Present tense with Katrina Kenison

This winter a blog reader sent me a link to a YouTube video that I clicked on (uncharacteristically, since honestly I don’t much like watching video). Before a minute had elapsed tears were streaming down my face.  Before the video was over I’d ordered the book that Katrina Kenison read from in it, The Gift of an Ordinary Day.  I am eager to share this gift with all of you, and so please read down to find out more about winning a copy of each of Katrina’s books!

And since the day I watched that YouTube video, the universe has been taking very good care of me.  One morning this summer I bumped into Katrina, in my town, by chance, and at a small coffee shop around the corner.  I recognized her, at first noticing that she was reading a book by Sylvia Boorstein that Dani Shapiro wrote about in Devotion.  We talked, we made a date for the next morning, and I fell more deeply into my admiration of all things Katrina.  Sometimes I feel as though life is one great stream, and all I really should do is stop trying so madly to direct everything and just let it carry me.  And reading Katrina’s words, discovering the connections we had, and then meeting her in person all felt like that.  I’m immeasurably grateful to know Katrina, both as a writer and as a person, and am already hard-pressed to describe fully the profound impact she’s had on me.

The Gift of an Ordinary Day moved me when I read it, and I’ve returned to it over and over since then, recalling resonant themes and specific images recommending it to everybody who will listen.  I’m just finishing Mitten Strings For God now and it is having a similar impact.  The book is inspiring me in a very real way to be a better and more present mother.  Just today, I surreptitiously read it in between interviews I had with candidates for my “real job,” and came home newly reminded of how important it is to be engaged for Grace and Whit.  We ate a relaxed dinner, enjoyed a long bath time full of laughter, and forfeited television in lieu of reading.  I doubt it’s a coincidence that this was one of the smoothest and most joyful evenings that I can remember with my children.

Katrina is, as I wrote in my review of The Gift of an Ordinary Day, a poet of the everyday.  In her sure and gentle hands the most ordinary moments are burnished into gems.  Through the lens of her eyes I am reminded over and over of the holiness that exists in every single one of our days, and I am called back again to the practice of noticing it.  Katrina writes often on her blog of her own struggles with the very things I grapple with every single day: how to cope with the transience of time, to accept the loss that limns every day, and to be more present in her own life.

If I have learned anything at all these last couple of months, it is that I am still learning how to let go, still caught so often between my wish to stop time in its tracks and my longing to accept with more grace the transience of all things.

When I read these words a couple of weeks ago I gasped audibly: I’ve never heard such a lucid and elegant description of the central tension of my own life.  How did this woman climb into my head?  My heart?  Never mind.  I don’t care how.  I’m glad she did. Katrina expresses the ineffable sadness and incandescent joy that dance together at the heart of the human experience with an eloquence that I regularly feel so keenly it’s like an ache in my chest.

I urge you all to read Katrina’s work – her blog, her books.  She will move you, I guarantee it.  When she read at the Mother’s Plunge on September 18th there was not a dry eye in the room.  Yet they were the special kind of tears that inspire joy, commitment, and engagement even as they acknowledge sorrow.  Katrina’s books stir something deep in me, touch that molten core of what it means to be a person in this world.  Run, don’t walk, to read them.  They will change your life.  That is not an exaggeration.

Because I believe so fiercely in Katrina’s work, and can speak so personally and authentically about how it has affected me, I’m eager to share this with you all.  My first giveaway!  I’m delighted to give away a signed copy of both Mitten Strings For God and The Gift of an Ordinary Day.  Just leave a comment and I’ll draw names in a couple of days.  You won’t regret it, I swear.  The only person I know lucky enough to have a signed copy of The Gift of an Ordinary Day is my own mother (no pressure, Mum, but you can read that at any time), and that’s because I got it for her the other weekend.

And now, without further ado, I share Katrina’s wise, and incomparably thoughtful responses to my questions.

1. When have you felt most present?  Are there specific memories that stand out for you?

Surprisingly, some of my most difficult, painful moments of parenthood have also turned out to be the moments that remain indelibly imprinted on my brain.  An unexpected turn of events, a child’s poor decision, a surprising discovery or confession — and suddenly we are both in brand new territory.  That can be pretty scary, knowing that my reaction in this moment could either support my child’s growth and continued trust in me, or make an already distressing situation even worse.  Whether it’s having third-grade son come to me in tears because he’s being bullied in gym class, or walking in on a sixteen- year-old sneaking a cigarette, these are the kinds of memories that remain sharp and viscerally clear for years afterward.

I’ve found that what I need to do in these moments is to stop, take a deep breath, summon all my love, and then proceed carefully in the direction of truth —  no matter how hard the truth is to say or hear, and even when the behavior that’s led us to this place may not have been lovable at all.
It’s always been easy for me to feel whole and connected with my kids in the sweet, precious moments when all seems right with the world.  What’s hard for me is keeping those lines of love and communication open when the going gets rough.  One thing I’m still learning is that  being fully present in these moments means not reacting from a place of fear or anger — all too easy to do when it feels as if your child’s entire future is at stake — but rather from a place of authentic care and concern.  That kind of response demands a certain vulnerability on my part, and a willingness to be totally present, even when it hurts.  It calls for faith, too, lots of it–faith that no matter how hard the moment is, we’ll all get through, we’ll be okay, all will be well.  It’s taken years, but I’m finally getting to the place where I truly believe that.

2. Do you have rituals or patterns that you use to remind you to Be Here Now?

My yoga practice has definitely helped me to be less reactive to the ups and downs of everyday life. Confronting challenges on a yoga mat, year after year, really has given me a way to move through life with a little less attachment to outcomes, and a great deal more appreciation for process.  As my first teacher, Rolf Gates, used to say at the end of class:  “We show up, we burn brightly in the moment, we . . . ., and when the moment is over, when our work is done, we step back and let go.”  THese days, as the mother of a seventeen year old and twenty year old, I feel as if my life is all about knowing when my work is done, and when it’s time for me to step back and let go.

3. Do you have specific places or people that you associate with being particularly present?  Who?  Where?  Any idea why?

Four years ago, a very dear friend, just my age, was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer.  She entered treatment with incredible courage and determination, and not a day has gone by when she hasn’t inspired me to live my own life with more awareness.  Her appreciation for each ordinary day she’s been given has been a powerful reminder to me that that every moment is precious, every day meaningful, every loving gesture significant.

My friend never wanted to be anyone’s spiritual teacher, she just wanted to be a mom and a wife and to live a good, long purposeful life full of simple pleasures and family times.  Instead, she was handed the job of showing all of us who love her how to look your own mortality in the eye, and, at the same time, how to find the joy in each day’s doings.  When I sit with her now, as she concludes her work here on this earth, we are both fully, absolutely present.  It is so rare, so extraordinary, to cut right to the essence of things in every conversation, to be fully aware of the fleeting beauty of the moment.

4. Have you ever meditated?  How did that go?

I’m well-intentioned and sporadic .  I have meditated for periods of time over many years, and then drifted away for a while–usually when I need it most — and then come back to it.  Right now, there is a lot of intensity in my life, so much going on that seems to need processing and that takes up a lot of time and energy.  And I’m returning to my spot, meditating as a way to step out of the flow and reset my course. Sitting very still in the midst of all the drama feels like a great relief.  I am learning that I can put down my burdens, sit on the floor, and just be quietly aware — this feels more and more like an essential thing to do, and my mat a safe and restorative place to be.

5. Has having children changed how you think about the effort to be present?

I have had children for so long now that I can’t even remember life before kids.  My sons are 17 and 20, which means that these days they come and go.  And so when they both happen to be home at the same time, every single family meal feels precious.  Every night that they are in their own beds in their own rooms is a special night.  I’m getting used to the fact that they both have lives elsewhere, that my mothering job has been transformed, that the time I thought would never come–children grown and away from home–is already here.  That is poignant and wonderful, both.  We raise them to let them go.  But when my kids ARE around, oh my, I am totally present.  And grateful.

6. And just cause I’m curious, what books and songs do you love?

I love being in the car with either one of my boys and listening to their iPods.  Fortunately, their tastes are wide-ranging and excellent and they are happy to play DJ for me and introduce me to their music–Cat Empire and Jamie Cullum are current favorites of mine, thanks to Jack and Henry.
Left to my own devices, I usually listen to Kundalini yoga chant, Deva Premal, Snatam Kaur, Krishna Das.  And then, always, a little Alison Krauss, Joni Mitchell, Madeleine Peyroux.
I was the editor of the Best American Short Stories for sixteen years, which meant that I read thousands and thousands of short stories.  I still love them–John Updike, Alice Munro, Lorrie Moore are in the pantheon.  But mostly these days I read memoirs –Dani Shapiro, Florida Scott Maxwell, Maya Angelou, Gail Caldwell, Karen Maezen Miller, Elizabeth McCracken.  Right now, I’m listening to The Great Gatsby on audio with my son Jack, and we’re both in awe of every sentence.  And if I could be re-incarnated as my favorite writer, well, that would be Mary Oliver.  No surprise there.
It’s hard for me to add anything here, so I won’t even try.  Other than to express my profound gratitude to Katrina for answering these questions, and, maybe more importantly, to the universe, for bringing her, her words, her example, her wisdom into my life.  I’d love to hear from those of you who have been similarly affected by Katrina’s work – I know there are many out there.
Please leave a comment for a chnace to receive a signed book of Katrina’s!

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  1. Posted September 28, 2010 at 4:02 am | Permalink

    I haven’t yet been affected, because I haven’t taken the time to dive in. I’ve followed her blog a bit and love the way she parents her sons. But I’m excited to leave the first comment here – though I RARELY win a thing – and spot 1 may not hold great karma for a random number picker! What a lovely interview, Lindsey. Even if I don’t win – thank you!

  2. Karen
    Posted September 28, 2010 at 4:20 am | Permalink

    These themes resonate with me too. Thank you for articulating what is in my mind and heart.

  3. jeri
    Posted September 28, 2010 at 4:43 am | Permalink

    Oh heck, I’ll play. I am always a sucker for an LMR book rec and it sounds like I could use a dose of Katrina’s wisdom. Love this interview. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  4. Christa
    Posted September 28, 2010 at 6:09 am | Permalink

    Thanks to both of you for the interview! I read Mitten Strings years ago – my daughter is the same age as Katrina’s younger son – and it was like opening a window to an entirely new way of parenting! It is such a gift to know you are not alone, that there are others on the path….

  5. cristina
    Posted September 28, 2010 at 6:10 am | Permalink

    I’ll play. I could use some inspiration in my life. Thank you for sharing 🙂

  6. Posted September 28, 2010 at 6:14 am | Permalink

    her poetic words are life changing. yes. absolutely. thank you for this generous offering, lindsey. and congratulations on your first giveaway. celebrating with you.

  7. Posted September 28, 2010 at 6:18 am | Permalink

    I’ve had so many people recommend Katrina’s books–I’d be so thrilled to win! Fantastic interview. Thank you!

  8. Kate
    Posted September 28, 2010 at 6:48 am | Permalink

    I just tried reading “gift” this weekend, but I had to put it down as because I got too sad thinking about how fleeting my son’s childhood feels. I know I need to read her words and learn to cherish this time, I just could not yet do it. The not overscheduling our kids mantra really resonates with me. Perhaps I could not read yet because I was still teary from reading Dani Shapiro’s Devotion (thanks to this blog). So I will try again–perhaps a different book to start. None of my irl friends talk much about these themes, so it’s so nice to find a community here.

  9. Posted September 28, 2010 at 7:30 am | Permalink

    I’m waiting for my copy of Mitten Strings to come in… and I can’t wait for it to get here 🙂

    Don’t enter me in the giveaway, as I have a well loved and worn copy…

    Thank you to you and Katrina for this gift on a rainy Tuesday morning. Reading both of your words brings me such joy, always… xoxo

  10. helen
    Posted September 28, 2010 at 9:08 am | Permalink


    i’ve been following you for a while (having found katrina kenison by happenstance sometime before that) and your writing so resonates with me. thank you for sharing with us!

    i have been profoundly moved by katrina – she’s on my “must check daily” list:) i was gifted “mitten strings” when my oldest was around 3, and loved it. i would love “gift” to round out my collection and have that wonderful voice right in my greasy little hands:)

    thank you!

  11. Posted September 28, 2010 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    I think it’s always good to be reminded to slow down, engage–especially in lyric, heartfelt prose. Thank you for being so honest about your own journey. I know I feel like I fail more often than I succeed in reaching these goals, although having my youngest in kindergarten has definitely been a watershed for us.

  12. Posted September 28, 2010 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    Thanks to both of you for a wonderful interview. I cried through Katrina’s video, too, and have been wanting to read her books. I have many volumes of the Best American Short Stories with her name on them!

  13. sarah
    Posted September 28, 2010 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    thank you for offering the giveaway… how nice! and for the interview with katrina… she feels like a friend i have yet to know.

  14. Posted September 28, 2010 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    Oh I’d love a copy. Thanks to you and Corrinne, I’m completely convinced I’ll love this book!

  15. Leslie
    Posted September 28, 2010 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    …because I simply couldn’t resist the possibility – thank you for creating such and opportunity!

  16. Posted September 28, 2010 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    What a beautiful interview and endorsement for my dear friend. Thank you for this.

  17. Posted September 28, 2010 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

    When you talked about moving in a river I could relate. Sometimes, often in fact, it feels I’m paddling upstream. Then I surrender, float downstream, letting the current carry me and I’m carried into wonderful places.

    So glad you met your bliss.

  18. Posted September 28, 2010 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

    The night I went to Katrina’s book-signing in our town over 10 years ago, I sat in the front row, listened intently, and felt like I’d found a new friend. I bought at least 10 copies of her book, “Mitten Strings”, asked her to sign each one, and gave them out to my sisters and friends. Later that month, while reading her book on my yoga mat at a studio in Cambridge, in walked Katrina. I walked up to her and introduced myself. She remembered me and told me my smile in the front row had helped calm her nerves on her first-ever book signing. We became friends immediately and when she asked me to join a book group with her, I was honored. We are still part of that wonderful bookgroup and we call ourselves VERVE: Very Exciting (Women) Reading Virtually Everything!
    Katrina and her books and wisdom have touched my life over and over again. Over coffee this summer, she told me about you, Lindsey, and recommended your blog to me. She knows me well and knew I’d find your blog inspiring in its simple truth…which is exactly why I love it. Then the universe did its magic again and placed me sitting right next to you at the Mother’s Plunge. It was lovely to meet you, Lindsey, and hope to see you again soon. I was about to comment on another blog entry of yours, which I found so eloquent, but then I saw you wrote about Katrina and I felt I had to share my “Katrina story”, too. Not for the chance to win her signed copies…I have given both books to so many people, I should be getting a cut!
    Thank you, Lindsey, for sharing your life with all of us…and for letting your readers know what a GIFT Katrina truly is.

  19. Posted September 28, 2010 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

    Sounds like wonderful books and something I could definitely use in my life right now. Thanks for the opportunity.

  20. Haile
    Posted September 28, 2010 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

    Hours spent with my boys are glazed with with distractions. Work, chores, email, cooking and basics like flat ironing my unruly hair in southern humidity. Sometimes I wish I could create compartments so I could focus fully on each. I do need to be more present and look forward to reading these books.

  21. Posted September 28, 2010 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

    Oh, me me! I so needed to read this today. Did i not think i had a small chance of winning one of these books I’d order them both right now. And probably not even on my Kindle. 🙂

  22. Posted September 28, 2010 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

    Your review is as powerful as the interview. I’m pretty sure I will be reading that book soon, whether or not I win.

  23. Posted September 28, 2010 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

    It was you, Lindsey, who introduced me to Katrina’s writing and her luminous spirit. As a big fan of both of you, I’m not here to “win” (I feel like I’ve already won), but only to say thank you and Namaste.

  24. Posted September 28, 2010 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

    marvelous giveaway, i hope i win!!! wonderful review and interview, thank you.

  25. Posted September 28, 2010 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

    Excellent review and I am adding these books to my list. I am looking forward to the privilege of reading Katrina’s words. Thanks Lindsay.

  26. Posted September 28, 2010 at 11:02 pm | Permalink

    About 7 years ago when my 3 oldest children were babies, some friends and I started a book group. One of the books we read was “Mitten Strings to God.”

    As an out and proud ex-romantic, I thought the title sounded too mushy/emotional/religious. I hesitated. I didn’t want to be preached too, I was trying to survive motherhood, keep my head above water.

    But on a very strong urging from a dear friend, I took the plunge.

    At first, I was upset with Kenison. She was so cool, so oohmmm, and even found the time to write while raising her children. But then, when I read the chapter about disciplining children, she won me over heart and soul with her honest take, her love.

    Nowadays, I suggest the book to other mama friends, with the same sense of urgency it was suggested to me.

    PS: I haven’t read “The Gift of an Ordinary Day” yet, and would be thrilled at the chance to win it.

    Beautiful interview, thanks, Lindsey.

  27. Posted September 28, 2010 at 11:19 pm | Permalink

    Win them, buy them – on your recommendation I will read them. 🙂

  28. Trish
    Posted September 29, 2010 at 6:28 am | Permalink

    Mitten Strings, Gifts of the Day, these titles how bittersweet the moments of Motherhood are..just dropping my ‘meatball’ off to kindergarten 30 minutes ago and seeing how effortlessly he has eased into his academic journey…today, this moment will be all about basking in the sunshine, making chocolate chip cookies and eating the dough straight up, playing withe GeoTrax littering my dining room floor, hugging every square inch of this adorable being soaking in the treasure of this moment.


  29. Posted September 29, 2010 at 7:25 am | Permalink

    Love that you just ran into Katrina, Lindsay. What a gift. And full of grace.

    You are right, of course: the book is lovely, as is she. I could have talked to her for hours when creating 7.7.7. Would hope for the opportunity yet to come…in a coffee shop or anywhere!

    Pure gift: her – and you.

  30. Amy
    Posted September 29, 2010 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    These sound like just the books that I need to read! I am struggling with new motherhood and the concept of time, especially time as it relates to being a working mother and not have every minute of every day to spend with my rapidly growing baby. Thanks for the opportunity!

  31. Posted September 29, 2010 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    Of course, I don’t need the books, but I do need Katrina’s reminders. We have so little time to talk directly, and I am deeply jealous of those who sit beside her.

  32. Ramona
    Posted September 30, 2010 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    I never knew of this woman.

    thanks for the introduction. I can’t wait to read more.