Friday, July 30, 2010

On Writing

"Nobody ever committed suicide while reading a good book, but many have while trying to write one." Robert Byrne

Thank goodness I haven't reached that point yet! Of course, my livelihood doesn't entirely depend upon my selling my writing and I'm not altogether consumed for lengthy periods at a time by writing. My writing life is constantly interrupted by the needs of children and animals, conversations about insurance and home repairs, cooking and laundry and those things often seem more pressing than putting words on a page. Perhaps that is why my brain has evolved away from having the actual craft of writing be associated with getting the words down.

I do my most effective "writing" when I am completely and utterly alone, generally outside of my house and physically occupied. Taking the dog on long walks through the same boring neighborhood is incredibly fertile ground for my creative consciousness. On occasion, I can come up with some brilliant notions while standing in the shower. Driving for long distances by myself, while rare, is also a time where the other side of my brain can turn on. I suppose it's because there is no physical way I could accomplish the tasks I am normally responsible for at home, but it is only when I am alone and otherwise busy that I can truly "drop in" to writing. Unfortunately, unless I have access to my computer shortly after my brain lets loose it's most recent wave of creativity, it will most likely be lost in the shuffle when I re-enter my Mom/Wife World. Thankfully, I spent several years as a medical transcriptionist and am able to type upwards of 110 words per minute, and my children are fully accustomed to me dashing in the door, heading for my laptop and yelling, "Don't talk to me! I have to get this down before it flies away!"

I know that everyone has their own methods and rituals for writing. I never would have expected mine to be as unorthodox as they are, given that for most of my life I was known as (and fully embracing of being known as) "anal retentive." Writing schedules that are rigid simply make me feel claustrophobic. I obsess over the fact that I only have X minutes left to write before I have to go do something else and can't get anything to leap that blockade in my brain. Or I find excuses why I couldn't possibly work for those hours on this day and promise myself heartily that I'll make it up to myself another time. This willy-nilly, take-it-as-it-comes and get-it-down-before-it-goes method has so far worked for me. I know that by letting those thoughts percolate in my brain until they simply can't be held down anymore, they are leaping out of me with an enthusiasm that translates to the page. Fortunately, my children are old enough that I have the freedom to do that and, when I don't, my iPhone has this nifty application on it that allows me to record voice memos so that at least I can spit the ideas out and hope to pick up the threads later.

Eve asked the other day why I chose to be a writer. She has heard all the stories of my past jobs - veterinarian assistant, medical assistant, surgical assistant, office manager, and patient advocate, to name a few - and wonders how I came to this. The only answer I had for her is this: "Honey, I don't write because I have to or even because I necessarily want to (although I do). I write because I can't not write."

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Who Wouldn't Read It?

This week, the book I have spent five years researching and writing got a little closer to being published. For any readers who are new to my blog, this project is very close to my heart for so many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that it spent over a decade percolating in my brain before I decided to set it loose.

The book is a series of fifteen stories that detail a woman's journey through the most difficult decision she may ever make - whether or not to terminate a pregnancy. My interviews were focused on the process of making the decision more than the actual choice they made. I was interested in how each individual approaches the process of deliberation; do you ask yourself moral, practical, religious questions? Whom do you share the information with? How did issues of age and marital status factor in for you? The women were incredibly different in so many ways - age, background, socioeconomic status, marital/relationship status, whether or not the pregnancy was planned - but bonded together in their isolation. Regardless of their differences, each of these women was faced with trying to make a decision in a finite amount of time that they could live with for the rest of their lives. Each of these women was ultimately the sole decision-maker.

I had to force myself to stop interviewing after three years. I was so touched by the response that I got when I put the word out that I was looking for women to talk to. I was even more touched by the trust each of these women placed in me when she agreed to tell me her story. I was fascinated and appalled, saddened and proud to listen to their stories and I honestly could have gone on forever, but for the compulsion inside me that reminded me these stories needed to be heard by others as well. I chose the fifteen most compelling stories. Stories of planned and unplanned pregnancies, adoptions, abortions, fertility treatments and genetic anomalies. Stories of women who are sisters, mothers, daughters, aunts and co-workers of some of us. Women who could be any of us. I hope that the stories educate and inspire and touch some center of compassion inside each of us that transcends politics or religion or laws and allows us to simply read the stories and acknowledge the difficulty each of these women faced and perhaps enlarge our capacity for understanding other individuals around us.

I offered my manuscript to five agents at a writer's conference last week. One of them wasn't terribly excited, but the others all seemed intrigued. Each of them asked me some variation of the question, "Who is your audience?" and, I must admit, the question sincerely baffled me. Knowing that the vast majority of book readers in America are women, and that women love to share their stories with each other, whether they involve difficult subjects or simply how our children misbehave when we get on the phone, I can't imagine a woman who wouldn't be interested in this book. So I began talking to other people at the conference. Perhaps the sample was skewed because these were other writers, but I got a tremendous reception from everyone I talked to, men and women alike. Because of the apolitical nature of the book and perhaps because of the popularity of memoir-type books, an idea for a book of stories such as this was very well-received.

When I got home, I was determined to find statistics to back up my intuition. I learned, via a quick internet search, that there are roughly 60 million women of "childbearing age" (14-40) in the US and, at any given time, fully six million of them are pregnant. One point two million of those pregnancies end in abortion each year, and half a million babies are born to teenagers each year. Adoption statistics are difficult to come by because many of them are privately handled, as are fertility treatment statistics, but I would think it's safe to say that there are millions of people in this country every year whose lives are touched by the issue of pregnancy in general and who either have to make tough decisions about it or know someone who has.

I am hoping that the agents to whom I submitted my manuscript will come to this conclusion as well. For now, I'll wait for them to read it and see what happens.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Hurts So Good

This sadness feels so good. Sharp, pungent, penetrating, specific. To be able to feel a sadness that is about a particular set of events is a luxury. For a very long time I’ve been afraid of that brand of sadness that seems to be about everything. The despair that nothing is right at this moment in time, nor will it ever be. That overwhelming crush of grey that shrouds everything and covers me like a blanket. Underneath it, I curl up as small as I can and shiver from the exertion it takes to just be.

But this sadness is finite. I miss my girls. I left them at the campsite on Tuesday morning with their grandparents, headed home to get myself ready for a writer’s conference. They stayed to fish and roast hot dogs over the campfire and go on long, dusty walks with Gram. The house feels empty without them and the knowledge that it will be several more days before I feel their thin arms wrap around me and hear their trilling laughter pokes holes in my resolve.

Driving away from home I acknowledge the sharp sadness in my gut. I slowly push out to the edges of it, examining it for depth and breadth and discover, to my delight, that there are edges. There are boundaries to it. I can celebrate this feeling because it is distinctly different from despair. I am excited at the revelation that I can feel sadness without sinking in to depression. It doesn’t make me miss my lovely girls any less, but it gives me hope that I can allow a full range of emotions access to my core without the risk of being consumed entirely by them.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Catching Up

Been camping for the last four days and now I'm off to the annual Pacific NorthWest Writer's Association writing conference for the next four. I have so much to say that I don't have time to process, so this post will have to serve as my journal, I suppose.

Camping was a riot! We borrowed the neighbors' RV and took off early to meet my mom and her husband at a gorgeous campground at the base of Mount Hood. I literally couldn't stop smiling for the first 120 miles, I was so excited. Bubba is not a fan of camping - he prefers a soft hotel bed and a hot shower every day. This place? No electricity. No running water. Toilets? Well, if you're willing to dig a hole, you've got one! I love it. We were stocked with hot dogs, marshmallows, Hershey's bars, fruit, chips, bottled water and wine, and plenty of blankets to snuggle up in at night. We canoed, fished, threw toys for the dog to fetch in the lake, hiked, cooked over a campfire, and sang silly songs. Even Bubba enjoyed himself.

The hard part came when Bubba and I left. He had to fly out early Wednesday morning for Boston and I had to get the RV back to the neighbors. The girls wanted to stay an extra day with their grandparents, so early Tuesday morning, we sat down to a big breakfast of bacon and eggs (cooked over the fire) and said our goodbyes. Well, sobbed our goodbyes. Eve and I were the biggest crybabies. I was a little furious that, even though we had planned this trip six months in advance, Bubba went ahead and booked a business trip to Boston on the last day. I was even more furious that it meant he had enlisted his parents to pick our girls up from my mom's house and watch them until he got back from his trip after he had promised to be there for them while I went to the conference. Add to that the fact that I won't see the girls again until Sunday night when I get home, and it was a recipe for a boatload of tissues.

So this morning, I'm home alone, doing laundry and packing and readying myself for the conference. I've got a list of errands to run a mile long and while I know I'll be much more efficient doing it without my girls in the back seat, I miss them so much my stomach aches. Even though I know I can go to yoga tonight without anyone whining that dinner stinks without me here, I would take their whining over the silence. It is such a balancing act to find space for my two passions - writing and mothering. I woke up first at the campsite yesterday morning, brought the dog out and started a fire. I stood and watched the flames for over an hour, trying to find a way to convince myself to blow off the conference and stay with the girls. I reasoned that it would save my in-laws a trip and two days of watching the girls. I would just send Bubba home with the RV and then the girls and I could ride the train home from Mom's house together and not miss a minute of camping fun. I nearly did it. In fact, I think I did convince myself at one point, but when I truly listened to the deeper wisdom of giving myself this gift of time and space to write, it became harder.

I know that simply walking through these days, aching for my girls but serving myself and my other passion will help me grow. I would like to think that I can blame all of my angst on Bubba. That if he were just here to be with the girls like he promised I wouldn't feel so badly, but I don't think that's true. I know that they will be safe and have fun with his parents and, even though they miss me, they will learn to trust that I will come back and be their mother just as before. That deeper wisdom, although constant, is very subtle, though, and the louder, keening wail of missing my girls threatens on the surface and is hard to push through.

In the meantime, I've got two appointments with agents on Friday to "speed pitch" my completed manuscript. I suppose my time is best spent figuring out how the hell to do that. If I can come home with some new tricks up my writer's sleeve and having learned how to spend time in my own skin, this weekend will have been a success.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Perception is Reality

That's what Bubba always says, and to some extent I believe it, although I've always been more comfortable with the notion that there is some concrete Reality/Truth out there somewhere that is discoverable. It gives me hope. It helps me to trust that I just have to buckle down, put in some elbow grease and keep looking until I can finally shout, "Eureka!"

Some days, this is why parenting sucks. Because while we can look at 'norms' and 'averages,' each of our kids is an individual and they have their own quirks and lovable qualities and refusals to FIT IN THAT DAMN PIGEONHOLE ALREADY.

So Lola has some quirks. Okay, a lot of quirks. But that is what makes Lola, Lola. (I know that comma doesn't belong there, but I needed the pause in between the two Lolas, so I had to leave it there). About six months ago, she began complaining of "habits" that bug her. I noticed them a long time ago, but figured that as long as they didn't cause her any problems and she was otherwise healthy, I was going to leave them alone. Time's up, Mom. She had gradually become aware of a tendency to raise her eyebrows and then scrunch them down as far as they could go. She did this about forty times a day, generally when she was physically still, like playing a card game or listening to a story or working out a problem at school. She was afraid that the other kids would notice and begin to make fun of her and, frankly, it freaked her out that it didn't seem to be something she could stop doing.

She progressed from this to what we call the 'bunny face' where the skin on the bridge of her nose gathers up and she puckers up like she wants a kiss. Finally, about a month ago, she began noticing a severe eye roll to the top left that, by the end of the day, left her with awful headaches. Add to this a tendency to "claw" her hands when she needs to use them for something that requires concentration (piano practice, card games, math problems), and she is frustrated.

Those of you with kids who don't fit the 'norms' will understand what ensued next. As many disparate ideas as there are specialists. My therapist offered to score a test for ADHD (seems Lola scores in the 90th percentile for hyperactivity - duh). The naturopath suggested we test for more food allergies, B vitamin deficiency, and anything that can cause hypersensitivity. Bubba doesn't see it. Or maybe he doesn't want to because perception is reality. Or maybe it's just that he rarely spends quiet time with Lola - they are usually wrestling or shooting hoops or chasing each other around the yard. Lola's teachers haven't expressed concern, but she's in a nontraditional school setting - she's allowed to pace while she reads to herself, work cross-legged on the floor, dissect lamb hearts and brains, and help design her own curriculum. What teacher would notice hyperactivity or tics in that setting?

The therapist and the doctor see it. Lola feels it. She admits not telling her father about it because she's embarrassed. In the meantime, I'm loathe to medicate her for ADHD since those symptoms don't seem to be causing her problems and, what if they take away the essential Lola-ness that she has to be funny and crazy and impulsive (well, I could lose some of the impulsivity...). Are the tics Tourette's? I long suspected that Dad had some form of Tourette's, but he's gone now and there's nobody to corroborate that.

I'm at a crossroads and wondering whether there is some concrete Reality/Truth out there that is discoverable. If so, should I kill myself to find it? If not, what's the best course of action? And whose perceptions trump whose? Is Bubba's reality more real than mine? What about Lola's?

Monday, July 12, 2010

A Lot Like a "Stay-cation"

As I looked ahead in my crystal ball, I could see that Bubba's got a lot of travel coming up this summer. Right-quick I secured a babysitter for Sunday night, figuring we could have a summertime date while the weather was warm. The problem was, now that the weather is gorgeous, the flowers are all blooming, the raspberries are nearly ripe and the grass hasn't yet turned brown from lack of water, by Saturday afternoon, neither of us could think of anywhere to go.

"I was actually thinking that it would be great to just lounge around on the deck and make ourselves a really nice dinner," Bubba said sheepishly, knowing I'm loathe to give up any opportunity for a date.

Hmmm, that gave me an idea. "How about we send the kids on a date with the babysitter?"

I purchased tickets to "Despicable Me - 3D" online for the three of them, gave the babysitter cash for treats and sent them off at 4:30 on a warm, sunny Sunday afternoon. Bubba was busy in the kitchen forming lamb and mint meatballs, mixing up yogurt sauce, caramelizing onions and I started a pot of rice and whipped up some mojitos using the mint from the herb garden. While the meatballs sat to meld flavors, we parked ourselves in the sunshine on the deck and chatted. The dog settled down in between our chairs, the cat perched close by in the sunshine and all was peaceful.

Feeling a little tipsy (I was a little generous with the rum in the mojitos, it seems), we finally wandered in to the kitchen to do one of the things we did BK (Before Kids) - cook together. We have an easy relationship in the kitchen. I admire Bubba's penchant for inventing things on the fly and I love to watch him as I flit around behind the scenes doing the support work. Normally I'm cooking solo, so when we get the chance to collaborate on a meal we both know the kids wouldn't enjoy nearly enough for the amount of work that went into it, it is a genuine pleasure. Plates laden with rice, slightly crispy, fragrant meatballs, caramelized onions and roasted peppers in pomegranate molasses, and yogurt sauce, we headed back out to the deck to enjoy our creation and the evening breeze.

Looking out at the fruits of our labor in the yard, tasting the fruits of our labor in the kitchen, and relaxing in a place we feel most together was the perfect Sunday afternoon date. Bubba's off to Detroit on Monday, but this quiet respite from parenting re-connected us and grounded us and, I must say, having a date free from interruptions of wait staff or children was incredibly enjoyable. The kids came home thrilled to have been trusted with "going out" without a family member, Bubba and I were thrilled to have missed at least one of the 'summer blockbusters,' and the night was much more inexpensive than it would have been if we had gone out.

I've gotta do this more often!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Been Busy Over


When I decided to leave my paying job, I was looking for something that would keep my hand in writing. Preferably something with a deadline and an editor, so that I could be kept on a short leash and didn't wander off to fill my days with mothering and other things not related to writing. I found it at Feminist Review. Every other month, I get to choose my top five new books/CDs/movies from a list of just released items, and they choose two for me to review. I have just completed my first two reviews and they've been posted on the site. Please take a minute to hop on over there and read them. This site is dedicated to providing a clear, honest look at how new media affect and illustrate the lives of women all over the world. If you love to buy books, watch movies, listen to music, or hit the theatre scene, there is undoubtedly an intelligent look at some of the things you might consider soon on the site. They post new reviews every day.

This month I reviewed "Forced to Care" and "Female Nomad and Friends," two nonfiction books that are pretty spectacular. Thanks for visiting!

Friday, July 02, 2010

Last Night's Dream

Lately I've slipped back in to the nasty habit of perusing my to-do lists as I settle in to bed. Once upon a time I had trained myself to let go when the lights went off, let the tasks still undone remain that way until morning and protect my sleeping time as sacred. But as I went to bed last night I was mentally cataloging the items yet to be packed for our weekend trip to Bubba's parents' house. Just before I dropped off, I remembered that Lola's softball photos had just come in the mail and I should be sure to take some to the family we'll be seeing this weekend. And that's where I came in to the dream. I'm not sure whether it was hours or mere moments after I had the thought, but...

There is a grouping of four 2x3 photos of Lola in her team uniform, proud smile on her face. I am at my in-laws' farm, cutting them apart to distribute to everyone. I'm not certain what the photos are resting on, but about 2/3 of the way up the sheet of pictures I realize I'm cutting through the tablecloth or whatever lies beneath. My eyes widen, my breath catches, but I decide to finish the cutting, so I raise the photos up into the air and continue cutting. With a scant millimeter to go the scissors suddenly twist sideways and stop cutting. I feel like I'm a left-handed person trying to cut with regular shears - they just won't work. But I don't want to tear the last bit and make the edges ragged, so I right the scissors and try again. Again, they won't cut. My focus narrows and my eyes zoom in and this millimeter looms larger. The scissors begin to cut slightly, but they veer off to the left and I can't make them stay on the line between the two adjacent photos. I stop. I can't have it looking like that. I am so frustrated. No matter how many times I try, the shears won't cut straight. If I align them correctly, the blades simply won't work. The only way they will cut is off to the left.

I woke up determined to remember the dream for this morning (they usually seem so clear in the middle of the night and I'm sure I will recall them but by morning they are gone like a puff of smoke). I was too tired to puzzle over it then and even in the light of day, I have no answers. Any thoughts?

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Reminiscing in Food

Slicing some cantaloupe for the girls this morning, it occurred to me how often I think in food. I spend a lot of time in the kitchen. Not only is it the natural hub of our house - open to the family room, laundry area, main hallway, and directly leading to the backyard - but with growing kids who are gluten-intolerant and mom-cooking-experiment-tolerant, this is my laboratory. The pantry is a walk-in, always overstuffed, and the refrigerator would be a great place for a photo shoot for one of those ISpy books.

So most of my time is spent in the kitchen. I'm usually on my feet, slicing, mixing, cleaning up, grabbing a quick snack, making a smoothie or espresso, little snatches of time here and there, and either the kids are out playing or waiting for sustenance, so I get to grab quick snatches of thought here and there, too.

Every time I slice cantaloupe or honeydew melon, I think of Susan who used to cut melon for us kids and who taught me how to slice it easily.

When I am topping my own pizza, I remember Carlos and Laura filling up the kitchen with their laughter and 13 homemade pizza crusts, Carlos wearing most of the homemade pizza sauce and Laura and I trying not to explode in giggles.

Throwing ingredients in to the crock pot for chili, I conjure up visions of me on the kitchen phone with Mom guiding me through the steps - her at work and me a latchkey kid. The long phone cord stretched between the wall and the counter, receiver tucked between my shoulder and ear.

Walking through the produce section at the grocery store, I look at the kiwi and recall a girl I used to work with who ate them whole - like a big, fuzzy strawberry. I think of Dad when I see vine-ripened tomatoes. He used to sit on the back porch, slice them open, salt them liberally, and devour them.

It only takes a split second for these images to float through my mind, but I am rarely without some association of a special or unique person in my life when I prepare food. Maybe that is why I enjoy cooking so much. It is certainly not a solitary activity, although I am often performing the activities on my own. I am often cooking for friends or family, and as I go through the motions I am surrounded by others who help me to feel good about the history of the recipes or my own history with food. This groundedness in nourishment is settling for me and nourishes so much more than my belly.
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