Thursday, April 30, 2009

Yippee Ki Yi Yay

If writing were riding, I’d have fallen off the horse and landed in the ER more than once. I seem inclined to cling, stumble, plummet to the ground: Then get back up, like some sort of indomitable horse-loving fool. (Or head-injured, masochistic fool—you decide).

Here I am: back in the saddle.

In an effort to get back on the trail, this week I have:

  • Submitted an essay to the NY Times’ Lives page

  • Pulled out my children’s book manuscript and read it to the chickens (they love it. They giggle and ask for more. Too bad they aren’t publishers), identifying weak areas to work on.

  • Brainstormed a YA novel idea. Do I know how to write YA? No. Do I even know how to write fiction? No. Does that matter right now? No.

  • Sunk my teeth back into the paid work I neglected during book edits (newspaper article writing, magazine copyediting, exhibit copywriting)

  • Blogged. (OK, I always blog. But it’s got to count for something)

So: enough with the life analysis and on with the living, already. I’ll keep you posted, unless the NY Times calls, in which case I’ll be doing cartwheels in the yard and drinking champagne. Possibly simultaneously.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Play Nice, Now

Yesterday at the park we ran into a classmate of Chicken Little’s and his mother. We got to talking about the preschool, how the kids like it, which days they attend. Hers—Monday through Thursday. Mine—Monday and Friday.

“How does that work?” she asked.

It took me a minute to figure out what she meant. I babbled about how some weeks it’s hard to get all of my work done with only two daycare days, but she just looked at me and then gestured at the chickens, capitulating, “Well, they seem perfectly well adjusted.”

What she’d actually been asking was if two day care days were enough to adequately socialize my chickens.

Ahh, the dangerous waters of early motherhood, where total strangers worry not whether their own 18-month-old is getting enough time with his mother but whether your children are turning into batty old hermits.

I don’t worry about that, by the way. If Chicken Little and Chicken Noodle turn into batty old hermits it will be family tradition more than conditioning and therefore, unavoidable.

I do worry that two daycare days a week will have serious impact on my dreams of publishing a book. Especially since I don’t even know what sort of book I want to write next and I realize how very much hard work and time it takes to get published. And, there is a deadline on even this two-day plan. Captain Daddy and I have a deal. In five years, he retires, and I get a job.

But none of that matters, really—because (the chickens’ socialization be damned) I wouldn’t have it any other way. I want those little demons home with me. So two days is what I have. The only choice is what I do with them.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Fame vs. Fortune

In the pages of the current issue of High Desert Journal is an essay of mine. It’s one that is close to my heart; I am thrilled to see it in print.

The Journal is a literary and visual art magazine that once seemed beyond me. To be published by them is to stand alongside some truly talented writers. To add HDJ to my resume feels like an accomplishment, a tiny stepping-up.

And how much did they pay me? As Chicken Noodle would say: Zerio.

This sheds light on the antipodal pursuits of creative freelancing: fame and fortune. That which impresses often doesn’t pay. You get bragging rights or rent money. A very few lucky souls get both.

This yin and yang has defined my career. I’ve tried to have it just a little bit each way, balancing the prestige of thoughtful essays published in an in-flight or literary publication vs. the cold hard cash generated by lifestyle articles in the local daily or (horrors) someone’s annual report.

What’s interesting is that a friend who publishes poetry and fiction lately told me that she feels her friends and family are more impressed when she publishes an article in a magazine (no matter the topic or distribution) rather than a literary piece. So maybe what impresses the neighbors is amorphous. Any thoughts on this?

In any case, the current market means that everyone seems to be writing their own annual reports and therefore I have more *opportunity* to submit to the literary world than I have in years. And less money to buy the chickens ice cream. But that’s okay. Captain Daddy’s in charge of generating ice cream money, anyway :).

And money was never a consideration for me with High Desert Journal. Just happy to be there. Check out for more info on the Journal. It’s a great publication.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Book Burning (Take Two)

I needed to dive into my book again. I thought that was because I believed the project had potential. Now I think maybe it was because I needed to be reminded of why I set fire to it in the first place.

Other things my consultant said:

Memoir is currently dead weight in the marketplace
Memoir is the hardest genre to write
Memoir is best written years after the events it discusses
Writing shouldn’t be this hard.
The book’s thesis is still unclear.
There is no obvious audience for this book. The topic is too hard.
I needed to write this for myself and my son, not because it’s a saleable memoir (ouch).
I am an essayist. I should write essays. For now.

OK, so. Add to that the reasons I burnt the thing last year, which have come rushing back to me like a back draft (ha ha). Here is what I read aloud on that occasion.

I am tired of trying to cram my life into the formal structure of the novel.
My life doesn’t have to be published for it to be a true story.
I am sick of seeing my life experience rejected by two sentence emails.
I don’t have to convince the world how much I loved Whunk. He knows. I know.
I am tired of searching for the happy ending instead of living the happy middle.
It’s time to set myself free.

Having had five days for this to sink in, I feel quite at peace. Letting go of a five-year project (again)? Sure, sounds great. Can we have cocktails, after?

It’s possible I am delusional about the peace part. But I did an awful lot of crying last week and I think this time, I’m just going to opt to keep the peace. I feel I've earned it.

Not sure what I’ll do next, besides essay. Maybe chick lit? Needlepoint? Stay tuned.

Friday, April 17, 2009


“When you set fire to something, man, you’ve got to respect that.”

The anniversary of my book burning was Monday.

I forgot all about it until yesterday. This is very ironic because part of the reason it never crossed my mind is that I was totally focused on the consult to work on the book’s query, which was Wednesday.

The meeting was fabulous. And pretty much the polar opposite of what I had in mind. Among other astute comments my consultant made was the quote printed above.

But more on this subject will have to wait, as I am running around like the proverbial headless chicken trying to get out of town for a long weekend.

I am certain you will all be waiting with bated breath. :o

Monday, April 13, 2009

Eggstra Special

The pressures of parenthood seem to congeal around a holiday like grease on a ham.

We *should* put the chickens in their matching dresses. We *should* achieve a lovely family picture. We *should*dote on the kids (at least not park them in front of a video). We *shouldn’t* let them eat too much sugar. The day *should* be extra special.

Take that heavy carton of adult expectations. Add two children under the age of five. Throw in three pounds of candy. Tack on an early morning ETA at the grandparent’s house. Shake well.

By 8 a.m. I’ve bathed the chickens and begun to wrestle them into their Easter finery. Except that Chicken Noodle refuses to wear her green-with-pink-roses Easter dress. She insists on wearing her white-with-red-roses Christmas dress.

I get in the shower and practice deep breathing, trying to remember it’s not about dresses.

I *should* have mentioned this to Captain Daddy, however. I find him in the kitchen towering over a wailing Chicken Little; clutched in his raised hand is a dripping cup of yogurt. “You’re ruining your dress!” he hollers. “No more until pictures!”

Note to parents everywhere: if you find yourself denying your children breakfast over a hunk of linen and lace, something is wrong.

Fast-forward through much more prancing about; eventually we all move towards the car. Chicken Little face plants in a pile of dirt and gravel in the driveway. Instead of doing something gratuitous like comforting her, Captain Daddy throws up his arms. “I give up! This is impossible!”

“That’s why I’ve decided not to care,” I reply levelly. He considers this. “Hmm, okay. Sounds good.”

Two hours later, Chicken Little’s dress is covered in chocolate, markers, syrup, strawberries, apple juice and crayons. Chicken Noodle’s dress is crumpled in the corner; she is stark naked. We’ve taken a mess of terrible photos. They’ve both torn into enormous Easter baskets. They’ve consumed approximately 1.5 pounds of candy each. Captain Daddy is slumped in a chair reading the newspaper. I am lying prone on the living room floor staring stupidly at the ceiling.

We spend the rest of the day napping and watching videos. Everyone is entirely happy. And you know, it feels pretty darn special.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Look What I Made Today!

Chicken Little keeps catching me putting her drawings in the recycling bin.

She never once considers that I’ve done it on purpose. She always assumes it’s been a mistake.

“Mommy, you accidentally put this in there,” she says, holding it out to me. “Whoops!” I say, and stick it back on the refrigerator.

This is an innocence I covet desperately. Oh, to be so certain that everything you’ve created will be unconditionally cherished.

On my hard drive are three distinct drafts of my book. The first two I offered to the world like Libby offers her art, with faith that it would bring back some of the love I’d put into it. Both were loved by several someones. Each was rejected by more someones.

That’s just life as a grown-up.

The funny thing is, despite hard-earned appreciation for the harshness of reality and all, I still have a glimmer of that innocent, hopeful kid in me. Without that kid, I wouldn’t keep doing this probably. I sure as heck wouldn’t be on draft four.

Maybe I’ll just move Noodle’s art from the fridge to a big gigantic pile in the closet, clearing out of the way clothes and old books and umbrellas, keeping and loving every single crayon masterpiece forever.

It’s the least I could do, really.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Unlike Ballet

I have been reading Malcolm Gladwell again: his first book, The Tipping Point. It’s an examination of the factors that kick off epidemics of disease, thought, trend, etc.

I am just not getting into it like I did Blink and Outliers.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the book. The copy is full of great anecdotes and facts. The concepts are well supported. It’s totally interesting and readable. It was a number one national bestseller, for crying out loud. And yet somehow it lacks a certain conversational magic.

It could be that the topic just isn’t as engaging to me. But I think it’s the voice—Gladwell’s less mature voice.

It’s not like he didn’t have bazillions of writing hours and credits under his belt by The Tipping Point—but by Blink and Outliers, Gladwell had bazillions more. His easy, winning voice had grown and solidified (making him his own anecdote for the 10,000 hour rule he describes in Outliers (see my previous post Thanks, Fred)).

Just reminds me that this writing thing is a huge time investment. And makes me think of something a brilliant friend once said: “Luckily writing is something you get better at as you age, unlike ballet.”

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Bye Bye Mommy

One of the reasons I burnt up my book was that it was taking me away from my chickens.

It takes incredible focus to keep 225 pages in my head. One side effect is that everything else starts to feel like a frustrating distraction: Captain Daddy, my paid writing assignments, the laundry, my taxes and yes, even my own kids.

Every time I am pulled away from the manuscript (often) I am subject to creeping anxiety—fear that the whole thing will crumble into a million little pieces without constant vigil.

It’s a great Zen exercise, actually—working on staying present with the book and staying present with that which interrupts it: and, as always, not giving in to fear.

This edit is different than previous ones in a few ways, though, thankfully. I have a much clearer sense of the story—where I am going and what the end looks like. This makes single-mindedness more productive and less soul-battering.

I am also forgiving myself for being lost in my own head. If my undivided attention is diverted away from the chickens and Captain Daddy for a few weeks, so what? I suspect they will survive.