Jun 26

The Music Plays On

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Love is the wallpaper I want to paste on my walls. I picture the print as gorgeous fleur-de-lis pattern, solid silvers and grey-blue swirls on an off-white background. So upstanding and righteous and out of reach. The way I would need to breath to keep that paper intact as I lifted it to my wall of glue seems complicated. Or maybe it’s my hands that are complicated, not steady, worried and anxious that these hands, my hands, don’t understand how to complete this task.

I guess I’ll do it anyway, figure out how to wallpaper my house in love, making a holy home with these hands. These hands, the ones passed down from my ancestors, their stories ingrained even if I wish my hands had no mysterious tales attached to them. It would be so much simpler to start fresh. No need to undo centuries of learning.

This breath that I am unsure of is exactly what I know I can count on. If the paper rips or my hands get stuck together with paste, this in-and-out that continues despite my best efforts to beat myself up. This breath will take those mistakes and bless them with new air. Those imperfections of mine line these walls.

Like the way my kids so easily recount my missteps. I can hardly breathe when they so easily remember what I rather they would forget. But how easily they remind me that people make mistakes. Love is stronger than I think it is, the pattern more complicated than even my big brain can imagine. Its swirls and eddies continuing to build into a symphony. The pattern like a lattice, a ladder, a scaffold that holds this holy home together. Solid silvers and grey-blue fluer-de-lis swirls on an off-white background, locked together with our breaths. In-and-out, leaving a pattern behind for the next generation.

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Jun 21

The Head & The Heart

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I practice telling myself my Annie’s problems are not problems until the phrase “not a problem” becomes a mantra. It’s a mantra I need because my brain loves to think I have many unsolvable problems. I’m not sure if this ability to see everything as crisis is genetic or learned. That I’m even wondering about this tells you how good my brain is at thinking.

Yesterday I met with a mindfulness teacher for an article I am researching. I asked her how mindfulness programs are different than the social-emotional learning (SEL) programs that schools have been using to teach kids about emotion regulation since the 1970s.

She points to her head and says, “SEL programs are about this.”

Then she points to her heart and says, “Mindfulness practices are about this.”

The head and the heart. SEL teaches how we can train our brain to regulate our emotions. Or the three steps to resolve a conflict with a friend. Mindfulness teaches us to get out of our heads and into our bodies. When we are in our bodies, we can explore and feel our feelings that way. After we unleash that emotion and really feel it in our bodies, then our brain is ready to practice the three steps to resolving conflict with a friend.

Boom. I flash back to a day when I was teaching my other daughter Caroline the very brainy task of getting along in a 3-person play date. She’s crying in the basement while her friends are way upstairs in her room wondering what is wrong. I ask Caroline how she is feeling. She doesn’t know. I tell her how she is feeling. I offer her choices of how to resolve the issue: send a friend home so there are two friends, or calm down and play with both friends. Or send both friends home. She yells that she doesn’t want to make a choice. She continues to cry. What the what? I thought this brain activity would work. Fine, I tell her, I’ll send a friend home and you can come play when you are calm.

I wondered if I modeled these brain activities for her if she’d follow suit and easily resolve all friendship issues from here on out. But yesterday while sitting with the mindfulness teacher who had placed her hand on her heart, I suddenly knew what that SEL practice was missing: my daughter’s hurt heart that needed time to cry and feel before she figured out what to do next.

We live in a what-to-do-next society. We read a headline and we are supposed to act. This week I read that a black woman was shot by the two policeman she had called for help. I wanted to act now to alleviate the trauma of what had happened, to make it never happen again. I wanted to hand out justice and hold the dead woman’s babies. I wanted my brain to make sense of what was happening. There is no sense. There is only my heart sadness and my body aches from the stressful world we live in.

I started meditating again this week after a break but before I met with this mindfulness teacher. I knew the news of the world was making my head and body hurt. I knew the fact that my Annie is having a hard time falling asleep was circling my brain until it started screaming, “Problem! Problem! Problem! How are you going to solve this problem?”

But if I just stop and listen and drop into my body, I can see that everything just is as it is and all my flurried rage at world news and my worry about my Annie’s sleeplessness get me nowhere. Breathing gets me back to me. My mantra of “not a problem” reminds me that my biggest task is loving my Annie when she can’t sleep. Yes, I can teach her tricks to drop down into sleep, but mostly I can tell her she’s not the first person to have trouble entering dreamland and this trouble is not a catastrophe. It just is. The night will come around every night. We can enter the dark gently together. We can start to meditate together before bed just like we used to do during her last bout of insomnia.

Not a problem. How’s your heart? Let’s get out of our heads. Whoosh. Yes, let’s.

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Jun 13

Summer Begins

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There is no rhythm to the summer schedule. Or if there is, it’s too tiny for me to hear it so soon. There is one small stone after another, some on the floor of the house, some in my pocket gathered from the shores of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

It sounds so glorious to name drop a Strait, like I’m a world traveler or a geographer. I am neither. I am instead someone who hears time whizzing by my ears, my nervous energy enlarged by coffee. My need to slow down and listen is made greater by the deadline staring me down. I must write about marriage, and write about it well by the EOD. EOD as in end-of-the-day-deadline.

Meanwhile, June continues. The air, cool and heavy with pollen. One daughter still asleep, another off babysitting with her cold in tow. A husband who would say work continues all summer long, his schedule not so different except for the outdoor activities he crams into the hours outside of work.

How do I listen to the tiny sounds? How do I settle my racing pulse to match the needs of my work and the wants of my body to climb into these days and own them? Last night I canceled a walk with friends, instead holding fast to my family of four. Yes, I was tired but it was more to be with my family. I keep trying to catch up with what I really want. What do you really, really want?

I really, really want to gather those moments where my rhythm slows down enough to take in the weather around me and really feel it on my body while surrounded by the people I love best. Like I did this past Sunday: I lay in the sun atop a gunnery at Fort Worden as the sun seeped into my skin, my family close by. For a while, my husband’s head settled on my legs and nothing else mattered.

Maybe right now that EOD deadline matters, but I can’t get there until my pulse slows down and I enter right now. Perhaps this is why I started meditating again this morning after a break. Because if I sit still and remember how that sun felt seeping into my body, I have small chance of being here now again and again and again. It feels like fooling time, this trick. Or maybe I just need to stop drinking coffee. I bet that would help, too. Let’s give that idea the triple ha-ha-ha, as my teen would say. Ah yes, my salty brain thoughts say keep the coffee, up the meditation, and hang on for whatever comes next. Let’s go.

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Jun 06

The School Year Ends

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I’m sitting in the rectangle of light made by the beams’ ends that come through my window and rest on the floor. After four days of not exercising first thing, I managed 15 minutes on my bike in the basement this morning. It sounds so of the times and annoying to say it helps. It helps as much as a good night’s sleep. That pushing my brain away in favor of pedaling. It’s not that I don’t think, it’s more that the motion changes how I think.

Exercise is the elixir that makes my kids growing up bearable. That makes me growing up bearable. I can look at the number attached to my upcoming birthday and feel lucky after I peddle instead of jealous, the way I feel when I see the young moms at school with their tiny creatures. My jealousy isn’t even attached to wanting to go back. I don’t want to go back there, to that minefield of early elementary school. But forward? To my kids using the wings they are meticulously crafting in our home? Gulp. Forward we go.

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Jun 02

Freshman Year Ends

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I feel bone weary and sweaty. My mind alternately races and rests, and I catch it and make it lay still.

Caroline is done with her freshman year of school. These years wear the face of a clock.

My hands are sticky and I don’t know what comes next. Abigail Thomas’ book title runs through me in a bodily way: “What Comes Next and How to Like It.”

Maybe it’s hard having the mom who is always around, driving your friends to and fro everywhere. Maybe it’s hard to be the mom who likes parenting too much even though it’s the hardest thing ever.

I’m tired. Last night I joked and said to my husband that we should have another baby. I don’t want another baby. I hold tight to the baby I have, the baby I see every time I take a slow second to drink in my 15-year-old daughter. I continue to make up nicknames for her, loving the surprise as people not in our family overhear my secret names for her. I love you, I love you, I love you, I say. Let me count the ways with all of these luscious secret names.

I hold onto the words because my baby already knows how to fly. I tether myself to the nest for her returns. I am pathetic and poetic. I am tired.

Apr 11

Monday Morning Sunlight

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If I just stand on the blacktop all day long soaking up the right now sunlight, well, I know the clouds will come and cover up the sun. But if I stand in the embrace of long friendship for as long as possible, I will be heard. I will know all this searching I have done my whole life can add up to this moment. The sun, warming me. My friend, warming my words, saying yes. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

After I tell myself no too many times. After I have sat in my anger without letting it reach sadness. Until it snaps and I see the sad fact that I am grieving my youth and my children’s growing up.

All I have is what I have done. I have washed my younger daughter’s hair and blown it dry. I have told her she is beautiful again and again, ignoring all the literature that says beauty is not a fitting compliment. But she is beautiful. And my work for the last 15 years has been to find myself beautiful enough to see their beauty, to reflect their beauty back to them. To show them this world and how they fit in it. I fit in their world.

I stand on the black top, wanting to hold on to the benediction of this warm sunlight all day long. To tell myself it has been enough to praise beauty, to remake myself into a mother while writing all of this beauty and anger and sadness down. My girls are beautiful. I am beautiful. I am angry that my time with them full time is coming to an end. I am sad, more sad than angry. But when I touch the sad, I worry that I will never get anything productive done again. And if I want to see Germany with my older daughter, I have to earn money to buy that ticket.

The clock ticks so loudly in my ears. The sun warms me. I will stand here on this blacktop and know my arrival in this life is enough. I cling to the sunlight. I hold my girls’ beauty up to the light; they reflect my beauty back to me.

 

 

 

Mar 23

Whooshing Down that Mountain

 

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Is there time enough to learn how to twist wires into a shape of myself?

A Facebook friend asked via post, “How do I slow down time?”

By capturing sunlight on your face and noticing it.

OK, really, I can’t slowdown time. This week, I read a few lines in a novel by Julia Keller that talked about how the way down the mountain is always faster on the way up, like how the second half of life speeds up. As our kids grow up, we bemoan this speeding up. I posted that I don’t know how to slow down time, all I have learned to do is to spend more time with my family.

Lately when my 12-year-old hugs me, I stay there in that hug until she lets go. Sunlight floods my body.

I think of this girl and how I could spend an entire day hugging her. I look at this wire replica of herself she made in her 5th grade classroom. Last night, she had a homework meltdown. As she curled up in my lap (as well as she can as she now is just half a head shorter than me), I asked her, why all the tears?

“Because I’m not good enough,” she answered.

My words flew back at her and I asked her how someone who just received a report card filled with A’s and B’s couldn’t be good enough.

“But I get those with help,” she said.

Oh honey, yes, you have accommodations. Dammit, the comparison game is so easy to play. Aren’t those kids who don’t have learning difference accommodations smarter than me? I tell her smart is just a funny word and society places many definitions on it. But mostly I just hold her, cancel homework for the rest of the night while thinking up a million ways to convince her she’s enough.

But still and yet, mostly I just focus on spending time with this girl. I keep her up late, watching “Cheers” with my husband and me. While tucking her in, we talk about exchanging negative self-talk with positive self-talk. Yet in a place that’s untouched by this lingo, I know the best medicine for our hurts is love and being together. Maybe this time together will involve colored wires that I learn  to twist into a stick figure rendition of myself. Maybe not. Either way, that ride down the second half of the mountain is speeding up.

Mar 16

Written On My Reflection

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Hello again. I must admit that after my long absence, I’m not sure how to inhabit my blog anymore. For years, I’ve toyed with the idea of posting my poems here. My friend Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer has such a lovely daily poetry website. But I’m not sure.

What I do know is this: I want to be back here to catch whomever happens to stumble onto my site. I want to figure out what will live here, how I will serve you, my reader. Right now I’m going to give in to my poetry impulse and post the poem I wrote yesterday. This one comes from so many places. It comes from my tween who listens to that song “Scars To Your Beautiful” by Alessia Cara. It’s from a lifetime of living in a media-drenched society that defines what “beautiful” means in such a narrow way. And it’s from the experience of having a head-shot photograph taken last week. I told the photographer about how all of my wedding photographs except for one show me smiling with closed lips. I was teased as a kid because my gums are swollen, larger than normal, decidedly not beautiful by the world’s standards. When I asked my teenager what photo I should pick between one with my lips sealed or one showing my gums, she said, “The real smile that shows your gums.”

 

Real Beauty Wears a Life Story By Nancy Schatz Alton

 

I am forever surprised by my own reflection while the world’s images shout,

‘Here’s what BEAUTIFUL looks like!” —the word a sword we use to cut ourselves.

No red blood, only this thought before the bathroom mirror: ‘oh, that’s me again.’

Where are my sculpted cheeks, cut by Photoshop?

I left them in the magazine in my living room that speaks of permanent mascara,

countless corners to cut and buy on the way to beautiful.

 

I am the woman with hips holding up the face rounder than I imagined it to be

with fading eyelashes and dirty glasses, a stomach sculpted by babies, full of

after-dinner desert and 11 am muffins. I’m coffee-stained teeth, ridged fingernails,

lips bleeding hastily-placed gloss hiding overgrown gums that won me schoolyard taunts.

 

I am the way to beauty, cuddling daughters who love my belly-fat, my aching hips,

my wry eyebrow lift and awesome full-body laugh. I’m tight sciatica muscle,

morning-bike-ride-to-nowhere-strong. I’m hair dyed by my teenagers, blow-dried

between shower and lunch-making, held up by expensive jeans and thrift-store shoes,

photo-shopped by time, framed by story, looking at beautiful in the bathroom mirror.

 

Feb 28

I’m Back!

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I haven’t published here in a really long time. Would you like a list of the reasons why?

I forgot my WordPress password.

I’ve been publishing so much work here and here.

My dogs demand my attention. I give lots of it to them.

I’m conflicted about what to publish here: poetry, rants, lists of all my published work, links to the copious amounts of reading I do elsewhere.

I empty my brain on the page all the time. Why empty it here?

Why not?

Who cares?

It’s February 28th. I have a poem called “Finding My Slogan” up on Poetry Breakfast today. Winter’s been too long and the political world is crushing my joy. My kids are growing up so fast that I keep hitting the pause button. Last night my teen smooshed my tween as she slid next to my husband on our couch. I sat next to the teen and the dogs were right there, too. We sang along to music blaring from our living room computer. Joy Pause. Blogworthy. Hello. I’m back.Jan15.2

Sep 12

Suicide Prevention Week

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I wrote an article about suicide prevention for work a few years ago. I put myself in the lead, talked about how familiar I was with suicide ideation. I’d thought about how easy it would be to turn the wheel of my car into a drainage ditch when I was a new driver, age 17. I slept through most of Saturdays during the fall of my junior year of college, saved by a friend who pounded on my door on those weekend days, making me join her in the dining hall.

My lead of this article wasn’t as graphic as the words above. Still my husband wondered why I wrote a first person lead. “You were never going to do that,” he said. “Why’d you put yourself in there?”

The only reason he could say that I was never going to do that was because I didn’t. But he hadn’t lived inside my head all those years ago. How I wanted a safety valve out of life, an escape away from my dark mind. The truth is, some of those months were so dark during my senior year of high school and my sophomore year of college that I don’t even remember the minutes of those days.

Still, every time depression calls my name, knocks on my door, sits on my couch, I remember every step it took to drag myself away from spending time thinking about suicide. The getting out of my head and into my body: exercise, as much as possible. Eat: stop forgetting or not bothering to eat. Meditation: do it, especially when you don’t want to. Breathe: when you gasp because you’re sobbing, slow that breathe down and breathe as deeply as you can. If every tool under the sun doesn’t lift that veil of darkness, make an appointment with a therapist.

I used to think my young foray into depression was the worst thing that ever happened to me. But just last week, I again remembered how thankful I am that I learned my own steps to step up and out of deep depression. I lay next to my younger daughter as she tried to fall asleep and I had a few brand new thoughts. What if my mom did everything right when she helped me long ago, pulling me to therapist after therapist until I admitted the darkness that filled my brain? And what if being depressed at age 17 taught me everything I know about living?

The next day I called my mom and told her I thought she did a “pretty great” job at raising me, that I realized this while lying in the dark next to my own child as she eased her anxious mind into realization mode and fell asleep. My mom said she remembered how I slipped into her bed night after night when I was depressed.

“I did?” I asked her. “I don’t remember doing that.”

Then my mom recounted a recurring nightmare I had back then, but I don’t remember that dream either. I didn’t remember the specific ways she reached out and tried to pull me back into the land of the living. But I remember the list we made when I went to college about the steps I needed to take whenever my brain leaped into depression. That’s the list I used my junior year of college to battle my depression. It’s the same list I use today, whenever need be.

I keep reading these posts during suicide prevention week. I want to add my voice to this week. I want to be a hand reaching out to anyone who lives where I sometimes live. If you’re depressed, I see you. I see the horrible land of hurt you live in and I can sit with you as you work your way out. There’s so many of us here waiting to help you, people who have been and do live where you are right now. I want to be eloquent and wise, but the truth of the matter is simpler than that: You are loved just as you are. I want you to live.

 

 

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