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Sunday, February 19, 2012


Oliver is in his Johnny Jump-Up. "You Can Fly" is playing on the loop of Disney's Greatest Hits. I have my quotation composition book, books I've read lately (with folded page corners where I've found sentences I want to keep), and an open fairy bag of colored pens. The day is wet and gray, but water droplets string the bare willow branches like clear beads.

On Friday, Oliver and I went with Josh to get groceries. It was probably my first time grocery shopping in six months, and it was Oliver's first time. I don't like to be away from Josh, so we're going to try getting groceries as a family. I used the baby carrier for the first time. I loved having Oliver strapped to my chest, facing inward. He didn't feel heavy at all. He looked around quite a bit and then snuggled against me and fell asleep. I got to actually look around and see what I might like instead of trying to make a list without looking. Of course, we spent a little more than usual that way. I bought some pens--I'm happy that ballpoints with colored ink are easy to find now.

Later that night, Mom and Shane came to visit. Oliver graciously stayed up a little. I pumped before bed and in the night. I've found that if I relax and don't pump on the weekends, my body doesn't start responding to it well again until Wednesday, so the beginning of the week is especially stressful as a struggle to express enough milk. In the morning, we all spent some lazy time in the living room. My mom put butter on a cinnamon Pop-Tart...I'll have to use that for a story character.

I began writing short stories in earnest in 2008. I'd been writing poems for quite a while, and several had appeared in small publications. For a while, I wrote a story each week. I sent them out constantly. One editor sent encouraging personal rejections four times. My only fiction acceptance was a tiny micro fiction piece on an online publication. Piles of rejections are normal, but I had success with poems every once in a while. Since this didn't happen with my stories, I thought that perhaps I should stick to poems.

Starting my career and expanding my family put submissions on hold for me. But a couple of weekends ago, I decided to spend an hour or two and send out two story submissions, one of them to the encouraging editor. He accepted the story two days later, telling me that he'd read it as soon as he saw it. I was beaming for a couple of days over that--finally, a story acceptance. Yesterday morning, I checked my E-mail and found that I had a second story acceptance--the other submission I sent two weeks ago. This seems to indicate that I ought to get back into the groove of submitting work.

Since Mom, Shane, and Josh were all playing with Oliver in the living room, I took my time getting ready. I took an unusually long shower, impressed with our hot water supply since I was the last to use it. I have a pair of gray Loft pants with tiny blue pinstripes. The material wrinkles easily, so I felt self-conscious wearing them to work. They had languished in my wardrobe for quite a while. So I decided to move them to the closet and use them as casual pants. I wore them with one of my favorite shirts--a green, short-sleeved V-neck and rosette-topped pink flats. I sparkled my eyes and pulled my hair back with clear rhinestone barrettes. I'm still using the green velvet purse I usually reserve for the Christmas season (I've probably had the purse for eight years). Josh was my coffee house poet dream in black boots, black pants, and a gray turtleneck.

We went to Barnes and Noble, where I saw so many books that looked fascinating. Of course, I have tons of books right now, and I'm reading slowly, so I took pictures of the covers with my phone. Mom seemed quite content pushing Oliver in his green and brown stroller. I caught Josh's eye through a book display and flirted with him.

We had lunch as Carraba's. Oliver feel asleep, clutching his colorful plastic rings in his carrier atop the booth's table. I relished the warm bread and the Caesar salad. I never get tired of Caesar. I had a chicken Parmesan pomodoro sandwich with house-made chips.

We went to the mall, and I stopped to feed Oliver in the car. I found low gunmetal gray heels I'd like for work and canvas flats with champagne sparkle I'd like for fun, but the lines were insane, and the shoe department didn't have enough staff. Mom told me she had spotted any incredible necklace. She took me over to a Betsy Johnson (!) display and showed me a stunning necklace: three gold snowflakes with opal-like stones, violet and lavender rhinestones, and tiny pearls with two black metal bows. It was gorgeous. It was totally me. It was quite expensive. I bought it anyway, with eyebrow raising and nods from Mom and Josh. I put it on right then, and it looked magical with my green shirt. I've already been thinking about the work outfits I can plan around that necklace.

We took Oliver to look at the carousel and then went to the Disney store. He reached for a tiny plush Roo. Mom said, "Have you seen this adorable Lady and the Tramp journal?"
"Yes," I replied. "It's in my room." We have to get Lady and the Tramp--it's out of the terrible vault!

Now, the world is silent. Oliver is wearing a terrycloth, green-striped frog outfit. We've watched the rain slipping down the tall, foggy window. I've sat on the floor at the foot of our bed (a space that Oliver's play yard/bassinet occupied until last night, his first night in his own room) and nursed Oliver. I ate chocolate peanut butter cookies after breakfast. I wrote a poem. Josh and I watched Breaking Dawn (why not?) while Oliver napped in his swing. I just said, "[Dr.] Pepper, Whoppers, Up All Night" to Josh. Oliver is giggling as my hair brushes his face. Life is sweet.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Cold and Quiet But Bright.

This winter has been mild, but today was cold. We haven't left the apartment. I was up in the night with nightmares--the first about decomposing bodies in a theater and the other a kind of dystopian sci-fi mess. Josh played with Oliver in the morning so I could get a little more sleep after fighting corpse arms and robot mannequin guards all night.

The rest of the day has been peaceful. Josh brought me a leftover pumpkin muffin from the batch he made yesterday. He pinned a blue blanket with white snowflakes over the window, and Oliver slept in his swing. The snowflakes glowed with the cold sunlight behind them, and a purple ink stain darkened the center of the blanket. Josh and I got showered and dressed slowly. I wore the Revlon Diamond Lust Plum Galaxy (!) sparkle eyeshadow I bought at Ulta last week. I felt skinny in my new olive green top and jeans. I wore my favorite glittery purple striped socks. I wore them the day Oliver was born, so those glimmering purple stripes may have been what he saw first.

Josh lit a fire, and we opened the balcony door blinds to let in the sun and the view of the duck pond and the spindly, leafless willow. My dad came to visit, bringing Panera (still Josh and my favorite restaurant). Josh had half a Mediterranean Veggie sandwich and macaroni and cheese. I had broccoli cheddar soup and a Caesar salad. I'd been craving the salad. The croutons were soft, and the Parmesan was in thin, broken sheets. Dad ate a little souffle that came in a black paper cup. We also had Panera's new carrot cake--big cupcakes with cream cheese frosting cores.

Dad had brought us a card with funky turtles on it and Valentine's Day/anniversary gifts: Ralph Lauren candles, flowery Cottage and spicy Estate in Tiffany blue and forest green boxes and Paris Was Ours, a book of writers' reflections on Paris. I'm surprised I didn't know about the book since I've been interested in travel memoirs, especially about France. I'll probably read it soon.

This weekend, I've been enjoying Pink Smog, Francesca Lia Block's newest book and another part of the Weetzie Bat story. Just the crazy pink book jacket cheers me. I may finish it today. I'm also trying to finish my Bronte journal today. Next, I'll write in a flexible red faux leather journal with a silver heart and Dickinson's "Love is immortality."

I was craving popcorn this afternoon, so Josh and I watched an episode of Up All Night with a white bowl of popcorn and an upright baby between us.

Last Friday, I wrote the first poem I've written since Oliver was born (maybe the first since last spring). Over the weekend, I did our taxes, graded fifteen essays, and submitted two stories to journals--something else I haven't done in far too long. Josh patiently took care of Oliver while I reformatted and edited the stories. On Tuesday, I found out that one of those stories will appear in the next issue of a journal to which I've been sending stories for a couple of years. The editor's encouragement in the past kept me writing stories when I felt like mine must not be good, so I should stick to writing poems. I'll also be getting a check--a small one, but the largest I've had. This Friday, I wrote another poem--one for Oliver. I didn't think I could write a baby poem that wasn't trite. Josh read it and said, "The most magical part of you wrote that." He says he thinks I'm becoming more myself again. That comes from more than just the poem and from my wearing the bead choker I wore constantly at the time we began.

Just before Christmas, I was sitting in the car in the Chili's parking lot with Oliver while Josh ran in to get a gift card for his brother and his brother's girlfriend. I texted my closest friend, who had her first baby before I did. I asked, "When did you start to feel like yourself again?"

She said that happened as soon as she left the hospital. I knew that was fast, faster than most people. But even so, I said, "I still feel very fragile...physically, mentally, emotionally." I hadn't really acknowledged that directly to anyone, though Josh knew. My friend asked if I thought it could be postpartum depression.

I'd never thought of that. Though I've always been melancholy and have had a few major battles with depression, my knowledge of PPD didn't extend beyond something about Brooke Shields and something about Tom Cruise being rude. I looked it up and found a list of something like eight symptoms. I had something like six of them.

But for more than a month, I did nothing except tell Josh and my mom about it. It got worse. I didn't care about reading or writing, and the job I usually feel good about made me feel panicked and insanely lonely. I had to remind and push myself to eat. A couple weeks ago, I suddenly knew that waiting anymore was stupid and wrong. Keeping myself healthy is my responsibility, and that's even more vital now that I'm a parent. Obviously, I wasn't able to keep myself healthy alone. I had to find someone who could help.

I called my OB and hesitantly said, "Dr. W delivered my son four months ago. I think I'm dealing with postpartum depression. Is that something she can help me with?"
"Oh, yes," the voice assured me, immediately making me an appointment for the next morning despite a packed schedule.

I nearly cancelled the appointment when I realized I would have to miss a meeting. Mom and Josh told me that it was worth missing a meeting. I knew that, of course, but I felt so unsure about everything.

I texted my friend again, telling her that I'd made an appointment to get help for PPD.
"I'm so glad you called," she answered. I felt so relieved and validated when I read that. She told me that if this doctor wouldn't help me, I should keep going to doctors until someone did help.

The OB helped. She asked dozens of questions in the process but never questioned me. Matthews 7:7 ("Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.") kept playing in a Sunday school song form in my mind.

Josh has been keeping a log about the changes he sees. Oliver's complicated birth, my being sick and stuck at the hospital, my inability to work exactly as I used to, and my trying to deal with the sludge of hopeless sadness I couldn't reason away have made me feel so frustrated with and reluctant to admit my need for help. But suddenly, I write in my journal and read almost every day. I don't worry or even really think about the dishes or laundry or vacuuming--I let Josh do that. I'm cherishing the evening cuddles Oliver and I have even after my long days. I'm noticing how lovely my husband's hands are. I'm writing this. I don't feel the oppressive Sunday evening gloom.

Oliver sat up by himself this afternoon. Josh told me that this morning while I slept, Oliver held Josh's finger in one hand and stretched out the other hand to touch my shoulder. Oliver has been gazing at me and then at Josh, staring pensively until we each make eye contact and smile. Then he grins and turns to gaze at the other. This is the first day he seems to be aware of us as his two parents, the two people who are his very own.

Josh is holding him up right now next to me. Oliver is a little buttermilk elf in a diaper, grabbing his daddy's sideburns and gazing at me with wide blue eyes and brushstroke eyelashes. I am enjoying this day.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Dreamy Journals: Papaya.

I love reading, but I also love books as objects. This is one reason that Oliver's sudden interest in touching books--ruffling the pages, closing the cover--is so thrilling. As you may have realized, I love writing in a journal. But journals are glorious for their own sakes. They are (or should be) beautiful objects. They also represent endless possibility, and they can inspire people to chase those possibilities and record their journeys and wonders.

I've purchased and scribbling in a great many journals from a great many shops and companies. So I'd like to write about some of them. I'm starting with Papaya. This company's journals truly are dreamy. They seem to spring from a certain kind of wonderland--striking (like cracked ink bottles and tossed glitter on pavement) rather than whimsical and sweet.

 I didn't discover this company until a few years ago. I was at Joseph-Beth booksellers (the location has since closed), looking for a gift for my fellow bookseller friend who was moving to Scotland. I found this, and it seemed perfect. I would probably not be brash enough to write in a book with any form of nudity on the cover (even the most inoffensive and artistic, like this), but she would. I think she liked the gift. I wonder if she's written in the journal or if she's saving it. I can't find the journal online anymore, but this is the design.

I didn't buy myself one of these books until much later. The first was a small green journal (ah, shouldn't more journals be green?) with a conch and Listen from Within. The color was so rich, and the gold detail so fancy. On my birthday, I bought another: Bliss, pinkest pink with roses. I'm glad I bought it then as I can't find it on the website.

The real obsession began when Josh and I went on a bed and breakfast trip to Pittsboro, North Carolina. We went into a magical little shop full of handmade jewelry and other treasures. We recognized the young man working there; he was the night clerk at the bed and breakfast, and he was working at his friend's shop after the local library laid him off. I bought a hand-carved honey dipper for my dad, who had at some point lamented the lack of one when his brother and his sister-in-law sent a jar of their handmade honey. I was arrested, though, at an armoire spilling over with Papaya journals and cards. I bought a card with a tiny white rabbit on a mushroom for my mother. I couldn't decide between four gorgeous journals: Fearless, Trust Yourself, Future Beauty, and Dream Catcher. They seemed to embody courage and wild creativity--qualities I wanted. Josh told me to buy them all, and I did. This sparkles in my memory as a most magical indulgence.

Today, a package came for me. I was late beginning my quest for a perfect calendar. Choosing a calendar is no small task; those images will be with me all year. For other years, I've chosen Amy Brown fairies, black and white photos of Audrey, original Disney movie posters, and fine Barbie drawings (I'm not a Barbie person, but these are lovely). I wasn't sure where to start, and January was almost over. I went to the Papaya website. I was a little reluctant to pay shipping fees, but Amazon didn't sell the products directly.

The shipping was far beyond worthwhile. The package that came today held the Muses calendar. I'd also ordered a plum and gold Shine journal (at a moment when I needed someone or something to remind me to shine), and almost edible blue Starlight sticky notes in an envelop (the ones large enough to write on will grace my desk calendar at work, and the little flags will mark textbooks...little glimmers in my office).

Some Papaya fairy had wrapped these purchases: gifts from me to me. The fairy had also included glittery gift tags and greeting cards--no explanation. I'll be pasting one or two into the composition book in which Josh and I write our love letters to each other. One may also fly across the country to a kindred spirit, much-neglected pen pal. I really can't wait to order something else. This afternoon felt like a little birthday.

The journal covers are sturdy and entrancing, also with a bit of gold foil. The spines will illuminate any bookcase. The pages are smooth and heavy enough to handle most writing utensils. The journals don't lie flat, but turning back to the endpapers is no tragedy.

 I'm a bit ashamed to admit that I haven't actually written in one yet. This is an example of that terrible habit: saving something wonderful for later. I would have liked to write in the Listen from Within journal while I was pregnant with Oliver. If I could only write in one kind of journal for the rest of my life, I would probably choose Papaya. I don't know which one I'll buy next, but it may be Eiffel Tower, Giraffe Notes (the spiral notebooks have colorful, embellished pages!), Owl Dreamer (though owls can be a bit scary, this one reminds me of the tiny owl in Out of Africa), Wishing Bird (look at those pages!), or Invisible (what a shade of blue!). I also wish I could send myself every one of Papaya's funky valentines. What would I write in them? What would you write in a valentine to yourself? And if someone else sent you thirteen Valentines, what words would you wish to read?

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Day after Christmas.

The day after Christmas, I woke up and nursed Oliver. Then, something wonderful happened. Josh said he was going to take Oliver downstairs so that I could sleep a little more. And I slept for two hours.

I had a late breakfast--crazy square pancakes--and then went for my first walk since Oliver was born. We put him in the stroller, and Josh; Mom; Shane; Shane's pup, Lana; and I went out in the crisp air of the neighborhood. The walk was hard. My hips, which had started to quiet their constant howling, ached, and my legs didn't seem to know themselves. My throat also constricted, no longer used to that kind of breathing (outside of the experience that makes Josh and I afraid of deep breathing). But I was thinking, This is my first walk. 

When we got back to the house, Mom and I got ready. I wore the Tinkerbell shirt I'd bought recently at the Disney Store in my new city (yes, we have a mall. And it's not the kind of mall that has a Dollar Tree). I'd bought it because it was cute and because Josh had mentioned that I should try to get more in touch with my whimsical side again. I wore my jeans, which I'm still grateful every day to be able to wear.

Mama had been waiting to take me to a magical land called Versona. My Christmas earrings, necklace, and headbands had come from there. We had barely gotten inside the door, and already, I wanted to fill a basket. The store has color sections--pink jewelry, scarves, shoes, and clutches are together and so on with purple, turquoise, green, black, silver, red.... Mom and I worked our way through the colors, trying not to miss anything, sometimes parting and sometimes spotting each other. I tried on a ruffled coat I didn't need and a cafe au lait crinkly dress I couldn't afford. I commanded my mother to buy the striking gray top that made her look like an Art Deco goddess.

My basket held a pair of deep green rhinestone bracelets; tights in moss and plum; a multi-layered bracelet in pink, purple, and green with flowers and ribbons; understated but queenly purple rhinestone earrings; and a necklace that is a tumble of metallic navy and cut clear beads. I would space these bright bits out through the coming work weeks.

Josh has always had a thing for Dana Scully. He never said anything, but I had a thought. I was planning to dye my hair anyway (post-pregnancy), probably black. I mentioned my idea to Mom, and she said, "Every woman has to go red at least once." My grandmother, my mother's mother, had auburn hair. I have pale skin and green eyes. It could work.

We went to the drugstore and stared at so many boxes, faces, and fancy color names. We picked two that were the same brand and looked like the same color, but one was a dollar more. Mom said, "Whatever is making this a dollar more, I'd go ahead and pay the dollar."

We went to coffee and the bookstore where I worked for six months after I finished my MFA and before I began teaching.

At the house, Josh was holding a sleeping Oliver. Mom and I closed off the master bathroom, which is partly carpeted and a pretty good hang out spot. We manage to play beauty shop every year or two. She's always the beautician, though. I can barely put my hair in a ponytail when it's long enough.

She opened the box and said, "Well, everything has a gold label. I think that's what your dollar paid for." When we had to go to the kitchen sink for a rinse-out, we kept the towel over my hair so that Josh wouldn't see. My hair didn't look red to me, but Mom said, "Ooh. It's going to be red-red."
"How do you mean?"
"Like Jessica Rabbit."
I could live with that.

Like me, if my mom starts something, she usually has to go all out. She dried, curled, teased, and Big Sexy Hair-sprayed my hair. She threw in some lip gloss and a concealer touch-up. I still couldn't see it, so Mom handed me a mirror and told me to stand under an overhead light. Whoa.

During the big reveal, Josh was fairly subdued, admiring and pleased, but he's almost always that way. I didn't really see that he understood I'd made my hair a present to him until he took pictures of me...and kept taking them. I told him that at least until the dye faded, I'd be his Scully.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Waiting for Her Bus.

Every day on my way to work, I see a girl standing at the end of a long dirt road. She is probably a sophomore or junior. She has dark brown hair, usually in a ponytail, and stylish glasses. She wears jeans, sneakers, and a jacket or sweatshirt. Most recently, she was wearing a pink pullover. She stands with her hands in her pockets, backpack on her back, toes pointing forward (no hip-thrown-out attitude), and watches the highway. Nothing in her posture indicates worry or reluctance. She just looks ready to go to school.

This is all I catch as I pass her at 55 mph. I have no idea who she is or what school she attends. I don't know if she has read any of the books I've read. But I think that if I didn't see her one morning, I'd worry about her. I've sometimes made up names for people I don't know but see often. I think I'll call her Merrin (That's the name of an ex-boyfriend's sister. The stigma is his and not his sister's, and it's a pretty name). Whatever is on my mind as I pass, whatever little secret shard of hurt has suddenly pierced me, whatever nameless fear or caving loneliness might grip my neck, I see Merrin waiting, quiet and ready, for her bus, and I know that I can go on and do what I have to do.