Modern Love a.k.a. Dead Babies 2

I’ve been reading essays over at the NY Times archive of Modern Love.  I think most of what I write as essays would fit in there.  As they say: “know your market.”  Two of the most touching essays I read were, “My Husband is Now My Wife,” and “A Lost Child, but Not Mine.”

In writing these essays of mine, I have to really go deep, back to where I was a few, sometimes as many as fifteen, years ago.  I have to kind of take a soak in a hot tub of these feelings I have been too busy to feel.  I get all pruny and dizzy and then it just kind of bleeds out of me in words or tears or fights with my lover.

Facebook has been a surprising catalyst of late, sort of similar to the writer of “A Lost Child, but Not Mine” who found out that the father of her aborted pregnancy was having a baby with another woman on said abortion’s 3rd anniversary via MySpace.  After the Dead Babies post, I’ve been paying slightly closer attention to Pearl’s father’s mother’s facebook page.  I noticed she took down her post about the dead babies, after I commented under it simply the word “fraught.”  Maybe she also read my rant about Dead Babies.  I also noticed that her son, P’s bio dad, has been commenting on her statuses a lot.

On one hand, I’m happy that he seems to be doing well.  On another hand, I’m annoyed that he’s frying my mind and soul with all this anger.  All these feelings.  And then, of all the stupider than stupid things, I saw that he commented on his mom’s status that he was having trouble sleeping last night.  I was, too.  So initially I thought, “serves him right.”  Then I wondered if there’s some kind of psychic reason we’re both having trouble sleeping, or something I’m meant to learn from suddenly being re-exposed to his existence.  Which, to be truthful, I’ve done my best not to think about.

I didn’t love the guy.  I barely knew him.  But he was fun and we had simultaneous orgasms, which seemed significant at the time.  Especially since I barely knew him.  And I saw a ton of potential there.  I feel kind of like I should, passively, all the way over here, cheer him on.  He is, after all, somebody else’s kid.  And his success increases the odds that he won’t utterly disappoint P when she decides to hunt him down in a few years. I mean, maybe they’ll be able to make something of a friendship or mentorship or some such.  When they’re both grown ups.

I overheard Pearl telling her friend the other day, “I don’t have a dad.”
“Why not?” Her friend asked.
“I just don’t.  Some people just don’t.” Pearl said, dutifully.  Because that’s what I’ve told her.
“But what about Brad?”
“Brad acts like he’s my dad, but he’s not.”

Fortunately, Pearl had this conversation with a little girl whose story is a lot more tragic than Pearl’s.   And also fortunately, Pearl has been satisfied so far with very surface, vague answers about her bio dad.

Occasionally, she’ll get a hair up her ass about it.  She’ll say, “Is grandpa my dad?”  Which always grosses me out, but is a totally logical question, since grandpa is my dad, and the whole generations concept eludes P at present.  She’ll say, “Is Uncle Kippy my dad?” Another gross but reasonable question.  She’s known Uncle Kippy her whole life.

For other moms in this situation, Here are some of the things I’ve told Pearl about her father.  It’s important to me not to pass judgement or valuations of his choices or character to Pearl.  I want her to have the freedom to make her own decisions about him. And frankly, I appreciate that he recognized his own limitations.  And yes, this has been fucking hard.  But having a baby and a childish partner?  Thank you, but no thank you.  I have had freedoms that other single mothers just don’t get.  I feel mostly lucky about the way things have come out.

  • Your Dad wasn’t ready to be a father.
  • Some people have two dads, or two moms, or only one dad, or only one mom, or a dad and a mom, or a mom and a grandma. There are all kinds of families.
  • Brad is not your father, but he takes care of you like he’s your father.  He’s part of our family.
Brad and I are not married, and even though it causes everyone around us to cringe and occasionally demand it, or argue for its value, I think it helps Pearl to know that we’re all hanging out in this unconventional family together, and we’re refusing to do it the way other people think we should.  What do they know, anyhow?

On Writing as Therapy and How I’ve Missed Mine

So for about the last 5 years, the most writing I’ve been able to muster are intermittent blog posts (you can see how much so in all the old blogs here, I imported them from Blogspot), emails, and 2 poems.  Both poems I wrote for specific purposes.  I also started at least 10 stories, but didn’t finish any, and by started I mean I had an idea, or I wrote a sentence, or I jotted an image and some plot or character notes in a journal somewhere.  I wrote paragraphs for a few, and several times looked through old, old stories for material to mine.

In my (fairly) new freelance life wherein I have a great deal of time to spend developing my ideas and writing like a crazy person, I have had to face some demons.  I am happy to do this, but I’m out of practice.

In college when I couldn’t sleep I wrote, or when I was sad or happy or nervous or stressed.  I wrote whether I had time or not, and then in about 2007 I decided it was time to commit myself to more serious/lucrative pursuits.  So I took an uncharacteristic fatalistic approach and pretty much quit cold turkey.  I think I had more affecting withdraw than when I quit smoking.

For the past 2 months or so, not only have I had to hang out with some feelings I’d swept under the rug of single motherhood, full time (+) employment, relationship development, and figuring out how to keep it all going, but I’ve remembered some things that I need to deal with that I haven’t been ready to deal with.

I went to a picnic at my mom’s house today.  I just got home after driving through the Little League World Series traffic that made me want to kill every little league team in the world.  I think it is irresponsible of their parents to let them play little league baseball with so many pedophiles around.  It’s just immodest.

Anyway, I talked to a cousin who I haven’t had much congress with in the past decade, and we were recalling our youths, and 2 sort of painful things from high school came up.  One of them, the more sore of the two, is manifesting itself in a novel I’m working on about this really wacky church music mafia (I know, captivating, right?) matriarch whose, um, absurd behavior toward myself, and any other sort of arty person in her church, really impregnated my sense of self at age 16 and my metric for appropriate adult responses to 16-year-old children (who are ambitious) with a pile of unhealthy and wrong notions.

The second thing was how I was bullied by a band of Heathers in high school about my then-in-question sexual orientation.  Which is, of course, another thing that can really fuck with a teenage girl’s ability to think clearly about herself.

I had a stack of journals from that period that probably reached my knee.  But I have since gotten rid of them, burned them, thrown them away, or decided not to move them (again).  I wrote through all that crap at the time, and today, when I was sitting in a group of people who love me, I felt really naked and I recalled the incidences with greater clarity than I have in a long time.

Anyway, confronting all that stuff today made me really mad at my parents.  I have some ideas about being a parent now that I do that, too, and when other grown ups shit all over your kid, you show up.  You don’t write letters and skits and 15 years later pull your head out of your ass and take action, you handle that.  Then.  In the moment.

Of course, none of my parents’ errors are unforgivable.  I was, after all, the first pancake.  And neither of my parents are spectacular with confrontation.  And even though I can now see clearly their limitations as adult human mammals, I feel like they should have made greater effort to stick up for me.  Or talked to me about it, told me I wasn’t bad and wrong and an ineffective human.  Or explained to me their reasoning for not switching churches.  I think they assumed I knew that I wasn’t bad at life, and that I understood their reasons for staying in the church that had the music mafia.  I think they assumed that I was tough enough to cope.  Clearly not, since I’m now arguing with myself about how to think about all of this, and whether to be angry. And it’s 15 years later.  And I’m a grown up who’s reasonably successful, well-educated, and introspective.

Writing, like the kind I’ll do more of tomorrow, and the kind I do now, again, happily and comfortably and soothingly, is like manna for the soul.  It is compulsive and therapeutic and prevents me from plunging into the mire of dark moods and grumpiness.  It keeps me even and hopeful and ready for the next crisis.  That is why I do it, and why I will never again take five years off.  I am home.

To Essay To Essay

I just essayed to get all involved in the essays contained in The Best American Essays of the Century Edited by Joyce Carol Oates.

Before I get to describing my motivation to essay, I just want to ask these questions: Did J.C. Oates read all of the essays written for the entire 20th century in order to choose the 55 she did?  And what were the criteria?  And why did Oates get to pick?

I’m thinking about writing a memoir.  My life got really interesting a few years back, and I think the story of it would have some feminist impact and I have a lot of feelings.  And I can be kind of raw about describing these feelings.  And I’ve been working on a few essays of my own that are autobiographical, and well, it just feels right.

So I thought, I should read some essays. And choosing from the best of the 20th century seemed like as good a plan as any.  I read this book that was like a collection of essays.  It was called Hypocrite in a Poofy White Dress, and it was hysterical.   The “best” essays of the century are, of course, brilliant and well-written, but they seem to me to be smart people riffing off about how smart they are. Or how awesome it is that they got to be woman of the year the same year they went a little barmy and lived in a deteriorating neighborhood in California.  I’m talking about “The White Album” by Joan Didion.

I don’t know.  The masturbatory nature of the memoir wounds me a bit.  I don’t know how okay I think it is to write a book all about oneself then ask other people to read it.  I don’t know if I can feel like I’m contributing to the greater good, but people do seem to love the single mom stories.  And I suppose my ability to pay bills is a part of the greater good.

And I suppose, too, that inspiring other single moms, or giving them a sympathetic voice, or making the tribulations of single motherhood a little more, well, public, will go a long way to making them less taboo & therefore getting single moms the credit they deserve…

I shall essay, I shall essay.

A Blog About Blogging

I love blogging.

Let me rephrase:  I love the idea of blogging.  The idea of blogging keeps me awake, thinking.  I am always writing blogs in my head while I watch TV, observe Pearl playing, do my work, and print business card magnet promo materials for my First Friday workshop launch.

Trouble is, the best blogs I think  up require some research and linking and time.  And usually, when I have deemed the time to be appropriate for blogging, I’m bleary-eyed and out of time and just want to go dream up some more blogs while being inert.

I was thinking about birth order and sharing when I thought about my relationship and about the way Pearl plays with a little girl who’s the oldest in her family.  How Brad’s stuff is sacred, but what’s mine is his.  Not 100% true, but sort of.  Anyhow.  Google Scholar being like Jstor for those of us without university library hookups, I was gonna’ go refresh my memory on that birth order stuff and draw all these correlatives, and creepily compare my love relationship with my daughter’s play friend relationship.

Who has the time to do research?  I will.  But I don’t now.

The other blog I thought up is RIPTP for Rest in Peace Twin Peaks. The show jumped the shark in the most nameable moment since the term was coined in the last episode of the first season, and then it became comedy of the absurd.  And I had this great idea for painting a picture about how they had this series of dice like you can buy in the sex toy store, where one side of one says lick, and one side of the other says pussy.  Except they had a die for character names, and a die for settings, and a die for props and a die for verbs.  Man, that would be a good blog.

But I won’t have time for thorough blogging until any of the following occur:

1 (most desirably):  I complete a draft of a novel or a collection of essays and short stories that I sell for a scandalous sum to some publisher who’s figured out the magic formula for making money off eBooks to fund paper books, and printing fewer copies, and marketing books in some perfect and fresh way that guarantees authors the cash flow they deserve.  It can be done.  I just don’t know how.  When this happens, I will be able to commit myself to writing more.  And reading and doing research and being the word nut I want to commit my life to being.

2 (only slightly less desirably, but still would be tops): I garner a following of students who recommend my writing workshops all around town, then all around the state, then all around the region, then country, and you get it.  My workshops are going to be awesome, but there are far more mitigating factors here than there are in the situation in which I write a book.

3 (significantly less desirably and monumentously less probably): Somebody decides to pay me for being awesome.

So fans and friends and internet strangers, writing what I want to write is kind of like buying the house I want to buy: I have to work with what I can afford, and what I can afford and what I want are almost never the same thing.

Chronicles of Naan

I should’ve taken pictures.  I always remember when it is already too late.

So I have this awesome cookbook.  It is a little confusing because the ingredients are given in metric and in US.  Sometimes the conversions are off, so I like to weigh all the stuff.  Also, there are often a few ingredients that don’t make it into the prose of the recipe, so sometimes I have to guess.  I’m a pretty competent cook, so it’s not usually such an issue, but I’m really largely ignorant of other cultures’ cooking, having only had ethnic food in restaurants in the US.

Here’s the Naan sitch in our household.  Brad is way more a bread baker than I am.  He understands the science of it in a way that sort of eludes me, and often does not use a recipe.  I love to make and knead bread, but it almost never comes out right.

The first time we tried Naaning it up together, I made the Naan, from the recipe book linked above, without a scale that measured grams, and without a grill or tandoori oven.  I just did it in the conventional oven at 375.  It came out kind of blah.  It was, in my estimation, an epic fail.  Nothing Naanish about it.

The recipe calls for baking powder and soda, but no yeast.  It’s a simple list of ingredients in addition:  flour, water, yogurt, milk, salt, oil, sugar.

The Naan I’ve had at Indian places is this light, fluffy, sweetish bread that just slides down in this marvelously comforting way.

Brad says that he recalls the Naan having raw garlic in it, so when he does it, that’s what he does.  And he makes his dough with yeast and yogurt and sugar and salt and some other stuff, too.

So the second time we’ve had Naan as a pair, Brad made it.  And it had a nice texture and flavor, but it was tough.  Too chewy.  And I was unsettled a bit by the raw garlic.  I think it’d be better to roast it, or at least sweat it for a minute, first.  He brushed it with butter and cooked it on the grill and it was bea-you-ti-ful.

So today, the third time, I made it from the recipe in the book linked above.  But using a grams scale, and with a grill.  I also gave it more time to rise, which was a good choice.  My Naan was prettier this time around, and had a nice, pretzel-y texture, and wasn’t tough.  But it was still a little bit meh.

So our plan is to revisit an Indian restaurant and we will refresh our Naan memories.  Stay tuned.


On the Compulsion to Write

After my little temper tantrum, which you can read here, and a conversation I had with my sister about artists and art after I told her about this dream, and a brief email exchange with Julianna Baggott, I’ve been thinking about the compulsory need to create.

I need to write.  If I added up all the hours of my life I have spent writing stories, in journals, emails, blogs, angry letters, love letters, songs, on napkins, on placemats, on the stuff we wrote our one-liners on before we tweeted them, I have probably been engaged in writing for at least a third of my cumulative waking hours.

No big deal right?  But think about it:  If I’m awake from about 7 in the morning until about 11 at night, that’s 16 hours of wakefulness, of which a third is 5ish hours, every single day as long as I knew what to do with a pen?  Man.  I do a lot of writing.  And now, as a self-employed editor, I do a lot of thinking about writing.  Which is a different task entirely.    And as a working writer, I do a lot of writing what other people pay me to write, which is always a satisfying stretch.

And I quit all of it feeling answered and soul quenched.  I get a little chest-welling buzz every time I finish editing a manuscript.  I get this thrill of neurotic fear that I’m utter shit every time I finish writing anything.  Doing all this words stuff is better to me than chemical highs.  I’ve joked that I write because I can’t afford therapy.  I bet if you searched that phrase, it’s somewhere else in this blog.  It’s a very Woody Allen thing to say.  I bet Woody Allen is a compulsive writer.

I would rather write than sleep most of the time.  I sleep anyway.  I’m one of those people who sleeps like she means it.  But I get woken up by ideas for stories, essays, ways to improve current stories and essays I’m working on, ways to improve my clients’ work.  I don’t get woken up by fire alarms or my kid.  I sleep through or just shuffle her into bed with me, and when I wake up all sweaty and smooshed between two bodies, I’ll have no memory of the second bedfellow’s arrival.

I feel telepathic when I’m editing, because I can see the writer’s choices, and whenever I don’t know I can guess, somewhat accurately, about the shape of the story prior to revision.

I can’t help it.

I wrote this essay that I’m trying to sell to some publication bigger than the Sun-Gazette (no offense Williamsport, love ya, mwah), and in it I talk about these last 5ish years, starting around when Pearl turned 1 and going until May 2011, how I felt vacant and unfamilliar because besides emails and internet dating profiles and facebook status updates and very sporadic blog posts, I didn’t write much.  I mean there was a stray poem, and I started about 800 stories, but I didn’t make time to write every day.

And oh man I am super excited about these writing workshops I’m starting in September.  The thing that really inspired me to do them was when I went to this writer’s group in my home-home town, and I just felt so comfortable.  So enlivened looking at other people’s work: Analyzing the writing and psychoanalyzing the writer.  More publicly the former than the latter, but sometimes it’s illuminating when someone asks you, “what are you afraid of writing here?”

There’s a lot of fear in writing.  Maybe not for all writers, but for me.  It is a rather constant battle between myself and my inner editor/naysayer.  Anne Lamott talks eloquently about this in her book Operating Instructions.  It’s a beautiful book.  Natalie Goldberg writes elegant prose about it that has a lot less fear, or maybe it’s just about overcoming the fear.  But she always lives in my head for a few months after I read her book, Writing Down the Bones.  She is a healthy influence.

And for me, the compulsion to write is wrapped up in the compulsion to read.  I have not returned to reading with the same vigor as I have returned to writing, but my Must Read pile has grown, as has my zest for tackling it.  Once the child returns to school, I expect that I, too, will return to reading.  And that is exciting too.  I love the company of good, narrative voices.  I unintentionally mimick the writer I’m reading.  I enjoy what it brings out in my writing when I inhabit someone else’s voice.

Crazy Weird Dream

I’m riding in a school bus down a narrow, urban street, and at first I believe it is my mom who’s driving.  When I realize it’s my sister, Ellen, I am a little relieved, but then panicked, because she’s my (much) younger sister, and I always worry about my sisters.

I ask, “Ellen, where’d you get the bus?”
“Just bought it.  For ten dollars!  Isn’t that cheap and awesome?”

As I say so, an 18ish, ponytailed blonde steps off the curb in front of the bus.  Dream time slows down and I see the little girl’s face change about a half dozen times in horror then resignation.  Ellen does not stop, or seem to really be all that horrified that she just ran over a young girl.  In fact, she says, “There goes a gallon of fuel economy.”

There’s a small blank in the dialogue in the dream, but somehow Ellen is compelled to pull over.  It’s as if her first instinct is to just keep going.  We’re all sitting in the bus, and then I become aware of the identity of the other passengers.

There’s my brother, Kenn, sister, Jenna, mom, no dad, and these two women who go to church (or used to) with my family, Megan and Erica.  In the dream, the two have kind of reversed body types.  Megan is very tiny and Erica is sort of Reubenesque.

Then there’s the cop.  He’s got a shaved head except for this largeish patch of thick, long, dark hair that he’s wearing down over one eye, all anime.  And he’s attractive and gregarious and funny and super nice to Ellen, even though she’s just committed homocide.

Then there’s rain, buckets of rain, and there are folks outside who are managing the crisis, and I am itching to walk home to my nearby apartment, but am waiting out the rain.  Then my mom decides to take the wheel and, she does so without any notice or discussion.  She’s decided the bus is in the way, and I’m screaming, “Mom!  Don’t go anywhere!  They’re gonna’ think you fled the scene!”   She says, “Hush, I’m just moving us so we’re out of the way.

So she goes around the block and into this strange, paved alley that’s only wide enough for the bus, but when it’s time to stop, she can’t.

So we’re in slow motion again, and literally feet from hitting more people and cars when I realize it’s a hand brake, and I leap forward and start tugging this thing that comes out of the dash like a pull string on a talking doll from days of yore, and I’m tugging and tugging and feet and feet of string are landing at my feet and we’re millimeters away from hitting people and I get it stopped.  Whew.

Then suddenly I’m walking in the woods in the dark in the rain with Megan and we’re talking about all kinds of things that I can’t hear in my dream, and then she says, “you know I’m pregnant?”
“I forgot.  Sorry.  You don’t look pregnant.  When are you due?”
“I don’t know.  I don’t really want to be pregnant.”
“You know there are things you can do about that.”
“I know.” sigh, “I don’t want to.”

Then we’re in this big, big church sanctuary that’s pitch dark, and as my dream eyes adjust, there are really strange shafts of amber light streaking, but in no discernable pattern, and with no visible light source, and we’re walking down one of the far aisles, and I’m wondering where the room ends when I see my dad.  He’s sitting alone in a pew that’s like a mile wide, and I wake up before I can go ask him what the heck he’s doing in my dream.

Where’s Jung when you need him?  And I packed our dream analysis books.  Phooey.