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Unexpected Gift of a Writing Practice


How it may break me of the nasty “helpful” habit.

Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash

At our Thursday morning zoom writing group, a poem is read, a timer is set, and we write without stopping. Moving the pen in this way can loosen us up and let out the juicy stuff, surprising us at times with where the subconscious may lead.

Except minutes into the session, my son’s “G’morning” as he rouses himself from bed breaks my focus. Is it a little gravelly? Is he sick? Even as my pen moves, my mind starts ticking through “should do’s”: I should ask if he is feeling okay. I should offer him lozenges. I should find a Covid test.

No, that’s not it. I should keep writing.

I should. But one quick reply to let him know I am here can’t hurt. Checking that my zoom is muted, I shout upstairs, “I can help you in thirty minutes.” Good for me! Protect my writing practice. This is a revolution! My declaration of independence!

The next thirty minutes will be my internal civil war.

Because, I mean, I haven’t made his lunch yet, something I do most days — not because I think he can’t do it, of course, but well, we both like me to do it. And he does not know that I bought the good bread for sandwiches yesterday.

No, no, no. I am not stopping to make his lunch.

Except now I hear him say something to Christopher, who is out of commission with Covid, and my brain tunes out my inner voice and tunes into theirs. A vector pulls hard on me to get me off my chair to see what they need.

No, no, no. No getting up. But maybe just one text? There is good bread in the pantry, and sliced turkey, and yogurt, and apples.

Ahhh. A hit of helping settles me down. Now I can focus on the writing.

Except was that a sneeze? Now half my brain (more than half, let’s be honest) is occupied with, who was that? do we have tissue? and shouldn’t I go buy a Covid test this very instant?

No, no, no, no, no. Stay here with your pen, your notebook, your fellow writers, creating collective energy. Stay until the timer says you are done.

It takes more strength than it ought to, resisting the reflex to jump away from my work into what I think they need. Running around doing for others feels like home base — extra points if I have to give up my own thing to do it!! The martyr game is my jam!

Next time, I think, just tell them in advance that I will be unavailable for ninety minutes. But it is only me I need to tell: Stay put. Atta girl.

If it takes scribbling garbage until the timer beeps to keep my butt in this chair and break the impulse to jump into everyone else’s business, well then let that be one more way writing saves me.

My arm is getting tired. Good. Keep going. Keep writing like your life depends on it, every word showing you how strong you can be.


Laura Nicole Diamond is the award-winning author of Shelter Us: a novel, and Dance with Me: a love letter, and editor of the anthology Deliver Me: True Confessions of Motherhood. She is working on a memoir about becoming a foster mom to a teenage asylum-seeker. http://lauranicolediamond.medium.comMedium, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

These Things We Love

The unpredictable bliss of salvaging a memory from a (sometimes) fruitless writing practice.

(photo credit: https://www.firstpalette.com/craft/leaf-rubbings.html)

These sagging couches, broken with the weight of brother-wrestling, and binge-watching, stained with old chocolate and fresh dog lick. They were once pristine, even measured to fit the room, with cushions like single beds, not broken up in twos or threes, representing my hope for kids’ sleepovers, now the soft landing for teenage boys sleeping late..

These dogs, scratching on the glass door to be let in and not taking no for an answer. Can’t they see my pen is moving across these lines? Don’t they know I am trying to drop into a memory or uncover a turn of phrase that could make my day, if only they would bug off?

These drugstore notebooks, not so precious, filling up with last week’s bad ideas and false starts, the same stuff from the week before, maybe a good paragraph waiting to be rediscovered, reshaped, and repurposed.

What is the point of all these scribblings that come to nothing? Is it simply in the exercise, writing as sit-up or squat, their value in how they may have strengthened me?

Or could there be buried treasures hiding, as ordinary as beach glass, to pick up from time to time, maybe bringing back a memory of an ocean’s spray, or the time a wave knocked me over and I got up laughing and soaked, wholly forgotten until I revisited the page where I wrote it?

These things. These decisions to etch in ink for my own muscle memory, later to be remembered, something found and forgotten and found again.

Like this morning, flipping through pages, finding something written at a different desk in a different city, a memory stirred by the view from the airport shuttle bus from San Franciso to Marin. As we passed Stern Grove, a memory comes alive — just for a second, like flash paper — of being twenty-six and with a friend in a grove of redwoods. And though I can’t remember the specifics, I remember there was music playing.

. . .

Laura Nicole Diamond is the award-winning author of Shelter Us: a novel, and Dance with Me: a love letter, and editor of the anthology Deliver Me: True Confessions of Motherhood. She is working on a memoir about becoming a foster mom to a teenage asylum-seeker. MediumFacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Mending

Lessons from my grandmother’s sewing kit

Photo by Karly Santiago on Unsplash

There is a moment when you can feel the rain before you can see it. When an unconscious glance at the sidewalk reveals gathering polka dots of grey, and you are flooded with relief for this confirmation that your skin still tells the truth, and the world still operates as you expect it to.

There are moments when your phone ringing at night makes you jump, the sound too sharp for nighttime, the pulling back of sheets, the silky cool of them against your skin, the weight of blankets on your legs, the dog encroaching on your hip.

You set down your book (and your newest pharmacy-rack readers), and your distracting thoughts, and answer the phone. You know who will be calling. Your son, asking if you can mend something that has broken. A heart, say.

Not so long ago, he brought home a torn sweater and asked if you could sew it. It was a jagged tear in the fabric, not on a seam, like it caught on something rough. It was a favorite sweater — its perfect softness, weight, warmth, color — and he wanted nothing short of full restoration. You knew at a glance that what he wanted was not possible.

You said: What if we patch it?

He answered: Can’t you please just sew it?

You loved that he believed you had some special skill to make it like new, so you did not want to tell him what he wanted was impossible. You wanted to believe it, too. You and your inexpert hands went in search of your grandmother’s sewing kit, with its yellowed quilted fabric and basketweave, the one she had brought with her when you were laid out with the chickenpox for two weeks and made pink satin overalls for your teddy bear.

In the sewing kit, the spools of thread her hands put in it half a century ago and a needle. Hoping he knew something you didn’t about mending, you brought the sides of the torn fabric together, stitch after uneven stitch. Maybe it would work? In the end, the best you could do, was a scar across the sweater’s surface. He thanked you, and even wore it like that for a while.

Now he reaches out from the distance of another state. You answer the call, and in the pause before he speaks, you rummage through the kit of your experience, gather your thoughts and wisdom to prepare for whatever might need stitching, hoping the world still operates the same as when you were young, and knowing scars are inevitable, and beautiful in their own way.

Laura Nicole Diamond is the award-winning author of Shelter Us: a novel, and Dance with Me: a love letter, and editor of the anthology Deliver Me: True Confessions of Motherhood. She is at work on a memoir about becoming a foster mom to a teenage asylum-seeker. 

Follow Laura on Medium, FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

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At College Application Season, A Message to My Son

“What I’m Telling You is Yes Yes Yes”

Photo by Drahomír Posteby-Mach on Unsplash

To my beloved high school senior:

It is college application season. You and your friends are being asked to condense your whole beings into 650 words, the grades you have earned, and a list of activities that caught your teenage interest. Is it any wonder you drag yourself to the desk? Who could go with grace to this task whose stakes feel so high?

Before you submit yourself for inspection to a committee that will decide if you are “worthy,” and before these schools with the big names that look so good on sweatshirts have their chance to pronounce your worth—allow me to answer:

Yes yes yes.

My dear heart—you who did not patent an invention, or work in a cancer research lab, or get elected president of, well, anything— you are amazing.

You excel at kindness, and making your parents laugh. You have a philosopher’s mind, a nurturer’s soul, and a prankster’s sense of humor. You notice when someone is standing outside the circle, and say, let’s make the circle bigger. You know how to stop a bully with a look.

Forgive my hyperbole; it’s about to get extra: you are the shining light of God’s eyes. I know you don’t believe in God, but can you think of a word that better captures the beauty of your unique soul? (If you can, use it in that essay.)

What I’m telling you is, Yes yes yes.

Before the envelopes, thick or thin, begin to arrive; before you even submit your requests; what I am telling you is you have all you need inside you to craft a life that fills you.

I am not saying, my sweet kiddo, that it will be smooth sailing. There will be times in life when you will question your worth. I tell you this from experience. Impostor syndrome comes to everyone, myself included. (Even the Queen of England, I am sure of it, had her moments of looking around Westminster Abbey, feeling the weight of the crown and sceptre, and pinching herself.) You will wonder, Who am I fooling? Who am I to write a book? To stand at an Open Mic? To dream of greatness?

What I’m telling you in a voice that is loud and clear and bold: you are everything.

So, when you do, you know, eventually, hopefully before the deadlines, send off those applications, know that your worth is not waiting to be decided. It is already as steadfast, whole, and unassailable as my love.

___

Laura Nicole Diamond is the award-winning author of Shelter Us: a novel, and Dance with Me: a love letter, and editor of the anthology Deliver Me: True Confessions of Motherhood. She is at work on a memoir about becoming a foster mom to a teenage asylum-seeker. MediumFacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

___

*This essay was prompted by the kickass poem, “God Says Yes To Me” by Kaylin Haught.

Rituals – Intended and Accidental

The Jewish New Year prompts the annual introspection: how to love our imperfect selves?

Imperfect challah…tastes about like it looks.

Last year at this time, we were taking steps to re-emerge from the pandemic. For me, that meant sending my kids back to in-person high school and college. I’m not gonna lie; it was bittersweet. I liked having my babies close.

On the eve of that transition, we sat around our dining room table and I said, Before we eatI want to do something.

I needed to pause and acknowledge that we had been through something extraordinary over the last 18 months, before we rushed headlong into the next season of our lives without a breath. I needed a ritual to close that time, in order to welcome what was coming next — a “new abnormal,” if not the grand “Woo Hoo, It’s Over!” we all wanted.

So that night I had scrounged and found four half-melted candles in the kitchen’s junk drawer and anchored them to the bottom of a glass jar with their own melted wax. I know: better humans than I would have thought ahead, bought new candles, maybe even placed them in real candleholders, and set a vase of flowers in the center, with a carefully crafted playlist humming in the background. While I admire and appreciate people who make those efforts, touches that make everyone feel special, that is not me. When I get an idea, I ruminate on it for a while, reject it, change my mind at the last minute and decide to commit to it, and then scramble to make it happen. I am who I am.

Gathered around the dining room table, I said, I thought that each of us could light a candle and say something, whatever you want, maybe a wish or hope for the new year. Anything.

I expected double eye rolls; they did not come. I guess my family needed something like this, too.

I lit the first candle and said to my boys, “I am so proud of how you weathered this strange and unprecedented time. You’ve shown resilience and humor, in addition to grief and mourning.”

Around the table, we each took a turn, match-lighting glitches and all. I do not know if my little ritual changed anything measurable, but it gave us a moment to take a step back and honor what we had been through.

Rituals are a necessary part of the human condition.

I have been thinking about rituals this week we celebrate the High Holidays. On Erev Rosh Hashanah last week, our rabbi spoke with utmost gratitude to his mother, who made sure that his family knew without fail that every Friday at 6 pm, they would be gathered around the Shabbat table.

As I thought about my own family’s haphazard Shabbat rituals, I felt that familiar second-guessing, comparing-mind, regret rising in my belly — if only I had done that better! I really meant to and now it’s too late!

In a perfect world, I would have created a beautiful and reliable Shabbat ritual for my family. My kids would have come home to the smell of fresh Challah baking, roasted chicken, and potatoes in the oven. Not only did I not possess the domestic discipline to plan ahead, but I also lacked the iron will to enforce that weekly ritual against the competing interests of flag football practices, basketball games; or social events of our own. Rather than make a beautiful, attendance-mandatory dinner each Friday night, I made the decision that keeping my kids from doing what they loved because of Judaism — was the surefire way to kill any fondness for those rituals and create a lifelong resentment to carry forward into the next generation

I sometimes wonder, like when the Rabbi is talking about his treasured childhood memories of Shabbat each week — what rituals will my kids keep? Which will they pass down? Which will they abandon? Which have I taught them, and which have I unwittingly handed down?

One ritual I love is casting away regrets.

One of my favorite rituals is Tashlich, the symbolic casting away of sins. I did not encounter this ritual until I was an adult (which feels important to remember as I flay myself for failing to instill rituals in my kids). I love Taschlich both because it involves being in nature and because it is about letting go of regrets.

Lucky to live by the ocean, in our community we gather at the beach and throw bread crumbs or birdseed into the sea, symbolically casting our “sins” into the ocean. As I throw the seeds toward the water, I think about the qualities and feelings I want to shed, and the thought and the physicality of it make me feel lighter, at least for the day.

Last year, I cast away fear. I let go of washing groceries when I came home from the market, and of reminding my sons to wash their hands the second they walked in the door. I cast away the grief of seeing caution tape wound around monkey bars. I cast away having my kids home and the false comfort of thinking I could protect them. I cast away the clenching and shrinking we had had to do then.

This year, I stood at the edge of the ocean thinking about what to let go of. The same stuff as always comes up (hello, worry, you old friend!), along with the unnamed boulders that keep me from lifting higher. Maybe regret.

My son called from his college town while I was there. He had not been to services, but he and his girlfriend had taken a hike on a trail they had never been on before.

“I told her about Tashlich.”

To be honest, I was surprised he knew the word.

“We took two rocks each,” he said, “and threw them off the mountain. One for something we wanted to let go of and one for something we hoped would come in the year.”

My heart filled. He had taken a ritual I love and had never consciously taught him, and made it his own. Like my half-melted candles, he had improvised and made a meaningful moment and shared it with someone he loved.

What will our kids take from us? What will they pass along to someone new?

Maybe what my kids have learned from my omissions, my failure to impose order and instruct them in perfect rituals and maxims, is that there is room in our traditions for them to draw out meaning. That perfection is not the goal, but the intention you bring. That what matters is showing up with what you may cobble together, and marking the moment.

So what if I did not keep an iron grasp on my family’s Friday nights, as tradition proscribed? I gave us what we needed, the freedom from “must do’s” that pinched rather than added joy; the value of adaptability; and a core faith that the bonds of family — built on trust, stability, and presence — were built all week long in a million other ways.

It would take centuries, and a truckload of birdseed to cast every regret and moment of second-guessing into the sea. A handful a year is a good start.

It is Friday afternoon as I write this. Wishing you a peaceful and perfection-free day of rest.


Laura Nicole Diamond is the award-winning author of Shelter Us: a novel, and Dance with Me: a love letter, and editor of the anthology Deliver Me: True Confessions of Motherhood. She is at work on a memoir about becoming a foster mom to a teenage asylum-seeker. Follow her on MediumFacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

This is What We Are Given

The author’s family, circa 1972, photographer unknown

This is what we are given.

An invitation — to write, to meet, or maybe to listen — and the discernment to accept or reject.

Hunches, gut reactions steering us toward yes or no, if we can get quiet enough to listen.

I heard a doctor on a podcast describe being in a sensory deprivation tank, floating in total darkness and silence, in water that matched her body temperature so that even her sense of touch was numbed. In that space, she discovered the ruckus going on inside her body. So much more than heartbeat and breath, she heard the orchestra of her organs at work. Seduced by their surprising song, she spent an hour listening and could have stayed longer.

This is what we are given.

The pumping heart, the growing (or decaying) bones, the flesh and ligaments connecting head all the way to feet — ours to use until we cannot.

The rituals of fall, the birthday of the world, reminding us that we can set and reset intentions. The chance to forgive ourselves and others for forgetting. The awareness that we will have to do it all again next year because we are human, and forgetting is what we do best.

We are given a planet that holds all the remedies to what ails us — ways to capture carbon, or cure diseases — if only we can harness our minds to find them, a treasure hunt for survival.

This is what we are given.

Foaming soap. Soft rugs. Baby powder. Washcloths.

A mother who sang a lullaby with the words changed, so that her baby will never fall from a broken bough; and a father who told the story of my birth as “Oh good! Another girl!”

Parents who let a seven-year-old design a t-shirt proclaiming in simple black letters on a light blue field, “Laura the Great,” worn in rotation with a YMCA t-ball team shirt.

I was given almost zero athletic ability, and a sports-loving dad who taught me to play football and baseball, and every arcane rule governing them. I was given a sister who could launch a football in a perfect spiral across our lawn, farther than I ever could hope to throw it, and the chance to see that I did not have to be good at everything to be cherished in the world.

If I could give you anything, it would be this: To know your greatness is complete, and it is non-negotiable.

Laura Nicole Diamond is the award-winning author of Shelter Us: a novel, and Dance with Me: a love letter, and editor of the anthology Deliver Me: True Confessions of Motherhood. She is at work on a memoir about becoming a foster mom to a teenage asylum-seeker. Medium, FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Why Do You Write?

One reason is universal: to share our stories and remember.

Photo by Negative Space on Pexels.com

For generations, authors have offered their personal musings in answer to the question, why write? Joan Didion, said, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” Cormac McCarthy, was less precious: “I don’t know why I started writing. I don’t know why anybody does it. Maybe they’re bored, or failures at something else.”

As for me, I write to try to understand this vast, surprising, and sometimes heartbreaking world. To enter a moment and hold it, examine it up close. I write to make life feel more real — to make the glowing moments shine brighter and to make the painful moments more bearable.

Read the full post at Medium


Laura Nicole Diamond is the award-winning author of Shelter Us: a novel, and Dance with Me: a love letter, and editor of the anthology Deliver Me: True Confessions of Motherhood. She is at work on a memoir about becoming a foster mom to a teenage asylum-seeker. Follow her on Medium, FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

What to Do When the World Goes Mad?

Stand your ground for beauty


Photo credit: Author

My son reads us the headlines aloud from the CNN ticker that updates every few minutes.

“There’s a guy they’re calling the Ghost of Kyiv. He shot down six fighter jets.” 

I understand why this Ghost has captured my son’s (and the world’s) imagination. Like Snoopy’s need to fight the Red Baron, there is a hunger for hope to conquer evil. Or at least to take a swing at it. Most of us feel helpless here on the ground. 

He says that folks are not sure if the Ghost is real, “or if he is an urban legend the people of Ukraine need right now.” Real or not, Twitter users are cheering the real downing of the Russian planes and helicopters. I cannot cheer, though, reflexively thinking of the mothers of those Russian pilots, whose dead bodies are not myths. Who are victims of Putin, too.

He pipes up with another horror story from the news ticker. “On Snake Island, a tiny island, eighty Ukrainian soldiers were surrounded by Russian warships. The warships told them to surrender or die.” They did not surrender

How can this be happening? How can this carnage be real? How can missiles fall and tanks roll while I am ensconced with my family on a weekend trip to the snow, planned when the strangest thing happening in the world was Covid?

“Go to Google Earth,” I say. I need to see our planet looking like a big blue marble, insignificant, with no borders drawn on its curves and swirls. 

I cannot stop madmen from starting wars. (No one can, apparently.) So I try to locate the balance between sorrow, empathy and gratitude, to allow myself to enjoy the rare gift of a conversation with my son while we traipse through fresh snow. For the beauty around us, as fragile and as temporary, as it may be.

My father’s father was born in Chernobyl, Ukraine in 1917 before the Soviet Union existed. He died in 2000 after the Soviet Union ceased to exist.

“Go back to the view of Earth from space,” I urge. “See if you can find us.”


Laura Nicole Diamond is the award-winning author of Shelter Us: a novel, and Dance with Me: a love letter, and editor of the anthology Deliver Me: True Confessions of Motherhood. She is at work on a memoir about becoming a foster mom to a teenage asylum-seeker. Follow her on Medium, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and here at LauraNicoleDiamond.com.

Hey Friday, Thank God It’s You.

Photo by GEORGE DESIPRIS on Pexels.com

The weeks do not fly so much as they race. A frantic regatta of days, each one catching a greater gust and passing the others. Before you have a chance to say, Hey, Monday–you again? you are greeting Friday with, Thank God it’s you.

Time is playing its tricks on me.

It feels fluid again. Not as disorienting as at the doldrums of the pandemic, when I felt compelled to share the occasional “PSA: Today is Monday”, but not the same as Before. I have one foot in the pandemic and one out. One foot in retreat, and one standing in the wide world. The mind tries to keep up with these gymnastics; my center is doing the splits.

These trickster days become wicked prankster years. Lying on my side in a colonoscopy recovery room (for goodness sakes!), a purple-grey gown wrapping my body and propofol wearing off, I asked the nurse — a kid half my age, within spitting distance of my own kids’ age — how did I become 52? It was supposed to be my parents in there, and me off at college. He smiled, understanding I was telling him, I was your age once. This is waiting for you, too.

An hour earlier, I had texted my friend from the dressing room, “Do I want the twilight or the full knockout?” This is the kind of thing we ask our friends now; this same girl I asked for boy advice at 14, love advice at 27, and parenting advice…well, still.

And maybe it is not all bad, to lose track of days and hours, or even years. To have to pause when you wake up while you figure out what day it is, and what role that means you will play: Am I packing someone’s lunch, or sleeping in? Am I planning my family, or my empty nest? To make dinner plans with a friend, look into her eyes and forget the years, or better yet, to see each of those years, those wisps of gray materializing at our crowns (okay, fine — mine, not hers), like shimmering medals for having arrived at this mile marker, with the finish line (god willing) far from our view.

With love, a few extra deep breaths, and appreciation for your time here,

Laura

P.S. In case you missed it, I think you’ll enjoy my post this week on Medium: How to Structure a Writing Retreat, which pertains to life beyond writing, and could just as easily have been called, “How to Slow Down and Do Whatever the Heck Calls to You.”

And remember you can follow me on Medium for free, or subscribe for unlimited access to all of Medium’s articles, which supports my work and that of other writers.


Laura Nicole Diamond is the author of Shelter Us: a novelDance with Me: a love letter, and editor of the anthology Deliver Me: True Confessions of Motherhood. She is at work on a memoir about becoming a foster mom to a teenage asylum-seeker. Follow more of her writing on Medium.