So, interesting experiment.
I've been trying to do some writing every day, even if it's just a little bit of non-consequential stuff during Baby's morning nap. If I have more time to write, I go with it, but even if I have to spend the rest of the day doing chores and babycare, at least I had that little bit of "I wrote something" momentum to carry me through.
I decided to start with just poetry - one poem a day, doesn't have to be a good poem, just something on a page. Very low expectations. The point is just to make daily writing a habit, keep the creative muscles working, because the longer I go without writing, the harder it is to get started again.
It's been going pretty well. I've been using one of the poetry prompt books that I got for Xmas, the one that JoAnn introduced during a workshop at the writing retreat in the fall. I don't always get a chance to write, but I try. I don't always get anything from the prompt, but I try. Sometimes it leads to other things, sometimes I realize there's something else I wanted to work on and just needed to get the words flowing. In a couple of weeks I produced a good handful of protopoems to work with, some new, some archived stuff I got inspired to revise.
Last week I decided to throw some fiction in the mix. I'd made a promise to myself that I'd have a story to submit to my writing group in March because the last time it was my turn I didn't have anything to share. I still saved the mornings for new poetry, but during my few few free afternoon sessions I started messing around with a story premise I'd gotten from a recent dream (I swear, I don't know where my career would be without the blessings of my dreams).
I wrote a few pages, some good stuff, some silly stuff. I wasn't taking it that seriously, because keeping this writing thing low-pressure was a big part of the plan: I want to get to a point that writing is FUN, not stressful. BUT, on Tuesday morning I discovered that the March deadline had snuck up on me! I still wanted to keep my promise, but I didn't have enough new work to make submission worth it.
I decided to go for it. I spent every waking, non-parenting moment trying to get this story moving. On Wednesday evening I still wasn't far enough along, but I actually liked where the story was going - it had crossed from "story idea" to "almost-done first draft". So I begged my critique friends to bear with me another day, which they did, Godzblessum.
By Thursday (last) night I STILL wasn't done the story, and I have some serious questions to answer before it can be fully, satisfyingly resolved. But, I was able to send 18 pages of consequtive manuscript to the group, pages with enough meat and polish that I think I can expect some reasonble and helpful feedback.
So, that's awesome.
The trouble, though, is that for three days I lived in a state of writing fervor. It's the same state of fervor that has produced some of my most successful writing in the past, but it's not necessarily a good state to be in. When I'm in that state, very little else gets done. My house is a mess. I'm too distracted to cook, let alone wash dirty dishes; we ate out on Wednesday and ordered pizza on Thursday. I'm behind on laundry, grocery shopping, and still haven't deposited my paycheck.
Worse than this stuff (and yes, for me, losing control of the keeper of hearth things is pretty bad), I'm also impatient with my family. Writing like that keeps me in a constant, even dangerous state of frustration, because it is SO VERY HARD to maintain. If the kids and husband aren't demanding my attention, just when I'm trying to settle in to figure out the next line, the phone is ringing or a work email comes up or WHATEVER. I honestly feel like the universe conspires to keep me from being productive, which is why my writing career isn't more established, and me insisting on writing full-time is like fighting destiny. It fucking sucks.
Now that I'm on the other side of that writing fever, I'm happy with having an almost-done story, but determined to find a way to balance all of this so that I don't have to keep repeating this unhealthy cycle. I want to have the "I finished something" feeling, but I don't want to have to sacrifice big chunks of time and my sanity to accomplish it.
There's a balance to this that is still eluding me. Funny how it always come down to that - balance.
I'm not so great at that - always been an all in or out kind of girl. But I'll keep trying. Just, maybe I'll figure out how to be more zen about it.
I don't read many books lately - takes me forever if I do. Got through this one in a few weeks, though. https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/12
It was really enjoyable and had a real impact on my Kinglet perspective. Now that we're not living in triage mode anymore, we can start thinking long term. The main point of this book is that parenting kids on the spectrum might require different strategies, but the end goal is the same as for any kid: you want to help them become as independent and functional as adults as they possibly can.
The Kinglet has a lot of strengths, but there areas where he's behind. His fine motor skills, for example – his pencil grip, coordination. We did ask the school for help with this stuff – repeatedly – and they let us down. But to be honest, the physical stuff was not as important as the behavioral stuff, the keeping him in school. We're working on them now, pushing the team, getting outside evaluations. Wishing he could have had help when he was four or five, not going on nine, but better late than never, right?
There are other ways we've been letting him coast. Stuff we do for him that he could be doing for himself. Responsibilities he could be rising to. Not that we have coddled him! Just, again, stuff that fell lower in the priorities. Or that we didn't know how to approach before. Like, I'm still putting the cream cheese on his bagel in the morning – and, hell, I probably will continue to on school mornings because, right now, it's just easier. But going through everything all over again with Babycakes has made me think about this kind of stuff. This girlie was insisting on finger foods at seven months, and wants to hold her own damn spoon, thankyouverymuch. How long did I spoon feed the Kinglet? A long time. Was it because he had a hard time doing it himself? Or was it because I didn't realize he could? Maybe a little of both.
One of the things the book inspired me to do is to make a weekly check list for his chores. We've done it before, sure, but that was half a lifetime ago for him. It's high time to try again. I included all the things he's expected to do and I added some that he *should* be doing. We made it a three-tiered system, which appeals to his fondness for ordering things: the more chores he checks off, the more money he can earn. And I wrote out the rewards on the bottom, so he can be reminded what he's working for. Lots of ASD kids appreciate visual cues, and the Kinglet is no exception.
I even incorporated cute little cartoons showing the chores, because I'm awesome like that.
It's taken several weeks, with lots of us going over how to do things and reminding him to do it, but last night he reached the top tier for the very first time. We're so, so proud of him, of course, but the fact is that having him do these things is also very helpful. I have a lot more on my plate now with the baby, and it's a huge relief to have someone else put the pillows back on the sofa and clear the art supplies off the kitchen table. And to not have to remind him every night to hang up his towel or put his clothes in the hamper – because the list isn't just verbal anymore, it's a physical thing he can look at and be motivated by. Really, really cool stuff.
So what he did with his first big pay day? He bought a present for his baby sister. His idea, his money, his choice. He got her one of those stuffed animals that double as a pillow – a Pillow Pet? Something like that. It's a red dragon with purple bumps on its back and a sticky-outy tongue. He named it "Draggly" for her.
Babycakes loves it. She's sleeping with it right now.
This, right here. This is what it's all about.
The Kinglet is a great big brother. He has actually been very helpful in ways that aren't measured by a chart. He entertains the baby, hangs out with her, fetches things for us when we've got our hands full, holds the door open, keeps it down when she's napping. Not to say he isn't also annoying or oblivious in the way any eight year old big brother would be, but he's made me glad, really, that they are so far apart. Each one is a treasure in their own right. They don't have to compete, they divide my attention in ways that are manageable, and they compliment each other. He helps and protects her. She makes him happy, makes him feel not alone.
So. Good things.
I almost didn't -- though the topic is one of definite interest to me (and not just because I'm currently a nursing warrior*), it's also a controversial one with more personal emotional punch than I realized until I considered putting the film in my queue.
A few years ago, I unfriended an old friend after an argument over breastfeeding politics turned ugly. It was a dumb thing that shouldn't have happened, and was largely my fault -- I posted a hurtful comment about formula moms that was meant in jest but really wasn't funny. I didn't mean it and I apologized, but unfortunately the issue is so damned volatile, things snowballed and shit happened. It's over and done with, but apparently the idea of revisiting the subject was enough to tweak those old hurts.
I got over it, though, and I'm glad I did, because it was an interesting film. I thought it was well done: I didn't agree with everything that was said, but that's good, really, because the film features a plethora of moms and professionals voicing their opinions and sharing experiences, which of course will differ. As aellwynde said, when I asked beforehand whether the film has an agenda, yes it *does* (long story short: breastfeeding is good, but not always possible, and that's ok, though society doesn't help the situation, and is that ok?), it's a subtle message that comes across in what the filmmakers edited in, because the film actually has no voiceover opinions or narration. Just real people talking, including real moms who could not or chose not to breastfeed, for real and personal reasons.
I'm not going to do an indepth review, partly because I lied - I haven't gotten around to starting my Minecraft game yet, which I really need to do before the baby wakes up - and partly because I think people are either going to watch the film or they aren't, depending on their inclinations. And the problem with films like this, in my opinion, along with similar ones like THE BUSINESS OF BEING BORN, etc, are that they are full of great information and arguments that will largely be seen by people who are already informed or leaning towards that argument.
That said, there were some really good quotes in the film that I wish I'd written down, particularly by one of the professionals, a breastfeeding advocate/author, who talks about how the feminist movement pushed against breastfeeding moms, and how the polarizing politics of breastfeeding actively work against the feminist cause -- I thought one particularly eloquent comment that she makes towards the end could be made for the politics of QUILTBAG and race in this country, too. Plus, there's a very amusing discussion about nursing porn and the phallicness of breasts, complete with a sequence of nipples ejacluating to the swell of an opera aria. Hysterical.
Ok. I'mma go play now, for realz. I'll just leave this here.
*Seriously. I feel like my whole life revolves around breastmilk these days. If I'm not nursing, I'm pumping, or sterlizing the pump, or packing frozen breastmilk or shuffling bottles of breastmilk or mixing breastmilk with baby cereal or washing breastmilk out of my clothes. I was literally doing one of the above while watching this film over the course of a few days.
On the brightside, breastfeeding allows me lots and lots of time to surf Netflix.
My New Year's resolution was to blog more. I totally intend to do that, but I've been busy for the first couple weeks of 2015 with a vacation hangover and digging out of the post-holiday chaos. And playing Minecraft.
For Xmas, I gave the Kinglet a certificate that he could redeem daily for half an hour of video game time with mom. It was good from Xmas day through January 10th. Naturally, he chose Minecraft 90% of the time, and I hated every minute of it right up until day ten, at which point I guess I reached the saturation point because now I'm totally hooked.
I've been playing every day since he went back to school, jonesing until the baby goes down for her nap and eschewing household chores so I can, like, collect skins to make books for my library and trying to navigate caves without losing my tamed wolves.
I had a featured reading last Saturday, and I waited until the day before to start working on my set list. Fortunately, I'm a quick study for that kind of thing (plus I don't even bother trying to memorize my poems, life being what it is right now). I even managed to work the Minecraft into my narrative, which went over pretty well and helped me warm up to the mic. So, that was cool.
I'm now into my second week of bingeing, though, and trying to cut back. Hence, writing this blog entry when I could be firing up the game. Which I will, but. You know. Balance.
It's not just that I have an addictive personality -- although I totally do. It's that, as a Mom, I'm a complusive doer, so it's very rare that I set aside time just to goof off and have fun. Truly, I hit the ground slogging in the morning, taking care of the kids and the house and the finances and the business end of writing, and I keep doing until the kids are asleep and I can collapse at the end of the night. It's kind of sad, really: the only "fun" I can say I have is the brief check-ins to facebook that I do, plus the satisfaction of checking things off the neverending mental to-do list, the "Getting Things Done with Dolores" game that I love so. Indulging in a video game, or reading fiction is almost unheard of. So, for now, I'm giving myself some leeway with this, though of course there's the voice of guilt in my head reminding me of all the stuff that needs to get done: which is another big reason I don't DO fun much. The guilt-voice is so damned annoying.
But, anyway. I have a list of topics I want to write about, both here and on the website. So, I'm proclaiming now that they Shall Be Writ. Very soon.
Right after I check on my livestock and my inventory. BRB. ;)
When my parents moved into their retirement community, they befriended two neighbors in particular: a tiny, sharp-talking woman named Gina (short for Regina) and a down-on-his-luck fellow named Gary.
Gina reminded my Dad of his sister Jean (also short for Regina) -- also tiny and sharp-tongued -- who died a few years back. Gina lived alone across the quad from my folks; her kids had little to do with her anymore, though she had a niece who visited regularly and took her to appointments.
Gary was younger, I'm guessing maybe in his fifties at most? He was in some sort of on-again, off-again relationship with a disabled woman who also lived in my parents' quad. Gary was perpetually down-on-his-luck, a sad-sack of a guy with a gentle heart. He never had money and was often living in his car or on porches, but he would shovel snow for my folks, help Mom move things around the condo - that sort of thing. They never said so, but I'm guessing he reminded my parents of my brother.
Dad, Gina, and Gary became poker buddies. They would hole up together in Gina's condo, chain smoke, and play cards until the wee hours. In a weird way, I believe it kept Dad young.
Gina passed away last year (or earlier this year?). It was very hard on my Dad, kind of like losing his sister twice. Sometime later, Gary moved south to live with his mother and, hopefully, find work. My parents (who have always been more charitable than I tend to mention) gave him money (which they don't really have) to make his way.
Yesterday, my parents got word that Gary and his mother had been found murdered in their home. Stabbed, they think, though we're still waiting for all the details. A brother, who also lived there, is nowhere to be found.
I am having a hard day, bothered by petty things, mostly hormone-driven and sleep-deprived, but I know this news is coloring everything I feel. This on the heels of the story out of Montgomery County, of the ex-military man who murdered not only his ex-wife but also her mother, grandmother, sister, brother-in-law and 14-year-old niece, as well as seriously wounding (and likely destroying) a teenaged nephew. Or, take your pick of any similarly awful story on the news. I try not to take these things in - wish desperately, at times, that I could install a "tragic death" filter on my computer so I wouldn't have to know this stuff, because it never leaves me.
But this is something I couldn't filter, even if I wanted to, because it hits so close. Then going online last night to try to find details, type "man and mother found stabbed, brother missing" and come up with a dozen more horror stories I can't unsee.
There's something about murder by family that guts me. Almost as awful as the murder of children. Such an inversion of How Things Should Be. Such a sucker-punch to the idea that we are anything but depraved animals in pants.
All of this swishing around inside me, as I try to get my baby girl to take a nap and try not to snap at my son, who is home sick on the one day I had planned to try to write this week, but well enough to complain about being bored and to tease his sister back from the brink of sleep. Led me to something I try very hard not to do - reading the articles, even watching the videos (sort of... I came to my senses before seeing John Crawford gunned down in Walmart).
It's not like I NEED reminding of how fucked up this world is. Or how fragile life. I guess I just felt like picking at the wound a little bit. And in some weird way, I feel better now -- not, you know, about hell on earth, and the shittiness of human beings, but about my life. The preciousness of what I have, right here, still warm and breathing and brimming over with love. Godz help me if it is ever taken from me, but. For right now, I am feeling pretty fucking lucky.
From an email to aellwynde
I am making myself a maybe resolution to write and check in there more often. It is hard (godz, I'm barely even WRITING writing right now), but i feel like life after LJ lacks depth.
But for now, since the spinning plates metaphor still holds, I'll settle for cross-posting.
So here's the sitch:
The Kinglet's school has universal free breakfast and lunch. Which I think is great for families who need it -- but we don't, and frankly I'd rather him eat at home.
Trouble is, the Kinglet's DAP class goes down as a group to the cafeteria every morning, where he watches his friends eat. This is a problem on breakfast pizza days, because pizza is one of his favorites. So what happens, he eats second breakfast, then later takes a few bite of his lunch and throws it away. Or brings it home to be thrown away.
We've told him he's not allowed to eat breakfast at school unless we expressly give permission. We've told the teachers this too. But it keeps happening. And it bothers me. It's wasteful and it's not healthy.
As I see it, our choices are:
1)Let him have this. It's something he likes to do, it allows him active choice in his own lifestyle, it's something I can't really control. Pick my battles.
2)Defend my right to be a Dragon mom for my near-sighted little boy who would eat hot dogs and pizza for every meal and rail against the passive subversiveness of the school system that contributes to poor nutrition (Michelle Obama notwithstanding) by writing yet another tight-assed-parent email to the teacher, right after the tight-assed email I had to send yesterday about IEP things
3) complain about it on
I think I've lost my faith in friendship.
I think people in general are beautiful and awful. I try to be respectful of everyone, empathic and kind when I can be, but one on one it's very hard for me to really, intimitely invest . I'm strange, sometimes awkward, smarter than your average bear and of divergent opinions and beliefs. I don't trust easily and I don't do things halfway. I don't have time for fairweather friends, climbers, users, blackholes and liars. I'd rather stay home than give my energy away to someone who doesn't give back -- especially now that I have kids -- so my social calendar is not that full, and there aren't many repeat performances.
There are people that I respect and/or love that I would call "friend". And there have been people that I went all-in for, people weird and smart and cool and deep enough to let down the gates for, that I once called "Friend" ("Sister/Bestie/Dearheart") But it gets harder to do that, the older I get. Because people, invariably, inevitably, are as awful as we are beautiful. We all have our breaking points, our selling price. Any relationship can be broken, and will. The true test of love, be it friendship, romance, or family, is whether or not you can rise to the occasion once the break happens.
For whatever reason, mine tend not to mend.
Some breaks take longer than others. Some breaks are less a break and more of a slow wasting. Either way, the end result is the same.
And I'm tired. And I'm hurt. And I just think maybe there's something wrong with me. Or maybe there's something wrong with everyone.
I'm very lucky to have made a good marriage. Our relationship has broken, but it's been mended. And it could break again, but right now, at least, it's holding and it gives me solace and a reason to keep going, because the rest of the world sure as hell seems lacking. Our kids are beautiful. We're nurturing the kind of family I wish I'd had in the first place. And that's something.
But I think this is it for me. My family gets what I have to give -- and my career, and my health. With what's leftover, I will keep trying to add a little more beauty to the world, in my own little ways. And sure, there will always be social things, coffee dates, parties, readings, events, whatevers. I'm not dead -- not even broken.
It's just that my heart has so many cracks in it, I don't think I can go on giving pieces of it out.
also posted at http://www.shannonconnorwinward.com/
I almost didn't make it. The GodKing hurt his back last week, the Kinglet is having a rough month at school, and, at four months, I'm still nursing my baby girl. To ditch them all for a sequestered, catered four-day weekend felt terribly self-indulgent. So when a transportation issue came up and I couldn't find a ride down, I was like, well, I guess I just won't go.
But my husband was having none of it. He was preparing to take off from work and drive me to Lewes himself when, thankfully, my poet friend Phillip Bannowsky welcomed me to ride with him.
Even still, it was touch-and-go that whole first morning. At breakfast I got an email from the Kinglet's teachers explaining how he was getting kicked out of enrichment class rather than implementing his IEP; in full-on Mother Dragon mode, I'd responded with one of my signature Strongly Worded Letters while simultaneously cramming a bagel into my face-hole. Then I thought I'd lost my purse – spent an hour or so driving around looking for it when I'd meant to be packing and getting ready. (Never did get around to shaving my legs). Found the purse and managed to stuff my stuff into my bags and lug them to the porch by 11, still basically hyperventilating and wondering if I'd be able to relax at all.
I can't say that I ever truly did - the combination of mommy hormones, social anxiety and over- caffeination had me feeling rather bipolar that entire weekend – but that wasn't really a bad thing. I experienced some crystal highs on this retreat: getting to know colleagues a little better, starting new friendships, sharing in society with other poets and writers – "the tribe", as JoAnn called it. People who speak my language, who love words and wordcraft. People who get it.
And I wrote. Not prolifically, but some, which is more than I've done in longer than I can say. Though I've been very productive in the last year with getting things published, I've produced very little new work, for one reason or another. The one thing I'd hoped to accomplish on this retreat, above all else, was to start the momentum again – and that, so far at least, I definitely have done.
Some thoughts and tidbits:
- During introductions on the first night, I mentioned that I'd just had a baby and that I was away from her for the first time. Thus I became known as the one with the baby for the remainder of the weekend. People kept coming up and asking, "So how you doing? Holding up okay? Sleep okay? Did you call home yet? How's the little one?"
I laugh, but I really did appreciate it. It helped break the ice with people I didn't know, and kept me "checked in" with those I do, who knew what a Big Deal it was for me to be there, away from my kids.
To answer the questions: I held up okay. It wasn't as hard as I feared it would be, but it was definitely surreal. I kept thinking, Isn't there someone I'm supposed to be taking care of? And for the first time in years and years and years, the answer was NO. I was responsible only for ME, having thoughts that were 100% my own. I felt younger, if that makes sense. Like twenty-something me was waking up from a very long sleep – which might also explain the bipolar feeling. But that's okay! Crazy makes for better poetry.
- The Biden Center isn’t the Ritz, but it's perfectly sufficient to a writer's needs. The personal screened porches were great (mine came with a pet preying mantis, for that extra little poetic symbolism), small but cozy, and Godz, if we didn't have great weather for it. Sunny, breezy, cool at times but not cold, and blue skies!
My only beef about the accommodations were that 1) the nightstand was across the room from the bed rather than next to it, so I had to keep my night stuff (eyeglasses, saline, cup of water) perched precariously on a desk chair, and 2) the handle to my toilet stuck. You had to jimmy it or else it would keep running, which I kept forgetting, so I'd be staring into space trying to write a poem and then realize I was still hearing that damn toilet's heavy, watery exhaling (inhaling? hmm.)
Oh and, 2b) I finally got in the habit of jiggling the handle by the last day, but now I'm trained to it, so every time I flush at home and hear the tank filling up I have the urge to go back and fondle the toilet. Thanks, Biden Center.
- The thing that most surprised me about the retreat is how little time I actually had to write. Part of that was unique to me - I spent an average of two hours a day pumping and storing breast milk, and, really, everything I did had to be scheduled around how long I'd have until I had to quick back to my room to pump again (oh, and did I mention, I got a nasty carpal tunnel flareup from what I thought at first was due to scribbling poems longhand (for want of a printer) but realized later, face-palm, was due to two hours a day minimum of squeezing a breast pump… TMI?) – but between that and workshops and needing to be in the dining room for meals at a specific time, I felt like writing was something that happened in the margins. You pretty much had to skip meals, sleep, or socializing to get any real work done. Being a nursing mom and always always hungry and always always tired, I went with option three, eschewing company except during meals and group.
- Not that anyone was knocking down my door; I felt a little lost at times.
- BUT ON THE OTHER HAND. I relished how open and friendly everyone was. Whenever I stepped into the dining room, there was a moment of "hmmm" – that flashback to grade school or camp or whatever, when all the cool kids bunch together and you wonder if and where there will be a space for you. I can't be the only one who went through that. - But it wasn't like that. By any stretch of the imagination.
I made a point of sitting at a different table every time, with different folk, trying to get to know new people, seeing the place from new angles - and for the most part it seemed like everyone else was doing the same. I thought a lot about how small the Delaware writing community is – even people I didn't know, coming down, I realized I have seen before, or am only removed from by one or two Kevin Bacons. I like that kind of intimacy. It feels good to be a part of it.
- About food: I heard some mumbles about the buffet. This being my first retreat, I have no basis for comparison, but I was impressed with the grub. It was diverse, always something new, with options for veggies and carnivores alike. I thought it was pretty stellar, actually – but, then again, all of my food was cooked for me personally due to my dietary restrictions. Maybe I got extra special treatment, in which case, lalala for me! I loved having grownup food (artichoke hearts! sundried tomatoes) that met my needs that I didn't have to cook myself. I was bowled over by how accommodating the chef and the staff were – the servers even knew to bring me the honey bear for my coffee by the second night (which I use because I can't have cream). I felt truly pampered, and I wish I could bring them all back with me to My Real Life.
- Ah, pie in the sky dream.
So those are my impressions. It was an expensive trip, in more than just the cost of registering, but totally, I think, worth it. Coming back to reality this week, I felt refreshed and rejuvenated in a non-cliché way, a way that goes beyond "post-vacation bliss". I feel as if I finally got a handle on where I am in my craft, in my career. I produced some work that I am proud of – more importantly, I am sharp with intention, the impetus to create more. Plus, I met a host of great people, colleagues, and gained a broader sense of community.
Oh, and gratitude. Thank you, Universe, and you, Delaware Division of the Arts, for sponsoring and, you, Oh Unknown and Unbiased judges, for selecting me as a participant. I am so honored and glad to have been counted among so many hugely talented writers.
It was, in short, really swell.
In related news, I think Babycakes is going to love being in school. She was so calm during the Open House talks, just watching the teacher, checking out all the bright things on the walls, and smiling at every single person in the hallways. Total strangers said, "that's the happiest baby I've ever seen!" I'm kind of looking forward to kindergarten!