What a photo shoot with AARP looks like: the aren’t we FAB edition

 

Shoot location 1: the ice cream shop.
Shoot location 1: the ice cream shop.

Recently an editor at AARP magazine contacted me to see if we would be willing to be part of a photo shoot about the “Modern American Family”. After several emails back and forth, and lots of clarifying questions we agreed. The huge bonus here was the travel allowance to get four out of five of Shrek’s available children in town for the shoot. They came from as far as San Francisco, and as near as up the street for hair, make up, and click, click, snap, snap for a good part of last Sunday.

But why us? Well apparently we evened out an upcoming story for the boomers on family today-both regionally and in terms of the composition of our blended family in the making. Here’s a few stanzas from a poem I wrote to honor the occasion that might further answer the question:

Remember we want to capture
the nine of you at ease
so the rest of the world
sees the “modern family”
wait, wait that’s it-

freeze

Adoption, blended family
transracial, known donor insemination,
divorce, first marriage at 46, second
marriage at 61, run of the mill,
click-click-snap-snap
kind of thing

Everyone look this way
Relax
Get closer
On 3, 2, 1:

See-family is click click

snap-snap: synonymous
with eating an ice cream cone

as long as it complements the color of your shirt.

The experience was a complete hoot really. (Leading up to it there was definitely some free floating anxiety about just how one is supposed to present as a modern family in the making…) But once we were all here there was  some very sweet family bonding around the edges of it all. The photographers Gregg, and Tom, and Caitlin the glamorous make up artist or “groomer” were part of the blend by the time the shoot was complete. Five thousand tons of delicious food were delivered for our lunch and in six weeks or so the issue will appear.

I was also interviewed over the phone for the story, and am super hopeful that a link to Mama C and the Boys might be included in the copy. Since the magazine boasts the largest readership in the world, it might mean a little boost in readership? For our “trouble” we will also receive a few prints from the day to mark this surprising and magical moment in time beautifully.

 

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flash floods (poem)

flash flood
flash flood

 

Refusal

Saturated she

just refuses to let more

in. Flash floods must rage.

x

Swallowed whole

Flash floods swallow whole

the bridge. Saturated earth’s

blatant refusal.

x

These are the latest two poems in my water series. Two haikus wrestling with the same moment, but each one capturing something different. I worked on these over the weekend while visiting my brother. The boys were so struck by the fury, suddenness, and relentlessness of the flooding. Sammy was really amused by it. He loves things which are doing something they are not supposed to…

take me to the water...
take me to the water…

Gathering the poem (week 3 of 52)

gathering a poem, week 3
gathering a poem, week 3

Each week for one year, I have set out to write a poem. The process, as outlined here, includes a visit to a body of water weekly where I “gather” material for the poem (I force myself to draft a complete poem at that time-knowing it will be revisited) and some sustained writing time during the week, so that I can “publish” (print and paste in my poetry journal) one a week. Marcel has joined me for two of the “gatherings”.  Every week a montage is made to help me remember fleeting thoughts, lines, nuances, sounds, and the other stuff of a poem.

This week’s poem-which is still in process–but which I will share, because it delights me for several reasons is inspired by Marcel, and this playground which will I imagine be a significant part of their childhood landscape. Continue reading “Gathering the poem (week 3 of 52)”

Grinders, edgy moments, and a little wave to my benefactors present and future

Where Sandra Bullock saw herself??

A grinder is when a bunch of poets put themselves to the grind, to produce a poem a day for thirty days, sharing collectively through an email exchange. There is no commentary, just put it out there by midnight, and have nine other never before seen poems delivered to your mailbox from all over the country/world. The idea I gather is to keep dropping in with the muse, much like you practice the piano each day with the hope of getting a little better…moving a song, or two forward. Continue reading “Grinders, edgy moments, and a little wave to my benefactors present and future”

celebrate, create, grieve, repeat: a poet returns

birthday montage
birthday montage

A few days ago another calendar year started for Mama C. Like your average bear I enjoy a little birthday love, some flowers, breakfast in bed. But, what I really love is the chance to reinvent myself, again. (January 1st, and Back to School also hold that possibility–or at least the excuse to start a new calendar and fill it with all the times I went to the gym this year. A week later, it’s amazing how much the old and the new calendar resemble the other…) This year Shrek and the boys helped me to craft a list of things I can feel fiercely fabulous about. Here are a few highlights in no particular order:

  • attending my first week long writers residency
  • crossing the country twice to visit my father and step mom with a different lad each time
  • a magnificent and robust urban garden in the summer and fall
  • several home improvements
  • transitioning to a part time job for one year
  • making ends meet on a part time income
  • volunteering in the boys’ classrooms once a week
  • co-organizing three epic cross cultural events at my sons’ school since last March
  • being invited to the “table” to discuss issues of race and equity in our school district
  • presenting on race and education to a graduate program in counseling,
  • parenting my big-in-the-world boys with some success
  • working it hard in the longest committed relationship I have ever been in
  • deepening relationships with five bonus children
  • planning a wedding
  • meditating and exercising regularly
  • noticing old patterns that no longer serve me, and attempting to change them Continue reading “celebrate, create, grieve, repeat: a poet returns”

Residency Day Seven, Less than 24 to go and..

Self Portrait Day 7, Chappaquiddick Beach
Self Portrait Day 7
beach framed
Noticing that there is a frame work emerging…
all work...
All work and no play makes…

It is raining. Thank God. I am ensconced at the dining room table, sipping my way too strong coffee from the ACME mug. I have an ambitious goal to accomplish in the next ten hours, before my final meal in community and our group reading.

The thought of leaving here is  (just a blinking cursor on the page after the word is).

Catherine, you can bring this framework, this poise that radiates from a center of possibility from here to home, from one place to the next, as long as you believe it is indeed waiting for you there.  Catherine you are bringing all of these magnificent connections home with you, because they have already altered your course. You may not have any idea how, but that you trust that it is so, is enough. Hold that in your heart through the wobbly good-byes.

Little bunny rabbit on the lawn just outside-you are the sweetest reminder, that my children are nearer than I think. Shrek I can not wait to have this hovering longing for your embrace quenched. It is so exciting to know that you are waiting to welcome all of me back, and eager to remind me that all of you is there too. You have given me this week without a momentary worry about the one of you. OK, there was that one moment, but it was all part of the journey…Really, how do I begin to thank you?

“Time to hit the decks,” as the novelist next to me would say.  The world needs your voice, your art, your pictures, your songs, your smile, your belief in what you have to say is uniquely yours and wildly worthy of all the space it takes.

EdgeFlow EdgeFlow EdgeFlow: A midweek check in from the residency

Where it all began, and the plant that witnessed it.
Where it all began, and the plant that witnessed it.

I am delighted to say that yesterday I experienced what some might call flow. It started from a dream I had where I was defending the legitimacy of my newest book to a friend. I woke up and recorded all the details I remembered. For the next three hours the project unfolded on the page. I literally was just holding the pen, and watching it go.

I was not only writing, creating, and in harmony with my reason for being on the planet, but I had the sense that such an alignment with the universe and my creative pursuits is indeed possible. This lasted for at least forty five seconds.

Then, for the next three hours, I wrestled through, and am content enough with the outcome.  I’m a little afraid to dip back in there again, what if I can’t find that flow again? What if it was an imagined ease?  Hogwash.

Richard Blanco’s poems,  and the little potted plant (Bellis P. Rominette for those who wonder such things) I picked up at the green house the day before (to bring home and transplant in my garden to remind me that I too can flourish when I return) were my witnesses.

I’m at the little library in town today doing a little housekeeping (procrastinating) before returning to the, dare I say it, flow. I had the glorious good fortune to enjoy a walk on the beach before the library opened with one of the amazing residents here, Deborah, who I have connected with in such an easy and reassuring way.  She is guide, mentor, and friend. We have that immeasurably sweet-I’ve known you before dear friend-ease. She showed me how to dance on the beach and let it go.

self portrait: residency day 3
self portrait: residency day 3

From this photo, I believe it is quite obvious that flow is good for the soul.  Let me reassure all of you, that the hours prior to said epiphany were spent wondering if anyone would notice if I crawled out the window and stole home on the next ferry, as I felt so daunted by expectation, and self doubt. Clearly, all that was a necessary part of the process. Tonight I am in charge of cooking the meal for nine! My gourmet skills as a grilled cheese chef will dazzle for sure.  Back to it then, or is time for another inspiring nap?

Journey to here from there. Residency Day 1

I am stunned with gratitude and humbled by all the generosity, and warmth that welcomed me to this magnificent writers residency.

I could barely sleep last night from the fortune of it all.

I walked in the side door to a place setting for me at a table set for eight. I followed as one of the outgoing writers (the residency is anywhere from one to six weeks long) graciously carried my suitcase to my perfect room, with the writers desk up against the window, and joined the assembled for dinner. I listened to their stories, took in their reasons for being here and mined as much as I could from the two who would be leaving in the morning.

We are poets, essayists, novelists, children’s book writers, musicians, journalists, playwrights, and memoir writers. We are from several continents. We are white. We span about a twenty year age span. We are married, divorced, single, partnered, childless, and parenting. We share meals, and if the first night is any indication of what is to come-we will share the maps we’ve got folded up or and not too tucked away- that got us here from there.

I spent the morning with Bell Hooks’ “Wounds of Passion: A Writing Life” as it presented itself to me at breakfast on the table next to me.  I took that is a sign that I was meant to listen to. Reaching back out to the ether via this blog could help me to land somehow.  As does the little camera on my phone. I can have this experience more immediately, or mediated perhaps as Hooks might say, if I look at myself through that lens too.

The boys are steady as can be in Shrek’s unimaginably calm and present loving care. We spoke this morning. How blessed and fortunate I am.  A special bow of gratitude to a certain artist friend of mine, who emailed me some mighty reasonable advice on how to do a residency. You and yours have given me complete permission to let this week unfold as it will.  Thank you both.

Finally, I am writing here all of this miraculous good good I got going here to encourage any of you who are reading to this point and thinking; “Could I ever so such a thing…” that you could, and you should. This months Poets and Writers magazine features a section on Writers Retreats.  What are you waiting for?

Yes, little poem, I see you there in the margins. It is time to return to you now…

And I’m off…

take off... C 2013 MamaCandtheBoys
take off…  C 2013 MamaCandtheBoys

These are the last key strokes before I pack up this typer and head out to the great writing yonder on my one week residency.  Everyone here is poised for the journey in their own way, and calling on all their coping mechanisms. Shrek is nothing but supportive, light, and “we so got this” as he makes me a loaf of bread and his five star egg salad while prepping the pancakes.  Marcel is painting everywhere, and doing acrobatics at the same time. Sam is sleeping.

I am drinking too much coffee, and repeating a few necessary mantras like; “it will be exactly what it is meant to be.” And, “it’s OK if they don’t completely fall apart in my absence…” The dominant series being; “You did it. You designed it. You earned it. Now GET it. Enjoy it all Catherine…”

I have packed lightly; clothing, a few necessary altar items, and some don’t need to live without food items.  The main heft being a selection of books to inspire, distract, and push. Among the titles;  Annie Lamont’s Bird by Bird, Robert Pinsky’s The Sound of Poetry, Maxine Hong Kingston’s To Be the Poet. Richard Blanco, Philip Booth, Marge Piercy are in between the favorite sweatshirt, and the letters from the boys. Janna Malamud Smith’s An Absorbing Errand: How Artists and Craftsmen Make Their Way to Mastery is in the bag next to my lunch.

Last night I read Smith’s chapter on solitude and the creative. She provides a compelling argument for why we crave and believe in the importance of time away to do the art. She debunks the myth in part as well. In between I found myself embracing this line on the eve of my first such journey;

We hold a distorted notion that our feelings and creative impulses need to be only ours and harvested by us in isolation. But the reality is richer…Simply put, to sustain the effort of art making, it helps to have a sense, felt more than thought, sometimes eroticized, sometimes not- of someone, or several who stay(s) near you in your mind, and who is interested in you and what you have to say. Such fantasies are ubiquitous parts of mental life, hardly only the domain of art-makers. But the difference is that they particularly need to arrange a balance that stimulates their creativity yet supports their solitude. (p. 133)

So dear readers, friends, and family know that I can not enjoy a moment of this without the knowledge that you are coming with me in my mind, asking me to do more of what I do best. Because, I believe that you care about the results.

Bowing with gratitude here.

 

 

 

Telling it like it is, and then some (Black Enough the poem)

Mardi Gras mask 2013
Mardi Gras mask 2013

This week I had the pleasure of speaking to a counseling class at University of Maine, about my experience as a transracial parent, white mind, internalized racism, privilege, and adoption. Suffice it to say, that an hour seemed to evaporate in front of our eyes.  The feedback from the professor and the class was tremendous, and the invitations to come speak here and there are beginning to materialize. I am developing a five year plan that involves designing many more speaking engagements organized around talking about race in the classroom and beyond, so all of these opportunities are shaping that vision beautifully.

This was quite encouraging in the wake of not winning “Best of Portland Phoenix 2013” blog award.  The winning blog was a photography forum called “Unseen Portland”. The pictures on the blog are incredible. I took comfort in knowing that I continue to write my own version of the unspoken here in Portland and in many other communities across the country. It was an honor to be nominated, and thank you to all who voted.

I meant to start the class with my now signature poem, “Black Enough”. Since it is POETRY MONTH, and I am leaving on my residency soon, what better time to share it here, again.

Black Enough

I can’t wait to tell you Sam,
that when you were just two
one of my very black students asked me
why I went
all the way to North Carolina
to have you.

I can’t wait to describe to you the look
on that student’s face
when I told him
that I didn’t have you
like his mom had him,
but that your birthmother
placed you in my arms
in the hospital in North Carolina
on Christmas Eve
as she smiled bravely and
kissed you.

Oh. What? He asked. And then,
It’s not that I thought you were black black
he proclaimed.
But I thought you were black enough to have him.

Black Enough.
Black enough?
True I wondered if I was black enough
to walk through the door of Cordell’s barber shop
that first time six months ago
to get your black and curly hair
cut properly, what would they think of me?

And I can tell you that I am just
black enough to keep walking in that door,
where all the men
in that barber shop,
who have never asked me my name
Call you by yours-
Hey Sammy my man-
and What’s up boss?
They ask you
as you strut
right
up
to Cordell’s chair to demand
a lol-i-pop
for a line-it-up
and black enough to notice
as they stare at me
and stare at me
as if by looking
just a little longer
I might become
black enough to them too.

Black enough to notice that
now I own
many more brown and black sweaters and shirts
and brown corduroys
too
because I must want you to think I
am a little more black
and a little more like you

Black enough Sam
to know
that I’ll never be black enough
and because of that
I must never forget
that you
are.

*Copyright May 2007 All Rights Reserved
by Mama C