Write Like A Mother

Over the weekend I posted this picture on Instagram.

writing desk

It was taken at 7am on Sunday of last week after being woken up at 5:45am by my kid and cat. They often do a tag team on me in the morning, and after years of attempting to fall back asleep, only to rise grumpily an hour or less later, I decided to just get up and write.

I’ve been doing it for over a week now and it’s been kind of life changing. I don’t set an alarm (because I don’t need to, thank you kid and cat) and some days I “oversleep,” which means I get up a little past 6am, but regardless of the time, I stumble out of bed, grab some coffee, and head to my office. My daughter knows not to enter until 7am (thank you Netflix) and when she does I greet her with a smile.

But this post isn’t about advocating early rising, though don’t knock it till you try it.

This post is about being seen.

Getting back to my Instagram photo, I wrote a brief caption describing my new routine and even threw in a hashtag, #writinglikeamother – a big departure for me since hashtags usually stress me out. I have a hard enough time coming up with catchy titles for my short stories and essays.

Shortly after posting, I received a comment from a writer and teacher I admire, Jena Schwartz, co-founder of The Inky Path (where I’m currently enrolled in an incredible 14-day writing prompt course). She responded with, “Love love love love love.”

I stopped where I was in my kitchen and just felt such warmth, and this phrase popped in my head: I’m not alone.

Writing is such a solitary act, well, most of the time, and it’s easy to feel invisible, unseen. Sending out my photo was a way of connecting, of reaching out. The comments I received on Instagram and Facebook made me feel less alone. This is why I do this: blogging, social media, and posting pictures of my desk for crying out loud.

But let’s be real here – there’s a fine line between seeking support and falling into the black hole of Facebook. I know (ahem) from personal experience. The key for me has been finding balance and knowing my triggers.

It’s pretty obvious when I’ve spent too much time online. I start getting twitchy and anxious. Suddenly, people’s announcements about essays and publishing deals make me feel edgy and competitive. That’s when I step away and remind myself about the wisdom I gleaned from Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic, which is: there is enough for all of us

I believe in that, wholeheartedly, and yet I find myself whispering those words out loud every few days. I’m currently working on a book length project, and there is no immediate recognition or acknowledgment in that, and if I’m completely honest, there may never be. I can’t know or control what will happen to my work, but I know I must do it regardless.

So, my question is, will you do it with me? Will you write like a mother? You don’t even have to be a literal mother, just a writer or an artist with other obligations that pile up in the summer months. Let’s face it, we all have other obligations, it’s called LIFE.

kids summer

My life, my summer.

I already know my summer solo time is going to be minimal, and I’m okay with that, but I want to make the most of the time I can squeeze out. Like mornings. Maybe for you it’s after work, or late at night.

If you’re not too hashtag averse (like I was), consider taking a picture of your workspace before, during, or after you put in some time and tag it #writinglikeamother and I will send whatever support I can (hearts, likes, kind words) your way.

There’s no competition here. This isn’t one of those write-every-day challenges (which for me is a set up for failure) and there’s no need to log in word counts or even describe what you’re working on (unless you want to).

If you want to follow me on blah blah social media, the links are on the right sidebar, or send me a note with your info and I’ll follow you, writingatthetable@gmail.com.

How about we hold each other up when we need holding. Let’s be witnesses for the work we’re doing, even when no one else is looking. Let’s be seen together.

Dana xoxo

 

I’m so pleased to be part of Writing Bubble’s wonderful link-up. Come by, take a look, and perhaps join in!

What-Im-Writing-linky-badge

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Finding Time

I’ve been quiet in this space, but it’s been a busy few weeks in my life. Back to back birthday weekends (my daughter and husband) with a grand finale of Mother’s Day, which always stirs up my emotions. I’m relieved it’s over.

I prefer the quiet lulls between celebrations. Must be that introvert side of me, relishing the chance to duck back into my shell and recover.

Meanwhile, things in my brain haven’t been much quieter, but that kind of work I can manage better. I’ve been tearing through memoir and craft books, inhaling podcasts, and basically gorging on this new (to me) genre. I’m filling myself up with as much knowledge as I can before taking my own leap.

memoirs

 

I never thought I’d be doing this, writing a memoir, and yet here I am, about to begin, beginning. I bought a designated notebook, a special pen, and I’ve been taking notes, writing out scene ideas. I feel like a train, its engine rumbling, steam rising, the whistle about to blow.

But once I get going, how will I continue my momentum once summer begins? The two words “school’s out” used to bring on waves of panic, but this year I’m not feeling as concerned. In fact, I’m making goals.

What the heck?! Two new words spring to mind:

Early rising.

(Well, that’s the goal. I won’t make any promises since this is quite a departure for me.)

sunrise small

Now please understand, I always get up early. My kids still wake in the night, and at least one rises with the sun (since birth, since birth!) and her clomping steps to the bathroom (if she doesn’t stop to peek in my bedroom first) always rouses me. Even if I pretend to ignore it, the cat doesn’t.

My old way was to grouchily flop back into bed and squeeze out a little more sleep, even the restless kind, because getting up at dawn felt like admitting defeat. I’ve fantasized about being the kind of writer who sets the alarm at 5am to write, but after being deeply sleep deprived for eight years, it seems sacrilegious to wake before absolutely necessary.

But then Saturday happened. I slept poorly (thanks kids and cat) and woke in a foul mood. The whole day I felt off, grouchy. It wasn’t until later that I realized why. That morning I had a chance to get out of bed before my kids. I heard my daughter close her door and knew she had turned on her requisite morning show on her iPad, but I forced myself back to sleep. Yet, for the first time ever, I understood that sleep was no longer winning.  What I needed even more, at least in the hour of dawn, was solitude.

I read this post by a fellow writer-mama Sophie a couple weeks ago, Why Early Mornings Are Good For My Well Being As Well As My Word Count, and this line in particular struck a nerve.

“If I don’t take charge of my day, and instead fritter away the beginnings of it in broken sleep, then when I am finally forced out of bed by a hungry toddler I am way more weary than I would otherwise have been.”

I’m more pissy and grumpy, but same idea.

The sleep I get from 6-7am does NOTHING for me. So why not write, or read, or watch the birds flit around the feeder in peace, with no one clamoring for my attention?

I tried it on Sunday and it was like a miracle. Not only did I get some writing accomplished, but by the time my daughter appeared at 7am (as per my firm request and the assistance of Netflix) I was feeling generous and sated as opposed to annoyed and disgruntled. I may have been spotted humming while cleaning the bathroom later that morning, but that cannot be confirmed.

It’s been five days so far, and though I slept in a bit this morning (due to staying up too late writing this!), I’m going to keep on with this habit. There is something incredibly peaceful about being the only one awake and drinking my coffee in silence.

Will I ever set my alarm for 5 or 5:30am? I don’t know, but the idea no longer seems unattainable.

This summer instead of surrendering my writing time, I’ve decided to set some goals. Not small ones either:

  1. Record all 12 video lessons for my grief course (coming to The Gift of Writing in October 2016 if all goes well, click here to be put on the waiting list!)
  2. Write 50 pages of my memoir about me and my mother

mom watching me

The trick is walking the tightrope of trying to meet my goals and not beating myself up if I don’t. All I know for sure is that there is no certainty, not in parenthood, not in life. I can’t predict what this particular summer is going to look like. Can I rise at dawn and still have my wits about me to deal with my two (often sparring) children? Will a babysitter be able to wrangle them or will I have to intervene?

I want to enjoy summer – the laziness of it, the surrender – without stress. Well, without the added stress of deadlines. But at the same time, having a goal to lean toward could serve as my fuel, what gets me through the bickering and squabbles, knowing I have my mornings, whatever may come of them.

What are your summer plans, and do you make goals, or play it by ear? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Living in Limbo

I’m reminded of why I love the ocean each time I return.

sunrise

We recently spent a week in Florida. With three days of travel, it wasn’t quite enough time to settle in, to get comfortable, feel at home. But then again, you’re not supposed to feel at home on vacation, are you?

This trip was a whirlwind, and hard in many ways. We went to Disney World first and then spent a few days in Ft. Lauderdale to unwind. But unwinding with kids is kind of an oxymoron. Or maybe just moronic?

Don’t get me wrong, there were highs as well as lows. Vacation is just another piece of life. Your worries and stressors don’t disappear once you step foot on a plane. If you’re like me, they multiply.

On the way to Ft. Lauderdale our brains sizzled in the sunny, claustrophobic car. My husband and I bickered, the kids fought. At one point in the drive I went silent.

By the time we arrived in Ft. Lauderdale I had calcified.

Even the beauty of the ocean couldn’t melt me, and neither did the chic and crowded hotel we were staying at. I felt like an alien around so many smiling and scantily clad people. I wanted to go home.

But we made it to our room, dropped our bags, and then hurried to the beach as the sun began to drop in the sky.

Once there the kids immediately dove into the still warm sand and splashed their feet in the turquoise waters. I stood with my arms wrapped across my chest, but there was a loosening. My husband called a truce. He hugged me and my anger began to uncoil as the ocean lapped onto my feet.

The next day we went back, despite the spotty weather, the ominous sky.

Together we forged into the beautiful sea glass blue ocean. I held onto my young son’s hand while my daughter splashed at my side. I get the sense that the current wants my children as much as I do, maybe more.

My daughter doesn’t need my hand, however, she can swim like a fish. Diving down to the clear shallow bottom and coming up with beautiful shells. She knows to be cautious about the ocean. I’ve taught her that much. But she’s not overly fearful. She leaves her anxiety behind as she dips and dives beneath the waves with a confidence I hope to one day see on land.

bunky on beach

When my husband took her out to deeper waters, I sat on the shore with my son. We played his favorite game. Build and destroy. First I buried him up to his waist with wet shell studded sand, and then he broke through, cracking like an egg, delight lighting up his face.

Then, castles. I built ten, twenty, small structures so he could crush them with his still chubby four-year-old feet.

I sensed a young couple nearby watching us. They smiled kindly at me when I glanced over. I had a moment of self-consciousness, as if I were posing in an advertisement for blissful parenthood. I had to suppress an urge to run over to them and tell the truth. It’s not always like this. You should’ve seen me yesterday. But of course I refrained. The secrets of parenthood have to be discovered firsthand, if at all.

The beach is my touchstone. Every time I sit in the sand and it sticks to every part of my body, I always feel the urge to brush it all away before remembering to surrender. To the mess of it, to any semblance of control. But surrender has never been easy for me. I struggle to find order in chaos. It’s hard for me to sit in discomfort.

Right now I’m at a crossroads with my writing. A kind of limbo. I have to decide whether to continue with my novel, which needs to be rewritten (again), or embark on the entirely unchartered course of memoir.

The question ping-pongs in my head relentlessly. I’m worried about making the wrong choice. About wasting (more) time writing something that will never reach eyes other than my own.

There is no “right” answer. I know this, and yet I posed the question on Facebook. The wise and supportive responses filled me with gratitude, but ultimately the decision is still mine to make.

So I remain here, for now, in limbo.

A place I’m quite vocal about not liking. But maybe my struggle against limbo is more futile than I thought – because what if life IS limbo – the place we all reside between birth and death? If so, then all we can do is surrender to what may come next. To feel our way, as best we can, through each day.

wall quote

If I surrender to uncertainty, in my writing, and in my life, I will move forward. If I surrender to the mess, like I did in the sand with my son, I don’t feel so worried about wasting time, I can smash down the castles I worked so hard to make, knowing I will rebuild. I can create something new on the base of all those broken, necessary, pieces.

Are you in limbo right now? Hovering between conflicting choices? How do you find your answers? 

 

We Share Our Losses

My grandmother wasn’t a happy woman, not when I knew her, so this picture I came across the other day is especially striking.

Pauline and Harry

The joy and openness in her eyes, the width of her smile, radiates joy. Beside her is my grandfather, a man I never met, who died when my mom was eight years old. A man who never felt like he belonged to me, in any way.

His ending was a cautionary tale of a congested heart. Three strikes and you’re out. That’s how many heart attacks it took to kill him. A young man, in his mid-forties, he left behind the love of his life and two bereft children. My grandmother never recovered from his death. It left her shattered and bitter, furious at her bad luck. The life she had imagined turned into dust.

I don’t know how my mother recovered. She had been a daddy’s girl.

When I was a kid my mom rarely spoke about her father, though I’m sure she must have explained to us what happened at some point. I remember how she used to light a yahrzeit candle a few weeks before her birthday on the day of his death. Quietly it would sit on the white countertop and burn without ceremony. For the rest of the year it resided in the rarely used kitchen cabinet filled with dusty wine glasses and an assortment of solitary cups and mugs that had lost their companions.

Looking back, I wish I asked more questions, I wish my mom had been able to share her grief with me. But as a cousin reminded me recently, grief wasn’t discussed openly back then. Maybe my mom thought she was protecting us by keeping it to herself, or maybe her memories were too distant to access, but the space it left, in the shape of a father and grandfather, loomed large in my imagination.

My childhood friend Tamra, who I’ve known since third grade, saw the photo when I posted it on Facebook and made a comment that caught me completely off guard.

She wrote, I see the resemblance with you and your mom. I automatically assumed she meant a resemblance to my grandmother, but when I read the rest of her comment, I realized she had been referring to my grandfather. I stared hard at his jovial good-natured face, searching for familiarity: I saw shadows of my mother easily, and then, I almost saw myself.

I stared at him, this man I had never met, barely knew anything about. Despite all that he was mine. He did belong to me. For a brief moment I allowed myself to imagine what life might have been like if he had lived. A grandmother and grandfather coming to visit, living close enough for me to spend the day, the night, to curl up in his big arms and be read to, held, and loved. My grandmother might have smiled more, and maybe, just maybe she would have been a better mother.

Up until this point I had never allowed myself to stake a claim on this man, to miss him, or mourn his absence. To imagine what he might have meant to me. I felt like that would have been selfish. This was my mother’s loss, not mine. But I was wrong. It was both of our losses. Just like her death is not just my loss, but my daughter’s, and my son’s.

It seems so obvious to me now. We don’t have to hide or hoard grief, we don’t have to pretend it’s not ours to mourn. Like love, there is enough to go around.

The spring before my mother died, when she was weak and recovering from a long winter illness, but before we knew she was dying, my uncle came to visit. Her older brother. When his father died, he became “the man” of the house, too heavy a burden for a twelve-year-old to bear. Nevertheless, he bore it out of necessity, and out of love for his little sister, but it left a bitter trace on him, a shadow of his mother’s twisted anger.

We talked about the past that day, which was unusual. Maybe it was me. Maybe I asked about my grandfather, maybe I offered what I had been unable to offer all those years earlier. An acknowledgment of their deep loss. My empathy.

I listened with rapt attention as my uncle recalled that fateful day of the final heart attack. Their father taken away, and then later, the news traveling back to them, my mother running to her room in tears.

“She couldn’t stop crying,” he said, looking awestruck so many years later.

Those four words hit me hard. I looked over at my mother. Her big brown eyes were wide with sadness and memory as she gazed at her brother. In a flash I saw the two of them as children, trying to care for each other.

Before he left that day, my uncle said goodbye in his usual brusque but loving manner. A quick hug for me and a wave to my mom across the room. She said goodbye from her reclining chair where she had sat for nearly a decade since she lost the use of her hands and legs to multiple sclerosis.

“Go and hug her,” I told my uncle in a low voice. He looked at me surprised. This was not his usual way. I don’t know for sure, but I think her handicap made him uncomfortable. Maybe it was too hard for him to look at her in that chair. But that day I didn’t give him a choice. I took his arm and pulled him into the room.

He leaned over her chair and hugged her, maybe for the first time in years, and I heard him say in a voice so tender, “I love you Susii,” her girlhood name. The name her father must have called her. The name my father called her until she became my mother and decided she was no longer a girl, and to please call her Susan.

The next time he saw his sister, she was under hospice care, unconscious, and close to death.

When I got pregnant, shortly after my mom died, I knew right away there was one thing I’d do differently. My children would know their grandmother. I would tell them her name, show them pictures, and talk about her life, her art, and one day, her death.

There are two of them now, grandchildren. A girl and a boy, in the same order my mother had me and my brother. A strange kind of twinning, but not.

They do not wonder about the blank space as I once did because it’s always being filled.  My hope is that she is as vibrant and beautiful in their imagination as she was in life.

mom and Harry

My mom and her dad, my grandpa Harry

Rest in peace, Harry Cooperman, grandpa. I know I would have loved you.

Grieving While Pregnant

A few weeks ago on Facebook, one of my favorite sites, What’s Your Grief, asked readers to offer advice or pose questions about how to parent while grieving. This immediately caught my attention. Parenting while grieving is the only way I know since my mom died shortly before I became pregnant with my first child.

Pregnant with Emma Feb2008 copy

February 2008 pregnant with my daughter, my mom’s portrait beside me

On a whim, I decided to pitch the site an idea about grieving while pregnant, my other unfortunate expertise. To my surprise and pleasure, my pitch was accepted. I immediately started taking notes. I couldn’t write fast enough. Clearly, this idea had been brewing in my subconscious for, well, years.

If you haven’t seen it already, I would be so honored if you’d stop by and take a look, or perhaps send the essay to someone who might be able to relate. Click on the link below to head over to the site.

Making Time For Grief During Pregnancy

Thank you again!

Making it Count

This is the hardest part. Getting there. The sitting down to write. The writing.

desk at workAfter the morning rush – making breakfasts, lunches, fixing hair snafus, finding socks, waking up a rumpled, warm late-sleeping little boy from my bed, and then hurrying out the door for school drop-offs, first the big kid, then the little.

Throughout it all, there is buzzing in the back of my head, a warm recognition of what day it is, that soon, this morning will belong to me. Soon the house will be quiet and I will be alone, except for the cat nudging the computer with her chin, and the birds frequenting the feeder outside my office window.

But first, the logistics of mothering two children. Sometimes there is a struggle, a scuffle or two. Often there are tears, from the little, at our parting. Arms wrapped octopus style around my neck, fingers that are sometimes pried off, one by one.

Me walking to my car in a sad defeated haze, thinking, is this worth it? Am I doing everything wrong? And yet, I know that I’m not. I know that I need these mornings alone as much as my little needs school. On those days especially, I know I must make my alone time count. Every minute.

I didn’t always. There were the hibernation years of early motherhood when I wasn’t writing. My daughter, newly diagnosed with celiac, was often hungry for sweets she was unable to eat, so I’d bake gluten free treats during naps, then fold laundry or do dishes. I’d keep my hands busy, but my mind was restless, itchy.

Things are different now. There is much less baking and even less folded laundry (if that’s even possible).

I’m not winning any housework awards and I must admit to feeling a stubborn knot of pride about this. My kids have clothes that are clean, even if they have to pick through a pile to find them sometimes. They eat off dishes that have been washed. But mundane chores are not a priority. Not ever, to be perfectly honest, but especially not during my writing time.

I protect it, as fiercely as I protect them. Because if I don’t, there is a price to pay. My rising irritation and frustration. Unhappiness. Snappishness. Writing releases something for me, it helps me to both understand and escape myself.

After ushering the kids off to school and returning home, it’s time to begin. I walk briskly by the detritus of the morning rush. There’s pretty much zero chance I’ll stop to fold the laundry, though I may kick a pair of underwear out of my path. The real concern is the internet.

It beckons me with its side roads and back routes, under the guise of research, a promise of just five minutes, the happy ping of outside validation. If I step in, I’m sunk. I might lose an hour, or worse, my confidence.

On the way to my office I grab everything I need because I won’t get up again until my time runs out. Not to reheat my coffee, which I only drink hot, or to retrieve a forgotten water bottle. My computer, breakfast, books, and journals must be at the ready.

I sit down, turn on the computer, and open the blank page. I’ve arrived at the leaping off point. The almost-there place. It could all go wrong with one simple click. Most days I hold steady, keep focused.

Then I begin. The words come or they don’t. But I remain at my desk for three hours, taking breaks only to sip my coffee, flip through a book, or gaze at the birds. I feel grateful for my time, even though it’s short.

In a little over a year, when the little guy starts kindergarten, there will be entire days stretched out in front of me like taffy. I hope the practice I do now will help me take advantage of those luxurious hours. Until then, I am a madwoman, making every minute count.

Do you have solo time to unspool your creativity? How do you keep it safe? Do you?

Out in the World

“Motherhood is an endless cycle of letting go, a constant reconfiguring of rules and boundaries. You have to be flexible, quick to shift and shed. These are things I struggle with in regular life, and as a mother, even more.”

One of my recent posts, Grief and Gray Days, is now up on Mamalode! I’m so thrilled to be on their site, which is filled with thoughtful and lyrical musings about motherhood.

If you haven’t read the essay yet, please head over to check it out. I love that it’s getting a second life.

white sky day

Thank you as always!