It’s the last day of November and I’m finishing up my blog-a-day month by being featured on Studio 30 Plus, where some of my favorite writers hang out on a regular basis – The Suniverse, The Empress, and Midlife Mixtaper Nancy Davis Kho. Stop by and say hello!
I came back from summer vacation revving with ideas about writing projects. My mind bubbled with book proposals, blog posts, novel revisions, pitches for magazine articles. Words and ideas tumbled around in my head like socks in the spin cycle. I was on fire, people, on fire.
A Russian composer – Shostakovich, maybe – said you should write everything down because the brain is a fragile vessel (especially if you live in Stalinist Russia), and that’s what I did with all those ideas. I jotted notes and lists and phrases into my new favorite notebook and figured once the fall semester was underway, my jottings would jolt me back into action.
Insert sound of brakes screeching to a halt and maybe add the sound of breaking glass for good measure.
I got nuthin. Oh, I’ve got lists and notes and little phrases; I’ve got pages of those. I’ve got some good photos, some funny photos, some hipsta-insta retro-photos.
But more than that, I ain’t got.
I tease my writing students about the fact that you can’t wait to be “in the mood” to write. Usain Bolt doesn’t wait until he’s “in the mood” to go for a run; baseball players don’t wait until they’re “in the mood” to stroll onto the field. Writing, I say to my students, is a muscle like any other; it needs regular exercise to work fluidly, and that only comes with practice.
You can’t wait for the inspiration fairy to come whack you on the head with an idea, I say, and they laugh, and I laugh, because we all know that ideas don’t come from fairies.
Except right now I am wishing, hope upon hope, that the idea fairy wafts into my apartment on a sandy breeze and whacks me in the head, or at least whacks the thin-lipped, long-nosed, pissyass editor who has taken up residence in my mind. With each of my attempts to start anew, the editor sneers; she scoffs; she shakes her head in dismay at my frivolity, my lack of insight, the complete absence of intellectual heft. She throws up her hands and asks what the hell any of this blogging stuff is good for, anyway?
I have no answer for that last question other than to hang my head and mutter “mumble mumble writing practice….mumble mumble creative outlet…mumble mumble connections with home mumble mumble…” Pissy editor lady is unimpressed. And the longer she reigns, and the longer I go without producing some solid pages of writing, the worse it gets.
To make matters even worse, I teach writing. I spend hours and hours a week talking about writing strategies, about tools and tricks and techniques, about evidence, story, detail; revision and argument and authorial control. You’d think I could cure myself of writer’s block – physician heal thyself, right?
This physician, however, can’t heal herself, but I think I know who can. One of the staples in my writing-teacher bag of tricks is Anne Lamott’s brilliant, hysterical Bird by Bird. I always give students at least a few chapters to read (a frisson of excitement always runs through the classroom when the students notice that one chapter is called “Shitty First Drafts.” You can see them thinking “shitty…oh boy…this is college!). If you’ve not read Lamott’s book, you should, even if you never plan to write anything other than a grocery list.
Lamott would call my Pissy Editor Lady an anti-writing voice–we all have them, whether it’s the impossible teacher you had in eighth grade, an overbearing father who red-lined your every word, or the teacher’s pet in 11th grade who cheated on her essays and always got away with it. Wherever those voices come from, Lamott says, imagine picking them up and dropping them, one by one, into a glass jar. Then clamp on the lid. Then put the jar high on a shelf somewhere, preferably in your next-door-neighbor’s back closet.
Then go to work.
This post, then, is my equivalent of a glass jar and my neighbor’s back closet.
Take that, Pissy Editor Lady. I’m hitting publish right now.
Within the span of the last month I have been on safari in Kenya, a water park in Lafayette Indiana, a friend’s house in Easthampton NY, a small rental apartment in New York’s East Village, and BlogHer12 in midtown Manhattan. After careful consideration, I’d say that in terms of sheer stimulus overload, BlogHer12 wins, hands-down.
Throw whatever metaphor you want at BlogHer–prom, high-school lunchroom, convention, sideshow, circus–and you’ll find that almost any of them will work to explain at least some aspect of the conference, which pulled in more than 4000 writers/bloggers over the span of three days. That’s a whole lot of bandwidth. The blue BlogHer banner commands enough respect that President Obama addressed the crowd (Mitt was invited but apparently couldn’t fit it into his schedule. Something about having to attend a mandatory “how not to offend foreign heads of state” remedial seminar or something).
Why did I go to BlogHer? Well, I was curious, mostly; and I was going to be in New York that weekend anyway; and I figured that after four years of writing this blog, I should try to swim in the big kids’ pool.
What did I expect? Um…that I’d write a book proposal at the Pathfinders Session on Thursday, sell the proposal on Friday, be on the “Today” show on Monday, best-seller list on Tuesday.
Can you believe? It didn’t happen.
The stimulus overload, though? Yeah, that happened.
Was it Obama addressing the conference on live video feed? Katie Couric, Martha Stewart, Christie Turlington, Soledad O’Brien, Malaak Compton-Rock, talking about how women can change the world? Or the readers from Voices of the Year, who made me laugh, cry, and consider taking up embroidery because they were so intimidatingly good. And then, of course, there was swag that ranged from toys for kids (Hot Wheels) to toys for adults (did you know Trojan sells a whole line of “personal vibes?” Not sure I’d have the guts to ask the teenaged cashier at Walgreens to grab it off the shelf, but maybe you will.)
Oh and also? There were panels on every topic from video-blogging to podcasting, from writing about kids to writing erotica, but the professionalism of the panels varied as widely as the topics themselves, from wow that’s really exciting to did you plan your talk on a napkin at breakfast? (Ado at the Momalog has a great post here about the panels.)
I learned a few things in the midst of all this stimulus overload: I learned that there are bloggers who write, and writers who blog. It’s a bit like “vacation” and “family trip“: on the surface, these things might look the same, but each has a very different purpose.
I also learned that even though the BlogHer Sparklecorn party is justifiably famous, living on the north side of forty (as I do) makes it hard to sparkle your corn (even if you’re wearing your favorite gold clogs) in a room jammed with loud music, long bar lines, and twenty-somethings in tutus and glow-sticks. Even unicorn cake couldn’t tempt me:
Here’s what else I learned: If a willowy blonde comes over and says something to you while you’re frantically trying to save seats for Obama’s opening speech, you shouldn’t be embarrassed about saying “I didn’t hear you.” Because if you just nod and smile and continue to scan the room for the fifteen different people you’re trying to find (in a room that holds hundreds), then later you’re going to feel like a complete ass. Because when you sparklecorn yourself out of the party and down to the more civilized hotel bar, a blonde in a fantastic dress will say “oh yes, we met,” and you’ll say “no we haven’t,” and she’ll say “yep, we have,” and then you’ll realize that the woman you ignored at Obama’s speech is none other than the marvelous Marinka, who had been on your list of people-I-hope-I-meet-but-probably-won’t-because-she’s-one-of-the-cool-kids.
What else did I learn at BlogHer? I did learn something quite fantastic, and it wasn’t the advice I got about writing and publishing. Much of that advice I already knew, although it’s always good to be reminded.
What I learned at BlogHer came from the generous, funny, intelligent writers I met during my three days, with whom I had fantastic conversations about politics, families, writing and shoes; we took silly photographs and drank too much mediocre wine (and a few pink martinis, courtesy of the Mouthy Housewives and Aiming Low). I’m talking to you Suniverse, and Empress, and Squashed (who read her piece so beautifully during the Voices of the Year celebration that she reduced the room to tears); and to you Mutterschwester, Book4MyDaughter, Millenial Monster, Outlaw Mama, Momalog, and Random Handprints. I’m talking about bonding over the brilliance of Crowded House with Midlife Mixtape, being flattered beyond belief that Wendi Aarons had heard of my blog, and laughing until I cried at Arnebya’s hysterical Chipotle post.
These women and the many others I talked to taught me that the phrase “the blogging community” is not a metaphor. It is what my almost-eight year old would call a “true fact.”
Alexandra (aka The Empress) suggested I let people know that I respond to comments. My responses to your comments should pop up in your email box, but if that doesn’t work (yeah, I skipped the panel on tech-administration, yep, I did), please check back to continue the conversation. Thanks!
The other night I went running.
I know that for some people, running is a regular task, not worthy of commentary. They just run and then do that whole bounding into brunch thing, all glowy and endorphin-y, and say “great run, dude, up at sunrise and just really cleared my head, hey, yeah, I’d love a wheatgrass juice, thanks.”
Let’s be clear. My body ain’t exactly built for speed.
Of course, it’s not really built for endurance either. It’s built for…cheese, a little tapas, maybe a dry rosé.
But the other night, I was out at the
soccer fields football pitch with the boys; it was a beautiful evening; I was wearing my sneakers. There were two empty pitches off where no one could see me as I trotted around and I figured that running on grass would perhaps cushion my increasingly rickety knees.
I stretched, I tied and re-tied my sneakers, I adjusted my
walkman ipod to the music I like for exercise: loud. Loud drowns out the slow thud of my feet and my equally thudding breath.
Off I went around the fields, The Black Keys filling in my ears, trying not to notice the slight floop floop of my tummy as I jogged along.
Okay, I think, I’m running. My mind should be clearing, I should be feeling my creative juices bubbling up.That’s what’s supposed to happen when you run so any minute now I should be getting an idea – HEY! I could write about running. Yeah. That would be great - maybe I should stop and write this idea down?
I do not stop. My inner gym teacher keeps yelling at me to move, dammit! Inner gym teacher looks a bit like Sue Sylvester and a bit like Mrs. Friel, from 9th grade, who seemed to think it her mission on earth to make pre-adolescent girls cry.
I whine to myself in time with the music: I’m huuunnnngggrrry….I’m thirrrrsssstttyyyy….I’m tirrreeed. I offer bribes to myself – ice cream, cookies, cheese – if I do just two more laps, which I figure would bring me to almost twenty minutes of non-stop
running trotting jogging ambling quickly. I do not believe my own bribes and call myself a liar.
The gym teacher screams at me again to move. I kick The Keys a little louder. Okay this running thing isn’t so bad. Let’s get a little more speed going here, yeah, that’s right, a little faster.
I am flying. I am Usain fucking Bolt here, I am burning up that field, it seems I am built for speed.
Whoosh. See that blur? Yeah. That was me.
In my mind, anyway.
Okay, maybe I was more Usain Bolt’s great-great grandmother than Usain himself, but still. I did it. Twenty minutes of non-stop “running.”
And you know what? I think I want to do it again.
**when I wasn’t pretending to be Usain Bolt (or his elderly relatives), I wrote about the expat workers in Abu Dhabi for the World Mom’s Blog, over here; and published a sort of op-ed about the relative failure of Abu Dhabi’s recycling program (as near as I can tell, the city/country doesn’t have one), over here.
Somewhere in the U.S., it’s still Monday even though here I’ve just put the kids on the bus to Neckerchief Academy for their Tuesday. For yesterday’s listicle--which I’m going to pretend is today’s prompt–Greta gave us a prompt that is basically an exercise in eating humble pie: a list of ten things we said we’d never do…and then did. I did this list the easy way: I thought about being a parent and how often being a parent seems to result in eating one’s own words with remarkable frequency. Or maybe that’s just me. Maybe the rest of you don’t have this problem. Sigh.
1. “because I said so, that’s why.” Yes. That was me. And more than once. The phrase of parental last resort–and it’s not a resort that I’d like to visit as often as I seem to be doing.
2. There was a time, back in the day, when I thought team sports were the exclusive realm of the Great Santini and his offspring. I didn’t play a team sport growing up (me and hand-eye coordination were strangers for a long, long time); I don’t follow a particular team; I don’t get the whole “team” thing. Mostly I just don’t play well with others, is what it boils down to. But then Liam fell in love with soccer and there I was…standing on the sidelines in the freezing cold, driving all over New York to games, and here in Abu Dhabi, I’m back in the shlep-wagon, out to soccer school, over to practice…And you know what? Being on a soccer team (and having the great coaches he had in NYC–thank you, Sean and Marcus) — it’s the best thing that could’ve ever happened to him. Of course, my weekends are shot to hell, but hey, who needs a weekend away, right? Rah rah rah go team.
3. “do you know how many starving children there are in the world who would eat that?” I have a very clear memory, when my mother would say that to me, of saying back to her “well why don’t you mail my food to the kids in Biafra then, hmm?” Funny, she didn’t seem to appreciate that idea. I remember also thinking to myself “I will never, ever say such a stupid thing to my kids.” Yeah. Well. Um. What can I say. It’s true, dammit. So eat your carrots!
4. In graduate school, I spent a lot of time thinking about feminism, poststructuralism, gender theory, and other stuff that now makes my early-middle-aged brain hurt to even contemplate. At the time, however, my friends and I sat around talking learnedly about how gender differences were really just socially constructed ideologies that could be done away with if parents would just be a little more, you know, thoughtful. I believed my own words until the first time my little boy picked up a stick and said “pwang pwang pwang…” I’m still a feminist but now I’m a feminist who has to accept that she has sons who will, for reasons known only to their DNA, step over or around the socks on the floor, leave the toilet seat down, and look at her blankly when she says “why did you knock that over?” Let me be clear–they are made to put the socks in the laundry, wipe off the toilet seat, pick up the thing they knocked down. But I’m fighting against genetics, here, people, which means that, yes, I’ve been that person who smiles and shrugs and says “well (nervous giggle), you know, boys…” Ugh.
5. Related to 4: when my boys were toddlers, I’d watch their adorable chubby selves playing “bakery” in the sandbox and look in horror at those ill-bred “big boys” playing chase and I’m-gonna-shoot-you-with-my-triblatteringlaserpistolgrappler. I’d be all smug and judgey and decide that the mothers of these boys had utterly failed. I mean really, what mother would let her children play such a violent game? Um…hi. That would be me. And I’ve even said “run around and chase with your friends,” because I recognize that children are like puppies. They need to be exercised regularly or they’ll just wreck the furniture. .
6. MY children will never be like those OTHER children who walk around surgically attached to their screens. Cue hysterical laughter here. Computers, e-readers, DSi, iPod touch…the electronics in this family could stock an Apple store. I think we manage their computer time pretty well but the sad fact is that when screens are up, bickering is down.
7. You know how when you were little and your mom would spit a bit on her shirttail or (worse) her fingers and smootch at your cheek to get off the remnants of your last meal? And remember how you thought “god that is gross!” Remember how you thought, nah, you’d never do such a thing? Yep. I thought so too. And then just yesterday, I grabbed Caleb’s arm just before he got on the school bus and swiped–with my shirt and some spit–at the glob of jam on his cheek. He said “MOM THAT’S DISGUSTING” and squirmed away.
8. I never thought I would have sons. How’s that for hubris? I always wanted to have children but in my mind’s eye, it was always me and charlottedoralucyameliaruby reading Little House on the Prairie and playing dress-up and then later, when they were grownups, my daughters and I would hang out and have long conversations about Life and Shoes and Relationships. They’d tell me what to wear so I didn’t look too dowdy and we’d be the best of friends. But noooo, the gods have a larky sense of humor and so I am the mother of boys, which means I don’t sit on the beach and flip through magazines. No, it’s SWIM and DIG and PLAY BALL WITH ME and DIG and SWIM. And when I’m an old woman living alone with a hundred cats, the boys will buy me the valu-pak of Depends and the high-grade cat food, and congratulate themselves on being good sons.
9. I would never make separate meals for my picky eaters. If they don’t want to eat what I cook, then they’ll go hungry. HAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAAHA My children’s eating habits keep me in a state of perpetual humility. I have failed here and here and here and will probably fail again at dinner tonight.
10. God. Some people just can’t shut up about their damn kids. That’s what I thought. And then I started a blog.
Double-dipping this week: this post also links to the wonderful lovelinks site–it’s like Cheers bar for small bloggers (or micro bloggers, in my case). It’s where everyone knows our (screen) name and they’re always glad we came, where everybody can see that all our troubles are the same…and now everyone knows that I’m old enough to remember that show when it wasn’t in reruns! Click on the button below to find some great reading–and then come back on Thursday to vote for your favorites. I won’t even be mad if you don’t vote for me!