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

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.


Let's Hope They Can

...and get our kids outside as much as possible...with pens and nature journals (i.e., cheap notebooks from the dollar store) always on hand. 

Can Poets Save the Parks?

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Democrats are still sitting on the house floor. We have to keep the pressure on today. Here's the cover of the Daily News. 

Here's The New York Times from 4 am. 

This has to stay front-page news today and until the House gets a chance to vote. Paul Ryan is on vacation. Called recess until July 5. The Dems haven't left and there's a sit-in building outside the Capitol building. 

Use these hashtags:

Post updates and signs of solidarity on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapshot. Keep calling your Congresspeople today. Here's another idea from some random guy on Twitter: 

This has to be what our discussion is today and for all the days going forward until a conversation begins. These are teeny, tiny first steps in passing sensible gun control. The vote won't pass. But the discussion will start. We can't allow this inaction to go on. We're all complicit in the inaction when we go on without doing anything. I think we're complicit, too, when we wet blanket the conversation by saying, "Nothing's going to change." For goodness sake, women have only been voting since 1917. We began the country on the backs of slaves and continued that way for nearly 100 years. Things take time. But this is a spark. It's hope. It's something. It's more than something. Of course it's going to take a long, hard fight but now there's a fight at least. Now we're in the ring.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Bring on the Boredom

My kind of thinking! NJ Dad: Here's Why I Hope My Kids' Summer Vacation is Boring. It's true, it takes work and good fortune and a lot of resources to let your kids have the joy of boredom, or joy that springs out of boredom. And the opportunity to develop the creativity that you really can't without that luxury of time in-between. 

Brian Donahue writes: 

"In today's hyperconnected, over-scheduled America, boredom has become something that takes work to achieve. And our decision to pursue it, normal for my parents' generation, feels like a luxury.

For the first time, my wife and I find ourselves in a rare situation this summer where she will not be tied up with work or school. 

And so we have to do this now. 

It may be our only shot to have them revel in time unfettered. In beautiful stretches of long hot nothingness. Who knows what next summer will bring in terms of family demands or kids' newfound hobbies?" 

I think I'm too quick to censor kids from saying, "I'm bored" ...too quick to steer them away from that feeling. The words are anathema to me. A kid saying, "I'm bored" is like nails on a chalkboard. I literally recoil. There are a million books to read! Games to play! Blank pages to paint on! Insects to identify! Dances to learn! Bikes to ride! Stories to write! Trees to sit under! Poems to ponder! How on earth can you be bored? It feels terribly ungrateful to me. If a kid says it while you're playing something with them, then it's insulting and a bit spoiled I think. Rude, basically. But if the grown up is busy doing housework say or even if the two of you are just sitting on a park bench and the kid says he or she is bored, that should probably be okay. Maybe even encouraged. Me flooding a bored child with ideas about what to do--even if they're free, creative, earth-child/nature ideas, or whatever version of activities "free-range" parents* sanction as morally and spiritually superior to over-scheduled or plugged-in pastimes, that's just as bad in some ways as whisking the child off to some over-structured activity. Mindful Parenting Coach Avital Schreiber Levy warns, “Solving children’s boredom with a list of ideas or jumping in to organize an activity straight away is to castrate their own problem solving abilities and to undermine them as authors of their time.” She has excellent advice about what to do to cultivate “the gift of boredom” here

 My list of ideas to do--and maybe even worse, willingness to jump in with the child on some new task to "cure" the boredom--doesn't allow them to reap its benefits. It's programming the child just like taking him or her to Karate. Done often, it means taking too big a role in deciding how he or she will fill those long, vacant, shapeless hours with which our society as a whole has grown so radically uncomfortable, the ones we do anything, anything to avoid and the ones about which we bemoan and scream and cry and wail because we lost. 

Instead of "You can't be bored" maybe I should tell the child, as Wally's kindergarten teacher used to say at dismissal, after the kids had sat inside learning for way too many hours, "Go and be free." 

Ladybug Release Last Night - Anything but boring

*Term is problematic as I've explained in earlier posts, but for lack of a better one...

Thursday, June 16, 2016

On Caterpillars and Catastrophe

Terrible things happen all the time but when something as senseless and horrifying as The Pulse attack in Orlando happens it is disruptive to the practice of writing. It rips at the seams. As I wrote on my friend Amie's beautiful piece in response to the awful news, it takes me out of my writing mind, but also seems to demand a response, to re-activate my sense of responsibility. And the way I most often take up that responsibility is through writing. 

So first I'm going to re-post something I wrote after Sandy Hook, as I am struggling now with many of the same questions, wondering if writing about to protect childhood in terms of making sure kids have enough free-time to play outside is responsible or ethical given the scale of mass tragedies it seems we are reading about constantly now. Here's the post from January 2013. 

Is it naive to say it feels like this might finally be the beginning of a turning point? I don't know if it is the horrendous scale of Orlando or if it's because most people are tuned in because of the election or because it appears to be a specific, targeted hate crime - but even Fox News' anchors are calling for a re-instatement of the assault weapons ban that expired in 2004. 

And next, as I'm wondering how the Congress will vote today, I'm also going to ask: can I write about the caterpillar Wally found at school and kept in his pocket and brought home in his backpack when the world is reeling? When I am reeling, too? Is that irresponsible? Tone-deaf? Irrelevant? 

One answer is you don't write about protecting over-privileged childhoods from too much media and too many activities when there are so many horrendous things happening in the world. When climate change and gun control demand swift and decisive action. Demand that we call and write to our elected officials. Demand that we focus our resources as efficiently we can on the areas where they will have the greatest impact.

But another answer is that you do write about this very topic. That it's not trivial, even if it focuses on something tiny. That focusing on something tiny, like the slug, or the caterpillar, or the tiger mom at the small farm, by paying what what Nancy Mairs calls "rapt attention to the infinitesimal" you sketch out your relationship to the rest of the world. Naturalist Miriam Rothschild said her one hope for her children was "that they [would be] interested in natural history, because I think there you get a spiritual well-being that you can get no other way..." A spiritual well-being seems so very absent from many of our over-privileged lives. The ones with resources are the ones who must have empathy to help those with fewer resources. Disengagement, partly shaped by media absorption, nature deficit, lack of free time, lack of time to play as children, is a blight. Can even be dangerous. Can lead to silence that complicit with destruction. 

This answer says we should listen to Walt Whitman when he tells us to "Love the earth and sun and the animals..."

This answer says we should listen to Alicia Ostriker when she tells us: "If the woman artist has been trained to believe that the activities of motherhood are trivial, tangential to main issues of life, irrelevant to the great themes of literature, she should untrain herself. The training is misogynist, it protects and perpetuates systems of thought and feeling which prefer violence and death to love and birth, and it is a lie." 

This other quietly defiant answer says you do write about these small topics of motherhood, small, but vast, that you choose to help build a latticework of voices seeking peace, of seekers typing alone at night and trying collectively to think through and write through these questions, big and little, about how we want to live our lives and raise our children. How, as we toggle between our blog posts and our letters to Congress and our paid work and our errands, in the few hours we have between drop offs and pickups, or during naps, or in the evenings, we commit to imagining the kind of world we want and the best way to raise kids who are not only empowered but equally important, engaged with others and with the world around them. That we stay engaged and focused and alive to it as we do our best to guide them. That we return to writing, not itself an answer, but as a way to signal that we are searching too. That we are listening. That we're trying, alongside them, also to grow. 

Great clip from “Symbols and Facts: Guns, Cars, and America" -- we can tackle the "problem of evil" later. Let's do what we can now, what we know works, to #MakeItStop