Tag Archive for 'green mom'

Balancing Eco-Feminism, Motherhood, Anxiety and Writerdom: An Interview with Kenna Lee

Kenna Lee HeadshotWhere/when did you find support for your writing and the dilemmas you outline in “A million tiny things: a mother’s urgent search for hope in a changing climate”–read excerpt on The Fertile Source here— (the tension between one’s ideal eco-choices and practicality: ie., jumping in the roomy mini-van with AC vs. the tiny hybrid where flying elbows make better contact and a far more stressed out mother at the wheel)?

Here I have to give full credit to my ex (my wife, The Pragmatist, in the book; we got divorced just after the narrative ends). She is a dancer and we had always made her pursuit of her art a high priority in our life choices; when I began writing after our daughter was born, she was very encouraging of my need to pursue my own creativity. So she allowed me the time, when we could find it (that eternal caveat), to get a lot of the initial writing done.

The end result of your observations often drew a laugh from me as I read, for the candor, for the all-too-familiar equations and resultant equivocations you managed to nail. How did you come by the humor?

Honestly, I think I was in a state of extremely heightened anxiety, as the crumbling state of my marriage added to all the (very real) eco-concerns I talk about in the book. I was sublimating that other life anxiety into the environmental stuff, so it was really pretty extreme. And that kind of crazy anxiety is… well, funny, when you cop to it (and even funnier when you exaggerate it). I find humor in glimpsing the dark edges of life, when they aren’t sucking me all the way over the edge. So the book tries to ride that line.

Once my ex really took off and the anxiety slid into real depression, I was scared that taking antidepressants would take away too much anxiety and make me unable to write. I get all earnest and that’s just so… earnest (i.e. boring). Of course, once I realized that crying constantly wasn’t really helping me find the humor in life either, I caved. Thank god. My next book will be about getting off those pills, and the humor is in that story too, but it sure is harder to draw out.

I loved the way you gave “personality profile” names for your children that weren’t their actual names: Bright Eyes, the Percussionist, Mowgli. How did you navigate writing about your children, thinking about them reading the book later, etc.?

I definitely want to preserve my kids’ privacy as much as I can, within the larger template of broadcasting the details of their lives to the whole world. I want them to feel in control of their own life narrative, so renaming them as characters allows both them and other people to perceive a little distance between my actual real-life kids and their book selves. I don’t post photos of their faces and you can’t tag me in photos on Facebook (unless they ONCE AGAIN changed all my default settings when I wasn’t paying attention) because people will tag my name with a photo of my child and I just don’t like having their images attached to any real name. It’s perhaps my Luddite side, or maybe I’m a closet libertarian, but I want them to make their own conscious choices about exposure and privacy. As long as I can write whatever I want to write. So, the names, I feel, both illuminate the kids and obscure them a bit. (They love them, too, especially Mowgli.)

How did you balance motherhood, working, and writing? Any words of advice for writing mothers?

Yikes. I hate that I’m about to say this, but, well, I’m just too lame to come up with something more original and it’s actually true (if unbearably trite): my word of advice is “balance.” I have to continually rearticulate my priorities to myself and others, so I can remember that for me (and I know this isn’t the right order for everyone), the kids come first, my nursing career second, and the writing is third. Which is not to say that I haven’t thrown our lives into complete chaos for the last few months so I could bring this book into the world; it’s just that if getting the next marketing task done would mean I’m not available to help with homework, it’s the marketing task that doesn’t get done.

And I’m way behind on my blogging, but I’m going on a bunch of field trips this spring that are taking me far from my laptop. For me, having clear priorities lets me deal with the day-to-day when I’m feeling like I should be doing lots more to give the book its wings, and instead I’m playing catch. I interviewed one publicist and when I got off the phone with her, I just KNEW that she would make me a famous writer, but I also knew I would have about ten stress-related health conditions when we got there. So I hired a more low-key consultant who helps me but who doesn’t really understand Twitter any better than I do, which is just fine, since she takes pressure off of me instead of adding it on.

That all said, if I had it to do over, I would have taken a leave of absence from work for a couple of months (if I could have afforded it) and filled my deep freeze with easy meals or frozen pizza and hired a housekeeper and an assistant. The book launch is not the time to be pinching pennies—it’s more of a break open that piggybank and give it all you’ve got moment.

When in your process of writing the book did you realize you were writing a book? How long from start to finish and what were you the most surprised to learn as you went through the process?

Let’s see, the youngest was born just as I turned 38, and I started writing a few weeks later. It was on my 40th birthday that I admitted to myself and a few of my closest friends that I wanted to turn it into a book. And the book launched the week of my 44th birthday, as the “baby” turned 6. There were several non-productive post-divorce depression months and almost a year of waiting for my editor to have time to get to my manuscript (my brilliant and wonderful all superlative editor—it was worth the delay). Most surprising to me was simply that I was actually doing it—I barely even finished any of my college papers. So I was pretty thrilled to see myself having matured enough to follow such a big project through to completion.

In your Q and A session in Sebastopol at Copperfield’s last week, you mentioned that this book chronicles a very specific time in your life when the tighter domestic orbit of the household with three children underfoot heightened a sense of helplessness and anxiety about the world the children would inherit. You mentioned a current book project as well as an action-oriented blog. Would you share that blog link with us and talk a bit about how A million tiny things propelled you towards your second book project and your current philosophies?

Um, I also think I said I hate blogging and am not very good at it (reference above where I say I’m behind). But I do it, some. Here are the links: A million tiny things and A School Garden Year

The Million Tiny Things blog follows my meandering thoughts in general about parenting, the environment, activism (check last August’s posts for my arrest photos), and sustainability in all the various senses of the word. The school garden blog was really intended to connect parents to our school garden program and what we do there, but that’s the blog which will inform the next book as it will be about how all those moments of composting and craziness are what pulled me back into the land of the living.

As for the change in my focus, writing A Million Tiny Things helped me articulate and observe that particular batch of anxieties, and then not have to hold them so tightly. I also think it’s a natural evolution for mothers to emerge into a wider sphere as their children do, so I think it’s just a normal progression for me to be more focused on the bigger picture now. Systemic solutions, ho!

But on the way to the larger picture, I need to stop and look at the process of grieving and pain that has led me there. The first book was written as an act of service to other moms who might be feeling crazy like me and could use some company in that craziness. Then, when I was getting divorced, I immersed myself in other people’s divorce narratives as means of finding that kind of company for myself. I hope to offer my story into that library of healing possibilities; how we can connect our hopes for the earth and our children with our hopes for ourselves in a very concrete way. So some other mom who is bereft and suicidal can feel she’s not alone there, and that there’s a way out.

Any mentors you wish to share with us, or suggestions for further reading?

Oooh, yes. I adore Laurie Wagner, who teaches in-person in the Bay Area and also online. When I was just dipping my toe in the water of the writing thing, she had me write a list of what I wanted to write about, and that list could probably serve as a table of contents for the book. That reminds me, I need to get in touch with her as I think her particular style of pushing you into the truth of your story will be essential to getting me past the initial difficulties of writing a book about depression. Her site: 27 powers.

And for writing about motherhood and the environment, Sandra Steingraber’s Raising Elijah is my favorite. She doesn’t fritter away her energy on non-productive anxiety like I do.

Full-time nurse, part-time environmentalist, and all-the-time mother, Kenna Lee lives in Sebastopol, California, with her three semi-feral children and several domesticated animals. Her book, A Million Tiny Things: a mother’s urgent search for hope in a changing climate (Mole’s Hill Press, 2012) is available now through your local independent bookseller; for more information, visit her website.

April, An Excerpt from A Million Tiny Things by Kenna Lee

a million tiny things by Kenna LeeEditor’s Note: I met Kenna Lee when our children attended the same school for a stint, and “met” her again online, impressed not only with the quality of her writing, but impressed that she was working, midwiving, and mothering three children, all while “blogging to booking.” Having chosen “April” to run (pulled in by this birth chapter’s beautiful blend of the forthright and the lyrical), I realized this excerpt happens to be missing the eco-query that dominates the majority of Lee’s book.

By eco-query I mean the kind of contortions one goes through in one’s mind with children in utero, on hip, underfoot and the future (theirs) suddenly matters, as do the choices we make as consumers: wooden toys? recycled plastic? cars that run on veggie oil? worth the choir of fighting that goes on in a smaller hybrid vs. the notorious mini-van with AC?! Lee tracks these interior monologues and more, by turns relentless and hilarious, in A Million Tiny Things. I still, however, stand behind this lovely chapter as well. Enjoy.–Tania Pryputniewicz

 

Year One, April                                                                     By Kenna Lee

Bright Eye’s roses are blooming, bringing the first year of her life full circle. No, they’re not on the rose bush we planted over her homebirthed placenta, California hippie-style, because said placenta is tucked half-forgotten at the back of the freezer still, languishing in typical third-child neglect. We’ll plant it someday, when we remember, when we muster up some of those elusive items that such tasks require, namely time and energy.

No, Bright Eye’s roses have come to be called that because they were blooming when I was in labor a year ago. These baseball-sized white popcorn roses are improbably right outside my bedroom window; improbable because our house is built onto a hillside, and so my bedroom looks out into the treetops on the downslope. This particular rosebush, in order to survive, has reached up through the canopy of trees to claim its ration of sunlight. In most locations, a sky-high rosebush would be wasted, its blossoms inaccessible to human enjoyment, and from the ground below one would never suspect the exultant profusion of blooms lurking above the tree limbs. But here is my window, from which I can almost reach out to pick them, and from here, one year ago, I pondered them for many hours as my contractions became less and less manageable.

I was reluctant to leave the bedroom when I was in labor, as it’s the room farthest from the neighbor’s house, the same neighbors that called the cops, suspecting some domestic disturbance, during my last, nightmarish labor, during which my repetitive, Psycho-worthy screams let everyone know that I was definitively not a strong, silent, capable baby-haver. This time, knowing that I lacked the self-discipline to endure the agonies of childbirth quietly, I hid out in the bedroom, encouraging The Pragmatist to distract the boys elsewhere. I paced the short feet of floorspace left between the king-sized family bed, now protected by a plastic sheet tucked beneath our least-cherished bedding, and the padded turquoise birthing tub set up hastily that morning after I woke with surreal surety, announcing, “We’re having a baby today, boys.” Within this cramped space, I paced, and stopped, and moaned, and stared at the roses.

As skeptical as I’ve always been of the idea that having a focal point would make the intense pain of contractions more manageable, it worked. Probably because I didn’t plan it and wasn’t trying to focus on something, I was just, well, staring at the roses. And of course, it only worked until I reached that “I can’t do this anymore” stage which was the secret code by which The Pragmatist knew to call the midwife, even though I had expressly forbidden midwife-calling until I was really quite farther along, having gotten very tired of having a midwife around during that first, 49-hour, self-esteem destroying labor.

But by the time the midwife showed up, I had mostly forgotten about those instructions, and about the roses as well, and was just trying to imagine how anyone anywhere is able to endure torture without immediately divulging any and all pertinent information. I knew then that I would never, ever be able to become a spy, because I would have told anything to anyone if it would have made the pain stop. I became unbearably self-pitying and bossy, to which The Pragmatist responded by announcing that if I ever had another baby, she would divorce me unless I got an epidural.

I bellowed and shrieked, and the boys, playing with our friend Rachel in the kitchen, dug out the industrial workman’s ear protectors I had bought them to prevent them from incurring early-onset hearing loss from The Percussionist’s drum set, and came dancing through the bedroom to show them off. “We’re going to Rachel’s house to sleep, mom,” they giggled in my panting breaks between the contractions, “because we are tired and you… you are TOO LOUD.”

“And it would just be too uncomfortable to wear these earphone things to bed,” The Percussionist explained.

Before they even completed the five-minute drive to Rachel’s house, we’d called them to turn around if they wanted to see the baby come out, as the baby was on the way any second. They got back just in time for Mowgli to state his preference to sleep and immediately do so, and for The Percussionist to see everyone gathered around the birthtub, watching me squatting in such a way as to prevent anyone from seeing or knowing that the head was coming out, except by the fact that I was clutching between my legs and ordering the midwife to “HELP ME BREATHE NOW.”

Once the velvet head slid out under my palm, and it was a sliding motion, though that particular verb fails to convey even a slight sense of how incredibly torturous the moment was, I sat back on my haunches and announced, “The head’s out,” somehow expecting someone to do something about it, you know, like deliver the rest of the baby. But I believe I had cowed them all into such submission that they all froze, waiting for their next order, so I shrugged with intense frustration, and thinking, “for god’s sake, MUST I do everything myself?” I pulled my daughter out of me and up into my arms.

So tiny (at 8 lb, 6 oz the smallest of the three), she nestled there, wet-warm and cheesy, head out of the water, while I suddenly shed the shattering terror of laboring and embraced the more tender terror of motherhood again. The pain behind me, I could stop fighting, lay down my arms, and surrender to the awe of her first breath of air. Not the most articulate person during times of great stress, I kept breathlessly repeating, “I’m so happy. I’m so happy,” over and over, as if I needed convincing of it.

The Pragmatist and our midwife supported me as I stood to move onto the bed for the delivery of the placenta, and I paused, towel-wrapped babe in arms, noticing with intense gratitude the treetop cascade of roses hovering just beyond the window. Even now they remind me that behind pain can lurk unfathomable beauty, just as behind the burning and fear of birthing my daughter, a great healing lay within the experience of bringing her into the world with my own hands. Something that had broken in me during my first too-long, too-scary birth was put back together by that sensation of feeling her muzzle-soft crown swell into my palm, the impossibly smooth skin bloom into her face. For days, weeks after she was born, I repeated the motion, sliding my palm over her soft hair, down her temple, and in doing so I was telling myself without even realizing it at the time: that which is broken can be healed.

It is a message she does well to bring with her, accompanied as she is by my load of eco-anxieties. Her roses are blooming again, and for her first birthday, I’ve managed to pull a few down from up high to cut for our kitchen table. On her actual birthday, as if aware that I won’t be able to remember the milestone without this coincidence, Bright Eyes takes her first reeling steps toward me, my only-yesterday newborn girl, walking. I greet this new child, this toddler, with the same words I used when I first looked into her face one year ago: “Hello, Bright Eyes. I’m so happy.” Happy, and scared shitless, but still walking forward, step by careful, brave step.

Full-time nurse, part-time environmentalist, and all-the-time mother, Kenna Lee lives in Sebastopol, California, with her three semi-feral children and several domesticated animals. Her book, A Million Tiny Things: a mother’s urgent search for hope in a changing climate (Mole’s Hill Press, 2012) is available now through your local independent bookseller; for more information, visit her website.

Read our interview with Kenna Lee: Balancing Eco-Feminism, Motherhood, Anxiety and Writerdom.

 




Social Widgets powered by AB-WebLog.com.