I don't know how she does it, guilt, and telling another kind of story entirely by Christina Rosalie

I don’t know where I am going yet, but I know that this is the beginning. The beginning of finding true velocity: a unity of moments, a lithe tempo, a right algorithm of speed and grace.

I am still rather far from it now, in the final semester of school, with my new job already nearly full time. And I’ll be the first to admit: The days don't always offer the time I need for pondering, for the daily practice of writing, for rest. Until I’m done with graduate school, I know the hours will ignite, one after the next at a certain pre-determined heat, each one double booked, precious, full to saturation. And I'm humbled by the process. By being here again, at the outset again, new to the particular set of challenges and opportunities my life offers and asks. I spend my day tripping, sprinting, catching my balance, careening, laughing with sheer delight.

There are wins and losses: I drive Bean to school every morning; we have a part-time nanny who helps with the laundry; Sprout is finally making headway with potty training; T cooks weekday meals with the grace and kindness of saint. And I'm still trying to find an hour that offers itself for writing; time for running is inconsistent; I have a birthday party for Bean to plan, and no time to make it to the store for favors; I see my husband less than I'd like. And in the midst of it all I've realized I've somehow reached the life velocity that causes people say, “I don’t know how you do it” to me now.

I find myself shrugging at that remark. I don't know how anyone does it. We've all got our own particular mess of moments and necessities; priorities and stumbling blocks. Each life is remarkable.

But beyond that, I shrug because I'm particularly resentful of cultural paradigm from which that statement springs.

I’m sure most of you are familiar with the book that spawned that phrase. Both it, and its movie counterpart have been suggested to me by no less than six women friends as a seminal narrative that “tells the story like it is.” I’ve been given two copies of it in fact, one from my mother. And I ended up watching the movie on the way back from California in the plane, but regretted my choice upon landing, as manufactured guilt clung like burrs to the back of my mind as I greeted my boys; drove home with my husband; and then helped my kids put on their pajamas and brush their teeth and go to bed.


I don’t think it is a terrible book by any means. It gets many of the details right, of a full-velocity life. The pace, the tumult, the jam-packed days. What I resent is the paradigm it perpetuates. It’s that Kate's primary emotion and modus operandi is guilt: About her work, about her husband, and her kids.

It gives fule to myth: That you should feel guilty as a woman if you work away from home; and that the smug comments of stay at home mothers are both assumed and justified. I call bullshit.

Women who work at home, and who work away from their home, and who stay at home each have the choice to frame their lives in terms of guilt or fulfillment.

Whatever you slice it, you see a different slice. There are challenges and advantages to each way of being in the world, and to tell the story of a woman who works and has children as a guilt riddled narrative does a huge disservice to all women, regardless of their childrearing status.

So as I’m writing now, about the early phases of doing this full velocity thing called life that includes work and kids and a thesis and whatever other bits fall into the mix, my hope is that I can begin telling the story in a slightly different way.

Less guilt, more fulfillment. Less culturally perceived “shoulds,” more personally perceived moments of sheer awesome.

I am at the beginning of a new phase; an epic; an adventure. It feels off kilter some days. There are days that I don’t have enough time for anything more than the barest essentials. Still, unless I read about it somewhere, guilt doesn’t factor in to the equation.

My life is asking for new definitions and capabilities. It demands that I cultivate the ability to adapt to the speed of things moving in multiple dimensions and directions simultaneously. It pushes me to imagine bigger constructs; and to see time, and speed, and distance, and success as new non-linear relatives.

My life is being altered by the nature of the work I am doing; by my expectations for myself; by the sunlight gradually softening towards spring; by my sons turning three and seven; by a dozen years with the man I love; by my thesis; and by all that is unfinished at present. And instead of guilt, what I am striving for is to acquire a certain degree of nonattachment. To do my very best, to pour my soul into the work I do, to love my boys when I am with them, to trust that when I’m not that they are flourishing, and to let go and know: Our right lives are happening now, in dynamic unison, every morning, every afternoon, every night.

The Big Deal by Christina Rosalie

I am driving toward home. The road is rutted, and wet spring snow is falling in a blur against the windshield. There is the froth from a cappuccino from my favorite coffee place in a paper cup beside me, and good tunes on the stereo and I’m returning from two more interviews, my mind is brimming with the way these stories that I’m gathering all circle back to this:

Do what you love. Say yes. Risk everything. Practice, and practice some more. Then do it all again.

And then I’m at my mail box and all week I’ve been opening it looking, waiting to find the fat envelope I’m expecting. The promise, the whole thing spelled out in ink and official forms, and today it was there, and I signed and slipped the papers into a new envelope and stuck them on the wide bay window sill by the door so I won’t forget to bring them to the post office to send out by certified mail first thing in the morning.

And just like that: I’ve signed a book deal.

Yes. Yes. Yes.

Life In The Present Tense: A Field Guide To Now will be published by Globe Pequot Press and available in book stores in September of 2012!

I’ve been waiting because it feels so good, so almost too good to be true good, that I wanted everything singed and sealed before I shared here.

Because this is it. This is the beginning of the rest of my life. The beginning of what I want more than any other thing, and it’s happening.

It’s happening because of your backing, and encouragement and trust in my process and my heart is wide ocean of gratitude.

My editor,* Mary Norris, found the book via Kickstarter and has been pushing me the past several months to hone my proposal and dig into my vision of what I picture for this book and it’s oh so good.

An I can’t wait to finally start sending out the long promised backer rewards. Cannot wait to make prints, and pull together postcards, and chapter snippets and a podcasts and sneak peaks and just pure goodness. Stay tuned.

* Yes! I finally get to say that. It feels amazing.

A week or two ago I found is the scrap of paper on which I scribbled this dream, before I could even imagine how it might be possible.

It's proof: ask, and the universe answers.

Do what you love. Say yes. Risk everything. Practice, and practice some more. Then do it all again.

All the love in the world,

There is an art to this by Christina Rosalie

There is an art to this. To waiting, to being present in uncertainty when moments are only whatever it is that they are until the next moments arrive.


Today writing terrifies me. It terrifies me because of the way these stories last, the way we tell ourselves stories in order to be who we are, to become who we are becoming. It makes me ache, to see the small uncertain snapshot of myself as I am right now: here at the dining room table, in a room so humid the pencil digs into the soft pulp of the paper like a finger nail scratching at mosquito bitten skin.

Outside it is pouring and green and warm. Water drips from the gutters in irregular staccato and farther out the rain falls steadily with a rushing noise that fills the valley, the house, the sky with sound. Upstairs, in his crib, my son is sleeping, likely on his belly with his cheek pressed softly into the matted sheepskin he’s slept on since the day he was born. He’ll sleep for another hour and then wake and my day will circle about again, and I will become something less productive and possibly more real.

In thirty years what will these moments mean?

Today I re-read, slowly, meticulously, intentionally, every line Joan Didion’s piece, “On Going Home,” examining each comma, each particular use of parenthesis, each use of metaphor and observation, and found myself nearly in tears at this last paragraph, knowing as I know, that her daughter died at 39.

It is time for the baby’s birthday party: a white cake, strawberry-marshmallow ice cream, a bottle of champagne saved from another party. In the evening after she has gone to sleep, I kneel beside the crib and touch her face, where it is pressed against the slats, with mine. She is an open and trusting child, unprepared for and unaccustomed to the ambushes of family life, and perhaps it is just as well that I can offer her little of that life. I would like to give her more. I would like to promise her that she will grow up with a sense of her cousins and of rivers and of her great-grandmother’s teacups, would like to pledge her a picnic on a river with fried chicken and her hair uncombed, would like to give her home for her birthday, but we live differently now and I can promise her nothing like that. I give her a xylophone and a sundress from Madeira, and promise to tell her a funny story.

What can I promise? What do these moments hold?

A story chameleon by Christina Rosalie

I slip among the cushions on the couch with a book and the edges of everything else grows blurry. Reality becomes the story on the page. I am no longer here, even as outside things are moist and green, and the lawn mower thrums loudly as T. cuts back and forth across the grass. In the air beyond the feeder with it’s shiny red metal flowers, hummingbirds zigzag, lilt, swoop, defying gravity. I look up intermittently and the clock’s hands make no more sense than reading words in Japanese. Hours slide by. I don’t move. This is what happens when I slip into a book. I have no moderation, no ability to read a page, then leave off. It’s such a crush: this thing I have for words.

Story captures me so entirely it almost becomes a full body experience. I dislocate. My feet grow cold from staying in in one position so long, knees up on the couch by the window as the morning slides towards afternoon.

When I read I become unavailable, altered, distant. T. can ask me a question and I’ll look up moments later having absolutely no idea what he said. I am a story chameleon, becoming blue, or thrilled, or besotted with wanderlust at the story’s slightest suggestion.

I am almost unbearably suggestible when I read. Hardly a skeptic. I go to books to be altered. If the sentences are good, I’m a believer.

I just finished Breath by Tim Winton, and god, I love his stories. Raw, intimate, wild. Read the whole book in one sitting.

What are you like when you read? Also, what’s the most recent book you haven’t been able to put down?

Before you knew what your life was like by Christina Rosalie

Flipping through a book of poems by e.e. cummings I found flower petals by the dozens from a time in my life when love was a dreamy and girlish thing (embodied by the poem, above--one of my favorites.)

I wanted to be loved the way e.e. loved his women in his poems. I understood little, if anything at all about how love endures and changes; how things get messy and slip; how you become soft in the middle, or are caught like plastic bag rustling and rustling in the bare branches of a tree before spring comes to mask it with blossoms and green.

I haven't seen flowers for months (it's still winter here, for another month at least.) And I think about the girl I was then; how I I had a crush on everything beautiful; how my life orbited around boys and their attention (specific boys, and also the general boy populous); how I had abundant energy and time, but no certainty or focus.

I wonder if I would have believed me--describing who I am today? I still have a crush on everything beautiful. And my life still orbits around boys--three, specifically; the biggest of whom still brings me flowers. Somethings stay the same.

What were you like then? Before you knew what your life would be like?

hello, Monday by Christina Rosalie

Beneath the covers when the day first sets in, I’m not quite here, not quite anywhere else either. Hello, Monday. It’s already 6:03 and the night was a slapdash mess of wake ups. The teeth, they keep coming. Arched back wailing at 3:27a.m. for ten stagger-around-the-room minutes, searching for Tylenol, and then again at 5:06, too early and too late for more or better sleep.

I lie awake, face in the pillows, the thudding of my heart reverberates in my head. My breath moves my ribs up and down, up and down, but I am not here, not all of me, not yet.

Under the weight and softness of my stomach my wrist bones, carpals and metacarpals, are crumpled like soft bits of clay and as I flex my fingers, pins-and-needles set in.

Somehow our boys, both of them, are already in bed between us.

This morning I can feel the way I’m sort of pushing around at the outline of myself with my mind. Hello, day. Hello, memory. Hello, this life of mine. I feel myself begin, reluctantly to inhabit my vertebrae, lungs, buttocks, thighs; in the nick of time I roll out of the way. Bean’s at it already: making a pirate ship out of the covers. Sprout, miraculously stays asleep (of course, now after a night of it) and he is perfect, perfect, perfect here beside me. Rosy, tousled. His hair smells sweet like only him.

The day comes fast then: wooden slats of window shades pulled up; snowmelt; shower steam; the fragrant bar of French lemon soap slipping from my still slack-fingered grip; coffee. The boys are both underfoot (vacation until Wednesday) which gives new meaning to the phrase “work from home,” which is what I try valiantly to do, meeting four deadlines, non-stop screen time, CS4, phone calls, 37 emails, everything interrupted by the repetitive cacophony of BOY.

The day is gray, and the is light translucent and dull, but I like the way the thermometer climbs to 38 before 11am, and how on the south facing fields I can see bare patches where the grass pokes up. I’ve been looking at the trees for signs every day now: the buds are swelling with the secret lives of leaves that wait for chlorophyll, for sun.

Inside, the boys and I are barefoot, and I look at them and feel the fragile container of my ribs nearly snap open with the thunk-thunk-thunking of my little hammer dulcimer heart. Bean with his thin arms and messy hair and growing-in-crooked teeth and ski-jump nose, and Sprout, who has been trying to run from the minute he learned to walk and whose gait looks a wee bit like a cross between a high stepping horse and Frankenstein. Some days I hardly have words. I have two sons. I don’t think this wonder ever goes away.

And so without stopping it’s night already. We visit friends after work and arrive home late. The sink is crowded; the cat wants fresh water; the refrigerator needs to be cleaned. Instead I let the boys stay up another minute. Bean and I eat toast with cloudberry jam.  Sprout carries pot lids around the room. Nonstop, there went Monday.

How was your day?

PS--I have a super-duper exciting giveaway for tomorrow, that I can’t wait to share!

PPS--Did you see? I made some pretty Field Guide To Now blog buttons. Please grab one, if you'd like & spread the word. 30% funding tonight is awesome. Who want's to be the one to push it to 3K? Just $35 away...THANK YOU Tahereh! What a great way to start TUESDAY.

What would you ask for? by Christina Rosalie

"She'd been so sure a crap liquor store would not stock French cigarettes just because you asked. The shock every time she went in, and there they were. She was used to taking the world as it was, she'd never have guessed you could get what you wanted by asking for it."

~from Paint It Black by Janet Fitch I was struck by these few sentences and the idea has stayed in my head since I finished this book (which I loved, by the way) And I've wondered: What do I want to ask for? What should I be asking for? It feels powerful and vulnerable at the very same time to think of this. To imagine asking, putting myself out there, saying this is what I need.

Today I would ask for: An agent to represent my book. Funding to be able to write and live. Financial abundance would be swell,but just enough would be okay too--to live and write, rinse and repeat. A sponsor, or sponsors. To not feel like I'm always the trailblazer. Some days I want so badly for someone else to say: here, let me show you how to do this so you won't mess it all up.

(And also maybe for some sun. The humidity is getting on my nerves.)

What would you ask for? Really. If you could ask for anything--or many things, what would they be?

The New Yorker: "Love Affair with Secondaries" by Craig Raine by Christina Rosalie

It’s about adultery and cancer. Two things that seem kind of overdone especially when combined without beauty in the same story, which is how I felt this story combined them. I wanted to like it, I really did, especially since DH said the story sucked and I wanted to have some sort of cool-kid take on it, some sort of highbrow comeback that I could make in defense of the story. But I didn’t. There were a handful of really beautiful lines.

"The slow thistledown of stars, for example, their drift and cling, was something that struck her with renewed force whenever she removed her spectacles—and was looking over a lover’s shoulder at the Milky Way."

And there were some good, if not overstated ones. "It wasn’t his vanity that drove him—it was his mortality. He didn’t want to remain young. He wanted to be alive before he died. That was all."

And in between there was a lot of sort of clever, obscure, disjointed storytelling that walked around the action, never quite in it.

Maybe it a story about mortality, or about truth, or about how each one of us feels faced with the fact that we are just here temporarily in a body that is always dying . Like mayflies, etc.

Or maybe it is about excuses, or about women and how they use men, or how men use women, or about how everyone is emotional and foolish because all we do is use each other. But the story doesn’t really commit.

If anything, I liked the element of surprise. I liked that you didn’t expect the walloping over the head with the umbrella, the mother-in-law kiss with tongue, or the reveal at the end, “—our kid” and all that. But even though I was surprised, and I like to be surprised by a story, it wasn’t enough. The ending was predictable. Maybe because given the subject matter there are only a limited number of outcomes?

Go read it, will you? Read it and then come back here and tell me what you think.

I guess I wanted to say it was a good story because it was in the New Yorker and it should be good, right? And it did have that distinct New Yorker flavor. Dry. Sarcastic. Afflicted. But I think Raine was trying too hard. As though he’s saying, Look at me. Watch how I say what this story is about without ever saying it. Except it was so completely vague and disjointed that it almost felt like you needed one those secret decoder rings you used to be able to find in a box of cereal: if you are hip enough your allowed to get it. That, or maybe I’m still just not one of the cool kids. (One thing I did love about the piece: KENRO IZU, “STILL LIFE 467." Absolutely Exquisite.)

Flexing my reading muscle. by Christina Rosalie

In college I had a writing teacher who made me type out stories I thought were good. Every sentence. Every slender comma, ellipses, period, paragraph, dialogue, description. She said it would help me to get inside the craft of the story. That I would begin to hear in my head the author's internal dialogue; that I'd understand the choices better: the words, the edits, the way one sentence followed the next. I did it. At first skeptically, then diligently. She was right, of course.

Now it's not so much matter of writing the story out. I write enough, and regularly enough, to feel like I understand how to construct sentences. But there is still something that can be learned from reading a story daily, richly, and then putting it on the operating table, putting your finger on it's pulse, examining what makes it beat.

So maybe for a little while I'll try to read a short story every day. Read it, and try to write about it. Try to put words around what makes it work (or not), until I get to the meat of it. Sort of flexing my reading muscle a bit.

*** This morning's read: “An Old Virgin” From DON’T CRY by Mary Gaitskill.

It is a story that asks again and again: what does it mean to be alive inside a body? Reading it, you become the voyeur. There, touching the frail skin of a father, dying; fingering the charts of a 43 year old virgin at the doctor’s office for a physical, who whispers, “just let me catch my breath” during the exam; at a stoplight next to a Hispanic boy pumping with bravado and “so much light that it burned him up inside and made him dark.”

Gaitskill’s gaze sinks into people. She captures them on the page as both entirely physical and also almost painfully ethereal, their spirits bright and sharp at the edges of the story, tangling with it, becoming for brief moments almost mythical.

“As soon as Laura looked at her father, she knew he was going to die. His body was shrunken and dried, already half-abandoned; his spirit stared from his eyes as if stunned and straining to see more of what had stunned it.”

Inside the narrators head, we go into the secret, morbid, sexual places of her mind and come up against our own humanity: which we learn is something exquisitely fragile and riddled with holes leaking spirit and curiosity and abject sorrow.

“When he answered her, his voice was like a thin sack holding something live. He was about to lose that live thing, but right now he held it, amazed by it, as if he had never known it before.”

“An Old Virgin” is a story about regret and forgiveness, maybe; and about the way these two things are always smashed together inside us, never quite reconciled in the bright, messy, and perverse rooms in our hearts.

*** What if you flexed your reading muscles too? I'd love to know what you think of the short stories you read. What did you read today? How did it move you, make you think?

Lists, naps, and a month of living 'perfectly' by Christina Rosalie

I wake up from dreaming of the Arizona desert and a professor and his wife I don’t actually know in real life. The phrase “sand frills” sticks in my mind, something I’ve invented in sleep: as in, the canons and mesas give way to sand frills. It almost works to describe the way the sand is funneled and scarred with gullies and rivulets, flash floods scraping rivers into dry mud and red rocks. I wake up with an ear ache, the pain sucking at my right ear like altitude.

I slip away from the others, still sleeping: my small boy with his arms flung side to side like the oars of a rowboat, a contented sleep smile staining his face rosy; and my husband who was feverish last night and who wears and orange t-shirt and twitches inadvertently. It is the last day of vacation and I wake up mid day from napping with the sun slanting through the slits of the wooden blinds, dust motes rising and twirling in the air.

Yesterday I napped too, alone with the cats. Both of them curled nose to tail on the flannel. When I joined them, the apricot one chirped a welcome to me. At night she follows me around the house as I turn off the lights, bank the fire, get ready for sleep. She meows plaintively then, wanting one thing: a pinch of cat nip that makes her whirr like a summer fan and fall to the floor like a dervish in a state of ecstasy.

Today I wake up at 2:37 p.m. dreaming of people I don’t know. For the longest time, or what feels like the longest time, I am convinced that I do actually know the man, who in my dream was a professor, we both were it seems. I try to pull my mind from the shallows of near sleep, where thoughts dart like the shadows of trout, illusive and just below the surface.

Gradually I stir, hoping that if I move, inhabit my body again, feel my fingers and toes, I’ll be able to place him and his wife, dark olive skin, but I’m only more confused and the pain from my ear creeps down my neck. When I put my hand up to my throat I find the glands on that side are swollen. Everything participating in the purposeful choreography of falling ill just as vacation is ending, of course.

When I climb from the bed I move the covers, I move my knees, and my ankles and the soles of my bare feet make contact with the wood floor. I can feel the grooves between the planks. The round circles where penny sized tabs of wood cover screw holes. For a minute I sit there at the edge of the bed with the dust motes circling my tangled hair like a halo and am stricken.

I think of all the screws. Thousands, maybe a million, although I can hardly imagine what a million screws would look like, each one made of dark metal, machined somewhere in a plant in Idaho or Tennessee or Mexico or China. I am astounded considering all the people who contributed to my floor in this way: the workers in protective goggles and gloves sorting and correcting package weights; the fork lift driver; those at the shipping yard and at the hardware store, and also the men who likely knelt a million times or more to place each screw, thankful to have an electric or battery operated screw driver.

The floor is old, and when we bought the house, the finish was almost black with age. It didn’t gleam, and by the windows in my studio, a lot of water damage. Someone left the windows open more than once during a summer rain. Now it gleams, sanded and finished twice over. Our sweat. Our bending knees. My feet make contact with the floor. I pull myself to standing. I pull on jeans. I pull on a white terry sweatshirt that I’ve just put through the wash with a few tablespoons of Chlorox.

In the dryer I added a Mrs. Myers Clean Day geranium scented dryer sheet. The smell made me happy. It spelled clean and not cloying, though not natural either. The house is clean now, at the end of vacation. My life feels in order. I’ve spent the week putting things in order: paints on the shelf in my studio, carmine and cobalt and cerulean. I’ve scheduled things: doctors appointments, dental check ups, hair cuts, meals with friends. I’ve crossed things off my list: updated accounts, passport papers, green peppers and Irish oats and oranges for squeezing. On the bag they say “Take home and give us a squeeze.” Like some sort of huggable small trolls nestled together there in the orange webbed bag.

I’m reading Don DeLillo's book White Noise, and am fascinated with the way he uses lists to tell the story. Lists spiraling and deepening, a little the way Tim O’Brian did in The Things They Carried. This month, March, is a month of lists. It’s a month I’ve decided to live contentiously, focusing on the small things like replying to emails regularly and packing my lunch for work the night before. I get so outside myself, tilting towards the big picture, towards the hungry heat of my passions, that I forget to be here much, and here has a way of getting crowded and overwhelming as a result.

In O Magazine, someone wrote an article about “A Month of Living Perfectly” and I laughed, because it was my idea, the very thing I said to DH. “What if we spend March living the way we always say we want to live? No waffling.”

He nodded over toast. He wasn’t really listening to me. It was the end of February and the snow had numbed his brain. It keeps falling, by the way, falling nearly nightly. Making the woods white and glittering and the driveway slick when it melts and then turns to ice in the dark. But now March is here, and I’m going ahead with my proposition, ready, set, go.

If you were to live “perfectly” for a month, what are the top five things you would do every day?

Dig in and read. by Christina Rosalie

It is midwinter here in my small corner of the world and also in my blue-roomed heart. I’m tucked in, my pulse moving slowly and full of trepidation like water running under pale knocked together shards of ice. Self doubt circles like a pack of coyotes, their tracks mushy and dark where the earth collapses, pressing up close to icy ribbon of river.

This is what winter always brings: a bareness; an uncomfortable edge; inadequacy. Things seem so blatant; personal deficits larger than life, like the huge fiery orange sun we watched today. It tangled in the bare branches of the trees near us at the top of the sledding hill, then slipped away, leaving the snow stained pink with longing.

I spent the morning in a quiet house reading Francine Prose’s Reading Like A Writer, and coming face to face with the blunt edge of my own lack. In the back of the book, “119 Books To Be Read Immediately” and I’ve read only a small handful. I’m a slow reader, with a tendency to dally in the text. I soak up sentences. I read with a pen, marking, dog-earing, rummaging back through previous pages. But I’m also a sporadic, undisciplined reader, and I’m ashamed of this.

Books have a way of inhabiting the drawers of my mind, like so many jars of gesso and paint, easily jostled, staining the surface of my day. I have a hard time shaking free of them, and carrying on, so I have a certain reluctance grappling with anything weighty unless I have the means to hunker down and read it for an entire day.

Also, I am lazy. I drag my feet about finishing books that don’t catch my interest in the first few lines (fickle, I know). I lack analytical fervor. I read simply for the joy of language, story, and words, which I’ve always loved and carried covetously around in my pocket on the scribbled pages of a 4x6” Mead memo book. But I lack critical finesse, and also time, clarity, and a hundred other things have thus far prevented me from reading the list of books I probably should already have read.

Somewhere along the way I’ve also let myself start thinking that time spent curled on the couch with a book frivolous leisure time, less meaningful than time spent clicking away at the keyboard, constructing jagged sentences about blue shadows falling long across bright snow. Have no doubt: I’ll devour books by the authors I love (mostly contemporary writers: Kingsolver, Diddion, Munro, O’Brien) and I’ll jealously leaf through books by new authors who are rising like sudden shiny stars into the literary sky. But I’ve rarely gone back to the masterpieces, the ones that have endured: prose and plot and construction indelible and profound across time. And lately, as I’m grappling with my own writing more and more, I’ve started to feel a hunger for these texts: knowing that as I read them, I’ll be carried across time, into the world of ideas, word by word.

Word by word, closer to what I need to know.

So I’ve decided to make this my year of reading. This, simply, is my mondo beyondo and my one little word. Read.

{ Tell me: What two books most changed the way you see the world, writing, life, etc?}

Some days like this by Christina Rosalie

Yesterday was brilliant, and then today I woke up inexplicably sad. Yesterday I made French Onion soup. Farmer's market fresh onions, bakery baguette, outrageously priced Gruyere cheese, and it was perfect. Last night we went to see Paris , Je' Te Aime, and to pick up some bowls at clay studio, newly fired. They turned out beautifully. Pale sky blue, nesting together, still carrying a whisper of warmth from the kiln.

The film was quirky with 18 different directors/stories. I loved all the ways it portrayed love: the raw, sharp shards of love that come with the grief of loosing a child; the unexpected fragility of ending up alone, or together; the myriad ways love is tangled in translation: across faith. DH hated it, because he said it depressed him: too close to life, I guess. He wanted something cheerier, some handful of stories that knit themselves together, ending with old folks rocking on some sunny porch together, at the end of a life well lived.

But to me, love IS achingly fragile and the likelihood of surviving a lifetime with it intact, improbable. All the more exquisite because this is so. Like finding unbroken sand dollars at the sea shore. I'm not much of a critic though; a sucker for anything that portrays a faraway place and snapshots of the human condition. I like films to be arty, poignant There were a handful of stories I didn't like, but more that I did. Watching the film felt like reading a volume of short stories (which I'm doing, by the way. Alice Munro's RUNAWAY.)

But today, despite the perfect sunny skies, I feel like crying. Hormonal maybe, or maybe just off after a late night, sleeping against Bean, who went to sleep in our bed last night after telling the babysitter he missed us. Maybe I need to go out and soak up sun. Do you ever wake up this way? Simply off, with no real reason you can put your finger on?

Midsummer moodiness by Christina Rosalie

Somehow, the summer is slipping by. Without warning it is more than half over really, and I'm feeling moody about it. The sky has been a mosaic of torn clouds this week. Strong winds and rain have been thrashing about wildly like a greenbroke horse. The night sky burnished with sheet lightening, thunder always rolling low in the distance. It's that time in the summer when I start to think about it ending, and I feel a certain abject sorrow thinking of it. Like driving again after living through a car crash, the prospect of going back to work and living through another winter makes me white-knuckled and anxious, albeit in a hazy popsicle and sun-stupored way. Last year's autumn and winter left scar tissue running the length of our relationship: mine and DH's. We survived, but sometimes the ache of it painted entire weeks with indigo and gunmetal gray. We came out of it, one bowl at a time at the pottery studio, centering, finding each other among strangers, with slip on our hands and glaze splattering our shirts. But it took until after my birthday to feel like we'd make it to the next.

Now roses are blooming hot red and hooker pink, their petals promiscuously soft, but the slugs are eating holes in the leaves. We still haven't put in a garden fence, and the ground where the beds have not been turned has begun to reclaim its meadow-ness, grasses and tiny fingered ferns and sturdy-rooted dandelions sprouting up through the rubble of tilled soil. I wake up and spend my days sprawled out reading novels which is something I almost never do, and cannot quite get accustomed to. Hours in a book, interrupted every fifteen minutes by Bean who lopes about the yard with his bubble mower or a watering can.

We got him a set of trains and a an oval loop of track and they keep him occupied for nice long stretches of time, during which I get hauled into whatever place is inked out on the pages I'm turning. I get pulled in so easily, my whole day takes on the hue of the story, as though my life were a cotton cloth saturated in the dye of each story's language and emotion; little ripples and circles left clean, like tie-dye, where necessity forces me to resurface.

Small things bring me back to the moment. Making alphabet soup. Lying in bed with DH, my head pressed into the soft place where his arm and shoulder meet and his heartbeat thrums so loudly in my head, all at once I start to think it is my own. Or sitting on the planks of the small dock at the neighbor's pond with Bean, our toes in the water, listening for frogs and splashing, while above us swallows swoop and dive. But in between these things, words are running a haphazard narrative inside my head. Stories are bunkering up against each other.

Last week I finished Pam Houston's novel Sight Hound, which I wasn't entirely drawn into at first (many narrators, one of whom is a dog) but found myself sobbing by the end, grateful for it's right-there in plain sight way of talking about risk and faith and grief. Today I finished As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner. DH's ninth grade copy with his ball point pen notes in the margins.

I read it in two days, though I didn't expect it to. There was a certain terrifying tension to it. Faulkner's language is so heady and convoluted and looping that the act of reading it becomes part of the story. You become torn, and belligerent and hateful and grieving because the language makes you feel these things. Like a rip tide, it tows you under. One sentence looping back on itself again and again until you can no longer read it and have it mean anything at all, or another so abrupt, so sharp with colloquial timbre that you have to catch your breath. I want to go back and read the whole thing again, because I felt myself pushed to the very edges of comprehension, as though it were my gut and not my mind to towards which the story was aimed.

I’m also reading Homeland, a collection of short stories by Barbara Kingsolver. My everywhere read. The one I snatch at in all those in-between moments. Each story yanks me into the very center of it’s truth. I read them hungrily, picking over the skeleton of the story, trying to understand how it is made. The gathering of small details, the weight of lines, or the way the author’s voice rides up high over the words of the narrator like radio stations overlapping.

Yet with all the book reading and the lolling about, I haven't been able to stay focused on writing. There is something in my aquarian nature that is both sanguine and ambivalent. This, combined with Bean's intermitent pestering, and it seems it is nearly impossible for me to effectively structure my days. I get disoriented in summer, with all the basking and book reading and love making and such, the heat rising up early and abating only after the thunder and rain have rinsed the grass and sky.

Anyone else feel like this, midsummer? What are you reading? Doing?

Waiting by Christina Rosalie

Feeling the tight stomached ache of waiting, now. For spring, for the fat envelope, for several nights of sleep stacked up against each other like a solid cord of wood.

I finished The Year Of Magical Thinking yesterday, and all day today I keep going back to it in my mind. So many of her sentences are like the unusual pebbles we scoop up at the beach and then finger softly in the white cotton interiors of our pockets all afternoon.

This one, particularly:

"Marriage is memory, marriage is time."

I randomly opened an old issue of Vanity Fair today, looking for inspiration, and landed on a page with her bird like portrait: frail after so much loss, but fierce. I clipped it to the wire running along the low wall near my desk, with other glossy pages ripped from other sources, each image causing amazement to quicken in my soul.

Waiting always feels like this. I heard from one school, yes. But the other, the one I dearly want, most, utmost, not yet. There are more birds now: doves, grackles, starlings, chickadees and a whole bevy of chatty bluejays at the feeder; but not yet robins from the tree tops, and not yet buds swelling large enough to force in jars along the windowsills. Though surely soon.

A reader's life... by Christina Rosalie

Before reading I listened. I was the eleven-year-old with scratches on her knees, perched on the armrest of my dad’s tan Lazy Boy, listening to Huckleberry Finn and The Yearling. I was a late reader; a kid in the ‘special’ reading group. But those early years when reading wasn’t really mine, gave me stories in a different way, and for this I am grateful. Listening to a book is different than reading one. There is nuance and rhythm to a text read aloud. I think every author secretly wishes his or her book will be read this way: aloud, into the quiet of a room with crickets calling through the open screen, each word received by eager ears. I was such a captive audience then, unable to skip ahead when I was bored or didn’t understand. I learned to stay with texts. I learned to love words, and book after book, my appetite for words grew. Eventually, when I did learn to read, I remember feeling a little bit in awe that I could just pick up a book, open it, and the entire story could be mine. Now I watch the first graders I teach start the year barely able to identify all the letters in the alphabet, leave in June sixty-pages deep in an adventure story, and I’m still a little bit in awe. I teach kids how to break words apart and reassemble them so that sentences become whole. I teach them how to keep a story map in the back pocket of their imagination, how to watch each character for signs of change, and how to delve deeply into the world of images they know to construct a new world specific to the book, but I do not really teach them how to read. The stories teach them, just as they taught me: how to read, and also how to write so that the words I type take on the shape of what matters in my life.

The first book that had this affect on me was Isabelle Illende’s memoir, Paula. I was eighteen when I read it, and living in Germany for a year before college. By then I had read and loved many books, but never had even remotely imagined writing them. Paula was my first encounter with creative nonfiction and reading it changed my understanding of what was possible, or even allowable in writing. It was the first time I had considered that my life—right there on the train with tears streaming down my cheeks as I finished the book, surrounded by tall men in shearling hats speaking a dialect of German thick with consonants—was story. A year later, I enrolled in my first creative writing class.

Many of the authors I discovered throughout college who still matter to me, are writers who are present with their sleeves rolled up, in the middle of their stories. Tracy Kidder, John McPhee, Annie Dillard, Terri Tempest Willaims, Susan Orlean, Barbara Kingsolver and Joan Diddion, are several authors whose work I have read, and re-read, marking the pages and underlining text, in the process of cultivating my own voice as a writer. Each brings a distinct perspective to their writing of life as it is happening to them in the moment. In Slouching Toward Bethlehem, Diddion took risks that made the hair on my neck stand up. She dared me over and over again to be more honest in my writing, and I copied sections of that book line by line, to better understand how such writing was constructed. Doing this made each comma, each period, each word, newly significant. Reading like this, through writing, allowed me to feel the meter and meaning of her prose in my hands, in my wrists, in my heartbeat.

Because listening came first, a part of me is always listening when I read. What draws me to a text might be its topic or title, but what keeps me is its tenor; the way vowels play together among words, the way meaning is made from each small parcel of lines gathered together with just the right punctuation. As a result, though I have been an avid reader of memoir and essays, nature writing, travel stories, and ethnographies, since college, my nightstand is always an eclectic a jumble of novels and poetry.

Sometimes when I walk in the woods behind my house, I realize after it is already too late that I have walked through a spider’s web spanning the seven or eight feet of path; tiny gossamer threads invisible to me until I feel them. Long after I’ve continued on, I’m still brushing away the sticky threads that linger, clinging to my cheek or hair. Reading is like this for me. A line, a character, a scene, small fragments of the prose I’ve read remain in my mind long after I’ve put the book aside. Annie Dilliard’s essay “Total Eclipse” is like this. Though the first time I read it was nearly ten years ago, I still get caught in its imagery: I cannot imagine an eclipse without imagining hers. Countless other texts have had this affect as well. Certainly Flannery O’ Conner, William Faulkner, Sue Monk Kid, Robert Bly, Mary Oliver, and William Stafford are a few writers whose names can be found along the spines of many volumes on my bookshelves; the words and characters they have created dance up before my memory like sunspots, keeping me company, giving solace, or taking me for a wild ride.

I always have at least two books with me, (right now it’s Gilead and The Year of Magical Thinking; before that, What We Ache For and The Memory Keeper’s Daughter) so that I’m ready for when a few moments land back to back, as my toddler sleeps in the car, or while waiting at the dentist’s office. Also because I’m a mother, and a teacher, and my time is flecked with interruptions, I read copiously Online. Being able to peruse Anne Lamott’s essays at, or David Sedaris’s most recent humor at The New Yorker Online, makes me giddy. Like the orange sections offered to runners at each marathon mile mark, the essays and reviews, political commentary and prose I read Online, are moments of sheer sweetness wedged between the must-do things of daily life: email and lesson plans for the week.

Now when I try to remember what the actual process of learning to read was like I cannot put my finger on anything specific. No ah-ha moment, no instance when words clicked into place, and suddenly became story. All I can remember is that before, the words of Frog And Toad flipped about on the page like fishes, and my parents were the keepers of the wonderment contained within each book. After, the stories were mine to devour whole, and hungrily, I did. Reading is still like this for me, vital and sustaining. It has become something almost reflexive, like breathing.

Morning writing by Christina Rosalie

(Maple syrup on snow.)

Golden light fills my studio, the first of the morning. The sun, just up, climbs the rungs of the trees. Its smooth white disc of light is etched with a crosshatching of twigs, snow dusted and dark. Last night I made plans to wake up and write for an hour while the newness of day still holds some secrets in. So I am here, wearing my husband’s burly wool sweater and socks pulled up to my calves. My hair is still rumpled from sleep. I haven’t brushed my teeth. But something feels alive in me that allows me to fling a few unguarded sentences at the page.

After forty minutes of revising, the light spreading across my room has turned pale and bright with day. The sun has climbed sky’s ladder now, its face well above the trees, and the mountains look like cardboard cut-outs along the horizon, painted dusty blue. I go down to the kitchen where DH is mopping spilled coffee from the soapstone counter, and Bean, wearing his blue striped train conductor hat, is twirling about the room. They’ve made a fire, but it’s still cold. I pour coffee and maple syrup and milk into a pan and reheat it until the steam rises, and then pour it into a white enamel mug. With a stack of buttered toast, I head back upstairs, back to this desk piled high with books and papers where I wait for words to fit the empty spaces on the page.

After revising the entire essay, reworking sections again and again until the words fit together into a mosaic that I can understand, and that, at least in part, take on the shape of what I’m trying to know, they bust into my studio grinning. It’s 10am now and my coffee is cold. DH is ready for a shower, but before he goes he pulls me close, his hands traveling up under my sweater touching my hot skin. Bean circles my studio, a wreck after preparing for my showing. Empty frames litter the floor. Scraps of paper, one shearling clog, a case of rubber alphabet stamps. He sings, tunelessly, sweetly, as he collects and reorganizes the loot this space provides: tabs of watercolor paint, the wingnuts on the easel, a drawer full of cards, a futon frame without the mattress. He lies on it, his legs and arms spread out to account for the gaps. Perfect balance.

I finish reading This Autumn Morning, by Gretel Ehrlich. It’s an essay in the 1991 collection of Best American Essays, and it speaks to me in a language I know: one of loss and natural wonder both. As I read I relearn something about this art form that I love. That words can travel around and around the heart of whatever it is you’re trying to say, like the circles spreading outward from a pebble tossed. They do not need to go straight like arrows.

"Think In Ways You've Never Thought Before" by Christina Rosalie

I went to hear Robert Bly speak tonight, and felt, after listening to him read in his Minnesota accent, from his newest collection of poems, utterly vibrant. It was a little like touching the glass on an observation beehive, where the warmth from the thousand beating wings transfers instantly into the palm of your hand. Like that: warmth saturating my being, making me huger for more than I already have---more words, more knowledge, more courage, more poems.

He said: “I asked William Stafford ‘how can you write a poem every morning?’ and Bill said, ‘Just lower your standards.’”

Then he said: “Start with anything—whatever happens, and write one every day.”

My favorite poem he read tonight was this one, from his book titled Morning Poems.

Things to Think Think in ways you've never thought before. If the phone rings, think of it as carrying a message Larger than anything you've ever heard, Vaster than a hundred lines of Yeats.

Think that someone may bring a bear to your door, Maybe wounded and deranged; or think that a moose Has risen out of the lake, and he's carrying on his antlers A child of your own whom you've never seen.

When someone knocks on the door, think that he's about To give you something large: tell you you're forgiven, Or that it's not necessary to work all the time, or that it's Been decided that if you lie down no one will die.

** I’m making this my challenge for the rest of September. A morning poem every day. Some morsel that reaches out and touches wonder. Some collection of scraps that, when gathered together, contains the beautiful remnants of a day.

“You can say anything in language.” He said, daring us to try.

Care to join me?

THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT by Mark Haddon by Christina Rosalie

A wonderfully constructed story that it forces you to become attached to the strange habits and foibles of the lead character, Christopher, who is autistic. Without being pedantic or obtuse, the narrator's voice is exacting and transparent, bringing you into a world where the color of cars passing on the street decide the mood for the day: red cars, good mood. Black cars = bad mood; and where the mysterious death of a dog leads to an unraveling of family complexities. It is a book about love and loss, and it made me contemplate again how people make sacrifices for the ones they love, and how misunderstandings almost invariably arise when words are not enough. Hadden’s experience working with autistic youths gives his character’s voice validation, and he writes with a lithe humor and sensitivity, even when exploring issues of depression, anger and self doubt. A quick, easy read, THE CURIOUS INCIDENT pulls you from one chapter to the next with wry observations about human nature, wit, and well constructed sentences.

ODE Magazine by Christina Rosalie

Progressive, pragmatic, and full of ideas that matter, ODE is a magazine with an optimistic edge. Though it is sometimes funny and always well written, I don’t come away from reading it with my mind at ease. Each issue makes my head spin. I read to be made more conscious of the choices and beliefs I bring to daily life. I read to discover ways I can affect positive change in my community. From an article on Non-verbal communication strategies developed by Marshall Rosenberg came these ten points, which I promptly cut out and taped to my wall.

1. Spend some time each day quietly reflecting on how you would like to relate to yourself and others.

2. Remember that all human beings have the same needs.

3. Check your intentions to see if you are as interested in others getting their needs met as you are in meeting your own.

4. Before asking someone to do something check to see if you are making a request or a demand.

5. Instead of saying what you don't want someone to do, say what you want the person to do.

6. Instead of saying what you want, say what action you'd lik the person to take.

7. Before agreeing or disagreeing with anyone's opinions, try to tune into what the person is feeling and needing.

8. Instead of saying "no" look at what need of yours prevents you from saying "yes."

9. If you are feeling upset, think about what need of yours is not being met. Think what could you do to meet it, rather than about what's wrong with others or yourself.

10. Instead of praising someone who does something you like, express your gratitude by tellng the person what need that action meets.

Fragile by Christina Rosalie

Due partly to the fact that daylight savings time is something invented by adults, and as such has absolutely nothing to do with the natural circadian rhythms of sleeping that animals and small children follow, Bean has been waking up quite early this past week. There have been many early mornings when the sky is just turning rosy and he's ready to play and explore his world, patting our sleepy faces with enthusiasm. As a result, I've been more tired than usual---if that is possible---and a side effect of more tired is more moody. I've been moved almost to tears by practically anything this week. The tiniest things make me profoundly grateful, or sad, or awestruck, or lonesome.

Like seeing Claire Kramer's photography. This photo in particular made me sort of gasp, with recognition, loneliness and awe all at once.

Or this: Instead of doing the usual while Bean napped this morning (trying scatterdly to complete the too-huge list of things to do that always looms over my head) I sat down with coffee and a grilled bagel on the couch and read uninterrupted for an entire hour. I cannot describe the simple delight this brought---sitting in the sunlight, the cat purring at my shoulder, just reading The Sun.

Each month I devour it voraciously. Filled with writing that speaks to heart and intellect both, each issue leaves me wishing I could be more, do more, say more to affect change in the world. In addition to essays and interviews and brilliantly written prose and poems, each month readers write in about a given theme. This month's "Reader's Write" was "True Love" and nearly every entry made me swallow hard.

There are so many ways to love, and each is profound. Readers, scattered all over the globe and from all kinds of backgrounds wrote in about their idea of true love: sacrifice, grace, devotion, adoration.

I was struck reading each small story, by how deeply every person experiences his or her world---and how differently. I try to remember this when I am affronted by the immense distrust and fear our media spawns of "otherness."

I try to remember this when I look into my sons eyes, and then look into the eyes of the stranger I pass in the street. Then I think, "you are someone's child. Someone gave birth to you. " This is enough to keep me lifting my eyes to meet the eyes of every face I pass.