In the mornings we walk. We go out into the mild California winter, where the sun warms us despite the cold, and the sidewalk is still strewn with the colors of fall. We walk down the hill, kicking stiff magnolia leaves, brown and shiny as new pennies. At the crosswalk, we play peek-a-boo around the side of the stroller as we wait for the bus to grind to a stop. Then we cross, staying on the sunny side of the street until we get to 24th Street and our first stop, the bakery.
Inside there’s another mom ahead of us, and two blond-haired little ones who nibble on a cookie from the deep seats of a double-wide stroller. “What’ll it be today?”, a young guy with a scruffy goatee asks, and I get a sweet baguette for dinner, and a plain croissant to share with Basil. I pay, then back my way out of the bakery, maneuvering the stroller awkwardly through the glass door until a kind woman in a red coat pulls it open for me, smiling at Basil.
After a quick stop at the drug store for pacifiers and light bulbs, we head up the street towards the park. It’s just two long blocks, but with the hills around here, and the warm winter sun, I’m sweating by the time we get there. I strip off my scarf and jacket, brush the croissant crumbs off Basil, and we plop down on the soft ground to play. The park is full of children today, as it often is at this time. A helter-skelter collage of strollers line the fence. Both swings are occupied, and there’s a child waiting. The teeter-totter bounces back and forth with the energy of four year-olds. A few persistent pigeons peck at the crumbs left behind by small hands, skittering away when a small boy runs by. Basil takes it all in, crawling towards the pigeons, then stopping to watch a little blond girl who toddles toward him.
Mornings like this are why I now love where we live. I can walk to do most of my daily errands. The bank, post office, grocery store, coffee shops, and more are all less than a 10-minute walk. Basil loves being out, watching people, breathing the fresh air. I get exercise, and don’t have to worry about driving. I love it.
But a year ago I was aching to move. Certain we’d leave the city by summer. Be in a place with more space, a bigger yard, maybe hiking trails nearby. But since having Basil my perspective has shifted completely, in ways I didn’t expect. Instead of more space, I’m happy with fewer belongings, and being able to walk everywhere. Instead of a garden, I have my pots of herbs off the kitchen, my flower pots on the front steps. Instead of hiking trails, I have these mornings in the neighborhood, Basil kicking his feet as we walk, our bellies full of fresh pastries.
What do you love about your neighborhood? Has your feeling about where you live ever radically shifted?
The day begins with a jet-lagged baby, awake and ready to play at 4am. There is breakfast while it’s still dark out, and skyping with the abuelos in Spain. Then Basil goes down for a nap as the sun rises, setting the windows across the valley aglow, and my day begins anew with a shower, coffee, writing.
I’ve been thinking a lot about beginnings. When it comes to writing, or life changes, or even small everyday tasks like cleaning, we often say ‘beginning is the hardest part’. For me beginning can feel as if I were climbing a set of stairs and the first step were 3 times higher than the rest, rising like a mountain before me.
Maybe this is a creative inheritance from my mother, an artisan who has had her own business for nearly 30 years. “I’ve been writing about beginnings” I say when she calls, “what does beginning feel like to you?”. “From experience, I know that to me beginning is more of a challenge than doing it” she replies. “I notice it even when I get in the water to swim, or start my yoga class. But once I’m going, it’s easier.”
Where does the energy to begin come from? Austin Kleon, in his new book on creativity Steal Like an Artist, suggests it’s about being inspired:
“[C]hew on one thinker – writer, artist, activist, role model – you really love. Study everything there is to know about that thinker. Then find three people that thinker loved, and find out everything about them. Repeat this as many times as you can. Climb up the tree as far as you can go. Once you build your tree, it’s time to start your own branch.”
I agree that inspiration is important, especially when the beginning involves tapping creativity. But I’ve also been thinking how routine, the momentum of doing something every day, can make it easier to begin. When I work on my thesis every day, sitting down and working on it is easier than when I let a week go by without touching it.
So of course, I’m wondering what beginnings are like for you. Which is harder, starting or finishing?
Walks are my escape when we’re visiting JJ’s family in Spain. In winter, I put on layers against the cold, pull on socks and sneakers, and wrap a scarf around my neck. “I’m going for a walk”, I tell JJ and his dad, “listen for Basil”. Then I walk downstairs, grab the remote to exit through the garage, and breathe deep. I walk up the hill, noticing the overripe pomegranates on the neighbor’s tree, hanging like jewels on the bare branches. I cross three short blocks, down a hill and up another, cross the street, and I’m in “Los Pinos”, the pines.
Today the air hangs heavy with mist, and my breath loops out in front of me like a filmy balloon. The pine trees rise majestically through the mist, the ground below them bare but for a carpet of bright green grass that reminds me of spring. Magpies swoop from branch to branch, and I can hear the low rumble of doves. Tufts of white rabbit fur dot the ground, though I can’t imagine where they’d be; the acidity of the pine needles inoculates the ground against the growth of underbrush.
I pass a couple walking their dog, but mostly I have the trails to myself. The quiet washes through me like the first fall rains, pouring over streets cluttered with fallen leaves. Walks have always been an escape, but nowhere is the quiet and drifting thoughts they bring more important than here. Maybe it’s because I’m American and the Spanish are more social, or maybe it’s because I’m an introvert, who needs quiet time. All I know is that each visit there reaches a point where the constant interaction with family, interruptions when I’m reading or writing, company for breakfast, lunch and dinner, stops feeling warm and dear and starts making me edgy. And so I take walks, often with JJ and Basil, and sometimes, deliciously, alone.
Today I do two loops around the pines, pausing to lean against the damp bark of a tree to spend five minutes writing. Then I walk home, swinging my arms and breathing deep, thinking, ‘I want to start my day with a walk like this every day’.
For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to claim the identity of writer. To come out of the closet, so to say. To stop thinking my obsession with stories and words has to be private. I’ve written and written and squirreled away hundreds of pages over the years, everything from conversations to descriptions of the cities I’ve called home. I’ve read about other writers’ process, and listened to radio interviews, and read books with an eye to metaphors. But I’ve always been afraid to call myself a writer.
What does it take, to claim what we’ve always wanted, or known ourselves to be?
For years I ached to have a child. In 2012, I had my Basil at last, a squirming, sunshiny boy who’s now 10 months. I claimed the identity of mother instantly and completely when I pushed him out, worried over him in the NICU for 48 hours, brought him home to our snug apartment. But then I claimed it little by little as I got used to how others saw me, what it was like to go everywhere with him. I continue to claim it as I learn about naps, and cooking for a family, and what it means to parent with JJ, and how to be myself while caring for my child.
Claiming the identity of writer has never been instantaneous or complete. I heard Barbara Kingsolver once say in an interview that she didn’t imagine she could be a writer as a kid, because only dead, white men were writers. And look at her now. In Animal Dreams, her fourth book, she writes as part of a letter from one sister to another:
“[T]he very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance, but live right in it, under its roof (p.299)”.
I figured out a long time ago that I hope to write. It’s time now, at the dawn of 2013, to live inside these writing hopes, occupy them as a place where sunshine can pour through windows, where flowers can bloom, where writing can become something that belongs to me.
A new year. A new beginning, on this blog. An essay|story|post here, every Tuesday.
Want to join me? What do you hope to begin, this year?
Something about this post from Christina Rosalie on her beautiful new site made me sit down and show up here today. I love blogs, read a handful religiously, another handful now and then. The beauty of this medium, blogging, is how it provides a way of following stories over time, and thus a way of connecting through writing, photography, passions. I love sitting down, checking in with people, seeing creativity at play, photos, projects, daily life as it shifts and changes. But it continues to be hard for me to put myself out there, to participate.
Since I had my sweet son five months ago, I have been overcome with this feeling of how we are so easily boxed in by how we see things every day, all the time. Like a view out your window that you see every day, your perspective on life can feel so permanent, static, unchanging. We forget that the view is not permanent. Then something big happens, like becoming a mom, sending shifts in identity roaring through us like a river of snowmelt down a mountain, bringing with them questions and new perspectives on everyday life.
It feels to me like the changes in identity that come with having a baby hold both transformative possibility, and the potential for stagnation and letting myself fade behind the demands of childrearing. So with this shift, the rumbles brought by motherhood, I’m asking myself: how can I live a life where I’m not hemmed in by the way things are, the things I’ve always done, the way I’ve always thought about things?
Showing up here is one way. Having the courage to be vulnerable, to write even when I don’t know what to say, to share pictures even when I’m not sure what they say.
See you soon.
I’ve been wanting to blog lately. Each time I post a comment on someone else’s blog, and it has a link to mine, I think ‘gosh, my last post was months ago’. But more than the typical guilty blogger feeling, I’ve been wanting to blog because I am writing, and taking pictures, all the time these days, and I want to share.
I am taking pictures of my Basil, every day. Capturing his expressions, his growing chubbiness, the way he looks at his dad at the end of the day like, ‘hey, you’re back!’. And I am writing about Basil, our time together, what it’s like to be his mom. How we sat this morning, in a strip of sunlight pouring through an open doorway, and felt the heat on our bare feet. How he stands already on my lap, and his legs flop a little like green beans, but he gets frustrated when I sit him down. How I settle him into the front carry, bundling up against the spring coastal winds, and we set off on an evening walk, up and down the hills around our house. And how I wanted to move so badly 6 months ago, and now with Basil here, I am falling in love with the possibilities of living where we do.
But mostly, my thesis writing fills every spare moment I have. I am writing about Barcelona, what I learned from the teachers there, about how immigration was transforming their daily lives. There is power in listening, really listening to someone talk for up to an hour, and that is what I did in my interviews with teachers. They told me their life stories, how they had grown up being punished for speaking Catalan, or feeling uncomfortable because they only spoke Spanish. How integrating or assimilating immigrants is a process of all of us changing, making a new society together. Or how integrating newcomers is about the immigrants changing, learning our language, because they are the ones who came here. Or how it’s really about basic respect, across divides of cultural difference, starting with learning to say ‘hello’ in each others’ languages. I am writing about all this, working on the second findings chapter of three, on track to finish by the end of July. If I keep at it.
So back to it, while Basil takes his morning nap. But I’ll see you here again soon.
The days blur together right now like the reds and yellows of a watercolor left in the rain, Tuesday’s becoming Saturday in a stream of rocking, diaper changes, cooing and nursing. JJ is off work for another two weeks, and some days we are still in pajamas at 11, Basil lying peacefully in bed between us after fussing all morning. Today, he slept for 2 hours on his daddy’s chest, arms hanging down JJ’s sides like the limbs of a stuffed monkey draped around a child’s neck. He’s a good baby, wiggly and full of life when he’s awake, insistent when he needs something but usually quick to soothe once we figure out what it is.
So good that I’m working on my thesis again! Monday we went to apply for Basil’s passport down the hill in the Castro neighborhood post office, and then I stayed to work in a cafe nearby while JJ brought Basil home for a nap. Being out for just a few hours, making thesis progress, then having the walk home to myself: it feels like forbidden fruit, in these demanding first months of caring for a newborn.
The city is bursting with spring, every scrap of dirt not covered by concrete or ornamental rocks crowded with new growth. Walking up the hill to our house, I see a tangle of last year’s alyssum, wild sour grass, fennel and bright orange California Poppies compete for space in pots and patches of garden. A calla lily in full bloom stretched up through the center of a low hedge, reminding me of a giraffe reaching for tender treetop leaves, or the birdlike neck of my son, straining for milk.
After more than 3 days of labor, my little Basil (his nickname during the pregnancy) arrived a little over two weeks ago, long and lean with his daddy’s feet and mama’s round cheeks. “Look at all that hair!” everyone kept exclaiming as I pushed him out; the hair so long in the back it scrunches up against the collar of his onesies. My days are spent now sitting in the rocking chair, learning how to breastfeed with him, alternately getting lost in the sweet curve of his cheeks, the silkiness of his hair, the downy fuzz on his ears. He was too long for many newborn outfits from birth, feet straining against the cotton toes when we tried to put them on him, the long-sleeved newborn onesies becoming 3/4 length sleeves on his long arms.
So far he sleeps a lot, and wakes to eat with little squeaks and grunts that stir me in the night before they burst into full cries. I’m getting used to being up a couple hours out of the night, nursing him in the soft glow of the star-covered night light, staring out into the dark night, or listening to the pounding rain. We combat the tiredness during the day with naps in the soft afternoon sun, slices of golden light draping across us like a warm blanket.
I feel so lucky, so very lucky to be a mama to this little one.
Sunday was my baby shower, a most beautiful day where my mom, sisters, nieces and friends descended on my house and transformed it with flowers, amazing food, laughter and bundles of love for this little one on the way. I’m 36 weeks now, he’s almost full term, and as I write this, the doorbell rings and the car seat we ordered arrives. I feel like he’ll come close to his due date, but also feel ready if he comes sooner.
The last couple months have been about being pregnant (and the extra eating, resting that entails…) and pushing ahead on my thesis. Next week is my 100-day deadline. I already know I haven’t made as much progress as I wanted, but I built up a lot of momentum on the thesis in the last months and feel really good about that.
Being pregnant has been such a joy! And after having such a hard time getting here, I’ve just felt so damn lucky to take part. Of course it’s uncomfortable at times: fatigue to the bone, sore hips, heartburn, nausea, insomnia… But mostly I’ve felt strong and good, (thanks in no small part to prenatal yoga, I’m convinced). Feeling the baby move, wiggle around, get the hiccups (multiple times a day!); feeling him grow makes me smile again and again. Pregnancy is a time of big expectations for the future, and I’ve loved the energy of that.
What does blogging mean to me in 2012, in this year of change in my life? I’m not sure yet. Working so hard on my thesis has taken all my writing focus, and notebook/journal writing has been more sporadic. Yet there are so many things I’ve thought about writing about and having a conversation here. Giving and getting advice in pregnancy. Making peace with living where we do, while also wanting to move. How advice books can make us more anxious about becoming a mother, rather than helping. And so much more.
In April I’m going to see Anne Lamott and her son talk about the new book they cowrote, Some Assembly Required: A Journal of my Son’s first Son.
I can’t wait! Read her book about her son’s first year last month, and found myself laughing out loud many times. Was also inspired to journal more, especially when my son is born.
It’s all I’m focusing on right now. Aching to make baby things and needing to start preparing for his arrival (carseat! diapers!… you know, the essentials!). Have made a list of things to do/buy and that’s it. I spend my days eating (so hungry these days), dreamily watching the baby wiggle under the skin of my belly, and trying to make progress on the thesis. Today is the halfway point of my 100-day plan, and there’s still so much to do.