Dear Diary, Dear Pen

Dear Diary, Dear Pen

I knew it was only a matter of time.

I knew, after committing to writing a blog post every week, that there would be a week where I had nothing.

Nothing to say that hadn’t been said a million times before and way better.

My life? Snore.

Parenting? Whatever.

Writing, aging, personal growth, marriage, friendship– I scrolled through my mental Pinterest board of all the usual topics, and came up empty this week.

Hearing the scrawny bastard critic in the corner sneering, “See? You’ve got nothing to say. Leave it to the professionals, won’t you?” I sat and took a breath.

That shut him up.

Then I looked right in front of me, because someone told me, or I read, or I made up, that you can just write about what you see. The first thing I saw was my journal, the second, my pen.

I’ve been keeping a journal since I was in second or third grade. Sometimes they were picture journals, where I would draw ads for movies I’d seen, or practice my fancy autograph with different last names, depending on my latest celebrity crush.

Maggie Cassidy,

Maggie Osmond,

Maggie Gibb.

It was kind of a scrapbook, really. Since then my personal writing has evolved to serve all kinds of purposes, from list making, to venting, to meditation. I can’t imagine ever stopping.

And so, dear reader, I submit to you a blog post about the humble journal.

I am not an expert on anything, but after nearly forty years of pouring my thoughts onto private pages, I feel like I know a thing or two about what makes a good journal, so how about I share those with you now? Actually, life is short, and you’re busy. I’ll just tell you the best journal and you’ll have to trust me on this.

The best journal is this one, by Plumb Notebooks.81Sj8uFekAL._SX466_ I make no disclaimers, because I really think it is the best and here’s why:

This journal will set you back around $22.00, but I think it’s worth it. It is a beautiful color, with unlined paper that’s heavy enough so ink doesn’t bleed through, and shaggy edges that will make you feel very classy. Also, it’s bound in such a way that it lies flat when it’s open. You don’t have to put your coffee cup on it to hold it open when you write, which is lovely.

One of my favorite writers on writing, Natalie Goldberg, says you should use cheap spiral notebooks for journaling and what I call Writerly Diddling. The idea is that, if you write in a plain cheapo notebook, you won’t be so precious about your writing and the pressure will ease up.

First of all, journaling doesn’t involve any pressure, unless you’re hoping to unearth a memoir or something like that. And, even if you are using your journal as a kind of compost bin for other writing (a great idea, by the way), writing in those sad schoolish notebooks just isn’t as much fun. Maybe it’s the flashbacks from seventh grade, or the way the wire thingy comes uncurled and snags my sweater, but I like a journal that in no way reminds me of Geometry homework.

This one is chunky enough to feel important, and squat enough that it can fit into my purse. (PS: If you find that this journal is too big for your purse, just get a different purse. Someone told me that a big purse makes your ass look smaller, so it’s a win-win!)

I’m a little scared of how I’ll feel when this particular journal goes out of print. I’ve bought a few extra, which should get me through the next year and a half, but that doesn’t do much to calm my nerves around the possibility of having to find a new favorite. For now, I’m just trying to live in the moment.

Since we’re on the subject, and since I’m on a roll and seem to be, if I am not mistaken, actually writing a blog post, which only fifteen minutes ago I thought was completely impossible, let’s talk about the pen.

What’s the best pen?

You might have your own opinions, and if you do, please share them in the comments. Unlike my deep and stedfast attachment to my journal, I’m not completely sure I’ve found the perfect pen. I have, however, found a really great one:

Papermate Ink Joy

55008e8817716-paper-mate-inkjoy-700-rt-ballpoint-retractable-xlI’ve been a big fan of the unfortunately named “Uniball” for a really long time, but they’re a little spendy, and sometimes they smudge or leak onto the seat of my car. I liked the Sharpee pens for a while because they were waterproof and pretty cheap, but they had a drag on them and slowed me down. The Papermate Ink Joy is, in many ways, a regular old ballpoint which of course I love, but it has the smooth speed of a more expensive pen.

So, clearly this is not a post that will change the world. But I do believe that writing at least helps the world, whether it’s a novel, a news story or just a page in a journal.

Not that I go back and read them that often, which makes some non-journaling friends ask, “Then what’s the point?”

Good question, and a good question usually has more than one answer.

I do it because it helps me remember.

And because it helps me forget.

An argument with my husband, scrawled out as fast as I can, pressing down on the front and back of as many pages as it takes is then, like a paper boat, set sail downstream. Most of the time, I never see it again.

Forgotten.

(I believe skillful forgetting is a really good thing in a marriage.)

And as for remembering…

I turn to a page written when we were in Hawaii last summer, and it’s there. The night we went swimming in the pool, my boys and I, and took turns holding each other on our backs, floating around in the moonlight. The stars are there, and also the sweetness of my twelve year old son towing me gently around the pool, his palms on my back. It’s written there, that I felt the tables turn for the first time.

My memory leaks like a cheap ballpoint, and I’m so grateful to my journal for capturing and preserving that moment.

So, that’s what’s right in front of me. What’s in front of you?

Write about it 🙂

 

images-1

Advertisements

Going With the Flow

Going With the Flow

 

You guys, we need to talk,

and it might not be pretty.

If you are squeamish in any way, are eating while you read this, or happen  to have been raised in the south, you might find this post a bit, shall we say, MUCH. You’ll probably just want to scroll on past this post. I promise to write something nice next week.

fingers-crossed-behind-back

Ok, if you’ve read this far, there is a good possibility that we get each other, which is great because I could use a little help here.

Since preschool, I have considered myself a professional when it comes to my bodily functions. I never wet the bed, spewed milk out my nose in the lunchroom, and never once, in three sexually active decades, did I have an unwanted pregnancy scare. But now I find myself at fifty, completely confused by my own female body.

To show you what I mean, I’ll share a conversation I had with my friend Jo Dee, just yesterday:

I’m leaving brunch at a friend’s house. I had to leave earlier than I had planned and I’m not happy about it. Walking to my car, I call Jo Dee.

“Hey,”she answers. What’s up?”
“Oh, just bleeding on myself. You know, it’s the new normal.” I’m referring to my near constant state of menstruation, since peri-menapause came a-knockin’ about six months ago.
“Oh, hon. Did you bleed through your pants?”
“I’m not sure. I’m sweaty too, so it’s hard to know.” I might be whining at this point. It’s mid- April and the LA sun is already blazing. “I’m going home to change.”
“Poor thing. And also, ew.”
“I know. Am I supposed to just always wear a pantyliner now? Is that what people do?” I can’t believe I even have to ask.
“I think so,” JoDee answers, but not in a way that inspires confidence. I have a feeling she’s as confused as I am. “I guess?” She adds. Yeah, I’m on my own here.
“Well then I have to find unscented pantyliners, because the ones I have make me smell like a giant roll of toilet paper. I hate it.”
She laughs. “Gross! Used toilet paper?”
“No, not used, but still. The smell gets all up in my nostrils and I can’t get rid of it.”
“Can’t you get some crunchy granola pads from Whole foods or whatever, with no smell?”
“Yeah, I can get like a coconut-hemp-compostable-diva-liner thing for seventeen dollars a piece.”
“I’m sure they actually do make unscented liners, though. Just the regular kind from Walgreens.”
“No, those are what I have. But they’re not unscented, not really. That’s what I’m saying.”
“I’m going home and smelling mine.”
“Careful, that shit gets in your nose. You’ll smell it in your dreams.”
She laughs. Laughter. It’s my Valium.
I sit in my car, with the air conditioner cranked and pointing directly at my sweaty face. “My body is totally different suddenly. I’m having to learn so much. And I’m buying all these new things, like I have all kinds of tampons now. I have a whole collection, a cornucopia of choices, for every possible situation. It’s ridiculous. They make one kind now, which I’m sure is for ladies in the home stretch like myself, that is huge— it’s like the size of a hamster. For those special days.
“That would just piss me off. You have to spend all this time and money on something you’re not even that thrilled to be going through to begin with.”
“But I am thrilled. I’m not crazy about gaining weight or weird hairs growing on me, but I can’t wait for my period to stop.”
“I know people who say they had a few big gushers and then never had another. They were just done. No problems.”
“Fuck them.” (This may sound harsh, but really, people. Know your audience.)
“Exactly,” she says, and I love her for it.
“But some people accidentally say the wrong thing and it’s really not their fault. I shouldn’t blame them but I can’t help it,” I say.
“Of course you can’t. On account of the the hormones.”
“Like this morning, I’m walking into church and the nicest woman walks right up to me and guess what she says?”
“What?”
“She says, we are having a blood drive next week. Can I sign you up to donate?”

“Oh my god.”

“I told her no way, that I have none to spare, but she wouldn’t give up that easily. She asked if I had ever given blood, and I said actually I’m giving it right now, and if things don’t change I’m the one who’s going to need a donation.”
“What did you say to her?” Jo Dee chimes in. (Oh brother, I say to myself, you’d think she’d know me by now.)
“No, that’s what I said! Those exact words! She looked a little terrified.”
I need to get home and assess the damage to my cute new jeans, but I’m not ready yet. I need to talk right now. As I scrounge under the car seat for a bag of almonds or an old fortune cookie, I imagine JoDee and I in our own Red Tent. We would sit on the straw, sharing stories and binge watching Transparent right on through our moon cycle, emerging only when we were ready to pick up our work again. The caring for the children, the doing of the things. The taking of fish oil and B supplements.

“I saw that you want to start a Facebook group for menopause women and period stuff.”
“Yeah,” I say, tearing into an old fruit roll-up. “I was kind of kidding, but so many women responded, I’m thinking it might be a good idea.”
“There are obviously a lot of us in the same boat.”
“It’s totally selfish on my part. I just want to have a place to ask the nitty gritty questions. I want practical tips. How to’s.”
“You want to know if you’re always supposed to wear a panty liner.”
“Exactly! I want “Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret” for grownups.”images

We talk for a bit longer, but that’s where my memory fades. Tasting the jelly bean sweetness of dried berries in my mouth, I start the car and head for home, remembering what it was like to be eleven.

Twelve.

Having seen the educational films in health class, and the string that hung between my mother’s legs, I knew what was coming and had a vague idea of what to do.

Sort of.
I had a package of thick pads and a pair of plastic underpants with metal clips that seemed too sharp to wear next to a place so soft. I stole a box of tampons and studied the package insert, chewing on a lock of my hair as I looked at that cartoon of a see-through girl standing sideways.

Unknown-2
I needed more.
I needed instructions from the women who could instruct, and embraces from the women who could embrace. When I was eleven, I looked to Judy Blume and the older girls at my summer camp. Somehow I pieced it all together.
It’s harder now.
I’m a grown-ass woman. I expect myself to know better.
But I’m as awkward as I was back then. I know it will be fine, perfect, even, to unfurl the way nature made me. But the sun is hot, and I am not in control of this.

And maybe,

it could also be

that I know what comes after blooming.

images-1

Mother’s Helper

Mother’s Helper

The boys and I have been involved in a film making project with several other families that has pretty much eaten up our lives for the past few weeks. The kids are learning a ton and having a great time, which makes it all worth it (I think), but the adults are not faring quite so well under the weight of twelve to fourteen hour days and some pretty rough working conditions. I’ll tell you more later, after time has worked it’s magic and I have regained my will to live.

But anyway…

It was my youngest son’s birthday a few days ago, during all this madness, and a twelve hour day was on the books. I got up early to heat up a store-bought coffee cake for breakfast, reminded him, with a big hug, that we’d be having a few friends over for a celebration next week, I love him very much, and could he feed the cat.

Somewhere during the long hot day, I mentioned that it was C’s birthday, and another one of the moms suggested I run out and get some cupcakes so we could celebrate together and he could blow out the candles, you know, the way you like to do when you are newly eleven.

“Oh, that’s so sweet,” I said. “No, it’s ok.”

“But it’s his birthday,” she told me, managing to make it sound kind, not accusing. She was in charge of the project and wanted me to know that it was alright to take a few minutes out, for C.

“Yeah, I know, but he’s fine, really,” I answered, sort of missing her point, now that I think of it. “He’s having a little party next week.” That was true, but the real reason I was brushing her off was that, with all the food allergies and aversions in this group, serving cupcakes, or anything other than an epi-pen, was simply a bigger hassle than I was up for. Plus, I knew we were on a tight schedule and that, by the end of the day, everyone would be more than ready to pack up and go home.

“You’re sure?” She asked.

My youngest son is pretty low maintenance, probably due to having me as a mother. I maintain that this will serve him well, even if it’s sort of a drag in the early years. Some may call that rationalization on my part (BINGO!), but I consider it a public service to raise a kid who does not think the world is his oyster. (Sorry, Louise Hay.)

“Yeah, thanks, I’m sure,” I answered, sucking down some more coffee.

And that was that.

At the very end of the day, we were all sweaty and bleary eyed, when a big tray of cupcakes birthday-cake-380178__180appeared, complete with shimmering candles for my boy to make one special sure-to-be-granted birthday wish. Kids and grown-ups gathered around, belting out the appropriate song to his shy smiling face.

He was so happy.

And so was everyone else. Forget the the loaves and fishes, coming up with vegan, gluten free, sugar-free, nut-free cupcakes at the last minute , now that’s a miracle. For a moment, I had forgotten that it feels really good to sing loud and cheer at the end, it just does, and it feels good to wish someone well.

Turns out, it was just the lift we all needed.

I found the mom, my friend Keren, who had made the moment happen, and hugged her. It was a little thing she had done, sure, but it was also big. Her kindness didn’t reflect poorly on me, far from it. Gestures like that make us all look good.

While men wage wars, we wage community.

We read a lot about mommy wars and alpha moms. The media paints a picture of women who are hell bent on raising the bar so high, the rest of us can only stare up at it, slack-jawed, downing a Redbull with one hand and giving her the finger with the other.200

Oh yeah, apparently, we have it out for each other.

By the way, I get that I’m part of the problem. I write about these very people on this blog.  I do it because it can be fun to laugh at the lengths to which we all go, or won’t go, to be good at momming. I write about it because the stakes are so high and because I am wildly insecure.

Plus, I can be an asshole, so there’s that.

But I just want to make a little space here for the truth. The truth is that, while there was absolutely that time the lady at the DMV gave me the stink-eye for breastfeeding in line, there was also that time when a friend took my son into the waves to play so I could sit my tired ass in the sand with my newborn, feeling that postpartum mix of wonderful and horrible.

Did this threaten me and make me resent her joie de vivre? Hell no! I wanted to give her a foot massage and a Margarita for doing the one thing I just couldn’t, at that moment, do.

Or like when I had the flu, and that mom I thought was sort of bitchy (ugh– how she always finds ways to remind me that “she has a very demanding career”), offered to pick up my fourth grader and keep him all Saturday so I could sleep, a favor my son repaid by barfing all over the back of her Escalade.

Get this– when she told me about it, she was actually laughing. God bless her.

Or how about when I turned away, just for a second, and that mom with the PhD and yoga butt flipped my gasping toddler upside down, and out fell the windpipe-sized Lego guy, and I wanted to mouth kiss her there on the spot? Did I feel like an idiot? Yes. Did I wish she didn’t always have to be all show-offy and super-mommish? Lord no.

I think you catch my drift.

I am so grateful to the mothers who step in when my ass needs saving, and it happens all the time, with problems big and small.

We are so lucky to have each other.

images-2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Rules for Moms Are Ridiculous. So I Broke One.

The Rules for Moms Are Ridiculous. So I Broke One.

Every once in a while, I over-share.

This might be one of those times.

Against the advice of counsel, I submit to you a recent conversation I had with my BFF JoDee, in which I make a confession, and she reassures me that I am not so special, after all.

 

Me: You know when you break an unwritten rule and suddenly you feel like anything could happen? Like all bets are off because you did the thing you’ve never done? That happened to me just now.

JD: What was the thing?

Me: Well, you know those little single servings of wine? The ones in the grocery store that come in little separate jars?

Unknown-1
JD: Yeah.

Me: I bought one and I’m drinking it in the parking lot while C. is at basketball practice. (she laughs) It’s the driving that’s eating me alive, JoDee. I drove, like, 87 miles today and I’m not even done yet. I had two hours to kill here in suburbia, and I just wanted it.

JD: Maggie, that’s not a big deal.

Me: It’s not?

JD: No.

Me: I was worried the cashier at the store could smell my desperation. It was like when I bought condoms at eighteen, or tampons at thirteen. I had to fill my basket with all this other stuff: cheese, crackers, salami, so it would be like, “oh, look at the nice lady, she must be going on a romantic picnic or something.”

JD: Except that wine totally sucks. No one drinks that stuff on purpose.

Me: Yeah, that’s the giveaway.

JD: But it’s not like you were driving someplace anytime soon.

Me: No, I was parked. Plus, I only drank one. The other little serving I threw in the trash so I wouldn’t be tempted. That’s the new line, I guess— only one plastic cup of crap wine in my car.

JD: I really don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

Me: Have you ever crossed the line?

JD: Sure. One time I was traveling for work and I got back to my hotel room and ordered a whole pizza and, since I didn’t want to drink an entire bottle of wine, I got a four pack of those little stackable wines. I tossed the pizza but I drank three of those bad boys and had to throw the fourth away just to save myself. That was sort of crossing a line, for me anyway.

Me: Maybe a cry for help but hardly a binge, by any standard. And you were in a hotel room, without your kids.

JD: I know, looking back I don’t know what my problem was. I should have just gotten the bottle. Why all the shame? Women need to give themselves a fucking break. If you want one tiny jar of bad wine, have it.

Me: And there must be a demand, right? I mean, some focus group got together and said, yes, people need those single serving wines. The mothers have spoken!

JD: I like how they have those tin foil tops, just like yogurt containers.

Me: Yeah, we moms are good at those. They should just get real and have a logo of a mini-van on the front. You know, marketing.

JD: Seriously.

Me: And why is having one of those any different than a Xanax, or whatever the fancy ladies are doing these days?

JD: It’s not.

Me: It’s totally not! But I can’t just go buy one Xanax at Ralph’s, even if I wanted to. So don’t judge me, you pilates taking, SUV driving mommy, with your socially acceptable pills.

JD: Well, you take pilates.

Me: Yeah, but I fucking hate it.

(Here there is a long but comfortable silence, as I watch the sun set over the San Gabriel mountains and settle in for another hour and a half of waiting. My little cup, empty now.)

JD: I’m sorry you had to buy your own tampons.

Me: It’s ok. Mostly I shoplifted them.

 

I listened to JoDee making dinner on the other end of the line and by the time we hung up, it was dark and I was better.

It was communion, right there in my Honda.

images-4

 

 

And now, a very special PS, for those who think I’m one messed up matron:

First off, you could totally be right.

When I wrote this post, sitting around with a few other women at a kid thing (yes more waiting), I expressed my concern that it might not be the best judgment call to post about drinking in my car while technically on duty. After sharing a bit about the nature of what I’d written, they laughed knowingly, which I took as a good sign. One of them, a friend of mine who had blogged for a while and knew a thing or two about how things can be interpreted or misinterpreted, said she understood my hesitation.

But then it came to me:

I have happily given up a lot to be a mother, but I won’t give up my voice.

Shit happens in the trenches, my friends. Thanks for reading 🙂