Friday, December 23, 2011

Grumpy Christmas to You

For the past few weeks, I’ve been feeling Grinchy. Scroogy. Un-Christmassy. Yes, there’s the clinical depression, which I’m pretty sure is the opposite of merry, but it’s been more than that. I’ve been reacting to this idea that because it’s Christmas, and Daniel’s First Christmas, that I should feel a certain way. And then I’ve been feeling worse, because I’m not overcome with joy and Christmas spirit.

So the other day, I acknowledged to myself that I was grumpy about Christmas, that I didn’t care, didn’t want to participate, and resented the whole thing. I talked about it with some friends, and accepted that’s where I was. I gave myself permission to be grumpy. I remembered Fr. Meehan, a very special priest who died this year, saying in a Christmas homily, “We come to Christmas as we are.” I love that idea, and I’ve held onto it for years. Because sometimes, on special days, what we feel is sad, or lonely, or depressed. And then we can feel worse because we’re not supposed to feel those things on Christmas. But sometimes we do. More and more, life seems to me full of the bittersweet. For me, acknowledging and accepting the bitter helps me to enjoy the sweet.

The lovely Claire, after listening to my holiday rant yesterday, hugged me as she left and said, “Merry Christmas,” and then corrected herself, “Or Grumpy Christmas. Whatever Christmas you want to have.” Talking with her reminded me that Christmas, like anything else, is what we make it. I can’t make myself feel joyful, but I can focus on the positive. What I really want for Christmas this year is to enjoy the real gifts of my life. To be in the present, with Daniel, seeing him kick his legs in his high chair as he eats, listening to him testing out his voice, watching him inch around the floor, warming up for crawling. He is my Christmas miracle, every day.

I hope you all enjoy the real gifts of your life this Christmas. And if you're still feeling grumpy, that's okay too.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Best Advice

What's the best advice you've received recently? I've implemented two game changers in the past month. One is to make coffee the night before. So simple, and it makes such a positive difference in my morning.

Find the other here.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Bright Side

Since my pregnancy, I’ve been collecting thoughts about mothering and writing. Two ideas have stayed with me as talismans, helping me in dark moments. One is a quote from Barbara Kingsolver who when asked about writer’s block said something like, “The best cure for writer’s block is having children. Because any minute I had to actually write, I would fall upon the keys like a starved dog.”1

The other idea came from Elizabeth Alexander, the poet who read at Obama’s inauguration. She said that she did some of her best writing in the sleep-deprived early years of her children’s lives; that something about the lack of sleep made her open in a new way, less obstructive to the creative force.2

These ideas give me hope, not because they are necessarily true for me, but because they reframe the writing/motherhood dilemma. Maybe the two are not in conflict after all. In fact, maybe each feeds the other. So far, my experience of parenting has gifted me with a wealth of new material. Mothering has cracked me open in many ways, and the expansion, the new depths of feeling, the survival of heretofore undreamed of challenges, it’s all rich and dense—great compost for writing.

Do you have any unexpected bright sides about parenting or other challenges?

1 Kingsolver wrote one of my favorite books in recent memory, The Lacuna. Yes, that’s right. I’m footnoting a blog entry.

You can listen to the interview with Alexander here:

Thursday, November 17, 2011

New Blog: 4 Broad Minds

Dear Readers, I hope you will come visit the new blog I started with some writer friends, 4 Broad Minds. I post there once a month. But don't worry, I will continue to post here on a weekly basis also.

As a thank you, a photo of my ridiculously adorable Pug (emphasis on ridiculous):

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Reset Button

Blissed out--alone--at the beach

After the trip to Mexico, having a cold, hosting a baptism party for 50 people at my home, then a week of Daniel not sleeping well (day or night), I felt utterly depleted – physically, mentally, emotionally. When I found myself crying at 6 a.m. last Thursday, I knew something had to give. I texted Carl and requested to spend the next night away, alone. He said yes—bless him. I didn’t know where I would go, just that I needed to be in a house where Daniel was not, in hope of getting the first good night’s sleep in what felt like a century. I needed to hit the reset button.

Just knowing that a break was on the horizon – the immediate horizon—helped so much. The next day D was pretty chill. (I swear, he’s his most charming when he knows I’m going to be leaving.) I had dinner with Carl, then took off, tires squealing as I made my getaway. I listened to loud music without worrying about waking the baby. Arriving at the shore at 9 p.m., I pumped milk—no escaping that at the moment—watched some silly TV, and went to sleep by 11.

I woke up—pause for effect—9 hours later.

As if it didn’t already feel like the best morning of my life, it slowly dawned on me that no one needed me to do anything. I didn’t have to feed anyone, change anyone, walk anyone. I could just…well, be. It was glorious.

After a quick stop at the beach, I had a blessed breakfast of buckwheat pancakes, smothered in butter, a side of pork roll, perfectly grilled, and bottomless coffee. I poked into a few stores, bought some fudge for my amazing husband. Then off to a massage, where I luxuriated in the feeling of being pampered, of being cared for, with no expectation in return. (Other than payment, which I was happy to provide.) I followed that up with a pedicure, mostly just so I wouldn’t have to move for another hour. I ate lunch at the counter of Mack & Manco’s, watching the ocean through the window, then wandered the boardwalk. I spent a few more precious moments at the beach, just because I can never get enough of the salt air, the crashing waves, the sandpipers scurrying, the sun penetrating to my very heart. I left feeling refreshed, renewed. Yes, reset.

I came home to a sick baby. Poor little guy has his first cold. Which meant another week of very little sleep for any of us. By Thursday, I was ready for another escape. Had I opened Pandora’s Box by my one glorious day to myself? Knowing it’s not realistic, or even desired, to be away one night every week, I had the idea of Carl and I alternating nights taking care of Daniel, until the sleep strike ends. So last night, I was here, with my family, but in another room, where I slept blissfully for 8 straight hours with a loud fan to block any noise. I woke up refreshed, renewed, reset. So maybe the answer isn’t waiting for opportunities for grand gestures to myself, but rather, carving out small spaces for myself whenever possible.

How do you hit the reset button for yourself?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

My Mexico

Cutest passport ever
Some people thought I was crazy to bring my four-month-old son with me to Mexico a few weeks ago. Of course I cleared it with the pediatrician first, and invited my mom to join us, thank God, but why would I do this? Come with me for a few moments to My Mexico, to see for yourself why I return again and again.

Upon your arrival, the bride meets you at the bus station. No matter that her wedding is in three days and she has a million things to do. She comes herself, and remains unruffled when your infant son screams for the entire thirty minute cab ride to her house. Later, as she holds your son so you can eat in peace, she says, “Pobrecito was just so tired from the journey.”

Your host mom has dinner ready when you arrive—homemade tortillas, filled with cheese, topped with freshly made salsa verde and ensalada de nopal—cactus with reputed healing properties. And of course, your favorite—sweet, delicious Mexican Coke in a glass bottle. 

In the morning, the octogenarian abuelita arrives to stay for a few days. After telling a sad story about a fight she’d had with her daughter, she says, while crying, that she is unsure about where she will live. Then your baby appears. When abuelita takes him in her arms, her whole being lights up, her smile shining out of her eyes. She is lost in the pleasure of holding this little one. Seeing her joy warms you from head to toe.

Later, as you walk the baby in the stroller, a passing bus driver honks and yells “Guera” out the window.

In the zocalo, spotting a teeny embroidered shirt you want to buy, you realize you know the woman selling it. She greets you with great warmth, so happy to meet your baby and says, “You must be grateful for this gift from God. Not every woman is granted the privilege of being a mother.”

Asking a woman in the street for directions how to walk to the market, she tells you sternly it’s not safe to do so with the baby. When she can see that you really want to go, she relents slightly and says if you must go, you can take the bus, and tells you how to do it.

A man hops onto the bus, up the stairs and into a seat, loudly joking with the bus driver. He has no legs, so he walks on his hands. No one stares.

Driving to the wedding, the mother of the bride invites the cab driver to the reception, and means it.

At the wedding reception, everyone demands to hold the baby. They comment on how pale he is, how he looks like his father, how he’s a muñeco—a little doll. No one bats an eye when he cries, or when you nurse him. You notice in a new way how children are a part of the landscape, viewed as treasures, not as noisy bothers.

All dressed up for the wedding
Three sisters—ages 18, 15, and 13, adopt you and your son at the wedding reception, following after you, sitting with you while you nurse him, running to get whatever you need from the diaper bag. They can see you need help and they provide it. You’ve never met them before.

You catch your macho host brother wiping away tears as his baby sister says her vows. Later he grabs your hand and pulls you to the dance floor where you shout together, “No pares, sigue sigue.” Nearby, you find everyone from infants in arms to grandmothers, laughing, dancing, singing.

Waking up the morning after the wedding, you learn that not only had the post party continued until 2 a.m. the night before, but that your host mother, the mother of the bride, had made a pot of pozole as large as a keg of beer, for her birthday party, which begins at 11 a.m. and lasts well into the night.

Daniel's abuelitos
At the airport restaurant in Mexico City, you sit, sad and tired, eyes barely opened. The waitress shyly asks if she can hold your son. When you gladly hand him over, the entire staff gathers, passing the baby around, smiling, and laughing.

After returning home, you call your host mom to tell her you’d returned safely. She says, “Ya extraño el llanto de Danielito.” I already miss Daniel’s crying.

The next morning you emerge from the shower, greeted by the baby crying. You look at each other, somewhat shocked that no one has appeared to comfort him. You’re both thinking, when can we go back to Mexico?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Feel the Guilt and Do It Anyway

Is this my tentative theory of parenting, three months in? Maybe. My best friend shared with me some wisdom passed to her by a more experienced mother, who said, “You have to decide if you’re going to parent from guilt or not.”

Wow. There’s a choice?

I’m working on believing that we have choices in almost everything in life. Maybe not what happens to us, but how we respond to what happens to us. My choice today related to my son’s nap. I’m trying to encourage longer daytime naps. He seemed cranky, so I figured I’d try to put him down. After I swaddled him, as I’m walking toward his room, he turned on the full charm—big smiles, cooing, flirty eyes. Can he be this smart or manipulative at a few days shy of three months? Is it coincidental that he often shows his sweetest self as I’m trying to get him to sleep?

Of course then I didn’t want to put him down. But I had already swaddled him (does he spend too much time in a swaddle? Does he not like it? Is it inhibiting his spirit or enjoyment of life?) And I wanted him to nap this afternoon, so okay, I put him down. Immediately the guilt started. Was he lonely? Should I be spending every moment of the day with him? The answer to the second question is no. I like some alone time, and I think it’s good for him too. So why the guilt? Maybe because of some doubt I have of my competence as a parent. Some doubt of my instincts. Some fear—always fear is lurking—that he’ll be scarred for life by some mistake or series of mistakes that I make.

I took a deep breath. The thing is, I had to make a sandwich, and I’d like to do a little laundry, and maybe, just maybe, some writing. All of that is hard with him awake and in the same room. I am a better mother when I get some breaks. After some down time, I have genuine enthusiasm for him, an almost sickening amount, instead of the forced kind I feel when I don’t get a break. So isn’t it better that he be rested, and I be rested and happy? Undoubtedly yes. Sorry, guilt and fear. I hear you, but he’s staying in his crib. For now. Unless he really starts crying. I’m getting stronger, but I’m not made of stone.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Over the Rainbow

Week 8 postpartum. Daniel is sleeping from 11ish until 4ish every night, waking up to eat, and going back to sleep for another couple of hours. Breastfeeding is no longer excruciatingly painful, though we still have a few challenges. Daniel will drink from a bottle, allowing me to be away from him for more than three hours at a time. He still sleeps a lot during the day, but also has longer periods of time when he is awake, alert and HAPPY! I love happy Daniel. He gives huge gummy grins, kicks his chubby legs, and squeals in delight. We’ve even heard some preliminary laughs. (And since he has two hilarious parents, I’m sure the laughs will get bigger.) But my favorite current trick is the noises he makes in response to questions. As of right now, life seems pretty manageable. Which feels miraculous to me. Why, you ask?

Weeks 3-6:
In week three, we traveled to Syracuse. Though I cherished seeing our friends and family, the trip unfortunately coincided with a four night stretch of Daniel not sleeping for more than an hour at a time. There was lots of screaming, inconsolable crying (and Daniel made some noise too.) By day two of almost no sleep, I called my best friend, sobbing, to ask if she thought I had postpartum depression. Her answer: “If things continue this way, you could talk to someone, but I think you’re just exhausted.”

She was right. It was complete and utter exhaustion. I thought labor took a lot out of me—and it did—but four days with almost no sleep and an inconsolable child takes a whole other kind of toll. After a six hour drive home from Syracuse, arriving at 8 pm, Carl had a weeklong workshop starting early the next day. I woke up to a house with no food, worse—no coffee, and a screaming child. I put said child in the car seat to take him for a walk. As I tried to get out the door, Nalu scrambled out and ran down the block. I left Daniel on the porch to grab the dog, somehow got her back in the house. Realized the strollers were folded up in the kitchen, not on the porch. I struggled one of them out the door, Daniel still screaming the whole time. And when I couldn’t figure out how to get the stroller open, found myself shaking it and shouting, “WHY DOES GOD HATE ME?”

Not a great start to my first week alone with Dan.

Thankfully, I had lined up some help for the week. My friend Jan showed up that afternoon, allowing me to lie down for thirty minutes. I called Best Friend again, detailed what the few days had been like, and she showed up later with every brand of pacifier she could buy. Up until this point, the only thing that calmed Daniel was sucking on something, but he wouldn’t take a pacifier, which meant one of us holding a finger in his mouth when he wasn’t nursing. That might not sound exhausting, but trust me, it is. When Daniel took a pacifier later that day, and lied in his bassinet for a few minutes, quietly sucking, I felt a glimmer of hope. (I hadn’t realized that some babies prefer certain brands.)

Being without Carl that week made me realize something was wrong. The pediatrician was less than helpful. “Babies cry. Babies get gas.” Okay, yes I know that, but it shouldn’t be so much that you need two parents to comfort him around the clock. Mommy instinct (and desperation) drove me to seek help from a breastfeeding support group. But after two hours of listening to problems that I couldn’t relate to—how much solid food can my baby eat, should I still breastfeed after a year—I wanted to scream, how do you keep your kid from crying for more than an hour? I started to pack up, but Dan, my little fire alarm, went off, drawing everyone’s attention, including the facilitator, who asked if she could try to calm him down. Yeah, good luck I thought.

She swooped him out of his car seat, put him over her shoulder, and magically, he quieted. At her prompting, I described the crying, the sleeplessness, and the crazy weight gain, which led her to diagnose me as an overproducer of milk. Apparently, if you make too much milk, the baby only gets the sweet and sugary foremilk, not the creamy satisfying hindmilk. So essentially, Daniel had been hungry since birth. No wonder he was cranky.

Luckily, the solution was easy—feed him on the same side for six hours before switching. She said I should see a big difference in him within two weeks—“He’ll be like a different child.” When I reached my car I burst into tears, a mix of frustration, relief and hope. Within two days, he was markedly happier. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, breastfeeding group.

With that resolving, I had time to realize how much pain I was still having while feeding him. That sparked another two week process including a home visit from a lactation consultant, a pediatrician visit, days of internet research, a visit to an ear, nose, and throat specialist, the snipping of Daniel’s frenulum to separate his tongue from the bottom of his mouth, and a learning curve of Daniel figuring out how to properly suck. Good lord.

In the midst of this, Carl went away for a week for work. I went to the shore with my parents for the first four days. When my mom had to leave I literally wanted to cling to her leg and beg her to stay, but I didn’t. How hard could being by myself with him for 24 hours be? Well. Hard is the answer. We hit bottom when I walked him to church, looking for a serene 30 minutes, and he started screaming bloody murder as soon as we arrived. I took him outside, did everything I could to calm him, but then scrambled into the bathroom and fed him while sitting on the toilet, which finally succeeded. Four hours later when two friends showed up to stay the night, I said, “I have never been happier to see anyone in my whole life.” And I meant it. Who knows what was wrong that day? I was stressed, Daniel was stressed, eating was still hard and there was no relief for either of us.

I had help for the rest of the time Carl was away, and we managed alright. Though when Carl’s flight was delayed several hours I realized how I was holding on by my fingernails. “Please God. Please please please let him get home tonight.” He did, to my immense relief.

The really good news is that after six very very hard weeks, with Carl back, and feedings easier, all of the sudden, Daniel-care felt amazingly easy. Delightful even. Sure there are still occasional tantrums, but they seem to be getting shorter and further apart. We know much better how to calm him now (the vacuum helps if he’s really worked up.) And the occasional bout of “passionate crying” (as my diplomatic BF put it) feels easy, comparatively. Best of all, happy Daniel appears so frequently now, making unhappy Daniel much easier to take. We’re all entitled to be unhappy, but it shouldn’t be 85% of the time.

So now that my little man is getting enough to eat, of the good creamy milk, and it no longer hurts to feed him, and he’s sleeping well, life feels really blessed. Carl said, “Maybe God makes the first six weeks so hellish so the rest of the time doesn’t seem as bad.” I don’t think God works like that, but I do feel very grateful for the quiet, serene moments we have now. I feel extremely thankful for rest, for time to write, for vacation. On Sunday night, after eating a gorgeous meal with my family, during which Daniel slept the WHOLE TIME, we saw a rainbow arcing across the sky (pictured below.) The next day I stood up on my surfboard for the first time since being pregnant. I think, just maybe, we are over the rainbow.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Baby

Daniel Egan Ackerman entered the world on June 19, 2011 at 10:51 pm. He weighed 8 lbs, 10 ounces, measured 22 inches and had a 15 inch head, which I’m told is very big. (I didn’t need to be told.)

In the twenty minutes I hope I have before he needs to eat again, I'd like to capture something about the first three weeks of his life.

Challenge number 1: Recovering from labor and delivery. Not that I expected to be up and at ‘em immediately after birth, but neither did I expect to be completely incapacitated for almost two weeks. When I was really struggling on day three or so and called the midwife, she asked what I had been doing since I’d been home. I described what seemed like nothing to me, and she said, “When I say, you’re not supposed to do anything, I mean, you can go up and down the stairs once a day. Otherwise, you need to be resting. And nothing else.” Oh. Wow. Actually doing nothing is not something I'm good at, but I tried.

Once I figured out some pain management and my glorious mother-in-law scrubbed my bathroom so I could take warm baths, and I began just resting, things began SLOWLY to improve. Today I took a thirty minute walk with Daniel, which is the most physical activity I’d had since the birth, and it felt good. Slowly slowly I’m starting to feel like myself again. Looking like myself? That’s a whole other issue.

Challenge number 2: Breastfeeding. Good lord, it is hard. It’s better now, much much better. But for weeks one and two, it was painful and difficult. I feed him at least every three hours, and for the first two weeks, at least three feedings a day would be a 45 minute production, just to get him started eating. There would be screaming and crying, swaddling, shushing, swaying, a hair dryer blowing for white noise, Carl and I both trying to get him calm enough to latch, and then if it didn’t work, the process would be repeated. I’m thrilled to say that seems to be a thing of the past. Daniel and I have figured out together how to get him latched, and that happens pretty quickly and easily now, almost every time. Thank God. Because being on call 24/7 is challenging enough, without your patience being severely tested 3-6 times a day. Add to that sleep deprivation, nipple pain and hormones and wow. I really understand why women can’t stick with breastfeeding, especially if they don’t know how much better it gets after two weeks (for most people.)

Challenge number 3: Still looking pregnant. I don’t want to write about this, but I will for the sake of education. I didn’t know I would still look so pregnant in the weeks after his birth – like 6-7 months pregnant. Again, I didn’t expect to have my old body back immediately, but neither did I expect that MULTIPLE people would ask me when my baby was due. If you don’t already know this, please take it to heart. NEVER ASK A WOMAN IF SHE IS PREGNANT. Just don’t do it. I was struggling enough in those first weeks without then having to process feelings about how my body looked. Literally just getting out of bed was physically hard, and then I have to feel fat on top of it? Not cool.

Happily these weeks have been filled with joy too. Seeing my little man’s face makes me smile. When he’s awake and alert, staring into my eyes, I feel wonder unlike any I have ever known. Some of my favorite moments of the day now are feeding him, feeling his warm body snuggled up to mine, his little hands and feet stroking my skin. I soak in the joy he brings to others, the love showered on him, the wonder felt at seeing his little person.

We have received a river of kindness since his birth: people dropping off meals, sending flowers and gifts, coming for visits. My mom has fed us, done the laundry, rocked and comforted Daniel. I don’t know how we would have gotten through those first weeks without her. My in-laws showed up with new pjs for me, an SU hat for Daniel, and lots of love and laughter. Our neighbor appeared one night just as we finished dinner with the most beautiful blueberry pie I’d ever seen. The kindness sustained me as much as the food, and I accepted it all with a grateful heart.

I can’t wait to see how my son (what? I have a son? This still seems unreal.) How he grows and develops, what kind of person he is. But I’m trying to not get ahead of myself, trying to enjoy this phase, one day at a time, for what it is.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Pregnancy

I can't believe I thought that was a bump.

More bump like

Hello baby.

People have asked why I haven’t written that much about the pregnancy. I don’t know. Maybe the fact that it took me ten years to write about Mexico is some indication—I need time to process stuff, especially big stuff. And speaking of big, check out that baby bump. And that picture was two weeks ago.

Writing an essay to neatly tie up my feelings about pregnancy feels beyond me at the moment, but perhaps I’ll mention a few highlights:

People smiling at me all the time. Sometimes I forget why someone would be smiling at me, and I feel again like I did when I first moved from New York City to San Diego—people would make eye contact and smile and I would think, “What the fuck do you want?” I don’t quite think that anymore, but it often takes me a moment to realize, oh yeah, I have a huge baby bump, that makes people smile. It’s sweet.

Carl’s excitement about baby’s arrival. “It’s like Christmas, but it could come any day.” That’s what he’s been saying for the past week.

Eating for two. I tried to not take this too far. More than anything, I tried to eat lots of good fruits and veggies, but it was nice to have an excuse for some extra sweets.

Huge knockers. I have no complaints about my normal breasts, but it’s been fun to have gigantic ones for awhile, even if they now look tiny next to the belly.

Elastic waistbands. In general, I don’t love maternity clothes. They don’t fit very well, they’re not that cute, they’re expensive. But I dig the elastic waistband.

The pregnant lady fashion pass. Sometimes I walk my dog in my pajama bottoms now. Because really, who is going to say anything to someone who’s nine months pregnant?

Slowing down. Physically, I’ve had to slow down. Significantly. Sometimes I forget, and climb our stairs at my normal pace, only to have to sit down on the bed to recover. But it’s been nice to slow down, to let up on expectations for myself a little, enjoy life at a slower pace.

Other people’s excitement about the baby. For Carl and I, this baby is a life changing, awesome, scary, sometimes overwhelming experience. But for so many other people in our life, the arrival of this baby is pure joy. I’ve been basking in that joy, soaking it in.

Being part of the mommy club. I really wanted to be part of the mommy club for a long time. I didn’t necessarily want to have a baby, but I hate to feel excluded. It’s amazing how now I have something to talk about with any other parent. A shared experience. I met all the dog people in town when we got Nalu, and now I’m meeting the kid people, which is really fun. This baby has already opened up a whole new world for us.

The Midwives. I love The Birth Center, where we are planning to have our baby. The midwives are so kind, supportive, and generally awesome. It is far and away the best experience I've ever had with care providers.

Early bird schedule. I don’t love the insomnia, but the bright side is that I’m awake almost every day by five a.m. now. It’s amazing how much I can accomplish in a day with those few extra hours. And I do love the early morning, before the world wakes up, I’ve just always loved sleep more. (and still do, but you know, you work with what you have.)

Finding strength I didn’t know I had. Physical strength – yes. I’m amazed at the yoga positions I can still twist this body into. Also mental and emotional strength. Pregnancy has held many challenges for me, and though challenges aren’t always fun, I’ve seen myself rise to meet them, with much love and support, and am proud of what I’ve seen.

So now that I've written something about the pregnancy, maybe baby will think it's okay to arrive. A girl can hope.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Looking for the Gifts

I have a situation in my life that I don’t like right now. Namely, my baby is breech. This means the baby’s head is not down. If the baby doesn’t turn around to the vertex, (head down) position, then I will have to have a C-section. This may not sound like a big deal to you, but it is to me. Not only do I have a serious aversion to hospitals, I was hoping to have a natural birth at a cozy place called The Birth Center, attended by midwives. And as far as birth experiences go, a C-section in the hospital is the other end of that spectrum.

Now, you may not understand my disappointment. Many don’t. But that’s not the point here. The point is that it’s been a difficult two weeks since I first found out the baby was breech. It’s been very emotional—as many things are at 36-37 weeks pregnant. I’ve been through fear, anger, disappointment, hope, more disappointment, something close to despair. I’ve cried many tears. I’ve squeezed into my life many phone calls, appointments, and exercises to encourage the baby to turn. Somehow, eventually, I came to a place of acceptance. I still don’t like that my birth story may be a c-section, but there is only so much I can do here. If after chiropracty, acupuncture, meditation, and a “version” procedure in the hospital, the baby is still breech, well, then I guess it’s meant to be a C-section. But I learned awhile ago, that even though it helps me to accept things, I still don’t have to like them. So that’s where I am. A place of discontented acceptance.

Still, as with any challenge in life, there have been gifts. And for the sake of maintaining my generally sunny disposition, I’d like to acknowledge some of them. First, this has brought Carl and I closer. He’s been amazingly supportive. And in exactly the way that I needed. It’s funny how so many people want to fix this, or want me to not feel what I’m feeling, or maybe just not talk about it, or just admit that what matters most is having a healthy baby. I know that. But I’m also allowed to have feelings about how this baby comes into the world, and Carl has let me express them, giving hugs and back rubs, just listening and validating. That’s meant the world to me.

I’ve done some serious relaxation and meditation work. I had been doing this anyway, in preparation for birth, and I try to meditate every morning as a general practice, but I have stepped up the time and energy I put into meditation, yoga, and relaxation exercises, and I can feel the effects in my life. In spite of many emotions, and physical discomfort, I have been generally very calm and peaceful over the past two weeks. And that’s a gift.

I’ve examined my expectations of other people. After feeling disappointed at how some people reacted to this news, I realized that I was looking for someone else to validate my feelings, to give me permission to feel a sense of loss, or anger or whatever. And I needed to give myself that permission. I needed to take care of myself in the way I was looking for others to take care of me. Which was a good reminder. It’s always my job to take care of myself. When I’m feeling resentful at what other people aren’t doing for me, there is always something I can do for myself, and I should do it.

A neighbor shared with me her own disappointment in having to have an emergency C-section. I felt that she really understood where I was coming from. And then she reassured me that the birth was still beautiful and special and that our birth would be too, no matter when and where it happened. I’m carrying her kindness with me like a talisman.

The testing I had at the dreaded hospital was not so bad. And all the people there were very kind, offering me a positive view of the medical world, and hope that even if this is a hospital birth, it could still be gentle and joyful.

I’ve seen that I can be strong and calm and happy, even when challenged. That I still have faith that I will be taken care of, and my baby will too. I’ve had many joyful moments over the past two weeks, and have worked hard to not let my fear or anger or disappointment take over my life. The trick is letting myself feel whatever the feelings are, but then still looking for the gifts each day brings. A few recent gifts: the most perfect beach weather last Sunday; splashing around in my beloved waves; Carl taking pictures of his hugely pregnant wife, saying I’m adorable; preparing a gorgeous meal of crab cakes and shrimp Saturday night for my family; giggling with my brother; walking around Ocean City; ice cream (and yes, pickles, though not together); napping; gaining on the finish line of a first draft of my second novel.

One of the best gifts has been treating myself with extra kindness and gentleness. This does not come easily to me, but it’s been essential in the past two weeks, and I’ve done it. Like many things that are good for me, I can see that the practice works, I can see the good results, which hopefully will encourage me to continue the behavior in the future.

Perhaps the best gift of all was given me by the tech at my ultrasound—a 4-D photo of my baby. Baby’s foot is obscuring half of his/her face, but I can see a closed eye, half a round nose, a chubby cheek. There are no words to describe the wonder of seeing this child’s face for the first time. But just that glimpse may have made the whole breech situation worthwhile. (Though if you’re listening, Baby, please turn over.)

Update: I wrote this last week, and had the version procedure this morning, in which an amazing doctor turned baby over in my belly. Baby is now head down! Hooray for the vertex position!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Back to Reality

The last few weeks have been a roller coaster between finishing my writing workshop, taking an exam for work, getting ready for vacation, traveling, then coming home. Our vacation in New Orleans was heavenly. Beignets, barbeque shrimp, po’ boys—I think everyone who’s pregnant should go to New Orleans. I also took advantage of our Babymoon to take naps, wander around art galleries, poke in and out of stores, get a pedicure. I don’t believe that our life will be over when the baby comes—thank god—but I am trying to savor these last few weeks of having the time and independence to do adult things.

If New Orleans was a fantasy, re-entry was a nightmare. Forgetting how difficult transitions can be for me, I spent the better part of last week feeling very cranky, and then upset with myself for feeling that way. As if one can talk oneself out of grumpiness. Now that I’m through to the other side, I thought I’d share a few things that helped.

1) I recognized I was cranky. That may seem small, but for me, just putting a name to something is often helpful.

2) I accepted that I was cranky. This is huge for me. I’m blessed with a pretty sunny disposition, so whenever I’m feeling down, I want to make it go away immediately. This time, I gave myself permission to be in a bad mood, which didn’t make it go away, but did ease the self-flagellation.

3) I bought myself a coke. Sometimes eating or drinking something sweet will sweeten my disposition. It did help, at least temporarily.

4) I listened to music, another mood elevator.

5) On Friday and Saturday, I rested. A lot. I had many things I wanted to do, and felt like I should be doing, but I was exhausted. So I gave myself permission to rest. Even at 8 months pregnant, this is difficult for me. Especially when my to-do list is so long! (But then, it always is.) After meeting my essential commitments for the day, including my minimum daily word quota, I let myself off the hook. Often when I’m cranky I’m either tired or overwhelmed. After resting for the better part of two days, I was rewarded with superhuman energy on Sunday, reinforcing the idea that if I take care of myself, I’m better able to efficiently meet my responsibilities.

6) I reminded myself to focus on the positive. Like many simple ideas, this one is hard to practice. Coming home from vacation to reality can be hard. I kept thinking things like, “Why can’t I spend every afternoon shopping and eating beignets?” “Why do I have a schedule?” “Why must I go to work, and food shop, and do laundry?” But then I read something that reminded me that when I focus on the negative, the negative grows, and when I focus on the positive, the positive grows. So this week I made a strong effort to focus on the positive in my life. From things as small as the scent of lilacs in the air, to making a chocolate tart for my parents’ birthday meal, focusing on the positive helped me feel better, and seemed to draw more positive experiences.

With some rest and some perspective I have remembered that I love this life, here at home. I need the structure, even if I don’t always like it. I love to cook, I love walking around Narberth, I love the satisfaction I get from working, and writing, and caring for my home. It’s just the transition that’s rough. So next time I go away, I’ll try to remember, reality is good, I just need to wait out the transitionary period.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Wonder is an Inside Job

A few weeks ago, I went to see Frances Mayes speak at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I loved her books about Italy—Under the Tuscan Sun and Bella Tuscany among others. Thrilled at the chance to see a favorite author in person, I sat alone, fourth row center, six months pregnant. She read an essay about art, Orvieto and churches. Afterwards, while being interviewed, she was funny, and smart, saying, “When people say ‘I don’t like Venice,’ I want to say, yeah, well I don’t like you.”

Most striking about her, to me, was her passion for Italy—an infatuation that has deepened into respect and devotion. She spoke of loving a place on a molecular level, how one can fall in love not just with people but with places. I have experienced that. Lisbon stole my heart at first sight. And my ardor for Mexico I can never shake, though Mexico does its best. So yes, I understand the marvel inspired by travel, by discovering unfamiliar places, by creating a life someplace new.

Yet, to my surprise, I left the lecture, not dying to move to Italy, but rather, filled with gratitude that I love my home and my life so much today. I spent many years either moving somewhere else or plotting when I could one day move somewhere else. Although I enjoyed Mayes’ adoration of Italy, I thought, I feel that way all the time, no matter where I am. In fact, immediately after her talk, I stumbled into a small hallway in the museum that I had never seen before. I stood before a giant deformed female statue with pointy nipples and medusa-like hair, and then was pulled across the room to a twelve-foot Tiffany column, covered in shiny blue mosaic tile. And I felt that child’s wonder of discovery, of adventure, of life being full of beautiful surprises.

Frances Mayes speaks of Italy as “endless,” and I’m sure it is. But so is Ocean City, where I find untold beauty in the sandpipers scuttling, the giant horseshoe crabs washed up on the sand, the coin-shaped iridescent gold shells. Narberth in Spring can steal my breath with entire lawns covered in purple crocuses, bulbs bravely sprouting through the still-cold ground. Just observing my puppy as she sleeps with her head resting on a pillow and her pink tongue poking through her teeth makes my heart swell. There is endless wonder in my life, no matter where I am, if I take the time to look for it. I’m so grateful that I often do.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Productivity Trick

It was inevitable. I knew the honeymoon would end. Or at least pause. The initial infatuation with my new novel is gone, replaced with the knowledge of what a long cold slog it is to the finish line. Forget about finishing. Right now I'd settle for some forward momentum, some semblance of a plot.

I forgot that I once felt this way about the first novel--uncertain of where it was going, of what my protagonist's problem was, if there was even a story worth telling. Luckily I have this blog and friends with good memories to remind me it was like that for the first one too. This is part of the process--fumbling toward a plot, putting words on the page, not knowing if they will add up to anything worthwhile. Man, this part is hard.

In hope that structure and deadlines would help me--they usually do--I signed up for an online writing workshop. For the class, I can submit up to 50 pages over ten weeks, which in and of itself, has scared me into working harder.

The class has already paid for itself with this advice from my teacher: "Make a small and manageable writing goal, and meet it every day." I've heard this before, in various forms, but this time it struck me. That's exactly what I needed to do.

So last Friday I made a tiny daily goal for myself: write x number of words every day, no matter what. I made it so small that I can accomplish it in 15 minutes if pressed. And guess what? It works. The goal is so minute that even mornings when I'm rushed, or tired or resistant in any way, I know I can still meet it.

I'm happy to report I've met my goal, every day except Sunday, (which is after all, the day of rest.) The great thing is on mornings when that's all I can manage, I still get a great sense of accomplishment, from meeting a goal. Other mornings, I find myself on a roll, happily typing, well beyond my limit. I believe that's what we call a win-win.

Sure, my inner critic still shouts--More! We need to be writing MORE! But I can see that momentum is building. Forward progress is happening. Maybe best of all, because I'm thinking about the book every day, my subconscious is starting to work on it. The characters are starting to live in my head. First sentences appear seemingly from nowhere. Magic is afoot.

Set a small, manageable goal, and meet it. Genius. Who knew?

Friday, February 25, 2011

For All You Perfectionists

"My imperfections and failures are as much a blessing from God as my successes and my talents, and I lay them both at His feet." -Mahatma Gandhi

Wow. When I read those words a few days ago, they stopped me in my tracks. I've been chewing them over ever since, but am still not quite sure what they mean to me.

First, do I believe that to be true? Are my imperfections and failures as much a blessing from God as my successes and talents?

Perfectionism is one of my imperfections. I'm not trying to be cute, it's just true. By perfectionism I mean the tendency to want something to be so good (perfect) that either 1) it will never be finished, 2) it will never live up to my unrealistic standards or 3) I will never begin it in the first place, knowing that it will never be good enough.

Is this a blessing from God? Well, having high standards does motivate me to work hard. I do reach for fairly high goals. I can relate when people share about being overwhelmed or stuck or unable to finish something, thereby making me more compassionate. Those seem to be blessings.

Another of my imperfections is a compulsive need to figure everything out. Exhibit A is this post, right here. Can't I trust Gandhi that this is true? No, I need to test it, probe it, take it apart. This can be a blessing--a healthy skepticism is an asset in many ways. So is questioning, which leads me to new understanding, to larger truths sometimes.

Failures have certainly been blessings from God. I was devastated--rather--my ego was devastated when I was not accepted to University of Pennsylvania's law school. Yet, now I see that I ended up exactly where I needed to be.

I love the idea of laying all of it at God's feet. There is only so much my limited brain, with my limited worldview can understand. I do believe that there is a sentient being out there, something greater than myself, who understands why things happen. I am not that being. But if I believe in its existence, which I do, then I can work on trusting that my imperfections and failures are a part of some larger plan. Which doesn't mean I can't work on them or try to improve, but for me, it means trying to love myself, just as I am in this moment. Maybe one of my vexing imperfections is doing someone a lot of good. Maybe like my doggie's googly eye, my imperfect nose is part of why others love me. Who likes someone who seems perfect? (Not me, another imperfection.)

The crazy thing about perfectionism is that by definition, human beings are flawed. No one is perfect. Never has been, never will be. So why should I think myself any different? (Giant ego, another imperfection.)

A quote that has helped with my perfectionism lately is this one by Emerson:

"Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense."

I love his certainty that some blunders and absurdities crept in. Yes! Ralph! How did you know? And his use of the word nonsense. It's much gentler than the words I can use with myself. Most of all, I love his idea that I have a choice. I can choose high spirits over the nonsense. What a hopeful and empowering thought.

Let's have an imperfection party. Who's got one to celebrate?

Monday, February 14, 2011

My Funny Valentine

I’ve been a bit grumpy lately—maybe the hormones, maybe trying to do too much, maybe not writing enough—possibly all three. But I had a reality check this morning when I thought of a dear friend of mine who is heartbroken at the moment. Then I heard another friend in my head saying, “Celebrate your life.” I love that expression, because it reminds me to practice gratitude, taking my focus from what I don’t have, and redirecting it to one of my many blessings.

Which brings me to my Valentine. I suffered through many Valentine’s Days, either lonely or heartbroken, so today I’d like to celebrate the great love I have with my husband, Carl.

I remember thinking, shortly after I met Carl, that I hoped he would always be a part of my life. We were just friends then—it took us almost a year to figure out we were in love—but I liked him at first sight, immensely, and as I knew him better, my affection, respect and admiration for him continued to grow. He made me laugh harder and more often than anyone else I’d known—no small feat, given how hilarious my friends are—and he had a giant heart, filled with kindness. We were babies when we met, all of 22 years old, but I already knew how some friends stayed in your life, while others were just temporary. I really hoped Carl would be one of the few permanent ones.

So I married him.

And I can honestly say, I have more respect, admiration and love for him today than I did 12 years ago. He is still the funniest person I know, and one of the kindest. He’s loyal, honest, hardworking, and thoughtful. He’s forgiving, accepting of my shortcomings, and generous. Without him, I wouldn’t have had the courage to really pursue writing. His belief in my talent, his support of my dreams, his willingness to follow me into uncharted waters, well. It’s more than I ever would have asked for.

So for those of you in romantic relationships, I invite you to celebrate your loved one today. Not because Hallmark tells us to, but because I bet you don’t do it enough. I know I don’t. And for those of you for whom Valentine’s Day is hard, celebrate what is working in your life today. I know if you look, you’ll find something.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Ignorance is Bliss?

I loved The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini’s first book. I know people had beef with some of the coincidences in the plot, but for me, I loved that Hosseini brought Afghanistan to life for me, in a way the news never had. I loved living in Kabul, before the wars. I loved the themes of treachery, forgiveness and redemption. I thought it was beautifully rendered, moving, hopeful.

I approached his follow-up book, One Thousand Splendid Suns, with some trepidation. After I had read the first half, I realized why. The characters’ lives were so grim, so relentlessly horrible, that I wanted to put it down. I really did. It colored my weekend, which was already rainy, even more gray. But I was too invested. I wanted to see what would happen. So I give Hosseini credit for that. And also, for once again, bringing Afghanistan to life. The war, the poverty, hunger, violence, the complete powerlessness of women—they became very real to me as I read the book. And God bless him for writing it. I can imagine the burning need he must have had, to give voice to the women of his country who suffered so greatly.

But…it was hard to take. There was hope at the end, thank God, but if I’m being honest, I really don’t want to spend my time living in such horror. I think works like that are important. I’m sure there are people in the world who don’t know such atrocities exist. I hope people read that book and felt moved to do something for others, be it refugees, victims of domestic violence, or someone in their family. But in the years I worked with refugees, I heard enough gruesome stories to last a lifetime. People told me things so terrible, I would sit in awe, amazed that the person who survived them was sitting in my office, drawing breath.

My clients’ stories inspired me. Seeing the resilience of human beings, of what people can endure, and come through gave me faith that I too, could endure hardship should it appear. But they also exacted a price. I couldn’t hear the stories without taking the details into my very vivid imagination and living with them.

It’s not that I want to be unaware of what’s happening in the world, it’s that I don’t want to be so paralyzed by sadness, so overwhelmed with horror, that I do nothing. For similar reasons I limit my intake of news, which is rarely anything but doom and gloom, and I avoid books like One Thousand Splendid Suns. Because by spending time in that world, I don’t feel inspired, I don’t feel empowered, I feel borderline despondent. And I don’t see how that helps anyone.

Is that willful ignorance? Maybe. But I guess I fail to see how me having a sad weekend will do anything to help people like the characters in the book. So, I’m glad it was written, I’m glad people read it, I hope it did some good in the world, but for me, I’d rather have spent the weekend laughing with Bridget Jones.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

My .0015 Seconds of Fame

Okay, maybe it doesn't look like much. Allow me to explain. On a recent morning, Ants Marching, by Dave Matthews Band came on the radio. I mentioned to my husband how I was there when they shot the video. To my surprise, he had never heard that story. I proceeded to tell him how, during my freshman year of college, I, along with many many others, was discovering DMB and obsessed. Friends and I went to various shows of theirs in Philly and New York, and when Z100 had an exclusive concert you could only attend by winning tickets, I called ceaselessly for weeks on end. Sadly, to no avail.

Undaunted, some friends and I went to the site of the concert, hoping to somehow score tickets. Miraculously, by talking to someone who knew someone who knew a roadie, three of us were admitted. The golden ticket. It was acoustic, intimate--magical. The day got even better--I know, seems impossible--when someone handed us information about the video they were shooting for Ants Marching the next day, and invited us to be extras.

This was obviously more important than attending classes, so on a cold February day in 1995, we trudged to some warehouse in Manhattan and spent all day in the presence of--gasp--Dave Matthews. Filming itself was a bit tedious after awhile. A lot of breaks and hearing the same song over and over for eight hours straight. Sometimes they'd have us march--get it, like ants? around the band, skipping and frolicking. Sometimes we'd watch them perform and dance. I was too shy to try to talk to Dave. What would one say? I love your music? We're soul mates? You speak to my heart? Too corny. Better to say nothing, play it cool.

We waited anxiously for the video to appear on MTV, but when it did, none of us were in it. Or so I thought until this morning, when with the magic of Youtube and pause, I glimpsed myself, walking in front of the camera. Then I caught several shots of my friend Andrew, dancing right behind Dave!

Why is this so thrilling? I don't know. Maybe just because it brought me back to that day, all those years ago, so full of admiration for this artist, so overcome with the opportunity to be near him. Maybe it's nice to have proof. After awhile, I start to wonder if some of my stories are true. Maybe that's a professional danger of being a novelist. So it's nice to have photographic proof, that I was indeed there for that.

If you want a better view of me, check out the link. When you get to second 53, look closely and you'll see me walk by, pushing my hair back. If you blink, you'll miss it.

Dave Matthews Band, Ants Marching video

Below are two shots of Andrew. He's the guy in the long sleeve shirt and glasses, standing right behind--Dave Matthews. (Insert dreamy sigh.)

Friday, January 7, 2011

Surviving the Earthquake to Paint Again

With the one year anniversary of the Haitian earthquake coming up this week, I've had Haiti on the brain. Below I'm posting an article I wrote about Frantz Zephirin, an incredible Haitian artist.

Here is an example of his work:

If you want to do something to help Haiti, please consider donating to the Art Creation Foundation for Children. Located in Jacmel, Haiti, they teach art to street children, and my friends who have visited them speak very highly of their work. Every dollar helps.

Surviving the Earthquake to Paint Again

Originally published: Tuesday, June 01, 2010 in Ticket, the entertainment tabloid for Montgomery County, PA

By Julie Owsik Ackerman

Frantz Zephirin, one of Haiti’s leading contemporary painters, escaped death in the January earthquake by an unlikely action — leaving a pub early. That afternoon, Zephirin sat in one of his haunts, having a few drinks with a friend when a group of men came in, loudly discussing politics. “I say, ‘I’m not going to stay and listen,’” he recalled, “I just came to drink my beer.” So he asked for the check, told his usual waitress that no, he wouldn’t be staying for dinner that night, and left with his friend.

Fifteen seconds later, the ground began to shake violently.

“I thought it was a bomb,” he said. “I saw the street open, then close.” Black sand filled the air, making it impossible to see. He fought his way to a lamppost and clung to it until the shaking stopped. “I heard the cry of the people dying but you don’t see nothing, only dark sand. I walked back to the bar. I say, ‘Where is the bar?’ But only the sign remained. Every building was like a sandwich. The bar where I was, all the people died inside. Every day I pass to look at the place where I was supposed to die.”

What can anyone do after witnessing such horror? Zephirin said, “The only thing I could imagine was to paint.” And so he did. “Frantz Zephirin, Art and Resilience,” his first U.S. exhibit since the earthquake, is currently running at Indigo Arts Gallery in Philadelphia, through June 19. The show includes 30 paintings, most of which he completed after the earthquake.

This exhibit comes to Philadelphia through an unlikely friendship that developed between the exuberant Haitian painter and reserved art dealer and Merion resident Frank Giannetta, who traveled to Haiti in 1989 after his art gallery burned down. On that trip Giannetta met Zephirin at a gallery in Port-au-Prince and purchased eight or nine of his paintings.

Giannetta said, “I didn’t speak Creole, he didn’t speak English, but between three different languages, somehow we communicated.” Zephirin contacted Giannetta the next year about having an art show in the U.S., and the two have been friends ever since.

Zephirin began painting when he was 5 years old and had his first taste of success at the age of 8 when he gave two paintings to a tour guide who sold them for $40. From that day, he was hooked, using school time to think of ideas and sketch, and weekends to sit at the elbow of his uncle, Philome Obin, considered by many to be one of the greatest Haitian artists of all time. When I asked if his uncle taught him or looked at his work, Zephirin laughed.

“I was a child. He did not think to look at my work.” But young Frantz studied which brushes his uncle used, how he applied paint to canvases, and took leftover materials to use for his own paintings.

When he moved to Port-au-Prince at 15, Zephirin took two paintings around to the galleries there, but no one was interested in buying them. They said his work looked too much like the Cap Haitien style of his uncle, known for realistic depictions of everyday life. Frustrated after a long day of many rejections, Zephirin met a tour guide who offered him $20 for the two paintings. In anger, the artist threw his work into the ocean. “I say, ‘You are a dog, a pig, a monkey,’” he recalled, “and in my mind, the animals come. I think, now I go to paint you like an animal, like you are.”

This was a turning point for Zephirin, who, inspired by his vision of people as animals, began to create works that depicted fantastical human/animal creatures, spirits, gods and goddesses. Giannetta said, “Rather than painting what he saw around him, he began to paint the mystical creatures coming out of his own mind.”

After a year of working with this style, and some success in selling his work, Zephirin ventured off to the Galerie Monnin, in spite of naysayers who told him that Monnin only sold the best Haitian art. He carefully prepared a painting and brought it to Roger Monnin, the owner, who said to his son, “Michel, this guy bring something new; we need to keep this guy.” Customers snapped up paintings as quickly as Zephirin could make them, even though he worked night and day.

Since then, Zephirin’s work has been shown in many cities of the United States and Europe. One of his paintings appeared on the cover of The New Yorker on Jan. 25, 2010, the week after the earthquake.

In the current exhibit at Indigo Arts Gallery, one of the most haunting paintings is rather simple, at least for a Zephirin piece. On a tan background, swirling around a small depiction of a graveyard at the center, single eyes peer out at the viewer. Looking at the painting, Zephirin said, “It’s the eye that’s here,” pointing to the middle of his forehead. He added, “On the day of the earthquake, the people were so confused. One moment they’re here, the next moment they’re not. They were swept up,” he said, making a sound and motion of water quickly going down a drain. “The other eye is looking, saying ‘What happened?’”

Tony Fisher, director of the Indigo Arts Gallery, observed that many of the paintings in this exhibit “show an opening from one world into another, but the dominant one is what we would call ‘the spirit world.’” An example of this is “Rara ti boujwa,” a 48 x 48 inch canvas, covered by three large rainbow-colored spirits. At the center is a small circle depicting a street party with white bourgeois people, because, according to Zephirin, “Before, the carnival was for the blacks, the poor. Now we’re all the same.”

Sitting in a café in Wynnewood, Zephirin’s gratitude for his life was palpable. He radiated the kind of joy one finds in spite of darkness, in spite of living through the goudou goudou, the phrase Haitians use to refer to the January earthquake.

“We are supposed to live every moment and enjoy the moment,” he said, “because you don’t know. You can lose everything in a second — your business, your house, your children — everything.” He dreams now of starting a foundation to help rebuild his country, address deforestation and assist street children.

When asked why art matters, in the face of such tragedy and suffering, Zephirin said, “The artist is the witness of everything that’s happened. Cameras can’t give you what you have inside. They see what you have outside, but you need the vision of the artist to paint what’s inside.”

The night of the earthquake, with great difficulty, without any standing landmarks, through the chaos and devastation, Zephirin found his way home. Blessed to have his life, and even a house still standing, he lit a candle, and did the only thing he could — he painted.

Julie Owsik Ackerman writes essays on creativity, travel, surfing and other topics at

If You Go

“Frantz Zephirin, Art and Resilience”

will run at

Indigo Arts Gallery,

Crane Arts Building, #104,

1400 N. American St.,

Philadelphia, PA 19122,

through June 19.

Info: 215-765-1041 or