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Monday, May 31, 2010

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Happy Memorial Day! (Is it happy? Or are we supposed to be somber and reflective? I get mixed messages from you on this, America. I'm so confused.)

We're eating Nutella-slathered pancakes, curating school art, refusing to get dressed, and generally living la vie bohème. Regardless of what the calendar says to the contrary, summer break has arrived. This last week of school mornings is going to be challenging. I hope the teachers are cool with half-naked, chocolate-smeared beasts for pupils.

I have a confession. Today was going to be the day I was going to sign off from Notes for the summer. I had already composed the post in my head, explaining how I intend to spend the next few months digging back into family life, and being present for my kids.

Then I realized that this journal of days is one of the chief ways I dig in, and stay present. And also that I've been over-thinking all this branding and boundaries business, as pointed out to me by a friend at lunch the other day, as I was pondering aloud how to make myself over into something more consistent and coherent.

"Just be you," she said. "That's what people connect to."

"But it's so messy," I said.

"That's what we like."

So, I am going on summer break, by diving back into this space in a looser way. Expect more photos, shorter and more frequent posts, more feeling, and less thinking. There will probably be typos. Also split infinitives. And run-ons that start with "and" and "also." Lots of those. Judge me if you must.

Synchronistically, I notice my soulsister Jen Lemen (who brought a major project of her own to completion on the same day I finished my manuscript) has been called back into her own online journal, after long silence. I've been so excited to see new entries from her in my reader. Hearing her use her "inside" voice again reminds me of the creative and recreative power of these particular waters, when we are willing to enter them as our undressed selves. My friend Danny seems to have figured this out too.

So happy summer...I'll be here, just splashing around.


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Saturday, May 29, 2010

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Who's Your Daddy?


Look at the similarity in the markings of our two mutts, adopted from area shelters nine years apart. I'm thinking some people are not getting their rottweilers spayed or neutered, yo.


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Friday, May 28, 2010

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We watched our eleven-year-old graduate from elementary school this morning.


I've heard it said that a boy belongs to his mother for the first half of childhood. Then he belongs to his father.


I think he'll be in good hands.


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Thursday, May 20, 2010

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Obedience Training

Thursday, May 13, 2010

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Lines in the Sand: Redefining Boundaries in New Literature


Patrick has been stepping out in social media lately, and he knows it's making me a little anxious.

"You think I'm sharing too much?" he asked me this morning, just to humor me.

I considered his recent updates.

"Well, relative to publishing a book about our entire marriage, I guess not," I said.

It may seem like a contradiction for a memoirist to claim to be a private person, but I really am. If anything, my concern with privacy control has increased commensurately with life becoming more public. My husband and close friends will tell you it borders on paranoia. I don't mind getting personal, but strictly on my own terms.

The thing is, I'm always redefining those terms. I keep entertaining this idea that one day I'll have the boundaries mapped out just so--the blog for this, Twitter for that, Facebook for something else, and all my content and relationships will stay tidily within their assigned compartments. But if you have any kind of online life at all, you already know that's like trying to draw lines in the sand with a tide rolling in. Social media defies compartmentalization.

I got a very timely email last week from a long-time reader, Janie, who is hoping to publish her own book, and is pondering the place of social media in an author's career. She kindly agreed to let me post the crux of her query here:
It seems that any writer today who hopes to be published needs to have a blog, Twitter, Facebook, etc. to build a presence, a following, and a community...How do you balance the personal/professional aspects of all this social media?
Funny she should ask, because in between folding laundry, supervising 5th grade field trip, and getting caught up on lunches with ladies, this is exactly the same question I've been mulling over. As Janie notes, the boundaries between personal and professional writing have never been more fluid. Citing authors Justine Musk and Chris Guillebeau, she observes
it seems that it's all just One Big Thing for them - personal and professional rolled into one
I'd never heard of either of those authors, but I was taken with this post by Musk that Janie passed along, which makes a case for integrating a writer's output under the roof of "personal brand." I've long been allergic to the word "branding" as applied to human beings or the arts, but I've decided to write it an exemption under the rule of Lack of a Better Word. I can get behind the concept, if not the semantics. And I like how Musk says we should just quit trying to make new media fit the old floor plan. Knock out the walls, she seems to say. Embrace open space writing.

I've been planning to launch a new website for some time, and am excited about the opportunity to build a new online space as an author. In case you've been wondering, I do plan to continue to journal online, though there will likely be a change of address and some renovations. I think of Notes as my sketchpad: I'd no sooner be without it than a painter would be without paper and a bit of charcoal, or a photographer without her Polaroid. It's how I capture the fleeting thought. As you'll see when the book comes out, many of the quick studies drawn here are elaborated there. But I'd like to bring the online journaling under the same virtual roof as my print writing. It doesn't feel right to be a blogger, here; author, there; magazine writer, somewhere else. It's time to bring it all together.

That's more of a "me too" than an answer to Janie's question, I know. So let me volley it over the net to you. Do you follow any authors online? Does having a sense of a relationship with a writer enhance your relationship to their writing? What if there's an apparent incongruity between their online voice and print voice? Is that jarring, or dynamic? And in which direction do you travel: does print prompt you to go looking online for the author, or does the online presence drive you to read the book?

More specifically and selfishly, how do you like the idea of going to a website for, oh, I don't know, a PERSONAL MEMOIR, and being able to pull up related digital memorabilia-- snapshots, letters, marginalia, etc., like the "extras" section on a dvd?

I would love your thoughts and questions. I bet so would Janie.


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Wednesday, May 05, 2010

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Other Duties as Shall Be Required: A Mother's Work


Every morning, I pull out a 3 X 5 index card from a bulldog clipped deck, uncap my black felt-tipped pen, fire up my online calendar, and make my to-do list. Some items on the list are mandatory: keep a deadline or appointment, pay a bill, pick up kids. Others are more like the Pirate's Code; to be thought of only as suggestions. It's a given that some of them will be carried over to tomorrow's list, or the next day's, or the next day's, until the action has either been done, or done without.

While I was writing my book, the daily notation to "finish Chapter ___" loomed so large, it made the other to-do's seem manageable by comparison, even if I wasn't actually managing them very well. But with the focus off my manuscript--at least until I get the next round of edits--I've been amazed at how much work goes into keeping a household running--just functioning, I mean, never mind extras like decorating, entertaining, or deep cleaning. As Betty Friedan observed in the Feminine Mystique, housework will always expand to fit all available time and space. How ever much time you're willing to give it, is as much time as it takes.

I've had a little bit of time to give it these past two weeks, and I've mostly enjoyed the novelty of being able to check off a few more items from the list each day. But I'm well aware that the list is self-regenerative; that it's up to me to make sure big things don't get crowded out by the little ones. If you have to fill a jar with large stones and small pebbles, goes the analogy, put the large stones in first. The pebbles will fit into the spaces around them. It's harder to find space for the big stuff when you've already filled the day with inconsequential things.

Of course, the making of a home is not inconsequential. As Karen reminds me, it can be a profound discipline. I only have to sit in my friend Pearl's house to be reminded how essentially and immersively creative it can be. If homemaking is your vocation, I think it is a noble one. But it's not everyone's calling, nor is everyone who feels called to it, in a position to pursue it as such. I realize I am extraordinarily privileged to have the choice to be at home as much as I am -- or so I try to remind myself when driving around on a 90 degree spring day in a seven year-old minivan with a broken air conditioner. I could always be driving a new car back and forth to an office job, and working 40-plus hours a week. Lots of moms work outside the home full-time, by choice, necessity, or both. Like my friend Amy.

On Monday, after a full morning of making appointments, filling out paperwork, making the week's budget and menu plans, and the bare minimum of housework, I had an afternoon's worth of errands to run before picking up the kids from school. One of them took me near Amy's office, so we went for lunch. I told her how busy my days have been since wrapping up my book.

"When do you do all this stuff?" I asked her. I was genuinely baffled. I know she doesn't get home until six most nights. If you earn enough money, you can outsource some things, like the cleaning. But the administrative aspect of mothering --the calendar keeping, the appointment making, the planning, the financial management and the unbelievable amount of paperwork--you need to be a celebrity or CEO with a personal assistant to outsource that kind of thing. Or you have a wife who stays on top of it.

How do you it, I asked her. But what I meant was, how do we do it? How does any mom--whatever acronym she uses to describe her place of employment--manage the work of running a home, so much of which is taken for granted by society? How do you manage? What are the big things for you, what do you think of as the small stuff, and what's the stuff that falls between the cracks? What are the choices you've made, or the choices you wish you could make, about working inside or outside the home?

Bring out your jar of days. Show me how it's filled.


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