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fifteen years {4/30/19}

Kelley Clink

Dear Matt,

The branches are heavy with blooms. The birds are singing. Despite lingering snow and cold, the world is waking up, just like it does every year. And every year I miss you a little differently.

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My children are 4.5 and 2, and memories of and questions about our own childhoods have crashed over me like a tidal wave. There’s so much I want to talk to you about. So much I want to heal with you.

OMG, check out that pack of smokes on the end table!

OMG, check out that pack of smokes on the end table!

I learned something really amazing thing this year: it wasn’t our fault. We weren’t broken. We were perfectly imperfect, exactly like everyone else. Actually, I knew that already, I’ve known it for a long time, but this year I really started to FEEL it. To believe it. I try to say it out loud as often as I can, so your niece and nephew can feel it, too.

Buddy’s shirt and orange Faygo. This photo couldn’t be more Detroit if it tried.

Buddy’s shirt and orange Faygo. This photo couldn’t be more Detroit if it tried.

I still haven’t figured out how to introduce you to my kids. I talk about you sometimes, but I don’t think they get it. It’s hard to know who someone is that you’ve never met. Actually, I tell them that I think they knew you a long time ago, before they were born, which isn’t any less confusing. R is getting to the age now that when I talk about a time before he was born his face glazes over with existential dread. It’s adorable.

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Speaking of existential dread, I’m about to turn FORTY. It’s a reckoning year. I’m cleaning everything else out of the psycho-spiritual closet. It’s AWFUL. But it’s way past time. And holy shit, I’m kind of excited to see what life might be like without all that junk. I wish you’d had a chance to do this, too.

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I don’t have much to add. In a dozen journals, a book, and fifteen years, it’s all been said. I will never stop missing you.

And I am 100% going to hang a framed print of this last one on our stairwell.

Love,

Kel

a beautiful mess {4/25/19}

Kelley Clink

There are shoes everywhere. There are squeezed out puree pouches, drippy paintings, stickers, snotty tissues. There are germs—an endless parade of colds, coughs, and stomach flus. There are multiple meals cooked every night, forms to fill out, and schedules to memorize. There are missing toys, shouts and tears, stamped feet and red faces. There are tiny heartbreaks. There are deep breaths and big fears. There is exhaustion, and failure, and a constant hum of worry.

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It’s so easy to forget that I never thought I’d have this.

So easy to forget that I cried for years with wanting, too afraid to try after losing my brother to suicide. So easy to forget that I tried for years, that I did hundred of injections, that I traveled across the country to find the clinic that would give me the best chance, that I was so, so close to quitting.

So easy to forget that the cycle that finally worked was going to be my last.

I must admit that in the hardest, most chaotic moments of parenting, I never remember how close my children came to not being.

But when they smile,
when they laugh,
when they wrap their arms around me,
when they dance,
when they sing,
when they plant a kiss right on my lips,
when the house is quiet with contentment,
or loud with joy,
my body shivers—

with gratitude
wonderment
happiness
and a shot of leftover fear
that will probably always linger.

It’s National Infertility Awareness Week. I know first hand how uncomfortable, isolating, and devastating infertility can be. I kept it to myself for years. Eventually I sought out a support group and I learned a life-changing lesson—I was not alone. One in eight couples will have trouble conceiving or sustaining a pregnancy. It may not sound like much, but that’s MILLIONS of people. Forging friendships with a group of women going through the same thing didn’t erase the pain, but it gave me the strength to keep going.

If you are there right now, trying, struggling, hurting, know that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. There are resources, options, and friendly people who will help you through. Reach out to us. We are here for you.

https://resolve.org

https://infertilityawareness.org

https://lifefindsaway.org


still here (and there, and everywhere) {12/12/18}

Kelley Clink

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I woke up at 4:30 this morning to pee, and then I was too hungry to go back to sleep. Before I knew it, my brain was up and running through all the things. Christmas gifts I need to wrap and ship. Food I need to buy and meals I need to cook. Laundry I need to put away. Emails I need to respond to. Somewhere between playdates I may or may not have scheduled and the grocery list I forgot to write, I realized that I owe you guys an update.

I can’t believe it’s been so long since I posted. But then again, I can. When you live with two tiny humans, time works like a shattered hourglass. Sand spills out everywhere, and before you know it, months have gone by. It’s quite inconvenient, and it’s part of the reason I haven’t posted much since my daughter was born. But it isn’t the whole reason. The whole reason is this: postpartum depression hit me HARD. And it was unexpected, which sounds stupid to say, because, you know, I had pre-partum depression for like 20 years. But I was on medication, and I didn’t have PPD after my son, so I figured I was…I don’t know, immune?

Like I said. Dumb.

Anyway, this last year has been one of the most difficult of my life. I tried all the things I was supposed to: prioritizing sleep (ha!), exercise, meditation, increased medication. Nothing seemed to work. Things finally started to improve after I stopped breastfeeding (never underestimate the impact of hormones).

I still feel a little fragile, and stunned. Like a bird who’s just flown into a window.

But I wanted you guys to know that even though I haven’t been here, I’m still here. Showing up in my brick and mortar life, wiping butts and watching cartoons, coloring and playdough-ing and brushing my teeth on the regular (which, trust me, is a huge improvement). I started a new chapter of Dance Dance Party Party. I’m working on an anthology about parenting and mental health. I’ve written a few picture book manuscripts. I’m looking into new opportunities for advocacy. I’m chipping away at another memoir.

I don’t know what’s going to happen next. I don’t know if I’m “better.” What I know is that right now, today, I’m covered in sand, and grateful for every minute/month of it.

i thought you should know {7/25/18}

Kelley Clink

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My desk is as jumbled as my brain. I'm a shattered windshield these days: broken into a thousand pieces, yet somehow still keeping it together. But one more bump, one more pothole, one more clipped curb and I might come crashing down. 

And yet after all these years, all this work, all the preaching about acceptance and vulnerability and transparency, I don't know how to talk about it. I don't know what to say. The drafts bar of this blog is full of unfinished pieces: all the times I've bottomed out but didn't feel comfortable sharing it. Because this part, the right-in-the-middle part, the lowest-of-the-low part, terrifies me. I don't know how to make it pretty. I can't festoon it with hope. I mean, I know it isn't going to last forever, because I've been through it before. (But for the record, it feels like it's going to last forever. Every. Time.) I know it's going to get better, because it always does, eventually. (And yet...) So I go into crisis management mode. I remove as much stress from daily life as I can. I prioritize sleep and exercise. I write, even though it's hard and I hate everything that lands on the page (including this). I make appointments with my health care providers. And I try to let myself be where I am. 

Which is truly fucking awful.

But it's real. And maybe if I just say it right when it's happening, with no platitudes, no lessons, no warm fuzzy spiritual hugs, it will help someone else say it, too. And maybe if they say it, another person will say it. And another. And maybe, someday, we'll all be able to say it, and then it won't feel like an ugly truth we have to hide until we have the pretty words. Like a horror story we can only tell in the past tense. 

Until then, I'm here. In the shit. 

I thought you should know.

 

fourteen years {4/30/18}

Kelley Clink

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This year I didn't even remember. Not right away. Not until I was scrolling through Instagram and saw a tribute post from one of your friends. It knocked me off balance to see your name, your face, in an unexpected place. I admit, I felt guilty that I'd only been thinking of today as Monday. But then I didn't. I was up most of the night with the baby, your niece, and I'm sure I would have remembered after the fog of sleeplessness burned off. Anyway, it's not as if I don't think of you. You're always here. Sometimes a quiet shadow in the background, sometimes a giant, elbowing up front. 

You would have been 35, almost 36. I say this every year, but it never stops being true: you would most certainly have been bald. Maybe a little paunchy? I definitely am. I'm not sure what you would have been up to career-wise, but I often think of you as a lawyer or political strategist. You definitely would have been crusading for social justice, fighting for equal rights and speaking out against material excess. 

You would have been one of the leaders of the resistance. And shit brother, we really could have used you.

You would have been a spectacular uncle. I can picture the kids squealing with delight upon your arrival, barreling into you full-force the way only tiny humans can. Your nephew is whip smart, stubborn, and hilarious. He reminds me a lot of you. Your niece is a ball of sunshine--until you cross her. Then she's loud, formidable, and fierce.  

God, you would have loved them. And they would have loved you.

I haven't told them much about you. I'm not sure how to. How do you introduce them to someone who isn't here? Your nephew is old enough to start asking questions. I hope I'm ready to answer them.    

Spring was so late this year. All through March and April there were gray skies, cold and snow. I kept thinking it would never come. But it's 70 degrees today. There's a bird singing right outside my window. And if I get really quiet and listen, I can hear the wind chimes in my backyard. 

I wish you had waited a little longer. I hope you've found your spring.

happy spring! {3/20/18}

Kelley Clink

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Way back in autumn, I sent some of my work to a magazine I really love. I've been wanting to get published there for years but hadn't had anything that felt right, until I wrote a short essay about photography. I sent it off with some of my photos and the customary flutter in my stomach--proud of what I'd made, full of hope, but surrendered to the very likely scenario that my work wouldn't be accepted. 

You know, the usual. 

A few months went by and I didn't hear anything, which in publishing land means NOPE.

Disappointing, but no big deal. I can't tell you the number of times I've been rejected. I mean I literally can't. I kept track at first, but after a while my spreadsheet just got too unwieldy. You get used to it. You have to. It's one layer of the writer's shit sandwich. I thought about trying to find another home for the essay, or posting it with the accompanying photos on my blog, but I held off. Mostly because I've been busy with other projects. And also, having a second kid completely nuked my life. It's all I can do to remember to buy groceries and pay the gas bill. (Seriously, that gas bill is my kryptonite. I finally put it on autopay.) 

Anyway, it sat on the back burner for so long that I completely forgot about it. Until today, when the magazine let me know that my work was accepted. AND IT'S OUT RIGHT NOW!!!

I'm so thrilled to be featured in issue 15 of Bella Grace. My essay and photo are even in the little sample pics! If you're interested, you can buy a copy online using the link above. They also sell Bella Grace at bookstores.  

how to survive a chicago winter {1/22/18}

Kelley Clink

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This is the rule: you go outside when you can. You take off your coat and you put on your boots and you stand in the slush. You take a hundred golden hour selfies and none of them capture just how happy you are to see the sun, but one of them comes close. This is the rule: you love what you have. You stand where you are. You notice, when you remember.

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to tell the tale {8/25/17}

Kelley Clink

One afternoon about five or six years ago, I was searching the internet for suicide prevention advocacy. I wanted to be part of something, to make a difference. I'd participated in walks, I'd raised and donated money, but what I really wanted to do was share my story. I was writing A Different Kind of Same at the time, and  some parts of it had been published in literary magazines, but the larger movement of mental health awareness and suicide prevention intimidated me. I didn't have any professional background in psychology or social work. I wasn't famous. Why would anyone care about my story? As I scanned the web in search of a way to contribute, I found a project called Live Through This. The woman behind the project, Dese'Rae L. Stage, was a photographer and suicide attempt survivor. She was taking portraits of other attempt survivors and sharing their stories. These were regular, everyday people from many different kinds of backgrounds. They weren't doctors and researchers. They weren't famous. But their stories and faces were powerful.

Instantly I knew--this is what I was looking for. 

I immediately started an email to Dese'Rae. I rambled and deleted and re-rambled and deleted again. Everything I wrote sounded awful. I saved a draft and vowed to work on it some more the next day. But the next day came, and the day after that, and a week went by, and then a year, and I didn't go back to it.

I was afraid that my story wasn't "good enough." That it didn't matter. That no one would want to hear it. 

And maybe, just maybe, I wasn't really ready to tell it.

A few years later, after I finished my book, I took my first unsteady steps into the world of advocacy. I wrote some articles, and a few people actually read them. I did some interviews, and a few people actually listened. It turned out I didn't have to be an expert and I didn't have to have all the answers--being willing to share my experience was helpful, and it was enough. And then, lo and behold, I met Dese'Rae L. Stage. 

Even though so many years had passed, and I'd done a lot of work to feel comfortable as an advocate, I was still nervous to approach her. Live Through This had become much bigger. It had been featured in The New York Times and The Washington Post; it had received grants and spots on national TV. But I took a deep breath and shyly asked if, maybe, I could be a part of the project, too?

Dese'Rae said "Of course, dumbass." (Not really, but I always imagined it was what she was thinking).   

Getting to know Dese'Rae and the other survivors has been amazing. Like finding a long lost network of family. Like finally finding my tribe. Suicidal thoughts and depression can be so isolating. Just knowing you aren't alone can change everything.

Yesterday my story was added to Live Through This, and I couldn't be more proud (even of the part that talks about my bowel movements). I survived. And I'm grateful every damn day.

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when a day without is really a day with {3/8/17}

Kelley Clink

I've been pretty quiet on this blog and on social media. I'm reluctant to mix my personal (which includes political) life with my professional life. Suicide and mental health are topics that transcend party lines--or at least they should be--and I don't want to drive anymore wedges into what's already looking like the Civil War, Part 2. So I'm slowing down, stepping back, and taking care of myself and my family. I'm calling my senators weekly, sending them postcards. Trying to stay informed without getting overwhelmed. Trying to listen, really listen, to multiple sides of the conversation without reacting. I'm also working on several advocacy projects, which have kept me pretty busy. 

Oh, and I'm about to have a baby.

This female fetus and I are wearing red today in support of International Women's Day/A Day Without a Woman, because I feel as strongly about the bipartisan-ness of women's rights as I do about the bipartisan-ness of mental health. In fact, I think those two things intersect, which I've written about before.

I want my daughter to grow up in a world where she feels safe and respected. Where she is paid fairly, and equally, for the work she does. Where she can wear whatever she chooses to wear, and express herself sexually however she chooses to express herself, without being judged, labeled, or assaulted. 

I want all this for my son, too. 

I want both my children to be able to embrace vulnerability. I want them to experience emotions without shame. I want them to be able to share what they're feeling, and ask for help when they need it. I want them to be supported and respected by the people in their lives when they do this, and I want them to be able give the same support and respect that they receive.

Actually, I want this for everyone. And I think we can do it. I think it starts when we stop seeing differences as otherness. When we recognize the humanity in everyone--even those we don't agree with. I think it starts with equal rights.

Solidarity, ladies and gentlemen. Let's do this thing.  

 

today {11/9/16}

Kelley Clink

Today I breathe deeply and try to sit with my thoughts. I name them as they go by. Anger. Sadness. Dread. Anger again. Helplessness. Confusion. Despair.

Did I already mention anger? 

I read Pema Chodron. She says, "We aspire to dissolve the myth that we are separate...Through our hopes and fears, our pleasures and pains, we are deeply connected."

I grieve the best way I know--I find a spare 10 minutes and take my camera to a nearby pond.

The sun is bright and warm. There are bare branches and curled leaves. There are also geese and ducks, a grandmother and grandson, a soft breeze.

It is hard not to feel defeated by the outcome of this election. There is so much work to do. The divide feels unbridgeable, the connections messy, painful and strained, like a tangle of barbed wire. 

But I don't want to let fear or anger rob me of joy. I want to live today just like I lived yesterday: hopeful. Resolute. Determined to fight against discrimination and teach my children to treat everyone with kindness and respect--even if they don't agree with them. 

I want to live today just like I lived yesterday: committed to taking off my armor. Accepting of impermanence. I want to have the courage to step over my ego into the space where real connection is possible. I want compassion to spread like ripples across the surface of a pond. 

I want Anne Lamott to write something funny and savvy that will help me believe this is possible. 

Oh, hold on a sec, SHE DID.

So for the rest of today I will stay close to the people I love. I will breathe in and out. I will read Anne Lamott as needed. And I will try to hold everything gently, with open palms.

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