August 18, 2015

This week I got an email from a friend that started with something along the lines of "Congratulations! From what I see on social media, it appears that life with a kid is going swimmingly." It was a quick reminder to me that I want to tell an honest story when I put things out into the world- not something that is manicured and neat and happy, happy, happy. Because there are lots of different ways that I could craft the story of this time in my life. Yes, I have a kid that is making my heart burst, and there's a whole lot of intense love flying around my house right now. But equally true is the fact that I feel a bit insane from all of this change. And that's what, exactly, makes this time so tricky: all of these contradictory things living in the same room together. I feel the most vulnerable I've ever felt in my life- heart on sleeve, and that's exhausting actually. I feel the happiest and most ambitious I have in a very long time, but the highs are so high and the lows are so low. I also feel anxious and tired and my nervous system is absolutely fried. I have about 30 tasks and projects that are half-finished at any given time, and it seems like a cruel trick to be a person who thrives on getting things done but can't seem to finish any one thing. And now, at 12 weeks postpartum, I'm supposed to figure out how to fit work into the equation...I want to figure out how to fit work into the equation...and that seems particularly insane. 

So I was thinking about all of these things today, while I ate a second breakfast in my breastmilk-stained t-shirt and Fox finally napped (!!!!!). I started listening to this episode of Being Boss Podcast, which happened to be with maternal health expert Rebecca Egbert and had a good cry because it seemed like she was speaking right to me. The episode is a gold mine of smart information for women reconfiguring their lives and healing their bodies after having a baby, but the part that stuck with me the most were these words from Rebecca:

"Get out of your head and into your body, because our heads are exhausting."

Boy, are they. My lists are exhausting. Trying to figure things out is exhausting. Googling that strange thing that my baby just started doing is exhausting. Oh, and worrying... 

But bodies? I know something about those. Yeah, I have one, but I also study the body as a dance maker. It's pretty smart- way smarter than my mind. I haven't been fully in my body lately. But the body is really the key to making everything work. When I feel calm and nourished and embodied, my life makes so much more sense. But somehow taking care of my body always seems to come last.

I've written a lot about foundations. We all have two or three things that we need set in place in order for our lives to work. One thing I'm loving about this change in my life is that it absolutely requires that I make sure my foundation is in place- no excuses. I have a lot of shit I want to make happen and time is limited. I'm more efficient when I feel healthy. I'm more efficient when I feel happy. I can be a better parent when I don't feel certifiably insane. It feels counterintuitive to take care of myself before I take care of my to-do list, but I'm pretty sure that's all backwards. 

So that's the story right now: figuring out how to prioritize self-care and get rid of any guilt I have surrounding that, or any ideas I have in my head about what I should be able to accomplish at twelve weeks postpartum. Because I strongly believe that, regardless of how confusing and challenging something appears, we aren't ever stuck. Things are always changing- it's literally impossible for things to not change. It's good news!

An Experiment

August 5, 2015

"I think of artists like scientists. Just like scientists, we begin with a question, something we don’t know. We go into our studio and research that question. Like scientists, at the end of our research,
we share the results with the public and with our peers... Just as in science, a negative result is as
important as a positive result... Failure in science and art is a sign that the process is working."

I still identify as an artist, even though I sometimes go months without getting into a dance studio. Like I've written, these days I'm making small art. There is lots of talk and argument about the difference between being an artist and a hobbyist. I think Andrew Simonet sums it up quite nicely in the quote above: artists are researchers. Regardless of medium, artists research questions. 

I've been thinking about this a lot as I'm moving daily things around to make space for our new family member- and soon, work. Approaching all of this as an experiment lowers the stakes and makes it more fun. For instance, I'm still figuring out Fox's preferred schedule. He's a baby, so every day he's changing and what he needs shifts a little. Some nights we wonder: will he sleep longer if we put him to bed later? Will he sleep better swaddled or does he prefer to have his hands free? I wonder about myself: will I function better if I get some exercise in the morning or is it a better to get my most challenging work done first thing? Etc, etc, etc... 

Framing life as an experiment makes me feel less stuck if things aren't working out. I remember that I can always shift them- a little here, a little there. I remember that nothing is absolute and there's a certain freedom in that. I remember that I can take something that feels hard and make it work from me.

3 Things

July 30, 2015

I read 3 things in the past week that I particularly loved:

For starters, this interview with my former boss lady Sarah Schultz conducted by writer Lightsey Darst for Lightsey- one of my favorite arts critics- is, per usual, amazing at asking great questions and offering insightful observations. Sarah's responses are smart and funny and thoughtful- because she is. Her thoughts on work particularly resonate with me: "I'm feeling a pull to figure out what my 'work' should look like-- you work at a job but you also work in the garden. You work at problems. You work in a studio. You 'work-it-out'."

I love this onbeing blog post called Where the Earth is Most Torn: On Staying with Discomfort. This year I've been thinking a lot about how to get comfortable with discomfort, because, let's face it, we probably all spend a lot of time in this state. Transitions are uncomfortable, growth is often uncomfortable, the best things in life are uncomfortable. I particularly like this quote: "I give myself this advice as a resource: become intimate with discomfort. Pull it closer. Mend nothing first. Don’t say, 'I will allow discomfort to teach me when I have finally done XYZ.' Take to discomfort now and feel the sensations in the body that correspond and feel how alive you are." I'm going to practice.

And finally, an email newsletter from Sarah J. Bray, one of my favorite people from the internet. I spend a lot of time deleting mass mailing from my inbox, but Sarah's is delightful. Last week she discussed reading Cheryl Strayed's Tiny Beautiful Things for the first time- one of my favorite books, of course. Here's part of what Sarah wrote: 

"I was struck by how Strayed can take any horrendous, gut-wrenching human problem and apply empathy and wisdom to make you feel like even this is something you can deal with, and even use to make you a better person. 

I thought, how amazing. And then, I want someone to do that for me. And then, maybe I can be Dear Sugar to myself. 

So I did. I wrote a long letter to Dear Sugar about all the things that are bothering me, and then I wrote Dear Sugar's response back to me. 

It was amazing. Exactly what I needed to hear. Because you know what? Everything we need, we've already got. We just need to give ourselves the empathy and wisdom that we are so willing to give to others."

Everything we need, we've already got- I'm hanging onto that thought this week.


July 24, 2015

I've been thinking about this article, awesomely titled Everything's Awful and I'm Not OK: questions to ask before giving up. Everything in my life is certainly not awful, but I am still adjusting to some pretty significant life changes that sometimes leave me feeling confused and even panicky. I get worried that I haven't found my new normal yet. I start to think that there's something really wrong.

Then it turns out that I just need to eat something and get more sleep (and be patient). This is why these questions are so helpful. Don't give up, just drink a glass of water. You know, Maslow's hierarchy of needs: you have to make sure that you have food and shelter and sleep before worrying about the more nuanced aspects of life.

This is probably key for every life transition. Sometimes feeling more even-keeled comes down to the basics.

So, this week I went to bed a little earlier. I did a few things that reminded me I can still be productive. I bought a few shirts so that I can wear something that isn't stained with breastmilk. I ate more frequently. I took a few deep breaths.

I felt a whole lot better.

Related: Peter.

In the Body

July 22, 2015

photo by Gene Pittman for the Walker Art Center
I'm very interested in body...interested in how my body and other people's bodies are in the world, and I have been since I was a kid. There can be a purity to [dance] in that it's this tactile thing. It's just feels like in our world, where everything is fighting against the body, it's a statement. It's like being an anarchist or something. --Angharad Davies on making dances via Justin Jones' podcast TALK DANCE

Lately I've been convinced that most of the smarts we need for pretty much every challenge in our life reside in our bodies. I don't mean brains (yeah, those are important too). I mean body wisdom: the memories and intuition that live in our bodies, that can't be accessed unless we slow down and breathe and listen. I've realized that I can go days without any real awareness of my body, other than knowing that I'm hungry or tired. I can go days without fully feeling or paying attention. 

I listened to this podcast interview with badass local choreographer Angharad Davies, and have to agree with her sentiment: there's something rebellious about focusing on the body. There's something necessary about it, too, which is why I continue to be curious about making and watching dance. Making dance forces me to tune into my body and its needs and emotional intelligence in a way that little else does. 

Days and Weeks

July 14, 2015

Fox is 7 weeks, and we are in the trenches of newborn: a sweet and disorienting place. People ask me what I'm up to these days- besides baby things. The truth is, learning how to make life work with a new baby is an all-encompassing process that consumes my days. Figuring out breastfeeding and sleep and baby gas and then adding in a layer of adult things- eating, going places and seeing people, paying bills, maybe cleaning a house or showering, and eventually working- takes time. These things don't make for exciting adult conversation (even for me). And yet, there's a lot happening beneath the surface of banal daily occurrences like figuring out how to combat excessive boob leakage, deciphering baby cries, and working against the urge to destroy my partner with sarcasm after one too many nights of not sleeping. Maybe this all sounds horrible, but there's actually been a beauty in such a simple, utilitarian time. These days contain metaphors and life lessons applicable to all of us- not just parents. I am, however, usually too sleepy to properly absorb and apply them.

One thing that seems particularly notable right now is the strange, contradictory way that time works: the days are simultaneously long and short; a million things have happened, but I'm not sure what. Sometimes it feels like nothing is happening, and I will always be in a sleepy haze and whatever challenge I'm facing will never change. This isn't the first time I've encountered this feeling. It's happened when I'm undergoing any kind of big transition- a move or job change or big project. Anything where getting perspective is difficult because I'm so in it. 

I've been trying to reserve a few minutes of each day for perspective. I don't have the energy (or desire) for diary entries or that kind of thing, but I do have a notebook that I scrawl a couple of bullet points in. An incomplete sentence about one or more of the following: something that was good; something that was hard; something I'm totally excited about and hope to someday follow through on; something I want to remember. There's a lot I want to fully relish in these strange, slow days, but I still need reminders that they won't last forever- that things are changing and shifting and finding motion. I'm reminded that 'motion' was my word of the year, knowing that this year motion would look differently than it has in the past. I like to go, go, go, and right now the challenge is getting comfortable with slow motion and endless transition. 


June 23, 2015

Our baby, Fox Carroll McGinley, was born on May 23 accompanied by a great big howl of a voice and two eyes that refused to open for a long time. When they finally did, it was just one eye squinting suspiciously at me for at least 20 minutes, and I finally wondered if there actually was a second eye. Guess what? Two eyes!

He is beautiful: 10 fingers and toes and an amazing smirk that he utilizes regularly to make me laugh even in the middle of the night. 

I have to admit that I'd had a really hard time wrapping my head around the fact that I was carrying an actual human- not a reptile or alien. The various lumps and bumps were hard to identify and match with real human parts. The midwives kept saying that his feet were the bulge on the side of my abdomen, but part of me kept wondering if it was actually a second head. The last couple months of pregnancy were filled with unexpected worry and extra medical appointments and testing, and finally an order to induce labor 3 weeks early. So imagine my surprise over two things:

#1-- a rather undramatic and even joyful (though fast and furious) labor where all of the things that I'd been told could Potentially Go Very Wrong went right, and where I felt insanely loved and supported
#2-- giving birth to a perfect little human that I fell fast in love with

My brain had been so absorbed with pregnancy and anxiety that I hadn't spent much time thinking about all of the awesome things that would happen afterwards-- that there would be a real baby. I want to remember sitting there in the hospital room marveling over Fox's sweetness, and the strange and wonderful mix of my features and Ben's on his face. Ben's first known blood relative! I want to remember Ben saying over and over to me: he's cute, Laura! look at how cute he is! with the biggest grin I've ever seen on his face. I want to remember the whirlwind of bringing him home, and how I felt insanely confused and sore and overwhelmed but so happy it truly didn't matter. How Ben and I kept saying to one another this is the biggest win! How we couldn't even believe what had just happened to us or how much our hearts hurt from loving so much and feeling so fragile and vulnerable: our hearts now outside our chests! How we truly cried with joy- often. Because joy really can be the scariest emotion.

Ben and I spent a lot of those first two weeks just staring at Fox while he slept and then looking over photos we'd taken of him earlier in the day. We talked about his spontaneous smiles, the wrinkling of his brow, and how he puts his arms under his face, senior picture- style. He looks pleased with himself, and I hope he is. We talk about the day he will actually do things! He will swim in pools and play in the sand and eat delicious food and see beautiful places. It's all far away. For now he grunts in his sleep, and continually shifts positions. We talk about being proud of him- of his sleeping patterns and bravery when his heel is stuck by yet another doctor. We congratulate him on overcoming jaundice and on kicking his feet. His greatest challenges are moving from sleeping to waking and surviving a diaper change. We applaud each victory with seriousness. He is so small. He shrinks down almost a pound in that first week and he's practically miniature-- still with a formidable nose, just like me.

I want to remember all the friends who stopped by with food and celebrated Fox from afar and send encouraging emails and sweet gifts. I hope we were all loved and celebrated like this the moment we were born!

Did I mention the crying? Our crying, not his. The combination of the hormones and the lack of sleep and the vulnerability of loving a tiny human so much that you regularly wake to check on his breathing makes for tears of fragility. We talk about the people we know who have lost children and loved ones. We talk about the people we know who are trying to have children. We talk about all the people we love. This openhearted state is amazing and exhausting. I want to remember it-- feeling that open. 

I was thinking about this fortune I received with my Chinese food a couple of years ago: yesterday was a dare to struggle. Today is a dare to win. This first month of parenthood has felt like the biggest win. We have felt like the absolute luckiest, and every hurdle has felt worth it. I want to remember this victorious feeling. I think about the shitty times and the emotional gunk and Ben's transition towards sobriety and my miscarriage, and they all feel small in comparison to this feeling.

I'm a big fan of talking & writing about the hard stuff. But I was reminded this month that it's equally important to mention the life wins- to avoid being humble about them, to accept them without surprise or question and even bask in them a little...these reminders that the universe is conspiring in our favor. I want to bask in this, the biggest win. I want to talk about this little person with the double chin and how light his presence has made me feel- how calm; how certain.

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