Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A Space To Write

I might have mentioned my office became a nursery.

I might not have mentioned I have a new space to write.

The tiniest desk I could find.

Can you imagine me? Running through Ikea aisles with a baby stroller, determined to find the one and only desk to fit in the one and only available (25 inch) space in our apartment?

But I found it.

And so I sat, late into a raucous Friday night, with the unassembled pieces, a bag full of screws, and the wordless directions from Scandinavian furniture whizzes, and felt very serious.

I would put together this desk.

I would sit at it in the moonlight.

I would become someone.

I got a lamp. A striped seat cover. I stacked the old notepads. And now it's mine.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Currently -- Summer


Watching: 

These days we are watching Louie. I love the brilliance of this show. It's surprising, strange, thoughtful, self-aware, offensive, funny, poignant ... I recently heard Emily Nussbaum, the television critic for The New Yorker, say it is a show we don't yet know how to watch. 

I would agree that this is the best way I've heard it described. I don't yet know how to experience it. But I'm watching with great interest. And I'm still amazed and reeling, all this time later, from Parker Posey's haunting performance of last season. 

Reading:

I just started Ian McEwan's Atonement.  

I recently finished an ARC for a book I hope to write more about in a bigger way, After Birth by Elisa Albert. It is a fictional story about the social exile that many women experience in motherhood. It really resonated with me. 

Listening:

It's rained a lot this week so I've been in the house with Little O, listening to music. After years working in the toy industry, I don't do a lot of baby music here. A Lena Horne record I found on the street. Ella Fitzgerald on Spotify. And O.A.R. from Tyler's iTunes library.

Making:

Baby food for Little O. Ice cream for me. Stories, when I can. 

Feeling:

Like maybe I'm on the brink of something new.

Planning: 

A trip to Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts to hike and explore and visit with many family and friends. 

I'm also dreaming of a new space in my home to write. When my office turned into a room for baby boy, I found myself a bit displaced, moving from the bed to the couch and working around Tyler's television and sleep schedule. I realized, early this week, that there is just one unused nook in our tiny apartment, tucked in the corner of our bedroom. I have found the smallest desk possible to fit in it. I can't wait to pick it up this Friday.

Loving:

Ice cream. Fireworks. Summer walks with friends. Little O's smile and the sound of his laughter. He thinks the broom is very funny, even if I don't find sweeping very amusing. After thinking about various manuscripts over the years and the moment of knowing  you must walk away from them...I began singing Kenny Roger's 'The Gambler' out loud (you've got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, know when to walk away, know when to run) and Little O now thinks that is the most hilarious thing he has ever heard.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Street Finds - The Books of This Summer



There are many reasons I love Brooklyn. One of them is the mysterious exchange that happens on the sidewalks and stoops of our homes. I haven't seen this anywhere else. Even after six years just over the river in Manhattan. But, here in Brooklyn, we love to leave books and records outside for anyone to take.

I have built a beautiful, if worn, library from these finds. And I have left many, many of my own books at the foot of the tree directly in front of our building. They disappear like forgotten secrets. I feel better knowing they are in another's eager hands.

I always want to read what's new, what's now but, this summer, the streets have been talking. They've been saying, Melissa, you've missed the best. I'm almost embarrassed to admit I haven't yet read a single work of the great Gabriel Garcia Marquez or McEwan's most well-known, Atonement. Tyler's been nagging at me to read his beloved Simon Winchester. And others have shouted of Saunders and Patchett. I've managed to miss them all.

But, no more. These are the books that have found me this summer. I can't believe my good fortune. They've been waiting. It's time.

Friday, June 27, 2014

What If? and The Art of 'Stopping By'


This morning, Tyler and I had a discussion about 'stopping by'. About the knock at the door, the unannounced, the smile, the hug, the we're here when we never said we'd be.

It surprised me when Tyler, who lets nothing bother or fluster him, said he'd prefer to be prepared. It surprised me when I, who, if I could, might edit every conversation I've ever had, every word that's ever come out of mouth (such is the control I wish to have over my interactions), said I'd love for almost anyone we know to stop by anytime.

When I was a girl, my mother and I used to visit her cousin Rosemary. We rarely, if ever, called ahead. We knocked on the door, were ushered in to her kitchen, with its wide open window, the walls knick-knacked with tiny shelves, a little pantry where she kept her husband's bags of salty potato chips.

Rosemary pooled together the remnants of boxed Entenmann's. One chocolate glazed donut, some slices of crumb cake. She knocked back the flimsy lid, poured coffee into eager mugs. She had the sweetest iced tea for me and she had stories, long runaway strands that stretched from the Astoria, Queens of her childhood, the stoops, the dress shops, the carts along Ditmars Blvd., to her home, and back again.

An hour turned into hours and throughout that time, the characters at the table would grow in like thicketed shrubs. Her son would return home from work, flip his dark hair back, swat the air with a cigarette, and make us laugh until our insides hurt. There was a German neighbor. A friend from mahjongg, Irene, who read paperbacked novels, who talked about her quiet mornings at a stool in Dunkin' Donuts, the books she read, the friends she made.

There were other cousins and friends and, somehow, in that time, the water would boil for pasta, the oil and vinegar of a salad dressing would be shaken and emulsified, and we'd suddenly be eating dinner, dark falling from the sky, past the window, calling in a dessert of Oreo cookies and a coffee maker who readied itself for another pot.

Some stories were told over again each visit, their retelling making it feel as if I'd been there the first time around when, in fact, I hadn't yet been born. A newly married Aunt who used paper towels instead of coffee filters, the polite realization of her guests, the laughter that found its way from their lips to mine. A story of a soured sour cream and a choice between two marriage proposals, that always ended in the somewhat strange, sudden silence of what if, what if. 

Last week, the emails went around. A group of friends I love were trying to get together for a summer meal. Dates thrown and sent back like boomerangs. A collective sigh from all of us. Perhaps...the fall.

Maybe this is why I dream of a knock at the door, a wide-opened hug, a rummage through the fridge to make a meal. My own cast of characters filling my home. In this over scheduled life, I wonder about the unexpected symphony of mug to table, table to chair, story to story, told and retold, what if, what if. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Thought on leaving my job, transition, and dreams


A lot of things have changed since the birth of Little O. One of the biggest of those changes...I did not return to my job.

I made the decision to leave long before I was pregnant, quietly building a network around me so I could walk away. I interviewed at other companies, turned down a job offer for a not-quite-right fit, turned down another due to poor timing, all the while, keeping my head down, trying, and often failing, to tune out the corporate noise, while working on novels and other freelance opportunities to feed my soul.

Then I got pregnant and this sweet boy came and I knew for certain what I had known long ago: my time at the company was done. The decision didn't scare me. It felt like walking out into the sun. Still, I imagined I would walk out shining, with some big news of a book deal, or a daring digital project in the world of children's media. While this new life gig is more challenging and rewarding than any other I've experienced, I still thought I would leave with a snazzier title than mother. 

Instead, I told my boss (who I loved and who had nothing to do with the decision) in a teary-eyed confession. Then human resources quickly over the phone. After nearly eight years, there was no party. I was not allowed back in the building during office hours to say goodbye to my friends. Since it was in the middle of my maternity leave, I left quietly, with only one heartfelt and sincere goodbye email to the company, which had to be sent via an 'approved' sender (i.e. not me).

I don't regret this decision even a little. There is nothing more important than the work I am doing right now. I would not miss a moment of Little O's life to go back to a company I had completely lost faith in or a job where I felt undervalued and under appreciated. And while the title doesn't sound snazzy, mother is the most incredible of all the jobs I've taken on. I'm even hesitant to call it a job because it just feels like a role I've slipped into, even with all its hardships, a role that feels like just the right fit. 

But I don't want to make it sound like this transition has been easy. 

I know, in my heart, that I am in the right place and, yet, I feel a bit displaced. I don't step into an office anymore. I don't knock things off of a long task list. I collaborate with no one. I spend whole days without a word to anyone but a tiny human, who is kinder and more beautiful than anyone I've ever worked with, and who, in some strange twist of life, loves me unconditionally, but...

...it's lonely and it's strange and I try to understand who I'm supposed to be. 

I strategically planned my finances to be able to take this time to be with the most important person in my life and live the moments with him. While I feel lucky I planned for it, I know that time and space may run out.  

And there's still a space in my heart that believes I'm a writer. So I write when everyone is asleep, moving a laptop from my bed to the kitchen table to the couch, to find the quiet and the space I need. But writing doesn't, yet, bring our family enough money. Most of my stories don't reach anyone else but me. 

I walk every day, pushing a stroller along the river. I scheme. I live each moment with Little O, yes, and I try not to let my thoughts cascade too far ahead. But I worry. I wonder how to live all my dreams. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Blog Tour: My Writing Process


A few friends tagged me in this blog tour about my writing process. I apologize for the long-ish post but I hope you'll read it all: I'll celebrate those who tagged me, then tell you a little about my process and tag two writers I'd love for you to meet, if you haven't already.

All-righty then. On with the show.

I was tagged by my friend, Susan McCulley, who has a wonderful blog, Focus Pocus. Susan is a Nia instructor and writer and all around beautiful person who I love. She writes insightful posts about the mind-body connection in a style that is, both, humorous and profound. Her posts always make me stop and think about how I move through life and how I create.

My friend Becca Rowan, who I've never met, but who I've known in this blogging space for many years. As the title would suggest, her blog is made up of Reflections On Life In General. She a lovely and elegant person who always teaches me about slowing down to reflect and I know we are kindred spirits because we both share the only-child connection and a love of piano, books, bicycles, and savoring quiet.

And my friend Amy Sonnichsen, who is a trusted critique partner and who I've celebrated on this blog for the upcoming release of her gorgeous novel in verse RED BUTTERFLY. She also writes at her blog, The Green Bathtub, and she's a super awesome person who is beautiful inside, out, and on the page.

What am I working on? 

I'm deep in the trenches of a first draft right now. I wander through first drafts, so it's hard to say what it is, and part of me likes to keep it a secret, close to my heart, until it is more fully formed. I'll say I'm really, so excited about it. I'll say it is a young adult novel about two sisters I've wanted to write about for years. It takes place along the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn and centers around a rare and beautiful tree.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

This is a hard question. I don't know how to answer it. I think, maybe, my stories are more dreamlike than others.

Why do I write what I do?

Characters and a sense of place guide my fiction. I follow them wherever they take me. I think I've said this on the blog once before but I write realistic fiction because I think life is strange and magical and I want to write about people who, like me, have complicated feelings about the people they know and the world they live in. There's a lot of gray in the world and that's where my stories live.

How does your writing process work?

To be honest, I learn every day how to write and every day it's different. As I said, I like to wander through a first draft. By the time I near the end, I think I know what has to be done. I make huge revisions. I send it to trusted friends/readers. I revise again and again. Then it goes out into the world. Past experience has taught me that once it goes out into the world, I'll probably have it returned to me and have to rewrite it at least three times.

And, finally, I'm tagging two people whose work I admire:

Sylvie Morgan Brown, a friend and colleague I work with in children's media, who I just learned has the most beautiful, beautiful blog about food and life. Like the best food writers, she has a lyrical writing style that makes me feel like I'm in her kitchen sharing delicious food and conversation.

Melissa Middleman Firman, who I have come to know through her blog and through her passionate Facebook statuses. Along with thoughts on life, writing, autism, politics, Pittsburg and more, she also posts insightful book reviews on her blog. The girl doesn't mess around, shares her thoughts with urgency and heart and I love it.

So, please, go forth and read all of these women and their work.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Subway Sketches and a Short Piece Published


I've written a lot, over the years, while riding on subway and train cars. It's resulted in dozens upon dozens of sketches where I capture moments, real and imagined.

It's no wonder, then, that in all the years sending work out into the world, only two small stories have ever been accepted for publication and they've both been part of what I shall now call the subway series (like baseball but more lyrical.)

So, I'm happy to share one of those stories, this flash piece in the latest issue of Cleaver Magazine. I hope you will check out this issue and all the wonderful work the magazine puts out. It's cool to be a small part of it.

With thanks to the lovely Beth Kephart for pointing me towards the magazine, the way she points me in the direction of so many cool things.