Thursday, December 27, 2018

The Holiday Squeeze

I had to make some adjustments as I figured out—or relearned—how to Christmas while working full time.

We had the added complication this year of M's weekend work and play practice schedule.

Plus the plays and music concerts and other performances to attend ourselves.

We worked around, cut back, and made-do. I let some things drop—St. Nicholas Day, St. Lucia Day, the Winter Solstice hike and fire in the woods.

No one seemed to miss the missing celebrations, and I'm not sure how to take that—be happy that my kids are easy to please or disappointed that our traditions over the years didn't make more of an impression.

We DID host our traditional Hanukkah feast with friends, on the same afternoon we brought in our tree.

C and the boys took charge of decorating said tree, while I prepared latkes, and festooned it with miles of yarn garland from E and Z's finger-knitting days.

It took me until two days before Christmas to finish hanging all our ornaments, the same day I spun like a whirlwind, baking three kinds of cookies and my first-ever yule log cake (Black Forest flavor).

And we went on a traditional family Christmas Eve hike to the river with our guests.

Followed by family and feasting and, of course, round after round of gift-opening.

The greatest gift I received was five full days off to spend doing all of that baking and decorating, and a little last-minute shopping, and, of course, doing what I love best on Christmas: hanging out at home with my kids, watching them enjoy their gifts, nibbling all day on cookies and crackers and cheese, and just being for a little while, with nowhere to go and absolutely nothing we have to do.

I hope you and yours had a wonderful holiday season, too.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Memento Vivere

It is a shining fall morning and my husband, our three sons, and I are hiking at one of our favorite local trails. I say ourfavorite, because its a place weve visited regularly since the children were small, when the twins, Emmet and Zephyr, rode in backpacks and our oldest son, Milo, ran down the mossy trail, stopping to dig up Indian cucumber root and wild sarsaparilla and gnaw on spruce gum. Me and Papa are the plant eaters,hed declare. But today those children are disgruntled. They are eleven and fifteen years old and have better things to do than go hiking with their parents on a bright October day.
So begins my latest published essay, "Memento Vivere," which is about impermanence, growing children, and the artist Andy Goldsworthy and appears, alongside some gorgeous photography of Goldsworthy sculptures, in the Winter 2018 issue of Still Point Arts Quarterly, and which you can read, download, or order in hard copy here. Hope you enjoy it!

Monday, December 10, 2018

November Writing

I spent November trying to relearn how to be a writer who also works a full-time job. I remember back when I used to have small children and I made a zine, then blogged regularly, then went to graduate school, I was sometimes asked, "How do you find time to write?" I wish I'd had a satisfactory answer then, because I really need it now. One big difference is that I used to have children who went to bed at 8 p.m. Now the twins stay up till 9, if I'm lucky, and M until who knows when. And, though it's hard to believe, since I was so much closer to twinfant sleep deprivation days back then, but I think I need a lot more sleep now. If I don't get my 8 hours of zzzzz's, I'm zombiesque all day, which doesn't leave me much time for me. But I've been trying my best, and this is what I've come up with:

Early Mornings. Keeping in mind the essay "Five a.m., Writing as Ritual," by Judith Ortiz Cofer, I endeavored to get up at 5 every morning. I failed most days, but I did manage to get up sometime between five and six, which gave me somewhere between 15 minutes and an hour of writing time, in a silent house, with no one around being distracting; it's been a constant war between the gratification of a long writing session and the warm coziness of my bed.

NANOWRIMO. I've never participated in National Novel Writing Month, which falls in November every year, because in November I'm too busy panicing about the impending holidays without doing anything to prepare for said holidays. But somehow I decided that this year, during the month when I was starting a new job would be the perfect time to do my first NANO. And by doing NANO, I don't mean I signed up on the website (I didn't even visit the website once), nor did I track my word count, which came nowhere near the 1500-odd words per day required to reach the NANO goal of 50,000 for the month. I didn't join any discussion groups or attend any write-ins. What I did do was work on a novel every day of the month, working from premise to plot, sketching out scenes, fiddling with character details, laying out a rough outline, and revisiting one of my favorite fiction-writing guidebooks. I did not write a novel, and I'm totally fine with that. Perhaps by next November, I'll have a terrible first draft of this one and can rewrite it for NANO.

Lyric Essay. I took a workshop with the Maine Writer's and Publisher's Alliance on writing the lyric essay, which I've been interested in learning more about for a long time. From the workshop I got a better grasp on the form, assembled a reading list, and have a few ideas for lyric essays of my own. Now I just need more time...

Podcast. Coincidentally, I discovered the Marginally Podcast, which is about writing while working a day job, at almost the exact moment I returned to work and have been binge-listening to all the back episodes during my commute and breaks. When I was writing full-time, I had a vision of incorporating "professional development" into my days, but I rarely made time for these activities because I was so focused on getting my book done (and, I admit now that those days are gone, wasting too much time on leisurely breakfasts, obsessive news-following, and, though I wouldn't call this a waste, playing outside). Now, though I'm ever mindful lest I become not a writer but a person who takes writing classes or attends writing conferences or listens to writing podcasts, I feel like this is the exact kind of professional development I need—how to fit writing into the teensy margins of my life. I enjoy the hosts' back-and-forth chats about how they struggle with writing-while-working as well as the advice from their many guests. My writing community is mostly spread far afield, so it's been fun to listen and pretend I'm part of the conversation. I've picked up a few helpful tidbits along the way, like touch (or poke) your work every day, and the concept of default mode, that time when you're doing something like walking, that doesn't require a lot of mental concentration, and your mind can wander (I stopped listening to the podcast during my morning commute after that, so that I have at least a little time during the day to let my brain just be).

I've brought these habits with me into December, which is the month in which I really need to start panicing about the holidays (and actually doing something about them). I'm still getting up early to write (though taking Sundays off now), pecking away at my novel every day, listening to podcasts, and squeezing in writing, and writing-related tasks like submissions, publicity, website updates, editing work, inbox cleanout, etc., whenever I can—once the kids finally go to bed, after I walk for the first half of my lunch break, during stolen moments on the weekends. After the holidays are over, however, I'm determined to take at least a couple of weekend days per month to focus solely on writing, so that I can delve more deeply than 15 to 30-minute sessions allow. Because I need to expand my margins.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Showing Off ~ And Achieving Goals

I don't brag much about my kids on this blog, because it's much more fun to complain about them. Conflict is the essence of story, right? In fact, I don't write much about them at all anymore. I'd like to say that it's because I'm respecting their privacy and their agency over their own stories, now that they're getting older, but the reality is, older kids are just less interesting than little ones. Or maybe it's that parenting concerns are less urgent—everything is not a crisis anymore. Whatever the reason, I'm breaking that rule, and the not-bragging rule as well, because….

M won a pageant last weekend!

Each year, his school holds a fundraising event, which is part talent show, part mock beauty contest, in which senior boys perform group dance numbers, walk the catwalk in leisure wear, and show off their talents before a panel of faculty and staff judges and a crowd of adoring parents and classmates.

You'd never peg me for a stage mom or a pageant mom. I'm not even a very good sports mom because, while I get excited when my kids' team in general and my kids in particular do well, I also feel a bit of anxiety about the other team and the other kids. Whenever there's a winner, there have to be losers, and that doesn't sit well with me. (I was the mom who used to tell my kids after soccer games, in lieu of the score, "As long as you did your best and had fun, you're a winner!") I felt that same anxiety about all the enthusiastic young men onstage Firday night. At least the event didn't require much pageant mom-ing. I wasn't backstage with the can of Aquanet or anything. All I had to do was sit in the audience, take lots of pictures, and cheer.

M's participation was part of a long-held dream. He'd attended the contest his freshman year and, when I picked him up afterward, declared his intention of winning the prize when he became a senior. He held onto his dream for the next three years and Friday night brought home the crown in a tight race with a group of boys who dislpyed a lot of great talent, good humor, and inspiring enthusiasm. It's an inspiring story of having a goal and achieving it, and I've refrained, mostly, from saying things like, "Imagine if you'd made up your mind to become valedictorian instead." M, for his part, isn't resting on his laurels, but has now set his sights on the next big dream: Prom King.
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