taken at Drumlin Farm in Lincoln, Mass.
I have been treading on leaves all day until I am autumn tired…
They spoke to the fugitive in my heart as if it were leaf to leaf.
They tapped at my eyelids and touched my lips with an invitation to grief.
But it was no reason I had to go because they had to go.
Now up, my knee, to keep on top of another year of snow.
~ Robert Frost, The Leaf Treader
Robert Frost was my first American poet. The first time I read this poem, many years ago, it returned me to Lewis’ Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Perhaps a staggered re-reading of the pair, author and poet together, is in order.Read More
“Housework can kill you if done right.” ~ Erma Bombeck
I am drowning in other people’s stuff.
Since having Mir, I have been downsizing–giving away clothes, books, toys. But most of what I’ve cleared is my own: My books, my clothes, a few stuffed toys & trinkets. I am down to around two weeks’ worth of regular wear clothes; I’m buying mostly ebooks; and I’m curating my collections with a careful eye, weighing every possession by the seasoned mover’s metric, “Is this worth paying to move?”
And still, I am drowning–in toys, and books, and other people’s clothes. Yet these things are not my issue, but rather an (annoying) symptom. My time is scarce, and I feel as if I am fighting to write, to read, to run, doubling up on my commitments so that now I read as I run, lest I not have time to touch a book the rest of the day. I write as I shower, or tidy, or walk the kidlet in his stroller, keeping copious mental notes, scribbling memory-joggers when I’m tired in pigeon scrawl that is barely recognizable as my own.
I bring this on myself. Taking care of a toddler (mostly) on my own while attempting to work is a special breed of insanity. But much as I love husband and kidlet, they are not enough. I can’t function without writing or reading–it’s like my mind goes into a quiet, desperate kind of sensory deprivation when I do nothing, and I feel like I will explode.
I am being slowly subsumed by my husband and child, like they are eating me from the inside out and soon there will be nothing left but dust and bones. And it is my fault, because I am letting them, but I do not know how to keep them from taking everything I am while still being a good person, a sane person, a person who is there for them when they need me, but still in some semblance of charge of her own life.
Somehow–and I really, truly do not understand how–I am failing at mothering, and wifing, and bad wifing, and bad mothering, because I cannot seem to decide on which I want to be. Instead, I flit between needing to scream and wanting to plunge headfirst into a basin of water to do it so no one can hear me, and thinking I am the luckiest woman in the world because I have two people whom I love so much I feel like my heart will tear from the sheer effort of it. There is no middle ground; I seem only able to do extremes, and extremes are exhausting.
But this is the price of mothering–and writing. Being a stay-at-home mum, a homemaker, or a “domestic engineer,” a term I despise almost as much as overripe mangoes and movies with mawkish soundtracks, is an underrated living. Tack on writer in the dawning of a new age of self-publishing, and you are left with a double whammy of somewhat frowned upon and illegitimate positions, particularly in an area where there are more universities than chocolate shops. I need a road map, and I do not know where to find one.
Drowning in other people’s stuff, though, helps me appreciate the small things: The solitary shower I had this morning, surrounded by bath toys, but with no trains or buses wending their way inexorably closer to my exposed (and sensitive) feet; the quietude of a cup of tea, knowing I don’t have to share it with small fingers (Mir loves herbal tea); turning off the air conditioner and being able to sit with just one blanket rather than two, or three, or four. It’s also given me a greater appreciation of the bathroom because, in a small, one bedroom apartment, a bathroom is a full room, a room with outlets for a computer and a seat that’s not too uncomfortable if you bring a cushion. A room that has a door, a lock, and, with earplugs, some small semblance of privacy. Add a cup of coffee and a slice of cake, and it’s better than a trip to Starbucks.
Image Credit: Housework, by Becky F, via FlickrRead More
On children: “Is it wrong that I just want to have one of these to grow up and resent me?” ~ Liz Lemon
Rain patters outside our window, its scent lingering at the edges of the room. In the center, toys–trucks mostly–curl around our ottomans and errant goldfish, lost in an imaginary wooden sea. A stuffed bear with blue, slightly pocked fur, sprawls across a quilted book, glaring accusingly.
The bear, I know, is right. I should be tidying up, flinging toys into the giant Tonka truck toy box, sweeping up crumbs, folding the blankets that collect around me every time I sit down. Even in summer, I am always cold, goosebumps tingling on my skin at the slightest breeze. Instead, I lounge around, eating ice cream, pretending the chaos scrawled across my house is non-existent, the by-product of an over-active imagination.
It’s funny how mummy guilt spreads beyond basic child care: I know my child is fed, clothed, mostly bathed, and happy. Mold is not growing on our walls; spores are not lingering in the cupboard beneath the kitchen sink. We do not live in a House episode. But the crumbs and clutter nag at me, even when I’m so tired my feet are swollen, my legs and back ache, and the thought of getting up, even for chocolate or a searingly hot bath, makes my whole body sag with exhaustion. Still, the guilt spills over into sleep, work, and play so that the simplicity of curling up with a bowl of ice cream becomes something overwrought (overwritten?), almost overwhelming.
Mummy guilt, I suppose, is about choice. Or rather, it’s about choice, where there is, for the most part, no real wrong choice. Sure, there are times when the laundry absolutely, positively must be done–especially since I’ve culled my wardrobe so that I have only around two weeks’ worth of clothes. And, as much as I might want to, I can’t simply hide dirty dishes in the oven or toss makeshift rugs over the toys and goldfish slowly taking over my living room. But, for the most part, there is nothing wrong with choosing to rest–or better yet, write–instead of sweeping up once in a while. (Or more often than not. They’re really the same thing.)
And then there’s the flip side: Writing guilt. Writing guilt is similar to mummy guilt, though without the lovely reading snuggles, or a happy “Ma! Ma!” to come home to. In some ways, I think writing guilt is more insidious, because there’s no concrete reason to write. It’s not like bathing, or eating, or breathing. Except that it is–like breathing, I mean, if most people didn’t understand why breathing is necessary.
I have a feeling there was once a point to this post, but I’m not entirely sure what it was–except that perhaps it’s an attempt to assuage my writing guilt and my mummy guilt at the same time. Is that possible?
Ask the ice cream.Read More
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about trip-trapping – tripping myself up, then getting caught in the fall. Sure, trip-trapping might sound like something billy goats do when crossing bridges, but it’s something writers–and readers–are excellent at, too. Actually, for readers and writers it’s worse, because the trapping is rather insidious, and often something we bring upon ourselves.
One unfortunate part of writing, we’re told, is that it’s a solitary exercise. And it kind of is. But worse than the image of the lone writer sitting at a desk in a freezing shed pounding away on a battered typewriter in the middle of Siberia is this: said writer half-slumped at the desk in Siberia staring at the typewriter, or the notepad, or simply scratching his or head. This, folks, is what happens when we get trapped inside our own heads.
When I say trapped, obviously, I’m not talking physically–there’s no Prometheus bound stuff going on here. But for every great idea (or Promethean spark) and rush of excitement, there’s the fall. The moment when we realize someone else has done this, or someone else would be better at this, or that our voices aren’t strong enough to carry the story we want to write (not yet, anyway). And this is where we trip–we let our own insecurities trip us up, then we tumble, headfirst, into the great and terrible abyss of Writerly Indecision.
Now, these musings of mine did not come out of nowhere. As I write this, I am trapped in the great and terrible abyss, trying to decide what to do. You see, I have a novel (yay!). A full, complete novel, with periods and semicolons and even a few (though not too many) adjectives. It has characters, and they suffer, and they eventually triumph, in their own ways, because that is what good characters do in good stories, and also because I like mostly happy endings. But this novel has been rejected, on fulls, because it’s not an easy read, and agents haven’t connected with it yet. Of 7 requests (5 fulls) all have said the same thing: you’re a talented writer (thanks!), but I’m not connecting with your main character.
And therein lies my own Writerly Indecision: is the lack of connection something I can fix, something I can revise out? Or is it because my main character, while not being a bad person, does some pretty terrible stuff which makes the book a harder sell? And how do I know? Should I revise? Should I egg the houses of famous authors who seem to get this stuff until they come help? Should I sink into a pool of depression until someone brings along a giant box of Godiva’s and the intense and beautiful chocolate haze makes me forget I even had a story to begin with?
So far, I’m leaning toward a combination of eggs and chocolate. Perfect for Easter.
But seriously, I am stuck at the edge of a chasm of my own making. Because I can’t decide if I have more faith in my story, or the opinions of the 7 industry people who’ve read my story. (Or the 6 tortured writing partners, friends, and husband also subjected to said story.) Yesterday, I caved–I revised one chapter, to see what it would look like. And now my abyss grows larger. (My readers, so far, are evenly split as to whether I should or should not revise.)
Enter the reading part of this post. Remember when I said “readers and writers” are guilty of trip-trapping? (Actually, I probably should have said writers who read a lot.) I have been making my own problems worse by getting caught within my genre. Yes, I read outside contemporary YA. And I do read outside YA. But while I’ve been struggling with to-revise-or-not-to-revise conundrum, I’ve been reading anything and everything that could be classed Problem YA, or Multicultural YA, or YA That Is Startlingly Close To What Peta Writes About. And this is a Very Bad Thing.
Folks, I’m not saying we shouldn’t get know our genre–we should. We really, really should. But sometimes (like, uh, now), staying within such a confined genre makes us–makes me–extra antsy, extra critical, even extra crazy. Because rather than helping me focus on what I’m getting right, it’s making me focus on things that are, perhaps, irrelevant. Like John Green & David Leviathan’s choice to write parts of Will Grayson Will Grayson in all lower case. Or Neil Gaiman’s head hopping. Or Laurie Halse Anderson’s pacing in Wintergirls and Jay Asher’s guy voice (Clay) in Thirteen Reasons Why. They’re all things that matter, and that even kind of matter to my book. But they don’t actually feed into my issue right now. And yet, I seem to go in circles, wondering if perhaps this matters, or that matters, or, or, or…
Which brings me to a question: what should I be reading, right now? I’m open to suggestions…
Have you ever been trapped in your manuscript? Tottered at the edge of the great and terrible abyss of Writerly Indecision?Read More
A quick apology to folks subscribed via RSS – I know a strange, un-book related post came up in my feed today, and that the link now goes nowhere. It’s part of a video project I’m working on for the social media internship I’m doing right now, and the site hiccoughed while I was putting a page together. If you’re interested, I’ll put together a post based on the internship sometime in the next week or two. Just drop me a line in the comments to let me know it’s worth covering.
Other fun news: I hit the bookstore today, and guess what I found? My very own space in the YA section. Check it:
Granted, this is just a piece of paper covering another book, but it does help me feel like yes, one day, I *will* have a book on the YA shelf, and it will be totally awesome!Read More