Archive for May, 2008

I have been trying to break out of the domestic mold for some time now. I bought girl clothes, attended a grown-up party, and made a new friend whose children are so close to being out of the house that talking kid stuff is just not a temptation. So when MotherTalk presented the opportunity to review Anna Johnson’s new book The Yummy Mummy Manifesto, I jumped at it.

I was not disappointed. More than a guidebook, the manifesto (as all good ones should be) is an intricate call to action: getting away from the “Juicy sweats” and ponytail that often seem easiest and most practical for mothers of young children to wear, and recognizing and fulfilling ourselves. Not to be selfish or to escape from our children, but to beĀ better mothers.

Johnson covers all aspects of early motherhood, from pregnancy through childbirth and into the toddler years. While I had a hard time relating to pregnancy fashion (I’m done) and sexuality (HA), Johnson’s treatment of sensuality in pregnancy is right on. Linked to the process of birth itself, her discussion may seem a bit odd at first blush, but how right she is that one must reflect on childbearing as “a state rather than an act.”

Having first labored naturally, then having had to endure an emergency Caesarian section, Johnson can afford to advise women: “Drug-free, peaceful, and private birth is the ideal, yet for every alternative, there are ways to humanize, personalize, and empower your birth. Seeing it first and foremost as your own sacred rite of passage is primary to feeling strong and connected.”

Johnson is wonderfully, refreshingly honest about so many aspects of mothering: postnatal sex (“Coming back into your sexuality after a birth is wed pretty tightly to coming back into your power”), fighting with one’s mate (“At the heart of most really awful fights between parents is the same challenge ripping at both the mother and the father but often in different forms”), fitness (“The depletion of muscle tone, loss of agility, and dull weight of new-mother exhaustion pin us down”). Many chapters provide lists with tips on how to achieve Yummyhood, and even if none of the ideas fit you, they should provide a decent springboard from which to find your own way.

Occasionally Johnson edges into what my friend PT-LawMom calls “SanctiMommy” territory. Her chapter on pregnancy diet is delivered like a Jo Frost lecture on discipline, and she strays a bit from her message–finding the woman under the mommy–in her chapters on play and simplicity, which left me feeling like an utter failure. I quite literally draw a blank every time I sit on the floor to play with my children, and I do rely on television and obnoxious plastic toys, but I admit – I am afraid to try more radical mothering, fearful that despite Johnson’s claims of the boon to her creativity, my own will be subsumed.

Johnson understands, though, and her following chapters include “Crafts for Women Who Hate Them” and “Mummy’s Room: How to Build a Sanctuary,” which brings with it a number of ideas for all kinds of spaces in all sizes of home. To that end, The Yummy Mummy Manifesto isn’t just a silly idea of becoming more in tune yourself through fashion and flirtation, but about all the ways in which womanhood and motherhood are inextricably intertwined.

At the core of her book, indeed, Johnson discusses “Gut Reaction,” the criticality of maternal instinct to our lives as both women and mothers: “Blazing your own trail through all the dogma, right and left, and following your heart and senses as much as your logic, will not protect you from the fatigue of the job. But it will help you stand by your choices and know that they were truly your own”–the reason we must all find our own path to Yummyhood.

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When I was working tech support, we used to joke that emails that were never delivered and never got bounced had been “lost in the ether.” You know, because the university had Ethernet.

Okay, geek joke. One that turned out to be not so funny this week when I realized that not only had a message of mine been lost in the ether, but it had also resulted in one of my articles not getting printed. Worse, I never would have figured this out had it not been for a source.

Weeks ago, he’d asked me for copies of the two articles he’d contributed to: one in April 2003, and the other in 2006. I found the first, but couldn’t find the second. It should have been archived online, but wasn’t. I figured this was just a data entry error and went looking for my back issues. (I’m a packrat, at least for my own clips.) I also found my pay stubs from that year and compared them to the finished articles.

And… concluded that the second article had never been printed.

Flummoxed, I emailed my editor to ask what had happened. Had the article not met her needs after all? Had they held it and somehow forgotten about it? No to both: she’d never even filed it, which meant she’d never received it. And yet I had the original email from me to her, with attachment, sitting in my Sent mail.

Now it was time to ask myself what happened. How could I have missed this? Well, what was going on in 2006? I was pregnant, for one thing. At the time that I submitted the draft, I was 1) anxious that a test had come back screen positive for Down Syndrome and 2) seriously contemplating a move south. (In fact, we headed to North Carolina the month after I submitted the draft.) In July, when the article was supposed to have run, I would probably have figured that the editor decided to hold it. And at some point, I forgot all about it.

I may still be able to wring some life out of the article, if not at this then at another publication. My editor did ask me to resubmit and she’ll be reading it this week (she skimmed it and said it’s all “new” to her). Meanwhile, I have to deal with the guilt of knowing that I basically let two people down: my editor who was depending on me to deliver, and my source who needs the article to help him prove his status as an expert witness in an upcoming trial.

No one appears offended or aggrieved so far, but I do have to wonder whether this would have come about if I hadn’t been doing the freelancing mommy thing. And then whether it really matters if, as I believe, things happen (or don’t) for a reason, and everything works itself out in the end.

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Shroud Publishing has a new anthology in the works. Proceeds from the sales of Northern Chill (tentative): 100 Terrifying New England Tales to Tell Around a Campfire will go to the American Cancer Society. Why? At the Shroud forum, an email from author Nate Kenyon discussed the impact of cancer on his life. His words have all the more impact as we approach Mother’s Day:

When I was eight years old, my mother was diagnosed with an advanced stage of ovarian cancer. A short time later, my father was killed in a freak automobile accident, leaving my mother alone to care for two young children and battle a terrifying disease, with no hope for a cure.My mother never let anything destroy her remarkable spirit. When I was only 4, she and my father left a comfortable life in Seattle and drove to Maine with nothing but a Volkswagen full of their personal belongings. My father set up shop as a small-town lawyer while my mother, a former teacher, learned to build passive solar houses. Then she built our home, from the ground up, with her own two hands.

I tell you this to illustrate her incredible strength and determination. She lived another five years after my father’s death, four years longer than her doctors predicted, astonishing everyone. But even she could not beat this disease forever, and when I was thirteen, she passed away peacefully with her family at her side.

I cannot express how devastating this was to me. It has taken me many years to begin to face those days from an adult’s perspective. The simple fact is, an experience like this damages a child in ways that are permanent and life-changing.

My mother loved the arts, and always encouraged me to draw and write as much as possible. Her enthusiasm and support made me want to become a writer, which brings me to where I stand today. Bloodstone, my first published novel, was released this week in paperback by Leisure Books. It is (I hope) a fun, scary read full of ghosts and demons and possession and old, long-buried family secrets. But there are also many references to cancer in the novel. I didn’t do this intentionally, but it crept in from my subconscious all the same. I guess it was also an exorcism of sorts for me.

The guidelines are as follows:

Flash fiction (no more than 700 words) told in the FIRST person (to allow readers to re-tell the story) set in a New England location. The anthology will be separated into 4 sections (tentative titles):

  • Haunts- Stories of ghosts, specters, and phantoms
  • Beasts- Stories of monsters, critters, and wild animals
  • Humans- Stories of eccentric people, serial killers, mad men
  • Other Oddities- everything else

Format: Submit as a Word .doc or .rtf attachment. SUBJECT LINE MUST SAY: “SUBMISSION–NORTH–TITLE”

Contact: via http://www.shroudmagazine.com/info.html

Multiple submissions allowed and encouraged.

No reprints

No simultaneous subs

Payment: (.01 cent a word or you can donate your stories)

I donated mine, a story right at the 700-word mark about a sailor, a werewolf, and what happens when you let your loins make the decisions. Who wants to join me?

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A few weeks ago I attended a Women’s Expo in Portland ME. It was okay. Lots of crafts, makeup, food, jewelry… you know. Chick stuff.

But there was also a corner reserved for Usborne books. I flipped through a couple and was immediately struck by the colors, the facts, the quality. They were having a buy-5-get-the-5th-free sale, so of course I picked some up. I had trouble choosing.

I also signed up to host a home party. I never host home parties. The last two I had gone to, over 10 years ago, were not good experiences. One was a Mary Kay party hosted at the home of a corporate Stepford wife. (All the conformity with none of the social graces, plus her husband was completely whipped.) The other was a PartyLite party at which the sales person actually got mad at me because I didn’t buy anything. I told her I was broke, so she shoved–literally shoved–a pamphlet at me describing how I too could become a sales consultant. I trashed it. I’m an introvert, people. I don’t do sales consulting.

So why in the hell did I sign up for this Usborne party? Well, the books’ quality really impressed me. I felt if I was going to hit my friends and acquaintances up for cash, the least I could do was present a product that is great for kids (Hamlet barely looks at his other books now) and high quality (Puck can’t destroy them).

So I contact a bunch of people: preschool moms, other Raising Maine bloggers (figuring I could meet a few in the deal), online friends. I got a few RSVPs and a few online sales. Things seemed to be going all right. I went out the morning of the party and got cheese and crackers, Chex mix, things like that.

No one showed.

The sales consultant and I did have a really nice chat. We have many things in common and it was nice to have adult conversation (even if half of it had to do with children). After she left, a shocked Rain Dog told me we could nosh on the leftover snacks for dinner. And now I sit here blogging and musing on my lack of ability even to plan a social event, let alone be part of one. Little wonder I write post-apocalyptic zombie fiction, I guess.

So here’s the part where I completely dispense with all social graces and solicit my readers. Feel like buying kid books? Visit my web party at this website linked in this sentence. Now, I understand the economy sucks and all of our budgets are going down the crapper right along with it. I am there myself, believe me. But just look, and if you see something you like–even just one thing–go and buy it. I think you’ll like the books’ quality just as much as I do (and I don’t make recommendations lightly) and I think you’ll like how your kids get into them, too.

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Ordinarily, it’s easy for me to ignore the fact that I never get out. That my brainpower is most often put toward trying to read the minds of small people who can barely communicate, and in fact that most of my interests–writing, reading, gardening–keep me here at home.

On occasion these ideas break through, such as when our friends from Rhode Island come up to visit for a weekend and talk about all the fun and interesting things they do now that their children are grown and gone. Someday, I remind myself. Someday.

Other times, though, “someday” isn’t good enough. Opportunities for living come up that we can’t ignore, that we in fact don’t want to ignore. To wit:

Last month a source contacted me wanting to know if I was available to work with him on an article. I’ve worked with him before–this would be the third time–and it’s great fun. We established a good rapport right away (rare for a law enforcement source) and we keep in touch outside of the job. So when he mentioned that he’d be retiring in a few years, that he planned to travel the country and stop in for a visit and even a glass of wine, I started to salivate. Social contact. With wine. And I won’t even be nursing by then!

I was nursing (quite a lot, actually, as it turned out Puck was sick) this past weekend, when we attended a party at a new colleague‘s home. There we discovered we had quite a few interests in common with Tim, his wife Jenn, and their friends: horror fiction (including movies), the Civil War, good music. I so wanted to stick around for the jam session, but by then Puck’s fever had spiked to 103F, and Hamlet was showing signs of weariness. Someday, I reminded myself, they will be old enough to stay awake. And so will we.

Fortunately, last Friday I was able to meet with another new friend, Raising Maine blogger Raye Tibbitts, who at least understands my dilemma. We also found that neither of us is able to play with our sons, and we feel similar emotions over this conundrum.

For now, “someday” has to continue to be good enough, along with the knowledge that good friends–the people who are meant to be in your life–will understand your situation, and will wait for you to be ready for their company. With or without wine.

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