satisfaction of the trees, of a simple life breathing fresh outdoor air. Trees have stories. They connect and communicate through their root systems. Go for a walk today and ask a tree, What sort of story have you for me? Or write a tree into a scene, along with the word discontented. Enjoy…

When Writing Disappears

That happens from time to time, right? You forget to hit save like I did yesterday after starting today’s post… At least I think I wrote a post. I’ve been writing a lot lately and dreaming, both day and night, so I realize it’s possible I only dreamed I wrote a post. At any rate, it has not reappeared in my drafts folder where I thought, or dreamed, I wrote it. What I love is how comical this seems to me, when before, maybe last year, it might’ve caused stress or anxiety, like a bee swarm before I knew much about bees. When I’m writing a lot, I know I can just write some more. When I’m not writing much, every word feels precious, no matter how bad it might be. And when I’m writing a lot the writing seems better somehow, like I’m hitting more of the right notes,…

Paper doll Mom

Have you ever imagined a character you’re writing, or your mother, as something you might play with, some relic from your past? I’m going through my dead mother’s artifacts when I find a youthful head shot of her, colored and cutout, like the bust of a paper doll. Back before color photography, my mother painted her sepia photos with a set of Marshall’s photo-oils, bringing a rosy glow to her cheeks, shading her lips to set off her straight white teeth, dotting her eyes deep blue, and adding a touch of auburn to her hair. In the 50s, my mother was starlet pretty, a once-upon-a-time model, so the tinted head shot of her, taken before she stood next to the wrong man, is easy to imagine as an iconic paper doll I’d dress with my youngest daughter, the last one left at home. She’s 11, on the cusp of adolescence,…

Life as an Alien

A few years ago our youngest was drawing space shapes- a moon, some stars, a wobbly planet, when she looked up and said, You’re the best mom in the world. Child #6 was a late-life reckoning, born 13 years ago, when I was 47, the last thing I thought I wanted at the time. But time has a way of changing everything. She looked back at her drawing and reconsidered. No, wait, you’re the best mom in the universe. You’re better than an alien mom! An alien mom is the coolest thing she could think of at age 4. I smile, thinking who loves me like this? I try to remember if the first five were this adoring. I don’t think so. Or it could be that life has since erased the phase of adoration on both sides. Still, I linger, trying to picture what about myself makes me better…

Why We Write

Why do you write? Every now and then I return to this existential question. Like Flannery O’Connor, I don’t know what I think until I write. I need to see my thoughts spelled out in words, and then I can edit them, put them in order. When I see them in black and white, or purple- I love purple gel ink pens– I can shape them. But until then they are floating and abstract. Have you thought about this? I’m almost certain you have, but it’s worth revisiting now and then. Like Henri Nouwen, I’m seeking to articulate the movement of my inner life. As writers, maybe we are also trying to rephrase the world, take it in and give it back better, “so that everything is used and nothing is lost” as Nicole Krauss writes.Or, like Anaïs Nin maybe we want to create a world in which we can…