Wednesday, January 18, 2017

golden age

It's finally here. IT! IT! That time everyone has told me will come is here! The time they soothe you with promises of when you're in the throes of  raising a baby and a toddler. When you're covered in spit up and sleep deprived and screaming and crying is rattling around in your brain, even when no one is screaming or crying. The kids are reaching the golden age. Holden is being potty trained. They play nicely together. And I sleep in now until--get this--9 a.m.! They can forage in the pantry, although they usual emerge with fruit snacks, it's still food (technically I think).

Today the sun is out, melting everything from our ice storm over the weekend and it is the perfect metaphor. If you're in the middle of raising a baby or a toddler, or god forbid, both, I'm here to tell you: it's true what they say--it really does get better. Raising a baby is so demanding, but raising a nearly 3- and nearly 5-year-old isn't so bad. And soon they're not going to need me at all. So much needing happens at the beginning, but it eases off you as you get older and less capable.

Soon you will be writing or reading or practicing yoga while the kids entertain themselves. Hell, maybe you'll even pour yourself a cocktail. Lord knows: mama, you've earned it. 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

favorite books from 2016

2016 started off rough for reading. I just wasn't picking anything that inspired me but was reading it anyway. Then I started school and learned not to do that anymore. Reading for a writer is very important: it is the study of writing and it also inspires writing. If reading does neither of those, it's time to put it down and pick up something else. I am unlearning to always finish what I start.

 Here were my top reads from last year: 


1. The Sound of Gravel
by Ruth Wariner
Memoir 
A heart-breaking account of a young girl raised in a pologamist Mormon colony in Mexico. Young Ruthie is abused and sees two family members die. Memoirs rip me up. Places like this exist, people actually live through these experiences and live to tell about it. 

2. Going Clear
by Lawrence Wright
Non-fiction
This was recommended to me by a customer at the coffee shop and a few pages in, I was hooked. This is a book explaining Scientology - all the way from the founder L. Ron Hubbard to his psychology ideas evolving into a religion. Fascinating and disturbing, much like The Sound of Gravel.

3. The Mermaid Chair
by Sue Monk Kidd
Novel
Sue Monk Kidd (also author of better known The Secret Life of the Bees) is a master of writing place. This book takes place on Egret Island. The protagonist, Jessie, returns there as an adult, after her mother has chopped off a finger. Jessie's daughter has just left for college and Jessie is going through something of a mid-life crisis. On this island, Jessie finds a part of herself that was lost. 

4. Self-Help
by Lorrie Moore
Short Stories
I read a lot of short stories during the last half of 2016. My mentor in school has a bit of a penchant for them, and I learned that I do too. It is pretty fantastic to be able to pick up a book and read a self-contained piece between errands and chores. Lorrie Moore has a voice that I envy. She writes in second person. She is sassy and self-depricating and sad but funny. She is a new favorite writer. 

5. Lust and Other Stories
by Susan Minot
Short Stories
The title story of this collection is something like the novel I am writing so I read the collection as a requirement for school. Susan Minot is another master of short fiction. She also has a voice to envy and writes and revises with some sort of crazy genius.

6. Cathedral 
by Raymond Carver
Short Stories
Ray Carver writes about ordinary people doing every day things, but somehow makes it interesting. I can't get his story, "A Small, Good Thing" out of my head. Carver successfully folds stories into stories with his own unique style. His narrator always has a clear point of view that pulls the reader in. 

7. After the Dam
by Amy Hassinger
Novel
Amy is one of the mentors in the MFA program. She is actually one of the first people I met at residency and she has this calm, welcoming aura about her. Right after residency, her third book came out and I went to see her read at UNO. There was a busload of high school students and Amy read a sex scene and they giggled and guffawed and it was an experience I was glad to have had.  Her book follows a young mother who, like in The Mermaid Chair, returns to a place where she grew up. I guess I like these kind of books because I can relate.

8. Lift
by Kelly Corrigan
Toilet book
I'm calling this a toilet book because I don't know what they're called. It's one of those small books that can be read through really quickly. You find them suggested as stocking stuffers and see them on coffee tables. Any way, everyone knows I love Kelly Corrigan (I even fan-mailed her this year and she wrote me back. My love grew). I realized she had a book I hadn't read and instantly ordered it. This book is written as a letter to her daughters. I would suggest it to any mother. 

9. Why Won't You Talk to Me?
by Richard Duggin
Short Stories
I have a bias on this one. Richard was my mentor my first semester in the MFA program. Additionally, he is the reason the MFA program exists. He has been a professor for fifty years. He is a wealth of knowledge and helped me as a writer immensely. He is also an accomplished writer His stories about loves that were lost or given up on remind me what I write to understand, ultimately: human emotion. 

10. The Color Purple
by Alice Walker
Novel
I have no idea how I made it to 33 without reading this book. If you haven't read it, what are you doing reading my blog? Pick this up. Read it. Cry. Laugh. Remember how a book can transport you and illuminate you and make you feel. 

I have a long list of books to read for school in 2017. Books are multiplying around here, like rabbits.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

2016 in review


 Brandon can sit through the movies. But we've learned better than to take Holden. 
I register for a marathon. I begin training.
 We go sledding for the first time.
 During winters around here, we read a lot of books. 
 
Holden turns two. 
 
Brandon turns four.
Kylie and Khloe have moved back here from Hawaii. 
I run a half marathon, my tune-up race.
 
The boys are still best friends.
 Brandon makes me laugh.
 We play outside. All the time. 
I sort through clothes and toys for weeks for a garage sale. 
Brandon helps. 
I travel to Washington and run my first (and last?) marathon with my older brother and younger sister.
 My boys welcome me home.
 They play with their best friends.
 And catch fireflies.
 In July, I start school. This means a 10-day residency, so I'm away from my boys again. But I make great friends.
 In August, Steve and I celebrate our 10-year anniversary by traveling to NYC. Then Aunt Amber comes to visit us and tells Brandon and Holden they will have a new cousin in 2017.
 In September, Brandon starts pre-school. After a couple days, he loves it.
 My friends from school come visit me for a weekend. Writers are an odd bunch.
 As soon as it opens, we go to the pumpkin patch all the time.
 Or sometimes other places.
 They become even better friends.
 We make our own Halloween costumes. Brandon is Charlie Brown, Holden is Linus. They are obsessed with watching Peanuts movies.
 Holden takes up a new habit of sleeping in my bed next to me each night. I'm not complaining.
 We travel to Washington for Christmas. Brandon and Mila are reunited.
 But all four of them get along, most of the time. It's the Christmas of Shopkins.
 Then, I went back to school for my second residency.

Ready to start 2017 off right. I plan to finish my novel and not train for a marathon this year.

Monday, January 2, 2017

not so lone dreamer

To be in this place full of writers, this literary community, is what I have craved since graduating college. Eleven years it took to weave my way through a labyrinth of what wasn't me to return to where I started: writing and sharing with other literary people, other people whose lives revolve around something other than TV or obsessing about white-collar jobs.

There is nothing wrong with people who are nothing like me. The world wouldn't exist without them. We need people to build roads and write proposals and make deals to keep society afloat. We need people of all different types to keep all these balls in the air.

But fuck, it feels good to know I'm not alone.

I am always the lone dreamer, wherever I go. Or maybe just the only one who admits aloud that I have dreams outside of the space I currently occupy. I am the one who doesn't care enough about jobs to hold one down, the person who takes books to the children's museum rather than interacting with other moms, that person who would rather be alone than surrounded.

But I've learned that it is important to have people who understand me, people who share this part of me because it is also a part of them. It is comforting to belong to something rather than always existing as an outsider.

I've also learned that just as the world couldn't exist without the deal closers and the shop owners and the farmers, the world couldn't exist without us oddball dreamers. The creative types with their heads in the clouds. Us who make art to document, to imagine, to ask questions and seek answers.

I am glad to have found my tribe. I am no longer the lone dreamer. I am not a weirdo for wanting something so badly that I will spend hours and days and months and years working toward it. I am a writer. It's not odd anymore, once I am among others. And I don't want to be alone rather than surrounded anymore, not now that I am surrounded by people who understand me.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

buoyancy

I am good at piling on, but not at unpacking. I give myself things to do: chores, school, work, parenting. It accumulates on top of me, the pack mule who is never unpacked.

But last week I read the word, "buoyancy" and I thought, that's what I'm missing. I am always treading water, never lying on my back and floating. So I decided to unpack a little. I started with a bath bomb and a book. Then I scheduled a massage.

The masseuse said, "you sure are tight" when working my shoulders and I thought, work it out. All of 2016. All of the work I did and the stress I had. All of the worry and the anxiety. Knead it out of me. 

In 2017, I will not begin to sink. I can not do that again: gasp for air and struggle to breathe. I can not feel the heavy darkness washing over me, into me, through me again. I will swim toward the light and when I find it, I will stay there.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

pain and cookies

When I dropped Brandon off at preschool, he clung to my leg, tears in his eyes like it was his first day again. He loves preschool and always says, "bye mom!" with something like enthusiasm. But today was different.

"Sit here, next to Ryan," I said. But then a redheaded boy sat next to Brandon's friend Ryan instead. "Sit by him," I said, as if one person was as good as another.
"But he's mean to me!" Brandon wailed.
I wanted to demand to know what this redhead did to my sensitive boy. I wanted to track down the mother and have a word or two. But I acted calm and Brandon's teacher helped wrench Brandon off of me.

"I'll be back soon," I promised. Then I came home with Holden, to stew over what could have happened to my boy. Because when something happens to your child, you feel it just as intensely, maybe more so.

Once preschool ended, I picked up Brandon and got the story. On Friday, the redhead and Brandon were in the bathroom and the redhead punched Brandon in the belly and didn't say he was sorry. Brandon said this boy isn't mean to anyone else, only to Brandon.

And I felt a pang like pain in knowing that Brandon has learned that the world is not always kind. That he will have to fight, even though he doesn't want to. That right and wrong are always at war. That people punch each other and say awful things and purposefully hurt one another.

But I brought him home, where he is sheltered from all of that and we made Christmas cookies and despite what he went through this morning, he said, "this is the best day of the year!"

Although I can't keep them from the evil, I can remind them of the good.

Friday, December 9, 2016

small efforts

So much in the habit of sewing something I stitch up a bunch of scraps, try to see what I can make. 
~from "The Color Purple" by Alice Walker

I don't watch a lot of TV, but one of the few shows I do watch is Project Runway. I watch it while I run on the treadmill, constantly marveling at the parallels between designing clothes and writing. We are each being creative, using our imaginations to create something for someone else to enjoy.

I am getting in the habit now of writing, thanks to grad school forcing it upon me. When I'm about to fall asleep, I think about what I am going to write next and when I wake up, I plan when I will sit down to write. It is becoming the habit that running was before. It could be a journal entry or a blog or revising something I wrote this semester or working on my novel, but I am writing and I am feeling good.

My sister sent me a "writer's box" last month which was full of writing inspiration: blank books to be filled and pencils and books. I cried while I marveled at each object she had included, knowing me and what I would like; spending so much time and effort to make it personal. She hand lettered on every page of a journal a quote to inspire me.

One is: "Success is the sum of small efforts - repeated day in and day out" (Robert Collier). Right now, Steve and I are cleansing again and I am shedding weight quickly because day in and day out I am disciplined. Small efforts, whether walking for ten minutes or not eating a cookie or writing until I'm proud of something or avoiding my phone at bed time are accumulating to make me feel purposeful.

Monday, November 28, 2016

gerunds

That time of motherhood is almost behind me when the ear is not one's own but must always be racked and listening for the child cry, the child call. ~from "I Stand Here Ironing" by Tillie Olsen

I know this sounds terrible, but it's honest: I'm looking forward to what comes next: the part of parenting when my kids clean up after themselves and help with chores and put themselves to bed and can put toothpaste on their toothbrushes and pull on their own pants and pour a bowl of cereal and even use the remote. I am looking forward to being needed less. I think what a lot of women love about motherhood is constantly being needed, but honestly it's what I like least. I love being loved, but not being needed.

The startling part of motherhood was that I was the one being depended on all of a sudden. I was no longer being doted on or looked out for. Now it was my responsibility to do that for other helpless people. Me, helpless myself, helping others! People depending on me! It was a lot--still is: today I forced medicine down Holden's throat and gave him a haircut as he screamed and cried and kicked and punched. Adjustment is not the word because it's so opposite of what I was used to that it wasn't like adjusting at all. It was like starting over, reinventing myself to be what someone else needed.

Some days, I can not believe that I'm not a child, but that I have children. I still remember many scenes of childhood with such clarity it's like I'm there. I remember the emotions with the same intensity. Sometimes I will smell strawberries and cream and remember a dollhouse of this girl I used to play with or I will walk into someone's house and the layout will be the exact same as a girl on my street. When I see one of those battery-operated cars for toddlers I think of this time when I rode on one, trying to outrace these dogs I was vehemently afraid of. Cozy coupes still make me think of Sarah Beth next door, even though my son has had one for years, that is not what I think of. I am a child still: just a grown, but not grown-up one.

I am the one now who acts, rather than the one the acts are done for. I am no longer the receiver, but now am the giver. I am cooking, cleaning, wiping, bathing, reading, organizing, gifting, driving, rocking, holding, nagging. I am all the gerunds, the ones people need. Today I am needing a warm bath and a hot bowl of soup and some apple cider and some ice cream and someone to tell me to "take a load off, go lay down"  or even, "you look terrible, do you feel okay?" but that isn't the way it is for parents. We do and we do and we do and if we ever don't we feel guilty and beat ourselves up and make ourselves even more haggard and run-down.

So I will clean the kitchen now and finish my Cyber Monday shopping and be what is expected of me because I am a parent now, not a kid. But it smells like strawberries and cream and I am thinking of a dollhouse or maybe it's Avon bubble bath, the kind I would use if I was a kid and I was sick and I needed a warm bath. This time of motherhood is almost behind me, and that gives me hope of a time where I'm not needed so much, but still loved with intensity. A time of baths and clean kitchens and not listening for someone to call out and need me.  I will slip back into who I was like a coat I just misplaced for a spell and I will take a long whiff of mothballs and smile.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

morning after

A few weeks ago at the pumpkin patch, we went on the big slide. We had just bought pumpkin cups and could not take them with us so Brandon said, "what will we do with these?" and I told him we would put them in the corner by the fence while we slid. "But what if someone takes them?" he asked, because although he's half my DNA, he's also half Steve's.

"Sometimes you have to believe in the good in people," I replied.
Reluctantly he left his new cup in the corner by the fence and then we slid down the slide over and over again. And when it was time to leave he said, "my new cup!" and he went to retrieve it, and there it was, exactly where we had left it.
"See?" I said. "People are good. You have to remember to trust in that."

That's what I thought of this morning when I woke up and Brandon was in my bed and I explained with tears in my eyes that Clinton didn't win. Although some people are bad, many, many people are good. We have to remember to trust in that.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

making history

We woke up early today, dressed, and hit the polls. Steve and I with our two little boys in tow: the boys whose America we were shaping with our votes. I was not a voter until this election, but I recently registered, to be a part of history, to one day tell my children that I voted for our first woman president.

I turned on MSNBC tonight to watch the election results. We watched together as Brian Williams co-anchored with Rachel Maddow, not because she's the token blond reporter but because she is informed and intelligent and deserved the spot. "Clinton! Clinton!" The boys chanted while dancing and spinning. I held Brandon by the shoulders and explained to him why this was so important: how this is the first time in America's history that a woman could become our leader. And I couldn't help the tears that formed in my eyes because women are emotional, it's true, and because politics, like business, are personal, despite what we say.

Although Brandon doesn't understand glass ceilings or that there are people treated as if they're less significant than others, he will one day and when that day comes, I will tell him about how when I was pregnant with him, my employer picked my successor without my help: a male without the relevant experience I had who was hired in at $15K more than I was, a male who on the first day told me he was my new boss and made me feel like nothing.

And I'll tell him about when I got pregnant the next time, with his little brother: how I was working for a different employer and when this chauvinist man who once told me not to hire women because they were emotional or fat people because they were undisciplined heard that I was pregnant, his response was, "post your job."

I'll tell him that I worked in HR and saw all sorts of decisions made that were sexist or racist or bigotted and I would lie in bed at night, unable to sleep or sleeping fitfully, thinking of how unjust it was, even in my dreams.

I will tell him that this election wasn't just about equality between men and women, but also between immigrants and residents and blacks and whites and gays and straights and all sorts of dividing labels we have assigned that shouldn't be important. I will tell my son that one November night in 2016, him and his little brother and I rooted for Clinton and I knew he meant it because he is like me, despite his gender. He is an emotional boy who loves people most of all, and doesn't care that they're different  or if they're similar, either way we are people who deserve to be treated as such: with fairness and without prejudice.

I knew it because never once did he say, "but she's a girl!"

Friday, November 4, 2016

that thirty-something waitress

I am waitressing again, like I did during my undergrad. School means waitressing. It's part-time and I can work nights instead of early mornings like I did at the coffee shop. I am not a morning person. I am not a night person either really. I like 10 a.m.-4 p.m. The rest of the hours I am pretty useless.

A decade has passed since I waited tables and times have changed and I have changed and it is harder now. I have kids at home now that I am missing reading to. People are more skeptical and write Yelp reviews now. You can Google the price of a bottle of wine from your table now. I have run a marathon and put my body through the paces now. I am a hardened mother. I don't get out and talk to the public often so my dialogue is forced, trite.

I am polite because of my raise, but snarky because of my personality. I try to be customer-servicey, but my bite comes in any way. I hate pop now and don't want to refill it more than twice. Don't you know how much sugar that is? In the back of the house, the other servers have cliques that I'm not a part of, inside jokes, complaints about us new people taking their hours or doing our side work wrong or asking questions or not asking questions.

But a job like this--a little one that does not take all my hours from me--allows me to keep writing. It keeps me out of the corporate world, keeps me in the artistic one. My kids don't go to daycare and Brandon is awake to say, "bye!" a hundred times from the driveway when I leave. It's OK. It's a season in my life. I will manage.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

11.3.2016

Brandon Jude, I want to save this day, remember it one day later on.
Not because today is special, but because it's like every other. These will be the days you forget, the blank spots in your memory because they felt mundane. But I want to remember these ordinary days when I was proud of you and loved you not because of an achievement or something you did, but because of who you are: A boy who loves and trusts everyone, who makes me smile, makes me laugh and offers to find my missing keys for me. The boy who thinks flies are called freaking flies because that's what dad says. My boy who calls "All About That Bass" his song and sings every word. My boy who sings and dances and draws. My boy who has the very best traits of me and his father: our artistic, caring, emotional ones. My boy who protects and teaches his little brother, despite the abuse he takes from him. My boy who I overheard telling Asher yesterday, "my mom is my best friend, but you're my very best friend." You want to make us all happy and so far you're doing a hell of a job.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

pause

Today is deadline day and I need to finish this short story and my cover letter and send off this packet to be critiqued. But I read something that made me pause. And I thought, I should put this on my blog. Because once upon a time I planned on this blog being a place to pause: a place for me to put the things that made me think, a place to write out what I was thinking about. Life goes on and on and on, but what I write about stays, like a program from a play that never gets tossed out. I need to pause more because if I don't, I won't be so changed as I could have been.

So today, here is what made me pause and nod and smile:

I ONCE DATED A WRITER AND
Writers are forgetful,
but they remember everything. 
They forget appointments and anniversaries, 
but remember what you wore,
how you smelled, 
on your first date...
They remember every story you've ever told them
like ever,
but forget what you've just said.
They don't remember to water the plants
or take out the trash,
but they don't forget how
to make you laugh. 

Writers are forgetful
because 
they're busy
remembering
the important things.

So maybe some of what I wrote about being anxious is just a part of being a writer. And the rest of it is because I'm neurotic, no doubt.

And also, while I'm writing about pauses and writing as a pause, a preservation, I'm going to add something I read from Kelly Corrigan, one of my favorite writers:

I heard once that the average person barely knows ten stories from childhood and those are based more on photographs and retellings than memory. So even with all the videos we take, the two boxes of snapshots under my desk, and the 1,276 photos in folders on the computer, you'll be lucky to end up with a dozen stories. You won't remember how it started with us, the things that I know about you that you don't even know about yourselves. We won't come back here. 

You'll remember middle school and high school, but you'll have changed by then. You changing will make me change. That means you won't ever know me as I am right now--the mother I am tonight and tomorrow, the mother I've been for the last eight years, every bath and book and birthday party, gone. It won't hit you that you're missing this chapter of our story until you see me push your child on a swing or untangle his jump rope or wave a bee away from his head and think, is this what she was like with me? (from her book, "Lift")

So pause. That's what I'll do. And then, like now, I'll resume what I was doing, where I was going, my to do list, my reading list, my chores. I will gather and gather and then I will sit down and pause again, to write about what I've picked up along my way.

Friday, October 14, 2016

distance

One day, I hope to write a memoir about being a birth mother. One day, when I have enough narrative distance and perspective, if that day ever comes for me. In the mean time though, I blog occasionally about it, when I can find a way to shape words into something like what I feel.

I heard once that an artist is a person who can translate what is in her brain into something tangible. A person who can take what she feels or imagines and share it for other people to feel and see too. That is the hard part: the creating. That is the part that differentiates the artist: the ability to do thatthe very hard work of getting thoughts onto a canvas or paper. The artist who sketches and the writer who writes are determined, dedicated people. It takes so much practice and work to get it right, or close enough to right that people will understand it. So for now, I am practicing.

Five years ago, I wrote about Mother's DayA few weeks ago, I went to a baby shower for my college roommate. I hadn't seen her in quite some time and she was one of the few people who didn't make the situation awkward; she asked me how I felt. It was the first time I said the words out loud, because it was the first time anyone had honestly asked; I said, "each year it hurts a little less." And once I said it, I knew that's how I had been feeling. 

Then today, I read this by Tobias Wolff: ...how do you forgive yourself? You don't, really. Yet one day the weight is lighter, and the next lighter still, and then you barely know it's there, if it's there at all (from his short story "Deep Kiss"). I thought, damn, that's good. Here is an artist. Here is a man who can write what other people feel. Because he wrote about something completely unrelated to being a birth mother, but I felt what he meant from my own experience.

I'm aiming for narrative distance and perspective. But in the meantime, I'll write, even without it.