Category Archives: life

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.

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The First Forty Days by Heng Ou

When I first found out I was pregnant (yes, pregnant!), The First Forty Days: The Essential Art of Nourishing the New Mother by Heng Ou was the first book I ordered. Over the years, as part of my doula training, I’ve read many books about childbirth (my favorite probably being Ina May Gaskin’s Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding: From the Nation’s Leading Midwife).

So much is written about the pregnancy and childbirth, and rightly so, but relatively little has been written about the postpartum period, now sometimes referred to as the “fourth trimester.” So, I read this book to learn more about that period, and I’m glad I did.

My only criticism of the book is that it is quite repetitive and the content is better than the writing. Through the first half, and then again at the very end, it reads more like a book proposal, like she’s still trying to sell the reader on the idea, than like reading the body of a book.

However, it’s absolutely still worth reading. In fact, I highly recommend it for pregnant people, new parents, and their caretakers. The highlights of the book are in the information provided about the postpartum period in different cultures, how to care for a new mother in the first 40 days or 6 weeks after a baby is born. The novel recipes are inspiring, and I found the thoughtful commentary that goes along with each recipe to be  interesting. The images of the meals and ingredients are also gorgeous. I’ve been craving so much junk food that seeing lovely pictures of “real” food has helped me out a bit.

Even if I don’t end up making or eating any of the meals from this book, I think just reading about this postpartum philosophy would help new mothers recover, heal, and adjust. At the very least, I think I’ll probably drink broths and soups and try to stay cozy and warm during this time. I’m always cold, and so I loved the emphasis on prioritizing warmth. I felt like the book gave me permission to do so in general, and I appreciated that.

My doula just recommended Mindful Birthing: Training the Mind, Body, and Heart for Childbirth and Beyond, which is another one I haven’t read yet. I think I’ll try it next.

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.

Walk Through Walls by Marina Abramović

Walk Through Walls: A Memoir is Marina Abramović’s extraordinary story. I mean, of course it’s extraordinary–it warranted a book. And it did. Abramović gives the account of her tumultuous and abusive (my word, not hers) upbringing, replete with political upheaval and familial strife–inexcusable even given the PTSD and OCD that pervades the family dynamic.

I continue to be interested in reading about powerful women, women who live lives that are very different than the ones they grew up in, women who were able to imagine and create a way for themselves with the degree of freedom and autonomy that their art requires.

Recently, in an interview, I heard Patti Smith say that the artists path is a spiritual path, that pursuing it and making art is a spiritual experience. In that the making of art puts me in a meditative state, which is a spiritual experience, I agree.

Abramović writes honestly, even self critically, about the spiritual and emotional experiences of her life, and the relationships in which she engaged, and even contributed analysis on her painful patterns and what they might suggest. It was all very honest and real and shed some light into my own painful patterns and what can be done about them (hint: probably not a lot).

So many of the artists I’ve been reading about have traveled extensively and have sought esoteric (at least to a Westerners view) spiritual rituals for self growth and healing, engaging in shamanic treatments in Brazil, learning telepathy from Aboriginals in Australia, and completing months-long meditations in India.

Lately, I’ve wanted to have more meaningful interactions in my work. Abramović’s work empowers me to do so. Her art is really weird, and many might view it as sensationalistic, existing only for the sake of shock and awe, but in reading the book, I was quickly and easily persuaded that performance art is very much art. It’s complex and provocative and does all of the important things that more traditional art does.

For as much as her most intimate relationships brought her pain and betrayal, Abramović heals these wounds for herself and others (her audience and her students), time and time again. Perhaps I can find ways to do more of the same in the work that I do. At least I can try.

After reading the book and being inspired by her story, I felt more emboldened to live my life in a way that was more fully authentic to who I am. So currently I am working hard to change a few things about my life, bringing it more into accord with my essential self, trying to set things up in ways that are more conducive to my well being, and wearing these big sunglasses that fully protect my eyes on the top bottom and the sides. (I wore them yesterday while browsing a plant nursery, and it felt great, and zeros effs were given.)

I thought I marked more passages (I know it did!), but in the end, this is all I could find:

“Because in the end you are really alone, whatever you do” (182).

“If animals live a long time together, they start loving each other. But people start hating each other” (290).

reflect, learn, grow

I’ve had the strangest, most vivid insights to memories for the past week or so. I take my down time very seriously, but my normal breaks and long weekends have been thwarted by events, activities, business. Despite the lack of breaks, my psyche has very much wanted to reflect, learn, and grow, and so I’ve found myself doing that between long car rides, and grading, and presentations, and deadlines.

I remember spring of 2012. I remember the color of the grass, the park, the feeling of the sun on my skin. I remember feeling completely balanced and warm and hopeful about the future. I remember walking. I have a picture of myself in a tie dyed t-shirt, very little make up, rounder cheeks, and I look so fully and completely myself.

I remember summer of 2015. I’d finally started to turn a corner, thanks to the companionship of my mom’s long stay that spring. I began to drive. I drove to the Oregon coast for my cousin’s wedding. I then made a solo road trip up the Oregon coast, to Seattle, for a really good visit with friends, then over Snoqualmie Pass, which I hadn’t traversed in years, through south eastern Washington, driving without navigation, getting lost, listening to this old Reba CD that’d been gifted to me by some circuitous means, and feeling fully and completely myself.

I am on the precipice of change. I’ve felt it coming for months, and the momentum has been building, the pace has become staggering, but, oddly, here at the edge, I still don’t know what the change will be, or what it will look like. For the past month, I’ve been plagued by nonspecific anxiety. However, in the past week, much of the anxiety has faded away and been replaced with these memories of better, stronger times. It’s as though, with change on the horizon, I am reminded of my best self, perhaps so that I can do a better job of creating it more consistently moving forward.

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purple camas flower in Oregon