Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Simplifying in 2015

When my son was an infant, we were constantly washing bottles. Constantly. Sometimes we'd fall short of our duties and frantically wash a bottle while he was screaming hysterically.

My husband finally said, "why don't we buy another set of bottles?"

It was one of those lightbulb moments. Of course, more bottles. Why were we making things so hard on ourselves?

Our 2015 resolution is to continue to simply. Should I cook a multi-course fish feast for Christmas Eve? No, we should go out, as we did for Thanksgiving (a gloriously easy and lovely treat for this toddler-mamma.) Should we go shopping in stores for holiday presents? No, we should order online. Should I go to the post office to mail my ebay sales? No, I should order the postage through the website.

We can't throw an endless pile of money at every problem, but we can spend money wisely to make our lives easier. After all, more nap time while we're sick or tired will help us to be more efficient workers at other times. It is all about taking care of ourselves and each other in order to be better people, parents, teachers, writers and researchers.

What will this look like in 2015? It will all depend on what comes up, but I'm sure we can use our exhaustion-blurry minds to think of ways to approach our days simply.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Anna C. Napp's Thirty Twelve Project

Thanks to Anna C. Napp for sharing her new project, the Thirty Twelve Project, here today. We met at Sarah Lawrence College's MFA program, both working on the literary journal, Lumina, and I'm very excited about her new venture. If you're interested, she's looking for a few more participants for 2015. Contact her directly through her website

Anna C. Napp is a poet, writer and teacher based in Denver, Colorado. She received her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College in 2004 in Poetry. She is a member of Lighthouse Writer's Workshop and has taught at several colleges in Colorado. Her publications include The Mountain Gazette, Snowline Poetry Journal, Painted Moon Review, Lumina and A Poet's Guide to Motherhood. She is also the creator of The Thirty Twelve Project.

The Thirty Twelve Project

It literally came to me in a dream. That sounds so cliché right? But I remember the night I woke up, stared at my ceiling and conceived this idea about total honesty. In the morning, I turned to my husband and said, “I want to do something called The Honesty Project.”

Let me just say, I’m an idea person. I have a lot of ideas and, more often than not, they fall by the wayside. So when I told my husband that I had an idea, he listened to me, probably thinking it was another “great” idea of mine that would dissolve into the ether. I’m also a mother of a toddler, a writer with an MFA, a former adjunct English professor who is taking time off from a traditional job to try my hand at this writing-thing. I’ve never just had time to write. I’ve always squeezed it in here and there. In grad school, I had two jobs and an internship in addition to my writing. What I’m trying to say is that I have a short attention span most of the time. I’m a poet, not because I don’t have some great novel ideas, but because I love the concentrated brevity of it. That, and I can just move on after a short period of time.

Also, being a mother of a toddler means I’m going in every possible direction at the same time. I’ve gotten pretty good at it. But I’ve also had my moments of despair, flirting with depression at a life that isn’t exactly how I pictured it. A mother in the suburbs of Denver, supporting a husband getting a MBA and taking care of a house, child, dogs, etc. Not exactly the fabulous NYC artist I envisioned. So, I find outlets. One of those outlets that I kind of love is ScaryMommy.com. It’s a place where moms can, at times, be brutally honest. I like that. Because sometimes being a mom sucks. Really, really, really sucks. All of the sudden your heart is walking around outside of your body demanding fruit sticks and apple juice with water, ice and a straw. And you fade. And you can’t help it. Maybe it’s just a little, but you have to alter yourself when you become a mom. Especially, writers, which is the ultimate solitary art. You have to be able to go into your head and float in those waters and listen to what they say. That becomes virtually impossible when someone never stops talking. I love my son with every fiber of my being, but the amount of energy required to be his mom often leaves me with nothing at the end of a day for my writing. On ScaryMommy, there is a confessional page. This is where women, I assume mostly, post anonymously about their lives. They are most often angry, frustrated or depressed. Every mother feels these things, but we can’t say it for fear of losing our membership to the Mother of the Year club. The pressure we feel to be able to do it all; be the perfect mother with the perfect, smart, clean, mindful, polite children (don’t get me started on the “Why aren’t you having 2?” question). We’re supposed to also be fit/thin, pretty, accomplished all the while preparing super healthy meals, snacks prepared and a house that came out of Better Homes and Gardens. But underneath, we think, “I hate my life sometimes.” I hate that I can’t just go with my husband to the movies anymore on a weeknight. I hate that we NEVER get to sleep in anymore. EVER. You get the idea.

So, I thought what would happen if people really started to say what they really thought. Not the censored version. To do this, I created The Honesty Project. Unfortunately, that name is taken and I wanted this to be unique. The idea evolved into The Thirty Twelve Project. I got thirty people to answer twelve questions as honestly as they could. They are anonymous. They are known only by the day of the month their answers will appear. They come from all over the world, vary in age from early 20s to mid 60s, have different socio-economic backgrounds and even some of them are anonymous to me as well. I loved doing this project. It kicks off on January 1, 2015 and runs the entire year. Please come and follow us! Who knows, you might even want to sign up for 2016! ThirtyTwelveProject.com.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Daycare Update: Week 3

Group Daycare Art

The first day I dropped off our bambino at daycare he cried. Hard. One of the caretakers said she’d bring him to the window to wave as I left. I hurried down the stairs and out the door only to see my child reaching for me through the window while crying hysterically in another woman’s arms. I held back the tears until I turned away. Like my son, who understood less about daycare no matter how much we explained, I was in a full panic.

Our son continued to cry hysterically when one of us dropped him off or picked him up. Then he stayed home sick for a few days and we started the next week with the same crying.

Somehow, by mid-week of the second week, he didn’t cry when we dropped him off. He wasn’t smiling, but he seemed ok. What a relief that he was finally getting comfortable and enjoying his time with the other kids and the caretakers.

We received written and verbal reports about how the 18-36 month olds made a group ball polar bear with cotton balls, hand prints and other (messy) things we’d never tried at home. I was told that he tasted some new foods, like oranges (which he refused at home), chicken teriyaki and sloppy joes. He sat in his chair next to the other kids to eat. He was sleeping (there was photographic proof!) on a cot while all the kids napped and particularly enjoyed dancing to music and reading books.

Between calling the daycare to check up on him, I’ve been catching up on work and the endless things on my to-do list that I put off these last 18 months. I even caught up with a few friends and saw the El Greco exhibit at the National Gallery.

“Me-time” may have evolved into a glossy magazine cliché, but it is vital. We all need time to be ourselves, as well as parents, spouses and workers (in my case, teacher.) And artists need time to work on their art, both the creation and the business side of it (submitting, etc.) I have just started to think and draft a few lines that may become the next writing project and that feels impossibly wonderful.

While I still feel guilty for (what sometimes feels like) abandoning my son, I know he’s learning new skills, including navigating relationships with other grownups and children, and having fun, too. And this mamma of a child who doesn’t sleep for 8 consecutive hours at night needs time to be a better person and in turn, mamma.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Parent Author Interview: Liz Maccie

A big thank you to author Liz Maccie for sharing her thoughts on writing, writing as a parent, growing up and raising children. We went to high school together and this beautiful book, Lessons I Never Learned at Meadowbrook Academy, is rooted in that particular place and experience. I loved reading both the familiar and new throughout the tightly woven story. I strongly recommend the book.

Liz Maccie was born and raised in New Jersey and attended Bucknell University.  After college, she moved out to Los Angeles to pursue a career in film and television writing.  She has had two movies produced, “The Thirst” and “Black and Blue.”  She went on to work at The Disney Channel until she found a home at the ABC Family show, “Make it or Break it.”  She recently adapted the wildly popular YA book, “The List” as a television show.  “Lessons” is Liz’s debut novel.

Follow Liz Maccie's website and Facebook page for upcoming readings and more. 

Your book is inspired by your own high school experience. Can you describe where or how you decided to veer from non-fiction and move into the realm of fiction?

The reason I chose to write from a fictional standpoint rather than a non-fictional standpoint was really dictated by the story.  I knew I wanted to tell a sort of "Breakfast Club" kind of story that all happened in one day.  In order to due that I had to heighten reality in order for the day to have continued stakes and consequences.  I do think that when we write fiction, we are always, at least on some level writing non-fiction.  Our truths have a way of working themselves into the voices of many characters.  It's that old adage, "write what you know."  When I re-read my book now, it's actually shocking to me how autobiographical it actually is.  I didn't necessarily plan for that to happen, but again I just think it kind of happens on its own.  There are parts of me in every character.  It's a very neat thing to realize.    

What was it like writing about childhood as a mother?

Writing about childhood as a mother was an absolute trip!  Going down memory lane just made me think about all the experiences (both bad and good) that my own daughter will eventually have one day.  There were certain moments, like thinking about that first gut-wrenching heart break that I know my daughter must go through.  I guess the mom in me would like to protect her, but then again, the woman in me also knows that the culmination of all my experiences has made me who I am.  There was also this gnawing realization that just like I did, my daughter will keep secrets from me.  And that's a hard truth to swallow.  I know holding your own private moments under lock and key sometimes is also a part of growing up, but oh God, I already want to know everything!  I can only hope I am able to raise her with the comfort and safety of knowing that she can always come to me at anytime with anything.  But, the rest needs to be left up to her.  I never told my mom about my first kiss.  Looking back, I'm not even sure why I hadn't.  I hope my daughter will come to me with life's milestones, but in writing this book I did realize, it is a distinct possibility that she may not.  And, that's okay too.

What books have you read (fiction, non fiction, craft, etc.) that most inspired or helped you in drafting and editing this book?

My all time favorite book is, “Perks of Being a Wallflower.”  It is hands down the one book that inspired me to be a writer.  This book got passed around my friends like a torch.  I think I’ve read it a hundred times.  The thing I love about this book is that no matter when I read it, whatever age I was and whatever I was going through at the time, it ALWAYS spoke to me.  It spoke to me as a young person and it continues to speak to me as an adult and now, as a mother.  For me, that is the true power of great storytelling, to span generations.  My other favorite books are, “Speak,” for similar reasons like Perks.  “The Lovely Bones,” simply because it takes something so horrid and explores how pain can be transformed into beauty and healing.  “She Comes Undone,” I think is such a powerful coming of age story.  This book really spoke to me because I had battled my weight for so long, so I completely identified with the main character.  I adore the YA book, “The List.”  This book is such a powerful look at what girls go through emotionally, physically, and mentally.  It’s very real and raw.  And, my new favorite is the YA book, “Love Letters to the Dead.”  What a gorgeous portrayal of grief and loss and the power of acceptance.  As you can tell, I love the YA genre! 

I’m not sure that “balance” is the right word, but as a working mother, how did you “balance,” your home, professional and writing commitments?

The question of "balance" as a writer and a mother is such a great question!  It's funny, years before my daughter, I worked as a waitress and my shift would start at 6pm.  So, I had all day to meander about and wait to feel the inspiration to write.  Slowly, I started booking some writing jobs, a script here or a pilot there, but still I had ALL day to work.  Now, (as I know all you moms out there can agree with) I'm lucky if I get to squeeze a shower in!  For me, reorganizing my writing/professional life with my life as a mom has truly been one of the most challenging aspects of motherhood.  Like many of us writers, we don't have an office outside of our home to go to.  Perhaps some of us have a converted garage (that's what I have:) but what used to be my space of solace and quiet is now only steps away from my screaming baby.  And boy, is it hard.  To be very honest, it has taken me close to 2 years to figure out a system which really works for me.  Basically, I am a morning person.  Since my husband is also a writer, and he is much more of a night person, we figured out a good compromise.  I have until 10am every morning all to myself.  So, if I get up at 5am, then that means I get 5 hours of uninterrupted writing time.  My daughter has been going through a bit of a sleep regression (she just turned 2) so lately I've been getting up closer to 7.  But still, that's 3 hours of no one needing me for anything.  And, now that I don't have the luxury of waiting for the inspiration to hit me, I just write.  Plain and simple.  What's that great saying, "If you want something done, give it to a busy man."  Well, I'm one busy mamma and I'm getting stuff done in the mornings!  Of course, there are days I miss the luxury of writing whenever I wanted to, but this system has proven to be very effective.  And right now, I will happily take what I can get!  Oh AND, I leave my house now, as well.  No more working out in the garage for me.  It's just if I hear my baby cry, I am toast.  So, I get up as early as I can possibly tolerate and go to a local coffee shop only a few blocks away.  I think it is so important for us moms to retain these parts of ourselves.  Being a writer is a tricky profession sometimes.  You have to be your own boss and that isn't always the easiest thing to do.  But the one thing motherhood has taught me is to juggle A LOT of different things.  As much as you can, just try not to drop the ball on your own needs and desires while you are somehow managing to keep everyone else alive.  And final omission, I do depend on coffee probably a bit more than I should. :)   

Thank you for letting me be a part of this wonderful blog!  Sending lots of love, appreciation, and support to all you fellow mamma writers out there.  There's safety in numbers, so let's stick together!  Wishing you happy writing!!!!    

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Thankful TO…

Americans like to give thanks at their Thanksgiving dinner. As an atheist, this is sometimes troubling: Who are you thanking? Why do you deserve your good fortunes? Does someone else not deserve what you have? The mantra that “working hard” gets you what you “deserve” suggests that those with less privilege or a less fortunate background didn’t work hard. Or they didn’t fight against a system that failed them from the beginning, which made hard work necessary, perhaps, to even survive, let alone succeed.

This season I challenge you to thank someone in particular who contributed to what you have. I hope you’ll let them know that you appreciate their actions, presence or gift.

Here’s my partial list:

I’m thankful to my parents for teaching me to make education a part of my life, not just the classroom experience.

I’m thankful to my great Aunt Dora for encouraging me to make (sometimes hard) choices that “progress” my dreams.

I’m thankful to my husband for our many adventures, from far away lands to reading new books with our son.

I’m thankful to my husband for his encouragement to write, write, write.

I’m thankful to my son for his curiosity and courage as he tries new things, falls and gets right back up again.

I’m thankful to the many resources I had available to me to find trustworthy, attentive and kind babysitters to watch my son with while I work.

I’m thankful to the daycare where he’ll be starting this winter for their many resources, space and attention to the children in their care.

I’m thankful to the internet, phones and U.S. postal service for keeping far away friends close.

I’m thankful to the city of Washington, D.C., and our many city and federal programs that provide libraries, parks, well-lit streets, reliable public transportation, clean air and water and more for its residents.

I’m thankful to the many supermarkets near us that provide a wide selection of food to prepare. 

I’m thankful to my employers for the intellectual challenge that is teaching and the paychecks that help to provide food, housing and the basics, as well as other things, like books.

I’m thankful to my students, especially when they ask questions that challenge my teaching skills and knowledge of subjects.

I’m thankful to my education for giving me the resources to know how and where to ask for help when something isn’t right. That is to say, I’m thankful to my parents for my education, both at home and at school.

We should all be in a position to be thankful to services and regular income for shelter, food, clothing, education, health care and more. Help to make that possible for someone else this season and throughout the year by donating to or volunteering with your favorite charity.

We are partial to So Others May Eat and will be participating in their annual Trot for Hunger. See you there?