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.


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....