The ice bucket challenge.

I just finished my donations and figured I should post this.

And look, I wasn’t going to do this challenge. I really, really wasn’t. But then I was tagged by my friend Adam, and after my initial hipster-knee-jerk reaction (“Ugh!  A trend. Don’t let it touch me.) I found that I couldn’t really say no.

Then I was going to do it and just donate to Alzheimer’s Research, because that’s an important cause for me, but the Ice Bucket Challenge is ALS’s party and I didn’t want to be the jerk that peed in the pool. And so I decided to donate to both ALS and ALZ.

Then I made a metric buttload of ice, cleaned off my very favorite bucket and taught my husband to use my iPhone camera. I’m going to regret that last thing.

I’m not calling anyone out specifically. But if you liked this video and you’ve gotten this far into August without dumping icewater on your head, I challenge you, reader. Dump water on your head. Donate to ALS. And then donate to a charity that you want to support.

Here you go. Apologies for the wailing baby in the background. He hates being left out of things.






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.


A list of the links that have been posted to The Eagle and the Arrow, so far.

The Eagle and the Arrow is released today! Links to the book are trickling in.

Here are the links that have been posted so far:

The e-book, on Amazon

The paperback on Amazon

And let us not neglect Barnes & Noble, which has the e-book on NOOK

The e-book on Smashwords.

I’m waiting for the publisher’s website to post the book as well. Also, check it out on Goodreads (another giveaway – this time of The Eagle & The Arrow –  is happening soon.)

In defense of Amanda Palmer.

Amanda Palmer (she’s a musician and used to front the Dresden Dolls) has recently come under fire for asking volunteers to play horns and strings at her shows on her Grand Theft Orchestra Tour.

This is one of a series of unconventional tactics she’s undertaken recently. She used Kickstarter to great effect this year, raising $1.2 million from fans to independently create an album that was dropped this week.

She’s looking for fans who are “professionalish” horn and string players to join her onstage for each night of her tour. The volunteers are asked to commit to a rehearsal, one performance and will be paid in beer and love.

Professional session musicians are outraged. There are posts about their anger in Spin and The New York Times and the Boston Globe. Last time I checked Palmer’s blog, there were 290 comments on that blog post, many of them angry, and from musicians, some claiming that she’s exploiting musicians.  Writes one:

“I’ve been a professional touring musician for 23 years, and I’ve never heard of you until today. With all due respect, your request for free labor sounds like a promotional gimmick dreamed up by a corporate republican who has no concept of the history of working people in this country.”

Here’s my question, though: What’s the big deal?

Palmer is asking for volunteers and is presumably asking her fan base for volunteers. She’s asking the people who will be at the concert anyhow, not professional session musicians who’ve never heard of her.  People ask for volunteers all the time. Churches and schools are always asking for volunteers. Politicians ask for volunteers to run many aspects of their campaigns. Artists are asked to volunteer their skills for many organizations, for-profit and non-profit. Surely, there is no harm in asking people to volunteer. And surely, asking for volunteers is much different than exploitation.

One commenter felt that it was insulting to ask musicians to play for free simply because it’s wrong to assume that working musicians will play just for the love of music. I can kind of relate to that. A while back, I wrote a post about the writing equivalent of that feeling; that I get sick of having to provide copy for birthday cards, poems for anniversaries or whatever simply because I’m a writer.

I think Palmer’s request is different, though. For one thing, she’s not targeting specific musicians and asking them to play for free. Secondly, I think some of her fans will want to jam with her.

Why? Let’s look at a slightly different situation. Say her husband, Neil Gaiman, put out a call on his site for “professionalish” writers to collaborate on a book project for free. I’m a writer. I make my living off my art. But would I do it for free?

Hell yes, I would. I would get right in line. I would do it because I could then say I’d been published with Neil Gaiman. I would do it because I was once a huge fan of his work. Even if he were getting paid for the collaboration and I wasn’t, I don’t think I’d complain, because I would have known, up front, that I’d volunteered.

I should probably mention at this point that I’m not a fan of Palmer’s music; I’ve never given any of it – from the Dresden Dolls to today’s solo projects – a try. But I do feel some affinity with her.

Maybe it’s because when I worked at the Boston Herald, I spent a lot of time in Cambridge, and I think I saw her when she was busking there as the Eight-Foot Bride. Maybe it’s because, at the same time, I grabbed a review copy of American Gods (by Gaiman, who wasn’t married to her at that time) off the features desk’s Free Stuff Shelf and later became obsessed with it. Maybe it’s because I knew a lot of people from Lexington, where she grew up, or maybe it’s because her alma mater was the rival of mine. We didn’t exactly roll in the same circles, but we’ve had a lot of places in common, and probably more than a few people in common. Or maybe, because, as a small author with a small press, I admire her for using the Internet to connect and collaborate with her fans. It’s something I try to do on a very small scale and it’s nice to see her crowdsourcing with such success.

So I’m coming to her defense because I feel like a member of my tribe is under attack, and I don’t feel the attack is just.

The Home Ec Retrospective

Behold, Frankenshorts! It's aliiiiive! (I think the red box in the sewing basket is my old Home Ec "pincushion.")

This weekend I did a couple of things that I don’t do often. I baked meringues for my husband as part of a you-do-yard-work-and-you-get-cookies arrangement. I also — in a desperate and probably vain attempt to extend the lifespan of my favorite cut-off shorts — sewed a patch and re-sewed a seam.

Both of these activities made me remember my Home Economics classes in junior high. My district called our school junior high, and not middle school then, although by the early ’90s lots of school systems were switching over to the 6-8 middle school format, rather than the 7-8 junior high school model. We were taught Home Economics and Industrial Arts, which roughly translated to Cooking and Woodworking in the seventh grade and Sewing and Printing in the eighth. I knew from books and television and people in other towns that not all schools had these extras, and I remember wondering if we were weird because we did.

I didn’t think I needed Home Ec. I had already done baking projects at home. My mother, an accomplished seamstress and the granddaughter of a professional tailor, had already taught me a little about sewing. She taught me to work with patterns and sewing machines when I was in grammar school. We made doll clothes together during summer vacations.  Like many middle schoolers, I figured I already knew everything when I walked into Home Ec class in junior high school. Yet, today as I finish repairing the seam on Frankenshorts, I find myself tying off the thread with a knot taught to me by my Home Ec teacher, not my mother. I’m even using the same spool of thread and the same box of pins we bought when I started the course in the fall of 1991.

At the time, Home Ec seemed silly to me. I liked the break from regular classes, but I didn’t feel like I was learning anything useful. Our cooking curriculum seemed – except for one notable day when we made pizza – completely made up of cookies, learning measurements, and cleaning up. In our sewing class, we made pillows and stuffed animals from plush “kits” ordered from a catalog. I can’t deny that I enjoyed making pillows and bringing them home, but I still think the course might have been more absorbing if it featured some element of clothing repair. At 13, I was definitely interested in learning how to patch my beat-up denim jacket, in letting down the hems of my pants (I was too tall for almost all my clothes) and in fixing the holes in my favorite shirts before my mom used those holes as an excuse to throw them away. Our teacher had her own methods, and so we made the probably-less-controversial pillows.

Looking back at it, there was a feeling of fiefdom to my junior high school Home Ec classes. When you walked into the rooms on the Home Ec corridor, you were entering the teacher’s world. Sewing machines, mixers and ovens were fiercely protected. Names were assigned to things that didn’t need new names. Baking mix was called Master Mix. Anything that held pins was a pincushion, even if was a box or a bag or anything else that is manifestly not a cushion. There seemed to be this war, waged in semantics, that was constantly being fought, although I didn’t feel like the teacher was struggling against me or my fellow students. As a former schools reporter, I now wonder if that war was being waged against an administration that questioned the need for cooking and sewing classes in middle school.

I could be wrong about this theory. When I check out my old school’s website, I see that cooking is still taught. In fact, the most popular recipe from that course, beloved of even the most jaundiced seventh graders, is posted on the site. Cinnamon rolls. Mmmm.  Click here to download, and enjoy.

Sadly, there are no sewing classes listed. And I didn’t see many sewing classes in other schools when I covered education for the newspaper. As I finish work on Frankenshorts, I can’t help but think that sewing is really a valuable skill for anyone to have. Even if they learn on silly plush pillows. Even if all they know how to do is sew a stupid Band-Aid patch onto a pair of jeans. Sewing and cooking are a couple of useful skills and they will be until we evolve fur or photosynthesis.