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.)

P is for Profile

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PEvery now and again I have to find write a bio for something. I hate it. Well, I used to hate it. But each time I had to write a bio, I turned it into a blog post and tagged it as bio. (That’s on the obscure blog of Dinky Thoughts). Then when I needed to write a bio for something new, I’d go through what I’d written already. Of course it gets easier each time you do it.

Now it’s time to write group profiles and book summaries, which is just as annoying to write and wordsmith. This is what I spent the morning crafting for our Create Space page, our Amazon author page, and our Goodreads profile.

Here’s today’s extended version:

In Mamas Write: 29 Tales of Truth, Wit, and Grit, twenty-four moms (and one dad) share stories from their lives as writers and parents.

Essays range from finding one’s calling as a writer through adopting a toddler; a tribute to a dying wife; an account of a premature birth; raising a transgender child; the joys of sharing a favorite childhood book. In a concluding interview, authors share funny and heartfelt responses to questions such as: “How does a busy parent make time for writing?” “Why do you write, and where?” “What writing books inspire you?” and “What holds you back from writing?”

With a foreword by Kate Hopper, author of Ready For Air: A Journey through Premature Motherhood and Use Your Words: A Writing Guide for Mothers.

If you are a mother who dreams about writing, here’s all the inspiration you need…

 –Rachel Sarah, author of Single Mom Seeking

The Write On Mamas follow a simple but effective formula: meet regularly to write together, read the work aloud, and repeat. It has worked for them for years, and now their anthology gathers the very best of all that writing. These writers dig deep and don’t shy away from tough subjects, but their essays sparkle with humor and energy, too. From gauzy preemies in the NICU to a grown son, brooding with piercings and dreadlocks; from dreams of being writers (or mothers, or mermaids) to dreams of just one good nap—it’s all here, and it makes a great read. 

–Caroline Grant, editor-in-chief of Literary Mama and associate director of the Sustainable Arts Foundation

Here’s a book full of promise:  You, too, can raise children and stories in the same family!  These courageous writers glean wisdom from their dual creative endeavors and offer it to us with honesty, humor, and grace.

–Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew, author of Hannah, Delivered

Even for the most enthusiastic among us, motherhood can be rife with insecurity and isolation. How perfect, then, that these mamas (and papa!) have come together through their writing, supporting each other through the creative process and the baring of their hearts. I wish every mom could be a part of a community like this to remind her that she is not alone.

–Nancy Rose, author of Raise the Child You’ve Got—Not the One You Want

Mamas Write examines the things that drive us to the page both as readers and writers. [...] But these essays are about much more than why mamas write. These writers are grappling with universals: love, acceptance, disappointment, grief.

–From the Foreword by Kate Hopper

O is for Open Letter

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O

An Open Letter to the Person Who Put the “Free Leonard” sign in the Tree Near the On-Ramp to the Bay Bridge Off Bryant Street:

 

Dear Person Who Put the “Free Leonard” sign in the Tree Near the On-Ramp to the Bay Bridge Off Bryant Street,

 is a peace sign.

courtesy of wikipedia

 

is a Mercedes Benz logo.

 

 

Signed,

Someone Who Thought You Would Like to Know the Difference

 

N is for Necessary

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NSome days I spend all my time typing, crafting language, and composing efficient prose and none of that time writing. Today was a day like that. And now it’s the end of the day and I ask myself, what did I write?

Important stuff, it turns out. Bios, book descriptions, event coordination. It’s the sort of stuff you skim when you read which means that the flow of prose is just as important.

Here’s what I put together today. It’s for another book event. This one will be held at Scribd Headquarters, Thursday May 8th from 6 – 7pm, 539 Bryant street in San Francisco.

(Someone else gets the lucky task of writing the event description. I cut, pasted, and tweaked bios.)

 

Moderator: NANCY DAVIS KHO has written for the San Francisco Chronicle, TheRumpus.net, The Morning News, andSkirt! Magazine and is most recently anthologized in Moms Are Nuts (Vansant 2014). An avid music fan, she blogs about the years between being hip and breaking one at MidlifeMixtape.com.

Write On Mamas authors

British-born CLAIRE HENNESSY is writing a humorous memoir about reuniting with her childhood sweetheart “Bug,” after a thirty-year separation. Her work has been published in Nothing But The Truth So Help Me God -Transitions anthology (2014) and blogs at Crazy California Claire. In 2011 she was awarded the Scribd Favorite Funny Story Award. A co-founder and website editor of the Write On Mamas, Claire lives in Novato with Bug and an assortment of kids and animals.

LAUREL HILTON is the president of the Write On Mamas, as well as a founding member. Her work has appeared as part of KQED’s Perspectives series, A Band of Women’s Transitions anthology (2014), and elsewhere. Laurel resides in Mill Valley with her husband, two daughters, a very loyal Australian cattle dog, and a couple of rats.

MARY HILL is writing a memoir about learning to accept her son’s disability and then helping him do the same. Mary has read at Lit Crawl, and her essays have appeared in various disability-related newsletter and blogs, including her own, Finding Joy in Simple Things. Mary is a co-editor of Mamas Write.

MARIANNE LONSDALE writes personal essays and short stories, and is now focused on developing a novel. Her work has been published in the San Francisco Chronicle, Literary Mama, Fiction365, The Sun, and Pulse and is an alumna of the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley. Marianne is a founding member of Write On Mamas. She lives in Oakland with her husband Michael and son Nicholas.

JANINE KOVAC is a founding member of the Write On Mamas and a talent-wrangler for Litquake, San Francisco’s literary festival. She is a co-editor of the anthology Mamas Write as well as a contributing author. Janine is currently reading From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler with her daughter and The Adventures of Spiderman with her twin boys when she isn’t working on her own books.

TERI STEVENS lives in Napa, California with her husband, son, and twin daughters. She is a founding member and marketing director of the Write On Mamas. In addition to writing young adult fiction, Teri writes about parenting and how she became the mother of three six-year-olds.

Here’s the description of our book:

In Mamas Write: 29 Tales of Truth, Wit, and Grittwenty-four moms (and one dad) share stories from their lives as writers and parents. Essays range from finding one’s calling as a writer through adopting a toddler; a tribute to a dying wife; an account of a premature birth; raising a transgender child; the joys of sharing a favorite childhood book. In a concluding interview, authors share funny and heartfelt responses to questions such as: “How does a busy parent make time for writing?” “Why do you write, and where?” “What writing books inspire you?” and “What holds you back from writing?” With a foreword by Kate Hopper, author of Ready For Air: A Journey through Premature Motherhood and Use Your Words: A Writing Guide for Mothers.

 

M is for Math-head

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MMichael is my little math-head. He counts in his spare time (sitting in his car seat, sitting in the bath, lying in his bed at night) in his four-year-old way.

“Twenny-seven! Twenny-eight! Twenny-NINE! What’s after twenny-nine, Mama?”

All the way up to “Nine-y-one! Nine-y-twoo! Nine-y-tree!”

I’m so happy one of my kids is a math-head. Chiara couldn’t care less about math when I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t crunching numbers. If there had been an Excel Etch-a-sketch. I would have had one.

Now, this doesn’t mean I was very good at math. I just really loved it. Or maybe more precisely, I was really good at math in the ordinary sense. The sense of high-school algebra and SAT geometry. But by the time I got to set theory and discrete math, I was out of my depth with regards both to skill and talent. And the deeper I got into probability theory and statistics, the more I relied on my counting on my fingers. Not a good sign for a programmer. Turns out I’m more of an addition-and-subtraction kind of girl with a soft spot for long division.

But I still like math. Sort of the way I still like baseball although I can’t play to save my life.

Chiara is not a math-head. She couldn’t care less about counting and called all currency “gold coins” until she had to make change for her book and then she became suddenly adept and counting bills. But because initially she showed such little interest, I was afraid that maybe I just didn’t make math-heads. Maybe my offspring just wasn’t wired to like numbers.

So it warmed my heart to see Michael enthusiastically counting on his fingers, declaring that our car could fit three grownups and three kids, calculating how many cookies each child could eat if there were six cookies left. It was validating.

Even when he finished counting: “Nine-y-seven, nine-y-eight, nine-y-NINE, NINE-THIRTY!”

Same love. Same limitations.

L is for “Like Me”

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LDo you like me? Will you like me? Did you like me yet? Oh, because it’s oh-so-important that you like me. On Facebook, I mean.

Because I need you to like me. All of you. Even if I don’t know you or care to hang out with you. Because if you like me (and then tell your friends to like me), then I can tell other people how many people like me and then they’ll think…

Quite frankly, I don’t know what they will think. I know what they’re supposed think. They’re supposed to be super-impressed if the number’s really high.  And then my Worth points grow in the video game of life. (Conversely, if the number’s really low, the way my number is, then they will shake their heads and pity me.)

Of course, what they should be thinking, is “Wow! You certainly know how to navigate the changing face of social media! You must be really adept at manipulating Facebook’s ever-changing algorithm!”

Or—“OMG. You must be one of those people who sends self-promotional emails with lots of exclamation points bcc-ing everyone in your inbox, e-flogging them into submission until they click the stupid thumb’s up button on the url you’ve inserted into your signature. That never works. I’m not surprised that you have such few likes.”

But you know what? I don’t care what you think about my number of Facebook likes. I don’t care if you think I’m a loser such few people have bothered to click on those links. Or if you think I’m a shameless bragster for trying to get the number higher.

I couldn’t care less what you think of me for trying to get as many people to like my Facebook page.

But I do want you to like me.

So if you wouldn’t mind clicking on this link and “liking me?” OMG, that would like, make me like, totally happy.

And if you need me to, I’ll totally like you back.

K is for Kitty Litter

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KI am on a quest for the perfect kitty litter. Clumps, but doesn’t smell. Is organic but doesn’t track all over.

It’s harder than you would think.

We’ve tried several brands since acquiring our kitties last September. Such as “WORLD’S BEST KITTY LITTER” for kittens. How can you go wrong with that? But it turns out that the world’s best still wasn’t that impressive. It was chemical-free and it had a pretty look to it (like aquarium gravel), it also had a tendency to crumble and get dusty. And “WORLD’S BEST KITTY LITTER” multi-cat version wasn’t much better. We tried a kind that was completely compostable but it didn’t clump. Not-clumping is code for “super-gross and mushy” and it looked like goat pellets.

Fresh Step was good at odor control, had excellent clumping power but is basically just a chem-fest (that’s clever-speak for “full of chemicals.”) And our current litter clumps well, but it’s still stinky.

I think I’ve jumped the shark in this A-Z challenge, but if you’re out there and you know of a good, natural litter that smells like daisies, I’m all ears.