On Serving Two Vocations

I can't remember in which of the tens of Madeleine L'Engle books I read in my twenties she wrote about her work as a writer and mother as serving two vocations, but the phrase has been seldom from my mind these last weeks and months. When the religious speak of vocation, they are pointing to something distinctive from occupation, something with an element of calling to it, something with a layer of devotion that goes beyond punching a clock.

For instance, no parent I know thinks of that role as an occupation. It's a role so constant that it blurs the line betweeen a state of being and a state of doing. A parent does not cease to be a parent after the children go to bed--one sleeps lightly and snaps awake at the sound of children in the night. Nor does one cease to be a parent after the children are grown with separate residences of their own. Just ask my mother how often I still call to say, "Do you think this meat is still good?" or "I think I'm getting sick."

So it is, too, with being artists, writers, creatives of all kinds. One doesn't cease to see the world with a certain studious eye, even after leaving the studio for the day. I can't even slip out for an afternoon "off" at the cinema without noticing and admiring the edits, the acting performances that are so true I feel something in my gut, the lines of dialogue that change the way I see the world forever, or the cinematography that takes my breath away. I also think many creatives have a sense of being chosen by, rather than solely choosing their work. If it were just about occupation, I'd be a barista, or maybe punch in for some company with sweet benefits. There's a way I feel pursued by this work, like I wouldn't be able to sleep at night if I left it undone.

When I walk down the street and there is a small hand inside each of my own, it's like I drop down into a deep well. I can get lost in being with the girls, in our quiet rhythm, in the simple joys of steaming morning milk and washing dishes with the record player spinning and the twinkle lights all aglow. It's like a country I could live in forever.

The same is true when I lose myself in my work. Time stretches or races or simply ceases to be. I feel like there's nowhere else I'd rather be, nothing else I'd rather be doing. When I'm serving one vocation or the other, I sink down deep into the well and I am the rope, I am the bucket, and then I am the water. It feels like bliss. It feels like joy.

But here's the catch--it's not easy to serve two vocations at once. I can't go so deep down that I can no longer see the sky. I have to remember to look at the clock at least once before it is three o'clock and my little ones are waiting for my face to appear in the crowd, for my embrace and our conversations about the day on the walk home. And I can't get so comfortable with my cozy little family that I don't get out to shows or back on stage, or back to the studio projects that have been waiting to be finished.

I am still a beginner in this dance of two vocations. Maybe it's like my friends who are from one country but now live in another--both places hold a piece of their hearts, and they are always longing, even while they are always home.

Preparation is no innoculation

Brighton Beach, Diana+It's the first day of school in NYC today.  I know we're behind many parts of the country, but even so, I haven't said good-bye to summer yet.  I haven't made my peace with fall.  Usually the sweltering heat and humidity make it easy to bid summer farewell, but we haven't had much of those this year.  Just a lot of delicious days and lazy adventures.  My girl, who must have grown a foot over the summer, goes to First Grade today, and a year from now the little one will go with her.  I trimmed their hair last night so Amelia's has a cute little flip in the back, and they are wearing matching navy dresses with pleated skirts--British school uniforms my aunt and uncle brought back to them from England. 

I've always thought there was a way in which you could prepare for events, for days like this one that grab you somewhere in the chest, that would somehow innoculate you from the hard feeling of living them.  Like this: If I finish my Christmas shopping by September, I won't have so many bits to be anxious about come December.  But it's not that clean-cut.  See, while that kind of planning does spare me from standing in crowded shops and endless lines, it also ensures that my Christmas anxiety lasts that many months longer.

I did what I could for today. I made sure she had something to wear that made her feel like it's a special day.  I bought some notebooks and pencils. But it all lacked the usual fervor--I was passionless, like with a lover who you already know will betray you. 

Just as I suspected, the day is here, and I still have to live it. 

I still have to walk her to the building and watch it swallow her up.  I still have to turn to Lucy, who says she's ready to go to her camp now, and swim in her loneliness with her all morning long.  I still have to feel the way these long limbs and this sharp-angled body won't fit in my lap for much longer.  Buying the pencils ahead of time? Not really helping right now.

I think this is somehow the key to unlocking my obsession with overpreparation.  I'm already letting it go like a kite whose string I don't even plan to hold once it gets to the end.  All the organizing, packing, cleaning, doing--it doesn't spare me from feeling the way I feel in the moment.  I still have to be with my fear or my sadness.

Life isn't a subject I can cram for and master ahead of time.  I can't live this day until it's here, and knowing it's coming, trying to wield preparation as some kind of shield, doesn't spare me from a thing. 

Fire Escape Tea

A couple weeks ago, when we discovered the Chocolate Mint Tea at The Chocolate Room, I was reminded of the sun tea I used to make with my mom when I was a kid.  I cleaned out a pitcher, and tried my hand at the old way with a new minty twist.  It's been our favorite drink around here ever since:

Fire Escape Tea

Regular tea bags (I prefer Red Rose Naturally Decaffinated)

Peppermint tea bags

large pitcher, lidded container or jug

In the morning, place the regular tea bags and mint bags in a pitcher in a 2 to 1 ratio.  My pitcher is tall, so I use 6 Red Rose decaf bags and 3 peppermint bags.  Fill with cool water, cover, and set out on the fire escape (or other sunny location).  The tea will brew throughout the day as the sun warms it.  Pull the tea in at dinner time, and serve sun-warmed or over ice, according to your preference.


On Creative Work and Motherhood, and Moving the Website

When my artist friends are deliberating about becoming mothers, I don't say, "Oh, just go for it--it will be fine." I know this dilemma well. It took me five years to make my decision--to choose motherhood--and I wasn't even doing creative work before I became a mother. The decision to begin writing and travel down a creative path came out of the kind of moment I've often had since becoming a parent: I wouldn't take this risk for myself, I would just settle for something here. But I will take this risk for my girls, because I want them to know anything is possible. I want to show them how to find and follow dreams. Now my creative work and my mothering are intertwined like a double helix. . . .

Continue reading this article In the Wish Studio, where I'm honored to be a part of the wishmamas series.

Please be patient as my website moves to a new server and the links take awhile to catch up.  I apologize for all the missing photos and paragraph breaks in the archives--I just don't think I'm going to do the tedious work of correcting them.  Just a few comments on the last couple posts were lost in the shuffle.  If one of them was yours, feel free to post it again if you'd like.  We'll have a fresh start of sorts here.  (I hope you like the new design.)  More features are coming soon.