I write from a dusty front porch in Birmingham, Alabama covered in yellow pollen. Last week, Los Angeles ate my brain so there was no blogging about anything. I cannot write about my son, although one day I will, but not now. When I thought he went missing last week, I freaked out, and he certainly didn’t consider himself missing in the least and was unimpressed by my tears when I found him in the library asleep.
Why do I let other parents off the hook but I can’t forgive myself?
A dear friend sends meditations – guided ones. They’re really good, I know, but today I only lasted fourteen minutes until I wanted to jump up and do anything but sit there.
So I did.
I baked a chicken with lots of spices.
This is how I bake a chicken.
I toss it in the big blue pot and I sprinkle/douse it with the following: coconut oil or olive oil, cumin, curry, tamarack, orange juice or fresh oranges, salt, pepper, 21-seasoning salute. Next, I slice onions, garlic, potatoes, carrots, and celery and throw them into the pot too. I used to pour a little beer into baked chicken or into stir fry too, and it always tasted good, but I’ve gotten out of the habit. I will probably ladle a tiny bit of honey for flavor and then add the brussels sprouts after an hour or so since they don’t look too worse for wear after sitting in the fridge a week in Alabama.
I will bake it on low for several hours and the chicken will be tender and feed us for a few days. I still cook like I’m making dinner for five, although it’s mostly just Norah and myself, so we have left-overs longer.
Although, I can see the despair on her face if we have soup or chili three nights in a row.
It’s not good.
So I mix it up.
And she’s gotten involved in cooking now. She’s quite good at chopping/mincing onions.
I hack, she chops.
Sometimes, she looks at my pile of hacked onions and says, “What are you going to do when I go off to college?”
So AWP was last week – three days.
Associated Writing Programs.
Norah helped me set up our table on Wednesday, and then I attended the conference Thursday, Friday, Saturday – all day at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
15, 000 writers!
I’m still shaky with exhaustion after flying back yesterday on a 5:20 am flight out of LAX.
(Thought it was a gorgeously, turbulent-free flight, both of them, so no Bloody Mary’s or Hail Mary’s required, and I’ve been on flights where I’ve embraced both.)
But I went to a panel on Friday of AWP, because I wanted to hear Debra Gwartney, author of Live Through This, speak.
I loved that book, and I often share it with students.
Here is her essay, “The Long Way Home” that captures her story and also “This American Life” about her life with her two older daughters when they were teenagers. (She has four daughters and lives in Oregon.)
I read Live Through This a long time ago when we were still able to call what was happening to us as “teenage behavior” or “sewing wild olds.”
What a cliche, but we are bit of a rollicking cliche, our family.
This was the panel and its description.
“Out of the Cradle: Writing Our Children”
“This panel explores questions writers ask themselves about what or how much we feel free to write about our children. Do we owe them the same or different privacies on the page and online from those we preserve for other family members? Does genre, our gender, or the gender of our children matter in these boundaries? To what extent do or should race and class affect these boundaries? Do we have literary heroes or heroines who have answered these questions with eloquence before us?”
It was a great panel, and I came away with this kernel of knowledge.
If you’re writing your own story it steers you away from victim-ness. Self curiosity brings it to life. As long we as do self-interrogation and self-curiosity – that will keep us on the path from not exploiting our children’s stories.
I believe that is how Debra said it. The other panelists were wonderful too, although they were mostly writing about younger children, and she was the one I came to see.
She also talked about gender and David Sheff’s Beautiful Boy, which mines some of the same territory that she wrote about in Live Through This. I read both and loved each book, and I didn’t really think about the gender of the writers as I was reading them. I was thinking about the authors as parents, teaching me how to live and parent and survive.
The moderator had asked Debra to speak about gender, and she said she received a lot of hate mail for writing her book. She said mothers often get a harder beating writing about their children than fathers. They face more scrutiny. She watched the reaction to Beautiful Boy, since the books came out around the same time (2009/10). She said it almost seemed as if readers were so empathetic to David Sheff’s suffering as a father – offering casseroles over his memoir, while she was told to be quiet and raise her children. She said the harshest criticism she received was from other mothers.
It shouldn’t have surprised me at all, but it did.
I loved both books, but I loved Debra’s more maybe because she was a mother trying to fight for her family. So I connected more deeply to it.
Both books certainly helped me.
I don’t see why it has to be one or the other. Why do we condemn mothers for writing what they must write and give fathers a pass or a casserole for doing the same thing?
We’re all just parents in the thick of it.
I am married to a man who is so maternal and loving. He is a better cook and cleaner than I am by far. He kept the kids entertained at restaurants by folding origami swans and frogs so I could eat. We’ll be married 30 years in September.
We raised our kids in Los Angeles.
When I walk through the streets of Silver Lake and Echo Park where we raised our three children, I keep thinking that there has to be a kind of magic portal that I can slip through and go back and fix things or change the slow-moving freight train I couldn’t see coming. I keep thinking there must be a different set of secret steps to go back in time to where I will find the answer.
Instead, I just to to AWP Panels to look for clues, Al-Anon meetings for stories, and movies about addicts (Krisha) to gather more armor to remind myself – we are not unique.
We are not special.
A red bird lands in the backyard.
The sun shines through soft spring green leaves on the oak trees that brush the house.
A squirrel parachute-lands on the carport or palm tree, depending on the state.
The kid next door plays basketball.
His older brother mows our grass.
A daughter tries on a prom dress, a hand-me-down from a friend’s daughter.
At AWP, the author, Helen Macdonald, H is for Hawk, said she ate a lot of junk food writing her memoir – her perfectly beautiful memoir. I loved hearing that.
It’s time to put the brussels sprouts in the chicken and then go pick up Norah from school.
Pictures I found today from LA to Monroeville to England to Scotland.
Olive plays “Broadchurch.”
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An old mural on the square in Monroeville of To Kill A Mockingbird.
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The pierced lady in Scotland – Elaine Davidson (Who knew that was her name?)
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Norah on Wuthering Heights in 2014
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Meera on Olvera Street.
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And I heard this song today and it eased me a little.
How I wish.
Last Tears by the Indigo Girls.