Thursday, October 27, 2016

Chia Seed Fail

I was so excited last night making chia-seed pudding, thinking, yes, finally, I'll have a healthy, Pinterest/Instragram-worthy breakfast to set out tomorrow. 

 Of course it's not Pinterest-worthy because I didn't have any placemats in reach or fresh flowers or the right lighting or pretty bowls, but anyway, was still almost giddy when the kids came in to the kitchen. 

Wally (8) took a single bite and said "It's kind of like gr —" then paused. 

Petra (3) said, "Gross?" They both laughed. 

"I was gonna say 'Grown-up tasting,'" Wally said, setting the spoon down gently on the table. 

 I took a bite. It was a bit of a hard sell. I used unsweetened almond milk. Maybe I should have mixed in more maple syrup. 

The whole thing was a fail. They didn't eat breakfast. I am still going by the rule that you don't provide a substitute if the kid doesn't want what you offer. But it tugs at me to send them off without eating anything. 

I can't quite get Wally to school on time if I drop Petra first, so I still put him on the bus this morning even though I then raced downtown to Family Friday (on Thursday). I was sort of annoyed when I walked in the school. They expect so much from parents! They email and text us constantly. Alex cannot go to anything ever - Family Friday or Thursday or parent-teacher conference or field trips or Halloween party. So even though I've always worked, and the first year had Petra full-time (while working) and the second year part-time (while working and in grad school full time), it always falls to me to go to all these things. 

 But, once I got into the school and sat on the floor with Wally in the corner while he read Encyclopedia Brown and listed suspects and tried to figure out the mystery, it actually felt kind of cozy and great. When else would I just sit for an hour anymore, side-by-side with Wally, reading together. With Petra's loud-singing and book-grabbing and general chaos, we almost never can. Plus she's up later than him in the evening because she naps, so it's really hard to have time one on one with him. 

 Now I'm home. Ready to start my work, five hours into the day, the bowls of chia-seed pudding on the table untouched. "All the more for me, I guess," I said, along with well-meaning parents everywhere.

Monday, October 24, 2016

A New Kind of Tiger Mom


Drinking tea while it's still hot but not too hot - victory!

Not because I'm so, so busy. Still on the epic climb out of The Busy Trap I'd been in for so many years. 

Usually I drink tea lukewarm, mainly because I make it and then get distracted. I'm so easily flappable. Pinging around. Multi-tasking even though it's not an the efficient way to work. It no longer has the panache it once did. It's still used, celebrated for moms--we have to do it, it's the only way to manage anything at all. But when it comes to work we all know slow and steady, focused, present, incremental steps forward--is the only way to really get things done. Multi-tasking is great for the appearance of getting things done.

This morning after dropping both kids then racing down to drop stuff off at Wally's school for the rummage sale w (and digging through the lost and found for the orange sweatshirt Wally lost like the second day he wore it - no luck), I was set to jog home along the river. On my way out the door the PTA president stopped me and handed me the Tupperware Alex had forgotten at the Halloween Party on Friday. Oh no! How could I carry it and run too? My perfect plan dashed. I couldn't refuse the Tupperware after the PTA pres had nicely taken it home and cleaned it out. I thought about trying to stash it in Wally's cubby temporarily, quickly rejected the idea of recycling it (too wasteful).

So instead I went running holding the Tupperware. It wasn't heavy, just kind of cumbersome, and awkward-looking for sure.

Today is not going to be the day you run fast, I told as I jogged along. Or very far. 

Not because of the Tupperware, but because I haven't been running at all. And when you haven't been running at all, your first few Begin Again runs aren't going to be fast, most likely. Just like after you haven't been writing at all, your first few Begin Again writing sessions aren't going to be particularly generative. 

I know now that pushing myself too hard when I run won't get me anywhere today. Not only that, it will set me farther back. It will give me a temporary satisfaction, like maybe the one voters for third-party candidates feel in close elections, sticking it to the mainstream, but, like that protest vote, it won't be productive. It will be the opposite. I'll be sore and tired and headachy the rest of the day, and there's a good chance I won't go out the next morning. Just like the entire country will be set much further back from goals of economic, racial and social justice if Hillary doesn't win. 

When I told myself today would not be a fast or great run, I started thinking about all the other goals I wouldn't accomplish today. 

Today is not going to be the day I finish my proposal for a book I've been proposing for years now. Or get much writing done on my middle grade fiction series. (Okay, okay, I lied about circling back to a rough draft for #NanoWrimo and revising it and I am in fact starting a new project but this one is with Wally so it is really mostly something we do together and therefore gets a free pass, right?)  

Today is not going to be the day I write the blog post that I've been wanting to write about my trip to the town of my proto-crypto dream house and the the home of a blogger whose writing I love but whom I've never met. I want to write about how I contemplated trying to meet her but couldn't (didn't) end up getting to arrange it.

Today is not going to be the day that I return to any of the many drafts of blog posts that are languishing, carcasses of posts now many of them, emptied out of whatever original meaning I thought they might reveal.

Today, instead, I'll manage to get the kids off, and even remember Petra's blanket for nap-time. I'll  drop off some items at Wally's school. I'll run, slowly, awkwardly holding an empty Tupperware container. I'll work as much as I can before I need to head out (now) to start picking up the kids.


The afternoon felt so gloriously abundant. First I picked up Wally. I took my time with him, skipped the errands I was going to do and brought him to the playground. Somehow I felt lighter than I have lately. I watched him play, watched him so happily flit between a friend who wanted to play Pokemon and another who was asking him to be in a show and a young friend with a pink cat that was part of an elaborate chasing game. 

The wind was gusting and the Pokemon cards were flying about when Alex came and I went to get Petra and a friend of hers. It was a bit tricky getting two three-year olds back to the playground, but I told them Wally would be there excited to see them.

Instead, we came to a perfectly empty playground, one that just a half hour before had been teeming with kids!

The wind had calmed down and it was sunny and warm for just a little bit of the last light of the afternoon. "We caught the sun!" Petra cheered. Her friend asked for Wally. Alex called to tell me they were home, making dinner and playing piano. 

Other friends came passing through on the way back from after-school. 

At home Alex had a great dinner of baked rice and beans with cheese and broccoli ready to go on the table. The kids were splashing about in the bubble bath, singing and playing, when I headed out to yoga, from which I am just now back.

I had wanted to go campaigning in Pennsylvania yesterday. I was all set to go, in fact, leaving at 7:30 and returning after 8. But when I found out the bus changed, that we wouldn't even get back to Brooklyn (an hour away) until 9 or 9:30, I just couldn't do it. At that point it was eleven on Saturday night and the kids were both still up and I knew that the next day would be so rushed and pushed with Alex calling me looking for Wally's Kung Fu shirt just seemed totally overwhelming. I went phone banking instead, at Hillary's field office. Calling people is harder than stopping by their door. On the phone, people can be incredibly rude. "How did you get this number?" In person, very few people are. 

My heart was kind of pounding the whole time. Shaky, the beginning of a headache for sure. The script they give you is so long! And pushy. Not just - Can we count on your support? But - Did you get your Vote By Mail ballot, did you fill it out, did you send it in? If not, when are you planning to send it in? Can you do it sooner? The room wasn't loud enough to cover up your conversation, so you're very much on display, too. So many people don't answer phones, and only a handful of people were there, so there is a lot of quiet. 

And yet the feeling of calling people in Florida, hearing such a range, from  "What about Benghazi and the emails?" to "I've already voted for her!" altered my feeling about the election. The feeling I get from reading the Times, The Washington Post, Huffpo, Immoral Minority, checking polls, watching speech clips or talking heads, is frantic, no matter how much I find, it feels like I am searching, searching. Talking to actual people, time slows down. The country feels much bigger in some ways than the election maps make it feel. But it all feels so more graspable, too. Like I can understand it. Listen to it. Here is a woman named Caroline, on her way to work, taking the time to answer a call from a stranger, assuring me at the end of the call, "We're going to win!"

[Alex interrupting. He wants me to show him some stretches from Yoga. He's interfered in the energy I felt finally just writing. How many times I feel so much better, it's like that sage ritual to clear out a house, once I just finally start to write? I can't stand the interruptions.]

I'm trying to tie this up, but I can't. On the other hand it's not like I've tugged at various threads and I'm leaving them hanging. I haven't really developed any complexity. I'm skimming along the surface. Too many days of not writing.

Yet I can feel how that extra time Sunday, the reasonable Manhattan phone bank instead of the bus to PA (I'll go Nov 6th) meant time could fill out, meant I could do laundry last night, remember what I needed to do this morning, not feel totally pulled and overextended, chaos leaking into today. Meant I could focus. Stay with one thing, and enjoy the expansiveness of this October afternoon. I had extra time yesterday because it was scheduled and then suddenly not. It had been protected by that original all-day plan. The trick would be to learn to protect every days for their own sake, protect not-doing, not-running fast, not-multitasking, to hold onto the ordinary days more fiercely. To to be a different kind of tiger mom, one who roars not at her children, but at the forces that would conspire to speed up their enchanted days.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

I liked this blog post by Laura Catherine Hanby Hudgens. 


I've been thinking about this as I feel our neighborhood group slowly start to disintegrate, with many of the children in school now, or "school" (daycare, but re-named and with more worksheets). I do like what the author calls the yoga pants and lawn chair hang out; for us it's yoga pants and the bench at the local playground. Even though I'm "back" now, not running up to the Bronx for class in the afternoons, I feel, sitting at the playground after-school now, that something has shifted. Maybe it is also, for me, the strangeness of the hot summer weather, but earlier dark nights.  

Friday, October 14, 2016

A room not really of one's own

Woke up first today. Quiet except for the cat. Came into the dark kitchen and made coffee. Could it be possible? A minute to myself to write? I found my journal - but couldn't find a single working pen. Pencils sharpened to oblivion. Orange pens that barely show up. I grabbed a marker as I heard Alex barreling his way down the hall. "You unplugged my phone!" 

"I just heard your alarm go off!"

"But there's no more battery because you unplugged it." 

Actually I had unplugged the charger with no phone attached when I went to bed. After falling asleep in front of All In With Chris Hayes, Alex had plugged the phone into the disconnected charger. 

Alex says the charger, plugged in without the phone, doesn't drain any energy. Is that true? The thing to do, I suppose, is flip the surge protector off. But I have also heard rumors of radiation from chargers. Anyway, it's not something we will solve this morning.

Meanwhile my fantasy of a few minutes alone with coffee and a journal dissolve. I write furiously with the big marker "No working pens" and describe the frustrating scene, where now both kids are awake.

Fast forward through breakfast, spilled hot chocolate, somewhat rushed and frustrating morning yoga (where Wally is flinging his sticky Diary of a Wimpy Kid cheese touch toy around), racing to the bus, zooming along to Petra's school, answering a plethora of seemingly urgent texts about whether or not there is show & tell today, signing up for Halloween party volunteering, whether we can still go visit Alex's mom today or if the lingering colds we've had for weeks preclude us going because of her surgery. 

Back to the apartment. It takes all my restraint not to do the sink full of dishes or pick up after the tornado morning, which is every morning. I need a few minutes to switch from frantic mom role to focused data cleaner (right now I am for the first time helping with the data for the program evaluation my dad and I are doing for Thurgood Marshall College Fund). 

I find a pen! Grab a cup of coffee (even though I don't need one, it's more the ritual that I'm after), and pick up my journal again. I've always been so impressed and intrigued by art journaling like the pages here and here but I have so little talent to begin with and very little discipline when it comes to focusing on learning a new technique. Today I grab an old Where Women Create magazine from 2010, tear out pages and glue them in. I listen to Soundscapes on Music Choice. It feels therapeutic to cover over the furious scrawling with the blue marker from earlier. Like I am taking control. I think of a way to combine my new Young Adult novel idea with a draft of a YA novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo three years ago. Yes! Instead of venturing off on yet another new project, I will take this new idea and use it to reign in that unruly draft. I have a proposal I want to finish for Chronicle. Why not add two quick pieces to it, two "competitive/comparative" titles to the section on market research. There is the short story I want to re-write, yet again. The one I wrote for Greg Jackson's fiction class last fall. So strange to think of my life then!

In a few minutes I need to get back to cleaning data. To scoring, re-naming, removing duplicates. Back to the giant spreadsheets where my eyes keep glazing over. What am I doing again? Which blanks must stay blank and which need to be zeros? What 8-letter identifier will I remember for this variable when I move this over to SPSS? I have never before used SPSS and it sounds off-putting. Eventually, with more familiarity, I'm hoping this data cleaning will take on a meditative cadence, that I'll sink into it like into filing or sorting receipts. 

I can't turn my phone off. Can't be unreachable. Can't totally separate myself from the discordant pinging of the outer world. But for now, for now, for these few minutes, in between the spilled stain of the hot chocolate, next to the bright-pink model magic creatures, the slow cooker that still needs to be cleaned from last night, I'll accept, no, I will embrace it. This is where women create. 


Saturday, October 8, 2016

Thoughts on reading/writing/technology

I laughed out loud to myself at the playground reading Sherry Turkle confess her compulsive email-checking in Alone Together. The entire book is basically about how we are too attached to technology and how it is changing our relationships and ourselves. She's written at least three other books on the topic. But here is this brilliant MIT professor admitting, 
"I check my e-mail first thing in the morning and before going to bed at night. I have come to learn that informing myself about new professional problems and demands is not a good way to start or end my day, but my practice unhappily continues" (154).
The book pubbed in 2011. I wonder if she's still as focused on email or if her attention has migrated to texting/social media as it has for so many others. She talks about the alone-ness of social spaces, now:

"In this new regime, a train station (like an airport, a cafe, or a park) is no longer a communal space but a place of social collection: people come together but do not speak to each other. Each is tethered to a mobile device and to the people and places to which that device serves as a portal" (155).

Yet I also wonder if, cyborgs that we are, we are more connected in some ways than we appear. As Bearette commented here, looks may be deceiving. She referenced a cartoon that compared the isolation of past commuters reading newspapers on the train unfavorably to today's commuters sending personal messages. And here I am reading and writing in the playground. I deliberately chose a spot by myself. I could have sat next to neighborhood friends, talked about the election or the upcoming Halloween party. I could have participated in the shared space, but I chose not to. Reading seemed maybe okay, but laughing out loud at the book made me feel like maybe I had gone too far into my own world. Writing takes it that much further. 

I am hyper-critical of the hyper-connected, always somewhere other than where they are. Yet in reading novels, isn't that our fantasy? In writing too. 

At the end of Alone Together, Turkle remembers the letters she and her mother wrote to each other when she was a freshman in college. She compares those letters, full of meaning, to the fleeting, somewhat impersonal but constant contact with her daughter, now away from home for the first time. The Skype calls where you don't make eye contact, the brief, up-to-the-minute texts. She realizes this current form of communication could be saved, but it would create an overwhelmed amount of archived material. (She also comments on the inauthenticity that might creep in once archiving begins.) Would all that material mean as much? 

Most of her book is not personal essay. Her focus is research, observations on technology and its distancing effects. I'm less interested in her study of robotics and simulation games, and more interested in what I think of as everyday hybridity, at its most basic, the use of smartphones. The potential pitfalls and pathologies of robotics and simulation seem more obvious and somewhat limited in scope. Meanwhile the smartphone compulsion is more of a deep entanglement, with porous borders, less obvious effects. The smartphone compulsion is everywhere - in Turkle herself, in me, even now that I am off Facebook, and don't have any apps on my phone other than email. Even though I am notoriously unreachable by phone, always losing it on purpose. (Turkle's argument for a return to real conversation, including the phone, makes me realize how much I've eschewed it in the past. I felt overwhelmed by it at times, sometimes grrred when I saw my grandmother Miriam "tracking me down." Is it reasonable, then, to now feel nostalgic for the days of the phone? I did, mostly enjoy it, though I wanted to limit its use somewhat.

Turkle's description of parents with their phones at the dinner table, constantly googling stuff and bringing it into the conversation, is chilling. How often do I turn to something online? Whether it's a fact or definition or song. Not during dinner, but so many other times. The children and adolescents Turkle studies are eloquent about how disturbing they find googling for an answer. They don't want the answer. They want attention. I too have felt disheartened when someone ends a discussion with "it's googlable" but there are many times my instinct is to find something out instantaneously, too. 

I wondered -- have I brought the phone to the table? I don't think so. Not during an actual sit down dinner, but probably during half meals (when say one kid is eating or having a snack) I've attended to something on the phone. My logic is that I'm extending myself to sit with the child when I really need to be doing something else. It would be like doing dishes, say, while they're eating, but it's so much worse in terms of the distraction, the blank face. 

What about being on the phone while Wally gets off the bus? I do that all the time, quickly wrapping up the conversation with a relative or my physics professor friend (pretty much the only people who still use the phone, at least with me) as I wave thank you to the bus drive. Wally's been away for over 7 hours; can't I give him my full attention? How many times have I unnecessarily checked email after dinner? It can wait until after the kids go to bed. Even all the texting plan-making with neighborhood friends. That's in the kids' interest. But how disjointed must that seem as we're walking from the farmer's market or heading to the playground? The "we're at the playground" text easily spirals into a conversation with someone who can't meet but wants to figure out a plan for another time.

The book has absolutely made me rethink my use of technology. Just because I'm not as addicted (in my judgement) as many others around me who put the phone on the table, on their lap, hold it in their hand as they walk down the street like a baby blanket or pacifier, shift their eyes from me to the phone now without apology when we talk, doesn't mean there is not drastic room for improvement. My own shadow is what I see in these people, after all, as Carl Jung would be the first to point out. It's your shadow that bothers you the most. 

And what of reading at the playground? Writing anytime at all? Writing pulls and tugs at me if I don't get to it daily. It nags, it itches. Writing does allow me a much better focus. Is that a healthy habit? Where does it cross into its own kind of compulsion? Why can't I find peace of mind without it?

Many questions, as we head out soon for the country. 

This is a rough post. Too rough to hit "publish" and yet I have the nagging feel of not having posted enough lately. (At the same time I can hear a friend's voice saying, "I can't keep up with your blog!" who maybe would welcome the respite.) I don't know what "enough" is on a blog. I suppose what irks me too is I have at least five drafts recently started on various topics. Interrupted. Unfinished thoughts. So this isn't finished; it's really only begun. Yet more and more I am okay with that form of a blog. The roughness. The realness (still a performance, though, if not as pithy and coordinated and cultivated as other kinds online formats). The snapshot moment. Knowing I'm here now.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

"...I do only want to advise you to keep growing quietly and seriously throughout your whole development; you cannot disturb it more rudely than by looking outward and expecting from outside replies to questions that only your inmost feeling in your most hushed hour can perhaps answer."

Rainer Maria Rilke

Just back from a Built to Spill concert in Brooklyn. God, that seems like such a different life. It's been years since I've seen them. I hardly ever go to shows anymore. Hardly ever play music, if I'm being honest. I know "if I'm being honest" is seen as a throw-away phrase. Why shouldn't you always be honest? But in some cases you want to maintain some idea of who you think you are and it takes some kind of effort to break through that and admit that no, you're not that person, at least right now. Built to Spill memories are really most deeply tied to college. I can picture myself in the river dorms, listening to Perfect From Now On over and over and over. Wherever you were, you just listened. I remember after college listening to every day at lunch in the spring of 1999 when I worked at Thermo-Retec in Concord, Massachusetts. I'd sit out by the little stream with my CD player and headphones (is that called a walkman or is a walkman only cassette?) and eat lunch while I listened to "Carry the Zero" singing "you're so occupied with what other persons are occupied with and vice versa" but I wasn't, at that time, so occupied with what other persons are occupied with. I was so much more in my own head. At that moment, I didn't really have any other choice. Doug Martsch had no idea, when he wrote that line, how much that would come to define our distant but constantly, maniacally interconnected lives now. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Saturday, October 1, 2016

I've been thinking a lot about letter writing. (Now that email is over, will letter-writing come back?) I found this post from April 2015 by someone named Ingrid celebrating children's books about letter-writing through a search for Books of Wonder. (I took Wally to that lovely children's bookstore yesterday to pick out his September Book-of-the-Month, an annual holiday gift from my parents. I was worried because the store felt kind of big and empty and the cafe that once flourished there was gone, now a storage space.) 

It's weird to me to think how my college friends and I wrote copious letters to each other, even though we all had email. I have a box full of our letters, which tapered off around 1999/2000.  

Emails, as Sarah of One Blue Sail wrote in one of the comments, felt like a replacement for letters, faster, of course, but the same idea, a long, thoughtful means of communicating with one other person. 

Then our Inboxes exploded, with marketing, spam, charities, campaigns, mass emails. Too much. 

It makes sense, given the Inbox overload, that we're searching for something else. The current mode - text/snapchat/FB - the bite-size, constant interruptions (though young people don't consider them interruptions, MIT professor Sherry Turkle points out in Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age (Penguin Press, October 2015) - doesn't seem like a replacement for letter writing, phone calls or email. 

What is the replacement for sustained, one-to-one communication? 

Even now, I'm batting my kids away so I can write. There is always this struggle. I may be the worst offender for the bite-size, broken up days. 

The Jolly Postman was one of my all-time favorites.