Archive for the 'Sage Cohen' Category

The Articulate Conception: Making a Braid

By Sage Cohen Sage Cohen and Theo

I remember standing, swollen and sweaty, in the doorway to Theo’s room. I took in the cozy, friendly-feeling space we had outfitted and decorated with care to receive a person I had never met, whose spirit I could not even begin to imagine. Days later, our son arrived and began to fill the blank pages of our future with his story.
 
Today, Theo is 13 months old. He claps, dances, walks and proclaims everything he loves to be “kitty.” He climbs, crouches, throws balls and hugs everything, including (most amusingly) the bathwater. His gusto for culinary delights is rivaled by his ability to cut a mean tooth.
 
As I’ve become more rested and more proficient at discerning Theo’s needs and how to meet them, the threads of my day job, family life and author responsibilities have all come into focus. Most of the time, all three threads are even within reach.
 
Fluidity is the name of this game. And surrender is its secret sauce.
 
To give my child and my marriage what they deserve, my clients what they demand, and my book the visibility it needs to offer readers a greater joy and connection to poetry, I make a braid. I count each thread of responsibility a blessing and determine what it needs to be most effective each week – and how much juice I have to make it happen.
 
Through this ever-changing pattern of time and intention, I lead and I am led. I set goals and achieve many of them and let others go. What was meant to happen one week may happen the next, or never. Yet, day by day, work gets done. Step by step the confluence of identity and productivity, home life and public life has progressed from crawl to stumble to the first feeble twinges of dance. I am in service to all that I love most.
 
These days, I spend a few evenings and a weekend day or two each month teaching, lecturing or reading – both locally and around the country. I teach an online poetry class. I run a reading series. I am a volunteer editor on a wonderful literary collective called VoiceCatcher. I write fast and furious (and of course fabulous) marketing communications content and deliver it on-deadline.
 
And in tandem to all of this doing and accomplishing runs the love-line of my being-time with my family. During the workweek, I typically spend the first six hours of Theo’s day with him, as well as the last two, with frequent visits throughout the day. We share the endless incarnations of daily ritual, from the sweet stickying quest of appetite to the warm washing away of the day’s accumulations.
 
Every day, Theo and Jon and I belong more and more to our life together. And paradoxically, every day takes each of us incrementally further into the streams of our own stories. I find myself braiding and re-braiding the threads of love, responsibility and gratitude. The threads of family, marketing professional and author. Sleep, work and adventure. Motherhood, marriage and self.
 
A writer’s work is never done. Nor is her play. I am blessed.
 
 

Sage Cohen is the author of Writing the Life Poetic: An Invitation to Read and Write Poetry (Writers Digest Books, 2009) and the poetry collection Like the Heart, the World. An award-winning poet, she writes three monthly columns about the craft and business of writing and serves as Poetry Editor for VoiceCatcher 4. Her poetry and essays appear in journals and anthologies including Cup of Comfort for Writers, The Oregonian, Oregon Literary Review, Greater Good and VoiceCatcher. Sage holds an MA in creative writing from New York University, co-hosts a monthly reading series at Barnes & Noble and teaches the online class Poetry for the People. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and awarded a Soapstone residency. To learn more, visit www.writingthelifepoetic.com.

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The Articulate Conception: Outgrowing the Glass Slipper

Sage Cohen and Theo

By Sage Cohen
I’ll bet no one ever told Cinderella that once she was on the other side of pregnancy and birth, her foot would no longer fit the glass slipper. Like the rest of her body (and her life, for that matter), that elegant foot would be stretched out, flattened, varicose-veined and otherwise rendered entirely unrecognizable.

I, on the other hand, was fortunate. My friend Jenn Lalime broke the news to me over my first drink on my first night out at my first literary event since giving birth: “Don’t expect to accomplish much at work for the next six months. And expect the quality of what you do accomplish to be about 40 percent of what you were previously capable.”

I was just emerging from my three-month maternity leave where I was (supposedly) not working (but had proofed and polished my book in layout and secured permissions for nearly 40 poems), and getting ready to face my desk and my clients again. I was sleeping two, maybe three hours at a pop, for a total of five, maybe six hours in any given 24-hour period, which transformed my daily existence into a perpetual out-of-body experience.

Grateful to be leaving my son downstairs in the care of an endearing and trustworthy nanny, yet wrenched at being more than a few feet away from him, I trudged up to my office intent on establishing a sustainable rhythm for my three, full-time jobs: mother, writer/business owner and author/book promoter.

My office was not exempt from the baby bomb that had exploded through our house. The pristine calm and order I had cultivated for more than a decade was papered over with stacks of bills, hospital propaganda, health insurance documentation and all manner of outgrown or not-yet-needed baby paraphernalia. In three short months, my office had become a holding pen for my rapidly expanding life.

As I sat down at my desk, the elegant evening gown of my mind now plain and staid as a pumpkin, I started small-first sorting and organizing the piles. Then came the five-page to-do list. Next, a schedule detailing how everything was going to get done in far less time than I’d ever done it before. As I went through the old, familiar, getting-things-done motions, the pilot light of “professional Sage” flickered on behind my eyes.

I couldn’t be trusted to know what day or time it was, or to send a single email that made sense. And yet, as they days and weeks went on and my professional paralysis gave way to a slow momentum, my work was getting done. Client deadlines were being met. I was giving lectures and readings some evenings, attending a literary event or two and hosting my reading series once again.

While I felt like a fragmented imposter standing in for the previous, more cohesive version of me, no one seemed to notice that the glass slippers of this former perfectionista had been retired the back of the closet. I plodded along on flat feet, graceless and imprecise, doing the best I could. And remarkably, that seemed to be enough.

Next month: striking a balance between private and public life.

Sage Cohen is the author of Writing the Life Poetic: An Invitation to Read and Write Poetry (Writers Digest Books, 2009) and the poetry collection Like the Heart, the World. An award-winning poet, she writes three monthly columns about the craft and business of writing and serves as Poetry Editor for VoiceCatcher 4. Her poetry and essays appear in journals and anthologies including Cup of Comfort for Writers, The Oregonian, Oregon Literary Review, Greater Good and VoiceCatcher. Sage holds an MA in creative writing from New York University, co-hosts a monthly reading series at Barnes & Noble and teaches the online class Poetry for the People. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and awarded a Soapstone residency. To learn more, visit www.writingthelifepoetic.com.

The Articulate Conception: The Total Eclipse of Theo

By Sage Cohen Sage Cohen and Theo
  
Theo is four months old. I am sitting in bed reading Christina Katz’s Get Known Before the Book Deal, Mari L’Esperance’s The Darkened Temple and the Sears family’s The Baby Book. My awe of language’s conductive wire of idea, image, information and emotion pulses through my evening. It appears that I have caught up on my rest enough to start having an abstract thought or two that diverge from the endlessly immediate loop of: “Is he wet, hungry, gassy or tired? Where’s the binky? Do I have time to make it to the bathroom?”
 
Theo is sleeping beside me, curled into a little comma in the small rectangle of his cosleeper. He is layered in blankets given to him by people we love. It’s taken me three months to learn to put my baby to sleep somewhere other than on top of me. The learning curve of care is humbling and slow. In this moment I am cherishing our closeness and separateness. In this moment, the line between his body and mine is clear. I study his small head: the delicious rolls of fat at the back of his neck, topped with a small spray of his longest hair; his pert little optimistic nose; private upper lip; the single dimple in his right cheek smiling in sleep. Tilted into the night: one perfectly crafted conch shell of an ear feeding him the ocean swirl of this world that he is slowly learning to swim in.
 
To have three beloved books open before me feels like I’m binging on the past; the woman I once was read whatever she wanted, went to sleep and woke up when she wanted, returned emails when she wanted. It is not that I miss her. It is simply that I am lost. I remember my friend Marci telling me that for weeks after her daughter Hannah was born, each time the doorbell rang, she was afraid it was Hannah’s “real parents” come to take her home.
 
There is something so enormously and unbearably familiar and unfamiliar about birth. This portal of my body knows everything it needs to know, despite me. The thick shell of who I once thought I was has been broken open into something so much more powerful and vulnerable.
 
As my child sleeps, I wonder how he came to be my child. I chose my dogs, my cats, my husband. I chose my friends and my editor and my agent and my doctor and acupuncturist. I chose my neighbors, my plumber, my clients, my colleagues. I chose a book topic and neighborhood and house. I chose to become pregnant and was fortunate that my body was cooperative.
 
Then into my life arrived the single most important and mysterious being I will ever know–one I did not choose. This is the shock of motherhood: an initiation into the seismic love of the entirely incomprehensible perfection of her child. He has come to me as himself. I listen in to learn him.
 
As if rehearsing for something one line at a time but never grasping the main idea of the narrative, I move through my days. Exhaustion and euphoria are my absurdist cocktail. Bound now to this earth, I hold my child. We sleep the sweet sleep of belonging.
 
Next month: Establishing a new rhythm for three, full-time jobs: mother, business owner and book promoter. 
 

Sage Cohen is the author of Writing the Life Poetic: An Invitation to Read and Write Poetry (Writers Digest Books, 2009) and the poetry collection Like the Heart, the World. An award-winning poet, she writes three monthly columns about the craft and business of writing and serves as Poetry Editor for VoiceCatcher 4. Her poetry and essays appear in journals and anthologies including Cup of Comfort for Writers, The Oregonian, Oregon Literary Review, Greater Good and VoiceCatcher. Sage holds an MA in creative writing from New York University, co-hosts a monthly reading series at Barnes & Noble and teaches the online class Poetry for the People. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and awarded a Soapstone residency. To learn more, visit www.writingthelifepoetic.com.

 

 

The Articulate Conception: The Fourth Trimester

By Sage Cohen 

Some call the first three months of a baby’s life the fourth trimester – one in which they benefitSage Cohen and Theo developmentally from conditions that are as contiguous with the womb as possible. Our son Theo proved this theory true; he was content only when completely contained in a wrap against my body. Bound to each other in this slightly more flexible way, Theo’s brand new face tilted up toward my own in the exalted belonging of his little baby cocoon, we settled into the communion of being that his presence demanded.
 
It seemed that Writing the Life Poetic was in its fourth trimester, too. With the proofing of content-in-layout complete, there was a final step I hadn’t anticipated whose logistics were far more complex and time consuming than I could have imagined: permissions. With forty poems by other poets appearing in my book’s pages, it was now time to request permission for usage from those poets and their publishers.
 
I was sleeping maybe two hours at a stretch. Night and day were one continuous blur of breastfeeding, diapering, rocking to sleep and making mental to-do lists that would never get done. I became a highly calibrated diagnostic machine attuned to every sound, movement and bodily function of this mysterious little sea creature posing as my son.
 
Theo wanted only to be with me. Too new for any agenda or activity other than relating to and being in contact with his mother,
he simply needed all of me, all the time. Having lived alone and worked alone for most of my adult life with occasional evening and weekend spurts of extroversion, my brain chemistry was completely unprepared for this recalibration of relatedness. I was euphoric and overwhelmed and desperate for time at my computer, where I could think things and write them down. I wanted to take a step back to reflect: What did it now mean to be a mother – this baby’s mother?
 
But I didn’t even have time to make it to the bathroom on my own terms. It became apparent in these early days that the fortress that was once my life, my identity, my sense of self had been blasted to smithereens. I had no context or language for this new vulnerability of caregiving. I had only my moment-by-moment indentured service to the life of my precious son. I did not regret the dissipation of my old way of life; I just hadn’t quite found my foothold of context in the new one yet.

 
My office was up a steep flight of stairs. It was doubling as a guest room for a steady stream of family who had flown in to visit and help. Recovering from c-section surgery and entirely entrenched in the play-by-play maintenance of Theo, it took me at least three weeks to make my way back up there. I remember swaying over my desk, a bit dizzy, looking out at the computer screen over the head of my sleeping child, trying to remember exactly what it is that I was supposed to do here.  

 

A mother finds the resources to what needs to be done. And so it was with my fourth-trimester book. One permission request at a time, I typed myself back into some semblance of writing professional. As the e-mails clicked out into the ether and the contracts for usage started arriving, I was learning step by tenuous step how to integrate who I had been into whom I was becoming. Steeped in the present tense of new motherhood and new authorhood, I tended these new babies – my multimedia twins – with a kind of enchantment laced with regret, knowing that soon enough they’d be traveling in the world without me.  
 
Next month: Establishing a new rhythm for three, full-time jobs: mother, business owner and book promoter.  
 

Sage Cohen is the author of Writing the Life Poetic: An Invitation to Read and Write Poetry (Writers Digest Books, 2009) and the poetry collection Like the Heart, the World. An award-winning poet, she writes three monthly columns about the craft and business of writing and serves as Poetry Editor for VoiceCatcher 4. Her poetry and essays appear in journals and anthologies including Cup of Comfort for Writers, The Oregonian, Oregon Literary Review, Greater Good and VoiceCatcher. Sage holds an MA in creative writing from New York University, co-hosts a monthly reading series at Barnes & Noble and teaches the online class Poetry for the People. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and awarded a Soapstone residency. To learn more, visit www.writingthelifepoetic.com.

The Articulate Conception: Then Comes Theo in a Baby Carriage

By Sage Cohen
Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise; there is simply no way to prepare for birth. I read the groovy, you-Sage Cohen and Theocan-do-it birthing books by Ina May Gaskin to psych myself up for the task at hand and took the groovy Birthing From Within class where we made birth art, practiced managing pain by putting our hands in buckets of ice, and tried to articulate our “birth tigers”–those anticipated fears that had the potential to shut down labor.
 
I saw Ricki Lake’s “The Business of Being Born,” became well-versed in the “cascade of interventions” that are likely to happen at a hospital birth, and decided I wanted to give birth at home. We chose a naturopathic physician / midwife who seemed in line with our philosophy and approach to birth and hunkered down for the tidal wave of birth to arrive.
 
What I know now that I could not have known then is that preparing for birth is like packing a backpack for a trip to the moon. It’s an exercise you go through to give yourself the illusion of control, to feel that you have some inch of influence over gravity’s relaxing grip as you orbit unfathomably through space.
 
What I know now that I should have known then is that agreeing to proof a book in layout two weeks after giving birth is a bad, bad idea.
 
It went down like this: I labored for 60 hours at home — from a Monday to a Wednesday­­–until it became clear that my son’s head was stuck at an angle and wasn’t budging. We raced to the hospital where some other complications were identified, and within 30 minutes the surgeon lifted a perfect little boy body over the C-section curtain. As my son Theo’s life untwined from mine into his own breath and being and I watched the nurse performing his Apgar test, it slowly dawned on me that I was no longer in labor, that I was no longer pregnant — that my son had birthed me into motherhood.
 
Theo and I spent the next five days learning each other’s rhythms in the bright spotlight of around-the-clock, nursing supervision. A week later as I was surfacing from the haze of heavy-duty narcotic painkillers, euphoric awe and interminable exhaustion, the PDF proof arrived. I printed it, put it in a binder, got out my highlighter and my Pilot V Ball Grip pen. Then, I sat down to dinner, started crying and just couldn’t stop. My concerned husband and mother in law quickly made a plan to relieve me of baby duty for the night and sent me into private quarters to sleep.
 
What I realized during that blessed night of honest-to-goodness sleep — my first peephole of contemplation since Theo’s arrival — was that giving birth had initiated me into the superhero, secret society of motherhood. I had tapped into the universal power shared by women everywhere who simply do what has to be done, with love and with gratitude. I had endured three days of unmedicated labor; what was proofing a 264-page book at the nadir of depletion compared to that?
 
The next day, I returned to the dinner table, wiped my bleary eyes, and I proofed that book with the hormonally-enhanced ardor, focus and determination that only a new mother can.
 
Next month: The utter obliteration of mind, desk and to-do list in the first three months of motherhood. 
 
 
Sage Cohen is the author of Writing the Life Poetic: An Invitation to Read and Write Poetry, forthcoming from Writer’s Digest Books, and the poetry collection Like the Heart, the World. Her poetry and essays appear in journals and anthologies including Cup of Comfort for Writers, Oregon Literary Review, Greater Good, and VoiceCatcher. Sage holds an MA in creative writing from New York University and teaches the e-mail class Poetry for the People. In September 2008, her son Theo Luchs-Cohen initiated Sage into the life of the writer mama.

Naked Lobster Goes Public

Sage Cohen and TheoBy Sage Cohen
Lobsters molt. When they’re in between big and small, they shed their hard shell and crawl along the bottom of the ocean all gelatinous and vulnerable. Once they’ve arrived at their next stage of development, they grow a new shell. While writing my book Writing the Life Poetic and growing my baby, I was a naked lobster-and a large one, at that.
 
Accustomed to being the quiet, inconspicuous person in the background observing things and writing them down, I was unprepared for the ways in which my new girth would belly me into the spotlight. As anyone who’s ever birthed a baby knows, pregnant women become public property. Strangers approach and without asking touch your stomach, make wildly inappropriate comments about your size, declare projections about your due date, and offer the full spectrum of unsolicited and unwelcome parenting advice. I developed a few, friendly canned responses to deflect such advances by affirming how smart and insightful these folks were.  
 
In tandem with my physical conspicuousness, I was stretching to get used to the idea of increased visibility and exposure as an author. My book was about poetry, but the lessons were being brought to life through stories about my own personal journey. This presented a strange, new predicament of fearing that people would actually read the things I write. Of course, the fear wasn’t that my writing would be read-but rather that it (or I) would be judged unfavorably. I understood that in writing a book, I was opening myself up to the unpredictable tides of public opinion. Suddenly, my life was a giant, elastic waistband-both literally and figuratively!
 
To make matters worse, my muse had me by the throat and she wasn’t letting me go. I was overcome with book ideas at all hours of the day and night. This heightened state of receptivity was making it difficult to do anything well-except write my book. The biggest challenge was an unprecedented stretch of insomnia, which resulted in a great deal of confusion in my waking hours. I ran a stop sign that I didn’t see at an intersection and nearly collided with a police car-all the while wondering why they were running their stop sign! I came home from a meeting for a new business opportunity with four business cards when I had met with three people-and ended up ceremoniously sending thank you notes to all the wrong people.
 
Fortunately, my pregnancy was requiring an entirely different type of creative energy. Basically, the baby grew me and I was along for the ride. Of course, I did my part; I ate well, took my vitamins, hiked with my dogs every day, and read all of my requisite “how to be a pregnant,” “fetus development” and “how to give birth” books. These gave me the happy illusion of grasping the unfathomable enormity of conception, pregnancy and birth.
 
My birth due date was September 12. I delivered final content for my entire book to Writer’s Digest Books on September 5. I was exhausted and euphoric, jumbled up with hormones and teetering precariously on puffed-up feet as I waited for my son to make his appearance and deliver me to motherhood.
 
Next month, polishing the book; pushing out the baby.
 
 
 

 

Sage Cohen is the author of Writing the Life Poetic: An Invitation to Read and Write Poetry, forthcoming from Writer’s Digest Books, and the poetry collection Like the Heart, the World. Her poetry and essays appear in journals and anthologies including Cup of Comfort for Writers, Oregon Literary Review, Greater Good and VoiceCatcher. Sage holds an MA in creative writing from New York University and teaches the e-mail class Poetry for the People. In September 2008, her son Theo Luchs-Cohen initiated Sage into the life of the writer mama.
 

The Articulate Conception: The Truth about Happily Ever After

Sage Cohen and Theo

By Sage Cohen

There’s a good reason that all fairy tales end immediately after the hero and heroine arrive at Happily Ever After. The truth is, Happily Ever After is not exactly a cakewalk. When one has spent a lifetime imagining how it might be to achieve a certain goal, the shock can be to discover that life on the other side isn’t a whole lot different. In fact, once fantasy transforms to reality, the hard work really begins. And so it was with my fledgling book and relationship.

On the heels of nearly a decade of living alone as head-of-household, I had to quickly figure out how to share my turf in the “I” to “we” identity transition. For example, I was quite attached to a sleeping rhythm that included my dog Hamachi, a large German Shepherd mix, spooning with me in bed, her head comfortably cushioned beside mine on the “his” pillow. The cats had a seven-year tradition of filling in the gaps–between my legs and arms, and around my head.

Jon liked animals, but was slightly allergic; and sleeping with a large dog between us and several kitty sandbags fixing us in place wasn’t his idea of a good time. To make matters even worse, Diablo became passionate about batting Jon’s earplugs around the bedroom as we slept, and this kept Jon awake long into the night. Eventually, I agreed to something I never thought I possibly could endure: the cats were banished from the bedroom and Hamachi was demoted to the foot of the bed.

Other similar adventures around creating work and play spaces for Jon, incorporating his décor and schwag, and reinventing systems in the kitchen, garage and front hallway gave us many opportunities to learn to collaborate, and cultivate a home and way of life that reflected our shared values and expectations.

As “Project We” was humming right along, “Project Author” was revving up its engines right alongside it. I found myself in a parallel identity stretch–one in which I was stepping into the role of “expert” in a way that would ultimately be very visible to many people–as an author. I was glad I had negotiated a nine-month writing schedule. This gave me a buffer of freak-out time at the front end of the project, which I employed with gusto.

After signing my book contract on the dotted line, I spent the first month or two trying to emotionally and logistically prove to myself that I could actually do such a thing as write a book. I created a master schedule that detailed how I would squeeze writing into the evening and weekend margins around my full-time job. I assigned myself a number of chapters-per-week (there were 36 weeks and 80 chapters), and built in a process by which I would reward myself and celebrate meeting each milestone.

I decided to put my big-picture blinders on for the first draft phase and instead think of each chapter as an individual essay. This helped me manage my panic around how to get my arms around something as large and unprecedented as a nonfiction book. With a structure in place, I finally settled into the exhausting, euphoric rhythm of writing.

A few weeks into tentatively inhabiting my author identity, the little plastic wand in the bathroom boasted a big, blue plus sign. A book wasn’t all that would be coming through me this year; we were going to have a baby.

Next month, facts and myths about the joys of being a pregnant author.

Sage Cohen is the author of Writing the Life Poetic: An Invitation to Read and Write Poetry, forthcoming from Writer’s Digest Books, and the poetry collection Like the Heart, the World. Her poetry and essays appear in journals and anthologies including Cup of Comfort for Writers, Oregon Literary Review, Greater Good and VoiceCatcher. Sage holds an MA in creative writing from New York University and teaches the e-mail class Poetry for the People. In September 2008, her son Theo Luchs-Cohen initiated Sage into the life of the writer mama.

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