Z is for Zizou

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ZI’m not a jealous person by nature but sometimes at night when it’s time to go to bed, instead of following me into the boudoir, my husband, hypnotized by the glow of his laptop will murmur, “I’ll be there in a minute.”

And then I start to seethe.

He’s not coming to snuggle with me under the sheets because he’d rather watch videos on Youtube. Specifically, clips of French Algerian soccer star Zinedane Zidane. Most likely, my husband is watching the “best of” video of “Zizou” (as the superstar is known to his fans), a montage of the best career shots edited down to seven minutes against the backdrop of Coldplay’s “I Will Fix You.”

“Honey, watch this! It’s the game against Brazil in 1998. Look! He totally deeks Ronaldo right…there! There’s nobody like him. Nobody even close.”

He was drooling when he said that.

Then he tells me how “Zizou” was so sinewy and fast! in the early years. How he’d smoked cigarettes at halftime. How he apologized to the children after he head-butted Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup Finals. How unbecoming “Zizou’s” haircut was when he played for Real Madrid and how much better he looks with a shaved head. There’s so much reverence and awe in my husband’s voice, I’m surprised that we didn’t name our twins “Zinedane” and “Zidane.”

Zizou

I remember when I used to have that “Zizou effect” on my husband. But we’ve been together now fifteen years. Has our sizzle fizzled? Have I been replaced by a bald Frenchman?

The other day I tested him: I had run a Google search on the words, “Zinedane Zidane Coldplay” and when I found a link to the video, I played the audio.

“Do you know what this is?” I asked.

I wanted to drive home the point that he was spending a little too much time ooh-ing and aah-ing over Mr. Happy Feet and not enough time ooh-ing and aah-ing over me.

My husband one-upped me. He listened to the soundtrack for a moment and said, “That’s not the right one.” (Apparently there’s a rival Coldplay mashup of Zizou shots on goal and my husband can hear the difference). “Here, I’ll get the right link for you. We’ll watch it together. Ohhhh-hoh-hoh! I haven’t seen it in four days.”

And then he let out a little moan.

I was writing at the time (a rough draft of this blog post, as a matter of fact), and I just glared at him, shaking my head. Then I went back to work.

A few minutes later my husband said sadly, “We’re not going to watch it, are we?”

“I’m going to bed,” I huffed.

“I’ll be there in a minute,” he said, putting on his headphones and starting to hum.

Y is for You

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YThis is what kills me. “You” are “you plural.” And no one knows how that happened. You were a cell. You divided. And now you have two noses and four arms and twenty toes.

One of you wakes at the slightest touch. The other of you can fall off the bed and stay asleep.

One of you likes baseball. The other of you likes to figure out what markings make which word.

One of you was born at a pound and a half.

One of you has lots of pictures from when you plural were in the hospital because you’d always open your eyes.

One of you just got your first bee sting.

One of you wants Italy to win the World Cup.

One of you is speedy quick. Unless we’re talking about baseball reflexes.

One of you is rolly and slow. Unless we’re talking about baseball reflexes.

Both of you can tell time better than your sister. Who is three years older.

One of you could live on plain pasta.

One of you likes radishes, guacamole, and prefers Sevillano olives to Niçoise.

And yet, you share the same DNA.

X is for eXposure

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XWhen I first started blogging, I had a purpose, a reason to disseminate information through a blog. I was pregnant with twins. Our odds were terrible (50/50 they’d survive the pregnancy without complications) and we wanted to keep our family informed without having to make 19 different phone calls to give the same information.

The blog was private. I blogged about the pregnancy, the birth, and the early NICU days. Then the idea to write a memoir about the experience was inserted into my head, probably during a middle-of-the-night alien abduction that involved some kind of nasal probe (to insert the idea, of course) and memory erasure (to protect the identity of the aliens, of course). Which meant that I needed to take the blog public and build a platform. I needed to get my name out there and get some exposure.

There is an ugly side to getting exposure. For example, one way to get a lot of views and shares is to write a post that goes viral. And one way to go viral is to piss people off so much that they want to share your affronts so that other people get pissed off. People like to share things that piss them off. (I suppose you could also write a particularly witty post, like this one here, but only if you are particularly witty.)

However, when total strangers are pissed off at you, they write really mean things. They stalk you on the Internet and post links to your Facebook profile that you thought was private. Suddenly something you thought was particularly witty (“Janine works at Keeping Her Toenails Shiny!”) is suddenly turned on its head and now strangers are congratulating each other on the cleverness of their insults.

So then the blog become private again.

But you still need a platform, because the aliens’ nasal probes have altered the neural connections in your frontal lobes (not to mention your hippocampus) and their plan for galactic domination by making people want to write memoirs is not deterred by Internet trolls.

So here we are. Blogging here and there, like trying to change the color of the ocean one drop of food coloring at a time but not wanting to make the sort of splash that wakes up the trolls.

W is for Writer’s Block

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WWhen April 26th rolled around I didn’t have a blog post ready because I was exhausted. The book launch, the parties (oh! the parties!), Easter and visiting family had squeezed out all my words and by the time we got to “W” I had nothing left.

And though I kept writing and working on my book project, I just couldn’t bring myself to go back and finish those four letters in the A-Z Blog Challenge.

But last week, in an impromptu meeting with some Write On Mamas during which we talked about platform-building, I made some goals for myself. One of which was to finish these last four letters. That and figure out my purpose in the blogosphere.

This morning it dawned on me that part of what I enjoy about writing my book is that the audience is so far away. Just as when I was on stage—the audience is waaaaaaaaaaay out there. They have no real input. They react, sure. But that’s at the end. After you’ve done all the work. Most importantly, you are under no obligation to respond to their response.

But a blog is a dialogue. People comment (or worse! Nobody comments!) and a good blogger responds to these comments. I don’t mind the dialogue that happens on Facebook. In fact, that’s what I love about Facebook. But then, the big difference there is that I know who I am talking to. It’s a friend. Not that I don’t mind responding to a commenter who is also a stranger. But if feels sort of fake. Particularly through the A-Z challenge, which is meant to drive traffic to your site and guide you to other blogs—more and more I just felt like I was commenting for the sake of leaving a comment and not because I had something meaningful to say.

Then I felt like I was following all these blogs for the sake of having followed them, because that’s how you build a platform, right? Like adding to the din instead of focusing on a message.

So I stopped blogging.

V is for Vicarious

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VSo. I didn’t write a post for today.

But luckily for you, someone else did. Last night was the first of many book launch parties. Here’s fellow WoM Claire Hennessy’s run-down of the night. And here’s WoM Lorrie Goldin’s account of the night as well as an eloquently written backstory behind getting shit done when you don’t feel like it. Or the way Lorrie puts it: “the alchemy of the collective transforms inertia and demoralization into something altogether different.”

 

U is for Unwanted

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UI have an entire collection of unwanted words. Paragraphs that are lovely out of context, but just don’t fit in the essay I’m working on. Or maybe they’re too complicated to fix.

So I post them on my other blog, the one that posts to Facebook but to which one cannot subscribe, the one that’s just for getting stuff out there. And they sit. “Adopted Darlings” I call them, a play on the misattributed quotes that encourages writers to murder what they love.

It works for me. The unwanted words get a home and a tag. By themselves they’re like clouds that float by. The kind that seem to serve no purpose.

T is for Thank You

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TBack in a past life, I was a ballerina. Only I never called myself that. No dancer uses the word “ballerina.” I sort of like the word now. There’s a lot of stuff I grasp now that I had hated in my previous life.

My entire dance career felt like a fight. That’s part of being a perfectionist. You have to keep the struggle alive. You can’t just be satisfied with something. You have to tear yourself up because you are yearning for that satisfaction and at the same time are terrified that you only have success because of your drive.

I was thinking about this today because I’m in the midst of writing all these emails to people—we’ve got a book launch party! Can you come? And just a few years ago, it would have twisted me up inside to ask people to come.

When I was dancing, sometimes I wouldn’t even come out for my bow. I could do this because many of our bows were ensemble bows and no one would have missed me except for the people on stage. Somehow I’d talk myself into a frenzy. A bow was self-indulgent. It seemed needy and insincere.

I don’t need those people’s approval, their applause. And let’s face it, they’re not clapping for me or even for us. They’re clapping because that’s what you’re supposed to do at the end of a show. Well! I for one will not participate in this farce!

I only sat out the bow once or twice. Turns out directors find that more selfish and self-indulgent than just bowing to the crowd.

I know, you’re wondering how I’m going to bring this back to the book launch party, how I can possibly justify these shameless plugs.

Part of this has to do with the fact that my identity as a person is not as a writer. I’m ok being a lousy writer or a novice writer. Or an amateurish writer. I’m also ok with the idea that someone might think I’m a pretty good writer.

I was never like that as a dancer. I wasn’t ok with the idea that anyone would think I was a lousy dancer and at the same time, I balked at the idea that I could ever be a pretty good dancer. I had to keep the fight. No wonder if felt insincere to invite someone to see me perform.

By contrast my writing isn’t about me (even though all I do is write about me!). I know the two people on staff at the NICU who ask about my writing will genuinely want to know about this book event, even if they can’t go. So I’ll invite them. I know my neighbors are curious and the moms in Chiara’s classroom are supportive, so I’ll invite them. They’ll be too busy to come or they’ll want to come but can’t or who knows, maybe they are secretly hoping I’ll fail, although I don’t attract those sort of people the way I did when I was dancing.

And none of it will have to do with me.

Here’s what I didn’t get as a dancer: that the bow is the time when the dancer is face to face with the audience as a person, not a character, and she has the opportunity to thank them. Thank you for coming. I hope you enjoyed the show. Not, “I hope you liked me.” That’s what I didn’t get.

That’s what these parties are. A chance to celebrate. To say “thank you” to the people who have supported us and “look!” to the people who have been curious. They might not be able to come. They might not be able to buy books. But that’s not the point. The point is that I can thank them and I can thank them in the invitation to the dance.

If you’d like to be thanked in person, come join us tomorrow night at Diesel Books in Oakland at 7pm. Or Sunday, April 27th at the Bookmine in Napa. Or May 4th  in Corte Madera at Book Passage. How about May 8th in San Francisco or May 17th at Copperfields in Sebastopol? (See what I did there?)

S is for Social Media

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SSo I’m doing the A-Z blog challenge this month. Where for the month of April (excluding Sundays) you write on a different letter of the alphabet. You might have figured that out already, since today should be the 22nd of April.

Here’s how it works:

You officially enroll in the A-Z challenge (I have). You put up a badge saying you’ve enrolled (I haven’t) and in addition to blogging everyday (I have), you visit other blogs and comment on them in order to drive traffic to your blog (I haven’t).

And because I’ve signed up for the challenge for all the wrong reasons (to see if I can write 26 blog posts in one month, not to drive traffic to my blog), I’m always a little startled when someone does comment. Much the same way I’d be startled if I were talking to myself on the bus and someone answered one of my rhetorical questions.

I know who I’m talking to when I post to Facebook. I’m posting to actual people I know. Many of them I’ve known for a long time. We carpooled to ballet lessons together or we’re applying to the same writer’s conference or we just saw each other earlier in the day.

I used to know who I was talking to when I blogged. It was my mom and seven of my 400 Facebook friends who clicked on the link in my Facebook Feed. I think that’s why I don’t tweet. I don’t know who I’m talking to. How can I craft a message for a faceless audience? How would I even know what to say?

Or more precisely, I write something, get a comment and think, “Who are you?” I forget that I was broadcasting something.

It’s ok. You can say something. I probably won’t freak out.

R is for Raccoon

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RA little story from back when I’d use writing prompts  to write about a gang of raccoons. Prompts are in bold.

What are we going to do about all this noise?” said Mama Raccoon.

“Who cares?” said Papa Raccoon. “I hope the crash woke up those pricks. Who leaves rotting wood around just waiting to break under the weight of a guest?”

“Ow,” said Baby Raccoon.

“Well, at least let’s call for backup,” said Mama Raccoon.

And Papa Raccoon tweeted to the Raccoon Hooligans of the Outer Sunset. “Come help us stir things up.” He tried to add the address and cross street, but it went over 140 characters. He switched it to “place with the old poodles.”

The Hooligans must have been in the neighborhood because they tumbled into the yard within the half hour.

“Holy shit!” said Rocky Raccoon.

“Criminittly!” said Ricky Raccoon.

“Duuuuuuude,” said Icky Raccoon, who was stoned from eating some leftover pot brownies he’d found in a composting bin on 48th and Ochoa.

Rocky shook his head.

“What happened?” he asked, looking at the clutter of driftwood on the back porch.

“Well, we was crossin’ over this doorway here when Baby Raccoon plum crashed down to the ground. We thinks these shit heads rigged something up on purpose.”

“Honey, don’t swear.” Mama Raccoon nudged her husband, who returned her look with a hard gaze that said, “Dear, these are the Hooligans. We must speak their language if we are to earn their respect.”

Mama Raccoon must have understood Papa Raccoon’s telepathic message because she fell silent.

“Let’s get even!” shouted Ricky. He was the hothead of the group. “Where’s that old dog?”

“Not so fast, Ricky,” said Rocky. “Don’t underestimate that dog. He may be old, but he’s got bad air, that fellow. Blind you with his farts, he will.”

Sometimes Rocky spoke like Yoda when he was trying to manage the Hooligans.

“Well we gotta do something quick like. I just got a tweet from the Ass Kicker Raccoons of Richmond.”

What were you doing in the 80’s?” Icky had shared some of the pot brownies with the rest of the gang. They were reminiscing in the shadow of the silvery moon. It had been a productive night. They had knocked over a table on 48th, grabbed some grub from some trashcans on Lawton, and frightened some lost tourists who’d ridden the N Judah to the end of the line.

Now they sat around the cinders of a beach bonfire. The Ass Kickers had joined them and Delilah, the meanest she-raccoon this side of Virginia, had put some weed on what was left of the fire. Not bad for a Thursday night.

“In the 80’s…” Rocky leaned back on his haunches. His voice grew nostalgic. “My grandpappy worked this neighborhood in the Inner Richmond. Near Lake and 9th. There was this one house with a German shepherd and a pit bull. The German shepherd was mean. She’d guard her territory. But the pit bull—they called her ‘Pinky’—was kind of sweet. She was one of those confused domesticated dogs. Those were the days when there was a Zim’s every twenty blocks. Great fried zucchini sticks. And Super Subs. Remember Super Subs on 20th and Geary? They mispainted the sign and it read ‘Suba’ instead of ‘Subs?’ That was a great place, too. The Alexandria was kickin’. Always popcorn out back and the kids who worked the sanitation shift were always too stoned to close the dumpsters outside. That was a great time.”

“Dude. You’re only six years old. You don’t know nothin’ ‘bout the 80’s. You don’t even remember Web 1.0,” said Delilah.

“Well, neither do you,” Rocky said, a little too defensively.

Q is for Questionnaire

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The idea to have a questionnaire in the anthology came indirectly from my sister-in-law.Q

Ten years ago my parents retired as teachers. Between the two of them they had taught high school English for about seventy years. My sister-in-law sought to contact as many former students as possible (no small feat, as Facebook had not been invented yet) and asked them to write letters to their former teacher. We put the letters into a binder for my parents and presented it to them at their retirement party.

I thought I knew this side of our parents—nurturing teachers whose students would visit after graduation, even coming to the house for dinner. But I didn’t know the scope, the breadth and depth of the effect my parents had on their students that was so clearly remembered so many years later. Some former students had gone on to be English teachers themselves. A few even became writers like my father—citing him as their initial inspiration.

Later that summer, Matt and I were getting married and since everyone offers wedding advice to young, unmarried couples whether solicited or not, I thought I’d give our guests an official forum through which to dispense their wisdom. Our questionnaire asked married couples simple information such as where and when they’d gotten married as well as asking them to reflect on the best parts of the ceremony, reception, and honeymoon.

We learned that one aunt and uncle were married in Chicago the day after Kennedy’s assassination and that another had been married for 47 years—nonconsecutive. We learned that my brother was not the only groom to loose his wedding band on his honeymoon.

The responses were arranged into a reading for the ceremony. Totally recommend it for the next time you get married.

So picture this—the Editorial Group is at Bittersweet and we’re looking through our manuscript. It’s good. We like it. It’s a little short but more than short it feels incomplete. We’ve got a great thing going with the group. It’s special, but in a way that should be ordinary. So many of us shared similar struggles when we sat down to write or as we sent our writing into the world. Similar, yet unique.

We thought, why not ask our contributors, “What keeps you in the chair? What makes it difficult to prioritize writing? What’s the biggest surprise you’ve had?”

I can’t tell you the answers, of course, that would be cheating. You’ll just have to buy the book to find out for yourself.

(Plug, plug, shameless plug.)