Archive for September, 2009
Once, when I was 29, a student asked me how old I was. It was the beginning of the school year, and she was a freshman so I was new to her.
“Twenty-six,” I answered and kept going on with that night’s workshop.
About thirty minutes later, as the students were quietly working on something, it dawned on me that I had totally told her the wrong age. I was 29 not 26, but, somehow, I had never, in my mind, come to think of myself as a 29 year old.
“I am so sorry. I just realized that I told you I was 26, and I am not. I am 29. I just don’t ever think about my age and kinda forgot how old I actually was.”
Needless to say, the student who asked was totally confused. How does someone forget her age?
A few weeks ago, a dear friend, who is also a mom of a toddler, emailed me with a note that said something close to this: “Have you collected any good information on flu and swine flu vaccinations for children and the potential benefits vs. risks?”
I thought, Ah, bummer, I’m not writing about vaccines right now and so I haven’t done any research and have no sense of what parents should consider with the new swine flu vaccine. Wish I could help her out.
A day later, it dawned on me. She wasn’t asking me as a writer who has a wellness/health beat. She was asking me as a mom. As in I am a woman who now needs to make decisions about flu shots for my child. Totally missed that one.
On Tuesday night, I was teaching a journaling class and I was having participants consider the way they balance their lives. I gave them categories for consideration including family. When it came time for me to consider how much energy I was putting into my family, I gave myself a “3” because even though I had talked to my sister and broher in the last two days, it had been a few days since I had talked to my parents. A few minutes later, as I was reviewing all the pieces of the puzzle, it occurred to me that the category FAMILY no longer referenced only my relationship with my siblings and parents. I have a family now!
I mean, come on, everyday, I obviously operate in the world as a mom. I feed my baby boy, sing to him, run up and down the driveway with him in his car, put him down for naps, tell him “that’s not a toy” more times that I can count. I redirect, change diapers, give him medicine, do laundry, dress him. BF and I negotiate schedules, amend our approaches, regroup. We are so clearly a family. Like the time that I said I was 26 when I was really 29, even in the midst of doing these grown-up things, I sometimes forget that I have the role that goes with them. I am somebody’s mother. I am half of a head of household team, I am the CEO with BF of a family. And the fact that it took me 8 months to realize OH, THAT’S WHAT THIS IS kinda cracks me up.
When it is time to start writing a book, I have a few processes that I put in place. First, I read and read and read and just fill my head up with stuff because stuff is the soil where your ideas take root. Then I jot down all my ideas on index cards. I like to think that I write enough for me to know what I was thinking about the next time I see the card. What I am finding, though, is that I so don’t write enough to know what I was thinking about when I wrote the card, but I, at least, write enough so that it initiates an idea– maybe the same one I had before, maybe a brand new one, who knows. I put those index cards in some semblance of order in my little clear bookwriting box and then it is time for me to plot out how to get the book written.
At this point, I work backwards. I consider when the final, clean copy is due to the editor and then I think about getting all of the rough draft totally done at least two months before the final pretty polished piece needs to be turned in. That way, I have two months for editing. Then I think about how many pages I need to write and how many weeks I have between now and when I want my rough draft done and I divide up how many pages I need to get done by week. Then I superimpose that onto days. For me, I only have 4 days a week to write because I teach my three hour body image seminar on Friday mornings and I have the baby Friday afternoons so there’s no writing on that day. Then, I know how many pages I need to write every day. And I hold my feet to the fire to write those pages even if they are uninspired, even if they are not my best writing or ideas or whatever. Because having something on the page is better than having nothing on the page. Something I can work with and craft into something else. You can’t do anything with nothing (and that, my friends, is a brilliant sentence. You cannot do anything with nothing. I think that will be in a coffee table book one day).
Right now, I have written 144 pages of book 2. I have about another 225 pages to go not counting the introduction (and I write the introduction at the end when I know what exactly I am introducing). Not counting this week, I have 10 weeks left to write those 225 pages. So, that brings me to 6ish pages a day from Monday through Friday from now until mid-December. Since I only have about 4 hours to work each day and still have articles to write, lessons to plan, Circle de Luz things to do, I try to sit down at night and brainstorm what I’ll cover in the next day’s six pages to help me be as effcient as possible. Sometimes it works, other times it doesn’t, but there’s always the effort which I feel like counts for something.
As I buckle down more with this book, I’d like to be more systematic. I’d love to write the six pages at the same time everyday (this appeals to me in my mind, I wonder if it will appeal to me in actuality?). I’d love to not answer email or the phone or even get distracted by what the baby and BF are doing with their time and while I think that the first and second are possible, I am not as sure about the third because it is hard to write in a vacuum. In fact, that’s true generally. Life inspires art, a vacuum would leave you both artless and lifeless. And while I want to be more deliberate about my art, I want even more to be deliberate about my life.
“Will you turn on the news?”
Huh, I wonder, hearing BF’s voice. It can’t possibly be time for the news. This is our first awakening since we went to sleep the night before (BF sweetly and fast, Me disgruntled over the Indianapolis/ Arizona football game because A. Kurt Warner is my fantasy football quarterback and B. Peyton Manning is the guy I was playing’s quarterback. But I am getting into another post now).
“What time is it?” I ask.
“Did baby not wake up?”
“Nope. He slept through the night.”
“Not yet,” I say. “He has to sleep until 7 am to sleep through the night.” Yeah, I have tough standards like that.
So we laid in bed in silence watching the clock work it’s way to 7 am. When it did, we both squealed. BABY SLEPT THROUGH THE NIGHT AFTER 8 MONTHS AND 1 DAY WITH US. There is no happy dance suitable enough for this occassion, but there is celebrating by sending coffee strong enough to keep you awake all night to the Milestones Contest winner. My sister said August 25th and Fighting Windmills said November 1st. Baby slept through the night practically equidistant from these two dates so they are both winners in my book. Ethiopian coffee will soon be in route to them.
Now, time for Contest # 2.
It looks like Baby is thinking about walking. By thinking, I mean he pulls up, cruises around the furniture, occassionally stands on this own for up to five to ten seconds before plopping down. He’ll walk if we are holding both hands and can do some steps, too, if we are holding just one hand. So, all that said, the big question is when will baby walk for at least five steps indepently of us or furniture? That’s Milestones Contest #2.
Post your guess by Friday, October 2nd at 11:59 PM.
The winner will receive a gorgeous, handmade Bead for Life necklace (Thanks, Jillian, for introducing me to them. I just love mine!).
I believe that one of the best ways to gain perspective, grow as an individual, and boost one’s sense of self is through journaling. I am teaching a journaling workshop Tuesday night and so I’ve been working through what prompts I’ll have my group do and decided to share some with you today on Beautiful You Monday!
Grab a journal, a notebook, a slip of paper, the back of an envelope, or even open a word document on your computer and take a few minutes to finish these sentences with the first thoughts that come to mind.
I have always wanted to…
I don’t do it much but I enjoy …
The greatest joy in my life is…
I am most proud of…
Someone I turn to when I need inspiration is…
I can’t wait to…
The only things scratched off my to do list for today I did yesterday in order to get ahead. Sometimes, life just rolls that way, doesn’t it?
My beloved Panthers look like they are going to break my heart on not just any given Sunday this fall and winter but quite possible on every given Sunday. This wouldn’t hurt so bad if my Fantasy Football team wasn’t also fragile. Oh who am I kidding, it would hurt just as bad. Sunday football is my escape. If my team loses, it sorta just hurts my feelings.
If you drench russet potatoes in olive oil and then put them on a baking sheet without edges, the oil rolls off the edges and drops down to the bottom of the oven where it hisses into smoke. Enough smoke to set off the fire alarm again and again and again and force your family to eat outside. This is simply an observation, not a comment on my cooking.
You know you walked into the hair salon with particularly troubling hair if the salon owner at the salon you’ve been going to for years keeps stopping by your hair dresser’s station to tell her how fabulous the haircut is (and he’s never done that before).
Now that the baby sleeps better at night (just two wake-ups on average now, y’all), his naps stink and it’s hard to put him down. It’s one or the other, isn’t it?
A dog who plays hard outside on a humid 90 degree day smells like a teenage boy. Even if she’s a four year old four legged girl.
Baby has discovered that he can feed Lola from his perch at the table. It has made him more popular with Lola (there was only way to go, though, and that was up). It has not had the same effect on his father and me.
I’ve been taking a daily snap shot of baby since he turned one. Before having a baby, I never carried a camera; I rarely thought about pictures. The first seven months we had baby, I got slightly better about taking pictures because, hey, I had a great subject. But this one picture a day challenge has been a great one for me. I love capturing the smallest moments of our lives alongside the bigger ones. Today, to celebrate 8 months of family, here is a montage.
Nightswimming deserves a quiet night.
The photograph on the dashboard, taken years ago,
Turn around backwards so the windshield shows.
Every streetlight reveals the picture in reverse.
Still, it’s so much clearer.
I forgot my shirt at the water’s edge.
The moon is low tonight.
I am singing with a CD case as my microphone, Jennifer Nettles my backup. BF is biting his lip. For a moment.
He can’t stand it any longer. “You’re tortured.”
“I’m a torch singer,” I reply.
“I didn’t say you were a torch singer; I said you were tortured.”
“Stop it. You can’t talk during my solo. Now I have to start over. I am a torch singer!” I hit rewind on the dashboard, moving the cd back to the beginning.
REM was the soundtrack of my adolescence and young adulthood. I saw them in concert in 9th grade with Drivin’ and Cryin’ as their opening band and then I saw them again my senior year of college after my dear, sweet college boyfriend waited hours outside of the concert venue in Charlotte to score tickets for my birthday (he also accidentally landed as an extra in the Whoopi Goldberg movie, Eddie, that was filming at the coliseum that day in what is one of the funniest stories ever but back to REM and my singing). The concerts were the bookends of those formative years where REM’s music was like salve to my soul. We all have that band, right? Or a couple of them. I probably had a few– I was a music girl through and through for many, many years. REM was one of those bands that had a telescopic lens trained on my heart.
The opening lines of Sugarland’s cover of Nightswimming start back up. I turn up the volume. And I belt it. Like I’m 17 and not 35. Like I am riding with the sunroof open and have no responsibilies, not on the way home from running errands on a Friday night with the baby in the back seat. I am belting it like I am a rockstar. And right when I think BF is going to lose it, we notice something in the back seat. Baby. Punching his fist (bottle in hand) in the air with each note his mama hits (or misses you might say), milk flying, understanding just how much music matters (and, ahem, how good my voice is).
“That’s my boy,” I shout during the instrumental part. “And his mama is a torch singer!”
Just about two years ago, a sixth grade teacher at a local middle school asked me to come speak to 9 of her Latina students. She had a special interest in Latino students, knew Spanish, and had convinced her principal to give her all the Latino students so that they might have a smoother transition to middle school. Hijas Americanas had been out for about five or six months, and she was hopeful that it would be a positive experience for the girls to meet an older Latina. I gladly accepted the invitation.
That first meeting, I took cupcakes and pizza and asked the girls about their dreams. All of them planned on graduating from high school and going on for more education. One wanted to be a doctor. Two wanted to be veterinarians. The others wanted to be teachers. They were sweet and earnest, and I couldn’t help but fall in love with them. When I climbed back in the car after our hour together, I was both energized and worried. They all wanted to graduate from high school and, yet, I had all these statistics in my head from writing Hijas Americanas. 41% of Latina girls don’t graduate. 53% of Latinas get pregnant before 20 years old. I was overwhelmed.
I kept going back. And these girls were the girls who inspired Circle de Luz. Their school wasn’t a natural fit for the program, but I contiue to see these girls as much as I can because I believe in and want the best for them. And I want them to know how precious they are.
On Saturday, their 6th grade teacher and I picked up five of the girls (2 have moved back to Mexico and 2 could not make it on Saturday) and took them to a local Central American restaurant for lunch. It was the first time we had ever gotten together outside of school. The girls are in 8th grade now and continue to be just lovely and spunky.
When we sat down at the table, we all started pouring over the menu, figuring out what we would have. And then one of these lovely, lovely girls, who I will call Mia, said something that stole my breath.
“I’m on a diet.”
Her sixth grade teacher and I both pounced, telling her empathetically that she was perfect the way she was, that she didn’t need to be on a diet, etc. And my heart just hurt over it until I saw her order a perfectly normal meal and exhibit a perfectly normal appetite. Then it hurt just a smidge less, but I still worried over what we had heard her express.
Meanwhile, we started talking to the girls about school, about how eighth grade was. And Mia, who had been a bit of an underachiever in 6th and 7th grade and was sometimes in trouble, said,
“I think I am smarter than I used to be. Before I never thought I could do the homework so I would just copy someone else’s. Now, I know I can do the homework and so I just do it all myself.”
We talked some about growing older and more confident, about doubting yourself when you shouldn’t, about the joy of trusting your own ability. Around the table, they championed each other, cheered each other on, laughed together. It was, really, just the perfect way to end the meal and to toast our two years together so far.
Later, we planned a picnic with baby in tow, took pictures together, exchanged email addresses. And I just basked in how well these girls are growing up despite the odds against them, despite the odds they sometimes create for themselves. I want so much for them to be safe, to be happy, to be confident, to be focused. I want so much for them to love themselves, to be fully possessed of themselves. I want so much for the steps that go backwards to stop, for the steps moving forward to quicken the pace. I want so much for them to have just one moment to see themselves through my eyes. I can’t guarantee that any of that will happen, but I can guarantee that I will always show up for them, that I will challenge them when they say they are on a diet, that I will toast them when they recognize their own intelligence, that I will journey with them anywhere. Sometimes, a girl just needs someone outside of her own immediate family who thinks she is fabulous (remember when you were young and you would think, “my mom is just telling me that because she has to…”). Let’s all be that someone.
I am so excited to announce that I signed with literary agent Jennifer Lawler of the Salkind Agency two weeks ago. For the past two book contracts, I have been an unagented writer which means I have pounded the pavement to find a publisher for my book ideas and then negotiated the contracts for myself (a very scary proposition). As it turns out, I love writing books– I love spending time with subjects, ideas, people I am passionate about, I love using that medium to help people get at their voices, I love having the word count to share stories adequately, and I love having the opportunity to share those ideas and stories with people all over the country who have their own rich stories to share. It was a dream of mine to have not just an agent but the right agent and, because the right agent was so important to me, I’ve been slow about pursuing an agent. But I sensed that I had found that special agent when I learned about Jennifer. The author of more than 25 books, Jennifer writes extensively about marital arts and empowerment. And she’s got a great, approachable, easy personality. Oh, and if you were wondering how I REALLY knew she was the agent for me, well, she’s the author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Sleep Training Your Child. If there was ever someone I needed in my life, it’s Jennifer.
So how does this agenting thing work? Well, you contract with an agent for a specific book but you can certainly build your relationship over time with many books. For now, I pitched Jennifer the book idea that I had before Beautiful You that deals with activism. She liked it, felt like she could find a home for it, and now I am revising the book proposal with her suggestions in mind. From there, I’ll turn it over to her and she’ll begin the work of approaching editors/publishers about it. And, hopefully, one day in the not too distant future, we’ll be virtually toasting (since she’s in Kansas and all) because a home’s been found for this book that I am eager to send out into the universe.