Goodbye, Ursula

Ursula K. Le Guin has never been on any list of my favorite writers or writerly influences, but she has is both of those. I have read embarrassingly little of her work, if for no other reason than I am that stubborn sort of person who the more you tell me I should do a thing, the less likely I am to do it.

My first year at Smith College, I read The Left Hand of Darkness for my scifi/spec fic class. You’re supposed to declare a major in your sophomore year, and I had no idea what I would do. English, the obvious choice as a writer, was not an option, since I’ve always loathed essays. (One of my writer friends tells me I was just never taught how to do write them the fun way.) I might have daydreamed about pursuing theatre, but I knew I wasn’t good enough (and back then I really wasn’t; I wouldn’t learn how to be completely comfortable in my own skin for years). Linguistics would have made me deliriously happy, but that required self-design and classes on other campuses in the Five College Consortium, and I wasn’t sure I had the drive to effectively handle that workload.

It maybe would have helped if I’d developed any career goals beyond “fantasy writer.”

The Left Hand of Darkness blew my mind, and the professor discussed Ursula Le Guin’s background in anthropology. Both of her parents were anthropologists, and that education greatly enriched the stories she was able to tell.

That same semester, I was taking a cultural anthropology course and loving it. So I made a deal with myself: if I got a good grade in the class, I’d major in that. And I did.

Cultural anthropology did, in fact, turn out to be a phenomenal course of study for a fantasy writer.

But even before college and The Left Hand of Darkness, some of the first books I read on my own and my favorites for years as a young child were the Catwings books. I rarely, if ever, see those books mentioned in discussions of her work. To this day, I cannot fully wrap my mind around how deeply and thoroughly those stories affected me as both a reader and writer.

In all the many roles she filled for countless people, I can only say that I would not be the writer I am today without her. RIP Ursula K. Le Guin. Thank you.

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2018. Finally.

I am occasionally superstitious. Of course, I can’t go for the conventional superstitions. Someone wishing me good luck before a performance, for example, doesn’t bother me, and I only avoid saying “Macbeth” out of respect for everyone I know who does take that seriously.

My husband doesn’t even like me to say it in the house.

But vibes/resonances? Those make sense to me. I mean, synchronicity can’t just be random coincidence. (Please, don’t start in on god. You won’t convert me.)

You know how there’s that transition period when a new year starts where you just can’t get the year right when writing the date? Well, four years ago, I wrote “2018.” Of course, I dismissed it as some weird fluke of subconscious number association. Except I caught myself doing that throughout the year. And every year since.

So what does 2018 have in store for me that I felt it four years out?

Maybe it will be wonderful. Just by the fact that I have my daughter to share this year with, it’s already wonderful. But maybe this is also the year my writing starts to become something like the career I’ve imagined. No, I can’t just sit back and expect it to happen. I’ll have to work my ass off and hope the stars align. After all, all the vibes and resonance in the universe can only offer me the potential.

Maybe 2018 will be terrible. With the puerile farce in the White House, chances of nuclear war and a thousand other tragedies are appallingly close. To say nothing of the countless other horrific possibilities of a more personal nature.

Or maybe it means nothing at all and this year will neither be fantastically good or horrifically bad.

All I really know is that I have an entire year ahead of me and I’m doing everything in my power to make it the best I can.

The New Face Of Self Care

Self care looks very different with a baby. Self care used to be painting my nails, or cleaning the house (not fun, but necessary for my ability to function well), or an hour-long phone call with a writer-friend, or taking a day to sleep in and read a book cover to cover.

See where I’m going with this?

None of these are remotely feasible anymore. Like my writing process, my self-care is changing:

  • Any day I let myself take the time to use shampoo and conditioner, rather than my husband’s 2-in-1 is a good day. I did that this morning and the little one was screaming when I got out. But I took a breath, grabbed an extra towel for my suddenly leaky boobs, and let my husband handle it. (Which he did beautifully. It was an ego boost for him, a needed break for me, and some solid daddy-time for a daddy’s girl – an all around win!)
  • Cleaning? Um. I’ve been watching cobwebs grow and learning to be ok with it. The baby in my arms is so much more important than dusting.
  • I try to keep the house stocked with fruits and vegetables – preferably those I can eat with one hand with little to no prep time (or prepped in advance, when the rare opportunity presents itself) – to balance out the quick-shove-something-in-you-mouth-and-get-back-to-the-screaming-baby convenience food. My body thanks me and the baby thanks me. Or will when she’s older. Maybe.
  • I give myself permission to be in sweats or pajamas all day every day.
  • But make sure they’re clean.
  • And exchange them for actual clothes if I have to leave the house. This helps me feel like a more functional, if less comfortable, member of society. But I discovered an added benefit the other day when I made the dubious decision to wear a flannel shirt (that usually never leaves the house) grocery shopping. I nearly walked out the door without buttoning it.
  • Self care means bringing my laptop to bed and causing myself muscle spasms from awkwardly typing one-handed while rocking the baby and hoping the light from the screen won’t wake her.
  • And sometimes self care is letting her scream another couple minutes so I can pee and fill my water bottle and grab a snack and make sure my notebook and computer are in arms’ reach for the next endurance stretch.

Through it all: baby snuggles. Which are quite possible the best things ever.

I Am Superwoman: Part Two

In case you missed it, you can find part one here.

With everything going on, I made two requests of my baby-to-be: arrive in October – anytime, so long as it’s October – and be under eight pounds.

I thought those were reasonable enough, and she apparently agreed.

At work, I managed to pass along the bare minimum of training so our new hire could run the office by the end of September. When October arrived, I could finally breathe. Training continued and October 6th became my last day to work. With the baby due on October 15, I hoped that would give me time to get the house in some semblance of order.

Early, early the morning of October 3rd, she decided she’d waited long enough. After a two hour labor (I’d never heard the term “precipitous delivery” before, but now am intimately familiar with it), our perfect baby girl arrived.

The thing about such a fast labor? My body never had time to catch up. In more ways than one. See, I never felt that flood of endorphin- and hormone-laden emotion everyone guaranteed would hit me like a freight train. The nurses put her on my stomach, and I felt nothing to differentiate her from any other baby I’d ever held.

I wondered what was wrong with me – what had broken and how I could possibly be a decent mother like this. I worried that I’d made a terrible, awful mistake.

Then that night when a scare landed her in the NICU an hour away from me, I wondered if I was about to lose her and this was my body’s way of protecting me.

She’s fine, by the way. Amazing, in fact.

In all that lonely soul-searching (I didn’t breathe a word of this even to my husband, who followed her to the NICU that night), I remembered that all relationships take work. I’d never considered that choice and that effort extended to parent-child relationships, but it makes sense. You have to work at it. You have to make a choice to work at it.

Or I did.

That choice for me was a no-brainer.

Everything since has felt so incredibly perfect and right. I’m loving motherhood. And you know what? I’m pretty awesome at it. My husband calls me superwoman.

Busy Busy Theatre Bee

Though I’ve been quiet on here, I’ve been busy. It’s funny how creative things seem to spawn more creative things.

I’ve had a ridiculous number of offers and invitations to audition, participate in a reading of a new play to be presented to a professional theatre company, participate in a staged reading of Macbeth (as Macduff!), to be in a show later this summer . . . even an offer of a role that I had to turn down because of other theatre conflicts.

Being in a position to turn down a role sounds like a pretty fantastic humble-brag – especially when even getting cast just doesn’t happen much – but it’s stupidly stressful.

It’s been more than a little frenetic when I stop to think about it, so I try not to. But I’ve made new friends and new theatre connections. We’ll see where they take me! And it’s also an amazing ego boost to be offered so many opportunities.

At the most frantic point, I did three auditions in a week and a half. Because that’s what everyone does when four months pregnant. (At least first trimester exhaustion had relaxed its grip by then.) One of those an open call for a professional theatre, which is something that has terrified me.

The experience was absolutely terrifying. But now that I’ve done it once, maybe it won’t intimidate me so much to try it again.

It doesn’t feel possible that all this has happened in the span of three months. While attempting to negotiate the reality of a first pregnancy.

Seasonal Confusion

Seasons cling in Maine. My corner of Maine, anyway. They’re slow to change. They can be subtle and take their time coming in and are often reluctant to go out.

Twice a year I forget which season we’ve left, which we’re in, and which we’re changing into. They come in the spring and fall while the branches have no leaves and weather and temperature change fast enough to cause whiplash.

Maine seasons are stubborn and deliberate. You don’t wake up one spring morning and find everything has suddenly blossomed in the night. (Unless of course you have opened your eyes for a couple weeks.)  I guess our seasons have faith that we can figure them out . . . though sometimes a hint would be nice.

In the fall, after frosty nights and warm sunny days set the trees on fire, when those flames begin to fall, it’s like watching a tapestry unravel one thread at a time until you’re left with only the weft.

Our seasons argue. They don’t get along like the seasons out in Seattle, where they mixed and mingled until I barely had any sense of the passage of time.

A week ago, it felt like winter all over again, and now it feels like summer. I love these stubborn, argumentative seasons.

Except winter in March. Still can’t find much to love there.

Why I Write

I’m currently savoring my way through Jeff Vandermeer’s Wonderbook and came across a section that made me question why I write.

Telling stories seems to have always been a fact of life. Somewhere, I still have notebooks filled with a toddler’s illiterate scrawl in crayon rainbows. My grandmother still tells me I can stop breathing easier than I can stop writing.

How I came to declare writing as my passion and life is a story I’ve told perhaps too many time. The why is something else entirely and, after some thought, I believe I’ve figured it out.

Jeff Vandermeer suggests that are born out of negative experience, whether a terrible tragedy or a minor disappointment. For him, it was his parents’ divorce. Mine was a small child’s constantly disappointed search for magic.

Pretty non-hallucinogenic flower!

Magic is everywhere, if you choose to see it.

I wanted fairies, and unicorns, and talking cats. When I couldn’t find them, I made up my own adventures.

Even better: I found that magic, after all. It’s a conscious choice in how I experience the world, but that makes it no less the magic I searched for as a kid.

So here is a different sort of love for Valentine’s Day. Whatever your love, I hope you take time today to celebrate it.