My haphazard phenology

Hemerocallis fulva/tiger daylily/ditch lily

I want to be a writer.

I’m not talking about someone who sits back while her muse serves up exquisite turns of phrase on a silver platter. I don’t daydream about an advance that pays the bills. I’m not thinking about getting an MFA. I’m thinking about Madeleine L’Engle, who wrote night after night, after her children were asleep, throughout her “tired thirties.” I’m remembering when I would rise at 5 to get in an hour of words before anyone else was awake. And I’m still sitting with this episode of On Being. It made me cry about eight times (about par for the course), including when Maria Popova remarked:

“Those ideas, the best of them came to me at the gym or on my bike or in the shower. And I used to have these elaborate theories that maybe there was something about the movement of the body and the water that magically sparked a deeper consciousness. But I’ve really come to realize the kind of obvious thing which is that these are simply the most unburdened spaces in my life, the moments in which I have the greatest uninterrupted intimacy with my own mind, with my own experience. And there’s nothing magical, at least not in the mystical sense, about that. It’s just a kind of ordinary magic that’s available to each of us just by default if only we made that deliberate choice to make room for it and to invite it in.”

Campsis radicans/trumpet creeper

These early years of motherhood are startling in – nearly defined by – their paucity of uninterrupted intimacy with my own mind, but it’s there. It’s there when I’m nursing my daughter in the pre-dawn hush, when I’m driving to the grocery store, even in that fraction of a moment when I take my first sip of coffee. I used to say I did my best writing in those delicious (and pen-less) moments, but real writing is something I can share with someone else. Real writing is a decision to push through the distractions and exhaustions that reappear as soon as I put the coffee cup back down. Real writing is work.

When I do the work, life is really good. I get words to look back on, hindsight casting a gentle glow on a time I thought I was stumbling through the dark. I get to wade through the mush of my mom brain and figure out what I really think. I get to talk to you, to other writers and readers. And that’s when a remembered bowl of corn flakes and a downpour in the grocery store parking lot and the quiet wilderness of my little backyard turn blogging into something useful: an instrument of encounter.

But when I don’t do the work, all that fades, like so many July blossoms.

Rudbeckia/black-eyed Susan

My haphazard phenology is as concrete a metaphor as I can come up with for why I want to write. Phenology is the study of plant and animal life cycles, especially as influenced by available sunlight, temperature, and precipitation. The most valuable phenology happens at regular intervals and focuses on a discrete physical area – the span of backyard you can see from the bottom step where you sip your coffee every morning, for example, or the same 10-meter stretch of shoreline.

But even my amateur and slipshod observations have worth. They help me understand where I have landed. They help me teach my children about death and patience and wonder, lessons that seemed so easy when we lived on farms and which seemed so hard at first when we didn’t anymore. And these tiny heralds all around us – poison ivy’s first leaves, tiny and carmine; the first whelk egg cases to wash up along the wrack line; February’s robins puffing their feathers and settling into a westward position on bare oak branches to absorb the last of the day’s thin sunlight; even the cocklebur I step on and curse in the dunes during the dog’s morning walk – they tether me, at least for a moment, in time and in place. These years are tricky. My children are one day asleep in the crook of my elbow, the next day climbing the bookshelves, and the next day teaching themselves to read. They need water and toast and a new shirt and kisses and I have not had any coffee yet. She wants to whisk the pancake batter and he wants to know which species of sharks give birth to live pups and I struggle to gain purchase. But I pry the bur from my heel and drop it in my pocket and look it up online when we get home. I think that perhaps the whelk egg cases are a little earlier this year. I am not startled now to unearth a clutch of horseshoe crab eggs when we dig moats for June’s high tides to fill. Patterns emerge from the welter. I am reminded that life – marine and my own – is unfolding with a sound beauty.

Albizia julibrissin/mimosaMay I be resolved and stubborn enough to do more showing up, more noticing, more work.

19 thoughts on “My haphazard phenology

  1. Susan

    I understand. I have a 1.5 year old and am home full time with him. I read a lot of various things and feel like “amateur” observations can have just as much meaning to others as those of any other writer 🙂

  2. Paige Vaccaro

    I can hear the urgency in your inner voice calling you to make time and think and write coupled with the ever-changing yet never any less demanding voice of your children. It is a chorus I too hear all day and night, perhaps that is why we are such kindred spirits.

    Glad you found the time or shall I say made the time to write this. I am sure it speaks to so many mothers.

    1. Lisa Post author

      Thank you, friend. I know you need this time too, removed from your sweet brood, to process and connect. The perfect solution eludes me yet, but I’m trying to keep at it.

  3. amanda

    love this.

    the Maria Popova remark reminded me of thoughts I had on a solo hike last year:

    ‘somewhere along the way, thinking about all that, I was struck with a thought. (possible rambling about to happen here) that I bet this was part of the often overwhelmed feelings of motherhood- we need our stories, we need to think about them and ponder them. yet when we are walking side by side with our little ones, how often do we get ample time to really stew on things? had she been with me I may have still picked up the acorn and thought briefly about those times a decade and half ago, but likely within seconds I’d have been called (along with my attention) away to watch her jump off a rock or kiss a scrape or chase her up the trail. or something. something wonderful, possibly, but still…… I think these moments that are offered up to us in code, these moments that reach out to give us glimpses of thoughts and memories that just may be what we need more than anything else right then… well, very often those moments aren’t really allowed to fully bloom and soothe. so we are left with snippets and our minds start to feel overwhelmed with bits and pieces and could-haves and should-haves. to such an extent that later on, when we are trying to quieten our mind and tend to our inner self and sanity, it can be, well, all too noisy in there. too many prematurely-shushed thoughts vying for attention. perhaps.’

    looking forward to reading more of your writing in this space~

  4. Grace

    This is so lovely, and a good reminder for me as I approach motherhood. Even this pregnancy feels like I haven’t attended to it. Every day I think I should write about it, but I’m in that momentum-less stuck place right now. Thanks for a little push to write!

  5. Rachel

    I am not a writer, nor do I have an urge to be, but this post spoke volumes to me. Parenting of my littles is physically and emotionally demanding so this came at the right moment. This is such an ode to work and to life – to embracing the demands, persevering through the challenges, choosing joy and engagement over resentment and frustration.

    Thank you.

  6. teegan

    As someone who has defined myself as a writer for as long as I can remember, motherhood has been *tough*. My oldest is nearly 3 years old and my second is five months, and finding the time to do five minutes of yoga poses or to make a halfway interesting dinner is challenge enough, let alone enough time to let my brain do all of that meandering required to craft anything written. Add on top of that a part-time job that requires one day a week in the office and 6 hours done at home, and it’s even tougher.

    Thanks for the reminder to make it a priority.

  7. Leah

    Gorgeous! You are a writer already. Process, process, process. Hoping for more time for you to squeeze those thoughts onto digital paper and share them with us all.

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  9. nicole

    Haven’t come by here in ages and now just to say on an old post — you ARE a writer. And a really beautiful one at that.

    I also have those little moments of writing bits in my head, but I am too tired these days to stay up late to write and if I got up earlier, well, I’d be up well before 4:30am. These are my excuses, which wear thin, but I do try to cram in time here and there. I like to think that when she is older I will have more time, and no doubt I will, but I mustn’t lapse completely until then. It’s all a hard balancing act for sure.

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