Updated: 19 hours ago
My friend Christie and I have been creative writing together since Cooper was a baby, roughly 13 years now.
We met through lifelong, high school friends (her sister-in-law went to prom with my husband) and it was like we had always known each other.
Almost immediately after we met, she asked if I wanted to regularly meet and write together, and I said YES out of defiance of a life with toddlers that required everything from me but the time to write.
If it had been up to me, it never would have happened. But Christie, having older children and coming from a headspace that gave priority to creative pursuits, made it happen, come hell or high water.
Sometimes literally, as she often texted to confirm, waking me from a dead sleep in the toddler bed. or sometimes as I stood in the kitchen with children who wouldn't sleep at all. I tried to make excuses about a dirty house and lack of sleep, but she showed up on my doorstep anyway and pushed past the building blocks and strewn laundry to find a small clearing on my sofa where we would pour out our hearts on the page.
I didn’t know it at the time, but she was changing my whole idea of friendship. Where once I would obsess for hours about tidying the house when anyone even hinted at coming over, Christie would text from the car that she was already on her way. There was no time to tidy up, but I started to notice that she didn't seem to notice either way. So while we were threading our friendship together with private confessions on the page, I was coming to understand a deeper truth: those who are committed to friendship with me, do not also require me to effort towards perfection in the process.
And in this freedom to show up disheveled and bleary-eyed and sometimes coming apart at the seams, we found together our deeper truths. With a small bundle of books and a thick journal in her lap, Christie would thumb through pages she had marked, and from them read prompts to set our minds alight. Our rules of engagement were simple: once we start writing we don't stop, we don't edit, and we don't cross out. When we were done, we would read our unbridled scribbles aloud to each other, and note the golden lines, which for me were almost always the one line I was tempted to cross out. The one line that felt most dangerous, because it was the most true.
Some thirteen years later, I now have journals full of these freed thoughts. I now have a chronicle of what it looks like to learn to write from the heart, instead of the head. And pages upon pages marking the details of significant and also mundane times in my life where it felt like a lifeline to unburden my mind on the page. We wrote some nights like our lives depended on it because sometimes they did.
This week, we gathered again at a tiny table filled with poetry books and small piles of clippings ready for a collage, and we opened our journals for another uncounted time. With mugs of tea and broken bars of chocolate between us, my journal opened to the last entry dated September 19, 2014, six weeks before my third child was born. That was a significant time to have revisit, charged and heightened as it was. I was unsure and distraught over to what extent my life would be altered by another baby at the ripe age of 43.
I spent many days of that pregnancy crying in the shower, lamenting how I would not only fail the two children I already had but there would be a third for me to let down because much like my obsessively tidy home, I was trying to parent perfectly as well. And I was in tears because we had been gearing up for a remodel that had become my obsession, which would now be pushed off indefinitely. I was desperate to have modern tidiness permeate every nook of the home. I wanted brand new countertops and inset lighting to say, Nope, nope, we're fine here! All of this striving and achievement has got us somewhere.
A dear friend still jokes today about my crying over the phone about the new driveway that would not be realized, replaced instead by the added years of stay-at-home parenting that would cut my income more than in half...again. I wanted something I could not have and you can hear it in the exhaustion and lament I wrote that day in the journal Christie gave me, nine years ago.
September 19, 2014
It is the first time I can't make the outside mask the inside.
My disheveled internal landscaped - the parched, used, faded interior landscape perfectly matches the disarray and age of my exterior surroundings.
The chipped and faded patio strewn with dirty, disorganized, outgrown toys. My belly, too big to fold over and pick them up. The dead lawn and thirsty snap dragons withering in the pot, too hot to stand in the sun and water them. The old items outside the shed that need to be donated., if only there was energy The dry, cracked, clay earth that is our backyard. Nothing is complete, nothing with concrete plans for improvement in the timeline of our lives. It will just have to wait.
Like my insides, so dry and cracked from the mothering years. Giving, with very little taking. Forgetting the nuance of receiving, even when offered. That irregular rhythm that requires open, flexible pulses that track the whims of the baby years.
I am tired.
As tired as the drought-ridden yard that surrounds our house. As tired as the banged-up kitchen cabinets that will have to endure the first years of another boy. Bang, crash, destroy. That is how I feel - beat up. Ready for respite and change and progress. God, how I love progress.
It is hard to see in the long, slow-moving years of naps and breastfeeding; sleepless nights and the incredible boring days that string together like the same
that loops in my mind.
I want something to finally show for all of this hard work. But now I am slammed back into a freeze-frame. Stuck. Immoveable. For the benefit of someone else. A landscape that seemingly will never be green or bloom again.
WHOA! All right then. That right there is a woman in despair. And that despair lasted for months after the unplanned c-section and the double clubfoot surgery and the casts and leg braces and the two older kids that only ever got the dredges of me during that season. I truly and sincerely felt hopeless and trapped. Unable to work out how to weather the third round of baby years and still get what I needed from them, and in spite of them.
I tried. I did things I never would have done with the other two, like daycare and leftovers and early enrollment in preschool. But looking back now, I can see how the arrival of a third baby, was exactly what I had called in to slowly and painfully wake me out of the slumber of my unrelenting pursuit of achievement. During those years I worked harder than I had ever worked. I pushed myself beyond what I had to give and it fed into a level of burnout that catapulted me into a radical change of everything at the onset of the global pandemic.
The despair and dread of that season was the very act of burning myself down to be reborn. And so this week, at that tiny table with my beloved writing companion, I filled the pages with the story of my Phoenix rising from the ashes. As with anything that feels like coincidence but isn't, across the page from that nine-year-old song of sorrow, I wrote a new song that went a little something like this.
The Opium of Freedom
The opium of freedom. I am an addict even when I have none of the drug to keep me tied up in its ecstasy. I crave it all the time. Upon waking, when, I hear already the business of morning in the kitchen.
In the midday when already half of my freed time is gone, and there is never enough to create, to write, to live before dinner and dishes and goodnight kisses carry me into the longing of night.
I find night the most delicious stolen freedom in this version of the present. This version where free and freedom do not come from the same equation. It is the tension of not enough that makes the night so luxurious and delicious. The purring kittens, the murmur of a sleeping child warm against my back. And me, clear-eyed in the dark letting demons and dragons and angels write me poetry in the shadows on the ceiling.
And in the most dark and free space, I do not answer or apologize to anyone. I am autonomous in my thoughts, allowing them to be whatever adventure I crave most. Finding that in the softness and half-sleep that I am the most forgiving of myself. Generous with my desires, boundless and spacious for all of my imaginings.
This must be how it feels to be as free as God. As holy and forgiving as the saints, and as pure as the newest babe to come earth-side. To be only and all present for whatever is true and whatever is mine and whatever sees fit to be born through me, in the surrender of my imagined freedom.
Of course, I didn't know as I wrote this that there would be so many references to brith and rebirth, juxtaposed so brilliantly against what had been written so long ago. The same woman, who is not at all the same woman. An old version of me showing up to tea, to say, See? Progress. You have realized your progress. And here too is your awakening.
These two women also showed up to remind me that every season - no matter how parched or bountiful - is filled with poetry and days worth remembering. That every season lays down in our memory as the patchwork of our evolution. Nothing is wasted in this life if we choose to see the blessings and lessons it holds. DO NOT give up, these women say to me. Even the darkest days matter. Even the lost find their way. Even the most parched landscape can turn to bloom again.