Archive for the 'Writing' Category

My First Concert

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

This morning at the bus stop, one mom said she’d saved all her concert Ts, imagining she’d make a quilt out of them. I asked what her first concert was.


I asked the dad next to us, and he said, “Yes.” I was about to repeat the question when I realized he had answered it, which he clarified by adding “90125.” Which, thanks to my husband, who introduced 8yo Drake to Yes, gets played way more (meaning, at all) in our house than I’d like it to. Yeah, I remember the many versions of Leave It on MTV, and I owned the album on vinyl, but still.

My first concert was Sting’s Dream of the Blue Turtles tour. I told my friends this morning there was a story which I couldn’t tell while the kids were still around. I realized later I’d gotten mixed up in my head. The Sting concert isn’t much of a story.

I went with my friend P. We lived outside Columbus OH, and the concert was at a new outdoor stadium near Cincinnati. I drove. I think we bought some beer and waited to drink it there. Once in the stadium, though, when nature called, we discovered something upsetting. The venue had no bathrooms. And if we went outside the venue, we wouldn’t be allowed back in. In retrospect, this seems unbelievable. And perhaps it wasn’t true. We had been drinking. My memory of that concert is of holding it for 2 hours until we could finally leave the venue, and then waiting in what seemed an endless line at a porta-potty. Someone later told me that bladders don’t stretch. I’m pretty sure mine grew two sizes that day.

See? Not a great story. The one I was thinking of involved the same friend and going to see Desperately Seeking Susan. But that is another story for another day.

Back to School

Thursday, September 1st, 2011

I started fifth grade on the second day of school. I was sick on the first day, with one of the terrible sore throats I’d have for eight more years till I got my tonsils out. While sore throats were normal, I’m suspicious of the timing; I was starting a new school. Again.

My sisters started first and third grades on time, but Mom took me to work with her at church. I forgot my book, so I spent the day paging through Christian family magazines. I’m not sure if I felt better the next day, or was more willing to face a new class than the church basement, but I went to school.

Kindergarten through fourth grades were in the elementary school, but fifth graders were bussed to a squat brick building on the outskirts of town. The Union school had two classrooms on two floors, with music and tornado drills held in the basement. At recess, my teacher told me to go with Renee, a tiny girl who introduced me to the other kids. Everyone wanted to know why I hadn’t been in school yesterday.

“Sore throat,” I said, using few words because it still hurt. I might also have been shy. It was my fourth school by fifth grade, while most of the other kids had been together since kindergarten.

At the end of the day, the bell rang and four classes of students clambered onto one bus. The driver was an old man named Dickie. I sat by myself in the seat behind him, reading the book I’d forgotten to bring the day before. It was a Trixie Belden mystery that belonged to the best friend I’d just moved away from. Our parents said we’d see each other, but she’d given me the book as insurance.

Off the bus and into the car, I pled my sore throat and let my sisters tell Mom about their days. On the forty-five minute drive to the apartment we stayed in till our new house was ready, I read Trixie Belden and wished we hadn’t moved.


(P.S. 5yo Guppy started full-day kindergarten yesterday. I said I’d get back to writing fiction when that happened. As with fifth grade, I’m starting on the second day.

After the move, my friend’s and my parents were true to their words. We continued to see each other. She was a bridesmaid at my wedding, and her mother just friended me on Facebook.

This sounds sadder than I thought it would when I started. I think it also sounds like my parents might be divorced; they’re not. Finally, while places and people might resemble those in real life, this is not necessarily truly true. It’s “pretty much all true,” as Olivia the pig might say.)

Louise Erdrich’s “Advice to Myself”

Saturday, June 18th, 2011

I’m reading about Louise Erdrich as I prepare to discuss The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse tomorrow. In an interview she did with Bill Moyers, she includes this piece she wrote to herself as an encouragement to keep writing:

Leave the dishes.
Let the celery rot in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator
and earthen scum harden on the kitchen floor.
Leave the black crumbs at the bottom of the toaster.
Throw the cracked bowl out and don’t patch the cup.
Don’t patch anything. Don’t mend. Buy safety pins.
Don’t even sew in a button.
Let the wind have its way, then the earth
that invades as dust and then the dead
foaming up in gray rolls under the couch.
Talk to them. Tell them they are welcome.
Don’t keep all the pieces of the puzzle
or the doll’s tiny shoes, don’t worry
who uses whose toothbrush or if anything
matches, at all.
Except one word to another. Or a thought.
Pursue the authentic.
Go after it with all your heart.
Your heart, that place
you don’t even think of cleaning out.
That closet stuffed with savage mementoes.
Don’t sort the paperclips from screws from saved baby teeth
or worry if we’re all eating cereal for dinner
again. Don’t answer the telephone, ever,
or weep over anything that breaks.
Pink molds will grow within those sealed cartons
in the refrigerator. Accept new forms of life
and talk to the dead
who drift in through the screened windows, who collect
patiently on tops of food jars and books.
Recycle the mail, don’t read it, don’t read anything
except what destroys
the insulation between yourself and your experience.

On Margaret Atwood and “The Handmaid’s Tale”

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

From Nathalie Cooke’s Margaret Atwood: A Biography

Atwood started writing The Handmaid’s Tale in spring of 1984 while living in West Berlin and finished it later that year. It was published in 1985 to critical acclaim and would go on to be short-listed for the prestigious Booker Prize. While she wrote it, her husband said to her, “You’re going to get in trouble for this one.” Though she was well known in Canada previously as both a poet and novelist, this brought her a larger, international, mainstream audience. Her American publisher ordered a second printing before the first was even released.

She claims the original idea came from a dinner-party conversation about the dangers of religious fundamentalism. “No one thinks about what it would be like to actually act it out,” she or someone else said. Then she said, “I think I’ll write about that.”

In 1983 she began to compile a scrapbook about “the religious right wing, no-cash credit-card systems, on the low birth rate and prisons in Iran.” While the setting for the book is Cambridge and Boston Massachusetts, Atwood had traveled to Iran and Afghanistan, and the repressive rules for women she encountered there were also part of the inspiration for the near-future dystopia of Gilead.

Cooke quotes Atwood’s argument that The Handmaid’s Tale is not science fiction:

Science fiction is filled with Martians and space travel to other planets, and things like that. That isn’t this book at all. The Handmaid’s Tale is speculative fiction in the genre of Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four. Nineteen Eighty-Four was written not as science fiction but as an extrapolation of life in 1948. So, too, The Handmaid’s Tale is a slight twist on the society we have now. (277)

(Interestingly, this rejection of the SF genre is one speculative fiction, sci-fi and fantasy writers and readers would likely both agree and take issue with. They’d likely agree it was speculative fiction, but take issue with her separatism, since most works grouped in the sci-fi and fantasy genres can be better described as speculative fiction.)

In spite of this protest, The Handmaid’s Tale won the Arthur C. Clarke Award for Best Science Fiction in 1987.

What I Am, Is Sick of Spam

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

Hat tip to Bread and Jam for Frances.

Every time I sign in to my weblog, I have oodles of spam; the Wordpress filters seem particularly inept of late.

7yo Drake, who is looking over my shoulder, (watch what she types, Guppy!), added:

What a piece of work is spam.

!!! My seven year old is making puns on Hamlet. I’m so proud I could burst.

This is actually not (so much) a post to gripe about it, but instead to say thanks to longtime commenters and now friends (virtual or otherwise and not in a particular order): Amy R, Kate F, Weirleader, Steph, Carolyn, Vince, Sarah, Thalia, Jessica, my aunt, my father in law, MFS, Susan P, Inquirer, Camille, and others who I can’t go on to name since I have a boy at each elbow and am no longer at leisure. Many thanks for your ongoing conversations. While this blog is my attempt to practice regular writing, it’s made much more enjoyable and challenging by the discussions and perspectives you bring!

“Stop When You are Going Good”

Monday, January 10th, 2011

Scott Gavin has a great excerpt from an interview with Roald Dahl in which he talks about his writing process:

But if you stop when you are going good, as Hemingway said…then you know what you are going to say next. You make yourself stop, put your pencil down and everything, and you walk away. And you can’t wait to get back because you know what you want to say next and that’s lovely and you have to try and do that. Every time, every day all the way through the year. If you stop when you are stuck, the you are in trouble!

I found it synchronous with my own thoughts on both writing and being online, and my attempt to limit bouts to 20 minutes. If I stop at 20 minutes, rather than trying to finish up, I don’t end up going to a next thing, and a next thing, and looking up and hours have passed without doing much at all.

Having the confidence to “stop when you are going good”, coupled with the ability to crank it up again the next day, feels like a more mature place to be in terms of one’s personal creative process.


Making Time, Again

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

In recent entries about the answer to “where do you find the time?” (here, from McSweeny’s, and a holiday version, in which I can’t believe I forgot to write: Don’t send cards, especially if all you’re doing to do is send pre-made cards with your signatures.) I noted my favorite Lee Smith quote about women writers. I was remiss in not mentioning my friend M who blogs at Mental Multivitamin, who has also influenced me, both in my attitude toward taking time, as well as in helping me teach myself what I value enough to take time for, like reading, writing, and, as she calls it, the life of the auto-didact.

If you struggle with finding time to read and write, or if you find yourself wrapped up in shoulds to the exclusions of things that nurture your self, be it emotional, intellectual, physical or spiritual, then this entry, and the links within it might help.

From “Where Do You Find the Time“:

I make time for the things without which I could not live — my family, my work, and my studies. And then I make time for the things among all the rest that will enliven my sense of self; and, of course, this has and always will include involvement with my community. But — and this is essential — it will be on my terms, not someone else’s

Finding Time to Write

Saturday, December 11th, 2010

One of my favorite quotes about writing is one I’ve posted before, but it bears repeating, if only for myself, though I bet for many other of my readers, by Lee Smith, for an interview she did at Indiebound:

My advice for young women writers is just do it. Don’t wait for some ideal point in your life when you will finally have “time to write.” No sane person ever has time to write. Don’t clean the bathroom, don’t paint the hall. Write. Claim your time. And remember that a writer is a person who is writing, not a person who is publishing. If you are serious about it, you will realize early on that (particularly if you expect to have children) you can’t take on a high-power career in addition to writing. You probably can’t be a surgeon, and have children, and “write on the side.” (On the other hand, you could marry a surgeon, thereby solving the whole problem.)

I have learned to live with levels of dirt, mess and laundry that I previously would not have tolerated. Writing is on my Maslow’s list of basic needs somewhere after sleeping, eating and reading. I do use the TV as a babysitter. As I write this, my boys are playing Gran Turismo on the Playstation downstairs. But isn’t that fair? I’m having screen time, so are they. Yeah, I’d like to restrict them to an hour a day. Most days I do. But how can I do that when I don’t restrict myself to that, and wouldn’t want to, or even think I should?

I have been writing for years. I’ve been published in other places beside this blog. This year, for the first time, I began to be paid for some writing. I am a writer. And writing with kids is hard. They’re smart. They recognize they’re not getting my attention, and clamor more for it till they get it, for better or worse. A friend of mine had her 3yo throw her laptop on the ground. So I find ways to squeeze it in. While they’re watching movies. Playing outside. My husband and I trade off chunks of time with them so the other of us can work. I trade playdates with other moms on a regular, scheduled basis so I get chunks of time to work; I work better in chunks than in slivers.

I write. I keep writing. Writing begets more writing. It’s a habit, just like exercise. It IS exercise. I’ve put fiction on hold till my 4yo Guppy is in school full time. That may be Fall 2011, or if he only gets into half-day kindergarten, it may not be till September 2012. And for all those platitude-spouting people who say the time goes so fast? I don’t find that’s the case; September 2011, and definitely 2012, feel a long way off. The only time I find going fast is the quiet time apart from kids when I take time to read and write. I love my kids and spending time with them. I am fortunate enough to be a stay-at-home mom by choice. But I also love spending time by myself. And writing.


Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

Yesterday’s blog post was supposed to be about making time to write. You’ll notice that it didn’t appear, as it hasn’t yet been written.

Instead, my husband asked yesterday if I’d make cookies so he could participate in his friends’ cookie swap at work. So I’ve been nerdishly finding recipes, making trips to _3_ different stores (though all were part of 2 combined trips for other things.) And not writing. (This doesn’t count. This is thinking “aloud.”)

Anyone care to wager how many of five recipes I’ll end up making? Here’s the pie-in-the-sky (or rather, cookies-in-the-sky) list: Metropolitan millet muffins (which I wrote about before but am not going back to find the link for; sorry! See–not writing; thinking aloud.) 2 types of cake-mix cookie (to compare, of course), red velvet whoopie pies, buckeyes and mint thumbprints. Also prepping to take a meal to a sick friend for tomorrow.

So, writing? Not so much. Also, please feel free to leave comments, as many of you do. I’m getting SLAMMED with spam lately, so approving (or not) comments has gotten discouraging.

Long Live the Colon!

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

For all my punctuation-geek friends, (of which I know there are many) “Colonoscopy: It’s Time to Check Your Colons” from the Millions (linked from The Morning News):

The jumper colon is a paragraphical Red Bull, a rocket-launch of a punctuator, the Usain Bolt of literature. It’s punchy as hell. To believers of short first sentences—Hemingway?—it couldn’t get any better. To believers of long-winded sentences that leave you gasping and slightly confused—Faulkner?—it also couldn’t get any better. By itself this colon is neither a period nor a non-period… or rather it is a period and it is also a non-period. You choose.

Sugar? Oh, Honey, Honey

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

For my foodie friends, I just finished a piece on sugar and sugar alternatives at Simple Good and Tasty.

Sugar is enjoying a resurgence in popularity after years of being vilified for empty calories and its role in things like tooth decay, obesity and diabetes. As the negative effects of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) have become better known, sugar’s profile has risen. Cane sugar, as opposed to cheaper beet sugar, has especially benefited from HFCS’s bad press; it is actually being touted as a healthful ingredient. Yet cane and beet sugars are highly processed, refined and provide no nutritional value. Other, less refined, sweeteners have some benefits that sugar doesn’t. Yet nearly all of them raise blood sugar, and have little nutritive value. So why bother?

Here’s what I learned/confirmed:

Honey can’t be organic. Maple syrup and honey are the only sweeteners local to MN. All sugars are bad for you, though some are better than others IN MODERATION. Almost all sugars/sweeteners, even if natural, are processed (except raw honey). And finally, I still prefer to bake with not-completely refined cane sugar for the best results. Oh, and Stevia kind of scares me.

On Francine Prose

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

from “In Praise of Prose” at Commentary Magazine:

In a literary age dominated by absurdists, genre benders, hysterical realists, and post-modern transgressives, Francine Prose quietly goes about her business within the great tradition of the novel, coming out every year or so with a new book that unravels human complexities by telling an interesting story about them. Although she has received far less critical attention and praise than other novelists of her generation (Marilynne Robinson, Richard Ford, Jane Smiley, or Richard Russo), and though she has never received the National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, or even the Orange Prize for fiction by a woman, Francine Prose has produced a body of work that, taken as a whole, is without peer in contemporary American fiction.

I’ve now read three by Francine Prose, A Changed Man, Reading Like a Writer and Anne Frank: The Book, the Life, the Afterlife. All are excellent, and I plan on reading more as I’m able. She is erudite, but accessible, and her work makes me want to read and learn more. Is there higher praise?

One Down, One to Go

Monday, March 15th, 2010

This is me, now, under deadline:


I finished one article yesterday, and have one to go. Reading, laundry, email, blogging are all on back burners.

I’m off to read and write about eggs. As M, who blogs at Mental Multivitamin writes, see you on the other side. (Animation also courtesy of M.)

“Rules” for Writing Fiction

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

From the Guardian, a collection of Top Ten lists by authors on writing, inspired by Elmore Leonard’s soon-to-be published 10 Rules of Writing. There’s a lot of the usual: trust your instinct, read more, write consistently, blah, blah, blah.

But there are also some gems, such as:

Take a pencil to write with on aeroplanes. Pens leak. But if the pencil breaks, you can’t sharpen it on the plane, because you can’t take knives with you. Therefore: take two pencils. (Margaret Atwood)

Keep a light, hopeful heart. But ­expect the worst. (Joyce Carol Oates)

Work on a computer that is disconnected from the ­internet. (Zadie Smith)

I found this linked to at Lit Life, The Morning News, and Arts & Letters Daily.

Book Review by Paula Fox

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

At The New York Review of Books, author Paula Fox, on moving from Manhattan to Brooklyn:

The evening of the day we moved in, I made a quick supper. We sat at a table surrounded by stacked cartons that evoked in me a memory of Stonehenge, a cardboard one. The atmosphere at our table was a mix of hilarity and malaise. The neighborhood and the house felt alien. We had moved into a foreign city, a feeling shared by some of our friends in Manhattan in those years, and indeed still.

The piece is ostensibly a review of a reissue of a book by a former neighbor and friend of hers, L.J. Davis. Instead, it’s a beautifully written mini-memoir that happens to discuss the book. (Link from The Morning News)

I was stunned by the power of Fox’s writing when, as an adult, I read her Newbery Award winning Slave Dancer. Monkey Island and One-Eyed Cat were good, too. I have a few of her books on my to-read shelf, including her memoir.

Did you know she’s the biological grandmother of Courtney Love?

What More Do I Need?

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

At the Sun Times (link from Morning News), Roger Ebert remembers wondering, as a student:

What do I really need that isn’t here in this room? Its dimensions are a little more than twice as wide and deep as I am tall. I don’t know, maybe 150 square feet? Here I have the padded wood chair in which I sit tilted against the wall, my feet braced on my straight desk chair. I am holding the three-inch-thick Paul Hamlyn edition of Shaw’s complete plays. This room contains: A wood single bed, an African blanket covering it, a wood desk and its gooseneck lamp, a small dresser with a mirror over it, my portable typewriter, a small wardrobe containing my clothes, a steamer trunk serving as a coffee table, and two bookcases, filled to overflowing. What more do I actually need?

I enjoyed reading Ebert’s description of his book collection and office, and his admission–only toward the end!–that he’d miss his wife. I am a reader, but also a weeder of books. This has led to moments of regret, though few compared to the number of volumes I’ve gotten rid of. My husband G. Grod is more of Ebert’s stripe. Given his druthers, he’d never get rid of a book. (Alas, we are not the king and queen of infinite space. Or many bookshelves.)

I was thinking along the same lines as Ebert just this morning, as I worked in my office, organized books on our shelves, and spent time in our back bedroom and porch. Those three spaces–bedroom, porch, “office” (aka closet) are about all I’d need in a living space. They comprise my fortress of solitude, for whatever scant time I spend there to read, write and rest. Food and company I find elsewhere. (The latter, in the form of my two boys, usually finds me, first.)


reading porch

A Clean, Well-Lighted Room of My Own

Monday, May 11th, 2009

For Mother’s Day, I de-crapified our back bedroom and unblocked the door to the closet/my office, which has been variously blocked over the past three years by a glider, crib, and changing table. I dusted, re-arranged, and brought order out of chaos.

This is the back room, which I envision as a reading room:

Reading Room

And the closet office:

Closet office Desk, detail

The other side:

Behind desk Dresser, detail

It’s small. It’s a closet. But it’s clean and well lighted. I’m reclaiming it.

It’s mine.

Ambivalence over the Yucky Bits

Saturday, February 7th, 2009

At Salon, Rebecca Traister examines some recent women’s confessional articles in “Girlie Gross Out”, and wonders if it’s liberating or too much information:

Oversharing is in. And for a lot of people who are doing the sharing, or experiencing it, it’s not so much “too much information” as it is the next, necessary step in personal-is-political, enlightened honesty about the female body.

Traister doesn’t draw a conclusion, and I’m not sure there is one. I had an experience very similar to one of the several described in the article. I talked about it at the time, but rarely do anymore. It scared people, and that didn’t seem kind to do.

I’m reminded of the hubbub over breastfeeding photos on Facebook. I breastfed both my kids until they were at least a year old, often in public. But I always tried to be in a quiet place, and be discreet. It was something between my kid and me; I didn’t and don’t think it’s anyone else’s business. Yes, I fully support and encourage women to breastfeed in general, and their right to do so in public. Yet while I see how photographs of this support that right, they also bug me–they _are_ too much information. Mommy friends of mine breastfeed their kids around me all the time; that’s great. But they don’t deliberately solicit my attention to it, as do public photos, and the type of articles described at Salon.

My own conclusion then, if there is one, can be only about me. I try not to overshare about the messy bits, except to my OB/GYN. If somebody else does it, I appreciate that there are positive aspects, but part of me would also be fine if I didn’t know that. I support someone else’s desire and right to do it, but also my own right to be ambivalent, bothered by it, or avoid it.

Link from The Morning News.

Ta Da!

Saturday, January 24th, 2009

If you’re reading this on a feed, please click through. My technical support guy, ahem, husband, finally was able to do the a$$load of tasks needed for an upgrade to Wordpress 2.7, and a new template.

It’s very different from the last, very busy one. I like the non-serif headers and serif for the text–yay for round periods! My only concern so far is that the white background doesn’t provide enough contrast, in general and to see the links.

What do you think? Is it in, or is it out? (Imagine that phrase in Heidi Klum’s voice.)

Updating My Resume

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

I’ve been a stay-at-home parent since 2004. A good friend called recently about a job opportunity that sounded like a great fit, though, so I just finished updating my resume. I wrote my first resume about twenty years ago, and have learned some useful techniques over the years to polish it. Here are my top ten; do you agree, disagree? What are some of yours?

Tailor the resume to the position you’re applying for. Put the most relevant information first.
Check, double check, then check again. Errors on resumes are often deal breakers.
Use active, powerful verbs to describe experience. Eliminate passive constructions.
Edit for brevity.
White or ivory paper only.
Prepare a Word document and a text-only version. Use the latter to avoid sending an attachment.
Times New Roman, 12 point, at least 1-inch margins all around.
Use bold and italic sparingly, but consistently.
Use double spacing when possible for ease of reading.
Early in your career: one-page resume. Later, you can go longer, but keep it short and sweet.