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Monday, November 29, 2010

profile of bonnie rough

Thanks for your kind words and your lists last week. I hope you had a lovely long weekend.

D and I spent lots of time playing with the girls and reading in bed as they played. It was heavenly. I read two wonderful books: Toni Morrison's A Mercy and my friend Alex Lemon's raw and stunning memoir, Happy. I highly recommend both.

And today my interview with the wonderful Bonnie J. Rough is up at Literary Mama. Check out her memoir, Carrier, if you haven't already.

Happy reading!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


It’s been a dark fall for me. Even the sunny and warm days that stretched into November couldn’t pull me up and out of myself. And when the more typical cold and gray November weather set in, I could feel my energy sink further. It’s only in the last few days that I have felt a little lighter, and I’m hoping this will continue.

But even when I’m feeling low, there is so much for which I’m thankful. So on this Eve of Thanksgiving, I’d like to list the things for which I’m grateful:

* A long weekend with family and friends and nourishing food.
* Reading—There is nothing like a wonderful novel or memoir to transport me, to remind me of how big the world is.
* My girls—I love those moments when they’re playing together, decked out in sunglasses and beaded necklaces, walking arm in arm around the dining room table laughing and singing, their bodies swaying as they scream, “We’re rock stars! We’re rock stars!”
* D—What else can I say?
* My parents, whose love and generosity never cease to amaze me.
* Friends—in person friends and those I know only here in the blogosphere. Thank you.
* Physical therapy—I’m finally taking the steps I need to take to be able to run again, and I’m so relieved.

For each of these things—and many, many more—I’m grateful. What are the things for which you’re grateful?

I hope you all have a lovely long weekend. Travel safely if you’re visiting friends and relatives. And thank you for being out there, reading and writing and living.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

fight for preemies

November is Prematurity Awareness Month and today, November 17, is the March of Dimes’ Fight for Preemies. Over 300 bloggers are writing their preemie stories today. You can read them here.

In honor of the Fight for Preemies, I am posting another short excerpt from Ready for Air. This section comes just after I have seen Stella for the first time. D has wheeled me through the long tunnel back to my hospital room, and we’ve decided to use BabyLink, a system that allows you to watch your baby on the television from your hospital bed.

D calls the NICU and then turns on the television. For a moment there is only static, but then Stella appears. At least I think it’s Stella, but how can I be sure? It’s a baby, naked except for a miniature diaper and goggles over her eyes. Her skin is mottled—yellow, red, purple. She writhes on white blankets, thrashes back and forth, pulling at the tape on her mouth, like a wounded animal in a trap.

D climbs onto the bed next to me and pulls me to his side, but I’m still cold. He draws a blanket over our shoulders and we sit there, legs dangling over the edge of the bed, transfixed by the small creature that has been transported through wires and satellite signals into the square of our television. It’s as if we’re hovering above her, floating through the warm air of the NICU.

No sound comes from the television. That’s not part of the deal. But we wouldn’t be able to hear our daughter anyway; the ventilator has reached its slender arm down her throat and fitted itself snuggly between her vocal cords, so she cannot scream or cry.

D and I lean closer together. “Oh no,” he says, and presses his face into my shoulder. And for a moment, I’m reassured by his distress. This is hard for him. I’m not the only one.

Stella arches back, struggling. She can’t see because of the goggles, but even if she could see, she wouldn’t know that we’re here, watching her. She wouldn’t know that she’s not alone. And I wonder whether she will remember this. Somewhere deep in the folds of her brain, etched into her neuromuscular reflexes, will she remember this? If she survives, will she remember thrashing under the lights in the NICU, alone?

Dr. Anderson said Stella was better off out here, but how can that be? How can my daughter be better off on a warming bed, baking under phototherapy lights, a ventilator tube taped to her mouth? How can she be better off beamed through a television rather than inside me?

You can only watch your baby for twenty minutes at a time. I don’t know why, but those are the rules. But after a few minutes, I’ve had enough. I don’t want to see our daughter, not like this. “Turn it off,” I say. “Turn it off.”

I still—not often, but occasionally—wonder whether this or that thing that Stella does is a preemie thing or just a Stella thing. I watch her and wonder if somewhere, deep in the folds of her brain, that month in the NICU exists for her as an absence.

I know I’m not alone. One in eight babies is born prematurely in the United States. Some of these babies die. Some survive with disabilities, varying in degree from mild to severe. Some preemies end up doing just fine. Regardless, every year hundreds of thousands of parents across the globe hover over their tiny babies, wondering what the outcome will be. They hope and pray and fall apart. They grow numb to the beeping of alarms. This is no way to start life and no way to enter into parenthood.

What can you do?

Donate to March of Dimes. Donate to a hospital NICU in your community. Volunteer. Raise awareness. Write a blog post.

This is dedicated to all the preemie parents I know. For their bravery and their love.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

i'm telling

I’m honored to have Maria Asp, Darcey Engen, and Nanci Olesen of the new motherhood show “I’m Telling” here at Mother Words today. If you were at the Mother Words Reading at the Loft on October 7, you had the pleasure of hearing an excerpt of “I’m Telling” as the opening act. (And if you weren’t there, you can listen to the podcast of the reading over at Good Enough Moms.)

Today, I'll be talking with Maria, Darcey and Nanci about their show, which you can see on Thursday, November 18th at 7:45pm at the Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, 2561 Victoria Street North, Roseville, MN.

This performance is free and open to the public.

Kate: Darcey, tell me a little bit about how “I’m Telling” started.

Darcey: The beginnings of this piece started 10 years ago when my oldest son was born. At that time, I was an actress and newly hired professor in the Theatre Department at Augsburg College. With a newborn and career to build, I realized that opportunities for me to perform were forever limited. I wasn’t able to go to evening rehearsals so I began to invent ways in which I could perform that that wouldn’t take me away from my children.

I was dealing with a whole new world. The way in which I worked in my job at Augsburg changed. I worked around childcare. I juggled my need to breastfeed and my need to work using student babysitters off and on during the day. I hired someone for three hours in the morning—ran home to breastfeed and then hired another student for three hours in the afternoon. Just dealing with that was tremendously challenging. I began to wonder if I’d ever perform again. I was a performance teacher and couldn’t imagine that part of my life going away. I was vexed by my inability to juggle full-time career, artistry and motherhood. I realized early on that the only way I could perform was to do a one-woman piece. I started writing about the death of my mother to cancer because it was such a significant part of my journey as a young woman and then realized that it was this balancing act (motherhood, artistry and work) I was doing that was the real story I needed to perform. As I worked I realized that I could manage to pull other mothers in to my process. I made the goal to create an hour piece from a diverse group mother stories and mother performers.

I received a research grant from Augsburg and began Saturday morning workshops that took mothers through a writing and staging workshop. Originally I worked with maybe 5 to 7 mothers. We met every other Saturday morning for six months (seemed like a reasonable schedule for mothers) and used several writing methodologies to generate text. Periodically children and babies would be with us in rehearsals…sleeping, watching, or playing. Eventually our stories were staged and performed at Open Eye Figure Theater in the fall of 2007. After that performance, Maria, Nanci and I decided to work together on a three-mother piece. We wrote and staged additional stories, incorporated music, and constructed the piece so that it could travel easily to where mothers are: ECFE meetings, community centers and church basements.

After we generated material we performed our three-mother piece at Illusion Theatre in the summer of 2008. We hired a director who helped us interweave our stories, we had our husbands watch—Maria’s husband Razz is a musician—he helped with music—Nanci’s husband, Steve, and my husband, Luverne, are both performers. They helped us periodically with editing, performance ideas and the general shape of the piece. Recently, Steve has been helping us hone our work even further.

Currently we are touring this piece because of a Metropolitan Regional Arts Council grant. We are so enjoying continuing to work on this piece and bringing it to communities! This fall tour we have performed in a college Women’s Studies course, an ECFE meeting and two church basements—PERFECT!

Although we began to write about our experiences as mothers, the pieces that we generated focus on many different subjects that reflect larger issues around relationships, identity, parents, grief, artistry, career and many more. We are driven by these rich stories and believe that performing them will encourage deep reflection and conversation about the personal and political importance of parenting in our culture.

Kate: Nanci, you produced the MOMbo radio show for many years. How is working on “I’m Telling” different (and/or) similar to your work on MOMbo?

Nanci: “I’m Telling” is storytelling and theater—dealing with some of the same subject matter as I did on both MOMbo and in “How’s the Family?” on Minnesota Public Radio, but in a theatrical way. This is first person narrative, and we are enjoying using our acting skills and the little splashes that come with telling a story live as theatre. This piece comes first from our writing, but because we have theatricalized it, we’re able to tell the stories in a broader, more entertaining way. There’s one piece in which I talk about maternal depression, but I don’t deal with the topic the way that you would in an informative, fact-based radio show.
And the live-ness of this production is so fun for us. I did radio for 15 years and I loved it dearly, but I was first trained in theater. I remember feeling sort of silly years ago, when MOMbo was new, and I’d step out of the radio studio into the black night and not have any idea if anyone had heard what I said and had poured my efforts into. In live performance, you know right away if people are with you or not. But it’s also ephemeral in that way. You can still hear pieces I did 10 years ago on MOMbo, but “I’m Telling” just exists every time we do it.... and it’s always slightly different.

I am also impressed to remember how hard it is memorize lines! I haven’t had to do that in years!

And I love the camaraderie. We really love being together and doing this show, come what may as we roar into it on stage. We have a great friendship and a great time working together on and off stage. I like that. I’ve always been close with the people I work with in radio too, but it’s more immediate onstage.

Kate: Maria, I’m very interested in collaborative arts, and I’m wondering if you can talk a little about how your pieces are crafted. Do you each come to rehearsals with ideas or already fleshed-out pieces? How do each of you influence the content of your show?

Maria: We started out meeting as a group for writing sessions. Each of us was given similar prompts then we would write, read and give each other feedback. Sometime we brought in pieces that we had already worked on and then edited them for the stage. The piece took a big shift when we performed for the Fresh Ink Series at the Illusion Theater. It gave us a chance to work with the director Lisa Channer. She really challenged us to take our pieces and make them less of monologues and look for way to incorporate the other performers’ voices. Some of the pieces lent themselves to this more easily than the others. On a personal note, we are aware of the complexities of each other’s lives and encourage each other to write about new mothering challenges and delights.

Kate: Nanci, you’ve been committed to telling real stories of motherhood for the last twenty years. How have the focus of your interests and stories changed over the last two decades. Where are there still gaps in art about motherhood?

I chose to stop producing MOMbo in 2007 to make way for the work I began at MPR, first with “How’s the Family?” and then as a reporter for the family desk in the MPR newsroom. I used to wonder what it would be like if I had continued MOMbo all the way through now. Now I have a 20-year-old in college, a 17-year-old in France studying for a year, and a 15-year-old at home. Life is so different now. So on a personal level, my daily life with children has changed because they have grown up. At the same time, I have stepped in as a sometimes-caretaker to my little niece and nephew, who are turning 4 and 6 this month. When they were 1 month old and 2 years old respectively, their mom, my sister, was diagnosed with brain cancer. The journey we have all been on since then has been huge in my life in so many ways. My sister died two years ago. The grief has almost swallowed me up. I learned so much caring for a tiny baby and a toddler during her illness. The baby was set up on the weekends in a little crib right in my MOMbo office for a whole year. I have rarely written about it, but I did do one piece on Marketplace a few years back. Since then, I have become a Montessori teacher, and I now work with 3-6-year-olds everyday. I am right back in the thick of it with their parents, who are struggling with all the things I was back when I was a mother of young children.

I tell my stories differently now, but sometimes I feel like it was yesterday that the kids were little. I’m still deeply interested in how motherhood affects us as women, especially in the early years. I still find it very fertile ground to contemplate, to celebrate, and to commiserate about.

I think that many women have deep feelings about motherhood that they might just be too exhausted to articulate. So there are many gaps in art about motherhood. There is, however, much more available to moms now than there was 20 years ago. The INTERNET!! There are so many outlets for moms to think and feel and engage in discourse about motherhood. It’s very encouraging.

On a personal level, I feel that my best writing and performance and perhaps even radio work is in the future—I have so much more experience and perspective now after all these years.

Kate: Thank you, Nanci, Darcey, and Maria for taking the time to e-mail with me about “I’m Telling.” I look forward to seeing your show on Thursday!

If you’re local, meet me on Thursday, November 18th at 7:45pm at the Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, 2561 Victoria Street North, Roseville, MN. You won’t be disappointed!

Monday, November 15, 2010

mother words podcast!

I'm excited to announce that the Good Enough Moms podcast of the 4th Annual Mother Words Reading is now available. Check it out!

A huge thank you to Marti, Erin, Luke, and Stacy at Good Enough Moms for all their work getting this ready!

Monday, November 8, 2010


It will be too challenging for me to try to sum up the conference—there were too many thoughts stuttering through my mind during those few days in Iowa. But I’ll list a few highlights:

* Meeting so many interesting and talented writers, many of whom I’ve admired for a long time, among them Dinty Moore, Sue William Silverman, Joe Mackall, and Debra Gwartney. (If you read this blog regularly, you know how much I loved Debra’s Live Through This. You can read my interview with her here.) I was also staying at the same B & B as the wonderful Faith Adiele, author of Meeting Faith: The Forest Journals of a Black Buddhist Nun, winner of the PEN Beyond Margins Award for Best Memoir in 2005. (Her work-in-progress also sounds fascinating, so I’ll let you know when it’s out in the world. Or you can check out her website to find excerpts.) At breakfast on Saturday, I also met the novelist Laura Fish, who is participating in the Iowa International Writers Program. I have never read her writing, but her books are now also on my list. (And talking with both Faith and Laura about their work, which is multigenerational, has inspired me to get going on my next book--or to at least start thinking about it.)

* Meeting one of my wonderful and talented Mother Words students in person. Marilyn, you’re awesome. What an honor to connect. I look forward to sitting down with you at AWP.

* Alison Bechdel — Oh my God. Could this woman be more amazing? She gave the keynote address on Friday, and she was fabulous: funny, self-deprecating, brilliant. I went straight over to Prairie Lights and bought her graphic memoir, Fun Home. And I’m going to get everyone I know who hasn’t read it to read it. In her keynote she discussed how a graphic memoir allowed her to simultaneously communicate on more than one level, something she didn’t feel capable of doing in straight prose. This idea of simultaneity was echoed in several of the other sessions that I attended, and I love thinking about how you can hold multiple stories (memories and thoughts and actual lived experiences) in your writing all at once.

* I also loved the panel on manipulating time and distance in nonfiction. Especially interesting to me were the comments of David McGlynn, who talked about how using present tense in memoir necessitates careful attention to time and distance. (Since Ready for Air is in present tense, I found myself nodding my head at every other word.) I also loved what Jocelyn Bartkevicius said in that panel about how our minds and memories are in motion, while words on the pages are static. This creates a challenge for the writer who wants to tell a story the way we think. It's so fascinating to think about the narrative structures that might make this possible.

* And of course one of the best things about the conference was being able to catch up with friends. Thanks for everything, Bonnie and Jill. So great to see you, Sonya and Shannon! And so fun to meet all the wonderful folks from Ashland’s low-residency MFA program. If you’re looking for a low-residency MFA, you need to check out Ashland.) And thanks to David for the wonderful dinner at his restaurant, the Motley Cow.

Okay, now I need to catch up on all the work I missed while I was thinking about writing.

Friday, November 5, 2010

in iowa

I’m sorry I’ve been quiet the last week or so. Life has gotten in the way of blogging (and writing in general). Hopefully I’ll be able to return to my computer with new vigor when I’m back home. But right now I’m in Iowa City at NonfictioNOW, soaking up as much as I can.

I love writing conferences. I love to listen to other writers’ perspectives on form and narrative, voice and time. I love to walk away with new insights on how to frame my own work and where it fits within the genre of creative nonfiction (though over-thinking the latter can paralyze me, so I try not to think about it too much).

I’ll post more about the conference next week after I’ve had a chance to reflect and digest. Until then, I’ll take notes and try not to freeze my butt off. (I forgot my warm coat on the porch in Minneapolis, and it is COLD here.)