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.

There’s always been a crowd in the ladies’ room.

“Oh good. I hate this quadrille. Grab your drink and let’s go to the ladies’ room.”

Why do women go to the bathroom in groups?

It’s supposedly the number one question men have about female behavior, right?

Or at least it’s the most inoffensive one they can post on Facebook. I’ve heard this question an uncountable number of times since I was a teen.  A quick search reveals that hundreds of versions of this question are posted on those online answers forums.

And despite the fact that this question has been answered literally thousands of times, it’s still been the foundation of many a lame comic routine.

There are lots of reasons why we women go to the bathroom together:

  • We want to talk  among ourselves.
  • We want to talk about the guys we’ve left at the table.
  • One of us made an unwise wardrobe choice and now requires assistance.
  • We need a break from the party and none of us smoke.
  • One of us needs to escape, and we’re aware that while only the most restraining-order-worthy of suitors would track a girl into a restroom, it is a rare gentleman indeed who will follow six women into a restroom.

And that brings me to the point I’m trying to make. Safety in numbers. The restrooms don’t usually occupy an establishment’s prime real estate. I’ve had to walk down some pretty scuzzy hallways to find the ladies’ room, and there have been times when I’ve wished for the company of a pack of friends as I edged my way across a packed bar, ducked down a hallway, climbed down a dark set of narrow stairs in heels and finally found myself in a dimly-lit basement lav trying had not to think of Buffalo Bill’s underground lair in Silence of the Lambs.

And then you have to get back upstairs to your drink.

I hate to admit it, but we ladies have traditionally stuck together the way prey animals stick together. Sometimes it’s paranoid. Sometimes it’s just good sense. Most of the time it’s been for protection, either the protection of our selves or, back in the day, for the protection of our reputations.

Check out this excerpt from Manners, culture and dress of the best American society, an etiquette book written in 1890 by Richard A. Wells.

“Married or young ladies, cannot leave a ball-room or any other party, alone. The former should be accompanied by one or two other married ladies, and the latter by their mother, or by a lady to represent her.”

Ladies, notes Wells, should also not cross the ballroom floor alone. It’s 2012 and I’m a liberated woman, but I have to admit, there exist some modern ballroom floors that I would not want to cross alone.

So women were leaving parties in groups more than a hundred years ago, not necessarily for safety, but so that their reputations were undamaged. At best, this was so none of them were seen to be sneaking off by themselves and at worst, it was because they were all keeping an eye on each other.

Maybe it was also for safety, because back in 1890 not a lot of people had indoor toilets, and really if you think about it, going outside is worse than any New York City toilet. Men could just find a convenient shrubbery, but ladies,  if you have to go outside in the dark to do your thing in a ballgown, do you want to go it alone, or do you want two close friends to hold your fan and your dance card and guard the jakes door?

 

How a men’s magazine gave me confidence that Elle could not.

I am a huge fan of the anti-plastic surgery, no-makeup, aging-naturally, don’t-retouch-my-photos movement that’s been taking hold among a small but significant number of celebrities. 

In 2003, Kate Winslet was up in arms about this retouched photo on the cover of GQ.

Kate Winslet, whom I thought was so beautiful when I first saw her in movies in the ’90s, is now 20 percent more awesome to me because she refuses to starve herself and won’t get plastic surgery. I love that she takes a stand against retouching. I love that a growing number of ladies’ magazines are open to publishing unretouched photos and make-up-less shoots and photos of “plus-size girls” and using women over the age of 35 as cover girls.

This is a fabulous trend. If only it were the norm instead of the exception.

I wish Winslet or any of the natural beauty activists were on the covers of any of the ladies’ magazines that have arrived at my house since the fall.* But the vast majority of the cover girls,  actresses, models and fashions in those magazines have catered to an imaginary world full of wrinkle-free women whose dress sizes top out at 8. An extremely unscientific survey of the cover girls in my magazine rack currently includes several young starlets, the super-slender Cameron Diaz and Demi Moore, who has been criticized for being too skinny as she ages.

Sophia Loren has said that young actresses need to "mangia!" I'm paraphrasing here.

I realize some women have trouble putting on weight, but most people I know struggle with the opposite problem, as do I.

“Too skinny” is not a problem I will ever have unless, god forbid, I end up in a survival situation. Even then, the chances of me getting “too skinny” are pretty slim because before starving to death I would

1) eat songbirds, squirrels, bugs, bark and weeds, probably poisoning myself in the process, or

2) be killed and eaten by my friends and relatives for the fat reserves I carry with me at all times.

I digress.

Witness Marilyn Monroe eating dessert.

Moving along, I’m tired of reading women’s magazines and feeling overweight. So the other day I went to the website of a men’s magazine instead.

Normally I try to stay clear of men’s magazines, particularly the articles that focus on women’s bodies, but I was sick of reading Elle and wondering what it would be like to fit into a size 0 pair of skinny jeans. (I’d have to shave several inches of bone off my hips to make that happen.) One Google search later, I’d found this gem: Men’s Health’s 100 hottest women of all time.

Now before I get into the list, I’m not saying that women should start adhering to standards set for them by men’s magazines. I am saying that while women’s magazines display a certain kind of figure as ideal, not everyone sees it that way.

Jayne Mansfield is smart enough to know that she can eat AND be attractive.

Look at this list. Some of the ladies are listed with their measurements. One of them (Jayne Mansfield) is listed with both her measurements and her IQ (163). These women are all shapes and sizes. Sure, there are a lot of skinny gals from the ’70s and today, but many of them look as though they’d never dream of starving themselves. Look at Ann-Margaret. There’s a lady who looks like she eats food. Number one is Jennifer Aniston, who might be skinny, but I’m glad she’s number one, because she seems genuinely nice.**

The point I’m trying to make here is not new. It’s trumpeted all the time. It’s just that the message – that there is no real standard of beauty – doesn’t always hit home. There are days when I just don’t feel attractive, or when I pine for my twenties or even my teens. And even though I know that’s a fool’s gambit and that in 10 years I’ll be pining for my 30s, I do it anyhow.

It’s normal for individual people to be insecure every once in a while. We all have bad days. What’s destructive is when a whole culture of people (American women, for example) are insecure all the time. In a time when the decent women’s magazines show me slimming clothing and size 2 dresses and the trashy ones publish articles focusing on diets, gossip, and sex tips, it was refreshing to see a list, created by guys who find smart, talented, funny and kind women attractive and who define 100 different body shapes as “hot.” The only thing that could make the list better would be more women of different ethnicities.***

After looking at this list, I got up and looked in the mirror. I felt beautiful. I logged onto Facebook, and congratulated myself on being friends with so many other beautiful women. I looked at a family picture and what do you know? My family is just rank with lookers. I told my husband all of this, and he agreed. And then we went out and had pizza for dinner.

* Thanks to a few shopping trips to Lohmann’s this fall, I am now the recipient of a lot of women’s magazines. Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, InStyle and Marie Claire all visit my house monthly. So does Food and Wine.

**  Sesame Street pro tip: Being nice trumps being curvy or skinny or what-have-you any day of week.

*** I counted about 10 women of color on this list. But that’s still a really small percentage when you’re talking about a list of 100.

Baby fever: it’s real, it’s weird, and it’s the reason I’m still awake.

Oh great - if you add a husband, 80 pounds and an MFA , and subtract a law degree, I'm Ally McBeal.

We’re not planning to have a family anytime soon. Kids have never been high on my priority list. Yet, recently,I’ve been dreaming of babies.

Remind you of anyone? Ally McBeal and her dancing baby, perhaps? If only my baby danced. Mine screams.

There’s always a crisis in these dreams. I either cannot clothe or feed the baby, or I’ve discovered that unbeknownst to me, I’ve had a child and have been keeping it in a suitcase for months. I’m always riddled with guilt in these dreams. I feel guilty that I had a child and didn’t know it. I feel guilty that I cannot feed it. I feel guilty because I was devastated when I learned that I had a child.

The payoff for these horrors comes every night, when I hold my hungry, unfeedable child and feel his or her warm weight in my arms, or against my ribs, or on my hip. I inhale the sweet, and sometimes, sour odors of the child’s body. I know it’s mine. And then I wake up, and – as upset as I was when I realized that I was a mother – I am just as disappointed that the child is gone.

It’s a hell of a roller coaster to ride every night.

Also, it’ s just weird. Having kids was never a part of my life goal. Writing a book was always my big ambition. Oh, sure, I thought maybe I’d have kids because hell, lots of people do, but I’m not one of those who always envisioned herself as a mother.

In fact, at the moment, I’m not all that interested in having children – life is good the way it is, and my husband and I don’t feel the need to add to our household. Despite this – I wrote about it a few years ago – after the age of 30, I started getting a strange irrational urge toward motherhood. It’s not a desire. It’s a biological urge, like hunger, or sex drive. It’s called Baby Lust, or Baby Fever. Or at least it’s called that according to this article which was published in Elle in 2011.

It’s one of the few articles that addresses my nightly adventures with the Dream Baby.

There is some literature out there about baby lust, but not much, and much of it is written by and for people who want, or have children. And those articles contain some interesting facts. For one thing, baby lust doesn’t affect only women who are child-free. Some women are hit with waves of desire for a child. They might have children in their early 20s only to re-experience baby lust 10 or 15 years later, when their children are teens.

There aren’t, however, a lot of articles about baby lust written about women who are ambivalent to child-bearing, and no wonder. According to the Elle article, this urge isn’t felt by all women. And until the second half of the last century, it probably wasn’t a noticeable phenomenon. Psychology was young, and women were expected to procreate or die trying.

Today, I suspect that many women who experience this brand of baby lust don’t really want to talk – or write – about this feeling.

First of all, it’s uncomfortable and sometimes emotionally painful.

Second of all, it’s likely to be misunderstood: I don’t know if men who don’t want kids get this baby fever thing, but based on an extremely unscientific survey (based on the facial expressions made by the men in my life when I try to explain this phenomenon to them) they don’t. Since baby lust is not universal among women, there isn’t a large group of people who might sympathize.

Thirdly, child-free women might not be talking about baby lust because they are ashamed of it. Based on my upbringing as an Irish Catholic, I can tell you that any strong urge that runs counter to a person’s values creates shame. Speaking for myself only, I can say that I’m ashamed of my baby dreams. I don’t want kids right now, but I think about babies like a starving person thinks about food. This makes me feel crazy. I spend my days thinking about my career, the next novel, and next week’s class. I spend my nights tossing from dream to bad dream to nightmare, all of them featuring the unclotheable, unsootheable, hungry baby.

I am ashamed of feeling crazy.

Shame, however, is no reason not to talk, or write, about anything.

Will I be forced to eat my words if we do procreate? No. Here’s the thing. If my husband and I do happen to stumble into parenthood, we will embrace it. If we don’t, both my husband and I are happy to be an enthusiastic uncle and aunt. I’m wondering if the Dream Baby is what happens when strong biological urges hijack ambivalence.

The important thing to remember is that, no matter what my body throws at me, we still have a choice. I can experience baby lust and not give in to it. We can make our childbearing choices based on what makes sense for us as a couple and it doesn’t have to be driven by my biological urges. We can use our brains to make that decision, not our bodies.

That’s a comfort to me, but you know what I’d like even more? I would like to get some sleep. It’s not fair to be routinely woken up by a baby when you don’t even have one. I mean, come on. What kind of mean trick is that?

Send me your beards!

Not your real beards. Keep those on your faces. Please.

I want you to send me your “protest beards.”

What am I talking about? Good question. This past weekend, I posted about the horrible injustices faced by dwarf women in Middle-Earth.

That post – which featured faux PSA photos of me in a faux beard – has gotten a lot of views, and by a lot, I mean more than the eight views a day I usually get (normally because someone’s been Google Searching for a photo of the chick from Alien Nation).

Since there’s been a lot of interest, I’d like to invite you all to send me your protest beards. Below are some examples.

Ads for the bearded lady campaign

Photoshopped-in text is optional.

You can send me your protest in three simple steps:

1) Cut a beard out of paper.

2) Scrawl a slogan on it, condemning the oppression of female dwarves in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth.

3) Using your cell phone or your computer’s camera, take a photo of yourself wearing the beard.

Then send it to me at annjoconnell<at>gmail<dot>com, which is technically the fourth step, I guess.

I will be accepting entries until Jan. 20, and then I will post the best ones. And because this is a contest there will be a (completely unrelated) prize. (Yaaaay, free stuff!) The person with the best protest beard will get a copy of my new e-book, Beware the Hawk. (Yaaaay, self-promotion!) I really hope I get some photos of beards, because I’d hate to host a contest and have no one show up. So get out your scissors and your Sharpies, and prepare to beard injustice in its lair.