Pledge for a Frantic Activist

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So I called some senators. I knitted a hat. I’ve marched, signed petitions, and typed a jillion angry emojiis on Facebook. I can’t keep up with the news, real or fake. It all feels like Whack-a-Mole politics. Idioms that used to be metaphoric are now literal: my head is spinning. I feel sick to my stomach. I’m so angry I can’t see straight.

I’ve become a frantic activist. A Franticivist.

At the same time, life is marching on as well. There’s the personal—lunches to pack and little people to take care of. There’s the professional: ballet classes to teach, submissions to read for a storytelling series, and a revision deadline for my memoir.

Something has to change. I can’t just ignore what’s happening in the world but I can’t neglect what needs to be accomplished in my personal life. Moreover, the phone calls and postcards are important, but I have a gut feeling that this is not the best way for me to make a difference. So, inspired by this article How To Stay Outraged Without Losing Your Mind, here’s what I’m going to do. Because the franticivsm is going to be the death of me.

READ
I used to get my news from the New York Times and the Daily Show. Now I get it from Lit HubTheir daily newsletter is a compilation of articles from around the web that keeps me informed. The diversity of voices and demographics is comprehensive with a variety of women, WOC, and prominent writers from all over the world, all are intelligent without being shrill or reactive. Lit Hub is where I first saw this article by Rebecca Solnit and this one from Roxane Gay.

WRITE
Last weekend I had to explain to my nine-year-old daughter why it’s called a pussy hat. Which meant we had to talk about personal space, innuendo, and what it means “take a word back.” We talked about the N-word and how words hurt. This story goes beyond pink hats. This is about finding a voice and using it. I want my daughter to take for granted that she can speak up. It starts with me putting that story down on paper.

LISTEN
Just before the inauguration I attended this Litquake event at the San Francisco Public Library in which writers such as Sarah Lapido Manyika responded to the current administration. As with reading intelligent commentary from authors I admire, listening to their words made me feel connected to a larger community. Online click-bait often makes me feel anxious and panicked but listening to nuanced analysis and opinions was inspiring. For those in the SF Bay Area, litseen provides a comprehensive calendar of where to go and who you’ll hear.

SPEAK OUT
Currently on my plate is an event at Kaleidoscope Coffee with the Write on Mamas and Michelle Gonzales. The theme is Plan B: Now What Do We Do? I’m also reading submissions for the San Francisco production for Listen To Your Mother in which ten percent of all ticket proceeds will go benefit a local nonprofit that benefits women and children. This is my opportunity to amplify the voices and stories that I think need to be heard. It doesn’t all have to be about politics. Compassion starts when someone else’s experience resonates with you. Now with the current political climate, I’m seeing that people (writers, cafe owners, librarians) are actively on the lookout for events and many have a community calendar already. There’s a lot of energy to be harnessed around creating a lit event.

RINSE, REPEAT, AND REVISE AS NECESSARY
This is a plan that I think can help me feel engaged, informed, and pro-active without feeling overwhelmed and frantic. But this could change. I know that new opportunities will present themselves and that might involve taking different actions. Until then, I’m going to cozy up with a copy of RAD Women Worldwide for an extra dose of Yes, We Can.

Seven Ways to Make Your Blog a Success—#2 Will Surprise You

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toast(I was going to call this blog post “The Festival of Posts” but I went for click-bait instead.)

The Festival of Posts is a twist on an inside joke at our house: The Festival of Toast. When my husband wants to transform something boring, he calls it a festival. At least twice a week he’ll serve the kids breakfast he calls “The Festival of Toast.” It’s no festival. It’s just toast. Buttered toast. Peanut buttered toast. Toast with jelly. Voilà! Instant festival.

The idea here is that you could pledge to blog once a week and share it on Facebook. Or you could join one of those blog hops in which you and 10,000 other bloggers pledge to blog once a day for a month and read and comment on 10,000 blogs.

Or you could set your expectations really, really low, rope in some friends and call it a Festival.

Here’s what six writers from Write on Mamas have decided to do between February 15th and March 15th:

Step 1: Write a blog post
Step 2: Publish that blog post
Step 3: Share that blog post
Step 4: Read someone else’s blog post
Step 5: Comment on that blog post
Step 6: Share that blog post
Step 7: Rinse and repeat for each blogger

 

Voilà! Instant festival.

And here are the blog urls:

Emily Meyers: Happy Day You

Claire Hennessy: Crazy California Claire

Jilanne Hoffman

Megan Schultz: Musings from Megan

Vicki DeArmon: One Mother’s Edge

Cynthia Lehew-Nehrbass: Joy and Pathos

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.”

 

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?)

D is for Don’t Do It Yourself

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DIt takes about 36 seconds’ worth of research to realize that self-publishing is not DIY publishing. It can be, just like you could calk your own bathroom or bake your own wedding cake. But if quality matters, you might want some professional help.

We outsourced a lot of the work on Mamas Write, starting with the editing.

Originally we tried peer editing our own essays. We’re smart cookies, right? We broke into four groups of five writers and each group was in charge of editing its participants’ essays. It didn’t work out so well.

For starters, not everyone has the time to read and respond to four essays while revising her own. And not everyone is comfortable in the editor’s chair. And we didn’t yet have a theme. Well, we thought we did—why we write—but that’s such a broad question and we (read: me) was just discovering that broad answers are hard to write and they aren’t so interesting to read. Oh, wait. Should that be “(read: I)?” See what I mean about editing? It’s hard!

So we got ourselves a professional developmental editor. I know I talk so much about Kate Hopper it looks as if I get special brownie points for doing so. (I don’t —not yet, anyway.)

I’m not sure what it was like for other people to send their work off to a person they’d never met and then receive feedback on how to make their pieces stronger (although many of us had met Kate before). I won’t presume to speak about anyone else’s process, but I can talk about the results—tighter, brighter prose from what was already pretty good. Like wiping the fingerprints off a mirror. You can still see your reflection in a smudgy mirror, but cleaner is better.

Kate was just the first pro we hired. We also outsourced copyediting (who among us has the time to read The Chicago Manual of Style?), graphic design (although WoM and professional photographer Allison Tierney took our cover photo), layout and probably something else that I’ve forgotten because it’s not my job to remember.

Was it worth it? We think so, but don’t you want to judge for yourself by purchasing your own copy? (See, if I had a professional PR person, she could tell me if those last two lines will be effective or not).

B is for Bittersweet

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BIf we were to chart my writing in Set Theory, there would be the set of all things written at Bittersweet Cafe and the set of all things not written at Bittersweet Cafe.

I suppose you could also chart my writing in terms of the set of all things written in Mary’s living room and the set of all things not written at Mary’s living room. But I have known Bittersweet longer than I have known Mary. Maybe that will be my “M” post.

I’m not sure how any writing is accomplished without the aid of chocolate, which is far easier to come by than your own office at a chocolate cafe. (As a matter of fact, I am writing this in an airplane—in February, as it turns out, instead of April, which is not the point and yet I’m going to leave that in anyway—where I am happily typing away and eating chocolate.)

I’ve heard that writers (as well as eccentric actors) often didn’t have phones but instead could only be contacted through the telephone at their pub of choice. OK—I made up the part about “often didn’t have phones,” but doesn’t that sound about right? Back when all the writers were drunk white guys who didn’t want to go home. You know, the Jacks: Jack London, Jack Kerouac, Jack Handey.

I always order a spicy hot chocolate. If it’s morning, I’ll order granola and yogurt to go with it. In the afternoon, I’ll take a tea cake. If it’s a Friday, chances are Mary and Joanne are there, too, eating chocolate gluten-free zucchini bread. If it’s a Tuesday, I’m at the other location, where I can get steel-cut oatmeal with dried coconut and cranberries.

Wednesday afternoon I’m with Chiara and she gets the smallest drop of hot chocolate allowed by her hypocritical mother (poured into a demitasse cup usually saved for shots of espresso).

The day of the week also tells you what I’m working on. On Tuesdays I meet with Rachel and write about the twins. On Wednesdays Chiara I work on the next installment of Violet and Ruby. If it’s Friday I’m working on the anthology with Mary and Joanne and if it’s any other day, I’m obviously working on my addiction to chocolate.

A is for Anthology

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AThe other night I had a dream. Someone from our writing group said to me, “I think I have an essay for the anthology. Is it too late to contribute?” In the dream I said, “It’s not too late at all!”

And then a dragon with a head that looked just like me came over and bit off the head of the person who’d told the other person, “Yes.”

I have no idea what that could mean.

The idea to put together an anthology came from the desire to kill a flock of birds with a single stone. Our writing group had just reformed with a new name and a new yet-to-be-determined home.

It would be nice to have a project that pulled the group together, I thought.

Many of our members were writing overviews or bios or applying for grants and wrote about the stories behind their memoirs or novels. The stories were riveting.

I want to read a whole book of these! I thought.

And of course, our members who were writing memoirs and novels were also building platforms.

Publishing a book is daunting, I thought. Wouldn’t it be great if we pooled our work?

So I said, “We should self-publish an anthology.”

That was two years ago. I realize now that what I really said was, “I’m going put together an anthology! And I’m going to bug all y’all until it happens.”

The moral of the story is that you need to be careful what you propose. You might end up with 29 essays and 25 contributors, a fabulous foreword from Kate Hopper, the gentle-but-anal copyediting services of Cary Tennis (that was weird to type but I suppose that all that is anal might as well be gentle, too). You might end up with a really close editorial team. Your writing might get a lot better from reading the writing of others’. You might learn about publishing industry and Kirkus reviews and how to read the fine print at Amazon.

And you might end up with dreams that you could still do a little bit better.

Look for our book Mamas Write, out soon available for purchase at a website near you.

How Best Friends with College Rivalries Say Thank You

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Last year when we had our Indiegogo campaign, I wrote “Generous Souls” posts for each person I knew who donated. Here’s the post I wrote to thank Andrea Torres, my best friend and first writing partner from 7th grade, for her generous donation last year.

So when we launched our campaign this year and Andrea matched last year’s gift before I even put the word out, I thought, “I need to write another post to thank Andrea. Luckily I have so many good Andrea stories!”

But by the time I sat down to write, the Big Game had already been played. You know which “Big Game”—it’s the one best characterized by this picture

And this video.

 

You know—the most amazing, sensational, dramatic, heart-rending… exciting, thrilling game in the history of college football. The one where California wins the Big Game over Stanford.

Only this year we didn’t win. More like we got crushed. And not just crushed. Our hearts and spleens and livers and kidneys were pulled out through our pores and strained and made into paleo-smoothies with genetically modified strawberries (because all smoothies taste better with strawberries and let’s face it, all strawberries are genetically modified these days) and then the Stanford team fed their strawberry-organ-meat smoothies to their ruthless fans who gulped them up with fury and frenzy. It was horrible.

(At least, that’s what I gathered from reading my Facebook feed. I haven’t watched a college football game since the third trimester of my first pregnancy–that’s seven years ago for those of you keeping track at home.)

So even though Andrea is a generous soul and she made all the family vacations from my teenaged years tolerable because she came along and she let my little sister store all her stuff in her house when my sister studied abroad for a semester. And even though she hosted our family and let us drink the fancy micro-brews she left in the fridge when my sister graduated from college and even though she’s actually thinking of flying out for the Write On Mamas book launch party and even though I didn’t even remember that the game was happening this past weekend.

Still. Once a Bear, always a Bear.

And maybe Andrea’s Stanford degree is her only character flaw, but this time of year, that’s enough.

(But that shouldn’t stop you from donating to our campaign! We’d still appreciate your help and your contribution. Even if you went to Stanford.)

Meet Sue LeBreton the “Quick-Draw Commenter”

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1375255_10152250035388222_1916757086_nUsed to be around these parts that if you had a blog and you linked it to your Facebook wall and I found it on my feed that I’d go and leave a comment. The first comment.

But then Sue LeBreton and I started following the same blogs.

I met Sue at Kate Hopper’s Madeline Island retreat (because I couldn’t possibly write a blog post without mentioning Kate Hopper). My first impression of Sue was that she was sweet, you know, in that Canadian sort of way. I invited her to be our first international member of the Write On Mamas. She accepted. I asked her to write an essay for our upcoming anthology. She accepted.

Sue wrote about listening to her tween read to her as she lay in viparita karani (legs-up-the-wall pose) and how it brings her back to the days when her daughter is 18-months old and in the hospital with infant leukemia. I won’t spoil it for you because I know you’re waiting to read it from your very own copy that you’ll get with your perk after donating to our Indiegogo campaign (See how I worked that in there?)

That’s the middle story—Sue and her beautiful essay. But the real story is how I used to be the first person to comment on blogs. And how I was so sure that I’d be the first of the WoMs to contribute to the Indiegogo campaign just launched a day ago (or two days ago, depending on the blog you’re reading).

But nooooooo. Quick-draw Sue beat me to it.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful for her contribution. My question is this: How did she beat me?

I’m telling you—a mutual writer-friend has a guest blog on a site. I click on the link. Sue has already left a comment. And a thoughtful one, too! Not just the generic “This is awesome! Thanks for sharing! Smiley face.” I look at a profile I’ve written for Literary Mama. Sue has already left a comment. How did she even know this profile was up? I didn’t even know the profile was up. I suggested to Sue that she link to my blog in lieu of fishing for Indiegogo donations and she found my blog post that not even Google knows about.

I’m in awe. (And feeling a little displaced. What’s to become of me? Will I be Second-to-Sue from now on?)

So here’s your challenge. Post a comment before Quick-draw Sue does. GO!

It’s Indiegogo Time Again!

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Woo hoo! Write On Mamas Indiegogo-campaign time is here again!

What is Indiegogo-campaign time? Who are the Write On Mamas? you ask.

Well, who are YOU? I ask. As far as I know, the only people who even know about this blog are Write On Mamas themselves. And my mom. Who I suppose is a Write On Mamas-mama.

OK–the Write On Mamas are a group of moms who write (duh) and we’re putting together an anthology of our essays. This is where I stop trying to be funny, so listen up–last year we raised just under $8000 in our Indiegogo campaign. We used some of that money to hire a developmental editor (the awesome and fabulous Kate Hopper) and she worked personally with 25 of our authors to help them shape their essays. The rest of the money we raised will go toward the cost of designing the cover, layout, printing costs, promotion, that sort of thing. Problem is, we didn’t raise enough the first time around. We need a little more to reach our goal.

I know what you’re thinking. It’s “WOW! How can I help?”

Click here to get started. It’s fun! Delightful, even. And any pain you experience is purely psychological.

That was what you were thinking, right? Or was it, “Tell me more about your project.”

We’re writing about writing. “Writing our mothering and mothering our writing” as WoM member Allison Tierney put it.

I’m on the editorial team along with Mary Hill and Joanne Hartman. Our job is to take the essays already given the green light by Kate and to shape them into a coherent whole. What are our themes? What’s going to make the book work? Who’s our audience? (Answers TK).

Every Friday Mary, Joanne and I meet at Bittersweet Cafe in Oakland (Joanne is working her way down the hot chocolate menu). We come with our binders of the work-in-progress. Each week we look at a handful of essays. Along with light copyediting (we’ll hire a professional copyeditor to do the heavy lifting thanks to the funds we’ll get from our Indiegogo campaign HINT HINT) we look how to highlight the very best in each essay and discuss where it might fit in the anthology.

“WOW!” You’re thinking. “That’s awesome. What a great way to build community. I wish I could help. What was that number again?”

RIGHT HERE.

Now didn’t that feel good? Post a comment. Share on Facebook. Let everyone know that YOU are a rock star philanthropist. (Or share anyway and be a poseur philanthropist, that works too. Unless nobody else donates. Then it doesn’t work at all. So think about that.)

And thanks, Mom, for already answering the call!