Tuesday, January 27, 2015

No is really a redirection, not a slap on the wrist

My older son is into mazes right now. I loved them when I was a kid too. I remember sitting in the back of the room with the other gifted kid who was never doing his work either (we were really terrible students,) making mazes for each other. It was so fast for me to visualize the path through the maze, especially if I started at the end.

I don't want to get all self-helpy on you or anything, but I've been thinking about the word "no." And not just because my younger son recently turned two. I've been thinking about it since my novel came out.

Since I released the book I've had to do a lot of asking and promoting and tossing ideas out. Nearly all of the time when I've asked things, they've been well-received. But no one's going to hear "yes," all the time. Not every road is a simple direct path, there's bends and turns and sometimes even dead ends.

I have this shame though when I butt up against the word "no." As though my asking were unjustified.

People are generally flippant about asking for things. "You can always ask, right? What have you got to lose?"

But the truth is I do feel like I lose something when I ask. It's generally worth the risk, but the let-down of "no," can be hard to bear. It makes me feel the shame of asking for something I didn't deserve, of stepping beyond my station, beyond where I've earned being.

The feedback on the book has been phenomenal. People are up late reading. They're telling friends. They're reading!

But I knew the negative would happen eventually and so it did. A woman told me in a terse tone that she had put down the book. She'd been offended by a scene in it and refused to read the rest.

And I was devastated and ashamed.

She was a librarian. I realized that I had wanted her to like my book because I'd wanted my passions to come together. It's kind of like when you really like two people and so you want those two people to like each other but they don't.

But after some time to process the whole thing, I decided it was worth it. She's not my audience. The library's job is to create a space where everyone can be and get engaged in reading and the community. My audience has appreciated the story. And not everyone will. At least my first (not-so-constructive) criticism was in person. At least it was direct. At least it wasn't a person who truly needed the story.

The library is not the venue for my book. The library should carry copies for sure. But that's not the place to promote it. The book is about serious problems. It's uncomfortable at times. And that's not what a library is for.

I'd asked and received the answer, "no."

I self-published. No one knows where the publishing industry is headed and I took a risk and put my neck out to do this. I don't have a reputation yet. So book stores see me as a risk. I'm asking them to take that risk and it makes me terribly nervous.

But if I think of the path this book is taking like one of the mazes my son does, I can see the end. In the end, I do well as an author. In the end, I'm moved by women who read my book and tell me their stories of being sexually abused, of living in residential treatment, of finding their paths. Someone notices the line that I loved writing most when Seffra is under her kitchen table carving in the under belly of the wood and how the fibers snapped like teeth breaking. As a reader, I live for lines that I can taste in my mouth or that move my mind across skies, lines that grind grit between my teeth.

When I tell my kids no, I realize how they don't want to hear it. Sometimes I get down on their level in order to try to help them see that "no" is not really a bad thing. They simply need to change tacks.

So I continue to ask. I realize that no is a dead end in the maze. It's the part that tells me I'm going the wrong way; I need to turn around so I can get to the end. No, is simply a redirection. It says, nope, not the library. It says I need to change tacks, try something else, connect with artists, connect with the disenfranchised. That is my path.

Here are the tacks that have gotten me partway through the maze:
  • I did my first live reading at a coffee shop in Breckenridge. It was terrifying and wonderful and people listened and I got one under my belt. Plus, I got to have an evening out.
  • I met the owner of a small book shop who invited me to do a reading at his shop and offered to carry my book
  • Colorado Mountain College where I work will be selling copies of my book and will be featuring me in their Speaker Series where I'll give a reading and a talk and sell books. This will be huge in providing credibility to me as a writer and will also be a tremendous boost to me professionally. Or so I think. I'm not at the end of the maze yet.
  • I have an author event scheduled at Bookbar in Denver and am very excited for the excuse to go to that venue and check out their digs.
  • I'll be having a release party soon and dang if releasing this book isn't something to celebrate the hell out of!
If you hadn't seen it before, here's the link to pick up a copy of my book, Between Families, which I am terribly proud of and hope you enjoy:

And if you don't, change tacks.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Collony Collapse- a poemish thing I wrote at Tallgrass Writer's Workshop

If you take a walk on a college campus,
do it on a Saturday in June.
It's a ghost town then.
Students tucked in,
no more dressing in stockings to head down to the Student Union for breakfast,
with hair fresh out of rollers, the crick not yet worked out.
Graduation has moved online.
You wear a cap and gown at midnight and Skype in from Greece and Thailand,
or work's bathroom if you transferred in from community college.
So go to a college campus on a Saturday in June.
Sit in a carefully landscaped courtyard, where your thoughts can settle like the dust on a bookshelf
far from the honeysuckle smells of the countryside which are souring now, fermenting, dying.
Where cottontopped folks sit in rockers and used to give uninterrupted advice,
whether it was 140 characters or *gasp* more.
In the courtyard, you'll find, along with your dusty thoughts,
a concrete fountain turned off and a piano in waiting.
Chiseled in the concrete, evidence of the past in block letters
1932, 1934, 1935
and the piano,
draped with a bright blue tarp begging to be undressed, caressed, keys tinkled on,
it's tied to a street lamp, dimmed now.
Strapped down like the identity of the town whore (then)
or worse, the town bore (now,) pompous and self-interested.
Still telling long tales of who was who and what family wronged which
and which was what one and which ones were who
While millenials zip by in peddal pushers and helmets.
What used to be reserved for Saturdays at home- the pedal pushers
or pilots- the helmets
They're chasing the bees.
They've gone missing, haven't you heard? Colony collapse.
It's all the twitter here
A screen blue, a few taps & the light changes, brightens.
Faces alight, the youth mobilize, ipheromones at the ready

directing them where and when
abuzz the hundreds of followers pass flowers blooming in the bushes.
The birds cheaping and nesting in recovered private.
A statue in bronze, a hornet in World War II attire.
It's not what the swarm had hoped for.
Was a hornet part of the collapse or just honey bees?
They'd wanted a queen.
Someone to order them,
tell them what to do,
how to protest,
how to fix it all.
in 140 characters or less
a brand
that block letter stamps into you
the answers
short and sweet.
Not a relic in a flight suit
male and irrelevant. A drone.
I pull out a pocket knife.
Night falls.
The street light chirps on.
The millenials and bees and ideas all gone off
I settle in,
cut the cords
lift the lid
and play.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

My Two Moms

I've been reading crap I shouldn't read. I shouldn't read it because it clouds my head with bad writing but I miss reading so bad reading is what happens. I can't read books when I'm writing. I can't hear my own voice well enough when I'm listening to someone else's.

I read this article I won't cite here because it's not worth you reading it really either. It's a nice idea, I guess. It's a set of photos of moms sitting next to each other. The photos each contain two women each holding a sign that says what two divergent choices they've made as moms. "I had a scheduled c-section. I had a planned homebirth."

The idea, of course, being that two women who have made very different choices can find common ground and be friends. And the reason I take offense is NO FUCKING DUH. Of course two women can make different choices and still be friends. We're grown ASS WOMEN.

Don't insult us like that.

The premise is this mamby pamby bullshit I don't like that implies that because women disagree, sometimes vehemently about these choices, that they're being sophomoric. That disagreements among women are to be taken down to a level where we're being adolescent girls fighting over boyfriends instead of adults making profoundly meaningful decisions with vast impacts on an entire generation of children. To degrade our disagreements on decisions like whether to breastfeed or not and what method of discipline to use, is to degrade our next generation.

The decisions we make as parents are far-reaching and meaningful. They are not benign or arbitrary.

If you choose to feed your child fastfood vs. organic home cooked meals, let's not call those two equal decisions.

I'm not saying you can't value a friend or that a mom is a horrible person for making a decision that was in the moment, the best decision she could make. I'm not saying we should fail to support one another and henpeck her to death. But let's neither pretend that the two decisions were equally valueable. One decision was harder.

I cloth diaper my kids. I don't like rinsing shit in the toilet. Not at all. I don't want a totem pole of martyrdom rectified in my honor for it or anything. But when you say, "that must be hard." It is. And I should be doing more. I should be taking the bus more. You should too. We should be preparing our stories for our children of why we made the choices we did. I want to be able to say, "I tried. I bought things used and recycled and used cloth instead of depositing piles of shit in a landfill."

We shouldn't be holding hands and pretending like none of it matters. Neither should we be scrapping over who does what best. We SHOULD be pushing each other to be better. Not every choice leads to the best outcome. Is it really so bad to have to justify the choices you made? Because certainly not all of mine have been good. But I should be able to be proud of the ones I made that were hard-wrought and good. And so should you. And when you made better choices than I did, I hope it made us all better.

Friday, January 3, 2014

I'm thinking a lot about giving birth last year since it was a year ago tomorrow that I had Gavin. Here's what I have to say:

His birth was such a great experience that it made me understand why people video tape birth. I would watch it again. It was amazing to not know he was coming, be trying not to push, and suddenly have it be over and have this squishy beauty in my arms who latched on for all he was worth.

Gavin is the sweetest soul I have ever been attached to. He burrowed in and held tight and I adore him the softest parts of my soul like ... nothing else.

Giving birth both times is the closest I've ever felt to Rob. When things are tough, we work things out together. He helps me breathe and focus and I'm so glad I'm parenting with him.

We have been through the ringer with him lately. He has a reflux disorder that impacts his kidneys and so we've spent the last 2 weeks dealing with major surgery for him. Much like in giving birth, the support you need is there. Breathe. Rob and I can do this.

It really takes a village. I've taken the help. It's led me to new and deeper relationships. I have a friend who has taken my 3 year old on a moment's notice on 3 separate occasions. The kids wouldn't be doing this well without relationships like that. Rob and I wouldn't be doign this well without relationships like the exchange student that lives at my mom's who came and shoveled the driveway when we brought Gavin home after surgery. Or my friend who just came to town and tagged along while we had Gavin's stents taken out semi-emergently and then bought us lunch. We have a good village and a good kid.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

I wrote a book. I wrote it a long time ago. And it wasn't very good. But then I started getting my master's degree in writing in order to learn how to edit a book. And I learned how to edit a book. Check.

So then I went back to my book. And that's how I knew the first draft wasn't very good. It wasn't terrible either. You'd read it through to the end likely. But it needed direction and to be more fluid. Plus, I'm a better writer now than I was when I wrote the first draft. So I tackled a lot of the focusing and rewriting this fall.

The book's about a girl who is removed from her home and lives in residential treatment. I wanted a story like this to exist. I felt like people needed it to exist. So I wrote it.

But I've felt weird about writing my book. I feel like someone might slap me across the face and yell "IMPOSTER"

But the thing is, I believe in the story. And I wrote a good book. Those are important. And while I don't know that I accomplished the huge goals I had of making a story for people who've been through it, and also of making a story that will bring some awareness to these stories to the public, I did my damnest.

So who the hell am I to write a story like this or to ask people to donate money to make it great? It turns out, I'm the one who wrote it down. I'm the one who tried. And even if I didn't meet these goals, maybe it will spur someone else on to doing it better. There's far more than one story of kids in residential treatment but if this is the one you read, I wrote a good book at least.

Please click the link below and share or donate to support bringing it to readers.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Struggles & The Luxuries

I made friends with my birthing class teacher. I did it because she is the kind of woman you can tear your pants in front of and not bother to change, the kind of woman you don't have to clean your house to have over, the kind of woman you can give birth in front of. It doesn't hurt that she's beautiful.

I like having beautiful friends. And I have a lot of them. I'm spoiled like that. I hate to admit this, but I really like to have good-looking teachers. The truth is, if someone's teaching you, there's a solid chance you're staring at that person's face for a long, long time and it's nicer to do if it's a pretty face. I bet there's no research on that, but I bet it's true that all other things being equal, we like pretty teachers better. So I made friend with this pretty teacher lady and it's turned out really nicely. I also love her daughter who is a special class of spitfire.

Anyway, my friend came over the other day to have our kids play while we drink coffee and be in this world together. I can be in the struggle with this friend. And that's quality. She and I are having similar struggles. We're good moms who are skilled at finding resources and activities in the community and sometimes we don't get enough sleep and get annoyed with our kids. We both stopped working at maximum capacity and stayed home (mostly) with our kids. We both bought our homes when we were DINKs (dual income no kids,) and then nearly cut our incomes in half and now have two kids. We both enjoy working and enjoy grownup time and trying to figure out how to approach a balance with that is a challenge.

I have cast my lot and made my choice. I quit my job and went to school and I'm finishing my book which isn't as good as I want but isn't bad either. I pursue being a writer. And eventually I'll make a living at it. It may take a long, long time, but I have a long life ahead of me and enjoy working at this so that's ok. Mostly.  Sometimes it doesn't feel so ok.

It doesn't feel great that we buy gifts for birthday parties at thrift stores. Even though it is a more earth-friendly gift giving method, I feel cheap and trashy about our gifts sometimes. A three or four-year old doesn't know where you got a present. He only knows it's awesome. Still, I feel cheap when I get them at a thrift or consignment store. Even though I don't feel that way when someone gives us those gifts. I prefer them. Because it's a more sustainable practice and it makes me feel like the person giving the gift gets our family and its values. But when I do it, I know we have to do it that way. We don't have the income to spare.

And the income struggle is the struggle for us. I feel that struggle when we can't afford to visit family most. When I stress about how to pay for insurance which I haven't purchased yet. When I can't take the kids for an activity like a cool scenic train ride or when I can't buy the expensive coffee I want. Or when I'm deciding whether to attend graduation and not having the money to rent the cap and gown is a problem. Sometimes not being able to do something makes me want to do it more.

I quit my job at the beginning of 2012 and I don't regret it for a second. That job was killing me. And I'm good at tons of things so it's profoundly stupid for me to spend time working in something that makes me that miserable. That said, I feel responsible for the financial situation we're in now.

I fantasize about the day when I'll make a good living and enable my husband to quit his job and play guitar all day. He knows I'd do it and there's a reciprocity there that helps me get through this time when he's supporting us. I feel uncomfortable about that. Him supporting us. It feels like I've done a shitty job as a feminist even though that's not what it's about.

What it IS about is making a good decision for our family. Parenting my kids and pursuing writing. I have to do it. Or what the hell kind of person am I?

When I think back to how I got through it when I very first quit, I remember thinking of all the luxuries this choice provided for our family. So much time to sit on the floor and sing with my boy. Time to make elaborate healthy meals with whole ingredients, including grating my own orange zest and making a rue for pasta. The time I spent with Magnus resulted in him being more secure; you could tell within a month or two he felt that way.

And it's still a struggle. That truth sits in my delicious coffee mug filled with homebrewed coffee with my favorite chip in the side of the mug. I like the way the chip fits against my bottom lip when I hold my spoon to the side and slurp. We don't have money. We've sold our car and tried to sell our house and deferred our loans in order to have this life together. That truth cools my mouth.

But there are these luxuries that you just can't buy with money. I play ring-around-the-rosie and read parenting books that I get time to apply. I stop what I'm doing to run outside and jump in puddles or grab handfuls of the first snow with the kids. I lay in bed in the morning with both boys clambering for snuggles from every person in the bed. Sometimes they bonk heads and laugh and do it again because all those smooches and hugs pad the pain of any struggle. I write. I write and write. I teach and live to inspire myself to write and teach more. I watch videos to see what I can use to inspire my students and catch the bug in the process. I help. I cook and I pet my cat and wear yoga pants while writing my blog. My life is luxurious. It is full and well worth the struggle.

Monday, September 30, 2013

When I was a little girl, I befriended a little old lady who lived several houses down on our street. She was in her nineties and rarely left her house. I don't even remember how I met her now. I took to heart the lessons I learned in church and checked in on her from time to time. She was on Social Security and barely scraped by. She was very frail and could hardly walk to the end of her driveway and so the mailman came to her door. It was a small town and people did things like that. I remember the trouble she had lifting her arms to comb her long, silver-streaked gray hair. She had crocheted toilet paper roll covers that made her tissue into dolls with full skirts. Once, I "helped" her make pasta. I remember how she stood, her walker next to her and her table before her, and with slow deliberation, cut the layers of pasta.

I don't remember how it tasted or what else we did with it. Just the act of her impossibly small frame leaning over the table to cut it. I wanted desperately to help her. To make her less alone. To listen to the stories she surely had to tell. But mostly, I ended up watching soap operas and waiting for her to speak. I don't think I could ever make pasta from scratch again. If I did, it would surely be filled with salty tears and nostalgia for an old woman I never got to say goodbye to, who likely took her best stories to her grave.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Wooed by an idea

Writing is an optimistic endeavor in which you are wooed by some bitch-ass muse who gives you an idea and floats a few bars of music ahead of you singing sweetly "I'm right here." And so you think you can write it all down and it'll be poetic and beautiful and fast. The grind of getting it all to work is the dirty work she doesn't tell you about. I could really smack her with the broomstick I'm using to chase all the details around with.

If I win the battle, I'll be releasing "Between Families" sometime around Christmas. If the victory is delayed, it might not be until 2014. More on that later.

I talk too much about parenting. I know I do it. I hate that I do it. I love that I do it. I want to be sure to be a person outside of parenting. A person you don't have to talk to about your kids or your sore spots in order to relate. I want to. But most of my life is parenting. Most of my mind is parenting. It's making writing pretty hard. Because when I write, my whole mind is writing. I forgot that I was driving and almost dumped the coffee grounds in the recycling yesterday because I was in my novel instead of the actual moment. I love that/hate that.

I come up with games to play with my kids all the time. Usually they involve smooching or snuggling because I'm a smooshy mama like that. But sometimes they involve drawing pictures and coming up with stories to go with them. Sometimes they're humming over the gravel on a dirt road at the top of your lungs with the windows down. And those times are why it's ok with me that I talk too much about parenting. You have to do what you're passionate about.

The thing is, parenting isn't my only passion, just the most important one I'm engaged in right now. I'm also passionate about this book. And I'm passionate about the mountains and yoga and swimming and being in my body in the world I'm in. And teaching. And I'm getting to do most of those things. Not so much the being in my body in the world part. I dream about it. I get to write and teach and be with my kids lately though.

I started teaching at the community college. It's actually a pretty amazing fit. I think. Time will tell. I'm more skeptical about that sort of thing. I'm trying to temper my optimism a bit. Sometimes it works. The rest of the time, I get really swept up in helping grown ups learn to write better and be passionate about finding and speaking the truth and improving their lives.

So I go to sleep completely exhausted and satisfied and overwhelmed and busy. And I dream of moving my body around in every which stretch strong way. It's a full life. A struggling, hard work life. It makes me need to smooch my kids and wrestle them and tickle them and smile and sleep and dream.

And now to write.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Some random stuff I learned lately

A group of puffins is called a loaf. Ha! Puffin loaf.

Whales tan.

You're only supposed to space once between sentences when typing. Me? Twice. Trying to stop. it. 2 spaces wasted 13 pages of my first draft of my novel. Isn't that just the craziest?

Dogs can smell under water. They use dogs to find people when they've drowned. They're called cadaver dogs. Eerily, I learned this just before all the flooding started in Colorado.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Why do people homeschool?Sure you think it's because they have religious preferences or are crazy xenophobes or have kids with specific learning needs or because the parents are concerned for their child's safety/well being at school where there gangs/drugs/sex/etc.

But really? It's because they can NOT bring themselves to get the kids out the door every morning.

They're getting away with something here. I thought you should know.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The smell of cardemom makes me want to cry. I picture being in my aunt's kitchen and the way the smells all mixed: cardemom and coffee and something cooked long and perfectly during the day. Onions and bread? I wonder if that coffee maker still sits in that kitchen, if my uncle uses it now that she's gone? I remember the yellowy stains on the white plastic of that coffee maker whose light always, always glowed red. It's a wonder the light never burnt out.

I'm teaching GED in addition to Composition classes at the community college. I love it. It's in the basement with coffee and cookies. Which is good because it's past my bedtime and I need coffee and cookies after 8:30.

I taught someone the shape of writing Monday. Some of the students need to learn how to structure writing or how to avoid a sentence fragment. Some were just kinda punks in school that have a test to take, but others... well I wonder what happened there. Others need to learn when to use a comma and when you use a period. Or how a paragraph is shaped.

What made them never take notice that the text all around them had starts and stops? Squares and chinks clipped out of the beginning of each box and spaces in places. I never took the time to notice the shape of writing. Except in poems.

I wonder what he'll teach me next.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Magnus turned 3 today. He's rocked my world in these past 3 years. It was just 3 years ago that we found out he was a he. Just over three years ago I had no kids. That blows my mind.

Here's what I love. I love his enthusiasm. The other day, he called me into his room in an emergency kind of voice to announce that "The sky is BLUE." We stood at the window watching the clouds allow blue sky to peek out at us and I felt how exciting a peek-a-blue sky could be.

I love seeing the world through his eyes. Some of our current favorite activities/games are: WrestleWrestle, him running the length of our house before knocking me over with a hug, puzzles, window-paint markers, dance party (where he gets to stand on the kitchen counters and dance,) and endless goo-goo noises and fake-sneezes at Gavin to make him laugh.

He now stops before explaining things, even beginning sentences with a slight smack of his tongue against his teeth that tells you he's slowing things down to make them clear to you.

He wants to learn the words for things in Swedish.  We worked really hard on learning to sing Happy Birthday in Swedish in time for today and he sang his own version at the top of his lungs to a crowd of twentysome onlookers. 

He beamed the entire day.  I did too.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

I was at a coffee shop today anxiously looking back and forth between my kids and the coffee and trying desperately to be aware of EVERY part of my surroundings (sometimes I'm over-the-top neurotic,) when I almost stumbled over a really good looking man in a wheel chair.  He'd obviously had his legs amputated.  With sandy blonde hair and an infectious smile, he was all-American good-looking, wholesome and all that, with a really beautifully developed upper body.  And I could totally picture what he'd look like if his bottom still matched his top.  He'd have been taller than me and I would not have met his gaze.  I don't usually make eye contact with good-looking men.

We each stumbled around each other, politely excusing ourselves and I, for once in my life, did NOT say the dumb thing I was thinking which was "Do you want to dance?" 

I'm working on my novel again. I wrote it in 2007 & 2008 and haven't touched it since.  Which is a weird thing to do, I realize.  Write a whole novel and then panic and do nothing with it.  So I've been going to graduate school for writing and have finally come back to it.  Thank goodness I left it sitting there for all that time.  I needed the perspective.  Now I can see it's missing legs.  It needs work.  I see it and what I want it to be, what I wish it were.  I feel bad that seeing that man made me think of that.  That I can't see him for who he is, but see what he was or would be with legs.  But I need to dive into what I have in front of me and make it a whole piece. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Toddler Dreams

The nice thing about having such a verbal child is that he even talks in his sleep.  So you get to learn what he has bad dreams about. 

"I want to go over there."
"I want to have my eggs in a bowl."
"I want to eat the food on mommy's plate."
"You wouldn't hold my hand."
"You wouldn't let me jump in puddles on the trail."