Monday, April 27, 2015

Off to Fitchburg State University! Or: "Networking" also means "Friendship"

I'm very excited to be headed to Fitchburg State University in Massachusetts later this week to give a poetry reading and food writing talk. It has been intellectually and creatively invigorating to plan the talk and choose poems to read. Since my talks are supported by the Amelia V. Gallucci-Cirio Endowment, which focuses on Italian and Italian American culture, I'll be focusing the influence of Italian food and language on food writing and my own poetry. (Yes, I snacked too much during the prep work.)

I'm sad to leave the bambino again (and so soon.) But both he and my husband did great while I was away at the AWP conference. I know they'll be ok again, just as we were ok the following week when he traveled for a conference.

The trip to Fitchburg State was facilitated by another Woman Mother Writer, DeMisty Bellinger-Delfeld. You might remember her from a post here about writing resources for parents. We met at a Bread Loaf Writers' Conference a few years ago and have kept in touch as friends and colleagues. While the term "networking" can sound cold, the act of getting to know someone can turn into a friendship that includes collegial connections.

DC Freelance Writer Jessica Sillers writes about networking in her recent post-AWP piece, "4 Ways to Keep Up Your Conference High" (with a kind shout-out, too.) I encourage all writers, and especially women, to get to know each other and learn about each other's strengths. Support each other as friends and writers. Be generous and share what you know while listening to what that other person knows.

It can make a difference to everyone. After all, we're all in this together. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Cherry Blossom Petals Falling at Dumbarton Oaks' Gardens

One afternoon last week, while I should have been working and writing, Nonna and I snuck out to Dumbarton Oaks' Gardens and Museum. We sat beneath this canopy of cherry trees whose petals were falling with every breeze.

I'd love to write about the magical, fairy-tale experience of being surrounded by pale pink petals, but only cliches come to mind (magical, fairy-tale). Perhaps cliches are cliches for a reason. Regardless, I'll leave you with this video and keep trying to find the words or metaphor to describe this moment.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015


Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis

After being away for four nights, I returned to... normal. What a relief.

The taxi from the airport dropped me off at home just as our bambino was waking up from his afternoon nap. I snuck in and watched him as he sat up in his crib and rubbed his eyes. When he saw me, he put his arms up, as if I'd never left. I picked him up and held him for a few moments as he adjusted to being awake. Then he focused on my face, dived in for a tight hug and yelled, "mine!"

While the toddler "mine" phase is generally less pleasant, this particular "mine" melted my heart.

I was relieved that flying to Minneapolis to participate in the AWP Writer's Conference was successful all around. I caught up with writer friends I both adore and admire, attended fascinating panels and readings, rested a bit, saw some of the city and returned home, all while my husband and son continued to work, go to daycare and play together.

Yes, I missed them both, mostly the littlest one who can't email or text message, with my full body. I also had the chance to be re-immersed in the world where I belong and I'm not known simply as, "O's mother." I was a writer, as I have been professionally for years.

And that all feels good. Now its time to read, write, edit, submit and otherwise get back to being a woman mother writer.

Monday, April 6, 2015

AWP: Conference & Quiet Hotel Room

I'm excited to travel to Minneapolis later this week to present and read at the annual AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) conference.

That is to say, I'm excited to wear one hat (the writer hat), for a few days and leave my mamma hat at home. Sure, I'm always a mamma and I'll miss my bambino, but I'm also a writer (with a hat?)

I'm also excited to sleep in a hotel room without one ear alert listening for cries. There have been so many long nights... wait, I don't have you tell you any of that. You know.

This is all to say that there are a lot of contradicting emotions.

I have my business cards and presentation notes packed. I also have old copies of the New Yorker that I hope to catch up with on the plane when I travel alone. Alone at a conference with more than 12,000 attendees that includes over 2,000 presenters and 550 readings. It shouldn't take long to peruse the 700 presses, journals and literary organizations at the book fair. Sure, this should be relaxing and rejuvenating.

In all seriousness, it will be rejuvenating (maybe not relaxing). It is important to be the writer I was and am and stay immersed in the community. And it is good for our son to know that I do these things, too.

Sure, I'm fairly OCD and want to plan everything for them to eat and do while I'm gone, but really, why should their special time be spent trying to mimic what Mamma does? I am nervous about the things that my son relies on me to do and my husband balancing a two-person routine as one, even though I know he can do it. And I'm nervous about keeping up with my classes and taking as much advantage of this opportunity as possible. Luckily, I'll have a few full nights of sleep to sort it out.

In the mornings when my husband is going to be traveling or working late, I tell my son, "tonight we're having a special night together!" This week's mantra is, "You'll get to have some special time with Daddy for a few nights!' And I know they'll look forward to it, too. We should all miss each other sometimes, as well as have special one-on-one time together.

See you on the other, bambino-missing side. I am already excited about the reunion on Sunday. And during the trip, I'll have my phone and laptop with hundreds of pictures and videos to watch when I start to miss him, which means right now, while he's at daycare and I should be working.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Male and Female: Kids & Written Characters

I often read lists about how it is "hard to parent a (fill in "boy" or "girl.") The lists, including things like, "get ready to do laundry, mothers of boys," box our children into gender roles before they can even pronounce the words "boy" or "girl."

Yes, I do have a sense of humor and acknowledge the dominant, traditional view, but we don't need to perpetuate this view. Babies aren't flirting and and don't have firmly set gender or sexual identities.

The other day, another mom told me about how she sewed her daughter's tutu but, after looking at our son, added that I won't have to worry about those things. Another mom told me that she has some plates her daughter doesn't need anymore, but she can't give them to our son because they are "girly." "Girly" things aren't lesser than "boy" things and, perhaps, our son would like them. Or not. It is up to him.

Our son likes to carry my purse because, as he says while pointing at my shoulder, "Mamma!" Mamma does it, and so he wants to do it. He tries to wear his father's snow boots because, as he says while pointing at Daddy's feet, "Daddy!" Daddy wears them, so he wants to, too. 

Our son loves to point out trucks, but he also likes to brush my hair. He's a person learning about the things that people around him do. He needs to eat, sleep, clean himself (or be cleaned) and stay as safe as possible. Beyond that, we hope he has enough choices available to him to make the ones that are right for him. 

Our son might be traditionally male or female for part or all of his life. He is likely to fall somewhere in the middle of this strangely rigid spectrum and move around, too, depending on his current interests. 

When I work as a writing coach and carefully read a manuscript, I sometimes find myself tongue-tied about the gender roles portrayed by characters. I want the author to be true to the characters, but I wish we didn't live in a world where a "soft fabric" is marked as being feminine and "yard work" is marked as a male activity. I advise the authors to be true to the characters as people by avoiding stereotypes and to round out each character as much as possible.

If a writer doesn't take herself terribly seriously in a memoir (i.e. noting faults and failings), then she should do the same for others. Let the characters, fictional or not, be fully developed people who have preferences because they have them, not because someone looked at their body and superimposed gender roles on them. 

Ultimately, the trick is not only to do this in writing, but in real life. We must look at the people around us and notice what they are doing as people.

People. Not men or women. People.

No matter what current laws are or aren't succeeding or intending to do.