“I think I’m dying,” I said, and I coughed weakly. My children gathered around me, stroking my head and handing me small squares of toilet paper instead of Kleenex. My oldest got me a glass of water as I propped myself on some pillows. I tried to watch another season of Hell’s Kitchen but it made me hungry and being hungry made me feel nauseated. This sickness is not consumption, though that would be a far more literary way to write about my sick bed. This sickness is just a nasty head cold, a head cold I developed because my children are in grade school, and I just cannot help but hug and kiss them even when they are sick, which is always, because they are in grade school.
All that day I camped out in bed, and I read the stack of magazines I keep on my nightstand. I collect literary journals like some kids collect bottle caps. I line them up on the shelf under my nightstand. I stack them under the bed. I pile them on the coffee table. When the magazines arrive I read them while sitting on the couch, feet up, absent to everything else. On this day, I am reading Ruminate Magazine, one of my favorite journals. It is one of my favorites because of the beautiful work inside, the feel of the thick paper between my fingers, the splash of color of the artwork every few pages.
I might never have subscribed to Ruminate had I not met the editor, Brianna Vandyke at a writer’s conference in Michigan many years ago. I met her while walking through the “vendor” room. She was positioned behind the Ruminate table, smiling. I browsed the sample magazines on the table. They were a young outfit back then, just getting started. I had heard of them through a few other writers, and I had submitted to one of their writing contests. When Brianna saw my nametag, she said, “I know your name! I’ve been wanting to meet you!” and then she came out from behind the table and hugged me. At that point in my writing career, no one knew my name. I had no publishing credits to speak of and in fact, I was still unsure of whether I could truly say out loud that I was a writer.
I subscribed that day. And it was in that generous greeting, that moment of recognition and that small, well-loved journal that I began to form some solid understanding of what it means to create something beautiful. It’s something I still value to this day. Truly, I’m grateful for the work of Ruminate.
Because you might never have come across Ruminate before this post, I’d like to tell you that you also might never realize that they are in a funding crisis. Years of working on this magazine for no monetary compensation have taken its toll on the creators, and they are faced with closing their doors. This post is just to say that it will most likely not cut into your Hell’s Kitchen viewing. It will not keep you from your important engagements. If you have not heard about the magazine, the closing of Ruminate will not affect your daily living so far as you know.
What you don’t know is that the effect of this magazine on creative and talented folks is immense. Letting this magazine fall into the waters and not surface again is a loss that is felt at the deepest levels by people who read and imbibe the words there like vitamins, like minerals, like meat. These words sustain us, they bolster us, they fuel us well and whether you realize it or not, the loss makes us all weaker. The loss of good creative work, deep and beautiful work, wears on our communal immune system. We need Ruminate Magazine because we’re weary and worn down and words matter, art matters.
Will you help? You have a couple of days yet to lend a hand to help pull this powerful force from the water. Subscribe today, give a subscription or just toss some coin in this direction instead of a couple of pumpkin spice lattes from Starbucks. Be a part of something foundational and good where art is concerned. Your small contribution makes a difference, I promise.
And listen, if you’ve never subscribed to a literary journal before, consider this your opportunity. Even Gordon Ramsey would agree that work like this needs your support.
I’ve got a new piece up on ArtHouse America this week. This is a version of a bit of the new book, “Garden in the East” so if you’re a fan of literature and you’re a fan of positive body image work, this is for you!
Be sure to check it out and if you dig it, leave me a comment over there. Would love to hear your thoughts!
The typical thing would be to say, “I’m not looking for a debate” when posting about a touchy subject. The reason we’d state that is because we just want to speak our minds without being challenged. We want to believe what we already believe and nothing more, nothing less. It’s our right, I suppose, to our opinion where things like this are concerned.
The river is flooding the town here.
I look at this flooding, around the issue of mass shootings, gun violence in general and the specter of “gun control” in this country and I think, This is the river and the river is flooding the town.
We are drowning, one by one. The fields are marshy. The cars cannot move. The water has risen to the point where we forget where it ends and where we begin. The water is cold, but we’ve been in it so long that we have forgotten the cold. It’s tempting, perhaps, to speculate that it is the water that’s warmed to our skin, rather than to recognize the truth of it. We’re losing touch. Our skin is numb. We cannot feel our feet or hands. Extremities have no more information to give us.
We cannot leave it all to the civil engineers. This is our town, after all. It’s important for us to keep moving, to support the work of the people who are meant to help us understand what’s happening. When they look at the river, we want to know that they see the river bed, the water, the boundaries, the tributaries, the ocean that feeds it. We want to be sure they see the weather patterns, the global implications, the wheat fields and strip mining. We want to support the clean-up efforts, the burial rites, the grief process, the replanting along the riverbank.
We are drowning here.
Come up to the high ground. It’s a sacrifice to leave the trenches dug out to protect long-held beliefs, property, fears that have been inlaid since we were young, injured, fortified. It’s not enough to dig the trenches. The water is too much. The river is too swollen. The factors are too many and too powerful.
And we are drowning here.
It’s time to come up to high ground. We all want to live.
I’ve been working on the new book this past few months. It’s going well. I think that’s what I’m supposed to say, by default, whenever someone asks, and so that is what I say. If they press further, I might mention the potholes, the detours or the time wasted at the truck stops because the road to finishing this book has been, at times, no damn fun. Writing books is not always fun.
Even so, I’m almost there. Garden in the East– The Spiritual Life of the Body is on its way, soon, to my editor and will present itself in full form in the middle of next year. It’s exciting to see the image of this new thing emerge from the block of marble that is the blank page. I hope it is beautiful. I hope it is good.
In any case, I was re-reading a chapter today, fine tuning, shaking it out a little and I came across this excerpt that describes the first time I threw my back out. The chapter is foundational to this book about how we view and care for the body– physically, emotionally and spiritually. I thought I’d go ahead and give a sampling of what’s coming out of this here marble slab these days, in case you’re into that sort of thing.
Once while vacuuming I threw my back out. Something twinged and then a shooting pain ran down either side of my lower spine deep into my hips. I could not move. I had four small children. It was the middle of the day. I made my way to the floor, instructed my daughter to turn off the vacuum cleaner and then give me the phone. When I told my husband that I needed him to leave his meeting and come home, right now, he was confused. I’d never had a complaint about my back in my life. I was still awfully young for “back trouble” and there was no immediate cause apart from vacuuming. When he came home and saw me weeping on the family room carpet he remembered his back issues and the pain that comes with them and set to work to get the kids in line and me to the doctor.
There was no “reason” for my back to go out, no injury, no inherent trouble with the spine or congenital defect as there is in my husband’s case of spondylolisthesis, which is a slipping of the vertebrae. I was home full time then, working out as often as I could, but not eating or sleeping as well as I ought to have been. Even so, I was in relatively decent shape for my tender mid to late thirties. The best my doctor could offer is that in addition to carrying children around or bending over picking things up off the ground all day, I was stressed out and that most likely I carried my stress in my lower back. I was parenting and vacuuming and worried and one thing led to another until the twinge and pain came along. After a massage, a lot of Advil and some rest, my back pain subsided and I made a silent pact to pay better attention to my stress.
Pain is a signal. My body was telling me something. Slow down. Pay attention. Breathe. Overly tight muscles cannot do what they’re made to do. I’d felt those twinges, tiny, shoots of pain here and there. I’d ignored it and kept going until at last the muscles shut it down to reboot.
All things work together for the good. When one part of the body is suffering other areas will rally to help support that part. Weak core muscles will gain some support from the lower back. They kick in to keep us upright even in the light of that core weakness. Over time those muscles, doing their job and that of the core will begin to grow over worked and then before you know it you’re laying on the shag carpet, weeping in pain while your six month old son throws plastic blocks at your head from his bouncy chair.
I heard a story once about someone who, on their birthday, chose to give presents rather than to receive them. Maybe some of you already engage in this practice. That’s awesome. I mean that.
In light of this and the fact that it’s MY birthday on Friday, I’m going to adopt this posture of giving, and send out a copy of Nearly Orthodox to whomever is lucky enough to win it on this here GoodReads giveaway-
Even if you’ve entered on GoodReads before, you can be eligible to win. Give it a shot. Happy birthday to me!
You need poetry today, right now. You maybe didn’t know it but it’s true. I ran across this poem today and I thought I’d toss it out there to you, to me, to all of us.
This is fresh for me, right at the front of my mind and heart. It feels vital and immediate for me probably because I’ve been reading Wendell Barry’s “Life is a Miracle” or because I attended readings by Scott Russell Sanders and lovely poet Luci Shaw, last month. In any case my pals, here is this today.
i thank You God for most this amazing
i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any—lifted from the no
of all nothing—human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
It’s the time of year when the kids are headed back to school and I am headed straight for my writing chair. I’m set to deliver a draft of my new book in the next couple of months and that got me to thinkin’ that it’d be nice if I gave away a copy of Nearly Orthodox to some lucky duckie.
Are you that lucky duckie? Well check it and see. All you need to do is click the image below and give it a shot.
Don’t cost ya nothing ;)
If I ever meet you in person and give you the “distracted brush off” I want you to tell me to knock it off. You know that look, don’t you? It’s the “I’m standing in front of you and nodding at semi-appropriate intervals, but really I’m looking around for someone else to talk to” look.
I’m willing to admit here and now that I often read social cues incorrectly. It’s a thing for me, always thinking I stayed too long in a conversation, expecting that my conversation partner is bored and hoping to move on as it were. Sometimes, though, I think I have it right and having had this experience again recently while in a large group of people I’m here to tell you that it feels awful.
I leave those conversations feeling vulnerable and generally I blame myself for that feeling. I think, “I’ve said something offensive” or “I’m the least interesting person ever.” But most likely it has nothing to do with me at all, at least that’s where I’m hoping to land these days. This constant berating myself– questioning every word I spoke, questioning whether I forgot to wear antiperspirant or needed mouthwash– all points to a preoccupation with me, myself and I. That’s no good. I’m 48 years old (almost) and it’s probably time I cut myself some damn slack for a change.
Backing away from the experience for a moment I’m able to place some new thoughts into the pigeon holes of judgement I use to catalogue and store those rough conversational transactions. I think it has a great deal to do with positioning. My wise friend, Jude once (more than once) told me that relationships have levels and that we tend to work in those levels. She’d use her hands to show me the level she intended to meet other grown-ups, which is equal, at the same height, adult to adult. Then she said that when we lower ourselves below people we meet, or lower other people it sets up a different dynamic.
If I’m your boss, maybe that lift is merited. If you’re my mom, I’ll gladly move you up a few notches (or more, my mom is awesome.) But for the most part, her point is that we need to meet grown-ups at equal levels to keep the relationship right. She’s very smart and I think she’s right especially in this.
When I walked up to this person and introduced myself in this most recent interaction I felt intimidated, I felt “lower than.” In her defense, I set up the dynamic. In my defense, she did nothing to alleviate it. We were set up for that crazy eye darting, ‘get me the hell out of this conversation’ trap. No wonder I felt both relieved and dissed when we both finally wandered out of that conversation. See how complicated we are?
So this is why I am just telling you that if we ever meet in person and you ever feel me instigate this odd tension between us, I want you to tell me to knock it off. In fact, you can just hold your hands up, side by side, showing us as equal and that will remind me. I need this because I forget and I imagine the older I get I’m bound to land on one platform or another, above or below, if I don’t spend some active time leveling out. Let’s do this thing.
News from my “other” blog, Nearly Orthodox :)
Originally posted on Nearly Orthodox:
This morning I am pleased to be sitting in a quiet, sunny living room in Middle Tennessee. The vacation house is intimately familiar as I lived in this log home for five years when my children were very young. We turned it into a vacation home a few years ago, when we moved back to Chicago. I cannot remember it ever being this quiet. In those years, they would wake me up in the mornings, early. We were transplants from Chicago, homeschoolers, maybe more than a little bit isolated. We did not intend it that way.
When we bought this house in middle Tennessee we thought we were meant to form an artist community here. We thought that “if we built it they would come” but though we gave it our best shot, it never really worked out the way we’d hoped.
From our five years in this house, however…
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