This Season, the Book, and a Poem

The rainy season has arrived. After so much drought, so much dust and heat and depleted reservoirs, the rain has finally come. Most days it begins late in the afternoon. The clouds gather, the sky darkens, the birds and the leaves get restless. Phil and I, without ever discussing it, have made a commitment to brewing tea when the clouds start moving in, getting to the porch with our mugs in time to watch the first drops fall. We sit there, mostly in silence, drinking hot milky tea and watching the water stream down the banana trees, move like a blur through the valley, soak into our thirsty yard. I suppose it’s a boring way to spend the afternoon, sitting still in our own yard, not talking, not much happening. And yet, I already feel like I’m watching it from some future lifetime—maybe we’ll be back in Canada, busy with teenagers or new jobs or navigating an empty nest— and we’ll say, “Do you remember when we used to spend our afternoons drinking tea on the porch and watching the rain?” This one ritual will define so much, will define better than anything else, maybe, this sweet season.

~~~

It’s been nearly two months now since Georgette went live and public on Amazon. Thank you so much to all of you who have bought it and read it and told your friends about it. I’ve been feeling quite vulnerable about it all, and also quite astounded by the response. So many of you have said such kind things, have told me how it made you laugh embarrassingly in public places or recounted the anecdotes that you can relate to all too well. This is exactly what I hoped that small book might do— that in sharing our imperfect story with honesty, others might love their own little life a bit more, might notice the quirky or beautiful moments in their own days, or if nothing else, might laugh a bit at all my failed attempts at perfect mothering. I’m still trying to figure out what my next step is with the book, how much effort I should put into marketing or spreading the word. I thought I’d approach bloggers with it, but have found that process more daunting than I’d expected. Any advice you have— or suggestions of bloggers you think might be interested in reading and reviewing it—would be warmly welcomed.

~~~

For those of you who have been reading Being Ilia, I’ve put a few new chapters up in the last weeks, which I don’t believe show up as new posts in your inbox, but are on the site if you look for them. I’m sorry that getting those chapters out has been such a long process. I’m amazed at those of you who are still faithfully following dear Illy’s misadventures.

~~~

And lastly, my gift to you, which was a gift to me from the wise and wonderful Karith, is a poem from the poet Eaven Boland. Hopefully many of you have been reading her for years, but if, like me, you were never introduced to her work, I think you’ll agree, we’ve been missing something important.

Atlantis—A Lost Sonnet
Eavan Boland, 1944

How on earth did it happen, I used to wonder
that a whole city—arches, pillars, colonnades,
not to mention vehicles and animals—had all
one fine day gone under?

I mean, I said to myself, the world was small then.
Surely a great city must have been missed?
I miss our old city—

white paper, white pudding, you and I meeting
under fanlights and low skies to go home in it. Maybe
what really happened is

this: the old fable-makers searched hard for a word
to convey that what is gone is gone forever and
never found it. And so, in the best traditions of

where we come from, they gave their sorrow a name
and drowned it.

~~~

As always, thanks for being here.

-Kirsten

Introducing….

Georgette: Writing and Mothering in an Old French Cottage by [Penner Krymusa, Kirsten]

Georgette: Writing and Mothering in an Old French Cottage is a memoir about the summer our family lived in- you guessed it- an old French cottage. The summer was a few years ago, so those of you familiar with Nairobi these days will find some of the references baffling. (It really wasn’t that long ago that Lindt chocolate and pre-made spaghetti sauce didn’t exist on Nairobi shelves). But the bigger things- the joys and sorrows of parenting, the challenges of pretending to be a local in a foreign country, my embarrassing procrastination habits- these things are as true today as they were that bumbling, beautiful summer. I hope you’ll enjoy it.

Purchase Georgette (or at least read a free sample) at amazon_logo_RGBAnd if you read it, please do let me (and the world) know what you think by leaving a review and telling your friends.

Many thanks. 

 

Truth telling

I am paralyzed by own search for meaning, by the need to draw out conclusions, maybe even (dare I say) truths from my words, my experiences, my stories. I walk over the damp cushiony dirt between the roots of trees with peeling bark, and at the same time I wonder what I could learn from trees, if there is a pattern in the growing of things, why I’m so lucky to afford this luxury in the first place, this walking and meaning-searching.

Which leads to the other paralysis, the one of my own privilege. I am so aware that everything about my life, the freedom to walk in safe green spaces, hours to sit at my computer and craft sentences, even my ruminating over the cost and responsibility of privilege, is somehow enmeshed with my rich, white, Canadian place in things. Knowing that I can tell my story only because someone else is unable to tell theirs, leaves me floundering, desperate to write, but paralyzed by the ability to do so.

All of these heady internal conversations, my analyses, guilt and defensiveness, they render me motionless even though I’ve spent decades pouring my life behind the imperative to write and tell stories. So I turn instead to the one truth that— I don’t think— can be denied. The facts of my experience. My uninterpreted life. I spend hours at this exercise, recording the details of my days, my young daughters’ words, movements, the flight of the birds above the tree line:

A sunbird lands on the ivy climbing up the stripy bark of the banana tree. Its feathers shimmer in the morning sunlight. It chirps, hops over to reach its curved beak into the open purple petals of the agapanthus. The flowers tremble with the bird’s deep drinking.

J wakes early, slides silently down the hall in white soft cotton pajamas, sniffles in the silence. She sits down beside me, wipes her nose with an old baby washcloth, reads a fairy book in the dim light before dawn.

The girls squeeze into the bath tub, scrub dirt from their foreheads and feet. P makes soup in a cupcake lining and bows as she serves it to me. Water splashes on the floor as J makes explosions with a small shampoo tube.

A brown hadada ibis struts across the lawn.It pecks at the grass with its preposterous beak, watches me with a round leery eye. I remember when M was two and stood at the back door talking to the ibises, loud, screeching. They answered her with their caws just like she assumed they would.

Today we argue. About new cars versus old, about where to sit at the dinner table, about how to argue. We each retreat to nurse our wounds, emerge cautiously from bedrooms and books, try again, argue again. I go to bed early and wait for morning.

I write these stories, the truth of my days, with relief and gratitude, but still with an underpinning of fear. Even the facts of one’s life can be judged. They may have happened but that doesn’t mean they should have happened. Maybe we are too insular, insulated, shouldn’t spend so much time safe in our four walls, doors shut, suffering ignored. We have our own pain of course, our own suffering even, but it doesn’t touch the bigger broader sufferings, the ones named war and rape and racism and abuse and famine and incarceration. Those stories are theoretical to us, at least now, sad and sorrowing stories, but abstract.

The trail of slug slime on the sidewalk, the sharp smell of the first rain, the arguments over Lego, these are the concrete experiences of our bodies, our breath. I don’t know how to hold all of it, how to tell my own stories without devaluing others. I want to search for meaning but am afraid I must relinquish that privilege to other voices who have not yet experienced that luxury.

I am a writer afraid of writing. I hold my small truths in my hand like wounded butterflies, sad and unsure what to do next, willing them to fly.

A new look

Hello faithful followers.
Those of you getting my posts to your Inbox may have noticed I posted a new poem today- though truthfully it was an accident. I had hoped to publish it privately so that when I unveiled my new website next week, there would be some new content. But instead, I guess I’ll unveil it today, right now, right HERE. As well as a whole new look to The Kirsten Collective, you’ll see an announcement about my travel/parenting memoir Georgette: Writing and Mothering in an old French Cottage, which will hopefully be on sale on Amazon very soon.
So welcome back. Thanks for waiting and for reading.
See you at the collective,

Kirsten

www.thekirstencollective.com

To the followers of The Kirsten Collective

Thank you to those of you have followed my blog, and those of you have been checking in, wondering where I’ve disappeared to. I wanted to let you know that I’m revamping my site and will be launching the new updated version in the near future, hopefully around the time that my soon-to-be-released memoir appears for sale on Amazon. At the moment, the site is set to Private while I work on it. Thank you for your patience. I”ll be sure to let you know when I’m back!

Kirsten

@The Kirsten Collective

Of Ibises and Slugs: An Unlikely Morning Study

I feel like this blog post should come with a warning…It’s not exactly beautiful, more stomach-turning actually, though I hold out faith that there’s beauty even here. Consider yourself warned. 

I drink my coffee on the back porch
and notice with some pleasure
that a hadada ibis is walking towards me.
I have recently announced to my husband
that I no longer consider the ibises a nuisance–
their large dinosaur bodies, their loud grating call–
but a beautiful fascination.
How lucky we are, I assure him,
to have such exotic birds living
in such comfortable proximity.
So I am careful to sit still as this ibis approaches,
eager to observe its shimmering feathers,
its unlikely beak, all the details
I’ve missed at my usual distance.
I notice that its eye–as it stares at me
from the stone slabs less than a meter from my seat,
pokes its curved red and black beak into the bird bath–
is exactly the same as the earring I am wearing,
shiny black, ringed in sliver,
perfect concentric circles.
Its prehistoric feet pad gingerly down the stone,
when it finds a slug on a plant,
grasps it with its sharp beak,
and shakes it,
bits of grey slug flesh
spraying in all directions.
Somehow it manages to get some of the
creature down that long beak,
strings of slime dragging from beak to branch.
I am horrified, fascinated, admiring and disgusted.
It snatches up a piece that has fallen
and I cringe as pieces of wet grey slug body
land on the cushion beside me.
I watch as it coaxes the fat body
from the tip of that long beak
all the way down to its throat, gullet.
It reaches for another.
It has found a feast in my potted plant,
all those little creatures who didn’t know this morning
that they’d be torn from their leafy hollow.
Slug after slug, it rips them apart,
sends pieces flying.
One of the slugs is so long that
it gets wrapped around the ibis’s beak,
stuck to itself with its own slime.
I don’t know if this is a poem that I am watching unfold
or a disturbing documentary,
science and nature and life and death.
There is no glory in the way these slugs are dying,
no propriety in this meal.
What began as an ode to sliver-ringed eyes
has become a gluttonous, deathly display of biology.
The spot of red on its beak has grown brighter, richer.
but the beak is no longer smooth and graceful,
crusted now with its breakfast.
There is so much slime,
so many long strings of gastropod bodies
flailing around that my toes curl,
my stomach turns.
I cover my coffee mug with my hand to protect it
from the fleshy debris flying in its direction.
I feel all my biases rise to my mouth,
bias for small and fluttery,
against large and prehistoric.
This is not the bird feeding that I’m used to,
the delicate snap of sunflower seeds in small beaks
that I admire every morning.
I admit that my recent affection for the ibis
has not survived the move
from theoretical to concrete,
from distance to intimacy.
My love has not lasted
through breakfast.

Illy is Back

For those of you who have been reading my novel, Being Ilia, I apologize for its hiatus these last couple months. I’ve just posted two new chapters, and plan to be posting regularly in the coming weeks. Because of the page format I’m using, these chapters don’t appear in your Inbox if you’re following my site, so you’ll have to go through the effort of actually checking in.

If you’re just starting the novel, Chapter One can be found here.

Thanks for reading.

A note of apology and return

It has been such a long hiatus, such a deep separation between me and this place, between me and my own words. It appears I am still unable to craft sentences, bring thoughts into written being, when I am on the other side of the world. The months there pass with so much intensity, so much deep listening, steady talking. It feels like a continual gathering and pouring and it leaves me richer, but exhausted. Now begins the slow process of sifting through all those words, memories, relationships, finding space for all the new bits of my life among the familiar ones waiting patiently here for me when I returned. I’m trying to find my way back to the written word, am finding so far that poems are my easiest entry, will post poems for a while and see where they lead me. Excuse my long absence. Welcome back.

The Hope of Myself

I’ve been gone from this space such a long time, have found it impossible to make this work a priority among all the pressing needs and obligations around me. I feel like Exhibit A in a dissertation on Feminist Study, the difficulty- still, after all these decades- for a woman to find space for creative work when the millenia-old needs of home, family, relationships clamour for her energy. Or, maybe, I simply have not learned the basic skills of managing time, remaining disciplined, commitment to the craft. Maybe my Feminist Martyr theories are just another excuse for not sitting down and doing the hard work of “butt in chair”, as Anne Lamott eloquently puts it.

I’m not claiming to be back now either, unfortunately. The small stretches of time that I do find have been and will be devoted to polishing manuscripts, preparing for writers’ workshops this summer. It’s important and creative work, but it doesn’t make for good blog posts, doesn’t produce anything new. So this morning all I have to offer is this poem by dear Mary O. Although I don’t claim to approach the brilliance of her writing, the words and thoughts of this poem may be the closest thing I’ve read by another poet to the words in my own brain. These lines feel borrowed from my own soul…

When I Am Among the Trees

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness,
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

~ Mary Oliver ~

Seasons

Without the glaring announcement of snowfalls and colourful leaves, the seasons of this place use more subtle markers. This is the cassia season, when the cassia trees are blanketed with deep yellow flowers, so much yellow you can barely see the green leaves behind the blossoms. It is also the wasp season, wasps suddenly crafting hives in every corner of every house, and the gecko season, and of course, again, the ant season. It is also the season of the pear and the mango, and should be the strawberry season as well if the weather would cooperate. We’ve traded in the four seasons for the four hundred.