Door Dreaming

Door Dreaming

‘Literature is strewn with the wreckage of those who have minded beyond reason the opinion of others.” —- Virginia Woolf

Wednesday of last week: I wake early, make coffee, and settle in on the couch in our sunny front room to meditate for a few minutes, go over the day’s schedule, and squeeze in a bit of writing before the house wakes up at 7:00.

It’s easy to get distracted by the morning sounds of garbage trucks and leaf blowers in our neighborhood, but I’m learning to say, “this too” when aversion bubbles up. It works ok.

Then I hear my husband come in and pour his coffee.

Damnit, already?

This too.

That’s kinda bitchy of me.

This too.

I say a quick amen, on the off chance there’s anybody out there, take a breath, and open my laptop. I have an idea and want to get it out before it loses that shimmer of urgency. This doesn’t mean it’s a good idea, but I’ve been going through such a dry spell that any idea is reason to fall down and kiss the ground.

So I get right to it. Tappity-tap-tap-tap go the keys.

Enter, Chris, who settles across the room from me and smiles. “Morning, baby.”

I want to hurl my laptop at him.

I feel a self-righteous anger way waaaayy out of proportion to the situation. Clearly, we must divorce.

This too.

“Were you writing?” He asks.

“Yes,” I answer, already softening because he thought to ask. Being asked feels like being seen, and that feels like love to me.

“Oh, sorry. I’ll go in the other room,” he says, in a way that tells me he is completely fine with it.

“No, that’s ok, you don’t have to go,” I call after him, guilty.

What a bitch I am. He just wanted to say good morning, and moments alone together don’t happen all that often. Looking down at the screen, I’ve lost hold of the thread and wonder why it even matters. Let’s be honest, this thing I take so seriously is really just a hobby, bringing in no money, taking focus and energy away from the people I love.

I’m reminded of a quote from Steven Pressfield’s book, The War of Art. “Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work.”

Apologize later and let it pass, I think.

This too.

I’ve just started typing when I hear my youngest son’s door open. His hair is sticking up every which way as he shuffles in and, still warm from sleep, sits next to me. His head rests in my lap and I shift my computer to the arm of the couch.

“Good morning. You’re up early,” I say.

It’s impossible to be mad. He is twelve, and every one of these minutes is precious. I want to keep writing, but I also want to be in this moment with my boy, who won’t be a boy much longer.

I can do both, I decide. Tappity-tap…tap…

It kind of works.

In a way.

But then he’s up and in the kitchen. (Insert Foley effects for: getting the bowl, the spoon, pouring the cereal, the milk, stubbing toe, dropping the spoon, etc.) My lap is empty. The day has begun.

We need more doors, I think.

That is when, as if on cue, our dog Jackson gallops in and makes a flying leap onto my couch next to me. I nudge him away and he settles next to me to lick the cushions until time for his walk. I make a mental note that he is cute but a little gross, and to wash the slipcovers. Trying to find my train of thought again, I hear Jackson on my left, making a noise.

This too.

My brow is furrowed. I type.

The sound persists but so do I until, finally, I turn and find the most lavish display of dog barf I have ever seen. It is everywhere.

This too?

Thus ends the time allotted for writing that day.

Reader, if you think I sound like a privileged housewife, whining about how she gets no respect, well, I’m sure there’s some truth to that. But the need for solitude is basic and profound.

I notice how my fourteen year old has taken up the habit of staying up well past the time the rest of us have gone to sleep. He uses the time to watch old t.v. episodes of Mission Impossible, draw, create, and raid the pantry for snacks. For those few hours, this is his place. I understand how great that feels, and I am happy he’s found that pocket of time for solitude. It’s important.

But the fact is, both of my sons have a room with a door. We have a knock first policy, so they maintain privacy. My husband has an office and, while I know he’d prefer to spend less time there, it does provide solitude when needed.

It has a door.

Several weeks ago, I created this setup in my closet. I wanted to finish a piece I was working on and it actually did the trick. IMG_0655But it also made me want to sob into my pillow. Still, I’m trying to figure out if I can make this a working space. It will require getting rid of most of my clothes, which may be a decent trade, at this point.

Am I privileged? Yes. Obviously.

I have a home and a support system for which I am always wholeheartedly grateful. But the struggle is real for women, especially mothers, who want to want to be creative in the way that requires solitude. We are socialized to believe that it is wrong to ask for it.

“There’s a season for everything,” friends have told me. Roughly translated this means: “You can’t have that now, maybe later.”

Maybe. Unless something or someone else requires your time. And there will always be something else.

Last night I had a dream. Actually, it wasn’t really a dream, exactly. I heard a voice. Creepy, I know.

“Maggie!” was all it said, but it sounded angry and was scary enough that my eyes flew open the second I heard it. It wasn’t my husband, who laughed this morning when I told him about it.

The voice meant business. It was pissed.

My babies were all asleep. The house wasn’t on fire. So what could be so urgent that needed my attention?

What, indeed.

I’m really curious– do you have creative projects that require time and space alone? Have you carved out a corner, a niche, or have you found a door you can close? Maybe you haven’t but you want it so badly that you are screaming on the inside, ashamed of what that must look or sound like on the outside.

Well, I see you.

No shame here, my friends. No shame here.

WillyWonka_veruca

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What I Did For Love

What I Did For Love

This past weekend I had to deliver a testimonial at my fab UU church, to celebrate the conclusion of our pledge drive.  It went just fine, despite the fact that I clearly have shed my old actorly ways and am now TERRIFIED of speaking in public.

Good lord, the shaking.

The blushing.

Ours is not a large congregation and, for the most part, I think they harbor only good will toward me, so I kind of don’t get why the major case of nerves. Also, the thing I wrote was less than five minutes. (I know, get a grip, right?)

But how’s this for a confession:

I’m glad I was nervous because, in some private recess of my damaged heart, I believed that looking happy to be up there reading something I had worked hard to compose, would be like wearing slacks and suntan pantyhose with a reinforced toe.

Out of fashion.

Awkward.

Best to keep a low profile. Pretend I just threw something together at the last minute. “What, this old thing?”

It’s official. I may be all grown up, but a thin film of middle school still covers me like a second skin.

Maybe you can relate.

None of this is conscious, of course, and it’s really just now, as I sit typing, that it’s becoming clear. I can’t be the only one who struggles with the desire for approval and the deep flesh eating shame of wanting attention.

So wtf. Ima go there.

Yesterday I gave myself a present in the form of the audio version of Bruce Springsteen’s memoir, Born To Run, read by The Boss himself, and available on Audible. (By the way, my subscription to Audible is, by far, the best $15.00 I spend each month. Just sayin’.)

If you happen to see me walking the streets of the San Fernando Valley wearing a dopey smile and a gaze of distant longing, it’s because Bruce is in my ear, telling me all about his life, his hopes, his dreams. I may be holding my dog’s leash in one hand and a bag of steaming poo in the other, but in my mind he and I are reclined on a chase, before an open window, somewhere in Tuscany. “Tell me all about it,” I say, while sampling a variety of cheeses.

Wait, where was I?

Oh yeah. One of the first things Bruce offers up is an explanation of what has driven his career in rock and roll. His success, he says, was and is fueled by a list of things (and I’m working from my admittedly iffy memory here), that includes a desire for attention, approval, money, and love. 

Hold up, Bruce.

You mean you are looking for my approval? The stories you tell, the poetry you write, exists, at least in part, because you want to be… liked??

And get this, he wasn’t apologizing for it. Knowing that he cares what I think of him doesn’t diminish any of his work for me to know this. Obvs. Unknown

There’s a part of me that always assumed that artists, especially talented artists, didn’t give a shit what the rest of us thought. They worked in service of their vision and that’s what made the good ones good.

Or so I thought.

I’m no authority on showbiz in LA, since I had basically waved to that in my rearview mirror when I left Chicago, but I do remember when I first got here, sensing that, to get the job, one needed to not to need the job. Use words like “amazing”, “awesome” and “outstanding”, when asked how things are going, and as an agent once told me as she cocked her head and squinted across her desk at me, whatever you do, “Try not to care so much.”

That’s the catch.

When it comes to approval, you can want it, but you can’t ask for it.

I’ve bought into that forever. As for my own hunger, I blamed it on my mother, my school days, my gender. Anything to avoid pulling back the curtain.

But if I stop making it into a weakness, the desire to pin it on someone else disappears, and running around pinning shit on people is a total time suck. I think we can all agree on that.

The truth is, I care a whole bunch what you think.

Yep, me and Bruce Springsteen.

When I make a painting, I hang it on my wall. When I write something, I want someone to read it. To me, without sharing, the work isn’t complete.

I have a friend who told me she writes all the time and feels no need to share any of it. I haven’t decided if I believe her, but if it’s true, I envy her. If you’re an artist who doesn’t have any fucks left to give, then I guess you are lucky. It’s an advantage to feel free to take risks, to create for the sake of creating. But honestly, if I wasn’t in a lifelong search for love and approval, I probably wouldn’t do anything but down snacks and watch reruns of Sex and the City, so hey, there’s that.

At it’s worst, my desire for external validation can make me too careful, causing me to miss my mark and sometimes not even try. But at it’s best, it’s my editor, agent and cheerleader. My personal Mickey Goldmill.

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Back in Chicago, I remember I used to stare down the bar at the “real” actors who huddled at the other end. Usually a group of three or four guys in their 20’s and 30’s, and maybe one woman (hmm, interesting) would hang together, drinking cheap beer, dissing Los Angeles, while trading snark about their last Steppenwolf audition or the pilot they were shooting .

They were just So. Fucking. Cool.

They were talented, and their talent seemed all the more mysterious because they didn’t seem to care about it. Eventually I would make a good living on commercials, long running crowd-pleasing shows (decidedly un-cool) and voice-overs, but in my mind, those thoroughbreds at the end of the bar would always leave me in their dust.

I could never compete with them because I always, always, read my reviews.

And yet, here I am.

The same need that drove me to put myself out there in search of approval, was the same need that pounded on the floor for me to “Get up!” when I was knocked on my ass.

Now that I’ve named it, will I try to move beyond this, to a place where I float far above my blog stats, my inbox of rejections, my submissions, all my naked trying?

Will I pretend that I don’t desperately hope that you will like what I’ve made for you?

I don’t think so.

And I’m cool with that.

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Stealing Time

Stealing Time

I am not what you’d call a fast writer.

I’m also not great at fitting writing into little nooks and crannies. In order to get anything down that makes sense, I need decent chunks of time. In my next life I’ll be super productive (I’ll also play the banjo, have delicate ankles and a good sense of direction), but for now I  have to accommodate this weakness.

Because we homeschool, solitude is in short supply, so I schedule a few hours on the two days when both my kids are in class, and I try hard to keep that appointment with myself.

I haven’t told many people about my writing time until now.

It feels undeserved. I haven’t done anything to earn it, in fact it actually costs me five bucks every time, on account of the dirty chai latte my thirsty muse requires.

But my life is full of things I don’t deserve. I am privileged AF.

PS: This is weirdly hard to talk about.

Remember that Seinfeld episode where Jerry compared the two kinds of naked? There was the attractive naked, he said, e.i. naked while brushing your hair, and the unattractive naked, i.e. naked while opening a pickle jar?

Stay with me.

Right now, I feel like I am naked, opening the pickle jar.

I imagine you wondering why, if I have this time

  • Do I have so many typos and grammatical screw-ups on my blog?
  • Don’t I employ a fucking thesaurus instead of resorting to all the four letter words since they are (I’ve been told) just lazy writing.
  • Do I not donate those five hours to helping others, instead of contemplating every waking moment of my completely regular life.
  • And finally, with all that time, why don’t I get a job, or a degree, or at least a gym membership, for gods sake??

If you’re not wondering those things don’t worry, because I certainly am.

I told a friend on Facebook recently that when I hear that critical voice I try think of it as a man named, oddly enough, Donald, and I like to tell Donald to shut the fuck up.

Try it. It’s satisfying on many levels.

Donald thinks he knows what people should do. He thinks money is the same as value. He thinks the world has enough blogs, paintings, poems, popsicle trucks and hamster sanctuaries, so zip it already and just be happy driving the carpool.

Telling Donald to back off  keeps me writing, and keeps me holding on to the hours I need to do it, but it’s not easy.

This morning I was talking to my friend Jo Dee, and I told her about my weekly writing date and how I’ve kept it secret because it feels self indulgent. Like a great pal, she didn’t miss a beat.

“It’s not self-indulgent, it’s your job.”

“Jo Dee, it is so not my job.”

“Writing is absolutely part of your job.”

“Writing is how I keep from going insane.”

“Well maybe that is your job… no offense.”

Ouch. That left a mark, but I loved her for it.

Up till now, I’ve hid my secret by just saying “I have some errands to run” or “things to do,” stopping short of actually lying, but not by much.

In Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic, she suggests treating your creative time like you would an affair. If you had a hot lover on the side, she says, you would steal any time you could to be with them. You would lie, you would sneak, anything would be worth just a few hours. She suggested we treat our creative time like that.

I love her analogy because that is exactly how I feel!

mark-ruffalo
Here’s Mark Ruffalo giving me a writing prompt. “Twenty minutes on your best meal ever– go, baby, go.”
As Emily Dickinson wrote, “The heart wants what it wants.” Time is a luxury I can’t pay for, but I want it all the same.

So I steal it.

I steal it from my from my family, my community, the causes I support, and all the other things I tell myself a good person does.

When I was a teenager, my father once said to me, “You’re no bargain, Mag.”

That explains a lot, I thought.

Who knows what he was talking about. It might have had something to do with me being a pain in the ass, because I totally was. He didn’t know that I would drag those words behind me for the rest of my life like a corpse, forever trying to be what I thought he wanted: a bargain.

But I would never feel like one.

So when I was saying good-bye to Jo Dee this morning, she told me to enjoy my writing  time. “Don’t lie about it,” she said. “Own it!”

But is it possible to own something you’ve stolen?

Maybe I should stop shaming on it and just say it. “I’m going to be writing from 9-12 today at the cafe across from the Indian grocery. I’ll be home after that.”

Bam. Just like that.

I am aware that it is not fair.

I am aware that I am not bringing in a dime with my writing. Not a dime. Probably ever.

I am aware that there are some things that don’t get done because I am here, from 9-12, at the cafe, across from the Indian grocery.

I am aware that Daddy may have been right. I am not a bargain.

But I am

free.

 

 

Do It For Yourself

Do It For Yourself

There is an article I read recently about  how this generation that has grown up on the internet has a real problem creating art for art’s sake. You can read the entire thing here but for now let’s just look at this:

“Hobbies are now necessarily productive. If you’re learning piano, you must try to record the jingle for that commercial your friend directed. If you develop a curiosity about a niche topic, you must start an online newsletter dedicated to it, work to build your audience, and then try to monetize the newsletter. If you have a nice speaking voice, you must start a podcast. We’re encouraged to be “goal-oriented” and rewarded with outsize praise for everything we’ve accomplished, and so we feel that we need to turn every creative pursuit into a professional one.”

When I read that, I not only recognized a creativity trap I’d fallen into, but one I’d set for my kids as well. Not a proud moment, but a true one.

When my son was about nine, he got into making things out of duct tape. He sat forever watching YouTube videos on how to make wallets, belts, book covers, etc. At the time, lots of kids were doing this.

I thought he was brilliant.

And I wanted him to know I thought he was brilliant. I thought that was part of my job.

I bought a bag full of duct tape and shared pictures I’d found online of cool duct tape stuff. I swooned over every new object that rolled off his assembly line and commissioned a cell-phone case in colors that matched my purse.

Now he was an entrepreneur and it was totally his idea! (Kind of.)

He was proud when he made his first sale and, of course, he was having fun. He loved my praise I mean, my attention I mean, making stuff out of duct tape.

A few years later,  he attended a week long day camp where a little rock band was formed. The kids, middle schoolers at the time, had a blast playing Joan Jet covers and writing their own songs. When they shared their music with us, the other parents and I could hardly contain ourselves. They were The Beatles and The Stones rolled into one. We clapped and cheered like groupies for our little musicians.

Then their teacher set them up with a free gig at a pre-school fundraiser. The band loved it— who wouldn’t? Lots of applause and free snow-cones, after all.

Next, their fan base (read: parents) made t-shirts and they played at a local Mexican joint, opening for their band teacher, a talented guy who’s devotion to music was total and who, by the way, had worked his ass off for decades as a musician.

The kids were so proud of themselves. We could see it in their faces. Well, we would have seen it, if we weren’t so busy schlepping their shit, selling their merch and buying them burritos.

One night after playing a few sets at a bowling alley, the band broke up in a blaze of hormonally driven pre-teen glory.

WTF?

I stood over a box of now worthless t-shirts and stickers feeling, I’ll admit, just a little bit pissed.

My son said he just wasn’t into it anymore, but I couldn’t help but think he was making a mistake. Maybe after years of having me as his personal concierge, he took it all for granted.

Didn’t he get how lucky he was?

Later, driving home, I got to thinking about the summer of 1980. I was fourteen and wanted, with a red hot passion that fueled all kinds of shenanigans, to be an actor.

After reading about an open call for the sitcom The Facts of Life in the Sunday paper, I called Unknown-2Alex, a friend from school and the only guy I knew who had his own camera. In exchange for a pack of clove cigarettes, he set up a makeshift studio in his basement and took a picture of me wearing my best peasant skirt and tube top. I heard somewhere that you needed a resume, so I pounded one out on my typewriter that consisted of summer camp drama classes, baton twirling and, knowing me, a bunch of made up shit. I stapled that sucker to my picture and caught the bus to meet my destiny.

The producers were in Nashville looking for a southern teenager to add to the regular cast, and the waiting room at Talent and Model Land was packed with girls like me. Not knowing the drill, I did what they did: signed in, looked at my script, and checked out the competition. Most of the girls were dressed a little better, some had professional photos and hair done up with hot rollers. When my name was called I teetered into the room on my sister’s hand-me-down Candie’s, said my lines to the camera while blushing scarlet, and caught the bus home.

I waited by the phone for days, but they never called. I was crushed.

And I couldn’t wait to do it again.

A snapshot of that day might have shown a girl who needed a grownup’s help (maybe rethink the  three inch heels, Mag), but pan out and it’s a different story.

I’m as proud of that Facts of Life audition as I am of anything I accomplished in my twenty years as a working actor and it happened without an enterage. It marked the beginning of a long rocky road and even though I’m no longer interested in acting, I still call on that sovereign girl with her yellow highlighter and harebrained schemes whenever I want to try something new. (She’s the one who started this blog.)

I’m not saying I’m done supporting my kids when they’re going for something. I’m just done doing it without being asked. And I’m definitely done being the one who does the most work.

I shared my (better late than never) epiphany with a good friend who has raised a couple of  kids of her own. She told me that when her daughters were growing up and in that “look at me” phase, she would watch and smile and say, “I’ll watch once, then you need to do it for yourself.” Wow.

Do it for yourself.

That actually used to be a thing.

The other night I was walking by my son’s bedroom and from behind the door that is so often closed these days came the sound of him playing a song on his guitar that I’d never heard.

It was so beautiful. Did he make it up himself? Were there lyrics? Wait, let me get your Dad…

And that was my cue

to keep on walking.

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Stuck. I Had My Reasons.

Stuck. I Had My Reasons.

Hi.

What’s up?

Let me just get something off my chest so I can move on, ok? Here is a list, in no particular order, of reasons I haven’t been writing here for a while:

  1. Trump got elected and, overnight, my blog seemed so dumb and pointless that all I wanted to do was stuff it deep in the trash, like way down under the coffee grounds, Valpak coupons and empty containers of Nosa blackberry serrano yogurt .
  2. Trump got elected, which was not normal, and I felt I should be using every bit of time I could to fight racism, fascism and willful ignorance, not blogging about our family’s road trip or my period. You know, priorities.
  3. I’ve always had the feeling that there is something wrong with a person who feels the need to share her private thoughts publicly. Desperate plea for attention, right? If the shoe fits…
  4. I pretty much ran out of ideas.
  5. I found myself so happy when people responded well to a post that it scared me. I knew I was way too attached to getting a positive reaction and that I would start bending over six ways from Sunday to get more. Of course this could only result in shit writing, which made me want to quit.
  6. I have a sister who I don’t talk to. (Long story). She found my blog and it made me feel exposed, vulnerable, and like I didn’t want to write here anymore.
  7. I thought I should stop spending so much time writing and spend more time on…well, I wasn’t exactly sure what, but something that either brought in a paycheck, or was, like, a “good mom” thing. For example, I could learn to play Dungeons and Dragons, or that game my kids call “Awesome Possum,” which I’m not sure is even a real game but wouldn’t a good mother at least know those things???
  8. “First world problems.” This phrase is fucking poison. Thanks to self-righteous Facebook posts it got in my head and I’ve let it stop every idea or creative impulse I’ve had for months. I believe it is the mother of all censors because it goes for the jugular and tells us that what we have to say is meaningless. Translated, it’s “sit down, shut up, and let the grownups talk.” 
  9. I followed the rules. Second to listening to the voice of #8, this was my biggest mistake. The rules I followed were: you post every week, you post on the same day every week, you use lots of visuals, your posts should be 800-1200 words, you have a searchable title, you deliver the same kind of content every time. All the rules were a major buzzkill and pointless too, since my goal has never been to rule the world through blogging. My goal is to make you like me! (Oh, I’m kidding. My actual goal is to have my ex-boyfriend find me through a Google search and see how successful I am, which is why it would be really awesome if you could just say something  in the comments like, “hey, Maggie, congrats on the book deal!” TIA)
  10. I was scared of becoming obnoxious.

So those are the reasons I stopped, and imbedded in each of them are the reasons I’m starting again. Creative blocks are intense, and first world problem or not, I’m committed to pushing through.

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PS- I’m sorry that my blog probably won’t do a damn thing to fight Pussy-Grabbing-Anti-Intellectual-Environment-Destroying-Nationalist-Batshit-Crazy Trump. I wish I was that kind of writer. But for now, I’m just me, and I’ve really missed showing up here.

PPS- I might write less and shorter blog posts these days because it is a new ballgame, thanks to Agent Orange. This site helps me prioritize action items.

This Post Is Not Clickable or Funny or SEO Friendly

This Post Is Not Clickable or Funny or SEO Friendly

I could not come up with anything to write last week.

writers_block

I guess it’s more accurate to say that, although I did come up with something last week, I could not stand to publish what I came up with last week.

I could not stand for one more minute, the sentences beginning with I,

the licking out of every corner of my mind.

And then presenting it for you to read?

Unthinkable.

“If you don’t enjoy doing it, don’t do it,” my husband sometimes tells me.

“But I am. I am enjoying it,” I tell him right back.

I enjoy learning that what catches my eye isn’t always the shiny thing, like it was when I was younger. At fifty, I’m not afraid to reach in and pluck the dark moments of any given day. Writing about them, I find they are like berries, the darker the sweeter.

I even enjoy the things about blogging that make me want to take an ice-pick to my computer screen.

Things like software issues, algorithms, SEO optimization and grammar zealots. Last week, after I posted this, I got an email from someone telling me that I should get a proofreader, as I had misused it’s and its several times.

And you know what?

I loved her for that.

In another situation I probably would have gotten shitty about her comment. “That wasn’t the point,” I might have shot back, in defense of myself. I might have made her wrong to whoever would listen, only later taking a bath in my own shame, thinking, it’s true. I’m not smart enough to do this. Everyone sees it.

But because I want to improve my writing more than I want to bubblewrap my ego, and because she was absolutely right, I corrected the mistakes she pointed out (there are many more, I know) and gave a silent prayer gratitude for her suggestions, and for my own surprising ability to not be a jerk about it.

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So yes, I love writing here.

Then what’s the problem? Why am I so worried that I’m taking up this tiny bit of space that should be given to someone else?

Sandra Cisneros gave this piece of advice: “Do not write about what you remember. Write about what you wish you could forget.”

It is Christmas afternoon and my mother is yelling at me that the gifts I made for her and my father were an embarrassment. I had not taken the time I should have, she stands over me and yells, to make sure they were done well. She tells me that I am selfish, thinking I could give him that awful ashtray with “Daddy” painted in red over blue paint that had not yet dried. The paint smeared and looked muddy.

Slapdash.

Mama is furious because, even though I am in third grade, I should know what is high quality work and what is not. That plywood I had been so happy to find under the house, on which I painted a picture of a fish and a ferris wheel for her, was still rough, she yells. It should have been sanded, goddamnit. I should be ashamed, she says, before slamming her bedroom door.

And I am, because she is an artist, and my mother, so she knows.

I never told anyone this story because it always seemed both too sad and also not sad enough to make for interesting conversation, but eventually, I shared it for the first time with a therapist. I couldn’t understand why this quick scene wrecked me when I thought of it.

“That’s must have hurt when your mother said those things,” she said.

“Yeah, but she had a point,” I smiled and shrugged.

“What do you mean?”

“I could have done better.”

“You were in third grade and these were gifts you had made. For her. Who cares if you could have done better?”

“I know, but I knew the paint was wet,” I reason. “And I should have sanded the edges of that painting. She was right.” My therapist looked at me a long time, the way they do. My mother’s words, like a splinter, were in too deep.

Then decades pass. I have not seen my mother in many years. When she is hospitalized, I go to clean out her apartment, where I find stacks of her sculptures, and an outside storage unit filled to the ceiling with even more.IMG_6571 (1)

Taped to many of the pieces are notes describing how they could be improved. Some read like passionate letters of apology, full of frustration and plans of how to make it right next time.

She was in love.

She was in love with the process of creating but her work,  precious in her own eyes, was never, ever good enough for the eyes of others. So she packed all those sculptures away until she died.

The healing of shame is a lifelong process, and the shitty part of it is that the only way I’ve found to heal shame is to let myself feel it.

To write the sentences that begin with I.

When the time came to post on this blog last week and what I had to say seemed half-baked, I picked at that scab a little bit.

Amateur.

Uneducated.

Bored housewife.

This week I wrote what you are looking at right now. I could (part of me thinks that I should) just put it in a box labelled “Proofread. Needs work.” I could leave it to the real writers, wait until my boys are grown, until I get an M.A. (or even a B.A.), or some other permission slip from the People On Top. Until I learn, once and for all, the difference between it’s and its.

Instead, I’m giving it away.

Fuck it.

Because that’s what a personal blog is all about.

Oh, heads up, the edges are a little rough.

 

 

(don’t) Burn This

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I’m stuck on this thing I’ve been writing.

That’s not an excuse, it’s just the way it is. It’s a piece of fiction, drawn heavily from my own experience, and I’ve been chipping away at it for so long that I’m embarrassed to say.

Ok, fifteen years. Fifteen years, you guys!

I don’t know why it’s taken me so long. I had a few kids, moved a few times, wrote other things, painted a little, mostly to avoid writing. Mixed in there was work and a few deaths and…well, I have my reasons. But lately I’ve been back at work on it, only, after so long, it barely makes sense to me anymore. Although I’m attached to the characters, and I like some of the story, I don’t know what it’s going to be yet, and that’s driving me nuts. A mentor of mine keeps saying not to worry about that, but I can’t help it.

OK, I’ll only admit this here: I want a guarantee that it will be at least a little good. No one gets that guarantee, of course, and that’s what has made me leave it in a drawer for long stretches of time, sometimes years. After reading that crazy tidying-up book, I went on a binging binge. I found the files on my computer labelled STORY, and dragged them into the trash. I took the box of notes, handwritten pages and chapters I’d printed out, and dumped them in the compost. Then I pulled them out. Finally, I left them, smeared with coffee grounds, on the floor under my desk and waited for the nerve to cut the cord (and my losses) and move on.

Then this happened:

My friend Wendy asked if I could come over and help make some decorations for a big event at our UU church. I said sure, and was looking forward to spending an afternoon crafting it up, cutting and stringing and doing whatever else she told me to do. A few other women would be there, and the three of them would most certainly be on to something amazing, I thought. These three together remind me of those witches from Sleeping Beauty, only more badass, with power tools and oil paint. They are artists. Magicians, in a way, or at least that’s how I think of them. They just seem to know how to make the ordinary beautiful. I was happy to be their lowly helper for the afternoon, in whatever they were cooking up.

I was a little surprised when I got there and in her driveway was, to use an expression that I really hate but sometimes fits the bill— a hot mess. There were huge pieces of paper, recycled something or other, splashed with opaque watercolors and smeared, preschool style, with some glitter thrown in there. My friends were circling their work with brows furrowed, swooshing brushes over it in wide arcs. Wendy got an idea and came back from the depths of her garage with a big box of still more paper—patterns, mismatched, some awesome and retro, some downright hideous. The other two brightened.

“Should we splash those too?”

“Yes. Uniformity!” They began the same process with the paint, the splattering and laughing. When the wind began to blow them away, Wendy insisted we could just chase them down when we were all done, but then ran away and came back with an armful of gigantic homemade hula hoops, to weigh the papers down. (Duh.)

“Who set their paint bottle down here?” Jill asked. It’s true, someone had left  dark purple ring on the paper. Uh-oh, I thought, that can’t be good.

“Oh, that was me,” Dena answered, sweeping her brush over a puddle of fuchsia.

Jill smiled wide. “I like it!”

When the wind died down, we stopped and hula hooped for a spell. You know, like you do. We worked up a good sweat.

After the paper dried, we went inside and tried to un-purple our hands, but it was no use. A few ginger snaps later, we sat at the kitchen table and we cut. We folded. We talked about politics and sex and movies. Looking around, I saw our mess evolving into something, not exactly great, but not so bad, either. And then, gradually, into something pretty, with hints of fucking brilliance! How did it happen?

“If I had been doing this by myself, I would have given up a long time ago,” I said, folding and snipping the painted paper, careful to sweep scraps into a bag by my feet. “I would have burned it in the driveway, when it was so ugly.”

“No, that’s when you have to keep going,” Jill said, looking over her glasses at me. The other two laughed a little (laughter might be their secret ingredient), and kept snipping.

“I want to burn everything I make at least once in the process,” Wendy added.

“Really??” This, I couldn’t believe. Even though I’d only seen her finished products, the drawings, decorated cakes, jewelry, clothes, rugs, gardens, and meals, art just seemed to grow around Wendy like weeds, uncultivated and effortless.

Dena pointed her rusty scissors in my direction. “It doesn’t matter what you’re working on, at some point you’ll think it’s shit. But you keep layering. Or taking away. Or whatever. Eventually it takes shape.”

They nodded, knowing just what she meant, and went on to talk about something else.

Over the course of a few hours, that pile of trash in the driveway became something more. Something beautiful and useful. A gift. And those women, who I had decided belonged to a coven of the gifted and talented, revealed themselves to be, also, much more: They were hard working makers, who had the same doubts as me, but trusted the process more.

I got the message.

On my way out, that afternoon, Wendy called to me, “Take a hula hoop with you!” I did, of course. But she gave me else. She gave me a blessing, without even knowing it, and it was this: You’ll want to burn it, we all do. Don’t. Take a breath and a hula-hoop break. Get messy, use your mistakes, and above all, keep on going.