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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

merry christmas

I'm hunkering down, preparing for the big snow storm forecasted to hit Minnesota tonight. We don't have to drive more than a few miles to celebrate Christmas, so I'm fine with the snow, but I hope all of you who DO have to travel arrive and return safely.

Stella and D are out ice-skating for the first time this year--Stella was beside herself with anticipation all morning--and Zoë is napping. The house is quiet, so I'm sipping a cup of tea and thinking about the year, about the ups and downs, the good news and the bad. I'm thankful that we made it through each challenge, and now I'm ready for a little celebrating.

Merry Christmas to those of you who celebrate it. May the next days be filled with family and laughter and lots of love.

Thank you for reading Mother Words!

Friday, December 18, 2009


It’s been difficult for me to keep my eyes open this week. I’m fighting another cold, a cold I will continue to get—over and over again—because I’m always tired. I never get enough sleep.

But what is the solution? Go to sleep at 9 pm? Then I have no time to unwind after the girls are in bed. Some day, I’m told, my daughters will want to sleep until noon, and I’ll have so much time that I will be well-rested, glowing. I’ll be so well-rested, in fact, that I won’t be able to focus on my writing. I will be paralyzed by the hours stretching before me, and I will be rendered absolutely useless.

Bring it on.

Seriously, if Zoë would sleep even until 6:30, I could get up two or three mornings a week to write and I’d still be getting more sleep than I am now. But regardless of what time we put the adorable little shit to bed, she wakes up singing at 5 am. (Sometimes it’s the ABCs, sometimes it’s “mama, mama, I luff uuuu.” I know, how can I complain about that?)

If the girls didn’t share a room, I’d let Zoë sing and sing and maybe she’d fall back to sleep. (I doubt it, but I’d try.) But that's impossible. If Stella gets up that early—which she sometimes does despite our fastest retrieval efforts—the level of whining in our house reaches an unbearable pitch.

So there’s that—the unbelievably early riser.

Then there is an addiction to television series on DVD, which makes going to sleep at nine out of the question.

Then there are the errands I need to run for my grandpa, who is holding steady, but not getting better, not returning to normal (and by this I mean his abnormally spry 100-year-old self). He keeps saying to my mom: “Well, what if I don’t feel better? It would be too bad if I felt like this all the time.” His body is not doing what his mind wants, and this—the failings of his skin and bones—is hard for him to handle. So I make his Christmas cards, go over a couple of days a week to do his dishes, which, he told me this morning, didn’t inspire him.

Then there is the book proposal I’ve been working on, which I love. I really do. I love working on it. I love thinking about it. But still, I wish I didn’t think about it during the only twenty minutes all week I have to lie down, to close my eyes. I wish I didn’t think about it on the mornings D is on Singing Zoë Duty. But I can’t turn it off. So I can’t fall back asleep. I can't nap. Which is why I’m tired. Why my head feels heavy.

And I have work to do. I have things to check off Christmas lists. I have cards to get in the mail. I have presents to wrap. I have books—more and more books piling up on my shelves, on the edge of my desk—to review. Hell, I have cookies to bake.

But all I really want is a nap. Well, maybe a nap on a beach, a nap at the edge of ocean, with the sun beating down on me. Yes, that's what I want.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

working, living, and a note about structuring chapters

I thought I should check in about how my writing is going since the serious truncation of my work time.

It’s, um, not going.

I was on page 156 two weeks ago and I’m still on page 156. It’s clear I’m not going to make my December 31st deadline. I go to the coffee shop on the weekends now, and that’s something, but it is much more difficult to get into the rhythm of the narrative with only two days of writing a week.

The flip side—the bright side—is that my mornings are less hectic. I have more time with the girls, and we can run errands and vacuum and play. (More playing and a cleaner house are good things, no?) On the mornings Zoë is in school, Stella and I sometimes go to the coffee shop together. She eats a doughnut and draws pictures with stories, and I can get a little work done. But not memoir work. I cannot immerse myself in a chapter when my dear girl needs me to help spell the words that make up her narrative. So I check e-mail and do class prep and update my website—all things that need to be done—and help my budding writer create fiction. It would be difficult to complain about that.

But I am anxious to get back to the memoir. I met with my writing group—my wonderful, smart writing group—last night and they got me thinking about the structure of my chapters. There is a lot of narrative urgency in my book—it’s inherent in the subject—but I’m at a point where I need to think more closely about the shape of my chapters. The book is chronological, very chronological, and I realize that this could become tiresome, plodding, in the middle of the book. (Which would, in fact, reflect the nature of having your baby in the NICU.) But still, I don’t want the reading to be so plodding that it becomes boring. God, no.

One of my lovely writing group members suggested a more thematic approach, that each chapter in the middle of the book tackle a theme. I was actually moving in that direction in later chapters, but oh, the thought of going back to these “finished” chapters and rearranging—again—and rewriting—more—makes me very tired. I’m getting so very sick of this book.

But I do love to think about structure. It is, perhaps, my favorite craft issue. What structure will best serve the subject, the story? How can structure change the way people absorb the narrative? These questions, and the care with which most nonfiction writers take as they work on the structure of their writing, make it clear—yet again—that memoir is not mere transcription. It is, like fiction, like poetry, crafted.

I can’t do anything about the structure of my chapters today, of course, or even tomorrow. But I’ll think about it—“noodle on it” as one of my wonderful students says. I’ll noodle on it as I cut out Curious George paper dolls with Stella, as I run to Target and the grocery store, as I put Zoë’s clothes back on her for the ninth time (I swear that child wants to run free), as I sauté vegetables, as I cuddle in with D to watch Mad Men (our latest series addiction). And in a few days or even a few weeks, I’ll find the time to make the changes. I will, right?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

mother words writing retreat

I am so excited about this! The first Mother Words Writing Retreat!

Join me for a weekend retreat for mother-writers. We’ll write, share our writing, discuss challenges with craft, and have time to connect with other mother writers in the luxury and quiet of Faith’s Lodge. (There will also be plenty of time for writing in front of a fireplace and exploring the outdoors on skis or snow shoes.) Group meetings and individual conferences will help support you as you delve more deeply into your writing and learn to take risks on the page. Come immerse yourself in the writing life with other mothers who write.

When: 4 p.m. on Friday, February 26 – 2 p.m. on Sunday, February 28

Where: Faith’s Lodge, Wisconsin

Faith’s Lodge is located on 80 picturesque acres in Northwestern Wisconsin near the town of Webster, less than a two-hour drive from the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area, less than one hour from Duluth/Superior and about four hours from Madison. The mission of Faith’s Lodge is to provide a place where parents and families facing the serious illness or loss of a child can retreat to reflect on the past, renew strength for the present, and build hope for the future.

But you need not have experienced the loss of a child to attend the retreat. This retreat is for all mother writers. (But proceeds from the Mother Words Writing Retreat will benefit the children and families served by Faith’s Lodge.)

Cost: $300 -500 (sliding scale) – includes lodging, food and beverages, and writing instruction

The Lodge has eight guest suites. Each suite features a private bath, fireplace, balcony/patio, flat screen TV, DVD player, small fridge, and coffee maker. Participants will be sharing rooms, but everyone will have their own bed.

To register: Contact Evelyn Nyberg at or 715-866-8200.

Please contact me with questions about the Mother Words Retreat.

To learn more about Faith’s Lodge, visit