Sunday, September 27, 2009

On Motherhood: The funny things The Dude says

Just now The Dude and I were sitting at the table, each finishing up our cheese quesadillas (yes, I made cheese quesadillas at 7 a.m., I don't enjoy breakfast food) - he with his cheek in one palm, his eyes on "Fairly Oddparents," chewing slowly, me reading an article about the awesomeness that is Neil Patrick Harris in last week's Entertainment Weekly in an attempt to catch up (this week's cover features Jim and Pam from "The Office," and I have way too much to do to have to yearn to get to it any time soon). This is an early morning routine for us - while he is okay with launching straight from the bed and into a stream of conversation, I am not. I need time. He indulges me.

After chewing and lightly tossing the remainder of a crispy triangle to his plate, much like a teenage boy would discard the crust of pizza, he sighed and ran his small, pudgy hands over his eyes. I glanced up.

"You okay?"


"You sure? Feel okay?"

He nodded, his eyes still on the TV. "Yeah. I'm just complicated."

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

On Media: The Fortunate Writer and Her Uncooperative Brain

It is normal for me to wait until very close to or the day of a writing deadline to actually write, and normally this produces my best work. I like the pressure: I thrive on it. My gears turn, my brain clicks over from the analytical (I have discovered that I am quite an analytical person, I think and overthink and rethink and consider and weigh all sides before just going ahead and doing whatever was my first choice was anyway) to the creative, and I'm able then to sit down and pound out whatever needs to be written.

Today, not so much.

I can't figure it out. I procrastinated all morning. I've had at least a dozen false starts, deleted two dozen first sentences, cursed under my breath three dozen times. I've gotten up, walked around, eaten two pounds of hard candy and lollipops (much to the cringing dismay of my co-workers), I've texted and emailed and thumbed through old "jump start" books and Tweeted. It's taken me until about a half hour ago to write the first sentence, and I hate it. I have to have this piece in today, and I don't even have the last section of information for it. I'm driving myself crazy over it. But I can't write it, and I don't know why.

But here's the rub: I love what I do. I love my job. I love that I get to do my favorite things in the world - writing and reading - and people pay me for it. And I take that for granted until instances such as one a few weekends ago when my good fortune and aligned stars are held up before me to face and humble me.

A few weekends ago I went to a writing workshop hosted by the Council for the Written Word in Franklin, TN. (I heart Franklin, by the way, and would like to just move into one of those shops just off the square. Preferably the stationary shop, because they have lots of paper and pens, and Landmark Booksellers is close by - paper, pens, and books = all I really need to survive.) While there several people approached me (people are always approaching me. I don't know why. I guess I have that sort of open face, one that invites people. And it's usually talking.) and asked me if I'm "writing anything" right now.

The first couple of times I had what I'm sure was my general blank look - glazed eyes cleared by slow blinks, drooping lower lip, and my head dropping toward my left shoulder. I've been told this is what I do when thinking of what to say. I can't imagine how anyone actually knows this, because rarely do I give myself the chance to think about what I'm going to say when asked a question like that. Apparently the look doesn't last for long.

"Sure I'm writing right now," I answered the first couple of times, with a little sniff. "I have to, if I want to eat."

This, after the first few people drifted away looking a little put out, I realized sounded a little snotty. I didn't mean for it to sound snotty, and I realized that, as opposed to the people I deal with on a daily basis, the dedicated men and women in this workshop do not automatically know that I write for a living. Nor do they have the good fortune to write for a living - to write daily, and see their work printed and published in two newspapers, online, and in a magazine. These people, here to glean and learn and soak it in, may have never seen their names in print. They may have never known that first thrill, that little shock of seeing your name in a byline, or the fluttery anticipation of reading your work in a publication as if for the first time, hearing your own voice as you read, clutching the newsprint or magazine glossy between sweaty hands, devouring your own thoughts as greedily as a starving animal.

I was aghast at their lack of fortune. And I felt ashamed at myself for taking the opportunities presented to me, the talent and sheer persistence I have squandered over the years for granted. The next couple of times I answered that question, "Are you writing anything right now?" I smiled, genuinely, and said, "Yes, I am. I get to write every day, and I am lucky to do so."

And writing this blog has served its purpose: I now feel calmer, less "frenetic," as I have been described when I get to this point. I feel able enough, competent and clear enough, to go back to that blank white page with its one long run-on and in desperate need of paring down sentence, and write. And write and write and write, knowing that it will be published in a month in the gorgeous, classy glossy Wilson Living magazine, and that I am a very lucky woman, in many respects, but primarily in that because I love what I do I haven't actually worked in a very long time.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

On Mayhem: The Women

The Women are clamoring.

The Women are what I'm calling the three main characters of this... (sigh)... novel idea that slammed into me while on vacation in Myrtle Beach three weeks ago. And I say slammed because that's exactly - in a metaphorical way - what happened to me: The Dude and I were walking along the beach, as we did every morning, and as if a wave had blindsided me these voices crashed over me, these three women, talking and talking and talking. Instantly I knew their stories, large chunks of their backstories, their immediate issues and how they all fit together. And they haven't shut up since.

Draper became a bit annoyed, not at our frequent pauses while walking but because I was scribbling madly in my little blue book instead of looking at the sandy shells in his palm, of his kicked-up spray, of his own pause to study the edge of the world and how I should be in awe of him.

But I couldn't write fast enough, or often enough, and meanwhile entire conversations between the characters, including a tough but kind mother and an unwelcome four year-old little boy, were playing out in my head as we swam, as I showered and rested. While Mom and Draper played in the surf and the sky gathered clouds above us I huddled on my towel and wrote long, detailed notes and shorter, spasmodic ones in the stolen moments when I tried to read.

Since we returned home and the smell of saltwater and the grit of sand along my legs are not immediate The Women have quietened some but they are still here. I can't even get dressed in the morning without entire conversations and situations playing out inside my head. I feel possessed, and I haven't felt like this (as a writer) in a very long time, and I'm terrified it's going to dissipate.

So, I'm jumping in feet first. Never in my adult life have I had any inkling of interest to write a novel, but these broads won't leave me alone. I'm moving from the (somewhat cowardly but interesting and helpful) taking-notes stage and wade into actual writing scenes, craft some dialogue. I'm both excited and nervous about where it - and they - are going to take me.

As a matter of fact, it may be better if I don't wade in... for me, it'd be best if I just squinch closed my eyes, hold my nose, and jump.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

On Motherhood: Mastering chopsticks and manners

Editor's Note: this blog was originally posted on December 4, 2008, but it says a lot about the little Dude, who will turn 4 on Sept. 19. He's come a long way, baby.

The plan was to go grocery shopping.

As with most things in my life, that plan was discarded when I drove past the Wasabi Hibachi Grill on the way to pick up Draper from the sitter's house last night after work. Keeping one eye on the road and feeling around for a discarded purse in the floorboard of the passenger seat for my wallet (long ago abandoned for the less efficient but cuter and less bulky pouch I'm using now - don't ask, I don't know why, had something to do with the book festival, I think), I tugged out a gift card for Wasabi given to me the last time I took Draper there and he vomited all over me and we made a hasty exit.

I loaded Draper into the car and asked in a super excited tone, "Are you hungry? Do you want to go eat JAPANESE?"

"YES!" He yelled, as predicted. Use the right tone and that kid'll do damn near anything I want, like anything I want. Sooo gullible.

He was more than a little apprehensive about "that fire."

"Mommy, look, I'm scared of that fire," he said uncertainly, watching the leaping flames of a hibachi show a few tables away.

"It'll be fine," I muttered, studying the menu. "Won't touch you."

He squirmed in his seat and announced that he had to go to the bathroom. Once there he again voiced his concern about the fire, and this time there were tears standing in his eyes. In the hallway outside the bathroom I squatted to his level and explained, step by step, about the fire and why it's necessary and how it would not touch him, get near him, or hurt him in any way or Mommy would not have even come here.

What distracted him were the chopsticks.

"I want some chopsticks, too," he said loudly as the waiter handed mine over and I began rubbing them together. I made a motion with my hand and Draper had chopsticks, the kind that are held together at one end with a rubber band.

And to my surprise, my child was an agile whiz with them, and even wanted to take the rubber band off so they'd be more like my traditional ones. I plucked up his spoon and nudged it onto the side of his plate.

"Here, honey, you can use the spoon for your rice."

He looked from the spoon to me and back, then used his free hand to remove the spoon from his plate before plucking up a clump of fried rice and dropping it into his mouth. He barely gave me time to cut the rather large shrimp in halves before plucking them up, too, and devouring them.

He ate nearly all the shrimp that came with the dinner he and I shared, as well as most of his filet (medium rare) and all his veggies. I was so proud.

He also garnered compliments from the other adults at our table, all of whom were in town on business - a fact-finding trip for something, I probably should have paid more attention but hell, I was off duty as a reporter. Draper kept his voice down, was polite and concentrated on his food. There were two kids his age at the next table, and while he kept a wary eye on them as he ate, I watched them openly for signs of rising rebellion. They were loud, clamoring and climbing over the adults who appeared to only vaguely notice their existence.

All in all, Draper was so good, and I was so proud, that I went ahead and bought him the Spiderman pajamas at Target he's been asking for for Christmas. He was ecstatic, which was reason enough, but I told him it was because he acted so well and ate so much at the restaurant.

"Well Momma I'll just tell you," he said on the way home, streetlight skimming over his face as he watched the sliver of moon following us home, "if I'mma gone to get Spiderman pajamas every time I'll always be good. Cause that Spiderman? He's one cool guy."

I laughed and said, "So are you, honey. So are you."


I'm happy to say that his manners have only gotten better over time (with a lot of help from the new private preschool, I must admit). We were at a very nice, very intimate steakhouse in Myrtle Beach while on vacation two weeks ago and Dude was complimented on his manners, politeness and conduct.

"I just have to say something," remarked the lady at the next table, just an arm's reach from me in the dark little bistro. "I was just telling my husband what a polite young man you have there. Everything I've been able to hear has been yes ma'am and no ma'am and please and thank you."

Draper had excused himself from his seat, and only because he had been so good and was tired from a day at the beach I allowed him to curl up in my lap as I finished the last of my glass of cabernet. I kissed the top of his head.

"Thank you," I said.

"Thank you, ma'am," Draper echoed, shifting a little in my lap, squirming in smarm, I suppose.

I smiled. "Sometimes I think he must think I'm the meanest mom in the world, cause I stay on him so much about those things, but I think it's important. I'm a little hard on him, but I just want him to be a little gentleman and a decent man when he grows up."

The woman cocked her head, considered the sleepy, sun-tanned, literally sandy-haired little lump of a boy warm in my lap. "Well, whatever you're doing, it's working."

As a reward, he got to pick out a toy at Walgreens on the way back to the hotel.

Yes, even on vacation, in Myrtle Beach, I had to hit up a Walgreens. You never know, they may have something different.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

On Mayhem: Do Over

Upon reading a friend's blog just now, I started thinking about the decisions we make and how they affect the rest of our lives. In my case, most specifically, my decision to move to South Florida after I graduated college.

I made this decision with the hopes that my relationship with my then boyfriend would flourish and grow once we were in the same state. What I couldn't see at the time, having been in a long-distance relationship with him for several years by that point and therefore blind to the actual truth, was that he had built a life for himself down there, one that didn't include me. He flat-out told me not to move down there because of him.

"Don't do this for me, do it for yourself," he said, more than one time.

Why else would I move there, I always wanted to shout at him, but my single-minded infatuation had its hand around my throat, had its fingers pressed against my lips.

And so, to the expense and heartbreak of my father, I packed up everything I owned and moved 1,000 miles from my home, family and friends, none of which, might I add, had anything less than animosity for the boyfriend. Because they could see his nature, they heard the words, the insults and slurs, that he flung at me when I could not, when all I heard was the silence that stretched between us during infrequent phone conversations, the silence I would do absolutely anything to fill.

That move spiraled into a darkness that, now, I have a hard time remembering. I've even put off writing my Florida Chronicles like I said I would because, well, I don't want to face that time. I don't want to remember it. And trust me, when I don't want to remember something the only way it breaks through is in my dreams, or a sudden jolt of memory triggered by a smell, a flash of the tender underside of a leaf, the smell of salt, the grit of sand.

But as awful as those 18 months in Florida were, there were some bright spots, some good times, some new friends. And most importantly, I learned from the many, many mistakes I made down there, the uninformed and strictly heartfelt decisions I made. Bad decision number one being: Do not live above your means.

I have finally come to a place where I accept my bad decisions, I refuse to regret, because regretting anything is simply a waste of time and energy. I understand that everything happens for a reason, and while it hurt, and my entire world crumbled beneath me I am beyond fortunate to have family and friends who care about me, who support and love me despite my sometimes blind judgment and irrational, impulsive decisions. Without them, without my father and stepmother, primarily, who scooped me up from my puddle of regret and self-loathing to move me and my devil dog back to Tennessee, without them I would have surely wasted away and become someone none of them would recognize. I was well on my way to becoming that someone when they rescued me.

I'm sure I'm going to make more bad decisions in the future - hell, I'm lucky I can even spell the word "perfect," much less be it. But I'm taking the time, now, to scrutinize angles and turn over choices in my hands, examine, project and wonder. And I continue to learn. I'm learning now from a mistake I made last year which just slapped me in the face last week. It's humbling, bowing to these mistakes, but there's worse things to be than humble.