abundance

My life is filled with abundance. The world is abundant.

sunflowers

Right now, so many of my friends and loved ones are facing difficult times — and in the way these things go, many of them are having one after another difficult thing piled on top of them in an overflow of trouble. There are health scares for them and their loved ones, and life changes, and work trouble, and interpersonal trouble, and loss of all kinds. Having been through my own periods like that, I empathize so deeply. I’m glad I have experienced all those things myself so I can stand beside them however I can.

For me, right now, I am not in the midst of a rain of trouble. For me, right now, it’s a time of great abundance of every kind. Of great joy, of great peace. And I’m grateful for that too because it gives me resources to spare so I can be there for my loved ones a little more readily. When I was in my own huge storm a few years ago, I remember feeling the dreadful focus of all of it, the power of it, the overwhelm that kept me unable to connect to trouble others were having. My own troubles were so consuming they blocked the view. So now it’s my turn to get to have space and energy to spare, attention to give, concern and love to offer, an ear to listen, a shoulder to bear, a back to help carry. It’s a nice thing about the world that when some of us are in trouble, others of us can help.

And so I recognize the grace and wonder of my particular moment, and appreciate it all the more. And what a moment it is. Among all the rest, my oldest daughter Katie’s birthday is in just a couple of days, a celebration of the day that has melted me for 35 years, now. The anniversary of the day my life changed forever, and forever for the better. The day this wonderful woman was ushered into the world, through me. I love and admire her with all my heart.

there she is with HER beloved child, our darling sweet Oliver
There she is with HER beloved child, our darling sweet Oliver, taken a couple of years ago. I have hundreds of pictures of her taken since then, with Oliver and now also with Lucy, but I’ll stick with this one. She is a wonderful mother.

Katie is without a doubt one of the strongest people I know. She’s hilarious. She’s one you can count on. She loves her family more than anything. She’s solid, and tenderhearted. She knows what matters to her.

And Marnie, also in the vast field of my abundance. Marnie, whose earnest heart feels so familiar to me; Marnie with her adoration of her boy and her husband; Marnie, with her big quiet voice. For 32 years I have watched her flower.

Marnie and Ilan, taken early this year. Again, I have a bunch of other photos of her but this will stand in.

And Heaventree, my glorious Heaventree, the ground of my abundance. And poetry. And music. And beauty. And books. And friends, far-flung for now but no less mine. And my health, which at the moment includes mental health of the shiny, happy kind. And my husband, who will drive up from the city today bearing food and my big camera and his beautiful eagerness to cook for me. And my wisdom, which allows me to know that the wheel shifts and turns, it can do nothing else, and this abundance will shift too. Who knows what the fall and winter will bring, I sure don’t, but I am swimming in great abundance for now so if you need an ear, or space, or an arm, count on me.

* * *

As long as I’m thinking about my daughters, here is a wistful poem about the experience of being a mother.

The Mothers
Jill Bialosky

We loved them.
We got up early
to toast their bagels.
Wrapped them in foil.
We filled their water bottles
and canteens. We washed
and bleached their uniforms,
the mud and dirt
and blood washed clean
of brutality. We marveled
at their bodies,
thighs thick as the trunk
of a spindle pine,
shoulders broad and able,
the way their arms filled out.
The milk they drank.
At the plate we could make out
their particular stance, though each
wore the same uniform as if they were
cadets training for war.
If by chance one looked up at us
and gave us a rise with his chin,
or lifted a hand, we beamed.
We had grown used to their grunts,
mumbles, and refusal to form a full sentence.
We made their beds and rifled through their pockets
and smelled their shirts to see if they were clean.
How else would we know them?
We tried to not ask too many questions
and not to overpraise.
Sometimes they were ashamed of us;
if we laughed too loud,
if one of us talked too long to their friend,
of our faces that had grown coarser.
Can’t you put on lipstick?
We let them roll their eyes,
curse, and grumble at us
after a game if they’d missed a play
or lost. We knew to keep quiet;
the car silent the entire ride home.
What they were to us was inexplicable.
Late at night, after they were home in their beds,
we sat by the window and wondered
when they would leave us
and who they would become
when they left the cocoon of our instruction.
What kind of girl they liked.
We sat in a group and drank our coffee
and prayed that they’d get a hit.
If they fumbled a ball or struck out
we felt sour in the pit of our stomach.
We paced. We couldn’t sit still or talk.
Throughout summer we watched
the trees behind the field grow fuller
and more vibrant and each fall
slowly lose their foliage—
it was as if we wanted to hold on
to every and each leaf.

play

When I was a very little girl, the story goes — as narrated by my mother — that one day she was so frustrated with me for just wanting to read that she put me on the front steps with a bucket and shovel, shouted “PLAY!” and locked the door behind me. The story continues that I just sat on the steps crying and sobbing for a couple of hours until she finally let me back in the house in frustration. I never played with dolls because it felt so silly; I knew that it was just me making stuff up, moving the doll here and there, and that made no sense to me.

Then when I had little children, I so wanted to play with them because I knew that was important, but I couldn’t figure it out. I was more comfortable with things like Lego and K’Nex, and puzzles, and board games — rules and order, you know.

I think this part of me is a perfect match of person and environment. It was definitely not safe enough where I grew up to let down your guard, even for an instant, and play needs that kind of abandon. But it’s also just kind of who I am, too.

Most things I want to do, I can easily learn how to do. I taught myself to knit and weave and spin and tat and quilt and make bobbin lace and do woodworking and make croissants from scratch. I painted a couple of abstract canvases I really liked. Taught myself to smock little dresses for my girls, taught myself to sew. Taught myself to pick guitar, banjo, ukulele, and to play piano with two hands. Really, there was nothing I ever wanted to do that I couldn’t do — or that I even assumed I couldn’t.

Except one. I wanted to draw. I’ve always wanted to draw, kind of desperately. Like, I’d crave it in my muscles. There’s a great passage in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter where the girl, Mick, is sitting underneath the open window of a house in her neighborhood listening to the classical music coming from the radio inside, and it fills her with a feeling so huge she has to stop herself from clawing out her thigh muscles. This, I get. My longing to draw gives me that same feeling.

My “joke” about myself has always been that I can’t draw a straight line with a ruler. And you know, it’s kind of true. The ruler slips, my fingers extend out enough and the pencil slips over them, making little scallops. Oops. I’d try to draw, on occasion, and be so mortified by the awkwardness of the first lines that I’d put it away, deeply embarrassed.

she drew these trading cards, exquisite in every way
she drew these trading cards, exquisite in every way

Luckily, I always thought, even though I cannot draw I gave birth to an artist, my daughter Marnie Galloway. OK, I thought, I don’t get the pleasure of doing that myself, but I get the huge pleasure of watching her draw, of seeing worlds appear at the end of her pencil, mysteriously. That line here, an arc there, what’s she doing……oh! Now I see! How did she know how to do that, I would never have started like that?

Recently I told her again how much I wished I could draw, and as the conversation progressed something she said, the way she said it, was a tremendous gift — something about the difference in doing a representational drawing and doing a comics-style drawing. And I knew all this, but hadn’t made the connection to it being something possible for me. It has nothing to do with a second choice for someone who can’t draw representationally — it has everything, instead, to do with the thrilling possibilities of that form. You have to think like a movie maker, really — visual perspective, the way you pace the story, huge worlds of considerations inside those elements. Even the lettering, for heaven’s sake, another choice. Comics are about skill, absolutely, but they’re at least at much about having something to say. There are beloved comics artists and much-loved comics that don’t feature the kind of beautiful drawing that my daughter does. (For example, xkcd relies on stick figures, which even I can draw!)

a bit of Lynda Barry
a bit of Lynda Barry

And so I listened to Marnie’s advice, which included, among other things, a recommendation that I look up Lynda Barry and begin with one of her drawing exercises. She likes to have students draw monsters, which I figured I could do. So you get a regular piece of paper (preferably one you were going to throw away anyway, she says), and you fold it into quarters. Then, in each of the quarters, you draw a line. A squiggle in two, and a closed shape in two. Then you get two minutes per square to turn that squiggle into a monster. Only two minutes! Hair, eyes/ears/mouth, hands, etc. Two minutes, one line, a monster.

After that, there are a number of variations. In one, you write a real to-do list for your day (mine was 1–take a bath; 2–roast the beets; 3–do yoga; 4–do laundry) and then assign each task to a monster. Instant funny! In another, you write a list of four questions you’re thinking about. In another, you then draw the parents of each of your monsters.

And so I did that on Saturday. I put on some music I enjoyed, set myself up at my table, set the timer on my phone, and drew monsters. It was so much fun. And what Marnie told me yesterday when we were talking about it was that she was happy because I was playingI had not realized that until she told me, and what a gift that was.

I was playing. I played. I was playful. I can play. I want to play some more.

Life is hilarious, really. Such a scream. I never knew how to play, never could draw even though I desperately wanted to, and then I gave birth to someone who draws so beautifully, who taught me that I can draw, and that I can play. Thank you, life, for being long enough. Thank you, my life, for helping me learn so many things and for bringing me to this place. Thank you Marnie, for giving me so much more than I ever gave you (except for the birthing part of course). Thank you, life, for giving me my beautiful daughters, both of whom give me riches beyond compare.

I’ll leave you with some great Lynda Barry links, in case you too want to draw:

It’s nearly summer. Y’all go play.