Friday, April 29, 2011

Got dignity?

Girlie's artwork was chosen to be on display in our city's school offices and this week they had a small reception for the show.

Turns out Girlie's work was actually on display in the Superintendent's office. It was an amazing self-portrait done in pastels.

Before we even got there, Little Guy was on a tear, so I really should have known what was coming.

At the reception, he had the manic energy, what I call the rips. He ran away from me, grabbed things he wasn't supposed to touch, wouldn't listen to anything. At one point he plopped down in the Superintendent's chair and started riffling through the guy's desk. Under any other circumstance, I would have whisked him outside to the car, but this was supposed to be something nice for Girlie, about Girlie, so I picked him up, bribed him with a cookie, and left Girlie to chat with her art teacher.

A few minutes later we returned and Mr. Superintendent himself is in the office. As I am introducing myself, Little Guy spots a basketball on his shelf, likely some signed Celtics memorabilia. He starts squirming to get to it while I'm holding on to him for dear life.

Then Little Guy sort of whacks me in the head pretty hard. Mr. Superintendent is still commenting on the artwork, but clearly he sees me getting throttled by the three year old. In his office.

We do leave then, by the time we get to the car it only gets worse, but I'll spare you the details, and frankly I'd like to block them from my memory.

So, rationally, I can see what happened here. Little Guy had been at preschool all day (where his teacher reported that he'd had a great day, seriously?). I picked him up, ran a few short errands, and came home. As soon as Girlie got home we headed for the car.

Little Guy needed to burn off some energy before we went inside again. He'd been at preschool all day exhibiting model behavior and he'd had enough. I get it.

That night I couldn't recover. After dinner, I yelled at Little Guy, Girlie, Hubs. The dog.

At one point, Hubs pulls me into the living room and in his voice for crazy people he asks if I can think of a way I might approach things differently. I eyeball the fireplace tools and consider whacking him with them. Suddenly I'm the three year old.

It was that kind of day.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Let's play a little game of pretend, shall we?

One of my neighbors is a former psychology professor who studied postpartum depression.

I told her that I had gotten whacked pretty hard with it after both of my children. It's funny, I said, I've never really been a depressive person. She looked at me for a second and said if that was the case, it would be pretty rare. The research has shown that most people with postpartum have usually previously suffered bouts of depression or anxiety.

In other words, she busted me.

I'm a closet depressive. Highly functional. I bathe, I make beds, I get everyone off to school. I cook, I clean, I work. But yeah, I often see the world through the bottom of a half-empty glass. Maybe it isn't just me, maybe we're all closet depressives.

It is interesting though, the difference between who we see ourselves as, and who we really are. In my mind, I'm a pretty positive person. But in my actual mind, maybe not so much. I think what bothers me the most about it, isn't the pressure to be happy, but the idea that I might not be able to see just how good things really are. Ever.

Last year, around this time I bottomed out pretty hard. We'd sold our house in Phoenix for a loss, we were in temp apartment in Phoenix waiting to move to another temp apartment in Boston. It had become pretty apparent that buying a house wasn't an option. We'd found a place to rent here, but it wouldn't be available until July. Our stuff was in storage and my husband, though he was visiting weekends, had technically moved without us.

I couldn't even really blog about it without sounding like such a jerk. I could have been relaxing, enjoying my last few months in Phoenix. The glass was more than half-full. Hubs got a promotion when we moved. We survived our underwater mortgage. I was actually excited to move to Boston, but I didn't feel any of that. I just felt sad.

In hindsight it was silly. We were and still are in a pretty good situation. But, damn, back then it looked pretty bleak. It's scary to think that your brain can scramble the view until you can't see it the right way.

So yes, I was predisposed to postpartum depression and yes I am likely to have rounds of depression during stressful situations, like moving which we seem to be doing every two years. But I'd like to keep that under wraps, thank you very much. Remind me not to make any more friends with a doctorate in psychology.

Of course I am assuming that everyone else didn't already know this about me.

Which I've now just realized is probably not the case.


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

What do you DO?

What do you do?

It's such a loaded question. Usually, the asker wants to know your occupation, your job? Sometimes I get this from adults. Cocktail conversation at the neighborhood party or someone in a writing class.

What do you do?

Ahem, well.

I'm in between, I say. Used to own a store, now home with the kids. You know, until Little Guy is in kindergarten or some such.

Yesterday, however, I got the what do you do from a nine year old girl. Her Momma is a big wig at Gillette.

Well, I said, I'm a writer. Little girl's eyes big as saucers. Wow.

Just trying it out for size.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Midnight in the garden of gray and wrinkled

The other night I met a friend of mine for a drink. We were supposed to talk about writing, and we did, but mostly we ended up goofing off, drinking beer at a dive-y bar. Hubs was home and the conversation with my gal pal was just what I needed after a long week at home with two sick kids. After what seemed like an hour, I looked at my phone, and somehow it was after midnight.

I caught the last train home to the 'burbs and made it to bed at 1:30. I was right back up at 6 to make breakfast, and my tongue felt like a metal spoon coated with cat hair. I was fine, but really tired and, yeah, I'm too old to hang out after midnight on a school night. Long day with the three year old on less than five hours of sleep.

Really, I should just stay home and read. Except that every time I pick up a book lately, I get this pavlovian response from my sleep training (read a book in bed to relax), so I'm out like a light.

Too old to stay out. Too old to stay in and read.

What else is there?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Rough drafts and prop planes

A few weeks ago a friend and I went to a reading. One of the authors read an amazing short story that will be coming out in the Harvard Review later this year. Before the reading started, we got a chance to talk to him.

I'd read a few pieces of his online. He's from Texas, so something about his writing resonates with me. I find this quite often with southern writers, even when the subject matter isn't about the south. He mentioned that he's working on a novel and my friend asked if we - as in we the less experienced writers - are supposed to ask about his book. He said no, that the absolute worst question you can ask a writer about a work in progress is - what is your book about?

At first this took me by surprise. As writers, so much of what we create is done in bleak and desperate isolation. We know that this guy is a researcher in a tiny little tent at the north pole or sometimes in the desert. I thought we'd be like the pilots of the once a month prop plane flying in with supplies. That given the chance, the lonely writer would talk our ears off.

But then I remembered the thing about the rough draft. In writing, the rough draft is more about what we want the story to be than what it actually is. Maybe talking about it ruins the magic. Maybe the writer doesn't know until the work is published or even for years after. Maybe a better question to ask would be - what do you want your book to be about?

It would be, in a sense, like changing the question from - who are you - to - who do you want to be?

Who are you? Well, that's quite a question. Who the hell knows? Who do you want to be? Ah, yes. Park that plane over there, and let me tell you.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Spring fever

Today marks day four of a mysterious illness for Little Guy, one of those weird kid things consisting of a low grade fever and some high grade whining.

Unfortunate timing, this is, because Girlie is on spring break this week and we'd planned a few tourist-in-your-hometown activities around Boston. Our staycation has been, quite literally, staying at home.

Fingers crossed that we're at the end of it.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Right now

It turns out that a large majority of the people in my writing classes either don't have children or have much older children than mine. Out of fifteen people in a class, there might be one other person with young kids.

Once, a younger woman without children commented about how lucky I was to have all of the time that I have to write. You know, because I'm not working. I can't blame her really, she couldn't possibly understand what it is like to be at home with a three year old. And the writers without kids have jobs, spouses, responsibilities. We all have things that get in the way. But the fact that so few of the others have small children always leaves me wondering if I am supposed to be doing this. Or better yet, if I am supposed to be doing this right now.

Every time I come home late from class or a meeting, I make a point to peek in on my sleeping children. I do it on purpose. It's a little trick, like putting on music that you know will make you feel a certain way. The Cure for feeling young again. A certain U2 song for being newly married and on that trip to Italy. Sleeping children for making you feel the magic of motherhood.

Stretched out in their single beds, my kids take up so much less space than I expect them to. So much less space than they take up in my life. They complicate everything and yet I love them desperately. Fiercely.

So do I have bad timing? Maybe, but I can't go back, and I can't imagine waiting ten more years. So this is where we are. Right now.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Stupid silly snake

Today I am staring at a really rough draft of my snake story and I'm feeling very silly.

Silly to think I can pull this off. Silly to even pursue it. Silly to focus on something so intently, and to what end?

Silly stupid snake story.

There are a million other things I could do with my limited spare time.

I could exercise.
I could meditate.
I could update my resume.
I could fold a bajillion loads of laundry.
I could even take a nap.

But what I am a doing instead? I am trying to plug the holes in a short story about a woman and a snake. Who else in the world cares about this?

I might be heading for some sort of crack up. I'm going to go eat a cookie now.

Stupid snake.

Friday, April 15, 2011


Lately I've been thinking about the way our brain fills in the details in order to help us recognize things. Usually, this process works quite well. The eyes catch a glimpse of something, the brain registers the outline of it, fills in the middle part, and instantly tells you what the thing is.

Scientists believe that this function exists to help us process what we are seeing. Without it, just slightly changing the angle of the object would cause our brain to believe that we were looking at something completely new. So recognition, orientation of objects around us, and the filling in the blanks part all go hand in hand.

Occasionally, this gets short circuited. The brain fills in an object or a face and on second glance, the thing is not what we thought it was. Scientists have been studying which parts of the brain are responsible for this process. If you've experienced a misfire, and look again, the brain can reorganize, recognize the thing, and let you know. And the object is or isn't a circle. Or the person is or isn't your college roommate.

This process must exist in other functions of our brain. I wonder what happens when the brain is responsible emotional for recognition, what we commonly call the heart. When the heart "fills in" something intangible? How do we know we've had a misfire? How does our brain reorganize this type of misunderstanding?

Wouldn't it be nice if the heartbrain worked the same way? We could "look again" and within seconds understand that the thing is not what we thought it was.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Will the real Slim Shady please stand up?

Have I ever told you about my secret thing for Eminem?


He's angry and sometimes I'm angry too. What? You know, about the suburbs and the price of organic milk. I'm angry. Anyway, Em and I are close to the same age, he's just a few weeks older than I am. We'll be turning 39 this year.

So I was thinking about his latest album, the themes of recovery, redemption, and reinvention. He seems to be reaching a new level of maturity. And people are buying it. You can still get away with finding yourself at 39. But 45? Who is Eminem at 45? And 50? And who am I?

The thing about approaching 40 is that you aren't there yet. And turning 40? Sort of a milestone, not so horrible. But after, you're older than 40 and that, for me, is the scary part. Still, I'd like to think ol' Marshall Mathers and I have a few more comeback moments left in us. I'd like to think that he can go on making angry albums and that people will buy them. I'd like to think he'll still make sense at 50.

And that somehow, I will too.

Monday, April 11, 2011


Had a piece workshopped last night in my fiction class which means that, on top of working on a new story for the next round, I have some revising that needs to be tackled while the feedback is fresh.

This week's to-do list looks like this:

1. Finish first draft of the one about the lost snake.

2. Begin revising the workshopped story with pacing and backstory on the hooker wife as top priorities.

3. Try not to ruin the workshopped story while rewriting it.

4. Spend any spare time googling the literary references from the workshop, with special attention to the ones I nodded agreement with.

5. Try not to ruin the workshopped story while rewriting it.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Stage Mother

So not to be a stage Mother or anything, but my daughter is writing a book.

For the last few weeks I've been giving myself permission to be really serious about writing without feeling silly about it. I have rearranged my schedule and my thinking to really give the work a priority space in my life.

A huge step in this is how I handle the family priorities. I no longer run errands while Little Guy is in preschool, those are my work days. I make the kids wait until 7 AM for breakfast instead of abandoning my laptop as soon as they're up (I know, flagrant neglect, please don't report me). If I am working on something during the day, I tell them they'll have to wait a few minutes to have my attention because I need to finish my writing. I actively ignore the laundry (okay, maybe I did that before, but now I do it with purpose).

And though it will take some time to really kick this thing to the next level, I feel like I am on the right track. Writing is no longer, in my mind at least, a hobby.

So the kids are soaking it in, maybe more than I realized. A few days ago, Girlie spent her entire computer screen time writing a story. She says wants to be a writer. She even wrote an essay about it at school. She wrote, get this, that I am her inspiration.

I was thinking that over the weekend, I'd take her to a coffee shop where we could hang out and be writers together. I already gave her some feedback on the her story - focus on the conflict, get to it sooner, the story behind the story, etc. Chances are that she'll want to be a million other things before she lands on it, but right now I am going to enjoy this thing, hers and mine. She's nine, so next week she could want to be a chef or a lawyer or one of Katy Perry's backup singers.

But as for the writing thing, maybe she's got a shot at it. Her book seems to be coming along much faster than mine.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Boston Summer forecast: More ice

This has not been a stellar week. I'm tired of being cold and can't stop thinking about summer. The trees are just now starting to bud and it feels like summer will never get here.

Each summer gets a theme. Two years ago, in Phoenix - The Inferno. Last year, moving to Boston - Little Boxes. There are tunes that go with the themes and shoes.

This year's theme doesn't have a name, but it's looking something like this:

I've been wanting this thing for years and I finally ordered it from Williams Sonoma. It was a little pricey, but lordy I needed it.

Now for the songs. And the shoes.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Here we go...

In one week I will be taking a big step in my fiction journey. I am getting together with a writer pal with the goal of submitting a few flash fiction pieces.

Flash is 1000 words or less, punchy, fun to write, and somewhat manageable for a newish writer. According to some, flash as a category will continue to rise as it fits the whole 140 character way we seem to be consuming information. Flash is sort of a literature lite, non-fat, but with flax. Or an amuse bouche, if you watch Top Chef, a tasty bite. Anyway, among writers, flash is getting some notice. I think I've heard at least one person say this or maybe I said it.

I am nervous about getting started, but like every other first time, I realize that it isn't going to be a big deal once we've done it. My friend and I are doing it together because we plan to keep each other accountable for continuing and because it might be helpful at this stage to have a second pair of eyes when matching the work with the potential journal. And let's face it, who really wants to do it alone?

I've got three decent candidates - a shape shifter called Desert,and two darkish pieces called Six Black Hens, and Fire, Man. I have stumbled into a bit of a fire and chicken theme (sometimes together, sometimes not) and I don't think I am done with it yet.

To get myself warmed up, I submitted a non-fiction story a few weeks back. I've pitched non-fiction before and been published, so I thought it might help to get back in the rhythm. I sent an essay to Literary Mama. It was something I'd written ages about about my mother's secretarial career and I've never found a home for it. Several days ago, I got the rejection. The message started with the phrase "We found much to enjoy in your writing..."

A good rejection.

So my goal with this isn't necessarily to just get published, but to at least be thoughtfully rejected, the kind of rejection where the work was close enough to get beyond a form letter response.

Of course, getting published would be fine too.

Monday, April 4, 2011


For the last week, I've been reading Steve Almond's Not That You Asked, a collection of his personal stories some written about writing, some not. Steve is an instructor at Grub and I might be a bit of a groupie.

So, the other night I was tucked in, comfy, wearing my PJ's - the ones with the elephants playing golf while drinking martinis (The elephants were drinking, not me. They make me smile, though I also suspect they might be Republicans, so maybe the joke is on me.) - cruising through Steve's book when something I read almost knocked me off the bed.

It was a chapter about how all great writers are ugly. Not just ugly in the physical sense, though he meant that too, but ugly emotionally. Freaks.

When I was in the fifth grade, my lunch table was in close proximity to a group of girls called the barrettes. They didn't call themselves that of course, but they all wore barrettes with ribbon woven in alternating colors, a different color pairing for each outfit. My barrettes were the metal undersides of theirs, unadorned. The "before" version of the ones they wore.

One day one of the barrettes called out to me. I stood up, surprised that she was talking to me, and approached the table. She handed me something in a small packet. My heart raced.

"Beauty cream," she said, "you need it." The girls all laughed. I walked back to my table and slipped the packet into my pocket.

So there it was. Not pretty. Ugly.In many ways, I have always been that girl.

So what struck me about Steve's story was that this part of me - the tendency to over emotionalize, over internalize, over analyze everything - in other words, the ugly freak thing, is actually okay. It is, as far as writing goes, an asset. Something to be cultivated.

Finally, the fact that I look at myself in the mirror and always see the "before", the me without the ribbons, is a good thing, and also not something I have to worry about growing out of. Which is such a relief, because I am almost forty and starting to feel pretty sure it isn't going to happen.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Sticker Chart

Little Guy is going through a phase. Testing at every turn. On a good day, the kid has a ton of energy, but for the last few weeks, it has gone up a notch. Likely we're hitting a developmental spurt, but seriously, he's killing me. He wants my attention constantly. When he doesn't have it, he's doing whatever it takes to get it.

I decided to put him on a reward system. Bribery by way of the sticker chart. We went to Walgreens and picked out some Toy Story stickers. I explained the plan to him.

"So I'll get a toy when I earn my stickers?" he asked.

Yes, I said. Ten stickers, and you can have the rocket launcher (don't ask).

But then we got to the part about how he earned the stickers - no hitting his sister, behaving at dinner, no name calling. He looked distressed. He asked if he could just get them for going potty, something he's been doing since the end of last summer.

Can you just get the reward for something you already do well? Um, no. Sorry buddy, that's not how it works.

But wouldn't it be nice if we could all stack the deck a little?