Friday, May 18, 2007


The boy glowers at me with his arms crossed and his features set in a rage. He tells me he will not sleep in his blankets, that he wants the bed bare. (Odd.) He refuses to sleep with his pillow, that’s how mad he is. Only his Pinky teddy bear. And he is not putting on pajamas. I shrug okay. He has brushed his teeth, so I see no harm.

I sent him to bed without dessert, which is akin to capital punishment at our house. He grabbed a solar-powered calculator from his sister’s hands, and when I insisted that he give it back, Brendan hurled the calculator so that its corner dug directly into my ankle. I sent him for a time out in another room, where he wailed about the unfairness of my judgement. I found an ice pack and a band-aid, unswayed by his loud protest.

“No kiss goodnight for you!” he insisted, as I kissed his sister.

Somehow she and I managed to rearrange her shelves so that they look quite good, after an hour-long sorting disaster. Homework did not get done. Violin did not get practiced. But the dolls and the doll clothes and the vast array of journals and fabric and art paper and musical instruments are all contained, and no longer sliding into her bed. The cleaning project came about with bad timing, but this morning she told me she liked waking up in a messy pile of her things, setting off an alarm in my head. We emptied a basket of doll things to use it for the headbands, brushes and hair doodads—and I knew we had turned a corner, from dressing dolls to dressing herself. She thanked me profusely for helping her find her lost treasures and for how pretty everything looked. We talked about where to find the special books (on the living room bookshelf) and the art supplies (in the art bin), and cleared the stuff from her desktop. She grabbed a handful of M&Ms for her dessert, quietly, knowing Brendan was going without.

In ten short minutes, both were asleep, so I can turn to other needs. The soup pot bubbles on the stove, sending the cat into a begging fit until I provide some bits of chicken. I heat the water for tea to soothe my hay fevery throat. My to-do list shows I’ve forgotten as many chores as I’ve remembered today, and tomorrow is a big day to catch up. Sometimes I forget these children are so small—their spirits are so huge to me. Sometimes I forget they are getting older day by day, until I find a basket of hair accessories has replaced another of doll clothes. Until Brendan plans and pulls off a craft project from his new book with no assistance whatsoever. I still want to bottle the hint of lisp from his missing front teeth. I’m glad he’s still so willing to hold my hand and to offer smooches, on nights when I haven’t taken away dessert.

I’m not a perfect mother. But I’m good enough, today. And even if I weren’t good enough, just barely, they are two of my favorite people in the world, and I’m glad to spend this part of my life with them, a rainy night in spring when they are ages seven and nine. I’m glad to be just in the next room over, listening in case they need more than organization and teddy bears.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

saturday work

I stepped out of bed in the quiet and slipped on the new leather clogs I am breaking in. Already they’ve begun to loosen to just the right size. I could write about the need for a pair of red shoes, but that’s happy work for another day—I have a project. I’ve had this project in mind for months. Flipped the switch on the coffee maker, located a calligraphy pen and a pencil, and I tore open the 100-pack of 3 x 5 cards.

The title of the piece goes in the upper left corner. Clear categories, like The Farmland Stories or Comfort Foods are abbreviated next to the title. I need to be careful because I’ve renamed pieces along the way, and I need to know how to locate each story quickly. Has it been edited for publication already? I make a box for a checkmark, next to the word “edited?” And a list of possible publication categories in the upper right corner. I’ve written for religious publications, fiber art publications, and now women’s magazines will be listed. Literary journals for the best work. Parenting magazines—but they need to be alternative-parenting-friendly publications, because I’m an honest and imperfect parent, and I focus on foibles. Travel magazines? Food magazines? What categories am I missing?

Long, long ago and far, far away, writers organized their thoughts on 3 x 5 cards. Unlike an Excel spread sheet, cards can be dealt into stacks and columns on the floor, then recategorized and stacked again. Cards can be bundled with a rubber band and carried around in a messenger bag for strategizing, for holding alongside a book titled The Successful Writer’s Guide to Publishing Magazine Articles (borrowed). Unlike a computerized anything, cards have corners for marking codes, and the possibilities for use of color pencils are endless. This is not a perfect system—I may need to add the Excel spread sheet later, but for now I need to get a handle on what pieces need a second edit, which ones need a complete overhaul to express the central idea, which stories are worthy to sell to whom, right now.

While using the ancient form of 3 x 5 cards, I’m still working at my computer desk, still using my computer files to tell me the names of all my written pieces from the past three years. A favorite Saturday morning music show provides a backdrop, shuffling Dylan songs and remakes of Dylan songs. I only need the music as the children begin to stir their grouchy morning selves. Satchmo begs for his food and I try to pass off the turkey-giblets flavor one more time. It doesn’t work this time, either, and he comes back to meow at me and press against my new red clogs.

Ninety minutes pass when I hear the mulch truck arrive—it’s neighborhood mulching day, and I promised to finish preparing the last third of my yard before the mulch is brought up, one recycling bin and one bucket at a time, from the parking lot. I talk some child into feeding the kitty again, help a girl dress in clothes that don’t make her look like a street urchin (the sweats under the purple dress, topped by the sweatshirt and finished with bulky red socks and crocs and hair looking like a bird’s nest—the whole look wasn’t working for me. I have some standards.) I tighten bike helmets and trade smooches and say goodbye as they make their way down Main Street to pick up donuts and Some Secret Mothers Day Something.

Eighty cards are carefully labeled and stacked, with two on top that are ready to edit for two publications I’ve targeted. I’ve just scratched the surface—another four packs of cards waits for labels. I know I have at least 300 pieces to write cards for, and a few loose paragraphs lying around that are worth building. It’s fun to pat each of these stories on the head, like the kitty, and recall the work poured into them.

But now I need to put the red clogs in the closet and pull out the work boots and yesterday’s grubby pants, and the garden gloves. The writer needs breakfast and to move away from the computer entirely.

I’ll leave the desk open, though, with my computer dialed to WUMB’s “Highway 61 Revisited,” which is playing a cover version of The Chimes of Freedom. (I wrote that it was The Byrds, but just heard it's a Canadian band called Starry-Eyed and Laughing.) Breakfast. Boots. Weeds. Mulch. Thinking about my stack of cards, and about the next time I’ll have available to write cards and write stories, perhaps wearing my red clogs to break them in just a little bit more.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

"seven things" tag

I must be a real blogger now—I’ve been tagged by Jenn to write seven things no one knows about me. Seven things no one knows about me? But you don’t understand! I tell everyone everything!! It's blog tag. And I'm IT. Okay, little known facts about me…

1. I hold a varsity letter in gymnastics. (Those of you who know me as a forty-five year old not-small woman, this is not a moment for humor.)

While I am a natural in the area of balance, I am not a natural athlete and I worked very, very hard to learn the rudiments of my one event, the balance beam. Coach Ayers must’ve spent twenty hours with me lying on my back on that 4-inch beam, my thumbs grasping the wood under my neck, before I managed my first backward roll without toppling off to the side. I was a graceful-enough kid, but every single move on that beam came about through endless encouragement and multiple bruisings. So let’s see—just pull your knees over your head and grasp the balance beam with your… shins. Once I got it, though, I was like a trick pony—I could do it again and again.

I received a blue ribbon in a competition when every athlete fell off the beam, in succession. The last in the competition, I grinned like a madwoman for my entire performance, knowing that what I lacked in smooth and natural movement, I could stay on the beam every time. The blue ribbon lead to the varsity letter, my sophomore year. Compulsory routines became much more challenging (i.e. impossible for most mortals, even teenage girl mortals) and I decided I’d prefer theater productions.

2. I can’t swim.
I’ve taken a college course on swimming (and I passed with an A) and have taken numerous swimming classes. I dog paddle. I float. So I don’t drown. But I don’t swim, either. I am an imminently capable person who has tried a hundred times, and still I cannot get from point A to point B if there is neck-deep water in-between.

I have been cliff diving, once, with three lifeguards. I “made” my dorm staff do trust falls, so they “made” me dive. It was great and I will never do it again.

3. No matter how much sun I get, I’m still paler than you.

4. I keep fortune cookie fortunes. They live in a jar on the windowsill. I hurl almost every other collectible, with this useless and delightful exception.

5. The only time I’ve stayed in a hospital was when I was giving birth to Brendan, and I nearly kidnapped him and ran home, I disliked the hospital stay so much. (Birth was easy, but nurses were relentless.) Oddly enough, the food was absolutely delicious and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

6. I once tap-danced on rollerskates for a comic routine in a talent show. I skated onstage during the second verse of a folk-singer earnestly singing a love song by Anne Murray. It was really, really hideous, the kind of thing a person can only pull off once.

People where I live already think me very strange, so I don’t report this experience often. Can I just tell you, though? People laughed their heads off, and were unable to breathe when discussing it later. I was such a tremendously serious teenager—and as sincere as an Anne Murray love song. So it was good irony.

7. There is a letter addressed to me at the summit of Mt. Blanc, from my friend Roger who swears I saved his life by being his pretend-girlfriend, so another girl would get off his back. I had a similar situation on my hands, a guy trying to win my love by building furniture for me (nice furniture, too bad), so it was a mutually beneficial non-dating experience. The letter is sealed in a waterproof bag, and nothing biodegrades at high altitudes, so it will likely outlive me.

If you are hiking the Sangre de Cristo Range, let me know and I’ll ask Roger for the treasure map. Until then, I’m immortalized in Ziploc.

In this game, I tag seven other blogging people and tell them to name seven things. I worked hard to find this list!

Linda is a new blogger, a writer and avid reader near my hometown. We’ve been to the same dirt roads and ice cream drive-ins. AND SHE KNOWS MY FRESHMAN ENGLISH PROFESSOR-- who is one of the most amazing people on earth.

Lara has probably played this kind of tag a million times—she’s an amazing woman who’s been some of the same places I’ve been, in a small college in Pennsylvania, and an RD.

Byron has already played tag awhile back, I believe and his blog is far more important than tag games, but I’m desperate.

Because I can't imagine Byron's writing is free for a day, I'm tagging Pete, who needs to tell me what autumn is like in South Africa. See his April 30, "in the middle of the night," beautiful.

Kami is a free, freelance writer, former campus ministry person, soon to be former Starbucks employee, and is heading on a tour of Africa for the known future, but maybe she’ll play.

Iris, refashionista and the placid dutchman blog about knitting. Knitting! Whole blogs, mostly about knitting, with bits of life knit in! I knit, but it's not anything to write home about.

Blog-writing friends, remember IT'S ALL MATERIAL. It's all a writing prompt. Enjoy.

Monday, May 07, 2007

monday coffee and keyboard

It’s Monday morning in a writer’s life—my second cup of coffee downed, breakfast dishes stowed in the dishwasher an hour ago as the kids headed to school, and Satchmo the Wonder Cat romping and stomping around for his post-breakfast adventure. In a few hours I get to go find out what happens to Almanzo’s pet pig as I read Farmer Boy to very eager third graders.

At home though, every action is akin to pacing with impatience. I’m waiting for word from a scholarship committee, and I desperately need this scholarship to materialize NOW, so I can plan for summer. I mailed a query letter to Mothering magazine, set up a phone appointment for a new start-up magazine called Living Craft, and I need to find the appropriate editor to query for The Boston Globe Magazine. The Interweave Press article is “in the can,” so to speak, just waiting for print, and an online literary magazine features a story of mine—this one doesn’t pay, but it’s not a fibercraft publication, and it’s not a faith-related publication, so IT’S JUST ABOUT THE QUALITY OF MY WRITING, so this is a milestone.

I’m itching to register for classes (Santa Fe! Santa Fe in July!), but I need to wait until the money situation is clearer.

Last week Brendan was home with a fever and I didn’t feel too well, either—my family postponed my birthday celebration until eating seemed like a good idea, and then when eating seemed like a good idea Cape Ann experienced a bout of seriously good weather, and no one wanted to be indoors for any reason other than sleep. We celebrated an early dinner at our favorite Mexican restaurant, last night, with the staff bringing me a candle-bedecked flan and a whopping sombrero to top off our meals. Scott reminded me that last year at this time, I was applying for a completely different kind of masters degree program, ending a job in an unhappy way, and I had not taken my writing as seriously as I need to. But I was glad for the upcoming summer, just as I am now.

In a few weeks I’ll begin a job with a blog for a major women’s magazine, so if you see that my writing has turned to subjects like hair, clothing accessories and other girl-stuff—stuff I’m practically embarrassed to focus on—it’s an experiment, and I hope you’ll stick with me. Can I write about girl-stuff as a self-respecting forty-five year old? Can I finally admit in public that I wear make-up on a daily basis, even though I appear quite low-maintenance? I miss, miss, miss my life climbing in trees with teenagers, and touring caves for summer camp. But I don’t live a climbing-helmet life these days: I live a hair-product life, a life in which cool-looking shoes need to be noted if they are also insanely comfortable, a how-do-I-lose-some-weight life. And I’ll be telecommuting in just a few weeks, while my kids play at daycamp. It ain’t perfect, but I get paid to write and play with ideas. It’s perfect enough.

Now my writer’s life needs to move to the practical showering and dressing stage, then I need to clear out my bag for the coming week and make my way to a beach walk before my third grade reading group.

It’s coming along, though, this writer’s life. Two years ago I was falling apart. A year ago I was so sad and frustrated. Just now I see a clear path to work on my book and to make money along the way, and my work is a joy. My family seems to be in a good-enough place. My cars are repaired. The weather is beautiful and the gulls are singing for their breakfasts outside in the boatyard.

Now if that scholarship will just come through…