If You Want My Advice…


Sometimes, I get emails asking for writing advice. I’m not a famous writer. I don’t have any books out. I know, I’m trying. But these things aren’t easy, right? So, I’m not exactly sure why people write me for advice. I do always answer. Always. Even when all I can say is, “Just keep at it. I’m getting rejected too.”

I understand the impulse to write and ask people how they do it. I used to do it all the time. I have some emails from some of my favorite writers, who I wrote to to ask, “How do you do this?” When they wrote back, their advice was very fundamental or generic. It chafed me at the time, but now I understand it. Each writer forges their own way. It’s hard to be prescriptive. I know people who have just been approached and asked to write for places. That’s only happened to me once and it’s because it was an editor I had worked with years before. When I got an essay on the New York Times Motherlode, that was a result of almost two years worth of pitching, writing, rejection and even meeting the editor in person. It’s not always so hard for everyone. It’s not always so easy.

So, how can you say, “This is the path”? When you don’t even know what the path is yourself. I once took a writer I admire out to lunch. She has books and a job teaching. I was plying her with food so she could give me some advice. I was surprised, when during our lunch, she started asking me for advice. When I told her I was shocked, she kindly rolled her eyes. “We’re all trying to get somewhere else,” she said.

Right before Ellis was born, I printed out an article (which I have since lost), that was advice on finding time to write. I was so afraid that having children would swallow me whole and I would never pursue the things I wanted to do. Because writing is so nebulous. Success is so scanty. Writing requires an investment of time that is often unpaid. And when it is unpaid, the pay is crap. I don’t remember much about this article, except that it advised me to steal time whenever I could. To refuse to do the dishes during naptime or vacuum during a quiet moment. Write, she said, always write. I’ve taken this advice to heart.

My mentor from grad school, AJ Verdelle, once told me when I complained that I didn’t have enough time, that Jane Smiley, the Pulitzer-prize winner, had four kids and wrote in 15 minute snatches. She also told me that if I took the time I used on my blog posts and put that toward a book, I would have had five books by now (I have three now, two crap novels and a pretty awesome memoir). AJ said she wrote her novel as a single mother working full-time as a statistician. So, I try to whine less. I do my best not to clean when my kids are down. I don’t do dishes. I don’t cook. I pay for my kids to go to school for 8 hours each week. That’s my writing time. And when my kids nap, that’s my writing time too. I’m not supposed to be on Facebook or Twitter (I use a browser extension called “Stay Focused” to limit my time). Just writing. I can cook and clean when the kids are up (sure it’s harder, but it’s better than not writing).

I think there is this myth out there that we are mothers first and everything else second. That we must put all of that after the job of mothering is done. We will write when the house is clean, when dinner is made, when the kids are perfectly calm. But that never happens. Instead, we find ourselves pushing what makes us ourselves to the outer limits of our time and our priorities. Look, the house will never be all clean, the dinner will never be all made, but you have these 15 minutes, hold them, make them work for you.. The truth is we are not mother’s first, we are humans first. We are complicated. We are so much more than a monolithic thing. We are not defined by what comes out of our uterus or our relationships. All of what we are works together to make us who we are. If we want to be something, we should just be it and not wait for permission from time, from the housework, or our kids. Because if we don’t just stand up and take it, no one is going to hand it to us.

I’ve had times when I’ve been on a deadlines and I put a bunch of markers and paper in front of Ellis and said, “Color, mommy is working.” I hate that. But I do what I have to do. And I hope that she see’s an example of a woman working. A woman trying to be the thing she wants to be. Because that’s what I want for her. I don’t wrack myself in guilt over it.

I use Microsoft Word to make lists of ideas I have for stories or articles, or places to pitch. Whenever I read something I like, I stalk the author. I see where she has published. I add those places to the list. I get up at five in the morning to run, while I’m running, I think of things to write, I think about what I am writing, I think about the things that I have read that I love. When I come home from my runs, I go and write those ideas down. First thing, before the coffee, before the babies, before I shower.

I heard my mom tell a friend who was considering her PhD to go for it. “Look,” she said, “time will go by whether you are working toward that goal or not. You might as well work.” I think about that all the time. My mom’s friend was 40 when my mom gave her that lecture, by the time she was 50 she had her PhD and her dream job. Time always passes, grab it. Make time work for you.

I’m writing this in a week that I’ve received two rejections for the book I finished editing and revising this summer. I also am writing this advice this week after receiving an acceptance for a pitch I sent to a site I’ve always wanted to write for and having an essay published on a site I’ve always wanted to write for. Big failures. Small successes. Writing is 10% talent and 99% being stubborn son of a bitch. (It’s also 5% being bad at math.) I want to cry. I want to raise the roof in an awkward white girl fashion. I want to nap. But I only have 15 minutes left of rest time, so back to work.

And if you want my advice, you should do the same.

You’ve Been Warned


I plopped dishwasher soap and whiskey on the conveyor belt. When I had my second child, I switched from wine to hard liquor. Wine was giving me heartburn and I had two kids. A Malbec just wasn’t doing the job.  Also, we were out of dishwasher soap.

The cashier didn’t even blink, but the two High School girls behind me giggled. The laughs grew louder as I rifled through my bag for my driver’s license, pulling out teething rings, wipes, cloth diapers, and wadded up tissues before finally reaching my wallet. It was 10:30 at night and I was in my yoga pants, hair still unwashed, no make-up, and a spit-up stain on my sleeve.  After I handed the cashier my license, I turned to look at the girls and give them a smile. Surely, they weren’t laughing at me. I was just being paranoid and self-conscious.

Both girls fell silent as I turned around. Then, the oldest pointed to a popcorn-crusted mitten ground. “I think that’s yours,” she said.

“Oh, yes! Thank you,” I said smiling brightly. The mitten was one I brought in support of the Olympics. It had “USA” stitched on the palm.

“Go, USA,” I said as I brushed off the mitten and shoved it back in the purse. There was silence. “Two kids.” I offered. Both girls rolled their eyes.

“Look,” I wanted to say, “get a good look. This is what happens when you sleep with boys and have babies. It isn’t pretty. And this is me trying. I really did try today because I put on lip gloss when I dropped my daughter off at school. So, see, I tried. And I understand that this isn’t what you want. You think you aren’t going to be like me. You think you’ll be like Gisele or some other hip famous mom (whose name I can’t think of right now because it’s past my bed time), and maybe you will. But you won’t be all the time. One day, you’ll look in the mirror expecting to see that cool 16-year-old and all you’ll see is eye bags, yoga pants and belly fat. And on that day, you will think of me, the lady at the store buying dishwasher soap and whiskey and you’ll get it.”

Of course, I said none of those things. People don’t go to the grocery store looking for karmic signs. They go for Cheetos and panty liners. But it was hard to keep my mouth shut, because I hear women say “No one ever warned me it would be like this” when they encounter potty training, sleep deprivation, or a toddler throwing a tantrum because you made her blueberry pancakes. And when I hear those words, I want to laugh. You were warned. You were warned by every exhausted pudgy woman standing in the check-out lane buying children’s Tylenol and wine. You just chose not to listen.

But, I kept my mouth shut, took my change from the cashier, grabbed my bag, and put on my one mitten. When I got home, I started the dishwasher and made myself a hot toddy.

You’ve been warned.


This is from my Gazette column. This was published a while ago. So, I want you to know that things are so much better…who am I kidding? Everything is the same.

Don Quixote and Some Links

I am a useless waste this week. The only thing I have accomplished is almost finishing the first part of Don Quixote. But I am beginning to suspect that Tome Club, while a high-minded idea, might not be a thing whose time has come. I think, like maybe me and two other people are reading the book, which is hilarious and full of poop jokes, and I have a lot of important THOUGHTS about the book. I’ve also enjoyed some great Twitter conversations about it. But perhaps, maybe, I’ll just make it a Facebook thread once a week?

I’ll take the sound of crickets chirping as my response.

Okay, here are some links to things I’ve written recently on the internet. I feel like a jerk, always pimping my stuff. How about you all leave links to your things in the comments, so I have something to read tonight while I’m ignoring my family.


I’ve been ranting a lot about modesty and clothing.

The baby wants things and he will hurt me if I don’t cave to his demands.

Okay, your turn.

I’m Done With “Happy”

Ellis Leaves

Before I became a parent, I was assured I would never know such love as I have for my children. “Holding your baby is the most amazing experience of all!” I was told by parents, relatives, friends and random strangers in the check-out aisle of the grocery store who saw that I was great with child.

Imagine my surprise, when I first held my daughter and felt absolutely nothing but fear. Was I going to drop her? Would I raise her correctly? Had we chosen the right name? What had I done, thinking I could raise a human child?

My fear of course made me feel even more fearful. I was afraid, so did that automatically mean I was a bad mother? Where was that overflow of love I was promised? Was I broken? I was probably broken.

The overflow of love didn’t beat out the fear until two weeks later, when one night, as she screamed at two in the morning and I had exhausted all means of stopping her, I started crying. “Please,” I said, “I’m doing my best, just stop crying.”

And she did. The whole moment was so improbable, so ridiculous, that I laughed. I looked at that mewling little baby who half-resembled her father, and half-resembled Mikhail Gorbachev and I realized, she didn’t have a clue about anything either. The fear abated.

I thought about that moment again, when a well-meaning relative assured me that this time with my baby and three-year-old was a golden stage. “You will miss it when it’s gone,” she said. “It was the happiest time of my life.”

My days are full, meaningful, frustrating and involve a lot of poop, but happiest time of my life? I’m not so sure. But even admitting that makes me feel afraid that I am failing, I must be doing it wrong if I’m not overjoyed to scrub poop out of my 3 year-olds carpet.

A dearth of parenting books, manuals and how-to websites, assure parents that if there is a problem that you can fix it. That if something is wrong or frustrating or if your kid insists on biting your arm flab, that you can overcome this with firmness, patience and a few other products that can readily be purchased online. Bottom line: if you aren’t happy, it’s your fault and you are broken.

I wish the word “happy” would be stricken from parental vocabulary. As if a perfect bliss were the realistic end goal for raising children. It’s not. Life is messy, it is hard, and sometimes things don’t get better. Our self-help culture implies that all problems can be overcome. But when that “problem” doesn’t understand that she’s not supposed to keep peeing on the floor because the potty-training book says she won’t, well, good luck with that.

No parent who has ever lain on the floor crying because everyone else is crying around them, is broken. No mom who has ever looked at her child with eyes of sheer terror needs to be fixed. No mom who’s wished themselves away from the living room floor that’s always sticky and smells of poop, is doing it wrong.  I wish instead of parenting books that showed you how to be better, we had books that just taught you how to accept what is before us, with all the grace, joy, frustration, anxiety and fear that comes with the territory.

Because I’m done with happy.


This article originally appeared in my Gazette column, which is not online. LOL. Newspapers.

How To Raise Your Children According to the Rules of Literature


1. If you are a mother, you need to die or contract a disease that leaves you bed-ridden but also lovely.

2.  If you are a father, you need to marry an evil woman as a mother substitute for your children. The occupation of woodcutter is preferable.

3. Chronically neglecting your children means they will have delightful adventures which don’t always end in death.

5.  Abandon them in the woods.

6. Orphan them, but in a shipwreck. Or find an evil practitioner of black magic to off you. Really, you are holding your kids back.

7.  After death, appear to them as a magical creature and give them cryptic advice.

8. Sew them dubious red garments.

9. Send them on errands in the woods.

10. If you aren’t a woodcutter, are not married to a woodcutter, you better know one.

11. Buy an investment property in the woods. Raise your children there.

12.  It is preferable to be very poor. The worse of a provider you are, the better parent. So abject poverty is the goal here.

13. If you are rich, marry your girls off to men who have beards and a lot of missing wives. Your sons are probably screwed. Or swans. I bet they turned into swans.

14. Treat the younger child worst than the oldest.

15.  Forget college, always send them off into the world to seek their fortune.

16. If you find a bear, fish, or other woodland animal in a trap, let it go.

17.  Accept that at some point, one or more of your children will transform into an animal.

18. Teach your children to talk to the bleeding heads of donkeys with respect.

19. The best dowry is an invisible cloak.

20. If your daughters are doing something suspect, have them followed by a poor soldier.

21. Your child’s hand in marriage is a pretty good solution to ending most wars, strife, threats from beasts who speak with a human tongue, or other minor annoyances.

22. Black magic.

23. Do not under any circumstances let your daughter’s sell matches.

24.  Your daughter who only wants a rose is the best one. The others are garbage. Burn them.

25. The youngest is probably the best one. But you have to hate him. I’m sorry, I don’t make the rules.

26.  Fear the huntsmen.

27. Wishing your daughter to be beautiful will incur the wrath of witches, queens, and evil fairies.

28. Always vaccinate your child against sleeping illnesses.

29. Should your child fall prey to a sleeping illness, create for them a bower as if they are dead. Solicit men to kiss them.

30. Stop being a jerk, of course you kid will win the golden ticket.

31. Ensure that your child has shitty, rich cousin to make his or her life miserable. If you refuse to die, this is really the next best thing for them.

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