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Week in Review (Dec 23, 2017)

Life is a zoo

I’ll probably do a separate post reflecting on how my writing has gone this year, but the short version is: Motherhood is even more demanding than I anticipated.

More wonderful, as well.

IB is 14 months old and changing constantly. Her growth is both miraculous and bittersweet. Sometimes I wish she could stay small forever. But mostly her development is just amazing to watch. A month ago, we took her to the zoo, and while she seemed to enjoy people-watching, that was about the extent of her appreciation. Then on Thursday, we took her back to the zoo, and this time she babbled and pointed at the animals, climbed up the playground equipment, and even slid down (face-first!) by herself.

Shows I’m loving

The Good Place is delightful beyond words. I love the entire cast of characters, each so quirky and endearing in their own ways. (Chidi is the best, though.) I also have mad respect for the writing, which somehow seamlessly mixes comedy, philosophy, cleverness, and heart.

This Is Us does all of that too, albeit in a very different way. I’ve talked about this show before, and it’s still at the top of my list. While the whole family tree is great, Randall and Beth are far and away my favorite branch. (And not just because they remind me of Andy and myself!)

Both shows fill me with joy and hope, and generally make me feel like maybe humankind isn’t so terrible after all. Which is urgently needed these days.

You are what you read

As a mother, I do a lot of reading, but most of it isn’t for myself. (I can recite any number of Sandra Boynton books by heart, at this point.) In the past couple months, though, I’ve come to realize — or rather, remember — how vital reading for pleasure is to me, and thus I’ve tried to make more time for it. Here is what’s on my nightstand for current and future consumption.

  • What Happened by Hillary Clinton
  • Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman
  • Here We Are Now by Jasmine Warga
  • This Is Really Happening by Erin Chack
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LANDLINE by Rainbow Rowell

I first read LANDLINE back in 2014, shortly before my wedding. This was intentional, as I knew the book focused on marriage — what it’s like and what it means. Not that I was totally clueless about those things. Andy and I had been together for 9 years already, and living together for the vast majority of that time. For us, the wedding was sort of a formality, albeit a joyful one.

Last year I re-read LANDLINE (the audiobook version this time) and found myself drawn to many of the same insights about love and commitment and building a life together.

She hadn’t gotten to say “I love you” — Georgie always said “I love you,” and Neal always said it back, no matter how perfunctory it was. It was a safety check, proof that they were both still in this thing.

Andy says “I love you” to me every morning before he leaves for work. In some ways, it’s perfunctory. In same ways, it isn’t at all.

Georgie never thought she’d be old enough to talk about life in big decade-long chunks like this.

It’s not that she’d thought she was going to die before now — she just never imagined it would feel this way. The heaviness of the proportions. Twenty years with the same dream. Seventeen with the same man.

Pretty soon she’d have been with Neal longer than she’d been without him. She’d know herself as his wife better than she’d ever known herself as anyone else.

It felt like too much. Not too much to have, just too much to contemplate. Commitments like boulders that were too heavy to carry.

It astounds me that Andy and I have already spent about a third of our lives together. Before long, it will be half. And then more than half…

Neal was where Georgie plugged in, and synced up, and started fresh every day. He was the only one who knew her exactly as she was.

I actually think Andy feels even more this way about me than I do about him?

“Just because you love someone,” she said, “that doesn’t mean your lives will fit together.”

“Nobody’s lives just fit together,” Neal said. “Fitting together is something you work at. It’s something you make happen — because you love each other.”

“I’m not saying that everything will magically work out if people love each other enough… I’m just saying,” he went on, “maybe there’s no such thing as enough.”

Even though Andy and I have a pretty healthy and functional relationship, I try not to take it for granted. I try to remember that, as natural and “easy” as it feels now, getting to this point did take some work, and staying the course will too.

OK, I’m going to present the rest of these excerpts without my commentary. I think Rainbow’s words capture and convey everything all on their own anyway.

You don’t know when you’re twenty-three.

You don’t know what it really means to crawl into someone else’s life and stay there. You can’t see all the ways you’re going to get tangled, how you’re going to bond skin to skin. How the idea of separating will feel in five years, in ten — in fifteen. When Georgie thought about divorce now, she imagined lying side by side with Neal on two operating tables while a team of doctors tried to unthread their vascular systems.

She didn’t know at twenty-three.

“How’d you know he was the one?”

“I didn’t know. I don’t think either of us knew.”

Heather rolled her eyes. “Neal knew — he proposed to you.”

“It’s not like that,” Georgie said. “You’ll see. It’s more like you meet someone, and you fall in love, and you hope that that person is the one — and then at some point, you have to put down your chips. You just have to make a commitment and hope that you’re right.”

“No one else describes it that way.” Heather frowned. “Maybe you’re doing it wrong.”

Obviously I’m doing it wrong,” Georgie said. “But I still think love feels that way for most people.”

“So you think most people bet everything, their whole lives, on hope. Just hoping that what they’re feeling is real.”

“Real isn’t relevant,” Georgie said, turning completely to face Heather. “It’s like… you’re tossing a ball between you, and you’re just hoping you can keep it in the air. And it has nothing to do with whether you love each other or not. If you didn’t love each other, you wouldn’t be playing this stupid game with the ball. you love each other — and you just hope you can keep the ball in play.”

“What’s the ball a metaphor for?”

“I’m not sure,” Georgie said. “The relationship. Marriage.”

“I take for granted that you’ll be there when I’m done doing whatever it is I’m doing. I take for granted that you’ll love me no matter what.”

“You do?”

“Yes. Neal, I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry,” he said. “I want you to take that for granted. I will love you no matter what.”

Georgie felt herself sliding out of control again. “Don’t say that. Take it back.”

“No.”

“Take it back.”

“You’re crazy,” he said. “No.”

“If you say that, it’s like you’re telling me that all the insensitive things I do are okay. It’s like you’re just handing me ‘no matter what.’ You’re pre-pardoning me.”

“That’s what love is, Georgie. Accidental damage protection.”

The future was going to happen, even if he wasn’t ready for it. Even if he was never ready for it.

At least he could make sure he was with the right person.

Wasn’t that the point of life? To find someone to share it with?

And if you got that part right, how far wrong could you go? If you were standing next to the person you loved more than everything else, wasn’t everything else just scenery?

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Thankful

I am grateful for so many things, just a few of which I shall list here.

  • Another wonderful year on this planet, and my first entirely as a mother.
  • The privilege to pursue my dreams, no matter how slowly I seem to be moving toward them.
  • An amazing and diverse set of friends, from all different times and spheres of my life.
  • My family, both chosen and created.

I’ve had so much less time for the internet lately, especially social media. I’m not sure if it’s a result of parenthood, or maturity, or discipline, or just a natural ebb and flow. Regardless of the reason, I think it’s a good thing.

That said, I want to be more present here, in this space I’ve created for myself. I want to share more about what I’m reading, writing, and experiencing. For my own memory, if nothing else.

My friend T.S. has been using a monthly recap format that I quite enjoy. I may need to try something like that…

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My dreams, and her dreams

Earlier this summer I was watching the auditions for So You Think You Can Dance, and one of the contestants said this after getting cut from the show:

“Dancers get told no all the time. You just have to keep going.”

Simple, full of grace, and true. I found myself nodding, thinking about how much this applies to writing/publishing too. I’ve faced hundreds of no’s already; I’ll face hundreds more.

Then I realized, I spend a lot of time thinking about my own dreams and ambitions, but now I have to be a steward for my daughter’s dreams and ambitions too. It’s intimidating, but also a privilege.

I probably won’t know what her dreams are for many years to come. Big or small, I hope she reaches them all.

IB Houston continued 012

When I was younger, it felt very important to me that my writing career be established before I started a family. I wanted to be an author first, a wife and mother second. But that isn’t how things happened.

I would be lying if I said it didn’t bother me sometimes, my inability to achieve that goal. But at the same time, I wouldn’t change any of the decisions that led me to this place. I wouldn’t trade Andy or IB for any amount of professional success.

Fortunately, my dream of being an author is never out of reach. There’s no expiration date on good storytelling or writing.

And I know dozens of writers, either personally or by reputation, and some of them are parents, some of them aren’t. Either way, it has no impact on the quality of their work or the trajectory of their career.

As for achieving X before age Y… I get why people care about that sort of thing, but really, it’s just a number. The words on the page don’t know whether you’re 19 or 49. Just write them.

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Stuff worth reading

“Daily Momentum: A Little Progress Goes a Long Way” by Andrew Roe

Unlike many writers, I don’t do daily word counts or weekly page counts (too much pressure for something as fragile as writing), and I try not to get fixated on writer friends posting about their productivity on social media. Instead, when I’m working on a book or short story, I’ll ask myself a few simple questions before I go to bed at the end of the day: Did it get better? Am I farther along than I was yesterday?

If the answers are yes, then I consider that a successful writing day.

“When Writing Is Actually About Waiting,” an interview with Hannah Tinti

I had aspirations of a certain kind of life—personally and professionally—that seemed to hinge on specific goals. If I can just finish this draft. If I can just sell this book. If I can just, if I can just. You think these landmarks are going to solve your problems, or give you some sort of deeper solace. But they don’t. That’s why it’s better to wait without hope. At least, that’s my reading of the line. To let go of the dream that something or someone will come along and magically solve everything. That’s a form of vanity, or a form of fear. It’s the wrong thing to hope for.

I taped these lines over my writing desk because they’re also a powerful reminder about staying in the moment, deep inside the work, without worrying about some future result.

I don’t write every day. It ebbs and flows. But when I have a project that I’m working intently on, I tend to write at night. I think it gets back to that same word: stillness. The world starts to fall asleep. The emails stop coming in. The phone and texts go quiet. Even social media slows down. It’s almost like there’s more energy in the air for me to access. From 11 p.m. until 2 or 3 in the morning, that’s when I write my best stuff. You feel like you’re doing it in secret. That nobody is watching. All around you, people are dreaming. You can almost get yourself into a dream-like state. That’s much harder to do in the middle of the day.

“How YA Twitter Is Trying To Dismantle White Supremacy, One Book At A Time” by Sona Charaipotra and Zoraida Córdova

“When people who’ve historically held positions of privilege feel their privilege threatened, or like they won’t get a ‘free pass’ anymore, they can sometimes perceive that as reverse discrimination rather than an evening out of the playing field.” – Sandhya Menon

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