Wednesday, October 13

Where to Find Me Now

The Variegated Life has moved! To read new posts, click here!

Thursday, August 12

Vacation!

We leave for vacation early tomorrow morning. I hope that we get to the lake in time to see something like this view:

Lake Ossipee at twilight

I'm bringing a bathing suit and some books! To read! I'm most excited about finally having the chance to read Mothers and Others by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy. We'll probably eat some lobsters and ice cream. The Critter's grandparents will be with us for a couple days, so maybe Beckett and I will go out to see a movie. I admit I'll have some work to finish up over the weekend, and we'll probably go outlet shopping (ugh) for some clothing, but otherwise, I have no real plans for the week.

So, I'll be gone for a while. But I'll be back and posting again on Monday, August 23 ... but not here! Change your bookmarks, Google Reader subscriptions, RSS feeds, and etc., because when I return, I'll be blogging at my new site: www.thevariegatedlife.com! In fact, you can check it out now!

Tuesday, August 10

It's a To-Do List, Not a Wish List

Tuesdays at The Variegated Life: a look at how I'm making this working-at-home-while-mothering thing work. Or how I'm trying to make it work, anyway ...

Though I often fantasize about the day when I cross the last item off my to-do list, the truth is that that day will never come. I try to remind myself that the never-ending to-do list is a good thing. I have things to do! I’m alive!

However, though I know that my to-do list is never ending, I don't really want it to get any longer than it is. Here's how I (attempt to) manage the stuff on my plate: I actually have three lists!

Master To-Do List (3+ pages long)
This list includes everything I want to do someday. I keep all this stuff written down so that I don't have to fret about it—or even think about it at all. I review my master to-do list weekly, adding to it if necessary, and moving tasks from it to my current to-do list.

Current To-Do List (2+ pages long)
This list includes everything I want to do soon. Right now it has four parts. On one page, I list tasks related to my various jobs and tasks related to my personal goals (for poetry writing, blogging, and getting my shit together). On another page, I list all the assorted other stuff I want to get done—send packages, set up interviews with potential babysitters, etc. On a third page, I list all the stuff I want to get done before we leave for vacation—on Friday! Thank goodness, that part of the list is short. I review my current to-do list every evening, adding to it if necessary, and moving tasks from it to my daily to-do list for the next day.

Daily To-Do List (1 half-page long)
This list includes everything I want to do today. I have to be strict with myself about this list, and to tell the truth, I haven't quite figured it out yet. As I wrote last week, a to-do list represents a set of agreements with myself, and by breaking those agreements, I lose my trust in myself, which feels rotten, rotten, rotten. Over the past few weeks, as I've written these to-do lists and observed what actually gets done, I've learned the following:
  • Don't list what I wish I could do in one day. List only as much as I actually can do in one day: the job-related stuff that has to get done, the next small steps toward meeting my personal goals, and one to three of those assorted other things that I need to do. Nothing more.
  • Unless a sudden change in plans requires otherwise, don't try to do any other work than what's on my list. As Crash Davis advises Nuke LaLoosh in Bull Durham: don't think.
  • On the other hand, do actually make an honest effort to do the things on the list—especially if I dread doing them. I've found that if I've made an honest effort to do what I planned, I can renegotiate what's on my list (for example, by deciding to take care of something tomorrow rather than today) without any feelings of self-recrimination.
  • As soon as something new comes up, or if I think of something that needs to be done but hasn't made its way on to one of my lists, I write it down and get it off my mind. Usually I write it on the bottom or the back of my to-do list. Or I might write it on one of the index cards that I carry with me nearly all the time.
One unexpected side effect of writing down my ideas as they come to me has been marvelous: I'm finding that I have more ideas! Good ideas—not just ideas about more shit that needs to get done, but poetry-writing ideas, blogging ideas, and so on! By getting all the crap off my mind, I have better access to the deep well of creativity inside me....

To give credit where credit is due: These practices are based in part on ideas I've learned from It's Hard to Make a Difference When You Can't Find Your Keys by Marilyn Byfield Paul, Getting Things Done by David Allen, and the blog Zen Habits by Leo Babauta.

Friday, August 6

{this moment}

{this moment} A Friday ritual inspired by SouleMama: A single photo — no words — capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment to pause, savor, and remember.

Thursday, August 5

Who Invited You?

It's a joke my Polish great-grandmother used to say whenever you did something silly or stupid: Who invited you? And now it's been one year ten months two weeks and four days since the Critter was born, and still I look at him trotting down the sidewalk ahead of me, practicing his jumping, playing with his cars, drawing with his crayons, writing with my pens ... and I wonder: Where did you come from? Who invited you?


I ask Beckett if he ever stops to marvel at the fact that he is actually a father! Of the Critter! How did that happen? How bizarre! He says that no, he does not think such thoughts. But I cannot be alone in my feeling that it is strange to be a mother to a creature I know so intimately and who yet surprises me every day—or in my wonder that the strangeness of being a mother seems to have no end.

Tuesday, August 3

The Fool and Her To-Do Lists

Tuesdays at The Variegated Life: a look at how I'm making this working-at-home-while-mothering thing work. Or how I'm trying to make it work, anyway ...

My mind is full of plans and garbage, garbage and plans. Every night in zazen I see it, let it go, return to the breath, see it, let it go, return to the breath ... and every night in zazen there it is again: plans and garbage, garbage and plans. Plans to get my various jobs done—four or five of them right now, depending on how you count (do I count the job I haven't started yet?). Plans for dealing with the cluttered disaster of our apartment. Plans for blog posts, plans for new poems. Rarely plans for the Critter, though—when he's there, he's there demanding my full attention—but how can I give it to him, when my mind is full of plans and garbage, garbage and plans?

For these reasons, I've been studying how I might use to-do lists to get some of the crap off my mind. The basic idea: write it down, get it off my mind, maybe even get some of it done. The problem, though, is that insofar as they represent a multitude of agreements with myself that can be broken—and often are—to-do lists can be traps.

Though he certainly believes in lists (and calendars, and crazy-organized filing systems), Getting Things Done guru David Allen doesn't believe in daily to-do lists. He writes, "First, constant new input and shifting tactical priorities [and toddlers running wildly around the apartment, yelling "Slow down! Slow down!"] reconfigure daily work so consistently that it's virtually impossible to nail down to-do items ahead of time.... Second, if there's something on a daily to-do list that doesn't absolutely have to get done that day, it will dilute the emphasis on the things that truly do."

OK, I get this, I really do. I especially get the part when, much later in his book, Allen explains what he believes is the source of all those negative feelings that accrue around our in-baskets and to-do lists: "The price people pay when they break agreements in the world is the disintegration of trust in the relationship—a negative consequence. But what are all those things in your in-basket? Agreements you've made with yourself. Your negative feelings are simply the result of breaking those agreements—they're the symptoms of disintegrated self-trust." These words were like a punch to the gut when I read them again recently. There have been days ... entire weeks, maybe ... when that sense of disintegrated self-trust felt like all that my self was made of. Night after night I have awakened at 4 a.m. in panic over my lost trust in myself.

However, Allen's suggestion that I keep "Next Actions" lists to review whenever I have any free time (!!!) doesn't really work for me, either, mainly because with a little Critter needing my care and my mushy mommy brain in charge, I want to limit my in-the-moment decision making. So, here are the questions I've been asking myself as I study the lists I've been making and compare them with what I'm actually getting done:
  • How can I use daily to-do lists to keep me focused on what does have to get done every day?
  • What can be renegotiated and how, without triggering that rotten feeling that I've broken an agreement with myself yet again?
  • What agreements should I be making with myself in the first place? How much can I reasonably expect to do in one day?
Next week: some preliminary answers to my questions.

Monday, August 2

On My Mind

I spent much of last week lost in the thick of samsara. I often get lost when I'm working on a project that scares me, either because it feels too big for the time I have to work on it or because it challenges my capabilities. Last week's project was big and involved skills that aren't typically the focus of my work (copyediting), and I coped with the stress as I often do: I jettisoned pretty much everything but the work (well, and the Critter—can't really throw the kid overboard). For me it's an old, old way of doing things, one that got me through high school, college, and then graduate school until I found myself flirting with a nervous breakdown during my only year teaching high school. Whenever I slip back into that way of doing things, there seems to be no limit to my rage and disgust with myself for putting myself yet again into a situation in which I'm overwhelmed by work I don't care about.

Or, at least I claim not to care about the work, while at the same time I'm throwing myself headlong into it. Is it just that too much of my ego and too many fears about my livelihood are wrapped up in the work I do for pay? Or is something else going on? All last week I was haunted by my apparent inability to answer for myself the question Summer Pierre asked at her blog last Monday: "What the hell DO I care about besides MYSELF?" Perhaps if I could answer this question more clearly, I wouldn't be so likely to lose myself in work.

In the meantime, I plan to bear in mind the metaphor of Indra's net as I go about my business this week. For me, the solace is in the idea that by taking care of whatever is in front of me right now, I am taking care of the whole world.

Also in the meantime: at last I've cleared my desk for writing poetry (at the top of my list of ways to keep the shitbird at bay, you may recall).

The Critter, up to no good

*   *   *
A couple weeks ago, I claimed that attachment parenting is not anti-feminist. I should have chosen my words more carefully: it would be more accurate to say that attachment parenting need not be anti-feminist. Because no sooner did I type those words than Peaceful Parenting (an attachment parenting Web site) published this post by Dr. George Wootan, making the not just ahistorical, but a-prehistorical claim that until they are three years old, children should never spend any time separate from their mothers. Never! Presumably not even if Mom needs to pee! Or, egads, take a shower! But, fear not! Because to counter this nonsense, we have these responses at Raising My Boychick and Blue Milk. I need not say more.

*   *   *
Over at Birthing Beautiful Ideas, Kristen wrote a truly awesome post in response to some questions I had about birth plans. In short, she says: do your research, discuss your preferences with your caregiver, and remain flexible and open in the face of what actually unfolds during the birth. When the time comes (and it may be a long time coming, so don't get any ideas), I'll be drawing on the information and resources Kristen provided to put together a plan for the birth of our next little one.

Friday, July 30

{this moment}

{this moment} A Friday ritual inspired by SouleMama: A single photo — no words — capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment to pause, savor, and remember.

Tuesday, July 27

Still a Fool

The Fool, Key 0 in the Major Arcana of the Tarot, has long been a talisman for me, mainly because it represents so much that I am afraid of. I am afraid of risk, and I am afraid of looking foolish. The Fool, on the other hand, though inexperienced, is open to experience. The Fool is often surprised, sometimes happily so, and sometimes not. The Fool makes mistakes, but the Fool learns.

"The edge which opens on the depth has no terror;
it is as if angels were waiting to uphold him,
if it came about that he leaped from the height."
— A. E. Waite

Let me tell you, I was a big fool when I decided to become a work-at-home mother! My foolishness had nothing to do with the decision to work at home—as a freelancer, I had been doing so for more than a year before the Critter was born. I already had the necessary skills, clients, and discipline to work at home. No, my foolishness was that I knew nothing about caring for little ones! Nothing! I actually thought that I could just do my work at home while my infant and then toddler occupied himself! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!

Alas, now I know better. Nevertheless, I forge on. Meanwhile, I've been seeking books and other resources to help me figure out how to take care of the Critter during the workday, how to structure our days, whether I really have to work only while he sleeps, and etc. I've found that the resources intended specifically for work-at-home moms mostly focus on the work side of things, including tons of information about how to choose, start, and maintain a home-based business, but not much information about how to take good care of your children while you take care of your business. First, I thought, why don't I create the resource I've been looking for? Later, I thought, yikes, I'm doing a crap job of balancing mothering and work, how dare I think I should try to provide a resource for others attempting to do so? More recently, though, I decided: what the hell, why not?

And so, going forward, on Tuesdays: a look at how I'm making this working-at-home-while-mothering thing work. Or how I'm trying to make it work, anyway. I'm still a fool, but I'm learning....

Next Tuesday: lists galore!

Monday, July 26

On My Mind

As I wrote last week, I did finally read that article in New York magazine about parenting and happiness. I was curious whether or not it addresses the extraordinary lack of support afforded to parents in the United States. As it turns out, it does, and it doesn't. Author Jennifer Senior cites a study by sociology professor Hans-Peter Kohler, who found that "countries with stronger welfare systems produce more children—and happier parents," but does not explore just how bad we have it here. Remember, only four nations in the world provide no paid leave for new mothers: Papua New Guinea, Swaziland, Liberia, and the U.S. Furthermore, as is pointed out in a magnificent post at PhD in Parenting on this and related articles, we're all out here on our own, with no village to help us out. It's no wonder we're all so stressed out.

Also, my initial argument against the quotation I cited earlier still holds. The article distinguishes between in-the-moment happiness and the happiness gleaned from working toward a greater purpose and suggests that in parenting, one may be sacrificing much of the former type of happiness in favor of the latter. OK, maybe; but on the other hand, unhappiness does not inhere to such activities as washing dishes and doing the laundry (both of which I should confess Beckett mostly does around here), or changing diapers (a shared duty), or comforting a sick child (usually my gig), or anything else. One can—and I often do—experience in-the-moment happiness doing any of these things.

However. As Katrina Alcorn found in her "Who clips the nails?" survey, even in homes where both parents do paid work, Mom is still the one doing most of these things. Unhappiness may not inhere in these activities, but they do constitute a burden. No wonder mothers tend to report less happiness than fathers.

*   *   *
At ...infinitely learning..., a recent post titled "Rekindling My Affair with Books" got me thinking about reading, specifically how I don't do much of it anymore. Poetry, yes; nonfiction, haphazardly; blogs, obviously; but fiction, hardly at all. And it's not just because I don't have the time for fiction, as I once claimed. The very idea of entering a fictional world and sticking with it through the course of a novel actually exhausts me these days. "Human kind / Cannot bear very much reality," writes T. S. Eliot in "Burnt Norton." Probably so, but these days I find myself not wanting to escape reality, but rather seeking to connect to it more deeply. Where else is my life but right here, in this moment?

Friday, July 23

{this moment}

{this moment} A Friday ritual inspired by SouleMama: A single photo — no words — capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment to pause, savor, and remember.

Monday, July 19

On My Mind

I went a little bonkers after reading this recent post by Lisa Belkin at Motherlode. I am grateful for this passionate reply by Courtroom Mama (via @BirthingKristen). Yeah, what she said, exactly. And, to add to what she said ... Belkin also fails to acknowledge the larger context in which women give birth in this country. The context in which, for example, the c-section rate is above 30%—more than twice the upper limit recommended by the World Health Organization. Should mothers really just be sucking it up, however their birth goes, or should we be demanding better care? After all, while the United States "spends more on health care than any other country and more on pregnancy and childbirth-related hospital costs, $86 billion, than any other type of hospital care", it "ranks 41 on the list of global maternal morbidity rates."

Belkin's post (and many of the comments) also give the false impression that to plan to give birth without interventions is somehow unrealistic, possibly masochistic, and done solely for the desire to win a "gold medal" in the end, presumably for having gone through all that torture without drugs. Leaving aside the question of whether or not such a birth is the ideal, it did happen to be my ideal. It also happens to be not only how I did give birth, but also how I plan to do it again. Not because I'm masochistic (it was hardly torture). Not because I'm hoping to win a "gold medal" (I don't think anyone is actually giving those out). But because I liked it that way.

*   *   *
Nina Power on feminism (also via @BirthingKristen): yes, yes, yes.

On the other hand, Elisabeth Badinter on motherhood: a thousand times ugh. Do we really want to call the most helpless members of our species "tyrants" because they have needs they cannot meet on their own? And is attachment parenting (or whatever else you want to call it) really anti-feminist? I don't think so. I have long wanted to write about this topic; sounds like it's time to get started....

*   *   *
Elsewhere (that would be Facebook), I promised a follow-up on my previous reaction to this article. Or, more accurately, my previous reaction to one teensy-weensy quotation from that article. Which I hadn't read. But which I now have read. I was thinking about my response, and then the Critter spilled some coffee on my laptop. (I wasn't in the room. Beckett was. Ahem.) Anyway, this event put me in no mood to write about parenting and happiness and the lack thereof. So ... next week? In the meantime, please send good vibes in the direction of my laptop, which is currently being treated at Tekserve.

Friday, July 16

{this moment}

{this moment} A Friday ritual inspired by SouleMama (and new for me!): A single photo — no words — capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment to pause, savor, and remember.

Tuesday, July 13

Beginner's Mind

Our "original mind" includes everything within itself. It is always rich and sufficient within itself.... In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities; in the expert's mind there are few.

— from Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind by Shunryu Suzuki Roshi

Scribble in Pink and Orange

This post is part of the Moms' 30-Minute Blog Challenge: More time for kisses, less fuss.

Monday, July 12

On My Mind

First, be warned: I'm going to geek out on you in this post. Second, I'll admit that I have not read the recent New York magazine cover story about how very unhappy parenting is making us all. Frankly, I'm not sure that I can stomach it, based on one quotation from the article, in which Stumbling on Happiness author Daniel Gilbert says that prospective parents "have to think about which kind of happiness you’ll be consuming most often." Seriously? Happiness is something that people consume? Like cornflakes?

What if happiness is not an object—in either sense of the word: neither a thing, nor a goal?

Stephen Batchelor, in Alone With Others:
At the very roots of our language we find two verbs: 'to be' and 'to have' ... [and] they denote two of the most fundamental dimensions of our existence: those of having and being. These two dimensions reveal two distinct attitudes towards life. In terms of having, life is experienced as a horizontal expanse precipitating towards ever receding horizons; in terms of being, life is felt in its vertical depths as awesome, foreboding and silently mysterious.
...
Having always presupposes a sharply defined dualism between subject and object. The subject thus seeks his or her well-being, as well as his or her sense of meaning and purpose, in the preservation and acquisition of objects from which he or she is necessarily isolated. The maxim becomes: "I am what I have" (Fromm). As a result, any sense of fulfillment will necessarily be illusory, because there is nothing one can have that one cannot fear to lose. Absorption in the horizontal dimension of having is the origin of all states of ontological insecurity. Anxiety, alienation, loneliness, emptiness, and meaninglessness are the fruits of living as an isolated subject amidst a multitude of lifeless objects.
And Jonathan Lear, in Happiness, Death, and the Remainder of Life (yes, once upon a time I really did read this stuff), goes back to an older English sense of the word happiness, similar to happenstance, meaning "the experience of chance things' working out well rather than badly":
Happiness, on this interpretation, is not the ultimate goal of our teleologically organized strivings, but the ultimate ateleological ["not teleological"] moment: a chance event going well for us—quite literally, a lucky break.
As I've written before: the yellow light is in fact shining all around us. This (cheese-and-mustard sandwich, this life) is what we have been waiting for. Mysterious, surprising, Eden is right here.

Friday, July 9

... And Home Now

So, it's happening again: water making its way from our upstairs neighbors' apartment down through the ceiling and into our apartment. Last summer a soggy chunk of the living room ceiling fell onto the floor. The summer before that, we had a hole in the bathroom wall that after many, many calls to building management was finally patched up the day before the Critter was born. This summer (more specifically, Wednesday morning), the leak dripped dripped dripped onto the thick pile of towels I placed on my desk, in the corner of our bedroom by the fire escape.

For years I struggled with my apparent inability to arrange and organize a beautiful, comfortable home. It felt like an existential crisis. It actually probably was an existential crisis. As in, why can't I get my shit together? As in, what do I want? As in, who am I, anyway? Now, finally, after much Apartment Therapy and many consultations with one of my sisters, our apartment has begun to take shape. Beckett and I still stack piles of stuff everywhere (which the Critter merrily tears apart, then points at afterward, saying, "mess"), and I often don't have the space to work properly in the kitchen, but at last I do see colors and forms in my home that make me happy. Like the green-and-blue-and-brown striped rug in our bedroom. Or the bright red pillows on the dark gray sofa in our living room. Or the dark brown shag rug beside the bed. I have a shag rug! Lucky me!

And then, the leak. Reminding me not to get too comfortable, that nothing is ever fixed, and that after all, we're just renters. But it's OK. Well, Wednesday morning I was plenty pissed off, but overall, something has changed in me in a big way, to the point where we're seriously talking about giving birth to our planned-for next child at home. I never would have considered it before, mainly because I never felt at home at home. Whereas now, my favorite Critter word is what he says when we've returned from an outing: "Humm." As though our home were a song, or something very good to eat.

Thursday, July 8

Home Then ...

Fifteen years ago today I made my way from Simsbury, Connecticut to New Haven (I don't remember how—did my father drive me?) and from there via Metro North with my then-boyfriend to New York City. From Grand Central Terminal we took the shuttle to Times Square, and from there maybe we took the 1 train to 79th Street, except that I dimly recall that there was some kind of problem that forced us to take a different route, because I remember studying the knot of colored lines on the subway map and feeling certain that I would never be able to learn that map or find my way around this city that extended for mile after dirty, crowded mile in every direction from the small unfurnished studio apartment on West 80th Street between West End and Riverside that I shared in those first few weeks with Andrea and Laura, the two friends from college who were going to be my closest companions in my new New York life. We ate our meals on the floor and slept in sleeping bags while we waited for our converted three-bedroom apartment with exposed brick and not much else going for it to vacate at the beginning of August. Living in that studio was like living in a microwave oven; and outside, the buildings seemed so tall and the sky so far away. At last I could call New York City my home, and never in my life had I felt so out of place.

Tuesday, July 6

Growing the New Life

My first thought upon waking on January 1, 2007 was that I did not want to wake to another new year still working for the company I was working for at the time. Seven months later I quit and began freelancing.

My original plan, however, had been to quit back in 2005, after my wedding and the completion of the largest project my group had yet undertaken, but for various reasons (not the least of which was probably fear), I kept on working there, often feeling more than a twinge of jealousy each time another co-worker announced his or her plans to move on. For some time after I finally quit, I regretted those two additional years I worked for a company I could never entirely respect. But then I realized that without those two years, my freelancing career might not have been possible, because it was during that time that I made the necessary connections at the companies I work for now. All that time that I felt I was wasting my time, I was actually growing my new life inside of the old one.

Hearing that the squirrels in my head have begun to chatter about finding other work, one of my sisters sent me a link to this article about another work-at-home mom who feels that her "expensively educated brain could be helping people." Indeed. But I'll gladly take credit for what I've been doing, late nights and all. And so I've decided to stop worrying about what I'm supposed to do next. I'll just keep on writing, keep in touch (OK, I'm not so good at that, but I can work on it), and trust that I am in fact gestating a new life inside the old one. Having lived through the nine months of unknowing before the Critter was born—Will the baby be a he or a she? What will he or she look like? What will the birth be like? What kind of mother will I be?—and now living day after surprising day with him, I'm learning to be okay with not knowing.

What seeds for tomorrow are you planting today?

This post is part of the Moms' 30-Minute Blog Challenge: More time for kisses, less fuss.

Saturday, July 3

On My Mind

I've been obsessed with the Great Pacific Garbage Patch since I first heard about it on This American Life (episode 253: The Middle of Nowhere). Nevertheless, whenever I hear about projects like Taina's attempt to eliminate the use of plastics for one year (via Apartment Therapy), I have two contradictory thoughts:
  1. To eliminate or at least curb my use of plastics: what a gift to give to the Critter!
  2. I am so exhausted.
OK, so I don't have the energy to make such a big, revolutionary change in my life—certainly not all at once. But what I can do is make small changes, one or two at a time. Though one change that I've been contemplating for some time would be a bit bigger than small (though a bit smaller than huge): urban composting, such as through the Fort Greene Compost Project. Composting would mean fewer plastic trash bags, which, in our case, are reused shopping bags. Beckett isn't too fond of the idea of our keeping food scraps in the freeze, to which I say: tough shit.

*   *   *
On the one hand, the Midwifery Modernization Act was passed in New York State this week: hurrah! On the other hand, as reported over at Birthing Beautiful Ideas, an OB/GYN practice in central Ohio just sent out a letter banning doulas and individualized birth plans and offered their own cookie-cutter birth plan. My outrage about the birth plan was somewhat delayed, because it wasn't until Monday that I received The Thinking Woman's Guide to a Better Birth by Henci Goer from the library (it's on the DONA International required reading list for birth doula certification). For example (to address just the first point on the cookie-cutter birth plan), I already knew that the correct answer to the question whether IVs are necessary in labor is "No!" What I did not know is that not only is there no benefit to hooking up a laboring woman to an IV and certainly no reason to do so, but the IV introduces unnecessary risks to the woman and her baby. These risks include fluid overload, which can in turn result in fluid in the lungs of both mother and child; if the IV fluid contains glucose, another risk is hyperglycemia in both mother and child. The OBs' argument in favor of IVs is not only ridiculous (after all, you might end up in an emergency situation if you drive or ride in a car, but no-one is suggesting you should be hooked up to an IV while doing so) but pernicious: it treats every laboring woman as an emergency about to happen.

Obviously, the requirements of an OB/GYN practice in central Ohio have no direct effect on me. My outrage is simply the outrage of a feminist. For one thing, don't let those white coats fool you: just because you're going to a doctor doesn't mean you're going to get evidence-based care. (To find doctors and midwives who do offer evidence-based care, refer to the Guide to a Healthy Birth produced by Choices in Childbirth for a list of questions to ask potential care providers.) For another thing, by banning individualized birth plans, these OBs are in effect telling their patients that because they are not "experts" (even though "expert" apparently has nothing to do with basing practice on what actual medical research shows), they have no right to decide what is done to their bodies.

Friday, July 2

We Survived Week 1 of the CSA!

In fact, I'm finding that the CSA makes my life easier, not harder, because the contents of the half share make my decisions for me. No more drawing a blank when it's time to write up our weekly menu.

Last week we got lettuce, kale (my choice from a selection of greens), an onion, tomatoes, string beans, zucchini, cucumbers, basil, and beets. I made a salad and sandwiches (Thursday), string beans as a side with tofu and rice (Friday), kale with scrambled eggs and muffins (Sunday), baked beets and homemade hummus (Monday), and zucchini with pasta (Tuesday). Beckett had the tomatoes in his sandwiches for lunch, the basil turned black before I could make pesto (I'll be making it tonight or tomorrow with this week's bunch), and the onion and cucumber were left over. My biggest challenge: I baked the beets in foil, per Mark Bittman, who writes, "If you want to serve them right away, peel, then serve hot with butter, any vinaigrette, or freshly squeezed lemon juice." O the mysteries of that one word, "peel"! Please tell me, Mr. How-to-Cook-Everything, how do I peel hot-from-the oven beets?

But alas, I'm not sure if the Critter ate a single bite of any of the glorious veggies that I served up for dinner last week—not even the beets, which he usually likes (when we get them at Top Caf√© Tibet, anyway). I have received many suggestions about how to get greens into him, some via a comment from my good friend at MyGreenMouth, and some via Facebook. I plan to try out just about every suggestion, depending on my energy level and the contents of our half share. However, if I'm going to follow through on this project, I need a checklist—my mind is not what it used to be. Here goes:
  • Frozen peas, left frozen: Intriguing. Gotta follow up on this one, though, because I'm not sure exactly to serve it up.
  • Crispy kale: Hm. Will definitely try this recipe, although it does involve the mysterious term "chiffonade strips."
  • Spinach pasta: I wonder how much of the spinachy nutrition is still there after the spinach has been added to the pasta? Is there whole wheat spinach pasta?
  • A blend of spinach, peas, and pears: Okay, but I'll have to come up with a recipe for this one. I remember reading a while ago (don't remember where) about a mom making something she called "Monster Sauce" (or something like that), which was applesauce mixed with spinach. She served it for dessert. Can spinach be pureed? I suppose it should be cooked first.... (See how boldly I display my ignorance!)
  • Avocados: We tried avocado last year, and to my surprise the Critter rejected it. Since I received this suggestion, I've bought a few avocados each week ... and I've been eating them all myself.
  • Green rice: Cilantro? Garlic? Sounds good to me!
  • Less bitter greens, such as snow peas, green beans, zucchini, edamame, okra: We already regularly eat zucchini with pasta, and the Critter loves edamame. The green beans: rejected (see above). Will try the others.
  • Celery: Probably still too difficult to chew.
  • Bean sprouts: Not sure how to serve them up to the Critter. 
  • Mix the greens with sweeter veggies; for example, some finely chopped spinach with sweet potato: The Critter eats sweet potato happily; let's see if I can sneak something extra into him through it.
Finally, to my amusement, after my complaints (on Facebook) about the possibility of getting radishes in our half share, we have not received a single one! And I now have at least two recipes I'd like to try, here (shared by a friend) and here. But I'll have to wait; instead, I'll be making enough coleslaw to last us a month with the cabbage we got this week.

Tuesday, June 29

"Real Artists Ship"

I'm reading Linchpin by Seth Godin—or sort of reading it, in the lazy, distracted, uncommitted, skipping-around way of reading that has become almost habitual for me since the birth of the Critter. I'm not particularly interested in what Godin has to say about becoming a linchpin or being a linchpin or whatever, but I am very interested in what he has to say about my lizard brain (tormenting me with fear and shame) and the resistance (pushing me to give into my fears that what I really want to do and say is indeed shameful).

The chapter on the resistance begins with this quotation of Steve Jobs: "Real artists ship." I've been mulling over these words since I read them a few days ago, for two reasons.
  1. Why do I spend so much time thinking thinking thinking and worrying about how I'm going to meet my next deadline? My not meeting a job-related deadline is a rare exception, and every time I do meet a deadline, it has nothing to do with how much I worried about the project or the deadline. Getting it done is just a habit.
  2. Why has so much time passed since I last sent out a batch of poems for consideration by literary journals?
When it comes to shipping, methinks I have been worrying about the wrong thing.

Thursday, June 17

A Vow

For as long as I can remember, I have put work before just about everything else. To tell why I have done so would be to tell a long story, and probably some day I will tell the story. But for now, I just want to say that I recently have noticed that when someone asks how I have been doing, I tend to talk about work: how much work I have to do, whether or not I like it, how much sleep I am getting (or not getting) because of the work, and so on. Now, because of the Critter, I can't possibly be putting work before just about everything else—at least, it certainly doesn't come before him—but nevertheless, clearly it's at the front of my mind, before so many other things that I care about so much more. And so, a vow: When someone asks how I have been doing, I can talk about the Critter. I can talk about my writing. I can talk about the weather. I can talk about Beckett, running, travel, family, even cooking ... anything ... but I cannot talk about work. Not unless asked.

Wednesday, June 16

It's NOT Your Fault You Suck

I take it back. Whether you are awesome or you suck, the credit or the blame goes to your genius—according to the ancient Greeks, anyway.

Routines

As I've written before, the best (only?) way to keep your sanity while taking care of a child (or children) while working at home is to get organized. We're not really organized, but we're getting there. My goal is to have everything that needs to be done captured on a list, on a calendar, or in a routine (a personal variation on David Allen's program for getting things done). For example, my life has improved vastly since I instituted a morning routine for the Critter and me:
  • Wake up
  • Shower and dress, or, if I'll be going for a run, put on my running clothing
  • Change the Critter's diaper
  • Make the bed
  • Make and eat breakfast
  • Wash up the Critter and get him dressed (after breakfast, because he feeds himself oatmeal—messy!)
  • Clear off the table and brush my teeth
  • Get outside!
Nothing mysterious here, but I've found that if we do everything in the same order every day (with a variation for the two mornings each week when the Critter goes to day care), the rest of the day goes so much more smoothly. And now that we've integrated that routine into our days, I'm working on adding a couple more weekly routines: having a "budget-and-calendar" meeting with Beckett on Sunday evenings and doing our weekly grocery shopping on Thursday afternoons. Why Thursday afternoons? Because we will we receiving our first CSA half-share next Wednesday afternoon, and so for the next twenty weeks I will be planning our weekly menus on Wednesday evenings, based on the contents of our half-share. Next Wednesday I'll also be teaching my first class in a decade. I'm terrified ... but not a little thrilled, too....

Saturday, June 12

On My Mind

It is in our collective interest that children be raised well, but evidently we are not doing such a good job of taking care of them: 21 percent of American children will be living in poverty this year, and 500,000 may be homeless (the link tweeted by @laura11D; her blog is here). And by we I don't mean that individual families are doing a poor job, but all of us, together.

And did you know that in April, Amnesty International declared that maternal health in the U.S.A. is in a state of crisis? From the summary of the report:
Maternal mortality ratios have increased from 6.6 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1987 to 13.3 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2006.... The USA spends more than any other country on health care, and more on maternal health than any other type of hospital care. Despite this, women in the USA have a higher risk of dying of pregnancy-related complications than those in 40 other countries.... African-American women are nearly four times more likely to die of pregnancy-related complications than white women.

*   *   *
I'll finally be reading the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts this weekend. In the meantime, I'm still puzzling over why President Obama's approach to school reform has been so godawful. (One of these days I'll find the time to unpack the meaning of the Race to the Top, the title of which alone nauseates me, wherein the pursuit of an education is likened not just to a competition, but a zero-sum competition, in which someone must lose.) At the blog of The New York Review of Books, Diane Ravtich offers her thoughts on the topic, writing, "My sense is that it has a lot to do with the administration’s connections to the Gates Foundation and the Broad Foundation." Which doesn't really explain much, apparently unless you read her new book, which I don't intend to do. I'm actually also still puzzling over Ravitch's recent before-I-was-for-it-but-now-I'm-against-it switcharoo on No Child Left Behind.

*   *   *
At the MomsRising blog, Rebecca Rodskog writes about wanting to go back to work after the birth of her child. From the conclusion of her essay:
No longer was it okay to just have a “job”. If it was going to take me away from my babies, it had better be pretty darn meaningful work. Being a mother made me a better judge of how I was applying my skills, and how I was spending my time each day—allowing me the clarity to carefully engage in only those things that mattered.
Alas, my job is not only just a job, but for the most part it involves pretty darn anti-meaningful work. I've written before about my ethical qualms about the way I earn an income for my family. My long-term plan is to keep on working at home (mostly) until our family is complete and the little ones old enough for full-time school, at which time I will begin teaching again. Yes, as a teacher, I will continue to serve the system. But, instead of working at my laptop on products for theoretical students and teachers (as I do now), I will be in an actual classroom with the actual children whom the system purports to serve, and I do believe that by giving my physical presence to children, I will be able to do meaningful work with them.

That's the plan, anyway. But the squirrels in my head have begun to chatter about finding other, more meaningful work-at-home work. Maybe I want to be a childbirth educator, or even a birth doula (not really work-at-home work, though). Maybe I can figure out a way to earn money from my writing (except that I don't know a damn thing about a damn thing). Maybe, maybe ... and I suspect that the squirrels are simply repeating something that the shitbird is whispering to them (straining my metaphor here ... can a bird whisper, much less whisper to a squirrel?), and that the shitbird is trying to distract me from the life I actually have, in which it is possible, on occasion, for me to write a poem ... or enjoy a sunny morning at the park with the Critter ...

Wednesday, June 9

Green Smoothies: No Way!

Still ISO ways to get greens into the Critter. As I wrote last week, I thought we'd try some green smoothies (fruit smoothies with some spinach or kale or chard or another leafy green thrown in). After all, the Critter did enjoy quite a few yogurt smoothies with me last summer.
Last summer, post–smoothie enjoyment
But alas, while the Critter watched me make the first of two smoothies this weekend, he shook his head, saying, "No way! No way!" And though we called it "juice" (he loves his morning o.j.), he refused to taste even a drop. I suppose it doesn't help that I didn't much care for them myself; they tasted (and smelled) grassy. I love the smell of a freshly cut lawn, but I've never wanted to drink one. Perhaps we need a better blender?

Other recent failures: split pea soup and mushy peas with goat cheese. Peas from a jar were just about the only food we could more or less reliably get the Critter to eat last year! And cheese is his favorite! But pea soup? No way! Mushy peas with cheese? No way!

We are soliciting some help. To be continued ...

Saturday, June 5

The War on Moms

The discussion last night of The War on Moms by Sharon Lerner at Kris Waldherr's Art and Words Gallery was lively and invigorating. And yet ... I returned home in a foul mood. What brought on the bad mood? Was it the news that of more than 170 nations on this planet, only four provide no paid leave for new mothers: Papua New Guinea, Swaziland, Liberia, and the good ol' U.S.A.? Was it Lerner's description of the day care center she visited in Florida, where two caregivers looked after 38 toddlers while in another room a sole caregiver looked after 8 infants — all of them reaching their arms toward Lerner, wanting to be held? Was it hearing about the not-atypical response to the book (coming, I imagine, most frequently from folks who haven't actually read it), that having children is a choice, and so if you can't afford one or aren't willing to put up with the resulting difficulties, maybe you shouldn't have one?

To take on that response ... First, in a long-ago post that has stuck with me since I first read it, Bitch Ph.D. posits that not having children is the choice, not the other way around. Her argument is hardly airtight — for one thing, not everyone "fuck[s] someone of the opposite sex," as she puts it. However, it is certainly true that what we'd like to think of as our "choices," even major life decisions, are often hardly solely determined by our personal wishes. Fate, serendipity, luck (good and bad), karma, or whatever you want to call it usually has a hand. Besides, we live in a country where access to affordable birth control is not guaranteed (though Planned Parenthood is going to fight for it) and many teens lack access to real sex ed.

Second, read the story of Devorah Gartner. Does she really deserve to suffer her "difficulties" (or, I'd say, tragedy) simply because she chose to have a child? Shouldn't we have better laws and policies so that no-one risks poverty and overwhelming debt simply because of the need to take care of another person?

Finally, this theme kept coming up last night: it is in our collective interest that children be raised well. Katrina Alcorn writes beautifully on the theme in a recent post at MomsRising.org.

Friday, June 4

On My Mind

Or, perhaps, on my many minds? I should say that I can't quite believe that I follow "the most popular marketing blog in the world." Marketing! Gah! And yet, Seth Godin has caught my interest because his insights into the self-defeating workings of what he calls the lizard brain has helped me understand the origins of what my writing teacher calls the shitbird. No, Seth, the noise inside your head isn't bothering me at all — the noise inside my head is loud enough to drown it out, and most of everything else!

*   *   *
Having been aware since I was very, very young (in kindergarten or even younger) of my non-stop inner dialogue, I'm now interested learning more about the basis in the brain for the sense of a self that speaks to itself, that is at odds with itself, that has an often-surprising dream life. Oh, that I had more time to read more than just the review in Bookforum of this book. Here are the sentences (in the review) that intrigue me the most:
While [Princeton psychologist Julian] Jaynes argued that the Greek gods were invented to explain the breakdown of the bicameral mind — our hemispheres were finally able to listen to each other — McGilchrist argues the opposite: He interprets the internal voices the Greeks projected onto Mount Olympus "as being due to the closing of the door, so that the voices of intuition now appear distant, 'other'; familiar but alien, wise but uncanny." The emanations of the right hemisphere became both holy and neglected, abstract.

*   *   *
While I was touring a local Montessori pre-school with the Critter, the head teacher told me that she works with parents to define reasonable goals for each child. I told her that I wasn't one of those parents. Though I must say that I must be on my guard against becoming one of them. For example, I recently bumped into a local mom who took her daughter to a couple of our Music Together classes but ultimately did not enroll. I told her that the Critter has been going to the classes since he was four months old. Have I seen any progress? she asked, and for a moment I panicked. Progress? Has the Critter been showing any progress??? But before I got caught up in the panic, I remembered what the music class is really about for us, and I replied, "Oh, I don't know. We just go because I want the Critter to experience music." Whew. Oh, little Critter, I do hope that I can keep a wary eye on my competitiveness and go on letting you be ordinary.

*   *   *
Wondering how to get veggies into the Critter. He rejects most green foods, though we can sometimes sneak some into him if smothered in cheese. As for non-green veggies: sweet potatoes, usually; beets, sometimes; carrots, sometimes. The Progressive Pioneer has some suggestions. And green smoothies sound like a good idea for both of us.

*   *   *
Also wondering what the word feminist really means. I've been one since forever (thanks to Miss Piggy — seriously), but it's been 14+ years since my last Women's Studies class, and no way could I give you a satisfying one-sentence definition of feminist on the spot. Someone who believes in equal rights for women? I'm certain there's much more to it than that, but I couldn't tell you what. I'm interested in reading this book (also recently reviewed in Bookforum): it sounds as though feminist once meant many, many more different things than it does today.

*   *   *
Speaking of feminists, I'm looking forward to a reading tonight: The War on Moms, by local (to me) author Sharon Lerner.

*   *   *
And, too: women's reproductive choices keep getting more and more restricted. If you're a New Yorker, please take action in favor of the Midwifery Modernization Act. No, ACOG, I don't trust you. Not for one minute.

*   *   *
And finally, a friend shared a link to these amazing photographs today. Reminds me of Beckett's paintings. Gorgeous.

Tuesday, June 1

What Is Education For?

I haven't been paying as much as attention to the soon-to-be-released Common Core State Standards as I probably ought to be, given my profession. I just took a glimpse at the Web site, which today includes nothing more than the logo and the statement, "The Common Core State Standards will be available at this link Wednesday, June 2 at 10 a.m. Please check back at that time." Taking a closer look at the logo, I saw the motto, "Preparing America's students for college & career." I realize that I occupy a place of great privilege; for me, for example, going to college was a near certainty that I should not take for granted. Nevertheless, though I recognize that for far too many children, going to college or preparing for a challenging career may be extremely ambitious and daunting goals, I cannot believe that preparation for "college & career" is really all that a good K–12 education is for.

The mindset that this motto reflects brings to mind (as a counter-argument) these lines from the diary of Etty Hillesum (about whom I should admit I know little; I've read only a small excerpt of her writings):
Before, I always lived in anticipation, I had the feeling that nothing I did was the "real" thing, that it was all a preparation for something else, something "greater," more "genuine." But that feeling has dropped away from me completely. I live here and now, this minute, this day, to the full, and life is worth living.
The Critter is already living here and now, this minute, this day, to the full. Why shouldn't he (and all other children) receive an education that meets him just as he is now, rather than narrowing his vision by setting it on some vague, unknowable future of "college & career"? After all, you are in the real world every moment of every day of your life. It isn't something you encounter for the first time upon graduation....

Thursday, April 29

Beckett at the Beach

The most recent issue of Bookforum arrived with photographs that have much amused Beckett (my husband) and me. If you find these photos amusing, too, then perhaps you might understand why the idea of going on a beach vacation with Beckett (my husband) is more or less unimaginable to me. Even though I technically have done so.

The Paradox of My Karma

While reading TheOrganicSister's response to a recent kerfuffle about unschooling (about which I was otherwise unaware), I felt again the paradox of my karma, which has some 98% of my income generated via my editorial contributions to educational products that, for the most part, I cannot endorse.

We live in New York City, and so educational options for the Critter abound. On the other hand, with Mayor Moneybags and Joel Klein in charge, public schooling in this city has meant testing, testing, testing. And so for us, the unschooling option is definitely on the table. Except that to choose that path, I would need to continue to work mostly at home, which would mean continuing to work on those educational products that support the practices that are the reason why we would keep the Critter out of school.

Unschooling or not, gotta find a new line of work.

Monday, April 26

PB&J Revisited

Should you ever plan to do something crazy like take care of your child (or, yikes, children!) while working from home, my advice to you would be: get organized. Would that someone had advised me so before I set forth on this path!
Exhibit A: Work at home with child
OK, things have improved since I took that photo last November, but still too often I find myself either pumped up with adrenaline, stressed about an impending deadline, or in a scattered haze of uncertainty about what I should be taking care of just now. The late nights don't help matters.

Writing up a weekly menu and doing the grocery shopping on Sundays does help matters, and most weeks I do manage to do so, though I go through spells, like now, when I honestly can't remember what I know how to make for dinner other than pasta dishes. (I aspire someday to create something like this meal calendar, but first I would have to come up with twenty different easy-to-make meals.) Even when I can remember what I know how to make for dinner, though, lunch tends to be the big mystery. Writing up the weekly shopping list, I tend to list the needed breakfast staples first, then the ingredients for the dinners I've planned, and then the needed staples for Beckett's lunch ... and then, I draw a blank.

But not this week! For lunch this week we have PB&J for grown-ups! Not that limp, peanut-butter-and-white-bread-soaked-with-grape-jelly sandwich that I loathed when I was a child! You see, I've figured out the obvious: that if you use good fruit preserves on good, thick, whole wheat bread, the sandwich doesn't get soggy. Plus, for less than what I have been spending on take-out lunches on Fridays (when I usually go to a client's office for work), I can have a whole week of sandwiches with almond butter. Yum, yum!

Tuesday, April 13

What Matters More Than the Practice

Over at Stop Homework, FedUpMom has a different take on the topic I took up in my last post. Though she does see that it takes hard work to develop talent, she doesn't believe that "the biggest dif­fer­ence between me and Mozart is that Mozart got more prac­tice." She continues, "My biggest fear about the idea of hours of prac­tice is that it will be applied unthink­ingly to our kids, many of whom are already overworked."

I share her fear, though for a different reason: I don't believe the practice matters most, but the hunger. Asking children to practice practice practice in order to excel at something they don't give a damn about or (even worse) at something they enjoyed once upon a time before the practice beat the pleasure out of it for them is asking them to give much too much of themselves to an exercise in hollowness....

Tuesday, April 6

It's Your Fault You Suck

As described on a recent-ish (two weeks ago! I'm so slow....) interview on the Brian Lehrer Show, The Genius in All of Us, Why Everything You've Been Told About Genetics, Talent, and IQ Is Wrong by David Shenk argues that, for the most part, genius is not in the genes. Though some people may be genetically advantaged (or disadvantaged), these advantages do not in themselves "cause" genius. Far more important is practice practice practice and a persistent mindset — a hunger, really — that drives one to learn from failure and push oneself beyond one's current abilities. Shenk does not claim that talent is solely the result of practice or that there is a recipe for creating genius, but he does believe that by thinking about giftedness in the ways we usually do (i.e., that it is innate), we are probably selling ourselves short.

These ideas don't seem to be particularly new to me. Anyway, as a feminist, I've long been suspicious of arguments that claim that any particular human qualities are innate, because such arguments have tended to be used to keep women in whatever place the culture finds most convenient. (I've just read Sarah Blaffer Hrdy's take on this tendency in her preface to Mother Nature: Maternal Instincts and How They Shape the Human Species and was moved to tears.) Nevertheless, new or not, I find the idea liberating: it doesn't take genius to be a genius, it just takes hard work!

But of course, with freedom comes responsibility, and thus, I suppose, the somewhat angry calls to the Brian Lehrer Show. Easier by far to believe in the specialness, the otherness, of genius than to find out who you really are, dig in, work hard ...

Sunday, April 4

Easter

My mother once said that when I grew older, I would prefer Easter to Christmas. As it has turned out, I still love Christmas — it spangles the darkest month of the year! — and no longer observe Easter. Springtime itself is the resurrection I celebrate. Today would have been my mother's sixty-third birthday, and it was glorious: the sun warm, the sky cloudless, and all over the city, the magnolia trees in full bloom ... "In arriving not an atom is added ... In departing not a particle is lost ..." wrote my teacher in the capping verse to a koan. I wish I knew what that means.

Tuesday, March 30

Trust Yourself ... Except Maybe at 1:00 a.m.

I was honored to be included in a reading at the KGB Bar this January. The reading was recorded, and though the video was posted to YouTube quite some time ago, only late last night did I venture to watch it. I watched with a sense of fascinated narcissism and repelled shame, and I was left with a sense of dissatisfaction with my work. So I can make people laugh, big deal, so what?

An hour or so later, at 1 a.m., I was still awake and pacing in our bedroom, trying to settle the mysteriously unsettled Critter in my arms. For some reason (the YouTube video? the fact that I did not write that evening, as I usually do after the Critter goes to bed and before I begin my evening hours of paid work?) all I could think about was that maybe I should just give up poetry altogether, except as a casual thing. Give it up because ... the dissatisfaction is too unsatisfying, the longing too painful.

On the one hand, I don't give up poetry because I doubt that the painful longing would vanish if I did. Quite the opposite: through high school I freely and happily drew and painted on my own, and in college, when I no longer had time to do so, I forgot how; and now, just setting foot inside an art supply store is almost unbearably painful. Surrounded by tools I no longer know how to use, I feel an ache as though from the ghost of a limb I myself tore off.

On the other hand, I see that some part of me (my shitbird, of course) is holding me back. The last statement in Rilke's "Archaic Torso of Apollo" haunts me (and yes, usually in German): Du musst dein Leben ändern. Though I do keep changing my life and giving things up (eating meat, eating sushi, running marathons, holding a regular job, following baseball any more than casually, sleeping eight hours each night), whatever it is that must change seems to remain unchanged.

I am beginning to realize that what must change is actually quite simple and already included in my rules for being a poet: write every day, and trust the process. Like giving myself over to the breath in zazen ...

Sunday, March 14

This

This is what you have been waiting for, he used to say to me.
And I'd say, What?

And he'd say, This — holding up my cheese and mustard sandwich.
And I'd say, What?

And he'd say, This, sort of looking around.

Marie Howe, from "The Gate"
In the days after the Critter was first born, I felt as though my old life — the one in which nobody wailed day and night for the sustenance of my milk, my warm arms — was like a bird, perched on the ledge just outside our bedroom window. I felt as though a day would come when, if I opened that window, the bird would fly back into our apartment. And then one day I realized: that bird has flown, never never never to come back.

And so I let go of the past (and have since forgotten what it was like), and though I had no desire to wish away the Critter's infancy and toddlerhood, I looked ahead to the future, when he will be in school and I no longer working odd hours and late into the night. And the future seemed so so distant, and I wondered if I would survive to see it.

And then one day, I realized that I had forgotten about both the bird and my dream of the future. The Critter was napping in his room and the apartment silent but for the mysterious clicking of the refrigerator, and there I was, sitting at my desk, to one side the unmade bed and to the other side a plate emptied of all but a few crumbs from my lunch, and I was no longer planning, expecting, or in any way even thinking about being anywhere else.

Though now that it comes to mind, I must say I do like to think about that bird and imagine where it has gone — somewhere far south of here, I hope, where the ocean waters are a clear and saturated blue. Or perhaps north of here, to the mountains ...

Wednesday, February 24

My To-Do List

Lately I've had Ogden Nash on my mind, specifically his poem "Portrait of the Artist as a Prematurely Old Man," which hit me like a kick to the gut the first time I heard it, probably on WNYC. In the poem, Nash compares the sins of omission with the sins of commission and concludes that if you are going to sin, at least to "remember to do it by doing rather than by not doing." After all, "you never get any fun / Out of things you haven't done ..."

Indeed not. Alas, mine are the sins of omission, of procrastination, of the 4-page-long to-do list that includes things I have failed to do (or to let go of) for weeks, months, even a year or longer. Mine are the sins of the still-unwritten thank-you notes, the stacks of paper on my desk, the neatly folded shower curtain on top of my bureau (why?), the old computer equipment in a closet (including a Mac PowerBook Duo and its dock; again, why?), the boxes of clothing and gently used items for the Salvation Army piled in a corner of the bedroom, the other boxes of who-knows-what in the living room, the fans gathering dust in another corner of the living room ...

The situation has improved much since the Critter was born, at which time the nursery was still more or less a storage room for miscellaneous items and the surface of my desk was not to be found. And yet I still find myself thinking and thinking and thinking about what remains to be done. It's shitbird thinking, and it's tricky to withstand. On the one hand, I have to take care of these things. On the other hand, I must not treat the necessity of taking care of these things as an obstacle in itself. For example, while I have to get my desk clean (and then keep it clean), in the meantime I have to keep writing anyway. I must not tell myself, desk too cluttered, can't write. I must not sit there thinking and thinking and thinking about the cluttered desk during the time I should be writing. Thinking about the desk doesn't get it clean, and it doesn't get any poems written!

Monday, February 15

Traps

A long time ago, I promised a post on commitment mechanisms. At the time, I was reading Kidding Ourselves, by Rhona Mahony, who applies economics and game theory in an attempt to give women the tools to negotiate for a better deal in their marriages. For six months, I did not write the promised post. I was too busy, and I was too angry.

Why so angry? As it happens, the anger and resentment that I tend to foster against my husband (try try try though I do to let it go) has to do with the two commitment mechanisms that function with the greatest force in our family life: his studio and my working at home. A commitment mechanism, writes Mahony, "is anything that makes it very expensive for you not to do something that you want to do.... That is, it traps you into doing what you want to do." So, we're trapped: he into making art (otherwise we're paying the rent for his studio for no reason) and I into being the primary Critter caregiver.

I want Beckett to make his art. (For one thing, I have no interest in being married to an embittered ex-artist.) But his art-making commits him to hours elsewhere, in addition to the hours he spends at his job, and I want him here. Meanwhile, to what am I committed? Hours on my own with the Critter, during which I marshal us through a routine of diaper changes, meals that end up on the floor, bundling him up for the necessary daily trip outdoors, settling him down for the necessary naps, nursing and then nursing and then nursing ... and then doing most of my work at night, while the Critter sleeps, beginning with a few minutes to work on my own writing before I turn to the job, which usually keeps me up well past the time I should have gone to sleep.

Of course, this way of looking at my life is only one way of looking at my life. Yesterday, while Beckett was away at the studio, I stayed at home and passed most of the day on our bed, cuddling with a lethargic, moderately feverish Critter. I read, he slept, we listened to music, and eventually the honeyed sunlight faded from the bedroom. It is a day I will remember for the rest of my life.

Monday, February 8

How Do You Do It?

Or, Life as a Work-at-Home Mom

I work while the Critter naps and at night, after he has gone to bed, sometimes until 1:00 or 2:00 or even (two or three times) 3:00 in the morning. By then, the Critter usually has joined Beckett in bed, and so my favorite time of the day is at the end of it, when I creep quietly as I can into the bedroom, lie down, and cuddle in the darkness with my two boys. More weekends than not, I work as much as I do during the rest of the week, though I try to keep at least Saturday evening free for a Netflix video with Beckett on the couch. Between naps and before dinner is the time for grocery shopping, getting and returning library books, Music Together, playdates, and trips to the tot lot, park, or Brooklyn Botanic Garden. I make dinner, keep track of our budget and spending, and try to manage the tides of clutter that wash through the apartment. Beckett washes the dishes, takes out the garbage and recycling, keeps the bathroom and litter box clean, and (usually) does the laundry. I vacuum when I can. Piles of paperwork, bills, and who knows what else drift from my desk to the top of my bureau to the dining table and back again. My to-do list is four pages long.

The sitter comes for a few hours on Tuesdays, and now we have two full days each week at the day care center for the Critter. Friday was his first full day there. I went to the office (my client's) and called the day care center at 2:30, just after nap time. "He's eating well, slept a little, crying some," I was told. I almost cried myself. Why was I at the office? Why was he elsewhere?

Wednesday, February 3

The Artist in the Office

Yesterday, a conversation with writer and artist Summer Pierre on the Brian Lehrer show. Her book is The Artist in the Office. Of particular interest was her insight that the office job is not necessarily a soul-sucking affair; it can actually be a source of material.

As for me, I create my art at the office, which is in the bedroom and next to the nursery. I'm working hard at Rule #1. In a photo taken yesterday, the ugly truth.


Today, a little better.


The Critter at the office.

Tuesday, January 12

Keeping the Shitbird at Bay

I've passed the last six months working too much and too hard. I would like to say that in the meantime, I've forgotten who I am, except that I have always worked too much and too hard. In truth, I've forgotten not who I am, but who I'd like to be. The self-defeating part of me, which my writing teacher calls "the shitbird," would like me to keep busy, keep forgetting, keep going through life as though life were something to get through. Meanwhile, over the past several weeks, even while I was working, I watched myself and my usual ways of writing and not writing, and I discovered my rules for being a poet. Though they are obvious, I do forget them. I'll be posting them over my desk.
  1. Keep your desk clean.
  2. Write every day.
  3. Keep a journal.
  4. Read poetry.
  5. Read about poetry.
  6. Write a shitty draft and trust the process that follows.
  7. Create a persona.
  8. Be aware of the emotional core of the poem.
  9. Remember that no-one wants to hear you complain.