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storytelling

This topic, appearing right on time. This topic, appearing right in line. On time with what I’m doing, in line with life. Sometimes things do seem to shimmy into place.

I began reading my memoir into a microphone on Monday. It’s audiobook recording time. 

I’ve lived with the words for years now. The story has been evolving since my first breath. The feeling of my family has been wrapped around my heart, and hanging over my body and soul since I came into the world. Trying to wrap words around THAT and IT hasn’t always been easy, but I’ve done a version of it, and now those words have been put to bed and will soon be sent out into the world, bound with thread and glue and protected by end papers and hard covers. And it will also be told in my actual voice, for all the world to hear.

Some things can be written down easier than they can be said.

I’ve only choked up a few times during the process, but my pulse has quickened over and over as I’ve read my own words — at times harrowing, hard, even bitter, then going soft, compassionate, childlike, and ultimately forgiving. It’s one thing to put words like “cause of death” on paper. It’s another thing entirely to say them out loud, especially when the deaths to which you’re referring are those of your parents. It’s one thing to describe in detail what was heard through walls or the fear that was felt on a cold morning in January as a 13-year-old with words that appear on a screen. It’s another thing entirely to immerse oneself in the experiences again in order to effectively imbue what is being read with the appropriate emotion. But not too much emotion. It’s a dance. A balance of reportage and humanity that one can only achieve by being able to get up close and be distant all at the same time. 

I think I’ve been doing that my entire life. Dancing dancing on the head of a pin with the other angels who got left in the cold. Dancing dancing because they don’t know they can stop… those lines stick in my head, I read them yesterday.

I finished my reading today. Another piece of this revealing ready to go. I suppose this part is storytelling in its truest form. At times, I wanted to whisper the words I was reading. I have a habit of whispering when I’m saying something that isn’t necessarily pleasant. At times, I felt disconnected and wondered who in the hell wrote the words at which I stared. At times, I felt all too familiar with them, and felt my face drop in sadness as I went through all of the details once again.

This story I’ve told so many times, in so many ways, has come to an end. I am making the final punctuation marks now and that feels so good, so right, so needed. There are terms to a thing, and I’ve said all I have to say on the matter and matters of my family as it was. A book written, a record made, and ultimately, a life lived with what at times seemed like a singular purpose — to set things straight. I can’t do it any better than I’ve done it. The story is told. 

Now I get to tell the new ones. And I couldn’t be happier.

Happy Wednesday.

Peace and Love,

AM

blindness (willful)

What do I not see?

Willful blindness is an idea with which I’m quite taken. Our tendency to ignore what’s right in front of us because it would inconvenience us, or in some cases hurt too bad to acknowledge, is an undeniably all too human trait. We do it with situations, relationships, or anything that we don’t want to admit isn’t what we want it to be.

We’re friends with those who we think reflect what we consider our best selves back to us. We like to hang out with people who make us feel good, not bad. And that makes sense. Almost no one likes to feel less than wonderful about how they’re doing, but having a critical eye applied, or applying a critical eye toward oneself is not always a bad thing. Getting feedback is how we learn. I’ve looked back on different stages of my life and wondered why no one took me aside and asked me what the hell I was doing. There are several things I wish someone had called me to the carpet for. 

Today I wonder what I’m ignoring about myself, and of what I need to take inventory. 

I’m a highly critical person. And the criticism starts with my inner voice, which it is often unloving at best. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have blind spots, and plenty of them. It’s ironic that my critical nature doesn’t allow me to be critical of my critical nature, isn’t it? Truth is, I need to be.

Though it comes in handy doing the work that I do, it is a blessing and a curse — I often feel like I see and hear nothing but what is wrong. And I’m afraid I’m not shy about letting everyone know it. That saying about how you see the world is how you see yourself? True, I’m afraid. Seems I feel like myself is a bit of a mess most days. Though I sometimes feel the world is the most exciting and perfect and incredible place, I spend too many mornings hurriedly sweeping the patio clear of the mess the birds made getting their food out of their feeder than being mesmerized that they come to it just because we put it out there for them. There is no “bless this mess” cross-stitch hanging in my kitchen. 

I’d love to see the world and everyone and everything in it as perfectly imperfect. But I don’t want to cover my eyes when it comes to myself. Maybe my search for lovingkindness, which I know has to start within, requires that I take a clear look, that inventory I talked about earlier, and admit that I am not always what I want to be. And that makes me wonder — is there such a thing as willful forgiveness?

Happy Wednesday, Y’all.

AM

notes

I write a lot of notes. Notes on work, notes on things I want to do, notes on life, notes to myself, notes to other people either through email or, when I can get the gumption, on pen and paper. I love cards and letters, I love thick stacks of paper. 

I also need reminders. Good thing they’re everywhere. Living a life even a little bit in the public eye means one gets a record of things. Whether the notes on one’s life are cringe-inducing or lovely, you can’t walk out the door these days without it being documented. Such is the state of things. I won’t lament it here. Here, I’m doing the very thing I’m talking about.

I am working on my next book, which is a series of essays about my life with my son, John Henry. In my writing process, I do a lot of going back to read what I’ve already written — reading and re-reading helps me keep on track. And in my so often interrupted process and harried life, I have to remind myself where I’ve gone before so I know where I’m going next, or at least where I’d like to go.

This blog is a record of sorts. A series of notes. An online journal in a way, even though what I write is supposedly directed toward the reader. Every writer who deals in the personal knows that’s not necessarily true, just as every novelist knows most characters are part of their own psyche somehow. I like looking back and thinking, “Hmmm… do I remember the feeling I had that day? What was I going through? What shitstorm (sometimes literal) had I endured already that day or what sort was coming? Was it a lovely day? Were the cracks in my heart letting light in or were they trying to close up and keep it out? What did I show and what did I hide? Did I realize how good my life was at that moment no matter what was going on? Was I counting my blessings and keeping my ego in check?

Looking back isn’t necessarily holding on. I’m partial to Didion’s “On Keeping a Notebook,”  and agree that we should stay familiar with the different versions of ourselves. No matter if we never really absolutely change, we at least shift. There’s no way to not. Life happens. 

Are y’all surprised when you look up and discover you’re not the person you were five years ago? Ten? And Lord knows, no matter how many similarities I bear to the person I was twenty years ago, she nearly only qualifies as my next door neighbor. I still know her really well, though. We have coffee often. We talk through the fence every day. I watch for her porch light and for her comings and goings. Her decisions won’t let me forget her. As painful as some of the memories are, I honestly don’t want to be on less than snuggling terms with who I have been at every stage, because the center is the same. I’m reminded of that when I come across something I wrote down in whatever version of life I did it. It makes me smile to see that she didn’t write nearly as well as she does now, but her vision was the same, however cloudy. Looking back allows me to see that, and also how far I’ve come and ultimately, that I’ve got a long way to go. I hope I get time to feel this way in twenty more years, but who knows?. Note to self…

Happy Wednesday, Y’all.

Peace and love,

AM

vulnerability

It’s hard for me to show myself sometimes. I want to be open, to share myself and my thoughts and ideas on subjects that aren’t always polite dinner conversation. I think it’s important. As a species, we are much too hard on one another, and sharing our vulnerabilities is one way to bond, to allow each other to feel less alone, to somehow save each other from the crippling anxiety we can sometimes fall into when we feel we’re the only ones not measuring up or who are in difficulty of some sort. But I don’t always excel at showing my weaker spots, my fears, or my failures.

It takes a lot of courage to say, “God, I totally sucked at that thing I just tried,” or “You would not believe what a crappy friend/wife/mother/artist I was today.” But it takes some sort of turning off and numbing to do the opposite — to act as if everything is great all the time. It isn’t. We know it. We know, when we can tune in to another person, listen, and really hear them, that everyone is in struggle to some degree. We’re all doing hard jobs in one way or another, whether it’s trying to successfully do what we do for our livings, navigate our relationships, or just get. it. all. done. This world asks a lot of us. None of us are doing it flawlessly. 

I was raised to keep secrets. Tears just filled my eyes as I typed that sentence. Telling you that makes it surprisingly real in a way that just thinking it doesn’t (I guess because I’m telling YOU and not just myself) and it takes me back to what it felt like to not be able to say, to anyone, that what was supposed to be my safest spot was actually my most dangerous. My mama told me to never say what was going on at home — we were not to mention Daddy’s drinking to anyone. We weren’t supposed to acknowledge the fighting or the general violent atmosphere that hung heavy on us all the time. It was a lot to carry. It still is. But what is even more to carry is the withholding characteristic it carved into my nature. I learned to nod and smile and act like everything was just fine when I was out in the world, and even when I was at home. I learned to please. The worst thing would’ve been if I’d acknowledged that I felt alone or scared to those who were causing such feelings. That didn’t exactly set me up to be open in my relationships, or to be able to say what I need, or to have any compassion for myself for what I was enduring because I was told what I was feeling was invalid. It wasn’t. It still isn’t. 

Now, I don’t think oversharing just to do it is a good idea either. Spare me emotional vomiting. Every day doesn’t need to be an intimacy workshop and every dinner party doesn’t need to be a therapy session or scar showing contest. But I will say that one of the things I love most about getting older and developing deeper and longer lasting friendships is the way that most of us just dive in. Maybe we don’t feel we have time for anything else. Maybe we don’t have the energy. Maybe we’re just over it. As a result of any of those things, surface conversations have become less common in my life. I am absolutely thrilled about that. When we’re able to connect in a true way, it helps us know not only our people, but ourselves better. I also think that when we know ourselves better, and when someone hears us and says, “Me, too,” or “it’s okay for you to feel that way,” we are better able to accept our difficult emotions and express them in ways that aren’t as abrasive as they might otherwise be. When we feel unheard, we sometimes snap when we can’t take it anymore and deliver messages harshly. That takes more repair work in most cases than it would otherwise. Most of the time it isn’t even the message, it’s the delivery of such. Exceptions to that apply, of course, and we know what they are for us, but my point is, when we’re open and listen, we get more and better information about the person we’re talking to. When someone is truly open and vulnerable with me, I’m usually hard pressed to remember a time I’ve found them more beautiful.

So — my vulnerability. Okay. Today I’d like to say that I’m more tired than I’d like to be. My forty-seven-year-old body isn’t quite as cooperative as it once was — my left knee sounds like a staticky radio when I crouch down and I’m staring at my to do list like it’s a sleeping snake or something. I have household chores stacked up. My new dog doesn’t always pee and poo outside but I’m working hard on it, though I’ve asked myself what I was thinking when I got him because I don’t necessarily have enough time to get his habits wrangled so I feel dumb for taking the leap, but then the joy created just by his sweet presence takes over. Sometimes I struggle to keep a thought in my head for longer than 3 seconds. I get distracted easily these days because there is just a lot to do, I guess, and I struggle to do one thing at the time because there is often so much more going on at the time than the one thing. My distraction makes me a crap listener. I’m not a perfect wife. I’m not a perfect friend. My hair is dirty and in a bun. I’m worried about my upcoming recording (starting in less than two weeks) and my book release. Will any of my work be good enough this time? What can I do to make it all go better? My son cried for five minutes straight last night and I don’t know why — all I could do was lie beside him in bed and try to love him through it and I’m almost out of popsicles and need to go to the store for more but haven’t yet. I’m not a perfect mother. The list goes on… 

I have exactly five vases filled with peonies in my house at this moment (because birthday love 🙂 from my lady friends, of course). In my opinion, the peony has no faults. I wonder if they would tell me, if they could talk, that they feel embarrassed about the fact that their petals will begin to fall off soon and that they will no longer be of use when their stems are bare, when they won’t be the most beautiful bloom on earth? I wouldn’t mind if they did say that, and I’d in fact thank them for being with me through all of their phases — from sweet little closed buds to complete openness smiling like Miss America to the last possible minute they could be considered a flower — because every phase is glorious. 

We are not always in our most beautiful state. But every state can be beautiful, even the ragged and raw ones. 

Happy Wednesday, Y’all.

AM

removal

I’ve been thinking about how I would do an update on this topic all day long. If you’re just tuning in, this year’s blog posts all use the same titles from last year’s. I thought it would be interesting to see how I’ve changed, and how things have changed, since I processed and wrote about each topic in 2018. I just went back and read what I wrote on the word “removal” on June 25 of last year. I wouldn’t change a word. I can only say, yes. Same. Thank you for reading.

I, like most everyone else, have been horrified and sickened by the reports of children being separated from their parents or caregivers at this country’s borders. It is almost too much for me to imagine the pain of every person going through such a nightmare, one that is heart-wrenching, one that is traumatizing in both the present and that will be for the rest of their lives, and one that is unnecessary and avoidable.

I remember sitting in the front seat of the car with my Mama one morning as she dropped me off at my elementary school. I became frantic that I wouldn’t see her again for whatever reason — the anxiety raging in me that had been produced by the cornucopia of dysfunctional delights at home, or just a child’s moment of neediness — and I began to cry and beg her to take me to work with her. I needed to be close to her for a little while longer that morning, and she, being soft-hearted despite the strength she often displayed in raising my sister and me, honored my request and let me sit beside her at her desk at the courthouse for a few hours. When I felt better, she took me to school. I was six-years-old.

I know now that I spent most of my childhood feeling insecure about my footing in the world because I was unsure about hers. I was always afraid that I would lose her. There are now myriad examples of how those feelings have manifested themselves in my adult life. I’m one of the lucky ones — I’ve been able to trace it all back and find many of the events that ultimately produced my mass of symptoms — and I still, even with all of these years lived and with a lot of personal work done — catch myself in the throes of reptile brain, reacting and thrashing around, sometimes wreaking havoc in my own life because I’ll do anything I can think of to do to just be safe (though safe is a relative term and I don’t always know what it actually is) — until I can talk myself into a calmer state.

I can’t imagine what those children who are now separated from their families feel, who are not just being dropped off at school for the day. Who is holding them? Who is loving them? Who is making sure they eat? Who is playing with them when they’re in, “foster care or whatever?” Who is making sure they aren’t mistreated and abused? What about the ones who can’t communicate in english? What about the ones who can’t communicate AT ALL? I’m sure there are some. How will any of them ever recover from having the only safety they’ve ever known, their families, taken away? Think, for a minute, about how all of that trauma will reverberate into the world.

Look, I know the arguments about why people shouldn’t try to cross the border illegally. I understand them. It can’t just be a free for all in the supposed land of the free. But why are we so removed from the feelings that cause such actions? How can we sit back and not be able to imagine ourselves attempting to escape violence, extreme poverty, lack of resources and education and medical services in whatever way we could? Why is it that so few of us seem to be able to imagine ourselves being in such unlucky positions? Insert the quote about being born on third base and thinking you hit a triple here…

Why do we consider those less fortunate than we are to be the others? All it takes to be an other is being unlucky enough to be born in a country that isn’t as prosperous as this one. All it takes to be an other is making a few decisions that turn out to be the wrong ones. All it takes to be an other is being born non-white. Yes, I just wrote that down.

Just imagine, for a second, those things happening to you. Imagine looking at your child grow up with danger all around her every day, without clean water, without good schools, without enough to eat. Then imagine NOT doing everything you could to get her a better life. You wouldn’t not do everything you could for her, would you? Imagine doing the only thing you can think of — fleeing your circumstances — then imagine having her taken away from you because you tried. Imagine knowing you might never see her again. Imagine her knowing she might never again see you. All because you wanted something better.

When we can’t picture ourselves in positions of vulnerability, we get in real trouble. None of us are so big and powerful that we couldn’t be reduced to helpless in a few seconds flat for whatever reason. When we are removed from the emotions and complexities of an issue, we accept terms like “zero-tolerance,” as normal. Zero tolerance? Where is the compassion in a policy like that? When we let our politics get in the way of people, no matter where they were born, we lose. When we don’t think ahead and consider cause and effect, we lose. When we are removed from each other, in whatever way, we lose.

Happy Monday, Y’all.

AM

comments

This is a photo of John Henry eating a peach that he swiped in the grocery store and not caring. At all. I want to be more like John Henry.

It’s not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood. — Theodore Roosevelt

Most of us know this brilliant quote, this IDEA, by the first President Roosevelt. It is a big thought, and one that is indispensable for those of us who do a lot, for those of us who make things and then send them out into the world to be judged.

I don’t enjoy being criticized. I especially don’t enjoy it when the criticism isn’t constructive. This character trait makes me different from almost no one on the planet.

Early in my career, I read every review and haunted the message board on my own website, craving feedback, grabbing for approval. It was a bad idea to be wrapped up in what people said about me, whether they were professional critics, people in the industry, consumers, or people I knew personally. The business of entertainment is full of us, those who didn’t get enough of either feedback or approval, or both, in their childhoods — one of my theories about why certain people become performers in the first place is to get those things they didn’t get enough of — let’s just all agree that the stage doesn’t draw the most well-adjusted people. But I digress, as I usually do in this space. Let me pull it back on track… I did adopt, really quickly, the idea that if I was going to attach any worth to a positive review or appraisal that I had to do the same for lukewarm or negative ones, but detaching from critiques of one’s work is a nearly impossible thing to do. There’s a reason why we can hear ninety-nine great things and one bad one and we remember the bad one — we’re insecure, and we’re looking for confirmations to bolster that comfortable spot of self-loathing because if we changed it who would we be and how would we operate? Yikes.

Detaching from critiques of one’s character is just as hard. Last year I put a photograph and celebratory/appreciative Father’s Day post of H. and John Henry on Instagram. It was an adorable photo, and one I thought demonstrated their relationship perfectly — they’re comfortable and easy and they dig each other. I often say that John Henry likes H. better than he likes me and that may very well be true. But anyway, someone just couldn’t keep himself from posting something quite shitty in the comments — something about John Henry’s father/my ex-husband, etc. — something the comment vomiting person knows absolutely shit point zero about, mind you. I fought that war. I have the scars. The commenter had no idea what he was speaking of and it made me mad. I got over it, as I do, but I still wonder why people feel the need to be nasty, especially when they have no relationship to the person they’re being nasty to and generally have no knowledge of the subject they’re going on about. Why do we feel the need to be so harsh and critical of others? I know now that it’s because we generally hate ourselves, and that if we’re being mean to someone else then it’s probably at least ten times worse when we talk to our own hearts. I’m guilty. I hate it.

Now, only four-and-a-half months out from the release of my first memoir and accompanying EP, I can’t help but think about what people are going to think and say about my work. I feel like it’s twenty-almost-one years ago and Alabama Song is getting ready to hit the streets. Will they think I’m a hack writer who should stick to music and will they say that? Will they think I’m too sentimental about my family? Will they think I’m too forgiving or worse, that I’m not forgiving enough?

Will I care?

The thing is, I know I did my best work. I did the best work I could do at the time that I did it and now (I finished it almost two years ago) it seems far away. It’s time to go back into it though, to talk about it, to embody it in some way. And some part of me is scared to do that. Not only is the subject matter tough to talk about, it strips me bare. I feel a special kind of vulnerability showing the world my story in this way. Yet, I had to do it. It is my job to tell these stories. Writing it all down was as essential as breathing. And as an artist, it is my job, after I’ve made a thing, to let it go into the world and do what it will do — to hold up a mirror for anyone who wants to look into one. I think I stopped making art because I wanted anything in return a while ago. I do it now because it just isn’t optional. But I’m still human — I still feel it like a corkscrew to the heart (yep, been listening to that one… he knows a thing or two about criticism).

I try to remember that I’m in the arena. Maybe I’ll leave it one day, but today I’m not ready to go. I’ve had countless conversations about the risky business of hanging your own ass out to dry in the form of a song, film, book, play, painting, drawing, or pot of soup. It’s a lot easier, I suppose, to do nothing and wait on others to produce something to suck on a pencil over. But I didn’t sign up for easy. Not this time.

I try to remember I’m in the arena. Every day.

Peace and love and happy Wednesday,

AM

normal

Normal. That thing everyone thinks they are. That thing that everyone thinks they are not.

My daddy impressed upon my sister and me that individuality was the business. “It’s good to be an individual,” he’d say. And say, and say, and say. He didn’t like anything about what was considered normal in our world — he didn’t want work at the papermill, he didn’t want to punch a clock at all, didn’t want to keep regular hours of any kind, or do anything in general that was considered what a person does just because it’s what a person does. Screw manners, mores, and most people. Early messages stick with you.

But shoot — I consider myself pretty damn normal. I suppose that depends on the context in which it’s presented, but these days I like the simple things in life. Good books, good music, good work pursued and done, a few vegetables growing out back, and those I love around me as much as possible. Aren’t those the things that this life is supposed to be centered around? Aren’t those things the normal things? Funny, when I rewind 40 or so some odd years, I see that those were the things Daddy wanted at the center of his life too. He got them to varying degrees of success, because what was really at the center of his life, his addiction, erodes groundedness and goodness. Still, he tilled the soil to plant a garden every year. Still, he bought books, records, and worked a job most of the time. His own individuality was displayed in the way that he did those things. In the years since he’s been gone, I have asked a few people who knew him in ways that I didn’t. They are mystified by his actions, but are still impressed with his character and intellect, and, of course, his unwillingness to conform. Suffice to say he had a hard time. Suffice to say most everyone noticed.

It’s easier to go along. It’s easier to get along. There are some of us on the planet who can’t do it no matter what reward for doing so might be dangled in front of us. But I don’t think it has anything to do with what we do for a living, how we are raised, or our philosophies on what’s cool or what isn’t. Daddy grew up relatively privileged, was educated, was employable, but still was well on his way to drinking himself to death and had wreaked irrevocable damage on his daughters’ lives before he blew his brains out. No one understands it. I wrote a book about it and still scratch my head most days. No one quite understands how those who have suffered immeasurable difficulty can thrive, become truly empathetic people, and keep opening themselves to the world, either. But those people are everywhere. I know plenty of them.

I realize this might be heading in a direction that has nothing to do with the topic. Except to say that there is no normal. We human beings like to sort things. Hell, most species do. Put this over there and that over there and let’s keep it all neatly categorized so we know how to process it and move on to the next thing, don’t make me think too much and don’t surprise me and don’t make me take a clear-eyed look at anything because I don’t have time or the wherewithal. But we can’t sort people and we can’t sort life, can we? No. It’s absurd that we even try. Without yin there is no yang. All this offense against difference makes no sense to me. I taped a feather on the wall today like a teenage girl and hung my Academy Award nomination certificate in the room we call the library because it’s where all the books are. I also got Instacart to bring my Costco delivery to my door. And I don’t give a hell, as the red-headed boy on the school bus said when other young’uns were picking on him one cold morning when I was in fourth grade. I’m fine with those things. Which all adds up, at least in my mind, to say — look at me now, Daddy. Look at me now.

Peace and love and happy Wednesday,

AM

PS – that’s him as a baby. It’s sometimes nice to remember that we all start out that way.

resistance

I resisted writing this blog entry all day yesterday. I resisted so much that I didn’t do it. I haven’t really figured out why yet.

I could’ve made time. Sure, I had boxes stacked up on top of each other all over the house — the moving truck arrived Tuesday night with all of the things from NYC — and I needed to get sorted out. But this practice of mine nagged at me all day long, the reminder of it wafting into my mind every hour or so with thoughts like “when are you going to get that written and what are you going to say” attached to it. I kept pushing them away. My will wanted to empty more boxes, to decide where everything goes, to get the physical organized so I could think again, to make everything perfect.

There’s absolute validity in all of that, just as there is in most thoughts and feelings. And I don’t really know whether to be disappointed in myself for not writing even one word or not. The frustrating thing for me right now is, I know very well that this house is never going to be perfect, and though I may seek some sort of perfection, I only set myself up for disappointment through that search and also let this (just as, if not more, important) ball drop. Nevertheless, she persisted…

How do I feel about breaking deals with myself? How do I feel about letting my will take over when I know it just wants to control everything rather than allow presence of mind and a cool relationship to chaos?

Turns out, not good. And I know that because I think I dreamt about writing this, and I woke up at 6AM (no alarm) with it on my mind. I heard the birds outside the window, I heard my husband’s breath, but I also heard “get it done” in my own internal (mostly bitchy) voice.

A year ago I wrote about Steven Pressfield’s “The Art of War,” which I’d just read. I think about that book a lot — I internalized its messages, which fit nicely beside my own — those messages of no excuses, of doing what it takes, of not resisting, of making friends with the notion of doing hard and sometimes frustrating work that will possibly end up in the deleted files — I haven’t forgotten it in the slightest. This morning I tell myself that I should read it again (when we get the books unpacked, of course), maybe as some sort of punishment for my slacker behavior here. I tell myself that it doesn’t matter whether or not I could think straight yesterday. I know that isn’t necessarily true, that for equanimity to exist, the circumstances have to be at least somewhat conducive to calm. Moving house certainly doesn’t create that — in fact, it removes stability and takes everything off axis, resetting things so tentatively, at least for a few days, that it all feels like an elephant balancing on a marble. I spent yesterday trying to get the elephant off of the marble. She’s still up there…

Maybe today we’ll roll the marble out the door. This missive is the first step to reclaiming smooth ground. Aha…

Peace, love, and Happy Thursday,

AM

kindness

I wonder sometimes if life makes sense, or if I make it make sense because I need it to.

For all of the big experiences I’ve had, even for all of the painful experiences I’ve had, I often catch myself winding meaning around what does or doesn’t happen. Not in a parable way, but in ways that maybe make me view them with, if not exactly clarity, then at least calm. I’m looking for reassurance that I’m not alone I guess, that there is a why to the what. That I’m not just holding on by my toenails to this hurtling blue ball we’re on.

Today’s topic is kindness. Last year I was focused on someone being nice to and attempting to connect with my son. I had been (and still am) so touched by the outstretched hand and heart of a man we’d never seen before and haven’t since. I don’t even have to go back and look at the entry — I remember it well. We’d been in the pool at our building in NYC — an indoor pool that, of course, is echo-y and that intensifies the sound and volume of John Henry’s vocalizing — which got on a lot of swimmers’ nerves. And I understood that. Nevertheless, we had the right to swim too and so we did. I tried to talk to him about keeping his voice down, and he tried so hard to do it when he could, but he couldn’t always do it, excited as he was. The man who I wrote about, insteading of shooting us dirty looks and talking to the lifeguard about us or asking me why he had to make that sound (like some people did), made eye contact with him, smiled, and made the same sounds John Henry did and it was one of the kindest things I’ve ever seen anyone do. He said, “He’s just fine. He’s beautiful.” I don’t know if the man had a background in therapy or if he had experience with autism in some way, but that’s exactly what you’re supposed to do. Join them where they are. My heart about burst that day.

We’ve had some rough times in New York City. I’ve not been shy about saying how hard the sensory onslaught of day to day life here has been, or about how we don’t have a yard to run and play in, or about how dangerous it has felt to me on certain days. It isn’t an ideal environment, in my opinion, for a young boy who needs lots of space to move and shout but needs that space to also be safe because he is likely to run off at any moment. We’ve been stared down and complained about and things have gotten scary as hell sometimes (for instance, John Henry jerked away from me and tried to run in the middle of 9th Avenue one day — luckily I’m still fast enough to deal with things like that), but as with most things, we got through it because we had grace to help us through. And that grace has come through people. I will miss the staff of our building, who have watched over us like protective big brothers and who all know and love John Henry. I told them all at one time or another that if they saw him without an adult that something was wrong and to catch him and come upstairs immediately because I had likely hit my head and passed out or worse. I will miss John Henry’s teachers this summer as he experiences that space I’ve dreamt and talked about him having. They are doing God’s work and are patient beyond belief. All kinds of folks have been kind to us, and I am grateful.

I couldn’t help but think about that kindness when I snapped this photograph of John Henry giving a kiss to a lady he’d never met before at his baseball game last Saturday. And I couldn’t help but think about how it is contagious, how it’s something we have to and do teach, and how we simply can’t do without it in this world. It saves us. That’s a meaning I’m proud to admit I attach to whatever I can. I’m grateful to find cause to every single day.

Happy Wednesday and peace and love, y’all.

AM

mother

Another Mother’s Day has come and gone. Another year I searched for a photograph of my mama to post on social media that the world hadn’t seen before. I found one of her in her housecoat, standing in the kitchen, looking like she just woke up, looking like she was making biscuits. I remember her that way, bleary-eyed and looking for her glasses, squinting at whatever she was trying to see, sipping a cup of coffee, and getting ready for the day. Her biscuits were delicious, by the way.

That got me thinking about how my son might remember me.

Will he forgive me my weaknesses as I forgive hers?

Will he remember the after school snacks, the special hamburger patties with the chia seeds hidden in them, the way I melted popsicles and poured them into molds and refroze them so I could sneak vitamins in?  Or will he remember my constant urging to use the appropriate utensil when eating instead of his hands or my complaining about cleaning food off of the floor when he throws it? Will he remember the way I gave in and sometimes let him sleep in my bed when H. was away because I just wanted to hold onto the few moments that it was still halfway appropriate? Because I just wanted to listen to him breathe and be with him without having to constantly do? Because it comforted me to see him be peaceful for a few hours? Or will he remember when I gave in because I was too tired to lead him back to his own bed for the fifth time in a night but would’ve much preferred the bed to myself? Will he remember how patient I was with him? Will he remember that I used up most of my patience on him and had to work really hard to have any with the rest of the world? Will he remember when I absolutely lost my shit because he stuck his popsicle in my coffee cup or when he poured the water from the vase of flowers on the floor so he could slap his foot in it? Will he remember my habit of blue streak cursing and my near constant stress? Will he remember how mad it made me when he soaked the bathroom walls and floor every night at bathtime because he loved splashing in the tub so much but that I let him do it anyway and mopped it all up, time after time, day after day, sometimes two or three times a day? Will he remember my tears? Will he remember my hugs and kisses? Will he remember how I advocated for him, how I cheered him on, and how I fought so hard through my own emotional quagmire to try to figure out Who. He. Is? And how to honor that? Or will he remember my annoying habits, my nagging, and my exhaustion?

Will he remember my love?

You don’t get a halo and wings when you give birth. You’re the same person after as you were before, no matter how it changes you. Some things seem to come naturally with the miracle of becoming a mother — the ability to discern a hungry cry from a sad or angry one, the instinct to protect — but we don’t seamlessly become beings who always know what to do or how to handle everything correctly. Every human being walking on the planet is a testament to the failure and success of a parent in some way. We can’t blame everything on them, good or bad, there is personal responsibility, growth and maturity, and sometimes an outright miraculous distancing from anything unhealthy, but we can trace a lot of our flying and falling back to childhood. I digress…

The thing is, what I remember most about my mama was the way she loved me. She didn’t execute her intentions to bestow it on me perfectly, but that’s okay. I know that I fall short as a mama every day too, but I hope that I’m raising a child who will know that I tried, and who will forgive me for my imperfections, as I was taught to do. I think mothers show us, above all, how to be in the world. Wow, is it ever a hard job. It requires constant holding on and letting go, and whether or not we have wings, that is the dance of the angels.

Peace, love, and happy Wednesday.

AM

PS – I’d like to make a recommendation this week: Listen to Mary Susan McConnell’s MAMA BEAR PODCAST. I’ll be a guest sometime soon and I’m super excited about that, but you should listen anyway. McConnell is a badass mama and smart as a whip.