Archive for the ‘Mothers and Writing’ Category

Strong Wind

In Mothers and Writing, Musings on June 13, 2011 at 4:19 am

This post keeps unfurling in my mind, I catch a glimpse of it, and then it’s gone, like the tail of a garden snake slithering away in tall grass. I think: I will start by telling the story of my brother’s graduation from college yesterday, about the many tiny little things that “went wrong” because I was in something of a rush–a rush to get there, a rush to make it to the ceremony on time, and a rush to get back to my husband and son who were not feeling well at home. I think: I will find a way to make it funny that the end result of that mad 24 hours–after dodging drunk grads (and being hit by one on skateboard) in the Animal House like neighborhood of his vicininty, and listening to wide-eyed speeches in which diem was carped and futures were full-wattage,  is a kink in my neck so bad I cannot turn my head fully to either side and a case of the hiccups…

And then I see a different tail and it is this: Me, standing at the sink, washing dishes. My wonderful husband, sensing my gloom, asking me how I am.  With a sensation in my chest as though a fist is trying to squeeze water out of my heart I say, “I’m tired of myself…of my own thoughts…my patterns.” I quickly reassure him that this doesn’ t mean anything dire–I have never been to a place so dark I wanted to end it. But I do want to end certain habits I have, and lately, more than ever, they are waking up like dragons at every turn, and I walk around in a cage of self-imposed limitations.

After spending 24 hours with the part of my family where I have always felt like a buoy bobbing in a strange sea, a sea I am both intimately part of, and alien to, I return home to the family I have carved out for myself–my husband and son–feeling weighted down. My body hurts. My heart is heavy…I am having the most profound urge to be a child again, to be mothered. For someone to gather me up in their arms, lay me down in a soft bed, tickle my back, smooth out the wrinkles of night, sing me sweet songs and tell me everything is okay. But of course, this is my job. There is a runny nose, and bumped knees to tend. A boy who misses his mama after she was gone overnight.

Then, the blog post splits, it’s a rare two-headed beast, staring at me with four beady eyes before it’s off into dark underbrush again. “Remember,” it says in a sibliant snaky voice, “the family friend/astrologer telling who told you years ago: ‘There are many addictions, including the addiction to doing too much. You have this tendency, be careful.'” At the time I thought, “No, all this ‘doing’ is just ambition, drive…it’s good, it means I get things done. I’m never idle.”  But tonight as my spine feels like an iron rod bending unerringly toward the ground beneath a freight train; after a day where I watched myself tap dance to make unnecessary things happen from afar; after trying so carefully to only do and say that which would not cause conflict, or the least amount, where I worried and fretted my spine into this knot (the kind that tethers Titanic-sized ships to their ports)…I wonder how wrong I am. I wonder what happens when the doing is undone. What comes up from that dark, quiet place? Am I brave enough to find out?

I wonder what it’s like to be a person who doesn’t rush. Who doesn’t try to please everyone in a 3 mile radius–even when the pleasing is really only a stop-gap for my own anxiety.

I wonder what it would be like not to bounce from thing to thing hourly, moment by moment, shifting, twisting, contorting.

I wonder what it’s like to simply say: I need this. I can’t do that. I feel this way about it.

And not worry that everything will fall apart.

My wise friend  Amy said to me: “Pick your lead horse, and let the others run astray.” She meant: let there be priorities, like health and children. Worry over those. Let the rest of them fall where they may.

My other wise friend Alegra said, and I am paraphrasing: “Let go of the illusion that you are always in control.”

I catch the original thought for this post in my hand. It’s no snake, not even a worm. It’s the cord I use to bind myself to these false ideas. It’s thin, and mauve-colored, its end trying to dance on the breeze. I’m just waiting on a strong wind.

The Thousand Things

In General, Mothers and Writing on June 2, 2011 at 3:52 am

On the phone with a writing client today I say, “It’s a crazy week,” and he laughs knowingly.

“It’s always a crazy week,” he says. I can’t read his tone. Is he chastising me?  It does seem that I say this to him each week during our standing appointment. Is this his impression of the person he’s hired to “coach” him through seeing his manuscript through to publication? “It’s always crazy, for everyone,” he amends, but somehow I still feel guilty.

The day spins out like a yo-yo flung too far and gone slack. I’ve finished several critiques and a book review on time and suddenly it’s time for the one truly luxurious part of this day, of the month: a trip to get lunch and pedicures with dear friends, if only I can get out the door–already thinking ahead to the after-pampering plans. The last time I let someone pamper me like this was the morning of my wedding, nearly 12 years ago. I am not in the habit of stopping, resting. Resting is the thing I do at night, when my body crashes against the waiting cup of my bed.

The pedicure is a blur of lovely sensations–warm water on my toes, strong hands on the tender points of my soles; a massaging chair that shimmies like I am crushing a small person, making us laugh; even the act of cutting away the calluses feels good, restorative, like dead hours shaved away. And the slick red paint that I never bother to apply myself reveals ten little shiny reminders that there are feet somewhere below my head, the tiny little fort of brain matter where I am tucked away most of the day, forgetting about the hard packed earth that holds me up.

 Then there is a rushed hurry to get my son on time from daycare, a burst of arms and bared teeth as he explodes toward me the moment I enter the room, and I remember that we parted this morning in frustration with each other over limit testing and not listening. I gather his towheaded sweaty boy sweetness into my arms and kiss him all over his face, and tuck him into the car, stop by the store, make it home to begin dinner early so I can make it to an evening exercise class.

And somewhere between the fresh gleaming raspberries gathering an inedible dusting of sand from his sandbox, and the lasagne noodles boiling into a mass of glutinous rectangles I can’t do anything with, and speaking for 15 minutes to my producer at the radio station where I have been slogging through a book commentary I hope to record while my son peppers me with questions about the baby who was temporarily kidnapped yesterday, and remembering to drain the spinach I set in the sink,  rescuing my son from the top of his play structure, making sure he doesn’t have an accident on the living room floor, calling the auto mechanic who never called me back, fielding a tantrum borne of disallowing television…a big rush of air leaves my lungs and I find myself slumping to the floor of my kitchen,  broom in hand, task abandoned.

Here, the cold of the linoleum pressed against my bare calves is jarring and enlivening, a cool, hard contrast to that watery womb I soaked in earlier. I never was very good at switching channels–a child who was forced to go back and forth between her parents’ houses weekly until I was 16–I hate this zig-zagging energy of moving from one thing to another. And yet…that is how my life moves, how children move,  how a freelancer’s business moves.  But sometimes, in the spaces between the thousands of things, thousands of harmless and normal activities of a day, I feel as though I am a creature made of steel being asked to bend like rubber. I feel as though I will crack under the strain of constant shifting.

I wiggle my red painted toes. In a few minutes I’ll be stuffing them into tennies and we’ll be heading out to an exercise class, an hour of another kind of motion, one that seems to help keep my disparate parts from turning into useless jelly, gives me fortitude to keep up the bustle. 

But in this moment I don’t want to put on my shoes, or move off the floor, or do anything but listen to the sound of my son talking to his toys in his sandbox outside, even though I know in a moment I’ll have to run out there and pluck stickers from his socks, or brush sand off his snacks.

Right now, I am still. Right now, stillness is perfect.

Milk & Ink Anthology Benefit

In Business of Writing, General, Mothers and Writing on November 4, 2010 at 11:49 pm

Milk and Ink is here now, if you didn’t know already! This anthology of stories, essays and poems by writing mothers celebrates the intensity of being both mother and writer. It also will inspire all to recognize the power of living true to your passions and life purpose.

Milk & Ink focuses on the experience of motherhood, but it also speaks to everyone: fathers, daughters, and sons. This anthology, not only in its stories, but in its creation and promotion, seeks to acknowledge the need we have for one another.

Most important, though, proceeds of the project will be donated to Mama Hope, which supports women and children in Africa in a variety of projects.
To purchase copies you may visit one of the following links:

Final Billing

In General, Mothers and Writing, Musings on August 2, 2010 at 3:27 am

Death is on my mind (read my prior post). It’s unavoidable, and crushing, and I continue to remain completely dumb in the face of such tragedy. And so I’ve been digging through my fiction for something appropriate. I came across this story, first published in Zaum, the literary magazine of my undergraduate Alma Mater, Sonoma State University. The rights have reverted to me, though, so I’m free to share my thoughts/feelings on death the only way I know how (it’s also on my Scribd profile:

 Final Billing

 Jack and I spent our first date walking through the wet grass at the new end of the cemetery, assigning fates to the dead strangers. Dutiful Mothers became neurosurgeons, beloved uncles, sea captains. “Vincietta Grana,” he said, pronouncing one woman’s name in such an American way, all flat vowels. “Born 1910, died 1995. She was an expert lace maker who brought the tradition over from the old world and kept it alive until lace lost its novelty on household appliances and pets.”

I corrected him, saying her name so she sounded as Italian as she surely was in our collective imagination. The ‘c’ sounding like something chilled, a little flick in my voice at ‘Grana’ recalling practiced Italian phrases from my one visit to Italy. He liked that about me; he said, “You’d sound good with an accent. Any accent.”  So I tried to sound Japanese and he said, “Well, maybe not.”

On our way out we passed a white awning, pitched and ready over eight green velvet-clad chairs. They faced an open plot, a sinkhole inside an ocean of mismatched green squares of sod, nourished by the dead, supposed to form one convincing lawn. The contraption that lowers caskets into the ground rested on top. Jack said, “Those front row seats must come cheap,” and then we giggled.

I knew right then I could love him because he could joke about death.


 Our second date was his mother’s funeral. I stood behind his family hedge of slumped shoulders and crumpling knees. It seemed wrong to wear black since I didn’t know Jack’s mother, worse that the only black outfit I owned was a cocktail dress that showed too much leg and cleavage; it hadn’t been washed since I wore it two weeks earlier on a date to an Irish pub with an Irish thug whose end-of-evening overtures nearly amounted to date rape. The smell of pub was so pungent on the dress, I hallucinated that the flowers crowning his mother’s “new home with a lawn” as he called it, actually smelled like beer and cigarettes.

 So many of his relatives had amusing incarnations of the features I liked in his face—that slightly folded right eye, the strong dimpled chin, black hair that turned blue in the sunlight—that I felt like I was in some kind of Kafkaesque dream, and soon, if we stayed together, my face would begin to look like theirs too. Unsure of appropriate behavior I smiled at their questions, answering awkwardly, “Yes, I was invited,” feeling cheap and badly-dressed, like a hooker, hired to distract him.

 Afterwards, at the wake that nobody called a wake, I worried that my presence, my foreign body would remind him of what he’d lost. Or that his three jocular brothers standing in a row, each of whose chins appeared slightly larger than the last, would take him aside and council him out of my acquaintance.

Though he and I had walked side by side between these two official dates at least six times in the cemetery chaperoning our dogs, we had never really touched. I had to imagine the shape of his torso under his baggy t-shirts. That cocktail dress was more skin than I’d planned to show so soon. But he asked me to stay the night and even though I knew better—a man in grief is like a leech, my mother once said—I stayed. He said, “It’s a relief,” meaning her death, not necessarily my being there, and though I didn’t really know, I said “I know.”


One night after making love he wanted to know how my mother died.  . I only told him part of the truth: that she died after a prolonged illness. I didn’t tell him that in the last week of her life (I was eleven), I snuck into her room after my father warned me to leave her be. I climbed up on her bed, straddled her body, watching her labored breathing and that I gripped her by the shoulders and said, “I need to know when.” And I didn’t tell my father that she opened her eyes then, and tried to make a smile, the folds of her nightgown swallowing her neck so that she seemed to be just a disembodied face. She said, “Apparently I missed the four o’clock boat, but they’re sending another one.” And when I should have cried, I laughed. She, too, was funny even at the end.


 I stopped counting the number of our dates after ten, thinking I would jinx things. We got along so well, with our shared love of bluegrass music—particularly melancholy fiddle solos—puddle jumping, and loss.  I feared that if one of our dogs died the spell would be broken, and so I became the leash-Nazi—Jack’s words. The dogs had to stay on the sidewalk, in our sight, like naughty children. Any sudden leaping or bounding away and I grew frantic and punitive, taking liberties with Serge and spanking him on a few occasions too many. Jack treated me like the bad stepmother at one point, refusing to let me hold his baby’s leash.

Once, when our dates were somewhere between the hundreds and the living together, he stopped in front of the grave of Mr. Edward Worthington and his dearly departed wife, Mrs. Edward Worthington and said, “Wow, he gets double billing in death, and we don’t even know her first name.”


We weren’t going to get married. Maybe I was afraid of becoming Mrs. Jack Pullman at the end, subsumed in the tomb of his world. Or that our shared interests of bluegrass music, puddle jumping and dog walking in cemeteries would give way only to loss, or that one morning I would wake up and there would only be my head floating somewhere above my body, unattached, with his chin and that crooked eye.

I said, “We don’t need the government sleeping between us,” though I knew it hurt his feelings. And he gave me that tiny gold ring on Valentine’s Day, shyly, as if one any bigger might offend me, like the ring might be a tether, a muzzle, a leash.


It was three years before we went on another “official” date.

“I’m feeling stifled by myself,” he told me, after my failed perm made me feel unlovable. He said. “I think we need to start seeing each other.” He knew I’d laugh. By then, after there was nothing but familiar territory on each other’s bodies, on our routine paths through the cemetery, past the soggy new neighborhood community of which his mother was now a resident, perhaps he needed something fresh. And though we both harbored the possibility that a baby might be the next step, our dogs, Mimi and Serge regularly disabused us of this idea by shitting in the house and disemboweling garbage cans in ritual mischief. So we dated again. We started with movies and dinners, bowling and even shopping. But somehow we always came back to walking, counting the “Misses Misters” as we began to think of them: Mrs. Frederick Garner and Mrs. Allen Dietrich and Mrs. Samuel Elling. And if I had known that dating would lead to fighting, I would never have allowed us to start.


 He said, “You look tired,” as we laid yellow daisies on his mother’s grave a year later. She got her own name on her headstone, but his father’s name was already etched there next to hers, his birth date the open end of a clause waiting to swallow the rest of his life: Jackson E. Pullman Sr. 1945—

“I’m not tired,” I said, though I was. I wanted Jack to say something funny. Instead he complained about an old running injury in his ankle, and I said, “You’re just jealous of the dead: they get all the attention.” I didn’t know where it came from either, though of course I was thinking about my mother. And even though he was mad, I didn’t feel obliged to make it better. I didn’t care at the moment what the consequences would be. I pushed him further. I said, “No more trophies, Mister high school champion, no more awards ceremonies. Your mother isn’t here to defend you from the world.”

His silence was worse than any yelling. It went on for days, interrupted only by the harmony that our mutts tried to inspire, forcing us to take them out, throw them balls. I wanted to trump his mother’s death with mine, because I was sure I had more pain than he did.


 And just when we were trying to decide who should pack and move, he went for that physical exam, and once again we had something big in common.

Cancer patients can get very needy, even clingy, one wife told me during one of his chemotherapy appointments. My husband is like one of my children, she said. This is when it occurred to me, like a forgotten item on a list of errands that we had never gotten to seriously consider having them.

He said, “I’ll give you all the sperm I’ve got,” and I did feel better even though I knew he didn’t mean it. He couldn’t stand the idea of me and a child having fun without him. He felt guilty when we left the dogs at the kennel to go out of town for a weekend. And while he was sleeping one afternoon I remembered that the last time we’d visited his mother’s grave as we bent forward over her headstone, he allowed me to dig dirt out of the granite letters of her name for the first time.


When he was still in the hospital, I didn’t ask when he would be leaving the way I asked my mother; I didn’t want to know. I just hung around, waiting, and even snuck in the dogs with the help of the night nurse, a mousy little redhead named Vivian who had, I think, fallen in love with him those final weeks. I didn’t blame her. Serge whined a bit but licked his face and Mimi came out of her aloof mood long enough to rest a paw on his knee, unprompted. He said to all of us before we left, “Don’t drink all the beer, you kids.” And I said, “You too.”


At his funeral I wore the same little black cocktail dress, because it was still the only black in my closet; it had been hanging between his suits and jackets though and this time it smelled like him, like wood smoke and soap. His brothers’ chins all seemed the right sizes, and I pinched myself for wishing that they would be riddled with cancer too, which would eat away at their shapely jaws, their plump earlobes, their stubbled cheeks; as if by dissolving them I could recreate him.

I also wore high heels on his last day above ground. I wanted to feel their spikes dig into the soft ground with every step. I wanted there to be effort, to notice every plane of my foot as it sunk a few inches below me and then rose up again.

When I came back one week later to make sure his headstone was clean, I waited by the car first as an elderly couple passed by traversing the flat stones, admiring the flowers placed on some of them, reading the inscriptions. I heard the man say, “Fifty-five, so young!” And I wanted to rush over to him and say, “How about thirty-eight?” But instead, I kneeled in front of Jack and imagined aloud different fates for him: a Texas breeder of racing greyhounds, a native winner of the Tour de France, a blues guitarist in an Irish Pub.

 These were the only accents I could manage.

Building a Web of Light

In General, Mothers and Writing, Musings on July 30, 2010 at 7:36 pm

Before I was a mother there was nary a subject I was afraid to tackle in my fiction. Fiction is, after all, a safer realm to explore those dark realities and questions that we often can’t in our daily lives. I wrote with almost cavalier freedom about a child who’d lost her arm, a teen mother who cracked under the burden of sudden motherhood, about drug addicted parents and their adult children and the vast gray areas in the human experience that have always fascinated me.

And then my son was born two years ago. And it physically hurt to see tv shows in which children were going hungry, much less a movie or book featuring abuse or worse.

Today, my friend Alegra Clarke and family have to do one of the worst things I can imagine: attend a service for the death of a baby. A baby who was abused (not her own). A family member. She has blogged about it so eloquently already, as has our friend Nina.  And I am not even capable of coming up with the beauty these two have put into words about this subject. I’m merely trying to add to the  support around her and her family, to help build a web of light, so to speak, around something so unbearably dark, to prop them up, help them know they aren’t alone, and though I honestly don’t know have the strategy, to tell them that they will get through this.

 I think some of you out there have already been through this kind of thing, and worse. And it is my hope that some of you might have a story or word to share that softens the terrible blow of this all–because it can’t take away the sharp agony, the stink of what-if and regret–but like Alegra says in her own post, sometimes we can only do what we know. Write. Tell Stories. Love the people in our lives. And like Nina says, be good to him. To all of them. To each other.

Mothers and Writing…Milk and Ink.

In Mothers and Writing, Musings, Publishing on July 18, 2010 at 10:37 pm

I don’t know who Jane Friedman was quoting when she said this week that all one needs to be a writer is a “bad mother,” but it made me laugh knowingly. Not because I had a bad mother, nor because I hope to be one, but because there does seem to be a firm link between writers and their mothers, or their own mothering. And it makes sense. Is there a bond more primal than mother and child? (Not discounting fathers here by a long shot). I see it in my adult friends who are grappling with issues about their mothers wondering why they “still” have these needs/longings/frustrations.

Even if you never speak to your mother, or fight with her regularly, it stands to reason that you’d have a spectacularly complex connection to the person whose body you grew inside of, or who raised you, with a promise of unconditional love, even if she did not birth you.

This connection and its very complexity, its beauty and its darkness, is the thesis around a magnificent new project I’m honored to be involved in. Milk & Ink: A Mosaic of Motherhood, is an anthology, the brainchild of Eros-Alegra Clarke, which will be published in December by Outskirts Press and features such a spectacular line-up of mother writers it makes me want to dance: Eros-Alegra Clarke; Tinesha Davis; Tanya Egan Gibson; Kemari Howell; Marilyn Kallet; Rebecca Lawton; Caroline Leavitt; Ellen Meister, Justine Musk; Nina Perez; Jordan E. Rosenfeld; Marge Bloom; Christina Rosalie Sbarro; Tracey Slaughter; Tomi L. Wiley; and Michael Lee West. POW.

All proceeds will be going to Mama Hope, a charity sponsoring women and children in Africa. The charity was founded by Nyla Rodgers, daughter of one of my former writing teachers, Stephanie Moore, who passed away several years ago from cancer, and to whom my book Make a Scene is dedicated.

The writing is stellar and we will be blogging at: Please check us out! Please also “like” our Facebook page and follow us on twitter. More to come!