Monday, June 6, 2016

A New Decade

Today is the beginning of my fortieth year. I'm starting a new decade and it was ushered in with a surprise party this weekend that my husband organized. I told my friends that the joyful gathering and messages from far and wide will bolster me through this new decade. That's a big (possibly cliched) statement, but I think - hope! - it is true.

Writing, teaching online, parenting, and otherwise living in this technologically-heavy world often leaves me lonely and feeling as blue as my screens' light. On this blog, I write about the juggling act we do parent writers do because it isn't anything that can be ignored or forgotten. Working full-time is a big job, parenting is a big job and writing creatively - essentially another full-time, unpaid job - is a big job. Three big jobs, in addition to other relationships and responsibilities, is no small juggling act.

Leading up to this birthday, I had been feeling panic about all I want to do and all that I haven't yet done. I even received a birthday message from someone today that said, "Happy birthday! Hey, forty isn't so bad. You'll get through it."

An old friend posted on Facebook recently about her feeling of success for making it to forty. I need to turn the impending doom of the "zero" birthday around and enjoy this time. After all, it really is a success if we are still all here together.

With that in mind, I wish us all happiness, a happy birthday if you share the day, and a hearty congratulations for making it this far. Here's to a full next decade of being surrounded by love, writing and reading.

I also leave you with this kind-hearted (for parents and former-children alike) New York Times article, "What American Parents Can learn from Chinese Philosophy." The piece ends with, "Caring for one another is hard work. It requires endless awareness, adaptation and responsiveness. But it is one of the most important and rewarding things we do. This is not just how our children will become better people and live better lives. It is how they can create a better world." I would add that it makes our writing truer and more important, too.



Monday, May 16, 2016

Chunking!

Wendy Wisner's newest piece for Scary Mommy introduced me to the word chunking:

"The latest theories on time management advise strongly against multitasking—good news for me. The new catchphrase is “chunking,” and it basically means that rather than trying to get everything done at once, you set aside specific chunks of time, and then just work. Do nothing else."

I love this word that describes my approach to accomplishing anything since adding motherhood to the juggling act of cobbling together a full-time job from part-time ones: poet, adjunct, writing teacher and private writing coach. (How's that last sentence for mixed metaphors? That is pretty much what it feels like. Varied, fun and sometimes confusing.)

I live by my calendar program. I input everything, from taking a walk to doing laundry to grading exams to submitting poems to hustling for teaching assignments the following semester. Everything is color coded and in-person appointments are in separate "calendars" shared with my husband, so that we can better coordinate who is picking up our son from daycare and when we might be free for, imagine that!, a date night.

My main time management tip is to literally schedule your writing time and other projects that easily get pushed to the side since the creative projects are (usually) less time sensitive. If you schedule the time to write and accomplish a task, one that you want to do or would rather procrastinate, you will actually show up to do it.

It is like setting a timer: You can focus on anything for a short period of time and then give yourself a break. But first, you have to show up and do the work. And then it will perhaps be done, but at least be started.

What is your best approach to making sure that the balls you are juggling don't hit you in the head on their way down?


Thursday, May 12, 2016

"Getting To Do It"


I often introduce myself as a "poet who teaches creative non-fiction," referring to the undergraduate essay writing courses and memoir writing workshops I teach. When questioned about why I don't teach poetry instead of prose, I joke, "Yeah, I don't get to teach poetry." As if someone were holding me back. 

Someone was holding me back. Me. 

As my fortieth birthday looms closer and closer, I've been trying to nudge my professional life towards poetry. 

Collaborating with the generous owner of The Spa Room, Mary Szegda, I've started to offer monthly generative poetry writing workshops. We had our first class Tuesday evening and it was lovely. We sat in a circle, surrounded by the earthy perfume of healing products, and wrote in response to prompts, poems and sensory objects (chocolate and stones.) Each participant wrote radically different pieces, encouraging us to take more chances in our writing with subsequent prompts. 

DMV area folks: Interested in joining our next generative poetry writing workshop? Register here through The Spa Room (click on June and Special Events to find the listing). 

Here is the full description: 

Writing the Body: Poetry Writing Prompt Workshop 
Tuesday, June 21; 7:30 - 9:00 pm
90.00 minutes
$30.00 each individual session (a portion of the proceeds will be donated to the DC Rape Crisis Center after costs are covered.) 

In this monthly workshop, we will write in response to prompts. The prompts will begin with our bodies (muscles, five senses, physical memories) and may bring us anywhere. As we can slowly stretch our body to allow an opening, we will focus on our physical experiences and related memories in order to understand them better. Writing, which includes naming our experiences, is part of how we understand and navigate our world. Our time together will be spent generating writing in response to prompts. Writers will be invited to read their in-class writing, if they choose to. The focus will be on the creative process (rather than editing and revising the work.) Writers of all levels welcome. Please come with a writing surface (clipboard or book) and paper or charged laptop. You are welcome to register for one or more classes. Each one will be unique and stand on its own. 

Chloe Yelena Miller, author of the chapbook Unrest (Finishing Line Press), teaches writing workshops at Politics and Prose Bookstore and privately. She also teaches college-level classes online at the University of Maryland and Fairleigh Dickinson University. She received her BA in Italian language and literature from Smith College and an MFA in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence College. You can read more about her here: http://chloeyelenamiller.blogspot.com 

Class limited to 8 students 

The Spa Room 
4115 Wisconsin Avenue, Suite 102, Washington DC, 20016 

Future class dates: 
Tuesday, July 5; 7:30 - 9:00 pm
Tuesday, August 16; 7:30 - 9:00 pm


Monday, May 9, 2016

Parenting & Writing Better By Leaving (for the weekend)


Two dear college friends and I have arranged annual reunions the last two years. I hope that this stays a habit.

Taking a periodic break makes me a better parent, partner, writer and teacher. It had been an entire year since I had spent a night away from my son. 

Let me repeat that: It had been an entire year since I had spent a night away from my son. Yes, I missed him terribly - it was a physical ache, especially in the mornings - but it is necessary to give ourselves breaks. 

The break from our regularly scheduled lives is a chance to both be together and be separate from everything else. We don't live close enough to stop by for a cup of coffee and this long weekend together is our chance to be together, side by side, and share a bottle (or two) of wine. It is rejuvenating. 

This break wasn't about time away to write or read or accomplish anything other than seeing friends. It was about time away to just be ourselves and reconnect. 

Give yourself a break when you can, be it for an afternoon walk or a weekend away with friends. Honor all parts of yourself. If you don't, how can you focus to write? 


Monday, April 18, 2016

How to Communicate Like a Buddhist by Cynthia Kane


It is always encouraging when friends publish books (real people can do it!) and even better when the book is a good one. Congratulations to my friend, co-teacher, agent and former classmate Cynthia Kane on her publication of How to Communicate Like a Buddhist. The book is officially available today!

This lovely book is clearly written and organized, as well as inspiring. As a memoir writing instructor, I particularly like how she integrated aspects of her life story into this book (see, writers? It can be done seamlessly.)

Cynthia focuses on a five-step practice that you can use for yourself:
1. Listen to yourself (your internal and external words)
2. Listen to others
3. Speak consciously, concisely, and clearly
4. Regard silence as a part of speech
5. Meditate to enhance your communication skills

I'm ready to improve, hone in on and remember to use these skills that sometimes get lost on the busiest, most stressful days. After all, add "parenthood" to "full time career of part-time gigs" and the regular daily things a human must do, and that human starts to feel a literal pain in the neck. We could all use some tools to help us to better focus, listen and communicate with others.

To learn more, visit Cynthia's website, How to Communicate Like a Buddhist's website or Facebook page and read this recent interview with her. Don't miss her upcoming events in Washington, D.C., and Ohio. 


Wednesday, April 6, 2016

No regrets. Hopefully.

My son and I in blue in Ann Arbor
(not purposely UMich blue, but sometimes these things happen)

I went to the Aveda School in Washington, D.C., last month and five hours later (!!), I had blue highlights. I'd never colored my hair and I'm thrilled with the new color.

I've always been too cautious in my life. I avoided dying my hair in case I didn't like it. And I missed out. I only bought clothes I thought would fit and look "classic" for years and years regardless of the current style.

And then after pregnancy, I found my body, from feet to hips, a new size. And my hair was falling out post-birth. I needed new clothes, shoes and a haircut. I finally started to buy clothes that I really liked, classic or not. I dyed my hair.

Fearing regret doesn't motivate a person or make her feel good.

Sometimes in life I did hold my ground instead of giving into fear or regret. I remember a friend in high school warning me that I'd regret not going to some senior lock-down, sleep over at the school. And lots of people told me I'd "regret" not getting married in a white dress with a veil. Sometimes I check-in about these decisions (clearly I have trouble letting go.) Nope, no regret. I did what I wanted to do and feel good about it.

I need to remember to apply this personal strength to writing. Write what you want to know, I tell my students. Write the unsaid, I add. Even if this is hard. 

We should always think carefully about our choices, especially when other people are involved.  But it is the deep probing into our worlds and our own choices where the important thought, consideration, writing and action can be found.

Don't live in regret. Live today. Write today. Write yesterday today. Just write. Revise. Read. And share your work with others.


Saturday, March 26, 2016

Saying No to Unpaid Work Gracefully and Respectfully

As a poet, adjunct professor and independent writing coach, I don't make a lot of "extra" money. Sometimes doing something for free - like a one time writing workshop - helps to support another organization while spreading the word about my services. And sometimes I (probably like you) am simply asked to work for free. 

The thought of losing potential income and, perhaps most importantly, time, angers me. Why would someone ask me to give away my expertise?

I recently stopped paying attention and asked someone for advice without considering that she probably charges for such work. (We all make mistakes; I was very sorry about this.) I was, amazingly, rewarded with a beautiful rejection note that inspired me to better respect others while teaching me how to say, "no." Here is her response, edited for writers: 

I would love to devote more time and energy to this conversation, but the unfortunate reality is that writers are very often approached to provide free labor on things like this. We simply can't say yes to everything the way we want too. I didn't want to leave you with nothing, so I hope the resources below are helpful. If you'd like to talk more extensively, I can happily arrange a coaching session in which I can give you my undivided attention (insert link here.)

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Our Bodies: Knowledge and Consent Starting in Toddlerhood

Our attentive son has noticed some physical differences between his mother and father.

OK, the truth is that he would occasionally point and laugh at me. And I, who used to lead an occasional safer sex seminar for first years at an American university in Italy, was stumped about what to say about the genitalia that I was "missing" and and how we weren't going to "go to the store, Mommy, and buy one. Now!"

Ahem.

Avoiding Googling and seeing images I could never un-see, I turned to my many knowledgeable friends. Thank you to Rev. Nancy McDonald Ladd and sex educators Danielle Foote and Bianca Palmisano for their recommendations, which you can find below. These resources have helped him to learn about his body and to start open conversations between the three of us.

The Netherlands offers sexuality education for kids as young as four. Clearly it can be done with the right resources and support. I imagine that we will next turn to books about gender and sexuality. For now, our son has stopped asking questions, which suggests he learned what he wanted to know about his body. (Now he's asking about other things, like planets, moons and dinosaurs.)

Do you have favorite resources about sex, gender and/or sexuality for toddlers? Please share them below in the Comments section. 

Here are the best resources I found:

These two books are very informative and straight-forward about bodies:

Amazing You!: Getting Smart About Your Private Parts by Gail Saltz (Author) and Lynne Avril Cravath (Illustrator). This book is very clear about what boys and girls have as children. There are even pictures to show how their bodies are likely to change as they grow.


Related to naming and understanding their bodies, kids should start to learn consent with adults and other children. Children can start to learn the concept by having physical autonomy. This book, Your Body Belongs to You, by Cornelia Maude Spelman (Author) and Teri Weidner (Illustrator) helps to explain these issues.


This next book doesn't address genitalia, but it does explain how other parts of our body work.With interactive flaps, our son is mesmerized about the world beneath his skin.

Little Explorers: My Amazing Body by Ruth Martin  (Author), Allan Sanders (Illustrator)


What Makes a Baby by Cory Silverberg  (Author), Fiona Smyth (Illustrator) addresses the many ways that an adult can become a parent, while showing non-gender specific people.


For more book recommendations, including for older children, Dr. Nadine Thornhill's  article Let's Read About Sex! 6 Books About Sex for Toddler to Teen has some great suggestions. Planned Parenthood also has great tools and recommendations for talking with your teen.

Birds + Bees + Kids is an online program by Amy Lang, a sexual health educator, about talking to kids about the birds and the bees. (It is pay-for content, but comes highly recommended.) She has an "Ages & Stages Seminar" that addresses kids as young as two.

If you are interested in working directly with a health, sex or sexuality educator in order to help you to educate yourself and your children, you might try: The MamaSutraSuperstar Health Education or Dr. Nadine Thornhill.

The Unitarian Universalists have an educational program about birth, babies, bodies and families. (They also have programs that follow for older children and adults, too.) You might be interested in seeing their recommended books and more about the program. Here is the link to their program, OWL. 



Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Free Books for D.C. Kids!

From the D.C. Public Library system: 
Even at an early age, reading to young children is the best thing you can do to put them on a path to success. Your kids pick up new words, have fun while they learn, and develop skills they will need later in school.

DC Public Library wants to make reading with your child fun and easy. That's why the Library is launching Books from Birth, a program that mails all enrolled kids in D.C. a free book each month from birth until they turn five.

Parents. You must register for this program in order to receive free books for your child.REGISTER HERE.
For more details about the Books From Birth program, please see our Frequently Asked Questions. If you need further assistance, feel free to contact us.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Love

Love is in the air this season. Spicy love. Chocolatey love. Familial love. Literary love. All the loves.

I was reminded of (potential) writing love when I suggested to a composition writing student that he connect the essay topic to his major or intended profession. By finding a "way into" the essay, he can focus on the ideas and facts: presenting the main one, supporting it with smaller ones and working to craft each word, sentence and paragraph into a strong, well-defined essay. This approach pulls him away from being bored by the subject.

This is really our goal with everything we do. We have to figure out how to make mundane, time consuming and annoying tasks more interesting by connecting them to something that interests us. Annoyed by folding laundry? Listen to a podcast or focus on the tactile experience as you manipulate the material. Bored by having to cook another dinner? Give yourself a theme or challenge for each meal to entertain yourself as you're doing it. Or stream a movie to keep your mind off of things and allow yourself to take a break. 

Keep love in the air between you and your intended, the little ones at home, your chores, your paid work and, quite importantly, your written words. Be kind to your writing. Give it a treat this weekend - maybe a new, shiny verb tense - or even a break. 

And remember that not everyone is as free to create and make choices as you might be. Do you have financial love available to help another writer in need? PEN American Center is a global community of writers working to promote literature and to defend free expression. They advocate for writers across the globe who risk their lives to write. Donate here

To love! All finding a "way into" your day and all of its parts. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Snow Days

Exploring (former) igloos other kids built

Snow days once meant snuggles, hot soup and catching up on reading, writing and work.

Snow days are considerably less romantic and less literary with a toddler. There are the 4:30 am wake-up screams, struggling to get boots and snow pants on an apparent octopus and inventing indoor activities that will result in a nap.

Sure, we had a lot of fun sledding, making pizza, playing with stickers, watching movies and playing a game he calls, "luggage," which means he takes all of his toys (all. of. his. toys.) and scatters them around the apartment. There have been many highs and lows these last few days, sometimes only ten minutes apart.

That is all to say, toddler life.

Cabin fever hit early. Even our son said, "when do I see my friends again," asking about his return to daycare.

Daycare had a delayed opening on Thursday, early closing on Friday and today, Tuesday, we still don't know when we'll be back to what was once normal. Yes, I'm thankful to Pepco that we have electricity, RCN that we have internet, my husband for digging out our car so we can leave when we have somewhere to go, and my (previously) flexible schedule that we still have lots of food to eat. We are alternating between family time and parenting separately so we can do our best to get some more emergency work done.

I do miss my work. I am lucky to do something I chose to do because I really, really like doing it. I like writing and talking about writing (i.e. teaching.) I like a day off like everyone else, but when online classes don't know about the day off, not working is simply stressful.

The other day I received a link to an article from a former student. She sent me Ada Limon's To What Do We Owen this Pleasure: On the Value of Not Writing from Richard Blanco's blog. It ends, "What I mean is, there are times poems do not come and life is too heavy to be placed on the page, or life is so deliciously light and joyful you must suck it down before anyone notices. That is okay. You are still the writer watching that train, doing laundry, getting lost in this massive mess of minutes. There is value in this silent observing."

Thank you, student, for encouraging me to pay attention to life, sharing this beautiful article, and reminding me why I love teaching: connecting to people like you who continue to teach me about life and writing.


Monday, January 11, 2016

Let Your Writing Live: Show Your Writing

Last week on my writing coach blog, I wrote about if and when to share your writing, particularly memoir-related work. I'm writing to encourage you to share your work in 2016. For real. Just a few kind words from (not particularly close) friends have gotten me moving again.

I've been submitting my poetry manuscript about early motherhood and it has been rejected. More than once, as rejections often go. I've been feeling discouraged and annoyed by the process on so many levels.

But then I started to share the poems, poems I once felt confident about, with some new readers. One, a new mom-friend-visual artist, shared that she had similar feelings about a miscarriage and early parenthood. Another, a poet who is a colleague, noticed the timeline in a way that I hadn't looked at it.

Those discussions really invigorated me. I've been wondering if the poems were self-indulgent or no longer relevant, since that time in my life has passed. But by talking about the poems and listening to reader's reactions, I am reminded by what motivated me to write them and share them in the first place.

Sure, a reader could easily say something superficial or mean, but we'll just ignore that possibility for now and try to keep that writing high.

No, this doesn't mean that I will take the praise and stop examining and editing the poems. It means that I will do that even better this time around, in an effort to honor the poems.

We write to connect with readers. Writing is worthless if it doesn't interact with a reader and participate in that conversation. If you feel your work is ready to be submitted for publication, why not look around you for readers? Let your work live.



Sunday, January 3, 2016

My Brand of Optimism in 2016

Spotted at Powell's bookstore in Portland, Oregon

Here's my brand of optimism: F*ck it. One day we'll be dead. So we must do what we want to do before that day comes. 

My adult memoir writing workshop students laugh when I say that, but I mean it. We only have so much time and that should motivate us to meet our goals.

With that in mind: Welcome to 2016! Cheers to writing, reading, spending time with people we love and resting. Yes, resting, too. We must honor our minds and bodies so we are capable of meeting our goals.

For more specifics on creating writing goals and how to meet them, here's a recent post on my writing coach blog.