Friends, here’s what the Spring Equinox looks like here in Northern California.
I got so excited about the torrential rains predicted last Saturday, a gig-postponing, movie-afternoon kind of rain. Instead, it sprinkled for an hour. Climate change and drought, folks, climate change and drought. But when the sun came out again I decided to photograph some of the spring gorgeousness in my garden. Look at this camellia! She’s one of hundreds on the tree. I hope this incredible pink flower brings you hope for brighter days. There’s been so much global and personal tragedy of late—there are really no words for it. Just to say, if you’re struggling, if you’re despairing, I see you.
In my world, there’s been a vaguely soul-crushing attempt at house-buying and some publications to share.
My (very) personal essay “The Stranger Who Got Me Pregnant” was published in Literary Mama in January. Thank you to everyone who read it, commented, and sent me kind notes. I felt really good about getting Sam’s and my story out in the world. I also have poems forthcoming in The Fourth River and Ecotone. And while I won’t be at this year’s AWP conference, I am THRILLED to share that I’ll be moderating a panel with Gabriela Garcia, Masha Rumer, and Shugri Said Sahl at the Bay Area Book Festival the weekend of May 7-8. Thank you, again, City of Berkeley Civic Arts program, for granting me the time and space to write and curate a panel about immigration, ancestry, and motherhood. Tickets and the full schedule are coming April 8th. It’s always an incredibly meaningful literary weekend. Hope to see some of you there!
With love and gratitude for your support,
p.s.I spent a bunch of time watching a tutorial to improve the look of my blog posts. It’s not quite there yet, but it’s improving! If you received this twice, that’s because you’re on my blog mailing list and my Mailchimp newsletter. Feel free to unsubscribe from one. : )
The other day in the car we listened to this Robot or Not podcast about whether it’s better to have changing seasons or nice weather all the time. The New Englander in me immediately said “seasons,” though if I’m honest, I haven’t terribly missed those frigid Februaries and wet Marches too much since I moved West. (Fall colors, on the other hand? My tragic lost love.) I think the thing about living in a place like northern California, where the temperature changes maybe 25 degrees max, all year, is to be super in tune with the small changes: the few fall colors we get? Oh how I appreciate them. That chill in winter, when it’s below 40 in the morning? I’ll take it. And what passes for summer, and me having had the wherewithal to get up at six a.m. to write for an hour in that clear morning light FOR THREE WEEKS STRAIGHT NOW?
Yes, yes, yes.
Right now, in early June, we’ve got the warmest weather we’ll see all year?until late September, that is, when we get a second stretch of heat. In the middle? Fog. So when we have these warm summer days, it’s important to seize them:?the late light, the abundance of flowers, and mostly, the many fruits in our amazing garden.
And in the stores, already, blueberries and peaches and nectarines and basil like you wouldn’t believe.
So I have to admit that while?I was all about meal planning and being organized and cooking ahead?and while overall this has been such a smart move?lately I’m into the easiest and loveliest of summer meals: a salad, an artichoke, a protein, a pile of rice. I’m stocking my kitchen with summer’s bounty, tons of which comes from my very own garden, and then I’m seeing what happens next.
It’s kind of like writing a poem. A summer one.
Speaking of which: I’ve got a mini book tour going! I read in Santa Barbara last week, and I’ll be in Davis, California, tonight. Next week, I’ll feature at the Voz sin Tinta reading series in San Francisco. Over the summer I’ll hit Portland, Maine, and I’m hoping for the other Portland in the fall. You can stay up to date on my comings-and-goings on my new Little Prayers Book Tour page.??
And if you wanted a copy of my book and haven’t yet gotten one, The Bookmobile is coming! I’ll be signing and sending books in the month of June. Drop me a line via my contact page for details.
And wherever you are, enjoy a gorgeous summer meal. (Unless you’re in the southern hemisphere, I suppose.)
This terrific blogger named Jess Witkins interviewed me about my new poetry collection,?Little Prayers. There’s a book giveaway, too. Here’s a teaser:
Jess: Why do you think poetry is important today??
Me: I think poetry asks us to tap into a different part of our brains than prose does. It demands and requires more intangibility. I remember well the time my mom told me she liked my poems but felt like she didn?t understand them. I told her she didn?t need to, that she should just appreciate what she got out of them. She told me later how freeing that was for her, that me giving her permission not to work too hard took away a lot of her anxiety and allowed her to just sit with the lines and enjoy them. I think that?s one of the things that?s hardest about poetry?we don?t always ?get it? in the way we might, say, a novel or a memoir, and maybe that?s why people run away from it. We don?t want to feel stupid or like we?re missing something. We want clarity, answers. Because poetry often raises?questions.?But?I think that?s a really good thing! Poetry can open us up to mystery and abstraction, which is good for our brains and our hearts. And the music of poetry?learning to hear it?is essential for anyone wanting to write or appreciate good writing.
I hope you’ll read it, and, if it feels right, share on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, or wherever you social media.
Ah, spring break?scantily clad humans cavorting in tropical places, drinking too much. Or: if you have children, a chaotic trip to Disneyland. No?Legoland.
Or, if you’re me, an entire week to yourself.
The way our calendar works, my spring break falls a week before the kids’, and if this was once a little frustrating (I want my trip to Hawaii too, yo), in the last two years I’ve come to see it as The. Best. Thing. Ever. Basically, I have a week of paid vacation while everyone else’s life trundles on. Of course this year I was determined to make the best of it: writing, organizing my house, a decent nap or two, some good books, a yoga class, a haircut, what-have-you.
I’m not always great at relaxing, though, and I’ve had moments this week of feeling like I’m trying so hard to take a load off that I’m not really enjoying the rest. But I’ve also been trying as hard as I can to find some spaciousness in the daily grind, and here of a Friday morning, I’m feeling pretty successful. Yesterday, I did something that always makes me feel like a million bucks: I drove up to a meditation center north of here for a two-hour yoga and meditation class.
And the topic of the dharma talk was wisdom.
Now, I don’t always resonate with the teacher. I like her classes, but at times I’m not on the same wavelength as she is. But yesterday, perhaps because it’s the end of a week of spring break, I felt like every yoga pose was a balm for the soul, every word out of her mouth, brilliant. At the end, she asked us to think about wisdom, and the ways we cultivate it. She reminded us that wisdom isn’t a set of knowledge you acquire; it’s a skill, almost like a way of approaching certain things with confidence. Somehow in there she circled to this notion of choices, how we can be wise about the choices we make, and how, in different areas of our lives we might feel we have a great deal of wisdom?and in others, very little at all.
In the abstract, it might sound a bit, well, abstract. But it turned out the talk was exactly what I needed to hear at this point in my life, this week, when I’ve been writing but also feeling quite muddled about the different paths my writing could take and whether I’m taking the right one. There’s this God-forsaken novel, and then there’s this still-unpublished memoir, but what’s really calling to me are these poems about motherhood, and instead of being the kind of wise soul who thinks to herself, Gosh I’m lucky to have all of this creative stuff spinning out of me, and maybe I just need to make a clear choice down one path and see what happens?instead, I’m the kind of soul who immediately goes to God, I suck. I can never finish anything. I’m doing it all wrong.
The other perhaps more surprising revelation was when she asked us to think of a realm where we did feel wise. Perhaps mundanely, I thought straightaway of my new habit of meal planning. Then I thought of child-rearing. I thought how actually, in the domestic sphere, taking care of my people, getting dinner on the table, dealing with an emotional 8-year-old and a baby who likes to bite, I feel pretty solid in my wisdom. I’m not saying I don’t make a shitload of mistakes, or have dark moments, or even that I’m necessarily a “good mom,” but I don’t feel angsty about my ability to keep things together on the home front. And I feel centered and grounded in this path I’ve chosen, like it’s the right one. Even if I second-guess a decision (time-outs for the biter? Something more holistic?), it doesn’t destroy me. I don’t spend hours worrying that I’m doing something wrong.
And wow, talk about luck. I have more than one friend, amazing, amazing parents, who struggle so much with it, who worry all the time about whether they’re doing it right. (I also have more than one friend having to make the kinds of choices for her kids that are beyond anything I would wish on anyone.) I worry about EVERYTHING, you guys?but, I realized yesterday, not that much about my parenting or my ability to provide for my family. I figure (as this imperfect but charming article suggests) that I’m doing pretty well, and that might be good enough.
It was kind of amazing to put these things side by side: on one, my ingrained belief that every other writer on the planet is doing it better than I am (don’t even get me started on the amazing Lauren Groff?if you haven’t yet read Fates and Furies, get thee to your local independent bookstore), and my sometimes pathological inability to see my own strengths, opportunities and choices. On the other, my realization that if someone ordered me, “Make a palatable dinner for ten out of whatever’s in your cupboards, while both of your kids are home, NOW?” it would be stressful?but I’d do it.?So now, of course, I’m wondering how I take wisdom from the latter, and contribute it to the former.
Maybe that’s a project for next spring break.
Where is YOUR wisdom? Where do you need more? Comment it up.
A hearty thanks to everyone who bought my book or came to my wonderful book launch at Octopus Literary Salon on March 10! I’m now suggesting folks buy it on Powells.com, since Amazon is still all messed up, or directly from me (link on my homepage).
Well, I’m over the moon. Sometime last October, I disconnected the JetPack plugin from my WordPress site, trying to figure out why my site was loading so slowly. Then all hell broke loose?when I reconnected the plugin, no one could see my blog posts. No emails went out. Radio silence. I’ve been emailing the JetPack people every week for four months, feeling totally frustrated, and saying a thousand little prayers that I’d be able to communicate with my readers again. I wrote this blog post, about activism, which maybe none of you saw, and then I gave up. So then today some dude named Jeremy casually emailed to say he’d poked around a bit, updated a few things, and wham?my “Test” post (which you can obviously ignore) went out successfully.
I’m back in action.
And I have so much to say: it’s already spring in California, which is both lovely and deeply unsettling. I’m having a creative explosion in my forties, apparently, because I’ve been playing music (live! Out! In bars!) and writing and feeling good. The Olympics are rocking my world (my husband and I love to watch the snowboarding while inserting our own commentary, full of pot jokes). And, best of all, I have a book out, my first full-length poetry collection. It’s called Little Prayers, and it was published last month by the wonderful San Francisco?based publisher Blue Light Press.
This book was a long time in coming, testimony to the fact that writers sometimes suffer through multiple rejections, and even a 15-year hiatus, before a thing gets published. Here’s a teaser:
A BIRD, A GOD
I?ve been holding something
in my hard fat belly for days
and in the night I wake from dark dreams.
But no one, nothing, is there.
A bird, a God, what was it you saw last?
Was it this?
I?ve forgotten how to read, what language
to pluck from the ears of strangers.
I salute the sun facing a dead blue wall.
I look into the earth.
Were you a tree cutter? Is that how you knew,
by looking into the mouths of trees?
? Susie Meserve, 2018
Local friends, I’d love to see you at my March 10 book launch at Octopus Literary Salon in Oakland, where I’ll be reading with the talented Kate Folk. I’ll also read at the San Francisco Writers Conference this Friday night at the Mark Hopkins Hotel in San Francisco (free and open to the public! Lots of great poets). And stay tuned for more readings and events this spring and summer.