New Poem up on Agate Magazine

Agate just published this poem I wrote about the loss of a treasured tree and the new life that enters through the void of loss. Please take the extra step to hop on out to Agate to read this piece. Agate, where I interned this past spring, is doing a terrific job bringing together the arts and science to promote ecological stability and environmental protection (and respect) in Minnesota and the greater Great Lakes area. While you’re there, check out the fantastic fungi photo by my brother, Scott Fettig!

Completing my MFA; Entering the Void

Photo credit: Heyli Howard (photo taken at E’s high school graduation).

Normally, by this point in the school week, I would have long since written the requisite blog post for my Immersion in Publishing class. This week, however, I’ve been dragging my heels. When I paused to assess the reason for this uncharacteristic procrastination, I realized it was because I was putting off an ending.

With this post, I am completing my last assignment for this class, which is the last class of my MFA program. The moment I post this on my blog (and in Canvas, the online platform utilized by Bay Path), I will essentially be done with my MFA (aside from a few final responses to classmates and one last class this coming Thursday). As much as I’ve looked forward to (even counted down the weeks) to the ending of my MFA program, now that it is upon me, I feel myself hitting the brakes. Why is that?

It’s been a good week to contemplate the nature of endings. My son, Ethan, just completed his last college class on Friday; he’ll be graduating with a BFA in painting and drawing next weekend. For me, that is an ending to celebrate. Back in 2007, when my ex-husband lost everything (thankfully we were already divorced five years at the time and so my finances were no longer tied to his—with the exception of losing child support payments for a time), I had no idea how I’d manage to pay for our two kids’ college educations (although still four and six years ahead). It had always been my goal (was once my ex’s goal too) to do this for Han and E.

In the end, everything worked out. We lived frugally and (thanks to a promotion at work) I saved lots of money in CDs when interest rates were still high. Remarrying helped free up my savings towards Han and E’s college. Plus, my ex was finally able to help out with E’s college. Now, I’ve (*we’ve) done it. I’ve put Han and E. through college. Ethan—bless his heart—knew this distinct goal of mine and he congratulated me (Yes, he congratulated me!) on the day he completed college. So, I’ve done what I set out to do, a commitment made when my ex and I divorced. I’ve completed the raising of those two kids (which is not to say that Han doesn’t still call me every weekend, seeking advice). The rest is up to them.

It’s interesting how easily I celebrate the end of my children’s college years, but my own grad school completion, not so much. I think this is because my own ending creates a void. It’s the void of “what’s next?” especially when you’re a creative and the path is not obvious (as it might be to someone graduating with a degree in mechanical engineering). I see Ethan entering the void as well; he spent yesterday updating his artist web site. Anticipating the void, Kate Whouley, the instructor of my two publishing classes, asked us to draft and submit a signed writer’s contract. My professors have done their part. The rest is up to me.

The void created in the absence of the MFA program is mine to fill. To fill the void, I will keep writing.

The truest thing I’ve learned over the past three years of this MFA work is that I am a writer. Submitting pieces and receiving rejections is a part of the game. Having an essay or poem rejected is an ending (of the hope you had). It creates a void. To fill that void, I’ve learned to do one of three things: revise the piece (again), put it aside to mature (and then revise), or submit it immediately to another publication. This game is always half terror, half hope. But the act of writing (into the void) is what I love and that is why I’ll keep writing.

In honor of this ending, I compiled a list of my top ten hardest endings (in no particular order):

  1. 1999: A soulful friendship lost
  2. 1979: My black tuxedo kitten—Uncle Beethoven—run over by a car
  3. 1986: End of gymnastics career with back injury sustained during a vault
  4. 2016: A soulful friendship lost
  5. 2009: Putting my daughter Hannah on a plane, heading alone to Japan, effectively ending her childhood
  6. 2005: A soulful friendship lost
  7. 1988: The summer before college, when I was too entrenched in a binge eating disorder to feel (or understand) my high school losses
  8. 2014: My mom selling “our share” in the family cabin that my grandfather built and my last visit as an “owner”
  9. 2002: The end of my parent’s marriage, because it came the same year as my own divorce and their ability to parent me (as an adult child) came to an end exactly when I was in need of extra support
  10. 1984: The year my brother Scott headed to California on his red Kawasaki motorcycle, my brother Rob moved to the Twin Cities, and my brother Chris returned to college, leaving me home alone to referee my parents’ chaotic marriage

Not all endings are necessarily negative. And even with the “bad” ones above, I can now see what eventually came in to fill the void (except when Uncle Beethoven died). To end on a positive note, here are my top five endings (in no particular order):

  1. 2002: End of my marriage
  2. 2009: Remarriage ends my years of being single
  3. 2017: Second child of my first marriage completes college and I achieve one of my top five lifetime goals by seeing my oldest two kids through college
  4. 2010: Han home from Japan (end of Rotary year)
  5. 1998: End of short career practicing law

And now, I enter the void; I enter a time of waiting for new structures and experiences to add shape to my writing life.

*My husband, my ex, my ex’s spouse, and me

Soul Erosion

You are the seed I am contemplating, as if I were soil feeling nourished enough to offer a place for deep roots, as if I were grounded. I am like a traveler, however, passing through; sections of me eroding, year after year.

Photo credit: Heidi Fettig Parton

The Decision to Divorce

Because there has been so much controversy (Yes, controversy!) over Elizabeth Gilbert’s recent decision to divorce post Eat Pray Love (I haven’t really read about the controversy–it would annoy me too much), I feel compelled to say a bit about the decision to divorce. Here goes:

  1. We all have a different level of discomfort when it comes to what we will or won’t tolerate in a living situation; everyone has a different breaking point.
  2. Your decision to stay in a marriage or partnership is yours alone; no one else gets to live your life (no one else has to walk in your shoes each day).
  3. Even if you have kids, the default assumption should not be that the kids would—in every situation—be better served by you staying in a bad marriage and, for this purpose, I’ll loosely define “bad” as anywhere on the spectrum between dissatisfying to abusive.

When you hear of a family member or friend’s decision to divorce, please know, it has undoubtedly been a long, hard process just to get to the point of decision. These individuals do not need your criticism or your heartfelt pleas to try longer (or, perhaps, try some great new counseling method or recommend a book like The Five Love Languages), what they need is your support and encouragement during the difficult days ahead. Maybe even, when they’re ready, congratulate them on their ability to take steps to make their life better, even if things have to get much harder first; let them know you think they are courageous warriors.


The Challenge

The challenge now seems to be to hold our hearts open wide, in a continuous grieving for the victims of violence, some of it loud and dramatic, some silent and almost escaping notice; to feel how we breathe the same air, drink from the same well, look to the same fields for sustenance. The challenge in all of this collective heartache, is to remain soft enough inside to hold onto the kind of love that keeps us fighting for better days for all of humanity.



Breaking the Cycle

I’ve been rear-ended three times in the past eleven months. The last rear-ending just happened on Saturday morning, on Yale’s campus, just blocks before I returned my rental car to Hertz, where they tried to hold me hostage until I would produce a claim number from the insurance company; the insurance company told me that the claim number would not be forthcoming until Monday. I asked my unpleasant Hertz customer service representative, named Tyler, if he’d like to keep me in the Hertz office until Monday morning. It seemed as if Tyler was upset that I had created work for him. He never, by the way, asked me if I was okay after having just been rear-ended fifteen or so minutes earlier.

The young man who rear-ended me was also quite nasty about the whole thing. He didn’t want to give me his insurance information and when I asked for it, took out his card and started writing incomplete (and illegible) information on a sheet of paper. Thank goodness for smart phones; I asked to photograph his insurance card and am grateful that I thought to do so, otherwise I’d have had no clue about his actual insurance information. This young man was annoyed that I had yielded for a pedestrian; clearly, I was making him late for something or another.

After about 45-minutes of distressing interactions with both the driver of the other vehicle and then, my Hertz representative, I was given a ride to Union Station (finally, the Hertz rep released me when I called my husband to tell him that I was being treated like a criminal and perhaps, being falsely imprisoned–because I went to law school once upon a time) to catch my train to NYC to visit my daughter.

The (different) Hertz employee who gave me that ride offered me some welcomed kindness and compassion. He asked about how I was feeling after the accident, he asked if I was a mother, he then wished me a Happy Mother’s Day; he also inquired after the health and well-being of my children, which I was pleased to report was good. He reminded me that our health and well-being were what really mattered. The rest was just things. On that ride to the station, I was mentally telling myself that bad things come in three’s. At the moment I was thinking this, the driver said to me, “Bad things come in three’s–you should be done now.” Confirmation? Oh I hope so. I had a series of three car accidents (none my fault) in 2005-2006, exactly ten years ago. I do hope I am done now, once again. That Hertz driver seemed like an angel, piloting me away from the horrible Hertz return center, where I thought I might be spending my weekend.

In spite of the rule of three’s (is it a rule, a superstition?), I find myself wanting to examine the energetic patterns in my life in 2005-2006 and to notice whether they, in any way, mirror the energetic patterns that have governed my life this past year. Is there something that I can do to break this current cycle, I wonder?



Transformation Through Loss

The process of transformation (my own and others) fascinates me. Never is one more in the business of transformation than when faced with loss or life-altering change (they typically come hand-in-hand). Not unlike death, divorce blows both loss and change straight into the center of one’s life. There’s no place to find cover during the storm; one can only surrender to the experience and patiently await the day when she, finally, realizes she’s found her way to the other side.

Loss takes time; it will not be hurried.

It is how people move along in life, in spite of loss, that amazes me.

As some point, the day comes when wild flowers (perhaps nourished through tears) bloom on the grave of all that has been lost; and, suddenly, we emerge from our cocoons to see how the soft tipped-brush of loss has colored our life with a fragile and delicate beauty.