Writing with a four-month-old: a live-blogging experiment

I'm sure this will go well.

I’m sure this will go well.

Today I’m trying something new. I am live-blogging my attempt to write while home alone with a baby. I’ve read a few things about tactics for writing with a young child, and those articles were not terribly helpful.  So today is an experiment. I’ve got a baby carrier, a bouncy chair, a play-yard and my laptop. All I need now is luck. Wish me that. I will be updating all day.

11:30 am  – My husband has the dog with him today, so I don’t need to worry about walking her. I’ve done a metric ton of laundry. I’ve nursed the bairn into submission and put him into the crib, so I should be able to start… crap. Diaper change. DSC_0018Oh god, no, I was wrong. It’s a diaper blowout. I’ll be back.

11:48 am – Okay. Baby cleaned and put in the play yard. New laundry started. Surfaces Cloroxed. NOW: It’s been a while since I worked on my novel, and I am a little blocked in places, so thanks to some advice I saw from a friend who was in my MFA program, I’m going to journal about the problem. Maybe that will help me write around the block.

12:16 pm – I’ve got to ditch the internet. It’s distracting me. So I’m logging out of Facebook except on nursing breaks. Despite a diaper change and distractions online, I have been journaling about my novel and I’ve made a little progress with character development issues, but now the baby is fussing. He’s probably hungry. And I just realized something. So am I.

1:20 pm – The baby and I are both fed. I’ve realized that although I’ve made some headway with character development, I cannot find the first copy of my manuscript, which is what I was working from. I am giving myself five minutes to find it and if I can’t, I’m winging it.

1:23 pm – Found it. Baby is in the crib. Let’s do this.

Tire yourself out, my child.

Tire yourself out, my child.

2:01 pm – I’ve done 254 words worth of writing. I’ve also changed a diaper, eaten a plum and wandered around for a few minutes Iike a lost soul. Finally I accepted that if I don’t get the baby into the exersaucer soon, he will never go down for his nap and I have hopes for naptime. They aren’t big hopes, but they are hopes. So that’s where he is right now, bouncing in the saucer. The good thing is, although I’m working in drips and drabs and this pace is frustrating, I am working. I don’t know if I’m producing anything of value, though.

2:45 pm – 300 more words written. That’s more than the 500 a day I used to hold myself to, so I guess, technically I could stop now. But I haven’t written at home in a while, and this is an experiment, so I’m going to continue until my husband returns. FOR SCIENCE. It’s time to feed the baby now, though.

3:39 pm – The baby is fed and changed and it could be that most golden, elusive, glorious time of the day: naptime. My son doesn’t like to nap, but sometimes he does actually go to sleep, despite himself. In the meantime, he might at least be quiet for a little while and I may be able to write some more until backup arrives. I hope.

3:55 pm – Naptime turned into an Olympic gymnastic floor routine, and I spent my writing time alternately trying to prevent head injuries and researching crib bumpers, so that didn’t really work out. Now I’m keeping him next to me in the play-yard on the bed, and he’s practicing his vocal exercises instead. These are as distracting as the gymnastics, but not as alarming. Now, to make one final push at writing.

4:42 pm – Feeding the boy again. Between the feeding and a changing, I’m getting less done than I did this morning. This kid is active. How does one tire out a four-month-old? Is it even possible? I’ve written a few words though.

4:54 pm – The experiment has ended: 781 words, three outfit changes (baby’s, not mine) and one load of laundry later, my husband has returned and I’m shutting it down.And what do you know? The baby is sleeping. Because of course he is.

So, after a day of writing alone with baby, what’s the verdict?
The take-away of this experiment is probably that sensible people get babysitters. Well, no. I think the take-away is actually that I produced more today than I did before I had a baby because I was always pushing to get words on the page before he started to fuss. But quantity is not quality — while I got more written than usual, I do wonder if it’s any good compared to my normal output. I can’t tell, because I’m too tired right now to know good writing from bad.

Also, and this is probably open to interpretation, it’s hard to know if my parenting also suffered because I was trying to do two things at once. I mean, I did all the things I’d normally do on a day home with my son, and he was even by my side more than he usually is, but I was focusing on writing rather than housework or walking him at the park. So was I a worse mom because I was working and watching him? I don’t know. Only he knows for sure, and he doesn’t speak English yet.

Well, it’s been real. I’m going to put this baby down, save my work and find the Pinot Grigio.

Want tips for writing with a baby? Check out my next post.

 

My novel was my baby, but now my baby’s my baby, so how exactly do you write with a baby?

There are two things I’ve heard/read about writing with a baby.

The first is from Anne Lamott, author of Bird by Bird: “I used to not be able to work if there were dishes in the sink. Then I had a child and now I can work if there is a corpse in the sink.”

The second is a column in the Guardian by Maggie O’Farrell, author of The Hand That First Held Mine. I will not pretend that I’ve managed to nail down O’Farrell’s writing-with-the-baby-sling approach (he squirms!), but I can now understand Lamott’s point about the corpse in the sink. The thing is, I can’t make that work yet. Let’s be honest: the novel might howl for my attention figuratively, but the howls of my son are literal. When he needs me, he needs me. The novel can always wait. His naps are still unpredictable enough that I can’t concentrate on what I’m writing. I’m only writing with part of my attention. The rest of my attention is on him, listening for that next cry.

So sometimes, if it’s me and him at home alone, I don’t write. Sometimes I choose to unload the dishwasher, or throw in laundry. The laundry is less complicated, and demands less of me than the latest chapter of my novel.

But I still have to write.

I have to produce a chapter a month for DinoLand. (Although I wrote a backlog of material for the serial, I am getting to the end of that now.) I have a freelance career. I have to write the final novella in the Resistance series. I have to finish the second draft of my drag queen novel.

And also, I don’t feel quite like myself if I’m not writing fiction. Some people go for a walk to clear their heads. I write stories.

So the writing has to happen. But sometimes it just doesn’t. And that can be pretty frustrating.

Right now, I’m dividing my time into Stay-At-Home-Mom Days, Work Days and Writing Days. On days when my husband is away, I just concentrate on being a mom. On days when he’s home, I work on my freelance career and what writing I can, and once a week, I pack up the child and my laptop and head to my parents’ house where my wonderful mother watches the baby while I go to my dad’s office and write.

It’s not a perfect arrangement, but for now, it works. I do worry that I’ll have to come up with something else when my son is walking and talking, but possibly by then I’ll be used to being a mother and able to write fiction more frequently again.

Parents who write, how do you make time for your work? Does it get easier or harder?

 

A Writing Day. (Or, a Writing Couple Of Hours. Same thing, really.)

Today is a writing day for me!

A good ol’ fiction-writing extravaganza day. Today, I do my favorite thing in the world: make stuff up.

w00t for a writing day!

Well. Actually, it’s not really a writing day. It’ s really a writing couple of hours. I’ve set the day aside, and my mother has agreed to watch the baby, but between feedings, packing the computer and the manuscript and the child in the car, travel time, catching up with my mother and lunch, it’s a writing couple of hours, not a writing day.

But that’s fine, because these couple of hours make it possible for me to have several stay-at-home-mom days and freelance writing days without losing my mind. Just knowing that these couple of hours are going to happen at least once a week enables me to spend days vacuuming, and washing diapers without feeling guilt about my work. Guilt is the worst.*

I’m planning to publish a lengthier post about writing with a baby and how I’m trying to make it work. (I’ve been drafting it, during naptimes, for something like three or four weeks. I’m not even kidding.)

But for now, I’m going to work on my fiction. Because I have the time.

*And my mother is the best.

Writing while pregnant

pregnancy, writing

That’s no moon.

At eight months pregnant, I’m a little nervous about my writing career. Mostly because writing while pregnant has not been easy for me. In fact, it’s been really difficult.

I’ve held off on writing this post because of the inevitable comments of those who will say things like “You think <insert activity> is hard now. What until you have <an infant, a toddler, a child, a teenager, etc.>” but then I realized that those one-uppers will always rear their heads, no matter how old my child is or what stage of life I’m in.

So screw it. I’m writing this now, because I wish I’d known it earlier and maybe someone else needs to read it: writing while pregnant has been a struggle for me. I truly hope that other writers don’t have as rough a time with it as I have, but just in case another pregnant writer is out there, reading this and beating herself up for her lack of productivity, let me say this to you: You’re not alone, lady.

I’ve always assumed I could write no matter what. In fact, I figured that if I ever did get pregnant, I’d go into literary nesting mode, write daily and finish churning out my novel and probably other projects as well. I thought I’d be super-creative.

That didn’t exactly happen. Every pregnancy is different, but a host of physical symptoms kept me from my desk: fatigue, nausea, pain, and now, in the last weeks of my pregnancy, an inability to get myself or my laptop comfortably positioned long enough to write a meaningful sentence. Seriously. I need a floaty Minority Report keyboard and maybe some anti-gravity for an hour or so a day.

The strangest side-effect for me as a writer was probably this: my brain hasn’t worked in quite the same way for the past 30-something weeks.

Let me try to explain what I mean by this: I can do my paid job without a problem. I can edit and revise, and I can outline and organize my projects, and I can even write articles. The problem is creativity:  sitting down to make art became all of a sudden, extremely difficult. (They don’t list that under symptoms in What to Expect When You’re Expecting.)

This is new to me, because I’ve never had trouble being creative. I was the kid who spent second grade staring outside the window daydreaming, and I’ve been the writer who can’t always knuckle down because she’s always distracted by new ideas. My new lack of creativity was a big, unpleasant surprise. Creativity became work, and I started to beat myself up about it: What’s wrong with me that I can’t produce 500 words a day? Why is everything I write awful?

Now that I’ve been living with this change for a while, I do wish I hadn’t been so hard on myself about it — I imagine that any person who undergoes any major physical shift, like injury or illness or chronic pain or a huge lifestyle shift — must go through similar issues. Our brain chemistry is delicate; any change can cause a shift in how we experience life.

It took me months to figure out how to work around the issue effectively, but eventually, (and later in my pregnancy than I like) I started to repeat something I’d heard from Nalini Jones, an MFA teacher I once had a workshop with: “If you can’t create, you can work.”

So now I’m editing a backlog of old work, both for my novel and for my new serial fiction project. I’m also forcing myself to write a little bit of a flash-fiction every week, because I’ve discovered that I can still be creative — it’s just hard now, the way that math was hard for me in grade school. I need to build that muscle just in case things don’t immediately improve when the baby is born.

And I take naps when my schedule allows. I still feel guilty about it, but I do it anyhow.

I am not the Buddha.

This is NOT me.  photo credit: priyaswtc via photopin cc

This is NOT me.
photo credit: priyaswtc via photopin cc

I wasn’t going to post about this. In fact, I was going to try to keep silent on this entire topic. However, something really does need to be said. So here goes.

I’m pregnant. (Yeah, yeah. I know.)

My pregnancy is not the reason I’m angry. The reason I’m angry? My “delicate condition” has provoked an unwelcome response among people I hardly know.

In the past month, since I’ve started showing, I have been poked, prodded, rubbed, inappropriately questioned and, in one case, interrogated in front of a roomful of my students by a co-worker.

I am not a person who invites personal contact. I never have. My personal bubble is large and – I thought – difficult to penetrate. I was lucky to have been born tall and I’ve always been a little aloof, and that was always more than enough to keep unwanted physical contact at bay. I’ve also been able to dance around personal questions I don’t want to answer. I’m good at it, or at least, I was.

But now, it seems that my pregnancy has made me and my body public property. People dart in for a quick bellyrub on the sly, like X-wings attacking the Death Star. It’s like they know I don’t want to be touched, but they can’t help themselves. The excuse I hear most? That touching my belly is “lucky.”

It’s not. I am not the Buddha. (If you can’t tell the difference, I’ll give you some hints: the Buddha is bald, laughing and nonviolent.) Your superstitions are no reason for you to touch me uninvited. You are not ever entitled to touch another person’s body, even if that person is pregnant.

Worse than those who feel like they can touch my abdomen are those who feel like they can now question me about every life choice I’ve ever made. “You don’t smoke, do you?” “You have a pediatrician, right?” “You’re not coming back to work?” “You are coming back to work?” “Is your husband good with X, Y or Z?” “Is he good, period?”

While I don’t mind answering questions when they’re asked by a friend, I do mind when I’m being asked by someone who barely knows me. And I’ve been asked a lot. I don’t even mind answering a few questions or having a conversation about my pregnancy, but some strangers have been downright confrontational with me about what choices I’m making when I’m not in their lines of sight. (I’m tempted to answer that yes, I smoke, drink a six-pack a day, and use recreational drugs in the parking lot at work before driving home without a seatbelt on, but I’m actually a little worried that someone might call social services on me if I gave them that answer.) I’ve tried to defuse these encounters with evasive maneuvers and humor, but my interrogators have been dogged.

And weirdly, most of the people who have been invasive, both physically and verbally, have been male. I didn’t expect that. I figured that women  – who have been through pregnancy and childbirth and might feel they had some right to touch and question – would be the offenders. But they haven’t, by a long shot. It’s been mostly men who question my choices, and men who grab at my belly.

This may be a matter of being blinded by privilege. Are these the same people who feel entitled to touch people of color or question people because of their age? I have no way of knowing, but now I suspect.

Haiku and a bag of Fritos

haiku, fritos, valentines dayLast night, in a fit of oh-no-Valentines-Day-is-coming, I went online to the font of all DIY wisdom, Pinterest, to see if there are any new ideas for Valentines Day floating around the Internet. And you know what? I’ve discovered that the crafts that girls used to make for their boyfriends in high school are alive and well among grown women. I’m talking about personalized scrapbooks, jars of reasons why you love him, handmade photo frames.

Forgive me ladies. I know handmade is better than store-bought, and I know it’s the thought that counts, but I just don’t buy that any man (or any person, really) would want any of those things.

So then I was curious. I went over to Google to see what guys were saying women want for Valentine’s Day. I think the gifts for ladies have been pretty clearly laid out by Hallmark and similar companies, but I was curious to see what the guys said.

On a couple of lists I read? “Amp up your usual hangouts” (this appeared to be code for do nothing differently than you would normally do) and “spend the day in bed.” Fascinating.

I really think the Askmen.com gentlemen and the ladies at Pinterest should be taking each others’ V-day suggestions. There might be fewer lackluster Valentine’s Days in the world.

I gave up and went over to Twitter. Scrolling down my feed, I came across this tweet from musician Amanda Palmer.

Palmer’s tweet gets me right where I live because that sort of unapologetic, idealistic declaration is the sort of thing I feel in my soul. If I were able to reshape the world*, I would leave Valentines Day out, because for me romance doesn’t look like pink and red hearts, because companies are capitalizing on our affections and because there are a lot of people who are already lonely and don’t need Valentine’s Day to make them feel worse.

But here’s the thing – I still celebrate it.

I guess I do it because it’s expected and there is some social pressure, but that’s not the whole reason. On the one hand, I do think it’s an example of capitalism on steroids, as Christmas is. On the other, I think there’s something worthwhile underneath the avalanche of plastic pink hearts and cheap chocolates.

Because I was curious about how other people felt about the holiday, I asked people on my Facebook page how they felt. I got a range of answers – some people love V-day, some people celebrate grudgingly – but mostly I was surprised by how many people’s responses fell into a gray area. Many people celebrate in a small non-commercial way, with a special meal or with parents, children and students. One commenter wrote that’s good to celebrate love with her family. Some people celebrate alone, and cheerfully, with heart-shaped Krispy Kreme donuts. (Jealous!)

A couple of people wrote that celebration is okay, but that cherishing a relationship year-round is more important.
“It’s awfully easy to make the romantic gesture, it’s much harder to maintain a consistent kindness,” commented writer Elizabeth Hilts.

And they are all correct. Maybe that’s why I can’t pull a Palmer and leave the holiday alone for good. Because Valentine’s Day exists, and it’s nice to celebrate love in a small way, even if it’s far more important to celebrate love year-round. I’d love to get some more input on this, if anyone wants to comment below.

Anyhow, unlike Palmer, we are celebrating this year although not in a Pinterest or Askmen.com kind of way. Not that I bought anything with a red or pink heart on it, either. Instead I’m falling back on my tried and true plan for Valentine’s Day, one which has gotten me through many a V-day: a haiku and a bag of Fritos.

It’s much less effort than a scrapbook and he seems to like it. And I’m willing to bet that when I wake up tomorrow, he’ll be there holding out his standard Valentine’s Day offering: breakfast with a side of haiku.

*Actually I think the only people served by this holiday are people who have been dating for less than three months. Because that’s when Valentine’s Day is appropriate, when a person is wracked by endorphins, infatuation and insecurity. If I reshaped the world I would institute mandatory Valentine’s Days for every couple on their three-month anniversary. 

Grimm facts about Snow White.

What is the deal with all the Snow White adaptations in 2012?  This year has seen the release of two big screen versions of the fairy tale – Snow White and the Huntsman and Mirror, Mirror – and one television show, Once Upon A Time.

This year has also seen the release of possibly the worst Snow White adaptations of all time, Grimm’s Snow White, a direct-to-DVD affair that substitutes elves for dwarves, adds dragons, a magical falling star from outer space, and a bunch of CG dogs that look a lot like the beast from The Brotherhood of the Wolves.

Everybody’s a critic.

This, of course, is the Snow White version that my husband and I decided to Netflix last night.

I found it ironic that the filmmakers decided to differentiate their Snow White from the other two by titling it Grimm’s Snow White, because I don’t remember elves, dragons, comets or secret societies of back-flipping ninja elves in the version set down by the Brothers Grimm.

This upside down thing is supposed to be a “dark elf.” It’s not. It’s in the middle of a flip, it’s wearing black and you can’t see it clearly. That makes it a ninja.

Just to be sure that I didn’t miss anything the first time I read it, I downloaded the Grimms’ 1819 version of Household Tales onto my Kindle last night and re-read it.

Now, as a feminist, Snow White is hardly my favorite fairy tale. The story contains so many elements that I hate, I hardly know where to begin.

This woman doesn’t need to be the fairest. She needs to operate a charity or go back to school or something.

Let’s start with the queen, a woman so consumed by her own looks that she’s willing to kill her own stepdaughter in order to avoid being overshadowed in the beauty department.

This is a woman who has an awful lot of talents that are being misdirected. She has a magical mirror, she’s able to whip up poison like nobody’s business and she’s a master of disguise. She’s like the Real Housewives version of MacGuyver. But does she direct these talents toward useful things? No. The only thing she uses her mirror for is to find out how hot she is (Pro tip: normal mirrors work just fine for that) and to Google directions to the dwarves’ cottage so that she can pose as a sort of medieval Avon lady.

The evil queen has recently been recast into a cougar mold, and is often represented as being after the prince, which irritates me because once again, we have a clever woman whose ambitions are based on competition for a man.

Allow me to move on to Snow White, a young woman with absolutely no intelligence, who is – three times –  brought low by shopping. The dwarves keep telling her not to open the door to strangers, because her stepmother is trying to kill her. But every time a saleswoman comes to the door, Snow White parades right out to buy whatever is being peddled, and it’s always made of poison.
The only thing keeping this kid from certain death is the fact that her looks charm various people into taking care of her. The huntsman lets her run away into the forest. The dwarves allow her to invade the man-cave and although she doesn’t take their advice (three times) they save her twice.

What look is the prince going for? Mr. Darcy imitation? Team Edward? You decide.

The prince, who likely has a necrophilia problem, takes her coffin from the dwarves and carries it around with him until a servant accidentally Heimlichs the apple out of her mouth. He decides to marry her as soon as she comes out of her coma and she accepts instantly. Maybe out of love. Maybe out of hormones. Maybe out of realizing that if she marries this guy, she can get out of the forest and back into royal life.

But the most disturbing thing about Snow White is the entertainment she arranges for her wedding. She invites her stepmother, heats up some iron shoes until they are red hot and forces her stepmother to put them on and dance for the guests until she falls down dead.

Up until this point, she’s been pure and innocent, but now she’s enjoying a display of torture at her wedding reception. Most people would probably go for a deejay or jugglers or something, but not our girl Snow White, who’s turning out to be no better than her stepmother, which makes me think that these two women have quite a bit in common. They’re beautiful, ambitious and cruel…. they could almost be related.

That’s because they are.  If you read the 1812 version of the Grimm’s fairy tale, you realize that they are about as closely related as you can get.

In the earliest version of the Grimms’ story, the antagonist of Snow White was the princess’s own mother. The same queen who wished for a child with white skin, red lips and ebony hair grew to hate her own daughter when Snow White surpassed her in beauty at seven years of age.The Grimms changed this for the 1819 version. Maybe because mothers were reading this story to their daughters.

Actually, the resemblance is striking in at least one adaptation:

Snow White’s age is another point of interest for me. The tale doesn’t tell us how old Snow White is, exactly, but if the action starts when she’s seven, and the story refers to her as “Little Snow White” and all the other characters call her “child,” I’m going to go out on a limb and say that she’s probably 12 or 13 when she ends up with the prince. Maybe 15 or 16, since she’s in that coma for a long time (although the story says she doesn’t change, so we can’t be sure.)

But if you think about lifespans a long time ago, 12 was a pretty normal age for a girl to be eligible for marriage. Maybe her mother was a teenager when she wished for a beautiful daughter. And maybe Snow White does the same after the story ends and then becomes jealous of her own daughter.

It’s the circle of life, kids.

More Grimm tidbits:

* The huntsman falls in love with a pretty seven year-old. That’s why he doesn’t kill her.

* In the 1812 story, the prince’s servants get so upset about lugging a corpse around all day that one of them opens the casket and hits Snow White, dislodging the apple.

* The queen thinks that she’s eaten the child’s heart and liver.

* There are a bunch of Snow White-like stories. They are classified as type 709 by the Aarne–Thompson tale type index.