Tag: Stuff Worth Reading (Page 1 of 16)

Work-life “balance” lately

WORK

“Mother Courage” by James Wood

In Offill’s original book: a young mother and ambitious writer, committed to her daughter and to her writing, tries to find energy and ambition for both; she must claim for writing the authority of necessity that usually attends parenthood. Art-making, unlike the great bourgeois panoply of family life, comes without society’s automatic sanction, and is in some ways hostile to it.

But her plan “was never to get married. I was going to be an art monster instead.” … The “art monster” lament is a recurring theme. In a way, it is the novel’s true subject, and a steady source of pain: thwarted aspiration, a sense of life as a slow lapse from high ambition. The narrator was twenty-nine when she finished her first book, and now the head of the department where she teaches creative writing is asking her where the second one is.

I’m lucky to have part-time childcare, and every time I get to go to a café, or close my bedroom door, and sit down at my laptop to work, I have the highest of aspirations. But all too often, when those precious hours have ticked away, I have little more than half-starts and disjointed scraps to show for it.

It is difficult, and it feels unfair, and I worry about sounding like a broken record, when I talk about not having enough space for myself and my art now that I’m mother. It is not actually my intention to complain. I fully recognize and appreciate that I am in a better position than most. But still, this is my reality. That’s all I’m saying.

I should also clarify that even before motherhood, I was not the best at managing my time. Motherhood is not to blame for my lack of discipline. But it hasn’t helped, either.

Anyway, I am currently at work on a Young Adult novel about family secrets, architecture, and falling in love. I started this story just before becoming pregnant with IB. Who knows when I will finish. Last year I had a sort of crisis of faith, and so I took a break from the book, experimenting with other ideas in my queue, giving myself permission to write “just for fun,” partly to see if I even knew how to do that anymore. I did. I do. And reminding myself of it allowed me to see that there could be fun in this story too. My faith was renewed, and I recommitted to the manuscript.

LIFE

On nice days, we take IB to the zoo. That’s our thing now. We’re definitely getting our money’s worth out of our membership.

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She walks all over the zoo grounds like she owns the place. Not bossy, but confident, curious, exploring. Tireless. It makes me so happy.

She likes to people-watch, and I wonder what she thinks about everyone.

She also waves and says hi to the animals. It’s painfully cute.

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Though the weather started trending warmer in April, we still got a few random snow days, and on one of them, I made a tiny snowman for IB. She wasn’t sure what to think of it. But she really enjoyed tromping around in her boots.

Later, Andy made her this snow bunny. She kept saying, “Hop hop,” whenever she saw it. And then, after it melted and collapsed, “Uh oh!”

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Now spring is truly here, and while I’m not looking forward to the heat, I do love spending the afternoons and evenings outdoors with IB, picking wildflowers, splashing in water, and just generally kid-ding around.

BALANCE

“How Motherhood Affects Creativity” by Erika Hayasaki

The competition between raising children and creative output is real. It may be impossible to balance in the ways society expects us to. But I don’t believe that parenting is the enemy of the work.

“The Ambition Collision” by Lisa Miller

The lesson of The Feminine Mystique was not that every woman should quit the burbs and go to work, but that no woman should be expected to find all her happiness in one place — in kitchen appliances, for example. And the lesson for my discontented friends is not that they should ditch their professional responsibilities but that they should stop looking to work, as their mothers looked to husbands, as the answer to the big questions they have about their lives. “I think possibly work has replaced ‘and they got married and lived happily ever after,’ and that is a false promise,” says Ellen Galinsky, co-founder of the Families and Work Institute. “Everyone needs to have more than one thing in their life. We find people who are dual-centric to be most satisfied. If people put an equivalent stress on their life outside of their job they get further ahead and are more satisfied at their job.”

“The Time It Costs to Write” by Natalia Sylvester

We forget that time is not just a ticking clock but a life constantly filling with experience that we bring, like gifts and offerings, to the page.

Relish the words, the story, the process. Be kind to yourself and your fellow writers. It costs so much to write, and for each of us it costs something different, but we keep doing it because we are proven, time and again, that it is worth it.

“Are Kids the Enemy of Writing?” by Michael Chabon

Once they’re written, my books, unlike my children, hold no wonder for me; no mystery resides in them. Unlike my children, my books are cruelly unforgiving of my weaknesses, failings, and flaws of character. Most of all, my books, unlike my children, do not love me back.

Before getting pregnant, I worried that motherhood would take away from me. Take away time, take away energy, take away ambition, take away creativity. Now, eighteen months in, I know that motherhood does indeed take a lot — but it gives a lot too.

I truly believe that motherhood can make my work deeper and richer. And on top of everything else, I want to make IB proud.

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Week in Review (Dec 31, 2017)

Ho-ho-home for the holidays

My parents were here for a week to celebrate the holidays with us and IB. Everyone except the baby was sick to some degree, and the weather has been amazingly cold, but other than that, it was really nice. I love watching my parents with my child, and vice versa. Their bond warms my heart in a way that’s hard to explain.

Late-night binge-watching

I took advantage of the extra help with IB, and the lack of obligations, to indulge in staying up late and catching up on a couple shows in my queue.

Earlier this year Netflix released the 6th and final season of Longmire. I can’t even remember why I started watching this show, but I do know that the compelling cast and characters, along with the unique setting — small town Wyoming, near a Cheyenne reservation — quickly won my interest.

(Oh wait, just remembered: I think I started watching because of Katee Sackhoff, who I loved in Battlestar Galatica.)

This last season of Longmire brought back a lot of past storylines that I didn’t fully remember, but I managed to catch on quickly enough. The plot was less important to me than the characters anyway, and from that standpoint, I found the conclusion to be quite satisfying. The final episode in particular did a great job of closing the loop on the emotional arcs that have been building over the past six years, yet still setting each character up for the next chapter of their story.

As a woman, and as a mother, Vic’s traumas touched me deeply. As did her resilience and growth.

Speaking of womanhood, motherhood, and trauma… Big Little Lies was intense. Phenomenal in every aspect — writing, acting, music, mystery, atmosphere — the show turned a keen eye on the lives and troubles of privileged women. The little ways we cut each other down. But also the little ways we care for one another, and build each other back up.

If I may offer a compliment and a warning all at once: The depiction of an abusive relationship was masterful, important, and profoundly uncomfortable at times.

My only disappointment in BLL was with its lack of diversity. Here’s hoping they find a way to remedy that in their second season.

Related recommended reading

“We Have to Change the Idea That a Woman With Ambition Is Out Only for Herself” by Reese Witherspoon

All we can do to create change is work hard. That’s my advice: Just do what you do well. If you’re a producer, you’ve got to produce. If you’re a writer, you’ve got to write. If you’re in corporate America, keep working hard to bust through the glass ceiling. If you want our voices to be represented in government—and I think we’re all getting behind that idea now—encourage women to run and help them with their campaigns. If you are one of those people who has that little voice in the back of her mind saying, “Maybe I could do [fill in the blank],” don’t tell it to be quiet. Give it a little room to grow, and try to find an environment it can grow in.

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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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Stuff worth reading

Madonna’s “Billboard Woman of the Year” speech

“As women, we have to start appreciating our own worth, and each other’s worth. Seek out strong women to befriend, to align yourself with, to learn from, to be inspired by, to collaborate with, to support, to be enlightened by.”

Cheryl Strayed interview for Scratch the magazine/book

Did you aspire to be a famous writer?

I want to be recognized for beautiful work, for good work, for real work. I really want to be recognized for that. Which is different from saying I want to be famous.

If you want to be famous, don’t be a writer. When I was first thinking of myself as a writer back in my teens, the shorthand for that was fame. But then I started to really understand what writing was and who writers were. Who were the writers I valued the most as a young woman learning to write?

So pretty quickly, to me it wasn’t about fame—it was about accomplishment. Once you let go of that fame thing, it’s the first step in really being able to focus on doing good work. Because you can’t fake it. That’s the deal with writing. You can’t fake it.

“Growing Up Unreflected: How Diversity Saved Me” by (my brilliant, beautiful friend!) Tria Chang

What started as curiosity and some confusion about how I fit in with societal beauty norms gradually became insecurity and disappointment in myself. I couldn’t see myself as worthy of compliments, admiration, or love. I concluded I had no worth.

There was not really one good reason for this, but many silly little ones that, in a teenager’s mind, can arrange themselves to resemble the truth.

When young people look for themselves in entertainment, they’re not thinking about network ratings, or even racial inequality. They’re simply seeking a sign of acceptance. That who they are is someone worth aspiring to be.

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Stuff worth reading

“The Curious Border Between Fiction and Nonfiction” by Nelli Hermann

It is a natural part of the writing and reading process, to feel curious about the veils of a work of fiction, perhaps because the creation of a book is such a private and solitary process, and in so many ways is simply irretrievable—a writer can so very rarely specify exactly what was going on for him or her when s/he was writing a particular passage or scene. This is part of why the fun of writing and reading never goes away, because you can just never get to the bottom of it.

“The Gift of Research” by Abby Geni

In the end, of course, it is my own story I tell, as all writers do. I discover mine by traveling away from myself. In reaching for the unknown—in that middle realm, somewhere between what I understand and what I have never before imagined—I feel the spark of inspiration begin to glow.

“Terry McMillan: By the Book” (New York Times feature)

Reading a good novel can have the same effect as a self-help book because I gain more insight, empathy and respect for how others not just survive, but thrive, which is empowering.

“On Making Good with your Ghosts” by Erin Rose Belair

My stories come from little obsessions, ghosts that won’t leave me alone… I used to think stories had to come from some higher order, some grand tale. But I only started writing stories when I learned how to make peace with those ghosts, when I learned how to listen to what I was already telling myself.

The vein of strangeness running through you might very well be the best thing about your writing.

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