Back to School

 

 

I can do this.  I need to do this.  I am excited to do this.

It was advertised as an evening class, once a week for six weeks from mid-July to mid-August.  An essay-writing course offered through Hugo House, a nonprofit resource for writers offering beginning- to advanced-level writing classes, workshops and other events here in Seattle.  I first became familiar with Hugo House when I was an editorial intern at Seattle magazine, and this year, I finally decided to become a member and take my first class there.

I hadn’t stepped foot in a conventional classroom since my senior year at the University of Washington in 2005.  At that point in my life I was ready to be done with school — the heavy book bags, the homework always hanging over my head, the stressful nights and early mornings at various U-District Starbucks spent cramming for tests and pounding out essays left to the last minute.

Contrary to my classes of dozens if not hundreds of people at UW, this class at Hugo House was an intimate size of 10 students plus one very encouraging, laid-back instructor all huddled around one large makeshift table, the combined total of four smaller tables pushed together .  Each Monday evening (minus one on vacation) for six weeks I battled west-east traffic to First Hill, took my seat in this small, spare, non-air conditioned room, and was immersed into wonderful, stimulating conversations with a truly great group of people whose life experiences almost couldn’t be more diverse.

That diversity of lifestyles and experiences is what I found most refreshing about this classroom environment.  People wrote and shared about animals in Africa, battling illness, the art and science of ballet, sexuality, relationships, being single, and learning to embrace their ever-changing identify.  It was eye-opening to realize how narrowly immersed I’ve become in the world of parents-of-young-kids in recent years.  So much of my life, social circle, volunteer outlets, the language I speak, activities I attend, vacations I’m drawn to, articles I read,  etc… revolve around babies and young kids.  Understandable, but narrow nonetheless.  Neurons were firing like fireworks as my brain was immersed in these stories of things so unlike anything  I come across in my everyday life.

Throughout the course each of us – male and female, ranging from our 20s to our 50s, world travelers and native Seattleites – wrote about our own life experiences and read about each others’.  Several of  us, myself included, wrote about very private, intimate topics that we felt more comfortable sharing among a group of encouraging strangers, than within our own inner circles of folks who know us all too well.  It was liberating to put things on the page that are seldom said out loud, and I know others had a similar experience.

I also was once again reminded how much I need accountability to keep up with my writing, lest it get buried forever under piles of laundry, dishes and Hot Wheels.  Not only did my classmates read my writing, but they put it under a microscope and dissected every part for what worked, and what needs work.  It was an honor to receive such thoughtful feedback on such a personal part of my life, and to delve into such profound stories from theirs.

I can’t wait to sign up for another quarter of classes.  It felt good to be back in school.

Hibernation

FullSizeRender(3)I’m going to share something personal with you. Which is ironic because it has to do with my not wanting to share personal things.

The photo above is part of a journal entry I wrote on New Year’s Eve. I like to carve out time on the last day of the year, to reflect on the previous 12 months – things I feel good about, and things I want to improve upon – and lay out a plan of attack (aka resolutions) for the new year. This year those hopes and goals largely revolved around a theme of practicing quality over quantity – in things ranging from my relationships to time spent online and in social settings. We’ll see how that all fleshes out, but I promise my intentions are good.

I’ve been using this blog as a personal writing and reflection platform for a little over two years now. Though I may only post once or twice a month, I think about writing all the time. For those who don’t know me as well as others, I am painstakingly aware of my conscience, agonize over things like, “Did I say that right?” or “Did she understand where I was coming from?” am an obsessively thorough proof-reader and perfectionist editor. And I struggle with guilt over really wanting to write when the urge strikes, while also really wanting to be a devoted, undistracted mother who doesn’t get enveloped in a heated essay-writing spree while her son watches reruns of Sesame Street.

This last year, I wrote some stuff that really put my heart, insecurities, flaws and personal beliefs out on the line. I think that’s hard for anyone to do, but I always tell myself that some things are just important, even if they’re not fun, easy or comfortable. The reason I know that wearing my heart on my sleeve is important, is because I know how important it is when others do that for me. The truth is, I know I am my own worst critic, and it’s been a while since I’ve written something I was really totally pleased with. And then sometimes, when I feel like I actually really poured my heart, brain and time into something important and said what I wanted to say – **vulnerability alert** – I’m disappointed because it gets two likes on Facebook and I feel totally unvalidated, OR what I wrote is apparently important enough to be controversial and I get super stressed out if I sense conflict or disapproval.

Deep exhale…

Here’s what I actually set out to write: I’ve learned that in the month of December, I get busy, busy, busy! And festive, festive, festive! It’s Christmas and everything is so put together and pretty and peaceful (OK so not really 100% of the time, but I keep telling myself that it is to keep the Christmas spirit meter up) and I just want to soak it in and pack my calendar with red and green frosted social engagements and I think to myself, “What am I ever going to do when Christmas lights are down and we’re just stuck with drab, gray, uneventful January?” It always sounds so depressing!

And THEN – all I want to do is go into hibernation mode. Meaning – I basically just want to disconnect my phone and computer, pull out my best apron, be a June Cleaver mom and wife, and bake apple pies all day while no one bothers me or picks my brain.

This year as I seeped deeper and deeper into the holidays, I was all busy and social and Mrs. Party Planner and Ugly Christmas Sweater on the outside – and I’m not knocking that stuff; it was festive and great and important in its own right and I’ll probably be just as excited to do it all again next year- but on the INSIDE, I felt like I was burrowing deeper and deeper into an introverted, “don’t look at me,” “don’t analyze me” hole. I realized that this year I had made myself and my real, fragile emotions available possibly more than ever, through essays I published, through sharing personal struggles with people I barely knew, through hot button issues I weighed in on over Facebook, and even in smaller scale personal conversations.

By the end of the year I found myself feeling a little proud and brave, but A LOT over-exposed, drained from “putting myself out there” and kind of just wanting to hibernate. I felt sort of emotionally spent. And I still kind of do.

I had extreme visions of ending my blog after two years (my husband says he won’t let me), closing my Facebook account (but that’s such a dramatic thing to do, and I’ve already done that before – it didn’t fix life), and fleeing to Amish country where they don’t have the burden of electricity (OK I made up that last part, I probably couldn’t handle the early mornings, and actually really like electricity).

I’ve spent the last few weeks being less connected to social media than I have been in years, without quitting cold turkey. I’ve genuinely tried to be more unplugged, less reactive and more intentional with how I set out to spend my time each day. I’ve tried to step back and do a cost-benefit analysis of being emotionally naked.

I happened to briefly log on to Facebook tonight, which has been a refreshing rarity for me in recent weeks, and two of the first things that caught my eye were posts from fellow blogger friends (Abby and Emily, I’m calling you out – I loved reading both of your posts and they made me drag my butt out of bed and get my laptop out to write this).

So in reality I have felt like I have had writer’s block THE ENTIRE time I’ve been writing this, but here’s to being imperfect and posting it any way.

The truth is, I don’t want to stop writing. I know I would regret it. Maybe it can be hard, and maybe it can be draining, and definitely it is hard to balance with everything else as someone who struggles to be disciplined with her time.  Maybe I’ll write more privately and less publicly this year.  I don’t know yet what the right decision is for me.  But I’m making this public so you know my intentions to figure it out.

But I have to believe that it’s worth it. That it’s worth slogging through the writer’s block and the half-finished stories and the endless rough drafts, for the unbeatable feeling of FINALLY writing something that makes you lean back, look at your monitor with sheer amazement and say, “That’s it.”

A really great baseball player still only gets on base a third of the time. And a world-renowned surgeon may only cure a fraction of the patients she treats. Why should it be any different for writing? The only way to get better is to write. And you can’t hit a homerun by hibernating.

“Be bold and courageous. When you look back on your life, you’ll regret the things you didn’t do more than the ones you did.” – H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Why Not Me?

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“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
-Howard Thurman

What is your favorite feeling in the world?

Perhaps it’s the butterfly flutters of a fresh romance, those skipped heartbeats that come standard issue with a hopeful, sky’s-the-limit new love.

Or maybe it’s simple, quiet security. The comfort found in a safe home, knowing your needs are met, that your family is there for you and your life is just…stable.

Maybe you live for adrenaline-pumping thrills and have never felt more alive than when you’re risking your safety and giving your parents near heart attacks as you catapult out of a plane or volunteer in the Middle East.

Your favorite feeling could be wonder. It’s the reason people stop to watch sunsets, flock to the ocean, or lie under the stars. Sometimes we just need to be reminded that this life, and this world….are so much vaster than our own.

Freedom. Adventure. Devotion. Connection. Compassion. Pay attention to the feelings that make you come alive – they’re trying to tell you something.

I’ve known for years that MY favorite feeling – better than any drug or high or great romance or crazy adventure – is to feel truly, madly inspired.

I can single out a number of precise moments in my life that left me floored with this feeling. It has nothing to do with being practical or logical or having a plan – following your passion is about knowing that you can’t not respond to how something makes you feel.

Movies like The Blind Side and Precious have left me deeply moved, determined to walk through life with my eyes open to people who need help, compassion, encouragement, love… They haven’t led me to adopt a child or become a teacher, but my heart is more open to the endless ways each of us has the ability to help others, thanks to their stories.

There have been books I’ve read that have shaken and stirred me, that have engulfed me in their worlds so deeply I never wanted to emerge. These books make me want live a fuller, more aware life.

Now let’s talk about a feeling that we’re taught is bad, but can actually be good… to an extent.

I can’t remember what I was reading recently – it might have been The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown – but it spoke about jealousy not always being necessarily a bad thing. Yes, it can lead to bitterness and be destructive if allowed to fester, but the mere acknowledgement of our own envy, can actually be quite instructive in telling us something about ourselves and what we want (or want more of) in life.

I know what some of these moments have been for me.

There was a Christmas, maybe three or four years ago, where I distinctly recall standing in my parents’ kitchen, watching my sister-in-law tend to her daughter (my niece, and the first baby in my side of the family). It was a moment most would have observed as nothing more than mundane – walking to the kitchen sink with a baby on her hip or something like that. But I was so envious that she got to spend her days with this baby – that that was her life’s work. It wasn’t an “I hate you” jealousy at all (as toxic jealousy can become…) – it was an admirable, awestruck, “I hope that’s me someday” envy.

And today, after years of hoping and dreaming and planning – it is me! Imagine that! I would never change my decision to stay home full time with Anderson… maybe my division of time will morph over the years, but I will forever be imprinted by this season of staying home with him. That envy was telling me of a deep desire, and I didn’t ignore it – I’m living that desire today.

My latest subject of envy is the author Jojo Moyes, because I am still so freshly enamored by her profoundly moving book, Me Before You (I can’t even begin to do justice to a plot here – you simply have to experience it). Reading that book captured me in so many ways. As a reader (I devoured that book faster than I’ve gotten through a novel in recent memory. I felt like I was living in the same world – in the same home – as these characters). As a writer (I furiously scribbled pages of journal notes on insights gleamed from how Jojo Moyes structured this story and the writing tricks she employed that made it “work”). As a human (this story moved me to ponder love and life and death and so many possibilities in between…it was a reminder we only have one life…are we living safely in our comfort zone, or truly taking flight?).

So I envy her, because what I most want to do, outside of being a wife and a mother and a homemaker and a friend, is I want to write. It is what makes me feel most alive, and what makes me feel like I might have something to offer to the world, to myself, to my dreams.

I envy that this woman – this unbelievable story teller – gets to have a family, and also gets to make her living from writing books that change people’s lives and ways of thinking. I’m jealous that her husband brings her coffee and her laptop, and she begins to write, blurry-eyed, each morning from bed. Because it’s what she loves, she makes it a priority. And because her husband loves her, he does, too.

And now her book is selling millions of copies worldwide and being made into a movie.

As Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson’s father taught him to say, “Why not me?”

Why not Jojo Moyes? Why not Jodi Picoult? Why not me?

Within hours of finishing Me Before You, I wrote to Jojo Moyes. It went like this:

I’m sure you get thousands of emails and don’t expect a reply.. but I just finished Me Before You last night, and I don’t have the words to express how deeply it impacted me.  I basically cried in the fetal position and couldn’t talk to anyone after it ended.  I will treasure that story forever. (I think it has officially de-throned my previous favorite book of all time.)You are an amazingly gifted writer.  If I could ever write something that touched others the way your book touched me, my life would be complete. Keep doing what you’re doing – you are a gift.

And then she wrote me back. It went like this:

Dear Beth,

Thank you for your email and your kind words.

I am so glad you enjoyed Me Before You as much as you did and I hope if you read any of my other books, you enjoy those too.

With all best wishes,

Jojo Moyes

So that was cool. And a reminder that she’s just a person – a brilliant, busy, professional writer person – but still just a person who writes in pajamas and responds to emails. So why shouldn’t she respond to me? Why not me?

So I want to write more.

I can’t say I don’t feel the least bit self-conscious by proclaiming my desire to write. Honestly, it feels like a luxury to be able to have a lifestyle and a space and a schedule and a husband that allows for me (encourages me! He would even bring me coffee!) to do that. I get that, and I am really, truly grateful. I am not entitled, but I’m also not apologetic, because more people need to do these things when they get the chance. Agreed?

Because I believe that if you have the chance to go for your dreams, you should. And how can I raise my child to believe that, if I don’t first believe that about myself?

So I will write. It may take me a few months, or a few years, or (hopefully not) a few decades, but one day you just might see my name on a shelf in a store.

Because really, why not? Why not me? Why not you? What makes you feel so inspired, so alive, so driven, that you can’t stand to merely sit in the feeling of it and not do something about it?

Go after your favorite feeling. Turn it into your reality. Because no one else will do it for you, and what the world needs most is people who have come alive.

Frozen

Frozen

I want to apologize to anyone who has ever needed me, and I haven’t been there.

Today, our family on Aaron’s side memorialized a family member who died way too young. One year ago today, Aaron’s cousin, Johnny, was taken suddenly and tragically, leaving behind a wife and three young, sweet kids.

It is truly unfathomable to me how I would even go on living if I were in his wife’s shoes. Attempting to wrap my head around that reality is like trying to solve an advanced physics equation or explain the existence of God – I don’t even know where to begin.

Today we went out to breakfast with Aaron’s family and everyone took turns talking to Aaron’s uncle, the father who suffered the heartbreaking loss of his son one year ago today. For a number of reasons (time, logistics, passing a phone around), I wound up being one of the only people who didn’t personally speak to this uncle today, and offer my condolences. Aaron said he offered his on our family’s behalf and not to worry about it, but it has stuck with me all day.

Lying in bed tonight, reflecting on this day with Aaron, it occurred to me – there was a small amount of relief in not talking to the uncle for this reason and this reason alone: I don’t know how to handle tragedy. I really struggle with what to say or do, whether my words would be helpful or a hindrance to someone else’s grief. I am uncomfortable in the presence of others’ grief. That probably sounds pretty selfish, but I just kind of…..FREEZE. I don’t know what to do, when I see someone crying, know they are hurting, or fear a heart is breaking. It’s as if I’m protectively scared that if I get too close to someone else’s pain, my heart might break, too.

I have friends and family members who have been broken to their core, suffered deeper losses than I’ve ever known, and who probably could have used more support and love than I knew how to offer in those moments, months, years… Tonight, I know this. And tonight, I am sorry for my shortcomings.

This last month has been the month of half-written blogs for me. I haven’t published anything because I can’t seem to finish anything. Anything I’m happy with, at least. I have this yearning to write and I have things I want to say, but I wonder if my words are relevant enough, important enough, interesting enough. I hold myself to a high standard as a writer, and yet I know (or I certainly believe, anyway) there are far better, more compelling writers than me. But the world needs each of us, all the time, to give exactly what we can, no less and no more. That is why I write.

So this is not a perfect essay – it’s not catchy or thoroughly edited. I didn’t even plan to write it 20 minutes ago. But it’s from the heart. Tonight when I had this ‘aha moment’ in bed, admitting to myself and to Aaron that I don’t know how to respond to tragedy and sadness, my husband told me I’d hit the nail on the head simply by admitting my weakness, and my desire to not be numb, to not freeze – to do more. He told me that, in the face of tragedies he has faced, it would have meant so much to him if his friends could have simply told him that they didn’t know what to say, they didn’t know what to do, but they wanted to be there for him.

There’s something about this time of year that lends itself to quietness. To reflection. To gratitude. If the holidays carry with them a sort of drunken, carefree spirit in the air, January follows with the sobriety of a cold shower. When the Christmas tree is down and the lights dim, we realize that it’s how we live these other 300+ days a year, that make those ones in December worth celebrating. And some of those 300+ days are bound to include some bad news. Some hard times. Some conversations we’d rather not have and facts we’d rather not face.

I’m learning that even when we want to freeze, and hide, and convince ourselves we have nothing to offer – we DO and we SHOULD. Our friends need us to care – more importantly they need us to let them know that we care – even if that caring is clumsy and vulnerable and not at all practiced. Let people know you care. They really may never know it if you don’t.

30 for my Thirties

30 for my Thirties

Feeling grateful to be 30!  Had a great birthday with little A and big A, and scribbled together this list of a few of the things I hope to fill my days with over the NEXT decade…my goal is to have ALL of these outings, accomplishments and quirky experiences (like milking a cow) proudly crossed off my list by the big 4-0….wish me luck!

30 FOR MY THIRTIES…

1.  Write a novel

2.  Buy a house

3.  Grow a vegetable garden

4.  See Zac Brown Band live

5.  Get a short, sophisticated haircut

6.  Volunteer to lead a PEPS group

7.  Give Anderson a sibling

8.  Read 100 new books

9.  Camp on a beach

10.  Ski and stay in a quaint little Colorado ski town

11.  Travel internationally – it’s been too long!!

12.  Learn how to cook with shellfish

13.  Make my kids’ birthday cakes

14.  Learn to sew and make my kids’ Halloween costumes

15.  Get caught up on photo albums

16.  Run a half marathon (extra points for a full one ; )

17.  Do some sort of home improvement task on my own, like tiling a bathroom or a kitchen back splash

18.  Become a published writer again

19.  Family vacation to Yellowstone National Park

20.  Become certified to teach childbirth/parenting prep classes through Swedish – and teach!

21.  See more sunrises

22.  Go to a Seahawks game

23.  Take a road trip spanning at least 5 states

24.  Milk a cow

25.  Adopt a puppy

26.  Have a really, really organized home

27.  Create a piece of art I’m really proud of, to hang in our house

28.  Join a book club again

29.  Be more intentional about visiting out-of-town friends

30.  Love others as I want to be loved, and never be too serious to laugh with my kids.

Winter Window

Winter Window

I don’t write poems very often, but I just came across one I wrote about three years ago that I thought I’d share here.  I wrote it curled up on the couch along the big bay window of our old house, watching a very ordinary neighborhood on an ordinary winter night, but it felt special to me.  I like this poem because it articulates the peace and stillness that I love about winter, especially in these days leading up to Christmas.  The photo, totally unrelated, is of me in New York City two Decembers ago. I just thought it fit the festive theme, and evokes similar emotions.  Anyway, here’s the poem…

“Winter Window”

by Beth Morris

There is rest in beauty on a silent night, not a stirring in my soul.

There’s a delicate touch to tree branches and such, a stillness to the cold.

As lights flicker on with a remnant of dawn, I’m delighted the night’s just begun.

Renewal is mine should I just keep in mind – never rush the rebirth of the sun.

Greys and blues with a glimmer of gold absent stars are the fabric of night’s curtain call.

Hurried walkers pass by, fight a chill in the air, that marks the departure of fall.

‘Tis the eve before eve before Christmas – what a whimsical gift to embrace.

Could there be one thing missing at all it would be but to gaze into God’ perfect face.

So clear and so bright even though it is night, barren trees’ silhouettes standing guard.

As though nothing can harm such a seamless display of simplicity, comfort and charm.

Subtle pinpricks of light, green, yellow and white, illuminate home after home.

Blurring time, easing minds, freeing hearts to believe all at once – maybe we’re not alone.

Blackness bleeds over clouds as the sunset allows for a slumber to transfix the air.

It is then I surrender to the mystery of winter and decide I’m content just to stare.

What am I doing here?

What am I doing here?

It’s a rainy Black Friday, the house cleaners have come and gone, husband is on the couch watching boy shows about gold mining and pawn auctions (I think, is that a thing?) and here I am, starting a blog.  I’ve been wanting to start one for a while, and today seems like as good a time as any.  This day after Thanksgiving I don’t have much going on aside from eating leftover pie, not showering, sleeping late and recovering from a turkey coma.  So….write I will!

Maybe this first post can be a smorgasbord of a) why I’m simultaneously scared and excited to have a public blog, b) what I plan to write about, and c) a recap of my Thanksgiving week (seems like something in this post should be time-sensitive)

A) WHY I’M SIMULTANEOUSLY SCARED AND EXCITED TO HAVE A PUBLIC BLOG:  Well, I’m excited to have a designated place to organize my thoughts into words, and keep myself accountable for writing on a (hopefully) somewhat regular basis.  I hope this experiment molds me into a better writer,thinker, and communicator.  I think it’s easy to think that your own life isn’t interesting or unique enough for others to care to read about (other people are married!  lots of women have babies!  your blog title is so cliche Seattle!), but alas – I’ve learned that some of the best blogs/musings/books are about un-exotic everyday life, and things that lots of people can largely relate to, with the writer’s personal twists thrown in for good measure.  I am scared that too few or too many people will care to read my blog, that it will be either too safe and boring, or too opinionated, and that I will not live up to my part of the deal…actually making the time to WRITE!

B)  WHAT I PLAN TO WRITE ABOUT: marriage, pregnancy, having a baby, domestic life, family,  friendships, faith, travel, identity and personal growth.  I may or may not post pictures of: my growing baby belly, meals I attempt to cook, my home (only when it’s spotlessly clean and photo-worthy of course ;), my husband, my dog, my travels….bottom line, I think pictures make for a better blog, and I will try and post them regularly.

C)  A RE-CAP OF MY THANKSGIVING WEEK:  For the sake of introducing readers to something current about my life, and a topic that I have photos to support, I give you Thanksgiving 2012.

I spent Wednesday, or “Thanksgiving Eve” baking 9 (yes, NINE) pies from scratch with my mother-in-law, Sue and sister-in-law’s sister-in-law/friend, Brooke.  I thought it would be a fun yet daunting task, and to my pleasant surprise it was more fun than daunting.  I will attach some photos…  We baked and mixed and poured and perfected until my kitchen smelled like heaven and my table was filled with pies.  In my never-ending quest to further master domesticity, I quite enjoyed the day, and felt quite proud that I could take even one-third of the credit for such an epic baking feat.

Thanksgiving itself was spent at my sister-in-law, Lyla’s house (her husband, John and their two children live there, too :)).  They have a BEAUTIFUL home and made (with the help of potluck-ing family members) a FABULOUS meal, which we all stuffed ourselves with, before lying around comparing bellies of the pregnant and non-pregnant variety (photo attached – see, I’m on it!).

We may or may not have been over-ambitious with the pie-making, and I can neither confirm nor deny whether 5 of the 9 were untouched by the end of the night.

I fell asleep two nights ago counting things I am thankful for.  I think I surpassed 50 by the time I drifted off, starting with the bed I was lying in, and ending somewhere around the democratic process or a  good OB, can’t remember for sure…  But I know those that made the cut definitely included:  a loving and amazing husband who allows all the other parts of my life to make sense, family and friends who enrich my life and make me better, a healthy baby, a warm home, and the freedom to carve out a life that I love.

In closing, a few “rules” to go along with this blog….

1)  Please, never, ever feel pressured to read anything I write.  EVER.  Whether you’re my husband, parents, best friend or college English teacher, please follow my musings exactly as rarely or often as your heart desires.  I promise never to ask you to read anything I write, support me, challenge me, or indulge me.  If you find yourself wanting to read my words, great!  If not, great!

2)  I welcome your support and engagement and just ask that you respect this space as a platform for me to express MY experiences, MY views, and MY thoughts.  I don’t think they’re all right, but they’re all MINE, and I reserve the right to write from exactly where I find myself in that given day/hour/minute, and to change my views accordingly.

3)  Know that I come to this place thinking I am an expert on nothing, but may have a little worth sharing about a lot of things.  Again, as my life has  been enriched by others who have shared openly and honestly with me, if I can do the same for anyone else through this blog, then that is all I could ever ask for.