Ink

So, this happened.

Of course, it didn't quite just "happen": like I woke up from some bender with a typewriter on my arm. 

But it happened, in the sense that I walked into San Francisco’s Black Heart Tattoo on Valencia with one idea — a sailor heart with “MOM” on the banner — and ended up with this instead. But that’s sometimes how these things go: all the planning, all the analysis, and then you find yourself in the chair, being inked with an image that came to you in a flash and that you knew, immediately, was completely right. Or at least close enough.

My dad worked for IBM when I was a kid, and one of the highlights of visiting his Vancouver office in the early 80s was getting to call my Toronto friends long-distance on the company dime. The other was typing for hours on the heavy, humming IBM Selectrics that populated the office, crunching out words and sentences in analog before we even knew what that was. 

I wanted one of those machines, desperately, but they were out of my price range even with the family discount, and so when I was 13 I plunked down, on a whim, $300 for a lesser-quality electric typewriter at Woolworth’s. That machine — more specifically, seeing my words in type — gave me such a sense of power: what a rush, to press a key and have a machine respond so immediately, so eagerly, to my touch, to feel the speed and the weight of metal keys striking real paper, nothing between them but ink.

I don’t remember what I wrote on that typewriter, nor do I know what became of it — our family acquired a PC and a dot-matrix printer shortly thereafter, and that’s what I begin using for school assignments, letters, stories. My dad got me my very own PC when I started my undergrad degree, and it was on that computer’s internal modem that I first hooked up to the Internet sometime in the mid-90s. (“Guess how many e-mails I got today?” I once remember my friend Kim asking excitedly: “Twelve!”)

And the rest, you might say, is history: from e-mailing and primitive online chat to Facebook and Twitter, Facebook, blogging, Instagram, all of which I participate in fully, knowingly, even as I no longer actually type — three-quarters of a lifetime on keyboards and mice long ago blew out my forearms and wrists, and so now I dictate into my computer and my words and images appear magically on the screen, all over the world, with the silent push of a button and who knows what kind of behind-the-scenes machinations.

“What do you all do?” asked Cody, my taciturn tattoo artist, inking in the keys. (Everyone in the place was taciturn, not quite unfriendly but definitely not going to give me the benefit of the doubt — just another fortysomething walking in off the street without a clear vision and mostly virgin skin. The resplendently tattooed Farrah Braniff, who was with me and took all these photos, was determined to warm them up with a steady stream of Texan charm and tattoo cred, and eventually Cody got talking and laughing.)

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"Um, I’m a writer,” I said, gesturing to the stencil of the typewriter on my right bicep. He asked what kind of writing I did, and I explained: magazine, essays, blogs—

“Hey — there’s a blogging conference going on in San Jose!” he said, and we laughed, because that’s where we had just come from: BlogHer 2014. “A couple ladies came in last week were going to that.” And so we put two and two together and midway through my tattoo I was Twitter DMing, one-handed, with Tiffany and Christine, whom I’d met at the conference, and who now sported Cody’s seahorse and butterflies respectively. And of course I was fielding Facebook chat about the process, all the while Instagramming the ink, as Farrah took and shared photos.

 

Funny, isn’t it? The way these two worlds have merged? I spent a week in California, three days deep in Silicon Valley, discussing new paradigms for publishing, the increasingly visible Web, live-tweeting everything, texting and DMing and Facebook sharing privately and with the world so many of the details.

And yet, as always, what the conference was really about was direct connection: conversations over lunch and brunch and dinner, a quick coffee grabbed between sessions (thanks, Liz — and now I’m noticing sentence fragments everywhere, including the ones in this post), stealing away with my roommate/blog girlfriend for blog-girlfriend conversation the midst of it all, all the dozens of micro and macro connections made in real time, the way you can meet someone for the first time instantly know she’ll be your favourite.

And, as always, the best conversations and moments are probably the ones we don’t necessarily Tweet right away, or ever. Instead, they inform our writing, our work, our perspectives, get distilled into the words and the art, the bigger picture, keep us thinking, help keep us focused on the next project or adventure even when we can’t quite see how it will turn out.

I didn’t bring my computer to the conference — one more thing to weigh me down when I already have baggage about carrying too much — but after a week in California without making time to journal, I wrote eleven (yes, eleven) longhand notebook pages on the plane, taking up the better part of two hours just getting down thoughts and impressions, barely any analysis.

I didn’t take enough photos, don’t have the energy to write out all eleven pages’ worth of details here, and even if I did you wouldn’t want to read them all. But what I came away with from the conference is that, for me, blogging is still about the writing. Even if writing is no longer only about ink on paper. I led a session with Meiko Patton on self-editing at the conference, and when people asked about things like SEO, I just shrugged my shoulders. It’s not that I don’t care about the numbers, about visibility. Of course I want my posts to pop up first in searches, to reach a wide audience. But mostly, I want to play with words, write headlines that will make me happy, even while the blinking light in my SEO indicator stays firmly in the red. I don’t care if it goes green — I just hit publish when the words are ready (enough) to go.

In a world where so much is digital, it’s good to remind myself of that. It’s good to come away from the epicentre of technology reconfirmed in what I’ve almost always known: what I want most is to get the words out, to get them down, indelible. What I need most in this loopy, hybrid, digital/analog world are the words, as immediate as possible. Pen on paper, metal keys striking through the fabric ribbon, or my voice transmuted through microphone onto a blank page — that’s what that typewriter reminds me of, Cody’s hands etching it into me, metal needle on skin, nothing between the two but ink.


In between nothing at all

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I am in between right now.

That’s the best way to describe it. At this very moment, in between lunchtime pickup and collecting the kids from camp and childcare to take them to the dentist. Waiting for one load of laundry to finish washing and another to be put away. I am in between worlds, trying to follow what's going on in conflicts across the globe, caught between my desire to know more, to try to make sense of it all, and the overwhelming amount of information and opinions masquerading as understanding. I am in between jobs — everything is at design or with its editor or waiting for approvals, and I sit here with my checklist full of checkmarks, wondering what might next come down the chute. I am in between “work” and “vacation”: I head out tomorrow for a weekend in a tent with Isaac (I know, I know ...), and then next week to California and BlogHer, and I am so excited about that that I want to pull a Madeleine L’Engle and wrinkle time so that I can get there without all this messy business of being in between then and now, here and there.

(BlogHer, California: I want to see you, and you, and you, some of you whom I’ve met before in person and some of you for whom it only feels like it; I want to close the circle between the richness of last year’s conference — and the one before that — and this upcoming one, refuel with the physical presence of all you on-liners, and chance encounters, and spoken words, and dance-floor shenanigans to get me through another year.)

And so I’m in that space where I find myself saying, “I guess we’ll talk about that in August. I guess I’ll see you after I’m back,” as though nothing real can happen, no plans can be made, between now and then.

(Even this website is in between — you can’t tell right now, but it’s under a serious overhaul as I grow it up, take the ultimately rewarding also occasionally profoundly uncomfortable steps of shedding an old skin, moving to an online presence that’s a more accurate reflection of who I am, what I do (and what I want to do). Nothing like taking a hard look at all the work you’ve done over the past decade and a half and trying to quantify it. Nothing like talking about yourself for pages, struggling to find the happy place between honest portrayal and marketing-friendly. Especially for somebody who so loves to use em-dashes and parenthetical asides.)

It’s not my favourite state of being, this liminality, hovering between what’s happened and what’s next. I don’t like waiting for the ping of my e-mail (one just came in, by the way, from a magazine: they love that essay on Star Wars, but can’t use it, in case you want it), for the likes on Facebook, the reply to the text, as though they and not I will determine next steps.

I should be doing something, but what? Write, work, or step away from the computer, pull the kid (the one not at a beloved summer program this week) out of the babysitter’s, and head out on a river hike with a friend and her children — out of cell phone range, off the grid.

Because, these kids, they know how to be here now. We hiked (walked, meandered, skipped) through the wooded path out to the rocks and the river, until they suddenly stopped at a pool filled with tadpoles and baby salamanders, where they stayed for the next two hours, catching and releasing and processing and engaging in the usual discussion of the ethics of taking home living things in plastic bags. (“And what do you think it would be like if a giant monster came down and picked you up and said, ‘He’s so cute! I think I’ll take him home and put him in a jar and feed him motor oil! I'm sure he’ll like that!’”)

At one point, we asked — as grown-ups do — if the kids might like to walk a little further, a little higher up the river, and they replied immediately, in unison, “NO!” As though the idea was preposterous, even offensive, which it was: why on earth would they want to be anywhere but exactly where they were, right then? And who were we to ask?

They were right. And so we stayed, and played, and lay in the sun, and peed in the woods, and found a frog, and a spider with an egg sac, and a carnivorous plant, and looked and looked at the sky and the rocks and the trees, none of which were waiting for anything at all.

The kids are still all right, already

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Guess what? It turns out that kids of queer parents are still doing just fine.

In my post this week at Today's Parent, I talk about the findings of the Australian Study of Child Health in Same-Sex Families, released Monday.

In fact queerspawn aren't doing just fine — they are doing the same as or better than their straight-reared peers, a finding that is consistent with other studies on the subject showing that queer families do better in part because we're less likely to abuse our children, divide up childcare and household responsibilities more equitably, talk to our kids about how their families were created, and teach our kids about activism bullying, and standing up for the underdog. Just for example:

It was see no like you go where you do a lot of slow stretches lie down around you realize that you seeSpecifically, children of LGBTQ parents showed no difference on factors such as temperament, mood, mental health, and self-esteem, and scored six percent higher in the areas of general health and family cohesion. Researchers collected data from 325 families with a total of 500 children. […]

What I find striking about all the studies isn’t that kids of queer parents are just fine — better than fine in fact. What I find striking are two things. First, it’s astonishing to me that we still need to study the issue at all, rather than accepting as a foregone conclusion that kids with loving and committed parents tend to do well.

Second, and more important: good parenting outcomes don’t depend on sexual orientation or gender identity. Any set of parents, gay or straight, could divide up chores equitably. No parent ever has to hit a child. We could all learn how to tell the stories of our family’s origins and what makes us strong — and we could all teach our kids to stick up for themselves and for the underdogs. We could all stand up to bullies.

Read more…

Photo Via Australian Marriage Equity

And thus was born a new tradition

IMG_1250[1] “Mom, who left the two dollars under my pillow?”

“What two dollars?”

“The one for my tooth.”

“You left a tooth under your pillow? Why?”

“For the tooth fairy!”

“Don’t you mean the tooth garbageman?”

“Who’s the tooth garbageman?”

“He’s the guy who looks around under your pillow and says, ‘Ew, a tooth!’ and throws it in the garbage.”

Living in sin

[gallery ids="3275,3274,3273,3271,3272,3276"] Way back when, in our hip, pre-children, pre-homeowning, student days, Rachel and I shared an office in our apartment just off Queen West in Toronto.

(Already, I have to digress: our landlord was the now-defunct Toronto Housing Corporation, which at the time owned several properties throughout the city, which it managed in an entirely corrupt, Kafkaesque manner. We got the place not because we filled out a form and our names came up in some kind of orderly, fair lottery, but because we lived next door to the previous tenant and we knew she was leaving and the whacked people at the THC — apt acronym, that  — were happy not to have to do extra paperwork and just handed the place over. It was rumoured that the previous tenant — a lovely woman — had been a (cough) former mayor’s (cough) mistress for many years and that she lived rent-free. Other neighbours used to describe the black limousine that would pull up in front and discharge the mayor, who would disappear into our apartment for a couple hours at a time.)

(TORONTO! What's with all the mayors with secret lives?)

Anyway: back in our hip, pre-children, pre-homeowning student days, Rachel and I shared an office in our notorious, den-of-iniquity, checkered-history apartment just off Queen West in Toronto.

It was a two-bedroom place. We slept in the smaller bedroom, and worked in larger of the two. It was quite a lovely arrangement. There was something rather soothing about working in tandem, each of us at our own desk, humming along on our various projects in our own computers. At its best, the set-up pushed us to keep at our work, not to break the spell of more or less steady concentration with idle chatter or Facebook. (In any case, Facebook didn't exist — which is good, because it would've been incredibly slow on a dial-up connection.) Occasionally, we’d break the silence to confirm grammar points or to bounce around ideas about opening lines or hypotheses.

And then, we moved up here, and bought this house, and we got our own offices. And while this has mostly been a good thing, we have also occasionally missed each other’s company, especially during the stretches of time where one or both of us is working on a longer-term project — you know, the kind that requires you to sit at your desk for hours and days on end even when you don't really feel like it, which is much of the time. That kind of work can get isolating (with teeny, tiny amounts of euphoria thrown into the mix, just to make sure you don't give up entirely). Having another body there, working alongside you in companionable silence, can make a difference.

And so yesterday we decided to create an extra workstation in my office. I hadn't imagined how there could be any room for it, but it turns out that an extra desktop fits quite nicely in the room’s southeast corner once we moved some plants out of the way. My filing cabinet and my copy of the Riverside Shakespeare are now holding up a corner Rachel's new desk, and we will experiment with sharing a workspace at least part of the time. Even if she isn't in here that often, I'm already realizing just how useful a second desktop can be — last night, I used it to move forward on a sewing project (which I have since carefully tidied away so that the space is still there for Rachel).

I love this about functional spaces — how, with a bit of imagination and repurposing and rearranging we can make something from nothing, or, rather, a workstation from an old IKEA tabletop and a filing cabinet and a book that's been one of the most useful I've ever owned, and not just as a desk prop. I imagine at some point I'll have to refer to my Riverside Shakespeare again, and then we will have to hold up the desktop with a phone book or something. But for now, it's me and my girl and Will again, and maybe something like poetry will emerge from it all.

Crab/apple

IMG_0921[1] The giant crabapple tree in our backyard is finally in bloom — a month later than normal, granted, but in bloom nonetheless, its delicate white flowers wafting their subtle fragrance through the weekend air, shedding their petals slowly onto the lawn.

So of course what the boys are doing is whacking away at the tree with a garden rake and booting a soccer ball in amongst the branches in an effort to knock down as many petals as possible. They have a friend over — another neighbourhood kid — and he is helping with the flower massacre when he is not trying to set the deck on fire using the sun’s rays and a magnifying glass.

I’m witnessing all this from the kitchen, where I’m scrambling eggs for the three of them. I’m vacillating between the three “As”: annoyance (The tree is in bloom like this for only a few days – can’t they just leave it in peace?), amusement (Those crazy, creative kids!), and acceptance (This is what kids do. At least they’re playing outside and not watching cartoons.)

“Mama?” Rowan comes in through the screen door and hands me a sprig of crabapple blossoms. “These are for you.”

A wave of pure love for him washes over me as I tuck the flowers behind my left ear. “Thank you, honey.”

“Can I have sour cream and salsa on my eggs?”

“No problem.”

And then he’s back outside, and in the next minute the three boys decide that what would be a really good idea would be to sell the flowers to all the neighbours. Fifty cents a bunch! Listening to them, I groan inwardly (maybe also outwardly), because I’m already envisioning the overexcited kids running in and out of the house, door slamming behind them as they make and change plans and shout over each other. I’m already rolling my eyes as I imagine the multiple discussions I’m about to have around the fact that, “No, you cannot go door to door and ask the neighbours to buy the flowers that grow in our very own backyard.” And one kid wants me to make a sign and another one is trying to find something out of which to build a table, and another is now dragging the cooler up from the basement to use as a table and Isaac is shrieking “Flowers for sale! Give us all your money!” up and down the street even though he’s been told is not allowed to yell on the street (“It’s ADVERTISING!” he protests.). Part of me wants to applaud their entrepreneurial spirit, while another part of me cringes at the thought of the racket they’re trying to run, coaxing quarters out of neighbours. Why does everything have to be for sale? Why can’t you just give some flowers away? I want to ask, and at the same time I’m marvelling at the innocence of children, how enamoured they are of their plans, the way Isaac thinks that this will make him rich. RICH!

I love my children, but sometimes they are tiring.

And then, thankfully, it’s time to leave for Rowan’s soccer game, and — even more thankfully — it’s Rachel’s turn to take them, and soon all of the chaos will stop for a couple of hours, during which time I will write this post about all the conflicting desires and emotions that come with bringing these small, wild humans into your life. But first, I have to help Rowan get his soccer cleats laced really, really tight.

“Um, Mom,” he says, looking at the flowers still tucked behind my ear as I kneel over his foot, “You owe us fifty cents for those.”

“Nice try,” I tell him. “Nice try.”

Seven-year-old, II

IMG_0954[2] Dear Isaac,

We spent this past weekend together, just two of us, while your other mom and your big brother headed off for an out-of-town soccer tournament. I haven’t spent this much one-on-one time with you since you were an infant (that time when Rachel and Rowan headed out on that West Coast vacation ahead of us and I hung out with baby you and painted your brother’s room while you napped BECAUSE BEING LEFT ON MY OWN TO PAINT A ROOM IS VACATION TO ME DAMMIT). And, frankly, we were long overdue (for the one-on-one time, not painting, although I bet that if I had suggested to you that we get out some rollers and slap some paint on a wall or two, you would’ve been completely game).

Anyway. I was very much looking forward to spending the weekend with you, but I have to admit I was just slightly concerned that maybe you wouldn’t feel the same way. After all, for so long it seems as though I’ve existed in Rachel’s shadow when it comes to you. And while your absolute and passionate preference for her seems to have faded, vestiges of it remain: “Is Rachel putting me to bed tonight?” you’ll often ask, hopefully, although by the time we cuddle up in bed on my evenings with you, you’re completely content to read and to cuddle with me. Nothing I can’t cope with emotionally, but it did occur to me that maybe you would balk or — possibly worse — be indifferent at the thought of just the two of us all weekend.

I mean, you’re not the most sentimental kid: unlike your brother, you seem not to have inherited the Goldberg penchant for getting weepy at comings and goings, for tearing up at significant emotional events and commercials. When I walk you to school, your brother is the one who turns around for extra hugs at the schoolyard gate, while you tend to march happily into the playground without a backward glance. “I love you,” I’ll call. “Have a great day, Isaac!”

“Yeah yeah,” you’ll say.

And then, when I collect to you on Thursday after school, at the beginning of our solo weekend adventure, you handed me a card. On the front, you’d written my name (OK, you’d written “SHEZIN,” but I’ll take it) surrounded by Xs and Os. Underneath my name, you had drawn a heart. And inside the card, you’d drawn a picture of you and me, holding hands, inside another heart.

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And it’s a good thing that I had these two extra hearts, because the one inside my chest nearly exploded just then.

We had a fabulous weekend. We had tickle fights. You spent a happy hour or so sorting out the international coins in my coin jar. We went out for sushi and you ate flying fish roe and an entire hand roll and copious quantities of wonton soup. We saw How to Train Your Dragon II. We made muffins and I remembered to breathe as you measured all the ingredients and dumped them into the Cuisinart. You found the discarded metal brackets that used to hold up the old Venetian blinds in my office — I nearly said no when you asked if you could have them (another mess, more chaos, bits of metal scattered throughout the house), and then remembered that I’m trying to say yes more, and two hours later you had created several found-object sculptures with the brackets, much electrical tape, and household string. On Saturday morning, inspired by said sculptures, I dusted off your other mother’s childhood Meccano set — right up your alley with its zillion tiny metal pieces, each in its own place in its Styrofoam tray — and you got right to work, building a bridge. We never left the house that day but instead worked in companionable near-silence, you screwing together metal brackets and me puttering about, playing guitar, doing bits of work and occasionally putting some food in front of you to feed that miraculous, ridiculous little brain.

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Your brain: it’s nuts. I’ve taken to jotting down snippets of conversations we have before you go to sleep. You’ve got a definite penchant for the gory and the macabre. We’ll be lying there, all cuddly in the dark, and then you’ll turn over and say something like, “Mama? Is it possible to die while standing?” or, “Mama? What if you’re dead do you just see clear?” or, “Mama? Why would you tie someone to a train?” or, “You know, I don’t really like bedtime. I always wish it was more … explosive. You know, like if you got a little bomb every night.”

Despite (maybe because of?) your fascination with the grotesque, you’re such a happy kid. After a few weeks of practice, you can now do the splits, a fact that you share with everyone, dropping — boom! — suddenly down in the schoolyard, in the parking lot, in the living room, so that people marvel at your flexibility. Maybe you’ll take up figure skating, marrying your bendy limbs with your love of the ice. You’re joined at the hip with your best friend, who joined us for a sleepover Saturday night. When the two of you are together, it’s as though you work on one brain: the two of you remind me of those toddler twins on the Internet who have their own language. You are still an inveterate magpie, snitching shiny things from my desk, my dresser. You have cleared out everything from your bedroom closet and created a lounge/lab, where you hang on your own or with your friends. You love Minecraft and being read to, maple syrup on your oatmeal. And while you have, mercifully, mostly given up the habit of climbing into our bed at 4 AM, you still arrive most mornings by seven to snuggle up and say hello. Usually, you walk around to Rachel’s side of the bed, but more and more often, you climb right into the middle of us and whisper, “Is it a family day? And can we have French toast?”

Lately, I’ve been missing, longing for, the baby version of you, trying to remember the weight of you on my hip, curled next to me in bed those hazy newborn days. There’s no trace of that baby left in those long, skinny limbs of yours — sometime in the last year or so, I realized that you no longer suck your thumb. Your once indispensable security blanket is now utterly optional. But that’s OK: there’s so much more joy in spending the weekend with you now than there was six years ago, even if I did get the satisfaction of painting a room on my own.

Happy seventh birthday, Isaac. You’re the bomb.

Love,

Mama

We have a winner!

Mazel tov to Karen Greeners, who is the winner of her very own copy of The Jewish Daughters Diaries: True Stories of Being Loved Too Much by Our Moms. I'm sure your mother would be very proud of you for being randomly selected to win. And the other girls are mean to you, it's only because, as Mayim Bialik's mom says, they're jealous. Enjoy! And thanks everyone who commented on my post!

An open letter to my hairstylist

kitten before Dear Tonya,

I’m just checking in to make sure you’re OK after yesterday.

Not that I think anything untoward happened. After all, we exchanged only pleasantries. I may have communicated firmly, but I know I did so kindly.

It’s just that, as you said, I seem to do a very good job of “pushing you out of your comfort zone,” and so I wanted to make sure that you weren’t too rattled after my second visit to the salon in five days. I mean, you did say to come back if any aspect of the cut wasn’t working for me, and so I did that thing that I am historically so bad at doing with hairstylists and asserted myself.

The cut was good, Tonya, it’s just that, well, I have a shitload of hair. I have, conservatively, about three normal people’s worth of hair. And it is thick, and it is curly, and it does what it wants. And it needs much product as well as a strong and drastic hand in order to be tamed. And you, Tonya, are going to have to be this strong and drastic hand. Even if it does push you out of your comfort zone and cause you to say things like, “Well, you’re definitely the most… different… and… determined client I have.”

It’s OK, Tonya. I can take it. I mean, you’re not the first hairstylist I’ve made uncomfortable. The first 20 years of my life were essentially a quest to find someone who could figure out what to do with my hair. Sure, I had unrealistic expectations. As a kid, I wanted hair like Barbie’s: long, blond, straight. If not Barbie, then I would have happily settled for Cindy Brady hair: those two pigtails in their perfect ringlets. In the early 1980s, I wanted hair that would feather. I was a young Jewish girl who longed for WASP hair, and it wasn’t happening. For a while, I had a good thing going with Al, who wore leather pants and worked out of a salon in Richmond, British Columbia. He managed to coax something like style from my masses of frizz, but then he died of a heroin overdose and I was back to square one. For a while, during the late 1980s and early 90s, when big hair was in, I managed to work out a trick involving a whole lot of styling mousse and a bandanna. By the mid-1990s, I spent hours of my life I’ll never get back flat-ironing my hair into submission and avoiding rain and swimming pools at all costs.

And then, I met Jimi. Jimi, at Coupe Bizarre on Queen Street West in Toronto. Jimi, who had hair EXACTLY like mine. Jimi, who never once used thinning shears — the bane of my existence — but instead sliced away at my hair with a straight razor, carving out great swathes of it. Jimi, who cut out channels of hair directly at the scalp, defying everything anyone else had ever told me about hair in order to thin mine out, make it manageable. Jimi, who cut my hair dry. Jimi, whose cuts lasted a good two months. When he was done with me, he was up to his ankles in hair. “It looks like kittens!” he once said at the end of a cut.

And then I moved up here, to Thunder Bay. Where there was no Jimi. Fortunately, I returned to Toronto often, visits that were planned with a trip to Coupe Bizarre in mind. But, sometimes I needed a haircut here, and as time wore on, I visited Toronto less often, and so the quest to find someone to whack away mercilessly at my tresses with a straight razor, to carve out channels into my scalp, began.

Tonya, you’re at least the sixth person in town I’ve been to. Everyone says that they can thin out my hair, and everyone pulls out some thinning shears and hacks away at it for a while. And I look down at the ground, and there are no kittens there. And I feel the weight of my hair against my scalp, and I know that they haven’t done what I want them to do. And it irks me, Tonya. It really irks me.

And then I met you. And you were game. Reluctant, but game. And you timidly carved a few tiny channels and my scalp. And I pushed you to do a couple more, and you did, and I felt that perhaps I had pushed you far enough for one day. And then, during the next visit, you did a bit more, but still not enough. And then you blow-dried my hair and that made it poof out. I’m sorry that I got cranky when that happened, but I had told you that I didn’t want you to blow-dry my hair because it would poof out, and also I had to pick up my children. And then I came back for another cut on Friday, and I pushed as hard as I could push before stepping out of my own comfort zone, but still, at the end the haircut there was too much hair on my head and not enough on the floor and so I pulled it together and made a follow-up appointment. And I vowed that I would not leave the chair until you had cut channels into my head a centimetre apart all the way around. I wasn’t leaving until there were kittens.

KITTENS, Tonya!

And you did. It went against everything you have ever learned in hair school, but you did it for me.

So, yes. I am determined. I am perhaps even different. And thank you for not saying it, but if you think I’m difficult, so be it. You’re stuck with me, and I sincerely hope that you are not fond of heroin, because we are going to make this WORK.

Love,

Susan

kitten after

 

Fear, vomit, post apocalyptic YA, Jewish mothers & aliases

P1030788 Friday is brought to you by dirty emoticons, my fantasies about post-apocalyptic science fiction, vomit, Jewish mothers, coddled children, and Shani Mootoo. To wit:

  • A while back I tagged Emma Waverman and Tanya Gouthro to write blog posts about their writing processes. Read what gets them motivated (hint: fear and vomit).
  • My post this month on VillageQ is a fantasy about a fantasy – thoughts on Patrick's Ness's More Than This and how we might deal with homophobic bullying in high schools.
  • At Today’s Parent this week, I muse about rescuing my children. From what, I'm still working out.
  • I also wrote about my mom's overinvestment in my own education. For chance to win a copy of Rachel Ament's anthology, The Jewish Daughter Diaries: True Stories of Being Loved Too Much by Our Moms, leave a comment here.
  • And! Thunder Bay locals: this coming Tuesday, June 10, is the annual Thunder Pride Literary Evening, featuring headline reader Shani Mootoo (who has told me that she used to use the alias Susan Goldberg – for reals.) If you were as blown away as I was when I first encountered Mootoo’s writing — her novel Cereus Blooms at Night was so overwhelmingly lush and beautiful — you'll want to be there. If you haven't encountered her writing before, now's the time. See you at the Mary J. L. Black library on Tuesday at 7 PM

Giveaway: Jewish Daughter Diaries

 P1030788 The phone rings.

“Good afternoon, Bliss!” I answer, in my best friendly-sales-clerk voice. I am winding up the last of my sales shifts at the now-defunct Bliss Weekend Wear, an overpriced women’s clothing store in the Bayview Village shopping Centre in a Toronto suburb. It's the summer after Grade 12, and in a few weeks I will fly to British Columbia to be a counsellor at Camp Hatikvah.

“Your report card arrived in the mail.”

I flip immediately into primal defense mode.

“DON’T OPEN IT!”

“But…”

“I said, don’t open it! It’s mine! It’s private! It’s addressed to me! You have absolutely no right to open it and if you do you’ll be breaking the law!”

“Susan, don’t be so dramatic!”

“I’m not being dramatic. I am telling you not to open my report card!”

“But you’re not going to be home for six hours!”

“I don’t care. You’ll just have to wait.”

“Susan–”

“If I see even one corner of the envelope lifted…”

“Fine. You’re being ridiculous.”

“Goodbye!”

I hang up. Esther, the older woman on shift with me, is staring at me open-mouthed.

“That was my mom,” I explain. She just nods.

I write about my mother at fairly regular intervals here. These posts tends to be of the “grab some Kleenex” variety — all the cancer, and death, and grieving, and the bittersweet of everything she was, everything she’s missing.

And sometimes, less often, I write about the quirkier things, like that time she bought me that black PVC outfit for my 25th birthday. But today I’m thinking about the quirky things, because ten years later, there’s more room for them. And while there is no denying that my mom was a saint (a saint! And if you say anything to the contrary, I will shiv you), and an unobjectively wonderful person, she had her quirks. And one of those quirks was a tendency to be over-invested in my academic life.

I’m not talking about garden-variety questions like, “Where did you lose the 2%?” or “How did everyone else do on that quiz?” or “Was yours the highest grade?”, although those were certainly common questions in my household. I’m talking about scenarios like the following:

  • My mother sent back my midterm report card in fourth grade. SENT IT BACK, like one would send back an overcooked steak in a restaurant (although my mother would never send back an overcooked steak because to her, no steak, no matter how grey and leathery and juiceless, could ever be overcooked. I don’t know where I get my love of tartar from, but definitely not from her). She sent it back to my fourth-grade teacher, Mr. Fenn, told him it was unacceptable, and asked that he issue a new one. Her reasoning? That he was grading the entire class low so that our June report cards would show improvement. Our family, however, was moving across the country, from Toronto to Vancouver, over the Christmas break, and she felt that a fourth-grade report card that did not reflect my true (and substantial) achievements would hold me back. From what, I’m not quite sure, but I remember Mr. Fenn walking up to me in the library and handing me, in front of my friends, a heavily stapled replacement report card. And my mother was happy. And I was mortified. (I just told that story to my dad, and he laughed and laughed – and has no recollection at all of the episode.)
  • Three and a half years later, we moved back to Toronto from Vancouver. My father worked for IBM — the joke was, of course, that the acronym stood for “I’ve Been Moving” — and Big Blue saw fit to torture me by uprooting me not once but twice from all my friends and asking me to settle into a new social circle. The eighth-grade girls at my North Toronto junior high were vicious, but hey! I got material from that time and that’s what matters, right? The point of this anecdote, though, is that even though my mother knew that I would be moving across the country in time to start Grade 8 in Toronto, and even though we had already sold our house and purchased a new one, she still signed me up to write the entrance exams for not one but two prestigious private schools in Vancouver, just to see if I would get in. (I did.) And she was happy. And I was puzzled.
  • Also, just in case we didn’t move (like, you know, if my dad as the sole breadwinner at the time of our stalwartly middle-class household decided to, say, quit his job to find himself) and therefore we could not afford the prestigious private-school tuition, she registered me anyway at the out-of-zone public high school in Vancouver she thought I should go to (likely because Jews went there) rather than the public high school I was zoned to attend. In order to convince school officials that I actually lived within the boundaries of the desired school zone, she had friends of ours install a second telephone line, in our name, at their in-zone home. Where I lived, obviously, with my pretend adoptive family.
  • What else? Oh, yes: the PSAP. In sixth grade, I was chosen to participate in something called the (cough) Project for the Study of Academic Precocity. It involved me and a seventh grader from my school writing the SATs. I don’t know why. All I remember about the test is that I had a bad cold and was spooked at the thought that I wouldn’t be able to pee for three hours or leave the room to blow my nose. I have no idea how I scored or what those scores would’ve even meant. But my mother, bless her, knew EXACTLY how I scored and would often quote those numbers to dinner guests. For years afterward. When it came time to write the SATs for the purposes of actually getting into university in the United States, I outright refused.

I’m thinking of my mother’s glorious overinvestment in my brain today as I read The Jewish Daughters Diaries: True Stories of Being Loved Too Much by Our Moms. Edited by Rachel Ament, this anthology is full of stories — full of mothers — like mine. Mayim Bialik’s mom is convinced that anything that goes wrong in her daughter’s life is because, “Everyone is jealous of you.” Abby Sher’s mother adamantly denies that her daughter needs a nose job ("You're beautiful!") until Abby breaks her nose during a game of Ultimate Frisbee. “Well, since it’s broken already… .” Lauren Greenberg’s mom sets up a JDate profile for her and then impersonates her on the site in order to get her married. (To my mom’s credit, she never stooped to the, “Find a husband at all costs,” Jewish mom stereotype, which in retrospect is a good thing, because she would have been very frustrated. The first time she met Rachel, though, my mom did exactly what I thought she would do in an effort to make my girlfriend feel welcome: she reeled off a list of every final thing in the refrigerator that Rachel might possibly like to eat and offered to get any of those things for her. “I told you,” I told Rachel. “Everything will be just fine.”)

Rachel Ament was kind enough to send me a copy of the book, and I’m giggling away as I read it. The list of contributors reads like a Who's Who of young Jewish women in media today: Wendy Liebman, Mireille Silcoff, Iliza Shlesinger, Rebecca Drysdale, Kerry Cohen, etc. I don't think it's coincidence that so many of the writers also happen to be stand up comedians: I mean, it seems like a perfectly reasonable outlet with mothers like these. I also have no idea if these anecdotes are truly Jewish in nature, or if all of us with mothers have mothers like. I suspect a little bit from Column A and a little bit from Column B.

But! You tell me, after you read it: I am offering a copy of The Jewish Daughter Diaries to one lucky reader of this blog. Leave a comment below in order to be entered in a random draw to win it. Bonus points (in terms of my reading pleasure) if you tell me an actual Jewish mother anecdote (and no, you and/or your mom don’t have to be Jewish to win). I’ll announce the winners on Monday, June 9.

Till then, there’s some nice tuna in the fridge.

One for the team

Montréal habs price Rowan is wearing his Habs T-shirt to school today (and look at me, even knowing who the Habs are). We bought the shirt for him in the Montreal airport, en route home from Chicago (because of course why wouldn't you fly from Chicago to Thunder Bay via Montreal and Toronto, making what should be a two-hour trip into an eight-hour one?), and he's already customized it, scrawling “31 Price” on it for his favourite Montréal Canadien (goalie Carey Price, obviously. I looked that up on the Internet.).

The souvenir he really wanted from our trip, though, was a Chicago Blackhawks jersey. We didn't get him one, though, for equally obvious reasons, which I talk about more in today's post on Today's Parent:

I know I’m late to the party on this particular controversy, but, come on: how is it that we aren’t yet past the idea that it’s at all acceptable to appropriate First Nations names and symbols for sports teams? I’m not going to repeat the arguments that have been hashed out for decades now about the Cleveland Indians and the Atlanta Braves and the Washington Redskins. At best, the practice is insensitive and inaccurate and perpetuates stereotypes. At worst, it’s racist and potentially damaging — to both native and non-native populations.

For the record, we did talk to both boys about the hockey jersey — one of those talks where Rachel and I were completely serious and earnest and they were somewhat receptive but also kind of flighty and subject-change-y. In other words, it's going to be an ongoing discussion. But I think they got the basic gist of it — let's hope that the NHL and the NFL and the NBA and everyone else does, too.

Image courtesy shop.nhl.com.

Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe

abmm_cover Morning. Today, you can find me guest-posting over at the Queer Pride Chronicles. I'm very happy to have been asked to contribute to this blog, which is part of the exhibition Generations of Queer: Robert Flack / John Greyson / Elisha Lim / Kiley May's (www.ocadu.ca/onsite) at Onsite [at] OCAD U, the Ontario College of Art and Design's professional gallery:

The exhibition presents vital narratives through the works of Toronto-based artists Robert Flack, John Greyson, Elisha Lim and Kiley May. Influenced by age, background, current context and health, each of these artists has different stories to tell. Bringing these four artists together, the exhibition is creating a dialogue between the works of two senior queer artists who began producing in the 1980's and two younger artists who have come into queer discourses as beneficiaries of the activism of their predecessors. Please visit our website for a full listing of educational events and workshops accompanying this exhibition. www.ocadu.ca/onsite

I've shared the essay "Mamas' Baby, Papa's Maybe," from  And Baby Makes More: Known Donors, Queer Parents & Our Unexpected Families. Funny to reread this piece, nearly six years after I first wrote it. Life is so much less question-y now. Have a look, and check out some of the other posts up there.

You know what's awesome about Mother's Day? The Internet.

TP05_AtOurHouse_660x660 If you know me at all well, or if you’ve been reading here for a while, you know about my ambivalent relationship to Mother’s Day. I thought I was done with the story, but you never really done with those kinds of foundational stories, are you? Here’s one more version, for the Mother’s Day edition of Today’s Parent.

My ambivalence about Mother’s Day, though, is changing, in large part because of that whole Interwebs/social media thang. I know, it sucks up your time when you should be focusing on writing the novel rather than reading about attack cats and Solange, but the thing about the Internet is that it can create visibility and communities where before there were none. Which is what I blogged about this week at Today’s Parent:

When Mother’s Day isn’t a Hallmark holiday for you, it can be a very lonely time. You sit there, quietly smiling, and wishing that other people knew about the grief and complicated feelings that accompany—or eclipse—the joy for so many of us. It used to be that those of us with complicated relationships to Mother’s Day dealt with the day on our own. But with Facebook, and Twitter, and texting and Instagram and any number of other technologies, we can do it together.

So thank you to everyone on my various feeds who came together on Mother’s Day and made me feel like part of a community. That’s what real nurturing is all about.

Thanks to Alexandra, Cheryl, Dresden, Elan, Joan, Laurie and Tracy (oh, yeah — and my kids), who — like so many of you — have helped to redeem Mother’s Day for me.

Unlocked

wd-40-smart-straw-voc-3oz-3d-can You know our front door? The one with the lock that’s become increasingly stubborn over the last, oh, half decade? My key is the only one that works consistently (if grudgingly) in it, a source of absolutely irrational and unearned pride on my part. Rachel’s key works only if you get it in the exact right spot, and then it feels like you’re grinding sand to open the door.

When Rob came to stay with the kids while Rachel and I went to Chicago, his key didn’t work at all. This was slightly concerning to him, but by then we had just kind of accepted that the door didn’t work and that was just the way things were and that getting through our own front door would be an endless struggle forever and ever amen. “You could try some WD-40,” Rachel told him as she left for the airport. “Or just call a locksmith if it gets really bad and get them to replace it.”

Rob texted us in Chicago to say that a shot of WD-40 had done the trick. When I got home, it was amazing: my key turned in my OWN FRONT DOOR like butter. Like silk. Like buttered silk soaked in extra-virgin, coldpressed olive oil. Smooth, is what I’m saying.

I hate this. I hate it when I let something in my life get so far gone with the idea that it will just always be this way. I hate that I tolerate things that could be fixed so easily. Like the fact that it took, say, a couple of months to finally put the new battery in the smoke detector, and then two more weeks to actually put the cover back on the smoke detector. Or the three burnt-out outlets in the kitchen backsplash: Rachel and I just unplug the kettle now to plug in the toaster because calling an electrician is Just So Hard. I hate how I put off appointments when I could really use a massage or a haircut; the piles of books that would really take five minutes to put away but that I instead walk by a dozen times a day.

I don’t want to be hard on myself. I get plenty done, meet all the deadlines, participate pretty fully in the co-running of this household and co-parenting of these children. The meals, they are regular and home cooked. The house is reasonably tidy. The recycling goes out. I get to the gym. And it’s not like we have to navigate between the piles of newspapers to get to the bathroom or anything. Mostly, things run well in this home, in my work, in this life. And that’s a good thing.

But the lock is a reminder: it’s almost always worth taking that tiny bit of extra effort to make things smoother.

Also: WD-40 fixes almost anything.

I will dance — please ask me

IMG_0712[1]We went to the Green Mill last night on Broadway in Chicago — it was an impromptu outing, after fantastic Ethiopian food with friends. Rachel said, “We think we want to see some blues,” and they pointed across the street and said, “That's the place you should go.” And so of course we did, because although we’re not perfect yet at saying yes when every opportunity presents itself, we are good enough at it to have walked across the street and paid the six-dollar cover charge and asked some nice French couple if we could squeeze into their table and watch some swing.

But, you know? I still need to practice those obvious yeses — the ones that cost you nothing but leave with so much more, and the ones that cost you lots and still leave you with so much more. The minute the band started playing, three or four couples who obviously knew how to dance hit the floor, and I watched them, mesmerized, thinking about how much I love watching people enjoy themselves on stage. I was thinking about how much I admire people who know how to do things: swing dance, bowl, play guitar, make pots, what have you.

I was thinking about how I don’t know how to dance like that and that I probably would never learn. And I watched some of the younger, goofier, more awkward couples hit the floor amongst the practiced dancers, and I admired their courage for getting up next to the pros.

And then an older gentleman tapped me on the shoulder and said, so cordially, “Would you like to dance?”

And I wanted to tell you a whole different story, about how I got up and it didn’t matter that I didn’t know what I was doing because he was such a skilled leader that he whirled me around and I managed to not only dance but enjoy myself in the process. I wanted to tell you the story about how, when the song ended, I thank you and he did too and we shook hands and maybe even hugged, and how then I walked out of the club grinning at one more Chicago experience.

But that’s not the story here. The story here is that I blushed and said the first thing that came into my head, which was, “Oh, no thank you.” [Subtext: I don’t know how, I’m too shy, I don’t know you and maybe I’ll look like a fool.]

And he went away, and Rachel said to me, “You should have danced!” And I immediately knew that I should have felt like a fool. But it was too late – the moment had passed. We talked about this in Atlanta at the Mom 2.0 Summit on the subway on the way to the Arcade Fire concert: how, when you improvise, you need to say yes: it keeps the story going. (And if you say no, it’s to facilitate a future yes.) I forgot that last night, but it was a good reminder. So, I’m going to let last night’s no facilitate a bunch of future yeses: I will dance, please ask me.

My top 18 moments from the Mom 2.0 Summit

In no particular order… 1. Going to The Arcade Fire with this group of fabulous women. The showers of confetti were both real and virtual.

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2. Lying across the laps of some of those same women in the too-small Uber car ride home from The Arcade Fire, especially when the doorman at the Ritz opened the car door and I fell out. Because I’m classy like that.

3. 4 PM Champagne, midnight hamburgers, 2 AM sing-alongs, all those conversations in the hallways. IMG_0590

4. My hotel room “sleep makeover” from The National Sleep Foundation, including a comfy new pillow and this guy:

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5. Not getting a chance to use my sleep makeover (cf. midnight hamburgers).

6. When Schmutzie and I simultaneously reached into our bras to fish out our Whirlpool refrigerator raffle tickets, because where else do you put things when you have no pockets?

7. When Emma Waverman won a fridge, and listening to the poor Whirlpool reps try to figure out how to get the thing to Canada. (By the way, I'm writing this from Emma's basement ... which is another highlight. Not the basement, lovely though it is, but hanging out with her.)

8. My roommates!

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9. Being on a panel on “How to Be a True Agent of Change: a New Look at Issue-based Content,” with powerhouses Heather Barmore, Elena Sonnino and Katherine Stone, and moderator Morra Aarons-Mele. (Anyone have a photo of this one? I'd love it if you sent it to me.)

10. Working through my anxiety about being considered an agent of change and being forced to re-/think about my own roles, responsibilities and achievements in the blogosphere — and the wider world.

11. Kelly Wickham’s talk on “Calling out My Sisters.

12. Seeing VillageQ up on the marquee at the Iris Awards, justifiably there with some of the finest names in blogging.

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13. Getting back to refrigerators: Taking scandalous #fridgie photos with Farrah Braniff.

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14. Getting Jen Mann’s take on self-publishing — and getting excited about it.

15. Plotting misguided URL names with my roommates at two in the morning: www.trappedlemons.com, www.ThingsAmericansSteal.ca  (like the song “This land is your land”), www.lunchboxfullofunderwear.com, www.giraffenubbins.com. They were funny at the time.

16. Giving in and finally joining Instagram in the middle of a session and having 30-odd followers by its end – and getting private, in-person tutorials on how to use it from Elan, Vikki and Casey. I’m still a work in progress, though, so be patient with me. Also,

17. Box full of boobs.

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17. Most important, seeing so many people I am so very fond of, and meeting so many new people. That sounds cheesy, but it’s absolutely true — you are a hilarious, smart, creative and beautiful and I can’t wait to see you all again. (I wish I had photos of/with more of you.)

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My writing process

Preferred pen. Vikki over at Up Popped a Fox invited me to participate in a blogging exercise on “My Writing Process.” And so I’m sitting here at midnight, trying to finish up before I get on a plane tomorrow. I’m still recovering from my sleepless weekend at the Mom 2.0 Summit, where I didn’t write but where I got a chance to think about writing a lot, and I’m happy and bleary, but I’m pushing through anyway.

And it occurs to me that maybe that sums up exactly my writing process.

I have four questions to answer, so without further ado, here goes:

1. What am I working on?

In October, I finally gave up the ghost on the novel I’d been working on since approximately 1998. By “working on,” I mean that:

  • I wrote 60 pages in 1998
  • let the whole thing sit around for about a decade before I applied for a grant to finish it
  • got the grant
  • completed a shitty first draft
  • got some great feedback on it and then let it sit for another two years
  • wrote a vastly improved second draft
  • got some more decent feedback
  • wrote the third draft until I had about 30 pages left to go and then decided, “You know what? This is done.” Just like that.

It was odd how non-dramatic it was to let the novel go. Really, it had collapsed under the weight of its own layers. I learned a lot of things in the process, including the fact that one can be a very good writer but that doesn’t mean that one will necessarily write a decent novel.

In the meantime, I wrote what started out as an essay and turned into a performance piece, called Overflow. I wrote the whole thing in the space of about three very intense days, did a reading, got some funding to expand the piece, and am now slated to perform it in October (more details to come). It’s about the aftermath of that lingerie bender I went on in February 2012. Among other things.

I have no real desire to attempt long-form fiction again, but at the end of last summer I woke up at 4 AM with about a dozen ideas for short stories rattling around in my head. I was wise enough to get out of bed and write them down on paper (because no, I never remember in the morning), and I think that my next big creative project may be to chip away at those for couple of years.

I used to write tons of personal essays, but I’ve slowed down a bit on that front. These days, I blog relatively infrequently here, weekly for Today’s Parent, and monthly for VillageQ. I’m also a full-time freelance writer. Some of the projects I worked on recently include this website , several print articles for Today’s Parent (like this one), an annual report and several newsletters. Pays the bills, and I also love my clients.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I’m not quite sure how to answer this question, partly because I’m not sure what my genre is (Mommy blogging? Queer mommy blogging? Personal blog? Writing blog? All of the above?).

People have told me that this site is unique because:

I’m so honest. I’m a bit conflicted about this because I feel as though leave out so much. But I suppose what makes it onto the screen is honest, if abbreviated.

it’s hilarious. I love this, but it’s always a surprise to me. Before I started blogging, no one ever told me I was funny.

it’s a queer parenting site that doesn’t focus primarily on being queer or parenting.

it’s well written. Thank you to everyone who has said that. I started blogging primarily because I wanted a regular writing practice, and I think it’s very useful tool for improving the craft.

3. Why do I write what I do?

Hm.

I try to remember that this blog isn’t a scrapbook or a journal — that I don’t have to keep readers up-to-date or record each moment. Rather, it’s a place where I play with words. I like to focus on tiny moments, find links between things that ostensibly have nothing in common.

Mostly I write about what interests me in the moment. I write to figure out how I feel about things. I write for the sake of writing — to keep my hand in the game, to keep my fingers moving, to remind myself that it’s not about the muse or my mood. I’m a writer, so I write.

4. How does my writing process work?

I’ve been freelancing for the better part of two decades, and have written hundreds, possibly thousands, of articles. At this point, I’m past procrastinating or angsting about writing for clients (the bottom line, you know?): I just throw myself at the screen. Hopefully, I find the lede first (the process is always so much easier if I can start off with a good beginning). But if not, I’ll jump in with a few random paragraphs in the middle or find a good quote from an interview and jump off/flesh out from there.

On days when I’m having a hard time focusing, I’ll turn on Freedom or Antisocial — the former prevents me from accessing the Internet or e-mail at all, and the other one left me access the Internet but shuts down all social media sites. They’re brilliant. In fact, I just turned on Freedom because writing about my process makes me jumpy.

Personal writing can take a bit longer. I am a procrastinatory tidier and creator of lists, including a running list of ideas for blog posts. Sometimes blogging is intuitive, easy; sometimes, I set a timer for 30 min. and tell myself that’s how long I have to create a post. It’s rare that I go back and revise once I’ve got a draft — I’ll work and rework essays dozens of times, but for me blogging is (mostly) a place to play.

With personal essays, I’ll write pages and pages of notes, by hand, trying to get out every last thought and feeling without worrying about crafting. Then, I’ll usually go back and begin with a story, layering anecdote with analysis until I’m somewhere new. I hate tidy endings.

I’m tagging Emma Waverman and Tanya Gouthro.

Second grade, creative writing folder

P1030762 Isaac is reclaiming the closet in his bedroom, which means that I am unearthing all kinds of juvenilia/memorabilia I stashed in there long ago. (Related: this Pandora's Box.) Inside this folder are the following stories:

  • “Lolipop [sic] Land Wins Again” (about a war between the Lollipops and the Suckers; includes my first pun: “The suckers were licked.”)
  • “The Noofy Noofy” (no idea, but here is the accompanying illustration),

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  • “Snow-White” (written from the point of view of the evil stepmother, written posthumously “in hell” – this one is dated May 15, 1980; my teacher’s comments are, “Good thinking! You followed the instructions well and you used a different way of telling the story,” which to me seems like damning with faint praise, but hey — this hardly seems like one of my best efforts.
  • “The incredible owl”
  • an untitled story about a girl named Janice whose parents put her in gymnastics but what she really wants is to play baseball. I remember clearly trying to write from a  point of view different from my own. I remember my father reading this one and sighing and shaking his head and saying, “What you know about baseball could fit on the head of a pin.”

Frog

P1030756 It’s hard to write about feeling like a fraud.

(Freudian slip: I originally dictated “frog” up there instead of “fraud,” like I’m just sitting around, waiting to be kissed and recognized for what I truly am: a goddam prince. Maybe that’s a start.)

Frog, prince, frog, prince, frog … my voice-dictation software insists upon capitalizing “prince,” as though I must be writing about The Artist Formerly Known As and not some generic fairytale character/metaphor. Maybe I should take that as a sign as well. My computer, at least, thinks that I’m a sexy mofo.

But, frog. Fraud. Because I am struggling with a healthy case of imposter syndrome. And — especially because it involves writing, and blogging — I’m thinking that the best way to begin to move through is to write and blog about it.

I’m on a panel at the 2014 Mom 2.0 Summit. The panel, loosely, is on issue-based blogging and being a “true agent of change.” Which, at first glance, makes me feel like a deer caught in the headlights: what are my issues? What, really, have I changed? Is there any “truth” to my “agency”?

And then there are my co-panelists. My co-panelists are people who have worked directly with Hillary Clinton. They are people who have had Jeopardy questions written about their blogs. They are people who lobby Congress and speak to senators and found nonprofits. They are people with millions of readers and Facebook fans and Twitter followers.

And they are on a panel with me.

And yesterday morning, I got off a teleconference call with all of them as we plan for our panel, and they are all lovely, lovely women. And I’ve been to their blogs, and many of them write candidly and openly about their own vulnerabilities: their anxieties, their depression, their fraudulent feelings.

And yet my immediate response was still: Aren’t they all wondering why I’m on a panel with them?

Because I don’t feel like an agent of change. I don’t feel like a known voice in the blogosphere. I feel like I have some piddly little site with its few hundred Facebook fans and I haven’t cracked 1000 Twitter followers and barely anyone comments and so yes I put out a book but that was nearly five years ago and then I decided to stop writing my novel and how can someone as insignificant as me pretend to be a true agent of change?

And on what issue? Being a queer parent? This, too, feels fraudulent: I don’t queer parent all day; I parent. (And I barely parent all day —what with school and day care and working, sometimes it feels like I barely see my children.) And it’s hard to give myself credit for being an agent of change for something that I just do every day because the kids, well, they won’t parent themselves, now, will they? In any case, I write about so many other things — writing, cooking, my mom my mom my mom. Just being who I am, while a laudable goal, doesn’t really seem worthy of being set up as “an agent.”

God, sometimes I feel so Canadian.

I struggle with this sometimes. Usually I comfort myself by focusing on the quality of the writing. I’m here, I tell myself, because I’m a writer and this is my online notebook. I’m not here to make friends and cultivate fans — although it’s nice if and when that happens — but rather because what I need more than anything is a regular writing practice. I’m here primarily to hone this craft, to keep in shape, and only secondarily to win friends or influence people.

(Of course, that stance is also a convenient fallback when one doesn’t  I don’t win friends or influence people to the extent that one I might wish to. And as much as I don’t want to fetishize numbers and “likes” or prioritize them ahead of craft, there’s the uncomfortable possibility that — as cockily confident as I am about the quality of my own writing — I’m doing something wrong, or that I could be doing things differently or better and gaining the recognition that I truly merit deserve other people have.

You see how this is a slippery slope.)

So I got off the conference call and I lay across my bed with my forearm covering my eyes and I told all of this to Rachel, who nodded said: “Small-scale cultural work is still real, and important for social change.”

And I texted Vikki, who said, “You are there [on that panel ] for a reason. Also because you’re queer. You have a voice and create change in your own way. Remember — we still live in a time when it is radical to be out and visible as parents. It doesn’t always feel that way to us because we are desensitized to it all but to others we appear radical and brave and are a visible representation for others. We push the dialogue about families forward!”

(And she also said, in a related discussion about WTF to wear to the conference, “You have nice cleavage and know how to use it.”)

And then I updated my “About” page and added in a bunch of stuff that I actually have achieved. It’s not so shabby.

And then the May issue of Today's Parent arrived in the mail, with this in it:

P1030729

And then I thought about all the blogs that I read and don’t comment on, and the comments and private messages I’ve received over the years, thanking me for putting my voice out there, whether it's about grief, or parenting, or queer parenting, or something else altogether. And I thought about the way that this blog has been an online portal to some fantastic friendships and opportunities.

And you know? It helped. But I won’t pretend to be over my imposter syndrome. What I will do is continue to process it, and figure out a way to talk about it as honestly and openly as I can without trying to hide behind false modesty or exaggerated expressions of inadequacy. Or, for that matter, adequacy. (Can one exaggerate their own adequacy? That sounds super-Canadian, too: “She has an exaggerated sense of her own adequacy.”)

(God, I love words.)

So: today I am a frog. And maybe, also a Prince/prince. And holding both of those things in the same hand requires believing in two simultaneous, if somewhat contradictory, truths:

First, the only person has any real power to transform me from one to the other is me.

And second: sometimes, I yearn to be kissed.