by Tanya Ward Goodman
Since I last posted here at The Next Family, I’ve become a published author. My memoir, “Leaving Tinkertown” came out in August and was accompanied by a small flurry of interviews and readings. While I have considered myself a “writer,” for a long time, holding a book in my hands cemented this identity in my brain. The book is a “testimonial,” the kind that the Wizard of Oz bestows upon the Cowardly Lion and his pals. It wasn’t that they didn’t have courage, brains and heart, they just needed some tangible evidence to prove it. I get that. I’ve always had a problem answering the question “what do you do?” I stammer something along the lines of “I’m a mom, but I write a little.” The book has miraculously shifted the order of this answer. “I’m a writer,” I say. “And a stay at home mom.”
The stay-at-home mom business is a full time job if you go at it with a “bake-it-yourself” mentality. I know this, because for much of the past ten years, I’ve been baking and making. I’ve sewn Halloween costumes and prepared potluck casseroles. I made dinner every night and packed carefully nutritious lunches. I spent hours volunteering in school classrooms and baked hundreds of bake sale cupcakes. I’ve served on boards and committees and sat right next to my kids while they did their homework every day. And it has been great.
But it doesn’t allow much time for writing.
The book is a testimonial. A talisman. The book has my name on the front cover. The book has needs. The writer has needs.
“It’s just all about your book, now, isn’t it?” my daughter asks.
“Not all about it,” I say.
She yawns. My daughter will keep me honest. She will keep me humble.
“It’s an exciting thing,” I say.
“It is,” she says. “But you don’t have to talk about it all the time.”
I don’t have to talk about it all the time, but I want to. In those first few weeks, I crave to talk about it the way I used to crave cigarettes. I feel like I shouldn’t be taking up so much time and space talking about the book, but I can’t help myself and I begrudge the time I spend not talking about it and even more the time when I am not writing.
I stop baking and making. At first I feel guilty. I beat myself up for not writing. I beat myself up for not being a full-on-full-time mom. And then I get tired of beating myself up. For the first time in a long time, I cut myself some slack. I realize that having the book out has brought me as much happiness as having my children. I want both. And I deserve both.
I stop making dinner every night. I let the take-out containers pile up. The kids learn to make macaroni and cheese from a box. I let them turn on the stove and boil water with very little supervision. And no one dies.
But I feel guilty. I volunteer more at the elementary school and take on an extra tutoring session at the high school where I don’t even have kids. It only takes me a couple of weeks to realize that I am overcompensating.
I hire a babysitter to pick up a couple of days after school. My kids do not love me any less. In fact, they have enough love to love the babysitter, too. And I am nicer when they come home because I’ve had enough time to complete a thought, fill a page, be a writer.
A couple of months in, we are finding a balance. I’m getting a little more organized and the tide of take-out is diminishing. I can make a pot of soup in the morning and let the simmering smell keep me company while I sit down at the computer. I volunteer here and there and make time for exercise and meetings and seeing friends. I am not just a mother or just a writer. I want my kids to know that. I want them to know that I am a woman who is pleased and satisfied with her life and that I am willing to work hard to keep it that way.
By Danny Thomas
I haven’t written in a really long time
I’ve been “too busy living life”
The thing I have to get into my stubborn or lazy brain
Is that, for me writing is part of living life
So being too busy to do it
Just doesn’t make sense
I’ve practically been too busy to do my paying job
Is busy the word?
Busy cleaning up after sick kids
And being sick
And having medical procedures
And pondering time travel
And thoughts and thoughts and thoughts…
And oh the list…
There is so much on my mind
That writing, putting the thoughts to words…
feels like trying to funnel the sea…
There is this pain and joy and this mixture of them both…
There is time… and changes…
and the bittersweet impermanence of things.
These really are all I want to focus on…
And think about…
And sing about and write about…
And yet part of what makes that mixture exist is the wanting.
So I keep myself wanting?
So that at some point
I’ll have something to write about?
Is that all?
That seems way to simple…
That can’t be it…
There are other things I want.
And too many real, corporeal things, that truly obstruct my ability to achieve fruition…
As a writer,
Hell, as a human.
My wife and I are doing a major re-arrange and purge…
These things usually take three weeks or so…
I mean…the actual shifting of the plates…
The pressure has been building
On a tectonic level
The Feng Shui in our house has never been right.
But we’ve also never had the coinciding, time, gumption, energy, and wherewithal to make the massive adjustments required to settle in… we don’t really have all those things now, but we have crumbs of enough of them to make a go…
We have been in this house a year and a half… and really have never completely finished moving in… the point is, it takes a while…
Stages… planning, talking, re-talking, forgetting…
The frustration and joy of communication.
Then the actual movement comes…
The stairs, the snow, the lost pieces, blocked pathways, pinched fingers, and impossible angles…
The frustration and joy of change and objective action.
I’ve been down in the basement
Going through boxes of books – trying to reduce the stack of kid books by half…
Understand, there is a bookshelf of books in their room… the basement books are “on rotation.”
Two medium size moving boxes full – and two standard book boxes full…
I figure one of each of these is a reasonable reduction at this time
So I am sorting into a purge pile
And a “keep” pile..
Some are kept because I have not read them yet
Some because I’ve read them too many times
Some are tossed because they are too worn
Some kept because their scars are familiar and comforting.
And I came across a handful of books that are “Our family is having a new baby…” type books.
I was stunned… paralyzed.
I can’t even find the right words
To commit to paper
The onslaught of thoughts and emotions…
Get rid of this book? Yes? No? Why?
The flash of thoughts and emotions…
Jen told me she recently had a similar experience while organizing Zuzu’s closet…
The baby blankets…
Are they obsolete in this house?
Why do we keep these things…?
How do we know what we will need or not need?
Why is it so hard to let them go?
By: Tanya Ward Goodman
I am a good cook, but I am not a good measurer. I am not very detail oriented. I sometimes read a recipe like a novel, and realize halfway through that (spoiler alert) the roast needs to marinate for two days or the pie should be refrigerated overnight instead of served to guests who will arrive in half an hour.
On the bright side, because I am not really married to the recipe, I find it possible to veer off the page with ease. I am handy with substitutions, sometimes starting a recipe with only one or two things in the ingredients list. I see recipes as loose guidelines. It could be a thing to do with fish, but it will probably work with chicken or rice or tofu. It could be a salad. I like to think about flavor more than form. It usually works out and I am almost always able to find something in my house to make for dinner.
Recently, I started to bake bread. A friend gave me a gob of starter and told me how to feed it flour and use bits of it to bake new loaves. He gave me a recipe and a series of YouTube links that illustrated how to fold the bread and proof the bread. He wondered if I had something called a “bench knife.”
“Sure,” I said, because I thought I probably had something that would work as a bench knife.
Once I got home, I hauled out the kitchen scale and began to carefully weigh my flour and water while my husband looked on with what can only be called a suspicious eye.
“Doesn’t it seem like maybe I should be the one to bake bread?” he asked.
He is, of course, more by the numbers than I am. He measures twice and cuts once. He always reads the entire instruction manual.
“I’m growing,” I said. “Don’t stand in the way of my personal growth.”
So I measured and stirred and folded my dough. I let it rise and, finally, baked it up into a nice round loaf. And it was good. Not great, but good enough.
On my next loaf, I couldn’t help myself. I fiddled with the flour ratio. I added a little more wheat and a little less white. I may or may not have folded as often as I should have. I might not have formed the boule as carefully. But, once baked and slathered with butter, it was good enough.
So I kept it up and every time, I went a little further off the recipe, was a little looser with my measurements. And although the bread kept getting eaten, it wasn’t getting any better. If anything, it was getting a little worse.
Sometimes I write the way I cook. I let scenes stand even when they aren’t saying what I really want them to say. I give space to experimental riffs and tangents. Sometimes I toss out plot and give into character. I forgive a loose structure or a fragmented narrative. I figure that a handful of good sentences are enough to make it sort of work. Slap a little butter on it and it’s okay to eat.
But I don’t think that it’s the way to do it. I’m realizing that I can do many things reasonably well, but to really, really excel at something, I’m going to have to pay more attention. I need to be more mindful. I might need to follow a recipe carefully from beginning to end.
This morning, I started another loaf. My daughter helped me scoop the flour onto the scale and carefully pour out the water. She’s a lot like me. She builds from scratch and makes up new rules to any game she doesn’t understand. I want her to continue to do this, but I want her to know the rules. I told her why we measure the flour. I related the little I have learned about why the dough rises and what it needs to become bread. I told her we have to take care if we want a good loaf.
The dough is rising overnight and tomorrow we’ll see how this one turns out.
By: Danny Thomas
it’s been over a month since I blogged
which is strange
usually I am prolific in the summer…
the summer makes me think.
and it makes me take my time.
and thinking, along with taking my time usually lead to writing…
but this summer has been full.
Not just of the usual summer stuff
not just sunblock
and fire works
and plastic backyard pools…
this summer my dad died.
it’s hard to write any words after those words.
it’s been hard to write any words at all.
from the time I started writing this blog, along with my wife, he has been who I write for.
I mean I write for anyone who’ll read it but
he is who is in my heart when I write.
I guess that won’t change.
I have A New Hole.
He was my hero.
I am glad and grateful all my girls met their granddad.
I am glad and grateful I was there when he died.
I am glad and grateful the worst parts of his illness were short
and quick and relatively comfortable.
I am glad and grateful circumstance allowed my family to be around him, together, when he died.
I am glad and grateful arrangements were more or less simple and reasonable…
I am glad and grateful that my dad and I spent the last several years really sharing openly with each other our mutual respect and admiration.
I am glad and grateful that all of these things help me to feel, on some level “okay”
There is a lot to be grateful for.
I have A New Hole.
A New Heartbreak.
A friend recently wrote, “Language is an inadequate method of communication to describe most of the human condition. I demand a more suitable replacement.”
As it turns out she was talking, to some degree, about child rearing, and specifically the emotional rollercoaster of sleep training… but, even without context, the statement works in the broadest sense.
It hit me.
There is, indeed, no language, no rendering of words, that can describe the strange emptiness and sadness I feel as a result of my dad dying, or the feeling I have of being okay with it.
Okay with the grief, okay with how it happened, the process…
okay with not being okay…
it doesn’t even make sense, hence; words fail.
I just have This Hole…
and I know little things… and big things…
are going to nudge that hole
off and on
for the rest of my life.
and that seems terribly sad.
and terribly right.
By: Tanya Ward Goodman
My daughter asked “Why did you want to have children? Just to boss them around and make them do things for you?” She stomped her foot. “That’s not right.”
It is right. It’s not the only reason I had children, but I think, as a parent, I am well within my rights to ask that my children do things for me. I have this crazy idea that by asking them to do things for me, I am actually helping them to learn to do things for themselves. They may not see it that way today or tomorrow or next year, but some day, when they live in apartments or houses that are not filled to the brim with crusty cereal bowls and dirty socks, they will thank me. And I will humbly accept their thanks.
Recently, I let our gardener go. There were many reasons, among them the sound of the leaf blower, the silliness of continuing to mow a lawn that is basically dirt, and the fact that I have a nine-year-old boy to take my full trash cans down to the curb and bring them back up when they are empty.
It turns out my kids are good at raking leaves and pulling weeds. What’s more, they kind of like to do it. Both of them are learning the difference between the bad grass and the good grass. They are happy to channel what (truthfully) is sometimes extremely destructive energy into uprooting crabgrass.
It is hard work to help our kids understand hard work, but it is necessary work. I want to make sure that my son and daughter will both grow into adulthood knowing how to cook a good meal, wash their own clothes, keep their own houses. I want them to be able to manage their bank accounts and have the patience and energy to stick with a project until the end.
I know how hard a challenge I am setting before them. I know how hard it is to stay focused on a task. I understand the difficulty of finishing one thing before beginning another. My own projects pile up and languish in various stages of completion. I think that I try to teach my children about hard work because I am also always teaching myself. I push them to finish math assignments and spelling sheets, nudge them to return their pajamas to the pajama drawer and all the while, I am nudging myself to finish my book, work on my stories, write, write, write.
More and more I find myself on the same little path as my children. We are, together and separately, finding our way.
By: Tanya Ward Goodman
Today, I’ve written over 5,000 words for NaNoWriMo. My 50,000 word novel should be done on Wednesday, though I will need to write another 9,000 plus words to meet the deadline.
Last year was my first National Novel Writing Month. Afloat in a sea of procrastination and writerly defeat, I’d read a posting about the event two days prior to its November 1 start date and leapt at the chance to get myself back on the writing track. I crave discipline, I need to establish a “practice.” The idea that I would sit down every single day for one month and write with a single goal in mind was delightful and alluring. I jumped in with both feet.
My first NaNoWriMo was like my first pregnancy. I was flush with newness and wonder. I ate good things and carefully monitored my progress. I kept my promise to write at least 1667 words per day. It was delightful. I finished a day early and even liked my wobbly little first draft novel. It was thrilling.
This year, I was eager to repeat the whole process. And, much like my second pregnancy, I felt dreadful. The writing has been arduous. I’ve eaten way too much chocolate. (Is there a reason NaNoWriMo has to come right after Halloween when there are like 10,000 bite-sized candy bars in the house?) I’ve fallen into pits of despair and anger. I’ve moped. I’ve gone to bed early without writing a word. In fact, I’ve spent a lot of this month NOT writing.
As was the case with my second pregnancy, during the gestation of my second NaNoWriMo novel, my life got in the way. My kids were hungry. They had homework and class projects due. They needed clean clothes and rides to soccer practice. My mom came to visit. And then my stepmom came to visit. It was my son’s birthday and then it was Thanksgiving. There were cakes and pies to bake.
So, this year was different. It wasn’t as fun. (A lot of the time it wasn’t any fun.) But I’m still doing it. My kids are proud of me. They give me high-fives when I hit another big number. I tell them I am writing a novel in one month and it’s hard work. It’s hard work, but it’s worth it. I tell them this and at the same time, I tell myself.
Tomorrow, I will get up and write some more. And the next day, too.
I could give up. I could have given up a week ago. I could have given up the very first week when I really didn’t even start until we were already five days in. But I didn’t. This novel, no matter how good or how terrible it turns out to be, is helping me to get strong. A writer writes. No matter what.
By: Tanya Ward Goodman
At 7:45 on Saturday night, I was consumed with missing my children. I pushed myself away from a long wooden table where my plate held the skin and bones of roasted trout, a few grains of brown rice clinging to the remains. My belly was full of organic kale salad, my lungs filled with sea air. My brain was challenged by writing workshops and conversations with strangers and I was full, full to the brim of me with it all.
Still, I missed my kids. Missed my husband.
I walked through the dark with the Milky Way spilling out over my head to a wooden phone booth where I sat on a hard bench and typed in the numbers of my calling card and then the numbers of my home.
The voices of my children brought tears to my eyes. They sounded so young, so small, so far away.
“I ate noodles as tall as me,” my daughter declared.
“I love you,” my son said. “I kicked the winning goal with my left foot.”
I strained to hear their questions.
“Do you like your roommate?” my daughter asked.
“Is the ocean warm?” wondered my son.
I tried to describe the butterflies clustered together for a winter in the trees and the way the chair where I drank my morning coffee seemed to be in the air, on the grass, and in the sea at the same time. I felt drunk with longing for my kids and also so grateful that they were three hundred miles away with their father in Los Angeles and I was here, at the edge of the world, a writer and mother both.
By: Sheana Ochoa
My son who just turned two asked to sit up on the chair at my writer’s desk. Then he looked over at my manuscript, an inch-and-half-thick stack of typed pages and said, “book.” I know it’s a book. I know when it’s on bookshelves others will know it’s a book, but how the hell does he know it’s a book? He doesn’t call my steno pads, or stacks of personal papers books. To have my son identify the mess of stacked white sheets as a book was somehow revelatory and even comforting: Mommy’s a writer. I need him to know my writing is important and although it isn’t as important as he is, my work is a close second because it’s so wrapped up in my self-identity.
My son is not my identity. I learned when I was pregnant that the baby growing inside of me did not belong to me. He was his own person. I wrote him a song that I’d love to record but I don’t have a singing voice:
If I could show you the way
If I could tell you the way
If I could carry you the way
I wouldn’t be loving you
I wouldn’t be serving you
I’d only be pushing you away
I’m here to be his guide, to love and nurture him and model for him how to become the best person he can be, which is a tall order especially when certain expletives escape from my mouth or I duck outside for an after dinner smoke.
My writing has been a source of self since I was a girl. I own it like I own my name. It first dawned on me when I returned to live with my mother after the divorce. She had books on her shelves, something I didn’t have at my dad’s. I remember pulling down a small, antique looking book and reading the words: “She loves. She is love. And yet she is not loved.” That play with language was irresistible. I doubt I totally understood or identified with the lines, but they made me want to become a writer. I’ve written ever since; it is how I move in the world: through language, creating it, revering it, using it to work my way through depression, happiness, loss, and fear.
So, back to the point. It came to me as a small miracle that my son identified this stack of papers I began back in the 1990s, a biography of Stella Adler, the woman who revolutionized modern day acting, as a book. I’ve been writing the book in service to a woman who dedicated her life in service of another art: the craft of acting. She never got the recognition she deserved. A man usurped it.
I never wanted to write a biography. I always thought I’d be a fiction writer, weaving page-turning tales that make the reader feel the way I do when I finally get to the end of a good book: as if I’ve said goodbye to a close friend, our story together over. Sure I could rereadAnna Karenina and Pillars of the Earth, the short stories of Borges and Alice Munro, but finishing a story must be the way it feels when your kid leaves the nest. He can come back home, but it’s never the same. There’s a loss. Somehow I’ve gravitated toward non-fiction, like my confessional poetry and this blog that tell the stories of my new life as a mother who chose to have a son by herself. I’m finding non-fiction healing right now. Maybe once I’ve published the biography, I won’t need to heal as much as I’ve had to this last decade and can lose myself in a world of fantasy. Perhaps a children’s book?
I am a writer for myself, and a mother for my son. One day, because I did not show him the way, he will discover his own. Who knows what that will be. A vet, lawyer, oceanographer, inventor? He will be blessed to find a calling he loves like I did. That would make me a very happy mother . . . and writer.