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.
Hey, friends! I am always trying to increase my readership. If you know someone who would enjoy my infrequent cerebral ramblings on the state of motherhood?and more?please send a link to my blog their way. And if you’re seeing my stuff for the first time, consider adding your name to my mailing list or following me on Facebook or Twitter. Cheers!
A little less than a month ago, I had a baby, an 8 pound slip of a thing who, in some charmed moments, lies quietly looking out the window from his bassinet:
And I’m tired. In my head I’ve been writing about his magical-yet-crazy birth for weeks now, and about what it’s like to start fresh with a newborn at 43, with a seven-year-old, but hey, little known fact: when you have a new baby, even one who sleeps occasionally, you don’t have a lot of time for things like WRITING. Or showering. Or paying bills, or making dinner, or gardening, or any of the things you used to find gratifying and easy of a day. So the blog post goes unwritten, at least for now.
Which is why it’s so lovely to have a friend like Mike Dockins, who sent this gem yesterday. Mike and I have been writing postcard poems to each other for a couple of years now, but we took a long hiatus last year. Then bam, Mike started us up again with “Postcard with Pebbles & The Bogeyman,” which sums up a lot of my feelings about (re) new (ed) motherhood pretty perfectly: the chores undone, the chores undone, the chores undone?and the boys less little, less little, less little, until one day: gone.
POSTCARD WITH PEBBLES & THE BOGEYMAN
?for L and S
Susie, once again you?ve emerged from Ye Olde Creation Workshop to deliver unto us another squealer?someone to keep L company in the blue Berkeley dark, to help him stalk the Bogeyman, someone even with whom to conspire?against you, old friend?years hence, a list of undone chores dangling unreasonably from your unreasonable lip, the boys slouching over chipped Legos, dusty fire trucks, cobwebbed Darth Vaders?the toys of their childhoods sprawled like an ancient star map across the rug?& clutching god-knows-what intolerable species of techno-gadget, good grief, their eye-rolls locking the planet in a terrifying terrestrial wobble. Look at you: nightly rippling the Bay with the Aeolian wind of your Aeolian words, inviting little tsunamis to lap against the lifeless, lifeless pebbles, your autumn hammock no longer lying in a heap waiting for summer, but carrying you, Mama, all a-sway & lovely & wine-dark as you watch Orion?s belt whip the rooftop with barbaric yawps, all cocooned in that perfect & impossible womb, your boys little, less little, less little with each barbaric lash.
? Mike Dockins, 2016
If you want to read more of Mike’s fantastic work, check him out at the Tupelo Press 30/30 project, kind of a poet’s answer to NaNoWriMo, where he’ll be writing a poem a day all November.
Ghazals for Foley, ed. Yago S. Cura, 2016 Hinchas Press
Yesterday I received my copy of Ghazals for Foley, a book of poems written to commemorate the life of writer and slain journalist Jim Foley, who was a classmate of mine at UMass Amherst. I have a poem in the collection, along with poems by?Martin Espada, CS Carrier, Shauna Seliy, my buddy and writing partner?Mike Dockins, and many more. There is also a short story by Jim that was previously published by Hinchas Press.
I hope you’ll pick up a copy here and spread the word.?Ghazals for Foley is?a beautiful tribute to a beautiful person, and I’m grateful to Yago Cura and Hinchas Press for including me in the project.
ALSO: I’m reading this Friday night at the?Madness?Radio?Book Launch!Feb 26, 2016?w/ Bonfire Madigan, Will Hall, Jacks McNamara, Mandala Project, Susie Meserve, book contributors and more…1017 Ashmount St?7pm?Oakland California?(make sure to park carefully and leave room on street). The essay I’ll be reading, called “A Little Crazy,” is forthcoming in an anthology by In Fact Books called Show Me All Your Scars: True Stories of Overcoming Mental Illness.?
I would love to see you there, if you’re local!
Finally, mark your calendars! My friend Sandra Stringer and I will be teaching a three-hour?writing and movement workshop called “Releasing Your Body, Revealing Your Story” at Flying Studios in Oakland on Saturday, March 19, from 1:00-3:45 p.m. Cost: $75. If you know of anyone who might be interested, please spread the word. I’ll post again about it here, closer, of course.
At the San Francisco Writers Conference this past weekend, there were so many opportunities to tell someone who I was?in ten seconds or less. The first time someone asked “And what do you write?” I botched my answer, stumbling with some “Ums” and “wells” and “kind-ofs.” Then, I agonized over how I would introduce myself at my panel on revision on the second day, the one I was doing with two experienced editors in a room I suspected would be packed (it was). In my notebook I nervously jotted down phrases like “I write about the darkness in everyday experience” and “I write about the light and the dark of being a woman” and other horrendous, lofty mouthfuls I absolutely could not see myself pulling off in public.
Then one of the other editors from the panel, who is also a new friend and a lovely person with whom I’d just had a delicious lunch in Chinatown, said: “Just say it all?you’re a poet, you also write personal narrative, you write about your experiences with anxiety, motherhood, and infertility, and then mention your memoir.” Wow?that was easier. And when it came time to introduce myself at the panel, I said exactly that, switching the pronouns, and was amazed at how easily it rolled off the tongue and how comfortable I felt not stumbling with some catchy catch phrase. Later, two people came up to me to tell me they couldn’t wait for my memoir to get published, that it just sounded wonderful. Isn’t that nice?
And, perhaps because I wasn’t saddled to a catch phrase all weekend, I was able to let go and be a poet for a few days,?too,?speaking on a couple of poetry panels, workshopping, and reading at the Friday night poetry reading. A poem that’s been just sitting in my computer for two years was enthusiastically received?a poetry press editor insisted that I send her my manuscript, provided that poem is in it.
So I came away from the conference feeling pretty good.
At one stage, in the lobby of the hotel, a group of women somehow converged?we’re all mothers, and we all live relatively close to one another?in the same town, and there was talk of us getting together to write or commiserate or workshop. A trading of email addresses and a “where do your kids go to school?”s. And somehow, in that moment, my identity shifted from “writer” to “mom who writes.”
“How old are your kids?” one asked another.
“Ten and eight. You?”
“Seven and five. You?”
Then it was my turn: “Six,” I said. “Just six.”
And while I felt a part of this, because we all know what it’s like to try to pull off a writing career when you’re also raising children, because we’ve all given birth and nursed and been up all night losing our minds with exhaustion,?I felt again that other identity of which I’ve been so conscious in recent years: that I’m the mother of an only child. If you don’t have kids, you might think, what’s the difference? Either you’re a mom, or you’re not. But I tell you, it’s different, really; having one kid means when you have a playdate your house is still pretty manageably noisy, and your plane ticket bills are cheaper. And two bedrooms don’t feel cramped at all, and it’s not too hard to get a babysitter.
But it also means smarting when, at a?babysitting co-op meeting, someone says casually, “Oh, it’s so crazy once you have your second!” and every woman in the room except you groans and nods in some kind of humble brag, lamenting and loving their full, full, and more full lives. This happened recently, and I sat there feeling utterly apart because I couldn’t say whether it’s crazy when you have two. Because I have not been able to have two. Because I may never know.
But while this was so hard for so many years, this feeling of wanting something I couldn’t have, lately I’ve been wondering if I really wanted it as badly as I thought I did. I’ve been wondering if maybe my life is just perfect as it is.
“God, it’s so nice to have adult conversations for a change,” one of the moms?at the conference said, and I thought, but I have adult conversations all the time. My life is very manageable with one kid who’s in school or childcare 36 hours a week or more; I see friends, I work, and I spend many hours alone, writing. Besides, conversations with L have rarely?been a chore. Maybe this is something about my kid, or my parenting, or something else, but I?have realized lately how, when I’ve been so busy wanting something else, my nice life has been here all along with me.
And again, it’s kind of like writing. At a recent meeting of my Creative Women’s Cocktail Hour, my friend Ascha had us choose lines from a book of poetry and write them on an envelope. Then we shared the lines.
Mine?”like someone trying to walk through a fire,” “What I would do with the rest of my life,” and “your old soft body fallen against me”?all from The?Gold Cell,?by Sharon Olds?seemed to speak to how you have this relationship with something and it lasts your whole life. My writing and I, we’re like old lovers; we fight, we make up, we get on with it, we fight, we make up. We walk through fire together, and we’ll be together forever. And this is a comforting thought, because when my writing and I are not connecting, it doesn’t mean we’re breaking up; it’s all just part of the journey.
And I guess that’s a bit like parenting, too, like me parenting my one beautiful child: his young soft body fallen against me, for the rest of my life.
**Nota Bene! Susie will be reading on Friday, 2/26 at the?Madness Radio Book Launch! With?Bonfire Madigan, Will Hall, Jacks McNamara, Mandala Project, book contributors and more…1017 Ashmount St, Oakland, California?7pm. Hope to see you!**?
This morning, meditating on the back deck, I noticed California’s subtle signs of fall. As a New England transplant?who grew up with?dramatic fall weather and the trees in flames, the signs here are a little too subtle for me, but today was pretty good: a gorgeous late sunrise (we all piled into L’s bed to watch it through his windows at 7:15), walnut-tree leaves littering the deck, crisp air, and that slightly maudlin fall light that seems to strike diagonally. This weekend I’m planning to spend a lot of time in the woods, watching fall, clearing my head.
Fall’s diagonal light
Last night at my writing group I asked a few veteran fiction writers how to approach writing a novel. When I wrote my memoir, the plot was laid out in front of me; I didn’t have the blessing or the curse of having to make things up. (Sometimes, I wish I had, since many traditional publishers have been calling the story “too quiet.” What can I say? That’s my life. Quiet.) Given all this freedom, I have no idea what to do with it. I have 100 pages from last year’s NaNoWriMo, and then about 25 of a “new draft.” I have my main plot points. But deciding what happens in between?what should go on?in, say, chapter 2?is beyond me. I stare at the laptop, longing for someone to tell me what?to write.
Of course, I suppose the character could do that. In this terrific podcast, writer Elizabeth Gilbert talks about having a conversation with your book, and while I haven’t quite done that yet, I’m open to the idea that my main character, Hilly, could?somehow tell me what’s next. Is that ludicrous? Yes, and no. Maybe I’m just not listening right.
But anyway, back to the writing group. We talked about writing exercises and introducing conflict and what the characters want and pushing myself to be more outrageous and maybe losing a major thread that’s not interesting me after all. But mainly what I took away from the conversation was to just make a big mess of things, for now. You can’t know what a character will do until you’ve written her, and then written her some more, and then written her some more. And maybe none of those scenes will make it into the book, but maybe they will. And maybe, as I write, keeping notes, starting new files, disorganizing everything and trying new things and then sticking it all back together again, I’ll learn what’s supposed to happen, what’s important to me, what’s important to Hilly and her friend V.
Making a mess terrifies me. As you know from posts like this, in my old age, much to the shock of my parents and brothers, I’m sure, I have actually become a hyper-organized individual. One of the beautiful things about writing, for eight years, a memoir with the plot?laid out for me, was that I spent much of that time tinkering. Polishing. Moving things around. It felt joyful and straightforward (or maybe I’m misremembering all the hours I spent pulling my hair out, freaking out?probably). There is nothing straightforward about writing a novel, not when I’m?in what we might call the ideation phase.?Not when I have so little time to actually write these days. And especially not when I’m hoping against hope to finish this book before another decade has passed.
Nonetheless, I?am resolved to try: to see what happens, to make a mess, to not know what’s coming next. Maybe there’s a metaphor here? (There always is.)
And, lest I leave you on that dubious note, here’s an old poem about fall.
It?s raining colored paper.
No, birds?cardinals, orioles, and canaries,
swooping, dipping towards the hard surface
of the road, then gone. It?s the cornfields
have turned to paper, and a pumpkin
spills its guts on a front stoop.
A boy discovers it and starts to cry.
Who would do such a thing,
bring down the jagged grin, hard, on the steps?
Something in him falters.
He imagines his house on fire: water boiling
in the goldfish bowl, floating, weightless fish.
He thinks about God and Judas
and seventeen-year locusts, how they ruin things,
wringing his hands, worrying his fingernails
to splinters. He stares out at the fields,
counts minutes till schooltime, his breath
a neat circle on the window,
because it?s cold this October, already?
and there in the road is the flock of leaves,
swooping, dipping into the hard surface,
then gone. They touch down, and then they?re gone.
The cornfields have turned to paper,
and behind them the sky.
? Susie Meserve. This poem originally appeared in Indiana Review, Fall, 2001