Apr 11

Monday Morning Sunlight

Nancy Alton_72dpi_square

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



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


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!


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

nancy background collage lighter

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.



Aug 16

Summer Light

WebsiteSummer is winding, winding, winding down.

The strength of the sun wanes and the chill in the air grows.

My girls are growing, growing, growing up.

Yesterday I was up early to interview a woman with non-verbal processing disorder at 7am. We talked about her learning disabilities and her strengths. I am growing into a different person.

This morning I hear the coffee pot click while the dogs sleep and I am trying to soak in the few school’s-out-for-summer mornings that are left. Soon my eldest will be in high school. My youngest will be in 5th grade.

I just read a sentence about a woman who was happy when her children were off to college. I’m not there. I’m instead in this place where I’m relishing my relationships with my daughters, in awe of the closeness that summer brings. How the lack of school pressure leaves so much room for just being. For watching “Grease” and telling my girls how I wasn’t allowed to watch this movie when I was a kid. How Chris and I note that the mores of the 70s are tacked on to teenagers in the 50s in this movie. How Stockard Channing looks like she’s 30 but she’s playing a high school senior. How we’re watching the second half of the movie but my 14-year-old isn’t here. She’s with her friends, right where she’s supposed to be.

Later the teen arrived home just to ask if she can sleep over at her friend’s house. And even though I was half asleep before she arrived, the air around her and her friends lights me up. I’m awake and remembering why teenagers are awesome. They come alive at night with their energy. I laugh as they fill my house with silliness. My teen needs her ear drops for swimmers ear placed in her ear canal while her friends surf the internet and chat with me. I am wrapped in the loveliness of summer.

This morning the sun pushes its August light through the blinds on my windows. My tween sleeps in. I sit here and relish summer before it leaves and school arrives. This is why I haven’t posted on my blog. I knew you’d understand.


May 12

Get Loud, Nancy

KK_StJ18It’s been so quiet here.

Life has been so loud, lately.

Someone asked me once how often they should update their blog. I said update it only when you have something to say.

Lately I’m saying so much at so many other places. The feature I wrote about trying to pass paid family leave in Washington State went live on ParentMap. I’m writing Parent Fuel columns two or three times a week. My favorite one is about teens and social media because it’s wrapped inside of a lovely conversation that I had with my KK.

Mostly I say a lot while teaching my writing students. And they teach me right back. Our exchange is this loud color dance that pushes me into creating and makes me see again and again how much clarity the young carry with them.

I’ve been watching a lot while coaching Girls on the Run. Fifteen awesome 3rd through 5th graders just lit up this spring season with so much bright energy that I will be sad for weeks as our twice a week practices are now over.

How’s that for a run-on sentence?

What did I come to say today? That the sky outside my office window is a light blue and I have no fancy word for this shade. That these sentences I already wrote don’t contain the darkness of my dreams lately. Nor do they spell out why I’ve been dreaming of weird funeral scenes and being lost in New York City. How I’m obsessed with the passing of time as news of an early middle-age death and one injury that changes the course of a life fill my immediate airwaves.

Sometimes I think writing about stuff that’s close to home but not my story feels wrong. Sometimes I feel like a spy and worry that I’ll offend people. But I can say that all of the crushing updates push up against the fact of my KK’s graduation from 8th grade in a few short weeks. And that’s the headline that I can’t get away from: the girl who just bought her first pair of wedge heels with money she earned herself.

On Mother’s Day, I held my new grandniece and rocked her to sleep. My tween Annie was jealous, thinking I loved this baby more than my own two girls. No, I rocked myself as I rocked this baby. This, this, I whispered, is the ticking of the clock and the circle of life, the news I can never escape. As my life gathers speed toward higher numbers, I felt that baby’s new arm sneak around my waist to hold me close. She pushed secrets from the other side that I couldn’t hear into my almost still body. Someday I’ll know what she told me on Sunday. Until then, I’m taking the pearls stuck inside every minute of this life of mine and loving them as fiercely as I can, second by glorious second.

Feb 25

Tired of Traveling Alone


We are ghost and shadow

steeped in skin

too hot to drink

yet cold to the touch.


I read a blog called the 27 powers.


I don’t know what the 27 powers are.


I have 27 powers.


I can see too much.


But I can’t see the whole story.


Just that you are bruised.


A shadow of your former self.


Like me. I step out on the ledge and forget how I don’t know how to go on. Because the breeze here clarifies and connects me to the bird who thinks the wind is her friend.


I have 27 powers and I don’t know which ones are for good and which ones leave me too open for my own good.


I keep thinking how hard I worked to get here. How many powers I left behind. The power to know what your answer was when I don’t even know what my answer is.


That there is no answer.


There’s only my girl who texts me and asks if she can skip play practice. How I tell her she made a commitment and then she asks, please.


This is the only answer I know. Yes, you can come home. And I’ll love you no matter what shape you are in.


The only power I have is how much I love you, how I hope everyone has someone to love like that. How it breaks me open until I know the birds use the wind to fly and we use each other until sometimes we are all worn out. And then we are only for those who break us wide open, the ones we can’t walk away from, our family of love.


I have 27 powers and I left them all behind for you and me so we could begin again with not one answer between us, only this love that is bigger than everything we ever got wrong.


Together we are always right. Even when we’re wrong, we can just wait all of our errors out. Put the tea kettle on, we’ve got all night.

Feb 17

Not Alone Enough

deception6Lately I’m stuck on a phrase that isn’t helping me. Have you heard of the idea that we are making it up as we go along? We are making it up as we go along.

We are making the coffee and toasting the bread and waking the offspring.

It is winter time.

Given a day off, I sleep until 9 am.

I keep pulling one book off my shelf with this title on its spine: The Anatomy of Hope.

I need to practice hope like it is a yoga practice that can’t be forgotten just because everyone needs me to be me today.

How do you practice hope? How do I not get stuck thinking I’m making it all up as I go along and today I don’t want to do what I get to do? Which is figure out how to be 45 and watch an 8th grader make her way into high school and sit next to an 11-year-old who finally has latched onto her independence just as her body grows taller than my chin height. While tending to a marriage and being a friend to some while letting other relationships slide away for now.

To be truthful, I don’t always makes the coffee. Most often, my husband makes the coffee. And making coffee with an automatic coffee machine is so easy I don’t even need the word stupendously in front of it.

Still, I think about my co-author of a self-help book (that we never published) telling me we need to continually refresh our spiritual practices that give us sustenance.

Writing is one of my spiritual practices. And the poetry retreat I attended recently kick-started that. My work life (at ParentMap.com and elsewhere) is going well. That is not an active sentence. Let me compliment myself actively. I write a new column called Parent Fuel. Last year I edited a fabulous column every month called Ask the Experts. This may all sound like a pat-on-the-back tangent, but it’s not. Today my writing practice showed my hope. I interviewed someone who is doing hopeful work. It was a reminder that all of us are doing hopeful work every time we step out of our way to be kind to someone or to help another person. Hope is as simple as that.

Hope is as simple as picking up The Anatomy of Hope this morning and flipping to a page I had turned over when I read it years ago. In this chapter, the author Jerome Groopman, MD, wrote about his own journey back to being physically active, how he didn’t believe he would return to good health but someone convinced him to try, to find hope. I think of how much I want to run, how I keep telling myself it won’t happen, I’m not dishing out money to go get fixed. Ah, but I do run, small sprints we when are hiking. I am going to yoga again. We have a new bed and I am less sore. I don’t need a miracle fix and even now, when I say I’m not running, I still sometimes run and I don’t fall over in excruciating pain when I do run.

Sometimes I think the 40s bring us so many difficulties that I tend to think negatively. That I can’t make it up as I go along today, that I don’t have what I need. All I need is to stop thinking that I am making it up as I go along all by myself. That teen almost ready for high school offers me big hugs sometimes when she can see anxiety start to spread on my face. No, she’s not responsible for me. Yet this part where she sees me with love is a learning moment for me. Accept the love, I say to myself, and we hug. A writer I only know via emails and social media tells me she sometimes is writing for me (Nancy) when she is writing. She is an invisible thread in a beautiful shawl that sustains me even as I feel so alone. I am not alone.

Which brings me to some words from Rilke that I once memorized. I pulled them out this week, and ahh, there’s the balm I need. Repeating just some of this poem reminds me that I am not alone making it up as I go along. I am with my people, near and far, alive and not alive, walking into the future right now. I hope you feel that rope underneath you today, too.

I am too alone in the world, and yet not alone enough
to make every moment holy.
I am too tiny in this world, and not tiny enough
just to lie before you like a thing,
shrewd and secretive.
I want my own will, and I want simply to be with my will,
as it goes toward action;
and in those quiet, sometimes hardly moving times,
when something is coming near,
I want to be with those who know secret things
or else alone.
I want to be a mirror for your whole body,
and I never want to be blind, or to be too old
to hold up your heavy and swaying picture.
I want to unfold.
I don’t want to stay folded anywhere,
because where I am folded, there I am a lie.
and I want my grasp of things to be
true before you. I want to describe myself
like a painting that I looked at
closely for a long time,
like a saying that I finally understood,
like the pitcher I use every day,
like the face of my mother,
like a ship
that carried me
through the wildest storm of all.

Rainer Maria Rilke, Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God







Feb 08

I Came for the Mystery

IMG_2613Life is this changing thing that can’t be grasped too hard. I fall down, not like a leave. I fall down like a weight. There’s one loud thump and I’m back in the past like a good memoir writer returning to the page every day.

People make fun of trigger warnings or maybe they think anything with a trigger warning would lead to a bad day so don’t read that. The sun shines so brightly right now and I think I should go take a walk. But I know my soul is trapped on the page today.

I picture a red leaf fluttering down to the ground in an overcast October day. That’s the kind of falling I want to do. I want to face the sun outside my window and leisurely cascade down to a soft, soft ground covered in deeply hued fall leaves.

Instead I read a story on Facebook about a boy that almost killed himself but was saved by the kindness of a stranger who became a best friend. Whoosh. I’m down the rabbit hole. I’m there receiving my acceptance letter to college and I’m calling my friend and telling her it must be a lie. I’m crying and fragile and fighting my way out of clinical depression. That, my friends, is what trigger warnings are about. (Even as I see my friend who drove across town to tell me I am a yes for her, always.)

One of my brothers would say I need to stop reading the internet unless it’s a funny video on You Tube. He’s not wrong, but I’m also here for the mystery. Why when four children grow up together in one household do all four turn out different? The mystery of genetics, the simplicity of one who chooses the funny YouTube video over the sentimental stories lining the internet.

What did you come for? That’s one of my favorite questions. I came to understand myself. To unravel the mystery of a girl who didn’t believe she was smart enough to get into that private liberal arts college. The girl who went there anyway and found herself surrounded by so many people just like herself. I talk in the third person but I came for her, the teenage girl who didn’t want to get out of bed.

I came for the child who is perplexed by this world. Whose skin is too thin, or so the world says. I want to be a light for the dark, a reason for someone to get out of bed.

Needless to say, this urge to help gets me in trouble. I’m nobody’s savior, except my own. But these words I fashion for you, it’s what I do. My poem is always for the kid with the onion paper skin who sees things no one else can see. The kid like me who is astonished when someone says, “Oh, Nancy, all humor is at someone’s expense.”

My heart is your heart that breaks on the floor in response to the world’s meanness and madness.

What I came for is this. To show you the magic of words. How your heart can feel like a weight that falls to the gym floor that makes the loudest sound. How you can pick up that heart with typing fingers, create a scene out of your misery. Turn it all on its head. Give some beauty to the tragedy. Some days these words are joyful. Last week I stood in front of a class room and taught children about poetry. I pulled Nutella out of my brain and put it on the page and heard them all laugh in reply. This blog may not be a funny You Tube video, but it’s enough to get me unstuck. What did you come for? I came for the mystery I unlock in myself. I place it on the page, no matter what.

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