Category Archives: writing

Thirty-six minutes later

It is ten past five.  The children have been more or less tending to themselves for almost two hours.  I provided a snack, I helped with a poop-related crisis, and I took over a harmonica by eminent domain.  But, otherwise, I have left them to their own devices.  The boys are using the time to wrestle, which is considerably better than the bitter fighting we saw in the early afternoon at the playground.  Lilah is making it her business to pull off the shelves all the books I have managed to get unpacked.

And there are toys everywhere.  The mess is far too advanced to expect them to clean it up themselves.  Well, maybe not.  I mean, they certainly are capable of doing it.  But it requires me to supervise and nag far more than I care to do this evening.

I am writing.  I am revising an essay so that these people can continue their unbroken string of rejections of my work.  I am making progress as children tumble around me and black beans cook on the stove.

When I finish, I send it off to a friend for feedback.  I have bought my writing time at the expense of needing to clean up once the kids are in bed.  I move on to this blog post, which gets interrupted around the second paragraph when the wrestling turns vicious.  Teeth marks.  Then the UPS guy brings a package and I decide to enforce a little cleanup time and Lilah has yet another poopy diaper.  It is 5:32 before I return to finish this up.

So, the TV is on, dinner is ¾ ready, and the toys are, let’s face it, ¼ put away.  I have not written the post about the town we are now living in or Zachary’s insistence that he is the only five year old in the entire Kindergarten.  I have not read to Benjamin today.  Or Lilah, come to think of it.  I have taken the kids to play outside, fed them, and lost my temper when they tormented each other.  I have not exercised or written the post about how I am gaining weight.

But I have gotten an essay done.  When you all write comments, asking me how I manage to make time to write – that’s how.  Sometimes, I don’t write.  And sometimes I let everything go to power through.  It’s the only way that I won’t wake up, five years from now, resentful of the children who I read to every day and taught to clean up all their toys.

Jericho

Conde-Nast has pulled the plug on Gourmet, not to mention a pair of bridal magazines and Cookie.  Conde-Nast, the untouchable ginormous center of all things magazine, is shutting down four magazines.  You may wonder why I give a shit, as the only one we subscribe to is Cookie, and that is mostly for my husband.

I care because I am a writer, and I am not particularly thrilled to watch the publishing industry go up in great big puffs of smoke.  It is gasping for breath, people, because no one is buying and no one is advertising.  People are still reading, but they are turning to the internet for their material.  We’re all too busy getting the milk for free to buy the cow.  Which is all well and good until the cows all die of starvation and then there’s no more decent milk and we’re all stuck drinking that Silk crap.

(Yes, I am fully aware I just compared writers to cows and then pummeled the metaphor into ground beef.)

And, yes, I am more likely to read Bitch than Vogue, but I’m damned glad that Vogue is there, not the least because they actually pay writers to produce.  We need people who make their living writing, not just people who write for the sheer joy of it.  Writing is seriously hard work, and if people cannot get some remuneration for it, they will most likely have to find another way to spend the hours between midnight and three AM.

I am tired of people acting like any fool can write and why the fuck should we pay for books when we can get them for free on the internet.  I will continue to blog because I think there is a time and a place for this kind of exchange, but I do not think blogs replace newspapers.  I do not think free e-books replace the kind with two covers and a publishing house behind them.  I do not think e-zines replace the kind of magazines that makes me pretend I really need ten minutes in the bathroom because I just want to finish an article.

We are facing a crunch like everyone else.  I’ve cut back my book buying.  But I feel strongly that reading material ought to be very far down on the list of things to be curtailed because we can eat beans instead of meat, but there is no substitute for intellectual activity.

In my bathroom, we have Cookie, The Economist, The Pennsylvania Gazette, The New Yorker, Ms. Magazine, Hip Mama, and Brain, Child.  Glamour sits on the table beside the glider where I nurse Lilah, which is why I know it is OK to wear florals in the wintertime this year, should I every decide to buy any new clothing.  I take books out of the library, but I also try to fit buying them into my budget now and then.  I value the work done by writers and editors, and I am willing to pay for it.

Meh

I have writer’s malaise.  I am just too apathetic to actually have writer’s block.  I think about blogging and I think, “Bleh.  What more do I have to say?”  I think about articles and say, “Eh.  I can’t think of a single interesting topic.”  I try to write fiction and as far as I can tell it just basically sucks.

I can’t even motivate a good Facebook status update these days.  I am just commenting on other people’s.

I have been here before, and I know it is followed by good stuff.  For right now, however, I am just not in the mood.  I am not writing, and I am not reading blogs much either.  Please don’t take it personally and certainly don’t worry, because I am fine.

I think it comes of not having enough experiences out of my damned house.  I can only write about my family so much, and I don’t get out enough to have more to write about.  So, while I am not writing, I’ll be trying to live a little.

I’ll be around when I have something to say.

Dark? Me?

           For two years, my children ate pasta so frequently that they would periodically burst out into long strings of Italian in the middle of the night.

            For a lot of that time, we had almost full-time nanny help.  We were paying someone else to care for our boys, even though I was not bringing in an income.

            When we did not have help, I got up early or stayed up late.  I took full advantage of nap times.  I stole away on weekends.  Even while we were moving and in temporary housing, I kept on at it.

            We did it all in service of the dream.  We could picture that book.  J believed it would happen even more than I did, because if I brought my head up too long to think about it, I would get too distracted to write.

            I landed an agent over a year ago.  A good agent with a track record and excellent editorial insights.  She and I have been working closely to get the book in shape.  In September, the same week I gave birth to Lilah, she began pitching the manuscript.

            We came close several times.  People would read it three times before rejecting it.  But, ultimately, they all rejected it.  So, I revised in December because there were more people to send it to in the new year.  I revised with one hand while breastfeeding with the other, and the book was, even in the author’s eyes, good.

            But, my agent has not been pitching it.  Not because she doesn’t believe in it or because she is a negligent person.  There is nowhere to pitch it.  Publishing houses are folding.  Those who are in good financial positions did not get there by buying depressing books written by unknown authors at the onset of a depression.  No one wants dark books right now except the British, and the UK publishing industry is collapsing.

            So, we talked last week, and she is shelving the book.  She says she’ll try again this summer if things look less bleak.  But it is hard not to feel like Molly Ringwald yelling “What about prom?”

            And it is mighty hard to remember that Chekov also probably couldn’t have gotten published in this climate.  Because I know Chekov is a good writer, and I have no validation (other than your generosity) that I am.

            However.  However.

            We are all relatively healthy.  We still have our home.  There is still an income coming in.  (Did you just hear me knock wood three times?)  And, although it is taking all the false belief in myself that I can muster, I am starting in on another project.

            While breastfeeding.

“only one in any number of generations can write what is written”

            The good news is that I think I have found a writing project I want to pursue.  While I did a chunk of the research in my past life as a doctoral graduate student, there is still a great deal of reading and thinking to be done before I begin to write.  Which brings us to the bad news.

            I’m going to back off from blogging for awhile.  I’ll post from time to time – maybe once a week – so do check in here.  But, I am like tofu: my writing takes on the flavor of what I am reading.  So, I need to stop reading blogs for the most part and concentrate on books.  I’ll be back, but if you don’t see me around your blogs, you know where I’ll be: neck high in Gertrude Stein.

            Yes, really.  I’m dumping you for Gertrude Stein.  Only, don’t think of it as dumping.  Think of it as “being on a break.”  Really, I’m just cheating on you with Gertrude Stein.

            I’m excited about this.  Lately, my writing has been about as dried and shriveled as my grandmother’s breasts.  Often, when I finish a long project, I flounder and wonder if I’ll ever find something else I want to write about.  I have come to realize that the subjects always present themselves. 

            Now, if you’ll excuse me, there is an egotistical lesbian expat genius awaiting my attention.  I just hope Alice Toklas doesn’t get too jealous.

Jack Sprat and his brother

            One day, Benjamin had a substitute teacher in his preschool class who was new to the school, and by the time I picked him up at noon, she was well versed in the natural phenomenon that is my younger son.  Then, three hours later, I came back to pick up Zachary, who stayed for the afternoon session with the same teacher who had looked after Benjamin in the morning.

            She did a double take.  Having spent three hours with one child and then three hours with the other, she had no idea that they were related to each other.  One is fair while the other is dark; one eats everything while the other subsists on air and crackers; one has giant lips and eyes while the other has fine features; and one is built like a brick shithouse while the other is built like an emaciated piece of celery.  Only one of my children has junk in the trunk.

            The most confusing thing for this substitute teacher was that there are few similarities between their behavior, their temperaments, and their ways of approaching everything from negotiating slide usage to singing during circle time.  In fact, other than the fact that neither of them ever shuts up, there is very little my sons have in common.

            Since then, we’ve had other substitutes, family friends, and occasional crossing guards comment upon the difference between these two boys. The contrast between the two of them underscores the most intimate aspects of who they are.  And there is so much I want to write about it.  There are personal, uncomfortable things one or the other goes through that I want to muse about on paper and figure out. 

            But I can’t.  I can bare to you some of the most stressful things about parenting, some of my deepest fears.  But that’s about me.  What I don’t have the right to do is expose my observations about the deepest and most personal aspects of their psyches online.  It’s just not my place.

            A lot of it comes neatly wrapped with sociological observations with which I would just love to dazzle you.  Oh, well.  Guess you’ll have to settle for my sparkling wit. 

He survived

This was written almost two years ago.  I had just started writing, but I had no idea what I would write about or where I would go with it.  It was before blogging and the book, if there is such a time.  Yet, it expresses much of how I feel now, two years and one more child later. 

The kids slept late.  Zachary only had a level four temper tantrum upon waking, and he did not wet his pants during breakfast.  Benjamin’s poopy diaper came before breakfast, so it was all changed and clean before we even sat down.  We were in a bit of a rush after breakfast because Zachary also needed to poop, which requires literature, and then his teeth needed to be brushed, but because it was raining, we at least did not have sunblock to slow us down.  Pinning down Benjamin was a bit more challenging than usual, but both kids were dressed and ready to go three minutes before 9:00.

Then it happened.  Zachary was already in the stroller, and I had even smeared him with some sunblock (the sun made a last-minute appearance).  I went to put on Benjamin’s jacket and smelled it.  He had performed twice in one morning.  It was an encore.

I tossed the baby over my shoulder, told Zachary I would only be a minute, leapt up the stairs, and dealt with the ramifications of yesterday’s blueberries.  We made it out the door by 9:03, still plenty of time to make it to school.

And so, as I walked along at a brisk pace, I was pretty darned proud of myself.  When we stopped to wait for a crossing, I made sure to mention to Zach how proud I was of his cooperation this morning.  He smiled, I smiled, even the now-clean baby smiled.  We crossed.  Life was good.

Through this all – the poop and the breakfast and the tussle over blue jeans – I was 75% with my kids.  25% of me was writing in my head.  But that was fine, because I remembered to close the gate at the top of the stairs, and we were still going to be on time for school.  I had even remembered a little box for whatever Zach made in cookery.

When I went to hand the box to the teaching assistant, she told me they were having a picnic instead today.  Panic set in.  Last term, a class party had meant I needed to bring in apples.  Was there some culinary contribution I had neglected?  I wracked my brain, trying to remember if I had signed up to bring in paper plates or juice boxes.  Needless to say, I am not reckless enough to sign up for something like sandwiches.

It turns out that what I had forgotten was a teddy bear.  Crud.  That’s right.  Today was the Teddy Bears’ Picnic.  It turns out that the 25% of me that was writing in my head was the 25% in charge of remembering teddy bears.

As I looked around, I finally noticed that all the other children were proudly marching in, stuffed animals in hand.  On a little table at the front, a display of teddy bears had already been started.  Zachary had not noticed yet, because he was thrilled to see no one was playing with the pizza in the plastic kitchen.  For once, it was all his.  Maybe there was still time.

On the way out, I asked the teacher what time they would need the missing furry friend.  10:45.  OK, I thought.  So, if Ben took his nap in the stroller, I could get home, grab an animal, race back, and still get him to swimming.  Or, he could nap at home, and we could skip swimming to deliver the stupid teddy bear.

I pause for a moment here to mention that, just as Miss Georgina and I were having this conversation, Sebastian walked in with a teddy bear that was only slightly larger than he was.  Sebastian has a very good mother.  You should have seen the hat she made for the Easter bonnet parade.

It turns out Miss Georgina had a spare bear for just such emergencies.  Translation: she brought in an extra bear in case the stupid American mother forgot that today was the teddy bear’s picnic throughout the UK to raise money for charity.  She’s a good teacher.

Still, I thought, maybe I need to bring in one of his bears.  He is not particularly attached to any specific animal, but what kind of a slacker mother forgets the Teddy Bears’ Picnic?  Actually, it turns out the other American mother forgot, too.  Perhaps it is some kind of national deficiency. 

The whole walk home I thought about it.  If I race around getting everything ready during Ben’s morning nap, I can throw him in the stroller upon waking, get the bear to Zach, and make the end of swimming.  I CAN DO IT!

Suddenly, there it was.  The end of naptime.  And 95% of me spent the 45 minutes writing.

The other 5% was running madly down the street, teddy bear in hand.