News and Upcoming Events!

Hi friends,

Ghazals for Foley, ed. Yago S. Cura, 2016 Hinchas Press

Ghazals for Foley, ed. Yago S. Cura, 2016 Hinchas Press

Yesterday I received my copy of Ghazals for Foley, a book of poems written to commemorate the life of writer and slain journalist Jim Foley, who was a classmate of mine at UMass Amherst. I have a poem in the collection, along with poems by Martin Espada, CS Carrier, Shauna Seliy, my buddy and writing partner Mike Dockins, and many more. There is also a short story by Jim that was previously published by Hinchas Press.

I hope you’ll pick up a copy here and spread the word. Ghazals for Foley is a beautiful tribute to a beautiful person, and I’m grateful to Yago Cura and Hinchas Press for including me in the project.

ALSO: I’m reading this Friday night at the Madness Radio Book Launch! Feb 26, 2016 w/ Bonfire Madigan, Will Hall, Jacks McNamara, Mandala Project, Susie Meserve, book contributors and more…1017 Ashmount St 7pm Oakland California (make sure to park carefully and leave room on street). The essay I’ll be reading, called “A Little Crazy,” is forthcoming in an anthology by In Fact Books called Show Me All Your Scars: True Stories of Overcoming Mental Illness. 

I would love to see you there, if you’re local!

Finally, mark your calendars! My friend Sandra Stringer and I will be teaching a three-hour writing and movement workshop called “Releasing Your Body, Revealing Your Story” at Flying Studios in Oakland on Saturday, March 19, from 1:00-3:45 p.m. Cost: $75. If you know of anyone who might be interested, please spread the word. I’ll post again about it here, closer, of course.

All done with shameless self-promotion, now.

xo

Susie

 

 

Who Am I, Anyway?

I’ve been ruminating on identity a lot lately.

Me.

Me.

At the San Francisco Writers Conference this past weekend, there were so many opportunities to tell someone who I was—in ten seconds or less. The first time someone asked “And what do you write?” I botched my answer, stumbling with some “Ums” and “wells” and “kind-ofs.” Then, I agonized over how I would introduce myself at my panel on revision on the second day, the one I was doing with two experienced editors in a room I suspected would be packed (it was). In my notebook I nervously jotted down phrases like “I write about the darkness in everyday experience” and “I write about the light and the dark of being a woman” and other horrendous, lofty mouthfuls I absolutely could not see myself pulling off in public.

Then one of the other editors from the panel, who is also a new friend and a lovely person with whom I’d just had a delicious lunch in Chinatown, said: “Just say it all—you’re a poet, you also write personal narrative, you write about your experiences with anxiety, motherhood, and infertility, and then mention your memoir.” Wow—that was easier. And when it came time to introduce myself at the panel, I said exactly that, switching the pronouns, and was amazed at how easily it rolled off the tongue and how comfortable I felt not stumbling with some catchy catch phrase. Later, two people came up to me to tell me they couldn’t wait for my memoir to get published, that it just sounded wonderful. Isn’t that nice?

And, perhaps because I wasn’t saddled to a catch phrase all weekend, I was able to let go and be a poet for a few days, too, speaking on a couple of poetry panels, workshopping, and reading at the Friday night poetry reading. A poem that’s been just sitting in my computer for two years was enthusiastically received—a poetry press editor insisted that I send her my manuscript, provided that poem is in it.

So I came away from the conference feeling pretty good.

At one stage, in the lobby of the hotel, a group of women somehow converged—we’re all mothers, and we all live relatively close to one another in the same town, and there was talk of us getting together to write or commiserate or workshop. A trading of email addresses and a “where do your kids go to school?”s. And somehow, in that moment, my identity shifted from “writer” to “mom who writes.”

“How old are your kids?” one asked another.

“Ten and eight. You?”

“Seven and five. You?”

Then it was my turn: “Six,” I said. “Just six.”

And while I felt a part of this, because we all know what it’s like to try to pull off a writing career when you’re also raising children, because we’ve all given birth and nursed and been up all night losing our minds with exhaustion, I felt again that other identity of which I’ve been so conscious in recent years: that I’m the mother of an only child. If you don’t have kids, you might think, what’s the difference? Either you’re a mom, or you’re not. But I tell you, it’s different, really; having one kid means when you have a playdate your house is still pretty manageably noisy, and your plane ticket bills are cheaper. And two bedrooms don’t feel cramped at all, and it’s not too hard to get a babysitter.

But it also means smarting when, at a babysitting co-op meeting, someone says casually, “Oh, it’s so crazy once you have your second!” and every woman in the room except you groans and nods in some kind of humble brag, lamenting and loving their full, full, and more full lives. This happened recently, and I sat there feeling utterly apart because I couldn’t say whether it’s crazy when you have two. Because I have not been able to have two. Because I may never know.

But while this was so hard for so many years, this feeling of wanting something I couldn’t have, lately I’ve been wondering if I really wanted it as badly as I thought I did. I’ve been wondering if maybe my life is just perfect as it is.

“God, it’s so nice to have adult conversations for a change,” one of the moms at the conference said, and I thought, but I have adult conversations all the time. My life is very manageable with one kid who’s in school or childcare 36 hours a week or more; I see friends, I work, and I spend many hours alone, writing. Besides, conversations with L have rarely been a chore. Maybe this is something about my kid, or my parenting, or something else, but I have realized lately how, when I’ve been so busy wanting something else, my nice life has been here all along with me.

And again, it’s kind of like writing. At a recent meeting of my Creative Women’s Cocktail Hour, my friend Ascha had us choose lines from a book of poetry and write them on an envelope. Then we shared the lines.

IMG_2811Mine—”like someone trying to walk through a fire,” “What I would do with the rest of my life,” and “your old soft body fallen against me”—all from The Gold Cell, by Sharon Olds—seemed to speak to how you have this relationship with something and it lasts your whole life. My writing and I, we’re like old lovers; we fight, we make up, we get on with it, we fight, we make up. We walk through fire together, and we’ll be together forever. And this is a comforting thought, because when my writing and I are not connecting, it doesn’t mean we’re breaking up; it’s all just part of the journey.

And I guess that’s a bit like parenting, too, like me parenting my one beautiful child: his young soft body fallen against me, for the rest of my life.

Like walking through a fire.

—-

Sharon Olds’s poem “After 37 Years My Mother Apologizes for my Childhood”

**Nota Bene! Susie will be reading on Friday, 2/26 at the Madness Radio Book Launch! With Bonfire Madigan, Will Hall, Jacks McNamara, Mandala Project, book contributors and more…1017 Ashmount St, Oakland, California 7pm. Hope to see you!** 

Mastering the Book Proposal

Recently I had the good (ahem) fortune of writing a book proposal, a document I’d avoided for years because it simply didn’t seem necessary. My book was done; I’d been sending it around without one, so why the need? But when I attended the San Francisco Writers Conference in February, an agent I’m interested in working with—along with a former book editor-cum-entrepreneur whose advice I trust—said in no uncertain terms that every memoirist needs a robust (read: 100-page) book proposal. I realized that if only for the very practical reason that if I wanted to query this agent I’d need a book proposal, that I had to write one, daunting as it was.

Daunting.

Daunting.

The tricky thing about a book proposal is that it calls on a completely different part of your brain than the one you use to write your book. You hope the book-writing part uses the creative, spontaneous, brilliantly fresh part of your brain; the book proposal requires something more like an MBA. Here is the book market, you need to say. Here is how I fit into it. Here is how my book improves upon and contributes to the many voices already writing memoir, anxiety, romance. And here is why I’m the best person to write this very book. You also need to learn to talk about your book and why you’ve written it in a way that suggests confidence, poise, and drive, plus no small measure of self-aggrandizement.

My first draft was a disaster. I followed a template to the letter of the law, in the process confounding an editor I’d hired. In my chapter summaries (oh yes: you need a roughly 1-page summary of every chapter in your book, which in my case is 20+ chapters long) she couldn’t find the theme of the book; she didn’t understand what the climax of the story was or how anxiety even fit in. Since anxiety is supposed to be the very bottom building block, the most important thing, I knew this was a major problem. And while the editor didn’t have much negative to say about my 12-page Marketing and Publicity section, it was killing me: I spent hours coming up with a list of blogs and publications and connections and opportunities, but somehow this all felt folksy, redundant; that it didn’t really describe how I plan to market and promote my own book. Did I really need to state that I planned to Tweet about it? I mean, duh, right?

Luckily, a writer friend to the rescue. She let me look at her book proposal. And then I found a few others, remembered that an old college buddy had, years ago, sent me his. Reading these through, I realized that the most salient point of a book proposal is that, while in an actual book you have pages upon pages to allow themes to marinate, in a book proposal you have mere sentences to make yourself understood. You have to hammer home your points in a way that a busy agent or book publisher, skimming your proposal, can easily grasp. So I rewrote and rewrote those chapter summaries, emphasizing the two main threads of the book—making peace with fear, and love as acceptance, if you’re wondering—in every single one. And in the Overview section, I strove for an almost-painful clarity: the theme of the book is this, I said. The most important takeaway is this. Finally, instead of concentrating all my industry-speak into that one Marketing & Publicity section, it occurred to me to sprinkle it throughout, and to use the “About the Author” section to tout my accomplishments (man, that’s an uncomfortable phrase to write) and emphasize the ways this book fits into a larger scheme of me as a writer.

The surprising thing about writing this book proposal was not facing the discomfort of shamefully selling myself, though that did give me pause, but rather how damn useful it was. Being forced to write a sentence like “the themes of the book are X, Y, and Z” helped me to reflect on, well, the themes of the book. It allowed me to go back and look at the book and ask myself whether those themes were in fact clear (and if not, to take one last moment to make them clear). Similarly, writing the “Comp Titles” section—where you compare and contrast your book to others in the same genre—allowed me to really envision where my book sits on the shelf at the library. It allowed me to come up with catch-phrases to describe the genre and what I’m trying to do. It gave me the opportunity to think of ten books that I really, really like and describe how my book complements them. Finally, the book proposal was a great opportunity to talk a little about anxiety, to throw some statistics around, to say what I know and very much believe to be true: that Americans are more anxious than ever, that anxiety has become a huge part of our national identity, that more people need to be reading and writing about it. Because I truly believe that.

Last week, with very little fanfare but a nice oomph of satisfaction, I sent out that book proposal. I’m now in that awful period where you wait and wait and wait. But it actually doesn’t feel so awful, I think because I’m really happy that I finished that book proposal and feel good about it. If nothing else, writing it helped me to really put the cap on the pen that has been this long, long writing project. If nothing else, I gave it a very good shot.

Resources That May be Helpful if You Are Writing a Book Proposal:

Start Here: How to Write a Book Proposal

The 8 Essential Elements of a Non-Fiction Book Proposal

How to Sell Your Memoir by Brooke Warner

Are you a Maxed Out, American Mom on the Brink?

After I wrote my last post, about not wasting my life, it seemed like everything I read—like this blog post and this blog post—reflected the state I was in. And then I discovered a terrific book by a local writer named Katrina Alcorn that REALLY spoke to me. It’s called Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink and I can’t recall a time I have been so simultaneously wrapped up in a narrative (I could not put it down) and validated by what I was reading. Alcorn describes the several-year span when she and her husband attempted to work demanding, full-time jobs (the kind with conference calls at all hours, off-the-hook clients, and heavy travel) and parent three kids. In the course of running this rat race, Alcorn stops seeing her friends, stops exercising, fights with her husband, gets very little sleep, and seems to always be getting sick—but she works through it anyway. And then the crippling panic attacks start. Talk about wasting your life.

Maxed Out, in the midst of the kitchen clutter.

Maxed Out, in the midst of the kitchen clutter.

Despite the fact that I have only a moderately-demanding job, and only one kid, I nonetheless saw so much of myself in Katrina Alcorn. I of course connected with the anxiety, but also with the sensation of always wanting to meet some demand that just can’t be met: a cleaner house, a better book proposal, a smoother commute, less stressful mornings, a faster track to career success. In fact, as I was reading, I could see nearly every one of my mom friends in Katrina Alcorn (even the stay-at-home ones, because, let’s face it, running after your kids all day is a different kind of rat race). And what’s more, I could see my dad friends, too, and my friends who don’t have kids. The book, which couples a memoir-style-narrative with short essays about the realities of being a working mom in American society, ends up being a call to action not just for working moms to have more freedoms and time off, but for all Americans to work more reasonable and flexible schedules. I recommended the book to about ten people in two days—one of them a friend without kids, one my incredibly hardworking cousin who’s single, and one my own husband.

And now, I recommend it to you. Walk, don’t run, to your nearest library or independent bookstore and pick up Maxed Out.

If you’re interested in learning more, you can check out Alcorn’s blog here.

I Have Wasted My Life

The view from my hammock

The view from my hammock

Lately, everything has felt busy. Sometimes I think this is the mantra of my generation, at this time in our lives: we’re working parents, we’re social beings, and we’re ambitious, and many of us feel like things are about as full as they could be. In the past year, my life has amped up in several ways, and it’s left me simultaneously dizzy from the excitement of it—I’ve felt, finally, like a real adult, a real breadwinner with a real career path—and overwhelmed by the day to day.

In general, I’ve been proud of the way my family has adjusted to me working more and L starting Kindergarten and all the other things we’ve added to our plate. B has become an extraordinary caretaker, making bread for us every week and planting the garden with veggies and folding all the laundry. L is a pain about doing anything to help out, but he’s five, after all. And I’ve loosened the reins on certain projects and I still manage to get a good dinner on the table most nights and keep us in groceries and a clean bathroom. Our life together has felt very manageable, and very happy, if at times a little too…full.

But something small can throw a huge wrench in the gears, and that’s what March was: this weird cold/flu I had that migrated to my ears and became a double ear infection. For the past month, I’ve had tinnitus (no fun) and this constant sensation like a valve in each ear is popping open, closed, open, closed. I missed a week of classes, which I had to make up, and once I felt a little better I found that my work ethic was shattered: it didn’t feel like much fun to sit at my computer and listen to the roaring in my ears, so I started to postpone grading and planning until the last possible second. And of course, when you get sick, you end up having doctor’s appointments, which means time away from work and writing, and then there are those bills to pay and meanwhile everything else continues unabated. I’m not complaining—it’s been an interesting reminder to me about the nature of life, and in particular the nature of my life, and now that’s it’s all getting a little better I’m much happier seeing it in a different light—but nonetheless, all the worry and sickness and anxiety and discomfort have been…disorienting.

And so, on the most practical level, I had a few days there where I felt quite firmly that my life was spinning totally out of control. I worked a lot over the weekend, just trying to get caught up with a book proposal and all the grading I’d been neglecting, all the while feeling like I was barely making a dent. Hardest were the liminal spaces, the hours and minutes in between classes or events, when I’d expect to accomplish small tasks or phone calls and for whatever reason, utterly fail. Finally, on Monday night after a full day, I spent a few hours catching up with travel plans and my son’s school activities (oh, how I had been neglecting the various appeals from the PTA) and filing bills and paying bills and generally trying to get my head to clear.

It was amazing how much better I felt once I’d done all that.

But one thing I still hadn’t managed to do was blog, here in National Poetry Month, of all times, when I always feel I should be blogging.

And then, a certain poem came barreling into my consciousness yesterday and I knew exactly what I wanted to blog about.

Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota
Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,
Asleep on the black trunk,
Blowing like a leaf in green shadow.
Down the ravine behind the empty house,
The cowbells follow one another
Into the distances of the afternoon.
To my right,
In a field of sunlight between two pines,
The droppings of last year’s horses
Blaze up into golden stones.
I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life.
© James Wright, from Modern American Poets: Their Voices and Vision (Random House, 1987)

When I read this poem in college, the professor asked us to interpret the last line. And I recall many of us, then on the cusp of becoming adults, saying that the last line meant that lying in the hammock, looking around, was a waste of life. I felt quite firmly that what Wright had meant when he wrote this poem was that he had been lazy in his life, that he should have been more ambitious.

How wrong I was. Now, saddled with all the things I’m saddled with at 41, bills and obligations and worries, I see clearly that what Wright meant was that all the noise we fill our lives with is, truly, the waste. Now, this poem speaks to me in a way it never could have when I was twenty-one.

And so, yesterday, after I’d taught two three-hour classes back to back, and used all my liminal spaces for phone calls or emails, I came home to a quiet house. I calmly washed the dishes, changed my clothes, and sat quietly at the table filling out raffle-ticket stubs before picking up L at school. And when we came home, and he decided to run off to play with the neighbor, I sat in the hammock in my backyard for fifteen minutes, reading The Remains of the Day and listening to the birds and the sounds of the guys working on the house across the way.

I will not waste my life.

Secrets of the San Francisco Writers Conference Revealed!

The San Francisco Writers Conference was amazing.

Still life with business cards

Still life with business cards

Truth: Ahead of time, I had convinced myself that the event would be pretty stressful, full of intimidating publishing industry “gatekeepers.” I kept thinking, I just have to get through this. I had gotten myself a little worked up by last Thursday, the day the conference started, and even considered popping a Xanax before the first session. But then I went to hear Brooke Warner, Cynthia Frank, Regina Brooks, and other editors both local and from New York talk about writing and editing non-fiction, how to create a memoir book proposal, who to work with, how to categorize your work, and more. I felt immediately happy I’d trekked up Nob Hill on a hot day with a heavy bag (sans Xanax, for the record). The editors were accessible, the content was good, the format was easy, the hotel was nice—it was an utter treat to be there.

This was my first writers conference, and I’d managed to get in as a presenter in the poetry division. Saturday morning, I moderated a panel on “deadly writing habits” and then presented on a panel about how a day job can support one’s writing. Because my duties were fairly limited, I was able to attend all the sessions I wanted on Friday and Saturday: craft (in the sense of, how-to-write) sessions, meet-the-agents sessions, sessions about how to use Twitter and Facebook and other social media to build a writer’s platform. I filled my notebook to the brim with notes, ideas, contacts, questions. I collected a fistful of business cards. I pitched my memoir to five incredibly kind literary agents (three of whom gave me the green light to query them—yeah!). I had a lovely lunch with a book editor I’ve hired, a woman I felt I could be fast friends with (she’s terrific: if you’re looking for an editor, ping me via the contact page or on Twitter and I’ll connect you. Also check out the eatery Harrow, in downtown San Francisco—yum.) I met, paneled with, and read poetry with a wonderful poet from UC Davis, Andy Jones, and spent a lot of quality time with my writing-mom-walking buddy Aya deLeon (who has great news—check out her blog!). I met writers, editors, agents, publishers, teachers, social media experts, and more.

Not surprisingly, there was a lot of talk at the conference about community. In a panel on building a writer’s platform, Andrea Dunlop from Girl Friday Productions, a Seattle-based editing/publishing/coaching business, talked about how the best way to build your writer’s platform (e.g., your stance as someone people will want to read) is to simply be a part of a writer’s community. That means reading your friends’ books, reviewing them, being in a writing group, hosting a reading series, going to readings, supporting your local bookstore, and tweeting and blogging and Facebooking about all of that. It was enormously comforting to me to hear that something as simple as having a thriving community of writers could do wonders for your work. Because I do have that wonderful community. (You know who you are.) And being at the conference was another exercise in community-building. I’d feared it would be about posturing or one-upping, but instead, it just felt supportive, like gates were opening rather than being held closed.

During the conference, I felt so invigorated, despite the fact that I was up at six on both Friday and Saturday mornings and the days went long (and my dinner Friday night consisted of some cheese and charcuterie and about three glasses of wine, which made Saturday’s wake-up less than awesome). During the week in my normal life, I often feel exhausted by working, writing, parenting, and keeping everything together. It felt promising that while at the conference I felt energized, excited, and possible, and that nice feeling stayed with me through a leisurely Sunday and Monday at home with my boys. Of course, questions were raised as well, particularly about the catch-22 that is “the writing platform”: in order to build one, you have to publish a book; but when you try to publish a book, everyone wants to know whether you already have a platform.

That, and other conundrums, will certainly stay with me over the next few weeks as I dig out from the conference: I have emails to send, tweets to tweet, notes to make sense of, ideas to put into fruition. I’ve got a handful of new connections, was just invited to join a writer’s group, and of course have some queries to send out (and a book or two to write). It’s exciting, thought-provoking, and good, and I’m so glad I went.

Is Writing an Act of Bravery? How About Sleepovers?

photo(6)

An act of bravery by a grimacing kid. And a not-so-subtle message unrelated to the rest of the content of this blog post. That is all.

I was so thrilled by the nice response I got to my essay in The New York Times a couple of weeks ago. Like the other pieces I’ve published recently, like this one and this one, the essay was deeply personal and more than a little revealing. Besides admitting to sometimes wishing my son would move out to a nice farm in the country for a week or two, I also came clean (again) about my struggles with secondary infertility.

I noticed that when all my lovely friends and supporters re-tweeted and re-blogged my essay, or shared it on Facebook, they kept referring to it as brave. “A brave essay by my friend Susie Meserve,” one of them said, and another, “Thank you for your honesty and bravery.” Honest, I’ll cop to—always. (Honest to a fault, methinks.) But brave? At the time I posted my snarky little article about parenting, another friend was publishing a piece about negative portrayals of women of color in television, for which, I’m sure, she received a $%^& storm of offensive comments. And of course I thought about the incredible bravery of Jim Foley. I was hard pressed to think of myself, in an essay complaining about the boredom and existentialism of parenting, as being “brave.”

I raised this with my friend An Honest Mom, who shared the smart point that we always think of other people as brave before we accept the idea that we ourselves are. And that, for many people, what I did in those personal essays—admitting to pettiness, jealousy, parental ennui, grief, and infertility, not to mention contending with years and years of rejection as a writer—is just that: brave. Well, gosh. That made me feel good. After all, I am the woman who spent seven years writing a book about my own anxiety, and how when I traveled around the world with my now-husband, fear kept me from experiencing all kinds of adventures.

That I might be brave for sharing that truth about myself is almost uncomfortably ironic, and more than a little pleasing to think about.

I had been mulling this over for a few days when I stumbled into a sweet conversation with my son L, who at five seems to have simultaneously inherited his mother’s risk-aversion and society’s ideas about what bravery really is. I was puttering around the kitchen while he drew pictures on the floor and practiced writing “letters” to me and his dad.

“Mama, did you know I’m not as brave as J?”

“You’re not?” I feigned surprise. J is an extremely intrepid friend. He’ll scale anything around.

“Nope. He’s much braver, because he climbs much better than me.”

“Well, you know,” I said in a fit of genius, “people are brave in different ways. Like, for example, I’m not very brave about climbing either, not like Daddy or J. But I’m brave because I write things that people don’t always like, and I write them anyway. And sometimes it’s hard to be a writer, because people say no to you a lot, and it’s brave that I do it.”

He was enthralled.

“And,” I continued, “I know a way that you’re brave that J isn’t as brave.”

“You do?”

“I do. You do a great job at sleepovers. And J still has a really hard time with them.”

“Yeah!” he said, jumping up and down. “I’m brave at sleepovers!”

“Yup,” I said, feeling utterly content with everything: my tenuous bravery, and L’s.

This question of bravery keeps coming up. L is more than a little obsessed with it lately. Playing “dinosaurs versus dragons,” he’s constantly asking me which team is braver, and his answers reveal a very narrow-minded idea of courage. For example, yesterday he told me that the dinosaurs were braver because they were winning. I suggested that maybe the dragons were braver for keeping on fighting even when they were losing, but no—that was the wrong answer.

I’m obviously more hip to bravery than L, but nonetheless I wonder whether my own ideas about what’s brave have been a little primitive. Like traveling with B. The entire time, I told myself that he was the brave one, because he seemed to be completely unafraid. But maybe, for pushing through my fears, for not giving up, for ultimately deciding I could have traveled forever, I was brave, too.

I don’t know. But I nonetheless like the idea of reframing bravery. For many years, I haven’t believed that I have been very brave at all. But I have started to wonder if maybe bravery is something different than I’ve thought.

And, an aside: NaNoWriMo. The goal is 50,000 words. Me? I’m shooting for 25,000. It may not be an act of bravery, but anyone who meets that goal, while working and parenting and preparing for the holidays, my hat is off to you.

Stay tuned for the 2014 Literary Gift Guide, coming soon!

Susie

Don’t Make Me Come Up There

L has been learning some Spanish. His new favorite word is amarillo, yellow. Last night, in the car, he was holding a yellow truck and we heard him say, “Amarillo truck!” and then, in a voice that could have been mine, “That’s right! Amarillo!”

“Man,” I said to B. “That kid must hear my voice in his head all day long.”

Turns out I’m right. There was a This American Life episode a while back–I can’t find it now–about how kids whose parents talk to them and read to them have a distinct advantage over kids who don’t; they do better in school, in part because they have many more words (and more positive words) than kids whose parents don’t read to them or actively teach them language. By Kindergarten, kids who are read to and talked to are miles ahead. Experts think this accounts, in part, for multi-generational poverty and illiteracy. It’s very sad. Anyway, I knew this–but I didn’t think so literally about it, like, that the actual words I say to L are bouncing around in his head.

This made me think that I need to be more careful about what I say. I don’t even mean because, say, L was running around last week yelling “Get off my fucking vest! Get off my fucking vest!” (oops; and what does that even mean?). More because he is obviously picking up not only on what I say to him–but also on what I say to others and to myself. And lately, I have not been very kind to myself. I’ll just come out and say it: I have had a really difficult couple of weeks. My anxiety has been so uncontrollable I have almost wanted to head straight (back) to therapy and a bottle of something. It’s been caused, undoubtedly, by what I think of as bourgeois American problems: we have now extracted L from his current daycare and are about to transition him to another one, and for whatever reason the whole thing has felt very sanity-testing. I hate not being liked, and now people are upset with me; the voices asking if I’m making the right decision have been pretty loud; the financial piece of it is stressful; etc. Perhaps worst of all, the whole experience completely derailed the month of January, which I’d planned to use for my own writing. I got very little done.

So, anyway. My friend K asked me to go to a yoga class with her the other night, and the invitation could not have come at a better time. The class was restorative yoga, which means it’s not exercise at all but you lie around propped up on pillows with an eye bag. At the beginning, the teacher asked us to set an intention for our practice (if you’re not familiar with yoga, know that this is basically a…well, an intention, a place to put your energy. It’s quasi-religious, and I love it). Make an intention: into my head popped the words, love yourself as much as you love your kid. I nearly started to cry. I realized that there I am, saying to L, “Amarillo! That’s right! Good job, sweetie!” While in my head I am saying to myself, “You suck. You made a big mistake with this daycare and now you have to clean it up. You suck for not being able to finish your book. You suck because you will never get published. You suck, basically. And did I mention you suck?”

Okay, I’m being a little extreme, but it’s not too far off.

So, resolved: be nicer to myself. Because little pitchers have big ears. And even if I’m not saying it out loud, little pitchers are pretty perceptive.

On a lighter note, here’s a very funny This American Life clip about talking to kids. Well, yelling at them, really. Enjoy.

Boiled eggs and Behavioral Psych 101

I’ve had kind of a tough morning.

L was sick yesterday. I knew because my kid, who, unlike other dear lovely children, would rather sit on my head or jump on the bed than nestle next to me in the mornings and fall back asleep (curses) declared yesterday morning that he would rather “snuggle and read books” than go to the playground. Bam: fever, lethargy, 3+ hour nap, and asleep again by 7:30 last night. We had sort of a lovely day; lots of book-reading and snuggling, an hour watching a video about trucks, a brief period in the sandbox in an Advil-induced better moment. He slept through the night, and woke up ravenous: he ate two whole pieces of toast plus a boiled egg. He even started to eat the toast crusts, which is an indicator that he’s really hungry. So, then the decision needed to be made: was he better? Could he go to daycare?

In the meantime, we’re trying to get packed for a trip to Tahoe this weekend. We all overslept; I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you we oversleep every morning, lately, but still. Unshowered, I was bustling around trying to get breakfast for everyone as B was frantically throwing last-minute things in a bag so he could get to work on time, as L was demanding to be held/more toast. It got late and B really needed to go but I also needed him to help me pack the car since I have a cracked rib and carrying heavy boxes is not advised. So B was a little impatiently trying to pack the car as I was badgering him with questions about whether or not we should do daycare (B voted yes) and L was still demanding more toast and I started to feel like a scene in a movie where the clock starts ticking louder and louder and the phone rings and the baby starts crying and it comes to a fever pitch and AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

But, see, I’m fairly used to this. I have been anxious since I was a little kid, and every time I go away for the weekend or do something more than slightly out of routine I get a little wound up. I start anxiously asking too many questions, and my brain is like a yoyo going boing boing boing. Last night I was already fretting about whether everything would fit in the car and whether, if there IS any snow, I would make the cracked rib worse if I fell while skiing, and whether we would need chains for the road, and whether L would be up to going–and when I woke up and L was better, there was this very simple decision to be made about daycare.

Simple decision? You’d think I was agonizing over where to go to college.

When I was pregnant with L, I had to decide whether or not to do some basic prenatal testing. A wise friend said to me, “Just make a decision. It’s going to be one in a long line of decisions you make about your kid, and at some point you just have to decide something and not look back.” Excellent point, I thought, and in the moment she said it I could see this future of mine as a non-anxious, in-control, self-actualized sort of mom who made confident decisions and didn’t worry that they were wrong. Three years later I’m not fooling anybody. Eventually I decided he would go to daycare, but I worried about it all through getting us quickly dressed and out the door (what if he got the other kids sick? What if he needed to just stay home and be held all day, sweet love? What if what if what if?). I thought maybe I’d ride him on my bike instead of driving; part-way there he said he was cold and I nearly turned around. There was this other voice reminding me to put on a good face for him, because if he caught wind of my apprehension daycare was going to be a lot more difficult today, plus I wanted to seem confident with R, the daycare provider, so she wouldn’t know how borderline the situation really was (100-degree fever). AAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!

Then this little voice said to me: drop him off. Go get a cup of coffee and mull things over a while. If you need to go get him in an hour, you can.

And here I am, mulling.

It is hard to be this person. I trivialize it, I joke about it, but the truth is, it sometimes really sucks to be so tethered to worry. I would think after 30 years of this…illness I’d have some basic tools to cope with mornings like this, but I don’t. I’m reading this book right now, a young adult novel B loved as a kid, called The Bronze Bow. And Jesus is a character in this book, and he heals people who want to be healed. In the chapter I read last night the main character is talking about how Jesus can’t heal people who “don’t want to be healed.” I’m not sure where this is going to go, in the book (and no, I have not found Jesus) but the question resonated. I have many times wondered (and I know my husband has wondered) if I can’t somehow just deal with this anxiety problem of mine and be done with it, or whether anxiety has traveled with me for so long–like an abusive, dysfunctional friend–that we’re inseparable. Like maybe I don’t even want to let her go.

This got sort of heavy, didn’t it? The truth is, I feel much better for having written it down.