In Norway, this time of year is called the M?rketid, the dark time, and the Norwegians, who are used to it, light candles at four pm and have dinner early and snuggle into their warm houses. Or, if it?s snowed, they put on their skis and head to the lighted trails that exist all over the country and ski and ski and ski. They cheerfully get up in the dark at dawn and go to work. Their creativity in dealing with more than 12 hours of darkness is impressive.
When we lived in Oslo, I started a new teaching job at a public high school just after New Year?s. I was three months pregnant with L and terribly morning sick, and two days a week I had class at eight. So I rose at six in the pitch black and attempted not to vomit as I navigated the shower, some clothes, a cup of tea, and the Trikk, the streetcar that took me to Majorstuen, where I would hop on the subway for two stops. By the time I arrived at Berg Vidergaendeskole there was a gray light, but the sun didn?t really rise until the end of first period.
We humans can romanticize all kinds of things.
We?re in our own dark time in California, which is never sure how to be winter, but tries, and I?m still setting the alarm for six as many mornings as I can muster. It is a strange sort of push and pull, for I really do loathe getting up early, but ever since I learned that the poet Lucie Brock-Broido calls the morning being ?wet from the other side? I?ve been unable to shake the notion that this time, this liminal time between night and day, is when the creativity is awakening and the words best flow?or sputter, or crawl. (And, because life is so busy, sometimes it?s the only time of the day, anyway.) Sure enough, I?ve been getting at least a poem a morning, though which are any good, it?s hard to say.
But creativity is a funny thing. Earlier this fall, I took a poetry class and vowed to just write, to generate work, to make, for as long as it took. And I did, all fall. It was glorious. But now, mere weeks later, I feel a familiar antsyness as I start to worry, to push, to want to force that raw, unfinished work into something meaningful?a book, a record, a testimony to the world that I am not lazy, that I am not, uh, bad, that I EXIST. In September, when I read up in Portland with the poet Stephanie Adams-Santos (who taught me about Lucie Brock-Broido), she said that when she writes she tries to scratch some metaphorical itch, to find something inside herself that needs fulfilling and, well, fulfill it. (She actually said this much more clearly and beautifully than that!) In answer to the same question, I said that I turned to my readers to tell me if something was any good. And then I thought about what she said and wondered, what if I did that, too?
So, I guess here I?ve answered my own personal logic puzzle: because I have taken a little break from reading from Little Prayers,?because I don?t have something else to publish NOW, because I always feel the glow from a published essay for about a month before it fades, I have been inhabiting this space, on and off here in the December dark, where I don?t feel like I?m any good. Hence the rush to publish something, to finish something, to frantically get out into the world a thing that isn?t even ready yet, just so I can prove something to?to whom? I don?t even know.
How stupid I am, sometimes.
I?m still learning to be a writer: to chase the joy and to find that balance between playful, creative inquiry and brass tacks. And I feel enormously comforted here at the end of this blog post, because somehow writing all of this down, I feel like I have permission to be in the playful inquiry stage a while longer. Brass tacks, be off with you. Glad we had that little chat.
So! In the meantime, while you (and I) are waiting for my second book of poetry (!), if you need a great little gift, you can buy my first, Little Prayers, and I?ll sign it for you. There are more good gift ideas for writers here and here.
And here?s to the beauty and the difficulty of this season. If you want to share what you love or loathe about December, I?d love to hear from you in the comments below.
Warmly and with my best wishes for happy holidays and a fruitful new year,
Just over seven years ago, my son L was born in Oslo, when B had a Fulbright and I got pregnant and we stayed awhile. It has felt, all these years, like something out of mythology, our 15 months in Norway, L’s birth, the four months postpartum until we came back to the States and lived with our parents on and off for over a year, finally “settling” here in northern California. Our lives are so very different now than they were then: Leo’s babyhood is gone, our friends are different, the climate is different, everything.
And yet, when we went to Norway a month ago, there was a way in which absolutely nothing had changed. There was our Norwegian dad-type, Petter Andreas, picking us up at the airport looking exactly the same, and our good friends whose cabin in Sweden we invaded for one beautiful week?despite their kids being now 12 and 10 and 8 and a three-year-old we’d never met, they were almost exactly the same, too. In two weeks we slipped into this state of noticing difference and appreciating sameness. And oh, the comforting, perfect sameness. B and I loved living in Norway, loved almost everything about it. When we left in 2009 I cried?like I hadn’t cried in years, a visceral, wrenching kind of crying; leaving there was the biggest of losses. So?being back felt like slipping into my?parents’ house again at Christmastime when I was?in college: the familiar smells, the dishes I knew were coming for dinner, the scent and feel of my?old bed.?And thank goodness, because a part of me had worried that it wouldn’t feel that way, that Norway would feel not so much familiar and the same but foreign, alien, other.
But no: it all felt very much like the home it was all those years ago, eerily familiar, and when we left this time, there were those wrenching tears again, those eviscerating, devastating tears. It is hard to love a place, and people, who live impractically far away.
Midnight sun in Norway, circa June 2009
I’ve changed so much in the seven years since we left Norway. When I look back on who I was in 2009, I see a woman who didn’t yet know what it was to parent, and to have finished a book, and to have learned how to be a working mom, and all those things that are so central, now, to my identity.?But in one fundamental and surprising way, I’m the same now as I was then.
Readers, I’m pregnant again.
Those of you who follow my stuff know that this is A Big Deal. I’ve published articles about my infertility over the years. Not being able to conceive has been a large part of my life, because we started trying to make L a sibling before he turned two and all these years, our second baby has loomed, an idea, in the background. We gave up, we started again, we decided to adopt, we decided not to adopt. And so imagine my surprise when one of those newfangled, new-age fertility treatments actually?worked and I found myself, in January, morning sick as hell, hormonal, and needing to pee every ten minutes?PREGNANT.
A pregnant me in the Frogner Park, next to the fetus statue
I am not a young pregnant person; I am right on the tail end of my waning fertility or even a little past. I have a seven year old. I have not changed my own child’s diaper in years. I have slept through the night for, oh, six years now.?And along the way of these past eight months of being pregnant I have felt more than a little fear and anxiety about starting over again, even as I’ve felt joy (and more than a little disbelief) that we’re starting over again. The pile of worries I’m contending with, it’s big.
And?that’s why the trip to Norway was so perfectly timed. My birth with Leo was long, complicated, and at-times harrowing, and I’ll be honest that giving birth again is at the top of my worries list at the moment. L’s birth, his origin story, if you will, has?been a part of the Mythology of Norway all of these years. Perhaps because we left so soon after he was born there’s a way that I’ve been dislocated from his birth, like something relegated to the far-back reaches of memory.
So when we were in Oslo a few weeks ago, we took the bus to the hospital and showed L where he was born, and I remembered riding that damn #20 bus up Kirkeveien for my appointments; at the end of the pregnancy, I was up there twice a week for ultrasounds and fetal heart monitoring because they were worried there was something wrong with the baby. We showed L the cemetery adjacent to the birthing rooms where, a sober midwife told us when we first met, the cycle of life was completed. I remembered B walking a hungry and traumatized two-day-old baby around that cemetery when my milk hadn’t yet come in, L so utterly tiny and helpless and beautiful in his little?hat with the stars on it.
And somehow being there made it all more real again, in ways that were hard and in ways that were good. I think every woman, if she’s honest, has some PTSD after giving birth, and standing in the lee of that hospital building looking out at the cemetery, I felt mine. But then there was my seven-year-old beside me, just himself, on his actual birthday no less, whining about how long the walk was going to be back to the #20 bus.
Just our lives, just us, how we’ve been all these years, only very soon, about to change completely.
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As I was ruminating on this post, I really appreciated Annie Reneau’s “Actually, it DOES Matter How You Give Birth,” which you can read here.?Thanks, Annie!
I'm working from the premise that motherhood is not just all diapers, tantrums, and setting limits. It's interesting. Okay, sometimes.