Ice cream, and other good things that come to an end

 

Mint choc chip ice cream, by Marija Smits

Mint choc chip ice cream, by Marija Smits

 

Tomorrow my children will be going back to school. I will, no doubt, be experiencing a mix of emotions as I do the school run: sadness (I want to have more fun with them!), worry (will they get on okay in their new year?) and a touch of relief (I desperately need some quiet hours to myself to catch up with my publishing work) as well as the usual overwhelm that the school run social niceties and small talk cause me as an HSP.

 

Strawberry ice cream by Marija Smits

Strawberry ice cream by Marija Smits

 

Anyway, I will get through it. And my children will, no doubt, manage. But, again, it is an obvious end to the summer and the freedom (and fun) that it brings all of us. And when good things come to an end there is a certain amount of sadness. So, I will feel the sadness, say hello to it, and then get on with things. I will say goodbye to it when I am ready.

So on that note, I will leave you with one of my (somewhat bittersweet) poems. It was recently published in this lovely pamphlet: Food & Drink – Bramley Apple Festival Poems, 2015.

 

Food and Drink, Bramley Apple Festival Poems

'Mint choc chip' poem, by Marija Smits

‘Mint choc chip’ poem, by Marija Smits

 

If you write poetry I would definitely encourage you to enter the annual Bramley Apple Festival poetry competition – it is free to enter and the organizers are friendly and helpful. There really is nothing to lose! Here is a PDF with all the info:

2016 ‘Green’ Bramley Apple Festival Poetry Competition leaflets

Whatever you are doing tomorrow, I hope it brings you a little sweet ‘something’. Amidst the sadness I will enjoy having a creamy coffee and listening the stillness of the house. And after school, who knows, maybe we will go for an ice cream. But what flavour to choose…?

 

Cherry ice cream by Marija Smits

Cherry ice cream by Marija Smits

 

p.s. A huge welcome back to Maddy (and all) at ‘What I’m Writing’. 🙂

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Writing Bubble

Save

Save

Save

The Poetess, The Outraged, and The Wild Woman

The other day I was genuinely discombobulated (and a bit upset) that a fairly well-known literary author (or should that be authoress?!) decided to, completely out of the blue, tweet me at my Marija Smits Twitter account to say this:

 

@MarijaSmits PoetESS? Really? I’ve find that title very belittling. Poet is genderless. Like writer. And chemist.

 

Now, as some of you know, I am a deeply reflective person. I don’t do quick, clever retorts or off-the-cuff tweets (as I have to assume this was, given the typo). I don’t do ‘soundbites’, so I’m sure as hell not going to start a discussion about this on Twitter.

But… I thought and thought about it, and carefully considered what to do about this tweet. The HSP in me said: ‘Say nothing, don’t speak out, be silent, because then you won’t get hurt and overwhelmed by it all.’ But the Wild Woman in me – she who is very good at helping me to speak out when I know an issue is dear to me – said: ‘Be brave. Write. Explain yourself. Speak out for all the Wild Women who are silenced in small and big ways every day.’

So here are my thoughts. I would also like to add that as most of you know, yes, I am careful with my words, so I did not choose the title ‘poetess’ lightly, and I want to explain my reasoning behind this. To help me do this, let’s begin to analyze that tweet…

 

Definition of 'poetess'

Definition of ‘poetess’

The Poetess

Why is the female gendered form of ‘poet’ belittling? Is ‘poet’ truly genderless? I sometimes see women calling themselves ‘female poets’ but I don’t read about ‘male poets’. So is ‘poetess’ “belittling” because the author who tweeted me assumes that the male form is the usual default, and that the female form is obviously subordinate and therefore lesser?

This is the same impulse in genderless environments/occupations like ‘scientist’ or ‘chemist’. In fact, these cultures (academic and commercial) are competitive, aggressive and confrontational, and, in fact, stereotypically masculine. Women are equal in this “genderless” world as long as they behave like men. But not paid the same, of course. And, it’s worth noting, some women are better than other women at behaving like stereotypically masculine men. (The arena of politics is another apt example.)

Removal of the female gendered form in artistic contexts is denying the different lived experience and different aesthetic/sensibility that women have. It belittles them by suggesting they can only be equal to men by being the same and having the same identity.

As a deeply reflective person, I thought about the pros and cons of using the word ‘poetess’ for a fair while before I decided to give myself that title on my blog… I meant to call myself ‘poetess’ because my poetry reflects (and is generally about) my life as a woman and the impact that my feminine identity has on my artistic expression. Why should we women NOT be allowed to draw attention to our gender in the names we choose for ourselves? Why must the female form be suppressed? How does this suppression “enlarge us” and make us less “little”? And finally, why must I, a woman, face attack from another woman who wants to censor the names I use for myself? This, in itself, is a belitting, and sad disempowerment – which is fundamentally against everything that I have strived for in my breastfeeding counselling voluntary work, my writing and my publishing work.

Continuing to look at the bigger picture, I also see from the breastfeeding support world that sometimes people get upset about the use of the word ‘mother’ and ‘father’ and that it should be simply ‘parent’. Now, I think we’re getting into difficult territory here, because mothers and fathers have differing, though unique roles. And believe me, I’ve seen enough people arguing about this until I’m fit to burst with melancholy. I’ve been drawn into it myself, while arguing for safe spaces for women, and I’ve been called names to my face and seen some pretty ugly name-calling online. And then I’ve also read the arguments about how we should all just call each other and ourselves humans so that we cut out any gendered stuff like ‘man’ or ‘woman’. And perhaps, while we’re at it, we should get rid of female and male names (or perhaps adopt the male names only – they can be the standard, right?!). Again, this is tricky territory we’re getting into, and one that needs far more critical (and nuanced) thinking about than our social media–savvy society seems to be able to cope with.

 

The Outraged

But, coming back to the tweet… I cannot see that my use of the word ‘poetess’ is worth the outrage. Or perhaps it is? Maybe, by labelling myself thus, I unknowingly hit upon a nerve. But I know too that we are living in the age of outrage and people seem quick to look for reasons to be offended. Indeed, some of them go out of their way to be offended. (Something I cannot for the life of me understand.)

I also thought it particularly apt that just the other day I read this excellent blog post by Kristen Lamb about whether or not Facebook is dying, and how it really isn’t about fun (and harmless) socializing anymore. Kristen said that she’d done something she’d never expected to do – unfollow other writers – because they were simply too busy being outraged (my words here) and it wasn’t much fun.

These writers—The Unfollowed—have mutated from friends into geysers of hysteria, hate, ranting, or general pissed-offedness. And I think that’s sad. The same writer who’s spending time on social media might one day announce a book that I would have seen and maybe even bought…had they not pushed me to the point of unfollowing anything they posted.

There are even some well known authors I used to read and buy their books…but now I no longer like them. Deep down I resent how they’ve selfishly beaten me over the head with their opinions. Frankly, there are too many nice and considerate authors to buy from instead.

The thing is… when this author-tweeter started following me on Twitter the other day, I felt genuinely excited because she is an acclaimed writer. Though now… I feel deflated and I have a desire to stay off social media. But hey, that’s the world we live in at the moment and it’s probably a good reminder to me that no matter what I say online someone somewhere will be offended by what I, a woman, choose to call myself.

 

The Wild Woman

I now feel in a place in my life where I don’t just want to stick to Aren’t cats cute? online. Maintaining a front of 100% bland and inoffensiveness is exhausting and depleting to the soul. So I will continue to be me, to be genuine and truthful to my own Wild Woman. For she is the one who reminds me in countless ways every day that I am a woman, and a mother, and a poetess, and that I should take pride in my identity.

 

Save

Save

Save

Sensitivity


Welcome to the ‘Look At All The Women’ Carnival: Week 3 – ‘The Eclectic Others’

This post was written especially for inclusion in the three-week-long ‘Look At All The Women’ carnival, hosted by Mother’s Milk Books, to celebrate the launch of Cathy Bryant’s new book ‘Look At All The Women’. In this final week of the carnival our participants share their thoughts on the theme ‘The Eclectic Others’ (the third, and final, chapter in Cathy’s new poetry collection).

Please read to the end of the post for a full list of carnival participants.

***

Sensitivity by Marija Smits

Sensitivity by Marija Smits

 

Sensitivity

(a tanka)

 

Noise, movement, people,

chaos; my jangled senses

fret – rebel. I long

for quiet solitude, but

finding none I turn within.

 

MARIJA SMITS

 

When I used to teach biology at secondary school one of the first things I had to explain was ‘The 7 Signs of Life’. We used a helpful acronym – Mrs Nerg – to remind us of these 7 characteristics of all living things:

Movement

Reproduction

Sensitivity

Nutrition

Excretion

Respiration

Growth

I immediately picked up on the word ‘sensitivity’ – what a beautiful sounding word! But what exactly did it mean? Well, in essence, it means that all living things display sensitivity, which is the ability to detect changes in their environment. At the time I didn’t think much about how sensitivity applied to me (I was too busy explaining how bacteria and plants display sensitivity) but now sensitivity is something that I think about a huge amount.

After reading Quiet by Susan Cain, my amorphous thoughts on sensitivity became much more concrete. I wrote about my take on Quiet here, and how I found it to be a powerful read. In Quiet, the book The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine Aron was referenced to quite a bit, and, thirsty for more information about sensitivity I bought it and am currently relishing every page. This is from the preface:

“Cry baby!”

“Scaredy-cat!”

“Don’t be a spoilsport!”

Echoes from the past? And how about this well-meaning warning: “You’re just too sensitive for your own good.”

Although the first three ‘echoes from the past’ weren’t a strong trigger for me – the last one was. After hearing this from trusted people on several occasions (and hearing it from myself too!) I was pretty sure that I was somehow ‘broken’. After all, the world is a tough place, and you just gotta toughen up. But Elaine Aron goes on to explain:

Having a sensitive nervous system is normal, a basically neutral trait. You probably inherited it. It occurs in about 15-20 percent of the population. It means you are aware of subtleties in your surroundings, a great advantage in many situations. It also means you are easily overwhelmed when you have been out in a highly stimulating environment for too long, bombarded by sight and sounds until you are exhausted in a nervous-system sort of way. Thus, being sensitive has both advantages and disadvantages.

So when I realized that it really is okay to be sensitive – that’s it merely about physiology I felt so much better. Understood. On a more even keel. It doesn’t take away the stress I feel when I do the school run or walk through a busy shopping centre or go to an event – all those people! all that noise! all that movement! – but it makes me appreciate the advantages – the fact that I am moved by the sun filtering through a canopy of leaves, a musical phrase, a line of poetry, a book, or even a bunch of coloured pencils (this really is incredible exciting to me at the moment!). It means that I can spot typos, concentrate for long periods of time and pick up on subtle nuances in the emotional state of my loved ones. So there are some benefits, right?

I think it’s important to point out that it’s not only women who are highly sensitive. BOTH men and women can be highly sensitive. Our western society seems to allow for sensitivity in women (to a certain extent) but in men it’s not so desirable. After all – the world is a tough place, and you just gotta toughen up.  

But here is my answer: NO. I cannot toughen up; I cannot make myself less sensitive, and I will not put on a constant persona to become the gregarious, social extrovert that society wants me to be all the time. Remember my wild woman post? Being wild is about being true to oneself, and this is me – often brought to tears over something sad, beautiful, or funny: often stroking my children’s hair – because, really, it’s just so beautiful with its fine texture, gorgeous smell and myriad subtle colours: and often in a dream world too, turning inwards to find the much needed soul-reflection which provides me with refreshment…

Of course I have strategies for managing my sensitivity and I admit that I’m constantly working on keeping my boundaries in place so that I give myself sufficient quiet time and room and space to be me, while ensuring that I put myself ‘out there’ enough to keep me stimulated, my ideas fresh and motivation high. I often have to remind myself that it’s okay to assert myself and fight for my own rights. But we all have our challenges, we all have to find balance in our lives. Just knowing that others (eclectic others!) are like me and experience similar sensations helps a lot.

If any of this makes sense to you in any way, please do let me know. But quietly. [Although you probably figured that out ;-)]


***

Look At All The Women, by Cathy Bryant

Look At All The Women, by Cathy Bryant

Look At All The Women is now available to buy from:

The Mother’s Milk Book online store (as a paperback and PDF) – we can ship books around the world!

and as a paperback from Amazon.co.uk.

It can also be ordered via your local bookshop.

If you’d like to know more about Mother’s Milk Books — our submission guidelines, who we are and what we do — please find more details here:

http://www.mothersmilkbooks.com/

Please take the time to read and comment on the following fab posts submitted by some wonderful women:

‘Heroines and Inspirations— Cathy Bryant, guest posting at Mother’s Milk Books, shares two of her own powerful, inspiring poems, and the stories behind them.

‘Sensitivity’Marija Smits shares a poem, with an accompanying image, that gives a glimpse into the inner workings of a highly sensitive person.

Georgie St Clair shares her creative female heroines in her post ‘Creative Others: Mothers Who Have It All’

‘The Eclectic Others – Or What Would I Have Been Without You?’ — Kimberly Jamison posts to her blog The Book Word a thank you to the women of literature and history who have been in her life, shaped her life, saved her life and gave her a future.

‘Barbie speaks out’ — Ana Salote at Colouring Outside the Lines shares a platform with feminist icon, Barbie.

‘Her Village’ — An older (much older than most) first time mother, Ellie Stoneley from Mush Brained Ramblings firmly believes in the old African adage that it takes a village to raise a child. To that end she has surrounded her daughter with the love, mischief and inspiration of an extremely eclectic bunch of villagers.

Survivor writes about the inspiring life of La Malinche and her place in Mexican history at Surviving Mexico: Adventures and Disasters.

Sophelia writes about the importance of her community as a family at Sophelia’s Adventures in Japan.

The Cold Cup of Tea


Welcome to the ‘Look At All The Women’ Carnival: Week 2 – ‘The Mothers’

This post was written especially for inclusion in the three-week-long ‘Look At All The Women’ carnival, hosted by Mother’s Milk Books, to celebrate the launch of Cathy Bryant’s new book ‘Look At All The Women’. This week our participants share their thoughts on the theme ‘The Mothers’ (the second chapter in Cathy’s poetry collection).

 

Please read to the end of the post for a full list of carnival participants.

***

 

'The Cold Cup of Tea' by Marija Smits

‘The Cold Cup of Tea’ by Marija Smits

The Cold Cup of Tea

 

An already-cold cup of builder’s-strength tea

is sat by the sink, and saying to me:

“I’m delicious, delightful, so drink me up, do!”

But I’m knee-deep in nappies, and children, and poo;

so call me again when I’ve sorted this mess

and have time to relax, and unwind and de-stress…

*

Later, much later, when the kids are asleep,

in my nightie and slippers I quietly creep

to the kitchen, and there is that cold cup of tea,

still delicious, still delightful, and still waiting for me…

 

MARIJA SMITS

(This poem was first published in Musings on Mothering, published by Mother’s Milk Books, 2012)

 

I wrote this poem about two years ago, when my youngest was still in nappies. Back then, every single day was hectic. It seemed as though no sooner had I dealt with one kind of bottom mess I had another one to deal with… The laundry machine seemed to be constantly on, with load after load of terry towels, nappy liners, wraps and body suits. As soon as I had met one child’s needs the other needed me. As soon as one household chore was completed another one needed to be done (and we’re not talking about fancy things like dusting ornaments but real heavy-duty stuff like cleaning very icky toilets!). When my youngest was hungry I could immediately satisfy him with a breast feed. When my eldest was hungry I’d rummage around in the cupboards hoping that some nutritious snack would be readily available to keep her tummy from rumbling. When I longed for a cup of tea and a little break… well, sometimes, I just had to wait until the end of the day when the children were asleep or when their dad (or their wonderful grandmas) could help me out.

It all sounds a bit crazy, doesn’t it? It was tiring, of course, but looking after two children is tiring (no matter how much support you get, or what your mothering style is) but when I was in the thick of it I had the help of the lovely mothering (and breastfeeding) hormones to keep me going, and going, and going…

Now that my two are older it’s all rather hectic in a different way. Yes, they are independent enough now so that I can (mostly) enjoy a quiet cup of tea when I want to, but the list of ‘other’ essential chores grows: the ferrying to clubs, providing a listening ear for when there are friendship troubles, helping with maths homework.

And alongside all of this are the rest of the never-ending household chores…

I’ve been a mother for 7 years now and it seems ridiculous to say this, but it is only now that I really – and more fully – truly understand the implications of having a child. For this mothering work goes on and on… It will, no doubt, ebb and flow in its intensity but I am in it for the long-haul and more aware – and so better prepared for – its many seasons. It is also now that I feel immensely grateful for all that my own mother has done (and continues to do) for me and my children.

Mothers, what you do is valuable, it is necessary. Go make yourself a cup of tea and take a well-earned break. Better still, get someone else to make you a cup of tea. I hope you get to enjoy it while it’s still hot 😉

***

Book cover for Look At All The Women by Cathy Bryant

Look At All The Women by Cathy Bryant

Look At All The Women is now available to buy from:

The Mother’s Milk Bookshop (as a paperback and PDF) – we can ship books around the world!

and as a paperback from Amazon.co.uk.

It can also be ordered via your local bookshop.

If you’d like to get involved in the ‘Look At All The Women’ carnival please find more details about it here:

http://www.mothersmilkbooks.com/carnival-2/

Please take the time to read and comment on the following fab posts submitted by some wonderful women:

‘Moments with Mothers and (Imaginary) Daughters’ — Cathy Bryant, guest posting at Mother’s Milk Books, shares more poetry from Look At All The Women — her own version of Rudyard Kipling’s ‘If’ and a poem inspired by her imaginary daughter.

‘The Cold Cup of Tea’Marija Smits shares some poetry that gives a glimpse into the everyday life of a mother.

‘Creative Mothers: You Need to Stop!’Georgie St Clair, shares an important reminder, that all mothers need to dedicate time and space to be creative.

‘The Mothers – Or Promises to My Future Child’ — Kimberly Jamison posts to her blog The Book Word what she has learnt from her own mother, and writes an open letter to her future child.

‘Bonobos are my Heroines’: Ana Salote at Colouring Outside the Lines puts the nature back into nurture.

‘Baby Body Shame: it’s Time to Push Back’ — Stephanie from Beautiful Misbehaviour wants to challenge society’s treatment of the post-birth body.

Helen at Young Middle Age talks about finding strength from thinking about all the other mothers, during hard times.

The Walnut Hearts

Welcome to the ‘Look At All The Women’ Carnival: Week 1 – ‘The Lovers’

This post was written especially for inclusion in the three-week-long ‘Look At All The Women’ carnival, hosted by Mother’s Milk Books, to celebrate the launch of Cathy Bryant’s new book ‘Look At All The Women’. This week our participants share their thoughts on the theme ‘The Lovers’ (the first chapter in Cathy’s poetry collection).

 

Please read to the end of the post for a full list of carnival participants.

***

Walnut hearts, photo by Marija Smits

Walnut hearts, photo by Marija Smits

The Walnut Hearts

 

And this is what I found within

the hard and secret shell:

two walnut hearts, identical

in substance, texture, taste.

 

They were as one, now cleaved in two;

their flesh exposed to air.

They wither, dry; time makes them weak,

their shells begin to crack.

 

And what of us, my lover, friend?

We must expect the same.

We live, we love, we age, we die;

yet still our hearts are twinned.

 

 

MARIJA SMITS

 

 

I’m not a big fan of ‘forever’ and ‘always’ and the idea that there is only one ‘right’ person for each person on this Earth, but when I wrote the above poem I felt it was right to include a line about ‘twinned’ hearts. My husband and I will be celebrating 10 years of marriage tomorrow so I can’t help but maybe add a touch of sentimentality to this post! My point is that by being together for 17 years (we were a couple for 7 years before we got married) we kind of are twinned – in the sense that we sometimes seem to read each other’s minds, and that whatever happens in the future, history will twin us. If our children go on to have children, and they go on to have children, we will be in their family tree – our names ‘forever’ beside each other. Separate, but together.

 

What strikes me about wedding anniversaries is how I often think about them in connection to the local news. Local newspapers often carry stories about couples who are celebrating their ruby or diamond wedding anniversary, and it’s a rare chance to congratulate these couples on the longevity of their relationship and to ask them what the secret of their wedded bliss is. Sometimes the answer given is: “Doing things together – having similar interests and hobbies”. Sometimes the answer is: “Laughing together” or perhaps: “Being able to compromise”. Undoubtedly these things are important – and hopefully there as a solid foundation to the relationship right from the start, but surely good communication has to be key to the growth and harmony of a relationship?

 

Becoming parents has certainly changed our relationship. How could it not? In her book What Mothers Do, Naomi Stadlen writes:

A two-person relationship is radically different from one of three people. A two-person relationship has a kind of elegant symmetry, whereas this three-person one is complex. It is not symmetrical. The two parents have a biological relationship with their child, but a consensual relationship with each other… …Additional children increase the complexity, but the change is not as great as the two-into-three change. This doesn’t necessarily drive a ‘wedge’ into the marriage. But it certainly changes it.

 

This change can be challenging, but clear communication can make all the difference. Talking, and really listening to the other person can help such a lot. Some days, for us, it goes like this:

 

After a long day of mothering all I want is a cup of tea and to be able to discuss my day with my husband. After a long day of working at a demanding job all my husband wants is a cup of tea and some quiet time. After a long day full of excitement, and discovery and play, all our children want is to talk to us! We used to snap at each other at the end of the ‘work’ day, which left all of us feeling unhappy. This snapping, though unwelcome, at least allowed us to realise that this time was an ’emotional hotspot’. It took clear communication and a bit of creativity to help us get to a place where ‘daddy home time’ is now no longer so fraught!

 

Family life is busy. Sometimes conversations between my husband and I consist of five minutes of talking about bills before we go to bed. And yet family life is also fluid – we can often snatch moments when our children play together happily to have a hug and to ask each other that all-important question: “How are you?”. “Fine,” I might say. (More often it’s “Tired!”) But the other day it was “Fine. Looking forward to going out for lunch on our anniversary.”

 

Aw 🙂
***

 

Look At All The Women, by Cathy Bryant

Look At All The Women, by Cathy Bryant

Look At All The Women is now available to buy from:

The Mother’s Milk Bookshop (as a paperback and PDF) – we can ship books around the world!

and as a paperback from Amazon.co.uk.

It can also be ordered via your local bookshop.

If you’d like to know more about the ‘Look At All The Women’ carnival please find more details about it here:

http://www.mothersmilkbooks.com/index.php/books#carnival-2

Please take the time to read and comment on the following fab posts submitted by some wonderful women:

‘Fantasy, love and oddity.’ — Cathy Bryant, guest posting at Mother’s Milk Books, shares two of her favourite poems about lovers from her second collection of poetry, Look At All The Women.

‘The Walnut Hearts’Marija Smits shares some ‘nutty’ poetry about love and reflects on the role good communication has on a harmonious relationship.

Georgie St Clair shares her feelings on why we should indulge our passions as lovers in her lighthearted post — ‘Creative Lovers: Not Tonight Darling’.

‘The Lovers – Or What I Don’t Know About Love’ — Kimberly Jamison posts to her blog The Book Word what she has learnt about love from story books, people watching and her own life and wonders if she actually knows anything at all.

‘Explicit v Implicit’ — Ana Salote at Colouring Outside the Lines considers literature’s role in teaching children about relationships.

Mother(hood)

Love this poem entitled ‘Motherhood’ by Jessica Starr of every day magic at the end of this video of snippets from the anthology Musings on Mothering. Of course I’m biased (I edited the anthology) but still… that poem is very, very special. Enjoy! 🙂

Thanks again to Amanda at WriteAlm for the writing prompts – they make me move my ‘writing butt’ (well, most months!).

 

Don’t Blink

 

But I did, and guess what?

My children had grown;

they were older and not so dependent on me.

Months had gone by,

possibly years,

and somehow it had happened in the blink of an eye.

 

A woman in well-worn clothes, hair unkempt,

stared back at me from the mirror. When, exactly,

did her brow become furrowed?

 

You can try all you like not to blink.

But sooner or later something will give.

 

MARIJA SMITS

 

Don't Blink by Marija Smits

Don’t Blink by Marija Smits

 

Many thanks to Amanda over at WriteAlm for the writing prompts – they are always appreciated 🙂