Brain-Picking Becky

BFF’s musings and reflections on this crazy life.

Happy 2019 + New Publication in Gateways, an Anthology!

I’m thrilled to share that a revised version of my essay, Our Mothers Have a Way of Shifting the Universe, has been published in Gateways, an anthology of fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction from alumni of Fairleigh Dickinson University’s MFA in Creative Writing program. Click here to order your copy!

As I reflect on 2018, I can honestly say that I am ending this year in happiness. The first half of it (and pretty much all of 2017!) was hard and painful, but things have balanced themselves now, and I feel that my family is finally emerging from our period of darkness. And despite all the crazy challenges this year brought me, it also brought more creative publications than any year before, and this makes me ecstatic.

Of course I’m grateful to every editor who has seen something in my words and deemed them worth publishing, but I am even more grateful to all of you who read what I write and encourage me to keep going. Part of my creative process is motivated by an impulse within me – a need to express, to tell my truth, to attempt to answer to some greater calling – but a huge part of it also comes from the joy of communicating with y’all. Knowing that you make the choice to sit with my words, to think about and even respond to them, is such a gift. THANK YOU.

I’m eager to see what 2019 throws at me, and I sincerely hope you stick around for the stories. Happy New Year to all!

Grappling with Thanksgiving

I love turkey and cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. I love passing on family traditions to my toddler. And I especially love sandwiches stuffed with Thanksgiving leftovers. But y’all, we have got to stop with this ridiculous story about the Pilgrims and Indians becoming friends over an ear of corn and living happily ever after.

I get that people want one good meal with their families, just one day of eating and drinking and not worrying about everything else. But it’s not like we’re doing this on a random Thursday afternoon. We’re doing this on a national holiday based upon a colonial myth that enables the horrible and ongoing mistreatment of indigenous Americans. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t enjoy the day, but maybe while we’re eating our turkey and cranberry sauce, we should also consider discussing the truth about our country’s history and how we can take action to support present-day indigenous communities.

cornhuskdoll
My idea is not perfect, but as a parent of a three-year-old, I’ve decided to focus on learning about the Tuscarora, a Native American tribe based in New York. The website I’ve chosen to use as my guide offers facts about things like their traditional foods, toys, and hunting tools, how they fled from North Carolina to New York because the British attacked them, and what their lives are like now. My plan is to read these facts aloud, pass around some pictures, and talk. Then, after exploring these materials, I’m going to pull up this list of online stores run by Native Americans and pick out something with my son. We white folk too often purchase “Native-inspired” products from places like H&M or Target instead of giving our money directly to the Native American artists who did the inspiring in the first place – many of whom are living in poverty despite the fact they’re making the authentic versions of the products we seem to want.

On this Thanksgiving, I am grateful for many things, including the opportunity to learn about our Native American neighbors, to spread the truth about our history, to use my money to support an amazing community, and to hopefully inspire my son to do his part in making this country a truly more equal and accepting place.

Huge thanks to Jen Winston (@girlsupplypower) for inviting Native Americans to take over her Instagram site this week and educate and motivate people like me. Check out Allen (lilnativeboy), Urban Native Era, Corinne Oestreich, #DearNonNatives, Tranny Cita, and Cleopatra Tatbele for more info on how to support Native Americans.

Photo credits:
N085/365 Corn Doll by Helen Orozco

Dancing with Relapse – New Publication!

No-ScaleWhile anorexia was familiar, intoxicating, even empowering, it was also a terrifying hell I thought I’d escaped from.”

After spending a decade in therapy working to finally put my eating disorder behind me, why have I spent the past five years writing a novel about a teenage artist who develops anorexia?

My latest essay, “Dancing with Relapse,” published today on The Women Who Get Shit Done, reflects on recovery, relapse, and the risks and rewards of fictionalizing my past demons in YA novel Bone Girl. Check it out!

Your Sister’s Ghost

It is 6:30 pm, Father’s Day is tomorrow, and we have nothing ready for your dad. To be honest, I was relying on your daycare teachers – for Mother’s Day, they helped you make this adorable and extensive art project that I completely love – but it seems like they don’t feel the same about dads. Your dad is a particularly chill one and not into fake holidays, but still, we have to do something. Or rather, you have to do something – I have to cook dinner.

“Why don’t you draw a picture of MommyDaddyLewis for Daddy’s special day tomorrow?” I suggest.

You run with this idea, literally, straight to your art table where you pull out a piece of blue paper and some markers. I wait until you’re settled then return to the kitchen to boil water for pasta.

August 2018 Drawing on the Balcona.JPG

A few minutes later, I walk back in and glance at the three figures you’ve drawn in the middle of the page. I’m impressed; they’re the most detailed, complete images you’ve ever made, and I’m ready to burst forth in motherly praise. But before I say anything, you start drawing another figure in the top left corner, smaller than the rest of us and clearly separate. Without prompting or even a word from me, you say, “That’s my sister.”

“What?” I reply, taken aback.

“My sister.”

“Your sister?”

“Yes.”

I am stunned. We haven’t talked about Baby Wow since right after I lost her six months ago now. We actually haven’t talked about siblings at all since then. While her recent due date certainly triggered many things inside of me, I’ve been very careful not to mention this around you. In fact, I never even told you she was a girl. I first shared with you that I was pregnant when she was eleven weeks in utero, but then had to tell you just one week later that she wouldn’t be born. You were sad, but only for a couple of days. By the time the genetic test results came back and we’d learned her gender, you were long over it.

Thinking back to those days surrounding the procedure still hurts. But I have to put my own emotions aside so that I can be present and explore this moment with you. I don’t want to put words in your mouth or sway your thoughts in any way, so I decide to begin with, “Do you have a sister?”

“Yes,” you reply in the same intonation as an older kid might say, Duh.

“Okay. Where is she?”

“Here,” you say, tapping your drawing of her.

“I see. So do you have a sister for real, or just in the picture?”

Seriously and without hesitation, you say, “For real.”

“In real life, or just pretend?”

“In real life, Mommy.” I can sense the annoyance seeping into your voice, but I decide to push on just a little more.

“Okay, where is she for real?” 

“Mommy, she’s right here,” you say, pointing to the air beside you.

Lew's Family Portrait 2018.JPG

Writing While Mothering

NanaLewTea9.2018.jpg

Lew and Nana sharing some morning tea in Massachusetts.

I am alone this weekend for a writing “retreat,” and while the mental and physical space is glorious, I miss my little bug.

It’s so strange how parenting never stops. How it’s all or nothing. How it simultaneously feeds you and feeds upon you. The act of finding balance is constant and crucial.

I’m lucky and grateful to have my in-laws. And I’m thrilled for the opportunity to once again dive into my stories and not resurface until I damn well please.

But also, I’ll be looking forward to those sweet texts with pictures of Lew, enjoying retired life with his grandparents, without me.

To all the mama writers out there – you got this.

Bamboozled

Did you know that toothbrushes are immortal? Unlike human beings, plastic toothbrushes keep on living even underneath tons of pounds of garbage. They keep on living even inside the bellies of dead dolphins. They keep on living even as they float all the way across the ocean until they wash up on Taiwanese beaches. Then, they keep on living even after they’ve become sculptures in the sand.

toothbrushesonbeach.jpg
— ◊ —

The past six months have tried to end me. The life I once lived in which I wrote, mothered, taught, sang, performed, took politic action, and somehow also relaxed, has been shattered. Instead of making art, going out, or sleeping, I’ve learned firsthand about anencephaly, the gray area of sexual harassment, and municipal regulations on basement apartments. I’ve dealt with wild hormonal swings. I’ve worked my ass off for a job I was promised that ultimately didn’t exist, then found myself in an uncomfortable situation when I said no more. I’ve packed, moved, unpacked, re-packed, re-moved, and re-unpacked – all with a cat, two dogs, and a busy-bee toddler who recently dropped nap.

I’ve never felt this much rage before, and while it has cracked me open in important ways, it has also shaken me to my core. My mind has raced in circles. My muscles have morphed into a single knot of tension. And my anxiety, after eighteen years of treatment, has found a new way to express itself: my throat is clenched tight, leaving my voice strained and hoarse, my neck and teeth throbbing with each heartbeat.

— ◊ —

Did you know that bamboo is the fastest-growing plant in the word? It is also one of the sneakiest. Its roots can run underground for over twenty feet before popping up again as a new shoot, called a culm. These culms then grow up to three feet a day for the next 120 years, sending their own runners out to sprout in surprising, faraway places.

Three to five years after its initial sprouting, a culm can then be harvested and transformed into basically anything: food, medicine, toys, rugs, clothes, bikes, houses, roads, bridges. In fact, bamboo can withstand twice as much force as concrete, and can hold up to 16 tons of weight. It can also cure cancer.

bamboo

— ◊ —

Becoming a mom has turned my home into a plastic palace. I look around the living room of my new new apartment, a place I hope will last much longer than the three months we spent in our illegal new apartment, and identify eleven items that will never die.

The bathroom isn’t any better. Three toothbrushes stick out from inside a plastic cup. A plastic bin filled with plastic toys is propped precariously on the lip of the tub. I move it to the floor, out of sight, then run hot water for a bath, but as I soak my stress-induced hemorrhoids and eat the M&Ms intended to aid in my toddler’s potty regression, I can’t relax; plastic is still very much on my mind. Also on my mind: pregnant women who’ve been denied access to proper health care, immigrants who’ve been detained for going to work, animals whose homes have been destroyed by loggers. I lament my now inactive Quick Action email list, my abandoned blog, the phone calls to senators I never placed. The enormous task of surviving my day-to-day has been all consuming, and while the depths of my strength have truly amazed and buoyed me up, I also feel like a failure of an activist.

plastic-toys1-e1525402821711.jpg

— ◊ —

Did you know that toothbrush bristles were once made from boar hair? Of course they contained loads of unhealthy bacteria, not to mention the moral issue of how these pigs were treated before they became tooth-brushing tools, yet, because animal hair is biodegradable and nylon is not, this is the only completely decomposable option presented thus far.

There are scientists out there who have dedicated their entire careers toward dissecting the greater impact of a single bristle. I think of these people doing this work, and I feel the knot inside of me loosen a little.

— ◊ —

I’ve always approached my activism from the angle of who needs it the most, but for the first time, I’m now approaching it from the angle of what I can most reasonably do. I am not ready to jump back into the strict schedule that once worked for me, and perhaps I never will be, perhaps that life wasn’t sustainable with or without my recent crises. But either way, here I am, dealing with effects of events that, though they’ve calmed, are still very much present: an unfulfilled due date, a static career and lingering sense of violation, an unresolved case with the Department of Buildings.

I will never solve all of the world’s problems. I will never even solve all of my own problems. But as I hold my recently purchased bamboo toothbrush and move its brand new form of bristles around my teeth, I realize, I don’t have to.

BexBambooBrush.JPG
— ◊ —

You can buy your own set of bamboo toothbrushes by clicking here. And if you need some more motivation to start the long process of giving up plastic, check out Margaret Atwood’s compelling piece in the Guardian.

Sources:
Encyclopedia Britannica: Bamboo
Bamboo Facts
Bamboo Herb
Brush with Bamboo
The Bamboo Solution
15 Creative Uses of Bamboo

Photo Credits:
1. Flotsam and Jetsam by F Delventhal
2. Bamboo by Serlunar

The Best, the Worst, Here.

Do You Ever Think.jpg

I’ve always held myself to impossibly high standards, standards that I don’t expect from other people. In fact, if someone else makes a mistake, I’m often the first to empathize and offer my support. But when it comes to me, well, I’m supposed to be perfect. Don’t my family, my friends, my students, the world, deserve the best from me?

In the first few months after my mom left her body, when I was so consumed by grief that everything else ceased to matter, I had a major revelation that “the best” doesn’t exist, that it’s just a construct we’ve created that keeps us disconnected from our present reality. During this period of intense grief, I would sometimes think the best choice was to go out with my friends, but then the moment I arrived at the bar, it felt all wrong. Other times it seemed best to stay at home and read, but then I’d cry and feel lonely and wish I’d gone out. Then there were times when whatever I’d chosen, whether it had felt right or wrong in the moment of choosing it, was exactly what I’d needed.

Because “the best” had become so nebulous and easily changeable in my mind, it started to seem not only unreal but also silly. Besides, the grief I was constantly grappling with overpowered everything else and made the process of analyzing if I should have gone out or stayed home feel unimportant, a waste of time.

Humans, or Americans at least, seem to despise discomfort. Even a little bit of it. We’re constantly complaining about how cold or hot the air is, how hungry or full our bellies are. We can’t seem to find that perfect situation. But instead of seeing that it doesn’t exist, we get lost in searching for it and then feel angry or sad that we continually can’t find it.

Now, four and a half years after my mother’s passing, I feel stronger, tougher, and wiser, but I’ve also fallen back into old habits of expecting “the best” then feeling guilty when I don’t achieve it. In a weird way, I miss those few months right after she died. I don’t miss the pain, but I miss the clarity it gave me, how it temporarily freed me from these constructs that I – we – have created.

But I don’t need all-encompassing grief in order to free myself again from these thought patterns. All I have to do is breathe.

 

Amazing comic by Gemma Correll.