Why I Don’t Clean My House

Why I Don’t Clean My House

The house didn’t get cleaned because I was going after the anxiety, playing a lot of solitaire, re-writing the list, looking ahead at the calendar, considering my next move, wondering if I’ll need hiking boots and a rain coat for New Mexico, wondering what it will be like to sit on the poop bucket in the middle of the sage brush on Mark’s property, letting the wind come through me, letting it all go. The house didn’t get cleaned because when you repeat a habit it becomes a pattern, which is why I’ve started noticing the comfort as well as the whisper of worry when I peel back the bed covers at night and slip in on my own. How after a pandemic and a true break from the world of men, it’s possible you can forget what it’s like to share a bed with someone, a bed that suddenly looks too small to share with anyone except a child, or my mother or a friend – someone who won’t expect anything but simple comfort. How did I used to do relationships? What was that dance move like? Is the life of contorting myself over? The house didn’t get cleaned because I’m on the move and have needed to keep the list short: pens, paper, poetry, and to write things down like, find the notebooks, don’t forget to collect driftwood at the beach for the art project, make some notes for that class of post menopausal ladies in the UK, run by a woman named Pip* – and which was really wonderful because even though I didn’t know any...
Presence Over Performance

Presence Over Performance

“They don’t have to be good,” said my friend, Rosemerry, “but they do need to be true.” This is the bar my friend, the poet, Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer set for herself when she set out to write and publish a poem a day in 2011, which was 12 years, and roughly 4000 poems ago. They don’t have to be good, but they do need to be true. Before that, if Rosemerry’s work wasn’t good, she wouldn’t publish it because why would she want to put out anything into the world that wasn’t good? She used to be like that. But since making the commitment to write and publish one poem a day, she had to change the bar to make it happen. She had to hone for the truth. That changed a lot for her. The perfectionism, for starters, and allowing herself to be seen publicly in a less than perfect manner. That alone. Huge. And since she had to come up with something to write about every day, she found herself moving through her days with her eyes and ears peeled for anything that might speak to her. And that became a noticing practice, which slowed her down and made her more present and aware of where she was. And the more present she became, the more the world spoke to her, and the hungrier she became for that conversation with the world. So what started as a need to write a poem, became a practice in staying present, and the poem was more of a byproduct of that; icing, but not the main meal. I know it...
Welcome to the Department of Make Believe

Welcome to the Department of Make Believe

When I was starting out as a writing teacher over 20 years ago, I remember talking with my friend and mentor Mark Dahlby who ran writers.com, where I taught writing to adults for many years. I must have been going over the classes I was teaching, and at one point Mark interrupted me and he said, “Laurie, you just need to love the students.” Love them? But hadn’t they come for all my jazzy classes on memoir and personal essay? Wasn’t that what they were paying me for? What could love possibly have to do with that? In the beginning I leaned on the content of my classes – waving it in front of the students’ faces as evidence of how hard I was working for them, how much I cared – but over time I started to understand what Mark was talking about. Writing is personal and it can be vulnerable. While I was trying to do a good job editing their stories, my students wanted to be seen by me, to know that I cared about their work, and cared about them. My teaching was good enough, like a hearty pasta that any chef could stand behind, but without the hot bubbly sauce of love, it lacked something. Over time I think my teaching changed. I started to see that my attention to students mattered more than what I was teaching them in some cases. They wanted love. I thought about Mark’s words last week when I visited Chapter 510, a nonprofit in downtown Oakland that offers free writing classes, bookmaking, publishing and podcasting classes for black, brown...
The Wake of Magic

The Wake of Magic

As I write this, I’m sitting on a hotel bed in San Miguel de Allende on the eve of a writing / photography workshop that my dear friend Andrea Scher and I are hosting this week. This might be our 10th workshop in San Miguel in the last five years. Some of the ladies we flew in with – all old friends of ours – have taken to the cobblestones to find dinner. I stayed back because I’m one of those introvert / extroverts who, after a long day of wandering the city as a tribe of gals, has come back to my spot of quiet to listen to music and write. It’s actually not so very quiet; There are loud explosions going off every few minutes, which our friend Erin says is courtesy of the church strongly reminding people to get their booty to the pews in the morning. Why do I love that so much? I think I like the tension of priests setting off explosions. There’s something very unabashed about that. It’s nervy, you know? Or maybe it’s just their god shouting from the heavens in a way these people can hear. I also like the half glass of wine I swiped from an art opening in the courtyard of the hotel this evening as I headed to my room. I like that as much as I like knowing that inside of the Mojiangas – the 18-foot tall puppets that parade through town – are overheated, sticky teenage boys glancing at their watches waiting for their shifts to end. I have a soft spot for those...
For My Mother Who Means To Feel Everything

For My Mother Who Means To Feel Everything

One of the first things I noticed when I walked into my mother’s house last  Sunday night was that she had taped the same printed message on little pieces of paper all over the house – on her bathroom mirror, on the wall across from her bed, the refrigerator, by the front door, and in her office next to the computer.  The message was this: “Be aware of my body sensations. What do I want? What do I need right now?” At first, I rolled my eyes. Maybe it was that the message was in all caps, like she was shouting to herself. “It’s from my therapist,” she explained when I asked her about it, referring to the man she’s been seeing for the last 30 years, and now on Zoom once a week. “Be aware of my body sensations. What do I want? What do I need right now?” My mother has other important messages taped by her phones that she can look at when she’s talking, probably to one of her four children. “I hear you,” she’ll say. Then, “Uh huh,” and, “I understand. Tell me more.” Then there’s a note to remind her to repeat the last few words she heard the caller say. Sometimes when she’s telling me about what a great game of tennis she played, or how delicious her salad at lunch was, I say, “I hear you, Uh huh, I  understand, tell me more.” “Oh screw you!” she says, laughing. Then she takes her middle finger, pretends to be picking her nose and gives me the finger instead. She got that from...