To muse

To muse is to consider something thoughtfully.

A muse is a person, usually a woman, who is the source of inspiration.

In May of 2013, I hastily decided that I need a new name for my blog, something that would signal the break I was taking from academia. I wanted a name that evoked transition and open endings. I settled on “In Progress” because it suggested that I was a “work in a progress” without a clear end. It also reminded me of blaring television announcements that we would be joining the program in progress. I hated these as a kid because I would miss the beloved beginnings of favorite television shows for some urgent announcement. The action started in the middle. In progress adeptly summed up how I felt. Transition whether I wanted it or not. A brief hiatus that dumped me in the middle of my life ill-equipped to handle what was next.

My blog was a lifeline in those early days of transitioning out of academia into anything else. My anguish in the posts about my grace period still feels raw and real, though I’ve long recovered from much of the hurt and confusion. I’m in progress, I would say aloud, to calm my anxiety about what would happen next. I didn’t know what kind of work I wanted to become. I just knew that I was transforming from one vision of self to another.

In those early moments, the focus on transition was a balm. I tried (and failed) to embrace uncertainty. As the last two years have gone by, transition as a theme chafed rather than healed. I found myself blogging less and less while wondering about the utility of this space for my writing and my life. I picked up more and more paid writing, so blogging felt like a distraction with no real goal. What did I have to say about my progress? What was I working toward? Who the hell was I going to be?

These are questions that I still don’t have good answers for, but I thought more and more about my blog’s place in my life and work. I’ve been blogging since 2007. I started out writing posts for Religion in American History with the hope for conversations about how and why we did our scholarship. I started my blog here in 2010 as a way to cultivate my own blogging voice separate from the group blog that I helped found. Blogging has always been my way to work things out. Short posts that explain what I’m thinking, but also longer almost-essays that work out particular problems in my research. Blogging gave me a casual way to voice concerns and create my opinions. It was my method to work through my scholarship in a public way.

Maybe, I needed to give blogging up. Maybe, it wasn’t working for me anymore. The thought of no longer blogging, however, bothered me. So, what was my problem? Why wasn’t I writing at In Progress with any frequency?

The title and format of the website no longer worked for me. They shut me down rather than inspired me to write. I was unsure of what the goal of my blog should be, but really, I was unsure what the blog did for me.

Then, I realized (with some serious help from Chris) that my blog should be whatever I wanted. This blog is my place marker in the wild world of the Internet, so it should free my creativity rather than stall it.

First, I changed the look of the blog. I chose a minimal design that forefronts writing. My blog should have never really looked like a magazine because that’s not really what I do.

Second, I changed the title to Musings, which has long been my favorite tag for my posts here. As a verb, to muse means to think thoughtfully about a topic. As a noun, it means either a dream-like state or a person that inspires you. After suggesting a particular idea for an essay, Chris likes to say, “you’ve been mused!”

Thinking, inspiring, and dreaming are excellent goals, and musing covers all three. Musings evoke dwelling with ideas, topics, and events, which is the best part of my job as a writer and essayist. Why not make my blog a place where musings are standard fare?

I hope y’all enjoy the redesign and follow along as I muse about whatever speaks to me. Hopefully, my musings will speak to you too.

 

 

 

Writing Motherhood

While finishing an essay on the Tooth Fairy and childhood beliefs earlier this week, I realized that I’ve been writing more about motherhood than I have before. At first, I was unnerved. Why was I suddenly writing more about my life as a mother? What was to be gained, or lost, by presenting my understandings of my children to the larger world? Why was motherhood looming large in my writing? And why was I bothered that my writing had taken a new direction?

I’ve mulled this question all week because Mother’s Day is upon us. Yesterday, my son’s preschool hosted Muffins for Mom (dads get donuts for Father’s Day). E and I ate muffins and played on the playground together. We climbed on tires, in boats, and on cars. We had fun. There’s even a souvenir picture.

Today, my daughter’s Kindergarten class is hosting a Mother’s Day Tea. She was beyond excited about this event. She was up early to get dressed in a fancy red tutu because her teacher instructed all the students to look nice for today. Motherhood is celebrated on one day despite all our struggles and efforts through out the year. We tend to ignore what our mothers do for us in the day to day.

I’m ambivalent about the holiday that celebrates an idealized vision of moms and our supposed sacrificial natures. Mothering is complex, as our relationships to those who mother us. Our parents cannot always be easily celebrated in cards, gifts, or meals. Many have lost their mothers. Others have strained relationships. Celebration of motherhood is not an inherent good.

I also chafe at the suggestion that motherhood is the sole force that defines me. I am a mother, but I’m also more.

Why, then, am I writing so much about my experiences as a parent? Being a mother feels unavoidable in what I’m writing. My relationships with my kids are making me think about different things than before. I want to figure motherhood out. I want to dwell with my children’s questions and observations. It is just where I am right now. I look forward to where it takes me.

Catalog of Wounds

Fever
Sore Throat
Rash covers his face, arms, legs, and tummy.
Tears
“Nah” on repeat as he swings his arms wildly
More tears
Flinging himself on the ground in protest
To the doctor
“Rock baby,” he says, “rock baby”
He cuddles close.
“Mama, up! Up, Mama!”
Strep throat.

Fever
Sore Throat
“My tummy hurts,” she says, “and so does my head.”
She mumbles and forgets to pay attention.
“Can you hear me? Are you listening?”
Hearing loss
Everyone speaks louder and louder.
To the doctor (again)
The nurse washes the wax from her ear.
She cries quietly.
“Can I sit in your lap?,” she asks.
She climbs up and barely fits.
I refuse to recognize what this means.
Ear infection.

Dogs fight outside.
Gashes
Growling
Cuts and blood
The old dog limps.
To the vet
The young dog howls and whines.
Clean the wound.
Feel her leg.
The vet assures her leg is not broken.
Staples seal the wound.
The old returns home and promptly sleeps.

Sore throat
Headache
Tears
Anxiety
Stomach ache
Fatigue
Worry
I catalog the wounds of our week:
Bumps, bruises, bug bites, scraps
Aches, pains, and general distress.
Gashes, infections, and viruses.

Their bodies heal.
My children play.
I give motherhood a chance for one more day.

Running In The Rain

Today, I ran (and walked) in the rain. A whole 5K with Chris, who is training me up to a full run. We are on week three of a nine-week plan. I have tried to start running many times before. I always quit.

Week three is usually the point where I mumble “screw it” while out of breath and go back to walking. Or decide that my particular human body is not meant for exercise. Or sob about how out of shape I am. Or proclaim that I am not a runner. I usually fail, not spectacularly, but gradually. I make excuses. I avoid work outs. Then, I decide that I’m a failure at running just like I’m a failure at bead work, knitting, all kinds of crafts really, academia, writing, and my life.

I am a master at self-hate. I am my worst critic. One small failure sets off a cascade of critical evaluation of how I got HERE. Whether it is on the side of the road heaving for breath, pondering the end of my academic career, or worrying that I lack the hustle to be a writer. I am remarkably good at accounting failures and doubts; I seem to pay little attention to successes.

This morning, I woke up and heard the pitter-patter of the rain on my window. I cursed that today was a running day. I hate running, I mumbled. I hate rain, I moaned. I hate being wet even more, I thought as I scowled. Was I really going to run today in the rain with the slick streets and puddles filled with pollen? I wasn’t sure.

I decided to put on my running clothes anyway. “Let’s get this over with,” I told Chris. I strode out the door with gritty determination that I would not be defeated by the rain or running. I would get through this run, damn it. And I realized something as the light rain covered me.

I’m tired of being (and feeling) defeated. This run nor the rain would defeat me today. I would be successful.

So, I ran up and down the hills of our neighborhood dodging puddles. I ran as my shoes filled with water and squished with every step. I ran as my water droplets coated my glasses and obscured my vision. I walked to recover from my running, but I kept running. I was completely soaked by the time we reached home. It was glorious.

Today was our fastest pace so far: 14 minutes and 48 seconds. This is only ground-shattering record for me, and that’s okay. I did something that I wouldn’t have imagined I would ever do. This is not because of my lack of imagination, but rather a reflection of the limits that I set and reinforced for myself. I have cultivated a habit of limiting myself, of creating boundaries that I won’t cross. I make it about identity rather than about ability.

After all, I was a not a girl who ran. As a child, I had asthma. I suffered from deep, lung-rattling coughs, wheezing, and lack of breath. This coughing, and the fear that I might stop breathing, made my mom overly cautious. When my asthma flared up, I slept in an upright recliner hacking and wheezing in attempts to breathe. I doubt my mom slept at all. Her fear that I might not catch my breath meant a moratorium on running and athletics. I can remember being scolded about running or even walking too fast. My cousins would run around the yard while I sat and watched them. My early brush with asthma compounded my already bookish tendencies. I was terrible at athletics. I was clumsy. I wanted to turn attention away from my body rather than toward it.

Running was not for me, but I wanted to run to so badly.

I was not a woman who ran either. I attempted running in college, in graduate school, and after graduation. Every few years, I would try to finish a couch to 5K plan. I never managed to make it to my desired 5K. Running was too hard. I kept telling myself that I couldn’t do it, so I stopped trying.

Still, I yearned to run.

Three weeks ago, I decided to try running again with Chris’s help because he’s an avid runner. He’s also practical. “No one likes running when they first start,” he said. “You have to train your body to run,” he offered. “You’ll eventually be good at running,” he said with a smile. I didn’t believe him.

When I started training, I would chant my hate of running in every footfall. Hate, hate, hate, hate, HATE. I would never like running. I would never be good it. By the end of the week, I realized that I didn’t actually hate running (jogging really). I enjoyed the movement. I liked to MOVE.

Today, I ran, not jogged. In the rain. With my partner who loves me and encourages me. I’m beginning to peak beyond those limits I created for who I’m supposed to be.

I am a woman who runs. I would have never expected that. Clearly, my expectations keep me from reaching. It is time to break them down and create new ones that reach beyond what I thought to bigger visions what might be possible.

Ghost

I’ve been listening to Ella Henderson’s “Ghost” on repeat.

I keep going to the river to pray
‘Cause I need something that can wash all the pain
And at most I’m sleeping all these demons away
But your ghost, the ghost of you
It keeps me awake

Throughout the day for at least two weeks, I find myself singing about going to the river to pray. The line is oddly evocative and nostalgic.  I understand that need for prayer. I get that desire for all the pain to disappear into the current of the river never to trouble you again. (I was almost baptized in a river, but that’s a story for a different day.)

There’s a desperation in the song claws at me, but I feel compelled to listen. And listen and listen. Give up the ghost, she croons, give up the ghost. She pleads, Stop the haunting, baby.  Her words feel too truthful. They resonate too much. She’s haunted, and damn, so are the rest of us. At least, I am.

I’ve thought a lot about haunting. I’ve tackled haunting from a theoretical perspective as a scholar interested in monsters and, tangentially, ghosts, their ephemeral partners. I adore the work of Avery Gordon and return often because of her careful attention to how absences seethe and harm. How the absence of ghosts makes them present. How ghosts become the signifiers of  loss, trauma, and erasure. I read about ghosts with detached observation. Yet, the more I analyzed theories of ghosts and haunting, the more the question became personal and unavoidable. We all live with ghosts. We don’t always confront them. What began as scholarly questions about haunting transformed into an essay about a particular ghost of my younger life. I couldn’t theorize ghosts with confronting one of my own.  Continue reading Ghost