Tag Archives: writing

Feel my withered roots begin to grow

In January, 2008, my husband flew from London – where we were living – to Los Angeles – where we were moving.  It was a house-hunting trip.  He was going to narrow down neighborhoods, visit preschools, and scope out cars, as we had sold ours before moving.  I trusted him because I had to – someone had to stay in London with the boys.  But he also knows me and my requirements, and I trusted that he would look for a walkable area with good air, a preschool that could serve our kids well, and a car with low gas mileage.

When he came back from the trip, he was filling me in as we stood in the kitchen of our little London rental while our two boys watched television.

“Santa Monica has good air, but it’s pricey.  Plus, it can get touristy in the summer.”

“OK, what about Brentwood?”

“Brentwood is nice, but I don’t think you’re going to like it.”

“I think I need to take a pregnancy test in a few days.”

Without missing a beat, without so much as catching his breath, despite the fact that we had always planned on two children, he replied, “Well, then we aren’t getting a Prius.”

***

Six months earlier, he had looked at my body and commented, “You know, from the waist up, you’re thinner than you’ve ever been.”

***

Yesterday, I came downstairs to work while my husband was still sleeping.  I read my email and then worked for an hour.  Lilah woke up and I went up to shower with her in the room while J came down to feed Zach.  As I closed the bathroom door, I said, “My agent dumped me.”

I wasn’t interested in hearing his sympathy yesterday morning, but by mid-afternoon, I was ready to talk.  I called him.  “I don’t think it’s time for me to look for a job,” I said.  “What we’re doing is working.  I’m not making a lot of money, but I’m here for the kids.”

“I think that’s right,” he replied.  “Whether or not you sell the book, you are publishing.”

“But it’s going to mean we keep making the sacrifices we’re making, with you doing a lot of childcare and housework so that I have time to write.  You have to be sure you really want this, because it means you have to keep supporting my writing even though we’re not getting much money out of it.”

“I understand that,” he said.  “But since we’re not hiring any extra childcare for it, any money you do bring in is bonus.  If you were in a job, most of the money would go to childcare, anyway”

Sometimes, the man steps in it, but when it counts, he knows exactly what to say.

You’ll need to click over to see the video, but it’s worth it.

Fuck

I’m up early and I ought to be doing my work.  I have writing group tonight and so I am supposed to be reading the pieces.  But I can’t.  I can’t focus, which for me is unusual.  I am so focused.  I have been so focused for so long.

You see, all this hard work – all the split shifts when I get up at 5 to work so that my husband can leave for work at 7:30, all the working through naptime and while the kids clamor for my attention – it is all to attain a “platform.”  A platform is what an author needs to sell a book.  So, I’m selling articles that take me 20 hours to write for $100 because they are in high profile publications.  And I’m busting my ass looking for subjects and ignoring the garden and not reading blogs all because my agent has been telling me for two years that the only way she can sell the book is if I establish a platform.  Which is what I am doing.

But this morning I cannot concentrate.  Because this morning she replied to my email – the one with the list of publications I have scraped and struggled and gotten into.  And she’s letting me go.

After all the work we did together on the book, she has to let me go.  It’s just too hard for an independent agent to sell a book right now unless the author has been published in Vanity Fair.

So, later today I will interview experts for the article I’m writing and I will attend writing group and I will take Benjamin to get his sticker chart reward.

But right now, I just can’t focus.

Edited two hours later to add:

I’m not sure why I am taking this so hard.  Usually, setbacks just make me work harder.  I’ve worked so hard and wanted so badly to be an author.  I’ve tried to take things in stride, to remember it’s a tough market, to believe in myself.  Today, I am trying to decide where the line is between optimist, determined artist, and just plain fool.  And whether I crossed that line long ago.

Working 5 to 9

Trust me when I tell you that you should buy the next issue of Bitch.  Actually, you ought to be subscribing to Bitch, but if you’re not, you should buy the next issue, because I have a piece in it.  It’s a Q&A with actress and writer Jamie Denbo, who is funny as hell onstage but over-the-top hilarious in an interview.

I loved doing the piece, not only because it gave me a chance to catch up with an old high school buddy, but because Denbo gives very good interview, and what she has to say is smart.  The Q&A covers comedy, sex, and – of course – being a chick in a man’s world.

What did not, however, make the final draft were a couple of interruptions.  First, my husband, exasperated at trying to get the kids to bed in the next room, decided to take Benjamin up to the attic to sleep.  (Don’t worry – it’s a very nice, finished attic.)

“Hang on a second,” I told Denbo.  “Honey, don’t take him up there.  That’s what he’s trying to get you to do.  He wants to go up there so he can stay up for two more hours and explore.”  I went back to the interview.  “Sorry.”

Denbo was laughing on the other end of the line.  “Please, don’t apologize.”

Fifteen minutes later, she told me to hang on a second.  “Hi, big girl,” she said to her toddler daughter, who launched into a description of a merry-go-round ride that her father had just taken her on.  Denbo’s husband (actor John Bowie Ross) started up Hairspray for the little girl, but there were several more interruptions to come – Denbo’s cell phone, my toddler daughter needing a kiss, Denbo’s infant son waking up.

After every interruption, we picked right back up in the conversation.  That’s just how we roll these days.

*******

Several months later, I came downstairs at 5:30 AM to write.  I was working on an article for an alumni magazine about an entrepreneur who started a fair trade company.  (That interview was interrupted when Lilah got up early from her nap and then had a poopy diaper.)  Now I was trying to transcribe the interview so I could start writing the article.

I had been aiming for 5:00, but Zach has been having trouble falling asleep lately as he often does during a cognitive burst, and he had kept me up late the night before.  So, I only got in a half-hour of work before I had to shape a few cookies from the sun-butter, whole wheat dough I made the day before and put them on a cookie sheet.

While rolling the cookies, I noticed the sink was dirty.  Part of the nighttime cleaning is to wipe down the sink and counters.  Since I’ve been going to bed so early, I’ve left the evening cleaning to my husband, who both goes to bed and gets up later than I do.  He is less committed to wiping down the sink than I am, and – feeling myself getting annoyed – I forcefully reminded myself that I am less committed to things like filling out school and camp forms than he is.

I emailed my husband with the subject header “Please”: “put cookies in oven for 11 minutes at 375 degrees. bring up laundry from cellar.”  Then I stretched and left for a half-hour run.

When I came back, J had fed Lilah and changed her diaper.  I fumed because J had not washed the tray from the cookies.  He went to shower. Children were waking up all around us.  The cookies had cooled so I packed lunches.

I went up to shower.  When I came down, Benjamin had eaten, Lilah had yet another clean diaper, and the cookie tray was clean.  J left for work while I started pulling clothes over children’s heads.

*****

My Facebook status update read: “I blame Betty Friedan for my lack of free time.  Also Gloria Steinem.”  My inbox was suddenly flooded by comments from women who – despite being committed feminists – knew exactly what I was talking about.

We decided to blame Dr. Sears, as well.

Alive and well and living in New Jersey

Don’t worry about me.  I’m fine.  I’m just working on some stuff that — you know — actually pays me.  Plus, the kids are all in growth spurts, which means that I need to dig out the next size clothing, so if you all ever want me to have time to blog again, please send me all your hand-me-down size 5T clothing.  Because Zachary looks like he’s wearing pedal pushers these days.

Benjamin was eying my computer the other day, which — ever since the Flying Laptop Incident — makes us all a little nervous.  “Don’t touch Mommy’s computer,” Zach told him.  “Or you won’t be allowed in our house anymore.”

“For goodness sake!” I said.  “Don’t tell him that!”

“But it’s true.  If he breaks your computer, you won’t be able to work anymore and we’ll be homeless.”

Now, in response, did I point out to him that what I make as a freelance writer doesn’t even pay for our yearly supply of dental floss?  No, I just reminded him for the hundred and ninety-seventh time that — in the event that we run out of money and are not be able to pay rent — we can always move in with his grandparents, so he has no reason to fear homelessness.  Because, if that child wants to believe his mama is picking up 50% of the tab around here, I say bless his little heart.  Who am I to set him straight?

Show me that smile again

As a part-time, work-at-home freelance writer, I often find myself in a childcare pickle.  Such as last week, when I unexpectedly landed a pitch with a very short deadline and had to stand on my head and juggle childcare with two hands and a foot in order to get into New York and conduct the necessary interview.  So that I could write and revise the two articles I sold in January, my husband took over all the post-kids’-bedtime chores, I stepped over screaming toddlers to get to my computer, and I once again did not get my lip waxed, although now the hair is so long I can simply tie it back in an elastic and throw it over my shoulder.  Things get complicated around here when I actually sell work.

But it is much harder when I don’t.

Because it hurts when I don’t, given that my self-esteem is held together with two toothpicks and a strip of masking tape.  And, unlike people who are in offices or quiet studios or whathaveyou, I do not have the luxury of hurt feelings.  Because I get the emails with the rejections while I am on the internet looking for a phone number of a karate studio and Lilah is scaling me as though I am a mountain and Benjamin is asking if he can use the large knife to chop onions and Zachary is doing his homework perfectly except that he is writing 31 and 41 for the numbers between 12 and 15 and I am not correcting him even though it takes all my strength to stop myself from doing so.

I can’t tell them that I am sad about a rejection because it is so foreign to their world that it would be meaningless.  I can sit for a moment, once I’ve removed the knife from Benjamin’s hand, and feel it, but I only have a moment because there is most likely an ass out there I need to wipe.

I have an old, old friend I only get to talk to every few months.  He is an academic, which is the profession I was pursuing back in the day when I was all career-minded and shit.  And, when we talk, I often express my envy that he is on this career path, towards all things bright and shiny.  And he tells me, “From where I sit, you have it all.”

He reads my blog.  Maybe I make my life seem more glamorous than it is.

My friend is of course right.  I have a husband who takes over all the evening chores after a long day at work when I have a deadline.  I have some childcare help to allow me to do part of my writing.  I have a more or less financially secure life (she knocks wood).  And I have three lovely children, who, despite driving me three types of batty, are absolutely delectable.

Nonetheless, I take the rejections hard.  Because, the truth is that I have to start selling to bigger name publications if I want to establish myself as a writer.  The competition is fierce, and I am not Faulkner.  I have a certain facility with language, a sharp sense of humor, and a willingness to bare my ass in public, but I am without two things:  I have a hard time coming up with ideas, and I lack the self-confidence to think anyone gives a shit about what I write.

When I ask you all to register your undying affection for my writing at polls like the one over at Babble, I am doing it because without those strokes, I ain’t gettin’ much lovin’.

The rejections and the acceptances roll in more or less equal numbers, but it is deceiving, because I lack the imagination to find new places to submit.  I am not much of a saleswoman because I don’t really believe in the product.

After that moment on the couch, I get up and finish chopping vegetables with Benjamin, who has insisted we will be having stir-fry for dinner.  I have convinced him to go with carrots and broccoli over apples and potatoes, but other than that he has planned the ingredients himself.  Then I take Lilah and him for a little walk.

He babbles on and I go on auto-pilot, inserting the correct answers when I need to.  “Mommy?” he says.

“Yes?”

“I love you.”  I stop walking and lean down.  I pull Benjamin into a hug.  As we walk on, he doesn’t know I am crying.  I am crying because I know that there are different kinds of success, and I just need to keep remembering that I am choosing this one.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t mourn the loss of a more traditional form of success or wonder if I am choosing this path because I doubt my ability to make it on the other.

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.