Tag Archives: writing

Sorry I never write and I never call…

It is a strange blogospheric phenomenon that I have an audience in my mind as I write.  I don’t know all of you and even among those I really do know, I don’t know who reads what when.  Nonetheless, you are to me, a very personal audience.  This kind of blogging falls somewhere between emailing some particular group of people one knows and publishing something in the more distant way that one writes for publication.  (When writing for publication, you write and then you let it go and hope for the best in but you don’t really do it as part of a dialogue in the true sense of an actual conversation.)  But in the case of this blog– as I write I have some sense of talking to someone.  Like you in particular.  Even if I don’t know you at all, you should figure I am writing to you in particular.  It is a good thing to talk to you.  So, that said, I’m sorry that I keep going days and even weeks without writing.  Really– I miss talking to you when so much time passes by.  And I wouldn’t mind if you wrote back a little more often.

Another mother writer wrote this and it stuck with me– that the days of her life with her children were passing like water falling through your hands.  And I do feel that way.  This unemployed life is moving that quickly also.  I’ve written about panic and fears and self-doubt and I’ve told about that far less than I’ve felt those things.  But there have also been extraordinary things on the other side of the ledger.  Certain kindnesses and instances of great generosity from total strangers that this person or the other connected me to in my job search.  An old friend who I told I was panicked emailed me back and came up almost immediately with three or four  names of people for me to talk to.

Another friend connected me with a Jewish woman who has done work similar to one kind of work that interests me– and that woman– a complete stranger– was so lovely to me and spent about an hour and half on the phone with me when I finally reached her.  She was, and continues to be so generous in a way that is really reassuring– about my own life and about the world.

There is a complexity and there are new dimensions or deeper dimensions in my relationship with my daughter.  Partly because she is older and things happen differently.  We can talk differently, more directly, about certain things.  But there is also a habit she has developed of calling me two or three times a week on the telephone from school at lunchtime and she knows I will almost always be available to talk to her.  I love hearing from her during her day.

Having my 18-year-old nephew, Isaac here is also new and that too adds a new dimension, a different rhythm to things as I figure out when to call, how often to see him, what works well for him and for us to do together.  And there is more; nothing mysterious but not easily captured except to make lists that I won’t make because they aren’t interesting, but the days fly by faster and faster and even the short days, with darkness coming very early, haven’t made me sad or lonely.  But I’ve missed this writing.

What I do during the day now that I am not working.

Grace Paley came into my mind this morning as I sat down to write.  I sat for a while and read from two of my favorites of her books.  She was like no one else I have ever known in that she was a great, true, feet-on-the-ground-flyer-making-organizing feminist.  She did big, big things in her life.  Like writing important books and traveling with a Peace Brigade to Hanoi in 1969– to try to change the course of a US war.

She participated with many other women in the anti-nuclear civil disobedience protests the success of which I am always, but at this particular moment in history, terribly, terribly grateful for.  Watching in fear and somewhat numb to the devastation I believe is really happening in Japan, and which I do not believe is really being fully reported yet–  I am only sorry that more of us didn’t join in and make that movement even more successful than it was.

One thing that I think distinguished Grace from many of her feminist peers and from many of us of my generation and younger generations is that she both believed in women taking charge of everything and she believed and lived in many ways, that there was no work that was any more important (not that it was the only important work) than the work of raising children “righteously up” as she says in one of my favorite stories of hers.  A Midrash on Happiness is the story.  You really need to read the title story if you haven’t.  And if you have, you should read it again.  I keep her in my mind and my back pocket often these days.

A poem written later in her life called, “Stanzas: Old Age and the Conventions of Retirement Have Driven My Friends from the Work They Love”  contains the following, the third stanza:

No metaphor reinvents the job of the nurture of children                                                  except to muddy or mock.

which is a sentiment I wholeheartedly agree with although not descriptive of all that I am doing.  Certainly in this period of time, I have expanded my own job description as a mother to include things I didn’t have time for before.  I walk my daughter to school almost every day, rain or shine, whether I am sick or well, whether I overslept and go in the tee-shirt I slept in or not and almost never take my partner up on the offer to take her to school.  It is something I do right now.  We talk, we laugh we fight once in a while– but I get to be with her and she gets to have me and I keep figuring things out.  I do not make her lunch every day, my partner often does.  I pick her up three days a week and sometimes more.  If there is something to be done at the school during the day, I go.  And then there are the constant days off for teacher training, for holidays, for parent teacher meetings and these days she is with me for all of the aforementioned.  One thing I’ve known all along but I am developing discipline– is that it’s a lot about making yourself available and logging in the hours with your child.   As in not on the phone or the computer  or even thinking about too much else.

I go to the Read 180 (a special catch-up reading class at her school)– once or twice a week to help out.  She is in Read 180 and they meet every day for one hour and fifteen minutes.  But she asked me to go to the 5th graders and not her 4th grade class, which I do.  I go because I want to have that depth of knowledge about her world and I think that teacher who interacts with her every day can use a hand.

But here are a few other things.  I meet every single Wednesday morning for about an hour and half with another mom I am close to.  We are different ages– she has two children and I have one, she is heterosexual and married, I am lesbian and partnered–  she isn’t Jewish and I am but we have very similar sensibilities about mothering and we meet and take turns talking and listening to each other every single week.  We laugh, we cry and we talk a lot.  Then we say goodbye and go back to the job at hand.  We really love each other, but it’s a very efficient operation and it works.  After that there were two grocery stops, one for food the other for tall pussywillow branches, mailing a package and getting my daughter to Hebrew school.

There is more– more.  We live in a small self-managed coop apartment building.  I sit on the coop board this year.  Early this morning I wrote emails about the bizarre thefts that have been occurring in the building– where several people’s boxes with stuff they ordered were stolen– but to be precise, the contents were stolen and the boxes placed, by a very tidy thief, neatly in our cardboard recycling– all broken down and everything.

I wrote the neighbor downstairs that he has to clean up his dog’s poop from the side yard and managed to do it in such a way that the guy didn’t get pissed at all.

I cooked black beans and did laundry and wrote about a dozen emails to schedule and reschedule different meetings.  And I had extensive dental surgery yesterday so there was morning ice and ibuprofen and saltwater rinse.  Before all that I sat and started this piece, read Grace Paley, wondered if you get tired of hearing about her, which you shouldn’t.  And now with respect to this blog writing–  I finish, just 15 hours later.

too cool part two

With important movement toward democracy going on in Egypt, certain important rights being eroded here in the U.S.– for example, in Wisconsin right now, you may well have had more than enough discussion of whether I am cool or un.  But given the chronic-ness for many of us females to be pulled toward being self-deprecating, and the increased chronic-ness of this in women as we head toward (or pass, as in my case) 50– I feel compelled to set the record straight.  If I actually listen closely to my daughter maybe I’m not uncool at all.

First, I read my previous blog post aloud to my daughter.  I don’t usually do this and she isn’t usually interested, but for the sake of a laugh together, I read her the previous post, the one that says I am not cool.  Her response was, and I quote, “Mama, you are too cool.  You rock.  I love you.” She is a kind-hearted girl, so maybe she just felt badly for me, but she told me to post her words on my blog.  But the evidence of “not so uncool” continued.

Second of all, yesterday morning she got up and got dressed to go to school in her skinny jeggings (a current girl thing that is a cross between jeans and leggings) and the tee-shirt from the much-loved-in-our-household musical about which I have written, “In the Heights”.  As I was fumbling around to throw on some clothes to get her to school, she came and stood in my room and said, “Don’t you have the same tee-shirt?  Is yours clean?”  When I answered each question in the affirmative, she said “You wear yours.  And your dark jeans.  I want us to wear the same thing today.”  I complied.  And I admit she looked great and I looked pretty great, but the thing is she wasn’t primarily sprucing me up (which she certainly doesn’t hesitate to do when she thinks it necessary)– she just wanted to be dressed like her mama and for her mama to be dressed like her.

And third of all– and most importantly– she has been asking and last night we did it– to start her own blog.  Now that is a pretty hopeful thing for the mama who thinks her daughter thinks she is uncool and for the same mama of a daughter– the mom who worries that the daughter is a struggling reader and writer.  She wants to write.  Just like I want to write.  She wants to write!!  She thinks it is a cool thing to do, to blog.  She is now blogging.  Just like her mama!  Because she is nine, I will not allow the blog to be very public.  But she wrote her first post and there it sits.  How cool is that?  Way cool.

More visuals anyone? Everyone?

This is one of those kind of navel-gazing bits of writing which when done by others, I sometimes enjoy enormously.  And sometimes cannot stand.  It might not interest you at all– though it does reflect something I am trying to figure out.  If it doesn’t (interest you at all) forgive me. 

When you enter WordPress.com  there is a page called Freshly Pressed which features ten new blog posts daily.  These are great to peruse and if you are a blogger like I now am, I think (though I have never been selected for Freshly Pressed) this is phenomenally great advertising.  Being featured there is a great way to increase your traffic, virtually speaking. (On our commutes to work we’re looking for less traffic; on our blogs–more.)  A few days ago, I stumbled upon a short article at WordPress.com which consisted of five pieces of advice about how to get featured on Freshly Pressed.  They were as follows– but not in this order and I quote some directly and also paraphrase below:

1.  Write unique content that is free of bad stuff.  Don’t plagiarise, write hate speech or porn (a paraphrase of their words).  Check.

2.  Add tags.  It has to do with how they can surf around and find things they might be interested in perusing further.  Mostly I add tags, though not always.  Check-minus.

3.  Aim for typo free content.  Well again, I always aim that way, and I believe I often, but not always, achieve said goal.   (By the way, you should email me when you notice I have posted something where I forgot to finish a sentence or there is a misspelling or other typo.  Privately would be nice, but however you do it, I’d like to know.  I do want to correct typos.) I’ll give myself a “mostly I succeed with this” grade.  Check.  

4.  Cap off your post with a compelling headline.  It says that your headline should stand out, avoid excessive punctuation, swear words or vague statements.  Who knows if my headlines stand out or are compelling but there are no swear words nor do I use excessive punctuation.  I’ll give myself a check on this, even though meeting this standard is more subjective and vague.   Check-ish.

But as we come to a critical piece of advice, I fall apart almost completely– if Freshly Pressed is my goal.  I have some work to do before I can even hope to be featured on Freshly Pressed. (And maybe they are right and this is a general failing of this blog.)  On their list it wasn’t last or least (it was actually second on their list)– they say;

5. Include images or other visuals.  This they say should be an element of most blog posts. Most.  Oy– by this standard, this blog’s a loser.  Or if I want to take a more constructive approach, I have some work to do.  Let’s leave it at that.  No check at all– a near failing grade on this one. 

So, you readers out there, what’s your vote?  More visuals?  Visual images with every post?  And you bloggers out there… I need guidance.  Clearly.  Do you use only your own photos?  Do you have a scanner?  Do you know where to go for stock photos or images of things– that are free and don’t pose copyright violations problems if you post them? 

I am also very aware that while there are some beautiful images of my daughter and snow on this blog, there are no images of me.  The gray in my hair, the wrinkles around my eyes.  For sure I should do some more internal work on the beauty of middle aged women.  Or I should have started blogging younger.  Anyway, I think I need more visuals. 

Suggestions?  Send your ideas about this.  And be patient.  One day maybe you’ll find me Freshly Pressed.  Or not.  Perhaps I’m really an old fashioned hard copy girl, posing as a blogger.

Three women and the poet’s alternative

I’d like to write some poems again.  Poems were all I wrote for years.  In 1995 I learned that Grace Paley was teaching a week long summer writers’ workshop on short story writing at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, so I started writing prose so that I could work with her.  I hadn’t written stories since I was a child.  It turned out I liked writing prose and have worked at that when I’ve worked at any writing at all, but some days and for some purposes I’d like to get back to poems.  Besides stories and essays, Grace wrote poems too. 

Once in one of her classes a young woman brought a poem she had written and asked apologetically to read it to the group.  Grace said yes, and the woman read.  Then there was quiet and Grace asked her to read it again aloud to us.  She said in that definitive way she had of speaking it was because “every poem in the world deserves to be read out loud at least twice.” 

I was thinking of Grace today because of the sad very recent deaths of two beautiful Jewish women–one from the city that I now live in and the other from the city I was born in.  The death of the friend from the city I was born in was a woman I have known my whole life — a woman who remained close to my mother and with whom my mother spent time often, including a long talking visit on the day before she died.  I didn’t get to make it to the funeral. 

This morning I found myself at the funeral of the Jewish woman from this city.  I say “found myself at the funeral” because I read an email at 8 a.m. saying she had died and that the funeral was this morning.  I was there by 10 a.m.   At the funeral I thought of all three women, as well as a lot about my father and his funeral in a synagogue that felt similar to mine today, and I cried some. 

The woman whose funeral was today was a woman I barely knew but even with that amount of knowing we could tell she was a special person.  She was not very much older than I am.  My partner and daughter and I met her and her husband at synagogue and we talked at length several times and liked each other a lot.  She wasn’t really a friend but it seemed we all had plans to become friends.  She had recently written her phone number on a napkin that is still sitting on my partner’s dresser asking us to call her so we could all take a long walk in the spring.  Then she got sick and died. 

The funeral today was a kind of a huge affair, by which I do not mean fancy, but I mean the family shared a lot of themselves throughout the service and there were many words.  The whole thing painted a vivid picture of a life, big and well-lived and a picture of a certain generation of Jews.  All kinds of stories were told, including the story of how the mother and aunt of the now- gone woman had been in five different concentration camps through the Holocaust and stayed alive together.  Then the sisters escaped under a fence together and walked into the countryside where they found a family who hid them for the duration of the war.  The woman who died was born in Europe at the end of the war.  There were grandchildren big and small; a couple of them about 6 or 7, were crying hard, then later running around and laughing and then later came forward and sang a song to their grandmother.  There was a baby granddaughter whose first birthday was today. 

Grace was another older Jewish woman who has meant much to me through her writing, her activism and then personally when I got to know her and study with her several summers in Provincetown. 

I cannot quite find my equilibrium today and to try to find my balance, I find myself thinking about Grace Paley and reaching for her poetry.  Here is one of many favorites which is from her book, Begin Again.  You should, as she emphatically taught me, read it aloud.  Twice. 

The Poet’s Occasional Alternative

 I was going to write a poem

I made a pie instead    it took

about the same amount of time

of course the pie was a final

draft    a poem would have had some

distance to go    days and weeks and

much crumpled paper

the pie already had a talking

tumbling audience among small

trucks and a fire engine on

the kitchen floor

everybody will like this pie

it will have apples and cranberries

dried apricots in it    many friends

will say    why in the world did you

make only one

this does not happen with poems

because of unreportable

sadnesses I decided to

settle this morning for a re-

sponsive eatership    I do not

want to wait a week    a year    a

generation for the right

consumer to come along

Grace Paley 1922-2007

Split this Rock

Split this Rock was a poetry festival, two years ago– a poetry festival celebrating poetry of provocation and witness.  It was a festival about the role of poetry in activism and social change.  The next Split this Rock festival is coming up in Washington, DC –Wednesday, March 10- Saturday March 13, 2010.  Although I have been getting their emails for almost two years, I have only just taken a little time to look closely at some of what they send– they send a link to their “Blog this Rock” which is full of amazing poems and news of interesting and very alive people doing very interesting and very alive things with poetry and writing. 

In 2008 I got to hear Naomi Shihab Nye read– and brought my daughter to hear her and meet her.  I heard Martin Espada whose work I have known for a long time, but it just got better hearing him in person; I was introduced to the work of Alix Olson http://www.alixolson.com/ whose work is part of a remarkable and wonderful new generation of female spoken word artists/ writers/ performers — and Alicia Ostriker whose work is part of an immeasurably important and also inspiring older generation of women poets.  Remember how I said I wasn’t feeling so great on Thursday?  Well I got better, but then much worse today.  I have a hope that I can soon find some way to sit on the couch and read a little for awhile this evening.  You should check out Split this Rock– the webiste and the blog.  



In the past few days, in addition to doing a little bit of writing, I have spent some time trying to painstakingly and slowly (I don’t wish for it to be slow and painstaking, it just goes that way) figure out simple things, like inserting the links above into a post– and I would still like to be able to do it that cleaner way– by just writing Alix Olson and having the link to her website embedded in her name…but I still have to learn how.  So check out Split this Rock and keep the patience with me as I learn on this blog.

The blog entry that wasn’t

Sometimes I think the real story of women’s lives is the story of how you got anything done at all between the interruptions.  Or maybe it is the untold story of all the things you actually did before you got to the part you counted as “doing something”.  I have to go back and check but I think that is what Tillie Olsen’s I Stand Here Ironing was about.   And also several stories in Grace Paley’s Enormous Changes at the Last Minute.  So I am not the first woman to think of this or to bother to write it down. 

Although men get interrupted a lot I am sure, for all kinds of equally bad and equally interesting reasons, there is something about our lives as women that makes this story strangely the norm, unquestioningly the norm.  And although many of you are so familiar with this it will seem strange to have bothered to write it at all, still I want to write it.  If you could hear me, you’d know that though I do complain about many things, I am really not complaining.  And I could be more disciplined about managing my time.  This is a completely unremarkable account of a few hours of my day yesterday.   

I came home from work early.  Quite early, like 1:30.  I wasn’t feeling so well and I brought work from my office to do at home after I finished with a long morning meeting at work.  I had in my mind that I wanted to sit and write just a little.  I wanted to start a longer piece about adoption and race  generally.  I was also thinking about a particular, interesting email dialogue I am having with someone and thinking maybe I would write a little about that.  Or maybe I’d write about something that has been rattling around in my mind about girls and gender roles in third grade, or a next piece, more about race and racism, to follow up from the writing I did earlier here, called “Student Council”, because there is more since then to tell. 

It took me awhile to sit down at the computer.  I really wasn’t feeling so great.  As I said.  I got into my pajamas, which is unusual for me.  I did read a really lovely and interesting article that a friend sent me about meeting and developing a friendship with a woman artist whose background is remarkably similar to her somewhat extraordinary background, which did admittedly take a little time to read, and I don’t want to be dishonest here.  I did get to read that piece.

Then there was the something I had to write for work which I did.  Then I was hungry.  I watched a very few minutes of the Olympics and fewer minutes of “Ellen” while I ate.  I also cleaned up from lunch and from breakfast which we had abandoned in a hurry earlier.  By then I thought about taking a nap, but there is something incredibly inviting about a quiet house in the daytime, while the sun is out, as a time to sit and collect my thoughts and write.  So I opted for that. 

As I was settling in to write, I heard the blinds rattling in the other room, which is a common occurence in winter in our slightly overheated apartment where the windows are cracked open a bit but it was especially loud so I went to look.  It turned out not to be the blinds.  Nor was it noise from the hallway of the apartment next door with which we share a wall.  In fact it was a key in the door, which initially scared the hell out of me.  

But it was my partner, home much earlier than planned.  With three children.  Our one and two from up the street.  This stop at home with daughter and two friends definitely wasn’t in the plan for the afternoon.  My partner was going to pick up daughter and go directly to basketball practice.  They entered with their backpacks and their three different versions of a long day at school, needing attention and snacks and they entered with all their interesting ideas and their tangles with each other and all their homework pages.  And so this is just one version of the unremarkable story of the blog entry that wasn’t.  At least not yet.  Not yesterday.

What I am reading too late at night

I find that the more I write the more I read.  I am a slow reader and I read very, few novels.  But I read a lot, often, like a thirst.   And I often read more than one thing at a time.

Right now I am reading the following:

Yarn, Rembembering the Way Home  by Kyoko Mori

A Walk in Chicago, Never a City So Real by Alex Kotlowitz

Never in a Hurry, Essays on People and Places by Naomi Shihab Nye

Fugitive Days, Memoirs of  an Antiwar Activist by Bill Ayers

There are also several books I’d like to write about later– that I read and re-read– one, a book of essays, speeches and stories by Grace Paley which is a favorite, a comfort, a thing I turn to over and over, called, Just as I Thought.  There is also an exquisite and amazing memoir that I have not stopped thinking about since I read it about one and a half years ago, The Latehomecomer, a Hmong Family Memoir by Kao Kalia Yang.  More on her book and on Grace Paley’s book later.  I am just so glad to live in a world in which both of those women have written and published.

I am also re-reading a book by an educator named Vivian Paley (no relation to Grace Paley, I think.) called You Can’t Say You Can’t Play about an early childhood education teacher who instituted a rule in her classroom that the young people could not exclude one another from their play and about her conversations with them about their feelings about this rule and her thinking about issues of exclusion in early childhood classrooms.

What are you reading?  Do any of you read poetry?  Non-fiction? Who and what are you reading?

Digging Out; In praise of long friendship

We are digging out.  Literally and figuratively.  It has been a beautiful and interesting time; this enormous snowfall and huge disruption in our normal routines.  But it has also been for reasons I won’t go into, or perhaps reasons I don’t yet fully understand, a kind of dark and sad time for me beginning a week or two before the snowstorms.  Since it snowed, I have not been writing and I have missed it.  I have also not been sleeping much, which is an on and off chronic struggle for me– more serious than I often let on, although people who know me well, know that I often don’t sleep well.  But the fragility of my sleep has been challenging me lately despite this past 10 days with seemingly so much time on my hands. 

Today was our first day of both work and school since February 5.  After work, with both my daughter and partner along with me, we stopped in at one of our favorite independent bookstores where we ran into a very old friend of mine (and a friend of my partner’s in another context), E.  I don’t see her often, though we live less than 2 miles from each other.  She figures importantly in my life.  She was a brilliant and loving and interesting and encouraging teacher of mine with an amazing life history.  She is a Jew, a Yiddishist, a holocaust survivor, a feminist, lesbian, a mother, a writer, a literature scholar and a teacher.  Among other things.  Now past 75 she has a second Ph.D, is a dancer and does a whole variety of interesting things I cannot even recount.  I cannot wait to see what she does with the next 25 years. 

E. is almost exactly the same age as my mother and it was no coincidence that soon after I arrived at the university (the second time, after dropping out of a smaller school the first time) I asked her to be my undergraduate advisor.  I did then and still do have a kind of intention about friendships and mentors, but I was less scared to go out on a limb then than I am at times now.  I think I knew then that I was asking her to be my friend and advisor for longer than my undergraduate years, but I figured that was a reasonable amount of time to start with.  

She has remained my friend through perseverence, shared history, a love and respect for one another and a series of interesting threads of common interests and concerns–as well as the coincidence and good fortune of having met in the midwest where she was a professor and I a student, and then having moved to the same east coast city for completely different reasons within a year’s time 2o+ years ago.  She has also– consistently encouraged me to write, which is what I have always wanted to do, loved to do, done or not done, but wanted.

I will not recount our conversation tonight which was brief, but very important to me.  Which is exactly what I could say about many of our conversations over many, many years now.  Tonight, as at other times, she helped me dig my way out of a tough spot and get back to writing which is just what I want to be doing.  Although we often go a year or more without seeing one another, I have had more contact with her since the first of this year, than we have had for awhile.  And it was a deep and serious conversation with her at a party in January, about adoption, race, racism and the nature of family, that made the party for me, but much more importantly, jumpstarted this writing that I have been doing.

She had a wonderful and interesting 75th birthday party two years ago, at which I read her two poems, by Grace Paley, another Jewish woman, now gone, who was also very significant to me.  It was E. who introduced me to Grace Paley’s work.  At E.’s party I think I tried, as I am trying now, to let her know that in general, and particularly as a teacher, you never know what you have meant to people, but you can assume it is likely that often it is more than you know.

Snow day #1. Talk to me.

It’s a snow day here.  School let out early.  I gathered up my daughter and two girls both of whom my daughter and I really like, to spend the afternoon here on this unexpected half day off.  I made lunch.  We all sat and ate and talked.  But other than that, they have games to play and conversations to have, and they are getting along so well, I hardly know what to do with myself.  So I sat down to write.  But I realized that what I really want is for you to write back.

I want to hear from you.  What have you liked (or not)?  Things that are on your mind and you’d like me to write about?  What do these posts make you think of– about young people, women’s friendships, ending racism, schools, other things?  Talk to me.