Archive for the ‘Summer’ Tag
Last week my baby started first grade. Which means that from the hours of 9:00 to 3:30 each day, all of my children are now in school. When a friend recently asked me how I felt about that I answered: “Euphoric and terrified at the same time.” Euphoric because I can finally focus on finishing my novel and getting it out there. Terrified for the very same reason.
I realized how scared I really was about this on the morning my kids started school. As soon as they were out the door, I jumped on my mountain bike and headed up to the foothills near our home. I was almost to the top of the trail when a large, tawny-colored animal crossed the path ahead of me and disappeared into the trees. It had only been about 30 feet in front of me, but with the bend in the trail I hadn’t gotten a good glimpse of it. Most likely it was a mule deer. They live in these hills, and come down from the mountains in small herds to devour any unprotected vegetable garden in their path. But as it hurried away into the scrub oak, I swear I saw a long TAIL. My brain screamed MOUNTAIN LION, and I turned my bike so quickly in the opposite direction that I hit my back wheel on a rock and got a flat tire.
I hurried out of the park as fast as I could, and took the paved road back home. Unfortunately, that road took me by the cemetery, and as I walked past, pushing my bike alongside me, I noticed the vultures that nest in our city cemetery circling overhead, their great dark wings hanging heavily against the sky. “If I were writing a story,” I thought. “The mountain lion and the vultures would make really potent symbols.” I continued to ponder this. “What,” I wondered, “would they represent?”
And of course, that is when it hit me: fear. My own fear. Of failure.
I had to laugh at myself then. And laughing gave me just enough courage to sit down and write, so as soon as I got home, I pulled out my computer and got to work. Now I’m struggling through. I have to admit, it is taking a LOT of chocolate. But I am looking fear in the face and I am doing it. I haven’t seen any more mountain lions slink past, and the vultures have stopped circling overhead. I found a quote recently that I need to blow up in ginormous writing so that I can remember it if a shadow passes above me, or something heavy moves in the trees. It is by Gordon B. Hinckley and it goes like this: ”You have not failed until you quit trying.”
The best part of the summer for my kids is when we pack up the van and drive to Boise to get some special loving from Babbo, Nana, aunts, uncles, and lots and lots of cousins. We don’t sleep much, but we have a lot of fun. On our recent trip, my dad planned a special outing for the aunts and uncles – me and my sisters and brothers. He took the six of us to lunch. I can’t remember the last time all of us were together like that. It was so nice to talk and laugh, and just look at the faces across the table and feel the special bond of family.
While we were talking, my dad mentioned an uncle of his. “Which uncle?” we wanted to know. “The one who doesn’t eat sugar? The one who lives alone?” My brother, who was sitting at my left, leaned toward me to say, “I wonder which uncle I’ll be.”
Two days later this same brother showed up at my mom’s house with a box full of wooden dowels, a sander, glue guns and glue sticks, paint, paint brushes, glazes and sealants. He asked his nieces and nephews what kind of magic wands they preferred and spent the day sanding, sculpting, and painting, making the most amazing Harry Potter wands you will ever see. My kids were thrilled. They performed magic spells up and down the backyard the rest of the evening and far into the afternoon the next day. They brought their wands home and stowed them away in special and secret places until magic is called for again. I have a feeling the wands will become heirlooms, passed through generations with stories of their magic charms, spells cast and counter-cast, enemies defeated, and tricks performed.
And I am fairly certain that as my kids grow and have kids of their own, my brother Ryan will be a special uncle to them all. Which uncle will he be? The Magic Uncle. The Wand-maker. The Wizard.
Saturday evening we drove home from a bike race up in Park City, happy, tired and covered in dirt. When we turned into our quiet town, we looked up to see this welcoming us home:
It arched, end to end, over Alpine. We followed its ribbon of color to see if we could find the elusive rainbow’s end. Of course we never could quite reach it, but the colors were so vivid, it really did seem we could reach out and catch hold of it.
Moments after coming home the sun broke out from behind the clouds and the rainbow was gone, but it left its imprint in my mind, along with these words by William Wordsworth:
My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky;
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
Clearly I am no videographer, but on Friday we took a trip to Wonderland, and here is what we brought back:
The foothills near our home are covered in sagebrush and scrub oak. A trail system for bikers, joggers, and horses winds upward through the scraggly growth, sometimes exposing startled creatures that make their homes in the hills. I’ve seen mountain bluebirds, magpies, rabbits, bats, and have fortunately avoided the rattlesnakes other mountain bikers have come across. When I’m up in the hills alone, I tend to ride quickly, not looking around. The truth is, and I’ve never admitted this, I’m afraid that one of these times I’ll run into a cougar. I even bring my ipod when I ride alone, to distract me from thinking about mountain lion teeth and claws.
The other evening I was riding through the hills a little closer to dusk than I would have liked. Places where the path passed under clusters of trees, the shadows felt ominous. I cranked my ipod up a little louder.
And then a heavy movement from above my head stopped me in my tracks. I braked quickly and looked up to see a huge owl, wings outsretched, settling into a perch in the branches of a scrub oak.
I shut off my ipod and inched my bike closer to the tree. The owl folded in its gray wings and hunched down between twigs and branches. Two scrappy birds, what my husband calls camp crows, shot out of the tree and began haranguing the owl with a loud and incessant cawing. The owl continued his hunch, hostile and irritated like a grumpy old man. The birds kept squawking at the owl, shouting at him to get up and move. Finally the owl couldn’t stand it any longer and lifted its expansive wings. That simple movement communicated a swiftness and power that belied the sleepiness of the great bird, and I wondered at the crows audacity in hassassing him like they did.
He flew east, and I pedaled in the opposite direction, awed by my encounter with nature – magnificent and rude. I rode the rest of the way home without my ipod, just in case, and when I got home I pulled out OWLS AND OTHER FANTASIES by Mary Oliver. I turned to page 17 and smiled as I read:
I have two feathers from the big owl. One I found near Round Pond; the other, on another day, fell as I watched the bird rise from one tree and flap into another. As the owl rose, some crows caught sight of it, and so began another scrimmage in their long battle. The owl wants to sleep, but the crows pursue it and when it settles a second time the crows – now a dozen – gather around and above it, and scream into its face, with open beaks and wagging tongues. They come dangerously close to its feet, which are huge and quick. The caught crow is a dead crow. But it is not in the nature of crows to hide or cower — it is in their nature to gather and to screech and to gamble in the very tree where death stares at them with molten eyes. What fun, to aggravate the old bomber! What joy, to swipe at the tawny feathers even as the bird puffs and hulks and hisses.
But finally the owl rises from the trees altogether and climbs and floats away, over two or three hills, and the crows go off to some other merriment.
And I walk on, over the shoulder of summer and down across the red-dappled fall; and, when it’s late winter again, out through the far woodlands of the Provincelands, maybe another few hundred miles, looking for the owl’s nest, yes, of course, and looking at everything else along the way.
Earlier this summer we took a family trip to Bear Lake. One evening, sitting on the deck of our cabin, a blur of beating wings interrupted our view of the blue water. I heard it before I saw it – the buzz that tore a hole in the air, slicing it open as neatly and swiftly as a seam ripper. The loud chirrup. And then the tiny flash of beak and feathers. There was a pause of conversation, of thoughts and of words, as we briefly pondered the world of the hummingbird.
HummingbirdsThe female, and two chicks,each no bigger than my thumb,scattered,shimmeringin their pale-green dresses;then they rose, tiny fireworks,into the leavesand hovered;then they sat down,each one with dainty, charcoal feet -each one on a slender branch -and looked at me.I had meant no harm,I had simplyclimbed the treefor something to doon a summer day,not knowing they were there,ready to burst the ledgesof their mossy nestand to fly, for the first time,in their sea-green helmets,with brisk, metallic tails -each tulled wing,with every dollop of flight,drawing a perfect wheelacross the air.Then, with a series of jerks,they paused in front of meand, dark-eyed, stared -as though I were a flower -and then,like three tosses of silvery water,they were gone.Alone,in the crown of the tree,I went to China,I went to Prague;I died, and was born in the spring;I found you, and loved you, again.Later the darkness felland the solid moonlike a white pond rose.But I wasn’t in any hurry.Likely I visted allthe shimmering, heart-stabbingquestions without answersbefore I climbed down.
Four weeks ago I posted about the chaos of summer, and the challenge it is to find time to be creative in my home full of busy little bodies. Here was the conclusion that I came to:
My creative life is not compartmentalized. Who I am doesn’t have to be something separate from who my kids need me to be. It is time for me to learn how to feed on chaos.
A good friend of mine, Emily, who is Co-Editor-in-Chief of the The Exponent, an online publication for LDS women, asked to repost my blog entry on the Exponent blog. I received several comments from readers, including one with a frankness that made me laugh. It went like this:
Let us know when you figure out how to feed on chaos.
I appreciated the honesty of this remark. It is one thing to say you are going to feed on chaos, it is another thing entirely to start taking it in in great mouthfulls. But this is what I have learned in the past month.
First – I am a person who needs calm and quiet when I work. I can’t set my computer up at the kitchen table and expect to get anything worthwhile completed on my novel when kids are running in and out the back door looking for more popsicles or crying over bee stings. I know that about myself. It is just how I am, and that is okay. For me, feeding on chaos does not mean completely succombing to it.
Second – I don’t need to set aside long periods of time to be productive. I used to think I needed at least an hour hollowed out from my day where nobody and nothing could disrupt me from my writing. But that doesn’t work when you are feeding on chaos. I’ve learned that ten minutes of quiet can be enough. In fact, if I get up from my computer after just ten or fifteen minutes, I find that I haven’t exhausted my creativity like I would if I sat down for an hour or longer. After ten minutes I leave my quiet office with my mind still open and reaching, and as a result ideas follow me around the rest of the day. Much better ideas than the ones that come while I am sitting at my desk, pleading with my computer screen to somehow make the words come out right.
So I feel like I have, in some measure, learned how to feed on chaos. I’m not going to win any contests for speed or productivity, but I’ve been able to be where I want to be with my family and still keep my creative self alive, and that makes me happy.
The kids are home from school. I want to be thrilled about it. I spent the last two months counting the days with them. Envisioning the warm summer afternoons, watching my kids grow. Learning together. Reading together. Playing together. But after just one week, I am trying to hold together the loose and fraying ends of my sanity. What is my problem?
It’s the chaos. Now, if you saw the monthly calendar on the fridge with its minute outline of each day’s schedule you’d know that absolute laws and principles govern this little universe of ours. Chores, reading time, activities, field trips and lessons. I’m trying to balance that with the free time that summer requires – lazy hours to enjoy the sun, the spray of sprinklers, the chase of a butterfly. Hopefully I can pull it off. But what I am finding is that all my little people want all of me all day long. There is no quiet time or empty space to work on my writing.
I really want to enjoy this summer with my kids. And so far, I am loving our time together. But something has to change if I am going to survive – or if I want my kids to still like me by the end of the summer. An article I read recently in the June/July 2010 issue of Quilter’s Home magazine made me realize that the change has to be in my perspective.
Professional quilter Matt Sparrow is the father of eight children, and works from home. In his Quilter’s Home article, he shares his experience.
“Here’s a typical day at the Sparrow home: Kids drawing on the walls with permanent marker; clogging the sink with toilet paper; turning on the tap and walking away; and taking my pins, scissors, marking pens and thread to stash in the treasure chest of things they love to hide from Dad.”
Okay. So that sounds similar to what I experienced today. Mine went more like this: Kids fighting over the toy light sabers and injuring each other in the process; a full bowl of breakfast cereal spilled all over the floor; an ant infestation in the laundry room; and a two year old sticking a plastic bead up his nose and getting it stuck there. And that is just scratching the surface.
So how do you deal with all that? Here is what Sparrow says: ”I had to accept the head-slamming idea that my creativity would wilt and die if it couldn’t feed on chaos.”
Head-slamming is right. I’ve always need an empty room and total quiet to write. But my gut tells me to listen to Sparrow. Especially when he follows that up with this question: “Did you ever consider that the very things you thought were holding you back may actually be guiding the path you were meant to follow?”
That is it. The perspective I need to maintain my sanity, my creativity, and to save my summer. My creative life is not compartmentalized. Who I am doesn’t have to be something separate from who my kids need me to be. It is time for me to learn how to feed on chaos.