What If This Is As Good As It Gets?

This morning at work I glanced at my desk calendar to schedule a meeting. The calendar was still on its last page, and filled with scribbles of end-of-year meetings and lunches and parties and plans. It was full, and it was over. I closed it, and opened my new calendar for 2013. The calendar pages are startling white and completely empty. This actual blank slate makes me feel simultaneously giddy and untethered.

I don’t make resolutions. I’m a realist when it comes to grand declarations of change- I know I’m not going to completely change my eating habits, turn off the television for good, and become a runner. But there is something about the start of the new year, especially after the chaos of the holidays, that gives me pause. Looking at that clean page makes me feel like change is possible, probable even. Change is good, and thinking about what needs to change in your life can never be a bad thing.

2012 was personally a good year for me. Among other good things, it brought the birth of my baby girl. But out in the world, the end of 2012 was a snarling mass of bad news and even worse news. By the end of December, I was left thinking over and over: how much more can we endure? Most of us felt a collective relief to turn that page, both literally and figuratively, into 2013.

This thought hit me the other day: what if this is as good as it gets? What if I will never have it better than I have it now? What if I will never have more money? What if I will never be as healthy as I am now? Am I making the most of it? Am I living the life I want?

In a world that can feel increasingly dark and full of despair, what else can I be but grateful that I even have time and energy to contemplate how to make my life better? It’s a gift to be able to think about such things, a gift that my days are filled with mundane thoughts about eating better and writing more and noticing more. It is a choice and a privilege to focus on the better and to turn towards the light. The resolutions we choose might be silly or superficial or doomed to fail, but the act of making resolutions is our way of choosing hope.

Instead of resolutions, I’m making intentions. I’m not sure what that will look like. I’d like to live my life with more intention, with more careful action. I want to live closer to what I know is true. I want to eat food that makes me feel good. I want to move, luxuriate in the feeling of my body getting stronger and doing what it was meant to do. I want to sit quietly, by myself and among my family, pay more attention and listen better. I want to soak up every moment and every feeling while I can. My son is three, and full of high-pitched giggles, poop jokes, sudden tears, and hilarious questions. He is gorgeous, blonde and skinny and slightly sweaty and his eyes are so blue and unclouded. He won’t be three for much longer. My daughter is seven months, and her perfection takes my breath away. She is feisty and loud, so soft and smells so sweet. I want to gulp down her innocence. She won’t be seven months for much longer. I want to be a witness to my own life, stand up and raise my hands and testify: ” THIS is who I am, what I love, what I do. THIS is my life.”

So this year, I choose hope. I choose love. I choose my kids. I choose me. I choose my husband, every day. What do you choose?

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i don’t know where prayers go

(the morning after the morning after)


I don’t know where prayers go,
or what they do.
Do cats pray, while they sleep
half-asleep in the sun?
Does the opossum pray as it
crosses the street?
The sunflowers? The old black oak
growing older every year?
I know I can walk through the world,
along the shore or under the trees,
with my mind filled with things
of little importance, in full
self-attendance.  A condition I can’t really
call being alive.
Is a prayer a gift, or a petition,
or does it matter?
The sunflowers blaze, maybe that’s their way.
Maybe the cats are sound asleep.  Maybe not.

While I was thinking this I happened to be standing
just outside my door, with my notebook open,
which is the way I begin every morning.
Then a wren in the privet began to sing.
He was positively drenched in enthusiasm,
I don’t know why.  And yet, why not.
I wouldn’t persuade you from whatever you believe
or whatever you don’t.  That’s your business.
But I thought, of the wren’s singing, what could this be
if it isn’t a prayer?
So I just listened, my pen in the air.

~Mary Oliver

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(beauty the brave)


This morning the green fists of the peonies are getting ready
to break my heart
as the sun rises,
as the sun strokes them with his old, buttery fingers

and they open–
pools of lace,
white and pink–
and all day the black ants climb over them,

boring their deep and mysterious holes
into the curls,
craving the sweet sap,
taking it away

to their dark, underground cities–
and all day
under the shifty wind,
as in a dance to the great wedding,

the flowers bend their bright bodies,
and tip their fragrance to the air,
and rise,
their red stems holding

all that dampness and recklessness
gladly and lightly,
and there it is again–
beauty the brave, the exemplary,

blazing open.
Do you love this world?
Do you cherish your humble and silky life?
Do you adore the green grass, with its terror beneath?

Do you also hurry, half-dressed and barefoot, into the garden,
and softly,
and exclaiming of their dearness,
fill your arms with the white and pink flowers,

with their honeyed heaviness, their lush trembling,
their eagerness
to be wild and perfect for a moment, before they are
nothing, forever?

~Mary Oliver

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Just Write- The Deep End of Parenthood

I am sitting in a tiny French bistro near my house. The coffee here is good enough that I don’t need to add milk, a plus since I have cut out milk after Tigerlily’s arrival. I planned to write, for the first time in months. There is no WiFi, but I have a small notebook. I stare at the blank page and get ready to immerse myself. Out of the corner of my eye, my croissant waits patiently. It is a perfect croissant, large and golden and airy. I notice the ends of the croissant are folded over on top of each other, and it reminds me of Tigerlily’s newborn picture, the one I have chosen for her birth announcements. She is curled up on her stomach, her legs tucked under her and her feet sticking out behind her but intertwined- like matching puzzle pieces or a cat’s tail, her feet belong together. And I think, I should be home with her, breathing in every minute of her newbornness.

A recent weekend. O is up early and like a cannonball shot from a cannon, bursts into awakeness with energy to burn. He is insistent and loud and joyful and tearful and like a pebble in your shoe or a fire alarm, impossible to ignore or tune out. He is inside, he is outside. He is stomping in puddles, he is burying his cars in the rain. He is giggling sweetly, he wants a snack, a piece of cheese, some fruit, a lollipop. He wants you to look at him. He wants to do it by himself. He is crying hysterically now, he wants something that even he can’t articulate. He drops his cookie, the dog eats it. He smears cheese all over the wall. He screams at me to go away. He begs to sit in my lap, tells me he misses me so much.

Same weekend. Tigerlily screams and refuses to nurse at every single feeding time. Is she fussy? Is she starving? Is she full? Does she have gas? Is it reflux? Is it an allergy to something I’m eating? Is it the position? Is it the time of day/the room I’m in/the day of the week? What is causing this, causing my sweet baby to scream in my ear, scream in my face, scream with her mouth open so big is swallows her face? I can’t help but to take it personally, to feel like she is screaming at me. She hates me already.

I think, thank God the nanny will be here on Monday. Thank God O has camp to go to for part of the day. Thank God I don’t have to do this all day, every day, without help, without a break. When the nanny comes, I will steal away to the coffee shop, do some writing, have one hour just for me.

But here it is, a day that I have help, that I can grab an hour to myself. And I’m thinking I should be there instead. I shouldn’t outsource her newborn time, shouldn’t let someone else hold her and breathe in her yummy newborn smell. I should be there for all of it. After all, it goes so fast, it won’t last forever, I will have to return to work soon enough. Soon she will be trailing O, wanting a snack, playing in the puddles, throwing a tantrum.

Parents talk about balance. I’ve talked about balance, about finding the balance between motherhood and working, between kids and your own identity, between being present for your kids and also finding time to devote to things that you love. And today I realize that it’s crap, this idea of balance. Because having kids is all about the overwhelming moment. Parenthood is all or nothing and it is lived in the extremes. Like a toddler, being a parent is insistently, intensely and overwhelmingly Present- not past, not future, just now. Trying to balance anything, trying to do one thing while thinking of another, just makes me angry or annoyed or impatient. It’s like dipping your toes in the shallow end, slowly letting the chilled water creep up, past your ankles and then your knees, letting yourself get “used to” the water. The whole time you are thinking about it, about the water and if it’s too cold and if you really want to be swimming and if you should get your hair wet or not, do you really want to take a shower, is it worth it? The whole time you are thinking about swimming, you aren’t actually swimming. You are evaluating and analyzing. Whereas when you just jump in, the cold water rushes up to greet you and tumble over you and possess you fully in one instant, every inch of you all at once. You are IN it, and you are swimming. You are just being, just doing one thing. Swimming in water. No negotiating, no worrying about your hair. You’re all in.

You can’t tiptoe into parenthood, or get used to it. It doesn’t wait for you to catch up or decide that you are comfortable, so you might as well just dive in. I’m in a hard phase right now, and I’m trying to be okay with being overwhelmed. To be okay with being submerged in the deep end of parenthood.


I wrote this a month ago, when Tigerlily (not her real name) was about 6 weeks old and we were in the deep end. I planned on editing it, but decided to just post it, bad writing and all, as it was exactly how I felt at the time. Tigerlily is now almost 12 weeks old, and we have learned to tread water and are surviving beautifully now. Although we still haven’t mailed out those birth announcements yet. Maybe next week.

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Five for Five: Word Up & Just Write


A word is dead
When it is said,
Some say.
I say it just
Begins to live
That day.”
– Emily Dickinson (“A Word is Dead”)

Don’t say it, you beg him, but silently. In your head you are having one conversation, with him you are having another. The words hover in between, the air is charged and if you strain you swear you can see the molecules collecting and moving, the atoms bouncing wildly off of what is left unsaid. If he says it, out loud, it is done. It is real.

It is already real, of course. You know this, already, by your intuition, by the way that something in your chest feels heavier than the rest of you. It is as if there is a impish being that sits in the space between your heart and your rib cage, crammed into that hollow space that was waiting for it, swinging its feet and licking a lollipop.  Swallowing every full glance and misunderstood word, every story that is not quite right, every way he averts his eyes when you ask him that question. She collects them all, gleefully, until she is too full and something must be done.

So we have the words. And yes, you already know it is broken. But before the words are actually spoken and given life, there is still us. When he says that word, when he breathes out yes, it is done. What was youandme is now you. And me. Because these words have the power to dismantle things. He says, yes, it’s true, and you think, now I have to lose you. The imp inside you has long ago tossed aside her lollipop, and is hunched over with the weight of what she is carrying. She has to let it go, and it slides out of you, and you think, I am coming undone.


Waiting for a phone to ring when you expect bad news. You pick up the phone. You should feel terror, anxiety. You should be nervous. But you are not. You simply do what is expected. Sit up. Lift the phone. Look at the number, a doctor’s office. Think you should say a prayer but you don’t. The prayers have already been said. You consider letting it go to voice mail, but then whatever is to be said will be recorded. Longer lasting. A human voice that disappears is better. Click yes, I will accept this call. You say hello. A man, a kind man, says something like “Well, there’s big trouble in little China”. Or he says “Is your husband with you?” Or he clears his throat, stepping up to the platform, ready to dive in. That’s all you need to hear. You don’t need the words, the actual words to confirm what you already know. But he says them anyways. And you think, five minutes ago, this wasn’t true. Five minutes ago, I didn’t know, not for sure.

The real shock doesn’t come when you are waiting for the phone call. The real shock happens when you are thinking about if you can make that trip to Belize in your condition, if you should ask the doctor. Or you are thinking about a party that is happening that weekend, and if  you should wear your black skirt or your leather pants. Or maybe you’re thinking about the way the doctor’s nose hair seems abnormally long for someone that spends a lot of time looking down at a person. Whatever you are thinking, it is not about the thing that is about to change your life. I wonder, do the doctors ever hesitate, knowing that when they speak, your life gets split in two? Before and after? Do they want to wait, to let you live in your before world for just a moment longer? Because these words, they have the power to destroy. A dream of something. A person you used to be. A life you thought was about to be.


He says “I do”. The sun is dappling, actually dappling through the trees. You feel beautiful and your dress is right. The flowers dangle from the trees and you somehow know enough to look up, to really take it in, to not let it all fly by too quickly. You thought about the dress and the flowers and the risotto and the duck quesadilla appetizers, and the poem to be read, and the song to be danced to. You thought of it all. But you did not think of the vows much, the classic words that you chose. You wanted the tradition, of course, but expected the words to float by you in that way that all big moments seem to float. It is only later that you can take in the big moments. But this, you did not expect. When he said “I do”. When you said “I do” and meant it. At that moment you feel as tall and rooted into the earth as the massive oak tree you are standing under. Everything that has come before and everything that will come after is exactly turning on this moment. The balance is whisper-perfect, and just as delicate. Yes, this man, this moment, these words.  I do, I do, I do. They fill you up, inside a raw place that has been empty until now, a small hollowed out hiding place below your heart and above your ribs. The words fill that spot and keep flowing, overflowing actually, The words tumble out of your mouth, and they are alive, doing cartwheels over each other, spilling out over your dress and down your toes and into the damp grass, below the dirt and into the roots of the trees, where they keep flowing, out into the river that winks at you from beyond the trees. You think, you are done. These words, these words have the power to build things.


I’m joining the lovely sisters at Momalom for Five for Five this week, taking part in a blogging challenge. Check out the other amazing posts inspired by these women.

Today’s post on WORDS is also coming to you from Just Write, a free writing exercise hosted by the extraordinary Heather of the EO.


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Five for Five: CHANGE

I grab my little boy’s hand and guide him across the parking lot. He clomps along somewhat gracefully beside me, not resisting. His hand is tiny and almost weightless, and I have to squeeze it a bit to make sure he is still there. I pull him towards a local Starbucks, a place I have been many many many times to write, but always alone. It is a limitless day, shimmering and warm and without humidity. I notice our shadows on the ground, a mother and a child. I am a mother walking her son across a crowded parking lot. I am in charge of that child. I am responsible for his happiness, his nutrition, his words, his ideas of the world. Most of all I am responsible for keeping this child alive. The thought startles me, causing me to breathe in too deeply and I start choking on nothing, on air. It also makes me giggle. It’s ludicrous. Me, a mother. Someone let me be in charge of this spritely, golden-haired mass of fragile bones and silly smiles and sudden tears and daily exuberance. He already has a chipped front tooth from when he fell down our back stairs. I was right there, and couldn’t catch him. He looks up at me, and says in his gorgeously scattered and unclear chipmunk voice, “You ok mama? You choking? Need hug?”

Yes, I am your mother. Yes, I am choking on your beauty, your existence. And yes, I will always need a hug.


Later that day, at the Aquarium. After we have prowled the dark corridors glowing with fish and sharks and sting-rays, even two white tigers. After we have ridden the train and the carousel. My little guy points up at the ferris wheel rising up into the sky. He wants to ride the ferris wheel. I am surprised, thought I don’t know why. He is pretty fearless, this kid. I hesitate. I am almost 36 weeks pregnant. He is 2.5. Is this crazy? Will I be the girl on the news that everyone at home says what was she thinking? But I am with a friend who is a doctor. She has been on the ferris wheel with her 2 year old many times. She assures me it’s ok. The attendant promises to let me down immediately if I feel sick, staring warily at my stomach. I want to joke with her, tell her don’t worry I won’t sue you, but I don’t. But more than that, I think, I used to be fearless. I loved ferris wheels and of course the me that I know I am would jump on this ride and show my son the view from above.

We slowly swing up, up, up, above the ground, above the aquariaum and the freeway, watching the cars zoom below. It is quiet, and a gentle breeze soothes. This is beautiful. O is still, his grandmother’s blue eyes big and serene, taking it all in. He loves it up here. I relax into this moment. We go down and back up.  Then up top. We stop. We are stopped at the very height of the wheel. Swaying back and forth. And it’s still beautiful. But O starts to want to move towards the doors, doors that are barely closed and certainly not secure enough to prevent him from slipping out. I tighten my grip on his hand, pull him close against me. I try to sound firm and calm, not scared, when I insist that he stay still.  And we don’t move, we don’t move, we aren’t moving. Why aren’t we moving? My hands start to sweat, I feel something rising in my chest, something persistent that tells me to get the hell off this thing. Now. Yes it is beautiful. And yes, there is death everywhere. The bolts could come unscrewed. The wind could suddenly rise and dump us upside down. There are no seatbelts. Why are there no seatbelts? O could scamper over and try to get out and I have a huge pregnant belly and am oh so slow right now. His father would never forgive me.

I yoga breathe myself back to mild panic. It’s beautiful up here, remember? I look around, remind myself that I am not a fearful person, that there is scary stuff everywhere if you look for it. We are stopped just to load passengers, nothing is wrong and we will soon be on our way. I calm down, but I do not loosen my grip. I step outside myself a bit, and wonder. Why am I so fearful when I was once so fearless? Why the change? I look at the top of O’s head, his translucent hair glowing beneath my palm. It’s because before I had only the world to gain. Now, I have everything to lose.

The pod starts to swing more violently, but it’s just the wheel starting its slow and steady swing back down. Up and down, down and up. We get off, all is fine. I release O, and see my fingertips embedded in his pale skin. I have marked him, and will do it again. Is it my fear that is marking him, teaching him to be afraid? Or is it my protection, so that he feels safe in this world, safe enough to take chances? Two sides to the same coin. Fear. Protection. Beauty. Death. Up. Down. Every coin has two sides. Every move we make is a toss of the coin.

For this boy, for me, the world is oh so beautiful. And oh so dangerous. I wonder sometimes, is the beautiful so much sharper because the thread of danger runs so close beneath?


Today’s post on CHANGE is inspired by Momalom’s Five for Five. Check it out here, and join us.

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One Name To Convey It All? Help Me Name My Baby!

What, you want me to name someone? You want like a name? Oh, God, the pressure of a name… I got it. Cindafuckin’rella”– Kit, to Vivian, in Pretty Woman.

I am officially name obsessed. I’ve always been keenly interested in names- how people get them, their meanings, name trends, etc. Even when I’m not naming a baby, I still read the Nameberry blog avidly. I’m a name nerd.

But now, I get one chance. One chance to name one baby girl. A GIRL. When I had my son, I thought boy names were harder- less room to be creative, less interesting names to choose from, more tied to “but what will it look like on a business card”? (Yes, I know this is ridiculous and sexist and I hope my daughter will have a business card too).  But naming our first-born was easy. My husband and I agreed on most names we liked. We had a list going very early, and of course some names moved up and down, but for the most part, we liked them all.

We went into delivery with 2 or 3 names and thought we’d pick a name after we saw what he “looked like”. Except he looked like a creepy old man.  My husband and I looked at each other and said “He looks like a Henry”. He just did. But even in my confused and overwhelmed state, I knew that was ridiculous. Why would you name your kid to match what he looks like as a newborn creature, all skinny limbs and smushed face and not-quite formed features? We should name him based on what we wanted him to be, our favorite name, our best vision of him. So we picked another name, one that fits him so perfectly. (By the way, I still adore the name Henry).

But I longed to name a little girl. I am a serial namer. I think I played Barbies just for the excuse to make up names and exotic storylines for each “woman”. In every journal I’ve ever had, you will find a list of names I like. Potential baby names, potential character names, names of people I admire, any name that sparks something.

And here is my chance. And, as I’m sure you’ve suspected by now, I am utterly paralyzed. One name, to rule all of her? One name, to convey to the world all of the spunk and beauty and fire and sweetness and hopes and desires and small quirks and complications I expect she will have? Where does one even start?

Well I started with lists. And then I pulled out the name books. And every day I’m reading Nameberry and Babynamewizard and Nymbler and You Can’t Call It It. And I ask every woman and girl child I meet what their name is. If a friend mentions any person of the female persuasion, I immediately badger her with questions about her name. I have names on the brain.

I have lists and lists of names in every possible combination. And yet, if I were to go into labor today, I could not possibly name this child. I know too much. I know the statistical popularity of that name (including all variations of spellings and not). I know the history and the meaning and the trend of it. I know the trends that are forecasted, I know what’s popular in England and Greece and Montana and Texas.

So please, please help me. I need to step away from the books and the pressure, the pressure of a name. Somebody just tell me what to name this baby!

Here are my “rules”:

Feminine but not too girly, with some spunk

No “A” names (last name begins with “A” and doesn’t sound good)

No made up or misspelled names

No “trendy” names- but popular is ok if it’s classic

No boy names for girl

Names I Generally Like: Lily, Nora, Charlotte, Eloise, Louisa, Daisy, Lucy, Juliet, Arden, Beatrice, Samantha, Marin, Flannery, Millay, March, Elodie, Clara, Maisie, Tess, Genevieve, Colette, Willa, Susannah

Family Names: Katharine, Bess, Margaret, Lucille, Mary, Emma, Harper, Reed, Caroline, Bailey, Claire, Rose/Rosa, Amelia, Beatrice, Emily, Elisabeth, Patricia, Mary, Sarah, George, Downs

I did get some input from my Grandmother and my son. My grandmother suggested “Skye”. (Considering she likes “Dawn” for my sister’s to-be-named baby, I feel honored).

My son is firmly entrenched on Tigerlily. He can’t imagine why I even keep asking him if he likes other names. He shakes his head vigorously and says “Nooooo, not Char-lotte!” with disgust in his voice. “Not Nooor-a! Tiger-Lidy.”

Me: “Ok, can we call her Lily?”

O: “No! Tiger-Lidy. Can I have a snack?”

You see why I need help. I’m weak and close to giving in and he’s the most persistent voice in the debate. And while I think Tigerlily has a certain charm, I’m not entirely confident in my mothering abilities to produce a child named Tigerlily that does not end up as an exotic dancer.

Any brilliant ideas? How did you pick names for your children? Any words of wisdom? And if you’re too shy to post (I see you out there reading but not commenting!), feel free to email me some ideas. I kinda like the idea of sending her to therapy one day because I picked her name from a stranger’s suggestion on the internet.

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What Will You Be Made Of?

Friday, March 2, 2012. Sunset in Santa Barbara. On a stone wall at the edge of the ocean, we opened an envelope. 

A GIRL. Sugar and spice. Pink tutus and sparkly shoes. Or rainbow striped knee socks and purple sneakers. A girl, like me. A girl, probably so unlike me. I was shocked, am still shocked. I couldn’t imagine NOT having a girl in my life. I am a daughter, I am a sister, I am a wife, a best girl friend, a mother. I am layered in the feminine. I couldn’t imagine not sharing the experience of a daughter, the ultimate in complicated relationships.

And yet, I didn’t dare hope for a little girl. I thought, of course, I am a boy mom. I am great at being a boy mom. I know how to talk to little boys, I know how to stand back and let them fall, how to marvel at their bravado and sheer boyness, and how to just let them be. I thought, I am destined to have boys. And that was a good thing.

But wow, a GIRL. All of a sudden, sitting on that stone wall, with my past so close and my present sitting beside me grinning and holding my hand, and the small white card that announced my future, I felt a huge responsibility. I now have to raise a GIRL. Holy crap.

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Looking Back: Goodbye 2011

As the calendar flipped its way into 2012 and we reached the top of another new year, I had no real thoughts of resolutions or posting about the year we just left behind.  I was lying in bed unable to sleep the other night, and began thinking of what books I read in 2011 that I really loved and had a hard time coming up with any. Which led to a sudden desire to turn on the light and make a list of things I enjoyed in 2011. I find my days slip away too easily, between work and motherhood and pregnancy, and unless I write stuff down, it gets sucked into the neverwhere of lost moments.

Here is what I came up with. The only “rules” I gave myself was to write down the first answers that came to mind. If I actually had to pick a favorite book of 2011, or the “best” anything, I would still be making a list. Instead, I picked moments or things that defined the year for me (good or bad).

Best Trip I Took: Belize, Victoria House. Sheer perfection.

Best Concert I Attended: Arcade Fire, The Woodlands, May 4.

Best New TV Show: Revenge. First one that came to mind, and because it’s the one show I watch live and can’t wait for the DVR. Total delicious escapist television, with some great campy acting.

Best “Old” TV Show: I’m going with How I Met Your Mother on this one. Always hilarious, the show really stepped up its game this year. From the episode where Marshall’s father died, to the last two game-changers regarding Robin and Barney, no other show made me laugh and cry at the same time.

Best TV Show I’m Watching on DVD: Doctor Who.

Song I Can’t Get Out of My Head (and Don’t Want To): Rolling In The Deep, Adele; Someone Like You, Adele; and Little Lion Man, Mumford & Songs (this one is O’s preferred soundtrack when riding in the car).

Song I Can’t Get Out of My Head (But Wish I Could): Party Rock Anthem, LMFAO. This one is due to O’s inexplicable obsession and constant requests. And yes, he likes their newest one too, something about wiggling and rocking that body. Nice.

CD’s I Can’t Stop Listening To: Caitlin Rose’s amazing Own Side Now (try Own Side Now, Shanghai Cigarettes or Things Change) . Also, The National’s High Violet (try Runaway and Anyone’s Ghost).

Best Movie: Umm, can’t think of any movies I saw. This is sad. Ok, going with The Town and Bridesmaids (funny, yes, but great writing). Oh and 2011 will always be the year of  Cars: The Movie to me since O insists on watching it over and over. And over and over.

Best Short StoryRobin Black’s entire story collection, If I Loved You I Would Tell You This, especially the title story. Couldn’t put it down or stop thinking about it.

Book I Couldn’t Put Down: A Visit From the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan. The Likeness and Faithful Place, both by Tana French. Play It As It Lays, Joan Didion. April and Oliver, Tess Callahan. Oh and of course The Hunger Games trilogy, Suzanne Collins.

Best Poetry Reading That Made Me Buy a Poetry Book: Toss up between Kevin Prufer’s A  Beautiful Country (read an excerpt here) and Allison Benis White’s Self-Portrait With Crayon (read an excerpt here).

What were your faves from 2011?

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Just Write #2: Sitting in Stillness

I can’t remember the last time I had moments of doing nothing. Moments in which to think, let my thoughts meander, or not think at all. Moments to just sit. Maybe stare out the window, or really study the pattern in my slate gray carpet. Lie on my back and contemplate my ceiling. I used to have an abundance of these moments. Once, in high school, my best friend Courtenay and I stared at her ceiling for so long that we identified a certain bump in the popcorn ceiling. He became comforting to us, recognizable, a witness to our hours passed discussing our hair, and our future selves, and what the lyrics to some Smiths song really meant. We colored him pink and called him Maurice. These moments are a burden to the young; we called it boredom. We had no idea they were such a luxury.

I have stolen moments now, moments of quiet or solitude. They are rare, but I get them. Most often they are planned, and they are structured. I think, I have an hour. I can read a book, take a nap, try to write something. I can organize my photos, start O’s baby book, start a journal for new baby. Rarely do I think, I can do nothing. I don’t have time for nothing.

Someone recently led me to read Robert Frost’s poem, “The Master Speed” (thank you Lindsey!). In that way that either the universe is sending you a message, or in that way that if you think of yellow cars then suddenly you will see yellow cars everywhere, I am being bombarded by words about stillness, holding steady, and standing still. My resolutions for 2012 have not to do with achieving goals, but relinquishing them. Not with crossing a finish line, but in recognizing the bends in the road and the trees that dapple sunlight in front of me. In allowing my son to stop and bend down, to study ants or acorns or leaves as he does. Not in hurrying him along.

This is hard. I have so little time that I want to make the most of it, feel as if I did something every day, not just get up, shower, go to work, put kid to bed, eat dinner, watch TV, the end. I want something in there that is mine. But savoring stillness, quietness, is something that is mine. It just isn’t quantifiable.

I was thinking in the shower this morning about moments, and how we romanticize them. Whether it’s your first kiss, or high school graduation, or a proposal, or the moment in the delivery room when you first come face to face with your child, we think about them, we plan them out, we plot how and when and why they will be perfect. And they often are not even close to perfect. My first kiss was awkward, shoved in a closet by friends, both wearing braces. Graduation floated past me, I felt like an imposter in a big white dress and hat. College graduation I was so hung over I didn’t take any of it in. The moment I met my son was not the beautiful, joyous moment I was promised. I felt robbed, or worse, abnormal.

What I do remember is slow dancing with my first boyfriend in my backyard on a hot summer night to a George Michael song. He smelled like Drakkar Noir and I remember thinking I’d love him forever. High school graduation is a blur, but when I hear “Jane Says”, I can close my eyes and see me and my best friend Janie, about to go off to college but spending summer nights with nothing to do. We drove around in her gold Impala, our sweaty thighs in jean shorts stuck to the vinyl seats, the windows rolled down, my feet on the dash board. We found seemingly abandoned streets with huge dips and she sped up so that we were almost airborne. I can still feel the wind in our hair and the pounding drums of Welcome to the Jungle racing through our blood. College graduation I remember sitting on the warm steps of Commons in my short white dress, the strappy white high-heeled sandals I bought during dinner with my parents on 3rd Street Promenade, eating Sun Chips and drinking Dr. Pepper. It is probably the last time I sat on the steps of the Commons.

You know those moments when the universe seems to shift just a little bit to the left, and all of a sudden the thing you were looking at becomes suddenly clearer and more vibrant and just more? And everything that you see, smell, touch, taste and hear in that moment is perfectly aligned and so so beautiful that you hold your breath and  think, if I can just sit still long enough, I might learn the secret of the universe? They are rare, these moments, and you can’t create them or force them. They don’t happen at predetermined dates. They happen when you least expect them.

“The Master Speed” sounds like it’s going to be about mastering speed, going fast, faster even. But it’s not, it’s about sitting in the stillness. Speed isn’t just how fast you go; it’s also how slow you can go.

What I’m figuring out is that it takes practice. That even though it isn’t easy or natural for me, that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible. Like most things that have become high on my priority list, it is hard work. But the payoff, like motherhood and writing, takes my breath away. Every time I remind myself to stop, every time I take notice of something I usually pass right over, is a tiny victory.

The Master Speed
By Robert Frost

No speed of wind or water rushing by
But you have a speed far greater. You can climb
Back up a stream of radiance to the sky,
And back through history up the stream of time.
And you were given this swiftness, not for haste
Nor chiefly that you may go where you will.
But in the rush of everything to waste,
That you may have the power of standing still—
Off any still or moving thing you say.
Two such as you with a master speed
Cannot be parted nor be swept away
From one another once you are agreed
That life is only life forevermore
Together wing to wing and oar to oar.

Interested in “just write”? Head over to The Extraordinary Ordinary and check it out. 

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