National Poetry Month Prompts: Day 23 #scienceispoetry

National Poetry Month Prompts: Day 23 #scienceispoetry

on honoring what's essential

This is what happens when you have amazing friends who love you and want to support your spontaneous side in their own planned way. They show up while you are watering your flowers on Friday evening, and they are wearing pink pajamas and jump out of the car and announce, “Slumber party!” They whisk you 45 minutes north where you spend the next few days playing cards and imagining plots for B movies and talking about where your lives are headed.

I spent Saturday morning daydreaming in a hammock, casting the conversation of the previous night against bird calls and clouds. When I choose nature over the rest of life, it always seems to end up that the rest of life is small by comparison. Even the craziest idea for social change, or the greatest frustration with systemic shortcomings, or disappointment in political gridlock fades back against a forest of white pine and birch trees.

And I wonder, is this escapism, or is it a return to what’s most essential?

If I bought a small piece of land, built a little house, and lived a life that honored only what’s most essential (in my understanding of it), would I be more or less ignorant? Would I be more or less connected to my neighbors? Would I be more or less contributing to change?

I am not sure. I am not suggesting that I would completely unplug. In my view of what’s essential, I would still do work that connects to the bigger picture — that’s just who I am. But I suppose doing what’s essential means doing only the best and most authentic work, the work most aligned with your purpose and with a high potential to benefit from your unique contributions.

(And I should clarify that “work” has one connotation traditionally, but I use it as a placeholder that ignores the lines of the professional and the personal. I think of “work” as an expression of your purpose and truest self, whether it is writing poetry or leading a social change movement or gardening. For me, it is a combination of traditional paid work, like consulting, and craft-type work, like writing.)

So if people got to what is most authentic and essential, what would happen? Maybe first a shift in priorities. And priorities work like fallen logs in a river; the energy flows differently as soon as they are lodged. So where would the energy go? Would getting to the most essential parts of living and working mean a kind of willful ignorance, or would it mean an attempt to focus and nurture only the best, most potential-rich parts?

Put another way: If you said no to one thing today and said yes with more intention and attention to something else, what would happen?

Are we having the wrong conversation about "having it all"?

There are parts of The Atlantic’s “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All" that resonate (e.g., the crazy force that is billable culture) and then there are parts that bother me, like the quirky parallel of the marathon runner employee who gets up early and the mothering employee who gets up early.

I agree it’s time to challenge traditional feminist idea of “having it all,” but this story almost perpetuates the problem by settling into some boxed/absolute thinking of its own. The author often narrows in on family values, an isolation that misses the chance to talk about the bigger social opportunities. At times, this isolating angle seems to come with an underlying judgment: that family rearing is a kind of noble activity that should therefore be uniquely considered and supported, as opposed to supporting quality of life for all people in general.

It makes me think of the scene in Little Women, where Jo argues that women should get the vote not because they are good, but because they are human beings and deserve equity. Similarly, people should not be supported or have flexibility in their careers just because they are raising families, but because they are people and it’s simply better to have a balanced life. 

This should have nothing to do with kids, and maybe that’s what most bothers me about the article. Maybe I’m annoyed in general that if I am a feminist, there’s an assumption that I must have an innate orientation to motherhood, and that means I must also carry the banner for families. This bothers me in two ways: First, it doesn’t go far enough in terms of a cultural shift. Second, it insults men like my husband, who are working their asses off to evolve in their own right but tend to be the afterthought of social movements aimed at “women and families.” 

It’s time to dig deeper. I don’t really care if you choose to wake up at 4 am to train for marathons or if you choose to get up to feed your newborn. What matters is creating a society that values and supports balanced living.

"Family-friendly policies" are not exactly that radical at the end of the day. Radical change would be the world deciding to go to a four-day workweek. Radical change would be regular creative sabbaticals, or a complete redefinition of careers away from title-collecting and ladder-climbing toward strengths-building and project-hopping. This article has done lots to describe the symptoms and current conditions, but if we really want to reinvent ourselves, our careers, and our workplaces — rather than merely fix broken systems and solve old problems — we need to expect more and experiment actively and significantly. We need to give ourselves permission to imagine bigger instead of inheriting and rehabbing yesterday’s model.

the importance of being shitty

I’ve recently shifted my focus on some commitments and freed up more energy for my own projects. Which essentially means I began staring down a lot of ideas with my best “Ok—let’s go!” attitude. And nothing happened. And I grew disappointed, because despite all my zen-like intentions, I am still wired for productivity at the end of the day. If I didn’t have a few new poems or a new business strategy or a new something at the end of the day, what was I doing?

Carl finally concluded: “You haven’t been shitty at anything in awhile.”

I was surprised to realize how true that is. I’m the last person to want to be an expert. The idea of an “expert,” for me, suggests a level of mastery and experience and assuredness that I just don’t think exists these days. Expert is a point-in-time achievement… as long as the world continues to change (and it does), you should change with it. Better to be a perpetual student. 

But I started to see how pervasive expertise can be. Much of our lives, especially as entrepreneurial types, is spent tuning our strengths and adapting ourselves (and our companies) to create or connect to opportunities. At a certain point, you’ve seen enough scenarios to work from a set of patterns… if x happens, then we can do y. If x-type customer crosses our path again, then we will offer y sooner. In some ways, this is as it should be. This is natural evolution and efficiency that comes from learning and being self-aware.

But in other ways, this process can create a comfort zone that throttles creative thinking. You grow more strategic but not necessarily more creative. Ideas and energy are filtered through the scenarios. Creative instinct gets doused in so-called “experience.” Or in my situation, the ideas and energy are expected to produce something, or produce outputs of a caliber similar to previous ones, within the same amount of energy and efficiency. And when they don’t? Creative paralysis.

In short, we forget how to be shitty. 

Shitty looks a lot more like flailing than it does, say, brainstorming. (Isn’t it funny that even brainstorming sounds so logical and productive these days?) Shitty is your brain’s Fight Club. It’s where your idealism beats up your realism and vice versa. It’s messy, and you feel like you haven’t trained well enough to land a punch, and you are ashamed that you have to fight so much at all… because shouldn’t you know more than this? At least enough to skip the awkward phase, where your ideas must learn how to walk?

And I guess that’s the point: No, you shouldn’t know enough. Because if you did, you would only envision what works, and you’d stop imagining what’s possible.

So I’ve been trying to be open to that. Giving myself permission is the most important part.

In terms of tangible practices, one thing I’ve started to do is write down my questions, not just my ideas. What we wonder about is a path to what we might imagine or create. These can be bizarre questions (e.g., does anything naturally occurring travel only in a straight line?), but when you’re someone like me who likes to make lots of things in lots of ways, there are many ways they might get answered — through a poem, through an app, through a new service, etc. 

What do you do to get comfy with the shitty phase of creativity?

dreaming: harper lee, truman capote, ernest hemingway

Last night I had a dream that Harper Lee was in love with Ernest Hemingway, but he was not reciprocating. Harper Lee was losing it to Truman Capote over the situation… and Truman Capote appeared as a woman in the dream. Most odd was that he was fumbling with an armful of arrows. And I remember thinking how upset Ernest Hemingway was going to be when he discovered Truman Capote being so careless with his arrows. 

I never dream about writers. I admit some envy of the writers who do get regular visits from other writers. (Kelli Russell Agodon comes to mind… I’d love a whole blog devoted to collecting dream encounters with writers! Imagine the bizarre wisdom we could uncover.) 

So it was a nice change to see writers in my dream, although none of them were talking to me. None of them had anything profound to say in general. But it was nice to be in the company of writers, at least in sleep. (And the idea of Harper Lee falling for Ernest Hemingway was especially funny once I woke up.)

poetry news and giveaway winners

Well, National Poetry Month rocked — I did a few readings, participated in the first Grand Rapids’ Poets Conference, met some new poets, and was invited to share some of my work on WYCE’s Electric Poetry (will post the link when it’s archived online). Big steps for a poet who spent the last six or seven years writing mostly in secret. And in all the hubbub, I forgot to announce winners for the poetry giveaway! Eep! Sorry for the delay, and many thanks to all who entered. Here are the winners at long last, and I will also email you for more details:

And in other fun poetry news, I found out that two of my poems have been accepted to be published in the next issue of Big Scream, which is published by David Cope. It is only the third time that some of my work will show up in print out in the wild, and it gives me another vote of confidence to keep pressing on. Although I admit that I have returned to some of my pre-Poetry Month hermit tendencies, but you know, small steps.

poetry book giveaway (kicking off national poetry month!)

Poetry giveaway!

Tomorrow marks the start of National Poetry Month! One of the ways I’m taking action this year is through Kelli Russell Agodon’s Big Poetry Giveaway

This is a great way to get to know poet-bloggers while circulating poetry books. Each blogger selects two books to give away. Visitors (like you) have the month of April to comment on the giveaway post (like this one) and enter. In early May, I’ll select two commenters at random to receive the books. I’ll contact you for your mailing address and send you a bit of poetic happiness on me. (If you want more details, Kelli has it all spelled out — and her blog is worth a visit anyway!)

I don’t have my own book of poetry to share yet, so I’ve chosen two of my favorite poets. They are both lady-poets, because my poetry tastes are admittedly a bit of a girls’ club. It’s something I’m working on (I’m looking at you, Donald Hall. But the truth is you got in via Jane, so…). 

Lucille Clifton
quilting

Oh how I love Lucille Clifton. I have cluttered the pages of quilting with Post-Its and penciled notes and underlines and stars. (If you win, you will get a fresh copy to devour in the same way.) I love these poems because they deal in identity, in the practice of naming, the role of language as a kind of witness to truth and history, and the power that plays in all of those things.

Some of my favorites in this book involve a retelling/consideration of the creation myth. Adam is vulnerable in Clifton’s poems, and Eve has an inner life that Clifton doesn’t define but instead opens up, into a subtle exposure of the deeper story (a kind of witnessing in and of itself). 

As an undergrad, I lucked out and was dissecting quilting in one class and Paradise Lost in another. The two layer together in interesting ways. If you cross the way Milton positions Eve seeing her reflection for the first time with Clifton’s “sleeping beauty”, for instance, you can discover great texture to Eve and her process of “waking up.” I’m a nerd and find this kind of dialogue between texts fascinating. So, if you win quilting and are equally intrigued by myths relating to Eve and the creation story, consider reading parts of it alongside Paradise Lost! Poetry Month bonus points!

Diane Wakoski
Emerald Ice

Diane was my poetry professor at Michigan State, and I read her work when I want a reminder of how deep imagery can propel poetry. 

I have lots of admiration for Diane, in part because she takes poetry seriously, and I’m one of those people who feels like no one is ever taking things seriously enough. Not in a stuffy way… more in a “there’s no such thing as high expectations”/”always ready for a challenge” way. I felt a bit isolated in that regard until I met Diane, the professor who would confront you directly about why your work was buckling with cliches or why you got lazy with your metaphor half-way through the poem (guilty).

Her poetry has that same edge to it. It’s a drive — a precision of language and a self-possession charging through the voice of her poems. I love that. It’s something I haven’t mastered in my own voice yet, so I tend to read her work more from a place of observing craft than I do for straightforward enjoyment. Your mileage may vary of course — I’m not necessarily suggesting that Diane is a “poet’s poet.”

Ready to win?
If you are interested in winning either of these books, just leave a comment below by April 30, 2012! Be sure to include your name and an email address where I can reach you if win. Thanks for playing along, and happy National Poetry Month!

"If u don't feel it check out quantum physics"

I’ve been thinking about oneness even more than usual lately, so this sidewalk art was a happy surprise as I walked up to Martha’s Vineyard tonight. I especially love the encouragement to check out quantum physics acting like a qualifier: “Hey, this isn’t all warm fuzzies/group hug/sing around a campfire oneness — this stuff is for real!” (And that is totally how I feel, too.) 

the making of an ekphrastic poem

I’m excited to share that I’m one of 10 poets who will read as part of Poetry on Demand at the Grand Rapids Art Museum on April 6. I’m participating in part because I didn’t take enough time to talk myself out of it — I’ve wanted a challenge to put myself out there more with my poetry, and this opportunity fits in many ways. 

The event itself is unique and more intimate than a typical poetry reading. Each poet will write a new poem that engages with a piece in the GRAM’s new Rauschenberg exhibit (hence an ekphrastic poem, for those who don’t know, is a poem that responds to art). At the event, the poet will stand near the piece they chose, and attendees will approach and ask to hear the poem. So, the event format alone is a good challenge — it’s humbling when people take time out for a poetry reading, but to share poetry in such a direct way will be especially meaningful (hopefully for everyone involved, not just the poets).

And then of course there is the issue of creating a new poem, in response to someone else’s inspired piece of work, and revealing that poem within a matter of weeks. The challenge here does not need much explanation. Especially if you know that I am a happily patient and intentional editor. This will be good practice for me in just “shipping” a poem (a concept worth borrowing from my entrepreneur side). 

The piece I chose is Blue Line Swinger. I have a longstanding attraction to dichotomy (it was the bread and butter of my English degree) and curiosity about the relationship between parallel or seemingly disconnected things, so the line running through the piece was pretty seductive to me. I want to know why it’s there, what it means, how it creates worlds on either side, and so on. And with the reading I’ve done on Rauschenberg, I’ve gathered that he had a thing for chance and serendipity, which only further spurs my interest in the line. 

I don’t want to say much more than that, because over-explaining poems is bad juju — especially when they aren’t even fully written. 

So far a handful of lines have come to me. I thought I’d take cues from Rauschenberg and separate them onto individual index cards to mix them up, similar to his Synapsis Shuffle. The only thing this has shown me so far is that I’m stuck on certain lines going a certain way — to the detriment to the flow of the rest of the poem.

So I’m backing off for today. The poem is still at work in the back of my brain, but the more my conscious hands touch it, the more stubborn I become about certain parts. Here’s to chance and the possibility of more lines presenting themselves as the poem rolls around. 

today i met quantum poetics

This post on the Poetry Foundation’s Harriet blog on quantum poetics has me all riled up (in the best way), and rattling off about it to Carl wasn’t enough, so here I am. 

I’ve had a keen sense lately that the different “minds” — scientific, analytic, energetic, poetic, spiritual — are on paths toward each other. And not in the usual “holistic thinking” way. That is nice but falls short. This is about more than the usual awareness and intermingling of disparate ideas. 

So often something rooted in science, especially physics and astronomy, sparks questions, ideas, or beliefs that (for me) end up being manipulated via poetics. This is happening more frequently and with greater intensity than before, with an underlying persistence that makes me wonder if these “minds” might eventually crystallize into something wholly distinct. Rather than unlikely couplings illuminating the big picture, could they be the framework of the picture itself?

I hinted at this in my post about emptiness in space… the idea of bringing my poetic mind to what might have traditionally been questions of science. On a recent draft of a poem, I finally gave up on line edits and simply wrote “Learn more astronomy” at the bottom of the page. And not just for the sake of accurate content details… but for the concepts and what they present to poetry, and vice versa.

So tonight I discover this post, and much like finally getting the diagnosis for a funny growth on your arm or an obscure pain in your gut, I had that shiver of, “Oh, they’ve got a name for this!”

Quantum poetics. This is the kind of stuff that makes me want to shut my door and read and write for days and days. This quote in particular (from the essay “Quantum Poetics: Writing the Speed of Light”)  makes me giddy:

"If language is not merely descriptive but participates in the formation of physical reality, then poetry might be said to constitute a manipulation of physics, which would redefine poetry as not just a phenomenon of consciousness or an ontological and/or epistemological activity, but also as a clinamatic mutation on physical reality, or what might be thought of as nature."

So damn fascinating. And so much to learn… it’s one thing to be enamored with the ideas, it’s another to understand and play around with the mechanics. For now, I’m going to keep unpacking it and keep trying to tune in (and perhaps spilling more here when the energy needs a home, especially if it means connecting with others who are exploring similar ideas).

vintage emily: fun with the wayback machine

Inspired by my friend Ashima's recent finds on the Wayback Machine, I searched for one of the first websites I built. It was 1996 or 1997. I was 12 and obsessed with online zines and AOL message boards. I had created my own zine, which focused on advice for and by kids. It was called Problems & Solutions (so creative), and it was the very vanilla precursor to my edgier zine in high school, which I called “damsel” — lol. I wish I could find the archives of the zines themselves, but this website is still a gem (and the funky characters working as dividers appeared as dots and squares back in the day, for what it's worth): http://web.archive.org/web/20010725144630/http://members.aol.com/emily28/

confession tuesday: i know the secret to inbox zero

I confess that I really do know the secret (for me). And it’s decidedly simple:

1. Sign up for the most well-designed to do list ever: Teux Deux. Get the iPhone app while you’re at it. 

2. Marvel at the beauty of dragging and dropping your to do list items and prioritizing your life with a swipe of your precious little fingertip. 

3. Discover that you keep most emails in your inbox because you have to *do* something with them… inevitably you are always two or three steps away from simply replying, which in turn (somehow) equates to always being 385 emails away from inbox zero.

4. Start adding those reply steps/projects to Teux Deux and booting them out of your inbox. If a client sends you content for a brochure you’re writing, it does not belong in your inbox. It’s an asset that can be found later. (This is the trick: thinking of your inbox as a magical library where people submit new stories and content every single day.)

5. Archive the associated email. (Assuming you’ve already discovered the power of Gmail.)

6. Watch your inbox count dwindle. And thanks to Teux Deux’s ability to effortlessly add and shift line items around, you will brainhack your way to email activity that is a tool for *making stuff happen* instead of creating more emails. Suddenly you’ll manage your responses and email activity based on your actual capacity and the actual priority of the project. The “just power through” emailpalooza lunch break disappears.

7. When an item on Teux Deux does relate to an email, search your Gmail archives, find related email (like looking up the resource you need in a library), and as the cool kids say, “Git er done.” 

And that, my friends, is how I’ve been at inbox zero for almost a week.

away we go

We are a few hours into our journey to Paris and Rome, hanging out at the Minneapolis airport before our flight leaves. I have decided the Delta Sky Lounge is today’s closest equivalent to Ten Forward, with a bar and furniture that attempts to be hip-modern and everything, but unfortunately no Guinan. I wouldn’t mind hanging out with her all day. (Look it up, kids.)

So far my biggest adventure has been attempting to operate on about four hours sleep and low reserves after a packed week. This has resulted in me spilling coffee on myself and (a little) on the dude next to me on the plane from Grand Rapids to Minneapolis. It also involved not understanding how the coffee machine in the Sky Lounge works and missing the obvious “STOP” button and watching milk overflow, in a state of mystification. (In other words, if you’re following the theme here, I couldn’t even be trusted with a food replicator right now.) 

Also, this airport has three arcades. And I am now ranked in the top five for a few races on California Driving. 

Anyway, the plane ride over was lovely. The sunrise was at our back. I discovered the sweetest note from Carl waiting for me on my iPad — that’s the only great part of traveling without him. The love notes. Otherwise, I hate that he’s not here. In a weird way, it’s like an injury that reminds you how important your limbs are. Like, hey that bruise really hurts, but wow, did I ever underestimate how deeply I care about my arm and need it to be whole. This will be the longest time we’ve ever been apart, can you tell?

Ok. This post killed all of about 15 minutes. Back to people-watching and hopefully not spilling or stumbling over myself too much more. 

so... i'm going to paris. and rome. in 15 days.

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?

dear tuesday

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.)

confession tuesday: breakfast, workshop anxiety & the importance of being alone

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.

confession tuesday, in which i consider becoming an aunt (and other unexpected confessions)

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.

four steps to a great Monday night

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.