Category Archives: existence

2019: year in review

Last year I said that 2018 was the best year of my life. 2019 might’ve topped it. In early 2019, I had a six month old baby. I was still up every two hours or so throughout the night nursing my him. I was on a very strict, allergy-free diet and was therefore wire thin. I was finding my stride as a mother, but I was still very tired. I was living almost entirely in Idaho, enjoying a cozy winter inside while the snow fell outside. I took my baby on walks on days that weren’t too cold, and I read the same baby books to him over and over again.

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In March three things happened. I applied for my dream job in my home state. Then, I felt the twinge of implantation that is unlike any other feeling I’ve ever felt before. I couldn’t describe it now, but I knew it when I felt it because I also felt it when I became pregnant with L. The other thing that happened was I received news that Grandpa was dying. Mom and I both drove to Utah to spend time with him in his final says. I quietly took pregnancy tests and watched the thin pink line darken each day.

In April, we made the trek to Louisiana to introduce L to his extended family. It was a lot of work, and I was exhausted from early pregnancy, but I ate two muffulettas and other delicious foods and felt sick to my stomach a lot. We also attended a friend’s wedding. Then, I flew back on my own with L. The flight was only between Dallas and SLC, but it was exhausting. I had to nurse him while sitting next to a (very considerate) older man and was constantly diligent, feeding L, entertaining him, and praying he would take a nap. He was so much smaller then!

In May I had my first prenatal appointment to confirm my pregnancy and determine my due date—Dec. 1st. I also drove with L to Oregon to interview as a finalist for that dream job I mentioned earlier. There, I interviewed around my nursing schedule, feeding L between meetings and a teaching demo. The interview went well, but I was still quite tired from nursing a baby and also being in the first trimester with my second.

By the end of the month, I was offered the dream job. Normally I make pro/con lists for any big decision, but this time it didn’t seem like I was making a decision. I just put my house in Utah up for sale and made plans to move. My house sold quickly, and I made an offer on a small house in Oregon with a few acres, sight unseen. Meanwhile, I spent a long summer in Idaho, still taking my baby on long walks and reading books to him. By now, life with L was much easier. He was doing great, and I was getting more sleep.

In August, I moved to Oregon and made plans to stay with my mom for about a month. That month turned into three months. I lived in an house that was not baby proofed, sharing a room with my one year old, who was a loud, fussy sleeper, while I slept on a loud, squeaky mattress. During that time, L started to go to daycare for the first time, which meant I was hauling my increasingly heavy pregnant body up early every morning, getting my baby to daycare, and then driving to work. Near the end of my pregnancy, this routine became increasingly impossible. Getting L in and out of his car seat was particularly hard.

After my new home closed, I waited a few more weeks for new wood flooring to go in. I updated light fixtures and added a shower the a bathroom. Then, I orchestrated two sets of movers and U-Hauls, and I moved into the home that I imagine I could live in for a very long time.

At last, I moved into my new home with only a few weeks left before my new baby would arrive. On December 5th, I welcomed my second son (that story is forthcoming). I spent the final weeks of 2019 enjoying my new baby, my angel, and adjusting to a wonderful new life with a newborn and a toddler.

looking for signs

I’m pregnant, and before I was pregnant, I imagined that I would document the experience thoroughly in writing, since it’s my mode of processing, communicating, and creating. But, I haven’t wanted to write much about the experience, and I’m not exactly sure why. I think it’s because I have no words. I’m impressed with women who can write about pregnancy and the journey to motherhood. However, most of what’s written is more matter of fact or medical or humorous. To me, the experience isn’t entirely any of those things–it certainly isn’t medical and it isn’t funny. It’s a completely physical and spiritual thing. It’s so entirely unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced that, like I said, I have no words. I can say that I love being pregnant. I’m one of the lucky ones who actually feels better pregnant–warmer, stronger, more connected. There’s also a delightful and ongoing sense of celebration between me, my family, friends, and even with smiling strangers out in the world. More than that, though, I am awestruck. Constantly. Every day.

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a crop of my bump from my maternity photo shoot

Now that I am nearing the end of my pregnancy, I finally (after a busy move, and travel, and prepping a house and nursery, and work) find myself with long days of solitude. These are perhaps the last days I’ll have to myself for a very long time, and certainly they are the final days as my old self–the self before I am a mother and before I am always and forevermore caring for a child on the outside. I am savoring this time. I’m enjoying long quiet days, where I can indulge my whims moment to moment. And in these moments, I find myself looking for signs. First, what day will the baby arrive? Do I inherently know? I find myself looking at the dates on the calendar, each neutral and blank. One of these days will be the day that I experience childbirth for the first time. One of these days will be my son’s birthday. One of these days will be recognized now for the rest of my life.

I try to walk for a few miles on a beautiful trail that skirts the lake each morning before it gets too hot. Each day, I become more familiar with the route. I watch as new wildflowers bud out and bloom. I see new animals: birds, cows, horses, and deer. I notice plants that I think are sunflowers. After a few more days, I confirm that they are sunflowers. Then, I hope I will be able to see them bloom. I wonder if they will bloom before the baby is born. They begin to bloom. I step out of the shower and rub lotion over my belly. I put on a pair of underwear that I like. Will I be wearing these underwear when I go into labor? Will they be ruined?

Each day, there are more signs and questions. If I am to examine my intuition closely, I would say that I still have time, that birth is not exactly imminent. I still have a “to do” list that I’m working through slowly, but steadily. For now, I am satisfied to remain pregnant. I feel big and hot, but good and vital and very alive and still very comforted to have my son growing safely inside me.

And I Shall Have Some Peace Here by Margaret Roach

Ok, I really need to start reading baby and childbirth-related book now. But, before I do, I read And I Shall Have Some Peace Here by Margaret Roach of A Way to Garden. I’ve been a long-time listener of her gardening podcast. The podcast is weird, quirky, nerdy, and good and probably the best gardening podcasts out there. It’s a celebration of plants and gardening, and “how to.” (It’s supposed to have some woo woo, but there’s none of that, really.)

And I Shall Have Some Peace Here is the same way: weird, quirky, nerdy, and good. She’s got this style of writing that’s stream of consciousness, double consciousness. There are always several threads going through each paragraph, sometimes each line. Sometimes it’s funny and intentional. Sometimes it seems that it’s just the way her brain works, and she can’t help herself.

Over the years, I’ve been inspired by Roach to do more gardening, even in my limited and sometimes uncertain space, to propagate hostas, to fertilize my houseplants, and much more. It’s nice to find another person, and even community, who care as much as I do about plants.

However, this book is not as much about gardening as it is about taking big risks and changing one’s life–following one’s calling, even if it means (and it so often does) leaving a life of security for the life you were meant to live.

I liked that about the book. I like that, once Roach leaves the corporate world, she is sedentary and uncertain for a long time before she is able to take meaningful action. The big change might lead immediately to bliss and certainty, but it doesn’t always, and Roach’s story is evidence of that. Oftentimes, big change leads to sitting, and reading, and drinking too much, and eating too much, and staring out the window, and being very alone, but strangely, not really lonely. Your diet falls apart. Your yoga practice falls by the wayside. Until finally you realize you’re doing it. You’re doing the thing. You’re getting healthier, living better, and it all was really worth it. I found her story to be inspiring.

The Reason for Crows: A Story of Kateri Tekakwitha by Diane Glancy

I first heard about Kateri Tekakwitha while reading about her sainthood in Erdrich’s Future Home of the Living Gods. I waded through a few books that reference her in  Erdrich’s latest, but Diane Glancy’s The Reason for Crows: A Story of Kateri Tekakwithawas the only one that held my attention.

This is a weird book, and, honestly, even after I’ve finished, I’m not sure if Glancy is being incredibly critical, cynical, or accurate in her depiction of Kateri. It’s a weird fever dream of a book and captivating and poetic on the sentence-level.

Here’s the thing: Kateri almost dies of smallpox. She survives, but is nearly blinded. After that, her life is a series of traumas–constant starvation, constant war, constant torture, murder, and freezing. Her life is a living hell, and then she dies at the young age of 24.

During her short, extremely traumatic life, she converts to Catholicism, following the lead of a few female family members. Christianity is met with skepticism by many members of her tribe, but it is also somewhat tolerated.

As she learns more about the religion, she becomes more zealous. She self flagellates and physically tortures herself in various other ways. She has strange dreams day and night, waking and in sleep. The author, Glancy, paints such a horrific picture of Kateri’s life that the reader can’t help but wonder if Kateri is having a genuine religious experience, or if she is quite predictably experiencing a kind of PTSD-induced psychosis. The latter seems quite reasonable. But, the author doesn’t dismiss Kateri’s experience of God and spirituality either. Religion and Kateri’s mystic experience is at the forefront of the text to the same extent as the torture and trauma.

Like in life, I suppose, the reader is left to wonder what’s real, and what’s spiritual, and what’s an apparition, and which ones are worth believing in.

Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer (link below) is just a lovely book. When I first heard about it, I knew I wanted to read it. (If you follow me on Instagram, you know this too.) An immersion into plants, poetry, and botany? Yes please!

The second section is my favorite: “Tending Sweetgrass.” This section is more about plants as they relate to humans, relationships, parenting, and home. In this section, she delves into her sense of belonging (or lack thereof) in the different regions she’s lived in. I identified with this section deeply as someone who hasn’t always been able to live in regions that feel like “home” to me.

The author uses metaphor and parable, and it’s beautifully done, but these sections were less powerful to me. Instead, I gained the most from the sections that seem most connected to her own lived experience. I also loved some of the deep descriptions of the kind of spiritual nature of sitting alone in a patch of wild strawberries, harvesting wild nuts, and the life cycle of the salamander (an animal that I’ve encountered in life and in dreams recently).

Parts of this book are dense, and I found myself skipping through. The end is a beautiful, poetic, and urgent , warning, plea, defense against the rampant destruction of Mother Earth. Sometimes I have a hard time reading this kind of difficult material, but she does it so artfully that I was able to understand it in a new way.

If you love plants, animals, people, and Mother Earth, you’ll want to read this book.

Lines I loved:

“[B]ecoming indigenous to a place means living as if your children’s future mattered, to take care of the land as if our lives, both material and spiritual, depend on it (9).

“Plants know how to make food and medicine from light and water, and then they give it away” (10).

“[R]estoring habitat, no matter how well intentioned, produces casualties” (92).

“Being a good mother includes the caretaking of water” (94).

“You can smell it before you see it, a sweetgrass meadow on a summer day” (156).

Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich

This is not my genre, but if Louise Erdrich writes an dystopic end-of-times novel, I’ll read it. While I haven’t read The Hunger Games, or even The Handmaid’s Tale, Future Home of the Living God seems to borrow from those of these themes and images. While I’m not well versed enough in the apocalypse genre to say for sure, I imagine that Erdrich’s work here does not expand the genre in terms of imagining what that world might look like, how it might function.

What I did love about the novel was that it tackled political issues and questions in ways that were artful and beautifully written. Erdrich seems to instantly and effortlessly create characters that are at once unique and familiar. She’s also just a master story teller, although there seemed to be some long scenes and plot points in the last third of the book that didn’t seem to expand the narrative. I trust Erdrich though, and perhaps on a second read, I would recognize the reasoning behind the plot in the last third of the book.

There were some great moments in the last third too though. For example, I loved how some of the characters evolved. I liked some of the surprises. I appreciated the commentary. I liked the way it ended.

Here were a few lines I liked:
The title, obviously. They don’t get much better than that: Future Home of the Living God

“An Announcement That Brought Incongruous Joy” (45).

“So do I love him at last? Child, I need him. It is hard to tell the two apart” (80).

A long section on how men smell (82).

“Where will you be, my darling, the last time it snows on earth?” (267).

Further reading:
Raids on the Unspeakable by Thomas Merton

Kateri Tekakwitha: Mohawk Maiden by Evelyn Brown

and possibly, The reason for crows : a story of Kateri Tekakwitha by Diane Glancy

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson is my first book of 2018! I was slogging through another book for several weeks, before picking this up around the New Year and not really putting it down until I was finished.

I thought I’d read Winterson before, but I don’t think I have. I think I had her confused with Jean Rhys or something. Anyway, it’s a great book. It’s obvious, funny, and smart in ways that were accessible to me.

Here were just a few lines I liked:
“[S]he’d got rid of more smells than she’s eaten hot dinners” (33).

Needlepoint: “THE SUMMER IS ENDED AND WE ARE NOT YET SAVED” (40).

“I was not a selfish child and, understanding the nature of genius, would have happily bowed to another’s talent…” (50).

“…no emotion is the final one” (52).

“Time is a great deadener; people forget, get bored, grow old, go away” (176).

Further reading:
Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti:
https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44996/goblin-market

Middlemarch by George Eliot

2017: year in review

2017 was one of, if not the, worst years of my life. I got sick (for the first time in my life, really). Weirdly sick, and doctors couldn’t figure it out, until finally some fringe health workers said maybe stress, maybe anxiety, maybe adrenal fatigue, but still nothing certain. So, after all of the scans and doctors appointments that showed nothing, I took lots of supplements, and ate green salads, and was very still and gentle with myself for several months. It was isolating. I was fearful. I laid on the couch a lot. I read books. In fact, I read a lot of books last winter to pass the time, which ultimately helped me heal, I think. (My 2017 reading list is posted here.) Slowly, my strength returned. Slowly I began to exercise again. Slowly, slowly.

Despite that cloud hanging over my head in the first half of the year, lots of good, and beautiful, and life changing things happened in 2017 as well. Just as I was regaining my strength, I traveled to Portland, Oregon in March, to present at an academic conference. Then I took a trip to Spokane, Washington (I love that city), then a trip to Tri-Cities, Washington, then Moab to hike through Arches, then lots of time in Driggs, gardening and working and writing, then back to Oregon for my cousin Valerie’s wedding and good time spent with the kiddos, the Stampede, more gardening with my mom, riding lessons (I hadn’t been on a horse in years), a few trips around the pond on a paddle boat with my dad and nephew, a tiny raspberry harvest from my tiny new raspberry patch, and a conversation that had my heart pounding in my throat and ended with him saying, “Ok,” ejc’s visit (twice), along with Piper, a trip to Teton National Park, and the Table Rock hike, despite horrible smoke from forest fires last summer, a tiny huckleberry harvest (that actually took forever because—huckleberries), a road trip through Wyoming, Nebraska, and Kansas to Missouri, for some art, a train depot, and wandering through Kansas City, MO, and a return to Little Sweden, then the total solar eclipse viewed from an overlook in the Idaho mountains, an experience that completely exceeded my expectations and changed my perspective on what the world was capable of, then on to Mom’s fall visit, and I loved having her here, and then back to Oregon for my cousin Gina’s wedding (where I was maid of honor for the first time!), a little more time with my family in Oregon, and then back to work, and then back to Spokane (I love that city! (even though it was unseasonably cold this time)) to present at another conference, and then teaching my last class of yoga for the foreseeable future, and then on to Florida, where I walked in the warm Atlantic surf in December, and napped my way through a road trip in Alabama and on to Louisiana, where I spent some time with people I will probably know forever, and then back to Oregon for a really charming, idyllic Christmas week, with lots of baking, just the right amount of snow, and good visits with my family, and lots of good news and good cheer to share.

Cheers to a happy new year, everyone.

sherewin

my 2017 “best nine” from Instagram

 

Idaho by Emily Ruskovich

Idaho: A Novel by Emily Ruskovich is an absolutely fantastic novel. And that’s coming from someone who’s had a hard time reading fiction for several years now. I’ve been the most critical reader, scouring the first 10, 15, 20 pages for a piece of dialogue to fall flat, for text that tries too hard, or for a lie. Normally, I’ll find a reason to set the book aside within the first few pages. Often in the first paragraph. (I hope my own readers are more generous.) I’ll admit that the first 50 pages of this book were slow for me, but I love Idaho, and I found myself wanting to spend more time in the state and, therefore, more time with the book. Every line, every description, every detail served a purpose. Nothing was wasted. There were endless revelations about the human spirit.

My struggled with fiction has had to do with plots lines that are too predictable (or intentionally unpredictable for no good reason), common tropes are overused, and characters are flat. As a result, if I do read fiction, it tends to be stuff with no discernible plot line. Idaho has a plot line. Very much so. But it is as artful as the text.

If you grew up in the Inland Northwest, if there are old pictures of you as a child standing in the back of a old Ford, a photo taken when you are covered in tamarack dust, stuck to you from the can of Coke you drank, while you are waiting while your parents stacked firewood into the back of the pickup, and smell of honeysuckle and chainsaw oil thick in the air, and then if you went to school in the Palouse, and spent summers high up in the Idaho mountains, a little worried about getting lost among the old Forest Service road, but thankful from the break of intellectual work, while you marked and hauled old logs to the truck to burn through the winter in a fireplace that would melt and permanently scar the skin on your forearm, and if you take every opportunity, every summer and spring break, to drive back to those empty Blue Mountains, and if you knew the boredom and insight of an isolated childhood in the rural Northwest, and if you think you’ve actually met Emily Ruskovich, been introduced in passing by a friend, an acquaintance, in Moscow, Idaho, while you were practicing yoga across the state line, or at the farmer’s market, or in the little shop, where you ate a coffee and bagel after having ridden your bike eight miles along the Chipman Trail. Perhaps she was a student, or maybe you two were alone in a used bookstore and shared a knowing glance, seeing that you are the same, both with freckles, red hair, and dark eyes, but you think you are different, but you are not so different, and you should read this beautiful, beautiful book that she has written.

Transit by Rachel Cusk

I continue to enjoy Rachel Cusk’s work–a constant good amid chaos. I read Outline a few years ago and The Last Supper just this winter. Transit: A Novel makes sense of The Last Supper.  Her observations on the human condition are unique and accurate. Her characters are honest, and sometimes they tell the truth.

Here are some lines I liked:

  • “[S]he was too obviously based on a human type to be, herself, human” (3).
  • “It was an interesting thought, that stability might be seen as the product of risk; it was perhaps when people tried to keep things the same that the process of decline began” (27).
  • “[S]omeone who cared about him once wrote that it was impossible not to reject him, that the friend himself has rejected him, that something about him just made people do it” (138).
  • “Fate, he said, is only truth in its natural state” (256).
  • “I felt something change far beneath me, moving deep beneath the surface of things, like plates of the earth blindly moving in their black traces” (260).

I’ve felt these subtle moments, sometimes after years, and it’s such a relief.