My blog has moved! Redirecting...

You should be automatically redirected. If not, visit and update your bookmarks.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

a new look at relaxation

I still think of summer as a season of down time. During the cold winter days I imagine the warmth and green and playing at the park with the girls, and somehow I equate those images with relaxation. But long gone are the days of nothing at all on my calendar, of sitting outside with a book in hand, reading for half the day. Summer with kids—and I seem to be just getting this—is not relaxing. Oh, it’s fun, and it is warm, but it’s busy. Add to this D’s schedule, which is busy from March to October, and, well, you see what I mean. Summer is not relaxing. The other day I said to someone—a barista at the coffee shop or fellow shopper at the co-op, in that Minnesota way—I can’t believe it’s already the end of July! And I had a pang then, feeling like I had not properly enjoyed the summer.

But June was consumed with my not feeling well and that odd ER scare and weaning Zoë, which sapped all my emotional energy. (Sometimes she still pulls at my shirt, then looks up and says, “No?” And the other day, after we had a shower, she made a dive for it, but then we both started laughing—it helps that she has a good sense of humor. But it’s still hard—I’m worried that I will forget what it felt like to grab her up in my arms and tuck her to my body. And I miss being able to pacify her that way, so easy, so instant. But not nursing her is less difficult than it was last week, and much less difficult than it was four weeks ago.)

July has been filled with cabin-trips on the weekends, teaching, editing, and some writing (though not too much). And now on Friday July is done. It’s flown by.

Maybe July has gone so fast because I have had my sights on August. Next week, Zoë will start at the preschool where Stella has gone since she was 16 months. They will both be there two days a week in August, and when Stella starts kindergarten in the fall (albeit only half-day), Zoë will bump up to three days a week. This transition—just another in a long line of them, I know—will be hard for me and hard for her, but it will probably be more difficult for me because she’s been dying to get onto that toddler playground for months.

It will also be amazing for me not to have to fit all of my work into nap-time and after bed-time. It will be amazing to have hours at a time in my wonderful new office. (Thank you for all your good wishes, by the way! I love it!)

I have a freelance article and an editing gig I need to finish up next week, and that will leave the rest of August—six full days (plus my morning writing time when D is in town)—to focus on my own writing (with a little time for an exciting new editing gig that I’ll tell you about soon.) But my writing will be the priority. I’ve lagged off on my revision, partly because I’ve let my morning writing time be consumed by other work, and partly because I began working on a new book proposal. But in August I’m going to refocus on Ready for Air so I can have a chunk to send my agent the first week in September. (Oh, it even felt good to write that. I need those deadlines, too.)

Years ago, I wouldn’t have thought of six full days of writing as heavenly (more like torture). But that was before children, before words became so important to me, before time became so important to me. Perhaps this my new relaxation?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

a room of my own

I have never had an office in our house, a space where I can write and organize and tack up my lists. There was a section of the basement where I used to work on the computer, but I don’t spend time down there anymore because our desktop computer is so old that it freezes when I try to do anything. It’s not even hooked up to the Internet anymore. (And who wants to sit in the basement breathing radon all day?) So a couple of years ago, I took over the dining room. I piled my books and papers and folders on the sideboard. When I ran out of room there, I began to stack my books and papers on the dining room table. I never thought I would do this. I never thought I would become a stacker because my dad is a stacker, and as a teenager, it drove me crazy: “We shouldn’t have to move eighteen piles of papers to sit down and eat dinner, Dad.”

Unfortunately, stacking is genetic.

But what am I to do? If I move a folder or manuscript or book to the basement, I’ll forget about it, and I can’t forget about my teaching or the revision or writing that review. And if these things are out of sight, they will be forgotten. So this is what the sideboard looks like:

This drives D crazy. (It drives me crazy, too, but I do it anyway.) Six months ago, D suggested we convert the pantry off the kitchen into an office for me. We don’t use the space, except for storing pans and kitchen appliances and the microwave. I loved the idea, but in order to do it, we would have to rearrange the kitchen counters (to make room for the microwave) and, more importantly, clean out the basement to make room for everything else from the pantry. Our basement is a disaster. It’s full of the clutter of our lives: tools and reusable gift bags and winter jackets and an obscene number of plastic toys and large bins of Stella’s old clothes, years of my class prep and books and copies and copies of my manuscript. (Seriously, I must have twelve copies of the damn thing from different stages in the writing process.)

Well, last weekend I went up north to my friend Emily’s parents’ cabin with the girls. I was feeling torn about going because D was home and I hate to leave when he’s actually in town. But Emily lives in Colorado, and she’s only in Minnesota for a few weeks, so we both packed up our kids (Emily has two boys) and drove caravan-style to the Iron Range, our children whining and screaming in our respective cars. Most of the weekend was spent trying to make sure Zoë didn’t maul Emily’s youngest, Henry. (I was successful only some of the time. Poor kid.) The rest of the time was spent trying to minimize the competition between our older kids. (I did it first! Mine is bigger! It’s my turn! She took that toy from me!) Emily and our friend Maureen (who accompanied us, and who I’m sure wondered what she had been thinking) had a little time to hang out and talk when the kids were in bed, but not much.

But the trip allowed for something else: on Sunday afternoon, we arrived home to find a clean basement and an absolutely empty pantry! I was beside myself. That night, we went to Ikea and picked out a desk and chair, and now—I can hardly believe it—I have an office, a very tiny room of my own.

Yesterday, I arranged and tossed and arranged. I successfully de-cluttered the sideboard. And though I still have to go through the piles on the dining room table and the piles in the basement (D didn’t know what to do with these), right now I’m basking in my 3 x 3 office.

I can’t tell you how nice it was to sit at my very own desk and work yesterday while Zoë napped. Was I more productive or was it just my imagination? I would work for a bit, then gaze out the window, checking the progress of the bunny hopping across the yard. Then turn back to the computer. Then get up and make tea. Then sit back down to set up interviews for an article I’m working on.

Here it is:

It doesn’t matter that it’s small. It doesn’t matter that it doesn’t have a door. It’s mine.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

a nod to father writers

In preparation for my Writing Parenthood class last Saturday, I thought I should shift my gaze (at least for a few minutes) from motherhood literature to fatherhood literature. I designed Writing Parenthood, after all, because I had received a few (subdued) pleas that I include men in my Mother Words classes. But you see, I can’t do that. Stories by men about fatherhood don’t seem to be clumped together (and discarded) in the same way that women’s stories about motherhood routinely are. Men are often applauded for writing about parenthood, while women doing the same literary work are met with a shrug. So while there *is* quality writing out there about fatherhood, I generally do not read it, and I reserve Mother Words for mothers alone.

But then I had this class coming up, and I knew I needed to include some male voices, so I reviewed essays I’d read before (some of my favorites: Philip Lopate’s “Delivering Lily” and Scott Russell Sanders’ “Beauty”) and I went out and bought the new anthology The Book of Dads: Essays on the Joys, Perils, and Humiliations of Fatherhood, edited by Ben George, which is full of literary super-stars, writers like Charles Baxter, Richard Bausch, and Nick Flynn.

I adore Charles Baxter, as you know, so I read his essay, “The Chaos Machine,” first. It’s about Baxter’s trip to pick up his son, Daniel, at college, and woven in is the story of Baxter becoming a father, the insecurity and struggle of trying to navigate fatherhood without a role model. (His own father died when he was eighteen months old.) This essay contains everything that I love about Charles Baxter—wry sense of humor, self-deprecation, stellar characters—and Daniel himself has added footnotes, commenting on his father’s narration, making corrections when the elder Baxter takes liberties or goes astray. (You can read the very beginning of the essay here.) I loved it. And overall, this is a really wonderful collection of essays. (Seriously, Richard Bausch? What’s not to love?)

So I opened my arms to father writers, organized my thoughts, planned my class, and then, wouldn’t you know, I showed up on Saturday and THERE WERE NO MEN! I wasn’t terribly surprised, and really, it didn’t bother me. Convened was a wonderful group of mother writers—smart, thoughtful, interested women—and it was so fun to be a classroom again.

Because I’ve been teaching online so much lately, I had forgotten (well, almost) how energizing it is to share a physical space with a group of women interested in the same things. I love teaching online, as well, but I do miss the spark of a classroom. I miss watching people’s faces. I miss the back-and-forth, the way one question builds on another.

And despite the fact there were no fathers in the class, I’m glad I read The Book of Dads. It would make the perfect gift for the literary dads in your life.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

writing parenthood

I wanted to let you all know that there are still a few spots in my Saturday Writing Parenthood class at the Loft.

Where: Open Book, Minneapolis

When: 9 am - 1 pm, Saturday July 11

Why: It will be fun

For more information or to register, visit The Loft. It's for moms and dads, so feel free to pass the information on to all the local dads you know!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

change of scene

I spent the weekend at my mom’s cabin up north (which is what we natives say when we’re talking about Northern Minnesota.) The weather was perfect: sunny and warm during the day, cool in the evening. Stella played and argued and played with her cousin, and Zoë played in the sand and ate the moldy bread intended for the sunfish. It wasn’t relaxing in the way that, pre-children, I would lie on the dock and read all afternoon, but still, there were moments of relaxation, and more than anything, it was a needed change of scene.

I didn’t check e-mail or my cell-phone for messages even once. And I was able to read most of a novel--a non-motherhood, non-reviewing novel. It’s been a while since I’ve done this, and I couldn’t have picked a better book: Pat Barker’s The Ghost Road, the third novel in her Regeneration trilogy. These novels are based on the real-life experiences of British army officers who were treated for shell shock during World War I at Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh. I’m reading the book for my book club, otherwise I probably would have begun with the first in the trilogy, and indeed, I find myself floundering a little in spots, knowing I’m not getting the full story on the characters. But still, the book stands on its own, and indeed, it won the Booker Prize in 1995.

Sometimes I become so consumed by my daily life and the juggling act of work and family (and weaning) that I lose sight of my place in history. I lose sight of the expanse of human experience. Pat Barker is an expert in capturing the complexity of human experience. Her characters in this trilogy are based on real people, true, but she brings them to life for us. The pause, the uncertainty, the lust and love, shame and confusion—it’s all there, and it’s there in the smallest gestures, in word choice, in the way a gaze lingers too long.

This book (though it is a novel) reminds me of why memoir and strong characters must go hand in hand. I’ve had more than one person ask me why I was teaching character development in a memoir class. (I’m serious.) There is an assumption that because the people in a work of creative nonfiction really exist, there is no need to be concerned about character development. But nonfiction writers need to write believable and three-dimensional characters precisely BECAUSE these characters are real people. It’s a way of honoring them. And this is exactly what Barker does: she honors these men by making them real for us on the page.

Go get this book. Hell, get the whole trilogy. She’s that good.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


First, I want to thank everyone who weighed in on last week’s post about weaning. One of the great things about blogs is their potential to start and sustain a real discussion. And of course the challenge with an online discussion is to keep it from turning into a “fight.” Breastfeeding is such a hot-button issue for so many people, and I really want to thank you for not letting the discussion turn into a yelling match. I do realize that my sensitivity about weaning emerged a bit, and that probably hurt my facilitation skills. Ah well...

It’s been a challenging week for me. I’m craving prolactindoesn’t that stuff come in a bottle?—and I’m really missing my cozy time with Zoë and the way nursing calmed her.

All of this (plus the health scare I had a couple of weeks ago) has made me very tense. I developed these ridiculous knots in my back last week, knots so tight that my arms began to tingle and my chest felt heavy. But instead of realizing the tingling was a result of this tension, I became convinced that I had a serious underlying health issue. (This is what happens when you combine an active imagination and a worrying nature with hypochondriac tendencies.)

So I spent a week brooding and worrying and feeling generally low. I sat and stared at my computer, working over the same sentence again and again, struggling with the silliest of words.

Yesterday, D said, “Go get a massage. Today. Now.”

I love massages. I do. But they seem like such a luxury, an expense that I hardly ever justify. But yesterday it was either try a massage or go to urgent care toting my Internet-procured list of possible causes for my symptoms. I decided on the massage, partly because I figured it would be less expensive than urgent care. I got a last-minute appointment at a salon near my dad’s house, dropped Zoë off with grandpa, and splurged.

But it turns out that sometimes a splurge is not a splurge at all. This woman was fabulous, and the massage was painful, but afterward, there was no tingling in my arms and no heaviness in my chest.

Then last night, I was checking my website for messages, and there was a note from another mother writer, the wonderful Erin White of Hatched by Two Chicks. (Erin’s lovely essay “East Wind” was in Creative Nonfiction a few years ago, but I didn’t realize she was a mother-writer and blogger until last night!)

This is what Erin said:

“There is nothing quite like the end of the nursing relationship, especially with a toddler. I weaned my first right before her second b-day and the process knocked the two of us off our feet. But we got back up again, much faster than I might have expected, and then we got going on the task of figuring out new and amazing ways of connecting to each other and to our own worlds. My second (who I think was born the same day as your second!!) weaned herself at 11 months and I will always be grateful to her for that. I got my energy, my body, my work, and--dare I say--my chi, back in the most amazing way. Nursing is heaven and weaning is freedom. For mamas and for babies. I tend to see nursing and the decision to stop as really great practice for making later decisions about ourselves in relation to our children. And as the mothers of daughters (I have two, as well) I think its so so important for us to get really good at valuing our bodies and our independence while at the same time staying really connected to our kids.”

I love that. After all, parenthood requires constant practice in letting-go. And we must continually navigate our shifting and growing relationships with our children.

Zoë and I will be fine, eventually. We’re in the midst of figuring out new ways to connect. Yesterday, she had trouble falling asleep at nap time. We battled it out for a bit, and then I just went and got her from her crib, and she fell asleep in my arms, like an infant, her face pressed into my neck. The same thing happened again this afternoon. So for now I’ll just I hold her tight, listen to her steady breath on my neck, and rest my cheek against her temple.