The Cost

I just turned in my second set of assignments for my writing class. I em enjoying it immensely.

It’s hard to get the work done, and there are days I wonder if it was a mistake committing myself to this effort, but most of the time I’m very happy I made the choice. Last week at therapy, I voiced my concerns about the class and overcommitment and my therapist told me that if it was really the only thing I could think to do for myself (I told her it was) then I needed to do it right, to take the time away–perhaps at a cafe on a Saturday–to make it about me and not about stress and deadlines. So I went home and told my husband that I intended to take the class and that it was going to be the thing I did for me, and would he support that? And he did, and so I’ve approached the class with that in mind, and it’s been freeing.

So far I’ve surprised myself by enjoying the reading more than the writing assignments. We’re reading selections from two anthologies and the first six selections have been very interesting. This week we read “The Faith” in The Dolphin Reader (Douglas Hunt, ed) in which David Bradley tells of a sermon he saw his father give. That particular night his father shared a personal story of fear and weakness (a truly uncharacteristic admission) that deeply moved the congregation and taught Bradley something surprising about writing:

Until that night I had not understood what it meant to write. I had known that a writer’s goal was to reveal truths in words manipulated so effectively as to cause a movement in the minds and hearts of those who read them. But I had not understood that it would cost anything. I had believed that I could do those things while remaining secure and safe in myself–I had even believed that writing fiction was a way to conceal my true feelings and weaknesses. That night I found out better. That night I realized that no matter how good I became in the manipulation of symbols, I could never hope to move anyone without allowing myself to be moved, that I could reveal only slight truths unless I was willing to reveal the truths about myself.

Truth is always something I strive for in my writing, but part of my coming here was redefining what that truth looks like. I do believe that good writing costs the writer, that the really meaningful stuff is hard to say and harder to let other people read.

There is something else though, something just as important as the cost to the writer. It’s not just how hard the words are to write, but your purpose in writing them. Why are you putting this hard truth out into the world? What do you hope to accomplish? Why is the high cost worth it?

I think our answers to those questions are deeply personal, and very important. We will find them at the very core of who we are. The reasons that we write, our purpose in telling our truth, is etched into our very foundation. If we’re not sure of ourselves we will never be sure of why we are writing.

My truth is that I’m still not sure: I don’t yet know who I am, what I want to say or why I want to say it, but I recognize that the answers are entwined in the forming of the questions. I created this space to map out my response, to determine my truth and the cost I’m willing to pay in saying it. I’m intrigued by what the answer might be.

Do you agree with Bradley about the cost of writing? Do you know why you write?

Friendship Lost

A couple months ago, a dear friendship in my life came to an end. The constraints of physical distance had come between us over the years, but we always kept in touch and she remained an important fixture in my life. Then, something happened.

It took a long time for me to be certain that the friendship was over and when the dust finally settled, I was devastated.

I felt like my world was crumbling around me, and yet no one suspected anything was wrong. It seemed a very faux paus thing to talk about and the few times I mentioned it were met with awkward silences that brought the conversation to an abrupt and embarrassing halt.

I quickly learned not to broach the subject, even though silence compounded the hurt. In the absence of support (even my husband and other friends didn’t know how to help) I did what I always do when I’m going through something that I don’t understand: I found a book about it.

It was a crazy coincidence actually, this book (My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Losing and Leaving Friends) came out just as I accepted that the friendship was really over. I’d heard about the book at BlogHer, before I knew how much I would need it, and when I recognized its relevance to my situation, I looked it up to see if it was available.

It had been released, earlier that week in fact. I immediately ordered it and paid for it to arrive the next day.

The moment it landed on my doorstep, I set to work devouring it. Pages and pages of other women describing their own painful friendship loses. Their words were a healing salve spread gingerly over my wounded heart.

About half way through the selection of essays I came across this paragraph in Cheryl Suchors‘ “Going Without Sugar.”

“Through it all, I longed for people to acknowledge the depth of my loss. To send a card, perhaps. To check in on me or invite me out to ease the loneliness. To honor the importance of a 27-year friendship and assume that I’d mourn when it appeared to be ending.”

Yes! I thought, This! She expressed a truth I hadn’t yet articulated. I felt validated by her words and was so thankful to read them.
That desperate need to be understood, that deep ache for validation, I had felt it before. It was eerily familiar. And suddenly, I knew: It was four months after my ectopic and I felt utterly alone, like no one understood me. I was devouring About What Was Lost because the stories of other women’s miscarriages offered the only guides in navigating my grief, and because I didn’t know where else to turn.

How had I never before recognized the similarities between friendship and pregnancy loss? Both are shrouded in denial and taboo, how both are completely devastating and yet almost entirely unacknowledged.

I started seeing the parallels everywhere.

My friendship wasn’t perfect, but it was a huge and positive presence in my life and it left a raw, gaping hole when it was gone. It brought a smile to many moments throughout my day and now those same moments are strewn like landminds about my daily routine. Sometimes I forget I am stepping on one or the damage it will do until it’s too late.

Friendship loss, like pregnancy loss, changed my vision of the future. My previous assumptions are no longer relevant and I’ve had to reshape my expectations every day.

No one talks about it but sometimes, if I bring it up, women will share their own stories of friendships lost. It helps to know I’m not alone, and I wonder why these experiences aren’t a part of the cultural conversation.

In fact, just like with pregnancy loss, one thing that makes friendship loss so hard is its glaring absence from any dialogue. I have been dealing with a painful loss that is entirely unrecognized by society or those around me. There is no accepted ritual, no acknowledgment, no validation.

I know I should try again–to make other friends–but I’m not sure whether I can have faith in the process. Besides it won’t be my friend, the one I lost, so making a new one won’t really take away the pain. I must cling to hope for the future even though I’ve learned there are no guarantees. Hope must exist in the vacuum of uncertainty.

In the weeks after the loss of my friendship, I became obsessed with why it happened. Like with my ectopic, I had to answer Why? so I could prevent it from happening again. But as was the case with my pregnancy loss, there is no satisfying explanation. I eventually had to accept that I would never know exactly why it happened and that I could never really prevent it from happening again. I had to make new friends knowing I might eventually lose them, just like I had to get pregnant again knowing it might end in heartache instead of joy.

When I read Cheryl Suchors’ piece, I acknowledged how impossibly devastating the loss of a 27 year friendship would be. I compared the loss of my friendship–which hadn’t lasted nearly that long–and I wondered if I had a right to grieve so intensely. I was judging my own loss unworthy, as I did after my ectopic when I read of second and third trimester losses and I wondered if mine–at a measly 6.5 weeks–merited the pain and devastation I felt.

That is when I appreciated all the work I did grieving my lost pregnancy. I have learned how important it is to legitimize my own experience, even in the absence of validation from others. I know I have to take care of myself, to be gentle, to accept that the grief will not be a linear experience I can move through from beginning to end, but will circle back on itself, taking my breath away at unexpected moments. I have learned that my loss is worthy of the anguish I’ve felt, even if no one else confirms it. I can’t change the way I feel, only my expectations and actions surrounding those feelings.

In the past months I’ve given myself as much time and space to process these feelings as possible. I’ve been patient with my grief, I’ve let it surface when it rises up and settle when I’m feeling better. And while each day isn’t necessarily better than the day before, most of them are a lot easier than they were originally.

Already I wonder if this post is too much, if people will judge me for grieving the loss of a mere friendship. I’m scared to put this out there, but that is ultimately why I believe I should–if I don’t make it a part of the conversation, who will? When I lost my pregnancy I refused to let others belittle my grief. It was hard and sometimes I felt trampled on, but I like to think a few people learned from me along the way, and that even more felt validated when I shared my experience. I hope that is the case now, as well.

Have you suffered the loss of a friendship?

The Revelation

So a funny thing happened the other day: I realized I didn’t want anymore kids.

This might not seem like an Earth shattering revelation to some–especially when it is revealed to a woman who can’t have any more kids–but I can assure you that it was, in fact, rather Earth shattering.

You see, I was worried that I’d never really know how I felt about having more kids. Not really. I feared my history of secondary infertility and the cold, hard fact that we couldn’t afford anymore children (oh, and that my husband didn’t want anymore, even if we could) would always stand in the way of me knowing how I felt about it myself. I worried all the barriers standing between me and the family of five I originally coveted would obscure my ability to recognize whether I still wanted it.

People change their minds when it comes to family size all the time. I have been the first to admit that parenting is way harder than I expected it to be; it would make sense for me to revise my original “ideal number” at some point along the way. But then it became clear that my husband was already overwhelmed with two kids and our mortgage was, for all intents and purposes, our third offspring, at least financially, one that would be living with us long after our kids graduated from college.

And then secondary infertility happened and we realized how lucky we were to have a second child. Wanting a third seemed absurd, and there was some underlying relief that the question of whether or not we should try again had been deemed irrelevant–any disagreement on ideal family size could no longer rock the already half-submerged boat of our marriage.

And yet, a part of me pined after that never-to-be final child. I wondered if my family would always feel, in some small way, incomplete.

It’s such a relief to recognize that I don’t want that third child after all. It’s such a weight off my heart to know, deep in my soul, that if the choice had been mine, my family would look the same.

I wish I could say what triggered the revelation, but I’m not sure. There was the piece my husband wrote (at my behest) for the magazine. It was on family size and I appreciated knowing his thoughts on how we became a family of four. It was clear, reading his words, that our experiences didn’t diverge as much as I suspected.

Then there was the moment at the magazine meeting when two women announced unexpected third children–one via a surprise pregnancy (her two youngest will be 11 months apart) and one via spontaneous twins (not discovered somehow until 16 weeks). In the past my reactions to news like that would have been edged, ever so slightly, with the familiar tinge of jealousy, but that night I felt nothing but trepidation for these women who were so clearly overwhelmed by the unexpected news of their expanding families. I felt genuine empathy for them and I was very thankful that we weren’t dealing with a surprise third child of our own.

Finally, there is the simple fact that having two children is already kicking my ass. My son is amazing and I adore him, but he’s also a raving maniac. His pterodactyl shrieks are frequent, ear piercing and completely unprovoked (and not at all a signal of his discontent). He crawls everywhere and fast. He’s constantly getting into trouble and he needs to be watched closely; he gets very upset when someone interrupts his plans. He leaves chaos and mayhem in his wake. Between the contrasting needs of my daughter and my son, I am drowning in the simple daily responsibilities of tending to two children. Every night I go to bed exhausted. The idea of having a third child is terrifying to me; I absolutely could not manage it.

My dream of three children doesn’t fit anymore and in its absence I feel light and free. Passing on maternity clothes no longer conjures a wistful desire to be pregnant. Giving away baby clothes and other accoutrements I focus on the space we’re saving, the stuff I’m thankful we no longer need. I’m eager to leave the baby phase behind. I’m eager to move forward.

A couple of weeks ago we lugged our family of four to a local amusement park to revel in the splash pad and kiddie rides. Not even three hours after clearing security we were packing up the car to head home. As we waited for a break in the parking lot traffic, I spotted a family with two elementary school aged children and I had to acknowledge that they had most certainly enjoyed the park more than we had (despite encountering no problems of our own). I realized then that I’m ready for that part of parenting, to be able to do things that only older kids can do, to move past all the aspects of toddlerdom that makes it so challenging. I know parenting older children brings with it different issues, but I’m eager to attempt parenting in a new and distinct arena. I’m ready for my kids to grow up.

My son is only 11 months old, we still have to navigate the terrible twos and tantrum-throwing three’s all over again. And while I’m forever thankful for my son and all I get to experience with him, I have no desire to do it all a third time.

I recognize how lucky I am to feel fulfilled by my family, to know that we are complete. I do not take it for granted, in fact I cherish it each and every day.

And then I cherish my IUD, and the 99.99% certainty that I won’t ever have to confront a surprise third pregnancy.

Does your family feel complete? Did your ideal family size change along the way?

My Literary History

This past week I started a Creative Non-Fiction class through Berkeley Extension. Our first assignment was to submit our writing and reading profile. This is what I wrote.

Books are my best friends. Written words—my own and others’—are my constant companions.

I can’t remember a time when I haven’t had a book in my hand. I’ve always felt the cold shadow of loneliness looming, even when people surround me; books are my warm blanket, my shield against the long minutes and endless hours that terrify me with their silence.

I love getting lost in words, in the stories they share. I cherish meeting fascinating characters. I appreciate being transported to incredible new worlds.

My first literary love was fiction. I adored fantasy and science fiction growing up and I still covet their daring departure from reality, even today. Historical fiction was also a favorite—by no other means could I learn about the past in a meaningful way.

As an adult I read considerably more non-fiction. For the past ten or so years I’ve been entangled in a torrid affair with the memoir. I’m enthralled by people’s lives and the myriad ways they choose to capture them on the page.

I also read a lot of self-help and how-to books; I’m an avid student and am always striving to better myself. Over the years I’ve read much and more about living with depression, practicing meditation, overcoming infertility and surviving parenthood. When tragedy strikes it is always various books that guide me through the darkness and deposit me safely on the other side. I don’t know how I would have survived my miscarriage without reading the stories of other women’s journeys through loss. I couldn’t have managed infertility without the words of those who had traveled that rocky path before me. Currently I’m navigating the sudden and unexpected end of an important friendship and what should come into print but a collection of essays by women who have endured the same.

Books are my escape, but they also mark the sometimes treacherous journey home.

Do all those who read incessantly eventually take up the pen to write? I have always wondered. I know I did, first in the dozens of journals now collecting dust in the closet of my childhood home, later in stapled letters to friends halfway across the world. Eventually those letters became emails and when I lost my first pregnancy those emails and journals evolved into a blog. For a woman who always considered books her trusted friends and confidants, finding a community of other women who existed only through their own words—and were willing to read my own—was like stumbling parched upon a desert oasis. Writing nourished my soul.

I discovered myself in the over 1400 posts I wrote in the five transformative years after my miscarriage. Each post sharpened the outline of who I was and presented a clearer picture of who I wanted to be. During those impossible and exhilarating five years my words helped me find myself when my circumstances threatened to steal me away.

Two years after my first blog post I started copy editing at a mother’s magazine. Now I write there as well. Seeing my words in print for the first time, and knowing over 5,000 people would be reading them, was an incredible thrill and I understood then that writing meant more to me I had realized. The fragile tendrils of hope that I may someday write for larger audiences—in print or online—still coil tentatively around each word I write.

In the past three decades I’ve strung together hundreds of thousands of words and I like to think I’m getting better at it. I do believe the simple act of writing improves one’s ability to write, but I also recognize that eventually writers need to be pushed into foreign territory in order to improve. They need to read new and inspiring pieces and attempt creating new and inspiring pieces of their own. It is for the challenge, and some fresh perspective, that I am taking this course.

What would you include in your own literary history?

Investing in Myself

When my son started crawling I entered the most challenging period of parenting I’ve experienced thus far. In this past week I’ve felt more moments of panic that a situation is spiraling out of control than I can even recall. Between the needs of my emotionally charged, strong willed daughter and my curious, fast-kneed son I literally cannot maintain my footing or my grasp from one moment to the next. I can thank only dumb luck for the fact that we’re all still in one piece, both physically and emotionally.

Work is similarly stressful right now and I feel I’m only barely keeping a hair’s breath ahead of everyone’s expectations. The smallest stumble and I’ll fall days or weeks behind. The prospect is terrifying.

Both at home and at work my stress levels are at an all time high, and yet I’m handling it all relatively well. Sure I’m frayed around the edges, and I’m making coffee for myself every morning before school (I have NEVER been a coffee drinker), but my meltdowns are at a minimum and my husband and I are still getting along.

To what can I attribute my relative “success?” I think I’m managing because I’m investing in myself.

I just started an online writing course via Berkeley Extension and while I will definitely be struggling to keep up, I’m already so excited by the reading and writing I’m going to do.

I’m making a really concerted effort to meet up with other women and socialize: I started a monthly dinner date with the mothers from my daughter’s school. I finally had drinks with a mom I’ve always really liked. I reached out to old friends that recently had babies via Facebook. I have plans to get brunch with a friend in my old neighborhood I rarely see. I bought tickets to visit my college roommates on the East Coast in October and I’m even considering the Vegas trip with my work colleagues in the new year.

I’m also exercising three times a week, which is probably the single biggest contributor to my stabilized mood. I can feel the stress melt off me as my heart rate goes up and I ALWAYS feel better–physically and emotionally–when I’m done.

Sure my house is a total disaster area. Sure my students are asking when I’m going to put their grades online. Sure I’m not getting nearly enough sleep. But I’m managing, and I’m doing so with minimal personal break downs. Right now, it feels like it’s working

At any rate, I’m doing better than I thought I would be. I appreciate that.

How are you investing in yourself these days?

What’s in a name?

I thought a lot about writing online, under real names and under pseudonyms. I wanted–needed–to write anonymously in my first space. That blog was about processing my loss and struggles to get pregnant and it wasn’t so much that I didn’t want to share it with the people in my life, but that I felt they’d fault me for needing to even say it. So I wrote under an assumed name, to protect myself and the people who loved me.

I created an identity for myself in that space, under that name. I don’t think I realized how much it meant to me until I decided to let it go.

I also tried to write under my real name. I created a space and invited those I knew to read there. But as a teacher I felt trapped posting under my real name. There was so much I couldn’t say when I knew my students might find it. I felt silenced by their maybe some day searching for me.

So I created this new space, under a third name. I thought I understood my motives for shedding my original anonymous identity and starting fresh, but as I embark on the actual shedding, I’m not so sure.

Yesterday I started commenting under my new nom de plum. In the comment boxes of the blogs I’ve read for years I erased my old identity and typed in my new one. Who is this person I’m letting go? Who is this person I’m creating in her place?

We can never present all of ourselves in any one place or with any one person. In the first few years writing on my anonymous blog, I believed the woman portrayed was the more accurate representation, a more honest account than what I presented to the real world. Over time I came to understand that she was not a clearer reflection of who I was, just a window into a certain part of me I didn’t feel I could share anywhere else.

I think that ultimately I’m leaving that persona behind because those parts of myself don’t need to be shared as much anymore. I can incorporate those pieces into a greater whole, which I hope will give them more perspective.

I believed my old space was borne of honesty, authenticity and truth–and I hope that it was–but I never recognized that behind all of it was an overwhelming need that I couldn’t control. I was driven to write there, and not always for the right reasons; fear colored a lot of those words. I hope to come to this space with more deliberate intention, to be motivated by forces more productive than hurt or fear.

Erasing my old moniker in familiar comment boxes can feel like starting over, and it is in a way, but I know better than to think I can leave the person I was behind. I invited everyone who knew me there to read me here and they won’t forget who I was before.

And honestly? I don’t really want them to.

What does your writing identity mean to you? Have you ever considered changing it?


{image source: Dimitris Siskopoulos via Flickr}

I was pretty upset yesterday, when everything went awry.

I was fighting back tears. Even though I knew it wasn’t a big deal, even though I knew no one cared, I still wanted to cry.

When these waves of emotions crest, I try to be present, to be mindful, to experience them without judgement. I feel the knot in my throat, the buzzing in my teeth, the flutter in my chest. And when they’ve crashed against the shore and pulled languidly back into ocean of my subconscious, I search the depths for their source.

Almost always, when I touch that place, I find fear.

Yesterday, as I sunk deep into myself, trying to find where the wave had been born, dozens of thoughts darted past, dark shadows in the bright streams of filtered light. This is a disaster. How could I not notice these things before? I clearly can’t do this. Nobody will want to read me now. I should never have started this space. I’ve ruined everything.

It takes a lot of courage for me to swim past these thoughts. I don’t like when dark figures brush past me in the murky depths. I panic, my body seizes, every fiber of me jerks toward the surface. I want the bright lights and brisk wind to distract me from everything below the surface. I want to swim, even doomed to push forever against the current, in blissful ignorance of what is lurking underneath.

But I will myself to sink deeper, and when I finally rest on the cold sand below all those darting thoughts, I touch fear. Resting there, under the weight of everything, so still and yet so easily disturbed by my body’s inevitable flailing, is a dark, abyssal plain of gently undulating fear.

If I look closely at the sand, I recognize each grain, the seed of some paralyzing thought. What if this is a disaster? What if I make mistake after mistake? What if I don’t know how to manage my own, self-hosted space? What if nobody follows me here? What if I end up writing for no one? What if this space never lives up to the sanctuary I abandoned to create it?

These are the questions that scare me. The unknowns, the uncertainty. I’m terrified that I left something and that I might not love the thing I left it for. I’m paralyzed by the possibility that this was all a massive, monumental mistake.

It may seem melodramatic, and it very well could be, but I think this move is symbolic of other things for me as well: of venturing out, of leaving the familiar behind to tackle the unknown, of having faith in who I am and what I can accomplish. This space is about me coming into myself, and I’m not sure who I’ll find, and I’m not sure anyone will care to find her with me.

I know coming here was the right thing to do, but that doesn’t make it any less terrifying and it doesn’t make me any less worried that someday the decision will be tethered to great hulking anchors of resentment and regret.

Fear. It’s at the core of so much of what upsets me. If I sink deep enough, every lingering issue is rooted in fear. Finding it, recognizing it, takes some of the power away. When I know what really scares me, it’s easier to sit with it, even when the dark figures drift steadily past, determined to distract me.

I know I can never defeat fear: that abyssal plain will always be waiting, quiet and vast under the murky waters, poised for my panicked flailing to churn up the debris of dreams lost and goals unmet and blind me with the infinite fears that are forever lurking. My only chance is to float, quiet and still above the seabed, and see my fears for what they are: tiny pieces of myself worn away by decades of living–a shifting substructure above which I’m destined to float.

Happily Ever After

Have you ever wondered what happens when a story ends? What Happily Ever After actually looks like?

Evidently happily ever after looks like squinting at the computer screen because you’re too lazy to find your glasses, picking cold, soggy french fries off your daughter’s dinner plate and writing an inaugural post on the blog you’ve just started.

Yep, this is what happily ever after looks like, when it’s set against the right backdrop. When the cold french fries are in the kitchen of a house I “own,” a house that rests (just barely) within the boundaries of the city I love. When the four year old daughter I fought so hard to have is looking at books in her bedroom and the ten month old son we were told would never exist is asleep in the room adjacent. When the man I married–who I love and adore–is coming home soon to take out the trash and load the dishwasher, all without me asking.

This is what happily ever looks like, and it’s kind of terrifying. Not everything it entails, but that I’ve finally arrived at the having of it, that now it’s my job to appreciate it and be grateful.

Of course I do appreciate it, and I am grateful. Intensely so. Some days my gratitude is so overwhelming that it morphs without warning into intense, debilitating guilt. Who am I to have so much? How can I honor all that I have with the choices I make?

The last time I was called to write was five years ago, when the the land mine of pregnancy loss went off on my already rocky road to happily ever after. I didn’t realize then just how many twist and turns my journey held, how helpless I’d feel en route and how hopeless reaching my destination would seem.

I didn’t set out on the path to happily ever after with the smug assurance that one might expect from a twenty something white women who had achieved all her previous goals. Clinical depression, mingled with bouts of anxiety and a family legacy of loss put my expectations in their place, but I still wasn’t prepared for the toll my struggles would take.

And yet now, here I sit, five years later, on the cusp of happily ever after. I like to think that the struggle to get here helps me appreciate my life more than I would have. I like to believe that I don’t take anything for granted.

But of course I do. And I will. It’s human nature to look past what we have, at least on occasion, and I have not yet risen above my biological or evolutionary pay grade. That being said, I want to do better, to be better. I recognize that our lives are not defined by the big boxes being checked, buy by the thousands of decisions, big and small, we make every day.

I want to live my life with intention, I want to treat each choice as if it matters, because the reality is, it probably does.

And if they don’t… well, there are worse things than caring deeply about one’s life, and the way it is lived.

The birth of my son was the last great change in my life. The stage has been set, the parts have been cast, now the show will go on.

I want to show up for this grand performance. I want to make it epic.

And I want to write it all down, right here.

My name is Noemi and this is my courageous attempt: at life, at writing, at not a wasted word.

So pull up a chair, we’ve only just begun.