• children,  dreams,  family,  grief,  new york,  parenting,  work,  writing

    Quarantine Life

    Sometimes I look at the clock and I imagine what I was doing at that time of day back in February, before the entire world had gone mad. A 7:33 this morning, I thought, oh, look, I’d be getting on the train now. I’d be pulling out my laptop to write or sipping a coffee and chewing slowly on a bagel while I watched my neighborhood slip away from the train window.

    When I look up again and see that it is 9:40 a.m., I think about settling in to the day’s work, emails read. Perhaps I’d be using my standing desk, perhaps not, depending on how the morning’s workout had treated me. Perhaps I would just be guilt-laden with all of the productive things that I chosen not to do that day. To be honest, I had plenty of those days too.

    I always valued my long commute for the time and space that it gave me. It was the first thing I missed when we got the orders not to return to the office. Had I known that we were literally fleeing for our lives the last time I walked out that door, I would have brought a few more things.

    My standing desk.

    My special new Yeti coffee cup that keeps the coffee warm enough for me to sip it the way I like to.

    The fleecy Land’s End slippers that I used to use in the winter because of the office’s drafty windows.

    Now I just refill the cup over and over to keep the coffee warm. My consumption has gone up dramatically — after all, there is only me to drink the coffee and that is one giant pot. I am trying to find balance in my day, between suddenly being a full time caregiver to my daughter while working my full time job and still having some room — somewhere – for me to still work on the projects that meant so much to me back in February.

    It turns out that living at the epicenter of a global pandemic is not super fun.

    I was targeting having a fully revised manuscript ready to start the submission process by the end of April. I was ahead of my goals in the beginning of March, but then the world crashed down. Suddenly, surviving became the only thing I could care about. We started hanging on to the daily numbers — deaths, admissions, R factor — as though they were our new religion.

    My Beloved is an essential worker, so our family is more dangerous to others than most. We’ve kept strict quarantine. We wear our masks everywhere, even the kiddo. She hasn’t seen another child for two months now and I worry, endlessly, about what that will do to her long term. Being home alone with only an adult that’s always working isn’t..well…it isn’t great.

    Like everyone else, we’ve sacrificed so many plans. The kiddo was to graduate from her day care at the end of the month, which won’t be happening now. Her dance recital, cancelled, while her dress for it hangs in the closet, set aside for the special day. We were to spend a week in Florida in April. Now my family reunion over the summer is also kaput and it looks unlikely that we’re going to get to Europe to see my Beloved’s family in August. It was a big year for us for travel and it’s hard not to mourn that.

    It’s looking very much like my daughter will start kindergarten via remote learning. I can’t even begin to imagine how to manage that. I spend time with her every day now giving her reading and math lessons, but I’m a far cry from a professional educator. I squeeze in the time between the hours I put in for my job and I struggle with patience, as the stress of trying to do two things well at once gets to me.

    That’s a Sisyphean task, of course. No human could manage it well, but tell that to my brain in the many times I have had to face my own failures in the last two months.

    Some days we seem to have found our rhythm and the day goes well. Others, not so much.

    But we’re here and we’re healthy so far. Our expectations have reset so much that sometimes that even feels like enough.

  • Uncategorized

    Parenting in the Time of Pandemics

    “Mom, how much longer do I have to sing Happy Birthday when I wash my hands?”

    “Until you die, kid.”

    “As an old lady,” I add quickly.

    In case this wasn’t obvious, my five year old’s grasp of germ theory is, shall we say, limited.

    Our schools have closed for the next two weeks, but we are overachievers and the kiddo has already been home for a week and a half due to the flu raging through her pre-k class. I believe she also had it, though I feared to take her to a doctor’s office to have it confirmed in case she might pick up something nastier while we were there. She recovered nicely, her fever never peaking above 101.5F, and we thought we would be getting back to normal.

    Obviously, that was an optimism that seemed normal half a week ago but now seems absurd.

    By this point, she has begun to grasp that something weird is going on. We’ve told her that there’s a nasty sickness going around and that we’re trying to protect each other by staying away from people outside of our family. She doesn’t seem afraid yet, but as she’s not going to be able to leave the house much for the next two weeks, she’s certain to figure it out soon. She’s never been a kid that you can hide much from. About midway through our flu isolation week, she broke down crying because she missed sunshine and her friends. That just about killed me.

    My company put us on mandatory remote work at the beginning of last week. I had already been remote for a few days prior in order to nurse my kid and two weeks before *that* I had self-isolated for the flu. When the announcement came that it will be until April 10th at a minimum, I felt sick. I’m not a particularly social creature, but weeks on end of isolation are hard.

    It’s necessary, but that doesn’t mean it’s not painful. If it saves one life, then it’s worth it – at least for me, who faces very little economic threat from the current circumstances. My heart goes out to all of the people that will lose their living over the next few weeks.

    It’s not all bad. With all of this time at home, we’ve found time to reach out to family and friends that we’re usually too busy zooming around from swim lesson to dance class to homework time to bedtime to be able to talk to, even when we want to. I’m spending lots of time with my daughter, though having to do my job at the same time is a challenge. I have time to exercise — in truth, if you don’t have time now, when will you? — and I’ve been able to do it while sleeping in. Our bodies are rested in a way that I’ve dreamed about for years. We lit the fire in the fire pit and sat around it as a family, just killing time.

    It’s a luxury, so long as we don’t turn on the news. It’s a luxury, if we ignore that people are dying and that more will die just because isolation is hard. But I will find the light in the dark where I can.

  • book,  storytelling,  writing

    Apparently, Writing a Novel is Hard

    The Ancient of Days
    William Blake, 1794

    “Think in the morning.  Act in the noon.  Eat in the evening.  Sleep in the night.” 

    William Blake

    “How do you do it?” a friend in my writing group asked. “How do you turn in this many pages? As a working mother? How did you get this much writing done in a month? How is it possible?”

    The answer, my friends, is four thirty a.m.

    I hate typing that out loud.

    I am a morning person. It’s true. But no one is a that early of a morning person. I certainly am not. But I’ve set a deadline for revising my novel and I realized a few months back that I didn’t have a prayer of meeting the deadline if something in my life didn’t change. And so I sighed and gnashed my teeth and adjusted my alarm clock to go off at an ungodly hour because it is the only hour in my day where no one needs me.

    I’m tired.

    Stephen King famously said that you should finish your first draft in three months if you were at all serious about it. The idea of it is absurd to me — perhaps it is lack of practice, but I am just not a very fast writer. And so I do what all slow runners do: I put on my shoes and get out there anyway, counting on persistence to pull me through the spots that natural talent won’t.

    But every time I want to go back to sleep and ignore the alarm, I remember my friend’s words. How do you get this much writing done? Apparently, if you put the work in, it happens. If you show up, day after day after day, eventually you get there. But you have to show up. Day after day, you have to rise from your dreams and put in the work. Even if it means that you are half-dead and dragging yourself through your real world obligations by Thursday afternoon.

    William Blake (1757–1827), Dante and Statius sleep while Virgil watches from Purgatorio

    After all, the draft gets closer and closer to completion each week. It’s solid proof that I have done A Thing.

    And so, each morning, I put in my hour. I try not to complain. Too much.

    I am getting there. I have six chapters left to revise in my far-too-long first novel. I have two and a half months before my Significant Deadline. I can almost taste the joy of completion. If I can just keep going, I’m going to make it.

    I want this more than I have wanted anything in a very, very long time.

    But when it’s finally done, I am going to sleep for days.

  • nature,  new york,  ocean,  parenting

    Summer on the South Shore

    Summer is a damn sweet season.

    There are things that I don’t love about Long Island. It’s expensive. The native culture is…interesting. Aggressive. Abrasive. Extremely honest. Filled with weird acts of generosity and indignation. The local government is so corrupt that our DA regularly sends career politicians to jail. And did I mention that it’s expensive?

    But I moved out here because it’s by the water. Long Island is sandwiched between the Atlantic and the Long Island Sound. I live on the south shore, which is the Atlantic side. I can have my feet in the water ten minutes after leaving home. My train rolls over a channel on the backside of a barrier island. When the doors open, I can smell the state of the tide.

    My flood insurance is high. My summers are wonderful.

    Last year we joined a local beach club with some friends, which has completely changed my life. My whole summer has restructured to surround the weekend. My house is falling apart. My garden is unplanted. I’ve had weeds growing in pots on my front doorstep all summer long. But who has time to take care of these things? There are sandcastles to be built.

    The weather has been strange this year. For the first month of beach season, we got rained on or the wind made sandstorms that pelted our legs in a most unpleasant way. We went to the beach anyway.

    We sat on our picnic table, eating snacks with the kids as the rain poured down around our sun umbrellas.

    As the summer progressed, the weather got better, but now that we are coming to the end, I find that I feel cheated by that first month of missed opportunities. We had fun. We were there nearly every weekend. And we’re still going, for as long as we possibly can, even though the pools have closed and the lifeguards have gone home for the summer. The water is too cold to linger in, but it can still suck eddies around your shoes. The terns still scold if you get too near.

    Boy vs tern flock

    There’s just something about that place that’s magic. Hours pass before you realize it. Life gets refined down to surviving the heat and sun. We find sand crabs and feed the seagulls our rejected plums. We dig in the sand like children.

    I made some good shovel choices this year.

    It is these moments in which life feels so simple, so clear. I don’t want the summer to end. I’m not ready to lose my escape from reality.

  • culture,  ethics,  grief,  motherhood,  parenting,  politics,  racism,  writing

    I Thought We Were Going to Be Better by Now

    It’s been a heck of a week and so today I went and ate lunch in the break room, which is an unusual thing. 

    The going conversation was about TV competitions and we ended up talking about the women’s leagues of the UFC, which reminded me of the women who made an official ride of the Tour de France this year.  The did their own Tour de France, because in 2019, there is no women’s equivalent.  In the era of #MeToo and widely watched women’s soccer, that got some attention.

    “It was cool,” I said.  Then I paused.  “Except that they had to do it as a protest, of course. That’s not really cool, is it?”

    I’ve worked in networking and sysadmin for twenty years.  Once I would have told you what it is to be the only woman in the room everywhere you go.  That’s still mostly true. But there’s a second disparity now — my peers have gotten younger, while I, well, obviously, have stayed precisely the same age.  And that’s fortunate, because age discrimination is very real in my industry. 

    But anyway, I was the only woman in the room surrounded by much younger peers, sharing the perspective of a woman watching sports.  And it was only later that I realized how depressing it was, because the problems I was talking about in terms of representation, equality and fair pay were the exact same problems that I was talking about twenty years ago.

    And it’s just…it’s just that I thought we were going to be better by now.

    Perhaps we are.  In 1998, I would probably have been laughed at for having that conversation.  Women’s sports. Who would watch that?  But in 2019, it still wasn’t a serious concern for anyone except me.

    After all, I have a daughter.  Not one of them are parents yet.

    But televised sports are the least of it.  The #MeToo movement really got to me.  I’m glad it happened, but the horrifying thing was how many men really had no idea how common sexual harassment and assault are.  Many of the men that I love — that I have been telling my stories of assault and harassment to — responded with surprise.

    Really?  It’s all of you?  I knew it happened but….all of you?

    Yes.  It’s all of us.  Every woman you know has been harassed, every woman you know has been assaulted to some degree.  For me, it began in earnest when I was 12 and mostly tapered down when I got a car at 18.  It was solved for me when I stopped existing in public quite so much.

    Is the world safer today?  Perhaps in some ways, but it’s not because we’ve solved the problem.  It’s because, at least in the U.S., we’ve locked our children away.  They can’t even ride a bike down the street without a parent three feet away.  We have an entire generation of incarcerated children, jailed for their own protection, who never get to experience the independence and freedom that roaming unsupervised creates.

    And of course, they still aren’t protected from their peers.

    My mother marched for the Equal Rights Amendment in the late 70s.  She passed in December of 2007, still disappointed to be living in a country where we could not guarantee equal civil rights to men and women.  In the world she grew up in, women could not legally take out a credit card without a man signing for it.  Sexual harassment at work was legal.  Abortions were not.  

    In 2015, when I took maternity leave, it would have been perfectly legal for my employer to fire me.  They didn’t, thank goodness, but women who work for companies with fewer than 50 employees are not covered by the FMLA.  That is still true today.  And of course, we still haven’t passed the ERA – nearly a century after it was introduced.  The Lily Ledbetter act of 2009 — extending the statue of limitations in unequal pay lawsuits — was actually controversial.

    It’s just that I thought…we were going to be better by now.  That is the truth that I was sold as an 80s child.  I was promised that I would be able to have the same opportunities, that I could go and be anything that a man could.  And maybe we’re getting closer, but it’s hard not to lose hope, in a time when we have #MeToo but also a strong conservative movement that’s dedicated to making sure that the ladies are available to do all the unpaid labor of home and hearth.  Abortion rights are back on the table. I try not to fear for the reversal of laws that protect my right to work, but it doesn’t take a large leap of the imagination to see them as next.  

    And, to be honest, these worries are taking a backseat right now.  It feels like all of that can wait, because there are literal concentration camps within our borders.  Guantanamo Bay is terrible – we are supposed to believe in justice and fair trials – but what we are doing to our asylum seekers, who have done nothing but ask for help…

    I definitely thought were going to be better than that.  Until the last Presidential election, I was naively going along with the presumption that we all agreed that the Nazis were bad.  That Never Again, taught over and over again to every American child, really meant Never Again.  I don’t have faith in much, but I had a rock solid belief in that one.

    No longer.

    I admit that I, like many people, was ignorant about our immigration system.  I listened to the news about the Dreamers and their parents, but I was mostly confused by the nuances of the laws.  I’ve known a lot of undocumented people, because I’ve lived in cities with large immigrant populations all of my life. I married a former undocumented immigrant and I cried at his naturalization ceremony.  And I still didn’t fully realize that the people coming to our border and turning themselves in are doing it perfectly legally.

    And we are treating these brave and desperate people like animals.  We’re tearing their children away from them, separating families that have so little that they can carry it on their backs.  We’re throwing them into overheated metal cages and denying them basic necessities, like the room to lie down and rest.  We’re doing it while tearing down the authority of our democracy, while Nazis heed the dog whistle and come out of the woodwork and march in our cities.  They go to food festivals and shoot children for daring to exist in public. They run over protesters with cars.

    My writing has been a relief, because I am writing about the 18th century.  It was a pre-Nazi world.  They certainly knew the evils of war and starvation through poverty, but they didn’t know systematic genocide.  

    But we do. 

    We know what intolerance combined with power can do to the humanity of ordinary people.  And when our government goes after immigrants as economic scapegoats while refusing to secure our elections, it’s hard not to fear that by looking at the worst of our past that we are also looking at our future.

    Even when our government knew of the atrocities of the Nazi concentration camps, we lowered our immigration quotas for Jews.  Does this sound familiar?

    My childhood promised me a better world, if I could just wait for our culture to evolve.  But we’ve gone backwards to such a frightening place, so quickly, that I am lost when I look forward. 

    What kind of world am I leaving to my daughter?

     

     

     

     

     

  • storytelling,  writing

    If You Need Me, I’ll Be in My Head

    Hi there. Remember me?

    I realize that it’s been a while, but just in case you’ve never heard this before, writing a book is a lot of work.

    I had to dispel the illusion, just in case you happen to have also read Stephen King’s memoir, in which he makes a flippant comment that it should take 3 months to write a first draft, but that’s really not how it works. Or, at least, it’s not how it worked for me.

    I am steadily moving forward with the first revision of my novel and each day’s work delights me with how much tighter my ideas are getting and how many things I can see now that I couldn’t when I was writing my first draft. I had hoped to be done by now with this revision, but life has a terrific way of interfering. But you keep putting one foot in front of the other and eventually, eventually you get there. Even when there is tortuously far away and you know you just have another revision in front of you again.

    One step at a time, one chapter at a time. I steal minutes when I can to work on it. I carry around a printed copy of the 668 page first draft so that I can edit anywhere, even if it’s not handy to pull out of laptop. The weight reminds me of how much work there is left to do, even though I’ve put notes of encouragement at key points. 25%! 50%! Only 100 pages left!

    There have been days when I wanted to set the entire manuscript on fire. And there have been days where the revision goes so smoothly that I feel like I’m cheating someone. And sometimes, editing is both of those things simultaneously.

    Perhaps this is the journey. It is my first time down this road and I feel like I’m learning from every aspect of it. Perhaps what there is to learn is more than about just the writing.

  • art,  new york,  photography

    365 Photos

    I love challenges with deadlines, if my three completed Nanowrimo events last year weren’t a strong indicator of such unfortunate tendencies. I often pick them up on a whim, generally for no better reason than that I get bored a little too easily.

    Read 30 books in a year? Scandalously easy. Alter my diet to some crazy version that makes baking an egg in an avocado seem like a reasonable breakfast choice? Sure. No problem.

    By the end of the challenge, I always walk away with some new insight. After Whole 30, I learned that I like salt a whole lot more than cheese. My week long Fitbit challenges with total strangers take me to strange lengths — and down strange streets — out of determination not to let an Internet stranger win. (And when they inevitably do, I just decide that they must be nurses. Or perhaps, Olympic level race walkers. There can be no other explanation.) And, well, Nanowrimo, repeated about a dozen times, finally taught me how to write a novel.

    I’ve even taken selfies.

    So on January 2nd, without any planning or much thought, I decided to do another 365 photography challenge. The goal is to take a single photo every day for a full year, which sounds really simple. The last time I tried, I gave up in May, after nearly a hundred photographs. What got me in 2013 was that, like most people, my daily environment doesn’t change all that much. I go to work in the same neighborhood that I’ve worked in for the past eleven years. I come home on the same train and walk the same blocks to go to the same house nearly every day. I lost my inspiration.

    But what I love about the 365 photography challenge is that it changes your perspective. With photography in mind, I see things that I would normally ignore. The first photograph I took, on January 2nd, was of a building decorated by seahorses sporting unicorn horns. I had walked past that building nearly every day for years without ever noticing that wonderfully nutty detail, but armed with a photography deadline, I finally noticed what had been in front of my eyes all that time.

    Even if the photographs fail, it forces me to look around me with the eyes of an artist. I love that. And I’ve rediscovered Flikr, which is a hotbed of amazing photographers doing wonderful things. I can’t even pretend that my pictures stand up to much of what I see there, but being involved in thinking and talking about photography every day can only improve my work.

    And, of course, since we are only 60 photographs in to the year, I am still filled with hope and ambition for completing it this time. It’s been six years and so much has changed. I am different, but also, my eye is different.

  • dogs,  family,  writing

    Revisioning

    January has passed in a haze of newness, as January is supposed to. Is there anything better than taking your mind off the bleakness of the low point of the year than to start new projects?

    And so I have. I have been off figuring out the best way of revising the 656 page manuscript that I wrote (snip, snip). I printed it out so that I might carry it around everywhere until revisions are done. It’s intimidating enough that it also doubles as a security device, for if anyone tried to mug me, I could certainly swing it at their head and make my escape.

    The print shop called me to tell me they were having some trouble finding a wide enough coil to bind it.

    At the moment, I’m hoping to get through my first round of revisions by April, which is ambitious. But it’s nice to switch gears. I have always preferred revision to first draft writing because now is when the magic really begins to happen. I’m finding connections between my characters that weren’t obvious until I wrote the story to the end, so changing the text to bring those out to someplace useful is really fun.

    And while I revise, I have a new companion and friend to keep my feet warm, which might be the best bit of all.

    Lilly Bella, Beagle Extraordinaire @ 3 months

  • art,  book,  books,  storytelling,  writing

    A Thing That Happened

    Sometime in the middle of the month, I wrote THE END on the first draft of my novel, THE MOZART GIRL.

    It’s a biopic about Nannerl Mozart and yes, there is a tremendous amount of work to do yet, and I am getting ready to jump with both feet into the revisions now that Christmas has passed.

    I’m excited.

    This is the first completed novel that I’ve written as an adult and it has been a long and meandering journey to do it. I’ve already learned so much about what to do next time, because it has taken me three times as long as it should have to complete what I have. I’ll be throwing out a lot of material, since it’s about twice as long as it ought to be, but I love that, because it means that what I keep will be improved for it.

    It’s the time of year where we set our resolutions and intentions for the new year and there can only be one for me, which is to finish the damn novel already. I took my first steps in this story line four years ago, though the story that I began to write back then was a completely different story arc from the one I settled on. But I have been thinking about the Mozart family for half a decade now and I am, dare I say it, pleased with where the work has taken me.

    This is a book that has been written in the margins of my life, in the crevices formed between other obligations, in the hours after bedtime and before the work day, in the minutes stolen between the endless march of all my other responsibilities. And it has been written in dribs and drabs, sometimes in little spurts of energy, and sometimes in long months of sustained effort that have required sacrificing personal relationships as I raced to a word count that was both arbitrary and exhausting.

    2016 and 2017 were the years I researched my novel. 2018 was the year that I wrote it. 2019 is the year in which I remold it until it is fit to be shown to the world. And then, what will happen then? Will I finally believe that this is a thing that I can do?

  • writing

    Nanowrimo 2018

    I am writing to you-in-the-future, which, thanks to the wonder of being able to schedule when a blog post publishes, is something I generally do.  But I’m not used to speaking to you from several weeks in the past and I find it a little nerve-wracking.  There’s an election between now and when you are reading these words and perhaps the world has changed in ways that make these words seem trivial.  It has always been an uncertain world out there, but we have been on such a trajectory over the last two years that it feels even more perilous to hope to chat to you about cheerful things two weeks from now.

    Presuming that the world is still mostly in place and we can spend some time talking of dreams, then I will tell you that the me of today, of November 15th, 2018, is certainly a more exhausted and exhilarated soul than the one that actually typed these words.

    That is to say, it is Nanowrimo time and 2018 has been, quite simply, the year that I write my novel.  The November Nanowrimo event is my third Nanowrimo event of the year.  I wrote 50,000 words for Camp Nanowrimo in April, then another 30,000 words in the July Camp Nanowrimo.  And here I am, about to set off the journey of putting the final 50,000 words on the first draft of my manuscript, or, well, however many it takes me to get to THE END.  

    That’s hardly the end of the work, of course.  Then there will be the months of heavy rewriting, revising the early chapters of the novel with what I know about the characters now — but I am looking forward to finally being able to get the bear of the first draft off my back.  When I logged into the Nanowrimo site this year, I couldn’t help but notice my first attempt at conquering these characters was nearly four years ago.

    I’m several versions down the road from there, because I struggled with the right way to tell this story, which is not really mine.  But now I understand where I am and where I’m going with it, so I can only hope that by the time you read this, I will be nearly there.  I’ve learned so much about writing a story of this length this year and I can’t wait to share the results with you all.

    Until then, I hope you are well.  We will have so much to tell each other in December.

Bitnami