See the Snow

We’re in the midst of our first Seattle snow of the year. My five-year-old son’s near-constant prayer since before Christmas has been a request for snow. When the first flakes fell, he was pulling on his shoes “Just to lick it.” He had his dream come true: He bundled up, went out to our cul-de-sac and threw snow with the neighbor kids, made snow angels, rolled down a small snow-covered slope, built a snowman.

For dinner, we brought home Thai take-out and ate in the subdued lighting of our dining room. For the first time since we’d moved into our house, the light fixture was cleaned and a proper dimmer bulb was installed in it (Thank you, James!). Our cafe lighting in our yard glowed golden over the white blanket dusting our shrubs and patio. Then my son whispers, “I’m pretending we are eating in a restaurant,” and I know he’s having one of those rare magical moments of being fully present in life, delighting in everything. Then again, I think kids experience those moments a lot more than I do.

Our whole family was bundled up and playing outside until my daughter’s hands got wet and cold, so I went inside with her to warm up with hot chocolate. We sat by our front window to watch the snow fall and sip warm drinks. She dumped her drink down her front with almost every sip, exclaiming with bright joy on the occasion when “I didn’t spill it!!” I read her Dr. Seuss’s ABC and she chattered exuberantly with me, as only my little two-year-old can do when she is happy, contented, and no one else is interrupting her.

I recently realized that my mind and nearly every morsel of spare time has been devoted to my task list. And although many of those things on my list involve taking care of other people, there was something deeply inward-focused that left me feeling convicted of selfishness.

Yes, I’m a mother who takes care of her children’s need. Yes, it’s a job that requires a lot of selfless acts. But I’ve found ways to make my plans and thoughts center on me and my pleasure and it seemed to me I was also losing the joy and peace that comes when seeking someone else’s happiness.

Just a small amount of attention turned toward someone else’s joy often prompts me to write short, encouraging notes to friends, offer my husband a neck massage, plan an informal tea party for a friend’s visit—and the new infusion of love is lost on no one.

For me, that moment was bringing hot chocolate to my daughter and chatting with her while we warmed up after our snow day.

The rare Seattle snow almost always touches me with beauty, wonder, sacredness. It reminds me that my checklist isn’t supposed to be all about what makes me feel most productive. Beauty beckons me to slow down and experience it, and to invite others to join me.

Yesterday, I was really really sad. I had some news that broke my heart. And though my son didn’t know the details, he saw his mother’s grief. This kid and I butt heads a lot during the day, and his strong-willed nature combined with my temper often leaves me exhausted and feeling defeated half the time, if not more. But then there are moments when I see that my prayers for his heart to grow in kindness and compassion are not going unheard.

My son saw the tears brimming in my eyes and the heaviness in my steps and he folded me into his small, strong arms. It was nearly his bedtime and he asked if he could sleep in my bed, to comfort me. He offered to bring me breakfast in bed (then said it was a bad idea, because I’d get cavities…), and also offered to take me to a park where we could play together, eat dinner, and he would put chocolate chips on my plate.

He was comforting me in every way that his heart knew how. These are the moments in life when I wonder if maybe, some small part of the “why” of terrible things happening, or God allowing them to happen, has to do with the love and healing and intimacy from others who rise up to answer that pain. That something good will be made of all the mess. And that this post-disaster good is somehow better than unblemished perfection.

I’ll leave you today with an amazing song that I recently discovered. It gave me chills and made my throat catch—the truth was just that powerful and resonant. This artist encapsulates so much of my feelings as a mother and an artist.

I hope you love it.

“The Mother” by Brandi Carlile

(I first heard this on Spotify, but a found a youtube video where she’s singing it live to her daughter–it’s stunning).

Grace Note

This year has sparkled with good things–I don’t say this flippantly. I truly sleep without interruption most nights. My children are 75% potty-trained, as a whole. Our house projects are minor and not choking us every weekend. Homeschooling is good–full of challenges, discoveries, walls and breakthroughs. James and I are close–we laugh together, plan our strategies, share our fears, encourage each other.

My 2018 New Year’s resolution was to be kind–to myself and to others, especially when weighing a choice between two decisions. I don’t know how well I kept to it, (but I didn’t forget it!). What I do know is that kindness is a much nobler motivation than guilt.

For me, I predict 2019 will be a year of movement. Less stillness and waiting, more action. My upcoming publication in Writers of the Future Vol 35 is designed to launch my career into the professional arena and I can only hope and pray that I’m ready for it.

Next month I’m headed out for a weekend retreat during which I’ll crack open a novel manuscript that I finished over two years ago. It almost certainly needs a full rewrite, an overhaul of vision, structure, plot, and characters. When I showed it to my critique group, they were quite encouraging, yet I felt an indescribable block, a mental pressure telling me I wasn’t ready to complete the project.

So, now that WotF recognition suggests that an agent will pay attention to me, I’m going to approach the manuscript again. A second leg of the plan is to invest resources in buying myself more time to write. This feels necessary, if only for a trial period.

For reasons I can’t fully explain, spending monetary resources to help me manage household, career, and kids makes my chest shake and my head spin. I suspect it’s some combination of the independence lie that says I should be able to do it all myself and the insidious mama-guilt that insists I should be spending every minute of the day with my children or else I am selfish. And yes, with homeschooling them, there is no “wait till they’re in school” timeline.

They learned how to be friends this year. Hallelujah!

A memory surfaces here, of this spring when I decided to wean my daughter, 18-months-old at the time. Guilt had a heyday with me, telling me I was depriving my girl of her best nutrition before she could decide on her own that she was ready for 100% solid foods. Then, while I was praying about it, Jesus reminded me that I needed to be kind to myself. To remember there was the well-being of two souls in this equation. My New Year’s resolution in action.

At the time, I was preparing for a 10-day artist residency and the stress of pumping for my daughter while I was away was a huge source of stress. So I weaned her. She was happy and unperturbed and already delighted with solid foods. But there was agony in the decision until I recalled that my peace and comfort mattered, too.

Motherhood has taught me depths of patience and selflessness that I really didn’t dream I’d ever attain, even in a million years. But those things came hand-in-hand with anxiety, depression, anger, and fatigue. (I’m doing a bang-up job selling parenthood as a fabulous lifestyle choice, I’m sure. Ha! But you know I don’t regret becoming a mom. My heart has never been softer or fuller since having little tender “shoots” to nurture and watch as they slowly blossom. But I digress.)

I’ve become a better person, and I’ve simultaneously found new ways to harm/neglect myself. Why is the coin *always* double-sided? I don’t know.

How do I live in grace, pursue the dreams to which I’m called, love and honor the family and precious souls in my life–and stop second-guessing myself?

Family photos without a goofy face are miracles these days.

Many have advised me to take it easy while my kids are young–to just let writing take a backseat for now. With a few exceptions, that has just made me miserable. I can’t give it up. And I don’t want to give up on raising my kids, either. I just want to write speculative fiction at a professional level, homeschool my kids, maintain a flourishing marriage, have intimate and deep friendships, and have all these things bring the healing light and beauty of God into the shadowed avenues of pain, horror and loss in this world.

Elise, that’s a tall order, did you know that?

Grace. Grace. Grace. The grace to make mistakes so that I can learn from them. The grace to move forward in courage rather than stay where I am, rooted in fear. The bold grace to speak the loving words that go too long silent. The grace to treat myself like a precious, brilliant being, the same identity I am trying to instill in my children.

That brief Christmas morning when we’re all together.

That’s not exactly a list of resolutions for 2019, but it’s the state of my heart as 2018 draws to a close.

Here’s to 2019, and may it be a year rich in grace for each one of us!

XO

Elise

Song of Belfair

I sing the song of Belfair

Of village-towns with foreign names.

Curve them on your tongue, hold them in your throat.

Kfarhata, Beirut, Seattle

 

Belfair with its salty channels

Crab pots, oyster shells that glisten

Yellow-twine rope swing dangles from the balcony

Grandaughter’s Christmas tree stands in the basement

Sturdy treehouse of round-branch walls

Gazes on the wildflower bed

You made them for me.

 

Kfarhata echoes in the memory halls.

Silver platters, ornate carpets, olive oil held in glass

Cheese, flatbread, cucumber, melon

Salt of the Mediterranean on sun-browned skin

Wind that smells of cedar dust

Tiled mosaics, inlaid cloisters, jeweled desert beauty

You shared it with me.

 

Beirut leads the way to seaside promenade.

Dive from the Crazy Place and pray for tall waves.

Up narrow stairs, peer into kitchens, lounges

Lines of laundry

Tabouli, lebneh, mannaeesh, kefta

Golden stone, ripped deep with shrapnel

This Paris of the Middle East is broken, shell-shocked, worn but proud

Like you.

 

Seattle, home once, and home again. Final home.

Brick-walled, humble garden Ballard house.

Basement filled with apples, ham, baguette

Card games with the teenaged grandkids

Laughter, Arabic cussing lessons

Affectionate hospitality

Your teaching voice is strong.

 

Home apartment, hospital bed

In your firstborn’s house, office converts to hospice

This shelter-land does not sing your blood’s song

Instead, it cradles legacy

Lives grow here that stemmed from you

Chicks have their own chicks now.

Dark-eyed grandchildren: Painter. Engineer. Writer.

Great grandchildren: Music-maker. Joy-dancer.

Your heart’s new orbit.

 

And then, your time comes in a sun-filled room.

Hymns, bright-colored marker-lines on cards,

Gentle hand upon your arm, a kiss on your wrinkled forehead.

I see my father in your face.

 

Goodbye, my Jiddo. My grandfather. My ancient legacy of gracious love.

Your home is no longer here with us. It lies in the light beyond.

In Memory of Hikmat George Saba

August 4, 1930 – November 3, 2018

This Just Happened!

It was late April 2018. James and I were hiking Little Si, a small mountain near North Bend, WA. We navigated wet dripping branches and slick tree roots as we tried to rouse our minds and spirits from a season of mental fog that had engulfed us while my husband studied fervently for his Structural Engineer licensing exam.

He’d taken the test a few weeks before and would have to wait several weeks for his results. We’d left the kids with my parents and retreated for a one-night stay at a bed and breakfast to heal, spend time together, and catch up on many neglected conversations.

I just love this guy. Spain vacation.

Amongst discussions of our families, hopes, and dreams, James and I also did some goal setting. James’ goal was to pass this SE test. It boasts a statistical 30% pass rate. It might take him more than one try.

My goal was to place among the winner’s ranks in Writers of the Future–a globally Sci-Fi and Fantasy short competition. I thought I should give myself five years, vowing to submit one short story for every quarter. If, by the end, I still hadn’t won, I’d at least have honed my writing skills with small, specific projects on which I could focus on while our kids are young.

At the beach with the young’uns!

*

October 4, 2018. I was standing by my front picture window when I got the call.

I dropped into the black IKEA armchair from my grandfather, shaky with anxiety. The woman on the phone informed me that I was a Writers of the Future finalist. I was shocked. I actually thought I’d made no headway in the contest. Now I was being told I’d made it to the top eight stories.

And then? Hurry up and wait. I waited three weeks.

My first week of waiting I was an anxious, sweaty wreck. I slept 3-4 hours a night. The second week, I started to lock down into tight-fisted anxiety. By the beginning of the third week, I heard God say, “I’ve heard your prayers. I know what you want, Elise. Now let me take care of it.” I taped Exodus 14:14 on my bathroom mirror. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still. I transitioned into a place of precarious peace, but it was infinitely better than the sleepless wreck of the first week.

About to fly internationally for 15 hours…

As I waited for the news of whether or not I’d win the contest that I’d made into my all-encompassing writing goal, I imagined myself as Schrodinger’s cat. Both alive with joy and dead with despair. (Yes, I’m dramatic with my analogies. That should come as no surprise by now).

Finally, on the morning of October 26th, I received another call. Poetically, I was standing beside that same, sun-streaming window. And no, I hadn’t been rooted there for three weeks, you smart-ass. It was poetic, like I said.

She told me I’d won first place for the quarter. My little story, read by kind critics and harsh critics, read on my laptop screen till my eyes burned, read out loud to my husband until my throat was dry…that little story had turned heads enough to be awarded a prize in an international contest. It didn’t feel real, but there it was, my name displayed for the world to see, as if to say:

This girl can write.

A new chapter is opening. You guys, I’m going to be published in a sci-fi and fantasy anthology that sells on the New York Times bestseller list each year! I’ll attend a fancy awards gala (I’ll probably trip on my dress and laugh when we’re all supposed to be quiet, but that should make everyone more comfortable, right?)

They’ll give us writer winners a special writing class and fly us down to Los Angeles for everything.

Yes, it feels like a dream. I’m honored by the favor, overwhelmed by its magnitude. Very grateful to my friends who have supported me and read my drafts and encouraged me in so many ways. Thankful to my God who continues to show that he has some great plans that involve my writing.

It’s time for victory dancing, you guys! In April, I’m going to Hollywood!!

 

I took this pic the day I got the call!

The School Years

As I lay down my pen at the end of a new short story draft, I again have to acknowledge my strong affinity for mother-son themes. This makes me think of my own son, my eldest, who seems to hunger near-constantly for time one-on-one with me.

He lost a great quantity of mommy-and-me time after his sister was born. Now they both fight for me. It’s a survival instinct, I’ve been told, a scrambling for resources. Both my kids know that they rely on my care and affection and they’ll shove the other aside for it. During our group cuddle times, for example, they’ll both try to hedge the other one out by covering my body with theirs and excluding the other sibling.

I began my slow entry into homeschool last week. I bit the bullet and ordered a curriculum because I’m not ready to write my own lesson plans, no matter how simple that might be for the kindergarten year.

The homeschooling foray began when I made my family regulars at the local library branch. Both my 5-year-old and my 21-month-old have learned to hold out their arms when I appear struggling under a new load of books. (Personal experience recently taught me that they cut you off at fifty items checked out at any time…but the librarian waived the block on my account when I promised I’d just returned a stack of books in the book drop. Yeah, I sound like an addict. I know.)

My son has been regularly asking to have me read him “a book I haven’t read before.” I’ve gotta say, reaching this stage and moving beyond the “read it again! again!” ad nauseum stage is a mental reprieve. A hunger for new knowledge is rising within you, my son, and I’m so excited to explore it with you.

Painting the Sun in his Solar System kit.

Just one week into homeschooling–it’s only kindergarten, so it takes a short while to cover our subjects and most of it is fun educational books, a little math and reading lessons.

My daughter isn’t so sure she approves of the new attention her brother is receiving. I’m helping her transition by giving her lots of cuddles, a short bit of play-time with Mommy before school with her brother begins, letting her draw on scratch paper while we do math worksheets, and feeling grateful on a daily basis for the invention of non-toxic washable markers. Seriously.

I’ve met the beginning of school feeling empowered instead of overwhelmed and this is a total surprise. I’m witnessing my son’s excitement and my daughter’s curiosity and this beginning feels right and correct (and if I were in the book Jane Eyre, I might call it auspicious!)

You’re bound to see posts from me in the months and years ahead that strike a different note. I predict exhaustion, discouragement and the inevitable confusion that we all encounter when the road is long and the going is tough (I have to constantly remind myself that all things worthwhile are those we pay through the nose for…)

Why did you decide to homeschool, Elise? I’ve been asked this question many many times. Firstly, I’m committing to homeschool for just this year; I can’t foresee beyond that. Secondly, I was homeschooled through the 10th grade and I’m convinced it made a hugely positive contribution to my education and the development of writing skills that prepared me for my vocation. Thirdly, I believe homeschooling is the best choice for my family.

Coloring with her grandpa

My son’s love language (in the terminology used in The Five Love Languages of Children) is Quality Time. He’s one of the most rambunctious, curious, verbal and inquiring children I’ve ever met. His desire for devoted attention, someone to speak to him and listen to his thoughts and questions is a deep-set need that, when unmet, results in a boy with a rampant naughty streak and a high volume of vocal operation. That behavior also correlates, I unofficially suspect, to my elevated blood pressure.

Among the first things that I noticed when I began home-based instruction was that he’s become happier and more content. The mischief hasn’t evaporated, but my kiddo’s “love tank” is fuller and he knows it.

I’d expected the beginning of homeschooling to further threaten my sanity, at least initially, but that hasn’t been the reality. Gratitude surrounds and enfolds me as my own excitement rises, eager to learn side-by-side with my son, to watch this young man develop and store new information, to watch his potential blossom.

And so we enter the school years!

(Prayers for my own endurance, patience, and ingenuity are always appreciated!!)

Summer Churning

Elise, what have you been up to?

Where shall I start? It’s officially summer, so my garden and I have been racing each other to see who can weed/grow weeds the fastest. Ha. It’s no contest. I lose.

But the flowers are gorgeous and I keep picking these bouquets that knock my socks off! Seattle friends–I’ll make you a pretty posy is you want to stop on by!

My energetic 4-year-old is learning to swim and getting really excited about outer space and volcanoes. Also, the Disney Pixar film Wall-E is his bliss.

My 19-month-old is babbling a storm of words to replace her baby sign language. She also climbs onto everything and unbuckles her car seat harness while I’m driving.

I’m running to keep up with both of them and to keep them from killing or maiming themselves for roughly 12 hours a day.

I rise early to hone that edge of wakeful clarity and I write before I shower or eat breakfast. Finally I look the part of the crazy writer at her desk in her bathrobe, frizzy hair, and huge glasses! (Bucket list goal complete! And no, I don’t have a photo of that one for you!)

After a rejection that made me sadder/angrier than usual, I decided to up my publishing game. I plan to submit one short sci-fi/fantasy story per quarter to the Writers of the Future contest. My goal is to place in the competition within the next five years. That gives me about twenty short stories to write and submit. Holy moly, Elise.

Thanks for supporting me, James!

I’m in the very final stages of prepping a story submission to the above contest. It will be my first submission after setting my goal. I’m optimistic and exhausted, all of which is normal.

…What am I writing? I thought I’d share a little about the drafts on my desk right now. My head is full of ideas and I keep outlining and planning in this detailed, rigorous style that leaves me tired but confident. It is a new season for me and things are churning out. They don’t always come easily, but they are churning. (Things of quality, I hope!)

Elise’s short story drafts:

Focal Point – a magical, dangerous painting blinds a young woman in the first year of her marriage and her only hope for healing lies in revealing her own dark secrets.

Recollection – a government official’s routine visit to a small desert town unearths questions of hope and mysterious rumors that hold secrets to the town’s survival.

Inheritance – three adult siblings are astonished to find in their grandmother’s inheritance not money or real estate but distilled memories – they’ve inherited their grandmother’s social, gardening, and teaching skills, for better or worse.

Have you entered a new season of sorts? I’d love to hear about it!

Anything but Plain (WA)

My desk is in the forefont and Jason’s desk is farther down.

As the capstone to my participation in the Cascadia Residency this year, I and four other artists stayed in a beautiful riverside retreat center in Eastern Washington called the Grunewald Guild. We experienced warm, mild weather, created art, took restorative breaks in hammocks, and gathered around fresh meals that were prepared for us. We worked hard, really!

It was a true residency—we didn’t have to worry about cleaning or cooking or chores. We showed up to make art and the rest was taken care of.

Hammock!

I set up my studio in an old schoolhouse that had been converted to an art library. It had an amazing vibe and was washed in gorgeous natural light all day. Yeah, I just used the term “amazing vibe.” I must have been hanging out with artists!

I shared studio space with Jason, who was working with twine and white primer and sculpting it.

Chatting with Jason in our studio.

My own project was drafting two new short stories. The first story gave me trouble until I realized that my two main characters needed a rich backstory that connected them to each other. This particular piece is a murder mystery set in a prison inside a fantasy world. (It’s part of the Two-Tone universe, for those of you who have read my stuff). Once I realized that my “investigator” character had, twenty years prior, been a teacher to the prison’s warden but had to dismiss the warden for being unfit to pursue a career with him, I’d set the stage for a power play between former master and former pupil that had flipped over so that the pupil now bore all the power and the master held none.

It took me roughly a day-and-a-half of struggling, frustrated that I couldn’t begin fleshing out my scenes right away, but I think the added time of prep-work was worth it. In the process of building these notes on character history, my warden also changed from male to female (no, not like the Jurassic Park dinosaurs) and this made things more interesting.

Workin’ at a standing desk that I made out of a low bookshelf.

Our days during the residency were tranquil but industrious. On two occasions we did studio visits, taking a walk through the spaces where each artist was working. We artists gave an overview of how we did our work and explained our particular projects in greater depth.

On a related note—I’ve recently been discovering the joy of experiencing art (visual, musical, literary, etc) by an artist who I personally know. This lends additional complexity and empathy to an experience I would otherwise have no context for. When I know the artist, I see her story in her work and I a can genuinely rejoice when her work successfully hits the mark.

Collaborations and relationships are the bonus that you can never plan on for residencies like this. I had a chance to collaborate with Aaron, an extremely talented musician. We combined some spoken word pieces of mine with his piano accompaniment. There was a great amount of improvisation and performance to our piece. I am slowly absorbing the possibility that my writing will continue to ask this of me—theater and reading/performing in front of people…but that’s a post for another time.

Me and Aaron!

The short pieces that I read with Aaron were four reimaginings of Psalm 23. The collection was titled I Lack Nothing. Four readers performed it in March 2018. They did a really good job. Watch the recorded performance of I Lack Nothing. (Approx run time 15 minutes.)

I Lack Nothing was my culminating project for the Cascadia Residency. In February 2018 read Darkness to Light, a narrative about my family’s journey through miscarriage (very raw and heavy) as part of an Ash Wednesday service. A few weeks later I directed the reading of I Lack Nothing and followed that up with a workshop on how to write modern-day psalms pertaining to our personal lives.

The cast from I Lack Nothing.

Psalm-Writing class.

Teaching the Psalm-Writing class.

Some ideas are presently percolating in my head for how fiction stories might find a place among the church community. Right now, I’m chewing on the idea of dramatizing scenes from the story, to be performed in conjunction with a sermon series that shares topics/themes with the fiction.

The “dramas” would be short a means of introducing or supporting the sermon and would also serve as “teasers” for the longer work of fiction. It’s obviously still in the conceptual stage, but this is an example of how the Cascadia Residency has taught me to think about the intersections between art (writing, in my case) and church (the community of Sanctuary CRC Church in Seattle, in my case).

And then there’s friendship. No matter how busy and frustrated my life is, there are moments when my heart stands still, caught by surprise, because someone has reached toward me, hoping to connect, to know me and be known by me. That’s when I glimpse beyond the person or the artist or the colleague, to see the soul beyond. Time stands still for a breath and I smile at this offer of friendship. Late-night games were played, phone numbers exchanged, collaborations considered, selfies snapped, and hope for the future was sown tenderly during those days in Plain, WA.

Me, Colleen, and Amy on the river steps

I’m so grateful to the Cascadia Residency for providing this opportunity, to Sanctuary Church for partnering with me, to the Fuller staff and my fellow artists for creating a community where my wild kids were loved and welcome, a place where I felt safe enough to cry. I’m grateful to the Grunewald Guild for creating a loving and lovely sacred space for making art.

My family came out for part of my residency!

My son and his new friend, Amy.

She would like to drive, already.

A huge shout-out to my mom, my husband, my friend Heather, Shannon, Amy, Jason, and everyone else who lent me a hand and spend hours and hours with my kids so that they could both be “out of Mommy’s hair” but still have a chance to see some of me while I was away from home.

Thank you, Jesus, for the road ahead and the life to fill with more art, memories, and community.

Onward!

Amy, Aaron, Colleen, Me, Jason

Good Stuff

water-lilliesToday I have good news to share!

A glimpse at the day-to-day first: I’m at the tail-end of a very challenging season in which I’ve had to hold down the proverbial fort with home and children for three months while my husband studies for a big engineering test. (The test is April 13th! Wish him luck!)

I have been faced repeatedly with depression, exhaustion, and feelings of overwhelm as I’ve tried to meet the additional chores and hours of childcare that this season requires. Reminding myself that is it a temporary challenge has only been mildly helpful. We’ve been met with kind offers of meals and friends who hang out with me while I can’t see James. This has been a mercy. But I still have, I admit, thrown multiple adult tantrums.

In the midst of this not-so-healthy season, James and I both decided we’d try going to bed earlier and getting up earlier. I began writing early in the morning, before the kids woke, instead of after they went down for naps (by which time I was routinely wrung-out). James now comes home earlier for dinner and the result is we all have more time together in the evenings, without such a mad rush through dinner and routine.

A few weeks ago, I’d received a rejection for a short story that sent me spiraling down. I had reason to suspect my story was of high interest to the journal, only to receive a form rejection in the end. (you didn’t even like it???) It was dashed hope that made me so despondent. I don’t think I’d have been nearly so troubled if they hadn’t held on to it for a long time.

What did I do with my artistic angst? I found means to channel it. Overhearing a conversation with another writer friend, I decided to join a subscription service that streamlines the hunt for publishers and makes a tailored search much simpler. (Writers, if you are trying to publish and you haven’t heard of Duotrope, check it out!)

I’m sharing the valleys that lead up to the “hooray moment” because I want my blog posts to be as honest as possible. Advertising only the good stuff is misleading and harmful to everyone involved, if you ask me.

Elise has a new short story published! I couldn’t tell you if it was the subscription to Duotrope that brought this about, but I have channeled my energy toward short fiction publishing in a much more focused way, and here is the first fruit!

Summer of the Lilies, a literary short story, has been accepted and published by Longshot Island. Read Summer of the Lilies here.

Writing has so many similarities to life. The “good stuff” that is truly exciting to share is often sprinkled lightly among lots of toil and frustration. I am grateful for this moment of rejoicing, grateful for the faithful friends who cheer me on, for the fellow artists who inspire me, for the God who planted this passion in my heart.

Hope you enjoy the story!

Love,

Elise

Swim

swimming-poolk

“Put your face in the water. Blow bubbles. See? Like me!”

I immerse the lower half of my face and push air through my nostrils. I raise my face from the pool in an expression of excitement.

My son copies me once, then refuses to repeat the action.

He needs to learn to swim. Sure, it’ll take years before he’s close to mastery, but the process should begin early for his safety’s sake.

Did I mention that my four-year-old has a history of hysteria whenever he gets the teeniest-weeniest splash of water on his face? I’m sure swim lessons will be a piece of cake.

Oh, my sweet son…you teach your baby sister sign language, you rise each morning with a helpful and cheerful spirit, your drama keeps the house warm and noisy every minute of your waking hours. Your heart is big, colorful, tender.

A part of my cynical adult self mocks you when you howl at the water on your face, and another part confesses my own fears. I’ve just learned to hide them better. I do the things I know I’ll be good at. I make myself too busy to take time to experiment.

I’m afraid to ask for favors. I hate the thought of inconveniencing the rest of the busy world. I’m afraid to compromise my thought-out schedule in favor of beautiful spontaneity. I’m afraid of the work and hassle it takes to travel with little ones in tow. I’m afraid of getting insufficient sleep to function.

Perhaps my son would mock me if he knew. Or maybe he’d hold out his hand, like he sometimes does to his little sister and say, “It’s okay! Come with me!”

I miss the bygone days of mentorship. My mom gave me pep talks every night. One-on-one encouragement. She bought me private writing lessons. She read all of my earliest stories.

Many of my friends wonder and marvel at my desire to homeschool my kids. I know. I know. The time investment and the challenge is huge. But I also know what it did for me—and I want to nourish my kids in similar ways. I don’t frown on parents who put their kids in school. I just can’t ignore my own compulsion, drawn from the well of my own memories.

I wish I could still be homeschooled. That someone who loves me as much as my mom could walk me through this daily mess of being a mother and a writer. I want individualized worksheets and weekly goals. Sure, I do some of this for myself and my husband is a wonderful life coach when I ask it of him.

Maybe I’m tired of being an adult.

What do I do now that I don’t have a parent to put her face in the water to show me it’s okay? Sure, there are self-help workshops and motivational speakers to fill the need, but I want it to be more spiritual and ancient. I want to sleep on someone’s hearth and wake in the morning to walk through dewy grass as I listen in a sleep-daze to my mentor’s thoughts on life’s most important truths.

Elise, will always be a hopeless romantic.

The only way I know for sure that I am growing is that I’m brave enough to do things that scare me. I may not have the mentor/sage I dream of, but I can let my heart point me, quivering compass arrow that it is.

I will allow myself to get dinner cooked late, even though it scares me to think I may be a less-than-adept homemaker. Especially if it eases my mind and heart with the extra time to breathe.

I will actively think of things that would make my life better and easier and I will ask for them. Childcare. Friends to visit me when the going gets tough. Simpler meals.

I will purchase a YMCA membership and use the included childcare for my mental health before I use it to work out. My mind is teetering on melt-down on a daily basis and I would be an idiot to ignore the warning signs. I’m afraid to commit money to this kind of self-care. I’m afraid to make the visible stance that says “I’m worth it.”

I’m going to put my face in the water. And it’s going to be okay.

I’ll learn to swim.

Pushing On/Pushing Back

In my twenties, running as fast and hard as I could seemed like the best way to ensure I was climbing my ambition in the right direction.

But now, more than ten years past my college graduation…I’m seriously assessing the cost of such behavior and asking myself,

What do I pay for in mental fragility, depletion of emotional reserves, temper with my kids, and closeness with my husband when I run myself completely out of proverbial steam?

A therapist recently gave a lecture at my mom’s group and shared a story of helping an overwhelmed couple restructure their life (which wasn’t going at all like they wanted it to) into something nearer the life they both hoped for. She instructed them to imagine family memories they hoped to make in the next five years, ten years, fifteen years, etc. Then to reverse-engineer their current life to make space for making these memories.

Begin with the memories you want to have.

I’m endlessly discovering I’ve made myself a slave to hyper-efficiency, trying to optimize and maximize the productivity possible in the time I’ve allocated for my personal work.

During a self-assessment of emotional and mental health last week, I tested into a dangerously-high category of burnout.

Time for a change, am I right?

What memories do I want to make? What do I yearn to remember when I look back on these years? What do I want to be remembered for?

I want to be a mother who is present and delighted with her children while she is with them. So I’ll make focused time to *be* with my kids. I’ll strive to tidy up after I’ve played a bit.

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I want to teach my son and watch him make learning connections as we do hands-on activities like cooking, art, and gardening. I’ll save some of these projects to intentionally do at a slower speed with my son at my side, learning to be my helper.

I want to remember parenting as a teamwork sporting event, working with my husband, finding times to laugh together and to be vulnerable in our struggles. So I’ll be honest with him and I’ll look for ways to be silly and lighten the mood.

I want to be a creative writer who is neither stifled nor depressed, which means chances to write and dream and build and create the worlds of my fiction. So I’ll continue finding and carving out time for this in my week.

I want a healthy mind, refreshed and unstrained. (I don’t want piles of memories of screaming at my kids or backing the car into a post, or dissolving into furious tears…all of which happened in the space of one day last week). So I’ll plan regular, restful activities for myself that aren’t just staring at a movie screen at night, but truly restorative activities for me. A weekend trip to a museum followed by lunch–by myself. Coffee and a pastry at my favorite Italian cafe.

For a goal-oriented and driven person such as Elise, I run a real risk of tucking my chin to my chest and charging ahead so effectively that…I might actually miss everything else in the blur. And someday soon, my energy will give way and I’ll be down in the dirt, wondering if I’ll find the strength to stand again.

Why this change in perspective? I’m pretty sure a good chunk of it was due to having kids. My four-year-old and one-year-old remind me constantly that I can’t love them well or be a fun-to-be-around partner for my husband when I’ve burned through all my daily reserves by 6 pm every day. (Welcome home from work, honey! I’m a basket-case!!!)

I’ve recently begun reading the book Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang. I found it while scrolling through “available now” audiobooks at my library, and took it for a sign. The author draws some very sobering connections between rest and effective, insightful work (“work” defined as the stuff we were made to do, that we feel is our calling or purpose or particular passion). The author insists that work and rest are not polar opposites, but rather complementary and equally necessary elements to healthy, vital human life and creativity. Pang laments the American tendency to wear “overworked” as a badge of honor. Humans aren’t meant to live like this.

I, for one, am personally tired of recognizing some issue in my psych-emotional health, a place where growth is truly needed, and then doing nothing fruitful toward addressing it.

So. I acknowledge I am burning out. Yes, this is normal for hundreds of thousands of parents. But normal does not mean healthy, nor does it mean what’s best for me and my family (another quip from the therapist’s lecture).

I want to strive for best. Not settle with normal. I’ve made a list of activities that are not designed to be productive. Simply restful, restorative, joyful, invigorating, and stimulating to my mind. I’ll aim to do one once a month. I’ll also set a limit of 2-3 nights a week in which work takes place after dinner. I’m sick at heart from putting my kids to bed and then rolling up my sleeves for chores once dinner is put away.

I’m aiming for small changes. Doable changes. And a more compassionate heart toward the mind and body that carry me through life, so that I can be a long-distance runner in my life and career, instead of a sprinter.

Happy New Year, everyone! May your goals be worthwhile and achievable!

XO