Apr 28 2014

Write On

I still have to do it by hand. The keyboard is okay for emails or business proposals. But a post doesn’t come to me in perfunctory punches on plastic keys. There’s something about the pen in my hand, the side of my palm against the paper, connected to my wrist, my arm, my shoulder, to my body, where you’ll find my heart. If it’s going to have any guts to it, it has to start out as a hand written piece. My first drafts are always in my journal or on some scrap of paper beside my bed. The words come sometimes so fast that my hand can’t keep up and then I think I should be writing directly on the keyboard. But the instant I switch to my laptop – and I’ve tried this – the words dry up and I stare at the empty screen. Maybe it’s just habit, or maybe there’s something to the heart-to-pen circuit.
Why am I telling you this? Because I’m participating in a “blog tour” about writing, and I’ve been given four questions to answer. A bit of backstory: five years ago when my manuscript was going nowhere, I took the advice of a few friends to try my hand at blogging. A few posts later I’d fallen in love with the medium. I loved that I could publish my writing without a gatekeeper. I loved that I could design my own look, choose my typeface and select my images. I also appreciated the community of bloggers who read each other’s posts, commented on and promoted each other’s blogs and in general supported anyone who wants to join the club.

I used to spend a fair amount of time nosing around in the blogosphere, but after a couple of years it got harder to keep up. Life got busier with more work and more travel and the bulk of time I’d permitted myself to read all my favorite blogs shrank considerably. But there are a few I manage to keep up with. One of them is Magpie Musing, a quirky, intelligent blog by a woman who shares my name, my love of books and a fascination with things in a state of desuetude. The other belongs to Amanda McGee, whose writing is good enough to eat. It’s Maggie at Magpie Musing who lured me into this assignment, but it was Amanda’s post that inspired me to accept.

~ ~ ~

How does your process work? It could be a topic I’m grappling with (again) that comes to the surface, or a comment by Short-pants or Buddy-roo that gives me an idea. Sometimes De-facto will hear me rant and respond with “that sounds like a blog post.” I’m a student of the Nathalie Goldberg school of freewriting, so I’ll write the nugget of that idea at the top of the page and let the pen go. Judgment is suspended and all words and phrases that come to mind get scribbled down, little gems both poignant and awkward, fodder to be fine-tuned and polished later. The more you get on the page, the more you have to work with, so I allow a full purge to create a first draft. If you read Annie Lamott‘s book Bird by Bird, she talks about the shitty first draft, and that’s exactly what I produce. It’s messy and wordy and occasionally embarrassing, but it’s a step beyond the daunting blank page, and for that alone it is a precious victory every time.
When the computer gets involved, the editing starts. Words are arduously rearranged, lines chopped, paragraphs deleted. I’m still too wordy. I could use a good editor to catch typos and omit needless words. Sometimes the labor goes too long and I come to a point where I just have to ship it. But only after a good night’s sleep and a fresh read in the morning. Then I hit publish.

Why do you write what you write? The reasons have morphed since I started. At first I thought I was writing to get a wider audience. When my mother subscribed, I realized I could write to tell her things about my life that were hard to convey to her in person. When she passed away this blog saved me from heartbreak by giving me a place to express my grief. I still haven’t deleted her from the subscriber list. You might read between the lines and hear me whispering to her, with pride about how the girls are growing, or exasperation about how the girls are growing.

I write for my daughters, too. Just in case twenty or thirty years from now when/if they enter the mother’s club – if they are curious – there’ll be an archive about their childhood from my point-of-view. I can’t be sure they’ll care. All I know is how many times I wish I knew what my mother had been going through when she was mothering me. I used to ask, but her responses were not particularly revealing. If my daughters ever want that depth from me, well, it’s here for the taking.

If you really, truly, want to know more about why I write, read this.

How does your work differ from others in the genre? It’s hard for me to characterize how what I do is different. What I love about the world of blogging is the wide diversity that exists; blogs with ten readers and those girls_on_rockswith thousands, each with its own voice and purpose. In that way, different is normal. Somebody once told me this was a literary blog, which I took as a huge compliment. De-facto calls it a contrarian mom blog. I’m not sure this is so distinct, but it’s the crux of what I write. Every day I experience an acute ambivalence, the duality of amazement and angst about having these creatures in my life. I try to craft each post as a short narrative that makes a point about this paradox. I want to tell stories that make you love my kids, and at the same time, make you roll your eyes along with me.

What are you working on? This writing exercise reminds me that I’m not. There’s a manuscript that’s nearly finished, but stuck on a back burner. There’s another story waiting to be told, but its words haven’t made it to the blank page. I won’t even bother to go into the excuses. I’ll just say thanks to Maggie and for the nudge – here’s her blog tour post, by the way – and see if I can’t get back to that big writing project and finish it. Maybe I could publish chapters of my manuscript on this blog. Should I?

~ ~ ~

Like a tree, this story branches out. Each blogger invites two more to muse about their writing process, a digital chain letter that’s been going on for months. I have a long history of breaking chain letters without apology. This one I’m passing along, though I gave my invitees guiltless permission to bow out if the exercise wasn’t something for which they had time or interest. To my surprise, it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be to find two bloggers happy to play along.
Lori, of Groovy Green Living, is someone I knew in real life before we linked on the internet. She’s a ferocious advocate for our planet, and for our health in an increasingly toxic world. Her blog not only inspires you to act, choose and shop in a responsibly green way, it tells you, in very practical terms, how.

Kristen at Birthing Beautiful Ideas describes herself as a feminist mother, philosophical doula and snarky storyteller. She has great post titles, too. One of my favs: The Pre-labor Cervix is not a Magic 8 Ball.

I encourage you to take a look at their blogs, especially next Monday to acknowledge them for carrying on the baton for this meme. And if you’re still curious about bloggers and how they write, then visit this Twitter hashtag: #mywritingprocess

Writing my blog has been a source of tremendous pleasure. It’s helped me grow as a writer, a mother and a woman. But it wouldn’t be the same if there weren’t any readers. So let me finish my writing about writing by thanking those of you who click through and read Maternal Dementia, whether it’s every post or just once in a while. There’s so much to read on the web. Your time is precious. I thank you for spending it here on my blog with Short-pants, Buddy-roo, De-facto and me.

(Photo credits: Spilt Ink is artwork by Dan Walker. The tree in the last image was painted by Blair Bradshaw.)

Jun 29 2011

The Sweet Spot

There were baby things everywhere. It shouldn’t have been a surprise; this was a conference for mothers who blog, and many of them have little babies or toddlers. It’s just that it’s been a while since I’ve been in the company of so many women with babies on their minds, let alone in their bellies, in their arms, or in strollers, being pushed around the exhibitor hall. Friendly people at every stand offered up freebies galore: baby bottles and thermometers, teething toys and toddler clothes. The swag at Cybermummy11 was definitely geared for the mums with younger children. I didn’t mind – it meant there was less to carry home – but it made me realize how many of these mothers are squeezing out posts during naps, patching together tiny portions of spare time to write their blogs and run their businesses. They’re pacing back and forth to soothe a sick child with a thousand thoughts running through their heads, juggling diapers and daycare, surviving and thriving despite sleep deprivation and the constant churn of mothering little ones. I looked around at all of them with their babies in tow and I thought to myself, thank god that’s not me anymore.

The night before the conference, I slipped down to the hotel bar, dreaming of a quiet dinner at the bar by myself, but it turns out I’d landed in a trendy boutique hotel and the place was rockin’. There were no stools at the bar, and the restaurant didn’t have the right ambiance for solo dining, so I returned to my room and ordered room service. Like any diligent blogger, I happily ate dinner in front of my computer. When @mummytips tweeted me to come down and join her in the bar with her friends (@bumpwearclaire and @Melaina25), I knew the scene I was getting myself into. But I’d come all this way to see and meet my blogging compatriots, so I ventured down into the world of exposed brick and designer cologne.

The bartenders weren’t particularly efficient, though it wasn’t easy for them because the place was packed with testosterone. We struggled to find an opening at the bar, surrounded by all the young men mulling about, aggressively getting their drinks and blocking our way. To add insult to injury, two young slicksters did a little divert through the crowd to put themselves in front of us.

I was clearly the oldest woman in this entire bar. And I was parched. These guys were boys, young enough to be my sons. They had fresh blemishes and peach fuzz. They hardly looked old enough to drink. I had no choice but to step forward and slip in between them. I scolded them, but with a smile: “I can’t believe that two young men like you would actually sneak ahead of a group of thirsty women. Didn’t your mothers teach you anything?”

Deep down, I suppose, they were good boys, because they stood aside and made way for me to advance to the bar. On the surface, they were clowns, trying so hard to get the bartender’s attention on my behalf that he ignored me longer than he would have without their attempted aide. They swarmed around, alternating between hitting on anything with breasts and then returning and engaging me in the most inane conversations. I will admit that certain young men can kindle the cougar in me, but these two were not of such stock. They conjured up the memory of my awkward early years of meeting and dating and I thought to myself, thank god that’s not me anymore.

There are a lot of reasons to attend a conference like Cybermummy: networking and connecting with advertisers or sponsors, going to sessions for hints and tips from experienced bloggers, and of course, the swag. But the real reason: to be in the company of others who, finally, understand why you blog. Why you race through your day on skates so you can leave a little time to pound out a post. How you get a bit antsy when too many days have gone by without posting. Or as one of the crowd-sourced keynote speakers, who blogs at KateTakes5 put it, how you “get used to disapproving looks from other mothers when your child falls in the street and you scramble for the camera instead of picking her up.” When you go to a conference like this, there’s a huge sense of connectedness – and relief – when you think to yourself, that’s just like me and oh, I’m not alone.

More than four hundred women attended the Cybermummy conference, stating loud and clear that mothers – whether they stay at home, work part-time or do the full-time-job-mom-juggle – are a force to contend with. We have stories to tell, opinions to air and we can make a difference with our words. From the inspiring opening keynote by Sarah Brown, to the poignant or funny blogger keynotes that closed the meeting, the range of voices I heard made me proud to be among this group. Not to mention the Eden Fantasy sponsored dildo-decorating party hosted by @cosmicgirlie on Saturday night. Want to remove the sexual taboo of an object? Invite twenty women to decorate it with feathers and sequins. You’ll see.

Miles and hours away from London and the conference and a newly enlarged network of blogging friends, I returned, with some relief, to my family. I travel enough to be used to the ebb and flow of glad-to-be-gone but oh-I-miss-them, and still, on this trip, the longing for them was fiercer than usual. Maybe it was seeing all those babies and remembering how adorable Short-pants and Buddy-roo were at that age. Maybe it was stepping into that whole bar scene and wondering – worrying – if my girls will acquire what it takes to encounter, endure and exit (safely) from the company of doo-doo heads like those young guys. Or maybe I’m just getting soft.

At bedtime, Short-pants was reading in her own room while I sang a lullaby to Buddy-roo, who’d already shut the light and was drifting off to sleep. It’s the same lullaby my mother used to sing to me. It’s the same lullaby I used to sing to them when they were babies and toddlers. My girls are (nearly) ten and seven, they still ask for the song at bedtime. How much longer will they let me sing it to them?

I traced my hand along the length of Buddy-roo’s long leg, thinking about where I am now in my life, as a mother. I’m glad to have the baby part behind me. I’m dreading a bit what’s ahead: their adolescence and navigating the minefields of boys-to-men. But right now, in this phase: it’s pretty sweet. They’re old enough to be independent; they dress themselves, get their own juice from the fridge, conduct their business privately in the bathroom. But they’re still young enough to be truly excited when I come home from a weekend away. Is this the sweet spot of motherhood? It makes me think to myself, it’s a good time, right now, to be mom.

It’s a good time to be a Cybermummy, too.

Aug 9 2010

Not a Shy Tribe

I stepped on to the escalator and let it lift me diagonally toward the second floor. At the top, a group of women stood in a circle, laughing. Behind them, more women waited in line at the registration desk. I became aware of something gnawing uncomfortably in my stomach: that would be butterflies. I was nervous.

Kind of ridiculous, I told myself. I’m no stranger to conferences and conventions. I learned early in my career how to work a room. I’ve organized, presented and facilitated meetings of all sizes and shapes. And this time I had no responsibilities whatsoever, only myself to consider: What sessions do I want to attend and which parties to drop in on? What was the big deal?

It’d had all come together at the last minute. I’d put the BlogHer ’10 conference in my calendar knowing it was nearly impossible to attend. A mid-summer air-fare. A non-essential trip away from De-facto and the girls. Another excursion just on the heels of my annual escape to the fiesta. But a client’s shifting of dates worked in my favor, landing me too close to the conference – in proximity as well as timing – not to feel absolutely entitled to take a few days and join in.

I knew nobody. Except that’s not true – I knew a lot of bloggers. I’d read their stories, empathized with their rants, gasped at their brave disclosures. If you read someone’s blog – even sporadically – you can know them in ways that are more intimate than you know people who live down the hall from you for years. Still, I was nervous. What would it be like to meet, in the flesh, the bloggers I’d admired and appreciated? What if I never managed to meet any of them? Or what if nobody wanted to meet me? What if it turned out to be a haughty bunch of competitive women, an inner circle of high-trafficked web-mistresses, a network woven too tight to penetrate, a clique around which I’d feel inept and inadequate?

It made me think of something that happened two weeks ago, when Buddy-roo was begging to go to the Centre de Loisir. She was tired of having only her older sister to boss around and interested in the arts-n-crafts-n- things that go with organized summer child-care. On our way to the centre, she skipped with glee. She couldn’t wait to get there.

Until we reached the door. While waiting to register, she moved out of my view and hid behind me. She gripped my hand tight, pinching my fingers. When it was our turn to fill out the paperwork, she began to cry. Her imagined joy about being there had crumbled to the dingy reality in front of her: she didn’t recognize anyone. I knelt down and said all the things you’re supposed to say – you can imagine the pep talk – but inside I was giving myself the big eye roll. Com’n Buddy-roo, don’t be a wuss. How could that bold girl who’d skipped fiercely down the street shrink so swiftly into a timid mama’s girls crying to go home?

Now I knew. Because it did occur to me, standing at the top of the landing that I could make an immediate U-turn to the down escalator and out the door and away from this crowd of smiling women who all appeared to know each other already and to know everything there is to know about blogging.

This is what the girls go through, I thought, every time there’s a new or a first something. First day of school. A new music class. Starting a dance class. Registering at the Centre de Loisir. Whether you’re four years old or in your forties, entering the unfamiliar can be daunting. I’d forgotten how easy it is to feel shy.

But by lunchtime I’d run into Magpie. I’d said hello to another Maggie, Dammit, and shook hands with two of my heroines Mom 101 and Mominatrix. It took me a while, but I managed to track down Amanda and I bought two books for Sweet/Salty to autograph at her book-signing.

But it was just before that very book signing moment that I bumped into two British women bloggers. Nothing against the ‘mericans – I’m one of them and always will be – but there was something reassuringly familiar about these accented voices from the other side of the pond, feeling slightly other, just as I was. That they were interested in finding a bar didn’t hurt. We bonded over Berry BlogHers, a special drink concocted for the conference and I knew I’d found my tribe. So special thanks to Sian and Jay and Jen. And also Minnie and Liz who rounded out our international circle with west coast flair and made it all that much more fun.

I could add several dozen more links: four truly inspiring activists who risk their lives to blog, a number of women (and men) who spoke intelligently and articulately on panels, composers of the cleverest of tweets or people who just cracked me up making conversation in the ladies room. By the end of the conference, I was fearlessly riding up and down those escalators, going where I wanted to go, meeting exactly who – it turns out – I needed to meet. Not feeling shy anymore, and feeling very much part of the tribe.

Jan 13 2009


My tree is falling in the forest, and I wouldn’t mind if someone were there to hear it.

photo by Don DeBold

I’ve been reluctant to start blogging. For one thing, I do cherish my privacy. Blogging portends to a more public life, even if it is just a small circle of people who might happen to find me. Plus there is so much dribble out there, people piecing their opinions together in little posts, blathering on about the minutia of their lives. I didn’t see the point in blogging; I was writing a real book.

But let’s face it. My agent – though very sweet – hasn’t been much help to me in the publishing department. It’s time to take matters into my own hands. I need to express myself; I want to see my words on a page. So why not an electronic one?

Eventually, I could imagine publishing my manuscript serially on my website. I’m warming up to that. But first, I’ve decided to take the plunge and just see what happens when I start blogging. Post by post.

So consider this a gentle solicitation: if you have any interest whatsoever in what I have to write about, then please follow my blog, or even just bookmark it and take a moment once in a while to check out what I’m managing to press out into the ether.

(p.s. this was my very first post!)