Today marks the debut of a new blog series entitled,
Fascinating: A Charming and Captivating Person Who Piques Our Intellectual Curiosity by Making the World a Better and More Beautiful Place.
And today, friends, is a our lucky day (including books to give!)
Fascinating Person #1 is mother and author, Katrina Kenison. Katrina is one of my heroes. She is a wise and deliberate mother who champions living with purpose. Oh, and she can write.
Imagine my extreme delight to discover that not only is Katrina publishing a third book, but also lives in New Hampshire – I had to find her! In between Katrina’s book signings and tour, she said yes to an interview. Yes, I am very honored to have her here.
Katrina is the author of multiple books, including, MITTEN STRINGS FOR GOD: REFLECTIONS FOR MOTHERS IN A HURRY and THE GIFT OF AN ORDINARY DAY: A MOTHER’S MEMOIR.
Katrina’s most recent book, MAGICAL JOURNEY: AN APPRENTICESHIP IN CONTENTMENT recently hit #1 at Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord, New Hampshire.
Katrina, thanks so much for taking the time to be here today.
Your books are very, very wise. Can you tell us how you went from being an editor (with John Updike!) to an author and champion of motherhood?
I spent many years ushering other writers’ works into the world, and I loved doing it. It wasn’t until I had children, and left my job in publishing to raise them, that I began to write. And really I wrote as a way of working toward becoming the mother I aspired to be: fully present in my life, not rushing, not overscheduled, not so caught up in the “doing” of each day that I missed the simple pleasure of “being.”
Writing was a way to slow down and pay attention. It was also a way to capture the fleetingness of life while we were living it, and the more I wrote the more aware I became of the beauty of each ordinary day. Motherhood gave me my subject, the spiritual work of mothering became both my challenge and my theme, and with each book I’ve become more open, more willing to trust my readers to venture with me even into the dark places.
It must have been very rewarding to have your book, THE GIFT OF AN ORDINARY DAY be so successful and resonate with so many mothers.
I’ve been both honored and humbled by the response. When I was writing, I often wondered if anyone would read it. I feared people would say, “Why does this woman need 300 pages to work through her feelings about her kids growing up and leaving home?” So it was a great surprise to start hearing from readers, many of whom said, “I was sure I was the only one who felt this way.”
I am definitely a word-of-mouth writer. My books make their way in the world because of women who read them and then wish to pass them on to other women. To me, there’s no higher compliment than a reader who buys five or six copies to share; who says to a friend, “Here, I’m sure you’ll like this, too.” And now, with Magical Journey, I am hearing from many women who say, “I’ve been with you all the way, ever since I read Mitten Strings for God when my own children were young.” I never planned it this way, but I’ve written my way through the seasons of a mother’s life – and now there is this body of work, something to speak to a woman whether she is parenting small children, or contemplating her empty nest.
The most rewarding thing of all is realizing that these three books have cleared a space in which women feel safe sharing their own stories and their own feelings. They are popular book group books, and I think that’s because they foster a sense of connection between women. One thing I’ve learned is that even though our lives may look quite different on the outside, inside we are all more alike than different, and we have a lot to share with each other.
Why a memoir versus a “how-to” book for mothers?
I am not comfortable giving advice, or saying, “Do it my way.” And how much better it is to learn to trust our own hearts, to honor that quiet inner voice that resides in each one of us, rather than to constantly seek the wisdom of “experts.”
When I read your books, they feel very “quiet” and yet the message is very bold for this day and age. Is slowing down such a novel idea?
Slowing down can feel extremely radical. Almost counter-cultural in this fast-paced world we live in. It’s not that it’s a novel idea; I don’t think I say anything that hasn’t been said before. We all know, already, that if we race through lfe, we miss it. And yet this seems to be a lesson I need to learn over and over again. Perhaps that’s true for all of us. So we turn to the books that speak the truth we already know.
We commit to practices like yoga and meditation and walks in the woods, to keep us grounded and on the path we wish to travel. We seek friends who support us in our desire to be present. And then, moment to moment, we make our choices. Life can’t always be simple, some days are just crazy busy. But we can build in interludes of quiet, of rest, of reflection and repose. We can learn to take care of our own souls. And in doing so, in taking time to replenish our own depleted reserves, we discover we have more to offer our loved ones, too.
There is absolutely nothing to be gained by running ourselves into the ground. And so much to be gained by claiming time that is just for us, time to stretch and wonder and rest and heal.
On Motherhood: When you had children at home, was there one moment when you realized you needed to enjoy the “ordinary” or was it more of an overall gut feeling?
It was really my dear friend’s cancer diagnosis that served as a wake-up call for me. My friend once said, “My greatest wish is to wake up one morning and not have the first thought that comes into my head be the fact that I have cancer.”
Those words seared themselves into my heart. Because of course, I suddenly realized that I took for granted the very thing she wished for more than anything.
I couldn’t write about my friend’s journey in The Gift of an Ordinary Day, because she was in the midst of it as I wrote that book, but the title came directly from that realization that every day is a gift. Each morning we are lucky enough to wake up and swing our legs over the side of the bed and put our own two feet on the floor is cause for gratitude.
When my friend realized she wasn’t going to have her miracle after all, and that she wouldn’t see her daughter graduate from high school, or her children get married, or ever meet her grandchildren, I resolved to live my own life from the awareness that it could all turn on a dime.
Suddenly, even a task like folding the laundry became infused with grace, because I realized that any one of us might be next, and that life’s great tragedy is not death but the fact that we so rarely appreciate what we have until it’s taken away from us.
Did you act on that instinct right away or are many of the lessons in your books something you wish you had done but didn’t?
Awareness isn’t something that we can nail once and for all. Like gratitude, it is a practice, something we can choose to cultivate in our lives. So the answer is, I learn it, and then I forget it — over and over again.
But I keep coming back: to that choice of being present, being grateful, living in the moment, rather than regretting what’s over or worrying about what might happen next.
You strike me as a mother who never loses her patience ☺ I find it’s definitely easier to be patient when I’m less hurried and “Busy.” Did you have that experience?
Of course! I have definitely had my parenting “lows” – just ask my kids. We all lose it sometimes. Fortunately, our children are resilient, and willing to forgive our transgressions as readily as we forgive theirs. There’s a great opportunity, as parents, to model the beauty of a heartfelt apology, to use words like: “I’m sorry. I lost my temper. Let’s start again.”
Feeling overwhelmed and being impatient go hand in hand. So, yes, we have a much better shot at being the kind of parent we aspire to be when we aren’t overscheduled, when we are rested, when we have taken good care of ourselves and meet our own needs. Everyone benefits!
Many mothers (including myself) recognize the need to SLOW DOWN, but we still don’t do it. Why do you think that is?
Fear? I think it’s easy to fall victim to a nagging fear of falling behind in some great nameless, pointless race. “The race to nowhere” is a phrase that comes to mind. We set a pace and then we start running, afraid that if we jump off the treadmill, the world will just pass us by. Well, of course, I think the opposite is true. But it takes a certain amount of faith and courage to say “stop” when everyone else is saying “go.”
Did you always work part or full-time when you had children at home?
I did. I had a great job I loved, editing The Best American Short Stories series, which I did for 16 years, all through my sons’ growing up years. It was part-time and flexible and a way for me to have a steady income and a professional identity while still making motherhood my top priority.
I was incredibly lucky and I knew it.
And then, out of the blue, I lost that job, during a time of reorganizing and budget cutting at the publishers. It was devastating. But I don’t think I would have written these books if I hadn’t suddenly found myself out of work.
So now I can look back and say it was all for the best.
Would you do anything differently?
I would have worried less.
When your kids were younger, you made a conscience decision to cut out a lot (birthday parties, extravagant crafts, even TV!) How did you say no?
My husband and I were a team on this, and what we were attempting was not to say “no” so much as to create a way of life that felt good and sustainable and joyful to us. We chose to do the things that gave us true pleasure, rather than the things that everyone else was doing.
And I read enough about the negative effects of TV and media on young, developing imaginations to make that one a no-brainer. There is a wealth of information about the impact of media on children; it all made sense to me. I felt that the greatest gift I could give my children when they were young was to build protective walls around their early childhood; to give them time to play and time to get bored, time to develop their own inner resources. It was a challenge, but I knew I’d rather have my sons playing in the backyard or putting on a puppet show, then sitting in front of a computer screen or the TV.
We weren’t fundamentalist or punitive about it, we just worked hard to create a life that was rich and full without those things, knowing of course that the time would come when we wouldn’t be making those choices for them anymore.
Quote: “Ours is a society that places high value on achievement and acquisition. The subtle rewards of contemplation, quiet, and deep connection with another human being are held in low esteem…as a result, mothers are constantly pulled in two directions:”
The idea that we can have or do it all is a fallacy. I love, instead, the notion that what we have is enough. That who we are is enough. That our children are enough. That our lives are enough. The best thing we can do for our kids is figure out how to be content ourselves. For some moms that means a career outside the house. For others, it is staying home with children. And for some it’s a juggling act of both. Well, there is no one right way. There is a way that’s right for YOU. And so, again, this is where listening to your own heart comes in. I am a homebody by nature, so being home was deeply satisfying for me. I’m not saying it was better, it was just better for ME.
A note about why Katrina wrote, MAGICAL JOURNEY: An APPRENTICESHIP IN CONTENTMENT.
I began this memoir as a way to wrestle with some of my “what now?” questions as my sons Henry and Jack came of age and I left home. I missed them terribly and, even more, I missed the day-in, day-out tasks of motherhood that had given shape to my days for decades. Writing was a way for me to meet all sorts of midlife challenges – grief at the death of a dear friend, changes in my marriage, even the realization that although old dreams and roles may be outlived, new ones can be slow to take shape. My hope, of course, is that by sharing some of my story, I’m also giving voice to others’ experiences.
“No longer indispensable, no longer assured of our old carefully crafted identities, no longer beautiful in the way we were at twenty or thirty or forty, we are hungry and searching nonetheless.”
Thank you so much, Katrina! You are a beautiful and wise writer and I’ve learned so much from you.
Giveaway! Please leave a comment for a chance to win a signed copy of Katrina’s newest book, Magical Journey. Two winners announced FRIDAY morning, March 15th.
Will you share the Katrina love with me? Authors share their words through us, the readers. Word of mouth is the most effective way to help an author. Thank you!