emily stoddard Posts

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Seriously. I love this guy SO MUCH.

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A few days into the year, I decided my mantra for 2012 would be: Honor what’s essential. Do what energizes. 

It’s not a resolution. It’s an intention. And it’s already making this year feel like a time of magic. I’m not a huge fan of the word magic — it seems a little too sentimental even for me — but I feel like I discredit the energy that’s taking shape if I name it anything less.

My parents and my brother and I had a long conversation last night, about purpose and direction and spirituality and travel. My dad and my brother are good friends with restlessness, like I am, so when it showed up again last night, they met it at the door with a greeting popular among restless people: obsessive browsing of travel websites. 

By 10 pm I got the call that they wanted to go to Paris, take the train to Rome, and then fly home from there. And they wanted to do this at the end of the month. And the deals were hot, so I’d better act fast — was I in? A series of texts in the middle of the night, which I woke up to, informed me that they couldn’t wait for my decision and had booked their tickets. And they had reserved the hotel rooms for three people, hoping there was still a chance I’d join them. 

Some hours of work and two conversations with my husband (his response: Of course you should go!) and my business partner (her response: Of course you should go!) later, I’m going. And it feels like I just drew a circle on the map for good energy and new adventures and said, “Here’s where you can find me. Please visit often.”

Did I mention I’m ridiculously excited?

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I confess that I had written a different confession. But then I began to prepare it for this blog and realized it was too heavy and too squared at the edges. So I started over.

I confess that Christmas is a big deal in my family. 
Much of Stoddard family lore is rooted in Christmas traditions. For instance, ever since my grandparents were newlyweds, the family has gone to a tree farm and cut down our Christmas trees together. It’s a rite of passage for newcomers and a sacred thing for old-timers. Every year involves an hour or two of searching for the perfect tree — which in my case usually involves finding the tallest and fattest one I can reasonably stuff in our living room. 

I confess that death made Christmas a bigger deal. 
My grandma died on Christmas morning eight years ago. I confess that I watch for the collision of opposing and unlikely experiences, because I like to see the tension that inevitably connects them. 2003 was full of these collisions: Christmas, my grandma’s death, and parts of my first wedding all met up.

Eight years later, I still unravel these pieces and find myself looking at the experience in new ways. There are parts I love even if they’re not memories I can really share anymore, like searching for my wedding dress and buying it off the rack, so I could show it to Grandma. There are parts that are still surprisingly painful. It feels like I’ll always cry when I hear Silent Night, which my family sang to her in a large circle at the funeral home. It’s not the missing her that’s hard when I hear it. It’s remembering what it felt like to see everyone I love in one room, singing together and grieving for the same person while feeling the loss in their own way, with their own stories attached to her. Like a chorus of histories.

I confess that Christmas changes, or I change within it. 
This Christmas seemed to follow the tune of the year: transition, transition, transition. Some of it was out of necessity — with the first grandchild/nephew born on December 10, some traditions (like decorating the family tree together) had to take a backseat. Christmas day itself was pretty quiet, as we had gone to Carl’s family on Friday and done our Stoddard get-together on Christmas Eve. Late on Christmas day, it struck me that Carl and I should have prepared our own rituals for the day. We’ve grown so accustomed to the larger family traditions dictating our holiday time that I realized we have hardly any traditions as our own little family. 

I confess that I believe two people can be a whole family. 
And this is the transition I sensed — the need to acknowledge Carl and me as our own family, the opportunity to shape the holidays in our own way. I caught myself living in someone else’s framework: when you have kids, then you’re a “family,” and then you create traditions. It’s not a model I subscribe to intentionally, but it’s an easy one to fall into, especially in a family-focused place like West Michigan. There is an odd “When we have a family…” dynamic that not only makes bad assumptions about what a family is, but also can put a child-free couple’s (or single person’s) life on hold. I confess that I see this framework in action, and I am opting out of it. 

I confess that I will be a stronger writer in 2012, thanks to Carl’s amazing gift.

That, my friends, is an invitation to the Poets on the Coast writing retreat with Kelli Russell Agodon and Susan Rich, two poets I have followed for awhile and a retreat I wanted to attend when it was launched last year. I have been desperate to connect with like-minded people to push my writing forward. I have tried a couple different online experiences, the most recent of which was a technological blunder (just say no to Adobe Connect) that only pointed out the hard fact: my writing will only go so far in isolation. I felt positively restless, almost angry, after that experience, like a boat that keeps being denied a place to dock. 

This gift is a huge investment in the de-isolation of my writing. Not only will I get to spend three days working with two accomplished poets, I’ll travel to Portland, Oregon and then drive a couple hours to this fantastic, literary-themed hotel in Newport, where I’ll hopefully make some West Coast writing friends. It’s a triple threat of creativity: a new place, new people, and guidance to create new poems. Yes, yes, yes. 

I’m so excited about this opportunity and beyond grateful to Carl. Next year already feels more productive on the writing front knowing that this retreat is waiting for me.  (And I confess that I would not mind if discovering a writing retreat in my stocking became one of our new Christmas traditions.)

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Today I confess that I think it is silly that this whole “be honest on Tuesday” thing is called “true confession Tuesday” when “Truthful Tuesday” is a much nicer alliteration. 

I confess that I missed last week’s confession. I was busy with new and interesting things, like my new nephew and becoming an aunt and discovering what babies look like when they are in the 10th percentile for weight and the 75th percentile for length. (They look like adorable giraffes with the turtle-like capabilities of craning their necks and grimacing, for the record. Oh, and with long canoe paddles for feet.)

I confess that there was disappointment last week. I did not get into Hedgebrook, the first residency I’ve ever applied for. I told myself that you are not supposed to be accepted to the first residency you ever apply for, but that did not stop me from visualizing again and again that Hedgebrook would be my miraculous, nature-laden sanctuary in 2012. 

I confess that I visualize a lot. Every day before I wake up, I visualize the process of starting my day. I visualize the work I will do that day. I visualize the things that will make me happy, the ways I will keep myself centered in what really energizes me. I do not always stay true to what I visualize, but I begin the day with intent, and that’s what matters.

I confess that I am writing this just before I head out to a happy hour… and I don’t like being rushed. But I wanted to write something today, and I feel like after all the energy I’ve given just between yesterday and today, and that energy that I’m about to give, I might have very little left by the time the day settles down and says, “Oh, here’s some time to write.”

I confess that I feel so much more to say but am cutting myself off now, before Carl catches me running late. (Because I confess, on his behalf, that he is perpetually aware of matters related to time and promptness.)

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I confess that the only foods I ate today were breakfast foods. Toast and jam for breakfast-breakfast. Cereal for lunch-breakfast. Pancakes and bacon for dinner-breakfast. I didn’t plan it that way, but it’s the way I would have it every day if I could. 

I confess that I am only talking about what I ate earlier because I am avoiding the anxiety of what I am about to do. Tonight I am participating in an online workshop with the Chicago School of Poetics, which recently launched and is offering a sample workshop for people who want to give it a try. I am one-part anxious because I haven’t done a workshop in awhile. I am another part anxious because I hate the telephone, and to me, participating in an online workshop with my webcam is something like talking on the telephone while also naked. I am another part anxious because I already attempted an online workshop with Stanford, dropped what I consider a chunk of change to do it, and didn’t really have the best experience… apparently the majority of other people who could afford it were retired doctors who thought they would try their hand at “lyrical” this and “lyrical” that. Not that you can’t start writing poetry at any age. But when most of the workshop participants come from a similar economic background, a similar age group, and a similar place of understanding, it’s hard to develop the kind of healthy friction that pushes everyone’s work forward.

Not that I expect a sampler session to put me at ease with all of this. I am not sure what I expect, really. 

I confess that I have felt in a funk the past couple days. Not a bad or depressed or don’t-know-what’s-happening funk. More of a “I’d be happier if I was just alone” funk. Like I need to squirrel myself away and write and think and process. I like living in my own mind. I confess that I may indulge in that too much. My showers go a bit longer than they have to. My eyes always hang out the window if I’m in the passenger seat. I bristle at people trying to figure that out. Or assuming something’s wrong. When it’s just that I need some space. I think I am trying to find my center of gravity. I’m repositioning.

I confess that the last paragraph fell with a heavier thud than what I really intended. Why is it such a bad thing to talk about the need to be alone? Solitude, even isolation, have a bad reputation. Some people consider it heroic that I enjoy going to restaurants by myself. Have you ever enjoyed your French toast without the interruptions of nodding to the breaths of your friends’ conversation and without the need to swallow a little too hard and too early in order to reply? If you’ve never eaten your French toast that way, then you’ve never really enjoyed it. 

I confess that that last nod to breakfast was intentional. Perhaps I will have dessert-breakfast next. Before the webcam awkwardness.

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We meet again, Tuesday. Although today you feel like a Wednesday or Thursday, because you have been a rather energetic day, like a culmination of activity before the week lets go. 

I confess that I just stopped what I was doing to turn on some jazz. Jazz is my new favorite thing. I told Carl the other night that nothing screams D.I.N.K. like jazz and a glass of wine in front of the fireplace by 7 pm on a weeknight. 

Although tonight it’s not wine. It’s hot chocolate. Yum.

This week could be a very exciting week, and a portion of my brain has been devoted to that possible excitement all yesterday and today. This is the week that I could become an aunt. I confess that the arrival of every text message, the ring of every phone call, is accompanied by that lurching feeling in my stomach, the big question of, “Is it now? Is he here?”

I confess that watching my younger brother and his wife start a family is going to be one of the most special things and one of the most difficult to anticipate personally. I confess that I had in more recent history imagined that, as the oldest, I’d be the first to have kids; it’s probably the only time I’ve ever felt the traditional tug of “being oldest means going first.” Falling in love with Carl amplified it. Love has a way of magnifying even the smallest desire to raise kids, in my experience. Even when you’re someone who was never totally convinced that having kids was part of her life’s purpose, like me. 

But after a couple years of venturing down that road, I come to a place where there are no more answers about kids for me and Carl, and my brother is going first. Parts of this are stories for another day… something I’m still working through, figuring out how to bring the language to it. 

But the part that is happening now is that my brother is starting his family. And as I write this, I confess that I realize that this actually makes a lot of sense. He never wavered on his purpose in life. Family, having his own family, is part of his fabric. He was the third grader who announced he would not go to college — he wanted to get to work. He has an old-fashioned work ethic, kind of an old soul. He was the teenager who talked passionately about having a wife, a home, a family. He has always had a quiet, steady faith. I have in turns admired and then envied his quiet clarity. 

I don’t mean to say he “deserves” it more and is therefore having kids first. It’s just part of his journey, a part he always seemed meant to start at a young age. I confess that this is what makes me so excited for him… to see him realize something that he talked about so tenderly as we grew up. It’s also bittersweet, realizing that it’s happening at a point in my journey when I’m asking what family means to me and how it will be expressed in my own life.

I confess that somewhere along a sentence or freewheeling paragraph, this post took a turn I did not intend. But it went where it needed to go. It’s my first tiny step towards articulating a big part of myself that I have yet to process more openly… a part of myself that will inevitably bleed into my writing, a part that really has to, I think. So there you go. A totally unexpected Tuesday confession.

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1. Make the perfect cup of cocoa in a mug that sets the mood for a creative evening. (See this important piece of writing if you don’t know why such a mug exists.)

2. Enjoy said cocoa while reading in front of the fireplace. Watch Nikky Finney’s acceptance speech at the National Book Awards and feel incredibly grateful for the language and minds of poets, who carve out space we might not otherwise find. 

3. To continue your pre-game stretch, write in a journal, preferably one that was personally selected with great care after nearly an hour of browsing at a local bookstore and that happens to be in your favorite color (green is a suggested favorite color, in case you need one). 

4. Take up your mug on its suggestion and proceed to write like a motherfucker, polishing up a few earlier drafts of poems, generating some new ideas, and all the while celebrating that the week is young and you have already done something to create within it.

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