Monday, July 27, 2015

NIGHT CYCLES: Poetry for a Dark Night of the Soul {Book Release!}

I'm having a hard time finding words for today. Today, my book of poetry, NIGHT CYCLES, launches. Like, people are reading it. And that is both exciting and terrifying.

This is completely different from the launch of THE LIGHT BETWEEN US. While I definitely worked hard on that book and was proud of my efforts and the resulting book, it had mostly been a fun experiment. Could I write a sassy, semi-smutty romance novel? Challenge accepted, mission accomplished.

But NIGHT CYCLES? This was not a lighthearted experiment. The poems contained within this book are born out of my deepest questions, fears, hopes, and imaginings. They come from a much deeper place. And so it is much more vulnerable of a thing to give them over to readers.

The stakes are higher, because they mean more to me.
But because they mean more to me, that also makes it more exciting to have people read them.

What a complicated thing a book release can be for a writer!

Overall, though, I am mostly thrilled that the book is out at last. I wrote most of the poems that comprise NIGHT CYCLES between 2013 and 2014, when I was going through the "dark night of the soul," "a spiritual crisis in a journey towards union with God, like that described by Saint John of the Cross" (source). Outer and inner forces converged upon me -- lingering grief over the stillbirth of our daughter . . . my husband's new atheism . . . my own depression -- forcing me to look to the questions forming in my soul that I'd been ignoring for quite a long time. I found the faith I'd so valued crumbling in my hands.

If grief taught me anything, it's that the only way out is through, and so I plunged into the depths of my dark night. And out of that came these poems -- poems of confusion and sadness, anger and loneliness, and also poems of freedom and rebirth and mysterious hope that just won't quit.

And now, I offer them to you. During my dark night, poetry by Rilke, Rumi, Mary Oliver, Mark Nepo, and more were among the few solid comforts I could lay my hands on. They sustained me, nourished me, helped me to understand that I was not alone, that there was light coming if only I'd hold out for it.

I hope that my poems do something like that for you. I hope that they are a lifeline, a challenge, a four course meal.

I hope you enjoy them. Thank you for coming along with me on the journey of writing and releasing them. Here's an excerpt, with all the where-to-get-a-copy details below:

the wildest one

do you dare to step in-
to the vulnerable black, stripped
to the soul with human blindness –

when the full and weeping
moon steps from the shade
of a tumult of mountains –

when, in the fragrant dim,
day's tree stump transforms
into some nether-worldly other –

when time's skin is thin and you are
bared – when there is nothing
between you and the Wildest One

whose name is your own?

Here are The Details!
Want to get your own copy of NIGHT CYCLES? Here's all the info:

  • Amazon*
  • Signed copies
  • Createspace (for readers outside the USA -- this offers the most reasonable shipping rates on paperback copies)
  • You can also request NIGHT CYCLES at your local library and bookshop. A great way to support local businesses!
 *When you purchase the paperback on Amazon, you get the Kindle edition for free!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Introducing THE BOOK OF LAZARUS {Free on Kindle!}

I'm not sure that I've talked about it much, but I majored in creative writing in college. And graduated cum laude, with honors, thankyouverymuch.

But when I graduated, I (and probably most of the people who knew me) wondered what the heck I was going to do with a liberal arts degree in that subject. I thought I wasn't likely very good, so what was the point in trying to write, right? So I pushed writing to the side and tried to pursue more practical avenues.

Except here I am, lots more years later than I feel comfortable with, writing. Trying to make a career of it. Finding myself more and more on the page -- of my own words, and of others'. It's kind of awesome. Writing is in my blood. I couldn't get rid of it, even when I tried.

And this week, I made a discovery that is so exciting to me -- I found one of the short stories I wrote during my college days.

You see, I made zero effort to hang onto any of the things I wrote before 2005. I thought it didn't matter.

Until it did, until I came back to writing again and again. Until I wished that I'd saved some things.

But this week -- I found one of them. Accidentally saved, but saved nonetheless. It is my favorite piece of writing from the work I did in college. Safe.


SO, all that to say . . . I love this short story, and I've published it for Kindle. It's usually $0.99 (because Amazon won't let me make it perpetually free), but today through Monday, July 27, it is FREE. It's a funny story about the resurrection of Lazarus, and I'd love love love for you to check it out.  Here's a peek (you can also download this same preview on Goodreads, here):

The Book of Lazarus

a short story

I always thought that when you died, that was the end, fine, do not pass Go, do not collect two hundred didrachmas. I was wrong.
I'm not talking about the afterlife, either. I've learned -- from very reliable sources, I might add – that there is something after we all die, but that's not the issue. The issue is that I always figured that once you die, that's it. One minute you're here, the next you're not. What the "next" part is, I was not sure, but I had always been positive that you die only once. However horrible or painful it may be, it's a one-time-only deal.
When I lay dying -- of leprosy, which is rather unpleasant -- I felt a bit apprehensive about the actual moment of passing over. My sisters, Mary and Martha, had assured me that I'd go to Heaven once the Savior did his work and all that, but that wasn't what I was worried about. I was most concerned with the physical act of dying. I'd think about getting to Heaven once I was on the other side.
So, after months of lying in excruciating pain, my skin slowly being eaten away, the leprosy finally won, and I died. The sickness had torn into me with an alarming appetite, until it was difficult to breathe or even blink. When I died, my last breath was a long awaited sigh of relief.
I don't remember much from after my death, it's all become very dim and gray now. One thing I do recall, though, is how comfortable it was. I didn't care about anything or anybody. I didn’t even care about myself. It was like sleeping in the softest feather bed in the world, or taking the longest, most luxurious bubble bath without the water ever getting cold. Fears and doubts and notions about my own well-being faded away. There was no need for worry, everything was clearly under seamless management. From time to time, hazy figures would pass through my view, as if I saw them through a fog, but I didn't pay them any attention. I was warm and cozy, and couldn't feel a thing beyond that. It was quite lovely.
A slow and lazy distress bubbled up within me when one of the figures became distinct from the hazy background. It took me a few moments to even understand or recognize this new development, and when I did, I heard a vaguely familiar musical voice.
"Lazarus," it said, "come out!"
Come out? In my benumbed and blissful state, I could barely comprehend the words, or that they were words at all, much less consider obeying them. Next thing I knew, there came a rushing sound, and I could feel a pall wind blowing through my idyllic comfort, sending goose bumps down the arms and chest that I had nearly forgotten were a part of me. It stopped, and I found myself lying in a dark place. Dark, but not the previous comfortable darkness of my limbo state. This felt cold and unwelcoming. I shivered.
I remained as I was for a few minutes, hoping to pass back into my earlier oblivion. I thought that if I ignored it all, perhaps the new developments would fade away like the trailing end of a storm. Unfortunately, I only became more aware that I was lying on something hard and cold. My spine began to throb against the unyielding surface beneath me as a damp chill began to seep through my skin.
I sat up, feeling rough cloth scratch against my raw flesh. I couldn't see anything, as if I was blindfolded. With stiff arms, I reached up and patted my face. Something was covering it. I tried to pull it away, but it was wrapped around my head. Slowly, joints cracking in dismay, I found an end of the cloth tucked behind my ear and unwound it.
I was sitting on a ledge in a small cave. The ceiling was low and pebbled, but the walls were smooth for the most part. My sore eyes stared at the dry reeds covering the sandy floor, at the perfume bottle resting next to the ledge, at the dirty swatch of linen draped across my hands. Investigating further, I found that my entire body was enveloped in linen that smelled vaguely of decay. Something in my mind began to tick, trying to work out what these things meant, as my heart starting beating faster, thumping against my ribs. This place seemed uncomfortably familiar.
It came to me. I had been in a place like this before. When my parents' last child was born dead, they had wrapped him in cloth and laid him in a small cave near the grazing fields where I used to take our sheep herd to feed. A cave like the one I was in.
A man cleared his throat behind me. I jerked my head around, muscles beginning to warm into a reality of dull and pulsing aches.
"Jesus!" I yelped, heart beating too fast. He stood in the large crack that was the entrance to the cave, eyebrow crooked. 

"Come on," Jesus hissed. "You're screwing up my miracle."

(And if you want to leave an honest review on Amazon and/or Goodreads, I would be so, so grateful!)

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Morning Tea and a Conversation about Containers by Stephanie Durnford

photo by Stephanie Durnford
 {A note from Beth: from May through August 2015, I am featuring some delicious guest writers here on the blog as I recover from pregnancy and birth and adjust to our new family rhythms (find more details here).  Enjoy!}

I'm sitting here, with my cup of tea and bottle of water. It's 6:30 in the morning. I wonder what you're doing right now, as topics and blankness run through my head. . I pick up my tea, cupping it with both hands for just a moment; feeling the warmth in the my hand, I inhale deeply.

Vanilla. Honey. Other herbs I cannot name nor distinguish in the steam rising from the cup.

The heat becomes a bit too stinging on a new paper cut from work yesterday, so I take a sip and set it down. What might I say to you, if we were having tea together this morning?

I would laugh, tell you how desperately I want a cup of coffee first thing, instead of this herbal tea and bottle of water. You'd ask me why I don't just make that, instead.

I'd get a far away look in my eye, the only way I have sometimes of telling the truth without fully disappearing, without it being like talking about another person. I'd tell you that I've spent a fair amount of the last few decades wandering around mindlessly, that there have been (undiagnosed) health consequences, and that I don't want to them to get worse. I would tell you how uncomfortable I've been feeling in my skin, in my creativity, and while a single cup of tea and bottle water of won't change either of those - especially overnight - it's part of a larger shift I'm noticing taking place.

You'd take a sip of your tea, poke my arm, and ask me, "Vague, much?"

My eyes would focus back on the table between us and I'd pick up my own tea and take a sip, noticing that I'm almost done with it -- that much closer to coffee! -- and I take a small sip of water. I'm clearly using these moments of pause to think. I sigh, knowing that this isn't fully formed, but it's been tickling the edges of my thoughts. I ask if you'd indulge me some rambling. You take your tea in hand and smile. (This is not unusual for our conversations, and I know that I am blessed with your friendship.)

I think it started with #continuouspractice, the stacking up of days like cords of wood, showing up day after most every other day; 142 of them at this conversation. That there is something about setting a container that allows me to find my way back to what matters. Knowing that there is 20 minutes I will show up and just put pen to paper, that there is a community around me doing the same, and that I can do this hard thing. (Anyone who tells you that showing up every day is easy is trying to sell you something.)
Don't get me wrong. There are days it is easy; there are days it's like pulling teeth. Sometimes, those turn into the days that pass me by without thinking, in too much of a frenzy of busyness or the lull of mindlessness to sit down for 20 minutes.

I've learned that showing up to a space, for 20 minutes, where there are no expectations except to put pen to paper has its refreshing qualities. There have been snippets of fiction, lots of meandering, but mostly? Space to show up. Space to be honest. #continuouspractice has become the container that puts boundaries around the space, but that space is freedom.

It's given me a bit of taste for that kind of discipline -- creating a space full of gentleness to see what could be possible. There are new containers I'm creating in my life, to see what the freedom within them feels like, if it works. I'm trying to see it as playful, rather than our traditional understanding of discipline. What possibilities are there waiting for me?

This includes starting with tea and my bottle of water, rather than straight to coffee. What might be possible for my health, for feeling more settled as I start my morning, instead of buzzing with caffeine?

I pause and take a sip, noticing I've finished my tea. You smile, taking a sip from your own cup. I look at you, tilting my head as I do when I have a question.

What container(s) do you have for your own possibilities?  

Stephanie is a (infrequent) blogger at Visible and Real. She believes in the power of stories, hot tea and coffee, writing, reading, and breathing into the hard parts. Somewhere on the east coast, she is a writer, an explorer, a student, a wife, and mama to four squeaking guinea pigs. 


Wednesday, July 8, 2015

here is what i would say by Jamie Bonilla

{A note from Beth: from May through August 2015, I am featuring some delicious guest writers here on the blog as I recover from pregnancy and birth and adjust to our new family rhythms (find more details here).  Enjoy!}

art by Jamie Bonilla
if i could hold your alive-beating-heart, i would speak
in a whisper, cradling gently
the strength born of grief
the muscle walls thick and sturdy
from the hard work of continuing to live and
send nourishment through
arteries and veins.

here is what i would say:

(and you would have a hard time understanding
as the tears flow, breaking up what is left of my windy voice)

"here is hope
she is your mother; you are hers,
held and seen in each others' arms"

you would hear:


and it would be enough.

jamie bonilla is a found poet and artist, who is very herselfish. she lives in southern california with her husband and two boys, and a dog she’s learning to love. she is never happier than when she gets to be monkish and solitary with her cup of the-best-chai-in-the-world or holed up in her studio, flinging paint and finding poetry. you can find her online at where she blogs about art, spirituality, and other parts of humanness, like the body and personality; and she is quite active on instagram as therustyartichoke.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Life Lately {BABY Edition!}

So this happened:

Our new little guy, Eamon (pronounced AY-mon), arrived in May after a whirlwind two hour (!!) drug-free (!!!!) labor, weighing 9 lbs 2 oz (!!!!!).  And . . . he's perfect.  Just like every baby, of course, except more so for us because he's ours.

It's strange for me to remember that until my mid-pregnancy ultrasound I thought that he was a girl.  It was hard for me to wrap my head around his boy-ness at first, especially having lost a girl in my first pregnancy. I was so happy for a healthy little guy, but simultaneously grieving the daughter who died and the future daughter I'd hoped to raise but now never would, because we don't plan to try for any more children.  I felt quite guilty about the whole thing.

But now that he's here . . . all I can think is: Of course.  Of course it was him.  It was always him, always going to be him in our family, from the beginning of time.  And I'm so glad.  I wouldn't trade him for anything.  

And I have to say -- and I hope that this isn't too superficial of me -- that I adore having a baby who has dark, curly hair like his mama.  Of course, I also adore that our oldest son, Jacob, is an angelically-colored blonde-haired, blue-eyed bundle of sass.  But to have a baby that look like me?  Especially after the other baby we had that looked more like me died?  It's really precious to me.  When he yawns, he looks exactly like I did when I was a newborn.  I think that's cool.

And speaking of our older dude . . . Jacob is just in. love. with his little brother.  I wasn't prepared for that.  Instead, I'd braced myself for jealousy and requests that Eamon kindly diminish back into my uterus.  But nope.  Jacob loves him!  "He's cute!" he says of his younger brother.  "He knows me!"  And best of all: "I love you, Eamon."  His delight delights me.

Getting used to parenting two small people under the age of three on little sleep has been challenging, of course.  The heat wave we're having doesn't help (hello, 100+ degree temperatures when we live in a non-air-conditioned house!).  But slowly I'm finding a good rhythm.  I've taken the boys out to playgrounds and splash pads on my own a bunch of times now, and with each trip I get more confident, more sure of myself.

And look!  I've been breastfeeding in public!  Uncovered!  And it's okay!  With Jacob I never did this, always covered up, mostly not out of fear of offending anyone but because it felt too vulnerable to breastfeed uncovered.  But now?  I just really don't have the energy to care, or to wrestle with a cover.  A cover makes feedings so much harder, and anyway, it would be pointless given the amount I have to run after Jacob with a baby on my boob.  So that's cool. 

I have to admit . . . I'm so glad to not be pregnant anymore.  Which saddens me, because I loved being pregnant the first two times around, even with the tragedy of stillbirth touching it all.  It just felt so holy to me.  But this pregnancy was much harder physically -- I was sick a lot more, and I had polyhydramnios, excessive fluid, on top of regular contractions that started around 32 weeks and never stopped, not to mention horrible pelvic pain.  By the end, walking brought on debilitating pains . . . that, um, never started my labor.  When my O.B. broke my water at 39 weeks, I was dilated to 5 cm out of 10, and having contractions every 10-15 minutes . . . but wasn't in labor.  All that to say, I'm so grateful for my children, and also glad to be not-pregnant.  Three babies in four years is a lot, and my body (not to mention my mind and emotions) is done.  I'm ready to rest and heal.

I have to say, though, that it's weird, knowing that Eamon is our last baby.  A very important chapter in my life is closing, and while my husband and I agree that it's the right thing for us, and while I'm looking forward to the next chapter, it does feel bittersweet and odd.  Still, I'm excited to rediscover who I am once again (it's funny and beautiful and strange how each birth is a portal toward the next iteration of my self), and to enjoy time with my family.  And I'm especially looking forward to a lot more of these sweet smiles:

And so -- onward!

{And, in case you've missed them, some wonderful guest writers have been sharing their words here on the blog.  You can find their posts (plus all other past guest posts) here!}

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Power of Story by Cynthia Lee

art and images by Cynthia Lee
{A note from Beth: from May through August 2015, I am featuring some delicious guest writers here on the blog as I recover from pregnancy and birth and adjust to our new family rhythms (find more details here).  Enjoy!}

So far, 2015 has been a year of intentional wandering as I have chosen to push pause on the external voices that I had allowed to guide me in the past. Though I honor the good that has been brought into my life via the words of kindred spirits, I felt that it was time to be my own guide, to listen to my own wisdom, to find my way in the world.

I thought this year would brings huge adventures as I carved out time for myself. It's not to say that life has been boring but it certainly has felt more aimless than I intended. There is something missing. It feels as though I have forgotten something. At times I have longed to go back to my guides, to being led ever so gently, to whispers of, this might be a good way.

These words were gifted to me today: I just don't believe in the system anymore.

Yes. yes. I stopped believing in systems a long time ago.

Long before I rejected the school system for my own children, I identified the farce it was in my own life. I may have played along but I knew full well it was all a game to play. It wasn't real. I didn't need the classroom, the tests, and grades to motivate my learning. I was and am insatiably curious.

After years of playing a role in the perpetuation of thin belief, words began to echo in my mind as I marched in and out of the church building each Sunday: there has to be more to it than this. Thus began the unraveling of another system. I was tired of pouring energy into the facade of community, of family, of support. The empty promises piled up around me and became the staircase of rubble that I used to climb out. The people of God let me down long before the word of God became a fairytale I could no longer believe in.

Systems exist everywhere. A quick internet search will find articles, books, and workshops for blogging, painting, internet marketing, journaling, home management, parenting, clean eating, fitness, meditation. You name it and someone is offering a system for it.

Call me jaded but I just don't believe in it.

What do I believe in?

Ah. Here is the missing piece. Here is what I forgot as I took off on my own.

I believe in the power of story.

This statement came about a while ago after purposefully considering what beliefs I had left behind and what I was left with. I knew that I believed in beauty, in truth, in authentic experience, in good overcoming evil and when I considered where I encountered such things, it was in the act of story. Whether in a book, movie, musical, play, song, dance performance, or in the shared conversation over a cup of coffee, I love story. I believe that story has the power to change lives for better and for worse. I want to be a storyteller and a story holder. I want to speak and I want to listen. Most of all, I want to allow story to move through me in expression.

So this is what has been missing this year while out wandering the wilds of my soul. I have forgotten to tell my story. I may have even forgotten how to tell my story. I might have let myself believe that it wasn't important or that it was self serving. Already, it felt selfish to be focusing so intently upon my own soul journey. I have been conditioned to serve the journeys of others as my primary and most important work. It was a real struggle to say aloud, "I cannot give to you right now." Yet, these are words that I had to say, that I still have to hold onto.

Today, half-way through the year, I am reminding myself that this story is important and my words are important. If I don't tell my story, someone else will tell it for me.

As important as it is to take this journey, it is as equally important to record it, to speak it, to give voice to the getting lost and being found. I begin today. 

Cynthia Lee is an artist, thinker, feminist, unschooler, reader, storyteller, story-listener, mother soul, wife and lover, and spirit uncaged.  Follow her on Instagram.