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

    I Thought We Were Going to Be Better by Now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    No longer.

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

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

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

    But we do. 

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

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

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

    What kind of world am I leaving to my daughter?

     

     

     

     

     

  • storytelling,  writing

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

    Hi there. Remember me?

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • dogs,  family,  writing

    Revisioning

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

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

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

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

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

    Lilly Bella, Beagle Extraordinaire @ 3 months

  • art,  book,  books,  storytelling,  writing

    A Thing That Happened

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

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

    I’m excited.

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

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

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

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

  • writing

    Nanowrimo 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • art,  introspection,  writing

    Radio Silence

    I’ve spent much of the summer not engaging with the Internet, which is only part of the reason why my last post was months ago.  There is so much that the Internet brings to my life, but it also brings a world of distraction with it that gets in the way of writing.

    And how I long to be the kind of writer that can pound out weekly blog posts and keep up her writing goals and also meet all of the demands of every day life.  Do these writers have a potion that they drink to keep the words flowing?  Where does the time come from?  What is the problem always, but time, time, time?

    Give a sister a Time Turner already, Hermione.

    I’ve thought of shutting down Ordinary Canary a dozen times over the summer.  But every time I start taking the steps to do so, something in the back of my brain just won’t let me do it.  It’s hardly a success, as far as blogs go.  I have no sponsors.  My regular readers number in the dozen and that’s only if you include all of the ones that are related to me.

    And yet.

    And yet I have been writing journal entries on the Internet since 1997, since before there were fun little software packages like WordPress, before LiveJournal and Diary-X, when telling the world how I felt meant hand-coding the HTML for every entry.  Updating links.  Pirating pictures from a world wide web that was still a shadow of the information dump that it would soon become.

    The Internet has grown up.  So have I.

    I have been hard at work all year on a novel that I’ve tried to write several times before, but this time I seem to actually be doing it.  It’s a historical fiction biopic, based on someone that you might know about if you know your classical music history, but most people don’t.  I don’t want to say much more than that, for I read some advice that the more time you spend talking about your project, the more energy you take away from actually working on it. 

    And working on it I have been.  I’ve done two Camp Nanowrimos this year and fully plan to be writing the last chapters of my novel in the real Nanowrimo this November.  I discovered a neat little tool that lets you run your own personal Nanowrimo all the other months of the year and track your statistics, and so for most of the other months, I’ve been doing that too.

    That is to say, I write or edit nearly every day.  I’ve passed 150,000 words and still have another part to go, which tells me a great deal about how much cutting and revising I will be doing.  Perhaps this is because it is my first novel, but I am certainly not a very efficient writer.  I never have been, which is part of what makes keeping to blogging deadlines so difficult for me.  Writing takes time.  It always comes back to time.

    And so, Ordinary Canary has been put on the back burner for now, but for the absolute best reasons.  For now, I just have to keep my head down and the words flowing.  And when I raise my head again, finished draft in my hand, I can only hope that all of you will still be here.

  • children,  family,  feminism,  motherhood,  parenting,  storytelling,  work,  writing

    Summer’s Light

    Perhaps it is the middle of June, but out  here on the island, the weather has finally just reminded us of what summer feels like.  We’ve shed our jackets and dug out our shorts to swelter in the heat.  I finally covered our porch in potted plants that I think might actually survive the night temperatures now.  At last, the weather matches the long hours of sunlight that have been making bedtimes with Baba more than a little insane.

    “It’s NOT bedtime, Mama,” she says every single night.  “Look, it’s still daytime.”

    “Alexa,” I ask our Internet overlord, “what time is it?”

    “It’s seven o’clock,” Alexa says, backing me up with her calm and robotic voice, as though hours and minutes are a thing that Baba actually cares about.

    “ALEXA!” Baba shouts.  “IS IT DAYTIME?”

    I feel this is a good time to mention that nothing in the baby books prepared me for parenting a three year old.

     

     

    And yet, I’ve caught the itch too – it’s impossible to do all the sensible things that you know that you should when the world is glorious and filled with light.  And it sure it hard to go to bed after spending far too many hours convincing your toddler that she really does need to lay down and go to sleep right now or…

    OR…

    ORRRRR….

    There is no or.  Although absolutely every neighbor and every book confirms that this is a sign of my inept parenting, the three year old is in charge, as it apparently illegal to actually staple her to her bed.  Between bedtimes and potty training, my life has been consumed by her needs.  By the time she finally gives in and accepts unpleasant states like lying down and closing your eyes, it is generally about half an hour before my normal bedtime, which is just not enough time to settle down and relax.  And so I stay up far later than is wise, night after night after night.

    I know they warned me, but this motherhood trip sure is intense in the first few years.

     

     

    I was walking home from the train station the other night, enjoying the glory of the sun still out and about, when I suddenly thought about how I am now only a decade younger than my mom was when she died.  She was absurdly young, but women in my family have a tendency towards overachievement, and racing to the finish line is no exception.

    But then, the inevitable next thought always comes:  But I have not yet done what I always knew that I should do with my life.  I have published only one story.  I have written the majority of several novels.  One of them should even have a finished first draft by the end of the, dare I say it, by the end of the summer.  But it’s hard to not to despair that it has taken me so long to get this far.  What if the same thing happens to me and I leave all of that work incomplete?

    My Beloved is approaching retirement in the next decade and so we are beginning to talk realistically about what that next stage of life will look like.  How will we afford it?  Can I retire anywhere near the same time?  When I was younger, I thought that I would retire early – or at least semi-retire – because I wanted to travel. But travel in the way I had pictured has lost much of its appeal, as my life grows to make my home the place I really want to be.

    So perhaps not that.  Perhaps I will retire just to find a second career.  I’m not certain.  But I know that whatever I do, it will be arts based.  That is who I have always wanted to be: someone who creates something that matters to other people.

    But what does even that look like?

     

     

    Like most fiction writers, I dream a lot about what would happen to my life if I managed to write that best-selling dream novel.  Who does not?  Isn’t it fun? Just one success and then your money worries go away for the rest of your life.  Get optioned by Hollywood and then pay off your house.  You’ll take the lump sum of your earnings that year and invest them in ways that keep turning the money into more money.  Maybe you’ll take a part-time job, just to keep the brain cells flowing.  Maybe you’ll work on writing your next ten novels without having to balance another full time job.  Maybe you’ll spend your days just sitting in the garden, enjoying the kind of time you never used to have.

    Creativity needs space and time.  Executing the dream, the work of the doing, that takes time too.

    At the end of the day, every dream I have is really about freedom, not money.  It’s about being able to buy the time that I feel so starved of now, here, in my present life that sometimes feels like it’s lived entirely in service to the needs of others.  How is it that I’m spending my days folding laundry and going grocery shopping and and not doing, doing, doing the creative things that would satisfy this longing?

    This feeling is only temporary, I tell myself.  It’s just a few more years before Baba can fold her own laundry and cook her own meals and won’t want me around.  How I’ll long for her then, this sweet-skinned babyish form of hers that crawls into my bed and curls against me and says, “Mama, I just want to sleep on YOUR pillow,” as if that makes all the sense in the world.

    And then I will miss this time, this hard, frustrating time that is filled with a thousand small moments like that one.

    And so.  So I carry on, scribbling when I can, as best I can, and trying to be gentle on myself for staying up too late, for forcing myself exhausted through the motions of each entirely forgettable day, for not doing the work that will satisfy my dreams.

    There’s time yet, after all.

  • children,  feminism,  motherhood,  parenting,  writing

    The End of Summer

    Somehow, Baba’s summer break snuck up on me.  Each year, her day care closes for the last full week of August, as the school prepares for a new year.  Since I have the more forgiving job when it comes to vacation time, I take it off each year to take care of her for a week of full-on motherhood.  This year I didn’t even realize summer break was here until Wednesday of the week before, so I had very little time to plan or prepare, either for my leave of absence from work or for activities to keep Baba busy, which is rather a requirement if I have any desire of keeping my house from utter destruction.

    As it happens, I recently started sharing my car with my brother, who is working far enough from home for the first time that he needs reliable transportation.  That seemed like a great idea until I remembered my time off and that he’d have my car for each afternoon.  So…homebound for half the day with a two year old or limited to how far our feet could take us, which is a shorter distance than you might immediately suspect, since Baba still badly needs naps, but refuses to take them when she’s at home with me.  That added some challenges.

    Every time I spend a week doing full-time parenting, I am bowled over by how hard it is.  This year, Baba has enough friends that we could fill most of the week with play dates, so it was less lonely than past years have been.  But now that she is so much more mobile, I could barely sit down all week.  (And there is that issue of no more breaks naps.)  My feet are throbbing, my back hurts and my calves ache enough that I have developed a potentially unhealthy loathing of stairs.  As much as I’ve loved the extra time with Baba, who has developed just enough logic and vocabulary to have become hilarious, I am very much looking forward to sitting at my desk for a blessed six hours in a row tomorrow.  Sitting on a train, sipping my morning coffee, writing another scene in another chapter on my novel — this feels like an unbelievably civilized way of living.

    Seriously.  It is 7:30 p.m. and I am writing this from bed becuase the thought of having to hold my head up on my own is simply untenable.

    Alice Munro frequently mentions that being at home with three children was why she got so good at writing short stories, as she never had the focus to work on anything longer.  I’ve always loved her work, but when I think about that and the last week, I can’t help but admire her more. This blog post is the first writing that I’ve done all week, because my days started when Baba climbed into my bed and only ended after the fight to get her to go to sleep.  By then, I was so exhausted that I could barely climb onto the couch and feed myself dessert, much less put together words in an order that could possibly make sense.

    But tonight my frustration with my lack of progress this week finally manifested as enough energy to actually get some work done.  And, wouldn’t you know it, as I opened up my copy of Scrivener, I realized that the notebook that I’ve been writing in has gone off with my car to my brother’s job, which might as well be Timbuktu for as reachable as it is to me right now.  It will return to me in the morning, but doesn’t it just figure?

    Virginia Woolf was so right about that room of your own.  If you’re not familiar with the essay, her point was that the men of her day were expected simply to work, while the women were expected to take care of their families and households, so if they were writers, it was that much harder, since they had no space to sit and think and no one working out their meals and laundry for them.  As a working mom, I feel this intensely, since every minute of my day is planned long before the day arrives, which is the only way to keep a job and a household running and still have some energy each day to spend actual quality time with Baba, much less my Beloved.  And I’ve certainly been frustrated with how much that slows down my writing, since I must write in 45 minute chunks of time, since my train commute is the only spare time I have all day.  But that hour and a half each day is a gift and I have missed it, even as my time with Baba has given me more experiences to write about.

    In the morning, Baba will go to a new classroom, with the same children that she’s gone to school with since she was four months old. She’ll have a new teacher and spend her days with her friends, who she has missed while she’s been stuck at home with me.  And I will go back to work, both grateful to get back to my normal challenges and deeply regretful that I will have to wait for hours for Baba to throw her tiny arms around my neck in that clumsy strangehold that always takes my breath away.

  • introspection,  writing

    Hesitating Before the Dive

    There is a moment in Olympic diving that every diver takes as they walk out to compete on the world stage.  They climb up to the diving board, then breathe in deep and square their shoulders.  After this moment, they walk out confidently onto the board, which bounces predictably beneath their weight, the way it has done thousands of times before, and then they take their shot.

    Although my athletic prowess is limited to being able to run three consecutive 10 minute miles without immediately dying, I love watching Olympic sports.  The divers are a particular favorite, as they combine gymnastics and swimming — two areas far beyond my wildest dreams of ability — and fly through the air, bending their bodies in ways that seem impossible and then slip into the water with barely a splash to mark their passing.  They inspire my imagination, even as they please my love of beauty.  They are tremendous, frightening, inspiring people.

    I’ve been thinking a lot of that sigh at the beginning lately.  I haven’t spoken much of it here, but I am at a similar point in my writing.  I’ve spent the last three months deep in research and plot, scrambling to work in the small bits of time that I have each day for writing, and putting together a framework that I can only hope will be strong enough to carry the weight of the story that I want to tell.  It’s a story that I’ve already told many times, over glasses of wine and lunches, to friends and family who listen politely and nod and tell me that it all sounds very interesting and they can’t wait to read it.

    And now it is time to begin the actual writing.  Yet I’ve found myself delaying over the last few days, as I’ve taken a much needed break away from the ideas so that I can approach them again in a fresh and objective frame of mind.  I’ve never been the kind of writer that falls in love with the sound of her own voice; I will actually cringe my way through most of the rereading that I’ll do before hitting publish on this post.  And this isn’t the first time that I’ve tried to tell this story, so I keep hearing the echoes of where the past efforts have stuttered out, even though I know that my new angle is much stronger.

    Wasn’t it Thomas Edison who said he never failed, but just found a thousand ways not to light a lightbulb?  I certainly have learned from the two previous beginnings, but there are only so many times you can take 40,000 words and throw them into a folder that you’ve named “Old Manuscript” without wanting to shy away from similar grandiose sacrifices. 

    And so, here I am, having climbed the rungs of the ladder, trying to take that deep breath that will propel me out onto the board, to bounce in a place that is more familiar to me than standing here on the edge, wondering if I have the courage to go on. In another day or two, I will come back to the page and take those first steps out onto the board, just praying that this time, my mistakes will only propel me forward, as I finally learn what it is to write a full novel.

  • art,  books,  storytelling,  writing

    A Little Story

    It is October and I have been writing short stories for most of the past year, among other things. More on that later. But I was reminded the other day of my favorite Hallowe’en story, read by one of my favorite authors, so I thought I would share it with you.

    The world might be dark and scary outside, but I just wanted to remind you that literature can make it even scarier.

    Happy Hallowe’en!

     

Bitnami