Most of the Way to Sleep

I finish nursing her for the night. Sleepily she reaches for her pacifier. I help her plug it in her mouth, and she settles in my arm as I open Llama Llama Red Pajama for the hundredth, three-hundredth time.

I read, but I’ve memorized the book, so I also watch her. She tugs gently, purposefully at her curls. Her eyes close, but she isn’t quite asleep. She shifts a little at each page turn, and when I finish and bring her to my shoulder, she lifts her head and looks at me. I finish a song, kiss her face, and place her in her bed as she reaches for it, milk and words already lulling her most of the way to sleep.

Quick Look :: Being Understood in Pops by Michael Chabon

In Michael Chabon’s essay “Little Man”, found in his collection Pops: Fatherhood in Pieces, Chabon talks about following his son Abe around fashion week in Paris. It was something he didn’t enjoy, something he wasn’t able to connect with his son over a mutual love. In fact, he realizes towards the end, his very presence may have impeded his son’s full enjoyment of the event.

I had been only his minder. I was a drag to have around a fashion show, and because I could not enter fully into the spirit of the occasion, neither could he.

The time his son was truly able to feel comfortable in the event, was when his father pulled back and didn’t take part in the event, and Chabon realized his son had found people.

You are born into a family and those are your people, and they know you and they love you, and if you are lucky, they even on occasion manage to understand you. And that ought to be enough. But it is never enough. … [My son] was not flying his freak flag, he was sending up a flare, hoping for rescue, for company in the solitude of his passion.

This reminded me of when I first started going to anime conventions, all those many years ago. (Seriously, half my life ago, oh my god, augh.) The first few times, my mom actually took me and my friends. Now, I’m pretty sure my mother had no idea why I liked anime so much. She spent a lot of time trying to convince me to stop spending all of my expendable income on DVDs and posable figures. But she booked a hotel, drove us into the city, stood in line with me while we waited for the dealer’s room to open. Even before that, she took me to the fabric store and watched me wrap duct tape around a giant cardboard spatula for my costume.

Like Michael Chabon to his son, my mother was my “minder” for the weekend. But she also stepped back, left me to my own devices, and allowed me to have my fun. I wouldn’t have been able to scream and freak out and sink down in this pool of nerds if she’d been on my all the time.

This was an occasion in which I was understood–at least enough to be seen that this was important to me, that I had found my people, that I wasn’t “flying my freak flag” but finally, comfortably, fitting in.

When I Found Anthony Bourdain

In college my boyfriend (now husband) had on an episode of No Reservations for background noise. I didn’t appreciate the beauty of food shows then; I actually found the Food Network wholly boring, over all. This was a guy going to restaurants — a food show — so I ignored it, loafing around his room…

…until the host started quoting Kubla Khan (one of my favorite poems), and he did it to emphasize how much he enjoyed eating roasted pig. (Something about the “dome of pleasure”, if I’m remembering correctly.)

Then I knew, I wasn’t watching a food show. I was watching a fantastic show.

This was how I was introduced to Anthony Bourdain. I watched his show through my early post-college years, and liked catching his new show on CNN. I’ve fallen out of watching him so heavily the last few years, but he was still a celebrity who brought me joy. It hasn’t hit me yet, that he isn’t out there making new documentaries, quoting Romantic poetry as he digs into a new favorite food.

Image result for anthony bourdain food quotes

Just Write About Whatever :: Writing Problems

This week I had a couple of reminders that I don’t need to overthink this blogging thing too much.

On Wheezy Waiter, Craig Benzine commemorated spending 11 years making videos by talking about how he manages to keep up with making so much content: by not worrying about being perfect. You have an idea? Do it. It might be crap? Probably, but still: DO IT.

I honestly don’t spend as much time as I could proofreading my posts, but I always feel like I can’t post unless I have something specific to talk about, be it my latest writing failures or examining a potent quote from a book. If I want to keep up with doing this, I need to be willing to write up ideas and put them out there, even if they’re not great.

One thing is I always feel like my little stories here need to have a major point — but that’s another thing I’ve learned from some recent videos doesn’t have to be the case. Hank Green told a story on his own YouTube Channel about finding a donut he’d placed in the trash in the alley, and there was no conclusion. John Green’s recent vlogbrother’s video is just him trying to figure out where he put his copy of the Norton Anthology of Poetry he wants to read a poem from.

I can write about snips of my life, post the beginnings of an idea that’s been poking at my brain. I can write about whatever I want. It doesn’t have to be that complicated.

Go Get Gardening

Every year I like to put a tremendous amount of effort into growing vegetables only to inevitably watch half of them die, or go to rot because I don’t pick them fast enough, or be overcome by weeds that grow back like hydra heads when I pluck them. It’s fun (?) for me. Out in the sun, earbuds in, digging holes and getting lost in myself for a little bit.

Except…

Now I look up at every small sound from the toddler a few feet away. I pat the ground with my shovel as small hands come up beside me and do the same. I shift her small body around, keeping those tiny, unknowingly careless feet from crushing a small plant, only to cause her to fall back in frustration and crush something else entirely.

Even if I wait for her to sleep, I’m constantly checking the monitor, making sure she doesn’t need me, that I didn’t miss something while I did this thing for myself.

Choosing my plants has shifted too. Cucumbers and tomatoes made it into my cart like always, but I also picked watermelons, and peppers, which I do not like, but my daughter does. She’ll get to see them grow, and pick them for herself.

My head is too full of her, and even gardening isn’t something I can do entirely alone anymore. Like so much else of my life it has changed, shifted–but certainly not into anything bad.

Bonus Content: John Green also just made a video about gardening, and after an amusingly roundabout way of saying gardens don’t save any money, declared that he highly recommends it.

Salamanders and Podcasts :: Some Favorite Things

Here are a few of my favorite things from this week.

Raised by TV. A very funny podcast where Lauren Lapkus and Jon Gabrus talk about television they watched as kids. It’s like being in a conversation with my favorite friends, which is fantastic, though it’s hard when you’re trying to surreptitiously listen to a podcast at work, and Lauren Lapkus saying “One time the computer turned on by itself at school and I thought it was a leprechaun” makes you choke-laugh.

Axolotls. I already knew about this animal, but I processed a children’s book on these little Mexican salamander things this week and I was reminded how adorable they are.

Image result for axolotls

My writing group. I was just mentioning offhand a problem I was having with a story, and they managed to convince me to keep trying, and got me excited to start working on it again. Proof that it’s always, always good to get a group of writers in your corner.

Too Late to Wait

I was right on time for my recent doctor’s appointment. I blew into the office at 1:30 exactly, and had only just scrawled my last answer on my paperwork when the nurse called my name. I didn’t have to wait one minute.

I was so disappointed.

I like to wait. Sitting at the doctor’s office, camping out in the airport. I even look forward to my time sitting in the dirty, dirty waiting room at the car mechanic’s. When I’m in those places, there’s no where for me to go. No chores or tasks or background noises to distract me. I’m trapped, and so I can focus, reading or writing or whatever it is I want to do, with no guilt or sense that maybe there’s something more important I could be doing, right up until a stranger calls my name.

Books with Baby

Here are some books my daughter has enjoyed having me read to her — and that I’ve enjoyed reading right back.

Duck and Goose Colors by Tad Hill. A cute book with the Duck and Goose characters, comparing things that are the same color. “The tip of Goose’s beak is black, like ants.” I think she likes the shortness, and the bright colors.

Babies on the Farm. A lift-the-flap book where a couple of goat kids go around meeting the other baby animals. It’s a thick board book with thick board book flaps, so she can’t easily destroy this book, and the art is very cute.

Hello, Cape Cod! by Martha Zschock. A pair of seagulls show you all the things you can do on Cape Cod. The rhyming is fun and easy to read in an upbeat voice. I also love when the seagulls are obviously in Provincetown, and you see a book store, a candy shop, and an LGBT flag.

Llama Llama Trick or Treat by Anna Dewdney. She loves baby Llama and has no sense of when holidays take place, so this book is perfect.

God Bless You, and Good Night. This was a gift for my daughter from my mother-in-law after her baptism. Sweet-looking fuzzy animals going to bed. I love how the text reinforces how much the parent loves the baby.

I Love You Through and Through by Bernadette Rossetti Shustak. Speaking of reinforcing how much I love my baby, the text declares love for all parts of the baby, both fun and difficult. “I love your happy side, your sad side, your silly side, your mad side.” Plus Church’s illustrations are very sweet, and my daughter has actually leaned forward to kiss the baby on the face while I’ve been reading. (And yes, I almost died because my insides melted from the raging fire of adorable.)

Those are some of my daughter’s favorites, this week at least. What do you read to your kids over, and over, and over again?

 

Writing from the Hard Parts (Who my Characters Are)

On a recent episode of The Yarn podcast, Victoria Jamieson (author/illustrator of the middle grade graphic novels Roller Girl and All’s Faire in Middle School) spoke about how hard being that middle school age was for her, and how that informed the way she wrote her books.

I hadn’t planned on writing a middle grade book, it’s kind of naturally what the books have fallen into… When I write my books I try to write about some of the hard parts of being that age because as a kid I liked to know that other kids are going through what I go through.

Jamieson writes about middle schoolers because that age was so hard.

The Yarn Podcast interview with Victoria Jamieson

Ten years ago I would’ve picked the same spot for myself. And I did pick it, with all the longer stories I wrote focusing on 11 year old girls. But, that was right at the beginning of my 20s, my actual hardest age, as I was about to discover. I didn’t know who I was, or what I was going to do with myself. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do with myself.

In my late 20s, and now early 30s, I finally feel more settled with who I am, what I need, what I want. Also finally, after a lifetime and two degrees, I’m getting the hang of writing. So is it any wonder the novel I’m currently querying stars an awkward 20-something? Is it a surprise that the story I’m anxious to brainstorm now is about a woman fresh from adolescence who doesn’t understand what she needs and wants? (I’m also sure there’s a metaphor in their enemies being ghosts and demons, respectively.)

This isn’t to say I won’t attempt middle grade stories still (I have one written and waiting for a readthrough and other ideas stewing) but now that I finally feel settled, I keep pulling from a time of frustration and confusion to write.

Does your writing center around a hard time in your life? Do you pull your characters from somewhere else?

Love It Enough to Steal It

After story time a little girl ran up to a table of painted rocks, clearly marked “Don’t Touch!”, and proceeded to touch every one of them.

“Stop it!” the mother said, and the girl dropped her hands to her side. She continued to stare at the rocks, bright green and blue, paint swirled and spotted .

“I want to put one in my pocket.”

Her words were so quiet and clear, the confident voice of someone who knew exactly what she wanted out of life: to take one of those smooth, bright, carefully colored rocks, and keep it in her pocket just for her.

She didn’t get to, obviously. The mother towed her away before she could filch anything, which is probably for the best. But I hope she was able to find something else to stow away, something pretty and perfect and all for herself.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a6/St._Martins_Ocean_Floor_Rocks_%2825368017705%29.jpg