the next level

(originally posted October 2010)


I’m currently reading a book of essays by Stephen Dobyns, “Best Words Best Order”–a book that I now consider an ESSENTIAL read for any writer, especially poets! Halfway through it I feel both challenged and inspired–and a little daunted too, I suppose. The essay that I just finished reading on Rainer Maria Rilke has been in my mind, raising different questions about my work and growth as a poet. 

 In the essay Dobyns charts the writerly growth of Rilke, and claims that talent is merely potential, the promise of possibility–but that it takes more. Talent isn’t enough. Determination, ambition, energy and gall as well as the need to have one’s ego serve the writing (and not the reverse). Most poets go through two stages of a three stage process, but the third stage is where the difficulty lies. Dobyn’s points us toward Rilke’s explanation of the final stage:
  1.  A willingness to face and forgive all the nastiness (insanity) that the unconscious mind dredges up.
  2. The need to look (at something) without imposing one’s prejudices, without any ulterior motive. (to be concerned about telling the audience about one’s loves and hates is not to make art.)
  3. To measure the work against your conscience. Are you truthful in your gazing?Are you being influenced by outside concerns: fame, money or love? Is it the totality of your craft? Are you lying about its completion?
  4. The need of unconsciousness. Whoever meddles, arranges, injects his human deliberation, his wit, his advocacy, his intellectual agility is already disturbing and clouding their activity. Ideally, should be unconscious of his insights. (Rilke made distinctions between ‘making’ and ‘revising’ and the making was the unconscious part.
  5. The final point is that the artist must not turn his/her back on any subject. If it catches his gaze, he is not permitted to turn his back on it
 I think I am in the second stage, where Dobyns describes most MFA grads to be in–I’ve learned some important things from my MFA, like how to write with clarity, streamline my writing, and, most important, how to truly revise. These are all good things but the downside to learning in an MFA invironment is that I’ve learened a certain “correct” way of writing, so the challenge for me will be to deviate from the way I’ve been taught to write (not only in my classes, but by the poets I read and admire). I think that I need to take more chances to push into that third stage–but what to do when “taking a chance” feels more like “making a mistake”? I guess that is where being completely “pure” and having no training in writing can be an advantage–never taught what is the “mistake” just completely leaning on intuition. although nothing is new under the sun, so maybe having that education can save me from making mistakes a poet who never attended any writing classes might make.  I have often thought that my work progressed much faster than it would have if I had not attended undergrad creative writing classes and much faster if I had never gone for my MFA.  I don’t know if either degree pushed my writing in a different direction–who can tell anything from the emotion-wrought high school poems from my old diaries?–but I would count them, however formative they might have been, as positive influences in my writing.
Its something to think about but maybe not to fret about. I believe that the best way to improve is through voracious reading, habitual writing, and giving no regard whatsoever to the possibility of having a work published until the work is completed.

a blogging maternity leave

baby wendy will make her appearance any DAY now (because she’s coming early, right?), and my chances of finding time to blog are diminishing. Due to Addition-of-Baby, during the months of July, August, and September, I’ll be taking a break from the blog.

Neverfear! though there won’t be NEW content, I will be reposting some of my favorite posts from my Archives–this blog has been around since 2010, believe it or not, and I bet I have a lot of interesting posts you’ve not yet read.

So enjoy reading through some of my old favorites, and have a happy summer!


Indoor activities for rainy (or too hot) summer days: for toddlers / preschoolers


  • Make-up: I park the girls on a towel in front of a mirror in their room and let them to go town with real make-up. not mine—they have their own bin of cast-offs from my sister who works at a fancy make-up store. We wash it off, of course.
  • Indoor Easter Egg Hunt: we bought some cute forest easter eggs last easter, so occasionally when the kids are very stir crazy, I pull them out and have an indoor easter egg hung. Usually I only put candy in some of them, but that is enough to get them excited
  • “gold doubloon hunt”: I cut some circles out of yellow construction paper and hide them like an easter egg hunt. The twist is that I give them “pirate-y” clues as to where the doubloons are (for example: “if a doubloon my maties seek, they ought take a peak where they sleep”
  • Homeschool: we’re working through “God’s Little Explorers” til the end of June, then taking July, August, and maybe part of September off, to accommodate our new addition. I like this homeschool plan because it gives me lots to do with the girls indoors (and out sometimes too) and it feels like a good baseline I can build off of.
  • Basics: playdoh, coloring, and painting are all favorite activities for my girls—especially painting, though it can get a little messy sometimes.
  • Drama: sometimes we put on little plays of biblical stories. The girls enjoy this. I used to do “puppet shows” where I’d take their stuffed animals and pretend like they are puppets over the top of the couch.
  • Camping: zu has a bunk bed, so we put sheets overtop it to make a tent then pretend to go camping with flashlights and stories

Of course we mostly enjoy playing outside during the summer; I take advantage of the cool mornings and try to have my kids outdoors by 7:30 or 8 (we wake up early anyway) so they can at least get some morning time play in, even if its too hot to play outside in the afternoon.

What are some fun activities and games you like to play with your preschoolers and toddlers when it’s the summer weather isn’t cooperating?


I think I’ve been saying “she’s almost two” since you were 18 months. You just grew up so fast—always racing to keep up with big sis. slow down, baby! 100_8692i love this stage! oh your two-ness—you call lemonade “oo-nade”, shake your booty to any sort of beat, are at your cuddliest when pretending to be “feemy-meemy” (your cat alter-ego), sings “poo poo for sale” when you have a dirty diaper, love to show off your “fee-a-full dress”, will hold your own hand (in stubbornness) before holding mommy’s, claim to know when “bendy wendy” is cry-cry-crying (in mommy’s belly). though wrangling you can be a challenge at times, I love your funny, stubborn little spirit–you’ve always known your mind and i hope that is something you keep forever, even with all the whirlwind of change you’ve been caught in this summer–new home, new town, new babysister. here’s to another year with my sweet junie!


my ideal day

100_8694Wake up at 5, get ready for the day, devotional, writing, reading time

Breakfast with family around 6:30

Walk around the block (maybe squeeze that in before breakfast sometimes?)

Around 7ish, when b leaves for work, doing our homeschool lesson for the day

Outside play time

Snack around 9

Outside play or daily outing (library story time, church play group, etc)

Lunch at 11

Nap at 12 for the girls, while I catch up on work and chores

Around 2, a snack

Outside play time  or outing

More homeschool from what we didn’t finish earlier

4ish, when b comes home, having a little time to myself to go read/ regroup/ enjoy some quiet time

Family walk

Family dinner around 5:30 / 6


Bed for girls at 8

Catch up on work / chores

Relax with the hubby

Bed at 10


My day rarely goes exactly like this and I know having baby #3 will make this even More rare. I’ve had quiet an uncommon few of these days lately though, and I’ve appreciated them more than I would have, since I know they are fleeting and I’ve only recently acquired them since our schedule was so different when living in Georgia.

Some of the changes that have made this rhythm so much better for our family are that bryan and I are on the same schedule, our yard is more conducive for outdoor play so the girls get to be outside more, and I’ve started waking up before the girls wake up so that I can have (much-needed introvert) time to myself.

Previously, my mornings consisted of  waking up when I heard the girls call me, doing my best to hush the girls while b slept in from working his night shift, then rushing off to work, then rushing home to cook lunch. B and I had naptimes alone together, but shortly after the girls woke up from nap, he’d have to leave for work again.

Every now and then I’d have someone comment on how nice it must be to have b home during the day and I always agree yes, yes it is, because there were some positives—being able to go out when no other families were off work was nice—but overall the opposite schedule was not idea.

when we knew baby #3 was on her way, bringing along with her the inevitable collapse of our girls precious two-hour daily coordinated naptime, things had to change. And they did! Though I didn’t even think it possible, God provided a better rhythm for our family, and I’m grateful for it.

Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin

I n9780385348614ever read Rubin’s other two books, but I want to after reading Better Than Before. I love nonfiction books that have been well-researched and are written from a personal, interesting perspective. This book is all about forming habits—learning how to make and maintain habits according to your personality type.

At the beginning of the book, Rubin outlines the 4 “tendencies” of how people react to inner and outer expectations: the Upholder, Obligor, Rebel, and Questioner (Take the Quiz here! It’s short and useful!). From there she goes into detail with different strategies for making, strengthening, and maintaining your habits.

I’m an “upholder” which means I don’t really have trouble making habits and I also love habits (true and true). Even then, I found this book useful in knowing the best way to create a habit and what undermines the creation of a habit.

Since I’m about to experience what Rubin calls a “clean slate” experience—a big life change, like having a baby!—it’s a great time to think about what I’d like my new habits to be. Its true that with a clean slate it is easier to start a new habit—I started waking up at 5am every morning after our move this spring—but it also easy to lose habits, so it was helpful to read this book and strategize how I will take back up habit once I’m out of newborn-baby-survival mode.

Some habits I’d like to start after having the baby are limiting myself to only 5 desserts a month (I started this month and hope to continue), and to walking 1 hour a week. Part of me (my “tendency”) wants to make these goals very specific—like “I will walk 1 hour every Saturday”—but realistically, with a newborn, 2 yr old and 3 yr old to care for all day, who knows what stability my schedule will offer.

I do know that I’m giving myself a rest on some of my more rigorous habits (waking up at 5 am….) until we’ve “stabilized” into a new normal (hopefully within 3 months of having Wendy, though with June it was 6!).

What are some habits that you hope to create? What was your result on the habits tendency quiz?

(I received this book for free from blogging for books)

36 weeks!


36 weeks, with kids hitting each other in the background

Baby size?  honeydew! though its hard to believe she isn’t bigger than that

Sleep? I wake up every two or three hours, I’m very restless

Foods I am loving? Watermelon, greek yogurt, cherries

Foods I am hating? nothing in particular, just watching out for heartburn-causing foods

Best moment this week?  we’ve had an overall pleasant week–i kept things pretty quiet and simple, just outdoor play (when it wasn’t too overly hot) and lots of reading and imagination time.

Movement? More than either of my other two girls! It looks like there’s an alien or parasite inside of me, its crazy how hard she kicks and moves around in there. She’s a strong baby!

Symptoms? Heartburn, hip-pain, sometimes short on breath

What I miss? Wearing normal-people clothes, not feeling so conspicuous and huge, being able to keep up with my daughters a little easier, being able to sleep on my stomach.

What I’m looking forward to? Having this baby! I can’t wait to introduce her to her sisters—I hope that they love her and that we can transition well to a family of 5.

Emotions:  a couple of weeks ago I woke up around 3 in the morning thinking of all the things I still needed to do to get ready. I like to have an organized little “Baby station” in my room since the baby will stay in her bassinet beside my bed for at least the first couple months, and I hadn’t set that up. I haven’t yet packed a hospital bag and i still have a few freezer meals i’d still like to make, but, with a month (or more…hopefully not more..) left, i’m sure i’ll get to it. There’s no feeling of Deadline like a Due-date.