Friday, May 30, 2014

Queen Bee

Hi Amelia!  This post isn't about Queen Bey, although we might be overdue for a post about her, too. It has been so long since I've posted on G&G, I almost forgot my way around, which is sad.  But I have been thinking about this space and all our chats about motherhood, creating, and staying sane lately, and I want to tell you about the bees in our backyard.  

This post will be complete with photos that make it very clear why I use Tim's photos on Sut Nam Bonsai.  But he's at work, so I am all we've got (oh dear), and there's no one here to tell me I can't include a photo of a squirrel.

As you know, in April I added to the world's baby arsenal by having a plump little girl.  Yesterday, I put out my daughter's cloth diapers to dry in the early sun then went about my morning.  Around 10am, I went to check on their position, to make sure the trees weren't interfering with the sunlight, but I didn't get the back door open more than a crack before I slammed it shut, terrified by the sound I heard.  The yard buzzed with the work of hundreds of bees, and I since I am quasi-allergic (hospitalized when a child, though my throat never swelled) I was not going anywhere near that stuff.

The bees have been in our yard for a few days now but, Doubting Thomas that I am, I didn't worry about it when our neighbor mentioned them.  Now that I have seen them myself, however, I am obsessed. 

Not wanting to chance one stinging Samantha or, even worse perhaps, one stinging me and leaving my poor daughter without a conscious mom for some time, I sprung into action and called a beekeeper to collect them.

The collection of bees is not the point of this post, however, and they have moved to a neighbor's property where I can't control what happens to them anyway.  But have you ever seen a swarm of bees on a tree?  Holy cow.  It is a fascinating, buzzing, creepy crawly thing.  I get chills looking at it.  In fact, I took the above photos an hour ago and those two clumps are no more.  The clump on the left has now glommed on to the one on the right.  That something with so many pieces can take the physical form of a sphere, but then shift itself into different cylindrical variations, like a murmuration of starlings in the sky, well that just about blows my mind and makes me think of every quantum physics diagram I've ever seen.

In a detail that renews my faith in the fly-over states of our country again and again, Tim's family raised bees when he was growing up, so I pumped him full of questions before bed last night, including why the heck bees behave this way.  Why are they all attached and hugging onto each other? I asked.  He said they are all there, protecting the queen.   

As a new mother, someone who spends her days mostly topless, feeding the babe in her arms, the beauty of this matriarchy is not lost on me.  That's how I want it to be in this house, I thought, i.e. I Am The Queen.  Hahaha!  But really.  My next thought was, how radiantly beautiful.  No wonder bees are so tied to the fertility of the world.  No wonder a flower can only become its fullest self by the work of a culture that protects its feminine reign. 

Hell yes. 

I have much to say about motherhood that will have to wait for a different post, but I will say how PHYSICAL the work is!  First there are all the physical facts of pregnancy (miraculously expanding uterus, milk-ducts gearing up, etc., etc.) and then it all comes together in motherhood: nursing all the time, holding, cradling, rocking, strolling.  It is an incredibly physical thing, motherhood, something I did not understand at all as I watched it from my mind before.  It makes me realize how much the movie Eraserhead, which was David Lynch's first movie and supposedly a student film of his, gets it wrong.

In the movie there is a hilariously grotesque infant thingy that is swaddled and essentially only a head.  When Samantha was first born and swaddled and gurgling like a mewling cat, I would often think, Damn that David Lynch!  He makes me think of his black-and-white grotesqueries when I look at my sweet, innocent child.  But in the movie, a couple whose relationship is destroyed by the stress of this child often stare at it from across the room.  Now I think: that would never, ever happen in a conscious setting.  It is impossible to separate my daughter's body from mine, and I wonder what in the world that movie would look like if a woman wrote it.

That didn't happen, I realize, so maybe that's a silly thing to ponder.  But I just think, yes, what a concept!  Except, in real life, that woman and that baby would be so inseparable it would be hard to see the baby for the mother's body covering it, sheltering it, protecting it like a queen.

After all that bee talk last night, I of course dreamed of black bees swarming my ankles like small bullets, and my childhood friend with whom I played on summer days.  I also had to take off the necklace I was wearing because I jumped sky high every few minutes, feeling something trace my neck.  I love when a topic so possesses my mind, but isn't it interesting how linked pleasure and horror can be sometimes?

I hope you and Teddy are having a wonderful, miraculously alive day!


Oh, how do I love this post? Let me count the ways!
1. I seem to have an affinity for bees as metaphor.

2. I think I could go on for days ranting about how our modern-day culture seems to have a knack for telling us women that "we can have it all" but then seemingly does little to support this (grand) notion. (I just spent ten minutes trying to find something I read, I believe in Harper's, about how back in the 70s, either congress or the senate was faced with a bill to enact a national daycare system--perhaps something akin to France's “crèche”--but was shot down by a male politician (can't remember his name!) on the grounds that it would lead to a deterioration of the family unit or something like that.*)

*I am going to work really hard to find exactly what it was I read because I realize my lack of specificity is hurting my argument, but ironically, Teddy has been stirring from his nap for the past five minutes, and so I felt like I had to give up my search or else I would have basically accomplished nothing during his nap. Presently, he's actually propped up sitting in front of me, staring at the computer screen (not great for him, but oh well!), held up in between my biceps as I type this, which is funny because without even trying to, I'm now addressing your observation about how physical motherhood is. (In case it's not clear, this is NOT a fun position to type in.)

OK, an hour later, and I found some evidence of what I was talking about! Turns out, the bill was passed and then vetoed by Nixon, who, indeed cited, that it would have "family-weakening implications," to which I would say: "Want to talk about family-weakening implications? OK, let's talk about the current maternity and paternity leave situations, or rather, the lack thereof, here in the U.S.? (If you want to be depressed, go ahead and spend some time here reading about how other countries support their young families as compared to us.)

3. Back to the physicality of motherhood: I would say that this stage of mom-dom, what with all of the breast feeding and car seat carrying, has been much harder on my body than pregnancy was. In fact, the other day I said to Matt, "Putting that car seat in and out of the car is the bane of my existence."

But I don't want to end on such a negative note. After all, I spend much of my day singsonging, "I love my baby!" So, I will (kind of abruptly) leave you with this photo from a month ago.

All our love!
Amelia and Teddy

Friday, February 14, 2014

All Joy and No Fun?

Dear Kara,

I'm writing this post while sitting on the right side of the couch with the laptop on my lap and Teddy (my 5-week-old son, for the people who aren't you reading this) lying to my left, tucked between my leg and the back of the couch. It's a great position for us because while he sleeps, he writhes around, inevitably knocking his pacifier out of his mouth, resulting in a piercing yelp of discomfort followed by crying. However, in this position, I can beat him at his own game; I can hold the pacifier in place while his hands thrash around, which typically results in him going right back to sleep. (Yay!!)
Burping, Part 1
Point being, as you know (since you're about 8 months pregnant), there are a million books on parenting, and I don't know about you, but I'm not interested in most of them as I feel like they're just going to stress me out about how I could be doing things much better, how I could be molding my offspring into an award-winning specimen of humanity(!). That being said, I came across a review of All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood, which focuses on the effects of children on their parents instead of the much more common book about the opposite. It sounded interesting, and I made a mental note to possibly purchase it. Then, I discovered that my dear friend Terry Gross recently interviewed the author, Jennifer Senior, so instead of ordering the book, I listened to the interview.

Truth be told, I still may order the book. I'm not sure. Some of what Senior had to say I didn't want to hear: how hard it is to be a parent, how marriages typically take a hit, etc. But then some of the things she said made me excited about the road that lies ahead. For example:

Senior tells Terry:

The adolescent brain is this really interesting thing. First of all, the prefrontal cortex is not quite done developing. And the prefrontal cortex is what is responsible for kind of rational decision-making and planning and impulse control. So there's a reason that, like, teenage kids, like, take dumb risks. You know, I mean the mechanism that actually should be functioning as their break pedal is not fully developed; it's a rather weak break.

They also tend to sort of overestimate the reward that they will get from taking risks, which is interesting to me. Their brains are just awash in dopamine, which is the feel-good hormone, so they feel everything very, very, very intensely - and that's everything from crushes to, you know, rejection. It's the good and the bad. So it's a real adventure having been in the house.

Awash in dopamine! Crushes! Rejection! Doesn't that just remind you of high school? And won't that be fun/fascinating to witness?

This section of the interview I found to be equal parts scary and fun-sounding:

Again, here's Senior:

Toddlers do not have the machinery to reason. They live in the permanent present, they barely have any prefrontal cortex to speak of. But all of us seem to make the same mistake. We argue with them as if logic played - will have any sway over these kids...

It's one of the hardest things for parents to do, but... if you can live with your kid in the permanent present, it's a lovely place to be and it's why people, when they meditate try and be in the permanent present. I mean there's a lot to be said for living right in that moment right there with your kid, eyeball to eyeball. They also they live tacitly, you know, they live like through their senses, so they're all about, like, kind of getting their hands gooey, playing with Play-Doh and mud and stuff like that. And, you know, they like building things and making snow forts. And if you can just suspend all that noise, if you can just ignore that running endless tickertape of concerns that's just looping and whipping through your head, it is glorious.

OK, this nap of Teddy's is definitely winding down. But what do you think? Does this book sound like a winner to you?
Burping, Part 2
I'm currently following the guidance of Harvey Karp's The Happiest Baby Guide to Great Sleep: Simple Solutions for Kids from Birth to 5 Years, which has you swaddling your baby for all naps and nighttime sleeping, and sometimes, mostly when Teddy is fighting the swaddle for access to his hands, I wonder if these books are part of that noise Senior is talking about in the above section. I mean, people have been parenting since the beginning of time without all of these books, just intuiting their babies' needs by simply observing them. OK, he's basically awake.
On that note, I must go and observe him!


Dearest Amelia,

Well, what excuse can one make?  That it is winter, that I'm 35 weeks pregnant, that I really like to sleep?  The week-plus-four-days it took me to write back might be some indication of my schedule of late, as in, WTF, World?  Could you slow down for one measly minute?  There's a pregnant lady here.  Thank you.

But wait!  You were talking about being present.  Sinking into the noise, embracing the chaos, letting go of logic.  Right?  Let's just say, the noisemaker my friend gave me for when my baby arrives is already being employed nightly, because nothing sounds better to me than its fake waves crashing against its speaker.  I need a lot of presence right now.  In fact, I'm starving for it.

I am also glad you brought up this book, All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood, because someone close to me recently referenced this idea of the teenage brain, and while this person was horrified by the lack of teenage brain cohesion, all I could think was, That sounds awesome!  I can't wait to have a teenager!!!

And it's true.  I've always liked teenagers because of, I suppose, their raw transactions with life, their lack of inhibition when it comes to creativity, and their rad bed-head. 

In your last Grizzly & Golden post, you wrote, ...what I'd rather be is the mom who, while she may not be doing everything the way she'd hoped, or perhaps with as much grace as she'd have liked, can stop the spiraling down, forgive herself for not living up to her expectations, and move on.

Therefore, in a year, you report back about how being a graceful mother is going.  In 12 or 13 years, I will report back about living with a teenager.  Specifically, which of us - the child or myself - is daily consuming more sugar.

I stumbled upon a review today of a book called Raising Happiness, which I will not be reading, mostly because my brain is fried from birthing books and I need some fiction and/or memoir to retreat to my beloved, dreaming, right-brain happy space. 

I have heard about the book Raising Happiness but, as you say, cannot bring myself to read many parenting books.  (This reminds me of the time I told my boss I wanted to have kids "just to see what happens."  He found this a terrifically bad idea but I stand by it.  I want to see what the little souls will dream up.  I want to egg on their wildness and see what they discover without maniacal coaching, grooming, expectation, etc.) 

What I liked about the reviewer's blog post, however, was the following excerpt she highlighted (and yes, I'm quoting a blog quoting a book.  English professors everywhere may now throw up):

According to Carter, “emotions in general are just plain contagious.”  She goes on to tell us of the various studies that demonstrate the link between depressed parents and “negative outcomes” in their children – and of evidence that shows that kids “reap the benefits” when their parents are happy.   

I was thinking this morning what attributes might possibly benefit someone as a mother.  One I could point to and feel somewhat good about was knowing how to take care of oneself.  I don't know how sustainable self-care habits are once a babe actually arrives, but I do know the value of them, and believe in tending to them stubbornly, above all else.  The excerpt from Raising Happiness made me feel a little better about all the plans I have to keep my writing habits and baking sprees and to get boat loads of fresh air.  Is it possible my journaling-with-headphones-on happiness will be that contagious, that my child will "reap the benefits" of some mild but pleasurable forms of neglect?  I sure hope so!  If not, we might all be screwed. 

XOXO & Thanks in advance for all the parenting advice you'll soon supply!

Friday, October 25, 2013

A Humbling

Dear Amelia

Is it unhumble to talk about a time when you've been humbled, do you think?  Well, nuts.  Either way, I have some things to say:

1. One awkward part of being an artist / introvert is having the urge, when talking to other people, to reference your own art or previous articulations, rather than just have a normal conversation.  It's almost a form of deja vu, listening to someone talk about a topic you've maybe written an essay about, and having to restrain yourself from saying, "I've written an essay about that very thing!"  Usually, only another artist can relate in that moment, but these references are something you manage seamlessly in your conversations, and I envy that about you. 

All this is to say: I once wrote a blog post and included Rumi's poem "Dissolver of Sugar" that concludes with the line: I need more grace than I thought

I've been thinking a lot about this lately, and how true it is, which brings me to lingering embarrassment about my response to your last Grizzly & Golden entry, about the pristinely talented Vampire Weekend.  I feel like my reaction to your story about experiencing monkey mind was a little dismissive or know it all-y.  Like, even though I haven't found meditation to be my thing for the past two years, and more prefer running and writing to sitting alone on a cushion in silence, I could have been more inclusive about the topic.

Also, lately I've been thinking: Wow, I really need meditation.  Not only do I want to slow down my mind, but the reason I want to slow down my mind is so I can hear what my heart is saying on a more consistent and receptive basis.

2. In June, The Atlantic published an article called The Secret to Being Both a Successful Writer and a Mother: Have Just One Kid.  The article made my blood boil before I read a word, because it pictured Susan Sontag, Alice Walker, Margaret Atwood, and Joan Didion across the top, and at least two of those people make me want to throw up in my mouth if I think about them as role models.
Therefore, Jane Smiley's entry in the comments section of that article made me inordinately happy.  Here is what she wrote: 

I am Jane Smiley. I have written 23 books. I won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. My last novel, Private Life, was named best novel of the year by the Atlantic in 2010. I have been short-listed for the Orange Prize (Horse Heaven). I have three children of my own and two stepchildren. The key is not having one child, it is living in a place where there is excellent daycare and a social world that allows fathers to have the time and the motivation to fully share in raising kids. Ames, Iowa, where I lived for many years was just such a place. I thank you, Iowa State University and the Ames Community Pre-School Center for enabling my career and my life as a mother.

Jane Smiley, knocking her bio pics out of the park.

Remember when I thought being able to say, When I was young and knew Virginia Woolf would be the coolest thing ever?  Perhaps, I am Jane Smiley.  I have written 23 books, is a nice runner up.

I also love that Ames, Iowa is held up as a supportive locale for a woman's career.  Take that, coastal cities!

I attended a leadership conference last week called the Women's Success Forum.  (Naturally, Tim kept calling it my "Women's Victory Summit.")  My favorite part of the Summit/Forum was seeing so many women who believe in being yourself in work and family. This Jane Smiley comment does the same thing for me.  (Actually, it probably does a lot more for me than the 8 hours I spent in a conference center.)  I'm not someone who always wanted a family, or even to work very much, if I'm being totally honest.  But I want a family now and I am happy working my tail off career-wise at the same time. 

I just want to do whatever I choose to do for my life, however I choose to do it. Maybe it's because of the women who have come before us, some famous, some not, but this thankfully feels possible.  Do you agree? 



Oh, Kara, how I love this above post! (And not just because you threw me a compliment, a compliment, which, while I accept, I can't recall an example of! But, don't worry, I will take your word for it!)

1. Another awkward part of being an artist/introvert is not wanting to talk about an experience too much because you want to turn it into an essay and you fear that talking about it may somehow ruin what you have to say before you've properly said it. Specifically, this is how I feel about my 95-year-old grandma's recent weeklong visit.

2. You have more grace than you think you do. I did not feel like you responded to my monkey-mind post dismissively at all! Which brings me to the fact that I'm in my 31st week of pregnancy and seem to see everything in terms of becoming a parent in the next two months. As you know, I'm reading Bringing up Bébé, which I'm very much enjoying. I may feel differently about it once I have a kid or two, but right now, there are certain sections I'm very glad to be reading now. One of which is the section about the American mom that kept calling herself a bad mother. And how she said it so much, it almost seemed like a comfort to her. In short, I could see myself as that mother, the one who is constantly apologizing and feeling like she's doing things wrong. But what I'd rather be is the mom who, while she may not be doing everything the way she'd hoped, or perhaps with as much grace as she'd have liked, can stop the spiraling down, forgive herself for not living up to her expectations, and move on. (Which--to come full circle--I hope you don't take as me dismissing your feelings that you your post was dismissive. (Ha!) But do you see what I'm saying?)

3. Let's talk about Jane Smiley! Who knew that an Internet comment could be so awesome? And to answer your question: yes! I do think that because of the women who came before us, we have so much more freedom in the way we want to live our lives in terms of our careers and family life. However, your question immediately brought to mind this great interview Terry Gross recently did with Debora Spar, the president of Barnard College, in which Spar discusses the state of feminism today. Here's a quote:

Just pick up any magazine off the shelves: Women are expected to be beautiful and sexy and to revel in those things really from the time they're quite young to the time they're quite old. That expectation is just out there. It's in the ether; it's in the music we listen to; it's in the books we read. I think it's unrealistic to assume that just because a woman shows up in a business school or on a trading floor or for an internship that somehow those other pressures are going to go away. So women really are feeling the pressure to be hugely successful professionally, and really sexy and attractive, in addition to being good mothers and everything else.
Ms. Spar references this old ad campaign as one that "conveyed this image of this sort of effortless combination of work and motherhood and sexuality and professionalism and ease."
I don't know about you, but I feel this pressure. I want to have this kid (uhm, I don't have a choice at this point), but I also don't want my relationship with my husband to change. I want to have this kid, but I also want to continue to have time to myself to write and go to yoga and be myself. I want to have this kid, but I also want to fit into my old jeans at some point in the near future, etc. etc. But realistically, I don't think this is all possible. In terms of Hollywood movie titles, something's gotta give. Right? I'm going to have to find a new normal. Right? I don't know! I guess I'll have to report back in a year or so.

In the mean time, however, I'm going to try and summon as much grace and forgiveness for my lack thereof as possible.


Monday, August 26, 2013

All Beings Want to be Happy

Hi Kara!

I think the technical term for what I've been experiencing is monkey mind. Yep, that's it! I just looked it up and wikipedia tells me that it's a Buddhist term meaning: "unsettled; restless; capricious; whimsical; fanciful; inconstant; confused; indecisive; uncontrollable."

So, I just made myself listen to a guided meditation I used to do/listen to almost once a week. (Over a year ago now, I was trying really hard to make meditation a habit, but alas, it didn't stick. And so now, I go to it sporadically, you know, when I'm desperate for my mind to calm the EF down.)

I forget exactly how I came upon this grouping of guided meditations by Sharon Salzberg, but I did. I particularly like the breathing one and the metta meditation. I love her voice and subtle encouragements. 

So I finished my metta meditation and then sat down to do some work. I put on the new Vampire Weekend album, which I love and which is very Buddhist-y itself. I suppose spiritual is a better word for it than Buddhist-y. But point being, if you listen to it from start to finish, I think you'll agree with me that the album is on an inward journey, a seeking, searching journey. For what exactly? I don't know. But I'm left with the impression that they're working it out through their music. 

I bring all this up because I didn't used to love Vampire Weekend. I mean, I liked their music OK, but my adoration was held back as I was under the impression that they were a bunch of young privileged kids from Harvard who hadn't necessarily made it big on their own. This was basically coming from a place of jealousy (duh), a place of: I could do that too if I had the connections and money! (This is also, obviously(?), embarrassing to admit as I've never truly had ambitions to be a pop star, so my jealousy must have stemmed simply from all the recognition and critical reception they received at such a young age.)

One of the things I love about the guided metta meditation Ms. Salzberg does is that she repeats over and over again how, "all beings want to be happy." She tells me that though we may not understand or agree with other people, we can recognize that they too want to be happy. It's so simple and yet, it opens my heart right up. 

Point being, I want to rid myself of this way of thinking, of this chip on my shoulder. 1. If I like the art, why should I need to like the artist? (And if I'm really going to cast judgment on the artist anyway, I should really at least do some proper investigation to see if my assumptions are even accurate.) 2. We can never really know what other people's experiences are, what they've had to endure to achieve their goals. And of course 3. We're all doing the best we can with what we were given, aren't we? All beings want to be happy. Particularly Mavis.


Dear Amelia,

1. Holy coincidence, batman.  I was just journaling about meditation this morning, and got dressed for work afterwards listening to that very Vampire Weekend album.  Freaking jinx already!

Do you want to know what I said about meditation?  Of course you do! 


2. Look, I wasn't going to quote from my journal on the internet today when I woke up, alright?  It's just that, this seems to be a good time for it. 


It's funny how judgmental we all are, and how aware of my mind I am.  I can't say I fully transcend it - and I'm not sure I'm interested in meditation anymore.  Is that bad?  Should I tell anyone?  Nah, but if people ask, I do.  I have meditated, I have been to therapy, and I have analyzed myself ad nauseum.  The biggest tool I find is being in the present moment: asking, what does this moment need, and attending to it. 

3. Do you think I'm fooling myself?  Should I be googling Sharon Salzberg and searching out a cushion right now??

4. I love what you have said about everyone wanting to be happy, about being upset with young, successful artists, and about everyone doing their very best at every moment.  According to Garrison Keillor, a man named Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said:

"If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man's life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility." 

I believe that's true. And you know what?  You ARE a hit pop music star, Amelia.  Just turn to the evidence, when haters raise their hands.