Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Day 23 Blog-off: Jinny Barrish, A Generous Soul

Today’s Generous Soul goes out to Jinny Barrish. (Remember? The Indiegogo Campaign? So we can publish our book? You can be a generous soul, too! CLICK HERE.)

Laura Tompkins was born Geraldine “Jinny” Barrish in 1915 in El Paso, Texas. Her father was a railroader, her mother raised goats in the back yard and gave milk to all the little kids who passed by on their way to school.

Jinny was a cute little kid with huge green eyes and a wicked smile. And she loved to dance. So in 1932 Jinny packed her suitcase and boarded a train headed for Hollywood.  She’d never been west of the Rio Grande and she didn’t know a salad fork from a pitchfork, but right from the get-go, Jinny landed on her feet.

“Darling, are you traveling alone?” asked an elderly woman swathed in fur as the train rattled its way across the Arizona desert. Her son, a gangly fellow with a long chin, sat next to them reading the newspaper.

Jinny nodded shyly and offered the woman and her son some goat’s milk.

“I’m going to Hollywood,” Jinny squeaked. “I like to dance.”

“Fritzy! Did you hear that? I think you should help this young lady. Show her around.” Then to Jinny she said proudly, “Fritzy is going to Hollywood to film a movie. The Gay Divorcé. I’m sure he can find a part for you doing something, won’t you, Fritzy?”

And that’s how Jinny Barrish, fresh from Texas, met Fred Astaire.

“You’ll need a new name, of course,” he told her as he helped her off the train. “How about...Laura? Laura Tompkins. You look like a Laura.”

Laura Tompkins spent the 1930’s as a chorus girl in several MGM movies. Don’t look for her in IMDB, however. She was fired from every picture. She just couldn’t stay line. In fact, the only reason she kept getting hired was Fred Astaire’s promise to his mother.

A failure on the silver screen, Laura was Hollywood hit at the parties. Mary Pickford never threw a party without Laura on the guest list. Laura would sit on pianos and belt out “Home on the Range.”

Other notable things about my friend Jinny Barrish:

She and Lauren Bacall used to do doughnuts in the parking lot at MGM in Bogey’s red convertible.

Revlon named a shade of red after her. “Poppy’s Red,” after Laura’s nickname.

Laura never made a batch of cookies that were not burned. Pierre claimed it was so that the fire department would come to the house. Laura threw great parties for the firemen.

She invented the little black dress and then told an up-and-coming Audrey Hepburn, “Wear this. It’ll look good on you. Take my cigarette holder. Hey—anybody got a tiara?”

She had a white Pomeranian named Ingeborg who went everywhere with her. Pierre, Laura’s manservant, would walk seven paces behind them and pick up Ingeborg’s poop. Later Pierre invented the “poop-and-scooper” for dog walkers, made by Remco. You can see infomercials for it on late-night T.V. Pierre’s children have made a fortune through their father’s patent and with the proceeds have set up a charity for celebrity dogs previously owned by Pamela Anderson.

And last but not least, Laura is a generous soul.

Thank you, Laura—I mean—Jinny!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Day 22: My Aunt Cathy, a Generous Soul

I’m behind on my “Generous Souls!” In case you haven’t been paying attention, the “Blog-off” is my way of giving during our Indiegogo fundraiser. I’ve pledged to write a blog post a day (minimum 100 words) for each day of the campaign. Then I decided to take it a step further and write a “Generous Soul” post for each friend or member of my family who donates to the cause. (“The cause” is publishing a collection of essays by our Write On, Mamas)

I love doing the Generous Soul posts. (I think this one is my favorite.) It gives me a chance to reflect on a person in my life, why I love them, why they are awesome, what I’d like folks to know.

The only problem is that now that we’re three weeks into the campaign, I’m realizing that writing a (meaningful) blog post a day is not that easy. But I guess that’s the point. We write anyway. If I were exercising right now, I’d let myself off the hook. I’d tell myself to go to sleep. Tomorrow’s Garbage Truck Day. It’s a big day. I need to get some sleep.

But I made a commitment. And if I don’t push myself to make this campaign successful, how can I expect anyone else to?

So, as promised:

Today’s Generous Soul is my husband’s Aunt Cathy.

Like all the Generous Souls, there are so many great stories. There are the books that children get—holiday books, picture books, and most recently, beautiful Robert Sabuda pop-up books. There are the visits, such as for one of Matt’s surprise birthday parties. There’s the pasta salad she brings to the great annual Cousin-O-Rama family reunion.

My most treasured story about Aunt Cathy is not really a story at all. It’s just something she said to me at a very sad time. It was simple and elegant and honest. It acknowledged the inevitability of the situation; it acknowledged our grief. And it gave me something to say to others who might be in a similar place.

Can you see me? I’ve tucked away her words into a little satchel.

Someday during this great unfolding of life, our hearts will sag and you and I will feel empty and numb. I’ll open my satchel and cup my hands around Aunt Cathy’s sweet, solemn words. You’ll come close and I will show you what I have, as if I’ve let loose some fireflies on a late summer evening.

We probably won’t smile. It won’t be that kind of occasion. But now you’ll have some fireflies to show the next person who comes along.

Thank you, Aunt Cathy.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Day 21: Watching Sports Made Me a Better Parent

Part I
I have this theory that faking an interest in sports has helped me be a better parent. My first boyfriend was a corner for his Catholic high school varsity team. So then I had to learn what a cornerback is and does. It’s quite boring, really. It’s part of the defense. But I really wanted this guy to like me, so that’s what we did on lazy Sunday afternoons after he washed his parents’ car: we’d watch the Seattle Seahawks and I pretended to want to know about football. I called the uniforms “costumes” and the locker rooms “dressing rooms,” because I thought it made me sound cute. I preferred Astroturf to natural grass because I thought it had a “slimming effect on the players.”
            This was back when the Seahawks were in the AFC. Becoming a Seahawks fan meant that I had to hate the Denver Broncos and the Oakland Raiders, even though that was the year Bo Jackson was a rookie and Bo Jackson was awesome. Seattle had just spent trazillions on a rookie defensive end from Oklahoma—“the Boz.” My boyfriend looked a little like Brian Bosworth, even though my boyfriend was much, much, smaller. My boyfriend was tickled by the similarity, but he pretended not to care.
            I was on tour in Minneapolis when the Raiders played the Seahawks on Monday Night Football. On the last play of the first half, Bo Jackson totally deeked the Boz—although I’m pretty sure they didn’t say “deeked” back then. The Boz fell on his ass and Bo Jackson ran the ball back for something crazy like 70 yards. And when he ran into the endzone, he didn’t stop. He kept running through the tunnel into the dressing rooms—er, uh, locker rooms. It was the ultimate humiliation for the Boz, who had been talking smack about Bo Jackson for eight days, even without Twitter as a communication channel.
            I yelled at the T.V. and I think I even threw something soft toward it, after all, I was rooting for the home team. But secretly, I was took great pride in watching that touchdown run, even though I had nothing to do with it. It’s a victory for all mankind to see a human do amazing things, even if that human is jacked up on steroids and deteriorates so quickly that he needs double hip replacements by the time he turns forty.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Day 20 Blog-off: The Celebrated Specialist

Once upon a time there was a celebrated specialist who mistakenly assumed that humans could prepare for awful, unpredictable, unpreventable events by imagining them.

“You need to be prepared at every ultrasound to have a dead baby,” she said, because there was a 50/50 chance that I could have an ultrasound like that.

I nodded solemnly and then a little voice spoke up. Actually, it wasn’t so little; it was a big booming voice like Hilary Clinton or Queen Latifah.

“No, we’re not going to do that,” said Latifah Clinton. “We are not going to spend the next several months preparing for a dead baby.”

Then Latifah Clinton called the celebrated specialist some unkind names. Luckily, it was all part of an elaborate inner monologue, so the celebrated specialist didn’t hear anything.

 But I heard. And I decided to take her advice. What if I went the other way—what if I didn’t think about dead babies during my pregnancy? Of course, that’s easier said than done. You can’t just say, “Don’t think about a dead baby,” because that just makes you think, “Yeesh. I wish I hadn’t thought of a dead baby just now.”

So I needed something a little more sophisticated. I needed some tricks to retrain my brain. That’s where the cognitive science came in. And I needed a list of suggested activities to try. That’s where the Greater Good Science Center came in. And then I needed a way to implement these other activities. That’s when I started blogging.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “That doesn’t sound like a finished post.” I concur. But really what I wanted to commit to paper was this scene. I keep writing it and rewriting it. Sometimes when I write the scene, my husband and I are angry by the end of it. In other drafts we’re confused but feeling resolute, united. In this draft, I know exactly what to do for the rest of the pregnancy. The truth of the matter is that in real life it all came up: anger, solidarity, a plan and a goal. I’m just trying on different scenes. Like trying on different dress shoes.

P.S. Don’t forget to vote. I mean, DONATE—don’t forget to DONATE! Two weeks left of the campaign...

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Day 19 Blog-off: the Color of Writing

There it is again. That feeling in the pit of my stomach—the feeling of agony. A little monster in my gut who reaches up with his talons and claws me from the inside.

This is what it feels like to sit down to write when I don’t want to write.

It’s “red.” It feels like the color red.

Then there’s the shiftiness. A restlessness. The feeling that I’d like to turn on the radio or open a new document or write status updates. Check the donations on the Indiegogo site. See if we got any more new ones (no). Write down possible speakers for 2013 Scribbles & Sips events. Feel hungry.

The shifty feelings are purple.

Sometimes I open a new Word document are type a lot of bad words. I won’t tell you which ones. Actually, it’s just the same word over and over again. Sometimes as a verb, sometimes as a noun or adjective or gerund. You know the one.

That’s the blue phase. And no, I don’t think it has anything to do with “cursing up a blue streak.” I know, because blue feelings are calm feelings, and by the time I’ve decided to open a new document and type anything (or just the same thing over and over), I know that it’s just a matter of time before things get green.

It’s a lime green. It’s a groove, this lime green. It’s when my fingers start to fly.

Each time I’m surprised that it happens. I’m always surprised that if I stay sitting and bang away at the keyboard long enough, deep thoughts will make their way from my brain through my fingers and onto the screen.

Maybe that’s why I write. Because if I sit still long enough, I will.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Day 18 Blog-off: THE EMAIL

I have a confession to make. I still haven’t sent out the email to friends and family telling them about the anthology and the Indiegogo campaign. I was really hoping that my “Blog-off” idea, posted on five blogs, two Facebook pages, and one Twitter account would be enough that I wouldn’t actually have to ask anyone point-blank for money. Because I hate that.

But as you can see from the graphic on the left (or right, depending on the blog), the days are flying by but the contributions aren’t necessarily flying in.

So I did it. I wrote the email and sent to a bajillion close friends and family. This is what I wrote:

You can’t see what I see, because this is an undisclosed recipient list. But from where I sit, I’m sifting through my contact list, checking off email addresses. Because you are someone who has encouraged or inspired me to write—either through blog comments or Facebook shares or emails with editing suggestions—I’ve added you to the list.

You took the initiative to respond; I am so grateful for every time that one of you did. It’s made me more serious about my writing and more comfortable in taking risks when I write. I wouldn’t be in this place without your generous feedback.

(Now comes the part where I ask for a favor.)

I’ve started a project with my writing group, the Write On, Mamas. We're collecting essays that we’ve written about motherhood and writing and intend to self-publish them in an anthology. We found an agent who has offered to help us navigate through our maiden voyage in the self-publishing world and recruited an editor (whose forte’ is helping mothers write their stories), to help us shape our book. To pay for editing, graphic design, printing, and distribution, our group has started an online fundraising campaign through Indiegogo.

If you’ve got 90 seconds (two minutes and fifteen seconds if your Internet connection is slow), you can help by just going to our Indiegogo campaign and sharing our link on Facebook or Twitter. (We increase our “go-go factor” when we drive traffic to Indiegogo and the more traffic we drive, the more prominently they feature our campaign on their pages.)

Of course, while you are on our campaign page, if you are so inclined to contribute to the cause, dude, I would be so totally grateful.

A big thank-you to this group of undisclosed recipients who collectively got me to the stage in the first place—


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Day 17 Blog-off: NICU Days

I told you about my Tuesday Sisters, right? We follow the same format that Cary Tennis has implemented in his free-writing sessions at Cafe La Boheme—pull a prompt, write for several minutes, go around the room and read, next prompt.

Our Tuesday Sisters have been meeting for over a year now, and our writing stamina has doubled. When we started, we wrote for a little over an hour in ten-minute increments. This week we wrote for almost three hours—and we would have kept going if we didn’t have the impositions of real life.

Here’s something from last Tuesday.

The prompt: It hurts to...

When you watch movies or T.V. shows about hospitals, there’s a lot of yelling that goes on when there’s an emergency.

“Doctor, I can’t find the vein!”

“Nurse! Get me 50 ccs of blah blah blah!”

“We’re losing him!”

In real life there’s an inverse correlation between noise level and medical emergency. The more acute the emergency, the quieter the room gets. The first time I got to hold Michael—his “went gray like a baggy puppet moment”—I went from smiles and warm fuzzies to “Why is it so quiet? And why are there suddenly five nurses in here?”

Five people working wordlessly together, like choreographed dance. This one takes the little thing to “bag him,” that one moves the oxygen dial up, another one is doing, I don’t know what, because I just added some more soap to the bubble.

Nobody said, “We’re losing him!”

Because if everybody’s thinking it, nobody needs to say it out loud.

The day Wagner kept de-satting, they decided to take blood for tests. Why not? You know, just to be sure.

They couldn’t find a vein. His blood kept clotting too quickly. They tried in his foot, his hand, his arm. They got Cheryl, the charge nurse whose “thing” was that she could always find a vein.

Wagner never cried. He just didn’t. So it was no surprise now that he didn’t cry. But he was completely limp. They jabbed him with a needle to get blood and he didn’t react at all.

Matt and I watched with crossed arms, pursing our lips, too nervous to pace. It’s not normal to not react at all. But the nurses were talking to each other. So I knew it wasn’t that serious.

It turned out they’d given him a drop of sucrose on the tongue. In babies it has the same temporary effect as a dose of morphine.

Admit it—you liked this post! How could you not? There’s drama, tension, tiny babies (VERY tiny babies). It’s a scene I’ve written about before and thought about a lot. Because that’s what I do. Think and write. And now, with my fellow Write On, Mamas, I’m putting together an anthology. And that’s where YOU come in. Admit it. You want to see more.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Day 16 Blog-off: Do it Now

If you’re following along at home, you know that I’m part of a mom’s writing group. We’re called the Write On, Mamas. And we’ve decided to publish an anthology of our work. We’re raising the funds through Indiegogo and if you follow the link, you can help us get there. Our tentative title for the anthology is Why Mamas Write.

Here’s how the idea started: my fellow moms would talk about their writing. Or I’d read an application for a writing grant. Inevitably two minutes into the spiel or two paragraphs into the draft, I’d hear the words, “And that’s when I knew I had to tell this story.”

The stories of how our stories started—the original myths—are fascinating. One of our moms, Mindy Uhrlaub, is writing a novel about Congo. When Mindy talks about her time in Congo, her eyes widen. She opens her arms in broad gestures and shakes her head back and forth. She describes sitting in her son’s room before her trip, packing a duffel bag with toilet paper and diapers and Crayola crayons. She is in that place where the mind does the math: what could one person possibly hope to accomplish? Then the heart takes over, pulled as if summoned from beyond.

If not you, then who? If not now, then when?

It’s so fitting that yesterday’s “Goodreads Quote of the Day” came from Doris Lessing, 2007 Nobel Laureate for Literature. (Who, coincidently also wrote about children in Africa.)

Here’s that quote:
Whatever you're meant to do, do it now. The conditions are always impossible. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Day 15 Blog-off: Cary Tennis Part II

Yesterday I wrote about Cary Tennis and the workshop he leads on Tuesday nights. It’s an ongoing workshop (you can read more about them here). I’m a big fan. That’s what yesterday’s post was all about.

I’m such a big fan that I asked Cary to be the guest speaker of our first-ever Sips & Scribbles and then I asked him to lead our first-ever Write On, Mamas writing retreat. And he said “yes.” Of course. Because Cary’s cool like that.

This is what I love about Cary’s workshops and Pat Schneider’s Amherst Writers & Artists method:

  1.  It takes the critic off my shoulder. You know, that little voice that second-guesses each word 
  2.   It’s made me a more attentive listener when other writers read their work
  3.   It’s made me a better editor—sometimes the help another writer needs comes from knowing what already working
  4.   It’s helped me create a writing routine
  5.   It makes me feel like a “real” writer

The retreat is on the calendar for January 27, 2013 from 1pm to 6pm at the O’Hanlon Center for the Arts.

I’ve already claimed my spot. There are 11 left. Contact me (Janine) at programs [at] writeonmamas [dot] com to claim yours.

OH! And you know why I’m writing this blog post in the first place, right? It’s the Blog-off—I’m writing a blog post a day for every day of the Write On, Mamas Indiegogo campaign. We’re writing a book! But we need a little seed money to make it happen. There are lots of perks to donating—including your own Blog-off Blog Post singing your praises.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Day 14 Blog-off: Cary Tennis

Another day, another blog post. That’s because my writing group is self-publishing an anthology of our own work and we’re raising funds to make it happen. The Blog-off is my clever and not-so-subtle-way of saying “Hey! Read this! And then click here so we can write more just like it!”

Today’s blog post is about Cary Tennis. A year and a half ago someone said to me, “My friend is starting a new writing workshop on Tuesday nights. I think you’ll like it. You should go.”

So I went.

I’m still going.

By day Cary Tennis (February speaker for the Write On, Mamas) writes an advice column for (ten years and counting).  By night, he helps writers craft their stories, using Pat Schneider’s Amherst’s Writers and Artists’ Method.

Here’s how it works:

We sit in a circle in Cary’s living room. At 7:05, he shuts the curtain; it’s time to begin.

In the most calming soothing voice, the voice one uses to encourage a child to get back on her bicycle after a fall, Cary reads “The Five Essential Affirmations.”

“These affirmations rest on a definition of personhood that is nonhierarchical, and a definition of writing as an art form available to all persons,” he says, quoting from Pat’s book.

He continues:

1. Everyone has a strong, unique voice.
2. Everyone is born with creative genius.
3. Writing as an art form belongs to all people, regardless of economic class or educational level.
4. The teaching of craft can be done without damage to a writer’s original voice or artistic self-esteem.
5. A writer is someone who writes.

Then he closes his eyes and breathes deeply, as if he smells something sweet and wonderful, right there in his own living room. When he exhales, he reads the “Five Essential Practices”—guidelines to how we respond to our work, to others’ work.

And then we write for three hours.

Tuesday has become a sacred space that I have carved out for myself as a writer. Pixie dust gets sprinkled in the room and stories I didn’t even know I had inside me get written. (Some of them have even gone on to be published online at Fiction365—pretty much the way they were typed out during the workshop.)

I’m so grateful for what this workshop has given me. It’s more than confidence. It’s trust. Trust that I can just keep typing and sometimes something worth keeping will get pounded out. Trust that I can cut something that doesn’t work and it’ll help me find something that will work. Trust that if I keep writing, Tuesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and beyond, then I will keep writing. The art, the craft—it starts with the act of writing. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Day 13 Blog-off: Secret Superheroes

No “Generous Souls” today, which on the one side is bad—it means that I should probably start prodding people again to donate and ask their friends to donate which is precisely as much fun as it sounds.

But it also means that instead of writing a blog post about a Generous Soul, I can write about what’s gnawing at my brain. Today I’m thinking of my friend who is about to undergo chemotherapy. She’s looking at statistics of women who are in a similar situation—but the data pool is so small. Opinions are flying in like dive-bombing birds. At least, that’s what I imagine.

Having made a living in data management, I know how worthless data can be. In order for numbers to have any value, they must be stripped of the stories from which they originate. I know why the stories get discarded. It’s because they don’t have any predictive value. Whereas statistics (such as “98% success rate”) give the appearance of offering predictive value. But when you strip the story, you lose a bit of the truth. You lose the meat

The stories are the tools for the hero’s journey. The tale of the family who grows even closer through frequent hospital visits. Or the scene with sister-in-laws sitting on a bed, hugging and sobbing, devastated at the circumstances that have brought them together, but grateful to have each other. The husband who hugs his wife and says, “I don’t want to risk losing you even 1%.”

The stories of how people deal with the unexpected is far more helpful than bundling their outcomes into various categories. Besides, it’s the only part of  our lives over which we exert any control.

I picture my friend, picking out wigs. She clicks her teeth and shakes her head because she knows that cancer is not a battle. The afflicted are not lumped into groups of winners and losers. Cancer is just a disease. Chemotherapy is not a weapon; it’s just an often-effective treatment with lots of horrible side effects. My friend’s shoulders slump, because it’s no fun to always be the grown-up, to always be the person who does the right thing, the horrible thing. My friend sighs and puts the wig back. She turns to leave, purposely avoiding eye contact with herself in the mirror. So she doesn’t see what I see in her reflection: her chin is lifted and she’s raised her fist in the air, her Superhero’s cape blowing behind her.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Day 12 Blog-off: Kate Hopper

Today’s Generous Soul is Kate Hopper. So today’s post is about her.

The first time I met Kate I was taking her to get a new vibrator.

Here’s another way to say it: Kate was on a book tour for her fab new book Use Your Words: A Writing Guide for Mothers and her publisher had arranged a book signing at Good Vibrations in San Francisco as part of the event series “Mommy’s Playdate.”

Good Vibrations, in case you don’t know, is a store in San Francisco that sells machinery for lady parts. For some bizarre reason, the toys that are marketed to ladies are exactly the same shade of pink as the toys that are marketed to four-year-old girls, which means that the inside of a Good Vibrations store looks remarkably like the Barbie aisle at Target. No shades of gray anywhere.

I played chauffeur for Kate because kind-hearted-moms don’t let kind-hearted-out-of-towner-moms drive into the city from the East Bay during rush hour. Besides, I had never been to Good Vibrations before (and it’s none of your business why or why not) and I have to say, I was a little bit curious.

“Bring your family to my house and my husband will feed them,” I told her.  “And then we’ll go drink wine and look at vibrators!” Well, maybe I didn't say exactly that.

Kate read and answered questions, signed some books, entered a ticket in the Mommy’s Playdate raffle, and won a vibrator. I won a tea set billed as “Naught-tea,” with pictures of men and women in Victorian dress. The pictures are supposed to provocative, but I swear it just looks like they are sipping tea to me. Perhaps this was considered scandalous in the Victorian era? I wouldn’t know—I’m not much of a history buff.

Yesterday’s post was a writing tip from Kate from August when she was our featured speaker for Write On, Mamas. (“You don’t have to write everyday to be a writer! That’s ridiculous!” she told us to the relief of the group. ) I’ve been thinking a lot about my writing routine lately and while I manage to do something writing-related everyday (even if it is just notes in my head while I’m folding laundry), it seems disorganized and haphazard—very similar to the way I knit scarves, come to think of it.

I’ve also been thinking about what Kate said at the Mommy’s Playdate as she diverted our attention from hot pink playthings to her work.

“This is about writing down our stories. About self-expression and self-exploration and knowing that our stories matter.”

This is what I chant to myself on the days when I do get a chance to sit down and write, even if the thoughts seem scattered and my paragraphs are clunky and bulky.

“Our stories matter.”

(Kate's memoir about her daughter's premature birth will be published in Fall 2013. Woo-hoo! Go Kate! Can't wait to see you in February for the Motherhood & Words retreat!)

I almost forgot this part! I’m blogging everyday as part of a blog-a-thon for the Write On, Mamas. We’re raising money for to self-publish our anthology. We were doing great out of the gate, but our contributions are lagging. We’ve got 26 days to go and lots of perks for donors. You can contribute here. And if you do, I’ll write a “Generous Soul” post about you!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Day 11 Blog-off: Writing Tip

For those of you who see this link on the Facebook page and click from time to time, you know that the "Blog Off" is my walk-a-thon for my Write On, Mamas writing group. We've got an Indiegogo campaign in the works (click here! to find out more!) to self-publish a collection of our work. I've pledged to write on blog post a day for the 35 days of the campaign. When someone I know has donated, I write a "Generous Souls" post. And then I cross-post what I've written on my podtales blog and on a couple of other social-networking sites. Today I started posting my content on the Write On, Mamas site.

Today’s post is a writing tip for moms (or anybody).

You don’t have to write everyday in order to be a writer.

I did not think this up. It came from Kate Hopper. When she came to speak to the Write On, Mamas she said, “To say that you have to write everyday to be a writer! That’s ridiculous!”

And the whole room sighed with relief. Kate sat there and beamed at us, knowing that she had just bestowed some great Mama Wisdom.

Of course I feel better and get more done when I have an established routine. But there are kids to clothe and feed, laundry to wash and fold, groceries to buy and cook. Homework to supervise. We have to play “the Lion and the Kitty Cat” (Wagner’s favorite game) and we have to wipe down toilet seats (Michael’s favorite game) and some days writing just doesn’t happen.

So there.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Day 10 Blog-Off: My Tuesday Sisters

There’s a book by Meg Waite Claytonthe Wednesday Sisters. It’s about a group of housewives in Palo Alto in the late 60’s who bond together over a love of reading and a secret love for writing. 

My group is the Tuesday Sisters. Because we meet on Tuesday. At first it was just me and my writing partner Rachel, and then I invited Jill (because I kept running into Jill—at Bittersweet, at Trader Joe’s, walking down the street. It kind of looked like we were stalking each other, we gave each other the benefit of the doubt.). I think Angelisa came next. And six months ago, Mary joined us. (Kara introduced us via Facebook.) For a brief moment we had a fifth, Jessica, but she moved to the East Coast in last winter.

My Tuesday Sisters are awesome. We’ve been meeting for over a year now. We write together every Tuesday from 9:30 to 11:30. During the summer we met when we could—sometimes on Wednesdays, sometimes on Thursdays, kids in the other room—however we could manage it. Rachel and Jill both had babies in the spring, and they just brought the babies with them. Sometimes Angelisa would have her toddler and preschooler with her. Once we met to write and had seven kids between four of moms. And yes, we did get writing done.

This is how it works: we spend about twenty minutes saying hello, chatting, catching up. Then Rachel pulls out the prompts and we write. I keep time, although I often forget. When the timer goes off, we read what we’ve written. There’s no comment. Then we go on to the next prompt. Ninety minutes later we pull out our calendars and decide who will host the following Tuesday.

Some of us are working on novels, others on memoirs. Sometimes I just write about what’s not working in my writing.

The goal is to write without judgment. It’s based on a writing meet-up that I go to in the city at Cafe La Boheme with Cary Tennis. He got the idea from Alice Wu. She got the idea from two guys in Seattle and it has been mentioned that the idea might have originated with Natalie Goldberg.

What happens between the Tuesday Sisters stays between the Tuesday Sisters, but I can tell you the: when we’re chatting, we tend to hem and haw about what we’re writing or how we’re writing. But when we sit down to write, we hash it out and belt it out. And then we soar through the week on the momentum we’ve created.

Indiegogo Update: The Write On, Mamas! have raised $3240 in our first week of crowdfunding! Twenty-seven more days at $11,760 more to raise. I've pledged to write a blog post for every day of the campaign. And if you donate, I'll write a blog post about you! Click here to help us out!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Day 9 Blog-Off: Supermom Kara

Today’s Generous Soul is Kara Douglass. But today’s post isn’t about Kara. It’s about me.

The last time I saw Kara was at our 20th high school reunion. She casually mentioned that there was a point early in her career as a mother in which she had three children under three years old.

“Note to self,” I thought. “Kara is crazy. Poor, poor Kara. I never want to be like Kara.”

I had an eight-month old at the time, and as any mother who only has an eight-month old knows, a kid will ruin your life.

But Kara—because she was the mother of twins plus a third—already knew the Great Secrets of the Twin Mom, so she just nodded and said, “Oh yeah, it was crazy.” Meanwhile keeping to herself that three is better than one.

Flash forward two years—I had come across some stuff that Kara had written for a parenting magazine on childbirth and natural birth and talking to your doctor.

After reading the article I thought to myself, “Kara is really smart. She has a knack for writing with a process-oriented meta-structure. I want to write like Kara.”

So I contacted Kara because I wanted to quote her in the parenting book I was writing about the meta-structure of process-oriented thought.

(I know what you are thinking. You are thinking that writing about a meta-structure that conveys a process-oriented approach to pregnancy and parenting does not sound very interesting. I know. If I could make it sound interesting, I would be on a book tour right now, not writing a blog post.)

Plus, I was pregnant.

“ARE YOU PREGNANT WITH TWINS?” Kara wrote back. Because moms of twins always want other moms to have twins. I know. I am always disappointed when my friends only have one baby at a time.

“NO!” I told her. After which I thought to myself, “Kara is crazy. Twins! Pfffff!!!”

But in fact, it was twins.

So I emailed Kara back with something along the lines of, “OhMyGod/ItIsTwins/AndTheyAreMonoMonos/AndTheyMightDie/MakeItBetterWiseTwinMom/AndTellMeICanStillHaveANaturalBirth

Kara emailed back with the title of a book I had to get. She told me to eat 4000 calories a day (backed up by science, ok?) She told me to get lots of sleep. She told me to ignore anyone who said anything negative. She told me to talk to my babies and tell them to share.

“Kara is awesome,” I thought.

Then I read an interview she gave (probably because she was promoting her most-awesomest book Hot (Sweaty) Mama: 5 Secrets to Life as a Fit Mom—which, if you must know, is not just process-oriented meta-structure, it tells you how you, too, can work out. Even with kids. She knows. She has four of them now.) In her interview, Kara talked about having twin toddlers and a newborn.

“I had two choices. I could have a nervous breakdown or I could rally. So I rallied.”

“Those are MY choices, too!” I thought. “I want to be like Kara. I want to rally.”

When I had to wake up every morning at 4am just to pump an ounce and a half of milk, I thought, “Kara rallied. I’m going to rally.”

When it took twenty minutes to get in the car and twenty minutes to get out of the car for what was a seven-minute-car ride, I thought, “Kara rallied. I will rally.”

When we went to the pediatrician every week for six weeks, I chanted my mantra:
 “Kara rallied. I will rally.”

I still rally. But it’s like that second-nature twin-mom rally that you hardly think about. Able to catch falling children in a single bound! Able to create snacks in the blink of an eye! Able to ignore three whining kids and blog instead!

I have to say, I earned my Superhero Wings through Kara’s guidance. And if that isn’t enough, she got me in touch with Kate Hopper, whose mission in life is to get moms to write their stories.

Sometimes, at night when Matt whispers to me, “Let’s have four,” I think, “Kara has four. I could be like Kara... I could do it. I could rally...”

No, I can’t. Kara is crazy.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Day 8 Blog-Off: A Love Story

Today’s Generous Souls are Liz and her husband Jeff (also known as my brother). Liz wanted to make sure that even though the donation came through in her name, it really comes from both of them.

Don’t know what I’m talking about?  Click here to find out.

Remember, Liz, you asked for it.

In 1999 Jeff and Liz were plucked from their happy, early twenty-something lives—Liz from D.C., Jeff from Austin, Texas—by that secret society at Yale that isn’t supposed to exist. Clinton wanted to make sure that he would be succeeded by his vice president. Cheney wanted to make sure that he wasn’t. So Clinton, through his political connections, found a woman who scored 962 on her LSAT. And rumor has it that she was blind drunk when she took the test. That woman was Liz.

The Clinton Camp found this to be very impressive.

Cheney found Jeff through Bush’s Texas connections.

“A Mexican?” The Deciders at Yale Law School clicked their teeth.

“You don’t understand. This guy breaks EVERYTHING. It’s like he has a superpower. You couldn’t train the entire Marine Corps to do so much damage so quickly. Besides, he’s only half-Mexican.”

So Jeff and Liz went to Yale Law School under the pretenses of becoming really good lawyers, but really they were sent forth to win the presidency for their candidates. Jeff would get messages on his secret decoder ring. Liz received messages in the law school library. Everyone else just thought she played a lot of Scrabble.
But then something happened that no one expected. Not even Cheney.

Jeff and Liz fell in love—Gift of the Magi-style.

In fall of 2000, Jeff decided to give Liz the best present of all: a Gore Presidency. And Liz decided to give Jeff the best present of all: a Bush Presidency.

So when Jeff’s secret decoder ring told him, “Mail some ballot readers to Florida. Make sure nothing happens to them,” he purposely dropped them as he was loading the truck.

And when Liz was asked her opinion about the ballot design, (“I call it a butterfly ballot!” the designer exclaimed.) She did not say, “That looks confusing.” Instead she said, “Looks good to me.”

On election night, Jeff and Liz held hands and ate microwave popcorn. They watched the results come in. And they both knew that they had made grave mistakes.

Jeff had one card left to play: Sandra Day O’Connor, Supreme Court Justice and graduate of the high school where his mother taught. He sent Sandy an email from the little desk in his room.

            Subject: calling in a favor :)

But before Jeff could type the message, his office chair collapsed and his elbow hit the “Send” button. Jeff crashed to the floor, pulling the computer cords out of the wall. By the time he rebooted his Compaq computer, the damage had been done.

“Little Cricket’s calling in a favor,” Lady Scotus whispered into her secret decoder ring, totally misinterpreting what the favor was.

“Then I concede,” sighed the Vice President. “You know, I’ve always wanted to win a peace prize. Maybe I’ll do that instead.”

Luckily, the love between Jeff and Liz was stronger than any silly thrown election and two years later, the couple wed.

On their honeymoon, Jeff tossed his secret decoder ring into the ocean. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Day 7 Blog-off: Lit Crawl Report

Good News: We are $20 short of hitting the 10% mark!
Bad News: There were no “Generous Soul” donations* yesterday.

* These are donations from people I know. If I know you and you donate, I write a little blog post about you for the Blog Off.

This means that I have to write a post about something else.

Last night was Lit Crawl.

“Lit Crawl” is the final day of Litquake, San Francisco’s Literary Festival. The Festival proper is over 100 events spread out over nine days. There are events for kids at the library, teens. There’s even stuff for poets. We spend the entire year planning it.

Sometimes just called “the Crawl," Lit Crawl is 87 events spread out over 75 venues in the Mission and presented in 3 phrases. It’s like a carnival. The readings are in bars, bookstores, laundromats, boutiques, barbershops. Even an alley. Lit Crawl started in San Francisco by the Litquake folk and now we launched Lit Crawls in Manhattan (Sept), Brooklyn (last May), Austin, and new this year, Seattle. Next year there’s talk of starting Crawls in London and Mexico City. It’s crazy.

The Write On, Mamas! read in the Crawl last night. Our topic: Your Mom Had Sex. We had seven readers: six Mamas and our token Daddy. We handed out condoms with our website on them. We collected $$ for Litquake. We wore matching t-shirts (which you can buy here.)

And we read.

Marianne read about a fifth grader who fashions a penis out a macrame weaving in art class.

Claire read about finding lingerie for her “fuller figure.”

Paula talked about the time her eight-year-old phone Cialis to find out what to do if he had erections lasting longer than 4 hours.

Mindy revealed her marital indiscretions.

Steven gave us a peek into life with a 13-year-old son: “Dad, which is better—oral sex or anal sex? The sex-ed teacher wouldn’t tell us.

Dorothy talked about masturbation.

I read a story about a high-strung mother who keeps finding her daughter’s toys in compromising positions.

We killed.

This is the part where you are thinking to yourself, “Wow! These mamas should write a book together!”
Funny you should say that...