Tired

To all the people who insisted that I wouldn’t know what tired was until I had a child of my own: no; tiredness and exhaustion are still the same old beasts. The only difference is that now I can’t just sleep the morning away to make up for the lack of sleep.

Actually, I think I often sleep better now. Falling asleep used to take me forever. I’d lay in bed and run through all the things I could be doing and getting done. So many times, I would have gotten up, if only it wouldn’t wake my husband. It felt like a colossal waste of time. But these days? I don’t remember my husband coming to bed, much less him falling asleep.

After the baby goes down for the night – the first time, anyway – I usually struggle to stay awake. Sometimes I give in to the lure of sleep. It helps if I’ve managed a chunk of writing that day, or if I’ve been operating on fumes so long that my body refuses any argument. But sometimes I ninja out of the bedroom and upstairs to my writing corner.

I’ve never thought of myself as a workaholic. Then again, I’ve never worked a day job I felt passionately about. Three weeks into unemployment, writing still isn’t my first priority – being a mom fills that slot – but I feel no guilt letting the baby fuss as I type my edits or add a few more lines of story. She knows I’m there and aware of her. She has reached the point of learning how to do things for herself, how to fix things and how to self-soothe. Hovering now only starts to undermine her confidence in herself.

And I would much rather my daughter see me writing or reading than staring at a screen. This role model gig is no joke.

But I work – write – whenever and wherever I can. This means late nights on days when 5 am becomes Baby Playtime. The tiredness is oddly easier to deal with than trying to fend off tiny hands that just want to do what Mom is doing. (She has her own keyboard because of exactly this, but its intended functionality is questionable, at best. Only Mom’s will do, apparently.) Also, the ability to focus on a task for more than a couple minutes at a time is priceless.

Tonight, I’ve been lucky in my ability to stay awake and in the baby’s deep, deep sleep – both of which are quickly coming to an end.

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So Much To Say

I have so much to say and so many posts that just need typing. Those will come. Right now, I am full of anger and grief at the separation of families at the border. The rage and grief runs deeper than I ever imagined it could before I became a mother.

The news of governors recalling  or refusing to send their National Guard troops gives me hope. The people I see defending the institutional terrorism that is separating families like this, or those prevaricating or arguing semantics give me equal parts despair and disgust. I never want to understand can cherrypick their compassion and humanity like that.

This accurately sums up my feelings:

If you’re looking for ways to help, I highly recommend ResistBot for contacting your elected officials. It takes the stress and anxiety out of it. ResistBot got rid of my excuses.

Here’s an article on other ways to help, and the ACLU has more info and resources.

So do something. Do what you have the spoons for and remember to still take care of yourself. We still have a ways to go.

Fear of New Beginnings; or, I’m Resigning (and some writing stuff)

I originally published this post with Anxiety Ink on Monday, May 14th, which is weirdly fitting since it was also my dad’s 75th birthday. I don’t normally do the cross-posting thing, but it’s a pretty big deal.

Is there a term for the fear of new beginnings? Or perhaps it’s more a fear of endings. (I just finished reading Carrie Jones’s Need* series, in which the main character “collects” phobias and recites them when nervous or scared.) Maybe it’s just called “being human.”

I have this on my mind because I just finished typing my resignation letter for the day job. After eleven years in the wilds of post-college adulthood and employment, four and a half of which I’ve been at my current location, I’m leaving.

I thought it would be easier. After all, I’ve only dreamed of this my entire adult life – possibly earlier. But it feels a bit like that time I rolled off a ledge into a thirty-foot drop.

My mother did the stay-at-home-mom thing, and I think our mothers’ choices often define the standards we set for ourselves. Unfortunately, that isn’t making this any easier.

The status quo – in this case, the day job – offers comfort. Or maybe that’s complacency. Comfort of a paycheck, certainly. Relying on one income is difficult, to say the least (especially with a baby), and would not be really feasible without supplementing from savings. I am beyond fortunate that this is an option, even for just a year or two.

But my current, soon-to-be-ending job has also provided me with a safety net career. Apparently, municipal administration is work I can do – and do well – without feeling like I have to sacrifice a part of my soul. When I leave the standard workforce, I have no guarantee it will welcome me back.

And in the type of parallel that rarely happens to me, I feel a similar reluctance in my writing life.

I’ve finished the novel revisions. I am in the process of typing them up and, for the last few weeks, have been searching for a new project to fill the gap.

This draft is my last before I send it out un the world, to fly or fail. There will always be things I can improve, but the story is truly as strong as I can make it. Holding onto it longer would be no more than a delaying tactic – procrastination at its finest.

My indecision and ambivalence towards the next project, whatever it might be, is that same sort of fear as leaving the day job: the fear of new beginnings. The fear of leaving behind the comfortable and familiar and embracing the pure potential of the unknown.

For now, I’m structuring a schedule of my own – a framework to replace the day job. I am attempting to fill the space when I worked on revising the novel with reading until I can make a decision on my next project. Maybe I’ll make a little progress on my to-read pile (don’t laugh too hard)! At the very least, I’ll be refilling the well. It feels pretty dry, these days, when I think about working on new stories.

So I know I’m facing my fear, but it’s still scary.

*The Need series is wonderful and you should totally go read it. Because Carrie is a fabulous human being, and evil pixies, and because it takes place here, in my corner of the world.

And so it continues…

Figuring out this whole creative mommyhood thing feels a lot like Sisyphus with his boulder. I find the magic formula, only to have it all roll away from me again.

With the prospect of a baby came the fear of losing myself – of not doing the things I love like writing and acting. The me who doesn’t do these things is not a happy or healthy me. I resent the things in my life that keep me from these things I love, but resenting a child for my own choices is simply not acceptable . That was never an option.

I attended a panel at Reader Con a few years ago where writers talked about writing while  parenting. General consensus seemed to be to expect to write off the first two years of a child’s life, creatively.

No, you don’t just stop creating (but don’t expect much from yourself), and yes, it depends greatly on the baby. So my takeaway: curtail expectations.

So I expected very little of myself with a newborn. But the need to create something kept punching its way out. Like the apple crisp I made the week after we got home with her from the hospital. It may have taken me six hours, but I made something, damn it. And writing? Writing was slow, but it happened.

Yet somehow, my brain failed to apply that same expectation to theatre. At first, I thought I’d be able to do a show this summer. She’d be with me for at least some rehearsals, but it would still be me doing a think I love. I did that New Year’s Eve coffee shop reading. I auditioned for the summer show. The director even offered me a role, but by then I knew it just wouldn’t work.

But I’ve found a happy medium: staged readings! A handful of rehearsals, a little blocking, some character work, and performances! (With scripts in hand.) I got the call offering me the role last week. Our read through is Monday, but I’m already ridiculously excited about the story and my character.

Only six rehearsals, but spanning a month and a half. Who wants to bet I’ll be off-book?

Starting a new production always makes me giddy. Being my first with a baby has some trepidation mixed in, while also bringing a not insignificant measure of relief. Relief at being back on a stage (it always feels a bit like homecoming), relief that I can do this now, relief that I don’t have to wait another year.

At least writing-wise, what I can (and how) accomplish keeps changing. This is going to throw another wrench into the equation. At least I’m adaptable!

Sparking

In case you’re tired of me always talking about the baby, let me tell you about sparking. I don’t mean the white-blue sparks that that arc and buzz and pop in an electrical outlet gone haywire. That shit’s likely to burn your house down. Flip the circuit breaker and call an electrician.

And if you want the house to burn? Follow the same procedure and also call a therapist.

I’m talking about story sparks. Those kernels that pop into your brain to spark like that faulty electrical outlet. The good sort of spark. The kind you want.

Unless creativity and imagination are the antithesis of all you hold dear, in which case, this blog is probably not for you.

The spark might be the way the reflected sunset turns a field to raspberry gold, or a cloud formation  that at first glance seems to contain a snow-capped mountain, or the recitation of a tongue twister that sounds like arcane chanting. It might fizzle and never develop into anything, or someday it might become that perfect descriptor or plot element. Maybe it will even keep sparking, take root and grow into a story all its own.

I like to set aside pages in my notebooks for these, but I recently discovered I hadn’t done that at all in the current one. When I’ve nearly filled it.

Apparently, I haven’t had many sparks in the last year or so. (And don’t even get me started on the fact I’ve taken nearly a year to fill a single notebook.) Droughts of inspiration are real, people. And they’re normal. They’re okay! Even if they’re beyond frustrating and demoralizing.

I’ve been in a drought for a while. A ton of creative energy goes into a baby! Obvious, I know, but I never anticipated it might contribute to creative burnout the way a novel draft might. No one warned me.

I wasn’t going to talk about the baby . . .

But maybe, I think, I’m starting to bounce back. I’m sparking again! And it’s wonderful. It feels good to be back.

Adventures With Baby

As the baby gets older, computer time grows harder. She sleeps less, so she sees me interacting with screens more, which is not behavior I want her to emulate. And these days, she has finite patience for me doing anything that does not involve either feeding her or helping her stand.

This girl is a standing fiend.

And what’s awesome for this writer-mom to see? The baby Loves text. She reaches for the manuscript I’m revising and grabs at her dad’s theatre show shirts. She stares in fascination at the many spines on our bookshelves.

So she’s a words baby.

And she endlessly stares at the bright rainbow bargello lap quilt her great-grandmother made. She scratches at the black/red/gold wall hanging of cats and reaches for the pillow cases in winter penguins, lime green and red-orange foxes, and cats in turquoise trees. Her great-grandmother made them all. The baby’s face when we walk into Gram’s sewing room? Priceless.

So she’s a fabrics baby.

And last weekend? She let me audition for Macbeth. In her five and a half months, I have taken her to see productions of Into the Woods and A Lion in Winter (where she was equally fascinated withe the stage lights and the acting), a staged reading I participated in, and two multi-hour theatre troupe meetings. All of which she suffered without meltdown. All with some glorious smiles.

So she’s a theatre baby.

And she sings! At only a few weeks old, she held a sustained, pitch-perfect note in her sleep. These days, she tries to sing along with me (less pitch-perfect, which is no less adorable). Her dad’s synth music programs can keep her entertained for hours.

So she’s a music baby.

I can’t wait to see what she makes when she starts creating for herself. But right now? It’s all distraction until the next meal or the next opportunity to stand.

Goodbye, Ursula

Ursula K. Le Guin has never been on any list of my favorite writers or writerly influences, but she has is both of those. I have read embarrassingly little of her work, if for no other reason than I am that stubborn sort of person who the more you tell me I should do a thing, the less likely I am to do it.

My first year at Smith College, I read The Left Hand of Darkness for my scifi/spec fic class. You’re supposed to declare a major in your sophomore year, and I had no idea what I would do. English, the obvious choice as a writer, was not an option, since I’ve always loathed essays. (One of my writer friends tells me I was just never taught how to do write them the fun way.) I might have daydreamed about pursuing theatre, but I knew I wasn’t good enough (and back then I really wasn’t; I wouldn’t learn how to be completely comfortable in my own skin for years). Linguistics would have made me deliriously happy, but that required self-design and classes on other campuses in the Five College Consortium, and I wasn’t sure I had the drive to effectively handle that workload.

It maybe would have helped if I’d developed any career goals beyond “fantasy writer.”

The Left Hand of Darkness blew my mind, and the professor discussed Ursula Le Guin’s background in anthropology. Both of her parents were anthropologists, and that education greatly enriched the stories she was able to tell.

That same semester, I was taking a cultural anthropology course and loving it. So I made a deal with myself: if I got a good grade in the class, I’d major in that. And I did.

Cultural anthropology did, in fact, turn out to be a phenomenal course of study for a fantasy writer.

But even before college and The Left Hand of Darkness, some of the first books I read on my own and my favorites for years as a young child were the Catwings books. I rarely, if ever, see those books mentioned in discussions of her work. To this day, I cannot fully wrap my mind around how deeply and thoroughly those stories affected me as both a reader and writer.

In all the many roles she filled for countless people, I can only say that I would not be the writer I am today without her. RIP Ursula K. Le Guin. Thank you.