Tuesday, July 26, 2016

More on writing and mothering from July 3 years ago. (It's so weird how in web world 2013 has an ancient, papyrus feel to it.)

A Writer's Mommy Guilt by Amy Shearn

Monday, July 25, 2016

One Reason Modern Parent Friendships are so Difficult

A young child’s third birthday party. An hour away. The whole family attends. It’s a hot Sunday in June and the playground sprinklers aren’t working. The bathroom is not close by. The entire day is organized around the party, even though the event itself is only a few hours long.

You play Frisbee with your older child and respond to incessant demands from your younger for water or for getting sunscreen out of her eyes or for putting her shoes on or off or her bathing suit on or off even though you keep explaining that the sprinklers aren’t working anyway. You eat pizza and cake. Your gluten-free husband grows increasingly hungry and irritable. By now he should know to pack something to eat for these kinds of outings. This is a source of minor tension.

You chat briefly with the hosts—your good friend from college and her husband whom you’ve known for a long time—but more with parents you’ve never met of kids you’ve never met. The kids attend the same daycare as the birthday girl or maybe they are in swimming class together at the Y.  

At the end you try to take a picture of your kids and the birthday girl but all three are looking down at their goody bags. You remind them that the last time they saw each other was at the pirate ship playground. The oldest one thinks he remembers. This is a really good friend of mine from college, you tell them. They are figuring out that the Peppa Pig ring is really a lollipop.

You fight on the train ride home about how much of the goody bag candy they are allowed to eat. They already had all that cake. But the train is super crowded and you’re not sitting down.

Once you get back to your neighborhood you spend an hour pushing the stroller in the heat to get your younger child to fall asleep. Otherwise the rest of the afternoon will be torture. Finally she does sleep. The Peppa Pig ring lollipop falls to the ground. A late nap means bedtime will be pushed back. You’ll lose a couple hours of time you need to work tonight. 

Back from Alaska

I want to write about the trip. Mostly about the salmon (watching them try to swim upstream). And the glaciers and the Misty Fjords. And what it was like to be literally off the grid. For everyone around you to be literally off the grid. To exist fully in the world. To drink coffee and stare out windows. To read books and sink into long, uninterrupted conversations. 

But before that, I had something I wanted to post from earlier in the summer. I think a lot about why modern friendships are so difficult. Especially friendships with kids. There have been great articles about how hard it is to carry on a conversation with children around. And other articles about why getting a babysitter and meeting up with childless friends isn't all that feasible all that often. (Does anyone have a link to that fab article from about five years back about why one dad invited friends to come over and hang out rather than meet up like in pre-kid days?) There seems to be a great emphasis now, at least in New York, on friendships where the primary link is through the kids not the parents (i.e., hanging out with the family of your child's classmate) and a huge emphasis on full-family hangouts in general. Much of that seems like it should be a positive development, and yet from my experience it can feel like a lot of running around and little payoff in terms of actual connection. Instead of meeting up for a few hours with a close friend for say a drink or coffee--just the two of you--the default hang-out seems to be something more like a birthday party, something that requires a great deal of time and energy, involves the whole family and takes over the whole day. I haven't fully worked out my thoughts on this yet--and haven't come close to figuring out whether the net result is really a minus. Certainly one factor is that everyone is so busy during the weekday that the weekends are reserved for whole-family events. I think the wide but shallow friendship net we tend to cast is also an important variable. Partly it may be the natural tapering off of one-on-one friendships as we (many of us) couple off and settle down. That part of the equation is nothing new and not related to our over-wired lives.  

What I'm going to post is really just a vignette, but to me, just writing down the surface description of one tiring, all-family, everything-thrown-out-of-whack day is kind of illuminating.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Changing Pace

I am back in productivity mode. Back in NYC. Counting the hours. Panicking here and there about how fast they are going and how little I've gotten done. In that spirit, here's a post from my cousin Leah Fisch (have mentioned her here before) - Productivity Hacks that seem super-useful to me for anyone, not just entrepreneurs. Let me know what you think.

I just flashed back to a moment in August, 2010, that first year I started this blog, when we came back from one trip and had only a couple days before another and how weird and jaggedly out of place that in-between time felt. 

The blog (my life?) had such a different feel and pace and momentum that summer six years ago. It had a frantic, neurotic feel to me, those posts reflect it, like I had something to prove or something to establish...an argument I was jumping in on and trying to make...a lot more people openly following me at least based on the comments...back when I would post on Facebook...a public conversation, a different kind of attention...almost like the story mattered more back then and now the thoughts matter, like they've floated away into some other space. Back I was much more externally-focused, jacked up, hooked up, holding on to outdated networks, and now I feel like I have at least begun to turn inward, which of course is really a return. 

I am so much more accepting of slowness. Not just wanting to join a buzzword or buzzworld of "slow living" or "slow parenting" or minimalist living or whatever scene we might imagine to be out there, but really, truly, accepting of what it means to slow down, to, as my friend Heather says, "de-busy." That doesn't mean that I succeed in it even once a day. But it does mean that I feel a completely different relationship now to "living the question" as Rainer Maria Rilke wrote and I quoted just recently here

Jung, too, writes "The serious problems in life are never fully solved. If ever they should appear to be so it is a sure sign that something has been lost. The meaning and purpose of a problem seem to lie not in its solution, but in our working at it incessantly." I am happy now to work at it incessantly. With or without clear progress. With or without validation.

In 1973, May Sarton wrote about the difficulty of living her dream, solitary and reflective life: "It has harder than it used to be because everything has become speeded up and overcrowded. So everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow cycles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace."

If I have time tonight, I will stop by the garden. I will check on the Cosmos Alex thought was terrible-tasting dill. I'll water the lavender, which grew huge and lush this year, which gave us lovely bouquets Wally brought to grandmother in Massachusetts. I will check on the swiss chard, and see if it's ready to eat before we leave for Seattle on Wednesday. And I will see if the beans have finally started to climb.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Early July

On Monday, the kids rode the carousel together at a mall in Massachusetts. It's funny how I never cared for malls as a child, and now feel strangely grateful that any remain in an age of box stores and amazon. 

This is the first time Petra is starting to look like another kid hanging out with Wally. It can be the clothes she's wearing or a micro-expression and it happens incrementally, transition from toddler to little kid, but it's one of those things you catch sight of it all at once.

In the morning before the mall trip we sang Hamilton songs with my nieces before my sister's family headed up to in-laws in Vermont. 

In the late afternoon my dad and I took the kids to sprinklers nearby. Music was pouring out of someone's house across a little creek by a skate park. Petra set up a tent and Wally danced in an empty pavilion. 

Yesterday was a slow day, too. Spent at home and at the library. Checking out a big stack of way too many books for our week here. A trip to a new playground with a giant hill slide after dinner. On the drive back Wally insisted it had to be Wednesday. We told him it was still only Tuesday. He said if that's true, and we've really only been here two days, then something must have flipped, and he's now getting into the spirit of summer.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Writing Practice

I'm excited to get the chance to write Writer's Boot Camp. I think the original proposal was from 5 or 6 years ago. I am finding it so rewarding to stop and think about my own writing. I love to think of it as a practice. There is something calming and centering about that. Writing as practice. First, the idea that you have to practice. That just like playing an instrument, you don't expect to do it well every time or even most times. You're always pushing yourself and stumbling through new pieces. So there is the idea of just putting in the time, whether it's struggling through a problem set in math, or trying various experiments in chemistry, or taking a first stab at an idea you have for a painting that captures the gray, still air of today, Tuesday, June 28th. There is the knowing that what you first write won't necessarily be what you wanted or needed to say, but it will be a way into what you want and need to say. There is knowing that today, or even next week or next year, you may not get into that deep, still, calm place where you are finally able to tell the story you've been dying to tell. But the point is not the end goal. It's the practice. It's the process. It's, as Littlefinger says in Game of Thrones, the climb. 

I just found mold on raisin bread I bought last week. Wally made his own sandwich today and of course didn't notice the mold. I was pleased he had made his own sandwich. But then I had to call the school to ask them to intercept the sandwich. They said they would.

Today is his last day of 2nd grade. A half day. I thought about picking him up instead of letting him take the bus home because of this idea that on the last day there should be some big hoopla around dismissal. Traditionally on the last day much of the school congregates for lunch at the nearby playground. We have done that the past two years, but we have been down there a lot lately for various end-of-the-year events and I don't necessarily think Wally needs one more. But obviously I'm on the fence about it or was or needed to talk through and rationalize what is really a minuscule decision (to have him take the bus home this half day, as usual, and hang out with neighborhood friends rather than a goodbye-to-school friends afternoon). Minuscule decision, much labored over, means to me that the decision is part of a process of working through. Working through doesn't sound like a technical term but it is the one Freud used in 1914, Remembering, Repeating and Working Through (Further Recommendations in the Technique of Psychoanalysis II).

One thing I did want to was take a picture of Wally with his teacher. I have this pressing memory of the picture my mom took of me with Anne Smith on the last day of my second grade. We found Anne cleaning up her classroom. I had stayed after in the library waiting for my mom who was the school librarian. There was no idea back then of a big last day celebration for 2nd grade. There was maybe a stop at McDonalds for an ice cream on the way home and a dinner that was something you especially liked. Stuffed shells we liked back then. Either that or tacos. The pool would be open and maybe Heather would come over and we'd go for a swim. 

Do you know the artist Sark? She writes this outrageously uplifting, tap-into- the-power-of-the-universe type stuff. I have to say I love her advice about how we shouldn't set out to have a great time or fantastic, mind-blowing time (I can't remember her exact words here) but rather to have "a time." That feels calming and centering, too. Wendy Mogel has the advice in one of my favorite parenting books (I've mentioned it here, and here) about allowing things to be mediocre. Just hanging out with your kids and having a mediocre day. That advice came before the onslaught of pinterest-perfect days posted everywhere seeming to point fingers at our mediocrity and it's even more important to take now. It would be fine, it would be great, to have mediocre days. For people as lucky as we are, mediocre days are pretty damn amazing. 

I meant to write about the other kind of writing practice, the one that builds on the isolated activity of practicing. That is the habit that becomes ritual, that accrues significance through its repetition, through the steadiness of applying yourself to something daily, through the stead-fastness, the almost sacred aspect of a practice, where you commit yourself to the hope for incremental improvement, to the kind of growth that comes only from that level of devotion. 

Friday, June 24, 2016

Swedish Pups

In more hopeful news from across the pond, Harper Sweden is set to pub Test Your Dog: Genius Edition in the fall. Here's the cover.