Silence isn’t Nothing

There are about a dozen times a day that I tell myself I should write. Some days more. And some days I give into the craziness of working motherhood and the ping pong ball effect of an anxious mind and give myself the grace, but I still hold onto the “should.” It follows me like a quiet shadow.

My social media feed is filled with some amazing writers and poets and authors – nearly all of them mothers – who share the gamut of writing experiences. There are those that bring light to the struggle of putting words to page, pushing their way through the web of issues to come out the other side, at least with a flash of their own words and thoughts in an occasional caption or newsletter. Some share flowing, fanciful poetry while others tell a powerfully real story of their own possession. 

Then there are THOSE ones – the ones that equally motivate and inspire me with their beautiful words, but also leave me feeling like a deflated balloon – that create a tangible end writing goal, share accountability Instagram Stories of their notebook or laptop screen filled with words and a cup of coffee in hand like clockwork, and achieve that final intention. All the while, these fabulous women provide their favorite writers’ quotes about writing even when we don’t have anything to write about, that it’s not the end piece that makes you a writer, it’s the act of writing, and so on and so forth.

I love all of these women. I love the ones I know well and I love the ones I’ve never interacted with. I love their honesty. I love them for simply doing. I love them because they remind me that wherever I am in my journey, it’s okay.

However, the more that I don’t write, especially in a way that people see – through a blog, through a newsletter, through a poetry challenge, through my social media feed, through published works – the more detached I feel. And when one feels detached to the process of writing, the weight of writing grows heavier, making it more and more impossible to pick up.

I’m beyond lucky to have a creative husband who writes and understands this process. We both struggle with time and the weight of creativity – and the anxiety and stress when we put it down. The more that time rolls by, the less we are writers.

This is when we start to doubt. When we pick up the pen and the ink well is empty. When we start typing and the words have no connection. When we reread a paragraph and have literally no recollection of writing it in the first place. We become our own stranger.

I’m a Type 9 empath who has a difficult time compartmentalizing my concerns and issues. Throw a case of anxiety into the mix and things magnify. If I were to write down all of the places that my thoughts bounce in five minutes, the list would be long. Here’s just a taste…

Which method will work best for finally finishing off the basement office closet: having the shelves too short but using cool brackets or creating a more built-in look with lots more work? {Research for hours and hours.} How do we get our youngest potty-trained…and what’s up with her hitting phase?! How do we teach our son about technology addiction, or is it okay for him to find comfort in his Nintendo Switch with how crazy things are in his life right now? Will our daughter ever bounce back academically from her COVID kindergarten school year? I have gotten fat (this goes down a longer rabbit hole). I only exercise sporadically; I need to be more mindful about it…same with eating. We should try hiking. Or skiing. But I need the proper boots, or the proper snow pants. Ugh, the entire house needs a purge. TOYS EVERYWHERE. I never bought those pot and pan organizers for the kitchen. I wonder if it’s even plausible to consider a socially distanced, isolated vacation this summer. Where? The library floor isn’t finished yet and I have to weed through the entire reference section. How much time would it take to… 

If you saw how many tabs I have open to research most of these issues, it would be a direct look inside my scattered mind. My brain is an unending corn row of open tabs.    

One of my favorite books to lean into when life has too many moving pieces to nail down my ability to write and I no longer know myself as a writer is Wild Words by Nicole Gulotta. From learning to write in the margins and recognizing that writing looks different as we experience different seasons, I am able to breathe a little. And what is better for your thoughts – and, hence, writing – than some fresh air?

I’m trying to breathe and allow my writing to rejoin me by leaning into and honoring the silence. Silence – and a lack of writing – isn’t nothing. It’s part of the process. Viewing it as a break rather than a final, doomed divorce can be freeing. Beating myself up because I’m not doing what I think I should be doing – and, really, any time that word enters our vocabulary, we would do well by condemning it – is only going to make it worse. Shifting my mindset by recognizing that simply living and experiencing life can give my mind the room to breathe it then opens my brain up to the possibility of creating in a nurturing space.

A flame can be sparked with just a gentle breeze; pressure can often smolder it.

By embracing the silence, by not ignoring it nor admonishing it, can we give the flame the room and time to spread. And once the wildfire spreads, writing becomes more exciting and inspired.

Growing Old Connections

I can feel the dirt sneaking its way into my gloves, leaving grit in my fingernails. The fabric is coated in rubber, but soil seems to happily ignore this feature. I pause and find gratitude for the small level of protection. Gratitude and slowness in the moments that are slow enough to notice have been my saving grace during quarantine.

While each day, hour, minute seems to jump in levels of uncertainty, moodiness, job duties, and needs, we’re now mostly able to ebb and flow as a family along with the fluctuations. 

For the most part, we’re sharing an inflatable life raft. When someone falls out, we’re nearby to pull them back to the reality of the boat. When one of us starts flipping out over homework or an infuriating social media moment, we’ll regroup and remind each other just to focus on the motion of rowing, together.

Togetherness will get us through.

Strangely enough, this doesn’t apply to being with anyone outside our raft. Right now, our mental health and ability to survive relies solely on keeping our little life boat afloat.

When we were first starting to get the hang of the situation, emotions ran high and we threw spaghetti at the wall trying to determine what would work for us to keep a semblance of normality. We had uncomfortable Skype and Zoom calls. Unnatural attempts at driveway-window chats. Facebook Kids. Anything to try to connect with nearby family, but none of it seemed to stick or work to form connections.

Turns out, what worked the most was us. Our closely knit group of hilarious, creative, passionate little people…and the two parents who are just lucky enough to get to share in their lives.

Emotions still run very much hot and cold; I can’t change who I am just as much as our two-year-old can’t change her own speech delay. We are who we are, and somehow we’ve all grown to accept each other with far greater understanding while being squished together in close quarters. 

But, while we miss the family and friends and connections outside our home (and, sure, chat via the window or a good, old-fashioned phone call), my connections have started coming from unexpected family members.

The ones that have long since passed.

As part of my quarantine birthday this year, my husband renewed my Ancestry account. I hadn’t worked on my family tree since our firstborn was still in diapers. Two more kids later and it seemed like no better time than to give me a distraction with doors into the past.

What can I say? He gets me.

So, while I enjoy the occasional chat with my own mom, one of my favorite connections is to people I’m revisiting or, better yet, meeting for the first time. My husband’s long lost family from Italy. My grandmother’s British side, leading me to wonder how they would’ve felt about the deeply rooted Irish contingency that took over most of my bloodline.

Having experienced the life-shaping loss of a parent at a young age, death and the relationships we share with the departed are large, looming life themes for me. The grandparents who stepped up helped mould my mind, my sentiments, and my philosophies, and gifted me with the perspective of history. 

Each time that I click a new leaf and discover a new name, I greet the person with excitement. I wonder a hundred or more things about their life.

I make assumptions about the difficulties that they must have endured simply to survive in a certain place at a certain time. I give thanks that they did, and know that the tough survival instincts many of us have lost aren’t truly lost; they were passed down, but have laid dormant until this very unique, challenging time. 

It’s here to slow us down, to make us sit with discomfort, and recognize our ability to do hard things in order to survive and thrive. I live my 21st century life, performing my job and teaching my kids through technology. But the historical passion and interest I’ve always had is bubbling to the surface like sourdough fermenting; I may not be living with such difficulties, after all. Seeing these names and reading my son Farmer Boy everyday brings it all home. A pinch of perspective can have soothing effects.

So, as I continue to turn the dirt in my hands and plant new seeds in my brand new raised bed, I’m feeling more connected than ever.

Hoping to see new leaves spring forth, a bridge between now and then.

I’m learning the lessons they teach from the grave. Their resilience. Their ability to create a life and survive with far worse circumstances. I yearn, more so, to know those lessons that have disappeared. The common sense connection to nature and the seasons. When to plant, when to prepare (always). How to sustain a family. 

My garden is late this year, but I will grow for them.

This post was written as part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to read the next post in this series “Together, Apart”.