Monday, October 19, 2009

Saving My Life With Poetry — Elizabeth Garber

In my Cohousing life, I organize the monthly Open Houses -- Maypole dances, Live Chess Match, bulb planting-- for our community and guests, yet here I want to give a glimpse of my other life.

It's five fifteen am and the sliver of the waning moon is bright outside my back window. I'm wide awake, settled onto my couch, a shawl around my shoulders and knees, cup of hot tea on the table in front of me, my laptop ready to go. I have two hours free to write before I get ready to meet my first acupuncture patient at eight o'clock. I'm a writer and this is my idea of a happy morning.

The summer I was ten, in the 1960's, I decided I was going to be a writer. I opened a new notebook and wrote down the title of the novel about a girl in the 1880's in my village in Ohio. But I didn't know where to begin. At our little library, I read biographies of girls and drew drawings of clothes a girl would have worn. Yet when I stared at the notebook, I couldn't imagine her life or who she was. Finally I tore out the page and began a journal of my summer telling about camping in the backyard with my best friend, getting scared and coming back into the house.

I kept journals for the next forty years, and began writing poetry in my late twenties. The first line of a poem would appear on a walk or while sitting in nature. I'd grab pen and paper, catching the poem as it poured. This was a perfect art form in my life as a mother. I carried a notebook and sometimes when driving, with my kids asleep in car seats, a poem might arrive. With the notebook across my lap, (not looking down, I promise!), I scrawled ragged jumbles of lines across the page so I wouldn't lose the poem.

When my younger child left home, taking her lively daily conversations about life, music and school, I decided to start an MFA in Creative Writing in a low-residency program. Two and a half years later, the erratic untrained poet has become a steady writer with a nearly finished book-length memoir of my childhood in that old-fashioned village in Ohio. I've come full circle. I imagined the life of a girl in another time and filled the blank page my ten year old self yearned to write.

I imagine ahead to when we live in Cohousing, finishing my cup of tea and morning writing, and walking out into my Cohousing life. I'll be ready to plant a garden or cook a meal or perhaps read something I've just written to a friend over breakfast.

The Day After She Finishes Driver’s Ed My Daughter Suddenly Notices I Write Poetry While Driving

“What are you doing? You can’t write and drive!”
She’s aghast, watching my pen scrawl across the open notebook
on my lap, as I drive one handed north up Route 1.

“Mimi, I’ve written nearly half of all my poems while driving
since before you were born. When else can moms write poetry?
I’m completely focused on the road and another part of my mind
is free to write. It’s great!”

“I want all your mind on the road!
I don’t want to die just because you have to write poetry!”
She pulls the paper and pen out of my grasp.

“Mimi, it’s not just for poems. It’s for making grocery lists,
and making sure I don’t forget things, like that you need ballet shoes.
And lots of people drive and eat!
Please may I have my paper and pen back?”

“No! You can eat and drive, but no poetry!”
She says with determination as we continue up the coast.
I’m left empty handed, soothed by the billowing
indigo wash of lupine in meadow grasses following the road.

An expanse of white paper stretches out in my mind
and no way to etch the day across it.
I have to be patient until I drive off alone
and can once again save my life with poetry.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Why Belfast? Why Waldo County? Why Maine? — Arielle Bywater

I was asked to give a reading at today's cohousing general meeting, and I chose to read a poem about how the Belfast community took care of our family when our second child died, a stillbirth. I didn't realize until afterward that many people did not know this part of our story. So below is a short essay I wrote about the experience--and how it fits into our interest in Maine and in community--back after it happened.

* * *

When my husband and I tell folks that we got married in an art gallery in Belfast, Maine, or that I gave birth to our son in a small house overlooking the bay there, or that this son is buried a bit further north in a pine forest in Orrington, they look at us funny. After all, we live in the Midwest. “You don’t have family there, do you?” Nope. “Did you grow up there?” We grew up in Ohio, New York and Massachusetts. “Well, then, why?”

How does anyone obsessed with Maine explain this particular madness? Usually, I say something like, “We started going there on vacation when we were dating because I had fond memories of camping in Acadia as a child. Also, I had once stumbled upon Belfast with an ex, ate hand-made lavender ice cream in an architectural salvage store/cafe, and swore I’d go back. Also, I saw a feature about the Common Ground Fair on TV when I was a teenager, wrote the name down in a notebook and never forgot about it. Also, it’s where I took up running, and where, in a used bookstore, I discovered Buddhism...” at which point my eyes start to flash the state seal and my conversational companions politely excuse themselves.

Or I tell this story: After several trips to Belfast wherein Rob and I discovered it was the place where the most magical things always happened to us, we were in Maine again, this time determined not to go to Belfast. “Let’s go to Camden,” we said. “We never go to Camden.” A half-dozen t-shirt shops later, we took one look at each other and hopped in the car, heading twenty minutes north for our beloved town. Driving in on High Street, we saw the road was blocked off: the town was having a midsummer festival, and people young and old were wearing flower wreaths in their hair and dancing barefoot in the middle of the street. Ah, we sighed. We’re back.

So when we were to be married, it had to be Belfast. The affair was strictly locavore, to use a phrase since coined: dinner with arriving guests at Chase’s Daily, everyone at B&Bs, picnic with food from the Co-op in a public park on the harbor, party the night before at the yoga studio, a morning run through the streets, flowers from a woman who lives in a geodesic dome outside of town, and a caterer and photographer we found right downtown, who provided food and photographs all of our sophisticated city friends pronounced the loveliest they’d ever eaten or seen. Our furthest import was the wonderful, wacky Buddhist professor from Bowdoin who married us. It was perfect.

Fast forward five year, and we were pregnant with our second child and living in Illinois, where the kind of birth we wanted, a homebirth with professional midwives, is illegal. Our solution? The same solution we have for everything: go to Belfast! Once again, we found the ideal people for the job in the tiny downtown: better midwives, I believe, than are available in the entire city of Chicago. So in the dead of winter, we moved temporarily into the little house we’d rented for a couple weeks the previous summer and waited for our son to arrive.

And when our son was stillborn, it was the Maine community who rallied around us and kept us whole, even though we were perfect strangers: the Belfast midwives; the homesteaders in Montville who’d had stillbirths themselves and made us a necklace to remember our boy out of grass seeds from their land; the labor doula from Union who became a dear friend; the stone carver from Stockton Springs who makes exquisite tombstones and dropped all his work to do this small job for us; the Solon woman starting a green cemetery in Orrington who allowed our son to be buried in her family’s private plot because the paperwork hadn’t yet gone through to make it public; and the local church folks who came out on that frigid winter day to dig the grave for us. Our baby’s death certificate, like our marriage license, is issued from the Belfast Town Hall. It’s the place where some of the biggest moments of our lives have happened, even though we’ve never actually lived there.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Dreaming of Cohousing II — Arielle Bywater

Another cohousing dream last night: I dreamt Michelle Obama and her two kids were meeting with the members of our cohousing group (apparently in the cafeteria of my elementary school in upstate New York). The First Lady was very impressed with our group, especially with how membership required such a high level (quantity and quality) of volunteer work from us all: she felt this was a great model for volunteerism in America in general. And Sasha and Malia got along great with our cohousing kids!

So. Why do I seem to dream so much about cohousing? And how can we extend an invitation to the Obamas to come visit our project, get a tour of our house from Alan and Matt, join us for a potluck? And how can we find more non-white members for our group (probably the greatest diversity challenge in Midcoast Maine)?