Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Just Another Day

Just when I think Michael’s OCD is just my imagination he does something crazy. Yesterday he decided to dust under the beds. I’m not kidding. He and Wagner have toddler-sized brooms and after they swept the hall they decided to sweep our room. That’s when Michael noticed the colossal piles of dust under the bed and took out the feather duster. It’s probably not the right environment for someone with sensitive lungs, but he was so into it! Granted, he didn’t do a very good job, but of course, I haven’t managed to do better in the three years we’ve been there and the kid is only two and a half years old, so I let it go.

Today I gave him a pair of his favorite socks. Last night he had to put his dirty socks in the hamper.

‘Those my favorite socks!” he reminded me.

“I’ll wash them tonight and you can wear them tomorrow.”

“Thank you!” he said with a broad smile. “That would make me happy.”

Meanwhile, Wagner is sitting in a box pretending to be a kitty cat.

It’s kind of like that scene in Parenthood where one cousin speaks Spanish and knows all her square roots and the other cousin likes to put a bucket on his head and run into the wall.

I must admit that I did not do laundry and wash Michael’s favorite socks. I was on Facebook. I’d feel guilty about that except that those aren’t really Michael’s favorite socks. Those white socks are from the Gap and are size 12-24 months which means they are too short to pull up over his knees. The socks that are from Children’s Place and are size 3 – 4 pull up over the knees, just the way he likes them. So the fact that I was able to offer Michael the socks he really loves instead of the socks he thinks he loves actually made me feel like a better mother than if I had just done what I said I would. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Last Day to Donate!

This is it. The Write On, Mamas Indiegogo campaign ends tonight at midnight. Which means that this is the last day of the Blog-off. I’ve blogged for each of the 35 days of the campaign and reposted on five different sites: the family blogA Band of WivesSheWritesWrite On, Mamas, and my writing journal.

Here are a few of the things I’ve learned over the last 35 days:

It feels really good to write every day.
I had some fun fiction posts in this blog-a-thon. This one and this one were my favorites. And I got to thank some people in a way that felt both public and private. As in this post and this post.

It pays to go out of your comfort zone.
I felt so sheepish posting on sites that had were part of a larger community. (Such as SheWrites or ABOW.) I just kept picturing cynical folk glancing at their left sidebar and rolling their eyes at my self-promotional posts. For all I know, cynical folk did roll their eyes, but at least they didn’t email me to let me know about it. Instead I became better acquainted with those saints of the Internet, lovely people such as Leila Radan, ABOW's cheif communications officer, who writes a comment on every single blog post on ABOW.

It makes a difference what time of day your blog posts.
This post will publish to my Facebook timeline at the exact worst time: midnight on the west coast. The best time is mid-to-late afternoon or early evening. That seems to be the time when friends are online and perusing. They comment, they remember. Sometimes they even donate. (Hint, hint).

Blogging takes up a lot more time than I thought it would.
This was really this only negative. The writing doesn’t take up much time (and if you’ve been following along these last 34 days, this doesn’t surprise you). But the formatting for different blogs, creating hyperlinks, remembering to tag each post, pretending to know what “SEO” means. I can’t wait to go back to not writing my memoir.

You never know who is reading and nodding and will decide to donate.
Three years ago, I spent Christmas in the hospital. Two years ago, my niece and I put together a fundraiser to give cozy blankets and fuzzy socks to other patients facing a holiday hospital stay, specifically (Depresser Alert!) terminal cancer patients at the hospital where my father-in-law was treated. We raised $1500. There were many friends and family whom I knew would donate. But there were so many others—random friends to whom I just sent an email to on a whim—who had their own stories and their own reasons for wanting to contribute. I was floored at their generosity.

This is the last day I’ll bug you. Got an extra Andrew Jackson? Or a handful of AJs? Go here. I promise you warm fuzzy feelings if you do.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Just Two More Days

I love my Mamas!

Sunday, November 11th was our monthly Scribbles & Sips event at the O’Hanlon Center for the Arts. We had a good group—about 16 Mamas turned out to hear Rachel Sarah discuss the challenges of putting our loved ones on the printed page. We also snatched up copies of Rachel’s book Single Mom Seeking.

We also talk about our writing projects, the Indiegogo campaign, our December party. There are exciting events on the horizon—a writing retreat in January and possibly another one in June. Of course we have our monthly meetings. I’m still working on some kind of weekly practice for the group.

Last year this time we met in conference room at the back of bookstore and we had just gotten word that we’d need to find a new venue for meetings. And a new name. And a new website.

So we did. And here we are. Thirty members strong. We’ve got an online community through Big Tent, a Facebook page, a website. Three of our mamas went to the Squaw Valley Community of Writers. We read at Lit Crawl. We even have matching t-shirts.

And now we’re going to publish an anthology.

It’s not to late to donate to the cause. Our campaign doesn’t end until Tuesday at midnight. At that point, we’ll collect the funds we’ve earned and pay a percentage to Indiegogo. Last week a small press that was already familiar with some of our writers learned about our new project. We’ll be meeting soon to see how we might join forces.

It was a good year. And not over yet! What will December bring?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Three Days Left!

Only three days left of the Indiegogo campaign to help fund our Write On, Mamas anthology!

“This is me in the rain and I’m smiling,” my five-year-old says about the stick figure with blue circles for eyes and red circles for hands.

“And this is Grandpa in the place that dead people go. And he’s underground. This is his tombstone.” She points to a little orange rectangle. A double arrow connects the little orange rectangle to a big, smiling stick figure in a big brown rectangle. There are crosses on either side of Grandpa’s head.

Thinking inside my Mama-skin, I conclude that my daughter’s self-portrait with Grandpa is an idea that had bubbled to the surface, instigated by the altarcito her kindergarten class made for the Day of the Dead. Nothing more.

But I file the idea away for a time when I write about a good man who has passed into the Afterlife, a man who watches over this wife of the last forty-seven years, trying to send her messages of comfort from beyond. He hangs out in the corners of rooms trying to get someone—anyone—to deliver a message to his wife, but everyone—his four grown children, their spouses, eleven grandchildren, including two grandsons who share his name—nobody takes notice.

Then one day he whispers to one of his granddaughters. She thinks it was her idea to pick up the crayons and draw a cemetery in the rain. She’ll show the picture to her grandmother when she comes to visit at Thanksgiving.

Grandma covers her mouth and puts her other hand on her heart.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Four More Days

Nine months ago we said, “Hey! Let’s publish an anthology of our essays!”

Eight months ago we found an agent who said, “I can help you do that.”

Seven months ago we put out a call for submissions and set a deadline for the first drafts. We planned to self-publish something by the end of the year.

Four months ago we broke into groups and exchanged feedback on our work and set a deadline for second drafts, which is when we realized we could use this opportunity to become better writers. We could raise the money we needed to hire the editors we wanted to shape a book we could be proud of.

Three months ago we met with a professional editor. We researched fundraising platforms. We talked to other folks who’d had successful online campaigns. We added up our editorial costs, our printing costs, the cost for a graphic designer.

Two months ago our website went live and we started posting our content. We made a video. We wrote a mission statement.

One month ago we started our Indiegogo campaign.

We’ve got three days to go before our campaign is over. At the time I’m writing this, we’ve got $5734 in contributions, plus some publishing leads that might make up for the fact that we’re going to miss our mark.


Look what you’ve done! That’s pretty good! the voices say. High fives all around! You should be very proud that you’ve done this well. Don't be too disappointed that you won’t hit your fundraising goal, the voices add. You’ve done a good-enough job. You can stop.

I get this feeling every night when I sit down to write. It’s late. I’m tired. And besides, look what I did yesterday and the day before that! I pretend it’s ok that I’m not pushing myself to write. But since it’s easier to think of something to write than it is to think up excuses, eventually I write.

Which means that I’ll keep writing and posting and tweeting for the campaign. Maybe you’ve been reading and thinking but waiting to contribute. Maybe today’s the day you click to donate. Maybe we’ll get closer to our financial goal.

Or maybe you didn't even make it to the end of this post. Maybe you gave up reading after the second paragraph.

That doesn’t matter. What matters is that I didn’t give up.

Three more days.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Five Days Left!

I’ve written about this before: Pat Schneider’s Artist and Writer’s Method and the workshop facilitated by Cary Tennis. I go on Thursday nights. A prompt is given. We write for twenty minutes or so. Those who decide to share, read what they’ve written. We reflect back—sharing what stays with us, what we see. Cary is hosting our first Write On, Mamas retreat, January 27, 2013 at the O’Hanlon Center of the Arts. Email programs [at] writeonmamas [dot] com for more information.

This is what I wrote tonight for the first prompt: “write about the death of a real or imagined person.”

There’s a tribe of Native Americans who practiced a custom in which the mother to carried her stillborn baby until his soul was safely transferred to the other side. The vital organs were removed and replaced with grass and she’d carry the tiny corpse in a sling that she wore night and day.

I know why this is so.

We always talk about the soul as if it is something that resides on the inside of a person’s skin. But really one’s soul is the radiance that is emitted, like rays of sun. And so a mother carries a child for nine months and his rays roll together with his mother’s, like sea air and the night fog. When he is born, he takes some of her radiance with him. And if he dies before he grows into his spirit, his mother needs to hold the body until she can reabsorb his soul back into her skin.

There are parts of the corporal body that are not matter.

This is what pulls Diana's shoulders to the ground, why she slouches. Why there is no color in her face. Why her jaw is weighted and drags down the corners of her mouth. They buried part of her soul when they put that little body in its coffin. They trapped it in that little pine box. On Sundays she goes to visit that bucolic place with the green hills and the large oak tree. Wisps of hemlock green waft into the air, like smoke escaping from a smoldering church. They find their way back into her body—through her ears, her nostrils, the pores on cheeks, the hair on her arms. She drinks in this lost life—not his, but hers.

This grieving process would have healed much more quickly had they just let her carry a corpse with a ribcage full of straw.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Six Days Left! (or five, I can't count)

This is not a parable. This is just something that happened to me in the last year and changed the way I behaved in my marriage.

I had this turning point in which I became aware of how often I blamed Matt. The recycling container is full. Yesterday’s mail is all over the dresser—along with the mail from the day before that and the day before that. The clothes are still in the dryer. Chiara has gone to bed too late. And on and on and on because Matt, let me tell you, is constantly fucking up.

Then one day—somehow because of something Gretchen Rubin said, something I can’t even remember now because I don’t want to give her credit for anything—one day I said to myself, “I am going to take out the recycling.”

And the next day I said to myself, “I am going to sort yesterday’s mail. And the mail from the day before that and the day before that.”

And the day after that I said to Matt, “I need to fold clothes. Will you help me?”

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

One Week Left!

Last year we visited Grandma for the holidays.

This is what I love about Grandma’s house. The day we arrived she said, “Nothing is breakable in this house that will be missed.”

Which is good because seven minutes after she said that, the twins started fencing with the candles from the centerpiece.

On Christmas Eve she said to my four-year-old, “Let’s bake a birthday cake for Jesus! Shall we bake a yellow cake or a chocolate cake?”

When my daughter dropped the open bag of yellow cake mix all over the kitchen floor, Grandma didn’t skip a beat.

“Well! I guess we’ll make a chocolate cake!”

When the boys banged on the piano, she said, “Look how much fun they’re having!”--a phrase she repeated when the boys tried to lick the dogs.

After a long day at the museum, Grandma calmed our over-stimulated and cranky kids with the magic words: “When we get home, let’s have hot chocolate.”

When one of my sons came down with a fever and suspicious spots, she said, “This is the number of a really good urgent care center.” Two days later when the other son had a fever she said, “I can go to the pharmacy for you.”

When I was busy attending to the sick boys, she read books to my daughter. When I was busy on the phone she put the twins on her lap and watched Elmo videos on youtube with them. She played the movie "My Fair Lady" for the oldest grandchild ("I just know you'll love the costumes," she told her) and walked the dogs with the youngest grandchild.

And when I alluded to the noise level in the living room—the combination of laughing, crying, screaming, and that dancing chipmunk who sings the Macarena—as chaos, Grandma shrugged.

“That’s what families sound like,” she said.

Thanks, Grandma.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

8 Days Left!

What I want to remember about today:

I want to remember that the twins haven’t adjusted to the time change yet. They pitter-pattered into the room and snuggled with us. Michael stroked my forehead.

I want to remember that William insisted on wearing his sister’s old ballet shoes to bed last night. And we let him.

I want to remember that one boy wore his fireman’s helmet and the other wore his Easter Sunday fedora.
“You’re a fireman!” I told him.
“No. I’m just pretending to be a fireman,” he replied.

I want to remember that we woke up early enough to put hair in braids. I don’t want to remember that it’s because there’s a lice scare at school.

I want to remember that we waved to the garbage collectors.

I want to remember that the whole family drove 100 miles for a forty-five minute Little Angel rehearsal. We had a picnic on the tables outside Safeway. Matt brought cloth napkins and plastic cutlery for everyone.

I want to remember that we started a new game: someone yells out a word and the kindergartner tries to guess what letter it starts with.
“Cowboy boots!”

I want to remember that the twins started finishing each other’s sentences and that they played tee-ball in the driveway with Daddy.

That the “Naked Parade” is getting shorter and shorter each night.

That our new lullaby is “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

I want to remember that it took me a very long time to settle down and write tonight, but I eventually got there.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Day 28 Blog-off: NINE Days Left!

Nine days left? Eight days? I’m confused. This is the 28th day of the Blog-off of a campaign that’s only 35 days long with either nine or eight days to go. Somewhere, someone’s math is off.

Today’s Generous Soul post is an Open Apology to Cleo, my downstairs neighbor. Written in haiku, because I’m versatile like that (and I want to show that I can count a little bit.)

Dear Cleo,
We are so grateful
Five pairs of feet can be so loud
Even on tiptoe

We forget to help
You take out the trash for us
Every Tuesday night

When you go camping
We feed fresh food to your cats
Hoping to clear slate

And now you have twins
We wait to return favor
They are so quiet

With our used onesies
Maybe we can make amends
Thank you, The Kovacs

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Blog-off: Only 10 Days Left!

I’ve started three different posts for today’s Blog-off. I keep scratching over my words. One potential post was a continuation of yesterday’s post. I’ve been reading On Our Own: Widowhood for Smarties. I keep putting it down to digest what I’ve read. Then ten minutes later I pick it up again because I’m hungry for more. That made me feel grateful for what I have and that made me want to blog about Thursday when the Greater Good Science Center asked me to come and film a segment about gratitude.

And that made me think of the online gratitude journal they have that is part gratitude journal/part data collection. (It’s different from this gratitude journal that is also part of the Greater Good Science Center.)

And that made me think of my gratitude for the day, which is that I am grateful for the "book rate" at the post office. What a fabulous idea that I always took for granted until I was in the habit of mailing books. And what a lovely bias towards books and learning!

I mean, think about it! To value the shipping of books over, say, regular consumer goods. Somebody said, "We need to make it cheaper to mail books. Otherwise people will have a disincentive to mail books. We must make it cheaper to mail books!" (I was mailing this book and this book.) 

But the real reason I have started three blog posts (but haven't finished any of them) is because I am tired. I am tired of writing. I am tired of cutting and pasting posts to different blogs. Quite frankly, I am a little tired of pitching the Indiegogo thing and the Write On, Mamas anthology. We’ve done well enough so far, right? We’re 35% funded. That’s more than what we had 27 days ago. I can stop, right?

This is the hump. The place where suddenly all kinds of valid reasons and plausible rationalizations grow into giant robot-people. The giant robot-people stomp through your brain and crush your will power. They pee on your self-discipline, which makes it rusty. I’m not making this up.

The giant robot-people come by my house a lot. So I know how to deal with them. You admit that you are tired and you write anyway. You gripe a little and then you cut and paste and share links. You sigh. Maybe you have a glass of wine. The giant robot-people don’t go away, but at least you keep your will power and your self-discipline. And if you’re lucky, while you’re writing you’ll come up with an image—like giant robots peeing on abstract ideas—and you’ll say, “Hey! I like that. I can go to bed now.”

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Day 26 Blog-off: Nina Abnee, A Generous Soul

If you’ve been following along at home, then you already know why this is Day 26—because it’s the 26th day of our Indiegogo campaign and I’ve committed to write one blog post a day for each of the drive. And you already know what our Indiegogo campaign is—it’s our fundraising campaign to craft and publish an anthology of our work by Write On, Mamas. And of course, you don’t even need me to remind you who the Write On, Mamas are—a group of awesome mamas (and one papa) who write. And read—such as here at Lit Crawl. And listen—such as here at our monthly events.

And if you know all of that you know that I try to write a “generous soul” for all my wonderful friend and family who donate to the cause.

Today’s Generous Soul post goes out to Nina Abnee (Louise Abnee’s mother).

I got my copy in the mail today—Nina’s anthology On Our Own: Widowhood for Smarties.

I love anthologies. They’re like a potluck dinners. Everyone brings something to the table—something uniquely him or her. I know editors agonize over the order of the essays in an anthology, but to me, the wonderful thing about collection is that you can just read where the book opens. Today this essay or that essay. Each one is a separate dish.

The book, as the title suggests, is about life after loss. It’s not like a potluck dinner; it’s like a box of truffles. Even though the topic is death, each essay is so full They are about love and longing and these brief moments in time where exposed souls connect, not just in life but in afterlife. Those moments—these essays—are like electricity.

Love. Grief. Gratitude. Depth. Words that remind us that love is deeper than death.

Thank you for your words, Nina.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Day 25 Blog-off: Aunt Rita, A Generous Soul

Today’s Generous Soul post is about Aunt Rita. Everyone needs an Aunt Rita.

When the twins were a day old, my husband’s Aunt Rita sent an edible bouquet to the doctors and nurses who took care of them. Rita claims that it was just an ordinary flower arrangement, but the nurses described luscious blossoms cut from pineapples. They swear that they had never seen anything like it. They still gush about the bouquet that was devoured in twenty minutes.

Why would anyone bother to thank people for doing their jobs? I wondered. I wouldn’t have bothered. Not on Day One in the NICU when the boys still had a hundred more days to go.

I was the mother who wasn’t ready to care yet, the one dancing in the “why bother” space. I didn’t stay there, of course. NICU life is too demanding. One moment you are carefully cultivating emotional distance, the next you are in awe of the wonders of technology and the strength of tiny humans. Then a machine with flashing lights beeps. Panic and confusion attack the room like emotional ghosts. Finally, the machines stop beeping and your son starts breathing, turning you back again to awe.

Rita’s bouquet did not affect the way the doctors and nurses cared for my babies. It did, however establish the nurses’ perception of me. They saw me as gracious, generous, and optimistic. They saw me as a mother from those urban legends who lifts cars to rescue her children and never has a shred of doubt. The one who notices everything and appreciates everyone.

They mistook me for my aunt. 

We imagine that our identities get molded in our minds and that’s what we project as we traipse about in the world. But in actuality, our identities are formed for us. What people believe about you shapes who you become.

I was set to start each day in the “why bother” place and ready to retreat back into it each evening. But because Rita’s gift arrived in the NICU before I did, no one ever treated me as if I were a mother who could not yet care. And so I never acted like one. 

Friendly reminder—we have two weeks left of our Indiegogo campaign. We’re collecting funds to self-publish an anthology of our work. Most of the funds we raise will go to an editor to help us shaper our stories. Then of course, there’s the graphic designer for the cover, the print costs, t-shirts for all you $125-level donors. The funds that are left over will help cover our costs for becoming a 501c3 nonprofit organization. If we make our goal, we pay a small percentage to Indiegogo for helping raise funds in the first place. However, if we don’t make our goal, Indiegogo doubles their cut. We did a careful analysis of how much we needed and how much we could raise from friends and family and lovely people such as yourselves.

But as you can see... we are not quite there yet! Click here to help us reach our goal!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Day 24 Blog-off: Louise Abnee, A Generous Soul

Today’s Generous Soul is Louise Abnee. The image of Louise that is burned in my brain is a picture of her in her crimson red bridal saree. She’s stunning in it. She’s wearing a flower garland that looks like a lei on steroids and like any bride (well, many brides) she is beaming.

Inspired by my fellow Tuesday Sister, I imagine Louise 70 years from now, sitting in an armchair by the window waiting for her adult granddaughter to visit. On the end table next to her chair is a collection of holograms (because photographs 70 years from now will be all holograms, don’t you know). One of the holograms is of Louise and Mayank on their wedding day.

From across the street, the granddaughter gets out of car. She locks eyes with Louise. The rest of the post is written from the granddaughter’s point of view.

My Grandma had one story she would tell over and over again—the story of the girl and the starfish. A young girl is walking with her father along the beach. Hundreds of starfish have washed up on the shore. The girl picks up a starfish and throws it back into the ocean.

“Sweetie,” the father says. “Look how many starfish there are. Throwing one starfish back isn’t going to make any difference.”

“It made a difference to that one,” the little girl tells her father.

I loved this story. This was my grandma’s story. And when I would stay over at her house, she would tell me about the little girl and the beach full of starfish, sprinkling it with new details every time. Sometimes it was summer and the girl and her father were walking back to the house to make lemonade. Sometimes it was fall. Sometimes there was an adjunct anecdote about a dog and its footprints. But the tale always ended with the little girl telling her father, “It made a difference to that one.”

I walk up the stairs to the house and unlock the door. When Grandma sees me, she smiles with her whole face.

"Who did you save today?" she asks with a wink and a grin.

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)