read * hear * say * see * eat

Inspiring true story about Gene Roddenberry from The Oatmeal

I posted yesterday, and now I’m posting again today! Posting every day is certainly not my new plan, but I hope to be back to posting about once every week or two. Thanks for encouraging me to keep posting podcast recommendations! I feel great knowing that even one person enjoys them. I still listen to about an hour a day of radio at least, so I have plenty of material to share.

Read

honoring the end as much as the beginning by my friend Lindsey Mead, who among other things is the most consistent writer of wonderful things on her blog of any blogger I know (seriously, a great blog to follow) and who has the rare ability to look even more fresh-faced and happy-looking in person than in pictures

Mizzou, Yale and Free Speech—a NYT Op-Ed by Nick Kristoff, via @PattonOswalt

5 Books to Teach Kids Kindness by Cup of Jo—You probably know her blog already, but in case you don’t, I could have posted anything else I’ve ever read. Her curatorial ability is fantastic both for its breadth but also her steadfast devotion to a particular “Jo style.” Whether it’s a post about marriage, kids, movies, clothes, or books, I know I’m going to love it.

Mommy blogging, 101 by Dooce

…when Leta says she doesn’t want to have kids I’m like WRONG. YOU HAVE TO LIVE THROUGH RAISING SOMEONE WHO IS EXACTLY LIKE YOU.

Hear

Sampler, a new Gimlet podcast, came out yesterday. I’m excited to have a podcast that features great clips from other podcasts. There’s only one episode so far, but it’s a doozie. I also like another new Gimlet show called Surprisingly Awesome, which is not 100% awesome yet but is getting there. Basically you can’t go wrong with any Gimlet show.

Song Exploder picks apart the making of a song with its songwriter. So cool! I’ve listened to these episodes twice, I liked them both so much: 1) Tune-Yards, and 2) The Long Winters (inspired by the Columbia crash).

Speaking of the Columbia, Snap Judgment #601 “The Path” includes a story about an astronaut and his wife that raised the hairs on my neck. Ditto another story from that episode in which a mother becomes an expert tracker of missing children after tracking her own.

Fugitive Waves’ Walkin’ Talkin’ Bill Hawkins was touching. If you haven’t tried this show yet, I recommend it to go along with any activity that puts you in a meditative, relaxed mood. The voices of the hosts, who call themselves the Kitchen Sisters, are so rhythmic and soothing that I can nearly fall asleep while listening.

This American Life, Episode 577: Something Only I Can See. The segment I particularly loved was the one about Tig Notaro and her mother-in-law. I love Tig’s comedy, but the best part to me about this story was that I so identified with her mother-in-law! I am not a funny person by nature except by accident or self-deprecation, and I can clearly recall this one day I got the song “Ain’t We Got Fun” in my head while folding laundry (deeply sorry for getting it in your head just now), except instead of the title lyric, I sang to myself, “It’s laundry time!” Somehow I was so giddy with the humor of this lyric swap that I could barely get the words out when telling Nate. I don’t think I need to describe his reaction, but even so, I still laugh almost just as hard now at the memory as I did at the time.

She Does podcast: interview with Anna Sale of Death Sex Money

What if my kid asks to try my beer (with audio!) by Casey of Life with Roozle — because of this post, my kids never ask us for a sip of beer any more! I also love that they know what a law is enough to be able to define the concept to others.

Vocal fry and other speech trends by Stuff You Should Know (in this episode, they refer to a great conversation on Fresh Air between a linguist, a speech pathologist, and Jessica Grose of DoubleX Gabfest)

Say

Gretchen Rubin offered a starter kit  for people interested in starting their own Better than Before habits group. I love this idea (I’m an Obliger, no surprise there). Is anyone out there interested in starting a habits group with me? I’m thinking it could be online, just a place where we can cheer each other on and keep up accountability. I’m not that into Facebook, but I could see it working well there. Or are there “LinkedIn groups”? Someone please chime in who knows more about starting online groups. Thanks!

See

Making a Murderer, the Netflix original series everyone is talking about. I think folks are right that it’s similar to Serial except for being a TV program. I can only recommend the first episode, as that’s all I’ve seen so far. Honestly, I’m not sure I’ll watch them all. Ten hours is a long time for me to commit to TV, especially since I almost never watch TV alone, and Nate isn’t interested in seeing it. But I think the first episode is definitely worth watching, if only to remain plugged into pop culture; personally, it got me riled up so much that I am looking into volunteering with a nonprofit focused on prison reform. And if nothing else, I have some excellent articles to offer once you’ve seen the first episode. One is this article on The Rumpus by one of my favorite Boston writers (and Arlington Author Salon readers!), Lisa Borders, and the other is this New Yorker critique, which begins with interesting details about the Perry Mason crime writer that I never knew.

For something a little lighter, I recommend Reading Rainbow for parents and kids. That intro song really takes me back. I finally just had to put it on for the girls, who weren’t sold simply by a picture of a man’s face (ditto Mr. Rogers, whom they both also now love. Next up will be Pee Wee Herman). They love the 1st episode featuring “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie,” plus how bowling balls are made and a guy who sets up huge displays of dominoes and knocks them down.

Eat

I hope you follow Catherine Newman, aka the blogger behind Ben & Birdy and the advice columnist for Real Simple (and writer of a new book coming out soon that you can pre-order on Amazon!). I never chortle so much as when reading her blog (and just at this moment, her new website). Last night I choked on some sauerkraut while reading this post, which I’m putting under “Eat” because she gives the recipe for a delicious-sounding blueberry pie smoothie (and yes, I said choked on sauerkraut. Sauerkraut that I was eating out of the jar, that I eat every night out of the jar ever since Nate started fermenting our very own homemade sauerkraut. More on this development is forthcoming). Anyway, because I love Catherine so much, I will add my favorite quote of hers, which perfectly described my own second child, Charlie, at the age of two so much better than I ever could have.

“Even as a 2-year-old, she had the determined wrath and gait of a murderous zombie gnome — and my husband and I grimaced at each other, afraid, over her small and darkly glowering head.”

I still read her article from NYT Motherlode, where the quote originated, from time to time whenever I am worried about Charlie’s tendency to glower. Catherine reminds me that not only is it ok, it might even be a good thing. A writer who can do that is a keeper.

read * hear * say * see * eat {5}

read hear say see eat {5) - heirloom mothering
The Rumpus reader report on remorse (5 times fast)

Read

  • Dina Relles is bringing a new blog series to Literary Mama, the Writerly Roundup. Also check out the Essential Reading selections this month on Bravery.
  • Paul Kalanithi’s beautiful essay in the Washington Post about the perception of time, in his own words: “When you come to one of the many moments in life when you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more, but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.”
  • My dad sent me Paul Elie’s gripping New Yorker article about Thomas Merton, the Catholic writer, mystic, and Trappist monk. Here’s a direct Merton quote, the end of which choked me up in self-recognition: “It is possible to doubt whether I have become a monk (a doubt that I have to live with), but it is not possible to doubt that I am a writer, that I was born one and will most probably die as one. Disconcerting, disedifying as this is, this seems to be my lot and my vocation.” And this quote is by Elie: “Here was a person who resolved not to miss the meaning of his life in the living of it. Here was a dangling man who was determined not to go slack.” Lord, let me be brave enough to live up to half his authenticity.
  • Lego beauty tips for girls, via The New York Times. “If Lego insists on focusing the attention of children on personal appearance, then I would be grateful if they would offer tips to the children who actually need it. My boys believe that athletic pants can be worn anywhere, anytime, backwards or inside out.” Commenter #3, FTW!
  • I felt another pang of recognition when I arrived at #7 on this list of 8 Ways Parents Discourage Their Kids from Reading on Brightly (thanks to Lindsey for introducing me to the site).
  • WBUR Cognoscenti Blog: What to Expect When You’re Expecting a Book
  • Dave Barry on his parents (via Karen of Chookooloonks): “Above all, they did not worry about providing a perfect, risk-free environment for their children.” Amen to that. I’m looking forward to reading his new book.
  • In a poignant essay on caring for her dying mother, Heather Plett shares what it means to “hold space” for people, plus eight tips on how to do it well.

Hear

Say

  • Maybe this will seem morbid to you, but I’m talking about and studying grief and loss. My interest was piqued by my grandmother’s recent decline from Parkinson’s. I’m fascinated with both the discussion of death and lack thereof in our culture (it will perhaps not surprise you, then, to learn one of my favorite courses was Medical Anthropology). A week ago I thought to myself, “I wonder if there’s a way I can talk to other people also interested in this topic in a nonjudgmental group.” I headed to the Internet, where I learned someone had posted event details that same morning about a Death Café in Bedford later this month. According to the site, “At Death Cafés people drink tea, eat cake and discuss death. Our aim is to increase awareness of death to help people make the most of their (finite) lives.” I don’t consider myself superstitious, but that coincidence shouts, “Go there!”

See

Eat

  • I can’t believe I’ve never made fudgesicles. The thermometer passing the freezing mark is all my little New Englanders need to start begging for ice cream, so now seems as good a time as any.

read * hear * say * see * eat {4}

read hear say see eat - heirloom mothering
5-Minute Meditation via Real Simple

Read

    • Kudos to the author of the winning Payton Prize essay on The Rumpus, “Out of the Swollen Sea.” It’s an exercise in successful use of imagery.
    • An essay on Full Grown People that began with a simple haircut appointment is unexpectedly poignant.
    • Terry Ward Goodman’s essay, Dog Days in Brain, Child is searingly honest.
    • Here’s your funny for the week: If You Give a Dude a Kale Chip, via The New Yorker.
    • “The night scene is suffused by a creeping coldness that sinks into your bones in a rush, the kind you only get on a winter night in Massachusetts, in a house like this…” a paramedic’s story about dementia on WBUR’s Cognescenti blog.
    • I loved basketball player Larry Sanders (i.e. not the Gary Shandling character) honest account of why he quit. The journalist summarized his article with these words: “Whether we are athletes or lawyers or writers or accountants or steel workers, we are whole people, complex and varied, and often a tangle of contradictions. And life can be a struggle.”
    • Oh and then there was lil’ ol’ me shouting into the endless winter abyss with my essay on this blog, Because I Could Not Stop for Snow.

Hear

  • If, like me, you need to be lifted up in this dreary month, check out the story about Henry & Jane on Strangers. Henry had a brain-stem stroke at 40 years old but still has a great sense of humor, and his wife Jane, an incredible person, takes care of him and their four kids.
  • After what I would call a dry month, This American Life delivered a whammy, Except For That One Thing. (After Sophia, the Man Who Invented the Calendar, and the Tortoise/Hare, Julie and the Warlord was my 4th favorite story from BJ Novak’s book One More Thing. I have nothing special to add to Book Riot’s stellar review—except that I disagree about the JC Audetat story, I just didn’t care for it).
  • Going back through the TAL archives, I listened to this short story about Santa while I shoveled the driveway, and thusly I learned shoveling and laughing are tough to do simultaneously.
  • Grace Lee Boggs‘ story on the Moth was excellent. I have also gone back and listened a few more times to this man’s story about his mother on The Moth. It’s evokes such strong emotions. I’m in awe of the power of his words.
  • If you’re a Joni Mitchell fan, go listen to “Both Sides, Now” again and then read the lyrics. I am not a crier, but they make me ache in the way only really good writing does.

Say

  • I am so psyched to tell you about this next event, which could fall under “Hear” too: I am helping put on a FREE quarterly reading series, Arlington Author Salon. If you’re local to the Greater Boston/Metro West area, join me at Arlington’s Kickstand Cafe on April 1st (no fooling!) at 7:30pm to listen to three local authors read their historical fiction. I hope you’ll come, and invite your friends!

See

  • Did y’all watch the Great British Baking Show on PBS? I have never been so in love with reality television. There is something very special about the way Brits do TV. I’ll leave it at that so you can go watch. (One more fun fact: The host with glasses and cropped chestnut hair was also the host of The Supersizers Go, a British reality TV show about food that I’m happy to say you can now watch for free on Hulu. Nate, my Dad, and I watched it in England just after I had just given birth the first time. I guess what I’m saying is I will always hold a special place in my heart for that country and their television programming).

Eat

  • Now I finally know what I’ll do with the random dried apricots and couscous in my pantry. Ultimate winter coucous! Gosh, I love the way Molly writes. She is my food blogging soulmate, which I know is a bold thing to say since you might feel the same, but you can’t have her, she’s mine.

read * hear * say * see * eat {2}

This is my bi-monthly list of stuff I found online that I like. I promise never to tell you I “curated” it. Please share in the comments whatever you found that you liked!

Read

  • Toot toot! (that’s the sound of my horn) I wrote an essay about marriage for the Good Men Project. Will you check it out and maybe leave a comment? The only comments now are someone who pretty much thinks I’m a dick, and my wine-enthused reply.
  • Meghan Daum’s The Unspeakable: and Other Subjects of Discussion is so blazing in its honesty that I have to put it down and read something lighter in between essays. Acerbic, poignant, raw: those words might not make it sound pleasant, but it somehow manages to be.
  • A new column in The Rumpus about love started off with a bang. “…everyone I know feels like they’re walking on unsteady ground. Falling in love with someone, building a life, working toward something we may or may not achieve. Shelley_03We are always throwing ourselves into the unknown, hoping that things will work out, that we’ll be happy, that our story will make sense in the end.”
  • Ann Patchett’s new book is getting great reviews, but I am starting with one of her earlier publications, Truth & Beauty: A Friendship. It’s fantastic so far.
  • I can’t exactly explain my fetish with 1850’s lit, but every now and then I like to pick up a book from that era and flip through. Maybe I just like to see if I can figure it out. This week at the library I grabbed Oliver Wendell Holmes’ The Autocrat at the Breakfast Table, a collection of essays from The Atlantic, which I think he helped start (?). I skip through the sluggish parts and find that no matter where I open the book, a passage catches my eye, especially this description of rowing on the Charles River: “When I have established a pair of well-pronounced feathering-calluses on my thumbs, when I am in training so that I can do my fifteen miles at a stretch without coming to grief in any way, when I can perform my mile in eight minutes or a little less, then I feel as if I had old Time’s head in chancery, and could give it to him at my leisure.” If that doesn’t make you want to get out on the water, then I just don’t know what.

Hear

  • If you have been listening to Fresh Air a while, I think you will agree with me that Terry Gross is so totally gaga for Bradley Cooper. Do you remember that scene in You’ve Got Mail when Meg Ryan watches Greg Kinnear fawn over his interviewer? It’s just like that! Smitten, I tell you. Maybe it’s because he’s from Philly? The dude is super smooth, I’ll give him that much, calling her “Terry” at every opportunity. (Her interview with Ann Patchett is also a must listen)
  • Alec Baldwin interviewed Sarah Jessica Parker. It’s the interview I wanted ten years ago, and just like after S&TC, I was sad when it was over.
  • Just in time for Valentine’s Day (which a friend of our family once famously called ‘VD’), check out the episode of Death, Sex, & Money where Anna compiles all the footage about love. I’ve also listened to each of those interviews in their full length; they are all great.

Say

See

Eat

  • Our snow menu features heavily in Pioneer Woman comfort recipes like mac & cheese and cinnamon rolls (but whoa baby, back off on how much sugar you sprinkle on the dough if, like us, you don’t have a monster sweet tooth).
  • I’ve perfected my cocoa recipe over the past four years. I added it below. I tend to like it better than mixes, which often add yucky powdered milk for some reason. Keep in mind, everything in moderation. 😉

the perfect hot cocoa
serves 8

Ingredients:
1/3 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 c. white sugar
pinch of salt
1/3 c. boiling water
3 1/2 c. whole milk
big splash of vanilla extract
1/2 c. heavy cream, whipped until stiff with a bit of sugar and vanilla
whiskey as desired

Directions:

  1. Combine cocoa, sugar, and salt in a large saucepan. Whisk in boiling water and bring mixture to a boil, while stirring constantly. Simmer 2 minutes, then stir in milk and heat until hot but not boiling.
  2. Remove from heat, add vanilla and whiskey at will, pour into mugs, and top with whipped cream. Note: I make this recipe for the four of us to have twice and put away the extra in a mason jar in the fridge. The chocolate will settle at the bottom but mixes back in once heated again.

wondering about other writers

I’ve been enjoying the answers to Kristen’s questions for writers so decided to jump into the current of her meme and answer them. Plus, this is way more fun than cleaning my house to prepare for my mom’s arrival (sorry for the mess, Mom). Thanks to Lindsey & Nina for introducing me to Kristen and for the inspiration!

1. Do you share your work with your partner or spouse? Does it matter if it’s been published yet? (I share with my husband something that I submit elsewhere only AFTER it’s been published, and I am pretty certain he does not read my blog 90% of the time.)

My husband reads what I’ve published after the fact (when I send him the link), but I almost never give him a draft to read. He’s not into my blog; I guess he figures I’ll tell him whatever I wrote there, which is probably true. I’m a talker.

2. How much of your family and/or closest “friends in real life (IRL) first” read your stuff…let alone give you feedback about it? (Comments from my family and friends, either online or in person, are overwhelmingly rare. I’m totally fine with that, but I am curious if this is the norm for others.)

My mom and mother-in-law are fantastic editors, so I often send them drafts for feedback. My dad is one of my biggest fans, but he never got the hang of consistent web commenting so keeps his feedback to in person or over the phone. One friend IRL gives me occasional feedback, for which I am supremely grateful (thanks, Care!). None of my local friends even really know anything other than a vague notion that I “write for fun.” Now that I’ve switched the focus of my writing away from family updates and recipes, I’ve lost much of my old readership of friends and family. These days I think my readers are mostly friends I’ve cultivated online or people who had a link forwarded to them. Once a year or so, a friend who never gives feedback will shock me by saying “I’ve been reading your blog.” I’m guilty of lurking too so I don’t hold it against them. 😉

I recently was part of a 4-week free class on memoir writing that my local library sponsored, and it was so much fun. I loved the incredible rush I got from reading my work out loud and getting feedback from other writers (including a professional writing instructor), and I quickly became addicted to that feeling. When the class ended, I was despondent even though I was fine without it before it started. Once I knew what feedback could be, I craved that kind of interaction. I’m on the lookout for new writing groups in 2015.

3. What do you do with the pieces that continually get rejected–post on your blog? Trash? When do you know it’s time to let it go?

I plan to submit more pieces to publish in 2015, so I hope I will have the courage to keep submitting and reworking pieces that get rejected. Often I start my concepts for pieces on the blog; then if I feel like it’s something that will be good for a wider audience, I’ll transfer the article to a word document and work on it for submission elsewhere. I have trouble killing my darlings, but I am learning to take Anne Lamott’s advice that even if the first four pages were junk, sometimes you have to write them to get to that golden nugget sentence.

4. Are there pieces you write for one very specific place that, once rejected, you just let go of, or do you rework into something else?

Yes, I have written pieces for a specific place and then reworked them; often it’s not because of rejection but because the tone of the piece changes, and instead of trying to corral it I just let it be what it is. If I know a piece isn’t working, I put it in a digital folder “parking lot.” If and when I do mine it for ideas years later, it’s like reading something a different person wrote.

5. What is your main source of reading-based inspiration (especially you essayists)? Blogs? Magazines? Journals? Anthologies? Book of essays by one writer?

I read magazines, blogs/websites (you can find a list of what I’m reading here), and I LOVE books; like Lindsey said, I always have one on my bedside table. Today it’s fiction: Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections. I am especially keen on non-fiction though; there are lots of essays and memoirs on my list. I love Nora Ephron, David Sedaris, and if I’m in a serious mood, David Foster Wallace. I just finished Delia Ephron’s Sister, Mother, Husband, Dog and loved it. Like Nina said, I also love audio books and podcasts (here’s a list of what I’m listening to). If you haven’t done so yet, you simply must hear Bill Bryson read one of his books. I promise you won’t regret it.

6. What tends to spark ideas more for you: what you see/hear in daily life or what you read?

I get my inspiration from the oddest places sometimes. I’ve been reading an old book of children’s poetry to my kids every night that was my mom’s when she was a little girl; I find myself sprinting from their bedroom to my notebook so I can write down ideas. I learned a trick from my dad to carry pen and paper with me everywhere. Sometimes I make notes on my phone, but I’m an old dog when it comes to having a notebook; I like to dog-ear pages and refer back to them later. I always buy a red one so I can find it easily.

7. Who have you read in the past year or two that you feel is completely brilliant but so underappreciated?

Although they are becoming more popular, I routinely find people who still don’t know the awesomeness of Maria Popova’s Internet spaces: Brain Pickings & Explore. They are a treasure trove of creative inspiration. As Nina mentioned, I am glad to see Roxane Gay is getting her due recognition, so she’ll have to come off the underappreciated list (ditto Meghan Daum and of course Lena Dunham). And I’m really hoping Alice of Finslippy and Karen of Chookooloonks take over the world.

8. Without listing anything written by Dani Shapiro, Anne Lamott, Lee Gutkind, or Natalie Goldberg, what craft books are “must haves”?

I wrote a post on this topic recently. To sum it up, I’ll make the obligatory reference to Stephen King’s On Writing since you didn’t put that one on the list. 😉 Also I love every book by William Zinsser. I found Cheryl Strayed’s Write like a motherf**ker essay inspiring to say the least.

9. Have you ever regretted having something published? Was it because of the content or the actual writing style/syntax? (Obviously we all grow as writers and looking back at our “clunkier” writing can be cringeworthy…that’s not what I’m talking about here. I mean are there things you wish you hadn’t said out loud either because of what you said or how you said it. I’m not in this position right now, but some things I’d like to write about might get me there. And yet…how can I ignore those topics, you know?)

I haven’t regretted publishing anything yet, but I’m still pretty new to this writing gig. I definitely have cringed when reading some of my older blog posts, but I’ve also LOLed at myself. There are a few posts I’ve written for Natural Parents Network that received harsh criticism, particularly on Facebook, but I knew when writing them that I was walking a tightrope. For the most part I roll my eyes at the critics and move on. Naysayers gonna nay. I think it was Taylor Swift who said that.

in praise of friendship

ode to a best friend - heirloom mothering

My friend AnnaLysa (middle beauty in the photo above) just had a baby girl. It is so hard not to be in the same city to witness the cooing and bonding. I’ve been flipping through old journals, snuggling up to memories of good times past since I can’t be with her to celebrate the present. Here’s a snippet I found from an old journal I kept around the time that picture above was taken (2001?), when she and I were co-directing 20+ counselors and 80 kids at summer camp:

She writes songs that capture the essence of camp and sings them to everyone. I stress about how camp might fail then go home and quietly write in my journal. I am in awe of the lack of fear she has about sharing herself, her art, with the outside world. I don’t tell her enough how lovely she really is. I am so glad she’s my friend. I love her!

Over thirty years into our friendship, I am still so glad to call her my friend. Lindsey Mead—a writer whose blog I found, then lost, then happily found again recently—has been writing about friendship this month, and I can relate to her feelings on the subject. She wrote, “A person’s closest friends can tell you an awful lot about them and that who we truly love shows us a lot about who we are” (gosh, I hope that’s true). And, “Friendship is made of attention.” I agree especially with the part about attention, which is why I took Annie’s latest phone call from the bathroom. I didn’t want to miss any wonderful baby details, and it’s the only place I can guarantee my full attention these days.

Here’s my own honest truth about friendship. I think probably the only thing that keeps me ever being a good friend—and there are plenty of times I’m not a good one— is that when I think to myself, Why aren’t my friends paying attention to me?, I’ve trained myself to respond to that feeling by paying attention to them. Works every time.

Here’s hoping you have folks who pay you some attention. You deserve it.

uncertainty

 

uncertainty - heirloom mothering
Image credit: my favorite rabbit hole, xkcd

Today, as I prepare to attend the three classes my kids are enrolled in on Tuesdays, I decided it was a good time to tell you about All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood. I happened to turn right to a chapter called “Concerted Cultivation,” which seemed apropos to the moment; for all I know, any of the chapters would have felt this way.

During the first of last week’s onslaught of Tuesday classes, I settled into the bleachers to flip through the book and pretend to watch Charlie knock a bunch of orange cones over in a gym. I sat up sharply when I came across a single word: uncertainty. Somehow this one word resonates more than the other thousands I have read in books and essays on modern parenthood and cultural contradictions. Uncertainty would actually be a better title for her book, albeit less snappy. Here is her point regarding uncertainty. For millennia people viewed childhood, if not exactly the same, similarly. They saw children as a way to make extra income, to help on the family farm. They did not sentimentalize or coddle children, nor did they afford them any particular protection. Didn’t we learn in Anthropology class (or was it Environmental Sociology?) that they used children in the coal mines prior to canaries to test the air quality? Children are much better diggers than canaries, after all.

Over a wink in time, we have completely altered the thinking about parents and children; no longer their employers, we are now their protectors, and we make a career out of getting them a career. Only, we aren’t quite sure what that career should be, since the landscape of employment changes so rapidly in our time. No longer can we rely on the college education, or even graduate education, as the gold standard for our children. What seemed the symbol in America of ultimate achievement for generations is crumbling before our eyes, and we are scrambling in the rubble to rebuild; yet, we seem to be trying to build something new from the top down. Rather than watching our children develop skills and preferences and directing them toward activities that appeal to those strengths, we throw them at a myriad of activities that may or may not interest them and shuttle them onto the next thing before they can even stop and decide whether they liked the last activity.

Margaret Mead, the celebrated anthropologist, wrote about how parenthood was changing in the 1940’s and ‘50’s, and observed even then, “We find new schools of education, new schools of diet, new schools of human relations, sprung up like mushrooms, new, untried, rank like skunk cabbages in early spring. And we find serious, educated people following their dictates.” In other words, we have no folkways to guide our parenting. We are anxious because we don’t know what’s coming next.

When I was 14 years old and at a slumber party with friends, we discovered cookie dough ice cream for the first time. At my inaugural tasting, I recall a feeling of incredulity that the whole time the world had been spinning, we were completely unaware this amazing flavor was out there waiting to be discovered. It was probably the first time I truly understood the value of invention. Maybe I should be embarrassed by this admission, but I’m not. Cookie dough ice cream is damn good stuff. My girlfriends and I sat around that evening passing the pint, digging for dough nuggets, and talking about how there could be other things out there that hadn’t been discovered yet. I’m sure that when I went home, I told my mom all about it and begged her to buy some. What I failed to mention to her is that my friend had gotten one of those AOL CD-ROMs in the mail, and that we had also tried out something called the world wide web that night. Or if you like Godfather references, you could say I took the cookie dough and left the Internet.

I could have lied just now and told you that my eureka moment in recognizing my own inability to judge the next big thing was something profound like reading The World is Flat. But I like this story because it’s more like real life; our capacity to comprehend and anticipate what’s coming next is just waiting to be distracted by little balls of cookie dough.

Modern motherhood is fraught with concern over doing things right. We enroll our kids in too many classes and try to control what they do in school, which friends they pick, what subjects they pursue. This shit is bananas. When schools give kids piles of homework—is this based on any evidence? Or are we just scared that they might not learn what they need to know, so we practically throw the books at them? Do we even know what they need to know?

So yeah, that whole Internet thing upended how much our lives could change in the span of a day, and month, a year—and we didn’t even realize it was happening at the time. But I think we don’t need to know what lies ahead to make decisions about our children. We don’t need, as Nora Ephron puts it, all the “Mozart CDs while…pregnant, doing without the epidural, and breast-feeding your child until it [is] old enough to unbutton your blouse.” Those things aren’t wrong or bad, but we don’t need them to be good mothers. Perhaps we can simply go back to motherhood the way it was before we began to scramble; therefore, while I will enroll my children in some extracurricular activities, I do solemnly swear this week is the last of the horror that is The Tuesday of Three Classes. I invite you to do the same.

uncertainty - heirloom mothering
My grandmother, whom I admire very much, raised these eight children without driving all over town shuttling them to classes.

Lena in

Are you planning to read Lena Dunham’s memoir? I’ll probably wait for the audiobook; that’s been my preferred method for witty female memoir lately. Notables over the past year include (n.b.: I included links to Audible, but to be honest I’ve been borrowing them from the library via these little loaner MP3 players.):

Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake (Anna Quindlen)
Bossypants (Tina Fey)
Wild (Cheryl Strayed)
Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (Jenny Lawson)
The Glass Castle (Jeannette Walls)
Mom & Me & Mom (Maya Angelou)
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (Mindy Kaling)
I Don’t Know What You Know Me From (Judy Greer)

I was impressed by Dunham’s film, Tiny Furniture (which you can stream on Netflix). I also like her HBO show Girls despite, or maybe because of, its flaws. But before we get into Girls, let’s talk about its obvious predecessor for comparison, Sex and the City. I devoured S&TC in almost one go in my early twenties. This was me at twenty-two: painting rooms in my mom’s old house and propping up her tiny TV/VCR combo on the nearest counter/toilet/stair so I could watch a five-season Blockbuster-rental marathon of S&TC.

Lena in - heirloom mothering
Me, right before we painted that kitchen, probably talking to my new boyfriend Nate on what is definitely my old Garfield phone. Check out those over-plucked eyebrows. As Lena says, “she is looking for it.” Or as Britney says, “I’m not a girl, not yet a woman.”

Does S&TC lack luster in comparison to Girls? By today’s standards, S&TC is certainly less awkward and controversial than we might once have proclaimed it to be (“It’s glossy,” says every person everywhere). You could even argue it was a show by a man in his forties who mansplained a fantastical version of sex as a single woman. But let’s put aside Big’s deus ex machina in the final episode for a moment to consider the series as a whole. I contend it was controversial once, in an edgy, raw, and important way. I loved this critique in The New Yorker. Let’s just say Carrie probably paved the way for Hannah to exist as a character at all.

Whatever the pros and cons of Girls versus S&TC are, I give my own future twenty-something girls a thumb’s up to screen Girls some day (Screen on what is the question…on their phones? their watches? their contact lenses?). Maybe one reason I’m enthusiastic about Girls is I am just so ready to be over all the shows with a whiny male protagonist (Entourage, How I Met Your Mother, Scrubs, Dawson’s Creek, I could go on but you get it) and move on to a show with an honest—albeit yes, whiny—female protagonist. Lena Dunham has just the right mix of intelligence and self-deprecation I love. I agree with Meghan Daum, who wrote in NY Times magazine that Dunham’s “combination of extreme self-reference and extreme lack of vanity feels almost like a supernatural power.” She’s a mashup of Seinfeld‘s Elaine (“You think I have GRACE?!”) and Nora Ephron.

I know, I talk about Nora Ephron, like, A LOT. But I really loved her. She was an important figure in my life, a feminist bellwether, a sharp critic, and a lady every woman I know would have liked to have as a friend. A little over two years after we lost her, I find myself going back to my favorite stories and even my favorite eulogies (NYT’s Gail Collins, and oh yes, who could forget Dunham’s very own tribute in the New Yorker).

Cup of Jo featured a bunch of advice videos Dunham made in tandem with her book’s release, and I think they’re just as splendiferous as Girls, if not more so because they’re from a real girl to other real girls everywhere. Lena Dunham promotes my kind of feminism: the stumbling, unapologetic, earnest kind. If I had to choose between Dunham’s brand of feminism and Sheryl Sandburg’s, I’d pick Lena any day. I like to think Nora would agree.

on writing, like a mother…

on writing, like a mother... - heirloom mothering
BEF: Bitch Editing Face

This summer I stopped at my dad’s house on our way to Georgia. We all sat down one evening to re-screen The Valkyrie, that Tom Cruise film about a mission within the German army to assassinate Hitler. My youngest sister picked it; she was probably too young when the movie was originally released so had never seen it. As we got comfy on the couch, I noticed a half-finished puzzle on the table in the corner. Dad informed me it had been in that state since Christmas.

Six months! Well, this simply will not do, I thought. I pulled up a chair and assumed the role of Tom Cruise in the puzzle completion mission, finishing just as the movie wrapped up. I love finishing a puzzle—LOVE IT—especially one I didn’t start. I’m like Harvey Keitel, just bring me in when you can’t figure it out, and I’ll get the job done. The trick is not to stand too close to it; up close, you’ll think a piece is missing or the puzzle is somehow flawed. But those standing on the outside, the Closers, can see how the pieces fit together.

When I’m writing, I need to see myself as the Closer to get any writing done. When I push past the fear of inadequacy and the unknown and stop worrying about the big picture, I arrive at the place where real work can be done. I believe it was Nora Ephron’s mother who once said, “Everything is copy,” but Nora and her mother both sold their art short. Everything is only copy if you’re sharp enough to find the story amidst the anecdotes and mundane details. You gotta sort out the corners and stop focusing on all those stupid spade-shaped pieces.

advice on how to get past impostor syndrome and just write like a motherf**ker - heirloom mothering

I love reading about as much as writing. Lately I’ve combined these two loves with volumes on writing. Writing is an anomaly in the working world in that people who do the work sometimes also document the mechanics of what they do. You’re probably not going to meet many plumbers who turn around and say, “You see, the reason I used that vented trap is…”— unless they’re filming an episode of This Old House. But if you’re a writer, you just might enjoy writing about the process of writing. I’m sharing the articles and books I’ve been looking to for inspiration. Some selections have been out a while, and a few others are new pieces. If you have some favorites, please feel free to share them!

A list of helpful books on writing - heirloom mothering

Books & Articles on Writing

Ann Lamott’s Bird by Bird

No doubt you’ve heard of this one by now, if not in popular writing culture than in conversation with me. I love this book so much that despite finishing it many months ago, I still keep it on my nightstand to flip through from time to time. I’m not one to keep a stack of books by my bed (I hide them in my closet, where they can taunt me less). But this book is my security blanket, and a special friend deserves a special place.

William Zinsser’s Writing About Your Life & On Writing Well

“Writers are the custodian of memory.” These books are like if your favorite professor—the grandfatherly one, not the hip one—wrote a long letter of encouragement to you. Easy to read, easy to love.

Stephen King’s On Writing

“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” Amen, brother. Whether you love the horror genre or not, you will love this book. This book is like if your funny uncle–the witty one, not the one who makes inappropriate jokes at the dinner table–wrote a book letting you in on his secrets. It’s open and funny—so funny I found myself laughing out loud almost once per page—and best yet, it gets the salient points across. This man understands his craft.

Dani Shapiro’s Still Writing

Dani is a writer and teacher whose expertise is in memoir, which if you haven’t noticed yet, is my primary topic of interest. I’ve only just gotten my hold copy from the library a few days ago, but so far I love it. I had already drafted the top portion of this post when I got to the place early in her book when she compares writing to a puzzle. YES! I nearly squealed in the gym.

Cheryl Strayed’s “Write Like a Motherfucker” essay (The Rumpus)

I read her memoir Wild and ended up loving it. I say “ended up” because I didn’t start out feeling that way. Wild is about Strayed’s hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, but it’s also about her divorce, her mother’s death, and her troubles with drug addiction. At first, her life decisions made me so mad I could hardly keep reading. Then it occurred to me how infrequently an author is able to rile me up (Cormac McCarthy still holds the top spot in that regard. I’m speaking about the time I threw The Road across a crowded subway car because I just couldn’t hold it in my hand any longer at that moment). I gave Wild a second chance; I laughed, cried, and got mad all the way through it, and it was a lovely experience to have gone on that journey alongside her.

An interview of Strayed (Guernica)

I keep coming back to re-read parts of this interview. I like a writer who gets to the point. Strayed is insightful about the writing process and is one of the most motivational I’ve come across since Anne Lamott (see above). Here’s a passage I like from the interview; it’s a response to a question about finding the time to write when you have other priorities:

I know, it’s maddening! It’s so hard, because you have to make a living, or most of us have to. I certainly had to, and have to still. So it’s really this balance between doing things you have to do because you need the money so you can pay the electric bill, and then doing that thing you really care about, your passion. I’ve done different things over the years.

One of the things I did is I never made excuses for myself when it came to writing. I prioritized writing time. Even if that meant taking risks financially. I’d apply for residencies—places that give you a free place to live and they feed you and sometimes also provide a stipend—and go off and write for these intensive periods of time. That’s why I was a waitress, because the job never meant anything to me, so I could quit. I’d quit my job if I got a residency or a grant and I’d go off and write.

The other thing I did more recently, once I became a mom and my kids were old enough that I could leave them for a short time, is I would just check into a hotel right near our house, you know, like, the Courtyard Marriott a half a mile from my house in Portland. I’d check in for two nights and I’d write more in those forty-eight hours than I would for weeks at home. So just finding all these different creative ways to say, this thing actually matters and we’re gonna do it, and we’re gonna do it whether we have the money or not, or we have two little kids, or whatever it is. And I know it’s hard. I mean, I truly know it’s just plain hard. But do your best. And really actually do your best. Ask yourself: What is the best I can do? And then do that.

What I like so much about that quote, and what I can’t get out of my head, is that she doesn’t accept excuses from herself for not doing the hard work. She just writes and writes, like a motherfucker. Again and again, she comes back to the second beating heart she feels and how she just wants to get it it out of her chest so she can move on with her life. I admire the courage it takes to stop worrying about whether you will publish it and just start writing, REALLY writing. It sounds easy enough, but I completely understand why it was so hard for her. It’s hard for me! Just do your best and Write like a motherfucker are my new mantras.

You are one of a kind, dear Reader, and I mean that literally (N.B. regarding literally: I must tell you my first grader used the word ‘literally’ today, and I think I literally saw the word jump a shark into The Waters of Amazing and Awesome). Really though, sometimes I feel like I’m shouting into the wind with my new writing venture, with only my supportive parents behind me to grip the wind sock. But that’s fine by me. I enjoyed having an audience once (and if you’re not my parents and are reading, thanks!), but I also like the idea of a place where I can yell into the abyss, Zach Braff-style, and see what bounces back.

"On writing, like a mother...", list of books and articles about writing, via heirloom mothering
view from a favorite writing spot in our town coffee shop