Thursday, December 31, 2009

Just Another Bat-Shit Crazy Writer

Well, I’m back. You didn’t notice I was missing? Just read the posts written from Thanksgiving until the week before Christmas, especially this one. They were written by my evil twin. Between you and me, she needs to be institutionalized. Or at least heavily medicated.

I must admit that I am not one of those serene, surefooted writers, who ease their way through creative days with persistence and grace. No, I am the kind who hurtles along like an over-stimulated toddler on a new Christmas tricycle, obsessive to the point of compulsive, until suddenly the wheels come off and I careen into the ditch.

Self-doubt and anxiety catch up to me in a swirl of black cloud. I frantically swipe about for my creative self, desperately afraid that if I can’t find her instantly she’ll never come back. If I can’t keep the magic momentum moving, I’ll stagnate and never write another word worth the price of tomatoes. This fear builds. The harder I try, the more I can’t write anything. I become paralyzed. I don’t sleep. I don’t eat. I just quiver there, in the ditch.

It ain’t pretty.

It’s been this way forever. You’d think I’d get it by now. During the years I spent writing my first book, I thought that it was just the topic. Once I finished writing about my dead baby, this fear/ocd cycle would cease. Well, guess what? It’s been two years this May since I set my baby book on fire, and still I behave like the poster child for the bat-shit crazy writer.

At least I don’t write with a pint of whisky in my desk drawer. Or a pistol.

Being as it is New Year’s and all, I am going to make a resolution. Next time I get all bonkers, I am going to see it for what it is—indication that the well is temporarily dry, not something else bigger, like, say, my career and identity imploding in a spectacular, traumatizing, publicly-humiliating, soul-destroying end.

“Back away from the computer,” I will tell myself. “That’s it. Real slow. Put down the mouse. Back away.”

I’ve tried everything else, believe me. Nothing but time away from writing cures the frantic paralysis. I seem to require intermittent distance from a project in order to be able to see it again.

I can spend that time gripped in front of the computer, having a gigantic fear-cow but producing only the occasional lonely sentence. Or go to the movies with the chickens, man. Go to the mall. No one cares if you’re bat-shit crazy at the mall.

Anyway, I am back in the saddle now and feeling perfectly excited and capable of finishing my book. I only have three essays to finish for a solid first draft. Of course, now I also have a newsletter and six magazine articles to write.

No matter. As long as she sticks around, Madame OCD can do anything.

Monday, December 28, 2009

This Morning While I Was Blogging






Of course we all know it could have been much worse.






It's been four months this week since the snip-snip incident. The chickens are no longer getting double-takes at the grocery store.

In fact, if you don't look too closely, my babies look perfectly perfect once more.












Everytime Chicken Noodle asks for scissors these days, she quickly adds, "I won't cut my hair."

She seems to have learned something from this whole ordeal. Given the lovely blue on the arm of Little, it seems I haven't.

Oh well. I always feel better knowing I have one or two areas of self-improvement left to work on, don't you?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Santa Brings the Heat

Santa stopped by the chickens’ preschool the other day. Very kind of him to go out of his way like that. Just like Santa to make sure that even the 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. daycare kids whose parents don’t have time to go to the grocery store let alone the mall where Santa normally hangs got to see him this year.
But there he sat, alone in the corner. No kids anywhere near him, his cutie-pie elf, or his pile ‘o candy canes. It’s his season, but Santa looked a little forlorn.

A parent arrived to pick up his child. “Gavin doesn’t want to sit on Santa’s lap,” said a teacher apologetically.

“Oh, noooo,” said Gavin’s father, widening his eyes. “Santa brings the heat. Santa’s got power.” He waved his fingers around and quivered all over, as if Santa were Voldemort, or Idi Amin.

Chicken Little was terrified of Santa until this year (that’s her in the picture, three years ago). She needed a little coaxing the other night, but she hopped on his lap eventually. Probably helped that her baby sis walked right up to Santa and said, “Hi. I want a Rainbow Fairy for Christmas. Can I have a candy cane?”

That kid has no fear.

Some of us never get over our fear of Santa’s power. We cower at the sight of “December” on the calendar, require several dozen cocktails and a few sleeping pills to survive the holidays, and still emerge feeling like we’ve spent a month in a blender.

But isn’t Santa’s power a benevolent one? Sure, he’s kind of overwhelming in that big fuzzy suit. It’s a little freakish that you can’t see his face under all that cotton-ball facial hair. But I think Santa really wants to share his superhuman energy with us all. He doesn’t care how old we are. He does ask that we be nice instead of naughty. But then he’s like—here, take this pile of toys I just whipped up with my magic powers and be off with you. Go be happy. Live strong. Kick some holiday-blues booty. See you next year.

I personally could use some heat right about now—literally and figuratively. I want to be like Chicken Little, to walk right up to Santa (metaphorically) and tell him exactly what I want. I want to soak up Santa’s mojo.

“Santa,” I’ll say, “I’d like to harness your incredible power to finish this book with strength and finesse. I’d also like a trip to Hawaii. Five days spent with family this week without anyone snapping at each other or bursting into tears would be nice, too.

Right on, Santa. Thanks for spreading the heat. You ‘da man. And a big shout-out to the missus, eh?”

Thursday, December 17, 2009

All Aboard the Perspective Express

Should you find yourself in an anxiety-ridden funk like the one *someone* (ahem) has been in as of late, take these specific steps to immediately remedy the situation.

Take a road trip. Two cars, three adults, five children aged five and under, 24 hours, 400 miles and many salty snack foods should suffice. Weather: freezing rain/snowstorm. Destination: North Pole, via the Polar Express.

The driver of Car #1 should get pulled over within the first 60 miles. Reason: swerving. After determining that a) she is not driving her minivan ass-over-teakettle drunk at 1 p.m with four kids in the back b) driver of Car #2 (pulled up on side of road behind this spectacle) does not have our back as homey drug dealer/arms carrier c) no children will remain sleeping on this journey, Sheriff lets Car #1 go and leaves the scene, never noticing the expired tags on Car #2.

Crawl into the minivan back-40 to deliver juice boxes, crackers, raisins and fruit leather to wee darlings approx. two dozen times. Hit head on drop-down video player every time. Start being referred to as the flight attendant, subject to cracks like “Passenger in seat 3B, your freshly roasted peanuts are on the way, as soon as the flight attendant is back from her gin-and-tonic break.”

Delight in the appreciative noises of Child #4, who mutters at regular intervals, "You're stupid, Mommy."

Upon arrival in train station destination city, get lost and drive around for 15 minutes.

At restaurant prior to train departure, Child #2 crashes head into table and splits it open, bringing you *this close* to spending the evening in the ER instead of the North Pole as promised.

Ride Train to North Pole! Children laugh and dance and play and scale the seats! Santa comes aboard and hands out hundreds of small, noisy bells! Grown-ups wish for schnapps in their hot chocolate! Average people sing very loudly! Train ride never seems to end!

Send sister a text that reads “Still on train. People are singing carols. Have been kidnapped and sent to North Hell.”

Children’s eyes grow wide and awestruck at the sight of the lights of North Pole, making you feel all mushy inside about your newly updated “Mother of the Year” status.

Upon arrival in overnight destination city, get lost and drive around for 15 minutes.

Carry five blissfully sleeping children to bed. Purr over their adorableness. Stay up until midnight drinking wine and eating cheese and talking about life.

Leave children in bed. Sleep on floor. It's the least you can do.

Get up at 5 a.m. and blink blearily into your coffee while witnessing five slightly less adorable children run laps and scream at the top of their lungs.

On way out of town, get lost and drive around for 15 minutes.

At first potty stop, Child #1 steps in dog poop and then gallops all over every surface of car interior.

Come *this close* to running out of gas.

Respond to children’s endless whining pleas to flight attendant for juice boxes and bunny crackers by making up a handy list of mommy whines. (wheedling tone) “Where’s my chardonnay? I want a spa treatment. I need some beignets right now.”

Laugh so hard you cry at least six times.

Soak up the utterly joyful insanity only children can bring to your life.

Arrive home punch-drunk and cross-eyed, but happy as shit.

Remember that what matters isn’t choosing the perfect title for your book or squeezing just one more brilliant essay out of yourself before Tuesday. What matters is a) getting out in the world and doing the occasional completely cockamamie thing b) good friends c) oodles and oodles of love.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Bluto

Yesterday, Chicken Noodle got a flu shot. Afterwards, I took both chickens out for ice cream. We sat together in a booth in a very quiet restaurant, relaxing for the first time in a frantic day. After a moment my mind started to churn with all of the things I still needed to accomplish, one of which was to choose a gift for my book club members, as the one I planned had fallen through a couple of hours before.

“Hey, what should I get the aunties for Christmas?” I am perpetually surprised that my kids are suddenly at an age when I can put questions like these to them, and actually get semi-useful answers. Here were their suggestions:

A basketball
A Bend Brewing Co. tee-shirt
A turtle sticker
Snowflakes
A merry-go-round
An igloo

At this point, Chicken Little bumped Chicken Noodle’s arm, some ice cream spilled on Noodle’s new dress and she punched Little in the arm.

I said, “Hey, don’t hit your sister or I will take away your ice cream.”

Noodle pointed out that she’d already eaten it all. This might have been the end of the matter, but Noodle wanted to go deeper. Where had her ice cream gone? Might I still be able to take it away?

After considering the matter, Noodle speculated, “You would have to knock my head off and suck the ice cream out of my blood.”

These, I admitted, were not measures I was prepared to take.

Noodle said, “’Cuz you love me all the way to Bluto?”

I said, “’Cuz I love you all the way to Bluto.”

Perhaps in lieu of an igloo or basketball, I could simply give my book club members some ice cream and tell them I love them all the way to Bluto. It would be true, and I have a feeling they might prefer ice cream over a merry-go-round. Could be wrong about that, though.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Missing: Life Force. Please Return. Reward: Chestnuts Roasted on an Open Fire

This whole book thing is sucking the life force out of me.

I know, I know. It’s what I’ve always wanted and I should be able to find the joy in it and by complaining I sound like a big fat whiner and nobody likes a whiner.

Captain Daddy and I got mired in a teeny, weeny Marital Moment about this the other night. Here’s what I said, roughly, over a beer at the local pub:

The bottomless soul-searching necessary to unearth the history and truth that will make these essays good is like letting 100 angry leeches feast on me from the inside out.

Sacrificing organic creation for “sit down and create something beautiful about Topic X—now GO!” is like the Bataan Death March for the fragile artistic soul.

When I sit down to write, it hurts. Metaphorically, but also physically. Like someone is taking bites out of my head.

Half of what I write is complete crap anyway and ends up in the file on my computer I named “shitcan”.

At the end of the day I want to slip into a coma and sleep for like 17 million hours.

When the chickens run past me screaming naked with peanut butter smeared on their bodies and hitting each other with sharp objects all I can manage is to stare at them blankly as if they are a bad television show that I would turn off if only I could muster the energy to locate the remote.

And I am feeling, well, just a little bit done. As in DONE. But I can’t be DONE, because I am not done. And there’s something to be said for showing up and persevering, but sometimes maybe there is wisdom in knowing that one is just DONE.

At which point, Captain Daddy gave me a rather bored look which implied that he’s heard this all before, and perhaps I was overreacting just a tiny bit, as well as maybe whining in that particularly irritating “my pain is bigger than your pain will ever be” melodramatic self-pitying shortsighted way.

And he mentioned gently that part about this being my long-lusted-after dream. And that lots of things in life are hard work, especially things that are worthwhile.

Which made me pout.

But I know he’s right. (Don’t tell him, because he’ll just do that “I was right” happy dance and I’ll have to throw spitballs at him made of tinsel.)

Do you think I just need a break, and beautiful things will bubble back up to the surface? Or is my coma permanent? Yesterday I took a rest by addressing 125 Christmas cards and holiday shopping for three hours in a 14-degree snowstorm, but the answer to this question did not become immediately apparent.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Joe Has Something to Say to My Friends

Captain Daddy and I recently watched the original documentary “Woodstock”, made in 1970 one year after the illustrious event itself. I was born that year. Even though my parents weren’t hippies, watching the film explained them, their generation, and the last forty years in some interesting ways.

At turns appalling and deep, “Woodstock” turned out to be a strange catalyst to introspection for me, a sort of underlining tool for the years of my life thus-far and the coming-of-age essays I am writing for my book.

In any case, the film is an experience not to be missed. It promises a “living vicariously through one’s television” sort of evening. It made Captain Daddy shake his head repeatedly and say, “I was born thirteen years too late.” It made me think that if I’d been born thirteen years earlier, I’d have gotten into a whole lot more trouble than I already managed to do.

Many an unforgettable performance is on display here. Jimi and Janis do their thing, the latter in a quite fascinating state of intoxication and each just a year away from tragic death.

But my favorite performance by far—the one that you’ve truly not lived until you’ve seen—is Joe Cocker singing “A Little Help From My Friends.” I, personally, was rendered speechless. And those back-up singers! Wow. Watch the whole thing. He’s just getting warmed up in the beginning.

I send Joe out now as a little Thank You to all of my friends and family who have seen me through many ups and downs in the last decade, particularly in terms of my writing. Sometimes your love has been tough, but I know in my heart that underneath it all you’ve been as enthusiastic as Joe. I appreciate each of you immensely.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Pie

Today, as I pull out my hair and gnash my teeth trying to get through some mind-scrunching edits on my book when I really should be in the kitchen baking two pies for tomorrow and definitely shouldn't be blogging at all, I offer you only a modest gift. But isn't it a lovely one?

“Maybe all one can do is hope to end up with the right regrets.” – Arthur Miller

The question is, which will be the right regret? The unfinished essay or the unbaked pie? Guess I'll find out tomorrow.

Happy Turkey Day!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Blooming Eventually, Repeatedly and Currently

The meeting with the publisher went very well. If all goes as discussed, my book will be on the shelves next fall.

It’s the strangest sensation.

Driving home, my brain was short circuiting. I have every reason to think that this is actually happening, after so many years of it not happening. I am going to publish a book. And yet…that moment is not quite here, not just yet. When does one actually bust out the champagne? When the book goes off to the printer? When it’s released? At the launch party? When it’s positively reviewed? Sells well? When the next book deal comes?

I said to my mother, “I just realized that there will never be one final moment of victory. Just incremental triumph.”

“Like life?” she said.

Which reminded me of a message a friend sent me a few weeks ago responding to this blog. Here’s part of it:

The way I look at it is that women are ready to bloom at any moment. We are not the annual flower that blooms once in a lifetime, whose beauty is awed but is fleeting and temporary. We are perennials - ready to bloom over and over with the proper amount of care (love, sun, etc!). It is the person who thinks they have bloomed once and it is over who begins to molder. Sometimes we are dormant, but the bloom is always in there waiting for the proper care to bloom again.

Now is a perfectly appropriate time for the champagne. Ahead lies more uncertainty and certainly more work, but it’s too easy to skip the small triumphs while waiting for the big ones. I’ve done enough of that in the last nine years. There is always something to celebrate, and I intend to start toasting. Care to join me?

Thanks to Jennifer for the comments.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Bloodcurdling Halloween Horror Story

Imagine a dark and blustery night, a room cast with shadows. A writer polishes her working manuscript. The publisher has asked to see what she has so far. (Plot Twist). She adds fancy words, changes the formatting, calls on the universe for extra powerful positive thinking. The wind blows like a demon out her office windows. Will this be the realization of a ten-year dream? Or just another disappointment? Zap – she hits the send button on Halloween night (well, not exactly. Three days later. But it makes a better story this way).

Then she waits.

The publisher receives the manuscript and reads 50 pages within 36 hours. He emails the writer, responding with words so enthusiastic some are unfit for print. He loves it. Really loves it. He fell in love with the character, her growth and setbacks and little triumphs. Thinks maybe his press can’t do this book justice.

It is the email she’s waited a decade to receive.

But she doesn’t receive it. Unbeknownst to her, it languishes in her junk mail alongside a sales pitch for Discovery Toys. She doesn’t want any Discovery Toys. She does desperately want a book published. She waits, biting her nails, cursing every doctor who never gave her xanax. Would the publisher have responded by now? Maybe not. Maybe she’s a terrible writer. Maybe he hates her. Maybe the universe hates her. Maybe she should sell Discovery Toys.

She waits.

The publisher waits.

The email waits.

The wind blows.

Finally, six days later, before she’s had her first cup of coffee on a Tuesday morning, she opens her junk email box. What is this? Could it be? Such amazing things said? About her work? But the date—last Wednesday? Dear God, no! The horror, the horror! Do emails expire? Has he changed his mind? Has he decided she’s ungrateful, crazy, delirious on xanax? She emails him back immediately.

She waits.

Shouldn’t she be celebrating? Not yet. Not until the junk mail universe has righted itself. Blasted junk mail universe! She spins in anxiety. She neglects her children. She forgets to take the trash out. She drinks just the tiniest bit of vodka.

Finally, the publisher emails her back. He wondered why she hadn’t responded. He hasn’t changed his mind. They have a lot to talk about. He’ll see her next week.

Stay Tuned for A Terrifying Tale of Gut Wrenching Distress!: Getting What You’ve Always Wanted

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Sorry About Those Totally Wasted Seven Years

I got the completely wrong college degrees. I’ve never been bothered by this. At least I have some college degrees. And their wrongness is an accurate reflection of my nature (blooming ev-en-tu-al-ly). I didn’t know and/or embrace what I wanted out of life early on.

Who cares, because I got what I wanted in the long run—a self-made, totally authentic writing career. People pay me to write. Sometimes. That supercedes all ill-conceived college degrees, right?


Yes. Until recently. Feeling the need for something new, something less speculative, something to prepare me for the not-so-far-off future when I’ll need medical benefits, I recently looked into teaching writing at the local community college.

And learned that, two college degrees and ten years of professional writing aside, I am not qualified to teach even pre-college level writing. To do so, I would need a MA in English. (Not even an MFA in writing, incidentally, which I think says something about the controversy around MFAs in writing. Someday I’ll blog about that).

It’s the first time I’ve regretted my academic past, or rather regretted that I wasn’t more directed in my academic past. No point to this regret, naturally—it won’t change anything. And in the big picture, I believe you can’t be where you aren’t yet. In 1996 when I started down the road of MS in Natural Resource Education, I wasn’t a writer yet.

But the question remains—what now? Do I live with my inapt resume, or correct it by getting another master’s degree? Hmmm. We are education junkies in my family. But yikes almighty, back to school? (The third option is to write a mega best-selling novel, which would pay for those medical benefits.)

By the way, I took a teeny tiny job as a writing tutor at the community college instead. Apparently, I am qualified to do that. Next post: Blooming is reacquainted with comma splices, run-ons and fragments.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Same Suit and the Same Skin

Friday night, I took the chickens to the local brewpub for dinner. As is common to the genre “casual American restaurant”, the BBC boasts televisions perched above diners like rocks on a cliff, threatening to fall on your head or at least your nachos.

We have a TV at home, but it sits in the basement unenhanced by cable and functions more like a disregarded piece of furniture inherited from a maiden aunt than an entertainment device. This makes public TVs all the more enticing.

Chicken Noodle glanced up just after we sat down and said, “I saw the president!”

I looked up. On screen was the Orlando Magic/Atlanta Hawks game. Great, I thought. My child can’t tell the different between a basketball player and the president. But I knew immediately from where the confusion stemmed.

“Are you sure it was the president?” I asked her. “Or did he just have the same skin?”

“He had the same suit and the same skin,” she said matter-of-factly.

I watched the game with her for a minute and sure enough, here came a guy with the same suit and the same skin as our president—Hawks’ coach Mike Woodson. In practically no other way did he resemble Obama, but I could see how the misidentification might be understandable if one were, say, four, with a mother who never let her watch TV.

Ten years ago when we had time for such leisure activities, Captain Daddy and I used to pass entire evenings arguing about completely speculative, futuristic problems, like how we would raise well-rounded, cultured children in a practically all-white town, and what we would do if a child of ours demonstrated an impolite reaction to what would surely be an uncommon sight. How would we teach respect and equality without practical experience? “Well, if our country elects the first black president by then, we won’t have to worry,” was not part of any realistically imagined scenario we hauled into our futile discourse.

I observed Noodle split her attention between coloring a rainbow and watching the game. She had no further comment. And then it hit me—a wave of joy. This was my problem? My motherhood challenge of the evening was to correct Noodle’s assumption that all black men in suits are Nobel-prize winning leaders of the free world?

I think only as I watch my children come of age in this era will I understand the truly remarkable feat that Obama, and we who elected him, achieved a year ago.

(See Bye Bye Bush to read about last January’s Inauguration Playdate.)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Three-Year-Old Could Do That

I recently bumped into the professional photographer who took my glamour shot—the headshot I’ve used for magazine bios and my website for the last few years. The photo is only four-and-a-half years old, but friends have been complaining that it doesn’t look like me anymore.

(Aside: Chicken Noodle is also four-and-a-half years old. A coincidence that my entire appearance has changed in the same amount of time I’ve been a mother? I don’t think so.)

I told Carol that apparently, I need a new headshot.

“You know, I would totally do that for you, Kim,” she said.

“Well, I would pay you,” I replied, thinking that, in reality, my glamour shot savings account has a balance of about $1.52 these days.

She read my mind. “Really, who has money to pay anyone for anything anymore?”

Her generosity was appreciated. Still, my respect for the creative process is too great to take advantage of her. At the same time, I don’t want to be one of those writers who persist in using a head shot from thinner, blonder days; the kind that makes people do a double take (and not the good kind) when they see them in person.

So I went home and trolled through my own computer photo files for a semi-recent shot that would update me without breaking the bank. I found one I’ve always liked, taken earlier this year in Hawaii. True, it’s a bit overexposed in the face. But it looks like me, it's kind of fun and casual, and the background is lovely. Better yet, I already owned it.

Still, I thought I’d better ask the photographer’s permission.

I called Chicken Noodle into my office. “Do you remember this?” I pointed at the screen.

“At the Hawaii Zoo!” she said.

“Who took it?” I asked her.

“Me!” That kid has an ironclad memory.

I pulled off of my website the picture of that blonde I used to be and replaced it with this one, taken by Noodle when she three. With no offense to Carol (www.carolsternkopf.com), whose talent is clearly superior than my preschooler's and who I will definitely commission to photograph me prior to my first book publication, I think I’ll go with this for awhile. It feels more appropriate to the economy.

And anyway, it’s good to support budding artists, even if they aren’t in Kindergarten yet.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Bend Film: Portal to Blissville

The Universe must have heard my siren call to the aging process, my little shout-out to 39, because last weekend was one of those rare times when the stars aligned and every single thing that happened made me want throw my arms in the air and sing like Julie Andrews.

Here’s how the hard facts lined up:
A) Birthday
B) Press pass to the Bend Film Festival
C) Captain Daddy willing and able to liberate me from motherhood for the better part of three days

Sounds pretty good, huh? But the hard facts never explain everything. Last year, the hard facts were that I was in New York City for my birthday weekend. The trip was undeniably incredible. But I will admit that on the day of my birthday I couldn’t help but feel a little bit sad that I wasn’t with my peeps (except for my main peep Captain Daddy). No reason to complain—it was 70 degrees and sunny, I spent the day walking through Central Park and visiting the Met. But something was missing.

This year the magic started with Bend Film’s opening night party and didn’t let up until the Chickens sang me “Happy Birthday” for the 15th time. In between were a hundred tiny miracles.

I drank Rainier beer with a filmmaker who made a movie about D.B. Cooper, my grandfather (okay, his movie (www.theskyjacker.com) was about the hijacker; my grandfather was just a regular guy with the same name). I met a woman who journeyed to Antarctica with the eco-conservation group Sea Shepherd to fight illegal whaling four years in a row; I sat next to her while watching footage of her in a Zodiac, zipping under the prow of a Japanese ship (www.attheedgeoftheworld.com). I met a trio of filmmakers in their 20s whose film was flipping brilliant and who swept the awards (no late blooming for these little buggers: www.theatticdoormovie.com).

I ran into friends I hadn’t seen in ages. I made all sorts of new friends. I saw amazing films. I saw one heck of a sunset from the roof of a downtown building.

I saw a movie about a guy and a bike and cancer that made me want to go right home and hug everyone I love. I did. Then I went back downtown and hugged all sorts of other people, because after four days of soaking up tons of energy and story and creativity in the company of others, I loved everyone. By Sunday I was on such a Bend Film high, I kissed the director of operations, even though I’d just met her.

I know! I don’t know what happened to me, but it was incredible. Like ecstasy, you know? Yeah, me neither.

Bend Film, which totally rocks the Kasbah, had a lot to do with my little trip to Blissville. It helped that my expectations for the weekend weren’t already sky-high (as they were for NYC, or my what-the-heck-was-that? class reunion (see The Lost Weekend)). Surprise rapture is always better than premeditated rapture. And it didn't hurt that it was my birthday.

But I finished those four days with such an existential buzz that I might venture to say that powerful joy and connection is always out there somewhere, should we just be bold and brave enough to go searching for it.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Happy New You! Part III

This Sunday is my 39th birthday. 40 has been looming large this year: A Hindenburg blocking the sun, inflated by the hot air of my 20th high school reunion, Facebook, an offer of anti-aging products from my dermatologist and the realization there is little chance I’ll publish a book by the Big 4-0.

If 40 is when the weight of the past is equally balanced with the weight of the future on a life-sized scale, all the taking stock and anxiety that comes with it might be utterly requisite. (I am a Libra; naturally I will provide a scale metaphor with overdramatized consequences). This mid-life crisis stuff is not to be snickered at. I see the two halves of life pulling at each other in a matched tug-of-war, the past desperately trying to justify itself and the future taunting with undivulged secrets.

I spent the last year feeling 40 coming like a freight train, me the shrieking girl in red heels and fluttering skirt tied to the tracks. Count on me to get ahead of myself, fear the future when it’s still ten miles away. But now that here-comes-39, I am secretly a little bit excited about 40, and not just because I have another year until it hits or because I’ve been promised a massively awesome 80s dance party.

As my wise friend Rainie said on her 40th birthday last month, “My 30s were weird.”

Remember back in your 20s when you thought your 30s would be when you’d get it all together, blossom into your whole, fabulous, confident self? And then instead your 30s turned out to be about forgetting yourself altogether in the midst of new and utterly dominating identities as wife and mother? Then there was all of that grief—holy crap, who could have seen that coming? And how when you had two minutes alone with your own head all you realized—with an existential thunderclap loud enough to summon the dead—was how totally screwed up you were?

Wait, who am I talking to? Sometimes I slip into second person when I really should be in first person because I want everyone to feel the same way I feel so I won’t be so alone in the world and so I can pretend it’s really not about me, it's about someone else and therefore maybe I can get my head around it, seize control and fix it. This is because I have boundary issues. I just figured it out the other day. I plan to address it in my 40s.

(See Happy New You! and Happy New You! Part II for past birthday-inspired existential babble)

Monday, October 5, 2009

We're Going to Potty Like it's 2009

Chicken Little is potty training. This means that I’ve been carrying pants and panties in size 2T in my purse everywhere I go, scanning new environments for bathrooms as a claustrophobe would scan for exits, and muttering “do you need to go potty?” in two minute intervals like a paranoid schizophrenic with bad childhood memories.

I have also been witnessed leaping in the air and shouting “hooray!” over a pile of poo and groping my child’s crotch a little bit too often. It’s a strange time, potty training—thrilling and a biohazard all at once.

Little is doing great. Even so, twice I have dismantled the car-seat (a task those who have tackled will recognize as a gigantic hassle), once pulling it actually dripping from the car. Eww.

After that episode, and before a three-hour drive during which I decided to take the bold Mommy-step of giving Little, who refused a diaper, the benefit of the doubt, we three girls made up a song.

To be delivered in a ghetto accent with a strong cadence, accentuated by rhythmic finger pointing:
Don’t go potty in your seat
In your seat
In your seat
Don’t go potty in your seat
Bad idea


Fun to sing, educational and another example of the new skills motherhood has forced upon me. I can now add songwriter beneath hairdresser and short-order cook on my resume.

Meanwhile, Noodle, feeling the limelight shift to her sister, is reacting with predictable attention-getting behavior. The other day she left a urine sample in a cup on the front porch for Captain Daddy—trying to prove (I can only imagine) that while her little sister can now pee in the potty, she herself has honed her skills to accurate aim at smaller vessels.

Captain Daddy didn’t rise to her bait. He stepped right over the cup and left it there. The neighbor discovered it later, inquiring of its origins when he came seeking my help with a bit of writing.

“Shall I test it for pregnancy?” he asked.

Dear God. A nod to stages to come (hopefully not for at least twenty years), and a reminder to enjoy the innocence of potty training, the simplicity of problems solved by simply dismantling a car-seat.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Congratulations! You Failed.

During her keynote at the Hawaii Writer’s Conference, Kristin Hannah said that before she could commit to the life of a writer she had to decide that it would be okay to fail.

Like so many first-time novelists, Hannah wrote a manuscript and sent it off to agents, certain that it would be on the shelves within the year. Soon enough, she was lucky to get personal phone calls from a couple of them—telling her it wasn’t any good.

She’d been a lawyer before she took up writing. (She said, “Every lawyer I know wants to be a writer.”) The rejection of her novel gave her pause. Hannah said she did some deep thinking and decided that if she was going to proceed as a novelist, she’d have to come to terms with failure.

Too often, I avoid activities that might end in failure. I lament failure, I fear failure. You Buddhist-types know that fear of failure is really just fear of death. But we’re all going to die, and probably not from a rejected novel. Or from looking stupid, not being perfect or not pleasing people (some of my other favorite fears).

Even after she became a New York Times bestselling novelist (15 times over, now), Hannah said she faced failure in her career. This is something to remember. As a writer there is often the misperception that once you publish a book, you’ve got it made. But publication does not come with a lifetime guarantee. This concept reminds me of when, after a year of trying, I finally got pregnant. I reveled in victory for about ten seconds until I realized all I’d achieved was a state of greater risk. Same thing, once Chicken Noodle was born. There is no endpoint of success; only gradients, each with more at stake.

Interestingly, Hannah said that in retrospect, she believes that none of her failures actually were failures. Each cast her off in a new direction; one that she really needed to take.

My challenge to you all (and myself)—today, go out and do something that might earn you a big fat F. Who knows where it might take you?

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Nose Knows

My plan was to try to think of some thoughtful topic to tie to this photo, some interesting tidbit about marketing and writing to share with you all. Perhaps I could write about how at the Hawaii Writer's Conference we were informed that the title of your project alone could sell it or sink it.

Or maybe I'd write about the Kindle, how value is perceived and sold in writing and publishing these days, how no one knows what is going to happen next in digital publishing.

Or maybe I’d write something about how I never have been very good at selling things; how the concept of convincing people to want something is totally foreign to me, even though I've been hired to write ad copy before.

Or I could go on about how selling yourself is key to success in writing, and icky and weird at the same time.

Or maybe I’d write about the Country Fair, where this I took this shot. Or my nose, which seems to be getting longer and pointier. Or naked chests. Which generally, I like.

But it’s Friday, and Captain Daddy has been out of town for eight days and doesn't look to be reappearing for several more, and I am trying to pack for a weekend away with the chickens, and my mind has been strangely absent most of the week anyhow, and isn’t this just pretty great all by itself?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

We Interrupt this Blog to Indulge in a Little Meta-Analysis

I read a discussion online recently about how before signing a client, an agent will read his or her author blog. Naturally. For a writer, one major reason to blog is to create a body of work online for anyone to peruse, especially, should you be so lucky, a publishing professional. The point of the piece was that some agents say they won’t take on clients who write about certain things, including how hard writing is. (I can’t remember where I read this. My bad.)

About the same time, I read elsewhere that there are something like 18,000 writer blogs in blog-land. Most of them are pleasant and well-written. One commenter suggested that to stand out, one should create something a bit edgier. (Think that was here: Pimp My Novel)

These two topics are related to each other as well as to a question that applies to more than blogging: What representation of “me” do I want to present to the world? Nice or sharp-tongued? Smooth or edgy? Charming or honest? “Real” me or “Polished” me? You can’t be everything, at least not all of the time.

As for my thoughts on the first issue, I will say this: oh, please. Writing is hard. The life of a writer means facing tough odds, buckling down to lonely, self-directed work and getting your self-esteem cremated regularly. No, of course it’s not as hard as many other paths in life, like being a teenaged slave or dying of cancer. But it’s challenging enough that a little good-natured commiseration with other writers can really take the edge off. I understand that no agent would want to read a constant whine, but I can’t believe all agents want to represent Pollyanna, either. What is a story without a protagonist who faces challenge?

As for the second matter: Edgy or charming, polished or real—pick your poison. The important part is that you pick.

Voice is a basic question for writers: not just finding it, but owning it.
What do you want to project to the world? Are you going to craft a voice or simply be your voice? What voice is just enough out-of-the-box to be interesting but not so much so to become alienating? What is totally you, yet burdened only with consequences you can live with?

Once you figure that out and make it yours, stop worrying about what anyone will think and just jump in the damn water.

At least that’s what I keep telling myself.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Torn Between Two Lovers

The day before I left for Hawaii, I sat with a cup of coffee in front of my computer at 6:30 a.m. trying to come-to after a sleepless night. Suddenly Chicken Noodle burst in, arms aloft, and declared with delight,

“Everything’s better, Mom!”

About what happened next Noodle later recalled, “Mommy went (palms to face, mouth open, sharp intake of breath). Then she cried.”

Because everything wasn’t “better.” Not unless you think two children with their bangs cut to the scalp is “better”.

Noodle’s happiness crumbled in light of my tears. “Stop crying, Mommy! I’ll never do it again!”

But after a half-hour when I was still crying, she was all eye-roll: “Mom, are you ever going to stop crying? Like, by ten?”

I couldn’t stop. I wasn’t crying out of vanity because their school photos are ruined, even though they are. I wasn’t crying because they could have lost an eye, even though they could. I was crying because I took the situation personally. I saw it as a direct cost of my primary conflict: my work vs. my children. Or put more succinctly: self vs. family.

Because what I was doing in front of my computer at 6:30 a.m.—as beauty school commenced in the other room—was stewing over my book-in-progress. Obsessing, really. Not thinking about my children. Or their access to sharp objects.

My writing life lives in the same house as my family life. It’s like having two lovers. The problem with two lovers is that one of them is usually neglected. I steal a few moments for Lover A and Lover B slashes her hair off.

When I finally got my sister on the phone an hour later (yep, still crying), she laughed. “Almost every kid does this.” I continued to sob, insisting on my singular ineptitude and selfishness.

“Seriously,” she finally said. “When is this going to be funny?”

I sniffled. “Maybe next week?”

Here I am in next week, groping for the humor and self-forgiveness. As well as being practical. I've got to have a life of my own. And anyway, it isn't possible for the chickens and me to spend 18 years together without sometimes being apart. I am banking this will build autonomy and confidence for all.

Still, I am not an idiot. I hid the scissors.

By the way, the reason Noodle declared that everything was “better” after having removed her bangs? “Now I can see my forehead like you, Mom.”

Let that be the final word on the subject: as long as my oldest daughter wants to emulate me, I must be doing something right.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Emphasis is on Eventually

“You hear what you need to hear, when you need it,” said Kristin Hannah, New York Times bestselling author, at the Hawaii Writer’s Conference last weekend.

So much wisdom and advice was delivered at the conference. It was fabulous—better than I’d hoped. I absorbed as much information as I could, but the message that kept hitting home—the message I needed to hear—was about patience.

Nine years at this game and I am losing patience. The threat of a “real job” looms. I have two days a week to write if I’m lucky. I spent six years writing a book that will never be published. Rumors floated from the industry warn that if you don’t publish a book by the time you’re 40, you never will. An interested publisher just makes me worry that if I don’t give him something really soon he’ll forget about me or move on. Lately, I sit at my computer and feel pressured. I am losing patience.

But in Hawaii so many smart people reminded me that good writing doesn’t come in a hurry.

“Make haste slowly,” said Patricia Wood, who published her first book to wide acclaim in her 50s.

Michael Arndt, screenwriter of Little Miss Sunshine, spoke of the 10,000 hour rule of mastery described in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers (which I wrote about here in January—from Hawaii, no less—and then promptly forgot about: Thanks, Fred). It was true for him. Ten years of really hard work until he made it.

“Your job is to enjoy the process as much as possible,” said bestselling author Dan Millman, just to drive the point home that writing is a PROCESS.

Of course I knew all of this already, even if I sometimes wish it weren’t true. My best essays have taken months—even years—to write. It takes time for the good stuff to bubble to the top. It takes thinking and breathing and playing and changing. It takes living.

I am grateful to have been reminded of this now, with two good projects in the wings. I shouldn’t expect myself to create anything of substance in a big fat hurry, nor to settle for publishing anything that’s not slow-cooked to perfection.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Nine Lives?

Nine years ago I got married, turned 30, quit my job and decided to take my writing seriously. I wanted to write professionally but had no idea how to do it. So I flew to Maui with my mother for the Maui Writer’s Conference.

For four days I absorbed everything I could about magazine writing. I learned about writer’s guidelines, queries, breaking in with front-of-book stories, features, essays. I learned about the Writer’s Market and how to track down contacts and market research and how to pique an editor’s interest. I took notes and avoided the pool and the mai tais and learned so much I thought my head was going to explode.

But I took it all home and worked like hell and within a few months, I was writing for magazines.

Tomorrow I fly to Hawaii to attend the conference for a second time. (It’s now the Hawaii Writer’s Conference and held in Honolulu, because who can afford four days at a Maui resort on top of conference fees these days? I can only pull Honolulu off because, lucky me, my mom lives there.)

It makes me feel retrospective to go back. Makes me think about that naïve, hopeful, determined girl. To just go for it like that—was that really me? And have it work out. Wow.

I’ve been to smaller conferences since. I’ve learned oceans more. Published lots, not published lots. Found out how hard this writing business really is. Gotten wiser. Made choices, made sacrifices, made compromises. Part of me thinks; I’ve heard it all, I know all there is, what more could I learn?

But there’s always more to learn. Right now I think part of why I need to go back to Hawaii is to figure out how much of that girl from nine years ago is still in me.

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Farm Share Blues

Last spring in a fit of earth-loving-passion I bought a summer CSA share. I’d written a story about community supported agriculture for a local magazine and fallen in love with the idea of paying in advance for farm-fresh food. After all, when I was a kid, I wanted to be a farmer. This would be a little taste of that dream.

Here’s what I expected:
I’d support a local farm!
I would be inspired to cook gorgeous yummy meals!
It would be a good example for my chickens!
We would all eat healthier!

Here’s what I didn’t expect:
It would be a gigantic pain in the ass!

Within a month, just the sight every Tuesday of that hot pink tote bursting with green things I would be required to cart home, clean, store and cook filled me resentment. Followed by guilt, about the resentment. Followed by irritation, about the guilt.

But now as September looms and I pray for an early freeze, I am taking the whole thing as a lesson learned, or learned again. This isn’t the first time I’ve made the wrong decision by assuming it would transform me into someone else.

In this case, I overlooked the following:

I hate to cook.

I don’t have time to cook. (Well, that’s not exactly true. More accurately, I would rather spend my free time scrubbing mildew off of the shower tiles than cooking.)

We were out of town half of the summer, making it particularly difficult to cook at home. Even if I wanted to.

While I can appreciate that fresh-farm food would arrive at my home covered in soil, scrubbing two pounds of dirt off vegetables and then my kitchen takes an hour, results in two screaming children at my feet, and makes me grumpy.

I do not love searching out creative ways to prepare gooseberries. I can’t even identify gooseberries. Same goes for radicchio, bunching onions and broccoli raab.
I do not want to eat braised greens five nights in a row.

I am wracked with guilt if I have to throw away food, which is what happened when we didn’t eat braised greens five nights in a row and I didn’t find a creative way to prepare gooseberries.

A freezer crammed with squash just means there’s no room for Captain Daddy’s Häagen-Dazs.

The kind of dinner that makes me happy all over is take-out.

Next year, I am going to embrace my slovenly, planet-ruining nature and spend that $625 on pizza delivery. I suppose I should now abandon any plans related to the other thing I wanted to be when I grew up—a librarian.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Bad Daddy, No Biscuit

Yesterday I took the chickens to the beach park. Because there are only a couple of places along the river that function like beaches, with sand and water access, this place is a city-population magnet. One of the things I love about it is that it makes for great people-watching. There is also the risk that my girls will be treated to cigarette smoke, the F-bomb, and playmates with blue Mohawks. I just figure it’s diversity training.

Yesterday, temperatures nearing 90, the beach park was packed. I selected a piece of real estate on the sand next to a group of 20-somethings. They had a boom box, beer poured not-so-surreptitiously into plastic cups and lots of cigarettes in plastic ziplocks (handy when one wants to go swimming with cigarettes, a popular local activity). The F-bomb was dropped almost immediately, and the smoke got old pretty fast. But I didn’t mind. I used to be 20, and it was refreshing to hear the music of contemporary artists I’ve up until now only read about in People (so that’s what Lady Gaga sounds like).

No, this post isn’t a rant about young slackers. It’s a rant about bad parents.

A little girl approached my chickens, honing in on their beach toys. I recognized her immediately. She’s at the local parks a lot, always with her dad—sort of. The guy believes in parenting from a distance. I’ve never seen him play with her, even though if she’s reached her third birthday it’s just barely. He’s usually nowhere near her. This time, I didn’t even spot him in the park.

“Where’s your dad?” I asked her after a minute. “Over there,” she nodded. Ah. Yes. 200 yards away, facing the other direction and lying on a towel. Sleeping? No, enjoying a little intimate face time with a woman in a bikini.

I try not to judge other parents. In the past, I’ve tried to give this guy the benefit of the doubt. But this is the river: The river that flows fast and unpredictable and drowns several people a year. And, dude: your daughter, the one there without a life jacket? She is a toddler. See—see how she wades out waist deep towards the current, barely keeping her balance? Oh, you didn’t see that? You are busy up there in the shade getting some? Gee, sorry to bother you.

Cut to half-an-hour later. The guy hasn’t even glanced up. His neglected child spies our bag of snacks, grabs it from Chicken Little and starts two-fisted shoving crackers in her mouth like a wild animal. So quickly I was actually startled, Pseudo-Dad is at my side. “Sorry, she’s eating your food.”

I shrugged, dumbstruck. So, let me get this straight. Her potential drowning doesn’t merit your attention, but her eating some mother’s Ritz does? Dude, I don’t care if she eats my snacks. But I do kind of resent doing your job for you.

After a minute, he wandered away to his hottie Latina. I went back to eavesdropping on the 20-somethings, inhaling second-hand smoke and, oh yeah, parenting.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Essayer: to try, to attempt (French)

During the long weekend writing retreat of week-before-last, I dove into my work-in-progress essay collection (see Plot Twist). The challenges and joys of writing memoir reliably reared their little heads, leaving me somewhat dumbstruck for the first 24 hours. Some things you have to learn over and over.

Essay is my very favorite genre, and yet there is no getting around the fact that it can be heart-wrenching, soul-searching, scratch-around-in-your-past-and-see-what-leaps-out kind of work. Writing essays has brought me great pleasure and deep frustration. Kind of like motherhood, but with rejection letters.

Here are a few things I’ve learned so far about writing narrative non-fiction/memoir/essay successfully:
  • You’ve got to be completely honest.
  • Completely honest does not mean you must reveal every last detail of your life (i.e., humiliate yourself and/or bore people to tears).
  • Essay is all about voice. Find it, work it.
  • Don’t think too much about the audience. Write what you write. If they like it, great. If they don’t, they aren’t your people and you must not worry about pleasing them.
  • Definitely don’t think about the (potential) publisher, unless you are on assignment. You can’t read their minds and trying to will only cramp your style.
  • Make ‘em laugh or make ‘em cry. If you can do both in one piece, all the better.
  • Concrete anecdotes, not general memories.
  • Trying to write something that everyone will relate to is the kiss of death. Precision, not inclusion.
  • Essay is personal. Reveal yourself. Be willing to learn things about yourself.
  • Even a powerful story needs literary quality to become a work of art.
  • Every essay must be about two things: something obvious and something deep and subtle.
  • Conclusions are necessary but must be understated. Never preach.
  • Search for the fun. If it isn’t just a little bit fun to write, it probably won’t be fun to read, either.
  • Do not expect to write anything truly fabulous when you are a) in charge of the children b) in charge of the gigantic child masquerading as your husband C) drunk. Okay, this trio of advice actually applies to all writing. But holing up alone is especially important in essay, because essay is about you and you gets swallowed alive by all of the things other people need from you (at least in my experience).
  • Proceed without fear! (In essay and in life)

I have about 25,000 of the 45,000 words I need for an adequate draft. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Spin

I returned on Monday from a long weekend writing retreat to a kind-but-definitive email releasing me from the duties of one of my regular paid writing gigs. Nothing to do with my performance, etc., etc., it’s just that they found someone cheaper and more geographically convenient to do the work.

This sort of thing used to completely freak me out. I’d spin off into anxious hyperbole, convinced that this writing thing was never going to work out and I should give up now and get a job cleaning motel rooms or being someone’s secretary.

As is always the case, anxious hyperbole was a waste of time. Something new would always pop up.

That might happen this time. Or it might not. Ever since the first of the year, my clients have been evaporating.

But I refuse to I slit my wrists over it. Okay, so my income is starting to resemble that of a sweatshop worker in the Philippines. All right, so I just put the Chickens’ gymnastic classes on my credit card. But what’s money in the grand scheme of things (she says confidently, knowing full well that Captain Daddy will buy her toothpaste and wine)?

My goal is to remain calm and see this shift of fortune as an opportunity.

I have two big, potentially cool writing projects in the works (see A Puzzled Thanks and Plot Twist). Yes, these projects are speculative. Yes, I may never make a dime off of them. But by removing more remunerative projects from my path, the universe seems to be telling me to devote myself to my own stuff.

Or maybe it’s just the economy telling me it sucks. But I prefer to think it’s the universe, telling me that this slack time isn’t for whining, it’s for writing.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Lost Weekend

Put 110 people with intermingled pasts and pending mid-life crises in one room, add high expectations, a few cocktails and the pressure to connect in a short amount of time and what happens? Everyone loses their minds. Or at least I do.

I would love to report on my 20th high school reunion, but since it seems that not all of me actually made it there, it may be a bit difficult. I will try anyway.

Here’s a dialogue smidgen:
Overwhelmed blonde girl: “I have…memories.”
Cute tall guy: “Me, too.”
OBG: “The fourth grade.”
CTG: “Yep.”
OBG: “Such a crush.”
CTG: “And English, senior year…there was…something.”
OBG: “Oh, I am sure there was something.”

That’s pretty much how the weekend went. I had many semi-coherent, almost-meaningful exchanges with people who, sadly, I realize are a part of my ongoing existence only in foggy memories. I expected some sort of special bonding only possible between polliwogs from the same pond. I expected a fabulous party, an escape from my grown-up life, the chance to pretend to be 18 again. Instead I got a three-day out-of-body experience, lots of hugs, missed connections, a hangover and a bundle of sadness.

Why the sadness? Middle-aged angst. So many years passed, so many doors closed, so many opportunities missed, so many traumas and joys tucked away, so many permanent decisions made, so much living already lived. Given the dazed expressions on half of the faces in the room, I don’t think I was the only one suffering from this strange sensation.

I underestimated the impact of going back to my hometown and rooting around in my never-to-be-heard-from-again adolescence. Or maybe it’s just that a weekend spent subsisting on vodka, double espressos and Safeway deli is a sure ticket to misplaced self.

In any case, it was surreal. The prom queen’s husband kept bringing me drinks and telling me he loved me. A guy I’ve known since Kindergarten pointed over and over again at my face, repeating, “You were always so nice to me,” like this was atypical. I took the chickens to my favorite childhood beach and kept tripping over the fact that I was the mother, not the child. Some guy told me he spent high school mad at the guy who came between us in the alphabet. One of the few women who has remained my good friend told a classmate who couldn’t remember my name that if he could, she and I would make out. (He couldn't). Oh, and there was a bomb scare. Someone tried to blow up the grocery store next to my motel.

Perhaps it was one of us, we group of nearly 40s reeling from the realization that sometime in the recent past, the last breath of youth passed us by and we missed it.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Hello, History

This year I found myself neck-deep in my own past. It began with Facebook, which delivered to me everyone I’ve ever known, loved, despised and/or kissed; most recently came a request to write essays about my childhood, which sent me diving into old journals and quickly concluding with a shudder that perhaps the past is meant to stay firmly put.

But the piece de resistance is this weekend—my 20 year high school reunion.

To distract myself from freaking out, I re-watched the hilarious movie Grosse Point Blank. Here are a few of my favorite lines to tide you over until next week when perhaps I’ll have some gems of my own to report. (Oh, yes, I am definitely taking a notebook.)

Marcella: You know, when you start getting invited to your ten year high school reunion, time is catching up. Martin Q. Blank: Are you talking about a sense of my own mortality or a fear of death? Marcella: Well, I never really thought about it quite like that. Martin Q. Blank: Did you go to yours? Marcella: Yes, I did. It was just as if everyone had swelled.
--
Paul: Okay, well, I'll see you at the "I've peaked and I'm kidding myself" party.
--
Amy: Where ya been these last ten years? Debi: Yeah, where ya been, "Marv"? Amy: Ya look great! Martin Q. Blank: Thanks. I work at Kentucky Fried Chicken. Amy: Ya do not! Martin Q. Blank: I do! I sell biscuits and gravy all over the Southland.
--
Martin Q. Blank: Do you *really* believe that there's some stored up conflict that exists between us? There *is* no us. *We* don't exist. So who do you wanna hit, man? It's not me. Now whaddya wanna do here, man? Bob: [Pulls out a folded up piece of paper] Martin Q. Blank: I don't know what that is. Bob: These are my words. Martin Q. Blank: It's a poem? See, that's the problem... express yourself, Bob! Go for it. Bob: "When I feel... quiet... when... I feel... blue..." Martin Q. Blank: You know, I think that is *terrific*, what you have right there. Really, I liked it, a lot. I wouldn't sell the dealership or anything but, I'm tellin' ya... it's intense! Bob: There's... more. Martin Q. Blank: Okay, would ya mind, just skip to the end. Bob: To... the very end? "For a while." Martin Q. Blank: Whew. That's good man. Bob: "For a while." Martin Q. Blank: That's excellent! Bob: You wanna do some blow? Martin Q. Blank: No I don't. Bob: [Hugs Martin]

Okay, enough of that. Off I go!

Monday, August 3, 2009

New Digs

For part of June and the entirety of July, Chicken Little’s bedroom and my office were one in the same.

This caused much confusion. I would tell Little it was time for bed and she would amble towards her “old” bedroom, only to find it gutted. She would look around with consternation and begin to cry when I wouldn’t let her sleep on the naked floor boards. I’d lead her gently to her “new” room, and she would point at my desk and computer and say “Mommy’s office?” Which of course it was, only now with her bed in it.

Other times, I would go to check my e-mail and discover that there was a small person asleep in my office. I would pace and fret that the hard drive, left on, was sending cancer-causing electronic monsters into her gorgeous pudgy person.

Fast forward through the remodel (really, no one should have to live through a remodel except the residents who shall benefit from said remodel)—ZOOM!

Voila! Chicken Little has a new room decorated appropriately with butterflies and bunnies instead of a fax machine and scanner, and I have (as Chicken Noodle says) a fresh new office.

This was a move of necessity and functionality (now that Chicken Little is no baby no more, kids are relegated to one side of the house and grownups to the other) more than an upgrade for me, but I must say, I love my new digs more than I thought I would.

Now, if someone would just close the door…yeah…that’s right…go love Daddy…leave Mommy in her nice peaceful personal space…Ahh...

Monday, July 27, 2009

Plot Twist

As those of you following along know, I began writing a novel a couple of months ago. It’s my first attempt at fiction. The process started off with a gleeful bang (see A Puzzled Thanks), a phenomenon all the more personally delightful because of the fact that I was suffering through what seemed to be the death of hopes to publish a book of narrative non-fiction ever in this lifetime.

So I threw myself wholeheartedly into fiction; forgot all about essay, for the time being anyway. And what should happen? I came across a publisher who is interested in publishing a book of my essays.

I know! Can you believe it?

Two major thoughts about this fascinating turn of events, from a meta perspective. First, the universe has a funny way of handing over the goods as soon as the protagonist finally begins to work on letting go of her need to acquire them.

And secondly, words of wisdom from so many mentors over the years are absolutely true: keep writing. No matter if you can see where you are going, no matter if it looks as if you won’t ever get there, keep writing. Because: when ten years into your writing career you quite out of the blue happen across a publisher, and he just happens to ask you a question you thought you’d never hear, maybe something like “do you have a book-length collection of essays?”, you want to be darn skippy sure you can answer, “Heck yes I do.”

No guarantees on this one, I should note. I have a lot of work to do and it must please. But I am very hopeful. And no matter what, I will remember this moment as a big fat reminder that dreams should be stuck to, but never clung to. No matter which way the winds blow, you will be fine; but never stop working for the thing that will make you leap around in your very own kitchen.

I am quite certain I will complete that novel, by the way. The whole thing is there in my head just waiting to come out. But I shall be a bit distracted for a bit working on that which I’ve always loved: writing essays.

Monday, July 20, 2009

It's My Party and I'll Cry If I Want To




















Last night I said, “If anyone spills their milk, I am going to cry.”

I was absolutely serious. Only moments before, in the frenzied aftermath of unloading two children, two bikes, two backpacks, a pink reusable grocery sack full of fresh-from-the-Earth produce, my purse, my work notebook and a handful of smashed crackers from the car, and during the frenzied push to put all of this away plus create some healthy and sustaining meal for the chickens and possibly even myself in the space of ten minutes, I set a full, open beer down on top of a clothing hanger on the counter.

It upturned, dumping beer on the farm share produce, the work papers, Chicken Little, her tricycle and the floor.

(What’s that you ask? Oh, yes, hangers and other miscellany on the kitchen counter are not unusual. Yeah, Chicken Little rides her tricycle in the kitchen quite often. And, actually, I do think drinking beer while multitasking at a high level is a wise choice. Without beer, I’d finally succumb to that nervous breakdown I’ve been threatening for so long.)

So. I wetted a few towels, wiped down the small wailing person now smelling like college bar, mopped at my notebook, threw the drippy farm produce in the sink, grated cheese, made quesadillas, rinsed snap peas, poured two small cups of milk, plunked it all on the table, and declared it dinner.

I sat. Then I said, “If anyone spills their milk, I am going to cry.”

But when not two minutes later, Chicken Little did indeed spill her milk, I did not cry. I did not make a single noise. I rose, dampened more towels, blotted at the now-stripped-naked-as-a-coed wailing small person and the table and the floor, removing all evidence of the unfortunate incident.

(What’s that? Yeah, I guess I should have known Chicken Little would spill her milk. She may be blowing the two-year-old set out of the water with her 14-word sentences and bicycle-riding skills, but she is still two.)

I sat. Two minutes later, the phone rang. I said, “If that’s Daddy, I am going to scream.”

Because Captain Daddy has this funny way of calling right during the thick of high-speed parenting hour. And then saying ever-so-helpful things like, “It just seems like things are so chaotic with you and the girls when I am at work.”

But when it was indeed Captain Daddy on the phone, I did not scream. I informed him in my calm-competent-girl voice that we were quite busy eating a balanced and wholesome dinner, and that we loved him very very much, and how was his day going, and no, everything was going swimmingly here, just fantastic, really, a nonstop party, in fact, and I’d call him—darling, my love, my rock and guiding light—later.

And I threw the dishes in the sink next to the farm share and tossed everyone in the bath and read books and retrieved baba-sippys and Richard Parkers and closed bedroom doors and opened a fresh new beer and sank onto the floor and gave myself a big fat pat on the back for not crying or screaming.

(What’s that you say? Crying and screaming can actually be cathartic and restorative? Hmm, good to know. Sounds fun. I’ll try that next time).

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Most Fascinating Research Trip Yet

...and a little hint about my book-in-progress. :)
who can name the event?

(and for you entrepreneurial sorts, check out that last photo. She's holding a typewriter, and it's labeled "poem store". That's what I call extreme freelancing.)

Thursday, July 9, 2009

How's Your Self Control?

An experiment conducted in the 1960s by Stanford psychologist Walter Mischel tested children’s ability to delay gratification. A child was left alone in a room with a plate of marshmallows, cookies and pretzels. She was told that she could either eat one treat right away or wait until after the adult left the room for a few minutes. When he returned, she could eat two.

Most kids snagged one the minute he was out of sight.

The interesting part of the study is that Mischel followed the kids after the initial experiment and found that those who had been able to delay gratification became the more successful adults. The “high delayers” were willing and able to invest the time and patience it takes to, say, get a PhD. (See The New Yorker article Don’t! by Jonah Lehrer)

I am infamous for my ability to delay gratification. If anyone would let me, I’d open my birthday presents the day after my birthday. I presume I was a high delaying child (mom?). I graduated sixth in my high school class, magna cum laude from college.

But at a certain point, I started to question what I was delaying for. Sure, I had the fortitude to get through law school, but did I want to be a lawyer? (An emphatic no). What had good-girl weekends in college to become magna cum laude earned me? When I hit the job-hunting streets after graduation, I found that the answer was the opportunity to rock the world with an $8.75/hour job working the night shift in a home for troubled girls (along with the four million other psychology grads, not a one of us whom was asked our class standing).

That’s the problem. Two marshmallows are only a great reward if you love marshmallows (I think they are yucky).

Instead of the starter job or grad school, I started waitressing. Waitressing is all about instant gratification. Work five hours and receive a fistful of cold hard cash and a free beer. It’s even fun. Imagine that.

But eventually my natural inclination kicked back in. Powerfully. Is there any career more dependent on delayed gratification that writing? After ten years in this business, I say no. You spend months or years writing, wait a possible eternity for someone to publish you, don’t get paid until they do. One recently published essay of mine took eight years to get published (Fame vs. Fortune). And we aren’t going to talk about my book right now, ok: we just aren’t (Book Burning Take Two).

Is it true, then, that the treat of publishing (maybe it’s the pretzel) is still worth it for me?

I can see my name on a book jacket and it looks far more fabulous than a law degree or 1000 marshmallows. But I am also increasingly aware that there is much more to living than succeeding.

And thank goodness for that.

Monday, July 6, 2009

A (Puzzled) Thanks

I fear speaking too soon.

And yet I’d like to report on my novel-writing project.

Four weeks. 13,500 words. 35 pages. Five chapters. And my dominant emotion? Bafflement. At how easy it feels.

I know enough by now to realize that initial creation is always the fun and easy part of writing. And I know that I am just beginning even that. Finishing will be work. Editing will no doubt suck, as editing always does. And selling it (should I get that far) will be Sisyphean.

But, nevertheless, I feel as if I am watching myself from a distance, thinking: wow, who knew she could do that?

Perhaps the root of my bafflement is that during the six years I spent writing my memoir it never occurred to me —never ever never once—that writing fiction might be easier than writing narrative non-fiction about my dead baby.

(Ahem, a friend responded. Yes, I would think it would be quite a bit easier.)

Who knows how this will all fall out in the end, but right now this is exactly the balm I needed to move forward as a human being and as a writer. And even if this is all it ever is, I’d like to offer up the teeniest and most sincere thank you to the heavens for that.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Hurts So Good

My writing group friends agree: there is such a thing as a “good” rejection letter.

As I have reported in the past (Boomerang), an unfortunately much-too-common rejection letter in the publishing industry is no rejection letter—no response at all, which has the result of making one feel like pond scum, or worse, invisible pond scum.

Far too much of the time when I send one of my essay-babies off to publishing-land, it vanishes with barely a whisper of the mouse button never to be heard from again. After a several weeks, I assume it dead, or at least terminally neglected.

Which brings us to a good rejection letter. The qualities of said precious item convey that one’s slaved-over words were a) actually read by a fellow human being b) admired in some stated way and c) deemed worthy of a few sentences of semi-thoughtful reply.

Here’s a lovely rejection I received the other day.

Dear Kim,
Thank you for sending “The Why Season.” I’m sorry to take so long to reply.
I enjoyed reading your essay and found it both funny and touching. However, I must report that we’ve decided to give it a pass, as we recently published an essay on a similar topic and don't yet feel ready to revisit the subject. I wish you the best of luck placing this piece elsewhere.

Gee, isn’t that nice? Of course we should not overlook the fact that it’s a big fat no. But why dwell on that when we can bask in the weak filtered light of its approval? Sigh. I feel so warm and fuzzy inside.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Seasonal Interference

We interrupt our regularly scheduled musings on motherhood, writing and rejection for a taste of summer living. We regret to inform you that this might be a common occurance until mid-September. Please bear with us and enjoy our dabblings into a new artistic format--the photo essay.




Friday, June 26, 2009

A Friday Bonus!

J. Robert Lennon nails The Truth About Writers in the LA Times.

Happy Weekend!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Summertime Writer's Fatigue


A picture is worth a 1000 words (left unwritten).

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Trauma Tour

Captain Daddy is professionally inclined to report on topics of disaster and death.

In our early years together I named this litany of unfortunate events the Trauma Tour. Everywhere we went he had a story to tell: car into tree, drug-addled assault, slow and lonely decay. I endured it, sometimes even with affection for the tragic contents of my loved one’s brain.

Until we had kids. Lately I’ve tried to press upon Captain Daddy that perhaps chickens ages two and four do not need to be told ghastly and terrifying true tales on a daily basis. And I can’t take it like I used to—the tender mother in me suffers everyone’s pain.

Nevertheless, the Trauma Tour continues. An average morning around here kind of goes like this:

Captain Daddy suddenly exclaims: “A drowning!” Chicken Little ambles over. “Where, Daddy?” He points to the newspaper, explaining a fall, a sweeping away, as if this conversation with his two-year-old is perfectly normal.

I gesture in exasperation. “If you must share,” I say, “Try to leave the chickens out of it. Just spell things.”

The next day, he tries. “A p-i-t-b-u-l-l attacked and mauled a three-year-old over in the valley.”

“Wrong words, Captain,” I advise. “Try the verbs.”

And God forbid anyone should ever ask him how his day at work was.

Today, after 14 years of listening to tales of tragedy, I finally have figured out something to do with them. Captain Daddy and I have a (chicken-free) lunch date to discuss the most horrifying, ugly, ghastly details of the worst car accident he's ever seen.

Why? Research for my novel.

This just may be a turning point in our relationship.