Pounding out words

I inhale the earthy, crisp scent of leather, breathing in decades of memories, images flashing like a “This is Your Life” montage from some old TV show.

Riding bareback through the rice fields on my horse, the chocolate-colored reins held loosely in my hands, I sing loudly to an audience of white cranes and brown ducks. I catch my reflection in the water and pretend I’m a fairy queen, my hair wild, riding toward some imagined kingdom created just to honor me.

Sitting in my closet, my teenage heart is broken, I’m writing down the feelings in my pink leather journal. I want to be like everyone else, but I can’t seem to even fake it. I’m doing everything wrong and nobody will ever love me. I’m destined to be alone.

I’m standing in my friend’s dusty garage while Enya softly sings from a tiny speaker, “Let me sail, let me sail. Let me crash upon your shore.” I’m frustrated at my lack of skills, as the leather in front of me doesn’t look as I want it to, but my friend playfully throws a scrap at me and fills the space with a booming laugh. I can’t help but smile.

I’m not any of those places now.

I’m not any of those versions of me now.

I’m in my own garage.

Alone.

My tools lay orderly, waiting for me to begin.

I wet the leather. I pick up a square piece of metal, the letter “F,” and snap it into the handle.

I set the letter carefully in place and hit it hard, just once, with my heavy hammer.

img_3499.jpgI repeat this with each letter, feeling a connection, not only to the person I’m making the leather bracelet for, but to the letters themselves. The sound of the letter, the shape, the history of the words and to the printing press.

I snap one letter into place after another, developing a rhythm of motion.

Letters become words, and words become phrases.

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IMG_3543Letters become words, words become phrases, and phrases can change the world.

I picture early printers, hunched in a dark room, carefully and secretly placing letters into the bed by candlelight, words designed to topple monarchies, to protest injustice and to fight against oppression. Steady hands, or are they shaking hands, place each metal letter, so similar to the ones I’m snapping on and off the handle, purposefully in place with a full awareness of the risks.

Humbled.

My action is so small. Stamping leather bracelets for friends hardly seems worthy of mention, let alone connected to revolutionaries who changed the world with bold ideas and brave actions.

Yet, we all have to do something. Be something.

We all have to believe little things matter because otherwise, it seems so fucking hopeless, a tiny grain of sand in the ocean being pushed by the tides, a speck of nothing in a vast expanse of universes and black holes.

Our actions matter.

Our suffering matters.

I’ve been consumed with grief, the heartbreaking loss of my tiny baby niece in August and now the end of a close friendship.

I don’t know how to deal with these things.

Sometimes I can’t.

I’ve been unable to write, each time I sit down it feels like the words swirl away from me and leave me fearful and uneasy. I take long baths. I sit silently for hours next to the river, rolling rocks in my hands, and watching birds. Yeah, it’s weird.

Stamping leather has become a way to connect with lost parts of myself and to give back to those who have touched my life. Yeah, it’s weird too.

I’m hopeful the writing will come again (I managed this blog post).

New adventures will be there too, as they always are.

There is nothing revolutionary about any of this.

We all have to reinvent ways to conquer fear, to push away grief and to move forward in life. It’s as universal as eating and breathing, yet it never feels any less suffocating or lonely.

But we aren’t alone.

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Bathing in blue

IMG_3264The bath bomb transformed the water a vibrant blue and I stared at it, silence all around me, searching for something it reminded me of.

The eyes of someone I love.

The sky at dawn near the mountains when the moisture is thick about you.

The hydrangea bushes in front of my childhood friend’s house.

It was then I caught sight of my body below it. Startled, I thought, I don’t know this body.

My wrinkled stomach like a balloon deflated, yet somehow full, was shockingly white. My thighs, covered in dozens of freckles, looked like the skin of my daughter’s back. I had to touch them to see if it was me.

I’m 40 years old, and I feel as if I barely know anything at all. It’s off-putting to feel so unsure of yourself, so undone by your life, so completely and utterly alone.

“You need to stop being so busy.”

“What are you running from?”

I’ve heard these words from my mother and friends for years.

They ask me as if I know.

They look at me as if I can see.

I can’t. I don’t know. I’m not who you think I am.

This is such self-centered bullshit, all of it, this blog, my life, my writing. I’m beating my head against a brick wall praying for it to be a pillow so I can rest. Walking around, moving, moving, moving, always moving, so I don’t feel the truth of it all crush me.

Don’t look at me, but please for the love of God would somebody look at me. I’m more than the chores I do around my house, the books I escape into, the words I write in desperation, the tears I don’t even allow out anymore.

I’m alone in the blue of the water, sinking into nothing, slowly heading toward nothing, but still dreaming and hoping for something.

Interview in the kitchen

IMG_2746Chopped onions, mushrooms and garlic simmer in the pan with a little olive oil. I add a handful of spinach and push everything around with a wooden spoon.

“Here we are in the kitchen of the famous writer,” says my girl.

Wearing her soft white pajamas with gold snowflakes, she points a camera at me and talks in a tumble of quick words, her sweet voice trying to mimic the cadence of the reporters she hears on NPR.

“You may know her from her famous blog, but she is also writing two novels which are sure to be New York sellers.”

She walks closer and I turn, aware of my dirty apron and unwashed hair. The camera is on my face now.

“Can I ask you a few questions?”

“Sure.”

“When you’re famous, will you allow your books to be made into movies?”

“I guess.”

“I know you doubt your acting skills, but if given the chance, would you star in the movie?”

“No. I’d leave it to the professionals.”

“You could, you know.”

“Thanks, but it isn’t something I even want.”

I stare at her through the camera, my tone serious. Teachable moment.

“You do know I may never finish my book, and it may never be published. You know that, right?”

She sighs and smiles.

“You will mom, and you are already famous,” she says. “Because you’re awesome.”

She turns the camera on herself.

“Well, there you have it, folks. A short interview with the famous writer as she cooks dinner. Tune in tomorrow when we interview a leprechaun about the true secrets of the rainbow.”

She walks into the next room and I hear her playing the video back to herself. I wonder what she is thinking as she watches it.

Does she see the bags under my eyes or the way I cringed when she called me “famous writer”?

Does she know how much I fear I’ll never finish writing anything?

Can she possibly understand the enormous feelings her little interview exploded inside me as I cooked a frittata on a Monday night?

Thank goodness the answer is no. She is 10 years old, all she knows is she loves her mother and she believes I can do anything. I’m still a hero to her, someone to look up to, someone to admire.

Like all aspects of motherhood, it’s crushing, suffocating, messy, confusing and fucking wonderful all at once.

I don’t want to let her down.

I’ve always told her she could do whatever she wants in life.

“You are only limited by your own fears.”

I worry I will fail, and she will watch it, and all her hopes and dreams will crash along with mine. She won’t believe me anymore and I will have broken her.

I worry she will watch the video years down the road, when I am gone, sad her mother never finished those books she always talked about.

She is watching me.

She sees me trying, hears me reading sentences out loud to myself, watches me rush to scribble something on a piece of paper, listens as I tell her something new I figured out about one of my characters and hears me cry when I think I’m alone and everything feels too big.

She is watching me.

Fear and self-doubt, like Oden’s ravens, sit on my shoulders. They mock me, tell me how foolish, stupid and boring I am. Famous writer. Blah.

Yet I keep going.

I’m crafting stories and characters and worlds. It’s hours of tedious work, reworking the same sentences over and over until they read exactly as I want them to, mixed with a tiny moment where the magic sends a shiver through my entire body and I feel life pure and whole and without edit.

I don’t know how this story ends, but she is watching me.

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Can we talk?

Her bouncy blonde curls hang wildly down to a soft, mustard-colored sweatshirt. She is smiling, and her blue-green eyes, the light of her face, squint ever so slightly.

We lean close, trying hard to fill the space between us with all the things which have happened since we last sat here, our favorite table in the corner, drinking matching diet cokes and sharing popcorn from a red and white bag.

This is love.

The feeling is big, and yet so simple; connection, familiarity, safety.

Our friendship was forged years ago as young girls trying hard to be seen and heard in a sea of middle schoolers. Something drew us close then, but we seem to have forgotten it, or maybe it lay buried under all the things.

Nearly a year ago, while dodging post-hurricane waves in Florida, our hearts opened up and spilled out to one another. Forged in the powerful surf. Tougher than the wind. We remembered.

We used to borrow each other’s clothes, sing loudly in the car, skip arm and arm down the halls, stay up all night talking about everything and nothing.

I want more.

More of her. More of us. More of the space between women which is sacred and holy and fucking amazing. More time to see her fully, all her complexities and contradictions, hopes and fears, everything.

I want more.

A week ago, I left for a writing retreat to this hippie camp near the ocean and the redwoods. I wanted something to happen, sure, but I feared nothing would. Anxiety, like the proverbial devil on my shoulder, whispering all the ways I would fuck it up.

But I didn’t.

I couldn’t.

Magic became not only attainable, but real; with a fairy path leading to a yurt, a unicorn chef who cooked concoctions worthy of the Gods, and a bonfire where truth was spilled out and passed around from one to the other.

The whispers of the ancients, things I know to be true in my bones, rocked me as I stood every morning on the damp redwood deck in my wool socks, the cool wetness seeping in, a hot cup of coffee clutched tightly in my hands.

The breezes would carry bits of conversation from the women inside, voices of strength and of hope, gathered around a fireplace adorned with candles and trinkets from those who came before. A sense of divine connection filled my soul.

I want more.

Since my return, I’ve dealt with rotten jack-o-lanterns, sick kids spewing mucus and whining loudly, piles of laundry, seven million voices in the carpool van all talking at once; the layers of responsibility trying desperately to bury the ancient truth again under all the shit.

I’m terrified another five, ten, twenty years will pass in a blur before I have another moment of remembering.

I want more.

So, my friends, as I stare at you too long, hold you too tight, forgive me. I’m lost in the redwoods still.

I just want to talk.

 

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The Magical Place

 

The poise of a Punk Rock Unicorn

Digging through the bag of fabric paint, she knows exactly what she’s looking for. The body of the unicorn gets turquoise blue in swirling dabs, while the mane, tail and tiny hooves are carefully added with small, precise strokes of bright pink. Next, the horn and three music notes are added in dark purple.

Smiling, she dips a slim brush into a glob of sparkly gold and begins adding dots around the large black lettering of her band name, “Punk Rock Unicorn.”

“This looks so good,” she says.

She doesn’t ask what I think.

She doesn’t worry if her bandmates will like it.

She loves it.

“Can you paint my nails?” she asks. “Some blue and some pink. Oh, and with gold tips!”

I say yes, but I struggle to make it happen. The main color doesn’t reach the edge of every nail, and the gold tips are uneven.

“Sorry,” I say.

“They are perfect,” she says while wiggling her fingers in front of her face. “Thank you!”

It’s time to leave for her band’s show, the culmination of a week of Girls Rock Camp. She is wearing her favorite leggings, a faded swirling galaxy of pink and purple with visible holes in the knees. Her hair isn’t brushed and it’s matted in the back where she slept on it wet.

“Are you sure you don’t want to wear a sparkly skirt and brush your hair? Maybe add some color?”

“I look fine mom,” she says. “I’m comfortable.”

I want to fight her.

I want her to care more about how she looks.

I want her to look more put together.

But there she is, my Punk Rock Unicorn, smiling at me without any hesitation at all, while I changed my outfit several times and still wasn’t happy with my own reflection in the mirror.

This is all I’ve ever wanted for my girl, to be unapologetically herself, to not shrink for anyone, and to rock everything she does without fear or doubt.

Her confident smile is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.

At the show, I watch her and all the girls playing instruments and singing with a reckless joy I don’t know I’ve ever felt in my life.

They are brave, free and strong.

They are working together, not in competition, lifting and rising as one.

I’m so happy for them…until I’m not.

Something inside starts churning up, this voice of perfectionism and criticism.

Why is my girl singing so quietly? She isn’t smiling and doesn’t look as confident as some of the others. Why did she act shy when she was given a compliment? I’m sure it’s my fault, something I’m doing wrong. I’m ruining this perfect girl.

After the show, she runs to me and hugs me hard. She has bright blue eye makeup and sparkly lip gloss her coach put on her backstage. Her arms feel strong and solid.

“Did you have fun?” I ask her.

“Yes!” she says.

“How come you looked so shy up there? Why weren’t you smiling more?”

The words come tumbling out before I can stop them. I recognize this voice, the very same one sabotaging my writing and stopping me from doing anything I might fail it.

Shit.

I don’t want it to be her voice.

I search her face, looking for any trace of damage my words may have caused.

“What do you mean?” she says.

Her face is as radiant as ever.

“I’m very proud of you,” I say. “You really rocked it up there! It looked so fun. I bet you are proud.”

“Thanks,” she says. “I am!”

She melts into me, the warmth of her body like a blanket soothing my critical voices and giving me another chance.

Always another chance.

I remember her plan to have her bandmates and coaches sign her shirt.

“People are starting to leave,” I say. “Did you still want to get signatures?”

“Yes,” she says and runs off to borrow a pen.

I watch her go and make it happen for herself.

Her confidence isn’t loud or boastful, but calm and careful.

She gently taps friends and coaches, asking them to sign her shirt, standing still as they do.

I see many are holding the tiny pink unicorn erasers she spent an hour digging out of the bins in her room, the ones she so thoughtfully brought for them all.

My heart nearly bursts.

This girl is everything.

After the show, we head to dinner and she gives the waitress one of the teeny unicorn erasers, a light pink one with a purple mane and tail.

“Did you see her smile?” she says. “I think she liked it.”

“Yes,” I say. “You make everyone smile, just by being you.”

“Thanks mom.”

*For more information about Girls Rock Sacramento visit http://www.girlsrocksacramento.com

 

Falling in love by the sea

beachShe sits with her back against me, both of us watching the sea in silence. Our breath and hearts remembering the synchronization, falling into pace again.

The black rocks bob up and down in the murky grey waves, like seals playing, like we just were; hand in hand darting from the cold foam, testing our footing on crumbling rocks and watching the sand create light circles around our feet as we step together.

The deep, grey clouds mute the color of everything, making even the stark whitecaps of the waves seem wiped away of color.

I put my hand on top of hers, and breathe in the scent of salt caught in the gilded strands.

She’s talking about life, her philosophical nature equally captivated by the waves as my own; motivations, dreams, memories, fears and ambitions.

Our voices match in pace, harmonized.

The clouds gradually shift, the wind gently pushing away the platinum grey, allowing tiny patches of bright blue to appear. With the blue comes white, brown, green and gold. It’s as if nothing is truly a color without the sun’s rays to warm it to life.

Shapes appear far out in the sea, hidden before in the dreariness of grey; black triangular rocks topped with white splashes, golden strips of land carved smooth like rising waves, royal green hills and shiny black birds suspended like kites on a string.

Our tummies growl and I know the moment must end, but I stretch it, savoring the vast warmth as if I may never feel it again.

My baby will be 10 this summer and, as cliché as it is, all those moms who stopped me in Target when my kids were little are right, it does go by so fast.

Chubby pink babies with soft folds you must lift to wash are suddenly explaining why they feel empathy for the mean girl at school with shocking insight and depth.

I feel confused; like I’m Alice shaking my head as the Mad Hatter explains the nature of time, only I’m watching my little baby perform mock episodes of both “Elmo’s World” and “Dance Moms” and wondering where her wit and timing comes from.

She has a feisty resistance to people who don’t listen to her and a sweet devotion to those who do. I see so much of myself in her, but also recognize a strength and determination which is entirely hers alone.

I trace the freckles on her arms as we talk a few more minutes. The sound of the waves, crashing and retracting, the soundtrack to our love.

I know she can’t understand the intensity of my emotions, my devotion. She doesn’t understand why I get irate so quickly when she whines; undone thinking she will have the same negative soundtrack locked in a loop inside her head. I want to shake the pain away from her, make her see only light, only good.

I vow again, silently, like every mother does, to try and be more patient and to do my best to build her up so she can handle the weight of everything to come.

I whisper I love you into her head, and it doesn’t feel like enough. Adore, admire, cherish, treasure; each word like a piece of the puzzle. She can’t know the weight of it, I decide.

She eases off my lap, so I can cook us grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. She begins to sing and my heart is as full as the moon, pulling the waves back and forth, pulling us closer together again.

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Making deals with myself or how I’m not entirely sure I’m a grownup

IMG_8709.JPGThis morning I woke up early to make steel-cut oatmeal with homemade applesauce. I spooned it into pretty bowls, played the “Moana” soundtrack and tried hard to listen to my kids for the entire drive to school.

Yesterday, I made pink homemade bubble solution and watched all the “tricks” the kids wanted to show me; a bubble stacked on a bubble, a bubble inside another bubble and “look there’s a mosquito inside a bubble!” (That one was impressive).

These were premeditated mothering moments.

I don’t dislike doing these things for my kiddos. Not at all. I’m just finding I must “manufacture” them more than I used to. I don’t have the kind of mental and emotional energy I had for entertaining my kids. It’s not “spontaneous” anymore.

I plan these moments out now and make deals with myself.

Be a patient, good mother all morning and when you get back home you can stare out the window for 30 minutes.

Play three games of Sorry! after homework, then you can make the kids play outside and listen to your audiobook while cooking dinner.

These deals keep me going, because motherhood is hard and I don’t want to share my candy or my blanket.

I don’t want to hear how unfair everything in the world is, how blobfish are the ugliest creatures on earth, every detail of a dream which includes the phrase “and for some random reason” about a thousand times, how adorable sugar gliders are and the life-changing effect a giant pogo stick would have on our family.

I just want to sit in silence and do what I want.

Without guilt.

So, I do extra things when I can muster it up and make deals to push myself. I cut sandwiches into hearts. I fill hot water bottles up before bed. I massage their feet. I listen to the same story over and over.

Sometimes I’m rewarded with moments of pure motherhood bliss.

When my girl puts her hand on my chest because, “I can feel the warmth of your heart momma.” Swoon.

When my boy curls up in my chair, and I rub his head, and he coos the same sound he has made since he was an infant. Nothing better.

But then there are the moments when they are so loud, I can’t even breath. When the sound of their voices, even in play, makes me want to scream.

Yesterday, I read the same paragraph 15 times because the kids were laughing so loud I couldn’t comprehend the words in front of me.

They run by as squirrels, bears, monsters, quickly morphing from one to the next effortlessly with a kind of unhinged glee I can’t ever remember feeling.

They tear things out of every cupboard to make elaborate costumes, forts and lands, in an endless game of pretend which leaves me feeling dizzy with the speed and ferocity of it all.

Don’t you guys want to watch some TV?

Did I just say that?

Yes, I did.

Ugh.

I am turning 40 years old in April and I think I’m having a stereotypical freak-out. I don’t want to. I keep telling myself, it’s a number and it means nothing.

But, shit, I still have so much stuff to do.

I was supposed to have written lots of books by now, have tons of friends, explored castles and be a serious grownup.

I still sneak candy, forget to brush my teeth and don’t like vegetables (I only pretend to so my kids will eat them). I wear all black like a moody teenager, love Harry Potter, cry when I’m disappointed and don’t know what I’m doing.

When I pay bills and taxes I feel my age. When my back hurts after scrubbing the tub or my hand hurts from sleeping on it wrong, I think maybe this is adult life.

But, I don’t feel like an adult.

Maybe I never well.

I’m just Bridgette, and maybe accepting all my contradictions is the most grownup thing I can do.