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Friday, November 30, 2007

nora bella

Now D. and Stella and I all have colds. We’re sick and snotty and coughing—my lungs and throat feel raw—and Stella has a wicked fever. When I was awake coughing from 1:30 to 4 this morning, I seriously considered a big shot of NyQuil. (I have a will of steel, so I was able to restrain myself.)

To make this all more enjoyable, a drain pipe in our basement broke on Wednesday and we’re getting the run-around from the plumbers, so we haven’t been able to let water down the drains (imagine what my kitchen looks like, dishes piled upon dishes piled upon countertops) or shower (imagine how grungy I look and feel--or rather, don't imagine it). I’ll go to my dad’s and shower shortly, I promise.

The good news is that I’m now 26 weeks pregnant, which means the baby has an 80% chance of survival and only a 25% of a long-term disability. I saw my doc a few days ago and my blood pressure was “beautiful,” and there is no sign of swelling. I’ll see her again in two weeks and hope for the same report.

But what I really want to tell you about this morning is nora bella, a wonderful collection of hand-made clothes and gifts for babies and kids. I got my MFA with Andria, who owns nora bella, and I knew she was a talented writer, but I had no idea that she was also a rock star of an entrepreneur. You *must* check out these wonderful, crafty gifts. I know Stella would die for one of the dress-up tutus, and I might have to splurge on some fancy burp cloths and some of Andria's too-cool onesies for the new baby.

The wonderful thing about nora bella is that everything is hand-crafted by artist moms. In this age of everything-made-in-China, it’s such a relief to know who is making the stuff you buy. And it looks great. So don’t wait any longer—go buy some crafty baby and kids things at nora bella. Rock on, Andria.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

struggling with structure

No luck on Thanksgiving not gorging myself. In fact, I ate excessively all weekend. And now I have a horrible cold. (Not that these two things are related. I only wanted to point out that I’ve been uncomfortable—in slightly different ways—for many days now. With Sudafed off limits I’d actually go so far to say I’m now miserable.)

But enough complaining. On to more important things:

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how successful essays are structured. I’d like to cull a couple of essays from my manuscript, but it’s such a daunting task—cutting and rearranging in an attempt to boil down 300 pages into manageable essays. I know writers who do this regularly, but it seems to be a skill I lack. How does one do it? If I had begun with essays and turned them into a book would it be easier? Or would it simply be a different struggle?

Yesterday in class we talked about structure, and I had my students read two essays: “Moonrise” by Penny Wolfson, about which I’ve already posted, and “The Sound and the Worry” by Suzanne Kamata. One of the reasons I chose these two essays was because both have taken large events that covered years and condensed them into manageable essays. “The Sound and the Worry,” published in the Summer 2004 issue of Brain, Child, is about Kamata’s daughter’s deafness (due to being born 14 weeks premature) and Kamata’s desire for her to have sound and, ultimately, find happiness. Now I know some of Kamata’s story and have referenced other essays and stories she’s written about her twins’ birth at 26 weeks. I know it’s a huge story, so what impresses me so much about “The Sound and the Worry” is Kamata’s ability to focus in on one strand of the story—her daughter Lilia’s deafness—and follow that through without getting distracted by everything else that I know was going on at that time. So impressive.

Wolfson does a similar thing in “Moonrise,” an essay about trying to come to terms with the inevitable end of her son’s life due to Duchene, a form of muscular dystrophy. It’s an essay about her son growing up and deteriorating all at once, about the fragility of life and at the same time about finding the beauty in life, even when it is fragile and finite. She is able to contain sixteen years of her son’s life in mere pages, and it blows me away every time I read it. Wolfson also has a memoir by the same name, which of course I need (and want) to read. Maybe it would help me see how one pulls an essay from a book. (Of course I don’t know if she wrote the book first and then the essay or vice versa. Maybe it doesn’t matter.)

You can’t access either of these essays online, but if you go to Brain, Child’s archives, you can order the Summer 2004 issue for “The Sound and the Worry.” You can find “Moonrise” in Best American Essays of 2002. (I guess you can access "Moonrise" online here if you are an Atlantic Monthly subscriber.) I’m also going to order Wolfson’s memoir, because I obviously need some help.

Also know that Suzanne Kamata’s first novel, Losing Kei is forthcoming in January. I’ll post about it then.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving. We’re doing double-duty, as we always do—first to D.’s sister’s house and then to my mom’s house. It’s a lot of food for one day, and each year I plan to eat only a little bit at D.’s sister’s. Why must I gorge myself when I know I will have to do it all over again in mere hours? But each year, I eat too much, loll around while Stella plays with her cousins, and then eat more when stomach space permits. It’s a disgusting ritual, but I can’t seem to help myself. Today probably will be no different, but it might be. I’ve started getting heartburn from, you know, having my stomach crushed into my lungs. And when I stuff myself, the acids migrate upward with great enthusiasm. So today maybe I’ll eat in shifts: first turnkey, then potatoes (which ordinarily are not my favorite thing, but which I’m loving these days), then pie. I’ll let you know how it goes.

When Stella wakes up (hopefully not for a couple of hours because I’d like to read more of Suite Française, which I’m half-way through and LOVING), maybe we’ll all go for a (slow) walk to the coffee shop. That sounds so heavenly, so family, to me. There doesn’t ever seem to be time for us all to be together. On weekends, I always have work to do—freelance or teaching stuff—and I often end up at the coffee shop while D. and Stella go to the park. I’m so tired of this schedule. I’d love to have writing and teaching be my work and be able to fit that work into weekday hours. Is it so crazy to imagine not working in the evening or on the weekends? I suppose I would actually need to make a serious income from my writing and teaching in order to make this a reality. Sigh. Someday, maybe.

For the next couple of days, though, I’m going to pretend I have a regular, 40-hour-a-week job, and that I’m on vacation. I’m going to try not to do any work, at all. I’ll let you know how that goes, as well.

I hope you can also enjoy some time this weekend without work. And travel safely if you are traveling. Bon appetit!

Friday, November 16, 2007


I am twenty-four weeks pregnant today, which means that I’m carrying a viable fetus.

When we were contemplating a second pregnancy, and shortly after I became pregnant, I thought that these weeks—24 to 28—would be the most difficult for me. A baby born earlier than 23 weeks has virtually no chance of survival, but 24-weekers have a 25% chance of survival. A 25% chance of survival after four or five months in intensive care, after months on ventilators, after umbilical catheters and IVs in their heads and arms, after feeding tubes taped to their faces, after complications that you only learn about if you are forced to live through them.

Many 24-weekers end up with intraventricular hemorrhages (IVH) because the pressure of the ventilators can burst the fragile capillaries in their brains. This, in turn, can affect motor and mental development as well as cause blindness, deafness and seizures. Even preemies born later, between 30-35 weeks, are at higher risk for sensory integration and learning problems.

With all that I know about what can happen to babies born between 24 and 28 weeks, I thought I’d be terrified when I reached this point in the pregnancy. But strangely, I’m not. Oh, I’m still being careful, watching myself for swelling, and trying to rest (this week unsuccessfully). But I actually breathed a sigh of relief when I woke up this morning and knew I was caring a viable fetus. I have been holding my breath for the last ten weeks, since the morning I woke up in a pool of blood, and now I’m carrying a fetus that has a 25% chance of surviving outside my womb.

Don’t get me wrong—I want the whole nine months. One of my co-workers was due a few days ago and she has just been waiting, wondering when labor would begin, and I thought: oh, right, that’s how most people do this thing. They go nine months and then labor starts and they have their babies. It was as if I was thinking about birth for the first time.

But I don’t want to get ahead of myself. I’m still waiting to see what happens. I’m still vigilant. But if I make it past 32 weeks, I'll maybe even ask my doc about a vaginal delivery. For now, though, I know that every week—nay, every day—that passes gives the baby girl inside me a better chance at survival, a better chance at being born healthy. For now, I’ll hang onto that.

Note: I’ve already posted about some of the risks of prematurity, but it’s worth mentioning again, especially because November is Prematurity Awareness Month.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

mothertalk blog tour: the daring book for girls

In May, I participated in MotherTalk’s blog bonanza for Conn and Hal Iggulden’s The Dangerous Book for Boys. Now, I hadn’t actually read the book—I’m not a boy and I don’t have a boy, which of course you all know—but I was inspired by MotherTalk’s prompts: recall your own childhoods and describe some of the dangerous or daring things you did, describe how your own kids’ lives are different, etc. One of their questions was what would a dangerous book for girls look like? Miriam Peskowitz and Andrea Buchanan clearly saw the need for such a book, and in Peskowitz’s own blog posts from that week, she focused on the ways in which her daughter was becoming daring.

Well, Peskowitz and Buchanan signed a contract with HarperCollins at the end of May and now, a mere five months later, their book is on the shelves of bookstores across the county. Five months, people. That’s crazy talk. This, of course, makes me feel slightly pathetic about my recent I’m-not-writing-so-cry-me-a-river posts, but I’ll put those feelings aside for a moment so I can focus on their book, which clearly rocks. (I do suppose there is nothing like a book contract to light a fire under one’s ass.)

The Daring Book for Girls is a manual, a how-to for hundreds of activities and games in which girls have participated (or not participated) over the centuries and across the world. But it’s more than a manual; it’s an inspiration. Peppered throughout the book are sections about women throughout history: ancient queens, women in the Olympics, women inventors and scientists, and female pirates, to name just a few. I either did not know much of this information—who knew that Julia Child had been a spy prior to her cooking fame?—or I learned it at one point and promptly forgot it. How could I forget that Queen Boudica, the Celt, rose up against the Romans in Britain, burning city after city in an attempt to purge her country of oppression?

Over the last week, I’ve dreamt of Artemisia and Cleopatra, women battling on the high seas. I’ve dreamt of Queen Salome of Judea, keeping peace while the nations around her fell into destruction. I’ve dreamt of worlds in which women were seen as leaders and respected as such.

How disheartening that this week I was also reading about how young women writers in America struggle to find their voices, struggle to trust their authority, and are afraid to be "too sure of themselves" for fear of being punished by society. For a local meeting of women in journalism, I also read a recent “Media Report to Women,” which reports that women are just 14% of the guests on Sunday morning public affairs programs; that women in Congress receive fewer articles, mentions, and quotes in newspapers than their male counterparts; that although women have been the majority of college journalism majors since 1977, male-to-female byline ratios (in an analysis of magazines published 2003-2005) range from 13-1 at The National Review to 7-1 at Harper’s to 2-1 at The Columbia Journalism Review.

There are some women (and certainly many men) who are afraid of the word 'feminism.' It seems to bring to mind images of butch women who hate men joining forces of estrogen power to conquer the world and make men obsolete. But isn’t feminism really about acknowledging the power and ability of all women, and making sure that we have the same opportunities (and receive the same respect and pay) as men?

One of the things I love about The Daring Book is that it acknowledges the abilities and interests and achievements of girls and women today and of women throughout history. It’s not overtly feminist (the way I can, on occasion, be), but inherent in each of these pages is what feminism, to me, is all about.

Don’t we all hope that our daughters will step out and embrace the world, that they will face challenges and meet them, that they will believe in themselves? I want Stella (and her soon-to-be little sister) to feel secure in their skin, to be strong and confident. I want them to be happy.

The Daring Book can help girls (and their mothers) be these things. It’s filled with hours and hours of outdoor and indoor activities, backed up with history and the idea that all girls can accomplish what they set their minds to. On page one, there is an outline of the essential gear that all daring girls should have. #12 is patience: “It’s a quality and not a thing, but it’s essential so we’ll include it here. Forget perfect on the first try. In the face of frustration, your best tool is a few deep breaths, and remembering that you can do anything once you’ve practiced two hundred times. Seriously.”

How often did I not try something new because I didn’t think I could do it? How often did I fail to push myself to keep trying, keep going after I had failed at something? I could have used #12 as a girl, and I can use it now. I won’t forget to remind Stella of its importance.

Mothers and daughters alike will love this book. Some parts are, for now, too advanced for Stella, but there are pages I’m going to Xerox and put in the kitchen—you’ll know what I mean when you read it—and other pages I’ll go back to again and again.

And really, how could a book that spells out how to make a clock run on the juice of two lemons not rock? I’m glad I have a hard-cover copy of the book because I know it will get dragged through the house and generally beaten up over the next ten or fifteen years. It’s going to need to last.

Check this book out, and read what other bloggers have to say about the book at MotherTalk!

Friday, November 2, 2007

when I'm not writing

I was tagged by kyra at this mom with this writing meme almost a month ago, and I’ve been avoiding doing it. I am supposed to identify five writing strengths and list them here, but I find it so difficult to identify my strengths as a writer when I haven’t actually been writing.

Before Stella was born, I was a writer who didn’t write much. I was getting my MFA, so of course I would turn in stories and essays for my classes, but I let the long hours of summer slip away from me, doing nothing. It makes me feel a little sick to think of all those responsibility-free hours I senselessly squandered. What was I doing? Sitting in front of the computer? Reading? Waiting for inspiration? How silly.

It was only after Stella was born and I couldn’t read or write for months that I really started to write. Then, when I had two hours away from her, I went to the coffee shop and vomited onto the computer. I never waited for inspiration. I had a story to tell and I had to get it down. (It helped, of course, that in a few months I would have to return to the U with a thesis in hand. It was no time to procrastinate.)

In the following two years, I experienced a few dry months of no writing. Maybe I was teaching or busy with a freelance project. I took three months off when I was fifty pages away from a full draft of my book because I was lost. I wasn’t convinced I had a narrative arc. I didn’t know how to approach two difficult scenes in the book. I didn’t know where the book ended.

After the time away, though, I knew what to do, and I wrote like crazy for four months until I completed a full draft.

I love it when, right before bed or in the middle of the night, a thought comes to me: a way out of a narrative problem or a paragraph that sets the tone in a difficult chapter. That moment of excitement—yes, of course, why didn’t I think of this earlier—is my favorite part of being a writer. And I miss that feeling when I’m not writing. I'm a little less alive. But the reality of my life right now is teaching, family, too much work, and an exhaustion so profound that I can’t manage to get up an hour early to write in the morning.

A dream: to have daytime hours three times a week to write and explore and experiment. I’m not going to hold my breath for this, but I thought putting it out there might, in some small way, help.

Maybe focusing on my strengths will also help. It’s worth a try. Here they are:

1. I’m not afraid to tell the truth, to make myself look bad or bitchy (human) if that’s how things went down.

2. I’m willing to say things about motherhood that a lot of people are afraid to say. (You’ll just have to read the book. Some day it will be out in the world. I hope.)

3. I’m not married to anything I write. I’m willing to rewrite and edit and rethink scenes and chapters that aren’t working. (After I thought the book was pretty much done, I went back in and cut chapter 2 and 4 and wrote a new chapter 4 and a new second-to-last chapter. I’m sure I still have more of this to do.)

4. I’m willing to experiment, push myself out of my comfort zone and try something different, even if it flops.

5. I’m always learning—from what other writers say and write and from the world around me.

Okay, that wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. A little self-affirmation. Maybe I should write these on Post-Its and stick them around the house? (Just kidding.)

So, I get to choose five people to tag with this writing meme: K, moonlight ambulette, A, suzanne, and emmie.