The Skin You Are In

My new article is live today called The Skin You are In. This one is staring me down with some serious vulnerability. I struggle to express exactly what I want to say about my journey with depression, but I am feeling very supported in the process by many readers and look forward to what comes of this as I keep at it.  Thank you so very much.

In a recent radio show called Mental Moms from Maternally Yours, so much bravery and honesty was shared in the voices of guests that I am still thinking about it weeks later.  Be sure to have a listen to it and enjoy these last few weeks of being able to photograph a bit more of your skin.

We Kindly Oblige

I remember bounding up the stairs past the green siding with a jug of amber sun tea always on the railing.  Each step was hotter than the last as I moved closer to my goal, the white framed screen door.  Which was the portal to Grammy and Granddad and everything that meant summer.

Two years ago, when my family beach cottage was demolished and replaced, I didn't know what to do with all the feelings I had.  There was so much loss.  Where could I put it?  Little did I know that there is a truly healing art form called an altered book taught by artist Colleen Attara.  It's the perfect place to put it all and I had the pleasure taking her course at Squam Art Workshops.  Now I know where the memories go.

Once, my grandmother pointed to a praying mantis resting on a screen, speckled with drops of dew.  Grammy called me by name, her voice sweet like the rustling breeze of salt air.  I stood beside her, and to my seven-year-old gaze, the lime-green, curving insect looked about as long as my hand. “Isn't it pretty?” she whispered.  “Can you see its hands?” I was afraid of its large head and eyes. As I looked closer, I saw elegantly folded forelimbs in prayer pose. In any other instant, I might have deemed this creature a monster or immediately forgotten about it. However, in that moment, with Grammy, I paid attention. To this day, when I see a mantis, I feel my grandmother’s fierce love for me and for the natural world.

"I think I can, I think I can, I think I can . . ."
Gram would read
It's the little blue engine that saves them.

My Grammy was a true matriarch.  
Her decision-making skills, strong opinions 
and mastery of the domestic arts inspire me now.

Now her favorite earrings, translucent sewing patterns 
and little birds call out from the pages.
She was called Fran.

And her beloved was called Edward.
His page shows a pocket knife, gears, and a wonderful mess 
in a work room that smelled like Granddad.

There are some pages just too adored to change.
Especially the mention of a well balanced meal including fresh spinach

It is always there in my mind
In my dreams
I am inside
Walking through the rooms
Touching the furniture and knick-knacks
So surprised it was still there the entire time
Then I start to cry
And wake up soaked in tears

There was rust on everything.
After months of being shoeless, the bottoms of our feet were like leather.
The rocks of our gravel driveway were only slight obstacles 
as herds of gritty grandchildren ran amuck

Sitting under the magical umbrella of laughter 
we told stories until the tide lapped at our feet and our chairs became sopping wet 
just like they did in front of Great-Grammy's old cottage
the summers before it was knocked down by a nor'easter.

A nor'easter (also northeaster) is a macro-scale storm
along the upper East Coast of the United States and Atlantic Canada;
it gets its name from the direction the wind is coming.

Then we went back
 like we do every summer.

We too looked into the sky 
for fireworks, stars, lighting,
 kites and airplanes dragging signs behind them.

her golden tan of wonder shone on her skin 
as she played in the waves of the Atlantic for her eighth summer  

I am so grateful that the new matriarch 
who calls the shots now
demands we all meet at the beach
we kindly oblige

It was extra special this year 
my little sis
was the most beautiful bride

I walked down our street this year for the first time since it's been gone
and I think of them back then
when the town was smaller
when there were only a few houses scattered here and there
when there was a bowling alley on the boardwalk
when the boys wore socks and dress shoes with their shorts
and Grammy wore skirts sewn by hand

They'd be proud of what their family has become.
I think.

when I catch a whiff of petunias and red geraniums, I know
I'll always be that little girl
who was taught by Fran and Ed
everything they knew about loving like a family

a conversation that matters

This is the About page at who "believe in the power of women, especially those who have been touched by mental illness or mental difference, to create change. . . We need the wisdom and support of others to unpack stigma of mental difference in motherhood. How does it impact your life as a mother? How did it impact your mother’s life? Or your grandmother?"

Sometimes the path is bumpy and full of roots, which leads me to be in awe of the stirring honesty of the contributors of Stigmama.  I have read Shannon's beautiful, yet painful poetry  and admire SM's strength in her abundant use of curse words.  Today, I am joining these powerful mothers on the Stigmama blog for their series "Why Do I Write?"  It's mostly pre-published material, but there is a smidgen of new writing too.   

I write to sort out the complexities of being a mom.  As my daughter stands strong before the start of second grade, I wonder how things will change for her as she grows into a women and maybe a mother.  I consider this as I raise my son in a way that honors his sensitive, sweet self forever, therefore honoring the same in the women around him.

If the intense suffering of mothers around me can be combined and conveyed with such talent, so will I strive to do the same.   It feels so much more real this way, making room for more joy to come bounding down the path at us!

The Writing Process Blog Tour

I was invited to participate in the Writing Process Blog Tour by my friend Trish Bittman.  Her delightful writing is raw, funny and filled with details of motherhood that I sometimes want to forget.  She is a freelance writer featured in many publications including Bainbridge Island Magazine, Inside Bainbridge, and Real Moms Guide at  Trish is a writer, blogger, Social Media Guru as well as a wife and mom to three girls.  She's a lover of martinis, dessert and 4-letter words and moved to Bainbridge Island after discovering it on the Internet.  It turned out to be all she hoped for and more.  Her blog is 3 Kids and a Breakdown.  Take a peek into Trish's writing process here.

I'm pretty giddy about being invited on this blog tour because of the amazing writers surrounding me.  The point is to connect like-minded people with special interests, so if you've ever wondered how other writers do what they do, all their answers are here!  Each writer tags up to three other writers answering the same four questions, so you can follow the links backward or forward to find some fascinating introspective.   Please follow the link below to my tagged writer, Sarah Sousa.  I really think she's fabulous.

Here goes!

What are you working on?
Currently, I write a monthly piece for Parentmap, about how self-portraiture has helped shift my perspective, especially when struggling with depression.  I have found it very healing to put myself, instead of my kids in front of my camera lens.  I love sharing this journey, one that used to consume me so secretly, with others.

I try my best to follow the good advice of my writing teacher and work for at least thirty minutes a day on my book.  I am writing a vibrant and sensuous memoir about depression and how it has affected me as a mom and wife.  

How does your work differ from others of its genre?
Although there is a memoir out there about everything and anything, I still feel there is more to say about depression as experienced by women.  It took me a while to write honestly about it and other dark aspects of marriage and mothering, but once I started expressing the underbelly of my troubles, the more people responded to my words.   I was trained as an artist and adore all things involving color and craft, therefore; my writing is rich with dream-like details.

Why do you write what you do?

"If there is a disjuncture between how women live and how they actually feel – which to me there is, in motherhood and marriage – I will feel entitled to attempt to articulate it." - Rachel Cusk

I write as a way to survive.  I started my blog as a lifeline, a daily practice to stay focused on the beauty in my life when I was feeling really down. My writing began as a personal practice that focused only on the happy stuff.  Now, it's a practice that keeps me honest, engaged and creative. The more I get to use my imagination to write honestly about a hard and secretive subject, the more fun life is.

How does your writing process work?

I begin by writing scenes because they lead me to what I really want to say. At least this is what I tell myself when I wonder what to write next. I love prompts and exercise which get me thinking about interesting ways to smell, touch and taste the words. I create little projects and deadlines in order to make progress on my book while trying to keep the self-criticism at bay. Once my kids are at school, I start pounding out the words. Since my little guy is only in pre-school twice a week, I cherish my six hours and never do housework at that time. It takes me a long time to write my pieces, and I hope to become more efficient (first I'll need to take some typing lessons.) Luckily, my husband believes in my writing time and understands my need to work versus cook or clean.  Maybe someday, I can support us while he does the housework, he's so much better at it!

Because Trish Bittman is the one who shared these exact steps in the Creative Process, I will share them again here too.  Now that I know these thoughts will occur every single time I sit down to write, I'm getting used to it.

1. This is awesome.

2. This is tricky.

3. This is shit.

4. I am shit.

5. This might be o.k.

6. This is awesome.

Okay, enough about me, now let me introduce you to the poet Sarah Sousa!  I fell in love with her poetry based on the red-leather diary of forty-two-year-old pregnant and abused farmhouse wife Esther Small from 1896.  Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Massachusetts Review, Fugue, Passages North and Salt Hill Journal among others. Her first collection, Church of Needles, was published by Red Mountain Press in May 2014; her second collection, Split the Crow, will be published in late 2014 by Free Verse Editions (Parlor Press). She holds an MFA from Bennington College and lives in Western Massachusetts with her husband and two sons.

Mama's point of view

As family vacation comes to an end, I am
wishing time would slow down with these growing boys
 loving the feeling of walking on water waiting for dolphins
relishing in the late afternoon light

they just want their Mama

You will never be this loved again.  So on those days when you are feeling stressed out, touched out, and depleted, just remember that you will never be this loved again.  One day you will long for their affection.  So choose a soft voice, choose gentle hands, choose love. - AK

I love this quote because there are so many days like this.  I just want to push them away and say "No!  Leave me alone!" but it's not long before they return to my lap with all they know, they just want their Mama.  Their touch and smell often shock me back into the moment of how much I will miss them when they are gone.  With both hands, I can usually dive into the demands and pressures of mothering but one winter, I could not.  I continue to dig through this complex experience of mothering through writing.  In my latest article, I mention my dreams for the kind of family I wanted and start to describe what it felt like when I fell apart.

Shadow Selfies: Exploring the Isolation of Mothering 

This month, use abundant sunshine to take selfies with shadows. Say something about your relationships with posture.
  1. Using the textures and patterns of your life as a background, strike a pose that expresses you in bold or delicate ways.
  2. In 2007, thousands of hidden images were discovered by an unknown female street photographer/nanny. Check out the amazing film Finding Vivian Meier to appreciate endless beautiful images and an engaging story about her life.
  3. Try the free frames and effects at befunky or my favorite, the old Polaroid frame at picmonkey.
  4. Remember to attempt to copy what you love and give credit to those who’ve inspired you.
  5. Hashtag your Instagram photos #parentmapselfies, @parentmap so we see your creative images of parenting! 

A Visit to the Stone House

Our trip to Lopez Island started with three girls that have been friends since they were only months old (and siblings) picking raspberries bigger than I have ever seen before.

then we took to the water and needless to say, the beaches on the island are very, very good . . .

But the trails to our afternoon beach forays were lovely adventures in themselves.

And returning each evening to witness what my friends have done with their stone house was inspiring and delightful.

The children ran off to play in the forest immediately upon arrival and became more and more comfortable in the woods as the days went on.  It took us grown-ups a little longer to steal away from reconnecting with one another, but soon we were in there too.  The dappled light was magical and as I meandered along the deer trails, I was asked to clear the way making it passable for humans too.  The beauty was remarkable, enough to make you sprawl out in the grass to take it all in.  Thank you for a magnificent weekend ladies!