My online writing class wraps up today. The eight weeks of the class seemed to fly by. Although it was a bit of a challenge keeping up with the class work (especially with added complications like a long-term house guest and C's intense work load that kept the computer occupied most of our waking hours), I am sooooo glad I took it.
This is the third online writing class I have taken, and before that I took one face-to-face class and one workshop, but this was the first time that I really grasped that good writing involves much more than putting words and sentences together in a pleasing manner. That is not to put down previous classes--they have all built on each other (quite inadvertently), and I think I needed to spend a lot of time learning simply to write descriptively before I was ready to move on to other elements of craft like voice, conveying different moods or emotions through use of tense or varying sentence structure, etc.
Our teacher, Kate Hopper, provided a written lecture and representative writings on a different topic or element of craft each week. While I was familiar with some of the writings, I appreciated discovering new writers, especially those whose work has been published outside of the usual motherhood-writing type publications. I also appreciated that she offered guidance in how to read and interpret the readings. While I have been instructed in the past to "read like a writer" I never really knew what this meant.
We were also given two writing assignments each week, although some of them involved two or three writing sessions for me to get out what I needed to write, and most of them I could easily go back to again and again to mine my own thoughts for more information and details. This differs from other writing prompts (such as those in Writing Motherhood), which get you to free write, but don't necessarily encourage deeper exploration. For each writing exercise as well as for the longer "workshop" piece we were each allowed to submit, Kate offered wonderful feedback--while being both nurturing and encouraging, she gave real concrete, constructive suggestions on making the piece better.
The class was conducted in a web-board format, which I much prefer to the email format of the poetry class I took. The web board feels more personal, you have more contacts with each class member and you have more flexibility in when to post or comment. Through this format we all got to review and comment on each others' work, and it is amazing how quickly we came to "know" each other, despite never having met in person. Unfortunately, participation tapered off as the class went on, but that is not surprising considering the demands mothers face, and it has been the case in every other adult-ed-type (that is, not for credit) class I've taken. Me, I'm such a cheapskate that even if it was awful (which it soooo wasn't) I would have stuck it out just to get my money's worth.
It takes a big leap of faith to sign up for a class with a faceless teacher on the Internet (and drop a week's salary to boot), but I was not disappointed and I would recommend this class to any Mama who wants to hone her writing skills.
A couple of weeks ago, on the way to the beach, I popped into the book store and picked up a book I had pre-ordered (I love that combination: beach and books), This Lovely Life by Vicki Forman. I first ran across Forman's writing in her Special Needs Mama column on Literary Mama and from there I found my way to her blog.
I was drawn to Forman's heart-wrenching story--the extremely premature birth of twins, the subsequent loss of one baby and the multiple disabilities faced by the surviving one. But I was also drawn to her writing style--clear, smart, brutally honest--and her character. Even though we live in literally opposite corners of the country, and even though our experiences are equally opposite, I felt like she was someone I'd like to sit across the table from at a coffee shop and have a good chat with.
This Lovely Life covers Forman's birth story, from arrival at the hospital in full labor, through the loss of Ellie and the agonizing months her son Evan spent in the NICU and his subsequent readmissions to hospitals for various surgeries and other complications. It is a sad book, for sure (I found myself in tears several times) and incredibly moving, but it is not depressing. Though Forman does nothing to mask her range of emotions--anger, guilt, frustration, exhaustion, depression--throughout she writes with an awe-inspiring clarity and manages to bring to the book a sense of...I'm not sure what the word is...not joy, but appreciation of life...grace, perhaps? The book is the story of her learning to become the mother of her disabled son and her dead daughter, and that is a beautiful thing. Even after having read her blog and column and knowing the eventual outcome, I still found it beautiful.
One element that I especially connected with was when she mentions that she remembers almost nothing of her older daughter's third year, the year she spend going back and forth to the NICU and other hospitals. While I obviously didn't experience anything nearly so dramatic or painful, I feel like I missed out on M's fourth year, the year the twins were babies demanding every ounce of my body, mind and soul.
The book reminded me to be more grateful (grateful for my full-term, healthy twins, and grateful for each day). I appreciate that she did not go all "god-ey." While I understand that in difficult times people find themselves turning to a higher power for comfort, counting your blessings doesn't always make for compelling narrative. That's not to say that the book doesn't have a spiritual element, which Forman approaches as honestly as she does her other emotions in the book--with hope and ambivalence--a very real and human response I believe.
As I read, I didn't want to stop. When I was at work, I wanted to go home and read more. I don't often buy books anymore, but wait for them to show up on the library shelves, but I am so glad that I bought and read this one.
I was very bummed to see Looky Daddy post his last post this week. Looky Daddy is like my mirror image--identical twin girls with twin older sister each about exactly six months older than my kids. Looky Daddy also wins the award for my longest-read blog--others have come and gone, but I keep coming back to more of the Looky Daddy Hijinks. Hopefully it means the Looky Daddy book will be out in about a year from now. If you haven't been a Looky Daddy reader, quick, go read the archives before they're gone too. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll be really glad your kids don't go behind the couch to poop.
There's nothing a writer likes doing more than reading about what other writers have to say about writing. Or is that just me? In any case, here are two blogs that are chockerblock full (that's a Maine phrase, btw, in case you didn't know) of writers writing on writing.
As part of my Waldorf wanna-be persona, I set up this little nature table in the corner of our living room (before it had been a nature windowsill, which tended to get dusty and neglected). E and Z enjoy changing the day on the seasonal calendar (which we only remember to do about once a week) and adding little bits of rock and wild apples to the collection.
Yesterday while I was on the phone with my mom I sat down on the couch and saw this out of the corner of my eye.
With a lot of "ungh, ungh, ungh" ing, I picked it up with the tips of my fingers and transferred it upstairs to M's closet where he keeps a box of feathers and snake skins (more "ungh, ungh, ungh"). My mom thought this was most amusing.
When C got home with the boys, I asked him if he had added it to the nature table, but he said he found it with E and Z and they put it on the table of their own volition. Then I felt bad, and thought it wouldn't set a good example to be freaked out by something as harmless as snakeskin (to be clear, I am not freaked out by snakes, but the texture of the skin sicks me out--as does peeling sunburn, baked, cracked mud, and a variety of other things with a mungy texture).
I relented, retrieved the skin and returned it to the table before they noticed it was gone...
just to show we appreciate all nature in our house...even the mungy kind.
I am a writer, a public servant, a mama of three boys, a tree-hugger and nature lover. In my spare time I try to live lightly on the earth and strive for mindfulness in all I do...and I hope to teach my kids to do the same.
All content on this blog copyright Andrea Lani.
With a nod to Kazuo Ishiguro's wonderful novel, The Remains of the Day, which, in the interest of full disclosure, I had not even read until this blog was nearly two years old. It's surprising to find one has a lot in common with an aging butler.