July 14, 2015
by Kate
30 Comments

summer and taking stock

I’ve been quiet here these last weeks. Part of the reason is that I’ve been busy. In early June we road-tripped to Winnipeg for a couple of days to see the first U.S. Women’s World Cup game, which was incredible and inspiring. The rest of the month was swallowed up with editing and teaching prep, doctor’s appointments, and the girls’ soccer games. Then we were up north with my family for a week before the 4th, after which I headed straight to Madeline Island to teach my women’s memoir retreat. Busy, yes. But part of the reason I haven’t posted in a while is that I’m not sure what I want to say here right now. I’ve been feeling a need to pull back and take stock.

I’ve been blogging since early 2007. I’ve reviewed dozens of books and interviewed dozens of authors. I’ve blogged about teaching and writing and family. I’ve connected with so many all-around fabulous people. I’m so grateful for that. But this last year with all of my health ups and downs—and it’s still up and down—I’ve realized I have to change something. Slow down. Refocus on my own work. Savor the time I have with my family. Read.

Summer is ordinarily a very busy time of year for me, but this year things have opened up, and I’ve come to realize that this is exactly what I need. I need to sit on the back patio in the morning with Donny, cups of coffee in our hands as we chat, admiring the garden and the life we’ve built together. I need to spend long afternoons with the girls at a city lake or a local pool. Maybe I need to scream my way down the zip line, dropping into the pool with a great splash, thoroughly embarrassing those girls. Maybe.

In my tiny pantry office, I have stacks of books I’ve been sent over the years, books to review. For years my to-do list has always included the name of at least one author to interview. I’ve read incredible books and had the opportunity to chat and email with so many talented and gracious authors. But I think I’m done now. (Yikes. I feel simultaneously thrilled and sick to my stomach writing those words—a sign that, for now at least, they are the right words, the right decision.)

I’m not sure what I do want to do in this space, but my gut tells me that I’d like to bring this blog closer to home, figure out how I can use this space to once again feed my creative process, enhance it. A need to turn inward, to listen to my own pulse.

I don’t know what that will look like, but I hope you’ll stick around and see what happens. I appreciate your patience as I fumble along, testing out what feels right.

June 12, 2015
by Kate
14 Comments

anthology week: the write on mamas’ mamas write

I’m happy to have Joanne Hartman, Mary Hill, and Janine Kovac, the editors of Mamas Write: 29 Tales of Truth, Wit and Grit, here for the final post of anthology week. Mamas Write is an anthology that grew out of the Write On Mamas, an amazing group of (mostly) women writers in the Bay Area. I first connected with them in 2012 when I was on tour for Use Your Words (though I previously knew Joanne through Literary Mama and Mary as one of my stellar students).

MamasCoverFINAL-201x300

Over the years, I’ve led in person and online workshops for the group and I also worked with them on Mamas Write, so this anthology is dear to my heart. I’ll quote a little of what I wrote in the foreword, which echoes what Suzi and Kasia said in their interviews earlier this week:

This anthology not only celebrates why and how and what these mothers are getting down on the page; it celebrates community, the ways in which we support each other as writers and as parents. In “The Next Prompt,” the final piece in this book, Janine Kovac writes, “I know that if I can’t share these feelings here—with these mothers who graciously share their stories with me—then […] I will never write truthfully about anything.”

These writers have taken a leap—to write their truth, and to share that truth with each other, to share it with you. This collection is ultimately about the power inherent not only in writing, but in sharing our stories. It’s about creating a space—virtual or in person—where we all feel safe enough to be vulnerable, to write what we’ve been too scared to write.

KH: Thanks for being here, Write On Mamas. Tell me a little bit about how you conceived of this anthology. Why did you feel there was a need for it? What made you take the leap?

WOM: Our anthology is a collection of stories written by members of our writing group, the Write On Mamas. The idea for the anthology came from the recognition that while we were a group with varied writing experience (from journalers to published authors) and varied writing interests (fiction, memoir, poetry, etc.) we all possessed a strong desire to write regardless of the barriers that parenting flung in our direction. From that spark, that drive, the initial question that shaped this anthology emerged: “Why do you write?”

The project, from start to finish, was an inclusive one. We are proud that every member who adhered to the submission and editing deadlines is included in this volume. We enlisted the developmental editing help of Kate who guided us in shaping our words into focused stories through her Motherhood & Words class and with individual editing. We were thrilled to see these polished pieces emerge from our rough drafts.

KH: It was so fun to see them change and grow over through the process!

Can you talk about the way the book is structured? Did the pieces you receive dictate the content of the book, or did you specifically seek out essays to address different topics that come up when women write about motherhood?

WOM: As we included all essays that were submitted we had less control over the content or sub-themes of the pieces. But that only made it more fun! Structuring the anthology was like putting together a puzzle. We sat for hours in our favorite café, discussing placement and thinking carefully about the emotional journey the reader would take. We aimed to place humorous or lighter pieces after a group of more challenging ones, shorter pieces after long ones.

KH: What pieces in the anthology particularly resonate with you? Why?

WOM: With three editors, not surprisingly we all had different pieces that resonated deeply with us. For example, the pieces that dealt with loss and challenging times especially resonated with Mary and Joanne liked the humorous pieces that made her laugh.

KH: Was there anything that was particularly challenging or surprising that you encountered as you compiled and published your anthology?

WOM: We had no idea what we were getting into. How hard could it be to collect the pieces, send back a few edits, put them in order and send them off to the copy editor? We met every Friday morning at Bittersweet Café in Oakland, CA and poured over each of the submissions, crafted emails to authors with suggested edits, reviewed copy-editing, and wrote the appendices. It was a lot of work, but we loved working together and look back on our chocolate zucchini bread and hot cocoa days with fondness. Writing is so often solitary, but we found that editing as a team was a collaborative and bonding experience.

KH: What advice would you give to women who are just starting to explore motherhood as a subject matter in their writing?

WOM: It sounds cliché, but keep writing. Jot down the little things as you go about your day and file or type them up later. Take ten minutes to scribble down that moment you don’t want to forget. Enroll in a class – we are all big fans of Kate’s Motherhood & Words classes and retreats – to help you dive deeper and find the story emerging from your writing. And Write On Mamas has a national membership, so check us out!

KH: Aw, shucks, thank you! And thanks for taking the time to chat with me here at Motherhood & Words.

Thank you to all the editors whose anthologies were featured this week. Here’s to continuing to create the space for all our stories!

Leave a comment below by June 24th for a chance to win a copy of Mamas Write.

June 10, 2015
by Kate
3 Comments

anthology week: kasia james’ the milk of female kindness

The second motherhood anthology I’m featuring this week is The Milk of Female Kindness: An Anthology of Honest Motherhood, edited by Kasia James. Kasia is the author of many short stories and science fiction novel The Artemis Effect. She lives in Melbourne, Australia, with a hydrologist, an ankle biter and a big black cat called George.

One of the things I really like about this anthology is the fact that it contains pieces from women across the world. I love what Kasia says in the introduction: “Some of the stories will touch you, and some may challenge you, but all will give a greater understanding of what motherhood has meant to ‘ordinary’ women around the world…In diversity, we hope to encourage you to think and feel about motherhood in a deeper and different way.” And her book really does embrace a diversity of voices, which I love.

I’m happy to welcome Kasia to Motherhood & Words today. Thank you for being here, Kasia! (Leave a comment below for a chance to win a copy of The Milk of Female Kindness.)

MOFK

KH: Tell me a little bit about how you conceived of this anthology. Why did you feel there was a need for it? What made you take the leap?

KJ: Anger, primarily! When I had my son, I was at first surprised, and then progressively frustrated and dismayed in the way that society’s attitudes toward me appeared to have changed. Now ‘just a Mum,’ it seemed that the media believed that I should only be interested in nappies (diapers), my post-baby body and shopping. There seems to be a genuine dichotomy between motherhood as a shining and impossibly ideal, and yet also a dismissive attitude to women who are mothers.

Motherhood is such a fundamental change to a woman’s life, and an immensely complicated and challenging role. I wanted to collect women’s writing, artwork and thinking to broaden the conversation about the real experience. For this reason, I was quite deliberate in seeking a diverse range of women: writing as mothers of young children, older children, children with disabilities and also as daughters, in conjunction with historical, feminist, psychological and medical perspectives.

KH: I love the title. Can you tell me a little about that?

KJ: It’s a quote from the screenplay of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, which discusses what it means to be a “real” man and a “real” woman:

“I might choose not to sacrifice my life caring for my children, nor my children’s children, nor drown anonymously in the milk of female kindness, but instead, say to go abroad. Would I still then be…”

“A real woman?”

I’ve always loved the sound of these words.

KH: Can you talk about the way the book is structured? Did the pieces you receive dictate the content of the book, or did you specifically seek out essays to address different topics that come up when women write about motherhood?

KJ: The book did grow somewhat organically. I started with a core of great writers who I had met through blogging. They suggested other terrific women writers and artists who I contacted. At that point, knowing that my aim was to embrace the diversity of motherhood, I started to deliberately seek out people to write on particular topics. I hunted through publications such as Lunar Station Quarterly (which publishes speculative and science fiction by women) to find others. My own mother also wrote a piece for the anthology, which discusses not only her views about motherhood, but recalls her memories of my grandmother, so there is a personal connection there too.

The anthology also features three interviews, and I went to some trouble to find the right people to give a genuinely honest and thoughtful views of their areas of expertise.

In terms of the structure of the book, I took particular pleasure in arranging the pieces to bounce off one another: either to pick up on a theme from the previous work, or to contrast with it. As The Milk of Female Kindness contains quite a body of amazing poetry, there was also a need to balance the pace of poetry against prose and factual information.

KH: What pieces in the anthology particularly resonate with you? Why?

KJ: I think the pieces that particularly chime with me personally will change over time, as my son grows. He is only two and a half now, so ones like “Distance” by Kitty Brody, which really speaks from the heart about the guilt of leaving small children, and the fiction piece “Failure of Heaven” by Christa Forster, a darkly powerful piece about the cost to us of protecting our children, really resonate with me now. I also adore a lot of the poetry and flash fiction in the book. It’s a form of writing, for me, that captures the essence of a feeling or situation, like an ant in amber: a frozen moment or idea. In particular, I’d have to choose “The Changeling” by Laura Evans, “The Maclaren” by Marie Marshall, and “Something Like Survivor’s Guilt” by Angelique Jamail.

That said, if the pieces didn’t resonate with me, they wouldn’t be included in the book! They are all included because they made me think, made me glow, or tore my heart.

KH: Was there anything that was particularly challenging or surprising that you encountered as you compiled and published your anthology?

KJ: To be honest, I think that apart from the grind of proof reading (many times!), the most challenging but also the most rewarding thing was to put aside my personal experiences and beliefs. Just because they are mine doesn’t mean that they are more valid than anyone else’s! Compiling the collection has really helped to sort out my own thinking and perspective on motherhood: I certainly don’t feel I have all the answers, but I’m perhaps more comfortable with that uncertainty!

I was also blown away by the naked honesty the women in my book shared. Motherhood is deeply personal, and some of the emotions it brings out in us are not always acceptable to the world, nor even to ourselves. I can’t express how honoured I am that this fantastic group of women chose to share their real stories and ideas about motherhood: the relentless hard grind and the sacrifices, but also the limitless loyalty, the pride and the love.

KH: What advice would you give to women who are just starting to explore motherhood as a subject matter in their writing?

I suppose like motherhood itself, I’m no expert. However, I would agree with one of our interviewees, Professor Alison Bartlett, who is the Chair of Women’s Studies at the University of Western Australia. She expresses the importance of having more stories about this issue out there as a means to rethinking and broadening our understanding of what it means to be a mother. Without a diversity of views, we are more prone to a media driven, narrow-minded view of the whole experience.

From my perspective, I would also suggest considering separating your experiences from those of your children in your writing, although of course your lives are intimately linked. By this I mean that I might be fascinated by the differences in approach or life experience of another woman who is ostensibly in the same position as I am, but perhaps will not be so enthralled by the intimate details of potty training! What are your thoughts, reflections, fears? What makes you angry, or guilty, or joyful? What is it really like to give birth, or to give up a child? These are experiences that only you can write about. They are not pedestrian, to be brushed aside as “women’s business.” There is daily heroism here – celebrate it!

KH: Thank you so much for being here at Motherhood & Words and chatting about your anthology with me, Kasia!

Readers, please leave a comment below by June 22nd for your change to win a copy!

June 7, 2015
by Kate
15 Comments

anthology week: suzi banks baum’s an anthology of babes!

One of my favorite things about this work I do here is meeting other women writers who are putting their words out there, creating community and making the world a better place. Today I’m so excited to kick of a week dedicated to a few of these women and their projects. This week I’m featuring three fantastic anthologies that celebrate motherhood and writing, and I’m so pleased to kick off with Suzi Banks Baum’s An Anthology of Babes: 36 Women Give Motherhood a Voice. (You can leave a comment below for your chance to win a copy.)

3. An Anthology of Babes cover

I met Suzi online a few years ago when she asked me to participate in her wonderful Out of the Mouths of Babes blog series. Of course I said yes! (If you don’t know this series, you must check it out. She’s pulled together the words of some of my favorite mother writers.)

I’m so honored to kick off this week with Suzi, who creates community wherever she goes. Writer, maker, mother, she teaches the Powder Keg Sessions writing workshops for women, produces Out of the Mouths of Babes: An Evening of Mothers Writing to Others and a host of other soulful art experiences. Most recently published on The Mid you can find more of her work at LaundryLineDivine.com.

For me, her anthology is a call to action, a reminder of the power in sharing our words and art with each other and the world. In the introduction, Suzi writes, “You become an activist when you decide that what you have to say has enough value to be worth saying.” Yes! This makes me want to pump my fist in the air, which is what you’re going to want to do when you’re done reading.

Please welcome Suzi Bank Baum to Motherhood & Words!

KH: Suzi, thanks so much for being here and kicking off this week. Tell me a little bit about how you conceived of your anthology. Why did you feel there was a need for it? What made you take the leap?

SB: When I began writing in earnest, towards a narrative that captured my days mothering, I wanted companionship. I had swallowed Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions whole. I wanted more personal writing, not fiction, not idyllic, not ideas about “what to do when.” I had hit some hard patches and wanted to hear how creative women expressed the full range of experience. I prowled libraries and bookstores. I found works of fiction by women who were mothers, and some non-fiction beyond Lamott, like Laurie Colwin and Anna Quindlen, but I knew there had to be more. I wanted to read about women who were working creatively within the demands of mothering. Mother Reader, a collection by Moira Davey and Mamaphonic by Bee Lavender and Maia Rossini, were two collections that bore witness to a wider range of women’s experience. My research led me to this blog and to others. I found Lisa Garrigues Writing Motherhood. It sent me back in time to Alicia Ostricker’s Mother Child Papers, to books of quotes and art about motherhood, to re-reading Barbara Kingsolver and Louise Erdrich for clues on the way they worked. Erdrich’s poem “Advice to Myself” became iconic for me. (“Leave the dishes,” she whispered to me) It led me to scholarly texts and Demeter Press, but it did not lead me to writing with immediacy that felt alive, vibrant with newborn understanding. I wanted to hear words from women who were in it, not fictionalizing motherhood, not with the perspective of time and distance, I wanted to sense the heat of the kitchen, the sound of feet bounding up and down stairs, the doors slamming and the writer there, in the midst of it. Messy. I didn’t mind messy. But real, so what I felt was companionship and identification.

I looked to the creative women in my community. This is where my anthology seeded and gestated.

KH: Can you talk about the way the book is structured? Did the pieces you receive dictate the content of the book, or did you specifically seek out works to address different topics that come up when women write about motherhood?

SB: The works in my book, literary and visual, were mostly sourced by a call for entries to a small group of writers in my area and to my blog series on motherhood and creativity called Out of the Mouths of Babes. I conceived and produced a live event for the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers that featured six writers reading 8-minute works that responded to my initial questions: Tell me how your creative life fuels your mothering. Tell me how mothering impacts or affects your creative life. How is motherhood creative? Do you find your creative yearnings stymied or fed by motherhood?

The range of responses caught me by surprise. I loved the diverse interior spaces women ventured into. I loved how their real lives were so interwoven with their creative expression, even though their work was thwarted by parenting or they had chosen to leave behind their primary creative modes of expression, I loved the energy and vitality, the ache and painful yearning that came through in all of the pieces. Birthday cakes and business decisions, meditation and losses, fresh sprigs of mint and buried memories of their own childhoods came forward and I knew the work had to be seen by more eyes than those on my website.

After two years of running Out of the Mouths of Babes for the Berkshire Festival and on my blog, I knew the integrity and impact of the work. I had enough content to create an anthology. I knew there was room on the shelves for the words of my peers. My longing for companionship in this expression and witnessing the fascinating and varied responses made me leap to publish.

I have produced Out of the Mouths of Babes: An Evening of Mothers Reading to Others event and the partnered blog series for four years running now. I would like to continue. I recast my theme every year. This year’s theme was The Village: Who else is here while you mother? I now have enough material for another anthology, but have to table it while I market this current one and do my own writing on the book that started this whole line of inquiry (and sprouted my career as a writing teacher, social media mentor and producer).

Just last night, my 20-year-old son came into my bedroom where I sat reading. He read the cover of my book and asked, “Don’t you ever get tired of reading about mothers?” I smiled. I read constantly. My shelves are full of a range of works- poetry, fiction, social commentary, essays, short stories, historical fiction, but he is correct. I am still devouring all the writing I can find that takes me inside this timeless and contemporary experience of women’s lives.

The book my son found me reading is Katrina Kenison and Kathleen Hirsch’s collection, Mothers, 20 Stories of Contemporary Motherhood. Published in 1996, this collection of 20 works of fiction by women writers is prefaced by an excellent introduction. Each work is followed by comments by the authors. I could fill this page with excerpts from the introduction, but this says it all for me:

“We decided to narrow our focus to stories that would portray the complexities of mothering in America today as we and other women of our generation are experiencing it – not as a footnote to career adventures, not as a subplot to romantic entanglements, but as a state of existence with an integrity all its own, rampant with grace, ambiguity, and bittersweet revelation.”

Kenison and Hirsh’s book confirms today what I recognized when I decided to publish An Anthology of Babes: 36 Women Give Motherhood a Voice. The voices from inside motherhood were worth amplifying.

KH: What pieces in the anthology particularly resonate with you? Why?

SB: Each piece in the anthology makes me more comfortable to be my full self. I have long been a multi-passionate woman (Marie Forleo’s term). I write, make jam, garden, paint, act, sing, do yoga, collage, sketch, knit, sew, embroider, dye, weave, felt, print, journal, make books, bake. I do lots of things, not all at the same time, certainly not in the earliest years of motherhood, and not all now, but I think about them while hanging laundry, I ponder them while reading at night, I explore ideas from hand to hand while walking in the woods with my kids and wonder what would happen if I started writing from this moment, when the slap of a beaver tail startles us all out of our late summer afternoon stupor and we dissolve into laughter and fright? In that first round of pieces women offered to the blog series, I felt a surprising safety in the thought, “If she can, I can.” Which reminds me of something Tania Pryputniewicz wrote: “What a relief: I am not exploring the seams of intimacy alone.” These stories offered me courage. They offer readers courage, comfort and companionship.

Motherhood certainly defines us. On a blog I will never forget finding on one of my “down the rabbit hole” searches for writing about motherhood and creativity, a woman wrote, “Motherhood is the one thing in my life that I have done, that I cannot undo.”

This may sound a bit bleak. And it may sound a bit stark. And it is true.

You cannot undo this. We will never stop being mothers. We will never cease our innate desire to mother others, to support, nurture and assist growth. Celebrating this inevitable, eternal, ancient and penetrating topic with a group of creative women allows a whole forest of possibility to emerge. I don’t have to set my mother-self aside to do my work.

Motherhood is timeless and captivating. Generations of women before us have been silenced, as women, as mothers, as healers, as teachers. I feel it is my responsibility to create a legacy of voiced women, so that our daughters’ daughters can look back and see, as Terry Tempest Williams writes,

“In a voiced community, we all flourish.”

Suzi Banks Baum II OUT

KH: Was there anything that was particularly challenging or surprising that you encountered as you compiled and published your anthology?

SB: During the course of publishing and marketing this anthology several things surprised me.

  • I was surprised by how much women had to say.
  • I was surprised by how some women took this opportunity of being published to join a forum of discussion, integration and reflection on motherhood and creativity. Many have launched successful businesses, cottage industries and exciting new literary offerings because of the permission this project has given them. Our momentum is countering the dearth of vibrant writing about women’s experiences.
  • The contributors who never responded to having been published surprised me. Kind of like the rare chicken, they hatched the egg and walked away from it. I realized that I did not ask them to commit to any reciprocal marketing, and that I had certain expectations. I learned there are certain things I need to make contingent on being included in any future projects.
  • I was surprised by the gentle way so many people received the book. My best friend from fifth grade and her mother bought a copy, read it and talked about it with each other. When I visited them last summer on the book tour, they spoke of some of the stories as if the writers were all with us in the room. They referred with such familiarity to the writing. I learned then that I must be assiduous in what I select for inclusion in this project because people read carefully. The impressions that are made by the written word and the visual image can reach deeply into people’s lives. I think of the tenet, “Do no harm.” I want to include the hard stories that touch sore places long insulated by grief and shame. Open, curious hearts will receive them each. I want what is true to be unvarnished by style or fancied up. These are not cute stories of what happened in the grocery store. These are stories of real women filled with yearning and wonder, caught in the act of making lives while mothering.
  • I was surprised by how much I love the eyes of an editor.
  • I was surprised by the responses of women who are not mothers; so touched by these.
  • I am surprised at how proud I am of the book, that it is dedicated to a woman who was present and engaged in discussion at the first live event, whose hands are pictured in a photograph in the book and who died within a year, leaving two teenagers behind, that funds from the book do double philanthropy as I share proceeds with two different organizations that supply free and low-cost healthcare to women and families in Berkshire County and that it is so very lovely to hold. It looks good. It feels good.

KH: What advice would you give to women who are just starting to explore motherhood as a subject matter in their writing?

SB: All I can say it this: Your story matters. Write or make your art work a part of your daily life.

Let your kids discover you lost in reverie, fascinated by the whorl of a pinecone. Let them know your hands paint-stained or berry splattered, let them know the strength of your advocacy for the planet and its people, let them hear the sound of your singing voice and see you on stage. Model passionate citizenship to your children by living full out.

I love what Katherine Paterson says: “As I look back on what I have written, I can see that the very persons who have taken away my time are those how have given me something to say.”

Be stopped by motherhood, put down all your devices and pre-occupations and give it your full, unsullied attention, and do not let it squelch your voice. Let it connect you to other women. Talk with them. Be a good listener, to your own heart, to the hearts of your family and to your world.

Then, word by word, tell us all about it.

KH: Amen, Suzi! Thank you so much for taking the time to “chat” with me.

Readers, if you’d like to win a copy of An Anthology of Babes, please leave a comment below by June 19th!

June 5, 2015
by Kate
2 Comments

Let me count the ways…a love letter to River Teeth

For the past four years, one of the highlights of my spring has been the River Teeth Nonfiction Conference at Ashland University. I’ve written about it here on Motherhood & Words before, and all of those things I lauded in the past still hold true. The conference is small, intimate, and chock-full of talks and readings by brilliant writers. Joe Mackall and Dan Lehman and Sarah Wells have really created something extraordinary, and I’m always honored to participate. Plus, I get to hang out with some of my favorite people.

This year the conference kicked off with a reading by Jerald Walker, who blew me away. If you haven’t read “How to Make a Slave,” which he read Friday night, and which is in Best American Essays 2014, you must go out right this minute and get a copy. Walker is the author of Street Shadows: A Memoir of Race, Rebellion, and Redemption, which I can’t wait to read. He’s not only talented, but warm and generous, as well.

Saturday was full of inspiring craft talks, and the day was topped off with a reading by Cheryl Strayed. Over the years I’ve heard Cheryl read and talk at various conferences, but this was the perfect setting, and she was fabulous, full of her usual grace. (And she read new material, which was stunning.)

Sunday continued with more fabulous craft talks and a conversation between Cheryl and Joe, and then wrapped up with a great talk by Steven Church.

(There were so many memorable quotes from the weekend, which you can find on Twitter; just follow #RTNC2015.)

I went into the weekend lamenting the fact that all of my summer teaching was on the chopping block because of low enrollment, but by the time I flew home on Monday I had done a 180. A weekend immersed in thinking about writing was just what I needed to adjust my attitude. Thank you, River Teeth. Now I’m excited to get back to my own work, to spend the summer playing with words. My goal for the coming months is to embrace a slower pace of life, to spend time writing, gardening, running, and hanging out with my family.

How do you want to spend your summer?

May 20, 2015
by Kate
6 Comments

writing retreats

I spent last weekend once again at Faith’s Lodge with an incredible group of women. And once again I was blown way by the amount and the quality of writing that emerged in those few days together. But it’s more than that; it’s community, it’s safety, it’s healing.

Just before we wrapped up on Sunday, one of my lovely students shared this poem, which she’d written Saturday night as a few women we were sitting together, putting down words.

 

Writing Retreat

By Heidi Fettig Parton

We are not a sisterhood of the traveling pants,

not a knitting circle nor a council

of wise ones. We’re not even a book club,

though we do read together—at times.

 

We are a half dozen women

sitting together in a shared

and respectful silence.

With but mere presence

we create this sacred space

for the puzzling together of pasts,

sighing our way along,

letter by letter, towards

the points of greatest attention.

There, we string together words,

like sparkling beads,

making beautiful sentences;

these flowing gorges,

that cut meaning

from the stories of our lives.

 

See how we sit together here,

in an oblong circle,

on the lodge furniture

in front of an unlit fire,

our computers on our laps.

 

See how we sit together here,

in this community of solitude,

accompanied by the brilliant

May evening night sounds

of mating frogs,

chippering birds, and the

deep voice of a singing wind chime.

 

See how we sit together here,

writing, writing, the far away;

pulling it in close.

 

Thank you for letting me share this, Heidi! (It’s cross-posted on Heidi’s blog.)

My next retreat is at Madeline Island School of the Arts, July 5 – 10. Come join in this incredible community of women writers!

May 12, 2015
by Kate
12 Comments

happy (late) mother’s day!

Our weekend was full of gardening and get-togethers and lots of youth soccer. (And Sunday morning fresh berries and a latte in bed along with home-made cards and crafts and lots of sweet hugs from my girls.) It was a perfect day, even with the cold and rain on the soccer field sidelines.

I hope you all had a wonderful Mother’s Day! I’d love to hear how you spent it.

I have two Mother’s Day treats for you. The first is the Mom Enough podcast of this year’s Motherhood & Words Reading. It was so much fun. I read a new piece (just written), and Kathryn Trueblood and Kao Kalia Yang were fantastic! (I forgot to repeat the last couple of questions into the mic in the Q & A portion of the evening, but hopefully you’ll get the gist of the questions based on our answers.) A huge thank you to The Loft Literary Center for the lovely space and to Mom Enough for making the podcast possible. Take a listen!

 

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And the second treat is a giveaway. I’m giving away two copies of Silent Running: Our Family’s Journey to the Finish Line with Autism, which I co-wrote with Robyn Schneider. It’s the memoir of Robyn’s family’s journey with autism and running, taking readers from Robyn’s twin sons’ diagnosis of autism as toddlers to their first marathon finish at age 20. You can read a lovely review of it by Caryn Mohr here. I’m very proud of this book, and I hope you’ll like it too!

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(Note: This is my first time using rafflecopter. It will eliminate the need for me to write names on tiny pieces of paper and pull them from a hat. Seriously, that’s how I’ve done this in the past. Welcome to the 21st century, Kate!)

Note: Rafflecopter isn’t racking up the entries, so maybe this means I should keep things old-school here. Consider yourself entered if you leave a comment below. Thank you!!

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I’d love to hear how your Mother’s Day went!

The winners are: Autumn (from the rafflecopter option) and Myrna (from the comment option). I’ll get books in the mail this week! Thanks to everyone who entered!

April 29, 2015
by Kate
10 Comments

when a break is a break

I said I was going to take a two-week break and unplug, and somehow it is four weeks later and I am only now getting around to posting here. Yikes.

The good news is that the break was a real break. I packed up the girls and we flew down to Costa Rica, where we spent a week in San Vicente, the village where I lived in the mid-90s. (It was a decision I made last fall when I was in the thick of my crazy schedule and found out that my host-mother had been diagnosed with stomach cancer. Luckily she’s doing well, and I’m grateful we were able to spend time with her and the rest of my host family.)

It took me a couple of days to settle into the slower rhythm of life in San Vicente, but then I embraced it and I felt better than I had in months. The second week of our trip, Donny flew down and met us and we all went to the beach together. It turns out I love spending my days boogie boarding, taking slow runs along the beach, reading novels in a hammock, drinking mojitos and eating fresh-caught fish. It was a true vacation, one that I clearly needed.

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Then we came home and my stress level shot through the roof and my ulcers and gallbladder began their squawking again. Talk about a rocky re-entry. But I’ve finally settled back into the hectic rhythm of our current lives, and I’m trying to make space for writing and reading. This last week I’ve been working on an essay about San Vicente for my Motherhood & Words Reading tomorrow night. It’s been a while since I started a new essay, and it’s been fun to muck around in that discovery phase again. It’s also been a long time since I’ve read aloud a work-(very much)-in-progress. We’ll see how it goes.

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If you’re local, I’d love to see you tomorrow night. I’m honored to be reading with two fantastic, talented writers: Kathryn Trueblood and Kao Kalia Yang. Please join us at 7 p.m. at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. There will be a reception following the reading. Bring your friends. Make a night of it!

March 20, 2015
by Kate
12 Comments

holding steady

* Disclaimer: This post is full of health-related over-sharing. Proceed at your own risk.

Though I took a small break for Zoë’s birthday festivities, it feels as though once again most of my time is dedicated to navigating my health issues. Last week I had a double colonoscopy/upper endoscopy, which was, um, lots of fun. Really, the actual procedures weren’t bad. (I was happily sedated.) But the prep—my God, people. Not to mention that I was teaching the night before, which involved a half-hour drive to and from a church in Edina. That I didn’t have a messy accident on the way there or back is a minor miracle. Luckily, the class was with a group of understanding and laid-back women who didn’t seem fazed by my frequent disappearances.

The tests showed that I have some “baby” ulcers in my duodenum. (On hearing this, a friend of mine told me that she thought “duodenum” was the most beautiful word she’d ever heard; i.e. “Vittorio liked to serenade the young American señoritas with a duodenum from his home country.”) She thought it would sound like this.

I love that—LOVE it—despite the fact it doesn’t actually make my baby duodenal ulcers any sexier.

Anyway, I’m on omeprazole for eight weeks to try to heal those tiny suckers, but I still have something going on with my gallbladder, so I’m still plying myself with tinctures and herbal supplements and doing my twice-weekly acupuncture. The pain persists on and off throughout the day, and it doesn’t seem to correspond to certain foods or drinks (though the gallbladder triggers, if I “accidentally” eat any, definitely make it worse).

The good news is that my mental state seems much improved. (If you can’t tell from this post, well, read the earlier ones and imagine me writing those with a grimace. Today I’m actually smiling. Really.) I know I’ll find some answers and recover eventually, even if that involves more food testing and giving up more of things I love (which I’m hoping won’t be the case).

But what I need now is a break. A real break. A no-email, no-work, no-computer break. Which I’m taking, starting tomorrow. So I will be quiet here for the next two weeks, but then I’ll be back, hopefully miraculously transformed, dancing to the serenade of a dozen duodenums.

When I’m back, I look forward to doing a book giveaway of Silent Running, which is now shipping from Amazon and has been getting lovely responses from readers. And I’ll also be reporting from AWP, which will be here in Minneapolis for the first time ever. Until then, I hope spring appears at your doorstep.

Oh, and I still have a couple of spots open in both my online Motherhood & Words class that begins April 15th and my spring retreat, May 14th – 17th. Let me know if you’re interested. (Though I won’t respond for two weeks. Just know I’m not intentionally ignoring you if you don’t hear back from me right away.)

March 5, 2015
by Kate
6 Comments

seven!

I will spare you a medical update this week to instead write about my sweet Zoë, who is seven years old today.

Last night she snuggled into my lap on the couch and said, “Can you believe I’ve been alive for seven years?”

“Only seven years!” I said. “I can’t imagine a time you weren’t here. It seems like you’ve always been a part of our lives.” I leaned down and kissed the top of her head, and she tilted her face up, smiling that smile, clearly pleased.

Zoë has been counting down the days until her birthday for over a month, and in last week she’s been holding court at the dinner table: “Raise your hand if you’re excited about Zoë’s birthday.” (All of our hands go up. She smiles deliciously.) “Raise your hand if you love Zoë.” (All of our hands go up. More satisfied smiles.) “Raise your hand if you already got me a present.” (Some of our hands go up. She furrows her brow.) “Okay, raise your hand if you are going to get me a present.” (All of our hands go up again, and she giggles, full of glee.)

I remember when I was pregnant and Donny and I were trying to decide on a name for the baby kicking and spinning in my tummy. We couldn’t agree on anything, not until we landed on Zoë. And I’m so glad it’s the one we did land on because there couldn’t be a more perfect name for my daughter who, in all her spunk and sass and silliness and tenderness, seems to embody life itself.

So I’m happy to put my health stuff on the back burner for a couple of days to celebrate my daughter with cupcakes and dinner out, then a weekend full of balloons and cakes and gatherings of friends and family. I’m so grateful for her smiling face and gleeful spirit. Happy birthday, sweet Zoë!