the other side of the rainbow

1. Daylight Savings came, and it’s not dark at bedtime anymore. Asher is plagued with fears about bad guys and unlocked doors and the very real feeling that comes along with realizing what it means to feel vulnerable, without the words to say, I feel vulnerable. He can’t fall asleep.

We bend around him in his small bed at night and move through two books, two stories: Once upon a time, there was a boy named Asher, his little brother Lucas and their big dog Louie. One day, Asher rode is shiny red bike up the side of the biggest, brightest rainbow he had ever seen…

We wake up with him in our bed almost every night. He slips in silently most nights and curls against one of us. I wake up with my head craned up against the pillow, slowly realizing that there’s a tuft of red hair pressing into my nostril or Drew’s elbow against my rib because there’s been a move on our bedtime real estate. It’s kind of obnoxious, this new habit, but the motivation is alarmingly sincere. He’s afraid of being by himself, and there we both are, being so quiet and comfortable, with plenty of room between us.

Why do you and Papa get to sweep together but I have to sweep awone?

***

2. The summer before we got married, Drew took the MCAT and was volunteering in the hospital to pad his Med School applications while we were living on my family’s farm in North Carolina. He’s kind of a silent soldier in the way that he does these things–at the time I remember him studying vigilantly in my father’s barn for his test, tucked into a make-shift desk after his labor-intensive days as a carpenter. He would write in his endearingly tidy cursive as he took notes under an industrial wall-mount lamp that my father had once used to carve birds under. Ten years later, the image is stark and rich to me still: notebooks open, the Carter Family warbling about the unbroken circle in the background, the rough barn walls and dust that filled that living space, and Drew hunched into the corner of it all, setting his own standard. Drew would make a cup of coffee and get to it, learning all of the things, silently filling his mind and his notebook, preparing to make good on the hundreds of times that he had told people that he was going to be a doctor.

One day during that year, he came home from his volunteer shift at the hospital and said that he wasn’t going to get the kind of medical experience that he longed for as a doctor. (To the doctors that might be reading this: you rule and we love you. This is not a statement about doctors, this is a statement about Drew. Carry on brilliant life-savers!) He had scored well on the MCAT and was preparing his applications, but he knew that he wasn’t going to get what he wanted from that. He said so clearly, so surely, in his perfect Drew way, I want to be a nurse. And so we reset the compass and my tall drink of water set his sights on nursing.

***

3. Lucas doesn’t sleep well either. He’s eight months old, and maybe like his big brother, he’s realizing that the world is too big of a place to spend your nights by yourself. Or maybe he’s eating all of the solid foods and they’re turning his stomach into a tornado at 1:00 a.m. Or maybe he just wakes up and it’s dark and WTF WHERE ALL MY PEOPLE AT. Or maybe it’s a Lucas-ism, something that we’ll talk about casually as another bread crumb of our family lore. Honey, you never did like sleeping at night. Babies are deeply mysterious and charming little creatures.

Though macabre, perhaps, I have been reminded too often in my freshman years of motherhood that we are inviting in a kind of vulnerability when we add Parenthood to our life CVs that is hard to stomach. After losing a child, a dear friend of mine told me that she never, ever, ever took having to get up in the middle of the night for her children for granted ever again. It didn’t make the loss of sleep any more convenient, and she still grumbled as she padded down the hall, I’m sure, but forever she sees it as a blessing to stand over them, pushing back sweaty hair and wiping the tears away. I think about this every night, and though I complain during the day, and though I cannot wait to know what three nights in a row of uninterrupted sleep feels like, I stand as that witness over Lucas in the dark and briefly mark the fleecy hump of his sleeping back with the palm of my hand. I silently say the the same words that bind parents together across centuries, oceans, beliefs, sensibility, and divides. Keep this child safe. Keep him here.

***

4. Drew has watched more people die than he can count over the last six years. He’s held weeping wives, washed cold skin, completed the transaction of moving an empty body from a room, to a hallway, to its next destination. He never brings that home with him, or at least not in the traditional sense. If anything, his coping mechanism is that his pendulum only swings up and so he comes home jovial, content to just be with his family, relaxed that he’s alive and his life feels good. I see that in him and I am reminded that living in my delicate world of picture-poems and analysis is a luxury. When Drew says thank you, he says without skipping a beat, thank you for our health.

He walked across a stage at UVA two weeks ago with a smile and a brand of humility that is inherent in him down to the pores of his skin. He shook a hand, bent low to have a hood hung around his neck, stood for a picture, and smiled up to his family. He was one of many black robes with big smiles and proud families, one of many that have given up Christmas mornings and sleep and time with family and hobbies and more to chase this calling. We knew that it was all a little silly, that the reward will not be the declarative piece of paper on his wall, but the sense that he will have for living a fulfilled life. He’s going to be a Nurse Practitioner, he’s going to continue to help people sort out the unreliable mechanics of our hearts, and for the first time since sitting under the solitary lamp in the dusty corner of that barn, he’s going to get to spend some time not being in school and just enjoying the fruits of his labor.

We’re kind of beside ourselves.

We’ve been having a lot of fires outside at night, talking through the smoke to each other about what this next chapter means, waiting for one child or both to wake up realizing that the world is too big of a place and call us back in. Of course I’m talking big, always pressing on the temple of the future, impatiently knocking to find out what’s next. Drew is much more quiet, quickly diverting the conversation back to this night. To this feeling of gratitude. To what is now, I realize, his simple genius in contentment. He’s thankful for our health. Thankful that we’re all still here.

***

5.

Tell me the one about the bike and the rainbow.

Well, Asher rode his bike up to the top of his driveway, and when he got there, there was a giant rainbow, the biggest that he had ever seen. It’s colors were so strong that Asher realized that if he pedaled hard enough, he could shoot right up the side of it. So he started pedaling fast and soon he was cruising up the side and up, up, up, up across the arch until he was waaaaaaaaay up in the sky at the very top of the rainbow. From up there he could see his whole family far down below–Lucas was playing with Mama, and Louie was chasing the ball that Papa was throwing for him. Asher wished in that moment that he could fly down to them, and just like that, his bike turned into an airplane. He flew off the rainbow, through the clouds and…

And what?! Where did he land!?

In his yard, at home with his family, on the other side of the rainbow.

 

 

 

Bridge

Yesterday I had to glance at the calendar to find an upcoming date in February, and I was struck by this:

calendar-shot

 

Earth-shattering, isn’t it? These are the kinds of pictures that keep the masses coming back.

So yesterday when I was looking for that date in February, I saw clearly for the first time that January is not a beginning, or not just a beginning, but a bridge. It’s not only THE FIRST OF THE YEAR, RESOLVE, RESOLVE, RESOLVE!, it’s the space between December and February. That looks so ridiculous in writing, but I saw this on the calendar, and I took a breath. I know that this is a profoundly obvious thing to make note of (so wait…you’re saying that January is between December and February? Get Out!), but there I was with a handful of peanut m&ms, eyes wide.

What if we stopped talking about January as a fresh start–January being a metaphor for all beginnings, of course–and started just talking about it as a bridge. A traverse between. I’m not starting something new, I’m just rolling over the work of last month. Taking a beat to make a new choice. No pressure. There’s plenty of time.

I think that a lot of the reason that we try and try again and fail and fail again with things at the beginning of the year is that there’s a lot of pressure associated with starting something.

On your mark…

get set…

LOUD GUN SHOT SOUND! (no wonder we’re frightened.)

***

A number of my close friends have sworn off of marriage because of how unreasonable its premise is. The argument is that marriage is built on a false statement (I swear to like you as well in 50-79 years as I do now, maybe even more) and that it’s a passive act. By nature of the commitment, we no longer actively choose one another. Although I obviously made the choice to get married, I’m so appreciative for the perspective that those hold-outs have brought into my life. When I remember to, I like reminding myself that each day is an active choice. I like breaking free from the motivation-crushing confines of “have to” and making eyes instead at just…today.

Happily, I committed to marriage because I was too young (and endearingly dumb. It’s ok, we’re friends, we can say that here.) to genuinely think about what my end goal was. Now I think about what some of my personal (and very concrete) goals are these days and truthfully I mostly see what’s between this moment and arriving alllllllllllllllllllllll the way over there at some point in the future, because the beginning commences with the arrival in mind. And that gap is intimidating. But if I borrow from the blissfully ignorant boldness of my younger self, I see that marching confidently in the direction of a vague idea of something out there isn’t quite as foolish as it sounds. Or maybe it’s foolish, but foolish is a friend too.

In a book that my mama gave me for Christmas that I am loving, the author writes, “Every book, essay, story, begins with a single word. Then a sentence. Then a paragraph. These words, sentences, paragraphs, may well end up not being the actual beginning. You can’t know that now. Straining to know the whole of the story before you set out is a bit like imagining great-grand children on a first date.” (Dani Shapiro, Still Writing: the Pleasures and Perils of a Creative Life) 

That little passage got many exclamation points from me in the margin because, we can’t know. But our human nature dictates that in the best of cases, we show up anyway. What we think is the beginning isn’t (and by definition is generally an end as well) and we think that we’re finished with something and then we’re not. But if we hinged our entire lives on the business of beginning and used those beginnings to predict the future, I think that we would just be disappointed by being wrong all the time. Better, I think, to not worry so much about starting, and focus instead on whatever doing might be within our reach.

So all of this is to say, January? I take it all back. I didn’t just start some things this month. I’m continuing. Continuing on with ideas that have been percolating, continuing to suit up one pant leg at a time, continuing to look for the bridges to carry me between this and that, continuing, continuing, continuing. Because I don’t want to lose out to you and your crazy fresh-start perspective. You’re just a space between, a chance to make a choice.

This post is a part of my 2014 Rising Tide Project. Read all of the posts about January’s topic, pace,  here

 

 

Friday Finds

I’m resurrecting Friday Finds! Here’s a collection of things that I found interesting from the week–happy reading and weekend!

“A Harlem school teacher attempts to catch snowflakes while leading her students to a library, on Jan. 10 in New York City.” From NBC’s Week in Pictures

  • 20 unexpected pictures of Andre the Giant, including one with this kind of wonderful quote: “I don’t like to speak badly of people. I have grown up being told that if you cannot say something nice about someone, you should not say anything at all. But I must break that rule in this case because I hate Hulk Hogan very much. He is a big ugly goon and I want to squash his face.”
  • Asher has brought so many things into my life, but of particular note is his borderline-encyclopedic knowledge of dinosaurs. Apparently it’s infectious, because I actually made some kind of awkward happy noise when I came across this Nat Geo article about reconstructing dinosaur battles. If you like paleontology, archaeology, or Dinosaur Train, you will like this.
  • This video of Yo-Yo Ma and dancer Lil Buck is weird and wonderful:
  • I haven’t thought about American Eagle or its sister company Aerie in many years, but I saw their new ad campaign featuring real models that haven’t been photoshopped. Their hashtag is #aeriereal with the tag line, because the real you is sexy. It’s a small step, but considering they have the ear and eyes of the tween-teen set, it’s a move in the right direction. It still bums me, and likely you, out that this is revolutionary.

And on a person note, we’ve had a snowy week, but more than that, it has been COLD. Dreaming of warm mornings and green leaves, but still having some fun in the snow in the meantime.

 

This is it

The secret, I think, to finding a good pace:

(And PS, this is basically my answer to anyone who ever asks how we knew that we were ‘ready’ to have a kid. There is never a good time to have a child, and I constantly wonder what being ready actually means, but there’s no time like the present for babies or projects or flossing or smooching or running or any of those little human oddities that we love so much. Well, maybe not flossing. I probably don’t really love that all that much. But you know what I mean.)

***
This post is a part of my 2014 Rising Tide Project. Read all of the posts about January’s topic, pace,  here

Guest Post: Pace

I am so very thrilled to be sharing insights today from the lovely Stephanie Marie of The Fete Blog. She is a jill of many trades and (this completely blows my mind) a professional runner. An Olympic hopeful, writer, gatherer, thoughtful thinker, and lover of beautiful things…Stephanie, let’s do this!

***

Pace

I first started my life as a runner in elementary school; my mother would take us to the local track where she would run laps and I would mimic her. My brothers would play in the middle of the field or cut corners, but I would keep to lane one, one foot in front of the other.

This grew to middle school running, high school cross-country, college track and field, and today—where my “career” is professional running. To say I have an overly intimate knowledge of pace as far as running is concerned is an understatement.

And yet, ironically– I can never pace myself correctly.

When I race, more often than not it goes like this: I start out hard, make a silly aggressive move in the middle, then flounder, tired and with an alarming lack of confidence, at the end. I finish deflated, embarrassed, and frustrated. WHY can’t I just run a smoother, easier pace at the beginning and finish faster? That’s clearly the way to run a great race. Pace yourself to start; slowly pick up your pace until you are all out and that will usually correspond to one or two laps to go, and having the momentum from nearly being done combined with enough energy conserved (from running a smart pace in the begin) equals victory. Easy.

But why isn’t it easy for me?

Honestly, this new silly race strategy is a new thing. A few years ago, I had confidence and I was fearless and I didn’t care who I lined up against—I was going to race my little heart out and feel awesome no matter what. Then I began putting pressure on myself and felt expectations (from friends, coaches, teammates, sponsors) that stemmed from being such a good racer… and all that confidence disappeared. Instead of feeling excited by racing, I was anxious, fearful, a nervous wreck. I would start my races out so hard because I was afraid that if I started with a smart, slow pace, I would fall behind and not be able to catch up when the faster girls really took off. The time to strike would come and I wouldn’t be able to respond, because my pace would be too slow—or so I feared. I doubted my ability to be a competitor and didn’t believe I was good enough to keep up. Other people’s pace clouded my vision and I was scared.

You know where this was going.

All this is a very apparent metaphor for my creative, off the track, real life. In college, I dominated my little world—whatever my heart fancied, I went out and made happen. I had adventures and I didn’t care about other people’s to-do lists or social media bragging. I was ambitious and I had no fear. But then, college ended and I was thrust into a real world and the paper I wrote for closed down and I got married and moved away and was unhappy and began the process of ending said marriage and felt left out of the creative community I had left behind and doubted my silly career as a runner and didn’t take advantage of opportunities in front of me and and and…

My pace has been off the past few years—in running and in my life. 2013 was a scramble of taking on as many projects as I possibly could fathom, going into it all as hard as I could, then gradually slowing to a complete standstill. I couldn’t juggle it all—there wasn’t enough time in the day!—and all my projects were thrown into chaos. I missed deadlines. I was buried in to-do lists. I had overbooked myself, in order to not feel left behind when others picked up their pace, and instead run myself into the ground.

Pace is subjective. The pace you run / live your life is not what I should base my own pace upon. Stepping back and giving my life a hard look has helped me figure out my own unique pace—and now it’s all about having the confidence to conduct my living so that I can finish strong. Panicking, feeling fear, doubting yourself—all that leads to going out too hard and fading fast. I’m not about that life anymore; my pace—in running and, more importantly, in life—is all up to me. When I step onto the track this year, I’m going to be calm, confident, and fearless. Start out smooth… and end with a bang!

Stephanie Marie is a wedding stylist / PR gal, writer, and athlete. She is a UVA grad, a New Balance-sponsored athlete, and a documenter of daily wonders.

***
This post is a part of my 2014 Rising Tide Project. Read all of the posts about January’s topic, pace,  here

2014.

Lately it seems that I’ve been getting all of my earth shattering revelations from one of our local radio stations. Move over Steve Martin, this is a VA Story. So the other day I was driving Asher to school and listening to a local DJ interview a running coach about sticking to New Year’s resolutions and this running coach said something along the lines of, in order to get started and be successful, you have to own where you are. What he was specifically referencing had to do with how often people don’t achieve their goals because we want to be super human when we might actually just be a mere, slightly out of shape mortal. In the case of running, this leads to injury or apathy, or both, but I think this makes sense in our creative lives too.

At first I heard this and started thinking about my exercise goals for the year (just do it!) but more broadly, I’ve been thinking about how sensible this advice is for starting anything.

I just need to own where I am.

And when I do that, I might start finding a good pace because my goals will be in alignment with my abilities, and as my ability grows, so too will my goals. Shazam, radio inspiration!

So the next time that I stood in front of the freeway billboard had a revelation while listening to the radio, a guest was talking about creating vision boards as a way of patterning or manifesting for the New Year. Some of you will be really excited by what I just wrote and others might be rolling your eyes a little, but hear me out, mmkay?

She said that there are three key components to creating a vision board: creating it, letting it go, and then being ready.

I’m pretty familiar with the first two elements here, obviously we have to create something that we’re putting our intention into, I was less familiar with the idea of then putting the board away, or letting it go, but when she said, and then be ready to take action when the opportunity arises, all of my brain dingers started dinging.

Be ready to take action. For me this translates to: have your s#*t together so that there’s enough time to take action when inspiration strikes, because that’s what I spend a lot of my time doing: looking for more time. But truthfully? I know that there’s plenty of time, I just need to get better acquainted with spending it wisely. One of the first pieces of advice that my clever (and published) aunt gives aspiring writers in her classes is to stop watching tv. If I cop to watching about 1.5-2 hours of Netflix a night, I’m also owning up to around 730 hours of time this year that is mine for the taking.

730 hours.

Own where you are. Be ready to take action. Find a good pace.

I feel like the marital conversation that Drew and I most often have is, there’s something in between all or nothing, more than just black or white. And we all know this. As we get older it becomes all too clear that 98.99% of our lives exists in grey. And grey has such a bad wrap for being bland and boring and unclear, but grey is where all the good stuff happens. The nuances, and quick glances and the feelings that come to comprise who we are. Grey is where a small change can become a new habit, where baby eyes light up and suddenly there’s a person in there, where feet find each other under the covers and all is forgiven.

Grey is basically the rainbow of our lives, the space that we exist in when it doesn’t just have to be this or that.

 My hope for the year is to embrace the in-between place, to own that the only changes that I’m in a place to make right now are small ones, and to create enough mental space that I’m at the ready should inspiration stroll on to the scene.

So here it is, 2014: I’m still going to watch some Netflix this year, and I’m likely still going to knock around aimlessly in my house and life, because there is something really essential about being aimless from time to time, and also because having another baby has left Swiss cheese sized holes in my brain.

But I can also take it easy on my all-or-nothing approach and just be content to make some small changes when and where I can and see what happens. To go back to the coach’s advice, I am not going to be able to hop out of bed and run a 10K tomorrow morning because I haven’t worked with body to earn that ability. Similarly I’m probably not going to crank out a novel or completely supplement our produce with our garden, but I can write a little every day, and I can grow tomatoes. That’s where I am, and unlike years past where the resolutions are BIGGER and BETTER and BRIGHTER, this year it’s all about integrating and owning it and being ready and being patient.

This year it just might be about hitting a good stride.

Axx

This post is a part of my 2014 Rising Tide Project. Read all of the posts about January’s topic, pace,  here

a rising tide lifts all boats

For the last couple of years I’ve been floating. Pardon me for quickly looking back when this month is all about looking ahead, but last year I wrote this in January:

“In the dreamy summer that I spent in Madison, Wisconsin nearly ten years ago, my dear friend Nelle and I would steal away with a canoe and paddle through the locks between the two lakes that hug Madison. We would paddle into one, sink down with the water, have the lock open up and glide through safely to the other side. Something big was happening around us, we were dwarfed by larger boats with big engines, but even in the narrow little canoe, we were able to stick our paddles in the water and row to what felt like the other side of the rainbow. It was thrilling and a simple enough mechanism, but one that was ultimately transformative. This year feels like that adventure. perhaps 2012 was the distance that I needed to travel between my twenties and thirties, a slow and discreet move between the prolonged adolescence that America is so fond of and my arrival into womanhood. It seems though that right now, on this day, and this point, I’m sitting in the locks watching the water slowly drain, waiting to see the gate in front of my little boat open. It seems like I might be about to paddle through to the next phase of my life.”

And now here we are in 2014 and I’m about to kick of a year-long project that is fittingly based on yet another boat metaphor. And y’all, I don’t really even know that much about boats. In fact, I’m about as land-locked as a girl can be, but I do know that every single one of us can identify with the wild feeling of having our feet standing strong on a floating floor in a vast sea. And what I particularly love about this year’s metaphor is that it’s taking the emphasis off of feeling solitary and putting it back on us. You and me. You and You. Y’all. Us. Because…

A rising tide lifts all boats.

I don’t want to be a boat this year, I want to be part of the tide. What I love about this little adage is that it points to the thing that we all seem to long for on and off the Internet these days: the truth that the collective affects the collective. How we speak and act becomes not only who we are, but it also becomes a part of a tide, and I want the tide that I’m a part of to be rising.

So I’m kicking off the Rising Tide Project here at Flux Capacitating. I need a little direction and this is going to be it. The premises is very simple. Each month will be dedicated to a topic and I will be joined by other writers who explore that topic with me. I’m lining up some pretty wonderful folks, and my hope is that even more of you will join in. I want to curate a positive space that will help me focus my writing and sharing efforts, but that will also serve as an homage to all that I gain from all of the incredible personalities in my life. Someone was recently telling me about her (impressive) button collection and without hesitating I said, I think that I collect people. I want to start sharing that collection.

January’s topic is PACE. I like having a word for the year (which apparently I quickly forget, because I just saw from my copy and paste above that my word for last year was Pivotal which turns out to be the perfect word for 2013, but I had already forgotten its assignment. My brain.) I will be diving in this week with some writing about pace, and I hope that you’ll join me.

So that’s it. In the absence of rooftops and support groups, this is the best I can do to shout it out and hold myself accountable. I’ve never finished a year-long project and I am anxious that I will blow it and excited that I won’t. Because last year was pivotal, something essential turned on for me, and this year is going to be all about finding a good pace.

See what I just did there?

To the year ahead. You and me and us.

-Axx