Wednesday, March 28, 2012


almost five years ago I taught my last class. I was getting ready to give birth to my first daughter and planned to return to teaching the following fall. I had no idea what having a baby would be like--what it would do to me and how it would change me.

August came. Juniper was still not three months old. and I called my department chair and told him I wouldn't be back until the spring semester.

then that January, I was pregnant again, this time with Clementine.

flash ahead four plus years from then, and my resume has sat in a file untouched. tonight, when I opened the document to take a look, I stared at it blankly. from the perspective of employment, of course, those blank spaces make me largely unhirable. but from the perspective of life, well..

I looked at that document and I thought about what that missing time represents. And I wasn't thinking about my children's milestones, when they walked or talked or ate solid food or slept through the night the first time.

I was thinking of how Hazel has stopped sleeping during nap time and instead uses the middle part of most days as an opportunity to scream at the top of her lungs. I was thinking about when Juniper was so sick that I picked her up in the middle of the night and she puked all over my shoulders and how it dripped down my legs all the way between my toes. and I was thinking about how just about every morning when we actually have somewhere to go starts off with screaming and tears and me wondering why I don't just go back to work full time.

and then I remember.

resources for aspiring writers from the last day or so

I am getting so much out of following a bunch of literary agents on twitter and I wanted to put these somewhere findable:

-manuscript template

-tips on designing an e-book cover

Saturday, March 24, 2012

this is what a love affair is like

I can't sleep. I think about it more than I should. I worry, obsess over which parts are right and which parts are so crappy that I shouldn't be wasting the time of the amazing agents who have agreed to read it. it's different from the actual writing process, when I would be so in the world of the characters that it actually hurt to come back to real life. that was the birth. this is the growth, and there's a reason people talk of growing pains.

an offhand conversation with my husband and I'm racing back to the computer to try rewriting the scene a different way. an email from one of my awesome friends/readers and I'm toying with a complete change of character. but mostly, it's the dreams and the moments before and after that have shaped the changing and growing. some ideas I've shelved and some I've laughed at in the harsh light of morning, but so many of them have been genuinely useful. the unfortunate by-product? sleep is no longer for sleeping. I am not good at that part of it anymore.

but it makes sense, because the entire book started with a dream. there wasn't much there--just a group of students in jeans and white t-shirts flashing in and out of a field filled with grass. I knew they were flashing between times, but I didn't know why.

now I do.

Monday, March 19, 2012

of course, we were 100% kidding. ok, at least 99%

my friend has been admitted to her first-choice kindergarten, but is
now having second thoughts about whether her bilingual son should
instead try for a Spanish-immersion school:

me: "so are you gonna go for it?"

her: "maybe we'll just stick with what we have. it was our first
choice, after all."

me: "but sometimes you think you want something and then when you get
it you realize you didn't really want it as much as you thought you
did. I've definitely had that experience before. like, you know,

her, without missing a beat: "oh yeah. live that one every day. you
wake up, and it's like, 'you again?'"

Thursday, March 15, 2012

a non-united front, or, when relativism meets practicality

At the dinner table:

Juniper: "Is zero a lot?"

Me: "Zero is none."

Juniper: "Is one a lot?"

Gavin: "That depends. If you're talking about houses, one is a lot."

Juniper: "Is two a lot?"

Me: "No, honey, two isn't a lot."

Gavin: "It is if you're talking about wives."

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

the poem is sad because it wants to be yours, and cannot

today I thought of the name of the common area in my insanely quirky college dorm where I spent my best hours during my first two years at Duke. the name of the common area was The Crossroads. many, many nights I made it to sunrise in one of those putrid chairs talking, talking, talking.

once I remembered I couldn't stop thinking about it. how probably the best learning of those two years came not from classes but from the people I spent those nights with then.

at one point during those years I decided to write a story in parts for those people. I put it up in the very early hours of the morning for my friends to find later. I don't think I had much of a plan in mind. just to do something silly and mysterious that people would wonder about. that would entertain them or perplex them or just give them something to figure out.

I only got through maybe three pieces of the story--possibly a few weeks of mystery--before I got distracted by something else, but there are two lessons there.

one is that quite possibly you are only going to get through three pieces of your plan, but you should still enact it.

the other is that this is the feeling--the feeling of sneaking into The Crossroads at 6:30 in the morning, the one time it might actually be uninhabited, to post your story--that I need to reconnect with now.

Saturday, March 10, 2012


it is bedtime. in the bathroom, as I clear away the bath things, I hear Hazel singing and babbling to herself through the closed door to her bedroom. though she has not napped today, she is too joyful to succumb to the warm cocoon of her down blanket just yet. too enamored with now to let go.

in the other room Gavin is reading The Crane Maiden to Juniper and Clementine. when I walked through to give final sips of water I saw them naked bundled up in blankets. The last book they've chosen, Pajama Time, will instruct them to don pajamas and hop into bed, instructions they will follow faithfully. it is easier than listening to us.

Gavin has never before read *The Crane Maiden*--it is a book from my childhood recently brought back from Hawaii. I catch fragments of the story recited in a voice that's eager to know the end.

I count how many years I have known the end. At least thirty-four. in the end, the Crane Maiden leaves the couple she has chosen to live with because they do as she forbade--they watch her making cloth in her true form, as a crane.

I am thinking of Stanley Fish's graduate class on Milton that I took as an undergraduate at Duke and its extended examination of Empson. I am thinking of how Fish loved to point out Empson's reworking of Blake's pronouncement that Milton, at least in *Paradise Lost* was "of the devil's party without knowing it." it's not important whether any of those references make sense--it's only important to consider the idea that perhaps we love our villains more than our heroes since we make them so much more interesting.

there is the ambivalence about eating the apple. sure, we are expelled from paradise, but also we are given knowledge. that is why, as I put the toothbrushes away, I struggle with the Crane Maiden as she punishes her chosen people because they gave into their curiosity. is it really so simple as to mean that when we seek to know we also betray?

I put away the toothbrushes in a row: Belle, Tiana, Tigger. the ikea cup is drained and washed. the towels are hung back on their hooks.

perhaps it is simply the great value of keeping our agreements. the possibility that when they are broken, trust has forever flown away.

or perhaps it is the shyness of the crane, having been glimpsed naked in its pure state.

I turn off the bathroom lights. in the bedroom the "nakedys" await my return. for a moment I stand outside their door, waiting for the book to end. soon I will enter and gather them up, read their last book, chant their pajamas on, enchant them into bed.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Cabinet of Random

My husband, who lives for doing random and hilarious things like leaving a note on the plastic tub we use to give the kids a bath inviting me to place said plastic tub in his car, started using the doors of the kitchen cabinets as a bulletin board. But unlike a real bulletin board, which would showcase important notes and photos, his choices are a random collection, most of which were probably on their way to the recycling when they ended up posted (for example, a three year old thank-you note for a birthday present and a magazine article for dads he thought was particularly cringe-worthy).  I can't fault him for making our kitchen look trashy, because it's already a complete disaster in our house (pretty much comes with having four little kids in your welcome packet), but I do crack up just a little, on the inside, every time I walk past the cabinet (which I'm sure is his intent). 

Lately I've been dreaming of a children's book featuring the cabinet of random. Every time you open it, instead of giving you something to help your quest, it spits out something completely useless to you but hilarious and fun.

Reminds me of a conversation the characters have in the book I'm working on now, which is the one (in part) about storytelling. One of them says she fears all the stories have already been told, but the other says they can't be cause they're happening every day. 

Friday, March 2, 2012

things I like (otherwise known as "fodder for the inspiration file")

I like this photograph and the backstory about a couple kissing on the ground during last year's hockey riots in Vancouver. Apparently, the kiss was the man's attempt to calm his girlfriend down after they were knocked to the ground by riot police, but, oh wow. Would love to write a scene around this story (I know, I know, too unrealistic).

Unlike the cool half of the internet, I saw this photograph for the first time this year, analyzed by my truly amazing high school classmate Allen Murabayashi in his "I Love Photography" rant on Photoshelter. I like his article, too.

I like--no, really, I love--this "It Gets Better" video featuring members of the SFPD. As in, humbled and moved to tears. Go SF!

I like MGMT's "Time to Pretend": I'm feeling rough, I'm feeling raw, I'm in the time of my life/ Let's make some music, make some money, find some models for wives... The models will have children, we'll get a divorce/ Find some new models, everything must run its course. Hilarious. On the "soundtrack" for writing Book Number Two (which, thankfully, I also like).

I like this story about The Washington Post's culture experiment from five years ago. Joshua Bell, described as one of the finest living violin players in the world, was asked to play at a most unusual venue--a Metro station in Washington, D.C. The question was whether the context matters most--would rushed commuters mistake Bell for a typical metro performer and rush on by, or would his exceptional talent would actually be recognized.

I was less surprised than Weingarten, the author of the article, claimed to be that almost no one paid any attention at all to Bell's performance (Weingarten explores, in depth, the complicated web of reasons why--it's definitely is worth a read and I'm going to go ahead and link to it one more time). But what I really loved about the whole thing was the interviews with the people who'd walked by the performance. You have to read them because they are so varied, but they manage to be both compelling and moving.

In particular, I like the story of a former violinist who decided he wasn't good enough and so gave it up at age 18 to move into a different field. When Weingarten asks him if he regrets not pursuing music as a career (Presumably after seeing Bell? It was a leap for sure.), he responds that he doesn't:

"No. If you love something but choose not to do it professionally, it's not a waste. Because, you know, you still have it. You have it forever."

Hell, yeah.

I found the article through literary agent Jim McCarthy's blog meditation on manuscripts he has rejected (to see the part where Jim mentions the article, scroll through the first set of comments). It's about a specific field, sure, but it's really about the whole idea of missed chances and second guesses. I like it, too.

What do you like today?