Feb 14

Bliss

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“Mom, what’s that? When are those photographs from?”

“Your Dad took those. He took pictures for my first managing editor photo. It’s about a year before I was pregnant with you.”

Whoosh. I’m young, maybe 29 or 30. I am so thrilled in these shots. I’ve made it! I’ve arrived! I’m managing editor of a brand new health magazine! I get to write the “From the Editor” letter. OMG. It was a dream come true.

The glee caught in these photos is palatable. During my first editorial job, I’d often walk to my car after work and take a moment to just stand there and bask in my joy: I got to be a professional writer and editor. A boy I dated when I was 23 used to say to me, “I know your dream job. You want someone to pay you to write all day.”

So much has changed since then. So much has stayed the same. That thing that people say, about how you make a choice all the time with how you spend your time, it’s true. How do you like to waste your time? I like to waste my time on words, reading or writing and even editing them.

I mean, I like to eat Cheetos Natural Cheese Puffs while watching TV with my younger teen. I like to hike with my husband, listen to my older teen laugh. Talk too much with my friends at coffee shops. Admire textures and colors at the mall. But I also really, really, really like to read and write.

My daughter asks me about the pictures I found while cleaning out boxes in a closet. I put the on my desk for a reason: they’re a reminder of how lucky I am that I chose to follow my bliss. I can complain about what it doesn’t bring me until my face is red and I am crying. But it’s so much better to remember the bliss. There I am: me with my satisfied grin as my husband takes my photograph. I can still tap into that euphoric feeling I celebrated in the parking lot after work decades ago: someone is paying me to play with words. My husband tells me I lead a lucky life. He is right.

 

 

 

Feb 12

The Geography of Loss

Blue hills

The Geography of Loss

I want to hear every poet read their poems underneath glass sculptures

& I want to stay home while the children are young enough

to not have left home for the waiting world.

The world waits for me to live without contradictions

to not see Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s picture and yearn to see her in-person

while still not missing one minute more of my daughters’ lives with me.

 

I used to love the word dichotomy, thinking it was brave

to live with a border inside that you couldn’t transcend

to think of my mother yearning to have me live nearby

while I made my home here, in this place with mountains,

no horizon line in sight, no snow to slog through,

no Grandma Schatz love to pour all over my babies.

 

But now I place dichotomy next to contradiction next to

Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s profile and I know there is winning in choosing

that’s only slightly stronger than the losing

because I still love sitting on the couch next to my mother

the way I love the trees in my new state

the way I love hearing a poet speak her poems out loud

to me while I sit within her audience; the way I love sitting

next to one teen while the other teen sits in her bedroom

close enough for me to hear her laugh.

 

I have a rift in my heart and it’s no use knowing others

have it worse, to imagine the countries they can no longer

live within doesn’t make my loss less palpable.

But still I swear that breathing big words onto paper helps:

dichotomy—contradiction—Aimee Nezhukumatathil— palpable

like names for landmarks just out of reach:

I place them on my map and sigh.

-NSA, 2.12.2018

Feb 06

Rough Waters

riptide-wave

Rough Waters

I don’t want the miracle.

I want to hold fast to my hurt, my fear

ringing in my ears. The mole you show me

in your hair harks back to my oldest worry: the cancer

that ate a friend in a few years time, a story that never ends.

Oh, every in-explainable bump leads me to the flu that was a

brain tumor. If I let the lines arrange themselves like a fan that

moves out and then retreats, will this prayer save everyone I love

from death? When is a mole just a mole and when is it a precursor

to cancer? Every day I try to be here now, to wrap my love up in

a blanket the way Cathy’s American flag afghan wrapped a-

round her tiny body right there in that casket that took

her into the ground to where she began. We all have

that place in us that tings in a way we recognize:

you show me a mole and I’m back there

learning about death. I’m in my purple

pinstriped pants and I’m broken

open in grief. Yesterday I met

a stranger who said her baby

is due on the 4th of July

the day Cathy was born.

The period destroys the pattern of my poem.

The way her story ended started my story

that I tell so often that my husband knows

a hug works when her name enters the room.

My daughter shows me a mole, a birthmark

hidden by her beautiful brown hair. I take my oldest story

and I rip it to shreds. I place it in this poem and bless it and

marvel that the woman expecting a 4th of July baby crossed

paths with me on the same day that my worry flared.

Cathy: you are a name that breathes inside my body

a story made too large, a gentle breeze that’s also a riptide.

-NSA, 2.6.2018

 

Feb 05

Finding That Satisfied Space

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This morning a friend sent me news of a college classmate who has an MFA and my familiar rising jealousy of his degree was smaller than before. I know that’s because I spent an hour or so this weekend deleting computer files from 1999 to 2013. Oh, what I discovered! I forgot all the places I wrote for, including the articles I wrote about child development when my oldest was a baby. This cleaning up of my old computer showed me all the striving I have done to meet my goals of becoming a good writer and parent.

In the vacuum that is the now, I usually recall goals not reached when I read about successful writers. Jealousy hits me when I read of someone who has an MFA. But I spend part of Sunday wading through all the documents that make up my writing and parenting life. The organizations that I wrote articles for long ago: I saw those alongside all of the  essays and poetry that lives within my computer’s memory. I saw all the research I did in my quest to become the best parent I could be, too. As I practiced my writing, I was also on a quest to parent my daughters well.

I think I’m ready to stop wondering what would have happened if I had gotten an MFA. Why do we always want what we haven’t got? Why do we look at shiny stories about people we don’t even know and wonder what our lives would be like if we had traveled on their roads? We don’t even know their roads. I’m guessing in the middle of the night they also wonder about the degree not achieved and hurts I can’t even begin to imagine. But the Q&A looks so fancy, their degrees and accomplishments sound so impressive.

It’s taken me so long to know I don’t know what their lives are really like. Which is weird, since I interview people for work all the time. I’ve forgotten that I’m not asking them about what keeps them up at night, their regrets, their paths not taken. I’m writing articles that celebrate their achievements. These are short pieces that don’t have the word count needed to explore their hardships and demons.

Lately I’ve been interviewing people for my own purposes: to explore work options as my youngest child now needs me less. Now I am hearing about paths takes alongside hardships. I’m hearing about how no one has it all, and here’s how they weighed money versus time, corporate in-house jobs versus freelancing. People have taught me about key word resumes, linked-in profiles, the world of grant writing;  how they’ve not gotten the desired job; and how they have landed a job because of who they know. One person admitted they are now throwing pots, taking a break after their job search didn’t lead where they wanted it to lead. I’ve heard about using horoscopes and intentions, jobs taken for benefits and how some in-office jobs offer a ton more encouragement than working at home as a freelance writer and editor does.

Through all of this, I’ve begin to think about that parenting part of the puzzle. How when I started to prep for interviews this fall, I was so annoyed that it felt like I couldn’t tell people about my proudest accomplishments: parenting my girls. I mentioned this to a friend I met with last week to talk about work. Of course you can mention that, she said, it’s all about how you spin it. Holy crap, I can talk about all the articles I have researched and written to answer my parenting questions. The years I spent helping Annie that led to me writing about learning issues that in turn helped other parents and caregivers. All the angst-filled essays I wrote about my journey with Annie: those in turn gave other people a place to grieve and rest in. Ahh: synthesis.

This is why my jealousy over that MFA-path-not-taken is finally fading. I’ve seen all the articles I’ve written since I became a writer that have taught me how to be a writer. Yesterday, I deleted files that contained articles I wrote about child development and parenting that helped me and others become the parents we want to be. It reminds me of what a high school teacher told me once about my journey to be a writer. He heard Clarissa Pinkola Estes, author of “Women Who Runs with the Wolves,” speak one night. The next day he told me I was like her: I would need experience to have something to write about. Oh, yes, I’m in that sweet spot now. I’m ready to be the writer I always dreamed of being. I’m her, I’m here, I’m a writer (and the parent I want to be). Ah, life, you taught me well.

 

 

Feb 02

On Tears

green

“I can’t even control my own starving.” –Melissa Stein

The approach to the full moon pressed against me & came calling & asked me what I’m scared of. I’m scared of what’s next after finally learning how to love my children well. I’m afraid I’m allergic to dairy & my cheese consumption is feathering my cells into configurations that lead to cancer. I mean I read that one editor hates alliteration and I tell you I cannot get enough of two beginning sounds that sound the same.

Oh how different we are!

Oh how alike we are!

To be sealed in this human skin is to wonder at how the moon pulls at me & at my dog too. My dog wouldn’t eat for days and I ate all my tears that could not stop flowing out of my red-lined eyes.

They say it was a red moon, a blue moon, a lunar eclipse and, you know, the most giant moon that you should wake up to see. Except if you live on my block because then the clouds would cover its glory. I read that this moon would toss you all around and spit you up. Do you know that I was spit-shined by all the tears I cried leading up to this glorious moon event?

I want to blame the moon but the truth is this grief is all mine. That I can look backwards on the year preceding this moon and see people close to me who hurt so much that their pain was a purse I carried. A purse loaded with used-up tissues wet from my tears. My brother says that year is over but all that happened spills into the now. I spiral back and forth like the moon waxes and wanes.

Do you wish you had feelings as intense as me? That you could call the moon a sister and know why your dog didn’t eat for days? Do you want to take the room’s temperature and talk about the waves of pain coming off of some of the people inside that room?

The red-blue-lunar-eclipse moon, she’s waned. Or is it waxing?  If this were a finished product ready to be published, I would know if it were waned or waxed. But the truth is I want you to know that I sobbed myself to sleep the night of the full moon, the night before my first baby turned 16. That I believe my friend who says this being with my girl as she becomes a young woman is another way of giving birth. It’s supposed to be painful.

And all the knocking I hear around me that reminds me of who I used to be? New mother, confused mother, mother with a breaking heart: I hear you. I am you. And I’m stronger than I used to be because the moon has seeped into me. I’m red-blue-lunar-eclipse strong, a mother who spent her daughter’s 16th birthday mostly alone because 16 is off being a teen.

The moon wanes and my breathing is steadier now. My tears settle into the bed-sheets, the family room rug, into my alliteration-soaked poems and across this atmosphere. It falls like the rain that’s merely spitting today outside my office window.

Is it raining where you are?

Jan 31

She’s 16!

IMG_0636

as the wind tangles the rain*


It took so long to learn that the breeze on my face

started as the wind in China. Much like it took 16 years

and no time at all to know you woke me up to love.

My all-encompassing forward motion held itself

to your brown-eyes and I was done. I mean not done:

I still hold the world with one taunt fist: yearning for everything!

While the other opens to the sound a baby makes when she wants.

And my girl, you wanted so well that I was fixed to the rocking chair, transfixed really

my hormones letting go of carrying you while some of your cells course through me still.

You claimed me as yours as surely as my tears are remaking me as less yours every day.

Sixteen and side-hugging me in short bursts while we staccato step toward what-comes-

next-and-how-to-like-it. You like it 99 percent until your laundry needs washing.

And I, I like how you laugh so loud your joy carries to me no matter where you are in our

home. I like that. I like knowing if the wind hits my face while you’re far away from me,

chances are it was pushed by your laugh on the other side of Puget Sound. That’s how

love works: It’s a wind that dances between us even when the sea waves split us in two.

-Nancy Schatz Alton, 1.31.2018

*title is a line from The Fatalist: Time is filled with beginners by Lyn Hejinian

*What Comes Next And How to Like It is the title form Abigail Thomas’ latest memoir

 

 

Jan 26

Thought Poem

discoverypark_0

Discovery Park

 

If

time     energy    & love

are my only commodities,

how am I going to spend them?

(Stop, slow down. Full body to the ground: listen.)

Shhhhh. I don’t hear myself yet. Or I do, but it’s still a mumbling mess.

Keep listening, I think. Go back to the trees and stand within them and don’t think. Just be grateful that the trees are here and I made it this far.

time     energy    & love       my commodities     how am I going to spend them?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jan 25

Space Shift/Slide/Sigh

5K

Photo by Jennifer Bergman

Hey everyone! I’m working on my memoir again after 3 or 4 years of not working on it at all. I can finally see it and know what I want it to look like. I’ll be posting excerpts here. It’s a memoir that mixes form (like Sherman Alexie’s new memoir) and it’s also hopefully somewhat like memoir master Abigail Thomas‘ work. At any rate, here’s today’s excerpt. Yes, it’s pretty much a poem (although the spacing/design isn’t quite right yet). If I’m going to try to publish this book, it’s going to be in the form of a book that I’d want to read and love.

Space Shift/Slide/Sigh

Can you feel the Loveland tides?

So little between our waves, between us: our boundaries collide:

the way I hold you/the way you hold me.

“Where did you come from?” I ask.

“From Loveland,” she replies.

All of her needs and my exasperation with being needed fades every time I ask her:

“Where did you come from?”

She looks up at me: our eyes lock together in an iris embrace: her soft reply hits the sky:

“From Loveland,” you say.

My Annie came from Loveland—sweet place between worlds where she sought a mama ready for love.

I don’t feel up to this task except for when she tells me she’s from Loveland.

Except for when she lays atop me on the couch during a late afternoon slumber and her slender bones fit/slide/slip right next to mine. She’s asleep & her fever fades as the night sky fits/slides/slips right next/past the day sky.

We are meeting for this season

as my life slip/slides toward its ending

while hers is only beginning.

I sigh into this sleep space, knowing our bones are made for each other, that our cells collide/ricochet/reverberate off each other.

My girl from Loveland, she fits/slides/slips right next to me as the sun slip/slides past this day, waving to the moon who slip/slides right into place each night.

-1.25.2018/Nancy Schatz Alton

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jan 24

Muscle/Tree Memory

W059 Detail Moss Green on white

Muscle/Tree Memory

 

I have a memory and it lives in a tree.

All trees. It lives in all trees.

The one I climbed in college.

How I sat inside of it.

I’m there saying hello to my favorite professor.

The one who made time/worked part-time/shared a professorship with his wife:

for his family.

How sweetly he talked of family in our class.

He loved my poems. Told me to write my assignment in poem form.

History was a story told on the TV: 57 channels and everything is on.

Blue books handed out. We watched a collage of TV moments and wrote.

What do these clips mean?

I am full of muscle memory. I time travel in trees.

The new one I climb into that my husband introduces me to.

I stand inside and still myself so the noise in my head calms.

The moss waits for me to catch up into waiting for what is next.

The cello is the only instrument I listen to when I really write.

It dives down deep enough to excavate my genius who lives in the walls.

My genius, she lives in trees.

My muscle memory is wooden.

She plays on the cello.

I pluck her strings or does she pluck me?

I am/she is moss covered. Green and thriving. Wet, she waits for me.

I work to be a tree. Still, solid but still moving. Tree.

1.24.2018/Nancy Schatz Alton

Jan 23

How long?

beach-sunrise-adavelli-640x400

Photo by Giovanni Adavelli

How long have you wanted to love yourself with a vastness that replicates oceans?

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