After Candlemas

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I heard yesterday morning about a tradition of hanging a prayer cloth from a tree for Brigid to bless as she passes by on her day. Candlemas was one of the busiest days I have seen this winter, but in the midst of rushing here and there I grabbed a bit of yellow calico from the scrap pile and paused long enough to unfurl a scrawled prayer across it. I hung my prayer flag in the peach tree, where the sun and wind can lift the words to the spirits, who I now and then remember need to be fed by our praise and thanks. My words were simple, for once, as they spiraled across the cloth, taking their time, but in the end asking just one simple thing:

May we be blessed, and through our lives, Bless.

Community Garden

Happy Earth Day weekend, month, year, life!

The randomly selected winner of How-to is Becca T. Thank you to all of you for your kind words and support of poetry! I am grateful to be a part of this project that honors the work of nurturing–be it a garden, a community, a life–in such a lyrical way. If you really had your heart set on it, do consider purchasing a copy from the publisher, Old School Books. For the rest of you curious readers, here is one of my poems that appears in the book. It’s about how I have to teach myself how to make zucchini fritters each year as if for the first time. And other things. Like an afternoon in a community garden. Enjoy and be well!

Community Garden

Summer opens in these moments,

wide mouthed and generous as a squash blossom

promising ample fruit to slice and grate,

to bake and fry in those dozen lost recipes reclaimed

come harvest time. The garden sits on a knoll,

blue mountains layered off in the distance,

blue sky raucous with clouds and shadows

and waves of shifting evening light. My child pacing

mulched paths, taking hold of the wheelbarrow,

screeching with something like exhilaration,

but is unnamable, unspoken. We gather

in a garden made with tools and water,

the unyielding soil softened with manure

and persistent grace. Fellowship.

It is a feast tasted with every turning of the wheel

towards warmth, a recipe calling for sun and rain,

forgotten in due course, but recovered

as we set the table together once more. This smell

of fertile earth. This sound of unnamable delight.

Confluence: On Creativity and Motherhood

Last month, my e-friend and mothering and soapmaking mentor, Renee of FIMBY, published a wonderful e-book called Nurturing Creativity: A Guide for Busy Moms. This little book is my cup of tea: inspiring, rejuvenating, down to earth, and only three bucks. It’s like manna, royal jelly, and super blue green algae all mixed up into a power bar for the creative soul. Yup, that nourishing. She writes, “My dream for this book is to tend the garden of your creative spirit.” And it’s true. This book is like a rich load of compost followed by a long soaking rain (or a week of sun, for those of you non-desert dwellers). While she was writing this book, Renee asked me and a few other bloggers about our experience balancing creativity and motherhood. She was looking for about a hundred words on some specific questions, but once I started writing I found I had a great deal to say on the subject. This the gist of it:

Confluence

Before I had children, I spent much of my time crafting poetry and fiction and nonfiction. In those days, I believed that writing was the most creative and important thing I could do with my time. When I was pregnant for the first time and just wanted to sit and dreamily crochet granny squares for a baby blanket, it felt almost like a waste of my creative energy. Shouldn’t I be doing something “real” like writing a poem? A good friend reminded me that however lovely it was, my poem would be virtually unread, while the granny squares would keep an infant warm. “How could that be a waste of time?” she asked me. Eventually I made peace with the question by writing a poem about crocheting a blanket for my unborn babe.

In the years since I have become a mother my creative life exists in the confluence of two streams that seemingly contradict each other. Out here in the West we have hot springs that send warm water into cold rivers. Imagine it as kind of like that. Except one of these creative streams has been Letting Go, and one has been Holding On.

Letting Go

The Letting Go Stream has been the release of my old ideas of what it means to be creative. No longer can I accept the idea that to be a writer one must write every day, for a certain amount of time. Or that I am only legitimate when I write a poem every week, or a few hundred words a day. As I let go of those notions out of necessity, I found that motherhood opened up a vastly more creative world for me.

How could it not, when every act in my daily life—from birthing and nurturing two daughters, to cooking our daily sustenance from simple ingredients, to keeping our home beautiful, to actively creating a positive outlook and being curious about the world around me—is a creative act. In fact, I have a hunch that while I might have to wait a few more years to complete my next book (and I feel the pull to do that strong as ever, even if it is simmering on the back burner), I will remember these years with small children as the most creative in my life.

Holding On

Because I am (like you) a complex creature, the other stream flowing through my life in the last few years has been the Holding On Stream. This is the one that reminds me that This Is It—my one life to live. Having a child and then another made me realize that I couldn’t wait to someday sit down and write a book—it had to be something I made room for and nurtured, or else I was truly at risk of losing my voice. And while it may not always be possible to have a regular, steady practice of writing, I can nourish my writer self by reading great writing, by keeping a freehand journal when I can’t work at the computer, by letting creativity not be defined as only one thing, but as a way of life.

It hasn’t always seemed this way. I have felt at times like I was sacrificing my writing self for motherhood (never mind that my first book was conceived at the same time as my first child, and born the same month as my second). I had a lot of old ideas about how much I should write and how disciplined I should be. Looking back I see that they did very little to motivate me, and a lot to hold me back.

While I was feeling guilty for not writing poems or chapters in my half-done novel about a tree pruner in 19th century New Mexico, I was busy with all kinds of other things. I embraced the domestic arts—things women have done for ages to bring creativity and beauty into their lives. Things that can easily be done alongside a child. I have taught myself to sew and knit, and make much of my children’s clothing. I sing and tell stories. I make toys: dolls, stuffed animals, books. I write Old Recipe. I bring together a circle of friends for a mothers’ circle each month. I have grown into a much more holistic view of creativity, and see it flowering in every part of my life as a homemaker. Writing continues to be essential food for my soul, but the diet has become more varied.

Like a Garden’s Seasons

Creativity comes from the joy of creating. It is a natural outpouring of a healthy life. And, it should not be a constant. Like the earth itself, our creative energy needs time to rest and lie fallow, while new seeds germinate and begin to grow. And so I accept that the creative spirit will move me when it does, and be ready to receive it when it comes.

While I go through long periods of not even keeping a journal, I also have intense phases of writing thousands of words a day. I no longer judge either of these times as good or bad. I welcome them both for the gifts they bring. If I feel especially in alignment with my sense of purpose when writing, I trust that the times in between are fueling that creativity in essential ways.

Eventually, the little seeds inside me go in search of light. I am filled with ideas and inspiration, and move naturally back into a rhythm that includes space for me to work alone.

And slowly, I find myself surrounded by handmade things. Slowly, I find new stories coming to life, new ideas that want to be manifested. I find myself in the midst of a beautiful and surprising renaissance, where every act is a creative act.

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To read my simple technique for making time to be creative, you’ll have to get Nurturing Creativity. Which I assure you has much, much more to offer than my little bit of advice.

To see a little of my poetry in action, leave a comment in this giveaway for a new poetry anthology I am included in.

And do tell me, how has the confluence of creativity and motherhood shaped your life and work?