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I’m the oldest of three Boyett siblings. I’ve discussed my brother the prestidigitator and his inner-city ministry a time or two, but haven’t ever said much about my little sister. I’m not sure of the reason for this, other than the fact that she hasn’t ever been very active online, and I didn’t have anywhere to link.
In retrospect, that sounds really dumb, but it might in fact be true. Anyway, she’s online now. Micha Boyett-Hohorst is now blogging as the Mama:Monk and tweeting as @mbhohorst, and it’s about stinking time. She’s an excellent writer, a wonderful person, and the only Boyett family member to have lived in the Northeast Yankee Territories (Philadelphia) and the West Coast Liberal Territories (San Francisco) of the United States. She’s practically an alien life form in our family, but we love her all the same.
You need to meet her. So I decided to interview my very own sister, a graduate-degree poet who, just a few weeks into it, has already created a fascinating blog about motherhood and monasticism.
Jason: I’ve always thought you’d make a good blogger, but you’ve held out for a long time. Why make the leap now?
Micha: I am the least Internet-savvy 30-year-old on the continent. I am miserable about Facebook and I’m still getting used to email. I would have been so happy being a character in a Jane Austen novel. I could sit around all day drinking tea in an uncomfortable dress, my only task to write long letters with a pen and actual paper.
Also, I spent the last four years in full time youth ministry. It was not a season of my life where I felt I could focus on writing. Now that I’m staying home full time with my little boy, I’m excited about it.
Where did the fascination with Benedictine monks come from? You know we’re Baptists, right?
I know, I know. I’m the worst Baptist ever. My Baptist college won’t even claim me anymore now that I went off the deep end and baptized my baby in an Anglican church.
The monk fascination started with a love for the liturgy. My faith often feels weak and really delicate. I need an earthy reassurance. There’s something about the liturgy that secures me, that tethers me in a fixed, permanent way to the believers who’ve gone before me. It’s this powerful connection. I love that the prayers and creeds and scripture passages we speak on Sunday in the liturgy are the same that believers all over the world are speaking. I love that we’re praying what has been prayed for centuries.
August’s birth changed everything, including my spiritual life. I was prepared for the outward changes motherhood would bring: diapering and comforting and feeding. But I wasn’t prepared for what motherhood would do to my inner life. My sense of normalcy changed so much that I struggled to focus on anything else but August. The time and attention that prayer required seemed impossible and that produced in me an overwhelming anxiety. I needed to relearn how to pray.
Around that time I was reading Kathleen Norris’ book The Cloister Walk, a book about a year she spent in a Benedictine monastery. Her prologue mentions that Benedictines live as if there is enough time each day for work, study, rest and prayer. And I had this moment of clarity: That’s what I need. Enough time to be a mom and pray and still enjoy the things and people I love. So I figured I’d better let Benedict and his monks start teaching me how to not be a crazy mother.
What was one of the biggest surprises about motherhood for you?
Amazingly, it has relaxed me. August has slowed me down in really lovely ways. Since I’m a naturally anxious person, I was fearful that when he was born, I’d be freaking out and screaming at my husband and constantly worried about all the ways he could die. And don’t get me wrong, I can still be nervous about the little guy, but the first time I held him, I felt my insides settle a little.
I have always been concerned with doing enough, wanting my life to count for something. Being a mother naturally forced me into another schedule, a much slower, all consuming schedule. And I can’t find my worth any more in how much I can “accomplish” each day. Because, really, with a toddler, I can’t accomplish much other than playing and eating and living.
You’ve been a mom for a couple of years now, in two different parts of the country. How is motherhood in San Francisco different from being a mom in Philadelphia?
We were in the suburbs in Philly. And we are right in the city here in San Francisco. I love being in the city with August. He’s exposed to so much of the world here. I love that we can walk down our block at 8:30 in the morning and see fifty elderly people from Chinatown doing Tai-Chi in the park. He hears people speaking Mandarin all the time. We come across homeless people every day and he’s learning to smile at them and say hi. I love the community feeling of having one park that all the kids in the neighborhood go to every day because there’s nowhere else to play.
In Philly, August had some really special adults in his life who loved him and prayed for him. As much as we live in more of a physical community here, it’s surface level and based around location. I know it takes time to develop meaningful relationships, but I miss the support system we had in Philadelphia.
You have a prestigious MFA in poetry from Syracuse. How is that degree impacting your life right now? (I ask this on behalf of the blue-collar side of our family.)
Thank you for the meaningful question, brother! It’s impacting my life because poetry is just a part of my life. I’ve always loved sound and form and rhythm. Poetry creates an emotion or image or moment of beauty in such a small amount of space. Every word has a purpose. Nothing’s wasted. Poetry doesn’t need anything other than words to do its work. The words make the rhythm; the language is the music.
I know that people get their MFAs in poetry to actually “become” poets and though I’m not saying I’m a poetry failure, I’m also not an MFA success story. I worked on publishing poems for a while and got burned out by it. I don’t think I have what it takes to make it in the dangerous world of poetry! Maybe that’ll change and I’ll pursue it again, but for now I think poetry’s role in my life is to make me a mother who loves Art and allows that to give me joy and help me pray.
Plus, my blog is committed to memorizing poems! Woohoo!
Describe the three Boyett siblings, as a whole, in a sentence of six words or less.
ond child-waifs eat burritos.
I think that fittingly describes our childhood.
Wow. I wasn’t sure you could do it, but that pretty much sums it up. Well done. So after three weeks of blogging, what do you like best about it?
I love the pressure of writing everyday. I love hearing from readers and feeling like we’re connecting. And I love having a place where I can work through what I’m learning on a daily basis.
What are your goals for Mama:Monk?
I want Mama:Monk to be a place that challenges me and my readers to live a life of contemplation in the midst of the craziness of motherhood. I’m hoping it challenges us to live out a calling to hospitality in a culture that has locked individual families away neatly in suburban homes and broken our relationships to the point that friendships are something we have to schedule.
I want it to be a place where we can struggle with the complexities of being a stay-at-home mom in a culture that doesn’t value that choice. I hate meeting new people and having to answer the, “So what do you do?” question. It’s so loaded. Why is it so hard to value myself and my role as a stay-at-home mom? I want to learn how to answer that question without feeling like a lame-o.
I want to learn with my readers how to be moms of confidence and joy who live like monks, without being bald and wearing robes. (Well, sometimes I wear a robe.)
Why is August (the child) awesome?
Because today while we read his dinosaur book. I read: “There were dinosaurs with clubs on their tails,” and he lovingly caressed the dinosaur and said: “Boomboom! Owowow!”
Why is August (the month) awesome?
Fireflies. Swimming pools. My birthday. New school clothes!
What do you think my readers need to know about me that I probably would never tell them because I am too image-conscious?
They should know that when you were in high school you tried to be a Christian rapper. Mom sewed you several pairs of MC Hammer-esque balloon pants — I recall a pair of black with white polka dots — which you wore on a daily basis (or at least around our house). You and some friends performed a rap at my youth group’s middle school Valentine party. And (should I say it?), you called yourselves “The Sheep Posse.”
Wow. It’s out there. How do you feel, buddy?
Well. I certainly regret having asked that question. You couldn’t have talked about my beautiful hair? Regardless: Sheep posse, ho!
So that’s my sister, Micha. If you’re a mom — stay-at-home or otherwise — you need to be reading her blog. If you’re like me, you’ll also enjoy it, just because my sister is a deep spiritual thinker, a voracious reader, and a gifted writer.